Monthly Archives: June 2011

A New System of Jim Crow?

“Jarvious Cotton cannot vote. Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in our electoral democracy. Cotton’s family tree tells the story of several generations of black men who were born in the United States but who were denied the most basic freedom that democracy promises-the freedom to vote for those who will make the rules and laws that govern one’s life. Cotton’s great-great grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation. His father was barred from voting by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole.” (The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander)

The story of Jarvious Cotton’s family tells more then simply generations of black men being unable to vote in the United States. It tells the history of a group of people in the United States of America who have been legally discriminated against for over 300 years. From slavery to Jim Crow to now mass incarceration, the United States has maintained a system of social. Today, the criminal justice system in this country has come to operate as a system of social control analogous to Jim Crow.

Today our criminal justice system has come to operate as a system of laws, policies, and customs that operate to create and maintain a second-class status of a group defined largely by race. However, for many people this idea is hard to swallow. It seems impossible that there could be a system in place today that operates in the same way that slavery or Jim Crow did during their respective times. Furthermore, it is hard for people to take to the idea that today’s system was created and maintained under the guise of a War on Drugs, a war that was promoted and supported under the false premise of a drug epidemic in this country. However, in order to truly understand the comparison between slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration, it is important to understand the reality of our criminal justice system, and the political culture that allowed it to come about.

When President Nixon came into office, he brought with him an ideology and strategy, which later came to be known as the Southern Strategy.

However, this “War” came truly into being with President Reagan. Reagan announced his administration’s own “War on Drugs” in October 1982. At the time he declared this new war, less then 2 percent of the American public viewed drugs as the most important issue facing the nation. (Alexander) However, that was not a deterrent for Reagan, who was more concerned with public opinion surrounding race. Due to this new focus there were immediate policy changes that Reagan began to implement.

It is important to note that this declaration of war was made not only in direct conflict with how the public felt, but also the reality of drug use in the United States. In 1982, when the drug war began, the recreational use of illegal drugs was in decline. Surveys conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed significant drops in drug usage over long periods for a wide range of age groups.

Almost immediately after the War on Drugs was declared, there were clear impacts on employment as well as incarceration rates among black men in the United States. When it came to unemployment, it was clear that the combination of previous inequality, partnered with the War on Drugs led to dramatic consequences. In 1970, more than 70 percent of all blacks working in metropolitan areas held blue-collar jobs. Yet by 1987, when the drug war hit high gear, the industrial employment of black men had plummeted to 28 percent. (Alexander)

The other impact of the Drug War was an increase in incarceration rates in this country in a way that had never been seen before. The incarceration rates have exploded in the United States, to the point, where as of 2009, 1 in every 31 adults in under some form of correction control. This explosion in the prison population is directly linked to the war on drugs. Drug convictions account for nearly two-thirds of the rise in the federal prison population, and more then half of the state population since 1982. Today, a half million people are in prison or jail for a drug offense, compared to an estimated 41,000 in 1980—an increase of 1,100 percent.

It is also important to note, that these drug arrests are not for trafficking or large distribution. In 2005, for example, four out of five drug arrests were for possession…and furthermore marijuana possession accounted for nearly 80 percent of the growth in drug arrests in the 1990’s. When it comes to the racial makeup of the prison population today, and specifically when talking about drug arrests, the numbers are even more astounding.

The Sentencing Project has done a lot of studies that have exposed the true racial disparity within our prison system. More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. Today, 1 in every 8 black men is in prison or jail every year. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the “war on drugs,” in which three-fourths of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color. The Sentencing Project also points out how today the national ratio of black to white in the prison system is 5.6 to 1. These statistics are astounding when you look at the population demographic statistics as identified by the U.S. Census Bureau. In the 2010 Census, they found that the US population is 12.6 percent black, while it is 72.4 percent white. Given this percentage, one would expect the ratio of white to black imprisoned in the United States to be more like 6 to 1 white, the exact opposite of what it is.

This once again, while thought to be true by a lot of Americans, couldn’t be further from the truth. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that illicit drug use by blacks as compared to whites was pretty much equal. They identified how 9.2 percent of blacks above the age of 12 having used illicit drugs, while 8.1 percent of whites have. Other studies have shown, that particularly among youth, actual drug use happens earlier and with a wider variety with white youth as opposed to black youth.  Another study done by the University of Michigan suggested that at all three grade levels (10,11,12), African-American students have substantially lower rates of drug use then do whites.  So given these statistics, if the incarceration rates were reflective of drug use as well as the population, then African-Americans would make up less then 15% of drug arrests and inmates. However, since African-Americans in some states make up 80-90% of drug arrests, it is clear that the system in instead motivated by racial prejudice.

The final portion to the creation of a system of social control is the policies in place that allow for the legalized discrimination of people who posses criminal records. Across the country, people with criminal records are discriminated against when it comes to housing, employment, voting, job licenses as well as preventing them in some cases from utilizing federal benefits. By forcing a certain group of people out of the job market, and discriminating against them in all aspects of life, it is creating a system of control very similar to Jim Crow Laws. Furthermore, it is forcing poor, urban black men and women into the drug market, because in many cases it is the only way to make a real living.

Sunshine

In honor of the hot weather and recent solstice, I decided to take a closer (but not direct) look at summer’s most conspicuous player: the sun.

NPR’s Science Friday show had a video feature a few weeks ago about sunspots. These bursts of plasma and flaring magnetic fields signal solar storms that can radiate all the way to Earth’s surface:

Scifri Videos: Solar Spotting.

With all that ultraviolet light piercing the atmosphere, it’s important to protect yourself. The FDA’s new rules shed a little light on the sunscreen market:

Explaining Sunscreen and the New F.D.A. Rules – NYTimes.com.

On my list of movies to see this summer is Queen of the Sun, the recent documentary directed and produced by Taggart Siegel. Colony collapse disorder, the unexplained mass disappearance of honeybees, threatens to spark a global ecological crisis. Check out the trailer here:

Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? | Trailer.

And thanks to diligent archaeologists, news about the Middle East and North Africa isn’t just about political unrest:

Pictures: Ancient “Solar Boat” Unearthed at Pyramids.

Now to screen up, get out there, and enjoy the sunshine.

The People’s Republic of Boulder

Summer in the Springs is great, but there’s something to be said about venturing outside of Colorado Springs. Yesterday, in preparation for my study abroad experience this fall with Semester at Sea, I went to two events in order to meet some other fellow students. Interestingly, these two events were in different places: Boulder and Denver. Now, most everyone knows about Denver, so I don’t think I need to talk about it. Boulder, on the other hand, is a bit more out there. To say it’s a very crunchy granola city is not far from the truth. This is their downtown:

 

 

The extremely liberal nature of the town has lent itself to the nickname “The People’s Republic of Boulder.” I often wonder what CC, a liberal and progressive school in the middle of a conservative city, would be like if it were in Boulder…it would probably seem less liberal by comparison to the town!

Summer in a nutshell

I was sitting here trying to come up with a deep, thougtful topic to write about. I was debating whether to write about politics, about the legal system, about the impact of diversity on college campuses, etc. I know I will end up writing about all of these different topics throughout the summer, because I am passionate about all of them, but while thinking about what to write about I came to another conclusion as well. It summer time. Summer is a time to relax, enjoy the Colorado weather, play tennis or soccer, basically just unwind.

There is plenty of time throughout the rest of the summer to get back to talking about controversial and interesting issues, but this week I am going to talk about how I have been able to relax this summer.

One of the main contributing factors to this summer being so relaxing is the fact that so many of my friends/co-seniors are around. Since we all just started our leases on our senior off-campus houses, a lot of us sought out jobs in the springs, or for CC, as opposed to going back home. We have been barbecuing, playing basketball, playing tennis, going to the movies, etc. We have been doing things that we don’t often get a chance to do during the year, because of all of our different involvenments in different activities, so getting a chance to all come together and play basketball has been really awesome and refreshing.

We have just recently decided to start a summer tennis league, which while sounding official, is really just a bunch of us wanting to hit around, and occasionally playing a serious game or two.

Another thing that I have noticed about the summer is that it gives you a chance to get to know people outside of the craziness of the block plan. I have started to make a lot of new friends both in my grade and outside of it based on the fact that we have gotten the opportunity to hang out and actually spend time together. The reality is that a lot of run in different circles throughout the year, so to have the opportunity to actually get to know them has been really great.

Because I don’t want to start rambling any more then I already have I will wrap it up by saying that this summer has already gotten off to an amazing start, and I know it is going to be a summer to remember in a lot of different ways. Colorado summers are amazing…

Next week I will be taking a stab at the criminal justice system in the United States, and how it has become a system riddled with racial prejudice, injustice, and disparity.

Settling In

It takes me a long time to get settled into a new place. At the end of May, I moved off-campus (to an apartment across the street, but off-campus nonetheless). I have been incrementally unloading piles from my car, lugging them up three flights of narrow stairs, shuffling them from room to room, and coaxing them toward their dwelling places. On the first day, I stocked the bookshelves. After a week, I managed to confine my clothes to closets and dressers. By the end of week two, I had sheets on the bed, a full refrigerator, and a bedroom fan. In a decorating frenzy this weekend, I tried to fend off the white walls with an assortment of posters, pictures, and tapestries. Progress continues, however slowly.

Still, a home feels empty without living things. I have kept plants – with varying degrees of success – since I was very young. My south-facing window played host to fledglings before they outgrew the sill: a hibiscus that is now my height; an array of herbs and succulents; and a $3 cactus that, with its spiny spawn, has since outgrown many pots. I enjoy their company. No surprise then, that I found myself in Rick’s Garden Center in search of new roommates. After thorough inspection and much deliberation, I came away with two hanging plants. One is a philodendron (family Araceae) that trails cheerily down from my kitchen ceiling. The other, perched in my bedroom, is a rabbit’s-foot fern (Davallia fejeensis). Under a mound of fronds, furry tubers grope down the edges of the pot, tarantula-like. I didn’t realize when I brought it home that I was joining a legion of highly specialized plant-lovers: Send in the Fronds – NYTimes.com. Despite its rather alarming appearance, I hope my rabbit’s foot will bring the apartment its namesake good luck – at least until I find a place to hang my horseshoe.

Children’s Literacy Center

For the past two years I have been involved with a local Colorado Springs non-profit The Children’s Literacy Center. The CLC provides free one-on-one reading tutoring to students who are below grade level in elementary and middle school. I began volunteering the fall of my sophomore year with a 5th grade girl who was at a 2nd grade reading level. Every Tuesday and Thursday and I tutored her for an hour, reading from the program curriculum, chapter books, and playing games. By the end of the semester she had grown tremendously and graduated from the program. The following spring I was introduced to a new student, a second grader, who I worked with for four months. In the summer of 2010 I worked part time as an intern for the CLC helping to plan their summer camp and organize their online book store. Because of this opportunity I was asked to come onto the paid staff and work as a Site Coordinator at Helen Hunt Elementary in the fall of 2010 and organize 12 CC volunteers each semester.

In short, there are many valuable opportunities around the Springs with local non-profits. The following are links to the CLC’s page as well as recent projects done by Colorado Springs non-profits.

http://www.peakreader.org/

http://www.gazette.com/sections/nonprofits/

CC students love to get involved and give back to the community, so there are also a number of student-run organizations on campus that are focused on service. The CC soup kitchen runs every Sunday out of Shove Chapel, Cool Science does experiments and projects with local elementary students, and Early Birds provides free reading and math tutoring in the mornings before class at Bristol Elementary.

A few thoughts on education reform:

We can all agree that education reform needs to happen in the United States.  BUT, how do we go about it?

Waiting for Superman is a 2010 documentary about the failures of the American public school system.  I recently watched this film again in my History of Education class taught by Professor Dennis Showalter.  Sure–it is a phenomenal film and makes you think about our education system.  But how do we fix the achievement gap?  Waiting for Superman implies that the “Superman” to help fix our education system is the charter school model.

But wait, are charter schools the answer? At the organization level charter schools sound perfect (in the general sense): principals get to choose ‘right fit’ teachers, teachers have the opportunity to get school-time for class planning, students are immersed in a college preparatory atmosphere, students are motivated to do well, and so forth…

In reality, charter schools are vastly underfunded compared to the traditional public schools (the film dismisses this); the film almost dismisses socio-economic status, we need to think about bettering the home life and life styles of these families in conjunction with bettering the school system; and Diane Ravitch (a well-known education historian) commented that charter schools really aren’t that successful (1 in 5 actually succeed).

Education reform is multi-faceted in its problems and methods to reform. We need to consider ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, and funding. We need to think about how to avoid teacher attrition–statistically, there is a higher turnover rate in charter schools than traditional pubic schools. How are we bettering family life? How are we getting parents involved (especially if some parents may have to work 2 or 3 jobs to maintain a basic lifestyle)?

Yesterday, the New York Times published an article called”U.S. Students Remain Poor at History, Tests Show.”

American students are less proficient in their nation’s history than in any other subject, according to results of a nationwide test released on Tuesday, with most fourth graders unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure and few high school seniors able to identify China as the North Korean ally that fought American troops during the Korean War.

While there are problems with the test the students took (National Assessment of Educational Progress), this points at a crisis that charter schools can’t simply solve. What are we to do to promote holistic education reform?

CC has a Baseball Team?

The Story of Four Kids Motivated by the Love of the Game

The 2011 season for the Colorado College Club Baseball team was a roller coaster ride that will never be forgotten. We came into the season with 6 returning players, and hope that we would get enough support from the incoming freshman class. We no graduating seniors, we knew this was going to be a rebuilding year, and the season started out as such. However, before we get to that point it is worth noting how this team came to being, Four years ago a group of motivated sophomores decided it was no longer okay for CC not to have a baseball team. They set out in the hopes of creating a club team, thereby bringing a baseball team to the school for the first time since Title 9 was passed.

Led by Matt Kerns, Eddie Spears and Tristan Kanipe and Brad Dixon, a baseball team was formed, and placed into the NCBA (National Club Baseball Association) Division II league. While the first two years were rough, both ending with CC possessing a losing record, the 3rd year proved to be different. Last year for the first time in the programs history, CC finished with a winning record, and even more impressively won the series against division and city rival UCCS, who had dropped down from DI club that year. It was awesome to be able to celebrate a winning record with the seniors who had created the team, because for them it justified all the hard work they had to put into it. However, as happy as it was to celebrate the accomplishment, the harsh reality set in that this core of the team, our four seniors were graduating and moving on to bigger and better things. What was remaining was four sophomores and two freshman, and a whole lot of confusion.

The Team in 2010

With Matt Valeta and I both studying abroad in the fall this year, the day to day operations of preparing for the spring season was left to Russ Pagan, Chuck Lovering and Sam Brody. These three sat in on activities fair, met with prospective students, etc. and managed the team, while a lot paperwork and necessary busy work for the season was done abroad by Matt and I. We both came back excited about the possibility and praying for enough freshmen to continue this club. What we found was a whole host of new faces ready to step in and fill some of the roles that had left to go work in Washington. Reuben Mitrani, Jayson Post, Jesse Paul, Bradley Bachman and Stephan Gayle joined us as freshman, Will Allenbach transferred in from Tulane as a sophomore, and Chris Lowenstein joined the team as a junior. All of these additions gave us hope for the season to come. However, we also realized which such a young team, that there was going to be a lot of road bumps and learning experiences.

The season started out rough, with the rust of the team being the most apparent aspect of the team. This culminated in a 8-2 lead being blown in the 7th(final) inning against Western State. Lots of errors led to bad losses, and about halfway through the season we got together as a team and decided we had had enough. We started playing better, and took two of three from Fort Lewis, and played better against UCCS and Western. I injured my ankle over spring break, and took on the coaching role during two of our biggest series. However, the season ended on a positive note, with us ending the season on a 3 game winning streak, finishing with a 2 game sweep of Fort Lewis. With the season coming to a close, one thing stood out to my co-captains and I; we weren’t graduating anyone. We plan on returning at least 13, with hope for 5-6 freshman, and a couple current students joining on. However, while our regular season was over, one of the most inspiring moments of the season was yet to come.

Earlier in the season the coach from DU had let the league know that a player on their team had passed away from a skiing accident. While we as a team were unavailable to attend the memorial, the coach Jared Floyd proposed a memorial game between DU and CC in honor of Joe Lubar. We thought it was an incredible idea, and said we would love to participate. Son on the second Sunday of 8th block we drove down to Denver not quite sure what to expect. What we encountered was an incredible afternoon full of events that made us completely forget the fact that it was over 90 degrees out. The day started with the announcement of both teams, and both of us lining up on the field, followed by the Lubar family coming out to the pitchers mound. Then an accapella group from DU performed “And So It Goes” by Billy Joel, which brought tears to the eyes of many. Afterwards a music student at DU came and sang an incredible rendition of the national anthem. After that DU retired the jerseys of Joe Lubar, and presented the framed jerseys to the family. We then presented an engraved bat on behalf of CC and the club baseball team.

Finally the younger brother came out and threw the first pitch, which began the game. The feeling that overcame both teams was that this game was not about beating their rival, but instead something much bigger. Both teams were cheering for one another, and simply enjoying the 9 inning game that insued. Both teams were able to use all their players, and over 100 fans were in attendance, including families from the Colorado College team. Overall it was one of those experiences that moves you, and you walk away from knowing you took part in something special. The coach and I talked after the game about making this a yearly tradition, and it may be that it would come to CC next year, which is something that CC should look forward too if given that opportunity.

The Winning Strata-gy

When it comes to sporting events, I love to root for the underdog. At the College National Ultimate Frisbee Championship, we had the thrill of learning what it’s like to be that underdog, fighting our way up through the pack. Both our Men’s and Women’s club frisbee teams qualified for the championship tournament, a first for either in the school’s history. As teams from a small school, we were hardly expected to match the level of play of teams from huge DI schools like the University of Oregon, the Univeristy of California at Santa Barbara, and Stanford. Our women’s team, Lysistrata’s Tools (or’ Strata,’ for short), began the tournament seeded 15th out of the 20 qualifying teams and fourth out of the five teams in our pool. In our first day of pool play, we came out strongs and upset the #2 and #3 seeded teams in our pool. About 3:50 into this highlight reel, you can watch us keep fighting for our “Cinderella Story:”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfrWQbvka60&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

Determined to keep our energy up, we finished out our pool play undefeated and qualified for quarterfinals after that strong win against UNC-Wilmington, the overall #3 seed in the tournament. It was great to be playing in Boulder – in addition to the beautiful backdrop, our sideline was packed with parents, fans, and CC friends who came out to support us with typical Tiger spirit. We faced a tough loss in quarters to the University of Michigan, who went on to lose to UCSB in the finals and take second in the tournament. While we would have loved the chance to keep playing together, we couldn’t help but be proud of the performance we put on for CC’s national debut. Not only did we play hard, we had a blast doing it. Here’s to Strata, all smiles after our final game:

 

 

Summer Motto

Summer is for reading! No matter what else you are doing, summer is the best time of the year to do some of the reading you’ve been putting off for the whole year. And in Colorado Springs, in such beautiful, gorgeous weather, it’s almost a crime not to. I recently finished reading Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire and am currently waiting for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest to be returned to the library so that I can finish the series. They are great books, but I must also confess that I love books on espionage, conspiracies, social deviance and a little (read a LOT) of action is always the cherry on top.

That being said, I will read anything I can get my hands on. Right now, I’m reading The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. Yes! at the same time. Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey is also on my nightstand, although I don’t get to it as often, I’ll typically read a chapter a week. I’d been waiting to read these books the whole year, but just never quite had the time, that little thing called school. This is just the beginning, so there will be more ramblings about what I’m reading. And just remember, what ever else you are doing, SUMMER IS FOR READING!