Siena’s Fall Semester Success Story

By: Kiera Mitru

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

By: Kiera Mitru

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

By: Kiera Mitru

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

By: Kiera Mitru

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

By: Kiera Mitru

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”.