WU in Focus
Emma Baker | Editor-in-Chief

Dear readers,

WU in Focus was established in the fall of 2018 as a dedicated space to understand how all of the people of Washington University make the community we know. We launched the second installment in the late spring of 2020, as students were faced with another challenge: the COVID-19 global pandemic. It’ll just be through the end of the semester, end of the summer, end of the calendar year, we told ourselves as we faced challenges we could have never anticipated.

In the midst of this uncertainty, global anti-racist movements like Black Lives Matter and groups fighting anti-Asian hatred defined campus as the structural racism, discrimination and inequities that plague the University came under increased scrutiny as students demanded justice and change. The work of activists spurred movements calling for the abolition of Greek life and of the Washington University Police Department. Students fought against anti-Asian racism and collectively demanded that the University community reckon with the inequities generations of students, faculty and community members have had to face.

As a student newspaper, we have a unique position on campus. Our reporters and writers often get a bird’s-eye view of the University community. Across our five sections, we have an opportunity to speak with and learn from the different voices that shape the University into what it is. It is spaces like WU in Focus, however, that give us a chance to dive in headfirst.

In this issue, you’ll find reporting on how activist movements like the abolish WUPD took hold on campus, the ways students have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, how students are fighting against anti-Asian racism and so much more. The reporting in this magazine is a product of the voices of this campus. We hope that this special issue challenges you to think about how the intersecting identities of students, advocacy work on campus and the history of our University shape how your time here is spent.

This issue is shaped by you, as part of our University community. I want to thank you for your readership, engagement and for helping to make this University community what it is: a vibrant, dynamic, diverse and curious place.

All that being said, it is my absolute pleasure to present Student Life’s third installment of WU in Focus.

Take care,


Emma Baker

Olivia Danner | Staff Reporter

Courtesy of Olin Library

The Association of Black Collegians leads a sit in at the office of Campus Police, protesting the assault and arrest of Elbert Walton in 1968.

More than 50 years after one of the first protests in response to injustice from Washington University in St. Louis law enforcement, the increased visibility of police brutality has led to a proliferation of groups challenging the role of policing at the University.

In 1968, prior to the formation of WUPD, Elbert Walton, a Black graduate student, was arrested and assaulted by campus police. The event sparked a 30-person sit-in at the office of the campus police followed by an eight-day occupation of Brookings Hall, according to reporting from Student Life.

Led by the Association of Black Collegians (ABC), a Black student activist group, students demanded the suspension of the police officer involved and outlined “5 points for developing a position paper on law enforcement reform.” These points included better screening and selection of officers, increased officer salaries, improved training, stronger sense of community between law enforcement and students and altered police focus.

During the sit-in, ABC published the Black Position Paper where they saw the mistreatment of Black students by police as a symptom of a lack of University commitment to its Black students and faculty.

“The matter of the campus police department’s maltreatment of and demeaning attitudes toward Black people does not present the total scope of the problem. It simply reflects and points out the unresponsive, insensitive and negative nature of Washington University vis-a-vis the Black people who come into direct and/or indirect contact with it,” the group wrote.

The then Chancellor Thomas H. Eliot responded to the student’s demands with “reluctant acceptance,” according to Robert Johnson, a leader of the ABC.

“An eight-member joint committee, chaired by Mr. Andrew Thomas, is making the investigation of selection processes, training, etc. that was recommended by the panel which heard allegations of a pattern of harassment of Black students,” Eliot wrote in a March 1969 letter to the University faculty, administration officers and staff.

Over 50 years after the sit-in, the nature of the University’s police force has dramatically changed.

WUPD “was first established in 1969 as a kind of security department,” Executive Vice Chancellor for Civic Affairs and Strategic Planning Hank Webber explained. “It’s now about 57/58 employees, 37 officers…In the mid-’70s, they became deputized so that they had police powers on campus.”

In the 2000s, WUPD transitioned to a community policing model, gaining a “major presence in the neighborhood,” Webber added.

Still, students continued to object to this expansion of WUPD’s presence on campus. On January 23, 2015, in reaction to police brutality across the country, especially the shooting of Michael Brown which occurred just a few miles away from campus, the student group Students in Solidarity (SIS) published a new list of demands, some of which addressed WUPD.

“Today, we are sparked by the unconscionable killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Aiyana Jones, Tamir Rice, Yvette Smith, Kajieme Powell, and hundreds more,” SIS wrote in their manifesto.

Their demands included but were not limited to mental health support and bias training for WUPD officers, a third-party review of current training procedures, phone and web applications to report WUPD bias and publication of reports of WUPD bias.

According to WUPD Chief Mark Glenn, WUPD officers receive mental health and anti-bias training. He reported that there have been recent audits of these procedures. Additionally, instances of WUPD bias can be reported through the University’s bias reporting system.

Although the service does not offer a phone line for reporting, general summaries of bias reports that provide targeted identities and locations reported are available through the University website. The most recent report was posted in 2018.

Professor Gerald Early, a member of the public safety committee focused on examining WUPD’s role on campus, attributed the recent rise of student activism directed at University police in part to increased visibility of police brutality.

“I think that’s made a particular kind of impact to see some of this stuff actually being filmed,” Early said.

A student group formed at the beginning of last semester, WashU Students for Abolition, is one of the first to have the primary aim of fully abolishing WUPD. The organization fights to decrease WUPD presence, move WUPD funding to campus resources such as the Sexual Assault and Rape Anonymous Helpline (S.A.R.A.H) and the Rape and Sexual Violence Prevention (R.S.V.P) Center, hire more mental health counselors and, ultimately, abolish WUPD, student organizer junior Jasmine MacFarlane said.

“Reform usually comes with more money, more training, more officers, and it makes the system larger rather than addressing the root issues. Abolition addresses the root issues that create crime,” MacFarlane stated.

Glenn emphasized that a lack of meaningful change to police departments can drive people towards abolition.

“If we're not getting change and we're still seeing that [police brutality], we as a society then are going to continue pushing forward, and if that means you know that we're going to call to abolish police departments, you know, that's where people are going to go if they don't see change,” Glenn said.

According to Glenn, WUPD is committed to reform.

“We want to make sure that we're providing the best possible service to our community, and, to do that, you really have to listen to the community and be willing to change,” Glenn said.

Webber noted WUPD’s 2018 accreditation through the Commission of Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).

“One of the reasons that we went through the international accreditation process, for example, was to make sure that an outside review was making sure that we were meeting the highest law enforcement standards for a university police department,” Webber said.

MacFarlane sees campus police presence as directly linked to increased “student consciousness and activism.”

Campus police “sprung up directly in the ‘60s and ‘70s in response to civil rights movements on campus, in response to anti-war protests on campus,” MacFarlane said. “So, police presence usually is less about students’ security and more about quelling unrest.”

The SIS concluded the foreword of their manifesto with a call to action.

“The University must live up to its mission statement ‘to strive to enhance the lives and livelihoods of students, the people of the greater St. Louis community, the country, and the world,’” they wrote. “Seize this crucial moment in history to affirm that Black Lives Matter.”

Jamila Dawkins

Holden Hindes | Student Life

Jamila Dawkins | Forum Editor

My first week at Washington University was exciting and terrifying in all the ways first weeks usually are. For me, beyond the customary first-week stilted conversations and first walks to the Delmar Loop, I remember feeling nervous for another reason: Sunday.

Before I came to Wash. U., Sundays were church days, and functioned differently than the rest of the days of the week. On Sundays, I set my alarms and woke up early. I sang hymns, read scripture and asked for prayers. Sunday was the day of the week on which I wore the mask, professing what I didn’t believe to blend in with the crowd.

I knew since I was 12 that I was unconvinced of the existence of a God, but the process of coming to terms with that fact was infinitely less certain. Every woman in my family was deeply religious. God wasn’t a question but a foregone conclusion, and it felt scary—alienating, really—to challenge it. Moreover, growing up in a majority-white area and school, churches were some of the first and only primarily Black spaces I had ever encountered. Blackness and spirituality went hand in hand, and it was a connection steeped in history I was proud to be a part of. In church, I knew that the hymns I sang used to be slave spirituals—that the prayers I learned were popularized by Black church leaders. I felt a little closer to my loved ones, my ancestors.

However, by my senior year of high school, the cultural aspect of religion no longer felt like enough. I wanted to confront the things I believed and the reasons why I believed them. I hated feeling like I had inherited a worldview rather than chosen one. So, months before I left for Wash. U., I tried to evaluate the contents of my brain. What things do I believe? What things am I unconvinced of? What things do I never want to believe again? When I finally arrived at the term “atheist,” it felt like a fundamental rejection not only of my belief system but of part of my culture. Church started to feel empty; the hymns and prayers no longer felt like they belonged to me. Religion had been such a formative and intrinsic part of many of my family members’ lives—something to cling to through difficult times, a source of spiritual peace and in some cases a reason to stay alive. But suddenly, it was an experience that we could no longer pretend to share. I felt like I was excising myself from both my family and my culture. Frightening as that was, I knew that being hundreds of miles away from home at Wash. U. would be my real chance.

My first Sunday at Wash. U., I slept in. I tidied my dorm and tried Village Brunch for the first time. My Sundays belonged to me—only me. Not only my Sundays, but all of my days. I stopped praying before my meals and stopped asking for forgiveness when I used God’s name in vain. And I was terrified.

I knew very few Black atheists. I definitely didn’t know any other Black female atheists. As far as my family was concerned, I was still a practicing Christian. I couldn’t find any secular or atheist organizations on campus—at least, none that were still active. So I began the process of deconverting myself on my own. And just as much as I knew I didn’t necessarily belong in the atheist community, the community knew that I didn’t belong, either. The atheist spaces I perused were almost always exclusionary. I rented books from atheist thinkers whom I later realized believed that I had an “unconscious wish for brutal male domination” and spewed vile, Islamophobic sentiments at every opportunity. I participated in forums that deferred to male pronouns as a rule and witnessed a concerning pipeline from secularism to alt-right beliefs. I went from being welcomed as a Black Christian in a large community to being invisible and often unwelcome as a Black atheist in a tiny community.

There is a certain image that comes to mind when one pictures the manifestation of the word “atheist.” That image is white and male, and not without reason—data from Pew Research’s 2014 Religious Landscape Survey found that 78% of all atheists identified as white, and 68% identified as male. On the other hand, a 2020 Pew survey found that 97% of Black adults believed in a higher power. Only one percent identified with the term “atheist.” Over one-third of all Black adults in the United States attended services at a church that was majority Black. Black women were more likely than Black men to say that religion was very important in their lives—64% compared to 51%.

The lack of a belief in a higher power tends to be higher among college students and graduates, so the demographic breakdown within colleges could likely look different than the data nationwide. However, the culture around belief in many Black spaces does not encourage the open expression of nonreligious beliefs even when we arrive at college. A few months into my freshman year, a Black female friend of mine, in whom I had confided my religious doubts while we were in high school, reached out to me and admitted that she was also in the process of deconverting herself. I called her and we talked for hours—about lying to our families about attending church services regularly while away at school; about following religious rituals when at home to avoid an argument; about feeling lonely and unaccepted by atheist spaces that we attempted to join; about the frustration of our families' attempts to proselytize us, or their assumptions that we were immoral. It was unbelievably cathartic to express those emotions to someone who could understand the full depth of the intersection of experiences within Black female atheism—a minority within the minority.

My family and denomination raised me to sincerely believe in divine, eternal retribution. It is not easy to stop believing in that—it is not easy to assure yourself that you will not be tortured for not being able to believe the things everyone else believes. It is not easy knowing that some of your dearest loved ones truly believe that you deserve that fate. It is not easy to carry these things while being an outsider on multiple fronts. Not easy, but not impossible. I’m learning to enjoy brunch on Sunday mornings.

Clara Richards | Staff Writer
Ally Sarussi

Brian Cui | Student Life

Freshman track athlete Ally Sarussi stands on Bushyhead Track. Sarussi and other freshmen athletes have dealt with a unique set of challenges due to the pandemic

Katie Lawson, a freshman on the Washington University volleyball team, still has practice in the mornings. Her phone buzzes early, but sometimes it takes multiple times hitting the snooze button to roll out of bed. Lawson has never been a morning person. That is where her suitemate, who is also on the volleyball team, comes in. They will knock on each other’s door if they accidentally sleep in. And ultimately, what motivates her during those early morning practices is the thought of her teammates, who are also excited to be there. In that respect, it could be any other year.

So many elements of freshmen athletes’ first year at Washington University have been different because of the pandemic, like the threat of quarantine—and everyone coped differently. A cross country runner uploaded a five kilometer run onto Strava, a run-sharing platform, from the confines of his quarantine room. Student-athletes searched YouTube for the craziest workouts they could find that were doable within their confines. Freshman golfer Caraline Oakley even putted from her quarantine room in preparation for her tournament win in her debut outing for the University.

Across various Bears teams, student-athletes are comparing their hopes during signing to the reality of being on a University team. Lawson committed to Wash. U. volleyball because of the competitive nature of the program. Those expectations for a positive yet challenging environment have mostly been met, despite how things have looked different. “I wish we could have more of that game day experience,” she said. “But I still wouldn’t trade anything in the world for the experience that I have and the opportunities I’ve been able to receive.” For Lawson, like most others, playing at Wash. U. has been a transition from her less driven high school team. There, she found that some people played volleyball purely for the social aspect of the experience. They did not spend much time dedicating themselves to improvement. But at Wash. U., the entire team is much more competitive and hardworking, even in such an irregular season. That, she says, has been fun to be a part of. “As someone who enjoys competing and likes to win,” Lawson said, "it reassures me that all these people have the same goals and aspirations. They’ll have my back.”

The lack of competition has been hard for everyone. In high school, volleyball athletes play constantly, so Lawson feels out of practice from what she calls game mode. The upside of that is that it has allowed her to spend more time working on technique and overall strength. When they do eventually play next, all NCAA teams will “be starting from square one,” in terms of competition experience, Lawson said. “It will really show who put in the work, who was dedicated and disciplined. It’ll be fun to see who progressed over the past year and who let things slide.”

But not every team has been able to have that same experience of working together with a future goal in mind. One freshman track and field athlete, Ally Sarussi, had high aspirations that have been put on hold with the fluctuating competition season. As with many other athletes, it was the family atmosphere of the track team that first drew her to Wash. U. Although she has bonded with the teammates who are in her specific workout group, Sarussi has been isolated from the group at large. The team has had to split into pods for practice, a system that has prevented her from meeting most of her teammates. “It makes it really hard,” she said. “It’s been different and not exactly favorable, but better to get to know some people than none, I guess.”

Track specifically has had a few time trials, and Sarussi says that they have really helped her grasp the joy of competing again. Instead of stressing over small issues, she has learned to take advantage of the race day environment that she has. And while that is not necessarily glamorous, with fans filling the bleachers, she feels that it has rewarded the training she has put in. “It’s the small wins of being able to compete even against our teammates,” Sarussi said. Similarly to Sarussi, Micah Benson, a freshman on the cross country team, has made the most of the training that he has been able to put in. His time on the team has consisted of periods of smaller group practice separated by pauses and COVID-19 outbreaks. Those changes have rewarded him with time for a slower transition into college athletics. As he trains more with head coach Jeff Stiles, the difficulty of the workouts has been ramping up. One piece of advice that Benson’s high school coach gave him was not to expect to be automatically better in college. So even though he might not be in the same shape as his senior year of high school, he is not worried.

Benson is also growing through Stiles’ holistic approach to training. A major difference that he has found between running at Wash. U. and his training in high school is how invested the coaching staff is. He said that Stiles cares about everyone on the team, no matter their place on the roster. “He told us that he feels bad that he’s not connecting enough—he’s doing such a good job with it though,” Benson said. “So I’m excited for when we’re back to normal.” That progress is not always linear, however, as Kenneth Yeh, a freshmen on the swim team, has realized this semester. As a distance swimmer, he has had to adjust his workouts and mentality to match the restrictions on time in the pool. Many times, the shortened pool slots just do not feel like enough time to get in a proper warm-up, workout and cooldown. “That transition has been more difficult for me than others,” Yeh said. The team is doing more sprint and power-oriented workouts, which have been hard both mentally and physically for him. “I’m not thinking negatively, but it has made a change on me. And I think I just need more time to adjust to it,” he said.

The day after the NCAA competitions and the conference championships were canceled for Yeh’s first season for Wash. U., he headed to practice assuming that his coaches would make workouts a little easier. He was surprised then when the coaching staff did not let up. So when Yeh had the opportunity to compete during the two meets of the swim team’s season, he had to make the most of his limited opportunities. And that, he says, has been tough, particularly with the change in training. It is especially hard with such a time-based sport like swim, where the environmental factors are held mostly constant and improvement is measured in milliseconds. During his senior year of high school, he was at the peak of his fitness, so it has been challenging to not be able to hit the same splits a year later. “I wasn’t very happy with my swims [at our meets],” he said. “At the end of the day, I just gotta stick with it, though.”

Regardless of the times in the pool, Yeh has enjoyed the social aspects of competing on a team with people from such diverse backgrounds. Like Lawson, he is suitemates with teammates, and that has given him a good community of people who are also committed to athletics and academics. He remembers one especially tough dry land workout, with his suitemates stretched out on the common room floor after an exhausting two-mile run. “I don’t think I would want to continue something if I didn’t have friends or mentors or people I enjoyed swimming with,” he said.

Next year’s recruited freshmen have already signed their commitments to the University, and Sarussi has one piece of advice for those prospective student-athletes: Be open to change. In her case, it is advice that she put to use the weekend after our interview. The track team had a meet, but even a few days before competition, she was not totally sure if she would be competing. That is the way it has gone for most of the season, with coaches trying to navigate COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines. “There’s already a lot of adjustment when you come to college, and with the pandemic, it’s tenfold,” Sarussi said. “Be open to adjustments within training and practices.”

The things that have stood out to these freshmen have not been the hard workouts or the long practices. Instead, it has been the occasional glimpse of normalcy within such a chaotic year. For Lawson, on the volleyball team, she thinks back to a Forest Park picnic with the rest of her volleyball class. Her teammates were there for her within the stress and challenges of the first few days. Benson, the cross country athlete, remembers an upperclassman taking him aside after an individual track session to impart some advice: Do not be obsessed with hitting a certain mileage. In Yeh’s mind, the weekly time trials on Saturday afternoons stood out to him. After hard weeks of training, the swimmers still put in a solid effort in a low-stakes environment against their teammates. “There’s pride in saying, ‘Oh, I got you on that one,’” he said. In a normal year, that meal or that time trial would just be one of many others. This year, each was particularly special.

Reilly Brady & Gracie Hime | Staff Writers

This article is an opinion piece and thus maintains the position of the writers’ opinions. Additional student experiences are shared in this article.

Freshman Neha George hadn’t been sleeping well. She didn’t know what had thrown off her sleeping patterns, but she had noticed that she was getting behind in her schoolwork and felt anxious. After putting her mental health aside for a few months, she finally decided that it was time to talk to a therapist.

“I don’t fully process everything that I’m feeling or understand everything until I say it out loud and work it out with someone else,” George said.

College life can take a toll on students’ mental health. With the combination of newfound independence and demanding classes, students find themselves abruptly making adjustments and facing significant life decisions. On top of these burdens, current Wash. U. students have had to deal with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated mental health problems worldwide. Many, like George, have turned to Wash. U.’s mental health resources.

When George first called Habif at 11:15 a.m. on Feb. 25, no one answered. That phone call was her second attempt at setting up a consultation; she had tried to schedule a consultation a few days prior through the student portal, which she found confusing.

“I had a bunch of issues the first couple times I tried to sign up where it wasn’t giving me any valid appointments,” George said.

While Habif called George back later that day, some students have experienced repeated failed attempts to get in contact with mental health resources. Three calls, two emails and a whole semester later, freshman Grace Chen was still not able to access mental health resources at Wash. U.

“I called three times on different weekdays at different times. The first time was in the afternoon and outside of their operating hours, but the next two, I called during their [business] hours. I got an answering machine all three times, which only gave instructions for what to do if I had an emergency,” Chen said.

Although Chen never was able to access the mental health resources she needed, some students have been able to make it through the multi-step process to set up an appointment. In many instances, however, complications and setbacks in the process remain due to the confusing nature of the websites and phone lines.

“My experience made me think Habif’s mental health services are not effectively organized or accessible enough,” Chen said. The services are not accessible enough––it is not impossible to access mental health resources, but the process is often not an easy one.

Who do you call?

While researching mental health resources at Wash. U., we found it especially difficult to determine how to reach out for specific mental health needs, as different needs require different resources. The centralized location for information is Habif’s main mental health website. While links to other pages are organized on this website, some of the pages lead to confusing information.

The menu option “Assisting a Student in Distress” leads to a “Suicide Prevention Training” program, which lists some “warning signs” of mental health issues, such as being “too busy studying or surfing the web.” This phrase demonstrates that mental health services may be out of touch with students today. An activity such as busily “surfing the web” is not necessarily a telling warning sign of mental health issues––we live in an era where it is common for people to spend most of their time online, especially in our current hybrid learning environment. This fundamental misunderstanding could be harmful when it comes to the ability of Wash. U. mental health services to connect with and understand the day-to-day lives of the average student.

While the mental health page mostly provides information about how a peer can step in to help students in distress, it does also instruct students to call campus police in immediate safety situations, to call the main Habif line for “non-life threatening” emergencies within business hours and to call a different number (314-935-6666) and press one for after-hours service.

The National Mental Health Service phone numbers are located in the menu option “n In Case of Mental Health Emergency and Crisis Response,” which can be helpful resources for students. Students also have the option of calling the after-hours number, which directs students to press one if Wash. U. Express Care––a student resource for “same-day virtual and in-person [medical] care”–– is closed. Wash. U. Express Care is helpful for instances that threaten safety within hours of operation, but they don’t have mental health assistance outside of psychiatry appointments, and in emergency situations, this is not the best option.

The problem with the page for students in distress is that it lists WUPD as the only immediate intervention option. There are many instances in which a student may need immediate mental health intervention that policing cannot help with––this is especially true in cases where bodily safety isn’t an immediate concern. Additionally, students who have not had good experiences with on-campus or off-campus police may be hesitant to reach out if that is their only option, creating a further barrier in receiving help.

With unreliable means of outreach, it can be discouraging for students to continue their search for mental health resources. Taking care of one’s mental health becomes increasingly important in college, so Habif resources should be easily accessible to all students.

The Infrastructure

For Neha George, the area that mental health services should focus on is “transparency.” This could be done by being clear and transparent about how many free appointments students get each semester. According to George, information about how many free appointments she would receive wasn’t provided to her in her initial consultation phone call, and she had to explicitly ask about pricing in that phone call in order to learn that information. George’s call for transparency also applies to the phone lines, business hours and student portal.

“When you’re filling out that initial form, it would be nice to have a little message that says, ‘If you’re having difficulty, this is our number, here are our hours, et cetera,’” George said.

George only had to wait one day for her consultation, which was “pretty standard.” After the consultation, she scheduled her appointment with a therapist for about two weeks out. As none of her needs were immediate or life-threatening, George didn’t mind the two-week wait.

For sophomore Sam Cohen, however, having to wait multiple weeks for an appointment was not an option. Last fall, with the combination of school, the pandemic and other factors, Cohen’s anxiety was returning at concerning rates. She was starting to have panic attacks again, something she hadn’t experienced in a long time. As someone who has had a therapist since the fourth grade, Cohen recognized her symptoms quickly and knew she needed to contact Habif.

The first appointment she scheduled got canceled last minute, as Habif had accidentally scheduled her appointment with a therapist that only talked to graduate students. But now, Cohen needed immediate assistance––she was having a panic attack. She called the after-hours Habif line for non-life threatening emergencies, which connected her to an on-call therapist.

Although she was able to meet with a therapist, for Cohen, the appointment felt like an “interrogation” rather than a helpful conversation. At the end of the appointment, Cohen learned that the soonest she could see the therapist again was in three weeks.

“At that moment in time, I knew I was going to have to start going back to therapy every week,” Cohen said. She decided to seek off-campus resources, something that she acknowledged she is privileged to have access to.

This wasn’t Cohen’s only interaction with mental health resources on campus. In January 2020, she contacted Habif, seeking a refill for her anxiety-related medications. After sending in her medical records and receiving no response, she called Habif again about a week later, when she learned that the person who was in charge of reading medical records was out sick.

“I was like, ‘You only have one singular person reading the medical records and organizing them?’” Cohen said. “It was very strange to me that one person was sick, so that halted their operation.”

From her experiences, Cohen attributes the setbacks and frustrations she faced to an overwhelmed staff.

“They need more than they have,” Cohen said.

Wash. U. currently has 11 therapists and five psychiatrists directly affiliated with the University. In addition, the University has partnered with Provident Behavioral Health as an extra mental health resource specifically for after-hours support. This locally operated business has an independent crisis response number, many different types of counseling and therapy and support groups. This is a step in the right direction, and it is a resource option that Habif and Wash. U. should more effectively communicate to students. With further implementation and accessibility, this resource could greatly benefit the student population.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted mental health resources across the globe. While Wash. U. has been similarly affected, the University has also made some efforts to accommodate the increased mental health needs on campus. Two additional therapists not directly affiliated with Wash. U. have been assisting with mental health services this semester.

However, despite the extra help from both Provident and the two additional therapists, mental health resources are still overwhelmed––students like Cohen have had to wait for two to three weeks to set up appointments. As Cohen pointed out, an overwhelmed staff isn’t something new to Habif.

“It’s a little sad that they [Habif mental health staff] couldn’t even keep up with people back in January before the pandemic happened,” Cohen said.

Looking on to the future

The lack of available mental health professionals had led to a lack of support for students, as is also seen in the campus’s immediate mental health intervention response. As of now, after hours support is limited and somewhat ambiguous. Calls to change the policing system at Wash. U. have involved the context of mental health emergency response, in which WUPD is the primary responder to any emergency, including mental health emergencies.

The University’s public safety report, released in February 2021, has acknowledged some of students’ concerns about WUPD being the only immediate intervention resource besides the Emergency Support Team (EST). The report recommended “new methods for triaging responding to non-traditional public safety concerns,” such as to “send resources that are appropriate to the incident, not just WUPD because they answer 24/7.”

EST is composed of Wash. U. students who are trained through their undergraduate experience to respond to on-campus emergencies, but they are still reached only through the WUPD phone number. While this leads to some diversity in the emergency response team, it still doesn’t give students the option to choose between who actually responds. The public safety report also acknowledged that this “creates barriers” for students whose interactions with police have not been positive.

If the public safety committee follows through with their suggestions, Wash. U. could be on track to successfully addressing these concerns, but acknowledgement is not action––the public safety committee must follow through by making concrete changes to how WUPD and EST operate. For example, allowing students to call EST without having to go through WUPD could create an opportunity for students needing immediate mental health intervention to confidently seek help. Despite steps in the right direction, the committee also recommended increasing funding to WUPD in order to add the mental health resources that they recommend. By adding funds to WUPD to complete this task, that response team would still be affiliated with WUPD, which goes against the goal of creating an environment where students feel safe and comfortable contacting emergency mental health services. This funding should instead be used to create a response team that is completely separate from WUPD––and could be called upon instead of WUPD––with professionals who are trained in mental health services and available 24/7. In order to ensure a distinction from WUPD, the response team could also become a part of Habif instead of being a completely independent service. Despite the problems with emergency response as well as with accessing resources in the first place, many students have been able to go through the process and access the resources they need. Wash. U. student Sage Vasconcellos-Merryman’s first semester of college didn’t start out ideally, so she decided to get in touch with Habif to discuss her options.

“Between not being on campus for physical classes, the time difference and my family environment, [it] was not good for me because I've had ongoing struggles with depression,” Vasconcellos-Merryman said.

Vasconcellos-Merryman decided to look into campus resources, and she determined that medical leave for the rest of this school year was the best option for her.

“I ended up almost failing my classes because I couldn’t keep up and I was feeling very, very depressed,” Vasconcellos-Merryman said. “Wash. U. resources were very helpful because they did reach out and solve the issue with me, and I really appreciate the level of understanding.”

While the bounds of medical leave are not just within Habif, she is still very pleased with the interactions she did have with the mental health services.

“I was able to talk to a couple counselors, and they were helpful in making my plan with me for the future and planning on a successful return to school in the fall,” Vasconcellos-Merryman said.

Each student will inevitably have a different experience with mental health resources than fellow classmates. Mental health circumstances, access to the services, level of help received and other factors are highly variable. But as long as there are students who are not getting all of the help they require, there remains room for improvement.

The efforts that Wash. U. has made to improve mental health resources on campus have not gone unnoticed. In comparison to other universities, Wash. U.’s mental health services are impressive. When it comes to psychiatry, Wash. U. is in the 63% of universities that provide that service. For therapy and mental health counseling, the average university only has one mental health counselor for every 1,737 students. According to fall 2019 numbers, Wash. U. has an undergraduate population of about 7,850 students, and with 11 therapists directly affiliated with Wash. U., there is about one therapist for every 700 students. Two additional therapists not affiliated with the University have been helping this semester, making the ratio about one therapist for every 600 students. These numbers are impressive: Wash. U. has been able to maintain a significantly higher student-to-therapist ratio than the “average” university.

However, having resources that are “above average” does not mean that the resources are necessarily enough. Available appointments are often weeks away, and students struggle to schedule appointments in the first place due to confusion involving phone calls, websites and other steps in the process. While some may be able to access appointments relatively quickly, wait times are variable and dependent on student demand for resources.

Long wait times may be outside of therapists’ control. COVID-19 has increased the demand for mental health resources, and there are only so many appointments that therapists can take. It is also the University’s responsibility to prioritize the mental health of its students. A commitment to mental health can be demonstrated by providing more funding to mental health services and hiring more mental health experts, ensuring that there are enough staff members to meet students’ needs.

Some students’ needs require expertise outside of Habif’s reach. In those cases, Wash. U. therapists are prepared to refer students to off-campus resources. However, not all Wash. U. students have the means to access resources off-campus that may require high payments and constant transportation. Not everything can be covered in-depth by Wash. U.’s services, but by expanding resources to as many areas as possible, Wash. U. can ensure that students who rely on Habif’s free and reduced-price appointments can get the help they need. Therapists should be aware of the range of students’ needs and should be able to recognize when someone might need a more immediate appointment. Something like a panic attack, as in Cohen’s story, should be given proper attention.

Even with a collective total of 13 therapists for the semester, mental health services seem to be spread too thin. There are long wait times for scheduling appointments, too few counselors and not enough mental health professionals available for immediate intervention. The attention to detail in online resources is not apparent, and if it was, every student would at least be aware of how to find help.

Problems with mental health resources are not due to a lack of care or thought, but there is an apparent disconnect between the availability of resources and the resources advertised. Resources become pointless if not adequately made available and advertised, especially in the field of mental health. Overall, students could benefit from more availability of therapists, distinguishing between WUPD and actual crisis intervention resources, a centralized website that is easy to navigate and a mental health program that is easily and consistently accessible. Students should feel confident and comfortable reaching out for help, and in the current state, that is not always the case.

Wash. U. already has a solid foundation when it comes to mental health resources. Looking forward, there is so much potential for improvements, and these changes can be made to the already existing system. Wash. U. has demonstrated that it is open to making improvements, and students’ concerns have been acknowledged. But listening to the demands of students only goes so far––what must come next is action.

Graphic by Christine Watridge

Isabella Neubauer | Senior Cadenza Editor & Copy Chief
Christine Watridge | Multimedia Editor

With library bookshelves untouched, offices still quiet and once-crowded lecture halls holding classes with reduced capacity, if at all, Washington University’s bustling walkways and social activities have been absent since March 2020, when students were sent home over spring break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than one year since the school was effectively shut down, members of the Wash. U. community reflected on how the global pandemic has affected them. From junior international student Urmi Mange to Sam Fox senior lecturer Becca Leffell Koren, the diversity of experiences and perspectives of both students and faculty present on campus reveals moments of uncertainty, isolation and strength. In addition to these stories, this piece includes quantitative and qualitative data about how COVID-19 has affected the University as a whole.

Urmi Mange

Urmi Mange is a junior Biology major from Mumbai, India. Mange discussed the challenges of being an international student away from home, as well as the stress of family members contracting COVID-19.

Student Life: What was it like for you as an international student when they kicked us all off campus last year?

Urmi Mange: It was definitely stressful in the way that it was for all other students. You know, all the anxiety about what this will look like, what should I do. I think the added layer to that as an international student was the decision of whether I should leave the country or not and what that would look like on my student visa. Because your student visa only allows you to take one online class, so when you switch to an entire online model, I was unsure what the government was going to do regarding its regulations and how they would change them for international students.

SL: You did end up finding a place, right?

UM: I was lucky. My sister lives in the United States, so I went to live with her.

SL: What was it like having family members that had COVID?

UM: It was pretty stressful when I came to know about it, because the family members were definitely older and at risk. I was lucky that they recovered and things were fine, but it was really difficult because I wasn’t with them. So just the distance, and not being able to do anything, that was the hardest part. Because you want to help, but there’s really nothing much you can do.

Matt Gabel

Professor Matt Gabel has been teaching Political Science at Wash. U. since 2006. Gabel revisited the experience of his daughter testing positive for COVID-19.

Matt Gabel: I have an 11-year-old daughter and two 13-year-old sons, and [my] daughter, because she’s in fifth grade, has been [going to school in-person] full-time, basically, since before Thanksgiving. Someone in her class—actually, we never knew—someone she had been in contact with at school had tested positive, and we got a call from the school saying that she had to quarantine and that she ought to get tested after 4 or 5 days. So I took her in to get tested after 4 or 5 days and she came back positive.

SL: Was her case serious? Is she ok?

MG: She’s fine, thanks for asking. She presented with barely a sore throat. The day I took her to the doctor, she was sucking on a throat lozenge most of the day, and that went away by the next day.

SL: That’s good.

MG: So she never had any serious symptoms, and then no one else in the house tested positive. We all got tested, but—and we certainly hadn’t secluded her in the house, so we were in regular contact—nobody got it.

SL: What was it like for you to have a family member that tested positive?

MG: It’s a little scary, whenever someone’s ill, and you know how ambiguous many of the symptoms are, so it’s kind of hard to know. If you feel pain anywhere, it could be progressing. We’ve had a very lucky year in that we get along, and it’s been nice to have everyone home. And so her being quarantined effectively quarantined all of us—and testing positive quarantined all of us. So it wasn’t scary in any of the ways you worry about. I think for her it was annoying because she couldn’t do anything, though.

Becca Leffel Koren

Becca Leffell Koren is a senior lecturer at Sam Fox, who is currently teaching Type in Action, Visual Principles for the Screen and Typography 1. Koren talked about the difficulty balancing her home and work life, and praised students for their dedication and hard work during these hardships.

SL: Are there any particular instances that stood out to you or things you wanted to talk about?

BLK: I’m very fortunate in that I don’t know anyone close to me—I mean I know a few people who have had COVID, but no one close to me has had it and I don’t know anyone who has been greatly ill with COVID, so I tell myself I’m very lucky in that sense. I think from a professional [standpoint] or as an educator, I think there are many layers to the challenges. Certainly my concern for my students’ well-being, and the added layer of the consideration that it takes to really think through how I’m structuring coursework and making sure that it’s manageable and feasible and that they feel supported, while also making sure that they are being challenged at the level that I think they need for their learning. And I think it’s always challenging as a professional to balance what’s going on in your personal life with your professional life, and I think COVID really heightened that, given the stress of having—my son was 10 months old when we went into lockdown, so I had a child at home and was teaching at the same time. And I don’t have any family, so not being able to be near family. My husband’s family lives overseas, so that’s even more complicated. So I think...everyone’s having a very layered experience, and the stress of a pandemic makes it harder for us to be as in control of where those edges meet or don’t meet.

SL: Yeah. How do you balance things like that? With the stress of the pandemic and your family and teaching and knowing that your students are trying to balance similar things as well?

BLK: To be honest, I don’t know if I’m doing a very good job. I spend a great deal more time on communication at every level, so I’m spending a very extensive amount of time on Canvas and on Slack trying to make myself available to students or trying to make information available to them in many ways. I think the emotional labor of thinking through how I structure every class meeting to balance, like, is this too much Zoom or is it okay? Are they getting the feedback they need but is this too much screen time? The amount of time that it takes to really consider and labor through each of those questions and always—I won’t say agonizing, but really thinking about it extensively after the fact as well takes up a great amount of emotional space in my life.

SL: Do you think that’s gotten easier over the past year or you’ve been able to adjust to it?

BLK: I don’t think it’s gotten easier, because I think each semester has brought a new kind of reality for everyone. In the spring, it was like ‘Oh, we just need to get through this.’ And then in the fall, it felt like ‘We’re all in this together. It sucks, but let’s kind of go through it.’ And now, it’s kind of like, ‘Okay, the grind continues. This is our life for the next little while.’ And in a way that makes things easier because certain things feel more fluid, but in terms of, again, the thinking, the consideration, the cyclicality of really evaluating “Am I doing the right thing?” on a daily basis, that does not take up any less of my time.

SL: Is there anything you’d say you’ve learned from the pandemic or that the pandemic has made you realize?

BLK: I’ve always thought that our students are amazing, but as hard as it is...it’s so incredible to see…[how] they still show up, they are making things work. They are moving through this really bravely, and that’s something that’s been amazing to see, though I wouldn’t call it a new discovery, because I’ve always felt really positively about the students at Wash. U. and how smart and thoughtful and adaptable they are.

Rachel Pozin

Junior Rachel Pozin is an Accounting major from Atlanta, Georgia, who contracted COVID-19 in late December and volunteers at a vaccination clinic.

SL: You had COVID, right? What was that like?

Rachel Pozin: It was a really bad cold for a few days, I couldn’t really move, I was just lying in my bed. I was very dizzy and nauseous. And then it got better almost immediately, it was three really bad days and then I was totally fine. But I couldn’t taste or smell for several weeks after. My taste came back first; I could taste to the extent that I could without smell. I just played a lot of online Catan, bought some jeans, called some friends, watched some TV.

SL: You volunteer at that vaccination clinic. What’s that been like?

RP: It’s been good. Once a week, my roommate Breanna and I will drive out to one of the locations, so there’s one at Clayton Hospital which is close, but then there’s also locations in Ellisville and a Christian hospital, which are both like 25 minutes away. Each shift is five hours, so we’ll go out there 7-12 on a Saturday. We’ll do non-clinical stuff, because we’re not nurses, so we’ll give people directions and walk them, physically walk them from the waiting room to the vaccine station to the observation area. We’ll make sure they have their second appointment. I like being helpful, so it’s nice.

SL: What’s it been like as a student trying to be safe knowing you’ve already had COVID and are vaccinated, but that other people haven’t [and aren’t]?

RP: There’s just cognitive dissonance where I just want to be like, ‘Go crazy, go stupid, nothing can affect me anymore.’ But I know that’s an unfair position to put other people in, so I don’t. There’s this norm going around where it’s like ‘Don’t worry, I’m vaccinated,’ type of thing. And it’s just so weird that that’s a normal thing to say this year. It’s like, ‘Hey, can I come over? Hey, want to go out to dinner? Don’t worry, I’m vaccinated.’ And I’m like, it definitely changes the game or makes you feel better for doing said activity, but it’s just weird that that’s the norm now.

SL: Anything else?

RP: I miss the gym. I really miss the gym.

Matthew Friedman | Associate Editor

In 1976, 13 Black students quit the Washington University football team. They alleged incompetence on the coaching staff, from favoritism for certain players to rampant miscommunication. One player told Student Life that fall that the favoritism was racially motivated.

The next year, the athletic department hired Ken Henderson as an assistant coach for the football team. Henderson was a Black man, and his hiring presented an opportunity for change. The son of former St. Louis County NAACP president and St. Louis American sports editor Morris Henderson, he was a break from the long string of white men who had led the Bears. "That's all in the past," Henderson said of the 1976 trouble in a fall 1977 Student Life interview.

Ken Henderson

Courtesy of Student Life archives

Ken Henderson, the Bears football coach from 1980-1982. Henderson took over the team with high expectations before leading the team to three straight 2-7 seasons.

Three years later, in 1980, Henderson was no longer just an assistant. He was leading the Bears as their head coach, having beaten out a field of 80 coaching candidates. He did not think that race played a role in his hiring and said it would not affect his job. “Race is going to be looked at by society, but it won’t mean a thing on the football field,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “There I’ll be judged by my ability to coach or recruit. To perform.”

For three years, Henderson's football teams struggled to perform and after three straight 2-7 seasons, he resigned. John Schael, the athletic director from 1978-2014, can count on one hand the number of head coaches of color hired during his time. And in 2021, 41 years after Henderson's promotion to head coach, every head coach in the Washington University athletic department is white.

The causes of that homogeneity are multi-faceted and they have changed over time. The overt racism and exclusion of segregated athletics in 1953, when Wash. U. athletics first integrated, morphed into a "color-blind" approach that characterized the late 20th century. Now, that has given way to a desire for diversity that is hampered by the lasting effects of systemic barriers.

Particularly in the months since the death of George Floyd renewed a nationwide reckoning on the role of race in America, many Wash. U. student-athletes have continued to shine spotlights on the department’s lack of diversity. But work to change the system takes time, and despite a healthy relationship between the current athletic administration and student-athletes calling for reform, progress has been slow.

The problem is not unique to Wash. U., both in the historical and the present-day sense. The University’s lack of head coaches of color mirrors trends across Division III, as well as collegiate and professional athletics generally. “It runs parallel to [the] NFL and some of those higher divisions—not just professional—we’ve got a little bit of a leaky pipeline,” Director of Athletics Anthony Azama said. According to NCAA data from the 2015-2016 season, just 8% of Division III coaches were people of color, even though student-athletes of color are nearly 24% of all student-athletes.

Amidst those wide disparities, small signs of momentum provide glimpses of optimism. “I think the conversations are happening, and that was probably not the case in 1992,” said Tim Farrell, the sports information director for the University Athletic Association, the Bears’ main conference.

But diversifying the head coaches—and the athletic department as a whole—is nevertheless an uphill battle. In the words of Joe Worlund, who worked in the athletic department from 1982-2014, “It’s easier said than done.”

‘He knew what he was looking for’: The hiring process under John Schael

In interviews with Student Life, Schael said there was no bias in Washington University’s recruitment of head coaches or other members of the athletic department, and said that external factors were what contributed to the lack of diversity. Applicants’ race, Schael said, was not something the department discussed. In his view, the department was simply searching for the best person for the job. For Schael and others leading the department, race did not factor into that equation.

John Schael

Courtesy of The Source

John Schael, the Washington University athletic director from 1978-2014, celebrates with members of the baseball team. Schael can count on one hand the number of coaches of color hired during his time.

Like Henderson, the University’s next head coach of color, Ted Gibbons, was also hired from within the department’s staff. Gibbons, a Black man, had started at Wash. U. as an assistant for football coach Fred Remmy, who replaced Henderson in 1983. “He really related well with the students and connected [with them] just super—he’s one of the best at that,” Schael remembered. So when an open position with the track and field team opened up and Schael heard that Gibbons was interested, it was “a no-brainer.”

Gibbons led the men’s track and field team from 1985-1992, collecting eight consecutive indoor and outdoor UAA titles. In an interview with the Washington University Record in 1995, then-senior Antone Meaux, a long-jumper, recalled how the coach had always pushed him to work harder. “Coach Gibbons always told us to be a champion on championship day,” Meaux said. Gibbons left the University in 1992 to serve as an associate head coach at the Division I University of Connecticut track and field program. He stayed there for 19 years before retiring in 2011, leaving “a void in the program,” according to the Hartford Courant.

Gibbons was not the only coach of color to lead the University's track and field program. Schael also remembered that Frances Bailey, a Black woman, led the women's outdoor team as a part-time head coach in the 1978-1979 season.

Another head coach, Ty Keough, led the men's soccer team from 1987 to 1997 before leaving to pursue a career in sports broadcasting. Keough's father was the famed soccer coach Harry Keough, who coached Saint Louis University to five Division I championships, and his mother was Mexican. "He was a four-time All American and a four-time Academic All American," Schael said. "It doesn't get any better than that."

Leticia Pineda-Boutté, the head coach of the softball team from 2006-2016, is the University's most recent head coach of color. A prolific catcher, first baseman and third baseman at the University of Arizona in the 1990s, she had coached mostly at Division I programs Creighton University and Purdue University before coming to Wash. U.

After submitting her application for the open softball head coach position, Pineda-Boutté, who is Hispanic, got a call from Schael inviting her to an interview. But that interview was not a typical conference-room scenario. Pineda-Boutté was still in the midst of recruiting players at Purdue, so she regularly traveled across the country. Schael met Pineda-Boutté outside the hotel in Colorado where she was staying on a recruiting trip. On a bench outside the hotel, the pair sat for hours. “I gather he was trying to get to know me a little better,” Pineda-Boutté said. “It was one of the most personable interviews and processes I had been through up until that point.”

She recalled how few people talked about her race when she came to the University. Despite standing out as a person of color in a predominantly white department, Pineda-Boutté quickly felt at home. “I didn’t even pay attention to that, because I felt so comfortable here,” she said. The people of the athletic department, from other coaches to administrators and staffers, made for a friendly environment. “It just felt very close-knit,” she said. “We were all genuinely interested about each other’s sports.”

Schael’s hiring process, Pineda-Boutté remembered, was what brought those people together. “There was a certain persona,” she said. “[Schael] was really good at that. He knew what he was looking for.”

Pineda-Boutté’s Division I background Wash. U. was somewhat unique among the other coaches Schael hired during his 36 years as the athletic director. “There was certainly an effort to hire people that were a fit for Washington University, whatever that means,” said Worlund, whose work in Schael’s athletic department included nearly 20 years as an Assistant Athletic Director and later Associate Athletic Director. He recalled a conscious effort to hire applicants with “Midwestern ties." In searches, the department looked for applicants who “fit in that St. Louis mode and understood Division III.”

There were times when people of color would apply, but they were rare. “Whenever a candidate came available in a pool, [that] stood out,” Worlund said, “and we were aware of that, making sure we did our due diligence on seeing if the person was qualified and interested and interviewed well.”

Part of the problem was that there just were not that many head coaching positions. "Wash. U. is a destination place," said T.J. Shelton, who started as an assistant facilities manager in 1992 and left the University in 2007 as Assistant Athletic Director for Facilities, Operations and Capital Projects. Many of Schael's early hires, such as men's basketball coach Mark Edwards and football coach Larry Kindbom, stuck around for decades, so there was not too much turnover in the department.

Another aspect of the lack of diversity was that student-athletes themselves—more white in general than they are now—were also less focused racial representation than they are today. For Cheryl Henderson, a Black woman who played for the women's soccer team in the early 1990s, the lack of representation did not feel too salient. As the only Black player on the team, she did not have any expectations of diversity coming in to Wash. U., and there was little student-athlete activism while she was at the University. Henderson stressed the importance of quality. “I would rather have a great white coach than a mediocre or a so-so or a not good Black coach," she said, noting that the hiring process should expand to reach more diverse people but emphasizing that quality should not be compromised.

For each open position, Schael would assign two or three members of the athletic administration to select candidates for interviews based on their resumes. Each administrator read through the dozens of applications on their own before making a list of “A” and “B” candidates, which they then compared to develop a combined list of top choices.

The definition of the search criteria often contributed to applicant pools for head coaching positions that were extremely—if not entirely—white. While the department did not track applicants’ race, Schael’s rough estimate was that 99% of the people the department interviewed for open head coaching positions were white. In interviews with Student Life, he attributed much of that disparity to lack of interest among potential applicants of color. “To be honest with you, there were not that many people that seemed to be interested in a Division III position,” Schael said. “A lot of the Black coaches were in the Division I level at that time, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and they had wonderful opportunities and wonderful jobs. They didn’t want to give those up and come to a Division III institution that didn’t have athletic scholarships and where academics was key.”

That perceived lack of interest maintained the impression for many in the administration that there were not enough qualified candidates of color. “Part of the problem is that there are no applicants,” Worlund said. “You can’t diversify the applicant pool if they are not there.”

‘I’m not a big fan of ‘good old boys’ and cliques’: Reducing the systemic barriers to more diverse head coaches

Yet a crucial part of conversations surrounding head coach diversity also deals with who is hearing about open positions in the first place. Under Schael’s leadership, most hiring notices went out on the NCAA marketplace, as well as in bulletins to coaching associations and through mailers to colleges across the country.

Worlund said that aspect of the process—relying mainly on traditional sources of disseminating application information—was one thing he would change. “The majority of places those things are going to are continuing the system in the same way,” he said. “There has to be a way to do a better job of reaching a minority applicant pool.”

Senior Caira Watson-Haynes, a member of the current Wash. U. track and field team and a co-president of the Washington University Black Letterwinning Athletes Coalition (WU BLAC), a main voice of student-athlete advocacy, said that Schael’s main search criteria may have limited applicant diversity as well. Watson-Haynes observed how “Midwest ties” could have served as an implicit stand-in for whiteness. “Yes, you do have these major, diverse cities in the Midwest, but a lot of times I feel that ‘Midwest’ is often tied to being white, and the same is true for DIII institutions—they’re not very diverse schools,” she said. “So by tailoring your skills to those two things, it’s no surprise that your application pool would be 99% white, which I think is very, very high.”

According to Worlund, a better way of reaching a minority applicant pool never made itself clear or “obvious” to Schael’s athletic department. Now, though, for the current athletic department, it does not need to be obvious: administrators are more active about diversity and recruiting throughout many networks. Reaching a broader pool of applicants is a top priority in a way it was not under Schael.

For Senior Associate Athletic Director Summer Hutcheson, the administrator who leads those efforts, the process is not a quick or simple one. Whereas in the past the department may have waited for solutions to questions of candidate diversity to present themselves, now the administration is much more proactive. “You have to be laying the groundwork years in advance,” Hutcheson said. “There are some spaces in college athletics that don’t have a lot of diversity, but it’s on us then to build that, to build those pools of diversity and to help people get the experience that they need.”

That shift manifests itself in many ways. In some cases, it means that the department has expanded searches beyond candidates who typically would have been considered. Hutcheson used the example of the department’s recent search for an assistant athletic trainer. The search committee decided on Jackee Hill, whose prior experience was on the high school level. “Because she wasn’t in the college setting, she may have been overlooked at other times,” Hutcheson said, “but we knew that we wanted her and that was the best route to go.”

Azama's presence as the athletic director also plays an important role. A Black man, the University hired him in 2017, and he has since spent much of his time building connections and networks across the country, especially outside of traditional arenas. For example, he is a part of Minority Opportunities Athletic Association (MOAA), a branch of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics that focuses on support for minorities in athletics. “I’m not a big fan of ‘good old boys’ and cliques,” Azama said. “I’m more so into conversations throughout and prior to the process, interactions and really making personal contacts, not just with my peers, other athletic directors, but also up-and-coming coaches, because I do think that’s better than a list.”

According to Shelton, who now works as a senior associate athletic director at Ohio State University, there has been a substantial shift across Division III since he came to Wash. U. in the 1990s. "Coaches are seeing that these are quality jobs," he said, "and there are more minority coaches who see a Division III program as an opportunity." Not only have Division III athletic departments begun to expand their networks, but their reputations have started to precede them.

More active incorporation of diversity into staffing decisions also means that the administration keeps an attentive eye on the hiring process. During recent searches for new staffers, the department took a careful, intentional approach, said senior Eka Jose, a member of the track and field team and a co-president WU BLAC. The department has occasionally paused searches to expand the applicant pool, telling those involved that they were “trying to advertise the job posting as widely as possible so that different demographics could be reached,” Jose said. “For the most part, it was like ‘We’re still working on getting applicants because the pool isn’t as diverse as we want right now.’”

In the sense that Wash. U. athletic administrators keep looking for people who will succeed in a Division III environment that prioritizes academics alongside athletics, the department still looks for candidates who will be a good fit for the University. But the understanding of what it means to be a good “fit” has changed, and leadership is not as fond of the word as they once were. “I think the things that you’re looking for are common traits that align with our values, but not in the sense of ‘I’m looking for a fit,’” Azama said. "I'm not a fan of that word. I'm looking for somebody that can bring value to our organization and make us better."

Hutcheson still referred to “fit,” but she said that its meaning now is different than it was in past decades. “We still continue to talk about a good fit for Wash. U. and what it means to be a part of the Bear family,” she said. “Maybe knowing what we know from our student-athletes about their desire to see the staff reflect their diversity and to see people who have a different perspective in our roles—I think that’s what we’re looking for when we’re looking for someone who is a good fit for Wash. U.”

‘An adult looking out for you’: Why head coach diversity matters for WU student-athletes

Ever since WU BLAC’s inception last summer as an organization intended to support Wash. U.’s Black student-athletes, members have made calls for more racial diversity and better representation in the athletic department a central facet of their advocacy. In press releases, conversations with the administration and interviews with Student Life, members have expressed the importance of having people of color in leadership positions. “The staff is a reflection of the department’s values, and for that to align with the formal value of inclusion that the department embraces, there must be greater representation beginning at the highest level,” the organization wrote in its initial statement in August.

In that statement, WU BLAC reported that people of color made up just 12% of the athletic department staff, even as the Wash. U. student body is more than half non-white. “It’s an obvious inadequacy,” men’s basketball junior Kameron Mack, the WU BLAC vice president of operations, told Student Life last fall. “What that does is more so in thought and in theory because it makes you feel undervalued and it doesn’t create a space where you feel as though you belong.”

Head coach diversity is, of course, not the be-all and end-all. The presence of other people of color in the athletic administration or as assistant coaches makes a difference for student-athletes who might otherwise feel isolated, excluded or as if their voices are not valued or heard. “I do think that the assistant coach—that first assistant coach—is as valuable as a head coach in a lot of situations,” said Sonja Ewing, a Black woman who played for the women’s basketball team in the 1990s. Ewing observed that head coaches are sometimes quite busy or intimidating, and that assistant coaches often provide significant emotional support, particularly to underclassmen. “To have a staff member or a coach or a faculty member of color a lot of times meant that you had someone else who was an adult looking out for you,” she said.

Yet hiring a person of color as a head coach specifically does make a difference. “Having somebody at the top there, that gets your upbringing, at least in a sense, is just a reassuring feeling that allows athletes to better voice their opinions and feel more comfortable,” said A.J. Forbes, a graduate assistant at The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. Whether it be in the way that a coach builds inclusion or how they encourage students to become involved in advocacy, “having that person there that fosters an environment where those athletes have a voice and are more than just football players and property and disposable items, for lack of better words, is just far better for the upbringing and long-term mental and physical health of student-athletes as a whole.”

Watson-Haynes said that having more people of color in head coach positions would reduce the burden many student-athletes of color experience, where they are expected to advocate for themselves and others beyond the day-to-day aspects of being on a team. “By having this coach and someone in power,” she said, “they can be our advocate and help speak up for us where it doesn’t just always fall on the student-athletes.”

Azama and Hutcheson recognize the power of coaches, administrators and staffers of color, and they know although the work takes time, the status quo is insufficient. Toward the end of an interview, Azama responded to a hypothetical: What happens if another ten years go by, the department has hired five new head coaches and all of them are white? “I’m not a good fortune teller,” he said, “and we will always go after the best candidate, but I think that would be surprising if they were all of a certain race.”

Merry Ma

Courtesy of Merry Ma

Merry Ma (above) credits the support of the WU community with helping her to overcome her early struggles with the English language.

Anirudh Kesanapally | Staff Writer

For many Washington University students, St. Louis is just a handful of states away from home. For the 21% of students on campus who are international, however, moving to the University is their “Coming to America” moment, dealing with the challenges of a new culture, and for some, a new language.

But the international student experience at Wash. U., explains English Language Programs Manager Haley Dolosic explained, is not uniform.

“Some have been using English Daily for years before they arrive and they talk to me,” she said. “But others are putting their linguistic knowledge into practical use for literally the first time.”

The list goes on. Some join majors where everyone is from the United States. Others join graduate programs that, Dolosic approximates, are 90% international students. Some learn English through sessions at The Writing Center or practicing presentations and researching papers with the English Language Programs. Others learn by playing countless pick-up basketball games in the recreation center or watching YouTube videos that go over rules of the English language.

“They’re using online resources, they’re using their classmates and they’re using the English skill development skill resources that we offer to them,” Dolosic said. “And we find that each student is developing their own path to success and so we try to help them get the resource they need to meet whatever needs their facing.”

Three of those students are Billy Cyusa, Merry Ma and Bruce Wu––all members of the University community. Cyusa lived in Rwanda and Wu and Ma both resided in China before moving to St. Louis. Here are three of their stories, encapsulating what it feels like to be an English as a Second Language (ESL) student at Washington University. Here are their stories.

‘I was fearful of being judged’

Billy Cyusa was born and raised in Rwanda, a country located at the crossroads of Eastern Africa. A member of the Class of 2020, Cyusa made his move to Washington University in fall of 2016. Cyusa is fluent in three languages, French, Kinyarwanda, and English, the latter of which came late in his learning experience. In his 8th grade equivalent, the education system switched most of its courses to English, and looking back, that was his first exposure to English in an academic setting.

“The switch was an opportunity to push me to learn English as well. My family and community communicated in Kinyarwanda and French, but as my interests, entertainment, and even academics became more English, my familiarity with the language increased.”

Cyusa was pretty advanced in the language when he came to St. Louis. In order to pursue an abroad education, he joined a program called Bridge to Rwanda that helped him take his SATs and improve his English skills. The confidence, however, was of concern; he experienced a language adjustment period that not many fellow University peers can attest to.

As a systems engineering major, Cyusa experienced a workload that is driven less towards expression and the English language. The STEM-nature of his major made Cyusa feel like he belonged––English did not prevent him from pursuing his academic passions. It was still challenging, however, for him to participate in those passions during his freshman and sophomore years.

“For my first two years, I was uncomfortable speaking in class and giving presentations,” Cyusa said. “I was fearful of being judged or blacking out on words. The mental aspect of judgment and feeling difference was rough.”

His solution to this dilemma was quite a simple one: putting himself out there. Whether it was playing basketball with other students or talking more with his roommate, the barrier he experienced seemed to be less and less daunting the more involved Cyusa became.

“When I began to engage in conversations with more people and saw how people received me, [it] made me more comfortable and confident in adapting to the language,” he said. “I had to know it was just in my head.”

As an international student, Cyusa also sought to tackle homesickness by joining the African Student Association. “Outside of science, having this resource early on gave me another sense of belonging,” Cyusa said. “Friends I was figuring out, and language I was building my confidence in, but the timely nature of events helped introduce [me] more to the African culture at Wash. U.”

‘The Wash. U. community is very supportive’

Merry Ma is a current junior in the College of Arts and Science majoring in philosophy-neuroscience-psychology. Ma hails from an incredibly international city in mainland China: Shanghai. Similar to Wu, she had to take TOEFL and pushed herself to practice grammar, pronunciations and other facets of the language. Her primary and secondary education was not centered around English, and she still remembers just how difficult the language was to review and learn on her own.

“One time I saw the word ‘supermarket’ in a kids book and became disappointed in myself because I could not pronounce it. It was an iconic moment for me, motivating me to learn the language. It was difficult but I spent hours after school practicing.”

When she moved onto the South 40, she experienced a slight culture shock. Although she attended a summer camp in Texas, Ma was not expecting just how crucial colloquial expressions were to hold a casual conversation. Her Texas-sized introduction did not exactly make Ma feel completely ready for the University experience. She was not used to joking around, talking philosophy and presenting herself all in English.

“I still could not really express myself here, but the Wash. U. community is very supportive and everyone listened to and encouraged me to speak even with my broken English,” Ma said.

Although she did not have the confidence to raise her hand and answer questions during class, going through the fundamentals of putting herself out there helped her build the confidence needed to call the University her home.

“My dialogue was delayed because I had to realize that I should not worry about my accent,” she said. “Having close friends who would help me practice English was also amazing. It took me a while to understand the jokes and possess logical connectivity, but it got better because I was in a safe environment!”

‘Like many international students, I went through the process of figuring out the fundamentals’

Bruce Wu graduated from Washington University in 2020 as a graduate student. He hails from a “small” city in China, a locale that is not exactly considered a tourist destination, and did not have a true familiarity with English until he began pursuing graduate studies internationally. For him, American culture was more or less Hollywood. During the going abroad process, Wu learned the language enough to score well on the GRE and TOEFL examinations, but still faced the culture shock of moving to St. Louis.

“I could not even order anything in Starbucks outside of iced lattes,” Wu said. “Like many international students, I went through the process of figuring out the fundamentals. Youtube and practice taught me the basics to even order food.”

Academically, those fundamentals were also a challenge, even though Wu was pursuing an education in computer science.

“Computer science is computer science, whether it is Chinese or American. Learning it, however, required me to take an intermediary step. I could not just process and synthesis information. I could not just ask questions. I could not just participate. Things moved too fast.”

When asked about his social life, Wu replied, “I could not understand jokes without making the situation awkward. A person can only repeat themselves so many times, and I don’t want to embarrass people and not fit in. I feel like many international students were similar to me. It is so easy to give up and stay in the same circles and just only touch the American culture.”

Similar to Cyusa, Wu had to build up his confidence to adapt to the new challenges of an American education.

“I had to utilize a lot of resources for the language,” he said. “Participating in an English language course my first semester and joining mentorship programs to partner and speak the language was very helpful. At the same time, I went to office hours to ask those questions I could not in class.”

In a unique manner, Wu figured out the culture through sports and entertainment, especially tuning into hip hop and watching a lot of “Modern Family” whenever he had the time. As an avid basketball player, Wu also found solace on the court, mostly due to the verbal altercations he would be involved in.

“Trash talking on the court was an intermediate for me. Sports is like a universal language in its own way, and trash talking was a great way to make friends and talk with people.”

Sabrina Spence | Senior Cadenza Editor

I have never considered myself to be disabled, although I know that is technically what I am. When I was nine, I was diagnosed with stage three rhabdomyosarcoma. As a result of the treatment that I received at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, I was declared hard of hearing at fourteen with sensorineural hearing loss (damage to the inner ear), four years after I completed chemotherapy and radiation. I was not born with a disability, but the act of saving my life gave me one.

I remember my first hearing aid. It was blue, because I wanted to feel like I was still young, like I wasn’t a geriatric masquerading in a teenager’s body. At that point in time I was a freshman in high school, and my hearing loss was a result of cochlear damage in my right ear caused by the 36 radiation treatments I had received. I struggled with higher frequency sounds and distance from speakers. The farther away I was in a classroom, the less likely I was to hear the person speaking. I was offered a variety of hearing aids, some that would enable me to hear on my own without involving others and some that would require my teachers to wear a microphone that would interact directly with my hearing aid. I declined the latter option because if I was going to live with this for the rest of my life, I didn’t need to rely on someone else to make my life livable. I chose the smallest hearing aid I could. When I got my hearing aid, everything changed. I could hear sounds I didn’t know I’d been missing out on—side conversations were no longer private to my ears. I came to understand how loud the world actually was. I could hear my peers and my teachers. I felt normal.

Fast forward two years to my junior year of high school. I thought my hearing aid needed to be serviced, so I scheduled an appointment with my audiologist. My hearing aid did not need to be serviced, it needed to be replaced and I would be given two. My hearing had deteriorated. No longer did I suffer from cochlear damage, but the damage had progressed to the nerve and my right ear was declared medically non-functional. Simply put, I am only capable of hearing 17% of the words and sounds spoken in the direction of my right side without some sort of hearing device. When I hear, I don’t hear everything, so I have to fill in the gaps with context clues and educated guesses. The way my audiologist explained it to me, if someone said the word “car,” I might hear something completely different; I could hear the word “apple.” Basically, if I had to rely on my right ear alone, I would not be able to survive.

Gone was my blue hearing aid, and it was replaced with an entirely new system. I was given a cross system (this time I chose burgundy), meaning I had a microphone in my right ear and a hearing aid in my left, because my left ear is perfectly fine. All sounds on my right side are heard in my left ear. There was an adjustment period as I got used to being unable to locate someone’s voice as I walked down the hall, as I was plagued with headache after headache as my brain adjusted to the new way of hearing and interacting with the world.

When I came to college, I soon realized that my hearing wasn’t something that everyone knew about. Coming from the all-girls private school that I called home for twelve years, everyone knew my medical history; everyone knew that I was hard of hearing—my teachers, administrators and classmates all rallied around me and helped me adjust to my new reality. They knew me and they knew my story. Washington University in St. Louis did not, and while I wasn’t ashamed to share it, I didn’t feel a need to. Throughout every medical hurdle I have faced, I have always been self-sufficient. I have always decided that I was going to brave whatever circumstance alone because I would have to live with it on my own within the confines of my body. As I journeyed to college, people advised me to seek out disability resources to help me adjust, but I didn’t want to. I knew how to handle myself. I would sit in the front of my classrooms so I could hear the professors and read their lips if necessary. Based on the classroom configurations, I would tell my classmates and professors if I needed help from them to hear. I had a plan.

In the first semester of my freshman year, I took Italian. I had taken Latin in high school, so I thought it would be an easy transition, but I didn’t realize that studying a language that no one speaks outside of The Vatican is different than studying one that is the language of an entire country. The subtle nuances of the Italian language were elements that I couldn’t hear. My professor spoke quickly and only in Italian during class and I struggled to keep up because I struggled to keep up in English, but English was my first language so there were ways around that. I realized that learning a second language that wasn’t categorized as “dead” was off the table for me, and even more so around November of that year. In November of 2018, I lost one of my hearing aids somewhere between Olin Library and Cupples I. Without one the other would not work. I retraced my steps for hours, but to no avail. The little red device was nowhere to be found. From the beginning of November until I was able to get an appointment back home, I angled myself to the left to make up for the fact that I was walking around campus and going through my classes in a haze of garbled sounds. Every time I went to Italian I had a panic attack because I knew I wouldn’t be able to hear a single thing, and while our classroom configuration put us in a semicircle so I was always in the front, it didn’t matter. Without my other hearing aid, it was like I was at square one. I didn’t ask for help because once again, I felt that my hearing was a solitary journey and asking for assistance would make me less of a person. I didn’t like the idea of being helpless, and I still don’t.

The new hearing aids that I got from St. Jude after I lost my red ones were white and rechargeable. They are the ones that I currently wear and are the last pair that St. Jude would provide for me. Considering they caused my hearing loss, they took accountability and provided me with my hearing aids until I no longer became an active patient receiving follow-up care and transitioned into the role of a patient-survivor and only came back to participate in research studies.

My new hearing aids came with a charging case and a charging pack so I could carry them around if necessary. Gone was the need to buy batteries in bulk and excuse myself from class to go change my batteries or test the battery power during lectures to make sure I could make it through the day or the week. My hearing journey became less of a spectacle with the rechargeable hearing aids, and I was grateful for the slight anonymity that they provided me. Despite the few hiccups, being hard of hearing in the classroom was something that I had mastered, but being hard of hearing in a virtual learning environment was a hurdle I never thought I’d have to face. When the University sent everyone home in March of 2020 because of COVID-19, I didn’t realize how difficult learning at home with a disability would be. Sitting in front of a screen and trying to hear my professors and my classmates speak through connectivity issues was a new challenge that I hadn’t anticipated. I thought it would be no different than watching a movie on my laptop or recorded lectures; I was wrong. When someone is teaching in real time, you can’t rewind an infinite number of times to make sure you caught every word, and asking them to repeat themselves when you’re sure everyone else was able to hear them would be distracting and take up valuable class time. I didn’t want to be that person, and I still don’t. The transition to virtual schooling was an adjustment for everyone, as academia worked through the technical difficulties of Zoom and professors who never used Canvas came to rely on it more than they ever thought they would. If I said something, I would feel bad about adding my own struggles to their plates. They were redesigning courses and adjusting curricula in the middle of the semester—they didn’t need to deal with my inability to hear and understand them when I’d been living with this phenomena for years. The semester ended and I was grateful because I no longer felt like I was drowning in a sea of missed consonants and misunderstandings. I didn’t have to pretend like I was hearing everything when I wasn’t. I looked forward to the coming fall semester when I could get back in the classroom.

When Chancellor Martin emailed the student body and said that classes would be virtual once again, I was devastated, but I wasn’t going to tell anyone. I was afraid of the prospect of having to sit in front of my laptop and read people’s lips on screens and adjust for internet lags, trying to piece together what everyone was saying. But then it hit me—I needed subtitles. Closed captioning has become part of my life because otherwise I can’t watch TV or stream videos without missing crucial plot points. Subtitles were going to be the answer to my academic prayers, but it’s easier said than done.

Currently, I do not go to class with subtitles. Once I realized that I would have to ask my professors for subtitles or possibly request a notetaker, I buried the idea. I prepared for this school year over the summer by watching Crash Course videos without subtitles to see if I could keep up with the lessons. I was going to train myself to take up as little space as possible and to cause the least amount of inconvenience. While the initial struggle of virtual school is still there, I have trained myself to be able to learn and engage with my peers and professors without having to involve anyone but myself. Would I prefer to have subtitles for everything? Absolutely. But do I need them to get an education? No. Over the past six and a half years, I have never once asked for help to get my education. There have been times that I have decided that it would be too much and I felt like giving up, but I haven’t yet.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, roughly 15% of Americans over the age of eighteen have some difficulty hearing. When I was fourteen, I struggled to understand what it meant to become disabled in a way that I felt was reserved for someone who wasn’t me. What I knew about being hard of hearing came from commercials about elderly people losing their hearing and children who were born deaf and had cochlear implants. I wasn’t born without the ability to hear and I wasn’t old, so my place in this new world was a mystery to me. Was I an imposter because I didn’t start out that way, or did I belong? Now, at 21, I embrace my hearing and lack thereof. I am proud to be in that 15% of people who struggle to hear on a daily basis. I am teaching myself sign language in the event that I become completely deaf in my right ear and hearing aids no longer become an option for me. I have researched hearing devices for people like me with damage to the cochlea and the auditory nerve. I don’t know if my hearing will get worse because my doctors don’t know either, but I am prepared for whatever that means. I am prepared for new hearing aids if I need them, or something more drastic altogether. I am prepared, like I always have been, to do what needs to be done and I don’t care who knows.

Julia Robbins | News Editor

Washington University students are fighting back against the national rise in Anti-Asian hate that has spread across the country since the onset of the pandemic. Students are thinking of both short term ways to build community in the face of bigotry and long term plans to create a more culturally competent community.

Several key changes that many Asian students want to see at Washington University in the future include an increase in Asian American Studies courses, more Asian faculty and staff and disaggregated diversity data.

Students have also discussed the importance of breaking down the stereotype of the “model minority” and of pursuing intersectional advocacy for a slew of marginalized groups. While conversations surrounding Asian American advocacy have taken place to some extent for years, and especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the shooting in Atlanta has heightened the conversations happening on campus.

“I think since the Atlanta shooting there's been definitely more conversation and awareness in terms of learning about the Asian and Asian American experience,” sophomore Rachel Ding said. “I think it's really sad that it took a shooting for people to start bringing visibility and bringing awareness because there's a long legacy of anti-Asian legislation within America.”

Senior Jordan Hu said this area of study is often overlooked, which influences many people’s failure to recognize how deep seeded the discrimination against Asian Americans is.

“We're working with professors in the Asian American Studies Department to increase more professors in that department,” Ding said. Ding said she recommends that students look into taking classes in departments that go over Asian history, like the History, East Asian Studies and Jewish, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies departments.

Student Union President sophomore Ranen Miao said one reason why more Asian American Studies classes should be offered is to bolster Asian American pride.

“The ability to feel proud about our culture, to feel proud about our backgrounds, is something that I think is currently lacking and I really hope to be able to amplify that,” Miao said. “So that's what I hope these classes can bring.”

Part of what Ding hopes students can learn from taking more classes that discuss Asian history, or from looking into Asian cultural groups on campus, is an understanding that the Asian community is diverse and should not be thought of as a monolith.

Generalizing Asian and Asian Americans as all part of one model minority “ignores so many narratives and disparities within the Asian community,” Ding said. “Even in terms of educational attainment and income, there’s so many varying levels.”

One movement on campus with the goal of elevating the nuance in discussions about race on campus is the Disaggregate the Diaspora movement. This campaign is currently being led by the Association of Black Students (ABS), Association of Latin American Students (ALAS), Asian and Pacific Islanders Demanding Justice (APIDJ) and Queens, United, Elevated, Empowered, and Noteworthy Sisters (QUEENS).

The Disaggregate movement is urging the school to break down the statistics about race into more specific categories than the ones in place, so that the community can see where internal disparities lie within the student body.

A post on the @disaggregatewashu Instagram page states: “Wash. U. also does not consider “Asian American” as underrepresented, which ignores students from Asian ethnicities that are in fact underpreseptend in higher education (e.g. Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian, Bhutanese).”

“There are no visible issues, because they're not collecting data on it,” sophomore Muarice Wang said. “By collecting the data, Wash. U. will see the issues to solve.” For instance, Wang said prospective students should be able to see if people from their specific ethnic background are represented at the University to know if there is adequate support for people with their lived experiences.

Students also want the University to address mental health care for Asian students on campus.

Miao said that he hopes to see more cultural diversity represented among the mental health professionals hired at the University. He said it’s been helpful for him to have a person of color as his therapist at school.

“I think our identities, both being people of color, has been really helpful for me in being able to confide in her, and for us to be able to have shared understanding about our experiences in this world,” Miao said.

Wang also discussed room for growth among health care professionals on campus. “Like most things in science, a lot of things are designed for a white American audience,” Wang said, which makes it important for therapists on campus to go through more cultural competency training, he noted.

In addition to expanding the resources available to students, Miao also hopes that the conversation surrounding mental health care changes.

“I think a lot of Asian Americans, and Asian students in general are taught to repress mental health problems or to not talk about it,” Miao said. “I was personally taught to view not talking about mental illness as a strength, as a symbol of resilience, but I don't think that’s true, because we all go through things.”

Miao said people should work to destigmatize these conversations and hopes for the University to hold more conferences and events that bring attention to this stigma.

Several students also expressed the idea that advocacy for Asian American students should be intersectional if the movement wants to be as equitable and powerful as possible.

“When there is some kind of solidarity towards other groups and what they're facing, it helps everyone,” Hu said. “Most of us wouldn't be here if it weren't for the whole Civil Rights movement in the ‘60s, because they passed the Immigration Act that ended the racial quotas.”

“We owe our presence here to an intersectional movement,” Hu said.

Jaden Satenstein | Multimedia Editor

From 4 a.m. classes to social isolation, international students have been through a lot this year. In this special edition of Editor's Note, Senior Multimedia Editor Jaden Satenstein speaks with Washington University students about their experiences studying from outside of the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. This episode is part of WU in Focus, a special issue taking a closer look at the issues that matter to the University community. Theme music by Copy Chief JJ Coley.

This episode of Editor's Note can also be found on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.


JADEN SATENSTEIN (0:13-0:38) Junior Noor Ghanam sat in her home in Doha, Qatar early last summer feeling optimistic. After half a semester of 4 a.m. classes and canceled opportunities, Ghanam still held onto hope that she’d return to Washington University in the fall. But as she saw how the COVID-19 pandemic exploded across the United States, Ghanam and her family decided it would be best for her to stay home.

NOOR GHANAM (0:39-1:04) I remember just crying all the time. Especially at the smallest triggers. Like, one time Wash. U. posted a picture. I can't even remember what it was of, you know? Just Wash. U. Admissions, and it made me cry. Or, one time in the car the radio played one of the songs that they always play in [the Bear’s Den], and I just started crying. I just felt very far away from it.

JS (1:05-1:08) Still, Ghanam recognizes she made the right call.

NG (1:09-1:16) Seeing how the U.S. developed throughout the course of the pandemic, I can say it was the right decision, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a hard one.

JS (1:17-1:42) It’s a decision hundreds of Wash. U. students have had to make this past year. I’m Jaden Satenstein, and you’re listening to a special edition of Editor’s Note, highlighting the experiences of international students this past year. According to Martha Turner, Associate Director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, more than half of undergraduate international students are studying from overseas this year.

MARTHA TURNER (1:43-2:46) A number of students did not come to campus because, frankly, where they were in the world, it was a lot safer than in the United States. Others didn't return because they couldn't, and by that I mean, there are a number of countries, China being one, where the consulates are not open, and so you can't get a new visa if you need it. There's also some countries, China, Brazil, Iran, where you are required, if you leave from that country, to go to a third country for 14 days before entering the United States. Now that's true even now, when some of those countries, China, for example, it does not have a high level of the virus right now, but students still have to go 14 days to a third country before coming here.

JS (2:47-3:30) That low level of the virus has allowed student Alex Huang to live what he describes as a pretty normal life. Since returning to Beijing at the end of June, Huang has spent time with high school friends and traveled to different parts of China. Although he’s almost 7,000 miles away from St. Louis and 13 hours ahead of his peers in Missouri, Huang has been able to create a small Wash. U. community of his own. At the end of fall semester, Huang and other international peers successfully proposed that the University fund WeWork spaces in four Chinese cities, which would provide shared workspaces for Wash. U. students. Since it opened in February, Huang has served as the organizer of the Beijing WeWork space.

ALEX HUANG (3:31-4:07) My home has a very unstable WiFi network, so I come here for the good WiFi, and there's free coffee, too. It’s great if you can study with some of your friends, your classmates. There are maybe a dozen each day…people from different sectors of the Wash. U. community, and it's been great. There have been two or three occasions we have game nights. There's a lot of board games, switch, ping pong, foosball, so it's been nice.

JS (4:08-4:19) Still, Huang has struggled to feel connected to the larger Wash. U. community. While having all asynchronous classes has allowed him a normal sleep schedule, it’s also been pretty isolating.

AH (4:20-4:47) When you’re taking classes on recordings, you're not really feeling you’re part of the class. You're feeling more like you're taking a Coursera class. Not a good sense of participation…You don't get to know your professors, you don't get to know the classmates well. You don't get a good sense that you're having a class in a tight knit community, in the community of Wash. U. students.

JS (4:48-5:02) That lack of community was one of freshman Elizabeth Jeon’s biggest concerns going into this year. Back in September, Jeon spoke to Student Life about how she was preparing to spend her first year of college in her home in South Korea. Here’s what she said then.

ELIZABETH JEON (5:03-5:19) Your first year is supposed to be so exciting and you’re supposed to meet new friends and…This is like the stage where you’re meeting new people, but because I’m not going on campus I somewhat feel left out in a way.

JS (5:20-5:26) Now, seven months later, Jeon reflected on how this past year has compared to the expectations she described back in September.

EJ (5:27-6:12) I still definitely feel left out in some ways, because everyone I talked to who were older than me, they're always like, ‘Oh you guys are so unlucky. You're missing out on your first year, like having fun, making new friends.’ I do feel left out in some ways, but... it's not like I haven't been making new friends at the school, because there’s always online options. You can text people, Zoom people. And also, there are people in Korea who go to Wash. U., who are studying here, so I've made friends with them. It hasn’t been completely too bad, I guess is what I'm saying, but I definitely would have enjoyed being able to join clubs and meeting people in person.

JS (6:13-6:42) While some students are starting their college careers abroad like Jeon, others are ending them there. Now in her final semester at Wash. U., senior Tina Chen said she had little choice in the timing of her classes, as she needs to take specific courses to finish her requirements. That means doing two all-nighters per week from her home in Shanghai. Still, Chen’s found some silver linings to the year, like spending Lunar New Year with her family and traveling.

TINA CHEN (6:43-7:15) Because everything's moved online and I'm in China, I was able to kind of travel more and just explore interests that are outside of school. So, I guess when you're outside the U.S., it kind of feels like I'm not really connected with school anymore, in a way. So, I feel like there are two lives that I'm living. One is in the days when I'm trying to explore internships, hobbies and meet friends in China. And this other life that's during the night when I'm connecting with Wash. U.

JS (7:16-7:32) That experience of living two lives has become all too familiar for international students this year. Living in Singapore, junior Elaine Soh has found it difficult to grapple with all the tragic and disturbing news coming out of the United States.

ELAINE SOH (7:33-8:12) The news has definitely been kind of scary and discouraging to me. Mostly, because I almost feel like I'm leading a dual life. My life in Singapore is pretty cushy. Everything is being handled pretty well in terms of dealing with the pandemic, but then I'm kind of looking at the news and then looking at all the shootings that have happened, you know, the anti-Asian hate crimes, and it's kind of horrifying to me. And I think also, you know, during the time of the Capitol riots, that was also like something I was following closely, and so all of that, I think, cumulatively, was very worrying. JS (8:13-8:38) Still, Soh has tried to make the most out of the year. She’s currently taking the semester off from school to work. She spent the fall studying at Yale-NUS College near her home in Singapore. Soh told Student Life back in September that she chose to spend fall semester at Yale-NUS to have the in-person classroom experience she wanted out of her college education. Now, she says she got what she was looking for.

ES (8:39-9:07) I think, looking back, I'm really glad that I did the semester at Yale-NUS. All my classes, save for one, were in person. And they were all kind of smaller seminar-style classes, kind of similar to what we would have at Wash. U... I definitely think that at Yale-Nus that was something that I also got which I was very happy about. I think it really helped my learning process.

JS (9:08-9:17) Soh hopes she’ll get that in-person experience again in the fall, when she plans to return to the Wash. U. campus. According to Turner, she’s not alone.

MT (9:18-9:35) Everything I'm hearing from students is they really want to get here, and we're hopeful that the consulates will open up in the summer and that the 14-day requirement of some countries, when appropriate, will be lifted.

JS (9:36-10:00) Huang, however, won’t be back next year. He’s graduating this May after three years at Wash. U., but that wasn’t always his plan. While he said he’d thought about graduating early before the pandemic, it wasn’t until he experienced firsthand how the U.S. government treated international students this past year that he decided to finish his Wash. U. education in only three years.

AH (10:01-10:48) I was worrying about the relationship between the U.S. and China. So, if you follow international relations news, you know that it’s not going so well. I mean, at least during Trump, I wasn't excited about how they treat international students, and Trump was pushing to make immigration rules tighter, so I was worried about staying at school too long, that my like international student status may be influenced by U.S.-China relationships. I'm still worrying about that, which is why I’m sort of graduating faster, so I don't get caught in all that diplomatic trouble.

JS (10:49-11:22) Unlike Huang, Ghanam plans to move back to campus this summer, ahead of her senior fall. She’s had an exceptionally difficult year. While dealing with remote classes from Qatar, she’s also grieving her grandfather, who died of COVID-19 in November. He was in the hospital battling the virus for weeks, but since he lived in Jordan, Ghanam and her family were unable to say goodbye. Reflecting on all she’s been through this year, Ghanam said she’s proud of how resilient she’s become.

NG (11:23-11:53) Back before the pandemic, I used to fear literally everything, and now I think I fear very little, you know? And that's kind of a big transition, because fear used to be my middle name, you know, afraid was my middle name. But now there's very little that scares me, and I'm interested to see how I interact with the world after this. But this year has just dragged me and a lot of people through a lot and, you know, we'll see.

JS (11:55-12:14) This episode of Editor’s Note is part of WU in Focus, a special issue taking a closer look at the issues that matter to the Washington University community. You can find the full issue at studlife.com or at a campus newsstand near you. For Student Life Media, I’m Jaden Satenstein.