I always write when things are over. Something about the process helps put my mind at ease. Relationships ending, coming home from traveling, the turning of a calendar year — each tips off my writer brain that it’s probably time to produce some sort of content. … Continue reading Bookends and Finish Lines
You do not earn your stripes by eating sugary cereal, winning bowl games or wearing black and gold. You earn your stripes by taking a stand. By doing what is right.
Michael Sam came out a week ago today. Even if you don’t go to MU, you have probably seen the news, as it is coming from outlets like Human Rights Campaign, the New York Times, ESPN, OutSports and Deadspin. Even Jon Stewart had a thing or two to say about sexuality in the NFL.
And the reactions have been amazing. My entire Twitter feed was filled with #StandBySam and #OneMizzou tweets. Every post I’ve seen has been ecstatic. A t-shirt shop downtown made dozens of shirts emblazoned with a new motto: “We Are All ComoSexuals.” There is an immense amount of love and support coming from every direction toward this charismatic, talented campus leader.
Westboro Baptist Church, that awful bastardization of corrupted worship, protested Saturday before the Mizzou basketball game. I was a link in the human wall that lined the road between WBC and campus. My toes froze, my nose froze and I got to sing the alma mater with people I had never seen before, all of ours faces smiling: breathless and happy. As WBC packed their signs back into their cars, a student started a rousing rendition of “We Are the Champions.” It was a magical experience.
It’s all great and fantastic, and I am naïvely hopeful about the future of LGBTQ culture in professional sports (especially the NFL).
And, still, I think of Sasha Menu Courey.
Menu Courey, if you missed the ESPN story last month, was a swimmer at MU before she took her own life in 2011. There is a huge controversy over her alleged rape by MU football players and the university’s response to her reports. The Columbia Missourian has kept up with the story as developments come out, and it has been on our minds and discussions, in case you wanted to learn more.
Practically back-to-back, we have two very opposite public images of MU. A woman failed by authority figures and a man lifted up by his peers. I know that these are very different stories, and therefore lend themselves to very different public reactions. Menu Courey’s story is one of shame, violence and rape culture. Sam’s is one of bravery, equality and LGBTQ culture.
I think what I’m most afraid of, honestly, is either of the stories being invalidated by the other. Sam coming out is not a ploy for the world to forget about Menu Courey. Menu Courey’s tragedy should not be a reason to not celebrate Sam’s coming out. Both story worthy of its own attention, but there is definitely a conversation to be had: How do we balance an ultimate high and an ultimate low from the same university department?
We balance it with education and awareness. Rape and sexual assault are heinously underreported at MU. Statistically, it’s likely that 5,000 sexual assaults happened on campus last year. Only 102 were reported to campus police and the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center, but of those 102, only two reports were filed with the Office of Student Conduct. Two out of 5,000, in case you were wondering, is .04 percent. Are you horrified? Because I’m horrified.
I love and believe in the One Mizzou concept as much as the next social-justice-minded undergrad, but if students are still calling each other “faggot,” does it matter that Michael Sam is the first out Division I athlete? If people are making false rape accusations or, even worse, not reporting rapes, does it matter that Menu Courey’s story matter?
Giving resources to victims and potential victims is incredibly crucial, as is supporting victims when they decide to tell their stories of violence and survival.
Arguably more important is prevention. Not preventing victims, but preventing those who create victims. This is my desperate cry: We must not stand for exclusivity. When someone uses the word “retarded,” “slut” or “faggot,” speak up — then and there. Do not indulge those who make rape jokes. Do not let language use its power for anything less than good. Educate yourself about how social justice influences your daily life, then pass the torch of knowledge onto friends, classmates and strangers.
This is not a job for resource center staffs alone. This requires the entire student body. Your presence is mandatory. Attendance will be taken.
I can promise you, the discomfort of calling someone out is trivial compared to the shame a victim feels with every slur. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
I hope that campus gets that much more inclusive because of Sam’s coming out.
I hope that MU faculty and students alike take sexual assault allegations much more seriously because of Menu Courey.
I hope that powerful stories can be guiding lights toward change, not repeated history.
If you haven’t seen me for the past three weeks, you will be unaware of the story I’m currently working on for the paper. If you have seen me, you probably know all about it, mostly because I haven’t stopped talking about it. My co-worker Steven and I have been on this story for a three-week sprint. We’re completely immersed. We’re so close to it, have read it so many times, we can’t edit anymore.
The main educational takeaway from this story has been organization and mostly how difficult it can be. DJANGO, the program we write and edit in at the Missourian, is not very user-friendly, especially for editing. We resorted to printing out our story and editing it by hands. I know what you’re thinking: how medieval! How rudimentary!
I edit papers better when they’re in a physical form. I can read it aloud and mark in the margins. I get to cross things out, draw arrows, practice my proofreading marks. I’m not really sure what took me so long to use the process with my reporting. The dental story is at right about 1,100 words and it slotted to be a centerpiece — it really requires a visual edit.
Reporting is grueling sometimes. One can only call so many dentists until you, your partner and your editor give up. One can only pour over statistics and comma placement and the difference between “higher ratio” and “larger ratio” for so long until your brain turns to mush and your eyes fall out and then you have to go eat dinner and take a nap.
We try to make a valiant effort towards Pulitzer-worthy reporting. We want inner-sanctum sources who open up to us and never-before-seen statistics and clever, clear, concise copy. We can’t always get what we want. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. Sources don’t call us back. Sources aren’t forthcoming. An alien spaceship abducts all the rural dentists in the state and won’t let them call us back.
But hey, we tried, right?
I know. I’m getting used to the idea of settling, too.
Here’s a thing I wrote today for my anti-bullying organization, Peer to Peer.
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I thought I would take a page out of Maggie’s book and write about the five things I wish someone had told me before I started college. I came to Mizzou not really knowing what to expect. I am the oldest of my siblings, and I was going to an out-of-state school where I knew absolutely no one. I literally packed my bags, drove 14 hours north and hoped for the best.
Warning: this is all nostalgia and 20/20 hindsight.
- Everybody is trying to make friends. You are not the only freshman looking for new relationships – no one comes to college with every friend from their high school and doesn’t have to worry about awkwardly shaking hands with everyone and trying desperately to remember names. Be your usual spunky self, but don’t be afraid to talk to people. If someone is wearing a shirt from the dorm (ahem residence hall) that you also live in, don’t be too afraid to go up and ask them about it. I did that and it turned out just fine – I’m still friends with that kid today (hi, Jack).
- Everyone is confused. Even those kids who seem so suave and calm because “oh, my big brother told me blah blah blah” don’t actually know what’s going on. Campus, for all its tradition and classis beauty, is evolving every day. Things change from semester to semester, so advice from older siblings is usually outdated anyways. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It is better to look like a total freshman and know what’s going on rather than be super confused and lost.
- Get involved right away. Getting involved is the real key to making friends. Find something that you’re passionate about and find the group on campus that makes that happen. I promise there is a club for it. Write for the paper. Look into internships within the sports media department or art advertising. Even better, find an philanthropy to thrown yourself into and stick with it. Mizzou Dance Marathon (surprise!) benefits the University Children’s Hospital and various therapy programs. Relay for Life benefits the American Cancer Society. Habitat for Humanity builds low-cost houses for those who might not be able to afford them otherwise. Help someone who will never be able to repay you with anything more that a hug and you will become a better person for it. Note: I did this. I got involved right away and I’m eternally grateful that I did. I do, however, wish someone had told me this, because if I hadn’t gotten involved of my own accord, I know I would be a radically different person.
- Explore your town. Don’t live in the bubble that is campus. Go out and hike. Find lookout points. Go to (free) museums. Take a road trip and go window shopping in a super swanky city close-by. If you stay on campus too much, you’ll lose the perspective that comes with seeing how non-college students function. It’s a lot more different than you would think. And there are a lot more real pants.
- Savor it. It flies by (especially spring semesters…what’s up with that). So relish it. Relish it all. All those late, coffee-fueled study sessions in the library. All those slightly awkward, heart-to-heart, let-me-make-myself-totally-vulnerable conversations with friends. All those football games, screaming your school’s cheers and chants. All those peanut butter sandwiches and weeks (or months…) of something dangerously close to abject poverty. All those teary phone calls home. All those wonderful, wonderful, wonderful college boys (hi, darlings). All those time when you get to tell your friends how proud of them you are. You are going to have bad times. You are going to have amazing times. Don’t wish any time away, because when it’s all said and done, you’ll want every last minute.
So, future collegiates…I hope this helps. Even a little.
A list of five things could never cover all of the advice I have to give incoming freshman. Ask me a specific question, and I’ll help. But it’s also up to you to make the most of your experience and your journey. College is amazing and stressful and so much work and so much fun. If you are lucky enough to get to go, make sure you make the most of it. Make sure you make it yours.
Mizzou Dance Marathon has exploded before my eyes in the best possible way.
I’m not going to take up a lot of room here explaining what Mizzou DM is, as there is a really wonderful explanation on our website. Short story, it’s a year-round philanthropic organization that raises money for the University Children’s Hospital. The entire year of fundraising culminates in a Main Event, a 13.1-hour-long, no-sitting dance party to celebrate a year of hard work. We stands for those who can’t and everything is FTK – For The Kids.
I was a DM Moraler my freshman year. It was my job to teach dancers the “Morale Dance” over the duration of the evening, wear crazy costumes and dance my butt off. DM raised a little over $76,000 that year, and I was irrevocably obsessed with the organization.
After 2012’s Main Event, I decided to apply for Steering Committee, or SteerCo. (For those who are not Mizzou students, SteerCo is the title for the student group that plans, organizes and runs a function. There are SteerCos for Homecoming, Relay for Life, Greek Week and other events on campus.) It was a huge honor to be chosen, and I was beyond excited to be involved in the leadership of such a great organization.
I couldn’t tell you exactly what happened between then and now. Countless committee meetings, adding and losing DMamily members, hundreds of Doodles, meeting the Morale Captains, late nights and early mornings, thousands of GoogleDocs, tabling, building a giant chalkboard, speaking to classes and org meetings, talking to everyone who wanted to listen (and those didn’t), social media campaigns, converting our friends to the DM Way, endless wobbling and more DMlue than I can describe. I strengthened close relationships, forged new ones and grew as a human being. I fell in love with each and every one of our Miracle Kids and their strong, amazing families. DM consumed my life, and I wasn’t even a little bit mad about it.
Finally, it was time for Main Event. Again, sort of blur. I remember hugging everyone through most of the 13.1 hours, dancing and singing on stage and spending time with our Miracle Kids. I remember being deliriously happy.
I also remember crying. A lot. Crying for my cousin, who passed away from leukemia two years ago. Crying for the stories that our Miracle Families told of their struggles and heartbreak. Crying when the crowd sang “Don’t You Worry, Child” to SteerCo standing on stage. Crying when every single person lifted up the “I Love You” sign during the moment of silence.
That’s the thing, though. Main Event makes every obstacle faced by SteerCo and Morale during the year 1000 percent worth it. Main Event is not a charity event – it is a celebration.
The night ended, as it always does, with Reveal. We, quite literally, reveal how much money DM raised over the past year. I was standing on stage, sobbing, with a sign in my hand, ready to show the entire crowd what we had worked for all year.
The grand total: $152,402.44.
We had doubled what we raised last year. We had become the largest philanthropy on MU’s campus, the largest DM in the state and the 18th largest Dance Marathon in the nation. SteerCo, Morale and every dancer present at 1:06 a.m. were beyond ecstatic. I cried like a child for at least an hour, and I have rarely felt such pride, accomplishment or love.
Mizzou Dance Marathon shattered its goals and set standards for both the organization and MU’s campus. Words will never quite suffice, and I can’t say thank you enough: to my family, to my friends, to the strangers who supporting me and this org. I am so beyond blessed.
We began as a bunch of students gathered in the Berg, listening to a speech about DMamily, full of nerves and hope.
We ended as a family.
That’s the thing about DM. It goes beyond fundraising, beyond dancing, beyond fun.
DM is love.
On Monday afternoon, I had the pleasure of going to shoot photos of the Mizzou gymnastics practice. 75 minutes and 815 photos later, I was done.
Here’s the thing about the gymnastics practice facility: you have to “stay on the yellow.” This simply means that I am not allowed to climb all over the mats, get on top of the beam or go up in the balcony area. Previously, this had been an annoyance. Lugging a tripod around, trying to angle it correctly to catch action sequences while staying on the yellow made me feel awkward and in the way. With a Nikon D7000 around my neck and some beat-up Vans on my feet, however, I had 10 times more mobility.
I could crouch down in the yellow right next to the bars and get a really cool backlit action shot. I felt as if I could utilize all of the yellow space rather than wherever my tripod could fit comfortably.
Another discovery was how much I enjoyed shooting photos. A lot. It was a fun game to me: how do I angle, zoom, focus so that this photo can tell a story? Do I focus on a gymnast’s feet during a skill? Her whole body? The entire team? What’s important and what isn’t? It felt almost like visual editing – cropping out the superfluous in order to make room for what was most important.
It also satisfied the artistic, creative side of me that gets a little squashed under the strict, sometimes formulaic style of news writing. Of course, there is always room for creativity in writing (and sometimes you have to get very creative to make a piece worth reading), but there is nothing quite as great as visual art. After two years without an art class, I sometimes forget how much pleasure it brings me to actually make something.
Photography is an avenue of journalism I would love to cultivate and pursue during my time in the JSchool. Knowing how to properly take photos – find, frame, focus – can be a wonderful addition to any journalist’s repertoire, especially in the Print & Digital area.
My ultimate dream job is to write for National Geographic. If I can write and report as well as take photos, I can only imagine I would be a lot more useful resource.
Check out some of my favorite shots. Hopefully there will be more in the future!