A M E R I C A N W AY O F L I F E SPRING 2017 » ISSUE 021
D.C.’S GUN FIGHT ONE MAN’S STANDOFF WITH CONGRESS
+ GENTRIFYING SEX COLUMBIA HEIGHTS & SEX WORK + THE FORGOTTEN RIVER ANACOSTIA’S DIRTY HISTORY + CLOSED DOORS, CLOSED BORDERS INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS’ PERSPECTIVES ON EXECUTIVE ACTION
AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE » SPRING 2017 » ISSUE 021
Last semester, we debuted our rebranding with an issue that focused on invisible work performed by faculty of color. In this issue, we keep to that theme of working to create a more inclusive, equitable and fair campus climate. This semester, we highlight a variety of injustices happening on campus, in the District and across the country.
AWOL magazine aims to continue pushing both
ourselves and American University to be more critical of issues that deserve to be understood with nuance; to work subversively when dismantling barriers that suppress certain voices; and to love irrepressibly when it comes to serving our community. We ignite campus discussions on social, cultural and political issues. We want to make our campus more inquiring, egalitarian and socially engaged. Our stories have an angle, which is different from having an agenda. Our reporting is impartial and fair, but our analysis is critical and argumentative. We were independently founded by American University students in 2008. While we are still student-run, today we are housed under AU’s Student Media board. AWOL is a member of the Associated Collegiate Press and Generation Progress Voices Network. This publication has won awards at the National College Media Convention, and its writers have won awards from the Society for Professional Journalists and the College Media Association.
EDITORS-IN-CHIEF Casey Chiappetta & Jessica Wombles MANAGING EDITOR Evie Lacroix CREATIVE DIRECTOR Andrea Lin ART DIRECTOR Gwynn Pollard WEB EDITOR Antoinette D’Addario MULTIMEDIA EDITOR Paloma Losada STAFF EDITORS Maria Carrasco, Reina DuFore, Rachel Falek, Will Fowler, Laura Saini, Yan Shi & Ben Weiss COPY EDITORS Katya Podkovyroff Lewis, Anniebee Ospeck, Melany Love Rochester, Taylor Sabol & Marney Wood PR ASSISTANTS Eleanor Mendelson WRITERS Miranda Cleland, Ofonime Idiong, Lexi Ivers, Allison Tovar & Sara Winegardner
We begin by featuring a story about gun control in the District. As we continue to see high numbers of mass shootings around the country despite public outcry after tragedies like Sandy Hook, San Bernardino and Orlando, some of us feel hopeless. In this story, we begin to unpack D.C.’s unique relationship with the federal government as it relates to guns. We look behind the partisanship to focus on communities affected by violence. So how can we help these systematically silenced victims of gun violence? Get educated and resist. This serves as the same response to the other topics we address in this issue. Other stories this issue concern the links between being HIV positive and homeless in D.C., the uncertainty around the “Muslim Ban” and what it means for our international students, students of color being tokenized by the university and low-income women’s restricted access to reproductive healthcare. We continue our mission to think critically and respond with well-crafted arguments. In our last letter, we made some pretty big promises. Namely this one: As journalists, we pride ourselves on holding those in power accountable and AWOL is not above that standard. As important as it is to facilitate ongoing dialogue surrounding these issues, it’s more important, is that we set an example through action. We hold true to our word; this semester, AWOL is showing up. While all of our stories call out some form of injustice, a large number of them also provide us with actionable tools for effective resistance. We have a responsibility to fight for what’s right. We’re doing our part, now it’s time to do yours. Happy Reading!
Jessica Wombles and Casey Chiappetta Editors-in-Chief
ART ART ASSISTANTS Kade Freeman, Rachel Wright & Claire Osborn ILLUSTR ATION Maria Carrasco, Casey Chiappetta, Kate Kohn, Claire Osborn, Robin Weiner, Rachel Wright, & Jessica Wombles PHOTOGR APHY Casey Chiappetta, Kade Freeman & Melany Love Rochester COVER ILLUSTR ATION Andrea Lin BACK COVER PHOTO Casey Chiappetta Want to join AWOL? Write to us: email@example.com
FIND US ONLINE WEBSITE www.awolau.org ISSUU www.issuu.com/awol FACEBOOK www.facebook.com/awolAU
MY BODY, WHOSE RIGHTS? PLANNING FOR PARENTHOOD By Marney Wood Reproductive healthcare in the District
5 AN EPIDEMIC THE EFFECT OF HIV/AIDS ON D.C.’S HOMELESS By Miranda Cleland D.C.’s public health and housing policies.
7 GENTRIFYING SEX COLUMBIA HEIGHTS & SEX WORK By Lexi Ivers Moving along D.C.’s Prostitution Free Zones.
10 THE FORGOTTEN RIVER ANACOSTIA’S DIRTY HISTORY By Taylor Sabol Politics of D.C water pollution.
13 D.C.’S GUN FIGHT ONE MAN’S STANDOFF WITH CONGRESS By Antoinette D’Addario The effects of D.C.’s home rule on gun laws.
19 EXPECT RESISTANCE PROTESTING IN TRUMP’S AMERICA By Annibee Ospeck Slacktivism in the tweets, protests in the streets.
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DIVERSITY AS A BUZZWORD AN ANALYSIS ON HOW AU DEFINES STUDENT DIVERSITY By Ofonime Idiong Feeling misled by university statistics.
CLOSED DOORS, CLOSED BORDERS INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS’ PERSPECTIVES ON EXECUTIVE ACTION By Reina DuFore The Muslim Ban on campus.
DISCLAIMER AN ACCURATE STORY ABOUT FAKE NEWS By Laura Saini Defining and combatting fake news.
A REAL GAME CHANGER THE GAMBLE ON SOCIAL IMPACT GAMES By Sara Winegardner Are they worth the bet?
TOO LITTLE, TOO LIGHT MEDIA REPRESENTATION OF LATINAS By Allison Tovar Hyper-sexualization and under-representation.
REDEFINING TECH WITH INFORMED CONSENT PROFILE: ERICKA MENCHEN-TREVINO By Jessica Wombles Who knows you best? Your web browser.
PHOTO ESSAY HAVANA IN PHOTOS By Casey Chiappetta & Kade Freeman Snapshots of Cuban life
AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE MAGAZINE
MY B O DY, WHOSE RIGHTS? Planning For Parenthood Written by Marney Wood Art by Maria Carrasco On Sept. 26, 2016, celebrities, politicians, activists and health care professionals gathered to celebrate the opening of a Planned Parenthood Health Center in D.C. a block from the NoMa-Gallaudet metro stop. Pro-choice groups held signs saying “my body, my rights,” while antichoice groups held signs reading “fetuses have beating hearts.” This women’s health center is the only one in D.C., making it the third in the D.C. metropolitan area. Before, the closest center was in Silver Spring, Maryland. Bill Albert is the chief program officer for The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. This organization works to decrease unplanned pregnancy by ensuring access to contraception and runs health centers like Bedsider Birth Control Support Network. He says the anti-abortion activists have flawed logic. “Providing women with better access to all methods of contraception helps prevent unplanned pregnancy, and of course unplanned pregnancy is at the root of almost all abortions,” Albert said. “So for those who are opposed to abortion, the best thing to do is to be a strong supporter of contraception.” This Planned Parenthood will provide services such as birth control, emergency contraception, abortions and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Before, these services were provided by various women’s health centers. Whether these services will continue to be provided is unclear as D.C. lacks statehood. One move against abortion access is H.B.7, a bill passed
in January that bans any federally-funded facilities from providing abortions and all federally-funded insurance plans from covering abortion. The bill also defines the D.C. government as part of the federal government, thereby preventing D.C. from locally funding abortion or insurance that covers abortion. These bans on federal funding for abortion services disproportionately affect those on Medicaid, a federal health care system for low-income residents. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to health policy analysis, nearly 265,000 D.C. residents were enrolled in Medicaid as of December 2016. This is more than one-third of D.C.’s total population. Comparatively, only a little over 20 percent of the US population is enrolled in Medicaid. The unusually high percentage of D.C. residents who rely on Medicaid speaks to the larger issue of poverty in the D.C. area. Officially 19 percent of residents are below the national poverty line. When the cost of living was accounted for by an alternate measure of poverty used by the Census Bureau, this number rises to about 23 percent.
“For those who are opposed to abortion, the best thing to do is to be a strong supporter of contraception.” Emily Stephens is the co-president of H*yas for Choice, a club at Georgetown University that focuses on ensuring students’ access to contraceptives. Because the club distributes condoms, the university does not fund them due to the conflicts with Catholicism. Stephens says that the potential repeal or alteration of the Affordable Care Act could have dangerous consequences for college students, especially low income ones. “The contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act requires organizations to cover contraception,” Stephens said. “So if that changes, which it definitely could given the current political atmosphere, students on student health insurance could be left without access to covered birth control. On Georgetown’s campus that definitely has a disproportionate effect on low-income women.”
THE DISTRICT eight wards D.C., Wards 7 and 8 have the highest teen pregnancy and STI rates. Getting to the new health center from these areas can take over an hour using public transportation. Even though the opening of a health center in D.C. has made healthcare more accessible, it is still difficult for many women in D.C. to access the services they need.
Reproductive and sexual healthcare has always attracted controversy. Since Margaret Sanger popularized the birth control movement in the early 1900s, access to such resources has stood for much more than healthcare: It has been a fight for women’s ability to make choices about their health. Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, which later became known as Planned Parenthood. The Trump administration has promised it would defund Planned Parenthood.
According to Guttmacher Institute, 20 million women in this country are in need of publicly-funded contraceptive services. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 19.7 million women live in contraceptive deserts. This means they lack reasonable access to a public clinic with the full range of methods. “Considering the power that congress has over D.C.’s budget, I think there are some unique challenges for DC women,” Stephens said.
“I think the threat to defund Planned Parenthood in saying that money can be transferred to other clinics instead of Planned Parenthood just doesn’t comport with the facts,” Albert said. “Our research shows that in 105 counties in this country, Planned Parenthood is the only game in town for providing the full range of contraceptive methods.” The Trump administration isn’t the first to attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. The Hyde Amendment, a frequently cited legislative move against abortion access, was passed in 1976. The Hyde Amendment affects low-income women by preventing the use of Medicaid funds for abortion services. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, 17 states use local funds to cover abortion services. These states bypass the effects of the Hyde Amendment. But D.C. and 33 states rely on extremely limited federal funds. This is especially harmful to low-income women who must pay out of pocket, except in cases of rape, incest and when a woman’s life is in danger.
Marney Wood is a first-year student studying international studies and minoring in theatre and public health.
Scheduling is available online up to three weeks in advance; however, getting a weekend appointment is nearly impossible. While the center in D.C. has extended evening hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, lasting until 7 p.m., but these appointments are also inaccessible. This leaves only weekdays, which for some, means missing work or school. Another aspect that stands in the way for some D.C. women is distance and travel time. A study by the RAND corporation found that, of the
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THOOD N E R A P ANNED
Studies, like one from the Brookings Institution, show lower income women are less likely to use contraceptives and are more likely to have M unintended pregnancies than wealthier women. This means the very women who need health care, like that provided by Planned Parenthood, are the ones who have less access to it because Medicaid often does not M cover these services or facilities.
PLANNED PPAREN LAN THOOD
Hyde is not the only case where the federal government has used its influence over D.C. to prevent the city from funding abortions or reproductive healthcare. Since the new administration took office, there have been numerous attempts to defund abortion.
Unless there is separate state funding, which is not available in D.C. because locally raised funds in D.C. are considered federal, Medicaid can only cover services at facilities that do not perform abortions. This eliminates many clinics such as Planned Parenthood. Despite the recent opening of a Planned Parenthood in D.C., reproductive and sexual healthcare remains out of reach for many. Getting an appointment at the health center is a challenge in itself.
AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE MAGAZINE
AN EPIDEMIC The effect of HIV/AIDS on D.C.’s homeless Written by Miranda Cleland Illustrated by Kate Kohn In 1998, Wayne Turner, longtime HIV/ AIDS activist, lost his partner Steve Michael to AIDS. Turner brought Michael’s body to the White House as an act of protest in 1998. Before his death, Michael requested a political funeral outside the White House to protest the Clinton administration’s ineffective AIDS policies. D.C.’s – and America’s – AIDS problem was on display for the world to see. According to the D.C. Department of Health, one in 40 people in the District are HIV positive, 6.4 times more than the national average. But HIV isn’t D.C.’s only epidemic. Homelessness in D.C. is twice the national average: about three of every 200 people in the District are homeless.
to End Homelessness in 2006, approximately 3.4 percent of people who are homeless are HIV positive, about three times higher than the national percentage at the time. Without consistent treatment, an HIV positive person will become sick more often. As a result, they may miss work because they’re sick and be unable to afford rent. If someone becomes homeless, their chance of getting treatment drops dramatically. “D.C. has been kind of a mixed bag with how well our safety net has been operating. There are endemic problems with people falling through the cracks,” said Turner. Treatment and prevention resources are more accessible in D.C. than in most of the country, largely because of efforts from the local government and NGOs over the last several decades.
“I think that housing is an essential health right, as is access to medical care,” said Turner, now a lawyer at the National Health Law Program. He went to law school after Michael’s death to become a more effective activist.
“Most people that we’ve interviewed [in my D.C. research] have already had an HIV test... over 80 percent,” said Dr. Nina Yamanis, an American University international service professor who studies HIV in D.C.
An HIV diagnosis increases the risk of homelessness, especially when treatment access is limited. According to the National Alliance
“And I think that’s not the case in other parts of the country where there [are fewer] good NGOs that do HIV testing and outreach.”
THE DISTRICT “Although there are programs and services, a lot of times they get buried in bureaucracy and poor implementation,” he said. “This is a hugely complex system. No wonder people have trouble negotiating.” Turner explained that without dependable transportation or phone access, someone may be unable to go to government offices to apply for HOPWA. These offices often have long wait times, which can prevent potential applicants from making it to work. All of these factors, combined with an HIV positive person’s higher likelihood of becoming sick, contribute to an increased risk of losing housing. This system also makes it more difficult for the homeless to regain housing.
“In order to qualify for Medicaid before the ACA, you had to have an AIDS diagnosis. People with HIV couldn’t qualify.” However, Yamanis said gentrification is pushing low-income, high-risk individuals out of their housing in the district and into the suburbs, where treatment facilities are few and far between.
Despite the Alliance’s success in D.C., not all government programs are helping HIV positive people the way they were designed to. HOPWA, Housing Opportunities for Persons with HIV/AIDS, is an example.
“People come from outside the District for services, but they may not have the same resources that people that live in the District have. And who can really afford to live in the District anymore?” she said. “If you don’t live in the District, you aren’t eligible for D.C. Health[care] Alliance.”
HOPWA was created as a part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1992 and addresses the unmet housing needs for people with HIV/AIDS.
D.C. Healthcare Alliance provides medical assistance for low income D.C. residents who are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare. “The Alliance even covers undocumented people,” Yamanis said.
“HOPWA money was designed for people who die while they were sitting on the housing waiting list for a Section 8 voucher,” said Turner. “In all my years as an HIV/AIDS activist -- since the 1980s -- I have never met anyone with HIV that has actually gotten HOPWA housing.”
Health care access has long been a huge obstacle for HIV positive people. However, with the expansion of Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), qualifying for care as an HIV positive person became much easier. “Medicaid is the great equalizer. In the earlier days of the epidemic, people would test positive, spend all their savings, and in the end, everyone would end up on public benefits,” Turner said. His late partner was on public benefits at the time of his death. “In order to qualify for Medicaid before the ACA, you had to have an AIDS diagnosis. People with HIV couldn’t qualify,” he added. Today, an HIV positive diagnosis does not disqualify someone from Medicaid as it did in the past. Therefore they can access antiretroviral therapy and control their viral load to avoid full-on AIDS, and prevent infection of anyone else. Between the government, NGOs, student groups, advocacy organizations, and social enterprises, D.C.’s rates of new HIV infections are declining. This decline can partly be attributed to needle exchange programs for intravenous drug users. According to the CDC, HIV is primarily transmitted through unprotected sex with an HIV positive partner or through sharing needles. Populations at highest risk include sex
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AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE MAGAZINE workers, intravenous drug users, men who have sex with men, and LGBTQ+ persons, especially black gay and bisexual men. LGBTQ+ youth in particular face specific challenges when it comes to HIV, explained Deondre Moore, an activist and student at Sam Houston State University. “Sex work can be a main source of living for LGBT[Q+] kids if they’re kicked out [of their parents’ homes],” Moore said. “When our youth are put out by their parents and they don’t have a place to live, they’re forced to engage in sex work and aren’t able to have access to treatment and prevention,” he added. Treatment and prevention, as Turner explains, often go hand in hand. “What D.C. has projected as its goal... is get 90 percent of its HIV positive population in treatment,” Turner said. “That’s the pitch now: treatment is prevention. That goal is not going to happen without a robust Medicaid program that’s working to serve clients.” Until 2007, Congress blocked D.C. municipal funding for needle exchange programs, which are proven to reduce transmission of HIV. New cases of HIV from needle sharing dropped 70 percent after needle exchange program implementation in 2008, according to a study published in the scientific journal AIDS and Behavior. “We have all these initiatives and clinics and organizations, but why are rates [of HIV infection] still so high? D.C. is absolutely representative of the nation in that sense,” said Moore. Regardless, D.C. has a long way to go. “These aren’t simple problems, but having a report and setting a numerical goal does not solve the problem,” Turner said. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has a plan to get 90 percent of HIV positive people into treatment. “Treatment adherence is tough when you don’t have a roof over your head,” Turner said. Miranda Cleland is a senior studying international relations and Arabic studies.
GENTRIFYING S E X WO R K
Columbia Heights and sex work Written by Lexi Ivers Illustrated by Claire Osborn Evelyn Hampton, a D.C. middle school teacher, removes condoms, needles and occasionally human feces from the front of her K Street home. “They don’t care that we have families. They don’t care about what our kids might see,” said the 32-year-old resident. Hampton is one of many residents in the North of Massachusettes Ave. (NoMa) area in Ward 6 who have begun to demand an end to the nightly activities of sex workers. K Street has historically been a popular stroll for D.C. sex workers, but the changing neighborhood demographics have created tension between residents and sex workers. As wealthier residents and business owners move into the neighborhood, the new residents are holding meetings to rid the area of sex work. The increased political attention has led to a dramatic police crackdown against sex workers. According to the Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) 2016 year end crime data, In the last year alone, the area has seen
a 35 percent increase in sex work charges and a 20 percent increase in solicitation charges. Solicitation of prostitution refers to the act of requesting sexual engagement in exchange for a fee. Under the D.C. Code, it is illegal to engage in, propose or solicit sex work. In 2014, MPD declared its increased efforts to combat sex work by doubling the number of undercover officers in neighborhoods where sex work is known to take place. In D.C., those charged with prostitution or solicitation of prostitution for the first time can face up to 90 days in jail. Repeat offenders face more serious punishment. Prostitution in this sense means the actual act of performing sexual acts for a fee. Solicitation of prostitution only requires an agreement or offer to complete a sexual act in exchange for a fee. The records of the prosecution remain publically available. Increased penalties for both prostitution and solicitation have been suggested as a potential deterrent by the
THE DISTRICT Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and government officials according to an MPD officer in D.C’s third district who has requested anonymity. Lenny Koffman, a sex worker advocate, says the policing of sex work is discriminatory and traces back to prostitution free zones in 2010, areas where police officers can arrest or tell people to “move along” if they suspect them of engaging in sex work. No longer in effect, the legacy remains. “The politicization of prostitution in D.C. has contributed to a spike in hate crimes against trans folks,” Koffman said. “Every member of our society has value. Until we stop viewing sex work as evidence of moral depravity and inferiority, members of society will continue to suffer.” Greater political attention has increased police prioritization of preventing sex work on the streets of Washington. The D.C street sex work industry is predominately women of color and transgender individuals. Koffman is a part of a larger movement in support of the legalization of sex work, not just in D.C, but across the nation. Jasmine Delavigne, a D.C. sex worker, described the need for a shift in American attitudes towards sex work. “No one forced me to do this work,” Delavigne said. “I make good money. I get to choose my own hours. I am not hurting anyone. Just like doctors and hairstylists, I perform a service. I have a job. I would rather be working here than Burger King. I don’t have no college loans. We shouldn’t be arrested for a job.”
Sex work is a controversial topic. Critics point to a history connected to poverty, gender inequality, racism and violence. Proponents of legalization point to bodily autonomy, safety and racism.. Delavigne represents one group of sex workers: streetwalkers and lower-end sex workers in mixed-income neighborhoods. These sex workers are most at risk of police altercations. Their work requires a high degree of visibility and accessibility to attract clients, however the increased access makes them more vulnerable to both street predators and police. Streetwalkers maintain the lowest social status within the hierarchy of sex work.
There has recently been a dramatic increase in the number of “high-end” sex workers who exclusively cater to upper-class clients. “Highend” sex workers exclusively work indoors. This “high-end” sex work reveals the inequities of the enforcement of prostitution laws. The majority of these “high-end” sex workers, often referred to as “escorts,” extensively screen their clientele and will only work in high-end hotels. These escorts rarely face the discrimination that street-walkers face.
conditions for economic reasons, according to the book, “Legalizing Prostitution: From Illicit Vice to Lawful Business.” Vibha Sardana is a 23 year-old transgender street sex worker shared some of the challenges she faces on the street. Sardana is in law school and engages in sex work to pay her tuition. “I have been yelled at,” Sardana said. “I have had things thrown at me late at night. I get it, but I don’t get it. I am using my body to earn money. It’s my body. I should have the right to do whatever I want with it. I should not have to worry about being arrested for working.” Sardana was arrested on prostitution charges last year, but was offered diversion and was required to complete 300 hours of community service. “They want us to leave the neighborhood but we’re not leaving,” Sardana said. “I will have to explain my arrest record to future employers. This is why I’m in law school. I want to end systemic and overt discrimination against people like me.”
When conducted discreetly, indoor sex work eludes the public attention that generates public complaints to the police. Additionally, the screening mechanisms reduce sew worker victimization. Rates of robbery, rape and assault remain much higher for street-workers, many of whom endure these
This economic argument has been echoed throughout the movement to legalize sex work.
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AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE MAGAZINE
“It’s my body. I should have the right to do whatever I want with it. I should not have to worry about being arrested for working.” However, significant barriers, such as gentrification, work against the legalization of sex work. The influx of more young, affluent residents coupled with the related increase in property values socially and economically marginalizes established residents and changes the character of a neighborhood. Columbia Heights is a gentrified neighborhood with a complex relationship to sex work. Ms. Maddie, who would prefer that we did not give her last name, an 82-year-old widow, has been living on 14 Street in Columbia Heights for 52 years. She said she is “saddened by the young girls” in her neighborhood. “Just next door, at the massage parlor, they have men coming in and out at all hours of the night,” Ms. Maddie said. “I have grandchildren. I fear for their safety. Those people are bringing in the drugs and the crime that we have worked hard to keep out,” she said. Ms. Maddie’s criticisms reflect a popular narrative: The desire to preserve the integrity of the neighborhood, a widespread sentiment shared across much of the older segment of Columbia Heights. According to MPD officer Richard Morales, many of the sex work complaints come from older residents. Older residents are not the only ones concerned about sex work in Columbia Heights. Business owners, fearful of losing customers, have also demanded increased law enforcement.
Khan Doan, a restaurant owner in that area said, “I see them when I come into work. Some of them change on the street early in the morning. Who is going to come for breakfast with them around?” Doan and other local business owners have demanded more of a police presence in order to protect their economic interests. Columbia Heights is just one of many D.C neighborhoods experiencing neighborhood change. The challenges that exist at the intersection of sex work and gentrification highlight the most important question ahead for developers and city planners: how do we create inclusive urban communities that meets the needs of all residents? For Lenny Koffman and sex worker advocates across D.C, the answer is simple: we must make inclusion the central goal. Neighborhood divisions reinforce differences among people. Neighborhoods will only include everyone when they are led by everyone. Local cultural and economic institutions must begin to target specifically excluded populations.
Lexi Ivers is junior studying law and society.
FORGOTTEN RIVER Anacostia’s dirty history
Written by Taylor Sabol Illustrated by Jessica Wombles
ANACOSTIA RIVER, WHO? The Anacostia River, often called the “forgotten river,” flows from Prince George’s County in Maryland to the Potomac River. Not a popular tourist destination, the river is even forgotten by popular travel website Tripadvisor, which doesn’t list the river on its list of 418 top attractions in D.C. In contrast, the Georgetown Waterfront ranks number 23 on the list of 418 activities. The Anacostia River is highly polluted, mostly from Washington Navy Yard and Washington D.C. Water and Sewer Authority -- which are both close to the river. A 2015 National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report found that about 20,000 tons of trash and sewage are dumped into the Anacostia river each year. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared the river to be “impaired by trash,” the second river in the country to be categorized this way, following the Mississippi River. Additionally, the Anacostia Watershed Society’s 2016 annual report card of river conditions granted the river with an “F” for unsafe and unhealthy conditions.
Tammy Morrison is an Anacostia local who has lived in the city for 30 years. She is an active community member who volunteers alongside the Anacostia Watershed Society to collect trash, debris and other litter from the riverbanks. “You can not even swim or fish in the Anacostia river—it’s that polluted,” Morrison said. “It’s unfortunate that my community has to suffer from these terrible conditions.” According to Clean Water Action, the Anacostia is one of the most polluted rivers stemming from the Chesapeake Bay. As
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AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE MAGAZINE
“None of the tourists visit the southeast region of D.C., so why bother cleaning it all up?”
D.C. has grown, the Anacostia watershed has become more polluted. Filled with trash, sewage, sediment and other pollutants, the Anacostia river is a far cry from its sister river, the Potomac. Morrison, among other locals, is concerned that the Anacostia River is intentionally neglected due to the area’s socioeconomic condition. Anacostia’s median income is 41 percent less than the D.C. average. As it gentrifies, which it is expected to according to St. Elizabeth’s Development, whether the river remains as neglected is yet to be seen. Jeff Stanley, a 45-year-old teacher and Anacostia resident, has lived with his wife and two children for 20 years in Anacostia. He says local attention is not enough to save the forgotten river. “You can see how this can be considered a social issue. … People in Georgetown don’t have to worry about clean water in the Potomac,” Stanley said. “Tourists go there and sit on the Tidal Basin and have a good time. Anacostia definitely isn’t a tourist hotspot; people don’t even know about it unless you live here. And it’s sad because this is my home and the pollution is still not given enough attention.” Environmental advocacy organizations argued that cleaning up the river will have economic benefits that will outweigh the financial costs. Jobs will flow into the surrounding communities as they become cleaner and healthier to live in. “It appears that the District doesn’t care much about the conditions of the river. None of the tourists visit the southeast region of D.C., so why bother cleaning it all up?” Morrison said.
CLEANING UP THE RIVER Efforts to clean up the river over the past 10 years have reduced the sheer amount of trash. For example, as part of the D.C. Sustainability Act, the city has banned styrofoam containers to reduce everyday citizen pollution. Other business regulations include refurbishing outdated business infrastructure surrounding the river in order to reduce sewage overflow and runoff into the Anacostia.
“Cleaning up the Anacostia is going to take a lot more effort and collaboration than expected,” Stanley said. “Federal, state and local officials will probably have to join together to clean the water and make it even bearable to be around. The river is probably a lot better than it once was, but there’s still have a long way to go.” The EPA’s Clean Water Act of 1972 made it unlawful to directly pollute any navigable river nationally and promoted the implementation of low-impact development on the banks of the Anacostia river. These environmentallyfriendly infrastructure suggestions will limit the amount of stormwater runoff in the river. This runoff carries away oil, trash and dangerous chemicals into the Anacostia River’s slowmoving tide. Some residents, like William Rosenfeld -- who has lived in Anacostia for 10 years -- feel these federal laws are not enough. “It’s frightening to think that factories around the river have been shut down completely to combat the toxic pollutants, and yet, here we are in 2017 still with mercury-filled water in our river,” Rosenfeld said. “Although some laws and regulations have improved the water quality somewhat, so much more should be done.” Alejandro Dávila is the press secretary of Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law advocacy group. He says stormwater runoff constitutes the majority of the Anacostia river pollution. Along with this runoff, debris and toxic pollutants gather in the Anacostia, including pesticides, lead, and mercury. A March 2016 report by the District Department of Energy and Environment found these toxic chemicals in a study of the river. Dávila said the report confirmed the existence of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, or
THE DISTRICT PAHs and PCBs, carcinogenic chemicals that have been banned for decades. They are also linked with cardiovascular disease, and they are one of the many contaminants in cigarette smoke and particulate air pollution. PAHs spur the onset of chemical carcinogenesis, where normal cells are transformed into cancer cells. Not only does the pollution negatively impact people’s health, it also impacts wildlife and ecological stability. “One of the main sources of pollution that impact wildlife in the Anacostia and other rivers is actually personal care products,” said Chelsea Greene, editor for the National Institute for Standards and Technology. “For instance, a certain type of hand sanitizer and birth control pills can get into wastewater treatment plants and can kill fish or cause them to develop abnormalities such as becoming unisex.” Greene says she is concerned for the factory infrastructure surrounding both the Anacostia and Potomac rivers. She says that the D.C. sewage system infrastructure is not adequate for massive rain storms and desperately needs to be updated soon.
FRUSTRATION WITH D.C. GOVERNANCE Anacostia locals have expressed their anger and resentment towards D.C.’s government. They have filed five different petitions over the past seven years for river cleanup. Community members are now taking matters into their own hands.
Groundwork Anacostia is one organization trying to clean up the river. It works on community-sponsored initiatives to connect people with their environment while simultaneously improving it. Community members living near the Anacostia River and its tributaries work together to improve parks, green spaces and other community environmental concerns.
Healthy Anacostia, focuses on water quality improvement and improving the conditions of the river and its surrounding communities to attract potential residents and visitors. Anacostia Waterfront Trust Executive Director Doug Siglin said their efforts are revolutionary, as they want to focus on both strengthening their community and improving water quality.
Cache Lance is a volunteer with the Green Team, which operates through Groundwork Anacostia. This program establishes and promotes a partnership with students at four local high schools to participate in river cleanup.
“The revitalization of the river would benefit everyone in this region both economically and socially,” Siglin said. “A comprehensive cleanup will make these communities flourish, especially by spurring job growth. We are laying the groundwork to help bring businesses and investment to the entire watershed by making it a more attractive and healthy place to live.”
“The program is especially beneficial for these students because they get to learn about how important the environment -- especially their own community’s -- is,” Lance said. “We focus on teaching them about the importance of composting and cleaning up the environment to make the Anacostia River a safer and healthier place.” Community-based work allows people to become connected with their environment and learn to appreciate the importance of making their community a healthier and cleaner place to live. A lot of the work done to improve the river conditions has been community-based because of the inaction from the D.C. government. The D.C. Department of Health did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
These community efforts to improve the Anacostia river have been effective in the short term. The river’s conditions have improved within the last ten years with much less trash and debris in the body of water. It’s time for the forgotten river to get the recognition it needs in order to better the lives of the poor and working-class communities around them. “One day, people will be able to swim and fish in the Anacostia. I hope that organizations like mine play a huge role in that process,” Siglin said.
Taylor Sabol is a first-year studying public health.
Federal City Council’s Anacostia River Initiative has similar goals to Groundwork Anacostia. This organization, along with six other nonprofits as part of United for a
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AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE MAGAZINE
Total number of gun related incidents in 2017 as of April 10:
90 mass shootings
D.C.’S GUN FIGHT
One man’s standoff with Congress Written by Antoinette D’Addario Graphics by Rachel Wright
On Memorial Day 2005, Timothy and Janice Heyne were docking their boat at friend Steve Mazin’s home in Thousand Oaks, California when Toby Whelchel opened fire. WWW.AWOLAU.ORG » SPRING 2017
AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE MAGAZINE
826 teens (12-17) killed or injured
Officer involved incidents where subject-suspect was shot or killed
167 children (0-11) killed or injured
He killed Janice and Steve and critically injured Timothy. Shortly after losing his mother, Christian Heyne committed himself to fighting gun violence and promoting gun control. “Their friend [Mazin] had a restraining order against a man [Whelchel] who came and shot the friend, shot my father three times, killed my mom [then] shot a police officer, bludgeoned a mother in front of her kids and finally turned his gun on himself,” Heyne said.
Officer involved incidents where officer was shot or killed
According to California law, Heyne and others could pass local gun control ordinances. Article XI § 7 of the California Constitution allows “a county or city may make and enforce within its limits all local, police, sanitary, and other ordinances and regulations not in conflict with general laws.” This provision gives local authorities equal power to the state legislature to protect the welfare of its residents. The California Assembly Bill 1471, which requires guns sold in California to have a microstamp device on weapon, was a major victory for Heyne. “The microstamp intentionally stamps a code on the shell casing to trace the weapon,” said Heyne. While the bill’s passage was a small victory for gun control, there are questions surrounding the efficacy of microstamps. “Shell casings are often [what are] left behind at shootings and what you find out is — contrary to what CSI shows tell you — it’s extremely hard to trace guns from shell casings; it only happens about one percent of the time,” said Heyne.
“How the hell did this happen?” Heyne asked. Mazin represented Whelchel in two court cases and in his Air Force court martial. Mazin took out a restraining order against Whelchel after he attacked Mazin in his own home. According to a 2005 Los Angeles Times article, Whelchel was court-martialed in 1999, fined $3,000 and discharged for failing to show up on time. Whelchel also had a criminal record in Florida, Indiana and California. After his parents’ shooting, Heyne learned that gun laws had many loopholes. “The gun lobby has made it easy for an illegal market of guns to run in our states,” Heyne said. “The majority of states in this country don’t require a background check to purchase a gun.”
A series of lawsuits have been filed delaying the enactment of the bill, but Heyne is hopeful it will roll out soon and be implemented in other states. Still, whether the bill will be enacted is uncertain. Since Republicans gained control of Congress and the White House, new legislation has been introduced to repeal Obama-era measures limiting who could buy firearms. House Resolution 90, labels gun violence a public health crisis. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, titled, “Funding and Publication of Research on Gun Violence and Other Leading Causes of Death,” more than 30,000 people die every year in the U.S. from gun-related causes. That’s more than HIV, Parkinson’s disease, malnutrition and fires. Researchers hope this will lead to future studies and improved gun control efforts.
POLITICS THE SECOND AMENDMENT AND D.C. After earning a degree in Legal Studies and a Paralegal Certificate from Chico State, Heyne moved to D.C. and began working for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV). CSGV has two departments: one is a 501 C4 non-profit organization, the other is a C3 organization which focuses on education. Both types are prohibited from supporting or opposing political candidates. Founded in 1974, CSGV focuses on fighting the gun lobby and educating both leaders, as well as the public, on gun violence and gun ownership. “The C4 [department] has cornered the market in taking on the NRA and this idea that has become politically popular of the Second Amendment being tied together with insurrectionism,” Heyne said. “[This] used to be a fringe concept and is now very much mainstream.”
belong to a militia or military group to purchase a weapon. Heller also ruled that states can ban weapons and determine who is eligible to own guns to prevent violence in their communities. “The important takeaway is that this is a new day for assault weapons bans and is a reminder that just because the gun lobby is promoting this extreme agenda, they still have a right to regulate weapons in the states,” Heyne said. Andrew Gottlieb, director of outreach and development at the Second Amendment Foundation, is not thrilled by the decision.
GUN RELATED DEATHS IN THE U.S. IN 2017
Earlier this year, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a blow to the gun lobby in their decision on Kolbe v. Hogan, which chose to uphold Maryland’s ban on assault weapons. This decision overturns last year’s 2-1 decision by a Fourth Circuit panel to repeal the ban. This decision joins the Fourth Circuit with the Second, Ninth and D.C. circuits, which have upheld similar bans in other states. With this decision the Fourth Circuit approved the Maryland law forbidding the sale of assault weapons and large capacity magazines. The Kolbe decision gives gun control advocates greater standing to push for stronger federal gun laws. Heyne believes the gun lobby will pursue an appeal to the Supreme Court in the wake of the Fourth Circuit’s decision, but there is no promise the court will hear it. “The Kolbe decision is exciting,” Heyne said. “We’ve been looking at this administration and have asked, ‘Where are the checks?’ and have seen the courts aren’t cowering as Congress seems to be with this extreme administration.” This decision reaffirms the Supreme Court’s ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, where it found that handgun ownership is an individual, not collective, right. This means private citizens don’t need to
“To hear the judge say these are military weapons and shouldn’t be in civilian hands is political [and] has nothing to do with Second Amendment,” he said. “It shouldn’t have anything to do with the ruling, [it] is a personal opinion.” Heyne doesn’t see D.C. pushing its laws any further after this decision.
“The D.C. gun death rate is lower than the national average,” he said. “Our homicide rate is higher, but I think there are a lot of reasons for that. [D.C.] is not on an island, [you] can hop on the metro and go to Virginia and buy a gun without a background check without the seller breaking the law.” Firearms remain the primary weapon used to commit homicides in the District, according to the 2015 MPD Annual Report. They accounted for 76 percent of homicides reported in 2015. The use of firearms in homicides has increased in the past few years, from 77 in 2011 to 123 in 2015, almost a 60 percent increase in four years. The majority of homicide victims in D.C. are black males; 85 percent of victims were black men in 2015. Homicide numbers increased in every district, save the Fourth, from 2014 to 2015. The greatest increase was in the Second where there was a 400 percent increase. It was followed by the First, Third, Seventh then Sixth. The large increases in the first two districts is due to low numbers of homicides in both years. For example in 2014 there was only one homicide in the Second District followed by five in 2015. Comparatively the Seventh District had the highest number of homicides, 54, but one of the lowest percent increases since there were 33 in 2014.
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AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE MAGAZINE Over 1,700 firearms were recovered in 2015, with 45 percent coming from the Sixth and Seventh districts, which cover portions of the city east of the Anacostia River and southeast D.C. which includes Anacostia, Naylor Gardens and Washington Highlands. Heyne hopes to see other states adopt similar restrictions on gun ownership. “D.C. gun laws are emblematic of [the] need we have for national gun laws that actually try to do anything to prevent guns getting into the hands of dangerous people,” he said. In 2010, D.C. was close to getting a representative vote in Congress on all issues, but the gun lobby tacked on a provision that would decimate all of D.C.’s gun laws, according to CBS News. “Ultimately D.C. residents weren’t comfortable with that and after people spoke up and that bill went down,” Heyne said. “It just goes to show that it’s a disconnect and how awful it is to be a D.C. resident, not only not having a voice in Congress but don’t even have a voice in governing ourselves.”
“It’s about time we bring common sense to this debate.”
PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS According to a 2013 Harvard Public Health report, 19,392 people committed suicide with guns in 2010. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, and suicide attempts with a firearm are successful 85 percent of the time.
Dickey a Republican representative from Arkansas who proposed it in 1996 in response to the gun control debate heating up after the 1994 election and Clinton’s campaign on gun control legislation. The bill contained clear and prescriptive language: “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” This stipulation, along with the stripping of all funding to gun research, effectively banned gun violence research. But Dickey never intended for the bill to be as far-reaching as it has become. Looking back, Dickey apologized for his actions. “I wish we had started the proper research and kept it going all this time,” Dickey said to the Huffington Post in 2015. In the wake of this bill, the CDC can only collect surveillance data (basically a count) on shootings. The information doesn’t include the circumstances surrounding a shooting, either, says Williams. “It was never gun control [research],” Williams said. “The CDC is all about prevention of illness and injury. We don’t make regulations, we don’t enforce, we just say ‘here is the evidence, x, y, z causes x, y, z, and we recommend these guidelines.’” Though Williams hopes the recent labelling of gun violence a public health crisis will bring change and more funding, she remains practical about its implications. “The NRA lobby is huge and people are terrified that any kind of recommendation for prevention or safety is going to result in taking all of their guns away permanently. It’s ridiculous the mindset they have,” Williams said. “This is a nonpartisan issue,” said Emily Hamm, President of American University’s Democrats and a sophomore from Sacramento, California. “Gun safety is something every American should care about because it’s one of the leading causes of death.”
“We have a public health crisis,” Heyne said. Heyne refutes the notion that nothing can be done about these statistics. “We exist in a place where every year there are 100,000 people killed, wounded or maimed by guns and we aren’t doing anything about it,” Heyne said. “If it was a disease or car accidents, we would be all over it and right now, not only are we not all over it [but] we continue to see a push to stop any kind of regulation.” “We’re doing nothing right now,” Heyne said. “We are doing less than the bare minimum right now.” In 1997, the CDC was banned from doing in-depth research on gun violence after the passage of the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Bill, also known as the Dickey Amendment. It was named after Jay
AU Dems kick started the semester by showing a documentary on the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. They invited Sen. Chris Murphy, (D-Conn.), to speak about the film. Since the shooting, Murphy has been a leading proponent of ‘common sense’ gun law reform. “The film definitely showed parents and the community getting together and lobbying on behalf of victims to pass ‘common sense’ gun reform,” Hamm said.
COMING TOGETHER According to a 2016 CNN report, nearly a third of the world’s mass shootings between 1966 and 2012 took place in the U.S, which has just five percent of the world’s population. According to the Washington Times, D.C. had seven mass shootings in 2012. In 2013, the Navy Yard
POLITICS in D.C. was the scene of a shooting that claimed the lives of 12 people. Despite mass shootings that seem to happen on a weekly basis -- often taking the lives of children, little has been done to combat the violence. According to Our Changing City, an initiative by the Urban Institute, D.C.’s black population has shrunk since the 1980s. Despite these decreases, black males are overwhelmingly the victims of homicides throughout the District. Based on the Urban Institute’s map of 2010 census data, the Sixth and Seventh Districts, where the majority of homicides occur, have mostly black residents. The First and Second districts, on the other hand, have mostly white and Asian residents while also having the lowest homicide rates in the city. These trends speak to the larger issue of race relations in the District and the need for greater cooperation between neighbors of different races.
of the line and say ‘This side is the only side — and it’s the right side — and I’m not stepping towards you.’”
Despite his wins, Heyne will never forget the tragedy that brought him to the table in the first place. “My wife will never even have the opportunity to meet my mother because we allowed a dangerous individual access to guns for … I still don’t know why,” he said. “My mom will never know her grandchildren.”
“It’s about time we bring common sense to this debate,” Heyne said. The two sides of this debate remain at odds largely due to the premise of the debate; liberals want more gun control, conservatives want less — but that doesn’t change the statistics. Antoinette D’Addario is a Junior studying print journalism and criminology.
“People are dying because of this,” Hamm said, “And I think we can all come together on the fact that we don’t want gun violence in America.” From the other side, Gottlieb agrees. “We never want to see someone killed or shot,” he said. The number one goal of gun control supporters is passing a universal background check. “Ninety-one percent of Americans approve this1,” Heyne said. “Seventyfour percent of NRA members agree with background checks. When I talk to people who are out fighting for gun rights and I start talking about policy, a lot of those people agree with the policies themselves.” While Gottlieb does not find background checks useful, he said it’s an area where his side can compromise with the gun control movement to reach an agreement on reducing gun violence. “I think if the pro-gun side came out supporting background checks... we’ll go along with it, [since it] doesn’t affect anyone purchasing a gun legally,” Gottlieb said. “[It] doesn’t stop the problem, [but] may help people see the health side is the problem, not guns.” For Williams, the most important focus for the future is communication. “Appeal to the other side,” she said. “Find out ‘What are your concerns? And what are your beliefs?’ And then address those concerns and those beliefs and try to find a common ground. Not just stand here on my side
A 2016 CNN and ORC International partner study found 92 percent favor a background check on anyone attempting to purchase a weapon.
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EXPECT RESISTANCE Protesting in Trump’s America Written by Anniebee Ospeck Photographed by Melany Rochester In the midst of a dense sea of knitted, pink, pussy hats that flowed down Independence Avenue, messages like “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance” or “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” were written on sign after sign. A heartfelt and harmonic cry could be heard all the way from the Capitol to the National Museum of the American Indian and far beyond in the early afternoon of Jan. 21, 2017. In her ancient native American language, artist and activist Jennifer Kreisberg opened the Women’s March, rallying the crowd with her “fierce vocals.” The haunting war cry and echoing drums moved the once fiery crowd to silence. The march had begun. The New York Times estimates that at least 470,000 people attended the Women’s March the day after President Trump was inaugurated. Additionally, the
paper reported that the Women’s March drew three times as many people as Trump’s inauguration. The Women’s March is one example of a new kind of protest — it’s part of a transnational movement that uses social media to bring people to the streets and further discussions about inequalities. This is not to discount critiques of the Women’s March, from being ableist- discrimination against those with disabilities and drowning out people of color. But it does speak to a new kind of protest.
PROTESTS, PAST AND PRESENT Thomas B. Edsall, a political journalist and author, says the protests that defined much of the 1960s and 1970s — civil rights, gay rights and opposition to the Vietnam War differed greatly from today’s protests. He sees the divide between historic, organized efforts and more recent social media advocacy, as having different end goals. The protests of
POLITICS the past were focused on gaining new rights while the protests of today are mostly focused on the restoration of those rights and protections. “They’re two different entities,” Edsall said. Three recent movements come to mind in this cross examination: the Women’s March, Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. The Women’s March took place largely to affirm women’s rights, and in particular, to assure that women have the right to control their own bodies — including the right to have an abortion. People marched against the threat of the Trump’s administration reducing women’s access to good health care. Though this in some ways proved retroactive as critics surfaced claiming the march was too centered on women’s reproductive organs due to the overwhelming “pussy” rhetoric. Occupy Wall Street started in September 2011 to protest the weakening and repealing of regulations, like the Glass-Steagall Act under Roosevelt. The act protected the market against transnational corporations and huge mergers of investment and commercial banks. Black Lives Matter was created in 2012 in response to the death of Trayvon Martin. The movement is a call to attention and a response to racism in the U.S. Their website reads that they are “working to (re)build the Black liberation movement.” It’s a call to show that the claim ‘racism no longer exists in America’ is a myth.
Black Lives Matter believes that if America is ever to define itself as a non-racist country, then the first step is to stop portraying America as a post-racial society. Black Lives Matter tries to redefine what America is at this moment and what it will be. Protesters are fighting to keep their given rights and protections. Leonard Steinhorn, a professor of public communication at American University, says Americans are fighting for something that is fundamentally different. “The struggle today is over how we define America, what we want America to be, and what we want it to represent,” Steinhorn said. “How do we want to see ourselves and portray ourselves to the rest of the world?”
POLITICAL POLARIZATION AND PROTESTS
Historically, protests have been integral to the democratic process, the same way proposed bills and changes in legislation also shape society. The 1963 March on Washington was organized by a broad coalition of religious, civil rights and labor groups. One of the largest demonstrations ever held in the U.S., it is seen as important in getting both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed. However, with partisanship, a movement can become less about ideals and issues and more
about party collection, that is, gathering for the sole purpose of supporting your party. “It’s a problem for the protest movements because they now are seen as conservatives, or a bunch of lefties complaining,” Edsall said. “They dismiss any legitimacy by saying that’s either x, y or z.” Today, people who identify as socially conservative often refuse to participate in demonstrations that are organized by the left. For example, the Women’s March, although it was not intended to be, was widely seen as a leftist movement Many objectors to abortion did not consider joining the march.
SOCIAL MEDIA CAN EXACERBATE POLARIZATION Social media frames the shift in protest language. According to the Pew Research Center, 48 percent of American internet users get their political news from social media sites like Facebook, almost as many as those who rely on local television channels. On top of this, news stories can have less reach than opinion or local stories. Opinions and local stories tend to be more widely shared on Facebook, while business and world news stories tend to be shared more on Twitter. This results in some of the public consuming opinion news instead of objective journalism. Opinion news acting as factuallyrooted political reporting
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AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE MAGAZINE furthers partisanship because it makes it harder for people to draw their own conclusions. This both caters to confirmation bias and furthers polarized beliefs. “It can undermine any common agreement on what’s true,” Edsall said. “If you don’t have some common agreement on what the facts are, you can’t then negotiate legislation, you can’t negotiate policies.” Social media means that anyone, anywhere, can spew facts or falsehoods on whatever platform they choose, and there are no fact-checking requirements or standards for publishing. Information disseminated by social media, whether true or false, can be picked up by anyone and shared with millions of other people instantaneously. “Social media and polarization reinforce each other, and make the divide larger and larger,” said Edsall.
SOCIAL MEDIA CHANGES THE WAY DEMONSTRATIONS AND PROTESTS FORM The 1963 March on Washington, in which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech, took almost two years of planning and organization. In contrast, expedited by social media tools like Facebook, the Women’s March was put together in about two months in-between the election and the inauguration. Unlike the organizers of the Women’s March, the organizers and demonstrators of the March on Washington worked under threat. Many participants in the expanding civil rights movement endured beatings or were murdered. The Selma to Montgomery marches were bloody. According to Steinhorn, the risks for people involved in protests back in the 60’s and 70’s were much higher than for those who protest today. “It wasn’t just going out and protesting, it was also risking your life and your future,” Steinhorn said. “The stakes were extraordinarily high.” If protesting is less perilous today, social media platforms like Facebook and Eventbrite make it seem almost
effortless to find and participate in rallies and protests. Katie Turner, a first year student majoring in sociology and a participant of many protests and marches, says this ease of access to protests lowers the stakes and creates a bystander effect among activists.
Americans at each demonstration? We know that social media can aggravate the extreme polarization already present. Will popular demonstrations be catalysts for change, or will they help cement polarized positions into immovable fossils?
Facebook events allow potential attendees to mark themselves as “Going” or “Interested.”
We are in an era of the unknown. With the current state of affairs, the number of protests will either escalate or shrink with the subsequent actions of President Trump. Two things are affecting the public and their advocacy: social media and polarization - and they are big game changers. The protests of today are a whole different entity than those of the past.
“You might see that 2,000 people are interested in this, but there’s no saying whether there’s going to be n people there or 2,000,” said Turner. “Even for me, I’ll sometimes click interested on an event if I’m not sure if I’m able to go or not, and then I end up being not able to go. I think that’s made it really complicated for holding people accountable for what their plans are.” The result is that it can be very difficult to gauge how many people will attend a protest or support a cause. Over 470,000 protesters showed up in D.C. for the Women’s March when people were expecting 200,000 protestors. Overall, today, social media makes gathering people together for a demonstration exponentially easier than it was even twenty years ago. Such facility no longer demands that disparate groups band together for common cause. Does this mean that mass demonstrations will be seen as less valid, less effective, because we will no longer see such a wide spectrum of
Anniebee Ospeck is a first year student studying international relations and art history.
DIVERSIT Y AS A B U Z Z WO R D An analysis on how AU defines student diversity Written by Ofonime Idiong Illustrated by Robin Weiner As a teenager growing up in Philadelphia, Alizonaye Hardrick takes pride in her experience coming of age in a space that accepted her for who she was unabashedly. Attending KIPP DuBois College Academy prepared her to take stock in her blackness to navigate life as an adult. It is a part of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) network of schools, which consists of 200 schools in 20 states plus D.C. “I would like to say [KIPP] prepared me for [American University’s] environment, but I wasn’t really prepared to deal with white kids at my school,” Hardrick said. KIPP is a college-preparatory public charter school in Philadelphia. According to their website, Philidelphia KIPP schools are 97 percent black. “It did not sugar coat anything,” Hardrick, a first year studying international relations, said. “They told me that I already have the short end of the stick and I need to work 10 times as hard as anybody else because I am black and I am a female, and stereotypes are basically written all over my body.” But this has not been her experience here. “My high school prided itself on being a team and a family, that was one of our slogans.” Hardrick said. “But [AU] is not about being a team and a family. It is more about people. Either you agree with my views, or you’re against me––and once someone is against someone, they basically bash people and bring people down. This school is not about togetherness at all. This school is very separated.” Some students, like Hardrick, say they experience a disconnect between AU’s rhetoric and their experiences. For a school that, according to Hardrick, touts diversity and inclusion as one of its main selling points, AU fails to deliver on these promises. According to the 2015-2016 Academic Data Reference book, published by the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, AU’s undergraduate student demographics breaks down to: 7 percent international, 11.9 percent Hispanic, 0.01 percent American Indian, 7
percent Asian American, 6.9 percent black, 58.2 percent white and 4.7 percent multiethnic. “[Defining diversity] depends how you put it. If you base it on where people come from, yes [you have it]. For example, my roommate is white, but he grew up in Asia his entire life, and went to school in China,” Anthony Gray, a first year student studying CLEG, said. “If you do it by just race, I don’t think so at all. I kind of feel a little duped by it.” Diversity also depends on how numbers are framed. Sometimes international students are included, sometimes they are not. “AU has false advertisement,” Hardrick said. “They don’t tell you that until you come here and realize that ‘oh, their diversity is international students,’ when really they didn’t accept that many black kids at all, and there is nothing I can do about it because I am already enrolled in the school. ... I don’t necessarily wish I could have gone to an HBCU, but I wish I went to a school that was actually diverse and not a school that falsely advertises their diversity.” Diversity differs from inclusion. According to the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), diversity relates to representation. This means that, in a diverse space, students of color may still be ostracized. Inclusion can be thought of as being celebrated, welcomed and having a place on campus. On a campus that is diverse, but not inclusive, students of color may deal with microaggressions--the casual degradation of any marginalized group that can leave some students feeling ignored, marginalized and deemed unimportant. They might also have to endure subtle or indirect remarks of discrimination or feel at odds with institutional policies. “AU advertises diversity and inclusion, but once you come here it’s a different tune cause you’re actually living in it,” said Cory Myrtil, a first year student studying International Relations. “You realize that, what they advertised to you, might not be what you actually live in and have to go to class with.”
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AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE MAGAZINE In 2016, AU had its own incident when a banana was thrown at a DEFINING PWIS AND HWCUS woman on campus in September. Neither the University of Oklahoma The term PWI, or predominantly white institution, is common in and the University of Arizona replied to multiple attempts for social justice circles. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, the current president of the comment. These national incidents are not separate from the everyday American Sociological Association and professor at Duke, writes that we must begin to see PWIs as “Historically White Colleges and Universities.” microaggressions students of color face. We sent several requests for interviews to Bonilla-Silva, but he did not “My experience [at AU] has not been pleasant at all, I feel like everything respond. is a race issue for me,” Hardrick said. “Students who are not minorities will make comments, and won’t realize that the things they say are very Bonilla-Silva writes, “Most colleges and universities in the USA are racist. And I have to deal with that, and once I say something about that white-oriented and white-led. ... These institutions reproduce whiteness being racist, they say that everything is not a race issue.” through their curriculum, culture, demography, symbols, traditions, and ecology.”
TRANSITIONING TO AU
He also writes that students of color will never be welcome because they forever will be seen as “Affirmative Action babies.” I have experienced this. I, Ofonime Idiong, am a first generation student. My father came here in the 1980s to build a better life for me and my mother. Eleven years ago my mother and I came to the U.S. I took the hardest classes I could get into. I deserve to attend AU and I share this sentiment with many other students of color: We worked hard, so we deserve to attend the best school possible. What people forgot to tell us is that it was going to be a mental challenge every day. These tensions can be exacerbated by microaggressions in all aspects of campus life. Microaggressions can turn a school into a battleground, making students uncomfortable on a campus that does not represent them. In 2014, the University of Arizona students held an MLK day party in which pictures surfaced on Instagram with students in saggy pants drinking out of watermelons. In 2015, The University of Oklahoma made national news when their Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity chapter’s video leaked of them singing an old fraternity song which used the N word multiple times and featured the line, “You can hang him from a tree, but he will never sign with SAE.”
STEP stands for Summer Transition Enrichment Program. STEP is an invite-only program run by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion designed to help students transition to university. According to Shannon Smith, the Assistant Director of Student Success and Transition at CDI, STEP is part of conditional admittance. Smith started in this position in February of this year and was not involved in last year’s programming. About 90 students receive their admittance to AU with the condition that they go through STEP. Last year, 49 students went through the program. During the seven-week residential program, students attend two classes paid for by AU: A pre-college writing course and either Cross Cultural Communications or a math course. The latter counts for credit. Students are chosen for STEP by the Admissions Office based upon things like a test score or something in their essay that they see. While Smith does not know the algorithm Admissions uses, he says that students who are chosen are identified as having potential to “do amazing” at AU after going through STEP combined with their incoming skills and experiences. According to statistics Smith provided, last year’s STEP program was 46 percent Black, 9 percent White, 2 percent Asian, 4 percent Native American and 39 percent Latinx. According to Smith, there are usually “a number” of students who are first generation.
CAMPUS LIFE Students in the STEP class of 2016 often refer to AU as “the White sea.” And while STEP may be designed for students to become better acquainted to college life, for some including myself and Myrtil, they did not get that. “I didn’t like that I didn’t know why I was part of STEP,” Myrtil said. “On one part there were people and students that did STEP in previous years and were talking to us like we should be ashamed that we are part of STEP. Even now when I talk to students they don’t know what STEP is.” For Myrtil, STEP is an institutional failure on the part of the university because it does not create a true sense of campus culture. Myrtil also says that a lot of the very interactive group activities promoted by STEP literature was never seen through fruition and the program overall was not anything like it was advertized. “So it just kind of like the mystery of why these 49 people were chosen,” Myril said. “Everyone was really smart. I felt like I was a really good student in high school that even if I didn’t do STEP, I could succeed or even learn from my mistakes and do better in college without a transitioning program, so I guess the [issue is] not knowing why I was the ‘chosen one’.” But she did acknowledge that STEP helped her receive credit for her major and put her in contact with a professor who is mentoring her. “[But] that’s really the only very impactful thing that STEP did,” Myrtil said. Smith describes the program as “very successful” at helping students transition into college as measured by GPAs, retention rates and tracking the data across the board. They work with the students over their four years. He did not provide numbers of how many students followed up with the program, but says that several students continually meet with CDI. At the end of the program, Smith says that the STEP students fill out evaluation forms where they answer questions about if they feel they are adequately prepared for the fall or how much they feel part of the community. Smith says that even though he is new to the program, he has resources like timelines, reports, schedules and templates and has met with people to revise and work on STEP.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Some felt that AU lied and that their voices are not heard. “I feel like the more influential kids, or kids of affluent people often like get treated better than people who aren’t as important, or whose parents aren’t as important in the world,” Hardrick said. “And that’s not right. If things go down and that kid is rich, then that kid is off the hook. It’s sad to say, but that’s the truth.” We want to go to an institution that is actually diverse and inclusive. We want our voices to be heard and to live in a community that acknowledges us. There is a belief among students of color that campuses across the nation need to do better, accept students of color, and not just fill a quota but actually enrich the campus community. “It’s not something where you walk in and you step your foot on American University turf and instantly there’s all this diversity smacking you in the face. So I feel like if your gonna advertise diversity and inclusion please don’t do it so apparent, don’t do it so big,” Myrtil said. “That’s really the only thing that motivated me to come. Here I am at this academically amazing, very successful institution [where] I can get all this networking connections. I can be in the middle of D.C. that’s gonna help me with my major, and also it’s diverse, but that one aspect was kind of falsely advertised.” This looks like hiring more professors and staff that look like us, instead of it just being “the help”. The AU cleaning crew is Latino, the food staff is black, but our teachers and administrators are white. We need to do better for our students, and on top of that, we should dismiss the rhetoric that students of color get an easy pass just because they are black Affirmative action may be there, but it has yet to make a dent. “I do not feel included at AU, especially what I identify with is a black woman,” Myrtil said. “I feel like AU has this stigma where a lot of people look down and feel like they are better than us, not even just black people. … I feel like everyone has this view that they need to like outshine others because you know, they feel like they are smarter and have better connections and things. But at the end of the day, I got into the same institution you did.” Ofonime Idiong is a first year student studying Communication, Legal Institutions, Economics and Government (CLEG).
“We are all constantly trying to make things better,” Smith said. “For me, I truly don’t have a reference [of being on the ground level] for how STEP went. Like for me, I’m looking at papers and different forms and things so I have an idea on paper how it went, [and] just what people are telling me. So for me, I’m definitely open to making changes and things like that. And even next year, when I’ve done STEP, I will still be open to how we can change it.”
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CLOSE D D O ORS , CLOSE D BORDER S The Muslim Ban on campus
Written by Reina DuFore Illustration by Andrea Lin After returning to the United States as an international student at AU in 2016, Noman Ahmed Ashraf found that the political climate had changed. Nationals from Yemen were currently banned from entering the United States—Ashraf is from Yemen. Following the initial announcement of President Trump’s executive order “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into The United States,” nationals from Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, and Syria were banned from entering the United States for 90 days. Although the executive order was updated on March 16, 2017 to exempt Iraq and clarify confusing language, the message was still clear: The United States is closing its doors. “In some ways, [the ban] reminded me of 9/11 … where I felt like the US was beginning to, in many ways, close itself to the rest of the world,” said Dr. Fanta Aw, the Vice President of Campus Life at AU. “At a time when we have to be thinking about how we are interconnected, this is not the time to retreat because this will have a chilling effect on the rest of the world.” Many international students, like Ashraf, try to facilitate a sense of interconnectedness when they study abroad in the United States. However, the temporary ban on some nationals, as well as the promise to tighten screening and vetting for obtaining visas, is directly affecting those who had planned to come here. “People come here to study, to exchange cultures,” Ashraf said. “And when I was here on my exchange year in high school, I felt like I was
“People shouldn’t have to be scared to live their lives.” 25
bridging the gap, linking things together, and getting to know the two cultures. All of a sudden that is going to be destroyed because that is not going to happen anymore.” For many the executive order is not just a ban, but a message of, ‘You’re not welcome.’ Those from affected countries are beginning to worry about the sentiments that the United States holds towards them. Aw says this could affect their desire to come here. “There’s real fear of xenophobia that’s setting in that I think, for families and for students, will certainly give them pause about whether or not the U.S. is the place to currently be,” Aw said. “And I think that will have an impact for university enrollments in the fall.” As of now, many international students want to come to the United States to study. According to the Institute of International Education, a nonprofit organization that focuses on international student exchange and aid, there are currently 1,043,839 international students in the U.S. There are 15,840 students from the seven originally banned countries. Although the updated ban does not affect students who currently have a valid visa, students are still apprehensive that their situations could change at any minute as a result of Trump’s policies. “To be so far from home and from all you know in the pursuit of your education, because you believe that education is such an important asset,” Aw said. “To then find that there is this executive order … I was really concerned that it would create fear for students. And I didn’t want that to be the case.” During his campaign, President Trump called for a “complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Given his campaign promises, the current political climate and the implementation of the executive order has evoked a sense of uncertainty and worry among students.
“I was more worried about my friends. I was worrying things could go bad,” Ashraf said. “I know some friends who are thinking about what if Trump decided to deport all of the people from the seven countries, including students.”
President’s Trump’s reasoning behind the executive order implementation is to strengthen national security. According to the White House press release for the executive order, its purpose is to to detect and prevent individuals with terrorist ties from entering the United States. The release says that there have been numerous cases of foreign-born individuals either involved in or responsible for terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001. According to a report from the Cato Institute, a public policy research organization, only 17 out of the 154 foreign-born people convicted of carrying out or attempting to carry out a terrorist attack in the U.S. from 1975 to 2015 were from the countries listed on the travel ban. As a result, protesters termed the executive order as a “Muslim Ban,” because it targets Muslim-majority countries. It has been labeled an act of bigotry rather than a necessary national security measure. “You’re way disproportionately scared of something that is not going to hurt you,” said Jeta Luboteni, Vice President of the Muslim Student Association, a religious organization that maintains Islamic societies at AU. “There are other things that you can pressure your government to do to not have [terrorism] happen.”
However, Ashraf explained how international students view the executive order as more than just strengthening national security. “All of a sudden when [international students] hear a ban for seven countries and the government here in the U.S. relating it to National Security … they are not going to respect the fact that America wants to keep itself safe,” Ashraf said. “They are going to think that America is becoming more racist and they are going to think that America is becoming more isolationist and trying to separate us.” Considering that anti-Muslim hate groups in the United States tripled from 34 to 101 during President Trump’s campaign trail, the executive order was indicative of his campaign promises. However, that leaves many students feeling scared and vulnerable. “I feel like there are a lot of international students here who are not willing to risk them being here to go to some MSA event … and people shouldn’t have to be scared to live their lives,” Luboteni said. Aw said that the intended or unintended message the executive order is sending is doing more harm than good for the safety of the United States. “One of the ways to strengthen your national security is to build friends and allies around the world,” explained Aw. “It is the single most potent national security you can get.”
Reina DuFore is a sophomore studying international relations.
Despite this, 7 in 10 Americans report that they are very or somewhat concerned about extremism in the name of Islam, according to the Pew Research Center. 54 percent say that they approve of the executive order.
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DISCLAIMER Accurate story about fake news Written by Laura Saini Image courtesy of Elizabeth Murphy & Creative Commons from Flickr
On Dec. 4, 2016, Edgar Welch, 28, walked into Comet Ping Pong, a pizzeria in D.C. and fired three shots in the restaurant. He believed Hillary Clinton was operating a hidden, child sex-trafficking ring in the restaurant. He has since plead guilty on March 24, 2017 to charges of assault and faces up to 20 years in prison. Despite that the FBI determined that there was no sex-trafficking out of Comet Ping Pong, online “investigators” said differently on Reddit. Twitter bots, or Twitter counts that work to expand the reach of stories by retweeting them with frequency, spread the story to far-right news sites. The lies spread were fake news, or purposeful misinformation under the guise of it being true. As seen with Comet Ping Pong, fake news can cause potential violence. Fake news has since become a topic following the election of Donald Trump, in which fake news targeting Trump supporters was circulated on social media. Fake news is troublesome for communication professionals as they try to combat it and even define it.
“Some integrity is undermined by the business nature of the industry.” a public relations firm. “That doesn’t mean content is untrue, but some integrity is undermined by the business nature of the industry.” There is a fine line that journalists must walk to attract readers but still present accurate information. Attention-grabbing headlines draw people to stories like moths to a flame, which in turn grows profits. According to Pew Research, only 47 percent of people who get their news on smartphones click to read the article. The other 53 percent only read headlines. This fact can encourage the media to create more clickbait content, meaning headlines are created for the main purpose of generating online advertising revenue. For the sake of profits, headlines try to be eye-catching but can also be misleading. But where does the line from a sensationalized headline cross into fake news?
Maggie Farley spoke at a fake-news panel Feb. 27 at AU with other communication professionals. They said that journalism attempts to give readers the full context so they can decide for themselves what to believe. However, the news media still must rely on profits to continue running. Sometimes that means promoting sensational headlines.
“Fake news is knowingly false information made for some kind of game or end result,” said Maggie Farley, a digital media professional and fellow at AU.
“Adversarial headlines help promote more clicks,” said Anthony LaFauce, vice president of digital communications at Porter Novelli,
There is a difference between a journalist who makes a mistake in a rush to publish and someone purposefully posting inaccurate news
stories to deceive people. “There are protocols old-school journalism goes through,” said Gross, principal at the public relations firm Scott Circle. “Like fact checking and getting two or more sources. The orientation is not to deceive.” News organizations are starting to run campaigns to emphasize the importance of truth in a post-truth world. For example, The New York Times ran a television ad for the first time in seven years. It promoted the idea that although the truth may be difficult to know today, it is more important than ever. The Washington Post also added a new slogan to its website: democracy dies in darkness. This emphasizes that journalism can help the public make rational, informed decisions. “I was a journalism major and I truly trust our journalism and our democratic society,” Gross said. “But with social media, everything is different. Fake news spreads like wildfire. Stories don’t have to have sources, statistics or studies.” Organizations such as Politifact and FactCheck, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which fact-check political stories, are working with Facebook to combat fake news in
social media. Facebook is now flagging stories that are considered inaccurate. The link will contain a disclaimer stating that the facts are disputed by FactCheck or other organizations. “If they see that it has a disputed link, hopefully people won’t share the article around,” said Eugene Kiely, director of FactCheck. “The sooner the correct information is out there and presented in a way that people can access it at the same time they’re getting the misinformation, that’s the ideal situation.” However, there is no guarantee people will stop sharing the disputed links. “People are going to believe what they want to believe,” Kiely said. “Sometimes even when presented with accurate information people don’t want to acknowledge it.” In other words, it is ultimately up to the public to decide what they want to believe in. Google just recently added a fact check label to its news and searches. The results page will feature information about the claim, who made the claim and whether the claim is true, false or somewhere in between.This will help provide the proper context about disputed claims on the internet, helping lessen the real-life implications of fake news. “The reason it’s so hard to fight fake news is because it identifies with intense emotions and doesn’t provide the context,” Farley said. “If it makes you really angry or really excited, it’s not likely true. That’s a red flag.”
Laura Saini is a senior studying journalism and law.
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A REAL GAME
CHANGER The gamble on social impact games Written by Sara Winegardner Illustrated by Robin Weiner After returning home, your house is empty. Your family is gone. You move from room to room, piecing together what happened while you were away. This is the premise of Gone Home, a social impact mystery game that explores topics like LGBTQ+ representation and domestic abuse. Players of both popular action games and more story-driven titles contemplate decisions that will forever alter their in-game worlds. Other games, however, explore what could happen if we focused that time on examining the
“It’s actually about trying to make the world a better place through game design.” 29
problems in the world around us. These are called social impact games. According to the Entertainment Software Association’s 2016 industry report on gaming habits, 63 percent of U.S. households had at least one frequent gamer, making gaming a fertile ground to spread messages of social change. Social impact games serve a bigger purpose than entertainment. They drive conversation and action. Rather than being virtual escapes from the real world, players confront problems people face every day, like environmental sustainability or the War on Drugs. Lindsay Grace, the founder and director of the American University Game Lab and Studio, sees gaming as a unique platform for making positive change in the world. He’s made it the focus of his career as a video game designer and a key component of his program at AU. “It’s not just about employing engagement strategies in games,” Grace said. “It’s actually about trying to make the world a better place through game design.” A few projects, such as Gone Home, have received critical recognition. However, there are still barriers that block impactful games from becoming commercial successes and household names. Some of these barriers
include smaller promotion budgets and limited developer resources, but the control of the gaming industry by big-name developers like Activision and EA makes it especially difficult for independent game designers to make it. Grace knows the independent developer’s experience firsthand. His game designs like Wait––a unique piece that rewards the player for just standing still––have been honored as some of the best social impact games in the past decade by the Games for Change Festival Hall of Fame. However, he sees inherent differences between mainstream titles’ development and the development of more impactful games––differences that restrict the genre to its niche audiences. “The social impact game space is always going to struggle the same way that a documentary is going to struggle,” Grace said. “When you’re comparing yourself to what we call triple-A games, that are the equivalent of a Hollywood film, the lure is different.” Social impact games are growing more common because of the rise of small, independent teams with tight budgets, Grace said. Some of these games include Gone Home or Papers, Please (a game that provides dark but humorous commentary on dystopia and authoritarianism). These teams target very specific audiences very well and own those spaces.
Bri Williams, a student in the MA Game Design program at American University, believes that college programs devoting themselves to creating games for social impact could play a role in expanding the audience seeking those experiences. “If more people are making social change games or any type of impactful games, they have the chance of getting to a wider audience, which makes people hopefully do more research on the subjects,” Williams said. Williams, who primarily works on narrative designs and improving the functionality of artificial intelligence in video games, foresees a rise in the popularity of independent titles, especially with the increased pool of creative talent to draw from. “Hopefully, that’ll also mean that AAA spaces will say, ‘Okay, there’s something going on, we need to see this through without being ignorant of the subject,” Williams continued. Other industry players like Susanna Pollack, president of Games for Change, also see a future where these games with a bigger purpose begin to rise to the level of more popular, mainstream titles. One example is That Dragon, Cancer, which tells the story of a family dealing with the terminal cancer diagnosis of their
young son. The game received recognition at the 2016 Game Awards and at the Games for Change Awards in the same year. Pollack hopes for a rise in the popularity of games with a greater social mission, following the attention surrounding critical darlings like That Dragon, Cancer. “There is more of an acceptance of smaller titles with different modes of experiences,” Pollack said. “[They] may not have the production values or the typical kind of gameplay that would attract the more commercial critical eye.” Games For Change is facilitating this acceptance as much as possible, developing and running game design competitions that allow some of the best talent to surface.
“Games that are now ubiquitous in our society have this fantastic opportunity to bring some of these strong messages and learning opportunities to society,” Pollack said. She said mainstream franchises should release socially impactful games. Grace and Pollack say the greater accessibility of game design and more game design programs could help create the next big game for change. “Where I think we have a big win,” Pollack said “[is that we] have an opportunity to inform these game developers that the work that they’re doing doesn’t have to fit solely in the entertainment space, that there are real societal benefits that can happen through game making.”
Pollack says she is optimistic that independent studios will continue to receive attention and grow an audience. Although independent studios are seeing more success, there is still the question of how the first mainstream social impact game could be backed by a major distributor like Sony or Microsoft. This, Pollack says, is the “million dollar question.”
Sara Winegardner is a junior studying print journalism.
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TOO LIGHT Media representation of Latinas
Written by Allison Tovar Illustrations by Maria Carrasco Infographics by Casey Chiapetta
In 2015, Popsugar ran a post titled, “Kylie Jenner is Basically a Mix of All Your Favorite Latina Celebrities.” It said her style reflected stereotypical Latina fashions, like winged eye liner, hoop earrings, defined lips and a curvaceous body. But she’s not Latina. Jenner is mostly English, with some Dutch, Irish, Scottish, German and Welsh ancestry. The article was criticized by several news outlets like Cosmopolitan and Teen Vogue, prompting Popsugar to issue an apology a week later. It reads, “we know Kylie is not Latina and never meant to imply that she was; we were simply trying to point out the influence our strong, passionate community has on others..” The choice of Kylie Jenner, a non-Latina, as a Latina beauty icon demonstrates the lack of representation of Latinas in mainstream media. This can make it difficult for young Latina women, who lack role models that look like them.
“There’s not a lot about showcasing [women] doing community work and giving back to their community.”
“[The] idea of what is possible is limited,” said Bernadita Yunis, a professor teaching “Latinx Identities and Stereotypes in the U.S.” at George Washington University. “Being able to break through and become things we have not seen takes a lot of effort.” In 2015, only one cover of Cosmopolitan featured a Latina: Demi Lovato, a light skinned, half Mexican celebrity not widely known for her Hispanic origins. In 2016, the number remained the same. Jessica Alba was featured—also a light skinned, whitepassing Latina. “I don’t see Latinas portrayed very much and I think if they’re lighter Latinas, you can’t really see what their ethnicity is,” said Abigail Zapote, vice president of League of United Latin American Citizen Youth Nationals at AU, an organization that aims to advance the rights of Hispanic Americans.
This trend is called colorism, where people of color with light skin are seen as superior to those who are dark skinned. The Latinas who pass as white are more often on Cosmopolitan covers, while darker skinned Latinas are rarely featured. This can lead audiences to believe there is one common type of beauty, limiting diverse representations of Latinas. “So you may ask, ‘What is a Latina then?’” Yunis said. “You should let people tell you who they are.” Not only are Latina representations limited, but those represented are often hypersexualized. Think of Sofia Vergara as Gloria on Modern Family and Eva Longoria as Gabrielle on Desperate Housewives. Both play stereotypical fiery Latinas that wear skin tight clothing and use their sexual prowess to get what they want. “The Latinas presented in mainstream culture are loud, fiery, and always have something
to say,” Zapote said. “There’s not a lot about showcasing [women] doing community work and giving back to their community.” When these stereotypes are applied in everyday situations, they can enforce intersectional biases. Latinas face discrimination and experience oppression both as people of color and as women. Some Latina women face the challenge of not receiving immediate respect because of the few portrayals of Latinas. According to the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), “Latin[x]s comprise over 16 percent of the U.S., but only own a handful of TV and radio stations.” The lack of Latinx representation in media ownership is one contributing factor to their white-washing and oversexualization in the media. Frances M. Beal in the pamphlet, Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female, says Latinas’ identity is simultaneously shaped by their female gender and their Hispanic ethnicity. Therefore, they face a ‘double jeopardy’ because
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“Many times I feel like [Latina] women are used as objects, rather than for their expertise and true value. It often makes me feel valueless.”
their identity is partially formed by both sexual and racial stereotypes. “Many times I feel like [Latina] women are used as objects, rather than for their expertise and true value. It often makes me feel valueless,” said Sheila Escobedo Zazueta, a Latina student and a member of the Latinas Promoviendo Comunidad/Lambda Pi Chi sorority at American University. However, Yunis and Zapote say television finally has a popular TV show that represents a Latina straying from the norm: “Jane the Virgin.” Gina Rodriguez plays Jane Villanueva, a dark skinned, independent, young writer and mother that does not wear hyper-sexualized clothing, has a loving personality and pursues her academic goals. In real life, Rodriguez is actively involved with National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts and other Hispanicoriented organizations. Yunis says the fact that the character Jane is focused on her career is important, but
mainstream media should get to the point where these roles are the norm. “Rodriguez has been deliberate and intentional with the choices she makes as an actress. … She wanted to make sure she didn’t participate in promoting those stereotypes,” Yunis said. Rodriguez pushes boundaries not only in her acting, but in her professional life as well. She is the co-founder of Naja, a women’s lingerie company. Its website says it seeks to create a brand that empowers women instead of objectifying them. The women’s poses are not hyper-sexual or geared towards the male gaze. It also says it primarily employs single mothers or female heads-of-households, while providing above-market wages and healthcare benefits. Naja recently launched its Nude for All collection, which features women who are not models in its ads. The women work in all ranges of fields, from software engineer to professional ballerina. Nude for All features seven styles of nude underwear, which is meant to include women of all shapes, sizes and colors.
Overall, we are taking a step towards more representation of Latinas. However, there is still more work to be done. The mass media is a tool for the reinforcement of preexisting norms, and with those, come racial and gender stereotypes. As shown by Sofia Vergara’s character in Modern Family, there is a tendency, within entertainment industry, to oversimplify the portrayal of minorities partially due to weak identification with them. “You are losing out on a culture by not representing them well,” Zapote said.
Allison Tovar is a first year studying Communication, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government (CLEG).
SEXUALIZATION OF FEMALE TV CHARACTERS WEARING SEXY CLOTHING
WHITE LATINO BLACK
REFERENCED AS ATTRACTIVE 10%
Data is from the Comprehendive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment (2016)
HOW REPRESENTATIVE ARE CHARACTERS OF THE U.S. POPULATION? 77.1 71.7 RACIAL MAKEUP OF US POPULATION % ETHNICITY OF CHARACTERS WITH SPEAKING ROLES %
Data is from the US Census (2015) and the Comprehendive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment (2016)
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ERICKA MENCHENTREVINO Redefining tech with informed consent By Jessica Wombles Photo provided by Ericka Menchen-Trevino
Ericka Menchen-Trevino is an assistant professor in the School of Communication at American University. Her research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of political communication and digital media studies, with a focus on methodology. Before coming to work at AU, Ericka was an assistant professor at Erasmus University in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. She has worked as a research lab manager, an ethnographic research consultant, a grant writer, a technical writer, a web designer, and a technical support representative. Currently, Ericka is developing a research software called Web Historian. AWOL sat down with her to discuss the importance of informed consent and the ways citizens receive and process information online. How did you get your start in media studies? Well I was actually interested in the internet and digital things since high school, which was when the internet began, so that was an exciting time when you could chat with people from all over the world. So I did that and I had a website in 1995, so I’ve had a website for 20 years. … I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and I did my undergrad at Loyola University in Chicago where I majored in cultural anthropology, which seems different from what I’m doing now but there’s still some continuity. Then I got my masters in digital media and communication studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. So I expanded from ethnographic work into more content analysis and interviews during that process, and then I did my PhD at Northwestern where I worked in a survey research lab and a behavioral research lab. There, I co-developed some software with a programmer for my dissertation where I looked at digital traces as well as survey data and interviews with the same individuals around the 2010 midterms in Illinois.
MEDIA That was my first experience sort of co-developing a software product — that was called Roxy, a research proxy. So I published an article about that. Then I got a job at Erasmus University in Rotterdam in the Netherlands and that’s where I thought of the idea for the Web Historian project. The Roxy approach to gathering data relied on a proxy server which back in 2010 could gather almost everything that you did online, but now you notice that almost all of the websites you go to start with HTTPS, which breaks that particular system. So I needed a new way to go about it and one of the questions about data from Roxy was, “Do people behave differently when they know they’re being watched?” And you can’t actually answer that question directly, but one of the benefits from [Web Historian] is that with collecting web history data, the data was created before the person was in a study, so their behavior is not influenced by the study itself. What is Web Historian? And what does it do? The impetus for creating Web Historian was that for social science, it’s really important that we study digital traces and the sort of digital footprints that people make. That is the way world works today. So I think it’s really important that we collect this information to the extent that we can, but we also have to do it in a different way than what corporations do. The general mode of operation is you get this legalistic form and you don’t understand it and you have no real options about what data you’re providing to [corporations]. So [Web Historian] is sort of a different approach to informed consent, and gathering digital traces for research purposes. And basically it visualizes data that’s already on your computer, which is your web browsing history. You may not realize it’s already on your computer, so it’s educational in that regard, and it’s also educational in the fact that your browsing history is not only on your computer, it’s also on your internet provider’s computer, and all the websites you visit have pieces of that information as well. So I think the educational component is important. In terms of research data, the goal is to collect trace data in a way that the informed consent process is actually informative and consensual, which is more radical than it sounds. One of the projects that I’m doing his summer is trying to understand more which of the visualizations are more informative to people and what kind of information are they getting from these visualizations. I can tell you that seeing the data is more informative than not seeing it at all. Which is a different approach you could take and has been taken, but I would argue that is [harmful to the user], because I could ask you, “Would you consent to providing your web browsing history for my research project?” And in theory you could say yes, but that would not be informed consent unless you really knew what I was asking for.
Jessica Wombles is a senior studying communication studies and minoring in international relations.
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AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE MAGAZINE
HAVANA IN PHOTOS Photos and Captions by Casey Chiappetta & Kade Freeman
CAPITOL UNDER CONSTRUCTION El Capitolio is currently home to the Cuban Academy of Sciences. Restoration began in 2013 to restore its function as a government building set to house Cubaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s National Assembly.
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EL REVOLUCIÓN Top left: “Batista flees,” taken at the Museo de la Revolución. Bottom left: Street art along the Malecón seawall along Cuba’s northern coast. Bottom center left: Police officer standing along Paseo de Martí. Top right: “We continue to defend the revlution,” taken on Calle de San Lazaro in Central Havana. Right: a statue of Jose Martí, a Cuban national hero in Parque Central. Center right: Street art along the Malecón seawall.
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LIFE IN HAVANA Top left: A scene in Central Havana. Top right: Fishermen on the Malecรณn. Middle left: Salvador, the artist behind Callejรณn de Hamel. Bottom left: A child and his grandmother walking on the Malecรณn. Bottom right: Old Havana at sunset. 41 41
Top left: Callejón de Hamel, a street featuring Afro-Cuban art. Top right: Outside of Universidad de San Gerónimo de La Habana. Bottom left: Government rations shop. Bottom right: Paseo de Martí.
Casey Chiappetta is a senior studying sociology. Kade Freeman is a senior studying economics.
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Havana in Photos, p. 37
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