Sexual Education in America…and on the radio!

Sexual education in America has many different faces. And like anything with more than one face, that can be a horrifying experience. America allocates federal funds to abstinence programs, but depending on where you live, the sexual education you receive can vary tremendously. In Massachusetts for instance, the state does not require sexual education and leaves that decision up to the individual school boards. However, in Indiana, sex ed is required, and this instruction must include the following:

  • Teach abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school age children;
  • Include that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and other associated health problems; and
  • Include that the best way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and other associated health problems is to establish a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage.

Indiana schools are also expected to instruct on HIV/AIDS and “integrate this effort to the extent possible with instruction on other dangerous communicable diseases.”

Clearly, two kids growing up in either state are going to have wildly different views and understandings about sex, relationships, birth, and STD’s.

And then there are sex ed speakers like Pam Stenzel.

She is very animated, and loud and popular, standing out in the large pool of sex education speakers. However, not all the information she provides seems to be accurate. She appears to rely heavily on fear mongering, and sends a message that the only pure wholesome people are those who have not had pre-marital sex.

There are also comprehensive sexual education programs available. These programs talk about more than just giving birth, or remaining abstinent until marriage. They include instruction on puberty, birth control, and possible consequences to casual sex.

But you will notice that in that video, they are using euphemisms and metaphors to talk about sex and sexual health. Perhaps it is because talking about these things is uncomfortable and can be awkward, especially with parents or children. But by not using direct language and talking clealy about these topics, we are not communicating everything that needs to be communicated.

This summer, after watching them perform throughout my time as a student at UMass Amherst, I decided to try out for the summer troupe of the The Not Ready For Bedtime Players. It was a informative, eye opening experience. Among my groups of friends, I noticed that I was more up to speed on sexual health than most, thanks to hours of independent study in my public library in middle school. Yet still, each day I went into work, I learned something new, whether from my co-workers or the incoming freshman who would come up and ask us questions at the end of the show.

I learned what it means to talk openly and honestly with your sexual partners, and learned more about sexual orientation, identity, and expression than I had ever learned before. It truly was one of the most comprehensive sexual health lessons I’ve ever had, and I got the same feeling from the new students making up our audience. Below you will find a recording of our final show of New Students Orientation in the Summer of 2015.

I know it is hard to start these conversations with you parents or children. I hope watching the video of our last performance will raise some questions, and provide some answers in order to get you started down the path to having open, frank discussions with young people about the subjects of sex, sexual health, sexual orientation and identity, STDs,  consent, and the whole gamut of other topics touched on in this video and those which we could not get to.

This is the most important education young people will get through 12th grade, and it is one that they will use every day of their lives. Don’t let misinformation, or the media be what shapes them into adulthood.



Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program Holds Successful Fundraiser for Senior Center

The Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP), hosted at UMass Amherst through the UMass Civic Initiative from July 3rd to August 3rd, held a fundraiser for the Amherst Senior Center on Friday July 24 in Bistro 63 at the Monkey Bar in Amherst Center.

Dr. Michael Hannahan delivering his opening remarks at the IYLEP fundraiser benefiting the Amherst Senior Center.
Dr. Michael Hannahan delivering his opening remarks at the IYLEP fundraiser benefiting the Amherst Senior Center.

Dr. Michael Hannahan, the Civic Initiative Director, kicked off the event by giving a brief history of the program to the 30 or so people in attendance, and thanking all of those who worked alongside him to make such a program successful. After his brief opening remarks, Hannahan gave the stage over to the student presentations.

IYLEP students take the stage to give their presentations on Iraq and Kurdistan at their fundraiser for the Amherst Survival Center.
IYLEP students take the stage to give their presentations on Iraq and Kurdistan at their fundraiser for the Amherst Survival Center.

The student’s presentations provided the audience, who by this point were enjoying the food and drink of Bistro 63, with a view into the culture and traditions of Iraq and Kurdistan, including wardrobe, cuisine, prominent buildings and monuments, as well as a brief history of the region. The students also presented their home for the past 5 weeks, Amherst, in a slideshow including pictures from the group around town and some favorite restaurants.

After the presentations, the fun really began. Traditional Iraqi music filled the room and students showcased multiple traditional dances from Iraq. There were both individual dances and group dances, both differed greatly from anything I have seen from dances and parties in the college town. I was intrigued by the upbeat tempo and the positive energy that filled the room. Everyone was smiling and laughing and really having a good time.

The event closed with students sharing their experiences through the IYLEP, the crowning of Mr. and Ms. IYLEP 2015, and a final dance where everyone, young and old, got out of their seats and got their feet moving.

It was a wonderful event which brought in over $400 in donations to benefit the Amherst Senior Center. I learned a lot in my limited contact and interaction with the students and I look forward to learning a lot more when a couple of them join me today, Sunday July 26 from 12pm – 1pm ET on the Focus Program on WMUA 91.1FM.


“Free Range” Parenting: Who does it work for?

What Do Children of “Free Range” Parents Think?

All over social media and in the national news, adults are taking sides in the debate as to whether “free range” parenting is a good idea. Regarding children, “free range” can entail walking home from school, playing in local parks, walking around the block, or just playing in general, without the supervision of a parent. This freedom typically does not come without its limits and children who experience this upbringing are usually aware of their boundaries, know their way around those boundaries, and know how to contact their parents or the appropriate authorities if they need help. Despite all the coverage, one question still goes unanswered, “What do the children think of this?”

Sitting on her back porch, Ilani Pylant, 13, enjoys a lot of freedom in comparison to some other children her age.

“Just at my school, I feel like I am one of the more responsible, mature people,” said Pylant.

She is at a stage in her life where few things are more important to her than her social life.

“I feel like most of the time she tries to be more of a parent than my friend” said Pylant talking about her mother, but she feels like there needs to be a balance between friends and family.

“I feel like I spend a lot of time with my friends, and not that much time with her. But I’m personally okay with that.” Pylant said, before whispering “sorry” to her mother who tries to hide while listening through the screen door.

Pylant says that almost everyone in her grade has a cell phone.

“I feel like it gives me more freedom because she has a way to know where I am. Instead of her saying ‘You have to stay around me,’ when we go somewhere she can be like, ‘Keep your phone on you.’”

When asked how people did it without a cell phone, Pylant looked stumped before deciding that they would need to coordinate a meeting time and place, concluding, “But that’s like, annoying.”

And she is right. But for anyone born before the turn of the millennium, cell phones were an expensive luxury that most people couldn’t afford, let alone give a child.

Smoking a cigarette overlooking the campus pond, UMass sophomore Matthew Garwood reflects on his childhood and the parenting he received.

“I’d say it was more towards the free range mentality. My parents gave me a lot of freedom as soon as I was in high school. I was able to hang out with my friends, explore, do what I want. I ran into some trouble, but I was able to learn from that.”

Garwood feels that independence was something that his parents were trying to instill in him.

“They wanted me to learn for myself and not really have a list of rules that I needed to follow,” said Garwood. “They did give me some guidance, showed me what things worked for them, and like how they lived their lives, but ultimately it was up to me what I did.”

Akshat Pandey, a UMass student from Boston, Massachusetts and the son of parents who immigrated from India, attended grade school and high school in the city. He said in high school he used public transit by himself to commute to school.

“My parents trusted me with that and I think it turned out well. It taught me how to be independent, getting around by myself. Learning to trust my own intuition as to what might be a dangerous situation and what might not be. I think it was a good experience” said Pandey.

“They did have the openness for me to experience my own ups and downs and make my own decisions. And as a result face the consequences. Because I think that’s the way you learn responsibility.”


Does being a single parent really limit you? By Christian Yapor

The Concept of Free Range Parenting Across Cultures and Ethnicities  By Brianna Davis

Where are all the Black students at UMass?

With a population of over 20,000 students enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, a little over 800 of those undergraduate students identify as Black/African American.

With such a low turnout of black students on campus, representatives such as Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, are making an effort to increase the population of diversity on campus. By focusing on underrepresented, low income, and first generation students, Chancellor Subbaswamy, is increasing community scholarships for instate underrepresented students.

Subbaswamy’s announcement of the Diversity Strategic Planning Committee, which was enacted following several incidents in which racial hate slurs were scrawled on the dormitory doors of two students of color. After an emergency meeting was declared to discuss the slurs and its impact on the community, the Chancellor’s Diversity Advisory Council (CDAC) was formed, comprising of faculty, professional staff, department chairs and more.

Sid Ferreira, Director of Enrollment Services and Instructional Support, is a member of CDAC. Ferreira works hard to ensure that UMass is as diverse as possible. In addition to working with students on campus, his job is also to make their presence more evident.

“I am part of the group that tries to bring some information to the chancellor so that when we do the strategic plan, hopefully all of the voices from every aspect of campus are included,” said Ferreira.

Oscar Collins, Interim Co-Director at the Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success, has similar responsibility, in which he seeks to ensure access to opportunity for the underrepresented students.

“The diversity of this campus, especially in underrepresented or marginalized populations has decreased historically,” said Collins.

According to a March 2015 article in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, the overall diversity of students of Asian and Hispanic descent has shown significant growth since 1974, whereas those of Black/African descent has shown a slow and almost stagnant growth.

The underwhelming presence of Black students on campus is quite obvious for many students, including Savanna Brown, a freshman Accounting major, from Brockton, MA.

“With how diverse my city is, it doesn’t make sense that a university like this would be represented like this,” Brown said.

Brockton is one of the many ethnically and culturally diverse cities in Massachusetts, however, Massachusetts as a whole is not very diverse, or representative of the Black population.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, which in 2013, reported that individuals that identify as Black/African-American represent 8 percent of the Massachusetts population and 13 percent of the United States population, whereas the students at UMass represent only 4 percent of the student body population.

“We don’t even represent the racial/ethnic diversity of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; and I think its the responsibility of the system to improve the experience of underrepresented students as well as the majority.” said Collins.

But the lack of diversity does not end with students. Among staff, the numbers of Black/African American individuals is only in the double digits. On UMass’s faculty, which consists of “personnel with faculty rank, including faculty with administrative duties, and visiting and part-time faculty,” only 69 individuals identify as being Black or African American. Among the professional staff at UMass, which includes executive, administrative, managerial and professional personnel, as well as academic deans, only 71 individuals identify as Black or African American.

Amilicar Shabazz, a professor in the Department of Afro-American Studies at UMass, spoke on his own experience as a black student attending university and the impact that black faculty can have on black student’s success.

“I owe a great deal of my having earned my BA, MA, and PhD to the presence of black faculty who looked like me and shared many common ethnically-rooted experiences. Not “presence” in the abstract, but to specific, real, and tangible connections some of these faculty made with me that was very beneficial.”

The topic of race is one that is quite complex, in definition and in understanding its construction. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin” report, which was issued in 2011, race and ethnicity are concepts, by which individuals are free to choose how they identify.

Though it is ultimately up to one’s interpretation of their identity, the bureau has provided standard guidelines to identify as Black or African-American, as follows, “a person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa. This includes people who indicated their race(s) as ‘Black, African Am., or Negro’ or reported entries such as African American, Kenyan, Nigerian, or Haitian.”

Ferreira added the importance of not only recruiting students who identify as Black/African-American, but also, “retaining them, and then it’s graduating them,” he said.

“A happy student is a happy alumni. A happy alumni, not only can contribute back to the school, they can contribute in more ways than just financially.,” he added.

Our relationships with guns:

Guns and the violence that is caused with them is a hot topic of discussion in America. However, what isn’t, according to a Pew Research Center survey, is the fact that the rate of homicides with a gun are down 49% in 2010 from its peak in 1993. Additionally, 2011 saw a decrease by 75% in violent crimes with a firearm from 1993. Despite decline, 56% of Americans still believe that gun crime is higher than 20 years ago.

This could be attributed to the mass shootings that have taken place in America over the last decade and a half that have instilled fear in some, but still, 56% is a lot of people. I think a major reason that so many people are fearful of guns and gun violence is due to the mass media’s coverage of such events. Often times, the mad dash to be the first with the story results in inaccurate information that can harm others who were not connected to the tragedy.

Thinking back to the Newtown, Connecticut shooting, I recall the coverage from that day being unavoidable. It was as if there were no other news in the world on that day, with every news organization broadcasting out of the town. One thing that stood out to me at that time that I have not been able to let go was from one of the major broadcast networks. They showed a picture of the floor plan of the school, and outlined the path that the shooter took on his murderous rampage.

It is this depth of reporting that I think attributes to fear of guns. The amount of unnecessary details included in the reporting, such as the killers path through the school, transforms the journalism into a game of Clue, where viewers are forced into the detective role in a crime they have zero involvement in. This kind of coverage mystifies and demonizes, perhaps rightly so, the perpetrators who often suffer from serious mental illnesses that go untreated. Immediately after Newtown, public opinion favored stricter gun control. However despite the initial fear, more people say guns do more to protect than do harm.

Almost two years after the Newtown tragedy, the New York Times published a beautiful photojournalistic piece on guns, showing viewers the scope of involvement guns have in our country. The piece is a collection of six photo slideshows, narrated by interviews with the subjects of the pictures. The project illustrates the vastly different relationships that we have with guns, and shows the wide range of opinions on the control of firearms.

Gender is not as clear cut as it used to be!

In countries around the world, different cultures and societal rules tend to shape our definitions of ‘masculinity’, and ‘femininity’.

These definitions, which are often stereotypical, become the default definitions in which many people use to view, discuss and treat one another, based on gender. These social constructions of gender marginialize individuals who are gender non-conforming and reinforce the notion that certain traits, characteristics and behaviors belong to either male or female.

Historically, men, especially in the western world, have held the highest positions of power and therefore, have been able to enforce and enact rules that are in accordance to what they believe to be true and virtuous. With men making the rules, women have come to be defined by their qualities, rather than their capabilities. For instance, Eric Beaudette, Junior Psychology major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst said, “When you think of women, you think of a housewife, someone that takes care of people.” But, as we know, women are far more than caretakers and housewives.

According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2015, about 20 percent of the members of our House of Representatives are women, and 20 percent of members in the Senate are women. Although these percentages are still very low, women are participating more in politics than ever before. And they’re not just entering the political sphere, women hold careers in occupations across the board,  from teachers to accountants, from custodians to construction workers.

Stereotypical occupations for men include fields that require more physical labor and less expression such as construction, or enrolling in the military. Women are stereotypically expected to take on occupations that require being more gentle or caring; such as being a teacher, a cosmetologist or a nurse. As we see in the Department of Labor’s, 30 Leading Occupations for Employed Women, while some women seek out more traditional fields, such as the aforementioned, there are an increasing number of women and girls entering the traditionally male dominated world of STEM. This can be attributed to the recruiting of women to enter these fields, as well as campaigns and initiatives by groups like GoldieBlox, which had a commercial featured in the Superbowl.

In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2014, only 24 (about five percent) of the CEOs of the Fortune 500 Companies are women. With these leadership roles predominantly taken over by men, women are overshadowed socially; disassociating women from positions of power. The research study also points out that although 35 percent of survey volunteers said they prefer their boss to be a man, only 23 percent of those individuals said they prefer their boss to be a women. Forty-one percent of the participants said they had no preference to whether their boss was male or female.

Some people we interviewed said that they did not feel there was a difference between the genders, a notion that is gaining more support. In an article by Youth Radio, produced by outLoud, and published by NPR, we learn that students as young as third grade are feeling like they do not fit their biological gender or the role that society has imposed on them.

Brian Johnson, a senior communication and economics major at UMass understands how that feels.

“I feel like I exist within some sort of box that society has created. But in understanding the definitions, I try to go outside of the box and explore different options,” said Johnson.

Ultimately, what matters most is that an individual is comfortable with themselves and with the way they carry themselves. If that happens to be something that is different than what they were biologically assigned, that is nobody’s business but their own.

Cowboys in the Sky:

This New York Times Magazine video titled, “9/11: The Reckoning” features a picture slide show illustrating the narrative told by the voices of the iron workers at One World Trade Center. This short piece transports the viewer to the site of the new world trade center, where we can hear the construction underway.

The video makes excellent use of both photographs and interviews. The pictures are phenomenal–showing a side of New York that is seen only by the eyes of a iron worker. Not even the inhabitants of the new sky scraper will get such a vast and boundless view. And in order to get such beautiful shots of these iron workers in their element, photographer Damon Winter had to get up there with them. And for someone who likely didn’t have much experience scaling unfinished skyscrapers, I am sure it was a challenging obstacle to overcome.

The photographs that were selected for the video do a good job at illustrating what the voice overs are narrating. We hear the voices of ten different iron workers throughout the two minute and 55 second video. Their voices don’t overlap one another but they immediately succeed each other, with the second voice starting as soon as the first is finished. This gives the viewer multiple perspectives that all intertwine at a few common points.

They are all equally awed by the views they get to see at work, agree that the work can be hard and emotional in the case of 9/11, but all share the same love for it. They take pride in the work they do, and are honored to be able to show others the final product of their labor. Cowboys have a reputation of being reckless and dangerous, and while some may think that these iron workers fit that description, they wouldn’t change what they do for anything.