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Updated: 1 hour 43 min ago

Societal Issues on Social Media

Sat, 2016-11-12 10:43

By Katie Harris, Free Press staff

Social media has been the place where college students express their feelings on issues that have happened or are still happening today. Lately, social media has been the main platform where societal issues have been discussed, such as abortion, political standings, abuse and racism. Students have mixed reactions on some issues such as racism and politics.  Most can inspire  a positive or negative response from others.

The problem with posting on social media is it’s never private. As a society, we question if social media is a healthy way to discuss specific issues such as these, and if it makes us safer than having a discussion face to face.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the most widely used sites for social interaction. USM students are seen using these platforms on their phones, tablets or computers. They are either updating their statuses or posting a photo that can be seen by millions of people across the world. Lately, all Facebook users see trending societal issues that either have to do with political views or racism. That’s something that many students do not want to see when they log onto their accounts.

USM Global Communications Professor John Muthyala, however, said that when students communicate and discuss societal issues, they create more awareness and public attention on social media platforms.

“It takes learning how to communicate and how to be more open,”  Muthyala said.

He also said that the emergence of social media allows students and younger generations to make themselves heard. Muthyala knows that when students have these discussions online, they have the option to say whatever they want on a platform such as Facebook. Once a student makes a post about an issue they feel strongly about, it can be seen by other users, who will then have the option to react to it or make a comment.

College students have different views on societal issues and how to express them on social media. One of the topics that is most talked about by college students on social media is the ongoing issue of NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem, which was started by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick. The action caused major outcry across the United States, as many people disagreed with his action. Other players from the NFL took notice and followed in his footsteps to send a message against systemic racism.

Connor Clement, a senior communications major, said he understands where Kaepernick is coming from. “He’s trying to make a point about social injustice, which is what makes America great,” Clement said. “You can have your own opinions, you can voice your concerns, you can stick to your own beliefs.”

As a communications major, Clement said it’s important for him to immerse himself in social media, because with this particular field of study, it’s always a great idea to be in the know about  what’s going on in the world of social media.

Some students try to avoid some discussion of societal issues.  But since our current culture relies on social media, it gives both young and older adults a voice to express their opinions and concerns despite the risks they are making when posting a comment on an issue that means a lot to them.

On the rise of social media, Clement said, “I think that’s the culture we live in now, it’s more behind the computer screen typing away than it is face to face.”

Student Thoughts on the Election

Sat, 2016-11-12 10:42

By Johnna Ossie, Free Press staff

The upcoming presidential election has many young people concerned about the future, not just for our country but for the global community. For generations, college students have been known to be the ones rallied behind progressive candidates and to come together in protest against injustices.  

Many in the Baby Boomer generation look at Millennials as lazy, apathetic and coddled compared to the supposed do-it-yourselfers that came before them. The Bernie Sanders campaign showed that a large portion America’s youth is determined, vocal and desperate for systematic change.

With Bernie Sanders out of the race, and major criticism against both major party political candidates, how can students decide who to vote for, or whether to vote at all? What are the major concerns among students regarding the upcoming election, and the future of country?

Last week’s visit to USM by Presidential Candidate Jill Stein was well attended, but many at the event were unsure if they would actually vote for Stein, and mainly seemed interested in hearing what she had to say. When Chair of the Maine Green Independent Party Asher Platts asked who would be voting Green in the upcoming election, only small number of audience members stood up.

USM is a community of varied backgrounds, lifestyles and age groups. As a largely commuter school, many students are nontraditional, perhaps going back to school after a period off or to pursue a second degree. These students may all have different ideas about what is the most important topic in the upcoming election.

In a poll of 45 USM students of varying majors, ages and genders, 22 people reported that they plan to vote for Hillary Clinton, 4 for Donald Trump and 4 for the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. None reported that they planned to vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, despite her recent visit to campus, during which she focused on eliminating student debt.

The upcoming election could have major consequences for college students, especially Millennials, as they comprise the generation that will bear the future burden of any choices made by the next U.S. president.

Emma Donnelly, a sophomore majoring in women and gender studies and social work, said that one of her worries surrounding the election is that young people won’t vote. In The Free Press’ student survey, 9 out of 45 students polled said they don’t plan to vote.

“One of my biggest concerns is that millennials will not go out and vote,” Donnelly said. “Many of us are very outspoken on social media about political issues, but rarely go out and vote. We have so much potential to really change the future of this country…our activism needs to extend beyond the long, passionate posts on Facebook.”

It is true that young people, by numbers, could have a huge impact on the election. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2015 that the population of people born between 1982 and 2000 is 83.1 million, while Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, have a population of 75.4 million. Millennials have the capacity to largely sway the election results.

“It is incredibly important for students to care about the election. Our age group has more power than many would believe,” Donnelly said.  “We make up a large chunk of the population, and if we make our voices heard we can really make a difference.”

Pete Franzen of the USM Socialists is a graduate student in mental health counseling. He explained that one of the USM Socialists’ major concerns is that people will feel stuck in voting for the “lesser of two evils,” that is, that neither Trump nor Clinton appear to be viable candidates to many voters, but they choose to vote for whomever they feel to be not the best candidate, but the candidate who is not the worst.

“It is our opinion that lesser evil-ism leads to a situation where there is no genuine left alternative, and so that far right critiques are the only visible alternative the the status quo,” he said. “A lot of angry voters who don’t feel heard gravitate towards the far right because there is no organized left.”

The USM Socialists formally endorse Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein, and were seen tabling at her recent visit to USM, talking with students and audience members and handing out fliers explaining the concept of socialism to those unfamiliar or hoping to learn more. It is their hope that students and voters will look beyond a two party system for a third-party alternative.

“We do not think Stein will win the election,” Franzen said, “but we think support for Stein is valuable because it would increase the funding, visibility, and viability of an independent, anti-capitalist political party.”

Some students and voters, however, worry that a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Donald Trump. This was also the concern in Maine’s last two gubernatorial elections, where the Left vote was split between candidates Independent Eliot Cutler and Democrat Mike Michaud. In these two elections, the result was that Paul LePage was elected governor, despite only having 48.2 percent of the vote in 2014, and 37.6 percent of the vote in 2010. Bernie Sanders recently told his supporters, “Now is not the time for a protest vote.”

No matter who students plan to vote for, everyone should take the time to research the candidates, their platforms, and what’s at stake.

Any student who wishes to register to vote can fill out a registration card in the Student Center on National Voter Registration Day, which is Sept. 27, at City Hall in Portland or at the Town Clerk’s Office in Gorham (located at 75 South Street). Students who pay out-of-state tuition can register to vote in Maine using their campus address. The last day to fill out a mail-in ballot is Oct.18. Students can also register at their polling place on Election Day.

“We are the future of this country,” Donnelly said,  “and we cannot remain quiet.”

Understanding Title IX and Mandatory Reporting

Sat, 2016-11-12 10:23

By Johnna Ossie, Free Press News editor

Title IX has existed in the United States for over forty years, yet many students at USM have little to no idea what it means, or what rights they have as a result. A Free Press survey found that even the students who know the basics of what Title IX is don’t necessarily understand what rights they have or where to go to report a violation. Of twenty students polled in a 200-level women and gender studies class, fifteen of twenty said they knew what Title IX is, yet only 10 said they understood their rights under Title IX, and only seven reported they would know where to go on campus to report a Title IX violation.

Sarah Holmes is the Assistant Dean of Students and the Title IX Coordinator at USM. Holmes explained that Title IX laws were introduced in the 1970s as part of  federal legislation that focuses on sex-based discrimination. Though implemented in the 1970s, these laws were actually a part of the education component of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Specifically, Title IX is a set of federal regulations passed as a part of the 1972 higher education amendments. The law states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

One of the original purposes of Title IX was to promote equality among student athletes, making sure that female athletes had equal access to resources and opportunities. When USM upgraded its baseball field, for instance,under Title IX it was required to also upgrade its softball field. Title IX extends far beyond sports, however, serving to protect students from any form of sex-based discrimination.

In 2011, the Department of Education distributed what’s referred to as a “Dear Colleague” letter, which put public colleges and universities on notice that sexual assault and sexual violence are a form of sex-based discrimination. If colleges and universities are not doing the work that they should be doing to change the climate that perpetuates or allows these acts on campus, they are in violation of the rights of their students and are perpetuation systems of sex discrimination.

Currently, there are over one hundred schools in the United States today being investigated by the Department of Education for Title IX violations. Schools such as Harvard, Sarah Lawrence, Michigan State, University of California and many others made the list.

Under Title IX, all USM employees are considered mandated reporters. This means that if a student discloses that they have been the victim of sexual violence, are experiencing domestic or intimate partner violence or stalking, any USM employee they disclose that information to is required under law to report it to the Title IX coordinator, in this case, Sarah Holmes.

The Health and Counseling staff are not mandatory reporters. If a student wishes to disclose that they have experienced a Title IX violation to a confidential source, a staff person at the Health and Counseling Center would be the best option.

Once Holmes receives a report, she will reach out to the student through phone or e-mail, with her main goal being to provide support and resources. She emphasized that her focus is on supporting the student. She will attend counseling sessions with students if they feel more comfortable talking that way. Her goal is to give the survivor as much agency as possible.

“If at all possible I keep the survivor in the driver’s seat. Unless there’s a greater threat to campus safety, they aren’t forced to file a report,” she said.

Holmes explained that a “greater threat to campus safety” would mean multiple reports filed about a particular person on campus, or multiple reports filed surrounding a particular place on campus, such as a particular dorm.

A large part of Holmes’ job as the Title IX Coordinator is to help the student as much as possible with access to resources and assistance. She also helps to implement safety plans for the affected student, such as helping them switch classes if the perpetrator is in a class with the victim, helping a student find new housing. She may also work with students and professors to help create plans for a student to finish classwork, or anything else the student may need assistance with on campus with regards to the Title IX violation that took place.

So why do so few students understand Title IX and mandatory reporting? Holmes explained that USM is still navigating the process of helping students and helping understand everything they need to know.

Rodney Mondor, director of Transitional Programs and New Student Orientation, said that Title IX is covered in new student orientation, as well as their rights under Title IX and how to report a violation. It seems staff are working to help students understand Title IX. Why, then, are students so unsure of the their right and how to access resources?

“We never know how we’re going to respond to something until the unthinkable happens,” Holmes said. Her job is to do her best to help students navigate through what to do if the unthinkable happens. Under Title IX, the university’s job should be to help stop the unthinkable from happening in the first place.

Students who wish to learn more about their rights under Title IX can visit or


Presidential Election 2016: On the issues

Thu, 2016-11-03 11:38

The 2016 Presidential Election is upon us, and American Citizens continue to battle with the decision of who will be the next President of the United States, it’s important to analyze and understand the stance each viable candidate has held on particular issues that could highly influence the future of  our country and its relations with the rest of the world.

Donald Trump, Republican Nominee

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, has offered a controversial perspective on the election through his extreme stances on issues such as abortion rights, gun laws, immigration, foreign policy, and so on. In regards to his stance on immigration, he wants to build a border at the wall between Mexico and the United States and deport all Muslims. He wants to enforce the system that allows immigrants to enter our country, as he believes they are flowing in illegally “like water.”

While Trump is pro-life, he also believes in de-funding planned parenthood after hearing controversial rumors that they sell babies body parts. While this was debunked, and statistically it is known that abortions only make up 3 percent of the services Planned Parenthood provides, he still continues to believe that abortions can be performed merely days before the due date of the child (another belief that is also incorrect). He supports the right to the second amendment to bear arms, and wants to “clean up the streets,” of violent criminals and provide a stronger array of mental health services to those who are in need.

In Foreign policy, Trump has proclaimed he wants to “make American safe again,” by destroying what he believes to be radical Islam. Although he wants to end the nuclear deal with Iran, he has also very casually and openly talked about using Nuclear weapons as a form of war. When analyzing his stance on taxes, he wants to cut the business rate by 15 percent and reduce the individual rates in three percentage brackets – 12, 25 and 33 percent.

While Trump himself noted that, “he knows a lot of wealthy people who aren’t paying their taxes and it’s unfair,” he himself has admitted to not paying his own, which he noted makes him “smart.” In 2014, Trump’s stance on global warming was that it was, “an expensive hoax,” but has since changed his perspective, noting that “all individuals deserve clean air and water.”

Hillary Clinton, Democratic Nominee

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Presidential Nominee, has offered perspective on issues that similarly reflect those of President Obama. While her deleted email controversy has given uprise to Trump’s label of “Crooked Hillary,” she arguably has a strong political background and a deeper understanding of the issues at hand. Clinton believes we need to have a comprehensive immigration reform that leads to a path of equal citizenship, rather than deport individuals. In regards to abortion, she believes that the government has no right to interfere with a woman’s body and her choices over it.”

Her stance on gun laws shows the staggering statistic that over 33,000 people in America are killed by guns each year, and that in order to fix this problem, we must close the loophole on gun purchases and provide stronger background checks for those who wish to purchase weapons. When speaking on taxes, Clinton notes that “the wealthy pay the least amount of taxes,” and that America needs to provide tax relief for those who suffer in poverty and for middle-class Americans.

Clinton stands for an affordable college curriculum and higher focus on providing a world-class education to all students. For her stance on crime and safety, she argues that we must end mass incarceration and put body cameras on police for higher accountability access.

On Foreign policy, Clinton differs from her Republican opponent. She never references wanting to end “radical Islam,” as we see Trump proclaiming, but rather wants to, “maintain a cutting-edge military, strengthen our alliances and be firm with our rivals, defeat ISIS, and enforce the Iran nuclear deal.” While many are still looming under the uncertainty of her potential presidency after 30,000 of her emails were released from a private server, the investigation has since been “debunked.”

Clinton continues to hold a strong stance that supports “quality, affordable health care for all American Citizens, and hopes to increase American Energy by expanding the use of solar power energy to half a billion panels by 2020. She also believes that “supporting [our] veterans is a sacred responsibility” and plans to provide veterans with world-class health care and increase education opportunities in order to prevent veteran homelessness and suicide.

Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Presidential Nominee

Johnson, who accepted the nomination at the 2016 Libertarian Party National Presidential Nominating Convention in Orlando this past May, has a stance on political issues that both align and directly differ from both the Democratic and Republican nominee. When addressing concerns of education, Johnson thoroughly believes that it is in the best interest of young, learning minds to to move control of K-12 education from the federal level to the local and state level. On the topic of the American economy, he blames both idealized parties on the 20-trillion dollar deficit in national debt. In correlation, he opposes increasing taxes, especially on wealthy individuals, and hopes to keep the minimum wage at its current standing.

While he does note a belief in climate change, he doesn’t think rules and regulations should be implemented to slow it down if they will affect the current economy. On Foreign policy, he does not want to expand on military advancements and to instead focus on domestic partnerships. He is an opponent of gun control, he strongly supports all uses of marijuana and states that, “government should stay out of individuals healthcare concerns,” when addressing commentary on abortions and, from his perspective, a failed Obamacare campaign.

Jill Stein, Green Party Presidential Nominee

Stein believes in raising taxes for wealthy individuals and wants to cut taxes for poor and middle class Americans. She opposes unwarranted government surveillance, strongly supports the legalization of marijuana, and wants to guarantee tuition-free public education from pre-school to college for all American citizens. On climate change, Stein hopes to end the use of fossil fuels and begin a transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy use by 2030.

On health issues, Stein would like to make free healthcare available to all in a “Medicare for All” program that requires no co-pays, premiums or deductibles. By eliminating private health insurance, she hopes to reduce prescription drug prices and the overall costs that are often associated with healthcare. For criminal justice, she opposes jailing youth and would like to end the death penalty. She wants to cut military spending by 50 percent and cut off foreign aid to nations she deems to be “human rights abusers,” which consists of allies such as Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Triggered by Trump, students discuss how it affects them

Thu, 2016-11-03 11:05

By Johnna Ossie, News Editor

One in six women will be the victims of rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), there are close to 3,000 victims of sexual assault in the United States each year. Sexual assault is any act of a sexual nature that takes place without the explicit consent of the person acted upon. Victims of sexual assault can struggle with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder for years after they are assaulted.

Last week, video recordings of Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump were leaked, in which he openly bragged about sexually assaulting women.

Trump is recorded as saying, “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful. I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

When discussing a woman he tried to have sex with, Trump said, “I moved on her like a bitch.”

When a woman came forward accusing Trump of sexually assaulting her on an airplane, Trump said the woman wasn’t attractive enough for him to assault.

“Believe me, she would not be my first choice,” he said.

This isn’t the first degrading thing that Trump has said about women on record. He tweeted in May 2013, “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military, only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?”

Trump started his presidential campaign by generalizing all Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug addicts. He has stated he would like to ban Muslims from entering the US. In 1973, he was sued for violating the Fair Housing Act by refusing tenancy to Black renters. His supporters have been known to become violent, and many have been filmed verbally and physically assaulting people of color while screaming “Trump.”

These are only a sampling of the things he has said, done and vowed to do to women and minorities. His comments have sent of a wave of anxiety and panic across the country.

Jessie VanBenschoten, a Portland local, said that Trump’s words have reminded her of the way her father acted towards her as a child. VanBenschoten reports, “Trump has brought up feelings of fear that remind me of my father, an abusive alcoholic, who would verbally abuse my mother and I with rhetoric similar to Trumps.”

Trump has called women “fat pigs,” “dogs” and “slobs.” He calls women who offend him ugly or makes comments about the fact that they must be menstruating.

“When I was a kid [my father] mercilessly picked on me for being chubby to the point where I battled an eating disorder well into college that still comes out now,” Said VanBenschoten.

Trump promised, in the most recent presidential debate, to do everything in his power to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark ruling from the Supreme Court in 1973 that declared the government cannot deny a woman’s right to an abortion.

In the debates, he continuously interrupted his opponent, Secretary Hillary Clinton. In the most recent debate, Trump interrupted Secretary Clinton 67 times.

Emma Donnelly, a USM sophomore and resident assistant, has been disturbed by Donald Trump’s most recent comments.  

“As a survivor of sexual assault, I find it disturbing and almost personally insulting that people are letting him get away with this and think it’s normal,” Donnelly said. “The fact that someone similar to my perpetrator has the potential to lead this entire country is just absolutely unbelievable, and is honestly my worst nightmare.”

Donnelly described how Trump’s attitude towards women has been particularly upsetting to her: “It’s completely dehumanizing, dangerous, and invalidating.”.

Arwyn Sherman, who works at Shalom House in Portland, said that hearing Trump describe grabbing women’s genitals without their permission brought up a traumatic memory of being groped by a classmate as a young child.

“I remember we were standing in line for recess outside of the classroom and I felt a sensation in between my legs,” Sherman said. “A male classmate had thought it would be funny to grab me there from behind and make a honking noise. His grip was hard and sure of itself. I remember feeling incredibly violated and alone. I think a few girls defended me. I started crying.”

Sherman said that they have been experiencing more symptoms of anxiety as a result of the election.

“I have more panic episodes and have anxiety to the point where I struggle to leave the house,” they said. “I’ve been having post-apocalyptic nightmares again which hasn’t happened since I began treatment for my mental illness six years ago.”

Sherman said one of their biggest fears with a Trump presidency is the hatred he breeds.

“I’m more concerned that racist, rapey people are getting deeply validated in a way that they previously were not,” said Sherman. “I think the damage has been done regardless of who ends up as president. In some ways, this is positive because we have exposed the nasty underbelly of hundred of years of oppression.”

VanBenschoten listed some of her biggest concerns if Trump were to win the election: “The fact that he will be in any way cognizant of the nuclear codes. The fact that we have come so far exposing rape culture, the thought of him, rape culture’s poster boy, running the country is mortifying.”

Sherman added, “I don’t know if it’s Trump that is scaring me more or the fact he has people who want him as our president.…Trump is literally just a product of his upbringing. Trump is responsible for his actions but ultimately what is so scary is that I know men in my life exactly like him.”

The United States has a presidential candidate who reminds citizens of their abusive parents, their rapists, their classmates who violated them, the person who yelled racial slurs at them on the street, or the person who threatened them because of their religion. Trump is literally making American citizens sick through the amount of stress, anxiety and trauma that is being brought up during this election.

“Normally I would tell people ‘I don’t care who you vote for as long as you vote,’” Donnelly said,  “but that is no longer true. I genuinely can’t find it in my heart to respect anyone who is voting for Trump. He is dangerous and he is not representative of this country. I cannot fathom why someone would be okay with him being the one our kids look up to.”


USM Bus services to be eliminated by 2018

Thu, 2016-11-03 10:56

By Katie Harris, Free Press staff

The campus buses that travel daily between Portland and Gorham may not be in service after the beginning of 2018, according to university officials. In two years’ time, the university plans to switch to the Portland METRO bus system in order to transport students between the two campus locations.

Buster Neel, Interim Chief Business Officer, explained that he has spoken with officials from the city of Portland, as well as conversed with Greater Portland Metro (METRO) regarding the possibility of METRO provide transportation between the two campuses. Though they are still in negotiation, the university is soon to determine if and when the new plan will go into effect.

“We have been approached by the city and they have been trying to work with USM and METRO for a while now,” Neel stated. He continued by explaining that, If the decision to switch to METRO is implemented, the current USM bus service will still be the same for the next year and a half before the contract expires at the end of 2017.

USM senior and media studies major Nick Fournier explained that he uses the buses that travel between campus locations to commute to class. He said that as long as the cost of travel remains the same, the change over to METRO transportation sounds like a positive change for the university. As a dorm student on the Gorham campus, however, he believes that METRO wouldn’t further benefit students because the two campus locations are the only locations he needs to be.

“I don’t think using the Metro would be more beneficial to me as a student in Gorham, simply because I only need to travel between the two campus locations,” he stated. “However, if they were looking to do more stops via the METRO service, like in Westbrook, it could be beneficial to commuter students not in Gorham or Portland.”

Fournier believes that, because the university buses are larger than the seating METRO provides, there may be an issue with seating and space for students. Regardless of the new change, he stated that the university needs to keep in mind that space could be an issue if the university plans to just place students on buses already filled with Portland locals.

Currently, USM funds the costs of transportation via a tuition fee. This extra cost to students, whether or not they take advantage of it, allows students to be brought back and forth to and from Gorham. The fee included in each student’s tuition ranges from $55 to $110 dollars depending on credit hours. Regardless of whether or not students take advantage of this service, they are billed for the cost.

The current bus service between campus locations allows student to commute to Gorham and Portland. The current Portland METRO bus system requires all passengers to pay $1.50 or purchase a bus pass. If USM was to use METRO as the main mode of transportation for their students, individuals affiliated with USM will be given a bus card. Whether or not this card will be included in tuition fees is still being discussed among university officials.

President Glenn Cummings believes that it’s a great idea for the students and will benefit the university as well.  He stated in a recent interview that he is very excited for the potential of the new bus program, which could open up a wider range of travel locations among university students who may not have any other mode of transportation.


“I am not my mental illness” Students share stories of survival from stigma

Thu, 2016-11-03 10:55

By Julie Pike, Free Press Staff

The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” What should be stressed in this definition is that every individual has mental health.

“Everybody has mental health, everybody struggles and everybody needs help sometimes,” stated Hilarie Fotter, a graduate assistant at USM’s Health and Counseling Services.

Fotter provided several stats about mental illnesses: “Approximately one in five youth and young adults experience a mental health condition. Seventy-five percent of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by the age 24.”

The pressures in college can be challenging for students, with the stress of schoolwork, the stress of relationships and of adulthood. College is often a test of an individual’s mental health.

According to Robert Small, Director of Counseling for Health and Counseling Services at USM, the most prevalent conditions college students have are anxiety and depression.

“Everybody experiences sadness, fear and anxiety,” he stated. “Everybody has to go through all of the challenges of life. We have to accept that we are all human.”

Health and Counseling Services sees approximately 650 students each school year. Currently there are 8,506 students enrolled at USM. Yet, only six to seven percent of the study body utilizes the resources that USM offers.

The stigma of mental health is a big factor that prevents students from getting help with mental health conditions.

“When experiencing mental illness, people often think that they are weak or that there is something wrong with them,”  Small said, “people stigmatize themselves as well as others.”

“We as humans like to pride ourselves as being in control of things,” Fotter stated. “It’s hard for us to say that it’s okay when we’re not in control and we judge ourselves on that.”

Small stated that 20 percent of students across the country in college have a diagnosable mental health condition. Although mental health conditions can greatly impact college students, he believes that mental health is an issue for a whole society and that it is important that everyone is accepting of others.

Several factors lead to a stigma with mental health, including the influence of media, individual beliefs and prejudices.

“There is a strong negative opinion of mental disorders in the media,” said Fotter. “We see things like mental illness portrayed very over the top.”

USM Health and Counseling has several programs working to destigmatize mental illness.

The Wellness Resource Centers (also known as The Wells), which are located on the Portland and Gorham campus are focused on helping students develop and increase their awareness of  the many aspects of wellness, including mental health.

The Recovery Oriented Campus Center (ROCC) in Portland helps build peer support, and creates a supportive community for students recovering from substance use and other mental health conditions.

The USM Cares program, which Fotter oversees, is a mental health awareness and suicide prevention program on campus.

“We try to bring a message of normality to the idea of mental health, and to help people understand what mental health might look like as well as how to find support for yourself and your friends,” she stated.

Being aware of the stigma of mental health can help students reduce the prevalence of it.

“You need have to awareness of it and a constant initiative to help people accept others who are different” stated Small.

Health and Counseling offers a wide range of services to students experiencing mental health conditions, including a large number of preventative, intervention and recovery services.

“It is important to give a message of hope, healing and recovery,” said Small. “Mental health conditions are treatable. People do get healthier and have fulfilling lives.”

Students Share Their Stories of Mental Illness

Cassidy Webster – Class of 2019

“Mental illness has been a huge part of my life thus far. I have knowingly struggled with depression for about five years now.

Going through school became very difficult to me. More specifically my senior year. I missed an immense amount of school and I did not participate in any extracurricular activities.

I barely spent time with any friends. I spent most of my days laying in bed with a horrible feeling inside of me. It felt like bricks were constantly weighing down on my chest and shoulders. I could find no joy in my life.

That being said, I was aware of my condition and I knew I could not continue on like that.

I had been seeing a counselor for a year or two prior to this depressive episode, so I did not know what was happening to me.

I was mad at myself because I knew what happiness felt like, but I couldn’t find it within myself. I was on medicine for a while, but I did not like it because I didn’t like my body having to rely on a pill every day for happiness that others can find on their own.

Now I am finally in a happy place. I do not take one minute for granted. Although my brain is unpredictable, I have found comfort in taking my medication because I am able to acknowledge that it does regulate my levels of serotonin.

I do not see my counselor as often as I used to, but I know she is there if I need her. I have not needed to utilize any on-campus help, but I do not think mental health is thought of if one has not experienced it.

If I am having a hard time it is easy for me to speak with my professors, but for those who are not able to do that professors are not very understanding. The student may just be seen as one who does not do their work or show up. Even someone that does not care.

I struggle with that outlook. When I was very depressed and I did not attend certain things people would get upset with me and ask why I didn’t care. I do care. I will always care. My brain was just in a bad place.

I am writing this to bring more awareness to this issue. I am normally seen as a very happy person with nothing to complain about. I have a loving family and I am very lucky.

I did not choose  this brain, but I have learned how to live with it. I don’t need pity and I don’t need people to feel bad for me, but joking about mental illness, or any illness for that matter, is inappropriate. More people have depression and anxiety now than ever.”

Ashley – Class of 2018

“My experience with mental illness has been with bipolar 2 disorder, ADHD and general anxiety disorder. I also have family members whom  these affect.

I have dealt with mental illness most of my life. Being incorrectly diagnosed at 13 with major depressive disorder started my long journey of dealing with mental illness in my everyday life.

Some days/weeks/months/years are better than others, but I’ve dealt with my mental illnesses every day of my life since I can remember.

It impacts everyday tasks that are as simple as getting out of bed or going to class.

There have been days that I’ve stared at my apartment door after getting ready for class or work, and I just cannot get the energy up to open the door and walk out. There are also days where I don’t sleep at all and forget to eat, but get vast amounts of things done.

School has been difficult. I’ve missed a lot of classes because of my ever changing moods, and then when I’m done with a bipolar episode I miss more classes because I have anxiety of going back after I missed classes. It is a never ending cycle.

When doing work, I tend to not be able to focus quite long enough to get an assignment done or I over focus and put way too much time and effort into one class and not enough into my other classes.

Because of this, I can only take two classes a semester without getting overwhelmed. I’ve also been put on academic and financial probation a handful of times over the course of three years.

I’ve lost friends. A lot of them. I’ve hurt a lot of people and I have said and done things I didn’t mean at the time. I have also been reckless and gotten myself into dangerous and life threatening situations, which have  ended with myself in the hospital or in the back of a cop car.

I’ve been in two outpatient treatment programs and those have helped a lot. I was lucky enough that I was able to take time off from work and school in order to get the treatment I needed and learn coping methods

I also have a great support system through friends and a few faculty members at USM that have helped me a lot.

I have used health and counseling services three times. It helped me at the time. I wish more students used it, even students who may not have a mental health issue, but are just stressed because college is stressful as it is.

I honestly don’t think mental illness is talked about enough, and when it is, it isn’t talked about in the right forum.

I think a lot of professors (or at least the ones I have dealt with) don’t understand just how life altering a mental illness is for a student. Some don’t even want to hear about it. Others are very supportive. Overall, I don’t think there is enough talk about it.

My message to other students is to speak up, be vocal, don’t let anyone invalidate you or your illness. Not everyone will understand, but those who will are the best people to have by your side.”

David Bruenjes, Class of 2016

“I Am Not My Bipolar Disorder

I was diagnosed with Bipolar I as a sophomore at USM after a manic episode caused me to withdraw from classes for a year. I’ve been dealing with this mental illness since my late teens. I am now 26.

It impacts my ability to work, to be productive and to maintain healthy relationships due to the various symptoms of experiencing mania or depression.

At times it has helped me be intensely interested in a class. However, I’ve also made bad decisions and gotten poor grades when I could have done better. It’s difficult to be consistent throughout the semester and school year. I had to withdraw for three semesters because I was unable to function in class, and I had to accept several F’s when I could have gotten A’s or B’s. This particularly stung during graduation when I realized I could have worn a sash, had my GPA been slightly higher.

Initially I was helped by USM Counseling Services. Medication and exercise, along with other healthy lifestyle choices are what mitigates the symptoms for me, although I am still trying to find the best practices for dealing with my symptoms in my daily life.

I did register with the Disability Services Center but I never really used their services. I think I could have dealt with the situation better in hindsight.

I never disclosed my status to anyone on campus (except for one other student that was also on the bipolar spectrum) for fear of stigma. I didn’t think it would be particularly bad, but I thought it was none of anyone’s business. I think mental illness is stigmatized in general and people are afraid of being in class with people they consider to be “unstable.” I think in general students are becoming more understanding, because they are dealing with it themselves or see their friends suffering from it without any support.

Ultimately you are responsible for your treatment. Don’t feel bad for yourself, because your illness doesn’t define you. You are still you! You just need a plan to stay healthy. That usually involves medication, coupled with therapy, exercise, meditation, healthy eating and sleeping habits, etc. Accept advice but don’t rely on others to “fix you.” During college it’s easy to overindulge in substances to cover up your symptoms and feel better, but eventually you need to reckon with it, which can be scary.

I’m in a much better place now than I was when I began my studies at USM in 2009.

Emma Donnelly – Class of 2019

“I Am Not My Anxiety and Depression”

I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, a form of PTSD, and chronic depression when I was 16 years old during my junior year in high school. I am 19 now and a sophomore in college.

I’ve always had anxious tendencies as long as I can remember. Like I grind my teeth, chew on stuff, tap my foot, my hands shake, I’m constantly stressed out, but I’d say it really started to get tough when I was 15 in April 2013 (my sophomore year of high school). I was in Boston on April 15 for my friend’s birthday and I was a block away from the marathon bombings. That day was obviously really stressful and I just remember the weeks after I felt really different. I was fatigued constantly and I couldn’t concentrate and I just wanted to be in bed all the time. Then it progressively got worse and worse throughout my junior year of high school, like to the point where I couldn’t sit in class because I constantly thought the world was going to come crashing down around me. I wouldn’t go in cars, I was afraid of heights, I honestly never wanted to leave the house. I finally saw my doctor about it and started therapy spring 2014.

I’ve had a lot of issues with the validation of my emotions. The reason I waited so long to get help was because my parents told me I was overreacting and my feelings weren’t real. I would probably be a very different person if I was able to get help immediately. I didn’t even tell my friends that I was in Boston that day and about everything I dealt with emotionally until two years later. I saw a significant drop in my grades in school because I just couldn’t do the work. I didn’t even think I’d get into college because my grades were so poor at that point in my life. I had a boyfriend from winter 2013 to winter 2014, which is when all of this really started, and he was not supportive at all. I’d be visibly upset and all he would ever want from me was sex, and he completely invalidated my feelings, which resulted in a lot of coercive sex. I did not even realize how abusive that relationship was until after we broke up. I self-harmed quite often and only told a few of my friends because I knew my parents would not be helpful. If anything good came out of it it would be that I learned to advocate for myself at a relatively young age.

I’m a very introverted person as it is, but the invalidation of my feelings definitely kept me guarded. I’m still pretty guarded about letting new people in and being vulnerable but I’m more open to talking about my past because I’ve come a long way since then. I’ve learned that self-care is really important and how to be self aware; like knowing when I’m going to go into the “dark place,” as I like to call it, and knowing the steps I need to take to bring myself out of it and feel okay again.

It’s super cliche but I love writing and exercising. I know that’s not what works for everyone but I like getting my thoughts out on paper to make sense of them and get my anxious energy out at the gym. I also love petting dogs. A few weeks ago I was super stressed out and I made my friends go to a dog park with me so I could see dogs (my own dog is in MA which is really sad). Photography is also really relaxing for me, and like I said self-care is super important.

I really love the Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity because it’s such a relaxing environment and everyone who goes there is great. It’s such an inclusive space to talk about anything whether it’s serious or not. Health and Counseling is amazing, too. I have utilized them on more than one occasion. Depression can come and go in waves and although I’m doing much much better, I am definitely not cured. Health and Counseling has done a lot for me during my time here at USM. I’d recommend their services to literally anyone.

In the circles of people I associate with, I haven’t experienced any stigma. Everyone I talk to is very supportive of self-care and just doing what’s best for you. Mental illness is so so so common that everyone I know either has a mental illness or is super close with someone who has one. USM is pretty inclusive in my personal opinion.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you need help. Your feelings are ALWAYS valid, and at USM you’re never alone. There are so many resources available on and off campus. The sooner you reach out and talk to someone, the better you’ll feel.

Location of New Graduate School

Thu, 2016-11-03 10:35

By Julie Pike, Free Press staff

In the next few years a new graduate school will be added to the city of Portland, bringing together the University of Maine System’s graduate programs from different schools under one roof. However, the exact location of the school is still up for debate.

The plan for the new Maine Center for Graduate Professional Studies (MCGPS) is currently in its final stages of drafting.

The school combines the University of Maine School of Law, the University of Maine and the USM MBA programs and the Muskie School of Public Service.

Eliot Cutler, the former Independent gubernatorial candidate, is at the head of the plan for the new graduate school, working with his own team, as well as faculty from each school. Businesses in the Portland area are also included in the plans for the MCGPS.

“We have an advisory board of 109 members, from businesses of legal and public service committees that are very active and supportive,” Cutler stated.

As explained on the MCCPS’ official website:

“The Center will feature highly integrated curricula, close engagement with the Maine legal, business and entrepreneurial communities and new degree and certificate offerings.”

“The school will give graduate students the opportunity to take a wider range of courses,” Cutler also stated.

While the MCGPS will be located in Portland, Cutler and USM’s President Cummings have differing opinions on exactly where in Portland. Cummings is in support of having the graduate school be located on the USM Portland campus. He believes there would be several benefits to having the graduate school on campus, such as being close to Interstate 295, having access to campus parking and other resources the USM Portland campus offers.

“Everything would be centrally located, which would be good for the success of the students in the graduate programs,” Cummings said.

Cutler proposed the idea of having the center located in the Old Port or along the peninsula in Portland.

“Locations on the peninsula have certain advantages, being closer to City Hall and businesses in downtown Portland, to name a few,” Cutler stated.

Cummings believes that it would create excessive costs to house MCGPS in downtown Portland. He proposes that having the building on USM’s Portland campus would eliminate the need to buy or rent property downtown.

“The land on the USM’s campus would essentially be free to build the school on, but there’s a limit to what you can do to generate revenues on this location,” Cutler added.

Cummings also pointed out that eighty percent of graduate studies students come from the UMS system, and having the graduate school on campus would provide an easy transition for them.

“Having the Maine Center on campus would allow a natural flow from undergraduate to graduate studies for students,” Cummings said. “Students would continue to be close to all the academic and social resources the university offers.”

The debate over the location of MCGPS is ongoing. Cummings stated that

everything was still at the committee levels of discussion.

Cutler added that it is too early to decide on a final location for the school.

“Getting into a discussion now about the location is premature, and doesn’t include the opinion of those who are going to pay for the center,” Cutler stated.

Among those  who will fund the center is  the Alfond Foundation, which has already contributed two million dollars to the planning of the school.

In late October, Cutler and his team will be meeting with the Alfond Foundation. They will present the plan that he, the committee for the MCGPS, including President Cummings, and other USM faculty have created.

At the meeting Cutler will ask the Alfond Foundation for a substantial financial commitment to creating the center. If the Alfond Foundation agrees, Cutler and his team will continue to reach out to other investors, both in state and nationally, to raise the rest of the funds for the school.

Cutler states that the input of these investors will have a big impact on the decision of the location of the MCGPS.

“When you set out to raise millions of dollars from investors, you’ve got to give your investors a say in where the building goes,” Cutler said. “They have a voice, and to deny them that voice in this decision would be a big mistake.”

The exact location of the MCGPS will not be decided on until the plans for the school have become more definite and have reached funding goals. 

“We have to show that the school can be financially self-supported and sustainable,” Cutler added, “and that’s what we’ve set out to do.”

Regardless of its location, the MCPGS will be important for the state of Maine and University of Maine System.