NEWPORT — With so many things to feel rage and frustration about in 2020, from COVID-19 to racial injustices to election polarization, students at Salve Regina University let it out over the weekend in a plate-throwing “Rage Room: Smash the Stress” event.
As if there were not enough issues to be concerned about already, the news Friday evening that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and worries about who would succeed her were added to the mix before the “Rage” kicked off at 8 p.m.
“We had a lot of students very upset by the death of RBG,” said Chiquita Baylor, director of Salve’s Office of Student Engagement. “Our Rage Room was helpful in getting that out.”
The way it worked is students would write with magic markers on white salad plates what was worrying, frustrating or angering them. After donning a Plexiglas face mask, in addition to the standard cloth mask, they would smash the plate in a three-sided black tent set up for the purpose.
About 150 students turned out for the Friday night event that was also paired with a voter registration drive, discussions and a food truck. A few dozen students then showed up for a scaled-down event Saturday afternoon.
“The death of RGB was so shocking,” said Thomas Manion, a sophomore at Saturday’s event. “I just hope her successor retains her legacy.”
Ginsburg became more widely known after two successful 2018 films cited by some of the students: the Oscar-nominated “RBG,” a biographical documentary directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, and the drama, “On the Basis of Sex,” starring Felicity Jones. A whole set of younger admirers knew her as the iconic “Notorious RBG.”
There was much else for the students to talk about.
“I think election years are tough for college kids,” Manion added. “It’s our first voting election and that’s stressful.”
Izabella Solivan and Ashley Dwyer, two juniors who identified themselves as minority students, talked about what was concerning them.
“There is a fear of what could happen with the election coming up,” Solivan said. “It’s a loss of control and helplessness about everything from COVID to a series of events that don’t stop.”
“There’s been a lot of mixed experiences the past year, whether it’s racial unrest, the current political climate or COVID,” said Dwyer. “It’s meant lost hopes and expectations.”
“My concern is the state of America now,” said Kiley Krause, a freshman. “I never considered myself a political person until this most recent upcoming election. It’s the racial injustices that have been happening in 2020 that bother me most. It’s really heartbreaking.”
“So much going on in the world is very frustrating,” said Ethel Barrante, a freshman. “The Black Lives Matter movement and all the injustices in a lot of communities should concern all of us. It’s good to be an ally.”
“There are things like Black Lives Matter and equal rights that we should all agree on,” agreed Ava Siconolfi, a freshman. “The fact that people don’t agree really bothers me.”
Multiple students — including freshmen Sarah Kraus, Layne Busch, Karlee Feinen, Thomas Buckman and Sarah Hall — not surprisingly focused on the pandemic and how it has upended life generally.
“I’m from California, so it was frustrating to sit through 14 days of quarantining as soon as I arrived on campus,” Hall said. “I didn’t have my parents come with me. It was hard.”
“What frustrates me is we have to sit 6 feet apart and wear masks all the time,” Feinen said. “It’s hard to meet people and make friends.”
“I’m definitely frustrated by all the people still going out and not taking the pandemic seriously,” Buckman said. “It’s putting everyone else at risk.”
“I play soccer and my season has been canceled,” said Hannah Rossman, a sophomore. “We’re practicing, but we are not playing any games. It’s upsetting. And then I can’t see my boyfriend because he’s in my hometown (Glastonbury, Connecticut). We can’t see people because of COVID restrictions.”
Some of the rage was intensely personal.
“I have a lot of rage,” said Clare Noonan, a junior, before spending time writing down what has been bothering her.
“I was studying abroad, at Oxford, when that got cut short because of COVID,” she said. “I fell in love with a guy there and we were going to go backpacking around Europe at the end of the school year. That all got ripped away prematurely.”
There were more immediate stresses for her as well.
“I just got out of an audition, so I want to release my anxiety about it,” Noonan said. “Then I’m studying to be a teacher and I have a lot of nerves about whether I’m ready to take on a classroom. I work with special ed kids. My brother is autistic. He’s the best — we’re really close.”
Some of the students had so many frustrations, stresses and concerns to get out — just a few used the word “rage” — that they wrote on multiple plates.
Where did all the plates come from?
A national vendor called Smash the Rage, based in Miami provided the setup. Ariana Mollers, assistant director in the Office of Student Engagdment, and Meghan Larkin, the office coordinator, learned about the concept through a national conference last year and thought it would be good to try out.
“Some members of our Campus Activities Board attended, tried it out and loved it,” Mollers said. “It’s a way for students to have fun, spur discussions and be engaged.”
Before the plates were thrown Friday night, Peter Tsemberides, a junior who founded the free speech-inspired Thoughtful Americans for Truth (TAFT) on campus last fall, moderated a Zoom discussion together with Timothy Jaeger, president of Salve’s Model United Nations Delegation.
Leila Balady and Kyra Dezjot, student representatives from the College Democrats, organized the voter registration drive to coincide with the Rage Room.
A series of other campus organizations and clubs also participated in the event.