Friday, January 4, 2019

Equal Opportunity: This Campus Was Made for You and Me by Chelsea DeBarros

My first twenty minutes of college were going great.

I was chatting it up with my new acquaintances in their residence hall during student orientation week. As rapport built, I glanced around the room. First year students stood in clusters, grouped by what local high school they had attended. I did not recognize anyone; I was the only representative from Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens. All had blonde or brunette hair and blue eyes abounded---quite a shift from what I was used to. Everyone seemed to look, speak and act in the same way. With my brown skin and long, jet-black hair, I felt oddly intimidated, as if they were the white hunters and I was their dark prey.

I remembered an incident in my senior year of high school. In pursuit of financial assistance, I applied for a scholarship. Although all my West Indian friends and I did well on the interview, had high SAT scores and excellent GPAs, we were passed over. As they had done for many years the company only chose white students. This bitter memory of being seen as less than was “homeostasis upsetting,” and I flipped into a self-defense mode (Gordon, par. 2) based on FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. I did not know if my peers were biased against my background, but I did not want to create a barrier; I wanted to remain open. However, as more and more students shared their stories, I noticed the majority would be boarding. I dreaded telling them I was a commuter student. Was it my fear that they would view me as less serious or was it my own secret apprehension that as a commuter I would receive less of an education? Since I am the only Guyanese-American (with a Hindu mom and a Christian dad), would I be overlooked or unaccounted for in this university community? Unlike Woody Guthrie’s lyric, “This land was made for you and me,” I wondered if I belonged on the Hofstra campus. Little did I know at the time that the people in the Office of Commuting Student Services and Community Outreach (TOCSS&CO) would set me straight.

The process began with an introduction to my official commuter peer mentor and quite a role model. TOCSS&CO pairs peer mentors with students based on experience. For example, a transfer student will be placed with a current transfer student. Mentors are provided for students on the commuter track, transfer track, student access track and the global track. “Call me Chena,” Myrtchena Antonie said as she shook my hand (DeBarros). A senior and a proud woman of Caribbean descent, she showed me that as a person of color I was not an outcast but a part of something greater. Moreover, her encyclopedic knowledge of Hofstra’s many student services and multiple degree programs put my mind further at ease. When I told her that she was defeating my fear-based dual misperceptions of racial exclusion and that resident students receive more and commuting students receive less, she said, “We are all paying tuition to go here; there is no exclusion because we are all in the same boat” (DeBarros). In subsequent meetings I would come to learn just how academically, socially and civically engaged she has managed to become in her time at Hofstra.

According to Lawrence Kohlberg, one has reached the final stage of moral development when dignity, respect, justice, and equality are one’s guiding force behind one’s decisions in which “morality is based on the principles that transcend mutual benefit” (Kohlberg 1). To bring about my own change of mind and heart, I had to figure out how Chena achieved Kohlberg post-conventional moral levels 5 and 6. First, I acknowledged that I was limited in conventional level 4: I could take orders, follow rules and consider societal expectations. But Chena was able to think beyond the convention and communicate effectively with others regardless of their background, status or mindset. She had overcome any notion that she wassubordinate as a woman or as a person of non-white heritage. She recognized that social rules can be changed when it is necessary and inspired me to become more open minded and less defensive about those who are different from me. She helped me embrace the diversity of the Hofstra environment. When I learned that “research from the Carnegie Institute, Harvard and Stanford all reveal the same percentages for career success: 85% are people (soft) skills; only 15% are technical (hard) skills” (Gordon, par. 3), I realized that Chena combined these skills in a highly personal and compelling way. For proof, see her essay on Taking Giant Steps Press blog. The title alone, “What Do You Do with Trash: A Review of Walkabout & The Gods Must Be Crazy,” reveals her charming yet no-nonsense style.

As I grew these skills I soon learned that students may feel like outsiders for all kinds of concerns beyond color, gender and heritage, and that I have the power to help them feel more included. I also learned that many who commute often feel underrepresented because they do not board. Likewise, many resident students cannot call Hofstra their home because they are not comfortable here for myriad reasons. As Chena put it, “They don’t have a sense of belonging. That’s why we are here: to advocate for you, mentor you, and help you grow as a person so you can be your very best here at Hofstra” (DeBarros). I realized they guide and provide services for all students. I am truly grateful to Chena for her helping me unmask my issues and by modeling the change I needed to become, but I am equally grateful to Anita Ellis, who directs TOCSS&CO.

I first encountered her at Welcome Week. During the commuter presentation, Anita was engaging, funny, informative and very involved in making sure we have the necessary tools to make commuting life easier. After I met her for a one-on-one session, she was even more helpful and kind beyond my expectations; she became a friend. I often visit to see of the new events coming up or to just say hello. Her office is a place of community for commuting students, off-campus students and resident students because she provides a safe, supportive, and comfortable space for one to thrive. Anita makes sure that throughout the day, students can access free tea and coffee. After renovating the commuter lounge, she is in the process of adding comfortable couches for students to lounge around or study.

With a strong and improved sense of community comes new relationships. Chena stated, “My friends that I have met here at the commuting office have influenced me the most at Hofstra” (DeBarros). Developing friendships is crucial to becoming socially engaged. I can relate to Chena’s experience because I made new friends at the commuting office who now travel with me on the Long Island Rail Road. I have also been amazed at the number of resident students who face similar issues as commuters. In addition, regardless of housing status, TOCSS&CO gives students an opportunity to become members of the Commuters Student Association (CSA), in which students work with the commuting office to prepare events for the Hofstra calendar. These include tips on healthy diet as well as yoga and morning meditation. I always check with CSA to see what upcoming events I would like to be a part of. I follow them on social media and occasionally visit their web page to see what is new. Another program is Peer Mentoring, which has influenced me to become more involved in the HU community and caused me to want to become a mentor for incoming students. Anita states, “We encourage all of our students to integrate with their neighbors and attend our office programs” (Meet the Director). Her overall goal is to let students know that they are part of a community that will support them throughout their academic career by allowing them to become socially and civically involved.

Along with building community comes the opportunity to lend a helping hand. I have found that community service is a fun and meaningful way to become civically engaged and learn new life skills. TOCSS&CO hosts many annual community service events: Shake a Rake in which students rake leaves and help local community members; Nursing Home Bowling in which students assist senior residents of the Holly Patterson Nursing Home at the local bowling lanes; Pride, Paint, Plant in which students help the elderly plant flowers in their yard and paint their fences. Chena told me, “These events, which usually happen right around the community of Uniondale and Hempstead, are open to all students, residential included” (DeBarros). As Paulo Freire conveys, learning comes from first-hand experience: “Education as the practice of freedom---as opposed to education as the practice of domination---denies that man is abstract, isolated, independent, and unattached to the world; it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart from people. Authentic reflection considers neither abstract man nor the world without people, but people in the reflections with the world” (Freire 8). Simply put, knowledge is mostly gained from a learn-by-doing experience and “from learning about the people in your world, rather than learning about the world apart from them” (Parker, par. 4).

Perhaps the best thing about TOCSS&CO is its constant flow of valuable life skills. “Liberating education consists in act of cognition, not transferrals of information” (Friere 7). In order to be fully confident in my studies, I seek to acquire knowledge that reveals my full potential rather than just attain information that I will be tested on. Like Chena, I have found that “the commuter’s office is basically home for us” (DeBarros). Information is sent out via email, text and ads around campus. Chena noted, “It can be very difficult to get involved in the programs offered since commuters are constantly caught up in the run from home to school and don't have time to stop by the office. This is why we try to work around student schedules and make everything convenient for students. We stress communication, getting involved, taking part in the discussions and staying informed on what’s next” (DeBarros). On the more practical side, the office provides train schedules, shuttle schedules, free parking, lockers, information on commuter meal plans, tenant services for off-campus commuters, office programming, bulletin board information, car maintenance tips, transit tips, and FAQs.

Although Chena strikes me as someone who really knows what is going on, I was blown away to discover that during her first two years at Hofstra, she did not go to TOCSS&CO at all. She stated, “I did not do anything at school at all other than go to class” (DeBarros). She was caught in the fixed pattern of commuting to class and then returning home. She then addressed a problem that most of us students have. We do not reach out to the office as much they reach out to us. When asked how students can improve as learners, she said most emphatically, “We must improve our communication skills and lose the idea that seeking help or service is a bad thing” (DeBarros). By reaching out to her, I have become more independent, involved, and able to contribute to the Hofstra community. The Office of Commuting Student Services and Community Outreach has opened my mind, inspired me to be socially and civically involved, strengthened my academic skills and helped me become more well-rounded and better informed. I have come to find, like Woody Guthrie’s song, this campus was made for you and me.

Works Cited

Antonie, Myrtchena. Taking Giant Steps Press blog. “What Do You Do with Trash: A Review of Walkabout & The Gods Must Be Crazy.” 4 March.  2017,

DeBarros, Chelsea. “Interview with Commuter Peer Mentor Myrtchena Antonie.” 3 Oct. 2018.

Freire, Paulo. “The Banking Concept of Education.” PDF, 5 Nov. 2018

Gordon, Paul Kirpal. Class Syllabus. 10 Sep 2018.

Guthrie, Woody. “This Land Is Your Land.” The Asch Recordings, Vol.1. Feb. 1940

Hofstra University, “Meet the Commuting Student Services Director.”

Kohlberg, Lawrence. “The Stages of Moral Development.” PDF, 9 Oct. 2018

Parker, Morgan. Taking Giant Steps Press blog. “Gettin' Queer for Dope: Learning How To Learn about LGBT Identity,” 4Feb. 2016,

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Pulling That Weight: How Colleges Fail Survivors of Sexual Assault by Sarah Baum

When they were a senior at Columbia University, Emma Sulkowitz (who uses they/them pronouns) was raped in their dorm by an acquaintance. They reported it to campus authorities but fell on deaf ears. When that failed, they reported their assault to the NYPD, and their case was ridiculed and dismissed. So, Emma coped with their pain and trauma through art. A visual arts major, Emma conducted their senior thesis on their assault. They called it “Carry That Weight” in reference to the emotional weight one carries after an assault and the psychological pain Emma endured knowing their rapist was still at their school. They carried with them a 50 pound mattress, identical to the one on which they were assaulted, everywhere on campus for the entire rest of their time at Columbia. “Carry That Weight” went viral; Emma was featured in The New York Times. But the sensation did nothing to help their case. Along with the knowledge their rapist would never be punished for his crime, they ended up carrying the mattress with them to get their diploma during graduation. These stories are commonplace on campuses today. Colleges do not have the resources nor the motive to protect their students from sexual violence.

One in five women will be assaulted on a college campus (RAINN). Yet, when a student is a victim of sexual assault on campus, they have no ally in their school. College campuses fail to address proper prevention and intervention tactics, such as as consent education. According to The Atlantic, “Students arriving on campus are, by many measures, less socially developed than were those of previous generations...They also create an environment in which sexual experimentation followed by shame or regret is common, as is poor communication by both parties” (par. 2).  Most states do not have any requirements for sexual assault prevention training. Of those that do, many are one-time requirements of presentations or lectures that do not resonate with students. But these programs are integral to preventing sexual assault. According to The New York Times, of a small sample size of 400 or so women, 9% of people in the control group had been sexually assaulted, contrary to 3% of those who received training. It also found that just 22 women needed to receive the training to prevent one sexual assault (par 4-5). Yet these programs continue to be cut in lieu of more profitable endeavors. Students are damned by their schools before they can even be victimized by their classmates.

Moreover, colleges lack the tools needed to react in a just, swift and ethical way to allegations of sexual assault. Title IX laws are unclear and being implemented at polarizing extremes. On one hand, it may lead to a galvanizing force for college campuses that largely use the single investigator model wherein one staff member serves as judge, jury and prosecutor.  Meanwhile, a letter sent out to university officials by the Obama administration instructed schools “to investigate any reports of possible sexual misconduct, including those that came from a third party and those in which the allTitle IX, eged victim refused to cooperate. (Paradoxically, they were also told to defer to alleged victims’ wishes, creating no small amount of confusion among administrators)” (The Atlantic, par. 7). This policy, though well intentioned, has the potential to further traumatize victims. Sexual assault is an act of taking power and control away, and by doing the same in the aftermath rubs salt in the wound. Yet, these “third party reporter” cases made up 30% of undergraduate cases of sexual violence. The same article found the timespan of college sexual assault investigations have increased from 289 days to over 900.  Such practices lead to incidents like that of Kojo Bonsu, a University of Massachusetts-Amherst student who was banned him from all campus activities and housing once allegations against him were made in an effort to adhere to Title IX policies. While precautions like these can be integral in keeping victims safe, the investigation lasted six months, only for him to be found innocent of sexual assault. By then his physical and mental health had plummeted, and he had to withdraw from classes. He will still graduate but two years too late and at another school. He is a victim of a different kind, subjugated under the very same broken system which lets actual sexual predators walk free.

On the other hand, many schools fail to do much of anything in response to claims of sexual assault. Emma Sulkowicz was one of four Columbia students to bring accusations against the same man, Paul Nungesser, but Columbia University delivered justice for none of them. Similarly, the award-winning documentary The Hunting Ground found that over a ten year period, Harvard University saw 135 reported assaults and just ten suspensions; University of California-Berkeley had 78 reported assaults and just 3 expulsions; Dartmouth College had 155 reported assaults and 3 expulsions; Stanford University had 259 assaults and just one expulsion; and the University of North Carolina and University of Virginia had 205 and 136 reported assaults respectively, with a combined total of zero expulsions (meanwhile, UVA saw 183 expulsions for other breaches of its honor code, such as plagiarism, in the same time span). These numbers do not match the statistic which found one in five women will be sexually assaulted on campus. In fact, in 2015, 89% of colleges reported no sexual assaults at all (American Association of University Women).

This transcription occurs because colleges want to produce artificially low numbers to protect their image. Colleges do not wish to be seen as a place with high rates of sexual assault, something that may deter potential students and donors. Yet, instead of solving the problem for the betterment of students, they sweep it under the rug in a “quick fix” effort to save their bottom line. Their other reason is to protect “priority” students. According to The Dallas Morning News, Baylor University coach Art Briles was on staff for years and made aware of 52 rapes committed by 31 players, but he did not act. During a gang rape in 2012, Briles had placed the blame on the victim, saying “Those are some bad dudes. Why was she around those guys?” Similarly, a lawsuit against the University of Tennessee found it showed unfair bias in favor of alleged perpetrators, particularly athletes, providing them exclusive access to a list of recommended lawyers. Then, in 2002, a Penn State football player was found guilty of rape and suspended for two semesters, yet he was still allowed to travel and play with the team. College sports, being a multi-billion dollar industry, is a great revenue generator for many institutions of higher education. It all boils down to profit; it is more profitable to retain star athletes, no matter the cost, than it is to protect rape victims.  Not only does this strip victims of justice but endangers others, as many are repeat offenders. FiveThirtyEight reported most rapes are done by a small group of people, as the average sexual predator will commit 6 rapes apiece. But because they are athletes, they get away with it, a phenomenon the Department of Education said led student athletes “to believe that there were special rules for people with special talents.”

Hofstra University is no stranger to these pitfalls. Its student policy “prohibits discriminatory harassment, relationship violence and sexual violence,” meant to ensure “an environment conducive to personal and intellectual growth.” Yet in May of last year, New York state courts found Hofstra to be in violation of its own policy regarding sexual assault when it took over a year to resolve a claim of domestic violence, in which a student alleged her boyfriend tried to strangle her and threw pepper in her eyes (Nixon Peabody). Throughout the year-long dispute, Hofstra violated the school’s own policy which calls for claims to be resolved “with reasonable promptness” defined as up to 60 days. The court also found that Hofstra acted “capriciously” in banning the male student from the dorms before having a formal hearing. Moreover, according to The Hofstra Chronicle, our Title IX Officer resigned, was replaced by a new staff member with a new title and had their office moved. But Hofstra never made this information known. So, when students with concerns of sexual harassment or violence came forward, they faced substantial roadblocks in finding the right person to contact.  It was a severe breach in transparency that was only resolved when student reporters pressured officials into sending a public email to make the information known.

In essence, college campuses are ill-equipped to deal with allegations of sexual assault and violence. No federal law mandates the consent training that is integral to reducing sexual assault on campus. Therefore, thousands of students each year embark on their college journey without it. Then, when instances of rape do arise, colleges fail to resolve the matter in a just and swift fashion, to the disservice of both the the complainant and the accused. They either hyper-galvanize the cause or ignore it all together. Colleges even have incentive to suppress these numbers. As a result, students cannot feel safe on campus. The very institutions bound to protect them literally put their lives in danger. Students’ bodies are weighed with profit, and oftentimes, profit wins. The only way to resolve the epidemic of rape on college campuses is to work together with government institutions to implement meaningful legislation that holds universities accountable and provides realistic and specific guidelines on to how stop the issue at its core. Only then will students be safe on campus. We all have a torch to bare and a role to play in carrying that weight.

Works Cited

“89 Percent of Colleges Reported Zero Incidents of Rape in 2015.” AAUW: Empowering Women
Since 1881,

Ameliatd. “What If Most Campus Rapes Aren't Committed By Serial Rapists?” FiveThirtyEight,
FiveThirtyEight, 30 July 2015,

“Damning Texts between Ex-Baylor Coach Briles, Other Officials Revealed in New Court
Records.” Dallas News, 3 Feb. 2017,

“Faculty.” What Does It Cost to Attend? | Hofstra University, New York,

Hoffman, Jan. “College Rape Prevention Program Proves a Rare Success.” The New York
Times, The New York Times, 21 Dec. 2017,

“New York Court Concludes University's Determination of Dating Violence Was Arbitrary and
Capricious.” Nixon Peabody LLP,

RAINN | The Nation's Largest Anti-Sexual Violence Organization,

“The Hunting Ground .” CNN Films, 2017.

“Title IX Transition Sparks Questions about Transparency.” The Hofstra Chronicle, 2018,

Yoffe, Emily. “The Uncomfortable Truth About Campus Rape Policy.” The Atlantic, Atlantic
Media Company, 29 Sept. 2017,