Tuesday 11/16/21

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Michigan State’s Independent Voice


After a year of virtual learning, mental health support looks different PAGES 4-5

Michigan State faculty share victories, struggles with mental health ‘I really want to see my students have a healthy emotional well-being. I’ve seen the ramifications when stress and anxiety get in the way,’ animal science professor Christine Skelly said. PAGE 5 T U ES DAY, N OVE MB E R 16, 2021

The reality — or lack thereof — of the ‘Freshman 15’ As freshmen enter college, weight stigma of the ‘Freshman 15’ seem to follow them in. However, this phenomenon has been proved to be a myth while the psychological effects are very real. PAGE 7



What’s with the new bus?

MSU Mobility’s autonomous bus will be taking passengers spring 2022 Researchers have been working together to transform MSU’s campus into a live, connected network ideal for studying all areas of autonomous mobility. PAGE 7



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Vol. 112 | No. 8






MULTIMEDIA EDITORS Devin AndersonTorrez, Chandra Fleming DESIGN Maddie Monroe

CITY EDITOR Griffin Wiles This week’s cover was a photo illustration by Chloe Trofatter.

Senior forward Gabe Brown (44) makes his way to the basket in the Spartans’ match against the Western Michigan Broncos at the Breslin Center on Nov. 12. Photo by Chloe Trofatter

The State News @thesnews



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NEWSROOM/CORRECTIONS (517) 295-5149 feedback@statenews.com GENERAL MANAGER Christopher Richert ADVERTISING M-F, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The State News is published by the students of Michigan State University every other Tuesday during the academic year. News is updated seven days a week at statenews.com. State News Inc. is a private, nonprofit corporation. Its current 990 tax form is available for review upon request at 435 E. Grand River Ave. during business hours. One copy of this newspaper is available free of charge to any member of the MSU community. Additional copies $0.75 at the business office only. Copyright © 2021 State News Inc., East Lansing, Michigan




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After a year of virtual learning, mental health s

Photo illustration by Lauren DeMay

By Lily Guiney Lguiney@statenews.com

Alyssa Dunn, a professor in the College of Education, wants Michigan State students and faculty to know going back to normal isn’t an option. “Normal was never healthy to begin with,” Dunn said of the pre-pandemic reality that was abruptly pulled out from under the world 20 months ago. “Normal wasn’t working, and it wasn’t helping.” Dunn was referring to the pressures of student life and balancing mental health with academic success. It has been widely acknowledged by psychologists and those who study the mental health of young people that the pandemic has taken a massive toll on the mental wellbeing of college students. Studies have been done on the effects of isolation and online learning on mental health. Traditionally, students and teachers have functioned in an in-person environment, and universities jumped at the opportunity to return to a semi-regular teaching structure this fall. But, this back-to-school season has been permeated by a new, nagging worry about how students’ mental health would fare on campus after a year of online learning. Professors have modified classroom policies in the interest of students’ mental health. University administration often includes disclaimers in emails to the student body that these are difficult times, and everyone’s mental health is the top priority in the new school year. 4


In light of all this, what does mental health actually look like in the post-COVID-19 educational environment? In every MSU class syllabus, students will find a section about the university’s policies regarding mental health in the classroom, delineating a set of standards for the relationship between students and professors. The required information includes links to MSU’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services, or CAPS, and a description of disability accommodations and diversity commitments. This section likely takes up half a page at most. Human biology junior Kirthika Krishnan said she’d like to see these guidelines expanded on. “I would really like to see guaranteed mental health absences added to the syllabus,” Krishnan said. Krishnan described how her French class last fall had two absences granted to each student, and the professor would not ask for any student’s reason for taking the day off. She said she ended up using both of her days off. “Honestly, they helped my performance in the course a lot,” Krishnan said. Krishnan said her days are occupied with work for her five classes while her evenings are filled with club meetings and practices for her acapella group. She said the stress of school and extracurriculars is a given in her life, but she can’t control when bad days happen. “It’s not like I wake up deciding to feel a certain way on a certain day,” Krishnan said. “There might just be a day in the middle of the semester where I’m just like, ‘I can’t do TU ESDAY, NOVEMBE R 16 , 202 1

“It’s not like I wake up deciding to feel a certain way on a certain day. There might just be a day in the middle of the semester where I’m just like, ‘I can’t do this right now.’” Kirthika Krishnan Human biology junior

this right now.’” This is the case for many students who balance full course loads and multiple extracurriculars. The attention to mental health issues in college-aged Americans isn’t a new phenomenon. In recent years, followed by a rise in suicides by people ages 18 to 24, national attention has focused on young people and the reasons for the decline in their mental wellness. In February, The Brookings Institution found that over 80% of college students reported in a survey that the pandemic has impacted their lives through “increased isolation, loneliness, stress, and sadness.” These feelings of distress, coupled with the regular stressors of college academics, have forced students and university faculty to make space for mental health in the classroom in ways they hadn’t considered prior. For some professors, this can look like trimming down the number of assignments they give or granting more extensions to due dates on larger projects. Others schedule certain days off throughout the semester to give students a break from the constant stream of work that classes bring. Last year, in lieu of spring break, MSU students were granted two “mental health days” in March. During those days, professors were not supposed to assign any additional classwork or projects, but many students said their mental health days were still consumed by homework and didn’t quite serve the purpose of improving mental health.


support looks different Dunn explained several ways in which teachers can accommodate their students’ mental health in the classroom. She’s on sabbatical from MSU this semester, but said she found methods that worked in her online classes last year and feels they’re still applicable. Dunn said prioritizing her students’ mental health meant “having very flexible deadlines for assignments” and stressed the importance of going with the flow. She said she hopes the pandemic has reminded professors and students of the need to center each other’s humanity. “I think too often, it’s easy for faculty to think that our class is the most important thing that students are doing at any given moment,” Dunn said. Dunn wants professors to know that in order to take their students’ mental health into account, they need to remember that “students are full people and our class may be just one very small thing on a large list of things that students are experiencing.” In spite of everyone’s best efforts, these issues can easily get lost in translation when there’s such a large gap between students and professors in the academic setting, and in those cases, mental health care falls on the university as an institution. While MSU offers a variety of mental health resources, it can be hard to access these opportunities, media and information senior Faye Kollig said. “My experience with MSU mental health services has definitely been a mixed bag,” Kollig said. Kollig’s experience with CAPS included seeing a psychiatrist and a crisis counselor, and they said it was difficult to schedule the necessary meetings for crisis patients given the long waiting periods for mental health professionals on campus. Regardless of the challenges to accessing professional help on campus, Kollig still feels the network of support provided by being on campus has been helpful.

“Overall, I feel like once I started really taking advantage of all the resources MSU has, I feel like I’m really glad they’re there,” they said. Kollig is a member of Spartan Support Network, a group dedicated to promoting openness and erasing the stigma surrounding issues of mental wellbeing among MSU students. Biochemistry junior Roksana Riddle felt similarly, expressing that while university mental health systems may not always be up to par, there are still opportunities for students and professors to make space for mental health in the academic setting. “There are ways to be accommodating to students when they need it,” Riddle said. “But, I don’t think (the university) is capable of managing student mental health in one way or another.” Riddle also acknowledged the difficulties of forming strong relationships between students and professors in a public health situation that puts many classes online or in a hybrid format. Students seem to be relying primarily on their professors to understand the struggles of maintaining mental health in a strange school environment. Psychology senior Asia Rivett said she felt professors are rising to the occasion and she thinks professors this year are “even more understanding of mental wellness” than last year. “I think they’re really conscious and respectful of boundaries students set during the pandemic,” Rivett said. Rivett noted that this year is an adjustment for faculty as well as students, and the collective excitement about being back on campus brings her joy amidst the stress of school. “You can really tell that everyone’s enthusiastic and happy to be back,” Rivett said. “It’s really wholesome to see everybody so genuinely excited to have conversations one-on-one.”

Biochemistry junior Roksana Riddle said professors should be required to complete diversity, equity and inclusion training. As a transgender student, she said that even the most well-intentioned professors can make insensitive comments in class, which can adversely affect students and their participation on Oct. 18. Photo by Chloe Trofatter


MSU faculty shares victories, struggles with mental health

Photo illustration by Lauren DeMay By Mariam Hanna Mhanna@statenews.com

Jason Smith, a teaching specialist in the College of Engineering, has quite a bit on his plate. On top of teaching 350 students a semester, he and his wife welcomed their third child just a few months ago. Smith recently noticed the responsibilities of his job, his family and a pandemic have hindered his mental health. “The pressure of always needing to be ‘on’ or my best because of the responsibility I feel to those around me is the biggest drain on my mental health,” Smith said. “Which if depleted enough will negatively impact those I care about, which will stress me out more — and you can see where this goes.” It is not uncommon for faculty to feel overwhelmed or exhausted. The job of a college instructor or professor is multi-faceted. “Faculty decisions are competitive by nature, and there’s always a desire to be doing more,” anthropology professor Mindy Morgan said. “We have to be excellent researchers, we have to be excellent teachers, we also have to be good colleagues.” English education professor Hui-Ling Malone agreed, citing the added pressure to produce work beyond teaching. “There’s a lot of pressure to publish or write, but you also have to teach,” Malone said. “I have a heavier teaching load, so it feels like there are a lot of demands to be productive. … You constantly feel like you’re not doing enough in the academy, and that definitely affects my well being and how I see myself — and how I feel as a productive person.” It’s clear some professors and instructors are burnt out. The question is: What is MSU doing to take care of its faculty?

“I feel like every week or so, I’m seeing an email or something from President (Samuel L.) Stanley or just folks that work with him very intricately, and I appreciate those emails that are always embedded with links and resources for faculty, for parents, just for everyone who might fall under the umbrella of the university,” professor in the College of Education Raven Jones Stanbrough said. Morgan agreed that MSU provides faculty with resources on how to seek mental health support and the significance of doing so. However, she feels as though they need to take it a step further. “When they say that you need to ... take mental health breaks, that’s actually an added burden,” Morgan said. “You have to seek it out; it’s not like they’re providing it.” Animal science professor Christine Skelly emphasized the importance of compartmentalizing her professional life from her personal life so that if something goes wrong in her career, it does not bleed over into the rest of her life. Aside from their own mental health, many college instructors also have the added pressure of caring for their students’ health, Skelly said. “I really want to see my students have a healthy emotional well-being,” Skelly said. “I’ve seen the ramifications when stress and anxiety get in the way. They can’t get everything they should be getting out of their college experience.” Secondary traumatic stress, or STS, is something many university faculty say they deal with. STS is defined by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department as “a set of observable reactions to working with people who have been traumatized and mirrors the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.”


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CAMP U S FACULTY CONT. STS is something that clinical instructor in the School of Social Work Elizabeth Montemayor has experienced in her permanent job as a manager of Child Protective Services in Ingham County. She often talks to her social work students about the relevance of STS to their future careers. MSU houses 17 degree-granting colleges, and each one of these colleges has its own way of going about helping its faculty. The College of Education is one that is intentional with mental health for both their faculty and their students, Jones Stanbrough said. “There is time and space for us to even do chair yoga or just breathing exercises,” Jones Stanbrough said. “We talk about how this gives us reprieve and allows us to talk amongst ourselves as faculty and then take it even further and see how we can implement these same practices into our teaching.” Morgan said society has trained people to work themselves to an extreme because it “makes them better.” “There has been an almost valuing of overwork to either jobs or classwork or something of that sort to the detriment of mental health,” Morgan said. “People would take pride in the fact that they slept only a few hours or how many hours they were putting in a lab or how many hours they were spending writing.” Because of this, when one does not accomplish a goal they have set for themselves, it can be emotionally and mentally draining. “Forgiving myself when I fall short of any of these goals and readily forgiving others for any slights (is important),” Smith said. “I find that my darkest days usually have something to do with anger at myself or another person; I need to let that anger go before I can make it right.”

In many careers, individuals often struggle to keep work at work. They tend to bring it home with them and find it difficult to set boundaries. This has become even more of a challenge with the age of technology and remote work. “I had to set all of my work equipment up in a separate room because at first I was doing it in the kitchen, and I just couldn’t stand to look at it every single day,” Montemayor said. “It’s just hard to separate work and home life when your work is at home.” Access to email in just a few touches on a smartphone has been in existence for over a decade now, but the temptation to constantly be working can be detrimental to mental health. “Once the university moved to remote, all of the boundaries between the office work and home work were dissolved, and they were happening at the same time, and there are multiple demands on people, and that can be very difficult to negotiate,” Morgan said. “There was nowhere to go. There was nowhere to escape.” Setting boundaries when it comes to external communication is something Jones Stanbrough said she has worked to do. She prioritizes her mental health and her family instead of anxiously awaiting a work email on a Saturday morning. “Something that I really, really enjoy doing is just tapping out from people or just sending a heads up like, ‘Hey, I’m a little bit tired, so y’all just give me a couple days,’” Jones Stanbrough said. Public health and food safety professor Douglas Moyer also sees the importance of taking time to himself if he feels his mental health is in jeopardy. “If I feel it’s overwhelming, then I take a day off or contact the mindfulness people again




TU ESDAY, NOVEMB E R 16 , 202 1

“It’s just hard to separate work and home life when your work is at home.”

and have a quick session,” Moyer said. “There are resources for faculty regarding mental health … someone you can talk to.” Instructors and professors work with hundreds of people, whether they be colleagues, administrators or students. It can become easy to not focus on their personal mental health. “I have a therapist, which I highly recommend,” Malone said. “One thing (I learned) is articumy feelings Elizabeth lating to myself. I used to Montemayor think, ‘The world School of social work is what it is. These clinical instructor things are happening to me, but I’m fine.’ But if you don’t get in touch with your feelings … (they) will manifest in all kinds of ways, and that can be damaging.” Family is immensely important to Montemayor, she said. Spending time with her immediate and extended family allows her to care for her mental health and relieve stress. “You have to make time for yourself,” Montemayor said. “That’s a must.” For Smith, this looks like fueling his body by

working out. “I’ve always felt that physical and mental health are like the proverbial chicken and the egg,” he said. “They’re tied together for sure, but it’s not always clear which impacts which more. All I know is that when I’m starting to feel ‘off’ and I don’t know what the cause is … the most helpful thing for me is usually to prime my mind by attending to the body … doing a workout, going for a walk, even just cleaning something. … It all helps.” Moreover, Smith said it’s important to build a strong support system. He attributes his family, friends and colleagues as the reason he is able to have a professional life as well as a personal life. Skelly said she was thankful for the resources that MSU provided for switching to online learning. Teaching virtually can present challenges in building relationships between instructors and students, Malone said. “I am teaching virtually, so that is more difficult because we’re isolated,” Malone said. “I first just want to make sure that we know who we are and that I care about you and we care about each other. This is a space where we can be vulnerable, and I try to be as understanding as possible. I really want students to communicate with me if they aren’t in a good place.” If you or anyone you know is struggling with their mental health, contact MSU Counseling & Psychiatric Services, or CAPS, at (517) 3558270 or visit their office on the third floor of the Olin Center.



The reality — or lack thereof — of the ‘Freshman 15’ By Liz Nass lnass@statenews.com Every year, freshmen enter college and have to change their routine to fit the new, unfamiliar environment. With this comes a lot of change to one basic need: food intake. As freshmen learn to navigate the beginning of the college experience, weight stigma, such as the concept of the “Freshman 15” follows students around. However, this popular phenomenon — where freshmen in college are predicted to gain 15 pounds within their first year — is actually a myth. “My main focus as a dietitian is to not perpetuate these myths that get brought up year after year even though evidence has proved that the basis of the ‘Freshman 15’ is not true,” nutrition program coordinator and certified eating disorder dietitian Anne Buffington said. Buffington said society is in a very weight-focused culture

and this phenomenon only promotes a fear of weight gain in a vulnerable population of college students who often fall for the toxicity of diet culture. College freshmen are predicted to gain nowhere close to the sayings 15 pounds, diminishing the need for diet fads that students can fall prey to. Buffington said the average weight gain is around three to six pounds in the first year after high school, regardless if someone goes to college or not. It’s considered the “physical maturation into adulthood,” she said. “(Weight gain) theoretically can be a symptom of a medical condition — thyroid condition, insulin resistance – those types of conditions can lead to changes and fluctuations in weight,” Buffington said. She also explained that weight gain does not necessarily mean someone is in poor physical health, which is a dangerous assumption for body image and security. This means that the diet behaviors many

“My main focus as a dietitian is to not perpetuate these myths that get brought up year after year even though evidence has proved that the basis of the ‘Freshman 15’ is not true.”

Anne Buffington Nutrition program coordinator

Illustration by Madison Echlin

freshmen partake in to fight the “Freshman 15” are irrelevant. Diet culture can also make people susceptible to believing misinformation that is passed along about the “Freshman 15,” Buffington said. She said anxiety is the real culprit to health problems. At Olin Health Center, the clinics noticed anxiety around food leads to weight gain more often than trends of the actual “Freshman 15.” “This anxiety can create a preoccupation or sense of worry that really drives dangerous dieting or disordered eating behaviors,” Buffington said. Psychology doctoral student in eating disorder research Megan Mikhail said this fear creates its own behaviors that can have worse outcomes than effects of the “Freshman 15.” “(Anxiety) can actually set them up for fluctuations in blood sugar that can lead to things like binge eating or hav-

ing a really negative mood,” Mikhail said. A student fighting against this irrational fear is dietetics senior Cara Hodgins, President of Spartans Empower Body Acceptance, or SEBA. She said spreading awareness and being conscious of not talking badly about yourself or others is a big part of what she does. “It’s important to uplift others and uplift yourself too,” Hodgins said. Another goal of the organization is to find where these body image perceptions stem from,

Hodgins said. “It’s hard to not look at other people and just idolize them and think ‘Oh, she or he is more attractive than I am or they have their life together more than I do,’” Hodgins said. “So it’s really hard to stay true to yourself.” While the message of body acceptance has been widespread in recent years, the reality of body positivity can be hard to accept. “We’re helping students realize ‘How can we stabilize your eating patterns so that your weight can stabilize at a place that is biologically appropriate,’” Buffington said. “And then what we have to do is really work on this body acceptance piece.”


A look into autonomous vehicles on MSU’s campus By Madison Rose mrose@statenews.com Michigan State University has worked hard to pave the way for autonomous vehicles. The most recent addition to MSU’s growing autonomous ecosystem: an electric autonomous bus. MSU Mobility is an organization responsible for the creation and study of MSU’s autonomous vehicles. The group focuses on researching and developing systems of communication and control for autonomous vehicles and their environment. Researchers spanning a wide range of disciplines have worked together to transform MSU’s campus into a live, connected network ideal for studying all areas of autonomous mobility. “MSU is a great community for innovating in the automation space,” assistant professor and MSU Mobility faculty Josh Siegel said. “I think one of the things that makes us really unique, other than having a campus and these vehicles that are really effective as platforms, is the way that MSU brings together faculty across disciplines to think through this future of mobility. And that’s something that you don’t get at many other places.”


Starting spring 2022, students, faculty and the general public will be able to ride MSU’s electric autonomous bus on its non-stop, roundtrip twoand-a-half-mile route from the MSU Auditorium to the MSU Commuter Lot 89. The bus will only be deployed and open to passengers after it undergoes rigorous testing — it will have finished approximately 630 test trips on campus before it accepts passengers. Although the bus offers level 4 autonomy, meaning it can operate without any human interaction, it will be monitored by a trained operator at all times for safety purposes.

“Having an electric autonomous bus of this scale in our backyard is incredible,” Michigan’s Chief Mobility Officer Trevor Pawl said in a press release. “It gives us a hands-on tool that can help educate MSU students and staff members as well as the surrounding communities about the importance and applicability of vehicles of this kind in our society,”


The new bus is just a fraction of the extensive autonomous vehicle research being done on campus. The Connected and Autonomous Networked Vehicles for Active Safety’s, or CANVAS, 2016 Lincoln MKZ and Student Organized Autonomous Research Group’s, or SOAR, Chevrolet Bolt are two other large-scale MSU autonomous vehicles. Both vehicles run through Spartan Village. Some smaller autonomous vehicles, such as IPF’s Snowbot or Mow-bot, an autonomous snow blowing and lawn mowing robot also run on campus.


Autonomous vehicles are safer, more efficient, convenient and cheaper than the typical car, according to the United States Department of Transportation. Some CANVAS faculty agree that autonomous mobility is the future and MSU can either develop or be left behind. “There’s going to be major disruption to our automotive industry, and it’s going to impact all of us,” associate professor and MSU AutoDrive Challenge team adviser Daniel Morris said. “Our cars have been changing slowly over the last century, but now, we anticipate they’re going to change dramatically in the next decade or two as they become more and more automated, as well

as electrified.” Historically, the state of Michigan has championed the automotive industry, and University Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and former acting President of the university Satish Udpa stressed the importance of staying abreast of mobility technology. “If (Michigan) loses the automotive industry, we will have lost a lot,” Udpa said. “So, we have to make sure that the state stays ahead of this

technology. ... The future is exciting and Michigan is in the middle of all of these things because we have some of the largest companies here, we have some of the largest talent base here, and it’s time that we got into the business of making sure we stay abreast of this technology and contribute to society, but these are exciting days.”


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