The 2021-22 academic school year bore witness to a vast array of different news stories that affected student lives on and off campus, from constantly changing conversations and policies surrounding COVID-19 to heated political discourse centered around social and economic issues.
Conflict in Afghanistan
In May of 2021, amidst the United States’s slow withdrawal of troops from the region, the Taliban began seizing districts in Afghanistan, entering Kabul on Aug. 15. The Taliban effectively returned to power in Afghanistan in 2021 after taking over the US-backed government in Kabul. The U.S. then made the decision to pull all troops from Afghanistan a few weeks before an initially agreed upon date (Sep. 11) with the last of U.S. military planes leaving on Aug. 30, 2021.
The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics were postponed and instead took place in August 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns. In these summer games, the U.S. won the most medals, followed by China and Japan.
The 2022 Winter Olympics took place in Beijing. These games were no stranger to controversy, with points of contention arising around human rights violations on the part of the Chinese government [in reference to their treatment of the Uyghur people] and Russian doping scandal, to name a few. Because of the aforementioned human rights abuses, the U.S. announced a diplomatic boycott of these games, meaning that the U.S. did not send an official delegation to the games, although athletes still competed. Norway came out on top in medal count, followed by Germany and China respectively.
Facebook whistleblower testimony
In October of 2021, Frances Haugen, a former data scientist at Facebook, exposed the company’s prioritization of growth over safety and security, as well as the way in which they targeted young users, and broke the law by lying to investors.
Climate and weather
As nations continued to grapple with the impacts of COVID-19, world leaders also saw a need to address concerns about climate change and the impacts of global emissions rising.
In October-November of 2021, these leaders met in Glasgow for COP26, the UN climate change conference, to discuss how to mitigate and reverse the harmful effects of climate change. The primary goals set forth by the officials at this conference were to look at the science behind the issue and find concrete courses of action to take to start solving climate change related problems.
The end result of said conference was the Glasgow Climate Pact. Some of the most important points of this pact were: an agreement to move away from fossil fuels, an urge to contribute funding for developing countries, and accelerating action on reducing emissions.
News about the COVID-19 virus and the development of treatments was constantly evolving, with new research about variants and vaccines seeming to emerge daily. Throughout the year, COVID-19 remained a focal point of public discourse in the U.S. and globally.
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine was authorized by the FDA for 5-11 year olds in October 2021. Then, in November of 2021, the FDA approved COVID-19 booster shots for all U.S. adults. Later, in January of 2022, this approval was expanded to kids as young as 12.
The Delta variant originated in India and became the dominant strain in the U.S. in July 2021. The variant, according to the CDC, “May cause and spread more severe cases than the other known variants”. Later in the year (Dec. 2021), the Omicron variant became the dominant U.S. strain of COVID-19. According to the CDC, Omicron spread easier than previous strains of the virus and was transmissible by anyone, regardless of vaccination status. However, symptoms appeared to also be milder than previous strains, with less risk of hospitalization.
The “Great Resignation” emerged as a pandemic-era trend involving mass resignation of U.S. laborers which hit a record high in November of 2021 as 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs.
In early January 2022, The Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its vaccine-or-test requirements for large private companies, but allowed the continuation of a mandate for medical facilities that take Medicare or Medicaid payments.
Texas abortion ban and national abortion controversy
The Texas Heartbeat Act, which banned abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, went into effect in September of 2021 after the Supreme Court denied a request from abortion providers in the state for emergency relief. As of now, the legislation has survived the many lawsuits it has been subjected to. However, apart from legal backlash, resistance to this law was seen in protests across the country and in recriminations from elected officials, including President Biden. Many states have followed suit with similar legislation, including Arizona; in March of 2022, Governor Doug Ducey signed into law legislation preventing abortions after 15 weeks, except in cases of medical emergency.
In August of 2021, the Supreme Court rejected President Biden’s most recent eviction moratorium, which prevented landlords or owners from removing covered tenants from a property on the basis of a non-payment of rent, deciding that the CDC did not have the authority to issue this moratorium. The Supreme Court argued that, if a freeze on evictions were to continue, Congress would have to authorize it.
“Build Back Better” and U.S. infrastructure
The “Build Back Better” plan was a legislative agenda proposed by President Biden that included funding for COVID-19 relief, welfare, social services and infrastructure. The bill has passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, but is currently stalled in the U.S. Senate.
In late 2021, Russia began moving troops and weapons to their border with Ukraine without explanation. On Feb. 24, 2022, Russia launched a military invasion into neighboring Ukraine ; this invasion has led to many civilian casualties and a mass displacement of Ukrainians who have been forced to flee their homes. The UN, G7, EU and other countries have all condemned the actions of the Russian government, imposing sanctions and offering support to Ukrainian troops. Direct negotiations between Russia and Ukraine have been organized, but the fighting continues.
“Don’t say gay” legislation
In March of 2022, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill that banned public school teachers in the state from talking about sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom. This bill has inspired many states, including Arizona, to follow suit with similar legislation restricting the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.
SCOTUS hearings and confirmation
Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed as the first Black woman to serve on the nation's highest court, in a 53-47 Senate vote. Jackson is set to replace Stephen Breyer who, months earlier, announced he would be retiring at the end of the court term.
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