As publishers make strides to increase diversity in books, other parts of the industry still lag behind

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

By Lauren Patetta

Growing up, Caroline Richmond never saw herself represented in the books she read. 

As an Asian-American woman, Richmond never encountered a book that reflected her own experiences, even though she was an avid bookworm. At least, she hadn’t until her freshman year of high school, when Richmond’s English teacher assigned “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan to the class. 

“I just remember that moment so clearly of my teacher telling us to put the book away because she’s going to start the lesson, and I couldn’t,” Richmond said in an interview. “I just felt, like, clarity and acceptance and awe of seeing myself on the page… I didn’t really know that I’ve been searching for that feeling my whole life until I found it on the page.” 

As an adult, Richmond found herself drawn to We Need Diverse Books, a social media movement that started on Twitter as a call for better representation and diversity in literature. The movement turned into a nonprofit organization in 2014, when Richmond started as a volunteer. She later joined the staff in 2017, and still works there today as Program Director. 

Publishing companies and the books they sell have long been dominated by straight, white men, but in the past six years, that has started to change. Movements like We Need Diverse Books and #OwnVoices have pushed the industry forward, forcing publishers and booksellers to rethink the amount of diversity within their own ranks. 

“The U.S. will soon be a majority-minority country,” said Richmond, “and a lot of marginalized people are hungry for their stories to be told and to be told by people who have experienced it and who can write authentically about it.”

Most of the momentum has been from authors, specifically in children’s literature. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center, a library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has reported steadily increasing numbers of children’s and young adult books by and about people from underrepresented communities, including people of color, members of the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities. 

At the same time, the makeup of the industry itself has remained fairly stagnant. People who work at publishing companies are still majority white and heterosexual, according to data from Lee and Low Books, a multicultural children’s book publisher. 

“The fact that the demographics of our industry don’t reflect our increasingly diverse country is a problem on multiple levels,” Allison Hill, the Chief Executive Officer of the American Booksellers Association, said in an email. 

We Need Diverse Books, also known as WNDB, was the first concerted effort to try and change things in the industry. It was started on Twitter by young adult authors Ellen Oh and Malinda Lo as a response to an all-white, all-male panel of children’s authors at BookCon in 2014. Oh and Lo, frustrated by the lack of diversity in children’s bookselling, demanded that the industry take action, and other authors and readers quickly joined in. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag started trending, and a movement was born. Oh, Lo and a group of other authors, illustrators and publishers formed WNDB into a nonprofit that same year, with a goal to diversify children’s literature and raise awareness of the issue. 

“I think people were really looking for something like WNDB before the hashtag occurred,” Alaina Lavoie, the Communications Manager for We Need Diverse Books, said in an interview. “It really just gave them a rallying cry and something physical, tangible to help support rather than everybody kind of having efforts on their own.” 

Now, WNDB operates 12 different initiatives, all meant to bring more perspectives, identities and backgrounds into the industry. Some of these initiatives include grants for unpublished authors from diverse backgrounds, emergency funds, internship grants, mentorship programs and even a classroom program that donates diverse books to schools. 

In terms of diversifying the content of books and the authors who write them, WNDB has been markedly successful. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) launched an online database of diversity statistics in children’s books in 2018, where librarians track the number of books by and about people from underrepresented communities. Madeline Tyner, one of the librarians who logs the data, said that the number of diverse books has been steadily increasing, largely thanks to the efforts of WNDB. 

“If you look at the graph, it’s slowly increasing, and then a little bit of a plateau,” they said in an interview. “And then We Need Diverse Books comes on the scene and it’s a quick increase.”

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center has been tracking the number of books by and about people of color since 1985, and recently expanded its logging to include books by and about LGBTQ people, people with disabilities and people from different religions. Tyner said book counting was done by hand until 2018, when the center received funding to build a full database. Now, publishing companies and even some independent authors send in books to the CCBC so that they may be included in the database. Tyner alone reads around 250 novels a year to keep up with logging but said even that’s not enough to keep up with every book the CCBC receives. 

According to Tyner, the decision for the CCBC to start collecting data on various aspects of identity in books was sparked by two main things: first, funding, and second, a growing awareness of intersectionality. 

“Instead of, like, all white LGBT characters, it’ll be a character who is black and lesbian and whatever other identities they have,” Tyner said. “(More books are) able to represent those intersectional identities in a really authentic way, and not in a way that feels tacked on.” 

We Need Diverse Books is not the only reason for better representation in children’s literature. Publishing companies like Lee and Low Books focus solely on multicultural children’s books, and the #OwnVoices hashtag started by author Corinne Duyvis has brought awareness to the need for people from marginalized communities to tell their own stories.

Children’s and young adult literature has been particularly successful in this area for a number of reasons. Richmond attributes the success to the tight-knit community of “kidlit” writers and publishers, making it easier to get a movement rolling. Lavoie also said that the audience may have something to do with it. 

“I do believe that one of the reasons that a lot of people have rallied around children’s books in particular is because of the research out there that children learn empathy and identity and self-awareness,” Lavoie said. “From a young age, there is a significant impact on kids being able to see themselves in books and media and to see others in books and media.” 

As the Teen Resources Librarian at Bernards Township Library in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, Rachel Talbert works frequently with teenagers. In her work, she has noticed something similar to Lavoie. 

“The point of YA and middle grade books is to help teens identify and find themselves, where they are, and how to get through what they’re going through,” she said in an interview.  

Adult literature, however, is a different story. The adult sphere does not have an equivalent to WNDB, nor does it have a logging system like the CCBC database, which makes it hard to track data and to form similarly unifying movements. 

“The adult sphere, it’s a lot more spread out,” said Richmond. “You have people who just aren’t that online or on social media as much.”

However, Richmond said WNDB is planning on branching out into some areas of adult publishing by extending internship grants to people working in adult publishing by next summer. 

“I think they’re being published, I just don’t know if the enthusiasm is there,” Talbert said, in regards to diverse books in adult publishing. “I feel like adults are kind of stuck with what they like. Certain adults will only read certain books and other things will make them uncomfortable, so they won’t read them.” 

The adult sphere, however, has seen some progress. Most recently, the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in June sparked a massive interest in anti-racist literature over the summer, with books like “Stamped from the Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi and “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo jumping to the top of the New York Times bestseller list

“I think June was a consciousness, not just raising, but explosion, for white people and for everyone when it comes to a deeper understanding of the importance of representation and diversity in general,” Hill said. “We’ve seen a significant increase in sales of anti-racist titles and BIPOC authors as a result.” 

Emily Brodowicz is the marketing coordinator for Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon, and she said she has noticed the interest in anti-racist literature growing, especially over the summer. But she also acknowledged the store needs to promote all kinds of diverse books, not just those that explicitly discuss race. 

“I think an important part of the We Need Diverse Books movement is that it’s not just about anti-racist books,” Brodowicz said in an interview. “It’s also about black cookbook authors and science fiction authors and authors of color writing in other subjects.” 

Despite the progress from books and authors, the industry continues to lag behind. Lee and Low Books put out a Diversity Baseline Survey in 2015 and 2019 which looked at the diversity of employees at the biggest publishing companies. The results still showed a majority white, majority straight industry, statistics that haven’t changed in the four years between surveys. 

Lee and Low’s survey looked at nearly every level of the publishing industry, ranging from interns to the executive level. In the 2019 study, interns were the most diverse, at 51 percent white and 51 percent straight. The other areas — executive, editorial, marketing, sales, literary agents and book reviewers — all fell around 80 percent white and 75 percent straight. Cis women were the most common by far across all levels in regard to gender, and the vast majority of employees were non-disabled. 

Many in the industry are aware of the problem, and some are taking steps to address it. According to Hill, the American Booksellers Association has started conducting anti-racist training for staff, holding quarterly discussions about diversity and waiving membership fees for bookstores owned by people of color. 

“I believe the first step has to be our own foundation,” Hill said. 

In bookstores, Brodowicz said it’s important to find new ways to promote and support books by and about diverse voices, or else publishers won’t sell them or hire more diverse employees. 

“The average person in publishing or in book selling looks a lot like me,” Brodowicz said. “It’s a lot of 20- and 30-year-old white women, and we need to realize that we need to find ways to open those doors up to other people and recognize the ways in which those doors have been closed.” 

Even with the problems, there’s hope for improvement in the future, and new milestones are being reached every day. In September, “Cemetery Boys” by Aiden Thomas became the first fantasy book written by a transgender author to make the New York Times best seller list.

“I think every marginalized group was shoehorned into (stories about) trauma,” Lavoie said. “But the more we’ve allowed people to just write about whatever they want, to write about superhero stories, murder mysteries… the more that we’ve seen that flourish. Because people want to read something new, and they want to read those types of stories that they’ve never seen before.” 

Updated: Musicians and Venues Navigate the Struggles of Empty Stages.

From local musicians to international tours, coronavirus has stopped live music in its tracks, leaving musicians and independent venues uncertain of the future

By Dónal Gannon

(Image Provided by Pexels.com)

Herb Scott is a saxophonist and the Executive Director at the Capitol Hill Jazz Foundation. Scott has been a staple of the D.C jazz music scene for years, but now he and many of his colleagues are unable to do what they love; perform live.

Since March, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of our day-to-day lives, from stay-at-home orders, masks in public and working from home. However one industry that has been hit especially hard by these restrictions is live music. Musicians and venue owners are wonder what to do as large public gatherings continue to be unsafe and in much of the country, illegal.

Like many, Scott has been finding new ways to reach an audience and pay the bills. For most musicians, live performances make up over three quarters of their total income. Live streaming has been a tool utilized by both venues and musicians as a way to continue bringing music to the public. Venues and musicians sell tickets or ask for tips in hopes of recouping the revenue they would receive from putting on show. 

Though this model helped initially, Scott did not see it as a long-term model to replace gigs, “I still live stream, but not with the direct intention of getting tips. It was unsustainable. I had a lot of the same people tuning in so they couldn’t afford to really tip in large amount regularly,” Scott said in an interview, “I turned to doing private concerts on rooftops.” 

Teaching has also been an outlet for musicians, both allowing them to continue working in music and replace their income from performances. “They previously hadn’t relied on teaching, now it’s become their bread and butter,” said Scott in an interview. 

“The fact that I teach has really saved me. I noticed a bunch of musician friends who didn’t teach are struggling,” said Diego Retana, a D.C based guitarist, in an interview. Outside of a small private wedding, Retana has not performed in-person since March. 

However, not all musicians are in the position to wait out the virus, some have had to take on new jobs. “Some musicians have been so frustrated they have moved to driving for Uber or Lyft or odds jobs working factories, or move out of D.C where the cost of living is lower,” said Scott. With no clear return for indoor music performances, musicians are looking for other ways to support themselves.

“A lot of musicians have turned back to seeing what kind of relief is available. Some musicians I’ve tried to encourage to host their own private concerts and they basically told me that they have no interest because they’re already receiving unemployment,” Scott said in an interview.

Despite being physically apart, Scott and his foundation have tried to keep the jazz community of DC together. Over quarantine, Scott has held weekly Zoom calls with other musicians to plan the future and find resources. The Capitol Hill Foundation has been offering relief for artists, “there are a number of arts organizations that early on during the quarantine raised fund for relief for musicians, then there was a massive shift towards venues,” Scott said in an interview, “unemployment kind of took the place of relief funds.”

One of the largest question of the pandemic is it musicians will have places to go back to after the lockdown is over. “We’re all kind of scratching our heads wondering where we’ll be playing after all this,” said Retana, “if anything will be left”. Like Retana many musicians are worried how live music may change as a result of Covid-19.

 Music venues, especially smaller independent ones have struggled since shutdown, and have formed their own lobbying group to seek government assistance. The National Independent Venues Association (NIVA) was formed in March of this year, spearheaded by IMP, the owning group of D.C venues such as the 9:30 Club and Echostage.

Since its founding, the group has amassed 2,900 venues across all 50 states and Washington D.C, lobbying for additional funding to keep small stages open. Though government loans have been made available to small businesses, much of the music community feels it does not address their specific needs. The organization is currently awaiting the passage of the Save Our Stages Act in Congress, which would provide specialized funding for venues.

Freddy Dingo, owner of Dingbatz, a heavy metal venue in Clifton, New Jersey, is a member of NIVA. “We haven’t done anything at Dingbatz since last March since they shut us down,” said Dingo in an interview, “By the time everything starts going again in like next March it’s gonna be a year before we can really do anything.”

Danzig bassist Steve Zing and former God Forbid drummer Corey Pierce have been working with Dingo on planning for the future, with Pierce even cooking at the Dingo’s Den, Freddy’s bar across the street from Dingbatz. Steve Zing was set to play the Psycho Las Vegas festival and tour in Europe this summer, until it was cancelled and rescheduled to next year due to the pandemic. 

NIVA has stated 90% of its member will have to close if aid is not allocated for music venues, leaving many musicians unsure of the future. Venues have already begun to shut their doors for good across the country as bills stack.

Major Music Tour Destinations (Black) and venue closures (blue to red). Texas to date has lost the greatest number with 15 venues closing in the past three months. (Data provided by Billboard and NIVA)

“You have a building, and that building has a mortgage, they didn’t shut down the banks. Freddy’s still on the hook for his mortgage, on the hook for his insurance, the property taxes. All that keeps going while there’s no money coming in,” Zing said in an interview, “Freddy for the past seven months has spent a lot of money on revitalizing the club, investing in the sound gear, in the aesthetics, because at the end of the day you’re paying for the experience.”

According to NIVA 95% of the employees of music venues have been let go or furloughed due to COVID. Though some venues have been able to sell tickets to live-streamed virtual concerts, operation costs and the lack of revenue generated from the bar and kitchen have continued to put financial stress on venue owners.

Venues that are able to avoid closing are expecting a windfall of musicians and crowds once everyone can come together safely. “I think this will be a good reset. The music nightclub business was thriving in the 70’s and 80’s, then they raised the drinking age and that died down, but now with this virtual information overload, people are going to want that face to face contact and experience because I think they really miss it.”

Without these smaller venues, many bands may be ready to return to the stage, but have no stage to return to. “Were probably not going to be able to get back on the road for a couple years because everything in our circuit has just vanished,” said Chris Ousley, leader and banjo player for blue-grass group Bumper Jacksons. Chris and the rest of his band normally tour across the country, booking their shows over a year in advance. Now it is unclear how and when they will be able to return.

(Chris Ousley discusses the uncertainty of planning a national tour)

“For a lot of people it’s a double-edged sword because, I’ve noticed with myself and a lot of my peers, we all have this time now to get into recording videos or more time to compose,” Retana said in an interview, “but we’re all sitting here essentially jobless.” Though music has been put on pause for many due to COVID-19, musicians have found some silver linings in lockdown, working on writing new material and finding community. 

“I didn’t realize how used to seeing certain folks a few times a year. I realized this guy Jean Bertrand down in Louisiana, I’ve never called him before, but I realized I saw him more than I did a lot of my family because we’d be at the same festivals,” Ousley said in an interview, “In that sense us just being this large network of unofficial therapy where we can just complain at each other every once and awhile has been kind of nice. It’s sort of bonding knowing you’re in this big ship with everyone else.”

With major national tours being untenable for the foreseeable future, many venues will have to rely on their local music scenes to put on shows when restrictions are lifted. “When you have desperate times and times that people feel anger and emotion you also get better music. That usually makes for a lot of creativity because people need some way to get it out,” Pierce said in an interview, “right now this is one of the most terrible times that this generation has had to face, and people don’t understand that is the silver lining. The stronger people will that want to make change that want to do something, those people will rise.”

Though many facets of the music industry have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, musicians and venue owners have worked to find new and creative ways to keep live music intact.

Updated: As dairy farms in Wisconsin continue to close, dairy farmers cite low milk prices and plant-based product competition

Credit: Nighthawk Shoots from Unsplash. Medium shot of dairy cows in a barn. 

By Morgan Bluma 

            WAUKESHA, Wis. – Patty Edelburg, a Wisconsin dairy farmer, grew up on a dairy farm her father had bought when she was one. When Edelburg was a sophomore in college, her father made the tough decision to sell the family farm. 

            In 2008, Edelburg bought her current farm, along with her husband, from her neighbor. She milks about 120 cows twice a day for three hours starting at 5 a.m. and again at 4 p.m. Edelburg said she did not intend to go into dairy farming after college.  

            “I honestly didn’t think I would ever stick with dairy farming,” Edelburg said in a phone interview. “I thought I would be one of these go off to college and find something else to do. Well, I went off to college and got an animal science degree and ended up getting back into farming.” 

Chart: Morgan Bluma. Source: Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection

Edelburg, like many other Wisconsin dairy farmers, faces a dilemma. Whether to continue farming in a market that is overflowing in dairy production while making very little money. In 2019, Wisconsin lost 773 dairy farms and so far this year, 326 more dairy farms have been lost, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service, dairy consumption has increased over the last five years. In 2019, Americans consumed 653 pounds of all dairy products, the largest amount since 1975. 

Former Pennsylvania seventh-generation dairy farmer Mike Eby had to make the painful decision to sell his farm in 2016. He said this was because “milk wasn’t worth what it cost to make.” Eby said the decision was difficult to make because no matter his decision, he would need to talk with his son as he would be the next generation to take over the farm.  

            “I had to make a decision,” Eby said in a phone interview. “Do I go forward and prepare this farm for the next generation investing at least a half a million dollars plus, plus the purchase of the farm, I hadn’t even bought the farm from dad yet, or do I get out? And that decision, regardless of which way I went, was going to have a major impact on the next generation.”  

            Edelburg is in a similar situation. She said her son wants to take over the farm and she was wary because of how difficult it is to sustain a living.

            “My son really wants to take the farm over and we’re very much like, ‘Wow. Do you really?’” Edelburg said. “This is a big fight I’m not sure anyone wants to tackle when it comes to working like crazy and not being able to make a living.”   

            So, even as dairy consumption has been increasing, dairy farmers continue to struggle to make ends meet. Eby, who is also the chairman of the board for the National Dairy Producers Organization (NDPO), said milk is a commodity and it is based on supply and demand. If there is more supply than demand, milk prices are negatively impacted.

            Edelburg agrees. She said the biggest thing that has been driving farmers to sellout is the dairy market prices. 

            “The dairy market has been so oversupplied,” Edelburg said. “There is so much more milk on the market than there is demand. So, the prices have just been really low and farmers can’t sustain those low prices for that many years.”

            NDPO is a nonprofit that provides representation to more than 35,000 U.S. dairy producers to change milk prices that will maintain profitability for dairy producers. Eby said he is frustrated with the lack of representation for farmers in the dairy industry. 

            “My disappointment in all of this is the true leaders of the organizations that could have a difference, make a difference for the individual producer, for his profitability levels,” Eby said. “Specifically, the cooperatives seem to have taken a back seat to the interest of the producers.”  

             A dairy cooperative is usually owned, operated and controlled by farmers who would benefit from its services. Members of a cooperative help finance and share in the profits they earn from the volume of milk they market. Cooperatives negotiate prices and assemble, haul, manufacture, process or market dairy products to retailers and stores. According to the International Dairy Foods Association, the USDA sets dairy prices. 

            Eby said the role of NDPO is to educate producers on how to work with their cooperatives to change how producers are being represented. Eby said many producers are frustrated because their interests are not being represented in the cooperative. 

            “It seems like everyone else’s interests are represented ahead of the producers,” Eby said. 

Eby said the cooperatives should be in a position of managing the supply of dairy products to deem a profitable price. However, Eby said some cooperatives own processing plants and continue to buy up other processing plants to control the market so these cooperatives can manipulate the price of milk.  

            “With the cooperatives, it seems as if they have encouraged the consolidation,” Eby said. “There have even been some cooperatives that have been caught in collusion, price-fixing, pushing the markets downward and in doing so it’s disheartening to the dairy producer when they’re receiving a low milk price and then to find out that some of this pricing was manipulated based upon seeking profitability of joint ventures, which the cooperative is in partnership. But the farmers are looking at this and saying, ‘wait a minute. I own the cooperative. I am a cooperative member. The interest of the cooperative is to be to the producers and their price of milk that they receive. What’s going on? Why are we receiving rocket bottom prices?” 

            To fight this, farmers have filed lawsuits against large cooperatives for violating antitrust laws. Antitrust laws have been developed by governments to protect consumers from questionable business practices and to ensure fair competition. In May 2020, Food Lion and the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association filed an antitrust lawsuitagainst Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) challenging its $433 million acquisition of Dean Foods’ assets. DFA is one of the largest dairy cooperatives with 14,000 members in 48 states. Dean Foods is America’s biggest dairy processor operating 56 plants in 29 states. According to Capital Press, DFA would double in size and control about 70% of the nation’s raw milk supply, making DFA a monopolist. This would leave dairy farmers with only one option, to join DFA if they wanted to continue being in the dairy industry.   

            Director of Marketing and Communications for FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative Julie Sweney said a cooperative represents its members and puts their best interests at heart. She said that the next generation has to decide if they want to invest time, energy and money into dairy farming. 

            “Dairy farming is just very labor-intensive,” Sweney said in a phone interview. “So, not to say that no one is interested in taking over the farm, but I think sometimes the next generation would like to do things differently but they know that there’s a lot of investment that’s needed for little gain.”

            Sweney also grew up on a dairy farm and she knows some of the farm families that are represented in FarmFirst. FarmFirst is made up of three longstanding dairy cooperatives that represent farms all over the Midwest working to improve dairy policy, marketing opportunities and industry involvement. She said FarmFirst regularly reviews the results of their farmer’s tested products to examine the components of their products to help pay them fairly. Dairy farmers are paid based on the volume and components of their products such as proteins, butterfat, milk solids, lactose and more.    

            “We make sure that all the tests are in line to make sure that our farmers are getting paid fairly,” Sweney said. “So, if all of a sudden, it drops really low or there’s an outlier where it looks like there were crazy tests and it’s like, well what happened here. We help settle any discrepancies to make sure that our farmers are paid fairly.”

            According to the National Family Farm Coalition, farmers are paid $1.45 per gallon for milk that costs them $2.00 to produce. Retired corporate accountant and life-long farmer in Michigan Joe Arens said part of the problem is that the whole process of selling and producing dairy in the dairy industry is too complicated that farmers feel trapped. 

            “It’s a very, very complex process and I think that’s part of the problem,” Arens said in a phone interview. “A lot of farmers, when it comes to really digging into what’s happening and being active in their own co-ops, they’re so overwhelmed with the complexity of the pricing formulas and everything that’s going on. They just throw their hands up and go home and add a few more cows, which is just what they shouldn’t be doing.” 

            Arens helps with his son’s 400 cow dairy farm and said his son had a lot of issues with his cooperative because of a lack of transparency. Arens is a member of the NDPO and said change in the dairy industry needs to happen otherwise it is a losing battle for most family farmers.

            “Why should our farmers continuously be motivated and finically pressured to expand and expand and expand into a market that can’t absorb all what they produce?” Arens said. “So, what we’re trying to do is educate cooperatives.” 

             The other concern dairy farmers have is the competition of non-dairy products in the industry. Ipsos Retail Performance conducted a study that found nearly 9.7 million Americans are following a plant-based diet. 

            President of Alliance for Animals Rick Bogle has been vegan since 1972 and said that regardless of the size of the dairy farm, it is inhumane to use cows for milk because cows can only produce milk after they have given birth. To keep cows producing milk, they are artificially inseminated within a couple of months after giving birth. 

            “A cow shouldn’t be producing milk for her entire life,” Bogle said in a phone interview. 

            Alliance for Animals is a non-profit animal rights organization that works to promote ethical, compassionate treatment of all animals. Bogle said that the competition from plant-based products is having an impact on the dairy industry.  

            “I do think though that there’s something to be said about the competition,” Bogle said. “The competition must be having some sort of effect because politicians have introduced bills to try to make it illegal to call these plant-based products milk or cheese.”

            Arens said a need was created through animal rights groups, global warming and health, which has created a demand for different forms of traditional milk products that are plant-based.  

            “By creating a need, I think there is a lot of fabricated science out there that creates this health need and how about oak based milk?” Arens said. “Doesn’t that sound healthy? Now there’s money to be made on those things. And to me, oak based milk, any of these fake milks they got out there are, again, you’re manipulating what’s natural, it’s not as good as whole dairy but wow, billions of dollars in sales.”

            Bogle said he does not think people consume dairy products for its nutritional value. 

            “I don’t think most people who buy milk and eat cheese are doing it out of health consciousness,” Bogle said. “I think most of them are doing it because it’s tradition. They grew up drinking milk and eating cheese, so that’s what they buy at the grocery store.” 

            Another concern is water quality in areas of dairy farming. Water Program Director for Clean Wisconsin Scott Laeser said nitrate pollution from dairy farms is their biggest concern because it gets into people’s drinking water. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), excess nutrients from chemical fertilizers and dairy manure are a major source of water pollution. Laeser and his wife run an organic produce farm and said he understands the practical realities and challenges of running a small farm. 

            “All types of farms, including ones like mine, can cause water pollution issues,” Laeser said in a phone interview. “But the scale of large farms can pose some additional risks because of the severity of pollution occurrence that can result.”

            Edelburg said she lives in an area that has sandy soil which is more prone to nitrate runoff because they cannot hold as much water as clay soil. She said her neighborhood has been dealing with a lot of neighbors’ complaints of water pollution from a neighboring farm. Edelburg said farmers play a huge role in water quality in how they plant and harvest their crops and some consumers were fighting hard against local farmers.    

            “We’re trying to show them that farmers can be a part of the solution,” Edelburg said, “and we all need to work together and we need to focus on different ways to extend no-till cover crops and different ways to farm rather than how it’s always been.” 

            Many farmers like Edelburg and Eby work with different conservation organizations like the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through their voluntary conservation programs to combat the pollution from their farms. Eby said he worked with the NRCS to help prevent his cows from entering into a nearby creek by planting trees and a fence around the creek and installed cattle crossing for him. 

            The State Conservationist for the NRCS in Wisconsin Angela Biggs said NRCS is individualized to the needs of the farmer and their conservation concerns. She said that NRCS has had an increasing number of farmers joining their conservation programs.

            “All the producers we work with, they are doing what they’re doing because they have an interest in the land and reducing pollution,” Biggs said in a phone interview. 

            Biggs said farmers are working hard to reduce their environmental impact through conservation programs because negative impacts affect their ability to farm.  

            “Because the long and the short of it is that in order to have farming be their livelihood, they need to not have negative impacts out there,” Biggs said. 

Trump voters remain divided over the election results a month after the race has been called for Biden – Updated

By Cecilia Markley

Pennsylvania voter and Trump supporter Dino Damico stands next to a cutout of President Donald Trump at the Trump House in Latrobe, Pa. Credit: Courtesy of Dino Damico

Pennsylvania voter Dino Damico has been a strong supporter of President Donald Trump throughout his presidential term. Damico maintains his belief that Trump won the election nearly a month after the election has been called for President-elect Joe Biden and as states continue to certify election results.

Damico said that he voted for Trump in the 2020 election mainly because of Trump’s handling of the economy.

“I believe he’s the best president we’ve ever had in this country, and I believe he was deserving of another four years to continue to do what he had started…” Damico said in a phone interview. “Everything that that man did, I believe, was to make America great again.”

Damico said he thinks the election was corrupt and doesn’t believe in the results.

“I don’t believe that Joe Biden got more votes than Barack Obama,” Damico said. “There’s nothing that would tell me that Joe Biden, campaigning from his basement 95% of the time, incited the euphoria of the Democratic party to go out and vote for him to the tune of 75 million people. You’ll never have me believe that. I believe that the whole mail-in ballot thing was nothing more than a ploy and a scheme by the Democratic party to somehow steal the election off Donald Trump and the American people.”

Damico is not alone in his beliefs. While the election was called for Biden by many major news outlets on Nov. 7, including the AP, ABC, NBC and Fox News, Trump has yet to formally concede. Not only has he refused to concede, but he has mounted a significant legal effort to fight the results of the election in several key states.

Trump has filed more than 30 lawsuits in key states, including Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Arizona, and has continued to tweet unproven claims about fraudulent votes being cast in these states.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on Nov. 27 rejected Trump’s effort to challenge the result of Biden being declared the winner of Pennsylvania. The opinion was written by Judge Stephanos Bibas, a Trump appointee.

“Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy,” the Court’s decision said. “Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”

This came just three days after the Pennsylvania Department of State certified its results for the presidential election on Nov. 24, when Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar certified the results and Governor Tom Wolf signed the certificate, thus formalizing Biden as the winner of the state’s 20 electoral votes.

Pennsylvania voter and Trump supporter Dino Damico explains in an interview why he believes Democrats are trying to steal the election from Donald Trump. There is no evidence of interference in the election by officials in the Democratic party.

The president’s ongoing refusal to concede has caused some of his supporters nationwide to deny the results and to claim, as the president has, that there was widespread voter fraud and the election was rigged by Democrats and nefarious actors. Many of these claims lack evidence or have been debunked. But belief in these claims and suspicion about the results remains strong among many Trump supporters. 

Damico is among these supporters, believing Democrats must have committed voter fraud for Biden to get as many votes as he did.

And like many Trump supporters, Damico still believes Trump will prevail.

“I don’t think Trump ever lost,” Damico said. “Almost 74 million people voted for Donald J. Trump, and none of those votes were fraudulent or corrupt. None of them. I think every one of those votes were people that literally went to the polls or sent in a mail-in ballot.”

But not every Trump voter feels this way. Those like Professor Jerome Foss of Westmoreland County acknowledge the results as fair.

Foss said he voted for Trump in 2020 primarily because of his support for the president’s pro-life policies and judicial appointments.

Despite voting for Trump, Foss accepts the election results.

“I think Biden won the election,” Foss said in an interview over Zoom.

Beyond this, Foss voiced concern with Trump’s unwillingness thus far to formally concede.

Westmoreland County Trump voter Jerome Foss says in an interview that he worries about Donald Trump’s character, saying he has “all of the tendencies of a demagogue.”

“Even though there’s a lot of policies that Trump supports that I think are great… his character has always been such that I worry about him,” Foss said. “He’s got all of the tendencies of a demagogue, and he knows how to lead people to do things he wants them to do, and he knows how to use the media to his advantage in this regard.”

When asked if he believed people voted illegally, Foss said he didn’t believe fraud existed on a large enough scale to change the outcome of the election.

“I wouldn’t pretend that there wasn’t any kind of fraud going on, and I think the fact that there’s so many mail-in ballots is a reason to question some of the votes and something we have to be careful about in the future,” Foss said. “But I don’t think that there was evidence of fraud to the extent that it would change the outcome of the election.”

Sixty-three percent of Americans overall believe Biden “rightfully” won the election, with 29% of Republicans, 95% of Democrats and 60% of Independents believing so.

SOURCE: Reuters/IPSOS poll
Data from Nov. 13-17
Margin of Error: +/- 3%

Foss is in the minority among Trump voters. Just 29% of Republicans believe Biden “rightfully” won the election, while 52% believe Trump did, according to a Reuters/IPSOS poll.

Among those who believe Trump rightfully won is Dina DeCesare of Westmoreland County, who voted for the president.

“I voted for Donald Trump because, number one, he is not a politician,” DeCesare said in a phone interview. “Number two, basically, what he said he was going to do, he did, so he stands by his word. And the other thing that I really like about him is that he is not taking a pay.”

DeCesare said that the election was stolen from Trump and he should remain in office, adding that those who attempted to steal the election need to be brought to justice.

“This whole election has been stolen,” DeCesare said. “With all of the information that is coming out now, with all the evidence, I just don’t understand how Biden pulled that off. And I was at many of the [Trump] rallies, and the rallies that I have been to, thousands upon thousands of people were there. All over the United States this goes for. And then you have Biden, who, his rallies, there were just a couple hundred people, and he basically was in the basement the entire summer.”

Westmoreland County voter and Trump supporter Dina DeCesare holds up a “Keep America Great” sign signed by Vice President Mike Pence at a rally in Murrysville, Pa. Credit: Courtesy of Dina DeCesare

DeCesare said the Trump campaign is providing “mounds of evidence” when asked what Trump and his supporters need to do to keep the president in office.

“I think [the election results] should just be overturned, that’s what I think,” DeCesare said. “I mean, obviously [Trump’s] numbers were higher, always, than Biden’s.”

DeCesare said she believed people were unfairly taking away votes from thousands of people who wanted Trump to win.

“It’s not right, Trump should still be in there,” DeCesare said. “Listen, if Biden won fair and square, great, then we need to move on with Biden as our president, but that didn’t happen.”

Despite DeCesare and Damico’s claims of voter fraud and a stolen election, there is no evidence of systemic voter fraud in the 2020 election in any state nationwide. Any irregularities in the election process were minor, and none were significant enough in any state to overturn enough votes to flip the state from Biden to Trump.

In Pennsylvania specifically, courts have concluded in each case brought by the Trump campaign that there is not sufficient evidence of voter fraud or corruption. As of Nov. 24, when the state certified its results, Biden led Trump by over 80,000 votes, meaning at least that many votes would need to be thrown out for Trump to overturn the results in Pennsylvania and give Trump the state’s 20 electoral votes. This still would not give him the margin he needs to overtake Biden’s lead in the electoral college, which sits at 306 votes for Biden and 232 for Trump.

Nonetheless, Trump voter John Koury believes there were many irregularities in the 2020 election. However, he is not as certain as Damico or DeCesare that Trump will end up winning the election.

The Westmoreland County resident said he voted for Trump primarily for economic purposes, but also because he thought Trump stood up for the Constitution, helped veterans and enacted criminal justice reform.

“I voted for Trump mainly because I think he has a track record over the last four years of helping what I call the ‘forgotten men and women of the country,’ who I think the previous administrations, both Republican and Democrat, going back probably 16 years, did not do a satisfactory job at trying to promote economics,” Koury said in a phone interview. “As well as some cultural things that benefited what I guess I would call the ‘common man,’ the middle class.”

Koury said he supported specific economic actions taken by the Trump administration on trade deals, tax cuts and elimination of bureaucracy and regulations.

Koury said he was concerned about the election for months because of the large numbers of mail-in ballots unique to this election but that he understood why states wanted to give voters the option of mail-in voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he said that he has voted by mail before and knows that Pennsylvania voters must apply for a mail-in ballot and verify identify before receiving the ballot.

John Koury, a Trump supporter from Westmoreland County, stands in his yard with a “Pro Life, Pro Trump” yard sign. Credit: Courtesy of John Koury

“Whereas in this case, what [election officials] were doing is they were just mass mailing out mail-in ballots to hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom had moved, no longer lived at that address,” Koury said. “The voter rolls were not kept up to date, and so people who had passed [away] were still on the voter rolls, so those ballots all went out, and it’s not hard to believe that those ballots could fall into people’s hands that could take them and fill them out and send them in.”

Koury said he didn’t believe the election was fully secure due to the mass amount of mail-in ballots.

“We have people who are dead where ballots are returned under their name,” Koury said. “We have people in certain counties where there are more votes in that particular county than there are registered voters in that county, by thousands and thousands.”

In fact, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a sub-agency of the Department of Homeland Security, released a statement on Nov. 12 calling the Nov. 3 election the most secure in American history.

“There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised,” the statement said.

While he didn’t believe the election was secure, Koury said he couldn’t definitively say whether Trump or Biden had won the election and was waiting to see the results of the lawsuits currently being filed by Trump’s legal team.

“I can believe the election results were tainted sufficiently to cause Trump to be identified as the loser when he actually won, and I believe that election results might be there that prove that Biden did get all the votes that he got, but I would like to have that go through the courts…” Koury said.

Koury’s view of how the election was handled aligns with the majority of Trump voters, according to a Pew Poll, which says that just 21% of Trump voters believe the elections were run and administered well, compared to 59% of American voters in general.

Fifty-nine percent of Americans believe the 2020 elections were run and administered somewhat or very well, with 21% of Trump voters and 94% of Biden voters believing so.

SOURCE: Pew poll
Data from Nov. 12-17
Margin of Error: +/- 1.6%

Trump voters have maintained a variety of perspectives on the process and outcome of the election in the weeks since it ended. While some are accepting Biden as president-elect, others are questioning the process that led to these results, and still some are outright denying he won.

When asked who he thinks will be president on Jan. 20, Damico gave a revealing answer.

“I’m a Trump supporter, and until I hear him stand up in front of the cameras and concede, I think Trump’s going to be our president.”

UPDATED: With domestic violence on the rise, local organizations struggle to meet survivors’ needs during a pandemic

My Sister’s Place, A women’s shelter in Washington, D.C.

By Shannon Durazo

WASHINGTON – Rikki Nathanson’s day usually starts with a meeting with her team, a “pow-wow” about roles and responsibilities for the upcoming shift and a COVID-19 staff report that she has to do daily for the DC government. 

Nathanson is a transgender activist and housing director at Casa Ruby, an LGBTQ community services center and homeless shelter located in the District. On a typical day Casa Ruby is normally serving dozens of short-term visitors and assisting many other long-term residents with housing options, but during COVID-19 Nathanson said things have become quiet.

“The major impact that we’ve seen is a slowing down of our activities and our services,” said Nathanson. “Our numbers have been impacted dramatically.”

Nathanson said in a phone interview that prior to the pandemic, the organization’s 24-hour drop-in center saw an average of 50 to 100 visitors per-day, but now that has declined to “next to nothing.” In addition, its long-term residents are currently down by one third of its numbers from this time last year. 

While Casa Ruby has seen a decline in traffic to its services, advocacy organizations in DC have seen a dramatic increase in traffic to their crises hotlines. According to data retrieved from DC SAFE,a 24-hour domestic violence crises intervention organization in the District, from mid-March to October calls with survivors increased from an average of under 500 minutes per day in March to nearly 1,000 minutes per day later in the year. The organizations states that on multiple occasions advocates logged over 1,000 minutes on the phone in just one day. Across the United States, law enforcement agencies have seen a 35% increase in calls to domestic violence units.

“It’s a very difficult time for survivors,” said Rebekah “Becky” Lee, founder and executive director of Becky’s Fund, a local nonprofit that works to end domestic violence.  Lee said in a Zoom interview that the pandemic can create a “perfect storm” of factors that can contribute to survivors feeling trapped in their abusive relationships. These include illness, job loss, economic insecurity and prolonged social isolation.

Lee said COVID-19 has impacted Becky’s Fund and other member organizations within the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence network in a variety of ways, but one of the greatest impacts is the restriction on in-person outreach to survivors, despite the fact that calls have increased to her organization by about 30%. She said that although technology like Zoom and FaceTime has helped, it also has its downsides.

“There’s still that lack of human connection that I think is very much needed and a big part of someone’s healing process,” said Lee.

Becky Lee on the impact of COVID-19 on domestic violence, and the unique ways abusers can exercise control over their victims in quarantine.

Amanda Katz, executive director of the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said that at the beginning of the shutdown in March her organization’s help line was less busy, but over the summer when restrictions began to be lifted “people just started flooding and flooding us with calls.”

Katz said although there has been a steady increase in demand for advocacy services over the summer, with the pandemic’s economic impacts some other sister agencies to JCADA have had their funding and hours cut, causing clients from those organizations to funnel to her own strained advocates.

“There’s a lot of squeeze in the victim services community right now,” said Katz. “We all have full case-loads and we have wait lists for people to get services.”

Katz said not only have the calls themselves increased as well, but so have the duration of calls due to the necessity of providing survivors with an immediate remote safety plan due to restrictions on in-person consultations. On top of this, she said her organization has had the added financial burden of setting every staff member up with the capacity to work from home in a field where privacy and confidentiality are of the utmost importance.

“So not only are our clients in a situation where they may not have the privacy to reach out for help and speak to a counselor, at the same time our counselors also had to have the capacity to take a phone call privately,” said Katz.

The quiet period of March through May followed by a surge in outreach over the summer was not unique to just the local victim advocacy and nonprofit sector. Civil protection ordersare the primary legal option available for survivors to get distance from their abusers, but according to data obtained from the Maryland Administrative Office of the Courts, in Montgomery County there were only 63 total domestic violence civil protection order hearings issued in April. In July, that number quadrupled to 266. Similarly, in Prince George’s County there were only 241 domestic violence protective order hearings issued in March, while in July that number rose to 831. 

“The courts basically had to shut down for a while,” said Diane Weinroth, instructor and supervising attorney with the Women and the Law Clinic at the Washington College of Law. 

Weinroth said in a Zoom interview that although local courts initially prioritized offering victims of domestic violence with temporary protection orders, those typically expire in 14 days while standard civil protection orders that can last up to a year. Usually on the fourteenth day of a temporary protection order a victim receives their hearing, but with the pandemic there were significant delays alongside issues with remote coordination.

 “I think it’s very challenging when you can’t go down to the courthouse or go to an offsite location to file,” said Weinroth.

Weinroth said in addition it was important to note the majority of individuals who file for protection orders do not have their own lawyers and legal service organizations that are stretched thin right now can only deal with a small percentage of survivors.

“You could file for a protection order, you could even get a temporary protection order, but there was no way to predict when you would actually have a hearing to get you one-year protection order,” said Weinroth.

“Back in March, you know, the courts were closed,” said Dominique Nash. “There was a big backlog of paperwork so the court system started primarily distributing temporary protection orders and then had that big influx of civil protection orders later in the summer.”

Nash is the operations manager of the Prince George’s County Family Justice Center. The Family Justice Center is an initiative of the Maryland Circuit Courts and provides legal services to survivors of power-based violence. 

 Nash said that in PG County domestic violence is “at an all-time high” during the pandemic. She said the biggest adjustment thus far for the Family Justice Center and its network is to provide the same level of in-person care and resources to survivors, something she said ultimately she thinks the organization has adapted well to.

While legal services and victim advocacy organizations continue to adjust to the circumstances of the pandemic, they are also looking for ways to innovate to make the process smoother for the future. Lee said Becky’s Fund recently partnered with Appnector LLC to create a mobile app ENDOVI, which provides safe and silent support to survivors of domestic violence who cannot find safe places in their homes to reach out to advocates.

“I don’t think we are going to be going back very soon to in-person,” said Lee. “We realize our future is not going to change drastically in terms of how we’re going to be providing services and it’s going to continue to be this sort of virtual world.”

Katz said she anticipates the virus to have a great impact on the domestic violence support services sector even after the pandemic is over.

“You know you read articles about after natural disasters, power-based violence just shoots up, and that’s what we’re going to see with this pandemic too,” said Katz.

 Regardless of the constraints and challenges ahead, Lee said advocacy organizations will continue to provide as much support as possible to survivors as the pandemic goes on.

“I think that it’s important to note that we’re all going through this together, and what you’re going through you’re not alone and there is a way out,” said Lee in advice to current survivors in the DMV region.             

“As a community, we all have our responsibility to do our part.”

The future of preschool-aged children’s social and emotional development is unclear as coronavirus rages on

By Lizzy Tarallo
Photo Credit: Jerry Wang via Unsplash

Stacia George was at a loss. As COVID-19 was wreaking havoc on the United States, her 4-and-a-half-year-old son was not himself. 

George and her family had been temporarily living in Amherst, Massachusetts, when the pandemic first hit back in March. Her son’s whole world changed within the matter of a day when he abruptly was unable to go back to school.

“Basically we left on Friday, and all of a sudden never went back,” George said.

Young children’s most formative years are in their preschool years. Now, as the pandemic alters the state of early-childhood education, parents, education professionals and psychologists wonder what lasting impacts this will have on children’s social and emotional development.

At first, George said her son seemed to be fine. He would play outside or ride bikes with other children in the neighborhood while keeping a safe distance. However, as time went on, his attitude began to change. 

“He’s a very exuberant kid, he loves being outside, he loves people and he’s super social,” George said in a phone interview. “After a couple weeks, his temperament started changing. He started just not even wanting to go outside anymore, just wanted to watch videos and zone out.” 

George said she spoke with a friend who is a therapist and was able to determine that her son was expressing symptoms of depression. Finally, about three months into the pandemic, the family went to George’s parents’ house, and she said her son became “more joyful.”

However, his joy did not last. George and her family moved back to Washington, and her husband started a new job. As they settled back into the District, George said her son fell back into his unusual behavior. He was often angry and threw tantrums.  

“He would just scream over and over and over and over again,” George said.

Even though George is considered someone who is at a high-risk for complications if she were to contract the coronavirus, she and her husband decided to send their son to an in-person preschool in Washington. From then on, she said it was like “night and day.”

“I just did not even recognize him as a kid. It was so upsetting,” George said. “I literally was like, ‘Okay, I know this is high-risk for me. But at this point it’s worth it because his mental health is just not in a good place, and there’s nothing we can do at this point to help it.’” 

Rhian Allvin, the chief executive officer of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a national professional membership organization for people in the early-childhood education field, said in a Zoom interview that anything that can be seen so far in regards to the pandemic’s impact on children’s learning and well-being is based on speculation. There is not enough data available yet. 

However, there is evidence that mental health challenges have become more common due to the pandemic. According to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention data from June, 40 percent of adults reported that they were struggling with their mental health.

Jess Hasson is both a licensed clinical psychologist from Montgomery County, Maryland, and a mother to a 4-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son. She said in a Zoom interview that the demand for mental health services has increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic. The practice she works at, Quince Orchard Psychotherapy, has seen a significant increase in referrals. She has even been seeing patients from out of state through telehealth appointments. 

“We’ve always had a waitlist, but our waitlist has ballooned out of control at this point,” Hasson said.

Hasson said that she has seen many new patients being referred for symptoms of depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD. She has also had an increase in requests to test children for autism, since many schools are not currently doing this due to the pandemic. Hasson said she has also seen an increase in patients who have been engaging in self-harming behavior. Hasson is expecting to be dealing with the pandemic’s mental health impacts for a long time.

“My field is preparing for a mental health epidemic,” Hasson said, adding later, “Once COVID’s taken care of, we have to focus on the mental health aspect as well.”

As for her children, Hasson said that her 4-year-old does not understand the current situation as much as her older child. However, Hasson did notice some changes in both her children’s temperaments.

“What we noticed is the longer they were isolated from their friends, the more stressed out they were becoming,” Hasson said. “So, although my preschooler didn’t necessarily regress at all, she was more emotional, looking for more assurance.”

Hasson and her husband sent their daughter back to day care as soon as it reopened, and she said it was like the “light came back to her” once she was able to interact with other children again. Meanwhile, Hasson’s son has been learning virtually this year.

As coronavirus cases continue to rise, there is speculation of whether or not the United States will have a second major shutdown. Other countries, such as France and Germany, have already done this due to rising cases.

Katie Velliky, a mother to a 4-year-old son and a 16-month-old daughter, hopes this is not the case. Velliky and her family lived in Washington and moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, over the summer.

Velliky’s son has delays in his development; he did not walk and talk until after most children usually do. When he was 3 years old, her son transferred to a Washington public school for preschool. Then, the pandemic hit, which forced the preschool to move to an online teaching model. 

“Distance learning is not very effective for the vast majority of 3-year-olds,” Velliky said in a Zoom interview, adding later, “They just get very distracted by looking at themselves and it’s hard to stay still.” 

Velliky’s son currently has an IEP, which stands for individualized education program. Velliky said that her son’s IEP is centered around “building foundations to be able to learn in a classroom successfully” by helping him with his socialization skills and his ability to manage transitions.

“All of that’s really difficult to learn at home, and almost impossible to learn on Zoom,” Velliky said. 

Velliky was able to sign her son up for an in-person private preschool in Montgomery County. She said that the teachers have been helpful. Her son is still waiting to receive supplemental services at the new school, such as speech therapy. However, all of these supplemental services are set to take place on Zoom.

Velliky said that if another mass shutdown occurs, she does not think child-care centers and preschools should be impacted. She said that she thinks “we’ve completely come at this whole issue in the wrong way in this country.”

“Anyone who’s made an official recommendation has said we should be prioritizing schools opening, and we’re not,” Velliky said. “We’re prioritizing various other things.” 

Velliky also said that people were too quick to conclude that schools would become “superspreader” environments. However, new data shows otherwise. Researchers from Yale University published a study in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal. It is the first large-scale study showing transmission rates of the coronavirus in child-care centers, and the numbers were low. The study focused on the transmission of the virus from children to adults in child-care centers, not the transmission between children or from adults to children. The researchers emphasized that it is important for child-care centers to keep up with their safety measures, but the data showed no evidence that child-care centers are incubators for the coronavirus.

Graphic by Lizzy Tarallo

While George, Velliky and Hasson have all had opportunities to provide their children with in-person school and play experiences throughout the pandemic, other children who do not have these opportunities are disadvantaged.

Allvin of NAEYC said there is no way to replicate the social interactions that young children would normally get in a classroom through online learning.

“For those children that do have some version of school or preschool online, you know, early-childhood educators are doing extraordinary work,” Allvin said. “But you just can’t replicate those interactions the same way you can on a rug in a classroom, or with a set of blocks.”

Hasson acknowledged the deep inequities that come with online learning, especially when parents cannot stay home to help their children during a virtual school day. 

“So online learning requires a lot of reading. There’s a chat box, there’s a lot of reading, there’s a lot of navigation. Kindergarteners, a lot of them can’t read. So that requires a parent being with them, which means the parent has to make the choice between, in many cases, between working and educating their child,” Hasson said. 

Audio clip from interview with Jess Hasson

Hasson also said that while some parents are fortunate and can take time off from work or hire a someone to watch their child during the day, many parents cannot afford to do so. 

“It’s just unfortunate that parents are having to make that decision, and it’s frankly unfair,” Hasson said, adding later, “It’s furthering that sort of divide between the top 10 percent and the bottom 20 percent.”

Allvin echoed these sentiments and said that Black and Brown families and children from low-income backgrounds have been the ones most impacted by the pandemic. 

“The disadvantages that children of color and children in low-income communities faced pre-pandemic are exacerbated during the pandemic,” Allvin said.

According to Kathy Hollowell-Makle, the executive director of the District of Columbia Association for the Education of Young Children, the Washington affiliate of NAEYC, only 309 of Washington’s 470 child-care centers are open as of Nov. 17. Allvin said without additional federal funding, 50 percent of child-care centers nationwide will be forced to close permanently by next month. If less child-care centers are open in the future, this raises more questions about whether or not young children will have access to preschool and child care so that they can have social learning opportunities. 

In a phone interview, Hollowell-Makle said she has worries about children not being as confident and self-assured since they will not have had the chance to normally learn about how to share and negotiate with other children. 

However, Hollowell-Makle said there are ways that parents can mitigate the social and emotional impacts that the pandemic may have on young children. She suggested that parents should maintain connections with friends, family and neighbors so that children have social interactions. She also said there are opportunities for children to learn around the house. 

“There’s opportunities in the home, especially when children have siblings, to work on some of those social emotional skills and learning how to share, learning how to be independent, having a sense of responsibility and self-assuredness with chores and duties and responsibilities around the house,” Hollowell-Makle said.

George said she encourages parents to look for warning signs that could indicate their child is struggling with their mental health. In her son’s case, she noticed that he was angry, resisting, tired, numb, frustrated and bored, which are six symptoms she learned from Illinois-based psychologist Erin Leyba. She also said there should be more education about children’s mental health.

“It’s both helping parents to identify it, then how to have conversations with their kids to be able to figure out how to help them through it,” George said.

UPDATED: Pregnancy and Birthing during the Coronavirus Pandemic


Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash

By Allesandra Plourde

The coronavirus pandemic has affected more than 12 million people in the United States alone and of these people affected, pregnant women are at a higher risk according to the World Health Organization. As of mid-November 2020, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention CDC reported there were 40,000 cases of pregnant women with COVID-19 in the United States.

During quarantine and well after stay-at-home orders were lifted pregnancy and the birthing process have become even more stressful. Hospitals have had to limit visitors and test all patients admitted to the hospital making pregnancy and delivery difficult for some patients.  

Pre coronavirus pandemic The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reported that 0.9% of births occur at home. Since the pandemic some midwife practices have seen a surge in calls. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not deter any expecting mothers from at home birth.

Gaia Midwives, a full scope midwifery practice in Long Island, New York, has witnessed an increase in calls for transfer to home birth firsthand.

“We did see an uptick in calls and I would say the general mentality toward home birth has shifted a little bit to not just one of ‘oh it’s something you can do for fun’ to ‘hey this might not be the worst idea ever,’” Collen Heinze owner of Gaia Midwives, certified nurse midwife and women’s health practitioner said in an interview.

“We have actually seen an increase throughout the fall and through next year already, our numbers are on track to be 30% higher than they were this year,” Heinze said.

Gaia Midwives have taken precautions to protect their midwives, they are required to wear masks when they enter the client’s home but do not require any of their clients to wear masks or be tested. They don’t require their clients to be tested because they ask clients to shelter-in-place before the birthing process. “It’s hard to birth as it is and it’s even harder to birth mask up,” Heinze said.

The mentality from COVID-19 has changed the way mothers to be view at home birth, “I think that a lot of the fear surrounding COVID drove a lot of people into the home setting versus a trust or a desire to be at home,” Heinze said, “there is a difference in that mindset going into birth.”

Heinze said that at home births isn’t necessarily a better option but it is a safe option for those who want to try it regardless of COVID. It is for, “people who are looking to take back their autonomy and their ownership of their birth process,” Heinze said.

“The home setting you set the standard for what happens within your home,” Heinze said. “When people come to our practice, they are looking for just to have a say in what happens to them and what happens in the time surrounding their birth.”

Since the COVID restrictions this ideology of taking back birth into the home has been increasing, Gaia Midwives has been trying to keep the idea that home should be the safe space and not just be a last resort because of fear of the hospital restrictions. “They are not so worried about the disease itself, as to the risk of losing their support person,” Heinze said.  

For those mothers of Gaia Midwives who do choose hospital births, Gaia recommends Stony Brook University Hospital, one of the only hospitals in the Long Island area who did not take away a single support person and allowed doulas back in as licensed professional birth workers.

“Now they can have their partner and a professional labor support person with them and that is regardless if they are a midwife patient or an OB patient,” Heinze said.  

Heinze says clients are still on edge about the loss of support during birth, “there is definitely a fear that would be taken away from them again in the future.”

Due to the single person limitations in hospitals there has been an increase in breastfeeding rates.  

According to the CDC in a study they conducted about the implementation of, “Hospital maternity care practices and breastfeeding support in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic” for the months of July to August 2020, they reported of 1,341 hospitals they studied, 11.3% of hospitals experienced an increase in breastfeeding since the start of the pandemic, 12.2% experienced a decrease, 68.9% experienced the same rate of breastfeeding and 7.5% said they don’t know.

“I have heard from other midwives that are hospital based primarily in our area that they feel like their patients are enjoying their postpartum period in the hospital a little bit more because its quieter,” Heinze said. “It has increased breastfeeding rates and decreased the number of babies that are being admitted for jaundice.”

“Being a home birth practice, we have a 98.9% breastfeeding rate within our practice, so we haven’t seen a change personally, but I have heard it from my hospital-based colleges that it has actually been a benefit to women,” said Heinze.  

Sara King was a labour and delivery nurse at Langley Air Force Base hospital. Langley is a low-risk hospital for pregnancy which means they do not accept any deliveries below 35 weeks because they do not have the facilities to care for the premature babies.

The hospital is allowing one support person to be with the mother during her birthing process. “That person had to be the same once they were admitted and that person can’t swap out,” King said in an interview.

“We also had moms who had to choose between their parent being in the room or their spouse and a lot of the moms want their moms to come on the floor and they can’t do support persons swapping,” King said. “Once that person is chosen that’s the only one from the beginning to the end.”

Langley being an Air Force Base the hospital deals with many military families and this can be difficult with the COVID single support person restrictions, “Especially for the parents, being military, we have a lot of people in Virginia who don’t have family in Virginia,” said King. “It’s just them and their spouse and many of them have kids so their spouse would be their support person, but we wouldn’t allow children on the floor. So that spouse would be taking care of their children and at that point the mom is alone.”

Amber Wilson is a certified nurse midwife also at Langley Air Force Base hospital. “I would say the biggest change is having to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) for every patient encounter and we are only permitting one support person for labour and birth,” Wilson said in an interview.

Wilson said that there is a lack of connection sometimes with the patient because of the protective gear, “I am sad that families cannot see our faces and I do feel that takes away from the experience that is supposed to be so special,” Wilson said. “But also no one is complaining, and everyone understands it’s necessary for safety.”

Both King and Wilson said that Langley has prepared their expecting mothers well for a single support person during birth, “I think they did a really good job in our pre-natal clinic where they got their pre-natal care prepping them for that, so it wasn’t such a big deal when they got to the floor,” King said.

Despite COVID-19 many patients are comfortable and still seek delivery at a hospital, Brooke Murray a mother of four just recently, as recent as last week, gave birth to twin daughters. She delivered at Sentara hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia where she had previously given birth to her sons Tucker, 4, and Preston, 2. Her support person was her husband.

“They don’t have a NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) at Sentara, so if they [the twins] were before 35 weeks, I was going to have to go either Norfolk or Richmond,” Murray said. “That was a little bit stressful because I didn’t want to have to think about that, I didn’t want to have to worry if they came early.”

Murray was lucky in that the twins were past 35 weeks and she was able to be induced for birth the day she had planned but she had to be induced in the OR in case of complications. This was lucky because she ended up delivering one baby vaginally and the other through cesarean section. “I had to recover from both which was the worst-case scenario,” said Murray.

In terms of COVID restrictions in the hospitals Murray said since she didn’t deliver in the height peak—March and April—so there wasn’t very much that was different.

“The only thing that I noticed that was the biggest difference was when you went in the hallways it was dead quiet, everyone’s doors were closed.” said Murray. “There wasn’t a lot of people walking around, probably because the visitors weren’t there because usually you see them in the hallways and little kids running around.”

“When I was going through the hallways, they made sure I always had a mask on. All of the nurses and doctors had masks on but other than that I didn’t feel all that different,” Murray said.

The other difficulty for her was also the lack of family that was allowed to be there with her, “The boys weren’t allowed to come see them [the twins] in the hospital,” Murray said. “That was something we definitely missed, that time to get the kids together in the hospital and take the family pictures there. Kind of like the first time they get to meet your sisters and my parents couldn’t come.”

Murray chose to give birth at the hospital because it was where she was most comfortable. She had gotten COVID tested the Friday before her induced labour date and this eased the pressure of delivery day complications.

“I feel like if something happened with a home birth and it’s an emergency, you have to go to the hospital, then you’re going through the ER and all these people who are in the waiting area,” Murray said. “Compared to walking in already having done the tests and are clear, even before COVID with home births in general I couldn’t imagine if something went wrong. I would rather be at the hospital.”

UPDATED: A New Age of Sex Work: Navigating the worlds oldest professions digital era

How five adult-entertainment stars tackle their finances in the age of online sex work.

Melrose Michaels via FanCentro

Melrose Michaels sits on her bed wearing a red lingerie set, smiling into the camera as if she were about to film a signature striptease. “Make sure you enjoy yourself,” Michaels says, smirking as she leans into the camera and gives viewers a wink. “After all, that’s what we’re here for.” 

But Michaels isn’t just a cam girl — she’s a businesswoman and teacher, logging on to help aspiring sex workers to make their mark in the cutthroat adult-entertainment industry. 

Michaels has amassed nearly 83,000 followers on her FanCentro profile, a website that allows adult film performers to distribute content to fans via their private social media accounts on a subscription basis. Since joining the platform, Michael’s, 29, has become the site’s most popular model. 

The adult-entertainment star’s FanCentro subscribers aren’t alone. The cam girl has garnered hundreds of thousands of followers across platforms like Youtube, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, and as a result, has raked in more than $20,000 per month on average since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

To make that money, Michaels has become far more than an at-home porn performer. 

“My small business is a one-woman show. When it comes to things like creating content, producing content, editing content, publishing content, and doing marketing and sales, it’s all me,” Michaels said in a phone interview. “My earnings reflect that of a very successful medium-sized business. But because it’s sex work, that’s not taken seriously.”

Navigating the murky waters of finance when it comes to sex work can be a challenge. Historically, those wanting to enter the adult-entertainment industry have relied on word-of-mouth pieces of advice for things like service pricing, screening clients and whether or not to carry cash on the job. And while the industry can be lucrative, for Michaels, along with many other sex workers, more money can also mean more problems.

Looking back on her career in sex work, Lola Davina wishes she had paid more attention to the business side of the industry when she started. 

“In my 20s, I did not know what the hell I was doing, and I just kind of learned from opportunity to opportunity,” Davina, an author and retired sex worker, said in a phone interview. “I didn’t take it very seriously. I didn’t take my advertising very seriously. I didn’t take bookkeeping seriously, and I was also very mystified and very frightened.”

For inexperienced sex workers like Davina once was, the underground world of adult-entertainment can be daunting. 

“A lot of people are very fearful, especially those who are doing escorting or doing work that is not fully above ground,” Davina said. “Because of a lot of fear, it’s easier to hide in the shadows than it is to try and reach out to find professional advice.”

Centro University is trying to change that. 

FanCentro launched its 10-part educational training program, ‘Centro University,’ in October of 2020. Kat Revenga, vice president of marketing, said in a phone interview that the team at Fan Centro was inspired to create the free video series after they saw an 80% spike in online traffic after the coronavirus forced sex workers to go digital. 

Similar sites that allow influencers to sell explicit content directly to subscribers saw large increases in users after the COVID-19 outbreak, with OnlyFans seeing a 50% boost of subscriptions between April and May and IsMyGirl seeing similar increases. More traditional sites hosting pornography not controlled by the performers themselves, like Pornhub, saw an increase in rates, but not nearly as much as creator-driven peer-to-peer sites. 

As the pandemic pushed sex workers online, the competition on the web increased tenfold. Unlike traditional in-person sex work like stripping or escorting, Revenga said that the key to succeeding in the new, competitive era of the digital adult-entertainment industry is to own your product, hone your business background, and learn when it’s time to call in financial professionals to help. 

‘You’ve got to be yourself, but sand off the rough edges’

For Michaels, who was hired by FanCentro to develop the program, diversifying one’s skill set is the recipe for success. 

“You have to have the balance of being really artistic and an insightful creator,” Michaels said. “Then having the other side of it where you’re also an entrepreneur and you’re always looking for wars to improve and grow your business.”

To do so, Centro University has shaped its approach to the adult-entertainment industry by helping social media influencer-hopefuls to develop a unique personal brand that will stand out to fans. 

Maggie McNeill, a semi-retired escort and author of the blog The Honest Courtesan, said in a phone interview that in any sort of entertainment industry, a personal brand is key. 

“A politician presents himself as a package. If you like an actor or actress and the kinds of roles they play, it’s because they have different kinds of personas. Someone like Johnny Depp would play the same kinds of roles as Mel Gibson, Will Smith, or Sandra Bullock,” McNeill said. “What [sex workers] are selling is a personal thing, and it’s a personal interaction.”

Because sex work is so personal, McNeill said that it’s important for models to be authentic but keep in mind that they are providing a form of entertainment. “It’s much easier to maintain a brand if it’s close to the truth. You’ve got to be yourself, but sand off the rough edges,” said McNeill. 

Being authentic doesn’t only help fans discover which adult-entertainment performers match their fantasies, but Davina explains it helps sex workers control the “firehose of sexual attention” they receive when they step out onto the erotic marketplace. 

“Shaping your brand is how you manage that attention, either to attract or repel the people who are going to pay attention to you and want to be your client,” said Davina. 

The Recipe for Success

Revenga, who has worked in the adult industry for more than nine years, has seen a lot of budding sex workers fail because of a lack of knowledge and access to resources regarding the business side of the field. 

Melrose Michaels by Mike Jacobs Photography

Revenga, who has worked in the adult industry for more than nine years, has seen a lot of budding sex workers fail because of a lack of knowledge and access to resources regarding the business side of the field.

“Imagine if tomorrow, I wanted to open a bakery. Just because my cookies are good doesn’t mean I don’t still have so much to learn in order to make that business successful,” said Revenga. 

Centro University teaches aspiring sex workers to monetize the personal brand they’ve developed during the first section of the video course by creating things like premium Snapchat accounts or a line of merchandise that fans can purchase. 

For Michaels, long-term financial planning is just as key for success in the sex worker industry as the sex itself. 

“Successful people come into the business thinking ‘Okay, how do I market myself better? How do I get more traffic to my site?’ because if no one comes into the site you’ve built you still aren’t successful,” Michaels said.

As more and more people take up at-home amateur porn with hopes of making it big in the industry, Michaels encourages newcomers to own their own content. “That’s where the power is,” said Michaels. 

Quick Cash; Long Term Goals

For those who find success performing online sex work, money that filters in quickly can just as easily filter out. Because of the stigma and criminalization associated with those in the adult-entertainment industry, Davina, a former porn actress and dominatrix, said it can be difficult to find a trustworthy, informed, professional source to aid in financial matters. 

“As a general rule, sex workers tend to be a little bit more secretive and private, but that cuts off traditional pathways in wealth in terms of investing, buying homes, and starting businesses,” Davina said. “It’s that knee jerk reflex toward secrecy that can be very destructive in terms of generative long term wealth.”

On her blog, McNeil provides resources for legal aid services and those who specialize in things like how to complete taxes as a porn star. 

From sugar babies to cam girls to porn stars, looking for help, McNeill said, is oftentimes imperative when approaching finances. 

“There are four people you need to get on your team,” McNeill advises. “You need to find yourself a good lawyer, a good doctor who will help you take care of your health without making stupid accusations, a good accountant, and a good financial adviser, who can say, ‘here’s what we should do with your money.’”

For Alice Little, a legal escort in Carson, City Nevada, getting an education in finance from experts is important for long-term prosperity in the field. “Those skills will allow you to invest wisely, set a budget for your personal and business expenses, and allocate appropriately for taxes,” Little said in a phone interview. 

But navigating the business side of sex work isn’t the only hoop that adult-entertainment performers must jump through when posting content online. The SESTA/FOSTA acts passed by the federal government in 2018, and is meant to crack down on the digital sex trafficking of minors. However, for consentual sex workers, the the bill isn’t exactly what it might seem. 

Sex workers have rallied against the bill, saying it is a first amendment violation and a piece of legislation that keeps them from posing content online. Because of SESTA/FOSTA, the owners of online domains can be held legally responsible for the content their users post, which has left many owners to close down their sites out of fear of legal repercussions. 

In addition, advocates for sex workers have pushed for legal and safe online payment methods like Venmo or PayPal— understanding this element of the industry is crucial, especially when it comes to tax season. 

For Michaels, the difficulties of completing taxes as an adult-entertainment star is personal. When the actress began camming, she assumed taxes were being withheld from the paper checks she would receive weekly from the host platform; she was mistaken. 

“I had made six figures, and at the end of the year when taxes came, I had nothing left to pay them,” Michaels said. “I spent almost eight years trying to come back from that nightmare.”

‘It’s one thing to be empowered and it’s another to be powerful’

Upon completing FanCentro’s Centro University, graduates can expect to be well versed in how to build a successful and sustainable personal empire in the world of adult-entertainment. However, as a result of the stigma attached to and the criminalization of sex work, Davina said that empowerment is just as important as financial literacy when it comes to facing the mainstream business world. 

“Sometimes it’s fun to think of yourself as a rent boy or a floozy or a hoe, and you can call yourself a lot of different names that feel fun,” Davina said. “But if you’re doing this for money then what you are is a small business owner, and you have to think of yourself in those terms.”

Michaels said that encouraging  aspiring sex workers to bring their work into the mainstream is crucial when trying to earn respect as entrepreneurs in the business world; after all, the porn industry alone brings in  a whopping $97 billion per year on average, and the majority of its biggest earners are women. 

“I think that it’s one thing to be empowered and it’s another to be powerful, so being in control of what you’re doing and then making powerful moves in regards to that is where the strength comes that then strengthens our community long term,” said Michaels. 

As Centro University encourages sex workers to become informed entrepreneurs, in her training videos, Michaels stressed the importance of owning one’s sexuality as a means to combat the stigma associated with the industry. 

“People always ask me ‘Why would you do this kind of work? You were so successful before going into this and you don’t need to do this,’” said Michaels. “But for my whole life, since I was about 14, I’ve been sexualized without my consent. Every day, wherever I go, whatever I’m wearing. This is the one industry where we can take power over that and make a profit on it.”

By McKenzie Beard

UPDATED: More universities continue to drop the requirement for standardized tests in their admissions process and the pandemic has done nothing to stop it

By: Claudette Soler

Many students are unable to access testing centers amid the COVID-19 pandemic (Pixabay)

Standardized tests like the SAT and the ACT have been used in college admission processes for almost 100 years but amid the COVID-19 pandemic over 600 colleges and universities have dropped the requirement of SATs and ACTs for students applying this academic year.

As a result of COVID-19 many testing centers, which are usually schools, were closed and test dates were canceled.

“There have been testing centers closed down and what we have done in light of that is to open pop-up centers in some of our highly affected areas,” said Catherine Hofmann, vice president of State and Federal Programs at ACT, in an interview. “For these pop-up centers, the ACT contracts with mainly hotels that have ballrooms or large spaces where we can socially distance students.”

Robert Schaeffer speaks on bias within standardized testing and how COVID and the Operation Varsity Blues pushed more universes to become test-optional

“Kids who grow up in low-income environments aren’t able to fly across the country or fly to another state to take the test or drive a couple hundred miles and pull up at a motel with all those costs of travel and accommodation,” said Robert Schaeffer, Interim Executive Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) in an interview. “Whereas kids whose parents have that time and money could give them that opportunity to take the test.”

“They lost millions of dollars in revenue because tests were not available and the pop-up centers are just a way to get more money,” he said.

According to Hofmann, ACT is trying to scale it up, so students don’t have to drive so far to just find a test center.

ACT is also beta testing a remote proctored testing format. However, some universities have expressed they would not be interested in considering an exam administered this way.

“We wouldn’t want to create something that the market isn’t wanting or desiring,” said Hofmann.

“We also don’t want to drive deeper barriers,” she said. “A remoted proctored test would be great for a student that has high-speed internet, who has a webcam, who has a computer that is fast but what about the student who doesn’t? We don’t want to create further inequity in the ability to take a college entrance exam.”

According to Schaeffer, last spring the College Board, who administer the SATs, tried to make another test, the AP exam, online and had a huge number of technical problems.

According to Hofmann, the most common use of the ACT is as a college entrance exam and admissions officers use it to see if someone is fit for their institution.

“It has a 50 percent likelihood of predicting a B or higher in credit-bearing courses your freshman year,” said Hofmann in an interview, “and a 75 percent likelihood of predicting a C or higher in credit-bearing courses your freshman year.”

It is also used by teachers to guide their instruction; 22 states pay for the ACT to be given to every junior and teachers use them to see what the strengths and weaknesses in their students’ education are.

Some high schools use their own state test and don’t use standardized tests to prepare students for their college admission process.

“My high school didn’t really prepare us for big tests,” said student Ashlyn Peralta in an interview, “So I didn’t even understand that my SAT wasn’t terribly great.”

Every state is required under federal accountability that every student is tested once in high school to see where the students are at in terms of learning for Department of Education purposes and over 20 states are utilizing either the ACT or the SAT as that review for high school accountability.

“The SAT and the ACT are biased, they are weak predictors of undergraduate success, they are highly susceptible to coaching and they are not needed,” said Schaeffer. “The SAT and ACT, if anything, are pretty decent measures of accumulated advantage.”

As a result of thousands of students not being able to take the test before the beginning of the pandemic hundreds of universities have become test-optional for the upcoming year.

American University has been test-optional for 10 admission cycles, since 2010.

“A large reason for going test-optional was to improve upon our diversity at the university,” said Andrea Felder, Assistant Vice Provost for Undergraduate Admissions at AU, in an interview “so wanting to enroll students from various backgrounds, different racial and ethnic backgrounds, students from low-income backgrounds, traditionally underserved or marginalized populations in higher education.”

 “There is quite a bit of research that demonstrates the flaws with standardized testing and how it disproportionately advantages those who have advantages,” said Felder, “students who come from wealthier backgrounds.”

Hofmann is worried that this shift will focus too much on the GPA since it can be affected by different factors that wouldn’t have played a part before.

According to Hofmann, some students have been online for almost two full semesters, so some are getting pass/fail grades, some are under so much distress and panic having to do with their grade, some students have to watch their younger siblings, some don’t have Wi-Fi or a device to be able to sign in.

“ACT will always advocate for multiple measures, we would never say that you just need an ACT exam to determine if a student can get into a college or not,” she said, “but having said that we also believe in multiple measures besides just GPA.”

According to Hofmann, GPA is subjective in some cases where the ACT is not. 

“It’s the great national equalizer,” she said. “A student who takes biology in Mississippi might not have the same curriculum or the same subject of grading as a student who takes biology in Oregon.”

“The SAT and ACT if anything are pretty decent measures of accumulated advantage,” said Schaeffer. “Kids who grow up in houses with plenty of food, and parents who don’t have two jobs and have time to read to them and take them to museums and get them into good schools, get them supplemental services, those kids score higher on average on those tests.”

The issue of elitism in college admissions was brought to the forefront last year by Operation Varsity Blues, a federal investigation into admissions fraud that resulted in the indictments of dozens of people caught in schemes to secure admission to top schools. Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin are among the defendants.

 Huffman served two weeks in jail last year after pleading guilty to paying $15,000 for her daughter’s SAT score to be falsified and Loughlin is one month into her 2-month sentence for paying $500,000 so that the admissions committee of University of Southern California (USC) would believe her two daughters would join the women’s rowing team.

 Last year, in part because of this, was a significant year for colleges going test-optional with more than 50 dropping their SAT/ACT score requirement driving the number to about 1,070 universities pre-COVID.

According to Schaeffer, the pandemic added another 600 schools which went test-optional at least temporarily.

According to him, some universities that originally announced a one-year suspension of SAT/ACT requirement extended it to another year or two and in several cases went permanently test-optional.

“Ohio University and the University of Washington in Seattle started off by announcing waivers for a year or two and then went permanently test-optional,” he said.

According to a survey by Inside Higher Ed, two-thirds of admissions directors at schools that became temporarily test-optional believe this will become permanent.

According to Felder, prior to COVID, about 20 percent of students who applied to AU used the test-optional policy but this year they have already seen that about 50 percent of students who have applied to the university have done so using the test-optional policy.

“The test score is just one factor among many,” said Felder “Ultimately, we want to accept students who will be successful in the classroom, who will strive socially at the university, contribute to the community and benefit from attending AU.”

AU’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment looked at how students who opted to not submit a standardized test performed in the early years of the university being test-optional and there was a negligible difference once they were on AU’s campus, said Felder.

“The SAT or ACT is just one piece of the puzzle,” she said, “and we are able to make that decision even without that standardized test score.”

Some students are still unsure of whether to send the test or not, even if the university is test-optional.

Peralta was recently admitted to Johns Hopkins University who went test-optional for this academic year.

“I might have sent it anyway cause it’s hard for me to know what colleges really want,” said Peralta.

Because of this reason some universities have opted to go test blind, meaning that even if a student sends a standardized test score, they won’t look at it or take it into account for their admission. Some of the institutions that have done this are the California Institute of Technology, Catholic University, and Washington State University.

“I would applaud colleges and universities to continue these policies beyond COVID,” said Felder, “just because there are so many ways to see if a student will be successful within your institution.”

“You don’t need a test, any test to do fair and accurate college admissions,” said Schaeffer. “More than a thousand colleges, prove that every year.”

More Americans in need of government assistance as food insecurity rises (UPDATED)

A man shops at a WalMart — one of the many stores that accept SNAP and P-EBT benefits. By: Hanson Lu

By: Kelsey Carolan

While trying to keep her growing son fed when schools closed their doors in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Michelle Bashore admitted, it was hard to keep a positive attitude despite still receiving government assistance for food.

Bashore, who lives in Urbana, Ohio, said in a phone interview that she received about $120 in both March and April per month for her son through Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) benefits, established by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

“Prices of food and stuff went up and I am trying to accommodate with all the bills and all the food,” Bashore said after she ran out of the P-EBT benefits in May. “Not having that much food in the house is kind of rough because he eats a lot but we get by.”

P-EBT, an entirely new program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides benefits to children who received free or reduced-price school meals that would have otherwise gone to schools to provide them with those meals. They can be used to buy the same foods that can be purchased with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, commonly known as food stamps.

Before the pandemic hit, 30 million low-income children were approved to receive free or reduced-price meals at school each day. They all received P-EBT benefits, like Bashore’s son.

And besides families who newly began relying on P-EBT benefits just to feed their children who were now home from school, low-income households and adults who lost their jobs applied for SNAP benefits – in October, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released that 11% of adults reported that their households did not have enough to eat in the previous week compared to 3.7% before the pandemic.

Increased Need for Government Food Assistance

According to Feeding America, 13.2 million more Americans are projected to be food insecure when compared to the number in 2018, bringing the overall number of food-insecure Americans to 50.4 million. Of that 13.2 million addition, 5.8 million are children, bringing the total number of food-insecure children to 17 million – 34% of the total of the projected number of food-insecure Americans.

“We’re really concerned that millions of kids are experiencing food insecurity and rapidly increasing at unprecedented levels in modern history and now about 14 million kids are not getting enough to eat,” said Mamiko Vuillemin, Senior Manager of Policy and Advocacy at FoodCorps, a non-profit that works with communities to connect kids with healthy meals in schools.

Bashore was concerned about her child becoming food-insecure after his school closed in March. Ohio – as states decide how much money they want to allocate toward P-EBT benefits per child – only gave each child $5.70 for each day a school was closed from the beginning of the pandemic to the end of the school year.

But Bashore said she was grateful for the extra assistance the government provided her with.

“Even if it was $50 or what not – it was $120 – and that was fine, that was good.”

Meghan McHugh, a mother of five from Philadelphia, Penn., said in a phone interview that she was also grateful that her school provided her with the P-EBT card – she said it came as a surprise to her since her kids didn’t use the free or reduced-price meals even though they were eligible.

“It was awesome because it was like, okay, here’s more spending money for food,” McHugh said. “I think I ended up getting around a total of $1,000.”

McHugh said it was an extra bonus since she didn’t even have to apply for the benefits – she said the card came in the mail and all she had to do was call a phone number to set a pin.

“It definitely helped out because my kids were home eating all day,” McHugh said. “My kids are still eating out the house.”

And even households who received P-EBT cards could still receive SNAP benefits. According to a report by Hunger Free America, the total caseload for SNAP benefits jumped 14% from March to July. During the pandemic, the spending on SNAP increasing significantly due to the FFCRA’s provision that allowed states to maximize its benefits.

However, the USDA’s interpretated the provision as bringing all SNAP households up to the maximum benefits instead of providing additional benefits to households who already received the maximum – most of which are the poorest households.

“If you are receiving $100 in SNAP benefits per month and you are an individual, because you are working, it brings you down to $100, to say now, the pandemic happens and the act came out, you would be able to receive up to $194 which is the maximum for an individual,” said Parker Gilkesson, Policy Analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy, an anti-poverty nonprofit. “It was interpreted by a lot of us advocates that you would be able to receive up to double so for example if you were receiving $100, you would be able to receive $192 on top of that. So whatever you’re receiving, you are receiving the maximum on top of that which is much more effective for people to be able to afford food assistance than just maximizing people to the max.”

Pennsylvania, among other states, filed lawsuits against the USDA for this interpretation, claiming that they are excluding 40% of Pennsylvania SNAP households from receiving additional emergency benefits. In September, a preliminary injunction was ordered, temporarily stopping the USDA from holding back the additional emergency benefits from these households until there is a final judgement.

People who hadn’t received additional emergency benefits or still did not qualify for SNAP benefits turned to food shelters to save money.

“They’re really good at helping people and giving people food,” Bashore said. “They even had a drive-thru at the fairgrounds and the school and we went the other day and we got a whole turkey.”

But food shelters are struggling to meet rising demands – Feeding America recently reported that 40% of people going to food banks now never went to them for help before.

“With the hours and stuff that people have – the up and down and getting laid off – I think everybody should have it [benefits],” Bashore said.

Trump Administration

Despite the national emergency and the increase in food-insecure Americans, the Trump administration has proposed multiple new rules that would cut benefits and impose new eligibility requirements.

Prior to the pandemic, the Trump administration wanted to impose additional work requirements to qualify for SNAP benefits on poor adults without children. Focusing on “able-bodied adults without dependents,” the rule would require them to work or be in a training program or they would be limited to only three months of food stamps within a three-year period.

According to an estimate by the Urban Institute, 700,000 Americans would have been affected – a federal judge blocked the rule in October due to the impact of the pandemic, considering rising unemployment rates and a weaker economy.

In October, the unemployment rate was 6.9% — nearly twice the rate that it was in February. And according to the ruling, enrollment in food stamps surged by 17% through May.

“There is this perception of people who receive public benefits that one, they don’t want to work or are not working and that is just not true,” said Gilkesson. “Folks who are receiving public benefits, majority of them are working, oftentimes working for very low wages and oftentimes working part-time, not by choice, but because their employer decided to place them at part-time versus full-time and oftentimes, if they’re not working, there is a very valid reason as to why.”

Despite what anti-hunger advocates claim to be a victory against the Trump White House, they are still fighting other cuts he has proposed – one of which would affect food-insecure children.

The “categorical eligibility” rule that was proposed prior to the pandemic in 2019 aims to end automatic eligibility for those who were already receiving federal and state assistance. Currently, 43 states allow people who receive other forms of government assistance to enroll in SNAP. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told reporters at the time that SNAP benefits should be a temporary safety net.

“If enacted, it would cut nutritional assistance for 3 million people and not only that, it would also impede automatic access to free school meals for nearly 1 million kids which is a lot given 30 million kids relying on school meals,” Vuillemin said. “We opposed that rule when it was first announced and we’re urging the incoming Biden administration to halt that rule before becoming finalized.”

Looking Forward to the Biden Administration

Anti-hunger advocates like Vuillemin and Gilkesson are urging the incoming administration to increase SNAP benefits due to the increasing negative impacts of the pandemic.

And President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign previously proposed to increase SNAP benefits by 15% and provide low-income families with an additional $100 per month in nutritional benefits. House Democrats also previously proposed the 15% increase, but a stimulus bill deal still hasn’t been reached.

“SNAP is the most effective and efficient way to reduce food insecurity and its the biggest anti-hunger program we have in the nation and along with other anti-nation hunger advocates across the country, we’re urging Congress to increase SNAP benefits by 15 percent,” Vuillemin said. “That would really give families the resources to buy food they need to feed their kids and to stay healthy during and beyond the pandemic. And that money that those families would be spending using SNAP benefits will go back to the economy.”

Gilkesson is hopeful that Biden will work to increase and improve SNAP benefits overall, not just for the extent of the pandemic. She also said she believes they will work to undo or reject Trump’s proposed rules and changes.

“We will be pushing for more changes within the SNAP program, administratively and within the terms of eligibility and making sure that all of the proposed rules that came out of the Trump administration to cut benefits to SNAP recipients will all be stopped and not be able to continue forward and making sure that we increase SNAP benefits in general,” Gilkesson said.

Gilkesson also said she hopes that the pandemic’s effects shows people that government assistance is not something to be ashamed of, and she hopes the Biden administration will help encourage that message.

“Reaching out for help when you need it is an honorable thing to do. Living in a country that has the means and the wealth to be able to help its citizens when they are in need is absolutely admirable and we should not look at it as less than that at all.”

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