Tuesday, December 2, 2008

English House Gazette 2008

We are posting five new stories on the blog:

Mike Troup, who covers music at Haverford, has a piece about the prevelance of music piracy at the school, with thousands of illegal downloads being done by students.

Juliana Reyes, who is covering off-beat Bryn Mawr, has a tale about a group of students who get together to play Quidditch -- as in the Harry Potter Quidditch.

Sneha Sadarangi, whose beat is the South Asian community, has a profile of the University of Pennsylvania group Penn Masala.

Elizabeth Svokos, who is covering arts and fashion, has a piece about the most popular Bryn Mawr style. She calls it "Whatever."

Juliana Reyes has another piece about the lone male resident of the Bryn Mawr dorms.

Musical Piracy at Haverford College

It happens a lot, but students say they don't worry about being caught. So many do it, they believe there is safety in numbers.

By Mike Troup

Ben has over 15,000 songs stored on his computer and this Haverford College student says that all of them have been downloaded illegally.
The school’s Honor Code, which has rules against theft, at first acted as a deterrent to him, but not for long.
“When I got to Haverford I didn’t pirate music for a few weeks because I felt that it was against the Honor Code, but I got sick of not being able to get new music,” said Ben. (His name, along with others in this story, has been changed to conceal his identity. The students interviewed requested anonymity in exchange for candor about their downloading habits.)
Direct conflict with the Honor Code troubles many Haverford students, who struggle with the idea that music piracy is theft, but Ben has no qualms. He feels it is okay to break the rules that separate students from the music they want.
“I think copyright is intrinsically flawed in a digital era where content can be reproduced so easily,” he said. “I don’t think Duke Ellington is going to mind if I take one of his albums.”
Ben wasn’t kidding when he said pirating is easy. He uses free download sites like Kazaa and Limewire daily to contribute to his stash of 15,000 songs. Those sites make it possible to download over 100 songs in a day. If Ben played his pirated library from start to finish, the music would be playing for more than 21 days.
Ben isn’t the only Haverford student who pirates music. While not everyone has downloaded 15,000 songs, the majority of students interviewed for this story admit to using download websites to add to their music library.

Safety in Numbers
A student we will call Caroline has over 3,000 songs on her computer that she did not pay for. Her stance mirrors the “above the law” mentality that Haverford students have adopted on this issue. Their belief is that most Haverford students download music illegally, so there is no chance of getting in trouble.
“They’re not going to catch me, everyone does it,” said Caroline..
A woman we will call Lisa is another avid music pirate who shares Caroline’s belief that there is safety in numbers.
“I’m aware of the consequences, but everyone else downloads music so I don’t take the
consequences too seriously,” she said.
What students like Ben, Caroline and Lisa do not realize is that people do get caught pirating music on the Haverford campus.
Barbara Mindell, the Director of Academic Computing Services at Haverford, deals with attorneys that are taking legal action on students on campus.
“Every year we get notifications from attorneys of the copyright holders to notify a student that he or she is being sued,” said Mindell. “They are spending millions of dollars to monitor things that are going over the network to try to catch people pirating music. It’s a huge issue.”
Mindell also added that legal action should come not as a surprise to these students. The risks of downloading copyrighted material are clearly shown on the college’s Academic Computing Center’s website. The potential consequences are all listed.

Keeping it Secret
This is not enough to scare Caroline. She said has found a way to protect her computer from being found as having copyrighted material. “I disabled my file-sharing, so now people can’t take files from my computer” she said.
What is ironic is how Caroline learned how to use this protective measure.
“Someone from the Academic Computing Center taught us how to do it last year during customs week,” she explained, “It’s even on their website.”
Sure enough, Caroline was right.
On the ACC website there are two links to websites titled “How Not to Get Sued for File Sharing” and “Disabling Peer to Peer File Sharing”.
Andrew Lipstein, 20, wishes that he had known about these links. In 2006, Lipstein was contacted by the school saying that he had to pay a $75 fine for sharing music or else he would
Be denied access to the school’s school’s internet.
“Although I used to frequently download music, I was caught for having shared my music. Apparently someone took a song off of my computer” he said.

Lipstein said that he is lucky that he was only caught for one song. He added that a friend is currently being sued for $750 a song for 10 songs that were found being illegally distributed from her computer.

It is an ongoing battle between the music industry and college students that do not want to spend money for music. While there are isolated incidents of students being caught, there are far more incidents of people who continue to download illegally.

“If I want a song, I’m going to download it,” said Caroline. “I’d still rather take a risk than have to pay for my music.”

Quidditch Anyone?

They play it for real at Bryn Mawr
By Juliana Reyes

It’s a brisk morning after the celebrated Halloween party at Bryn Mawr College, but there is no time to nurse a hangover. It’s game day.
For Quidditch.
The wizarding game, played by Harry Potter and his friends, has been played at Bryn Mawr College since the late nineties.
“I can’t remember but it was before Harry Potter went mainstream,” says Dwyn Harben, who graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1986. “You couldn’t even get American editions.”
Since she has a car and a shed, Harben is in charge of keeping all the Quidditch materials.
“The stuff lives in my shed,” she says.
“The stuff” includes hoops made of gold tinsel attached to long plastic sticks (these are the goals), foam bats used to beat people in order to make them drop the large red ball, known as the Quaffle, hacky sacks attached to coat hangers (these are called Bludgers) and the most important part of the game: the Snitch.

Chasing the Snitch
In the Harry Potter books, the Snitch is a magical, winged gold ball that flies with intense speed and has the power to appear and disappear in a second. Catching the Snitch gives a team 150 points and usually wins them the game.
At Bryn Mawr, the Snitch is a painted gold ball that players hide in their pockets. It is stealthily passed along until the end of the game, when it is “released,” meaning that the player who has the Snitch is about to get chased down the field.
“That’s when the person with the Snitch realizes it wasn’t such a good idea to hold onto it,” says Mara Goldberg, a senior at Bryn Mawr College who organizes the Quidditch games.
Goldberg, who is wearing a pink hat with a flying pig on it, begins the game by telling everyone the rules.
“Absolutely no blows to the head,” she says. Then the Quaffle is thrown into the air and the game begins. Soon Goldberg tosses her hat to the sidelines; it’s getting in the way.
Quidditch is only played once or twice a semester but the two teams, distinguished by green and magenta sashes, are composed of a diverse group of people. There are ten players and they are mostly dressed in jeans and T-shirts, but Charlotte Maskin, a freshman, wears a long denim skirt and olive green snow boots. (Her skirt doesn’t hold her back - she is the green team’s highest scorer.) Another girl puts on a thick, woolen cloak during water breaks.
Matthew Sicat, 7, speeds around the field in an oversized jersey that reaches his knees. He holds a tiny, half-broom, since the normal-sized broom was taller than him.
Sicat, who has only seen the Harry Potter movies, was brought here by his babysitter who is also playing. He says it is his first game.
“I just wanted to check it out,” he says. “I made a few points of my own.”
Time to Get Silly
Danae Ostroot, a freshman at Bryn Mawr, sits in her wheelchair and grips her foam bat, attacking anyone who comes near her.
“I’m having a lot of fun hitting people,” she says. It’s her second Quidditch game.
Harben, a banker who works in New York and lives in Bryn Mawr on the weekends, says she plays Quidditch because she likes to encourage wholesome activities.
“Too many college kids spend all their time getting drunk,” she says. She likes Quidditch because it’s “a way to be incredibly silly and get some exercise.”
Harben, 48, has been playing Quidditch ever since it started at Bryn Mawr, though she had already graduated. She calls it regressing.
“It’s cutting out on adulthood,” she says.
Harben is one of the most enthusiastic people when it comes to recruiting new players. Throughout the game, people walk by, stop, stare, laugh. Goldberg, Harben and the other girls constantly yell invitations to join the game. One time Harben even shouts an invitation at a Public Safety officer in his parked car.
“You wanna come play?” she asks, striding over to his van as she clutches her broom. “You need to come out and make sure we’re playing it safely.”
The girls giggle and continue the game until someone yells, “Water break!”
“Has anybody been keeping score?” Goldberg asks the others as they come to the sidelines.
“Why would we keep score?” One girl responds. “It’s Quidditch!”
But towards the end of the game, it seems like the players have agreed on a score.
“Eleventy-one to q,” Goldberg says, grinning.
Then the players are off again, running, giggling and yelling. And dodging foam bats.

A Mix of Musical Spices

A profile of Penn Masala, an a cappella group that knows how to mix the sounds of of South Asia with America.

By Sneha Sadarangani

Fourteen guys with a love for music, a penchant for singing and a talent for fusing Indian beats and American tunes translate into Penn Masala, the University of Pennsylvania’s all-male, South-Asian a cappella group.
On this particular day, the group is hard at practice for their upcoming show.
They huddle in a close circle and launch into American pop sensation Ne-Yo’s Because of You, which is taken over by Hindi lyrics and Indian melodies, rounded off by western-style beat boxing.
The last strains of the song fade out and they go right into the next song; their own rendition of Sting’s Desert Rose, complete with a middle-eastern vibe and peppered with Arabic.
“Our music is distinct. Everything we perform has a Masala stamp on it,” said Anup Bharani, music director of the group.
Comprising primarily of South Asians born and brought up in America, Penn Masala merges the two cultures into a fusion of sound. They chose their English songs based on how well they blend with Hindi music and if the lyrics harmonize across the two languages. The end result is elastic, distinctive music, artfully juggling unexpected beats and melodies.

A Blend of Cultures
“Our parents feel really proud that we’ve merged the Indian culture they’ve instilled in us and the Western culture we’ve grown up with,” said Nikhil Marathe, lead percussionist of the group.
Currently on their fifth album, Penn Masala was founded in 1996 when four UPenn students decided to mould their love for South-Asian music into a more universally appreciated genre. After strengthening their fan base across campus, the group has gone on to perform in cities such as New York, Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco.
Their unique music has even earned them international acclaim. Penn Masala has performed in London, Toronto and across India, for sold-out crowds.
“The response we received in India was overwhelming,” said Bharani. “Performing without instruments was a new concept to the audience and it felt great to introduce them to a cappella.”
Penn Masala typically puts on two shows a year at UPenn and around six at off-campus locations.
“Our audience is usually evenly distributed across South-Asians and Americans. Off campus performances tend to show a bias towards Indians but in general our music caters to a wide range of musical tastes,” said Sagar Bhatt, a senior member of Penn Masala.
Increasing media exposure including a recent stint on NPR, news features in the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Daily Pennsylvanian and Penn Masala’s website and online radio have expanded their fan base beyond the South Asian community.

'Their Own Flavor"
“Penn Masala has their own flavor,” said Elliott Thomasson, a sophomore at UPenn. “I don’t follow the Hindi parts but I like that they’ve retained their culture in their music.”
Will Van Eaton, another UPenn student agreed: “I don’t know much about South Asian music and wouldn’t have gone for the show if my friend wasn’t performing in it, but Penn Masala just won me over.”
In addition to spreading South Asian culture in America, Penn Masala is actively involved in community service. Their upcoming show in Dallas is a charity fundraiser hosted by Ekal Vidyalaya, an organization which promotes education in rural India. They have previously performed in support of Asha for Education and Raksha, both of which champion the same cause.
“It’s extremely satisfying to be able to give back to our community by doing something we love,” said Marathe.
Penn Masala has been recognized by the Zee Bollywood group for the same, and was awarded the Project IMPACT Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to the South Asian-American Community’ at an award ceremony in New York in 2003.
Riding on the success of previous albums, their newest one features three original Hindi songs, which have been written and composed collaboratively by the group. One of the songs ‘Pehchaan’ which literally translates into identity has truly established Penn Masala’s identity on the a cappella scene as it will be featured on the BOCA or ‘Best of College A Cappella’ 2008 album.

Mixing Spices
“After combining and modifying songs ‘Masala’ style, we decided to try our hand at writing our own songs,” said Bhatt.
‘Masala’ which means a mix of spices is fitting; the group maintains a refreshingly original ability to merge Indian classical, Western hip-hop, classic rock and Bollywood beats into a delectable treat for the musical palette across cultures.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Fashion Statement? Whatever

At Bryn Mawr anti-fashion is the look of the day

By Elizabeth Svokos

When it comes to fashion, there are so many routes one can take. There’s preppy, punk, indie, urban, classic, goth, and the list goes on. But at Bryn Mawr College, the preferred fashion trend seems to be “Whatever.”
“Well, I mean, I just grab whatever’s nearest to me,” says Sophomore Hope Filligin. “And clean.” Freshman Whitney Miller looks down at her raggedy boots and plain outfit. “It’s called I have class at 8 in the morning.”
“This is me trying to wake up,” Junior Becca Rossi attempts to defend her regular maroon shirt and jean get-up.
Walking through Bryn Mawr’s campus is walking through aa world of exquisite architecture and foliage more colorful than a samba dancer’s costume. Against this gorgeous backdrop, Bryn Mawr women embody the opposite of style.
But not without reason.

Work Clothes
Women attending Bryn Mawr College didn’t get there by watching the Style Channel. The women at this college not only take their academics seriously but about 70 percent of undergraduate students also devote their time to work on campus.
“I work in the dining hall from Monday to Thursday,” says Filligin. “So I have to wear pants and a tee shirt for work.”
Senior Stephanie Migliori is clad in a leather jacket and loose jeans. “I work for the theatre doing tech work and things that usually ruin my clothes,” she explains, “so I have to wear clothes that can be ruined.”
Sports teams on campus are also a factor in the choice of what to wear. A normal sports team will have practice after class around 4p.m. Junior Ariel Puleo, member of the cross-country team and sporting a bright red pea coat, explains that she has to dress according to her practice schedule and if she has time to change into her sports clothes. If she doesn’t, she wears her sports sweats.
The ever-changing Philadelphia weather also plays its role in creating the Bryn Mawr fashion trend.

Bundling Up
Juniors Theresa Palasits and Rachel Corey both agree that weather is usually the deciding factor in choosing clothes. Battling the cold seems to be the first concern.
“It gets really cold,” Palasits shudders. “I hate being cold.”
Palasits also raised the issue of her own mood. “If I’m really stressed, I don’t put time into my outfit because I have so many other things on my mind.”
Student’s fashion is also constrained by what they can physically bear. “I can’t wear high heels,” Puleo laughs, “so that definitely dictates what I can and cannot wear. It has to go with flats!”
Even with this general overall lack of fashion sense, Bryn Mawr girls can still spot a student who “tries.”
Junior Rachel Lieberman,says, “I definitely notice the people who put thought into what they wear.”
Even freshmen aren’t afraid to judge fashion on campus. Whitney Miller and Jillian Payne-Johnson walk together from the library, both working the post five-hour study session look.
“Sometimes I see girls wearing leggings and those Ugg boots,” Miller begins, then pauses.. “Listen, leggings are okay, but only if you cover your butt. You can’t just wear leggings and a regular shirt! I can see your underwear!”
Payne-Johnson snickers and chimes in, “That’s not okay!”
Sophomore Amelie Raz realizes that “there are definitely people who clearly put a high value on aesthetics.” Raz prides herself on her predominantly blue wardrobe (“blue goes with everything!”) but also recognizes her and her peers’ lacking eye for fashion.
But this reality doesn’t seem to deter Raz, an intelligent, friendly, and ambitious Biology major.
“I’d like to be one of those girls,” she shrugs and smiles, “but I’m just not.”
Her confidence mirrors the other “regular-clothed” Bryn Mawr students.
At this college, it seems clothes do not make the man. Or in this case, woman.

The Ginger Jesus of BMC

James Merriam is the only male living in the dorms.

By Juliana Reyes

Walk down the halls of any dorm at elite women’s school Bryn Mawr College, and you’ll see girls. Lots of them. They’re plucking their eyebrows in the bathroom, talking to their boyfriends on their cellphones or putting up posters of the hottest young actor. But in one dorm, you’ll see a little something different.
Cascades of bright orange hair usually shield his face, but don’t be fooled. That’s a guy in the bathroom. His name is James Merriam. And he is brushing his hair.
“I think he brushes his hair a lot more than me,” freshman Melanie Levy says. “Somebody braided his hair once. It was really thick. He’s pretty cool about things like that.”
Levy lives on the third floor of a dorm called Denbigh. It is the only dorm on campus where a male lives. Though men from Haverford College, Bryn Mawr’s sister school, often take classes, eat meals and socialize at Bryn Mawr, most choose to live on their own campus. The last time a Haverford male lived at Bryn Mawr was in 2003. Many of the students around during that time have graduated, so to the girls attending Bryn Mawr now, this is revolutionary.

"Ginger Jesus"
“It’s like yeah, I checked that box saying that I wouldn’t mind living in a co-ed dorm, but you always know that’s not going to happen,” says freshman Carrie Schoonover, who also lives on Merriam’s hall. “Well, except for this time.”
Merriam, a sophomore at Haverford, is tall and skinny. He sports a tuft of orange hair on his chin – “It’s weird when you see him shaving,” sophomore Natalie Kauppi admits, and of
course, there’s that unforgettable mass of nearly fluorescent-colored hair that has given him the nickname “Ginger Jesus.”
Save for the times when he’s headed for the shower with a towel wrapped around his waist, freshman Katie Sun says, “He’s not really the type to just walk around his boxers.” She remarks on his low-key existence in the dorm, saying it’s not a big deal. Her hallmates all seem to agree.
“He’s not obnoxious about being the only guy,” Kauppi says. She thinks that Merriam’s presence at Bryn Mawr has been so smooth partly because of the “quietness of himself.”
Still, Merriam is certainly aware of his status as “The Only Guy.”
Asked if other Haverford guys ever ask him if it’s awesome to live here because of all the girls.
“Yes,” he says.
“Is it?”
A wide grin spreads across his face. “Yes.”

Man on a Mission
All hormones aside, Merriam had a mission when he made the decision to live here last April.
“I wanted to take action,” Merriam says, “against the animosity between campuses.”
The hostility between Bryn Mawr and Haverford is no secret to the students at the two colleges. Maybe the Haverford girls are possessive over their men, maybe it’s the rumors spread about Bryn Mawr girls being “easy,” or maybe it’s just been going on for so long that it’s become second nature. Whatever it is, Merriam wants to fix it.
“I want to be a symbol of integration,” he says. When asked what college he attends, Merriam will answer “both.” He is a member of both Haverford and Bryn Mawr’s networks on Facebook and has a mailbox on both campuses as well. Two pairs of Haverford flip flops lie around his room, but he also whips out a green pair of Bryn Mawr running shorts.
“I wear them proudly,” he says, grinning.
He feels he can be a source of information about Haverford for the girls on his hall. He is busy promoting the idea of living on the opposite campus, since it so rarely happens.
“Maybe in the two years I have I can step it way up,” he says. “Maybe I can reignite something that has gone away.”

Center of Attention
Merriam’s status as the only male living at Bryn Mawr has gotten him a lot of attention. You can always hear people talking about “Ginger Jesus” on the Blue Bus, the bus that runs between Haverford and Bryn Mawr, or in the dining halls. His name, or nickname, at least, seems to be on everyone’s lips. Merriam says he anticipated it but didn’t let it stop him from his mission.
“It seemed too important to let it get in the way,” he says.
Merriam feels strongly about the cause because he thinks that people who stick solely to their own campus are missing out. He says he finds himself defending both colleges equally. He likens himself to a “forerunner.”
“You know, the guy who risks falling into the canyon because he’s going first.”
Merriam is quick to mention the perks of living at Bryn Mawr. He loves the food and the rooms are nicer. He likes never having to worry about his bathroom being trashed because of last night’s big party, as Bryn Mawr is known for its lack of ragers.
He plans on living at Bryn Mawr next year as well.
“It’s totally worth it, even if you don’t do it for political reasons.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

English House Gazette 2008

Welcome to the English House Gazette.
This is the blog that posts stories done by students in the Art 264 W, the News and Feature Writing Class, at Bryn Mawr College.

This week we offer four profiles:

Dina Rubey, who is covering poverty on the Main Line, has a profile of a street person who happens to prefer Ardmore to the big city.
Laura Boyle, whose beat is Parks & the Great Outdoors, tells of a Bryn Mawr student who started her own garden at school.
Rob Breckinridge, one of the Haverford students taking the class, has a profile of Haverford's student government co-president.
Emily Olsen, whose beat is religion on the Main Line, has a nicely done portrait of the Bryn Mawr student who travels from church to church on Sundays.

More to come....

Main Line Rebel

Mark Dewitt's skewed world view

By Virginia Rubey

Mark Dewitt has the look of any big-city bum: unkempt beard, long graying hair, missing teeth, wrinkles. He wears dirty Levis and a secondhand Stanford University sweatshirt.
Men who look like Mark fit right into the urban landscape, their presence as expected as the streetlights, the potholes in the sidewalk, the lack of available parking spaces.
But Mark, 51, never much liked urban landscapes. He lives on the Main Line, among upscale fur and jewelry shops where his presence is as welcome as a stock market crash. He says he has been a rebel his whole life.
“My dear, sweet mother said I was a rebel, a troublemaker, and a hoodlum.” He counts the charges off on his finger. “She was wrong. I’m no hoodlum!” He laughs and points to a tattoo on his right forearm that reads Fight Authority. “But she nailed me on the first two! Yeah!” he roars with a grin. “Hi!” he shouts to a man passing by on the street. The man walks faster.

#%$! Main Liners
“People are too damn snotty out here. Where I’m from, you didn’t stick your nose in the air just ‘cause you had something. F---k the Main Line!” he shouts.
Mark is originally from Montgomery County. He ran away from home when he was 16 to avoid beatings, groundings, and rules. He’s lived on the Main Line since 1998.
“I’m a noted character around the neighborhood,” he says. “They give me s--t here ‘cause I don’t look all hot s--t and whatnot. They say they’ll call the cops? S--t, I know the cops better than they do! I practically lived with ‘em!” he laughs. “But I don’t want to go back there.” Mark says he prefers his subsidized studio apartment near the Ardmore post office to his former prison cell.
The fourth floor walkup is sunny, even with all of the shades drawn. An unmade twin bed stands in one corner beside an ashtray, a pile of empty prescription bottles rests in another. A single chair with a broken back supports piles of mail and loose papers. Narrow wood planks peek out from underneath old newspapers, clothes, and cylinder tobacco tins. A bookcase with a single shelf holds small statues and portraits of Pope John Paul II, Jesus, and Mary.

"My Dear, Blessed Father"
“These things are irreplaceable,” Mark says, lifting a small box from the shelf. “My dear, blessed father gave this to my dear, sweet mother,” he says, uncovering a silver cigarette case. He lifts two black and white photos of a young man and woman and gazes at them. “Hell, that was some woman. She used to whup me good!”
He lifts another photo of a muscular, shaggy-haired but clean-shaven young man wearing Aviator sunglasses and a smile full of straight, white teeth. “You may recognize the man in this one,” he says, grinning at the man he does not resemble. “That’s me on the day I got my GED,” he explains.
“I shouldn’t say it, because they’ll lock me up for it, but I would kill for the things on this shelf,” he says, fingering two wedding bands that his former wives each gave him. “I have memory damage.”
He puts down the photographs. “They tell me I have all this shit,” Mark continues. He nods at the prescription bottles piled in the corner. “15 milligrams to prevent seizures, 15 for tranquilizers, and 10 milligrams to sleep. They tell me I’m confused and I don’t know what the f--k is going on. I cuss ‘em all out.”

Drinking and Drugs
Mark says he started drinking and doing drugs when he turned 13. “Old habits die hard,” he says. He looks at the image of his younger self. “When I used to party, I partied for decades!” He smiles for a moment, then frowns. “But you can’t get high when you’re in the program.”
Mark receives disability assistance from the government and has periodic check-ins with a social worker. He has been diagnosed as suffering from a variety of maladies, both mental and physical.
Looking around his single-room apartment he says, “The assistant director of the program is coming tomorrow. I should clean up.”
Instead, he puts on a Pink Floyd CD, reclines on the bed, and lights a cigarette.
“They, this, that. Lighten up! It’s called life,” he says. “But I really should clean up. Or maybe I should just cuss ‘em all out.”

Kate Allen's Secret Garden

See how Kate Allen's garden grows
By Laura Boyle

Kate Allen likes getting dirty.
That’s how the petite, soft-spoken student at Bryn Mawr College sums up her motivations for starting a vegetable garden on campus.
She digs her pale fingers into the soil, plucks a leaf away from the delicate green shoot that she hopes will one day become a hearty head of mustard greens. She gestures while she speaks, pushing her floppy bangs out of her eyes, and it’s not surprising that at the end of the interview, a smear of fresh, black dirt marks her forehead.
You could meet the student-turned-gardener yourself, but that’s assuming you could find the garden. A broken patch of ground would seem hard to miss on this pristine, suburban campus, where barely a leaf disgraces the cultivated grass.
Kate’s garden, however, lies tucked in a far corner, hidden by trees, concealed behind a falling-down stone shed. The shed slumps adjacent to the home of the English department, the English House, across the street from the main campus.
A Makeshift Gate
If you duck under the low-hanging branches and walk over a bed of neglected, rotting leaves, you’ll come to a green wire fence, latched with a fraying bungee cord. Walk through the makeshift gate and down a step and you’ll be standing in the middle of a concrete rectangle that’s been covered by about an inch of soil. On the side closest to the shed, encased by cinderblocks, raised off the concrete by newly placed soil and fertilizer, is Kate’s garden.
“I just really wanted to garden.” Allen sits on the edge of the stacked cinderblocks, dragging her sandaled foot through the soil. She’s wearing no jacket, and her toes and cheeks are red from the cold. The blustery October day doesn’t seem to faze her, despite the fact that she hails from the warmer falls of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Allen’s desire to get her hands in the dirt doesn’t exactly reflect her past either. She says her parents were avid gardeners, but that she never joined them outside
“I never did it with them,” she says. Allen became interested in gardening herself as part of a desire, as she puts it, to “live off the grid.” Growing food, to Allen, sustains a disappearing part of modern life: independence. With trademark simplicity, she sums up her reasoning: “It makes me feel not stupid.”
Cinderblock Bed
Allen began her quest for a place for a garden last spring. She brought her idea to the environmental group on campus, known as the Greens. Bolstered by their support, she asked the Civic Engagement Office for funds. Nell Anderson and Ellie Esmond, the co-directors of the office, approved the plan, and pledged Allen $250 to help her get started.
Allen didn’t discover until the start of the school year that her allotted land was concrete covered in an inch of soil. The need to buy extra soil and cinderblocks to create a fertile bed cut into her funds. The Greens had donated $80 dollars to her cause, bringing her grand total to $310. That money couldn’t cover the seeds, tools, soil, and cinderblocks, but Allen, “didn’t want it to be a dead-end project.” She put down $90 s of her own.
She also sent out emails to the student list-serve and posted flyers around campus. Each flyer had a plaintive message from Gandhi: “To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves.”
Five students showed up on the garden construction day. Allen, in a voice equally gentle and ironic, says more students would have gotten in the way. The students shoveled soil into the rectangle they made of cinderblocks.
The Next Step
The next step was planting. Allen chose vegetables because she wanted something “useful.” Student Anna Lehr Mueser helped her figure out what fit the climate: kale, mustard greens, mesclun greens, spinach, arugula, and garlic. Mueser also suggested a cold-frame to protect the shoots and Allen contrived one of her own making, using dusty old window frames scavenged from the basement of English House.
It’s a few weeks later and Allen’s planning has yielded tender green spokes in the dark soil. Still, she worries. She wants the garden to be a legacy, something that future students will preserve and protect. She wants lettuce from the garden to find its way to a dining hall. So she collects orange rinds in her room for compost, and grows potted lettuce on her windowsills, “just in case.”
Every other day she hooks up the hose and waters what she calls her babies.
Allen tries to explain why she has put so much effort, both time and money, into growing something she could walk into any dining hall or grocery store to get. She tries to put words to the crazy desire to grow green things from concrete. At last, she sighs. “This is life,” she says. “This is earth and how it works.”

Haverford's Mr. President

By Robert Breckinridge

The dorky looking kid with glasses who is already balding at age 20 is the last person you might expect to be one of Haverford College’s Student Council (SC) co-presidents. But that is exactly who Will Harrison, class of 2010, is. And he pulls it all off pretty darned well.
Harrison is surely one of Haverford’s quintessential students; intelligent, driven, well rounded, and pretty nerdy. He has flourished at Haverford in spite of the fact that he said, “in high school I wasn’t particularly popular. I never would have been elected to this sort of thing [Student Council]. I guess college is different.”

Indeed, college has been different because he has been involved in almost every facet of student life at Haverford. Some organizations he’s been a part of include the housing committee, the council of 12, the Bi-college chamber singers, the Bi-College news paper, the cricket team, and an upper class advisor to freshman.
He is the only returning member to Student Council so students are lucky to have him as one of the SC presidents. Here is a guy who knows how to balance what ever is on his plate. And the SC co-presidents have more on their plate than almost any one of Haverford’s 1,200 students.
And for the sake of the students, Harrison has made his Student Council plate even bigger. Some of his causes include construction of a new dorm to free up what little living space students have, building a new theater, and syncing the major requirements at both Bryn Mawr and Haverford so students have more options for classes in their major.

Oh yeah, and helping to raise $300 million dollars to get all that done.
With 10 meetings a week for Student Council causes, it’s not surprising that he said, “I don’t do as much homework as I should.” But it is his electorate that reaps the benefits.
Regardless of the short term in office that the Haverford Constitution allows, Harrison feels that all of his forward looking projects are taken seriously by the administration, including the Board of Directors whom he meets with and presents to four times a year.
It was writing for the Bi-College newspaper that first got Harrison interested in student affairs at Haverford. The second semester of his freshman year, he co-wrote every front page of the weekly newspaper. But it took a special friendship with then senior and chair of Haverford’s Honor Council, Travis Green, to push Harrison to get off the sidelines and into the action.
Harrison first ran unopposed for a regular position on Haverford’s Council of 12, a 13-person SC constituent that, according to Haverford’s Haverpedia (a database for all things Haverford), “provides the information, resources, and representation necessary to implement Student Council’s broad, proactive, forward looking policy initiatives.”

But Harrison wanted more.
He has since ran for and won SC co-president on two separate occasions. The first time his co-president was Dan Kent, the second time was Harrison Haas, his current co-president. They joke that, “he’s [Haas] the writer and I’m [Harrison] the speaker.”
Harrison has lived an interesting life before his time at Haverford. Born in Manhattan, Harrison spent most of his childhood in Montana. He has since lived in 9 different states, including, Montana, Virginia, New Mexico, and Tennessee for 2 years.
Harrison attended Episcopal High School in Washington D.C. on scholarship after spending his freshman year of high school at a Montana public school. He has since lived on Haverford’s campus for the last three years including the summers.
This was probably to avoid having to work the night shift at McDonald’s, a job he held the summer before freshman year of college.
He has certainly moved up in the world since then.

The Church Lady Steps Out

By Emily Olsen

While many members of the Bryn Mawr campus are still sleeping off Saturday night, Mariah Pepper is out of bed and walking toward the train station. She hopes to reach Old First Reformed Church in time for their 11 a.m. service. Last week she attended the service Bryn Mawr Presbyterian, a five-minute walk from her dorm.
“That’s where I go when I want to sleep in” said Pepper.
Pepper, 21, a senior a Bryn Mawr College, has visited many of the churches in the Bryn Mawr area as well as churches in Philadelphia. Her trips have included United Church of Christ, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic, and Episcopal Churches and even Quaker meetings.

The reasons for Pepper’s wandering worship are many. Above all, she says she is curious about other denominations and religions. She also likes the different tastes in music she sees in each church she visits. These include the enthusiastic, but off-key, UCC choirs and the semi-professional Presbyterian Hand bell performances. In addition, Pepper is charmed by church communities.
“The regular church goers are all slightly odd in a way that’s really friendly,” she said. “I’m comfortable in any church I go to and enjoy having an affinity with the worshippers.”
On the train, Pepper eats apples and peanut butter from a Tupperware container. The dining halls don’t open until after her train leaves and she usually doesn’t get back to
campus until 2 p.m.
Pepper thinks Old First, a UCC church, is worth the trip though. She especially enjoys the church community there.
Not all of Pepper’s visits have been so positive. Once when she was attending a service for the first time at Lower Merion Baptist Church, a member accosted her with the church directory.
“I’m sure she meant well, but it came off as if she just wanted another butt in the pews” said Pepper. She hasn’t been back to Lower Merion Baptist since.

Then there was the Presbyterian Church that used Wonder bread for communion wafers. Still, Pepper says she has largely enjoyed her visits to other churches.
Pepper feels most at home in UCC churches. As a child she attended Church of the Covenant, which combined UCC and Presbyterian practices.
Church of the Covenant was made up of a diverse community that encouraged Pepper’s interest in other religions through discussion during Sunday school and the celebration of the Passover Seder during Holy Week.
“It made me consider my religion to be one of many and made me curious” said Pepper.
At Old First, Pepper is in her element. She shakes hands with the families in the neighboring pews and glances over the worship program. The congregation is on the small side, but diverse. There are elderly members, but also families with young children. There are a variety of races and sexual orientations.

Pepper especially enjoys the welcoming and tolerant atmosphere of Old First. It is similar to her home church.
“From early on I associated church with social justice” said Pepper.
This association was only strengthened when Pepper switched to another UCC church when she was 13. This church had a strong homeless ministry and a refugee immigration ministry.
At Bryn Mawr College, Pepper used to be a leading member of the Visiting Houses of Worship Program run through the Interfaith Alliance. Visiting Houses of Worship sponsored field trips to different worship centers. For a variety of reasons the program is no longer in existence.
“It’s a Bryn Mawr thing, we needed strong leaders to plan and organize transportation and everyone was just too busy,” Pepper said. “People were also interested in non-Christian religions and there just aren’t that many places around Bryn Mawr.” .

The program visited Our Mother of Good Counsel, Old First Reformed Church and a Sufi Mosque.
“I found the mosque especially interesting because I’d been to Friday services with Muslims, but never to an actual mosque” said Pepper.
Other than the Interfaith Alliance, Pepper has usually kept her distance from campus religion groups. She mostly finds them to be too conservative.
“I’m not evangelical by any stretch of the imagination” said Pepper.
After the service at Old First, Pepper shakes the minister’s hand on the way out. She says likes how he encourages a personal relationship with God.
“I go to a UCC church when I need the community and Quaker meetings when I need the quiet. I go to the Methodist churches when I need the spiritual, but not a formal service and Bryn Mawr Presbyterian is the best place for music” said Pepper.

While Pepper will always identify herself as a member of the UCC, she’s glad to be able to visit so many churches.
“Going to different churches opened me up to different forms of worship and has helped me figure out what I do believe.”

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sugar Plum Fairies, Inc.

Two Nutcrackers: One traditional, one cracked

By Joy Heller

In a richly decorated ballroom, merry adults gather to toast the holiday season while their impeccably-dressed children dart and swirl to the whoosh of rustling chiffon. This year, the holiday event on everybody’s lips is hosted by the gracious Stahlbaum family.
Held at the elegant Academy of Music, the party is reproduced 25 times each December as the opening scene to George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, presented by the Pennsylvania Ballet.

Meanwhile, across town from the Stahlbaum’s, eight girls in pajamas wiggle their hips to Cyndi Lauper’s candied credo, “Girls just wanna have fun!” The slumber party is hosted by a perky blonde named Liberty Belle Anne, whose dreams of a holiday sweetheart swell in the Philly-Nutt-Crak-Up, performed by Contempra Dance Theatre that ran in mid-December at the Painted Bride Art Center.

Since its first production by the San Francisco Ballet in 1944, The Nutcracker has cornered the market for classical ballet, capturing the American imagination as a timeless holiday confection. Surpassing darker-themed European imports like Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet in ticket sales, The Nutcracker has become a brand-name for family togetherness and childhood whimsy.
Artistic directors of ballet companies across the country rely on The Nutcracker and its unparalleled ticket sales to bankroll the rest of their seasons.

“You cannot go through the holidays without a Nutcracker,” said Gail Vartanian, artistic director of Contempra Dance Theatre, a small ensemble company based in Wayne, Pa.
Vartanian realized that The Nutcracker as a marketing brand extends well beyond its classical incarnation. This year she directed the fourth production of the Philly-Nutt-Crak-Up, a parody that turns familiar images upside down and replaces them with comic, Philadelphia-style references.

“The big, old classic traditions need to be nudged or kicked forward,” said Sean Whiteman, a Contempra dancer. “Productions like the Philly-Nutt-Crak-Up attract new and younger audiences. What is the average age of a subscriber to the Kimmel Center? Probably somewhere in the 50s.”

But it only takes a single glance at the Academy of Music’s gilded foyer, after an opening weekend performance of the Pennsylvania Ballet’s The Nutcracker, to realize that this production is all about the young ones --and also the young at heart.

“The kids are the actual stars of the show. The second act has the dancing,” said Brooke Honeyford, Public Relations Manager for the Pennsylvania Ballet.

After 20 years, the Pennsylvania Ballet’s The Nutcracker premiered with a shiny new look. The old production had become worn and dingy, Honeyford said. London-based Judanna Lynn designed 192 new costumes, and hand-painted scrims replaced the old wooden sets.

"The dancers had a busy fall, and getting fitted for Nutcracker costumes was something new and special,” Honeyford said.

Technically set in 1830s Germany, the sets combine a mix of architectural influences, including a federal-style building familiar to Philadelphia.

“It’s not historically precise,” Honeyford said. “But there’s a general Victorian aesthetic.”

* * *

On this particular afternoon, Honeyford, with her team of marketing staff, is at the center of the post-performance storm. The last swells of Tchaikovsky have receded, and adult audience members are exiting head down. Not in defeat or mourning, but craning to ask the litte faces attached to their sides, “Did you like it? Wasn’t it splendid?”

Honeyford is overseeing a book signing by children’s author Susan Jeffers, who has just written a picture book called The Nutcracker. Honeyford eyes the boutique table selling Nutcracker memorabilia, and watches as a dancer makes her way through the crowd, posing in a sequined pink tutu for pictures with beaming, awestricken children.

Upstairs, the Academy’s acoustics send the chatter of excited children flying about the stately balllroom, where a kid-topia has been imagined, complete with stations for dress-up, coloring, arts and crafts, and autographs.

Rebecca Azenberg sits behind the autograph table, smiling at the scene through extra long, glue-on performance eyelashes.

“Sure it’s repetitive and corny, but when you see these faces, it makes it worth it,” Azenberg says.

A member of the corps de ballet, Azenberg danced the role of Lead Marzipan, a second act variation, this morning. Lead Marzipan is one of the most technically difficult and least appreciated parts of the show. I always get nervous, Azenberg says.

A woman approaches, daughter in tow, and asks Azenberg, “Is that Martha Chamberlain?”
Chamberlain, an accomplished principal dancer in the company, has danced numerous Sugar Plum Fairies, and is reprising the lead role today.

Azenberg cranes her neck to glimpse the dancer in the pink tutu, who is lightly fingering a wand, smiling and ready for the cameras.

“I don’t think so. I just saw Martha backstage,” Azenberg says.

As the three o’clock curtain nears, Azenberg leaves her autograph post and returns backstage for a company warm-up. The smiling dancer remains in public—she is actually a model hired by the company to pose for shots during weekend performances.

Noise from the arriving crowd crescendos as red-jacketed ushers lead families to their seats.

The lights dim and the red velvet and gold leaf of the theater darken. The audiences hushes as the exuberant Tchaikovsky overture bursts forth from the orchestra pit.

Audience member Barry Cross, seated in the front row, brings his children to the production every year. “It’s becomes a family tradition. My son is an athlete, but I like to provide a contrast,” Cross says.

In the production, the child protagonist, Marie, defends her Nutcracker against an invading army of mice, and is escorted to the Land of Sweets by a regal, yet motherly, Sugar Plum Fairy. Lynn’s costumes dazzle in their intricacy and opulence, and the scrims create handsome family rooms and a pristine wintry wonderland.

The ripples of a harp signal the final performance of the show, a pas de deux danced by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, principal dancer James Ihde. In the role, Chamberlain has regal bearing down to a science, and her performance exudes stunning restraint without being emotionally removed. As the rhapsodic score rises, Chamberlain plunges into her partner’s arms. At the final triumphant note, the audience breaks into applause.

Backstage, Chamberlain has shed her tutu and unwound her dark hair from its tight chignon in minutes.

“I’ve learned to simplify my approach a lot. To enjoy myself, and remember who’s in the audience. Not to take it too seriously,” Chamberlain says.

Chamberlain was a member of the company when the last version of the Nutcracker premiered in 1987. Over the years, she has danced countless Nutcrackers with seven different partners.

“We counted my partners backstage today. The feeling of the pas de deux changes with your partner. This is the first time I danced with James because he’s tall and I’m so short. With James, I feel more ladylike,” Chamberlain says. “It’s a completely different kind of nerves with The Nutcracker. Maybe because you’ve danced it so long, there’s the challenge to keep it fresh.”

* * *

Companies like Contempra Dance can’t afford to dabble in a big Balanchine production, so they perform The Nutcracker tongue-in-cheek to draw in the holiday crowds.

“I was tired of Nutcrackers,” Vartanian said. “I wanted a complete alternative, something abstract, crazy, and totally fun.”

“We were called ‘deranged’ by Channel Six’s Gary Papa,” she adds, somewhat proudly.

Hours before curtain for the Philly-Nutt-Crak-Up, volunteer moms set up Contempra Dance sweatshirt displays and bag cookies in the reception area of the Painted Bride Theater. Dozens of kids in makeup and costume thread in and among the busy parents.

Diane Burton takes her young daughter, a Contempra Kisserita and Penn Cherub, to the Pennsylvania Ballet every December.

“The traditional Nutcracker is big and glamorous. This show is dynamic and more intimate, and you can really see the dancers,” Burton said.

“Get the kids out of the theater,” Vartanian says, and she faces her fifteen professional dancers, sprawled out and stretching onstage, to give production notes.

“Is that before or after Kung Fu?” Tim Zimnoch asks. Zimnoch is performing Contempra’s counter-role to the Nutcracker prince, a cheesesteak delivery guy turned Philadelphia superhero.

Curtain time nears and audience members pack the Painted Bride in fashionable coats and evening wear, looking ready for a night at the ballet. The doors to the 250-seat theater open and friends and relatives of dancers hurry in.

The recorded Tchaikovsky overture plays to an empty stage until the Sugar Plum Fairy enters, pretty in a pink tutu.

Suddenly, the Tchaikovsky is cut. The Sugar Plum Fairy, performed by Michelle Wurtz Jones, twists her face into a grimace, lifts up her pointe shoe, and mouths, “My foot hurts!” She puffs on an imaginary cigarette until the music morphs into a string of hip hop beats.

Grabbing a microphone, Wurtz Jones raps, “Some rats they’ll grow, scare you away. But a superhero will save the day. Who is he, only time will tell. And by the way, my name’s Michelle.”
The rapping, smoking Sugar Plum Fairy is one of the few tutu’d characters in the Philly-Nutt-Crak-Up. In Liberty Belle Anne’s bedroom, the mysterious Uncle Franklin Rosselmeyer reveals a set of dancing dolls that would surely throw the Victorian Stahlbaums for a loop. Performing as Princess Leia, one dancer flings a light saber to Star Wars, and a slinkily-dressed Barbie doll gestures manically to Aqua’s enduring pop song “Barbie Girl.”

Act Two opens with adults and children, laden with shopping bags, scurrying about the stage, which has become the King of Prussia Mall. Liberty Belle Anne searches the mall for her holiday superhero. Fortunately for her, it wouldn’t be a Nutcracker without a happy ending. The curtains close as Captain Philadelphia wheels Liberty Belle Anne offstage in a shopping cart, happily ever after.

After the show, dancers spill out into the lobby for a post-performance reception. Vartanian has arranged for catered food from Konak, a nearby Turkish restaurant.

“Sometimes the audience wonders if they’re allowed to laugh, after seeing the classical Nutcracker,” Wurtz Jones says. “But it’s like West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet, you can’t compare the two.”

“My hip hop was strictly unofficial,” says Whiteman, a classically trained ballet dancer who performed as the decidedly non-classical Snow King in the first act. “When I was in Boston Ballet we did 53 performances of The Nutcracker in one year. Alternative Nutcrackers are a necessary break, an artistic safety valve.”

* * *
Back on the Avenue of the Arts, Rebecca Azenberg is still in makeup in the noisy ballroom of the Academy of Music. As she signs programs for kids and chats with their parents, the clock is ticking to her second of 25 Nutcracker performances.

Does she dread the coming of Nutcracker season?

“The Nutcracker is an opportunity to be in the theater, and the theater is where I want to be,” Azenberg says.
Then she giggles and adds, “Our last performance, on New Year’s, is our chance to mess it up. Look for mice in the second act, and the orchestra might play something different.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fashionistas Unite!

You have nothing to lose but some tacky chains
By Frankie Dillard
This just in.

Trailing slowly behind race, class and sexuality, a new type of discrimination has arisen. Fashion discrimination.
Dodging a sea of sweatshirts and Birkenstocks, the Bryn Mawr “Fashionista” stands brave, yet alone. She is the victim of a sincere and very apparent disgust for women on Bryn Mawr’s campus who spend extra time on their outward appearances.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, there is a prejudice against women who are “too stylish.”

Reports of hate are on the rise.

Case# 1: One young freshman named Jessica Rizzo, 18, dresses like she walked straight off the runway. She reported walking past a classroom of her peers, and stopping to hear them laugh and snicker about the clothes she wears.

Case #2: Hadley Garretson, 19, a young woman who is known for dressing “preppy” yet takes pride in what she wears, has been asked on numerous occasions, why she doesn’t just “dress normally.”

Case #3: Many people ask Zanny Alter, 21, who exactly she is trying to impress. When she replies that she’s not really dressing up, and her style is how she normally dresses, people often reply with laughter or distorted and confused looks, and usually proceed to call her materialistic.

In order to solve the mystery, we need to answer the real question at hand.

Why are women at a school heralded for its liberal and “non-judgmental” atmosphere, judging others for something as trivial as the way they dress?

This odd discrimination, unique to Bryn Mawr's campus, was cleverly illustrated in a cartoon that sits outside Dean Chuck Heyduk’s door. The cartoon, which was featured in the New Yorker, portrays a young woman glamorously dressed standing in the middle of Merion green, while all the other women are glaring at her as if she was Chewbacca.
The title reads, “The Renascence of Rugged Individualism” and the caption reads, “The Bryn Mawr sophomore who wore a town ensemble and correct accessories on the campus.”

What’s that you say? Maybe the crimes are legitimate if they showed up in the New Yorker?

Well you’re right. Because the real question is not about who has the best clothing or the most fabulous sense of style, it’s about misperception.

Why are students passing judgments on others? Why does the fact that one girl enjoys looking her best for class matter to girl who would rather wear sweatpants? Why is a woman who is simply expressing herself through personal style taunted and accused of materialism?

Finally, why not dress nicely for class?

I mean, why should you roll out of bed looking a wild mess, hair ruffled and clothes wrinkled and go to class at a school where the tuition is well above $45,000 a year? And why should you be taunted for doing so?

Maybe it’s because in high school, the girls who were considered more fashionable were probably the school divas and “mean girls”, while the girls who dressed “normally” weren’t the most popular. There has obviously been some strange role reversal between students who choose to dress up and one’s who don’t. Aren’t the “normal” girls equally as malicious as the nicely dressed ones, now that they are the ones being discriminatory?

Again, does it really matter?

Maybe the women who dress up are simply trying to prevent the evaporation of their personal sense of couture.

At an institution so focused on academics it is very easy to lose yourself. Sometimes, looking good makes you feel good too, and some girls need that extra push.

Besides that, what’s this talk of materialism?

As far as Webster knows, materialism is a devotion to material wealth and possessions at the expense of spiritual or intellectual values.

Nowhere in the definition does it describe a woman expressing her sense of personal style, or a woman spending a little extra time on her wardrobe to boost her self confidence.

As far as I know, I haven’t seen anyone kneeling and praying at the foot of their closet, so I ould say materialism is not the problem

So, why all the hate? Help lower crimes against fashionable people. Start by complimenting your local fashionista. Tell her she looks nice.
It’ll make society a lot easier, not to mention, a little more appealing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I Saw It On Facebook

By Daniela Carabello

Put away your mother’s book of social activist strategies. Gone are the days of handmade petitions, picket signs, sit-ins, and bake-sale fundraising. Today’s rallies are taking place on the internet and young adults are becoming increasingly involved.

Facebook.com, a website dedicated to networking among teenage and college-age populations, has become philanthropic. Or so it seems, when it comes to one public health cause.

With Breast Cancer Awareness Month Facebook users aimed to show that the same users responsible for groups such as ‘The Association for Girls in Love with Aging Celebrities’ and ‘Cool Kids with Green iPods Club’ are capable of social consciousness and aim to make the world a better place- one Facebook group at a time.

Groups such as, ‘For Every 1,000 People Who Join, I Will Donate $10 to Fight Breast Cancer’ and groups that encourage users to add pink ribbons to their profiles, are getting more and more popular on Facebook.

A search indicates over 500 groups related to breast-cancer awareness with as many as 795,836 members in the largest group.

Facebook activism has become the activism of the moment and breast cancer awareness is just the latest example. Members are raising money and awareness within networks and across communities for a variety of causes.

It is time efficient- ideal in our increasingly fast-paced world – and it also draws populations that are often deemed apathetic. But, it does have its critics.

Gaby Andiceochea, 21, creator of the satirical group ‘Because Joining a Political Facebook Group Totally Helps a Cause’ says in her Facebook group profile “Really, come off it….Buying your peace of mind by giving away your spare change or your leftovers or joining a few Facebook groups is hardly worthy of admiration.”

So how does one respond to this influx of Facebook groups claiming support of Breast Cancer Awareness? Can members of these groups be taken seriously?

“I think that it makes them feel like they can sleep better at night knowing they have done something, even if it’s joining one group” says Andiceochea. “I don’t think these acts are useless or stupid, but I happen to know they don’t fix anything and are most of the time more for the philanthropist’s benefit.”

Sarah Thomas, 20, a Bryn Mawr College junior, actively sends invitations and encourages her network of friends to add pink ribbons to their Facebook profiles. Recently affected by breast cancer in her family, she participates in the new trend but is also critical of it.

“It’s easy enough to get an event on Facebook- you feel like you’re doing something…but really, are you raising awareness?” she says “Its almost like you’re trying to make yourself look and feel better.”

Tristan Nguyen argues that these groups inform and educate other people and describes Facebook as a “dominoes effect.”

“It’s about getting other people to do the same, if they have enough information to continue to raise awareness” he says.

Nguyen, 26, started a Facebook group called ‘Tristan’s Big Bad Bald for Breast Cancer’ with the goal of raising $2,000 for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. On November 10th, Nguyen shaved his head in an event that invited supporters of the cause to take part in the symbolic gesture and to commemorate his raising over $2,100.

“It depends on how you use it and how seriously people take you,” Nguyen says.

For Nguyen it was the diagnosis of his friend’s mom that made him consider breast cancer for the first time in his life. “At first I didn’t know the impact or the stats of the disease” says Nguyen.

Upon learning about it from her, a light bulb turned on in his head, “Maybe I should do something about this,” Nguyen says, “not just for her, but for the millions of people out there.”

Nguyen is one example of a person who believes there is something to be said for activism that takes advantage of the 54-million active users on the website.

Andicoechea disagrees, “I don’t consider it activism,” she says, “I think the Internet has made people feel like they’re doing more, with less effort.”

Andrew Held, 18, used a Facebook group to post a short film he made for a Breast Cancer Relay for Life at New Market High School in Toronto.
In his film, he asked people who had been directly affected by cancer to tell brief accounts. Held himself lost his mother of breast cancer in 2006 and has other family members who have battled the disease. He feels cancer is seen as a taboo.

“I thought if I showed them cancer is everywhere and that people they know and respect are comfortable with speaking about it then they could be more comfortable about it too,” he explained.

For Held, getting involved in this way counters people’s notions about teenagers. The film was only a piece of his involvement in breast-cancer awareness. Approximately $50,000 was raised at the Relay for Life last year.

Held says “I offered the students a chance to get together, have fun, and really show that we as a demographic care.”

While he acknowledges that many Facebook groups can be half-heartedly joined Held said: “I feel that Facebook can be a stepping stone. It’s a good place to start activism, joining groups and voicing ones opinion. "

But, be added: "If you truly feel strongly enough about an issue then get out and do something about it. Whether you run in a walkathon, organize fundraisers, or volunteer. Every little bit helps.”

Smile! This Will Last Forever

Look at me, me me!

By Pauline Stern

If a picture is worth a thousand words then each member of the Facebook generation is working on a multi-volume autobiography.

Two technological developments - the endless memory space offered to Facebook users, and the fall in the price of digital cameras - are being paired together to produce the photo diary phenomenon.

There are a whole range of photos documenting the lives of each member. But the typical Facebook photo diary is made up mostly of party shots -- photos of the member snapping away with their digital cameras as if they and their friends were at the center of a flurry of paparazzi photographers.

One night of dancing may yield as many as 30 photos. When their ears stop ringing and their voices have recovered from shouting to the music they will have a wealth of photos to immortalize the moment when they were on top of the world.

“Currently there are 370-something tagged photos of me on Facebook,” said Melissa Davis, 20. “Of course there are more photos than that of me on Facebook, but I’ve untagged all the ones that I don’t want people seeing.”

Photos of Facebook members can be posted by either the member or by another user. Luckily, members have the option of “untagging” photos of themselves.

This doesn’t delete the photo. It simply removes their name identifying them in the picture and also removes it from the pages of photos that appear under the “View Photos of Member” button, which is located on the member’s profile page under their profile picture.

Since Facebook is a free service and the memory space allotted to each member is limitless, there is no need for a member to be stingy with posting photos of themselves.

This leads to repetitive photographs, multiple angle shots that read like a series of silent-movie still-frames. The memory of the moment captured flash by flash by flash…

“There is this one funny series of photos of me trying to get my friend and my heads both in the picture,” Said Stephanie Gonzalez, 19. “They show my total lack of hand-eye coordination”

When asked why she posted all the shots instead of selecting the least off-centered of the five she simply replied, “They’re cute, I guess I didn’t really think I needed to edit it down….Here she paused: “You don’t really get the same impression if there is only one photo of the party as opposed to 20.”

Unlike the old days of film, the cost of adding an additional photo or hundred photos on Facebook is zero. The message from Facebook to its users is, ‘go ahead post photos to your heart’s content’; the more the better as far as the company is concerned.

Although these young college-age members seem wasteful with the size of their photo diaries, viewers should not be deceived. The photos that appear are the result of careful self-editing.

The chapters of their photo diaries read like any young-adult’s cover-bound diary used to, with each member playing the role of the main-character in their photo diary world.

“I can’t wait until I’m old and wrinkly and look back at all the photos I took with my friends when I could still pull-off wearing miniskirts and tube-tops,” said. Gabriella Diaz, 19. “Sure my mom has her prom photos and high school year book to remind her of what she was like when she was young. And to prove to me that she wasn’t always a square mom, but I’ll have so many more pictures, hundreds.

"My daughter is going to know her mom was hot stuff.” laughs Gabriella, “or who knows maybe instead I’ll look at them and cringe at my love of leggings and sparkly ballerina flats.”

When Gabriella sits down with her future daughter she might discover things about her 19 year-old-self she never realized when she was 19. Diary entries are funny like that. Created in the passion of the moment -- only to be looked at differently through the lens of time.

That’s why diaries are so great and the photo diaries being created today even more so. They visually show, the joy and angst of youth entering into adulthood. The baby boomers may think they are a well-documented generation but they have nothing on the Facebook generation.

Those photo diaries being created today will forever serve as a reminder to this new generation that once upon a time they were young and hip -- and partied like rock stars.