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The last drop of shame

(04/24/01 9:00am)

I hate it when I catch myself being hypocritical. Despite trying to convince people of their moral obligations on various issues, I've fallen short on mine. In 20 years, I've never given blood. There's always an excuse -- I'm worried I'll faint. Or I don't have time. But with 23 million people in need of blood transfusions every year, I can't afford to be complacent anymore. In turn, the government needs to do its part. Despite the fact that less than 5 percent of eligible donors actually give blood, the Red Cross is forced to turn away scores of healthy people every year -- all because of a 1985 Food and Drug Administration policy which bars gay men from giving blood. Any man who has had a sexual encounter with another since 1977 is not allowed to donate. As a result, the government continues to turn away 62,300 men yearly, and this number does not take into account the women who are also turned away because they have slept with bisexual men. The rule stands even if the individual religiously practices safe sex. And the policy doesn't just cheat hospitals out of much- needed blood. It also groups homosexual and bisexual men in the same category as intravenous drug users and prostitutes. This discriminatory policy was created during the AIDS scare of the 1980s, when the government felt it needed to take action to assure the public that blood supply would still be safe. However, we now know that regardless of a person's sexual orientation, everyone is at risk for HIV if they engage in certain behaviors, such as intravenous drug use or unprotected sex. Young heterosexual women are actually one of the fastest growing HIV-positive groups, and the FDA does not prohibit the collection of blood from them. In addition, all blood is tested after donation, regardless of the donor. According to the Associated Press, these methods "detect virtually all HIV-infected donated blood." New advances in genetic testing are making these methods even more accurate. But despite this expanded knowledge, the FDA continues to actively enforce its policy. And even in the face of a desperate blood shortage, the FDA declined to overturn the policy when the issue came to a vote last September. In response to complaints and even a few lawsuits, the Red Cross' chief medical officer, Dr. Rebecca Haley, explained that the ban must remain because, "We cannot change our procedures in a way that would result in increased numbers of infectious donation in our blood supply." This statement implies that the gay and bisexual communities are a threat to healthy blood transfusions. However, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that over 33 percent of people 24 years of age and over have already contracted a sexually transmitted disease. With a homosexual population of about 10 percent, it is clear that plenty of people in the heterosexual community are partaking in unsafe sexual practices as well. The paradox of the situation, thus, does not lie in the assumption that HIV continues to exist in the United States. This deadly virus already infects 2-3 people through blood transfusions every year. It is, instead, ridiculous that the government would willingly accept blood from anyone who practiced unsafe sex, be it within a heterosexual or homosexual community. The FDA's policy, as it stands now, serves only to propagate the stereotype that AIDS is a gay disease. It goes as far as to put the blame for the AIDS epidemic on the gay community, an accusation that is unsubstantiated. The policy not only discriminates -- it also misleads young heterosexual people into thinking that they are not at risk for the virus. The FDA needs to amend its policy not only to fight stereotypes and gain a wider source of blood, but also to turn away anyone who has practiced unsafe sex. Currently, the FDA does not turn away heterosexuals who have promiscuous unsafe oral sex, despite the fact that this activity can transmit HIV. As people feel increasingly comfortable being out about their sexuality, the Red Cross is going to lose more and more donors. And, unfortunately, the demand for blood is not going to go down. The government simply must change its policy. When people's lives are on the line, we cannot afford to be guided by unfounded fear or prejudice.

Passion, influence and the Penn community

(04/17/01 9:00am)

Last Saturday, I thought I had suddenly gained dozens of new friends. In just over an hour, I received nearly 50 e-mails from unfamiliar addresses. Staring at my overflowing in-box, I had momentary visions of who was writing me (Long lost friends from home? Internship coordinators? The president?), before I realized they were listserv forwards. These e-mails, in fact, were all in response to Gregory Seaton's experience at Campus Copy Center. The original e-mail, containing Seaton's details of his encounter with Campus Copy employees, had provided a catalyst for campus discussion, most of which seemed to end up on my computer screen.. While I was distressed to see a fellow student placed in this uncomfortable situation, the dialogue that Seaton's e-mail generated was invigorating. It was good to see students thinking and discussing discrimination, the justice system and our place in both. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that responses to the event split along racial lines. This is not to say that every white student on campus related only to the business owner and his potential loss, or that all students of color demanded that the store be shut down. There were, however, several accusations made by white students that Seaton was simply playing the "discrimination card." In contrast, it was also evident that, as Provost Robert Barchi said, "This is something that people of color [were] not surprised to see happen." Even if white students were surprised or suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the event, we, as a community, made little effort to further investigate the situation in the days that followed the initial e-mail. The informational meeting held on April 8, for example, was attended primarily by students of color. And while the Undergraduate Assembly was present, it certainly did not represent the immediate interests of all students. Currently, minority interest groups, such as the United Minorities Council, the Black Student League, the Asian Pacific Student Coalition and the W.E.B. DuBois House Council are all actively supporting the boycott. In contrast, the white community -- after two days of anxious discussion -- has seemingly become completely disinterested in the issue. The passion of some student groups should not influence the ultimate decisions of others, but it is our responsibility as fellow students to thoroughly investigate any issue concerning one of our own, especially one that is strongly supported by a specific part of the student population. If someone in a leadership position as high as the DuBois faculty master speaks out in favor of the boycott, it is the job of the rest of the community to find out why. But as attendance at recent meetings indicates, the rest of the community has failed to take these steps. Even if a student assumes that Seaton's allegations result from his perceived feelings of racism, it is that student's responsibility to question why that perception exists among many of Penn's students of color. Instead of continuing with this reflection, many white students have simply assumed that the current boycott reflects only a desire to complain. This theory is both uninformed and dangerous. Seaton's e-mail may not be objective, but sadly, we live in a society where his reality could easily be the truth. As comments at last Sunday's meeting indicated, students of color and white students feel that they routinely have very different experiences, not only in local businesses, but also in the way that complaints of violence and other crimes are handled. And these differences are most likely just a small part of a larger problem. It is our duty to investigate why certain parts of our population feel strongly about the Seaton event -- by attending a meeting regarding the boycott or speaking to someone who is organizing it. Beyond that, however, it is also important to learn about the differences in our experiences on a much broader level. There are several organizations on campus that foster this dialogue, such as Programs for Awareness of Cultural Education, Seeking Common Ground and Alliance and Understanding. In addition, any of the resource centers on campus can direct you to one-day workshops or lectures. Above all, do not simply ignore this controversy. Regardless of the police investigation's final report, take the dialogue and divide that this issue has rekindled and use it to explore the larger issues -- racism and disunity, for example -- that most definitely pervade our existence as Penn students.

The threat of violence - right in our midst

(04/10/01 9:00am)

Signing people into Penn dorms is like trying to enter one of those secret villain lairs you always see in the movies. You know -- with the numeric code, the face scan and the voice recognition. Last week when I was trying to obtain a guest pass for my boyfriend, I almost had to send him right back to Pittsburgh. It was the middle of the day, and after giving my room number, phone number, PennCard and his driver's license and school I.D., the front desk guard still wouldn't let him in because they wanted a second card with a signature on it. I was convinced my parents had called in advance and told the front desk not to let him stay here! In instances such as this, Penn's security measures can seem almost excessive. Do we, for example, really need the University's planned "biometric handprint sensors" for the dorms? But at least one aspect of this University's security system is still lacking. As indicated by the continuing stream of sexual violence and harassment on our campus over the last few years, women's safety at Penn is still far from satisfactory. This is not to say that we haven't made great strides over the years. Back in 1973, The Daily Pennsylvanian reported that after a "recent rash of rapes in the University area," Penn women staged a successful protest in College Hall. Among other things, the women won improved lighting on campus, the installation of 40 emergency telephones, the formation of the Penn's Women's Center and an "investigation of improved alarm systems." These gains were certainly an amazing step, especially in the face of obstacles -- like the University's director of security at the time, who reportedly told women to protect themselves from rape by avoiding "enticing clothing." But almost 30 years later, the safety precautions on campus are still inadequate. Yes, most public bathrooms are equipped with emergency alarms; our closed circuit cameras are always watching and it is increasingly difficult to get non-residents into the dorms. But what about threats from within the student population? Having lived in the Quad freshman year, I was always shocked by the absence of bathroom safety alarms. While these precautions were always present in public University buildings, they were nowhere to be found in the concrete showers or toilet stalls of my new home. If there is significant danger to warrant these alarms around campus, shouldn't they be in the dorm's communal bathrooms as well? Penn's policy seems to indicate that the threat of violence comes only from strangers, and is absent from our own student population. According to a recent article in Cosmopolitan magazine, however, the need for increased women's safety measures both in public and private sectors of our campus is quite necessary. As the article "Danger in the dorm" reports, "In 1998, the University of Pennsylvania paid an undisclosed sum to a former student who said that the school failed to do anything after she was raped in 1994 by a school football player whom she had met on the night of her attack." If these allegations are true, it is a complete outrage that our University is not only failing to increase safety standards for women on campus, but has also suppressed important information that could motivate students to rally for stronger measures. By stronger measures, I do not mean the racist harassment that unfortunately accompanied the strides made in the 1970s. According to a DP letter to the editor in 1973, increased security often meant that, "If you are black," and on Penn's campus, "you will be picked up by the police for questioning," regardless of whether you were a student or a stranger. Women cannot work for their safety without fighting other forms of discrimination and hate crime. We need to demand increased safety standards for all University constituents. And in turn, I hope that men, too, will stand with us in the fight against sexual violence. For example, this coming week hosts Take Back the Night, a series of events aimed at fighting acquaintance rape. And as the TBTN Web site says, it takes an "entire community" to "end the violence." Yes, we as women have come a very long way since we first entered this University, but we still have a long way to go until we can feel completely comfortable within our deserved "equal opportunity." It is important that we continue to recognize and actively combat this injustice.

Throwing away some charity

(04/03/01 9:00am)

I've always considered myself a moderate. Laugh it up all you want, but it's the truth -- I'm far from extreme. In my mind, drugs should remain illegal, organized religion is a good thing and if we eliminate discrimination, capitalism could work. It's almost embarrassing! But even though I think I'm a pretty mild liberal, one issue sets me apart. As soon as I open my mouth about those crunchy, brown pieces of bread that are tossed away at every football game, people not only start calling me a radical, but heartless as well. Despite these accusations, my opinion remains unwavering: The tradition of throwing toast at Penn football games is despicable. The University of Pennsylvania is an institution filled with essentially wealthy (or at least middle class) students. Nobody here is starving or without a room. Yes, post graduation loans may seem overbearing, but most students are pretty comfortable for the moment. While one would think that our economic position would allow us to question and fight the poverty that exists even locally, instead we throw food on the ground. And not just a little bit of food -- we throw so much that we need a modified Zamboni to clean it all up. Look at it this way -- if students throw about 100 loaves at each of the five home games, it means we throw 750 pounds of bread on the ground every year. That's over a quarter of a ton. And I'm not even counting the extra bread thrown by alumni or parents during special events. That wasted bread -- obviously meaningless playthings for students -- could probably do a lot for the more than 36 million United States citizens who live below the poverty line. But don't even think about asking a Penn student to worry about these citizens. If the wasteful nature of this tradition is ever questioned, it is immediately answered with the complaint that the administration has banned drinking at football games. In fact, many students claim that allowing "highballs" in Franklin Field is the true solution to the toast issue. And as if the self-righteous attitude of our student population isn't enough, hypocrisy also hangs over the terrible toast tradition. Take, for example, the multiple activities that occur during Poverty Awareness Week. These events, sponsored by Civic House, include a hunger banquet and various speakers. Civic House's concern is admirable but obviously ignored by the thousands of students who participate in this almost weekly fall event. Instead of donating that loaf of bread to a shelter or food drive, we fling it onto the ground to be trampled, leaving it inedible. I realize, however, that I stand almost alone on this issue. While some friends simply tell me to "lighten up," others defend their behavior with the explanation that throwing toast is a tradition, and is somehow an integral part of the Penn experience. While this may be true, there are plenty of other traditions that students no longer follow. According to The Practical Penn, other customs included igniting trolley tracks, ripping off the pants of fellow Quakers and "beating on police barriers." Not to mention the discriminatory traditions that include rejecting applicants based on gender. So when people declare that the toast throwing needs to remain because it is "tradition," I usually ask them if they really want to return to the sexist, racist, classist atmosphere of 150 years ago. But, to be fair, traditions do have merit. They provide places for all factions of the University community to come together and to share in what is sometimes the only thing we have in common -- being a part of the Penn community. Doing activities together helps create a sense of unity, and that is certainly worth preserving. Instead of getting rid of the tradition, perhaps the University should buy synthetic pieces of toast that can be recycled. Maybe we could goad Nerf into creating its version of bread. Whatever the solution, something needs to be done. Keeping our Penn identity must not prevent students from being conscientious members of society. So go and yell heartily at the next Penn sporting event. But, first, do me a favor and donate that extra loaf of bread to someone who needs it.

Decked out in denim to support civil rights

(03/27/01 10:00am)

Aren't you afraid people will think you're gay?" To those who would question my outspoken support issues concerning sexual and gender minorities, I usually want to answer, "No, aren't you afraid people will think you're homophobic?" That response, of course, is too hostile for friends or family members who honestly don't understand the negative implications of their question, but it's still tempting. Instead, I usually take the time to explain that since I see all sexual orientations as being equal, there's nothing threatening about people thinking I'm a lesbian. And what about the dating issue? OK, sure, the frat guy on Locust Walk who's dressed up like the giant condom might not invite me to his party if I'm wearing a rainbow pin, but what do I care? If some guy only wants to talk to me because he thinks he has a chance of sleeping with me, I'm perfectly happy not to have to deal with him. Anyone who avoids talking to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people isn't boyfriend material anyway. But the saddest part of this question, which I hear at least once a week, is that it usually indicates an unwillingness to support LGBT issues. Though a lot of people will say that they dislike discrimination, there is still a tangible fear of actively supporting the LGBT community in anyway that might be ambiguous. It can just be too uncomfortable. For example, this Friday, B-GLAD will hold their annual campus-wide Gay Jeans Day. The idea behind the event is that people should wear jeans in support of the LGBT community. It's an easy way for people of all sexual orientations to show that they support equal civil rights, but, again, there is no visible divider provided to separate the straight students from the LGBT ones. Unfortunately, even those who claim to support equality often demonstrate a negative attitude toward Gay Jeans Day. Some are straightforward and complain that wearing jeans that day "makes them look gay," while others claim that the principle behind the event is upsetting. Take, for example, a 1994 letter to the editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian that declares gay jeans day is, "a pathetic and manipulative tactic to obtain support." Like the author of this letter, many people on our campus interpret the event as trying to "prey on ignorance to falsely project support." Since the event encompasses something that many students do on a regular basis, it is seen as trickery. The common presence of jeans, however, is one of the most important aspects of Gay Jeans Day. Because many students will wear this piece of clothing without thinking about it, they are often surprised when they receive a flyer thanking them for their support. And whether the reaction to this flyer is positive or negative, it still reaches its goal of making people think. One of the largest flaws of our heterosexist society is that straight people are able to go through their lives without ever having to think about the prejudice that LGBT people regularly face. The point of Gay Jeans Day is to help combat that trend. The conversation stimulated by the event may be negative, but it still makes people think about issues that they often disregard. Jeans Day is not a ploy to show the campus or the surrounding area an inflated amount of support for LGBT issues. Nor is it a plot to make people think specific students have any particular sexual orientation. It simply exists to raise awareness and stimulate conversation. What critics need to understand is that equal rights are not obtained by cowering in the corner or by "preaching to the choir." The common complaint that LGBT people are too outspoken is simply a command to keep these civil rights concerns hidden. By hedging into the mainstream culture, these issues become bothersome to the majority. I, personally, will be decked out in my denim pants this Friday because Gay Jeans Day combats exactly this mind-set. In order to change the cultural oppression that exists in this country, it is important to get individuals to correct their misconceptions, such as the idea that being a lesbian is somehow more embarrassing than being a straight woman. And by having the goal of getting people to talk and reconsider their ideas, students can't be afraid of breaking outside comfort zones, or creating a little controversy.

The lessons learned from one obscene phone call

(03/20/01 10:00am)

People say college is a time for new experiences, and as I discovered a few weeks ago, they don't just mean the adventures of freshman year. At 9 a.m., still half-asleep, I received my first obscene phone call. Duped by my caller's claim that he was an innocent employee delivering a "naughty telegram," I listened to about five minutes of his moaning and graphic descriptions before I finally hung up the phone. To my embarrassment, however, I stayed on the phone for reasons outside of my sleepy state. No, I am not a secret phone sex addict. Instead, I believed the caller's story because of his soft, expressive voice and his claims that he didn't like reading the telegram. I admit, that despite all my attempts at self-education, I assumed he was gay. And because I believed he wasn't getting anything out of the discussion, I excused him, sympathized with his tasteless employment plight and stayed on the phone longer than I would have if I had assumed he was straight. After I finally got over the embarrassment of having someone ask me what color my underwear was, I questioned why I thought the caller's voice would indicate that he was homosexual. I certainly realize that not all gay men have lisps and a high voice, and I also completely respect the ones who do. But ultimately, I realized that my assumption was a result of a stereotype that I held. Prior to this call, I certainly was aware of stereotypes, but it seemed that as long they were positive, there was no need to question them. However, according to a 1993 article in American Psychologist, this is a far from correct assumption The article, written by Susan Fiske, explains that stereotyping "tells how certain groups should think, feel and behave." While Fiske acknowledges that stereotypes can be flattering, she explains that they also create boundaries. For example, there are often consequences if a person does not fit into a set role, such as the "male adolescent in an all-male group who fails to conform to stereotypically masculine prescriptions." Fisk's article proves that even seemingly positive or neutral stereotypes need to be eradicated, because they bully individuals into acting according to society's expectations. These restrictions, however, are not the only negative effect of stereotyping. No matter how innocuous a stereotype may seem, it still contains negative connotations. Take, for example, the stereotype that claims Asian Americans should be successful in math and science. This idea also implies that they shouldn't be successful in other areas, like athletics or politics. Stereotyping, thus, prescribes a certain role for individuals regardless of their personality. This outlook, as my phone incident shows, often leads to less than objective behavior. But where do these stereotypes come from? Do they originate from bigoted family members or prejudiced friends? The proliferation of stereotypes actually doesn't have to come from anything this direct. It is almost impossible to have contact with popular culture without having contact with stereotypes. Take, for example, the old Saturday Night Live skit about "Pat." The skit centers on an androgynous looking character that is absurdly annoying. Throughout the scene various other characters constantly ask, "Is Pat a man or a woman?" While many would call this a harmless joke, it clearly sends a message that acting outside of traditional gender roles is not only unacceptable, but is so absurd that it's comical. And this example is just one of many. Stereotypes occur in comedies, commercials, newscasts and many dramas. It is nearly impossible to prevent our contact with various stereotypical portrayals. So, instead, we must question what we see and individually work to eliminate not only the assumption that some groups of people are naturally inferior, but also any generalizations, even seemingly positive ones. The road to truly equal treatment of other human beings is by viewing people on an individual basis. Perhaps if I had been doing this all along, I could have distinguished my obscene caller for what he really was. Right now, I'm just glad it wasn't an in-person delivery.

Strengthening campus equality

(03/06/01 10:00am)

As a Caucasian woman, I am not asked to justify my existence on this campus. I don't have to discuss my SAT scores, and people certainly don't presume I'm here as a result of biased admission policies. Although white women are the largest group to benefit from affirmative action programs, we do not experience the backlash that students of color often receive. In fact, when I attended the affirmative action rally last week, most of my friends assumed I was attending a protest aimed at getting rid of these policies. As someone who believes in eliminating race-based discrimination, I stand as a firm supporter of affirmative action on Penn's campus. But in order to fully understand affirmative action, it is important to dispel rumors about the way that the policy works. According to a report published by the American Psychological Association, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues and the Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues, "Affirmative action occurs when an organization expends energy to make sure there is no discrimination in employment or education and, instead, equal opportunity exists." The report goes on to explain that affirmative action policies were originally derived "from White House Executive Order 11246 of 1965 (later amended), which mandates that employers monitor their utilization of individuals from target groups (e.g., women) to ascertain if it reflects the availability of talent in the community." Thus, this policy forces organizations to make an effort to recruit equal candidates from all racial groups. The key word here is equal. Affirmative action is in no way an attack on the integrity of admitting students to college based on merit, and does not mandate that universities admit students of color for statistical reasons alone. In fact, according to Beverly Tatum, a researcher, Psychology professor and Dean of Mount Holyoke College, the idea of quotas, "as fixed numerical allocations, are illegal, unless court-ordered as a temporary remedy for a well-documented, proven pattern of racially-motivated discrimination." For many white students, however, newer and more aggressive forms of affirmative action are unacceptable. These practices do not contain quotas, but work towards campus diversity by giving preference to women and people of color when choosing between equally qualified candidates. Often, people call this practice "reverse discrimination," which seems to apply only to affirmative action based on race. For some students, the idea of whiteness as a disadvantage is simply too much to handle, and they often call for an abolishment of affirmative action and claim that this move will allow college admission to be based on numbers alone. With a holistic view of the college application process, however, it is almost impossible to ignore the necessity for affirmative action policies. For example, women and students of color are not the only people receiving advantages in the college application process. Children and grandchildren of Penn alumni get preference when applying to Penn, and it has been long said that preference can be strengthened through monetary donations to the University. While many claim this is an inevitable aspect of keeping colleges well funded, it is still a racially skewed preference. Think back 50 years and examine how many students of color were on Penn's campus. The practice of giving preferential treatment to legacy students is the practice of giving preferential treatment to white students. Unfortunately, many students who have strong feelings against affirmative action do not have strong feelings against the practice of giving preference to legacies. Some justify this attitude with the explanation that admitting legacies benefits everyone by ensuring Penn's financial stability. But the truth is that this intense and active focus on the "unfair" gains of students of color -- without an accompanying focus on the same types of benefits given to white students -- is a result racist thinking. I realize that many people who are against affirmative action are not bigots. Believe me -- I used to be one of the policy's most adamant opponents. And perhaps affirmative action does need to be reformed a bit (white women, after all, no longer seem to be a minority on Penn's campus). But until we holistically examine our basis for economic and social mobility in this country, we must continue to enact special remedies. And right now, the only specific remedies offered by the government come in the form of affirmative action.

The kintty gritty of yarns: A purl of gender equality

(02/27/01 10:00am)

Knitting? Purling? When it comes to yarn, I am in the know. And I'm not alone. According to the Craft Yarn Council of America, the past three years have seen a 400 percent increase in the number of people under the age of 35 learning to crochet and knit. OK -- so maybe I'm not quite up with the trend. I can't do Julia Robert's sweater pattern that was printed in last months McCall's Magazine, but I am knitting a pretty good scarf that I plan to sport before the end of winter. Since I am about half way through my masterpiece, I've started showing it off to my friends. To my surprise, many of them have been saying, "Oh that's neat -- are you making that for your boyfriend?" Now while my boyfriend realizes that if he wants a scarf he can make one himself, everyone else seems to interpret my creative endeavor as necessarily undertaken on the behalf of a male figure in my life. Perhaps I'm being a little bit rash. Maybe my friends are just overestimating my charitable nature. But would they react that way if I was writing poetry or painting a picture? Because knitting falls into the category of a traditionally gendered activity, my new hobby seems to be interpreted as some sort of move to conservative behavior. The actual root of my interest in knitting is nothing so political. I noticed that one of my close friends would always crochet when we watched TV together. It simply seemed a much more productive use of time in comparison to my usual Dorito eating. To be quite honest, I never thought about the social implications of knitting until I started receiving this reaction from people. In fact, it made me question whether I, as a woman, can afford to act without considering the possible social statements made by my behavior. Obviously, in an ideal society, women should be able to do whatever makes them happy, be it serving a term as president or working at a strip bar. But unfortunately, we have not yet reached that utopia. While active protest for women's issues has decreased since the early 1970s, things are still far from equal in the United States. According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, as of 1999 women still earn just 72 percent of what men earn for equal work. In addition, 1,400 women die every year as a result of domestic violence, according to a study released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And these facts are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It seems a stretch to connect a hobby to domestic violence, but many people fighting discrimination claim it is important to provide examples of women acting outside of the suggested "standard place." What we must realize, however, is that women should not feel forced into a category by their hobbies. We should be allowed to be viewed as individuals and not stereotyped by our incidental interests. For example, a woman who chooses to play basketball instead of knitting isn't necessarily better at fighting sexism. The important part of working towards gender equality is not the act of rejecting traditionally feminine activities; but, instead, lies in fighting for the rights of women who do want to break out of these traditional roles. This definition of a feminist, thus, can encompass not only women fighting for their own liberation, but also men who are invested in gender equality. I hesitate, however, to go to far with this analogy. I would not want to be associated with those in the "Stich and Bitch" group in New York City. According to Fox News, this group embraces and reclaims "gender-identified activities" as a means to fight sexism. While I respect the group's attempt to redefine the activity by stitching projects such as a "freestyle punk-rock scarf," I don't think that we need to limit any woman to these activities in order to gain equality. Once this is suggested, these activities once again become oppressive. Fighting sexism should not result in a bunch of unhappy women serving in the military or working as rocket scientists simply because they feel obliged to do so. But do not assume that women who are interested in these fields do not exist. Until we get rid of the traditionally-held idea that supporting a man and having a family are a woman's only biological functions and reasons for existence, we will never overcome the wage, violence and educational disparities that currently plague the "fairer sex."

Restructuring an end to reform

(02/20/01 10:00am)

Andrew Card Jr. is probably in some hot water right now. ÿ The White House Chief of Staff told USA Today that the Bush administration planned to eliminate the White House offices on AIDS and race relations. Because that information was not correct, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer had to quickly correct the slip-up after the news went to print. He said that Card had "made a mistake. It happens." Though Fleischer's relaxed defense of a White House oversight is a bit disconcerting, I'm relieved that Card's announcement was incorrect. Racism and AIDS are definitely large enough issues to merit federal attention. But how much federal attention they will receive remains to be seen. Though a separate AIDS office will continue to remain open, the staff will be reduced. It is possible that Bush just plans to run the office with greater efficiency, but The Washington Post reported that some AIDS activists are suspicious that the administration is trying to pocket the issue. Receiving even less White House support are initiatives on race. The Office on the President's Initiative for One America, created in 1997, will actually be eliminated amidst White House restructuring. Instead, race issues will become the responsibility of the White House Office of Public Liaison and the White House Office of Domestic Policy Council, both of which have other responsibilities. In explaining these changes, Fleischer claimed that, "The president thinks that the solution to our nation's racial problems derives from actions and policies more than just any one office." Despite this clarification, the reason for downsizing remains unclear. If there is to be continued emphasis on these issues, why is this restructuring occurring? Exactly what "actions and policies" should we expect during the next four years? If the first few weeks are indicative of the term, we are in trouble. On February 9, the president visited Washington, D.C.'s Nalle Elementary School in honor of Black History Month. During his visit, Bush claimed that in order to curb racial profiling, he will search for ways in which the government can help police departments "compile data to get the facts on the table, to make sure people are treated fairly in the justice system." This solution seems weak. It doesn't take into account the reality that officers should already be aware that punishments are often delegated unfairly along race lines. After all, it's been over 10 years since the National Institute on Drug Abuse released its study revealing that even though African Americans only make up 15 to 20 percent of the illegal drug users in the United States, they constitute between 50 and 66 percent of drug-related arrests. If the president finds out that the police departments are aware of the situation and still can't curb this racist behavior, then what? By suggesting this mild alternative, Bush is simply avoiding actually outlawing racial profiling. Stronger initiatives need to be taken. In addition, The Associated Press reported that the International Association of Chiefs of Police has already asked the president to meet about racial profiling, but Bush has not yet set a date to meet. The recent restructuring of the White House does not have to mean the end of social reform. But if Bush thinks that giving data to police departments and making a few appearances in public schools during Black History Month is going to solve the problem of discrimination that exists in our country, he is sorely mistaken. In fact, the only real action taken towards race issues this term has been Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's move to propose the construction of a "monument to honor black contributions to the country." While a monument signifies an important recognition of African-American contributions to the U.S., it does little to remedy the economic, educational and social disparities experienced by people of color. Obviously, how Bush will deal with these issues remains to be seen. The administration, however, is already working on international affairs -- such as those in Iraq -- while current initiatives to remedy internal social injustices seem non-existent. What this country needs is action on these issues, not bureaucratic stalling. In the words of Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, "On issues as important to this country as race relations and AIDS policy, we need bold leadership, not mixed signals and more questions than answers."

Remembering Penn's original neighborhood

(02/13/01 10:00am)

When I told a close friend from home that I had decided to attend Penn, she advised me to sleep in a bathtub. Her perception of West Philadelphia was that it's a dangerous, drug-infested trap. But once I arrived on campus and saw the hordes of freshmen milling up and down Beige Block at two in the morning, I quickly realized that those rumors were exaggerated. There are, however, underlying attitudes that some students still hold about the area around Penn's campus. Conscious or not, we tend to consider ourselves a historic and upstanding university, stuck in a less than enterprising area. I can't count the number of times I've heard students say that they won't go past 37th and Market unless they're trying to purchase alcohol. But the truth is that the West Philadelphia community has an extremely rich history. The "Black Bottom" community, for example, resided between 40th and 36th streets since the 1860s. While we often disregard this history, Penn students aren't imagining the tension that exists between the West Philadelphia community and our own. We live in close proximity to each other, but we are far from neighbors. It is easy for students to blame the residents for this conflict, because homelessness, poverty and crime are not an obvious result of the University's existence. Penn has, however, helped to deconstruct local neighborhoods. The Black Bottom neighborhood, while a supportive community, was never economically well-off. In the late 1960s, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority's plan for Area III (including the Black Bottom) called for "total demolition of residential structures" in order to build the University City Science Center, Medical Center and a science-oriented high school. Though the local government approved of this plan, "residents, who were not consulted, rejected the plan because it ignored the possibility of renovating their homes (The Daily Pennsylvanian, 1/24/1969). Compromises were suggested and rejected, and Penn and Redevelopment Authority finally went ahead and dislocated the 15,000 residents of the Black Bottom in order to accommodate the University's expansion. While Penn did not do anything illegal, the needs of an institution superceded the needs and concerns of the surrounding community. Since the University had the money, they had the control, and residents were forced to leave. So while West Philadelphia can be a hostile place for students, Penn has helped to create that environment. By breaking up a supportive neighborhood, we have left a broken community to try and work towards its own improvement. But shouldn't Penn's $60 million renewal projects make up for past behavior? The renewal plans include buying out multi-tenant houses and turning them into rustic, one-owner Victorian homes. Penn also gives mortgage incentives to University employees to help them to buy homes, renovate them and bring revenue into the West Philly community. While Penn's plan carries with it seemingly altruistic motives, these measures benefit only those involved with the University. Penn is helping to set up housing that costs more than current residents can afford. And it is giving its own employees an advantage in the housing market. Penn is, in fact, making the area a better place to live and lowering crime, but this goal is accomplished by pushing out the current residents and repopulating the area. And while there has been a move to consult residents, the University still does not permit the community to elect its own representatives to meetings with Penn administrators. Penn has proved its dedication to area improvement, but the claimed concern for helping community seems empty. Our institution needs to set up a situation where West Philadelphians can form a supportive and stable community without fear of relocation. We need to approach the neighborhood leaders and ask them what we can do as an institution to help them reform the community we helped destroy. Until that stability and support is created, all of the kind-hearted efforts of the Penn students who go out and provide tutoring and other services will never completely cure the current situation. I love being a Quaker and I am proud to say that we have a University president that is extremely supportive of many progressive measures on campus and concerned for student safety. But when Judith Rodin says that Penn is "[breaking] out of the confines of [our] campus to take a greater role in building the communities around [us], creating a relationship that is not only less than contentious but collaborative" (The New York Times, 12/30/2000), I cannot remain quiet.

Compassion? Sounds more like controversy

(02/06/01 10:00am)

I try to avoid being delusional. When President Bush created the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, I didn't lament the possibility of donating federal funds to religious organizations. The truth is, there has never been a complete separation of church and state. Our currency reads "In God We Trust." Our Pledge of Allegiance promises "one nation under God." The 1996 welfare reform law already provides funding for religious-based charities. And our new president's inaugural address teemed with references to the importance of Jesus Christ. So while it is frustrating that we have not yet reached the presumed constitutional promise of separation between church and state, I accept that Bush's presidency will probably not reverse this trend. What is concerning, however, is the lack of civil rights protection in current and previous religious-based programs and legislation. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer promised, "It is not the religious aspect of what [faith-based groups] do that is getting funding, it is the community service aspect." I question, however, how the Bush Administration will make sure that government funds are being used to help all citizens. For example, will the Bush administration fund organizations that support discriminatory ideas? A faith-based group may run charity activities that are secular and still preach doctrines that are extremely exclusionary. In funding any group like this, our federal government is supporting a prejudiced organization, even if the funded activity is not discriminatory itself. I realize that many people view religion as one of the most constructive aspects of American society, and often, they are correct. Religion adds structure, hope and charitable goals to many people's lives. However, while religion's fundamental message is generally that of compassion and love, it is often used as an excuse by prejudiced individuals to enforce their discriminatory views on others. Many states have passed Religious Liberty Protection acts or Religious Freedom Restoration acts. Unfortunately, because this legislation -- like Bush's new department -- often has no safeguards against prejudice, laws that were created to protect are now helping to persecute. Recent court rulings on RLPA and RFRA issues permit housing discrimination based on marital status. An owner may refuse to sell or lease to unmarried couples because it is against the owner's religion to help unmarried couples live together. The new RLPA and RFRA laws state that unless the government can find a need to force the owner to sell or lease indiscriminately, it must allow the owner to do as he or she sees religiously fit. Since the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people are the direct target of this unrestrained legislation, and the government is doing little to protect them. Apparently, forcing equal opportunity in America now constitutes religious persecution. I hate to see what will happen when Pastor Thomas Robb, the national director of the Ku Klux Klan, figures out how to manipulate this law. Texas, interestingly enough, has been the only state to add non-discrimination clauses to RLPA and RFRA legislation. The federal government needs to enforce this safeguard nationally and integrate it into the new faith-based office. Otherwise, something as positive as an intention to help can turn into an extremely focused and legally justified means of discrimination. While it is important to allow people to protect their religious beliefs, and especially their own spiritual destiny, we must remember that our country promises "liberty and justice for all." The rights of the majority must not infringe upon those of the minority. Bush's new campaign to fund activities run by religious groups raises concern, because, once again, there does not seem to be any system developed to monitor the new office's behavior, nor to protect minority civil rights. Religion has no place in government. Our country needs to make compassion a national priority regardless of faith. But don't expect President Bush to remedy the current close relationship between church and state. All I request from Bush and our own John DiIulio is that protective clauses be added to all previous and current legislation and programming. Doing otherwise is to allow our government to embrace discriminatory attitudes and practices, and that's far from a compassionate thing to do.

The dangerous side of Disney

(01/30/01 10:00am)

Vivid colors and happy endings usually fill my TV screen. Focusing on social issues can be exhausting, and somehow Friends and Ally McBeal don't quite afford me any escapism. So, I stick to cartoons. Naturally, the Disney Channel holds some of my favorite programming. I have an especially strong affinity for Winnie the Pooh. Maybe I interpret his love of sharing as some sort of Marxist statement. But when I turned to the station for some relaxation with my favorite Saturday morning buddies, I received a shock. Not only was my beloved bear nowhere to be seen, but Disney was showing an MTV Total Request Live knockoff. Annoyed by this cartoon deprivation, it took me a little while to notice that Disney wasn't exactly showing Barney videos. Stretched seductively across my screen at 1:30 on a Saturday afternoon was the ex-Mickey Mouse Clubber herself, Britney Spears. In her video "Stronger," Spears is seen walking half clothed in rainy weather and dancing exotically on, with and around a chair. Essentially, she looks like a stripper just about to start grabbing singles. While Spears has the right to produce whatever videos portray her oh-so-complex musical ideas, the Disney Channel should not be introducing this overtly sexual and anti-woman material to its target audience. Disney is guilty of polluting a time slot usually devoted towards children's programming with soft-core porn. To their credit, the Disney Channel advertises the Top 5 Video Poll -- which featured the Spears video -- as programming intended for "older kids." In 1996 Disney launched a campaign to expand programming and reach a wider variety viewers. According to Eleo Hensleigh, senior vice president of marketing at the Disney Channel, "What we're trying to do with the image is present our channel in the most active and contemporary way that we can." This new direction may seem to alleviate connections between Spears' video and children's programming. However, the Top 5 Video Poll's 1 p.m. time slot does not imply that the program is intended for adolescents. The show also shows "Zoogs," (little cartoon creatures) between videos. This presentation blurs the separation between Top 5 Video Poll and the Disney Channel's morning programs, which exist for very young children. The whole situation devalues Hensleigh's statement that "safety and trust issues [are still] a core component of the Disney brand." And this isn't Disney's only contradiction. In addition to the Disney Channel, the company funds the Disney Learning Partnership, an organization formed in order to help promote creative education for "all children." The Partnership currently shares a concern brought up in a report by the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century. In this report, the Commission discusses the "disturbing news that our young people are not performing well enough in mathematics and science." Disney's use of Spears' video directly opposes the promotion of this education. Why would any girl feel the need to excel in math or science when tiny halter tops and bare midriffs are the ideal? You don't need math or science to have a flat stomach or a tiny black tank top. Even worse, if you don't live up to that ideal, why bother trying to validate yourself through math or science? The Disney Channel programming explains that that's obviously what unattractive women have to do. Indoctrinating sexist ideas into children actively prohibits the development of self-confidence and the ability to learn. Instead of "enabling children to succeed," the Disney Channel's daytime programming helps female viewers to internalize certain forms of invalidation. I'm not saying that Disney seeks to create a bunch of Barbie-wannabes. It just seems that as long as money is pouring in, the company has no real problem if women suffer as a result of consuming a Disney product. I believe parents should monitor their children's television habits, but I also believe it is dangerous to allow Disney to continue marketing this afternoon program as something that coincides with a goal to "engage kids in learning." Perhaps the federal government should run a warning label across the screen. Mine would read as follows: "Warning: Your children are about to watch material that will aid in an oppressive society's ability to lie to them. If you value their ability to judge people on an individual basis and have self-esteem, change the channel."

Injustice fighter, or enemy of equality?

(01/23/01 10:00am)

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" -- The Declaration of Independence. Our earliest national document seems to speak of incredibly noble ideas. They're optimistic and focus proudly on equality and human rights. Unfortunately, our federal government has never truly followed these words. Sexist, classist, racist and heterosexist behaviors have permeated the administrations of every American president. Though I realize former Vice President Al Gore would not have cured these social ills, I am especially heartbroken to see the new administration perpetuating hateful practices. Specifically, I am speaking of President George Bush's nomination of John Ashcroft for the position of attorney general. Ashcroft has a history of bigoted attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, and he has allowed these attitudes to influence his legislative stance. Many senators seem to share my concerns and have grilled the former Missouri senator and governor on alleged accounts of his discriminatory behavior. During the Senate hearings, Ashcroft responded that he truly felt, "Injustice in America against any individual must not stand." I would love to believe this statement, but because of Ashcroft's track record, I remain skeptical. The senator's proposed commitment to fight injustice would actually require a major overhaul of existing national legislation, especially that which governs the workplace. Currently, the United States has several laws to protect employees against discrimination based on race, color, sex, pregnancy, national origin, religion, disability and age. These federal mandates, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Equal Pay Act, leave out at least one group of Americans -- LGBT people. Thirty-nine states continue to allow the firing of employees simply because they are not straight. The Human Rights Campaign, a national organization that fights for LGBT rights, documents unfair firing decisions based on sexual orientation alone. They list a variety of cases on their web page, quoting people who have been fired from a number of organizations, from restaurants to brokerage firms. I know some Americans feel private business should be able to do whatever it takes to stay open, but why should an employer be able to fire a lesbian for no reason and not a straight woman or a Jewish man? As long as our country is in the practice of protecting targeted groups, our government should not condone employment practices based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity. Other Americans obviously feel there is something immoral about being LGBT. And some base these judgements on religious views. It is important to note, however, that our nation was founded upon a promise of certain separations between church and state. As taxpayers and legal citizens, LGBT people have a constitutional right to job protection and occupations free from harassment. Fortunately, some legislators and many lobbyist groups have been pushing for a national law that would add sexual orientation to the list of already protected minority groups. This law, which has faced considerable opposition from many legislators, including Ashcroft, is known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The act simply protects LGBT people from discrimination in the same way that other minorities are already protected. It does not provide them with special privileges nor does the it apply to religious organizations. So why can't our legislators pass a law that only serves to bring equality to an unprotected minority? Many members of Congress feel that discrimination toward LGBT people is not an issue and, unfortunately, many Americans support them. So how about Ashcroft, the so-called "injustice fighter?" He was quoted in a 1996 Congressional Record as saying, "[ENDA] contains seeds of real instability and inappropriate activity, seeds of litigation which could grow way out of hand and send the wrong signals to young people." Our potential attorney general feels that prohibiting discrimination sends a bad message to America's youth. He is so passionate about his bigotry that he has created visible efforts to impose it on the country at a national level, and this shows he cannot be trusted to impartially prioritize law enforcement issues. Unfortunately, in addition to Republicans, many Democrats are beginning to support Ashcroft's nomination. His new stance -- that he will not try to overturn the legal protections of abortion -- may have pacified some, but this does not negate his discriminatory attitudes.

The resources to combat racism

(01/18/01 10:00am)

With Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday this week, it seems an opportune time to re-examine just how much "liberty and justice" African American citizens receive in the United States today. Though Jim Crow laws no longer exist, active racism still thrives in America. Recently, for example, the front page of The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 26, 2000) revealed that some life insurance policies are still paying off along race-related lines. The article specifically highlighted the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's history of enacting racist insurance policies, reporting that families of black customers who bought life insurance during the 1950s are collectively missing out on "millions of dollars." The policies sold to African American customers earlier this century included five fewer shares of stock than those sold to their white counterparts who bought the same amount of insurance at the same time. While they verbally apologized for this previous racist behavior, MetLife is still doing little to remedy the current situation and is, in fact, continuing to follow its discriminatory contract. Unfortunately, this is far from the only incidence of contemporary racism. According to a recent study by the Public Broadcasting System, African Americans have significantly less access to technology and the Internet than whites, even when those compared are within the same income level. Contemporary observers have come to call this separation the "Digital Divide." I raise the issue of resource and economic discrepancies not to be morbid during the week of King's holiday, but as a reminder that the racism he fought still exists in a very concrete manner. Many of us who are in the "racial majority" focus on the social segregation we see at Penn and assume that this behavior defines the extent of racial issues in the United States. Without belittling the racial concerns on our own campus, I believe we need to view the issues surrounding race on a larger scale in order to better understand local tensions. Many white people are not affected negatively by racism, and, like many of us at Penn, often are so overwhelmed with their studies, jobs and future career plans that they seem unable to think about issues such as race. Fighting racism is a tremendous task, but we must realize that it is not simply a minority problem in America. After all, it was only 70 years ago when people not affected by discrimination were too busy to fight the blooming prejudice against Jewish-owned businesses in Germany. We cannot be complacent while racist practices continue in our community. As history shows, once discrimination is allowed in one part of our lives, it will infect every other part. In a long term and optimistic sense, we will all have influence over various businesses. We will hopefully be purchasing houses, buying insurance and some Penn students will even decide what insurance their employees will obtain. We can take the time to research the history of the companies in which we invest, buy and rely on, to make sure we are not supporting racist institutions with our dollars. While money isn't everything, it does have a large influence on social policies of many of the major institutions in this country. But with a sense of urgency, action is needed now. The easiest and most immediate way to fight racism can be found on our own campus. The Penn community needs to make a united stand by attending events, such as those run through DuBois College House and the Greenfield Intercultural Center. Even though the fight against discrimination benefits all of us, these programs are too often attended by mostly minority students. It is truly no wonder that there is racism in our country and tensions on our campus when many of us treat these events as if they are only for the "students of color." We are all busy on campus, from getting adjusted to college life to preparing for graduation, but we cannot afford to focus only on our own survival, leaving others to suffer. In King's own words, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."