An Open Letter to My Chronicle Staff

To all my 2016-2017 Chronnies:

Two years ago, in my final days as a Chronicle newbie, I felt sad to see the 2014-2015 seniors leave me for unfamiliar and exotic destinations. These were the seniors that had raised me, in more than just the journalistic sense, and saying goodbye made me teary, even though it was not my turn to be sentimental. 

Now, it is my turn to don the cap and gown, try not to laugh when the valedictorian insists fallaciously that she should have spend high school doing something more than studying, and pretend not to tear up at the speech just the same. Yet, as much a champion of high school drama the graduation process is, this year I find myself with surprisingly little to say.

What can close-caption a year like this? It was different, to be sure, but I think less due to sudden senior status and more because our dynamic shifted. Whether anyone had intended it or not, subconsciously everyone on staff shifted their interactions with me. I was no longer a sounding board for ideas so much as an unavoidable conversation about deadlines. If you think I was annoying sending out that 87th Group Me message directly mentioning you about why your draft was not done, trust me: I annoyed myself too.

Learning to produce a Chronicle was new to me, and I know in the beginning, I messed it up. A lot. Over and over again. But rather than ramble about how much I have learned this year, I would much rather thank each of you for learning with me. Though we consider India the “mom” of our group, I genuinely care about each one of you. Sometimes, you do feel like my 24 children, if only because your work continuously makes me proud. My shoutouts and status as “everyone’s hypeman” (thanks, Ryan) just reflect I am always rooting for you, and I will continue to do so from Charlottesville.

So, thank you to…

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I didn’t meme it

True admission to a campus community is not through a college’s admissions letter but its group chat. Through these chats, my peers have not only taught me how to register for admitted student activities but to giggle at “wot in tarnation” cowboy hats and the “Guy Tries to Impress Girl” faux pas, neither of which I had seen before. It seemed silly at first, how seriously one another took their 50-cent jokes when we were all trying decided if we liked each other and this university enough to drop more than our lives’ worth on it.

While memes as we know them are grainy photos of face-plants, academics have defined memes, in their simplest sense, as ideas or behaviors spread through a culture. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins argued that memes were the cultural equivalent of a gene – for just as genes build an organism, memes build a culture.

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Hidden Figures creates sense of gratitude for unknown heroes

It takes a lot to get me to the movies these days, because I no longer enjoy watching 150 minutes of mechanical parts, whether they be from robots or spaceships or assault weapons, shatter across the screen in slow-motion. We should be proud of our technology, to be sure, but too often we mistake it as synonymous for a storyline.

That’s why when I finally saw the trailer for Hidden Figures, I did not think “Oh, I’ll catch that on Netflix” or “Too bad I have plans Saturday.” I hit pause on the real-world and play on the movie-world, only to find the movie-world as real as any day of history. The film, for those that have not seen it, centers on three female African-American human computers who work for NASA during the Space Race.

Yet Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan are not caricatures from director Theodore Melfi’s imagination. They are real women, renowned in their fields, but unknown to many of us. The film introduced these women to us in a way few others could have. Though as Mary Jackson’s husband in the film says “Civil rights ain’t always civil,” the film itself is surprisingly uplifting.

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Look it up

Dictionaries lament 2016 through Words of the Year

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I wish I could take it back.

Enter the common plea for the misspoken word, but what about the words we cannot take back, the ones that have becomes so culturally ingrained they caption 2016?

Dictionaries have long chosen “Words of the Year,” and though many may bemoan the dictionary’s irrelevance, these words function as cultural heart monitors, keeping track of our pulse through the words we speak as well as our measured interests.

What sends us to the dictionary is none other than the most pressing issues of the day, and though the internet has lamented the issues of 2016 – one Twitter user hypothesized Quentin Tarantino is directing this year – nothing plagues the logophile so much as these words of the year.

1) Oxford dictionary: Post-truth

The Oxford dictionary studies new words and usages before debating among its team which word best represents the year. It defines “post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Frequent usage includes “post-truth politics.”

2) Dictionary.com: Xenophobia

Dictionary.com chooses a word that reflects a cultural theme. The site said it identifies “trends in its look-up data,” and on June 24, “xenophobia” had an increase in look-ups of 938 percent. It defines “xenophobia” as “fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers.”

3) Merriam Webster: Fascism

Merriam Webster chooses its word with the highest number of look-ups. Though users still have time to look up new words, as of December 2, its winner is “fascism,” which it defines as “a way of organizing a society in which a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people and in which the people are not allowed to disagree with the government” or “very harsh control or authority.”

Ouch. So if we were to in fact caption 2016, we may say “Post-truth politics appealed to xenophobia to support fascism,” but that sentence is so horrendous, I refuse to entertain it. We have become so divided that even the most basic units of ourselves – the words we speak – reflect it. Compare this to 2015, when the Oxford dictionary championed the tears of joy emoji as its word of the year, or 2013, when it picked “selfie.”

I can applaud a society that does not take itself so seriously, that knows how to laugh at itself, even if that laugh is twinged with selfie-ish-ness. At this point, I would be grateful even for an Urban Dictionary Word of the Year, for this nationwide depression that has settled on top of us needs to be lifted.

Perhaps together we can propose a new word for 2016 – “blatherskite,” foolish talk or nonsense – and dismiss this year as simply that. While it is never that easy, perhaps enough hope exists in us that 2017, at least, need not be the year of the post-truth-politics-practicing, xenophobic fascist.

Let us forgive ourselves for 2016, and above all, let us move on.

Don’t shirk information just because it’s information

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What was once the Cold War is now the Information War. I read that on Twitter, because that’s where I collect the sources I “trust,” to an extent, by tapping the shiny blue Follow button.

I would amend that statement, however, to include not “Information War” but “War on Information.” Now, I am guilty of reading in denial, or clicking off the news after it becomes too gruesome. That’s not what this is, nor is it codger-y anti-press rhetoric.

It is not even Trump nor his administration inciting anti-press feelings where there were none. The public has long flayed the press, and speech, for that matter – in 1918, we passed the Sedition Act to essentially outlaw anti-war speech in World War I America; in Nazi-era Germany, we were the “Lügenpresse,” or lying press; in today’s world, Trump’s strategist Stephen Bannon said media should “keep its mouth shut.”

This “opposition,” to borrow another Bannon phrase, surprises no one. The echoes of public opinion on the press filter even into my statistics class, where just this week one of our practice problems, likely dated, if ever true, identified only 17 percent of the American public as believing the press was doing a good job. This was when all the heads in class turned to me, and I merely shrugged. I was surprised it was not lower.

What is frightening as a student journalist is not this mood – if we have made it even this far, we have thick skin – but that this War on Information extends beyond just a hatred for press to a hatred for any information whatsoever. One morning after the inauguration, there I was, back on Twitter, and CNN had tweeted a photo of Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day framed photograph, which identified the date of the inauguration as January 21.

Say what you will about crowd size – enough Americans attended the inauguration and enough watched it live that agreement over the date as January 20 should be immediate. And yet, commenters, echoing Trump’s claims of CNN as “fake news,” argued that the story – which only consisted of the photo and the claim the inauguration was a day earlier – was inaccurate.

What a waste of energy. We have become so irreconcilable along party lines, even in between party lines, that we are dismembering ourselves through our unwillingness to accept the most insignificant of data. If we can’t agree on an easily verifiable date, how will we seek information when it counts?

Just look at our neighbor’s situation. Currently, the University of Kentucky is suing its own student newspaper for “requests for documents involving the investigation of James Harwood, an associate professor of entomology accused of sexual assault and harassment in an investigation spanning seven months, after three years’ worth of allegations,” according to USA Today.

Initially the state attorney general ordered UK to release the documentation with the names of student victims removed, which the university denied, citing an invasion of privacy. The denial, however, violates Kentucky’s Open Records Act, under which the documentation should have been made available after Harwood’s dismissal from the university.

And now Judge Thomas Clark has ruled in favor with the university, claiming that even without victims’ names, the release of the documents would still violate privacy rights. The Kentucky Kernel, the student newspaper in question, vows to appeal.

Ouch. The persistence of the Kernel inspires me, but this inspiration is inextricable from an anger that it is even necessary. Image is precious, I understand, but does UK think it is the only university that sexual assault has sullied? Have we already forgotten the Brock Turner case out of Stanford this summer?

No university – not even the one with the lowest acceptance rate in our country – is immune, yet we still do not care enough to take any sort of action to prevent this or even save lives. I am not even talking about “Yes means Yes” philosophy spouting or other laborious campaigns. I am talking about simply getting the information out there, so students can act accordingly.

Why universities are even required to release any crime data at all is because of the Clery Act, named after Jeanne Clery, who was raped and murdered in 1986 by a fellow Lehigh University student. Only after her death did her parents discover 38 violent crimes had occurred at Lehigh in the three years preceding Clery’s death.

The consequences of ignorance are, and have always been, dire. As a prospective college student, I would like to think the powers at be care enough about my life to release vital information willingly, but I know better. So though I flip and flop journalism in and out of my career considerations, my gratitude for those who seek to inform never wavers.

This is not a pandering, pitiable party war, so sip your skepticism with your morning coffee: no one is asking you to believe every article or every retweet. But seek the truth, even if you despise those who report it.

Will you read this if it’s not written in emoji?

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Emoji may seem like the “it” form of communication, but millennials and Generation Z did not invent the pictograph. In fact, early societies had to develop a form of written language to become civilizations, and the earliest of these, Egypt and Mesopotamia, fulfilled this requirement with the original “emoji.”

As we supposedly advanced, we crafted treatises on the natural rights of man and the first distinctive American poetry. Yet now that we have proven we can conquer the written word, we no longer want to. In Apple’s iOS 10 update, autocorrect does not stop at underlining misspelled words and predictive typing does not solely prophesy “see you later.” Both programs now predict emoji – have to run to the store? Replace “run” with a runner. It’s your birthday tomorrow? Replace “birthday” with a cake.

In our need to continuously spew our opinions into the digital stratosphere, we must resort to intermittent cartoons in order to ease understanding. We have, essentially, reverted back to the earliest forms of communication ever – just in technicolor.

This is not the only way in which we revert. It has only been within that same iOS update that female professionals were added to the line-up, and it was a mere two updates prior that different skin colors were added. Visual communication, when pre-determined by a computer, falls prey to these limitations.

While no harm exists in a smiley face at the end of “Have a good day!,” we cannot afford the purely visual to overtake the written. We cannot limit our communication skills to that of 3500 B.C. So before you send that next text message, remember the sentence.

Trump’s victory was predicted; we just weren’t listening

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Andy Marlette, Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal

While it may seem that we have been treating this election as a colossal joke, its outcome should not have come as a surprise to those with open eyes – or at least with open news feeds. That Trump is well-versed in reality television, the main political theatre, is only secondary to our prevailing discontent and its resulting desperation.

For American University professor Allan Lichtman, however, the election was even simpler. Lichtman devised a system of 13 keys to successfully predict every presidential election since 1984. The Washington Post said Lichtman believes elections primarily reflect the performance of the party in power, and therefore if six or more of his keys, which are 13 true or false statements, flip as “false” for the incumbent party, that party will lose the election.

So what flips?

  1. Party Mandate: The Democrats, in Lichtman’s words, “got crushed” in the midterm elections.
  2. Incumbency: Barack Obama was not running for reelection.
  3. Third Party: Gary Johnson was predicted to get at least five percent of the vote.
  4. Policy Change: No major policy changes occurred in Obama’s past four years.
  5. Foreign / military success: No breakthroughs.
  6. Incumbent charisma: Hillary Clinton has the personality of a doorknob.
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Steve Benson, The Arizona Republic

So in the match-up between Icky and Wiki, it was time for a change – in party, if not in political panhandling. Trump’s victory was not so much an “upset” as we would like to believe: the election was never in Hillary’s pocket. (Though tell that to Newsweekwhich printed and distributed a “Madam President” cover before the final results.) What is more interesting than Trump’s win, however, is that Lichtman divined another prophecy back in September: that if elected, Trump would be impeached by a Republican Congress.

Now, if this is where you insist that surely a Trump impeachment is the goal of all the protestors marching in the streets or another “liberal media” ploy to implode the nation, I assure you: the nation needs no help imploding. This facet of Lichtman’s prediction, he said, comes from his gut, rather than his keys:

They don’t want Trump as president, because they can’t control him. He’s unpredictable. They’d love to have Pence — an absolutely down-the-line, conservative, controllable Republican. And I’m quite certain Trump will give someone grounds for impeachment, either by doing something that endangers national security or because it helps his pocketbook.

~Lichtman in The Washington Post

At this, I suspect the Liberals shiver, and the Conservatives straighten in their seats. Whether the months will prove him right once again, this election has given us no shortage of developments to watch. Whether it’s this Epic Rap Battle between the most popular global punchlines

or the duration of Trump’s office, all spotlights – and news cameras – will be dead-set on the White House. But perhaps the most important question is not how long Trump will be in office but what he will do while he is there. More specifically, President Trump, what does your rule mean for my student loans?

Yesterday’s pop hits not up for grabs

Our favorite pop song is bubbly, infectious, and – possibly – illegal.

Billboard’s latest number one, “Closer” by The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey, is a dance-hall grind peddling nostalgia, that “we ain’t ever gettin’ older,” but its melody has garnered attention not only for its breeziness but its similarity to The Fray’s 2005 hit “Over My Head (Cable Car).”

Two of the band’s members are now credited as songwriters on the track, in an attempt to retroactively prevent such lawsuits as that by Marvin Gaye’s children against Robin Thicke and Pharrell for “Blurred Lines,” which Gaye’s children claim was derived from Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.” The court slapped the producers of the former number one with a $5.3 million fine, cut from an initial sum of $7.4 million.

It has made the modern musician tread on his toes – better late credit than never, as in the Chainsmokers’ case, than to drown in legal fees. Sam Smith gave credit to Tom Petty for “Stay With Me.” Bruno Mars gave credit to Gap Band for “Uptown Funk.”

Billboard reports both these songs won record of the year at the Grammy’s. The most recognizable music of our time is, essentially, plagiarized. While it would not be so terrible if the power duos had merely collaborated, or if permission had been granted in advance, the frequency of copyright infringement hints little effort is made to circumvent such “similarity.”

The defense for such behavior is that “music simply isn’t made that way anymore,” “that way” referring to a songwriter and a pencil. Now synth-pop and electronica credits kids with laptops as the primary creative geniuses on tracks – Calvin Harris, Avicii, DJ Snake, The Chainsmokers.

They churn digi-beats to optimum danceability, lace sky-high female vocals over the top, and sit back and wait for that Number One hit. It is not poor practice – we all crave the upbeat, and a confessional lyric is better than a violence-condoning one – but the legal and moral looseness of digitally enhancing someone else’s melodies is inexcusable.

While an already beloved melody may be an easy way to ensure monetary success, the originals of prior eras – Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” Gap Band’s “Oops Upside Your Head” – were risks once. Distinctive voices sell too, but only if they are produced.

Judge one, judge all

Why universities must standardize social media monitoring of applicants

Glue is no longer enough to hold the paper-mache selves we craft for college admissions. According to a survey by Kaplan Test Prep, 40 percent of admissions officer said they monitor applicants’ social media – its highest since 2008.

A single tweet could dismantle a carefully patched image – but we all know this. The real concern is not the social media monitoring itself but its inconsistency. Even if we disregard the inconsistencies in social media policy across universities, the institutions that do look up students online rarely regulate such activity but pursue it on a case by case basis.

Kaplan reports 80 percent of admissions officers check applicants’ social media “rarely,” which should be heartening but is not. The company cites “interest in talents,” “verification of awards,” “criminal records,” “scholarships,” or “admissions sabotage” as reasons to scan Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – but what is to separate one applicant’s talent from the next?

The 140 characters of a borderline student may be screened for selfies with the family whose house she built for Habitat for Humanity to push her over the edge into acceptance, while another, also borderline, student may reach an admissions officer who prefers the Common Application stand alone and therefore be pushed into rejection.

I do not mean to trivialize the process – the stakes on the admissions game cause officers to take a lot of hits – but I do question the transparency, and the validity, of such a system, or lack thereof. For a university could not only find a Habitat for Humanity selfie but a retweet from its rival school on an applicant’s feed.

Yield rates, or the percentage of accepted students that enroll, are a source of prestige, an indicator of desirability, and a selling point for universities. According to U.S. News and World Report, the average yield rate among national universities is only 33.6 percent.

This, in part, accounts for the Early Decision program: all applicants accepted via this program must enroll, any extra percentage point bumps a university further from quality and closer to elite. It is not unfathomable that a student deemed unlikely to enroll, even through social media activity, could be denied.

It is for this reason I kept my first college acceptance hush, though I longed to post it to the archaic Facebook in the hopes of reaching my distant relatives. I did not want to risk any university seeing where I had been accepted to school, seeing its competition.

That may be paranoia but not so much so as when I let that tweet from one university or another go not favorited because I do not want that to condemn me either. I crave a blank admissions slate, so my Twitter account is primarily Chronicle retweets.

The admissions process already chips away at our dignity: it turns us into our four a.m. selves, crazy-haired and bleary-eyed. We have spent four years racing to a finish line that can only be accessed through the space-time continuum. So we paper-mache the selves we approve for a gallery walk, and guess at which tweets may enter the show.

The least we can ask is that each applicant will suffer or benefit from the same scrutiny.

‘Used to it’ is not an excuse

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It is amazing what the human body can get used to.

Aches in the knees for 26.2 miles, bruises on the throat from the fight ring, numbness in the toes from years of pirouetting  – all are indicative of strength and of madness. It is the best kind of madness, we insist, that we brave such pains on the way to glory.

No injury can eclipse the trophy we long to emerge from our race, fight, recital; besides, a 14-mile run in preparation is nothing if you have run 23.

Yet there are some feats, our daily Kilimanjaros, for which the human body should not train. Continue reading