Fall 2014 Issue 1

Page 1




FALL [2014]








photos by leah klafczynski (cover); katie welles (ice bucket challenge)

FALL 2014 THE ISSUE 48 54

NIGHTFALL As the conversation about sexual assault heats up, Chrissy Suttles offers perspective through personal experience.

FRESHMAN PRESIDENT: A TEAM PLAYER’S TRANSITION TO HEAD COACH President Beverly Warren takes a team approach to her new leadership role as she addresses higher education issues important to Kent State students.


A SHARED GRIEF The entire Kent State community felt the loss of Jason Bitsko. Now, those closest to him remember his lasting effect.


HISTORY 12 FADING A look inside the Kent Masonic

Temple and its struggle to survive.

HAUNTS 16 KENT Community members share their

experiences with local spirits and poltergeists.





20 The new anonymous thoughtEVERYBODY TALKS


sharing app Yik Yak is popular with students, but is it harmless fun or time not well-spent?


HILARY 24 AWAITING A look at the grassroots initiative gaining support in Kent.

THEIR EYES 26 THROUGH With tensions in the Middle East

rising, local veterans discuss how the Islamic State has gained power and how to combat its strength.




POINTS 32 COUNTER Kent State’s youngest and oldest

students reflect on their journeys to college at two different generational points in their lives.

TO SHOW THE WORLD 34 HERE Former Kent State wrestler and


WWE champion Nick Nemeth talks to Richie Mulhall about living his dream and rebranding his image.



CHAMPION OF HUMAN RIGHTS? The controversial professor addresses his contentious views.

TO THE KINGDOM 44 RETURN Mark Oprea explores the influx of



Saudi Arabian students and the scholarship that made it possible.


6 8 62 64


PhotoS by caitlin smith (34); submitted photo by R. jay wilkinson

Steven Hook


I would say this is the most turbulent period in world politics I’ve seen since I became a foreign policy specialist [in 1993].”

Christina Bucciere EDITOR IN CHIEF Kelsey Husnick MANAGING EDITOR Chrissy Suttles Senior Editor Patrick Williams Senior Editor RACHEL MULLENAX ART DIRECTOR Nathan Druss ASSISTANT ART DIRECTOR Leah Klafczynski PHOTO EDITOR Jacob Byk Multimedia Editor MARISSA BARNHART COPY CHIEF Jen Hawk WEB Producer

A note from christina bucciere

JENNIE BARR Promotions director Jacqueline Marino ADVISER

With this issue of The Burr comes powerful changes. Two extremes marked the beginning of our new semester: the welcoming of new President Beverly Warren and the mourning of beloved Kent State football player Jason Bitsko’s death. Change is often the basis for any piece of writing. To make sense of how or why it happened and, most importantly, how it will affect our lives, we write. President Warren has brought a different, palpable spirit to campus through her team approach to leadership, and I look at how this will translate into the kind of president she will be. And the death of Jason Bitsko brought a sadness that touched not just his football team, but the entire Kent State community and even the national football network. But writer Mariam Makatsaria reveals the immense joy Jason brought to his family and teammates. Even international change has touched our campus. senior editor Patrick Williams talks to Kent State Iraq and Afghan-war veterans about the Islamic State’s territorial gains in Iraq and Syria. The veterans react to the chaos after fighting to protect that region from the extremism now tearing it apart. And writer Mark Oprea reports on the increase of Saudi Arabian students at Kent State because of a scholarship program. He investigates what that means for the future of Saudi Arabia’s social and political climate when, or if, the students return home. And after President Obama released a memorandum in January reinvigorating a national conversation about sexual assault on college campuses, senior editor Chrissy Suttles writes about how sexual assault changed her life—and the ways it didn’t. We write about change because it is inevitable—and heartbreaking, exciting and uncertain. But our staff has worked hard to make sure one thing doesn’t change with this new issue: The Burr’s dedication to telling great stories.

WRITERS Mariam Makatsaria, SAMANTHA ICKES, Rachel Duthie, Richie Mulhall, Mark Oprea PHOTOGRAPHERS ANDREA NOALL, SAMANTHA PLACE, Caitlin Smith, Katie welles, Emily Kaelin, Melanie Nesteruk, Kristi Garabrandt COPY EDITORS Heather Inglis, Courtney Middleton, Kayla Madden, Jillian Holness DESIGNERS brittney esther, Jen hawk, samantha mix, Brenna Parker, Stephanie Zolton ILLUSTRATORS Thomas HaAse, Chad Lewis


Thanks for reading.


Photo by leah klafczynski


THROUGH THE LENS: LOOKING BACK AT THE CHESTNUT BURR When the Oakland, California, police force came to Kent State in November 1968 to recruit students, Black United Students protested. It started with a walk-out, and continued with “a sit-in and a walk-out; a teach-in and a boycott,” according to the 1969 issue of the Chestnut Burr. The Oakland Police Department was publicly against the Black Panther Party that BUS students supported, and “BUS said by allowing the ‘racist’ force on campus, the university was condoning racial discrimination.”

Jump ahead to September 2014, and BUS is still actively involved in protests—this time against the Ferguson, Missouri, police department. The students dressed in all black and held a “die-in” in Risman Plaza, representing African-American victims of police brutality: Michael Brown, who was killed by police in Ferguson, and Trayvon Martin, who was killed by a neighborhood watchman in Miami in 2012. Students lay on the ground with signs reading, “I am a man,” and “Take the targets off our backs!”



photo by graham smith

The Chestnut Burr was Kent State’s student-produced yearbook, published from 1914 to 1985. In 1986, students Laura Buterbaugh and Thomas Lewis transformed the yearbook into The Chestnut Burr Magazine, which was shortened to The Burr in 1988.




The Wick Poetry Center officially moved into the newly relocated and renovated May Prentice House on the esplanade, including an outdoor poetry park.



“Orange is the New Black” star and transgender activist Laverne Cox delivered her “Ain’t I a Woman: My Journey to Womanhood” speech at the Student Center ballroom, sponsored by the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.



Groundbreaking for the new College of Architecture and Environmental Design took place Oct. 3. The building is part of Kent State’s Foundations of Excellence: Building the Future program.


During the annual Poynter KSU Media Ethics Workshop, ISIS tweeted a promotion of its latest video showing a British detainee and included the trending #ksuethics14 hashtag.



Urban Outfitters caused controversy after briefly releasing a Kent State-themed sweatshirt that appeared to be blood spattered. University officials questioned the company’s motives, accusing it of profiting off of the May 4 tragedy.


2. 3.

Kent State is being sued by the Department of Justice for violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against a student with a disability in student housing. The university refused to allow a student who suffers from panic attacks to have a dog in her room.

GOOD: 1. submitted by wick poetry; 2. division of diversity equity and inclusion; 3. Alex Ledet; BAD: 1. urban outfitters.com; 2: screenshot taken from twitter



THE photo by katie welles

esplanade The Kent Masonic Temple’s custodian, Fred Moore, gives writer Mariam Makatsaria a tour of the architectural landmark in Fading History on page 12.



Fading History

The Kent Masonic Temple’s walls crumble while membership dwindles. Is there a future for this historic landmark? WORDS BY MARIAM MAKATSARIA

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All of the original woodwork still stands in every room, including this study. William McKinley’s portrait hangs on the wall. He was one of the four U.S. presidents who stayed in the house.


Often the only car seen parked at the house is custodian Fred Moore’s. He comes to hold meetings, clean and maintain the building.



wenty rooms, ten fireplaces and a formal ballroom sprawled on 1.6 acres, but only a single car in the parking lot of this grand estate. While Masonic lodges across the nation are closing because of the drastic decline in membership, the Kent Masonic Temple still stands three stories above West Main Street in the City of Kent. People passing by on their way to class or to and from work might be fooled by its barricaded windows, closed shutters and neglected facade. Despite popular culture’s depiction of the Freemason society as mysterious and secretive, the 130-year-old building keeps its doors open to the small number of visitors who are interested in its history and architecture. Freemasonry is a fraternal organization whose members believe in an Almighty Creator and promote friendship, morality and brotherly love, according to the Masonic Lodge of Education website. “It is considered to be one of the largest

worldwide fraternity, dating back as early as the 1700s,” according to the 9th Masonic District of Ohio’s Website. “A Masonic Lodge is the basic organisational unit of Freemasonry where the members meet and hold their rituals. Each Masonic Lodge is governed by a Grand Lodge.” The man who welcomes them is custodian Fred Moore, who says he is around every other day simply because of his sheer admiration for the place. He is also the worshipful master, or the senior officer of the lodge. Moore says he had worked on renovating every inch of the building, from floors to ceilings. When he began the restoration 37 years ago, Moore was working full time. He does not get compensated for his devotion, he says. “What made me get started was that I would give tours and [the rooms] would look so ugly,” Moore says, pointing at the ceiling and then the fireplace. “I said I’ve got to fix this. Once you start, you just keep going.” Formerly known as the majestic Marvin

S. Kent Homestead, the masonic lodge was constructed in 1880 in the Italianate style of architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. From start to finish, it took four years to complete. It was built by Marvin S. Kent, after whom the town was named, into what was considered one of the most palatial private residences in northern Ohio. But a lot has changed since then. Old wallpaper became crusty and peeled away from the walls, paint became chipped, and the wood was coated with varnish. But remnants of what used to be give the mansion its aged appeal. There are many things Moore left untouched. A strip of old tiles in the living room, a rectangular patch of exhausted wallpaper in the reading room, an old sink and a rusty faucet in the kitchen. The passage of about 130 years balloons like loose skin on some corners of the ceiling. The music room on the main level, where the Kent family would entertain their guests, contains the most elaborate wood-



Membership is falling. It has been falling for years, especially for fraternal organizations.” Bruce Hansford

work. Sliding doors were installed so the guests would not see anything going on behind the scenes in the kitchen. Every fireplace in the building is different. No two floor tiles are the same. The etchings and engravings on corridor arch frames, staircase handrails and fireplace mantels each feature a different design, with the exception of the letter K that appears in multiple places around the mansion. “These shutters—” Moore says, running a hand along the smooth wooden surface. “They are designed so that they disappear when you open them.” He then demonstrates, by neatly folding it into its own pocket built into the window jamb, the idea being that there would be no need for heavy draperies that would otherwise hide the ornate casework and moldings. This clever carpentry was apparently popular in Masonic buildings during the late 1800s through the early 1900s. Upstairs, four U.S. presidents were overnight guests in the southeast room, known as the “Presidents’ Bedroom.” The furniture is original, including the mattress on which Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Warren Harding and William Howard Taft slept. A proud portrait of McKinley stares down at visitors from the wall. “This is something you’ve probably never seen before,” Moore says as he taps on an antique radio that looks more like a giant drawer chest than anything else. It’s just one of the many unexpected finds, such as the secret passageways that ribbon through the structure, linking some rooms to one another. The mysterious black door in the dining room opens up to reveal another door—and then another that opens up to a massive vault where the Kent family might have once kept their fortune. It’s the type of house one might think is haunted, but Moore says he’s accustomed to the creaks and cracks and all the strange noises that come through the ceiling. “People say they have seen something cross the hallway upstairs,” Moore says. “I am honest with everybody. I have never seen nothing [sic]. I’m in here a lot. I’m in here late at night by myself, but I’ve never seen anything. One of our members of the lodge one night came downstairs after a meeting, he said, ‘Fred! The rocking chair upstairs is rocking.’ I went upstairs and stared at that rocking chair for five minutes and it never moved.”


Moore gestures in the direction of the spiral staircase. The third floor might have once been the ballroom where Marvin Kent’s son’s wife, Kitty Kent, was burnt severely and died, but it was later remodeled and set up as a lodge room by the masons in 1923. As in most masonic lodge rooms, there is a wooden altar in the center of the room upon which a blue Bible rests. The lodge room is rectangular and stage-spacious, with seating around the perimeter and a royal blue carpeted floor. “Behind that center chair is a door,” Moore says as he walks toward the far end of the room where a raised platform holds three red thrones. “If you go through that door, to the right there is a flight of stairs and there’s a little landing there and another flight of stairs that takes you up on the roof.” Then he turns away and exits the room, implying the roof isn’t meant to be a part of the tour. As he walks down the stairs, he remembers something: the Kent reading room. Repainting the wall covered by heavy bookcases wasn’t a simple task, but Moore was never defeated by the impossibility of it. It took him a month to sand, prime and repaint the room. Before, five layers of waterstained wallpaper hung loose from its walls. Moore says he had to take every one of the books out and stack them up elsewhere, a process he described as “exhausting.” It was then when he discovered an autographed picture of McKinley that sat in the back closet for years before Moore hung it up. Despite his ethics, there’s only so much Moore can do. The exterior of the mansion is already showing signs of wear, says Bruce Hansford, a long-time mason . The organization is not as large and vibrant as it once was and the aging building’s maintenance costs might place too big a burden on its members to return it to its former glory. Hansford, a Kent native, has been involved with the order since 1950 after he married his wife. Nancy Hansford, former Kent mayor who passed away at the age of 83 in 2013, was also a past matron of the chapter and was actively involved in preserving the lodge. Other efforts to raise funds for the upkeep of the building include the Kent Homestead Preservation Society, Inc., established in 2004. Robert Brown, a mason who helped set up the non-profit corporation along with Betty Brown, Christine Smith and Shawn Smith, organized British


The original woodwork of the home, built in the early 1880s, still stands today.

car shows for eight years to raise money for the preservation of the lodge as well as its historical contents. But some members fell on ill-health, and advertising and fundraising became a challenge. Interest in involvement gradually waned. Members failed to file a statement of continued existence, and the organization was canceled in 2009. “We couldn’t really get enough interest in the community to spark it and get it to go,” Brown says. “We did what we could, but it just didn’t work.” Several years ago, the cost estimate of repainting and tuckpointing the outside

bricks was about a million dollars. With the dwindling number of members, Hansford says funding will be a challenge. Membership of the order has declined from more than 600 members to about 150. This appears to be a trend across the country. According to the Masonic Service Association of Massachusetts, Ohio has lost about 50,000 members in the last 15 years. “Membership is falling,” Hansford says. “It has been falling for years, especially for fraternal organizations. “I don’t know why,” he pauses, chuckles and then corrects himself. “Well, I do know why. The young people coming up aren’t in-

terested. They aren’t interested in organizations. In the end, it hurts everybody.” It is difficult, if not impossible, to rent out the mansion. For weddings to be held there, the building must obtain a liquor license. However the Masonic order doesn’t allow it, Hansford says. According to Section 34.01 of the Ohio Masonic Order, alcohol is expressly forbidden and possessing it in the lodge would be considered a Masonic offense. “There’s a limit to what we can do,” Hansford says. But like Moore, Hansford remains involved with the organization. At the age of 85, he still participates in elections and frequently

attends meetings and installations. The temple, he says, has become a part of his life as well as the lives of his devoted Brothers, especially Moore’s. It is that commitment that continues to sustain a significant relic of Kent’s history and architecture. B


Secret Cellar

Kent Haunts

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Samantha Ickes explores paranormal activity in Kent through those with first-hand experience. WORDS BY SAMANTHA ICKES

Kent has undergone numerous renovations recently, making it the beautiful downtown area it is today. But among these renovations are remnants of Kent’s history. Old buildings, now reconstructed since their original foundation, are said to be haunted by ghosts of the past.


The Kent Stage is located downtown on Main Street. It’s known for live concerts and shows, but also a Ghost Walk, which explores the hauntings of the theatre as well as other buildings and locations in downtown Kent. The dark interior of the Kent Stage casts a spooky vibe from the minute you step in the door. Old articles, posters and reminders of past performances line the walls. “Ever since I was a kid, I thought this place was haunted,” says Eric McGill, a member of EctoVision Paranormal, a group that inspects buildings and houses for paranormal activity with equipment such as REM-Pods to detect paranormal presence. McGill grew up in the Kent area and was familiar with the Kent Stage. “I don’t know why, but


there’s something about it when you walk in, you know?” Thomas is one of the spirits thought to reside in the Kent Stage. He is a 6-foot-tall shadow man who lurks in the left corner of the stage inside the theatre, moving curtains and pacing around the exit door. “I saw it and was like, ‘OK, I must have seen somebody,’ and then I heard someone say, ‘Did you just see that?!’ ” McGill says. Richele Charlton, co-owner of the Kent Stage, says many visitors at the theatre have reported seeing the “shadowy man” in the corner of the stage. A psychic “talked with the ghost” and found out his name is Thomas, Charlton says. Thomas is said to be a member of an old singing quartet who used to perform at the Kent Stage.

photos submitted by kent historical society

the Kent Stage

Another location on the Ghost Walk is Secret Cellar, a jazz club located across Main Street from the Kent Stage. The tranquil atmosphere of the Secret Cellar, with its dim lighting and cool jazz music playing lightly in the background, makes it difficult to picture its shocking history. Secret Cellar was a speakeasy in the bottom of the old Franklin Hotel during the 1920s prohibition era. A small elevator shaft in the Franklin Hotel, almost like a concrete closet, shifted between three floors. According to Amy Bragg, owner of Secret Cellar, the hotel owner didn’t want to pay a technician to fix the elevator, so he tried to do it himself. One day when he was working on repairs, one of the cords broke. The elevator plummeted to the basement and crushed him. Years later, a bellhop was running the elevator; it went up and down based on a pump he had to press with his foot. He looked down the shaft to see if the elevator made it to the correct floor. His foot accidentally lifted off the pump, and the elevator again plummeted down to the basement, decapitating the bellhop on its way down. These incidents give some residents reason to believe there’s a paranormal presence in Secret Cellar. Lights are on in the morning after they were shut off the night before, and hanging lights move without any physical interference.

“There’s been a couple things that have just been really coincidental,” Bragg says. “And sometimes you just kind of get the feeling that someone is here.” Pennies are often found in random places throughout the restaurant, Bragg says. “You have people who lose change all the time, but you’ll come in and see a penny sitting on this table or you’ll see a penny on the bar, and you know you’ve cleaned it down,” Bragg says. “The spirits are trying to let you know they’re here.” Bragg also says she heard “the sound of pitter-patter feet” when she was at the restaurant late one night with a co-worker. She says it is common to hear noise coming from Buffalo Wild Wings, which is located above Secret Cellar, but was shocked by how close the footsteps sounded, as if they were coming right from the hallway. “Then all of a sudden we saw this shadow about three minutes after we heard this kind of scrambling footstep. I looked at my staff member, and he looked at me and we were like, ‘Okay, it’s time to go,’ ” she says with a laugh. Bragg and her co-worker are not the only ones who have reported seeing a shadow lurking in the back hallway of the restaurant. A customer also saw the shadow near the back hallway one day after Secret Cellar opened. “He kind of got this panicked look on his face,” Bragg says. Out of curiosity, she went to the back and checked the camera to see if there was any footage of the shadow. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily, you know, ghosts, but there are definitely some strange things that have happened,” Bragg says.

“ I saw it and was like, ‘OK, i must have seen somebody,’ and then I heard someone say, ‘Did you just see that?!’”


Another ghost dwells in the downstairs of the Kent Stage. Charlton says he is the spirit of a homeless man who once refused to leave the basement. “He doesn’t want anybody down there. You can’t really talk to him,” Charlton says. She described the feeling she gets when she enters the room he haunts as “almost a sad or depression feeling.” Charlton described a frightening experience she had a few years back on Valentine’s Day when a snowstorm hit the Portage County region, closing down the university and local schools. She says she was alone when she heard running water in the basement, an unusual sound for the theatre to make. A pipe broke, flooding the basement floor. Unsure of what to do, she asked another employee to check on the situation. “I thought, ‘Well, the snow’s really bad. It’s going to take him longer to get here than usual, so I’ll go scope this out,’ ” Charlton says. “As soon as I put my hand out to pull on the doorknob, I felt these hands on my back, and I turned and was just pushed all the way off the stage into the theatre to the lobby.”


left: The historic Kent Stage, which hosts the annual Downtown Kent Ghost Walk, is supposedly haunted. The landmark first opened as the Flannigan and Steele Theater in 1927. RIGHT: The “haunted” Secret Cellar is housed in the basement of what was once the Franklin Hotel, pictured here in 1927.



feed Users post anonymously through the new app Yik Yak. Read Everybody Talks on page 20.

In the Wright-Curtis Theatre, students claim to smell the cigar smoke of G. Harry Wright, former chairman of a division of the School of Speech, despite the smoking ban in university buildings. Some say the smell signifies Wright’s support of a production.

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Legend has it that if students and staff smell cigar smoke during tech week, it means the production will go well, Reed says. It signifies Wright’s approval for the production. “If you don’t smell it, then things might not go so great with either attendance or issues with the crew and the cast or something,” Reed says. “And that’s just to show Mr. Wright Curtis does not approve.” A poltergeist also haunts the backstage of the E. Turner Stump Theatre. It pulls pranks during shows and productions on the cast and crew, including tripping people in open spaces. Reed had her own strange experience with the poltergeist last fall while working on a production. “I was working backstage, and I felt someone come and tap me on the shoulder,” Reed says. “I was the only one in that corner. Then, you know, it was almost like he licked his finger and stuck it in my ear.”


Reed says it felt like the poltergeist followed her around the rest of the night during the production, tapping her on the back as if to say, “Hey, I know you know I’m here.” John Lagucki, freshman theatre studies major, experienced a ghost encounter while in the bathroom on the second floor of the Music and Speech Building. “As I was using the urinal, one of the stalls slammed shut—no joke,” Lagucki says. “It obviously scared me to death because I knew for sure I was the only person in there at the time. I quietly asked if anyone was there, and there was no answer. I looked under the stall door to see if someone was hiding there, and there was no one. I quickly grabbed my things and got out of there fast.”


Downtown isn’t the only part of Kent that might be haunted. The Kent State campus is known for hauntings as well, especially the Music and Speech Building. The Music and Speech Building is home to the Wright-Curtis theatre, which is partly named after G. Harry Wright, who was chairman of a division of the School of Speech from 1935 to 1964. Wright was a heavy cigar smoker, and legend says that a strong, pungent smell of cigar smoke will fill the air when his ghost is around. As students know, the university-issued smoking policy prohibits students from smoking in any building on campus, which some say means the cigar smoke cannot be rationally explained. “During ‘Legally Blonde’ last spring, it actually started to smell so strongly of cigar smoke in the back left stage corner that people actually thought the lights were malfunctioning,” says Islay Reed, freshman theatre studies major.

Photo by leah klafczynski

The Music and Speech Building


The new gossip app Yik Yak is attracting students with a veil of anonymity, but some students are taking it too far. WORDS BY MARISSA BARNHART ILLUSTRATION BY THOMAS HAASE


Everybody talks

Download. Track location. Engage.


ik Yak, one of the newest forms of social media, promotes itself as an anonymous gossip app and has been creating controversy since its arrival. Launched October 2013, the app has more than one million downloads from the Google Play Store alone. The app was designed for college students, and it even includes a page to search for specific colleges or universities. The app is a place for users to post “quality content” such as news, jokes or any funny experiences, according to the app’s page, but Zachary Skwara, a junior architecture major, says some people cross a line when posting. “It can either be a confidence booster, or you can see a person get torn apart on it,” Skwara says. “It’s either really good or really bad.” People can interact with Yaks by commenting, upvoting or downvoting. If a post receives too many downvotes, it will be removed from the app. Skwara says some people use the app to post raunchy Yaks, but he uses the app when he thinks of something funny but doesn’t want to say it aloud. “I use it to post funny stuff to pass time,” Skwara says. “It’s kind of like Twitter, but you don’t have to feel bad about it.” Similar to Twitter, users have a character limit when posting. The app tracks users’ locations and shows posts sent from within a one-mile radius from the user. Skwara says he likes reading other people’s posts because he can often relate to them. “People tell stories, and without knowing who that person is, you’re part of that story,” Skwara says. While students use the app to talk about their lives without having their names attached, Jan Leach, an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, says the app is a time-waster, and people should realize nothing on the Internet is completely private. “I get that you don’t have to use your real name, but I think any time you’re saying,

‘I’m within this location,’ or ‘Here’s my GPS,’—your GPS knows where you are all the time—that’s you,” Leach says. Timothy Smith, an emeritus professor of journalism and lawyer at Smith & Son law firm, says the lack of privacy is something people have to get used to. He also says it’s difficult to have content removed once it’s posted. “A friend of mine is fond of saying that there is no gravity on the Internet,” Smith says. “What goes up doesn’t come down.” One of the controversies Yik Yak is facing is students using the app to post threats against colleges and universities. In early October, a user threatened to kill students at Pennsylvania State University. The school worked together with Yik Yak to find the user, who said his post was meant as a joke, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Leach says she supports all forms of free expression, but she also feels students can cross a line that could be dangerous. “Since we don’t know really who’s saying these things and how seriously we should take them, I think that’s troubling,” Leach says. Smith says students will say anything they want, but students will take more advantage of an anonymous app. “The idea that you can say something about somebody and do something from the cover of darkness has a real appeal,” Smith says. “The idea that you can anonymously attack somebody is very appealing.” While Smith says people are more likely to post threatening content, he doesn’t believe those posts hold water. “People who are likely to do something harmful typically don’t threaten. They just do it,” Smith says. “I think threats are intended to scare people, to make them react. But I don’t find them, for the most part, to be credible.” Smith, who has been a lawyer for 37 years, says menacing threats are against the law, and people could face up to six months in jail and a fine. He says if it’s a first-time of-

fense, the consequence would most likely be probation and a fine. While a student posting a threat to Yik Yak might not receive a heavy legal charge, the university can still take action. “You could get thrown out of school,” Smith says. “You can be removed from the university for crimes committed off campus or for acts that the university considers contrary to the good order of the university. Going to Kent State University is a privilege. It’s not a right, and it can be withdrawn.” Skwara says it’s not far-fetched for a Kent State student to post threats on Yik Yak. “I could see someone doing that at Kent State, though,” Skwara says. “Like, ‘Oh, I planted a bomb in Bowman Hall,’ or something stupid. That’s not cool.” Skwara says he thinks students need to tone down their posts. He said he always considers two things before posting: What his grandmother would think and what his future children might think. “Why can’t we just have fun without being gross or rude to someone or blow up something?” Skwara says. “I post about the squirrels. That’s about it.”

Hot on homecoming

Popular yaks posted on homecoming

“ It can either be a confidence booster, or you can see a person get torn apart on it. It’s either really good or really bad.”






Photo by jacob byk


Logan Vance spent more than two years serving the U.S. Army in the Middle East and now is enlisted in the Pennsylvania National Guard. He hopes he won’t have to leave his daughter to return. Read Through Their Eyes on page 26.


that she’ll run. She’ll get the nomination, and barring any crazy developments that would tarnish her reputation, she will win in 2016.”


“It’s a foregone conclusion

Schad Dalton Kent State College Democrats for additional content, visit theburr.com


Awaiting Hillary Kent students gather support for Hillary Clinton. Now, all they need is an announcement. words by Rachel Duthie ILLUSTRATION BY CHAD LEWIS



s midterm elections come to their timely conclusion, Americans often set their sights on the upcoming presidential election. Given President Obama’s two-term stint in office and declining approval ratings, Republicans are statistically destined for a 2016 victory, leaving Democrats scrambling to find a strong, worthy candidate. According to a recent Gallup survey, Obama’s 45 percent approval rating has been on a steady decline since January 2014. His claims of a flourishing economy, the controversial universal healthcare plan, known as Obamacare and his unpopular policy pertaining to the war in the Middle East have many anticipating the pending presidential election. As millennials grow up and secure the ability to vote, they pose a huge threat to conservatives in future elections. Concerned more than ever before with the environment, equality and civil-mindedness, they desire a candidate who carries out these values while being a dominant figure in the White House. Former Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton is the liberal front runner. She lost in the primaries in the 2008 election but is coming back as a crucial candidate for 2016. Now, newly developed political activist group Ready for Hillary 2016 is gathering support for a Clinton presidential run. The organization is an Independent Political Action Committee (PAC), a group that encourages a politician to run for an upcoming election. Adam Parkhomenko, a Northern Virginia Community College student who also opened VoteHillary.org in 2004 when he was 17, created the organization. Aided by Allida Black, a George Washington University historian and professor, the two officially declared the PAC active in January 2013 and have grown the group since then. While Hillary has made no decision about whether she will run, the support she has

received is encouraging her followers. Ready for Hillary 2016 has an estimated two million supporters, with around 50,000 grassroot donors who have raised millions of dollars for the organization. This is just the beginning. Cities, towns and even universities are creating their own Ready for Hillary organizations every day, and Kent is no exception. When a friend of Matthew Chernesky, sophomore political science major, gave him the email address of a Ready for Hillary director, he jumped at the chance to create a local chapter. The Kent chapter is comprised of Kent State students and Kent community members. “I love getting involved,” Chernesky says. “I like making a difference here. I’ve always been a huge supporter of Hillary Clinton. She’s an absolutely incredible woman with vast experience.” Chernesky says it’s Hillary’s legislative record during her time as a U.S senator that impresses him the most. “She has so much experience as a first lady, as a member of universal healthcare in the 90s, as senator of New York she worked with 9/11 benefits for workers who got injured and sick and, because of that, she makes a well-rounded candidate,” Chernesky says. Supporters of Ready for Hillary 2016 are confident the likely candidate will bring a support to women, the LGBTQ community and economic issues such as student loan debt and the minimum wage. Hillary is also known to promote foster care and adoption over abortions and legalizing gay marriage. Ready for Hillary members meet for “tabling,” where they make informative cards and promote voter registration to students. The group has gained 30 new members, and they’ve had more than 100 students sign a petition to support Hillary if she ran in the upcoming election. Ready For Hillary campaigners have also joined forces with the Kent State College Democrats who openly support the organization on social media and by attending meetings.

“It’s a foregone conclusion that she’ll run. She’ll get the nomination, and barring any crazy developments that would tarnish her reputation, she will win in 2016,” says Schad Dalton, president of the Kent State College Democrats. Not many share the same optimism, however. Hillary Clinton has a string of scandals behind her, including how she handled the killing of four Americans attacked by Islamic militants in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012. Her husband, Bill Clinton, is also infamous for his affair with Monica Lewinsky in the early 2000s, for which Hillary forgave him in the public realm. “I believe prior experience makes a better candidate, but that experience needs to be more than a position held,” says Christian Pancake, president of Kent State Republicans. “She is definitely the most traveled, the most visible, but no one knows what she did.” Jennifer Hutchinson, a member of the Kent State College Republicans and Political Science Club, shares Pancake’s thoughts. “The Republican Party will have to put up a strong candidate. They just can’t rely on Barack Obama’s poor approval ratings to get them the win. However, his low ratings only indicate that the American people are fed up with the direction the country is going,” Hutchinson says. “She has shown her true colors in the past, and hopefully people will see them.” Despite differing opinions, progress for Ready for Hillary 2016 has been made on local and national levels. Hillary is expected to announce in January 2015 whether she will run for president. If she doesn’t run, the club is expected to close and focus on supporting other Democratic candidates throughout the local area.



Through Their Eyes

bout an hour southeast of Baghdad along the Tigris River stands Suwayrah, Iraq. Another 15 or 20 minutes into the desert lies an abandoned air force base bombed out from Desert Storm that belonged to Saddam Hussein. In the spring of 2008, R. Jay Wilkinson, then an M249 submachine gunner with the U.S. Army, was staying there. He remembers the abandoned airplane hangars. He remembers the Russian tanks blown up on the side of the road, their parts missing because locals had taken them for scrap. He remembers the barriers and razor wire the U.S. Army set up and the Olympic stadium he could see from one of the guard towers that seemed so out of place. From there, Wilkinson moved to southern Baghdad, where the bomb-makers hung out, and then to Baghdad, where his platoon ran 5:30 a.m. patrols. The Iraqi people slept on the floors of the local bazaars. Sometimes 20 of them would be packed into a single, small storefront. From behind a .50 caliber rifle atop a Humvee, Wilkinson watched them, these people who lived in a world of chaos. The Iraq War ended in 2011. Its purpose was to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime and to create an autonomous, democratic government. Hussein was captured in 2003 and executed in 2006. The U.S. instituted a democracy, widely considered to this day to be an utter failure. Meanwhile, U.S. troops fought al-Qaida and other terrorist groups and insurgencies. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, formed out of al-Qaida during the War in Iraq, but the two groups have since severed ties. The Islamic State made international headlines in June for capturing key Iraqi cities and have since seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, the latter of which has been engulfed in a civil war since 2011. In an attempt to create a caliphate, or Islamic state, under a strict form of sharia law that restricts certain behavior and appearance, the Islamic State has carried out beheadings of U.S. and British citizens and continues to threaten the U.S. It has recruited fighters from all over the world, including the U.S., Britain and France. The U.S. has armed resistance groups, such as the Kurdish peshmerga, and President Obama has formed a multinational coalition to conduct airstrikes on the Islamic State.


Veterans of the Middle East wars and Kent State students have taken time to reflect on their tours and the profound effect those experiences have had on their views of current rising tensions. “It makes your stomach turn a little bit because I dedicated a good portion of my life toward this, and then [you] sit here in the news and you see these guys running through Iraq,” Wilkinson says,

The History Wilkinson and Logan Vance have been best friends since they met in kindergarten in Ashtabula County, Ohio. There weren’t many people in Plymouth, where they lived about two miles from each other. They rode four-wheelers and dirt bikes and worked for Wilkinson’s father’s excavation company together. After high school graduation, they went to basic training together in Fort Benning,

“It was

supposed to be all good and gravy. It looked good probably in some politician’s office in Washington.”


Veterans of the War on Terror reflect on growing terrorism in the regions they fought to protect.

Georgia, in 2006. Wilkinson remembers one day when the soldiers trained at the hand grenade range. That night, when many of the drill sergeants were off duty, he sneaked into Vance’s room, where soldiers were throwing socks at each other, pretending they were grenades. Vance, 26, was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 with the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion. He was in the country for four months, carrying out combat and search and rescue missions and was shipped off to Iraq in 2009, where he completed a five-month tour with Headquarters company and the recon element. Vance, now a senior integrated social studies major, spent most of his time running intel at Camp Speicher in Tikrit. The Islamic State took the camp in June of this year, and Iraqi forces took it back in July. Vance says he was closed-minded when he joined the army. He was smart, athletic and confident. He wanted to kill people. Then he realized just how many good people there are in the world. “There’s civilians that have no part of this at all, and they’re getting beheaded and drug out into squares and shot and hung and trampled over, just because they’re there,” Vance says. Wilkinson, who graduated from Kent State with a marketing degree in August, was in Iraq for 14 months U.S. soldiers—good people—were killed for doing nothing wrong, Wilkinson says. They could have been just sitting in the backseat of a Humvee on their way to a mission. As of September 25, the U.S. Department of Defense counted 6,836 combined U.S. casualties and another 52,239 wounded in action between the War in Iraq, War in Afghanistan and related operations. The goal to increase security measures in Iraq was supposed to fall largely on U.S. troops, who were ordered to train Iraqi army and police forces that would in turn take control when U.S. forces left. “It was supposed to be all good and gravy,” Wilkinson says. “It looked good probably in some politician’s office in Washington.”

R. Jay Wilkinson





Wilkinson, second from right, and fellow soldiers sat outside at COP Meade. The generators had blown, and the soldiers were taking their cots outside to cool off.

But Iraqi army and police forces abandoned posts many times because terrorists had threatened them and their families, Wilkinson says. Joshua Stacher, associate professor of political science who specializes in studies of the Middle East and North Africa, attributes weak links in Iraqi army and police forces to the U.S.-led regime change, which forced former officers to leave their jobs, replaced by ones with less experience. “In any society, people gravitate toward different professions,” Stacher says. “What you’ve done with that is you’ve taken those people who have done that and you’ve pushed them aside and now you’re dealing with other people.” Middle Eastern countries are weak, largely due to colonial rule by western countries, as well as the subsequent state development processes and plans set up, Stacher says. Saddam’s Iraq was relatively stable, and the U.S. destruction led to the creation and strengthening of terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State. “It is kind of a state-building project, in the sense that they’re acting like a state,” Stacher says. “They have territory, they have an army, they are trying to punish people in full view of other people to make people submit to their authority, they have a way to administer taxes, they’re running an oil economy, they’re selling oil on the open market.” Vance says the United States failed to leave Iraq with a cohesive government or national identity, allowing the Islamic State to take territory with ease. They also took advantage of the civil war in Syria. “Even the quote unquote ‘freedom fighters’ or whatever you want to consider them that are in Syria, they don’t even like each other, know each other, and they’re fighting amongst themselves,” Vance says.


“So it was just kind of the perfect storm for them to really take hold.” Wilkinson sees the toppling of Hussein’s statue as a key event in the loss of infrastructure in Iraq, in which the U.S. had a definite role. “[Iraqi citizens] pretty much decided there’s no rulers, they’re not scared or nothing, and that’s when they started going and tearing apart all the government buildings,” Wilkinson says. Wilkinson was in Iraq during the advent of voting. Many people were happy to be able to vote for the first time, but others were enraged by the idea of women voting. These infuriated citizens, many of whom weren’t necessarily linked with terrorist organizations, killed soldiers in Wilkinson’s battalion for aiding women in the voting process. Catherine Hofer, 32, a senior nursing major who was stationed in Bagram, Afghanistan, from September 2007 to September 2008 and outside Kabul from September 2013 to February 2014, says she saw huge differences between women’s roles in the U.S. versus in Afghanistan. Women in Afghanistan are looked down upon by men, afforded less rights and, as punishment for certain acts, are killed by stoning. “I could go out and do whatever I want, minus murdering someone, and I’m still not going to get stoned to death for it,” Hofer says. “I’m going to get sent to prison for it. I’m not going to stand in a stadium full of people and get rocks thrown at me until I’m dead. So I definitely appreciate the freedoms that I have as a female here.” While they constantly face doubt and uncertainty, Middle Eastern citizens are more politically aware now than ever, Stacher says. “They understand exactly and precisely


Logan Vance

what the game is in terms of how they’re repressed and who’s repressing them and what the red lines are,” Stacher says. They are also calling for democracy in larger numbers, but the transition from an authoritarian government to a democratic one is a long process, Stacher says. A September 2013 poll of Muslims worldwide showed that 67 percent of respondents were concerned about Islamic extremism. Only four percent of respondents to a July poll of Syrians conducted by Opinion Research Business support the Islamic State. At the same time, Iraqis as a whole are incredibly weary of welcoming U.S. occupying forces back, says Patrick Coy, director of Center for Applied Conflict Management and professor of political science. In response to a 2007 poll of Iraqis conducted by the BBC, ABC and NHK, about 70 percent of Iraqi respondents said that U.S. forces in Iraq had worsened security. Steven Hook, political science professor who specializes in U.S. foreign relations, says the recent increase in the numbers and activities of terrorist groups, including the Islamic State, have revealed the weakness of the United States’ foreign policy and its incapacity to create stable governments. “I would say this is the most turbulent period in world politics I’ve seen since I became a foreign policy specialist [in 1993],” Hook says.

The Solutions Terror groups not only threaten local populations, but they constitute a potential threat to the U.S. and action needs to be taken against them, Vance says. Vance lives off campus with his girlfriend Jessica and their 3-year-old daughter. He is

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enlisted in the Pennsylvania National Guard, a job that could require him to fight if ground troops were sent back to the Middle East. Having studied world politics both in school and in his free time, Vance observes that a war in Syria against terrorists could potentially bring the fight to Bashar alAssad’s regime there, which would cause backlash from its allies, including Iran and potentially Russia. “You never get out of this circle of war,” Vance says. “That’s not what I want for my daughter. That’s not what I want for the future of this country.” Vance does support airstrikes against the Islamic State, as long as they are controlled. Hofer, who is now enlisted with the Ohio National Guard, doesn’t want to leave her kids—she’s a single mother of two—but she would if she had to. “I do as I’m told,” Hofer says. “I follow orders, and I do as I’m told. Whether I’m against it or for it, I do as I’m told.” Wilkinson says the U.S. has to take some form of military action against the Islamic State. “You take care of them now, while you can, compared to just letting them sit there for 10 years and just run [Iraq] and build camps and train up hundreds and thousands of soldiers,” Wilkinson says Numbers provided by the CIA in midSeptember estimate there are roughly 20,000 to 31,500 Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria. One potential plan of action that needs to be addressed is woven deeper into Islamic societies, Vance says. Islamic religious leaders, or imams, need to step up and calm the hostility between the religion’s denominations, Vance says. Members of the Islamic State are Sunni, while the Iraqi government is largely Shia. Assad’s Syrian government is made up of people from the Alawite religious minority. Stacher says the main difference between Sunni and Shia is Sunni believe leadership positions should be based on consensus and Shia believe they should be based on heredity. “The Sunni and Shia part of Islam is really just one identity that when an overarching identity, like Iraqi nationalism or Iraq, gets blown to smithereens and blown apart, people have to rely on other identities,” Stacher says. Vance says he believes religion is an excuse terrorist groups use to meet their own agendas. World leaders have issued fatwas, or proclamations, against the Islamic State, claiming their actions go against Islamic principles. Vance remembers an Iraqi explaining suicide bombing to him. The man told Vance that shrapnel flies out when a bomb is detonated, and if the bomber is a true believer in Allah, then the shrapnel will turn into rose petals and fall at his feet and kill the nonbelievers. Vance says he looked at the man and asked, “Well, what about the suicide bomber? He’s a true believer, right? Why does he get torn apart by an explosion and shrapnel? Shouldn’t it just be rose petals at his feet?”


You never get out of this circle of war. That’s not what I want for my daughter. That’s not what I want for the future of this country.”

Wilkinson held up ammo within a few days of arriving at COP Meade near Suwayrah, Iraq. He and other soldiers were storing supplies in the base at the time.

“Well, that’s a good point,” was how Vance says the man responded. “I don’t know.”

the conflict Veterans and experts agree there is no easy solution to the Islamic State problem. But it helps to understand the United States’ role. “These aren’t one military intervention after another military intervention,” Stacher says. “No, we have to see these as a linked event. This has now become one long war, and it’s not going to stop.” People think ideologically about things they don’t see on a day-to-day basis, Stacher says. Camels and pyramids often come to mind when Americans think about the Middle East, for instance, yet they have very detailed perceptions of their own society. Stacher urges students to begin thinking less ideologically and more about

the roles that people and institutions play in the world. Wilkinson and Vance returned home around the same time, in 2009, and they spent a lot of time together. “He got a little more serious,” Vance says of Wilkinson. “He was the class clown...and then he got serious about stuff.” Wilkinson says he and Vance have talked at length about their war experiences, and Hofer says people in the military form incredibly strong bonds with each other. And Hofer says to understand the current Islamic State crisis, you have to have been there. “There’s nothing like it that you can find where you go experience something in your life that you’re never going to do,” Hofer says, “and only a certain amount of people can ever relate to you.” B




Photo by caitlin smith

Former Kent State wrestler Nick Nemeth enters the ring as his WWE character Dolph Ziggler. Read Here to Show the World on page 34.


The youngest and oldest students at Kent State reveal the generational differences between coming to college early and late in life, and what it’s like to be the bookends of the student body. PHOTOS AND WORDS BY JACOB BYK

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I regret nothing about that decision because keeping my mind busy with learning, I think, has been the best thing I could have done at this point in my life.”

Carol Hixson

Chante’l Owens, 16, from Cleveland, Ohio, attended John Hay Early College High School, a three-year program on the east side of Cleveland. She simultaneously took classes at Cuyahoga Community College and is now a pre-med student at Kent State with hopes of one day becoming a pediatrician.

JB: Who or what was your influence for coming to school so early? CO: My mother [who went to Kent State] is an educa-

tor, she’s a counselor at a Cleveland high school, and she really pushed me to work hard, and to work for what I believe in. And she never discouraged me and always pushed me to do the best. JB: What were your greatest fears about coming to college? CO: Not doing as well as I expected to do, like, this just being

new, everything is so new. Just not being able to succeed. Not getting straight A’s. I really, really, really want to get straight A’s. Everything just gets so independent. Your teachers are not gonna tell you to study or come to class or do your homework. It’s all up to you. And if you don’t decide to do it, then it’s, like, you fail, and that’s what I’m really afraid of—is getting distracted and not doing what I’m supposed to do.

JB: Tell me about living on campus. CO: I love living on campus. I like being independent—

just being able to meet new people from a lot of different cultures and different backgrounds and different states, even different countries sometimes. I just like being around so much diversity here at Kent. JB: Is college what you expected? CO: Yeah, this is what I expected. I kinda expected it to be more

fun, but I don’t need to have fun this year I guess [laughs].

JB: What were you looking forward to the most? CO: Meeting new people, learning about my major—like,

learning more stuff about what I want to do when I get older and just becoming a better me all around, a better person—being able to be independent and make sure I maintain good grades and stuff like that.

JB: Why Kent State? CO: Hm, it’s not too far from home—my mom went here, as

I said. I know it’s a nice school, and I know it’s ranked in the list of schools in the world, I guess.

JB: How does it feel to be the youngest student at Kent State? CO: It feels awesome. I like it. It makes me feel good

to know that I’m young compared to everyone who goes here, and I’m still trying to do the same thing as everyone who goes here.

JB: When you’re 81, where do you hope to be? CO: Hopefully when I’m 81, I’ll be retired, on an island

somewhere maybe [laughs]. Livin’ life, traveling the world.



JB: How old are you? CH: I am 81 and 10 months and 20 days old [laughs]. I’ve al-

ways loved the academic world. If I could have afforded it, I would have been a professional student. So [my grandson says], “Why don’t you come back to school with me?” And I said they wouldn’t let me get grants now, I’m too old. And he said, “They’ll have to, you’re an alumni,” [laughs]. So, we pursued it, and I went back to school in the fall of 2012. I went back to school to upgrade my degree and my skills.


Counter Points

JB: Who or what was your biggest influence coming back to school? CH: My grandson. He was actually the biggest influence

because he has supported me all the way, and at times when I get discouraged, thinking I am not going to make it, he is right there giving me that support telling me to keep on going. JB: Why Kent State? CH: Why Kent State? Because I was an alumni. As I said, I

Carol Hixson, 81, from Atwater, Ohio, already earned an associate’s degree from Kent State 1981, but decided to come back to school late in life to earn a bachelor’s degree.

have an associate’s degree from Kent State, and I just, I was living in Ohio when I went to school the first time and Kent State was my choice of university.

JB: What do you hope to accomplish when you get your degree? CH: When I get my degree I am hoping to start a consulting

business from my home doing research and reports for businesses because I have an interest in that...I do research for a professor at Kent Stark, and I really enjoy the research, so that’s what I’m hoping to accomplish with my degree is to get back into some sort of the business world.

JB: What were your greatest fears about coming back to college? CH: When I first started back, I thought it would probably

be—there would probably be a large communication gap between me and the younger students, but I have found that there isn’t because I am very supportive of the younger students. I’m not judgmental, and they react in kind to me... because of my hearing loss and the fact that I generally, well, I always sit up as close to the front as I can because of the hearing loss, I miss a lot of the people behind me. But those that I do get to interact with, we have a good rapport, so it wasn’t what I thought it might be.

JB: Having come school to so much later in your life, is there anything you regret? CH: No, I regret nothing about that decision because keeping

my mind busy with learning, I think, has been the best thing I could have done at this point in my life because I see other people...who are a lot younger than me who are mentally not where I am today because they don’t take advantage and have not tried to learn anything new...they are happy where they are and they have not stretched their abilities and have not tried to learn anything more.

JB: How does it feel to be the oldest student at Kent State? CH: Actually, I don’t even think about that when I’m at

school... A lot of people are surprised when they realize. When I get in an elevator, [they] think I am one of the teachers, you know. And then when they find out I am not a teacher—I’m a student—then they’re really surprised, so that’s kinda different, you know. But all in all, it’s been a wonderful experience, and I’d do it all over again [laughs].

JB: When you were 16, where were you? CH: When I was 16, I was still in Pennsylvania, and I was

probably a senior in high school. Just because, well, I was 17 when I graduated.



Here to show the world Former Kent State wrestler Nick Nemeth works to rebrand his character while living his WWE dream. WORDS BY RICHIE MULHALL PHOTOS BY CAITLIN SMITH


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he lights illuminating the Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown on a late September night go down as the song “Here to Show the World” plays. The music resonates throughout the arena as WWE fans wait in anticipation and then cheer in excitement as their warrior, billed from Hollywood, Florida, prepares to enter the battlefield. The roar grows louder as a wrestler with bleach blonde hair appears from behind the curtain. Donning a cutoff T-shirt and colorful wrestling trunks, he immediately turns around to face the stage—his back is to the crowd, but his mind is focused on the atmosphere. He shakes his hips, ruffles his curly, golden locks and flings his hands out to the sides in a taunting display of arrogance. Dolph Ziggler has arrived, ready for a fight. Electricity fills the air as he turns around to face his fans. The stage lights shine and reflect off of the Intercontinental Championship belt around his waist. Tonight he’s booked to team with John Cena to take on The Miz and Seth Rollins in a tagteam match, and “The Showoff” couldn’t look more ready.


Wrestling roots As a child growing up in Cleveland, Nemeth, now 34, knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. When Nemeth was five years old, he watched professional wrestling on Saturday and Sunday mornings. He attended his first live wrestling show at the Richfield Coliseum where he saw heroes such as Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior and the British Bulldog up close for the first time. After that, Nemeth was instantly hooked and started wrestling. He received a Hulk Hogan weight set and began working out with his dad with only one dream in mind: to someday become a WWE superstar. “I remember losing my first match at a tournament and crying and never wanting to feel that way again,” Nemeth says. “But from that point on, I was focused.”

From Kent to WWE Fame Nemeth’s wrestling career and rise to superstardom in the WWE started on Kent State’s wrestling mats. Nemeth came to Kent State in 1998 after excelling at St. Edward High School where he set the 82-pin school record. During his four years, he became a three-


time MAC champion and is currently fourth among Kent State’s all-time leaders with 121 victories. Jim Andrassy, who has been Kent State’s wrestling coach for 23 years, says Nemeth was a highly dedicated amateur wrestler and a pure, all-around athlete. He says Nemeth’s time at Kent State reflected his passion for pro wrestling because even then, everyone around him knew it was his goal. “I remember back in practices he used to work on professional wrestling more so than the actual wrestling stuff, so here he is years later and he’s doing what he wants to do, having fun with it and making a career out of it,” Andrassy says. Nemeth set his sights on excelling in the college wrestling scene, but he always targeted a WWE-inspired goal. “I worked hard at what I did, but I knew the more records I broke, the better I was, the more of a name I made for myself, the better chance I would have just getting a tryout or my foot in the door, something,” Nemeth says. Some collegiate wrestlers, including Nemeth’s old teammates, scoffed at professional wrestling because it is often considered more scripted entertainment than sport. Nemeth toed the line between the wrestling world and entertainment realm and was unafraid to tell those around him about his interest in pro wrestling. “Some people thought it was a joke, and I also had lots friends from St. Ed’s and Kent

Dolph Ziggler attempts to escape a pin by Seth Rollins at the WWE match at Covelli Centre in Youngstown, Ohio on Sept. 27, 2014. Ziggler was teamed up with John Cena to defeat Rollins and The Miz.

State, [and] their dream was to be an Olympian or a national champion or a coach, and sometimes they thought it was funny, but they also thought, I’m focused on my goal and what I want to do,” Nemeth says. To groom himself for the WWE Nemeth purposely fell down on hard wrestling mats over and over again to prepare his back for the bumps and bruises it would have to endure if he were to be slammed on his back every night. “My entire back was half golf balls popping out all the way down,” Nemeth says. “Once I did that, it honestly gave me a huge advantage over other guys. Every time we did some activity, I picked it up quicker, I looked better, I did it faster and it made me stand out.” When Nemeth was in high school, thenpro wrestler and Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle joined the WWE. Because of Angle’s smaller stature, and his amateur and Olympic wrestling background, doors opened for talents like Nemeth who didn’t have to muscle his way into the business like many of his predecessors. Now, there’s more to being a WWE superstar than size. The model of a successful WWE superstar was slowly moving away from the previous archetype. Hulk Hogan’s 24-inch arms and Andre the Giant’s imposing 500-plus-pound frame once ruled the squared circle. The ring is now run by more athletic, versatile wrestlers like Nemeth, who is only six feet tall and weighs 213 pounds.

“I wasn’t 6-foot-5, 300 pounds, but luckily for me, the business has adapted to more of a Renaissance man, which is what superstars have become,” Nemeth says.

The call to the big leagues Upon graduating from Kent State in 2003, Nemeth moved to Arizona so he could attend Arizona State University, apply for law school and train for the WWE on the side. After he was enrolled, he received the shot of a lifetime from the WWE. He signed a developmental contract with the WWE in 2004, trained in Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW)—the WWE’s professional wrestling developmental promotion at the time—and made his television debut in 2005. His first character gimmick in the WWE was acting as a caddy and right-hand man to former WWE wrestler Chavo Guerrero Jr.’s character “Kerwin White”. It was disheartening for Nemeth to start his pro wrestling career as a sidekick bodyguard, but he tried to think about it positively. “I realized that for some people, that’s their only shot, their only chance to get their foot in the door, so I tried to make it work as best as I possibly could,” he says. Playing the role of Gurerrero’s wingman did have its perks. A seasoned veteran and member of a family full of professional wrestlers, Guerrero mentored Nemeth. Under

Guerrero’s tutelage, Nemeth learned how to be a WWE superstar—how to carry himself, what to say and what not to say. “He took me under his wing, and someone with the name of Guerrero in this business means so much, so it was a very valuable learning experience for me,” Nemeth says.

Enter Dolph Ziggler Nemeth spent a number of years trying out different character directions, one of which included being a member of the Spirit Squad (a group of male cheerleader wrestlers). Then, Vince McMahon, Chairman and CEO of WWE, allowed Nemeth to pick his new character and, thus, Dolph Ziggler was born—a smug, cocky narcissist who often refers to himself as “The Showoff,” “The Show Stealer” and “The Heel.” And if you don’t hear it from Nemeth himself, his trunks never fail to remind fans of just who and what he is—“Show Off” is emblazoned on the back of them. The name “Dolph Ziggler” is a combination of a family name and a little bit of prodding from Nemeth’s friends. Nemeth’s grandfather’s name was Dolph, and Nemeth’s friends chose the name “Ziggler” to make their friend stand out, something for which Nemeth has a natural knack. The Dolph Ziggler persona is not too far off from Nemeth’s actual personality. The bad guy routine and cocky heel persona



I always wanted to stand out and show off every chance I got, and that kind of worked in the showoff gimmick. I’ve always wanted to be the guy who went out and stole the show, whether it was the main event or the first match.” Nick Nemeth

WWE fans’ most beloved heroes. “I’ve never really even had a chance to be one of those guys fighting for the people, and very recently I’ve had a chance to do it, and it’s very interesting, but it’s almost like starting over because I had gotten so comfortable and so smooth at being this villain, and now turning the tables the other way around is going to take some time for me to perfect,” Nemeth says.

Stealing the show

Dolph Ziggler holds up a heavyweight belt and poses for pictures after the WWE match at Covelli Centre in Youngstown, Ohio, on Sept. 27, 2014.

suit him well. “I’ve always wanted to be the guy who went out and stole the show, whether it was the main event or the first match,” he says.

The Heel As Dolph Ziggler, Nemeth has steadily ascended to the top of the company ladder and won multiple WWE championships so far in his career, including the most coveted prize in the WWE: the World Heavyweight Championship. “It was huge,” Nemeth says. “Some people who have been in this business 20 years never got a chance to be champion.” Even though Nemeth was called “The Heel,” or a “bad guy” in wrestling, at the time he won the title, the fans lauded Nemeth every step of the way, appreciating his ability to captivate a crowd by trying his hardest in every match.


He also puts on a hell of a show. “Even as a bad guy, the fans started to get behind me because they’d seen how hard I worked and seen how close I’d come to it, and I know it would be a fun reaction to it, but I could never in a million years have expected that kind of reaction was going to happen, and no matter how many more matches I do in the rest of my career, I don’t know if I will ever get that reaction from a crowd again,” Nemeth says. But he was wrong. He recently received one of his best fan reactions from a WWE capacity crowd when he won the Intercontinental Championship on Monday Night Raw this past September. He took on another Cleveland native, Mike Mizanin—aka “The Miz”—and defeated him in a singles match for the gold, using a simple but effective roll-up pin to dethrone The Miz and regain the title. Nemeth says the crowd helped him attain the championship gold in the first place.


Lately, Nemeth has received a big push not only from WWE, but from its fans. “As much as I like to take credit for everything I do 100 percent, if you are really great at your job and you’re not picked as one of the guys and the crowd doesn’t pick up on it and care about you, you go nowhere,” Nemeth says.

The New Ziggler For a long time during the second half of 2013 and the first half of 2014, Nemeth experienced a title drought, and his WWE future looked bleak. Despite continued overwhelming fan support, Nemeth was falling off the map. His once main-event-caliber matches were being shoved mid-show, and he was no longer earning the big wins like in the previous year. Nemeth’s direction grew unclear, and

the WWE struggled to find an angle for his character. But his rapport with the fans never died. The hashtag #WeWantZiggler flooded Twitter, demanding a push for Ziggler. Ziggler’s recent feud with The Miz over the Intercontinental Championship gave him the spark he needed to rejuvenate his career and send the fans home happy. “[The Miz is] not as good as me, but he’s made a lot of great strides to prove that he’s going to be a long-term asset to WWE, so that’s what makes it fun, that’s what gives us the chemistry to go out there and go, ‘How can we steal the show tonight? Let’s do this; no, let’s try this,’ and with both of us having that main event experience, it makes it that much better,” Nemeth says. Now typically viewed as a fan favorite, or “baby face,” in the WWE crowd, Nemeth says it has been an odd adjustment transitioning from playing the role of the cocky jerk and bad guy to becoming one of the

Because the name of the company is World Wrestling Entertainment, actual wrestling is only half the battle for WWE superstars. Many great technical wrestlers have flopped in this industry, not because they couldn’t perform a basic suplex, but because they lacked something you need in the business: charisma. “It’s all about wanting to entertain, but the more experience you get makes you that much better of a WWE superstar, so it’s a win-win situation,” Nemeth says. Winning over the fans’ approval is huge to a charismatic showman like Nemeth, which is why he emulates the styles of WWE legends like Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels. Nemeth has already been compared to these legends because he, like them, has been heralded as one of the best “sellers” in WWE history. When a wrestler “sells” a move, he feigns injury when a wrestling maneuver is performed on him. “I feel like there’s a cool artistic spin you can take on selling in our business, and you make things look like you’re actually hurt,” Nemeth says.

A Home in Kent Nemeth hasn’t returned to Kent for a dual match in a few years, but he still tries to keep in touch with old Kent State teammates and Andrassy as much as his schedule allows.

Just three years ago, Nemeth served as the honorary captain for the Kent State wrestling team’s biggest duel of the year against Ohio University. “He’s an entertainer and he’s done a good job at it and worked hard to keep his body in great shape,” Andrassy says. “He’s very entertaining in his life career, and he’s representing Kent State in a good way.” Because Nemeth hasn’t been back to Kent State in years, he hasn’t gotten a chance to sample his sandwich yet. Twisted Meltz, a grilled cheese restaurant in downtown Kent, now serves a sandwich with macaroni and cheese and bacon called “The Dolph Ziggler.” “I like it, it’s a nice, cheap date,” Nemeth says with a laugh. “Not many people get to be sandwiches, but honestly, there’s a million little things. The first time I saw the paperwork of my contract, seeing an action figure, seeing myself in a video game, a sandwich at a school that I went to—[it all] lets you know that you’ve done something to at least represent them in a positive way, so that’s awesome.”

Curtain call As the match at the Covelli Centre concludes, Ziggler and Cena emerge victorious with the referee lifting their arms in triumph as The Miz and Rollins shuffle to the back. Ziggler climbs the turnbuckle and raises his title high above his head, soaking in the moment as if it were his last. Before he heads back to the showers, packs his bags and travels down to Toledo for the WWE’s next show, Ziggler takes the time to greet fans, offer high fives and even take a selfie with those extra-zealous fans. Cena, the face of the company, is already backstage preparing to leave, but not Ziggler. Even after the bell rings, the show must go on, and the spotlight is his for the taking. B


Dear academic friends of Israel: I hold you directly responsible for the murder of over 1,400 Palestinian children, women and elderly civilians over the past month. This is not symbolic or even legally justified homicide on your part but actual, cold-blooded, calculated killing, for which you are culpable. Your names are scrawled on every bullet fired, bomb dropped, body buried and burnt forehead in Gaza. May your names become a curse word on the lips of every justice-loving person on earth, along with “Obama” and “Netanyahu”. The duty of the academic is scholarship for its own sake. “The duty of the revolutionary is to make the revolution”, wrote Fidel Castro. You have done neither. You have chosen to openly work for and brag about academic collaboration with a regime that is the spiritual heir to Nazism. I could call you another Martin Heidegger, but that would be an insult---to Heidegger. Scholarship practiced inside Israel is, by definition, military work on behalf of the self-proclaimed “Sparta of the Middle East”. You say you stand for the liberation of Africa, Asia and Latin America? Prove it by uttering one word or penning one sentence on behalf of the children of Palestine. I curse you more than the Israelis, for while The Chosen drain the blood of innocents without apologies you hide behind the mask of academic objectivity, nobility of research and the reward of teaching to foreign youth----in a segregated university, of course. Lest you think this is a personal attack I swear it applies equally to all who engage in collaboration with fascism, and we both know the fate of collaborators. In the same manner, only with more zeal, than you have sworn to the Jewish State I pledge to you, and every friend and stooge of Zionism, Hasta la victoria siempre! Jihad until victory! Dr. Julio Pino


institute Latin American studies Professor Julio Pino published a controversial open letter on History News Network holding academics responsible for the deaths of women and children in Gaza. Read Julio Pino: Outspoken extremist or misunderstood champion of human rights? on page 40.



I suppose, if I wanted to get my point across clearer, I would have said something along the lines of calling for the extinction— extinction is a bad word too, isn’t it?—calling to an end to the Israeli regime.” JULIO PINO

I Associate professor Julio Pino sits in his office in Bowman Hall. His walls are adorned with propaganda reading, “Free Gaza—Slave owners,” “We heard you calling, Palestine,” and “Apartheid: We don’t buy it, Boycott Israel.”

Julio Pino:

Outspoken extremist or misunderstood champion of human rights?

The controversial Latin American studies professor offends some with his views and biting words. Here, he attempts to explain his side of the story. Words By Kelsey Husnick PHOTO BY MELANIE NESTERUK



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sraeli foreign diplomat Ishmael Khaldi waved his hand in disrespect and dismissal. “Next question,” he said, brushing aside associate history professor Julio Pino’s question during the Q&A session of a presentation at Kent State in October 2011. Khaldi was supposed to be on campus to give a talk about his autobiography, “A Shepherd’s Journey,” and tell the story of how he, as a Bedouin, rose to a position in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Pino presented his views on the IsraeliPalestinian conflict for the diplomat to confirm or challenge with his own. That’s when Khaldi insisted Pino was wrong and dismissed him, prompting what was then reported as an “outburst” by Pino. He shouted “Death to Israel” and left the auditorium, making a clear break between himself and Khaldi, not wanting to stay in the same room as someone who had shown him “the supreme form of disrespect” by waving him away. That night started a whirlwind of controversy and put Kent State under a national spotlight. It was picked up by local media, such as The Plain Dealer and Ohio. com, as well as Inside Higher Ed and The Huffington Post. It wasn’t the first, nor would it be the last, time Pino put Kent State in the news. His name made U.S. headlines in 2007 when he was accused of running Global War, “a Website that supports al-Qaeda, the Taliban and militant Palestinians,” according to reports by The Kent Stater at the time. Pino denied, and still denies to comment on whether he was involved with the website but insisted that, either way, it’s his First Amendment right to speak on whatever issues he chooses when operating outside his role as professor. Pino most recently attracted attention for an open letter he published in August on History News Network, a website run by George Mason University relating current and historical events. In the letter, Pino addressed fellow academics, holding

them responsible for the deaths of thousands of women and children in Gaza because of their failure to take action against the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His letter, as with his previous interaction with Khaldi, was met with outrage from a majority of people in and outside the Kent State community. Letters were sent to the editor of The Kent Stater, the comment feed on HNN filled up, and Pino received hate mail from all over. In November he was, however, asked to write an apology and letter of retraction for his open letter published on History News Network by the editorial board of Latin American Perspectives, an academic journal on Latin American studies for which Pino served as a participating editor. In his reply, Pino resigned from his position with LAP and wrote, “I will make contrition, if that be your wish. I apologize for not recognizing earlier that there is but one path to liberation—daily blows against the empire. Mea culpa for thinking that soi disant Marxists believed justice extends to the Palestinians too. Mea maxima culpa for having served on the same editorial board with Yankee stooges and frightened, flinching pussycats.” He went on to give examples of Latin American proPalestinian demonstrations, marking his continued alliance with those protesters. For these polarizing views, many called for Pino to be fired from the university, although Pino, who joined Kent State in 1992 and achieved tenure in 1998, says he never received any sanctions for his actions. The university released statements when each situation occurred, essentially making the same three points: It was not a university-sponsored event, Pino does not speak for the university, and the university does not endorse his views. Pino went to Khaldi’s presentation because of his interest in the political and diplomatic aspects of Khaldi’s talk, and he says he wanted to present the other side of the issues. But each time Khaldi emphasized one of his points, Pino grew more

irritated. It shows as he retells the story— his hand gestures seem to gain grandeur as he gets excited and his rate of speech quickens. He has a way of enunciating the tail-end of words in places you wouldn’t expect, and it causes the ear to twitch the first few times he does it. You almost can’t catch all the details as he spits out his views, tail spinning on past and current events and then reverting to the actual sequence that took place between Khaldi and himself. When Pino declared, “Death to Israel,” many were outraged because Pino called for the eradication of an entire state of people, thousands of innocent citizens. Suzan Abdeljalil, president of Students for Justice in Palestine, says she was appalled when she first read about the situation because, “He kind of uses Israel as a whole, I’m assuming—as the people, as everything. Israel is not the government. We have an issue with the Israeli government and the laws it imposes on the Palestinian people and the way it treats the Palestinians. We don’t have a problem with Israelis. There are many Israelis that oppose their government, there are many Israelis who don’t want what is going on to be happening and they want equality.” SJP is a pro-Palestinian student organization that uses facts to educate others on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and spread awareness. Abdeljalil says that while SJP and Pino know the same facts surrounding the conflict, the group does not share his “radical” views. “We are a non-radical group,” she says. “We’re educational. We are here to tell the public about the struggles and the oppression and the injustice and basically the oppressive tactics of the Israeli government. We aren’t in support of anything that [Pino] has said in the past, or that he will say in the future. We really don’t want to be associated with him at all.” Here, Pino answers questions about his controversies.


Pino explains why he wrote the letter for History News Network. “I tried to reach other academics on the subjects—that is, by way of saying, things like listservs for instance that I’m on. I started out in my own field, Latin American studies, to try to contact my colleagues, simply saying not only is what’s happening in Gaza horrific in and of itself, but look at the way we who study Latin America are overlooking the declarations by heads of state and sometimes by legislatures of Latin America as to bringing peace to Gaza. It didn’t get much coverage in the U.S. except maybe minor columns, but almost every Latin American leader from right, left and center condemned Israeli actions in Gaza. For instance the president of Chile, the president of Argentina, the president of Brazil, the president of Venezuela, of Nicaragua and so on and so on.”


Pino recalls Khaldi’s presentation as he remembers it. “I don’t even remember him talking about the alleged putative reason why he was there that night, his life story. The event was billed as something more personal—essentially him promoting his book and his life story from a Bedouin tent to a diplomat representing the state of Israel. All of the points that he was making were political.” That night, Khaldi spoke of a generous, democratic Israeli state—one that gives aid to other nations, despite religious and political differences. “He spent the bulk of the hour that night talking about Israel as a democratic state besieged by savage neighbors. I’m not saying those were his words, I’m just saying that was how it came across to me, anyway. We’re the only democratic nation in the Middle East, which is a debatable point, obviously. And then when he mentioned this prisoner swap—The Israelis had made a prisoner swap; they released close to 1,000 Palestinian political prisoners in exchange for the Israeli sergeant Gilad Shalit, who had been held by Hamas for about five years—he said, ‘Oh, and by the way, most of these 1,000 prisoners were terrorists.’ And then he wanted to talk about the fact that, ‘I don’t understand why Palestinians need two states, one in the West Bank and one in Gaza. Shouldn’t they be united?’ That sort of thing.”

When the formal part of the presentation was over, Pino raised his hand from his spot at the back of the room. Pino recalls what he said to Khaldi.


“ ‘You brought up the question of how Israel generously gave Turkey aid, even though it’s a Muslim country, because of this horrible earthquake, but what you forgot to mention was the fact that the aid money is paid for in the blood of Palestinian children, women and men that your government kills on a daily, monthly and even yearly basis,’ which is my opinion. I wasn’t speaking for anybody else. That’s the way that I see it. Israel occupies the West Bank. Technically it withdrew from Gaza, but when you consider the fact that it still blockaded Gaza, as you can see now by current events, by sea, by air, by embargoing it, literally blockading it from receiving any sort of aid, or for that matter even trade from Egypt, from [the Sinai Peninsula], and as I mentioned, Israel itself, you could call Gaza an occupied territory, too.”

Instead of responding to Pino’s comments, Khaldi accused Pino of disrespecting him. Pino again attempted to get an answer from Khaldi. Pino recalls what he said then.

“ ‘Is it or is it not that, currently, that is of this moment, you’re holding hundreds of Palestinian children prisoners in Israel? And second of all, is it or is it not true that during the last intifada, the one that that began in 2000, you, meaning the Israeli government, killed hundreds of Palestinian children?’ ”

Pino explains what he meant when he said “Death to Israel.”


“The point that I was trying to make by saying that was that if this is a regime which imprisons children, kills children, and, using the language that he did, essentially covering up Israel’s criminal activity by calling it a democracy and calling it a generous nation, then you might say that that sort of like led me to a point where I felt that I had to make a break between myself and him to make it clear where he stood and where I stood.”

Pino explains if he would choose to word “Death to Israel” differently. “Would I word it differently? Yes, but I honestly don’t know how. I had to make [a point, because Khaldi was] saying all these things that were positive about Israel, and he was essentially making the case that not only was it the greatest place to live for Jews, but for Bedouins like himself. Bedouins have a very special place in Israeli society because, for instance, they can volunteer, but they can’t be conscripted into the Israeli army. In other words, they’re ethnically part of the Arab population but they’re not Palestinian. I don’t want to get into too many technicalities here, I simply want to point out that it’s a very complex situation when you speak of ethnicity and nationality in Israel and the occupied territories. That was taken out of context as meaning death to an entire nation and that’s not what I meant at all. I suppose, if I wanted to get my point across clearer, I would have said something along the lines of calling for the extinction—extinction is a bad word too, isn’t it?—calling to an end to the Israeli regime, which, again, it isn’t my allegation, it calls itself the Jewish state, it proclaims itself to be the fulfillment of the Zionist dream—a Jewish homeland in the Muslim, Arab world.”

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Pino describes the response to the letter he received from, first, other academics, and, second, the larger History News Network audience. “The response that I got was very, um, how can I phrase it, people very simply just didn’t want to know. That was the first thing. They didn’t even want me to post the news on what was going on in Gaza. Like I said, I can’t say I was shocked by their indifference and hostility, but I was taken aback I guess I would say. I expected people to at least give me a forum in which I could express my views. So, if they weren’t willing to listen to me, and were actually suggesting that I be censored and taken off these forums for, once again, not expressing so much my views as simply reproducing the views of various Latin American leaders, from congressmen and women to presidents, then I decided that I would write an open letter to the academic community. I did get some positive [feedback], because there are Americans looking for peace in the Middle East—regardless of religious denominations. So I did get feedback from Muslims, Christians, Jews, atheists and so on. It was the minority viewpoint, but it was feedback on the lines of, ‘You said something that needed to be said,’ and, ‘You took a stance that is unpopular, but at least you put it out there.’ ”

When Pino signed the letter “Jihad until victory,” many automatically related the phrase to the violent images typically associated with the word. Pino explains what that phrase means to him.

“The way that the American media and American politicians throw that word around, obviously what they mean is something very different. They equate it with violence. Not even so much religious violence as political violence. In other words, it’s the Muslims who are the offensive and force their religion, their way of life, on other people—and the exact opposite is true. ‘Jihad until victory,’ in the context that I was using it meant resistance against oppression until victory.” He goes on to explain that the Palestinians are waging jihad simply by living under Israeli occupation. “It’s called survival. So, if you look at the Palestinians’ daily struggle, and if you interpret struggle as being jihad and vice versa, then fighting for things such as the right to have electricity every day, which the Palestinians don’t [have], the Israelis control that, or access to water—the Israelis control that also. In the case of Gaza, it’s access to the sea (This has come up in the recent negotiations, or truce negotiations, Palestinian fishermen in Gaza can only venture so far out in order to catch fish before they are intercepted or shot at by the Israeli navy). So, the struggle of Palestinian women to feed their children, to give them, say, a glass of milk, is jihad in that she would have to defy, not necessarily by breaking the law, but defy the Israeli occupation to make that happen.” Many, such as Watchdog.org, a political news site, call Pino a jihadist because of his letter. The website shows a picture of a Muslim setting fire to a poster of the Israeli prime minister in conjunction with its article on Pino’s HNN letter. Abdeljalil says images of destruction are often associated with the word jihad, but jihad in the religious sense has nothing to do with violence. “That’s the misconception that comes with that word, because people assume the jihad is what they see in the media,” she says. Ramez Islambouli, professor of Arabic language and Islamic Studies at Case Western Reserve University and John Carroll University, says the word jihad translates to “struggle” in Islam. “The only time it is mentioned in the Qur’an, which is the Islamic holy book, really talks about strife, to put an effort, and those who strive in the cause of God,” he says. “And when you say they strive in the cause of God, this isn’t meaning fighting.” This struggle can be on a daily basis. “If you are persecuted and you are patient, then this is a form of jihad,” Islambouli says. “If you are working, and working for you is requiring a lot of effort and perseverance, that is another form of jihad. If you have five or six kids and raising them is requiring a lot of patience and effort, that is another form of jihad.”

Pino says writing in a figurative way, specifically in the form of poetry, is one of his passions. “The 19th century German philosopher and historian Wilhelm Dilthey once said, ‘Every historian is a failed writer.’ And I know what he meant. If I could have been a novelist I would have been a novelist. If could have been a poet, even a mediocre poet, I would have been a poet,” he says. This is evident in the letter to the editor Pino submitted to The Kent Stater after the reaction to his HNN letter. He wrote a poem addressed to “a child, burnt by fire, in Gaza,” again asking how academics could stand silently by while conflict waged on. He keeps these articles in a personal journal, calling his work “poetry philosophy—reflections on what I see about me, not so much daily affairs but if there’s something in the news which I can put into a poetic reference point of view, I do that,” he says. Through these musings, Pino says he tries to make current events relatable. He calls himself “a historian of cosmology, that is the way that people build a world around them, construct a world around them by interpreting the signs of that world. In other words, not simply looking at it from a material point of view, but what cosmos do [people] live in, what is vital to them, what do they consider valuable, what is worth living and dying for?” Sometimes this means writing in a creative way, and although no one from the history department has flown to Gaza to literally drop a bomb on a child, Pino still says academics need to take a stand in the conflict. “At the very least they could make a declaration saying, no matter how the Israelis feel about the Palestinians, the use of such overwhelming violent, savage force against a largely civilian population… simply cannot be justified and is not justified either by anyone’s morality or anyone’s religion or even by international law.” If these things were better understood, and if Pino worded his statements more carefully, it’s possible his actions wouldn’t be met with such hostility. The main problem is that many, such as administrative secretary Joan Marold, take what Pino says very literally. “He singled out academicians, as far as the letter goes, as murders of children. Does that meant that the department of history went across seas and shot somebody? I don’t know,” Marold says. “I was outraged.” B


Would I word it differently? Yes, But I honestly don’t know how. I had to make [a point, because Khaldi was] saying all these things that were positive about Israel, and he was essentially making the case that not only was it the greatest place to live for Jews, but for Bedouins like himself.”

*Pino’s interview was condensed for length.


Return to the Kingdom Mark Oprea explores what an American education could mean for the future of Saudi Arabia.


Ahmed Abbas was initially forced to come to the U.S. by his dad but says he feels grateful for the experience he can take home after he graduates in December with a business management degree and returns to Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, to marry and work.



At the time of Sept. 11, only 2,000 Saudis were at U.S. universities. The residual effect was dismal, especially because 15 of the 29 hijackers owned Saudi passports. Saudi emigres dwindled. When King Abdullah was elected in 2005, he allocated billions of dollars for the King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP) designed “to equip students with knowledge and skills needed to become future world leaders.” Saudis, then, could study abroad unlike any other

point in history with three years of tuition paid, as well as money for food, health insurance and tickets for flights home. The only requirement: after graduation, return to the Kingdom. Although Saudi scholarships were started by King Faisal in the 1960s, “it failed,” says Moad Aldabbagh, Saudi blogger and senior philosophy major, because of their limited scope and exclusivity to the mainly upper class. But the KASP, the largest scholarship in Saudi history, is a little different. Unlike its predecessors, any Saudi fit for university can apply, which now includes women. Its purpose is to bolster the Kingdom’s bureaucracy and give young Saudis an education outside of conservative, religious teachings. “Another big goal of the scholarship is to help rebuild the country,” says Salma Benhaida, of the Kent Office of Global Education. Yet reform in Saudi Arabia is a delicate subject, especially when 70 percent of the population is age 22 and living under the rule of 60 and 70 year-olds. Many Westernized youths in Jeddah and Riyadh want to listen to American rap, go to the cinema and be able to date. But at the same time, many do not. A 2011 survey of young Saudis showed only 31 percent believe “traditional values are outdated,” and are open to embrace modern ones. Then, 83 percent of Saudi women oppose the removal of the driving ban. While some are eager for change, others see it as the devil. When the Arab Spring occurred in 2011, many say Abdullah upped the export of young Saudis for a reason other than crafting better workers. Moad, who’s been in the U.S. since then, says the KASP took on a new meaning to prevent catastrophe: “It was to take control over the educational system so that we have a more balanced and liberal point of view,” he says. “A more acceptance of modernity.” It was the summer of 2011 when Naif arrived in Kent. During the cab ride from Akron, he thought of his month before in Los Angeles, the layover in D.C. and the orientation with the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission. He thought of Riyadh

said, ‘Do you have a bomb “He with you?’ And I thought, ‘Oh, I know he’s joking. I know it’s a stereotype. I cannot do nothing but laugh about it,’ but then he came to be serious.”



hen 29-year-old Naif Mohammad first arrived at the AkronCanton Airport in June 2011, he was disoriented and lost. Before he came to the United States, Naif was a bank teller in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital city, for seven years. He lived with his nine brothers, his mother and his father. Now he was standing alone outside the terminal, wowed that the city lacked the tall skyscrapers of New York. He didn’t know English. He didn’t have friends close by. All he had was his suitcase and a goal: to get an American education. Naif was one of the more than 50,000 students from Saudi Arabia studying at American universities in 2011, according to the Saudi Embassy. Today, that number is around 71,000—half the number of Saudis at universities around the globe. When the 2011 statistics were released, Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., Adel A. Al-Jubeir, said the continuing sharp rise in students abroad would “help promote peace and cultural understanding for generations to come.” AlJubeir’s foresight, as idealistic as it might seem, is in development right here at Kent State. The numbers show this, and they are staggering. Today, there are 658 Saudi students enrolled at Kent State, according to The Office of Global Education. In 2007, there were only 38. The spike for Saudis was so rapid that the 2014 Open Doors Report from the Institute of International Education named Saudi as the fastest growing presence of international students in the past four years.

Ahmed Abbas

and breakfast with his mother. When the cab passed the modest city limits of Kent, Naif was taken aback by what he saw. “I thought, ‘What is this place? That’s all the place? It’s empty. Like Amish country’,” he says, laughing at the comparison. In Saudi, Naif attended Riyadh University (now called King Saud University) for one year. Working days at the bank, with around 200 customers daily, Naif didn’t have the energy for class and flunked out. Eager to focus on education, he looked to the KASP, then to Kent State. A few months later he was sitting in Satterfield Hall. At first, American life wasn’t what he expected. Naif’s English, the accumulation of high school grammar classes and a gap month in the U.S., was insufficient. He couldn’t manage day-to-day interactions without the help of an Arabicspeaking friend. He threw out Papa John’s pizza that mistakenly had meat on it. He failed assignments because he didn’t know what “homework” meant. After a few weeks, Naif was disillusioned and frustrated. He took long, aimless walks around town, holding back tears of longing and regret. “Many times, I think, ‘Why I left my job? Why I left my family, my friends? Why I left my country? I’m stupid. Why didn’t I stay in Saudi?’ ” he says. “I miss my mom. I miss my brothers. My dad, too.” Coming back home from class one day in July, Naif called his best friend back home in Riyadh. He could barely talk, he was so emotionally distressed. Luckily for Naif, his friend eased his mind. “He said, ‘This was your choice. You say it before you came. You had goal. If you want your goal, you have to stay and

go to your classes.’ I said, ‘Thank you, dude,’ and everything was soon better.” After returning from a month of Ramadan, Naif entered his first fall semester at Kent State in high spirits. He spent the next three years climbing up the ESL program, battling occasional xenophobia and traveling across the U.S. Now, self-loathing has turned into a reverence for a new life. Naif says he admires the commonplace bits of American life—the readiness to make friends via Facebook, strangers holding doors open, smiling to passersby on campus—that he’s brought back to Saudi. Some habits, he says, might not fly over well. “If I smile at someone back home in Saudi, he may think, ‘Is he stupid? Is there something wrong with my wardrobe?’ ” Naif says. “Some things I think now are just so simple or so normal. Why not do them?” Other habits must stay. Many Saudis overseas have trouble balancing a Western way of life with Islamic customs. Naif said his conservative brother “doesn’t feel comfortable when he stays here” in the U.S, preferring life in Riyadh. For the religious, breaking the rules of Islam— drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, flirting with girls—easily earns them a one-way trip back to the Land of the Two Holy Mosques. “If it’s against teaching of Prophet Muhammad, it’s not allowed in Saudi,” Naif says. Many Saudis, like Naif, are conscious of both U.S. culture and that of Wahhabi Islam (a strict interpretation of Islam)— recalling arranged marriages, harassment from the hai’a, the 4,000-strong religious police, in a sort of nostalgic tone. Some manage both, and Naif says completely ignoring another



Saudi, I stay at home, or just “ In working in the same place. But

if you travel, you are going to change your thought, you’re going to change your mind. You’re going to change how you react to a lot of things.”

Suad Albarkani

culture is near impossible. “When you go to someone else’s country, you have to act like they do in their culture,” he says. “And if you went to Saudi Arabia, there are many things you couldn’t do. You would have to adapt.” It’s a sun-drenched afternoon, and Ahmed Abbas, 24, and I are sitting outside at a table at Starbucks. Ahmed’s wearing a dark-grey Mickey Mouse T-shirt, black Levis and largeframed Ray Bans, with his hair combed back in a wave. We talk about American muscle cars. Ahmed drives a Ford Mustang back home. We talk about life in Al Khobar, where Ahmed was born in 1990. He says he misses home, his family, and is nervous about graduating this December. When Ahmed returns back to Saudi, he’s to be married to his cousin. This, Ahmed says, is just a Saudi custom. Ahmed aligns his views with those of the people in liberal cities such as Jeddah, where there is a strong consensus of internationally educated citizens, especially after experiencing Western life. “Back in Jeddah, the people look much different than the rest of the cities of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “And to be honest, I like that way. I really like that way. When you get married to someone who isn’t close to you, it will make for a much easier life. Much easier. All of us back home, we see that.” After four years as a business management major, Ahmed says he’s taken a lot from the American way. Like Naif, the lack of skyscrapers and the overwhelm-


ing presence of winter snow— instead of the unforgiving Saudi sun—is just reality now, “not television.” Like most first-year Saudis, Ahmed’s impression of Ohio life was formed by TVmovies and Saudi media, images of souped-up vehicles and bustling metropolises. But looking back as a senior, Ahmed’s transition to America wasn’t always positive. Ahmed says his older brother Mohammad faced large amounts of racism and cultural ignorance as a freshman at Akron University in 2006. His brother and friends warned him before boarding his U.S.bound flight. Some told him that “he shouldn’t speak Arabic in public,” as it would be rude, not being the native language. Others told him it would conjure up the stereotype of a terrorist. Among the 70 other Saudis at Kent in the Fall of 2009, Ahmed quickly experienced what xenophobia was all about. The inanity of “whether a Saudi rides a car or camel to work” or the misconstrued belief that “all Saudis are rich from oil money” (only the government sees revenues), bothered Ahmed at first, but could be brushed off, while other encounters couldn’t. One night, while standing in line for a house party, Ahmed was approached by one of the hosts guarding the entrance. He stared Ahmed up and down stoically, confusing the then-freshman. When Ahmed tried to walk past, the guy stopped him. “He said, ‘Do you have a bomb with you?’ And I thought, ‘Oh, I know he’s joking.’ I know it’s a stereotype. I


cannot do nothing but laugh about it,” he says. “But then he came to be serious.” Even though Ahmed saw a higher amount of “trouble” when he studied in London in 2008, he was surprised by the levels he initially faced in Kent. Some third and fourth year Saudis have stories of bouncers singling them out and dragging them by their shirt collars out of clubs. Some even left the U.S. because of it. In 2011, when Ahmed’s third brother, Hashem, came to the U.S. on the KASP, things changed. Ahmed says having 300 Saudis on campus had something to do with it. Now, in 2014, Ahmed happily reports the negativity against Saudis here is near zilch. “To be serious: zero percent,” he says. “I have not faced any more problems. It’s because I think there are lots of Saudi. And people here before were watching news and stuff, but now they see real people. They can actually talk with them and have real idea from them. This is why it’s changed.” Even if Saudi stereotypes persist, Ahmed says it’s the many “good guys” that make up for the ignorant ones. Three of Ahmed’s American friends can speak Arabic fluently. One even surprised him when he brought out a deck of playing cards and asked Ahmed to play baloot, a traditional Arabic card game. Benhaida says many students she advises have at least one friend from Saudi, many who’ve learned how to make the Saudi mixedrice dish Kabsa. “It think it’s helpful for everyone involved,” she says, “as it’s using educa-

Naif Mohammad struggled to adapt to American culture when he first arrived in 2011, but when he returns home to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, he says he is excited to bring home a different perspective.

tion to break boundaries.” It’s a two-way street. Ahmed will soon return to Al Khobar and get married, but he says he’s bound to return to the Kingdom with a new set of eyes. “I’ve been in the U.S. for four years, and I’ve seen women driving,” Ahmed says. “But when I go back home, if I saw woman driving, I’d say, ‘Okay, that’s fine, I already saw that, what’s the point?’ This is the point of the scholarship and sending Saudis around the world: to make them more open-minded.” Suad Albarkani, 29, loves to drive her Nissan. Since she got her license in June, she’s been taking joy rides around Kent. For a Saudi woman like her studying at Kent State, having a car is not just a luxury, it’s essential. “I have to have car,” Suad says, “because I have so many responsibilities. And right now, my car, it feels like it’s something a part of me.” Suad’s ambition as a Saudi woman abroad may seem even

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stronger than most American millennials. Instantly upon meeting someone like Suad, one can see she’s unique. Instead of donning a traditional full-body abaya, or packing her silky, straight brown hair in a hijab, Suad opts for a deep-blue blazer and tapered jeans. She smiles and laughs joyfully when talking about scuba diving in Boracay, Philippines and her trek to Niagara Falls this past summer. She even endured two months of personal fitness training solely out of curiosity. “I feel that I am different,” Suad says. “And it’s probably because I like change.” Before Suad arrived at Kent, she was a student at Taif University, where men and women aren’t allowed to mix. After she divorced her husband, she looked toward studying in the U.S.—and nowhere else. Right after moving into an apartment with her 4-year-old son, she looked into horseback riding and apple picking around Kent, everything she couldn’t do in Jeddah. She promised herself to constantly spend her time doing something new. Suad’s motto is

succinct: Why not? Even in Jeddah, where women can walk around without the niqab and mix with international men, Wahhabi law still remains. Most women don’t work because they can’t drive, and, in most cases, can’t go out without their mahram, or male relative. Independence, for a woman like Suad, is dear to her, especially because “most Saudi women are afraid of being different,” she says. “In Saudi, I stay at home, or just working in the same place,” Suad says. “But if you travel, you are going to change your thought, you’re going to change your mind. You’re going to change how you react to a lot of things.” After only seven months, Suad has welcomed change. She’s no longer afraid of speaking for herself or traveling to nearby towns on her own. She boasts about her group of American friends she invites over for hookah on weekends. She likes her new home so much that she aims to stay the next ten years for her master’s and doctorate. Suad also has bigger dreams: Once she has the money, she says she wants to get her pilot’s license at the Kent

State University Airport, which would make her the third Saudi women in the world to do so. Suad doesn’t know how she feels about returning home. She talks to her mom via Skype or Tango just about every day, and she misses her brothers. Yet, after living in the U.S., visiting her hometown Jeddah is no longer what it used to be. “When I go back to Saudi Arabia, there’s some feeling,” Suad says. “I don’t know how to describe it—I feel, like, so weird. It’s because there’s a lot of things here that I like to do. I feel that my world is here.” Come graduation time, both Naif and Ahmed are homeward bound. They’re nervous about marriage, but looking forward to honorable work with a U.S. degree in their back pockets. If anything, both are exuberant to see their families in Riyadh and Al Khobar, just as they are eager to one day return to their new ones in Kent. “There are two reasons that I go back home,” Naif says. “My mother and my father.”

As far as what happens when thousands return to the Kingdom, scholars are unsure. “We can never predict what’s going to happen after the exchange,” says Joshua Stacher, political science professor. “Some are going to push for political change, but there’s also a sizable amount that will push for the status quo.” Agreeing with Stacher, Moad says many Saudis will take home their new experience. As far as future political reform, he says it’s bound to happen. “Give it a generation or two,” Moad says. “I think it’s inevitable.” And for a liberal like himself? “I’m probably not going back,” he says, grinning. For Ahmed, a different perspective on the world, on America, on Saudi society, is priceless after four long, fruitful years. As someone who was first resistant to the idea, he owes it to the same family that he will return to after getting his Kent State diploma because family is the core of life in Saudi Arabia. “I was forced to come here by my father,” Ahmed says. “But, as of right now, thank God that I come to U.S.” B


A TEAM PLAYER’S TRANSITION TO HEAD COACH Warren talks higher education issues as she steps into her biggest leadership role yet. WORDS BY CHRISTINA BUCCIERE PHOTOS BY LEAH KLAFCZYNSKI



presidential philosophy means she thinks about the students’ concerns at every turn. While students are concerned with the future of their university, too, they also have more immediate, personal interests that will affect the climate of their years at Kent State: affordability, diversity and communication with administration. Tuition affordability is a national problem that also affects Kent State. Tuition for the 2014–2015 school year continued to increase, this time by 2 percent, and the unpopular credit hour overload fee requires students to pay $440 for every credit hour over 16. The lack of diversity of the student body is a long-standing issue facing Kent State’s campuses, and it’s seen only minimal improvements—just 22 more AALANA (African American, Latino American and Native American) students in the 2014 freshman class than 2013—in recent years. And after Former President Lester Lefton’s lackluster display of communication with the student body, the new president faces students hungry for a communicative, engaging president who can show she cares about what they have to say.

Warren on Affordability According to the latest report from the Project on Student Debt, the average national student debt for the class of 2012 was $29,400. And the interest rate for a federal student loan is nearly 4 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education. A controversial credit hour overload charge implemented in 2012 has put more stress on students’ ability to pay tuition. That’s part of the reason Undergraduate Student Trustee Perry Kimmel says he is making affordability one of his priorities as a member of the Board of Trustees. “I think every student is affected [by affordability],” Kimmel says. “I especially hear from students in the science wing because of their four-credit hour classes that it really affects them more.” The $440 overload fee for credits exceeding 16 is counterintuitive to advancing plans to reduce years to graduation, Warren says, and

she plans to do away with it. Lefton and the Board of Trustees implemented the credit hour cap to fund the debt created by the Foundations of Excellence Initiative intended to transform Kent’s campuses with renovations and new buildings. In 2012, students convened in front of the library with signs to protest the policy that, at the time, required students to pay $440 for every credit exceeding 17. An online petition garnered more than 2,500 signatures in less than a week. Students protested again in 2013 when the credit limit dropped from 17 to 16. “I’ve been fairly public about this that I don’t like the overload charge,” Warren says. “I think it promotes behavior counter to our Got 15? plan and making sure students take sufficient hours to graduate in four years. That being said, we now are somewhat dependent on the revenue that we gain from that overload charge because it’s part of the overall budget formulation.” Warren has already begun to challenge faculty, staff and students to think about graduation rates with numerous campaigns, such as the Got 15? and 15–30–48 goals. The Got 15? initiative encourages students to take 15 credit hours at a time to stay on track for graduation, and the 15–30–48 campaign asks students to take 15 credit hours per semester, 30 credits per year, to eventually graduate in 48 months. Warren says she is working with the administration, particularly Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Gregg Floyd, to help “chart a way to eliminate the overload” and be able to meet the university’s budget. This is an example of Warren’s affinity for a team approach to leadership. She is hesitant to say she spearheads any initiative alone. But big change needs a big voice, and Warren’s position as president doesn’t always provide her the overruling power one might expect. The Board of Trustees oversees her decisions. “It’s complex,” Warren says. “If I could just wave a wand and say it’s over, I would, but I also am responsible for making sure we can meet our budgetary obligations, so this will take me a little time, but I’m working at it almost every day.”




on’t ask President Beverly Warren to sit at the head of the table. She will if she has to—it’s the kind of unspoken rule that often comes with the presidential title —but it’s not her style. “Leadership is about a team approach, and then everyone contributes,” Warren says. “And sometimes if you sit at the head of the table, everyone looks to you for the answers or for the leadership of the meeting, and if I put myself in the middle, it means we’re all a part of this conversation, we’re all a part of a leadership team.” On Oct. 8, Warren celebrated her official 100th day as the 12th president of Kent State by speaking at the annual Bowman Breakfast in the Student Center ballroom. She was the keynote speaker at the sold-out event—everyone wanted to hear what the new, energetic president had to say. Warren addressed the packed house of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members with the usual warmth and enthusiasm the Kent State community has come to expect from the physically small but powerful president in just her few months here. She stood behind a podium, which seemed a bit unnatural for her. Just minutes before she was flitting from table to table, shaking hands and extending greetings, which is a more apt reflection of the kind of president Warren has proven to be so far. She smiled a lot. Not a revolutionary concept given she is the new face of an eightcampus system with more than 41,000 students university wide and the capacity to bring in nearly $9 million in donations each year, with hopes of acquiring more. No, it’s not surprising she smiled a lot, but it was surprising to hear it in her voice, as if she’s more interested in a friendly chat than board meetings and press conferences. That’s Warren’s self-described team approach to leadership coming through, which was cultivated by coaching volleyball and basketball for years. “I did a lot of things socially, so we bonded as a team, which is part of my style now,” she says. “It was about spending time and learning about one another in other contexts than just the role you play on a team.” Warren doesn’t distinguish coach from teammate. To her, each role is equally important. But now, as Kent State’s head coach, Warren has a much longer roster and more complex plays to navigate that will require her to stand out. Warren spoke to the breakfast attendees about her first 100 days as president. Near the end of her roughly 20-minute speech, Warren outlined her top five priorities for her presidency: a students-first philosophy, enhancing Kent State’s identity, increasing the university’s global competitiveness, leveraging Kent State’s local reach for global impact and planning for a sustainable future. As president, Warren has to think in bigpicture terms to plan for the university’s future path. But Warren says her students-first

style is my style. “My Regardless of Lefton’s

style, it has not influenced what I’m trying to do. This is who I am.“



[Lefton] was very successful. He may not have been as interactive as some may have wanted him to be, but I hope we can honor him and judge me on what I can contribute.”


a connector, I love students, I love being “ I’m in the heart of the university’s activity.


Kent State faculty and students give a round of applause for University President Elect Dr. Beverly Warren at her meet-and-greet in the Schwebel Room inside the Student Center Jan. 8, 2014.

With that said, Warren says students and their families, with the help of the university, should also be aware of financial literacy. Warren says she never had to take out loans to pay for her education, but she can empathize with students who do. She fingers her double-strand pearl necklace she wears often as she thinks about her past. “My parents saved, and I used scholarships to pay for my school,” Warren says. “My parents were government workers. We were a middle class family, but we were a family that was thoughtful from day one about how to afford to put two kids through school at the same time.” Scholarships should be the first step toward paying for college, she says. “There are so many scholarships that are out there today, that taking a loan should be the last resort.” Warren says she feels one of her primary roles as president is to act as a fundraiser for the university, which means “a good deal of focus is on building an endowment to have more scholarships.” This is Warren’s most pressing head-coach opportunity. She leads the charge for more student scholarships, and students need her play-making skills more than ever. And yet,


Warren’s view on fundraising is couched in a team approach hinged on bonding with donors and thinking about the university’s future together. “Let’s get scholarships first,” Warren says. “And then I do think the state and the federal government has some role to play, and that is making sure that appropriations don’t continue to plummet because our only option then in higher ed[ucation] is to look at tuition as an increase.” One of the reasons Warren views affordability as a main priority is her passion for four-year graduation rates. And that, it seems, is an issue of which Warren is willing to take ownership, or at least a sense of personal command. On this issue, she sits at the head of the table. When Warren reported Kent State’s latest retention and graduation rates at the Bowman Breakfast, it was met with applause, but Warren was quick to temper the acknowledgment with a firm direction for the future: “We must do better,” she said. “We have a responsibility to make sure students can move through as seamlessly as possible,” Warren says. “So, when you change a major, how can we be able to ensure that you don’t lose a lot of credits in doing that?”


Warren says it’s a combination of better, more thoughtful advising and more support for struggling students to deter dropping courses, that will boost graduation rates. In this way, Warren’s priorities seem to align neatly with those of students, similar to the way she views improving diversity across Kent State’s campuses as a goal worth working toward.

Warren on Diversity When Victor Benton, junior spanish literature, culture and translation major and president of the Spanish and Latino Student Association (SALSA), came to Kent State, he took part in the KUPITA/Transiciones program. The three-day orientation program for newly admitted AALANA students might have skewed Benton’s first impressions of Kent State’s student body, he says, to think it was more diverse than he later found it to be. “Once all the other faces started mixing in, I saw that it was still diverse...but it wasn’t as diverse as I first thought,” Benton says. “But as the years have gone by, I do think the diversity has definitely expanded, but I don’t think it’s exactly where it should be.”

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According to the most recent 15th-day census data released by the university, the number of new AALANA freshman students increased to 690, up just 22 students, from 668 last year. Only about 13 percent of Kent State’s more than 22,000 undergraduate students are minority students. Warren talks about the appropriate “enrollment mix” she hopes to see Kent State acquire. There are no specific numbers in mind, no formula, but this diversity mix is another one of the few issues about which Warren speaks with a personal conviction to achieve. Warren comes from Virginia Commonwealth University where the percentage of AALANA students sits higher at about 22 percent. The undergraduate student population is roughly the same size as Kent’s. “Here [at Kent State], I think we have a ways to go to have a diverse student body,” Warren says. She pauses. Her elbows rest on the table, and she rests her chin on her clasped hands as she thinks about why she places a high value on diversity. “I didn’t grow up in a diverse environment,” she says frankly. Warren grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, but when she became a coach, she saw how diversity enhanced the team’s creativity and vibrancy by listening, learning and respecting others’ points of view. “I think a part of who I am is the belief in everyone’s value,” Warren says. “And the belief that we are much more enriched as a community when we have a diverse community. Hearing from others who are different than we makes us think and learn from different perspectives.” Specifically, she says Kent State has underutilized opportunities to recruit AALANA students by working with school systems in more urban areas like Akron and Cleveland to present Kent State as an option to them. Benton says the way to improve diversity is to reach out to diverse groups to make sure there are financial, educational and extracurricular resources for them to be able to

come to Kent State and feel comfortable once they’re here. “If there’s no resources, there’s no diversity,” Benton says. “Apart from that, there needs to be more of a recognition of the diversity that we have. It needs to be known that it’s here...any event that one of the AALANA organizations hold should be as popular as something a mostly caucasian organization would hold.” Warren’s thoughts on how to increase diversity align with Benton’s. “We are doing better,” Warren says. “But it’s not just about numbers, it is about what kinds of program offerings do we have, what kinds of celebrations do we have that respect and represent different cultures and points of view?” Listening for and responding to those cues about the student body—what students need, what is missing—is just part of her leadership style, Warren says. She is already making efforts to interact with students more frequently than they were accustomed to from the previous administration. “For the majority of the time when [Lefton] was here, I’ll say his presence wasn’t known to me,” Benton says. “But I see [Warren] everywhere. She is always willing to shake hands, take pictures, and she took a picture with my organization. She actually picked up our sign and held it in the picture at Blastoff.” Warren is also meeting with student media every two weeks to discuss her take on current news and events. She says the desire she feels from students to connect with her—if the requests for selfies are any indication—is a large part of what drew her to Kent State, and she wants to reciprocate. Being available for interactions and discussions with students creates a certain culture of candor on a college campus, unlike the one created by the search for the presidency.

WARREN ON COMMUNICATION Warren’s first introduction to the university by way of the presidential search committee created a contentious communications issue. The search was met with disdain from many members of the student body and even faculty and staff. Megan Corder, senior public relations major, is writing her senior honors thesis on student perceptions of university presidents. She aims to understand how students form their opinions of administrators. Transparency, she says, is one of the shaping factors. “Transparency is extremely important in that you want to know what they’re doing and that they’re making the best decisions,” Corder says. “If you explain why you’re doing what you’re doing, people are more receptive to what you’re doing.” Warren says she understands those concerns about the openness of the search process, but ultimately she feels the Board of Trustees and search committee did their best. Here, she is a teammate once more. “I think they honored the process of input from representatives and made the decision in this day and age that confidentiality of the candidates was vital,” Warren says. “That is where the challenge comes. You have to weigh the idea of confidentiality and protecting high profile candidates while trying to honor a democratic process.” Warren looks straight ahead through the glass windows lining her office wall as she talks about her parents. Her mom is still alive, but her dad passed away in December, she says. “My dad was a gentle giant,” she says. “He was always kind and respectful of people, and he always loved listening to people. A lot of me is part of that.” Listening is one of Warren’s favorite words. In fact, on July 1, her first day on the job, Warren began her listening tour that has taken her to all eight campuses, across the state of Ohio and will soon take



President Warren takes a photo of Flash doing push-ups at the Ohio State vs. Kent State football game Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014. The Flashes fell to the Buckeyes 66-0.

her to other parts of the country to learn about Kent State’s role and what it means to its stakeholders. Lefton was not known for communicating with the student body, but Warren says she didn’t come into her presidency feeling like she had to make up for that. “My style is my style,” Warren says. “Regardless of Lefton’s style, it has not influenced what I’m trying to do. This is who I am. I’m a connector, I love students, I love being in the heart of the university’s activity. [Lefton] was very successful. He may not have been as interactive as some may have wanted him to be, but I hope we can honor him and judge me on what I can contribute.” That being said, Warren says it is important to establish a culture of openness across the university by encouraging her cabinet, deans and department chairs to be more open to meeting with students because, most often, “a student’s concern is best resolved somewhere in the system before me,” she says. “And then whenever there’s that student that just really needs for me to hear them, I’m available.” Warren is still getting used to the attention a presidency entails. As provost at VCU, Warren says she had to embrace the public visibility to some extent, but as president of Kent State, the visibility is much higher, and that role shift has been an adjustment she has contemplated making before, but was hesitant to pursue. Warren says she has been contacted by


search firms to consider a presidency before, but she was happy being a provost. “I love working with faculty and students and the internal aspects of a university,” she says. “What I’ve found is in a presidency, you can still indeed be connector inside, but you have an opportunity to be the voice that is the advocate for university, and I’m enjoying that.” Until she was approached to be a candidate for the Kent State presidency, she had said no to all other offers. But this time, she says, it felt right. Warren’s cousin was a long-time faculty member at Kent State Stark, so, over the years, she says she was able to see Kent State through his eyes, and she liked what she saw. “Had it not been Kent State, I’m not sure I would have done it.” Warren is a freshman president, eager to mesh and work with her new teammates, but she has a coach’s ambition, too. Warren has quickly created a line between amiable teammate and aggressive coach that she is working to straddle evenly. But not until she seeks to change the university’s path and bring her plans to fruition will Kent State truly know which side takes precedence. In just 100 days, Warren says she feels at home in Kent. And although she does in fact have a home in Kent—she is renting Lefton’s former house—she has another home downtown at the Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center.


I knew I wanted to accept the offer to be the president of Kent State when: “I met the people of Kent State. I was truly on the fence until I met the search committee. I was impressed by their passion for Kent State.” I feel happiest when: “I’m with students.” The lesson that took me longest to learn: “How to be patient enough to do things well. I’m high energy, and I want to get it done. I’m a big ideas person, but big ideas take patience.” Favorite Books: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy Favorite Candy: M&Ms (regular and peanut) Favorite Quote: “Excellence can be attained if you care more than others think is wise, risk more than others think is safe, dream more than others think is practical, expect more than others think is possible. I have that framed in several places.”

“It’s my favorite spot,” Warren says. “It feels like home because I stayed there a couple of nights each month between January and July, so when I walk into there everyone says ‘hello,’ everyone knows my name, it’s like being at Cheers.” In many ways, Warren is a freshman at Kent State learning to adjust to a new environment— the Kent State Hotel and Conference Center being her first dorm. She’s found a new hair salon at Evelyn Dickerson where she can get a trim and french manicure her nails. And she is getting to know her students through her Twitter account with more than 2,000 followers where she likes to promote “Blue and Gold Fridays” and tweet pictures of her frequent meetings with student groups. Her days are scheduled in 30-minute increments. She doesn’t have a lot of time alone. But it’s evident that hyper-involvement suits her. Even when she is sitting at her desk in her office on the phone answering questions for her latest interview, students can catch her looking out the north-facing wall of windows smiling and waving to students as they walk across Risman Plaza, fervently engaged in her new home. But she also thinks her new home can do better. Warren lamented the 66–0 loss to Ohio State at the first Board of Trustees meeting with a laugh: “I am very competitive.” B

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testosterone-fueled sex-fiends incapable of controlling their impulses not only does an injustice to men, but further enables the paltry sum of those who are to be acquitted of their actions based on antiquated notions of what a man is and should be.”



“To assume men as a unit are uncivilized,

Chrissy Suttles

9:30 a.m.

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Standing within inches of the attack location more than 16 months later, this was the first time I visited the site after dark.


June 26, 2013, 5:30 a.m.

wake up to the sputter of my visibly seasoned Ford Taurus, desperately clinging to life during its final moments of ardor. It lets out one last defeated chug before going completely silent as I rub my eyes and check the engine light, not realizing the needle on the fuel gauge had plunged to “E.” I wiggle my way to an upright position and peer through the windshield reluctantly, then back at the clock on my dashboard: 5:45 a.m. I lock my eyes on the ruddy-colored entrance to my homely apartment on the west side of Kent across from a community endearingly known as “Silver Ghettos.” I know there’s nothing to be afraid of. I’m sure the lights and sirens scared him off. Still, I remain immobilized on



the edge of the driver’s seat. Hours go by before I realize I can’t be more than 60 feet from the door I’ve been staring at since before dawn. The full, strawberry moon is now completely tucked away and nature’s orchestra begins performing its concerto for a reposed audience. The restlessness begins to set in and I start drafting an escape. The sun’s up, protecting me from that which the moon often falls flat. I do a double take of my surroundings. Then a triple take. Before I pull the handle, I clutch my keys, one between each finger, to construct a fully formed set of claws, the most available weapon on hand. As I carefully shuffle up my driveway, head like a tilt-a-whirl, I think this is what it feels like to be hunted.

Sitting on the edge of my unmade bed, I can’t ignore what resembles charred skin around my knees and ankles. I delicately dab hydrogen peroxide on the wounds, cringing as the dirt and concrete bubble to the surface. I’m suddenly struck by the realization that in order to get to work on time, I need to make the mile-long trek to and from the gas station down the street on foot. I can hear my dad’s warnings about leaving the engine running overnight. “Girl, I oughta wring your neck,” he’d bluff if he were here and if circumstances were different. I open my door, the striking summer sun penetrating the laceration in my left knee. I remember the first time my mom allowed me to walk alone at night. After weeks of relentlessly pleading with her to let me “just walk around the block,” she eventually caved. At 13, I was living at my grandmother’s house after a bitter divorce that left my brother and I physically and emotionally displaced. Being a gardenvariety teenager, I was not in the habit of following directions. I confidently trudged through miles of forest that night, mindfully working through my troubles. A love story began, but like all great romances, heartbreak was bound to ensue.

The previous night. June 25, 2013 11:00 p.m. With tangled earbuds dangling from my hand, I throw on a pair of tiny, shrimp-colored shorts and a blue hoodie I “borrowed” from a friend without permission. “I have a bad feeling about tonight,” my boyfriend warns from 400 miles away. “If you’re gonna go out, be really careful.” I shake it off defiantly. Why should tonight’s walk be any different from the hundreds before? Strutting through the community adjacent to mine, and going nowhere in particular, I only stop

to find a Pandora station more fitting to my cumbersome mood. I pass a number of street signs printed with a dark figure in a trench coat labeled “Neighborhood Watch” and wonder if anyone is really looking out for me.

ing from the headphones dangling from my sweater pocket. I wonder where my neighborhood watchmen are.

11:45 p.m.

It’s not until I hit Erie, Pennsylvania, that I turn around. Assuring police I had a “safe” place to go, I left the station and aimlessly drove for hours. It hits me how easily I could have been swept up and carried away. He was three times my size in both height and weight. “Had he been more determined, I could be rotting in his mother’s basement right now,” I tell myself, somewhere in Fairview. Logically, I know there is a slim chance he’ll try to find me. His assault was poorly executed, which suggests inexperience. But as someone who was molested only hours before, sitting in a protective metal chastity belt on wheels is the only recourse. As I pull into my driveway, “safely” back in Kent, the exhaustion sets in. I tilt my seat back and doublecheck the rusty automatic locks and sleep, exhaust spewing from the tailpipe.

As I turn left onto Suzanne Drive, a dark, abstract figure materializes in my peripherals. I swivel around, greeting the silhouette lurking alarmingly close. Being someone who gives others the benefit of the doubt, I choke out a friendly acknowledgement. “Oh, you scared me,” I say, chuckling nervously. “Sorry,” he mutters. Subtly, I make my way across the street to deflect any unwanted attention from the stranger. My body falls to the ground within a matter of seconds. It baffles me how someone with only two hands manages to suffocate and grope every inch of my body simultaneously. My consciousness starting to fade, I feel a tugging at my little pink shorts. “Please, stop,” I beg with disappointing frailty. “Do you like this, baby?” At this inquiry, an unfamiliar medley of rage and panic I can only describe as primitive climbs from within me. Struggling for air, I sink my teeth into the calloused ring finger of what seems like the embodiment of the inky figure on the “Neighborhood Watch” sign. Shouting stifled, unintelligible syllables, I shove my elbow into a ribcage. A gust of breath leaves his lips, surprised by my blow. I’m on my feet for no more than 15 seconds before his hands lace my ankles again, dragging me through the dewy grass until my knees hit the concrete for a second time. His hands preoccupied, I let out a howl. The figure flees. For a moment, I cast my gaze downward to the bloodstained concrete, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence,” whimper-

June 26, 2013, 1:30 a.m.

July 10, 2013. 7:45 a.m. After several days of silence from the Kent Police Department, an aggressive knock wakes me up. A detective and his partner “just wanted to confirm the details” I neuorotically scribbled on the report that night, almost positive I had permanently imprinted the words on the back of the cop car I used as a hard surface. “Now, we need to make sure you’re telling the truth so we don’t compromise any other investigations in the process of resolving yours,” the lanky man in a navy buttonup says. “But we don’t want to sound accusatory,” his partner adds. A classic case of good-cop, bad-cop. “We’ve seen you on KentWired, we don’t want this out there,” bad cop says, referencing my years in student media.


The list of suspects the police gave me are all locals with criminal backgrounds, one of which is homeless. I immediately looked all of them up on Facebook, only to be disappointed. Other than the vague descriptors I gave the police, I had no idea what my attacker looked like. What surprised me is what happened as I browsed their profiles: Empathy. Anyone who could be considered for this type of crime has to be a psychopathic hermit living in an equally inept environment, I figured. What I found were photos of daughters, wives, sisters and mothers. Every suspect had proudly displayed images of the women in his life, some with toddlers beaming for the camera. And all at

once, my attacker grew from a murky, onedimensional object to a man capable of rational thought. It hit me that the man who was determined to drag my lifeless body under the bridge to fulfill a sadistic fantasy might have fled to his wife and daughter as he tossed me to the ground. He kissed that same wife goodbye as he headed to work the following morning, completing unsatisfying, remedial tasks for hours, eagerly awaiting the nighttime walk he tells his wife “helps him unwind.” I think this contributes to the illusion that perpetrators of sexual assault are not in control of their actions, which ultimately leads to victim blaming. After I mustered the courage to start discussing what happened with loved ones, I was met with a lot of allegations masked as support. “You should’ve known better than to walk at night,” a close friend said, sympathetically. “Men can’t control themselves if you make it that easy.” Imagine how ridiculous that excuse would sound in court. “Mr. Brown, you’re charged with 22 counts of embezzlement and obstruction of justice, how do you plead? “Not guilty, Your Honor, on account of testes.” To assume men as a unit are uncivilized, testosterone-fueled sex-fiends incapable of controlling their impulses not only does an injustice to men, but further enables the paltry sum of those who are to be acquitted of their actions based on antiquated notions of what a man is and should be. But this sentiment is gradually changing with heightened conversation. Statistically, the estimated annual rate of female rape or sexual assault victimizations declined by 58 percent from 1995 to 2010, according to federal crime data.

In the City of Kent alone, rape has decreased by more than 28 percent since 2012, aggravated assault by more than 32 percent. Even President Obama issued a memorandum to combat the still-prevalent rape culture on college campuses. In it, he strongly encourages men to stay active in an offense they are almost entirely responsible for ending. The White House agreed to lend resources to any state-funded university struggling to address sexual assault, as well as review existing laws that may hinder perpetrators of sex crimes to be charged to the desired extent. “For anybody whose once normal, everyday life was suddenly shattered by an act of sexual violence, the trauma, the terror can shadow you long after one horrible attack,” the president said in his September 19 address. For me, though, that “one horrible attack” cast very few long-term shadows.

Oct. 1, 2014, 4:32 p.m.

wore off, I hardly thought about that night. The woman with the doctorate in psychology says my mind will eventually want to work through the trauma and to see her when it does. I offer a different explanation: Although my body was dragged, beaten and molested, my dignity went unscathed. The trivial degree to which my assailant affected my daily life puts others in an uncomfortable position. People treat sexual assault like a death in the family. They choke out awkward sympathies, offering you a shoulder to cry on. But I don’t feel like I lost anything. I wish I had some sort of uplifting, Upworthy-style message about my experience. You’d think a sexual assault would warrant

it: “You won’t BELIEVE what this college student did after her molestation! At 3:25, I completely lost it.” My story won’t be going viral, because I’ve still yet to find the silver lining. This is just one of many struggles I’ll face in my lifetime, and like all of those, I’ve only grown from the experience. It’s taken some time, but I’ve let go of how I’m supposed to feel. These things don’t have to send you into a spiralling depression, hoarding guilt in every corner of your mind. Who knows? I might find myself in an overpaid psychiatrist’s itchy lounge chair a decade from now, staving off demons from my youth. As for now, I’m fine. B

Rape, Abuse, Incest & National Network hotline: 800-656-4673 The Kent State Office of Sexual And Relationship Violence Support Services (SRVSS): 330- 672-8016


Seems like the only thing they’ve thoroughly investigated is me. No wonder sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, (about 60 percent of all sexual assaults are not reported to the police, according to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.) Just a few minutes with the detectives, and I feel less like a survivor and more like a criminal. The more details I give of the two-minute episode, the more it feels like a confession. “He was tall, dark skinned, with dreadlocks,” I tell them, again, as if they were waiting for an inconsistency. I know they’re just doing their job, but I wonder if they pose those same accusations at victims of less stigmatized crimes. They proceed to fill me in on possible video-footage of the attack, being an area of particularly high crime, and let me know when I can further assist the investigation. That was 14 months ago and the last I’ve heard.

Kent State Psychological Services: 330-672-2487

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It may seem as if my story jumps forward too abruptly; as if there’s a level of selfexamination missing. That’s because while my experience changed how I operate on a chemical level, I wouldn’t say it was a defining moment in my life. At times, the rustling of leaves may startle me after dark, but that doesn’t stop me from trudging through them. During the courtesy visits I paid to a therapist months later, I learned the numbness I experienced was a lesser-known side effect of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. While common symptoms include flashbacks, anger and shame, I was aloof, avoidant and detached. After the initial shock

I mustered the “After courage to start

discussing what happened with loved ones, I was met with a lot of allegations masked as support. ‘You should’ve known better than to walk at night,’ a close friend said, sympathetically. ‘Men can’t control themselves if you make it that easy.’ ” Chrissy Suttles



This curb is about 250 feet away from the site. Ironically, it’s one of the busiest areas in the community.

I took this with my iPhone at the Kent Police Department about an hour after the assault. At the time, I figured it would be useful in any pending court cases against the perpetrator.



lot of people in the community and on “Acampus just looked at it as a football issue, but it wasn’t a football issue. This mushroomed from a football issue, to an athletic department issue, to a university issue.”


It was early in the morning when Pamela Bitsko’s students walked in the classroom and settled down. Pamela, Jason’s mother, is a fifth-grade elementary school teacher. She was taking attendance when her phone vibrated. “I wouldn’t have answered it, but it was Christian, which I thought was really strange,” Pamela says. “I can barely hear him, but what I think I heard him say was ‘Jason’s gone.’ ” At that point, she ran out to the hallway in a frenzy, asking Christian to repeat what he said. Ten minutes later, she received a call from Offensive Line Coach Shawn Clark. “All I kept saying was, ‘Tell me this isn’t true...tell me this isn’t true,’ ” Pamela says. At 9:30 a.m., Randall’s phone rang at work. It was Pamela telling him his son passed away. He describes the shock as a “tidal wave” that hit him, and it’s been a blur ever since. “But there was no one to be mad at,” Randall says with a tone that might be sadness or loss or something else altogether. “No drunk driving, no guy with a gun, no suicide attempt,” Randall says. “There’s no aneurysm, no blood clot, no seizure, no heart attack. There’s no evidence of anything happening to him except his heart just slowly stopping. He was relaxed and peaceful and he went to sleep.” Jason’s parents and siblings quickly drove to Kent, met his roommates and went to the morgue where they saw Jason for the last time. “I think what impressed me the most is the strength of his brother and especially his little sister to grasp everything the way that she has,” Randall says. It was just last summer when Jason’s sister Kaitlin approached her father and told him, “I hope you’re not mad, but I really would like Jason to walk me down the aisle.” Randall pauses. The thought of this seems to bring pain to his face. “I said, ‘That’s fine, but I’ll walk you to

Freshman defensive tackle Jon Cunningham takes a break at Kent State’s home opener on Saturday, Aug. 30. Every player wore the number “54” on their helmets in honor of teammate Jason Bitsko.


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Son, brother, friend, teammate, Christian, Hercules. Jason Bitsko’s memory lives on in the hearts of those he touched.



can see it in their faces—remote and watchful as they listen to the sombre notes of Amazing Grace. Shortly after, his roommate Drew Severino stands behind the pulpit and talks about Jason. His smile is painful in its uncertainty. To Drew and his brother Christian Severino, who also lived with Jason at one point, Jason was a remarkable friend. Randall Bitsko, Jason’s father, watches from the pew. To him, Jason was an obedient son. In fact, the last time he had to discipline Jason, he was 7 (Jason had gone out to play and had forgotten to make his bed). Since then, Jason made his bed and conveniently slept on top of the covers. His father had never fought with him since. On the morning of Aug. 20, David Oliver, Brimfield Township police chief, responded to a 911 call to assist the fire department paramedics for an “unresponsive 21 year-old male.” Drug overdose, he thought. But there


was nothing in Jason’s room to indicate that—no beer cans, no drug bongs, nothing. “Now, I am not saying anything negative,” he shared on the Brimfield Police Department Facebook page. “However, in 20 years of police work, with the death of such a young person, I expect to see remnants of the party life.” But Jason died peacefully in his sleep, on top of the covers with his bed perfectly made. After summoning the coroner, Oliver talked to Jason’s devastated roommates before driving one of the coaches back to the stadium to notify the team of the sad news. “I was in the large meeting room with the whole team and then a smaller room with Jason’s fellow offensive linemen…I felt grief,” he wrote. “I have never been in a room with such large men…who were all crying.”


bout 80 people make it through the relentless rain and into the University Parish Newman Center. They pour in and sign their names in the guestbook standing in front of a photo of a young man. Jason Bitsko’s electric blue jersey is framed and placed in front of the door. A collage of photographs is displayed on a wooden easel—Jason as a baby, with one long wisp of hair standing on his head; Jason as a child, flexing his muscles with a grin on his face; Jason as an athlete posing in a red jersey; Jason in his prom suit; Jason proudly holding a certificate—memories his friends see before taking a seat. Father Steve Agostino leads the service and introduces Jason as a son, brother, friend, student and, above all, the great thumping heartbeat of his football team. His death stirred Kent State students and community members in many ways. You



Jason,’ ” he laughs, his grief leaving him for a moment. Even after Jason’s death, Randall still sits at the 40-yard line at the top by the press box in Dix Stadium. It’s been raining all morning, an unpleasant gritty rain that slicks the bleachers and colors the sky cement gray. Randall never misses a Flashes game. “I have so many great memories,” he says. “I don’t think that a lot of parents in their lifetimes have the memories and the opportunities that Jason gave me within these short years.” In fact, Randall and his father travelled 62,000 miles last year to watch Jason play all over the country. “So many moments in his life were like a movie,” Randall says. “Last-second, gamewinning shots, kicking field goal to win a game, making an attack.” Jason played right tackle for the Flashes the past three seasons. Only a season ago, he was

named to Phil Steele’s Preseason All-MAC team and received the Gerald and Victoria Read Award. Straight-A student, phenomenal athlete, incredible young man—that’s how his father is quick to describe him. Jason was always athletic, striving to compete against his older brother Ryan. Randall remembers Jason coming in after a game of basketball in the driveway and saying, “Dad, I don’t know when, but I’ll beat him in basketball one day. I’m going to beat him.” Ryan and Jason played day and night on their driveway basketball court illuminated by flood lights. Randall says Jason and his brother destroyed three portable hoops, which led him to invest in a Gorilla system, the most heavy duty basketball hoop one can buy. “A lot of people don’t know this, but Jason’s first love was basketball,” Pamela says. Jason received some D2 and D3 school of-

Jason’s mom, Pamela Bitsko, reflects on her son’s life at her home in Huber Heights. The last memory she has of Jason was a big “bear hug” he gave her before beginning his senior year.



excessively to become a hero with superhuman strength. Despite his great height and bulging muscles, Hercules is kind, compassionate and above all, forgiving. Everyone who knew Jason could see the striking similarities. “I always said that when Jason meets his girl, he’s going to treat her like a Disney princess,” Randall says as he looks at Helterbran. “He met me,” Helterbran croons softly. Randall chuckles, then pats her on the shoulder. There is an intimate, comfortable quality about his voice when he talks to Helterbran. It’s as if they have known each other for years. One of Randall’s favorite memories of his sons is probably the silliest one, he admits. “When Jason was five, he wanted an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas,” Randall says. “I asked him why he wanted an Easy Bake Oven, and he said, ‘Because I want to make my own snacks whenever I want to.’ ” Despite being caught in grief too complex to articulate, Randall seems hopeful as he reminisces about his son, smiling frequently and making occasional jokes. “He was a cuddler,” Drew says musingly. “I’d be sleeping on the couch and he’d come lay down next to me and cuddle.” Drew lived with Jason a year ago. “That’s my favorite thing about him—that


he liked to cuddle,” Drew says, the stabbing sweetness of his thought taking him off guard as his eyes well up with tears. “He was my brother.” After his football practice, Jason came home to relax. That was his time to get away from football, which was so tightly woven into the fabric of his everyday life. Over the summer, Drew had bought a collection of about 130 Disney DVDs, and they both watched a movie everyday while munching on some post-practice food. “We watched at least half of those movies by the time he passed away,” Drew says. But the football players never got to see that side of him, Drew says. Tacklers are typically a hardy lot, a rare breed of size, weight, strength, technique and quickness. They are heavy-legged and strong-handed to deliver a knocking blow to a defender. Jason was a leader on his team, and leaders are seldom expected to be soft. “When he came home, the kid inside of him came out,” Drew says. During his occasional visits to his hometown of Dayton, Jason trained with his father. “When he came home, he was mine,” Randall says. “It was our time at the gym. It came to the point that instead of encouraging him to try more, he’d come home to show off.”

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fers, but no full basketball scholarships. When Jason realized basketball was not his ticket to college, he pursued football. He wanted more than anything to get a scholarship. “Jason wanted to take care of paying for his school on his own, did not want to burden the family with added expenses even though he knew we would make sure finances would be taken care of,” Randall says. Soon enough, the thrill he got from a tackle brought football close to his heart, and when he toured Kent State after graduating from high school, he fell in love. “This was his sanctuary,” Randall says. “This was his home away from home. His coaches were his surrogate fathers.” It was also where Jason met Madison Helterbran. Their first date was quite typical— they went to the movies. “I thought he was really cute and I liked how tall he was,” Helterbran says. “Butterflies in the stomach, ha?” Christian jokes. “I’m surprised he didn’t take you to see Disney,” Randall says, at which both Christian and Drew shake their heads, followed by an “Oh my God” and a sigh. Everyone who knew Jason understood his obsession with Disney movies. His alltime favorite was the 1997 animated film Hercules about a lovable hunk who trains

Jason’s roommates, Christian and Drew Severino, stand in the student section at Dix Stadium during the first football game of the season wearing T-shirts made in honor of Jason.

PHOTO BY JACOB BYK; submitted photo from pamela bitsko

Randall Bitsko and Madison Helterbran, Jason’s dad and girlfriend, and about 80 others mourn during a memorial service for Jason at the University Parish Newman Center.

Randall remembers his favorite training session with his son. Jason and his father were playing basketball for conditioning. Jason grabbed the basketball, took three dribbles at the top of the key, jumped high and dunked it over his dad. “I looked at him and I said, ‘If you do that in two years at the NFL scouting combine, you won’t have to worry about doing any other test,’ ” Randall says with a smile. Besides being a cherished athlete at Kent State, Jason was also a devout Christian. Jason met Ted Schumacher, his mentor at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, weekly in Schumacher’s home after Jason accepted Christ in October 2012. Schumacher says he even asked Jason to be the head of the men’s Bible study group for the upcoming year. “He was really involved with Christianity,” Drew says, whose own faith was cultivated and fostered by Jason’s direction. “He knew the Bible; he knew what he needed to do.” Randall truly believes Jason saw life differently than others. “He knew that you could be tough and be happy; he knew that you could smile and help other people through their day,” Randall says. “He just got life that well.” In his last tweet, which his mother retweeted on Aug. 14, Jason said, “There are 86,400 seconds in a day. Make sure you use one of those to thank god for ev-

Pamela Bitsko said football was one of many binds holding her and Jason together. This last photo taken of them was on the Dix Stadium field.

are 86,400 “There seconds in a

erything you have #stayfocused.” Jason’s tweet has been retweeted 1,500 times. Jason’s death was a great loss to those closest to him, but it was also an exceptional loss for the greater community. The outpouring of tributes following his death testified to that. Messages, posts and statuses about Jason flooded multiple social media platforms. National media, including well-known sports news organizations such as Fox Sports, ESPN, CBS Sports and NFL, covered Jason’s death almost instantaneously. A day after he heard the news, Head Coach Paul Haynes said during a press conference, “The unexpected and tragic loss of Jason Bitsko was profound. Jason Bitsko was not just a Golden Flash, he was a son, he was a brother, he was a mentor, he was a friend. He was not just known for the things he did on the field; he was known by a lot of people in this university.” Kent State Athletics Director Joel Nielsen also received hundreds of emails from fans, alumni, colleagues and community members. “A lot of people in the community and on campus just looked at it as a football issue, but it wasn’t a football issue,” Nielsen says. “This mushroomed from a football issue, to an athletic department issue, to a university issue.” Nielsen witnessed people’s love for Jason when he saw a large number of students climb on buses to attend his funeral.

day. Make sure you use one of those to thank god for everything you have #stayfocused”


“I remember Jason the most from watching him during those early-morning workouts,” Nielsen says. “That smile, you know, how he could light them up and change the mood of a six o’clock workout. I could tell how the other players respected him. You could see all that.”


Kent State should use Urban Outfitters’ exploitation as an opportunity to educate. WORDS BY CHRISSY SUTTLES

“The crackle of the rifle volley cut the suddenly still air. It appeared to go on, as a solid volley, for perhaps a full minute or a little longer,” read the front page of the New York Times on May 5, 1970, the morning after the Ohio National Guard fired 67 gunshots into an antiwar protest, killing four Kent State students and wounding nine others. “Before I even considered going to Kent State, I visited as a historical field trip. To me, Kent was more of a mausoleum than a school,” says Katie Saar, a recent graduate of Kent State. “When I got here, it was odd seeing kids my age walking around, sipping coffee.” The events of May 4 shaped our community in ways unforeseen by those who witnessed them firsthand. It’s what defines us around the nation and world. It’s in our curriculum, our architecture and our minds. Saar’s experience isn’t unique. To those of us who live here, Kent State is home. To many others, that two-and-one-half acre memorial overlooking the Commons often reduces an entire eight-campus university system with more than 40,000 students to a 45-year-old memento. This was proven anew with Urban Outfitters’s brief release of its “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt” in September. The $129 shirt, which was spattered with red stains resembling blood, and punctured with holes resembling bullet holes, prompted massive public outrage for days following its release. The company quickly removed the shirt, but it later appeared on eBay at a starting bid of $550. It’s since disappeared. A spokesperson for Urban Outfitters released a statement claiming the shirt was part of the company’s “one-of-a-kind...sun-faded vintage collection,” and was simply misunderstood, but members of the university questioned the company’s motives. “This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today,” university officials said in statement released that day. It’s just one example of how the tragedy that befell on May 4 still resonates loudly enough for a multi-million dollar company to profit off of its “trendiness.” This begs the question: Should we be distancing ourselves from this stigma, or embracing it? To embrace it is to heal from it, Mindy Farmer, the director of the May 4 Visitor’s Center, argues. “One tactic to deal with tough issues is to talk about them constantly so it takes away the sting,” Farmer says. “So I really do believe that here we should talk about it as often as needed, so the legacy isn’t just what happened on May 4, but what we’ve learned from it.” Farmer is spot on. In order for the university and its family to properly educate future generations of students and faculty now that the dust has settled, we need to welcome the notoriety, speak frankly and ultimately accept that May 4 will be part of Kent State for as long as the Vietnam War is taught in U.S. history classes. A primary coping technique for trauma is confronting the place or event from which the bad experience stems. The monuments, muse-



really do believe “Ithat here we should

talk about it as often as needed, So the legacy isn’t just what happened on May4, but what we’ve learned from it.” Mindy Farmer Director of the May 4 Visitor’s Center

ums and rallies are to Kent State what a therapist is to a war hero. “I think of museums as institutions that are not stuck in the past but reflections of our present because they evolve over time and they change,” Farmer says. “So this is a wounded place, I am a wounded individual. I think it’s interesting to be here to talk about how to overcome that.” To preserve the dignity of those whose lives were lost during that afternoon, we must still debate the legality of what happened with events hosted by the May 4 Task Force each year, no matter how “radical.” Justice is not implemented by passivity. It’s easy for students to lose the emotional gravity of May 4 decades later, raising the risk of tactlessness and misinformation. In this case, there’s a thin line between harping and remembering. Kent State has tread that line gracefully. Farmer, like most university spokespeople, refuses to say Urban Outfitters’s name on the premise that publicity is what executives are fishing for with offensive merchandise. “You’ll notice that in statements, [the university] will only use ‘the company’ as an identifier,” she says. This euthanizes the company’s tacky, histrionic attempt at free advertising, and places that publicity in its rightful place. Kent State University exhibits a level of depth and empathy that not even executives marketing overpriced, faux Americana couture can undermine. We can use these ploys as an opportunity to further inform and heal.


Selling May 4


NATIONAL AWARDS RECEIVED IN 2013 The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication

PHOTO & WORDS BY katie welles

This photo is a mere backyard barbecue in a different part of the world. A young boy watched as his father shaved the hair off a slaughtered pig at a neighbor’s house in the rural town of Bolondrón, Cuba. Pork is a common meat in the Cuban diet as opposed to beef, which can be hard to come by because of cattle shortages. Under Cuban law, the penalty for killing a cow can be up to ten years in prison, and only authorized, state-run restaurants can legally serve beef. The day I took this photograph was an ordinary day in Cuba, yet so unordinary for an American like me. The heat and humidity had me fanning myself on my stepmom’s front porch with my skirt tied up in a knot, The phone rang, and it was my stepcousin Lisandra’s husband Joel. She came back to the porch and said something in Spanish. I looked to my stepmom, who said Joel was about to kill a pig. With camera in hand, I no longer felt like I fit in with the Cubans. There I was strutting around Bolondrón with a $500 Nikon piece around my neck: I was a celebrity. La turista. An outsider. A blue-eyed Americana or Rusa. People waved at me, smiling, yelling for “fotos!” I was about to go photograph something that, to me, was wildly new, but to everyone there was a part of life.



Second Place General Excellence Single Issue of an Ongoing Print Magazine Anthony Dominic (April 2013) Second Place First-Person Consumer Magazine Article Rachel Campbell, “Failure to Diagnose” (April 2013) Third Place Investigation and Analysis Consumer Magazine Article Mark Haymond, “The ‘G’ Word” (April 2013) The Hearst Journalism Awards Program Top 10 National Finalist Feature Writing Mark Haymond, “The ‘G’ Word” (April 2013) Top 10 National Finalist Personality Profile Christina Bucciere, “My Upright Life” (Dec. 2013) Associated College Press/College Media Association Fourth Place, Best of Show Best Feature Magazine Anthony Dominic (Oct. 2013)