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Maine’s businesses come together to raise state minimum wage

Mon, 2016-03-21 14:19

Maine’s state minimum wage is $7.50 an hour and hasn’t been raised a cent since 2009. Some Maine businesses feel that isn’t good enough, causing a coalition of nearly 10,000 individual Maine business owners to call for an increase in the state minimum wage.

The coalition proposed a four step process. Starting in 2017, Maine’s minimum wage would increase to $8.50, then increase $.50 each year until 2020 when the wage per hour would reach $10.

The coalition is not calling for an index in the wages, so it would not be adjusted with inflation.

“Our coalition supports a meaningful increase in the minimum wage and wants to ensure that any increase is sustainable for the long term,” said Greg Dugal, president and CEO of the Maine Restaurant Association and the Maine Innkeepers Association, in a press release. “We are calling on Maine legislators to support a responsible option for voters to consider on this fall’s ballot.”

Several business owners in Maine have come out in favor of this plan, one of them being Chris Tyll, owner of Pat’s Pizza in Portland.

“I support raising the minimum wage and doing so in a way that is not harmful to small business owners,” said Tyll in a press release. “Eliminating the tip credit would hurt Maine’s vibrant restaurant industry by dramatically increasing the cost of doing business for restaurants, and others involved in Maine’s tourism industry.”

Last fall, voters in Portland decided against raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, citing that it would hurt small businesses in the city.

While the ballot initiative was shut down in Portland, at the start of the new year the hourly wage was increased to $10.10, with a plan to increase again at the start of 2017 to $10.68 and then in 2018 the minimum wage will be directly tied to the cost of living as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

Students at USM felt the benefit from the rise in the hourly wage, receiving an email just before the new year that stated USM would raise the hourly pay to all student workers making less than $10.10 an hour.

“While the city’s action does not technically apply to members of the USM family in Gorham and Lewiston, it is our strong belief that we function and succeed as one in reaching our institutional goals and objectives and therefore the minimum wage increase is rightly shared across our university,” President Glenn Cummings said in an email in late December.

Despite the state minimum wage being $7.50, some employers are already starting their employees out at a higher wage.

“The minimum wage in our business is $10 per hour and I am confident $10 per hour is sustainable for Maine businesses and Maine’s economy,” said Ken Keiran, owner of Union Farm Equipment in Union, in a press release. “However, increasing starting wages above that threshold would outpace our pricing support and force us to either raise prices or cut positions – both of which would be bad for Maine businesses.”

The coalition is looking to get the issue onto the ballot in November and let the people of Maine decide.

“We are proposing a significant increase in the minimum wage in Maine and we are calling on the Legislature to give the voters of Maine a choice when they go to the ballot box this fall,” said Dana Connors, President of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce in a press release.


The truth behind substance use disorders and drinking in college

Mon, 2016-03-21 14:18

For college students, the consumption of alcohol varies from person to person. Whether you’re drinking to socialize, celebrate, suppress difficult emotions or to simply relax, it has both a strong and varying affect on those who decide to drink. Why does alcohol cause us to act and feel differently? How much is too much? Why do some people become addicted and not others?

While drinking alcohol in appropriate amounts won’t put you at a high risk for long-term damage, consuming the beverage often and/or in large quantities can put you at risk. According to the Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), drinking at college has become a ritual that students often see as an integral part of their higher education experience.

They estimate that each year in the U.S., and average 1,825 college students between the ages 18-24 die from alcohol related injuries, 696,000 students are assaulted by another student who was drinking and over 97,000 students reported experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

According to the NIAAA, alcohol not broken down by the liver goes to the rest of the body, including the brain. It can affect parts of the brain that are in control of movement, speech, judgement and memory. In turn, the effects lead to clear signs of drunkenness: Difficulty walking, slurred speech, memory lapses and acting on impulsive behavior.

Consequences of Drinking in College:

According to the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, brain development continues well into a person’s twenties and excessive drinking at a young age can hinder this process. Those who consume alcohol irresponsibly encounter struggle in academics, memory loss, sleep deprivation and a number of medical conditions that develop the longer you consume, such as Anemia, Cardiovascular Disease, Depression, Liver Disease, Pancreatitis and more.

Coordinator of Learning Support at USM, Paul Dexter, is in charge of building partnerships with academic departments across the institution to identify ways to help students succeed. H explained that with heavy drinking, comes lack of sleep, and with that comes the inability to function as well as those who do not drink.

“Many people believe [alcohol] helps you sleep because of the initial depressive affect, but with enough consumption it actually reduces the amount of REM sleep (or deep cycles of sleep) one gets.,” he stated. “These REM sleep cycles are required to feel well rested and this is the time when information you took in during the day is solidified in your memory. The less REM sleep we get, the less effective ingraining of information happens during sleep.”

Although USM does not currently have data to know which students are engaging in high risk alcohol and drugs, Dexter explained that staff members are educated on what high risk use looks like and what they can do to help students succeed. These signs, he explained, vary from student to student, but one of the most important symptoms presents itself in a change of brain chemistry.

“If a person continues to use in a high risk way, then you see changes in brain chemistry, and that’s when tolerance goes up,” he stated. “It’s going to take more to get the desired effect. From an academic standpoint, one of the challenges when someone continues to use in a high risk way overtime is that he/she is affecting the brain’s ability to modulate stress.”

According to the NIAAA, 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall. Dexter stated that it is important to understand with drinking, little stressors on the brain become more problematic and harder to control.

“Not every student who drinks develops an addiction, and in moderation, it’s okay to experiment, as long as you’re being safe. If any student finds themselves making changes related to their substance use, there are many support services here at USM,” stated Dexter. “No one has to feel ashamed by their drinking habits. No has to go through a substance use disorder alone.”

Student Recovery Liaison Ross Hicks, who works closely with administration to ensure changes are made to accommodate students seeking recovery, explained that a lot of people think substance use disorder means you’re morally weak or don’t have the willpower.

“It is a medical condition and there is a treatment,” said Hicks. “If we address it as so, we can frame the conversation in a way that will hopefully lead to better access to treatment and for those of us that have been able to accumulate some measure of sobriety, whether it’s days or years, we tend to identify ourselves as long-term recoverers.”

Dispelling the stigma around substance use disorders:

Diane Geyer, the coordinator of clinical substance use services, is dualy licensed in mental health and substance use and works closely with students on campus who may struggling with the disorder. She explained that there are a variety of reasons why students drink, but a lot of cases are centered around the desire to fit in and make friends.

“Having a sense of wanting to belong is a big reason it happens. These students want to belong, they want to fit in – and, as most students would agree, taking risks can seem fun,” Geyer stated. “It’s important to understand that we all can have a substance use problem. Everybody is at risk, but some people are more susceptible.”

She further explained that there are two types of risks: low risk choice and high risk choice. For students who integrate drinking into their social lives, it’s important to recognize that it is okay to do so, as long as the consumer is being responsible and knows when to stop. When a student finds themselves at a crossroads of uncertainty regarding their drinking habits, Geyer stated there are many resources for students on campus to take advantage of.

“Often times, those struggling with the disorder have to find new friends to socialize with, because their old friends are so consumed in the addiction,” she stated. “We need to stamp out the stigma of those struggling with substance use disorders – they are people just like you and me, and they can’t always control the problem. If everyone around them is using, they may not see it as a problem.”

For Jake Mitchell, a freshman physics major, his struggle with a substance use disorder began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was unable to escape the grasp of addiction. The chance to recover came along when he decided to start new, move to Maine and attend USM.

“I’m living in a sober house right now, and that’s why I am going to USM. Maine was my only option to stay out of trouble,” he stated. “I was getting into really bad situations in the last city I lived in and this geographical change is just what I needed. I’m happy to say I am 6 months sober.”

Andrew Kiezulas, a senior chemistry major at the USM, has dealt with addiction first hand and has seen how the illness affects the people. He stated that so many kids feel today feel broken and are made to feel as if the struggle with substance use disorder will never end. However, Kiezulas has made it his life’s mission to change that perspective by providing others with his experience of recovery.

“Not many people really understand what substance use disorder looks like,” explained Kiezulas. “So they see you drinking or they see you doing drugs and they say ‘why can’t you just stop?’ You want to shake them and tell them it runs so much deeper than that.”

For Kiezulas, the road to recovery will continue to be one where he grows and learns. He explained that it’s important for people to realize that his illness doesn’t define who he is as a person.

“I may die a person in long term recovery. I may have an active substance use disorder, but I don’t have to be an alcoholic my whole life. I’m in recovery along with many other incredible people,” explained Kiezulas. “The truth is, I like to think I’m strong and impervious to what other people say and think – but it matters. Language holds incredible strength and sway. That’s why a number of us are so passionate about language because it holds a lot of power.”


Panelist offer uncensored advice on sex

Mon, 2016-03-21 14:17

By Julie Pike, Contributor

On Tuesday, March 8, the newly founded group, Huskies for Reproductive Health, put on an event at the Gorham campus in Lower Brooks. The event was a panel of “sexperts” who could talk and answer any questions from students about all things sex related.

On the panel was Samar Jamali, a nurse practitioner from Health and Counseling Services at USM, Gina Roark, a sex educator and owner of Nomia in Portland and Kimberly Brown, a disease intervention specialist, from the Maine Center for Disease Control.  

The founders of Huskies for Reproductive Health, Emma Donnelly and Molly Concannon, both students at USM, created this event to help reduce the stigma that surrounds the topic of sex, especially on college campuses.

Their club began back in December, and the group decided that they need to bring the topic of sex and reproductive health up on campus. The “sexpert” panel was created to encourage students to ask their unanswered questions and to promote safe sex on campus.

Donnelly voiced the objective for the event: “We wanted students to be able to come to our event with their uncensored sex questions for our ‘sexperts’ to give them uncensored, down-to-earth, real answers with no judgement.”

The event was successful, as around thirty to forty students attended, with lots of audience participation to ask questions for the panel. Each student that attended got their own goody bag with information about how to keep themselves sexually healthy, including how to contact Planned Parenthood.

Most of the questions rendered laughs from the audience, for their generally uncomfortable nature, but the important part was that the audience was engaged in the talk and asked a variety of questions, no matter how embarrassing they may seem.

This was just what Donnelly had intended for the event: “The topic of sex always seems kind of taboo, but we are in college and this is the age where people are typically experimenting, or have their first long term relationship and are sexually active, so it needs to be talked about.”

To keep things light, free prizes were given away in several raffles, winners received free t-shirts, books, and various sex toys.

Dan Welter, chief of staff for Campus Life at USM, was there to engage the audience and gave the introduction for each of the panelists, and also created the ground rules for the event. Welter kept things light by getting the audience to laugh at the more uncomfortable topics.

Donnelly and Concannon provided extra resources for any students who wish to find out more about safe sex, reproductive health, and any other questions they have. Students who wish to find out more can visit Nomia, a sex shop in Portland, Planned Parenthood on Congress St. in Portland, Portland Infectious Diseases, where one of the “sexperts” Brown is from, and USM Health Services, which have many resources in terms of birth control, pelvic exams, and STD testing and treatment for all students to utilize.

USM receives grant to send Honor’s students abroad

Mon, 2016-03-21 14:17

By Erica Jones, Free Press Staff

Starting in 2017, thanks to generous gifts received by the Honors program, incoming University of Southern Maine honors students will have the chance to study abroad in Iceland for two weeks as part of a new four-week summer course.

Last Thursday at the Glickman Library, USM President Glen Cummings alongside representatives from Iceland’s Reykjavik University announced the plan that offers students the “chance to enroll in a four-week course, the second half of which will take place in Iceland,” according to USM’s website.

This travel opportunity is made possible by a $450,000 endowment from the estate of alumna A. Carolla Haglund and a $482,000 grant from the Maine Economic Improvement Fund (MEIF) — an almost one-million-dollar gift in total. The students in the program will spend two weeks in Iceland at Reykjavik University, with transportation, room, and board included.

“This program will provide a significant opportunity for our students to broaden their horizons, to engage in the wider world and better equip them with the necessary knowledge and skills to play key roles in the expanding and strengthening of our economy here in Maine,” said President Cummings.

Rebecca Nisetich, interim director of USM’s honors program interim, discussed how USM came to receive these grants. “The Haglund Gift was donated to the university. The gift specifications were that it would go to students with certain GPAs,” she explained. A. Carolla Haglund’s estate designated the gift as an endowment for international opportunities for USM students, according to USM’s website.

Nisetich is also responsible for one part of the generous donations. “The MEIF Grant was something I did on behalf of the Honors Program,” said Nisetich. “I wrote the grant proposal and submitted it MEIF. It was accepted, and now we have the grant for the next 3 years.”

The course in Iceland is part of an ongoing effort to “build strong educational partnerships that will both create exciting new opportunities for our students and set the stage for economic growth between our two countries,” said President Cummings in a news release, also stating that “the core of economic growth is education.”

Last semester in October, President Cummings as part of a group of 40 officials traveled to Iceland and stayed for five days, where they attended the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik. Iceland, a small nation of 323,000 people, and Maine, its closest neighbor in the United States, have had a beneficial trade relationship since Eimskip, an Iceland-based shipping company based, designated Portland to serve as its U.S. port of call, according to USM’s website. The initiative to create strong ties between Maine and Iceland, Cummings believes, will be advantageous for the future economy as our world changes.

Ari Jonsson, Reykjavik University’s rector/president, also expressed his eagerness for the new international education program. “Iceland’s a small country, which means that if we end up closing ourselves within Iceland and not providing the ability for Icelanders to experience and connect with people outside of Iceland, we’ll become isolated and backward,” said Jonsson. “That’s just the nature of being closed off in a small community. So, we have to open up. We have to be connected.”

The first group of students is expected to leave for Iceland in summer 2017.