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Survey Finds Few Schools Adapt To BLM

This story was reported by the staff of The Princeton Summer Journal. The project was led by Ryleigh Mae Emmert, Synai Ferrell, Roxana Martínez, Mmachukwu Osisioma, and Lewis Stahl.

Thomas Stone High School is located about twenty-five miles south-east of Washington, D.C., in Charles County, Md. Roughly 1,100 students are enrolled there, most of them African-American. After nationwide Black Lives Matter protests erupted in the spring of 2020, following a spate of high-profile police killings of African-Americans, students and faculty at Thomas Stone wondered how the school would address themes of racial injustice. “I have had three teachers talk about race in my whole experience at Thomas Stone: one world history teacher, one chorus teacher, and one English teacher,” said Tah’Kiyah Coleman, 17, a 12th grader at Thomas Stone, in an interview with the Princeton Summer Journal. “I do think they sugarcoat things to make it seem that they are not as racially unjust as they are,” she added. Coleman was addressing a question countless others would pose around the country: Would schools continue teaching the same curriculums, or make changes inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement?

At Thomas Stone, it turned out, nothing much changed. “We were in the virtual environment and were cautioned about teaching certain things, because students were at home and parent/guardians could hear what was being discussed and could take them out of context,” Niyati Green, an English teacher at Thomas Stone, told the PSJ. “I was not discouraged, but was warned that this virtual platform was not the best time to push the envelope .” Ultimately, Thomas Stone’s principal confirmed, no school-wide curriculum changes were implemented, though an “educational equity” task force was created in October 2020 to provide students with “essential academic, social, emotional and economic resources.” 

This summer, the PSJ sent survey questions to 42 high schools or school districts across the country to form a picture of how American schools are addressing race in history, literature, and other subjects. The institutions surveyed ranged from a large public school in Brooklyn, N.Y. to a charter school in Houston, Texas, to a small high school in rural western Tennessee. Representatives from 17 schools or districts replied. The schools that refused to answer may have done so out of caution, as race in the classroom has recently become a third-rail in American politics. In response to the uprisings of 2020, countless schools around the country began to assign recent texts about the history and legacy of American racism, such as The New York Times’s “1619 Project,” and Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Anti-Racist.” In response, according to the education site Chalk-beat, 28 mostly conservative-leaning states have proposed or passed legislation this year seeking to restrict the teaching of Critical Race Theory, a contested school of thought that centers the teaching of structural or systemic racism.

Among the schools surveyed by the PSJ, however, change was the exception: Just four reported that courses had been added or altered to address topics central to the Black Lives Matter movement. In Philadelphia, a charter school added a course called “Intro to Criminal Justice.” In Phoenix, a large school district offered three new courses exploring African-American, Mexican-American, and Native American perspectives. In the northern California city of Brentwood, an African-American history class was added. In a Brownsville, Texas charter school, an eighth grade social studies class was altered to incorporate themes of social justice.

There are varying reasons other schools did not make changes to classroom instruction. Several majority-minority charter schools argued they had been founded on a mission of inclusivity and didn’t require significant changes. Traditional public schools in Massachusetts and Maine had diversified their syllabi in the years running up to 2020. A school in Tennessee, meanwhile, responded that it has been hamstrung from making changes by the recent statewide ban on Critical Race Theory. Respondents from other school districts cited bureaucracy or budgetary limitations.

Nikolai Vitti, Detroit’s public schools superintendent, was one of the respondents who felt his school district was ahead of the curve on race-conscious learning, before the protests of 2020. “Our district has always been very intentional in teaching history from multiple perspectives” and elevating “the voices of those who have been most marginalized and oppressed,” he told the PSJ. Antonio Cano, the principal of La Joya High School, located in south Texas, said there had been no curriculum changes at his school, but added, “I am sure if students were to start a conversation relating to race, protests, or Critical Race Theory, our teachers will make time to acknowledge their questions and have a discussion within the class.” (This summer, Texas passed a bill seeking to ban elements of Critical Race Theory in public schools.)  

At Bioscience High School in Phoenix, Ariz., teachers have recently begun diversifying the curriculum by assigning reading materials such as “Just Mercy,” lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s memoir of fighting wrongful convictions and cruel prison sentences, or Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime,” about the author’s upbringing in apartheid South Africa. Holly Batsell, the school’s principal, worries that Arizona’s own recent bill restricting certain teachings around race—which fines school districts $5,000 per violation—will impede their efforts. But it is unclear if such books would run afoul of the state’s new laws, which do not address which reading materials may be assigned. More narrowly, the bill attempts to ban the teaching that any one person, by virtue of their race, ethnicity, or sex, is “inherently superior” or “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive,” among other provisions. (So-called anti-CRT laws are likely to face legal challenges.) 

Teachers or administrators at the vast majority of the schools surveyed seemed comfortable with race-conscious pedagogy. But it was generally individual teachers, rather than districts, who had the flexibility to introduce new reading materials in the classroom. “As we returned to school after the summer of 2020, at least in my high school, to my dismay, there was little mention of race whatsoever,” said Dave Brooks, an AP Language and Composition teacher at Lewiston High School in Maine, where the majority of students are caucuasian.

Still, Brooks didn’t shy away from assigning texts about the uglier facets of U.S. his-tory, something he said students responded well to. “The idea that white students are so fragile that they can’t bear the uncomfortable feelings that surface when they find out the truth about redlining, mass incarceration, Christopher Columbus, or anti-Black stereotypes in the media is not only ridiculous, but dangerous,” he said. “Instead, they often express gratitude for discussing things honestly and openly.” 

The PSJ’s questions about Critical Race Theory generated mixed responses. Perhaps because there is disagreement about what the once-obscure academic term means, even some progressive educators seemed hesitant to be associated with it. Joseph Peters, who teaches AP History at Midwood High School in New York City, seemed to regard the term as an epithet more than anything else. “Critical Race Theory is a label that people are using in bad faith to try and push a sanitized view of American history,” he told the PSJ. “But American history is messy. It hasn’t been one long march towards progress and prosperity for all Americans.” However schools wind up addressing race in America, it is hard to argue that even the most well-intentioned schools won’t continue to reflect—even symbolically — the country’s complex legacies of injustice.

Thomas Stone, the namesake of the high school in Maryland, is best known as a signer of the Declaration of Independence , and a member of Mary-land’s Senate. He also presided over a plantation, on which he kept roughly 25 enslaved people in servitude. “In my high school career, most of what I read was from the European male view, and I saw how they viewed their place and existence in the world,” said Green, the English Teacher at Thomas Stone. “That was the only perspective I got. It is important to teach various perspectives with Eurocentric views, but also marginalized views.”

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Self-Styled ‘Outsider’ Seeks To Shake Up Congressional Race

Gregg Betts

By Amanda Renae Chapa and Nahid Hassan
Sullivan City, Texas and Upper Darby, Pa.

Editor’s Note: This piece was reported and written before the Aug. 3 primary. Greg Betts was defeated in that race by Allison Russo.

On Aug. 3, a special election for Ohio’s 15th Con-gressional District will be held to replace former Re-publican Rep. Steve Stivers, who resigned in May. Re-publicans hope that they can keep the seat, as they have since 2010. But they face competition from an unlikely challenger: Demo-crat Greg Betts, a self-titled “political outsider.” Betts, who served for more than 30 years in the U.S. Army, is a retired colonel with ex-perience as a military and government policymaker.

Although the political newcomer is aware of the challenges he faces running in a Republican stronghold, he said that as a military lo-gistics expert, he has had an immense amount of experi-ence running the programs, systems and processes en-compassing the federal gov-ernment. When he retired from the Army early this year, he knew he wanted to continue in a governmental role because of his love for serving people. 

His campaign for the seat also comes at an un-likely time. Betts was herded into the race when Stivers stepped down to lead the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. Though Betts has never held elected office, he said he has the background necessary to “hit the ground running as a legislator.”

Betts reiterated that past gerrymandering makes it difficult for Democrats to win the district. “Only Republicans have won the gerrymandered Republican districts, and only Democrats have won the select Democrat districts,” he said. He noted that the partisan-ship of modern politics does little to mitigate the issue, but did not specify any ex-plicit plans to overcome the problem. His plat-forms take a populist Democratic approach, with promises to support a $15 minimum wage, univer-sal health care and infrastruc-ture reform—as well as in-creased funds for veterans. “I know full well just how imperative it is that we honor our sacred ob-ligation to care for them both during and after their service to the people of the United States,” he says on his website. This sentiment comes from Betts’s own history serving in the military. 

While his ideas for change may appeal to left-leaning voters, his plans lack detail. 

When asked to describe how he would regulate mar-ijuana usage, he remained ambiguous. “The nice part about it is that we’ll be able to process it,” he said, draw-ing comparisons to how the government regulates alco-hol usage. He suggested tax-ing marijuana to fund health care and other necessities but remains vague about the spe-cific allocation of potential new funds.

Betts faces fierce com-petition in Republ ic a n Mike Carey, who secured an endorse-ment from former Presi-dent Donald Trump, and remains the leading candidate. Despite his uphill bat-tle he has remained firm in his desire to make positive change. His underdog campaign shows a man vying to help others, and with it, the change he has promised to bring change to Ohio’s 15th Congressional District. 

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Year After Floyd, Police Reform Advocates Seek Shared Ground

By Angie Tangarife
West New York, N.J.

Over the last year, protests and movements regarding police reforms have spiked. The outrage over the deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement was expressed through protests, writings, and petitions. Victims like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and Daunte Wright sparked a revolt against police bru-tality. 

Views of law enforcement vary greatly. Some believe police are necessary, others advocate for the complete abolition of law enforcement. However, there is common ground where some can agree: that law enforcement is not what it should be. On one hand, saying the police sys-tem is not what it should be can mean we need a system like this to exist, but the current organization is not ideal. On the other hand, this statement can also argue for police abolition.

These are the sides in which Kevin Lawrence, executive director of TMPA (Texas Municipal Police As-sociation), and Gina Feliz, rising senior at Princeton University and president of SPEAR (Students for Police Education Abolition and Reform), fall. Each brings their unique  opinions to the topic of police violence.  

Kevin Lawrence has served as a law enforcement officer for 22 years. Throughout his career he served as the Treasurer and President of  TMPA, and was also the Deputy  Executive Director from 2000 to  2010, now Executive Director of the  TMPA. He also worked with many  police departments. Lawrence has  been an involved officer, and uses his experiences to share his opinion.  Gina Feliz is Co-President of SPEAR which concentrates on anti-carceral  activism, police abolition, and law  enforcement reforms. SPEAR’s take  on police abolition is as Feliz states,  “what it sounds like: getting rid of  the police.” Adding that “as [they] exist now, there is no way to dis-entangle policing as an institution  from systemic historical racism.”  Feliz has been part of SPEAR for 3 years. She states that before college,  she never engaged in criminal justice, although she was heavily politically involved and aware. Currently  at Princeton, she is studying public  policy and has learned about the a harms of prison and policing, driving her to become the radical police abolitionist she is. 

Even with these two extreme beliefs, and how deeply involved each individual is with the cause they support, there is common ground. 

When asked about Black Lives Matter, Lawrence has an astonish-ing recall on his reaction to the murder of George Floyd. It was a normal evening sitting down in his bedroom. In the tranquility of his home, he was interrupted by his wife. Sounding dis-turbed, she told him to “watch this video,” Lawrence recalled. The video showed several officers kneeling on George Floyd. Lawrence’s wife, a former probation officer, stated that “it’s not like she has never seen this type of stuff before.” The video captures the mo-ment Floyd’s life is taken by Officer Chauvin, who kneeled on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 sec-onds. The start of the video seemed common to Lawrence; the kneel-ing technique is taught to officers to deal with individuals resisting arrest. But Lawrence became worried at the kneeling on Floyd’s body. As if there, he began talking to the phone. “OK, it’s time to get up. It’s time to move to the next phase,” Lawrence said, then words became yells of desperation as a fellow officer. He could not comprehend the lack of care the officers had for Floyd. Lawrence stated “look at what you’re doing to that man on the ground, but think what you are doing to nine hundred thousand other law en-forcement officers across this country… they’re all gonna be judged based off what you’re doing right now.”

The video was disturbing to thousands and went viral on social media. Similarly, Feliz was overwhelmed by the news. She made the de-cision to not watch the video nor share its con-tent. Lounging at her house, post-finals, in the middle of the pandemic, she found out about the incident through social media. The feeling of hopelessness drove her to contact a former SPEAR member and friend to organize events as well. 

Two individuals with opposite views on law enforcement, yet have similar reactions. The sudden news was like a blow to the stomach, as each realized law enforcement was not acting as it should. Over this, both advocates shared common ground.

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DREAMers Band Together To Build Awareness, Find Allies

United We Dream

By Yarlin Morales
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Everyone wants the American Dream, whether they want to admit it or not. “DREAMers,” undocu-mented Americans who came to the United States before turning 17 and have legal protections under  the Deferred Action for Child-hood Arrivals (DACA) program, have found ways to support each other to achieve their own version of the American Dream through non-for-profit organizations like America’s Voice, United We Dream and Define American.

America’s Voice is an organization whose mission is to put America’s eleven million undocumented immigrants on a full path to citizenship by changing the political climate. Zachary Mueller, a digital communications manager at America’s Voice, says that it aims “to be a front door to the immigrants rights movement for folks that may or may not have any personal connections to immigrants.” To do this, he says America’s Voice tries “to drown a lot of the policy stuff and a lot of the confusing language that  can tend to get into the weeds.” Their main goal is to help stop xenophobic language before it starts, making it easier for immi-grants to tell their stories. With over 800,000 members, United We Dream is the largest immigrant  youth-led network in the country, according to José Muñoz, the organization’s national communications manager. The organization aims to ensure that the voices of their members, who are directly impacted by immigration policy, are heard across the media by pitching stories to reporters, training members, and  tracking the news. 

Some DREAMers have created chapters of orga-nizations in universities to help students covered by DACA. Marco Gonza-lez Blancas and Salvador Chavero Arellano, both recent Duke University graduates, served on the board of their campus’s Define America chapter. They were freshmen when then-President Trump dismantled DACA on September 5, 2017—a date Arellano says he will never forget. “That was when a lot of us—you know, freshman, sophomore, junior, seniors—got together, and we said something needs to be done. We need to fight.”

Define American’s “mission is to change the narra-tive of immigration in the United States, both legal and undocumented,” says Gonzalez. Through informing the Duke student body, they were able to create better allies. The group created an Undocumented Awareness Week with edu-cational and social events. They asked students to give up their student ID, “which literally gives them access to every building on cam-pus and allows them to buy food and all those things, [so] they could kind of ex-perience what it meant to be undocumented,” Gonzalez.  DREAMers have gone above and beyond to build awareness and allies. In doing so, they hope to find a pathway to their own American Dream: the dream of citizenship.

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Students Aim To ‘Rewrite The Narrative’ About DREAMers

By Joyce Kim
La Cañada, Calif.

On September 5, 2017, a rainy Tuesday in Durham, North Carolina, Marco Gonzalez Blancas and Salvador Chavero Arellano, then freshman at Duke University, heard the news: DACA would be dismantled.

The Trump Administration’s announcement that it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program left nearly 800,000 “DREAMers”— young people who had entered the country un-lawfully as children—at risk of losing the legal protection granted to them by the program, which allowed them to defer deportation in renewable two-year periods, as well as apply for a driver’s license, social security number, and work permit.

“I remember the date exactly,” Arellano re-called. “That was when a lot of us—you know, freshman, sophomore, junior, seniors—got together, and we said something needs to be done. We need to fight.”

The students started Duke University’s chapter of Define American, an organization that “uses the power of narrative to humanize conversations about immigrants.” The newly-founded chapter included undocumented and DACA students, TPS (temporary protected status) students, and citizens who were allies. That year, the group lobbied the U.S. Congress to urge their representatives to keep the program.

“I really wanted to have more allies coming into the chapter,” said Gonzalez, who served as co-president of Duke’s chapter. “I think a lot of people, even at Duke, hadn’t met an undocumented person or DACA person. Or maybe they had, but those people that they had encountered throughout life hadn’t told them because they were afraid that they were going to be treated differently. So we took it as our mission to also inform and educate people more on topics re-lated to immigration.” The chapter’s initia-tives included educational and social events, such as dedicating a week to un-documented awareness, or tabling at the plaza on campus and asking students to give up their student ID for a period of time in order to simulate the experience of being undocumented. Gonzalez and Arellano say they received support from Duke’s administration. Days after Trump’s DACA decision, the president of Duke “told us that the institution would be behind us,” said Arellano. The administration funded the chapter’s trips to D.C., gave students access to Duke’s law clinic for individual assistance with renewing their DACA status and alerted students if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was in the area, among other services. They also allowed students who didn’t qualify for work-study to receive grants and financial aid.

Despite Duke’s institutional support of the undocumented, Arellano says not all of the staff at Duke were well versed in the problems facing students like him. When he sought counseling at Duke’s Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) after his parents had to go back to Mexico, Arrelano recalls, “I remember talking about my experiences and my status, and the person [at CAPS] did not know how to help me. They were like, ‘Oh, why didn’t you just apply for citizenship?’ I think there was a huge limitation during the first half of my experience there.”

Since then, however, Define American’s chapter has done trainings for Duke administrators on how to support undocu-mented students, and Gonzalez and Arellano say that there has been an exponential change for the better. 

Even after all they’ve done, Gonzalez and Arellano don’t plan to stop working to improve conditions for America’s undocumented, whether or not they qualify for DACA.

“I think we need to fight for as many people as we can and rewrite the narrative that you need to be a perfect immigrant in order to belong here,” said Gonzalez. “We don’t stop the fight just because we get our papers.”

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As Teens Flock To Online Activism, New Challenges For Mental Health

By Nhi Huynh and Emi Glass
Worcester, Mass. and Kettering, Ohio

Racism has always been prevalent in American society and institutions. In May of 2020, national attention turned to combating police brutality after the murder of George Floyd. The video footage of Floyd’s death, along with the tense political climate associated with the pandemic, sparked some of the largest protests in American history. 

Around the same time, many conservative leaders began to refer to COVID-19 as the “China virus,” despite this being overtly racist rhetoric. Asian-Americans felt the devastating effects of this discrimi-nation, evidenced by a drastic rise in hate crimes. Protests swept the nation again in spring of 2021, in re-sponse to a tragic series of shootings in Atlanta, where six Asian women were killed. 

Due to risks associated with large gatherings during COVID-19, protesters took to both the streets and social media to gather support for a multitude of justice movements, such as Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate. As these movements gained traction over the past year, young people emerged at the fore-front. Youth organized and led pro-tests in their communities, but their activism didn’t stop there. 

Young people across the country also amplified their voices online, using apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter to spread information about issues they care about and en-courage others to take action. Youth especially see the value in sharing their opinions on serious matters on-line and using their digital platforms to inform the masses. 

“Everyone can share what they think and feel. I feel like it has escalated, it has brought more light to issues that wouldn’t have gotten a lot of atten-tion,” said Julia, 17. 

However, as issues like systemic racism, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and police violence trend online, teens often report feeling pressured, or seeing others being pressured, into posting about issues they aren’t entirely familiar with. 

Tryphena, 17, recounts feeling pressure from peers to post about a conflict she wasn’t completely edu-cated on. 

“Some of my friends say things in their stories that are like ‘if you don’t post this then it means you don’t care,’ ” she said. “I’m just not sure that I’m the right person to speak out about this right now because I’m just not fully informed.” 

The negative effects of online activism on mental health don’t stop at peer pressure. As conversations surrounding COVID-19 death rates, police brutality, and the Israel-Pales-tine conflict gained widespread at-tention, discussion of tragic events often led to graphic and upsetting images in online spaces, sometimes without any warning. Constant ex-posure to violence and disturbing images, even when it’s online, has been proven to have negative effects on mental and physical wellbeing. Elina, 17, explained how the con-stant exposure to negative news im-pacted her: “When covid started and [the media] were saying all the death rates, it honestly caused me to turn off my phone.”

As the world faces the second year of the pandemic, it’s clear that on-line activism isn’t going anywhere, at least not in the foreseeable future. Young people will continue to be politically active on social media, which makes it imperative to find a balance between speaking out on important issues and taking care of oneself. With so much of young peo-ple’s lives being spent on the inter-net, it’s necessary to be able to take a break from online responsibilities periodically. In fact, taking breaks from social media when needed has been proven to have positive health impacts, such as improving quality of sleep and reducing anxiety. 

If you begin to feel stressed and fatigued by the onslaught of negative news, taking a break from social media could be a beneficial decision. Implementing time limits on certain apps, turning off notifications, and scheduling time away from screens can all help manage social media-induced stress. 

Regina, 16, considers herself to be an online activist. She shared advice for others her age who feel over-whelmed and stressed by politics on social media. 

“It comes down to your limitations. … It’s OK to realize that you’re going to need time off an app. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person.”

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Teens Adapt To Rise In Online Activism

By Regina Roberts and Tryphena Awuah
Alexandria, Va. and Columbus, Ohio

Before social media, an activist was of-ten thought of as a protester or as an active participant in an organization. But social media has given all of its users a platform in which to voice their opinions, changing our perception of what an activist is. Instagram infographics have grown increasingly popular as a way to speak out against issues and bring awareness to peers. 

“Within my community, it has become more of a norm to post about issues you feel passionate about,” said Joyce Kim, 17, of La Cañada, Calif. “Personally, I used to be intimidated by activism but the pandemic and Instagram made me realize that you can participate in small ways.” This accessibility is part of the appeal of online activism, which al-lows everyone to readily communicate with their audience. Alexsis Tapia, 16, from River-dale, Md., said that social media activism “combats the stigma of adolescents not knowing enough to get involved and has al-lowed them to speak out.”

Because many users may only hear one perspective, they can easily be exposed to misinformation, as we have seen with claims of election fraud in 2020. This makes fact-checking essential. But the practice can be exhausting, with the flow of endless information making some, like Baby Cornish, 17, of Frederick, Md., want to “forego social media altogether.”

On Instagram, it’s all about the aesthetic: colors, fonts, and even the song playing in the background of a post. “Insta-gram has molded activism in an aesthetically pleasing type of way,” said Les-lie Nevarez, 18. Nevarez, who is from Brownsville, Texas, says that the actual information is often sec-ondary to eye-catching, bite-sized infographics, which contribute to the rise of performative activ-ism and make the harsh realities of the world seem like trends. “Before I post something on social media I make sure of two things: that it’s kind and informative,” she said. 

What really happens after we post? How can we know if we impacted someone at all? While on-line activism can be an easy starting point, Nevarez feels the real change comes from offline activism. Her city, Brownsville, has been hesitant in accepting the LGBTQ+ community, but it does have an organization that created a pride flag in June 2020 to place on its welcome sign. The flag only lasted a day before someone took it down and replaced it with “no LGBTQ” in spray paint.  This June, those who created the flag protested and organized events to reinstate it. Their efforts were successful and the flag remains on the welcome sign.

“If it hadn’t been for social media and those in-dividuals per-sisting,” Neva-rez said, “we wouldn’t have reached mem-bers of the community to create change.” Social media can also bol-ster local and nat ionw ide movement s , such as Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate. These social justic initiatives have been amplified by social media and have brought about awareness across the country. Online activism has been a valu-able medium for activist organizations, although Nevarez believes that it alone can only accomplish so much.

News reaches members of the younger generation through their Instagram feeds faster than their television screens. With this overflow of information on global, national, and local issues, some social media users feel pressured not only to keep up, but to repost and spread awareness to appear in-formed. 

For teenagers like Kim, the pressure to post on social media is about keeping her audience informed on issues that do not receive extensive news coverage. In March, following the Atlanta spa shootings, Kim said that she was disheartened by the lack of awareness among her followers on social media. Many, she noticed,  glossed over the issue or ignored it alto-gether. During this time, she felt pressure to post. “If I don’t voice my opinion on this,” she recalled thinking, “then who will?” Posting about it online, she said, “has helped me find my voice as an advocate.”

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In Pandemic, Drag Goes Online to Virtual Stage

Vivica C. Coxx

By Jada Jackson
Queens, N.Y.

“It was a lip-syncing competition, and everyone dared me to go as Macy Gray … basically with my natural hair, I like tied it back, I shaved, and I went out there and I performed the song called ‘I Try.’ And I got second place out of ten acts as a solo performer, lip-synching a boring song, and I really made it work.” 

This was the first time Vivica C. Coxx was able to dip her toes into the glorious and liberating world of drag. The drag queen and drag house matriarch had her first show at just 17 years old in her high school, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. This was the moment that Coxx was launched into a community full of love. Coxx was granted an opportunity of a lifetime. “[O]ne day I was sitting in an establishment, a bar. On my way to go… the owner of the establishment asked me if I knew any local queens who could open from Manila Luzon from RuPaul’s drag race. I’m over here with 10 years of amateur experience, I’m bold, why not say I can do it. They asked to see some pictures of me, I showed them a photo from Halloween … They said let’s do it … It was like this perfect storm for someone to step up. And I did.” The crowd loved her. She exceeded everyone’s expectations, including her own. “There’s this moment from that night, where you see that I realized this is what I was supposed to do.” That’s what the Drag community is about—freedom and self-expression.

Gay Bars like Roscoe’s Tavern, which opened on April 1, 1987. It was one of the first in Boystown, Chicago which helped create an LGBTQ neighborhood on the Northside of Chicago. At the time, it was rare to find a place where LG-BTQ people could be them-selves in public. Roscoe’s was bold to keep windows open to the streets. Today this isn’t important but at the time, “every other business was known for having their windows bro-ken out on the regular,” said Shawn Hazen, the Marketing & Special Events Manager for Roscoe’s Tavern. “When we started 30 plus years ago … we wanted people to be encouraged to you know … feel comfortable being an out queer person.” Roscoe’s was a place where people would feel safe to enjoy themselves.

Bars like Roscoe’s have been a refuge for Queer people for generations. It was a spiritual rejuvenation session. “[D]rag is church. A lot of people, they go to church  …  You go on Sunday, and you get your soul filled,” Coxx says to explain what drag is. Drag queens are the beacons of light for many in the darkness that this harsh world has created for those in the LGBTQ community.

That’s how it was before COVID-19 shut everything down. Without places to host drag shows, queens got creative. They weren’t discouraged by the pandemic, Coxx said, “for most drag performers everything didn’t fully shut down … I actually per-formed a lot during the pandemic, all from the comfort of my home.” Coxx enjoyed being able to put on a show without the physical constraints of a corset, heels, and foam padding. She embraced the change of scenery with her natural flair and extravagance. 

“However, there were times where I would be performing in my room and it was completely silent. I didn’t know if they were enjoying it … Could you imagine that?” Coxx asked. It changed what drag was about. The sense of family was left in the chat, no longer was she on a big stage with bright lights, where she felt, “this is home.” Now she was actually alone.

“COVID-19 was a very isolating experience … I spent a year and a half basically alone.” Despite it all, she survived and is still flourishing. Coxx recently performed her first in-person drag show performing as if everything was never shut down. Coxx, like many drag queens, and bars like Roscoe’s Tavern, adapted to the situation and were able to make it through. The community built before COVID was one of family, togetherness, and love for each other. That community has shown that it will remain whether virtually or in-person for years to come.

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Retired Army Colonel Seeks To Upset GOP’s Grasp On Safe Seat In Ohio House Race

By Elina Sadeghian and Synai Ferrell

Healdsburg, Calif. and Waldorf, Md.

Editor’s Note: This piece was reported and written before the Aug. 3 primary. Greg Betts was defeated in that race by Allison Russo.

On July 15, 2021, Greg Betts, a 53-year-old Democratic congressional candidate for Ohio’s 15th District, participated in a press conference held by students of the Princeton Summer Journalism Program. There, he discussed his policies on healthcare, civil and voting rights, cli-mate change, and infra-structure. 

Betts is a retired U.S Army colonel who served for 30 years. He is running against fellow Democrat Al-lison Russo, a sitting mem-ber of the Ohio General Assembly. The winner of their Aug 3 primary race will face the Republican nominee to succeed retiring GOP Congressman Steve Stivers, who was represented the district since 2011, in a special election.

Betts said he was inspired to run for a congressional seat in Ohio because of its history of gerrymandering and unfair electoral politics. Ohio Republicans have designed the state’s redistricting map to keep their party in office, which violates voters’ constitutional rights. Betts, a strong believer in the Constitution, hopes to dismantle gerry-mandering and influence fair elections to ensure all Americans have equal protection under the law. 

Betts has his shortcom-ings as a new politician; however, his experience as a military colonel has prepared him to navigate government policies and has provided him with leadership skills. His passion to serve the coun-try also motivates him. “Although my military service is complete, my service to this state and nation is not complete,” he said. In reference to his initiatives, a student asked how he would pro-tect the rights of workers who will be out of jobs as he battles to rid the nation of corporations producing greenhouse gas emissions. In his re-sponse, he was honest and open about consulting with experts before tak-ing further action. Betts also faced questions on his infrastruc-ture policy. Betts’s goals for infrastruc-ture include transitioning to clean en-ergy to create jobs, investing in civil projects to repair roads, bridges, rail lines, airports and seaports, and replacing all lead pipes in America so everyone has access to clean water. When asked how he would maintain equity through these ini-tiatives—especially when one considers America’s history of rehousing mar-ginalized groups under the guise of infrastruc-tural improvement—Bet-ts again noted that he would defer to expert opinion.

Betts’s policies—such as funding child care, raising the minimum wage, investing in public infrastructure, decreasing the cost of college, and making healthcare widely accessi-ble, among others—appeal to most Democrats.

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GOP’s Ciattarelli Touts Plan To Lower Property Taxes If Elected Governor

Former New Jersey state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli is announced he’s running for governor while at the John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Raritan. Tuesday, January 21, 2020. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media)

Layla Brooks and Lewis Stahl

Bay City, Mich. and Brooklyn, N.Y.

New Jersey faces the issue of high  taxes for homeowners, and Republican gubernatorial nominee Jack  Ciattarelli has a plan to lower them. 

Ciattarelli, a former state assemblyman and small business owner,  wants to lower taxes through a  thorough revision of the school  funding formula. He would also  redefine “local fair share,” motivating towns and districts to  regionalize, end home improvement-based property tax raises,  and—regardless of the homeowner’s income or length of residency—freeze property taxes when a homeowner turns 65.

 “The property taxes are sky- high,” said Stami Williams, Ciattarelli’s communications director.  Of the current structure, she said, “Everybody is suffering from it, and it doesn’t matter what part of the state [or] who you are.” 

According to a report this year by WalletHub, property taxes in New Jersey are the highest in the nation, with an effective real estate tax rate at 2.47 percent. (Property taxes are collected locally in New Jersey, so each county’s tax rate differs.) 

According to Ciattarelli’s campaign website, “New Jersey can and should be a place where our residents can afford to live and work for generations. As Governor, I will lower your property taxes through comprehensive re-form of our broken school funding formula – a system where 60 percent of state aid goes to just 5 percent of the districts is unsustainable.” This plan has racked up statewide sup-port because school funding among districts remains disproportionate. New Jersey has many similar, small districts, “some rich and some poor, with persistent tax capacity and funding disparities between them,” according to a report for the New jersey Policy Perspective, a nonpartisan think tank.

Asked how Ciattarelli’s team plans to accomplish this goal without compromising the education of at-risk students, Williams said,  “a lot of what [Ciattarelli] is trying to do is rebuild the school funding formula because there is a lot of disparity between where people live, what they’re pay-ing, and the cost for each student.” 

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Williams Crafts Candidate’s SocialMedia To Appeal To Young Voters

Stami Williams

By Aryam Haile and Huda Tombul

Stone Mountain, Ga. and Brooklyn, N.Y.

In a press conference on July 15, students from the Princeton  Summer Journalism Program interviewed Stami Williams, the communications director for New Jersey GOP gubernatorial  candidate, Jack Ciattarelli. 

Originally from Stone Mountain, Georgia, Williams’s job consists of creating and maintaining Ciattarelli’s image on the campaign. The current governor of  New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy, has a considerable advantage  in New Jersey, where there are  over a million more registered Democrats than Republicans. De-spite this advantage, however, no Democratic governor has won a  second term in the last four decades. To win, Ciattarelli must  win over Democratic voters. Williams told the students at the  Princeton Summer Journalism  Program that in Ciattarelli’s previous years as an assemblyman,  he ran in Democratic districts so  that he could form a relationship with those voters. During the campaign, Williams said, Ciattarelli has visited communities that Republicans traditionally don’t go to. “He appeals to people by being honest and speaks about issues that are actually important,” she said.

In her role as communications director, Williams, who is 29, has focused on Ciattarelli’s social media strategy to appeal to younger voters, a strategy that she admit-ted Democrats are usually better at. “Democrats traditionally crush us with social media engagement,” she said. “It’s really important to stay focused on mastering the social media platforms that you have.” 

The students asked Williams about her personal experience working on Ciattarelli’s campaign. She characterized it as a safe space for a woman in a male-dominated field. Williams is also passionate about Ciattarelli’s pol-icy goal to reduce property taxes in New Jersey. Williams noted that many people in New Jersey suffer due to these taxes and oftentimes have to move away. Some of these people include her parents. “My parents are unable to move to New Jersey to be closer to me due to the unreasonable property taxes,” she said.

Candidate Ciattarelli is also a big supporter of law enforcement. During the Black Lives Matter movement, tensions between law enforcement and minority Americans were very high, raising the amount of distrust Americans have towards the police. Accord-ing to Williams, Ciattarelli is committed to easing this tension by listening to both sides. “The plan is to have more community involvement, it’s to engage communities of color and have open-ended discussions,” she said.

As a young woman, Williams’s career in politics is still new, but in the long road ahead, she plans on hopefully changing New Jersey and helping the people who have had their wishes ignored by previous leaders. 

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Social Media’s Unintended Effects

By Alibek Asanbaev
Vernon Hills, Ill.

IN MODERN society, almost everyone has a social media account, in large part because people have FOMO, or “fear of missing out.” This fear causes people to keep mindlessly checking social media apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok, and Facebook in order to stay informed about what their friends are doing. People also use these apps in order to interact with friends, family, and even strangers. But often, people use social media simply because they want to be entertained and pass time when they are bored.

But despite its important role in our lives in the 21st century, social media is detrimental to our lives overall. It negatively impacts our mental health, personal relationships, and happiness.

While many people say they enjoy social media, it tends to elicit many nega-tive feelings that are harmful to mental health. A study conducted by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Melissa G. Hunt found that greater usage of social media apps increases feelings of loneli-ness and depression. Conversely, “using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness.” Al-though social media apps are intended to help users feel more connected with each other, they actually cause users to feel isolated and unhappy. 

Humans are social creatures who have a natural need for real-world, face-to-face interactions in order to feel happy. Social media isn’t a replacement for that real connection. According to HelpGuide.org, a nonprofit mental health website, social interaction “requires in-person contact with others to trigger the hormones that alleviate stress and make you feel hap-pier, healthier, and more positive.” These hormones are not triggered by staring at a screen or talking through the phone.

It’s also important to realize that people tend to only post the best parts of their lives online. Everyone on social media wants to depict themselves as being attractive, rich, and happy. When other people see these kinds of posts, though, they often feel a sense of envy that they don’t live the dream life that they assume others are experiencing. Yet the very same people who try to portray themselves as having those enviable lives are likely experiencing anxiety and depression of their own. Social media causes everyone to feel bad about themselves when they assume that others are living a better life than them. Overall, social media is a giant public facade that masks private despair.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that people should quit using social media altogether. It is true that social media is a useful tool for spreading valuable information, and an easy way to interact with people. Learning about important news and becoming friends has never been easier thanks to social media, and apps can catalyze change by rallying many people together to fight for a cause they all believe in. Social media also enables people to share their opinions and perspectives, which is an integral part of democracy.

Social media has its positives but, for the most part, it is full of unrealistic, useless, time-wasting, and harmful qualities. Our culture thrives on staying informed and constantly seeking pleasure, but while social media is a powerful tool for gaining essential knowledge, it becomes futile, and even detrimental, when used exces-sively and for the wrong reasons.

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America’s History of Erasing History

By Eunice Choi
Fresno, Calif.

Many often say, “The past is the past.” So why study history? Through history, we can learn how past societies have changed and evolved based on the blueprint of our actions and mis-takes. Understanding previous accounts of history is essential. But many in the United States seem to think that our students shouldn’t learn about America’s history with depth and breadth. 

In American schools, history is being left behind and erased. As schools increasingly pro-mote STEM disciplines and states lack in providing enough support for the pedagogy, many students are stifled from learning history. According to a study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2017, a mere 8 percent of high school seniors surveyed were able to pinpoint slavery as the principal motive of the Civil War.  Research from the SPLC further reveals that more than 90 percent of teachers are “comfortable” with teaching the history of slavery, and 40 percent of teachers believe that states do not provide sufficient support to this instruction. A whopping 58 percent of teachers find textbooks inadequate for teaching. 

Not only is our education system at fault in teaching the course, there is also a tendency to simplify and distort certain events and timelines of the past by “whitewashing” the material. In Texas,  a 2015 state-adopted textbook referred to enslaved people as “immigrant workers.” It was not until 2018 when the Texas State Board of Education revised the curriculum to finally highlight that slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War. Even though Texas did the right thing by revising their curriculum in 2018, it’s a case of two steps forward, one step back. In July, the Texas Senate passed a bill to remove requirements that schools teach specific writings from Martin Luther King, Jr., Susan B. Anthony, and Cesar Chavez. 

Of course, it’s not easy to learn about the oppression of marginalized communities in the classrooms. But these events are an imperative part of America’s history. Its continuation can have far-reaching consequences, too. We choose to continue to oppress minority communities with the perpetuation of historical myth-making. The only way we can learn and eventually move on from the past is if we accept the truth and reflect on our mistakes to foster a better society from these bygone days. And it starts with education.

Students are constantly told that the truth can set us free. Then why do countless in-structors, parents, and officials find it challenging to accept the truth? This educational malpractice isn’t history, it’s a false narrative. Students must understand how the present ties back to the history of the United States in order to become better citizens and scholars. Historical accuracy is needed, and this flawed mindset must be fixed now.

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Blast Off, Bezos!

By Leslie Nevarez
Brownsville, Texas

KIM SHIFLET, NASA

ON APRIL 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first human to ever travel into space. Eight years later, during the Richard Nixon presidency, Apollo 11 allowed Neil Armstrong to become the first person to land on the moon. In July 2021, two renowned billionaires—Richard Branson and Jeffrey Bezos—rode into the mere surface of space for a total of about 12 minutes combined. While an alarming number of Americans are losing their jobs and barely making ends meet, Branson and Bezos got the spot-light they needed to get richer.

On July 11, 2021—just eight days before Bezos’ trip—Branson, the founder of Virgin Galactic, became the first-ever to fly into space using a rocket he helped fund. Branson lifted off from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico along with two pilots and three crewmates and experienced around eight minutes of weightlessness. 

During the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Bezos also went into space and experienced weightlessness for roughly 4 minutes. Bezos, along with three crew members, lifted off from West Texas on the Blue Origin flight, according to CBS News. 

In the ten days that have passed since the billionaires took field trips to space, I could not help but think that there was an even bigger message that rich people (like Branson and Bezos) wanted to send to the rest of the country and even the world. Is flying into space what power looks like to them? Is this a way for the rich to gloat? Or is this the continuation of the infamous Space Wars: Billionaire Edition? 

In 2020, the United States lost 20.6 million jobs in March alone, when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Yet in the midst of it all, Bezos, former CEO of Amazon, had a revenue of $386 billion according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index, with a total net worth increase of $73 billion. Similarly, Branson had a net worth in-crease of $1.3 billion since July of 2020.

While millions of individuals had to adapt to survive a global pandemic without a stable income, the rich kept getting richer. While Branson’s trip to space cost him $841 million, Bezos spent around $5.5 billion to get the astronaut experience for 4 minutes. This kind of money could have been put to better use back on Earth, such as helping the world get vaccinated against COVID-19, giving financial assistance to those who lost a job during the peak of the pan-demic, or even helping fund education. But such generosity wasn’t shown by the people who could afford to give it. 

The takeaway is simple. The once-metaphorical phrase of “sky-rocketing” income has become literal for billionaires. Sadly, showcasing their wealth while millions of others struggle is the most integral aspect of this “mission.”

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Is Social Media Doing More Harm Than Good?

By Julia Francisco
Los Angeles, Calif.

WE ALL know social media can be helpful, but is it possible that it is doing more harm than good? Posts and likes con-nect people by the minute around the globe through platforms like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter. These platforms can bring business, awareness, connections, and even acceptance. Yet they can also cause manipulation, toxic-ity, and mental health problems.  

Social media users range across all ages: kids, teens, and adults. With unchecked content posted around the clock, it is no surprise that misinformation circulates widely across platforms, across the country and across the world. It may not seem like a big deal, but when impressionable audiences start to believe and share the information they come across on social media without fact-checking, our collective knowledge is tainted. 

Many times, misleading information centers public figures. When enough angry people have liked, commented, and shared the information, users collaborate to “cancel” the person. “Cancel culture,” as it’s called, shuns people from society and allows for them to be publicly “dragged” and harassed by the users on these platforms. It is seen as a form of justice, but is it really justice or just bullying?

Social media is also a performative space, where people are made to believe that they have to appear flawless in front of their audience. Many social media feeds include dance routines, selfies and makeup trends. These posts may seem harmless, but when users—especially young people—are constantly re-minded of what they don’t have, it can take a toll on their mental health. Many start to compare them-selves to celebrities and influencers. They wonder why their bodies aren’t shaped like an hourglass, or why their skin doesn’t look perfect. Others value themselves only by the number of followers and likes they’ve accumulated, and some deal with trolls and hateful comments. Numerous users do find a community of acceptance online, but many also find a world of toxicity. 

Although social media was de-signed to keep people connected, with all the lies, hate, envy, and dismay it produces, social media has actually brought disconnection to the world. We have to remind ourselves that social media is just a show, and that we are perfectly imperfect beings. I do not mean to advocate for the deletion of social media, but simply to encourage the occasional reprieve. Consider this a reminder to take breaks from the cyber world to protect yourself and your mental health. 

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Stop Web Filtering in Schools

By Aryam Haile
Stone Mountain, Ga.

Grown-ups, envision this: You’re in high school. It’s 2020 and your school has gone virtual. You’re in a Zoom call for U.S. History, and your teacher assigns you to watch a short video on the Great Depression. They send the link in the chat. As soon as you press the link, a red message appears on your screen saying: “Web-site blocked.” In the digital age, many schools have given their students laptops and tablets for online school work. To keep their students safe from mature content, many schools have also implemented website filters on these devices. While shielding students from pornography is important, schools need more precise filters.

Many students have voiced their frustrations on the extensive web-blocking that has prevented them from accessing the information they need to complete as-signments. What good is providing these devices to students if they can’t use them to their full extent?

A vast number of schools use web blocking software that can’t differentiate be-tween inappropriate web-sites and normal content that has no business being blocked. Web filter software uses keywords to determine whether a website is inappropriate, and the simplistic overuse of key-words is doing more damage than good. Schools should lower the number of keywords they consider to be inappropriate. This will allow students to access important, non-harmful websites.

Some may argue that the blockage and filtering of websites are to keep students safe. While websites con-taining pornography should be blocked, schools need to be more careful in how they assess what content is considered mature for students. Giving students access to technology was supposed to increase learn-ing access; extensive web-filtering only acts as another barrier to students and their online education. 

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Keep HBCUs Black

By Marshalee Mclean
Bronx, N.Y.

“This place is sacred … and if white people just start coming in here, I feel disrespected, completely,” said a Black Morehouse student in Vice’s video “Being White at a Historically Black College.” The context of the video is an age-old question that only resurfaces in the mainstream occasionally, but sparks heat-ed debate: Should white people attend HBCUs? 

The answer is simple: No, they shouldn’t. 

Historically Black colleges and universities are described as institutions “established to serve the educational needs of Black Americans” by the U.S. Department of Education. Before the inception of HBCUs, Black students were notoriously denied admission to post-secondary institutions. Schools like Fisk, Hampton, Howard, Spelman, and Morehouse were among the first Black private institutions to educate in a racially segregated society. Through time, these institutions evolved into more than sites of learning; they became safe spaces for Black people to be their complete, authentic selves. But now, like almost everything Black owned or populated, they are under attack.

Bluefield, Lincoln, Gadsden, and St. Philips are just a few examples of HBCUs that have majority white populations. Spaces made by Black people, for Black people, full of Black history, culture and pride now have less than half Black student populations. 

This invasion of Black spaces is all too familiar. From houses in Black neighborhoods, to Black-owned mom and pop shops, to clothes and music, society will stop at nothing to gentrify and oppress Black America.

Non-Black people believe that by attending HB-CUs they are furthering an ethos of anti-racism, but the opposite is the case. Coming into Black spaces doesn’t dismantle racism, it perpetuates it by conceiving of it as an individual, rather than a systemic, problem. The myth of racism being solely individual continues to halt true progress toward the destruction of  institutions that profit off oppression. 

Your white liberalism will not save us. 

Attending an HBCU as a white individual, learning about Black history, trying to radicalize yourself, doesn’t compare to the realities of being Black. Try to “understand” us all you want, you will never be us, your privilege still stands. Part of being an ally comes with acknowledgement of privilege. Don’t use said privilege to invade what was, and still is, meant for us. 

These sacred Black spaces aren’t for you.

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Pandemic Boosts Pet Adoptions

By Alyana Santillana
Brentwood, Calif.

Jake, a Jindo-terrier adopted by Laura Wager during the COVID-19 pandemic. | Credit: Laura Wagner

The COVID-19 pandemic hit fast and hard. In a matter of days, the entire world left their ordinary routines for a mandated stay-at-home order. Months of confinement inevitably took their toll on the masses. As a result, people found emotional support and companionship in man’s best friends: pets.

Laura Wagner, of Prospect Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn, was fortunate enough to adopt a Jindo-terrier mix named Jake at the start of the pandemic. “It took until May until we actually got our dog. It was five weeks of applying for a dog and not getting one, and getting our hopes up,” Wagner said.

While the process of adopting her furry friend was long, the wait was well worth it. “Spending a lot of time with Jake probably helped us bond,” she said. “It provided a real structure for my physical life and that has really helped my mental health, as well as a structure  of things to do, because he’s so cute and so fun to be around, so that was nice as well.”

As life slowly begins its return to normalcy, Wagner and her family are in the process of helping Jake adjust to a post-pandemic routine. One of the steps is getting Jake used to be-ing alone in her apartment. “We’re working with a trainer on this thing called guaranteed departures, where you leave for like 10 minutes and come back, in-creasing the amount of time each day so that the dog gets used to knowing that when you leave, you’ll be back,” she said.

While Jake has become a valued member of Wagner’s family, the same cannot be said for many pets who were returned to stores or shelters as people began returning to their normal lives. “We saw a big spike in animal sales, but not any of the animal products. … Animals were being surrendered because people just didn’t know how to care for them any-more. A lot of the animals were being abused,” said Cynthia Salazar, a guest experience specialist at a PetCo location in Texas. “When everything opened up, we started seeing a lot of surrenders as a lot of people were coming back to their jobs,” she added.

While the lockdown undeniably changed the course of our lives and habits, the same goes for the ones we turned to for support.

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Simmons Runs For Stamford Mayor

By: Baby Cornish & Selena Moore

Frederick, Md. and Detroit, Mich.

Caroline Simmons

At the forefront of Caroline Simmons’s bid to become mayor of Stamford, Connecticut, is a topic that has dominated the nation-al conversation in recent months: public health.  

“This is everything from mothers facing mental health issues and stressors that relate to environmental injustice, and also the adverse health effects we see from air pollution,” Simmons said in a July press conference with The Princeton Summer Journal. As a mother herself, Simmons said, she particularly cares about combating environmental injustices that contribute to adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm birth.

According to Simmons, a Democrat, infrastructure is crucial to her agenda of achieving environmental and economic justice, and as mayor, she would have “shovel-ready projects” lined up. She said she plans to work with Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to secure state and federal funding. “I would have a Stamford plan to combat climate change and re-build our infrastructure in a more sustainable way,” Simmons said.

Elected as a state law-maker in 2014, Simmons challenged incumbent Mayor David Martin for the Democratic nomination, resulting in her endorsement by Stamford’s Democratic City Committee by two votes, 21-19. Despite Martin’s loss, he can force a primary by gathering 5 percent of the city’s registered Democrats’ signatures. No Republican has announced a campaign for mayor, the Stamford Advocate reported, though former New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine is running as an unaffiliated candidate. 

As the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, Simmons said she hopes to grow Stamford’s population. Prior to the pandemic, she said, the city was losing residents to New York and Boston, but as the country shifted to remote work, Stamford began to see an influx of young people from those very cities.  

However, this disproportionately white demo-graphic of remote workers could harm Stamford’s diversity. The city is roughly half-white, a quarter Latino, 14 percent Black, and 9 percent Asian. “Another one of my priorities,” Sim-mons said, “is to continue to support that vibrancy and diversity that we have in Stamford and making  sure that we’re a welcoming city.”

Amid nationwide protests demanding an end to police brutality, Simmons called for strengthening police-community relations. “It means recruiting police officers from the neighborhoods that they’re serving,” she said. She also emphasized the need for officers to forge trust with communities of color who’ve “been targeted and unfairly burdened with police hostility for years.” 

Will these ideas prove enough for Simmons to become Stamford’s first female mayor? That question is one voters will likely have to answer on November 2.

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For College Athletes, Payment for Name and Likeness Long Overdue

Imani Hill, playing Lacrosse for Delaware State University | Credit: Imani Hill

By Yasmin Mustefa

Federal Way, Wash.

Imani Hill never thought that she would play lacrosse. But her freshman year of high school, Hill’s basketball coach told her that she needed to participate in a spring sport to stay in shape for next season. An hour later, she pulled her out of class to speak with the lacrosse coach. 

“I’m just like, ‘I have no idea what lacrosse is,’” Hill said. But the coach con-vinced Hill to try. “I went out, and it was so interesting to me because of how unfamiliar it was. It was a really challenging task.”

By her junior year, several colleges were observing Hill. She decided to join Delaware State University’s Division I program in the fall of 2015, which she said was the only historically Black college or university (HBCU) at the time with a women’s lacrosse team. In 2019, while attending grad school at Auburn University in Alabama, where she is a current PhD candidate, she switched from player to head coach. 

Although she is no longer a coach for collegiate lacrosse, that breadth of ex-perience gave Hill a distinct perspective on the name, image, and likeness (NIL) laws that multiple states recently passed. The new laws allow college  athletes to use their name, image, or likeness for compensa-tion and prevents colleges and universities from pro-hibiting athletes to do so. 

While Hill acknowledged the “cool opportunities” the NCAA gives athletes, she’s glad players now have money-making opportunities she didn’t. “I think that it’s something that’s necessary  and something that really should have happened a long time ago,” she said.

“As a whole, sometimes we forget that the NCAA is a governing body, and ultimately they are a business. I think that some-times we kind of get that confused with an organization that supports athletes or wants what’s best for athletes.”

As a player, Hill practiced up to 20 hours a week, with additional hours of physical therapy, conditioning, and traveling. Players were given about a $500 stipend every season, she said, but that wasn’t enough to cover off-campus expenses.

Hill’s family lived close to Delaware State, and she remembers them filling up her dorm room with snacks and going home on weekends. “There are a lot of athletes who don’t have those luxuries. So literally their entire dependability is, like, on the university and what the university gives them,” she said. By contrast, the new laws could allow student-athletes to save money, help their families, or buy food, clothes, or school supplies.

At the same time, Hill also believes that the laws will continue to blur the line between college and professional athletes. She’s not sure how she feels about that. “How do we define those lines that let the world know that this person is still a college student before anything else?”

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Infographics: Do they have Info?

By: Ebony Riley and Skye-Ali Johnson

Voorhees, NJ and Washington, D.C.

Picture this: It’s a mid-summer day and you unlock your phone to open up Instagram because you’re wondering what’s going on. You come across a post with brightly colored, eye-catch-ing fonts that describe the most current tragic event. This, you realize, is the new trend. 

With the rise of info-graphics, students are left questioning how effective they are in making a  difference. In a recent interview with students from the Princeton Summer Journalism Program (PSJP), students vocalized their opinions on infographics and online activism. 

“You want to follow that up with an action,” says Emi Glass, a 17-year-old high school student from Day-ton, Ohio. Glass believes that, in some cases, online activism can be beneficial and inclusive. But there are steps beyond reposting information on your story that are required to effectu-ate meaningful change.

“OK, I posted this, but what does this actually do for this situation?” asks Huda Tombul, a 16-year-old high school student from New York. She adds that many people post infographics for the sake of posting them, and do not actually care about the information they spread. “Is this actually accurate information? Or did someone simply just write this and everyone went along with it?” Tombul asks. 

“I mean, who isn’t on their phone?” 21-year-old college student Abby Dot-terer admits. Social media is an undeniable facet of daily life. The more people use it to express their concerns or thoughts, the more they begin to question whether or not it is a reliable place to source information.

When asked whether or not we should trust Insta-gram infographics, many interviewees advised caution—there should be individual research done before sharing  information. 

“You need to fact-check them. I don’t think you should trust some random person who posted it,” Glass says. 

“Everyone has their voice. And anyone could say any-thing that could influence other people,” 17-year-old Nhi (Nikki) Huynh from Western Massachusetts says. 

It is evident that social media platforms have be-come a popular place for young individuals to speak their truths, and a place  to spread awareness about topics that interest them on the internet. Sometimes, though, the messages be-hind online activism be-come lost in translation. “Social media activism is al-most like talking to a brick wall,” Dotterer says. 

Do infographics really lack information? “I have seen some that I think are more focused on the visual aesthetic than the quality of the information,” Glass says.

Online activism has taken a turn, and it’s hard to tell whether it is for the better or worse. Are we stuck? Or are we progressing?

No matter how hard we try, it is hard to predict the direction of infograph-ics and digital activism. As Dotterer puts it, “two steps forward, one step backward.” 

Will we overcome this online activism standstill?

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‘Tomorrow War’ is Decent War

By: Eunice Chae

Victorville, Calif.

The Tomorrow War an Amazon Original released in July, enjoyed mixed reviews from both audiences and critics alike. The film boasts Chris Pratt in its starring role as Dan Forester, a former U.S. Army soldier who now works as a high school biology teacher. After fail-ing to get a prestigious job at a science facility, Forester has a semi-midlife crisis and waxes poetic about his life aspirations to his nine-year-old daughter.

During the World Cup, a giant wormhole opens up above the soccer field. A group of soldiers comes through, announcing that they’re from the future. They explain that by the year 2051, aliens have attacked the planet and the human race is virtually extinct. The government sends soldiers into the future to fight, and Dan is drafted.

In the future, the aliens — dubbed the Whitespikes thanks to their sharp teeth, claws and spikes — have overrun the city. Meanwhile, the humans have regular guns and regular bullets which barely do anything to the aliens. You would think that if future engineers had the technology to build a time-traveling device from “chewing gum and chicken wire,” they could have created weapons that were a teensy bit more effective.

When Dan tries to rescue a fallen team-mate, the group is trapped and everyone is killed except for Dan, Charlie (Sam Richardson), and a man named Dorian (Edwin Hodge). Later, Dan meets an older version of his daughter, Muri (Yvonne Strahovski), who develops a toxin for the Whitespikes. Just as the toxin is perfected, the aliens attack the military base. 

Muri is injured, and even though the fate of the world depends on getting the toxin to safety, Dan refuses to leave her. When Muri falls toward a frenzy of Whitespikes, Dan again makes a selfish decision and leaps after her. However, he’s transported into the present in the nick of time.

The movie takes a slightly bizarre turn when Dan, Charlie, Dorian, and Dan’s estranged father, James (J.K. Simmons), find a crashed spaceship. Instead of alerting others at once when they find it, the group traipses in alone. To be clear, humanity depends on killing these aliens, and only they know their location. If they die in the spaceship, the knowledge to save the world dies too.

Whitespikes on board eventually attack, and Dorian sacrifices himself, blowing up the ship while Dan, Charlie, James, and a female Whitespike escape. There’s a pleas-antly subversive scene near the end, when James attempts a self-sacrifice. In a small twist, Dan rescues him before he actually can, and kills the last Whitespike himself.

All in all, if you’re looking for a decently fun action flick with above-average performances of a remarkably selfish protagonist and unfortunately two-dimensional characters, The Tomorrow War fits the bill. Just don’t start squinting too hard at the plot, though, because that’s when it starts to crack under the pressure.

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‘Luca’ is Accidental Hit for Disney

By: Mariah Colon

Buffalo, NY

Disney’s Pixar is a controversial topic among film critics due to what many describe as the studio’s fall from grace.  Since the end of the company’s golden g age in 2010, its films have gotten less  traction and for good reason. Recently  the studio has been producing average  children’s films, not the masterpieces  they came to be known for. “Luca,”  their most recent project, is yet another example of this mediocrity. 

“Luca” undoubtedly has made an  impression, but it’s not due to the film being good. Many viewers got at- tached to the relationship between protagonist Luca and his newfound best friend Alberto and the subtle im- plications that the feelings between the two boys were more than platonic. 

Had fans of the film not jumped and made their own narratives about  Luca and Alberto, though, it’s incred- ibly likely that the movie would have  been thrown in the pile of modern,  mediocre Pixar films. The characters are forgettable and hardly fleshed out.  

Luca doesn’t have enough traits to be  considered three-dimensional. He’s a sea  monster in a world of humans—an outcast. We’ve seen this trope countless times, and the film does nothing special with it. Alberto has the basis for an interesting character, but there isn’t enough time given to properly flesh out what makes  him compelling. He’s a young sea creature who was abandoned by his father. The movie seemingly attempts to do the found family trope with him, but it’s so glossed over that it can hardly be considered an important part of the story. Then there’s Giulia, the third protagonist in the film who befriends Luca and Alberto. To be honest, before starting this article, I had to look up her name: that’s how forgettable she is. She’s really only used to develop Luca’s character and fuel some conflict.

Characters aside, the plot itself is boring and rushed. How it manages to be both is beyond me.

So how did “Luca” become so popular? Well, simply put, it was by accident. The idea of Luca and Alberto being outsiders while also being extremely close to each other touched the hearts of many LGBTQ+ viewers. Feeling out of place is common for queer youth, and that’s exactly how the boys felt in human society. On top of that, the way Alberto and Luca interact comes off as more than just a platonic relationship. For example, at one part of the film, Alberto gets so upset with Luca for spending time with Guilia that they get in a fight and Alberto ends up outing himself as a sea monster. Tell me that’s not dripping with metaphor and implications!

When asked about “Luca” possibly being a queer story, though, director Enrico Casarosa said, “I was really keen to talk about a friendship before girlfriends and boyfriends come in to complicate things.”

Essentially, “Luca” wasn’t intended to be an LGBTQ+ film, yet the movie’s queer subtext is the reason it got so popular, despite the movie itself being mediocre.

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‘Quiet Place’ Surpassed Expectations

By: Jennifer Alvarado

Phoenix, Ariz.

A movie with nearly no dialogue. You’d be surprised at how your blood runs cold at the sight of it. With a well-known career as an actor, but not as a director, it was easy to be skeptical about John Krasinki’s abilities behind the camera. Nevertheless, he surpassed everyone’s expectations with the horror/thriller movie “A Quiet Place,”  and did it once again with the sequel. 

 In a film bound by the limitations  that come with not being able to make  a sound, it can become easy to rely 

 too heavily on other elements of film- making, but Krasinski uses the perfect  balance of sound, mise-en-scène and  narrative. This, of course, is supplemented by the incredible acting of Emily Blunt, Krasinski, Cillian Murphy,  Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds.

The movie, which takes place in a small town, starts with Krasinksi’s character, Lee Abbott, and his deaf  daughter, Regan (Simmonds), walking  to their truck after seeing an unknown  object making its way to Earth. Only  moments after that, we catch our first  glimpse of the terrors in this movie. 

 After some action-packed sequences  featuring the Abbott family struggling  to escape creatures with significantly enhanced hearing abilities and a great number of sharp teeth, we move for-ward in time to day 474, after the tragic events of the first movie transpired. 

Evelyn Abbott (Blunt), along with her three children, Regan, Marcus, and baby Abbott, were forced to continue moving in search of asylum somewhere safe, all while mourning the loss of Lee, who sacri-ficed himself at the end of the first movie.

With the knowledge that Regan’s cochlear implant could produce high-frequency audio that temporarily incapacitates the creatures, the family walks a path surrounded by greenery in every direction. Slow, steady camera movements add to the tension and the constant thought that any sudden noise could alert the creatures to their presence. 

Finally, Regan and a family friend arrive at an island safe from the creatures. Mean-while, Evelyn, Marcus and baby Abbott are at an abandoned steel mAill, trying to fend off the creatures that have made their way into their temporary hiding spot. 

With scenes that display the parallels in the situations the children are in, we see that this entire time, Krasinski was setting the film up to make the kids the heroes, the ones that ultimately use their courage and creative thinking to aid the adults in finding a haven. Whereas in the first movie Krasinski primarily directed his focus to the concept of parents risking and sacrificing everything for their children, he flipped that around and allowed for Simmonds and Jupe to be given the spotlight. 

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Lights, Camera, Zoom

By: Layla Hussein

Bronx, NY

BLOOD RUSHING. HEAD POUNDING. The rehearsals, sleepless nights, and vibrant stages consumed Meg Talay, a 29-year-old musician and singer-songwriter, before the premiere of Broadway musical “Hadestown.” 

Talay’s first show was March 11th, 2020. News regarding the pandemic filled the air, giving performers one question: Will Broadway shut down? Despite this, performers were confident the show would go on. Wash your hands, wear a mask, repeat. 

In the same week, 22-year-old Harvard graduate Allison Scharmann was the chair of the arts section in The Harvard Crimson. Life was a consistent routine for Scharmann reporting on arts and culture in Boston, covering local arts-related events on campus, and publishing all online content. “It felt like a space where I could be myself ,” shared Scharmann, a space that could not be reimagined. 

Then, the pandemic happened. 

The arts went virtual. The transition was rocky, with growing concern for one’s health and career. No one knew how long quarantine would be, but artists had to prepare for anything. 

“I was concerned about my health … and my family. It was frightening … when things started to cancel,” Talay said.

Scharmann added, “It was challenging to keep the same ef-ficiency. … On top of that, I don’t get to see my friends every week and share snacks around the table while we edit.” 

Hannah Lemmons, a singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles, was fortunate for the free time she had for songwriting, as well as commissions for original songs and covers during the pandemic. 

“I just have more of a balanced lifestyle overall compared to pre-pandemic. … Now, I have become more productive,” said Lemmons.

Artists around the world, especially artists of color, used their art to express their frustrations by inter-ecting with social justice, sparked by the murder of George Floyd. 

For musicians like Talay, there was an awareness surrounding their identity. As a queer artist, Talay mentioned, “Being visibly queer and politically queer in support of the trans movement and the Black Lives Matter movement has impacted me and how much it means to be who I am publicly.”

The world is slowly transitioning to a state of normalcy in 2021. The future of the arts industry is unknown, but with the lessons learned and new mediums explored from the pandemic, artists are ready for anything headed their way.

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‘Black Widow’ Pairs Action and Adventure with Family Drama

By: Esmeralda Garcia-Cisneros

La Grange, N.C.

WHEN “Black Widow” was released on July 9, 2021, it quickly was hailed as one of the best movies in theaters in the past few months. “Black Widow” is a positive return to the movies for Marvel, after months of shuttered theaters, and fans are loving it. Many feel that the movie is long overdue, saying that the Black Widow character should have had a movie ages ago. But it’s safe to say better late than never. 

The movie starts with a family moment with Natasha Romanoff (the Black Widow) and her little sister Yelena playing in the backyard, and it moves to a family dinner with their mom and dad. Then the dad says it is time—but time for what? Well, you then see a scene where the family is escaping from cops and getting into an airplane, which lands in Cuba. Soon, their family life is over, and the two sisters are separated.

Like all the other Marvel movies, “Black Widow” emphasizes family and adventure amid efforts to defeat the evil of the world. Natasha confronts the darker parts of her his-tory when she faces off with the cause of all her pain. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her broken relationships from long before she became an Avenger. 

This movie offers more understanding of how this character—popularized in previous Marvel films—got to be who she was. The character of Black Widow is mysterious and exciting, and this movie really summarized her perfectly.

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Miles Apart, Connected Forever

STAFF EDITORIAL

After five weeks of endless questions with guest speakers, chats about Olivia Rodrigo over Slack, and double-checking if your mic was muted on Zoom, the 2021 cohort of the Princeton Summer Journalism Program (PSJP) completed its second virtual summer. Asking questions by day, and laughing together by night, PSJP students not only broadened their knowledge of journalism, but also created life-long connections in a newfound, online family.

Using digital platforms had its inevitable challenges: internet connectivity issues, navigating time zones, and Zoom fatigue. Many students also juggled family commitments, jobs, internships, and summer classes. Throughout it all, PSJP students flourished, effectively balancing a multitude of tasks.

We were fearless when questioning politicians in virtual press conferences. Students asked hard-hitting questions on topics ranging from immigration to anti-racist education that stunned speakers. We engaged with Princeton professors through
interactive discussions and attended workshops that explored various forms of journalism, from covering food to conspiracy theories. No matter the unpredictable adventure that awaited every week, each Zoom call was a learning experience for both the speaker and student. After each session, students would leave with a new-found understanding of journalism.

As a collective, we learned that journalism is more than just writing, but also a desire to listen and learn. No matter our prior experience with journalism, we all gained an understanding of the power of journalism as a gateway to igniting change. We
were introduced to ideas like Critical Race Theory, drag queens, and the intersection of food and culture. Throughout it all, we learned how to be open-minded and bring creative perspectives into our writing.

Yet the most engaging aspect of the program was the community that kept 40 students across the United States eager to learn. Zoom chats would move a mile a minute, causing joy among students, staff, and guests. Whether it was hilarious remarks or positive affirmations from students, the love and laughs were felt despite the distance.
Between arranging Zoom calls outside of PSJP programming, or creating a petition for a deadline extension, we channeled our empowerment from the program to make our voices heard and create unforgettable memories. On behalf of all PSJP students this
summer, we thank the persistence of the staff and the enthusiasm of our guest speakers. Every lecture and workshop encouraged us to view the world differently with new perspectives. Moving forward, we will use the knowledge we gained from PSJP to not only reimagine the future of journalism, but also to excel in all aspects of life. Miles apart, connected forever.

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How Creating Random Videos on TikTok Led to A Viral Sensation

By: Alexsis Tapia Vazquez

Riverdale, MD

Alexa Walkowitz didn’t plan to go viral when they hopped on a TikTok trend.

Known as @sluglexa on the platform, Walkowitz joined TikTok in 2019, enjoying the large vari-ety of content available. They began to post as a creator in the midst of the first pandemic lock-downs that happened in March 2020. Their first videos garnered few views and were largely centered around their treehouse hangouts with their friend.

However, last summer, Walkowitz’s experience with the platform changed when she uploaded a video inspired by a viral Randonautica TikTok trend. In the trend, TikTokers use the Randonautica app as a challenge to generate random coordinates and discover where it takes them. 

In their video, Walkowitz and their friend document their journey into the Californian desert, using the app in the hopes of finding their mom’s lost dog. They come across, instead, a random dog standing alone in the middle of the scary and ominous desert. Shocked at their discovery, Walkowitz and their friend upload-ed the video on TikTok, wanting to share their strange experience with their followers.

Surprisingly to Walkowitz, the video skyrocketed shortly after, earning millions of views per day. Today, the video continues to generate thousands of views and has offered Walkowitz many opportunities to speak about her experience, including on A&E’s show “The Proof is Out There.”

Walkowitz remains confused about the video’s success, saying,“I just kept waking up … seeing [the video] and check-ing the analytics,” said Walkowitz.

However, Walkowitz noticed that their experience with the platform changed when they became a creator. They  spent more hours deliberately coming up with videos to upload rather than actually watching  videos created by others.

“It’s a really different experience when you make them versus when you watch them … more time is spent saving sounds and re-cording things than it is watching things,” said Walkowitz.

Walkowitz also found other obstacles with their newfound role. Followers had high standards and strangers often left nasty and hateful comments that affected Walkowitz’s mental health. They have responded and deleted hateful comments on many occasions. For now, they have temporarily left the platform for the sake of their mental health. 

“Truly people, especially on TikTok, expect the next level of attention,” added Walkowitz, “Accumulating more attention is always really scary, with the good attention comes the bad attention.”

Their return to Tik-Tok or other social media platforms remains dependent on different factors. Just this May, Walkowitz graduated from Williams College and began  their journey looking for employment. They remain unsure about how to navigate their professional life with their online presence.

They admit, “I also don’t want to live in a world where my silly random videos on the internet have anything to do with my professional life.”

Walkowitz has experienced and learned so much as a TikToker. Throughout their experience as an influencer on the platform, the app has influenced them both in positive and negative ways.

“I got a lot of interesting creative inspiration fro Tik Tok,” said Walkowitz, “Despite the fact that it’s kind of a horrible place, it’s kind of the greatest place.” 

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Feminist Theory in Disney’s ‘Cruella’

By: Roxana Martinez

San Bernardino, Calif.

DISNEY

Modern-day Disney films have become more progressive. Disney’s newest films—“Luca” (2021), “Cruella” (2021), and “Black Widow” (2021)—all in some way make reference to the inequalities faced by women in leadership positions, whether it be in a friendly competition or in a role in the most elite government organizations. What is most interesting is the unusual yet traditional direction in which filmmaker Craig Gillespie decided to take his film “Cruella.”

Many viewers are divided on “Cruella.” The film, derived from the classic “101 Dalmatians,” contains significant  departures from the original story. Despite this, many have come to love and support Gillespie’s masterpiece by portray-ing both the protagonist and antagonist of his story as independent and self-reliant women. 

While older crime films like “Mildred Pierce” (1945) and “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967) follow a female lead through a three-act cinematic structure, Gillespie decided to use flashbacks to break away from the traditional structure. In doing so, we are able to understand the origin story of our main characters and how they got to be the person we are seeing on screen. 

Understanding who Estella Miller was as a child helps the audience understand the goals and ambitions of her alter ego, Cruella De Vil. In most films of this genre, when an evil female character is involved, they usually face a significant event that leads to their downfall while their male counterparts, in some cases, get away. Female villains are not often successful in their evil doings. Instead of letting Cruella’s image be completely destroyed, Gillespie decides to change the narrative and allow Cruella to have a setback that she will build off of to become a better criminal. 

Not only that, but he transformed a serious storyline into one filled with comic relief that made it enjoyable for the audience. The active involvement of queer theory to create a more inclusive film was a sign that film production companies like Disney are beginning to make changes for the better. 

Although Gillespie steered away from the usual crime genre narrative, he has remained traditional in many other ways. Key elements of the genre seen in the film include the committing and solving of crimes, law enforcement involvement, and a story arc familiar to consumers of other crime TV shows, books, and movies.

The film’s approach to feminist theory was a step in the right direction for the depiction of female leadership roles in crime films. Nonetheless, it did not challenge the representation of women as much as I had hoped going into the movie. But perhaps I should take comfort in some of the words Estella says in the movie: “Don’t worry, we’re just getting started. There’s lots more bad things coming. I promise.”

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Mother’s Lost Dog Makes ‘Sluglexa’ A Viral Sensation

@sluglexa on Tik Tok

By Ebony Riley

Voorhes, NJ

Most young people obessively scroll through TikTok and send their friends an endless number of videos. For Alexa Walkowitz, though, that mundane hobby morphed into something much less common: creating content people loved to share, and a life as a TikTok influencer known as @sluglexa. 

It was 2019 when Alexa Walkowitz stumbled upon TikTok. Like any other teen, they would find themselves stuck in a continuous loop of sending and scrolling for hours at a time. It wasn’t until the summer of 2020, though, when they started to find fame of their own on the addictive app.

With bright green hair and a mind reeling with stress, Walkowitz planned a night full of thrill to take their mind off Covid and the rest of the world around them. They decided to log onto Randonautica, an app that sends users on a random adventure by generating geographic coordinates. 

Driving at night through the vast rural Lucerne Valley, part of the Mojave Desert in California, Walkowitz and a friend set off on a Randonautica quest. The app had become a popular trend on Tik-Tok, leading many users to unknown places by asking them to list objects or ideas they’d like to see and then point-ing them to a place on the map.

That night, Walkowitz was on the hunt to find their mother’s lost dog. “We chose an anomaly, and set our intention as my mom’s lost dog,” Walkowitz says in their video recap of the out-ing, which quickly went viral. 

The two continued their search, walking far into the desert, deeper into the wilder-ness where there were no other signs of human life. Scared and unsure of where the app would  lead them, they stumbled upon a dog walk- ing aimlessly through the desert. Curious but frightened about the app’s capabilities, they  approached the dog and realized that, although the dog was not the one they were seeking, it had friendly intentions. 

“We’ve never been out here before, and we’ve never seen this dog in our life, but he was so friendly to us and he kept leading us in the right direction towards our actual point,” Walkowitz says in their TikTok.

Following the dog further into the desert, the found three trees in a strange configuration. Before they knew it, the sky was almost pitch black and a low growl-ing sound came closer towards them. Capturing the whole experience on their phone, they ran quickly to their car—leaving the dog behind—and began driving home. 

What would’ve happened if they had stayed any longer? What was growling? Walkowitz  kept asking these questions, and it turned out TikTok viewers shared them. The video went viral. Soon enough, it had just over 4 million views. Today, Walkowitz’s TikTok account has nearly 61,000 followers. 

“It was kind of like, it was mostly shocking, because, I don’t know, you  never really expect that to happen,” Walkowitz says now. 

After the video went viral, Walkowitz spent most of their time posting videos about their obsession with rats and random videos with their friends. They describe their content as a “postmodern fever dream.” 

Walkowitz is currently on the hunt for jobs, and has seen their fame slowly dwindle without another huge viral hit. But regardless of how many people watch their videos, they say, “it’s just as fun to put the content out there as it is to watch.”

And just like that, the postmodern fever dream continues.

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School Sports Put Students At COVID Risk

volleyballPxfuel

This story was reported by the staff of The Princeton Summer Journal and written by Kayla Bey, Jariel Christopher, Melanie Paredes, and Daniel Sanchez.

Summer F., 17, is a high school senior in West Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she plays varsity volleyball. In March, Louisiana was stricken with one of the earliest and worst U.S. outbreaks of COVID-19, forcing the shutdown of classroom learning and youth sports. But months passed, cases subsided, and by early June the state had okayed the resumption of practices for fall sports. When Summer returned to volleyball practice, however, she felt her school, Port Allen High, might be courting disaster. “Most [athletes] decided to wear masks, but it didn’t last long,” she said. “It’s sometimes hot in the gym and with workouts it’s hard to breathe.”

Several regulations were in place, including prepractice temperature checks and a prohibition on locker room access. But the school, Summer suggested, was partly relying on students to police themselves, asking them to report any virus symptoms or contact with infected individuals. In July and August, cases again began to rise in Louisiana, which now has the highest per-capita infection rate in the country. Volleyball practice continued three times a week, as scheduled.

Port Allen High is following the re-opening guidelines set in June by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA). But the regulations may not be addressing major drivers of the virus. Cloth face masks are encouraged for coaches, but are not recommended for athletes engaging in “high-intensity aerobic activity.” Perhaps more troublingly, the LHSAA has has not prohibited teams from congregating in enclosed indoor facilities, from “meeting rooms” to gymnasiums. COVID-19 is thought to
spread primarily through airborne particles in poorly ventilated spaces.

According to Port Allen principal James Jackson, “two to three” student athletes have
recently tested positive for the novel coronavirus. But he defends the school’s protocols. “We never had an outbreak on any team,” he told The Princeton Summer Journal. This, he said, suggests the infections were “due to some type of gathering that they may have had outside of school.”

The situation at Port Allen High School is a microcosm of America’s unruly and improvised approach to safely resuming high school athletics.

In July, the Summer Journal conducted a survey of 33 school districts’ sports reopening plans, polling schools from California to Rhode Island. The results varied wildly.
Schools in Montgomery County, Maryland canceled summer practices and fall sports, as did the state of New Mexico. But in Chicago, Illinois, Orange City, Florida, and Tahlequah, Oklahoma, summer practices or conditioning drills continued. Some districts, such as Boston, Massachusetts, called off summer programming but pledged to resume competition in September. School districts were almost evenly split between those that held and cancelled summer practices—though districts in the Northeast,
where the virus hit early, tended to have more restrictions than elsewhere.

The survey may be most telling for what districts didn’t know. Many indicated that coaches would be wearing face coverings, but most were non-committal about how
athletes were meant to wear masks or socially-distance in team settings. The school district encompassing Orlando, Florida provided a detailed presentation about its summer practice protocol. Several weeks later, amid sharply rising coro-
navirus cases, the district postponed all practices until the end of August. Few districts stated with any clarity how fall competitions would be conducted safely, if at all. If anything, the survey reflected the Frankenstein monster that is America’s patchwork response to the pandemic.

While the COVID-19 fatality rate remains extremely low for minors, the resumption of classroom instruction and organized sports could spread the virus to coaches, teachers, and family members. Unlike professional sports teams, which have rigorous testing protocols, most high schools have virtually no way of detecting asymptomatic transmission between students.

For now, Summer is deciding to play volleyball, despite her anxieties. “I feel as if they do not care about our safety, even though there are some precautions put in place,” she said, citing her district’s decision to re-open.

“Most students who play sports are choosing to go to school in August because sports is all they have. For some, it’s their senior year. Who doesn’t want to play sports their senior year?”

On the night of July 16, the Gwinnett County Board of Education convened outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Though the county had the second-most COVID-19 infections in the state, the school district would resume in-person learning the following month. Just one board member, Everton Blair Jr., voiced his disapproval. After he spoke and as cameras continued to roll, Chairwoman Louise Radloff muttered, “I could strangle him.”

Radloff, who is white, later called her comment “out of order,” and apologized to Blair, who is Black. The subject of re-opening high school sports in Georgia, where football is close to a religion, has been no less charged.

Early in the summer, the Georgia High School Association released a strict re-opening protocol. Locker rooms were off-limits and group sizes were limited. But on July 22, with football season looming, the GHSA relaxed the rules. Locker rooms were opened and
athletes could huddle in unlimited number. Asked about the district’s latest protocols, Gwinnett County Assistant Superintendent Reuben Gresham told the Summer Journal, “It is not feasible for student athletes to social distance.”

As it turns out, it may not be feasible to relax standards either. On July 29, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that 655 positive cases had been shared with the GHSA,
more than double the number on file two weeks earlier.

By August, Georgia had cancelled summer football scrimmages. It’s anyone’s guess if most districts will play football in September.

“The decisions necessitated by the current pandemic are literally changing almost daily,” said Steve Figueroa, Director of Media Relations for GHSA. “What we believed would be the case a month or even a week ago has often proven to be quite different in the present.”

As states scramble to re-start the school year, there appears to be an inverse correlation between high coronavirus rates and postponements.

Some of the states with the highest infection rates in the country, such as Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, say they are proceeding with fall sports.

Meanwhile, some of the states with the lowest rates, such as Oregon and Colorado, have postponed them until 2021. (Some of the hardest-hit states are also some of the most
enthusiastic about high school football.)

School districts committed to gridiron clashes under “Friday night lights” may consider heeding the Centers for Disease Control. Players are at especially high risk for transmission, the CDC warns, during “full competition between teams from different geographic areas.”

But for schools that play it safe, and postpone sports, will there be unintended consequences?

“Swimming has been my life,” said 17-year-old Michael F., a senior at West Boca Raton Community High School. Ranked 25th in the state of Florida and 422nd in the nation, he is one of the best at his craft. Last year, he started generating interest from recruiters from Georgia Tech, The College of Wooster, and a number of other schools.

But what will happen to that interest—and the scholarships that could come with it—if sports don’t resume?

The Florida High School Athletic Association has released three options for returning to
sports, but Palm Beach County has not specified which they will choose.

If sports don’t resume, “recruiting will be harder than ever,” said Monte Chapman, who coaches track and field at West Boca Raton. “There will be no way of approximating how much an athlete has or has not improved.”

In New York City, school officials have similar concerns. Ciana DeBellis is an assistant principal at the Fordham Leadership Academy in the Bronx. “We have students that were going to college on scholarships,” she told the Summer Journal. “I’m not really sure how that is going to work.”

On August 9, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York City—like Chicago, Philadelphia, and other major cities—would be reopening its public schools for in-person instruction. But high school sports in the Big Apple, for better or for worse, would remain indefinitely postponed.

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How a 17-year-old from South Jersey fought for racial justice

blm4Lia Opperman

By Lia Opperman

Galloway, N.J.

A mid nationwide Black Lives Matter protests after the tragic death of George Floyd, 17-year-old youth activist Sunrose Rousnee of Galloway, New Jersey, decided to take matters into her own hands.

A rising senior at Absegami High School and president of her school’s drama club and Gay Straight Alliance, Sunrose planned a local protest that took place on June 26. The protest was held in Galloway’s neighboring town, Absecon, New Jersey, where she was joined by around 50 people from the community.

When asked why she decided to start her own protest, Sunrose explained that there was a protest in her hometown, Galloway, but many people who lived in nearby towns were upset that there wasn’t a protest where they resided—and weren’t stepping up to host their own. That inspired Sunrose to spend weeks planning a location, speeches, and safety pre- cautions for citizens in Absecon to have their voices heard and be properly represented in their community.

Sunrose also spent a lot of time deciding on a name for her protest, but ultimately settled on “All Black Lives Matter” in order to be inclusive of all Black lives, including those in the LGBTQ+ community.

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Lia Opperman

The protesters marched, spoke, listened to speeches, knelt in a moment of silence for George Floyd, and sang in Absecon’s Heritage Park, all in an effort to honor Black people who have en- countered police brutality and to advocate for change.

Eventually, the group departed from quaint Heritage Park and marched to busy and bustling Route 30, taking their posters and voices with them for all to see and hear.

Sunrose hopes that the protests that have been occurring in Atlantic County, including her own, will provoke change in the community.

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Lia Opperman

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An immigrant’s story

Credit Maggie SalinasMaggie Salinas

By Maggie Salinas

Sunland Park, N.M.

My father, Carmelo Salinas, immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s after he couldn’t find work in Mexico. He was only 17, and he supported himself by picking pears in Southern California. We recently discussed how hard those early years in America were after he kept his experiences silent from everyone for years. Why did you find it necessary to immigrate for work?

“Mexico was corrupt and they didn’t want gente like me working. Everyone needed the money and was out to get you en Mexico. My dad used to be a bracero when he was young too, and he introduced my mom to American money.” What exactly did you work as?

“A lot of us usually worked in barracas de comunidad, and we would go up the mountains en Tehachapi [a city in California] to trim pear trees. Las barracas looked like prison cells. There [was] a two-in-one small bed, and we shared one toilet and a kitchen. Looking back, it was dangerous, but back then it was better than nothing.” Do you remember how much you earned?

“The owner would visit every quincena to pay us, 15 days. He would come up to you and go:

¿Cuantos arboles podaste, Carmelo?’

No pos’ que cien’

‘Bueno, son $150 por cien arboles’

He gave us about $150 per 100 trimmed trees every 15 days or a month algo así.” Did you face conflict with other workers?

“Sí, there were some old folk with us who didn’t want to go out and work with us because they had reumas, like arthritis, and they didn’t want to go out in the cold. Pero there were others who were just lazy. And they wanted us to split our earnings with them, or they would threaten to beat us. Some of us got into a fight with some of them. We didn’t want to pay them, and they tried stabbing me. I was able to take the knife away from him but your tío started punching him out of anger for threatening me. I remember telling him to stop so we wouldn’t get in trouble.” Was trimming pear trees the only way you earned money?

“No, after la temporada de piscar [harvesting] we would go to Bakersfield and lay down an irrigation system. We had to move pipes, and I remember when I had to supervise them at night, I would sleep under the water when they broke because the water was warmer. We needed to rent a place down in Bakersfield, and they paid me $3.25 per night. It was good money. We rented this house, and we had six Mexican guys, including your tío and me, and four girls. Some were American, and others were pochas, Mexican-American.” Did you have any encounters with deportation?

“Oh yeah. I used to have a girlfriend, her name was Suzy, but she was part of the pandillas, like gangs, in East LA, and I was really scared of the cholos. Fights would break down often when we went out to eat in her area, and I tried to get away, but one time la migra, immigration, came down and got us. They took us down to Tijuana. Sometimes they took [us] down to Calexico, Chula Vista, and Downtown LA for detainment. They would deport [us] in about 48 hours.” What did you do when you were deported?

Credit Maggie Salinas 1

Maggie Salinas

 

“I came back, por la familia.” Did you meet any interesting people?

“Cesar Chavez. I met him when he began his protests in Bakersfield, around 1973. Maybe it was just me, but I didn’t participate. To me, I felt there was no real gain in protesting other than attention, but I had more to lose. If I were older and had been educated past age 12, maybe I would have spoken to him more. A lot of us stayed away from the huelgas. We needed the money, our parents needed the money, and it was better than unemployment in Mexico. Uno tenia miedo de perderlo todo.”

“I was young, I only knew to survive. If I were educated, I think I would have appreciated the movement more. But I didn’t want to lose my progress in life. And he was famous, but I didn’t care to pay attention, but that was just me.” Today, Carmelo Salinas is a father of five children, all first-generation American citizens. He worked his way from being an immigrant in California to residing in Sunland Park, New Mexico. Born in 1955, he immigrated to California in the ’70s and learned English through pop culture. Though he didn’t receive his GED until 2014, along with his wife who was also an immigrant, he earned certification as a machinist and welder. He earned his American citizenship in the ’90s and helped his wife gain residency in 2007. To this day, he works endlessly to support his family, and contrary to harsh claims that date back to the ’70s, he never took advantage of welfare or the government’s re- sources without working. Although monetary wealth is not present in the family, love and moral values always are.

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My mother’s escape from civil war

By Saw Kay 

San Diego, Calif.

The Karen Conflict started in 1949 in Burma (Myanmar), when the Burmese government began ethnic cleansing by killing non-Burmese or expelling them from the country. This continues today, including the religious cleansing of non-Buddhists, and is the longest ongoing civil war in the world.

At least 50,000 people have been killed. Around 93,000 people live in the nine refugee camps along the border between Burma and Thailand. Most of them are of Karen ethnicity. There are at least 1.5 million Karen who left Burma due to this conflict. They now reside in various countries around the world: the United States, Australia, Canada, Korea, India and Sweden.

Among them is my mother. My mother’s name is Ma Aye Myint and she is 60. She had to flee through the jungles in Burma for many years just to settle in Mae La refugee camp, Thailand. She was around 10 years old when she escaped from the Burmese soldiers who attacked her village.

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The Karen Flag

The village my mother came from is Chitturae, located in Burma. She lived in the village with her parents and siblings. In my mother’s village, every day was a repeat of working in the field picking plants, selling food to the community, hunting, and holding com- munity events. Everyone in the community viewed one another as family members. They all held a warm and welcoming space. It was a home that could never be replaced, as my mother told me in a recent interview.

The villagers were prepared to face the conflict given the fact that it started a few decades earlier. However, they would not know when they would be the next victims.

The village was attacked around 1970. They were given no mercy and had to quickly flee for survival. What once was a beautiful village was now torn apart due to the destruction of the conflict.

When the Thailand refugee camps opened in October 1979, my people feared entering the camps since they might have been a trap. This influenced my mother’s family and caused them to constantly flee in the jungles between Burma and Thailand. In order to make it out alive, people would have to be mobile and not settle in one spot for too long. She would tell me that she had to flee barefoot because there were no such things as shoes where she came from.

As the years continued, my mother’s parents passed away and there were no safe villages to re- turn to. She could not depend on anyone for help and eventually sought refuge in the Thai camps at her own risk. She was between 20 and 30 years old at the time of arriving at one of the camps.

Life in the camp was very different from the village she came from. It was bordered off and you were prohibited from entering the city. Despite the protection she received, she remembers having to flee again from Burmese soldiers. To make things worse, she was pregnant with my older brother. We were born in the Mae La refugee camp. He was born in 1999 and I was born in 2002.

I am the youngest in my family and I was born with a disorder that influenced my parents to enter the U.S. I had to use a colostomy bag because my digestive system did not function normally. This was a disability I struggled with. The whole camp knew about me and believed that I would not make it. However, this would not stop my mother from reaching out to doctors to help me. Most professional doctors and nurses gave up on giving me treatment and doubted my chance of living. My mother’s love was too strong to give up on me and so she continued. She did not want me to be another child neglected by an undeveloped medical system in a third-world country. Only one doctor said I would make it and gave my mom hope. After a few years, once our papers to enter the United States were approved, we were sent to the Bronx, New York.

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Pandemic Boosts Pet Adoptions

Credit_ Laura Wagner image7Jake, a Jindo terrier mix, has been treated to longer walks with his owner, Laura Wagner, during the pandemic. (Photo by Laura Wagner)

By Chastina Simmons and Sarah Furtado

Stone Mountain, Ga. and Vero Beach, Fla.

The global pandemic caused by the coronavirus has hit everyone like a truck. Health scares, quarantines, and school closings are changing the lives of millions of humans. But there is another, less-talked about population that’s also being affected: pets.

Right now, because of quarantine, many people are stuck at home with more free time than we used to have. Many are filling this void by adopting pets.

“They’re flying out the doors, not in,” said Jill Van Tuyl, the director of shelter operations at SAVE, a shelter for homeless dogs and cats in Skillman, New Jersey. From her experience, she noted that more people are considering adopting cats and dogs during the pandemic.

“Because of COVID and so many adoptions, right now, a good portion of my day is dedicated to scheduling transports to bring animals in and also reviewing adoption applications for potential adopters,” Van Tuyl said. Both sides benefit: The new owners get an addition to the family, and these animals get a start to a new, and most likely better, life.

Credit_ @furio_gram on Insta 1

Furio, a Shiba Inu mix, lives with Kate Knibbs in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Photo by Kate Knibbs)

Laura Wagner and Kate Knibbs of Brooklyn, New York, have recently adopted puppies during this pandemic. However, the process of adopting their pets wasn’t easy. According to Wagner, “because everyone was trying to adopt dogs during quarantine, it was really difficult to get a dog or even get an interview with the various different rescues in Brooklyn.”

Although the adoption process was lengthy, both owners thought the pets were worth it.

In addition to offering companionship, Wagner said that having a dog helped her physical health. Every morning, Wagner takes her Jindo terrier mix, Jake, for a long walk.

“I went from averaging 700 steps a day to averaging 15,000 steps a day,” she said. “Your physical health is tied to your mental health, so definitely being more active is good.” She also noted that just cuddling with her dog during her breaks helped lift her mood.

Knibbs’ Shiba Inu mix, Furio, also keeps her spirits lifted despite demanding quite a bit of work. “I mean, it’s pretty hard to stay in bed when there’s this incredibly cute creature who needs your attention,” she said.

Cute creatures don’t just include dogs.

Credit_ @freddieyourbeardie on Insta

Zimmerman’s bearded dragon, Freddie, sunbathing. (Photo by Kier Zimmerman)

During these long, lonely months of quarantine, Kier Zimmerman was thankful to have a new bearded dragon lizard as a friend. “They like to be cuddled, they like to hang out. They’re very social, and they’re very easy,” said Zimmerman, a recent Harvard graduate cooped up at their parents’ home in Minnesota.

Their lizard, Freddie, has a compact build, a sand-colored complexion, and an apparent love of the TV show “American Horror Story.” “He will fall asleep on me or in my hand a lot, which is very cute,” Zimmerman said. “And he nuzzles into the corner of my hand and tries to bury himself in there.”

In a world in turmoil, these pets offer refuge to their owners. That’s apparent watching Zimmerman and Freddie. Zimmerman cradled their bearded dragon and reassured him: “Calm down. It’s OK.”

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As Pandemic Threatens Pocketbooks, Black Activists Promote ‘Mutual Aid’

JGordon-Nembhard2018

Jessica Gordon Nembhard

By Daniel Sanchez

Boca Raton, Fla.

A natural opening for this story might have been focused on an individual, a relatable human being who was assisted by a mutual aid fund. But focusing on just one person would defeat the purpose of looking at a cooperative economic initiative.

Jessica Gordon Nembhard, an economics professor at John Jay College specializing in community-based approaches to justice, views mutual aid funds as precursors to cooperative economic systems. The difference? Mutual aid funds have been practiced by “every population in the world … continuously,” she said.

Nembhard describes mutual aid funds as informal collections of money that are distributed to the community based on need. Each member of the group contributes through dues, with people designated to oversee the fund. They are usually specialized for specific circumstances, such as to pay health care bills or to plan funerals. The story of these grassroots programs spans generations, and continues to subvert traditional economic norms to provide opportunities to members of historically disenfranchised groups.

Founded in 1966, the Black Panther Party developed social programs like the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast for School Children Program, which gave free breakfast to tens of thousands of children in underserved communities. They also had cooperative housing for the homeless in the surrounding communities of local chapters. Nembhard said there are not many historical examples of large organizations like the Black Panthers using “humane economics.”

A major reason why, according to Nembhard, is because productivity threatens the system. “If we show this system works well, why would you want to exist in a capitalist society?” Nembhard asked.

Now, young Black activists are picking up the gauntlet thrown down by their predecessors.

Red curtains framed the lightning bolts hitting New York as Tropical Storm Isaias passed the Northeast coast. Diligently answering questions while glancing at hurricane warnings on their phone, Asanni Armon explained their passion for assisting the LGBTQ+ and Black communities.

A 2017 Princeton graduate, Armon founded the organization For The Gworls, which raises money for Black trans people for rent and gender-affirmation surgeries. Their method for fundraising is throwing rent parties that generate revenue. In this sense, For The Gworls is a textbook mutual aid fund, one that focuses on a specific problem faced by minority residents in New York. Armon receives applications for aid and accepts everyone who fits within the scope of the organization.

However, Armon is adamant about preserving solidarity within the organization, a guiding principle which differentiates it from the non- profit industrial complex. “I don’t want to play into that,” Armon said, referencing non-profit organizations that attempt to ensure the fiscal responsibility of those to whom they provide funding. Instead, they trust the word of those who apply for assistance. Armon’s goal is to grow For The Gworls, but only in a sustainable way that ensures a community, people-centered approach.

With a pandemic and protests for racial equality raging throughout the United States, many people view mutual aid funds as a way to contribute to improving their community. “We got this boost [in fun- draising] in June,” Armon said, when protests and recent killings of Black Americans pressured many to consider their values. Now they hope the donations will continue throughout the year, as racism is an ongoing, systemic issue.

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forthegworls

Asanni Armon (L.) founded a mutual aid group that provides financial assistance for rent and gender-affirming surgery.

By Abednego Togas

Silver Spring, MD.

Asanni Armon did not know what to do when their two friends were facing eviction in late June 2019. With roommates of their own, Armon had no room to house additional people, so in an effort to help their struggling friends, they devised a collective way to provide immediate assistance.

Pooling resources, Armon put together a 4th of July party that required a fee of five dollars to enter. The money would then go directly to Armon’s friends, all of whom are Black and transgender. “The rest was history,” Armon said.

Armon’s strategy of hosting New York City ‘rent parties’ to raise funds to put directly into struggling Black trans people’s pockets continued to take place well after their July 4th occasion. Armon’s initial party led to the creation of the For the Gworls fund, an assistance program that fundraises money for rent and gender- affirming surgery.

For the Gworls is an example of mutual aid funding, a method of collectively raising money or pooling resources for the benefit of a community. Mutual aid funds are often relief efforts that take place after a sudden natural disaster, and focus on collecting resources such as water after an earthquake or masks during a pandemic.

Mutual aid has been predominantly used by marginalized groups to address and alleviate ongoing social needs. The Black Panther Party’s Survival Programs, for example, provided services such as free breakfast for children, and funded community health clinics to combat socioeconomic disparities in the Black community.

Jessica Gordon Nembhard, professor at John Jay College, specializes in community economics and says that collective efforts like For the Gworls often come about from mainstream society’s neglect of marginalized groups. “The reason why most people start cooperatives … is because whatever was the norm, the mainstream, wasn’t doing what was needed,” Nembhard said.

A r m o n founded the For the Gworls mutual aid fund after facing discrimination in the workplace because, to their knowledge, there was no sustainable form of assistance for Black trans people. “When I started this last year, there was nobody else in New York doing this work,” Armon said. “People had been crowdfunding for individuals… but it was never a sustained effort.”

Unlike charities, nonprofit organizations, or other forms of assistance, For the Gworls puts money directly into recipients’ pockets with little to no follow-up because their main purpose is to help struggling Black trans people, and not to provide care with strict stipulations. “We should be trying to move away from that and move towards just radically caring about someone,” Armon said.

Mutual aid is also dissimilar from other methods of fundraising due to its collective and collaborative nature, historically forming out of a collective feeling of frustration due to economic discrimination and segregation. “It’s the racism, it’s the economic discrimination … in almost every case African-American people were excluded from something or marginalized by something,” Gordon Nembhard said. “A lot of the housing co-ops started because African-Americans couldn’t get access to housing.”

Instead of operating as a stringent corporation, mutual aid goes against capitalism and involves a community coming together and solving immediate problems to remedy each other’s needs. “Mutual aid to me is, at its core, very anti-capitalist,” Armon said.

The rise of COVID-19 has disrupted the Gworls’ rent parties, but Armon continues to crowdfund on social media, garnering the attention of several mainstream celebrities. COVID-19 and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in June have also led to a host of other mutual aid funds being created to address community issues.

But for Armon, the sole existence of mutual aid highlights a society’s failure to provide resources to all of its members. Until Black trans people are provided the same protections and support as others, Armon will continue to run For the Gworls to help their community.

“We are here, helping each other in the ways that we need to help each other, showing up for each other the way that we need to show up for each other,” Armon said.

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Is philosophy dead?

Credit K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash
K. Mitch Hodge

By Stephanie Garcia

Bronx, N.Y.

It is human nature to question what is around us. In the ancient world, questioning and seeking answers to life’s mysteries was met with mixed opinions. Nonetheless, the contributions of these philosophers are valuable to our contemporary society. They ultimately paved the way for intellectual curiosity.

The question now is whether the study of philosophy is still relevant in our science-based society. Today, philosophy may not be as highly valued as science, but does that mean it should die off?

“It’s still relevant,” said Daniel Dorsey, a philosophy enthusiast from New York City. “But it’s slowly dying because some people aren’t using their brains to question the world around them — something that is necessary for philosophy.” He believes that philosophy is still relevant in our personal lives rather than in society more generally.

Teniesea Russell from New York City is a college advisor who chooses to live by a wide range of her own personal philosophies. Her beliefs regarding the subject differ from Dorsey’s. She believes that she and many others use philosophy on a daily basis and that it cannot easily die off because of its relevance to our lives.

Russell

Teniesea Russell

Russell elaborated: “Some individuals like referring back to historically popular statements conveyed by philosophers concerning morals or virtues such as ‘patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet,’ which derives from a philosophical notion. We still talk about philosophers like Aristotle and sometimes apply their ways of thinking in our society or lives.”

While some people, like Dorsey, argue that philosophy is at risk of dying, there are others who say that it is already dead. In an interview from 2011, Stephen Hawking claimed that philosophy is dead because of its inability to catch up with science, which Hawking called “the torch for discovery.” However, he then went on to say that while philosophy may no longer be able to discover anything new, “it is still relevant in people’s day-to-day lives.”

Hawking’s claims about philosophy’s contemporary significance seem to contradict one another, but they do raise a question: Has science replaced philosophy? Both fields push us to question our world, yet science focuses more on actually finding answers.

Dorsey emphasized that in order to progress, it is important to “question why things exist, like a philosopher, and then find answers to anything and everything that can be answered, much like scientists do.” He concluded, “in order to progress, both must coexist.”

Russell believes in the application of philosophy to science, particularly when developing sentient technologies such as artificial intelligence. “I believe we still need both because they provide different aspects of thinking,” she explained. “By having philosophical thoughts, we can continue to use science to get into the microscopic details surrounding these thoughts, which can pave the way for more scientific achievements.”

It is likely that philosophy will always be a part of society due to our natural curiosity. Science relies on philosophy to provide some of the ethics surrounding our new scientific endeavors and it is likely that philosophy will transcend into a new field of study: one vital to the ethics behind scientific progression and societal life. As long as these questions are asked and explored, philosophy may never truly die.

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‘Old Guard’ Has Little New To Show

Untitled drawing (1)Maggie Salinas

By Tara Monastesse

Warwick, R.I.

Andromache, or Andy, played by Charlize Theron, is the battle-hardened leader of a group of immortal warriors who serve as de facto protectors of the planet. In “The Old Guard,” Andy finds her crew targeted by greedy scientists who plan to kidnap them, extract their biological data, and replicate their powers of regeneration. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the film brings impressive choreography and new concepts to the action genre. But it stops just short of transcending it.

Perhaps the biggest flaw with “The Old Guard” is the risks it doesn’t take. While the rogue group of scientists is clearly immoral, the movie never delves into the serious question posed by their attempt to create a drug that extends human life: What do we owe to the rest of humanity? Moral questions like this present themselves throughout the movie, but instead of exploring them further, Prince-Bythewood always swerves back to more traditional fight sequences.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with that—after all, who doesn’t love watching Charlize Theron bring a sword to a machine gun fight? For a movie that’s trying to bring new depth to the genre, however, the lack of commitment to challenging storytelling in favor of gunshots and bloodshed feels tiresome. When a new member of the immortals’ group, Nile Freeman, played by KiKi Layne, questions Andy about the lives she takes without hesitation, the film appears to be on the cusp of an engaging conversation about the nature of life and death. Instead, they part ways and return to their action-flick adventures.

The immortals in the film feel almost hollow, as if their centuries of life had no role in shaping the people they’ve become. While Andy has mastered multiple languages and fighting styles over the course of human history, she ultimately presents herself as any other 21st century woman would. This is understandable, since hiding her immortality is easier if she blends in. But Theron doesn’t quite convey the burden you might feel defending humanity over centuries; often, she just looks tired.

However, I enjoyed the dynamic between the immortals, their camaraderie and constant wise-cracks, as well as the compelling romantic relationship between immortals Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). Despite its shortcomings, “The Old Guard” is a fun addition to the world’s pandemic playlist. I just wish it were more than that.

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Immortals In ‘Old Guard’ Also Show Their Human Side

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By Hana Hammad

Debary, Fla.

The Old Guard” follows a strong female lead, Andy (Charlize Theron), an immortal trying to change the world she’s lived in for eternity. Andy stands at the head of a group of immortal warriors—Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli)—that she discovered and trained over centuries.

One night, the immortals have a collective dream of a female Marine, Nile (KiKi Layne), a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan but mysteriously comes back to life. Andy seeks out the Marine to join her immortal warrior team—but Nile resists, confused about what is happening to her. Having lost her father a few years prior, she’s hesitant to leave her family.

Andy and her immortal warrior team are betrayed by an ex-CIA agent, Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who traps them in an evil scientific research lab. The lab captures Nicky and Joe to perform tests on them for medical research. Along the way, a betrayal and plenty of action ensue.

The movie was enjoyable because it didn’t take long for the plot to pick up. The love story between Nicky and Joe was beautiful. Seeing that they had been by each other’s sides for hundreds of years softened the movie’s hard edges.

In many action movies, the theatrical fighting and explosives can be too raw, or even boring. But “The Old Guard” was able to tie in elements of love and action to make the characters seem more human, despite their immortality. Similarly, Andy’s backstory with Quynh—an immortal whose fate is revealed through a series of flashbacks—made me love the movie so much more. The strength of them together in battle scenes fighting side by side was magical.

The only downside to this movie was the predictability of some of the plotlines. The big betrayal of the film is similar to many others, such as “Big Hero 6,” “The Matrix,” and “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” But overall, “The Old Guard” has to be one of my favorite action movies. I typically don’t care to watch action movies but this one kept me engaged the whole time.

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A Digital Summer To Remember

Staff Editorial PictureSTAFF EDITORIAL

This year’s Princeton Summer Journalism Program (PSJP) was built on virtual connections. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, participants couldn’t convene together on campus, and there was no space to build in-person connections. A 10-day program was, with little notice, transformed into a 7-week one, forcing us to adapt in order to make the most of our summer. But program participants are a resilient bunch, and students from a variety of backgrounds united under one common love: journalism.

PSJP empowered students from backgrounds underrepresented in journalism to harness our unique life experiences in order to tell important journalistic stories.

Our cohort faced numerous trials and tribulations during our virtual summer program: poor WiFi connections, different time zones, Zoom mishaps, and the distractions that came with the raging chaos of COVID-19. Sitting at our desks, on our beds, and beside kitchen tables did not align with our initial expectations of PSJP. We overcame Zoom fatigue, sore shoulders and backs, and eyes burning from the bright screens of our phones, computers, and tablets. Sitting at home, without much contact with the outside world, became more difficult as the summer went on. Yet the students and counselors of PSJP prevailed, finding ways to stay connected instead of simply missing out and mourning what could have been.

Through weekly Zoom sessions and a group chat active almost 24 hours a day, we shared our doubts, dreams, and goals throughout the seven-week program. We attended lectures that exposed us to a variety of subjects and workshops that taught us about different types of journalism. And each week we put our new skills to the test, writing news stories, opinion articles, features, and more.

With support from our peers, interns, counselors, and PSJP alumni, we were able to come together as the world around us seemed to be falling apart. Though the pandemic, emerging social movements, and economic upheaval impacted our individual communities in different ways, we formed a community of our own, a haven protected from the unrest. We came together not knowing the people and family we would become. Now, we leave with a network of counselors who have supported us from day one and what are sure to be life-long friendships.

On August 11, our lives will go back to normal—well, our new normal. We will enter our senior year with a newfound perspective on both life and journalism. Despite having to endure a global pandemic and a plethora of other conflicts, we were still able to immerse ourselves in a transformative PSJP experience. We now leave the program having gained invaluable knowledge and bonds strong enough to last a million lifetimes.

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Hollywood’s Pervasive Color Problem

 

The book cover of “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas (on the left) featured a dark-skinned Black girl while the movie adaption stars a light-skinned actress (on the right).

By Anne Tchuindje

Washington, D.C.

The critically acclaimed movie “The Hate U Give” began as a book. It’s the story of Starr Carter, a young Black girl who tries to balance two worlds—her low-income Black neighborhood and her wealthy white prep school—while still fighting misogyny and racism. On the cover of the book, the illustrator draws Starr Carter as a Black girl with Afro-textured hair and brown skin. The actress who plays Starr in the movie, Amandla Stenberg, is a lighter-skinned Black girl with braids.

Stenberg’s casting is an example of a lack of diversity in Hollywood that new awareness about race and representation has yet to fix: colorism. The term means “prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, including prejudice held by members of their own ethnic or racial group.”

People of color have slowly, but surely, made a significant impact on the big screen. Diversity, especially in Hollywood, allows people from different backgrounds to see themselves reflected in popular culture. But when it comes to the representation of darker-skinned Black people, the movies haven’t made much progress. Executives tend to hire lighter-skinned actors to play Black roles, or to consider darker-skinned actors only for roles that fulfill a specific stereotype. Until colorism is addressed within the filmmaking industry, there will never be true diversity.

The illustrator of “The Hate U Give,” Debra Cartwright, has said in interviews that she “wasn’t thrilled” about the choice of Stenberg to play Starr. In a meeting with Fox, executives told her that they’d have to lighten her illustration, and “change the hair.”

Author Angie Thomas also criticized the colorism infecting the film adaptation, which omits the references to colorism in the Black community expressed in her original book. “It’s disheartening, because I do feel like so much money was thrown behind the movie, and so much marketing was thrown behind it,” Thomas said. “You can tell who Hollywood is pushing to be in the limelight, and everybody knows it has a lot to do with appearance, but it also is still being driven a bit by colorism.”

“The Hate U Give” is far from the only example. Among others, actress Zendaya has spoken up about issues of colorism within Hollywood and admitted to having a privilege over her “dark skin brothers and sisters.” She vowed to continue to use her platform to bring attention to issues of colorism within the industry. “Guardians of the Galaxy” actress Zoe Saldana, cast in the role of singer and songwriter Nina Simone despite her lighter skin and looser hair texture, expressed great regret for playing the role.

“I should have never played Nina,” Saldana said. “I should have done everything in my power with the leverage that I had 10 years ago, which was a different leverage, but it was leverage nonetheless.”

Colorism is also apparent in animated movies. In recent Disney films, a variety of princesses from different backgrounds and cultures have been featured— and through each movie we witness the development of each princess as she embarks on an adventure that ultimately changes her life forever. But colorism remains.

In “The Princess and the Frog,” the first Disney film to depict an African American princess, main character Tiana was trapped in the form of an animal for over 80 percent of the movie. Disney’s decision to make this princess a frog throughout the movie is not only racist, but colorist, in the sense that this plot is only used in a movie containing a dark-skinned princess.

Issues of colorism within Hollywood do not only affect who is cast to play roles, but also how they tell the story of those they play. When Hollywood does cast dark-skinned actors, they are given less screen time or made to play demeaning characters; for instance, dark skin characters make frequent appearances as maids and servants. It’s important to cast actors and actresses of darker skin in order to show more diversity, be more inclusive, and break down these stereotypes.

We need stories that spotlight more people within the Black community. Actors and actresses with a platform and leverage should give other actors and actresses of darker skin tones more opportunities and voices within casting decisions. Representation within film builds character and identity for Black people.

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How Can We Mitigate Bias In AI?

By Mahbuba Sumiya

Detroit, Mich.

Facial recognition software—used by millions—doesn’t properly identify people of color. This technology was meant to provide accurate results, but alarmingly, “nearly 40 percent of the false matches by Amazon’s tool … involved people of color,” according to Queenie Wong, a staff reporter for CNET News. Amazon’s face-ID system recognized Oprah as male, wrongly matched 28 members of Congress to a mugshot database, and detected a Brown University student as a Sri Lanka bombing suspect.

Algorithms are learning to adapt to society’s stance on racial biases. They’re programmed and trained by showing millions of human pictures; however, if the algorithms are trained with only white faces, they won’t be able to recognize any other types of faces. Artificial intelligence (AI) can only be smart if they are trained with fair data. If an AI is trained with millions of faces that are people of color, then it would not have a hard time recognizing those faces accurately.

Joy Buolamwini, founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, researches the social implication of artificial intelligence, and recognized the biases that companies like Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon have in place for AI services. While at MIT as an undergraduate, Buolamwini tried out an algorithm called Coded Gaze as part of an assignment. She learned that the system recognized her light-skinned friend’s face better than her own. When Buolamwini put on a white face mask, it was able to detect her face.

Racism exists in computer algorithms because of individual values. If people did not care about how the person next to them looked, racism would not still be America’s biggest problem. People being wrongly arrested because of false detection is not ethical. If people are fighting for justice, they must fight for justice in everything. Racial justice must equal algorithm justice.

Plus, even if algorithms are trained with antiracist databases, accuracy continues to be an issue. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) stated in May 2020 that Asians and African Americans had false positive rates even when they programmed computers with 8.49 million faces. Will AI ever be fair to people of color?

Growing up in a generation where algorithms are becoming more and more prevalent, it’s hard to recognize machine bias—a problem that will continue to amplify inequality in future generations, if left unchecked. We must train AI to be fair and neutral. But with the current state of the field, this may prove difficult. Computer science tends to attract more men than women—only about 25 percent of computer scientists in the United States are women. Minority racial groups are also not represented equally in tech industries. Having more diverse points of views in this field can prevent us from training computers with biased data. In society, a woman might be associated with teaching, childcare, or nursing, but we should not use these existing societal assumptions when building an algorithm.

Luckily, some businesses are taking small steps to measure and minimize bias, including IBM’s Fairness 360 (an open source allowing developers to examine, report, and mitigate bias within the machine learning model), according to Macy Bayern, as associate staff writer for TechRepublic.

After all, the only way we can eventually move forward with AI fairly is by allowing diverse people to be engaged with tech industries.

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Bill de Blasio Has Failed Enough New Yorkers

By Aima Ali

Brooklyn, N.Y.

In late March, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and chancellor of education Richard Carranza announced that schools would close. Now, with 232,000 reported cases and more than 23,000 deaths in the city, the mayor is planning on reopening schools in the fall. Reopening schools with the proposed hybrid learning model will only result in more unnecessary death.

Though cases are decreasing in the city, allowing some businesses to reopen, people still die from the virus every day. Before schools closed, more than 60 Department of Education employees—including 25 teachers—contracted COVID-19 and eventually died. Opening schools will inevitably lead to more cases and will raise the risk of students being exposed to the virus. School students and staff often have to commute using trains or buses. Though the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the city’s transit agency, has been cleaning trains nightly, those who use public transportation during rush hour know how crowded trains can be. Some MTA employees have even refused to come to work after their colleagues contracted and died from the virus. As a result, already unpredictable buses run on even more unreliable schedules and remain packed at all hours of the day.

The Department of Education released guidelines limiting the number of students per classroom, but keeping up with these requirements will be more difficult for schools with larger classroom sizes. Those are often schools serving low-income students. Low-income, Black, and Latino individuals are already more likely to both contract COVID-19 and die from the disease. Larger classroom sizes and fewer teachers will only increase these inequalities.

Those pushing for reopening claim that it will not affect death rates, as students are less likely to die from the virus. However, older students are still susceptible to becoming extremely sick and may suffer from other symptoms, such as loss of taste and smell. Students can be symptom-free carriers, infecting high-risk family members without even knowing. Older teachers will also go to work fearing for their safety each day. Teachers’ unions are predicting that teachers who can retire will, causing an even greater shortage of teachers and making it more difficult for class sizes to remain small.

Poor planning caused New York City to hesitate before closing schools when a COVID-19 case was first detected in Manhattan. Still, with months to plan, the best the mayor and his fellow politicians have been able to come up with is a plan that will ultimately result in the deaths of more New Yorkers. We cannot bring back those 63 DOE employees that were exposed early on, but we can make sure that no other teacher, school staff member, or student dies a preventable death.

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Finding The Silver Lining In A Global Pandemic

photo-1588612005960-a382b1eca714Image created by Daniel Barreto

By Alyssa Ultreras

Oakland, Calif.

Late in March, COVID-19 abruptly stopped everyone’s schedules, plans, and events across the nation. The global pandemic put families through struggles regarding finance, access, and opportunity. Through this pandemic, the media has also shed light on the disproportionate hardships faced by people of color.

Yet despite all the turmoil people have faced during this time, many have been inspired. Some have started a small business, become more educated, become advocates, or taken other action to help people in their communities.

Living through this time, and witnessing all the tragedy as well as the glory that has risen through it, I have been inspired to reevaluate the way I spend my time.

Before quarantine, I worked non-stop with my school schedule, extracurriculars, jobs, and household responsibilities. I was exhausted, unable to realize that I was devoting time to people and commitments that did not make me happy anymore. I was a lit flame burning myself to ashes, taking on too much out of a feeling of obligation that’s common among high school juniors.

Now when I look back on those pre-pandemic times, I know why I thought this way. Like a college freshman, a person transitioning to find a job, or a person seeking a higher position in their field, I was suffering from a lack of balance.

As I was burning out at the end of the first semester, I watched a Ted Talk by Shonda Rhimes. She explained how she felt burned out because massive production and success led to a loss of family time. I could only relate from afar because I did not have a daughter as she does. However, I do have a family. I do have a younger sibling who looked up to me as an older sister, only to see me come home after a long day too tired to play with her.

As Rhimes says, “Work doesn’t work without play.”

Rhimes argues for spending more time with who or what brings balance to work. And so, once quarantine came and my entire life was put on pause, I had time to reconnect with myself and find the balance to my work.

It took a global pandemic to allow the world around me to stop and give me a chance to realize this. As young advocates are helping to change the world, seizing the moment and rising in this dark time, we all must strive to find the balance between work and play if we want to persevere during this pandemic and come out the other side stronger.

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White Teachers: Stop Saying ‘Negro’

By Kuftu Said

Aurora, Colo.

As a Black student who has attended diverse schools my whole life, I’ve seen my fair share of racial microaggressions. Racism in the classroom is particularly aggravating. It’s embarrassing enough that we are taught whitewashed history, are shut out of AP classes, perform lower on standardized tests because of a lack of support systems, and learn from very few teachers of color. I’m tired of hearing my non-Black teachers tell me they can say “negro” for educational purposes.

Whether it’s classmates who tell me not to play the “race, religion, or woman card” in debates, or people who warn me not to perpetuate the “angry Black woman” stereotype, I have let many a bigoted remark go. National statistics show how Black students graduate at lower rates and experience harsher and longer disciplinary actions than their white counterparts, but there are none that show how many Black students experience racism at school. Racist educators have the ability to determine how racist acts are punished, much like how police essentially police themselves.

Some of these facts I have learned from the same teachers who use “negro” or other racial slurs for “educational purposes.” I shouldn’t have to educate my teachers; we can be “educated” just as well by reading around the word ‘negro.’

I had a white teacher who justified her use of the word in a classroom with three Black students by showing us an article that explained how “negro” was used to describe Black people on the census until 2013, so it was an objectively descriptive word. I had a white teacher who announced that he was the only person allowed to say “negro” in the classroom. I had a white administrator who said an even more offensive n-word when disciplining a group of Black boys; he justified it by saying he was repeating what he heard from the group. None of these teachers was punished.

When I talk to my fellow classmates, especially my Black peers, we whisper about the ignorant use of the word. I could never say my feelings out loud before, but in a time of moral revolution, when Twitter has the ability to hold people accountable for hate speech more than schools do, we must normalize calling out what’s ethically backward.

At a time when Black students from Ivy League universities post anonymously on social media about their terrible experiences (check #BlackIvyStories and wince), let’s make sure white teachers stop saying “negro.”

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Cutting Weight Can Wait; Teens’ Health Can’t

Aigner Settles (left) and Sofia Barnett (right) powerlifting for their high school teams.

By Sofia Barnett

Frisco, Tex.

I didn’t understand the toxicity of high school sports until I had to lose 11 pounds in 36 hours for varsity powerlifting.

On weigh-in day, I rose before the sun. Having completely deprived myself of food the day before, I immediately sank back down as fireworks of red, blue, and green interrupted my blurred vision—my body’s way of warning me that I needed help. I put on five sweat- shirts and six pairs of sweatpants, hot-flashing already as I struggled to tie my sneakers. Still, I made it to my high school track just before the first wave of runners started their early morning jogs.

Twenty sprints, 100 meters, 16-second average. Ready, go.

My heavy exhalation lingered in clouds of vapor in the cold December air. I wasn’t sweating enough. The chill was preventing me from expelling every remaining drop of water my body had clung to. It became too much. I threw up on the side of the track just as the sun began to rise: a ceremony honoring the fact that my stomach had forced out the last of its contents.

For thousands of student athletes nationwide, the demands of weight-cut culture are a tragic reality. In order to compete, lifters and wrestlers must make a designated weight class, often by gaining or losing weight rapidly, forcing them to choose between their health and their athletic performance. With added pressures from coaches and teammates, it’s not an easy choice to make. At what point does an athlete say no?

As weight-cut culture continues to grow, the increasing number of athletes resorting to physical harm in order to make weight is not only normalized, but praised within the sports community. During my time as a powerlifter, I have heard locker-room horror stories of coaches buying students laxatives, glorifying eating disorders and unjustly punishing athletes who were unlucky enough to miss weight by even the slightest fraction of a pound.

As teenagers, we are highly susceptible to internalizing the beliefs we are exposed to, whether good or bad. Young athletes, told often of the virtues of rapid weight fluctuation, start to believe that the harm they are causing their bodies is just another inconvenience they have to overcome rather than a potentially life-threatening compulsion.

We are minors. This isn’t the Olympics, it’s high-school competition. The only thing at stake here is a cheap, bulk-produced aluminum medal that will eventually end up collecting dust in a grandmother’s moldy basement—well, that and our health. The detrimental impacts of weight-cut culture—immune system deterioration, development of unhealthy habits, and life-long trauma—far outweigh any momentary competitive advantage.

That boy spitting ounces of saliva into a jug on meet day deserves better. That girl sticking two fingers down her throat because she accidentally forgot she couldn’t have breakfast deserves better. My teammates, my competitors, and I deserve better.

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Get The Police Out Of Schools

Opinion art by AbedAbednego Togas

By Vanessa Zepeda

Chicago, Ill.

There is a consensus among students of color that we must act more “normal”—meaning white—when we’re around student resource officers (SROs) compared to our white counterparts. We wonder: Will they consider us suspects due to our differing features? Will our efforts to capture a white society’s concept of normalcy be enough as we scurry past?

“Why are you afraid of the police?” supporters of SROs ask, bewildered. But bewilderment is the child of ignorance. The question suggests apathy, ignorance, and disregard for students who have faced encounters with the brutality of SROs.

To ask such a question in a time of an uprising against systems of oppression requires the ability to turn away from something others have been forced to face their entire lives—it requires privilege. It’s easy to get entangled in a rose-colored world, oblivious to the way our fears heighten around SROs, because this obliviousness is not a new problem.

To understand why the SRO system disproportionately impacts students of color, we must address its origins. According to the ACLU, SROs first appeared in the wake of school desegregation, after “white community members argued that … a lack of discipline among Black children would bring disorder to white schools.” After the Columbine school shooting, more schools began to assign SROs in hopes of preventing similar tragedies. However, police in schools became concentrated in low-income neighborhoods of color, letting minority students face higher rates of punishment.

Police provide protection, but they are not the protectors of minorities. They protect the systems that harm us. Schools where SROs enforce zero-tolerance policies criminalize trivial behaviors, pushing students towards the school-to-prison pipeline.

Who are the children most impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline? Students with learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse, or neglect. As low-income neighborhoods of color continue to use SROs, schools rely more on police. In a way, student resource officers become walking gateways to the pipeline as schools begin to give up on students.

Supporters of SRO programs often bring up a fear of school shootings to justify police presence in schools. However, there is no substantial research that proves SROs improve the safety of schools. What the data have shown is the disproportionate impact of SROs on students of color.

Safety does not come from armed individuals working for a historically racist system. If you believe that, re-evaluate what you perceive as safety. I can assure you that safety for you does not mean safety for all.

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How Racism Leads To Anime’s Stigma

photo-1581833971358-2c8b550f87b3Credit: Tim Mossholder

By Crystyna Barnes

Elm City, N.C.

Have you ever heard of anime?” asked a student at the front of the class. My teacher looked at the kid, confused. “It’s like those weird cartoons from Japan or something,” the student added. “Don’t watch them. They’re really gross and weird.”

The students, and even the teacher himself, laughed. I sat in the back of the class beside my friend, a fellow fan of anime. We slowly turned to look at each other, puzzled. The last anime I’d watched was about a middle school boy rediscovering his love for piano. What’s so gross about that?

Cartoons are a staple of most childhoods. No one bats an eye when asked about their favorite Disney film. Why is it any different when the content originates in a foreign country? The watered-down reasoning is that it’s simply racism. But the bigger culprit is social conditioning that teaches us to think of something outside of the norm as “weird.”

What people don’t know is that they’ve probably already consumed western content inspired by anime. Ever watch “Avatar: The Last Airbender”? “Powerpuff Girls”? “Teen Titans”? All of these childhood favorites took notes from anime: exaggerated facial expressions, big eyes and mouths, and a color- ful palette for character designs. We’ve been enjoying cartoons based on anime all along.

Whenever I’ve asked someone why they don’t like anime, the answer is short: “It’s weird” or “I just don’t get it.” I have even heard people say that anime all seem per- verted. I don’t necessarily believe that the average person who says these things is outright racist, but continued anti-Asian stigma and a lack of edu- cation contribute to this pointless opposition. If all someone hears about anime is that it’s strange and distasteful, a cycle of indoctrination has been created where no one questions or denies this out of fear of being viewed as weird as well.

In the scheme of things, the only noticeable difference between the cartoons we know and love and anime is the place of origin. Anime is not just one genre or one style. Just like cartoons, there is one out there for everyone.

If we want to end the stereotypes around Asian culture, change starts with the individual. Go on Netflix, find an anime with a plot that piques your interest, and start watching it. Suggest it to friends. Normalizing content that is viewed as abnormal will only create more open-minded people and more shows and movies to enjoy.

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It’s Time For Equality In The WNBA

By La’Nisha Richardson

Yazoo City, MISS.

Last Summer, LeBron James signed a four-year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. A’ja Wilson, a forward for the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, responded to the news on Twitter: “154M… must.be.nice. We over here looking for a M but Lord, let me get back in my lane.”
Have you ever noticed that WNBA players don’t live in big mansions and ride in lavish cars like NBA players? The reason is that they can’t afford it. While 50 percent of NBA revenue goes to player salaries, WNBA players only receive an estimated 22 percent. The minimum starting salary in the NBA is nearly $600,000. In the WNBA: $50,000. Female basketball stars get paid much more overseas.

I’m a point guard on my high school team, which takes dedication and hard work. I can only imagine what it’s like for a WNBA player. I’m sure the top stars wonder why they’re spending so much time practicing to get paid so much less than an NBA benchwarmer.
To be sure, the NBA brings in more money than the WNBA. But the women put in the same amount of training, practice, travel, and time as the men, and should be compensated accordingly. Gender equality starts with income equality. Being a woman shouldn’t determine your pay rate.

WNBA players like Wilson and Skylar Diggins-Smith of the Dallas Wings have spoken out about the pay gap. But it feels like league officials haven’t heard them. They need to give players 50 percent of league revenue and find more marketing opportunities, such as sponsorships and commercials, for them. The league is trying to fix this, but it’s not moving fast enough, and it might take a strike to get equal pay.
And though the NBA’s Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook—as well as LeBron James—have attended games to show support, an NBA player shouldn’t have to show up to get people talking about the WNBA. This is sexism, plain and simple. Everyone should speak out.

Year After Floyd Death, Police Reform Remains Elusive Goal For Both Sides

By Haja Isha Bah
Philadelphia, Pa.

 “Get off of him! It’s time to get off of him!”  shouted Kevin Lawrence  at the video that played  on his wife’s phone.

It was about 8 pm  in Texas, Lawrence’s  home state. He was in  his gym shorts and a t- shirt watching TV in his bedroom when suddenly  his wife came in, held out her phone in front  of him, and said “watch  this video.” His relaxing  evening would then turn  into one full of rage. The  video showed footage of Minneapolis police  officer Derek Chauvin  kneeling on the neck of  George Floyd until Floyd  died. 

Lawrence was upset  that a man had been  killed, but he also was  disappointed in Chauvin.  As a former police of-ficer, he saw Chauvin’s actions as “a viable con-trol technique taught by most police depart-ments” for moments where an officer needed to gain control of a situ-ation. But Lawrence says Chauvin remained on Floyd for far too long. “There’s a care that po-lice officers have, and it was being ignored in the situation,” he says. “The impression I was getting from the look on that officer’s face was that he just didn’t care, and that’s what bothered me about it.”  

Since 2010, Lawrence has been the executive director of the Texas Mu-nicipal Police Association (TMPA), which provides  legal protection, political lobbying, and training for officers across Texas. TMPA’s mission is “to turn Law enforcement into a true profession,” Lawrence says, “to provide the citizens of Texas with the best possible police services through both education and representation.”

So to see police murder a man without any re-morse was embarrassing to Lawrence. As a former officer and a representative of officers across Texas, he was upset by Chauvin making life more difficult for cops: “900,000 other law enforcement officers across this country, they’re all  gonna be judged based on [his actions].”

One of the main fac-tors that Lawrence be-lieves contributed to Floyd’s death was a lack of training. Lawrence says in Minneapolis, “some officers had been trained one way and other of-ficers whose trainings were outdated and they had not been updated; they had not retrained on new policies.” TMPA reached out to agencies to ensure that training standards were up to date and that all officers were being trained prop-erly on every policy. This would, in Lawrence’s opinion, prevent officers from making the same “mistake” as Chauvin. 

Across the country, on Princeton Universi-ty’s campus in New Jer-sey, Gina Feliz saw the Chauvin video too. Like Lawrence, Feliz was re-laxing in her room, “not really expecting much to come of [her] summer.” Feliz opened social media, expecting more Covid-related news, only to be met with the tragic death of a Black man. Uncomfortable with the idea of sharing footage depicting police brutal-ity, Feliz made the conscious decision to not watch the video.  

Feliz was already in-volved in Students for Prison Education, Abo-lition, and Reform (SPEAR), a student group run through Princeton’s Pace Center for Civic En-gagement. “We activate, agitate, and advocate against the carceral state in all forms,” she says, by engaging in what the group’s website describes as “anti-carceral campus activism, legislative advo-cacy, community educa-tion, and direct engage-ment with currently and formerly incarcerated peers.” 

Unlike Lawrence, Feliz believes simply reform-ing policies and trainings won’t change anything; police brutality will con-tinue as if these reforms never existed. What Law-rence calls solutions, Fel-iz considers “non-reformist reforms.” She points out that more than 1,000 people are killed by po-lice each year, many of them in jurisdictions that have already imple-mented changes like the ones Lawrence describes. “On face value, you think that they might help,” she says. “At the same time, they are restoring legitimacy in the police as a whole because peo-ple see that something’s happening and they ac-cept that things will get better from there.” 

George Floyd’s death affected many lives across the country and shaped many decisions that have changed America in big and small ways. Officers feel compelled to stand up for their colleagues, while activists are pushed towards police abolition. A year after protesters filled the streets, Floyd’s death has only intensified many Americans’ feelings about policing and reform. 

Floyd’s Death Spurs New Era Of Instagram Activism

By Francesca Mirthil and Jorge Espinoza

Everett, Mass. and El Monte, Calif.

@NEETIPATELL ON INSTAGRAM

Politics. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that word? Is it suits? Washington D.C.? More than likely, it might be adults. Why? Well, for one, politics used to be something that one had to immerse themselves in, and older people had the ability to easily access and discuss their political viewpoints. If you were a teenager, you had no real way of commu-nicating your opinions. 

But now, with a cell phone, a downloadable app, and a cell tower, teens have access to political conversations.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psy-chiatry reported that 90 per-cent of surveyed teens aged 13-17 have used social me-dia at least once; 51 percent reported using it at least once a day. This means that the majority of teens use social media and that the amount of teen-to-teen in-teractions have multiplied. These interactions vary per site, but Instagram is an app of particular interest. On Instagram, social justice and political advocacy have dominated user feeds. But, that is not what Instagram was designed to be.

So what happened? March 2020. As we transitioned our lives to fit inside four walls, social media was a primary source of communication. That was until the death of George Floyd in May of 2020, which spurred a social justice outcry and major social media move-ment.

“All [of] that takes an effect on you,” said Lay-la Brooks, 16, “especially since we were at home and I was in my room all day playing the same video of Black men getting killed by police officers.”

Floyd’s death caused peo-ple to protest, even in the middle of a pandemic, but not everyone did so physi-cally. Many used their social media platforms to make their voices heard. They began following accounts, resharing posts, and designing their own infographics. Now, a year later, many are reckoning with the effec-tiveness of these actions.

For one, social media advocacy was viewed as passive. On Instagram, users are given the chance to fol-low and be followed. Naturally, a user likely follows and is followed by those who share their opinions. This limits the potential for ideas to be challenged. Info-graphics and other content then become useless, regard-less of the information pres-ent within them. 

Roxana Martínez, 17, does not fully agree with the idea of the social media echo chamber. Martinez es-timates that 40 percent of the material she interacts with includes contrasting ideas.

Another problem with social media activism is “cancel culture.” Teenagers have expressed that they feel an obligation to speak about politics.

“I felt like I had to post something. Everyone was like, ‘you’re not support-ing or you’re not spread-ing information,’” said Marshalee Mclean, 16. Marginalized individuals also feel pressure to speak out about issues corre-lated to their race simply because society demands it. “They’ll start to look at me when we’re talk-ing about immigration rights,” said Yarlin Morales, 16. “It’s almost like, I’m forced to do it or like [it’s] my responsibility.”