Category Archives: Bryn Mawr

“20 Feet from Stardom:” The Making of a Real Star

By Abby Hoyt, Co-Editor-in-Chief

In an era where most Hollywood singers sport commanding attitudes and resplendent clothing, Lisa Fischer’s humble nature and casual attire convinces the world to re-examine what makes someone a star.

Fischer strolled onto the stage in Bryn Mawr College’s Goodhart Theatre with a deep purple shawl draped gently across her body. A long, flowing yellow skirt occasionally floated away to reveal glittery sandals and painted toes. But don’t let this casual look fool you. This singer got her start as a back-up singer for legendary names like Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones and Luther Vandross.

Despite their talent, background singers tend to go unnoticed, and their voices are often overshadowed by the star of the show. Filmmaker Morgan Neville made a documentary in 2013 called “20 Feet From Stardom,” which examined the dynamic between background singers and the stars they work with. The film features renowned back-up singers like Lisa Fischer, Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and Judith Hill, portraying the struggles each woman went through in her quest to start a solo career.

Both Merry Clayton and Darlene Love show a small hint of disappointment when they speak about their solo careers. They express disappointment that they didn’t end up being the big stars they expected.

Fischer differs from these women in that she always found comfort in “walking the street and not having to worry about putting on sunglasses and hiding out.” In the documentary she describes her record deal as “just one of those things that just kind of blossomed,” and explains that she understands how fortunate she was. In 1992, she won a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for her song “How Can I Ease the Pain.”

While the modern Grammy Award winner featured in an episode of MTV’s Cribs has a mansion decked out with the latest technology and impressive memorabilia, a scene in the documentary shows Fischer’s modest and cluttered apartment, giving the viewer insight into Fischer’s genuine humility. The camera pans around the room showing the apartment in a light state of disarray. We see a pile of clutter in the corner — clutter that turns out to be several gold albums and gifts from the musicians she has toured with. Later in the film we see her Grammy on a shelf with various other knick-knacks and picture frames. She blushes as she points it out and playfully admits, “Oh and here’s my Grammy…I just kinda keep it there. I don’t know what to do with it.”

After winning her Grammy she started to pursue a second record deal, but things didn’t go exactly as planned. “I was working on a second record and I don’t know. I just took too long. There was this window and it just took too long.”

Despite this setback, Fischer kept singing simply because she just likes to sing. In the film she is quoted as saying, “I love melodies. I’m in love with the sound vibration and what it does with other people. It’s familiar but so special and you’re just so happy when you get there and you try to stay there for as long as you can.”

And stay there she does. Her music combines elements of smooth jazz and soul that make the listener feel instantly relaxed. Her songs consist of mostly melodious tones and a cacophony of oos and ahhs that seem to never end. She’s careful to hit every note, and she leaves the audience to breathe in each note she makes and anxiously await the next one. In the film, she compares her singing style to that of a feather that was blown into the air.

“You just go, never hit a hitch,” she says. “You just land. That’s what it feels like to me.”

This is clearly conveyed to anyone who has had the pleasure of hearing her sing. There is so much effort that goes into every sound she makes, and the sound seems to come from her whole body, not just her mouth. She sways around the stage as if she is using her body to bounce the notes around the room. She doesn’t just hold the microphone; she tangos with it, creating different sounds by moving it in circles around her mouth. Her voice is genuine and warm. Even audience members with limited musical background (such as myself) had chills throughout the performance.

She began touring with the band, Grand Baton, in 2014, and in this setting she is advertised as the main attraction. However, her years as a backup singer have clearly left an impact on her, as she makes sure that the talent dynamics on stage are horizontal rather than vertical. She takes care to keep the main focus of the stage is not herself, and she dedicates generous time in her performance to feature each of her band members and allow them to go “off book” and show the room their talent.

Once she finished singing, several audience members came up to the stage to bring her bouquets of flowers. She graciously accepted the gifts, taking the time to bend down and thank each person individually. She walked back to center stage, put the flowers down, and softly thanked the audience, saying, “Thank you so much for these gifts, but just know that the best gift you could have given me was coming here tonight.”

Her concerts convey her desire to sing purely because she loves to sing. At the same time, they invite you into her heart and soul for an hour, and you walk away in paralyzing peace.

In the documentary, Sting makes an appearance. He comments on what separates real stars from the rest of the performers out there and argues that there is a “spiritual component to what they do that’s got nothing to do with worldly success.” He describes singing as “more an inner journey,” for true stars and that “any other success is just cream on the cake.”

Despite her start near the back of the stage, Fischer’s presence on stage and distinct musical talent have earned her a place among the stars of modern music.

From the print edition published Dec. 7, 2016

The Archives Are Alive: Meet Christiana Dobrzynski, Bryn Mawr College Archivist

By Emma Nelson and Isabella Nugent, Staff Writers

The archives are not dead. The history of our college and the thousands of students who have made Bryn Mawr so meaningful is not locked behind steel doors; the archives are waiting to entertain, to inform and to inspire. In March of 2016, Christiana Dobrzynski was hired as Bryn Mawr’s first full-time archivist. As she works to make the institutional history of Bryn Mawr universally accessible, Dobrzynski is also embarking on archival projects that will embrace and preserve voices from previously undocumented communities.

In the past, the Bryn Mawr College archives have primarily focused on administrative documentation. However, Dobrzynski aims to close the gap between the identities which have traditionally been represented in the archives and those which have not. In her pursuit to document a wider range of voices, Dobrzynski is currently working on an acquisition from 1968 alumna Judith Mazer. Mazer is a self-identified “Jewish lesbian of size” who is working closely with Dobrzynski to incorporate her photographs, audio recordings, drawings of lesbian erotica and other objects into the archives. Not only do these materials hold valuable insight into the feminist movement in the Bay Area and Mazer’s own activism, but they also represent queer and Jewish identities in the Bryn Mawr community. If histories such as Mazer’s are not preserved, much of Bryn Mawr’s legacy will be lost.

In this same spirit, Dobrzynski is also working on a collection of oral histories, approved by President Kim Cassidy, to accompany this year’s academic programming around the theme of “voice.” During the planning stage, Dobrzynski is reaching out to the Black Alumni Association and LGBTQIA Alumni Affinity Group at Bryn Mawr for assistance with incorporating underrepresented voices into Bryn Mawr’s history. This more holistic approach to documentation is works toward Dobrzynski’s goal of expanding the archives to reflect the wide variety of paths taken by Bryn Mawr alumnae. Many activists, especially those who identify as women, Dobrzynski explains, did not think what they were doing was important enough to be documented.

Dobrzynski is excited at the prospect of forming a more even-level relationship between the archives and the students, faculty and staff of Bryn Mawr. In order to facilitate this, she is collaborating with digital collections librarian Rachel Appel to collect and maintain the social media landscape of today’s students. This form of proactive documentation attempts to preserve a broader representation of student life and opinion. Dobrzynski hopes that these collections will become a catalyst for discussions on transparency and public access to the Bryn Mawr archives. “We keep things under lock and key,” Dobrzynski explained, “but only so it’s preserved for you.”

For Dobrzynski, student voices are critical in defining Bryn Mawr’s legacy and how that legacy is recorded. Under her work and her collaborations, students from every background will be able to see themselves documented in the history of Bryn Mawr. Additionally, Dobrzynski’s work to encourage an open and ongoing dialogue about the archives will enable others to use the archives as “a touchstone for deeper conversations.” The archives are not only alive, but they are growing.

From the print edition published Oct. 5, 2016

ASA Takes Center Stage in “A Work in Translation”

By Meredith Scheiring, Contributing Writer

Saturday, Oct. 1 was the annual Bryn Mawr Asian Students Association (ASA) Culture Show. Titled “A Work in Translation,” this year’s event featured several groups from the Bi- and Tri-Co, the Philadelphia area, and around the country. The show opened with Kyo Daiko, a Philadelphia community group associated with the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden. This talented group performed taiko drumming, traditional Japanese percussion that was both captivating to watch and incredible to hear. The quartet was followed by one of two films produced for the show. The film shared interviews of students in the community who discussed questions and intersections of identity translation both on and off campus. Afreen, a Bryn Mawr dance group, was up next, performing a spirited dance to a dhol, or drum, song that got the crowd pumped up. On a more serious note, Rhea Manglani ’17 of Bryn Mawr performed two spoken word pieces exploring first the college transition and experience and then questions of love and self-love.

Miranda Canilang and Friend Chaiprasit were the stars of the next performance as a couple in Tai-๑ne. This energetic group performed a conglomeration of bamboo dancing, which is “a festive traditional dance shared by many Southeast Asian cultures” such as Thailand, Taiwan, and the Philippines. The final performance before intermission was a stand-up comedy routine by Subhah Agarwal, an Indian-American comedian who shared her experiences growing up in the Midwest and exploring her identity as both a woman and a comedian in the context of her upbringing by “strict parents in a suburban world.”

Hometown Hero, a Bi-Co band, began the second half by playing amazing covers of three of their favorite songs; their performance was followed by the second ASA film, which explored the theme of language translation alongside translation of identity and culture in interviews with ASA and other Bryn Mawr students. Two dance groups then performed pieces, starting with Mayuri, the Tri-Co South Asian fusion dance team. Their first performance of the year, the dance featured “Item Girl, a lively and upbeat medley of songs performed by some of Bollywood’s sassiest ladies.” Also in their first performance of the year, Bi-Co Korean Pop dance group Choom Boom shared Genie, a piece showcasing that “our passion is what drives our success.”

The show closed with an emotional and moving performance by Rachel Rostad, winner of a prize from the Academy of American Poets who has also been featured on both Upworthy and Jezebel. Rostad read from her chap-book “Homecoming,” sharing the story of searching for and meeting her biological mother in Korea. Several Bryn Mawr students then modeled traditional and modern Asian styles, culminating a full and engaging night with a lively Fashion Show. ASA President Amy Xu shared some final remarks about the importance of finding and creating spaces in our communities to celebrate Asian, Pan-Asian, and Asian-American identities, and “A Work in Translation” was a fantastic event to do just that.

From the print edition published Oct. 5, 2016

Philadanco Performance Probes Race, Gender Boundaries

By Dilesha Tanna, Layout Editor

The theater was dark and packed with an eager audience. Beams of light and foggy mist slowly filled the empty stage. Dancers appeared on stage, moving gracefully in the silence. Soon, the music started, and the dancers synchronized their steps to its rhythmic beats. And with that, the show began.

On September 23, the well-acclaimed dance group Philadanco performed in Goodhart Auditorium at Bryn Mawr College. They put together a performance that consisted of four 15 minute dance pieces, each one unique in its own special way. The first piece immediately grabbed the audience’s attention as it began by manipulating perspective and dimension as the dancers arranged themselves in a straight vertical line. In between the consistent action of the dance, there were parts where the music stopped and the dance focused on the breathing and silent movements of the dancers. Following this dance, the second piece was more upbeat and added elements such as claps and stomps to fit in with the rhythm of the music. In direct contrast, the third dance showed the dancers’ movements like black silk. It focused on the swift yet graceful and smooth movements of the dancers, who were adorned in black costumes. The show finished with the last piece emphasizing the sharpness of the dancers and their environment through their movements, stage lighting, and contrasting black and red outfits.

Additionally, the show brought together the traditions of African-American dance with elements of ballet, lyrical, modern, and jazz, demonstrating that dance transcends all cultures. There is no language needed to understand such an art form. Even the choice of African and American music brought out this amalgamation of cultures. The rhythms of the songs and the styles of different cultural dance forms enhanced the meaning of the performance.

Philadanco aims to share a message about discrimination with the audience by including choreography in their repertory that mixes dialogue in with the songs and dance to present some of the racism Black individuals have faced. Their message traces back to the origins of their company, which helps provide opportunities for Black dancers to perform and express their love and creativity for this art form.

Along with providing a unique perspective on race, Philadanco also displayed an interesting view on gender in some of the works performed. In dance performances, men are often in charge of carrying women for various leaps, jumps, and flips. However, in their evening of dance, the gender roles were sometimes obscured. They incorporated steps where men lifted women, men lifted men, and women lifted women. Even their costumes demonstrated a similar appearance, as one of their pieces included both men and women wearing black dress-like costumes.

Overall, the message of the show brought an interesting perspective to the value of dance among all cultures, and the variety of costumes, stage lights, formations, and movements kept the stage in a constant state of excitement.

From the print edition published Oct. 5, 2016

You Deserve to be Here Too

By Kate Weiler, Staff Writer

Last week, I read an article that made me feel incredibly small. I felt powerless and hurt and confused, but mostly small. It has been five days, and I still cannot get it out of my mind. I am being brought to tears re-reading the piece and writing a response to it now. “The Admissions Office Doesn’t Care About Your Values,” a contribution to Swarthmore’s Daily Gazette, was an attempted attack on the capitalist tendencies of private institutions of higher education, a prevalent topic in the United States today, but it ultimately took aim at something else, something disturbing: students who receive financial aid to attend such institutions.

In case you have not read the article, the excerpt I take issue with is the following:

“Do I think mixing finances and admissions is fundamentally wrong? Absolutely not. Colleges are, at a basic level, private institutions that need to worry about their long term sustainability. Demonizing wealthy students is not productive because, in the end, they are paying not just for their own education but also for the education of their hyper-liberal classmates who resent the upper class at its core. Is this fair? No. But life isn’t fair. That’s reality. Stop whining and get over it. “Check your privilege” should be replaced with a warm “thank you so, so much for being forced to pay for my opportunity.””

Since its publication, countless members of the Tri-Co (Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr) community have expressed their disappointment and indignation with the content of the article and the fact that it was published by the highly regarded student newspaper. I myself was afraid to add my voice to the chorus of disapproval, and this is why this article is being published at this moment in time, and not sooner. I do not attend Swarthmore. I do not know the person who decided to put her views out there. I do not know her socioeconomic class or experiences. I am merely your average college student who made it to the institution I attend because of several different types of financial aid, who is currently being forced to combat a feeling of not belonging that this piece aggressively thrusts upon me.

The utter contempt that the above portion of the piece points at students who rely on financial aid to receive an education, whether from a state university or from a small liberal arts college like Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr, is disheartening. It reinforces a hierarchy based on socioeconomic class and demeans those who have put in the extra effort to apply for and receive financial aid. I was taken aback by the assumptions the author, as entitled to her opinions as we all are, made in her stark and insulting generalizations about me and those I care about.

I will be the first to acknowledge that having the opportunity to attend Bryn Mawr was a gift, one that I have already gotten a peek at my first few weeks here, and I thank my family, friends at home and at BMC, and teachers and professors, past and present, my high school, my home state, and the admissions office who gave the girl with the sub-par GPA from Massachusetts a shot, for getting me here. The list, for now, ends there. I will not thank those who are able to pay for the entirety of their college costs without financial help. I don’t resent these people, as the author of this article insinuates that all non-upper class people such as myself do. I respect these people so, so much. Their families have no doubt worked hard to get them where they are, and hard work is one of the most respectable entity out there, in my personal opinion.

I normally don’t even separate those like me from those who didn’t need to apply for financial aid. I have friends who need financial aid, and I have friends who do not. They’re all equally my friends. By implying that all students who are aid dependent have a beef with those of higher socioeconomic status, the author of this article creates a harsh divide between classes, one I have never recognized myself. She tells me that I secretly hate my friends, my peers, and a good percent of the world. By telling me that I should thank fellow students who have more money than I happen to possess for paying for my opportunity at a good education, she implies that I am not rightfully a student of the Tri-Co. According to her, I shouldn’t be here, in Pennsylvania, writing for this newspaper. That without these students who happen to be wealthier than I am, I would not have been accepted. Like my hard work and struggles mean virtually nothing. I know that this isn’t true.

I decided to speak up about this issue because I know for a fact that articles like “The Admissions Office Doesn’t Care About Your Values” can impact students’ emotional well-being, which is the last thing sleep-deprived, stressed out students need. It sure has affected my own health in the past week. I have already questioned my being here enough, with the rigor of the courses and the extreme intelligence of my peers and friends; three weeks in, I have already felt as though I might not cut it.

With the popularity of this article, I, as well as other students who have received financial aid from their institution, state, and high school, do not need the extra anxiety that comes with being told that we owe everything to those who could pay their way in college. While I respect her as a fellow student journalist, one who is very brave for putting her opinions in the public eye, this author cannot make me ashamed of something that I needed in order to be here today. She does not get to erase the hard work I put in in high school and will continue to put in for the rest of my career at Bryn Mawr. She is not allowed to blame my family, and families like mine, for the steep cost of higher education. She cannot take away my pride in being where I am, and she sure as hell is not going to scare me away from fighting for my right to an education. I deserve to be here. All Tri-Co students, whether he or she has financial aid or not, deserve to be here. We all deserve to study, laugh, have meaningful conversations, and eat as many slices of Haffner’s pizza as we want. We don’t need to apologize for being where we are, and nobody can make us.

From the print edition published on Oct. 5, 2016

Bryn Mawr Student Wages and Employment: Expect Changes

By Emilia Otte, Copy Editor 

Administration, students, and faculty of Bryn Mawr College met on Wednesday, September 14 for the first diversity conversation of the year to discuss changes in the way student employment on campus will be structured, with a particular focus on wages and professional development.

Two major changes are currently in the works. The college is planning to restructure student jobs in order to equalize pay rates across departments. In addition to this, the administration is also exploring ways to provide more opportunities for professional development, so that students are able to acquire skills that will be useful when applying to jobs after graduation.

According to President Cassidy, the question of pay inequity on campus surfaced during last year’s Community Day of Learning. Over the summer, senior staff members of various departments looked into the question and discovered that rates of pay were not consistent across campus. In order to fix this, the college plans to create four distinct “levels” of employment that will be defined within every department in which a student can be employed. Students employed at the same level will be paid the same hourly wage, regardless of what department they are in. For example, a level one worker in dining services will be paid the same rate as a level one worker in the athletics department.

In order to make these “systemic changes,” President Cassidy explained, the college is considering bringing in outside people, possibly inviting student employment leaders from other colleges to offer their input, “just to get more expertise.” The goal is to have this new structure in place by the start of the 2017-2018 academic year.

The college also hopes to enhance students’ work experiences by providing them with skills that will give them extra leverage when applying for jobs in the future. Providing training for supervisory positions, offering students a chance to reflect on their own experiences as student-workers, and instituting formal interviews and resumes as part of the job process are a few of the ideas currently being considered.

Another concern which came up during last year’s Community Day of Learning was the treatment of student workers, particularly those in dining services, which is the largest student employer on campus. According to President Cassidy, the reactions of students to their peers working in the dining halls has created a situation in which these workers are “treated in ways that are almost inhuman.” Referencing the experiences that students recounted during the Day of Learning, President Cassidy said, “It was really hard to hear those stories.”

Students are already taking steps to prevent these kinds of situations from occurring in the future. This year for the first time, first-year students took part in an hour-long workshop during customs week that focused on treating dining service workers with respect. Entitled “Humanizing the Hat”, the workshop began with an ice-breaker intended to prompt students to engage in a dialogue and ask questions. Afterwards, the dining hall supervisors facilitating the dialogue finished by sharing and reflecting on their own experiences as workers in dining services. Mercedes Aponte ’17, Co-Student Manager at Erdman, headed the project.  

Bryn Mawr College currently pays wages for 1,719 jobs on campus. Last year, the college averaged 618 students under employment- about half of the student body. Some of these students hold multiple jobs. Wages range from $9.50 to $10.50 per hour, with a few exceptions, such as TAs and graders, who are paid more.

Students on campus are technically permitted to work no more than 17.5 hours per week, but this rule is not necessarily enforced, in part because students sometimes hold multiple jobs, or else work part-time off-campus. The Dean’s Office recommends that students work no more than 10 hours per week. Dean Raima Evans said that she has witnessed first-hand how going outside these guidelines “impacts their [students’] performance here in a very significant way, over time.” Yet sticking to the prescribed number of hours has not enabled students to earn enough money to pay for the necessities of life at Bryn Mawr.

One student suggested that the college might consider providing additional benefits to its employees, such as subsidized housing for Hall Advisors. Another student brought forward the idea of offering a stipend to Customs people who, as of now, are not paid. If the college were to provide these things, it might lessen the pressure on students to work multiple jobs.

Further discussions on these topics will take place at a future date. Additionally, Dean Jennifer Walters will be holding open conversations on Wednesdays at 12 pm in the Dorothy Vernon Room in New Dorm Dining Hall.

From the print edition published on Oct. 5, 2016

Professor Profile: Professor Caroline Van Sickle

By Kate Hawthorne, Staff Writer

This year the Bryn Mawr community welcomes Visiting Assistant Professor Caroline Van Sickle, a paleoanthropologist and veteran of the Rising Star Project, into the anthropology and archaeology departments here at Bryn Mawr.

Professor Van Sickle focuses on paleoanthropology, the study of human bones and the kinship lines between humans and their fossil ancestors. While identifying recent bones is relatively easy, older fossils are more difficult. Professor Van Sickle’s focus is on Neanderthals and, more specifically, how to determine sex in the fossil record, as well as the process by which male and female bodies evolved. She wrote her Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Michigan on how Neanderthals gave birth, and as a result, she became very well acquainted with pelvic fossils. She then did her post-doc in feminist biology at University of Wisconsin Madison, a new program that investigates how to encourage feminist principles in biological research – for example, to see if sexism and gender biases play a role in biological research.  

In 2013, the public became aware, through a series of tweets, of the Rising Star Project, an excavation in South Africa focused on finding Homo naledi, a small bodied species of humans. Professor Van Sickle, who was working on her Ph.D. at that point, recognized the project’s value immediately. “Here was an example of public paleoanthropology, which you really rarely get, and it’s a way for the public to engage with how an excavation on a paleoanthropological site works.”  The public became even more aware of the rising star project in 2015 after it was featured in both National Geographic and The New York Times.

In February of 2014, the project released an ad on Facebook seeking early career researchers who could contribute to the project by looking at and analyzing the fossils. Professor Van Sickle jumped at the chance to take part in what would become a groundbreaking project and was chosen as one of about 60 scientists whose job it was to figure out if Homo naledi was, in fact, a new species.  

The first few days were strange and hectic. When the researchers arrived at the university campus, they were greeted with a vault with “shelves upon shelve” of fossils. “There’s this law in South Africa where hominin remains have to always be under lock and key. They had this tiny broom closet of a vault before, where they kept all of the fossils that had been found in South Africa, … and it was kind of overflowing. They had just gotten done redoing [the vault], [so that] it was the size of a classroom that would … maybe fit 20 people in it … it was lined with shelves and beautiful wooden cabinets.” Van Sickle recalled, “[They]… thought, ‘Oh, this is great, we can work on filling this up for years to come.’ Rising Star took up a whole wall – it practically filled the vault.”

The researchers spent two weeks organizing the bones, figuring out what bones they had and where exactly they went. By the end of the summer, they learned that the bones represented a total of 15 individuals – from babies to adults of a relatively great age for the species. Here was a large enough sample for paleoanthropologists to be able to ask questions: about age, social discrepancies, growth patterns and biological differences between male and female.  Now that the preliminary description of the fossils has been published, Van Sickle says, they can move on to analyzing the bones in more detail and hypothesizing about how Homo naledi lived. She believes that one of the best things that came out of the project, in addition to the discovery of an entire new hominid species, is the recruitment of new scientists. This inclusiveness helps to reverse the age-old hierarchy in which older, white males are viewed as more legitimate scientists than younger, ethnically diverse and gender-diverse researchers.

She finds Bryn Mawr students to be fantastic and smart and to ask great questions while being exceedingly enthusiastic about the material. As a professor at a liberal arts college, she is drawn to the small class sizes and the opportunity to get to know her students one-on-one. She hopes that she can stay another year before heading off to – hopefully – another teaching job that focuses on anthropology somewhere else in the wide world.

From the print edition published on Oct. 5, 2016

Dr. John Wai Speaks at BMC About Creating an Anti-HIV Drug

By Emma Nelson, Staff Writer

On Friday, September 30th, Dr. John Wai of WuXi Apptec (formerly Merck & Co.) spoke in the Park Science Building on Bryn Mawr’s campus. He was introduced by Professor Malachowski, who is standing in as chair of the Chemistry department. Malachowski was warm, and explained that he knew Dr. Wai through Wai’s wife, whom he had met many years ago while collaborating on research. Malachowski continued to give the audience of several dozen people a brief background on Dr. Wai.

Wai has studied at the University of Hong Kong and the University of British Columbia, and completed post-doctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has worked at Merck & Co., a pharmaceutical company, for many years. During his distinguished career, Dr. Wai and his colleagues have been awarded the Prix Galien and ACS Heroes of Chemistry Awards for their work on Isentress™, an anti-HIV drug.

After the introduction, Dr. Wai himself stepped up and began his presentation, entitled “Discovery of HIV Integrase Inhibitors: From Diketoacid Hit to Raltegravir and Beyond.” He started by talking about the situation in 1997, when he and his team commenced their research. HIV/AIDS was an epidemic, he explained, showcasing World Health Organization global estimates on annual deaths at the time. There were few treatment options available, no vaccines, and incomplete structural information from which to base their research. This, Wai explained, made the first steps along their path to developing Isentress™ very difficult.

Academic papers on HIV-1 integrase (the part of the virus which attaches to host DNA and infects the host for life) concluded that it was “undruggable,” that it would be impossible to stop a person from being infected once exposed. However, Wai and his team persisted with their research. A major help to their efforts was collaboration with other scientists who were also working on the problem of inhibiting HIV integrase. This problem is that HIV is a stoichiometric enzyme. A “stoichiometric enzyme” refers to a particular atypical property of HIV: it can only do its job (infecting the host) once. If it is prevented, the virus becomes useless.

With this additional information, Wai and his team moved along with the early stages of drug development. In fact, they moved into Pre-Clinical Research, an important step on the way toward clinical animal and human trial, with only one “lead,” or prototype, instead of the typical two or more. This quickly transformed into clinical testing on animals: first rats, then eventually dogs and rhesus monkeys.

First results from the testing on rats went so well, Wai explained in good humor, that his team had a party in celebration. However, Wai grew serious as he continued. By the end of the week, no more than five days after the unbelievable news about their lead’s success, Wai was called and told that the dogs, in the second stage of clinical trials, had grown so sick that they had to be put down. Changes had to be made in certain properties of the chemical to make it safer, and with the determination of Wai and his colleagues, the lead was soon improved.

To explain the clinical trials on human patients, Wai presented an anecdote about his friend Skip, a man with HIV. Wai’s lead moved into human testing, but Skip was not able to join the clinical trials, due to his triple-class resistance, a certain state which is characterized by resistance to different types of antiretroviral drugs. Knowing that this was the case for many patients who desperately needed the drugs provided in clinical trials, Merck & Co. took a risk to get unqualified patients the prototype drug. However, this risk paid off for Wai’s friend Skip, whose HIV was undetectable for the first time in 20 years.

“I couldn’t hold back tears … no award is better than this,” Wai remembered thinking the first time he saw the newly-healthy Skip.

Dr. Wai finished his presentation with an overview of research done to prevent mutations of the HIV virus from halting or impairing the potency and efficacy of his new drug. Using three-dimensional computer models of his team’s prototype, Wai showcased one thing he could not understand: a feature of the molecular structure that should not have helped the drug work. If someone had told him to design the prototype like this, he explained, he would have called them wrong. Despite this inexplicable quirk, Isentress™ was approved by the FDA in 2007, as it passed through the human clinical trials and completed FDA review and monitoring successfully. Wai concluded that it took a lot of work- two decade’s worth, on his part- and luck to develop this drug from start to finish.

From the print edition published on Oct. 5, 2016

“Last Friday Night”

By Vidya Ramaswamy, Layout Editor

Dr. Dana Litt, an Assistant Professor in the University of Washington’s Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors, came to Bryn Mawr on Sept. 28 to discuss her research about how social media affects alcohol consumption among young adults.

“What I’m arguing today is that the Internet and social media is a risk conducive environment,” Litt said.

In the US, about 75% of alcohol consumption occurs during heavy episodic drinking. However, that rate jumps to 90% for people from ages 18-29. Litt says that while research might indicate that alcohol consumption is decreasing, when focusing on periods of heavy episodic drinking, especially within this age group, alcohol consumption is actually increasing.

Litt talked about how she was interested in finding the reason for this trend.

“We need to take a step back and ask why young adults engage in something that does have negative consequences,” Litt said.

Litt explained how the majority of theoretical models are based on the idea that when people choose to take a risk, their thoughts are logical and reasoned. Though these models often work, for age groups younger than 20 they begin to crumble. While there are people who give risks a lot of thought, most don’t.

This led Litt to using the Prototype Willingness Model in her research. This model puts forward that some people might make decisions based on social factors and immediate environment rather than what is intentional and planned.

“A recent study showed that of young adults aged 18-29, 85% had on their own Facebook wall said something about alcohol in the last month,” Litt said. “People are suddenly seeing a lot of alcohol online.”

This means that alcohol has a greater presence in young adults’ environments than it did before.

“What I wanted to do was design an experiment where I could look at the direction of this,” Litt said. “When I started thinking about how to theoretically frame things, I thought about the role of norms. Your thoughts about what others are doing turns out to be the strongest predictor of substance use. The reason for this could be that norms are being shifted by what is online.”

Litt conducted an experiment where her test subjects, people of ages from 13-15, saw four Facebooks profiles that either showed alcohol use or did not. In the end of the experiment, those who saw alcohol were significantly more willing to use alcohol in the future than those who did not. How favorably they viewed people who drink also increased. Since each experiment only lasted 40 minutes, it’s clear that adolescents’ norms can be shifted very quickly.

Litt concluded by providing ways to stop this phenomenon. One is simply correcting the norm: if people are made aware that their views on how others behave are skewed, they can adjust their lifestyles accordingly. Another method is reminding people of negative consequences they have had to face due to periods of excessive drinking in the past and letting them think about how they can prevent them. People can also be encouraged to think critically about what they see online by thinking about someone’s motivation for posting a photo or realizing that they cannot see everything that is happening in the photo.

Litt was applauded at the end of the presentation, which was followed-up by a short Q&A.

From the print edition published on Oct. 5, 2016

Fall 2016 Plenary Reaches Quorum in Record Time

By Sophie Webb, Features Editor

Bryn Mawr students passed one resolution at Fall Plenary on the evening of Sunday, September 25, after reaching quorum in 59 minutes.

Sunday’s plenary was slightly different than plenaries of the past.  According to current SGA President Rhea Manglani, “Starting at 7 p.m. was the biggest [difference]. We reached quorum so fast… in the [SGA] constitution it states that we can wait for quorum for up to 3 hours, but the move to night plenaries looks permanent right now so we’re looking into updating that rule to be significantly shorter.”  

Quorum, the gathering of one-third of the student body, or 460 students, has previously taken close to three hours of waiting for students to trickle in. On this Sunday, quorum was reached in a little under an hour. Jocelyn Martinez ‘18 said, “It was a little surprising, to be honest. As a senior I’ve had the opportunity to experience my fair share of plenaries… I was moved that the Bryn Mawr community finally came through on fulfilling our civic duties.”

Hosted by the Self-Governance Association (SGA), Plenary is one of Bryn Mawr’s oldest traditions. Formed in 1892, Bryn Mawr SGA became the first self-governance association at an institution of higher education in the United States. Since then, SGA and Plenary have provided the opportunity for students to voice their ideas and create change within the college, a defining aspect of the Bryn Mawr experience.

Bryn Mawr’s plenary is operated under the system known as Robert’s Rules of Order.  The rules call for one-third of the student body, quorum, to be present before the proceedings begin, and allow for time-specified discussion and voting. On Sunday, the single resolution, presented by Genesis Perez-Melara’19 and Mariana Garcia ‘19, called for an updated resignation process within SGA itself.

 The resolution, which, after some discussion and amending, passed by a visible margin, stated that, “any member of the assembly who needs to resign their position must send a resignation letter at least four weeks before their official resignation date.” The resolution also stated that if a representative must resign their position immediately, they must find a temporary replacement until a new representative is voted on.

Students in general seem pleased with how plenary went.  Creighton Ward ’19 said, “I was pleased with how quickly we reached quorum and how smoothly the process went.” SGA president Manglani acknowledged that, “It was a little rough at times, but it was our first plenary and with the hours you spend planning, the quorum wait, and the constant anxiety of how plenary will go, things are bound to not run perfectly. But overall, I hope we can keep a similar model for the Spring just with more resolutions and shorter waiting time.” Although Manglani believes things could have gone smoother, she is excited because, “we received a lot of good feedback that we’re going to use to make next semester’s plenary run a lot more smoothly, so stay tuned for that in the spring!”

From the print edition published on Oct 5, 2016