All posts by Brianna Gunter

College ranks highly, but at what cost?

The College has appeared on lists delineating the top public colleges in the U.S. It has also been featured on lists ranking the nation’s most expensive public colleges. (Graphic by Brianna Gunter)

Every year, the College ranks high on “Best College” lists and does well in reviews of higher education. These accomplishments are openly announced by the College and links to the reports can be found on the home page of the school website. What isn’t so openly announced, however, is that the College also frequently ranks high on another list — the most expensive public colleges in the United States.

Pricey tuition and fees are nothing new. In 2007 the College was listed at No. 10 of the most expensive public colleges, with undergraduate in-state tuition and fees being $11,307. For the 2009-2010 school year the College fell to No. 11, but prices still rose to $12,722 (its lower ranking therefore a result of other schools also raising tuition). These same tuition and fees then spiked to $13, 293 for the 2010-2011 school year, and based on this data, the College is currently ranked in the No. 8 spot on the list of most expensive public colleges.

Despite its expense, U.S. News & World Report ranks the College as the fourth-best regional school in the North, and it is the only public school in the top ten. U.S. News backed this up by referencing the College’s high selectivity and high retention rates, among other things. Forbes also highly ranks the College, placing it at No. 174 overall in its list of the top 20 percent (650 schools) in the nation.

The College is also in the top 100 “Best Value” colleges as ranked by the Princeton Review. Aside from Princeton University, it is the only New Jersey school to make the list. These rankings were announced in February however, long before the latest rise in tuition.

“We are in the same position as the last several years,” College President R. Barbara Gitenstein said in May 2011 when the next rise in tuition was being discussed. “We don’t know how many resources we will have. We can no longer cut back in areas where we have before.”

Gitenstein later announced in July that tuition would be raised $210 for full-time, in-state undergraduates and $421.50 for full-time, out-of-state undergraduate students for the

2011-2012 school year. The increase could have been more severe, but increased donations to the College and the discontinuation of certain scholarships along with other factors helped the Board of Trustees keep tuition rises at a minimum.

The actual price of a semester varies from student to student; out-of-state students are charged higher tuition than those with in-state residences (about $10,000 more according to the general estimates), students living on campus tend to pay more than those living off-campus and scholarship amounts vary. Additionally, graduate students and part-time students are paying different amounts.

Tuition rises affect almost everyone, however, and many students expressed their distress in an online survey distributed by The Signal to more than 100 students. Some entering their final year at the College pointed out that tuition and fees had risen by well over $1,000 since they first enrolled.

“A lot of people think that this school is so much cheaper than private schools, when in reality private schools tend to give their students a lot more money in scholarships, balancing it out,” wrote one College junior. “I remember applying to both public and private schools, and if I had gone to one of those private schools I’d actually have ended up paying around the same as (the College). I’m not sure what this means exactly in terms of (the College’s) value, but if tuition keeps spiking then I may regret my choice.”

Many students blamed the state for their costly education. Several students referenced governor Chris Christie’s controversial budget slashes from last year, voicing the impression that the politician does not seem to like public schools. Others recognized the overall costliness of New Jersey, which has some of the highest property taxes in the nation.

Half of those surveyed nevertheless described the tuition and fees as being reasonable when considering the College’s value, even if they weren’t happy with the statistics.

“I did think I was saving money coming here, but even though I know now that I’m still going to be stuck with heavy loans to pay off, I’m really happy I was accepted to (the College),” wrote a College junior. “The beautiful campus and my friends and great classes make me not care so much about the expense.”

The aftershock of returning to America

Back in the U.S., Brianna already misses her traveling group. (Photo courtesy of Brianna Gunter)

Well here it is: My final study abroad article. I can’t say that I never thought this day would come (because I adhere to the laws of time and common sense), but I can say that it appeared to come much faster than expected. Looking back on the past three months, however, I do find it pleasantly astonishing that I’ve learned and done so much.

I’ve been back in Jersey for a week now, and some of you have even seen me wandering around campus or working at the library (my part-time job of the last few semesters). While I honestly didn’t feel too “culture shocked” upon arrival in Costa Rica, I did feel that way almost as soon as I landed back at Newark Liberty International.

For example, it is really, super cold here; or at least it feels that way when you’ve spent all winter in a tropical country where the sun was always out. On a more awkward level, there is also an abrupt absence of wastebaskets next to toilets, and I am now expected to throw toilet paper in the toilet bowl rather than in the trash. I forget this almost as often as I forget that my friends here aren’t familiar with all of the latest Latin pop/rock songs. Of course, the weirdest thing of all is the sudden switch of everything back to English. My brain is now in a weird mix of two languages, and personally quiero hablar más en Español.

The hardest thing of all, however, has been the separation from the people I was with during my time abroad. Although I’m known for not shedding many tears or being that emotional in public (I’ve been jokingly labeled a robot on more than a few occasions), I was sobbing profusely while saying goodbye to my host family and friends. We had some great times together, and I know the main reason I felt so at home in Costa Rica was because of them.

There are, of course, many good things about my returning home, and seeing my family and friends again has been absolutely wonderful. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and while I don’t remember who said it originally, that saying couldn’t be truer. That being said, I will say once more that I really do miss my host family and friends from Costa Rica.

Speaking of the people I was with on my trip, I now have a much better understanding of different cultures. I naturally assumed this would happen as a result of living in a foreign country, but I honestly never expected to learn so much about different cultures within the United States … including my own. As I may have mentioned in previous articles, the students in my study abroad group consisted of people from all different states.

While at times this created a few mildly uncomfortable social situations (the cultural differences between states and regions are much greater than you’d think), it provided a never-dulling conversation topic and helped us really understand each other (and ourselves) on a deeper level. I’ve come to respect those with beliefs and values that are the opposite of mine. We can still form meaningful friendships despite these differences.

As a journalism student, I’ve been taught that one has to strive to be impartial while reporting. Only this way can all sides of a story be told fairly. I now believe these same principals apply when meeting people. Put aside pre-existing judgments and stereotypes — you may surprise yourself by the friendships you form. Hey, I’m still surprised that I became such good friends with a super religious and conservative Texan.

Overall, though, I feel as though my outlook on life changed while abroad. I’ve always been a worrier when it comes to money and will likely continue to be (hey, journalism doesn’t pay much), but I’ve also come to realize that life is just too short to pass up on opportunities simply because of money. I did so many fun things in Costa Rica, and I now see no reason not to continue living it up just because I’m back in the states. I’m basically saying that if there’s something I really want to do, then damn it I’m going to make sure I find the money and time to do it!

I honestly hope with all my heart that I can return one day, but for now I’m going to continue living life to the fullest. Pura Vida.

Catching up with Costa Rica: new soccer stadiums and Shakira

Fans gather outside the new Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica. (Photo courtesy of Brianna Gunter)

By Brianna Gunter
Foreign Correspondent

After three months of adventures in a foreign country, I now find myself a little unsure of what to write about. Actually, it took me several hours to think of how to start this column when normally it comes to me in a matter of minutes. Maybe it’s because so much has happened … or perhaps the date of this article just makes me realize how little time I have left. I fly back home in a week (of course, by the time this is published it will only be a couple of days).

My last month here has definitely been an eventful one for Costa Rica. For example, there has been increasing tension with the country’s northern neighbor Nicaragua. For some time now the two countries have been arguing over just where the border is drawn, but from what I’ve learned, Nicaragua owns the entire river to the north whereas Costa Rica’s territory starts immediately where the river hits land on its southern side. I won’t bore you with the details, but Nicaragua and Costa Rica are now in dispute over a tiny piece of land on the southern side of the river.

Beause of this, ISA (my study abroad program) has officially banned students from venturing to Nicaragua, even for a short weekend trip. Furthermore, the dispute has created some awkwardness among Ticos and many “Nicaraguenses” who live and work in Costa Rica. Two of my friends had a Nicaraguan woman as a housekeeper whom they loved, but she recently decided to go back to her native country just in case the border was officially closed off. This was especially sad because my friends haven’t exactly gotten along with their host family, and they actually saw their housekeeper more than they saw them.

On the lighter side of things, the newly built Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica held its inaugural opening a couple weekends ago, with a huge soccer game against China. Although I didn’t manage to get a ticket to the game (way too expensive for a college student) I did walk around the stadium earlier that day and was half-mauled to death by excited Ticos wanting to sell me soccer jerseys and paint the Costa Rican flag on my face. Not that there really needed to be another person dressed in this manner — everywhere I looked there were groups of proud fans chanting and dancing outside the stadium while they waited for it to open.

There are other events going on in the world of sports, however, that have Ticos occupied. Although boxing may not be extremely popular right now in the U.S., all of Costa Rica had their TVs on last night (March 31) to watch history be made in that sport.

I first learned of Hanna Gabriel in my second week here. I walked into the living room, and my host brother and father were yelling at the TV as a tall female boxer with long dreadlocks pummeled her opponent to the ground. On March 31, Gabriel did the same, but this time it resulted in her becoming Costa Rica’s first ever World Boxing Champion. It was quite an event, and even the Costa Rican president was in attendance.

In other news, her royal highness of the Latin pop-rock world, Miss Shakira Mebarak Ripoll, will be performing here very soon. Unfortunately for me (yes, I’m a fan … but only of Spanish-singing Shakira), the date of the concert in the new stadium was just moved to the week after I leave. Anyway, the country has been exploding with excitement — Shakira posters, overplay of Shakira songs on the radio, Shakira-themed commercials, Shakira look-a-likes, etc. The local belly dance studios have also been increasing their enrollment by putting pictures of Shakira in their windows. Basically everything you’ve ever heard about the Latin American world being obsessed with Shakira is entirely true.

It’s weird to think that in less than a week these events won’t seem to matter so much. I realize this because a lot of things that have happened in the U.S. during my stay here have seemed very distant and without much gravity. There were even certain major events (like the horrible January shootings in Arizona) that I didn’t hear about until much later. Hopefully though, I’ll remember to check up on Costa Rica.

A shore thing: Censorship in the States more extreme than abroad

According to Brianna, her swimsuit is considered to be on the conservative side for a Costa Rican beach. (Photo courtesy of Brianna Gunter)

Within the first week that I arrived here (man, that seems long ago now) I sat down to watch TV with Luis Carlos and Aura, my host brother and sister. After flicking through a few channels, Luis Carlos stopped on “Jersey Shore.” Seeing as I’ve lived in New Jersey most of my life, I suppose they thought it was more than appropriate. However, within minutes I was quite stunned by the show, and believe me when I say it wasn’t the image of an orange creature in heels slurping down pickles that did it.

Censorship in Costa Rica is entirely different than in the U.S., as in, it barely exists. Like many American shows, “Jersey Shore” was aired in its original English (if you can call it English) with Spanish subtitles. Now it’s probably because most Ticos can’t understand it, but there is absolutely no censorship when it comes to shows aired in their original languages. And although never a direct translation, the occasional swear word can be seen in the subtitles.

As the months have gone by, I‘ve noticed more and more instances where censorship is not applied where it normally would be back home. On a talk show the other week for example, one of the hosts began quoting some piropos (pickup lines) she heard. Some of them were thoroughly crude, yet where normally there would be those annoying beeps in place of swears, there was nothing but what was actually being said.

It goes much further than TV or tele here. As a journalism major, I am inclined to spontaneously buy newspapers or magazines to compare writing styles or even layout format. Upon reaching page four of the first newspaper I bought here, however, it became apparent that Costa Rican publications don’t have as many restrictions — both legal and moral — as those in the U.S.

I bought a paper that practices more traditional journalism, but the content was still extremely open and uncensored. Of course, it still isn’t nearly as bad as “La Teja,” a newspaper here notorious for its weekly photo of a barely dressed model draped across the lower left of the front page (for publicity purposes apparently). Photo journalism in general here is particularly graphic for any paper however; as in, the reader gets a detailed view of murder victims, car crashes, etc. Yes, the photos are police crime scene quality. Needless to say, ew.

This lack of censorship extends into the vida cotidiana (everyday life) of Ticos. Ever hear of a concept called “political correctness”? Of course you have if you’re from the United

The people of Costa Rica are as easy-going and relaxed as its countyside. (Photo courtesy of Brianna Gunter)

States. If you’re from Costa Rica, however, it is much more likely that you haven’t. Being politically correct is more of a nonexistent concept here, and people describe others for exactly what they are.

What do I mean by this? Well, it has taken me a little while to get accustomed to hearing things like “Esa negrita” (That little black woman), “El playo en nuestra clase” (The gay in our class) or “Su amiga la Mexicana” (Your friend the Mexican). Ticos label people by what they are, and they do so unwaveringly. None of it is meant offensively, however, and it is not received as such.

Even a lot of the clothing here resembles this “everything out there” mentality (although the men do tend to dress more conservatively). To sum this up, all I can say is that Brazilian-style bikinis are definitely not just for Brazil.

Granted, we in the U.S. are much more open and liberal in many ways. But as I’ve discovered in my time abroad, our country is less of an exception than previously thought. Not that I’m really complaining. In a way it’s actually quite refreshing to not live in a society that is constantly treading lightly with what it says or does.

Still, for an overtly Catholic country this place sure makes me feel like a prude sometimes.

Happiness is a warm climate, jungle gyms, good food

Brianna plays at the Museo de los Niños. (Photo courtesy of Brianna Gunter)

By Brianna Gunter
Foreign Correspondent

Costa Rica is widely known as one of the world’s happiest nations. Actually, it is the happiest in the world. Just last year, the World Database of Happiness (yes, it exists) ranked this tiny Central American country first out of happiest nations with a score of 8.5 on a scale of one to 10. The U.S. ranked 20th with a score of 7.4.

Because I am currently living in the capital of happy — a place more than 10 points happier than my homeland — I decided to examine just what it is that makes this country so darn full of smiles. There are of course the obvious reasons: nice beaches, access to both the Caribbean and Pacific oceans, awesome forests and waterfalls, good weather, democracy, ice cream places on every corner, etc. But after living here for two months, I believe the true reasons for Tican happiness are a little more complex than palm trees and blue skies.

I think I’ve mentioned before the terrible condition of the sidewalks here. I generally walk with an eye constantly to the ground so I can navigate around potential chasms of death (most holes are more than a foot wide, and you can see straight down to the sewers). There are needless hazards everywhere actually, but people here just don’t worry about them. Life sure is happier when you don’t stress the small stuff.

Of course, this would never fly in the U.S., where people even file suit against fast-food joints for “making them” obese. Did McDonald’s force feed that woman burger after burger? I don’t think so! Yet here in Costa Rica, lawsuits are at the very back of people’s minds — if they have a place at all. If a neighbor is injured on your property here, you help them rather than worry about being sued or having to pay their medical bills.

That’s the thing about medical bills though; there aren’t really any here. Well, at certain clinics one does have to pay a fee, but it is very small. As my host dad explained, the government here takes a certain percentage of everyone’s paychecks and puts it in a sort of national pool for medical care (doesn’t sound like it, but trust me when I say it’s very different than America). Sure people don’t enjoy losing money, but because of this system, anybody who needs medical attention receives it without having to worry about cost. Nice, huh? Maybe if that aforementioned woman had received the obviously needed medical attention for her mind, she wouldn’t have sued Mickey D’s.

Speaking of fast-food restaurants again, practically every single one here has a play place for children — even Papa John’s. These aren’t just any play places mind you; they are

Reflecting the country’s cheerful atmosphere, clowns dance in a city park in Costa Rica. (Photo courtesy of Brianna Gunter)

the best I have ever seen. Full-on jungle gyms and ball pits. It certainly isn’t hard to find a happy child while grabbing a quick lunch.

Of course, lunch here isn’t really “quick.” People take it slow and hardly ever eat or drink on-the-go. Fast food is popular but not that popular. Not even the huge smiling Wendy balloon (“Fat Wendy” as my friends and I call her, because she really is a chubby balloon child) perched on top of every Wendy’s joint can lure people away from their much healthier, more filling and much tastier traditional meals.

Growing up happy definitely plays a huge role. There’s even a Museo de los Niños (Children’s Museum) nearby. Here kids, and those of us who like to bring out our inner child, can run and play in countless interactive learning setups. Anyone from central/eastern New Jersey remember a magical place called Imagine That? This museum is an even better version. My personal favorite is the terremoto room, which shakes to imitate earthquakes. Last one to stay standing wins!

Children here are, of course, happy for various other reasons. The average family here has multiple children and is more intimate than the average U.S. family. In fact, parents love their kids so much that there isn’t much pressure for people to marry and/or move out. If Ana wants to stay with her parents forever, she can. Universities here don’t even have dorms (yay for continuous free housing and food from Mamá y Papá).

The school system here really is great though, and Costa Rica has an extremely high literacy rate. And despite my host brother and sister insisting otherwise, I believe it is good that every school here mandates uniforms. No child ever undergoes insults for their clothes, or not in school, at least.

There is really an endless sea of reasons for why Ticos are so happy, and I could keep going. However, I am currently being called for dinner where there is sure to be good food and lots of laughter. As everyone happily says here when it’s time to say goodbye, Pura Vida.

A birthday abroad: celebrating Costa Rica style

Above is the view Brianna sees on her way to the university each day. Below, she celebrates with her host family. (Photos courtesy of Brianna Gunter)

By Brianna Gunter
Foreign Correspondent

Imagine walking down the street and hearing: “How lovely to see the pieces of sky that are your eyes.” Sounds like a page out of the world’s corniest pick up line book, right? Here in Costa Rica, however, this isn’t a pick up line. What we have here is the piropo.

Some brief history: The piropo was born in the south of Spain very long ago and stems from a mix of things including love poetry. Although it resembles what we know as a pick up line, the piropo almost never results in a date (like the locals, I continue walking without response). While traditionally from a man to a woman, there are records of some women turning the tables in more recent years. Yes, people have done extensive research on the piropo, as it is a phenomenon that has become part of everyday life.

Unlike the aforementioned line (which I translated to the best of my ability from Spanish to English) most piropos are, shall we say, dirtier. No, I shouldn’t say most. But it is certainly not uncommon to hear at least one a day that has a sexual connotation. I have actually heard a few stories of past study abroad students who left because of the piropo, though this was likely one among other reasons.

Personally I’m used to it now and even find it funny. However, there was one awful one I heard while eating an ice cream cone in San José, the nearby capital. I won’t write it here, but I will say that it had to do with the way I was eating my ice cream!

The vast majority of piropos, however, are perfectly harmless and meant as compliments. They are also not too elaborate; Ojos lindos (lovely eyes), ¡Que bonita! (How pretty!). In fact, one of my professors told me a story about how one of her friends once got upset because she walked past a construction site and didn’t receive a single piropo. The poor woman had apparently just turned 40 and thought of it as a sign of old age.

Speaking of birthdays, just the other day I heard something along the lines of “Man, it must be my birthday if a beautiful present like you is coming my way.”

I’m sure at the time it was not this man’s birthday, but ironically, it was mine. Yes, I recently turned the big 2-1 here in the middle of Central America. While I did of course celebrate with a drink or two (actually it was two) later in the evening, what made my day really special was that I spent most of it with my host family.

I was born just a few minutes before my sister, and she was born a few minutes before my brother. Yep, I’m a triplet. My siblings go to different colleges (we’re big believers in individualism), and so I haven’t really seen them for the past couple birthdays we’ve had. My parents are fantastic people, but their schedules paired with mine have made it near impossible to spend some quality b-day time together.

Then, of course, there was last year when, due to a blizzard, I wouldn’t have seen anyone on my birthday had a few of my sorority sisters not bravely trekked over to visit. While I am still very grateful they did so, I think it still goes without saying that I was hoping things would be much more exciting this year.

Nevertheless, I was surprised to find that what I really enjoyed about this year was the “chillness” of it. My tico dad bought an awesome chocolate cake with strawberries, and my tica mom was sure to count out 21 birthday candles while her teenage daughter and son joked about how vieja (old) I was. I later went out with some friends to a movie and a bar.

So that pretty much sums up my 21st birthday. A lot of people think it’s a 24-hour party here in Costa Rica, and in some places it is (I went to the Caribbean last weekend), but overall, life is quite satisfyingly tame. Well, tame with a piropo here and there.

Costa Rica: the things that the studying abroad brochures didn’t tell you

Brianna stands in front of Costa Rica’s most active volcano. (Photo courtesy of Brianna Gunter)

By Brianna Gunter
Foreign Correspondent

In the months leading up to my departure for Costa Rica, I — like so many others before me — busied myself with finding out everything I possibly could about the Central American country (it is in Central America, despite the surprising belief by some of my friends that Costa Rica is an island). I spent hours poring over websites and books that supposedly told me everything I needed to know, and accordingly I felt pretty well-prepared for my three-month trip. Now after three weeks of having actually lived in Costa Rica, I can confidently say I was not.

Upon arrival at Juan Santamaria International Airport, I was distressed to find there was nobody outside holding an Internatial Studies Abroad (ISA), my study abroad program provider, sign. After 20 minutes of turning down cab drivers and wandering awkwardly around clusters of elderly tourists (January is retiree season here apparently), I finally found a piece of paper taped to a wall with “ISA” scribbled in black Sharpie. While debating whether or not to wait by this sketchy looking sign, a Tico (male Costa Rican) came up to me and asked “ISA?” I barely finished nodding when he grabbed my suitcase and started walking quickly down the sidewalk. Not knowing whether he was working for ISA or robbing me, I had no choice but to follow closely behind him.

It turned out he wasn’t robbing me, but he wasn’t working for ISA either. Instead, he led me to where another ISA student was waiting, and told me I should stay there. Long story short, I found myself safely unpacking in my host family’s house after waiting outside the airport for five hours. Note to future study abroad students: it isn’t always best to arrive early at your destination.

Now, you can’t always believe what you read — this article being an exception, of course — and this has certainly been the case here.

For example, I read that Ticas (female Costa Ricans) tend to dress more conservatively because of religious values that run deep across the nation. Right. While it certainly is more common to see a woman in pants instead of shorts, shirts here are skin tight and often lack sleeves. My host mom (who I love by the way) is in fact very fond of tube tops and matches them with color-coordinating wedged sandals.

As for deep religious values, it is true that Christianity has a strong hold in Costa Rica. In fact, thanks to Catholic persuasions, this is one of the only “modern” countries where

abortion and the Plan B pill are completely illegal. Religion nevertheless remains more of an influence than a practice, and many people here do not attend church regularly or identify with a specific religion.

Then there are the dangers to tourists. Most of what I read made it seem like I was going to have to walk around with my money hidden deep in my clothes and have a suspicious eye focused on every passerby. In all honesty, it’s just like anywhere else in the world where tourists flock. If you act like a foreigner, you make yourself a target. The same rules apply in New York, Philadelphia, etc. Don’t fear for your life; just be smart. Here, of course, it also helps tremendously to speak Spanish. For me, a work swiftly in progress.

If there is anything that has been truly surprising to me, it’s the natural beauty of Costa Rica. As corny as it may sound, I never expected it to be so beautiful. Even in a city, I

she’s joined by fellow ISA students on a catamarán on the coast of Tamarindo. (Photo courtesy of Brianna Gunter)

can see striking blue skies and mountains in the background in every direction. Of course, my readings did fail to mention the not-so-beautiful aspects of Costa Rican urban areas. Garbage lines the streets, and the sidewalks (when there are sidewalks) are absolutely atrocious. If you don’t look where you’re walking, you risk falling about four feet down a random hole in the cement. Yep, those holes sure add to the beauty of Costa Rica.

Nevertheless, I can say my experience so far has been nothing short of incredible. I’ve bathed in hot springs, gone rappelling in the rainforest, zip lined through a jungle, swam in a hidden waterfall and seen an active volcano up close. My camera is filled with photos of exotic plants and animals, awesomely old colonial architecture and breathtaking green mountains. As I said aloud the other weekend as I sipped my margarita on a Catamarán (a boat) watching the sun dip swiftly below the horizon of the Pacific Ocean, “Now this is why I came to Costa Rica.”

College naysayers: Apathy may be a choice

Maybe the secret to happiness is not what campus you’re on, but being open-minded and taking advantage of what your college has to offer. In this AP photo, students from the University of Scranton wear togas for fun. (AP Photo)

I like to think of myself as an average student here at the College. My grades are decent. I’m involved in campus organizations. I go to parties occasionally, and overall I’m very happy here. Lately however, I’ve been thinking that maybe I’m not so average. If life at the College is anything like what half the people here say it is like, then nobody must be very happy.

“Everyone here is so apathetic.” This is a phrase I hear often. In fact, I heard it just last week while at work. (Yes, I’m one of the friendly library student employees. FYI, just because I’m behind a desk doesn’t mean I can’t hear the conversation you are having with your friend as I check out your books.) Of course, usually this phrase is colored wonderfully with the additions of “goddamn,” “fucking” or “… that I wish I went someplace else because this place sucks monkey balls.” OK, maybe I exaggerated the last one but it all sounds the same after a while.

In any case, I actually don’t think TCNJers (New term I just made up. Learn it. Love it. Spread it.) are that apathetic. In my five semesters here I’ve seen students do quite a lot on campus. Really, just this semester two guys broke the world record for longest kiss, and they became the first same-sex pairing to do so!

Sure there are plenty of campus events that run low in attendance. But hey, I’m writing my honest opinion here, and so I’m going to just go ahead and say that these events are usually the most boring ones. Honestly, I’ve sat through some lectures here that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemies. People don’t want to hear the political ramblings of someone they aren’t familiar with and can’t relate to. In these cases, it isn’t the students who are apathetic.

People attend events that are well-advertised and, above all, interesting. If TCNJers really were apathetic, I don’t think College Union Board concert tickets would sell quite so well. I don’t think students would appear wielding signs of their own when strange protestors show up in front of the Brower Student Center. In fact, if students didn’t care about anything, then nobody would have said a word when the balls — my bad, “Pixels” — were installed last year.

If you are one of those people complaining that nobody here does anything, maybe you should take a look at your own life. From what I’ve seen (And keep in mind that this is just my observation, not necessarily a fact. You can put down the burning torch and pitchfork, thank you.) the people complaining the most are often the ones who are close-minded and the least involved.

My friends, there is so much available to you here. At the risk of sounding like a tampon commercial, I’m not going to list everything you can do. But just open your mind a little. Try it some time.

I think you’ll be a lot happier.

College responds to Rutgers suicide

PRISM sponsored an Oct. 11 candlelight vigil in memory of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi and other LGBT youths who died in the past month after being harassed. (Tom O’Dell / Photo Editor)

On Sept. 22, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi ended his life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge, just days after his roommate and an acquaintance broadcast a video of him in an intimate situation with another man. Although Rutgers is about 45 minutes north from the College, Clementi’s death hit some close to home.

“Personally, when I found out, I was devastated,” said Elizabeth Ehret, senior music performance and women’s and gender studies major and president of PRISM, the College’s support/activism group for LGBT students.

Clementi was not openly gay and although his exact motivations for suicide are still unclear because no note was left (save for a Facebook post saying “jumping off gw bridge sorry”), many are saying it was “cyberbullying” that pushed him.

Clementi was not alone. Ehret noted that there have been “at least six” other recent deaths among LGBT youth as a result of bullying or others’ intolerance. Included in this string are Raymond Chase, an openly gay Johnson and Wales University student who reportedly hung himself, Asher Brown, a teenager in Texas who shot himself after being harassed at school, Seth Walsh, a California youth who hung himself, and another in Illinois who died after being brutally beaten.

“There are so many LGBT youth who commit suicide on a regular basis,” she said. “But you don’t hear about them because, I don’t want to say it, but there are more typical ways (than jumping off the George Washington Bridge) to go.”

In addition to a vigil for Clementi held Monday in the Alumni Grove and the Spiritual Center, PRISM recently held a meeting about Clementi’s suicide in order to help students cope. Ehret said she knows of several cases in which the same thing almost happened at the College.

Students who face such issues need not go through them alone. In addition to the support offered by PRISM, the College’s Counseling and Psychological Services has employees who are specially trained to help students deal with crises. CAPS workers highly encourage students to seek help.

“I hope this sad turn of events will spark extended discussion of all the issues involved so that no other family need go through what the families of all these students, and the two students who survive, now face,” Larry Gage, a licensed psychologist, clinical coordinator and associate director of CAPS, said.

Counseling sessions are held by trained staff and kept confidential, but students can also take an online mental health screening through the CAPS website for self-evaluation. More information can be found at www.tcnj.edu/~sa/counseling/index.html.

As of now Dharun Ravi, Clementi’s roommate, and Molly Wei, who allegedly helped Ravi, have not been charged with any sort of hate crime but nevertheless face up to five years behind bars for invasion of privacy and creating pornography without the participants’ permission. Other charges are involved, but none are as serious as those many across the nation are asking for.

While acknowledging that she is not a lawyer, Ehret said the evidence she can see points to bias.

“To see that what they did, a lot of it was getting a laugh out of the gay boy,” she said. “I don’t think they would have necessarily gotten the same enjoyment out of it or would have necessarily gone to those lengths to publicize it had (Clementi’s partner) been a girl.”

She went on to say that PRISM members often hear homophobic and anti-gay comments at the College on a regular basis, and that she personally hears them a few times a week. October is LGBT history awareness month and PRISM accordingly has a series of events planned, including film showings, visits from writers and even speakers from MTV’s “The Real World.” Most recently was the “Coming Out Monologues,” held in the Library Auditorium last week.

Although such events are designed to help bring about awareness and improve campus tolerance, they have brought out some prejudice, according to Ehret. She said she heard negative comments regarding the “Coming Out Monologues” advertisement in front of the library.

Although she doesn’t think anyone should be forced to come out (Clementi reportedly said prior to his death that he would probably never come out), Ehret also said she adheres to the “Harvey Milk philosophy.”

“People aren’t going to learn to accept gay people unless gay people out themselves and show we’re really just the same as everyone else,” she said.

When asked what can be done to prevent cases like Tyler Clementi’s, Ehret said that she is a firm believer in education.

“People need to be more accepting and it comes down to education,” she said. “People need to be taught about culture differences as being nothing but differences, not something that makes one better than another.”

Eickhoff renovations both visible and palatable

Students line up for sushi at one of the many new stations in Eickhoff this year where the food is made on sight and served upon student request. (Tom O'Dell / Photo Editor)

For most of the student body, Eickhoff food was always something to complain about or, at the very least, show indifference. But this semester has already proven to be different. In addition to the dining hall’s aesthetic transformation, many students have already noticed the changes are more than just visual.

Sodexo Inc., the College’s provider of food and dining facilities management, took multiple things into consideration when creating this semester’s menu.

“Our focus for the changes was to improve food production, increase healthy menu options through healthier cooking options, improve vegetarian options and improve the residential experience for the students of (the College) with a state-of-the-art dining experience,” John Higgins, Sodexo General Manager at the College said.

The renovations have made it possible for new items on the menu, such as rotisserie chicken, Cantonese style stir-fry and gluten-free foods served in a completely gluten-free area. New types of drinks have also been added, such as organic teas.

Still, most of the cuisine changes are not completely new, and have instead built on what already existed. According to Higgins, a major change was in the production and preparation of food.

“The pizzas should be coming out of the oven while the students are selecting the slice of pizza,” he said.

Now students can easily see their meals being prepared and cooked in front of them, as each station is set up like an open kitchen.

“I do enjoy the wall of chickens,” Sarah Smith, sophomore biology major, said in reference to the large rotisserie oven in “Quimby’s Kitchen.” This oven will also hold fish fillets and pork loins, Higgins said.

Smith also said that she liked the variety of food options now available in the eatery.

As for other changes, many meals are able to be served for longer periods of time due to the dining hall’s new setup.

“I like that they serve quesadillas all day now,” said Michelle May, junior forensics major with a chemistry concentration.

Despite the many positive changes, some students have run into a few problems with the eatery.

“The fries are puffier and thicker … I don’t like them that much,” Smith said.

“There’s a definite improvement in the quality of food, but the lines are longer everywhere,” Johnoes Bonila, junior English major, said. Bonila specifically referred to the “91.3 Wokery” where students often wait for over ten minutes or longer to get their food due to the station’s popularity. Other stations, such as the “C-street Grill,” have been getting backed up as well.

Nevertheless, others have been complementing Eickhoff on their service skills.

“We have focused a lot of training on improving customer service with our dining services team,” Higgins said. “We have received very positive feedback on our customer service skills during the first week.”

Information about Eickhoff’s weekly menu can be found at www.tcnjdining.edu.

Eickhoff gets new eateries, couches en route to STUD

Eickhoff underwent major renovations this summer. (Tom O'Dell / Photo Editor)

In the absence of the student body, campus construction has been busy this summer. Members of the College community returning this semester will notice many changes to campus facilities.

First and foremost, the dining hall in Eickhoff Hall went through phase II of renovations, which transformed the inside completely. The upper walls of the dining hall, previously white, are now blue and gold, representing the College’s colors. The dining hall’s seating now consists of various types of tables and padded booths. There are also additional lights hanging from the ceiling and the lower walls sport different colors and designs.

“I thought it was fine before, but now it looks awesome,” Mark Weissman, sophomore international business major, said after eating at Eickhoff for his first time this semester. “I like all the colors they used.”

In addition to the aesthetic changes, Eickhoff food is now served at new stations located around the eatery. With names like Ceva Pasta and Pizza, C-Street Grill and Roscoe’s Tacos, the stations represent both the College and the food they serve.

The center of the eatery was already renovated from last summer during phase I, which included the additions of the salad bar and sandwich area.

The Brower Student Center (BSC) is in the midst of changes. The couches in the atrium were removed near the end of the spring semester but so far no furniture has taken their place and the space remains empty. However, according to Curt Heuring, vice president for facilities management, construction and campus safety, the new furniture has been ordered and will be installed in two phases. The first phase is to take place at the end of September and the second phase will take place in October.

Nevertheless, some changes to the BSC did take place over the summer. The bookstore has been renovated both inside and out, giving it a more modern look. Along with the atrium couches, the wooden tables and benches on the back patio of the BSC have also been done away with. In their place are blue and gold metal furniture. The same type of outdoor furniture can now also be found outside the main entrances of the building.

On the residential side of campus students will find that Decker Hall now has new laundry rooms and bathrooms. The main lobby has also been refinished. Allen, Brewster and Ely Halls have received new

Brower Student Center bookstore underwent extensive renovations this summer. (Tom O'Dell / Photo Editor)

shower stalls and thermostats. New handicapped ramps and patios were added in front of Travers and Wolfe halls.

Construction is an ongoing process at the College, and this semester will be no exception. According to the College’s construction website the demolition of the one-story section of Forcina Forcina Hall is complete. Construction will begin soon on the new education building that will be built in its place. Completion is expected in summer 2012.

The David Sarnoff Museum, formerly located in West Windsor, has found a new home at the College.

“Collections have been transferred to the TCNJ Foundation and are in storage until the new exhibit space and exhibits are prepared,” Alex Magoun, director of the David Sarnoff Museum, said.

The collection detailing the life of NBC founder David Sarnoff will be exhibited in Roscoe West Hall. According to the College’s construction website, the new display room is “substantially completed” and occupancy will take place early this fall.

Other ongoing construction projects for this semester include, but are not limited to, Recreation Center roof replacement and foundation waterproofing, roof replacement for Eickhoff Hall and Lions Stadium press box renovations. Green Hall is also undergoing roof replacement, as well as maintenance on the chimneys and clock tower. A storm drain is also being installed from the building, which will run across Quimby’s Prairie to Lake Ceva.

As for last semester’s proposal to build a series of retail and residential buildings near or on campus, no construction has begun just yet. However, according to Matthew Golden, executive director of communications and public relations, the College has put out a request for “expressions of interest from developers” for the campus town project.

“The proposals of those interested will be reviewed as a next step,” Golden said.

More information on campus construction can be found at www.tcnj.edu/~constr.

Student film on alumnus vet wins festival award

Jenna Bush stands with James Henderson, an alumnus and veteran of the war in Afghanistan and the focus of her award-winning documentary. (Tim Lee / Photo Editor)

The Garden State Film Festival shows over 100 films annually and has over 30 award categories. This year, Jenna Bush, junior communication studies major, received the award for “Home Grown Student Documentary Short” for her documentary “Minor Details” on Sunday March 28. The festival took place at various theaters in Asbury Park.

“Minor Details” focuses on James Henderson, a soldier who graduated from the College in 2009 after returning home from serving a 15-month tour in Afghanistan. Bush began the film as a project in her documentary production class, originally wanting to do a documentary on TCNJ STRONG (Supporting our Troops Reaching those Overseas Now and Going).

“We wanted a soldier’s point of view,” Bush said during a screening of “Minor Details” last Wednesday in the Kendall Hall TV studio. “We saw a story in James.”

Bush started working on the film last spring, and continued with the project throughout the summer. Terry Byrne, professor of communication studies, and Christina Eliopoulos, a film director with whom Bush worked with as an intern, later encouraged her to submit “Minor Details” to the film festival.

The short documentary is a combination of footage from Henderson’s time in Afghanistan, which he shot himself on a personal video camera, and that of his last semester at the College, including his graduation. The film explores Henderson’s physical and emotional transition from the severity of war to the normality of civilian life.

“Minor Details” is the film’s title for multiple reasons. In the film, Henderson refers to the soldiers’ poor living conditions as “minor details,” but according to Bush the meaning goes much deeper.

“(Henderson) may be one in millions of troops who have fought overseas, a minor detail. Yet the film highlights how big of a person he truly is,” Bush said in an e-mail interview. “At one point

Jenna Bush. (Tim Lee/Photo Editor)

(Henderson) also talks about the small things he has come to appreciate after his experience in Afghanistan … The message of the film is to be the opposite of a minor detail and to appreciate the small things (minor details) in life.”

Bush said winning the award reassured her that the film was recognized by the outside world.

“It’s one thing to have your friends, family and professors praise your work, but it’s a whole different story to have it recognized by the film community,” she said. “It really has encouraged me to continue doing what I’m doing.”

Bush also said she is currently working on a screenplay for a film she is planning to produce and direct with fellow communication studies student Dan Quinn in the upcoming semester as an independent study.  She is also working with Eliopoulos on a documentary feature called “Demon on Wheels.”

Brianna Gunter can be reached at gunter2@tcnj.edu.

Solid story takes top prize at the Oscars, as it should

Illustration by Rachel Razza

Ah, the Academy Awards — the night where little androgynous golden statues recognize the best in the film industry. The whole spectacle is terribly political and terribly long, but for a movie fanatic like me the Oscars is one of the few annual televised events I really look forward to. For those who are unaware, the 82nd Academy Awards took place last Sunday, March 7.

Now, it’s true the event has dulled a bit in recent years. A drop in viewership confirmed that. This year however, was different than past years.

To start off, there were 10 nominees for best picture, as opposed to the usual five (there haven’t been 10 nominees since 1943). Why the change? As the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced last year, the idea was to allow for films that would normally dominate other categories to have a shot at the big one. Had this been done last year, “The Dark Knight” and “Wall-E” most likely would have had a chance. Instead, “The Blind Side” managed to get a nod this year. Don’t get me wrong, the movie was pretty good. It just wasn’t Best Picture good.

Another difference in this year’s awards was in the presentation of the best original song nominees. In past years, the songs were performed live on stage throughout the evening. Remember when Robin Williams performed “Blame Canada” from “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut”? I don’t remember either, as this was ten years ago and I was not yet an avid Oscar viewer. I did however watch it the other day on YouTube. But I digress. It was performances like this that always kept the Oscars entertaining even when they hit their dullest moments. Unfortunately, no such performances occurred this year. There was an interesting dance number in the middle, as well as a tribute to horror films, but it wasn’t the same. The only thing that came close to making up for the missing performances was Neil Patrick Harris’s song and dance at the beginning of the night.

There were also some very memorable moments of the evening. Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win best director and Geoffrey Fletcher became the first African- American to win a screenwriting Oscar. On the uncomfortable yet somewhat comedic side, a woman pulled a Kanye West and interrupted director Roger Ross Williams, who was in the middle of his acceptance speech for best documentary short. Needless to say, nobody knew what to think. Ben Stiller also emerged on stage as a Na’vi from “Avatar” complete with a tail, ears and yellow contacts. This was funny, but my favorite of Stiller’s Oscar appearances is from a few years ago when he pranced around on stage in green spandex, insisting only his body was invisible due to special effects. Still, he came close to topping this when he started hissing at James Cameron in alien language.

For the record, the Nielson Co. (these are the people who measure T.V. ratings) reported a 14 percent increase this year in viewership. At 41.3 million viewers, this was the highest rated Academy Awards in five years.

But let’s be perfectly honest for a moment. The main reason viewership went up was not because of changes in the program, but because hugely popular movies such as “Avatar” were nominated alongside the smaller ones. A similar spike may very well have been achieved last year had “The Dark Knight” been nominated for best picture.

Ironically, it was the little movie that dominated the night. “The Hurt Locker” came nowhere near “Avatar” in box office earnings but far surpassed it in Oscar winnings. While I know more than a few people who were disappointed by the results, I rejoiced. No, “The Hurt Locker” was not my personal favorite (this was “District 9,” which I knew wouldn’t win but rooted for anyway), but as a great story it deserved the honor it received. This little movie that could reminded me that when it comes down to the wire it is about the story, not the special effects or the money.

People often forget that.

School of Culture & Society may see name change

The school of Culture and Society (above, Bliss Hall, one of the school’s academic buildings) could be renamed the school of Humanities and Social Sciences. (Tim Lee/Photo Editor)

The school of Culture and Society (above, Bliss Hall, one of the school’s academic buildings) could be renamed the school of Humanities and Social Sciences. (Tim Lee/Photo Editor)

Students of the school of Culture and Society may see some new developments during the next 10 years, including a possible change in the school’s name.

According to Benjamin Rifkin, dean of the school of Culture and Society, a group of alumni, faculty, students and other staff members worked to draft a strategic plan during the Fall 2009 semester.

The plan details the group’s goals for future years and states that in 2020 the school will “stand as a national exemplar in teaching and research in the humanities and social sciences.”

While nothing is final, the proposed new name of the school is currently the “school of Humanities and Social Sciences.” When asked about the proposed name change, Rifkin said the “school of Culture and Society” does not reflect the academic programs within the school.

“If you ask outsiders, people who are not students, faculty or staff at (the College), what academic programs might be in a school with that name, they will more often than not suggest that the school of Culture and Society should be the academic home for courses in art, art history, film, music and theater, because these are what constitute our understanding of culture,” he said in an interview.

“These are all perfectly appropriate disciplines and I’m personally very glad that we teach these subjects at (the College). Of course, they are taught in the school of the Arts and Communication,” he said.

Rifkin also said he understands people may have an “emotional connection” to the school’s current name, but asks them to consider that just 10 years ago the programs in the School of Culture and Society were part of a larger division called the School of Arts and Sciences. That school no longer exists, and the programs that were once in it have since been divided into the School of Culture and Society, the School of Arts and Communication and the School of Sciences.

Besides the name change, another proposed change is the development of a diversity advisory council, curriculum committee and a student advisory council in order to include students in the governance of the school.

“Currently, we consult with individual students to get their opinion on any particular policy change on an ad hoc basis,” Rifkin said.

The diversity advisory committee would make recommendations to the Dean on how to improve recruiting efforts of students and faculty from diverse backgrounds. The curriculum committee would review and approve proposals to revise and implement new programs and courses. Lastly, the student advisory council would give regular input on matters of importance to students. This council would include one student from each major, one student from each of the six other schools at the College and some other students.

Social Sciences Building (Tim Lee/Photo Editor)

Social Sciences Building (Tim Lee/Photo Editor)

According to Rifkin there are actually very few overall changes to the school.

“It’s more a codification of the values that are reflected throughout the College and especially in our school,” Rifkin said. “For instance, we’d like to do a better job at integrating course-based opportunities for community engaged learning. That’s not anything new on our campus, but now it’s in writing as a proposed goal for our school.”

Other goals include recruiting more faculty advisors for the … open-options program, encouraging study abroad by making sure students are not hindered by the requirements of their majors and establishing an alumni advisory council that would help foster relationships between current members of the College community and alumni.

There will be a forum for open discussion from 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Feb. 17 in the New Residence Hall lounge. Students will be able to share their comments and reactions to the strategic plan, which was sent out to the school of Culture and Society community earlier this month. Another forum will take place from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on March 18 in room 202W of the Brower Student Center. After collecting and reviewing feedback, the strategic planning committee will revise the plan and

resend it to the community in April. If the final plan is affirmed this spring, it will go into effect during the fall 2010 semester.