Rally sought to empower women

CollegiateTimes.com

Last night, Womanspace, an organization dedicated to women empowerment, hosted the 24th annual Take Back the Night rally in the Wesley Foundation, with a Imagecandlelight march through campus and downtown Blacksburg.

According to Susan Anderson, senior instructor of mathematics and faculty advisor for Womanspace, the rally helps to raise awareness of violence against women.

“(It helps) people understand that violence occurs in every community, including our own,” Anderson said.

Soulful music and invigorating drums amped up the energy just before the event, where multiple speakers shared their messages and victims told their stories, all as part of the experience that inspires those in attendance.

The rally featured speakers from organizations including the Woman’s Center at Virginia Tech, Cook Counseling Center, Montgomery County NOW, Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley, and others.

“You hear survivors and (see) how it hasn’t defined them, that they are resilient and they want to take back the night,” said Alyssa Seidorf, junior management major, president of Womanspace and coordinator of the event.

However, the march following the rally serves an entirely different purpose.

“We believe that all the participants marching together, chanting the same chants will help create a sense of community and solidarity among the participants and energize them and empower them,” said Anderson. “We hope that when we come back to the rally site, all that energy can be used to make a commitment to help create change.”

During the march, what empowers people is their ability to show anger about these issues.

“Being able to be loud in a public place; we can go out on the street and express (emotions) and know that we’re in a safe place to do that, that we’re surrounded by people that champion the effort to end violence,” Seidorf said.

This year, high school freshman, Claire Raimist, founder of a chapter of Help Save the Next Girl at Walkersville High School in Frederick, Md., and other members of the club traveled five hours to march with the Virginia Tech chapter.

Raimist, who started the group in memory of her friend Annalee Marshall, former Hokie and member of Help Save the Next Girl, was pleasantly surprised at the turn out last night.

“Being here and talking to everyone, I just can’t believe how many people want to take action,” Raimist said.

Changes in the types of people that want to take action have been evident to Anderson over the years. Most notably, Womanspace wants to see an increase in male participation.

“If everybody isn’t trying to make positive change, change is incredibly slow,” Anderson said. “You really need both men and women working to create change together.”

Steven Lyle, a junior chemistry major who attended the event, has a relative who has endured violence and agrees that men should play a role.

“Women’s violence affects everyone, and that’s men included,” Lyle said. “Everyone needs to be aware of it and everyone should care about it.”

Seidorf has noticed the value of male presence in her experience with the event.

“As women, we need to band together and stand up for ourselves and take back the night, but we welcome all people, including men, to help us in that,” Seidorf said. “It’s a collective effort to end violence and men are 100 percent involved with that.”

One of the male speakers at the event, representing the White Ribbon Campaign, which encourages men to help stop violence against women, was senior psychology major and member of Womanspace Thomas Friss. He joined the cause as a sophomore after seeing the Womanspace slogan, “Support without Shame.”

“I always thought the victim blaming and slut shaming… was very wrong — something seemed off,” Friss said. “(I’m) just trying to do something, even if it’s just yelling the exact same message other people have been yelling for so long.”

Anderson urges newcomers and people of all ages, both male and female, to participate.

“I would encourage everyone to come out to the event,” Anderson said. “No matter how much you know about violence in our community, you’ll always learn something new.”

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New Virginia law allows for restrictive membership

The story you’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived!

To read about the struggle, click here.

CollegiateTimes.com

Photo Illustration by BradA new Virginia law on student organizations at public colleges is rousing feedback from critics and causing student groups at Virginia Tech to take public action.

The law, passed last week, would give student organizations the ability to base membership decisions off of whether a person’s religious or political beliefs align with those of the organization.

The law states that religious or political based student groups can decide that “only people committed to the organization’s mission” are allowed to join or run for leadership positions. Public universities are prohibited from “discriminating against a student organization that makes such a determination” about its core functions.

Some, though, are questioning the motives of those supporting the bill, and are concerned about the effects it will have on the LGBT community and religious groups especially.

“I think it’s a well-crafted way to allow student organizations to discriminate,” said Caroline Sapyta, junior environmental resource management major and president of the LGBTA.

Michael Sutphin, member of the Blacksburg Town Council, board member at Equality Virginia and Virginia Tech alumnus, agreed.

“On its surface, the bill is written to make it sound like it is protecting freedom of speech or freedom of association,” Sutphin said. “Really, it’s a way for student groups to circumvent campus anti-discrimination policies.”

The bill passed in the Senate 22-18 and in the House 73-27 in February. The votes fell mostly along party lines in the Senate, with four Democrats voting in favor of the bill, and Gov. Bob McDonnell signed the legislation into law last week.

However, not all students see the bill as a means of discrimination, but rather a way to ensure groups on campus are not threatened by lack of funding for being selective about membership.

Harrison Bergeron, sophomore biology major and vice president of the Libertarians at Virginia Tech, thinks that the bill can impact the LGBT community positively.

“A club (could) decide that they don’t want someone in their meetings, who for 90 minutes would say ‘whatever you’re doing is completely immoral’,” Bergeron said. “I would see it as a very positive thing, specifically for the gay community.”

Students react

The legislation has caused some student groups at Virginia Tech to take action.

Nick Onopa, senior public and urban affairs major and undergraduate representative to the Board of Visitors, helped draft a letter to be sent to McDonnell on behalf of BOV representatives asking him to veto the bill.

According to Onopa, the gist of the letter was that Tech, as an undergraduate study body, would not support the law because of the values of community and mission of the university to provide service to all, not just some.

According to Bergeron, the Libertarians at Virginia Tech planned to send a letter to the Commission on Student Affairs, whose members helped draft the letter to the governor, “to remind them they don’t speak on behalf of us.” They also planned to send a letter to the governor expressing their support of the law.

The Student Budget Board is also currently working on changing its bylaws to avoid funding groups who adopt discriminatory membership policies.

“We will not allocate funds to organizations that discriminate,” Onopa said.

All-Comers Policies and Hastings

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case Hastings Christian Fellowship v. Martinez. At the University of California at Hastings’ law school, a religious club required all members to subscribe to a statement of beliefs. The school then denied the organization recognition as a school club because of it.

The question in the case was whether or not public universities can use all-comers policies, or policies that require groups to accept all comers regardless of their beliefs, to deny official status and funding to groups.

With a 5-4 vote, the Court supported the all-comers policies, and the ability of a public institution to cut funding to, and even expel an organization, if the policy is not upheld.

This is exactly what Virginia’s new law intends to avoid.

According to Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-26th) who proposed the bill, it was meant to protect freedoms of assembly and association in student organizations in response to Hastings and to clarify Virginia’s position on all-comers policies at public universities.

“I think (groups who don’t like the law) are seeing demons where they don’t exist,” Obenshain said. “It doesn’t do what some of these groups that are criticizing it seem to think that it does. I hope they will be reassured.”

This law is not the first legislation of its kind. Ohio adopted a similar law last year banning “all-comers” policies.

All-comers policies became a problem at Vanderbilt University last year, when fifteen Christian groups lost their funding and access to facilities after refusing to confirm the new policy.

“It protects the freedom of association that is inherent in the first amendment … which, presumably, is a value worth preserving,” Obenshain said.

Obenshain assures the law has a neutral viewpoint, protecting the rights of every group equally, and is also not meant to undermine current protections in place by state and federal law.

“This (law) protects the LGBT groups just like it does some group with conflicting values,” Obenshain said. “I would think they’d want to limit membership and leadership to people who want to protect the LGBT values and protect the rights of the LGBT community,” Obenshain said.

The rights of groups: to exclude or to not exclude?

There are those who support and oppose the exclusivity of student organizations. Obenshain, however, thinks students should be able to meet exclusively.

“I believe that student groups … ought to be free to organize on the basis of shared beliefs,” Obenshain said. “I think that’s an important part of college experience and college life and academic and personal freedom.”

Sutphin, though, points to a different part of the college experience.

“(You) are supposed to be able to interact with people with different beliefs than you,” Sutphin said. “Clubs are exactly the kind of place where … it would be good to engage in those kinds of dialogues about religion, politics, sexuality and those sorts of issues.”

Bergeron, however, believes groups should have the right to restrict membership to students who agree with their mission.

“The point of having a club isn’t to have everybody and their mothers in it,” Bergeron said. “It’s designed for a specific group of people who believe a certain thing … and you have a right to assemble in the way that you wish to.”

The law will go into effect on July 1, 2013.

First annual ePortfolio showcase to be held in April

CollegiateTimes.com

The office of ePortfolio Initiatives is accepting submissions until March 29 for its first annual ePortfolio showcase to be held on April 25.

The showcase will be held in the Innovation Space classroom in Torgersen 1120 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and will feature 10 student-created electronic portfolios.

“The idea was to put in front of undergraduate students and interested faculty, examples of good, completed student ePortfolios,” said Mark Zaldivar, director of ePortfolio Initiatives at Virginia Tech.

Spectators can come and go at any time to listen and talk to students who have created portfolios.

Students chosen to present will receive $150 to talk about the work that they’ve done and how they’ve created their portfolios.

According to Teggin Summers, assistant director of ePortfolio Initiatives, development of a personal ePortfolio can be beneficial in more ways than one. A good ePortfolio can showcase a variety of different things, including reflectings on past lessons, goals a student has accomplished, and the future aspirations.

Zaldivar estimates that approximately 8,000 undergraduates are currently doing work with electronic portfolios in every college of the university.

English majors are required to take ENGL 2614, where they create an ePortfolio using different platforms, including Scholar, WordPress and Weebly.

Students currently doing work with ePortfolios are seeing the benefits.

“The biggest thing I’ve taken from ePortfolios is the reflection opportunity, but it also has really helped me in being able to showcase myself professionally,” said Emily DeNoon, junior English major and undergraduate intern for the office of ePortfolio Initiatives.

Not all students share the same view as DeNoon on the usefulness of ePortfolios.

“Honestly, I thought it was a waste of time,” said Beth Cameron, junior English major, who hasn’t touched her ePortfolio since taking the class.

Architecture students are also required to archive designs in Scholar, which has presented some problems.

The trouble is in the uploading procedure and formatting, according to Kathryn Albright, foundation program chair for the school of architecture and design.

However, the ePortfolio Initiative has been working with them on those issues.

“(They have) been very eager to work with us to make these changes… and we’re making progress,” Albright said.

Despite these problems, Tech has become a national leader in ePortfolio development and research. The ePortfolio Initiatives office won the Teaching with Sakai Innovation Award in 2012.

Zaldivar and Summers hope the ePortfolio showcase will encourage more students to consider creating an electronic portfolio.

“A lot of what we do is make learning visible,” Zaldivar said, “so, I’d say that’s definitely one of our highest goals here: to make learning as visible as possible at Virginia Tech.”

Guest Post: “I Am Not Your Wife, Sister or Daughter. I Am A Person.”

Everyone, both men and women, needs to read this. It might be excessively rant-y, but that’s the part that makes it worth reading; she’s passionate AND she knows what she’s talking about. You go, girl.

The Belle Jar

I don’t have to tell you that Steubenville is all over the news.

I don’t have to tell you that it’s a fucking joke that Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, the two teenagers convicted of raping a sixteen year old girl, were only sentenced to a combined three years in juvenile prison. Each will serve a year for the rape itself; Mays will serve an additional year for “illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.”

I probably don’t even have to tell you that the media treatment of this trial has been a perfect, if utterly sickening, example of rape culture, with its focus on how difficult and painful this event has been for the rapists who raped a sixteen year old girl then bragged about it on social media.

And I almost certainly don’t have to tell you that the world is full of seemingly nice, normal…

View original post 882 more words

What I get for wanting to try something new

I have been working on a story for the Collegiate Times for the past month and it’s proving to be the most challenging story I’ve ever attempted to write.

I’m definitely not complaining; I did it to myself. Originally, my editor wanted to assign it to someone else, because one of the groups discussing the issue is the Residence Hall Federation (RHF) of which I can be considered a member due to my involvement in Hall Council in my residence hall. I really wanted the story so I hit the ground running, getting contacts and information, setting up appointments to talk to people until she agreed to give me the story assignment and wow, did I dig myself a hole.

The story is about some recent legislation that passed in the VA State Senate regarding the ability of college organizations at public universities to make membership decisions based on whether a person’s political and/or religious beliefs align with those of the organization. The legislation is SB 1074, if you’d like to read more about it. It’s currently sitting on the Governor’s desk waiting to be signed into law, but some students at Virginia Tech are feeling uneasy about this seemingly discriminatory bill, some feel negatively enough to take action against it. The real kicker is that the senator sponsoring the bill is Mark Obenshain, a Virginia Tech alumnus, married to Suzanne Obenshain, another Virginia Tech alumnus and member of the Board of Visitors.

The conflict, the relevance, the significance- all the makings of a great story were right in front of me and I wanted it for myself. It’s one of the only times I’ve ever actually fought for something I wanted and it was so gratifying when my editor let me have it. I’d never written anything political, but I was so excited to try. However, more and more I’m finding that this story is too good to be true; more and more I’m finding that the story an angel dropped into my hands, is really a story from Hell.

It’s been a nightmare trying to contact the Senator, but it’s not hard to figure out why a person would prefer not to talk about it, to a reporter of all people. It’s a sensitive subject, considering the bill is being widely criticized as a step toward making discrimination legal, in particular, discrimination against the LGBT community by religious organizations. This bill would make legal the denial of membership to a homosexual man from a Christian organization on the basis that his sexuality does not align with the core beliefs of the organization, i.e. Christianity. Still, if I were a senator sponsoring a bill, I would want people to know the reason behind it and maybe want to contradict some of the criticisms surrounding it and would jump at the chance to voice my opinion to a reporter, especially if I’m an alumnus of the school housing the newspaper. I guess that’s just me.

My editor wants a draft of this story on Friday with or without the input of the Senator. I really hope he decides to get back to me.

Update: The senator eventually called me and we had a great conversation. To read the finished story, click here.

Get back to where you once belonged

Monday, I was pleasantly surprised when my boyfriend’s younger sister asked me to be a guest speaker in her public speaking class. Not that I am so public-speaking inclined, it was mostly because my boyfriend told her “no.” No matter the reason, I was flattered and agreed without hesitation. So, tomorrow, well later today, I am going back to my high school, getting “back to where [I] once belonged,” as put by the Beatles, to speak. About what? I don’t know yet.

My whole life I’ve been labeled “talkative.” In elementary school, even some middle school, classes, I got in trouble for talking constantly. Many a report card I brought home with a “talks too much in class” in the teacher’s notes section. A family friend called me “blabbermouth,” a nickname which caught on and stuck in my immediate family. My communication skills are on-point to say the least. I have no problems talking to people, which is why I thought it would be no big deal to speak in front of a class of 20+ high school students for 45 minutes to an hour about anything I want. Upon further reflection, I’ve found that this is a bigger deal than I originally thought. Not many people have the chance to share what they’ve learned, their wisdom, with others, especially when those others have no choice but to listen. Not to say that I have wisdom worth sharing or that if I did it would be organized into anything nearly coherent. It wouldn’t and I don’t as of yet. My goal in my “speech” will be to make it relevant to majority of the students.

The extent of direction I was given on what to talk about tomorrow was to tell them about my “college experience.” What if half the kids in that class don’t plan to proceed with their educations after high school? What if they are unsure? If I’m going to talk to a group of people, I want what I’m saying to at least be somewhat relevant to them. Maybe it won’t exactly resonate with every single one of them, or maybe I’ll find that six students are sleeping the whole time, but I want to try to make my time there something the students will be able to listen to without following the hands around the face of the clock.

I’m definitely more worried about what kind of impact I make tomorrow more than the actual task of presenting in front of people. Although I may not dread speaking to a group of people, I’m not exempted from the usual fears of public speaking shared by most. I think I may just have a greater talent for harnessing that anxiety and guiding it into something of a more constructive nature. Anyway, I’m sure that I’m overestimating the importance of tomorrow’s “speech” and over-thinking things. Those kids are just tying to get through another day of high school and I’m coming back for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be heard by a group of kids who may or may not have their lives figured out. I have the power to influence them, but I don’t think I will. I don’t plan to campaign for a college education, or for Virginia Tech, or for working on a newspaper, or for majoring in finance or communications, but I am going to tell them about those things and hopefully, what I come up with tomorrow is useful to someone in that room.

18 Til I Die

Tomorrow is my 19th birthday and I find that every year, I become more and more reluctant to get older. I know that’s not really supposed to happen until I’m at least 30, but every year I find reasons to stay my current age.

It was a Wednesday morning when one of my closest friends passed away. I was only 14. I later found that the countdown to my 15th birthday was full of dread. It was so unfair to me that Josh would not live to see 15, but I would. My irrational anxieties about growing older were based in the guilt that I was allowed to experience 15 and 16 and 17 years on Earth, when Josh was only able to see 14 of them. Of course, being forced to cope with death at an early age, I had to have developed some irrationalities, but it also lead to my increased awareness of the fleeting nature of life and thus my greater appreciation for it.

From grief and guilt came the insistent foot-dragging only reminiscent of Peter Pan’s. I refused to see why 17, then 18, was necessary. I wondered why 16 wasn’t enough. The universe meant to tell me that I couldn’t possibly enjoy 16 for more than 365 days, certainly not forever, and I was livid. When I was trying so hard to make the best out of one year, in honor of my friend who would never live to see it, gravity or the space-time continuum, or what have you, was pushing me forward into uncharted territories, away from the age I had worked all year to make worth living. I was trying to live two lives.

The fatigue of living for two, my self-prescribed responsibility, is more than one can imagine so when the clock struck 18 I had to move on. I focused on myself; my goals, my collegiate future, my boyfriend, my family, the last shining bits of my childhood. I had found another reason to stay put. My childhood. Where had it gone, could it possibly be coming to an end so soon? Rooted into 18, I’ve dug my feet into what has possibly become the most eventful, for lack of a better word, year of my young life. If only the internet had space for me to explain this year, but I’m sure even this vast, unlimited information super-highway doesn’t have room for that. Then, just as I had become comfortable with 18, a horrible tragedy came without a moment to spare when my dad suddenly passed away. I, the girl with deep-seated fears of death, had to deal with what seemed at the time, and still today, the worst thing humanly imaginable. My best friend was gone. Though he lived 64 love-filled years, I had only lived 18, and a mere 18 years of memories for a father and daughter just doesn’t, and will probably never, feel long enough.

Now that 64 is a looming number in the distance, I have something else to fear about growing older, but I’m not going to let it stop me. In college, I am now, more than ever, aware of everything life has to offer, all of its opportunities and experiences. I want to do it all and not take one thing for granted. We never know how long we have, as neither Josh nor my dad did. I plan to make the most of every year, not living life for two, or even for three, but for one- me- so that they both may look down and see the satisfaction of a life well-lived and feel what I will feel as if they are still here in more than spirit. I plan to do a lot of learning and growing in my life, so I’ll give my hesitant roots a nudge toward some reasonable flexibility. This year I’m ready for 19, but I’m taking my 18-year-old mentality with me, tucked safely in a pocket.

As the daughter of my father, a man who never quite surpassed the maturity level of a 12-year-old, I know it’s possible. Growing old may be inevitable, but I’m always going to be daddy’s little girl; just the way he left me.