The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College since 1873

Author: Contributing Writer (Page 1 of 3)

Why Bates needs a computer science department

Let me first grab your attention by saying that, of the eleven schools currently in the NESCAC, Bates is the sole institution that does not offer its students a degree in computer science.  Now obviously that does not constitute an argument of why we should adopt a program of our own, but it is certainly a striking statistic that speaks to the ubiquity of computer science in academia, even at liberal arts colleges.

It may seem counterintuitive to be talking about a liberal arts school offering what seems to be a technical degree.  Therefore, it is important to first acknowledge what is meant by “computer science” and then to examine how that definition can fit into a liberal arts community such as our own.

In a paper published by the Liberal Arts Computer Science Consortium in 2007, computer science is defined simply as the study of algorithms and data structures, with specific focus given to their syntax, semantics, interaction with computer hardware and real world application. Though seemingly technical, this definition can actually fit neatly within the confines of a traditional liberal arts curriculum.  Bates, as with most liberal arts institutions, emphasizes problem solving, analytical skills and communication while avoiding the transient technical skills that may be taught in a pre-professional program.

If we think about these values in the context of a computer science degree, it is not hard to see that the study of algorithms and their application towards effectively processing, analyzing, and communicating of data is a continuation of many of the entrenched values of Bates.  I would argue that the logical thinking process born through the study of applied computer science is as essential a tool to a critical thinker as are any of the tools acquired via the study of the humanities.  In fact, many of the proposed curricula for liberal arts degrees in computer science take an integrative approach to the subject, with only 40% of the program being attributed to computer science or mathematic specific coursework.  This leaves a considerable portion of a student’s time available for the exploration of other subjects and the development of a contextual framework in which the student can apply his/her acquired skills.

The utility of a computer science department at Bates would reach far beyond those students who intend to be majors.  The positive impact on non-majors would be vast and could possibly be the greatest benefit of a program.  In today’s increasingly computer driven world, the ability to not only understand, but to also interface with and wield the extraordinary power of modern technology is essential.  This necessity has prompted prominent technology and industry leaders to promote programming accessibility to not only college students, but to all high school students!  If you are reading this and thinking to yourself that your area of study does not require this level of computing, I would encourage you to think again.

As the functionality and accessibility of computer programming is increasing, the areas of academia that are able to utilize these powerful tools are also growing.  While the more traditionally technical departments, such as engineering, mathematics and physics, continue to utilize computer science, other areas such as biology, chemistry, neuroscience, psychology, economics and even the arts are turning towards computers to facilitate their work.  As the research questions being asked and the topics explored become increasingly more intricate, it is not uncommon for researchers and academics to create their own programs rather than to wait for the mainstream software industry to catch up to their needs.

Currently, Bates does offer two courses related to computer science, though their scheduling could be considered erratic at best.  The two options are a short term programming course, offered through the geology department, which aims to teach the fundamentals of the C++ programming language. The other is a mathematics department elective, “Dynamical Systems and Computer Science,” based off of the outdated visual basic language.  In either case, the curriculum falls short at providing any in depth study in the field.

In terms of feasibility, the introduction of a computer science department does not seem to be an impossible undertaking.  The average NESCAC college (excluding Tufts), employs approximately five faculty in their computer science departments, much less than many of already established departments here at Bates.  Additionally, the overlap between the mathematics and physics departments would only strengthen all three programs.

As this year’s class of graduating seniors enter the workforce, it is becoming more common to see computer skills beyond the scope of basic word processing and excel listed as desirable or even necessary.  This is increasingly the case for jobs across all disciplines.  By not offering its students at least an option to pursue some level of proficiency in computer science, Bates is limiting the potential of its graduates and we are failing to keep pace with our fellow NESCAC schools that we so often compare ourselves to.

“Gilda Stories” Offers a Glimpse of Sexuality in Society

 “What started as my own angry outburst at a personal affront on the street evolved into a set of responses to injustice that suggest that girls are not as powerless as they’re taught they are and that individuals and society have the ability to change.” – Jewelle Gomez

This past week, the author of The Gilda Stories, a novel portraying a black, lesbian, vampire protagonist, came to Bates to share her novel and her knowledge of the feminism and creative writing. The English department, the Women & Gender Studies department, the Learning Associates Program, and the Division of the Humanities sponsored the author, Jewelle Gomez.

Gomez is a lesbian feminist activist who began her activist career in the 1960s in Boston. She is an author, playwright, poet, and critic; she has published a number of short stories and poetry that appeared in Dark Matter: A Century of African American Speculative Fiction, was on the founding board of GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), and most recently, coauthored a play on James Baldwin titled, “Waiting for Giovanni” that premiered in 2011. Gomez currently resides in California where she promotes LGBT rights, and fights for marriage equality.

Gomez is without a doubt, a cultured and intellectual woman. Having read her book, I found myself understanding her political stances and her dreams for a future in which sexism and anti-gay sentiments do not exist.

The birth of The Gilda Stories began after two men harassed Gomez as she was standing in a phone booth in New York City.

“They didn’t see that their idea of fun was humiliating and dehumanizing to women in general and to me in particular. And they certainly had no idea that centuries of such casual objectification had a debilitating affect on human relations,” Gomez stated.

Gomez explained how The Gilda Stories developed: “What started as my own angry outburst at a personal affront on the street evolved into a set of responses to injustice that suggest that girls are not as powerless as they’re taught they are and that individuals and society have the ability to change.”

Before reading, and having not heard of the reasons for which Gomez wrote The Gilda Stories, I found myself questioning the idea of reading a vampire book. I did not like Twilight, I don’t care for True Blood, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the last show I wanted to see as a child.

Gomez came to a number of classes here at Bates, in which the question, “Why vampires?” was asked of her often. Gomez claimed to write vampire fiction for two reasons: the first, because Gomez adores vampire fiction; the second, because genre writing is a great way to introduce controversial topics to her readers (often vampire enthusiasts) in a way that is not controversial or didactic. Gomez added, “Everything I write is political, it’s my job to make it interesting.”

Still skeptical? Let me add that Gomez avoided the typical vampire story. The Gilda Stories begin in 1850 Louisiana with Gilda, a slave child who runs away from a plantation. Nearly caught and brought back to slavery, Gilda is saved by two women who run a brothel, who just happen to be vampires. This brothel is not the typical whore-house, but instead is a woman’s haven, the only place, historically, where women could define themselves independent both economically and socially. Curious yet?

The reader reads about Gilda as she travels through time. In 1850 Gilda is in Louisiana; in 1890, Yerba Buena; in 1921, Rosebud, Missouri; in 1955, the South End, Boston; in 1971 and 1981, New York City; in 2020, Hampton Falls, New Hampshire; and in finally, in 2050, she travels from the Midwest to Peru. Throughout these decades, she experiences societies in which racism and sexism are rampant, as well as societies in which race and sex are inconsequential factors of life.

The concept of a black lesbian former slave vampire, who traveled through time, was for me, first, bizarre; and second, fascinating. Reading, I fell back into time and saw how a black woman experienced social events in the highly racialized city of New Orleans, and later her experience living in the black neighborhood in South End, Boston in 1955. Sure, she was a vampire, but she also surrounded herself with humans, and Gomez was skillful in bringing history to her historical fiction, vampire story.

I’m not saying I loved the book—it has its flaws and as I have said earlier, I don’t particularly care for vampire fiction. While I am not passionate about Gomez’s writing, I think it is worthwhile to read a chapter (any chapter) of The Gilda Stories for the ideas and questions her story poses on the topics of sexism and racism.

Gomez believes that fiction is one such way for people to understand each other over racial and gender divides. So when Gomez offered her tale of a young black lesbian vampire, it’s a way for people to understand people who have similar lives to Gilda, as well as their history. You may have to ignore the fact she is a vampire and can live for centuries.

Ultimately, I liked the book. I probably would have put the book down after chapter one if I read it simply for pleasure. However, I became fascinated with the ideas behind The Gilda Stories and the acknowledgement that sexism and racism still exist today, even if we would rather not admit it.

Why I Love School and Love Education Too

This past December the English poet-rapper Suli Breaks released a video titled “Why I hate school but love education.” Since it aired not long ago, the video has received over two million hits and has certainly inspired many frustrated students with regards to the intense education debate going on in the U.S., a debate which sadly leaves out the voice of those who are still pursuing their education. Breaks’s video is the response of a frustrated generation of students to an unfortunate state of things: an expensive undergraduate degree does not insure employment after college, and seemingly only a postgraduate degree will be necessary to make the undergraduate one worth the time and fortune.

Breaks’ video is in the same style as the much bigger YouTube phenomenon, “Why I hate religion but love Jesus.” A young man decries the apparently corrupt and backwards institution of religion that suppresses and chokes off the brave message of Christ, in the same way that the outdated institution of “school” stamps out the ideal of education.

Though few doubt the message that colleges and universities are following an outdated model that cannot be sustained except with generous donations and charging vast tuition rates, Breaks’ video is itself evidence of the everlasting necessity of school. As we will examine further, it’s important that we not throw out the baby with the bath water, as Breaks thinks we should do.

The poem/rap lists individuals like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, and Mark Zuckerberg as individuals who attained success but never graduated from a higher learning institution, listing the net worth of each person. As Breaks rightly points out, money is “only the means by which we measure worldly success,” which leads him to the point that we do not need school to work for charity either. There you have your two options: you are doing it for the money or you are working for charity. Breaks has ruled out the possibility that someone could work in the private sector and benefit society.

The video goes on, “But are you aware that examiners have a checklist? And if your answer is something outside of the box, the automatic response is a cross, and then they claim that school expands your horizons and your visions.” Breaks is not wrong in suggesting that teachers can often be unfair, treating questions which could have many answers as having one specific one, trying to turn opinion into fact. However school does necessarily include a lot of absorbing of theories, events and formulas, and it is important to recognize that when a professor says “no” it’s often in service of a far greater “yes.” A good teacher will correct a student dozens if not hundreds of times. This is not to discourage him/her or crush their imagination, but to aid their mastery of the subject.

The video includes a quote from the Bible, Proverbs 17:16, “It does not a fool no good to spend money on an education, because he has no common sense.” Suli Breaks follows this up with “George Bush, need I say more?” Yes Suli! You need say more because that’s what we do in school; we back up our claims and arguments with truth. Here we see the contradiction in the video: we can fairly protest a school that treats opinions as facts, something which our own Bates has been guilty of at times, but we cannot fall into the same pattern ourselves because we were asleep when our teachers asked that we defend our opinions with the knowledge we gained, you guessed it, in school.

Perhaps the highlight of the video is when the poet recounts a memorable moment when he watched David Beckham kick a ball into a goal over a great distance. “I watched as the goal keeper froze, as if reciting to himself the laws of physics, as if his brain was negotiating with his eyes,” and “then reacting only a fraction of a millisecond too late.” Are we really going to blame knowledge of the laws of physics for the missed block? Could it actually be a bad thing to know science because it does not fit the functions of our job? Yes, being a great athlete is another way to be educated, but claiming that having to know the laws of physics is oppressive is another way to be idiotic.

One thing I learned in school is that “education” comes from the Latin “educere” which literally means to “lead out.” The question then is who does the leading? If we don’t need the chore of school to receive the good of education, then are we as students really capable of leading ourselves out of ignorance and into intellect? School is and always should be the meeting point of the learned and the learning, and only from this meeting is education then produced.

I have heard many propose that things like literature, history, languages, philosophy, and liberal arts in general are things that you can learn at home on the Internet or in a book (we can only hope it’s a book). However, without wise teachers who can guide us toward the right books and websites, our learning will not reflect mastery but our own uneducated desires for cheap, noisy, and ill-informed material that can hold our shrinking attention spans (like YouTube videos, for example). As students, we need extraordinary individuals who can not only place great demands on our intellects, but also fill us with the desire to meet those demands. Those individuals tend to be found in schools.

The R-word and Racist Native American Sports Team Logos

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An article about Robert Griffin’s knee that appeared in the January 16th edition of the Bates Student was accompanied by a stock image of the logo of the National Football League team based in Washington, DC whose name is a racial slur that is just as offensive to many Native Americans as the N-word is to many African Americans. But it is not just members of these two groups who are offended by these terms. People of all ethnicities are offended by them. Words and images that demean one group of people demean us all.

Logos used by the Washington football team and the Cleveland and Atlanta baseball teams are offensive for many reasons, as are the logos formerly used by Dartmouth College and the University of Illinois. (They are no longer used because the NCAA banned teams with racist names and mascots from post-season play.) These logos appropriate the identities of Native Americans, many of whose languages and cultures have been destroyed by Euro-Americans. They take sacred religious symbols from Native American cultures – eagle feathers, face paint, and peace pipes – trivialize them, and exploit them for the commercial and entertainment purposes of Euro-Americans. And they perpetuate outdated, demeaning stereotypes of Native Americans that make it difficult for Native Americans to represent themselves as part of contemporary American society. To put it bluntly, these logos reduce Native Americans to savages, to defeated enemies who have been “erased” from today’s world.

Close your eyes and think: “Indians.” What comes to mind? Do you see Bates students? University professors? People suffering from poverty and diabetes? Construction workers? Lawyers? Or do you see caricatures of people with bright red skin, big noses, and huge grins who are prancing around, riding horses, and waving tomahawks? Why? It’s those sports mascots, not to mention other standards of American popular culture like Peter Pan, old Westerns, with a little help from Uncle Walt and Disney Studios.

Until recently the logo of the University of Illinois was the head and eagle feather headdress of a certain “Chief Illiniwek.” Members of the administration and alumni of the University have long maintained that their mascot “honors” Native Americans. The fact that “the Chief” was printed on toilet paper available for use in public rest rooms all over campus suggests otherwise. A website protesting the use of Native American sports mascots announced: “University of Illinois wipes its rectum on eagle feathers. Will it be “Butt Wipe Jesus” next, along with a University of Illinois claim to honor Christians?”

Many Native American leaders have criticized the use of Indian mascots. James Yellowbank, Winnebago member of the Indian Treaty Rights Committee described Chief Illiniwek as “a racist, degrading figure that demeans our heritage,” adding, “My Indian friends call him Little Red Sambo.” Oren Lyons, an Iroquois leader, said, “Army had a mule for a mascot, Navy had a goat, Georgia had a bulldog, and Syracuse had an Indian. . . . It was as if we were less than human.”

Indian mascots objectify and commodify Native Americans and their cultures. Cigar store Indians were used as advertisements to sell tobacco. Urban Outfitters used Navajo patterns to sell clothes, at least until lawyers representing the Navajo Nation filed suit against them and won an injunction forcing them to stop. What, after all, is really “Navajo” about a “sparkle and fade Navajo pointelle tank top,” Navajo print panties, and “deeply tribal” Navajo T-shirts?

You buy shoes at a shoe store and groceries at a grocery store. Guess what you can buy at the Dartmouth Review’s Indian Store? (Check out http://www.cafepress.com/dartreview, but look quickly.)

Imagine a team named the Detroit Jews – to make the comparison more apt, it should really be the Detroit K . . . s. Their logo is a rabbi wearing a yamaka and carrying a Torah. Or better yet, imagine a team named the Pittsburgh N-words, whose logo is an N-word eating fried chicken or watermelon! Now ask yourself: “If these names and logos are so offensive, why aren’t the Washington R-words and bucktoothed, grinning, tomahawk waving, Indians equally offensive?”

And the answer is . . . . . . . . . .

Native Americans have less political power in America than African Americans do, so they have not yet been able to eliminate racist “Indian” imagery from American popular culture. In his inaugural speech, President Obama referred to Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall; he didn’t mention the Longest Walk, Alcatraz, or Wounded Knee. Maybe next time.

You may be thinking: “But what about the Dallas Cowboys or the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame? Are they offensive too?” These examples are very different from the Washington Slurs (as Leonard Pitts, an African American columnist, refers to them). The Fighting Irish and the Cowboys are examples of self-ascription; Native American mascots are examples of ascription by others. The difference is huge. A university founded by Irish Catholics and a football team owned by white Texans have chosen names and mascots based on their own identities. They did not appropriate them from other people they have conquered.

If the Penobscot Nation had a high school on Indian Island and decided to call their teams “R-words,” or “Indians,” or even “Native Americans,” “Indigenous People,” “Aboriginals,” “First Nations People,” or heaven forbid, “Penobscots,” that is their choice. If Irish Catholics or white Texas cattle ranchers find the Fighting Irish or the Cowboys offensive, I would encourage them to speak out, and I would support them. Native American activists have spoken out. They find Indian mascots offensive. I do too. When I was in high school, I used to wear a Chicago Blackhawks jersey. Since I learned about the Indian mascot issue, I have not worn it, even once. And I never will. Now I know what it means.

The white, Latino, and Native American members of an intramural basketball team at the University of Northern Colorado made national news a few years ago when they named themselves “the Fightin’ Whites.” Their mascot was a “white man” in a business suit. Rush Limbaugh was not amused.

Charlene Teeters is a Native American artist and activist who began the campaign against Chief Illiniwek when she was a student at the University of Illinois. Now she is the Vice President of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media. In a documentary film about Chief Illiniwek, she said, “We paid with our lives to keep what little we have left of our culture. That’s what we’re protecting. Our history, our identity, our religion.” When a white undergraduate at the University of Illinois would dress up as a Native American religious and political leader during half time at basketball games, Teeters felt it was as if a powerful white institution were saying “We own you.” In tears, she described the pain, the humiliation, and the degradation that she and her young daughter felt while watching the half time “show.” Seeing Indian mascots, she said, is a daily reminder of the racism and genocide her people have experienced.

Just a few days ago, on February 7, 2013, the National Museum of the American Indian held a daylong workshop entitled Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports. Take a look at http://nmai.si.edu/multimedia/webcasts/

To learn more about the Native American mascot controversy, read Team Spirits by Richard King and Charles Springwood, Dancing at Halftime by Carol Spindel, or In the Game by Amy Bass. Or watch the wonderful documentary entitled In Whose Honor? by Jay Rosenstein. Or even better yet, take Anthropology 234, Myth, Folklore, and Popular Culture next fall.

Loring M. Danforth is a professor of anthropology at Bates College.

Women in military represent positive shift

In the last few years, the Pentagon has been a progressive force in aiding current civil rights movements, first with the 2010 overturn the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on gay troops, and now with last week’s the decision to allow women to fight in open combat. If approved by Congress in the coming year, the military’s step forward in gender equality ensures that both servicemen and servicewomen will be given opportunity to succeed among the ranks. This decision could continue to uproot traditional gender roles entrenched in Western society: that of the life-giving mother and the life-taking father. The movement towards universal military participation has the potential to become the catalyst for a much needed social paradigm shift.

Due to the continual militarization in American society, violent self-sacrifice in the name of American values is rewarded with full citizenship and respect. Conditional citizenship is at the heart of the present gender inequality. During the early years, women as Republican Mothers risked life to give birth to sons who could fight in wars for their country and girls who could also become Republican Mothers. It was this civic obligation of raising a child with a love of nation that put women on the same plane as their brave life-taking male compatriots.

However, in the last hundred years, childbirth has become a fairly safe procedure with the advent of effective pain medication and other medical advancements. Childbirth is no longer associated with a high incidence of maternal death. As a nation deep within an “Era of Choice”, birth control and abortion provide women with much needed power over their bodies and lives. However, these medical advancements have proven to be a double-edged sword: women are no longer asked to risk their lives, while each year 18- 25 year old males must register with the Selective Service in order to be readily selected in the event of a draft.

Furthermore, up until last week, even willing female soldiers were barred from open combat because of the masculine assumptions of physical and psychological differences that rest on the life-giver and life-taker dichotomy. However, women have proven in the past that they are as capable in life-threatening situations as men.

The 2008 film, Lioness, documented the secrecy surrounding female involvement in open combat and the uncertainty these women face upon return home as the first female combat veterans. “Team Lioness” is the name of the group of under-trained female solder-mechanics, supply clerks, and engineers who were ordered to fight alongside the Marines in some of the most dangerous counterinsurgency battles in Iraq.

Similar stories from female soldiers continue to surface. The rise of insurgency in the Iraq War has obliterated the concrete idea of the “front lines”, while women in support units diffuse tensions between soldiers and civilians. In many instances, women must be prepared to fire weapons in order to protect themselves, their fellow soldiers, and civilians.

Lioness director Meg McLagan said, “[t]his war changed the face of America’s combat warrior; it is no longer male.” However, because female involvement in open combat is illegal under the Pentagon’s 1994 combat exclusivity policy, these women have been denied complete recognition for their bravery and the physical and psychological distress precipitated by scenes of war.

Therefore, supporters of the women’s military movement are applauding the 2013 decision for several reasons. First, women will be given the proper combat training that was absent in the past, preparing women fully in the event of surprise attacks. Gender equality in training will refute any assumptions of female fragility and weakness.

Second, women who have fought in the past will be recognized and awarded. In November, the ACLU teamed up with the Service Women’s Action Network in a lawsuit to help recognize plaintiff Major Mary Jennings Hegar’s combat participation. Hegar was wounded in Afghanistan but was denied a combat leadership position because the Pentagon would not acknowledge her combat experience.

Full recognition of Hegar’s involvement provides both men and women with an equal opportunity to succeed within the military. Hegar’s involvement serves to be crucial for much-deserved career advancement, and the Pentagon’s failure to recognize her achievements violates women’s right to equal opportunities. Rewarding Hegar formally could not only change binary gender dynamic in the military, but also diminish long-standing images of women as the weaker, and solely life-giving gender. This is a chance for the military to push masculine tradition aside and set women up as successful, strong soldiers, who are as well trained and capable as their male counterparts.

Although this change was met with much bipartisan approval, the conservative Christian group Family Research Council and General Jerry Boykin believe that letting women into combat situations, “is part of another social experiment, in which living conditions are primal in many situations with not privacy for personal hygiene or normal function.”

This comment alone exemplifies sexist standards that have created the gender hierarchy within the military and other parts of society. The assumption that women cannot live without first-world comforts is insulting. Perhaps the Family Research Council and General Boykin need to remember a person’s competence and character rests on expertise and personal fortitude, not gender.

Worldwide, longstanding gender equality in the military coincides with heightened social equality. Northern Europe, including Scandinavia and the Baltic Nations, has been known for a lack of workplace bias, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Gender Gap Report. Iceland, Finland, and Norway top the podium for gender equality among 135 countries. On the other hand, United States comes in at 22nd place in political empowerment, education and economic participation, and health, losing three places since 2010. The existing gender gap in America may be on its way out with the introduction of the female combat fighter. With bipartisan support and a little help from Congress, America could retire an age of misogyny and move towards increased opportunities for the servicewomen who risk their lives for a country that has failed to recognize their bravery for too long.

But, before the celebration starts, complete gender equality in the military may rest entirely on draft registration. Because women are not required to register for the draft, the common complaint is that women get all the benefits without any sacrifice, while men endure compulsory military service. The CIA World Factbook reports that Norwegian men and women share service obligation, while Sweden has completely abolished conscripted military service. In order to establish further gender equality it is time for the United States to either mandate universal draft registration or rescind the draft completely.

Poverty Post-MLK: How Can We Help?

Martin Luther King day began in the Peter J. Gomes Chapel this past Monday morning with a theme of debt and inequality. It began with an introduction from Dean Reese, a welcome from President Clayton Spencer, an overview by Pamela J. Baker, an Introduction by Charles Nero, and finally, Anthea Butler’s keynote address, titled, “MLK and America’s Bad Check: America’s Poor in the 21st Century.”

Anthea Butler is an Associate Professor and Graduate Chair of Religious Studies at University of Pennsylvania.  She is a historian of African American religion and has written books such as her Women in the church of God in Christ: Making A Sanctified World and The Gospel According to Sarah.  She writes for the online magazine Religion Dispatches and appears as a guest regularly on the Melissa Harris Perry Show on MSNBC.

Butler began her speech with Dr. King’s less well-known history—his role in fighting against poverty throughout the nation.  In November 1967, Dr. King spoke at a meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and announced his Poor People’s Campaign—a plan for an initial 2,000 poor people to camp out on the mall of Washington, D.C. and meet with government officials to demand jobs, unemployment insurance, and general economic security.  After King’s assassination in April of 1968, the SCLC decided to continue with the plan and set up Resurrection City, a temporary settlement of shacks and tents on the mall of Washington.

While the Poor People’s Campaign made some gains, it had a lack of a clear set of demands, and the campaign failed to reach the main goal of economic security.  Butler brought the discussion of the Poor People’s Campaign to our poverty issues today and related the Poor People’s Campaign to our decade’s Occupy Wall Street.

We have a large problem of poverty in our nation.  Butler presented some shocking statistics.  15% of Americans live in poverty.  37.4% of African American children (that is children under the age of 18) live in poverty.  31.4% of Hispanic children in the United States live in poverty.  The numbers disproportionately show minorities living in poverty.

“Eradicating poverty is not charity, but justice,” Butler stated,  “Helping people has become a bad word.  And I call this the nation’s new Ayn Rand philosophy—we’re all on our own, we can choose to be selfish, and all those impoverished are there because they want to be,” she paused. “Nobody is poor because they want to be.”

Butler claimed that the bottom has dropped off for a lot people because of unemployment, the crash, the slowness of people coming back to work, and health care in this nation.  The poor now, are even poorer.  And there are mover and more people who have dropped below the poverty line.

“How do we start to fight this?” Butler asked her audience.  The first step she suggested is to stop having meetings about poverty where one talks about poverty without doing something about it or without even having a poor person at the meeting.  How does one know where to begin in the struggle against poverty, if one does not know poor peoples’ main struggles?

Butler offered one organization to donate to—Occupy Debt, an organization that buys debt from many of those stuck in debt.  Occupy Debt has wiped out $11 million dollars of debt already. One can visit their website at Rollingjubilee.org and contribute.

Butler stated a few main matters we need to focus on if we wish to fight poverty.  First, we need to change our rhetoric about poverty. We need to make sure we respect the impoverished.  People are not below the poverty line because of their laziness or lack of hard work.  Secondly, we need a new works project administration.  Not only would a new Works Project Administration rebuild our infrastructure that is falling apart and too long neglected, it would rejuvenate the economy and give jobs to many of those 15% of people below the poverty line.  Thirdly, we need to focus on education—children are our most important resource and teachers are our front line of defense against poverty.  Finally, we need to make sure everyone has affordable health care, and that they can pay for serious and much needed operations, procedures, and medicine.

Fighting and eradicating poverty seems like a lofty, if not impossible goal.  It is an overwhelming idea to take on, but not one that should be deemed impossible.  There are many roads to take on the battle to fight poverty—the first step is to become an active citizen.  One ought to be active not just with their votes, but with their words and with their actions, for the issues that one fights for.  With 47,000,000 Americans who live at or below the poverty line, we ought to aid in fight against poverty.

Anthea Butler’s speech was eye opening.  Many of us who go to Bates don’t have to worry about falling below the poverty line.  There may have been times when our families struggled financially—perhaps we didn’t get that new iPod for our birthdays, or our parents didn’t allow us to go to that really expensive sports camp.  For others of us, we moved in with relatives when our parents couldn’t afford our homes, or we ate the tasteless state provided school lunches because at least it was food.

We must remember that there are people at Bates, in Lewiston, in our hometowns, and across the country who are below the poverty line.  Perhaps we do not always recognize poverty or perhaps we do not like to think about it.  This is no excuse to ignore it.  Poverty is not a choice.  It’s not just the few homeless people you see in the cities.  Poverty is single mothers with their kids, the unemployed fathers and mothers who are desperately searching for jobs, or the young graduate who can’t pay back their student loans.  Poverty needs to be recognized. We can help the fight against poverty at the local level through volunteering and contributing, and at the state and federal level through our vote and political participation.

To quote Martin Luther King Jr., “There is nothing new about poverty.  What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it.”  We have the resources, and with them we can eradicate poverty.

Sankofa: A Rose by Any Other Name Review

If you had any doubts about the amount of talent at Bates, hopefully you were lucky enough to score a ticket to the Sankofa show this past MLK Day. This multi-genre show was jam-packed with great acts. Entitled A Rose by Any Other Name, this show focused primarily on sexuality and it’s place in various races and ethnicities.

The theme of sexuality this year caught many by surprise. The previous two performances dealt more directly with the issues of racial identity following the African diaspora.

“We are bombarded with black bodies having sex but never question sexuality,” commented the director of this year’s performance, sophomore Alex Bolden.

“To me, this was a really good example of intersectionality. In this way they were making it very clear that blackness intersects with gender, it intersects with sexuality and people often identify with these things simultaneously,” explained chair of the MLK Day committee, Professor Nero.

This show grappled with a plethora of cultural issues, and integrated them in a way that was bold and innovative. One piece in particular stuck out as especially daring; a poem entitled “Asheville Offering,” which was performed by Jessica Washington and AnnaMarie Martino.

The poem wrestles with the ongoing battle between the gay community and the black community. It shows the futility of the argument over who has been the most oppressed. The powerful emotion behind the performances by Washington and Martino gave the poem chilling intensity.

“I think it is an important piece because it demonstrates the parallels between the Gay Rights and Civil Rights movements, which many people often think of as somewhat opposing movements,” said senior Martino, about her piece. “I identify as a gay female and have been faced with a lot of the issues I was able to present in our piece.”

The show brought audience members on a rollercoaster of emotions. Each performance was impressively heartfelt. Bates alum James Watkins’ rap, entitled “Love & Hip-Hop,” was an emotional triumph for the show.

“I didn’t want to just rap about some random stuff,” explained Watkins ’12, during the Q&A after the show. “I personified hip hop and exposed myself through the genre I’ve been loving for so long.”

That kind of personal devotion to the acts was clear throughout the two-hour show. Real life couple Bridget Feldman and Culture Brown performed a poem they wrote about the difficulties they face daily as an interracial couple, completing the poem with a kiss that elicited rapturous cheers from the audience.

The music in A Rose by Any Other Name was well chosen, with each song being used to it’s full potential to bring out the soul of the piece. Though Rihanna, Kanye, and The Weekend added depth to the performances, the most impactful musical moment of the night was when Senior Raina Jacques performed Lauryn Hill’s “Freedom Time,” a capella, standing still on one side of the stage.

Reactions to the show overall have been unexpectedly mixed.

“The majority of the bad reviews have reflected on the scripted portion of the performance and claim that Sankofa used stereotypical ways of “blackness” i.e. the angry black woman or the hyper-sexualized black man,” explains Bolden. However, Bolden continues, “We cannot hate Anderson [the father figure in the narrative] because we [society] created him.”

Though some may struggle with the portrayals of the characters, Bolden maintains, “These are situations that happen in real life.”

Despite the controversy, it is indisputable that A Rose by Any Other Name was an impressive, thought-provoking display of the talent and passion at Bates.

There was definitely a resounding message throughout the show. Sankofa’s one repeated question came off as more of a desperate plea to which everyone must listen: how could you hate love?

Do You have a Job Yet?

In a week, I will have been looking for a job for six months. I remember looking at schools and the exhausting process of applying for college: writing essays, fighting with my mom about edits, overnights, even flying to a hippy school in California and back to Maryland in the same day. Busy asking questions about study abroad programs, required courses, and class sizes, finding a job really never crossed my mind. Now most of us have found ourselves asking the inevitable: what the hell are we going to do next year? And more importantly, who’s going to pay for it?

For the past four years, we have had it pretty easy.  We have people to cook our food, clean our bathrooms, and Security to tell us when we have had too much to drink. For the most part, our worries have been minimal: trying to get A’s, make it to all of our classes, and deciding what to do on the weekends.

For the past four months, I have spent endless hours in the library not working on anything school-related, but on cover letters, emails and job applications. I have probably talked to at least a quarter million people who attended Bates College in search of advice and opportunities, yet still I find myself without an answer to the inevitable.

What I love most about finding a job is how companies think that you have all the time in the world. Many forget that I am still a student enrolled at a demanding liberal arts school trying to balance my academic and social life.

Two nights before I planned to drive to Boston for an interview, I received an email from the company with an invitation for an information session at their office the next day. With 24 hours notice to find a way to get to Boston early, find somewhere to stay, and figure out how to explain to my professors that I would miss class for the third or fourth time that semester, I scrambled to make it work.

The next afternoon, I rushed from my thesis meeting to get to Portland to catch the 4:30 bus. 4:25, 4:26, I still had four more exits. I began to panic. I sped into the parking lot of the bus station, looking in my rearview mirror to make sure that I had not hit any innocent bystanders on the way in. I parked, grabbed my suit hanging in the back, slammed the door, and sprinted to the buses. I had just missed it by a minute.

Furious and feeling defeated, I grabbed two bags of the free pretzels that they hand out, and moseyed over to the waiting room to wait two hours for the next bus. I ended up making it to the last 20 minutes of the event, making sure to snipe a few chocolate chip cookies and cheese and crackers from the buffet table to put me at ease. I never know where to draw the line with snacks when interviewing. They always announce that they have so much food and demand that you to take what you want, but is it really professional to take a plate of cookies for the road or to get chocolate in the middle of your two front teeth in the middle of a conversation with a potential employer? Maybe that explains why I do not have a job.

By the way, although the company said I would hear in two weeks, Human Resources did not even dare to bother to call me or even email me the bad news. Seven weeks later, I finally called them to hear the news for myself. I would like to think that after making two trips to Boston and speaking with alumni at the firm, that they would have the decency to just tell me.

I can safely say that I have checked off all of the possible things that could go wrong in the process. The list could go on forever: I have been told that I have lipstick on my teeth, have had my car battery die on the way to Boston for an interview, been asked by a bus driver on the microphone to get off of the phone because of bus policy while talking to an alumni, gone to New York and back in one day (missing Newman Day and the puddle jump mind you), ripped my panty hose (yes, I have to wear them) during a super day, tripped on my own feet in my heels when merely standing and talking to an alumni, knocking my glass of wine onto myself, and spent two weeks on a stock pitch for a job that I did not get.

A lot of my friends say just wait or tell me that I am killing myself over this, but I decided back in August that I would do everything that I could to get what I wanted so here I am. The numbers have started to look bleak: 100 calls or meetings with alumni, more than a dozen interviews, at least fifty job applications, and plenty of “We regret to inform you” emails, but after a few pity parties and many news articles about the plummeting job market, I look around and find many people in the same position.

According to an article in

The Huffington Post, one in two college graduates are jobless or unemployed. On top of that, median wages for those with bachelor’s degrees have declined since 2000 and the majority of future job opportunities will likely be in lower-skilled positions. Nearly 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or unemployed, the highest share in 11 years.

Before every interview, after double-checking my make-up and hair in the bathroom, I repeat that quote from

The Help, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” I hope that one of my seven crazy roommates finds a job soon, and I constantly picture the day when this miserable never-ending process will come to a close for all of us. Until then, we have to carry on.

The President’s Pitfalls and Potential

President Obama’s inauguration speech has reinvigorated his liberal base with promises of greater action on climate change, LGBT rights, and a commitment to the progressive paradigm of significant government involvement in society. Immigration reform, tax reform, and gun control are also on the second term agenda. After two years of costly conflict with Congressional Republicans, Obama also emphasized pragmatism stating, “[w]e cannot mistake absolutism for principle” and affirming his own limits as president by acknowledging that “[w]e must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.” An ambitious agenda fraught with pitfalls, but also with potential.

What realities and problems does Obama face in his second term, and how should he address them?

First, it is important to note that Obama did not directly mention his major policy success in his inauguration speech: the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) remains divisive and 73 percent of Americans believe the law will cost more than projected, according to a poll by Rasmussen. This is not an unfounded fear. Medicare was originally projected to cost $12 billion annually by 1990, but in reality cost $110 billion in 1990. Or, perhaps another reason Obama isn’t promoting the ACA is because 26 states (64% of the U.S. population) are opting out of establishing health insurance exchanges, a key provision in the ACA.

A final reason is that many important provisions are to be implemented in the beginning of 2014 but are burdened with numerous problems. These include: setting up the insurance exchanges (see above), penalties for failing to purchase insurance (set lower than the cost to purchase insurance, expansion of Medicaid in states (optional for states), and the CLASS ACT, a long term care insurance program (repealed by the recent fiscal cliff deal because it was financially unsustainable). To conclude the ACA, the signature piece of legislation of Obama’s first term, is already collapsing under the weight of its own irrationality. Reforms must be made to the Affordable Care Act to make it sustainable.

Second, Obama and many Democrats have failed to acknowledge that the reelection of President Obama, and surprising gains in the Senate, should not be interpreted as a mandate for President Obama’s policy agenda. There is that little problem of the GOP controlling a majority in the House of Representatives. They have as much of a mandate as the President does, so therefore neither party has a mandate.

The Democrats should focus their rhetoric on cooperating and listening to the GOP, something they have ignored whenever possible for the last four years. GOP intransience is a reaction to executive overreach by President Obama and a single-minded approach of Congressional Democrats during Obama’s first two years in office. To be fair, Congressional Republicans could have acted better themselves in some instances; but after the fiscal cliff deal where Republicans have capitulated on everything but the estate tax, and ground-breaking bipartisan reforms of Senate procedure, one cannot make the case that Congressional Republicans are roadblocks to progress.

Third, given the current fiscal situation immigration, gun control, and climate reforms will be difficult to achieve, because fiscal issues will dominate the next few months. The fiscal cliff deal only solved part of the problem, but it delayed the spending cuts until March 1. Also, because the Democratically controlled Senate has failed to pass a budget in four years, the government has been operating off temporary spending bills, known as continuing resolutions, for the past few years. The current one will expire on March 27.

Finally, the debt ceiling is delayed until May after a bipartisan agreement was reached to postpone it for three months. Already, there is significant disagreement with how to solve the problem, Democrats want more revenue, but Republicans insist that enough revenue was passed through the fiscal cliff deal and instead want savings through real entitlement reforms. Given this whole charade is likely to repeat itself how can Congress get a deal on many reforms that Obama’s second term agenda entails?

Fortunately, there is consensus between both parties that immigration is a priority, but not for gun control or climate change. So it is unlikely that any legislation on those two issues will pass Congress. Instead, Obama will likely use, and is already using, his power as chief executive to engage in policy making in both areas. On gun control, he has proposed 23 executive actions, and on climate change there is a push by environmental groups to have the Environmental Protection Agency regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Act. While Obama does have significant executive authority, he should be wary in using it because significant executive actions in the past, like filling several NRLB positions through recess appointments (recently found to be unconstitutional), enrages Republicans and will hinder attempts at compromise on issues like the upcoming second fiscal cliff and immigration reform. Immigration reform actually has a chance of happening. Speaker John Boehner announced there is a bipartisan framework on immigration reform that has been on the works for the past few years.

Obama’s second term, like his first, will be fraught with conflict. But that is politics, and some conflict can certainly be avoided by smart politicking and policymaking. President Obama should recognize that many of his first term policies remain controversial and at times problematic from a policy perspective; he should be open to reforms to his first term policies, especially the Affordable Care Act. Also, Obama should recognize that the Republicans still control the House and they have a probable shot of controlling the Senate after the 2014 midterm elections. An effective President remains above the fray, willing to compromise even at the expense of his own base. Finally, Obama must focus on the problems he is given, not on other problems he wishes to fix. In other words, Obama must drop his emphasis on gun control issues and climate change, a move surely to enrage his own base, but also a move to give him the political space needed to focus on issues where solutions are likely to be found, rather than on divisive issues that will infuriate the very lawmakers he is must work with. Despite the failings of his first term, President Obama is still my President and I believe that he can achieve a lot if has the willpower to follow the merits of his inauguration speech and embrace pragmatism as necessity of governing rather an inconvenience of becoming the next FDR.

Q&A Spotlight on Bates College’s own “Morangutan”

On the Bates College music scene, there’s one group on campus that has become familiar to most everyone. This band’s unique fusion of funk, hip-hop, and soul has made not only an impression on campus music lovers, but it also hopes to inspire a new generation of hopeful and upcoming groups. Before their Friday night show in the Mays Center, the band shared laughs, a brief biography, and words of wisdom for those who also wish to share their sweet and soulful sounds.

The Bates Student: So when did the band originally form? How did you guys all come together?

Adam Kornreich: Hansen, Dan, and I have played in various bands, but Morangutan didn’t truly form until I found Easton [Morang]. I was in my music theory class and we really needed a drummer, so I just asked Easton out of the blue. We discovered we had similar tastes in funk and hip hop music, and then we found Becky, who I had heard in Jazz Band. We thought she was great so we asked her to join us. The rest is history, I suppose.

TBS: I’ve got to ask, where in the world does the name “Morangutan” come from?

Hansen Johnson: It started with Easton’s last name which is Morang. The band was originally going to be called Peach Morang, after adding in Dan’s last name, Peach. We knew we were going to be a sort of a groove and funk band, so Peach Morang felt appropriate. We also wanted to represent that sort of a fun and light-hearted feel that we wanted our music to express.

TBS: Is there one style of music that you stick to? If so, what are your musical influences?

Adam Kornreich: I think we have recently have branched out with different types of music but I guess our main genre is funk, soul, with few unexpected things thrown in. The flute’s a little unconventional with the genre, but when we heard Becky play, it reminded us of a band we like that also features flute in their funk music.

Hansen Johnson: In terms of influences, Grayboy Allstars is one of our inspirations, which is one of the bands that features flute. Soulive, Lettuce, Jamiraoqui, and Humphries McGee are a few others we like. Easton has turned us on to a hip-hop kind of feel, which gives us that kind of sound along in the mix.

TBS: Do you have any particular favorite songs that you like to play? Are they all originals?

Becky Schwartz: I’m biased toward Grayboy Allstars, because there’s a lot of flute parts in most of their songs. Another favorite song of mine is “Leave the Browns at Home” by Grayboy Allstars. “Sissy Strut” by the Meters is another fun song that we cover.

Hansen Johnson: Right now, we have four originals that we like to play, but we have a lot of new material that we’re refining at the moment.

TBS: What events have you done this year so far? Do you prefer on or off-campus?

Easton Morang: We like playing both on- and off-campus. We’ve played at Gritty’s twice this school year–once for the Bates Night in Town, and since then they’ve asked us back. On campus, we’ve played twice in Old Commons (for the Yule Ball and WRBC Concert) and in the Little Room. We’ve got another gig coming up February 13th in the Little Room from 9-11 P.M.

TBS: Is there any advice that you would give to up and coming groups on campus?

Hansen Johnson: If you book the gig, it will happen.

Easton Morang: That’s wisdom right there…It’s the fedora talking.

Adam Kornreich: But seriously, if you’re really into music, start talking to people and figure out others that enjoy music as much as you do. Joining the BMU (Bates Musicians Union) will also help a lot. Let people know that you play and you want to play.

TBS: What’s something that you want to share with Bates College that they don’t know about Morangutan?

Hanson Johnson: We would love to work with Bates students interested in videography and photography with the band. We’d love some help developing a logo, posters, or any sort of promotional creative aspect of the band.

Adam Kornreich: Our general philosophy is that we want to bring people live music because that’s typically not a common option at Bates. It’s our passion to bring people live music and simply provide a really good time for everyone.

Dan Peach: I wish the Bates music scene were bigger, and if I could say one thing, I hope Morangutan inspires a greater interest in the Bates music scene and becoming involved in it.

Becky Schwartz: Coming in as a freshman and not knowing the music scene, I would say Morangutan gave me a strong musical and creative outlet that challenges me. We’re all very committed to the group and if I could say anything about us, it’s that we’re all about having fun and sharing our love for music.

Olivia Norrmén-Smith: Wait, I still need a quote…I’m their number one fan!

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