Posted on 23 April 2013.
Butler University has received some criticisms from The Butler Collegian over the past few years.
It is not the place of this column to make any sort of argument about the purpose of student press or newspapers in general.
But it is relevant to talk about criticism.
Critiques can weaken an institution or cause scandal.
However, critiques can also be used to raise awareness and to trigger positive growth.
For example, imagine a report comes out that a politician’s aide said something incredibly offensive or took bribe money.
That report might even come from a highly critical and “shady” publication.
The politician has a few choices.
The best option would be to publicly investigate the accusation and to act accordingly.
Instead, sometimes institutions “close ranks” and argue the sources from outside have no evidence and no right to make accusations.
Again, this is an entirely hypothetical situation.
The point here is that criticism can be perceived as an outside attack meant to destabilize everything positive about the university.
It can also be the start of a conversation, which might then become the basis for change.
It almost goes without saying that there should be responsibility on both sides of the argument.
But even if a report comes from a disreputable source, part of being a “critical thinker” is to engage instead of shutting down.
If we as members of a liberal arts institution want to keep that label, we need to move away from simplistic thinking.
It is easy to believe that people either love or hate institutions.
It is also easy to believe how they answer that question means they can or cannot offer useful insight.
The difficult truth is sometimes people who have little to do with a situation are able to offer insight.
Other times, this clearly is not the case.
But this is the role of the education we have all been receiving.
Criticism should be examined in the context of the people giving it, in the context of the university and even society outside of the bubble.
The university has done an effective job of addressing students in dialogue and keeping them informed of events and plans for the future.
However, part of our role as community members and citizens is not just to listen but to engage.
Most of us probably have the ability to obtain information about controversial situations abroad.
Some think that by viewing photographs, stories and news reports in the media they become experts.
I would hesitate to say that anyone here really understands all of the controversial events going on elsewhere in the world, myself definitely included.
Information is not automatically the solution.
We also need, as a student body, faculty, staff, community and nation, to engage in dialogue and act.
Criticism, even from the most frustrating sources, can be the first steps in dialogue.
Posted in Opinion
Posted on 16 April 2013.
It seems saying the phrase “service learning” on Butler University’s campus is enough to start a fight.
But there are other ways for students to get off campus and to experience something they would not otherwise be able to do.
More classes should offer or even require students to participate in events outside the university.
My own experience here speaks well.
One of my classes this semester required students to participate in a protest of some kind.
This is not something I would have even considered a few years ago. After this class, doing service learning has become more in line with who I am since I started at Butler.
Now, I am looking forward to doing more.
Service learning has also given me insight into some of the things I have discussed in classes here at Butler.
This kind of assignment differs from classroom learning in a couple of ways. For one, it does not need to be structured. Secondly, it is a one-time event.
Service learning classes offer a lot of benefits.
But assignments that push students to be involved in organizations and events off-campus are also a great way to achieve some of the same goals.
For one, the flexibility of my class assignment meant the students could personalize what they did instead of having only a few options.
As a student with more than one job outside of my course load, I understand volunteering or making time for other activities outside class is not easy.
But this assignment has definitely made me grow as a person.
Butler students should take the opportunities given to them, and faculty should make sure the opportunities exist.
Posted in Opinion
Posted on 10 April 2013.
Butler University announced last week that John Green, the New York Times bestselling fiction writer, will be the commencement speaker in May.
Green fits this role in a lot of ways.
His works are frequently labeled “young-adult” but capture college readers’ attention as well.
The university picked well, but here are a few people that could also offer up interesting speeches:
David Graeber, who wrote “Debt: The First 5,000 Years.”
His work is not about life after graduation specifically, but it might be something students can relate to while waiting to hear back from jobs and graduate programs.
John Darnielle, Bloomington-born lead singer and writer for The Mountain Goats, has been awarded for his spectacular lyrics.
Darnielle could borrow from his lyrics to inspire the class of 2013 with tidbits like “I’m gonna make it through this year if it kills me” or “Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive.”
Another fantastic choice would be Toni Morrison, Nobel-and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Beloved.”
Morrison’s passion and message are inspiring and her writing is fantastic.
It would be an excellent way to pay homage to Butler’s heritage as the first university in this nation to graduate a black woman. Cornel West would be another excellent speaker.
West spoke at Butler earlier this year about Ovid Butler’s legacy and the university’s duty to uphold it.
Anita Sarkeesian would be another fantastic option.
The Internet sensation started Feminist Frequency on Youtube to start “conversations with pop culture.”
Sarkeesian’s straightforward, relaxed style lends itself naturally to speeches. Her positive message and vision for a better society would certainly be inspiring.
Beyonce Knowles-Carter, though, pretty much holds my number-one nomination.
The 17-time Grammy winner has the chops and life experience to come up with a clever and inspiring speech with a killer dance break.
Posted in Opinion
Posted on 02 April 2013.
The U.S. Supreme Court has begun hearing cases regarding gay marriage this week.
The Supreme Court’s job is to interpret the U.S. Constitution, but it also has the ability to make moral judgments.
When 58 percent of the population supports the legalization of gay marriage, there should be no deliberation.
Indiana law does not recognize same sex marriage as marriage. Supposedly, one threat to democracy is that society will fall to mob rule.
The idea is that the public’s whims will lead the country astray.
Proponents of this argument say the Supreme Court should not be subject to the wills of the people but to the Constitution alone.
But the Constitution is a document, written by people.
Some of the major contributors to its initial writing were slave owners.
So we should be very careful about presuming the moral strength and foresight of their masterpiece.
Just as important, the checks against mob rule exist to protect society from vicious and emotional—not thoughtful—laws.
Gay marriage does not pose a threat to society.
There has not been a single scientifically-valid article recognized by the American Sociological Association that documents any “danger” same-sex couples pose to children or communities.
Gay marriage has become a nationwide issue because marriage carries all sorts of legal benefits.
Some valid criticisms of gay marriage are out there.
That marriage is so enshrined legally in this nation—that it provides protection of child custody and medical and tax benefits—means that gay marriage is something beneficial that needs to be available to adults, regardless of their personal lives.
The Supreme Court should enforce the principles of equality in this nation and allow all people access to these benefits.
Eighteen states already recognize and give some benefits to same-sex couples.
The nation is changing its legal stance on same-sex couples in other ways too.
The Supreme Court has also begun hearing a case on the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied benefits to same-sex couples employed in the federal and state governments.
The Obama administration stopped enforcing DOMA at the beginning of 2011.
Indiana, too, should note the changing tides.
At the very least, our representatives need to recognize what is right.
Even more important than surveys is committing to moral principles.
Posted in Opinion
Posted on 26 March 2013.
Butler University recently announced its tuition will rise for the next academic year.
An email stated that administration decided on a 3.75 percent increase from this year’s tuition.
Nationally, tuition at four-year institutions rose by 4.5 percent for the 2011-12 school year.
Forbes reports suggest Butler’s tuition has been managed similarly.
This is the most recent year that data displaying national average increases is available.
Since the financial crash in 2008, private university tuition rose slower than at public universities across the country.
This trend was not enough to close the gap. Most private institutions are more expensive than public universities.
Butler is no exception to this trend.
The university is still more expensive to attend than the average public university.
At Butler, however, tuition has risen faster than even the national average for the last several years.
Reports have not confirmed how this year’s increase compares to the national scene.
However, Butler also increased the amount of money going toward financial aid and grants by $15 million for the next academic year.
This increase will actually cost the university more dollars than the increase in tuition alone will bring in if the student body remains the same size.
This is a step in the right direction for Butler.
Butler is not the only school with tuition on the rise. Rising tuition costs around the country worry some activists.
Organizations like Project Student Debt and Strike Debt both argue that rising student debt puts at risk the lives we expected growing up.
Unemployment and under-employment both are high.
Some projections say this will remain the case until 2020.
The long-term effects of this may be that higher education becomes more exclusive and that a bachelor’s degree becomes a liability instead of a blessing.
Butler officials, by increasing financial aid at their university, are honoring the heritage of their founder.
Ovid Butler founded this institution on the belief that those who society deems less valuable are still human and deserve the same opportunities and rights as everyone else.
The administration has stated it wants to expand quite a bit in the coming years, both in the student body and facilities.
At the same time, the university is making efforts to ease the burden on students.
This is a trend to which Butler should commit.
Posted in Opinion
Posted on 06 March 2013.
As the last half of the spring semester approaches, seniors at Butler University send out piles of applications.
These masses of paperwork go to employers, internships, volunteer organizations and graduate schools.
I am lucky enough to have an adviser and several other professors who have offered extensive help in the graduate school application process.
Professors from my department (and others) critiqued my various writing samples and personal statements, as well as suggested which programs worked best for me.
But not every department can offer such comprehensive help.
Especially in programs where many courses are cross-listed, students may not necessarily have many of role models or potential sources of advice.
This is not to imply that any department is being unhelpful.
Professors have a lot on their plates, with many of them serving as advisers and educators while also pursuing research and, of course, living their lives outside of Butler.
Internship and Career Services offers workshops, resume critiques and even a one-credit hour course for students to help them learn about finding employment, internships and “gap-year” programs.
The last of these refers to organizations like AmeriCorps or Teach for America.
The “gap” is between undergraduate life and whatever the individual wants to pursue.
Many students in my acquaintance, though, feel as if they are pursuing specific things that go beyond simple resume reworking.
Everyone can benefit from a more professional resume.
But someone who wants to go into warzone coverage for a newspaper needs very different career advice and experience than another student who wants to manage local broadcast journalism.
ICS does a fantastic job, but a major burden is the specific needs of each student.
No one group can effectively work with 4,000 students to address each one’s goals.
To me, I thought there were very few alternatives for students without clear post-college goals or ones who were looking at further education.
If I were in a larger department where the teachers did not personally know the students, I am not sure I would have the options I do.
Posted in Opinion
Posted on 27 February 2013.
Every self-proclaimed community needs its rumors.
One that holds a special place at Butler University is “the bar.”
I have heard the “Butler Bar” discussed at least three times in my four years at Butler.
Of course, no authority on campus has said anything about the reality of a bar.
But this does not stop students from talking about it.
An on-campus bar is a great idea in many ways but ultimately is not something in which the university should invest.
The imagined bar could offer a place where students could gather after typical business hours.
It could be the dedicated hangout for viewers of Butler athletic events when teams are on the road.
A bar could also allow the administration to help encourage more responsible drinking by offering a calmer atmosphere in the Butler Bubble.
Butler has been wrestling with more incidents of dangerous drinking in the past several years.
In 2012, the Collegian reported more than 24 alcohol-related arrests and slightly fewer than 170 alcohol-related referrals occurred on campus.
An on-campus bar would create a space where students could consume responsibly around bartenders and staff that have students’ safety in mind.
However, there’s no guarantee such a thing would cause safer behavior.
People will not stop having house parties.
It is not entirely clear that irresponsible drinking is the problem, anyway.
But other reasons need to be carefully considered. Having an on-campus bar can give students a place to drink under the supervision of people with students’ best interest in mind.
Despite common logic, walking while intoxicated is actually very dangerous.
The New York Times as well as other media outlets have reported this.
So just having a bar nearby does not automatically make drinking safer.
If students receive rides from home to the bars and back, in fact, they’re probably much safer than walking while drunk on campus.
The on-campus bar could give Butler character and create a late-night hangout location for students.
All of these things answer student body concerns raised in this publication.
But a bar will probably not make things safer at Butler in the big picture.
It is hard to argue that an on-campus bar would make things more dangerous for students.
Students already walk long distances for parties. That’s not likely to change.
And, as the Innovation Fund demonstrates, Butler can put that money to use in better and brighter ideas than lighting a bar.
If anything, the university could funnel some tiny fraction of the cost of a bar—which would be considerable if done right—into expanded transit routes to Broad Ripple and Indianapolis.
Of course, regardless of how far you go for entertainment, you should never drive drunk.
In the end, not having a campus bar means more students might burst the Butler Bubble and actually experience the hopping culture of Indianapolis.
Posted in Opinion
Posted on 19 February 2013.
More and more online classes have popped up in the last few years across college campuses.
Butler University has not avoided the trend.
The school should follow these new developments in higher education.
But college administrations should keep in mind the details that make the university experience what it is.
Online courses offer opportunities that are not always available otherwise.
They can open up classes to people who work during normal class times.
Students with disabilities may be able to take classes more easily.
These are the reasons we should pursue online education.
Higher education should not solely be the realm of those who can afford to take classes full-time or can get to and sit through classes.
But I also believe that the classroom experience is vital.
It is much more powerful and meaningful to interact with others than it is to just read and write papers.
I know that a huge part of my growth as a person has come from talking with classmates and teachers.
There is a feel about the physical classroom and group discussions that an online class cannot duplicate.
And I know I am not the only student who finds it easy to just breeze through readings and assignments without absorbing much.
The classroom has the ability to demand our engagement as students.
Class discussion can directly demonstrate to teachers how their ideas are being received.
Professors see firsthand how well their points come across and can hear immediate feedback.
Online classes have their benefits.
But any major switch should preserve the best parts of real classrooms as well.
If being exposed to the real experience of working with others helps people grow, then it is a vital part of the classroom.
There does not seem to be an impending switch from real classrooms to virtual ones in Butler’s future.
The university has only just begun offering online courses.
Hopefully, these will be used to make the university more inclusive.
It would also be marvelous to see Butler incorporate all the benefits of the traditional classroom with online courses.
Posted in Opinion
Posted on 12 February 2013.
Recently, the Butler University community has seen statistics on both sexual behavior and mental health.
Together, they paint a surprising and saddening picture.
Of sexually-active students, contraceptive use is very infrequent.
And in more recent statistics, Butler students confessed in large numbers to feeling overwhelmed and even hopeless.
While no one can say for certain what the link between these might be, the statistics indicate a definite risk for recklessness.
Over 40 percent of both men and women who were respondents indicated they have felt hopeless.
Students have resources all around them.
The counseling service on campus is free for students.
Contraceptives are free through some events (including those sponsored by Demia) and also for purchase in the Apartment Village Dawghouse and C-Club.
Students need to recognize that actions they take here can have long-term consequences.
They also should do their best to take care of themselves.
Feeling of hopelessness and being overwhelmed are serious.
And Butler students do not have to face these feelings alone.
Meeting with one of the counselors at the HRC could not hurt.
College students are particularly busy and exposed to sleep deprivation, odd nutrition and complex relationships.
Some of these conditions are unavoidable, but it would hardly be college if these were all in balance.
But students need to seek out healthy outlets, as well.
Part of this response means the community should consider having a conversation about mental health.
People frequently describe various mental health issues as made up or whining.
But mental health issues are not something we democratically validate.
Depression is as real as the flu.
Not everyone who feels hopeless is depressed.
But college students put themselves through tons of stress.
They go to new living environments, work on short schedules and coordinate finances.
So they should take stress and mental health as seriously as they take exercising, eating and passing class.
Posted in Opinion
Posted on 06 February 2013.
On Feb. 7, Butler University will celebrate its history and founder.
The university has a long history worthy of pride.
But as members of a community, we should take time to learn all of our history.
No current or living individual has responsibility for the actions of people in the past.
At the same time through, if we want to call our institution Butler University, we need to take ownership of what that means.
Ovid Butler founded the university as an abolitionist institution.
This was before anti-slavery was very popular, even in the north.
When the Klu Klux Klan gained local influence, the university decided to play it safe.
From 1927 to 1947, Butler admitted only 10 black students each year.
Officials felt it would be dangerous to have people of color on campus. At least, that is how they justified it.
Many white moderates throughout our nation’s history gave similar justifications.
The Civil Rights Movement, according to people such as Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, was pushing too far, too fast.
Many other people agreed and argued that incremental progress was the safest path.
But the legacy of people like Ovid Butler was not founded in careful consideration of the sensitivities of racists.
Butler was also the second university in the nation to admit women.
Again, Butler was leading by example.
And once again, this was not at a time when it was politically convenient.
Gertrude Mahorney graduated from Butler in 1887 as the first woman of color to do so and went on to become a teacher in Indianapolis.
If we want to truly honor Ovid Butler’s memory and the university as a whole, we need to focus on the right parts.
Butler’s history is one of commitment to what is morally right, not to what is acceptable or convenient.
And we must also remember that not even the university itself has kept that promise at its core.
We should learn from that mistake.
And every member of this community should try to live up to the best of our past with its darker moments in mind.
This advice applies to more than just students or universities.
Posted in Opinion