Category Archives: News

The College of Wooster Continues to Navigate the Pandemic with Updated COVID-19 Policies

Sam Boudreau

News Editor

 

Testing 

Outside of testing students upon arrival, the College is only testing unvaccinated students on a regular basis this year. “We are not regularly testing vaccinated individuals,” President Sarah Bolton said. “The circumstances under which we would test vaccinated individuals are if someone has any symptoms, concerns or if someone was exposed to someone who tested positive.” The College’s COVID-19 testing policies for vaccinated students are unclear to some students on campus. “I don’t know what is happening with testing,” Fungai Jani ’24 said, who was only tested once upon arrival. Ezana Kiros ’22 agrees and suggests that the College should test vaccinated individuals weekly. “Just once a week and it makes you feel more comfortable,” Kiros said. 

The College plans to also implement testing for student activities that require a “specific interaction.”  “We are likely to do testing in particular situations where student activities require a particular interaction, such as theatre,” Bolton said, “our sampling may be driven by activity-to-activity.”

COVID-19 in Wayne County

COVID-19 transmission remains high in Wayne County, as the Wayne County Health Department (WCHD) reported 469 new cases from Aug. 29 to Sept. 4. “We are on a seven-week trend of increasing cases week-to-week,” said Wayne County Health Commissioner Nicholas Cascarelli. “Our positivity rate is 13 percent.”

While cases are high in Wayne County, unvaccinated individuals make up the majority of the cases. “Generally, we’re seeing anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of new cases that are vaccinated [individuals],” Cascarelli said. WCHD recommends that students traveling into Wayne County wear masks and socially distance indoors, regardless of vaccination status. “We’re just asking folks to continue to be vigilant,” Cascarelli said. “We are in high transmission.”

Bolton and the COVID-19 task force will meet on Tuesday, Sept. 7, to add guidance on traveling off campus and into Wooster and Wayne County. “I’m certain we will suggest that students and everyone, when they’re out in the larger community in indoor spaces, should be masked,” Bolton said. 

Masking 

The College requires vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals to mask indoors. Students have differing opinions on masking indoors, as some students say that vaccinated individuals should not have to mask indoors. “If we’re vaccinated, then I don’t see the point of wearing [masks] indoors,” said Simon Tesfaye ’24, “I’m vaccinated and I feel safe.”

However, Ethan Sayer ’22 believes we should continue to mask indoors. “I think it is good that we’re masking,” they said.

What if you test positive for COVID-19?

If a vaccinated or unvaccinated individual tests positive for COVID-19, they will stay in an off-campus location provided by the College for 10 days. However, vaccinated individuals who are close contacts do not need to quarantine, while unvaccinated individuals selected as a close contact need to quarantine in one of the College’s off-campus locations. “For isolation and quarantine, we have arrangements with various off-campus hotels for students,” Bolton said. Students can also choose to isolate themselves at home if they live within driving distance.

To keep up with academics in isolation and quarantine, the College expects faculty members to work individually with students. “In order to fully support their in-person classes, faculty will largely be using the many approaches to support students who have to miss class that they used before the pandemic,” Bolton said, “although in a few cases, new technologies may be a part of that mix.”

What if the College experiences a COVID-19 outbreak? 

As the school year starts, liberal arts schools with high vaccination rates are already experiencing major outbreaks. Kenyon College reported 46 cases among students since the start of the semester. The College of Wooster has a plan in place in case of a COVID-19 outbreak. The College has a three-pronged plan, (a) supporting students who may be isolated or quarantined, (b) reducing opportunities for transmission by reducing campus contacts and (c) increased testing — either broadly or in focused areas. To support students in isolation and quarantine in a COVID-19 outbreak, the College would expand isolation capacity and support students through the Dean of Students, Wellness Center and faculty members. To reduce campus transmission in case of an outbreak, Bolton said the College would take steps to move dining to take out, reduce the size of gatherings that are permitted on campus, and potentially limit travel off-campus or out of the area. 

Large Social Gatherings 

With 95 percent of students vaccinated, the college currently has no limitations on campus gatherings. Outdoor events, such as Scot Spirit Day, saw hundreds of students convene in close proximity. “In a largely vaccinated community, outdoor activities are relatively safe,” Bolton said, in line with CDC guidance, “some schools that have had larger problems are starting to require outdoor masking again.”

Sayer brought a mask to Scot Spirit Day to stay protected from COVID-19. “Not requiring masks outside is a tricky situation.” Sayer said, “When you get these big groups together, there is a question of where you draw the line.” 

Large Extracurricular Activities: Music and Theatre

Sayer also expressed their concerns about masking guidance in extracurricular activities on campus, as they play in music ensembles on campus. “I do not exactly know what masking policies are for music ensembles,” they said. “There were people with and without masks on.”  For music and theatre ensembles in unique settings, the College relies on faculty proposals for masking. “We ask the faculty in those areas to bring the guidance they have from their national organizations and their proposals for how that would work at Wooster to our COVID-19 task force for our consideration,” Bolton said, “and then we bring that to our medical advisors, if we have any questions before we finalize [their proposals].”

Sports 

For NCAA sporting events, the College of Wooster requires their collegiate teams to be 85 percent vaccinated, which all Wooster sports teams clear. In the NCAC, the College met with colleges in the conference to discuss COVID-19 guidelines and protocols. “Within the NCAC, we’ve been working throughout the summer to talk about what our shared expectations and understandings are about vaccination and testing,” Bolton said. Within the NCAC, only one school has not met the 85 percent vaccination threshold. Unvaccinated athletes and athletic staff in the conference are required to test weekly. 

Campus Dining 

With a limited number of dining options this semester, the College reestablished the Lowry dining hall’s maximum capacity. “The CDC guidance has been pretty clear that with a fully-vaccinated campus, you do not need to impose social distancing everywhere,” Bolton said, “so that is why we returned to having the seats all around the tables at Lowry.” The College opened Kittredge to help provide students with a smaller dining option if they are not comfortable in Lowry. “We understand that people have different comfort levels, so Kittredge provides that opportunity for a smaller space.” 

Vaccine Booster Shots

The College is also in the process of preparing to provide COVID-19 vaccine booster shots on campus this fall. “If we come to a situation where there are booster shots available, we will certainly make sure that those are available on campus,” Bolton said. WCHD currently offers third doses for immunocompromised individuals in the community. The health department recommends checking with your physician before receiving a booster shot. The health department has COVID-19 vaccine walk-in clinics each Thursday in September from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at 203 S Walnut St., Wooster, OH, 44691. The health department is also holding COVID-19 clinics throughout Wayne County. You can check the county health department’s website at https://www.wayne-health.org/coronavirus to find vaccine administration times, locations and available vaccine providers. 

After COVID-19

While COVID-19 continues to impact daily life, the College plans to offer additional summer courses in the future. The College offered two summer courses for first-year students in 2020 and established a “summer session” in 2021, which included 10 virtual courses. “Summer online courses were one thing that we invented in the pandemic that we really appreciated,” Bolton noted. Bolton also hopes students will use COVID-19 prevention strategies to help combat influenza, especially masking and not going to class if you’re sick. “When you are sick, you should not just plow through and go to class,” Bolton said. “Don’t just show up in class feeling terrible.” 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Update Report

Samuel Bourdreau

Senior News Writer

 

On Sunday, April 25, members of the campus community met to discuss the annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Update Report. The meeting was led by President Bolton and Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Ivonne M. García. The report shined a light on diversity, retention rates and challenges faced by BIPOC and underrepresented students, staff and faculty at The College of Wooster.

García told the Voice that “the College has improved both in the recruitment and retention of students, especially BIPOC and underrepresented students over the past several years. Since 2017, we have grown our BIPOC student population by 20 percent. Four-year graduation rates now stand at about the same for nearly all demographic groups, something that was not happening only a few years ago when Black and Latinx students, especially, experienced much lower rates of retention.”

However, Bolton and García noted that the campus is not the equitable campus that it needs to be as of now. “Our retention rate is not the one we aspire to have, and we know we have a lot of work to do to continue to make this College one in which all students feel they can stay and thrive, and that work will continue unabated,” García told the Voice.

While diversity and retention rates have increased on campus, Bolton and García noted that the pandemic has slightly affected these rates as it has “made it difficult for new international students to come to Wooster and, as the pandemic progressed through the year, we also saw a slight drop off from years prior of total new international students to Wooster.”

In the past two years, the College’s faculty continues to increase in diversity as 83 percent of last year’s incoming tenure track faculty identified as BIPOC or are from underrepresented communities.

However, García noted that the College is much less effective in retaining BIPOC faculty than white faculty. The College’s 2018 faculty retention study “showed that BIPOC faculty, especially Black faculty, do not tend to stay at the College.”

Results from the College’s Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS) Assessment in May, 2020 revealed that gender identity and racial/ethnic identities were the main reasons that students, faculty and staff did not have inclusive experiences at the College. With only 19 percent of students responding to the assessment, Bolton and García hope the 2022 assessment will yield greater student participation.

In response to this study, the College launched the Faculty Mentoring Cohort Program, now in its third year, modeled after successful BIPOC student-focused mentoring programs in the Fall of 2019. The program established cohorts of mentors and mentees rather than relying only on individualized or department-based mentorship. García told the Voice that the first year of the program was successful.

The College also hopes to improve the relationship with the broader Wooster community, particularly on Beall Avenue. When the Voice reported on the March for Asian Lives on March 26, Mochi Meadows ’24, Gender and Sexuality Diversity Representative for Scot Council, told the Voice that someone yelled “Go back to China” at the March, and a truck with a confederate flag drove by with a sticker that said “I don’t brake for protestors.” When asked how the College is taking their next steps with the local community at the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) meeting, Bolton said that signage and security resources have been added to Beall, but that there is room for improvement.

Starting June 1, Dr. García will undertake a position at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education to lead their work in inclusive and anti-racist pedagogy. As the College’s first Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion has greatly expanded under her leadership as she told the Voice that “before the academic year ends, the CDEIO will have trained nearly everyone in the Academic Affairs division, including faculty in departments and programs, administrative coordinators and Athletic staff in antiracist/anti-bias practices.” Additionally, the center has trained 50 student organizations and recommended that they establish antiracist/anti-bias action plan for future school years.

Sweeping the shadow of the past under the rug: How lack of recognition for historical harms still affects Wooster’s LGBTQ+ Community

Aspen Rush

Managing Editor

Maggie Dougherty

Editor in Chief

 

On April 12 at 4:33 p.m., The College of Wooster shared a message from the Board of Trustees on their Facebook page regarding the behavior of former President Howard F. Lowry. The message elicited a wide range of responses from a great number of alumni and students, quickly receiving over a hundred comments from members of the College community. A subset of these comments focused not on Lowry but on a different piece of Wooster history: the 1995 almost-presidency of Susanne Woods, who would have been the College’s first female president. Although the Board of Trustees never shared an official explanation for Woods’ stepping down, the alumni in the comments all held the same notion: Woods was dismissed because it was discovered that she had a female partner.

One alum wrote, “Let’s also address the dismissal of Susanne Woods [by the Board] because she was a lesbian in the mid-’90s while we are at it. […] I was appalled by the Board’s action then and I still see it as a blight on the history of the College.”

Charles Gall ’93 commented similarly, writing, “[It] would be lovely if the Board would do this kind of detailed and bulleted self reflection and pursuit of truth/restorative justice concerning the quiet payoff of Susanne Woods in the mid-’90s, after hiring her as president and then realizing she [was] a lesbian before sending her packing.” Others agreed, seconding the call for the Board to address Woods’ case and stating that they hoped to see justice for her. Another alum wrote, “The College owes a very public, comprehensive, genuine apology to Susanne Woods and an action plan to address past and present homophobia.”

Wooster in the 1990s was a very different place than the Wooster we know today. As one alum described, Wooster was a more conservative, “buttoned up” place, stuck slightly behind the rest of the world in a “sweet age” before swipe keys and cell phones. According to a Viewpoint written by Terry Miller ’90, in 1989, the College had not engaged in conversations about homosexuality in the campus comminity. Then, as they do now, Wooster boasted that they “celebrate diversity.” Even so, they did not have a non-discriminatory policy in place for LGBTQ+ individuals. Miller pointed to both students and administration alike for their exclusivity. The ’90s was also a time of more conservative social values, not just in Wooster, but nationally: The United States was a battleground between the progressive left and religious, conservative right.

While the ’90s seem like a recent past for many, public opinion regarding the LGBTQ+ community has shifted dramatically in the last 25 years. It was a decade punctuated by anti-gay legislation and hate crimes even as queer culture made its way into the mainstream. Madonna introduced voguing, Elton John came out, Pedro Zamora publicly battled AIDS and conversations about homosexuality entered public discourse. On the other hand, there was an endless list of politicians and civilians accusing gay and lesbian individuals of ruining the American way of life. Across the U.S., national and local governments attempted to pass anti-gay legislation.

In 1990, only five years since the peak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, queerness remained interwoven with stigma surrounding homosexuality. The American public was fueled by homophobic rhetoric echoed by conservative politician and radio show hosts, like Rush Limbaugh.

In 1994, only one year before Susanne Woods was dismissed, The Employment Non-Discrimination Act made its way to the floor of the House of Representatives once again after repeated failure. The law, if passed, would have protected lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals from employer discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. 

That being said, it was by no means unheard of to establish equality for gay individuals in the corporate sector. World renowned companies such as Xerox and AT&T publicly supported their employees and created anti-discrimination policies. Around the country, Wooster would have set the precedent for academic institutions in hiring their first woman president and their first lesbian president.

In this context, Susanne Woods was selected to be the first female president of The College of Wooster. Woods was chosen by a 16-person search committee tasked with finding Henry Copeland’s successor, made up of eight trustees and eight faculty members. Woods was an English literature professor who had received her doctorate from Columbia University, and at the time of her hiring was employed as the vice president for academic affairs at Franklin & Marshall College. At Brown University, she had been the director of graduate studies and the associate dean of faculty; she also founded the Women Writers Project. By all accounts, Woods was highly qualified in her scholarly, administrative and fundraising accomplishments. 

In April 1995, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees approved the nomination of Susanne Woods for president. Woods accepted the offer and was set to take office as Wooster’s tenth president on July 1, 1995. At the time, trustee and chairman of the search committee, John (Jack) Dowd, was quoted in The Akron Journal saying, “Our goal was to find the best president for The College of Wooster… and we have achieved our goal.”

The English Department, which was responsible for officially recommending Woods for tenure, was particularly excited to work with her. Nancy Grace, professor and chair of Wooster’s English Department at the time, stated in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “I was thinking, ‘Wow, this person is extremely qualified, I’m glad they appointed her.’” 

Grace described the move as an inflection point, a moment where the College was on the verge of taking a major progressive step by hiring a woman to lead the school. Except something happened, and the scales tipped in the other direction. On June 30, Woods’ resignation was announced in a statement released by the College, citing Woods’ and the Board’s mutual “deep regret” over “significant differences concerning the role of the president.”

Speculations have been made about what “significant differences” were missed throughout the entirety of the search process and only discovered in the week before Woods took office. Although the relevance of this information is contested by some of the parties involved, Emeritus Trustee Jerrold Footlick wrote in his book, “An Adventure in Education,” “The one piece of important information that no one appears to dispute is that Susanne Woods had a close relationship with a professor of English at Denison University, Anne Shaver.” 

Dowd vehemently denied that any prejudice was involved in the decision. In the Sept. 1, 1995 edition of the Voice, Dowd said, “I think I have heard almost all the rumors, and none of the rumors are correct.” 

Grace recalls meeting Dowd for lunch at the Wooster Inn to discuss her concerns. “He totally denied everything — he just lied straight to my face,” Grace told Footlick in an interview, the transcript of which is stored now in the College’s Special Collections. She elaborated to the Voice that Dowd told her the decision had “nothing, nothing, nothing” to do with Wood’s sexual orientation. Nevertheless, Grace recounted, Dowd shared no reasonable alternative explanation, citing the confidentiality agreement that Woods and the Board signed as a condition of her resignation; still, she felt that he was lying.

Despite Dowd’s assertion that Woods’ sexual orientation played no role, multiple articles from the Voice and the Chronicle refer to the circulation of the Denison phone directory on Wooster’s campus, in which Shaver listed Woods as her partner. Although it was openly reported that Shaver identified herself as a lesbian, Woods was, according to the August 4, 1995 edition of the Chronicle, “a very private person who does not describe herself as a lesbian or discuss her sexual orientation.” Nevertheless, at around the same time the directory began to circulate, so did an op-ed by an openly lesbian professor at Kenyon College, encouraging Kenyon’s new president to work closely with female presidents at the other Ohio schools, including “Wooster’s newly appointed president, lesbian Susanne Woods.”

Although there are different accounts of the exact transmission of information, the details made it to the trustees and, according to a source who spoke with the Chronicle at the time, a few of the trustees met with Woods to ask her about the directory and the rumors. The full Board was alerted on June 20 that there would be a phone conference on June 29 to discuss Woods’ contract, and the next day, Woods resigned as president-elect. 

Reactions from the Wooster community to the Woods resignation were swift and strong. Carolyn Durham, a professor of French and coordinator of Wooster’s women studies program, told the Chronicle that she was “shocked and dismayed by the news.” She added, “It’s difficult for me to understand how there could have been ‘disagreements about the role of president’ that would not have been discussed prior to her appointment by the Board.”

In an interview conducted for his book, Grace told Footlick, “I can remember the day I heard, I just burst into tears — I really burst into tears. It was like we’d been stabbed. I cried, when [Emeritus Professor of German] Susan Figge told me, I just cried on the phone.” 

In another interview, Footlick asked another professor of English, Jennifer Hayward, if the English department felt angry about the decision. “I don’t know if even angry is the right word,” she answered. “I think it cut deeper than that. I think we felt betrayed. I think we felt as if we had this wonderful woman who was going to make connections for us with major funding institutions and with really exciting text projects like the Brown [University] project, and was going to bring all kinds of new ideas. Then, there was never a clear explanation for what happened.”

Wooster alumnus Charles Gall graduated in 1993, but was still living and working in Wooster in the spring of 1995. In the same edition of the Voice that shared a comprehensive interview with Woods, introducing her as president-elect to the Wooster community, there was an announcement that Judd Winick — roommate of Pedro Zamora, AIDS educator and MTV star — would be visiting campus to talk about Zamora’s life. As Gall listened to Winick speak, he said, “I realized how much Pedro had accomplished in the five short years between coming out and his death, and it made me think that here I was, still in the closet at 24 in small-town Ohio, living in fear. When I returned home that evening, I gathered the courage to come out to my roommate and his girlfriend, which began my coming out process to family and friends.”

Reacting to Woods’ departure just a few months later, Gall said, “As a newly gay alumnus of Wooster, the Woods situation was highly disappointing. For a college that openly promoted diversity and that engaged Winick to speak on AIDS education just months prior, the announcement was a confirmation that all the talk of diversity, at least as it related to sexual orientation, was simply lip-service, and that there was no way the Board was comfortable supporting a gay President who would be the face of the College and chief fundraiser.”

Since 1995, there has still been no official explanation for what happened because of the confidentiality agreement signed by all parties involved. Although the incident happened over 25 years ago now, it still lives on in the memories of many alumni and faculty who were here at the time, as well as in the way that current LGBTQ+ students interact with the institution. 

One of the clearest reminders of the Susanne Woods controversy is the John Plummer Memorial Scholarship for Promoting a Welcoming Campus for LGBTQ+ People. During his years working as the comptroller of the Wooster Business Office, Plummer was one of the only openly gay individuals on campus and served as a mentor to many of Wooster’s LGBTQ+ students. 

Following Woods’ resignation, Plummer and alumnus Hans Johnson ’92 discussed what could be done to support LGBTQ+ students on campus, and Plummer suggested the possibility of creating a scholarship. In an interview in 2018, Johnson recalled, “The Susanne Woods episode was a searing and stinging rebuke for people who respected LGBT rights and met for many of us who were LGBT ourselves. It wasn’t just us, but a whole network of allies was deeply offended by that move and by the signal that Wooster would discriminate in such a high, and such a highly exposed way in its expression of values.”

Though Plummer died in 2006 before the dream for the scholarship could be realized, Johnson continued advocating for its creation and by 2008 the endowment threshold for the scholarship was reached. Speaking to the importance of the scholarship in light of the case of Susanne Woods, Johnson said, “the Plummer Scholarship became an acceptable way for many deeply offended people to give to the campus for the purpose of institutional change, and I think we succeeded in that.” 

Eleanor Linafelt ’20, a women’s, gender and sexuality studies (WGSS) and English double major, learned about the Woods story in the spring of her junior year while working on the WGSS digital history website. She said, “I was shocked by the story, of course, but also by the fact that I had never heard anything about it before, especially as a queer student and WGSS major fairly engaged in Wooster campus life. It occurred relatively recently but it does show how easily things can be lost in the institution’s collective memory, especially things that aren’t to be proud of.”

Outside of those researching the topic, recipients of the Plummer Scholarship may be some of the only students who hear directly about the Woods situation, and through them this history is remembered. Harry Susalla ’22, the 2021-22 recipient of the scholarship, told the Voice, “When I first found out about this moment in Wooster’s history, I was completely disappointed that the College made no effort to educate its students on its homophobic past. If the College publicly addressed this history, it would show me that they have a real commitment against bigotry, not just a performative one.”

Similarly, Mylo Parker-Emerson ’19, the 2018-19 Plummer scholar, recalled a sense of shock over hearing the story for the first time. “When I was in college right around the time it had been announced that Sarah Bolton was going to be the new president of the College, rumors started to go around about a previous President that was fired/never fully hired because she was a lesbian,” Parker-Emerson said. “I remember hearing this and being shocked because I knew about the Plummer scholarship. I remember thinking to myself how progressive of a school in 2014 to have a scholarship like this available.” They continued, “Hans describes [the scholarship] as a response to not only the silence of Wooster administration but also the blatant disregard to the queer students on campus. Which is ironic if you think about it; I was shocked that both of these things existed and yet one caused the other.”

Director of Sexuality & Gender Inclusion Melissa Chesanko also commented on the silence and its impacts both on alumni and current students. “The huge silence about the situation due to the non-disclosure agreement creates a vacuum that folks often try to fill with speculation and pieces of the truth,” she explained. “Because there has been no formal or informal resolution for the situation, many people have been unable to heal from the harm caused and also unable to move forward.”

Gall similarly spoke to this harm, stating, “In the 26 years since, there are still hurt feelings among gay alumni that this has never been addressed publicly.” He added, “Many of us (gay alumni) would like to see the Board address the handling of the Susanne Woods situation and perhaps issue an apology for their actions in 1995.”

Reflecting on how the incident relates to current students, Chesanko explained, “We often understand our own experiences through a lens of others’ experiences, and witnessing a negative climate for alumni in the past can put students’ own perspective of campus into a different light.” She also noted that the negative experiences of LGBTQ+ alumni from past decades has translated into more limited alumni engagement, “which affects students’ connections with queer and trans alumni, LGBTQIA+ centered donations and queer representation on our alumni board.”

Parker-Emerson spoke to the limited alumni engagement as well, saying, “To me, [the silence] highlights the continued effort of queer students and alumni and how that differs from institutional support. In a way it makes sense that older queer alumni aren’t as engaged, because think about what their version of the Wooster administration has showed them: silence.” 

They added, “Personally, I think if the College were to finally speak on this publicly, it would show students and alumni that they’re not alone in caring about making the College a better place, and not just for queer folks, but for every person the College goes out if its way to attract. To get to a better place, it’s best to be honest about where you’ve been and what you’ve done before.”

Finally, Chesanko emphasized the importance of representation at all levels of campus leadership. “Past leadership has put current leadership in a difficult situation by crafting this N.D.A.,” she said. “This is why it is so important to have diverse representation of all identities in positions of power, including and especially, on our Board of Trustees.”

The original 1995 Chronicle article detailing the Woods situation quoted Durham, who argued, “They didn’t need to know or not know” about Woods’ sexual orientation. “What they needed to decide is,” read the article, “can we handle it if the president is [gay]?” Without openly addressing that question at the institutional level and acknowledging the hurt that still lingers 26 years later, will Wooster be able to provide students the diverse and accepting campus it has always claimed to be?

COVID-19 updates spread hope for a better semester

Savannah Sima

Senior News Writer

 

On April 20, The College of Wooster announced that an on-campus clinic will be available for students, and this time, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will be administered. This comes just one week after the nation-wide pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that was originally going to be offered at Wooster from April 12 to April 16. Dean of Students Myrna Hernández stated in her email on April 20 that “thanks to the staff from the Wooster Community Hospital we have been able to get a limited portion of their weekly vaccine supply and they will be administering the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from the Scot Center testing site on Thursday, April 22 from 9 a.m. to noon.” Hernández continued, “summer students will be given priority and then the remaining appointments will be open to any students, faculty or staff within driving distance who can be here for the second dose on May 13 at the same time.” This clinic will have the same procedures as the Johnson & Johnson clinic that was supposed to take place.

President Sarah Bolton had also announced that the College shifted from a “green” operational COVID-19 level to “yellow” due to an increase in positive tests that put the campus at a 0.80 percent positivity rate. Bolton wrote, “We are doing so because of a modest increase in student cases, and because several cases came to our attention when students had symptoms, rather than through our weekly screening testing. This week, we have 854 test results back so far, with six students testing positive and one employee testing positive.” This momentary change in levels was amended on April 20, where Bolton reported via email that no additional positive tests came back from testing, “Our campus testing from April 11 to April 17 showed no positive COVID-19 test results among 1325 tests. We also have no students in isolation or quarantine at this time. The determination and relentless hard work of many people across campus are responsible for our good position as we draw close to the end of the term. Thank you for all you are making possible! The campus will return to ‘green’ operational status as of today.”

The original shift from a green level to a yellow level means that “students are permitted to go off campus — only for socially-distanced outdoor recreation and for necessities such as food, work, medical needs and official college activities such as course-related activities and athletics.” This is “very similar to those we have had in place over the last month at ‘green,’” according to Bolton. Hernández detailed this shift as well, writing, “Operationally, the phases are similar. The decisions made by the College are largely based on the spread and prevalence on campus. The biggest differences for students are movement throughout the community (freely, when in ‘green;’ more cautiously and for necessities in ‘yellow’) and our level of flexibility in approving overnight requests.” 

Bolton added a few reminders about safe practices at any level, explaining, “All members of the campus community should be extra careful to maintain masking and a distance of six feet, and to follow limits on the numbers of people permitted in residential and other spaces. Our testing program is critical to maintaining a safe and healthy campus. It’s particularly important now that everyone tests regularly, as scheduled. Use the daily symptom checker to assess your wellness daily. Students should report any symptoms to Longbrake Wellness Center right away.”

The patterns in positive cases among students and staff mirrors the community public health climate. Bolton added, “We are also aware that Wayne County and the State of Ohio are seeing increasing case numbers, some of which are associated with more transmissible variants, and so we want to act cautiously to preserve campus safety and ensure our ability to have campus activities continue.”

Bolton also noted that this level would be reevaluated on April 14 when more testing data returns, and urged students to get vaccinated via the campus clinic.This clinic was offering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but was canceled due to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, “Unfortunately, our campus vaccination clinics, which were set to start [on April 12] with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, were cancelled this week due to the FDA and CDC pausing use of that vaccine for review of possible, extremely rare, side effects.” 

“We are working closely with Wooster Community Hospital and do expect to be able to provide a vaccine clinic on campus soon — either with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if it is cleared again for use, or with Moderna or Pfizer vaccines,” stated Bolton. As mentioned earlier, the Pfizer vaccine will be an option for the College community on April 22. Bolton continued, explaining, “For students leaving campus at the end of the term, there won’t be time to start and complete the two-shot series required for Moderna or Pfizer vaccine while on campus. However, students living on campus this summer are required to be vaccinated, and will have time to complete the sequence, and we also want to make an on-campus clinic available for employees. We will update you as soon as we have additional information on campus vaccine availability. Vaccine appointments are also widely available in the local community.”

Ray Tucker, director of the Wellness Center, also detailed further why the Johnson & Johnson vaccine clinic was cancelled. “As reported by news outlets, the day before the vaccine clinic, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had a risk for blood clots,” he said. “So the state sponsored vaccination opportunity was cancelled statewide. Next semester, we will continue wearing masks, continue observing distancing, gather responsibly and testing to catch and curtail the spread of COVID-19. The College will disseminate any new community standards as they develop. How the college will actually look when we are all back on campus together. We all have to wait and see.” 

Hernández added institutional context to the cancellation of the vaccine clinic, stating, “We always follow the guidance of public health agencies. On Tuesday morning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FDA both made the strong recommendation that everyone temporarily stop giving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, so that they could look into possible very rare, but very serious, side effects. When the pause was recommended, use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine stopped nationwide. We also consulted with the Wooster Community Hospital, who advised that this was the most prudent action until we knew more about when the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would resume and would allow students who had the means to get appointments in the community which were available both at the hospital and through the Health Department. We are going to be able to sponsor a clinic, using the Pfizer vaccine, for summer students and those that can get back to campus easily for a second dose in mid-May.”

Members of the College community have urged students to get the vaccine. Ivonne García, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, details her experience getting vaccinated, stating, “I got my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on a Wednesday around noon, and by that evening was doing perfectly fine. At 3:30 a.m. that Thursday morning, though, I woke up with a 101-degree fever, chills and body aches. Even my nose hurt! The fever and chills lasted into the weekend and the fatigue/tiredness lasted into the following week. Regardless, I wouldn’t hesitate to get another shot or a booster because whatever inconvenience the vaccine caused it’s not even close to the damage that the COVID-19 virus has been shown to cause, even in those who survive it. As someone with underlying conditions, I have been worried about contracting the virus for more than a year. Now I can at least have a little less anxiety even as I continue to protect myself and others for as long as necessary. I definitely encourage those who are able to get vaccinated to do so!” 

Bijeta Lamichhane ’22 detailed what it was like to get the second round of the vaccine as well. “I got my second dose on April 17, and I did not experience side effects right away,” Lamichhane said. “I was fine when I went to bed, but then I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep because I had chills. The day after the vaccination wasn’t great. I had a fever and a headache all day. I was anticipating all of this, though, so I wasn’t too worried. I’m feeling alright now, and the relief of being vaccinated far outweighs the short-term reactions.”

Looking forward to next semester, Hernández concluded, “We will follow the best public health guidance available to us at the time. Given that we have been very safely holding activities this semester with the tools we have, even before the vaccine, and that safe and effective vaccines are now plentifully available to everyone this summer, we are confident that we will operate fully in-person with all activities this fall. We are planning to be sure that our campus is very broadly vaccinated, well beyond the levels that are required for “herd” immunity, and we are pleased that so many students, staff and faculty are vaccinated already. Things like whether we still need to wear masks and keep distance will depend on what’s recommended by public health experts.”

I.S. Symposium receives over 6,500 attendees from 96 countries

Bijeta Lamichhane

News Editor

 

The College held a virtual Independent Study (I.S.) Symposium on Friday, April 16, where around 200 students from the class of 2021 presented their senior research projects. Although the symposium was virtual this year, the College had set up various ways for the campus community to engage with the presenters. Furthermore, the virtual format of the event allowed people from across the world to participate, ultimately drawing in about 7,000 attendees from 96 countries.

In order to make the event as interactive as possible, the presenters were signed up for two-hour blocks to answer any questions that attendees might have. In addition to the live session, each students’ webpage also included an interactive comment section where attendees could ask questions and provide feedback to the presenter.

Although this year’s Symposium had a similar format to last year’s event, the participation and engagement was significantly higher this year, and even made records. Last year, around 67 graduating seniors had presented; this year, the number was closer to 200.

On Saturday, April 17, Dean for Faculty Development Christa Craven announced that there were 6,704 unique visitors to the Symposium website and 60,037 total pageviews, out of which 33,538 were unique. A total of 7,910 comments were made on the presentations.

“We hit some pretty impressive new records — more than doubling the unique pageviews we had last year, as well as the number of comments left on student webpages!” Craven shared in the email that was sent the next day. The 2020 I.S. Symposium had 4,186 visitors to the website, 17,218 unique pageviews and 3,382 comments.

When asked about her experience as a presenter this year, Gracie Bouker ’21 remarked, “I thought the I.S. Symposium was great! On the one hand, it was kind of disappointing to see that it went exactly as it had last spring, despite having a year to prepare. But given the fact that campus was on a yellow level, it’s understandable. More than anything, I’m just glad family and friends from home and all over were able to share in that special moment with me! That’s one thing that wouldn’t have been possible in a normal year, so I’m focusing on the small blessings.”

Several students from the class of 2021 from different departments were also presented awards for their presentations. The list of winners is presented below:

Zhen Guo: Most Timely; Zoe Bills: Most Socially and Emotionally Connected; Tiago Garcia Ferrer: Most Joyful; Rachel Greer: Most Engaging Poster; Indigo Adobea Abena Joy

Quashie: Most Creative Video; Sophia Peller: Most Creative Slideshow; Bryce Knopp: Most Creative Slideshow (Honorable Mention); Morgan P. Fields: Most Applicable in Current Moment; Brittany Leyda: Dr. Melissa M. Schultz Sustainability and the Environment; Claire Davidson: Dr. Melissa M. Schultz Sustainability and the Environment; An Hoai Tran: Dr. Melissa M. Schultz Sustainability and the Environment; Camryn Roseinstein: Dr. Melissa M. Schultz Sustainability and the Environment (Honorable Mention); Stephanie Pokras: Dr. Josephine Wright Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Angela Danso Gyane: Dr. Josephine Wright Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Maresa Tate: Dr. Josephine Wright Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Devon Matson: Critical Digital Engagement; Alayt Issak: Critical Digital Engagement; Delaney Zuver: Critical Digital Engagement; Holly Engel: Best Use of Genre; Yuki (Amanda) Han: Best Creative Exploration; Abigail Fisk: Best Animation.

The campus community still has access to the presentations, which can be found following the link: https://news.wooster.edu/symposium-2021/.

Good news from around the world

Former cook gets her mortgage paid by fraternity

Jessie Hamilton — a former cook at Louisiana State University — recently had her mortgage paid by several members of Phi Gamma Delta, a fraternity at the university.

When the fraternity brothers found out that Hamilton was still working two jobs at the age of 74 to pay off her mortgage, they pitched in to surprise her on April 3, calling the day “Jessie Hamilton Day.” They handed her a $45,000 check to clear the mortgage on her house, which she had bought back in 2006.

The surprise was organized by Andrew Fursaotti, a former student at LSU and a member of Phi Gamma Delta, after he learned that she was working as a cook at a country club as well as a custodian at Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport to pay her bills in her 70s. When Fursaotti heard about her situation, he reached out to his old fraternity brothers to help her out.

Hamilton is now planning to retire and take a trip to Hawaii in the future. She had worked at LSU for 14 years, and is currently working at the airport as a member of the custodial staff. (source: today.com)

First Human Trial of HIV Vaccine Produced Immune Response in 97% of Volunteers 

The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines have not been the only impressive vaccine breakthroughs we have seen this year. A recent phase I clinical trial of an experimental vaccine primed the immune system using a unique approach in order to prevent HIV. HIV, which affects more than 38 million people globally, is known to be among the most difficult viruses to target with a vaccine, in large part because it constantly evolves into different strains to evade the immune system.

The clinical trial, which took place at two sites — George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle — was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and enrolled 48 healthy adult volunteers. Participants received either a placebo or two doses of the vaccine compound.

The promising results, announced in February by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and Scripps Research, the vaccine showed success in stimulating production of rare immune cells needed to generate antibodies against the fast-mutating virus — and the targeted response was detected in 97 percent of participants who received the vaccine.

“We showed that vaccines can be designed to stimulate rare immune cells with specific properties, and this targeted stimulation can be very efficient in humans,” said William Schief, a professor and immunologist at Scripps Research and executive director of vaccine design at IAVI’s Neutralizing Antibody Center, whose lab developed the vaccine. He continued, stating, “We believe this approach will be key to making an HIV vaccine and possibly important for making vaccines against other pathogens.”

“This is a tremendous achievement for vaccine science as a whole,” says Dennis Burton, professor and chair of the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at Scripps Research, scientific director of the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Center and director of the NIH Consortium for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Development. “This clinical trial has shown that we can drive immune responses in predictable ways to make new and better vaccines, and not just for HIV. We believe this type of vaccine engineering can be applied more broadly, bringing about a new day in vaccinology.”

This is a landmark study in the HIV vaccine field, demonstrating success in the first step of a pathway to induce broad neutralizing antibodies against HIV-1. The study sets the stage for additional clinical trials that will seek to refine and extend the approach — with the long-term goal of creating a safe and effective HIV vaccine. (source: Good News Network)

Deaf Sheepdog Returns to Herding Her Flock After Learning ‘Sign Language’ 

A working dog, Peggy was unable to continue the job she excelled at — herding sheep — when at the age of eight she lost her hearing. No longer able to communicate with her, Peggy’s owner subsequently relinquished her to the care of a local animal shelter.

But as it was near Christmas, the shelter was at capacity. That’s when animal welfare manager Chloe Shorten stepped in. Shorten and her husband, Jason, who had two other working sheepdogs, decided to take Peggy home.

“We knew Peggy wanted to be working, so we started the long process of teaching her how to herd and work with a shepherd without relying on voice commands,” Chloe Shorten told the BBC. “We started by teaching her to look at us for hand signals.”

Using repetition and “positive reinforcement,” with the help of a sheepdog trainer, Peggy eventually learned to respond to hand signals and body language rather than traditional verbal commands.

But Chloe says the most important lesson Peggy learned had nothing to do with sheep. It had to do with trust: “[It took time to] learn that we love her, and understand our praise.”

These days, while Peggy is semi-retired, with her GPS tracker in place, she still heads out with the flock from time to time, happy in the knowledge that a “thumbs up” means she’s a good girl. (source: Good News Network)