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AWOL

ISSUE 27

SPRING 2020

COLLEGE STUDENTS WORK TO PRIORITIZE MENTAL HEALTH IN LIGHT OF COVID-19

IN THIS ISSUE: IS AUx2 ENOUGH?

STUDENTS UNSURE IF UNIVERSITY PRO GRAM IS ADEQUATELY ADDRESSING CAMPUS PREJUDICE

IS AU REALLY WOKE?

WHAT IT REALLY MEANS TO BE THE MOST POLITICALLY ACTIVE SCHO OL IN THE NATION

PROFILE: RYANN ERSOFF

THIS IS NOT A HEARTWARMING STORY


AWOL MAGAZINE

ISSUE 27 | SPRING 2020

SENIOR EDITORS EDITORS–IN–CHIEF Benjamin S. Weiss Editorial Zach Vallese Media MAGAZINE DIRECTOR Katherine Long WEB DIRECTOR Chloe K. Li CREATIVE DIRECTOR Caroline Lougee PUBLIC RELATIONS DIRECTOR Caroline Morgan PHOTO/VIDEO DIRECTOR Shane Matheu Ryden PODCAST DIRECTORS Grace Vitaglione Maddi Cole

EDITORS HEALTH EDITOR McKenzie Beard POLITICS EDITOR Teddy Everett CAMPUS LIFE EDITOR Lana Green DISTRICT EDITOR Kaela Roeder CULTURE EDITOR Grace Vitaglione DESIGN EDITOR Kavi Farr PODCAST PRODUCERS Shannon Durazo Shane Matheu Ryden

FOLLOW US /AWOLAU @AWOLAU

LETTER FROM THE EDITORS

Dear Reader, We’re sure we don’t need to tell you that these are unprecedented times. The fact that you’re reading this letter on your computer screen instead of a printed page is proof enough. As university students, we’ve had to navigate a brand new set of challenges endemic to life in isolation. Those of us who are graduating are still coming to terms with the fact that we’re quite possibly graduating into a recession and a contracting job market. Being students was hard to begin with -- a global pandemic hasn’t eased the pressure. As the global crisis progressed and campus life ground to a halt, we had a conversation at AWOL about how our organization should respond. As journalists, we felt an obligation to continue our coverage, to keep the community informed and hold our leadership accountable in this time of uncertainty. At the same time, though, we are students (and humans) who were all feeling the pressure of living through a global pandemic. A delicate balance had to be struck: for student journalists, where was the line between our professional responsibility to the community and our own personal desires for self-care? At AWOL many of us discovered that reporting and producing content was a good outlet for our pandemic-related anxieties. The editors are immensely proud of our staff for their hard work and dedication. Not only did we keep up our web reporting and podcasting, but we managed to pull together a full magazine as well. The work on this magazine was unique. It is a compilation of work from over different time zones, late-night Zoom meetings, and reporting completed in the wake of a worldwide pandemic. It was a feat of especially hard work from our staff bringing their work from campus to their homes. We have not and will not let this crisis dampen our commitment to the craft of journalism and our unrelenting passion for the issues that matter to this community. This semester’s magazine does not just focus on the coronavirus -- we continue to delve into a wide variety of issues pertinent to AU students and D.C. residents. In this issue, we analyze campus political culture, examine new cybersecurity challenges in the age of teleconferencing, and explore the work of Asian-American female film directors. We also highlight a member of the AU community and her personal experience as an unlikely activist for coronavirus resources. As always, we hope that our reporting inspires you. We hope it makes you angry for all the right reasons. Please enjoy, and continue to stay safe and healthy. Sincerely, Benjamin S. Weiss and Zach Vallese


HEALTH

CONTENTS

POLITICS

CAMPUS LIFE

DISTRICT CULTUR E

DIST RIC T

CAM PUS LIFE

POL ITIC S

HEA LTH

CULTURE

02 IS AU REALLY WOKE?

What it really means to be the most politcally active school in the nation Talia Marshall

04 NO RECOURSE

LGBTQ Activists In D.C. Fight For More Support In Anticipation Of Supreme Court Decision

06 THE HUM PODCAST HEALTH POLITICS 08 BOUNDARY BREAKERS Zach Vallese

LISTEN TO OUR PODCASTS:

A peak into AWOL’S storytelling podcast

AWOL Podcast Team

Asian American women in the film industry

THE HUM

DISTRICT 10

RIPPED FROM THE WALL

BISEXUALI-TEA

Ziyi Yuan

ZOOM-BOMBSHELL: IS AU CYBERSECURE?

CULTURE

The transition to online classes reveals new vulnerabilities

HE ALTH

12 CAMPUS LIFE INCLUSIVITY REQUIRES ACCESSIBILITY DISTRICT 16 CULTURE 20 IS AUX2 ENOUGH? Kreeger Museum POLITICSThe Teddy Everett

Issues with ASAC accommodations Sierra Cougot

CULTUR E

DIST RIC T

CAM PUS LIFE

POL ITIC S

HEA LTH

PO LIT ICS

CAM PUS LIFE

DIS TR ICT

HEALTHPHOTO ESSAY Catie Colucci

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Students unsure if university program is adequately addressing campus prejudice

Jasmine Dean

MENTAL HEALTH CRISES SPARK A CALL TO IMPROVE AU’S COUNSELING SERVICES

At AU’s Counseling Center, long-term care for a few is sacrificed for short-term care for many

HEALTH COLLEGE STUDENTS WORK TO PRIORITIZE 26 Maya Savoie

POLITICSMENTAL HEALTH IN LIGHT OF COVID-19 CAMPUS LIFEPROFILE: RYANN ERSOFF Katherine Long

30 DISTRICT

This is not a heartwarming story

CULTURE

Benjamin S. Weiss

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AWOL Magazine

What it really means to be the most politically active school in the nation Written by Talia Marshall Art by Arianna Cannon

In 2018, American University was

the most politically active campus in the nation, according to Princeton Review. Despite the national recognition, some AU students say that their peers are engaging in “performative activism.” AU students celebrated receiving Princeton Review’s accolade of “most politically active campus in the U.S.” for the fourth time since 2005. The name of the meme-focused Facebook group was then changed to “AU memes for the most politically active teens.” However, some students believe that this title isn’t backed by sufficient evidence. “There’s a lot of lip service paid to activism,” said sophomore Elliot Williams. “But very few students are willing to put in the time and the persistence that’s necessary to hold actions, events and to follow through with their goals.” After the University earned the title in 2010, then-student government President Nate Bronstein said he was not surprised. “Having that ranking very much legitimizes us when we’re talking with other students at other universities. What I like is that politically active ranking is one of the most prestigious ones the Princeton Review does,” said Bronstein.

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The Princeton Review gathers this information by surveying 140,000 students at 385 different schools. For the “Most Politically Active Students” list, the students were asked to respond to the statement: “My level of political awareness: Very High, High, Average, Low, Very Low.” Since 2018, AU has fallen in the rankings. As of 2019, the University sat at fifth place; behind schools like Pitzer College in California or Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Despite the University’s relegation from the top of the rankings, AU’s reputation as a politically active school remains. After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, many students participated in marches, sit-ins, and school walkouts to protest against gun violence in the U.S. AU joined other universities in releasing a statement that assured that prospective students’ consideration would not be impacted by participating in these lawful protests. “No student who is admitted or has a pending application will be affected by disciplinary actions arising from their right to protest,” said the University in the statement. The AU admissions office did not provide comment by the time of publication.


AU listed its 2010 recognition as most politically active under the “achievements” section of its news page. Matthew Brandenburger, a student accepted into AU’s class of 2024, said that one of the reasons he chose this university was the “opportunity to be politically active.” A future School of International Service student, Brandenberger said he was planning on getting involved on campus in a number of ways. “I hope to discuss our political climate with my new classmates and advocate for what I believe in,” he said. Brandenberger also plans on hosting a radio show and joining choir and debate. However, upon admission, some students say that the reality of campus political activism is different than advertised. AU senior Morgan Soudry is on the executive board for AU’s branch of She’s The First, a club that works to raise money to allow low-income students from other countries to have the opportunity to attend school. Soudry said she didn’t come to AU expecting a politically-active culture, but can see why the University’s claims are valid. “We are positioned in D.C., so many students will have ‘hillternships’ or intern with agencies that are associated with the government,” she said. “Location is a big part of it.” Soudry said the student response to the Office of Campus Life email about access to mental healthcare resources on campus is an example of just how politically active she believes AU students are. In spring 2020, OCL released an email that some students felt put the blame on them for the limited

availability of counseling resources. Responses to the email showed that AU students care about being involved and aren’t just politically active, but politically minded, Soudry said. “Most [students] are calling senators and voting, but also trying to influence the administration of the school,” she said. In contrast, Soudry also pointed to a video that surfaced in February of two AU first-years saying the n-word as an example of student outrage overshadowing action. “Being on this campus, it’s very easy to be, like, ‘I’m doing something because I’m talking about it,’ but not actually do the work to make change because you feel like you’re doing something just by talking to people who you already agree with.” Soudry said. Williams agreed with Soudry’s views on performative activism. As a political science major at AU, Williams is an active participant in groups like Students for Bernie and Sunrise Movement AU. Williams cites the University as partially responsible for its students’ inaction. Getting a club recognized is not always as easy as the tour guides make it sound – for example, groups supporting specific presidential candidates were denied club status, as was the Rose Coalition, a new media group aiming to be an unaffiliated leftist publication. “When the university tells groups of interested students that they are not allowed to reserve rooms, plan activities, fundraise, or table, that’s a significant impediment to students coming together and making a change,” Williams said. ___

Talia Marshall is a first-year majoring in sociology and American studies. 03


AWOL Magazine

NO RECOURSE LGBTQ Activists In D.C. Fight For More Support In Anticipation Of Supreme Court Decision Written by Zach Vallese Art by Ian Vaughan

The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision later this year that could affect the rights of LGBTQ Americans. This upcoming decision has brought about waves of activism throughout the community, especially those in Washington, D.C. Compared to the rest of the country, Washington, D.C. has the highest percentage of adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. Despite the large population, the district’s public officials disagree on how they should protect the rights of these individuals. “We are a progressive city, but there’s numerous things, frankly, that we’re just not funding,” said Japer Bowles, a member of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission for Adams Morgan and an LGBTQ advocate.

DC Flag and Pride Flag hanging over Pitchers, a popular gay sports bar in Adams Morgan where the D.C. Rainbow Caucus was founded (photo by Zach Vallese)

Since 1977, the D.C. Human Rights Act has made it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Bowles argues that while the act grants these protections, the government is not adequately funding programs to enforce the act. Bowles is one of the founding members of the Rainbow Caucus, a group of ANC representatives who advocate for LGBTQ rights in Washington.

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As a part of the Rainbow Caucus, he says there is still a lot of work to be done by Mayor Muriel Bowser to protect the rights of the LGBTQ community in the district. Almost 50% of employeers in the district would discriminate against LGBTQ community, according to a study conducted by the D.C. Office of Human Rights. The study found 48% of employers in the district would prefer a less-qualified cisgender applicant over a more-qualified transgender applicant. The likelihood is even higher for employers in the restaurant industry. “They’re very good at messaging,” Bowles said of the Bowser Administration. “But when it comes down to developing a workforce program, that’s something that the council and the mayor are not necessarily taking the lead on.” Bowles says that because there is not a strong advocate for the community on the D.C. Council, many of these complaints of discrimination go unnoticed. “One of the biggest issues that we’re trying to tackle is to actually enforce the complaints,” said Bowles. “We are excited to have a more protected class but if there’s no funding behind it, what is the point?” In January, the Rainbow Caucus joined a coalition of organizations


that brought a $22.5 million funding request to the mayor’s office that would allocate resources for the LGBTQ community. The funding would include $5 million specifically set aside for a transgender employment services program. LGBTQ activists in the district have experienced challenges when obtaining funding in the past. Last year, the D.C. Council rejected the Rainbow Caucus’ $3.5 million budget request for a grant program to protect homeless LGBTQ youth. “It’s not at the forefront of many of their agendas and we have felt like we’ve been pushed to the wayside,” Bowles continued. The Supreme Court has heard multiple cases that may result in more protections for employers who may choose to discriminate based on sexuality and gender identity. The outcomes of these cases may make it more challenging to create protections for the LGBTQ community. In November, a case was brought to the Supreme Court by Gerald Bostock, a gay welfare services coordinator from Clayton County, Georgia who was fired when he joined a gay recreational softball league. The case will determine whether sexuality and gender identity are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents employers from discriminating based on a person’s sex. In an amicus brief, state attorneys general representing Clayton County argued that the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not protect the LGBTQ community.

“Title VII prohibits only ‘sex’ discrimination, and the plain meaning of ‘sex’ is biological status as male or female, not sexual orientation or gender identity, ” said state attorneys in a written brief. Several members of the Mayor’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Affairs said there is nothing that needs to be done to further protect LGBTQ rights in the district, regardless of the Supreme Court’s ruling on this case. This is due to language in the D.C. Human Rights Act that protects against this kind of discrimination. “Because of our laws, we have enforcement mechanisms available regardless of how this case goes,” said Bobbi Strang, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance. But Strang is nervous about an upcoming case out of Philadelphia that could counter these mechanisms in the district.

since the court has recently become much more conservative, due to the loss of Justice Anthony Kennedy on the court. Justice Kennedy was often a swing vote and wrote the majority opinion for Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that legalized same-sex marriage in the U.S. After his retirement, he was replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who is considered to be more conservative according to data from FiveThirtyEight. “I think depending on how much the community reacts to it, we might be able to use this as leverage to get our more local legislative priorities passed,” Bowles said. __ Zach Vallese is a senior studying journalism and business and entertainment.

Scheduled to be argued during the court’s 2020 term, the Philadelphia case will determine if organizations have the ability to discriminate on the basis of sexuality because of their religious affiliation. The case was brought to the court after a foster care facility in Philadelphia refused to provide foster services to same-sex couples. “If the Philadelphia case goes against the LGBTQ community, we would have no recourse if someone is claiming religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws that protect the LGBTQ community,” said Strang. Members of the community are beginning to anticipate that these results could negatively affect them 05


AWOL Magazine

Episode 3: First Loves and Heartbreaks Produced by Maddi Cole, Shane Matheu Ryden, Grace Vitaglione, and Shannon Durazo Art by Lillie Bertrand and Kavi Farr

Welcome to The Hum. We started this podcast in the fall of 2019 because we wanted to create a space for the American University community to tell their own stories and express themselves. No angles, no positions: just experiences. Our team decided that we wanted to create a storytelling podcast. We didn’t quite know what we were doing at first; and honestly, we pretty much winged it for the first episode. But, here’s the process we’ve developed that goes into producing an episode of The Hum. We start by excitedly yelling ideas at each other in the AWOL office as one person furiously tries to write them all down. Once we’ve chosen a topic, the hardest part begins: finding people to tell their stories. The fun part is, of course, recording the interviews. Sometimes we have to record by the light of our phone flashlights in a dark studio. Sometimes we have to re-record our interviews completely. Sometimes we have to record an hour before one of us needs to be on a flight. It happens. And then it’s off to our editors, who deserve the world for the work they do to clean up our mistakes. Hug your local audio editor; they need it. Finally, our fantastic one-woman PR team makes sure the episode reaches your lovely ears. Our first episode was about online dating at AU, the second told family holiday stories, and the third focused on first loves and first heartbreaks. Each episode is designed to take listeners through the full range of emotions, from laughing out loud to tears. We’ve talked about online catfishing, Tinder dates in Ireland, family rifts and Soviet Santa Claus...among many other things. These are the voices of our community. We hope you hear yourself in them; and if not, we hope they make you feel something. And, as always, we want to learn from you. Your story matters. So email us at awolpodcast@gmail.com. Sincerely, The AWOL Podcast Team

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Ziona We were both sleeping on my floor like on a big blow up mattress, just kind of a slumber party, whatever, something cute. And we were about to fall asleep and they rolled over and said, ‘Hey, man, I love you.’ And I’ll never forget what I responded because I just was just stunned in the moment. And I said, ‘Right back at ya.’ They responded, ‘No, like I love you.’ And I was like, ‘Oh man, I love you too.’

Therese

Caroline

And then I had a sex dream. I fully had a sex dream about her, and that threw me. I got really emo and started listening to some sad boy songs, just like sitting in my bed thinking about what it would be like to kiss her. Which is so funny to me now. And so on the Tuesday of the first week of class, we got drunk because I told myself that day that I was gonna try and pull a move, with her consent, obviously. And we got drunk, and I asked her, ‘Do you kiss your friends?’ And it is still the funniest thing to this day.

I went to see the Sound of Music with my friends ... We get into the lobby of the all girls school and It looks like an all girls school, it’s just so depressing. So I walk into the lobby and there’s a bunch of family members and all of that and that’s where that moment of the lights and the scene from Little Women happens, like, I see him and he has bright curly hair, bright eyes and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I think I’m gonna love this boy one day.’

Adam

Chase

Looking back, I wish I was a little bit mature about it and just knew when it was over, but … I need to stop kicking myself about it because it’s your first time and you don’t know anything the first time. You have to have the first couple ones before you can do everything super informed. I was so insecure in the person that I was because of years and years of a Catholic upbringing that just tried to beat me down, you know. It sucks that like as a queer person, like your relationship … has to be something bigger, you know? Like, especially your first one, but any queer relationship, it has to be something bigger. It’s something that is politicized. It’s something like, it’s who you are, it’s your identity. While straight people don’t have to worry about their relationship being their identity.

It was over FaceTime and I said it kind of like... because whenever I talk to my friends or my family, I say like, ‘Love you.’ Like, ‘Love you, talk to you later.’ And it was kind of like one of those things I said in passing. I’m pretty sure I hung up. No, I did. I hung up the phone. But after I said that, I guess I just didn’t wait for him to respond. And then he called me back and asked me, ‘Did you say I love you?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know. Maybe, cuz like I say I love you to all my friends, don’t take it personally, don’t get a big head on me’ type of thing. And he just thought it was the funniest thing. But then he said, ‘I love you too.’

Check the episode out wherever you listen to podcasts!

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BOUNDARY BREAKERS: DOCUMENTARY

Asian American women in the film industry Written by Ziyi Yuan | Art by Ziyi Yuan

Content Warning: Language relating to violence and sexual violence Asian female filmmakers are far less likely to succeed compared to white male filmmakers in the American film market. The market prefers to give the director positions to male filmmakers. Over the past decade, only 1.6% of directors of the top Hollywood films were Asian women, according to a study from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. Audiences can see more recent societal changes that give more chances to Asian female directors, examples of their films being “The Farewell” directed by Lulu Wang in 2019 and “Birds of Prey” directed by Cathy Yan in 2020.

Leena Jayaswal is an Indian American documentary filmmaker and professor in the School of Communication at American University. She immigrated to the United States with her parents in 1998 when she was eight years old. Her films are focused on the intersection of being Indian and American. Jayaswal said that in India, parents hope their children will become doctors, engineers, lawyers and businesspeople. “I am really lucky that my parents support me to do what I like, photography and film,” said Jayaswal. She earned a bachelor’s in visual media from AU and a master’s in photography from Maryland Institute College of Art. Jayaswal co-directed the documentary “Crossing Lines.” The movie was narrated by Indira Somani, an Indian American woman. Somani was a single journalist attempting to find her identity, family and culture. The story connected her to her family in India.

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“Somani is different, her road is not traditional in India,” said Jayaswal. “I was torn in identity, and there was no model for me to navigate life. So, I need to show the perspective through the documentary to the same group.” Jayaswal was invited to the Indian Embassy in Washington where she showed a documentary focusing on sexual assault in India. She said an attendee told her that she should play a film about a more positive story about Indian families. Jayaswal said she has more passion for photography, but documentaries give her a different way to record stories instead of just capturing a moment. Her skills in filmmaking were selftaught, and she is teaching those same skills now to her students at AU. The commercial film market doesn’t provide many chances for female directors. The documentary market is more diverse than commercial films, said Jayaswal, but there is still room for improvement.


Jayaswal said that many film students have struggled to get a job in the film industry. Many students, like junior Phoebe Jessup, know about issues like racism and sexism in the film market, but they still choose to major in film. Jessup is a film and media arts major at AU. She is American, but was adopted from Vietnam in 1999. She was studying abroad in the Czech Republic in the 2020 spring semester, but she returned to America due to the coronavirus pandemic. Jessup said that she wants to work at PBS after she graduates and make documentaries. “I want to make a documentary to encourage people to adopt children,” said Jessup. “Those children’s lives will change.” International students at AU have a unique perspective due to their cultural background that can influence their filmmaking. Xianqi Liang is a Chinese international student and a senior majoring in film and media arts at AU. She said studying abroad could

provide her with a wider perspective on the purpose and meaning of film. At AU, Liang created many narrative short-films with her classmates. She says she would like to try to work on some documentaries relating to current social issues in China in the future. “Most film production companies [in China] prefer to spend more money on the celebrities instead of film production itself because of lacking the narrative content and script diversity,” said Liang. Liang said the film industry in China is rapidly developing, and she believes that one-day Chinese movies will play an important role in the worldwide film industry. Other creators have discovered their passion for filmmaking later in life. Fatima Syed was a PakistaniAmerican photographer. Syed was a photographer at IMG Models, however, she quit because she saw a lack of initiative taken to diminish sexual assault incidents. Now, she is working at Caandor Labs as creative director.

Currently, Syed is producing a film about intersex Pakistani people. Intersex people in Pakistan face discrimination in the community by not being able to have an ID or a job. Syed is focusing on how low-income families often kill their children who are intersex. “Pakistan isn’t safe for intersex and transgender people because they are living in a sexually abusive society,” said Syed. “Intersex people can dance for weddings to earn some money, but that pay is not enough for them to live on,” she said. Syed has continued exploring new creative avenues in her photography and documentary work. She created a photo series called “Women in Color” to depict how the global society treats women. “It’s not easy for women of color to work in the world of white men, and we have to work harder than them and keep going,” Syed said. __ Ziyi Yuan is a junior studying journalism and graphic design.

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AWOL Magazine

ZOOM-BOMBSHELL: IS AMERICAN UNIVERSITY CYBERSECURE? The Transition to Online Classes Reveals New Vulnerabilities Written by Catie Colucci Art by Maddie Ceasar

An American University professor was hosting his “American 1990s” class on the video conferencing tool Zoom as he did every Thursday morning. Suddenly, a group of unknown individuals hacked the Zoom conference and began to harass his class. “They got into the Zoom session and immediately started shouting and yelling. One of these interlopers used the n-word directed at me and made comments about my beard and the shirt I had on,” AU professor W. Joseph Campbell said. These intruders are often called “Zoom bombers” and pose a threat to anyone using the platform. As AU operations move online, the security of teleconferencing platforms comes under far greater concern. This problem doesn’t just affect AU. Many universities have been affected by hacking attempts. In 2019, 25% of education-related breaches resulted in private information being stolen, according to Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report. With these attacks targeting academia, universities are emplacing measures to address the quality of cybersecurity at universities. Campbell and his teaching assistant were able to quickly expel the individuals and continue with class. He plans to continue to use Zoom as

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a platform for online teaching with the addition of a password for each class session. Campbell also noted the importance of Zoom’s responsibility of protecting its users. “One of the responsibilities Zoom has to its users is to make the learning curve regarding security issues as shallow as possible,” he said. He believes the cybersecurity issues facing Zoom, and any online platform, are the joint responsibility of the user and the service. This isn’t the only instance of Zoom bombers affecting the AU community. In April, the AU Student Government debate hosted on Zoom was hacked with invaders displaying sexually explicit content. Many cybersecurity experts say that a key way to stop these kinds of attacks is better education on how to prevent them from happening in the first place. Dilsia Stoner, the student success manager for the HackerUSA program at AU, believes cybersecurity is more important now than ever. HackerUSA provides cybersecurity education and partners with universities, enterprises and governments to train digital skills. “The goal for this program is to provide continuing education to


students and future generations that want to pursue a career in the field of cybersecurity,” Stoner said. These students don’t necessarily need to come from a cybersecurity or information technology background, she added. In 2019, 53% of businesses were hacked from cybersecurity attacks, Stoner said. “It’s not a matter of if you will be hacked, but when. We need cybersecurity professionals now to help fight these attempts,” Stoner said. “For this reason, there is no surprise that there is a 0% unemployment rate in cybersecurity. We are in dire need for cybersecurity professionals.” Stoner continued to emphasize the importance of cybersecurity careers. “It is a rewarding career both in what you will be doing as a professional and in the means of compensation,” she said. “Too many individuals, companies, operations, etc. are exposed to future attacks.” The Kogod School of Business houses the Kogod Cybersecurity Governance Center, which is responsible for conducting cybersecurity and privacy research. This research is used to provide business leaders with guidance to ensure their services are cyber secure, according to the Kogod School of Business. The KCGC has paired with HackerUSA for the purpose of providing students with updated training programs to prepare them for careers in cybersecurity and IT. HackerUSA is described as the leading tech and cybersecurity education provider in global markets by the KCGC. Heng Xu, director of the KCGC, described herself as a scientific researcher of cybersecurity, not a

practitioner. She provided two of her recent academic papers as examples of the importance of cyber tools to companies. Her research demonstrates how “onesize-fits-all” identification tools often do not serve all communities equally. “Policy wise, regulators should carefully study the real-world implications before mandating privacy, as the direct usage of offthe-shelf anonymization tools may mask disparities that are otherwise identifiable,” Xu said in one of her papers. Michael Robinson, a professor of mathematics and statistics at AU and a group of his students have partnered with BAE Systems, a global defense, security and aerospace company. This is in order to support and assist in the development of new technological tools to strengthen privacy in electronic files and private information from cyber attacks. Robinson has published a book detailing different aspects of cybersecurity tools.

knowledge of AU’s cybersecurity precautions, but explained that universities pose a big target. “In general terms, universities tend to present a rather large attack surface,” he said. “It strikes me that preventing and managing an attack is not the right response -- it’s more a matter of building systems that are resilient in the face of attacks.” But this task is difficult for all organizations, Robinson said. Professors at AU seem to be in agreement that cybersecurity, both at American University and at businesses and organizations globally, is more important today than ever before. “It is kind of marvelous how technology can work, but it doesn’t take much for it not to work,” said Campbell. __ Catie Colucci is a first-year majoring in psychology.

Robinson said he does not believe the cyber tools that he is developing with BAE are necessary to prevent a cyberattack, but instead, he hopes these tools will prevent a specific issue that is often ignored. The tool he described is meant to ensure PDF documents remain the same online and when printed. “Imagine a legal document that renders with one set of terms on the screen - presumably as you’re reading it - and then prints a different set of terms, assuming you will sign without reading the printout carefully. This is the kind of thing we’re trying to identify and mitigate,” Robinson said. Robinson said that he has little 11


AWOL Magazine

P H O T O

E S S A Y

THE KREEGER MUSEUM TEDDY EVERETT I am fascinated by the lines, materials and shadowplay that have come to define mid-century modern architecture. The Kreeger Museum, located just a few blocks from American University, is a jaw-dropping case study of how careful manipulation of sunlight, material and space can create a dream-like atmosphere.

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AWOL Magazine

INCLUSIVITY REQUIRES ACCESSIBILITY

Issues with ASAC Accommodations

Written by Sierra Cougot Art by Sierra Cougot

Within the greater American University community, an average of 6,000 students apply for accommodations relating to their disability each year. In 2019, a study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that approximately 19% of undergraduate students in the United States are living with a disability. AWOL published an article last year covering one of these cases, wherein the AU campus center for disability services denied academic accommodation requests for a student living with a diagnosed learning impairment. This was not an isolated incident for students with disabilities — visible or invisible, temporary or otherwise. AU emphasizes its progress towards creating an inclusive community for all students. “Diversity”, “equity”, “accessibility” and “inclusive excellence” are all listed as core values on the University’s website. The Academic Support and Access Center, as stated in their mission statement posted to their website, is meant to “support the academic development and educational goals of all American University students and is committed to promoting access for individuals with disabilities within the university’s diverse community.”

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ASAC provides a range of accommodations for students, such as supplemental instruction and tutoring for students with learning disabilities and assistive learning technology for students with visual or hearing impairments. Priority deadlines are set for accommodation applications at the beginning of each semester. ASAC’s website states that “requests submitted after the priority deadlines will be reviewed in a timely fashion, but accommodation decision-making and implementation cannot be guaranteed by the beginning of the semester.” The office’s website makes note of the guideline, saying that while they are priority deadlines, missing the deadline does not make a student ineligible for receiving accommodations, However, the policy continues, saying that “accommodation decision-making and implementation cannot be guaranteed [for all students] by the beginning of the semester. “Missing out on the introduction to these courses can pose challenges for students and turn into a difficult game of catch up,” said Christina Harris, an AU graduate student and teaching assistant at the School of International Service. “Attending the first few weeks of any university class is highly important,


as this is when you first meet your professor, discuss course expectations, and have the time to really feel out the course to see if it’s right for you,” Harris said. Harris said this period of time may also affect whether or not a student will make the decision to drop or add a course. Missing the first two to three weeks of a semester because of pending disability accommodations also effectively shortens students’ drop periods. ASAC did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication. Daniel Sackstein, a junior at American University, injured his knee while living on campus during his freshman year. “It was physically exhausting to hold up my body weight plus a heavy backpack while I was essentially hopping on just one leg,” Sackstein said.

rides to the quad, even for just the first week while I transitioned. But they wouldn’t budge.” “I mentioned that my friend who had an ACL tear was accommodated by her university, but they told me that this was AU,” Sackstein said. Aside from these instances, Sackstein said, “ASAC was actually super helpful. They arranged for me to take one of my exams I missed due to doctors visits in their offices.” But the road to receiving accommodations does not end simply once a student is able to connect and work with an accessibility advisor. ASAC’s process for receiving accommodations states that “students must give comprehensive and relevant documentation that explains the impact of [their] disability

and makes a recommendation for accommodation.” This policy leaves students that are a part of the AU community with undiagnosed or invisible disabilities in a difficult position. Another AU student, who wishes to remain anonymous to avoid further retribution, admitted they were hesitant to start the process. They said, “I knew it would be difficult to get a note with an official diagnosis.” Not only are they not officially diagnosed, but they were also in the process of switching doctors after moving to the district during their freshman year. When they did contact their original physician, the doctor informed them “they couldn’t

When first registering for accommodations with ASAC, Sackstein said that he felt desperate about handling the distance from the freshman dorms to Kerwin Hall while dependent on crutches. In a previous public statement issued regarding last year’s case, the University said, “Recognizing that every student has unique needs that may change over their time at AU, ASAC seeks to fully engage with all students requesting accommodations in an individualized, interactive, and continuous process.” When requesting his accommodations, Sackstein said, “I tried to get them to commit to offer

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AWOL Magazine

give a diagnosis note without seeing them in their office.”

for students who report invisible disabilities.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires universities that receive federal funding to accommodate students with disabilities to ensure they get the same quality of life and education as others on campus. ASAC, however, states on their website that “students may enter the university without identifying their disability.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act outlines an “invisible disability” as any physical, mental, or neurological condition that inhibits or challenges a person’s daily activities yet is not visible to outsiders. This includes, but is not limited to, attention disorders, stress disorders, and chronic pain or illness.

Whether they are approved for on-campus accommodations or not, the fulfillment of a student’s accommodation request is dependent upon each individual professors’ willingness to oblige. Sackstein said that his professors at AU were extremely helpful and understanding, and at times, helped him when ASAC wouldn’t. This experience varies, however, on a case by case basis. Particularly 18

The same AU student who wishes to remain anonymous found that their professors were less likely to believe them because the main effect of their illness is pain — something that oftentimes is not as apparent as other physical injuries. “I find myself going to class more often than is healthy for me, as I know the repercussions of missing class are often severe grade deductions,” the student said.

According to the Invisible Disabilities Association website, “people often judge others by what they see and conclude a person can or cannot do something by the way they look. This attitude can be equally frustrating for those who may appear unable but are perfectly capable, as well as those who seem able, but are not.” The ASAC campus accessibility map shows there are three buildings on campus that are not accessible by wheelchair or crutches. If a student requires such assistive equipment and is assigned to a class in one of these inaccessible spaces, ASAC policy states that the student needs to go through the University Registrar to move their courses to buildings with accessible classrooms. According to ASAC’s website, it can take up to several business days before a student is able to attend their classes.


As of 2020, the East Quad Building and the President’s Building are both completely inaccessible for students who use assistive equipment like a wheelchair to travel. Hurst Hall, the third building on AU’s main campus that is considered inaccessible, has a wheelchair lift leading up to the doors of the building’s main entrance. Once inside, however, a set of stairs is the only point of access for classrooms on other floors.

made accessible as part of proposed renovation plans and after approval of the campus plan anticipated for 2021. The focus has been on other facilities and the university has not made any decisions regarding plans to make the POB accessible.” __ Sierra Cougot is a first-year student and is an undecided communications major.

As part of AU’s strategic five-year plan “Changemakers for a Changing World,” AU’s Planning and Project Management’s 2021 Campus Plan explains the office’s “bold vision for the university, drawing upon AU’s legacy of scholarship, learning, and community.” AU Director of Public Affairs Stacie Burgess stated that “Hurst and East Quad buildings will be 19


AWOL Magazine

IS AUX2 ENOUGH? Students Unsure if University Program is Adequately Addressing Campus Prejudice

Written by Jasmine Dean Art by Ian Vaughan

As American University continues the AU Experience curriculum as a first-year student requirement for its second semester, students are questioning whether the material is succeeding in tackling issues of privilege and inequality on campus.

One major critique among students is that AUx2 has forced marginalized students to speak about their own experiences to teach more privileged students about issues such as racism and other forms of prejudice or discrimination.

The AU Experience is a required two part course made for first year students and transfers. The second part, AUx2, has raised controversy among students as it seeks to provide a space in learning about power, privilege and inequality.

“We experience this from day to day, and every single day,” said Karissa Frederick, a black student enrolled in AUx2.

In light of the course, many marginalized students continue to speculate if enough is being done to have their voices heard by the university. “My experience should not be their lesson,” said Rose Sivri, a Muslim student currently enrolled in AUx2. “When you get into a topic that describes you, you feel uncomfortable.” Sivri said she often felt awkward glances or stares when talking about a subject related to her identity, especially in a class where she is one of few minority students.

However, she also feels the course is a productive first step in creating dialogue on issues like racism and discrimination, and specifically in forcing others to confront privilege they may not realize or see every day. “I think it is a good idea to allow people to talk about some of the struggles that people of color have faced and the social structures that have been created,” Frederick said. Two AUx coordinators did not return a request for comment, nor did the AU chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens. AUx2 only recently became a requirement in fall 2018. During the spring semester 2017, recently elected American University Student Government president Taylor Dumpson became the target of racist incidents on campus.


AU is not the only university to have a diversity training centered course. Confronting issues of diversity has been a difficult process across the nation, where colleges are grappling with how to integrate diversity in their curriculums. George Washington University implemented a diversity training session for freshman students as a part of a larger plan for Diversity and Inclusion after a racist video surfaced on Snapchat involving two members of the sorority Alpha Phi. However, they do not have a required course similar to AUx2. “I have found the training session effective because it offered me resources for any scenario and made the options available to me that I didn’t know before,” said GWU freshman Ria Deval. “I think the required session was helpful, but there is so much more to learn.” However, GWU has not carried out its plan of diversity and inclusion without criticism either. Students called on their president, Thomas LeBlanc, to resign after he made an insensitive racial remark comparing the support for divestment in fossil fuels to hypothetical support of shooting black people. “The administration has apologized multiple times for the remarks made. However, a lot of people don’t think this is enough and are calling for the president to resign,” said Deval. The pushback seen at GWU is also seen at AU and surrounds AUx2 as part of a larger issue regarding how the administration deals with continous issues of discrimination and racism on campus. A video that went viral spring 2019 showed a first-year student saying the n-word in Anderson Hall and the incident pushed students to petition

for black safe spaces on campus. The University condemned these actions in a released statement and students at the time through social media called on the University to do better.

was a continuation of discriminatory acts he faced as a Black student in the SIS doctoral program and that he was targeted by faculty after complaining about racism within the department.

Last fall, many students protested an AU Police Department incident involving a black student who was forcibly removed from her apartment by officers. The incident sparked outrage among the student body including a student protest named #HandsOffGianna that took place outside the Mary Graydon Center on campus.

“I’ve been having a really horrible time since all that happened. I just remember people yelling at me and standing over me, and being very fearful,” Mills said in the article.

The administration pushed back against the criticism and said that the circumstances surrounding the video were misunderstood. This semester, another video went viral of a first-year student saying the n-word. The first-year, as well as the student behind the camera, were associated with the University’s Chi Omega chapter and were enrolled in AUx2. The video sparked another call among students for AU’s administration to be held accountable. Disparities between the administration and students towards addressing racism on campus are not just confined to the undergraduate level. Issues of discrimination extend to AU’s gruaduate programs, where some students feel the administration continues to minimize the issues facing students of color. Zach Mills, a Ph.D student in AU’s SIS program, encountered these disparities first-hand. In an article for Inside Higher Ed, Mills argued that the University failed to address his complaints about racism within the School International Service department for the Ph.D students, waving off his allegations.

Frederick added that AUx2 classes and responses to racial incidents can feel draining because of the pressure felt when attempting to represent all marginalized people at a predominantly white institution. “I think that different conversations and reactions have been productive on the part of the students,” Frederick said. “It can be draining to feel like a spokesperson.” This is expressed throughout the University, where students of color are pushing for change and speaking on issues of racism on campus. The issue of Black Affinity Housing came to light in spring 2019 after sophomore Eric Brock started a petition calling for more black safe spaces on campus. The housing option will be offered starting fall 2020 in Roper Hall with the intention of creating a community around shared identities and goals. Undergraduate students of color also organized the #HandsOffGianna protest in fall 2019. “If a class is being taken for racism, the university should also take action for the racism in their community rather than make it go unseen,” Sivri said. __ Jasmine Dean is a first-year student studying International Studies.

Mills also argued that a wellness check conducted by AUPD officers 21


AWOL Magazine

MENTAL HEALTH CRISES SPARK A CALL TO IMPROVE AU’S COUNSELING SERVICES At AU’s Counseling Center, long-term care for a few is sacrificed for short-term care for many

Written by Maya Savoie Art by Caroline Lougee

Elyssa Dalaker, a sophomore at American University, criticized the university’s handling of mental health crises on campus in a Facebook post in October 2019. “American University’s administration does not care about the mental health crisis on campus,” Dalaker wrote. Dalaker wrote in the post about how she had witnessed two suicide attempts in dorms on campus and how they were handled, including stories about crisis response from the AU Police Department. Dalaker ended the post by requesting students share their own experiences.

The center currently offers six to eight free counseling sessions per year for any student in need. Once these sessions have been used, the center’s policy is to refer students to counselors outside AU. As for AUPD wellness checks, University spokespeople said their officers were well-prepared for managing mental health crises. “All our systems are built for early identification,” said Traci Callandrillo, assistant vice president of Campus Life. “Our AUPD officers are specially trained.” She conceded that not every officer is trained for early identification, but they have the opportunity to receive

“I just got a generic half-page response from the President’s office saying, ‘We care about our students.’” Dalaker said. “The ironic part is the last line. ‘If you need any help, call our Counseling Center.’” The post was published roughly a month after a video of an AU student being carried out of her university apartment by AUPD during a mental health wellness check went viral and sparked outrage on social media.

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Student demand for mental health services on campus doubled within the past 10 years, according to Daniel Birichi, staff clinician at AU’s Counseling Center.

training. Calandrillo also said that AUPD has at least one officer on a shift who is trained from a Crisis Intervention Team model. During the CIT program, AUPD officers learn about mental illness and de-escalation techniques like reducing distress. They are encouraged to connect individuals in crisis with available resources such as the


Counseling Center as well as those they already have relationships with, including friends or family members.

sure there are other aspects that could be addressed, like more staff, more availability for counselors there.”

However, the Counseling Center is not involved in training AUPD officers, according to Jeffrey Volkmann, executive director of the Counseling Center. Volkmann said that counselors from the center can only operate within the confines of a space where confidentiality is ensured, so they cannot be present in a residence hall to respond to a crisis such as in the situations Dalaker witnessed. AUPD handles the majority of hospitalizations for students.

The Counseling Center has seven full-time counselors and a case manager, as of this past year. Coupled with the small physical space the center occupies, it is difficult to bring in more clinicians when there is nowhere to put them.

The Counseling Center increased the number of initial consultations in 2019 by about one hundred since the previous year, according to Volkmann. Forty percent of individuals are seen for initial consultations within under five days, and over half get an appointment within ten days.

These decisions include the cap on free counseling sessions. Years ago, everyone at AU had unlimited sessions, and students that made appointments earlier in the year received a disproportionate number of appointments, according to Volkmann. This is why the center now attempts to strike a balance between serving a large portion of the student body by limiting the number of sessions.

However, some initial consultations are not attended by students. As a result, these slots cannot be filled by other students in need. This was an issue mentioned in a Jan. 26 campuswide email sent out by Fanta Aw, Vice President of Campus Life. “Don’t no-show your appointments, because you’re wasting a resource that other people could use,” said Callandrillo. “The biggest impact on the amount of waiting time that people have is the unused sessions that we can’t fill.” Students have struggled to find ways to cope after their six to eight sessions with the center have elapsed. “My biggest thing is the six to eight limit,” said Cassandra Moore, a senior and director for the Center for Advocacy and Student Equity, an organization that recommends resources to students to help them with alleged conduct violations. “I’m

“Basically what we try to do as much as possible is make data-driven decisions,” said Volkmann. “It’s kind of like, we have a finite amount of food to feed the whole campus and we do our best with what we have.”

“There’s something called the dose response effect. This is true for all medicine,” said Callandrillo. “What’s the point where a person’s response ... in this case, therapy, is starting to kick in? We’re really trying to drill it down to what’s the number of sessions that is going to be maximizing for our community.” In answering this, the center follows the principles of the “dose-response effect,” which states there is little difference in the effectiveness of eight therapy sessions versus 16 sessions. The center could offer unlimited treatment, but patients might not all receive the same chance to reach that point of recovery because resources are limited.

“We were trying to determine what’s the most we could give and still give a lot to other students,” said Volkmann, citing the Collegiate Mental Health Association’s assessment of the dose-response effect. “If you look at nine sessions, that’s how much people improve. And if you look at 19 sessions, it’s pretty similar.” “I would say if someone is going through a period of trauma, a shortterm sort of thing ... the eight week period would be sufficient,” said senior Ryan Marsan while recounting his own experience at the Counseling Center as a first-year. “After that eight weeks, I felt a lot better,” Still, Marsan said he felt that for counseling to be truly beneficial to people it has to be an ongoing process. “The negative of the short-term is that the individual person can feel that they’re not getting enough,” explained


AWOL Magazine

Nathaniel Herr, associate professor of psychology at AU. “The positive is that there’s more spots for more people who need help.” The Student Advisory Council to the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion and the Student Government hosted a “Listening Session” for students to address these issues before Counseling Center and Campus Life staff members in November. A follow-up event called “A Conversation Over Lunch” was hosted in December. “I think the Listening Session was maybe effective because I noticed that a couple of the faculty in the room were kind of surprised that there were so many people who attempted suicide,” said Olivia Loibner, a sophomore student who attended the first session. “I think that there were more people in the room who hadn’t shared that they had tried.” The center is starting with a new system called “Question Persuade

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Refer” that will train faculty and students on handling mental health crises. This program will hopefully help those, like Dalaker, who find themselves in difficult situations to take the right course of action.

“I just got a generic half-page response from the President’s office saying, ‘We care about our students.’” Dalaker said. “The ironic part is the last line. ‘If you need any help, call our Counseling Center.’”

“Like CPR, you’re trying to keep the person alive until the experts arrive,” described Volkmann. “The challenges that the university’s facing about mental health can’t just be solved by the Counseling Center, but if we have a community approach to mental health, then things will get a little better for students.”

Students can contact Natalie Rusch, director of clinical services, or Jeffrey Volkmann, executive director at the Counseling Center to provide constructive feedback on their services.

A mix of short and long-term counseling and psychiatric visits would be ideal in order for the center to meet the needs of students, according to Herr. The challenge is that providing mental health care to thousands of individuals would be costly. Dalaker said that she reached out to AU president Sylvia Burwell regarding her experiences.

__ Maya Savoie is a first-year studying journalism and German.


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COLLEGE STUDENTS WORK TO PRIORITIZE MENTAL HEALTH IN LIGHT OF COVID-19 Written by Katherine Long Art by Rojeen Azadi and Kavi Farr

Universities’ mental health resources have been put under significant strain since the coronavirus pandemic, prompting some students to take matters into their own hands. Students at local universities such as Georgetown University, George Washington University and the University of Maryland, College Park, have suggested their own accommodations in light of what they believe are insufficient support efforts by their schools to provide necessary services. “I think the students that are really struggling are the ones who were probably struggling before or were on the edge,” said Elizabeth Jodoin, director of counseling services at the University of South Carolina Upstate. “This has just put them over.” The rate of moderate to severe depression among college students increased from 23.2% in 2007 to 41.4% in 2018, according to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. On top of this, the National Council on Disability reported in 2017 that 27% percent of four-year college students don’t have access to psychiatrists on campus. Now, students face the added layer of being self-quarantined and completing college courses remotely.

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The Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a statement on March 30 easing restrictions on telehealth and allowing health care providers to treat patients on platforms compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. While this allows college counselors to hold sessions with students over platforms such as Zoom and Skype, students feel that this isn’t enough. “People aren’t really paying as much attention to the fact that mental health and physical health are equally important,” said Jasmine Soni, president of Active Minds at the University of Maryland. While the Maryland chapter of Active Minds isn’t holding in-person meetings, Soni said they are hosting an event called “Movies for Mental Health” where they show short films about mental health disorders as a way of continuing the conversation around obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression. The chapter is also posting resources such as text crisis lines and mental health surveys on Facebook to check in with students, Soni said. Maryland continues to offer counseling services through


virtual sessions. However, other accommodations were brought on by student demand, Soni said. “In light of working with students, I know we had to push for a lot of the things that they ended up doing,” Soni said. “And I do think that UMD wasn’t doing enough before.” Georgetown hasn’t given students Wany new mental health resources besides what was provided before the pandemic, said Kaitlyn Reynolds, president of Active Minds at Georgetown. “I know there has been a bit of a public outcry for new resources that are conducive to being at home and addressing these disparities in resources,” Reynolds said. Despite this, Reynolds said the university has been responsive to student feedback. Active Minds at Georgetown is also working to provide solutions for students. Members of the organization have been livestreaming their daily activities to provide students with things to do in quarantine and tips on how to maintain mental health. The organization also started a blog where students can anonymously voice anxieties about their daily lives without repercussions from the administration, Reynolds said.

“If you cannot be mentally well, how do you succeed in college?” Jodoin said. GW Listens is an anonymous peer hotline created by students as an outlet for George Washington students. While the hotline closed during the pandemic, members continue to reach out through social media. “At GW we’ve seen a good response from student leadership and students themselves reaching out to each other and checking up on each other,” said Astor Tellman, co-director of GW Listens. “So I think that’s a really positive sign.” George Washington’s Colonial Health Center doesn’t currently have a director after its first director resigned in September 2017, but dean of student experience M.L. “Cissy” Petty said they are reviewing other institutions before conducting an official search. Despite complaints from students at George Washington, Tellman said she believes the university is doing its best to provide mental health aid at this time. Outside of university administrations and student organizations, Sharpen is a company providing mental health resources to individuals. 27


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In response to the coronavirus, the company announced that it would make its app Sharpen Colleges free for university students until the fall 2020 semester. “College students are logging into a platform to learn to have self-led experiences with evidence-based tools and resources,” said the CEO of Sharpen, Robyn Hussa Farrell. Their goal is to help students destigmatize themselves and get connected with a licensed clinician, Farrell said. The University of South Carolina Upstate partnered with Sharpen and began providing telehealth in 2017, so the university’s counseling center didn’t have to scramble to move resources online, said Jodoin, director of counseling services at the

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University of South Carolina Upstate. “If you cannot be mentally well, how do you succeed in college?” Jodoin said. Little is known about when stay-athome orders will be lifted or when students might be able to return to their campuses. Active Minds Georgetown will have to take into consideration how they can help students once they return to campus and give students the

opportunity to discuss how they felt while they were home, Reynolds said. “Going through this entire pandemic and seeing the way that the world can operate differently given such circumstances is going to change the way that we look at education,” Reynolds said. __ Katherine Long is a sophomore studying journalism with a minor in international studies.


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AWOL Magazine

THIS IS NOT A HEARTWARMING STORY Ryann Ersoff didn’t ask to become an app developer. But in the era of coronavirus, she saw an opportunity to help people. Written by Benjamin S. Weiss Art by Kavi Farr

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Ryann Ersoff wants you to know that she is not a STEM major. “Developing an app is not something that I knew how to do,” she said. “I’m very ‘communications’ and ‘literature,’ and just all the right-brained artsy stuff.” Ersoff, a junior at American University, gained notoriety in March for her role in developing an app that compiles resources for individuals grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the nation. Her work went viral on Twitter, and gained the attention of local media and advocacy groups. In late March, she was featured in DCist. I sat down with Ersoff -- through the socially-responsible medium of teleconference -- to chat about her experience developing the app, as well as her feelings about becoming something of a local celebrity. The app itself, Ersoff said, was a product of free time and idle hands. When AU transitioned to online distance learning in March, Ersoff returned to her hometown of Los Angeles, nixing her plans to spend spring break in Canada. Trapped at home, she kept tabs on the developing coronavirus crisis. In her free time, Ersoff started looking into financial resources available to California residents and collating them into a Google Doc. Eventually, her research expanded beyond economic data and became a statewide directory for coronavirus resources. “By the end of the day, it turned into, like, six pages of work, because I’m compulsive,” she said. “And I shared it on Twitter. And it kind of took off.”

Ersoff promoted the document as a collaborative list open to public addition, where it quickly garnered attention. As of April 11, her Tweet with the document link has over 1,300 retweets and 2,300 likes. The document itself is now over 20 pages long and features resources for 49 states, as well as options for international contributors. After her document went viral, Ersoff said she was contacted by Charles Reed, a member of the enterprise analytics team at data software company SAP. Reed and Ersoff collaborated to develop an app that synthesized the information made available in her document. “We speak every day,” she said, adding that they had just checked in before our interview. The app continues to expand as more information is submitted, said Ersoff. “We’re just thinking of ways to add to the app every day.”

She contrasted the community response with a viral video from March in which celebrities sang edited snippets from the song “Imagine,” by John Lennon. “The community dichotomy of that is people passing off vital resources to people that need them,” she said, drawing a stark comparison between her efforts and the video. The juxtaposition is striking, Ersoff said. She is inspired by the actions of the community in comparison to her perception that celebrities are not doing as much as they could. The overwhelmingly positive public response and glowing media reviews seem to tell the story of an enterprising university student giving back to her community. Ersoff paints a slightly less uplifting picture. At first, she took on this project out of a sense of responsibility to the community.

The mentions of her original Tweet are filled with individuals and groups linking to their own resources and praising her contributions. “You are amazing and wonderful,” commented user @dalek_kaan1. “Thank you for being a great human.” “I love you for this. Literally,” said @Nenetrill_. Ersoff said her project highlights the power of grassroots organization, as opposed to publicity stunts from celebrities.

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@COVID19_APP

[who are getting involved],” she said. “It should be the people in power who have access to resources … they should be creating ways to help during stuff like [COVID-19].” Ersoff said she was critical of agendasetters, like President Trump, for downplaying the severity of the crisis and holding back an official response. She said the resources available on her app reflect the insufficient government involvement in mitigating the fallout. “I very much think in the long term, in the future,” she said. “And I think that I was just feeling very stagnant and thinking that, like, we’re going to judge this time eventually … we’re going to talk about what we did during quarantine and what we did during the pandemic.” She said she felt that she had an obligation to do her part. “I don’t want what I did during the pandemic to be, ‘I sat around and played video games while people were dying,’” said Ersoff. While Ersoff recognized the good her work had done for the community, she was critical of the inflated importance of her own role in the national coronavirus response. “It shouldn’t be people like me who have no interest in this kind of stuff 32

“Most of the resources on the app are grants, fundraisers, things like that, that are still grassroots-type organizations, not government,” said Ersoff. Ersoff, a communications and political science major, took on an additional academic burden when she started this project. “I am an artist, I’m not interested in technology or data. I had to learn how to help code. Like, I have no idea how to do any of that stuff.” As a student, Ersoff has had trouble prioritizing university work over what she sees as her obligation to help people struggling during the pandemic. “Unfortunately, my academics have sort of been my side project, and this has been my main source of focus,”


she said. “It’s really hard to hold motivation and priority on getting an A on my economics paper over responding to people who need help, who are not gonna be able to pay their mortgage.” Towards the end of our conversation, I asked Ersoff what she would say to the average person who is feeling afraid and angry during this difficult time. “It’s hard,” she replied, “because I feel like that person. Yeah, I don’t feel like I’m on a pedestal or in any position to give advice at all.” She challenged the idea that her case was unique. “It’s interesting to me that people think of [this project] as, like, a change-making, big thing,” she said. “I think a lot of people at American University do things like this.” She said she was pleased that the University shared her app with students, but added that she was excited to see what other steps the administration will take beyond promoting student efforts.

necessary. She noted the effects of the pandemic could stick around for longer than the virus itself, and she would continue to keep her list of resources fresh. When she’s not doing the government’s job, Ersoff said she’s been painting a tarp in her room, which is a “very meditative experience” for her. She’s done a lot of reading and watched all of Grey’s Anatomy. She’s also playing Skyrim. When the crisis is over, though, Ersoff is excited to get back to her normal life. “I’m excited for just, like, normalcy again … going to class and going to bed,” she told me. “I miss groups of five or more. I miss being bumped into on the street. So I guess I’ll be looking forward to that.” You can follow Ryann Ersoff ’s app updates on Twitter: @covid19_app. __ Benjamin S. Weiss is a senior studying international relations & Russian.

Ersoff now finds herself asking why her contribution was necessary in the first place. “I think the most important thing to take away was probably that this is not a heartwarming story,” she said. Instead, it demonstrates the shortcomings of leadership in the pandemic response. “I think it’s really sad,” she said, “Their leaders have failed, so much so that it’s taking movements and organizations like this for people, without any power at all, to help.” Ersoff said she and Reed would be updating their app for as long as

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AWOL Magazine

Copyright Š 2020 AWOL Magazine All Rights Reserved. Published in the United States of America American University 4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20016 www.awolau.org Cover and layout design by Caroline Lougee & Kavi Farr Type set in Garamond Premier Pro & Neue Haas Unica W1G ___________________________________________ AWOL aims to continue pushing both ourselves and American University to be more critical of issues that deserve to be understood with nuance; to work subversively when dismantling barriers that suppress certain voices; to love irrepressibly when it comes to serving our community. We ignite campus discussions on social, cultural and political issues. We want to make our campus more inquiring, egalitarian and socially engaged. Our stories have an angle, which is different from having an agenda. Our reporting is impartial and fair, but our analysis is critical and argumentative. We were independently founded by American University students in 2008. While we are still student-run, today we are housed under AU’s Student Media Board. AWOL is a member of the Associated Collegiate Press and Generation Progress Voices Network. This publication has won awards at the National College Media Convention, and its writers have won awards from the Society for Professional Journalists and the College Media Association. ___________________________________________ General Email: awolau@gmail.com Web Editor: awolauweb@gmail.com Podcasting Directors: awolpodcast@gmail.com Bisexualitea Team: bisexualiteapodcast@gmail.com PR Director: awolpr@gmail.com

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AWOL - Issue 27 (Spring 2020)  

AWOL's 27th issue -- published exclusively in online format! Look out for the print version in the fall!

AWOL - Issue 27 (Spring 2020)  

AWOL's 27th issue -- published exclusively in online format! Look out for the print version in the fall!

Profile for awol
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