All posts by Signal Contributor

Echoes: Barcelona and beyond

By Christina Madsen

More than halfway through my study abroad adventure, I feel as though I finally know my way around the city pretty well. With that said, I feel like I am stuck somewhere between “no longer a tourist,” yet “not quite a local.” I certainly use “vale” (the Spanish equivalent of “OK”) a lot and even find myself sneaking it into English conversations too. (Oops!) I sometimes have a hard time wrapping my head around how much I have seen and done in just under two months in this incredible city. I could probably write a book covering everything I have done here so far, but instead I am going to share a few highlights from the last few weeks here in Barcelona!

As someone who loves to cook, I jumped at the chance to take a Catalan cooking class. For starters, we made gazpacho (a chilled tomato soup), tortilla española (a Spanish omelet), and pam amb tomàquet (toasted bread rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil and tomato). For the main entree we all pitched in and made paella and for dessert we had chocolate ganache, snuggled between two crackers, and topped with orange slices.

As my family was just visiting, I got to revisit Barcelona’s 17th century fortress, Castell de Montjuïc, which overlooks the city’s harbor. We also took a train to Montserrat, a monastery nestled in the peaks of a mountain about 30 miles west of Barcelona. Montserrat had incredible views, lots of free cheese tasting, and a beautiful basilica. With only a little over a month left, I can’t wait to see where the rest of my trip abroad takes me!cooking class 10800340_10204709612847426_714874147_o Montjuic

‘Whiplash’ hits theaters with pulsating passion

By Alex Holzman

“Seemed to me that drumming was the best way to get close to God,” said Lionel Hampton, so nonchalantly, as if to suggest his statement’s obviousness. Less obvious is what type of god.

Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” answers quite simply: an angry one.

Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is a passionate and single-mindedly ambitious jazz drummer at a New York City-based music conservatory, one of the best in the nation. There, Andrew is selected for studio jazz by the infamous Terrence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), a genius instructor with “unorthodox” teaching philosophies. Make no mistake, though, Fletcher is no Jaime Escalante or John Keating. He is nothing short of fascistic and utterly abusive. He is a teacher who, during Andrew’s first class, whips a metal chair at his head for not keeping tempo. In an age of gratuitous praise, Fletcher argues, he is the compressive stress that forms a diamond, that crushes insecurity and arrogance alike into unbridled genius. “Whiplash” thrives on the relationship between this professor-student duo: the classical unbreakable object and the unstoppable force dichotomy.

Predictably, this film relies completely on its leads’ performances. Miles Teller of “The Spectacular Now” and “Divergent” is nothing short of excellent. His nebbish appearance and open-mouthed gape conceal an absolutely vicious interior, in more ways than one. Teller, 27, has been drumming recreationally since he was 15, and performed much of the film’s intense drumming sequences himself. During multiple scenes, Andrew drums so savagely that he bleeds, tearing apart scabs and skin and sinew, spattering his kit with gore. As it turns out, only a few of these sequences used effects. For most of them, Teller actually drummed until he bled. For an actor as unfamiliar as Teller, his commitment speaks volumes. 

His role demanded a formidable mixture of silence and volume, of cold disconnect and incendiary rage. Teller resoundingly captures all the negativities of ambition: spite, sadness, sacrifice, pain and loss. Hopefully this will be a metamorphic role for Teller, allowing him to widen his appeal into a more spotlighted arena. Regardless, his performance is worthy of very little criticism.

Miles Teller  performs much of the film’s brutal drumming sequences. (AP Photo)
Miles Teller performs much of the film’s brutal drumming sequences. (AP Photo)

That being said, it’s almost unreal that Simmons’s performance categorically outstrips Teller’s. Simmons comes out of Farmer’s Insurance commercial fame to deliver an absolutely flooring Terrence Fletcher. The way Simmons captures Fletcher’s contained rage is thrillingly palpable, and when he finally unleashes it, he does so with a ferocity that puts even the likes of DeNiro and R. Lee Ermey to shame.

Fletcher is a man of passion – both dark and light – and Simmons embodies it entirely. In a scene where Fletcher shows glimpses of vulnerability – softened tone, wistfulness, tears – Simmons remains utterly believable despite the character’s about-face. The underlying intensity is never lost, and Simmons never falters. This may well be a career-redefining performance. For a respected but very low-key character actor to suddenly and so dramatically take charge of such a competent and lauded film is Cranston-esque. Expect to see Simmons’ name come award season.

In a movie of breakouts, director Damien Chazelle is no exception. “Whiplash” is his feature length debut, and if it’s any indication of what he has to offer, then his name is one to both remember and seek out. The direction of “Whiplash” is stylish, tight and remarkably contained. Chazelle keeps his actors – the film’s obvious centerpiece – in unyielding focus, with only a few very minor extraneous characters. Stylistically, Chazelle’s youth shows through, as his inspirations are sometimes more apparent than his own visions. Certain scenes will be strikingly similar to anyone familiar with Aronofsky or Fincher, with the gratuitous close ups and an almost fetishistic attention to detail. But being compared to two of modern cinema’s most respected auteurs is hardly an insult.

It will be extremely interesting to see where his vision takes us as he matures. Credit must also be given to Tom Cross and Sharone Meir, the editor and cinematographer, respectively. The intoxicating energy of “Whiplash” is a product of their individual talents and their combined synergy with Chazelle and one another. The finale in particular is quite possibly the most thrilling (this reviewer’s viewing companions were visibly shaking) scene of the decade, due solely to the sublime interplay of direction, composition and editing.

“Whiplash” is a movie of extremes in characters, talent and execution. It jams on the razor’s edge, and if it faltered on any vital level, it would crash in a heap of melodrama and cynicism. Yet it never misses a beat, and it always keeps tempo. Fletcher’s philosophy of pushing, pushing, pushing and pressing, pressing, pressing until a diamond appears is vindicated by the film’s mere existence and prowess. From the simple, raw cliché carbon of a teacher-student movie a perfect crystal emerges, thanks to the intense heat and pressure of actors and director alike.

This is the most intense, thrilling, satisfying music movie ever made, equal measures style and substance. I reserve full five-star ratings only for movies which touch me personally and resonate with me in some profoundly subjective sense. This movie touches like a kickdrum and remains with you long after the final beat.

Art21 introduces contemporary art to new audiences

By Brandon Magown

When high school budgets get cut, one of the first programs to lose funding is the art, and it loses its status in the education system. But Jessica Hamlin and Art21 are trying to change that, bringing more attention to contemporary art and offering answers to the question: “why does art matter?”

Hamlin spoke on Wednesday, Nov. 5, about Art21 and the company’s goal to bring more awareness to 21st century contemporary art, especially in grades K-12.

As a non-profit, Art 21 is dedicated to introducing broad public audiences to today’s visual and contemporary artists. Hamlin believes that today’s public has a very skewed and closed-minded opinion of what art really is.

“Most people think that art is old and that it was all made by old, dead, white guys. My job now is to reintroduce art and redefine it,” Hamlin said.

Not only does Hamlin shoulder the burden of persuading the public to change its views on art, but she also attempts to change the way teachers and educators think and teach in the classrooms.

Hamlin wants teachers to view art as a ‘mode of learning.’ (Kyle Bennion / Photo Editor)
Hamlin wants teachers to view art as a ‘mode of learning.’ (Kyle Bennion / Photo Editor)

“I am trying to get them to teach in ways that are creatively empowering and to think about teaching as an artistic act,” Hamlin said. “I want them to think of themselves as creative practitioners.”

Hamlin doesn’t support how schools today are standardizing the ways and expectations of what and how students should learn. She believes there is something to be learned from the ways artists think, their ability to think freely, and their luxury to approach art from an individual perspective.

During her slideshow, Hamlin introduced the audience to a contemporary artist who, while working, restrains himself in various ways. Sometimes the artist will tie a rope to himself, not unlike a leash, preventing him from fully reaching the canvas. Elsewhere, he will attach the canvas to the ceiling and use a trampoline to reach and paint it. Immediately following that, she screened a video of an elementary art class painting under similar restraints.

The restraints consisted of tactics such as taping the paper to the bottom of a desk and using only the reflection of a mirror to see, or tying a paintbrush to a string and then that string around their heads, forcing them to paint without any hands.

These unconventional strategies, which were introduced to the school by Art21, forces students to think in new ways. When students were given tasks to create a painting but with some sort of obstacle, it forced the students to come up with ways to overcome that obstacle. They had to get creative and use problem solving skills to accomplish their goals.

Hamlin believes, however, that these artistic teachings can go beyond art class and into every other subject. She wants teachers and students to “think of art as a mode of learning,” and she believes that teachers, regardless of subject, can apply the methodologies of artists to foster a more creative educational process.

Despite being ‘really attractive,’ Ernst snags an Iowa Senate seat. (AP Photo)

Looks do not define credibility in politics

By Alyssa Sanford

“Shake it off.”

That’s what U.S. Senate candidate — and eventual winner — Joni Ernst (IA-R) said to a crowd of cheering supporters, after retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (IA-D) called her “really attractive” and “as good-looking as Taylor Swift.”

But Ernst’s wry retort shouldn’t be mistaken for ambivalence. She is outraged by Harkin’s careless remarks, as she should be.

Despite being ‘really attractive,’ Ernst snags an Iowa Senate seat. (AP Photo)
Despite being ‘really attractive,’ Ernst snags an Iowa Senate seat. (AP Photo)

“I believe if my name had been John Ernst on my resume, then-Sen. Harkin would not have said those things,” Ernst told FOX News on Sunday, Nov. 2.

And she is absolutely right.

It’s 2014, and women have had a voice in politics since the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920. So why aren’t more politicians and voters recognizing it?

Simply because Harkin is a left-leaning politician does not mean that he is immune to misogyny, clearly evidenced by his remarks in a speech supporting Democratic candidate Bruce Braley. Even though Harkin praised Senator-elect Ernst for her good looks, which is enough to undermine her competence as a politician, he went on to say that “if she votes like Michele Bachmann, she is wrong for the state of Iowa.”

The comparison to Bachmann, a radical right-wing politician, is a blow to Ernst’s credibility. Voters distrust Bachmann, and after Harkin’s comment, could stand to distrust all conservative female politicians by extension.

It’s insulting, but it’s not the worst offense in recent history. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY-D) admitted in her book, “Off The Sidelines,” that male colleagues have referred to her as “chubby” and “porky” in her presence.  She also took offense to comments that she is the “hottest member” of the Senate, according to TIME. Sarah Palin is also a victim of lampooning: on “Saturday Night Live,” she was memorably portrayed by Tina Fey and criticized both for her policies and her history as a former pageant queen.

Female politicians are targets, though few and far between. Prior to the election results on Tuesday, Nov. 4, only 20 women held seats in the Senate out of 100 total seats. As for the House of Representatives, out of 435 total seats, 79 women held seats. A special election in North Carolina brought the collective number of women in Congress to a historic total of 100, but Rep. Alma Adams (NC-D) is not expected to hold her new seat for long. The numbers are dismal and difficult to ignore.

According to midterm election reports from the Associated Press, voters “really, really, really” want to see women on the presidential ballot in 2016. For voter Reginald Valentine Sr. in New York, appointing Hillary Clinton to the Oval Office could be just what this country needs. While reassuring that the general public believes women in politics need to claim the ultimate seat of power, it’s equally distressing.

Are female politicians mere “token” items on ballots? Is the election of a female candidate the next in a series of “firsts” on the American voter’s checklist? We’ve seen the first black president move into office, so does it follow that 2016 must mark the election of the first female president? And 2024 the appointment of the first president from the LGBTQ community?

It’s admirable that the American public increasingly wants to see women in power, but a female politician is more than just a token item on a ballot or just a “really attractive” face. These are parameters that limit their credibility instead of giving voters more to celebrate.

If even relatively progressive politicians and voters can’t see that, then female politicians still have a long way to go. But until then, they’ll just have to “shake it off.”

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Echoes: Prague, a city like no other

By Neil Nadpara

echoes neil prague
Neil on the Charles Bridge (Neil Nadpara / Blogger)

When people think of Europe, the first cities that come to mind are London, Paris, and Rome. I believe Prague should be included in that list. Prague is one of the biggest hidden gems in Europe, if not the world. As I have travelled to other major European cities such as Rome, Vienna, Munich, and Amsterdam, my love for Prague has gotten even fonder. Prague is a city unlike any other and it offers an experience that is unmatched by any other European city. I am making bold statements right now, so let me explain. (And no, I have not been paid by the Prague tourist center to write this).

Prague offers something amazing to everyone — a tourist, a nature-lover, a party-goer to name just a select few. The city is so different and diverse in what it has to offer and so malleable to the interests of its visitors and inhabitants. Prague’s rich history and authentic cultural atmosphere give tourists an experience they won’t forget. From the historical Charles Bridge to the beautiful Charles Castle to the lively Old Town Square, Prague’s history still leaves me speechless even though I’ve been here for two months already. I have even had the opportunity to enjoy the lesser-known tourist attractions, such as the architecturally stunning dancing building and the weirdly unique Zizkov tower. I wished more tourists realized how many remarkable attractions Prague has to offer

Away from the buzz of tourist places, Prague offers nature-lovers great views and hikes. My favorite view has been from Petrin Hill, which can be reached by hiking or taking the Funicular Railway up the hill. The whole city is visible from the top, and it’s amazing to see the Charles Bridge and Castle from a different perspective. The peace and tranquility up top really put your mind at ease and you almost forget that you’re still in Prague!

Prague has the reputation of being a party city for many students abroad, and I can tell you that Prague does deliver on the hype. The number of bars, pubs, and clubs are incomparable to really any other European city, and it makes it that much harder to choose where to go for the night. From the different types of music that each bar or club plays to the different atmosphere each place offers, anyone can easily find a bar or club that fits their preferences and that they will absolutely fall in love with.

And yet, I can take the metro 2 stops over and end up in a completely different environment that is hard to believe is still Prague. I have been lucky enough to live in an apartment amongst locals in Prague 2, a residential neighborhood. Every day, I see kids walking to a school on our street, people walking their dogs, and residents heading to our neighborhood’s favorite local restaurant, Mlsnej Kocour, on Saturday nights.  I even attended the block party the neighborhood hosted a few weeks ago.  The residential environment is so different just ten minutes away from the city center.

I love that Prague offers something amazing to everyone. I love how heterogeneous Prague is; I can ride the metro for 10 minutes and it’ll be like I’m on an adventure to a completely new place. Most importantly, I love calling Prague home because it offers me a new experience each and every day.

Till next time,


echoes dancing building
Dancing Building (Neil Nadpara / Blogger)
echoes zizkov
Zizkov Tower (Neil Nadpara / Blogger)
echoes night prague
Night view of Prague from Petrin Hill (Neil Nadpara / Blogger)
echoes prague1
Residential neighborhood in Prague (Neil Nadpara / Blogger)
WILL members will learn about Nicaraguan culture. (Photo courtesy of Meagan Loo)

Students raise money to walk with people of Nicaragua

By Jennifer Goetz

WILL members will learn about Nicaraguan culture. (Photo courtesy of Meagan Loo)
WILL members will learn about Nicaraguan culture. (Photo courtesy of Meagan Loo)

The Nicaraguan Solidarity Project will be taking place this summer, and fundraising has already begun. This trip is an opportunity for the College’s Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL) students to walk with the people of Nicaragua, especially the marginalized, and learn about their ways of living. The group that will be going this year is preparing to organize several fundraisers to support the trip. Ideas being tossed around consist of either selling chocolates or conduting a lollipop sale.

Other fundraising ideas that the group has to reach the needed $2,000 include canning at local stores and selling T-shirts, jewelry, koozies and calendars.

The trip to Nicaragua is scheduled to take place this summer over 10 days and is run every two years. It is completely student-funded, and participants must start fundraising now. Students will get hands-on experience and will be exposed to an entirely different culture.

According to the trip’s two leaders, junior Spanish major Katie Yorke and junior English and women’s and gender studies double major Jennie Sekanics, there have been three similar trips trips in the past few years. In ’07, the WILL women went to El Salvador and in ’09 and ’11, the trips were to Nicaragua, according to WILL’s website.

Eleven people are planning to attend, with the maximum number of women who can go being 12.

Leading up to te trip, the group holds weekly meetings to discuss fundraising, as well as Nicaraguan history and to learn Spanish.

The Nicaraguan Solidarity project gives these students the opportunity to “live and learn,” according to Yorke.

“We will spend time in the capital and stay with families,” she said. “(Seeing life in Nicaragua) will open our eyes to the non-American way of living.”

The trip will probably be taking place during the beginning of June and will last 10 days.

According to Sekanics, students are not supposed to simply give their own money for this trip — part of the project is working together to fundraise the money. All the hard work is aimed at the chance to help the women experience a new culture and walk with the country’s people this upcoming summer.

DTD becomes College’s biggest Greek organization

By Frank Festa

The small, square purple tent outside of the Brower Student Center with suit-clad men seated and shaded underneath caused students to raise their eyebrows, as most weren’t aware of who they were, why they were there day after day or what the big golden letters ‘DTD’ embroidered across all sides of the canopy signified. But these men represented the Delta Tau Delta (DTD) fraternity, seeking to create a presence and raise awareness here at the College.

It’s safe to say they were successful, as DTD is set to be the largest Greek organization on campus, with 93 undergraduate pledges recently becoming the founding fathers.

DTD brother Bishoy Fanous, a junior chemistry major, believes it may have been the prospect of being involved from the inception that drew such record-breaking numbers.

“When I heard about DTD, I just thought, ‘why not?’” Fanous said. “Fraternities are a great way to make connections, both social and professional. Plus, it’s cool to say that you’re a founding father of a fraternity.”

President of DTD Chris Flannery, a junior interactive multimedia major, believes the new fraternity’s volume may have more to do with simple supply and demand.

“The two most recent classes at TCNJ had taken 300 plus more students than the 2016 class — it should be no wonder that there is a need for more Greek organizations on campus,” Flannery said. “The demand was there, and the school recognized that demand. Ninety-three men were chosen for the fall founding class of Delta Tau Delta.”

DTD was founded in 1858 at Bethany College, located in Bethany, W.V., by a group of eight men who intended to create an honorable organization for students amidst academic scandal. The fraternity now boasts 125 chapters nationwide. Notable brothers of DTD include actors Will Ferrell and Matthew McConaughey, as well as NFL Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway.

Despite becoming president himself, however, even Flannery was hesitant to join at first.

“I was actually one of the last guys to be formally recruited,” Flannery said. “I wanted to see the caliber of the other brothers, and once I did, it’s safe to say I was impressed. We currently boast a 3.3 cumulative GPA, and each member is actively involved in at least one or (more) on-campus organization. Now, as president, I have a lot on my plate. That being said, I’m very excited to be a part of this, and the TCNJ community should be as well.”

On Thursday, Oct. 23, DTD took its first step into the campus community, when all 93 members and several officials gathered in the library auditorium for their initiation ceremony.

“The President of DTD’s Eastern Division, Anthony Albanese, came to the initiation to supervise, and he seemed very excited about our potential,” Fanous said. “Now as a colony, we have a number of things to accomplish, such as member training and figuring out budgets, before we are recognized as an official chapter. This usually takes a minimum of 83 days.”

Until then, DTD is focused on establishing itself as a household name while respectfully assimilating into the community without creating friction with any active Greek organization. 

“We know we’re the new guys in town, and we’re not here to step on any toes or create enemies. We hope to heavily focus on academics, philanthropy and involvement in the Ewing community,” Flannery said. “That being said, we have some events in the works which we believe will blow everyone’s expectations out of the water. DTD and its founding fathers are here to leave a legacy.”

NJ’s role in America’s drug war

By Brianna Sheppard

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation’s leading organization calling for a reform to America’s drug policies, 1.55 million Americans were arrested in 2012 on nonviolent drug charges. The country spends millions of dollars each year trying to rid the streets of illegal drugs and incarcerating people who buy and sell them, but some people think there are more efficient ways to clean up the streets.

Stout breaks down the effects of the drug war in NJ. (Photo courtesy of Julia Malak)
Stout breaks down the effects of the drug war in NJ. (Photo courtesy of Julia Malak)

On Tuesday, Oct. 28, Bruce D. Stout, an associate professor and chair of the Criminology Department, led a lecture called “The Human and Fiscal Toll of America’s Drug War, New Jersey’s Experiences” that explored New Jersey’s role in America’s war on drugs.

The turnout for the lecture was exceptional, with every seat filled with people eager to hear about the war on drugs as seen through the lens of New Jersey. There was a plethora of subjects discussed, including the three phases of drug reform and law enforcement.

Stout also discussed how drug arrests have raised the convictions of blacks and Latinos to 96 percent, despite the fact that some of these arrests have been proven to be the result of racial profiling.

One of the main examples was an April 1998 incident on the Turnpike where two officers shot three men — one Hispanic, two black — during a routine traffic stop. The officers involved claimed that they had been taught to racially profile because “minority motorists are the people most likely to be carrying drugs.”

Of course, these ideas stem from an unfortunate past history of institutional racism and the “urban effect.” The “urban effect” refers to the type of people and areas that are affected by drug reform and the act of drug-free schools. In places such as Newark, Camden and Jersey City, there are few initiatives in place to keep juveniles from interacting with narcotics. Due to the rate of imprisonments doubling, the state prisons’ budget has risen from $289 million in 1987 to $1 billion in 2006.

Stout said that American society is basically paying to put and keep people in prison. However, Drug-Free School Zones are beginning discussions on how to resolve previously neglected issues while the Department of Justice has spearheaded reforms in prison sentencing. Most importantly, it is Stout’s hope that people currently serving time for drug offenses will receive proper rehabilitation and treatment before re-entering society. Combined, these initiatives could make a world of difference in both drug policy and the prison system.

Echoes: On the shores of adventure

By Emma Kumpf

Amman, Jordan

Relaxation, sand, waves, adventure, smiles, beauty, peace; these are all words I would use to describe my trip to Aqaba. It was completely exhausting yet incredibly fulfilling at the same time. I always love excursions with my program, not only because they offer an opportunity to visit somewhere incredible in Jordan, but also because they offer a chance to hang out with all of my friends more and simply enjoy each other’s company. They say (whoever “they” are) that it’s not the places you go that matter, but the people you are with. Although, I really enjoy the places I go, my adventures in Jordan would definitely not be as incredible as they are without all of the amazing friends that I have made on this trip. I have been blessed with many beautiful friendships in the short time that I have been here and I can’t imagine a better group of people to travel with.

Aqaba was a fun and exciting trip to share with all of these people. We spent our first afternoon in this beautiful city at the beach. However, this was not just any beach; it was the shores of the Red Sea. This is the place where God parted the waters for Moses and the Israelites to cross. It also sits on the bottom tip of Jordan, meaning that across the waters we could see both Egypt and Israel. In addition to these impressive facts, the Red Sea was also just plain old beautiful. It boasted sandy shores, sparkling, blue waters, and a mountainous skyline outlining it. We spent the day here swimming, laughing, and watching the sunset.

There is something about the beach that leads to self-reflection. It stirs something up inside, causing contemplation, imagination, and meditative musings. There is beauty in that. Throughout the afternoon I couldn’t help but think back on what I have done during this trip to Jordan and how much I have learned and grown in the short month and a half that I have been here. The obvious improvement has been in my Arabic language skills. Just the other day my roommates and I were celebrating because we were able to direct our cab driver directly to our apartment. Whereas, when we first arrived, we could barely direct a cab driver to the neighborhood where we live.  However, there are other less obvious areas in which I have grown during my time here.

One big thing I am beginning to learn is that people don’t fit into just one neat and tidy little “box.” You can’t just put a label on someone and expect them to behave according to the label. People are unique and no two people are the same. You hear this all the time, but it is one of those life lessons that must also be learned through experience. I am learning that one of the most exciting things in life is discovering that people are so different from what I thought based on a first impression. One of the richest experiences in life is getting to know individuals and being surprised at finding the unexpected beneath the surface. These are just a few of my reflective thoughts brought to you by the power of a little sun and some beautiful scenery.

On our second day in Aqaba, we headed to the beach bright and early, but this time not to stay on the beach. We were boarding glass bottom boats that carried us out into the Red Sea. It was amazing to see the colorful coral and beautiful sea life right beneath our boat! The sun was shining and the crystal waters were sparkling. After seeing much of the underwater scenery, we anchored our boats and jumped out into the welcoming seas to snorkel. Beneath the water, we could see all of the sea life even closer than we were able to from the boat. We were also able to explore a shipwreck on the floor of the seas, and we even spotted a sea turtle. Eventually, it was time to head back and pack up to go home; time to leave this adventure and head home where even more adventures await.

(Photo courtesy of Emma Kumpf)
Enjoying the shores of the beach in Aqaba (Photo courtesy of Emma Kumpf)
The glass bottom boats we got to ride in (Photo courtesy of Emma Kumpf)
Egypt and Israel on the other side of the shore (Photo courtesy of Emma Kumpf)

Keeping the Shore’s residents updated through Facebook

Hurricane Sandy devastates the New Jersey shoreline. (AP Photo)
Hurricane Sandy devastates the New Jersey shoreline. (AP Photo)

By Frank Festa

In two years, New Jersey was hit by two strong hurricanes — Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012.

During both those times, residents of the state had a place to turn to for information — the Facebook page of Jersey Shore Hurricane News.

The founder of the page paid Janet Mazur’s Freshman Seminar Program class a visit this past Thursday, Oct. 23, to lecture on the impact he’s made on his community as well as the profound impact he believes we all can make.

Justin Auciello, a native of South Seaside Park, created the Facebook page on Friday, Aug. 23, 2011. It was made with the intent to provide news about the weather in the days preceding Hurricane Irene. Auciello, or anyone else for that matter, could have predicted its growth.

“By the end of the first night, there were 500 followers, which was shocking enough,” Auciello said. “The next morning, there were 5,000 followers. I couldn’t believe it.”

After the passing of Irene, he kept the page alive even without a storm looming.

“I tried to humanize the page,” Auciello said. “I’d make a post or two every day and comment on everything I could.”

The page flourished and began to garner national attention during and in the days following the cataclysm of Superstorm Sandy, one of New Jersey’s most devastating natural disasters. By this time however, JSHN was a two-way news platform where information flowed freely between people.

“During Sandy, citizens would supply information, and my job was to package it, verify it and post it,” Auciello said. “If I’ve learned anything from this, it’s that people are good. I’ve always been an optimist.”
Updates poured in from people with knowledge of the situation, keeping those in the heart of the storm aware — many of whom without access to tradition news.

When the page’s activity in its climax took an unexpected turn, Auciello rose to the occasion.

“It went from info news to lifesaving platform. People were posting after Sandy that they were trapped and needed help,” Auciello said.
Due to a relationship formed with the local authorities, Auciello was able to turn JSHN into a bridge to salvation.

“I urged these people to post their address, condition of and how many people they were with — relevant information,” Auciello said.

“Police and fire departments would be notified, and help would arrive.”

The page would also play a critical crowdsourcing role, with patrons updating peers on information such as where to find food, clean water and cheap gas, as well as directing supplies to appropriate shelters.

“I tried to keep JSHN updated on where to find supplies every half an hour,” he said. “I had shelters calling me to tell me to send supplies elsewhere because they had a surplus. But once something goes viral there’s no way to really delete that information.”

His efforts with JSHN were recognized when Auciello received the Champion of Change award from the White House, given to individuals making profound impacts on their communities.

“A woman called one day from the White House and invited me to visit with 12 other people and receive the award. I didn’t get to meet President Obama, but it still was a special experience,” he said.

Fast forward to present day, three years later, JSHN has accumulated over 226,000 followers.

Mazur admits to being one of the many who keep an eye on Auciello’s page.

“I was struck with the devastation caused by Sandy. I’ve been a subscriber to Jersey Shore Hurricane News for some time, and I love what you are doing,” Mazur said to Auciello.

Moving forward, Auciello doesn’t plan to move far from his roots anytime soon.

“I plan to stay social media based, because that’s where the people are and where news is broken,” he said.

The website’s creator received his B.A. from Maryland University in criminal justice and criminology, and later received his masters in city and regional planning from Rutgers University.

He currently holds a full-time job as an urban planner in addition to his activity online. Auciello fondly recalled times at 5 or 6 years old when he would chase fire trucks to the scene, or at 13 doing projects on interesting dog pictures as his journalistic inspiration.

His goal was to impact his community and provide news in an innovative fashion. Humble certainly would be an appropriate adjective to describe him.

“This couldn’t have been with just me,” Auciello said. “I simply provided people with a platform, this is all thanks to people who want to share information with each other and do the right thing.”

Auciello not only enjoys what he does, but he points out that everyone can do something like what he did and help people.

“It gives me purpose. I love my community and this was my way of giving back,” Auciello said. “It’s as simple as putting your foot out there and taking a chance. Everyone has the ability to be creative and make an impact.”

Pollock listens as Gandhi recalls her life of advocating for peace and the memories of her grandfather. (Photos courtesy of Lauren Longo)

Humility and hardship: tea with Ela Gandhi

By Lauren Longo & Stephanie Agresti

Pollock listens as Gandhi recalls her life of advocating for peace and the memories of her grandfather. (Photos courtesy of Lauren Longo)
Pollock listens as Gandhi recalls her life of advocating for peace and the memories of her grandfather. (Photos courtesy of Lauren Longo)

Ela Gandhi, peace activist and granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, invited 10 students to her apartment in South Africa for tea while they interned this past summer.

The interior of her home was humble, which students say complimented her countenance: A small piano stood among the beige walls and decor of her one-bathroom home. According to John C. Pollock of the College’s Communication Studies Department, Gandhi was “very modest, but quite elegant.” He said she downplayed her family’s suffering, which ranged from her nine years of house arrest to the assassination of several of her friends and loved ones.

Gandhi, who has lived in South Africa her entire life, has always been heavily involved in South Africa’s fight for liberation. Her role with the then-banned African National Congress (ANC) resulted in a nine-year house arrest. Gandhi steadily told students stories of her non-violent activism, only to pause before sharing her most intimate struggle. Her eyes clouded over before she telling the audience that the her eldest son was assassinated by the apartheid regime.

Once majority rule was gained and the ANC was liberated, Gandhi was elected to the first parliament, where she was a leader in writing two key provisions to the South African Constitution, focusing on religious freedom and women’s rights. As a result of her activism, Gandhi received the most prestigious civilian awards in both South Africa and India.

Gandhi also spoke warmly of her grandfather, who was assassinated when she was seven years old. Mahatma Gandhi was known for being a self-disciplined man, and he made sure to allocate one hour of his daily routine to spend with his grandchildren. She recalled him teaching her how to spin cotton to yarn, which was another task he practiced daily.

Students were honored when Ela Gandhi asked them to stay longer than their original meeting time had called for, saying she’d put on another pot of tea. She let them know that she had been eager to meet them, and sent them a thank you note before they had the chance to send her one.

The tea with Gandhi served as a time of reflection and inspiration for students.

“Ela Gandhi is an incredibly inspiring woman,” self-designed public health major and internship participant Isabelle Tan said. “Throughout her life, she constantly fought for her beliefs. Even as a young girl, she would walk to school every single day because her parents were against formal education. She is so passionate about change and equality. Meeting her gave me so much hope and ambition to challenge public health issues and social inequality.”

During their time in South Africa, students also shadowed DramAidE, a non-profit organization out of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, learning how entertainment education can be utilized in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS. Organizations like DramAidE implement entertainment education techniques, such as allowing students to participate in theatre performances, integrating public health communication campaigns into societies suffering from large-scale public health issues. 

Meeting with Gandhi’s granddaughter helped students connect entertainment education strategies with a public need.

“South Africa needs help from other people, but we cannot be instilling our ideas in South Africa,” communication studies and biology double major James Etheridge said. “We have to help people help themselves. (Gandhi) showed throughout her life that, no matter how difficult it is, you have to hold on to what you’re fighting for, or else, what are you fighting for?”

Etheridge also stressed the importance of spending time abroad. 

“I chose to go to South Africa because I wanted to study abroad, but I also really wanted to experience what it was like to engage in public health,” he said. “I wanted to go somewhere very different from what I was used to. I got to go out there and experience all that I’ve read about and see what the people of these countries are going through.”

The internship abroad afforded students the opportunity to connect with scholars and interact with individuals at institutions such as the Valley of 1,000 Hills HIV/AIDS Orphanage and Hospice and the Esizibeni Sivananda Vaswani Comprehensive High School. Students from the College were fully immersed in public health initiatives in the field, providing them with a thorough understanding that no classroom could provide.

“South Africa is a country that needs people to visit it in order to understand what (its people) are going through,” Etheridge said.

‘Isang Bagsak’ – Barrett promotes idea of unity

By Aslin Gonzalez

“I like to start every show with an altar,” said spoken word artist Kay Ulanday Barrett as he laid out a purple cloth. He then asked the audience to hold someone in their thoughts who is struggling while he explained the isang bagsak. “When I say ‘isang bagsak,’ we all clap once,” he said.

Isang bagsak, the Filipino idea of unity, is one of the many ways in which Barrett tries to bring people together. Barrett performed his poetry on Tuesday, Oct. 21, in the Library Auditorium as part of PRISM’s Queer Awareness Week.

Barrett began his set by talking about how he wants to unite people and pay homage to those who have come before him.

“There was always somebody before me,” Barrett said.

Barrett spoke casually throughout his set, explaining each poem and the inspiration behind it. In “You Are So Brave,” a cento poem compiled of lines from his friends and favorite poets, Barrett spoke about his life as a transgender, gender-queer, disabled person of color. He spoke of the looks of pity and the unwelcome questions he has had to deal with throughout his life.

When asked about his favorite environment in which to write, Barrett said that if he “can write in a collective, that is (his) favorite.” He loves to work in writing circles and in collaborative environments.

When asked about being misgendered, Barrett talked about taking each incident case by case. He said that he is always concerned about the situation he is in and his safety therein each situation. As a transgender person of color, Barrett is twice as likely to experience violence or discrimination as a cisgendered white person.

Barrett has visited the College before, as well. When asked if anything has changed within the LGBTQ community, Barrett noted that “transgender people of color have changed in the media,” mentioning Laverne Cox as a transgender woman of color changing the face of the transgender community.

“People are pulling apart their genders in ways that are glorious,” he said.

Barrett, moreover, wants to be a voice for any and all struggling youth.

“Everybody in the margins (is my audience),” Barrett said. “The kids who do not get to sit at the cafeteria table, you are all my friends.”

Sophomore fine arts major Amanda Pulacios said that she, too, attended in “support of queers.” She enjoyed how “(Barrett) wasn’t talking at people” and found the performance to be relatable.

As a performer, Barrett tried to unify his audience and break down barriers. As a person who falls into multiple minority groups, Barrett has an often underrepresented perspective, yet he presents it in a way to which many both in and out of the LGBTQ community can relate. Combing his stage presence, vision and poetry, then, Barrett is a force for comfort and change, and his positive outlook on the LGBTQ movement is reflected in his own powerful identity.

Sharing from the past to inspire the future: Survivor of conversion therapy visits College

By Edward Worton

LGBT activist and nuclear engineer Samuel Brinton, standing in his trademark high heels, began his discussion with the College’s students by asking whether anyone knew a survivor of conversion therapy. Only about three people raised their hands.

Those who didn’t raise their hands, however, would know a survivor’s story by the end of the event.

Brinton spoke at the College on Tuesday, Oct. 21, as a part of PRISM’s Queer Awareness Month. He went into detail about his experiences with conversion therapy and his continuing journey to counter conversion therapy’s reach in the United States.

As a child raised by Southern Baptist missionaries, Brinton never had a concrete idea of what having feelings for his best friend Dale meant. But when he told his father of those feelings, it was the start of a long and painful experience.

Immediately after revealing his feelings, Brinton awoke in the emergency room — his father had knocked him out cold. This abuse continued until his mother found it best to take his problem to a professional, explained Brinton.

Brinton was told initially that the government hated people like him and had killed off every other gay person in the country. He was told he was next if they ever found him. Then, he was told more heinous and elaborate lies: the gays, they said, had brought AIDS into the country, and he was writhing with the disease for being gay himself. After that, he was told that God hated him and everyone like him.

These efforts to rid him of his “disease” did not stop there, but they had already reached a terrifying efficacy.

Brinton emphasized the importance of any level of conversion therapy from the beginning stages to its torturous ones, whether your pastor simply puts his hand on your back and tells you to change or puts you through electroshock therapy.

“Both of those are just as evil and just as wrong and just as damaging to your mental health,” Brinton said.

Brinton was eventually forced to suffer through sessions of physical aversion therapy, where his hands were strapped to blocks of ice and he was shown images of men doing things like hugging or holding hands. Then, coils were wrapped around his hands, channeling intense heat whenever images of men touching each other were shown and going cold when images of women and men were shown. These sessions were manipulated to make him associate pain with homosexuality and the lack of pain with heterosexuality.

It worked very well, according to Brinton. He avoided the touch of his father and hid behind his mother’s skirts constantly after the treatment.

However, Brinton’s story demonstrated that even the most brutal of therapies could not change the identity he did not choose. Tendencies of suicide surfaced when he thought he had failed his God miserably and should join him in death instead. After his first suicide attempt failed, he was resolved to keep trying, but his place in the therapy room awaited him in what he recalled the most horrible experience of his life.

He was introduced to electroshock therapy. Needles were stuck into his fingers and, following the same procedure as his previous sessions, electro pulses ran through his limbs when images of men having sex with men were shown and ceased when images of men and women having sex were shown.

“My mother had to hear my screams in the other room and not come running in,” Brinton said.

Brinton has spoken at several important communities to talk of one fundamental issue: the ramifications of conversion therapy on the individuals who suffered through it. The rate of those who went through conversion therapy is high compared to those who survived it, he said, recalling that of the 80 victims he know, about 12 of them would still be alive.

“We are extremely prone to suicide,” he said.

Brinton affirmed that the reason conversion therapy was a taboo topic was because the victims weren’t there to tell their stories. His goal is to make awareness of conversion therapy spread, telling the students to share his story with others each time and identify it as a serious issue.

Ryan Eldridge, a political science and women’s and gender studies double major and member of the PRISM executive board, was very happy to see Brinton speak, calling him a “unique speaker.”

“We try to offer a very diverse range of content, because the queer community on TCNJ’s campus is so vibrant and diverse that we are able to bring things to satisfy everyone,” Eldridge said.

Having a knowledge of conversion therapy, Eldridge saw value in welcoming Brinton to the campus to educate others on the topic.

“It’s still a current issue, and there are still individuals who are going through it,” Eldridge said. “It’s not really talked about because it’s kind of seen as a thing of the past.”

The hope is that hearing about the past will motivate change in the present as people hear Brinton’s story.

Brinton does not want anyone to have the same experience he did, so he made it his job to advocate for a bill proposing to ban this type of therapy among minors. California and New Jersey are the only two states that have gone ahead with banning conversion therapy practices. He expressed his joy of speaking in a state that’s already outlawed it for the first time.

“Forty-eight more states to go,” he said with a smile.

Helping former inmates rejoin society

By Kaitlyn Njoroge

The Chi Upsilon Sigma chapter of the National Latino Sorority and the Peer Pride Mentoring Program on campus brought Terrell Blount, a former inmate and Rutgers graduate, to the College on Monday, Oct. 20, to speak with students and faculty about re-entry resources for prisoners and to share his life story.

The lecture began with showing a scene from “Fool Me Once,” an episode in the popular Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” in which a recent re-entry inmate, Taystee, explains how hard life is on the outside after being released from prison. Blount agreed that life for prisoners post-release is difficult, saying it’s almost impossible to find jobs or a place to live with a criminal record and a sixth grade reading level — the average level at which New Jersey inmates can read.

According to Blount, 65 percent of the prison population in New Jersey serve minimum sentences, with 56 percent serving less than five-year sentences. When inmates are released from prison, they are often placed in transitional houses located mostly in Newark and Camden for approximately a year. At the same time, they are expected to work in order to be able to leave when the year ends. However, 70 percent of the money earned goes toward house fees, which leaves former inmates unprepared to become financially stable. Some house owners do not encourage the pursuit of education in their first year, either, due to the fact that former inmates need all the money they can spare to pay toward the house. The situation contributes to the lack of both education and money for former inmates.

These circumstances are what Blount wants to change. As a former inmate himself, education opportunities offered inside the prison are what helped turn his life around.

“I see prison education as an eye opener which helped me to see the world around me,” Blount said.

Before taking college classes, Blount said he “was blind” to the power of education. In prison, he was only exposed to business classes that focused on how to own a business, a subject he wasn’t interested in at all. After meeting the Dean at Rutgers University at 24, he enrolled as a freshman, graduating four years later with a double major in Communication and African American studies.

However, not every former inmate is as fortunate. As an activist for prison reform, Blount works at NJ-STEP, a program which provides post-secondary education for those in prison. Inmates enrolled in the program are able to take classes ranging from Japanese studies to linguistics in order to earn liberal arts credits. Those in the program can maintain a set of credits to be transferred to any college in the state and further their educational careers.

The realization of how hard it is for some people to receive an education hit home for many members of the audience.

Financially, the college courses offered in the NJ-STEP program are free, and the books are provided by both professors and the Bill Gates Foundation. Through NJ-STEP, Blount helps inmates receive as many grants as possible for college entry. There are also re-entry case managers that teach workplace etiquette and help create inmate resumes. Essex County College also offers free courses to former inmates with 0 to 9 credits, providing everything but housing.

Blount ended his speech by telling the audience how to distinguish between “passion and interest.” He believes that in order to thrive in society, people must discover what they love to do. Otherwise, it is “so easy to be tricked into pursuing your interest and not your passion,” Blount said.

Being passionate about helping inmates pursue higher education allows Blount to perform his job at full potential. His enthusiasm serves as motivation for student volunteers like freshman sociology major Yuleisy Ortez. She explained how important it is to her to, “help people better themselves and have a brighter future.”

Blount believes above all that people have an obligation to help the less fortunate receive an education — by doing so, the world may change for the better.