The Weekly: Week Three Recap

Madison Smith and Anushuya Thapa

The reopening of dining halls on campus spark safety concerns, and local medical experts work to build trust within historically marginalized communities as vaccine hesitancy threatens to increase existing COVID-19 disparities. The Weekly: Week Three Recap breaks down our top headlines with the reporters and editors who covered them.

MADISON SMITH: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Madison Smith.

ANUSHUYA THAPA: And I’m Anushuya Thapa. This is The Weekly: a podcast that breaks down our top headlines each week.

MADISON SMITH: Here’s what’s been happening in the headlines. On campus, Luke Figora, University chief risk and compliance officer, announced that the University does not have direct access to a COVID-19 vaccine supply, leaving most faculty and staff unsure about when they might get vaccinated.

ANUSHUYA THAPA: Also on campus, Northwestern Counseling and Psychological Services, better known as CAPS, hired Sabaahath Latifi, their first-ever Muslim counselor. This recent hire comes as a result of student advocates from the Muslim Mental Health Initiative pushing for more representation in mental health services on campus. However, Latifi is still the only Muslim provider on CAPS’ list of over 200 resources. 

MADISON SMITH: And in city news, Evanston Township High School plans to resume some in-person activities this February. According to an email last Thursday, students will soon have the option to participate in athletics, fine arts, hands-on learning, mindfulness practices and other activities in-person at ETHS.

ANUSHUYA THAPA: Those are some of our top headlines. Now, we’re talking with Daily staffers to bring you up to speed and dive deeper into some of our biggest news. First up: On campus, Northwestern has reopened its dining halls for student use after the end of Wildcat Wellness. Ten days into this change, however, and some students remain dissatisfied, citing safety concerns. 

MADISON SMITH: And in Evanston, local medical experts are trying to build trust within historically marginalized communities as vaccine hesitancy threatens to heighten existing COVID-19 disparities. Why are so many Evanston residents refusing the vaccine, and what do the experts have to say about it? Stay with us to hear directly from the reporters and editors who covered some of The Daily’s top stories.

MADISON SMITH: When the quarantine period of Wildcat Wellness ended, NU dining halls reopened their doors to students for socially distant dine-in services. Though Northwestern’s policies are consistent with state guidelines, clusters of students congregating indoors and eating — without wearing masks — have become a cause for concern. 

ANUSHUYA THAPA: Here to tell us more about this is reporter Joshua Perry. Josh, how exactly has the dining hall experience changed in the past few weeks?

JOSHUA PERRY:  Starting on Jan. 18, the dining halls around campus opened up for in-person service. They are definitely different from last year, social distancing of six feet per person is required. And students are provided with take home containers. Lines are all socially distanced. They even set up a tent outside of the dining hall to accommodate for people waiting in the cold weather. There’s no contact at all with the card readers or any of the dining hall workers. There’s movement pathways on the ground. Basically, it’s just a very organized system to prevent students from coming into prolonged contact with one another or with the frontline workers at the dining hall. 

ANUSHUYA THAPA: In your conversations with NU students, though, there was some controversy surrounding the reopening, wasn’t there?

JOSHUA PERRY: For sure. I’ve talked to people who have never been happier to enter a Northwestern dining hall. They described it as like a return to normalcy. They’re able to see their friends, again. They’re able to enjoy the same kind of food that they enjoyed last year, and it felt like things were kind of going back to normal a little bit. On the flipside, though, some people I talked to felt that it was almost too normal. And that things were moving too fast in the direction of reopening. So there is some disagreement there, I think, in the student body.

ANUSHUYA THAPA: What were some of the students saying?

JOSHUA PERRY: Lots of students were very surprised by how relaxed the social distancing enforcement seemed to be at a lot of these dining halls. There were complaints on Twitter about how (at) Sargent, you’d see groups of students like five or six students at a table together, or people going up to the coffee dispensers without their mask on, people congregating in various places. There just seems to be a lot of concern. And perhaps understandably so, because what students are saying what they’re seeing at the dining halls kind of goes in the face of all of the other more stringent guidelines being imposed by the University. Masks are required everywhere on campus. And so a lot of students are just really jarred by the fact that you’re allowed to enter a dining hall with upwards of 100, 200 other people and take your mask off to eat. It just doesn’t really mesh with the kind of expectations that admin have been setting for student life.

ANUSHUYA THAPA: And what has NU’s response been to these concerns?

JOSHUA PERRY: In a statement from NU Dining, officials said that the dine-in option is completely optional; it is not something that students have to participate in, and it is apparently compliant with the University’s guidelines on social distancing, and gathering in public spaces. And so for the time being, it’s probably going to stay as it is right now. They did say that if programming needs to adapt to changes in circumstances, then it will do so. But there doesn’t appear to be any reason at least a reason that they have recognized at the moment for them to change things.

ANUSHUYA THAPA: Thank you so much for chatting with us today, Josh.

ANUSHUYA THAPA: As COVID-19 vaccinations became available to healthcare workers in Evanston, the percentage of frontline healthcare workers choosing to get the vaccine lingered just above 50 percent. Participation rates have risen since mid-December, but is this indicative of a deeper distrust in the COVID-19 vaccine?

MADISON SMITH: Here to tell us more about this is Assistant City Editor Jorja Siemons. Jorja, why are some people so hesitant to take the COVID-19 vaccine?

JORJA SIEMONS: What I took away from the experts and doctors that I talked to, was the idea that there is a larger thing at play, which is a rational distrust in the medical system because of years of systemic racism in American science and medicine. And what that means is that certain populations, BIPOC populations, can be vaccine-hesitant.

MADISON SMITH: And why did so many frontline healthcare workers decline the vaccine when it first got to NorthShore University HealthSystem?

JORJA SIEMONS: So I interviewed Dr. Halasyamani, who is the chief medical officer at NorthShore University HealthSystem. What Dr. Halasyamani told me was that, in mid to late December, they initially got the vaccine. And their first step was to vaccinate the frontline healthcare workers that work at the University HealthSystem. And that definition is really broad. So that includes both nurses and doctors and also people who just work in the hospital to assist. All those people needed to get vaccinated first, and so they sent out over 11,000 vaccination tickets or which is a way to sign up to get vaccinated, but they only got about 6,000 workers inoculated from her estimates. And what she said that meant was really, people think that the medical system is exempt from identities and that’s not the case. When you’re a doctor, you bring your identity and your background with you. And so she talked about how diverse healthcare ecosystems are, and how they’re seeing the same concerns about the vaccine in their populations that we’re also seeing in the greater Evanston and Chicagoland populations. And so that’s why the uptake was only about 50 percent. 

MADISON SMITH: How have local experts like Dr. Halasyamani tried to ease this distrust?

JORJA SIEMONS: Something that she said to me that really stood out was that information is the antidote to fear, and any sort of fear that people may have, it can always be combated with proper information and outreach. Someone else that I interviewed that I think is really important to talk about is I interviewed Dr. Clyde Yancy, who is the chief of cardiology, he’s a professor, and he’s the vice dean for diversity and inclusion at Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. And what he and I talked about was, Northwestern medicine released a campaign earlier this year, called “Why I Got Vaccinated,” which featured medical professionals of color, talking about their perspective and their awareness going into getting vaccinated. And in the video, he says, and I might just read this direct quote, here, “I’m a Black man volunteering in a very willing way to receive the vaccination, in part because this disease has disproportionately impacted people of color. And in part because as a scientist, I trust the science.” And he mentioned to me that people need to be receiving proper messaging about the vaccine that’s truthful, but they also need to be receiving it from people they trust, people who look like them, people who speak their languages, and people who they may have even had a connection with in the past. 

MADISON SMITH: Earlier you mentioned systemic racism that has led to a distrust in medicine as a whole. You talked to an Evanston resident about this, can you tell us a little bit about what they said?

JORJA SIEMONS: This Evanston resident talked about remembering the Tuskegee trials, and what that means, when we look at American medical history. And when we look at American medical history, what we see is that for generations, and for legacies of people, the American medical system has neglected the importance of consent of people of color. They’ve neglected asking for consent and receiving it. And so this Evanston resident talked about how the doctors had penicillin later on in the Tuskegee trials, but they refused to use it on the hundreds of Black men who were subjected to the trials. And that’s really important, and I’m very glad that the Evanston resident brought that up, because it shows the neglect of consent, which is a critical factor for my research in why some people may be vaccine hesitant.

MADISON SMITH: Did you look into any other instances of medical racism that may be causing a distrust in the COVID-19 vaccine?

JORJA SIEMONS: That was something that Dr. Kenzie Cameron brought up to me. She’s a research professor in general internal medicine at Feinberg School of Medicine. And what she said she didn’t just call it distrust, but she clarified it as rational distrust. And she cited the Tuskegee trials, as well as the experience of Henrietta Lacks, as reason to believe that this is a rational feeling. And it should be treated as such, both by medical professionals and community members in general. So Henrietta Lacks , if people don’t know, was a Black American woman who passed away and the Johns Hopkins Hospital started using her cervical cancer cells in 1951, after her death, without her consent, and they use those cells to do medical trials and experiments and kind of build a body of research, because cells are really valuable in medicine to use. But the problem with that is, once again, she didn’t consent to it, and she never agreed. And that means that a big body of medical knowledge that we have now is thanks to her, but she never consented to it. So I think that’s important. And I’m really glad that Dr. Kenzie Cameron brought that up, because it shows that it’s not just Tuskegee. It’s Henrietta Lacks. It’s a history of forced sterilizations in the United States, especially of Black, Latina, Indigenous women.

MADISON SMITH: Jorja, thanks so much for speaking with us today.

MADISON SMITH: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Madison Smith.

ANUSHUYA THAPA: And I’m Anushuya Thapa. Thanks for listening to another episode of The Weekly. This podcast was reported on by Jorja Siemons, Joshua Perry, Madison Smith and myself. This episode was produced by both Madison Smith and myself. The audio editor of The Daily is Alex Chun. The digital managing editors are Molly Lubbers and Olivia Yarvis. The editor in chief is Sneha Dey. 

Email: [email protected][email protected] 

Twitter: @madisonlorsmith @anushuyathapa

Stories Referenced:

Vaccine hesitancy threatens to increase COVID-19 disparities, local experts try to build trust

As Northwestern Dining halls reopen, students express concerns about COVID-19 safety protocols

ETHS to open some in-person activities in February

 Northwestern has no direct vaccine supply, administrator announces

CAPS hires first Muslim counselor as a result of student advocacy