Final Project Proposal: Exploring Relationships in Climate Change

My final project will explore climate change and how it affects different demographics, groups and individuals. This is a particularly timely issue at local, national and international levels. Environmental action group DivestNU’s recent campout demonstration in protest of Northeastern University’s investments in organizations from the fossil fuel industry was highly covered by student journalists, and brought campus visibility to the issue. The protest of the North Dakota pipeline at Standing Rock has mobilized everyday activists in the fight against manmade climate change. The international Paris Agreement went into effect this month as the first international coalition working towards research and combat of climate change.

Beyond the traditional associations made with climate change and environmental issues, there are connections that are sometimes overlooked or not widely explored. My text story is going to dive into some of these relationships, including those that the Northeastern Art Collaborative, the Latin American Students Organization, the Islamic Students Society and Northeastern Partners in Healthcare have with DivestNU. I have reached out to members of Eboard from all four of these student organizations, and I plan to interview them to get a better sense of how climate change affects them and their organization, and why they chose to be members of Divest’s 30-club coalition.

For my video, I am planning to cover the Standing Rock protest of the North Dakota pipeline. I have reached out to Rev. Noah Evans, of Medford Grace Church, who has been in North Dakota directly participating in the demonstration. The Boston Globe has profiled Rev. Evans, and his direct insight into the movement’s ground efforts will be valuable. I will also attend the Boston Stands with Standing Rock march from Boston Common to the Charles River on Nov. 9. I will film highlights from the demonstration and record interviews with organizers and those participating in the march.

My photo story will consist of man-on-the-street interviews with students, professors and university staff. I will ask a random sampling of individuals I encounter on campus about whether or not they feel that climate change affects their lives, and how. This will show whether everyday citizens are actually in-tuned to environmental issues or personally feel their affects.

I am also considering centering my photo story on the intersection of art and the environment. This sub-story would lend itself well to visuals and it is a fairly untraditional topic when it comes to the climate change discussion. This will depend first on my interview with Mackenzie Coleman, president of the Northeastern Art Collaborative, which is scheduled for this Wednesday, Nov. 9. I am hoping she will be able to point me in the direction of local artists or art galleries that feature environmental art or artwork created with sustainable materials.


A Quick Reflection on UC Berkeley’s Fraternity Party Consent Talks

Photo (cc) Laura Bittner

The University of California Berkeley has lifted its ban on parties on the condition that there now be sobriety moniters and consent talks at the doors of parties, according to an article by the Associated Press. The parties had previously been suspended after the University’s Greek system enforced a voluntary ban in response to incidents in which two students reported being assaulted at fraternity parties.

However, an article by Campus Reform appeared to be a bit skeptical of these new party provisions. According to the site, party-goers may enter the UC Berkeley fraternity houses on the conditions that they, ” … endure a two-minute ‘consent talk’ before being admitted to any Greek life party, during which they can expect to be surveilled by at least three ‘sober monitors’ responsible for ensuring decorum.” It is important to note that there is a difference between educating college students on the importance of consent as a basic human right and forcing them to “endure” a conversation about consent, as Campus Reform reports.

Meghan Warner, a recent Berkeley graduate and former co-chair of the Greeks Against Sexual Assault student organization told Campus Reform that while the new rules were a “step in the right direction,” she didn’t foresee real change. “These changes sound like they’re going to make a difference, but I don’t really have faith that they’re actually going to enact them,” she said.

We’ll see in the coming weeks if these provisions will be effective or even strictly implemented. But the fact that the school appears to have recognized that the issue of campus assault will not disappear with after-the-fact bans, rather through preventative measures.

Students Reflect on the 2016 Presidential Candidates

In less than two weeks, Americans will have selected their next president. Experts have called this election many things, from “the most significant election of our lifetime,” to “the least significant election of our lifetime,”to a”low point in American politics.”

The majority of Americans have lived through and voted in several elections, but for many college-age students, this is the first time they will be casting their votes for a presidential candidate. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have seen their shares of controversy–just this afternoon the FBI announced it was expanding its investigation of Clinton’s emails, a scandal that has plagued her campaign.

So, how will the inflammatory, controversial and unconventional nature of rhetoric and conduct from both sides of this election affect how first-time voters see politics, or view the impact of their vote?

To explore this question, I interviewed four students from Northeastern University. Find out what they shared below:

How College-Age Women Will Be Affected By This Presidential Election

Photo (cc) Michael Bentley

The close of one of the most controversial and unconventional presidential elections is approaching fast–on Nov. 8 Americans will cast their vote for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or a third party candidate like Gary Johnson or Jill Stein.

This week, I stumbled upon an article by Feminist Campus  written this summer that laid out an interesting perspective on the election: effects that its outcome could have on young college-age women.

One of the most controversial areas that has the potential to change for women is in healthcare access and costs. Donald Trump has repeatedly vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as “Obamacare.” However, under President Obama’s reform, healthcare has become more accessible and affordable to women than ever before.

“Until Obamacare was enacted in 2010, being a woman was a pre-existing condition. Women were paying up to 48% more for health insurance than men, for reasons like having a C-section, being a victim of domestic violence, or just by virtue of being able to get pregnant and have a child,” according to Feminist Campus.

July 2015 article by Mother Jones reported that women have saved nearly $1.4 billion on birth control due to provisions in the Affordable Care Act. Much of the access to birth control and reproductive health facilities that young women rely on are provided at a low or no cost through Planned Parenthood. However, Trump specifically called for defunding of Planned Parenthood in a 2016 letter in which he outlined his plan for health care reform. Perhaps most extreme was Trump’s commitment to appoint a conservative Supreme Court justice who will help to overturn Roe v. Wade, a 1971 Supreme Court decision that allowed for universal access to abortions.

Part of the issue with Trump’s stance on healthcare may stem from his fundamental misunderstanding what Obamacare actually is and what it provides.

According to Fortune, Trump made statements during an Oct. 2016 appearance on Fox News claiming that his company doesn’t “use” Obamacare. “Well I don’t use much Obamacare, I must be honest with you, because it is so bad for the people and they can’t afford it,” he said.

The issue with this is that Obamacare does not currently allow for employers to buy Obamacare plans for employees, indicating that perhaps the Republican nominee does not have a firm grasp on the current healthcare system.


The “yoga pants guy” Points to a Bigger Issue

The Boston Globe recently published an op-ed defending the man who has gained the nickname “the yoga pants guy” seemingly overnight, after his letter to the editor of The Barrington Times went viral. Alan Sorrentino, 63, submitted a letter to the R.I. newspaper in which he claimed that yoga pants, popular among all ages for their affordability and comfortable fit, should not be worn by a “woman over 20 years old.”

Photo via WPRI

Sorrentino defended his letter as a joke, which he meant for the public to take lightly. However, many saw it as an offensive and Trump-like objectification and commentary on women’s appearances.  In response, community members organized a Yoga Pants Parade, which marched by Sorrentino’s door on Oct. 23 to demonstrate community members wearing yoga pants with pride. “This is NOT a hateful protest against Alan. This a wonderful group of people celebrating our bodies and our right to cover them however we see fit. And while yoga pants seem to be a silly thing to fight for, they are representative of something much bigger – Misogyny and the history of men policing womens bodies,” the event’s Facebook page read .

The Globe’s op-ed defended Sorrentino’s right to pen the letter, though it did criticize his message.

It is important to note that Sorrentino is a liberal Democrat who maintains that his letter was not meant to be taken so seriously or to trigger national news coverage. Regardless, his words speak to a larger problem.

Shaming women for their physical appearances is an issue that has received widespread press coverage as of late, and especially since the controversies that have arisen since the respective Trump/Clinton campaigns took off. British newspaper the Telegraph even has a “Donald Trump Sexism Tracker,” which lists and ranks every offensive comment Trump has made since running for the presidency.

Regardless of Sorrentino’s intentions, his words remain intact in this cyber world and point to a larger issue that affects women of all ages, including those at the college level (almost half of Northeastern’s female population is older that Sorrentino’s 20-year-old standards).

At a time when heightened attention has been paid to exposing and condemning objectification of women, Sorrentino’s attempt at humor seems misguided.

College Domestic Abuse Issues Matter

Photo by Christie Macomber

October is national Domestic Abuse Awareness Month. Domestic abuse in college relationships has an often-unspoken presence. Every year, thousands of sexual assaults and instances of violence go unreported on college campuses. Statistically, college-age girls are the ones who should be talking about this issue the most, according to Feminist Campus, “young women between the ages 16-24 experience the highest rate of partner violence and it’s almost triple the national average.”

So, why is there such a lack of visible resources and outlets available at many universities? Dana Bolger, co-founder of activist group Know Your IX, believes it is because colleges don’t know enough about the issue or a plan of remedy. “Schools are totally lost on how to respond to violence when it occurs in the context of a dating relationship,” she said in an interview with Buzzfeed.

A major issue with how colleges handle issues of sexual assault and domestic violence is in how they administer (or choose not to administer) punishments. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz explained to Buzzfeed that by relying on university conduct policies instead of reporting the abuses to actual courts, there is an ignorance of true justice for victims, “Universities have proved beyond any doubt their incapacity and ineptitude in dealing with nuanced, fact-based accusations.”

Know your rights:

Title IX: Title IX requires universities to combat gender-based violence and harassment, and ensure victims’ needs are met. It also compels universities to ensure equal educational rights to all students.

The Clercy Act: According to Know Your IX, as of Oct. 1, 2014, universities are required to make the following statistics public: reports of dating violence, domestic violence and stalking.

If you are a victim of sexual or domestic assault and your school has not responded to your needs, you can file a Title IX complaint against your university’s policies with the U.S. Department of Education. 


Campus Reform: A Website to Watch

Campus Reform, a website generated by the Leadership Institute, is dedicated to presenting information on “bias and abuse on the nation’s college campuses.” The website regularly posts articles, often written by young journalists and typically in collaboration with students currently enrolled at a university.

The website generated over 1.6 million views in September, with each reader spending an average of 49 seconds on the site.

Screengrab from SimilarWeb
Screengrab from SimilarWeb

There are a few display ads, but the chief goal of Campus Reform is not to make money through advertisements. The Leadership Institute is a non-profit that relies largely on donations.

Campus Reform is a useful source of campus news because it is often the first to report issues related to college campuses and administration that may otherwise be overlooked by the mainstream media. The website posts detailed accounts of controversies and updates related to issues relevant to college students, including debates over safety spaces, student censorship and social justice. Their posts often present me with ideas and issues to research further, although I rarely explore these issues from the same angle that Campus Reform typically presents.

A major reason I find Campus Reform to be a helpful source is that it presents stories from a conservative angle, and one that I generally tend to disagree with. It can be easy to seek out news sources that only conform to your ideas and perspectives. Campus Reform provides me with an angle that I can disagree with, and I believe that this difference of opinion has value. I find that the website’s posts often inspire me to write more than posts from a more liberal site that aligns with my thinking might. This is because when I see a statement that I disagree with, it pushes me to research farther, get to the root of where their opinion comes from and to develop my own angle.

In terms of engagement, Campus Reform allows readers to comment through a Facebook comments plugin. The website also allows for readers to easily share the content on Facebook or Twitter, as indicated by the clickable icons under each article. Although this engagement is accessible, it is not used as frequently as it could be–many articles have zero comments, despite the site’s 1.6 million monthly views.

Campus Costumes Gone Too Far

Image from Birgerking, Creative Commons

This week, the University of Massachusetts Amherst made headlines when guidelines for this year’s campus Halloween costumes popped up in residence halls. The university’s “Simple Costume Racism Evaluation and Assessment Meter” (SCREAM) was first reported by Campus Reform, and is designed as a way for students to assess whether or not their Halloween costume may be considered offensive. Among those categories of costumes considered to pose the highest level of threat are costumes centered on “controversial current events or historically accepted cliches,”especially if those events or ideas, “relate to a person or people not of your race,” according to an article by Campus Reform.

In a comment issued to NewBostonPost, university spokesman Ed Blaguszewski explained that UMass’s SCREAM is not intended to ban costumes, merely to educate students on their potential implications:

As part of the university’s continuing efforts to foster an inclusive and supportive living environment for all students, resident assistants at UMass Amherst this month created bulletin boards communicating those values and explaining how some Halloween costumes may be offensive to others. The guidelines used to create the bulletin boards are intended to educate students about cultural appropriation and help them make informed choices about costumes. UMass Amherst does not prohibit or ban any costumes.

Though some have criticized or mocked UMass’s new costume suggestions, cultural appropriation and marginalization are serious issues, especially around Halloween time. “Unfortunately, sometimes the “fun” comes at the expense of others, and the scariest thing is how rampant racism is on Halloween,” columnist Kat Lazo wrote in a blog post on Everyday Feminism. “…your costume can still perpetuate harmful stereotypes and stigmas, which then welcomes more aggressive racist attitudes.”

Feeling stressed? The answer might be fresh air.

Midterms week getting the best of you? According to the 2015 American College Health a association report, 85 percent of college students said they had experienced feelings of being overwhelmed by course loads within the last year. However, the answer to boosting your energy and productivity may not be the old coffee standby–it might be as simple as fresh air.

Going outside everyday can boost energy levels by as much as 90 percent, according to the Journal of Environmental Psychology. It’s 2010 study of the effects of nature in physical and emotional response found that spending some time in nature each day is, “linked to specific configuration of brain activation and positive stress response mechanisms.”

According to an article by the Huffington Post, a Kyoto University study actually revealed a correlation between the scent of pine trees and decreased feeling of anxiety and depression in test subjects.

This is especially important for student on urban campuses to keep in mind, as high concentrations of air pollution can take a physical toll. 

This week, I tested out this “fresh air theory” and took a walk in beautiful Boston. Check out some of my fall finds in the gallery above.

DivestNU Takes Centennial

At 8 a.m. on Oct. 3, they went to work. Adorned in bandanas, homemade t-shirts and square pendants—all orange, the color adopted by the fossil fuel divestment movement—students from DivestNU set up their campground on Centennial Common. According to members, they will not leave until the university agrees to engage in a meaningful dialogue about divesting from the fossil fuel industry.

DivestNU is a coalition of more than 20 campus groups, all advocating for university divestment from the fossil fuel industry. According to group members, this public and long-term demonstration is all about visibility and sending a message to the administration. “What we really want right now is some acknowledgement of the student voice,” said Nick Boyd, a third-year electrical engineering major. On the second day of the campout, administrators told students that a representative would meet with them at noon to talk about the group’s demands. No representative came. According to Boyd, they have not directly heard from the university since.

Divest co-director Austin Williams said the demonstration comes in response to what the group believes is a dismissal of student voice on this issue. In a March 2014 referendum, divestment from fossil fuels won 75 percent of the student vote. Two years later, the university’s Social Impact Council issued a recommendation of divestment from the fossil fuel industry. In response, Northeastern administrators announced last July that, rather than divesting from the fossil fuel industry, they will be investing $25 million elsewhere, “with a focus on sustainability, including clean energy, renewables, green building, and sustainable water and agriculture”—although it is unclear at this time where exactly these investments will be going.

The DivestNU fight continues. Their demonstration is going on its eighth consecutive day, and DivestNU members maintain they will not leave the quad until the university responds to them, or until they are forced to leave by the Northeastern University Police Department. Check out some of the faces of the movement in the photo gallery above.