Category Archives: Editorial

Humans of Etown: Dr. Rita Shah

dr shah

There’s nothing better than a professor with an open door, one with a willingness to say ‘hey’ and answers any questions that might be crossing your mind.

That’s exactly how Dr. Rita Shah is, the woman whose office sits on the second floor of Nicarry Hall, just out of reach of the hustle and bustle of everyday classes. She teaches all of her students to be respectful of a professor’s open-door policies, but is always there to talk if need be – sitting at her desk, constantly working away like the diligent professor and sociologist that she is.

Her office is filled with boxes, stacked in the corners and piled on top of one another like kids in a dog pile. Crates are filled with files, papers, books, and more, the walls emptied of memories. The space used to be covered with knick-knacks – notes from students, stickers promoting activism and feminism, random coffee mugs and Post-It notes and all the other indications of a well-loved professor.

Officially (that is, according to the college’s website), Dr. Shah is a criminologist who researches the relationship between parole and post-release supervisors for prisoners, as well as the re-entry process for former prisoners, but to the campus community, she is a beloved coworker, professor, and friend. Dr. Shah has always been a woman anyone can go to for advice, no matter the topic. She’s always got an intelligent thought, and they are always greatly appreciated.

She received her PhD from the University of California-Irvine, and has been at Elizabethtown for the last six years, teaching criminology courses and the occasional first-year seminar. Students have described her as an excellent teacher – if an intense one – and frequently comment on how much they learned from her.

On Becoming a Professor

Dr. Shah is known for her rigorous sociology courses that mentally prepare students for the workload of college – and eventually, the workforce, academic or otherwise – but there was a point in her own academic career where she considered a career path that didn’t involve working with students.

“I actually debated between law school and the PhD,” she says of her decision. “And between the two, I really enjoyed both teaching and research…[I] knew that if I went into law school, I would either be a defense attorney or a constitutional lawyer. And I wasn’t convinced that I would be 100% happy doing that, but I knew I would be as a professor.”

On Feminism

Last semester, Dr. Shah taught a first-year seminar course titled “Joss Whedon: Friend or Foe?”, which focused on examining writer-director Joss Whedon’s filmography under the lens of many different types of feminism. The course involved a cumulative final paper in which students examined particular pieces of Whedon’s work, and many credit the course with giving them a much deeper understanding of a subject they’d heard so much about.

Shah noted that the course material was incredibly interesting to her, but also that feminism is something that students and staff (as well as the general public) should understand on a deeper level.

“I think it gets a bad rap,” she said. “It’s something that I don’t think people really understand until they’ve taken the time to really look at [it]…[Like], what exactly does feminism argue, what are the different branches of feminism? Most people, when they critique feminism, I think they focus more on radical feminisms, and the idea that, y’know, ‘we don’t need men’. But that’s one of many, many, many different versions of feminism, and many individuals don’t abide by that.”

She also mentioned that feminism isn’t just about empowering women, it’s about breaking down the barriers between men and women so that no one is viewed as ‘less than’ another person.

“The only differences that exist [between men and women],” she says, “Are the ones we put upon ourselves. But those differences have been around for so long that it’s really hard to acknowledge that they don’t actually exist biologically.”

She speaks powerfully and with authority, like a woman who knows her stuff and isn’t afraid to show it as she speaks.

“And so I think feminism – especially today – is important because until we start breaking down the assumed differences, we’re never going to get to a point where we can truly have men and women – and anyone else who identifies as any other gender identity outside of the binary – as truly being equal, as truly being respected, as truly viewed as an individual with worth.”

On Leaving Etown

Dr. Shah’s packed-up office is not just the sign of a semester coming to an end – it is the sign of her career at Elizabethtown coming to a close, her chapter in the college’s history books written and ready to be published. She is moving on to Eastern Michigan University, a far cry from the colonial-style buildings and chocolate-scented air of Etown.

“I’m going to be in a place that’s going to be much larger,” she says of Eastern Michigan, “And so, I have no doubt that I will find students and faculty and staff that I will connect with and be close with, but it’s not the same as having a handful of people in every class, even only thirty students in every class, where I can get to know you on a first-name basis.”

But when asked what she’ll miss most about this tiny little college in Amish country, she credits the school’s greatness to its people, without hesitation.

“Etown has some truly amazing faculty and staff that work here who are just some of the most kind-hearted, hardworking, brilliant people you’ll ever meet, and they bring the warmth to Etown, and I will definitely miss that.”

A stack of three large plastic bins sits behind her desk chair as she talks about these people – she says they were filled entirely with her graduate school dissertation data. She said that purging was difficult, but a welcome and cathartic release. It’s sad to see her go, but the feeling of eradication is shared as the semester comes to a close.

We’ll miss you too, Dr. Shah.


Listen to the full interview with Dr. Shah here.

The FX-Men: Mutants on TV in Marvel’s “Legion”

“Who teaches us to be normal when we’re one of a kind?”

Those words, spoken by Rachel Keller’s Syd Barrett (yes, named after that Syd Barrett), define one of the many incredibly grounded, human themes playing in the background of FX’s Legion, a new television series based on one of Marvel Entertainment’s many successful X-Men comics of the same name.

In this new superhuman endeavor, created by Noah Hawley (known for his work on FX’s “Fargo” series), Dan Stevens (of “Downton Abbey” and “Beauty and the Beast” fame) plays David Haller, a man who is believed to suffer from paranoid schizophrenic delusions, but may be much more than anyone thinks.

legion
A view on a millennial’s way of watching “Legion” – aka, the blessing of being able to watch DVR’d television on a laptop.

In the comics, David Haller is Legion, the antihero son of Gabrielle Haller and Charles Xavier, the telepathic mutant famously played on film by Sir Patrick Stewart. While Dan Stevens lacks Legion’s infamous high-top hairstyle, his spirit remains the same – a manic, uncertain man coming into an incredible amount of power and not being sure what to do with it. At its core, “Legion” is about a man going through a cycle of acceptance, and the reality of that shows very clearly on Stevens’s face. As extreme as David’s situation is, he’s someone people can connect with on a very deep, very human level, despite the fact that he can hear others’ thoughts and send kitchenware flying with his mind.

Aside from Dan Stevens, the rest of the cast is incredibly smart and well-cast, filled with televisions veterans and newbies alike. Amber Midthunder and Bill Irwin make a fantastic team as Kerry Loudermilk and Cary Loudermilk (yes, you read that right), and Aubrey Plaza makes a wonderfully bizarre Lenny Busker – a role originally written for a middle-aged man.

Jean Smart dominates as Melanie Bird, the stoic leader of “Legion”’s band of mutants. She carries herself with the style of Miranda Priestly and the biting wit of Rizzo from “Grease”, shutting down antagonists with unforgettable one-liners like, “You’d better learn to fly like a bird, because the age of the dinosaur is over.”

Jemaine Clement, known for his comedic work in HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords” and 2014’s “What We Do in the Shadows”, brings well-placed laughs as Oliver Bird, the eccentric and long-suffering (or so everyone thinks) husband of Melanie with a fondness for beat poetry and jazz music.

Each character is a scene-stealer in their own right, but the real gem of the show is Noah Hawley’s ability to create an atmosphere that feels foreign and dangerous, getting audiences inside David Haller’s head and projecting his frenzied emotions onto viewers. Prime-time television has seen some other well-received superhero television shows – like the CW’s DC properties and ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” – but nothing quite like the acid trip that “Legion” delivers. The show shifts from reality to imagination (and maybe even further) seamlessly, often blurring the line between the two so strongly that viewers have difficulty distinguishing them. In one moment, everything seems normal, and in the next, soldiers are piled together in a floating heap, or a character is literally dancing through the fabric of reality to Bassnectar’s remix of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good”. And that’s just how Hawley likes it.

The series reads like one long Kubrick film, and isn’t afraid to push the envelope when it comes to production value. Subtle hints to the show’s origins are worked into the set or the camera work – like the circular windows with the x-shaped frames that look eerily similar to the famous X-Men logo (also seen in the show’s title cards) – but they also aren’t shy about using cinematography to drive the story.

Hawley and his team aren’t afraid to play with color and color symbolism, often surrounding their actors with bright hues in the setting or washing them in pure colored lighting to signify something important. Whether it be the bright blue of innocence and safety that shows up in places like the “astral plane” inside the characters’ psyches, the orange that connects David back to his time in Clockworks Mental Hospital, or the dark, sinister stoplight-red that colors a frame every time an antagonist has the upper hand, Hawley colors his show like a child with a set of neon markers, and it works out wonderfully.

Some may call it strange, but most would call it a masterpiece. Noah Hawley and his cast of mutants have succeeded in telling a story that few would be able to translate to the screen, pulling viewers into what David would call a “romance of the mind”.

 

College costs

$56,340. That is the comprehensive tuition fee for Elizabethtown College for the 2017-2018 academic year. Tuition will be about $2,000 more than it was this year, and $4,000 more than the 2015-2016 academic year. Tuition increases happen naturally across every college throughout the U.S. and there are not any practical means for generally avoiding the increase, but the way the increases are being implemented at Etown is particularly frustrating to students and families.

To many students, they may see the $2,000 increase per year as negligible. Even though math is far from one of my favorite leisurely hobbies, it is important to calculate the totals to fully understand the significance of the numbers. Currents sophomores came in as first year students paying about $52,000. This year, they are paying about $54,000, and their junior year they will be paying about $56,000. Presumably, the $2,000 increase will continue, making their senior year’s comprehensive fee about $58,000. That is $6,000 more in tuition than the original financial aid package suggested to incoming students. When I was making my college decision, money was a major factor, along with getting a quality education. I compared schools based on the financial aid packages they offered me. When I came in as a first-year student at Etown, I was expecting my grand total after four years to be about $208,000 which is shocking in itself. Now, according to the projected increases, the grand total comes to about $220,000. That is $12,000 more than I expected to pay.

Needless to say, I was unsettled by this news, but I tried to remain optimistic, hoping I would gain some scholarship money from somewhere to help offset the costs. My mom, a single parent doing everything she possibly can to help me pay for my education, immediately began suggesting that I transfer to a more affordable school with a similar academic program. Then the college announced another major change. They would be launching a $50 million campaign to improve the college, and a large portion of the money would be spent on building a “Sports, Fitness, and Wellness Center.” This news in itself would not be so disappointing. The funds for the center are being raised privately, so the tuition increase is not being put toward its construction. Of course everyone would love some more recreation space, but announcing it in combination with the tuition increase did not sit well with me. I was not inspired counter to what the campaign suggested. The money they are spending could be better spent. The campaign promotions themselves included inspiring stories about our students and faculty, encouraging donors to contribute money to the good works that the members of our campus community complete. The center does not exactly correspond to this message of academia and service.

As if these two pieces of news were not disheartening enough, Etown gave its students a third piece of major news in an email just one day after announcing the launch of the campaign. Students received an email from the Financial Aid Office describing a change in their merit-based scholarship policy. Originally, the requirement was for students to maintain a 2.75 GPA to keep a merit-based scholarship. This standard plummeted to a requirement of just a 2.0 GPA.

“A 2.75 was a B average while 2.0 is a D average and students received these merit scholarships for being a strong academic,” sophomore Alison Parsons said. “If they cannot stay a strong academic they shouldn’t receive it.”

For a college seemingly struggling with finances and launching an expensive campaign, it is absolutely absurd for them to be throwing out money to students who should not have even been accepted to the college let alone given a huge merit-based scholarship. If they can indeed afford to handout this money to undeserving students, then they should be able to help balance the increases in our financial aid packages. The college should use the merit scholarships as incentives to do well academically.

The decisions of the college were not individually inherently bad, but the timing and the manner in which they were announced were extremely disheartening to students. Etown should have planned ahead and spaced out these major policy changes, so that students and families would have more time to process the decisions. The scholarship GPA requirement decrease is sending a message that Etown is lowering its high standards of achievement. Etown should be more selective with the students they admit to the college, so that we maintain our high academic standards. Our motto is “Educate for Service,” but Etown is doing a disservice to its high achieving students.

Limited access to healthcare puts students’ health at risk

Healthcare

Photo source: National Economic and Social Rights Initiative

With the Affordable Care Act (ACA) still in its infant stages, the issues surrounding healthcare have come to the mainstage of discussion across the country. While many people are discussing the impact of the ACA on the elderly, the poor and the American middle class, college students are a rarely discussed demographic in regards to this issue.

Although the ACA requires insurance companies to allow a person to stay on their parents insurance until turning 26, for low-income students who don’t have insurance this isn’t applicable, leaving them with no insurance and little money to pay for their own expensive plan. Elizabethtown College is a college which has created programs to welcome lower income students to the school, though they do not offer free or low-cost, comprehensive healthcare options to low-income students.

First-year Kyle Praseut is one Etown student who feels the school has failed to live up to their promises by not helping low-income students with healthcare. Neither of his parents have insurance, leaving him completely devoid of affordable access to healthcare.

“I find that even with the school’s willingness to give out scholarships to those in need that those in true dire need do not have access to the resources people need to survive – like healthcare,” Praseut said.

In addition to students, like Praseut, who don’t have insurance, there is an abundance of students who may have insurance through their parents’ employer, but these insurance plans require the use of a network doctor. This policy often requires the student to return home to go to the clinic or hospital in order to have any of the bill covered by insurance. These students are apt to avoid going to the doctor until they are able to go home or avoid the doctor’s office all together.

Through the ACA, colleges are now required to offer a healthcare plan and make it available to their students. The College has complied with this, and starting fall 2016 has begun offering the option of student health insurance at the cost of around $1500 per school year for each student. While these rates are potentially lower than a student may have to pay on their own in a private insurance policy, this amount of money is still out of reach for some students.

“I don’t have the campus insurance because it’s too expensive. An extra $1500 on top of the tuition I already barely afford just isn’t reasonable,” first-year Savannah Martinez said.

Many low-income students that attend Etown are recipients of merit and need based financial aid. Unfortunately, the College does not have a policy in place which allows the use of these funds towards insurance, which may squash any possibilities some students may have of affording the plan.

Some colleges across the nation offer free medical access to their students through full- or part-time nurses, physicians and other medical staff. At Etown, students do have free access to some health resources through the WELL and through a nurse via the local Penn State Hershey Medical Center, but she is not able to write prescriptions, treat most injuries or do a long list of other procedures students may find necessary.

There seems to be a common belief that Etown would be incapable of sustaining such a presence because large public schools are most of the colleges with recognizably free medical programs for students. However, some private schools, such as Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island, do offer free medical services to their students.

At Johnson and Wales, students have access to a registered nurse daily with minor injuries and illness but are also able to schedule appointments with a physician who is available two days a week. Students are not charged to see either a nurse or physician.

Although there are potential benefits to students in creating a more comprehensive medical program for students to access, the costs may be higher than the school is willing to pay. In addition, some people belief that while it may be acceptable – and even expected – for public universities to provide free medical care, private schools do not – and should not – have the same expectation or responsibilities.

“The general welfare is up to the state and national government, not a private institution,” sophomore John Koons said.

Exposing the “Perfect” Rape Story

By failing to make the effort to check the most critical facts of its striking story about an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house, Rolling Stone has done rape victims, especially those on college campuses, a great disservice. In 2014, reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely set out to write the “perfect rape story,” one that would shock the nation into finally taking the necessary action to help sexual assault victims. After traveling the nation and talking to different rape and sexual assault victims, Erdely found the perfect victim for her story in Jackie, a UVA junior, who was allegedly ambushed and raped by seven men at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house during a date party in 2012. With its shockingly gruesome details and heart-wrenchingly realistic portrayal of gang rape, Erdely’s supposed exposé, entitled “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA,” quickly sparked a national discussion about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses.

At first, it seemed like Erdely had succeeded in drawing national attention to rape culture. However in light of follow-up investigations into the rape allegations, it became increasingly clear that the very basic, standard steps to corroborate the details of the claims had never been taken. Erdely never reached out to the individuals accused of perpetrating the attack, but instead relied on the entire account of the story to come from one source: the victim of the attack, Jackie. Not only is this an entirely unethical way to go about reporting a story, but checking into the details of the story wouldn’t have even been a lengthy process. The Washington Post managed to investigate and disprove many of the details of the accounts in a manner of days. On Dec. 5, 2014, Rolling Stone finally published an online apology stating there appeared to be “discrepancies” in the accounts of Erdely’s sources and that their trust in the accuser had been misplaced.

On Nov. 6, Dr. Kyle Kopko’s Gender and the Law class hosted Dean Smolla of Widener University, a litigator in one of the three UVA rape case trials, just days after a federal court jury decided that Erdely and Rolling Stone were both responsible for defamation with actual malice of Nicole Eramo, the UVA administrator in charge of handling sexual violence cases at the time of the article’s publication. In regards to his opinion on the outcome of the trial, Smolla showed little to no pity for Erdely or Rolling Stone.

“If you know the story’s not true or you suspect the story is not true and you turn a blind eye to that, it is deliberately avoiding the truth,” Smolla said.

Students on Elizabethtown College’s campus have mixed feelings on how they feel that this case of false reporting will affect the validity of future reporting on sexual assault cases.

“This has happened in the past before- false reporting,” first-year Tanner Simon stated. “I don’t think that students will react any differently because I feel like this instance isn’t widely known throughout campuses.”

Other students fear that now when journalists report on the stories of victims, the public will be less likely to take the stories seriously.

“I think it will perpetuate the misconceptions surrounding rape cases, especially those that are reported on college campuses,” first-year Savannah Martinez said.

By neglecting to verify that the details of their story were true, Erdely and Rolling Stone have made life much harder for the victims of assault that a story like this was supposed to help.

To learn more about the Rolling Stone article and the ensuing lawsuits, check out ABC’s 20/20 episode, What Happened to Jackie?