All posts by Signal Contributor

Senior fights for educational equality

More resources are needed for kids in low-income areas.
More resources are needed for kids in low-income areas.

By Tiffany Piatt

When I think about my time here at the College, I think about a whirlwind of incredible  experiences. But as my time here ticks down, I’ve begun to think of the million-dollar question: What am I going to be doing when I leave?

I debated several different choices, including applying to graduate school or working as a laboratory research scientist. But the question of what I could do after graduation actually had a second part — what should I do? And as I’ve thought about that even bigger question, my thoughts turned towards my time on the executive board for Women in Learning and Leadership. Through WILL, I developed a deep appreciation for the incredible role models that shaped me. When I leave the College, I want to do the same for others.

I lived in Paterson, N.J. for the beginning of my childhood but didn’t stay there. Determined to give us better educational options than they had growing up, my parents moved to the next town over, to a school that offered many Honors and Advanced Placement courses. As a result, I went to a high school where we had plenty of extra  resources to help plan ahead. When people hear Paterson, they may think about crimes, violence and drugs. But I know that Paterson is so much more.

Many kids across the country are like the ones I knew growing up — great kids filled with potential, but lacking the resources and opportunities to imagine bright futures for themselves. For students growing up in low-income communities, just 6 percent will graduate from college by the time they’re 25. This statistic does not reflect kids’ capabilities — it’s a result of entrenched systems of oppression that have denied equal access to opportunity for decades.

I know that I can use my experiences to help kids battling these odds imagine a brighter future and make it a reality. Just like them, I struggled growing up. But I am now about to graduate from college — a feat that I want to show others they can accomplish, too.

All of this led me to apply to Teach For America. Over time, I’ve noticed a trend of many leaving their communities and not wanting to return. I made the choice to go back to my roots because I want to help kids break that cycle.

Being a teacher is hard work, and I will have to push myself to give my students a deserving education. I will need to partner closely with those who have been working toward justice and equity long before I will have arrived. I don’t want a job that lets me turn a blind eye to the injustices kids face daily. I want a job that forces me to look injustice in the face and fight it. I want one that holds me accountable for the injustices that plague our communities — because, although I did not create them, I’d still bear responsibility if I chose not to address them.

As I become a Teach For America corps member, I’ll be joining a network of people working for equal access to opportunity. It’s a network of leaders diverse in background and experience, working across sectors to create change. We are all united around the belief that a quality education is not a privilege — it is a right. As you think about what you’re going to do after you leave here, I hope you’ll join us.

Dear Judith: Being Real

By Judith Signal
Advice Columnist

Dear Judith,

I’ve been dating this girl for a while (let’s just call her “Lady”), and I think things are starting to get kind of serious. The thing is that I feel like I’m not completely myself around her. I’ve got a few quirks and habits that I’ve been hiding so that she’ll like me more. My question is this: How do I let her get to know the “real” me without losing my Lady?

-Being Real

Dear Being Real,

As humans, we have the ability to “own” many things — a house, a car, a phone and an abundance of other material items. However, there is only really one thing that we can claim total and complete ownership over: our identity.

It’s a long process to come into this ownership. As we go through middle school and high school, we adopt personality traits from our friends. But as we grow older, we begin to take little tokens from those closest to us, mix it with our own thoughts and interests, and ultimately create the most unique and special form of ourselves. Our identity is, in practical terms, what makes us who we are. To me, it’s the most important thing we as humans own.

So why, my friend, would you want to hide any of that from someone who you may be falling in love with? Romantic relationships — and any friendships, for that matter — are built on the foundation of trust and honesty. I’m not here to scold you for being dishonest, Being Real, but I am here to try and push you in the direction of being yourself.

But you know that, Being Real? It’s so important. It’s so incredibly liberating when you finally let those dark feelings fly into the wind of reality. Now this isn’t to say that you should be revealing your deepest thoughts and emotions to everyone you meet. On the contrary, you should save them for special people, such as Lady and your closest friends. That’s why we have best friends and significant others. We all know that hiding is easier, but it’s way less fulfilling and ultimately, you are going to find yourself stuck.

So now it’s time to address your specific question — I am sorry that you feel like you have to hide from your Lady. If I’ve learned anything throughout my college career, it’s that the most important thing you can do is be yourself around those that care about you. Because if they truly do care about you,then they will love you, flaws and all.

I can’t say that Lady will accept these feelings. I wish I could promise you that, but Judith doesn’t make promises. She can only make heartfelt suggestions for, hopefully, heartwarming success.

Open your heart to your Lady. She’ll appreciate it either way. And if for some crazy reason she doesn’t accept you, flaws and all, then she’s not meant for you anyway. Being yourself is the most important thing you can do, and the first step to solidifying your place in this world.

“To thine own self be true,” right?

Love, Judith

‘Abbey’ tackles the Roaring ’20s in new season

By Julia Woolever

When the British costume drama “Downton Abbey” first made its premiere stateside in 2010, it was hailed as a revolutionary exploration of class dynamics among pre-World War I England’s aristocracy that was as intelligent as it was visually appealing. But this is only half the story of “Downton Abbey.” One only needs to recall that the first episode involved a storyline where an unmarried daughter of the house had to hide the body of a visiting Turkish ambassador who died in her bed to recognize that “Downton Abbey” is a soap opera at heart.

As the show enters its fifth season, this soap opera idea has never been more apparent. Historical issues are largely a backdrop for the melodramas of the Crawleys, the aristocratic family that preside over the manor, Downton Abbey, and their household staff.

In the fifth season, the year is 1924, and change is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. The changes in question range from serious — the tenants who rent land on the estate demand more rights, to silly — the home’s first wireless radio is regarded as witchcraft.

But if there’s one thing that remains constant at Downton, it’s the family patriarch, Lord Grantham, played by Hugh Bonneville, is vehemently opposed to modernity itself. Lord Grantham spends most of his time waxing poetic about the importance of tradition and shouting at anyone who disagrees.

Lord Grantham’s eldest daughter, Lady Mary, revels in these changes. The newly eligible bachelorette, played by Michelle Dockery, takes full advantage of expanded freedom for women. Having just come out of grieving her late husband, she takes her own sweet time to decide if she should marry any of the myriad of suitors fighting for her affections. Mary even employs her maid to purchase — gasp — birth control for her so she can go on what can only be described as a “sex vacation” with one of said suitors to determine his worthiness.

Meanwhile, middle daughter Lady Edith, played by Laura Carmichael, continues to deal with the consequences of her own “sex vacation.” She has second thoughts about her decision to have her illegitimate daughter raised by a local farming family. The father of this daughter may possibly have been killed by Nazis while he was on a business trip to Germany, but Edith is not really sure.

Yes, the melodrama is strong with this one.

But despite or maybe because of all of the melodrama, “Downton Abbey” remains an incredibly entertaining show. It may be a soap opera masquerading as a serious historical drama, but there has never been a soap opera as beautiful as this one: the atmospheric landscapes of rural England and stunning costumes truly transport viewers into the Roaring ’20s.

None of this would work if it weren’t for the talented cast. “Abbey” took home the well-deserved award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series at last week’s Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards.

These characters have real heart, and audiences can’t help but become invested in their well-being. Is it ridiculous that Lord Grantham refuses to accept even the slightest bit of change? Yes, but it’s clear that he is scared of an unknown future in which he may become irrelevant. Is Edith pathetic for whining about how the family she gave her daughter to won’t let her become a nanny for them?  A little, but it’s also heartbreaking to see her separated from her daughter. These characters are human, and that’s what makes them relatable.

So forget the idea that “Downton Abbey” is a highfalutin drama that only octogenarians can enjoy. Surrender to the soap opera, and enjoy the wild ride.

New rules for Meal Equiv stir up controversy

By Kelly Corbett

This semester we said hello to a newly renovated T-Dubs, but also to some stricter rules on our favorite two and a half hours of the day — Meal Equivalency.

The new regulation is putting a limit on how much a student can eat for lunch. A student can either get one meal at Eickhoff Hall during Meal Equiv or $7.25 worth of food elsewhere, no longer both. But the real question is, is it fair?

The hours between 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. daily was probably the most anticipated time of the day, where students with a meal plan could treat their taste buds to food other than the typical selections of Eickhoff Hall, yet still swipe into the Atrium if their stomachs growled.

However, with the College now enforcing their rule allowing either the use of Meal Equiv or a swipe into Eick, some feel the meal plans purchased at the start of the semester are false.

According to the College’s website, students with meal Plan A or Plan B enjoy unlimited swipes into Eickhoff, and those with meal Plan C enjoy unlimited swipes after 11 a.m. However, with this new rule, “unlimited” is not really the ideal word to use when students are restricted access from Eickhoff during the Meal Equiv period. The website does make note of the new Meal Equiv rule when selecting a meal plan, though it is mentioned toward the bottom of the page. However, prospective students reading up on the College may miss that minor detail and be mislead.

With the prices on food at other dining locations on-campus being so expensive, $7.25 is not enough money for a student to get a proper lunch. Access to Eick ensured full stomachs and that students did not necessarily have to use their Carte Blanche points to buy an extra bag of chips, or a bottle of water.

Now, of course one could argue that, if a student is afraid of going over Meal Equiv and wants to save their points, they could just eat at Eickhoff during the designated time slot. This is true. However, after eating breakfast, lunch and dinner in the same place daily, a student is entitled to other options without worry.

If the College truly began losing money as students took advantage of the “free” items, then a plan should have been set up to enable one or two snacks from other dining locations when a swipe into Eick is used, not complete and total restriction.

No matter what the solution may be, one thing is certain — the strict use of Meal Equiv or entrance to Eickhoff Hall is an unfair change hurting the student body.

‘Elastic Heart’ raises concerns for youth

LaBeouf sparks heated debates in Sia’s music video.
LaBeouf sparks heated debates in Sia’s music video.

By Alyssa Sanford

It’s not unusual for a music video to come under fire for some objectionable content, and Sia’s “Elastic Heart” video — which has over 84,000,000 views — is no exception.

The video features Maddie Ziegler, a 12-year-old dancer best known for her appearances on Lifetime’s reality show “Dance Moms,” and Shia LaBeouf, the 28-year-old actor who spent much of  2014 in the limelight for his bizarre antics.

Not long after the “Elastic Heart” video was released on Wednesday, Jan. 7, viewers started vehemently objecting to the pairing of Ziegler and LaBeouf. The controversial video depicts the two dancing in a giant cage, wearing nothing but flesh-toned underwear. They appear to be alternately fighting and clinging to each other, but the video offers no context for the dramatic scene playing out on-screen. Many viewers were disturbed by the overtones of pedophilia.

“I anticipated some ‘pedophelia!!!’ Cries (sic) for this video,” Sia tweeted in response to the public outcry.  “I apologize to those who feel triggered by #ElasticHeart. My intention was to create some emotional content, not to upset anybody.”

But this video seemed ripe for controversy. Ziegler appeared in Sia’s “Chandelier” video in May 2014, wearing the same nude leotard and blonde “Sia” wig while dancing in a provocative manner. Meanwhile, LaBeouf was stirring up controversy of his own in 2014, kicking off the year infamously donning a paper bag over his head with the words “I Am Not Famous Anymore” scrawled across it. In fact, LaBeouf’s paper bag stunt closely resembled a photo shoot that Sia did for Billboard magazine in November 2013, in which she wore a paper bag over her own face.

Sia claims that casting Ziegler and LaBeouf in the video was a natural choice. She sees them as representations of “two warring ‘Sia’ self states,” as she wrote on Twitter. The fact that LaBeouf is 16 years Ziegler’s elder is simply irrelevant, regardless of how much it offends her audience.

There is, of course, undeniably objectionable content in the video. Certain movements carry sexual overtones, and the rapid shift between displays of violence and raw emotion are disturbing. But is “Elastic Heart” any more controversial than any other music video?

Music videos have shock value. Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” video depicts an alter ego who was an obsessive, violent and downight crazy ex-girlfriend. “Anaconda” by Nicki Minaj boasted women in revealing outfits and highlighted images that play on double entendres. Maroon 5’s “Animals” offended many people because of its romanticized take on stalking. These videos, while shocking and perhaps offensive, garnered a lot of attention and effectively promoted the artists.

Perhaps Sia wasn’t trying to offend her audience, but rather trying to evoke an emotional response, which can run the gamut from empathy to disgust. Music videos are art, after all, and art is intended to elicit emotional reactions.

There is no denying that it’s a disturbing video. However, it is Sia’s right as an artist to tell emotionally-charged, inspirational stories through song and dance, just like thousands of artists before her have done.

Dear Judith – Our Purpose

By Judith Signal
Advice Columnist

Dear Judith,

The big questions of life have really been coming down on me lately, like who are we, why am I here and what is my purpose? All great questions with few solid answers. Any advice on finding some meaningful solutions to these soul searching questions?


Dear Purpose,

First off, please know that you are not alone. I’m pretty sure almost every college kid thinks about these type of questions on a daily basis. The ’20s are an extremely exciting time in a person’s life, but they can also be incredibly terrifying. It’s a deep period of change and confusion, so I understand these questions. Let me try and break it down for you:

Who are we? Well, Purpose, we are human beings. Humans are comprised of many elements — love, fear, happiness, sadness, ambition, jealousy and greed. We are strong. We are fragile. But, we are also beautiful. I hope you know all of this, Purpose. All of these things make up who we are — plus your passions, your dreams and your goals. It’s a lot, isn’t it? But that’s OK. It’s what makes us uniquely ourselves. I find it best to not get too existential, because I don’t think it’s going to get us anywhere. We are here. We are surrounded by love and opportunity. For me, that is enough. I urge you to start thinking the same way. Live in the moment. Accept yourself.

Why are we here? I don’t know what your religion is, Purpose, or even if you believe in a higher being. Regardless, it doesn’t affect my answer too much. You’re here because you have a purpose. To be a friend, a son, a brother, a sister, a daughter, a creator — anything you put your mind to. Being true to yourself and following the identity you have created is absolutely key.

So that leads me to your last question — What is your purpose? If you don’t know yet, you will soon. You’ll know it when you feel it within your heart and you feel a kind of unadulterated happiness. Trust me, Purpose — it’s coming.

And when it does, the only questions you’ll be asking yourself is, how did I ever think I couldn’t find happiness in the first place?

Love, Judith

Students gather to view and discuss Lyon’s influential work. (Samantha Selikoff / Photo Editor)

Lyon captures Civil Rights Movement in exhibit

By Jillian Festa
Staff Writer

The Art Gallery in the AIMM building was bustling with students, professors, alumni and local residents on Wednesday, Jan. 28.  The spring art exhibit, titled “Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement,” was chosen as part of this year’s intellectual theme of justice in commemoration of  the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. It features 50 of the most iconic black-and-white photographs of photographer and filmmaker Danny Lyon.

Among the many perusers of the gallery on its opening night was Trenton resident Elise Mannella. “I’ve known about Lyon and I’m very interested in this period in American history,” she said.

Born in 1942 in Brooklyn, Lyon published his first photographs working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  From 1962 to 1964, he traveled the Mid-Atlantic and South documenting the Civil Rights Movement.  He provided pictures for SNCC’s propaganda and press releases. He received the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship for photography in 1969, then for filmmaking in 1979.

Students gather to view and discuss Lyon’s influential work. (Samantha Selikoff / Photo Editor)
Students gather to view and discuss Lyon’s influential work. (Samantha Selikoff / Photo Editor)

His pictures not only captured moments of the movement, but immortalized the emotions of their subjects.

“There was a very interesting diversity in the photography,”  freshman biomedical engineering major Bella Nicholson  said. “It really did capture the highlights of the SNCC and all they tried to accomplish during the movement.”

Junior graphic design major Danielle McDermott, who also visited the exhibit, was struck by the artist’s deeply-moving work.

“I read about (this exhibit) on a flyer and it seemed pretty interesting,” McDermott said. One of her favorite works was captioned “Arrested for demonstrating in America’s Georgia, teenage girls are kept in a stockade … This photograph was taken through the broken glass of the barred windows.”

Lyon’s style is described as photographic New Journalism, in which the photographer  becomes immersed and is a participant of the documented subject. He accomplished more than just documenting the Civil Rights Movement — he created beautiful pieces of art. Printed on the wall in the gallery was a quote by U.S. Congressman John Lewis regarding Lyon: “This young white New Yorker came South with a camera and a keen eye for history. And he used these simple, elegant gifts to capture the story of one of the most inspiring periods in America’s twentieth century.”

The exhibit is open to the public from Jan. 28 to March 1, and Lyon’s 1975 film, “Los Niños Abandonados,” will be presented on Sunday, Feb. 11, at 10 a.m. in the Kendall Hall Screening Room.

Wrestling records four straight wins

By Josh Kestenbaum

Freshman James Goldschmidt wrestles his way to a win vs. Centenary College. (Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)
Freshman James Goldschmidt wrestles his way to a win vs. Centenary College. (Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)

The men’s wrestling team has been on quite a streak lately, and nothing changed Tuesday, Jan. 20, when they met the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy on the mat. The Lions came from behind and defeated the USMMA Mariners, 25-16.

Two of the coaches in this match, Lions coach Joe Galante, ’07, and USMMA’s Greg Ilaria, ’04, were both All-American wrestlers here at the College. Galante earned his in 2005 and 2007, while Coach Ilaria achieved his in 2003 and 2004.

The Mariners jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, but the Lions refused to be silenced. The comeback began with a definitive 7-1 victory at 141 by freshman Ryan Budzek and continued with junior Dylan Thorsen’s victory at 149. Following additional victories at 157 and 165, the College led the Mariners by a score of 13-7.

The momentum carried through to the 174 weight class, where Zach Zotollo, the nation’s top wrestler at that weight, pinned his opponent in just 3:50. The senior now has a record of 11-0 on the season.

The Mariners were able to pull within three with victories at 184 and 197, with only heavyweight left. However, the Lions emerged victorious after a pin by freshman Brandon Simon at 4:44 in the heavyweight match.

The Lions were back in action on Friday, Jan. 23, when they took on the Centenary College Cyclones. The Lions never trailed the Cyclones on their way to a decisive 26-12 victory.

Before the match, the school honored the 30th anniversary of the 1985 NCAA Division III National Championship wrestling team.

The Lions sprang out to an early 10-0 lead on the backs of a forfeit at 125 and a major decision at 133 by freshman James Goldschmidt.

Despite a Cyclones win at 141, the Lions remained in the lead thanks in part to another victory at 149 by Thorsen. With a win at 157, Centenary closed the Lions’ lead to 14-6. Freshman Kellen Whitney earned a point for the Lions at 165 and extended their lead.

At 174, Zotollo further extended his undefeated record, advancing to 12-0 on the season, and the Lions’ lead to 20-6.

The final Lions win of the match came from a forfeit at 184 and pushed the Lions’ total to 26. The Cyclones were able to win the final two weight classes and close the gap to 26-12.

“Success over the past few matches has really been about persistence,” Zotollo said about the team’s recent hot streak. “You have to stay focused on what you can control, and I think we have done that.”

The Lions are now 10-4 on the season and have won four straight matches. They are in action again on Saturday, Jan. 31, when they host the Metro/New England Duals in the Rec Center. The College will be taking on 16th-ranked Roger Williams University, 19th-ranked Williams College and Bridgewater State University.

Lions’ EMS: Beware of strep throat

By Steven King

As we head into the colder months, it is not uncommon to start dealing with some pretty nasty illnesses. The common cold and the flu are certainly constant threats, but it’s important not to forget about the other bugs out there — particularly the ones that are responsible for strep throat.

Visit your doctor if strep throat symptoms persist. (AP Photo)
Visit your doctor if strep throat symptoms persist. (AP Photo)

Even a normal sore throat is quite painful, but having strep throat takes the pain to a new level. Luckily, there are ways to prevent yourself from getting this infection as well as tips to make your life a bit easier if you happen to catch it.

First, it’s always important to understand what this illness is. Strep throat is an infection caused by the streptococcal bacteria, which tends to hide on the throat and skin. It usually spreads through airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. This bacteria easily spreads in places where people are in close contact, such as college dorms. It can take two to five days for symptoms to appear after becoming infected and take another three to seven days to clear out of your system.

Symptoms of strep throat can be quite debilitating. A person who has strep throat will develop a severe sore throat and will have a hard time swallowing. Aside from these symptoms, a person will most likely develop a high fever and white or yellow spots on their throat. You should see your doctor if these symptoms develop and the sore throat does not feel better by the second day. It’s also common to experience a headache and swollen tonsils when this bacteria is in your system. Fatigue is another common symptom when dealing with strep. Occasionally, one can also develop stomach pains when sick.

Doctors are able to perform very quick tests to see if you have strep throat. If you are diagnosed with strep, you and your doctor can develop a treatment plan, usually one that includes antibiotics. It is suggested that you increase your vitamin C intake by eating foods such as oranges or cherries. You can also gargle salt water, but make sure you only use a quarter of a teaspoon of salt. Salt contains anti-bacterial properties that can help fight the bacteria. While you are sick, do your best to avoid dairy products and alcohol, since these can make the infection worse. Along with these steps, make sure to get a lot rest and drink plenty of water. 

So, be cautious as we go through the winter months. To avoid strep and other illnesses, practice good hygiene and try your best to avoid sick individuals. By doing this, you can take some pretty strong steps toward keeping yourself healthy.

‘Black Lives Matter’ mural sparks discussion across campus. (Mackenzie Cutruzzula / Review Editor)

College implements policy regarding ‘the wall’

By Jillian Festa
Staff Writer 

The Green Lawn Wall — the College community message board located outside the Brower Student Center — was created as a means for campus organizations to raise awareness for current issues or events in a creative, interactive fashion. The most recent display, a “Black Lives Matter” mural, was painted anonymously in response to the controversial grand jury outcomes in Ferguson, Mo. and Staten Island, Ny. The wall included paintings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and other African Americans who were killed in controversial altercations. 

Despite student efforts to preserve the mural, it was repainted in early January to comply with the newly official reservation policy regarding use of “the wall.”

‘Black Lives Matter’ mural sparks discussion across campus. (Mackenzie Cutruzzula / Review Editor)
‘Black Lives Matter’ mural sparks discussion across campus. (Mackenzie Cutruzzula / Review Editor)

According to the new official reservation policy, student groups who wish to utilize the wall must now email

Reservation blocks begin on a Tuesday and extend through Thursday of the following week, no extensions allowed. There is limited availability, so it is advantageous to plan ahead to ensure acceptance of time-sensitive material. The design of the artwork must be submitted to the Office of Student Activities for approval. It must comply with College policy and federal, state or local law and must not include any trademarked or copyrighted materials. The name of the sponsoring organization must be clearly displayed on the mural — anonymity and failure to complete the reservation requirements may be deemed as vandalism. In addition, latex-based paint is the only material allowed on the wall. Complete information on the policy can be found on the College’s website.

The policy change, though harmless to most students, was met with some hostility.

“Frankly, the new reservation policy is more or less meaningless,” freshman economics major Jonatan Moukh said. “If the ‘Black Lives Matter’ mural were painted today, a more powerful message would have been broadcast, the core of which is humanitarian concern and its ability to transcend certain rule.”

In response to the “Black Lives Matter” mural, Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Angela Lauer Chong wrote the following in an email sent to its creators earlier this month: “The (‘Black Lives Matter’ mural) on the ‘wall’ was created after it was erected, but before the reservation policy and process was finalized and published, therefore it has remained on the wall to this present day.  However, to make this important medium available for its intended purpose, the wall will be painted over this week to ready the medium for groups to reserve this spring.”

Despite Chong’s sentiments, some students — including Moukh — are still disappointed.

“It is not astonishing, but rather shameful to see the administration react with an amended reservation guideline rather than an amended attitude,” Moukh said, “an outlook showcasing solidarity both with those affected by the misfortune’s broad trajectory and the students who bother to care, to remain informed, to enact change.”

However, the “Black Lives Matter” message will continue to be addressed — there will be an open forum on Wednesday, Feb. 4 from 11 a.m. to noon in room 210 of the Student Center. According to Chong, the forum will focus on “where TCNJ goes from foster a more inclusive, socially just campus community.”

Chong also noted that key administrators have already confirmed their commitment to this issue. Additionally, there are high-quality photographs of the mural that can be used to produce banners or other reprinted materials so the artwork is preserved in that respect.

Freedom of speech battles against terrorism: Recent string of attacks raises concern over free expression

By Alyssa Sanford
Staff Writer

Demonstrators unite in Paris to show solidarity after recent terrorist attacks.
Demonstrators unite in Paris to show solidarity after recent terrorist attacks.

In the United States, freedom of speech is a constitutional right. Members of the
press and the entertainment industry are often protected by First Amendment rights. So when extremists threaten with violence as retribution for free speech, it’s jarring.

The last several months of 2014 and the early weeks of the new year were tense, as groups opposed to free speech fought to stifle it. North Korea threatened the United States with “a resolute and merciless” response to the release of Sony Pictures’ “The Interview” on Thursday,  Dec. 25, and the threats were taken seriously enough for the FBI and the White House to become involved and for theatrical premieres to be canceled.

Several weeks later, on Wednesday, Jan. 7, cartoonists at the Parisian satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, were killed by Franco-Algerians offended by the paper’s unflattering depiction of the Muslim prophet, Mohammed. 17 people died during the attack, including senior editors of the paper, cartoonists and police units responding to the shooting.

According to the Associated Press, a German newspaper was in need of police protection after reprinting Charlie Hebdo’s offending cartoon on Sunday, Jan. 11, because arsonists had attempted to torch the headquarters.

These were efforts to silence free speech and creative expression, and certainly not the first instances of violence perpetrated against members of the free press.

For instance, in January 2006, a Danish newspaper came under fire for portraying the prophet Mohammed “as an apparent terrorist with a bomb in his turban,” which prompted upheaval throughout the Middle East.

Equally unsettling was the cyber attack launched against Sony Pictures and “The Interview.” The movie depicts American journalists asked by the CIA to assassinate North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un while there, hosting an interview with him. Though North Korea denies involvement in the hack, FBI investigations conclude that the sophisticated malware seems to have originated from there.

“The challenge that movie studios and theaters face is real because they have to balance the issue of freedom of expression with safety and commerce,” said Fareed Zakaria, a Washington Post columnist and host of CNN’s weekly podcast “Global Public Square,” in an episode on Sunday, Dec. 21. “The right response, then and now, must be to affirm freedom of expression.”

Certainly, the depictions of Kim Jong-un and the prophet Mohammed were unflattering and offensive. But the responses to these depictions were extreme. Federal governments got involved. Innocent people died for the sake of satire. Americans and the French feared for their safety and security in countries where freedom isn’t just a right, but a value.

Concern for public safety demanded that “The Interview” be pulled from theaters on Christmas and that copies of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon be removed from circulation. While prudent, this response to threats of violence and terrorism admits defeat. Essentially, the free world relinquishes freedom of expression to appease extremists. It is a white flag of surrender.

Though “The Interview” was not shown by major theater companies, thousands fled to small venues which opted to still release the film. YouTube agreed to stream it online to those willing to pay a few bucks. The movie still managed to make $17.8 million according to Even under the threat of a terrorist attack, people fought back by watching the movie.

In Paris, though the satirical magazine lost key staff members, they published another issue depicting Mohammed on the front page. According to CNN, Charlie Hebdois now printing 7 million copies of the “survivor’s issue”— which has sold out the initial 1 million published. Typically, the magazine prints 60,000 copies of each issue.

Zakaria is right. We have to practice freedom of expression instead of letting extremists win with threats of violence. Free speech liberates us from living in fear of offending someone, for as they say, the pen is mightier than the sword.

‘Big Eyes’ is a riveting biopic directed by Burton

By Tristan Laferriere
Staff Writer

If you’re anything like me, you may find that Tim Burton’s films have been steadily declining from the once very original ideas of “Beetlejuice,” “Edward Scissorhands” and one of my favorites, “Mars Attacks!” Since the ’90s have left us, Burton has gone on to create box-office friendly films ranging from “The Corpse Bride” to “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.”

What classic Burton fans such as myself were missing, however, was a film that used a cast other than Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter and a little less of the stop-motion animation.  Well, we asked and he delivered. His latest film “Big Eyes” is a real treat for those classic Burton fans who were hoping for something original this time around.

Going back to his “Ed Wood” days in which Burton directed a biopic based on the eccentric filmmaker, “Big Eyes” follows the true story of painter Margaret Keane and her struggles as an artist as her husband, Walter, takes credit for her work for more than 10 years. Featuring a brilliant leading cast with Amy Adams as Margaret Keane and Christoph Waltz playing her jealous husband, “Big Eyes” is one of Burton’s best.

Waltz and Adams bring a fueding flair to the real-life Keane couple. (AP Photo)
Waltz and Adams bring a fueding flair to the real-life Keane couple. (AP Photo)

These two performances were excellent as usual,  coming from two of the greatest actors in Hollywood today. Adams has already won a Golden Globe for her memorable performance of the famous painter, and Waltz gives yet another serious but humorous portrayal of the late Walter Keane. Having been “re-discovered” by Quentin Tarantino six years ago for his war epic, “Inglourious Basterds,” Waltz has since gone on to claim two Academy Awards.

In addition to the stars of this film, the set decoration shines through on the big screen. Taking place from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, any retro geek will find “Big Eyes” beautiful for its journey back in time to the mid-century styles of the United States. Appropriately, Margaret Keane’s “Big Eye” paintings are a symbol for 1960s art and contribute to this film’s wonderful look at America’s style of the time.

All in all, “Big Eyes” was an enjoyable film. I would recommend it to anyone who was a fan of Burton’s “Ed Wood,” because in my opinion his biopics are his best films. What makes “Big Eyes” even better is the fact that Burton is straying from the path and using a set of new actors to make this piece original.

Dear Judith – Moving On

Dear Judith,

Unfortunately, I suffered a pretty bad breakup the summer before last semester started. Although I’m feeling a bit better and have gotten right back into being with friends and all my clubs, it continues to hurt as a bad feeling in the back of my mind, so I ask you: How have you gotten over an ex, especially one who you loved?

-Moving On

Dear Moving On,

I absolutely feel for you — going through a breakup is one of the most difficult, confusing and crushing experiences we go through. The good news, is that you’re not letting it stop you from living. This is a key step. You’re back with your friends and doing activities with clubs. You may not realize it, but this is so important.

Little voices probably eat away at you everyday. You may be having a perfect day and suddenly you think of a past experience with an ex that made you happy and suddenly you’re crying in your room because you miss them so much. Trust me, I’ve been there. We have all been there.

Have you thought about the future, Moving On? Maybe something (or someone) better is about to come along and totally consume you. Maybe you had to go through this breakup to realize what you really need is something totally different.

I know this might not sound comforting. Maybes don’t mean shit to someone who is hurting. I’ve experienced a breakup with someone I loved. But I’m still standing.

Want to know what helped me? Facing those bad feelings head on. It’s like staring at yourself in a mirror for an extraordinary amount of time and letting every bad thought consume you. Absorb it. Cry. Scream. Punch something. But don’t stop looking. Fight back, but also let go. Allow yourself to grieve and experience those feelings, as raw and scary as they are.

Because once you do, you will finally begin to understand how these feelings can actually help you. They will make you stronger. They will pave the way for finding happiness. After all, we cannot achieve such a place without first knocking down the obstacles in the way.

Don’t be afraid, Moving On. You’re strong. You’re important. And pretty soon your reflection will show nothing but smiles.

Love, Judith

Online testing wrong way to go: PARCC exams set to replace NJASK and HSPA

New standardized tests taken online may prove costly to some students. (AP Photo)
New standardized tests taken online may prove costly to some students. (AP Photo)

By Alyssa Sanford

Standardized testing in New Jersey is about to become a lot more demanding — and discriminating — for students of all ages.

If you haven’t heard of PARCC — the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — that’s because it’s a new, online standardized test. According to the New York Times, PARCC has been adopted by school districts in 12 states, including New Jer- sey. PARCC is set to replace tests like the NJASK and HSPA, which tested students from third to eighth grade and high school juniors, respectively.

The new standardized tests are a result of Common Core standards. New Jersey adopted the Common Core in 2010, which is a set of standards in English and mathematics education. Students all across America are expected to learn a specific set of skills in both of these subject areas and take standardized tests that reflect their overall understanding of those concepts. The goal of implementing the Common Core is preparation for college and the work- force, with the National Governor’s Association arguing that “all students (will be) prepared to succeed in our global economy and society” after preparing for and taking these tests.

In the spring of 2015, New Jersey students from third grade to 12th grade will be required to take a series of PARCC tests. The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) reports that there will be a performance-based assessment; a speaking and listening as- sessment; and an end-of-year, computer-based assessment. As the tests will be administered online, the durations will rival that of the SAT. Third graders, for example, will be expected to complete approximately eight hours worth of testing, while juniors in high school will spend nine hours and 55 minutes in total on their tests. Tests will only be available for 20-day windows.

It’s no secret that there are academic achievement gaps between students in affluent districts and students in urban and urban-rim districts. For instance, according to data on, Trenton Central High students scored an average 66 percent in language arts literacy on the HSPAs in 2013 and 35 percent in math proficiency. The state average for 2013 was 92 percent for language arts literacy and 80 percent for math proficiency. By comparison, Hopewell Valley Central High, a local suburban high school, scored 97 percent in language arts literacy and 92 percent in math proficiency.

These tests were taken with No. 2 pencils and Scantrons. Imagine the disparity between these two districts when standardized testing is administered online, when students from urban districts may lack sufficient access to a computer or struggle with using one.

It seems to me that PARCC testing, while designed to effectively prepare all students for college and the work- force, is actually designed to further impede at-risk students from performing well. The sheer number of hours that students are expected to devote to these tests is daunting enough, but insisting that these tests be taken online when there are thousands of students without proper computing skills simply makes no sense. If anything, Common Core standards should strive to make standardized testing fit the needs and abilities of all students. This is the wrong approach.