Entries Tagged as 'Life on the Hill'

Claudia Rankine Provides Commentary On Citizen: An American Lyric’s Message

9.21.2017

By Elise Collene

Claudia Rankine Discusses Citizen

On Thursday, September 7, hundreds of KU students and staff bustled into the Lied Center, packing the auditorium and filling every seat. Attendees patiently waited for Claudia Rankine to discuss this year’s KU Common Book, her book “Citizen: An American Lyric.

Chancellor Douglas A. Girod began the ceremony by explaining the history of the Common Book program, which has been connecting students on campus since 2012. Girod discussed how past Common Books have often focused on difficult times and that Rankine’s work “Citizen” is no exception. Focusing on the question, “What does it mean to be a citizen?” “Citizen” dives into what racial aggression looks like in today’s society and what it feels like receive racial aggression. Girod explained that he believes this aggression is relevant in light of what is happening in society today and that it can have extreme effects on a person’s day-to-day life. Consequently, this year’s Common Book was chosen to allow KU students to face these challenges in a constructive manner and allow students who deal with these issues to bond.

I was unsure of what to expect reading “Citizen.” As I began reading, it was difficult to catch on to Rankine’s style of writing. However, once I was in sync with the lyrical flow of her writing, I was intrigued and shocked at some of the stories in the book. “Citizen” is filled with snippets of stories; some are told by family, friends and strangers while others are from news reports or Rankine’s own analysis of different events. Photos, sculptures and other forms of art also line the pages. Rankine brings these elements together to form a unique and powerful piece of poetry. The combination of personal stories and true, documented events allows Rankine to create this piece of literature that is simultaneously formal and intimate. Rankine said she created the book to be “able to be entered without being colored by specific events”. With all of the distinct pieces coming together, her ideas ring clear and readers are left with the stark realization that racism is alive today and manifests in many forms.

When Claudia Rankine finally appeared on the Lied Center’s stage, I was excited to hear what she wanted KU Students to extract from “Citizen”. Rankine discussed the book’s art and how it played a role in the meaning of the book. She discussed in further detail how the art was hand-picked and intentionally placed to uniquely connect with sections of the text. It was interesting to hear directly from the author and compare her intentions to my own thoughts and opinions while reading the book. The art, for me, was the most difficult part of book to interpret, but after her speech, I was left with a better understanding of the novel and how she was able to pull from many different sources, finally merging these contrasting excerpts together to create a beautiful and influential piece of literature.

Before Rankine left the stage, she left the audience with a piece of advice.

“There are all kinds of people and they will help you if you let them,” she said.

Rankine explained that we are unable to carry all of our mistakes in ourselves, so we must find people to help us unpack them. Rankine offers an important message for people of all races, ages, and genders: we are all people and we can help each other if we try.

Heard on the Hill

9.17.2017

HOTH crop

  • “Spring door stops have the best comedic timing.”
  • “I’m like never at the union, so I never get condoms!.”
  • “I’m just like, not really the college kind of guy!” – a guy, at college
  • “I hate going out with Emily because Emily has boobs!”
  • “If you black out before Emo Nite, you get to meet some very nice paramedics.”
  • “Mom please just take my picture with NO flash. It’s for my fake ID.”
  • “Why are there no Groupons for the Hawk?”
  • “The only reason I stopped masturbating is so that I could get up in the morning and make coffee.”
  • “Skate fast, eat ass.”

 

A Man’s Rights

7.27.2017

By Logan Gossett

 

After losing a house, two jobs and $16,000 in court expenses, Phil – whose name has been changed to protect his anonymity – humbly received his ambitious reward: his son, for five hours, once a month.

        Five days ago he paid a monthly fee of $600 still owed from the home’s mortgage, a fee he will continue to pay until 2027 when his son will be 15 years old. Phil now pays more in child support than he earns from unemployment checks.

“My son was about four inches taller when I finally got to see him,” Phil said. “His mom told him not to tell me what his favorite color is, but I think it’s green. She also told him not to tell me his favorite superhero, but he let that one slip: Batman,” he said. He just hopes to be a close second one day.

Men’s rights advocacy was partly catalyzed by stories like Phil’s. Through forums like MensActivism, A Voice for Men and Reddit’s Men’s Rights board, men’s rights advocacy attempts to provide support and resources for fathers with similar struggles. However, their outreach is inhibited by their designation as misogynist hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The SPLC describes the men’s rights movement as “savaging feminists,” and cites the website manboobz.com as a useful watchdog of the men’s rights movement.

Male mortality rates paint the grisly picture that illustrates the story behind the men’s rights movement.

Advocates see that men are five times more likely to commit suicide than women; that men are twenty times more likely to die in the workplace; that men are four times more likely to be the victims of homicide. Men’s rights advocates see disproportionate workplace deaths and question the existence of disproportionate privilege.

Annie McBride, Assistant Director for the Emily Taylor Center for Women & Gender Equity, suggests that male privilege is not an easily measurable commodity.

“Privileges are things that [men] were born into, not that they’ve had to earn,” she said. “The ability to, as a white person, walk around department stores and not feel people’s eyes on you and be followed. I didn’t do anything to earn that privilege. It was just something I was born into.”

McBride agreed that male mortality and men’s mental well-being is concerning. She argued that toxic masculinity stigmatizes the male pursuit of mental health treatment, something feminism seeks to rectify.

Many scholars believe that the men’s rights movement is simply a backlash to feminism and the progress it has attained for women. Megan Williams, Program Coordinator for the Emily Taylor Center, agreed.

“[Men’s rights advocates] use the language of civil rights to undercut actual inequity,” she said. “It’s really just a reflection of men who are seeing their privilege challenged; seeing the entitlement that they’ve had challenged and thinking that that is oppression or discrimination.”

Men and indebted fathers struggle to reconcile their alarmingly higher rates of experiencing homelessness and being victims of homicide as challenged privileges. Men posting on MensActivism and A Voice for Men often resist the implication that the right to a home and life are privileges to be challenged.

Like McBride, Williams viewed feminism as a solution for the issues central to men’s rights advocates.

“If we’re talking about liberation of men, then that is a feminist project. If we’re talking about a real men’s rights movement, it’s feminism,” Williams said. 

The most urgent men’s rights topic for fathers, however, is the low likelihood of fathers being granted primary guardian custody of their child after a divorce. Custody is six times more likely to be obtained by the mother.

Phil doesn’t identify as an advocate for men’s rights or women’s rights: just a father, if only for five hours a month.

Phil was deployed to work on oil rigs for nine months per year. After four months of working rigs in Saudi Arabian waters, he returned to his home in the deep south to find it empty.

“Everything was gone. Furniture, TVs, kitchen stuff — you name it, it was gone,” Phil said. But, while furniture is replaceable, family is not.

“My heart sank when I knew what she did. All I thought of for months was seeing my wife and kid; maybe watching a movie or something,” Nease said. “Now I don’t even have a TV.”

Phil was the sole working parent while married. While he was on oil rigs, his wife was at home serving as their son’s primary caregiver. According to KU Law Associate Professor Melanie DeRousse, parental roles like those held by Phil and his ex-wife while married limit the outcomes of custody battles.

“Most of the time moms are doing that primary caregiving. The judge wants to maintain that stability for the kids so the kid has access to that attached parent. They’re going to maintain some of that gender disparity that was existing in the relationship into their orders. They’re looking at what will not disrupt the kid’s lives, not some parent’s rights,” DeRousse said.

If the mother serves as the child’s primary caregiver while the father is only parenting during the weekends, the judge will grant joint custody with the father having the kid for the weekend, while the mother maintains the child during the week. Extended periods away from his son while working hurt Phil’s chances of attaining equal joint custody.

Melanie DeRousse said that, while some judges may assume that the kid is better off with his/her mother, “more often than not you have the parties trying to figure out what form of joint custody is going to work for the kid.” DeRousse added that, “Most psychologists would agree with the legislature: joint custody is preferred for the kid.”

As traditional gender roles continue to undergo egalitarian permutations, fathers will begin to attain equal joint custody more frequently. Male mortality rates and mental health still present an issue, however, and men’s rights advocates and feminists view their respective movements as the optimal solution.

A Voice for Men founder Paul Elam argues that feminists preach equality while pursuing favoritism. Annie McBride, Megan Williams and most self-identified feminists disagree, instead viewing feminism as a potential solution for men’s rights issues and equity for all genders.

Both men’s rights advocates and feminists will continue to pursue their ideal of gender equity. Both men’s rights advocates and feminists will continue to provide assistance to men or women suffering through mental illnesses or unforgiving workplaces.

Meanwhile, Phil will be eagerly anticipating his next visitation with his son.

“[My son] likes the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so I bought him some action figures and Ninja Turtle shirts — stuff like that. Hopefully he likes them; I just wanna see him happy.”

 

Student Experience Of Mental Health On Campus

5.08.2017

By Scott Chasen

Aungelina Taglia came back from the library with a friend and ate a grilled cheese sandwich. She left some crumbs on the plate, a mechanism she uses to cope with her anorexia, but could feel an anxiety attack coming on. She typically didn’t eat late at night, a rule she’d broken that Monday.

With an anxiety attack imminent, Taglia did what she always does. She lied to her friend and told her she was going to hang out with someone else. She got in her car, an appropriately named Ford Escape Hybrid, and drove down 23rd street, past the QuikTrip on Haskell and onto K-10, in hopes of calming herself down.

Some 14 miles later the feelings of nausea had started to fade. Taglia pulled off the side of the road at the Lexington exit in DeSoto, turning around and making the trek back to Lawrence and texting a few friends before falling asleep. The drive, which she’d make again after waking up in the middle of the night, has become far too common in her life.

“I’ve only told my friends that I’ve done that once,” she says of the drive she makes three to four times a week.

Awareness of mental illness is something that is more present now than it has been in past years; more students are being diagnosed with mental health disorders and more are seeking help for the things they identify themselves. According to Christian Vargas, a licensed psychologist and outreach coordinator for the university Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), an estimated 10 percent of the KU student population will have gone through CAPS this year, continuing with a recent pattern of increase. Yet, even as more initiatives exist to help students suffering with mental illness on campus, many difficulties for those students, including the stigmatization of mental illness and lack of understanding from those on campus, remain.

When students like Taglia tell their friends what they’re dealing with, too often the response is one of surprise. Perhaps it shouldn’t be — according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness more than one in four young adults (between ages 18-25) have a diagnosable mental illness — but students often find their friends have their own internal definitions of what someone who is mentally ill should look like and are even skeptical about hearing they have a friend suffering from those same conditions.

That’s part of why Taglia, who has also been diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety, lies to her friends. She recognizes at least part of her hesitancy comes from the experiences of when she’s tried to open up, only for her friends to struggle to comprehend her feelings. As she recalls the memories, she bites her lip and forces a pained smile, fiddling with a hairband on her left wrist.

The first reaction that pops into her head is about one of her tattoos. On the underside of her right wrist is a semi-colon, a symbol representing perseverance and the movement against self-harm. When friends ask about it, she explains its meaning, only for them to ask who she knows that’s actually dealing with those issues, often times in a lighthearted tone that only adds to her frustration.

“It’s like people don’t think you can function … if you suffer from mental illness,” Taglia says. “They’re integrated with you every day in your daily life. You just don’t realize it.”

TagliaTat

* * * * *

Nowadays, when she isn’t working one of four jobs on and off campus, Taglia spends much of her time focused on the topic of mental health and poverty. Her interests in the field originate from her high school experiences. By her freshman year, she was taking care of her mother, who was on several medications for mental health disorders. But Taglia was struggling too, and was hospitalized after she was found attempting suicide freshman year.

Two years later, it was her mother who was in the same scenario. Taglia was pulled out of class one day by three police officers and taken home, where she was told her mom had threatened suicide and locked herself in the house.

Taglia went up to her front door, eventually getting inside and calming her mother down. The two went to a hospital where, by the end of the day, her mother had been released. Reflecting on the experience, Taglia was baffled that given what had just transpired, her mother could so quickly be deemed “mentally competent” and cleared to go home. She wanted to understand the systems that were in place and why they were, in her mind, failing. Years later, it’s her continued dissatisfaction with the system that is at least part of the reason why she isn’t currently undergoing treatment.

For her, a big problem comes with the nature of how things are treated on campus. She says through her research she’s become aware of the resources to help students struggling with mental illness, but often times they only serve to help after something has gone wrong. In her view, this lack of preventative care creates a new problem for universities, leaving too many students who need immediate help from a potentially overextended staff.

“If they’re not in the preventative stage and they’re just in the after stage of trying to help people,” Taglia notes, “there’s going to be too much in the after stage to take care of.”

To be clear, this problem isn’t unique to KU. More and more, it’s happening nationwide. In fact, a recent petition launched by Jacqueline Basulto, a Columbia University alumna, asked for expanded mental-health services at 20 different universities, including Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Columbia. In February, her university responded, pledging to strengthen its mental health services, offering mental health training — a similar initiative to KU — and creating a mental health awareness week, according to a New York ABC affiliate.

Similarly, at KU wait times can be an issue. Though Vargas notes “urgent needs will be addressed the same day,” one student in particular, Christine Waisner, says she was unable to get help she needed within a time frame that worked for her.

Waisner, now president of the mental health awareness group Active Minds at KU, wasn’t always vocal in the mental health community. Diagnosed with depression, anxiety and an eating disorder, Waisner found it difficult to connect with friends about what she was going through. When she did reach out, the response was usually disappointing.

“So many people just blew it off or they’d be like, ‘Eat a hamburger,’ ” she says.

In her sophomore year, Waisner attempted to make an appointment at CAPS, but the then-one-month wait time was enough of a deterrent that she opted to go off campus. By the end of the year, she’d dropped out of school, taking the end of the spring and the summer to work through some of her difficulties.

Since then, others have identified a similar problem. Harrison Baker, who was on the Student Senate subcommittee for mental health in the 2015-16 school year, put together a report on some of the problems across various colleges, finding many campuses were understaffed and underfunded. “It’s not specific to KU,” Baker says. “But here’s what students across the nation are facing, and it’s no different here at KU.”

Through working with then-Student Senate vice president Miranda Wagner, Baker helped produce a bill to give that subcommittee more power, eventually turning into its own advisory committee with power over the mental health fee. As a chair for the committee, Baker pushed for a $9 increase to the student fee for CAPS to offset what he described as an “unacceptable” student-to-therapist ratio.

Entering 2016, Baker said, the ratio was about 2,200 students for every mental health professional. He said a more ideal number would be anywhere from about 500 to 1,000 students per professional, with the lower end of acceptability being about 1,500 to 1.

But as much as the issue seems it could be fixed by hiring more therapists, that doesn’t solve the underlying problems. It’s important for a university to be properly staffed to help students after a traumatic event, but it’s equally important to focus on helping students before they get to that point.

And that’s where students like Waisner try and pick up the slack.

Waisner returned to KU for her junior year in 2016, ready to get more involved on campus. She looked on the Rock Chalk Central website, picking out the group she now presides over, at least in part by chance. “I went on the database with all the organizations on it,” she said. “You know, it starts with A, so it was at the top of the list.”

From there Waisner rose through the ranks, tabling with the group a few times before becoming an event coordinator and eventually president. Among the projects she’s overseen has been an initiative to fight rising suicide rates nationwide by trying to put the national suicide prevention hotline number on the back of the student ID cards, in addition to the campus police and health services numbers.

The group also helps in other ways, meeting in person to provide members a forum where they can engage with others in conversations about mental health. Other events for Active Minds at KU include presentations from guest speakers as well as panels about various disorders, among other things.

“No matter what the event is,” she says, “it does tend to end up being a place where people are having conversations that they usually don’t have or don’t feel comfortable having.”

* * * * *

While Waisner lauds some of the progress that has been made on campus, she’d still like to see more of it. One area she says she feels passionate about is “mental health days” — allowing students to seek help for mental illness without being penalized for missing class. However, because of how the university is structured, the systems set up to help the students, like the Academic Achievement and Access Center (AAAC), aren’t able to mandate leniency for a student who misses class because of a mental-health related issue.

Deborah Meyer, associate director of the AAAC, says one of the biggest problems her office has in helping students can be working around a professor’s policy. “We know the importance of participation in the learning process,” she says. “If the instructor has that as part of their syllabus, we’re going to have a really difficult time justifying (that) you don’t have to come to class.”

That can be one roadblock for the office, which Meyer said has seen a recent influx in students with mental illness. In fact, over the last few years, she notes, mental illness has become the second most common reason students contact the AAAC behind only attention related-issues.

However, that increased awareness does not always mean students are fully willing to share their experiences with mental illness. If they opt not to disclose the specifics of their condition, it forces the AAAC to advocate for them while leaving the professors in the dark. Other students may simply choose to learn how to best advocate for themselves, rather than opening up about their difficulties to the office.

“I still believe there’s quite a social stigma around disability, period,” Meyer says. “Everything is on a continuum, but some students do not want to talk about having an attention deficit issue, they don’t want to talk about a learning disorder, they don’t want to talk about a visual or hearing impairment or they don’t want to talk about a mental health disability.”

That puts the professors in a difficult position. When things aren’t explicitly stated, it’s hard for many of them to know what the right actions to take are when presented with students who seem like they’re struggling. Likewise, some professors struggle to identify the signs of mental illness, but it isn’t necessarily for a lack of caring.

“They want to help,” Meyer says. “They’re not exactly sure how they might be able to.”

* * * * *

While some struggle to broach the subject of mental illness, others like Dan McCarthy, a KU journalism advisor, view the topic differently. He feels no such qualms engaging in a conversation about mental illness, even when a student hasn’t explicitly brought it into the conversation.

“Having experienced it, having had profound first-person primary experience with that situation, I have always been willing kind of just to blow through that,” he says. “I graduated a very depressed person and then proceeded to spend three years very, very depressed.”

Part of McCarthy’s experience in the educational system comes from what he describes as teaching by the lash — this idea that some institutions “are very celebratory about the ways in which they are cruel and vindictive and pointless, hurtful to students.” Simply, he detests the idea that students should be challenged unreasonably under the guise that the challenges are “getting you trained for the future world,” something he says can add to a college student’s stress level.

For that, McCarthy’s advising goes beyond just picking classes and getting a student in and out of the office as fast as possible. He’s always willing to engage in a deeper conversation, and has even made it a point to go through Mental Health First Aid training.

The Mental Health First Aid course is offered both on campus and at the Bert Nash Mental Health Community Center. It aims at helping people learn how to engage in a conversation with mental illness, as well as how to listen without passing judgment, assess if a student might be at risk to commit self harm and encourage appropriate help, according to its mission statement. The training fills a need, Waisner notes, for faculty members who are “sick and tired of watching their students struggle and not knowing how to help.”

Several advisors have already gone through this training. According to Abby Coffin, director of the Undergraduate Advising Center, 25 of the 27 people in her office had already gone through it before May, while the other two had signed up for a future session.

Still, the training isn’t mandated to this point, and it doesn’t appear it will be in the near future. Part of the problem is that there isn’t a single centralized power directing the collective group of advisors. “We technically all don’t have one boss,” McCarthy says.

Without a mandate, the responsibility to help students struggling with mental illness falls on the faculty, advisors, professors and those who interact with students. And while the early numbers for the Mental Health First Aid Training have been promising, both Waisner and Taglia said they’d like to see it become mandated.

As for future initiatives, there are other things in the works at KU. Among the newer steps being taken is the creation of a Peer Mental Health Educator group, which is currently being developed by CAPS. Vargas says the group will start in the fall and feature “10 diverse students” working 10 hours a week and “providing outreach presentations, peer support and active listening at several locations around campus,” among other things.

For the present, though, the same problems remain. There’s still the idea of how people think about mental illness and the challenge of simply getting to a point where more work is being done on the preventive side than in the after stages. And there’s still the idea of mental illness as a whole and the responses many students experience when they try to engage their friends in conversation about it.

“There’s a separate part of the community that I feel people shove the mentally ill in,” Taglia says. “They think of them as a whole separate part of society.”

She continues on before pausing a moment to gather her thoughts.

“The systems that are in place right now,” she says, “aren’t working.”

How It Feels… To Get Shot With A Taser

5.08.2017

How It Feels2

By Shane Jackson

Caleb Dickey, a Security Forces Member stationed in Topeka, was shot with a taser gun last June in the security forces training room at Forbes Field. This is what it feels like.

For a brief moment, I consider the possibility that TSgt. Holloman is a mind reader.

Even though my exterior shows no fear, my mind is racing. I question if I’m really going to go through with this. So I’m surprised when Holloman, who is standing just a couple feet behind me, with a taser gun pointed directly at my back, asks me for reassurance.

“Are you sure you really want to go through with this?” Holloman asked.

The question shifts me back into focus. I know there is no backing out now. Not when I watched four of my buddies go through the same experience just the day before. Not when I may have to shoot one myself someday. I need to know what it feels like, so I shake my head yes.

After all, I had just spent about 30 minutes doing my stretches. My friends had advised me to do this. Nobody could describe the initial feeling, however.

Even though I sat in this very classroom and watched all four of them go though it, I couldn’t fathom what that initial shock was going to be like. Each of them was tasered once and had different reactions. Nearly every single one of them had shouted out profanity as they went to the ground. Not me though.

Still, it happened so quickly.

“Taser, taser, taser,” Holloman said.

Immediately after I hear “taser” for the third time, my body locks up. I suddenly can’t find my breath. For five seconds, my entire body is immobile. Or at least they told me it was five seconds; I swear it felt like 50.

SSgt. Thomas and SSgt. Romstedt bring me down to a blue mat, and I can’t hold back any longer. I let out a huge exhale just before the fifth second. I can breathe again, though my body burns in pain as if I just completed a 12-hour workout.

It wasn’t long afterward I began to gain movement. The classroom full of students watched me the entire time as I started to come back to normal. They are left with a visual image, while I have a more permanent reminder. Two scars remain engraved on my body from where the taser gun split in that short amount of time. I have a scar on my left shoulder, the other is just above my right butt cheek.

Several months have passed since I was shot with a taser, and I haven’t had to use mine at my job. But if that day ever does come, at least I will have a vivid idea of what happens when I fire that weapon off.

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