Don’t Be Alarmed

Somewhere in my dream I felt a brief warning, a premonition that something was happening. Five seconds later the jarring ringing of a fire alarm threw me out of my bed at 5 a.m.

In addition to having alarms in every hallway, the University has recently installed alarms in every room. The noise is so loud you cannot think, let alone sleep.

A flood of horrible images rush through your mind as you try to get yourself out of your room. I grab my wallet and keys of the desk. Two planes hit the twin towers. I throw my shoes on my feet. Millions infected with AIDS in Africa. I grab sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Justin Timberlake brings sexy back.

I can only imagine what other uses this alarm system could provide. Perhaps guards could use it for prison escapes or even a new form of torture in Guantanamo. Every time I hear that alarm, I really wonder why they couldn’t just let me die in my sleep.

I feel like a real veteran to have the wherewithal to grab my sweats before running out to the cold morning air. Many were not so lucky, coming out tired and underdressed. One girl wrapped her comforter around herself and a shirtless guy. I saw two guys do the same, which may be an even more extraordinary gesture.

One RA told me he tried to write up a fire alarm as a community program, since you get nearly everyone to participate. It is funny how neighbors go day in and day out ignoring each other, but will begin to converse with each other while shivering outside at 5 a.m.

A girl who appeared to be an authority figure, an RA perhaps, comes around and yells for people to back away from the building. “This is not a fire drill!” she said. Duh. If she announced it was just a drill, I think someone may have hit her.

For a second I grasp the potential seriousness of the situation as I imagine all of my belongings exploding out my window like in Fight Club. I think I left my CD collection in the car, but I doubt any insurance company would reimburse me for my giant DVD collection.

Fortunately while this wasn’t a drill, this wasn’t a real fire either. Most likely it was the act of a drunken student or a technical issue with the fire alarm. I remember a year ago a similar event was set off by a wiring error in the attic.

Atherton Hall is listed on some maps as “Centre Halls”, but it seems it is miles away from civilization whenever an alarm goes off. In the course of 45 minutes I never saw a fire truck or even a maintenance van pull up.

The alarm eventually stopped and people started to move towards the doors, but I waited. I’ve been burned by fire alarms before. Sure enough the alarm starts up again for a few more minutes, an aftershock I guess. We finally get the go ahead and return to our rooms.

Appropriately enough, fire prevention week will start next week. So if you don’t have the misfortune of a major university being liable for your fire safety, perhaps you can take the opportunity to get some smoke detectors and test their batteries. And don’t worry, smoke detectors have a much nicer ring to them.

Lacrosse and Privilege

Athletes at Duke University made national headlines last week for a team party in which the athletes allegedly gang raped of a black dancer. It is interesting to note that the athletes in question here did not play football or basketball, but lacrosse. As a former high school lacrosse player, I am not surprised.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the sport, lacrosse is a game where people throw and catch balls with sticks and attempting to shoot the ball at the net for a goal. It is a fun game and I want to make clear that nothing about the sport of lacrosse itself prompts people to commit crimes.

Lacrosse, however, is also a sport of privilege. It requires at least $300 in equipment to begin with, plus fees for tournaments and indoor leagues. It is a relatively young sport, so it is still very regional. It is most popular in areas that predominantly upper middle class and white. The suburbs of southeastern Pennsylvania are among best areas for lacrosse. Duke has removed the roster from the athletics website, but I would guess at least a few players came from my area.

While I enjoyed playing lacrosse, I noticed with some hesitance the growing culture surrounding the sport. It is an elite sport and it attracts elite young men who form strong bonds outside of the game. Thus has emerged an old boy’s club where young men, not surprisingly, make poor decisions.

The Duke incident recalled a specific event during my final season. Lacrosse is an aggressive sport and altercations occasionally occur. In one game a black athlete from an opposing school punched one of my teammates.

I did not witness the event firsthand, but another player recalled with amusement on the bench that the altercation was precipitated by my teammate calling the black athlete a n—–. Knowing my teammate to be a moron and a racist, I believed the story.

A day later no one seemed to remember what happened, especially since someone filed a complaint and the school suspended my teammate. Many team members wore athletic tape with his number on their jerseys as a sign of solidarity. I did not, nor did a few others who likely suspected the story to be true. In the end my teammate was suspended for a week and forced to give a short speech in which he gave a non-denial denial, lamenting the situation and apologizing for any grief he had caused.

What impressed me was not my teammates’ bigotry, but how quickly my other teammates were willing to stand up for him – even when they knew he was wrong. Similarly the Duke lacrosse players have banded together and will not discuss the incident. This is teamwork at its worst.

These problems are not isolated to simply lacrosse, but any exclusive group that puts protecting itself above common decency. It speaks to the need for diversity throughout our academic community. 46 out of the 47 Duke players were white and many came from elite prep schools. It is unlikely they have had much expose to anyone outside their socioeconomic group. Perhaps if they had they wouldn’t view women, specifically black women, as sex objects.

Hopefully the players will eventually learn their lesson, but in the meantime we can all do a better job of being more inclusive in our lives.

Update: Corrected number of white players above. See comments for details.

Tripped Out

MIBDrug references, aren't I hilarious. Actually, I am really talking about my trip to Washington DC on Friday (which is no longer yesterday). IST (my major and college) runs a trip to some metropolitan area for a day to see technology companies in action, but its really just as much about promoting our students and college to potential employers. I enjoyed my first trip freshman year and had a great time when I went on another trip in the fall, so I didn't pass this one up. Our day started at 3:30am when we boarded our bus in State College and didn't end till close to 10pm. Over the course of the day we saw VeriSign, CSC, and Blackboard. Here are some thoughts and lessons learned:

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Sorry Ladies

I read this op-ed in the Times today and it really got me thinking, so I thought I’d share it. Jennifer Delahunty Britz, dean of admissions at Kenyon College, explained how so many qualified women applying to college has flooded the pool and made it more difficult for women to get into top schools. The result is less qualified men can get into top schools easier than their counterparts. We saw this in my family this year as my sister managed to get rejected from the honors college I am in, despite having significantly higher grades than I did.

Still as a guy I got a little ticked off at the notion that getting accepted into colleges was easier for us. I got rejected from good schools as did my friends and I never noticed any visible difference between the schools guys and girls got into. The whole thing raised a lot of questions for me, so I am going to just throw these out there for discussion:

  • If young women are better students and are outnumbering men on campuses, why have we not seen this translate into more women in leadership positions? Is this just old fashioned sexism or are there other issues in play?
  • If talented candidates are being rejected purely because of lesser performance in metrics such as SATs and GPA, what good are these statistics? I found that very interesting, because I have heard that standardized testing and grading models typically favor girls’ learning styles.
  • Do they have the same problems at MIT and CalTech? Or is this a phenomena exclusive to liberal arts schools like Kenyon? Note I am not arguing that women cannot succeed in math or science. Fewer women study technical fields though, so perhaps the problem is all these strong applicants are interested in the same fields. Women in the sciences and technology is an important social challenge that we need to fix.
  • Likewise, who is to say that the girls who are rejected from Kenyon and other schools can’t succeed elsewhere? I go to a large state-affiliated public school and am getting a first-class education. So I’m not crying a river for the girls who are stuck at a Big Ten school after getting the thin envelope from the Ivys.
  • Back to over-qualified applicants, isn’t it kind of ridiculous how much “experience” some of these high school students have? I kind of find all these trips and councils and things that have been invented to bolster college applications ridiculous. They also favor people have the time and money to participate.
  • Isn’t it just as alarming that young men are often weaker applicants, can we do anything to fix that? I don’t believe gender equity is a zero sum game and I think that there’s plenty that can be done to encourage academic achievement among boys that would keep them at least on a par with their counterparts.

I think those questions sum up my thoughts and I’d love to hear some answers if someone wants to comment. Higher education is one of the strengths of our country, but I think we could do an even better job. However, the one point I think we can all agree with Ms. Britz on is that getting the thin envelope sucks.

Sprint to the Finish

I naively though this would be an easy week, when I reviewed my to-do list in my head Sunday morning. Just get through the week and do my history presentation, then off to spring break. Unfortunately I miscounted my eggs before they hatched. I recalled throughout the day that this week would also include a midterm, a short essay, a scholarship application, scheduling for next semester, meetings, and an annoying CSS bug. So my easy week got a whole lot harder by the time Monday morning hit. I am getting closer though and I can take comfort in the fact that I get to go home in a couple days.

While this week I am putting out a lot of fires, I have been doing a lot of long-term planning lately. We’re only halfway through the semester and I am already being forced to look past that. I accepted an internship this month for the summer, which will require me to live in Erie, PA for about 10 weeks. I’m hoping the lake weather will make up for being far way from home. At the Collegian we’re making some progress with development, which means we need to start thinking about how we’ll implement it all over the summer for the fall. I am also narrowing in on a thesis topic for next year, which will involve newspapers’ adoption of IT. I even have a thesis adviser who wants to work with me.

Tonight I had to sit down and figure out what classes I’ll be taking next fall. It’s hard to believe at this time next year I’ll be preparing to enter the “real world”. Suffice to say, I am looking forward to a relaxing spring break. I got my tax refund recently and some of that spare cash is going into some great DVDs, including the new Controversial Classics DVD set, which includes one of my favorites: Network. That should be fun. Back to my earlier discussion – I can see my college years slipping away. So I guess I got to make the best of what I have. I also need to get to sleep, so that’s all for now.

Studying, or Not

While I am a pretty good student, I have never been a good studier. I think it has do with a couple things. First and foremost, I am very lazy. Second of all, I am bright enough that I could always get by without too much trouble. So I have continued to resist studying up through my college career, with mixed results. In case you haven’t sensed where I’m going, its finals week here and I am in the midst of studying. Except I am blogging right now, so I am not.

I had no finals today, so I did study quite a bit today. Still I feel like I could have done a little more. I have an interesting problem in that two of my exams require less studying but are more important. The third exam appears to have less of an impact on my overall grade, but will be more difficult – it is an open book essay exam based on several volumes of globalization literature. I am focusing on the first two right now – Japanese civilization and IT project management. Fun stuff. The project management one is especially nice since most of the terms look similar and have similar definitions. There are also a lot of pointless theories named for different people that I could care less about. The good news is, we supposedly have the questions already to study from. I am not sure if I trust this though.

In other school whining, I was very disappointed to find out that my $100 textbook on organizational theory is now work $9 if I try to sell it back to the bookstore. It will be coming soon to an Amazon.com near you. Otherwise, I am hesitantly optimistic about grades at this point. Regardless of what happens, I get to celebrate the end of finals Wednesday night with the premiere of King Kong.

In minor blog news, I noted today that 1/2 of all my posts came from the first week. I have been a little busier, which explains part of the problem. I hope to add more real soon though. Also I am testing out ecto again, which apparently now works on WordPress.com. I went back and spell checked my blog entries. It’s always embarrassing to see my poor spelling, but the fact that it has been on the Internet for so long is even worse. Oh well. Good luck to all other students with finals out there. I’ll be back with more later in the week.

Slices of Culture

I have been taking a course called Globalization Trends and World Issues that has been really interesting (though also a lot of hard work). Tonight we were visited by the Humphrey Fellows, mid-career education professionals from foreign countries who have come to Penn State to study. They did a little panel discussion for us about life in their home countries and it is very interesting to see things from the individual perspective.

Egypt: This man talked about how the country has changed a lot from a communist society to a more open, democratic one. His most interesting thoughts were explaining polygamy in Muslim culture. He explained how marriage requires a man to provide for his family, thus someone who marries twice has twice the households to provide for – not very cost efficient. Women who work are still not expected to provide for the family. Most cases are people taking care of families where relatives have passed on or in the countryside with really old men. Women have to give their husband permission to marry a second wife, otherwise they can get a divorce. The explanation for men being able to divorce easier than a woman is that they have to leave their family well off and provide for them afterwords. A woman can get a divorce, they just have to go through a process so they aren’t just taking their husband’s support and running. It’s different and probably not the best way of handling things, but its interesting and its culture. He also noted that his wife, his sisters, and sister-in-law all work.

Russia: This woman was also very interesting. She noted the differences between the communist state and the current one. She seemed to lament the change. Under communism, she said, one felt secure. There were police everywhere and from her point of view their presence was welcome. She noted, however, that under communism the state dictated everything you received and there was always shortages. The current lawlessness in Russia is very disturbing to her and she said in some ways she would welcome a return to dictatorship. This kind of flies in the face of our American view that democracy is always better.

Bhutan: This guy was very funny and very excited to talk about his country. The king of Bhutan has relinquished some of his power recently and is moving the country towards a constitutional monarchy. He also talked about their plan of moving towards a higher Gross National Happiness, as opposed to trying to compete with large countries Gross Domestic Product. One of the students noted that he kind of glossed over a refugee crisis that has been going on between Bhutan and Nepal. It seemed like this guy was really optimistic for the future, or at least wanted to put on a good face for his audience.

Sierra Leone: In a contrast to the man from Bhutan, the woman from Sierra Leone was pretty negative about her country. There is a governance failure there, she said. When our professor said that is probably due to the civil war, the woman smiled and said government failure is why they had the war in the first place. They struggle to maintain schools and infrastructure. When we asked what happens to the money from their famous diamond mining operations, she simply shrugged her shoulders and said it has been mismanaged. She also shed light on a battle there between feminists and traditionalists.

All in all it was a very interesting discussion and could have gone a lot longer if we had more time. It opened my eyes to the fact that news and historical descriptions of events do not always match the first-person view of them. In the future, I would like to hear more first-person perspectives of events along with the general overviews.