I Admit, I Messed Up: A Tale of Appropriation

(From The Campus Lantern – April 9th, 2015)

As I look down at my left hand right now, I see brown, thick-lined drawings of flowers. I may be exaggerating, but I feel a slight pang of shame. Why do I, a white woman, feel guilty that I’ve got henna on my hand? What’s the big deal?

I got the henna done at a UROC event last Friday by another white woman. I flipped through a paper booklet until I found a cute design that I thought I’d like to have on my hand for two weeks. I pushed the doubtful thoughts out of my head and focused on how cultured and hip I’d look with henna.

I pushed out the thoughts in my head that pointed out that henna is a practice historically used by poor folks in areas like Pakistan, India, and Africa to cool off their bodies in hot weather. I pretended that I didn’t know that henna is a cultural tradition common in weddings, birthdays, and other meaningful celebrations.

Some people argue that it is a positive thing that henna has become to popular in western culture. They see henna as a happy, beautiful tradition that should be embraced by every race and culture.

Then why do I feel guilty for indulging in henna?

Well, I think I just answered my own question.

It doesn’t mean anything to me. I just got it because I thought it looked nice. I didn’t get it for any sort of significant occasion.

I feel guilty because I appropriated something that has been a historically meaningful practice, and instead used it for my own personal, selfish aesthetic gain. I pushed out my negative thoughts when I was initially getting the henna and instead focused on how “cool” I would look.

There is a difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. If I were at an Indian festival celebrating culture and I got henna done, then I might have been taking part in cultural appreciation. Instead I got a meaningless “cute” design just because I wanted to, therefore appropriating the cultural significance of henna.

The big question here is, is it alright for white people to get henna? Maybe. In certain situations. Just try to think critically and with cultural sensitivity before you do. My advice (that I didn’t take, but will follow henceforth): if you’re having second thoughts, just don’t do it.

The Importance of Affirmative Consent

(From The Campus Lantern – March 5, 2015)

Last week there was a public hearing surrounding Senate Bill 636, an Act Concerning Affirmative Consent.  The bill would require colleges and universities to include affirmative consent in their sexual assault, stalking, and intimate partner violence policies.  Affirmative consent is the conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity, and should be a key element in determining whether sexual activity was consensual.

We live in a society in which victims in sexual assault cases are typically blamed for the violence that is acted upon them by perpetrators.  In instances of assault, we ask first, “What was she wearing?”  We ask, “Was she drunk?”  We ask, “Did she say no?”  It should not matter if the victim was wearing sweatpants or a mini-skirt.  It should not matter if she was sober or if she had a few drinks.  It should not matter if she was silent or if she failed to protest the attack.  The fact of the matter should be that if affirmative consent was not given, then the relations were not mutual and it was clearly an instance of assault.

Some people might be concerned about the drawbacks of asking for consent in a relationship.  I’ve had friends suggest that it might be awkward for them to ask their partner to clearly state their consent during sex.  They complain, “But Mae, won’t that ruin the mood?”  My response is always the same: No, affirmative consent will not ruin the mood.  Sexual assault will, however, ruin the life of the victim and sometimes of the perpetrator.  What affirmative consent will do is clear the blurred lines between consensual relations and assault.

As a college student, I’ve heard horror stories of women’s reputations being scorned for what has happened to them at parties.  I’ve had friends come to me, crying, because they weren’t sure if it was their fault that they were assaulted because they didn’t know how to react when the assault was happening.  The victim should never think it is their fault that they were assaulted.  The conversation around assault needs to change from what the victim did wrong, to instead focus on the detrimental actions of the perpetrator.  Establishing an affirmative consent policy helps to shift the focus of the investigation to the perpetrator’s behavior and away from questioning what the victim did to say no.

It is my belief that affirmative consent will provide students with safer, more supportive college campuses.  The lines between what is wrong and right will no longer be blurred.  In terms of consent, Connecticut should abide by the affirmative “yes means yes,” instead of the ambiguous “no means no.”

Internships and Extracurriculars and Post-Graduation, Oh My!

(From The Campus Lantern – February 19, 2015) 

College is all about partying till two in the morning, sleeping for a few hours, and then rolling out of bed for your nine o’clock class hung-over, right?  Wrong.  Well, kind of.  College is about learning how to manage your time between fun and academics.  Work hard, play hard.  It’s a motto that everyone should live by.

Another misconception about college is that everyone who gets a degree will get a job right out of college.  That’s wrong again.  The piece of paper that Eastern gives you at the end of your time here does not guarantee anything except for a crippling pile of student loans.  If a college degree isn’t the surefire way to success after college, then what is?  Extracurricular activities and internships!

You can skip every class and fail every exam or you can attend every class and ace every exam.  Obviously, whether you have a GPA of 1.0 or a 4.0 is important to a certain extent, but what employers are looking for are real-life skills.  Written and verbal communication skills.  Multi-tasking skills.  Ability to work independently or as a team member.  Are these skills listed on your resume?  If they are, then you’re all set.  If they’re not, you should continue reading.

Maybe you know that it takes more than a degree to get a job after college but it’s all just so overwhelming and you don’t know where to start.  Well, I’ll tell you.  You have to pinpoint an interest you have.  Do you like hiking?  Join the Eastern Outdoors Club.  Are you really into feminism?  Join the National Organization for Women.  Do you want to be a teacher?  Join the Education Club.  The extracurricular activities you are a part of don’t have to necessarily be oriented to the profession you’re going to pursue after graduation.  What’s important is what you do in the activities.

Say you’re an avid knitter.  Perfect!  Join the new knitting club at Eastern, the Knit Wits.  Other than giving yourself some de-stressing time that isn’t academic-oriented, being a part of a club provides you with future leadership opportunities.  You start off as a member of the club.  You attend most meetings and some events.  All is well.  The year after, you attend every meeting and you’re feeling really interested in working to make the club the best it can be.  So, the next semester you decide to run for an e-board position.  Bam!  Now you’re secretary.  The year after, maybe you’re president.  Really, it’s that easy.  If you’re passionate about the club, it’s easy to move up and gain more skills as an e-board member.

Marketable skills that club e-board members gain, such as event planning and interpersonal communication skills, are important when trying to land a job after graduation.  However, if you can say that you’ve interned for a company in college, that’s really the icing on top of the cake.  I’d say to aim for an internship that is going to offer you some experience more than simply filing papers and answering phone calls.  Your internship should be more career-oriented than your club extracurriculars.  If you’re interested in working for a bank after graduation, it might not make sense to intern with an animal shelter.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure you can gain useful skills in any internship, but it’s probably best to try and break into the field you’re interested in working in after college.  Finally, a paid internship is ideal because you can start paying off that crippling debt I mentioned earlier.

Rachael Skinner, Peer Counselor for the Center for Internships and Career Development here at Eastern agrees, “I don’t think many students realize that Eastern’s goal as a liberal arts school is to immerse its students in real life situations through experiential learning; and we have all the opportunities and resources waiting for the students to take advantage of.

I know not everyone has the time or ability to take on much more than five college classes and 300 hours of homework each week, but if you do, I urge you to do the most that you can here at Eastern.  Go beyond what is required and push out of your comfort zone!  Go ahead and build that resume!

To take a look at the different clubs we’ve got here at Eastern, click here: http://bit.ly/17jAnBD.  To set up an appointment with the Center for Internships and Career Development, call (860) 465-4559, email careers@easternct.edu, or stop by Wood Support Services, 2nd Floor.  You won’t regret it!

Writer’s Note: I don’t actually guarantee that you’ll get a job out of college even if you do join every club and take part in nine internships – but the extra experience can’t hurt, can it?!

Get Covered 2K15

(From The Campus Lantern – February 5, 2015) 

Young folks often see themselves as invincible.  When thinking of health insurance, our minds often drift toward older people.  Young people don’t need health insurance, right?  Wrong.  The fact of the matter is that people of every age can get sick or injured, and healthcare is expensive for anyone who doesn’t have insurance.  According to the Commonwealth Fund, nearly one in five young adults doesn’t have health insurance – we need to change this reality and make sure everyone gets covered.

Open Enrollment, which is from November 15, 2014 through February 12, 2015 this year, is the period of time in which folks are able to sign up for health insurance or change their current plans.  If someone misses Open Enrollment, they may end up being charged a penalty for not having health insurance – or worse, they may have to wait until next year to sign up.  Health Insurance Marketplaces are places in which folks go to find information about health insurance, as well as to compare and buy plans.  The marketplaces can be accessed online at Healthcare.gov, in person at a location near you, or over the phone.  Connecticut’s online marketplace can be found at accesshealthCT.com.

Options for health insurance coverage depend on several factors, such as your age, state, and income level.  One option that is convenient for many young folks is to stay on your parent’s plan until you are 26 years of age.  Another option is Medicaid coverage, depending on what your income level is and what state you reside in – former foster youth are granted Medicaid coverage until they are 26 years old.  Some employers provide health insurance to their employees, and Eastern and other universities provide health insurance for students as well.  Finally, you can purchase your own insurance plan at Healthcare.gov.

One of the negative aspects of health insurance is how costly it can be.  Thankfully, folks who don’t think they can afford coverage can fill out applications on their state’s Health Insurance Marketplace website to find out if they are eligible for low-cost coverage.

January 29th was National Youth Enrollment Day, which is sponsored by Young Invincibles (YI).  YI is a national, non-partisan organization that aims to amplify the voices of young adults ages 18 to 34.  The organization seeks to expand economic opportunities for young folks by improving their health care access, college access, and job opportunities.  On National Youth Enrollment Day, events were hosted all across the country to help young people get the information they need to get covered.

There are still a few more days to sign up for health insurance before the February 12th deadline.  To learn more about the importance of health insurance for young adults, Young Invincibles’ “Healthy Young America Playbook” can be accessed online at this link: http://bit.ly/1t9EhAF.  All of the above information was compiled from the Playbook.

Campus Escort Service

(From The Campus Lantern – October 16, 2014) 

Last Thursday, my friend and I took a trip up to Hartford.  By the time we got back to campus it was about half-past midnight.  With the recent assaults that have been happening on campus in the past few weeks, we did not feel safe walking from the Shakespeare parking garage back to Laurel Hall.  That’s when I decided to call our campus’ escort service for the first time.

I called Campus Safety, explained the situation my friend and I were in, and hung up angrily.  The dispatcher informed me that the campus escort service does not usually run when the shuttles are running.  My friend and I had no choice but to walk back to Laurel in the middle of the night.  We did not see one shuttle bus the whole ten-minute walk back to our dorm.

The next day, I looked into what information there was about Public Safety’s escort service on Eastern’s website. The description states: “As part of the ECSU Police Department’s commitment to the safety of our community, an Escort Service is available. Police officers and the student patrol are available to escort individuals to and from any location on campus.”  The escort service is such an important safety tactic on campus, and it deserves a more descriptive statement.  Unless I called the department, I would not have known what hours the escort service runs.  In fact, the website makes it seem like the service is available to students at any time.

I spoke with a few students on campus and they were outraged about my experience.  Especially with the recent assaults, every student I talked to agreed that campus police needs to work on making the students feel safer on campus.  However, the students are not the only ones who are concerned.  I also spoke with officers who work in the Public Safety department, and they are aware of the issue.  They are working on hiring more people to work in the department, specifically in the escort service area.

Having gone through the scenario in which it felt like the university didn’t care about my safety, it was a relief to learn that Public Safety knows that the students are worried about the issue.  I look forward to seeing the improvements that are taking place to make Eastern Connecticut State University the safest campus that it can be.

Campus Action Corner

(From The Campus Lantern – March 27, 2014)

As I have stated in previous installments of “Campus Action Corner,” I am currently taking part in an internship called Campus Action through Planned Parenthood of Southern New England with another Eastern student, Deanna Jimenez. As interns, our jobs are to be voices for reproductive justice on Eastern’s campus. Reproductive justice mixes reproductive rights with social justice – we advocate for freedom in reproduction and reproductive health for every social class, gender, race, sexual orientation, age, religion, etc.

First off, I would like to plug an event that Campus Action is hosting along with the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the History Club. On Monday, March 31st, we will be holding a National Women’s History Month Panel from 1-3PM in the Johnson Room in the Smith Library. Panelists include Eastern Connecticut State University professors and a representative from Planned Parenthood. Topics being covered include the history of women and feminism, reproductive justice, and sexism. After the panel discussion, the audience will also have the opportunity to take part in a Q+A session with the panelists. There will also be lots of free Cafémantic food. It’s going to be an enlightening, enjoyable event and we hope to see you all there!

With the end of March in mind, there are a few dates in April to keep on your radar that pertain to reproductive justice. To start with, April is GYT (Get Yourself Tested) Month and STD Awareness Month. The GYT campaign is co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood and MTV, and aims to encourage young folks to push against the negative stigma of STD testing. According to GYT’s official website, http://www.itsyoursexlife.com/gyt, the campaign “is about knowing yourself, and knowing your status, while carving your own path in life.” Campus Action is going to be collaborating with the Black Student Union (BSU) to hold an event in which free STD-testing will be available for Eastern students. The tentative date for the event is Thursday, April 10th, so mark your calendars!

National Volunteer Week is April 6-12. According to Points of Light, an organization that is dedicated to volunteer service, the purpose of the week is to inspire, recognize and encourage people to seek out imaginative ways to engage in their communities. National Volunteer Week is “about demonstrating to the nation that by working together, we have the fortitude to meet our challenges and accomplish our goals.” There are many volunteer opportunities here at Eastern; be sure to contact the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) to volunteer at some point during this week!

World Health Day 2014 is on Monday, April 7th. According to the World Health Organization’s website, the theme of World Health Day this year is protection against vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue. Common vectors that transmit such diseases are mosquitoes, sandflies, and ticks. You can easily be protected against vector-borne diseases by “sleeping under a bed-net, wearing a long-sleeved shirt and trousers and using insect repellent” (http://www.who.int).

April 15-21 is National Minority Cancer Awareness Week. The week was established on April 8, 1987 by the U.S. House of Representatives Joint Resolution 119. It was explained in the Congressional Record that “[w]hile cancer affects men and women of every age, race, ethnic background, and economic class, the disease has a disproportionately severe impact on minorities and the economically disadvantaged.” The goal of National Minority Cancer Awareness Week is to increase awareness of prevention and treatment among populations that are at greater risk of developing cancer (www.socialworkers.org).

April is also National Minority Health Month. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health (OMH), during the month of April, awareness will be raised “about the health disparities that continue to affect racial and ethnic minorities.” The 2014 theme of National Minority Health Month is “Prevention is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity.” This theme “is a call to action, a charge for all of us to unite towards a common goal of improving the health of our communities” (www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov).

In addition, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the purpose of the campaign is to “raise awareness about sexual violence and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent it.” During April, SAAM encourages young folks to use their unique voice to discuss how everyone can impact our future and prevent sexual violence. To learn more about SAAM, their official blog can be found at http://www.nsvrc.org/blogs/saam. For a campus reference, Starsheemar Byrum of Eastern Connecticut State University’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) can be contacted at any time at her email, byrums@easternct.edu, to talk about sexual violence and abuse.

Deanna and I will be on campus this year putting on different events centered on reproductive justice. For each event, we are going to be collaborating with a student club on campus, the National Organization for Women (NOW). NOW meetings are Mondays at 6PM in the Student Center in room 107. We’re excited to work together with everyone on campus for the remainder of the semester, and we look forward to hopefully seeing you at NOW meetings and Campus Action events! Feel free to email us at ecsucampusaction@gmail.com for more information.

Active Shooter Drills

(From The Campus Lantern – February 27, 2014) 

Earlier this week, my dorm hosted an educational program in which residents were taught how to act in active shooter situations.  The program was very informational and useful for those who attended.  However, it was not mandatory, but a priority point program, so only about thirty or forty students attended from the dorm.  It was mentioned that over breaks when there are no students on campus, the campus police department has drills in which they work together with the state police and others to act out active shooter situations so they would know how to react if it happened on campus.  An important question that was raised was why Eastern does not have active shooter drills for the students, similar to how we undergo fire drills.

One reason why we may not be able to undergo active shooter drills is because the university does not want to interrupt classes.  A seemingly simple solution to this would be to do it on the weekends or on a Monday or Friday when we have a holiday.  However, on those days, there are fewer students on campus, so it would not be wholly beneficial to practice it then.  Also, it was mentioned during the program that it would be difficult to construct an active shooter drill because it is a day-long practice that involves not only the campus police, but Willimantic and state police also.  A solution to this would be to set aside a certain day for the drill, and explain to students what is happening.  If students can expect the drill, it may not fully prepare them for an actual situation; but going through the safety procedures would be helpful, regardless.  Our lives are priceless; there are no understandable excuses as to why students should not undergo an active shooter drill.