the VOLUME 40 ISSUE 6 27 MARCH 2020
03 SUCCESS STORIES
09 MARCH MADNESS
13 IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE
Succession and the soap-satire
The Indy pits their favorites against each other
Sometimes I dream of an almanac that contains all the answers to your existence
From The Editors
Living in Plan Didier Lucceus
The stop signs on the edges of the hill seem particularly crooked now, and the traffic lights along Prospect Street change from red to green in vain. In an ongoing yellow explosion, daffodils in flower beds around Fox Point droop for a diminished audience. If you pass at the right hour, the Ratty still emits the same, albeit fainter, potpourri of fried smells. Those pink flowering trees outside the John Carter Brown Library are cautiously starting to bloom.
Week in Worship Amelia Anthony & Alisa Caira
It’s Personal Asher Lehrer-Small
Any brief consultation with the news reveals that an empty campus is the least of our worries; College Hill is affluent, sparsely populated, and benefits from proximity to Brown and RISD. Those of us who have stayed behind are fortunate to be spending the beginning of this crisis here. Still, while going for walks, I avoid routes that will lead to sightings of the Main Green. When campus still buzzed with the frenzied dichotomy between packing and partying, a friend relayed to me something her dad had told her: anyone who says anything more than “I don’t know” right now is wrong. Though his words still ring true to some degree, I do know that this combined state of chaos and suspension is not permanent. My Shanghai-based parents have lived the past two months in quarantine and uncertainty. Last week, they went out to eat with friends for the first time since the city shut down in January.
Success Stories Cate Turner
Buying, Selling, Being Anabelle Johnston
March Madness The Indy
Dear Indy, see you on Zoom.
Civic Duty Calls Marina Hunt
In the Mood for Love Emily Yang
Untitled Liana Chaplain & Sindura Sriram
Mid-autumn Jack Zhou
The College Hill Independent is a Providence-based publication written, illustrated, designed, and edited by students from Brown and RISD. We are committed to publishing politically engaged and accessible work. While the Indy is financed by Brown University, we hold ourselves accountable to our readers across the Providence community. The Indy rejects content that explicitly or implicitly perpetuates racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism and/or classism.
WEEK IN REVIEW Emily Rust | NEWS Anchita Dasgupta Peder Schaefer Tristan Harris | METRO Ricardo Gomez Miles Guggenheim Deborah Marini | ARTS Zachary Barnes Eve O’Shea Isabelle Rea | FEATURES Audrey Buhain Mia Pattillo Nick Roblee-Strauss | SCIENCE + TECH Bilal Memon Izzi Olive Andy Rickert | LITERARY Catherine Habgood Star Su | EPHEMERA Liana Chaplain Sindura Sriram | X Jacob Alabab-Moser Ethan Murakami | LIST Ella Comberg XingXing Shou Cate Turner | STAFF WRITERS Alana Baer Leela Berman Mara Cavallaro Uwa Ede-Osifo Eduardo Gutiérrez Peña Evie Hidysmith Kaela Hines Muram Ibrahim Anabelle Johnston Jennifer Katz Emma Kofman Evan Lincoln Zach Ngin Jorge Palacios Nell Salzman Issra Said Kion You | COPY EDITORS Josephine Bleakley Muskaan Garg Sarah Goldman Marina Though this list is not exhaustive, the Indy strives to address Hunt Christine Huynh Seth Israel Thomas Patti Ella Spungen | DESIGN EDITORS Daniel these systems of oppression by centering the voices, opinions, Navratil Ella Rosenblatt | DESIGNERS Anna Brinkhuis Amos Jackson Kathryn Li Katherine and efforts of marginalized people in Providence and beyond. Sang | ILLUSTRATORS Sylvia Atwood Leslie Benavides Natasha Brennan Bella Carlos Ryn Kang Eliza Macneal Sophia Meng Sandra Moore Pia Mileaf-Patel Claire Schlaikjer Floria The Indy is constantly evolving: we are always working to Tsui Veronica Tucker Katrina Wardhanna | BUSINESS Caín Yepez Abby Yuan | WEB Ashley make our staff and content more inclusive. Though our editing Kim | SOCIAL MEDIA Muskaan Garg | SENIOR EDITORS Ben Bienstock Ella Comberg Olivia process provides an internal structure for accountability, we Kan-Sperling Chris Packs Tara Sharma Tiara Sharma Cate Turner Wen Zhuang | MANAGING always welcome letters to the editor. EDITORS Matt Ishimaru Sara Van Horn Alex Westfall | MVP Ben Bienstock
27 MARCH 2020
VOL 40 ISSUE 06
week in worship SOYLENT Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter. This time mimics the same long 40 days in which Jesus wandered the desert without food or water—a tough act to follow. During Lent, some good Catholics choose to add something meaningful to their lives, while others opt to forgo something, a tradition called the Lenten sacrifice. But 2000 years or so after Jesus’ arduous journey, Lent looks a lot different. Our material standards of living are incomparable to any past generations; these days, Lenten sacrifice looks like quitting the Juul and hitting the gym. One can find Lenten inspiration yearround in plenty of clickbait articles (“I Gave Up Sugar for 30 Days and This Is What Happened” or “iQuit Social Media and iFeel Amazing”). Sacrifice is trendy. Increasingly, Catholics and non-Catholics alike are jumping on the vegan or keto bandwagons, commiting to the #gramfree life, shopping small and local rather than Amazon-priming everything, meditating every morning, keeping gratitude journals, and a myriad other worthy approaches to self-improvement that Jesus and his followers would have a hard time wrapping their heads around. Lenten practices are supposed to meaningfully contribute to life in some way, and the sacrifice is meant to be challenging. This Indy contributor remembers attempting to give up jelly beans for Lent in first grade, which she thought was the perfect solution to the idea of “sacrifice” since jelly beans were only readily available in the basket that would reward her on Easter morning. Her church class teacher begged to differ, and this was the first time she was left questioning her commitment to the Catholic faith. (This was also the only year she successfully kept her Lenten promise.). On Ash Wednesday of this year, our semi-bald problematic fave Pope Francis urged Catholics to consider giving up the eighth modern-day deadly sin: trolling. He advised churchgoers to abstain from the sacrilegious practice, no matter how tempting it may be to liken your haters to the Devil. The Pope proclaimed that Lent “is a time to give up useless words, gossip, rumors, tittle-tattle, and speak to God on a first name basis.” So instead of spilling tea, subtweeting, and drunkenly ranting like we do for the rest of the year, think about calling up the Big Guy and asking: What’s your plan for this whole goddamn thing? Pope Francis is hipper than most octogenarians, at least when it comes to the evils of cyberbullying. But do you think he’s ever chowed down on a Beyond Burger? For many, Lent includes not eating meat, at least on Fridays. The recent proliferation of meat-like vegan meats creates the perfect loophole for carnivorous Catholics. While devouring a juicy Impossible™ Burger every Friday isn’t technically a violation of the fast, eating something in the uncanny valley of meat is kind of…against the point. This Impossible™ Burger question provides a mouthwatering challenge to the binaries set up by organized religion. Catholicism, alongside many other religions, is filled with these ancient oppositions: good vs. evil, angel vs. devil, heaven vs. hell. Like vegan meat, some things don’t fit within these boundaries. And the 2000-year-old religion might need to come up with some answers. Right now, thousands of (sinful) Catholics like myself are on a Zoom call with God asking if it’s okay to skip Lent in 2020. I mean, with everything going on right now, I may as well be allowed to eat all the jelly beans I please, right? —AA
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
BY Amelia Anthony and Alisa Caira ILLUSTRATION Alana Baer DESIGN Daniel Navratil
VACATION IS JUST A BLOCK AWAY After gathering a moderate amount of fame from her YouTube “storytime” videos, Natalia Taylor decided it was time for something different. Typically, the 23-year-old sticks to posting glamour shots across her social media accounts and telling stories about her day-to-day on her YouTube channel. Last month, she decided that enough was enough and played a bit of a trick on her followers. Over the course of a day, Taylor uploaded various pictures from her recent ‘vacation’ to Bali, Indonesia. She lounged on a patio, relaxed in a bathtub, and flaunted the AirBnB she was allegedly staying in. Her fans were quick to support her, commenting heart eye emojis and compliments— as one does. One follower wrote, “She really out here living her best life,” while another commented, “Our Bali princess.” Some even got excited about sharing a connection to Bali with Taylor, writing, “I’m in Bali too!” and “Welcome to my country, Nat! Enjoy!” These followers soon tragically learned that their affectionate messages played into a trend of deception Taylor higlighted. In a video released shortly after the photos appeared on her channel, titled “i FAKED a vacation at IKEA,” Taylor exposed the reality behind these glamorous images. Was the YouTuber faking a vacation to the luxurious destination of IKEA? Did she find IKEA so relaxing it felt like a vacation? No, no. Rather, Taylor had made use of the Swedish superstore's characteristic showrooms to fake her Bali blowout—bringing new meaning to the word staycation. With her “storytime” explanation video, Taylor revealed the behind-the-scenes of the project and why anyone might try to fake a vacation in the first place. Taylor takes her audience to the IKEA a few blocks from her home, donning a full face of make-up and a pink dress that, her truest fans would know, she had bought recently for a vacation (fear not, many of these
diehard fans picked up on this). She was accompanied by her photographer and an unidentified camera operator. The extensive project predictably gained a crowd of perplexed IKEA customers and workers. The mission was intense: the trio quickly obscured IKEA tags, completed their photoshoot, and attempted to hide themselves from workers who might’ve kicked them out. Thankfully, the team was successful, and the video later rejoins Taylor in her room, posting the photos and assuming that some of her followers will catch onto her scheme. To emphasize how ‘obvious’ her stunt was, Taylor leaves small clues in the photos for people to notice the fakeness of it all. But no one does. The compliments from fans flood in along with the confused messages from her friends and family. Taylor takes this as a sign of her fans’ trust in her, a quality that she emphasizes throughout her video. She implies that anyone looking closely would notice these hints. To Taylor, her disciples’ willingness to believe comes from a blind faith in social media rather than from the trustworthiness of the Instagram stories she posts. She explains that if she were in Bali, she would obviously be posting photos at iconic sites and definitely not be posting three times in a single day, either. And clearly, anyone who looked at the art above the bathtub in her last photo must recognize it belongs to IKEA, right? In our current momet of increasing global travel restrictions, Taylor’s video sets an odd precedent for just how far someone will go to fake being ‘away.’ Soon enough, more influencers may capitalize on her tactics to fake luxury and travel, especially as we begin to more frequently envision ourselves in locations other than our bedrooms, even ones that, like IKEA, didn’t feel so far away at first. Whether getting there through our imaginations or our local IKEA, Taylor opens doors that may have been better off closed. Through her own faked vacation, Taylor displays how easy it is to be fooled by influencers online. What she illustrates to even greater effect, however, is just how short-sighted influencers can be. Taylor assumes her fakeness is noticeable, but even after the video, the photos seem convincing and the clues barely visible. Just as other influencers have their reasons for trying to fake vacations, Taylor had her own with this project, which, shockingly, doesn’t just end with the good deed of raising awareness, even if she claims that’s the case. The outcomes of this video, besides awareness, are increased fame and influence for Taylor. Her fakecation, supposedly meant to raise awareness about what people will do for publicity, does exactly what it warns against. At the start of her video, she encourages viewers to subscribe and, at its conclusion, says she’ll follow anyone who DMs her an example of a clue she left in the photos. Predictably, these same photos are now filled with thousands of comments about the video. Through its existence as a publicity stunt rather than a secret, Taylor’s prank ‘fakecation’ garnered more publicity than a true attempt at faking a vacation. With that, her influence grows and, in revealing a facade, plays it in her favor. And so influencer culture continues.
WEEK IN REVIEW
BY Cate Turner ILLUSTRATION Eliza Macneal DESIGN Daniel Navratil
Last October, then-presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg told the Hollywood Reporter that he was “struggling” to get into a buzzy HBO show called Succession. “I need a character to root for and I haven't decided if any of them are good people,” he said. Succession is, in brief, a show about a conservative media conglomerate run by Logan Roy, an elderly sadist. The central question of the show is which of his bloodthirsty children—three sons, one daughter, and, more peripherally, an in-law and a nephew—he will nominate to run the company. Most plot points revolve around billion-dollar deceptions; mass corruption and corporation-wide abuse also feature heavily. The stories the show tells are, without exception, those of people obsessed with money and power to the exclusion of absolutely everything else. It would be easy to dismiss Buttigieg’s impulse to find an entertainment magnate to root for as a sign of his McKinsey pedigree, but the tension he identifies is central to Succession. It’s difficult to know how to approach a show that confounds genre as thoroughly as Succession. It has been categorized as a satire, but also as a drama, a soap, a corporate thriller, a tragedy, an adaptation of King Lear, and a parallel to Dynasty (HBO). Succession deals in family betrayal and personal failure, but emotional high-water marks are almost invariably undercut by satirical humor. The Roy family is humorously perverted by their spending power, but it is this same spending power that seems to bring about their moral failings, which are often cast as genuinely tragic. The image of the megarich that Succession presents is, in other words, very, very unfavorable—but its critique is always tempered by a fascination with why, exactly, these characters do what they do. The second episode of the first season, in which the Roy siblings wait in the hospital after their father’s stroke, shows them reacting with genuine worry, guilt, and grief, and establishes the show’s twist-ridden— almost to the point of soapiness—narrative structure. The siblings struggle to balance their conflicted emotions for their difficult father with their desire for company power, and the episode dramatizes their grief and, even more importantly, their power struggles in typical dramatic form. The episode drums up interpersonal intrigue as a function of business intrigue, and vice versa. The siblings plot with and against each other; a major part of the show’s pleasure comes from watching these machinations play out. But the episode also includes as much verbal and physical comedy as its title, “Sh*t Show at the F**k Factory,” would suggest. This comedy is always based on one of the characters doing or saying something that reflects badly, or at least stupidly, on themselves. Desperately attempting damage control for his father’s condition, Kendall (the ladder-climbing, sometimes-recovering drug addict who functions as the show’s protagonist) tells a business rival, “Simon says mum’s the word, motherf*cker”; his hamfistedly macho reaction is made even funnier by the sky-high economic stakes it attempts to protect. Cousin Greg, a
Success Stories newcomer to the Roy family, knocks over an antique bell in Logan’s palatial apartment and tells the housekeeper, “sorry if I summoned you,” when she appears, a truly abject portrait of human awkwardness in the face of new-money grandeur. Roman and his sister Shiv end up in a shrieky slapfight in a hospital lecture room over the fate of the company, and it’s the pigtail-yanking method that governs such a politically and economic change of power that makes the scene hilarious. Succession is far from the first show to juggle send-up and drama. The late-aughts/early-tens heyday of the mockumentary sitcom was based, in large part, on the form’s balance of satire and straightforward emotional narrative. These shows—most notably Mike Schur’s The Office and Parks and Recreation—balanced ironic distance from their subjects with an earnest investment in their romances, careers, and friendships. These shows share with Succession a commitment to a certain degree of verisimilitude as far as dress and styling go. Characters in The Office, especially its early seasons, wear bad haircuts and poorly-ironed shirts— they look, basically, like regular people, an appearance necessary to keep the documentary conceit afloat. Similarly, the Roy family is not movie-star beautiful. As Indy alum and New Yorker television critic Doreen St. Felix tweeted last September, “isn’t the thing with succession [sic] supposed to be that none of the characters are hot.” The Roy siblings have, variously, weak chins and bug eyes, reedy voices and unattractively smug resting faces. They are beautiful in the way of the real-life megarich—cashmere sweaters, retinol’d skin, palpably blow-dried hair, and, above all, pathological entitlement—but there’s unusually little movie magic apparent in their presentation. More than anything else, this semi-verisimilitude makes characters appear more vulnerable. On the one hand, vulnerability makes them particularly easy to laugh at. On the other, it makes them easy to identify with, easy to pity. In The Office, it is the awkward realism of Dwight Schrute’s appearance that makes him so easy to mock early on and invest in later. In Succession, the same is true of a character like Roman, whose weaselly twitchiness is both funny and, in the moments when he isn’t outright malicious, weirdly endearing. What sets shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation apart from Succession, though, is the linearity of their progress from one genre to another. These shows start with contempt, then turn it inside out, finding affection for the people they’re sending up in the process. This is probably part of why they decline so rapidly, and into total schlock, as the seasons go by: the more contempt they disprove, the less they have to work with comedically, and the arc of these shows is always to disprove contempt. Contempt, after all, is mean, and the people that The Office and Parks and Recreation depict—scrabbling low-level managers, hapless civil servants, all tethered to Heartland cities we are made to view as deeply embarrassing—are not really deserving of meanness. After a few seasons
of stupidity, Michael Scott and Leslie Knope both become basically sympathetic leads, characters that viewers are clearly instructed to root for. They have serious love interests, success arcs, heartwarming found-family moments. They start out pathetic in the sense of being embarrassing, then become pathetic in the sense of being sympathetically pitiable. What they do begins to matter, and because it matters, it stops being funny. (It’s worth noting that Leslie Knope, by the close of Parks and Recreation’s last season, seems on track to be president of the United States.) Succession works by a different logic. Here, contempt and emotional narrative are always nearly simultaneous. Characters are ridiculous even and especially in their misery, regardless of how legitimate the misery is. The major plot twist of the first season—when Kendall leaves a waiter to die after a car accident—is almost immediately set against a backdrop of the absurdities of wealth. Kendall returns to his sister Shiv’s wedding, where “I Gotta Feeling” plays at top volume. He calls out “hey man!” to his unimpressed brother (ridiculous), then dances with his children (sweet). The next morning, his cousin Greg tells Kendall, “there’s kind of a weird vibe with the service folks, the Hobbity people” (ridiculous), due, of course, to the waiter’s death. In the next scene, Logan comforts Kendall (serious), calling him “my number one boy” (serious/ridiculous). The trappings of wealth, among them a totally callous disposition toward human suffering, are set against the horror of what Kendall has done. These trappings remain hilarious; the weight of the death on Kendall remains tragic. The simultaneity of satire and drama in Succession prevents the viewer from ever fully falling into either ironic detachment from or straightforward attachment to the action of the show. Every time the viewer begins to view Roy as a full, sympathetic person, the show chastises them; every time the viewer assumes a position of superior distance, they’re reeled back in. We identify both with and against the characters at every turn. Unlike the characters of Parks and Recreation and The Office, the characters of Succession are not pathetic in their insignifiance. They are the billionaires whose whims dictate the realities of everyone else—by some measure, then, they are the most significant people in the world. Their idiocy is never harmless, because its stakes are the propaganda machine, the global economy, and millions of livelihoods. Each of their decisions, no matter how serious or trivial, reverberates. Succession treats the very-powerful as people, worthy of our empathy but always also deserving of our contempt.
CATE TURNER B’21 suspects niceness.
27 MARCH 2020
Succession and the soap-satire
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
BY Asher Lehrer-Small ILLUSTRATION Alana Baer DESIGN Alex Westfall
IT'S PERSONAL THE LOW-TECH FUTURE OF THE FUTURE OF LEARNING
At Springfield High School in Southern Vermont, the entryway stairs not only lead students inside the school building—they serve as a reminder that learning can happen beyond the school walls. Five learning options are painted on the face of the stairs in bright white block lettering: “work-based learning,” “early college,” “dual enrollment,” “online learning,” and “River Valley Technical Center.” These are the “flexible pathways” that students at Springfield High can pursue as they work toward high school graduation. They can receive credits through working at jobs and internships. They can take courses at local public colleges and universities, or pursue career preparatory learning at their local technical center. “The challenge is, how do we work to ensure an education for all students that’s engaging, rigorous, and relevant?” Patty Davenport, Multiple Pathways Coordinator at Springfield High, told the College Hill Independent. Springfield’s diverse options for students come as a result of Vermont’s 2013 Flexible Pathway Initiative, which asks all Vermont public high schools to offer their students the same learning options that Springfield boasts on its entryway steps. The move comes as a part of a broader effort in the state to make learning more relevant and engaging to students, and falls under a wider education reform movement known as “personalized learning” (PL). Vermont is not alone in its personalization push. As a reform agenda, PL has become increasingly widespread in schools and districts across the country. Education leaders are recognizing that their students have a diverse array of needs, interests, and learning styles that traditional classrooms are often unequipped to adequately handle. They have begun to turn to PL in hopes of flipping the educational paradigm from a “one-size-fits-all” model to a model prepared to meet individual students’ needs. In the past ten years, PL has gone from a fringe idea to an educational priority for thousands of schools. Nine out of ten districts polled said they were investing in devices, software, or professional development to support PL. These changes hold promise: initial studies suggest that students at PL schools make faster test score gains than their counterparts at non-PL schools. For students who lack essential outside-of-school supports, the accommodations afforded by PL can have outsized positive effects. Yet not everyone sees the PL movement as a good thing. Its links to tech-based philanthropic supergiants such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative have parents and researchers alike sharing worries over data privacy, the time students spend in front of screens, and the invasion of private interests into the public education sector. In 2017, for instance, Facebook’s founder made a multi-million dollar commitment to support PL’s expansion through the development of online learning tools. Does that money come from altruism, or from an interest in pushing American education landscape to develop a dependence on technological tools? Skeptical researchers have coined terms such as “digital privatization” and “philanthrocapitalism” to describe the cycle of PL-focused contributions from tech giants in the education sector that they see as detrimental and potentially self-serving. Vermont has taken a path to personalized learning that stands apart from these concerns with its Flexible Pathways Initiative. The effort embodies a version of PL where students’ one-on-one relationships with
faculty form the basis for personalization. It’s not flashy, but it may be the approach that serves students best. Instead of depending on computer programs, it emphasizes student agency in selecting from an array of engaged, community-based learning options. If PL is truly the future of learning as experts say, after speaking to Vermont educators, it seems that the Green Mountain State’s approach to personalization may well show us the future of the future of learning. +++ Even as PL spreads to schools across the country, it still lacks a clear definition. “You could ask 10 people and get 10 different descriptions of what it means,” said Sarah Erickson, a math teacher in Rhode Island, to the Independent. In 2016, the Rhode Island Department of Education launched the RI Personalized Learning Initiative to grow personalized learning statewide. “I don't think it has been practically defined at the school level, district level, or state level,” said Erickson. A 2017 RAND study admits as much, and offers a working definition for PL in place of a commonly established one. The study stipulates that “personalized learning prioritizes a clear understanding of the needs and goals of each individual student and [tailors] instruction to address those needs and goals.” Yet what this actually means in practice remains unclear. The absence of a common understanding has allowed two divergent definitions to emerge: first, that PL means using digital software to let students to move through a predetermined body of content at their own pace. And second, that PL means a restructuring of school, not necessarily focused on technology, where students’ one-on-one relationships with faculty guide them to set their own goals and chart their own academic pathways. Vermont’s PL push embodies this second definition. The state’s Flexible Pathways Initiative calls on schools to support their students in crafting a “combination of high-quality academic and experiential components leading to secondary school completion and postsecondary readiness.” It is a “new way of looking at learning,” the Vermont Agency of Education explained in official documents. Students should be in the driver's seat and they should have a say in their route. Schools have come up with creative ways to accommodate these changes. At Winooski High School just outside of Burlington, students can enroll in an “iLab” credit where they design individual semester-long projects with the help of mentors in the school or in their community. Students’ iLab projects can involve internship work, online learning, and independent research. One student learned American Sign Language from a community mentor and incorporated what she learned into a dance piece that she performed at the end of the semester. “We really dig into: What are you interested in?” said Lindsey Cox, Winooski’s iLab co-coordinator, to the Independent. “What do you want to spend time on? What are you passionate about?” The flexibility of the iLab accommodates students who learn best at a pace different from that of a traditional classroom. “The iLab has been a place where students can go more quickly and the iLab has also been a place where students can go more slowly,” said Cox. Where the school might previously have struggled to support certain students due to learning differences or responsibilities at home, the iLab fills in the
gaps. Cox reports that students who previously may have struggled to graduate have gained the credits they need to earn a diploma through work in the iLab. Initiatives like the iLab are not unique to Winooski High. All across Vermont, the Flexible Pathways Initiative has moved schools to adopt a style of learning that is not only personalized, but truly student-driven. Out of a sample of 35 Vermont high schools, 17 reported that students spend over an hour per week in advisory programs where they develop relationships with a faculty member and a cohort of peers. In that same sample, 19 schools reported having a full or part-time coordinator on staff to match interested students to internships and early college opportunities. Several such coordinators spoke to the Independent, describing programs much like the iLab in Winooski where students learn through self-designed projects or online courses about a topic of their interest. Vermont exemplifies the version of PL that best serves students: where students have the capacity to design their own learning. For some, that can mean selecting computer-based, self-paced classes. But for many others, it can mean supplementing traditional classes with real-world, self-directed learning opportunities. While these changes require an investment, it is an investment that schools must make. If the goal of PL is to match the needs of students to the educational opportunities that best fit those needs, it has to start by getting to know the students. +++ In contrast to Vermont, Rhode Island has pursued a very different statewide approach to PL. Rather than focusing on personnel or advising, many Rhode Island schools have invested in personalized learning technologies. In the Providence Public School District, school spending on web-based instructional programs shot up from 158,000 dollars in 2011-12 to 928,000 dollars in 2015-16, the latest year for which data are available. However, the Rhode Island Personalized Learning Initiative claims to be about more than just technology. A state document tries to speak into existence what PL is not: it’s not providing every student with a laptop, it’s not learning in isolation, and it doesn’t mean memorize and forget. But do Rhode Island schools follow through on this vision, or do they just pay lip service to it? From speaking to local educators, the answer seems mixed. In the best cases, PL means engaging classrooms where students actively learn. Dale Fraza teaches at 360 High School in Providence, which received a grant from the state in 2017 to support innovation in personalized learning. In his journalism class, he asks students to pick topics that spark their interest: “In our last [newspaper] issue, one girl was very interested in learning about the coronavirus… so she focused on that,” Fraza told the Independent. Not everyone picks weighty topics. Other students have focused on lighter issues such as the food in their school cafeteria. In Fraza’s history class, the project-based learning model allows students to decide which issues they want to learn about more deeply. Many readers might remember history classes where dry research topics were assigned by their teachers. For Fraza, it’s all about engaging the students. That means letting them pick the particular research project that they are curious to learn more about. “If we’re studying the Harlem
27 MARCH 2020
Renaissance, students have a selection of topics they can go with.” But even if Fraza’s class stands out as an exemplar for personalization and project-based learning, other classrooms, even at 360, fall short. “360 is attempting PL in small amounts around the school,” said Sarah Erickson, math teacher at 360. “But [it] does not yet have a schoolwide model or consistent practice in place.” According to Erickson, PL at 360 is still a work in progress. While 360 is working to personalize learning through project-based learning and relationship-building, other schools in Rhode Island have taken an alternative approach. Many of these schools use a learning platform backed by funds from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative called Summit Learning (360 does not). Some of Fraza’s students transferred to 360 after previously attending schools that used the online learning platform. For many of those students, the idea that PL would mean more than computer-based learning in isolation was a false promise. “To be frank, the reviews from those students haven’t been great,” said Fraza of his students' recollections from past Rhode Island schools. “A lot of kids kind of resent the idea that they’re just going to go to school and sit at a computer all day.” A report on the Providence Public School System, released by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy last June, supports what Fraza has heard from his students. In classrooms that were ostensibly “personalized” by the Summit Learning technology, which consists of computer-based learning programs, students had to adjust their learning to match the limited formats presented by the Summit exams. Furthermore, online learning aggravated off-task behavior, with some students “observably working on assignments from other classes, viewing YouTube videos...queuing songs on playlists, toggling between Summit and entertainment websites, or pausing on work screens while chatting with neighbors,” according to the report. Clearly, technology alone is not enough to engage students —the classroom environment and school culture need to reinforce for students that their voice matters. Summit Learning, in a response to the report, pointed to systemic factors such as inadequate facilities and teacher absenteeism as the cause of Summit’s insufficiencies in the district. “Our program was not designed to directly address the systemic and organizational issues that the Institute of Education Policy’s report has cited in Providence,” their response says. “It
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
is the relationship between students and their teachers that matters most, and any role that technology plays should be a supporting one.” But if systemic and organizational factors are to blame for Summit’s ineffectiveness in Providence schools, what are the systemic conditions that can allow personalized learning to benefit students? Springfield High, 360, and Winooski all have something in common: they each devote significant time to learning about their students. At 360, students start each day in Hub, an advisory time where they participate in leadership development, academic advising, and community building. Springfield and Winooski also both devote more than sixty minutes each week to advisory time. While advisory time is far from a panacea—staffing, funding, language access and a number of issues are key to quality education— regarding PL, one thing is clear: for personalized learning to really work, schools need to become a bit more personal. +++ In an education course at Brown University, Sierra was learning about Individualized Education Plans. IEPs, her professor explained, are a tool used to track customized paths for students with learning disabilities. They are mandated by the federal government for all such students. Wouldn’t it be cool, Sierra mused to her professor, if all students could have such a portfolio? It would make everyone’s learning so much more relevant, she thought. The teacher responded that it was simply impossible to devote that much attention to every student. Apparently, Vermont has attempted the impossible. As a part of the Flexible Pathways Initiative, every student in grades 7 - 12 is required to build their own personalized learning plan. Seven years after the passage of that mandate, Vermont high schools are making that goal look not quite so impossible. Is the Green Mountain State’s model the gold standard for personalized learning? There are a number of structural factors working in Vermont’s favor. Vermont is a majority-white state and persistent racial segregation is rarely a source of educational inequities. And at just over 600,000 residents, Vermont is smaller than Rhode Island, which can make implementing new reforms less complicated. Also, Vermont education spending is high relative to other states: on average, Vermont schools enjoy nearly 17,900 dollars of funding per pupil, the fifth most per pupil funding in
the country. However, Rhode Island is not far behind standing as the 9th-best funded state with over 15,500 dollars per pupil statewide. As of 2018, Providence spent nearly 18,400 dollars per pupil—more than the Vermont average. Clearly, differences in the two states’ definitions of PL stem from more than their budgets. Even though there are factors working in Vermont’s favor, its model of engaged, student-driven PL must remain a goal for schools across the country. Many Vermont districts that have gone all-in on PL serve mostly students who receive free or reducedprice lunch. For students who are economically disadvantaged, the flexibility afforded by a relationship-driven PL model allows their advisors to understand their particular situation and make adjustments that work for them. This might mean finding opportunities for extra tutoring if the student has limited time to study due to childcare or work obligations after school. It might mean finding an internship placement to break up the monotony of the school day. Studentcentered PL systems such as these allow schools to better support their most vulnerable students, while tech-based approaches that sacrifice one-on-one relationships are unprepared to provide those essential accommodations. At Winooski High School, which serves 57 percent low-income students and is Vermont’s only majority-minority high school, Lindsey Cox is grateful for the state’s move to enact the Flexible Pathways Initiative. She has always wanted to see student-centered PL thrive at Winooski, but the state’s action gave muchneeded legitimacy to its personalization efforts. “Doing something like this in the public sphere in such a big and bold way is challenging,” said Cox. “And one of the things that can help people understand it a little bit better is having...the state and the legislature saying ‘yes we support this direction.’” District leaders, state legislators, and governors, the ball is in your court. Educators like Cox and Fraza are ready to lean into student-centered PL. Students are depending on it. Now take the Vermont Flexible Pathways model and replicate it. Students’ names have been changed to protect their identities.
ASHER LEHRER-SMALL B'20 wishes his high school had an iLab class.
BUYING, SELLING, BEING Scrolling through TikTok is not unlike dissolving into a loop of repeating soundbites and punchlines as the definition between each video blurs, and time folds into itself. I spend hours watching teens pantomime the same songs, dogs patter across the screen to the same childlike voice-overs, and artists reveal their creations with the same “before-and-after” template. Occasionally, a celebrity will appear out of place, unsure of the proper facial expressions or hand gestures to accompany their carefully-edited performance that misses the purpose of the platform entirely. While Facebook albums and Instagram posts broadcast a curated version of everyday life, TikTok celebrates self-made creators. The app is aware of its own slapstick gluttony, providing a suite of simple editing tools that allow for universal participation. Everyone on the app unapologetically clamors for attention, providing relief from the online minefield of feigned authenticity. I am swallowed by the same wormhole of capitalist self-creation when browsing the virtual marketplace of Depop, downloaded in pursuit of a pair of broken-in Oxfords to save myself from blisters and overspending. Like most Gen-Z-centered software, the quintessential Depop shopping experience occurs on a mobile interface instead of the desktop, as the app is designed to mimic the social media revered by this generation. The Instagram-inspired “explore” page features established shops that mimic magazine photoshoots alongside girls taking mirror selfies of “ugly” ski sweaters that have swung back into “fashion.” I’m greeted by a plethora of Dickies garments, novelty earrings, and multicolored clogs, all tagged as the CUTEST ever and #vintage. As I fill my virtual shopping bag with secondhand acquisitions, I become aware of how similar each article of clothing is despite the personal nature of the pick. The collection of granny sweaters, midi-skirts, and pastel mock-necks sitting in my cart could have been sold by one Urban Outfitters-type store. Each seller has their own “brand” for sale, and yet they are eerily similar, as the daily eclectic mix of clothing “featured” by Depop complements itself in a chaotic fashion. Peer-to-peer purchasing on Depop allows users to shop the closet of the cool kids at school, equating the act of buying with emulating and being. TikTok and Depop provide avenues for anyone to be a creator and content curator; the only requisite is a cell phone and sense of self. Unlike long-gone Vine or millennial-appealing Poshmark—the respective predecessors for both platforms—TikTok and Depop are designed specifically to fit the needs and online habits of Gen-Z, merging AI-driven in-app navigation with shameless self-promotion. Although these platforms were not designed by this generation, they are perfectly suited to meet youth culture in ways that other online marketplaces and social media apps cannot. Gen-Z Zoomers are typically characterized as entrepreneurial and tech-savvy, traits evident in the 15-year-old TikTok stars with brand deals and teenage Depop sellers that have designed custom shipping labels. At 18, I am on the cusp of the target demographic, as I am notably older than TikTok celebrities and middle school entrepreneurs. And yet, I still participate by watching and buying in awe. Viral TikTok dances and “vintage Depop style” have pervaded the media I consume, from Instagram meme accounts to New York street style, until—at least for me—immersion into these platforms has become inevitable. In some ways, Gen-Z creators and store-runners
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BY Anabelle Johnston ILLUSTRATION Floria Tsui DESIGN Ella Rosenblatt
understand better than I do that personhood is entan- scrolling reveals an endless selection of related posts, gled with purchasing power, and to participate online as the apps generate individual collections of more things you might like. today is to be a consumer. Depop speaks to the Gen-Z rejection of fast fashion and linear projection of style, as Y2K crop +++ tops are layered with flared jeans reminiscent of the Both apps have been extremely popular among teen- 1970s, repurposing old pieces to create a cacophonous agers for years and recently have grown to be recog- image that diverges from runway trends. Other platnized as platforms to be reckoned with by investors, forms have mimicked Depop’s model with less success. college students, and baffled millennial culture writers. Instagram’s “checkout” feature and Pinterest’s shop90 percent of Depop’s 15 million active users are under ping options streamline the I see it, I like it, I want it, I the age of 26, and approximately 37 percent of the 1 buy it process, but still rely on heavily-stylized images billion TikTok users worldwide are under the age of 19. and branding. As tempting as it is to purchase the Both apps are concentrated around the same age demo- Pinterest board of my ideal life, it feels too complagraphic, attracting a variety of users due to their acces- cent—and expensive—for me to ever press Buy. Instead sibility, a value important to untrained youth looking of directing users to brands like For Love and Lemons to create content. Both TikTok and Depop grew out of to purchase a hat showcased in the picture just pinned, foreign platforms—China and Italy, respectively—and Depop places individuals, instead of corporations, on both have developed around the ‘globalized teenager’ either end of the selling spectrum. The creators of while blending technology with modern youth culture. Depop understand that identity is advanced marketing Sociologists Dr. Kaylene Williams and Dr. Robert Page of the self and everything, by extension, is for sale. postulate that Zoomers who grew up in the aftermath This idea of commodifiable selfhood is built into the of 9/11 and during the rise of school violence often fabric of the app and bought into by this generation as value security and self-sufficiency, rejecting large a whole. The thrifty and inexpensive nature of the app allows for fluidity of expression, as long as one pays for establishments in favor of the individual. In their formative years, popular franchises such it. as Hannah Montana and High School Musical intro+++ duced this independence to tweens on the cusp of adolescence, featuring characters that dress and act in their own self-interest. Hannah Montana’s father Similarly, TikTok puts “regular people” on both sides may have played an important role in her life, but of the screen, rejecting the notion that advanced Hannah had an independent career and final say over editing or equipment is necessary for quality producher actions as an artist and young woman, inspiring a tion. Although many college students and adults look generation of viewers to want the same for themselves. down upon the short clips as low-brow entertainment, According to a 2011 study published by the Journal TikTok provides the tools for creators to film whatof Behavioral Studies in Business, in breaking from ever they desire while the app learns what viewers norms of other generations, Gen-Z exists as a diverse want to see. The app’s Chinese parent company, but cohesive web. Coupled with the constant formation ByteDance, bought Musical.ly in November 2017 and of new social media platforms, this environment led to merged the platforms in August 2018 to create an app the creation of a generation more interconnected than for short form videos set to music. The music itself is ever before, as Zoomers constantly seek the accep- a phenomena, with heavy synthesizers, distorted tance of their peers. Whether that acceptance takes the voices, and bass drops that soundtrack transitions or form of likes or stylistic affirmations, this development serve as punchlines. One of the most popular songs, primed Gen-Z for both Depop and TikTok, as the inter- “Lottery” by K Camp, is used in the viral Renegade dance created by 14-year-old Jalaiah Harmon. The faces are designed to fit Zoomer needs. In 2011, the Italian culture and design magazine song has a repeating drum track, the word renegade is Pig created Depop to allow readers to purchase the spoken by a breathy female voice, and a man says “go” clothing and accessories featured in each issue. This multiple times before breathing heavily. The clip itself invention—and its descent from magazine format— is unspectacular, but made popular by its simplicity. complicated the distinction between the emulation It crescendos with repeating beats at the end of the 11 of trends and the forced participation in the market to seconds, creating a format perfectly suited for dancing. The Renegade dance can be—and has been— be an active member of a community. With the advent of Depop’s selling function, and subsequent arrival learned by anyone, which inspires everyone to try. As of Groupon executive Maria Raga in 2014, the app the app is designed for rapid mass-sharing, sounds became a marketplace for teens to buy, sell, and most and dances go viral, then disappear into obscurity importantly, trade. There are structural similarities with unprecedented frequency. Content is constantly between Depop and Instagram: both networks allow in conversation with itself, facilitated by the app’s users to follow other profiles—or personal storefronts— duet feature that allows for YoutTube-style reactions and hashtag their own posts to increase their following. to other videos. Users utilize a split screen suited for The apps complement each other, too: teens will buy a comic additions or call-and-response dances, tagging top for a single Instagram post and sell it the next day the original creator either in the comments or by to someone else, creating a globally-shared wardrobe simply using the same song. Unlike Instagram and Depop, TikTok first presthat at once promotes individuality while hovering over an exact stylistic epicenter. The grid format ents its users with the “ForYou” page, an endless utilized by both apps provides omniscient obser- algorithm-based amalgamation of videos, collected vance—the user sees everything in juxtaposition while from past viewing habits. While “explore” pages exploring posts by various accounts, though similar- are common, TikTok places its “ForYou” in the foreities in taste help conceal that each storefront has a front, as the first thing viewers access when opening different owner. Clicking on one picture and intuitively the app. Although each video on this page is distinct,
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Gen-Z SelfAdvertisement on Tiktok and Depop the longer one spends on the app, the more focused this page becomes. I was astounded to learn that my friends’ ForYou pages didn’t feature Adam Driverinspired videos, and that TikTok had regurgitated my weeklong obsession with Driver until it was unclear who controlled the content I absorbed. Like on Depop, a similar instance of hovering occurs, less centered around Doc Martens and instead based on the individual’s preferences as learned by ByteDance’s A.I. technology. While popular content on Instagram may range from celebrity content to meme pages and YouTube celebrates a slew of gamer-celebrities and Bon Appétit stars, TikTok and Depop are uniquely definable. To be popular on TikTok is to fit a specific mold, though that mold was created in Gen-Z’s image of itself and distilled through A.I. Both apps manipulate selfhood into profitable shapes without the vague terminology of influencer, as the influencer paradigm doesn’t really apply when the whole platform is—literally or figuratively—marketplace. Teens embody trends and then sell these commodifiable personas in time to move on to another, from one popular dance to another clunky sneaker style. This immediate turnover and demand for attention requires users to self-advertise and incessantly promote their own material and brand; in allowing anyone to become a star, everyone vies for the spotlight. On the one hand, these apps create a democratic space for cultural production, but they are also eerily totalizing. Depop commodifies style and TikTok does the same to dances and memes. Together the apps produce a cultural drift wherein everything converges on a single center or trend. The constant exchange of ideas through these platforms rests on their accessibility and the ease with which the apps learn what its audience likes. The prominence of TikTok cosplay may not rest on user desire to watch 15 seconds of an amateur actor dressed in 1920s garb performing overly-animated hand motions, but rather the algorithm’s insistence on showcasing videos tagged #POV (point of view). In this contained world, content creators benefit from the app’s design, until the distinction
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between A.I.-generated trends and user-generated Young TikTok stars often collaborate on videos (some trends becomes inconsequential. even living together to perform this task with ease), choreographing together to create a cohesive brand for +++ the app and themselves. Charlie D’Amelio, arguably the most famous of TikTok creators, is often referred For many, TikTok and Depop provide a space to subvert to as “having the hype,” terminology that is specific the norms of fast fashion and mass media. Instead, to the app and perfectly encapsulates the instantathey offer equally consumerist alternatives focused neous phenomenon that dominates the platform. Just on the individual and Gen-Z as a whole without regard as dance trends go viral overnight, D’Amelio rose to for older media traditions. However, some stereotypes fame with startling speed. She frequently dances with and structures have been recycled from generations other stars, and her videos are often dueted by users past. The ubiquitous TikTok e-boy—often distinguish- hoping to be noticed, sometimes even cheering her on able by his graphic tee layered over a striped long- or “hyping her up.” The comment section of her app is sleeve shirt, black nailpolish, and middle part—is not bustling with people defending and attacking her, most unlike the 80s moody heartthrob in his embodiment notably for her normalcy. Her videos are often singleof alternative attraction. Similarly, tag sales have long takes of her dancing in a sparsely decorated room, and made a market out of repurposing another’s goods. her popularity speaks to the value of the everyday. Yet the method employed by both apps feels revolu- Anyone could be Charlie D’Amelio, and youth across tionary because they connect teens across the world the globe are both competing and collaborating to fill with others in a way that allows everyone to feel seen that role. and heard. Rebranding into the compact platforms of Both Depop and TikTok facilitate connections TikTok and Depop offers a new audience and necessi- within an insular community of teen creators that tates movement forward into the technological abyss outsiders may try to contribute to but never can. The of endless content. technology is designed to reinforce what is already Other social media sites like Twitter, Instagram, popular, dictated by what interests Gen-Z. The apps and Facebook are designed to give space for users contain an ongoing conversation that is virtually inacto shout into the void, projecting their innermost cessible to those who have not already been listening, thoughts or the most palatable versions of their lives. uncovering not only what Zoomers like, but, more But social media sites popular with today’s youth are importantly, what they are willing to pay for. Scrolling designed to do the opposite. After purchasing a pair through TikTok, I often glance at Depop advertiseof enamel earrings featuring two cats breaking into a ments, as both apps speak to the same audience—those vault, I left a review for the Depop storefront and the born too late to be YouTube famous but who still recogowner left one for me as a customer. Our success as nize the value of the vlog and the profitability of the individuals in the virtual space is contingent upon mundane. I’m not sure how completely I fit into that mutual respect for others’ roles and the understanding camp, but I still can’t stop scrolling. that we need each other. Many users of the app are both buyers and sellers, engaging in a trade that ANABELLE JOHNSTON B'23 refuses to put her selfmimics evolving roles in the real world. We are not hood up for sale. simply consumers or producers, but constantly self-advocating and self-advertising. Likewise, the format of TikTok facilitates conversation and communication across videos on a split screen.
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Norman Fucking Rockwell! John D. Fucking Rockefeller, Jr.
Vibe check Checking your privilege March 2020 November 2016
Ferdinand de Saussure Linda Sarsour Stock market Bone broth Clapping for healthcare/ sanitation workers Adequately paying healthcare/sanitation workers
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The Masked Singer A nice Jewish boy named Max Singer Flattening the curve A fattening bean curd
Chapo Trap House Choco Taco Kosher for Passover Gluten-free for Lent The demise of the journalism industry The demise of all industries
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CIVIC DUTY CALLS
BY Marina Hunt DESIGN Alex Westfall
CONTESTED CIVIC EDUCATION IN PROVIDENCE
Standing in front of a poster board she had prepared for the Providence Community Day at Asa Messer Elementary, Chloe Feit, an eighth-grader at NathanBishop public school, said she felt fortunate to have taken an elective last year that integrated civics and current events into one course. For Feit, one of the highlights of the course was analyzing news stories and discussing the constitutional issues they raised. This exercise helped her grasp the greater meaning of political events happening every day. “I’m lucky enough that I’m learning about this because I have a teacher who agrees that kids should know about it,” Feit said to the College Hill Independent. “It has nothing to do with being smart, it has to do with being able to obtain that knowledge.” Community Day took place as part of an initiative led by Rhode Island’s Commissioner of Education Angélica Infante-Green to involve parents, students, and educators in the process of developing a longterm plan for school improvement. Three Community Design Teams hosted the event, where they presented their recommendations and invited the public to give feedback. The teams were made up of 45 parents, teachers, students, and community stakeholders who were nominated to lead the charge in developing community-based recommendations for the state’s Turnaround Plan. Meeting weekly between December 2019 and March 2020, the Design Teams worked alongside Commissioner Infante-Green to develop a strategy to turn around Providence public schools. The Turnaround Plan has been in the works since Johns Hopkins released a report last June that detailed the systemic dysfunctions that have long plagued the Providence Public School District’s (PPSD) education system. The report found that only 10 percent of students in Providence are performing at or above grade level in math and 14 percent in English language arts, indicating a lack of quality curriculum to guide academic instruction. This not only impacts students, but also teachers, who reported that a lack of professional development opportunities has left them feeling unsupported. The report also highlighted that parents are dissatisfied with the opportunities available to engage with and give feedback to their children’s schools. The Turnaround Plan, expected to come out in April, will be one step in the long project of addressing these issues. +++
against the State of Rhode Island. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that the state has failed “to provide all students a meaningful opportunity to obtain an education adequate to prepare them to be capable citizens.” The students are represented by Michael Rebell, professor at Columbia Law School and litigator experienced in education law. The defendants include Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, Commissioner of Education Ken Wagner, as well as the state’s House Speaker and Senate President. The pending lawsuit, Cook v. Raimondo, seeks to establish public education as a right under the US Constitution, the goal being to bring attention to educational shortcomings in Rhode Island and, ultimately, across the nation. +++ The lawsuit responds to a 1973 Supreme Court case, San Antonio Independent School Dist. v. Rodriguez, in which the Court considered, but failed to conclude, whether the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees students the fundamental right to an education that provides them with “the basic minimal skills necessary for the enjoyment of the rights of speech and of full participation in the political process.” The inconclusive outcome left a door open for this group of Rhode Island students to ask the Court to reopen this question and affirm this right. One of the core issues raised by the complaint is what constitutes these “basic minimal skills” and how they should be developed. Testifying for the complaint, one plaintiff noted that his high school social studies course taught formal facts about American government institutions, but failed to show the relationship between these institutions and the student’s future role as an active citizen. Another reported not having received any dedicated civics instruction during high school at all. Further, none of her teachers had been trained in the area of civics. All felt that Rhode Island public schools were failing to prepare students to be civically engaged in their youth and their futures. These testimonies suggest that “basic minimal skills” do not simply imply a basic civics course but rather a more comprehensive and engaged form of civic preparation. Not just a primer on US history and its institutions, as civics has traditionally been understood, but an education that prepares students fully to participate in their democracy. Student societies, drama clubs, and school trips to the State House all make the cut according to Rebell, who emphasized that while a basic civics course can be an important step toward ensuring that students receive an adequate education, “It’s not the whole ballgame.” If Chief Judge Smith decides in favor of the defendants, Rebell and his co-counsel will appeal to the Supreme Court. A decision in favor of the plaintiffs would bring the case to trial, and the country one step closer to a formal affirmation that students do in fact have a right to an education adequate to prepare them to be capable citizens. “No other judge has said that,” said Rebell in an interview with the Independent. “The weight of the federal government or the US Supreme Court, if we get that far, emphasizing its importance— that would be game-changing.”
While the recent Johns Hopkins report precipitated a new urgency in the state’s response to the PPSD’s shortcomings, the fight for an adequate education has been a long one for Rhode Islanders. Local educators, lawmakers, and community members agree that the state has long underserved its students and that community engagement is an important part of achieving sustainable educational reform. This becomes difficult to achieve, however, when public schools are doing little to inform students about how to engage with the state institutions whose purpose, at least in theory, is to represent them. As Feit highlighted at Community Day, not all students today have access to a civically-engaged education, and not all share Feit’s privilege of parents who have the time, resources, and channels to become aware of events like Community Day. +++ 14 Rhode Island students raised this issue in November 2018 when they filed a federal lawsuit Since the eighteenth century, the nation’s leaders have
emphasized the importance of a sufficiently educated citizenry to the success of this great experiment in republican government. The complaint cites Horace Mann’s 1846 Tenth Annual Report to the Massachusetts State Board of Education in which he wrote that “under our republican government…education…[must be] sufficient to qualify each citizen for the civil and social duties he will be called to discharge.” In other words, without citizens capable of participating in public life, the democractic system might not survive. Nearly two centuries later, state and federal institutions continue to struggle to define what constitutes a “sufficient” education and how to achieve it. Tom Kerr-Vanderslice, Rhode Island Executive Director of Generation Citizen, an organization that works to incorporate action civics into school curriculums, described to the Independent the “slow whittling” of civics from the US public school curriculum that has taken place over the last several decades. A key turning point, he said, was George W. Bush’s 2002 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy. This policy precipitated an education movement focused primarily on high stakes testing. While math, English, and science came into the spotlight, social sciences became further and further deprioritized, taking with it any real emphasis on civics. Following these measures, only 23 percent of eighth graders polled from a national sample reached the “proficiency” level on the most recent examination of civics knowledge administered in 2014. A report by the Campaign for the Civic Mission of the Schools found in 2011 that less than a fifth of high school seniors could explain how citizen participation benefits democracy. NCLB established a set of nationally mandated requirements intended to equalize educational opportunities for disadvantaged students by holding all schools to the same standard. Despite the good intentions of the policy, critics argue that the policy ended up harming the quality of education. Because schools that didn’t show improvement in testing were penalized, public school curriculums became focused on boosting standardized test scores, diminishing the attention given to fostering diverse forms of critical thinking. Kerr-Vanderslice recalls that his Providence high school would throw celebrations for classes every year they showed improvement “because that meant they were gonna get better funding.” +++ The legacy of the NCLB policy and its unintended consequences speaks to the limited ability of legislation to engender change, and in particular, the enormous change that is urgently needed to “turn around” the PPSD. The Civic Literacy Act (CLA), a bill introduced by House Representative Brian Newberry in January for the third year in a row, might challenge this assumption. If it passes, the bill would mandate that every high school student in Rhode Island take a full year of civics before graduating. The bill now defines civics in terms of developing a knowledge of US history and foundational documents, the roles and responsibilities of federal, state, and local governments, as well as the development of skills to analyze, debate and evaluate media and public policy issues. The bill did not, however, always look like this. Kerr-Vanderslice, who, in addition to being the local director of Generation Citizen, is one of the
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lead writers of the bill, actually testified against earlier versions of it. “The specific types of learning [Representative Newberry] was referring to in his bill were already happening—US history is very well represented in the Rhode Island curriculum right now,” said Kerr-Vanderslice in conversation with the Independent. It was not enough to simply tell schools to teach civics—it was important to define how it should be taught. In its original form, the bill did not speak to the kind of reform that schools really needed because our representatives could not understand what schools needed without hearing from the students and teachers themselves. Representative Newberry was receptive to this message and, with the help of community input, reshaped the bill to emphasize engaged civics beyond classroom learning. While the CLA is a thoughtful effort to return civics education to the central position it deserves in public school curriculums, the outcomes of the NCLB policy speak to the limitations of a bill like the CLA and its potential for unintended consequences. Ken Wagner, Commissioner of Education at the time the Cook v. Raimondo lawsuit was filed and a defendant in the case, stresses this point. While he agrees that civic preparation should take a central position in public education, he is skeptical that state-mandated requirements like the CLA can achieve systemic change. While not expressly opposed to requirements, Wagner believes that pursuing too many at once fosters a context in which representatives lose track of individual goals and end up achieving very little. “The government never stops doing things. It just stops doing things well,” he said. Wagner learned this working at the New York State Department of Education from 2009 to 2015. “We did a whole lot of things that not only nobody was asking for, but there was just almost violent opposition to,” Wagner said. Wagner and his boss would go on listening tours, visiting 1,200-seat auditoriums to get community feedback on policies. Despite the federal grant funds, surplus money put toward education, and the requirements, people weren't happy. “People would just scream at us for two hours,” Wagner said. Their discontent was in response to formulaic approaches to school improvement, like NCLB or Race to the Top, and other state-mandated requirements. “None of it was sustainable,” Wagner said. “All of the work that we did for 5-6 years came undone.” Instead of legally-mandated requirements, Wagner insists that a greater focus on grassroots demand at the parent, student, and teacher level is needed to achieve sustainable change in education. “The real solution is to activate communities,” Wagner said, clarifying that when students, teachers, and administrators on the ground become invested in an issue, “It’s not just an abstract requirement that gets a lot of attention and quietly fades away, it’s a real thing that people will have to pay attention to.”
Juanita Sanchez high school curriculum. All students take three community development classes across 10th, 11th, and 12th grade that take them out into the Providence community. “I want them to know what the world is when they go out into it,” said Testa. While civics continues to follow a more traditional curriculum at Juanita Sanchez, Testa is working to marry this course with the community development program to ultimately engage all of her students in some form of active civics. Still, Rita Kerr-Vanderslice, a Rhode Island high school social studies teacher (and the sister of Tom Kerr-Vanderslice), emphasized to the Independent that few students currently enjoy the privilege of an engaged civics education. “What I would love to see is a whole restructuring of how we think about social studies, putting civics at the center of it,” said Kerr-Vanderslice. “You gotta understand the world that you live in, and the rest of it is frosting.”
MARINA HUNT B’21 loved civics class in high school.
+++ Ariana Testa, assistant principal of Juanita Sanchez high school, illustrates the power of active community demand for change. She believes that any administrator can find a way to build civics into the curriculum, insisting, “If you want something in your schedule, you can make it happen.” Working with Generation Citizen, Testa has incorporated a community development program into the
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
BY Emily Yang ILLUSTRATION Alex Westfall DESIGN Ella Rosenblatt
He saw the first one when he caught its corner behind a dust-bound volume of textbooks. A wrinkled page torn from a datum notebook, surface gridded tightly by faded cyan squares. When he unfolded it, he found an unmistakably boyish scrawl fluttering inside, printed in a paled blue ink. At the end of every other phrase, the oily ink bled into the paper like a tiny, bursting blueberry, a disquieting idiosyncrasy that Wei couldn’t quite pin down as intentional or not. The letter was signed with one Chinese character: 無, as in “none.” Too unusual an iteration of the syllable for a family name—probably a pseudonym, maybe a homonym for his real surname. The content was nothing out of the ordinary: a love letter addressed to Wei’s current lover, written by a former boyfriend of hers—perhaps from college, maybe even high school. She had told him about most of her ex-lovers, an assortment of sheepish Taiwanese boys she’d inadvertently charmed growing up, but he didn’t recall one whose surname was a “Wu.” Still, such a detail hardly mattered, he thought. Wei quickly put it behind him as he slipped the letter back in its hiding place, continuing his quest for her ragged, traditional Mandarin edition of Siddhartha that he’d wanted to borrow once more. It wasn’t until the next day that the clumsy lettering of this “Wu” resurfaced somewhat rudely. Ling had tugged on his red tie, pulling him in for a welcome-home kiss. When Wei tucked a few strands of hair behind her ears, a blotch of blue split on the side of her pale neck, an inch below her jawline. Startled, he pulled back. “What’s wrong?” Ling asked, frowning. Wei blinked a few times, and with every rapid blink the burst shrunk back down to the small mole on her neck. “Nothing,” he said. “Just thought I saw something.” +++ Ling: Sometimes I dream of an almanac that contains all the answers to your existence. A calendar that divulges every single detail I need in order to demystify you in my mind. It’s handmade, two days a page, jotted in my own handwriting across pages and pages of those datum notebooks that people use for math class. Every day I flip to the next page, and crucial facts about you emerge in deep red ink. At the beginning of these dreams, I rejoice. I feel myself becoming whole as I amass more and more fragments of who you are. The more words I collect, the more textures you take up, and the more you begin to take shape, like a slab of marble chiseled to life. And somewhere in this steady flow of words and images, your existence comes to fruition. I think to myself that if I go on like this, maybe one day you’ll become whole to me, too. Only then, I know, will I be able to touch you. But whenever I try to turn back the days, to seek out an older note I’ve long forgotten, everything disappears. It always begins where my fingertips first land on the page. It’s ruthless—as soon as I brush it, a nothingness contracts and expands until it blots out the words I’ve
placed carefully on your skin. This happens whenever I turn my back on the present. And I do just that, without fail, every time I dream of this almanac of ours, or mine. As this nothingness spreads, the blue notebook begins to fade away as well. When I reach out to stop it from disappearing, my fingers touch nothing. Yours, 無
Chinese characters for which the language was only one of many possible pronunciations. He wondered if Wu spoke Taiwanese fluently, or could only comprehend pinches of simple phrases like Ling. Maybe he couldn’t speak Taiwanese at all—he did remember her mentioning a Chinese ex or two. Again reaching no conclusions, he slipped the note back into the abyss between Multivariable Calculus and Differential Equations. +++
+++ A few days later, when Wei finished Siddhartha, he entered her study to return the book to its place. As always, it had moved him deeply, but over time it struck him as far too naïve. Somewhere within and across his words, Hesse suggested that all organic things had an essence, which neither preceded nor followed existence—it was existence, and in the fact of their existence-essence, all things, Dalai Lamas and rivers alike, were equal. Wei wasn’t the type to brood over these philosophical technicalities—he was a simple guy from Hsinchu County, really—so he didn’t question any of Hesse’s logic the first time around. By the third read, however, he knew that no society could function on this radically egalitarian notion. As idealistic as he was (he still thought Taiwan could one day attain independence from China), he acknowledged that it was only human to pigeonhole different existences in a way that privileged one or two over the rest. He mulled this over as he slid the paperback into its former place, moseying around his non-conclusions. Eyes flitting around the room for his next read, he caught a glimpse of the letter once more. Strangely, it was now jutting out from between the calculus textbooks. Wei was sure he had positioned the letter just as he had found it, lying in wait at the back of the shelf—but there it was, announcing itself from between two moldering college textbooks. He pulled the letter out and gave it a more thorough read. Upon closer inspection, he concluded, Wu’s writing was mediocre at best. Each ghostly burst of blue seemed compensatory, a Rorschach stammering an apology for the trite flourish just now penned and ostensibly read. He jumped from one thought onto the next without transitions, paying no mind to punctuation and spelling. To top it all off, the text was an incoherent amalgam of English, simplified and traditional Chinese, and even Japanese. In English, he alternated between the pseudo-poetic (“You make me feel a deep maroon”) and the cliché (“I’m so lucky to call you mine”). In Chinese, he simply recycled truisms that he’d spell wrong, either by accident or to deliver a bad pun. For the adage 愛不是佔有，而是欣賞 (“Love is not possession, but veneration”), he used the 心 that meant “heart” instead of the correct 欣, which signified happiness or liking. The one line of Japanese was simply an elementary 愛してる, scribbled in messy hiragana to close out the letter. Wei wondered what Wu would have written if Taiwanese had a corporeal form, one independent of
Wei and Ling had been seeing each other for the past two years, but he only wrote her a real, hard-copy letter once, after a somewhat dramatic argument on a spring evening. They had been discussing their romantic histories that night, circling around 信義 Plaza with cups of papaya milk in hand. “I was super hung up on Janice when I first met you,” he said as they plopped onto a marble bench in the clearing. “Janice, huh,” she said. “I used to have the biggest crush on Andy. On and off for maybe two years, a year before I met you.” “Andy Lau?” “No, not the singer, stupid. Andy Chiu.” “Wait, Andy Andy?” “Yeah. My Andy.” Tides of people rearranged themselves before him, shifting and slipping through the interstices of towering department store buildings. A nameless and shapeless feeling sifted through his chest, as did a stray stirring he couldn’t quite articulate into a thought. “Ling,” he said after a while. “If I didn’t exist—if there was no ‘Wei’ in your world, or any world, as stupid as that sounds—would you go for Andy, do you think?” Ling furrowed her brows. “I don’t know. Maybe?” For a long time, they sat on the bench without saying another word. Every now and then, a sound would wash over them, dipping toes into the capillaries of silence they’d gathered between them. But none reached either of them. “What’s up?” she finally asked, not bothering to hide the exasperation in her voice. Wei let it sit for a moment, unable to bring himself to speak. He felt like the male protagonist of a poorly written shoujo manga. “I thought you would say no,” he said. “I guess I wanted you to say no.” Ling looked at him, face streaked with confusion. “But that was just a hypothetical situation.” “I mean, you still talk to him almost every day,” he said. “Andy.” He stood up. “But it’s fine. I can take this.” “Take what?” She bolted upward to meet his line of vision, blinking fast. Fighting off tears, as she tended to do after any hint of disagreement. Probably hoping that Wei wouldn’t notice, but he did. “This. I mean, imagine if I said I’d probably go for Janice if you were gone. Someone I talk to all the time. I don’t know.” “What? That’s not what I said,” she said, voice rising. “You asked a question; I just answered. It’s an alternate universe, too. Like, that was my answer for an alternate fucking universe—” “I’ll take it, Ling. I’ll take it. You don’t have to explain yourself.”
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“What am I explaining?” she yelled. “我在解釋屁 against indulgence. He listened to A-mei strictly before 啊!” she dyed her hair purple, and he often laced his speech with spells of Taiwanese jargon and four-character +++ Chinese idioms. Rarely did he feel out of place, but was there such a thing as feeling out of time? In stilted steps, Wei walked Ling back to her apartment, Wei thought about this as he glanced outside his feeling like a buoy in a sea of fluid concrete. The whole window, where rain had begun to clap down in sheets. walk home, Ling rambled unforgivingly on, now and He fixed his gaze on the beads that pinned themthen swiping away tears of defiance. Her dark brown selves against the glass, the reds, whites, and yellows eyes, he noticed, looked almost golden as passing of skyscraper light mottled into one hazy whole. As streetlights dappled over her. he watched the grains of light flicker in the distance, “You don’t understand how it feels,” Ling said, “to a scene emerged in his mind, and he began to underhave you invalidate how I feel about you like that. To stand. Standing under a summer downpour, he and have you be jealous and think you have to ‘take’ or Ling each held a stack of papers listing their grievances ‘endure’ something, when it literally doesn’t have to be with one another in blue ink, angrily flinging demands that way.” at the other. Before they could get at the particularities “Literally?” of their differences, however, they needed to keep the “Literally. As I said, we’re talking about a fucking rain from drumming their words to a place beyond alternate universe here. This is one universe. The one recognition. They needed to construct a grammar out where I might go for Andy ‘cause I’m bored and you of their disparities, to stitch together a structure under don’t exist is another. It’s an alternate fucking uni—” which they could coexist, under which their words and “Ling. I heard you the first time.” He thought his feelings could remain legible. Then, and only then, words would come out gentle, but they just sounded could they sieve out a shared language that was at once tired and harsh. beautiful and sustainable. After he sent her home, he managed somehow to After a while, Wei checked his phone again, but wade back to his own apartment, maybe via bus, maybe there was no reply. He thought for a minute, then added via the MRT. Maybe by foot. He couldn’t remember a leftover 我愛你我愛你我愛你!, half in jest, mostly not how he got there. at all. No matter the language, he always had trouble Rolling back and forth on his plain navy sheets, saying those three words seriously, heavily, though he he tossed words around in his head to no particular had never said them without meaning it. Each time he end. 嫉妒。羨慕。 愛慕。No matter how many times spelled out the phrase, he felt like someone was taking he mouthed them, he couldn’t arrive at the right way an ice cream dipper and carving out a piece of his chest. to phrase the fundamental differences between these words. Accepting defeat, he drafted a quick apology +++ text and sent it after one proofread. It’s fine, she wrote back almost immediately. I He couldn’t recall how he finally got around to writing understand where you’re coming from, of course. And it the next day, but he did. It was the first time he had I’m sorry, too—I never want you to feel that way again. bothered writing anything lengthy by hand outside of But you have to give me the benefit of the doubt next academic or professional endeavors. That night, she time, seriously. If this happens again, you better apolo- was busy attending a high school reunion. For two gize with a full-on letter, salutations and all. A text isn’t hours, as Ling downed Asahi beer at some izakaya, he enough!! labored dutifully away, legs crossed atop a pleather You’re so old-fashioned, he replied, accompanying swivel chair. In the end, he managed to pen an entire the text with a sticker of an old turtle with its spirit six pages, a shamelessly sap-filled encomium to their rising out of its body, though this was hardly true. In love, just the way he knew she’d like it. Like most almost every respect Ling was more modern than women in Wei’s life, Ling despised cheesiness only Wei—born in Miaoli but raised in Taipei, she called 東 when she wasn’t on its receiving end. 區 alleys her “backyard,” though her experience with Pleased with himself, he read the letter several actual backyards was limited to one study abroad more times and revised it with care, adding embellishexperience in San Jose. And though educated at an ments here and there. No matter how many praises he American school masquerading as “international,” sung, however, he found that his words still fell short of she assuredly passed as a local. At the KTV, she belted how she actually made him feel. out the newest ballads by JJ Lin and Jay Chou without a Like Ling, he boasted plenty of ex-lovers, but none trace of self-consciousness. She refused to eat Chinese had made him want to fully possess another as badly, yam, shark fin soup, or swallow nests—telltale symp- or feel as dispossessed as she made him on a daily basis. toms of her membership in the strawberry generation. She constantly left him feeling unmoored, and yet she Wei, on the other hand, never thought twice about grounded him so. This back-and-forth drove him mad whether he passed as local. At the American school he at times, but it also kept him on his toes; as a result, attended in Hsinchu, he unanimously won the senior almost every drowsy conversation with her felt fresh, superlative for “Most 台,” and he kept diligently in and almost every shared moment revealed something touch with friends from his local elementary school. new about himself. He wanted to pin Ling onto his Instead, he concerned himself more with taunts about future horizons like a star in the sky. how much he acted like an oji-san. His 豆花 orders were This might sound like a lot to you, he scribbled in always notably 養生, articles such as adlay millet and dark blue, but sometimes I think about losing you and grass jelly crowding his bowl as if insisting belatedly it’s like all the stars in my horizon have been blotted
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
out. If you’re not in my future, there’s nothing left up there for me. I know that I can physically live without you; but try as I might, I don’t think I can truly be happy without you in my life. I’m not saying this to create some sort of weird obligation in you to stay with me forever—I just want you to know that this is how I genuinely feel. +++ Ling: Today I followed a stray dog as he pissed over almost every utility pole in my neighborhood. Clearly an alpha male type, the black thing leapt from one pillar onto the next, questioning his own authority not a single time. By the time he hit his third pole, somehow not yet out of piss with which to mark his territory, I wondered at which point a word would begin to belong to me the way that piece of land now belonged to him. Whether seven uses of a word might do the trick, or whether I’d have to piss on it, too, to secure its place in my vocabulary. And then I thought about you. (Don’t worry, I won’t pee on you.) There aren’t any real equivalents of possessive pronouns in Chinese—nothing like “yours” or “mine.” Just pronouns and nouns with the appendage 的 dangling from their sides. I wonder which tongue I should use to best express my wish for you to be mine. I can never make up my mind: one moment, my limited Japanese seems to be the best fit; the next, it has to be my slightly less limited English. Maybe no language is adequate enough to transmit what I feel to you. Maybe I’ll only ever know what I’m talking about when I talk about love when we’re just looking each other in the eye and feeling like we’re enough. In any case, here I am, doing my best in every tongue possible, trying to tell you what should be the simplest thing in the world to convey. Let me know how I’m doing on that front. Yours, 無 +++ “When I was little,” Ling said, “all I wanted to do was go to the movies. I wanted to abandon Taipei in all those foreign films they were screening. The glossy white women, waxed men in sleek suits, Japanese animation rolling around all restless. Whenever we passed by local theaters, I’d drop super blatant hints to my parents, like, ‘Sure could use some caramel popcorn right now!’ I’d even make stuff up, like,『喔，小雨說 那家電影院有賣水果糖誒。』You know those fruit candies they sell in tins? From Grave of the Fireflies?” Wei nodded slowly, half as customary response, half as the go-ahead for her to continue. “Anyway, my parents didn’t buy it. We had just moved to the city for a few years, so we needed to save up. Everything was so expensive compared to the
run-down shacks they called cinemas back in Miaoli. That’s what my parents tell me, at least. I don’t really remember what Miaoli was like.” They were sprawled across their modestly-sized bed, overlaid with a water mattress to quell the dense late-summer heat. City lights blinked outside, shuttered off by white venetian blinds. Louis Armstrong’s rendition of “I’m in the Mood for Love” twirled on the turntable, which had cost about five red envelopes from the two combined. Select pieces of music often put Ling in an unbelievably chatty mood, and this song topped her personal Hot 100. Wei had heard this story at least three times before, usually at her parents’ prodding at some family banquet. Her parents were the kind who pulled the same five stories out of their sleeves at every grand gathering, which typically irritated Wei. But somehow, they’d knead each detail into shape with such unabashed affection, such guileless tenderness, that Wei would always find himself engrossed as if hearing the tale for the first time. Plus, they’d always subconsciously change crucial details here and there, as middle-aged Taiwanese people do. As a result, Wei would have a good time trying to keep track of the changes as the stories and small plates of braised peanuts rolled on out. Without a doubt, Ling had inherited this penchant for repetition. “I don’t remember when I started doing it,” she continued, “but one day, as I was biking by the theater near my house, I saw this oba-san in line for the next showing of some Hong Kong film. She was wearing this flowy, bright blue top, with tiny silver jewels on the front that spelled out CHANNEL in the font of Chanel. Classic local market find—60NT tops.” As she spoke, Wei rubbed his thumb against the mole on her neck without looking. “Anyway, I remember looking at the edges of that weird flowy top, and something just clicking inside of me. I braked and locked my bike to a utility pole, and then I grabbed the corner of her top. It was too flowy for her to feel my hold on her, so I marched right on in behind her, just like that, posing as her daughter.” A smile splayed across her lips. “And that’s how I went to the movies for the next three years, until I was too big to sneak in unnoticed. Posing as everyone’s daughter.” She directed a purposeful look at him. “And what was that Hong Kong movie you watched?” Wei asked, playing his part. She grinned. “花樣年華, or In the Mood for Love, as Westerners like to call it. Wong Kar-wai.” “And what were your thoughts on the movie?” “Didn’t understand one bit,” she reported. “Sevenyear-olds and art cinema don’t really mesh. But I wanted one of Maggie Cheung’s dresses for months afterward.” Wei imagined the way the bodice of the iconic cheongsam would hug Ling’s slight curves. He traced the winding paths of her body with a finger. “Can I offer an unpopular opinion?” he asked. “Try me.” “Maggie Cheung isn’t that cute.” Ling furrowed her brows. “Well, yeah. She’s not the cute type. She’s beautiful.” “I don’t think she’s that beautiful, either,” Wei quipped. “You’re way cuter.” Her lips parted slightly, breaths wafting unevenly within.
Wei’s eyes were plastered to the ceiling. As Louis Armstrong crooned, blue and maroon splattered above like the innards of cracked eggs. “Screw Maggie Cheung,” he said, half-serious. “You’re the most beautiful girl in the world.” He thought she would be smiling or rolling her eyes when he turned over, but her expression remained blank, her gaze fixed above. A few moments later, she sighed. “I’ve been meaning to say this for a while,” she murmured, “but I don’t know how to feel when you compliment me in superlatives. It makes me feel like a girl in the movies.” She pulled a thin blanket over her nose. “And we all know movies aren’t real.” That night, as Wei dimmed the lampshade and slipped into the folds beside her, he thought about how people told their new lovers stories as if the act were somehow exceptional, as if they hadn’t already told past lovers and maybe even crushes the very same tales, a dozen times over.
relations before.” Ling slurped on her noodles. “Yeah?” “Yeah,” he said. “I had the exact thought before coming. You know how it goes, growing up. At first, you try really hard to understand. You ask your parents about Taiwanese politics, but they just say it’s either pro-China or pro-status-quo. Somewhere along the line, it gets old. Their political statements start sounding like air conditioner buzzing in the background. You just want to watch the NBA game or eat your 米線 without thinking about power structures and colonial histories. It’s normal.” “I suppose so,” she replied. “But the thing is, no matter how well you tune it out, or how easily you find yourself ignoring it, it’ll always come back to haunt you, time and time again—whatever that ‘it’ is, anyway.” She spooned grated garlic from a small jar and dumped it unceremoniously into her ramen. “I dated this Chinese guy way back—just the son of some real recent 外省人—and all I could think about then was power structures and colonial histories. I barely knew a thing +++ at the time, too.” It’ll always come back to haunt you, Wei thought From that day on, the paper scraps made themselves to himself. He had tossed the question around over known wherever he went. Under the computer in the the years, but maybe that was it. What it meant to be study, or else lodged somewhere among their records. Taiwanese—it’ll always come back to haunt you. Even outside of the apartment, he could not escape the flecks of cyan-and-white: they peppered the tarmac he +++ trod upon and threatened desks of cubicles wherever he went. They slipped into moments big and small, “I’ve never seen you wear that sweater before,” Wei said. popped up at times expected and unexpected. Ling stopped heaping chili sauce onto her egg pancakes In this way, the letters went about terrorizing him and scanned her maroon sweater. She had tucked it rather indiscriminately. into a pair of loose-fitting jeans, rolled up a few inches above her ankles. +++ “Gift from an old friend,” she said. “Found it at the back of my closet the other day.” She stuffed a slice of Ling had faded blue streaks in her cropped black 蛋餅 into her mouth. hair when they first met at a cross-Strait relations “It’s a nice color,” Wei said. “Who’s this friend of conference. yours?” The matriarch of the breakfast joint set down They were both visibly older than other attendees, a platter of radish cakes and scallion eggs on their he in a pinstripe suit and her in a button-up blouse and cramped plastic-wrapped table, briefly disrupting the pencil skirt, so they naturally struck up a conversa- silence. tion right before the opening speech. As they hit it off, Ling said nothing. they found themselves tuning out the speaker, trading “An old boyfriend?” notes and phone numbers by scribbling furiously, back She frowned. “No. But something like that.” and forth, on her small burgundy planner. “Tell me more.” He was surprised by the edge in his So I’m riding the escalator up from City Hall voice. The same edge seemed also to be chafing at his Station the other day, Ling wrote in her light stroke, chest. and it strikes me that I’ve never tried to understand Ling narrowed her eyes, paused as if choosing her cross-Strait relations before. I wonder if I’m even words carefully. “You’re being weird,” she finally said. really Taiwanese. Then, I glance at the row of flyers on “Just tell me.” He took a bite of the steaming scalthe wall flanking the escalator, and—lo and behold— lion eggs, a haphazard performance of nonchalance. there’s a flyer for this conference at NTU. Sped here “I’m not going to tell you anything when you’re right after work. So glad there’s free food! being weird, Wei.” I know exactly how you feel, he wrote back, perhaps He tried to focus on the radish cakes instead of too eagerly. The same thing more or less happened to the unreasonable ache that swelled up inside of him. me as well. I think almost every Taiwanese kid goes Glancing down at his plate, he saw a faded blue burst through a phase like this, in which you neglect to open where he had taken a bite. When he blinked and understand this stuff on purpose. looked again, he was confronted with only a slab of After the conference, they ducked into a small glutinous white flesh. ramen shop to talk over a more substantial dinner. She ordered a shoyu and he a shio. Conversation started off +++ sluggish, but picked up as steam from the open kitchen Ling: thickened the air between them. “What you wrote really stuck with me,” Wei said, The other day, I watched Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood breaking apart a soft-boiled egg with his chopsticks. for Love. Afterwards, I had to jerk off. I don’t know why, “The fact that you’ve rarely looked into cross-Strait but I did. I’ve never watched such a deeply unsatisfying
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film before. I guess I felt the need to take things into my After breakfast, the two fast-walked home in silence. own hands and consummate the tension between the With every hurried step they took, the cloud of quiet lead characters for myself. between them grew denser. Snatches of green slipped by as they stole past 大安 Forest Park, and then the I know you watched the movie a long time ago, so I’ll flickering financial district. Warm light splintered give you a refresher just in case. Maggie Cheung and through the foliage and scattered bokeh across their Tony Leung play these neighbors whose spouses are somber faces. Car honks and schoolchildren’s banter cheating on them with one another. Maggie Cheung picked at the membrane of stillness between them. wears these fantastic floral cheongsams throughout. Wei wanted to explain himself, but he didn’t know They hug her slim figure very nicely. Anyway, both of how to without sounding irrational. It wasn’t the first them are often left alone by their business-tripping time he had felt jealousy, of course, but never before spouses, so they bump into each other when they go did it grip him so viscerally. He knew he was likely buy take-out sesame noodles and whatnot. They pick seeing blue or maroon where there was none; and yet, up on all these hints of infidelity, like Tony’s character the possibility alone stabbed at his temples and chest wearing the same tie that Maggie’s character saw on without reprieve. He hated knowing that his diagher husband recently, so on. They start commiser- nosis—paranoid or rightfully jealous—rested entirely ating together, even acting out at one point how their upon an ungraspable truth. spouses probably began their affair. They fall for each He tried to focus on Ling through his peripheral other. And then, of course, life gets in the way. vision, but his head began to ache from the exertion. She seemed lost in thought, eyes buried elsewhere. I think what really bothered me was that the spouses Whenever he became “weird,” as she put it, she would never make their way on screen. I don’t know what withdraw from him. How strange it was that she it was in me that needed so badly to see those two in always chose to close herself up rather than reassure the flesh, to put a face to what’s terrorizing them. But I him. Usually, he respected it—he would even reason to needed to know. himself that she was different, that she didn’t engage with his jealousy precisely because there was no reason I’ve been thinking: maybe that part of me, the part of for him to worry in the first place. This time, however, me that needs to know, is what makes me so protective he lost hold of all precedents. of you. It’s like the certainty I want in my life is hinged “愛不是佔有, 而是欣賞,” Wei said when they completely upon you being mine. entered the apartment. “What?” Ling braked, her bare feet squeaking The night after I watched In the Mood for Love, I against the hardwood floor. saw you in my sleep. You were in a sheer, maroon “That’s what you said last week.” He looked her in cheongsam with faded blue streaks in your hair, which the eye. “That’s what you said after we watched that you had braided and hoisted up in a bun. Under the chick flick last week. I want to know where you got that streetlight, your eyes were honey lemon cough drops phrase.” glistening on either side of your face. I think you Ling frowned. In the lines burrowed between her were Tony Leung’s wife, and I was Maggie Cheung’s brows he read either genuine confusion or a sliver of husband. Their characters’ wife and husband, I mean. guilt. “Wei, please don’t do this.” We’re sheltered under a red tong lau while a fine rain “Do what?” drapes itself over the city. Shanghai, Taipei, Hong “This,” she said. “Whatever this is.” Kong, or even some Chinatown—I really couldn’t tell “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” which. When the rain finally pulls away, we march arm “You know exactly what I’m talking about,” she in arm back to our apartment complex, unfazed by the snapped. “I’ve seen you snooping around my study. eyes that befall us as we tear through the wet streets. Going through my old letters, giving my phone long When we reach your door, you spin around to kiss me looks when I get messages. Not to mention that weird goodbye. But before you can do so, my doppelganger— interrogation earlier.” She held his gaze. “You know your husband—swings the door open, grips you by the exactly what I’m talking about.” wrist, says “I’ll be taking over from here,” and before “I can’t believe,” she continued, “that you’re I know it the door is in my face and only your scent, throwing out that phrase without at all detecting the thickened by the rain, remains. irony here. 愛不是佔有，而是欣賞, my ass. Look, if you want to ask me something, you can just ask. I’m not It lasted a good second, but I knew that he looked some callous bitch who’s out to deceive you, Wei. But exactly like me. Short black hair slicked back with I’m also not something that you own. wax. A resting, exasperated expression glued to his “You want to know where I got the fucking phrase? I face. The same pinstripe suit you and I bought together don’t know! Maybe from my friends who told me to stay last spring, and that red tie that you got me so that you away from guys like you. Maybe from you. Maybe from could pull on it to kiss me. But somehow, to my chagrin, a book of idioms, or maybe somewhere up my ass.” She he was several degrees more handsome than I am. Was shook her head. “I don’t know, Wei.” Her voice came it just because he had you in his grasp? I don’t know. undone as she said his name. I don’t know. But I hated it. A hotness began to permeate Wei’s entire being, but a strange numbness plugged this heat from oozing Yours, past the surface. He strode into the study, emerged 無 with several cyan-and-white letters, and slammed them against the coffee table. +++ “I don’t believe you,” he said. “I can’t believe you!” she yelled. “What the hell do
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
you mean by this?” 「『無』是什麼人?」 he asked in Taiwanese, taking care to intonate each word. “Who the hell is ‘Wu’?” Her silence seared holes in his chest. Before he knew it, he had her pinned against the wall, his nails chipping into white paint. The veins on his hand bulged out, as if any moment now they would give out and dark red would dash the walls. Wei thought he saw blue bleeding out of her eyes, but it might have just been her tears. +++ He sat on the steps for a while and submitted to his own wavering. He slicked back his hair, adjusted his red tie. Grabbing the lapels of his pinstripe suit jacket, he gave both sides two quick tugs. He practiced what he had to say in English, and then in Chinese—he wasn’t sure which sounded better. A streetlight wrapped a soft yellow over his shoulders, and a fine rain sliced through the glow like falling stars in the starless night. His eyes glossed over the darkness, lingering on an absence only he could see. He was outside the man’s apartment complex. He was going to trek up the stairs, knock on the door, kick it down, and give him a piece of his mind and more than a piece of his fist. He only needed the courage to reach out and touch. While summoning this courage, he tried to conjure up her presence in his mind, as wholly and true to life as possible. But her body always washed up stilled into fragments—honeyed eyes in the golden light, figure carved by a deep maroon. He thought about how he wanted to possess her and how he wanted to venerate her, and how she probably didn’t want either of those things. Most of all, he thought about what this man would look like. He tried to imagine it, but all he could see was his own face. When he finally knocked, he found himself hoping that nobody would open the door.
EMILY YANG B’20 usually has oatmeal, taro balls, and tapioca pearls with her 豆花.
This page is left blank because its editors are too tired to make something this week. Instead, we’re cleaning, worrying, crying, sleeping. Trying to love our families, friends, communities, and cats from afar. We’re resisting the urge to be productive or formal. We’re refusing to push forward while our peers fall behind. We’re demanding universal pass, compensation for student workers, and raises for essential staff. And we’re choosing S/NC no matter what!
27 MARCH 2020