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Cristina Chang

Slutwalk Toronto targets the stigma of victims of sexual assault

The organization focuses the cause of rape away from the stereotype assigned to victims

A few weeks after Slutwalk Toronto took to the streets in solidarity to victims of sexual assaults, Alyssa Teekah, the group’s outreach coordinator and liaison to York University, received an email from a girl in the United States.

The girl, now 18, wrote that when she was 16, she had been raped by a group of men. As a result, she internalized the pain and kept silent, blaming that the assault on herself. But after hearing about Slutwalk, she felt that for the first time, she did not do anything wrong to deserve her assault and did not have to suffer alone.

“When we are critiqued and when folks tell us Slutwalk is pointless, I think of this story because it reminds me that for every person, SlutWalk means something different,” said Teekah.

Slutwalk Toronto is an organization that fights the stereotype that women who are sexually assaulted were asking for it or deserved it. The “tipping point” came after a police officer at York University said that women can avoid sexual assault by not dressing like “sluts,” said Teekah.

God forbid I should eat alone!

Students who fear eating alone in the dining halls are more common than you think

When psychotherapist Meg Schneider was in college she didn’t mind sitting alone during Sunday breakfast, a time when many students were still asleep. But at dinnertime, when many students socialize with their friends, she felt more self-conscious.

Schneider says the fear of eating alone is common, and she has counseled many students who mention the dining halls as a source of social anxiety. Many report feeling as though everyone is looking at them and that they appear pathetic and have no friends. Furthermore, in the dining hall, people are more concerned about how they may be perceived and invest the experience with a lot of meaning it doesn’t have.

The dynamics change when people eat in front of their computer, even if they don’t have a dinner buddy. The person might be a little lonely, but they’re doing something else and not worried about what other people think, Schneider says.

She advises concerned students to bring a magazine to read so it looks like they have something to do. At the same time, she thinks students should try not to look too hyper-involved in what they’re reading, as people might not ask to sit next to them if they look too serious. Instead, students should look open to welcoming people to their table or try to join someone else. She also advises students to remind themselves of the list of friends they have before they eat.

“I don’t think people care (about people who eat alone)…People forget (that eating with others) doesn’t mean you’re having a good time, sometimes you sit with people who are obnoxious and boring you,” Schneider said.

Instead of seeing someone eating alone as a loser, some see it as a sign of strength. Schneider thinks people envy those who seem able to sit by themselves and look fine.

Many students believe that after coming to college, people are going to love and befriend them, but college is complicated and that can get acted out in the dining halls, she points out. Students also report arranging a date with a friend who forgets or sits with other people. As Schneider says, they should not take it personally because many times the friend did have the intention of meeting them.

But some students avoid the dining hall experience altogether preferring to get take out and eat in their room. And while it guarantees that no one is looking at them, Schneider says it is good to have an experience of having a meal on one’s own and not give in to social anxiety because anything could happen — a person may join him/her, he/she may join in with others or, even, meet someone while waiting in line. She recalls one student who ended up dating the guy serving behind the counter.

“It can be interesting if you don’t worry about what you look like,” she says and notes that over 50% of the population qualifies as shy and hold a deep self-consciousness.

“The stigma in society is that we should be social animals and be able to interact with others especially in a public space such as the dining hall,” said Kenneth Huang, a third-year geography student at UCLA. “But, with time constraints and busy lives, we have to ignore these social norms sometimes. I focus instead on what I am eating and savor the food that is in front of me.”

The cyber bullying tragedy

How and why college cyber bullying happens

When Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi jumped to his death last fall after being outed as gay online, his case not only fell into a category of rising gay teen suicides but to a rise in cyber bullying as well.

Cyber bullying is harassment by use of information and communication technology such as email, text messages and websites, according to Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld, a professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Iowa State University.

“Getting bullied by someone online is just as real as getting bullied in person in life,” said Ky Thien Nguyen, a fourth-year mathematics student at UCLA. “I feel lucky that it hasn’t happened to me yet online, but I can’t say that I won’t ever be, anything can happen.”

Even though incidents of face-to-face bullying have declined in recent years, cyber bullying has seen an increase in the sheer number of cases, according to Blumenfeld. The appeal for the perpetrator is that they can often get away with this type of harassment because of the anonymity of cyberspace. Perpetrators can also steal a victim’s phone or password, and send messages in their name.

In a 2010 National College Climate Survey Blumenfeld co-authored, he found that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youths are at higher risk of being cyber bullied, with 54 percent of respondents stating that they have been targeted by cyber bullying within the past three months. However, Blumenfeld notes that a larger percentage has been bullied sometime in their life and that any group or individual is a potential target.

Research at Indiana State University has also suggested that 38 percent of college students reported knowing someone who had been cyber bullied, nearly 22 percent reported having been cyber bullied themselves and almost 9 percent admitted to cyber bullying someone else.

In addition, 25 percent of students reported being harassed through a social networking site, 21 percent reported that they received harmful text messages, 16 percent receiving such harmful communication through e-mail and 13 percent through instant messages, according to Bridget Roberts-Pittman, an assistant professor at Indiana State University.

Blumenfeld states that perpetrators may also start websites such as “polling booths,” where students from high schools and college campuses vote on which of their peers is ugliest, fattest and so forth.

Another form of cyber bullying entails exposing a target’s sexuality to the community, as in the case of Tyler Clementi. In some cases, non-supportive parents who find out may take away financial funding from the exposed student and he or she could end up alone, according to Blumenfeld.

Males and females are about equally likely to be the victims of cyber bullying, at 21 and 22 percent respectively, according to Roberts-Pittman.

“In terms of ethnicity, our results are premature at this point given the number of ethnic minority participants,” she said. “Our current results suggest that nearly 22 percent of white students reported being cyber bullied while 24 percent of non-white students reported experiencing the same behaviors.” 

In terms of sexual orientation, LGBT students were more likely than heterosexual students to report having seen someone else being bullied by another student, as well as to report knowing someone who had been cyber bullied.

The main explanation for why cyber bullying can become so nasty is the disinhibition effect. The perpetrators are anonymous and emotionally disconnected from their targets. They develop less empathy online because they don’t see their target or the consequences of their actions, and they don’t face any consequences.

Blumenfeld believes that when Clementi’s roommate posted a video of Clementi having sex with another man, the incident didn’t mark the first time Clementi was cyber bullied.

“We see in many incidents of suicide, 75 percent of campus shootings during the 1990s were due to the victims being bullied and cyber bullied,” Blumenfeld said. “Homicides and suicides are the same side of the coin, with the victims killing others or killing themselves.”

Many young people may be less inclined to report cyber bullying because they view adults as not “technically savvy” or as aware of online environments, Roberts-Pittman said. Secondly, some fear that adults will take away their phones or computer privileges if they become aware of any cyber bullying. Thirdly, young people may not have confidence in adults taking any actions to stop such bullying.

According to Roberts-Pittman, many of the young people that she works with say that they had told someone before about the bullying and nothing was done. Nevertheless, she added that the first thing students need to do is become educated about the behavior and then speak out when it is happening.

Blumenfeld advises students not to automatically delete the messages, but instead record instances of cyber bullying and report it to local officials like campus administrators or local police.

Blumenfeld also noted that campuses should have policies that include cyber bullying in their list of unacceptable behaviors and conduct staff training to combat cyber bullying. Colleges need to have speakers talk about intolerance and oppression and about how parents should be educated on issues of cyber bullying.

Roberts-Pittman recommends students follow the five “R’s” of the Steps for Respect program to combat cyber bullying.

1) Recognize the behavior as cyber bullying
2) Refuse to participate in the behavior
3) Report it
4) Record the information
5) Receive (adults need to be receptive when students tell us it is happening).

Some people are sensitive about personal information that nevertheless is leaked out to the public domains online, according to Nguyen. Students should be cautious about the personal information they put up about themselves online as well as who they contact.

“Let’s face it, it’s reality and it does happen, even with the enabling of security on the social websites,” Nguyen said. “The world is a rough place due to the diversity of people, with different personalities and all.”

He advises victims to immediately stop all contact with anyone who is a cyber bully and get help immediately.

What grade inflation really means

Has the increase of A grades diminished grade value?

At some colleges, there’s an upward trend of students receiving A grades. For some educators, that’s diluting the importance of good grades.

The issue is how to make good grades meaningful for all students, said Nicolaus Mills, a professor of American studies at Sarah Lawrence College, according to the Huffington Post. He argues that a letter grading system doesn’t describe the depth of students’ skills or allow the student to understand what he or she did to earn the professor’s recognition.

Many colleges are facing grade inflation because of the increasing pressure to have a student body that succeeds academically, and because students are trying harder, Mills said.

Some colleges have also sought to help students gain an upper hand. For instance, Loyola Law School Los Angeles adds an extra .333 to each student’s GPA to make them more attractive in the job market, according to the New York Times.

But other colleges are taking measures to combat grade inflation. Princeton University expects every academic department and program to assign less than 35 percent of undergraduates an A, with each department retaining some flexibility on grading. However, the university also said that any students who produce A-quality work should receive the grade, and that any act to the contrary would be “irresponsible and unjust.”

Reed College is also well-known for its policies combating grade inflation.

“Our policy is not that everybody gets A’s,” said Reed spokesperson Kevin Myers.

In the last graduating class, the average GPA was a 3.2 and only 10 percent of students scored 3.67 or higher. In the last 26 years, only 10 students have graduated with 4.0 or higher. Myers said there are benefits to reduced emphasis of good grades.

“We have a policy that you don’t put a letter grade that gets passed back to students,” Myers said. “Professors write out pretty lengthy explanations what you missed and what to improve on. The policy is based on understanding material than striving for grades.”

Myers concedes that there have been complaints that the grading policy harms students applying for law, medical and professional schools, where students need to have a 3.75 GPA to be considered. To even the playing field, Reed sends transcripts, accompanied with explanation cards on the GPA.

Overall, the policy hasn’t been a problem. Reed is third place among colleges producing students who go on to get doctorates of philosophy.

“The emphasis is on learning the material and theories, not just doing enough to get by, the goal is to completely understand the work, the theories, the problems you’re tackling,” Myers said. “It leads to an environment conducive to learning as opposed to shooting for a grade.”

Meanwhile, Mills concedes that student grade should depend on the quality of the class and that there should be no fixed percentage or bell curve.

“There is no way a grade can sum up a student’s talents,” he said. “All courses should have teachers do a detailed, written report, as we do at Sarah Lawrence.”

Student facing $200K debt helps others

Kelli Space turns focus to help students avoid debt

While many of her peers paid for their tuition from money their parents had saved, financial aid and scholarships, Kelli Space took out student loans to pay for her private college education.

By the time Space graduated in 2008 from Northeastern University, she had borrowed $160,000 to pay for tuition. Including interest, she was left nearly $200,000 in debt. Despite working 60 hours a week at a full time job, as well as taking on part time jobs freelancing and babysitting, she nevertheless struggled to pay back her loans. Then her friend persuaded her to start a website asking strangers online for donations.

The idea started when she heard about Karyn Boznak, Space said, who had run up $20,000 in credit card debt and began a blog, “Save Karyn.” The site used crowd sourcing, or utilizing the help of strangers, to collect donations. Space began her website “Two Hundred Thou” last May, but it didn’t take off until she turned to Gawker.com for advice. After Gawker posted a story about her Website online, a host of news organizations followed, including the Huffington Post, CNN Money and Yahoo! Finance.

Since the launch of her website, Space has received donations ranging from 10 cents to $100. She has also read thousands of emails, half of them supportive, half hate mail. Some wished her luck and offered encouragement, while others blamed the bad economy on her and told her to pay for her own tuition. Space said she focused just on the donations and emails, not the hate mail.

Last month, Space teamed up with EduLender, after being contacted by its CEO, Sue Khim. EduLender is a student loan comparison site that helps students research loans, avoid over payment, and understand the cost of borrowing, Khim said. The Website also gives tips for avoiding college debt and allows students to open a tuition gift registry, where friends or strangers can donate to pay off student loans.

In February, the Website will offer help to students considering loan consolidation. Space has since moved her website onto an EduLender profile, where she continues to solicit donations to pay off her debt. As a consultant, she runs her ideas with EduLender and works to build up a social networking community on the site, where students can give each other advice.

“We need to stop pushing college dream,” Space said. As a student, she felt it was necessary to go straight into college, but she advises students to consider other options, like going to community college first, to cut down costs.

So far, Space has received about $8,900 in donations. That just leaves $191,100 more to go.

Texting in class: it's more common than you think

Students are finding new ways to escape detection

During lecture, Griselda Yanez texts about issues in her relationship, receives updates from her staff and asks how her mom is doing. She hides the phone in her lap to avert the professor’s gaze.

The third-year pre-psychology and Chicano and Chicana studies student from UCLA concedes that texting in class can be a distraction, especially when the lights are dimmed, but believes students should still have the right to text.

According to a survey conducted at Wilkes University, Yanez’s texting behaviors and attitudes aren’t that uncommon among college students.

The idea for the study came after psychology professor Deborah Tindell asked an absent student’s friend to contact her for an assignment. By the time she came back to her office the absent student had emailed her. She concluded that the absent student must’ve received a text from her friend during class.

Tindell and fellow psychology professor Robert Bohlander conducted a 32-question survey to measure the texting habits and attitudes of college students. They received anonymous responses from 269 Wilkes students of all majors and class standings.

About 92 percent of the respondents said they’ve texted in class once or twice, and one-third reported doing so at least once a day, said survey co-author Bohlander. He believes the statistics to be accurate among the national college student population as well.

Bohlander added that while the survey wasn’t originally intended to uncover cheating, it found that 10 percent of Wilkes students said they had sent or received at least one text during an exam, and three percent had indicated that the text had something to do with the exam.

The survey also looked into how much students felt texting in class was a distraction. About 84 percent of students reported hearing phones vibrate and ring in class, but only 25 percent felt that it provided a distraction. Almost two-thirds of the respondents said they felt that phones should be permitted to be set on vibrate during class.

“The bottom line here is that students knows there’s a problem with use of these devices, know it can be used for cheating, know they can be distracting, but they don’t want to give them up,” Bohlander said.

He said the real surprise in the study was not only the sheer amount of texting in class but also how adept students are at texting without people noticing. Larger classes, desks that obscure view of the student and instructors who pay more attention to the screen were all listed as factors that make it easier to text in class.

Bohlander says that faculty members can discourage texting in class by become more interactive with the students, walking to back of the room periodically and making eye contact.

After the study, Tindell and Bohlander have both received feedback from the students. One student admitted to Bohlander that she made a slit in the top of the pocket of her hoodie in order to see her cell phone keyboard as she holds it in the pocket.

Since the release of the study, the faculty at Wilkes have been tightening their restrictions on text usage which prompted a student to tell Tindell jokingly, “Thanks a lot.”

Renting vs. Buying. Which is better?

A look at what to expect from textbook renting services

This will be the first semester Michael Howard is renting textbooks. Howard, a fourth-year economics student from the University of Virginia and former marketing intern for Bookrenter.com, typically pays anywhere from $500 to $800 for his textbooks. Selling the books at the end of the quarter will give him about 20 percent of his money back. But this semester, he will be paying about $150 by renting his textbooks online.

Before, students could not get any money back until they sent their books back at the end of the semester, Howard said. But with rentals, he saves the money up front and can use the books all throughout the school year.

Textbook rentals have the potential to take away the risk of buying and selling textbooks, and the practice has been catching on in recent years. About 300 college campuses offered textbook rentals last year, and 1,500 will offer them this fall, said Charlie Schmidt, director of public relations for the National Association of College Stores (NACS), a non-profit that provides supplies and merchandise for member colleges.

Textbook rentals typically allow students to pay 33-50 percent of a textbook’s original price, Schmidt added, and rentals are a good option for introductory courses because they can be offered at cheaper prices, as the companies are given more security on how often the book is used.

Students who use textbook renting services save at least 50 percent off the original purchase price, with the ballpark savings estimate at 70 percent, said Nicole Allen, director of the Student Public Interest Group’s (PIRG) campaign on affordable textbooks.

Michael Geller, vice president of marketing for Bookrenter.com, compares book rentals to renting movies from Netflix.

“Book rentals allow you to choose what books you want, when you want it, and at a fraction of price in bookstore,” he said.

Book renting is catching on partly due to the Higher Education Opportunity Act, enacted in 2008, which mandated colleges and universities to disclose syllabus information, Geller said. This gave students more transparency on what textbooks to buy before they choose their courses, allowing them more time to price shop.

And by 2008, with a recession hitting the United States and textbook prices continuing to rise, textbook rental services saw their business grow exponentially, said Alan Martin, CEO of CampusBookRentals.com.

Most textbook rental companies will offer titles for any college course, Martin said. Furthermore, students don’t have to worry about selling the book when they are done. However, Martin added that books that have been rented previously do not guarantee students a supplementary CD or a functioning online access code.

And students are not advised to rent their books if these are necessary for students’ major and may need be kept long term, Schmidt added. For instance, some calculus courses require the same book for two or three courses. Furthermore, the savings may not always be better than a buy-back or used textbook program, and students should do the math ahead of time.

Allen also advises students to check the policies of rental services to see how long they can keep the book and if it is acceptable to highlight or write in it, as companies can charge fines by billing the students’ credit cards.

Renting books may save students money, but “if a student wants to keep the books, it’s definitely not a good option,” Allen said.

What do you think? What’s better, renting or buying books? Share your opinions and experiences with your comments below!