Learning to Collaborate

We’ve all been in that situation when it’s your first class of the semester and your professor is going on and on about the syllabus and, suddenly, the words “group project” leaves their lips. It’s like you’ve been punched in the gut! All of these horrible memories of past group projects flood your mind and you remember all of the nameless slackers who left you high and dry to do the project yourself, taking half the credit and the undeserved A that you slaved over to get. Now, I get it. This is probably the last thing you want to read, and I’m not conceited enough to think I can change your negative opinions about group projects. But, I want you to know that there is hope. There are guidelines that you can lay down early on in the process when you first meet your group mates that can insure success.

These guidelines come straight from Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects. Chapter 5, “Assembling Your Technologies and Your Team”, thoroughly describes how to effectively collaborate using certain guidelines. These paraphrased guidelines are as follows:

  • If possible, limit the size of your group. More members means more voices which means the possibility of trouble when coming to decisions and coordinating schedules.
  • If you have the chance to choose your teammates, try to choose members who bring a diverse set of skills and perspectives.
  • Exchange contact information with your teammates, so you can keep up with them and their progress.
  • Create a group contract that explains group expectations, member roles, communication procedures, meetings, and problem-solving tactics.
  • Contribute by coming to class or meetings, being prepared with materials and ideas, participate, and, especially, pull your own weight.
  • Listen to the ideas of others. Don’t just shut them down immediately.
  • Learn to compromise.
  • If there is conflict, let your teammates talk it out by explaining their own perspectives and suggestions for solving the issue. If it’s a serious conflict, speak with your professor who will help the team get back on track.

Some of these guidelines may seem obvious and self-explanatory, but, believe me, some people may need to hear the obvious. The problems that usually occur within groups stem from the fact that rules weren’t set and agreed upon at the first meeting. If this happens, then your group members can be held accountable for breaking them. Inevitably, there may be a bad egg in your group that just refuses to follow the status quo. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to go to your professor and tell them what’s going on. Your professor will be able to handle the situation better than you just chewing them out at the next meeting. I hope these guidelines help the next time you’re forced to work with others for an assignment or project. If not, then at least you tried.

-Rose Street

How Positive is Body Positivity?

For as long as I can remember, there has been an emphasis on men and women’s bodies in the media and in my everyday life. Up until about 1990, being curvy was “in,” and then by the time Kate Moss hit the runway, it was all the rage to be as thin as possible. Within the last five years or so, especially in the last two, there has been a rise in body positivity and body acceptance. People have finally started to come to the consensus that everyone is beautiful, no matter if you are tall, short, thin, or curvy; everything is accepted. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is the way to go when it comes to making men and women feel happy and comfortable in their own skin. No one should ever have to feel insecure because of how they look and there should never be a standard for everyone to try to live up to. Thankfully, we are in a generation that stands by the ideas of “wear what you want,” “do what you want,” and “be who you want.” I think that all of these things are great ideas to stand by to an extent, but we are still placing way too much importance on physical bodies.

It is normal to look at someone and notice their physical characteristics, but where we step over a boundary is making the body all there is to a person. By saying “all sizes are beautiful” we are still putting a lot of attention on the fact that everyone is a specific size and everyone should be aware that they should love themselves. Sarah Silverman said something very remarkable about young girls in on one of her comedy specials. She said, “Stop telling girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. I think it’s a mistake. Not because they can’t, but because it would’ve never occurred to them they couldn’t” (Silverman, “Jesus is Magic”). I think that this applies not only to feminism ideals, but to body size and appearance as well. If we would stop telling women that they needed to accept their bodies, and if we stopped pressing them to look closer at their superficial characteristics, maybe it wouldn’t occur to them that physical value had to be evaluated and accepted. Everyone just would be accepted.

Obviously, it is hard to switch into this way of thinking when our society has been so critical of bodies up until now. I understand that we had to start being vigilant about accepting all different body types, and it’s important that we did. But people have souls, ideas, ambitions, and dreams. It’s time to look past bodies altogether. We should definitely be thankful for the body positivity movement and all that it has done, but I wish it didn’t have to exist in the first place.

-Rebekah Jones

How to Travel as a Broke and Busy Student

Whenever I tell my friends I’m leaving for a trip, I’m always met with the same response: “Wish I could go…” Maybe they’re just trying to humor me, but I have noticed a trend of people in their early twenties saying they can’t travel because they don’t have enough money or time. These friends would like to travel, but they believe school, money, and time constraints hold them back. I am here to tell you how wrong that is!

Since I started college, I have been to countless states and cities across the country and the entire coast of California. From the Grand Tetons and Yosemite, to Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon, I have climbed giant cliffs, swam in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and hiked through both deserts and forests. I have driven cars, flown in airplanes, and taken the Megabus.

I say none of this to brag or put homebodies down because there is nothing wrong with staying home. I’m simply trying to help you stop making excuses if traveling is something you are interested in. I am not wealthy. My parents didn’t help me out. I did it on my own. And you can, too.

Are You Really Tied Down?

During college, you are pretty much the opposite of tied down. Are you married? Do you have children? Do you have a full-time job? Chances are, you can’t check any of these boxes. Most of you work part-time jobs, and can easily ask off work. And if you can’t get off work to TRAVEL THE COUNTRY, then quit. There. I said it. Quit your silly part-time job, and find another one when you return. It’s really that simple, because if you don’t travel now you probably never will. Your part-time job at Jimmy Johns is not worth missing all of the experiences you’ll have, sights you’ll see, and people you’ll meet. You have the rest of your entire life to work. And what full-time job gives you as many days off as your university? Use your school breaks to your advantage!

Save Money!

You do have money- all you have to do is save that money. Whenever I decide I want to travel, I make a plan. I decide when I want to go, how I will get there, and how many days I will be there. I look at how expensive the destination is, and this decides how long I need to save and how much I need to save from each paycheck. I usually stay away from hotels, as they are unnecessary expensive. I love Airbnb because it is cheaper and having a local around saves you a lot of time and energy deciding on what to do. Hostels and camping are also great options, and can sometimes be even cheaper than Airbnb. All you have to do is book in advance. Remember, traveling while you’re in college is going to require a bit of “roughing it” so don’t expect the Four Seasons.

Save your money and plan wisely. That brunch might sound great now, but if it cuts into your travel fund, skip it. And when you finally arrive, don’t spend all of your money eating out at restaurants. Budget a certain amount of money you can spend each day on the trip, and stick to that budget.

Find a Fun Travel Partner (Not Required)

Your travel partner does not have to be your significant other, and you can even get together a whole group. Having a travel partner allows you to drive less, and see more. It’s also helpful because both of you can split the cost of rooms, gas, and food. We even built out the back of my husband’s Honda Element and have used his car as a kind of mini-camper, which helped us save on lodging costs. Whatever it takes, a travel partner will help you to enjoy things you might not have noticed, and of course, you are less of a target for criminals to take advantage of you.

Just Go

Quit fantasizing about traveling. Stop being envious of Instagram feeds showing you places you can’t go. If you plan accordingly, save money, and aren’t afraid to go somewhere you’ve never been, you can easily travel. Once you graduate and start your career, it will only become harder to get away. Satisfy your wanderlust now while you have the chance. It’s all worth it. Just go.

-Morgan Hodge

Sorry, Grandma

As an English major, or really any liberal arts major, you often hear, “So what are you going to do with your degree?”, or even worse, “Good luck finding a job with that”. Emphasis on the “that”. It’s like some kind of atrocity that I’ve chosen to study the written English language and the centuries of literature it has produced. Because for some people, the fact that my major will not lead me down a specific path to a predetermined profession makes it somewhat less valid than others. My family, for example, seems to fall into this category. When I told my parents I was changing my major (from nursing to English of all things), their only response was, “But why??” They couldn’t possibly fathom why I would want to give up my chance at a ‘real’, well-paying profession “just to read”. My sister’s response? “You’re wasting your intelligence”.

I spoke to my grandmother on the phone the other day. After the obligatory “How are you?’s, she steered the subject towards my upcoming graduation – and I knew what was coming: “So what are your plans for after graduation? Where are you applying to grad school? Will you have a job lined up for you?” I had to break it to her that “No, Grandma, I’m not going to grad school”. She was so disappointed. She doesn’t think I could possibly get a good job with my degree, regardless of the countless hours I’ve put into my schoolwork. To be fair, she did give me some credit for my communication skills, but I know she’s thinking how that’s not nearly enough to support me. What’s worse, I made the mistake of telling her I’ve considered law school if everything else fails. It was only to placate her, but I could feel her excitement through the phone. It was completely disappointing to hear that change in her voice—for her to be disappointed when I’m doing something that I absolutely love, but then for her to be over the moon about something purely for the fact that I “would have a real profession”. But what she doesn’t realize is that it’s not about money. Or prestige. Or a position of power or whatever else it is that she values. It’s about doing what I love and feeling like what I’m studying is actually worthwhile. I’ve learned to be more empathetic, more understanding. I’ve learned to be more open minded and to respect others’ opinions. I’ve just learned to be a better person in general. That means so much more to me than making money. So I hate to break it to you, Grandma, but I’m not going to be a lawyer.

-Haley Baldwin

Response to Cracked’s Criticisms of “Kickass” Female Characters in Film

I am a frequent reader of the comedy website Cracked, which has articles on a range of topics including pop culture, weird science and history, and sometimes insightful personal accounts from people with unique jobs or living situations. I usually gravitate toward the articles on pop culture and media for a light, fun read. In doing so, I came across an article entitled “6 Stupid Characters That Hollywood Now Puts in Every Movie.” Like most of these types of articles featured on the site, this article was just some simple observations by a columnist about the way movies are being made today, but there was one entry that really made me stop and think. It was something the author referred to as “Kickass” Female Characters Who Don’t Really Do Anything. The main point the author of the article was trying to make is that there is an ever-growing number of  female characters appearing in films, mainly blockbusters, that are designated as being a “tough” or “kickass” woman but never prove their toughness. He says, “there’s a tendency in modern films to create kickass female co-stars with hot leather fighting abilities who are of zero consequence to the plot … no matter how bumbling their male co-stars may be.” This sounded reasonable enough and even though some arguments could be made against a few of the examples he gives, Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Widow are two that could be considered less than solid,  I was generally on board with his assessment.

My main issue with his argument is that he’s kind of missing the point of why these types of characters are so frustrating, especially to female viewers. He takes issue with the fact that these “badass” characters don’t actually serve the function of being a badass; I find them troubling because they are representative of the type of one dimensional female character that Hollywood has been churning out in response to the call for “stronger” female characters, which has been misinterpreted to mean women who can fight or shoot a gun. What is really meant by “strong female characters” then? It is a desire for female characters that are rounded, three dimensional human beings. This means women who might be tough or vulnerable, strong or weak, but who are probably all of these things because real people are flawed and possess a capacity to experience an array of emotions.

The biggest hole in his argument is one he makes himself. After giving all of these examples of characters that could be construed to fit into this frame of one dimensional badassery, he hinges his argument on the uselessness of Katniss Everdeen. He claims that she is a useless female character because she doesn’t use her archery skills to kill enough people, and because she is manipulated into providing propaganda for the revolution. With this example and reasoning, he proves that he has not only missed the bigger point of why superficially tough female characters are a problem, but that he has also misidentified and misinterpreted one of the few attempts to provide a female hero who is not the perfect, emotionless action hero. The whole point of Katniss Everdeen is that she is a reluctant hero who’s more than just good with a bow. She is only in the Hunger Games to save her sister and has no desire to kill anyone if it can be avoided. The fact that she is manipulated and vulnerable doesn’t make her any less of a “strong” character, it just means that she is a flawed character who’s more than a one dimensional killing machine.

I think it’s great that people try to point out the problems with our modern films, especially those with the portrayal of women on screen, but it’s also very important to understand what you’re actually writing about and the overall point. The point was missed here and the criticisms of female characters should depend less upon how much butt they can kick and more upon whether or not they are dynamic, fleshed-out, and well-rounded characters.

-Shelby Bess

Fighting Rape Culture at UTC

Recently, UTC has undergone some major changes. No, I’m not just talking about the new Library or the new parking lot that’s being constructed. Nor am I talking about the freshmen dorms that are being built for the next couple of years. I am talking about the rape culture dominating news stations, newspapers, and even campus events. Over the past few years, a growing number of women (predominantly, but men also) have had the courage to bring charges against their aggressors on campus.

The growing presence of the UTC Women’s Center has been paramount in this, especially as the victims turned survivors have turned to mainstream audiences and media to tell their stories, casting a wider net for an audience. Unfortunately, in doing so, we have seen significantly more backlash against these survivors or at least a seeming indifference and hesitancy to move forward on a case.

This type of graphic perversion has only recently found its way into fictional mainstream settings, so to see it become a part of our daily reality is jarring for many people. They simply find it either hard to believe it, mostly because it is not easily seen tangibly. Typically a victim’s suffering is intangible – depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc. These are things not easily noticeable by the unassuming public. But the person accused of assault will suffer more tangible consequences – prison time, expulsion, loss of job opportunities. The difference is not in their significance but in their visibility.

This is why some of the administrators have come under fire for losing testimonial evidence from several students, readmitting students found guilty of sexual assault, and the general mishandling of several Title IX procedures. Because of this, some new programs and measures have been put into effect, including UTC’s Know More, a Yes Means Yes policy, and bringing Katie Koestner, founder of Take Back the Night, to speak in the UC Auditorium. Whether these two new programs are reactionary or not, they are nevertheless a step in the right direction.

It is critical to raise awareness of not only helping those who have been victimized, but as well as helping those who may need the courage to be an intervening bystander. For instance, the most common reaction to being told that consent cannot be given while under the influence is “What?”

Rape isn’t just an act of sexual aggression by a stranger, it can happen to anyone by anyone, and changing a whole culture of victim blaming and excuses to one of respect and acceptance won’t happen overnight, but this sure is better than a misogynist maniac demanding an umbrella from a total stranger in a downpour then threatening her when she refuses, and letting him get away with it.

-Daniel McNeeley