Category Archives: News

School Sports Put Students At COVID Risk

volleyballPxfuel

This story was reported by the staff of The Princeton Summer Journal and written by Kayla Bey, Jariel Christopher, Melanie Paredes, and Daniel Sanchez.

Summer F., 17, is a high school senior in West Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she plays varsity volleyball. In March, Louisiana was stricken with one of the earliest and worst U.S. outbreaks of COVID-19, forcing the shutdown of classroom learning and youth sports. But months passed, cases subsided, and by early June the state had okayed the resumption of practices for fall sports. When Summer returned to volleyball practice, however, she felt her school, Port Allen High, might be courting disaster. “Most [athletes] decided to wear masks, but it didn’t last long,” she said. “It’s sometimes hot in the gym and with workouts it’s hard to breathe.”

Several regulations were in place, including prepractice temperature checks and a prohibition on locker room access. But the school, Summer suggested, was partly relying on students to police themselves, asking them to report any virus symptoms or contact with infected individuals. In July and August, cases again began to rise in Louisiana, which now has the highest per-capita infection rate in the country. Volleyball practice continued three times a week, as scheduled.

Port Allen High is following the re-opening guidelines set in June by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA). But the regulations may not be addressing major drivers of the virus. Cloth face masks are encouraged for coaches, but are not recommended for athletes engaging in “high-intensity aerobic activity.” Perhaps more troublingly, the LHSAA has has not prohibited teams from congregating in enclosed indoor facilities, from “meeting rooms” to gymnasiums. COVID-19 is thought to
spread primarily through airborne particles in poorly ventilated spaces.

According to Port Allen principal James Jackson, “two to three” student athletes have
recently tested positive for the novel coronavirus. But he defends the school’s protocols. “We never had an outbreak on any team,” he told The Princeton Summer Journal. This, he said, suggests the infections were “due to some type of gathering that they may have had outside of school.”

The situation at Port Allen High School is a microcosm of America’s unruly and improvised approach to safely resuming high school athletics.

In July, the Summer Journal conducted a survey of 33 school districts’ sports reopening plans, polling schools from California to Rhode Island. The results varied wildly.
Schools in Montgomery County, Maryland canceled summer practices and fall sports, as did the state of New Mexico. But in Chicago, Illinois, Orange City, Florida, and Tahlequah, Oklahoma, summer practices or conditioning drills continued. Some districts, such as Boston, Massachusetts, called off summer programming but pledged to resume competition in September. School districts were almost evenly split between those that held and cancelled summer practices—though districts in the Northeast,
where the virus hit early, tended to have more restrictions than elsewhere.

The survey may be most telling for what districts didn’t know. Many indicated that coaches would be wearing face coverings, but most were non-committal about how
athletes were meant to wear masks or socially-distance in team settings. The school district encompassing Orlando, Florida provided a detailed presentation about its summer practice protocol. Several weeks later, amid sharply rising coro-
navirus cases, the district postponed all practices until the end of August. Few districts stated with any clarity how fall competitions would be conducted safely, if at all. If anything, the survey reflected the Frankenstein monster that is America’s patchwork response to the pandemic.

While the COVID-19 fatality rate remains extremely low for minors, the resumption of classroom instruction and organized sports could spread the virus to coaches, teachers, and family members. Unlike professional sports teams, which have rigorous testing protocols, most high schools have virtually no way of detecting asymptomatic transmission between students.

For now, Summer is deciding to play volleyball, despite her anxieties. “I feel as if they do not care about our safety, even though there are some precautions put in place,” she said, citing her district’s decision to re-open.

“Most students who play sports are choosing to go to school in August because sports is all they have. For some, it’s their senior year. Who doesn’t want to play sports their senior year?”

On the night of July 16, the Gwinnett County Board of Education convened outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Though the county had the second-most COVID-19 infections in the state, the school district would resume in-person learning the following month. Just one board member, Everton Blair Jr., voiced his disapproval. After he spoke and as cameras continued to roll, Chairwoman Louise Radloff muttered, “I could strangle him.”

Radloff, who is white, later called her comment “out of order,” and apologized to Blair, who is Black. The subject of re-opening high school sports in Georgia, where football is close to a religion, has been no less charged.

Early in the summer, the Georgia High School Association released a strict re-opening protocol. Locker rooms were off-limits and group sizes were limited. But on July 22, with football season looming, the GHSA relaxed the rules. Locker rooms were opened and
athletes could huddle in unlimited number. Asked about the district’s latest protocols, Gwinnett County Assistant Superintendent Reuben Gresham told the Summer Journal, “It is not feasible for student athletes to social distance.”

As it turns out, it may not be feasible to relax standards either. On July 29, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that 655 positive cases had been shared with the GHSA,
more than double the number on file two weeks earlier.

By August, Georgia had cancelled summer football scrimmages. It’s anyone’s guess if most districts will play football in September.

“The decisions necessitated by the current pandemic are literally changing almost daily,” said Steve Figueroa, Director of Media Relations for GHSA. “What we believed would be the case a month or even a week ago has often proven to be quite different in the present.”

As states scramble to re-start the school year, there appears to be an inverse correlation between high coronavirus rates and postponements.

Some of the states with the highest infection rates in the country, such as Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, say they are proceeding with fall sports.

Meanwhile, some of the states with the lowest rates, such as Oregon and Colorado, have postponed them until 2021. (Some of the hardest-hit states are also some of the most
enthusiastic about high school football.)

School districts committed to gridiron clashes under “Friday night lights” may consider heeding the Centers for Disease Control. Players are at especially high risk for transmission, the CDC warns, during “full competition between teams from different geographic areas.”

But for schools that play it safe, and postpone sports, will there be unintended consequences?

“Swimming has been my life,” said 17-year-old Michael F., a senior at West Boca Raton Community High School. Ranked 25th in the state of Florida and 422nd in the nation, he is one of the best at his craft. Last year, he started generating interest from recruiters from Georgia Tech, The College of Wooster, and a number of other schools.

But what will happen to that interest—and the scholarships that could come with it—if sports don’t resume?

The Florida High School Athletic Association has released three options for returning to
sports, but Palm Beach County has not specified which they will choose.

If sports don’t resume, “recruiting will be harder than ever,” said Monte Chapman, who coaches track and field at West Boca Raton. “There will be no way of approximating how much an athlete has or has not improved.”

In New York City, school officials have similar concerns. Ciana DeBellis is an assistant principal at the Fordham Leadership Academy in the Bronx. “We have students that were going to college on scholarships,” she told the Summer Journal. “I’m not really sure how that is going to work.”

On August 9, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York City—like Chicago, Philadelphia, and other major cities—would be reopening its public schools for in-person instruction. But high school sports in the Big Apple, for better or for worse, would remain indefinitely postponed.

Candidate Partly Defends Trump ‘Kung Flu’ Remark

trump

President Trump’s repeated references to the coronavirus as the “kung flu” have drawn broad political backlash as a racist slur against Asian Americans. (Photo Credit: Sgt. Dana M. Clarke)

By Andrea Plascencia and Lia Opperman

Flower Mound, Tex. and Galloway, N.J.

Alan Swain, a Republican running to represent North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District, tore into controversial issues including police brutality and immigration at a press conference with The Princeton Summer Journal.

Swain shared his views: shaming the abuse of power by many officers, such as the ones
who killed George Floyd, and calling for a “complete revamping” of police unions.

Although police unions are typically opposed to reform, he believes that it is necessary in
order to weed out the “bad apples” in the force.

“There needs to be a better process and a reset of what we’re allowing police unions to do,” Swain said.

However, Swain said he was opposed to completely dismantling current forces. “How do you restart a police force? We need the police force, and I, Alan Swain, fully support backing the blue,” Swain said. He advocated for a different tactic to combat police brutality, stating that police unions “should receive additional support and new funding that can be put towards training programs to make them better.”

Swain, who expressed concern about illegal immigration, spoke in opposition to sanctuary cities, chain migration, visa overstays and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“We’re long overdue for immigration reform,” Swain said. “That’s probably the biggest thing … You have to register in this country is all I’m saying.”

Although his philosophy of “trying to help” immigrants lead better lives in America was
a recurring theme, Swain’s position was unclear. At one point, he referenced a plan to dissolve DACA, but soon after voiced his desire to “bring them in [and] put them in the process” of legalization, possibly through the allocation of green cards.

Swain also expressed support for immigration reform. “We shouldn’t have [them] living in the shadows in sanctuary cities,” he said.

Swain added, though, that he was opposed to sanctuary cities and undocumented immigrants who don’t “follow federal law.”

Though Swain has never run for office before, he cited his 26 years of experience in the U.S. Army, including his service in leadership roles on the Army Staff and Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He also talked about his work in the White House under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as executive officer to the White House Director of National Drug Control Policy.

Swain also expressed the urgency of the return of students to school this fall under the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, indicating his dislike for digital learning.

“We’re not getting enough guidance,” Swain said. “Each state gets to decide how they want to [go back]. … Two months ago, [everyone said] ‘Oh, well, we’ll worry about that in the fall.’ [But] we have children starting [school] at the beginning of August here in the state of North Carolina.”

“They’re right around the corner,” Swain said. “We’ve got to do something.”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

By Naziea Fruits, Sarah Furtado, and Kuftu Said

Cleveland, Ohio, Vero Beach, Fla. and Aurora, Colo.

swain

Army veteran Alan Swain is running to represent North Carolina’s 2nd District in Congress.

Republican congressional candidate Alan Swain—a Japanese American and president of the North Carolina Asian American Coalition—partially defended President Donald Trump’s description of COVID-19 as the “kung flu” and the “Chinese virus” at a press con-
ference with The Princeton Summer Journal.

“We don’t like the fact that he would probably use those kinds of words, but he was just talking about where the origin was,” Swain said. “I’ve actually called it the China flu, too, or the Wuhan flu.”

Trump’s characterization of the virus, the spread of which he blamed on the Chinese government, has been widely condemned as law enforcement and human rights officials report a surge in reports of harassment towards Asian Americans.

“A lot of people went crazy about it,” said Swain, an Army veteran who is running to rep-
resent North Carolina’s 2nd District. “There have been concerns that there could be repercussions against the Asian American community.

Being of Asian descent, I have not seen any around me.”

Swain’s campaign aligns with Trump in other areas, which may make his election an uphill battle in the majority-Democrat district.

In the wide-ranging press conference, Swain also discussed police funding and border control. His stances reflected his self-proclaimed “law and order” ideology. “I, Alan Swain, fully support backing the blue,” he said.

“Everybody wants to defund the police,” he continued. “But Alan Swain’s position is that
I don’t think we need to defund the police; I believe we need to fund it.” Swain said that training police to de-escalate tense and potentially dangerous situations would be more effective than sending social workers to them, as some reformers have suggested.

Swain’s politics on immigration were less reflective of the national party. Swain said he was in favor of helping people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, perhaps by giving them green cards. Otherwise, he generally supported stricter immigration controls, including building a border wall and cracking down on immigrants who have overstayed visas.

“That’s why President Trump says they come over the border and they think they’re coming to a picnic,” Swain said. “If you go to Iran and you overstay a visa, you know
what they do to you—they kill you.”

Griffin Says Schools Should Reopen

By Anne Tchuindje, Myanna Nash, and Daniel Sanchez

Washington, D.C., Chicago, Ill. and Boca Raton, Fl.

At a recent press conference with The Princeton Summer Journal, Republican congressional candidate Sheila Griffin spoke to reporters from The Princeton Summer
Journalism Program.

Born and raised in Pinellas County, in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, Griffin became a Republican at age 18. In 2012, Griffin became involved with the Florida Bar’s Executive Committee for Labor and Employment. She found her life’s calling in politics. If she wins the Republican primary, she will face incumbent Charlie Crist, former governor of Florida.

Griffin spoke about some of the most controversial issues of the day: race, the coronavirus, and returning to in-person instruction in public schools.

Challenging students’ questions about systemic racism in America, Griffin—who is Black—instead advocated for a “color-blind” approach to race.

“There’s only one race and that is the human race,” she said, when asked about ways to reduce systemic racism against people of color.

The candidate also dismissed racism’s role in the increased prevalence of COVID-19 among African Americans in the district where she is running. Though Pinellas County
is overwhelmingly white, Black residents account for approximately 17 percent of the reported COVID-19 cases in the county.

Griffin attributed this to the recent increase in testing in Black communities. “When COVID first hit Pinellas County, it was in all-white neighborhoods. Right now, most of the testing is done in African American neighborhoods,” she said.

Passionate about education, Griffin spent considerable time talking about coronavirus-related school closures. “Elementary schools should never have closed in the first place,”
said Griffin, adding that “there simply isn’t enough science that proves that younger children could be affected by the virus.”

Although health officials are still researching how children are impacted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that children can indeed become infected
and spread the virus.

With summer slowly coming to an end, school officials are now struggling to find a safe way to reopen schools and hold classes in person. Griffin said not reopening schools will do more harm than good, but that parents should be able to make their own decisions.

“It should be up to the parents, not local officials, to decide whether their child goes back to school or not,” she said. “Parents know their child best.”

Griffin Says Pandemic Response Overblown

By Aigner Settles and Brianne LaBare

Pennsauken, N.J. and Orlando, FL.

As new COVID-19 cases in Florida topped 10,000 per day, 13th District congressional candidate Sheila Griffin argued in a press conference with The Princeton Summer
Journal that her state’s response to the pandemic has been overblown.

Despite the increase in coronavirus cases in her state, Griffin—one of five candidates competing for a spot on the ballot against incumbent Democrat Charlie Crist—told reporters she believes that schools should be reopened immediately.

“When you start saying that somehow or another there’s no transmission or
likelihood [of catching the virus] for those who are under the age of 12, then I
don’t understand why we even closed the schools,” Griffin said.

Griffin argued that school closures will affect underprivileged youth who don’t have access to the technology needed for remote learning. “The big impediment will not
be for those children who already have what they need,” she said. “The impediment will be for all the children who will be left behind because they do not [have the resources necessary to succeed].”

Current plans in Griffin’s district provide varying options for families. “Most of our communities here have three choices. Their children can work totally online. Their children can come to school for two days and still work online. Or they can come full-time. Those are parental decisions that are being [put] up by the school board,” she said.

Griffin also emphasized the importance of parents having the final say regarding their child’s education, despite the increasing number of cases and guidance from public health experts to keep schools closed. “I never transfer responsibility that belongs to parents to anyone in government unless the parents are abusive,” she said.

Palzewicz Rejects ‘Defunding’ Police

By Paola Ruiz and Kwanza Prince

East Boston, Mass. and New York, N.Y.

At a recent press conference, Wisconsin Democratic congressional candidate Tom Palzewicz said he does not believe in “defunding the police,” but instead supports what he called “investment and reinvestment” to other social services.

“I think a lot of the dollars need to be moved from our policing system and reinvested into our mental health and a whole bunch of other areas,” he said.

Palzewicz, who is running to replace the retiring Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin’s 5th District, said police are too often called to treat issues they are not trained to address. “The way I describe this is: Our police force shouldn’t have to be
the one that gets called for everything that happens in our society,” he said.

One in four deaths that result from police encounters are individuals with mental health conditions, according to a report from the Treatment Advocacy Center. If funds were in-
vested in programs well-versed in these issues, he said, that would provide callers with an alternative to the police, and the fatality rate would decrease.

Palzewicz, a Navy veteran, ran against and lost to longtime Rep. Sensenbrenner in 2018 with only 38 percent of the vote. With Sensenbrenner retiring, Palzewicz has a clearer path to office, though the district is reliably red.

In an effort not to alienate more conservative members of his district, Palzewicz objects to the terminology “defunding the police,” saying, “it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.” Yet his strategy of “reinvestment” sounds similar to most calls for defunding, in that he would move money spent on police activities to other government services while stripping police departments of their military-grade weapons.

“I think mental health is a huge issue in this country that has absolutely no dollars dedicated to it,” Palzewicz said.

“In Wisconsin, we spend more money on prisons than on education, and that tells you about where our priorities are, and our priorities need to change on that,” he added.

Biden’s Advantage: He’s Not Trump

bidenFormer Vice President Joe Biden has failed to draw sustained excitement among younger voters. (Photo credit: Adam Fagen)

By Perla Duran and Crystyna Barnes

Newark, N.J. and Elm City, N.C.

Joe Biden may have a young person problem.

In recent interviews, four teenagers from the Princeton Summer Journalism Program said they don’t approve of the presumptive Democratic nominee’s policies, especially his resistance to universal health care. They were disturbed by allegations that he inappropriately touched women or made them feel uncomfortable. They felt that he wasn’t reliable or modern enough, but said they would vote for him despite these
reservations.

Anne Tchuindje lives in Washington, D.C., and Alyssa Ultreras in Oakland, California. Both are 17. In deciding whom to support, they said, a candidate’s authenticity is the most important factor. Alexa Figueroa, 17, of Brentwood, Maryland, and Stephanie Garcia, 16, of New York City, agreed, adding that they’re not confident that Biden will uphold the policies he claims to support.

For example, Biden said he wants to pay educators more and modernize schools. About this, Ultreras wondered: “Is everything you’re emphasizing really going to happen?”

They also feared Biden was cynically trying to reach a specific demographic: people of color. Tchuindje mentioned a recent interview on the popular radio show “The Breakfast
Club,” in which Biden said, “if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or
Trump, then you ain’t Black.”

To Ultreras, this attitude is exactly what Biden needs to work on. In a society where people of color face a lot of backlash, she said, “he knows that voters are in a tough position, especially Democrats, where [he’s] your only option. Therefore, like, you’re going to have to pick [him] because you don’t want Trump.”

Biden is making Black people feel either obligated to vote for him, Ultreras explained, or guilty if they don’t.

When asked what other candidates they liked, three students named Sen. Bernie Sanders, the democratic socialist U.S. senator from Vermont, who dropped out of the race in April. They said he was a candidate they could rely on to uphold the promises he had
made, as illustrated by his past activism: marching for civil rights in the 1960s and getting arrested for protesting discrimination against Black people in the Chicago school system. The teens also mentioned Sanders’ unwavering support for a government-run “Medicare for all” system.

“I’m disappointed that it got to the point where we have to pick between the lesser of two evils,” Tchuindje said. But she and Ultreras said Biden’s election would halt the current administration’s harmful health care and environmental policies. In that sense, they said, not voting for Biden would be negligent—even dangerous.

Eviction Crisis Looms For Millions Unable To Afford Rent

By Yeabsira Moges

Silver Spring, MD.

V never anticipated that she would be unable to find work after her temp job ended. She had been living in a small, cramped apartment in the middle of Trenton, New Jersey,  with her husband and 4-year-old daughter. A recent college graduate and new mother, V had been searching for full-time employment while working temp jobs to be able to pay rent and other bills. When her temp assignment ended, however, she was unable to find another job that would allow her to cover her rent.

“I wasn’t even making the minimum to be able to pull my part of the bills,” she said.  With bills quickly piling up, V, who asked that her full name not be used, was worried about whether she would be able to keep a roof over her head and take care of her daughter. She and her family were eventually evicted from their apartment, resulting in “non-payment and then an eviction.” They had nowhere to go and had to quickly work to
find new housing.

According to census data, roughly 36.6 percent of people in the United States rent their current housing arrangements. A Harvard study from February found that 47.5 percent of renters are cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income
toward rent. With the massive job loss as a result of the pandemic, many renters will become unable to pay rent, leading landlords to turn to eviction.

With the ongoing pandemic, it is imperative that as many people as possible stay at home and protect themselves and their families. Yet eviction puts millions of families at risk of being thrown out of their homes. Lawmakers, recognizing the devastating impact of an eviction crisis, included special rent protections and an eviction moratorium on most federally subsidized housing in the coronavirus relief bill that was signed into law in late March. This move, however, only impacts around 28.1 percent to 45.6 percent of renters who meet these criteria and, with the expiration of the relief bill’s provisions in late July, even those covered under the law lost federal protection.

To exacerbate the problem, large corporate landlords, such as The Blackstone Group, pursue evictions so aggressively that the United Nations last year accused the company of “contributing to the global housing crisis.” In gentrifying neighborhoods, evictions are the primary tool used by landlords to push lower-income tenants out in favor of richer ones.

Landlords sometimes intentionally create an uncomfortable living situation for the tenants that they wish to push out. They may start construction projects in the renter’s building, enter the living space without notice, take away services like parking and laundry, or even change the locks while the renter is away.

Eviction carries stigma that can have long-standing negative effects, which is something that landlords exploit. V has lived in buildings where the landlords would tack eviction paperwork on people’s front doors. “I’ll see the paperwork there,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll just take it off and tuck it in their mailboxes because I feel like it’s embarrassing.”

Since her last eviction experience, V is doing much better. She is working at a welfare agency, helping struggling families and renters make ends meet. She recently had her second child and is looking to move out of her current apartment and into a better neighborhood.

But because she has an eviction on her record—even though she is currently much more financially stable—she is struggling to find housing in a better area. An eviction can remain on one’s credit report for up to seven years, barring renters access to their preferred neighborhoods. To expedite the removal process of a recorded eviction, one would need to petition the court in the county where the eviction occurred to have it
expunged.

Bodegas Confront New Challenges

imageThe Yemeni American Merchants Association

By Itzel Luna

Sylmar, CA.

When Juan Valerio’s customers pick up their morning coffees and sandwiches at his New York bodega, there are no more intimate conversations and warm welcomes. Only smiles hidden behind facemasks and muted transactions through plexiglass. But all that matters to his regulars is that Deli Grocery is open.

“Bodegas are something essential for the area you live in. When you have a business, you view those people like family,” Valerio said in Spanish. “The clients are yours for years. There are people who [used to] come at 6 in the morning to make their coffee, and if that business is closed, those people don’t know where to go.”

Deli Grocery is located in the Bronx in New York City, one of the initial vectors of America’s coronavirus outbreak. Valerio has owned the bodega for 14 years, and the pandemic forced him to temporarily close it for the first time. The Yemeni American Merchants Association, which represents 4,000 Yemeni-owned bodegas, said about 15 percent of their members have shut down because of the economic impact of the pandemic.

“By closing my business, I felt like I abandoned my clients. When it [closed], the clients called us asking why we weren’t opening,” Valerio said. “They needed us.”

What his customers didn’t realize was that Valerio’s father had died of COVID-19. When Valerio reopened his store after a month, he had to adjust to coming home every day and not seeing his father. It’s been difficult. “We weren’t father and son. We were two people that always shared the world,” Valerio said.

He soothes himself with Latino home remedies, like smearing himself with VapoRub and drinking jugo de limon, all while repeating, “Hay que seguir adelante,” or “we must move forward.” This sense of hope and community is what has kept New York bodegas afloat during these difficult times.

Given that most bodegas are family-owned, their success often depends on the entire family. In May, 20-year-old Brooklyn college student Nasim Almuntaser’s father was hospitalized for two weeks due to health issues unrelated to the coronavirus. As schools began to go online-only, Almuntaser, an educational advocate for the Yemeni merchants group, found himself adjusting to virtual classes, working long hours in his parents’ bodega, and worrying about his father’s health.

“There was something that got me to the finish line,” Almuntaser said. “I want to make him happy, and make myself happy, and reach my goal.” Getting his degree.

As customer demand increased, Almuntaser’s family chose to keep their bodega open 24 hours a day. But more hours meant more possible exposure to the coronavirus. At the beginning of the pandemic, Almuntaser had to use the same disposable mask for two weeks. To help protect essential workers, the Yemeni merchants group started the NYC Mask Mission campaign, which distributes free safety kits to bodega owners. They include three to five masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, and disinfectant wipes.

Youssef Mubarez and his family own three bodegas in New York; one has operated in Times Square for two decades. Despite the economic hit these businesses have suffered, Mubarez credited the survival of bodegas to their resilient communities.

“It’s this kind of community that drives the bodega owners and workers to stay operational during times of need,” said Mubarez, a spokesperson for the Yemeni merchants group. “At the end of the day, the owners in the stores are there to protect the people who live in their neighborhoods.”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

nasim photoNasim Almuntaser, a college student, has been working long hours at his parents’
bodega while trying to adjust to online classes.

By Alexa Figueroa

Brentwood, MD.

The American dream is a concept that has attracted many immigrants throughout their lives. While the idea has been adapted to fit everyone’s personal preference, owning a business is often a common element. Bodegas, small grocery stores typically based in urban communities, have helped make the American dream achievable for their owners,
as well as their employees. But the emergence of the coronavirus has jeopardized the livelihood of these small businesses and the fate of their American dream.

Juan Valerio, a bodega owner in the Bronx, always wanted to be an athlete, but learned to adapt his American dream to survive. When he came to the United States, he lost his mother, prompting him to become a bodega owner. He believes that being humble is one of the greatest qualities you can have. “Humility is something that you will always value and it will always show you the path. Never forget where you come from,” he said in
Spanish. “If you forget where you come from, the path will be filled with failure.”

Bodegas have become essential during the pandemic by supplying items that may be unavailable at a supermarket during the crisis. “The bodega has already, before the pandemic, served as places to buy groceries, diapers, milk. Some stores serve as daycare centers,” said Youssef Mubarez, a spokesperson for the Yemeni American Merchants
Association (YAMA). “It’s this kind of community that drives the bodega owners and the bodega workers to stay operational during times of need.”

The outbreak has created major challenges for bodegas, and YAMA has mobilized to help Yemeni-owned bodegas and the families of their employees stay afloat. YAMA represents 4,000 bodegas in New York. Fifteen percent of these stores have shut down due to COVID. “We help back home in Yemen for any family members who are being impacted by the pandemic,” Mubarez said. In New York, the group distributes bodega safety kits, including three to five masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, and disinfecting wipes.

Many bodega owners, like Valerio, have taken measures to reduce the burden the pandemic has put on employees by being not just an understanding employer but a friend. “I’ve given them fewer work hours, and if they need anything, they can take it from the store,” Valerio said. He’s also taken them home so they have less contact with people in public transportation.

Nasim Almuntaser, an educational advocate for YAMA, believes that being optimistic will help customers and bodega employees stay sane and move forward. “You know, it’s just being hopeful,” he said. “And motivating yourself and doing other things in this pandemic to remain healthy is crucial at this point.”

Once Called ‘Unskilled,’ Workers Now ‘Essential’

Jobs with JusticeJobs With Justice

By Finley Williams

Chicago, IL.

Labor organizer Ada Fuentes was raised in a working class family in the mostly immigrant community of Chelsea, Massachusetts, a densely populated city that sits
across from Boston on the low banks of the Mystic River.

Her mother spent long hours baking bread for nearby grocery stores, and, finding that insufficient, took on extra work as a domestic worker in the community, often
babysitting the children of women who had factory jobs. Her father, a union man with Sky Chefs, provided services as a handyman and plumber to supplement that income. Despite two working parents, Fuentes’ family could often only afford homes with
absentee landlords that lacked heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.

Fuentes recalled her neighbors also working multiple jobs in order to subsist. They lived
frugally and garnished their meals by the salt of their sweat—labor was not merely a forty-hour-a-week excursion, but rather a deep necessity and a source of tremendous pride.

“I kind of grew up with the sense of, ‘This is how the world is, and we’re just scrappy and
we piece things together and try to make it on our own,’” she said.

But the unprecedented economic and social turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic has put the livelihoods and safety of millions of American workers like Ada’s family and neighbors at risk.

As many white collar workers took shelter from the coronavirus in the safety of their homes, some 50 million Americans, toiling in grocery stores, hospitals, and innumerable other industries, reported to work. These were the so-called “essential workers,” a group of laborers who were previously viewed as “unskilled” and “entry-level.” And now they were the only thing keeping the economy alive.

“When I started hearing people say ‘essential worker,’ I was like, ‘This is exactly what we’ve been saying the entire time. This is what workers who work in that industry have been trying to tell you, that their jobs, their literal jobs, are essential to the economy,’” said Fuentes, a senior membership organizer for the nonprofit Jobs with Justice.

The group has used this new spotlight on essential workers to help them organize for better protections and rights from companies that have offered them few benefits.

“There is a path forward with workers organizing themselves. We’ve been seeing a lot of really awesome worker organizing happening,” Fuentes said.

Willy Solis and Jeanine Meisner and the work they do to organize workers for Shipt, a Target-owned grocery delivery service, are an example of this momentum. Both are members of the Gig Workers Collective.

Much like Fuentes, Solis became involved with labor organizing when he witnessed firsthand the plight of Shipt workers during the pandemic, especially after the com-
pany sliced workers’ pay.

“I literally spoke to hundreds of shoppers back in February and got really, really upset hearing those stories about the pay cut and how people were getting impacted and hurt,” Solis said. It’s why he became the lead organizer representing Shipt shoppers for the Gig Workers Collective.

Solis said he took the unpaid position because of the leverage it afforded him in organizing with other gig workers.

An immuno-compromised Shipt shopper who’s extremely vulnerable to pneumonia, Solis himself has experienced the desperation Fuentes witnessed in Massachusetts. He carries out a strict sanitation regimen, which includes wiping down every surface he
touches, changing gloves every time he enters a store, and showering as soon as he returns home. It is his need for money that dictates his hours: “Sometimes I go out as
late as 10 or 11 depending on the day or depending on how much money I need.”

Citing an instance where Shipt was unresponsive to the concerns he brought forth regarding PPE and lowered pay, Solis said that Shipt shoppers and other gig workers are disrespected by the companies that employ them, especially under the current circumstances.

“The fact that the companies are not responsive to our concerns and our vocalization of
the issues does give you nothing but the feeling of being slapped in the face repeatedly,” he said. “The CEOs of these companies are definitely not the ones out there doing this job on a daily basis and exposing themselves and their families to this, yet they want to continue to give us pay cuts repeatedly over the course of a pandemic. To put it bluntly, it’s despicable.”

However, a Shipt spokesperson told The Princeton Summer Journal, “Our updated pay model takes into account the many factors that go into a shop, such as estimated drive time, the number of items in the order, peak shopping windows and location, that can affect the effort needed to shop and deliver an order. With this new model, the majority of approximately 50 metropolitan areas across the country have seen shopper
base pay remain steady, while some metros have even seen an increase.”

Shipt also said it provides safety kits for its most active shoppers and those in high-risk areas, adding that Shipt shoppers can obtain masks and gloves at Target stores.

Public awareness and responsiveness to the risk workers are taking has also diminished as more cities and states push to reopen. Solis remembered the beginning of the coronavirus shutdowns—the outpouring of support was almost “surreal.”

“[But now] that we’re moving away more from the first parts of the pandemic, that sense of heroic effort on our part has seemed to be kind of dwindling away slowly and people are going back to viewing the position as one of a basic service,” he said.

Low-Income Students Face Extra Hurdles In School Disruption

By Kayla Bey

Lilburn, GA.

Mauricio Vazquez, a 19-year-old rising sophomore at Chapman University and Princeton Summer Journalism Program alum, was alarmed when he logged onto his computer days before finals week and saw he had an F in his class. After switching his evaluation from letter grades to pass/fail, Vazquez ended up barely passing. But he considers the effort he put into that class a success. After all, he managed to pass despite the challenges of learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

This spring, colleges across the country announced a sweeping transition to online learning. At Harvard, those who left campus for spring break would not return. “They said that by Sunday everybody had to leave,” said Ryan Morillo, a Harvard
freshman and PSJP alum. “Everybody was scrambling. Nobody knew how they were going to pay for flights home, or storage.”

The sudden disruption of higher education has been especially challenging for low-income students. Kay-Ann Henry, a 21-year-old PSJP alum entering her senior year at University of Miami, says her campus urged her to stay home. However, the reality of “home” for many low-income students can be hostile—and on-campus living, a survival mechanism. “I was going through a family situation, so it wasn’t [in] my best interest to go back home,” said Henry, who was able to secure housing in the University of Miami’s
student apartments.

Morillo didn’t have the same opportunity, having already booked a plane ticket home. “Once I started classes at home, it was horrible,” he said. Around the clock, his parents would ask for help around the house. In between those moments, “I’m studying in the same room that I sleep in, and everything is like a sense of procrastination,” he said.

“I don’t go outside,” said Henry, noting the recent spike in Florida coronavirus cases. Despite living in University of Miami housing, “I wasn’t really seeing people in the other apartments. One of my suitemates stayed [on campus] because she worked security, but I would hardly see her. She would be working so much.”

Henry once thought she would appreciate remote learning. She does not. “I definitely miss that social aspect. There’s just some classes that work better in person.”

Morillo agrees. Though he appreciates Harvard’s mandatory pass/fail policy to mitigate the consequences of a “rough transition,” Morillo is now worried about how his transcript will affect his graduate school applications. “Not all schools did that,” he said.
“It’s going to weigh in in the future.” Graduating college on time is an integral component of that future, especially when low-income students are more likely to leave college regardless of a global pandemic.

M, a 19-year-old rising sophomore at Arizona State University, is an undocumented immigrant. Despite living so close to campus that she commutes there, her undocumented status would force her to pay out-of-state tuition if she was without a full-ride scholarship.

M can’t imagine taking a gap year, never mind the thought of leaving school entirely. “My scholarships are also strictly for four years. I know I talked about it with my friends,” she said. “For them [taking a semester off] was an option, but, for me, because
of my scholarship, it wasn’t really an option.”

But while the coronavirus has upended higher education, especially for low-income students, there are some upsides to studying during a pandemic.

“Doing school right now is difficult, but it’s keeping me busy,” said Vazquez. “It’s given me something else to think about other than everything else going on in the world, and I very much need a distraction.”