What is Feminism?

What is Feminism? from Carlos Cadorniga on Vimeo.

Feminism, as it is legitimately defined, is a movement towards equality for every person regardless of what gender they align with; men, women and everyone in between would be on—at the very least—similar standing were feminism to prevail on a relatively large social scale.

Feminism, as it is often interpreted, is an intensely radical movement that encourages people—namely women—to hate men unconditionally, put all women on a pedestal and reject all aspects of traditional femininity. A common argument against feminism are people accusing feminists of giving female criminals a pass on their crimes—however heinous—simply because they are women. An example of female feminists rejecting femininity would be burning one’s set of bras as an attack on what they consider to be “female normality.”

If feminism were supposed to advocate gender equality, it would seem rather ridiculous that anyone would be against it so vehemently. Where did this hate come from? Where does the fault for its misinterpretation lie? Perhaps the blame should go to feminism’s more radical activists.

They say “the loudest bird is the one that’s heard.” This could easily be applied to feminism. Unfortunately, the loudest voices of feminism tend to be the ones that perpetuate its negative connotations. It’s these kind of extreme radical feminists that create blogging sites like “ihatemen.org,” a website where users post various experiences that have led them to, or provide examples of, why they hate anyone with an XY chromosome in their coding.

It’s easy to see the impact of these loud and pervasive voices unknowingly making a bad case for such a good cause.

In response to fitness supplement distributor Protein World’s controversial ads featuring a bikini-clad model posing beside the words “Are You Beach Body Ready?”, local feminists defaced the ads with permanent marker scribbles over the model alongside the words “NOT OKAY.” In response to this protest, Brendan O’Neill of UK magazine “The Spectator” decried their efforts. In an online editorial, O’Neill equated these feminist protests to Islamism, comparing these acts to Muslims in Birmingham defacing H&M bikini model ads after being “offended by [their] flesh.” Whether or not O’Neill understood the meaning of the protests, it was clear that his current interpretation of feminism is not only deeply ingrained, but very far off from its actual meaning.

What the majority of people fail to realize is that feminism represents so much more than something that’s good for only women. Feminism means respecting the choices that a woman makes; whether she’s desperate for a man or never wants to have kids, no one would have a problem either way. Feminism means a man not having to be judged for liking “Project Runway” more than he likes playing football; his interests would be his own and just because he likes something doesn’t mean he’s one thing or another. Feminism means not having to be defined by your body image; with disregard for current standards of beauty, no one would have to feel bad for not falling in line with such “qualifications.” Just because “fem” is in the word doesn’t mean that only females can benefit from feminism. As a movement for equality, feminism is something for everyone. It’s certainly controversial, but it is not something to be feared. If more people knew what feminism were fighting for, I’m sure they’d be more open to embrace it.

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Texting and driving is not worth the risk

photo from http://www.distraction.gov

Distracted Driving-A National epidemic from Madison Marcus on Vimeo.

Incidences of texting and driving have risen significantly across the country in recent years, data shows. So significantly, some even call it an epidemic.

The  United States Department of Transportation launched a campaign back in 2009 with a mission to end distracted driving. Distraction.gov was created also in 2009 to supplement the DOT’s campaign.

“Distracted driving is a dangerous epidemic on America’s roadways,” Distraction.gov says on their homepage.  “In 2013, 3,154 were killed in distracted driving crashes.”

The website lists a number of things someone can do to distract themselves from driving a vehicle. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association counts text messaging while driving the worst distraction because texting draws in a driver’s manual, cognitive and visual attention.

screenshot by Maddy Marcus
screenshot by Maddy Marcus

According to a survey done by the NHTSA, 660,000 people use a cell phone at any given time while they’re behind the wheel. Virginia Tech Transportation Institute also conducted a study in 2013 on distracted driving and they found that looking down a cell phone doubles the risk of a car accident.

When looking further into the numbers, studies find that over 10 percent of drivers under the age of 20 who were involved in fatal crashes were reported to be driving distracted at the time of the accident. Distraction.gov’s main goal is to use facts about distracted driving paired with real-life stories from people involved in a distracted driving-related accident to raise awareness about the subject.

“We know that awareness is not a solution by itself,” Lori Millen, a marketing specialist at Distraction.gov, said.

screenshot by Maddy Marcus
screenshot by Maddy Marcus

Millen said she believes that texting and driving is more a selfish, behavioral thing. She said the NHTSA has been embedding more videos and messages into YouTube videos and other groups in order to target more younger people.

When brought down to a local perspective, Stony Brook University is taking some of the same steps the government is taking to thwart young drivers from using their cellphones while driving. The initiative the university has been taking is mainly headed by the campus police department.

The campus police have ticketed more drivers on campus so far this year than they have in the past two years. Assistant Chief of Police, Eric Olsen, said this is because officers have been deliberately trying harder to catch people using a cell phone while driving before they cause an accident on or around campus.

He said university police are trying to educate people away from the act and that the last option is enforcement. As of March 31 of this year, campus police have given out 12 summonses to distracted drivers. This time last year, only 7 summonses were given out.

Olsen said there have not been any deaths and few injuries caused by an act of distracted driving. The most severe accident occurred by Stony Brook Hospital when a pedestrian was struck by a vehicle and contracted a brain injury. In this case, the pedestrian was the one who was distracted and didn’t see the car at the cross walk.

“There are a higher percentage of people walking than driving,” Olsen said. “But driving is more dangerous.”

Along with raising awareness on distracted driving, campus police have also included distracted walking into the initiative as well. They have installed messages on the pavement to thwart walkers from walking and looking down at their phones. So far, there are two pavement messages on campus, one by the Life Sciences cross walk and one by Tabler Quad. Both signs send a short and sweet message to “LOOK!” before crossing the road.

There are also cell phone applications that campus police have been promoting to students. AT&T Drive Mode is one of the apps students can use to drive safer. The app automatically replies to any text messages that are sent to a cell phone user when they are driving and silences all phone notifications. The app even turns on as soon as a car is in motion.

Campus police are not alone in their efforts to combat distracted driving. Stony Brook’s Center for Community Engagement and Leadership offers a distracted driving curriculum to local high schools. The goal of the Center is to educate Long Island youth before they begin to drive so that the numbers of texting and driving incidents on the Island decrease.

The program is directed by Dr. Carlos Fidel who started teaching about distracted driving after some students suggested it to him. Within the center, Stony Brook doctors and professors put on a two-day lecture on distracted driving, complete with facts and statistics, videos and driving simulators, for these high school students.

“From the high school teachers, from what the students tell the high school teachers, I think it’s been successful,” Dr. Stephen Smith, a cardiology professor and member of the Center, said. “We’ve gotten a lot of letters and emails indicating the students continue to talk about it. They felt the presentation was great and they feel that it has made an impact.”

Dr. Smith has been participating in this program since it first started. He said the data on the program’s success has not yet been recorded to officially gauge the success of the distracted driving curriculum. The program mainly works with high-needs school districts around Long Island. So far, the Center has not done anything directly for the university.

“The whole idea behind the program is saving lives,” Smith said. “And it’s young people’s lives.”

Worries of Waist Training

It seems new trends come left and right, whether it being the latest hairstyle, blue being the new black, or the never-ending latest diet fad.

A new fad among some women to hit the scene is tight lacing, or better known as waist training. This is the practice of wearing a tightly laced corset to slim your mid-drift.

There are various reasons why women would put their bodies into such extremes. One in particular is to hopefully lose inches off of their waist. While other popular goals is to maintain an hourglass shape or to help lose post pregnancy weight.

With this, one would be reshaping their ribcage to the desired silhouette.

This is new but not so. Corsets were first worn by male and female Minoans of Crete, though it did not become popular until the 16th century France and remained a fashionable dress until the French Revolution. Though, wearing a corset during these times were for different reasons.

Women would wear them to push up their breasts so they would peek over the corset, creating a bustier look, as well as a less rigid bodice.

As time passed, style had evolved. Until the 1840’s were the desire for a tighter silhouette was desired. It wasn’t until the late years of the Victorian era that medical reports and rumors claimed that tight lacing was fatally detrimental to health.

Then again, in the late 1900s the small corseted waist was no longer fashionable. That is until now, in the new millennium, the trend has been reintroduced.

Waist training today works as so, first one is recommended to do research. Find out exactly what goal they are trying to achieve and the severity they are willing to go.

Then there is finding out the corset preference. There are a few, such as, brocade, cotton, leather and satin. What they all do have in common is that they are steel boned, helping to keep a maintained shape in the corset.

Tiffani, a team member and video blogger for the Orchard Corset Blog, says that there is no one answer when you will see results. Numerous factors contribute to results. It all depends on your commitment. How many hours and days you wear the corset, and if you are incorporating diet and exercise.

It is advised that to have proper results you must incorporate all of this.

With popular celebrities such as the Kardashian clan and Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, who swear by this based on their social media updates, their adoring fans are easy to follow.

Jessica Alba, another believer of waist training, revealed to Net-A-Porter magazine that she “wore a double corset day and night for months,” to help rid her post pregnancy weight.

Now whether this works or not, the most important question to ask is, is it safe?

Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor of OBGYN at Yale School of Medicine, says once you take the garment off, your body will return to its usual shape. It’s also uncomfortable, restricts your movements, and if you wear it really tight, it can even make it difficult to breathe and theoretically could cause rib damage. There are plenty other statistics about this but I am not going to list them all just yet.

This also plays into a psychological sense. Meaning, using the media to convince women they should portray a certain body image.

Psychologist Marci Lobel this can help produce eating disorders in women. Some studies, such as “The Thin Ideal,” show that girls in the second grade, who see their moms and women in the media striving for this “perfect body,” begin to develop body image issues at a younger age. Claiming that they hate their bodies, want to lose weight and are already on a diet.

 It seems that at the end of the day there is going to only be two things to get your body into a slimmer shape, diet and exercise, or just be happy with who you are.

A look behind Brookfest

Brookfest is one of the most anticipated events of Stony Brook’s year. The annual concert held in the spring features two to three musical acts performing for the stressed out students needing a break from finals and summer planning. Every year, the artists are announced months beforehand to garner attention on social media. When the concert comes around, students pack the chosen concert venue and sing along to the rock or rap act chosen by Stony Brook’s Undergraduate Student Government. Something equally traditional about Brookfest is the backlash from students. The selection of artists for Brookfest has vocal approval, but also a vocal minority of those disapproving of the artists selected. Some claim it’s because of a lack of a certain genre (mostly rock), others say it’s because of a lack of relevant artists. Regardless, these unhappy students can be heard around campus and on social media.

For this year’s Brookfest, which featured the likes of rapper B.o.B., alternative rockers twenty one pilots, and emo-rock stalwarts Panic! At The Disco, the student voice was given the chance to be a bit more present in the decision. Months before the artists were announced, the Stony Brook Undergraduate Student Government sent out a Google Form containing a list of possible artists for the show.

“We wanted to get a general sense of what the Stony Brook community wanted to see in their concerts, because we knew that in the past we’ve always gotten reports that students…didn’t get their voice heard,” says Danny Chung, the Vice President of Communications and Public Relations for Stony Brook’s Undergraduate Student Government. Chung claims the Google Form was used to create a poll that would be “a good reference to give [USG] a sense of what [the students] might want.”

According to Chung, this year featured a more diverse line-up of performers but leaned on the presence of rock than rap. Previous concerts have featured rappers like Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa, Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West in the headlining spot. While that may please the large number of rap fans on Stony Brook’s campus, it leaves others feel left out and their voices unheard.

According to Kenneth Myers, USG’s Vice President of Student Life, polls were posted on social media in the past that focused on genres and “usually, EDM [electronic dance music] and rap is usually the thing that comes out on top…but because that’s usually the most voted thing the people who want rock music never really get that option. Not until this year.”

Myers explained that the USG is normally time constricted when it comes to selecting the artist. Myers claims that the booking process started in January, noting that it is difficult to plan Brookfest at Lavalle Stadium, where the past two concerts have taken place, due to scheduling and high costs. Myers also mentioned how USG bylaws used to prevent any early planning of fall and spring events. This year, Myers rewrote the bylaws so all fall and spring events can be planned in the summer, allowing more time for potential artists to be fished out.

For those who missed out on the Google Form sent out this year, Chung points out that there has been a way for students to voice their picks for Brookfest artists; attending meetings held by the Student Activities Board. The SAB work with the USG to find the most popular artists in popular music genres on campus, and they take student opinion into account when it comes time to vote for artists to choose from. If students were unhappy with the choices for Brookfest, Chung recommends making their presence known more next time.

When the amount of votes from the Google Form were tallied, Chung said that “about, I believe, 1500 students that filled it out, and that’s only, what, 10% or the undergraduate students” submitted votes for artists that they wanted at Brookfest. Even with the Google Form as a step forward, Chuns believes that the work is never done when it comes to informing students.

“We just try to give [the students] more information to be transparent about what the procedure was and, maybe in the future if they’re going to be here for another year, how they can really participate and make sure that they can influence the decision that’s going to be made.”

Rest easy, Stony Brook students because the USG is listening. Next time, just try to be a little louder.

Long Island Opt-Out: why parents are refusing the high-stakes tests

Photo from http://herricksta.ny.aft.org

By Abby Del Vecchio and Kayla Shults

Teachers have always used assessments to drive instruction.  Tests help teachers determine comprehension of the material, monitor strengths and weaknesses and identify whether or not topics need to be retaught, modified or enriched.  Testing is a way to monitor their teaching, as well as their students’ knowledge.

During the 2012-2013 school year, in response to the Common Core Learning Standards, a new type of high stakes testing was implemented across the country, to all third through eighth grade students.  A high-stakes test is any particular exam that is a single, defined assessment, has a clear line drawn between passing and failing, and has something at stake, with direct consequences for passing or failing.

In reality, these tests are more likely to affect teachers than students.

The test is graded on a basis that is almost too simple and leaves more questions than answers. Math and English Language Arts are the only two subjects these students are tested on, and they are graded on a scale of one to four, with the passing score of three or four, being determined after all exams have been scored.

There are 180 topics to be taught each year, which means a new topic to learn each school day. Joseph Rella, PhD, superintendent of the Comsewogue School District in Port Jefferson Station, NY, said this leaves little to no time for learning about any other subjects, such as social studies and science, and does not allot time for snow days and assemblies.

Jeanette Deutermann, founder of the Long Island Opt-Out Movement and mother of two from Bellmore, NY, said her son experienced stomach aches while in the fourth grade because of the pressure he felt to do well on these high stakes tests.

“I had the doctor check him out, and I asked if we should be running tests. They ran a blood test to try to find out what was going on, if there was something physically wrong,” she said. “And what they concluded was that it was stress, anxiety. This was a couple months before the test. The stomach aches stopped the day I told my son he wouldn’t be taking these tests.”

Elementary and middle school students are being taught for a test, leaving them stressed and confused. In some cases, students were so set on doing well on these exams that it caused actual physical illnesses.

In response to these high stakes tests that were stressing out children, both in and outside of the classroom, making them hate going to school, Deutermann discovered there was a way to prevent students from having to take these tests, which is how the Opt-Out movement got started on Long Island.  Opting out simply means the student will not sit for these exams.

What began in upstate New York quickly became popular across the state. According to the New York State Allies for Public Education, it is very simple for parents to opt their children out, or refuse the high stakes tests.

All parents have to do is download the refusal letter, which is available in numerous languages. This letter thanks the school district’s administrators for their dedication to the schools, but states that the child will not participate in the testing,  and should be graded as though they refused to take the tests. The letter also asks that an alternative activity be in place for children who are not being tested.

A main concern of the parents and teachers is that teacher evaluations are based on the students’ performance on these high stakes tests.

And although parents do have concerns, there are still students across Long Island who are taking these tests. Our inquiries for comments from these parents in school districts across Long Island have gone unanswered.

Maria Brown, a mother of three and a third grade teacher at South Country Elementary School in the Bay Shore School District, said 17 students, in any combination, must take the tests in math and ELA in order for the teachers to be evaluated.

For years, teachers were evaluated based on observations of their teaching style, lesson plans and effectiveness in the classroom. As of right now, 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation comes from these tests –  20 percent for state tests, and 20 percent for local tests (which districts can choose not to do).  The other 60 percent is based on observations done by the principal or supervisor.  As part of the new state budget, which passed April 1, 2015, Gov. Cuomo has pushed for the high stakes tests to have an even greater impact on teacher evaluations.

Many argue that putting students through all of this stress and anxiety for an exam that is used to evaluate teachers, not the students taking them, is unfair.  Some supporters of the Opt-Out Movement say they believe that students are being used as pawns in the governor’s war on teachers.

The Comsewogue School District has been at the forefront of the Opt-Out Movement since it began in 2013. This year in Comsewogue alone, 82% of third through eighth grade students did not take the reading tests and nearly 85% did not take the math exams.

Beth Dimino, an eighth grade science teacher at the John F. Kennedy Middle School and President of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association equated these tests to something more extreme than stress-inducing.

Child Abuse.

“I will never be put in the position where I cannot help a child,” said Dimino. “As a New York state teacher I am required by state law to be a mandated reporter for child abuse. This, in my opinion, is child abuse. I believe that I contributed to that last year and in the years past when I did administer these tests.”

Dimino says she feels so strongly about the Opt-Out Movement that she is willing to risk losing her job.

“I refused to administer the tests with the full understanding that the district [Comsewogue] can choose not to reassign me,” Dimino said. “This district chose to reassign me, but the district could have chosen to write me up for insubordination and filed charges against me.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, an avid supporter of the Common Core curriculum and the high-stakes testing that go along with it, has said that the tests do nothing for the students taking the tests.

“The grades are meaningless to the students,” Cuomo told parents.  “They can opt out if they want to, but on the other hand if the child takes the test, it’s practice and the score doesn’t count.”

By saying this, it has only angered parents more.

“What sparked a lot of this movement this year and a lot of the explosion of the Opt-Out Movement was Cuomo declaring war on the teachers,” said Deutermann. “That’s the part that he he just has never understood. You cannot hurt teachers without hurting kids. You can’t do it to one without doing another.”

Stony Brook is no exception to mental illness

By Janelle Clausen and Stephen Infantolino

Stony Brook University has been described as affordable, communal, diverse and exceptional, just to name a few. It is considered in the top one percent of universities around the world, ranked number 88 by US News and World Report and roughly 90 percent of its graduates get jobs after graduation.

However, Stony Brook has a less prestigious title, and that is the 11th unhappiest school in the nation among 379 top schools, according to the 2015 edition of the Princeton Review.

And it is certainly not immune to mental illness that plagues other college campuses.

A 2012 survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors showed that 95 percent of college counseling center directors said the “amount of students with significant psychological problems is a growing problem.” SBU was a part of this survey.

But just how many students suffer? Last year, the Statesman reported that 1700 students came to CAPS for help last year, double what it was in 2004. It is open to students from 8:30am to 5pm on most weekdays. It’s unclear, however, how many students CAPS has served this year due to confidentiality.

Meanwhile, 52 percent of people in a 2007 ACHA survey at Stony Brook University “reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function at least once in the past school year.” More than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health condition, according to the American College Health Association.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) declined to comment for this story, but some students had plenty to say.

“A lot of people don’t talk about it, and I know there is a lot of depression on campus, and I know it’s really hard to find something that relaxes you because you’re so caught up in your studies and you’re so caught up in what you’re doing,” said Emily Markowitz, 22, a marine science major. “It’s really hard for people to get out of that and remove themselves.”

“They have this really negative ball around them and that travels and that’s contagious,” Markowitz added.

Alex Bouraad, an 18-year old bio-pre med major and fellow trained in recognizing depression symptoms, said that Stony Brook has some- but not enough- resources for people with depression.

“I feel like Stony Brook lacks a lot of the support people with depression need,” Bouraad said. “There are options like going to CAPS, or going to CPO or seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist, but it’s not as readily available as it should be.”

Stony Brook acknowledges that mental health and suicide are a growing issue. Events like “Part of the Pack,” a suicide awareness and prevention program ran by the residence halls, had representatives from CAPS present. Programs like “Let’s Talk”, an extension of CAPS, also try to close the distance, allowing some students in Tabler Quad and West Apartments to talk to someone without journeying far in the evening when CAPS is closed.

And yet, it can still feel like nobody is there to help.

“Sometimes I guess it can be very lonely and quiet,” said Elizabeth Lyton, 21, a senior majoring in health science. “So most people do feel like there are no other students to reach out to.”

“It has more to due with the stress levels,” she added.

But there are options on campus, according to Cathrine Duffy, associate dean of student support on campus. Student Support, she said, works as a “network of other departments” and does a lot of “behind the scenes” work like validating documentation and reaching out to professors in the event of a hospitalization or a death in the family.

“We do this in a way so that students don’t have to repeat their story six different times because that can be traumatizing for them,” Duffy said.

Duffy also pointed out that there are other resources like CAPS, Financial Aid, Disability Support Services and the Academic Success and Tutoring Center that they could refer students to. She noted that when students feel secure academically, they feel happier.

There are also times where students just need to blow off steam, be it at Earthstock, Roth Regatta, Strawberry Fest, community events or clubs on campus.

“College is hard. We recognize that, so we do a lot,” Duffy said. “A lot of student activities, weekend life programming, a lot of the residential hall programming, campus recreation center- the reason these places program so actively is to give students a healthy outlet.”

Undergraduate Student Government’s latest budget shows that clubs receive over one million dollars in funding and the student activities board alone gets over $600,000.

“At this point there’s more than 400 clubs and organizations, so get involved, find something,” Duffy said. “If there’s not a club for you, work with student activities to create something.”

Jacqueline Lennon, 22, is one of many students who recognize that Stony Brook has groups and resources available. But at the end of the day, she said, the university can’t please everybody.

“So I know there is groups and stuff like that,” she said. “But you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. There is only so much you can do.”