Talk of the Quad Birthright, Bowdoin and Me
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Talk of the Quad: Birthright, Bowdoin and Me
My bucket list got a little lighter over winter break when I embarked on a long-awaited journey to Israel through Taglit-Birthright. The program gives young Jews the opportunity to go on a free 10-day, organized trip to connect with our faith. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve never felt such a profound and instantaneous love for something—I was overcome by emotion and feelings of patriotism every day. I walked through Jerusalem’s Old City in astonishment and celebrated New Year’s Eve dancing in The Shuk. I climbed Masada to watch the sunrise and floated in the Dead Sea. I reflected in Tel Aviv’s Independence Hall where David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s statehood nearly 70 years ago. I grieved at Yad Vashem, shook to my core by the Children’s Memorial. I laughed with newfound friends hiking in the Golan Heights, dabbled in Krav Maga and ate such delicious hummus it was as if I were tasting it for the first time. I can’t wait to return one day!
Upon my return from Israel, I’ve given a lot of thought to the nature of my upbringing and my connection to Judaism during college. Jews are perennial outsiders, representing 2.2 percent of America’s population. But I had a sheltered childhood identifying with the community of my heritage, growing up and going to school on New York City’s Upper West Side, one of the most concentrated areas of Tribe members outside Israel. I was raised in a strong Jewish family, exposed to the rich cultural and social history of the American Jewry. I attend synagogue on the High Holidays and my parents would like it if I married a nice Jewish girl. I grew up to the music of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. I cherish Philip Roth’s writing and the Coen brothers’ films. A Jewish upbringing has had a fundamental impact on my personality, perspective of the world and the people to whom I’m drawn.
When I made the decision to leave New York City for the boonies of New England, I gave little thought as to how it would affect my relationship with Judaism. So this is what it’s like to be an outsider! You call that a bagel? I’ve made friends with peers who have met maybe a handful of Jews in their entire lives before they landed here. “Jewish” rolls off their tongues like an exotic word, which I am not offended by. On the other hand, there are those who find nothing exotic about Judaism. I suppose that’s what you can expect from any college drawing from a large, diverse national applicant pool. I’m not trying to assign blame, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’ve never fully come to terms with it. And there have been painful moments. Bowdoin’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, a human rights organization possessing what I would characterize as a flawed one-sided narrative, attempted to make the College endorse a cultural and academic boycott of Israel per the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign. I am a proud, open-minded supporter of Israel and believe in a two-state solution, but engaging in a conversation about this emotional, complex conflict on a liberal campus is like hitting your head against a wall. The petition divided the campus and felt like an attack on my very being. Let’s at least talk directly to each other and look for common ground. As my grandmother used to say, “It couldn’t hurt!”
Even during my wonderful study-abroad year in Paris, I faced the same issues of being a stranger in a foreign, non-Jewish land. Sure, it wasn’t exactly a hardship to give up bagels for baguettes, and the broad, varied demographics of the City of Light felt much like New York City. But the facts speak for themselves: France’s Jews are fleeing the nation at record levels as surging anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism haunt the nation.
I fear the surge in American anti-Semitic acts during Trump’s presidency becoming the new normal. Trump’s alt-right chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, is a noted anti-Semite. Bernard Henri-Lévy recently wrote of the president, “He seems to see Jews as the caricature of the New York establishment that, for decades, took him for an agreeable but vulgar showman.” These are dark days and I’m searching for glimmers of hope. As I navigate my place in the world I want to believe we’re not as divided as it appears. I’m not going to give up pushing for change and I hope you’ll join me. I believe in the resilient American character which President Obama underscored last year, declaring, “We are all Jews.” It’s a lovely thought and I wish it were so. Maybe good Chinese food could then be found outside New York City. But I happily settle for seeing Bowdoin Hillel friends who joined me on Birthright, smiling as we recall memories and inside jokes from an unforgettable ten days.
Gabriel Frankel is a member of the Class of 2017.
Employing the liberal arts
Polar Bear Nation scored a surprising and feel-good victory this fall, and no, it wasn’t on the gridiron. The educational review company, Niche, ranked Bowdoin as not only the best liberal arts school, but also the nation’s seventh best overall higher education institution. Students and alumni celebrated the news on Facebook—not only had we finally dethroned Amherst and Williams, but were also ranked ahead of schools such as Columbia and UPenn, Ivy League universities. As a senior, it’s reassuring to know that my future liberal arts diploma is appreciating nicely in the public eye. But upon the publishing of the rankings, I couldn’t help but think back to my Admitted Students’ Weekend visit in the spring of 2013. All the talk of the “Bowdoin bubble” was a scathing, 360-page critique of Bowdoin from the National Association of Scholars accusing the College of embodying everything wrong with a liberal arts education. The “findings” of the report, entitled “What Does Bowdoin Teach?,” were a slap in the face for thousands of students and professors who have found personal fulfillment, moral purpose and career success because of their Bowdoin journey.
Bowdoin and other elite liberal arts schools offer an extensive list of distinguished alumni as leading figures across a wide range of professional fields. Yet, I cannot think of stronger testament to the liberal arts’ power to shape a life than Reed College dropout Steve Jobs, the Apple and Pixar mastermind who passed away five years ago this past October.
Steve Jobs’ contribution to the liberal arts through his loyalty to innovation and the unconventional speaks to his genius. Jobs dropped out of Reed, an Oregon liberal arts school, his freshman year but continued to audit a calligraphy class. The Macintosh, released in 1984, would be the first computer to feature superior typography—Jobs directly credits that calligraphy class with the Mac’s multiple typefaces and proportionally spaced fonts. Jobs was never a wunderkind programmer, engineer or designer, but a visionary guided by advocacy for the humanities and arts in the tech world.
From the first Mac to the most recent model, the computer continues to be the go-to product for creative, literary and academic professionals and dreamers. Apple’s celebration of sleek design and clean aesthetic, user-prioritized programming, eye-popping graphics as well as multidisciplinary features reflect the humanistic approach that drives Apple to be in a different league from its competitors. Jobs spoke of Apple’s approach to success in 2010: “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.” Flawless execution of the smallest details was key to Jobs’ grand vision. Apple appealed to us to “Think different” in a popularized 1990s advertising campaign featuring the images of historical figures from Bob Dylan to Muhammad Ali and Alfred Hitchcock. The historic campaign’s words (deliberately grammatically incorrect) and image were a turning point for the company, merging the interests of creative and tech in a call-to-action that anyone could connect with.
Jobs’ success at Pixar was another critical step in his liberal arts journey. His purchase of the Computer Graphics Division from George Lucas in 1986 would form Pixar Animation Company. Ten years later, Pixar made the first and beloved feature-length computer animated film “Toy Story.” As The New Yorker reveals, Jobs’ background was in computers, but his Apple leadership principles enabled him to transform Pixar into a “movie-making powerhouse” that the studio continues to be today. Jobs insisted during the design of the Pixar campus that there be a single vast space with an atrium at its center, instead of three buildings. Thus, the animators, computer scientists and company executives could always be throwing ideas off one another.
The tech world’s ability to transcend the liberal arts is thriving now like never before. Good news, Bowdoin! The headline from a 2015 Forbes report states, “That ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket.” Premier companies from the likes of Microsoft and Yahoo to Facebook and Uber are waging their biggest fights over young, non-technical talent, particularly those with backgrounds in sales and marketing. Critical analysis and out-of-the box thinking are valued by Silicon Valley as a part to the larger equation of success. A recent study from LinkedIn reveals two out of five liberal arts graduates work in tech. Tech companies employ fourteen percent of liberal arts majors at top-20 schools nationwide for their first jobs. These numbers would be unimaginable without the lessons learned from Steve Jobs’ faith in the liberal arts.
Look no further than Laszlo Bock, senior Vice President of people operations at Google and a Pomona College graduate. He revealed that “general cognitive ability”—the ability to learn things and solve problems—is prioritized foremost by Google when assessing applicants. The balance of coders and engineers with liberal arts devotees “build[s] great societies, great organizations,” Bock told columnist Tom Friedman.
We have all heard critical talking points of the liberal arts. Is a liberal arts degree a one-way road to unemployment? Are the humanities worth saving, and if so, is a Bowdoin education worth the hefty tuition charges? For all of the College’s academic strengths, even Bowdoin’s approach to the liberal has a tendency to approach the humanities and STEM concentrations in a divisive manner: peers label you as one of the two by freshman year and Bowdoin has two separate libraries for the humanities and sciences. Yet, the College’s faculty and students are also involved in initiatives merging the two fields and Bowdoin funding must continue to advocate for this integration in academia.
Five hundred Bowdoin students are months away from graduating—some of us will have a job or graduate school plans in hand, and others will be figuring it out. Niche’s celebration of the liberal arts’ values and its place in education cannot be understated. Regardless of one’s major or interest in Silicon Valley, Jobs’ celebrated values ring loudly for those committed to the liberal arts: holistic thinking, elite problem solving skills and expressing yourself effectively are critical in the workforce. It’s about “Think[ing] different” to seize life’s opportunities.
Gabriel Frankel is a member of the Class of 2017.
Paris in the aftermath of terror
Before I jetted off for the start of my junior year abroad, friends asked me, why Paris? The most beautiful, sophisticated and romantic city in the world needs no explanation and the culinary options never disappoint. But in the brief three months since my arrival, I have been slowly seduced by la vie parisienne, the French ideal of being. I have developed habits and a daily routine embodying the French quality of life totally unlike my life back at Bowdoin from my strolls in the Marais, the city’s fashionable old Jewish quarter, and the Left Bank neighborhood of St. Germain, to reading a good book in the Jardin de Tuileries. Impeccably dressed men and stylish young women, who look like a million bucks even on a shoestring budget, are the norm. Getting lost in the maze of quiet twisty streets never fails to reveal a surprise or two, and who amongst us is not dazzled by the City of Light? The French way of lighting buildings and monuments is the best free show in town. Morning croissants, chocolate shops on almost every corner, mouth-watering baguette, stinky cheeses and really good cheap red wine — really, what’s not to love? As Gertrude Stein put it, “America is my country and Paris is my hometown.” Then, in a matter of a few hours last Friday night, this all ceased to matter.
The tragedy at the Bataclan concert forum where the American band, Eagles of Death Metal, played is particularly unnerving—it could have easily been a friend or me there that night, young people enjoying a Friday evening. The same attack could have been easily happened at The Monsters of Men and ODESZA concert venues I went to just weeks before. Both concert halls share a similar vibe and minimal security. Le Petit Cambodge, site to one of the attacks, is well known to any cool Parisian. ISIS’ target strategy was vindictive and divisive: the 10th and 11th arrondissements are young, demographically diverse, cosmopolitan areas. These neighborhoods represent the best of modern France: social and ethnic diversity in working harmony with the old Paris. The universal values of La République, the function of France’s very being, embodies the proud championing of equality, freedom, and desire for prosperity, prioritizing this over individual differences.
The year in France began with the Charlie Hebdo attacks, which traumatized the nation’s foundation and brought Franco-Muslim tensions to an unsettling boiling point. Jews and political satirist provocateurs were the target of the bloodshed. But France turned the page and life went on. Ten months later, France’s 9/11 has taken place. As George Packer of The New Yorker writes, “The Paris attacks were a shock, but not a surprise.” But he also acknowledges, “The scale of the carnage, the banal and carefree locations that the terrorists chose for their murderous work—these were hard to anticipate.” Many surmised, in the aftermath January’s massacre, it was not a matter of if, but when, another attack would be carried out. ISIS and its minions have a lot of support in the land of the “Crusaders”, which is to say Europe in general and France in particular. With anti-Islam sentiment growing, and France’s regional elections next month, the dangerous possibility of the far-right National Front party, led by Marine Le Pen, making major electoral gains is very much a reality.
The French government, and its partner allies, face monumental, difficult decisions. Western civilization will always thrive, even in the face of mounting threats of terrorism. ISIS and its partners are incapable of securing control of the Free World’s territory and resources. But, how does France balance national security needs with the civil liberties of people of interest? Is this, in, fact, a “war” against ISIS as President Hollande declared? The international fight against ISIS and domestic jihadism cannot afford to wilt, as defensive appeasement could trigger tragic consequences. The possibility of exercising Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty is being looked at seriously. Accelerated, increased bombardment of ISIS controlled territories and oil fields in Syria and Iraq is a critical first step, exposing the jihadist organization at its core. France has not wasted any time in this, but to truly neutralize ISIS’ capabilities to plan and execute its international attacks, it needs greater support from its key partners in peace: the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and Russia. But as President Obama has reiterated on the global stage, military action can only be one part of a long-term, broader strategy.
France must take serious steps to bolster its national security, and new laws to fight terror domestically are essential. But let’s face it, national security has never been a strength of the French—the Nazis took control of the country in just over a month. That the two leaders of the Charlie Hebdo massacre were French-born, and two of last week’s attackers are/were citizens of the nation, raises serious alarms about France’s ability to spot and stop its own civilians complicit in jihadism. Hollande’s support for creating thousands of more jobs in security forces is necessary to better protect vulnerable areas drawing tourist masses and to more thoroughly monitor activity in the banlieues. The French highly value liberty and detest the idea of government invading a citizen’s privacy, but serious deliberation must be given to passing to a piece of legislation, advocated by Hollande, that mirrors the controversial USA PATRIOT Act: “exceptional measures” during a time of emergency, granting powers beyond house arrests and searches, to best address the cyber efforts of aiding terrorism. But I caution France to tread carefully on this issue: suspending human rights, abusing a state of emergency’s intended period of duration, and ratcheting up the surveillance state too far can lead to more harm than good. The nation must work closer with Interpol and other governments to share sensitive information about suspect individuals and their associates. Dual nationals convicted of terrorism must be stripped of their French citizenship and detained. Imams in France who preach radicalism and calls to violence must continue to be deported. It is immoral and wrong to collectively group Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees with ISIS; after all, this is the very evil causing hundreds of thousands of refugees to seek asylum in Europe and elsewhere. But until France’s government is able to provide durable stability and security for the well being of the nation, its borders must be closed temporarily out of the sovereign responsibility to protect its citizens. The urgent need for tighter border control and screening processes revealed itself when one of the attackers made his way into and through Europe posing as a refugee, while the nature of his possession of a fake passport has mystified the international intelligence community.
The French government’s relationship with its estimated seven million Muslim community is complex and fraught. “Peace” is a two-way street, and President Hollande would be wise to show good will to them. Likewise, as The New York Times Editorial Board argues, the global moderate Muslim community, especially in France, needs to strengthen efforts, following 9/11, “to ensure their vision of a more tolerant and inclusive Islam prevails.” Solidarity between the non-Muslim and Muslim communities in France is integral to the heart of the republic. George Packer further writes, “The Islamic State inspires young Muslims, like the ones who wreaked havoc in Paris last Friday, by offering them the prospect of power, righteousness, camaraderie, and adventure in a world purified of contaminants.” Weakening the draw of this ideology is critical for severing the attraction to jihadism. The French government should invest in improving schools in the banlieues, invest in job training for alienated Muslim youth, and improve housing conditions within the decayed projects. You cannot have laïcité without égalité, especially in these areas of exclusion. Containing the spread of radical Islam in France relies on winning the trust of its Muslim community at large. Continuation of the us (French) and them (Muslims) attitude will only increase divisive tensions that make jihadism attractive to those who feel hopeless. The January incident of banlieue high school students refusing to observe the nationwide minute of silence must not become the norm. The French people’s growing anxiety about its Muslim community is understandable, but this is no excuse to stereotype and make innocent Muslims the target of hateful acts. With the inhibition of public marching in France lifted, imams and their congregations need to be on the front lines to denounce the terrorism that has twice stained this country this year. Social media videos and statements are far from enough; a public, large stand of condemnation is essential at this precious moment in time. France’s government and its Muslim community should heed to the words of Winston Churchill: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
A disturbing stillness descended upon this city last weekend, but I am confident that the strength and virtues of the French Republic will overcome the unspeakable tragedies of the past year. Across the city, cafes are bustling, businesses are open, the metros are cramped, and the line to enter the Musée D’Orsay is still too long! I experienced 9/11 as a New Yorker and witnessed first hand the incredible resilience and unity that brought the City back from the ashes of tragedy. Parisians have the character and will to do the same. I passed the Eiffel Tower lit up in blue, white, and red the other night, and I am reminded that the City of Light will always shine bright. France’s social fabric, grounded by humanist and universalist values, must be protected at all costs. When I asked an English-speaking Parisian friend the other day how she was doing, she shrugged. “The show goes on,” she said. She is right, life continues. Fear and panic are the currency of terrorists. Young people across the world, of different viewpoints, must be leaders in the discussion of the tragedy and its consequences. Sweeping the uncomfortable under the rug just is not acceptable anymore. The principles of France’s national motto, liberté, égalité, fraternité, must withstand all temptations of blind hatred and scapegoating for there to be a more peaceful future. Nous sommes unis.
Gabriel Frankel is a member of the class of 2017 studying abroad in Paris.
right on point: Looking beyond the SAT: the need for a new, innovative evaluation
No Bowdoin student—anyone who attends an elite college or university in the United States for that matter—is too far removed from the college admissions process to know it is more intense and cutthroat than ever.
Statistics might suggest that overall enrollment at American universities is declining, but that isn’t relevant to America’s best and brightest (and yes, fortunate) high school students. Admissions officers at many top-tier schools admit that they are turning down well-qualified students who are indistinguishable from ones they are accepting and who they would have given the “thumbs up” to in the recent past. Admissions counselors are running out of tactful ways that justify choosing one qualified applicant from another.
While I regard the upcoming changes to the SAT—which include providing more focus to the mathematical content and altering the vocabulary section in favor of gearing the test towards what students actually learned in high school—as an improvement, they do not do enough to fairly and critically assess the most intellectually accomplished students applying to the very best American universities. In the nontransparent and inconsistently judgmental system that is college admissions, the institutes of higher education governing boards owe it to the students to come up with a more efficient system of evaluation.
I propose a mandatory and original, innovative supplemental test to complement the SAT for a list of selective schools, which will give admission counselors a fresh, more thorough way to evaluate its applicants. This supplemental test should be designed to determine skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and creative expression. These attributes are as important as academic knowledge and are critical for an enriched collegiate experience and a prosperous career path. Leading innovators, education specialists, and management companies—the likes of Bill Gates, IBM, and Khan Academy—should work together to create a standardized assessment based on an algorithm that combines the best of creative, intellectual and technical insight.
A compilation of multiple-choice questions—such as what The Learning Channel does with its list of “Test Yourself” creative questions that measure critical-thinking skills—is a must. I applaud the work of FourSight, a company that creates creative training skills to help individuals solve problems—an abridged version of its assessment to identify thinking styles is also a great fit.
This new testing method should have a more insightful writing section than the SAT that sparks imagination. Having the ability to write logically and effectively is a meaningful skill for life, whether you want to be a chemical engineer or a journalist. Some responses or sections of this supplemental exam don’t necessarily need to have a right or wrong answer, but simply need to give admissions officers a more in-depth look at what really makes up the students they are evaluating.
While this would be additional testing and time spent for students and admissions officers alike, I believe that this would best serve each group’s interests in the present and long-term future. Furthermore, this system would not play into the expensive SAT and ACT tutoring programs that have often been at the core of arguments about these tests favoring the affluent.
On a separate note, the elite institutions I speak of should give meaningful advantages to applications in other ways amidst the review process. For example, students who are bilingual, have the undeniably practical skill of computer coding, who describe a meaningful experience in the professional world on a Common App section, or who list an intention to study abroad and explore other cultures should not be seen only as their SAT scores. College-bound students who see the “bigger picture” and show it through their skills and work experiences, should be rewarded.
This year, Stanford had an acceptance rate of 5 percent; in the liberal arts field, Amherst and Bowdoin both had admission rates less than 15 percent. These impressive figures are not going to change anytime soon. Therefore I propose a more honest, modern way of reflecting on the competitive market of college admissions. And in reality, students must prepare for the even more competitive job market.
Harvard education specialist Tony Wagner is on point when he says that the pre-collegiate and university systems are not “adding the value and teaching the skills that matter most in the marketplace.” The cultivation and implementation of these attributes—whether it’s critical thinking or problem solving skills—should be further proactively developed by professors within the classroom walls and collegiate seminars.
In Tom Friedman’s writing on Lazlo Block, the senior vice president of people operations at Google, he said that the company has determined that GPA’s and test scores are very poor predictors of success when hiring, but that they see those who innovate and think well on the fly as most beneficial to them. He lists five key skill markers: general cognitive learning ability, emergent leadership, intellectual humility, ownership and technical skill.
More critically assessing the very best of prospective American college students is a pertinent and urgent need to maintain our status as a global leader.
Instead of just bandaging the wound like the changes to the SAT does, significant reform is necessary for the education hole we are in. A bold move that tackles higher education in a more comprehensive manner and has its students better prepared to be successful leaders in the “real world.” We have the resources and intelligence—let’s do it already.
right on point: Prioritizing character in American sports
I took the announcement of Derek Jeter’s impending retirement at the end of the upcoming season as bittersweet news, even if he’s played professionally for over two decades. Baseball fans take for granted his clutch hitting and acrobatic plays in the field and his leadership as captain of the Yankees. But what really stands out is his consistently flawless character off the field and in the public eye. Whether it was his establishment of the Turn 2 Foundation to help troubled teenagers or calling (unprompted) the family of a Sandy Hook victim who was a fan of the Yankees, Jeter is the ultimate class act. General Manager Brian Cashman summed it up best when he said that Jeter is the type of guy you’d want your daughter to marry.
But unfortunately, “whole-packages” like Jeter are a rare sight in professional sports. We’re at a point now when athletes are expected to crash and burn or erupt in scandal. There’s been half a dozen breaking scandals of one kind or another since I came up with the idea to write this column at the beginning of the academic year. So it’s worth asking: Do character values in the American sports industry matter in this cynical age?
While professional team sports unify many commendable aspects of the human spirit, they also represent a dark microcosm of American spirit. Athletes are encouraged and rewarded for aggression and violent behavior, starting in the Pee Wee leagues. This “bad boy” culture is condoned or even encouraged by many parents and celebrated by coaches and school administrators who want results (i.e. a winning team). Habits form and their personal lives are reshaped, which often leads to trouble later in life. Domestic abuse, gun violence, DUIs, cheating with performance enhancing drugs and brawls are the usual ramifications.
Sports journalist Frank Deford recently said that the “NFL is home to bullies, wife beaters, racists and, yes, some homophobes,” but he wouldn’t be far off the mark by widening his field. The condition is made worse by the handlers and executives who look the other way when athletes go rogue. Like any corporation, professional teams strive to keep harmful information out of the public eye, but inevitably the truth rises up and breaks out. To cite one prominent example, the New England Patriots knew they had a rotten apple in star tight-end Aaron Hernandez, but it took an accusation of murder to cut him.
Yes, there are many athletes who simply are in it for the love of the game, but they are tainted by the same toxic brush that paints over their sport. Many cyclists may be totally drug free, but anyone in that sport who does well is now looked at with a degree of skepticism that was unimaginable a decade ago. The NBA may demand that all its athletes wear a jacket and tie when seen in public, but it’s not the clothes that make the man. Metta World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest), Gilbert Arenas, and Raymond Felton set back the entire league when they have run-ins with the law. So, if we accept as a given that a stunning, widespread lack of character and civility exists in a wide range of sports, we can also equally assume that it is only going to get worse. If we don’t start turning this around, sports at every level and age group will have all of the character depth of most pro-wrestlers.
Fortunately, there are several actions and reforms that the sports industry can take, on every level, to stress the importance of creating athletic men and women of whom we can all be proud. Youth coaches and parents must advocate that good character behavior is as important as winning. Excessive violence on and off the field has no place and must not be tolerated under any circumstances. High school is often when bad behavior comes to light and teachers, coaches and parents must be vigilant in maintaining these standards. Some have suggested that maintaining a dress code in the classroom might instill discipline, but I don’t buy it. We have to go a lot deeper than changing what you pull out of your closet each morning. College jocks who violate the rules must no longer be tolerated. This, of course, is easy to say and hard to enforce, because the financial blood of so many schools are dependent on those jocks scoring touchdowns. The alleged sexual misconduct charges facing Jameis Winston, the 2014 Heisman winner, were swept under the rug on his way to becoming an NCAA superstar. Whether or not there was a shred of truth to those accusations, we will never know. Associate Professor Billy Hawkins in the Deptartment of Kinesiology at the University of Georgia recently stated that executives from America’s big four sports league offices must make programs to address the culture of violence that embroils athletes and reverse “character underdevelopment” that many pro athletes develop.
The emphasis on good character in the pro sports world should extend to improved tolerance of openly gay athletes playing. Earlier this week, Jason Collins broke barriers by becoming the first openly gay NBA player, signing a short-term contract with the Brooklyn Nets. And just last year, on a smaller scale in the U.S. sports arena, Robbie Rogers became the first openly gay player to sign with a Major League Soccer team.
Comments by sports executives and pundits, behind a wall of anonymity, suggesting that Michael Sam (the star college football player who came out as openly gay to the public earlier this month) won’t be welcomed appropriately in the NFL because the game isn’t ready for a gay player in the locker room, are beyond preposterous. Those who defend this idea argue that the NFL is a “man’s game” and that these players don’t have a manly enough reputation to succeed.
The color barrier, another civil right obstacle in pro sports, didn’t stop the great Jackie Robinson from becoming the first black player in Major League Baseball. Athletes and representatives from pro sports teams should take a stand and visit LGBTQIA youth groups in their communities to get the message across that a kid can be openly gay and still achieve their dream of becoming a professional athlete.
All professional sports leagues should mirror and extend the goals of the NFL’s Character Development Program. This organization prioritizes anger management and reconciliation skills. This will not solve all the problems, but it certainly could limit the number of domestic abuse cases and DUIs that some high-profile athletes get entangled with. These can lead to an improvement in public perception of character value in American pro sports, a possible domino effect for changes at all levels of the game.
right on point: Post and poke: why the social media experience and college culture are joined at the hip
Happy birthday, Facebook! Ten years since the social media giant launched from Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room at Harvard, the company could not be in better shape at the start of 2014. It now has a billion-plus users, enjoyed a very profitable fourth quarter in 2013, receceived great publicity from the media’s coverage of the anniversary, and on top of all that, its stock price has reached an all-time high.
To thank its loyal users, the company developed LookBack, a feature on its website that creates a 102-second personalized montage video of a user’s activity over the years. And to no one’s surprise, hundreds of millions of users have already taken advantage of this new service less than one week after its release.
Facebook has had its fair share of social media competitors including Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc. But despite the competition, Facebook unquestionably remains the king of social media among the millennial generation—and for good reason. It is simply the most effective, thorough and accessible way to connect with other people whether platonically, romantically or anything in between.
right on point: ‘Wolf’ and the one percent: America’s overwhelming obsession with the rich
A trend in this year’s Oscar race has finally caught up to what many of us have long taken for granted: greed and the pursuit of excessive wealth are now as American as chow mein and apple pie. “American Hustle” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” glorify the role of those in pursuit of this new American Dream, and even when the story takes a turn to punish the hero, as in “The Great Gatsby,” it’s too little, too late. You can’t spend two hours watching a story that basks in the excesses of money and power and rolls in the cocaine crumbs and not secretly wish it were you living that life.
All these films conclude in a similar fashion: the “morality police” show up in the final moments to make sure the audience sees these stories as a cautionary tale. “This is what happens, kids, if you fly too high.” Who are they kidding? We all want what Leonardo’s got. And yet, at the same time, we have political movements such as Occupy Wall Street demanding drastic reform, a chronic unemployment situation with no end in sight, a lopsided economy that greatly favors the wealthy, and the liberal battle cry to tax the rich so that the “have-nots” have more. Yet, if so many of us condemn the principles that these films portray, why are we drawn in record numbers to celebrate this culture?
We’ve come out of the closet to worship the gods of Money and Privilege. We, college kids trying to find our ways, may not have any at the moment, but the fantasy that we might get there one day is very much alive. It’s why the millennial generation, including myself, was drawn to the hit HBO show “Entourage,” which follows the lives of a young movie star and his posse who come from humble roots and make it to America’s grandest stage.
right on point: Caffeine and creatine: legalizing drug use could even baseball’s playing field
Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees’ superstar third baseman, is currently engulfed in a highly publicized trial against Major League Baseball (MLB). Rodriguez admitted in 2009 to using steroids when he played for the Texas Rangers. He has been suspended for 211 games because of his use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). He claims that the current suspension is unjustified and that MLB has a vendetta against him.
In spite of Rodriguez’s high-powered legal team and his pleas to the media and Latino community, there is no denying that these cheating allegations have destroyed his legacy. As a player, Rodriguez is undeniably talented and has enjoyed extraordinary success throughout his career, and it is questionable how much doping has inflated his stats. He still had to hit the ball. A-Rod is one of many prominent players whose drug use has tarnished their reputation in the Steroid Era.
Beginning in the late 1990s, the MLB looked the other way as the achievements of these superstars mounted. Business was booming. Stadium attendance was through the roof. The top players’ salaries were unprecedented. It wasn’t until Congress launched an investigation, chaired by former Senator and Bowdoin alum George Mitchell ’54, that MLB admitted it had a significant drug problem. In late 2007, the Mitchell Report documented the extensive use of PEDs in the game and the list of secret clinics that were supplying them. The public reaction was swift and strong and the integrity of America’s pastime fell to its lowest point.
right on point: The merit of global perspectives: JFK’s legacy for America’s youth
A flood of books, articles, TV shows, and films marks the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. In these attempts to understand our 35th president’s brief legacy and its tragic conclusion, a reoccurring phrase is: “what could have been.” But there is also new focus on aspects of his presidency that have always nipped at the heels of his “Camelot” reputation—questions raised by his foreign policy agenda to combat Communism, for example, and his limited contributions to the civil rights movement.
A New York Times study revealed a 50 percent drop (60 percent to 10 percent) in the past decade in the number of Americans who consider JFK our greatest president. Journalist Adam Clymer writes that the public perception of Kennedy “has evolved from a charismatic young president who inspired youths around the world to a deeply flawed one whose oratory outstripped his accomplishments.”
But for all the criticism now surrounding JFK’s name, there is an aspect of his legacy of his that needs no defense: Kennedy’s championing of American youths’—especially college students’—service to those less fortunate than themselves. In October of the 1960 presidential campaign, then-Senator Kennedy spoke to 10,000 energized students at the University of Michigan, asking them: “How many of you, who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?”
right on point: Why the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel is misguided
Pop stars Rihanna and Alicia Keys recently held separate sold-out concerts in Tel Aviv, much to the dismay of the American-based Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI). Just as its name implies, the movement seeks to boycott Israel’s academic and cultural communities as part of a larger campaign to compel the country to withdraw to pre-1967 Palestinian borders.
In conjunction with the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, USACBI has gained momentum among entertainers and activists to shun any and all involvement with Israeli universities and arts events.
It is the boycott’s fervent desire that by placing pressure on academic institutions and civilians in the hope of cutting off the country intellectually and culturally, a grassroots movement might form within Israel to put additional pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration to soften its hardline position over a two-state solution.
right on point: Girls just want to have fun: criticism of Miley Cyrus is uncalled for
Miley Cyrus, the 20-year old American pop star sensation, recently hosted Saturday Night Live, making jokes about her 2013 VMA performance and new album “Bangerz”, while even parodying her hit song “We Can’t Stop”. Cyrus' recent songs, skin-baring outfits and provocative performances have sparked criticism from a variety of media sources, critics and organizations for what some label as sexually explicit and racist material.
Nonetheless, I find the criticism of Cyrus unfair and unjustified. Cyrus has a unique voice as solo artist, and she’s free to express herself in whatever manner she desires. It’s time for her critics to accept that she’s no longer the young, innocent teen star of “Hannah Montana,” but an independent music artist looking to carve a new identity post-Disney.
Two weeks ago, Macmillan House hosted a campus-wide “Wrecking Ball” party, with a theme modeled on her hit song; one promotional poster featured House residents fooling around a Photoshopped wrecking ball. This says volumes about public perceptions of Cyrus and the influence she wields over our millennial generation. Does everyone like her music so much, or are we just obsessed with the cultural fad she’s become?
right on point: Bowdoin should spearhead a collegiate alliance for gun control
The headline is distressingly familiar: shooting rampage kills multiple innocent civilians; shooter kills self or is shot as the SWAT team closes in. He showed signs of mental illness such as hallucinations and paranoia, a record of weapons, violations and violence. The media swarms to Colorado, Connecticut, D.C. or the like for a few days, then the funerals, the empty sound bites from the politicians on both sides of the issue, and finally the story and the people drop as the media moves on to the next story of the week.
But the big questions remain unanswered: How did a mentally ill man with previous run-ins with the law gain possession of deadly weapons? Where did the system fail in protecting us from those who abuse the system? How can the public be better protected without exposing us to even greater invasions of our privacy and personal space?
Let’s be very clear about what we are asking for, because advocates of gun control are a wide-ranging group. Many supporters simply want to see an end to guns of all kinds. Take away the guns, and the violence stops. That is a very lovely concept, but it is unfortunately not very plausible in a country where there is roughly one handgun for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. And that’s only handguns!