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.

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.

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.” 

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. 

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, 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.

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.

Blast Off, Bezos!

By Leslie Nevarez
Brownsville, Texas


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.”

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. 

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. 

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.