C/O Yoohyun Park

As McMaster returns to in-person learning, second-year students are creating their communities in their own wa

Plain and simple, the 2020-2021 year was a hard year to enter university. In the time spent attending university from the comfort of our childhood bedrooms, staying connected had new barriers for everyone. For students entering their second year, meeting others took on a whole new form as they built connections and community for themselves through Zoom and Instagram DMs last year. After far too long, students now entering their second-year of university studies are finally able to return to campus, slowly but surely. 

Although finding your community has its barriers in an online setting, the class of 2024 did their best with the resources available to them. Ibreez Asaria, a student entering his second year of health sciences, commented on what the process of building community looked like for him.

“In terms of first year being online, it was hard to really develop meaningful connections and meaningful communities. Overall I’d say it was a process that required time and effort in first year and a lot of us were dealing with other challenges, whether it be mental health or time constraints or geography,” explained Asaria.

Now, all getting to explore campus together for the first time, it can also be said second-years are finding a sense of community in this joint dysphoria and excitement using Google Maps to no end, getting lost on the way to the library, discovering favourite food and study spots; the second-years are fumbling through this weird time together.

"In first year, we faced the challenge of adapting to the university workload and online learning. Now, in second year, we face a different challenge—adapting to the university environment and hybrid-style learning. But this challenge is one that we're happy to face because it's made the university experience that much more fulfilling . . . Everything is familiar, yet unfamiliar in a way. But we all get to experience this unfamiliarity together and I think that really brings out that sense of community within our second-year cohort," said Jessica Ho, a second-year arts and science student.

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One year following their Welcome Week conducted completely online, the university welcomed second-year students with a Second-Year Welcome day. The announcement that second-years would have some kind of in-person welcome was announced by the McMaster Student Success Center in late July, stirring up excitement amongst the second-year students. In late August confirmation arrived that Second-Year Welcome would, indeed, occur as everyone was hoping.

Second-Year Welcome was an opportunity for second-years to build the in-person community and connections they’d found online. They had high expectations, especially following the first years’ Welcome Week this year. 

However, students were only able to sign up for their Second-Year Welcome events through OscarPlus a mere two days before it was scheduled to happen, and the rest of the registration process wasn’t exactly smooth.

“[Second-Year Welcome] started out a little tricky, signing up for events and not getting into them. Then your friends didn’t get into events and you could see them disappointed or stressed out on the day-of because they didn’t get into any of the events that you did. It put a damper on things but it was nice just to see people in-person at all,” explained Armaan

Kotadia, a second-year Health Sciences student.

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Despite the technical difficulties, students were excited for the opportunity to finally arrive on campus and experience everything they missed in first year. 

Students showed up to their morning events—rock climbing, tours of campus and the David Braley Athletic Center and more—with high spirits and an excitement to experience life on campus for the first time. 

“Having that excitement of knowing that I can finally meet pretty much everyone I’ve been seeing on these Zoom calls was really cool, even despite COVID-19 regulations. I finally put a face to peoples’ profile pictures and it made me feel like part of that little close-knit family community within my program,” said Kotadia.

“We shared jokes and conversations about classes; talked about professors we really enjoyed. It was a really intimate, familial sort of feeling,” said Asaria. 

Although Second-Year Welcome had its ups and downs, students left feeling satisfied in the experiences offered to them. 

“I think after [Second-Year Welcome] I finally felt comfortable in Hamilton for the first time, whereas before I was still adjusting. [Second-Year Welcome] was like the final step before thinking ‘yeah, this is my new home-away-from-home’ . . . It helped me feel ready to start school more prepared because I felt like I had that support network,” explained Kotadia.

After a year of patiently waiting for a proper welcome, Second-Year Welcome didn’t quite make up for the in-person Welcome Week experience they missed, but it helped in the second-years’ transition back to campus. Finally able to experience university life to its fullest, the class of 2024 is building community both in-person and online in this hybrid year, their own way.

C/O Travis Nguyen

How McMaster’s first-year students attended a welcome week amid a global pandemic

Welcome Week is a week dedicated to incoming freshmen, allowing them to participate in activities that encourage forming connections with their classmates. Though it is such a well known event amongst university students, only one year of students can attest to attending such an event in the midst of a global pandemic.

The freshman entering McMaster University in the year of 2021 have found themselves trying to adjust to university life in the midst of the pandemic. Despite the pandemic, they began their year with a welcome week with socially distancing guidelines. 

“Daily screening: all attendees must complete the COVID-19 provincial self-assessment within one hour of their intended arrival on campus. Participants will be asked about the completion of screening upon arrival at the event,” stated the Student Success Centre on their COVID-19 guidelines for on-campus events.

On the Welcome Week website, seven distinct guidelines were set out to align with the City of Hamilton guidelines. This included having only 100 people at each outdoor event, including those hosting the events. Alongside this, students were required to wear masks at events where social distancing was difficult to maintain.

During the week of Sept. 1 to 8, 2021, first-years gathered all over the McMaster campus to meet their peers. The week followed a hybrid format, mixed with online and in-person components. Students were able to schedule their ideal welcome week schedule with the McMaster Welcome Week website

“Coming out of a year of fully online school basically, Grade 12, it was just really nice to walk outside and see people, just interact with other people. Being in the center of this more social environment after so much isolation,” said Nazifa Tasnim, a first-year engineering student.

This hybrid approach was appreciated by students as it allowed them an opportunity to meet classmates. Tasnim was open to admitting that virtual aspects of the events were often a little harder when it came down to meeting new people.

“There were virtual events that I signed up for but more or less it was only fun sometimes because I would have my friends, who also lived in my residency building, in the room with me doing the games. In terms of meeting new people, the virtual events were really hard when it came down to knowing anyone. The physical interactions were better in terms of getting to know someone for the first time. At least that’s what I think a lot of people feel. Definitely how I feel,”  said Tasnim.

All of these events were run by upper-year undergraduate students. The large majority chose to volunteer their first weeks of university to help guide their younger classmates. To prepare these upper-year students for their roles, they had mandatory training and this year, training was marginally different as they had to factor in COVID-19.

“We had a COVD-19 awareness training that was done via Avenue to Learn. We also had an in-person training that also went over COVID guidelines and all the social distancing rules. I found that they were relatively efficient because during the event all the guidelines were enforced,” said Angelina Zhang, a second-year science representative

Despite being older than the first-years, many were second-years, students who had also been new to the physical campus. Zhang shared how her online experience impacted her role as a Sciclone.

“As a second-year representative, during Welcome Week 2021, while not having any in-person events for my first year I feel really rewarded doing this. Because I am helping the first years this year to have a better Welcome Week experience than I did last year,” said Zhang.

Different faculties had a wide variety of events. When speaking with an arts and science representative, they talked about how they adapted to Welcome Week amid COVID-19.

“In terms of the planning specifically, all the faculties got together once a week for two hours with other administrative people throughout the whole summer to go through training, plan the events and get the student input side of things. For us specifically, it was two to three hours every week and we worked together to bounce ideas off each other,” said Nicole Rob, co-planner for arts & science Welcome Week events.

Rob proceeded to explain how COVID-19 guidelines affected each faculty differently.

“Every faculty is different because we have different numbers of students. For example, Arts & Science, as well as [the] Indigenous Studies Program, are the two faculties that have the least amount of students.

[The arts & sciences Program] has an incoming cohort this year of 68 students. Whereas there are faculties like Science that have 1,700 coming in this year. So what we can do and what type of events we did plan looks a little different for each faculty because of those numbers,” said Rob.

First-year students were allowed the opportunity to reside in the residence buildings found all over campus. This allowed for events that pertained to helping them meet and bond with their roommates.

“I live in [residence]. I do think it helped improve my Welcome Week experience mostly because there were a lot of [residence-specific] Welcome Week events. In those groupings, I got to meet people who also lived in my building or surrounding buildings, which meant that there were more people that I would get to see often, and would already know their names,” said Tasnim.

As one of the many planners of this week-long event, Rob shared what her favourite part of Welcome Week was.

“I think just seeing all of it come together was really cool. With COVID right now everything is fairly uncertain and it is hard to even envision an in-person event at this point because it has been so long since we’ve seen big gatherings of people. It was nice to be able to give the first-years that experience, as someone who had a fully online Welcome Week. As a second-year it was cool to see the first-years be able to enjoy a bit of the in-person experience,” she said.

Overall, Welcome Week was one that was truly historic. Despite the stresses and inconveniences brought about by COVID-19, Welcome Week this year was a huge success and an appreciated welcome for the incoming class. 

C/O Yoohyun Park

Although many hoped for an in-person year, hybrid learning continues to have mental health impacts on students

Since March of 2020, almost all McMaster University students have been unable to attend in-person classes, access on-campus services, or engage in extracurricular activities on campus. However, this fall, for the first time in over a year, students finally have the ability to return to campus for some in-person activities. 

“[McMaster is] focusing our planning on providing safe and meaningful in-person experiences for you this fall,” said a fall 2021 update for students published on April 30. 

Avery Kemble, a second-year student at McMaster, expressed an appreciation for the reopening of campus, citing the mental health benefits of learning around others and being able to access communal study spaces. 

“I think the vast majority of students want to be on campus. It is so isolating to be by yourself, doing school in your room for twelve hours a day. Being able to go on campus is so helpful for me, and I’m way more productive in a library than I am on my own,” said Kemble. 

For Camille Lisser, a first-year student, this hybrid learning environment is her first experience learning at McMaster. Lisser explained that even though she only has one tutorial in person this semester, being in residence and having access to spaces on campus allows her to learn with other people. 

“My roommate is also in [Arts & Science], so we’ve been trying to join a lot of the online [classes] together, and that’s been really helpful because one thing that I’ve really missed was being able to [attend class] sitting next to someone,” said Lisser. 

Lisser and Kemble both noted that along with the mental health benefits of learning alongside other students, there are also mental health benefits associated with being around other students in a social context too. 

Despite the mental health benefits of the return to campus, there are also mental health challenges associated with the return to in-person learning. 

After a year of online learning, returning to campus has created challenges such as COVID-19-related anxiety, stress associated with a change in routine and increased social exhaustion. 

“During Welcome Week, I was super tired, and I couldn’t figure out why I was so tired. What I think now is that it’s because there [were so many social events], and it was coming from a very non-social [time period] to a very social [time period],” explained Lisser. 

Kemble pointed out that, for second-year students specifically, another significant mental health challenge is the lack of social connection between students because they spent their first year online. 

“A lot of us still don’t know anybody in our program,” said Kemble. 

According to Kemble, McMaster’s second-year welcome events were seen as an attempt to combat this mental health challenge. However, due to the low registration capacity for those events, many second-year students were not able to access them. 

C/O Yoohyun Park

The newest safe space and friendly face for McMaster’s Black student-athletes

By: Acacia Lio, Staff Writer

In October 2020, a systematic review of the Black student-athlete experience within McMaster’s department of athletics was conducted due to reports of anti-Black racism from student-athlete alumni. A recommendation of this report was to increase representation among leadership. In addition to other beginning initiatives, the Black Student-Athlete Council was established to represent and advocate for McMaster’s Black student-athletes. 

The mission of the council is as follows: to establish a safe learning environment for BIPoC student athletes, and students at McMaster University, to foster a culture of equity and inclusion at McMaster University, to educate others on anti-racism and allyship, and to establish a platform of outreach.

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All student-athletes who identify as Black are automatically members of this council, but it is headed by a team of executive members, such as Internal and External Relations Director, Marissa Dillon. 

“[We] attended a lot of [equity diversity and inclusion] discussions, giving our input as student-athletes as to how we feel the department could work better to promote more culture and inclusion [and] address the existence of anti-Black racism,” said Dillon.

Many of the executive members have a similar motivation for joining the council—helping to point the future of McMaster’s Black student-athletes in a positive direction. One member who was particularly passionate of this vision was External Relations Director, Brandon Bernard.

“[I want to] create a better future for a lot of the incoming Black students [at] McMaster. The past is the past, so we can’t dwell on it too much, but we can still learn from it. And in doing so, we can create a better future,” said Bernard

In addition, the executive members hope this council can become a safe space for Black student-athletes. Administrative Director, Enoch Penney-Laryea spoke to the motivation of the board members, stressing the importance of having a safe space. 

“Part of the motivation for joining is just that we can make a difference and create a safe space where student-athletes could go if they’re having trouble with such things and have a group of people they can trust to help them navigate the spaces at McMaster,” commented Penney-Laryea.

Renelle Briggs, one of BSAC’s Marketing Directors, echoed the statement from Penney-Laryea, further stressing how critical a safe space is. 

“One of the things I would love to see is [BSAC growing] into a safe space and community for people to come to. With everything on social media and with more awareness of this coming up, I think it’s good to have a space for people to come to where they can feel safe and know the people there are there to support them and help them,” said Briggs

Members of the BSACeach have personal goals they would like to achieve with their time on the council such as Penney-Laryea, who is striving to set a high standard for the future of the council. 

“Because this is our first year I would like to establish a groundwork for documentation for what the club should look like. I think it’s a really good opportunity to set the standard high and to have concrete documentation that will last for years down the line,” explained Penney-Laryea.

Briggs also commented on the importance of the council’s future, explaining that she is proud to be a part of this team. 

“I’m excited for all the leadership opportunities that have come up. I think that when I leave, when I graduate this year, it’s gonna be a great thing to look back on and something that I'm proud to have been a part of,” said Briggs

Additionally, BSAC has many initiatives planned for the year, including their launch event. This is something students can get excited for in the coming weeks.

“As of right now, the [event] that’s nearest would be our launch event. We’re hoping to do that some time mid-October. But we also have a plethora of other events that we have in the works,” said Bernard.

Some of the other upcoming events include alumni outreach and coordinating with different teams within the athletics department. In addition to these exciting events, BSAC should be something Mac students are on the lookout for in general this year as the much needed initiative establishes its roots and creates a more inclusive future.

Adjusting to the “new normal” is a necessary step for our mental health

By: Ardena Bašić, Contributor

For more than a year, restrictions imposed on us due to the COVID-19 pandemic have forced us to change our way of life. Habitual activities like parties, work and exercise have either been moved to virtual platforms or missed altogether. The need to decline an invitation due to the health risks of socialization can be called “the COVID excuse.” While the word “excuse” may sound harsh, it better represents the completely reasonable need to decline an invitation that could be perilous to one’s health. 

However, as the pandemic slowly improves and vaccination rates rise, how much longer can this excuse last? This is an especially important inquiry considering the impact that a lack of social activity has had on our health. By no means am I advocating for risking your health, but the need to support your mental health must be balanced along with our distaste for modified gatherings, such as virtual or outdoor socializing. With laws and regulations loosening, it’s time to move away from “the COVID excuse” in order to restore our social lives, health and return to a new normal.  

For many, the pandemic took away whatever level of social life one had maintained beforehand. Regardless of whether one was more introverted or extroverted to begin with, there was now no choice but to minimize social gatherings. Although virtual meetings were always an option, they were certainly not the same and discouraged many from trying such methods. For a prolonged period, we could return to the excuses, expressing that “it’s not the same” or questioning the point of even planning such events.

These responses are certainly understandable, as anxiety and fear about the potential of getting COVID have been omnipresent for quite some time. Yet, while these exchanges were beneficial in easing some fears and flattening the curve at the beginning of the pandemic, they now may be doing more harm than good. 

Despite an emphasis on resources for mental health during initial lockdown periods, research still found that staying at home and personal distancing increased the prominence of depression, anxiety, insomnia and stress. When coupled with avoiding evolved ways of socializing, these behaviours simply compounded the general stress of the pandemic and led to severely worsened states of health for many. 

The routines we took for granted on a regular basis, when drastically pulled out of our lives without warning, had a major impact on our wellbeing. 

It is now clear that some semblance of our previous lives, even though they may have to take place in a virtual format for the time being, is necessary for our overall prosperity in life.

Although it will take time, we need to gradually make our way into the “new normal” that may share some qualities of how we lived before, while evolving to include public health measures that are keeping us safe. This will be the key to bettering our health, as well as ebbing continuous fears about the virus. For example, instead of weekend brunches, try outdoor hikes. Outside activities are recognized to be safer in minimizing the spread of the coronavirus and the fresh air and exercise is always invaluable. Moreover, trips to the theater can be replaced with software that allows one to stream movies while on a group call. Of course, this is not the same as in-person plans. 

However, the benefits to be gained from any socializing, whether it be virtual or real, trump any reservations about new methods of seeing our loved ones. 

All in all, COVID-19 has completely changed the way we live our lives. Even though it may be easier to continuously blame COVID for avoiding pre-pandemic activities, it is vital to our wellbeing that we gradually work our way towards new routines. Even though it may be difficult at first, there is comfort in knowing that everyone is in similar situations and we can work together to construct a comfortable, safe and happy post-COVID world. 

C/O Yoohyun Park

In order to protect McMaster community members, McMaster created its own digital platform to enforce its COVID-19 precautions

On Aug. 16, McMaster University confirmed that it would be requiring vaccination against COVID-19 for all students on campus. This information was shared in a letter from the President and Provost, which also stated that an online platform would be developed to validate the vaccination information of students. 

This online platform, called MacCheck, officially launched on Sept. 7. Since its launch, all McMaster students, staff and faculty have been required to upload proof of vaccination. Further, students, staff and faculty who are accessing McMaster’s campus must answer a series of COVID-19 screening questions on MacCheck beforehand.

According to Kevin de Kock, Director of Enterprise Solutions and Applications, there weren’t any online platforms already available that suited McMaster’s needs. 

“A lot of the other applications didn't really have the ability for somebody to go in and validate the [proof of vaccination], so it was clear to us that we were going to have to build something ourselves,” said de Kock. 

Once the announcement was made on Aug. 16 that proof of vaccination would be mandatory, McMaster was left with only a few weeks before their Sept. 7 deadline to develop a digital COVID-19 screening platform. 

According to de Kock, MacCheck’s launch has been very successful so far. With over 34,000 people who have already submitted their proof of vaccination, many students seem to understand the importance of MacCheck. 

Gayleen Gray, Assistant Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, added that, despite the initial success of MacCheck, there is still more work to be done. According to Gray, McMaster needs proof of vaccination from around 47,000 individuals, meaning there are about 13,000 people who still have to upload to MacCheck. 

“It's really important to us that we provide people with their privacy obviously, so only authorized individuals are able to see the information, but there is an intention to, as we get closer to October 18, push harder to remind people [that] this is necessary,” Gray said. 

In the comments of a post on the Spotted at Mac Facebook page, some individuals raised concerns that MacCheck isn’t enforced on campus. 

When discussing McMaster’s approach to ensuring that the daily COVID-19 screenings are completed by individuals accessing campus, Gray emphasized the importance of creating a culture where everyone understands the importance of MacCheck for community safety. 

“What we were trying to do is get away from a policing kind of approach, where anybody at any time can say ‘show me your green check; I want to see if you’re okay to be on campus,’” Gray explained. 

“It's impossible to police this, and the intention was never to police it, but MacCheck is meant to be your one-stop shop to prove that you've been cleared to attend campus,” de Kock said. 

According to Gray, the McMaster community has embraced this culture of community protection, with MacCheck averaging over 7,000 COVID-19 screenings per day. This, Gray says, speaks to McMaster’s wider culture of health and safety, as well as its culture of empathy. 

“In terms of validating whether students have or have not done that, there's a huge amount of respect and trust that our students will do the right thing. They know that this is something that they're required to do,” said Gray. 

Along with McMaster’s own mandatory vaccine policy, Ontario has also begun requiring proof of vaccination for those wishing to access indoor dining, athletic facilities, theatres and other non-essential services. This policy came into effect on Sept. 22. 

In order to comply with the provincial rules, McMaster’s COVID-19 guidelines have been further tightened. Students wishing to eat in the McMaster University Student Centre or access indoor athletic facilities are now required to show proof of vaccination and identification. As well, multiple food service areas on campus have limited their seating.

C/O Travis Nguyen

Kicker: After a tough opener against the Mustangs, the Marauders have a big season ahead. 

Although the McMaster Marauders football team started their season with a tough loss against the Western Mustangs in their opening game, the reigning provincial champions are confident of progressing through the year with considerable success. 

The opening game against the Mustangs was the first game the Marauders played in over a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in the Ontario University Athletics association cancelling numerous championships to curb the spread of the virus. McMaster had won the 2019 Yates Cup prior to the cancellations, having beat the Mustangs 29-15 in London,  allowing the team to come into the opening game with full confidence. 

The Marauders did not start the opening game well. Within the first quarter they were trailing 7-0. Things did not get better for them within the second quarter either, at which point they were losing 14-0, with Keon Edwards scoring the first two touchdowns in the game. Although the Marauders’ state did not change much in the second quarter, Jackson Cooling managed to hit back with a six yard touchdown. 

The closest the Marauders got to a lead was in the third quarter, where they played significantly better, scoring two field goals. Both field goals came courtesy of Adam Preocanin, who managed to bring the game to only a four goal difference at the end of the third quarter. Although the Mustangs’ Brian Garrity hit back with a 45 yard field goal mid-quarter, the Marauders narrowed the Mustangs’ lead by the end of the quarter to a score of 13-17

In the fourth quarter all went south for the Marauders, as they found themselves in their deepest hole yet. After a hopeful third, the Mustangs put their efforts on display, as they scored several touchdowns and one field goal in just 15 minutes. The start of the disappointing quarter began 16 seconds into the play, where Keon Edwards scored a touchdown (his third of the game). Just four minutes later, G. Campbell scored yet another touchdown for the Mustangs, this time from a long 25 yard pass from Jackson White. The last touchdown of the game came from Brett Ellerman, who put the Mustangs ahead in a big lead of 38-13. The final points of the game came from Brian Garrity, who scored a 25 yard field goal, concluding the scoreline to a brutal 13-41 defeat for the Marauders in their first game of the season. 

While the game did disappoint, the Marauders are still confident that their season will continue on good terms; they are keeping their heads up. Ryan Leder, the Marauders defensive end, stressed the importance of the team keeping their spirits up, noting that the first loss has not affected their morale.

“Although we did lose, we have taken the loss very well. All of us still have a lot of confidence for the rest of the season and I think that we have a lot of potential going forward. Nobody shied away from the first defeat, which is really important to us,” explained Leder.

On the topic of returning to play after substantial time off, Leder didn't hesitate to show his sheer excitement for the comeback of the varsity sport after a year and a half.

“It almost seemed like [COVID-19] was a never ending off season . . . It was a very tough time but I am extremely excited to be back and playing. On our first game against [the Mustangs], the audience was amazing and it's truly something that we all missed,” said Leder

The next game that the Marauders play comes against the Waterloo Warriors, on Oct. 2. Although it is their second game of the season, it will be the first time the Marauders will play in front of a home crowd after over a year. As such, the event will also be considered as a homecoming. When asked about the homecoming and the fans, Leder invited all McMaster students to come and support the team. 

“It's been a very long time, all of us are very motivated to do well. We are all excited to finally play in front of a big crowd and we need your support. McMaster has been on the forefront with COVID-19 and I am certain that the game will be a safe environment for all,” said Leder. 

The tickets for the homecoming game against the Warriors are on sale now, and are available on the Marauders Website

C/O Travis Nguyen

What does conservation look like during a pandemic?

By: Kate O’Melia, Contributor

Throughout the last year and a half, Canadians have had one solace that has been relatively cheap, recentering and unifying: the great outdoors. Outdoor activity is an industry that has been thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a 2020 report from Park People, it was reported that 82% of Canadians saw parks and trails as an important part of their mental health. Hamilton is no exception. During the pandemic, the Hamilton Conservation Authority reported a large increase in volume in their conservation areas and trails.

“If anything, [the pandemic] has brought the role of the Hamilton Conservation Authority, and specifically our lands, to the forefront because for a long time during the pandemic the only thing people could do really was to get outside and go for a walk,” said the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer of the HCA, Scott Peck. 

During the pandemic, the HCA found themselves with a surplus in their budget following the popularity of conservation areas. They’re now able to put that surplus towards the Saltfleet Wetland construction and other upcoming projects.

The Saltfleet Conservation Area Project is part of an ongoing effort to improve the Hamilton Watershed’s Report Card grades, which ranked poorly in forestry for some of Hamilton in a 2018 report compiled by the HCA. 

Joel Konik, who is in charge of grants and volunteer opportunities at the HCA, commented on the Saltfleet Wetland Project.

“So right now, we're trying to buy [the land] up so that we can save it and create a wetland and then store water up there so that when it rains, it doesn't like you know, flash flood the lower part of Stoney Creek which is heavily urbanized,” said Konik.

Konik says the pandemic has also changed what volunteering looks like at the HCA.

“We do an annual cleanup along the Rail Trail. We have planting teams that would schedule different events in our different parks. Those would happen like throughout the year, primarily in the spring and fall. Because of COVID, everything had to be put on hold,” said Konik.

Some of the events that had to be canceled were the invasive species removal and group trail cleanups, as well as cultural events such as the Christie Vintage and Antique Show and Christmas shows at both the Pioneer Village and Westfield Heritage Village.

Since they couldn’t meet up in person, Konik said volunteers were encouraged to take the initiative to do independent cleanup along trails while hiking.

“[I]nstead of doing [cleanup] as a group, people wanted to walk the trail and they're like, I'm walking anyway, maybe I can clean up some litter on the way,” Konik explained.

Over the course of the 2021 spring and summer seasons, 16 volunteers collected 77 bags worth of garbage from trails around Hamilton. Konik said there are approximately 300 volunteers with the HCA, with around 30 McMaster University students involved.  Following the pandemic, spots for volunteer events have been filling up quickly as people are ready to get back to volunteering and engaging with their community.

Konik added that students can also help do cleanup on their own. 

“Right now, the easiest thing to do is, if [students] wanted to do the litter cleanup, they can do that on their own at any time. And some of the areas that are in constant demand are the Rail Trail. So behind University Plaza . . .  it’s a high use area, a lot of litter collects there,” said Konik.

Students can access directions for locating the Brantford to Hamilton Rail Trail at: https://www.grandriver.ca/en/outdoor-recreation/Brantford-to-Hamilton-Rail-Trail.aspx.   Another easy access point for a nature trail near campus is Chegwin Trail, found on the right side of the Brandon Hall residence building. For a longer hike, check out Sassafras Point Lookout found on the Ravine Road Trail leading out of campus beside McMaster’s Alpine Tower. Students who are off-campus and are interested in conservation areas can head to https://conservationhamilton.ca/ for more trails.

C/O Daniel Schludi

Immunocompromised populations can now receive the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Ontario

By: Anna Samson, Contributor

On Sept. 10, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization released new guidelines regarding the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to now include immunocompromised people. Based on this recommendation, Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam has advised that immunocompromised individuals should receive a third dose of the vaccine to build a stronger immune response to the COVID-19 virus. Eligible individuals will be contacted by their doctors and given a referral form for the third dose. This additional dose of the COVID-19 vaccine can be administered a minimum of eight weeks after receiving the second dose.

The decision to include immunocompromised people for third dose eligibility supplements the previous month’s announcement to add a third shot to Ontario’s one or two dose vaccine series rollout plan. However, the third dose is only available for specific vulnerable populations. Previously, the vulnerable groups eligible for the third vaccine dose consisted of transplant recipients, those with hematological cancers undergoing active treatment, recipients of an anti-CD20 agent and those in high-risk settings such as long-term care homes and First Nations elder care lodges.

Now, immunocompromised individuals are added to the list. This includes those undergoing active treatment for solid tumors, those in receipt of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T-cell, those with moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency, Stage 3 or advanced untreated HIV infection and those with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and those undergoing active treatment with immunosuppressive therapies.

For the general population, receiving the recommended one or two doses of the vaccine offers sufficient protection against the COVID-19 virus and its variants, including the highly transmissible Delta variant. However, immunocompromised individuals have a lowered immune response to the recommended one or two dose vaccines and require a third dose to build up adequate immunity.

Matthew Miller, a member of The Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research, the McMaster Immunology Research Centre and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, reiterated this. 

“We actually consider this third dose a way for them to complete their primary immunization series and the reason for that is because the immunocompromised people and some frail elderly people like those who live in long-term care settings just don’t mount as good of an immune response as the general population,” said Miller. 

Miller went on to explain how a third dose for immunocompromised people is equivalent to the two doses that others receive. 

“[B]y giving them a third dose, what we’re trying to do is just get them to the same level that everyone else is at after two doses. It’s not that we’re really boosting them, it’s just we’re trying to get them up to the same point as everyone else because of the way that their immune systems [respond] more poorly to vaccines in general,” said Miller. 

There are fewer COVID-19 antibodies in fully vaccinated immunocompromised people than in fully vaccinated non-compromised people. These antibodies also wane faster in vulnerable populations as compared to the general population. Immunocompromised people are more likely to be adequately equipped against the COVID-19 virus when they have received a third dose of the vaccine to assist their immune response.

Following the provincial guidelines, Hamilton is now offering immunocompromised residents a third dose of the vaccine. The additional dose can be received at any Hamilton Public Health Services’ community clinics, St. Joseph Healthcare Hamilton and most pharmacies. To receive the third dose, individuals must bring a completed referral form given to them by their doctors. 

According to Miller, additional vaccine doses are not available on the McMaster University campus because a third dose is administered after verification from a physician.

“[T]hose additional doses are normally procured after talking to a physician who knows your medical history and if you fall into one of those [eligible] categories,” said Miller.

The pandemic has been especially difficult for immunocompromised people and other vulnerable populations at a higher risk of infection. Many of whom have had to be extra vigilant to protect their health during the last year and a half. Receiving a third dose of the vaccine offers a better chance for these vulnerable groups to armour themselves against COVID-19.

How McMaster’s first-year students attended a welcome week amid a global pandemic

Welcome Week is a week dedicated to incoming freshmen, allowing them to participate in activities that encourage forming connections with their classmates. Though it is such a well known event amongst university students, only one year of students can attest to attending such an event in the midst of a global pandemic.

The freshman entering McMaster University in the year of 2021 have found themselves trying to adjust to university life in the midst of the pandemic. Despite the pandemic, they began their year with a welcome week with socially distancing guidelines. 

“Daily screening: all attendees must complete the COVID-19 provincial self-assessment within one hour of their intended arrival on campus. Participants will be asked about the completion of screening upon arrival at the event,” stated the Student Success Centre on their COVID-19 guidelines for on-campus events.

On the Welcome Week website, seven distinct guidelines were set out to align with the City of Hamilton guidelines. This included having only 100 people at each outdoor event, including those hosting the events. Alongside this, students were required to wear masks at events where social distancing was difficult to maintain.

During the week of Sept. 1 to 8, 2021, first-years gathered all over the McMaster campus to meet their peers. The week followed a hybrid format, mixed with online and in-person components. Students were able to schedule their ideal welcome week schedule with the McMaster Welcome Week website

“Coming out of a year of fully online school basically, Grade 12, it was just really nice to walk outside and see people, just interact with other people. Being in the center of this more social environment after so much isolation,” said Nazifa Tasnim, a first-year engineering student.

This hybrid approach was appreciated by students as it allowed them an opportunity to meet classmates. Tasnim was open to admitting that virtual aspects of the events were often a little harder when it came down to meeting new people.

“There were virtual events that I signed up for but more or less it was only fun sometimes because I would have my friends, who also lived in my residency building, in the room with me doing the games. In terms of meeting new people, the virtual events were really hard when it came down to knowing anyone. The physical interactions were better in terms of getting to know someone for the first time. At least that’s what I think a lot of people feel. Definitely how I feel,”  said Tasnim.

All of these events were run by upper-year undergraduate students. The large majority chose to volunteer their first weeks of university to help guide their younger classmates. To prepare these upper-year students for their roles, they had mandatory training and this year, training was marginally different as they had to factor in COVID-19.

“We had a COVD-19 awareness training that was done via Avenue to Learn. We also had an in-person training that also went over COVID guidelines and all the social distancing rules. I found that they were relatively efficient because during the event all the guidelines were enforced,” said Angelina Zhang, a second-year science representative

Despite being older than the first-years, many were second-years, students who had also been new to the physical campus. Zhang shared how her online experience impacted her role as a Sciclone.

“As a second-year representative, during Welcome Week 2021, while not having any in-person events for my first year I feel really rewarded doing this. Because I am helping the first years this year to have a better Welcome Week experience than I did last year,” said Zhang.

Different faculties had a wide variety of events. When speaking with an arts and science representative, they talked about how they adapted to Welcome Week amid COVID-19.

“In terms of the planning specifically, all the faculties got together once a week for two hours with other administrative people throughout the whole summer to go through training, plan the events and get the student input side of things. For us specifically, it was two to three hours every week and we worked together to bounce ideas off each other,” said Nicole Rob, co-planner for arts & science Welcome Week events.

Rob proceeded to explain how COVID-19 guidelines affected each faculty differently.

“Every faculty is different because we have different numbers of students. For example, Arts & Science, as well as [the] Indigenous Studies Program, are the two faculties that have the least amount of students. [The arts & sciences Program] has an incoming cohort this year of 68 students. Whereas there are faculties like Science that have 1,700 coming in this year. So what we can do and what type of events we did plan looks a little different for each faculty because of those numbers,” said Rob.

First-year students were allowed the opportunity to reside in the residence buildings found all over campus. This allowed for events that pertained to helping them meet and bond with their roommates.

“I live in [residence]. I do think it helped improve my Welcome Week experience mostly because there were a lot of [residence-specific] Welcome Week events. In those groupings, I got to meet people who also lived in my building or surrounding buildings, which meant that there were more people that I would get to see often, and would already know their names,” said Tasnim.

As one of the many planners of this week-long event, Rob shared what her favourite part of Welcome Week was.

“I think just seeing all of it come together was really cool. With COVID right now everything is fairly uncertain and it is hard to even envision an in-person event at this point because it has been so long since we’ve seen big gatherings of people. It was nice to be able to give the first-years that experience, as someone who had a fully online Welcome Week. As a second-year it was cool to see the first-years be able to enjoy a bit of the in-person experience,” she said.

Overall, Welcome Week was one that was truly historic. Despite the stresses and inconveniences brought about by COVID-19, Welcome Week this year was a huge success and an appreciated welcome for the incoming class. 

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