Education Now + Beyond

Five life-changing tips for online classes no one’s telling you about

In a regular year, now would be the time for back-to-school sales, moving into dorm rooms or new apartments, and wondering where the summer has gone. 2020 is anything but regular. Back to school shopping is now for masks and students instead are settling into the new normal of online classes and virtual classrooms.

While some schools and universities are approaching a hybrid situation, for the most part classes are going to be online, and we might have to be staring at our screens for a while at least.

As a college student myself (and especially an international student), I am grateful for online classes, but I also admit that online classes are hard. Remote learning asks for a lot of commitment, without really offering much accountability. Zoom fatigue is very real, there’s no casual conversations with your classmates before class starts to lighten up the mood, and let’s face it, studying from home is an enticing trap to most. Not to mention that not everyone has an ideal home environment for remote learning.

But as your self appointed virtual assistant – insert my best Siri impression – let me tell you some of my tips for successful remote learning. I am sure you have already heard about making a routine and taking a break from multiple articles and TikToks already, so here are some tips that no one’s telling you about; five specific ideas that have helped me with my classes:

1. Have cheat days

What is a routine if you don’t cheat it once in a while? It’s important to have a set routine, definitely, but it’s absolutely necessary to take breaks. Have a day to take a break from all your classes, set up Netflix watch parties with friends – virtually, of course – and treat yourself after an assignment or exam.

Yes, listen to those popular advice that tell you to wake up in time and go to sleep at a designated time, but is a college student a college student if they aren’t sleep deprived? It’s great to have a schedule, but it’s important to check if it’s practical, and if it’s not working, switch things up! Lessen your load – drop that class without feeling guilty about it – and mix up the activities you do in a single day.

2. Have a comfortable study space

Have a study space, yes. And make sure your study space is not your bed, yes. But a study space is no good if you have back pain from sitting in an uncomfortable chair for hours.

Make your study space pleasant and comfortable. Have a comfy chair, try to have pictures of your friends and favorite pre-pandemic activities, even places you’d like to visit after all of this is over. Have a blanket nearby, throw in a pillow for your back, make sure to stretch once in a while, and set up your space somewhere with ample light – if not, get a cute lamp! – and air. Next to a window? Perfect.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the privilege to be able to have the ideal space and we understand that. So even if it’s your kitchen table, your porch, or your basement, what matters is making the space yours. If you can, keep switching up your spaces too, as much as social distancing allows. Try to go outside and pick a spot where you can study without being in contact with too many people.

3. Diversify your tech intake

Your computer is going to be your gateway to the world for a while but not everything has to be done on the same device. If you have the means, try to use a different device to read your coursework. If you can, print your readings and mark them up. Take physical notes (you know what they say about writing things down and retention rates), doodle on them, and write funny comments.

If you can, get physical textbooks, and if you cannot, get audiobooks! Last year I started to purchase audiobook versions of textbooks, and I swear it was life changing. Apps like Audible give you the option to change speed, book mark, or “clip” sections, and some books on Amazon give you the option to both read and listen to it at the same time!

4. Accountability is key

One of the biggest setbacks of online classes is that there’s less pressure on accountability so it’s necessary to set up ways to keep yourself on track.

If you have zoom classes, keep your video on, participate as you would during a regular class. Keep your phone aside, and if you need a little extra help to reign the temptation to check you phone every once in a while, try productivity apps that require you to keep you phone locked for a designated time period. (My go to is FOREST, the app grows a plant when you are productive, and the graphics are so cute).

If you usually study with friends, set up zoom study dates, or share your deadlines so you can keep each other accountable. A planner is a godsend at this time, so use a paper planner or keep track of deadlines through an app or your phone calendar.

5. Ask for help

I’ll repeat once again: online classes are HARD, and your professors know this. Do not hesitate to ask help, whether it’s clarification questions, extension for deadlines, or help with an assignment. Try to reach out to your professor – especially if you don’t know them – and introduce yourself through email or video call and create a relationship so they know you.

Of course don’t unload all your dirty laundry on a teacher, but explain your situation. Chances are they are going to be understanding. Remember that this is an uncertain time for everybody, and you are so brave and smart for even being able to study during the chaotic timeline we are in.

Those are the tips that work for me personally, but hey we all learn differently! In the end, all that matters is that you should practice self care, and be kind to and proud of yourself. This is going to be a strange semester, but you’ve got this, and let’s conquer those online classes from Zoom University together.

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TV Shows Pop Culture

Piper Chapman from ‘Orange Is The New Black’ showed me being ignorant is being complicit

It’s taken me months and months to admit that Orange is the New Black is officially over. We bid a dramatic farewell to Piper Chapman and cast after spending seven seasons behind bars with them and getting personally invested in a multitude of diverse storylines.

The show offered such a rich exploration of its diverse cast that very early on in the show, the protagonist’s story seems to pale in comparison, and Piper remains at the forefront throughout the series. Less as an important narrative thread and more as a glaring social commentary of how good intentions do not eradicate white privilege.

The more obvious reason for this is simple as she represents the main character of the memoir the show is based off (Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman). The memoir and the beginning of the series show Piper as a naïve, white, suburban girl who ended up fooling around after college and is now paying her dues. The audience follows her into the prison on her first day and is witness to how quickly and easily she becomes a target for most women already present.

It is Piper’s faith in the broken system to keep her safe that makes her complicit to her privilege.

As the show progresses, we see Piper become well-adjusted to the system in place but her identity on the outside still speaks volumes for the other prisoners. Sometimes it is addressed as a comic-relief one-liner and sometimes in more overt and dramatic scenes, such as when Piper’s panty-selling business snowballs into a Neo-Nazi self-proclaimed group (Season 4 Episode 5).

It wasn’t just the fact that her race allowed her to remain unsuspected by the guards – hence proving her privilege – it is Piper’s faith in the broken system to keep her safe that makes her complicit to her privilege. The lenience that she experienced in the first three seasons reassures her that she can remain under the radar, until her privilege finally speaks up so loudly, it gains a cult following.

However, because she is the main character, we get to experience this transition with her. And so in the first three seasons, we saw Piper as a rich kid that needed to be humbled and a system that is definitely racist, but we didn’t see a racist protagonist. In fact, because the audience experienced her journey with her and from her eyes, we saw that she didn’t want special treatment because it would’ve made her stand out. We saw her trying to bond with the girls and adjust to life. We saw that Piper had good intentions.

But she’d also had good intentions behind the panty-selling business (as good as an illegal business can get). And we also see how living in ignorance of your privilege does not make it go away – for Piper, it quite literally made a Neo-Nazi group gravitate towards her.

So what does this mean for Piper Chapman?

Does this mean she remains a misunderstood character, or does it make her immediately unlikeable? I don’t believe it is that simple because while I believe that the plot holds a great significance, there are nuances that add a relevant social commentary to the show, and Piper’s character is the culmination of these nuances to provide us with a commentary on privilege even when one means well.  

These nuances are what we were acquainted with as we followed Piper’s story. In her footsteps, we can understand that she was a liberal, well-intentioned woman who was naïve to how ignorant she was about her privilege until she was ripped out of her bubble and placed amongst women from all walks of life.

Your intentions are insignificant if you deny your privilege while being in a position of privilege.

In the cramped four walls of the prison, there was no room for ignorance and so every day, Piper was forced to confront a truth that is extremely pertinent for anyone in the position of privilege to understand – it doesn’t matter if you aren’t actively oppressive because we belong to an oppressive system; your ignorance in itself is an act of oppression. Therefore, when her Neo-Nazi group remained undetected, the prisoners took it into their own hands and, in a horrific turn of events, branded Piper with the Nazi symbol. This visual conclusion to her metaphorical-turned-literal incident is fitting because it is, quite literally, asking Piper to take ownership of who she is.

It’s 2020 and, at this point, I think we are past the point of raising awareness about how racially and culturally corrupt our systems and societies are. The awareness is there, but a lot of people don’t understand their personal roles in not only maintaining a broken system, but also helping perpetuate it. A lot of times we hide behind the masks of a good education or liberal conversations or a well-respected family, but those aren’t enough.

Your intentions are insignificant if you deny your privilege while being in a position of privilege. In a society that is racially and culturally aware as well as evolving, self-awareness and self-accountability are essential if you claim to be a part of the change.

Good intentions, as Piper Chapman learned, are no longer enough. 

Health Care Wellness

Asking for help does not mean admitting defeat

Trigger Warning: Mentions suicide, anxiety and depression.

The first time I went to therapy was as a sophomore in college when a random panic attack before my first ever Honors’ class sent me spiraling all the way to the counselors’ office. I continued to go for the rest of the semester, grateful that the offices were tucked away discretely on campus so that I would never have to explain to friends what made me go to therapy. Two years later, my older brother died of suicide.

Armed with a tangible reason, I was no longer concerned about what people thought as I prioritized my mental health. The cluster of internal dilemmas within had never weighed heavily enough on the invisible scale of emotional pain before, but my brother’s death became a fitting ticket of validation that allowed me to seek help without being ashamed. And that thought haunts me.

My brother’s suicide was completely unforeseen. He was a charming, intelligent, friendly, and sensitive man who was loved by so many. He was a student at a university in Boston, worked full-time, and would only come home once in a couple of years. In his last message to us, he confessed that he felt like he was putting on an act of keeping it together. Other than the toxic society we all wade in and get contaminated by, my brother was also struggling with an internal dialogue he never let the rest of us in on. I spent months thinking about why he thought he wasn’t good enough, but even longer wondering what made him think he wasn’t even good enough to ask for help.

The cluster of internal dilemmas within had never weighed heavily enough on the invisible scale of emotional pain before, but my brother’s death became a fitting ticket of validation that allowed me to seek help without being ashamed.

It’s not that he didn’t have access to information or resources. In the past few years especially, the conversation around mental health awareness has continued to expand and include a variety of voices and experiences. However, as the conversation deepens, it often uncovers struggles that are far more ‘intense’ than our own. A person dealing with waves of anxiety may feel their pain outweighed by another person who battles crippling OCD.  A person with high-functioning depression will always seem better off than a person wrestling with paralyzing depression. The Pandora’s Box of information around mental health has finally opened but as we process this overwhelming amount of information, we often end up placing problems side by side on the same invisible scale my sophomore-self was using.

I understood anxiety as the feeling that envelops you during an overwhelming panic attack, when in fact that there can be layers of anxiety that lead up to it instead. As a student, I spent too many mornings before an exam heaving over a toilet bowl after a night of insomnia, and ending the day with a fever. Dubbed a nervous girl with a weak stomach, I didn’t realize the impact anxiety had on me until the full-blown panic attack in sophomore year. I remember the feeling of relief that settled into my chest as I was given an appointment with a therapist based on the panic attack. It almost felt like I was worthy enough to finally be helped, rather than being ‘dramatic’ or too sensitive.

Self-imposed shame is an obstacle for innumerable people around the world who have accepted mental health’s existence but cannot extend the dialogue to themselves without admitting defeat.

Because the conversation around mental health gained momentum only a few years ago, there are a lot of negative thoughts that we have internalized as an ignorant society that belittle the vast spectrum of mental health. If a mere headache can have layers of treatment – from an aspirin to eye-tests to MRIs – then why does the chronic sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach have to be deemed any less worthy? And yet, we wait for a breakdown to be able to relate all our newfound knowledge about mental health to ourselves. It’s easier to offer help, love, and support to those we care about so when we see a friend struggling, we help them discuss all their options without brushing the issue aside. But when it comes to ourselves, we decide independently that resources like therapy and medication are reserved for those who are ‘really suffering’.

This idea of self-imposed shame haunts me as it remains my biggest obstacle against helping myself. It was an obstacle for the 19 year old girl who didn’t know how to tell her friends she had to see a therapist because she was nervous and didn’t know why. It was an obstacle for my brother who hid behind a cloak of high-functioning depression for so long, it kept him from seeing how much he was struggling himself. And it’s an obstacle for innumerable people around the world who have accepted mental health’s existence but cannot extend the dialogue to themselves without judging themselves for being ‘weak’ or admitting defeat.

We shouldn’t need a dramatic life event to justify helping ourselves. Just like there are ways to cater to milder forms of physical ailments, there are also ways to cater to the mental challenges we go through every day. The judgmental thoughts that arise and keep us from doing so, are thoughts we internalized long before we had all the information we do today. To continue the progress this dialogue has made, we must also stop judging ourselves and equating the idea of self-help to a defeatist attitude. Our health is personal and does not need to be justified to, or validated by anyone else. In the past few years, we have made enormous strides in accepting the information around mental health; perhaps it’s time to destigmatize and accept its resources as well.

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, check out the resources below:

* Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-TALK (8255). Here is a list of international suicide hotlines.

* People who are deaf or hard of hearing can reach Lifeline via TTY by dialing 1-800-799-4889 or use the Lifeline Live Chat service online.

* Text TALK to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free counseling.

* Call the SAMHSA Treatment Referral Hotline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), for free, confidential support for substance abuse treatment.

* Call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), for confidential crisis support.

* Call Trevor Lifeline, 1-866-488-7386, a free and confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ+ youth.

7 Cups and IMAlive are free, anonymous online text chat services with trained listeners, online therapists, and counselors.


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Brandt Jean and the messy politics of forgiveness

As the verdict for Amber Guyger’s sentence came in, sentencing her to ten years in prison for killing Botham Jean, the conversation quickly turned to the embrace of Amber Guyger by Brandt Jean in the midst of the celebration of the guilty verdict. From that moment on, sides were taken from cries of “what would possess him to do such a thing” swinging all the way to “I understand.” It’s been almost impossible to meet in the middle, it seems. 

Lost in this discourse is one very important person whose life will be forever altered by this event- and that’s Brandt Jean. Most of us cannot imagine the type of grief and heartbreak one feels when a family member is murdered in his own home. His older brother has become another sad reminder that racist violence at the hands of the state still continues to plague the everyday lives of black people in this country. And much like many families whose loved ones death become symbols in the movement, he and his family also become symbols of the pain, suffering, and hope left behind by such actions. 

The public extension of an olive branch that Brandt Jean gave to Amber Guyger when he took the stand is something that I, personally would not have done.  The optics of not only hugging the person that murdered your brother but professing that you love her and forgive her are beyond the scope of infuriating. Especially when such an action is easily weaponized by white people. But to suggest as many have done, that this was an action done for the performance of whiteness is not believable to me. Brandt Jean and his family are practicing Christians and the Christian idea of forgiveness is not about the white gaze. Or any gaze at all, for that matter.  It’s about a type of liberation from the things that actively harm a person. 

Another thing to take into account is the familiar statements on social media demanding no forgiveness from one’s family if said person ever came to harm. In retrospect that makes perfect sense. Nevertheless, the person in question will still be dead. The family is the one that will be left behind to continue living. Whatever ethics, code, or moral stance they may need to adopt in order to face the next day for the rest of their lives, they should be able to do that.  Free from judgment and disapproval.

The other approach to this type of violence is anger, which black people in this country are more than entitled to. Who can forget the full-throated and definitive “Hell No” of Esaw Garner when she was asked if she accepts the remorse of the police officer who ended her husband’s life? Her anger was palpable and eviscerating. It was what she needed to be and feel at that moment. Her anger was necessary in order to cope with the death of her husband.

The point in all of this is that there is no one way to manage such a tragedy.  From anger to forgiveness to any and every decision in between. Black people must be given the space to come to terms with a horrifying chapter in their lives. Their individual complexity and challenges must be taken into account, and their humanity never is forgotten. Black anger should be respected and revered because so often we aren’t given the space to be that.  But so should the decision to forgive. The path to life after a calamity is complex and confusing. We’d all be better off as bystanders remembering that.

Press Pop Culture

Best of The Tempest 2018: 9 Stories from Pop Culture

It’s been a peculiar year in the realm of entertainment. We’ve had such big, progressive victories and such big setbacks and anachronisms in terms of representation, transparency, and inclusivity. Many LGBTQ+ artists thrived, and 2018 was dubbed 20GAYTEEN by singer Hayley Kiyoko. It was the year of Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians, and yet big name studios are still out there producing films that are imbued with racism, sexism, homophobia, and fatphobia as well as often promoting rape and hate.

We’re still light years away from consuming the egalitarian entertainment we deserve. I knew that very well when I became Pop Culture Editor at The Tempest. I understood that I would have to look closely at many media products that would make me mad, which I would rather ignore and avoid at all costs, but I gladly accepted the challenge. I believe our mission is to shed light on everything that is going on, and that includes denouncing the many injustices that occur in the entertainment industry. We can’t possibly stay silent about the things we deem wrong, because silence is complicity.

But we also don’t like to only see the glass half empty, and we love to admit that there are many things to praise and to celebrate. Without further ado, I present to you 9 of my favorite Pop Culture stories we published in 2018, a mix of the good and the bad.

1. Why are blockbuster films pretending that lesbians and bisexuals don’t exist?

Why are blockbuster films pretending that lesbians and bisexuals don’t exist?

Despite the good representation that television and the music industry gifted us with this year, blockbusters are still actively promoting the erasure of female queerness as well as employing queer bait. This is a trend that needs to stay in 2018.

2. What time is it, Hollywood?

What time is it, Hollywood?

What about what happens behind the camera? This article explores some trends of the entertainment industry from the inside out, because actresses are not the only people we need to protect. Let’s say #TimesUp to all kinds of discrimination.

3. Dislikeable female characters aren’t inherently feminist – but that’s okay

Dislikeable female characters aren’t inherently feminist – but that’s okay

There is a big misconception in fiction and in critique: that a female character who dares be different and dislikable is automatically a great feminist heroine. She’s not, and that’s okay.

4. Why I’m boycotting J.K. Rowling and her “Fantastic Beasts”

Why I’m boycotting J.K. Rowling and her “Fantastic Beasts”

We are tired of people giving J.K. Rowling a free pass for everything just because she wrote a beautiful book series 20 years ago. For a while now, she has been twisting things to appear “woke” instead of honestly admitting that as the times progressed, she also wants to be more inclusive. There is no need to say that she was planning plot twists all along when in reality the implications of that make her way more problematic. Read why in this piece!

5. Bollywood item numbers are more dangerous than we think

Bollywood item numbers are more dangerous than we think

If you don’t know what an item number is, you need to read this piece. If you do know, you need to read this piece. It’s eye-opening and I will never look at a Bollywood film the same way again.

6. This director’s approach to diverse female characters completely changed my movie-watching experience

This director’s approach to diverse female characters completely changed my movie-watching experience

Contrary to what some haters will have you believe about feminists, we do celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of men, when they deserve it. This article is a clap on the back of an Oscar-winning director for an amazing film that contributed to making 2018 better.

7. Yes, The Bold Type is unrealistic… just not for the reasons you think

Yes, The Bold Type is unrealistic… just not for the reasons you think 

You may or may not know this show, which was a true revelation for its honest representation of working (and woke!) millennial women. However, the show has been accused of portraying a utopistic world of equality (but it really doesn’t, the protagonists deal with misogyny, racism and homophobia every day). This article cleverly responds to that claim, contextualizing it particularly within the journalism world (where the main characters spend most of their time) that we know too well.

8. Karma has finally come for Chris Brown, and we can thank women for that

Karma has finally come for Chris Brown, and we can thank women for that

Abusers deserve to be held accountable for their actions. After the tidal wave that was the #MeToo movement, it’s good to see that celebrities are still being taken down after abusive behavior.

9. My mind tells me to read, but my body is overwhelmed and overworked

My mind tells me to read, but my body is overwhelmed and overworked

A constant struggle in the transition to adulthood is that we are burdened with too many responsibilities and we have too little time to do the things we actually want to do out of sheer pleasure, like reading. It does not help that books have gained a very strong competitor for our time and attention, the “monster” that are streaming services.

We’re ready to kiss 2018 goodbye. In the hope that 2019 will be a more satisfying year for women, people of color, and all oppressed minorities, happy new year from the staff of The Tempest!

Movies Pop Culture

This complaint from Jude Law shows that #MeToo hasn’t gone far enough

It’s been over a year since #MeToo has ousted many abusive men in power in Hollywood. Is the fight against sexual harassment and the need for accountability over in the entertainment field? If Jude Law’s recent statements about a film he made mean anything, the answer is no. And I’m not talking about his role in the problematic Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald film.

In a profile in The New York Times, when asked about his shelved Woody Allen-directed film A Rain Day in New York, Jude said it was a “terrible shame” that Amazon halted the release of this film this film in the midst of the #MeToo movement. Jude cited the hard work that people like Allen put into this film as his reasoning.

Woody Allen’s daughter Dylan Farrow came forward  in 1992 and said that Allen had sexually abused her. He was tried on these sexual abuse claims in 1993. He was acquitted but lost custody of Dylan and had limited visitation rights to see his other children with Mia Farrow.

Dylan first went public with her story as an adult in a letter published in The New York Times in 2014. She expressed frustration about how celebrities, like Cate Blanchett and Scarlett Johansson, have worked with Woody despite knowing about the abuse that she survived. A few days later, The New Times published an op-ed from Allen, who denied his daughter’s claims. Then came 2017 with the tidal wave that was #MeToo.

On October 5, 2017 The New York Times published an investigative piece detailing the abuse that Harvey Weinstein had perpetuated in the industry for decades. A few days later, Ronan Farrow, Dylan’s brother and Allen’s son, had an investigative piece published his first of three pieces on Harvey and the severe sexual crimes that he allegedly committed and the networks that covered his actions up, including hiring “Kroll, which is one of the world’s largest corporate-intelligence companies.”

Harvey’s grip on Hollywood was over. This also triggered what was known as the “Weinstein effect,” where many powerful men were finally ousted as abusers, like CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves. However, Woody seemed to be somewhat untarnished by this “Weinstein effect” — at least at the beginning.

Dylan wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times asking why the #MeToo movement has “spared” Woody in December 2017. She detailed an alleged assault, where Allen had “led [her] into the attic” and assaulted her when she was 7. Around the time that Weinstein was ousted from Hollywood in fall 2017, Woody was shooting A Rainy Day in New York.

After production of A Rain Day in New York wrapped, two of its stars, Selena Gomez and Timothée Chalamet, donated their salaries to Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which was set up during the #MeToo movement to lessen the financial burden of people who speak up and pursue legal action against sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. Celebrities like Ellen Page and Greta Gerwig have apologized for working on projects with Woody in the past.

Jude Law has clearly not gotten the memo that defending abusers is not the status quo in Hollywood anymore — and it never should have been in the first place. While abusers need to be held accountable, systems that protect them and people who excuse their behavior need to be stopped and dismantled as well. The #MeToo movement has made tremendous strides in holding people accountable, but we have work to do. Being silence is being complicit, so the silence must end.


USA Gender The World Policy Inequality

Judges don’t believe sexual assault survivors. So what happens next?

In the days since a man in Alaska walked free after sexually assaulting a woman on the side of the road, the outrage concerning the treatment of sexual assault survivors in the United States is palpable. As Christine Blasey Ford’s admonition of Judge Brett Kavanaugh comes to the floor of the Judiciary Committee, an outcry has sounded across social media broadcasting that we #believesurvivors.

But what happens when judges don’t?

News outlets are swollen with reports of men walking away from heinous sexual assault convictions with no repercussions for their actions. The judges more often take the impact on the male defendant into consideration, claiming a sexual assault charge could ruin their life.

As if the victim’s life hasn’t fallen into enough desolation.

Justin Schneider, the man who kidnapped a woman in Alaska and masturbated on her while threatening to kill her, will not even need to register as a sex offender. This means that his crimes will not follow him as he moves on with his life. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the woman he attacked.

The trial of Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer who pleaded guilty to raping an unconscious woman near a dumpster in 2016, became the flashpoint for the discussion about judges who refuse to dole out punishment for sexual abusers.

The outrage at Turner’s 6-month punishment mobilized voters, who successfully ousted Judge Aaron Perksy from his post two years later.

Despite threats coming from the citizens of the country, who made their interest known loud and clear through votes and rally cries, the judges of this nation still do not seem to understand the importance of believing survivors of sexual assault.

These survivors are now taking to social media to shed light on the various reasons why they didn’t report their assaults. In the brave stories of their darkest hours, they validate the delay behind Professor Ford’s reluctance to speak out against Judge Kavanaugh until recently – when it became clear that his character could impact the course of the country.

The sagas behind #WhyIDidntReport show survivors talking about men who made them too scared to report their assault. Or worse, when they did report, the justice system turned a deaf ear by denying the authenticity of the accusations.

Perhaps the culture of undermining the testimony of survivors comes from a history of doing so, that started over 27 years ago when Anita Hill stood in the face of another Supreme Court Nominee: Judge Clarence Thomas.

Hill spoke out about the sexual harassment she endured as Judge Thomas’ assistant when he worked for the Department of Education. The trial was lead by the Senate Judiciary Committee, who even required Hill to explain the explicit conversations and the sexual pressure Thomas put on her during their time in D.C.

A Democratic-led Senate confirmed Thomas by a very narrow margin, despite Hill’s testimony.

Many people fear that, despite what history has taught us, Ford may suffer the same fate as Hill. That she will have to relive that terrifying night in her life, only to have the country look the other way and decide to confirm a man who ruined her life for his own selfish desires.

If judges do not effectively lay down severe punishments for sexual assaults, perpetrators will never stop. Sexual assault needs to be treated as the heinous crime it is, and not seen as a misunderstanding in the terms of consent.

Voters are now beginning to hold the judges accountable for their rulings in these trials. Already, plans are being made to oust Judge Michael Corey, who is responsible for Justin Schneider being free of all charges mentioned earlier.

The justice system has to start holding men accountable for their actions. In order to force the justice system to change, we have to vote for the change. And although we do not vote for the highest court in the country, we can let them know that we hold them accountable, too.

Politics The World

Why are we blaming Kim for everything that Kanye West says?

When I was a little girl, I was implicitly taught that my actions weren’t the only actions I was responsible for.

In preschool, I said something mean to a boy in my class. He started throwing chairs around the room, and we were both sent to time-out because I, allegedly, caused it. If I upset my male classmates or even family members, I was held (at least, partially) responsible for their response, even if it was an overreaction.

As I grew up and became acquainted with feminism, I noticed that I wasn’t alone. Many of my friends who aren’t cis men have experienced similar situations: we were taught that we’re responsible for men’s actions. Unfortunately, this attitude means society tends towards blaming women for men’s actions. 

Recently, Kanye West caused waves when he showed support for Donald Trump.

He tweeted a picture of himself in a ‘Make America Great Again’ cap and made some shocking statements about slavery, saying 400 years of slavery ‘sounds like a choice’. Kanye’s support for the Trump, despite Trump’s bigoted and oppressive views, has understandably angered many of his fans – especially since it’s not the first time he’s said something harmful.

While many people are calling him out indirectly, some people have said that Kanye’s wife, Kim Kardashian, influenced his actions.

In unrelated recent news, the Golden State Killer – a notorious serial killer who was active in the 70s and 80s – might have been captured. Joseph DeAngelo, a former police officer, is now the prime suspect. While the case is being investigated, many are looking for the reason for his actions. Some believe that when his former girlfriend left him, she broke his heart, thus causing him to go on a killing spree.

Although these two situations are vastly different, they have one thing in common: men are committing transgressions of varying degrees, and we’re blaming women for it.  

Kanye West is responsible for saying what he said. The Golden State Killer is responsible for doing what he did.

We don’t have any reason to believe either of those men was manipulated or tricked into doing what they did, yet we still blame women for their behavior. 

These two cases aren’t isolated: the same dynamic plays out in a number of different ways throughout society. We see the same dynamic when incels blame their misogyny on women for choosing not to sleep with them. We see the same dynamic when schoolchildren are told to befriend potentially volatile male classmates to prevent school shootings. We see the same dynamic where women are blamed for being assaulted by men.

When we blame women for men’s actions, we aren’t only letting men escape accountability for their actions: we’re also putting an unfair burden on women. Women are taught not only to be responsible for themselves, but also for the actions of those around them. It’s exhausting knowing that we can trigger any action from a man and be blamed for it. It’s even more exhausting when women and non-binary people are brushed off as over-emotional and irrational when men are allegedly aren’t even capable of regulating their own actions.  

To varying degrees, women and non-binary people are taught to tiptoe around men to avoid violent outbursts. We’re taught that our biggest accomplishment is marrying a man and pouring emotional labor into him. Even in platonic friendships with men, we’re taught not to ‘friendzone’ men, lest we cause them to become angry and violent.

Flippantly blaming Kim Kardashian for Kanye West’s tweets, or speculating about the Golden State Killer’s ex-girlfriend, might not seem harmful.

When you look at the bigger picture, though, it’s easy to see how this common thread runs through society. If we want to create a society free from misogyny and oppression, it’s important that we stop blaming women for men’s actions and hold men accountable for once.

Gender & Identity Life

Passing as white in a family of color means learning to use my privilege

From doctors to cashiers, anytime I would go somewhere with a member of my family, people would refer to me for the important questions. Even more, they would come to me for the small-talk. They would treat me like another human being. My brilliant and capable grandmother could be standing directly next to them, and never would their attention falter, even when the topic wasn’t about me. Growing up meant slowly realizing exactly why that was: privilege.

I pass for white easily. Next to the women of my family, there is no doubt that the matrilineal line comes to me. I have my mother’s empathy, my grandmother’s passion. Placed side-by-side, you could point out all of our shared features from nose to cheekbones without question. I’m my mother’s daughter. I just happen to be a fairly pale version.

Growing up, I, of course, made this about myself. I felt disconnected like I stood out. But as I got older, the truth became more and more evident. People wanted to assume that I was smarter or more capable than my family members. Even at twelve-years-old in the pharmacy, employees would ask me important questions that should have been directed at my grandmother. After all, she was the one they were meant to be helping. She was the adult. But even a child was a more comfortable option to speak to than a brown woman with an accent. Understanding the behavior behind this was a huge turning point for me.

It was clear that when placed in a room full of white people, my presence would not deter them from saying the horrible things that they truly felt. Racism finds a comfortable home when it sees no threat. I was often left confused and angry during these kinds of interactions. But my feelings on it could never touch those of my family members. The more time that passed, the more I realized how much my silence allowed this ideology to fester.

I had been complicit in the moments that I was too anxious to speak up. Be it uncomfortable or not, I had to learn to speak up when necessary. I had to learn to use my privilege. It became obvious that in my silence, whether intentional or not, I was condoning acts of hate against those I loved most. This was unacceptable.

Educating myself was the first step. My family didn’t have the privilege of biting their tongues and pretending it didn’t bother them. Who they are was worn without question for all eyes to see. How could I pretend that it wasn’t easier for me? I could tune out, walk away, remove myself from the situation. I could do this because no one thought twice. I had the privilege of sliding through the situation unnoticed. But had it been another member of my family, I know that they would not have experienced that kind of ease.

I am still faced with situations like these. I still see the struggle of those I love and know that I will never fully understand it. What I do know, however, is that I have no intention of backing into the shadows and allowing myself to be an observer. How others choose to deal with hate when they are faced with it is personal and up to them. But for me, I simply want to do better, and I will.


Sensitivity readers are not censoring authors and if you think so, you’re a part of the problem

They say that writers only write what they know, which to me, is the worst thing an author can do.

Say an author grew up in a very sheltered environment with limited exposure to diverse cultures or religions. Their only understanding of different people would come from television shows and other media or literature that can be riddled with inaccurate stereotypes, which in turn, may be reflected in that particular writer’s works.

Now come sensitivity readers, who come in and edit stories to help depict characters correctly by giving the author insight to communities that he or she may not be a part of. These sensitivity readers hold authors accountable for their knowledge and ensure that they’re doing their homework when they decide to write about others.

The NY Times released an article about sensitivity readers, questioning if this type of editing was some form of censorship, which is a problematic rhetoric. The article questions if we would still have amazing literary works like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Confessions of Nat Turner if sensitivity readers were there to “hijack authors’ visions.” But asking someone to take responsibility for their actions and to understand the impact they will have based how they paint others isn’t censorship, it’s integrity.

To put it simply, some people’s visions are bigoted and need to be checked.

You can call it “hyperactive” or “overly sensitive” if you want, but it’s simply not right to stand by and let authors feed audiences baseless biases, inaccurate information and more magical Negro spirituals who help move the story along without cultural consideration. Sensitivity readers are a form of editing that holds authors accountable and only broaden what could have previously been narrow ideas or mindsets. It’s time for authors take action to prevent more sexist, racist, homophobic and xenophobic narratives from reaching publication. Readers deserve to see themselves depicted accurately in the books they read, because representation, no matter how small, means all the world.

Authors from within diverse and marginalized communities often can’t get their books published or circulated as widely, so authors that can should do their best to utilize the effective checking system that exists with sensitivity readers. 

The idea that demanding authors to care about their readers and the impact that they will have is being “overly sensitive” is damaging. Even in the title “sensitivity readers” reinforces the idea that this kind of careful consideration for diversity is but an afterthought. That authors should just write with carelessness and then rely on sensitivity readers to correct them. Instead, authors should treat these editors as accountability readers, because it is not their job to teach writers or do the homework for them. They exist to hold authors accountable for their actions and remind them of the readers they are influencing when they write.

Sensitivity readers are important, but it should also be a top priority for authors to research and work with the communities they want to depict so that our literature can progress with society. A Huffington Post piece states it quite simply:

“We exist too, and we ought to exist on our terms.”

Love + Sex Love Life Stories Wellness

Stop pretending you can fix your partner’s mental illness with “love.” That only works on TV.

Here’s the thing about mental illness: it cannot be cured through love.

For all the dialogue about “loving yourself before you love others” and “putting your health first,” there’s still a distressing amount of media — particularly aimed at young women — that tells us people with mental illness can be cured with the right relationship. 

That all someone needs to “fight their demons” is a hug, a kiss, someone to hold them at night.

And then there’s the idea so loved by dramatic TV shows, movies, and popular books, that mental illness is attractive or romantic because people who suffer from different mental illnesses are “devoted,” “artistic,” or “in tune with their emotions.”

This romanticism is not only worrying but patently untrue. 

As a person with a trauma-related mental illness who’s married to someone with a very different kind of trauma-related mental illness, I can say for certain: there’s no romanticism there.

Working through our issues always gets complicated by our own struggles, which makes communication all the more important.

There’s this idea that all you need to be happy is someone who “makes things go quiet.” 

And that’s not entirely wrong. 

My partner and I have been together for five years and there have been days — countless days — when we’ve had to depend completely on each other to make it through the darkness. But we haven’t cured each other.

Oftentimes, we have to call each other out on manipulative or otherwise harmful behavior, which is incredibly important for any relationship — and it’s something we need to advocate for more often, rather than framing mental illness as a romantic aspiration.

Relationships are hard. Painful, at times. 

My spouse and I talk constantly, even when it sucks to be truthful, and we work hard to push each other through rough patches in order to come out the other side as unscathed as possible.

We’ve worked, day in and day out, to communicate and to love each other and to be kind even when our mental illnesses made us want to lash out or break down. Understanding and excusing behavior are different, though those who romanticize mental illness often conflate the two.

Mental illness can explain why a behavior pattern exists. However, mental illness does not excuse a behavior pattern or its effects.

In the five years we’ve been together, that’s been revealed as an incredibly important distinction. It’s one I wish more people would discuss.

My spouse and I have what I sometimes refer to as “competing mental illnesses.” While they sometimes need to step away from a conversation so they don’t say something unnecessarily mean, I cannot let something go until it has been resolved. 

Many of our arguments stem from the fact that I don’t always know how to afford people space. 

Others stem from my partner lashing out.

We snip and snap until we reach a point where we can either take some space and talk about it later or drop it and mutually apologize. The latter is always the end goal, but sometimes it takes us a while to reach it.

Yelling about my anxiety doesn’t excuse the fact that I sometimes ignore boundaries. Identifying my partner’s tendency to lash out when they’re upset doesn’t excuse hurtful words they say. 

To say that our mental illnesses should afford us excuses is to ignore culpability and personal responsibility, which is unfair to ourselves, to each other, and to everyone else in our lives. It’s taken me years of therapy and long, open-ended conversations with my partner to figure that out… and I know that I still have a long way to go.

As of right now, both my spouse and I are in therapy — individual therapy, with different therapists — and it helps a lot. When we moved in together three and a half years ago, it was hard as hell to adjust to life in the same space. 

For the first year and a half of our relationship, we were separated by two states, and time together was especially precious.

It still is, but it’s different now. Everything is. 

When you move in with someone, no matter how much you love them, you have to learn to deal with certain things. All the “cute” or “quirky” things they do can abruptly become annoying or disruptive, and you often find that your partner feels the same about you. To survive that is to talk about it, even if sometimes talking leads to arguing.

Arguing is, ultimately, a healthy means of hashing out conflict, but only if those arguments can be resolved. Oftentimes for us, resolution looks like apologies from both parties and communication about how we can do better by each other in the future.

When I see mental illness framed as a desirous quality — in a YA book, in an online listicle, in a relationship quiz — I cringe. 

It’s taken me years to realize that mental illness is not a crutch and that taking responsibility for my actions and words is as important for me as it is for anyone else. 

It’s equally important for me to hold my partner accountable, and to recognize when they are doing that work for themselves, just like they do for me.

Politics The World

If you haven’t already – you really need to stop listening to R. Kelly

If you follow music or news at all, you have probably heard of the recent R. Kelly “cult” allegations. If not, you can read all the details here.

Essentially, the 50-year-old singer has been accused of holding several young women against their will in a cult-like scenario where he controls every aspect of their lives (food, clothing, sex, who they have contact with, etc.). The women’s parents are now coming forward with details, among them how their daughters entered the relationship with R. Kelly and how often they had been heard from.

Three other women, former members of his “inner-circle,” are also detailing the horrible living conditions and emotional abuse they were put through in their time with him. The reports are disturbing, especially when you know the singer for his smooth and popular songs like, “I Believe I Can Fly.”

However, allegations like this aren’t new for R. Kelly. He’s had a history of court cases for marrying a 15-year-old, battery charges, several incidents of underage sexual relationships, and child pornography. With all his money and the excuse of insufficient evidence, he managed to get through all this cleanly.

I didn’t know about this history before, but, to be honest, I’m not surprised. We have a history of letting celebrities get away with their actions, usually without apologies.

Bill Cosby, Akon, Chris Brown, Michael Jackson, Casey Affleck, Woody Allen…

You get the point.

Most of us know about the accusations made against these men, and yet we choose to ignore them. Even if we don’t support the celebrity himself, we still support their art, which, by default, supports the artist. It can be hard to let go of your favorite songs or movies just because the person who made it was involved in some scandal we’re really not sure about. It’s easier to jam out to R. Kelly’s “Ignition” with your friends, turning the lyrics into meaningless words, and forgetting that this man is an emotional and sexual abuser.

Think about it this way: the more we support these artists, the richer they get, the more fame attached to their name, and the more they are allowed to get away with anything. A lot of celebrities can pay their way out of their messes. Even if they don’t get away with their crimes, they still have the support of their fans, are allowed a comeback, and a pass to do it all again.

This is what we’re seeing with R. Kelly.

There are always arguments supporting the celebrities. In this specific case, people are saying that the women involved with Kelly are now all adults, that this is a consensual relationship. One of the women came out to say that she’s fine, so why can’t we just let it go?

Firstly, we don’t know if she was forced to say that, especially regarding the conditions she’s in. Even if she wasn’t, that is what cult psychology does to a person

Kitti Jones, one of the former insiders, recalled her relationship with Kelly to Buzzfeed, “I got trapped. I had people telling me I was an idiot. But it took me a long time to realize they were right, and I’m talking now because I hope I can help some of these other girls.”

If the parents’ desperate plea for help isn’t enough to convince you, then understand that in cults, victims are toyed with emotionally and given promises anyone can fall for, even if they are unhappy. Just because a relationship/group involvement is consensual does not make it right. The people who died in Jonestown died consensually.

And, anyway, these sorts of defenses come up with every allegation against a celebrity (and any abuse case, really). It’s just easier to let your conscience rest with one of these excuses so you can continue consuming the celebrity’s art.

But we need to start holding them accountable beyond a week-long scandal. Not just for the women in those specific cases but also for the survivors of sexual abuse everywhere.

If Kelly had been stopped before, if his defamation had been taken more seriously the first, second, and third times around, maybe these women wouldn’t have found themselves in the situation they’re in.

The first step to holding celebrities accountable is for the law to stop letting them get away with their actions (which hasn’t been helpful so far). The second is for other celebrities to stop collaborating with and supporting them (which does not seem likely).

The third step is up to you – the fans, the consumers.

Stop supporting these predators and making their actions normal. They’re not, and we definitely shouldn’t be singing about it in the car with our friends.