The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College since 1873

Author: Lydia O'Brien Page 1 of 5

Experiencing the Nepal earthquake

Before the earthquake, I spent three months studying development and social change – as well as Nepali language and culture – at a small American organization in the center of Kathmandu.  I lived with a host family full-time and also got to spend a couple weeks living in a village in the rural, heavily mountainous Mustang region of northern Nepal (as well as one week in the rural plains of the Terai of southern Nepal).  I can’t possibly express the profundity of the experience in a few short sentences… the experience has completely changed my outlook on the meaning and truths of culture.  Living in Nepal was difficult, especially at first – load shedding meant that, for months on end, 16-18 hours per day electricity would stop flowing to certain sections of the city.  My shower was a bucket of lukewarm water in a dark room, and the thick layers of pollution trapped in the bowl-shaped city meant wearing a mask on my 30 minute walk to school every morning.  But, as these difficulties turned into annoyances turned into habit, I began to absolutely love everything about the culture – how it had welcomed me with open arms at every turn, shoved food into my mouth in every room as a customary hello, brought me to puja ceremonies with my aama and holi celebrations with my daai.

Living in Kathmandu as a Westerner, the aspects of Nepali life that I had at first understood as chaotic faded into normalcy. My sense of cultural center became flipped upside down, and eventually destroyed altogether. As I learned to eat all of my meals with my hands, ride the bus gasping for air and clinging on to hundreds other people for hours on end, and lightheartedly argue with taxi drivers in Nepali over whether I deserved the tourist price or the student price, I began to understand that so much of what I had thought of as objective aspects of living are actually entirely culturally subjective – and that the West had done a hell of a job engraining its standards of normalcy into the deepest levels of my consciousness. You ask what my biggest takeaway has been – that one is definitely way up there. Culture in the United States and culture in Nepal don’t exist relative to each other, and there’s really no standard measurement upon which to judge them.

When the earthquake hit, I was with fellow Batesie [sophomore] Alex Ulin on a public bus just outside of the valley. I had been in Nepal three months, and she had arrived a few days before to work with a women’s organization in the city – we had decided to go trekking for the weekend, to get away from the bustle of Kathmandu life for a bit.  By U.S. standards, we were in a relatively remote area – about a minute after we stepped onto a bus, it started violently shaking from side to side.  People around us seemed confused at first, and then scared – nobody had any idea what was going on. The bus kept shaking and shaking, it felt like it might overturn at any moment.  I looked outside and saw a crowd of people flailing their arms and sprinting toward our bus – behind them I saw pillars of dust and dirt rising from the hills around me (I later realized they were collapsed buildings and houses) – I thought maybe we were under attack.  We shoved our way through the crowd and off the bus, as others followed. We ran to a nearby field where a crowd of villagers had begun to gather – some praying, some crying, and some screaming. We were the only non-Nepalis in the area.  We stood, sat and paced in that field for three hours as tremor after tremor continued to come – as the Nepalis we were with watched their village collapse. No one knew what was going on, and we all understood that, if this was the end, there was nothing we could do. We didn’t know if the ground was going to open up under us, didn’t know where the center was, had no idea of the extent of the damage outside our line of sight. Eventually, Alex and I decided we had to make our way to a major road, to a place with food and shelter for us. We said goodbye and good luck to the friends we had made, and hiked a few hours to the larger town of Dhulikel, pausing in fear every time we felt another tremor and running every time we had to travel next to or in between buildings.  Right as we arrived in Dhulikel – just as we entered the old town – the first large aftershock hit, sending rubble and bricks into the streets all around us. I remember sprinting for a field with our hands over our heads. After two hours sheltering in Dhulikel, exhausted and scared for our lives, we found a group of people who were leaving on a bus – we got on the bus and stepped off once we reached a nearby guesthouse. I’ll never forget how the driver refused to accept payment, instead wishing us good luck and safety.

We eventually made our way to Kathmandu and met up with a few other students and staff from my program.  We sheltered at the program center for a week, and did our best to help out with relief efforts. We spent long days (and nights, sleeping under tarps outside) debating what to do next, how we’d be able to be the most helpful – what the least selfish thing to do under the circumstances would be. We received an evacuation mandate from my university, and the embassy recommended leaving. Needless to say, our parents were not happy when we told them we would prefer to stay. In the end, though, we decided the resources we would be taking up, as untrained and unspecialized students, would do more harm than good.  The truth is, if I stayed, it would have been for myself and not for Nepal. There are thousands and thousands of Nepalis staying in camps right now with more than enough willpower to do what has to be done. I didn’t want to contribute to the problem with my own personal white savior complex. So we left.

If I have learned one thing studying development in Nepal, it’s that development – more often than not – is a colonial process for Westerners to exert influence and arrogantly impose values onto cultures and peoples they label as “inferior” or “underdeveloped.” No one was “underdeveloped” until the West invented the idea of “developed.” Aid and relief processes, as I’ve experienced, are all too often similar. Even if well-intentioned, arrogance can fuck things up in ways outsiders have trouble fully understanding.

A few days after the earthquake, Alex and I were working with a women’s organization to help organize the camps and distribute hygiene supplies and food.  The organization had spent a full morning organizing information about the camps–-which families were sleeping where, who needed what, etc. At about 12:00 P.M. that day, a truck showed up with a well-meaning tourist who had bought $1500 worth of noodles. He and two armed police force guards he was with rolled up to a camp and started flinging the noodles off the back of a pickup truck into a group of people as if it were candy. Grinning, they seemed to feel like heroes. Slowly, the group became a crowd, and the crowd became a borderline riot. Some walked away with armfuls of noodles, while women (traditionally looked down upon for displaying aggression), children, those with disabilities, or those who happened to be in the back of the crowd remained empty handed, frustrated, and even physically hurt by the stampede of people chaotically rushing for food.  It could have killed someone – just one example of well-intentioned ignorance doing more harm than good.

As it says on my Facebook, since leaving Nepal my friends and I have struggled a lot with the distance between us and the place that has given us so much over the past few months.  Having spent three months studying Development and Social Change in the country – and a considerable amount of time each doing our own independent research in that field – we’ve each had a good deal of on the ground experience with community work in Nepal and established a fund hoping to help funnel money into the right places. So much of the money going into the country now WILL be squandered by bureaucracy, cultural politics, and international egos. Our fund skirts this by directing money to organizations that aren’t already in the headlines and that are doing absolutely essential work and which we have 100% faith in the integrity of. These organizations are all small and Nepali led, are working around the clock and struggling for funds, and deserve so much more attention than they’re getting. So far we’ve raised $7,500, and are goal is to push $10,000 within the next week.  Anything you can do to help us out by spreading the word will make a HUGE difference. The link to donate is below.

Click here to donate.

A thought to end on – just because the news cycle has phased Nepal out doesn’t mean the crisis is over. For many in Nepal, the worst has yet to come.  I’m sure you’ve heard about the second major earthquake earlier this week – and the turmoil it will cause, the ways it will compound already-scarce food supplies and disease risk. It’s truly absurd that I am completely safe right now – with more than enough shelter, food, and water – just because I was privileged enough to be born in America.

Sexual assault prevention at its un-finest

About two weeks ago, the National Panhellenic Conference, the leaders of university sororities across the country, sent a letter to University of Virginia sororities telling the women that they would not be allowed to attend the fraternity parties on the following Saturday night. That Saturday was Boys’ Bid Night, when the fraternities’ parties would welcome their new members in an apparently rowdier-than-usual atmosphere.

UVA was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 and often prides itself on tradition, but with this new strategy it might as well be turning back the clock even farther back. The message that the NPC is sending out echoes the mindset nineteenth-century women had to deal with. You can’t make yourself look pretty, or you’ll get raped. Then your life will be worth nothing. You can’t go out on Saturday night, or you’ll get raped. And you—not the frats—will be held to disciplinary action by the university for being at those parties, because boys are boys…so can you really blame anyone but yourself?

Imagine for a moment that the Bates administration sent out a letter to the entire campus saying, “Sorry girls, you can’t go out to Frye Street, or the Village, or JB, or any off-campus houses on Saturday night, because there will be boys there.”

True, Bates doesn’t have fraternities and sororities, and yes, these organizations are often unfortunately sites of sexual assault. But obviously sexual assault exists here. If the administration split the student body the way UVA essentially did into men and women and gave them different degrees of privilege, not only would it be anti-Bates-philosophy, but I’m pretty sure it would ignite a stronger reaction than the one we had to the cancellation of Trick-or-Drink.

Speaking of that infamous October event, the Washington Post article about the UVA issue said, “Many students were sympathetic to the goals of the national sorority leaders and understood the difficulty of keeping women safe, particularly when they’re not sober. They just didn’t like the method.”

Sound familiar? This rhetoric—minus the specific implications for women—could easily define many Bates students’ reactions to the cancellation of Trick-or-Drink: Yeah, we get that the goal was to stop the issues that arise from our drinking culture for a night, but the way it was cancelled, some say, wasn’t so great.

As college students, we need to acknowledge how our drinking culture affects us as a community and the outside community. Nearly all sexual assault cases occur because the aggressor and/or the victim is drunk, so college administrations are naturally going to focus on curbing alcohol consumption. But college administrators also need to be conscious of how they are attempting to accomplish this, because without enough consideration, they can end up sounding patriarchal and archaic at UVA, as well as ignorant of their own implications.

Many conversations about sexual assault revolve around the statistic saying that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. But not only is it ignorant to assume that fraternity boys are the only committers of sexual assault, it is also ignorant to assume that all women are victims—and that the only female victims are sorority girls—simply because they go to a party. Because they’re wearing short skirts or tight tops, because they’ve put on make-up, because they might be flirtier than usual after a couple of drinks…this is the activity that UVA was trying to stop on a Saturday night, rather than trying to stop the actual boys—or whoever they think commits rape—from drinking too much, from getting too aggressive, from taking a girl to a room where no one can hear her scream.

What about the UVA girls who aren’t in sororities? If the NPC and UVA are concerned about rape at frat parties, they should be concerned about any parties with men and women in the same room. But they’re ignoring those gatherings, because incidents at frats and sororities are the newsworthy ones that could be published in Rolling Stone. So non-sorority girls, you can relax. You don’t need attention or protection at the moment. Go to male-occupied parties and drink, and you’ll be in a safer situation than sorority girls doing the same thing.

The letter and its message might not have been purposefully trying to “victim-blame,” but it certainly comes off that way. It is time for colleges and our society to realize that perhaps the way to deal with sexual assault is not to tell women to be afraid of men, and not to focus the premature blame on the presumed victims before anything happens. They may be attempts to increase the prevention of sexual assault rather than just post-incident support, but we need to make the preventive measures more about changing the “boys will be boys” culture we live in rather than restricting what should be—in this century—women’s and students’ rights.

It happened then too: A literary window into sexual assault

There was once a Kasper Hauser Comedy podcast that pretended there was a game show called “Phone Call to the Fourteenth Century.”

The premise was that the contestants would make phone calls to the people of the Middle Ages to give them advice about how to live better (“Impart as much useful knowledge as you can to a resident of the 14th century in one minute!” the fake show’s motto says). The twenty-first-century phone callers shout out humorously accurate and arbitrary advice like, “Witches aren’t real, everybody floats!” and “Don’t throw out the middle of the donut, you can sell it!” as well as various suggestions for better hygiene and nutrition.

The fourteenth century was seven hundred years ago. Obviously the world has changed, and we like to make jokes about how much worse life was back then. Yes, medieval hygiene was usually terrible. People didn’t eat many fruits and vegetables. There was no electricity; houses and streets were terribly pitch black at night. Women couldn’t own property. The lower classes lived sucky lives. So of course we think, aren’t we lucky to live in the modern age? We understand the importance of bathing and eating colorful foods; we can stay warm in the winter with central heating and cool in the summer with air conditioning.

And yet, we have inherited something from the Middle Ages, something from the beginning of time really, that we still haven’t changed.

Sexual assault happened then too. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about it all the time.

Chaucer was a poet and political operative living in London in the fourteenth century. He was born in the 1340s and married a lady-in-waiting named Philippa in 1366. They had a son a year later. In 1380, when Chaucer was about 40, he was accused of raping a woman named Cecily Champaigne. There isn’t an official record of the rape itself, but there is a record of Cecily dropping the charges against Chaucer for her rape. The witnesses to the document record were all men with positions like high-society businessmen, members of the royal court, a former mayor of London…so Chaucer was fine. He also continued to get life supplies of wine and money from the King of England as a reward for the diplomacy (purported espionage) he conducted abroad.

In The Canterbury Tales, the work that the Chaucer course in the Bates English Department focuses on, there are more than five tales that involve some sort of sexual assault or raise the issue of sexual consent. Hardly anyone today would guess that these issues appear in the tales before reading them, because we don’t always think of medieval literature or culture as something that revolves around sex politics. But Chaucer’s stories do.

One of the questions the students in the Chaucer course (disclaimer: I’m one of them) always have to ask ourselves is whether the women in the stories seem to want the sex they receive from men, who are sometimes their husbands and sometimes not.

In one case, two male students are staying the night in a family’s home, and they decide they want to have sex with the mother and the daughter of the family. Chaucer writes that the daughter didn’t even have time to scream, because the guy jumped on her so quickly. But maybe she wouldn’t have. The other guy gets into the mother’s bed while she’s in the medieval version of a bathroom, and when she gets back she has sex with him, thinking it’s her husband. But then again, Chaucer hints, maybe she knows it’s not her husband. Maybe she wants it. (Side note: All of the characters in this story are drunk at the time.)

That’s what’s tricky about the consent issue in Chaucer–he writes it in a way that makes you think he’s purposefully blurring the lines, purposefully making it as complex as a lot of sexual assault cases today, which makes you want to time travel back to the fourteenth century grab him by the collar, and ask, “Who wanted what? Did no mean no for you guys too?”

It’s almost too easy to guess what authority figures would have said if the mother and daughter had accused the men of rape. You didn’t say no, so it can’t have been rape. You know it’s pitch black in your bedroom (this is the fourteenth century), you should have made sure it was your husband. The modern reader just wishes Chaucer would tell us what he was thinking.

Aside from the fact that time traveling isn’t possible, the idea of this conversation in itself is crazy–that a person today could actually find something to talk about with Chaucer, and he would understand (although you might need a Middle English translator). You couldn’t talk to him about iPhones or Yik Yak or other creations of the modern world, but you could talk to him about rape and consent. It’s incredibly sad that a modern victim of sexual assault shares something in common with that daughter in The Canterbury Tales, because not only is it a horrible thing for any single person to go through, but it also shows us what we haven’t changed yet.

Which makes me want scream, Seriously? That’s what we’ve inherited? We could have kept a diet that was heavier on meat, or the beautiful castles without central heating, or the gorgeous books with gold-embellished pages. But we kept sexual assault.

If Chaucer lived today, I would like to think that his assault on Cecily would be more thoroughly investigated, that he would be legally punished if he were found guilty of rape, that his status with political figures wouldn’t protect him, that the men in those positions would be sensitive to the girl’s situation, that the girl opening up about her rape wouldn’t be scared to pursue justice. It’s hard to tell whether all of those issues have improved by now.

If only we could use our phone call to the fourteenth century to say, “Start changing sex culture now. Start preventing rape from happening, and start creating a clear punishment system around it, because then maybe we wouldn’t still be having as many issues as we do.”

But since we can’t get a phone call to the fourteenth century, we just have to give a louder wake-up call to the one we’re living in.

The Boston Globe and Yik Yak shed light on the “lost art of dating”

Last May, a Boston College student writing for The Boston Globe wrote an article titled, “College class tries to revive the lost art of dating,” featuring BC philosophy professor Kerry Cronin, who teaches a seminar about relationships and personal development. Her course has increased in popularity ever since Cronin made a formerly optional assignment mandatory–for every student to ask someone out on a real date.

Cronin’s assignment dictates several rules; the student going on a “Cronin date,” according to the article, must ask someone out in person, and it must be someone of “legitimate romantic interest.” Furthermore, the assignment-date is not allowed to involve alcohol or sex.

Some people reading these rules for the first time might be rolling their eyes incredulously, but despite the number of stipulations, Boston College students are flocking to Cronin’s class for the dating assignment because they have “trouble asking people out on dates on their own.”

Boston College and Bates are united in that “trouble.”

Last week, The Bates Student published a Forum article, “Hookup vs. dating culture,” which claimed, “Dating and hookup cultures can coexist peacefully without cancelling each other out.” The writer believes that even though the hookup culture is more prevelant than the dating culture, the latter is still present at Bates.

But “dating” can mean different things in different contexts, just as the term “hook-up” can. When we say “dating,” are we talking about starting or being in an official relationship, or going on several casual dates with different people? You know, like asking a person out to dinner, picking him or her up at 7:30, walking home, saying you had a really nice time, blah blah blah.

If we’re talking about the former sense of dating as an established relationship, then I agree; that does exist at Bates. There is a decent number of couples here. Some of the ones I know have been dating since the beginning of freshman year, while many relationships seem to come from longtime friendships that eventually became something more.

So yes, if we restrict our definition of dating to that image, there is a dating culture.

If we’re talking about the latter sense of dating though, as in going on actual dates to get to know someone that you don’t really even know as a friend, then I think it’s safe to say that does not exist at Bates, and I’m guessing it doesn’t really exist for our generation at colleges other than BC.

Last week’s Student article pointed out, “If we want to date someone, then we can simply ask that person out.” It does seem simple, but no one seems to do it.

The evidence is visible around campus as well as on social media, and Yik Yak in particular. Recently, a Bates student posted a Yak that read, “Asking a girl out for coffee at Bates is the same as asking, ‘Will you marry me?’”

That single anonymous sentence that exists on the same screen as a simple text message is actually extremely telling. I have no idea how many up-votes and down-votes it received, but it really doesn’t need any to prove whether people support dating or the hook-up culture more, since Yaks presenting opposite ideals exist too.

The point is that this Yak shows that many people, not just the person who wrote it, must be scared—terrified, actually—to ask someone on a casual, get-to-know-you date. Even scarier than that, though, is the huge irony of this fear. A casual date doesn’t lead to a ring and a walk down the aisle. A date, in its original (by this time almost historical) context, was supposed to be casual to the point that one could go on dates with several different people, because each one did not at all represent a serious relationship. Perhaps the Yak doesn’t mean that a date leads to a wedding, but the writer is still comparing asking someone out to proposing and therefore still means that it would be a heart rate-increasing, adrenaline-pumping, jelly-legs-inducing experience.

It seems obvious that a modern relationship has more potential to become a marriage than a pick-you-up-at-7:30, walk-you-home-after-dinner date does. But it needs to be said anyway, because most people our age haven’t picked anyone up at 7:30 or walked someone home after a nice dinner in that sense. Maybe the Yak is half-kidding or even fully joking, and maybe I’m an English major reading too much into an anonymous character’s self-expression. But for the most part, and even if the writer was kidding, I think the Yak’s analogy speaks to the fear in today’s college students to make ourselves vulnerable in asking someone out; to be nervous getting ready before the date arrives and figuring out what to wear; to actually make conversation with someone you barely know but want to, face-to-face instead of text-to-text.

We often forget, though, that part of why it’s hard to change the way we date or hook-up is because the two options are both defined by that tricky word—culture. The dating and hookup cultures are micro-cultures of larger ones—the culture of Bates, of American colleges, of our generation, etc.

But you can’t change a culture of any size overnight. Cultures evolve and change over time, just like people. Even if every single person at Bates wanted a dating culture to reign, it’s not as though we could vote for it one night and institute it the next. We can’t change collectively right away, and we don’t necessarily need to, but people can change it individually if they want to. Those who want to ask others out on dates won’t do it immediately, or maybe ever, because yes, it’s scary to do something out of the ordinary social norms and to be alone in doing it. But if you want to, take the social risk–we take academic ones every day–and be the change you wish to see in the campus world.

 

Crystal Williams joins the Bates team

Crystal Williams has begun her multi-faceted position as Associate Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer, and English Department member. Her talk with The Bates Student showed that she’s already bringing intelligence, enthusiasm, and open-mindedness to campus (she’s a Batesie now, after all).

Crystal Williams photo by Leah NashThe Bates Student: Where are you from originally, and what did you study in college?

Crystal Williams: I was born and raise primarily in Detroit, Michigan and spent two years of my girlhood in Madrid, Spain. It is likely that I would have been a good candidate for a school like Bates since I had many interests in undergrad, including theatre, psychology, English, history, and ultimately, creative writing, which was my final focus.

TBS: Your title at Reed as Dean for Institutional Diversity sounds very similar to Chief Diversity Officer, but do you think there are any key differences between the two jobs?

CW: At Reed I was the inaugural Dean for Institutional Diversity, which was Reed’s version of a CDO. President Spencer’s commitment to helping Bates more deeply enact its stated and historic principles with regard to diversity, inclusion, and access was deeply compelling to me. She understands that in order to accomplish the work of ensuring that Bates not only retains and espouses its historic principles of inclusion but also enacts them in every aspect of college life, the Chief Diversity Officer must be appropriately positioned to create, maximize, and sustain strong and exciting partnerships with senior leaders and key faculty, student, alumni, and community stakeholders. This, too, was compelling to me.

When I visited [Bates] during my interview, I was struck immediately by the strong sense of community and commitment to the principles I hold so dear. So Bates felt familiar and like a place in which we, together, could make deep and meaningful strides.

TBS: Do you think there are differences between the two schools?

CW: There are interesting overlaps between Bates and Reed. William T. Foster, a former Bates instructor and, if I remember correctly, a coach of Bates’ Debate team, was Reed’s founding president. The principles of academic rigor, inclusion (in Reed’s case, women and Jewish people), and egalitarianism are held in common between the schools. Furthermore, there are contemporary synergies between the faculty and student bodies of which I’ve become aware–friendships across the distance that my colleagues and students drew to my attention once they knew I’d be joining the Bates team. That is also interesting and made me feel immediately at ease.

TBS: President Spencer mentioned in her email that you are not only a teacher of creative writing but also an award-winning poet and nonfiction writer. Is there a notable link, in your opinion, between your interest in writing and the issue of diversity? What do you mostly write about?

CW: To me, the work of writing poetry is the work of trying to highlight the numerous ways in which human beings are connected and are, therefore, responsible for and to one another. In this way, the work of helping people A) appreciate the ways in which our differences broaden what happens in the classroom and the workplace, B) see how those connections necessarily deepen the intellectual endeavor by asking us to pose even more robust questions, and C) want to be more inclusive is simply a continuation of my creative work. The topics I write about shift and change with the times, frankly. When I was a younger poet, I wrote primarily about family, which is what many young writers do, and as life began to lengthen, I started to write about loss, death, alienation, race, and gender. My most recent book, which will be out next year, is a book investigating memory, class, persistence, and celebration and uses Detroit as a lens through which to view those bigger issues.

TBS: What inspired you to work on issues such as diversity and inclusion?

CW: I am drawn and charged to try to make better any place I inhabit. It is a value instilled in me by my parents who, while long departed, continue to serve as models of how to be more loving, giving, and responsible. Coupled with that, my parents also taught me that I have a right and obligation to speak up. Those two things–the charge to be of service to others and the freedom to feel oneself capable of being of service to others is what draws me to this work.

TBS: During your time at Reed, what was the most challenging or toughest professional situation you faced?

CW: Asking people who are effective at doing their jobs one way to change the way they do their jobs in order to achieve a more inclusive result is never easy. Their response is almost always: “Why should I change? What I’m doing is working.” Those aren’t easy conversations to have and they require, at root, patience (which I think of as a form of love), persistence, and the ability to listen deeply and to identify those aspects of another person’s values which align with your own, and then the willingness to move forward from that shared value, which is just a long way of saying: compromise.

It’s not a terrific analogy, I admit, but doing this work is sometimes like asking a star athlete to train differently. To the athlete the request can be annoying–why should they do anything differently, especially if they are winning? To the coach, who is looking at the long-term health of the athlete and the team, the request will net a positive immediate and long-term result, which might improve not only the athlete’s performance, but also the performance of the entire team and teams to come. So there›s an element of faith at play, and a very strong element of trust.

TBS: What will you teach in the English Department? Do you teach literary criticism classes (as opposed to creative writing) at all? And within creative writing, do you prefer poetry or prose, since you’ve written both?

CW: I have historically taught Creative Writing classes, poetry primarily. I like teaching creative writing, and poetry specifically, because I can embody in my pedagogy the fundamental principles of diversity and inclusion: if we acknowledge those aspects of ourselves which inform this interaction–in the case of the creative writing workshop, what my strengths and interests are as a reader and writer–then our conversation about poetry is fundamentally inclusive and honors all of the diversity of thought, action, and interest represented at the table. In other words: if you’re a poet who comes to poetry through sound and I’m a poet who comes to poetry through image, and we both acknowledge that, the conversation we can have about poetry is both deep and instructive and can be–as I’ve found time and again–life-altering.

TBS: What do you hope to bring from the Reed campus to the Bates campus?

CW: I think, if you’d take perspective as an answer, perspective. And also passion.

TBS: What’s your favorite thing about Maine?

CW: So far my favorite thing is how sunny it is!

TBS: How would you like to get to know Bates students this year, and what do you hope to accomplish?

CW: My hope by the end of the spring semester is to have a solid understanding of this community and to use that understanding to begin to envision a new way forward. I’ve already started to reach out to student groups and activists and will, just in the next two weeks, have two large groups of students over to my home. I’ll continue that effort to reach out to not only students but also staff and faculty. My hope by the end of the year is to know many students–from all over campus.

By May I want to walk through Bates’ campus and be able to call out many names–and maybe get a couple of fist-bumps along the way.

Summer grants support individual and community growth

On paper, the Phillips Student Fellowship, a Bates grant, seeks to “provide a student with unique opportunities for intellectual and personal growth,” a seemingly difficult outcome to measure.

Last Tuesday, however, after Bates students, faculty, staff, and other community members watched the presentations of Asha Mohamud ’15 and Rachel Baumann ’14, their huge personal and intellectual transformations showcased what could only be considered absolutely objective fact.

Though the topics of the students’ Phillips Student Fellowship research differed completely, strains of each student’s speech seemed to coil around the concept of societal memory of trauma and specific community’s subsequent reactions.

In the first presentation, “Africans4Africa: A pan-African Endeavor,” Mohamud detailed her experiences in Tanzania this summer, which were funded by her Phillips grant. She discussed the pan-African public health initiatives that explored the impact of HIV/AIDS in Mbeya, a mountainous region of Tanzania, and working for a health clinic nonprofit named Kihumbe.

One of the biggest revelations that Mohamud shared from her summer abroad was the emotional reality that she became aware of, a transition from the more scientific lens through which she had previously viewed the HIV/AIDS issue. She led the audience through her day-to-day life by reading excerpts from her journal, sharing with listeners the anguish and helplessness she felt when it was her job to communicate positive HIV tests to local patients.

She spoke about the positive steps that community members were taking to stop negative cycles: gatherings to discuss and combat domestic abuse, outpourings of both free condoms and safe sex talks from the national condom brands, and free HIV/AIDS medication through the state. For Mohamud, dealing with the harsh realities of combatting the HIV/AIDS epidemic and seeing the positive steps Tanzanians were taking to better their community solidified her interest in public health.

“My summer in Tanzania only reaffirmed my dreams of one day going back to the continent and hopefully cause a domino effect of change,” reflects Mohamud.

Her presentation also echoed gratitude toward Bates faculty and the Phillips Fellowship Committee for choosing her project to fund. Applying for the Phillips Fellowship was an almost yearlong process for both presenters.

Baumann’s Phillips presentation was the culmination of years of fascination and dissatisfaction with family mystery. Her presentation, entitled “Why My Grandmother Converted to Judaism in Nazi Germany during 1936,” followed her intense investigative journey in which she tried to answer that difficult question, one that in many ways multiplied and compounded into others.

Hers was a three-pronged project: first, she retraced her grandparents’ steps through Berlin, Warsaw, and the Polish suburbs that they fled to. Baumann then studied the current Berlin Jewish community, and finally she looked at how Berlin commemorates the atrocities of the Holocaust today.

From the moment that Baumann stepped on the city streets that her grandparents had lived and walked on, she was moved by the city. “There are reminders on every corner that force people to acknowledge and remember the transgressions of human beings,” she noted, impressed at the city’s self-consciousness of their past, from large monuments for the victims of the Holocaust to blocks in the street naming people that had been taken away by the Nazis.

Through the Phillips Foundation’s financial support, Baumann was able to piece together the holes in her familial narrative that her grandparents left behind after death. She was able to connect with invaluable resources that allowed her to discover that a Nazi officer saved her Jewish grandparents and continued to watch over them, hiding them in his house and helping them move to safety.

The question of “Why convert?” morphed into, “Who was their guardian angel?” This particular answer, while partially available, requires more research. Since the end of the summer, Baumann has learned that more files have been released about the Nazi officer. Baumann looks forward to returning to Berlin in some capacity to enrich the story she has already produced through her summer work.

A multitude of research grants and fellowships are available for Bates students of all class years, with most deadlines for application occurring in early March, though the application for a Phillips is much earlier. The amount of aid given varies, depending on both the grant and the scope of the project, and meeting with a faculty member to discuss ideas early is greatly encouraged.

For Mohamud, the Phillips Fellowship allowed her to test not only her skills in public health but also in the task of breaking difficult news over and over to patients. For Baumann, the grant made it possible for her to connect together the glimpses of her grandparents’ suffering with her own memories of them as individuals, sharpening her storytelling ability and enriching her own family’s collective past.

By sharing both of their stories, Mohamud and Baumann not only made themselves proud, they also emulated the ideal Bates standard that insists on creating a compassionate community of learners. They bravely allowed us to empathize with what doubtlessly was a summer of deeply personal, emotional growth and change.

Bates football overcomes injuries to beat Bowdoin

footballBates football triumphed 17-10 on Saturday over their archrivals Bowdoin in an intense Senior Day matchup. The dual-quarterback system Bates employed worked superbly in the first half, as junior Matt Cannone threw a 36-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Kevin Davis, while freshman Nick LaSpada capped off a second quarter drive with a 3-yard touchdown run. Playing the first four drives of the game and the entirety of the 2nd half, Cannone completed 10 of 12 throws for 102 yards, while running 17 times for 72 yards. The Bobcat defense dominated as well with their aggressive mentality and three forced turnovers.

Despite the mixed emotions of Senior Day, the Bobcats were able bear down according to senior defensive tackle Matt Comstock. “Once the team walked down to the field, past the tailgate with a particularly rowdy student section, it wasn’t hard to focus purely on the game.”

That energy and focus ultimately resulted in an exciting afternoon of football that ended with Bates’ third consecutive win over Bowdoin.

On the first offensive drive, Cannone tried to establish the game plan, which keyed in on continuing to move the chains with a variety of looks in Bates’ triple option offense. Senior running back Shawn Doherty said the unique thing about the triple option is that, “It takes all 11 guys on the field to carry their weight.” Bates got contributions from all members of the offense of Saturday, including a long bomb from Cannone that set the tone. On a 4th and 5 at the Bowdoin 36 yard line, Cannone described how he “saw a match up I liked on the outside, (senior receiver) Kevin Davis beat his guy over the top, and it allowed me to put the ball out there for him.” Though Bates scored all of their points in the first half, Cannone noted that Bates “did an excellent job of getting first downs even if we didn’t score on the drive.” This helped the Bobcats control the time of possession battle and kept the defense off the field, allowing the Bobcats to maintain 17-7 halftime lead. As Doherty said, “Our line did an awesome job getting a push up front and our skill guys stepped up when we had to.”

Another important aspect of the game Bates dominated in was turnovers. The three turnovers Bates forced, which included interceptions by star senior safety Andrew Kukesh and junior safety Ryan Newson, prevented Bowdoin from creating any sort of offensive rhythm or momentum.

Comstock says that the Bates defense focused on playing boldly, with no fear of mistakes. Coming into the highly anticipated matchup, he said that, “A lot of the guys felt that we had been playing flat recently so we wanted to come out with the confidence to fly around and make plays.” That attitude certainly showed on the field, as the defense effectively contained and frustrated Bowdoin all day. Outside of a 61-yard first quarter run that set up Bowdoin’s lone touchdown, the Polar Bear offense was unable to generate explosive plays. Kukesh finished with 9 tackles, and junior Gilbert Brown and freshmen Mark Upton both had 6 for Bates. Comstock did a great job jamming up the middle of the line and finished with 5 tackles.

Especially considering it came against Bowdoin, Saturday’s win was an ideal final home game for Bates’ seniors. In the words of Doherty, “Everyone was fired up all week and knew the significance of this game.” It was extremely satisfying for the team to translate this energy and anticipation into a huge victory.

As Comstock commented, “The senior day could not have gone any better. The crowd was pumped up, the weather was beautiful and we came away with a win.” Doherty and the rest of the Bobcat seniors all “hope wwe can finish up our careers the right way with a victory at Hamilton this Saturday.”

Bates improved to 3-4 with the win and will look to record back-to-back seasons of .500 football for the first time since 1981-82.

Hamilton is currently 0-7 on the season and Bates won the matchup last year 47-33.

 

It’s a Sex Crime: A student movement toward awareness of sexual assault

The Amherst scandal. Party with Consent. Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” They all have one thing in common: they represent two sides of the line between consent and sexual assault. The “It’s a Sex Crime” project is gaining momentum under the leadership of seniors Rachel Baumann and Leticia Solis, who recently reached out to Bates club leaders via email to explain their initiative. They invited club leaders and other students who had “expressed interest in talking about sexual assault” to participate together in holding up posters that say “It’s a sex crime” in Commons. This will be a fairly “vocal presentation,” Solis says. The event is tentatively scheduled during a mealtime on the weekend of November 8th-10th.

“It’s a Sex Crime” as a slogan refers specifically to the video produced by law students at Auckland University in New Zealand. This video, “Defined Lines,” is a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” music video. The extent to which Thicke’s original version showcases misogyny and male sexual dominance has been widely discussed by many journalistic publications, including the New York Daily News, Huffington Post, and, more recently, The Bates Student. The Forum article in the latter was published September 11th of this year under the headline “Robin Thicke is a misogynist.”

In the email about the project that Baumann and Solis have initiated, they point to lyrics in “Defined Lines” that the female students sing: “If you want to get nasty, just don’t harass me. You can’t just grab me. It’s a sex crime.”

Though the details of the Bates project will not be revealed until it occurs, Solis concedes that the project is “closely related to [the] consent talks” that were held on campus last year, which were essentially open-forum discussions about the way Bates handles issues of sexual consent. The discussions also arose from Baumann’s leadership.

Last year, an Amherst College student wrote an article describing how she had been personally raped and failed to receive adequate help from the Amherst administration following the incident.

Baumann, then in her junior year at Bates, used the Amherst scandal as a basis for her article in The Bates Student, entitled, “It happens here too: Bates needs to change the way we deal with sexual assault.” Throughout last year, “consent talks,” as Solis mentions, appeared on the Bates campus along with the “Party with Consent” dance with Bowdoin and Colby.

More recently, Baumann and Solis realized that “conversations are only happening between people who are already working on this issue” and actually attending these open forums, “and that needs to change,” Baumann insists. The two seniors, along with other students who originally discussed this issue as part of the Stringfellow Committee, decided this year to take a stand in Commons, “the only place on campus where we can reach out to the entire student body,” says Baumann. “Because we do not have a student center, Commons serves that purpose.”

“Our number one goal,” Solis elaborates, is to spark “conversation about rape culture on campus among students who don’t usually go to these forums.” In other words, the project aims “to get students talking, even if it’s just for one minute.”

The posters for the project will incorporate ideas from “Defined Lines” while not directly supporting the parody, in which the female singers reverse Thicke’s idea by imitating sexual power over men. The project has already seen at least 30 students wanting to participate.

Thus, while “Blurred Lines” seems misogynistic and “Defined Lines” feminist, Solis and her peers are aware of the idea of “double standards” that arises from the parody.

“We do not think ‘Defined Lines’ is any better than ‘Blurred Lines,’ because it’s just as oppressive,” Solis emphasizes. “We are not condoning the concept of responding to oppression with reversal forms of oppression.”

The leaders are clearly aware of the possibility of controversy surrounding the project, which Solis notes is rooted in the creation of “It’s a Sex Crime.” Though the idea for it stemmed from a conversation within the Stringfellow Committee, a student organization tied to the Multifaith Chaplaincy and devoted to social justice, the group is no longer associated with the project.

“When the issue proved controversial among students, we were later asked not to identify “It’s a Sex Crime” as a Stringfellow Committee action but rather as a student initiative. So right off the bat it proved a controversial [topic],” says Solis.

Since “It’s a Sex Crime” is a primarily student project, Solis is “unsure about how much support we have from the College administration,” and the student leaders received “mixed messages” from some faculty and staff they had contacted about becoming involved. Nonetheless, Solis is grateful for the steps Bates started to take around the time of the consent talks last year, but in spearheading “It’s a Sex Crime” she also believes that awareness of sexual assault is not yet at its full potential.

“If we need to remind our college campus not to commit rape, then yes, the Bates campus needs to be more aware of sex crime issues,” and Solis and her peers in the project are determined to make this happen.

“We just wanted to act,” she states, “especially in a radical manner. I wasn’t afraid of the repercussions. It will always be an issue, because it happens here too and is still happening.”

The initiative is in powerful hands with Solis and Baumann, who is similarly driven. “We must start doing significant things at Bates if we want radical change. Can we call ourselves activists if we only talk?”

BEAM adapts petition

Bates Energy Action Movement, or BEAM, has put forth a new online petition which no longer requests that alumni withdraw donations until Bates proposes a divestment plan. Instead of inviting only alumni who pledge to cease donations, the petition now invites participation from a wider audience. Now, alumni are encouraged to sign the petition if divestment is an important issue to them as well as voice their concerns on the matter, but it is not required that the alumni pledge to halt donations.

BEAM Co-President Ben Breger ’14 explains that, “Alumni can sign the petition in support of divestment and have the option to specify whether their concern regarding our investments in fossil fuels influences their decision to donate. Some may choose to withhold their donation but others may decide to donate more money to Bates once a commitment is made.”

BEAM’s choice to alter the petition was in part influenced by conversations with alumni who felt strongly about scholarship funding as well as the divestment objective, and thus they felt as though they could not sign the petition as it previously appeared.

BEAM has garnered a lot of attention of late in response to their continued campaign against Bates’ financial investment in fossil fuel companies. By corresponding directly with the Bates Board of Trustees, raising awareness on campus, and promoting an online petition for alumni, BEAM proposes that Bates impose a phased termination of the college’s financial assets from the fossil fuel industry.

On the Friday of Parents’ Weekend in October, members of BEAM staged a rally outside of Commons that consisted of students acting like dead bodies as a way to illustrate the dangers of various hazards created by fossil fuels, representative of the expected 300,000 deaths per year provoked by these hazards as climate alteration threats increase. The “dead” bodies were then outlined in chalk as other BEAM members held up picket signs with statements such as “Invest in our Future” and “Climate Change Kills.”

BEAM wished to raise awareness about the hazards of fossil fuels while also directing attention to their online petition, which, as it read at the time, urged alumni donors to halt donations until the Board of Trustees develops a plan for divestment.

The petition did receive attention from the student body. After an article published in The Bates Student that relayed the Parents Weekend rally outside of Commons and explicated the objective of BEAM’s online divestment petition and overall divestment objective, members of the Bates community responded with conviction.

A Forum piece written by Alex Daugherty ‘15 claimed that BEAM’s proposal “directly harms the educational goals and affordability of Bates,” as the promotion for alumni to halt donations impedes on the Advancement Office’s ongoing efforts to increase Bates’ endowment, which, as Daugherty points out, is smaller than that of Colby and Bowdoin.

Daugherty cites the problems that would arise if BEAM were to successfully petition for a divestment from the fossil fuel industry and limit alumni giving, noting that a smaller endowment for Bates would result in less opportunity for financial aid distribution, and, consequently, study body diversity. Furthermore, Daugherty contends that if Bates did in fact divest from fossil fuel companies, it would cause the Board of Trustees to enter a problematic political back and forth, maintaining that “alienating alumni based on political opinion is not a viable option for Bates.”

Written with a similar critical tone in response to BEAM’s divestment objectives was a forum article by Bojain Sun, in which Sun first notes that the campaign has been generally unsuccessful at Bates. Sun comments on BEAM’s campaign in regards to its ethically sound, however logistically unrealistic, aims. He points out that the BEAM campaign is similar to the viral 2012 Stop KONY online campaign, in that they both involve “noble ideals that are extremely appealing to youths, yet so distant from their everyday lives.”

In response to The Bates Student Forum, BEAM member Ethan Zwirn published a defense of BEAM’s actions.” Zwirn discounts the notion that BEAM engages in a political “game” or that the club is operated by “slactivists.” Zwirn continues by arguing against claims that urging alumni to halt donations until the Bates Advancement Office divests from fossil fuel industries by noting that colleges that have divested from fossil fuels have actually seen an increase in alumni giving.  Zwirn notes the ways in which fossil fuel companies enable a hazardous treatment of the changing environment and explains how Bates’ stance against investment in the fossil fuel industry would help to abandon general investments in the lucrative industry.

As one can ascertain, the conversation concerning BEAM’s efforts to discourage alumni from donating to Bates until the College can present a plan to divest from the fossil fuel industry is animated and continuing. Recently, however, the club’s campaign has been revised in the form of the new online petition.

Breger notes that while the petition is an important vehicle for the club’s efforts, club members still views direct correspondence with The Board of Trustees as a priority. “We have a very strong case for ending Bates investments in the fossil fuel industry and change will come from constructive conversations with the Board, not from indirect support from alumni, although it certainly helps.”

It is evident that the BEAM campaign for Bates’ financial divestment from the fossil fuel industry is still a hot topic of conversation, as the club continues to apply pressure to the Board of Trustees. For now, the Bates community will have to stay tuned.

Alumni flock to campus with warmth and nostalgia

Bates places great emphasis on the fact that we will be Batsies for life, some that last weekend’s Homecoming events certainly affirmed.

Alumni from a range of class years gathered on campus for Homecoming Weekend and a great warmth enveloped campus as the wistful alumni slipped back into the ways of life as a Bates student. Homecoming Weekend is an event of seemingly little relevance to many underclassmen, but is one that deserves more notice nevertheless.

Homecoming-PG Jensen (2)With excitement in the air, the alumni caught up with old friends and explored the campus they once called home. A large portion of the crowd was from the most recent graduating class and returned to campus to see friends who still attend Bates. The younger alumni were generally quite pleased to be on campus, having gotten away from the bustle of everyday life, and relished in the feeling of being a college student once again, if only for a day.

Aside from the most notable change, such as the library renovation, the alumni seemed to think that not much had changed. A group of nostalgic graduates commented on how Bates had, of course, kept operating without them.

Current senior Sarah Dik remarked, “It almost felt as if nothing had changed. They’ve always been in the grade above me, so if felt natural, and wonderful, to have them back.”

The Alumni Tailgate with seniors before the football game against Bowdoin was one of the most notable events that happened this past weekend. The event has become a tradition that includes the presentation of the senior gift. This year, the gift was a donation towards the Bates Fund.

One of the primary aims of the event is to connect the current seniors, who will be graduating in May of 2014, with alumni, both personally and professionally. These connections are intended to ease their transition out into the real world.

Other events included the football team’s win in their game against Bowdoin, which filled the Garcelon stands, and a showcase in Olin Arts Center that featured an array of student performers. The showcase presented a cappella singing, dramatic excerpts, literary readings, and dance routines. Both of these events were highly anticipated and enjoyed by the alumni. A member of the Class of 2000 pronounced Bates as “the most talented school in New England,” albeit with a good bias.

The presence of the alumni definitely created a noticeably different atmosphere on campus.

First-year Tisa Ambrosino noted, “The atmosphere of the campus became incredibly vibrant and warm when the alumni were here.”

The hustle and bustle of Commons definitely reflected this change. The contented smiles of the alumni made current students reflect on how lucky they are to be here at Bates. A board outside of campus was set up for students and alumni to specify what they were most thankful for, or what they loved most about Bates. A group of alumni from class years ranging from a decade to two decades ago remarked enviously at how marvelous the food was and how lucky we are to have it available to us. Answers on the board ranged from an appreciation of the Bates Fund to a love for the food to satisfaction over the football team’s win.

Nearly every returning alumnus emphasized the importance of enjoying the short four years we have at Bates. The older graduates noted their times here as some of the best in their lives, while the younger ones grumbled about the real world and marveled at the paradise that is our College. Either way, the message from all was that although our time at Bates may be devastatingly brief, we will be Batsies for the rest of our lives, and this is something to be extraordinarily proud of.

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