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By the time you familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of a college semester at the University — usually by the end of your first year — you should have a general sense of how your routine will look for the rest of your time at the University. As a student, you expect to absorb information from your lectures or classwork, work on course assignments and complete your final exams. Now, imagine that towards the end of one semester, your life is totally upended by significant extenuating circumstances — tragedy, crisis or some kind of emergency. After seeking guidance from your professors and University administration, you might be advised to take an incomplete grade for one or two of your classes, which is a temporary grade designed to accommodate students who experience unexpected or sudden mitigating factors like illness or a death in the immediate family. However, an IN only offers an extension of up to four weeks after the end of the final examination period. Overwhelmed with the time crunch you are now facing, this deadline can be demoralizing and even debilitating, especially when enduring personal hardship.
Few would deny that the gradual destigmatization of mental illness is a positive development in U.S. culture. Though not perfect, we have worked steadily over the past years to acknowledge how these conditions can be detrimental — and, at worst, debilitating — to the average person’s ability to participate in broader society. Serious mental illness is not something that can be shrugged off. It affects nearly all aspects of life, and it is why institutions like the University have strived to make accommodations for people suffering from mental illness, alongside physical disabilities. But with this growing acceptance comes a new phenomenon — mental illness has become, in certain online circles, trendy. Treating conditions like depression and anxiety as an aesthetic sets a dangerous precedent and risks undermining the progress our society has made thus far towards recognizing the seriousness of mental illness.
Voting blocs hold power. Political alliances like the New Deal and Reagan coalitions have historically depended on coordination between voting blocs to succeed. Consequently, it’s no surprise that political activists and academics are eager to place individuals into easily categorizable boxes. Though doing so is well-intentioned, this gets particularly tricky when done under the construct of race. Notably, the creation of an Asian-American panethnicity comes with significant dangers — dangers that must be heeded as the population grows more sizable over time.
The sphere of consensus in our society grows smaller and smaller by the day. We have reached a moment in time that is both a standstill of progress and an unending barrage of attacks and counterstrikes. Nothing is sacred — least of all facts. When even the truth is muddied, it can be so easy to lower our eyes to the ground and resign ourselves to this new world. Most people shake their heads and lament what has changed — all while refusing to do anything about it.
The McMinn County School Board in Tennessee recently made headlines when its members voted unanimously to remove “Maus,” a critically acclaimed graphic novel documenting stories of the Holocaust, from its eighth-grade school curriculum. What is troubling about this development, however, goes beyond the direct effects of the book’s absence in classrooms. As the media labels this as a book ban, the lack of nuance between mature and salacious content only muddies the waters when we discuss what is and is not permitted within school environments.
By now, it is old news that the GOP swept all three Virginia statewide offices and reclaimed a majority in the House of Delegates during this past November’s elections. With Glenn Youngkin defeating Terry McAuliffe to become the 74th governor of Virginia, the 2022 midterms look bleaker than ever for Democrats, who have struggled to maintain unity since taking control of Congress and the White House in recent years. As Virginians, we are left with an uncertain future. After the state voted for President Biden by 10 points in 2020, Youngkin’s win comes as an upset, establishing Republican leadership in a state that had by all accounts been following a blue trend for years.
It should go without saying that social justice has been on the forefront of the American consciousness since this country’s founding. But just as civil rights and social justice movements have always existed in some capacity, these same movements all suffer from a common ailment — the rewriting of history to fit dominant cultural narratives. Civil rights movements in the United States have had their legacies co-opted by a society that is inherently reluctant to address its deep-seated problems surrounding race and class.
For all its talk of being the greatest country in the world, the U.S. has faced immense difficulty addressing the needs of its most vulnerable. The official U.S. poverty rate has lingered between 10 and 15 percent for decades, with little recent substantive change in this figure despite the creation of anti-poverty programs and reforms to existing social safety nets. In 2020, the U.S. poverty rate increased for the first time in five years, reaching 11.4 percent. While some might not see the situation as dire, it should be concerning that in a country where a select few individuals possess more wealth than they know what to do with, 10.5 percent of U.S. households were food insecure for some portion of 2020. Though some might claim this is an anomaly caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity rates in the past show that this number is largely consistent with previous years. Simply put, the U.S. has a problem with poverty — leaving members of American society eager to rationalize its existence.
Though it has not always been this way, the United States today prides itself on its diversity, and political and public actors from across the political spectrum have often cited it as one of our nation’s greatest strengths. There is no doubt that we live in a time when the U.S. is more diverse than ever before, and this trend shows no signs of slowing. As the Census Bureau projects the existence of a “majority minority” state in just over two decades, Americans are already experiencing the implications of such a shift — and with this has come increased attention to the purported “self-segregation problem,” most notably on college campuses, including the University.
As someone with a notoriously terrible sense of direction, being back on Grounds has been … difficult, to put it lightly. I have never been the sort of person who can navigate unfamiliar territory without a GPS, and returning to an in-person format is a humiliating reminder of this. Need directions to Rice Hall? There’s a 50 percent chance I could point you in the general direction. McLeod Hall? That number drops significantly. Fayerweather Hall? The AFC? Anywhere on the Range? I wouldn’t be able to help you if my life literally depended on it.
Summed up in a single word, college life is busy. It can be exhausting to balance clubs, student organizations and a decent amount of sleep on top of a full schedule of classes, and it is no small feat if you can manage to survive while still clinging to a functioning social life. But hey, at least you get breaks, right? After all, winter and summer breaks are both meant to be the time to relax, turn your brain off and give yourself just a second to breathe. Right?
After enduring the ordinary stresses of school with the extraordinary circumstances of living in a global pandemic, it appears that spring classes are finally coming to a close. This academic year was far from a normal one for students, both in K-12 education and beyond. With the year comprising mostly of online classes and social distancing guidelines, the University was no exception. As we enjoy a restful — and hopefully COVID-free — summer break, what better way to mentally prepare ourselves for the future than by taking a moment to reflect on the previous semester?
After a year of sitting around waiting for normalcy to be restored in our communities, I think it’s safe to say that, at this point, we are all more than a little impatient for the COVID-19 pandemic to end. The pandemic has embodied many things, but by far the most disappointing have been the wasted potential and missed opportunities — including plans put on hold, restrictions placed on what we can do and general feelings of unproductivity. It’s borderline upsetting to think about how much time has passed. This past year of COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing has felt like one big blur.
At this point, it’s hard not to be numbed to the recurring headlines detailing death and despair. Whether it’s COVID-19 statistics on rising cases and deaths or the tragic loss of life in an unforeseen incident, reading the news has shifted from an mundane part of one’s routine to an instant horror-inducing necessity. The Atlanta shooting — in which eight people lost their lives at three separate massage parlors — is no exception.
In my first year at the University, I took a course that discussed — among other things — the creation and maintenance of ethical spaces at the University. For our final project, my group chose to showcase the inherent inequality found all across Grounds in a short presentation, ranging from dilemmas posed by merit-based versus need-based financial aid to the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services.
For someone who loves to sleep as much as I do, you would think I’d be more consistent at going to bed at a reasonable hour. If I try hard enough, I can imagine an alternate reality where I put down my phone, hop into bed and get that recommended seven hours of sleep every night. I would wake up bright and early, refreshed and ready to tackle whatever awaits me in the morning. Maybe I would even get up early to watch the sunrise, take a moment to close my eyes and listen to the birds chirping — or something else equally idyllic and Disney-like. It would be a beautiful start to the day.
Well, it finally happened. Donald Trump’s term of office has ended, and a new administration has rolled in to take its place. With policy plans and a platform that could not be more different from the one it replaced, you would think I would be relieved, eager for a return to some semblance of normalcy. Despite it all, however, the events of the past month have left a bitter taste in my mouth — a prevailing fear for the future of our country after years of fraying unity. The catalyst to my anxiety was an event I doubt anyone could forget — the insurrection of the Capitol building on January 6.
There’s no getting around it. This year has been — to put it lightly — a bad one.