A WKU Alumni: Crosses and Condoms

When a friend sent me photos of the anti-abortion display on the Collonades at WKU, I was flabbergasted. Who the hell do these people think they are? I asked myself. I told my friend that she should cover their sign with one that said “Each cross represents a woman who was free to make her own choice” or “This is how many women will die each day if totalitarians succeed in taking away safe, legal abortion.”

I also wondered just what were these anti-choicers thinking, completely taking over a very popular gathering space for students, for an entire week. People drink coffee, study, or just soak in the sun on the Collonades. Nor is it unusual for professors to hold classes there on a nice day.

The Collonades are one of the beautiful architectural landmarks of Western. It is also affixed to the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts building, which houses the Art, Theater, Music, and Language departments.

Let me tell you something. If you believe that this ridiculous little Hilltoppers for Life group didn’t pull this stunt not merely expecting a reaction, but hoping for one, then you are a fool. Western Kentucky University has a proud history of activism. Students are very involved on this campus. Students were not going to let this stand without responding. Frankly? I was expecting more. If this had happened in my time, there would have been much more than a few condoms draped over crude popsicle stick crosses.

During the weekdays, they set up tables, along with boards. They wanted discussion. They wanted students to share their thoughts. Elaina Smith did just that. Like I said, they set up in front of the Fine Arts building. They expected some kind of art display. They expected a response, so they could throw a hissy fit. As Dr. Molly Kerby pointed out in her brilliant response to this hissy fit, the anti-choicers set up the crosses to spell out “life” on the bleachers, which could only be seen from the windows of the art department. This was provocation. This was a challenge. In my day, many, many more students would have taken up that challenge. Including me.

Now look. They’re calling for Elaina Smith to be arrested. They’re calling for the university to force her professor to give her a failing grade.

They want the police to violate Elaina’s first amendment rights to free speech.

They want the university to violate the academic freedom of their faculty.

It’s absolutely outrageous, but entirely consistent with their primary goal of calling for the government to forcibly violate a woman’s right to control her own body.

Hilltoppers for Life is no different from the man dubbed “Preacher Man” that occasionally visits campus. If you’re unfamiliar, Preacher Man sets up behind the university center during the day, insulting and provoking students in the name of the Christian god. The more students engage this man, the more insulting he gets. Meanwhile, his companion circulates throughout the crowd with a camera, snapping photos of the students who engage with Preacher Man. This man hopes to provoke the students into assaulting him, so that he may sue the student and the university. And, of course, claim martyrdom for himself and his religion.

These fools kept someone hidden at the Collonades each night, hoping to catch someone doing something to their display, so that they could claim martyrdom for themselves. Did you notice that when Elaina showed up to place her condoms, Hilltoppers for Life member, Matt Sohl, called the Students for Life for America before he called the police? Apparently their parent organization failed to instruct them properly.

(Did these student plan to skip class the next day? Or show up exhausted and unable to participate properly in their classes?)

If you still doubt that their goal was for someone to mess with their display, let me tell you something else about Western Kentucky University. Students interact with campus art on a regular basis. There is a statue of Sergeant Guthrie, in front of the Guthrie belltower, his right hand uplifted, and cupped just so. Students regularly put items in the statue’s hand. Coffee cups, bananas, ice cream cones, to name just a few. Behind McLean Hall, there is a statue of a woman, mid-stride. She is regularly dressed up with hats, scarves, and dresses. The wooden bunny, beside Garrett, is regularly dressed up as well. The students aren’t the only ones who do this–the university participates in this pastime. The abstract art affectionately dubbed the “Big Red Vagina” had bushes planted around it last time I visited campus. And I’m sorry, but that was not a coincidence.

It is shameful that President Gary Ransdell has condemned Elaina. She is a student–participating in a campus pastime, exercising her right to free speech and self-expression, and creatively completing a class project. Aside from the Hilltoppers for Life, this people crying foul are not part of WKU’s community. They all, including HFL, are part of an organized effort to curtail other people’s rights, creating controversy and provoking others to reaction. Garbear, as an alumni, I am ashamed that you are not standing by a fellow Hilltopper. I am ashamed that you, blinded as you are by your desire for good PR, turned your back on the students and faculty, falling hook, line, and sinker for their manufactured martyrdom.

Today, as a Hilltopper, I am ashamed, President Gary Ransdell, that you represent my university. I am proud, Hilltoppers for “Life” excepted, of the students and faculty. I am proud of Elaina. I am proud of Dr. Molly Kerby for taking a public stand for student’s right to free speech, and academic freedom. (Though, of course, I expected nothing less from Dr. Kerby. She is a fantastic person.)

I expect SGA to pass a resolution on Tuesday, supporting Elaina Smith, and condemning HTL and President Ransdell’s efforts to silence and punish students for expressing themselves.

I expect the Faculty Senate to rally as well, supporting their colleague’s right to grade her student’s work as she sees fit.

I expect the campus community to stand up, and call this manufactured outrage for what it is: an attack on freedom.


Taxes: I Still Don’t Mind Paying Them

Last year, I wrote this post, explaining why I don’t mind paying taxes. A year later, I’m employed full-time, thereby paying taxes full-time. My stance hasn’t changed. Taxes are the price I pay to participate in an advanced society. I may not agree with every way taxes are used, but looking at the big picture, we are better off as a society.

A year later, I’m still grateful for federal student loans–I wouldn’t have been able to attend university without them. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have met, befriended, and loved the many people I met during my time at WKU. I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to study abroad and see a good chunk of Central Europe. And of course, I wouldn’t have learned everything that I did.

A year later, I’m still grateful for police, fire, and especially EMS–my mother might not be alive if these services didn’t exist–and I would be very lost indeed without Momma Beemer. I’d give more than the paltry amount I pay in taxes for my mother’s life. This reason alone makes paying taxes more than worth it. But there’s much more.

Taxes pay the salaries for many, many of my dear friends who serve in the Armed Services–and I’m more than glad that every one of them is employed doing something that they love–flying, missile maintenance, infantry, and more. Not to mention, I wouldn’t be employed without the federal contracts that the government has with my employers.  Nor would my sister.

Civil Air Patrol, an amazing organization in which I was an active member for more than five years, would also not be able to exist on the level that it does without taxes. Its thousands of volunteers across the country better their communities, while at the same time giving its teenaged members leadership training and fostering a love for aviation that will endure for a lifetime. I love CAP, the people within its ranks, and the experiences that it gave me more than I can say. Without CAP, I’m not sure where I’d be right now.

I cannot summarize my feelings better than I did last year, so I will simply restate my closing paragraph:

“As a community, we can’t decide who to help, who deserves to benefit from the things taxes give us, or who should pay more or less depending on some arbitrary judgment of “goodness” or “worthiness.” Our neighborhoods are communities which are part of the city’s community, which is part of the state’s community, which is part of the nation’s community. Each individual is one of many, and unless we pool our resources, very few of us will succeed. Very few. Those who currently do not need “help” cannot stand in judgment of those who do. We have pooled our resources for a reason–because we are all equal. We are all equal, we are different, but the same, and we are part of the same community.

We think a lot about how taxes hurt; but how do they help?”

Musings on Academia and a Blog Recommendation.

Recently, I’ve taken to visiting Clarissa’s blog more and more. I’ve previously read a post here or there, but was never a regular. Now, I’ve made up my mind to become a regular reader.

Who is Clarissa? Well, this should explain it:

An academic’s opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

This is the subtitle of her blog, which sums up the content quite nicely. (I’ve never been able to do that very well, for some reason, with my own blog title and posts.)

I left academia in May 2010, having graduated from WKU. I was extremely excited. To be done! with writing papers! forever! (for now.) It wasn’t long before I started to miss it terribly. For lovers of learning, there is no place quite like academia. The past several weeks, I watched via Facebook as my friends back at WKU chose next semester’s classes (jealous!), bitched about all-nighters, about presentations and papers and exams (oh my!), and started counting down til the winter break. Meanwhile, I’m working a second shift job, that has nothing to do with my degree, for the decent-ish pay and good benefits, and I’m going crazy doing it.

What does all this have to do with Clarissa? Nothing really, I don’t know her at all (but I’d like to!), but more her writing.

Her post on Fox News made me snicker. It appeals to my interest in politics and news. I bookmarked it to show my conservative friends at an appropriate moment mid-debate. The evil, evil liberal in me delights in the potential facial expressions her post will get from said friends.

Just from this last week, there were several posts regarding academia that made me feel in the loop, almost like I was back at WKU.

Misery is Fashionable. This post is about all the complaining that teachers do, but it reminds me of all the complaining college students (myself included) do as well. Why did I take up smoking? Oh yeah. College. To be completely honest, student government drove me to start, but striving to complete two majors, in addition to all the other things I was involved in, in only four years kept me smoking. For all the complaining, as Clarissa said, academia is well worth it, so much that I’m thinking more and more about becoming one of those awesome English professors that I so adore.

The Best Piece of Advice I Can Offer on Surviving Grad School. I was not so good about relaxing on weekends. I relaxed, all right, but I felt guilty the entire time. Perhaps I’ll be better in grad school, y/y?

This post, especially resonated with me, as a humanities student. I’ll probably write my own response to the “article” that Clarissa was responding to in her post sometime later.


We did it!

I feel like dancing and singing that little song from Dora the Explorer.

This morning, the WKU Benefits Committee met to vote on adding domestic partnership benefits (again).

It passed.

It’s acknowledged.

It’s official.

Wow. I’m so happy I hardly know what to say! I, along with many, many other amazing people here at Western Kentucky University have been mobilizing our butts off for the past several weeks. This morning was to be a demonstration to demand equal benefits for our LGBT faculty and staff. Instead, it was a celebration.

There was tears and hugs and singing. It was a beautiful sight, and it was unbelievably gratifying for our work to have paid off. We’re celebrating tonight at a local hangout, Greener Groundz.

I can’t wait to update more thoroughly on what’s been going on. Stay tuned! It’s a tale none will soon forget! I’m resting for a bit, and then I’m off to celebrate!

Have a GOOD Friday!

Edit: As per my blog note, I’ve been so busy, but I will share the details in another post!

Student Government and Disability Access

I’m excited to say that Colton Jessie and Kendrick Bryan have won the Student Government Association election for President and Executive Vice-President respectively, at WKU.  Kendrick was running for re-election, and Colton was running for his first term. What has me so excited about this is that one of the issues that Colton ran on was increasing disability access on campus (not to mention he supports domestic partnership benefits for WKU employees, woot!). Like I pointed out in this post, Western’s campus is pretty inaccessible, because of its location on a huge hill, and because many buildings weren’t constructed with the differently-abled in mind.

Western’s student government boasts of being the most active in the state—but it has a lot of improving to do.  1,209 votes were cast in this election, and considering we have many, many more students than this (about 18,000 when you take our satellite campuses into consideration), that’s not a lot. Student government has a similar reputation as politics and government in general—that it’s a useless body, with little accomplishment, and its members involved solely for personal interest. SGA’s budget is significant—over $100k. Most of it goes to student organizations on campus, to fund whatever it is those organizations are doing, with a limit of $500 each. But there’s a lot of money that can be spent however the student Senate wants—including adding ramps, curb cuts, or whatever.

I suspect, however, that most of their effort in regards to this issue will be meeting with university officials, and passing resolutions. I was in SGA for two years, and served in several different positions, and SGA has a lot of influence. Just bringing this issue up with administrators can have a huge impact. SGA can also work with University Senate—the faculty’s version of SGA—to bring up issues and get things done. But of course speaking with officials shouldn’t be the only things done–talking to differently abled students about their experiences on campus, bringing awareness to this issue, and lobbying Frankfort for more aid should also be priorities.

I spoke with Colton during the election, after he came to speak at the Student Identity Outreach meeting on campus, and he’s very eager to work on this issue. We’re supposed to meet soon, to get the ball rolling. Updates will be posted as soon as any developments occur.

The Fight for Domestic Partnership Benefits

The Benefits Committee may have recommended against it, but we’re not giving up! Yesterday afternoon, I received word that the faculty were holding a silent protest outside Wetherby–one of the administration buildings on campus. I tossed my laptop aside and rushed up the Hill.

Courtesy of L. Dowell copyright 2010

WKU faculty silently protest against the benefits committee's recommendation against adding domestic partnership benefits. Courtesy of L. Dowell © 2010

Word has spread across campus, and other events are being planned, in the hopes of convincing the administration to do the right thing. I have heard, but cannot confirm, that the President of the university, Gary Ransdell, is on our side. If he is, that’s great! More visible support is always welcome. Unfortunately, Gary cannot do this thing single-handedly.

Stay tuned!

Not Accessible, Unacceptable.

Western Kentucky University is not, by virtue of geography, a disability-friendly campus. Western students are called Hilltoppers for a reason. The joke goes that you can tell freshmen from upperclassmen simply by looking at their calve muscles. Complaints about attending class are often paired with complaints about walking “all the way up The Hill.” However, these complaints are from able-bodied students.

Steep inclines and stairs (lots of them) are not a feature of The Hill, they are par for the course. There’s no avoiding them. That’s part of the problem, but not for the reasons many students, faculty, staff, and administrators would think. Ramps are too rarely seen on campus. If a person, for any reason, must avoid using stairs, it would take much longer for that person to get where they’re going. Ramps are few and aren’t near most main walkways, curb cuts are more common, but too often they are poorly maintained. Where most students could simply take a direct route to their destination, disabled students cannot.

Building access is another issue. Stairs are everywhere. Most buildings on campus have at least one entrance that is completely unaccessible by wheelchair or scooter. Often, the only wheelchair-accessible entrance is on the side, or the back of the building (of course, front and back are relative here). Two out of the three main entrances to the main library (Helm-Cravens) have only stairs. No ramps. The Helm entrance, where one of the coffee shops is located, is one such place. If I were wheelchair bound, I would have to go around to Cravens, through the lobby, across the bridge connecting the two buildings, through the first floor of Helm, and out the door to the coffee shop.

Able-bodied students have four steps.

This is unacceptable. The Hill is no reason for Western Kentucky University not to be a physically-disabled-friendly campus. There is no reason that every entrance to every building cannot be accessible. Every door should be automated. My fellow students should not have to speed up, calling for the person in front of them to hold open the door for them. My fellow students should not have to take a wide, circling, “scenic” route to get to class. My fellow students should not have to circle a campus building to find an entrance they can use.

It is unacceptable. Hilltoppers can do better than that.