African American History Matters, Now Offered in Virginia Public Schools

By Jordan Sheppard

(JAC 310 assignment for Prof. Waltz)

Starting this fall, high school students in Prince William County in Virginia can take a new elective course to learn more about African American history.

"Black history is American history, but for too long the story we have told was insufficient and inadequate," said Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in a press release. "The introduction of this groundbreaking course is a first step toward our shared goal of ensuring all Virginia students have a fuller, more accurate understanding of our history, and can draw important connections from those past events to our present day.

Northam announced the course last month, after working with the Virginia African American History Education Commission revising the state's curriculum to include more African American history. Since August of 2019, the Virginia Department of Education, Virtual Virginia and WHRO Public Media have teamed up with history professors, teachers, and historians to create the course, which will be offered in 16 school districts.

They include the counties of Prince William, Alleghany, Amherst, Arlington, Carroll, Chesterfield, Covington, Franklin, Henrico, Henry, Loudon, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Winchester.

Beginning with pre-colonial Africa, the course will cover the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement, and other events to the present day.

"As a Black woman, an African American history class is not just a class, it is a guide to help you move through life," said Ayele Aziaba, a former Unity Reed High School student. "Had I been educated in school about my ancestors and their struggles and achievements, that would have given me a great insight, but I had to learn most of what I know now through experiences as a black woman."

Students will not be required to take the course, a controversial aspect.

"It should be a required class so students will understand how important African Americans are to this country, a country which we built," said Vera Bordoh-Ansah, a former Unity Reed High School student. "By it being optional, only those interested will take this class and our history should not be something you want to learn, but something that you need to learn."

The course comes at a time of increased interest in Black history. Black Lives Matter protests across the country have encouraged conversations about race in America.

"I think what is going on right now played a factor in why we have this course," said Verita Bordoh-Ansah, a former Unity Reed High School student. "The protests are forcing people to acknowledge and open their eyes to what is really going on in this county."

To some, a course on African American history is one that has been long overdue.

"This is a good start, but classes on African American history should have been in the curriculum a while ago," said Maiyah Rawls, first-year student at Unity Reed High School.

After taking the course students should be able to:

  • Identify and understand African origins and developments of the Black experience in North America.
  • Evaluate how African Americans have shaped, contributed to and have been shaped by the institutions, policies, and laws established by federal, state, and local governments.
  • Evaluate and interpret the various paths of civic responsibility that led to quests for equality, justice, and freedom for individuals and communities facing barriers and oppression based on race, class, and gender.
  • Analyze and understand how the institution of slavery in the United States shaped beliefs about race and the supremacy of one race over another and influences America's economy and politics.

Some believe the course should be expanded.

"We have to consider that most history courses in school systems fall under "social studies", an extremely broad term," said Kendall Willis, junior at University of Virginia and former Unity Reed High School student. "It would be more beneficial to not just teach the history but to explore the social science perspectives in African American history."

At the end of the course, each student will be required to complete a capstone project based on independent research about African American history.

"Without the arms, legs, blood, sweat and tears of the African American man and woman, there would be no architecture, infrastructure or strong standing economy," said Verita Bordah-Ansah. "African Americans were essential in making the foundation of this country."

Money Hungry

By Kennedy P. Buck, a student in Professor Waltz's class

Top business news outlets such as Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, CNNMoney, and Financial Times have recognized the need for more diversity in their newsrooms after recent racial upset within the country and a president who has sought to divide the country along racial lines.

Only seven in 100 newsroom employees are black, according to the Pew Research Center, making it likely that even fewer African Americans are covering business news, despite growing economic inequality in the country based on race.

"We as an industry need more," said Jared Council, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. "I became the Indianapolis Business Journal's first Black reporter back in 2014. It's a shame that that's still happening in the 21st century, especially when race is such an important and consequential topic."

This summer, the National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists held their first virtual convention, including breakout sessions for students and aspiring journalists to explore different aspects of journalism. Business news organizations were there to recruit African American students.

"We need minority editors and writers who not only understand the nuances of covering race," Council said. "But we also need them to understand the nuances of managing minority employees especially within business journalism."

The absence of Black business reporters is so glaring that freelance journalist Christopher Nelson, wrote an article called Where Are the Journalists of Color Covering the Business Beat?

"I attended the Society of American Business editors and Writers conference and one thing that struck me while there was the lack of people of color at the conference," Nelson said. At Hampton University and other HBCUs, African American students are being encouraged to specialize in business journalism, one of the most stable parts of the industry.

"Students don't look into business journalism because they don't know what they don't know. Students see stocks and become scared of the concept," said Edward "Butch" Maier, a business journalism professor at Hampton University. "What they don't realize is money makes the world go round, so there is always going to be a need for business journalism."

Maier, who is white, fell in love with business journalism when he began his job at Inside Business. He worked there for over 2 years, eventually becoming Editor-In-Chief. In 2017, Maier was offered a job as a professor at Hampton University and became assistant dean in 2019.

Maier wants to share his experiences with young black talent.

"I became drawn to business journalism because it was an opportunity," Maier said

Now, he helps students write and create stories that interest them and teaches them how to put a business aspect into every story they write. Maier also helps students get jobs at Bloomberg, one of the top business and data analysis news outlets in the world.

"At Bloomberg, diversity and inclusion are an intrinsic part of who we are," said founder of Bloomberg, Michael Bloomberg. "We strive for excellence in everything we do, so naturally we strive for excellence on diversity and inclusion."

Maier hopes to see more representation not just within newsrooms covering business journalism, but within the managing and editor positions as well.

"I teach my students that money and numbers are everywhere," Maier said. "If you like sports, how much money is your team bringing in? if you like fashion, how is your favorite clothing line doing in sales?" That all sounds good to Black business reporters who have already been hired.

"There needs to be more people who look like me covering business news," said Amber Burton, who began her career after graduating from Wake Forest University as a field reporter at The Wall Street Journal. "There are many times when I'm the only Black woman in the room," Burton said. "And I want to see more."

The City Calls It Revitalization. The Community Calls It Something Else.

Produced for Prof. Waltz's JAC 310 class by our current Pulitzer Fellow Sara Avery

RALEIGH, N.C. -- A bright red door and dark blue shutters accent the childhood home of Keith McKoy. The home sits in Southeast Raleigh, often described as the "Black side" of the city. When his mother moved out in 2004, the house was worth $60,000. Now, it's worth $269,000.

McKoy's home isn't the only one in the neighborhood to jump sharply in value. The reason is Raleigh's revitalization plan.

Downtown Raleigh is the epicenter of redevelopment efforts. Where once small mom and pop businesses thrived, now multi-story apartment complexes with coffee shops and restaurants are booming.

City officials have touted the changes as positive, however longtime residents like McKoy believe the city's redevelopment program has ushered in gentrification. "You're displacing the Black community in their community," he said. "It's dangerous because you're changing the landscape of neighborhoods and communities that existed before the developers came in and changed those properties. I call it gentrification."

The term gentrification was coined in 1964 by British sociologist Ruth Glass to describe the displacement of the working class by the middle and upper classes in London neighborhoods. In the United States, the term is used to describe the displacement of minorities in historically segregated and low income communities, when white incomers, usually affluent, move in.

After World War II, America saw tremendous economic improvement, which in part, led to the creation of suburbs on the outskirts of cities.

To encourage migration to these areas, real estate brokers across the country used the fear of Black homeowners coming to the city, to persuade white property owners to sell their homes in the city at lower rates. Brokers purchased the homes, then significantly increased the selling price, and resold them to Black home buyers. This was known as blockbusting.

Following this, communities across the nation rapidly segregated, and entire black communities were often denied funds by banks to invest, renovate their homes, or relocate to the suburbs. This was known as redlining because lenders used red ink on maps to outline parts of the city that they considered high risk to default on mortgages. Lenders then denied loans to those inside of the marked areas.

Maurice Myers, a Raleigh resident and AP U.S. history teacher, recalls how his father was denied a loan in the 1950s due to these practices. "My dad was in World War II and was supposed to get the G.I. Bill to buy a house," Myers said. "The U.S. government wouldn't grant him the loan to live in the nice neighborhoods. They would only give it to Black people who wanted to live in crap neighborhoods."

Eventually, because redlined communities lack the resources to improve their properties or even maintain them, property values are driven down, making them vulnerable to gentrification.

The city then decides to revitalize these areas and invests large sums of money into things like public transportation, infrastructure, and land use. However, this in turn drives up property value in previously redlined areas, which often leads to the displacement of those indigenous to specific communities.

When property values rise, taxes do as well, and homeowners see an increase in their overall payment, which frequently includes the mortgage, taxes, and insurance. A person who was paying $500 a month, might see it increase to $700 a month or higher.

Once the monthly payment becomes too difficult for a homeowner to handle, they have to sell or risk going into debt trying to cover the increase in their payment. In Raleigh, this process has already begun. Over the past 12 months, property values in the city have increased by 5.4 percent, according to Zillow. This increase has led to the displacement of many Black homeowners who live just outside of downtown.

In Rochester Heights, Raleigh's first Black subdivision, homes are now upwards of $290,000. In the 1950s, the neighborhood was subject to redlining, and for many years was the only place where Black families could purchase homes. In other historically black neighborhoods in the city, like College Park, and Quarry Hills, land values have increased 360 percent and 463 percent respectively, because of the city's revitalization efforts.

To Gwendolyn Chunn, a retired assistant professor at Shaw University and Raleigh resident for 54 years, the gentrifying of Black communities is detrimental because people lose a sense of community and home.

Chunn recalled being on a train going to Scotland and remarking to an English person sitting next to her that there weren't many trees considering the age of the country. The person said that many years ago, people cut what they needed without concern for the people who would come after them.

"To a degree, that typifies a lot of progress in a lot of communities," she said. "You lose history; you lose sense of community towards a place. That's what keeps us kind of interested in returning home. Home is that sense of place that has familiarity and helps you to feel connected."

It’s More Than a Drone Program

By Camille Birdsong, a student in Professor Waltz' class

The legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black military aviators, was brought to Peninsula city schools this week as 18 young students learned to fly drones and dream of becoming FAA certified pilots, an opportunity that their ancestors fought for.

"We have three main objectives. We want to make sure that kids get exposure, that they are educated on things, and that they understand legacy," said Rickey Rodgers, Col, USAF (Ret), a staff member of the Tidewater Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen. "If you're exposed to things you've never seen before, it leads you to want to learn more. And once you start learning, you realize the legacy that people who were involved with the Tuskegee Airmen have left behind."

Rodgers helped with training Newport News and Hampton students during the first annual Youth Summer Drone Program.

Young students arrived eager to learn about drones and the world of aviation. They engaged with the Drone Units of the Hampton and Newport News Police Departments, interacting with drones that the officers use daily on the job.

There were countless hours of drones whizzing back and forth, bumping into every wall in the gymnasium. Several staff members ducked their heads while providing instructions to the participants.

At the end of the program, each student successfully maneuvered his or her drone to all of the given checkpoints. Faces beamed with joy and pride as they applied what they had learned to complete the required tasks and received a certificate for completing the program.

But that wasn't the only heartwarming moment that occurred. Students met two members of the Tuskegee Airmen who reside in the Hampton Roads Area, SGT Harry Quinton, and SGT Thomas Newton. The two love to come to events and engage with those in the community.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps. They overcame segregation and prejudice to become one of the most highly respected fighter groups of World War II.

The drone program provides opportunities for Black kids who aren't traditionally exposed to drones or other STEM-related programs. Minority students face barriers in the STEM field due to implicit bias in early childhood education, which leads to a gap in performance later on and prevents them from entering fields like aviation.

Teachers can't tackle systemic issues of racism, sexism, and ethnocentrism in STEM by themselves, according to an article in Edutopia.

Addressing biases and enriching the skills of STEM teaching behaviors are goals that can benefit minority students and the STEM community as a whole.

Having black role models, like those offered by the Tuskegee Airmen, is critical to increasing diversity in STEM, studies show. Assigning Black students from low-income families to at least one Black teacher in third, fourth, or fifth grade lowered dropout probability in high school by 29 percent, according to the IZA Institute of Labor Economics.

Also, according to the same study, dropout rates for Black male students were reduced by 39 percent.

The gap can be closed, but it can't be done overnight.

After a successful week, the Tidewater Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen is already thinking of having another program next year or conducting it semi-annually.

"It will be more STEM-centered," said Clifton Douglas, Jr., Col, USAF (Ret), the director of the Youth Summer Drone Program. "So, things like aerodynamics, algebra, geometry, or the pros and cons of fixed wings over rotary wings. It's necessary."

COVID’s Effect on Hampton University

By Tahji Collins

As students from Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications take online classes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty and staff are preparing for the day when students will return to campus.

"While students are learning remotely, Scripps classrooms are undergoing significant technological upgrades, so I look forward to the day students are able to return to utilize these learning resources," Scripps Assistant Dean for Administrative Affairs Edward "Butch" Maier Said.

In the Scripps Howard building, new computers and smartboards have been added to classrooms. New cameras, tripods, microphones and lights have been obtained for the studio.

Joining the evolutionary additions to the classrooms, Augmented and Virtual Reality labs and spaces were secured by Dean Da'Vida Plummer's efforts to partner with 21st Century Fox and EON Reality. The Scripps Howard School of Journalism has benefited heavily from this summer's donation.

"With all these upgrades and additions, you still feel right at home in the building you've come to affectionately know as your home by the sea," Dean Plummer said.

Several large donations assisted Hampton in gaining these technological advancements, including a $30 million gift from Amazon's Mackenzie Scott and $100 million IBM grant split with 12 other universities.

IBM representatives said their gift to Hampton University will add assets such as curriculum content, guest lectures, and software by the end of this year, according to a news story by WAVY-10 News. IBM-HBCU Quantum Computing Center is a multi-year program that connects students and faculty to the field of quantum computing.

As universities monitor COVID, the additional funding has helped them keep safe and improve technology. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation gifted Hampton University with $200,000 for COVID-related expenses. From this, each on-campus student received $100 to assist them in retrieving articles from campus when they returned home during the early days of the pandemic.

Hampton University President William R. Harvey and his wife, Norma, have also provided financial support to students who had needs related to COVID-19. Dr. and Mrs. Harvey made a donation of $100,000 for student expenses.

Hampton University students have not returned to campus for the Fall 2020 semester because cases have increased in states where some of the student body is located. These states include California, Georgia, Illinois, Texas, and Pennsylvania.

"Online courses took a while to adapt to, but the safety of students and faculty at this moment is more important," Scripps Howard Senior Olusola Fakinlede.

While students adjust to online learning, professors have been trying to find their groove as well. "I teach hands-on production courses which is tricky to replicate online. I feel there's been a greater learning curve regarding the material. The inability to physically guide the students through the experience is not ideal especially when trying to receive feedback," Scripps Howard Assistant Professor Thomas Heffron.

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cases are expected to increase if precautionary steps are not taken seriously. Dean Plummer said the return of students to campus will be based on factors of health and welfare of the student body in conjunction with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Everyone will need to get tested for coronavirus before returning to campus, and on-campus tests will be conducted frequently. In public places and outdoors on campus, face coverings must be worn by students, faculty and staff. Visitors will also be ordered to follow campus health and safety measures. Food will not be self-served, but will be pre-packaged for safety. This semester was also cut short, beginning August 10 and ending November 20, 2020. Hampton University's administration has not made a decision on whether Spring semester will be in person or online.

Black Disney employees provide insight to HBCU students...

Full title: Black Disney employees provide insight to HBCU students on the billion-dollar company's "commitment to diversifying"

An article by Jamaija Rhoades for Professor Lynn Waltz's class

Former Hamptonians and now Disney employees shared the efforts they have seen Disney make to ensure more black and brown voices are a heard during the company's virtual HBCU Storytellers at Disney forum for students at Hampton University.

"When I came in as an intern, there was a moment where I was like oh my God, I feel alone. But within the two to three years I was at GMA, I could see the commitment to diversifying. By the time I left, there were three times more people of color than there were I started," said Christina Powell, a producer of the Tamron Hall Show and 2017 graduate of Hampton University.

Other panelists shared how their time at Disney has given them the chance to network and communicate with individuals of African descent who come from different cultural backgrounds than themselves.

"PULSE is one of Disney's resource groups, and it is centered around black and African American culture. One of the things I really appreciated with being a member of PULSE was that I got to learn about other cultures within the black culture," said Barry Dillard, the Vice President of Risk Management Services and a 1990 graduate of Hampton University.

Along with having resources and safe spaces for people of color, members of the panel attested to the fact that many of the people that they work with are allies of the black community.

"Disney is full of allies, there are great, great leaders that are aware of everything that is going on. Especially now with the George Floyd killing, we have been asked for advice on how they (allies) can do better to better serve the African American community," said Courtnee Collier, a manager of Public Relations and 2001 graduate of Hampton University.

Panelists spoke on how their employment at Disney has given them the chance to highlight the importance of HBCUs and as a result, the company is connecting directly with these universities for interns.

"I guarantee you, when they looked at my resume, they had no idea Hampton University was an HBCU, probably didn't even know what HBCUs were. Once I got the job, I certainly got to tell them about it, I can tell them about HBCUs and the importance of them," said Dillard.

Aside from sharing their experiences as a being a person of color and working for a billion-dollar company, panelists provided tips on how to land an internship and how valuable the Hampton University experience had been in their lives.

"You don't get what you get out of a HBCU education anywhere else. Really don't take for granted the professors that are really investing in you. It feels like a pain, but I promise no one will ever pretend to care that much ever again," said Powell.

Maintaining Blackness in a White Space

An article by Kennedy P. Buck for Professor Lynn Waltz's class

Many Black journalists within the entertainment world fight for more diversity as racism is forefront in the headlines. The top entertainment company in the country, Walt Disney, continues to recruit and reassure Black students that they will not only be embraced but will also be comfortable if offered a position within the company.

Courtnee Collier, the public relations manager of Walt Disney World Resort, was a part of a recruiting panel about internships for students who attend her alma mater, Hampton University. Collier said she maintains her blackness in a majority white space through balance.

"You're going to be the only Black person sometimes in these spaces and it's going to shock you," She said. "The key is to be able to balance how you interact with other races while also staying true within your blackness. It can be hard because you don't want to be too much, but you also don't want someone to question you. That's why you have to find that balance."

The advice to these Hampton University students did not stop there. Christina Powell, a 2017 graduate of Hampton University, talked about her experience as a young Black producer within the Disney world and how it led her to become a producer on the Emmy winning Talk-show: The Tamron Hall Show.

"There were many times I was the only Black person in the room, but I did not let that hold me back, I let my work speak for itself," She said. "I let my work do the talking for me where they never had to question my Blackness, because they knew I could deliver and that is why I am in the position I'm in today."

Barry Dillard, the vice president of risk management of Walt Disney World and also another graduate of Hampton University, touched on his own advice from the Executive side of Walt Disney. "I rely on communication," Dillard said. "If something is wrong, relay it to the people above you. Communication is key."

The panelists also touched on how to stand out to gain a competitive internship. They gave good advice such as to always research the company before an interview and how to sell skills and campus activates so the color of the students' skin would not even be a factor.

"You have to sell yourself on paper where they never even have to question your culture or your skin," Collier said. "If I'm being honest these white college students are coming into these interviews and they know their stuff. Stand out and research."

Even though the panel discussion was brief, the advice from the Hampton alum resonated with many students. Students were able to see that if they continue to work hard and reach high then they can achieve their dreams.

Orchestra During Coronavirus

By Sara Avery

Blackboard Collaborate is the new home of the Hampton University Chamber Orchestra (HUCO) amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Despite being virtual, students say that Orchestra Director, Jerry Bracey, has made the online environment successful.

"I feel Professor Bracey is truly doing the best he can given the circumstances," said Christian Peterson, a senior violinist. "I feel like it's been successful. I really don't know how he could make the situation better, because it's already hard doing it virtually."

While HUCO students are accustomed to playing "difficult" pieces like Symphony No. 38 by Joseph Haydn, they are using this time to go back to the basics, spending all of class and practice time on scales and arpeggios.

Although this may seem simple for a college-level ensemble, Bracey said that it is not in vain.

"Scales help students perform a musical selection better by knowing the key and the makeup of that composition. If they can play scales and sight read, it makes the music easier," he said. "Without scales, you would have no center."

While Bracey has adjusted to his new classroom, he is looking forward to meeting in-person again because he misses hands-on instruction with the students.

"To be able to go through the sections, give different advice, or just be able to coach the students, [virtual class] doesn't have the same quality," he said. "The virtual is okay, but I prefer the real in-person approach." Hannah Selders, a freshman violinist, agrees and can't wait to have in-person orchestra because she feels like she's missing out on building connections.

"I want to get connected with the people in orchestra more. It has been a little tough because everything is virtual," she said. "We're only talking in the group chat when an announcement gets sent out. It would be cool if we could talk and just check-in on one another."

Selders, who graduated from a performance arts high school, said that although HUCO is focusing on the basics, the class is still exceeding her expectations.

"This is what I was expecting. It's a little more actually," she said. "I thought we would just be playing songs. I was not expecting us to be doing basic things, but I think it's a good thing that we're doing it. People have different levels coming in, so we have to be understanding of that."

While she enjoys the current class set-up, she also has some suggestions on how to improve it.

"I think we'll get more done if we get an assignment at the beginning of the week and get two class periods to practice, then come back together to see where we are," Selders said.

Christopher Edwards, a junior violinist, also believes that some changes can be made.

"I would pick one person in each section to lead breakout groups and plan some type of online sectional," he said.

However, he is hopeful for the rest of the semester, and believes that with cooperation, it will all work out. "I think that we have the potential to be a great orchestra," he said. "If we just focus, set our mind straight, and keep practicing our scales, hopefully this will be a great semester."

Limited Options for Texas Voters

By Rhyann Sampson

The USPS crisis, combined with Texas' strict mail-in voting requirements, are leaving many Texan voters without options for voting in the upcoming presidential election.

The United States Postal Service has had ongoing issues over the last months stemming from a lack of financial stability, which has resulted in a mass delay of mail delivery across 46 states. According to an article by Vox, "The self-funded Postal Service has been seeking billions in aid from Congress -- an effort that's been stymied by President Trump, who has long had a contentious relationship with the USPS and has pushed to privatize it."

While the mail stress is currently affecting the United States as a whole, Texas residents are in a bigger predicament with the intersecting dilemmas of COVID-19, USPS and voting.

"Trying to vote with all of this going on is about to be a complete mess. I don't want to have to worry about getting Corona while trying to vote," said Irving, Texas, resident, Keith Franklin.

Texas is in a unique situation because the requirements to vote by mail are very specific and would exclude a large population of residents. To be eligible for a mail-in ballot, the resident must meet one of the following: be over 65 years old, disabled, out of the country or in jail.

These requirements are not new to the state's voting process, however in the midst of COVID-19, the limited option is disliked by many.

"You'd think that our government would care a little bit more about our safety and let more people send in their votes by mail, but I guess not," said Denton, Texas, resident Megan Bowser.

The state has also decided that personal fears of getting COVID-19 is not a viable form of exemption from in-person voting. Texas' approach to this situation is not a favorable decision compared to other states. According to the Fort Worth Star Telegram, "34 states allowed for anyone to use mail-in ballots. Of the remaining 16, all but Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana have made exceptions to expand vote by mail in 2020 elections because of the pandemic."

Even if some Texas residents are eligible to vote by mail, the USPS mail crisis builds another cause for concern.

The deadline for mail-in ballots may overlap with the speed at which the postal service delivers the vote due to its slowed distribution of mail. USPS recommended that Texans who are voting by mail send in their ballots 15 days prior to the due date. However, some are not convinced that their vote will be processed in time.

"I'm 73 years old so thankfully I'm going to be voting by mail. I just hope my vote, or my husband's vote doesn't get lost or take too long to deliver," said Roanoke, Texas, resident N.J Pyles.

The mail crisis in combination of COVID-19 is showing no signs of easing, leaving Texas residents doubtful of voting both in person and by mail. With few options for the state's voters, it is likely the situation will affect the polls.

Chester County Residents Aren't Getting Mail, and Won't Vote That Way

By Lauren Turman

After a significant slow-down of mailing in Chester County, Pa., residents say they will not vote by mail on November 3 out of fear of political manipulation.

Pennsylvania has reported over 130,000 COVID-19 cases and has remained amongst 14 other states with the highest confirmed cases, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition to having such high numbers, Pennsylvania is an established political battleground state. Votes from this state, whether in-person or by mail, will make a significant difference in the outcome of the presidential election.

The beginning of the slow-down in early April became more difficult when the USPS was informed that several employees at the West Chester post office contracted COVID-19 immediately following the death of a postal service delivery man. The Daily Mail reported that the CDC had found no evidence of coronavirus spreading through the mail, so that office was not shut down or suspended.

Borough residents have expressed their concerns directly to the USPS, and as of August, the Daily Mail reported a much smaller number of requests for mail-in ballots than anticipated.

Louis DeJoy's Impact on Voting

The appointment of Postmaster General and Republican Party fundraiser Louis DeJoy and his subsequent management of the USPS has made majority-Democratic Chester County favor casting an in-person ballot and face coronavirus. DeJoy's policies to terminate overtime, leave mail behind to quicken the workday, and lower office hours have caused sizable delivery delays across Pennsylvania and several other states, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"I don't trust DeJoy at all," said Faith Johns, a college student and Collegeville, Pa., resident. "He was barely able to answer any questions that had to do with policy changes or how slow mail has been in COVID-19." After substantial questioning of his management, DeJoy's testified before the House Oversight Committee, which criticized his actions since his appointment in June and questioned his motives for cutting costs. During the hearing, Democratic Representative Katie Porter asked DeJoy how much it costs to mail a postcard, to which he responded, "I don't know."

"I just don't think he's very knowledgeable. He couldn't even hold up in Congress. I definitely won't be letting him control my vote," Johns said.

Just six days before his testimony, DeJoy stated that he is trying to improve the system. He also explained that he came to the Postal Service to make changes for the success of the organization and that he would deliver election mail on time and with "well established" service standards.

Even with his statement, unsorted mail is still piling up in many Philadelphia area post offices, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Residents have called the local post office hundreds of times to find out why their mail had not arrived, according to Chester County Postal Service Spokespersn Raymond V. Daiutolo.

"We've been receiving less and less ever since April. I understand that everything happening with corona might have made things a bit worse in the beginning, but there should be no reason why I'm getting less mail now than I was in April. Some days, we don't even see any," said Yolanda George Turman, a West Chester resident.

After corresponding coronavirus numbers, the impact that DeJoy is making on the Postal Service, and a very tight race for the presidential election, John's and George Turman's decision to vote in-person reflects an increasing opinion in the Chester area.

West Chester Residents Are Not Voting by Mail

Tyler Williams, a 20-year-old college student, and resident of West Chester, Pa., has not received any mail in the past four days. Her aunt works at a local post office, and she says that neither of them has ever experienced such a lapse in the mailing process.

"I could have bills due. I could have anything. I literally feel like I don't know what could be coming my way," she said. "My aunt is struggling, and I know she's overwhelmed, too."

Initially, Williams was going to vote by mail to become less susceptible to contracting COVID-19. After reading about DeJoy's policy changes and learning of his Republican affiliation, she immediately changed her mind.

"I think I read a CNN article with all of these budget cuts [and] things that he was going to do, and I was not happy," said Williams. "If they can't get my mail here as a citizen, why would I ever expect [USPS] to count my vote or not to switch it to benefit Republicans?"

In the West Chester postal district, college students Williams and Johns are among a large and increasing number of students that are keeping the tradition of voting in-person. Seven of 10 West Chester University students stated that they are voting in person because they don't believe mail-in ballots will stay honest, according to a self-conducted poll. Additionally, nine of 10 post-college graduates say that they will go to the polls for the same reason.

Previous Entries / More Entries