Jenna Fischer visited a college. It didn't go as planned. So now, she wants change.

It started with a racist threat, written on a stall in a DePauw University men's bathroom on April 11, according to Indy Star.

Then the N-word, spelled out using rocks, was spotted in a park, the school confirmed in a statement. Another offensive message — this time, one spouting homophobia and anti-Semitism — was found in a different bathroom. And a student was seen sporting blackface and a derogatory sign at a local bar.

Four separate hate-fueled incidents — all in one week, at just one university.



Hate at DePauw University hit a fever pitch in mid-April. And actress Jenna Fischer, of all people, was there to witness the pain, frustrations, and calls for action boil over in real time.

The actress, known for her role as Pam on "The Office," was on campus in Indiana on April 17 to meet theater students, participate in a Q&A, and sign copies of her book, "The Actor's Life: A Survival Guide."


But the event took an abrupt turn when demonstrators from the school's Association of African-American Students interrupted the gathering chanting and carrying a large banner that read, "We are not safe," the Associated Press reported.

This kind of turmoil isn't confined to the small, private school in Greencastle, Indiana.

College campuses have always facilitated social debate and, as a result, often can attract hate-filled bigotry. It was at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, after all, where white supremacists chose to gather in protest of the removal of a confederate statue in August 2017.

But evidence suggests hate crimes increased significantly at many colleges and universities in the months following the election that gave us Donald Trump.

"As spaces often populated by the religious and ethnic minority groups Trump pilloried during his bruising campaign, college campuses were natural incubators for conflict," Dan Bauman wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education in a report published in February. Many of the incidents, he wrote, involved references to the president.

While no direct ties have reportedly been made connecting Trump to the hate on display in Greencastle, DePauw's recent bigotry problems aren't all that unique.

But the hateful acts have been eye-opening to Fischer, nonetheless.

In a tweet published the day after the DePauw demonstrations, Fischer opened up about the unsettling events.

"Needless to say, I was shocked and upset to hear what was happening on their campus," Fischer wrote.

She continued (emphasis added):

"The student protesters spoke about their experiences and about the hate they have been encountering. I could feel the pain, sadness, and fear coming from these students. No student should feel at risk, or have to suffer the kind of bigotry and hate these students have encountered. These students need to be heard and they need change."

In her statement, Fischer announced she'd be donating the money she received from the university for her appearance to three organizations helping combat racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia and transphobia among young LGBTQ people: the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, and The Trevor Project.

The gesture was well-received.

"What an amazing letter, [Jenna Fischer]. Thank you," one Twitter user wrote. "I'm a DPU grad and watched the live stream last night. You were wonderful. Thank you again for the words of encouragement that was so well said."

Mark McCoy — DePauw's president, who was at the event — thanked the actress for speaking out for the demonstrators. Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League also sent his appreciation for Fischer's "generosity and ... commitment to combating hate and bigotry." The Trevor Project thanked Fischer "for using this event to inspire hope and support our lifesaving work."

"My hope is for all people to be respected, accepted, and loved for their individuality and uniqueness," Fischer wrote. "And, above all, to be safe."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less