By Carter Ottele

LOOSE—When Rita Martinez ’25 returned to her dorm on Thursday night, she suspected nothing out of the ordinary. It had been a routine day in the life of a Grinnellian: a morning jog with a friend, chemistry lab, trauma dumping on her lab partner in Bio at 2:30pm, then several hours of studying. She entered into her room prepared to watch the next episode of The Crown, shower, and fall asleep.

“But then,” she tells the B&S, terror clouding her face, “I got an Outlook notification from the Virtual Care Group. And it said, ‘You’re not alone.'”

Grinnellians have long claimed to be “haunted” by their school email accounts. Professors resent the 24/7 influx of emails, while students bemoan irrelevant Handshake suggestions and malicious phishing messages. But Martinez’s experience stands apart from the rest, as the Virtual Care Group—ostensibly offering telehealth services—targeted her in her room.

“At first, I dismissed it as a reassuring message,” Martinez recalls. “But then a few minutes later, I got another one, which read ‘We’re here with you, Rita.‘ That’s when I started to get scared.”

Martinez tried to turn on the overhead light—a drastic measure, considering she describes it as “the color of lemonade puke” and “brighter than my car’s high-beams.” But even this act of desperation failed, as the bulb burst immediately after she flipped the switch. And when she attempted to open the door, she found it was locked.

Panicking, Martinez pulled out her phone to call for help. Two new Outlook notifications flashed across her screen: “You can trust us, Rita” and “Let us help you.” From there, the notifications arrived one after the other, accelerating rapidly, announcing their presence with an ever-louder ping until they reached a continuous roar—a constant, blazing shriek of Outlook notifications that crescendoed, then suddenly stopped.

At this point in her story, Martinez stops. “To be honest, I don’t remember what happened next,” she says. “I just remember waking up in my room the next morning, and everything was fine. The lightbulb was still shattered, though.”

The most remarkable part, though? Martinez had struggled for years with stress and performance anxiety. But since then, her mental health has been “unbelievable.” The next morning, she took a chemistry exam and felt no trace of anxiety.

Her eyes well with tears. “It’s true. I really wasn’t alone. The Virtual Care Group was there for me all along…and it’s here for you too, if you need it. We’re here for you. Do you accept our help?”