VIEWPOINTS – The VOICE http://www.mcccvoice.org Campus and Local News Since 1968 Tue, 16 May 2017 13:15:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 The First Amendment is under attack at Mercer http://www.mcccvoice.org/the-first-amendment-is-under-attack-at-mercer/ Sat, 29 Apr 2017 14:19:45 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5637

Mercer’s Human Resources department has emailed all college faculty and staff a link to a mandatory online compliance training and has required completion by May 14. The training includes information on Title IX and other important and relevant policies, but one point in the first module, on slide 22 of 84 states that “employees should not talk to the press without explicit consent from the school.”

The slide does not say “employees should not speak on behalf of the college to the press without consent from the school,” it simply states they should not speak to the press, period. The policy requires employees to surrender their First Amendment rights, it chills free speech and is a threat to The VOICE and to the college’s journalism and New Media programs.

We shared a picture of the slide with Frank Lomonte, an experienced First Amendment lawyer and the Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center, and asked for his reaction. He said: “I think the answer is it’s pretty illegal…that raises very serious First Amendment issues.”

The VOICE then reached out to Human Resources at Mercer, the department that had supplied the training materials to faculty, but neither the manager nor the executive director agreed to be interviewed and instead referred The VOICE to Jim Gardner, the college’s director Public Relations.

Gardner defended the policy saying, “It’s standard operating procedure for any large organization, whether it’s for a Fortune 500 company, a community college or a school district.”

Obviously private companies and public institutions are not the same. Private companies do not have responsibilities like providing transparency through open public records laws or filing annual crime reports like we do.

As LoMonte pointed out, a complete blanket policy against speaking to the press would “also be illegal at Fortune 500 companies.” Private companies can ask employees to sign contracts that preclude them from providing proprietary data to outside entities and so on, and colleges can require that only Public Relations representatives speak to the press on behalf of the college, but that’s not what the material in Mercer’s training says.

Because Mercer’s policy is so broad-reaching, with zero clarification or exceptions given, and all employees of the college are required to read it and demonstrate their commitment to it by completing the online training, it amounts to censorship where The VOICE is concerned. We will end up writing articles that are filled with “no comments” and anonymous sources. It has the potential to turn The VOICE into a shoddy publication like TMZ.

We already have an article in this issue where we had to use an anonymous quote from a faculty member about the contract negotiations because the person was scared to go on the record. It’s a troubling experience for us as students interviewing someone who is supposed to educate us and realizing they are too scared to open their mouths. The college’s efforts to intimidate employees are already working.

The one administrator we found at Mercer who did seem to see the First Amendment problem with the policy was Dean of Students Dr. Diane Campbell who told The VOICE, “Probably [that point] should be clearer…If I wanted to talk to the press, if there was some reason I needed to, constitutionally the college can’t say you that can’t talk to the press.” She added, “I think the college has a responsibility to know when faculty and staff are talking to the press. But in terms of our constitutional rights, it’s not like we can say you can’t talk to anybody.”

LoMonte agrees it’s the lack of clarity that poses the real problem. “I think anybody who sees that training will be taking that as mandatory…if they had used the term ‘recommend’ or ‘advise’ then that’s different.”

The VOICE spoke to two faculty union members to get their reaction to the policy in the compliance training materials.

English Professor Dr. Edward Carmien reacted to the no talking to the press policy saying, “Speaking as a faculty member, I think it’s outrageous that this should be an item on this slide and that we’re expected to basically agree to this as a part of this training. Nothing that I saw in the description of this training would have led me to believe that these details would be so broad-reaching into what I think are fundamental First Amendment rights.” He added, “I cannot imagine completing this training now that I’ve been made aware that this is here.”

Math Professor Arthur Schwartz was similarly offended. He told The VOICE, “I’ll talk to the press anytime I want. It’s the freedom of press.”

If you are an employee and would like to show your support for The VOICE, the First Amendment and the free press, please drag and drop this image to your desk top, print it out and tape it to your office door.

As to why he thinks the college would include such a policy in their training Prof. Schwartz said, “[Administration] would like to have total control before people go to the press. I know that they would like that…and I would like a Lamborghini…but I’m not getting a Lamborghini and they’re not going to intimidate people to what they say and what they’re not going to say.”

Earlier this month The VOICE was invited by the college president to attend the Board of Trustees meeting to be recognized for winning eight New Jersey Collegiate Press Association awards this year. We appreciated the invitation and were sorry that because all of us work at that time no one could attend, but we’ve since discovered that the faculty training was sent out just two days before we were asked to come be acknowledged for our work. On one hand the college is publicly supporting us and at the next moment undermining our ability to be reporters. If the college wants to celebrate our victories they must allow us the ability to continue our work, which we cannot do if no one will speak to us.

The college owes faculty an apology and should revise their policy and then revise the training materials before sending them back out to be completed. Meantime The VOICE will carry on trying to keep people informed, we will continue encouraging students to be engaged in the life of our college, and we hope that faculty and staff will acknowledge they can always speak to us, not on behalf of the college, but on behalf of themselves as employees and individuals.

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Russian American in the Age of Trump – The Human Cost of Nationalism and Fear – Part II http://www.mcccvoice.org/russian-american/ Sat, 29 Apr 2017 13:47:24 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5623

One night in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, when I was 5, the police came. This wasn’t anything new considering my mom was always belligerent, drunk and in trouble. I thought they were there for her, but they were there for me. I never saw my mother or sister again after that night.

I was put in one orphanage and several months later moved to another, even farther away from home. I stayed there for two years.

Mostly I was in one big room with the smallest beds you can imagine. There were well over 30 children per room. I remember having notebooks with about 10 pages in them to learn how to write. There were three ladies that watched my age group, but only one really cared about us.

In the orphanage some children were mean, others were quiet, some, like myself, tried to make the best of it.  I had one good friend, her name was also Svetlana. Her bed was right next to mine and we would always end up talking at night. We’d get caught and the grown ups would make us stand still at the end of our beds as punishment, making us even more restless for “misbehaving.”

It wasn’t all bad. The snowy days were my favorite. In Russia, you don’t stay inside if it snows you go out and take advantage of it. That is exactly what the other children and I did.

I never thought that I would get adopted; my mom would call every few months and promise to visit and come get me. I believed her, but after years went by I started to get the picture. She was never going to come.

In an orphanage, if you are not an infant, the possibility of you actually getting adopted is very slim. The older kids like myself were always around longer if not until the age of 16 when we were kicked out.

The Craft family from America came to visit me and later I was told by one of the ladies at the orphanage that I was being adopted. I was eight, and I was more than okay with it because I was sure any place was better than there.

It was a long flight to the US on my own. I remember my American grandma crying–I’m assuming tears of joy–when I finally walked into my new room. I didn’t even know people lived in that kind of luxury to have their own room. I was full of excitement. But I woke up the next morning, opened my curtains and it was raining outside. I started to cry. I had imagined America would always be a sunny paradise. I thought: Oh no! This family has brought me somewhere even worse than where I was before!

My adoptive family knew basically no Russian. Between us we had a few simple words like: hi, hungry, and sleep. They would try to get me to understand. I would just point at things a lot. There would be no conversation, yet a lot of laughter and fun.

The inability I had to communicate with my new family made it impossible for me to understand what was going on. When my father first took me to Grace N. Rogers elementary school, after about 3 months of living in the US, I thought I was being brought back into an orphanage . Once again I started to cry. The same thing happened when I met my babysitter. Were they leaving me with this person? But my father always came back to get me.

I have seen the best of both American and Russian cultures, the people, the food, the differences and the similarities.

I hold a warm place in my heart for my home country despite the circumstances that caused me to leave, but now everyday I encounter endless negativity about Russians. The Russians rigged the election, the Russians are bad, they are coming for us, people say. It’s like the Cold War never ended with all the suspicion and animosity still going on. But just like during the actual Cold War it’s not the actual Russian people but the government that is to blame, and Americans constantly overlook this difference.

The Russian people are suffering under President Vladimir Putin. Putin does not respect or care for them whatsoever. Everything a person says is censored; there is no right to free speech. In the beginning of the month of April there were protests in major cities across Russia which ended up being one of the largest mass demonstrations of their kind. The protests were against the abusive and corrupt government. What was the result?

Many Russians were literally  arrested and carried away during the protests. Russians are being thrown in jail for the slightest offenses or for simply trying to speak up. How is it, I wonder, that Americans, many of whom are also taking to the streets to protest their government, still not making a clear distinction between Russian government and the Russian citizens?

Most people I encounter do not realize I’m Russian-American. I went to East Windsor public schools, I don’t have an accent. I have a Russian name but people don’t seem to notice. They badmouth Russians right in front of me. I try to stay calm despite being offended. I remind myself these people do not know what Russians are going through, they are ignorant, they do not know real suffering. I feel bad for them sometimes, because they may be Americans but they don’t understand the American dream like I do. Hatred for others is not part of the American dream.

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This article is the second in a two part series. To read “Mexican in the Age of Drumpf” click here

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Mexican in the Age of Trump – The Human Cost of Nationalism and Fear – Part I http://www.mcccvoice.org/mexican/ Sat, 29 Apr 2017 13:40:09 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5613

My home town is Chihuahua, Mexico just four hours away from the border between Juarez and El Paso, Texas. I will never forget walking over the bridge under the Rio Bravo. I was crossing legally with my visa and all my papers in order. It had taken months to fill out the forms, gather the documents, secure the visas and permits I needed to enter legally, but looking over the bridge and seeing all the border patrols officers with their dogs staring at me and the others who were crossing I felt as if I was guilty of something.

I was coming to the United States through an agency to work taking care of a family’s young children, but by the time I had to show my visa to the border patrol officer I was sweating and scared. Why was I so scared if everything was in order? Maybe it was because of the message I had heard for so long, that I was Mexican and we are coming to steal jobs.

Once the officer let me into the country, I felt relieved, calm at last. I had made it to el otro lado del charco, the other side of the river. Now everything was going to be great, I thought. I was here to accomplish the American dream, my American-Mexican dream.

Now I wake up each morning wondering if the president is going to ban people like me from entering to the USA soon. Or maybe he’ll cancel all the student visas. And when is that construction of the wall is going to start, a wall that’s going to be exactly where I crossed the border to come to New Jersey 4 years ago?

I came here by the big door, with a visa that allowed me to travel back and forth to my beautiful Chihuahua and see my family, but after one year I had to change my status from J-1 (au pair visa) to F-1 (student visa), and this change had a huge cost for me. I am not talking about the $600 dollars that I had to pay between fees, forms and permissions, I am talking about not being able to see my family for two years. It was the toughest time of my life. At only 19 years old I now felt trapped in this country.

The feeling of being legal in a place but not able to travel to your country is indescribable. At night I would pray that nothing would happen to my family because I couldn’t travel home if something bad happened.

After two years I was so homesick that I started to look for plane tickets to get back home. Things were changing, the US presidential elections were coming up, and things didn’t look good for Mexicans if Drumpf was to win. So I took the risk and went home and reapplied for a student visa. I told myself if they denied my visa it would be destiny, a sign that America wasn’t for me.

But I got approved for my visa for four more years, came back and restarted my education. By then, however, I had to watch the daily political campaign of Donald Drumpf spewing hate towards Mexicans and saying over and over: “we are going to build a wall, and Mexico is going to pay for it!”

I remember laughing as I saw all the memes about him, and thinking this man is never going to be the US president, then ay caramba! Donald J. Drumpf is the president of the US. I couldn’t believe it. So wait, no more avocados? No more Cinco de Mayo?

My mom kept calling, “Mjia y ahora qué va pasar? Vas a poder visitarnos otra vez?” she asked.Sweetie, now what’s going to happen? Will you be able to visit us again?” Hearing my mom asking me these questions was breaking my heart but I knew now more than ever I had to be strong. I had to show my family back home, and all the people here, that being a Mexican immigrant in this country shouldn’t be a barrier to success, that all those insults from Drumpf about Mexicans are not true, that instead we are part of the culture of this country. All our hard work needs to be recognized.

Now I am a full-time student with a 3.6 GPA. I’m a cross country runner for a team that won the Regionals for the first time and went to the 2016 Nationals. I’m Editor-in-Chief of The College VOICE, an award-winning newspaper of excellence. But even so, I don’t know if my effort is enough to prove to people that what President Drumpf said is not true.

He told the world: “When Mexico sends it people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems,and they’re bringing those problems with them. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

My roles at Mercer County Community College have helped me pursue my dream and demonstrate that Mexican immigrants aren’t coming to destroy the country, sell drugs or rape people. We are here because we want a better future that for different reasons we couldn’t find in our country.

I hope one day I can be in front of a border patrol officer or any police officer and not feel that old sick fear. I hope the picture of those dogs at the border staring at me disappears. I hope to stop feeling guilty, guilty for being Mexican.

I choose to be an immigrant in the US and I will never regret my decision. I am proud and thankful for being Latina and Mexicana. I will not stop until I achieve my Mexican-American dream, or until my visa gets cancelled, even if things get harder in this country, this country that has become mi nueva casa, my new home. I will keep doing my best.

This article is the first in a two part series. To read “Russian American in the Age of Drumpf” click here

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If the college prioritizes maintenance and cleanliness students will follow suit http://www.mcccvoice.org/clean/ Sat, 29 Apr 2017 00:19:17 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5602

Mercer has a beautiful campus that reflects our vibrant community of students and staff, which is why it frustrates me to see some parts of our campus poorly maintained.

By contrast, when walking the Princeton campus I immediately think how well maintained it is. When my friends and I spend an afternoon around the campus, we have yet to come across a single water bottle on the ground or Princeton property being defaced. Questions flicker through my head on how that is. It may be because Princeton has the money to maintain such a clean campus. It may be because of the respect students have for the campus. More important than that, I am left with the question as to why Mercer is not maintained as well.

The Mercer quad is a beautiful place to eat lunch by with friends. However, going to the bathrooms and reading “Big Dick Bandits” or “Jesus Loves You” in size 36 font on the stall doors is offensive and show some people on this campus do not respect it. That’s got to change.

In an interview with Natalia Lobo, a sophomore studying to be a Physical Therapy Assistant, she said that, “They treat [the place] like they don’t live there…it’s a joke for everyone.”

Natalia Lobo went on to explain how often times she comes into bathrooms to find towels and even hair on the floors of our bathrooms. Natalia said, “Students don’t cooperate that much…I guess some (students) have more concern about trying to keep everything clean.”

However, a dirty bathroom is surprisingly just the beginning of the problem. Some bathrooms themselves seem to call for a higher degree of respect. Some Mercer bathrooms are very rundown whereas the ones in MS and AD buildings are newly renovated and in better shape.

For example, if one goes into the men’s bathroom on the third floor of the BS building, you’ll find that one of the stalls does not have a lock. At the same time, one of the urinals is broken and covered. The bathrooms in the Administration building, by contrast, are pristine.

This is where I go back to my story about Princeton. It is possible that because the campus is so maintained, students and pedestrians are more willing to throw away their garbage in a proper garbage can and not the ground.

Joel Cartagena is a Sophomore studying Liberal Arts at Mercer. He said, “It’s kind of immature. It kind of sends a message as if…it makes the campus not seem as professional. Makes it seem like playhouse or a club.”

Just imagine a group of potential students coming to Mercer for a college tour. They are taken to the ES Building entrance and they look to their side and see a billion cigarette butts sitting on the ground. That sends two messages: students here have no regard for the no smoking policy on campus and are also tossing their cigarette butts on the ground when there’s a trash can right by the entrance. Maybe some of those potential future students will decide they do not want to come to this campus because of that.

Bryon Marshall who is the head of Security and Maintenance at Mercer stated, “I think people have a general low self esteem or disrespect for themselves or property of others.”

When it comes to how students and faculty can help keep the campus better maintained he said, “To maintain a better campus work through peer association…if you see something, let us know right away…”

Maintaining a better campus can be as simple as speaking up and reporting something like a broken lock on a stall or when you see something inappropriate written on the stalls. I know for myself I will certainly be reporting these kind of things to maintenance (whose employees, I’m sure, could stand a pay raise).

Another thing that can go a long way is not allowing people to just destroy our campus. Bryon Marshall went on to say “if you see somebody litter…just say ‘come on, man. You know, this is our campus.’”

For the sake of seeing an improvement on our campus we should be maintaining it more. Seeing graffiti on bathroom doors each day should no longer be an issue. Water fountains that have dirt and rust on them should be cleaned up. There shouldn’t be buckets in the hallways gathering water whenever it rains.

When the effort is made by the college to look after these things better, students will likely follow in the example. Both employees and students will take campus maintenance seriously and by working together we may be able to see a campus as well maintained as Princeton.

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The VOICE supports Press For Ethics Week http://www.mcccvoice.org/the-voice-supports-press-for-ethics-week/ Tue, 25 Apr 2017 22:29:27 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5556

The student journalists on the staff of The College VOICE, are just that, students learning the craft of journalism, how to conduct effective interviews, find facts and corroborate them, uncover stories that are newsworthy and meaningful to our readership and do so in a way that adheres to the standards of professional journalists.

To this end, The VOICE makes every effort to follow the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). A copy of the code is placed prominently in the VOICE newsroom and the standards and expectations are listed in our policy manual which is available in print form and online. VOICE advisers work to help us think through ethical dilemmas and how they should be handled.

To some extent, as was pointed out by the current president of the SPJ, Lynn Walsh, in a panel entitled “Facts, Alternative Facts, and Journalism in the Age of Drumpf,” at the College Media Association conference that 9 VOICE staffers attended this past March, there are inherent conflicts within the code itself. A journalist’s first obligation is to the truth, for example, but a journalist should also do no harm. Sometimes telling the truth may cause it’s own form of harm to some one. Nevertheless, ethical journalists strive toward a common goal and aim always to balance ethical obligations in the manner that best fulfills the task of the fourth estate to protect the public and be the watchdogs of institutions.

The VOICE has been repeatedly acknowledged for its work by the SPJ through the annual Mark of Excellence awards, seen by many as the “Pulitzer Prize of college journalism” and have been again this year for photography by graduating VOICE staffer, Savannah Diezpak. Further, current VOICE advisers have set a goal to establish a student chapter of the SPJ on our campus within the next two years, something only a handful of other top community college papers in the nation have done. The goal of having such a chapter would be to increase student reporters to exposure to the world of professional journalism by connecting them with active reporters and other resources through the SPJ. Such a chapter would also, of course, reinforce The VOICE’s commitment to ethical journalistic practices.

In the meantime, The VOICE offers this statement in support for the SPJ’s Ethics Week. We strive toward the SPJ’s goals of truth, compassion, independence and transparency. #pressforethics

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LGBT students need to come out and show their pride at MCCC http://www.mcccvoice.org/lgbt-students-need-to-come-out-and-show-their-pride-at-mccc/ Fri, 24 Mar 2017 15:01:35 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5509

My name is Zayvion Thompson and I am proud openly bisexual male.I am currently a second year Communications and New Media major. I also come from a Jamaican Christian family that heavily frowns upon anything that’s not straight or seen as “normal.” My path to self acceptance hasn’t been easy. But I’m writing this to encourage other students to take that path, or to voice their presence more loudly on campus.

My worry is that since the 2013 Supreme Court rulings that allowed gays to get married and serve opening in the military, a lot of young people have gotten the impression that gay issues are over and done with, nothing more to worry about. In fact, there are plenty of kids like me from conservative families who are terrified to come out. Rates for suicide for LGBT teens is still far higher than for straight youth. We get bullied at far higher rates. Cassidy Wagner another Mercer student had this to say. “To be honest I’m scared of Trump’s supporters increasing the frequency of physical attacks on both the LGBT community and women because of what they see Trump doing and promoting. We went back half a century, man.”

Furthermore, with the new administration in the White House, the LGBT community faces the terror of seeing these hard fought rights disappear again in the blink of an eye. President Trump has stated numerous times that he is for “traditional marriage” and appointed Mike Pence as his Vice President. Pence thinks gays should go to “conversion therapy” a brutal practice that basically tries to un-gay people. He is openly hateful. Mike Pence is a specter that is keeping gays up at night.

When asked what fears people in the LGBT community at Mercer had in light of Trump’s election student Melissa Civale stated “I personally don’t have any fears. I have hopes that we will overcome any bathroom bills or marriage laws. I have hope that our community can generate a big enough image to the government that we are people too.” Cassidy Wagner another MCCC student had this to say. “To be honest I’m scared of Trump’s supporters increasing the frequency of physical attacks on both the LGBT community and women because of what they see Trump doing and promoting. We went back half a century, man.”

Fortunately pride flows through the LGBT community, and we are banding together to fight the new administration, but we are already losing ground. Just a few weeks ago we lost a major battle for trans kids to be able to use the bathrooms that correspond to their gender while at school. The Supreme Court wouldn’t even bother with the case, just left it at the lower courts who had ruled against these much needed rights.

If you think these so-called “bathroom bills” are just a small issue facing a tiny handful of people, think again. They represent gender inequality and sexual discrimination issues across the spectrum. When you see the courts making these kinds of rulings, be assured that it’s just the start. Keep your eyes on other kinds of gender discrimination, like laws for equal pay, coverage for contraception on the new healthcare bill. These issues are all connected.

How does all this tie to us students at Mercer? Well, we’re going to have to get our LGBT group motivated, too. There are organizations like HiTOPS in Princeton that have been offering a safe space, teaching queer youth about sexual health, and helping teens know they are not alone.

As great as HiTOPS is they cannot do it all on their own, so what are we at MCCC doing to help?

In the past, Mercer has had quite an active LGBT club on campus. Back in 2012, the LGBT club held a “kiss in” event where students–queers and allies alike–convened in the lower Student Center and kissed in same sex pairs as part of a demonstration to raise awareness of LGBT issues.

That event–which only lasted about 10 minutes, and was part of similar events at college campuses nationwide–sparked considerable controversy on the Mercer campus. But in the end, it served its purpose. We made it very obvious that we are both here and queer.

More recently, in 2015, there was a transgender panel with several outside speakers that was a success despite vandalism of the flyers that were posted to advertise it.

Today, our campus LGBT group is fairly quiet, but I believe we can get back to our former glory. I get how terrifying coming out can be and I am not asking anyone to come out if it is not safe for them to do so, but our community really needs youth voices.

Trump and Pence are out to silence us but for the sake of our community and for the sake of myself I am not going to let him. And neither should you.

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Friends can be found even on commuter community college campus, if you look http://www.mcccvoice.org/friends-can-be-found-even-on-commuter-community-college-campus-if-you-look/ Fri, 24 Mar 2017 11:03:02 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5500

A common complaint heard on campus is that people come to class and then immediately leave for home or to work. That’s true. This is a commuter school and not everyone has time for socializing after classes. But there is community here if you bother to look for it.

“It really has to do with getting involved,” says Mani Kissling, adding, “Nobody is going to know who you are if you just kind of hide in the shadows of class.”

Before transferring to Monmouth University Kissling was on the soccer, basketball, and cross country teams at Mercer. “Doing athletics really, really helped in getting involved in the community” Kissling says.

In a survey of 37 students on the West Windsor campus, just over a third said they do not feel they are a part of a community, but most of these students also said they go to their classes and leave campus immediately afterward. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed said they were not in any organization or club at Mercer, which is the simplest and most practical way to get involved.

Being a part of The VOICE has given us the ability to meet, work, and socialize with fellow students many of whom we have never had a class with. It also give us the chance to interview faculty and administrators for articles, and build a relationship with them. Before The VOICE we had only ever seen President Wang in pictures; now we have built a relationship and she knows us when we come to interview her for articles. Sure there may be days where we have to stay late to work on the paper, but that keeps us away from the go to class and go home trap.

We had a former VOICE staffer, Daniela Rocha, come in to talk to us at the start of the semester and she talked about her career in international journalism that started at Mercer, but also mentioned the lifetime friendships she made on the paper. A glance at The VOICE’s social media shows staffers stay in touch long after they graduate; they help each other find apartments in new cities, they meet up when they’re back home.

For some students, it’s not clubs that provide community, but their program of study. Joe Suarez, a Freshman studying Music at Mercer says, “A typical day for me is nothing super interesting. I go to classes, maybe have to wait a half an hour or so for my next class, and after all of them I leave.” But he notes that he does talk to people in his department.

Sympathetic to the community college students unique situation is Literature Professor Dr. Jack Tabor. Having been a community college student once himself, Dr. Tabor says he can relate to the cycle of school, work, home: “inherently [with]in the community college it is hard [to find community] unless you are involved with a student group.”

He tries to address this at Mercer by having an active dynamic in the classroom to help students collaborate. When students don’t speak or are disconnected from him or one another, he has them “turn their wagons” to create small groups. “What the group work tells me” said Dr. Tabor, “is that there is a very strong sense of community.” Dr. Tabor has found this strategy to be successful.

Brian Morton-Salley, a sophmore studying Information Technology and Informatics at Rutgers University told The VOICE “I feel that a community college can have a sense of community itself because you’re still having classes, you’re still gonna have to find people to study with.”

In an interview with Mercer’s President Dr. Jianping Wang, she said, “students [here] have [a] much closer relationship with their faculties than [those at] a four year institution, because we are smaller classes…Our faculties are very student centered…They are always with you. So that gives the students a sense that they care, that the faculty cares about them…That should give them a sense of community.”

Dr. Wang did note, however, “there are some students who come here full time and work full time. So they come, take classes, and leave. I would say that those students probably don’t feel a close sense of community with fellow students,”

Another suggestion for the students looking for a community would be to visit your success coaches. They can provide a list of available clubs and advise you on any other questions. Success coaches are assigned to every freshman on campus, so that’s a place to start (Hint: don’t look on the Ellucian Go app, try your MyMercer portal to find yours :).

Hidden in faint white italics on the top of Mercer’s home page is the college’s mission, stating, “a vital college, engaged with its community, and dedicated above all else student success.” Mercer’s faculty and students are engaged in creating and maintaining a sense of community. It’s there, you just have to keep an eye out for it.

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Ellucian NO! App falls short of promise http://www.mcccvoice.org/ellucian-no/ http://www.mcccvoice.org/ellucian-no/#comments Fri, 24 Mar 2017 10:06:42 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5503

Last fall, Mercer launched Ellucian Go as their all-purpose college navigation app. According to the Ellucian website, the app is used by “almost 1,400 institutions in 40 countries.” I can only assume those schools have a more streamlined version.

The app itself is generic and has everything I don’t want in a college-related app. Not to mention it has the world’s hardest puzzle: trying to log into the actual thing.

I can only compare trying to log into this app to trying to solve a Rubik’s cube with your toes while you’re blindfolded. There is a message in the login screen that says, “Please contact your institution’s IT staff for assistance with login.”

What that really means is that you will most likely have to call them, because of how difficult it is to log in on your own (and Ellucian is not based on our campus, so who knows what call center you are actually getting). The app provides no instruction on how you can find your username and password to actually use it.

After toying with it for a few hours, I finally realized you simply use your MyMercer information to login. That sounds simple enough but when you have very little instruction on how to login, it can be frustrating if you want to actually use the app. Lots of students will inevitably just give up and delete the app before they even had the opportunity to use.

Brandon Murphy, a second year student majoring in Game Design and Digital Media Arts says: “I had a lot of problems logging in at certain times, and sometimes the schedule was a little messed up compared to what I actually had to take.”

Joe Suarez, a current freshman studying Music has had a similar experience. He told The VOICE, “I use it a lot for my schedule to time what I can do between classes. The only thing is the app is buggy sometimes. On the first day of the second semester it got my schedule wrong and said my first 10 am was now at 2 pm and so on, and I had a mini heart attack.”

Murphy gets to the heart of the matter: “It could be useful but at its current state it’s not that well developed.”

The staff directory icon could be of use, but the app’s directory does not provide the office phone extensions for professors. This information can be easily found on Mercer’s website, so why isn’t it on the app?

In a recent interview, Mercer’s President Jianping Wang talked to The VOICE about Mercer’s objective with rolling out Ellucian Go. She said, “All of you have smartphones, and you don’t want to have to access your course schedules, Blackboards, portals and everything where you have to be sitting down at a desktop to access it. You like to have everything at the palm, that you can touch… So we want to catch up with you. So that’s our goal. To provide mobile access for the convenience of our students.”

I commend Mercer for trying to make our lives easier, but in its current form, this app doesn’t do it.

Here’s another example: the only grades you can see on the app are the ones you received from previous semesters. However, if you want to see what your current semester grades are, you need to go to Blackboard to find that.

One bright light in the darkness is the map, which, as long as you’re using the hybrid or satellite option, can provide a bird’s-eye view of the campus. I imagine this can be useful for new students arriving to campus.

The good news is, it sounds like other schools have better versions. So hopefully Mercer will keep improving the mediocre app until it is worth the phone memory space it takes up.

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A Subway or Wawa on campus would be a cash cow: we need real food http://www.mcccvoice.org/a-subway-or-wawa-on-campus-would-be-a-cash-cow-we-need-real-food/ Fri, 24 Feb 2017 18:30:44 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5238

We’ve had enough. We’re hungry. We can’t eat any more Mercer cheeseburgers that have patties as thin as the Olsen twins. Even the salad bar has lettuce that is stale and old. When Lessings took over the college cafeteria a couple of years ago, the prices went up and food quality–which had never been that great to begin with–went down.

Here’s what we want: a decent franchise eatery: a Wawa, a Dunkin Donuts, a Subway or even a Starbucks. Brookdale Community College has a Starbucks. Brookdale! Rider got a Subway that is open until 2am, 7 days a week.

The VOICE polled 32 students and all but one said they would like a food franchise open on the West Windsor campus. The other guy didn’t look like he understood the question. We didn’t poll the faculty, but asking around, we gather the faculty are just as hungry for a hoagie as we are.

At this point, most Mercer students either bring a bag lunch or drop by the Wawa that’s a five minute drive from campus. The prices are much fairer there, and there are more and better food options than we have on campus. But this isn’t a reasonable solution. Driving around is wasteful of gas.

Bottom line: Mercer needs a proper food court.

For the college, any food franchise would generate multiple revenue streams. First there is the  rent for the space, and second there are likely to be more students willing to stay on campus later who can help fill up those night classes, because they don’t have to worry about starving to death. Same thing with early morning students, many of whom are coming off of night shifts. They just need a decent coffee. Provide better food and enrollment may go up, or at least more classes might run fuller.

The second advantage is to the health of the students. Although Dunkin may not be that healthy, Wawa, Subway and even Starbucks have healthy, fresh options. If our health improves, we are less likely to miss class. That’s no joke. We have no health center on campus, and our student body includes a lot of low income kids who are at high risk for health problems like diabetes. Sick students miss class and drop out of school. Students who have a nice turkey and ham hoagie in the afternoon are nourishing their bodies and their brains.

In terms of the financial details, the Subway website says: “The total investment can range from $114,800 to $258,300 for traditional locations and $84,300 to $200,100 for non-traditional locations.  This includes your franchise fee, construction and equipment costs as well as operating capital.”

Though this may seem like a hefty price, we know for a fact that Mercer spent $160,000 on those gaudy neon signs at the two entrances to the campus. The VOICE reported on it in 2012. Any student will tell you they’d rather have a normal school sign and a Subway sandwich shop than a blinky sign and those chicken McNasties.

Besides, the college is planning to bring a whole bunch more international students to Mercer, so let’s give them a real taste of America. After all, it’s what they came for.

Bringing in a decent food franchise will definitely pay off in the long run when students are forming mile-long lines in the caf to get at that tasty goodness. Admins take note, those long lines may snake as far as the registration offices. You want to keep us near those, right?

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We, the people, are being priced out of education http://www.mcccvoice.org/increasing-price-tag-higher-ed-breaking-backs/ Mon, 31 Oct 2016 21:20:08 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5151

Carl Fedorko, Editor in Chief

I was arguing with the God of the Mercer Bookstore about why I didn’t need a receipt to exchange the book I had for the book I needed.

“They’re identically priced. I just want to use the dollars I already paid you for this book,” I thumped the history text like it was a bible, “for the book I need. You can have this book back. I don’t even want it.”

The Bookstore God said no. I said “You’re basically stealing my hundred bucks. You know you won’t buy this book back at the end of the semester.”

She rolled her eyes and said “The book you want, it’s not even in stock. Won’t be here for a week.”

Before I said anything further that I wouldn’t have said in front of my grandma, I had a realization: since the college enrolled more students than they had books available, my castigating the Mercer God’s anti-logic in the middle of the bookstore would prove a fruitless endeavor. And I had already endured enough financial stress that day.

Earlier, the Bursar had wrongly accused me of owing money from the previous semester. “A scholarship covered my tuition last semester,” I pleaded from prayer position.

They didn’t care. They did not relent until I made good and coughed up the proverbial skrilla.

Driving home I realized that I can’t be the only one thinking this college thing feels like robbery. Education means bettering myself but real self-improvement shouldn’t feel like getting ripped off.

It’s nearly a cliche: “Going to college will open the proper doors for you to be successful.” The idea is drilled into your head–literally sold to students, educators and institutions across the country, but at what cost?

American colleges and universities sell young people the idea of success at unsustainably high prices. You deserve this education you can’t afford. Student loan debt is considered “good debt,” a concept that could take root only in America. I argue there is no such thing as a “good debt” but students wait in line to buy into the higher education system and it often fast-tracks them to financial ruin.

A 2013 study by Center for American Progress found the cost of a four-year public education has increased 250 percent in the last 30 years. Meanwhile, the average US household earned merely 13.5 percent more money in 2012 than it did in 1983, according to the US Census Bureau.

If American wages increased at the same rate colleges raised tuition the average household would earn $112,342 a year, more than double the current average household income. (All monetary figures in the above paragraphs are adjusted for inflation to 2012 rates based on the Consumer Price Index as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Simply put: We, The People, are being priced-out of higher education.

The system is predicated on the idea that students are buying their way into gainful employment upon graduation but we all know that’s not true anymore. If the guarantee of a job–the one benefit that separated the educated from the uneducated–is not as sound as it used to be, why is the cost of college increasing while the value of a degree seems to be decreasing?

An April 2012 report called The Great Cost Shift: How Higher Education Cuts Undermine the Future Middle Class by DĒMOS shows how state divestment in public higher-education in the last 20 years has shifted costs to students and their families.

“Institutions have balanced the funding equation by charging students more,” the report found. It also says the real price of two-year colleges climbed by 71 percent since 1990. Your education costs you more when your state values its’ colleges and universities less.

Problems arise when you subject the educational system to capitalistic principles. Small colleges like Mercer cannot remain solvent without state funding. What this means is that a stable, predictable enrollment is the largest, most reliable revenue source for small, state-funded colleges. This fact gives colleges zero incentive to graduate or transfer students out because the more time a student spends at a school, the the more stable and predictable that schools enrollment is.

Since the school cannot guarantee that the number of new students who enroll will equal the number lost to transfer or graduation, the most financially secure strategy is bring in as many students as possible while retaining as many as they can.

The system is not designed for students to graduate on time. It’s worse for students at “two-year colleges” who often balance education with employment and can’t manage 12 credits per semester, the federal definition of full-time student.

In “The Rise of the Five-Year Four-Year Degree,” Columbia University Professor Judith Scott-Clayton asks  “How long does it take to earn a four-year degree?” The answer? At least five years.

“It’s certainly better to complete college in five or six years than never complete at all. But stretching out a four-year degree means extra years of tuition costs, and additional years of labor market earnings and experience forgone,” she says.

Clayton cites overcrowding and a lack of incentive for institutions to get students out faster as major factors that increase time-to-degree completion. She also points out that students on financial aid pass their college bills on to taxpayers.

Sadly, however, educational debt has become the new Poll Tax.

Debt is not an investment in your future but it’s most people’s only option. This gives the illusion of choice and is nothing more than a scam.

Lenders don’t care if you find a job when you graduate. They’re looking for you to pay what you owe. A lender’s only interest is interest. Massive lending institutions like Sallie Mae have been accused of making a purposeful effort to increase student loan debt through the practice of forbearance.

Here’s an example of forbearance: say you owe $50,000 to Sallie Mae. If they push back the day your loan comes due by a year it sounds like you’re getting a break. What’s really happening is the interest is running for that whole year and it’s running on the full amount of the loan. It may benefit you in the short term but the lender takes more of your money in the long term.

Sallie Mae earned $937 million in 2012. “More than 600,000 federal student loan borrowers who entered repayment in 2010 defaulted on their loans by 2012,” according to Ticas.org.

Many college graduates earn paltry entry-level salaries that limit participation in the US consumer culture.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released Student Loan Affordability: Analysis of Public Input on Impact and Solutions in May 2013. The study addresses the potential impact of the student debt burden, finding “young consumers have been unable to participate more fully in the housing marketplace; the segment of young consumers…interested in becoming first-time homebuyers…face new barriers to homeownership.”

The future does not look promising as long as the term debt is a requirement for a stable future,.

Student loan debt is on the brink of financially crippling the purchasing power of Millennials.

However, no single entity is to blame, though.

The entire economic mindset that values goods based on scarcity and buying things one cannot afford is unsustainable. The American financial system ensures the people who most benefit from the status quo are the least inclined to change it.

Education has unimpeachable benefits but if you have to borrow an exorbitant amount of money to get it, it’s easy to think the only way to win this game is to not play it and you might be right.

I’m arrogant enough to think I have the solutions to all the problems I see or even worse to try and tell you what to do with your life. I know that being informed and choosing inaction does nothing to improve the plight of those afflicted because charity will never be as effective as reform. Our generation has the duty to either change an unfair system or admit that we found apathy more attractive than involvement.

I know which side I want to be on. You decide for yourself.

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Community college worked for Tom Hanks and me; it can for you, too http://www.mcccvoice.org/community-college-worked-for-tom-hanks-and-me-it-can-for-you-too/ Fri, 24 Apr 2015 13:57:28 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=4999

Editor Emerita - Mariana BrazWhat do James Dean, Eddie Murphy, Tom Hanks, you and I have all have in common? We have all attended community colleges.

Community colleges can be more than just a cheap way into a degree.

I am originally from Brazil and English is my second language. I already had finished my Bachelor of Arts in Journalism in Brazil when I decided to come to the USA and go to Mercer.

One of the reasons I chose a community college was to improve my English.

I attended Mercer full-time for 3 years and earned two Associate degrees, graduating in 2013. While I was here I made sure to take advantage of everything I needed to prepare myself  with some skills that would help to find a job and continue on my education path.

As a Mercer student I took Honors classes and I was part of the TV club and PTK. But it was at The College VOICE, the student newspaper, that I gained the most.

I started as a cub reporter, and was soon voted by my peers to be the News Editor. The following semester I was voted to be Managing Editor, and finally Editor-in-Chief.

It was a lot of responsibility balancing school, full-time work and the deadlines and demands of the newspaper, but I got to travel to media conferences in Chicago and New York with other staffers, I won national awards for my writing and top of that I made new friends.

At Mercer I improved my writing and verbal skills, creative thinking, project management, and leadership. That got me into graduate school, and it also increased my competitiveness when searching for jobs.

In case you are thinking I am just some kind of Wonder Woman, I can assure you I am not. But I asked a few of my fellow VOICE staffers, who came from local high schools and saw themselves as kind of unmotivated or directionless when they got to Mercer, how their time here changed them.

Kyle Kondor, a former VOICE editor who graduated last spring, says: “Upon entering Mercer I was immature and naive to the fact that a good education is mandatory today. As a student aspiring to get my associate’s degree in Communication: New Media, I was exposed to several different career paths.”

He also said that working for The College VOICE, where he became Sports Editor after his consistent improvement with writing, helped him in his decision to pursue Journalism.

“I’m now a double major at Indiana University, and I can confidently say that I desperately needed Mercer in order to prepare for everything that I’m currently doing.”

Kondor is now working for the student media at Indiana University of Pennsylvania as a producer on the student-operated sports TV show and is responsible for content and assigning jobs to all 40 staff members on each production night. He has produced and edited documentaries, is an analyst on the sports radio show, and the color analyst during the women’s basketball games. In his free time he writes for the town paper, The Indiana Gazette.

Like Kondor, Zac Santanello, a former VOICE Photography Editor started as a Business Administration major and then switched to Communication: New Media.

“Over the course of my time at Mercer I began to focus my talents towards and take photography more seriously as my professional aspiration,” said Santanello.

Santanello won several national journalism awards for his photography, always competing against students from four-year schools. He won First Place for breaking news photography and was a finalist for Feature photography in the Society of Professional Journalist’s Mark of Excellence Awards 2013-2014.

Today, Santanello is attending the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. He says,  “I can safely say that without Mercer, and Photography Coordinator Michael Dalton specifically, my career trajectory would likely be very different.”

I have talked to students who feel ashamed to tell people they go to a community college, but they shouldn’t be.

According to the American Association of Community Colleges more than 6 million students in the US are enrolled at a community college.

Community college is good for all kinds of students, including students who aren’t sure of their direction yet, who were bored in high school or didn’t do well and need to catch up, who don’t have much money, or ones like me who came to improve their English.

Community college works if you work for it.

Start with the clubs. There is one for practically every interest. If you like adrenaline, making friends, and the gratification of seeing your work in print, The College VOICE is a good start. Jobs and transfer colleges are looking for students with strong communications skills and The VOICE will force you to improve your writing quickly.

Another way to boost your chance of getting the most out of Mercer is to take advantage of professors’ office hours. Find your advisor or just find professors you like and can talk to. When the time comes it will be a lot easier to get registered for the right classes or get rec letters when you are ready to transfer.

Even if you are one of those students who just come to campus and then leave, try to take advantage of what’s here, much of which is free.

Mariana Braz is now a graduate student in the Corporate Communication program at Baruch College- CUNY in NY. She has gotten a variety of internships in her field and interviewed at big companies such as Michael Kors and GlaxoSmithKline.

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Community college bullshit was perfect prep for Ivy League http://www.mcccvoice.org/community-college-bullshit-was-perfect-prep-for-ivy-league/ Fri, 24 Apr 2015 12:02:52 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5003

Editor Emerita Sara GatlingMercer grad and former VOICE Editor-in-Chief Sara Gatling transferred to Columbia University where she graduated cum laude in 2013 with majors in English and Comparative Literature and Hispanic Studies. Gat has been working steadily since graduation, and is currently paying her dues as she enters the competitive field of staging and prop design. 

It was an amazing experience to be one of the few Mercer students to transfer to an Ivy League college and I was honored to attend Columbia University. But my time spent at Mercer was crucial to my success, in large part because of the incredible quantity of bureaucratic bullshit I had to overcome to get out of there. All those irritations and daily struggles you face with the bursar, the registrar, your advisor — cherish those moments because dealing with Mercer’s wacky antics is just the training you need if you hope to survive in the “real world.” The reality is, the real world looks a lot like Mercer.

Here is a short list of the things that irked me at Mercer, but ended up paying off once I left.

MCCC LIBRARY RESEARCH CLASSES

I research like a boss thanks to whomever decided to make those inane library skills classes a part of every single intro class I took at Mercer. It’s not that the class isn’t useful, but once is enough and I think I sat through at least six of them. You know the one I’m talking about: you take a field trip to the library to have an attention starved librarian tell you that TMZ is not a scholarly journal and that research databases contain the secrets of the universe.

The benefit of taking six of the same skills class was that the monotone oration of the librarian worked as a type of hypnosis, so you better believe the whole diatribe became firmly engrained in my memory. I could probably recite the full length class myself if you wanted me to. By the time I got to Columbia I researched effing circles arounds those kids while blindfolded with my hands tied behind my back. Take enough 101 classes and you’ll leave Mercer the Earl of EBSCO, the Princess of ProQuest, the Jackanape of Jstor.

THE BROKEN ADVISING SYSTEM

One encounter with a Mercer academic adviser (along with personal accounts from students wasting time and money on courses they didn’t want or need to take due to ill advisement) and I was convinced I could do a better job on my own. I developed a whole system involving color coding and hoards of tabs in an Excel spreadsheet. This level of organization can’t be taught by professors folks, only through experience.

I hear since I graduated things have only gotten steadily worse with advising. Aparently several systems have been implemented to “fix” the problem, from giving students life “coaches” (how very Oprah of you, Mercer) to making all full-time faculty members advisers, regardless of the fact that a lot of the toothless old fart professors couldn’t tell you what you need to take to graduate in any major unless you want the list from 1973.

THE ALL AROUND Bureaucrazy 101

Little known fact: DMV employees, TSA agents and the staff that works in Mercer administrative offices are all cut from the same cloth. If you are hope to graduate, sooner or later you will just learn how to interact with cranky people. Sure you can resist, but the logistics of your college career are in your hands.

Piss off a flunky on the second floor of SC and they can drag out any process they want for months, passing the buck, giving you more paper work, etc.

I know several students who missed their Mercer graduation because they had no idea that in December they needed to submit an application to graduate if they expected to walk in their leprechaun gowns in May.

The application needed to be checked over by the All Powerful Marge Archer (or someone else, but Marge was the best). Oh, sure, it’s possible you got a blast email at some point telling you you needed to do it –but as the snow sparkled down on your back porch Christmas lights, you probably weren’t paying rapt attention to that tiny paragraph shoehorned into one of the thirty dozen emails you got each week. Just getting off that infernal email list after I graduated took me almost a year.

If it hadn’t been for all Mercer’s bullcrap, however, I’m sure I wouldn’t have been trained to constantly ask people at Columbia about graduation procedures, financial aid deadlines, secret handshakes that only people raised with a silver spoon in their mouths already know when they get there.

Mercer forced me to learn to look out for my own best interests and to ask for help where I could find. I can spot someone knowledgable and helpful at 50 paces.

AND ANOTHER THING

Here’s what you don’t realize; after you leave Mercer, you will never have the same kind of access to your professors again.

At four year schools professors are required to always be working on research and publications; professors are under pressure to “publish or perish.” Their whole career literally hinges on how many esoteric articles they can squeeze out.

The effect of this is that a main priority for university professors is not usually their students. Some of them clearly don’t even like students, except for their three or four hand-picked brown-nosing graduate assistant protégées (there were of course exceptions, whom I feel deserve due credit).

A large portion of my courses at Columbia involved the professor coming into class and lecturing…and that was it. No more fun Jeopardy exam review classes and Dum-Dums lollipops, guys.

  You could try to talk to a Columbia professor after class, but they’d usually be in a rush. Any inquiries and most, if not all, grading was handled by Teaching Assistants, graduate students that help out as part of their indenture to the university. Bless their hearts, there’s nothing wrong with TAs as people, but they’re not really getting paid and they have no experience teaching. TAs are not professors.

By contrast, at Mercer I spent tons of time talking to professors. There are exceptional professors at Mercer with whom I generally felt welcome to drop by and talk about my ideas or get help brainstorming for papers.

When I had panic attacks, my Mercer professors cared. They answered my emails. They helped me get into Honors classes and introduced me to the idea of going to a University other than Rider, TCNJ and Rutgers (it can be done!). They were the real deal, and if you care about your education, get your ass to office hours, you only hurt yourself if you don’t.

I made the most of my time at Mercer, and I worked hard. I joined clubs, became Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper, put myself out there. But I wasn’t some prodigy, someone so different from you that you can say “Oh, she just got to Columbia because she was a genius to begin with.” No. I came to Mercer because I had no money, got kicked out of one high school and almost didn’t graduate from the second for skipping too much gym. I did what the rest of you do, I worked. I worked in a dry cleaners, babysat, lived with my needy family. I lived in a near constant state of exhaustion and was always close to a nervous collapse.

There is no substitute for that kind of experience if you want to succeed in college and in life.

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