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FROM THE EDITOR Dear reader, This issue is a reminder. When daily headlines fade and the news cycle moves on, problems don’t magically disappear. TMSM has had the opportunity to catch some of those stories and the people behind them. I would like to thank Mason Thompson, our art director, for his tireless work with his design team and on the new website. Mason, I thank you after every one of our virtual meetings, and I’m going to thank you once again. You run on talent, a crystal-clear vision and a relentless attachment to quality work, and it shows. I also must thank our editorial team including Abby Bammerlin and Lexi Whitehead as well as Sam Cioffi, our assistant magazine editor who will take up my role next semester. It’s about to be your time. To our photographer, Kate DeJesus, thank you for being on call. I’m excited for the publication to utilize your talents more in the next semester. And I can’t forget our writers. Lexi Whitehead and Henri Robbins recorded in painstaking detail how the polarizing narrative surrounding election results is held together by a bipartisan vote counting process. Henri Robbins makes a repeat appearance in a slice of life story about his search for the Frogman legend in Loveland, Ohio. He pitched this to TMSM as a break from his usual news bylines, and he delivered. Rebecca Wolff reflected on how she and other students from California are physically in Ohio but are pulled west by fear for their families and news of forest fires. It’s a reminder of ever-present climate change threats that are only going to increase over time.

Jenna Calderón spun a hilarious, dizzy tale about how she navigates hypochondria in the middle of a pandemic. It’s a joy to read. I also wrote something. I holed myself up in a house alone in the woods, wrote about it and then forgot that I did as I read and edited each of these other stories leading up to the release of this issue. Yuki Zhang submitted a story about why she decided to leave her home in China to study in the United States, and it’s been a pleasure to unfold and reveal the potential of this story. Through throwback examples that brought pop culture both forward and back, David Kwiatkowski details how pop stars who trespass on other cultures create a public learning moment when they are called out. Abigail Kemper profiled student contact tracer Lauren Davis, who highlights why it’s so important to take the pandemic seriously even as collective virus fatigue has set in. TMSM editor Abby Bammerlin also contributed a piece that investigates the effectiveness of the new trend of social media activism. Front and center in this issue is Briah Lumpkins’ personal narrative. Her story describes how the performance of white institutions and people following George Floyd’s death falls short against her pain. It’s not going to disappear just because news decides to move on. And inching towards a resolution includes white institutions and people to reconsider the part they play in benefiting from the same systems that cause this pain. I’ll step aside and let her story speak for itself. Briah, thank you for working with us on this story. This is Issue VII.

Stay well,

Chloe Murdock Editor-in-Chief

Volume VII | Fall 2020

Editor-in-Chief Chloe Murdock

Art Director

Mason Thompson

Editorial Staff

Abby Bammerlin, Lexi Whitehead, Sam Cioffi

Art Staff

Annie Jacquemin, Caitlin Schulte, Elliot Nichols, Max Pyle


Kate DeJesus

Copy Editors Sydney Hill

Business Manager

Dan Wozniak

Head of Student Media Chris Vinel

Faculty Advisor

James Tobin

Business Advisor Fred Reeder


WDJ Inc. - Bill Dedden

PROSE Chloe Murdock


Letter from the Editor

Lexi Whitehead &


Worried about voter fraud?

Henri Robbins


I Didn’t Find The Frogman

Rebecca Wolff



Jenna Calderón


Sanitized and Scared

Briah Lumpkins


What We Still Face

Chloe Murdock



Yuki Zhang



David Kwiatkowski


Problematic Pop Stars

Abigail Kemper


On the Line

Abby Bammerlin


Connecting to a movement

Henri Robbins


Here’s what happened to your ballot.


by Lexi Whitehead & Henri Robbins

t the intersection of West Chestnut and Locust Street, a car drove past and honked once. Another honked twice — not at a bad driver, but in response to a sign posted on the corner. The sign said “How is Oxford voting?” and encouraged drivers to honk once for Joe Biden and twice for Donald Trump. Oxford resident and Miami University administrator Katie Pirigyi put the sign out in front of her house the weekend before Election Day as a way for people to show support for candidates. To create the sign, she borrowed Biden and Trump campaign signs from her neighbors, as she didn’t have any. She said her neighbors were happy to help. “I thought it would be a good way to get people excited about voting and the election in a nonpartisan way,” she said. “It’s really important that everyone who wants to vote should because the government should reflect the people it serves.” Pirigyi voted early at the Butler County Board of Elections (BOE) on Oct. 7. It was her first time voting early, which she did since she was already in the Hamilton area. An added bonus was being able to get it done as soon as possible. “You never know with COVID,” Pirigyi said. “I didn’t know what [the week of November 3] would look like.” Pirigyi arrived at the BOE at 10 a.m. and she was done within 15 minutes. She found the process similar to what it would be like on Election Day. Pirigyi went into the pollivng place, checked in with a worker and cast her vote


on an electronic voting machine. Pirigyi has voted in every presidential election since she turned 18, six presidential elections in total. But after she cast her ballot and received her “I voted” sticker, what actually happened to her ballot? She performed her civic duty, but how did it contribute to the overall results? Most voters, including Pirigyi, have a limited understanding of the voting process beyond casting their own ballot. This includes President Donald Trump, who alleged multiple claims of voter fraud before and after Election Day. Outside the capital city election centers of Michigan and Arizona, Trump’s supporters gathered chanting “Stop the vote!” It’s normal and necessary to count votes after Election Day. Absentee ballots in Ohio are counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received by November 13. It’s also normal for results to change after Election Day as more votes are counted. “It’s really important to understand that and to know that we’re expecting change,” said Eric Corbin, Deputy Director of the Butler County BOE. “There’s always been change. It’s not going to change a lot, but occasionally, we have results on election night that are really close.” When elections like this one are so polarizing, it’s hard to have faith in the results, and it’s easy to fear that something will go wrong. But the one thing in an election that can be trusted is arguably the most important: the counting of the ballots, which is done by members of both parties working together.

photo illustrations by Mason Thompson & Kate DeJesus

In order for the voting process to be fair, every job from beginning to end has to be done by two poll workers or election officials from opposing parties. This includes mailing out absentee ballots, checking in voters on Election Day and counting votes. The exception to this required pairing is if a poll worker is not registered with a party and did not vote in the primary election. Election officials in Ohio are clearly declared members of a political party for there to be a balance. “There’s a Democrat and a Republican in all stages, and that usually helps a lot of people who call in that have distrust [in the voting process],” Corbin said.

Early voting

For early voting, each county can only have one voting location. In Butler County, voting early occurred at the BOE in Hamilton. On Oct. 31, voters formed a line out and around the BOE building. In the middle of several campaign signs lining the road up to the building, one sign directed drivers to overflow parking. Representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties, not associated with the BOE, stood in the parking lot handing out slate cards, which is the only campaign material allowed at the polling location. Slate cards list each party’s preferred candidates. “Most people are here and they know which presidential candidate they want, but they may not realize there’s

a state senate race, there are house races...so I think slate cards help,” said Sheridan Lijoi, the representative from the Butler County Democratic Party. At first glance, the line didn’t seem long, with about 50 people waiting outside. Inside, though, were just as many people waiting. Despite the length of the line, most voters found it moved pretty quickly at around 40 minutes total. One man brought a foldable cane/stool hybrid to sit on while he was waiting in line. “I’m not getting to use my chair, the line’s moving so well,” he said to other voters around him. Almost everyone in line wore a mask or face covering, although it was not technically required. Poll workers could not turn away voters for not wearing a mask. One woman wore a shirt that said “Jesus is my savior. Trump is my president” that she had to cover up with her cardigan once inside the polling location. No campaign related clothing is allowed in the polling place which is a procedure meant to reduce voter intimidation by maintaining a neutral space. Inside, poll workers sat at 12 different stations to check in voters. Plexiglass separated the workers from the voters, a new safety precaution for COVID-19. A purple light lit up at a station when it became available. Several rows of voting machines stood on the other side of the room, spaced out and with dividers, for social distancing as well as voter privacy. Many voters stopped at the exit to take a picture with their new voting sticker. In addition to the sticker, they got to keep the paper stylus they used to vote on the ma-



chines without touching it. “That was painless, and we got to keep these little paper styluses,” one man said as he walked out of the building to his wife and son, who was dressed up as a superhero. Nationally, more people voted early and in person than ever before. According to The Washington Post, the amount of people in the US that voted early was equal to 73% of total votes cast in 2016, with at least 101.9 millions Americans voting early. Texas, Hawaii, Washington, Arizona and Montana’s early votes actually surpassed their amount of votes in the 2016 election. Corbin personally noticed the increase. “We have completely surpassed anything we saw in 2016,” he said. Corbin said 58,516 people voted early in person this year, and 53,522 voted absentee, by either mailing the ballot to the BOE or bringing it to the dropbox in the parking lot. Several cars pulled up to the American flag printed dropbox and dropped their ballot in without even getting out of their car.

Absentee voting As she waited for Election Day, Miami sophomore Autumn Marshall had one question on her mind: Would her vote count? Marshall, like millions of other Americans, made the decision to vote absentee in the 2020 presidential


election. After having heard rumors that students who requested ballots mailed to their dorms weren’t getting them, Marshall had her ballot mailed to her parents’ house and returned home for the weekend to fill it out. Once her entire family had filled out their ballots, Marshall’s father drove them to the Butler County BOE to be sure that they would be in the right hands by Nov. 3. In Ohio, voters have been able to vote absentee without an excuse since 1995, when section 3509.02 of the Ohio Revised Code was put into effect. Though the absentee system has been in place for over two decades, politicians during this election cycle voiced concerns about voter fraud. Then voters started to worry. “I’m terrified that a lot of the absentee votes aren’t going to be counted,” Marshall said before Election Day. After Nov. 3, she was still terrified. Reports of protesters calling for poll workers to “stop the count” cemented her fear. So what happens to an absentee ballot after a voter sends out their request? Corbin said the process begins at their offices, where workers update people’s registration and gather additional information before sending it to the Secretary of State’s office, which then prints all the applications and mails them out to voters. Once the applications are sent back to the BOE, workers check that the information on the application is correct. After confirming everything, the BOE stores the information in its database until it can start sending out

“We have completely surpassed anything we saw in 2016...” ballots on Oct. 6 — the first day any county in Ohio can start sending votes. In 2016, the BOE had received 1,400 applications by Labor Day and 30,000 in total. This year, Corbin said it had over 24,000 by Labor Day, and 55,000 by Oct. 23. Inside each envelope is a ballot, a return envelope and the verification information that goes with it. To make sure everything is there and correct, the BOE has one Democrat and one Republican election official who cross-reference everything to make sure the ballot matches the info in their database. From there, they run each ballot through a mail machine to seal the envelope and wait until Oct. 6 to mail the first batch out. According to both NPR and The Columbus Dispatch, Franklin County — home to Columbus, the capital of Ohio, which is about 100 miles north of Butler County — sent ballots with missing or incorrect issues to around 50,000 voters, accounting for almost 21% of the absentee ballots mailed. The Franklin County BOE immediately began work to send correct ballots to voters and said the mistakes were due to a disabled setting on ballot-stuffing equipment and a lack of election workers making sure that ballots were correctly printed and put into the proper envelopes. Next, the voters get their ballots, take everything out and mark their selections. As they do so, they’ll likely notice the instructions telling them to use a blue or black pen. “Hopefully they read our instructions first then mark their selections, but the system’s pretty forgiving in that sense,” Corbin said. “So if somebody uses a blue pen or a purple pen or something like that, that’s not really a big deal, but we always want them to use black ink.” Most mail-in ballots ask voters to only use blue or black ink, leading many to believe their vote will not be counted if they use a different color. Often, if the color used cannot be read by the machine, poll workers will copy the results onto a second ballot using legible ink. But some counties — like King County, Washington, according to The Seattle Times — have adopted new technology that allows them to read ballots of any color, even sparkly pink. Once Marshall and her family had filled out their ballots, they packed it all up and returned it. There are two ways for a voter’s ballot to get back to the BOE: Put a stamp on the envelope and mail it or go to the BOE office and put it in a ballot box.

“Here, voters have been doing both,” Corbin said prior to Election Day. “The ballot boxes have been filling up really fast, and the mail has been heavy as well.” Marshall said she and her family dropped off their ballots at the BOE, citing the long lines and the price of stamps. “I dropped it off with the rest of my family,” Marshall said. “We just thought it was easier. It was me and my two parents and that would’ve been what, like six stamps?” In May, 318 properly-cast Butler County ballots were delivered by the United States Postal Service (USPS) three days after the deadline and were unable to be counted by the state, according to WCPO. All of them were postmarked on or before the date of the election, with the earliest being held for 14 days. In an effort to prevent similar issues in the 2020 Presidential election, a federal judge ordered the USPS to sweep facilities in multiple battleground states including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona for leftover ballots, according to Law and Crime. Once the BOE receives the ballots, bipartisan teams take them out of their envelopes, scan the barcode on each of them, and mark them as returned in their logs before scanning them a second time to be sure all the ballots are accounted for. If there are any discrepancies between the two scans, they add in any that weren’t originally counted and find any that have been lost. Next, the bipartisan teams open and count the ballots, making sure that they get back as many as they sent out and checking for any errors or issues. “Occasionally, a voter may have an envelope and forget to put their ballot in it or we’ve had a husband and a wife stick two ballots into one envelope, so we deal with all those little, tiny problems,” Corbin said. In situations like this, an election official will either fix the ballot themselves or, if that can’t be done, they will reach out to voters by phone and mail so they have an opportunity to correct their ballot. From there, they take off the stub of each ballot, which removes any identifying information, and scan the now-anonymous ballots into their system. Once they’re scanned in, they make sure that the scanner counted all of the ballots and put the ballots themselves into a folder and onto a shelf.



Due to the massive influx of absentee voting, Corbin said the BOE ran out of space in the room they would normally store absentee ballots in, which forced them to add more shelves and carts to house the overflow.

Election Day voting On Nov. 3, poll workers in Ohio arrived at their locations at 5:30 a.m., an hour before they opened for voting. They had met the night before to set up voting machines and tables, but they still had to make sure everything was turned on and that they had all their supplies. For workers at Millett Hall at Miami, this included picking up doughnuts. Vicki Wolpert is a Republican and Lori Mills is a Democrat. They teamed up to check in voters. “I did not know how gratifying it would feel to be with people from the opposite party working towards the same goal of just getting everyone’s vote counted,” Mills said. “It was very eye opening to having faith in democracy all the ways that we check and make sure [the process] works.” When the polls opened at 6:30 a.m., there was already a line of about 40 people outside Millett Hall. Wolpert and Mills went to work checking in voters. It was Mills’ first time working the polls, and she wanted to work with Wolpert because Wolpert had done it last year. Mills decided to work the polls this year to help members of the community during the pandemic. “I wanted to do it because I’m young and healthy, and I know when I vote,” Mills said. “A lot of older people are working the polls. I didn’t want them to have to come out and do that when I knew that I had less risk.” Mills, 41, is younger than the average poll worker as the majority are over the age of 60. In the 2018 general election, 58% of poll workers were 60 or older. COVID-19 is most dangerous for those 65 and older. In the morning, they checked in voters. When their station was open, a greeter sent the next voter to them, and they asked for the voter’s ID or proof of address. Due to a lot of out-of-state Miami students voting at Millett, poll workers often had to help students find their voter proof of address on MyMiami, the university’s academic portal, to use as their identification if they didn’t have an Ohio license. Wolpert or Mills would scan the voter’s license on a touchscreen tablet called a poll book or enter their name manually to bring up a voter’s information. They asked the voter to verify their name and address, then the voter signed the poll book.


Next, Mills inserted a voter card into the poll book which registered the voter’s information onto it. The voter then put the card into one of the voting machines like an ATM which allowed them to choose their candidates and cast their ballot. After voting, they returned the card at the exit table where they also got a voting sticker. The machines and the voter cards were cleaned after each voter. Wolpert, Mills and voter Gabby Kovachich all expected the polls to be busier and the lines to be longer, but after the initial rush in the morning, voters slowly and steadily trickled in for the rest of the day. Diane Noonan, director of the Butler County BOE, did expect that Election Day this year would run a lot smoother due to a larger amount of people voting early and an increased number of poll workers. This year, 1,350 poll workers were sent to Butler County’s 86 polling locations, which is almost 100 people more than in previous years. Wolpert and Mills, like all poll workers, worked from 5:30 a.m. — before the sun rose — until after the polls closed at 7:30 p.m. — after sunset. They stayed at Millet until about 8:30 p.m. to clean up and put everything away. Wolpert spent a few hours with Mills checking voters in and then switched places with another Republican to work at the exit desk, where she took voter cards and gave out stickers. She also helped clean the voting machines. Later, she worked as a greeter, welcoming voters and directing them to check in. Mills spent most of her day at the check-in station, but worked briefly at the provisional ballot desk. When a voter’s address has not been updated or if they requested an absentee ballot but didn’t send it in for whatever reason, they are given a provisional ballot on paper. Many college students usually change addresses every year, so a lot of them hadn’t updated their address and had to fill out a provisional ballot. Miami sophomore Gabby Kovachich was one of them. After receiving her provisional ballot, she sat down at a table to fill it out behind one of many dividers decorated with an American flag and the word “Vote.” She accidentally smudged the ink on her ballot and had to ask for a new one. “I took it to somebody, and I had to show them my ballot, and I was like, ‘Is this going to affect my vote?’ and they saw who I voted for, and I was worried that they were gonna be rude to me because of who I voted for… but they were really nice,” she said. After filling out her new ballot, Kovachich put it in an envelope and took it to the provisional ballot desk. The workers there, one from each party, looked over the information on the outside of the envelope to make sure it

was correct. Then, they gave it back to Kovachich to seal and put it into the ballot box that goes back to the BOE to be processed. “They clapped for me when I finished voting because it was my first election,” Kovachich said. Wolpert was grateful that all the voters were polite and patient with the process and even made a post on the Oxford Talk Facebook group applauding Miami students’ manners. “Many [students] had to complete provisional ballots, which of course takes more time than on the machines. Some were in the wrong location and had to be redirected, and a few [others] with various issues. Not once did I encounter anyone who was irritated with the process. Not once did I see anyone angry, irritated, rude or annoyed,” Wolpert wrote.

Counting the Votes When someone votes on an electronic voting machine, their choices are stored on a memory card. After the polls closed on Election Day, one of the poll workers’ responsibilities was to take out these memory cards from all the machines and upload the information onto the computers which compile all of the data. They also record every vote on a receipt-like paper in case anything goes wrong with the flash drives. The computers they use to count votes operate on a closed network and are not connected to the internet. After the data has been compiled, it is loaded onto USB drives and physically moved to an internet-connected computer so it can be uploaded onto the BOE’s website. It’s a fairly simple process for counting votes from the machines, but counting paper ballots takes more time. For absentee ballots, they are taken out of the envelope and scanned. In Ohio, ballots can be scanned as soon as the BOE gets them — they just can’t access or compile the data until election night. Most of the time voters clearly mark their choices, which can be uploaded without any issues. If someone makes a mistake on their ballot, like spilling coffee on it, marking multiple candidates or having extra marks, the scanner can’t read it, and workers have to look at the ballot on the screen to see what’s wrong with it, which is called adjudication. They then enter that person’s choices manually, which takes longer. Corbin said that a voter will sometimes mark the opposite candidate that they wanted to choose and write a note on it correcting their mistake. That result would have to be manually added, as would write-in votes. Provisional ballots go through the same process but only after being checked by the BOE to make sure that person has not already voted. The first results to be uploaded are absentee votes, Corbin said, since any votes cast at the polls will still be there at 7:30 p.m. “As the night goes on, we actually are adding in our polls’ votes, and that’s what the media is always waiting for,” Corbin said. “For all our polling locations to physically drive their

memory cars from the polls back to the BOE where we can upload them.” Corbin said that it took them about 3-4 hours to scan every ballot received on Election Day. Butler County was able to report results that night, as well as the state of Ohio. The Associated Press declared Trump as winner in Ohio on Nov. 4. In some states, BOE offices aren’t allowed to scan ballots until election night. Pennsylvania, one of these states, still had over 1 million absentee and provisional votes that had not been counted on Nov. 3. In response to this, President Trump claimed that he would go to the Supreme Court and “demand the vote be stopped,” since they had “already won” before all of the ballots had been counted, CBS Pittsburgh reported.

Election Results

Once all the votes were tallied, Butler County reported 183,155 votes from their 282 precincts. In the Presidential election, Donald Trump won the county with 61.34% of the vote. Joe Biden recieved 37.21%. Behind them, Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen received 1.16% of the vote and Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins had 0.26%. Warren Davidson, a Republican running for Ohio’s 8th Congressional District, won 64.36% of the county’s vote. George F. Lang, a Republican running for Ohio’s 4th Senate District, won 60.62%. Republicans Sara P. Carruthers, Jennifer L. Gross, Thomas Hall and Paul Zeltwanger won the county’s vote for seats in the Ohio State House of Representatives. Sharon L. Kennedy and Judi French, both running for the Ohio Supreme Court, also won in the county. All other candidates on the ballot ran uncontested.




Corbin said the BOE also received many votes for writein candidates which could not be counted. This included votes for Ronald Reagan, Jesus and Kanye West. While the results in Butler County were all in favor of living candidates, a race in North Dakota couldn’t say the same. David Andahl, a Republican candidate, was granted a House of Representatives seat despite having died from COVID-19 a month before Election Day, according to CBS. On Nov. 7, the Associated Press reported that Joe Biden had defeated President Donald Trump, becoming the 46th president-elect of the United States. Upon their announcement, multiple world leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin, congratulated Biden on his victory. Earlier in the week, the United States formally left the Paris Agreement, a set of climate change initiatives set out by the United Nations five years ago. Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, France, congratulated Biden on Twitter. “This victory symbolizes our need to act together more than ever, in view of climate emergency,” she said. In Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati, Biden’s supporters planned a celebration the night of the announcement, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. Despite all of this, Trump refused to concede. On Nov. 7, he tweeted multiple assertions that he had won the election. “I WON THE ELECTION, GOT 71,000,000 LEGAL VOTES,” one read. “The most EVER for a sitting President,” read another. Multiple tweets by the President were flagged by Twitter as being either potentially misleading or disputed. In response to claims of election fraud, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released a claim stating that this election was “the most secure in American history,” according to the Associated Press. Despite the President’s refusal to concede, Biden gave a victory speech on the night of Nov. 7. In it, the president-elect pledged to be “a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify.” Biden addressed the divide that he saw in the nation, asking those on both sides to let the “grim era of demonization” end. “The refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another is not due to some mysterious force beyond our control,” Biden said. “It’s a decision. It’s a choice we make. And if we can decide not to cooperate, then we can decide to cooperate. And I believe that this is part of the mandate from the American people. They want us to cooperate.” As Biden spoke, he addressed both the American people and members of Congress. “That’s the choice I’ll make,” Biden said. “And I call on the Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike — to make that choice with me.” S




I Didn’t Find the Frogman


t’s 11 p.m., approximately. Over the past week, I’d been reading stories online about a local creature: The Loveland Frogman. Supposedly, it is a 4-foot-tall, froglike creature that roams the small town of Loveland, Ohio, occasionally spotted throughout the last 50 years. My first “encounter” with the Frogman was about a year ago, when my friend Vince and I were walking along the Loveland bike trail in the dead of night. As we neared his car, he stopped to use the public restroom by the parking lot. I waited outside. After a few minutes, he came sprinting out. He’d heard something. What was it? “The Frogman, obviously,” he said. We laughed it off and drove home. Now, it’s the first weekend of October, and I’m walking along the bike path in search of the Frogman.


By Henry Robbins Almost a full moon, but not quite. A dense cloud cover turns the sky black and diffuses what little light there is. A sepia-tinted grayscale washes over the ground. As I come to a bridge, I make my way down a small dirt path beside it that leads to the river beneath. Walking along it, the darkness blurs tthe line between land and water., aTnd the freshly-barren trees feel like long, dry fingers reaching up from the ground to snag on my jacket and get caught in my hair. I take unfocused pictures of the trees, sending bright flashes of light across the water, revealing it for a fraction of a second. Every time the flash fades, the river slowly creeps back into the land. Atop the bridge, the lights of bikers — out far too late — shine through the wooden planks but never stay for more than a split second. The sirens of emergency vehicles begin to echo above the trees, and it seems as if the finger-like branches reach out to muffle them. I later learned there had been a car crash.

illustrations by Elliot Nichols

With nothing but a few blurry pictures, I work my way back up the dirt path and onto the bike trail. As I follow it, another spot — this one more out of the way — creeps into the back of my mind, practically possessing me to approach it. About 50 feet off the trail, I find the right break in the trees. Leaves crushes beneath each step I take, announcing the weight of my steps to the surrounding trees. But my feet are the only ones making any noise, and I doubt the trees are listening. Between each step, dead silence. Making my way down the path, the crackling of leaves follows my every move. As I reach the clearing, spotted by broken chunks of concrete and filled with the soft murmur of the river, I stop to listen for the croaking of a frog. Again, silence. As I look around, I see a figure barely perceptible and completely unmoving in the vague grays of the night. I call out to it, but it refuses to move. I call out again, and it lumbers toward me, its footsteps silent on the broken concrete and dead leaves. I feel the dryness of my mouth. As the figure approaches, it looks to be a man, about six feet tall, with a gray beard on his jaw and a tattered flannel on his shoulders. He stops about three feet from my face and extends his hand to me. I would rather do anything than shake it. His face is obscured, but I can see his mouth

beginning to move. He asks who I am, and I tell him my name. “Are you sure?” he asks. It felt like an accusation, in some way. But yes, I am sure. He asks for some form of I.D., apparently doubting that I have any right to be there. I try to explain why I’m there — that it’s nothing malicious — but an exhausted sputtering of words is all that comes out. After a few incoherent seconds, I manage something of a question: “Am I on private property or anything?” As I ask this, his back straightens. His body looks disturbed as it unfurls. His mouth twists a small bit before returning to its initial scowl. “That’s not what — “ he begins, but abruptly stops. Seemingly pulled away by some greater force, maybe by the same trees that picked at me and clawed at the sky, he turns and walks into the trees, his footsteps dead silent. I call after him, hoping to avoid some undeclared judgement. “Sorry to disturb you,” I say. “There were no disturbances at all,” he mutters cryptically. I couldn’t help but feel I had stepped into somewhere that I shouldn’t have been, somewhere I never should have gone, and somewhere that I was not meant to know existed. As I walked back, my footsteps were loud as drums against the concrete and leaves. The only footprints along the path were the ones I had left earlier. The only thing my flashlight caught was the dry branches of trees. Needless to say, I didn’t find the Frogman. S







Students from California can’t escape fires 2,000 miles away


sk any Californian if climate change is real — you’ll hear a yes and a story scorched into their memory. When the alarm went off, my room was still dark from the night before, and I thought it couldn’t possibly be 7:45 a.m. already. It was a Monday in the first semester of my senior year of high school. I had mentally prepared myself to drag my body out of my bed, stumble into a set of clothes that would hopefully fit the dress code and get to first period by 8:15 a.m. The alarm wasn’t the one set on my phone labeled “skool sux:/” but was one giving evacuation warnings for a fire that had set ablaze overnight in Santa Rosa, the town just 20 minutes from where I lived. I wouldn’t be going to first period for the next week and a half. Air quality was classified as dangerous, and I spent the week volunteering at shelters set up across town for those who had to flee their homes. Everyone in my town was donning masks — way before they were cool. That was the first year the fires posed a threat to my home, and every year since, I have thought twice when an alarm goes off unexpectedly. What was a freak incident of nature sparked by power line problems along with a myriad of other flammable things in 2017 has turned into what we call fire season. Every year from August through October, we pray for rain and almost never get it. I make a mental list of what I


could pack in a go-bag in case I’m woken up in the middle of the night and told I need to get out of my house and drive with the winds and away from the fires. A new threat is posed every season now that for the second half of the high-risk fire period, I now live more than 2,000 miles away. The Press Democrats interactive fire map is bookmarked on my phone. I refresh it at least ten times a day, waiting for the color of my zone to change from blue to yellow and, god forbid, red. For Miami University students from areas in California that are continuously affected by fires every year, studying in a safe place with breathable air comes with relief, but also guilt for not being there to support their family. Feelings of guilt mix with gratefulness for being in a place of safety and breathable air. Jake Anton, a junior marketing major from Walnut Creek, California has watched his family from a distance for three years now with each passing fire season. Anton remembers the fires during his freshman year because it was the first time he wasn’t experiencing the fires with his family. It was the first year that he had to hear everything secondhand from his family. “I do feel a little bit guilty,” Anton said. “It’s weird not being at home while your family is going through hardship.” It’s a strange thing — knowing you’re lucky to be safe while simultaneously a part of you wants to be in the thick

photo illustrations by Annie Jacquemin

It’s easy to feel unheard when hearing about Trump’s approach to fire prevention. of it with those you love and want to protect. Parker Readerman is another junior from Tiburon, California, who knows he’s lucky to be here, but can’t help noticing the effect the fires have had, even here in Oxford. “I can’t really emphasize enough how much this past bit, where the sky was hazy out here, that really was kind of like holy shit, never thought that was going to happen,” Readerman said. Smoke from the fires burning in California in September has been carried across the entire country and has even reached parts of Europe. There is a sense of hopelessness among California students, who know there’s nothing they can do from 2,000 miles away to combat the wildfires. This, of course, is difficult to do when the current U.S. administration is in a constant state of denial when it comes to climate change. Efficient solutions to stop the burning of California seem to be far from the forefront of conversation in the White House. “It is about forest management, please remember the words, very simply, forest management, please remember, about forest management, and other things,” President Donald Trump said at a Nevada rally on Sept. 12. It’s easy to feel unheard when hearing about Trump’s approach to fire prevention. “I feel personally attacked, I think he’s a fucking moron, and he can shove it up his ass, for lack of better words,” Readerman said about the president’s response. In small ways, like changing to a more plant-based diet, Readerman has been putting effort into reducing what little carbon emission he can after seeing first-hand what the effects of climate change can do. So, when met with

ignorance and a nonchalant attitude towards the subject by the leader of our country, it can feel like a slap in the face. While California wasn’t looking like it was going to take a turn for the red anytime soon, Trump’s handling of the wildfires certainly didn’t help sway anyone on the West Coast. “I don’t think any Republican administration is going to make any progress on climate change because I don’t think they truly believe in it,” Anton said. “But if you ask anyone in California they know climate change is real because we’re experiencing these fires, we’re experiencing rising temperatures. I don’t feel comfortable with Trump dealing with climate change.” Many of us partially grew up in our grandparents’ homes. We now worry about those same homes being potentially destroyed, leaving loved ones at risk. “They had to stay inside their house for multiple days, they couldn’t go outside,” said Anton. “It really scared my grandparents because my grandfather, he’s old, and he’s not the most fit, so they were scared to go outside because of the soot and all that.” Readerman also expressed worry for his grandmother who lives in an elderly home in Santa Rosa, a town north of San Francisco that has been directly affected by fires every fire season for the past few years. “Whenever the fires were near Santa Rosa, I would be refreshing the fire tracking pages pretty frequently to see if she needed to be evacuated,” Readerman said. Students are worried about their families from afar, and when the pressure of being a college student is added into the mix, emotions run high.



What will we b At times, studies can get swept aside. “When the sky was red, it was definitely affecting [my] studying because I kept checking the fire map,” Anton said. “I kept checking news articles related to the subject, and I was a little bit worried.” As for me, I can’t count how many times I’ve gotten a phone call from my mom in the middle of a Zoom class, and I’ve turned off my camera and muted my mic because I knew she could be ringing me up to ask if there’s anything special she needs to grab from my room before they head south to my grandparents. Thankfully, that was never the case, but it always crossed my mind. I’ve even had to reach out to an ex-boyfriend to ask if my family could stay with him if my grandparents’ zone had to be evacuated as the fires continued to travel down towards the city. That’s a moment burned into my memory. Any Californian can give you a scorched story of their own — usually the first moment they realized how real it all is. During his senior year, Anton’s football team decided to donate one of their team meals to the firefighters up in Napa. He volunteered to drive it up there with some teammates. After crossing the San Mateo Bridge, he was met with the sight of the fire’s reckoning. Through the blanket of smoke that found its way into every corner of the valley, he saw no trace of life and no trace of color. “I remember looking around and every single thing was scorched black,” Anton said. “The entire landscape had been burned, and it looked almost like I was in like a movie, a post-apocalyptic movie where there’s smoke around me, the ground was black and there was no life anywhere to be found. And that went on for maybe 10 minutes of just black hills, black hills, black hills, black hills. So that’s the most intense I’ve seen it. It’s making things devoid of life. It didn’t seem real.”

be left with? When any Californian can give you an account of the post-apocalyptic reality of the hills around them in the midst of fire season, it’s hard to deal with other students at Miami who don’t take climate change personally. Even though actions speak louder than words, especially when it comes to sustainability, it can still shock you when there’s a general lack of empathy for something that feels so close to you. “A lot of these kids are Ohio born and raised and don’t really have family on the West Coast and haven’t experienced fires to the extent that we have,” Anton said, “so I definitely feel like it’s a little frustrating not to be asked about it at all or it seems almost like no one cares out here.” It’s hard. Knowing and seeing the consequences of humanity’s actions, to feel a lack of acknowledgement of the problems at hand. It’s hard to have hope that the future will be better than the present, when day after day you see nothing change. You want to tell everyone that it’s California now, but everywhere else will see sacred earth be destroyed by our inability to change our habits.

This past fire season, the lake where I’ve spent every summer with my family for the past 15 years was blackened and left lifeless by shifting winds carrying fire from the next valley over. The marina floated away in bits of ash, and the tree with the most perfect rope-swing you’ve ever seen was dismantled by the heat. Things will grow back, docks will be rebuilt and I will return to the lake. But that’s the near future. That’s what we can count on right now — the near future. But, it will come and go. What will we be left with? It could be an endless bout of burnt earth that inevitably leaves California uninhabitable. It could be a switch to a more sustainable and eco-conscious nation that practices habits which allow us to prosper alongside the earth. It could be. But there’s no hope if there’s no change. Here’s hoping the passion for something different burns brighter, stronger and far longer than my home state. S



A hypochondriac in a pandemic By Jenna Calderón


y fallopian tube hurts,” I grumbled. “I think I twisted my fallopian tube.” I was nine, sitting at the dining room table with my family. My abdomen cramped up and my eyes grew wide with fear of the unknown. I looked down at my plate — the food perfectly divided and counted out into sections — and pushed it away. In a matter of seconds, I’d determined I was dying. What was the point in finishing dinner? My parents laughed and laughed. They knew I’d just swallowed some food the wrong way or something. “Jenna, you’re fine,” my mom grinned. “Do you even know what a fallopian tube is?” My parents still tell this story at parties and family gatherings over a decade later, and I don’t blame them. Out of context, it’s funny: A little girl cries out that she’s injured a reproductive organ by eating? What nonsense! But days, months and years flew by and incidents like the infamous Night of the Fallopian Tube became more frequent. I went from cute, to drama queen, to insufferable to those close to me. I was like a worn out comedian, and my audience was growing less amused and more exhausted and

photo illustrations by Annie Jacquemin

annoyed of my ridiculous health obsessions. Only, I was never trying to be funny. Of all the diagnoses I’ve attempted to give myself over the years, hypochondria (illness anxiety) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are some of the only ones that have been accurate. From what I can remember, I’ve grappled with them since that day at the dinner table, and even a little before. I was finally getting them under control last year, though. Then a pandemic hit and gave me a whole new set of anxieties to add to my list. You actually can twist your fallopian tubes, by the way. It’s called adnexal torsion. You didn’t think I’d just make something up, did you? I ran upstairs to the bathroom outside my bedroom and reached my hand out for the soap. Pump-pump-pump — empty. I rolled my eyes. “Shit,” I whispered to myself. I must not have calculated my rotation correctly: kitchen sink, downstairs sink, upstairs sink. Where did I mess up? It was the first week of class, and I’d already run out of a full container of soap. I tossed the empty bottle into the trash and cursed Bath & Body Works for making tiny soaps so expensive. Earlier that week, my housemates had raised an eyebrow when they found me washing my hands in



their bathroom downstairs. Out of embarrassment, I’d temporarily removed their sink from my rotation and had been using the upstairs bathroom more since. Rotation aside, my hands were dirty and that was what I needed to focus on. I’d accidentally touched someone else’s water glass, right on the rim where the mouth goes. It’s one thing when I’m in my own head, dealing with my own anxieties about my health. I’m used to that. But with everyone around me panicking about the pandemic, my few voices of reason, both external and internal, hardly hold power over me anymore. I made a beeline toward the kitchen, thumping back down the stairs and holding my hands out in front of me so I wouldn’t touch anything else, including my clothes. I turned on the kitchen sink — not too high or too low, too hot or too cold — and poured a glob of blue Dawn soap into my left palm. Usually, I prefer orange Palmolive. But hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. I turned the faucet off and shook my hands in sync with each other four times to dry them off before grabbing a paper towel to finish drying. Paper towels, while bad for the environment and my conscience, are much more sanitary than the reusable cloth hand towels hanging from our stove. I sighed and grabbed my keys, slinging my purse across my body to go to the store. I needed soap. The weight of my purse wasn’t distributed correctly, so I stopped to fix it, rearranging its contents to sit just right on my body. I started again, making my way toward the back door to my car, and in my haste made yet another rookie mistake. 22 THE MIAMI STUDENT MAGAZINE, FALL 2020

I glanced down at my hand, the skin dry and flaky from frequent scrubbing, and saw my slender fingers gripping the doorknob. I looked into the invisible camera in front of me, breaking my very own imaginary fourth wall. With my uncontaminated hand, I unzipped my purse and plucked my hand sanitizer out. Empty. I shuffled up to the deserted Harris Dining Hall on Miami’s south campus. As I walked, I watched my feet, hyping myself up for all the people I was about to see, doors I would have to touch and the 11 seconds I would have to remove my mask for some lady to swab my throat. I looked up and stopped in my tracks. I scanned my head left to right to see a line of over 50 kids and assumed my position at the end of it. While mandatory COVID-19 testing has been a headache for most, I was relieved when I received the email to schedule an appointment. For the past seven months, I’ve had a COVID scare at least once a week. Not because I go out or come into contact with people who’ve tested positive, but simply because COVID-19 exists and my brain has it sitting on the front burner. My thermometer has died because I’ve used it so much, though it’s never once read above 98.6. And damn, are those little thermometer batteries expensive. Once I made my way through the outdoor line, I entered the doors to a waiting room to fill out paperwork. You may be wondering the reasoning behind why I, a student with severe anxiety about germs, illnesses and a plethora of other things, didn’t choose to remain remote

this semester. Two reasons: Mom and Dad. “You need to get out of the house, Jenna.” “You can’t stay inside forever, Jenna.” Blah, blah, blah. Whatever. Reluctantly, I opted to return to oncampus classes and look where it landed me: waiting for a COVID test with potentially infected peers. I forced myself through the remaining preliminary motions, giving dirty looks to anyone who got too close to me as any sane person, anxiety-ridden or not, would. When it was my turn, a nurse with a plastic face shield called my name. I followed her through a series of hallways and into a room. I think her name was Connie. “You’ll get your results in about three days,” Connie said. “An email if it’s negative, phone call if positive.” “Let’s hope I get an email then,” I laughed, nerves making my voice go high pitched. Connie gave me a silent, toothless smile with squinty eyes that let me know it was time for me to make my exit. Three days later, I got my negative results back. 24 hours after that, I was beside myself. My temperature was 98.9. There are some things you just shouldn’t do when you’re in a rush. Like paint your nails, go to the BMV or use a mandoline slicer. I stood in the kitchen, glancing back and forth between the clock and the food on the cutting board in front of me. I had less than 10 minutes to finish prepping dinner before I had to leave for work. The last thing I needed to do was make the salad. I pulled out the cabbage and the mandoline slicer and started shredding into a big bowl. As the last chunk of leafy greens grew smaller and smaller, I was forced to fold my fingers in so they wouldn’t end up as a salad garnish. Too little too late. Hearing the back door knob turn, I looked over my shoulder and away from the slicer to see my boyfriend walking through the door. In a split second, a sharp pinch made me wince and I looked back at my station to see quite a bit of red. I’d cut a gash in my right thumb, just behind the nail. A million thoughts shoved themselves into my mind. Should I go to the hospital? How much blood am I losing? When was my last tetanus shot? I was reeling. Tears filled my eyes, not from pain but from fear. In fact, I couldn’t even feel anything. I’d gone numb. Noticing I was frozen, my boyfriend instructed me to start washing it out. As the water from the kitchen sink temporarily cleared away the blood from my hand, it exposed a wound that was deeper than expected. “Call my dad,” I squeaked at him. “He’ll tell me what I

should do.” My boyfriend held up his phone toward me, displaying my dad’s concerned expression on the Facetime call. I explained the situation. “You know how you always told me I wasn’t allowed to use the mandoline?” I said. He gave me a universal dad look — lips pursed together and eyebrows raised — and sighed. Even on a day off from work, the man never gets a break. Knowing who he was dealing with, he told me to go wrap it tightly and hold it above my head to slow the bleeding before heading to the E.R.. “Don’t forget your insurance card,” he added. Upon entering through the automatic doors of the hospital, I realized I had put myself in one of the places I hate the most. Becoming hyper-aware of the germs and sick people I was now surrounded by, I signed in shakily and took a seat on my boyfriend’s lap in the waiting room. The receptionist gave me a funny look, but there was no way I was putting my butt on one of those nasty chairs. You could not pay me enough, especially during a pandemic. Five minutes had passed since the lady behind the front desk told me someone would be with me shortly. Then 10. Then 20. Then 30. You’d think the word “shortly” would be honored in the emergency room setting. In the half-hour that I waited, a nurse ordered and received her pizza delivery, the receptionist had a full phone call with her little sister and I told my boyfriend “this is how I die” three times. American health care at its finest. When I was finally called back, I did my best to be pleasant. A middle-aged nurse in blue scrubs directed me to a room in the back and asked me to sit on the bed. I hesitated. The bed was lined with white bed sheets, but no disposable paper cover. Usually, I have no shame and would ask if the sheets were clean and how many had sat on them before me. Then I remembered this woman would most likely be the one sticking a tetanus shot needle into my arm. I decided to cut my losses and bite my tongue this time. After typing out notes on what had happened to my thumb, she let me know that she and a doctor would be back shortly. I shot a look at my boyfriend. “Shortly,” I mouthed silently. I sat with one hand in my lap and the other in the thumbs-up position at eye level, doing my best not to touch anything I didn’t have to. When the nurse returned with the doctor, I unwrapped my sad-looking finger and the doctor squinted. Given the unnecessary mass of bandages I’d engulfed the wound in, I think she thought it would be bigger. “When was your last tetanus shot?” she asked. I didn’t know, but now I was certain I needed one to survive. I laid in bed, staring at the ceiling. I squeezed my eyes shut and willed myself not to pick up my phone again. THE MIAMI STUDENT MAGAZINE, FALL 2020


But, like most nights, the cycle had a hold of me. Think, obsess, think, obsess. I grabbed my phone and clicked it on, and the light from my screen felt like it burned my retinas. I added that to my list of things to get checked out. 2:36 AM, my phone read. I opened Safari and scrolled through my tabs: sinus infection deadly? will my sinus infection turn into meningitis? how do you know if sinus infection is meningitis? meningitis symptoms. Earlier that day, I drove myself to urgent care where they said I had an ear and sinus infection. But for several days prior to my trip to the doctor, I was sure I had nasopharyngeal cancer. It took all my energy to talk myself off that ledge and fall onto the much more logical meningitis platform. Progress, ladies. I’ve learned that it freaks doctors out when you come on strong like that. You have to ease them into it. Plus, you’d be pissed if some 19-year-old journalism major came in and questioned your 10 plus years of medical training, too. They called in a prescription for amoxicillin and Mucinex ER for my infections and sent me on my way. That’s it? I asked myself. Let me make something perfectly clear: I do not want to be sick. I do not want to have something wrong with me. I do not want to die. This is not a Munchausen’s situation, people. In fact, I want so badly for there to be nothing wrong with me that it’s all I can think about most days. To a hypochondriac, headaches are brain bleeds, leg cramps mean amputations and stomach grumbles are deadly ulcers. And in your head, you’re convinced that you are going to die. In combination with OCD, the experience is paralyzing. One summer I thought I had polio because I was having pain around my spine. The same polio that’s been


eradicated from the United States for like, half a century, if that gives you any idea what kind of anxiety my brain is working with. Nonetheless, I was not confident in the accuracy of Oxford’s urgent care, so I texted my parents, both of whom are nurses. Me: “How would I know if my sinus infection was turning into meningitis?” Dad: “It’s not or they would have sent you to the hospital.” Humans make mistakes sometimes, Dad. I pushed, like always. Me: “But how would they have known? What’s the difference?” No answer. Since the Night of the Fallopian Tube, my parents have dealt with a lot from me. Hours of panic attacks. Frequent doctor visits. Hundreds of phone calls to them that were meant to be “emergency only” while they were scrubbed into surgery cases at the hospital. To be fair, we have very different concepts of the word “emergency.” Regardless, it’s a miracle they haven’t gone completely mad after years of what I can barely handle myself. Now, four hours away from them at school, I miss them. I’m not one to get homesick. I’ve always been pretty independent. But right now, in the middle of a pandemic, I feel small. I feel helpless. I miss them rolling their eyes at me. I miss their reassurance every five minutes that I’m okay, even though it’s hard for me to believe them. When I’m in the thick of an obsessive episode at school, I usually close myself in my room. I lay on my bed, pace the floor or swivel in my desk chair. I don’t eat.

I don’t sleep. I don’t recognize who I am when I look in the mirror. The brain is absolutely incredible. It can learn how to play an instrument, heal itself after a concussion and even memorize every word to “Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj in less than a day so you can impress your fifth grade best friend. But like most things that seem too good to be true, there’s always a catch. And as incredible as the brain is, it is equally as frightening. My brain can make me feel real symptoms, real pain and real fear that I’m dying from some horrible disease, day after day. I have intrusive thoughts and obsessions that control me. Some days, even if I’m alone, I can’t get a minute to myself. Everything in my life is one wrong move away from spinning out of control at any given time, and in the midst of a pandemic, I’ve lost much of the little bit of control that I once had. In normal circumstances, I have a lot on my plate. I’m dealing with keeping germs away, making sure every muscle in my body feels symmetrical, counting most things to four and worrying that if I don’t say the right thing every night, everyone I love will die. With all that, just staying grounded in everyone else’s version of reality is a lot, and the COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer. I do what I can to hide this side of myself from most people because let’s face it, I come off a little crazy. Trust me, I’m the first person to acknowledge that. But to the people who know me best and love me unconditionally, well, they still think I’m a bit of a lunatic. And my brain and I are okay with letting that slide.S







ews of Ahmaud Arbery’s death had overwhelmed me from my dining room table on May 7. He had died months earlier in February. But his name, the number one trending hashtag on Twitter that day, circulated alongside portraits of the 25 year old from an earlier date — his deep, dark skin shining in all of them, coupled with a bright, white grin — and the video of the same man falling to his death at the hands of white vigilantes. His photo haunted me. Every time I looked at his portraits, I saw my brother Kalen, 19, who was still sleeping soundly upstairs. They had a similar smile. One that I saw on my brother Kalen’s face more times than I could count after cracking a joke or watching an episode of “Martin” with him. And their skin complexion, though not exactly the same, shined in a similar way. I never knew Ahmaud, but he felt so familiar to me. The streets Ahmaud died on were his own. He was only a short jog from his home when he was shot dead in the road. Hunted for sport like an animal. I thought about all the times my brother would leave home for a short walk around the neighborhood. Never once did I think that the


possibility of him going on a walk could turn into him not coming home until I watched Arbery fall to the ground in that video. That could’ve been Kalen, I thought to myself. My phone was covered in warm tears before I decided to turn it off completely. I stared out the window directly across from me and watched people walk by through the sheer curtains. Do they carry the same worries that I do? Do they live in fear knowing that someone could shoot them dead in the street for no reason other than a mere assumption? I rose from the wooden chair. I felt physically heavy, like something was laying on my shoulders. I made my way up the stairs to Kalen’s room. He was still asleep after working a double at his job the night before. I sat on the side of his bed and leaned down to hold him. He awoke almost immediately after I touched him. He was groggy and clearly annoyed that I was in his room. “What’s wrong?” he said. Silent tears rolled down my cheeks. I didn’t answer him. But I didn’t let go, either. 18 days later, the world woke up with George Floyd’s death.

photo illustrations by Mason Thompson

I DIDN'T WANT TO SEE IT. I didn’t want to see it. But in a way, I already had. It was the topic of every conversation and all that filled the news cycle. Everyone was talking about George Floyd. It took me three days to watch the video, but it had frequently circulated on social media. Twitter. Instagram. Facebook. The autoplay feature would start the video, but I’d try to quickly scroll away or close the app. On that fourth day, I caved and finally mustered some courage to watch it: A Black man pressed against the pavement struggled to breathe, his neck pinned down by the knee of the police officer. I watched Floyd beg and plead for his life. He died in a matter of minutes. I cried for days mourning the death of a man I didn’t even know. I’ve seen and heard about Black death so many times in my life that I almost became desensitized. But the way I cried over this man I didn’t even know made me think otherwise. I didn’t have to know him. As I watched Floyd laying on the ground, I mourned and cried for him like he was any of the Black men I loved so dearly in my life. Maybe it was the way he died. Maybe it was the way the cop stared at the cameras and seemed to have no regard for human life. Maybe it was how Floyd screamed for his mother as he took his last breaths.




FLOYD’S DEATH IS NO LONGER IN THE HEADLINES. People who complained about the protests this summer frustrated me. Why are they so angry? They’d ask. Why are they looting and rioting? As if Walmart products and property were more important than Black lives taken every day. If they thought these protests were bad now, what do they think will happen if the officer gets off scot-free like so many before him? The world woke up when Floyd died. No matter how you felt about the protests, the way Floyd died was undeniable. A white police officer kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and didn’t even flinch at the cries of onlookers for him to stop. But instead of using this wake up call to enact real change, people used it as a contest to prove who was the most ‘woke’ or down with the movement. Institutions made minor exterior changes — new mascots, company names and training. Three months after Floyd’s death, 288 people were killed by the police, and 59 of them were Black. The reality is that much hasn’t changed since Floyd was killed. The system allows these deaths to continue. Yet people are distracted by performative actions that give us the illusion of progress.

Floyd’s death is no longer in the headlines. But Black people are still living in his reality. *** Kaia agreed to tell me her story, but I don’t think she knew she was telling mine as well. “What was your first impression of Bexley?” I said. I was talking to Kaia Woodford and her family for a story I was working on about the Black experience. I watched Kaia speak through my iPhone screen propped up by a roll of paper towels, the usual setup of my virtual interviews while reporting for the Columbus Dispatch. How she described her hometown felt all too familiar. The Columbus suburb was littered with homes both massive and elegant, and luxury cars were parked up and down the streets. And the families who lived in these homes? They were white. Kaia’s family was one of a handful of Black families in Bexley, Ohio. Growing up around white faces made her resent her own. “I didn’t, for a time, want to be Black,” she said. “I hated that I was different. I just wanted to be like everyone else.”




She grew up surrounded by white faces. She was tired of feeling like she wasn’t one of them. Throughout our conversation, Kaia told me about her life as the lone Black girl in many social situations. As I listened to her, I felt my eyes start to sting with tears. Bexley and Sylvania seemed like the same neighborhood 150 miles apart. Like Kaia, I walked into the doors of Sylvania High School as one of the only Black people. I stuck out like a sore thumb in my classes, in the halls, in my extracurriculars and the lunchroom. I remember feeling so alone because no one around me could identify with what I was feeling. Being alone is more than a physical state. It can become a state of mind. I used to be so angry with my dark brown skin. I wished it wasn’t there, so maybe that feeling would disappear with it. That feeling didn’t go away. Not right away, at least. Kaia and I have both had similar journeys in accepting our Blackness. In college, we got connected with other Black students and started building a community while also becoming comfortable with who we were. In Bexley, Kaia and a few friends were working to create radical change within their community. They organized protests and met regularly with their mayor. After the death of George Floyd, she was dedicated to doing something about it. Though I wasn’t in the city, I knew how much the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor had shaken the city of Columbus. The city has seen its own tragedies with the death of 13-year-old Tyre King and 23-year-old Henry Green, two Black individuals killed by officers in the Columbus Division of Police a few years prior. The death of Floyd seemed to be the boiling point once Columbus became one of the hot spots for protest across the nation. Listening to her talk about the work she was doing in the community warmed my heart, but I also felt a sense of inadequacy about myself. I sat in my sunroom in my pajamas, reporting on the protests that Kaia marched in while ‘TRUMP 2020’ signs littered my own neighborhood.


*** There were bright blue skies and few clouds in the air on our way to Ann Arbor. Living on the state line my whole life, the ‘Welcome to Michigan’ sign provided little excitement. It was finally the weekend, something I had been longing for after an exhausting work week. The protests in Columbus hadn’t let up even a little bit, and I watched and reported on them from miles away. I sipped on my Java Chip Frappe, or what Benny would call “a milkshake.” It had been months since I’ve seen him. We’ve always kept in touch, but when going to separate colleges, there’s only so much you can do. “So girl, what’s been up? How’s this job? I hear you’re making bank, bitch,” Benny said. My first inclination was to lie. To just smile and nod and claim everything was OK. But for some reason, I couldn’t lie to my oldest friend. He would’ve called me out on it anyway. He can read me like a book, and I him. “I don’t know, dude. The whole George Floyd situation has been weighing on me. It’s been hard to even enjoy it,” I said. He didn’t say anything but he took a moment to give me a look, prodding me to tell him more. I was hesitant to tell him what was on my mind. Not because I didn’t trust him, but I had spent the past couple weeks after George Floyd had died explaining the Black struggle to white people. I’d tell them about the times I was followed around the grocery store and asked to open my purse even though there was no store product inside.


I WAS TIRED OF RE-LIVING MY PAIN I’d tell them about the time where a grown man looked at my face and called me the N-word, solely because I cut him off in traffic. And I’d tell them about how I drive around the streets of my own neighborhood with extra caution in fear that I’d be stopped by police and never make it back to my destination. I was tired of re-living my pain just for the sake of others to be educated on my existence. But Benny was different. Since middle school he’s seen first hand my experiences as a Black girl at our white school. He didn’t want a recap of the past, he wanted now. “I’m tired of watching Black people die for no reason and being expected to function as normal afterward,” I told him. “This man just died, and the whole world watched him die, and y’all still expect me to work?” Benny turned down the music. Dua Lipa could wait. “I just don’t get this shit of people posting on their stories and thinking they’ve solved all the world’s problems,” he said. He was right. We talked about the people we went to high school with who had made racist remarks in the past and had regularly used the N-word in their day-today vocabulary. I don’t know which was worse: Knowing more people like this than I could count on one hand or the fact that these were the same people posting their stance with the Black community on social media.


It wasn’t just these people either. It was the people who could say with confidence that George Floyd shouldn’t have died but refused to condemn the system that continues to kill others like him. But sure, Becky. Your little black tile on Instagram did a lot. Their performative allyship wasn’t really something I felt I could get past. Other people who I once called friends couldn’t take a stance on the lives of people who looked like me. It kept me up at night. But it also taught me to keep that ‘friend’ title reserved for certain people like Benny. “I don’t want to be one of those people,” he said. His tone became very serious. “I’m not about that. I’m always here for you.” I put my milkshake in the cup holder and squeezed his hand. Benny had gone to protests and donated to bail funds to do his part after George Floyd died. But in my eyes, allyship doesn’t have a monetary or social value. It’s a way of life. It’s a mindset. Allyship is being there when times get tough. And calling people out when they’ve said or done something racist or potentially harmful. It’s listening to someone’s story or struggle and not making it about you. It’s seeing that my life has value without your life losing any. S




Disconnecting from 2020 by Chloe Murdock


y mom jokes that her hometown of Enon, Ohio, is “none” spelled backwards. She didn’t realize it until she moved away from the town near Dayton, Ohio.vOn the way to my grandparents’ house, I pass my old Montessori that was attached to a nursing home, a tavern where I’m told my greatgrandpa used to kill time, the McDonald’s we used to frequent before my grandparents hopped on a health kick. My grandma and Papaw are away in their RV, and I’m taking care of their chickens for the weekend. I’m here to center myself in true isolation. No roommates or parents are here to ask me what I’m making for dinner or remind me about what happens after graduation. I find out quickly that I miss these welcome disruptions. My existential dread fills the space that my conversations with other people usually take up. I planned to use this time on my own to escape the obvious perils of being around other people during a pandemic and the looming election for a weekend. I realize that this isn’t possible when I spot my grandparents’ “TRUMP PENCE 2020” sign before I even pull into their long gravel driveway.


Oct. 1, 2020, Thursday, 9:43 p.m. It’s dark. Cold. I’m driving up to the one-story house my Papaw built, surrounded by lush green woods I can’t see right now. My grandparents are in their 60s, and my Papaw jokes about having O-L-D. I’m more worried about their health than they are. I’m coming from Oxford, which is teeming with COVID-19 cases an hour and 20 minutes away. Papaw worked in construction before he retired. Since my childhood, he’s built a garage, re-done the bathroom — before that, the rust in that room gave me nightmares as a kid — torn out the kitchen and extended it, re-done the floors, added a room connecting the house to the garage, built two sunrooms — one in the back of the house with a fireplace and one in front with a swinging chair — a garden, a small greenhouse shed, a chicken coop, a small metal arch leading to a bonfire down a set of steps, one small backyard deck and another on the side of the house that overlooks their empty acre of land seen through the trees and down the hill. When I drive to the end of the driveway, I realize

illustrations by Caitlin Schulte

I turn off my music. I stop my car, and the engine slows. It’s just me and the crickets. that since the last time I visited, Papaw has added a wooden shade on the side of the garage with room to shelter a car from the elements. The idea that my grandparents are looking at houses two states away and are considering selling this house is unfathomable to me. This house has been around since my mom was small. She remembers neighbor kids skipping the house altogether on Halloween night, not even stopping at the natural arch of trees that outline the long driveway, with the house at the end of the curved gravel carpath tucked out of sight. I think about what I hope is the far away future: This house, with people I don’t know in it. This house, full of memories of leaf piles taller than my six-year-old self and Thanksgiving turkey mishaps and learning to drive in the acre of grass down below, but empty. I have assignments due at midnight, but after I finish, I hear creaks throughout the house. I’m wide awake. I feel guilty. The fact that I’m avoiding the news at all just speaks to my privilege. I find Trump mail in the house and realize avoiding news of the election is futile. I consider having a bonfire. Then I catch a notification on my phone saying President Trump and First Lady Melania both tested positive — I turn off my news notifications. I make peppermint tea and immediately forget that I made it, until I wander back into the kitchen hours later. I make breakfast at 4 a.m., quartering small tomatoes that Papaw must have plucked from the garden at some point and placing them alongside scrambled eggs. I heat up tortillas my grandma left for me, cover everything in green salsa and look out at the backyard from the window. I eat while it’s still dark outside. I can’t sleep this first night. At all. The hours before dawn are comforting, but I don’t condone this behavior.

Oct. 2, 2020, Friday, 6:30 a.m. Being here is supposed to be an escape, but responsibilities have followed me since I still have an internet connection. It’s Friday, 6:30 a.m. for me, but it’s 6:30 p.m. for the student in the Republic of China who I tutor in English writing. Instead of rolling out of bed to answer her call like I usually do, I’ve been up for hours and have

finished a cup of coffee by now. No sleep, but I’m more chipper than usual. I hear her voice pick up in response, but she still sticks with mostly one-word answers to my questions. She turned 12 a few weeks ago. She used to want to be a doctor when she grows up, but she doesn’t dream of that anymore. Since January, she has refused to write about her daily life. She doesn’t like reading the news and summarizing it like we used to do before. She prefers fantasy and fiction to real life now, and I don’t blame her. I ask her to read aloud part of a dystopian novel that’s tamer than reality. She sounds out words in a chapter of The Giver. We log off an hour later, and there’s finally enough light outside to start the chores for the day. It’s a simple routine that stitches the days together. In the mornings, I feed the cats and let the chickens out. In the afternoons, I feed the cats again, pour seed out for the chickens, collect any eggs laid so far and walk down the long driveway to collect the mail. In the evenings, I close the hatch to the outside of the chicken coop.

7:37 a.m. I step out in my grandma’s moccasins to feed the two stray cats, but they aren’t on the small backyard deck to greet me. Instead, I find a raccoon curled up in a cage trap just a few paces from the deck, past a crowd of potted plants. I text my grandma a picture of the raccoon — still breathing, just glued to one side of the cage for some reason — with the caption, “Uhhhh,” and she tells me that Papaw’s friend will come and take care of it later today. I let the chickens out so they can extend to the outside part of their coop. My grandparents used to let them roam free, even going past their property to their neighbors’, until a hawk swooped down one too many times.

8:43 a.m. For a few minutes, I am technically not alone. A yellow-vested electric meter reader appears in the backyard and spooks me in the middle of a Zoom class session. We don’t interact. My grandma assures me an hour later that he’s supposed to be there, but I can’t help but think of worst-case scenarios. My mind wanders during class. I wonder when my body would be found if someone killed me, or if I just died out of nowhere. I roam the house for a few minutes between classes. I pause to look at the homemade dream catchers, knives and turtle shell purses

my grandma collected in the early 1990s, when she started attending powwows and making Native jewelry in the tri-state area. I gently pat a fern only a foot shorter than me with leaves wider than my head. I peruse my grandma’s homemade canned goods. My grandma once told me that she enjoyed life not because of a successful job, but because of her family: cooking for us, making space for us to pull our chairs into a circle, serving us another helping and taking her canned ham and navy beans home with us. In the kitchen is a zipped up notebook with a Bible quote on the front: “Faithful Servant: Be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” I peek inside. The notes have been torn out, but there are two mindless drawings tucked in the side. They could be random squiggles, or they could be penis graffiti. It’s unclear, but the thought of my Papaw drawing obscene sketches expected from a teenage boy makes me laugh in this empty house. When I step over the chickens in their coop to

12:40 p.m. reach their food in the afternoon, I’m surprised that one chicken pecks at my feet. I wear my grandma’s slip-on moccasins, the same pair she wears to take care of the chickens or to take care of the garden. I rub my eyes after my last meeting for the day.

6:38 p.m. Lack of sleep starts to get to me. At least once every hour, I forget what day it is. I get a text from my professor, Dr. James Tobin, about a piece of equipment. He teaches remotely from home. As one of his undergraduate associates I set up a webcam facing the students who meet in person for his entry-level class. Tobin: Could you check that webcam and send me whatever brand and model number you can see….and a photo of it? Chloe: I am at my grandparents and left the webcam on my apartment desk, but I can ask one of my roommates to take a picture Tobin: no dont worry about it…..later…..have a good weekend Tobin: is this the all-alone weekend you may write about? Chloe: Yes Tobin: well, if you wanted to get away from the news…..there’s plenty to [get] away from Chloe: I saw a notification about trump and Melania having COVID before I turned off


notifications Tobin: yeah….keep em off Chloe: There’s more?? Tobin: well….he just went to walter reed hospital Chloe: ! Tobin: but walking and looks ok Chloe: Uhhhhh all right I’m not gonna think about Pence as hypothetical president I have always been more afraid of Vice President Mike Pence than Trump. Do I tend to assume the worst-case scenario? Yes. That night, I worry that I am missing a call I planned with my friends before I realize that I am worrying about this a day in advance. I fall asleep by 10 p.m. The next day, as expected, there are no footsteps plodding through other parts of the

Oct. 3, 2020, Saturday, 9:30 a.m. house or smells of my grandma’s coffee that usually rouse me. No headline notifications are prompting my usual doom scrolling of the news in the morning. The only thing that convinces me to get out of bed is the thought of the cats and the chickens expecting me to feed them. The cats are waiting for me as soon as I open the door. When I pull open the hatch to the chicken coop, the chickens pile out into their caged outdoors. It’s nice to feel needed. I plod over to inspect the garden, where I’m surprised to see two lines of tomatoes and tomatillos are still growing. Some perfectly red, small tomatoes have fallen off their stems, while others have clearly been wormed through. I pull apart the decaying tomatoes and toss them through the chicken coop cage. The hens race each other to grab it with their beaks before the others do. Sometimes it bounces off the cage but is still in reach for a hen to extend her neck through a square and peck it into her mouth. I make coffee and sit outside on the deck overlooking the acre of grass below through the trees. It’s warm, but the wind whips the tree leaves above me into a gentle frenzy. I don’t feel alone surrounded by trees. I feel small, but I feel more aware that the same force of gravity that keeps these trees in place, even when the wind changes, keeps me in place too. I don’t feel trapped in quarantine for once. Just transfixed. I wander the house again, still tired and knowing I have things to do, but I can’t decide what should come first. I flit to different parts of the house. I intend to shower, before I change my mind and turn to the living room to work on

homework before changing my mind again. I realize if anyone was here with me, they would probably laugh. I finally stop in the guest bedroom where I’ve been sleeping, and lay down.

11:20 a.m. I wake up 30 minutes later and feel much more centered, just in time to feed the animals. No eggs yet, but one hen is still in her nest. I wonder if she is convinced that her unfertilized egg will hatch, and is ignoring her need to eat for a chick that will never be born. While drinking coffee from the comfort of the sunroom, I look up at the huge trees, and the light pouring through their leaves. I feel small. I ask myself if I’m really alive. I still wish to reach out to talk to someone, but part of me doesn’t want to interrupt the silence of the day just yet. I cancel a meeting. It could have been helpful, but we can accomplish our tasks without it. I walk to the mailbox without my glasses. I spot a curved white object in the grass on the way, but I can’t make it out. I move closer until I’m near enough to realize it’s a hawk wing severed from the rest of the body, which is nowhere to be found. Flies and carpenter bees are picking clean the exposed cartilage of the wing. I guess I am alive. S





An international student’s choice to study in the United States by Yuki Zhang


laid beside my grandpa after eating one afternoon. The sun shined warmly through the window. I grabbed my grandpa’s hand and put my head on his shoulder. “Grandpa, why did my mom become a teacher? I want to listen to stories about my mom’s childhood.” “Your mom?” he said. “OK, let me think. She likes singing, and her voice is sweet and special. You know in high school, she always skipped class and found a private space to practice singing. After graduating high school, she passed the music school test and told me this is her personal choice for life. She wanted to become a music teacher.” My grandpa stroked my head. “Guai guai [baby], why do you choose to go to an American university?” I sat up and gripped my grandpa’s hand. I didn’t answer at that moment. This choice changed my family and my future. My parents had saved money to help me start a business someday. But I spent that money on


studying abroad and gave up a relatively comfortable and relaxed life. Why did I choose this? Was it worth it? Since my grandpa asked this question, I found some answers. In China, except for my grades, my parents helped me when I was in trouble. Studying in America has pushed me to develop life skills on my own. But it didn’t happen all at once. When I came to America, I always forgot to watch the weather forecast, because at home my mom would watch it and help me pick out clothes. So, in the first semester, forgetting to take an umbrella and not wearing warm-enough clothes happened to me many times. I still remember the first day of classes. The American Culture and English (ACE) Program is a set of three classes that international students must take. Once students successfully complete the program, they are fully admitted into Miami University. On the first day of ACE classes, I woke up late and ran to Bachelor

illustrations by Caitlin Schulte

This choice changed my family and my future. Hall. When I ran outside the dorm, I found it was raining heavily. But I didn’t have time to go back to the dorm to take an umbrella. I held a bag on my head and ran fast and did not notice the road. I fell down the stairs, and blood ran down my knee and stained my pants red. I sat on the ground and put my head on my leg. My knee hurt. I was afraid in this new country. I missed my mother. It all weighed on my heart. The rain fell, tears dropped from my eyes, and I wished for a warm hug. But I knew I needed to get up by myself. Before I came to the United States, I tried to find hints of American culture in research. I was surprised when the American books and movies I had watched to prepare for studying abroad did not match my experience in the United States. Critical thinking is the first thing that surprised me. Some books said American education pays more attention to cultivating children’s critical thinking. But I was still confused. What teacher’s reaction can cultivate children’s critical thinking? How did people show they were critical thinkers? I didn’t understand until one day in my Introduction to Education course. The professor said that a financial support program is beneficial for the American education system and a girl put up her hand. “I disagree with you,” the student said. “I think it is incorrect.” I gasped. What? Disagreeing with the professor directly in front of the class? I felt embarrassed, thinking the professor would be mad at this girl. In my country, the girl’s question would

be considered rude and disrespectful to the professor. I had never seen this happen in China. I looked up hesitantly at the professor, who was not as surprised as me. “Why do you think this?” the professor said. “Give me some reasons.” Seriously? I was surprised by my professor’s reaction. But that moment was when I actually understood what critical thinking was and how American education cultivated it. During the last two years, I experienced culture’s collision and fusion. I experienced different education methods. I learned broad knowledge and broke my inherent thinking. In China, some traditional parents tell their children how to live their lives. Take classes. Get good grades. Find stable work. Get married, have children and focus on family. What a boring life! In America, I saw a mother go to college. I saw a student drop out of their university to become a fireman. I didn’t read or hear about these people. I met them and watched them pursue their own dreams in different ways. In America, I met people from France, Nepal, Vietnam and Korea. They had different backgrounds, experienced different education levels, pursued different lifestyles.


They encouraged me to challenge and break away from what my parents expected for my life. If anyone, even my parents, doubt my lifestyle, I will be brave. I will say, “Why can’t I? This is my life!” Studying abroad has helped me master another language to become competitive in my country’s job market. After graduating, I can get more opportunities to find a good job. But was it worth coming to America? I can’t answer this right now because I’m not finished with my time here. I have returned home to take classes online because of coronavirus. During this process, I have faced new challenges. The worries about whether I can graduate on time, the huge different patterns for class, the big challenge for balancing the different time zones. In the past, I wanted to apply to a postgraduate school in America, but now I have to change my future plan. I might instead apply for a master’s degree in another country or go back to China to find a job. Who knows? I don’t mind if my future is uncertain. Maybe when I graduate from the university and look back on my four years, the answer will occur to me. But I can answer my grandpa’s question. I want to grow up and find out how good I am.





*PROBLEMATIC the learning curve for cultural appropriation


iley Cyrus’ fourth album “Bangerz” saw her full departure from her days of Hannah Montana. She adopted a hiphop sound, and she garnered extensive media attention throughout the entire era. From the “Wrecking Ball” music video to her infamous 2013 MTV VMA performance with Robin Thicke, Cyrus was inescapable. However, Cyrus was accused of using hip-hop culture as a way to shed her “Hannah Montana” Disney persona. Many people credit Cyrus with bringing “twerking” to the mainstream as if Black people did not invent the word in the first place. In her “We Can’t Stop” video, she flashes a gold grill and cuts off a house arrest ankle bracelet, which are stereotypical hip-hop monikers. She also was accused throughout the era of using her Black women dancers as props. This is an example of cultural appropriation. It’s the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of a people or a society by members of another usually more dominant people or society. The accusations only became stronger after a 2017 interview that promoted her next album “Younger Now” where she detailed that she didn’t feel she fit into that scene anymore because of the lyrical content. Some saw it as her openly admitting that she used the culture until it stopped benefiting her commercially.


“Bangerz” remains one of my favorite albums to this day, but I cannot deny the fact that Cyrus was caught with her foot in her mouth while trying to reinvent herself by using another culture as a gimmick. I also hope that the social media backlash provided her with a reality check that has allowed her to evolve. Showing from the rollout so far for her latest album, “Plastic Hearts,” Cyrus has adopted an ’80s rock glamour aesthetic and has covered every artist from Blondie to Britney Spears. Through her covers, Cyrus has proven that she has a deep affinity and connection with music that doesn’t have to mold to any particular genre. I believe that cancel culture was never meant to end somebody’s livelihood forever, but rather to call them out and give them an opportunity to reconcile their harmful behavior. She did make some questionable choices when she was younger. But in the age of social media, she was offered an opportunity to be educated on why what she did was problematic. Although the criticism may be harsh, to be a public figure comes with intense scrutiny. Once I went deeper into some of my favorite artists’ histories, it became clear that any pop star who emerged before social media was bound to be controversial by today’s standards. Back then, there was no dominating platform like social media where stars get direct contact from the people calling them out on their behavior.

photo illustrations by Max Pyle





Madonna is often seen as the blueprint for female-identifying pop stars. There are entire Wikipedia articles discussing the legacy and impact of Madonna on pop music, and any woman in popular music is influenced by her, whether they know it or not. She has a reputation for reinventing herself with each album, but Madonna is another example of pop stars normalizing cultural appropriation within their work.. “Art should be controversial, and that’s all there is to it,” Madonna said to The New York Times in 1989 after her infamous “Like A Prayer” music video. She has certainly held to her words. With the release of “Vogue,” she was accused of appropriating Black LGBTQ+ ballroom culture without crediting it. She was accused of appropriating South Asian culture with her 1998 comeback album “Ray of Light” adorning henna tattoos, a bindi and even sang an entire song in Sanskrit. She has also been accused of appropriating Black culture throughout her career. She was initially planning on titling her 2008 hip-hop influenced album “Black Madonna” with the cover being her in blackface portraying the religious figure.

She later changed her mind, but only because she was afraid that people would not get it. “Twenty-five percent of the people might get this, probably less. It’s not worth it,” she told Rolling Stone in 2009. The clear issue here is that Madonna was fine with doing blackface in any capacity regardless of whatever reference she was trying to make. And it can be argued that this precedent of using other cultures to reinvent one’s image stemmed from Madonna. The Guardian columnist Nesrine Malik said that Madonna’s drive for edginess has at times manifested as cultural appropriation. “Cultural appropriation is now the standard default of the unoriginal,” Malik wrote. “It is a common and predictable template, where one becomes a cliche in trying to avoid being a cliche because you have nothing new to offer…” It is almost an anomaly to come across an artist in the 2000s who did not culturally appropriate in one way or another. From Jennifer Lopez openly saying a racial slur in a song or Christina Aguilera darkening her skin considerably for her “Stripped” album era, it is a tactic artists have used to stand out from the crowd and get people to pay attention.







This is a problem that continues into today’s music. Recently, performers Bebe Rexha and Doja Cat released the music video for their collaboration “Baby, I’m Jealous.” The opening skit in the video pays tribute to the 2003 adaptation of “Freaky Friday” starring Lindsay Lohan. Like in the film, Rexha gets a fortune cookie from an Asian woman who works at the restaurant that sends her life into chaos. But unlike the film, the Asian woman does not speak throughout the entire video, and Rexha speaks to her condescendingly as if she does not understand English. Social media has forced stars to confront the controversy they cause, because they also use social media to promote their music. In the early 2010s, there was another resurgence of cultural appropriation in pop music and in a way, I think it may have been the biggest one yet. I remember seeing Billboard’s retrospective look on 2014’s popular music, and I will never forget the headline: “2014 Was the Year That… Cultural Appropriation Dominated the Pop Music Discussion.” Around the same time as Cyrus’s “Bangerz” era, Katy Perry came under fire with her 2014 “Dark Horse” video for appropriating Egyptian and Black

Iggy Azalea is another artist accused of cultural appropriation in 2014, but she didn’t respond in the same way as Katy Perry. Her single “Fancy” was the number one song for six weeks, the most weeks held by a female rapper at that time. Her collaboration with Ariana Grande, “Problem,” only elevated her popularity. She released a handful of commercially successful singles and released a four-time Grammy Award nominated album before people started to get really confused. How does a white woman from Australia sound like a Black woman when her speaking voice sounds absolutely nothing like that? Azalea began a modern day discussion over if certain accents and dialects were deemed inappropriate for people outside that area to emulate. In other words, Azalea has been accused of auditory cultural appropriation and adopting a “blaccent.” In her 2019 Cosmopolitan cover story, Azalea said that cultural appropriation was subjective. “You could ask one person of the same race, ‘Does this affect you?’ and they will say yes,” she said. “But another person will say no. They could be from the same place, same everything, but have different perspectives about it.”

*HOW DOES A WHITE WOMAN FROM AUSTRALIA SOUND LIKE A BLACK WOMAN WHEN HER SPEAKING VOICE SOUNDS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING LIKE THAT? culture. It was the subject of many think pieces on white singers trying on other cultures as accessories. Perry was also called out for her song “This Is How We Do” because of a lyric referring to her nail art as “Japanese-y” and for wearing cornrows in the music video. Perry later apologized for past cultural appropriation during promotion for her 2017 album “Witness.” She went on to say that one of her close friends Cleo, a Black woman, explained to her the issue of her wearing cornrows and opened a dialogue that Perry had never had before. “I listened, and I heard, and I didn’t know,” Perry said. “And I won’t ever understand some of those things because of who I am. I will never understand, but I can educate myself and that’s what I’m trying to do along the way.” Perry is an example of a white pop star who took constructive criticism, stepped a centimeter outside of her privilege and considered the ramifications of borrowing from another culture rather than appreciating it.

She also goes on to say that she used to be really defensive about the accusations plaguing her career, but then stated she had a change of heart. “... I wanted to talk so much about my experience of things I didn’t have,” she said. “I think it felt like I wasn’t acknowledging that there is white privilege and there is institutionalized racism. It seemed to a lot of people like I was living in this bubble or unaware of all these things that people have to experience.” Cosmopolitan writer Jen Ortiz listed two ways to interpret Azalea’s comments. “The charitable interpretation is that Iggy understands that the criticism stems from America’s relationship with race and that that history is fucked up,” Ortiz wrote. “And hey, if that’s how you feel or what you believe, she’s not taking away the fact that it’s real for you. The less charitable one is that she doesn’t care. Either way, she’s going to stop rage-tweeting about it.” Like other artists accused of cultural appropriation, Azalea was forced to respond because the public



will never let her forget. And I somewhat respect that she addressed the controversy in some capacity. But on Twitter, I see as many people praising Iggy as people dragging her. And at this point, some people are not going to completely stop listening to her (I am a quiet fan of Azalea myself). But at least this issue has been discussed out in the open because Twitter creates that space for both. Social media has a dual function for celebrities. It is where they have access to their platform and their fans. It also acts as a microscope for fans to call out mistakes. Cultural appropriation is all about corporate America cashing in on the fruits of other cultures without properly crediting or respecting those cultures. But cultures are not costumes for anyone to try on. Celebrities are being held accountable and feel the need to address their mistakes as a result. Calling out a star for cultural appropriation has never led to someone being cancelled forever. It is more of an opportunity for us as a society to point out behavior that we see as problematic and calling attention to it so hopefully the artist will address it. Whether or not they take that opportunity is up to them. S





hen senior Lauren Davis applied to be a contact tracer, she was told she would only interview Butler County residents — not her fellow peers at Miami University. However, within a few hours on her first day of work, plans changed. Her supervisors announced that there were too many student cases, so the student contact tracers were enlisted to help with the university’s case load. Davis, a biology pre-med student, applied to be a contract tracer for Miami because it was a good opportunity to continue building her resume before applying for medical school. In the meantime, her desk is not only her student hub, but her place of work. She works in three hour shifts, three to four times a week. She refers to a spreadsheet with positive cases from the past 24 hours. Contact tracers are instructed to first call a person who has tested positive, and then reach out to that person’s “close contacts.” A close contact is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as “someone who has been within six feet for 10-30 minutes depending on the exposure.” “For people who tested positive, we ask about their symptoms and try to figure out who they’ve been in contact with and contact those people as well,” Davis said. “We are contacting these people to let them know they need to quarantine so we can stop the spread of this virus.” The information is logged into a HIPAA-protected, secure Google survey. The polled data is collected and sent to the Butler County Department of Health. For close contacts, there are two categories: exposed or symptomatic. If exposed to the virus, the tracers recommend a 14-day quarantine to allow time for any symptoms to appear. Symptomatic cases require a 10day quarantine. “If they are experiencing symptoms,” Davis


said, “we will treat that as if they tested positive.” Interviewing students and people from the county gives Davis a variety of responses. But contact tracers don’t trace their friends. If she recognizes a name, Davis must report it to be reassigned to someone else. In general, Davis said she has noticed cooperation from who she calls. “For the most part, everybody is really willing to participate in our contact interviews and contribute what they can,” Davis said. Davis has noticed that close contacts are generally less cooperative than direct cases. Positive cases already know they have COVID-19 and need to quarantine. But close contacts may not even know they’ve been exposed. Legally, the contact tracers cannot tell close contacts who listed them as a contact. So if the direct case doesn’t tell anyone, the contact tracers can be the first notification for many close contacts. “A lot of people are not super keen on the fact that they might have to quarantine for 14 days,” Davis said. One individual she contacted was angered by the questions and the virus itself. They claimed the virus was a made-up political scam and they would not be quarantining. Because of HIPAA protections, the contact tracers do not report any of the information from the interviews. In these situations, no legal action can be taken. “We can’t force anybody to quarantine,” Davis said. “I can give my recommendations.” Contact tracers try to emphasize that this interview is not a punishment, but a safety precaution. “You’re definitely not in trouble,” Davis said. “We’re not trying to freak you out or scare you. We’re just trying to help be cautious and keep the people around you safe from this virus as well as the community.” In September, the small staff of contact tracers were overwhelmed with calls to make. Over the course of the semester, with cases dropping and the staff expanding

photo illustrations by Max Pyle

to approximately 100 tracers, the calls have decreased for Davis. “Back in September, I was calling people for my entire shift non-stop,” Davis said. “Now, it is slowing down a little bit, and we do have more contact tracers. We have a lot more time to answer phones and help each other out.” No matter how many people they have to call, the contact tracers have one common goal. “Stop the spread as much as possible,” Davis said. “That’s really the whole point of what we’re doing.” *** In March, Davis knew to be cautious. But she didn’t understand the severity of the virus and its spread until she returned to campus and talked to people with positive cases. “After going through the contact tracing process,” Davis said, “I’ve seen people just having a headache for a couple days to being in the hospital, unable to breathe on their own.” During one shift, she dialed a number from her spreadsheet, as usual. When the woman picked up the phone, Davis introduced herself and began asking questions. But Davis had called her right as the women had come home from the hospital. “She was so out of breath and could not talk to me,” Davis said. Davis gave her a call-back number and let the older woman settle in before their interview. “That really put it into perspective for me that this is a really serious virus,” Davis said. “It’s impacting people so differently than anything we’ve seen before and it really should be taken seriously.”


Despite students’ casual attitude about the virus, it still has lasting impacts on others in the community. “It might not affect us as young people as severely as others, but it really can have a detrimental impact on the health of older people or immunocompromised,” Davis said. Her new perspective on the virus has caused a ripple effect in her personal life. “It has definitely decreased my time out in public,” Davis said. “Going through this project, when somebody is exposed and we ask them where they’ve been the past couple days, there are a few places that come up pretty frequently, so I have been avoiding those places.” Brick Street and Fiesta Charra are two major “hotspots” that Davis said have appeared frequently in her interviews. Luckily, no one in Davis’s house off-campus has had contact with COVID-19 and they haven’t had to quarantine. Davis has been tested once as of late August, and one of her roommates has been randomly selected three times as of late October. “In terms of my housemates and I, we are very cautious of who we are all around,” Davis said. “For the most part, we try to stay with the same few people.”

*** A few months into contact tracing, Davis had to complete extra training for the Ohio COVID Database. She got promoted to a new project that follows up on symptoms of close contact cases.



Davis said close contacts have the option to report and track their symptoms after their interview. This helps the health department see if those close contacts will become a confirmed positive case. “I go through the contacts that are experiencing symptoms and make a judgement call if they are a probable case,” Davis said. She reaches out to these individuals as a follow-up to make sure they have the proper resources. Though she’s seen the cases at Miami go down, there might be a new wave of cases after the break. “It’s very likely that Butler County Health Department is going to need us again,” Davis said. In September, the small staff of contact tracers were overwhelmed with calls to make. Over the course of the semester, with cases dropping and the staff expanding to approximately 100 tracers, the calls have decreased for Davis. “Back in September, I was calling people for my entire shift non-stop,” Davis said. “Now, it is slowing down a little bit, and we do have more contact tracers. We have a lot more time to answer phones and help each other out.” No matter how many people they have to call, the contact tracers have one common goal. “Stop the spread as much as possible,” Davis said. “That’s really the whole point of what we’re doing.” *** In March, Davis knew to be cautious. But she didn’t understand the severity of the virus and its spread until she returned to campus and talked to people with positive cases. “After going through the contact tracing process,” Davis said, “I’ve seen people just having a headache

for a couple days to being in the hospital, unable to breathe on their own.” During one shift, she dialed a number from her spreadsheet, as usual. When the woman picked up the phone, Davis introduced herself and began asking questions. But Davis had called her right as the women had come home from the hospital. “She was so out of breath and could not talk to me,” Davis said. Davis gave her a call-back number and let the older woman settle in before their interview. “That really put it into perspective for me that this is a really serious virus,” Davis said. “It’s impacting


people so differently than anything we’ve seen before and it really should be taken seriously.” Despite students’ casual attitude about the virus, it still has lasting impacts on others in the community. “It might not affect us as young people as severely as others, but it really can have a detrimental impact on the health of older people or immunocompromised,” Davis said. Her new perspective on the virus has caused a ripple effect in her personal life. “It has definitely decreased my time out in public,” Davis said. “Going through this project, when somebody is exposed and we ask them where they’ve been the past couple days, there are a few places that come up pretty frequently, so I have been avoiding those places.” Brick Street and Fiesta Charra are two major “hotspots” that Davis said have appeared frequently in her interviews. Luckily, no one in Davis’s house off-campus has had contact with COVID-19 and they haven’t had to quarantine. Davis has been tested once as of late August, and one of her roommates has been randomly selected three times as of late October. “In terms of my housemates and I, we are very cautious of who we are all around,” Davis said. “For the most part, we try to stay with the same few people.” *** A few months into contact tracing, Davis had to complete extra training for the Ohio COVID Database. She got promoted to a new project that follows up on symptoms of close contact cases. Davis said close contacts have the option to report

and track their symptoms after their interview. This helps the health department see if those close contacts will become a confirmed positive case. “I go through the contacts that are experiencing symptoms and make a judgement call if they are a probable case,” Davis said. She reaches out to these individuals as a follow-up to make sure they have the proper resources. Though she’s seen the cases at Miami go down, there might be a new wave of cases after the break. “It’s very likely that Butler County Health Department is going to need us again,” Davis said. S


Connecting to a movement


crolling through her Instagram feed, Jannie Kamara finds a post about how allies can be anti-racist. She swipes through the multi-slide post reading about how allies can remove words from their vocabulary, research issues that face people of color and provide resources to their own followers. With just three taps, Kamara reposts the information to her own Instagram account where her 2,678 followers can see it. “For me, I hope people get out of it educational information and mostly [get] an understanding of the daily ins and outs of the lives of people of color,” Kamara said. She is just one of many students who are participating in social media activism. This new form of activism takes place almost entirely online by using apps like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Kamara reposts activist infographics or links to more information at least a few times a day. Her content ranges from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, the 2020 Presidential election and other issues she thinks her followers can learn about. Katie Day Good, Miami assistant professor of strategic communication, explained activists’ goals for social media use can be different for each movement. 60 THE MIAMI STUDENT MAGAZINE, FALL 2020

Social media activism on the rise by Abby Bammerlin

“That advocacy can take the form of raising public awareness of an issue that has previously not gotten a lot of representation in mainstream media,” Good said, “or that advocacy can be proposing solutions to particular problems or promoting particular candidates or particular political platforms.” For Kamara, a senior and the president of the Associated Student Government at Miami, she started doing this in high school. She constantly scrolled through Twitter retweeting certain messages and commenting on political posts. But that changed as she encountered a darker side of Twitter. She remembers being confronted harshly about her opinions. “The Twitter realm is a much more different realm when it comes to hate comments,” Kamara said. Good said women of color and people of color have been historically subjected to more online bullying than any other group of people. “On the one hand, you can raise your voice online, people can step forward and share stories in ways that they might not have been able to before,” Good said. “But it can also come with certain risks of being trolled or being harassed online.”

illustrations by Elliot Nichols

Kamara switched to Instagram during freshman year of high school. She posts on her Instagram Story, a feature that only keeps the post visible to the public for 24 hours before it expires and disappears from a user’s feed. Unlike Kamara, many students are experiencing social media activism for the first time. Sophomore Sidra Capriolo said she’s always been fairly active on her Instagram and other social media accounts, but really began her advocacy in the spring and summer. Capriolo said she was moved to post more after seeing the resurgence of the BLM movement following George Floyd’s death. She says she’s had friends reach out to her thanking her for posting about certain issues. It’s also given her the confidence to speak up when she’s face to face with conversations on the same issues she reposts. Before this year, she said she might have let family members get away unabashed with semi-racist comments. However, during a Zoom call with her family, one of her family members said something disrespectful about the BLM movement, something Capriolo posts about frequently. This time, she called out her family member for his comment in front of the rest of her family. “Seeing so many other people speak up for it, I think empowered me to do the same toward my family members,” Capriolo said. But activism on social media is changing. More and more people are becoming more active on social media sites like Instagram and Facebook. According to The New York Times, nearly every social media website saw an increase in traffic after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Between Jan. 15 and March 24, Facebook.com saw a 27% increase in daily traffic. YouTube.com saw a 15.3% increase and TikTok a 15.4% increase. According to a Washington Post article, Twitter had 166 million daily users as of April 30, up from 152 million at the end of 2019. Capriolo said she has personally seen more people use social media and talk about social issues. She thinks it might have to do with the pandemic, the controversial 2020 election or a mix of both. “COVID has made it so that a lot of people this summer who were usually going to be going out and doing things have to be stuck inside on their phones or on their laptops,” Capriolo said. “So I think there’s been a lot of different [historic] events that have led to this increase of infographics and posting on social media.” With more people on the platform, Kamara and Capriolo said they’ve both seen more people posting about social issues on their accounts. One event that drew out more supporters than almost any other issue was Black Out Tuesday. Black Out Tuesday took place on June 2 and started in the music industry as a way of highlighting some of the

“When you’re doing activism it’s not about you as an individual,” injustices that Black artists face in that field. However, with so many big artists posting black squares with the hashtag #BlackOutTuesday, it soon spiraled into an event anyone and everyone participated in. Capriolo remembers black squares everywhere on her timeline, most using the hashtag #BLM or #BlackLivesMatter. Normally, hashtags can be used to help people find information about a movement or look up certain posts. Good said hashtags can help facilitate discussions about an issue. “[Hashtags] can force journalists to pay attention and it can lead to more coverage, appearing in mainstream news outlets about these historically underrepresented communities and issues,” Good said. But part of the issue with Black Out Tuesday was with so many people on the platform using the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, empty black squares with no caption buried information about petitions, resources and events. “This is no shade to anyone who did it. I didn’t find it to be very helpful,” Capriolo said. “I appreciate that some people did it out of solidarity, but I noticed a lot of the people who were posting black squares weren’t doing anything else to either educate themselves or post other information.” Criticism for the event as well as many other subsequent social media protests is that it’s become performative. Kamara said she’s also seen people who have posted pictures of themselves at a protest. The post centered around them instead of the movement.

“When you’re doing activism it’s not about you as an individual,” Kamara said. “It’s about the collective. It’s about how we are going to push our message and push our goals to ensure that we are helping the community that needs it.” Good said she thinks everyone online should value listening just as much as they do speaking out. “I think it’s important to listen to the activists who are from those communities and sort of follow their lead in terms of what’s the best way to advocate, and what outcomes are needed,” Good said. First-year Evan Gates also posts frequently on his social media. But he believes performance is just part of social media. “It’s all performative,” Gates said. “That’s the nature of social media. One-hundred percent performative. At the same time, we can perform activism in a way that makes real change possible.” Good said one criticism for activism through social media is that it isn’t effective in creating real change. But for many, posting online might be the first step toward more concrete engagement. “Somebody who gets involved with a social movement by retweeting or liking or following particular activists can then later find themselves getting engaged on a deep level with other kinds of more embodied action or direct action,” Good said. Despite some users not having the best intentions with their activism, Kamara said it’s still the best way to educate people about BLM and other issues. “Even though there are performative actions on there,” Kamara said, “there were still a lot of individuals who are making great strides towards educating different communities about these different issues that people face.”


“It’s about the collective. ”



Profile for The Miami Student

The Miami Student Magazine | Fall 2020  

Copyright Student Media. Established 2016, produced in collaboration with staff of The Miami Student.

The Miami Student Magazine | Fall 2020  

Copyright Student Media. Established 2016, produced in collaboration with staff of The Miami Student.