Siena’s Fall Semester Success Story

They say home is where the heart is, and for many of us, a piece of our hearts will always rest at Siena. Not only is Siena home because we live here, it’s home because this is where we pull all-nighters, meet our closest friends, travel abroad, overcome our fears, excel academically, laugh, cry, love, and explore. 

Our campus is green and gold by nature! Photo courtesy of Kiera Mitru.

While the Siena experience was uniquely altered this semester, many of us found joy in the small things like the colors of the leaves changing, the Siena Squirrels Instagram account, games of Among Us with friends, and informal check-ins with professors at the beginning of Zoom classes. To say the least, it’s been strange to experience the same place in such a drastically different way. While this semester was challenging, it allowed space for students and faculty alike to hold their memories of Siena a little bit closer, and inspired us all to continue setting goals in pursuit of a more “normal” future. 

One thing that was consistent among almost completely new policies was one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. Some days, after being cooped up on Zoom all day, there was nothing more comforting than navigating the place I have come to know like the back of my hand. During past semesters, I never really took the time to intentionally walk around campus, since my different obligations called me all over the place anyway. This semester, I jumped at every opportunity to eat or study outside, which helped me to develop a deeper appreciation for our campus and the beautiful backdrop that surrounds us. 

Nothing beats a Siena Sunset! Photo courtesy of Kiera Mitru.

Due to the unconventional structure of this past semester, many students had to organize alternative plans for their extracurricular activities. Some clubs met virtually, while others hosted speakers and panelists to campus via Zoom in order to ignite the educational flame on campus, and I’ve never seen it burn brighter. 

During the Fall of 2020 there have been some massive headlines, many of which have had to do with the recent presidential election. This year, students and faculty alike helped the Siena Community as they registered to vote and detailed an endless amount of voting plans. This community organization was enthusiastic and crucial to the civic engagement of our campus and alumni network. There were election town halls hosted by the Political Science Department, registration form and absentee ballot dropboxes throughout campus, and a ton of student activism both on and off social media. This excitement was contagious and encouraged Saints to cast (what was for many) their first vote in a presidential election.  

Outside of the classroom, the election and the pandemic combined provided a completely separate, but just as important learning opportunity for each of us. These global and political circumstances required an abundance of patience and listening to one another. This year has felt like it might never end, and as we round the final corner of the Fall semester, we’re greeted with the promise of a new year. While there is just as much uncertainty in the air as there was in August, our community is rising to the occasion as we carry forward the same optimism, respect, and care that we bring to each semester. As we set our sights on the next horizon, may we apply diligence, kindness, and healing to the goals we set today, and all the days to come.

Yet another Siena sunset over the tent-speckled quad. Photo courtesy of Kiera Mitru.

Writing, Fighting, and Striving for Justice

There are few things more electrifying than sitting in on a live poetry reading. One would think that sharing poetry in an online format would dull the experience, but that was not the case on the evening of October 14th, as Siena’s Latinx Student Association and the Damietta Cross-Cultural Center extended a virtual welcome to the Adios America team, Melania-Luisa Marte and Angélica Maria Aguilera.

The poetry duo hosted events for two nights in a row, each of them encouraging reflection and creativity. On Wednesday evening, the duo shared a powerful poetry reading performance and on Thursday evening, they organized an interactive poetry workshop for students and professors alike.

Through the medium of poetry, Angélica Maria and Melania-Luisa addressed themes of allyship, racial justice, microaggressions, the exoticization of women, and the necessity of decolonizing literature. One poem that was especially powerful had to do with rethinking the power and influence that modern literature has granted William Shakespeare. One of Angélica Maria Aguilera’s iconic lines was, “Methinks it’s time to flip the script, Shakespeare”. Looking at canonical literature through this lens, it is clear to see that there is a lack of representation in the work that is deemed “classic”. These works continue to be required readings for many literature and writing courses however, with all due respect, they don’t hold a candle to topics that are important to explore and discuss in the year 2020.

The poetry duo, Melania-Luisa Marte (Left) and Angélica Maria Aguilera (Right) are currently on a performance tour entitled “Adios America” on which they share poetry and insight into the work of intersectional feminism, anti-racism, and advocacy for justice. Photo courtesy of themujerista.com.

During Thursday night’s event, Angélica Maria and Melania-Luisa addressed topics including common microaggressions, how rest is a form of resistance, and guided their virtual audience through a series of writing prompts centering around identity. Participants started a conversation about beauty politics, anti-racism work both on and off campus, exotification, racialization, and their personal experiences either witnessing or receiving microaggressions in their lives. 

Another powerful moment of the evening came through a small meditation, where Melania-Luisa invited those tuned in on Zoom to visualize their happy place and write down where they found it, what was in it, what they felt, what they saw etc. The Poet then encouraged viewers to think of how one’s community would navigate this space. Is there room for collectivity? Is there visibility and celebration of our individuality and differences? These thinking points resonated with the audience, who engaged in discussion following this reflection activity. 

While asking essential questions regarding anti-racism work both inside and outside one’s immediate locality, Angélica Maria and Melania-Luisa stressed the importance of community and collectivity in this work. Melania-Luisa stating that, “We need community. Our ancestors survived through their connections to community and collectivity”. As students seeking to carry forward the Siena’s intentions of diversity, optimism, respect and service, these words could not be more crucial. There is power in numbers; Siena Saints host the intention, dedication, and commitment to service that is necessary to enact sustainable change.

In times as unprecedented as these, the Siena Community is stronger together. We must respect, serve, care, and share compassion for those around us now and always – it’s ours to do along the road to restorative justice and peace for all.

Even in the Face of a Global Pandemic, the FCSA Finds a Way to Spread Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Photo courtesy of the Siena College Franciscan Center for Service and Advocacy.

Each year, Judy Doughterty leads the team at the Franciscan Center for Service and Advocacy in collecting gifts and donations for their annual Giving Tree event. Typically, there is a tree stationed in popular spots on campus including the chapel, the atrium of the Sarazen Student Union, and the Foy Hall lobby. 

Due to campus-wide COVID restrictions, hosting this program in the traditional format is not possible, so Judy and her team got to work. 

It only took a matter of weeks for Judy’s virtual Christmas tree vision to come to life with the help of her student officers. She spent ample time fine-tuning the details of the virtual atmosphere and wanted to ensure that it was accessible to all that wish to participate.

The FCSA’s strong tradition in Franciscan Service and Advocacy has fostered a sense of community both on and off campus. The team in the Mission Office has sought out ways to continue creating connections during a time where we’re encouraged to stay distant from one another.

While the Giving Tree programming looks a bit different this year, the sentiment is just as genuine and now has the capacity to pull from a larger group of donors. Not even a pandemic can keep Judy and her team from spreading tidings of comfort and joy during the holiday season!

Visit the Virtual Giving Tree here: https://dailydigest.siena.edu/students/2020/10/11/its-beginning-to-look-a-lot-like-christmas-2/

Constitution Day 2020: Our Voices, Our Votes and How We Can Make a Difference

We the People of Siena College gathered on the evening of September 22nd to discuss the importance of our voices and our votes ahead of the November 2020 election. During this virtual gathering, a panel of Siena Community members was moderated by Dr. Leonard Cutler, who is the school’s Pre-Law Advisor and professor of classes including topics on Constitutional and Criminal Law. Dr. Cutler shared that although the program had mostly focused on student voter turnout, “every member of the Siena Community is encouraged to vote in this election”. 

The panelists engaged in a conversation that touched upon many different topics in the sphere of modern politics and voting concerns. Those that sat on the panel were Dr. Chris Gibson (Siena College President), Professor Annie Rody-Wright (Senior Teaching Assistant, Prof. of FYSM, and Sociology), Amir Taylor (Junior Political Science major on a Pre-Law Track), and Sami DeRagon (Junior Political Science major on a Pre-Law Track and Political Science Society President). The diversity in the academic and personal backgrounds of these individuals fueled a productive, inspirational, and fruitful discussion. 

Photo courtesy of Boston University

Professor Rody-Wright shared information about voter suppression, and how it is specifically prevalent among incarcerated populations. Honoring the recent passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Rody-Wright discussed RBG’s dissents from the bench and the way she would do so in order to “appeal to a future day”. Justice Ginsburg understood that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was the only vehicle that would ensure fair elections, and never wavered in defending Voting Rights for all. Rody Wright added a very fitting quote from Maya Angelou to the dialogue, when showing up to cast one’s ballot “I come as one but stand as 10,000”. Enacting and encouraging the changes we wish to see in our government starts with voting. It continues when the voting population shows up for their community, when they show up to conversations with their representatives, and when they inspire others to get involved in movements both big and small.

Dr. Chris Gibson continued to touch upon the importance of the Voting Rights Act by calling it “The Crown Jewel of our democracy”. Inspired by the rise of youth voter turnout, Siena’s president shared that on his first day in office he coined an initiative that would seek to engage 100% of the Siena Community in a voter registration and participation effort. The Siena Votes team has worked to facilitate dropbox areas in multiple places around campus where individuals can find absentee ballot registration forms. Through this initiative, students and faculty can also take advantage of postage paid for by the College in requesting and submitting their ballots through October.

Sami DeRagon, as the president of the campus’ Political Science Society, has been at the forefront of the 100% voter registration and turnout initiative that President Gibson proposed at the beginning of his term at Siena. DeRagon shares that “Dr. Gibson set the tone on campus for Siena’s involvement in this election”. This conversation also explored the rise of youth voting in recent years, DeRagon sharing that Gen Z and Millennial voters make up 40% of participants in the latest elections. This means that 40% of voters are 18-38 years old, providing hope for a future that will be shaped and guided by new and politically-active perspectives. 

In 20 states across the country, more young people are registering to vote than did in the 2016 election. In recent election years, there has been more than double the amount of active young voters than there have been in the past. Amir Taylor connected with students who may feel that their vote doesn’t matter. His message was strong and clear, and he urged his fellow students, especially those whose ancestors fought for their right to vote, to be politically active early and often. 

If this event got one message home, it’s the message that our voices and our votes matter. Let us use this message and this election to incite and inspire the positive change we wish to see in this world. It is said that every long journey begins with one single step, and it’s clear to see that Saints are taking strides toward a more just future. 

For more information and resources regarding the upcoming election, students and faculty can reach out to vote@siena.edu to interact with a voter registration hotline.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.com

Newly Reunited Siena Saints “March Forward” Into a New Year

The sun rises over Siena Hall ahead of another academic year, photo courtesy of https://www.siena.edu/ .

Whether we’re first year or graduate students, when pulling into campus, Siena Hall’s iconic columns greet us by saying “Welcome to Siena”. For many of us, there’s no place like home, and after vacating campus for over five months, the feeling of being back at school is refreshing, to say the least. This year, move-in was during mid-August, when the late summer foliage was still as verdant as ever. As new and returning students alike re-connected on the quad, MacClosky square, the Paddock, and in their respective dorm rooms, rainbows of flowers sprouted from each plant bed in celebration of a newly reunited community. Even years of calling this campus home, the scenery never gets old. In fact, days before students began to move back, Conde Nast Traveler listed Siena’s campus one of the top 50 most beautiful in America, and now that we’re back and in-motion, I wholeheartedly agree. 

Tents on the quad have been added for more classroom, dining, and activity space, photo courtesy of the Siena College Twitter account.

Despite the addition of tent space for academic and social activities, our campus landscape still has the same breathtaking charm. Our campus climate, however, has adjusted to meticulously abide by local and international precautions to mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus. Our campus now has guest visitation restrictions, a mask requirement in every academic and residential building, sanitizing stations in every classroom and hallway, reduced occupancy in dining spaces (many of which only offer meal options to-go), and so much more. A comprehensive list of Siena’s responses to the pandemic can be found on the Marching Forward webpage. Our campus is the same hub of knowledge, school spirit, enthusiasm, and it is a little quieter and a lot cleaner than it has been in the past. 

It is incredible to think of how much of a difference a few months can make. This past summer incited fear, protest, education, adherence to safety measures, and a commitment to fight injustice. Peaceful protests demanding justice and accountability for the wrongful murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and countless others reach every corner of the United States. These calls for justice continue to be sustained to this day. 

At Siena, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, members of the Damietta Cross-Cultural Center and the Black Student Union organized a peaceful demonstration on campus that took place on Saturday, September 5th, 2020. During this event, members of the Black Student Union held space for conversation, reflection, and calls to action for students and educators. In conjunction with this demonstration, the Mission Office has organized an event series advocating for racial justice. The Office has hosted webinars and events live via zoom with distinguished guest speakers including Dr. Bettina Love, Nyle Fort, and Selwyn Jones addressing topics of allyship, mourning, and the Movement for Black Lives. Now more than ever, it is necessary to be the change and to demand the change our communities and our society need. 

To say the least, the past few months have challenged the status quo. Even if my friends and professors are partially hidden by masks or sequestered to a small box on Zoom, starting a new semester will always be a form of familiar chaos. I am optimistic that myself and my fellow students are ready to stay safe, attentive, and active during the upcoming school year. May we all use this as an opportunity to learn with and from one another, and create a considerate and respectful community for all. As our new president Dr. Chris Gibson reminds us, “No matter what the obstacle, as Siena Saints, we are always marching forward”.

Welcome Home, Class of 2024!

At the end of every academic year, a special “Welcome” is posted to our blog, dedicated to making the incoming class feel at home as they prepare to take on all that Siena has to offer. However, I couldn’t welcome our newest Saints without addressing the disappointment you all must be feeling.

So let me start by saying I am so sorry you are not getting the final months of high school that you deserve.

No matter how trivial it may seem to feel devastated about missing prom, your last sport events or musicals, or spending your final weeks with your classmates, it’s ok to be upset. I won’t say I understand what you are going through, but college seniors are dealing with a similar heartbreak. I planned to be enjoying my last Siena Fest, finding shoes that looked cute with my cap and gown, and spending as much time as possible with my housemates right about now.

It took me a while to realize I shouldn’t feel guilty towards my disappointment in missing out on these memories while much more serious matters occur. I hope you all come to realize this too.

Looking to the future may be scary right now, with still so many unknowns ahead of us. I can’t promise you much about what the future will hold, but I can tell you with certainty, that you will be in good hands on campus. Siena brands itself as a close-knit community that takes care of one another, and as I prepare to become an alumna, I can assure you that this is nothing short of the truth.

(Yes, your new home is *that* pretty, photo courtesy of Instragram @sienacollege)

My advice to you is to take advantage of your time at Siena. It makes me feel so old to type this, but your college years are truly too short and will be over before you know it. You know first-hand what it feels like to miss out on making memories, so please, live it up on campus. Build meaningful relationships with professors, join clubs, attend events, get to know your dorm neighbors, and be sure to Saga sit (you’ll learn soon enough) at least a few times each semester. And, for Siena’s class of 2020 especially, make your first Siena Fest absolutely unforgettable.

So, with all of that being said, welcome home class of 2024! I wish you all the best in your endeavors at Siena. Remember to make the most of it and to embrace your new community.

Make sure to keep up-to-date by following our FacebookInstagramTwitterLinkedIn pages!

Accessing Academic and Career Services from Home

Being away from campus doesn’t mean going without academic and career services. Over the past few weeks, Siena’s various resource offices have been working to develop new ways of aiding students remotely. These campus resources have made accessing support services easy for students to do from the comfort of their homes. 

The Writing Center

The Writing Center, a safe haven for when you need help composing an essay or creating citations, is now online! In place of in-person peer tutoring meetings, the center is now offering Zoom tutoring sessions. Zoom tutoring sessions can be with a professional or peer tutor and can be scheduled for a 60-minute time slot. After making your tutoring appointment with the Writing Center, your tutor will send you an email with further information. As we approach the due dates for final papers, make sure to schedule your tutoring appointment to hand in your best work!

SASE Tutoring Services

While group tutoring sessions have been canceled for the semester, individual tutoring with a tutor from the SASE office is now available through GoBoard. GoBoard acts as a free online tool that combines video conferencing with an interactive canvas, designed to help students collaborate one-on-one. Following your tutoring appointment, you will receive a document outlining all of the material shared on the screen throughout the session to keep as part of your notes! Questions regarding virtual tutoring services should be directed to tutoring@siena.edu

CEPD and Internship Programs Offices

Continue your career development journey with virtual counseling appointments through the CEPD and Internship Programs offices. To accommodate students from home, the offices are offering individual counseling appointments via phone calls, email, Google Chat or Video. The Office of Internship Programs even created a how-to video on requesting counseling appointments. Students are still able to receive assistance in their job search, creating their resume, and filling out internship applications. Even Mock Interviews are still available, for those looking to brush up on their skills, through Career Saint’s Interview Simulator tool. Be sure to visit Career Saint to access these virtual resources and email careermail@siena.edu for more information. 

During these strange times, we could all use a little support. So utilize these helpful academic and career services from the comfort of your home. Make sure to check in next week for another new blog post! In the meantime, follow our FacebookInstagramTwitterLinkedIn pages to stay up-to-date on all things Siena liberal arts. Stay well, Saints!

A Beginner’s Guide to Online Courses

As we wrap up our second week of distance learning, let’s do a quick self-check in: How are you handling the transition into an online course load? Do you find it hard to focus? Are you struggling to keep track of assignments without formal class meetings? Is having more free time actually making it more difficult to complete work on time? 

If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, please know that you are not alone. Making the switch from in-person to online learning can certainly be challenging, especially if you have never taken an online class before. Here are a few easy ways to successfully manage your new online course load:

Create a NEW Schedule 

Maintaining a schedule is key for many students in their on-campus academic success. Of course, continuing with some aspects of your on-campus schedule, like sleeping times, can be helpful during this transition. However, it is important to realize that remote instruction requires students to design their schedules much more independently than in-person learning. If your classes no longer have designated meeting times, you now have to create time slots to learn the material you usually would learn in class. Try using this Free College Schedule Maker to design a new schedule that not only sets-aside time to complete assignments and study, but to also participate in discussion boards, watch virtual lectures, etc.

Recreate your Study Space

I know it can feel nearly impossible to focus on school work from home after living on campus. With that being said, try to think of the study environment you usually found yourself in at school. Was it quiet or did you enjoy background noise? Could you focus at a table on the main floor of the library or did you prefer working from your dorm room? Did you usually have a friend sitting with you or did you find yourself distracted when friends did stop by? Compile the characteristics of your favorite study spot and recreate it, to the best of your ability, at home. Depending on what works for you, this could include having a friend study with you via Skype or turning your dining room table into a make-shift workspace. The key here is to make sure that you are comfortable and feel confident in your ability to focus wherever you are studying. 

Keep in Touch with Professors

Without seeing them multiple times a week, it can be easy to fall out of touch with your professors. Not to mention, as the layout of your courses have been adjusted for remote instruction, it makes sense that you may have questions about your courses moving forward. If they have not already expressed it, email your professors and ask what is the most convenient way to contact them with any concerns you have. Your professors are your allies in this transition, so do not hesitate to reach out. 

While I hope these tips were useful, it is understandable if your academics are not your top priority during this crisis. Many of Siena’s support offices, like the Counseling Center, are now virtually available for students at this time. For more information on Siena’s response to the spread of COVID-19 and more information on remote learning, please visit the Siena Coronavirus Update page. Stay well, Saints. 

To My Fellow Seniors…

This post was supposed to be a list of ways to stay academically motivated during the transition to remote instruction. Tips such as staying in a routine and creating an organized workspace were to be included. The piece was going to carry an optimistic tone and would intend to help students navigate this drastic shift in their educational experience. However, this will not be that post because like the rest of the class of 2020, I am nothing short of heartbroken by the announcement we all just received.

This morning, the Siena community received the news that students would not be returning to campus this semester.

The news was almost inevitable and students had been preparing for such an announcement for over two weeks. As New York remains an epicenter for the spreading of COVID-19, the decision was made with the safety of students, faculty, and staff as the top priority of Siena’s administration. We know that moving forward with complete remote instruction and a postponement of Commencement was the absolute best choice for our health and the health of the greater community.

And yet, as someone who was supposed to cross the stage at the Times Union Center on the morning of May 17th, I am still absolutely heartbroken.

As part of the class of 2020, right now the emotions range from feeling devastated to appreciation towards the administration for prioritizing our wellbeing. From guilt over our own sadness in this situation to being fearful about what may come next as a result of this crisis. From frustration as it feels as though there is little we can control to confusion about what we should be doing next.

With all of this being said, to my fellow seniors, I have few other words than I am so sorry.

Feel whatever you are feeling. Take time to wrap your head around all of this as I know it is difficult to process. Being optimistic in a time like this is admittedly challenging, but as Saints, we will persevere. We have 3 and ¾ years of memories that cannot be erased by any crisis and will not be overshadowed by the loss of our final few weeks. I hope to see you all when we meet again in August to celebrate our academic achievements, unforgettable memories, and overcoming this crisis. Stay safe and well, Saints.

Cultural Awareness Presentation on the Refugee Experience

Last Friday, students and faculty gathered for a Cultural Awareness Presentation on “Understanding Refugee and Immigrant Students” on campus. The event featured representatives from “The Center”, a non-profit organization that offers resettlement resources to refugees in Utica, New York (aka my hometown and home of the world’s best pizza). Focal points on the discussion included an overview of how The Center supports refugees in their transition to a new culture, a real-life account of the relocation process, and how we as the American public can support refugees as they become part of our communities. 

Shana Pughe Dean, a translation and training manager from The Center, opened the discussion with the mission of the organization. “Our goal is to lead and build a community with many cultures, or our signature tagline is ‘many cultures one community’” she expressed. Pughe Dean explained that The Center, in its 41 years as a formal establishment, has examined what support systems refugees need outside of the core elements of relocating. “We offer interpreting, translation services, immigration and citizen assistance, we have employment opportunities, and also a traffic safety program.” Half of the staff at The Center are former refugees that came through the programs offered by the organization. Pughe Dead stated that her staff “understand the experience, but have also shown what it means to be willing to open your doors to people from other places.” The discussion emphasized how challenging the refugee experience can be, yet how positively refugees impact their communities and others going through the relocation process.

Following Shana Pughe Dean was Nan Han, a medical interpreter, college student, and former refugee from Burma. As a young child, Nan’s family fled from political persecution and lived in a refugee camp for 4 years. “Refugee camp was no joke, it was terrible. I don’t want anyone to have to stay there for the rest of their lives” she remarked. After years of waiting, Nan’s family was finally approved to start their new life in the city of Utica. As a non-English speaking elementary student from a family unaware of how to navigate the American education system, Nan was subject to bullying early on. She struggled to accumulate the to American culture. However, with aid from The Center and kindness from her some of peers, Nan was able to overcome adversity and helps other refugees today. 

Nan Han discussing her experiences as a refugee

Nan expressed that she and her family never wanted to be refugees and that they were forced into relocating. The hardships that she endured in having to learn a new language, culture, and way of life took years to overcome. She emphasized that when the community embraces refugees, it makes the massive transition much easier. When asked how people can act as advocates for refugees in their daily lives, Nan responded that we need to “just be kind”. 

The Cultural Awareness Presentation on “Understanding Refugee and Immigrant Students” was sponsored by First-Year Seminar, the Education Department, International Programs, the Franciscan Center, the Women’s Center, and the Damietta Center. If you want to learn more about the resources offered by The Center in Utica, be sure to visit their website. As always, follow our social media pages @sienaliberalarts to stay up-to-date on other events happening on campus!