Reasons to Support Belle Knox (Even if You Don’t Agree With Her)

For weeks, the media has been in an uproar over Belle Knox, the freshman at Duke University who works as a porn star to pay for tuition.

Well, maybe uproar is the wrong word. The media has been downright civil compared to the mudslinging from everyone else—people who have done everything from revealing her real name to threatening to throw garbage on her.

You don’t have to agree with Knox’s choices to side with her, though. We all have our demons, and Knox must bear the consequences of her actions like anyone else. Regardless of how others feel about her decision to work in porn, Knox’s approach to the scandal is still admirable for many reasons:

  • She exposed Duke’s rape culture, a phenomenon in which privileged students think they can get anything they want—including nonconsensual sex. Rape pervades college campuses around the country, so kudos to Knox for discussing how victims, particularly women, are subject to scrutiny and objectification from those who are in no position to judge.
  • She stood up for herself, and shows no signs of stopping. Knox wrote a response to the Duke Chronicle’s first article about her, interviewed with the Huffington Post (among others—she has an upcoming media tour as well), and has already posted multiple articles for xoJane. You have to respect Knox’s determination to stand by her beliefs—and she articulates them well for a college freshman.
  • She’s starting a conversation. Knox raises questions about how our culture should approach sexuality, and has brought further attention to the rising cost of college education. If a student feels driven to work in porn because she can’t afford tuition, what does the choice say about the value of a college degree?

Knox claims to feel empowered working as a porn star, but those feelings don’t apply to everyone in the industry. Too often, sex is used as a pawn to assign or remove power; consider the porn stars who feel powerless at work, or the plight of sex slaves who never had the freedom to choose and suffer constant degradation. People who judge Knox for her choices use their own sexual morality as a way to establish power over her—no different than people in these adult industries who corrupt human sexuality for personal gains.

Marginalizing people does not change their actions, though; it just reinforces Knox’s view that entitlement places stigmas on outsiders, even though everyone is broken in some way. It reduces righteousness to cruelty.

So let’s treat Knox like this: instead of writing murder and rape threats from behind the safety of our computer screens, let’s see her as a real person—a person with dignity who makes choices and has to live with them like the rest of us.

Do you feel like Knox has been treated unfairly? Leave us a comment.

-Amanda

Amanda Suazo, editor, joined BSB in 2010 as the writing guru for the organization’s website, official documents, and documentary before focusing a bit on philanthropy. Now a graduate of Gonzaga University, she is currently an MBA student and freelance writer. Between Zumba classes and downing espresso, you might catch her attempting to be a vegetarian. Find her on Twitter.

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Guinness and the Koch Brothers: How Money Buys Influence

It’s hard to think of St. Patrick’s Day without thinking about Guinness—which made things awkward for organizers of New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade this year.

Guinness decided not to join the parade because it barred gay and lesbian groups from participating. Days before, Heineken and Sam Adams brewer Boston Beer Co withdrew their sponsorships of parades in New York and Boston for similar reasons.

It’s a powerful statement coming from businesses whose products are typically associated with the holiday—especially when their financial backing allows the parades to happen in the first place. These events reinforce how having monetary power can garner attention and call others to action.

But those with wealth and high visibility have different ideas about what deserves attention. Guinness used its brand and money to reinforce its political stance at a parade; while the move is admirable, it only influences public opinion in the short run. People with more financial power, however, have a much farther reach—and how they spend their money can affect everyone.

Take David and Charles Koch, owners of the conglomerate Koch Industries: they believe in low taxes, minimal industry regulation, and reduced social services. While they have donated toward causes such as cancer research and the arts, their political involvement has leaders and citizens concerned.

KochBrothers

Figures such as Senator Harry Reid have rallied against the brothers for investing so much money in political causes they support. He has some substantial examples to work with:

  • Koch Industries is widely regarded as one of the largest air polluters in the country, yet the brothers convinced Congress members to sign a pledge saying they wouldn’t back climate change legislation.
  • Americans for Prosperity, a political action committee that heavily relies on the brothers for funding, rolled out a series of ads against the Affordable Care Act—which didn’t really stick to factual information.
  • They invested $490 million in the 2012 election cycle, including fundraising for the Republican candidacy.

Regardless of whether anyone sides with the Koch brothers’ or Guinness’s political philosophies, you can’t help but wonder if wealthy people and businesses should feel responsible for supporting a greater good. It’s one matter to influence public opinion by withholding money or not participating (as Guinness did)—but if you provide financial backing to political figures and legislature behind the scenes, how do we know who works for our best interests?

Sure, it’s a stretch to compare a brewery to two wealthy brothers. But both have money, so both have power—it’s just a matter of quantity.

Should Guinness or the Koch brothers practice business differently? Leave us a comment!

-Amanda

Amanda Suazo, editor, joined BSB in 2010 as the writing guru for the organization’s website, official documents, and documentary before focusing a bit on philanthropy. Now a graduate of Gonzaga University, she is currently an MBA student and freelance writer. Between Zumba classes and downing espresso, you might catch her attempting to be a vegetarian. Find her on Twitter.

Why is Hazing Still a Problem?

A fraternity and sorority at the University of Connecticut reminded us on Wednesday that hazing rituals are alive and well.

UConn suspended the two organizations, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Kappa Kappa Gamma, after a sorority member reported having to “sizzle like bacon” and consume dangerous amounts of alcohol at Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s off-campus house. The national offices for both houses released statements explaining that they do not condone this behavior from members—even though this branch of Sigma Alpha Epsilon has been placed on probation multiple times for similar antics.

It’s nothing new, unfortunately—stories about hazing have been reported for at least a century. Rituals like body shaming, strength tests, overconsumption of alcohol or other substances, verbal harassment, and beatings still make headlines. Measuring one’s worth for an organization by how much worth they can remove from themselves can lead pledges into short-term injuries and long-lasting psychological distress.

SigmaAlphaEpsilon

Aside from horrific hazing rituals, the desire to join a fraternity or sorority makes sense. New students on campus want to feel like they belong—and would be willing to do almost anything to have a tight group of friends right away. Not everyone in the Greek system enforces hazing with pledges, most of whom are likely just looking for a social outlet.

But imposing harmful conditions for membership into the group poses problems. Outrageous behavior that physically or mentally damages people does not reflect well on students primed to enter the adult world… and nobody would dare pull these stunts in a professional setting after college.

So why is it still a problem?

There are a few theories: schools can’t regulate their Greek systems consistently, bystander behavior (or a need for acceptance, or downright fear) prevents pledges from speaking up, competition between fraternities and sororities raises the stakes for hazing, family histories of passing through the Greek system pressure younger generations to tolerate it, or misinformed students view it as a rite of passage and perpetuate the rituals. Take your pick.

Thankfully, some fraternities and sororities (Sigma Alpha Epsilon included) have opted to completely eliminate pledging from their initiation processes—though as far as fraternities are concerned, only 75 nationwide have made similar bans. Organizations such as Hazing Prevention have provided additional programs to spread awareness such as webinars and National Hazing Prevention Week.

It’s a step in the right direction, at least—hopefully one that will prevent further harm to students that only seek acceptance.

What’s your experience with hazing, and how should fraternities, sororities, and colleges approach it? Leave us a comment!

-Amanda

 

Amanda Suazo, editor, joined BSB in 2010 as the writing guru for the organization’s website, official documents, and documentary before focusing a bit on philanthropy. Now a graduate of Gonzaga University, she is currently an MBA student and freelance writer. Between Zumba classes and downing espresso, you might catch her attempting to be a vegetarian. Find her on Twitter.

Coke’s Super Bowl Commercial: Why All the Hype Over Speaking English?

The internet has exploded with commentary about Coke’s 2014 Super Bowl ad in the last few days. The minute-long spot depicts people from various ethnic backgrounds participating in relatively “American” activities—road trips, movie outings, roller skating—and drinking Coke, of course.

Those who wander the internet have probably seen the trending #boycottcoke hashtag (and the ensuing debate on Twitter), as well as the discomfort among conservatives about what the ad communicates. Did we mention yet that it plays “America the Beautiful” in different languages? Apparently that gets people hyped up.

CokeAd

People claim that the ad is un-American because its vocalists do not sing entirely in English. But I’m a little confused as to why singing another language is a problem in the United States. The thing is:

  • The United States has no official language at the federal level. As this government site mentions, some (but not all) states have designated their own official languages.
  • Did you also know that people don’t have to speak English to vote? As long as they’re American citizens, their input matters. And speaking of citizenship…
  • In some circumstances, people don’t need to know English to take a citizenship test.

In general, the United States government has established a number of outlets that allow non-English speakers to participate in what our country has to offer. Not knowing English in America is undoubtedly a disadvantage anyway, for practical and cultural reasons: people who never learn it don’t get an equal chance to immerse themselves in the freedoms it offers or overcome constant discrimination.

America was built on the backs of non-English speaking immigrants—the kinds of immigrants who still face judgment for the cultural norms that differentiate them and make them unique. The fact that the United States provides lingual accommodations—and the fact that a single Coke ad isn’t entirely in English—captures more truth about our country’s origins and claims more respect for disadvantaged minorities.

What do you think about Coke’s Super Bowl ad? Leave us a comment below!

-Amanda

 

Amanda Suazo, editor, joined BSB in 2010 as the writing guru for the organization’s website, official documents, and documentary before focusing a bit on philanthropy. Now a graduate of Gonzaga University, she is currently an MBA student and freelance writer. Between Zumba classes and downing espresso, you might catch her attempting to be a vegetarian. Find her on Twitter.

Why is Nelson Mandela so Great?

Okay, I’ll be honest: when I heard that Nelson Mandela had passed away last week, two things initially came to mind: the America’s Next Top Model episode where the finalists visited his prison cell, and that one rugby movie with Morgan Freeman. I’m only human.

My thought process reaffirms that pop culture hasn’t acknowledged Mandela’s accomplishments much—yet everyone still knows his name. If you watch ANTM more than the news, here are a few noteworthy (and chronological) reasons* that explain why he became a figure for political and social justice:

  • During his activist years, he started the law firm Mandela & Tambo. The firm provided affordable legal services to unrepresented blacks in South Africa.
  • After organizing a national workers’ strike, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage.
  • While imprisoned, he earned a Bachelor of Law degree through the University of London.
  • He gained such notoriety as an anti-apartheid figure that multiple countries campaigned for his release.
  • After many failed negotiations, he finally left prison when Frederik Willem de Klerk was elected president of South Africa. (Even cooler is his forgiving attitude about the whole imprisonment thing.)
  • In 1991, he was elected president of the African National Congress (a formerly illegal political party that Mandela joined in 1943).

Nelson Mandela

  • In 1993, he was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with F.W. de Klerk for their efforts to end apartheid.
  • After the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, he was elected president of South Africa and published his first book, Long Walk to Freedom (which he mostly wrote in prison.)
  • His support for South Africa’s national rugby team as a catalyst for racial reconciliation inspired the film Invictus.
  • After retiring from politics, he formed “The Elders,” a group of world leaders that works for political and charitable causes around the world.
  • He also founded three foundations: the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, and the Mandela Rhodes Foundation. Each promotes a different aspect of his work.

If you feel particularly inspired by this man’s work, consider donating to one of his organizations here. However, many would argue that Mandela’s real legacy lies in teaching us that ordinary people can become extraordinary by shamelessly acting on their beliefs. It’s a lesson we can all identify with—even if you don’t watch Top Model.

*You can find many of these facts in this Biography account of Mandela’s life.

-Amanda

 

Amanda Suazo, editor, joined BSB in 2010 as the writing guru for the organization’s website, official documents, and documentary before focusing a bit on philanthropy. Now a graduate of Gonzaga University, she is currently an MBA student and freelance writer. Between Zumba classes and downing espresso, you might catch her attempting to be a vegetarian. Find her on Twitter.

Why You Should Love Your Job Right Now (… if you weren’t furloughed)

I got a strange phone call a few weeks ago.

It was the supervisor at one of my two jobs. She said that due to a few unforeseen circumstances, I needed to stay home until things got straightened out.

I was not kept home because of mistakes on my part, at least—it was some kind of system error. But since this is one of two jobs I work, that phone call meant that I would have nothing to do for half the week.

This went on for two weeks. So if you’re the kind of person that hates their job and doesn’t care about money, you’re probably thinking That sounds awesome! I wish I could sit around and do nothing!

I don’t hate my job—and I do care a little about money—but the novelty of not having to go to work still hit me. Too bad that only lasted for a day, and then I went and got a nasty cold.

I’m the kind of person that feels the need to contribute something in order to feel meaningful in society. Heck, aren’t we all that kind of person? So sitting around feeling ill and not working made me feel meaningless. I wasn’t doing something or making something, and all I could do is read books and binge on Netflix. Not a terrible way to spend your days, but still.

JohnBoehner

In light of the US government shutdown, I can’t help but think about the hundreds of thousands of federal employees that just got told they weren’t allowed to come to work either. I am not one of them, but I imagine those that were furloughed—including people like clinical researchers, FDA inspectors, NASA engineers, and many more—are being told that their work is not meaningful enough to sustain.

There are clearly many opinions about how well the United States Congress deals with funding government programs. Beyond any criticism, I’m thinking about the kids that be going hungry because their mothers’ WIC checks didn’t come, or the ones that may not even go to school because their case workers had to stay home. Or the families that depend on housing vouchers to keep roofs over their heads. Or just the realization that hundreds of thousands of people will simply not have paychecks as many agencies are operating on emergency procedures.

It’s beyond books and Netflix now—it’s a ripple effect that will reach all of us if these people cannot return to work. If you still do have a job at the moment, be grateful for it… even if it’s not your favorite thing to do every day.

What do you think about the government shutdown? Share your thoughts below.

-Amanda

 

Amanda Suazo, editor, joined BSB in 2010 as the writing guru for the organization’s website, official documents, and documentary before focusing a bit on philanthropy. Now a graduate of Gonzaga University, she is currently an MBA student and freelance writer. Between Zumba classes and downing espresso, you might catch her attempting to be a vegetarian. Find her on Twitter.

Reflections on the New Miss America

Full disclosure: I have never watched the full Miss America pageant. I actually didn’t even know it was still televised until this year. It’s been a few weeks now since Nina Davuluri made headlines as the first woman of Indian descent to be crowned Miss America. Honestly, I was a little torn between my urge to cheer her on as a fellow Asian-American and my urge to scoff at the existence of the pageant altogether.

Miss America has long been one of critics’ favorite examples of the ongoing objectification of women in American culture. I, myself, have never really thought of it as much more than a parade of bathing suits. Seriously, the only televised portion of the pageant that requires the women to speak lasts all of 6 minutes.

But winner Nina Davuluri has turned much of the discussion surrounding the pageant to a more positive note. Actually, not since Sandra Bullock as Miss Congeniality (in a thinly-veiled imitation, the Miss United States pageant) has a person helped the pageant world receive such good publicity. Almost everyone praised the Miss AmNina Davulurierica pageant for its pick of a winner that accurately represented this country’s diversity.

Something else that has been largely overshadowed by her descent is the fact that Nina Davuluri is also an aspiring medical school student. She also hopes to serve as a spokesperson for STEM education. As such, Nina Davuluri seemingly breaks the stereotype that Miss America is selected only on the basis of a pretty face and reminds the public that the Miss America pageant is technically a scholarship program, a fact also conveniently highlighted in Miss Congeniality (seriously, that movie was like a Miss America 101 course).

But since we can’t seem to have nice things, much of the reported controversy following Nina Davuluri’s win also came from the slew of racist comments about her descent. The racism that followed failed to show much beyond maybe the apparent need for more education in geography (c’mon guys, India and Iraq aren’t remotely the same place). Although the negative comments found its way to various corners of social media, the general response were words of encouragement and approval.

Personally, I’m starting to come around a little on Miss America. When I was living in Europe as a kid, my family was pretty consistently the only Asian one in the neighborhood. So when we first settled down in the States, I liked being able to see women who looked like me in movies and on TV. Watching Lucy Liu kick butt in Charlie’s Angels was actually pretty important to me and my feeling of belonging. In that sense, I think Nina Davuluri serves a similar purpose: she is someone who showcases the country’s cultural diversity, appropriately one of the issues she hopes to promote in the upcoming year. I, for one, look forward to Nina Davuluri’s reign as the new Miss America.

Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

Standing Your Ground and Walking Free: On George Zimmerman

It’s been weeks since the jury decision on July 13th that allowed George Zimmerman to walk free. And while protests are dying down, although not completely, the topic still seems to come up frequently. Or maybe that’s just because I work in a coffeehouse with a large morning crowd of lawyers. And they talk and argue about it as I make their morning lattes.

It’s not about race,” claims one of them. To which another replies that it’s hard to imagine a white kid walking through a neighborhood with a pack of Skittles being stalked and labeled a suspicious character. There’s a sub-conscious stereotype in place that many people no longer even see as racist. It’s become so engrained that a stereotype can excuse racism.

"Justice For Trayvon" Rallies Held Across The Country

But with all the focus on race, there’s a second important issue that is being obscured. After the shootings at Sandy Hook in December of last year, gun violence and gun control became central issues. Six months later, the trial surrounding Trayvon Martin’s shooting called them to attention again. And now? We seem to have forgotten about them completely. Those protestors manifesting their displeasure at the Zimmerman verdict are voicing concerns over racial issues, and issues of civil rights thought resolved. But far fewer people are up in arms (no pun intended) over laws like “Stand Your Ground” that allowed the shooting to happen. Take the gun out of his hand, or don’t allow a man who clearly knew the law intimately to shoot a claimed assailant, and then call it self-defense.

I hope I’m wrong, but it does feel like a dangerous precedent is being set. Self-protection is one thing, and certainly valid, but to think that a gun owner has the right to use their weapon and, by claiming to feel threatened, be absolved of any blame is a worrying issue. Provoking someone into attacking you, a fight or flight response in this case, and then responding to that unarmed assailant with a bullet, point blank…

Race or not, there are some things very wrong with this picture.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Rolling Stone Cover Makes Infamy Look Like Celebrity

The August 1 cover of Rolling Stone has all the classic elements the magazine is famous for employing: the iconic lettering, bold black text on a faded background, a brooding young man with tousled hair and a trendy t-shirt. It takes a moment to realize what’s different. The title description makes no mention of newly released albums or interviews with a popular TV cast, only the words “THE BOMBER.”

The man on the cover is no rock star. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger of the two brothers involved in the Boston marathon bombing, is accused of killing three people and wounding hundreds.

Rolling Stone cover pic

Outrage over the cover choice, including a #BoycottRollingStone Twitter trend and an open letter from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has led many retailers to announce that they will not carry the issue on newsstands. However, some are also jumping to Rolling Stone’s defense, calling the image “smart, unnerving journalism.”

Rolling Stone is no stranger to covering issues more serious than the latest True Blood scoop. No one denies that the magazine engages in its share of serious journalism. On the other hand, to the average American, Rolling Stone conjures up more visions of half-naked celebrities than reports on the economy.

Despite the controversy over the cover, the article itself is a fascinating read. Nicknamed “Jahar,” Tsarnaev has a story far from the usual terrorist narrative. He was, by all appearances, a typical American boy born to an immigrant family. This was no “I always knew there was something off about him” scenario.

The cover drives home that point, but it also enters the other extreme. The Tsarnaev photo looks like he waltzed into a studio and had an hour-long photo shoot for the perfect look. Tsarnaev’s photo is styled like those of the many stars who have graced the magazine’s cover. Here, Tsarnaev, too, is famous. He looks like a celebrity. Rolling Stone’s article paints an in-depth portrait of Tsarnaev, a worthy feat of journalism, but its cover only serves to glamorize the so-called “monster.”

What do you think of Rolling Stone’s cover choice? Post a comment so we can start talking.

-Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.