Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Cli-fi and Environmental Education

I went to a lecture last week by Helen Mundler, who is a visiting professor to WMU. She spoke about the novels of Liz Jensen, specifically "The Rapture" and "cli-fi," which is science fiction about climate change.
Mundler started off her lecture by mentioning the way that Jensen tries to write without propoganda. To me, this idea seemed really questionable. In some way, sci-fi is naturally propoganda. One purpose of it is to make the reader question their actions and their views, and if it's effective, it will cause a change. It seems like Jensen does has a bias and agenda in her writing, and that's fine - they can still be good novels. I've been watching "Call the Midwife" recently, and I joke that it's socialist propoganda, because it seems like there's always a baby that would have died if it wasn't for socialized medicine. That doesn't mean that I think it's a bad show, just that I'm aware of the bias inherent in the drama.
The premise of "The Rapture" is that a young woman, Bethany, was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home where she was abused. Bethany killed her mother and was placed in a psychiatric hospital, where she meets an art therapist named Gabrielle. Bethany has an intense inner world that looks like the result of ecological disaster. While in the hospital, Bethany is essentially a prophet of ecological disaster, predicting earthquakes and the like. In a strange connection, one of Jensen's books, published before 2010 featured an oil spill that was erily similar to the BP oil spill.
I was fascinated by the paralells between fundamentalist Christianity and ecological fanaticism that Mundler discussed. The ideologies are different, but the extremist mentalities are the same in the book. I don't know enough about either movement to make a statement on the topic, but I'm curious about the similarities of those movements in real life. Do they share rhetorical techniques? Do people become involved in the movements in the same ways?
From everything that Mundler said about "The Rapture" it sounded like the kind of book that would be banned regularly in the U.S. because of the portrayal of religion. However, when I searched, I couldn't find any articles about it being banned. Books can often be banned quietly, so it very well could have been banned or challenged. I think this book would be great for young people to read - it seems like it would encourage reflection and ask young people to take a critical look at their society.
Applying criticism to young adult fiction is interesting and important, and I wish we discussed it with actual young adults. Personally, I took English classes in high school and was asked to read fiction and respond to it, but I didn't read criticism until college. Reading different critical perspectives on a work was eye-opening for me, and I think I would have benefited from reading them at an earlier age.
Another interesting aspect of this is understanding how young adult fiction fits into a larger picture of environmental education. I consider myself lucky in that I went to summer camp in the woods as a kid, and ended up working at that camp as an adult. That experience broadened my understanding of nature and ecological issues, and made certian issues feel deeply personal*. However, I feel like I'm still lacking in my understanding of ecological issues - for instance, I know that tar sands are bad and happening somewhere in West Michigan, but the specifics are still very fuzzy. I had some environmental education in grade school, but it was sporadic and not terribly engaging. I'm in a sustainability class right now, and I feel like my knowlege of sustainability issues is pretty low. Is this a huge blind spot for everyone else? I'm hoping that I can sieze the oppurtunity to learn more about sustainability, environmental issues, and find ways that those intersect with other things that I'm interested in.

I really enjoy going to lectures - I think they're a good way to broaden your understanding of topics that you don't cover in classes and make the best use of the resources provided to you by your university. It's a more intellectually engaging way to spend an evening than watching Netflix, at the very least.
If you're around Kalamazoo, I encourage you to check out Wagatwe Wanjuki's lecture about Safer Campuses for All: Using Title IX to Provide an Education Free of Sexual Violence in 1920 Sangren Hall at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 23.
From Lee Honors College: "Wagatwe Wanjuki is a survivor, activist and writer who uses social media to campaign for reform of college sexual assault policies. She is founding co-organizer of the Know Your IX ED ACT NOW campaign, which educates students regarding their Title IX civil rights."
*Don't get me started about logging.
Affiliate links are used in this post.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Secret to Holding a Conversation With Anyone in College

Maybe your college looks like this, maybe not. Either way, there will be attractive people who you might want to talk to.
Today is the first day of classes at Western Michigan University, and that means that tons of new people are around. It's sometimes overwhelming, and it sometimes feels like you'll never get to know anyone. Things will be okay. I promise.
Here's my secret to holding a conversation with anyone in college. I meet new people pretty often, and conversation usually follows this template.

Me: Hi, I'm Samantha. What's your name?
Them: I'm [name]
Me: What are you studying?
Them: [major, minor] What are you studying?
Me: I'm studying public relations. What made you want to study [their major]?
Them: [personal story about a life-changing experience]
Me: Wow, that's fascinating. [question that shows I've been listening]
Them: [answer, giving more depth about their personal experience]

From there, I ask more about them, including where they're from, what non-school interests they have, what kind of movies and books they like, that kind of thing. Our conversation usually meets a natural end when one of us has to leave.

Here's how I end the conversation.

Me: I'm sorry, but I have to go to class now. It was great to meet you, [name]
Them: It was great to meet you too!
Me: I hope I'll see you aroung [our current location] in the future!

Most people like to talk about themselves, especially to an interested audience. It's vital that you are engaged while they're telling you about why they're a pre-med or music therapy or accounting major. Make eye contact, nod, react to what they're saying. If they feel like the thing they're majoring in is boring or useless, affirm them by telling them that it's interesting and useful to society.
Sometimes they'll turn that question back around to you, so have your answer prepared. Depending on the vibe I get from my conversational partner, I'll use one of these stories.
"I started out in furniture design, then switched to industrial design, then collaborative design, then English, and somehow I ended up in PR. I like writing, and PR has a lot of writing in it, so it fits me."
"The only thing I'm decent at is writing, and I didn't want to be poor, so I picked PR."
"I watched a lot of Mad Men when I first transfered to WMU, which made me want to study advertising. I went to the business college, but they said I'd have to do two years of pre-business credits before I could even get into the program, and I thought that was ridiculous, so I did PR instead."
"I really like writing, and I started blogging when I was 14. I've always liked social media, so all of those things sort of gelled together for me in PR."

A great thing about being in college is that new people are around you all the time, and everyone has different experiences. I learn so much from talking to people - the things they know about, and the people they are, and their views on the world. People are fascinating. Once you get over the inital challenge of starting a conversation, you can get to know people better and understand things that you never would hear about otherwise.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Advertising vs. Editorial Content

Today I saw a tweet from my university health center that piqued my interest.
I was interested in this for two reasons: first, the Jasper Clinic advertises with the Western Herald. Second, as a healthcare provider, what was their stance on participating in this medical trial?
I tweeted at them about it.
They pointed out that they had found the medical study through an ad on the Western Herald, which is accurate. The Jasper Clinic paid the Western Herald to buy an ad on our website, as do other organizations, like Hills at Law, a used textbook store, and a textbook rental business. On our website and in our print newspaper, we sell ads, which go to pay for the costs of creating the newspaper. Our ads are clearly advertisements - it's safe to say that no one assumes that "SAVE $$$ RENT YOUR BOOKS" is a piece of our editorial content.
The Western Herald website, with an ad for the Jasper Clinic in the bottom right.
In publishing an advertisement for Jasper Clinic, the Western Herald is not endorsing them. We are merely placing their paid advertisement next to our content, and linking to their website.
However, when the health center tweets about doing a medical study, it's reasonable to assume that they endorse it, and the university believes that participating in private medical studies is an activity that is good for students. To me, this is questionable - they don't know what this study is about, and they don't know what the long-term health risks might be. Would they also tweet a link where students could register to donate their plasma, eggs, or sperm? If they did, would they explain all of the possible risks involved?
Later, they tweeted a link to NIH information about participating in a medical study, which I think is important, and a smart PR move on their part.
All of this brings up an important point - it is hard to predict how people will respond do social media posts on behalf of an organization, and people working in social media have to be aware of that. As a PR student, I will learn from this, and consider if links I am sharing have the endorsement of the organization.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Eight Pieces of Advice for College Freshmen

This is the building that I practically live in during school.
Today is the start of Fall Welcome at Western Michigan University. Campus is flooded with freshmen and their parents, getting everybody moved into the dorms. I'm a senior (halfway super-senior? It's complicated) and I feel like that gives me some authority to give advice to college freshmen about how to excel in college.
  1. Talk to new people. Everyone around you knows something that you don't know. If you don't talk to them, you'll never learn. Also, face-to-face communication is an important skill, and this is a good time to practice, when the stakes are low. Go to guest lectures and talk to the presenter and the people around you - this is a good way to meet interesting people who like the same things you do.
  2. Find out how much your tuition is for the semester. Divide that by the number of classes you're taking. Divide that by the number of weeks in the semester. Divide that by the number of times your class meets every week. For me, this number is $48. That's how much money I am throwing away if I skip class. I'm paying in-state tuition at a state school, so for many other schools, this number is higher. Consider this every morning when your bed is warm and there is a foot of snow on the ground and an economics lecture that you don't want to go to.
  3. Get enough sleep. If you have class at eight, be in bed by 11. Yes, it feels like you are being boring, but you will be so much more functional in class if you have enough sleep.
  4. Get a job. On-campus jobs are great because they're convinent and they have rules against scheduling you to work while you're in class. My freshman year of college, I worked six and a half hours a week in the back of the library, cataloging new books. I made a little bit of money, which helped. When I was trying to get other jobs later on, it helped to have work experience. If you're not working, you probably have at least 10 hours a week that you're spending playing video games or on tumblr. Instead, use that time for something productive.
  5. Be frugal. Unless you are made of money or have mad scholarships, you are probably taking out loans to go to college. Tens of thousands of dollars seems so abstract right now, but it will feel very real when you are sending Sallie Mae $400 a month out of your measly salary when you are 23. Don't borrow more than you need, keep your expenses low.
  6. Get involved, but not too involved. Pick two organizations that you're passionate about, be active in them. Look to the people in leadership roles for advice. When you're a junior, get into those leadership roles. For me, those organizations are the Western Herald and Wesley. Now, as a senior, I am the editor-in-chief of the Western Herald, and on staff at Wesley.
  7. Ask questions. During class, of yourself, of your worldview. Don't stop asking questions. Don't get too comfortable.
  8. Try to get an internship early. Don't be one of those people who thinks "oh, maybe I should consider doing an internship" in the middle of your senior year. Seek out a wide variety of experiences - they will help you learn about the things you like and don't like, and connect with people who are doing what you are interested in.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Links for Friday, August 28

Roxane Gay is amazing, and I just found out that she did at TED talk about being a bad feminist, and the scrutiny that women who are public figures are held up to when they declare themselves to be feminists.
We're coming up on the tenth annivarsary of Hurricane Katrina. I was only 12 when the hurricane hit, but I remember seeing articles online, and reading about it in school. Here are a few articles about Katrina, ten years later. 1, 2, 3, 4.
This week, Chris Guillebeau blogged about happiness as a superpower, and the idea that the ability to make yourself happy is important. Once you find that, you should hold on.
Finding happiness isn’t simple as stating the obvious: sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll—or whatever the short-term equivalent might be—won’t bring you happiness. Hopefully, most of us either know this intuitively or have figured it out without too much damage.
And it’s not as easy to find as some might say, for ultimately happiness is a combination of many things: current state of being, progress toward long-term goals, social environment, family history, and possibly other factors that are hard to identify.
But when you do find what makes you happy, when you finally gain that superpower—try to hold on to it. Try to do whatever it takes, every day, to keep happiness closer to you.
Also, I saw Guillebeau speak in 2013. It was so long ago!