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.

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.

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.

How to Organize a Global Protest

The pace of change is picking up.

Last week I wrote about the power of youth and social media in shaping protest and instigating change. It seems today as though the move to protest is gathering steam. In Brazil, Chile, and Bulgaria, long-running protests have continued (and in some instances escalated); and in Egypt these past weeks, mass protests eventually led to a military imposition and the removal of Mohamed Morsi from power.

In all cases, different events and different grievances led to the protests. The Brazilian demonstrations began as a protest against increased bus fares, in Bulgaria it was government corruption, and in Chile demands for improved education. What they all have in common is that the protests expand and become general calls to action, a grocery list of changes and demands for a better world.

Trouble is, nobody quite knows how to satiate those generalized demands. Occupy Wall Street died with a whimper at some point in the last year (do you remember exactly when?) because an undefined call for change was never followed up with an actual procedure for it. And in 2011, protestors in Egypt began the Arab Spring and called for the removal of Hosni Mubarak from power—two years later, an eerie scene of déjà-vu plays out on the streets of Cairo.

Protest

It’s easier than ever to organize mass rallies. I mean, the protests in Chile are being largely coordinated by teenagers! Thank Facebook and more than that, Twitter, the great faceless equalizer. We can be anybody we want to be in 140 characters or less. Wanna motivate the masses? Pick a hashtag, any hashtag. And simultaneously a wave of discontentment seems to be sweeping the world. We were promised great things but they have yet to arrive. Mid-twenties crises are tough.

This isn’t me condemning or praising these ongoing global protests—just musing on a continuing theme. What I do know, though, is that change is the one constant we can all cling to. And given the choice, I’ll take the better half of change: the positive one.

-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.

Racism Today: The Voting Rights Act and Paula Deen

In the midst of several landmark cases, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. Prior to the decision, Section 4 of the Act established “preclearance” methods to determine which states needed federal approval to change voting laws. Intended to protect minority voting rights, Section 4 largely affected southern states with a history of discriminatory practices.

Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote for the majority, acknowledged that voting discrimination still exists, a hard-to-dispute reality given the numerous claims of voter suppression during the 2012 elections. However, the more conservative side of the bench found that the current formula under Section 4 is an outdated measure, applicable in 1965 but not today.

VotingRightsAct

In other news, Paula Deen, one of America’s most recognizable celebrity chefs, has been battling accusations of discrimination and use of racial slurs in her restaurants. It’s unclear whether this latest scandal will crumble Paula Deen’s deep-fried empire, but her statements are reminiscent of the South’s complicated racial history.

There is no doubt that the fight against racism and discrimination has come a long way since the 1960s. As a result of her comments, Paula Deen has been harshly judged in the court of public opinion, and sponsors are fleeing. But the Paula Deen debacle also highlights the continuing existence of racist attitudes today.

The Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act oversimplifies a complex problem. No, we are not where we were in 1965, but it would be naïve to think anti-discriminatory safeguards have outrun their course.

The ruling does allow for the possibility that Congress will instate a new formula for the Voting Rights Act, an updated preclearance equation. But with the current state of a deadlocked Congress, people are far from optimistic that such a measure will pass. In the meantime minority voting blocks are left especially vulnerable.

Historically, the path towards racial equality has been an uphill climb, and we have been steadily pushing upwards. It will be significantly more difficult to continue on without the buffers that prevent us from sliding back.

-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.

World Refugee Day

“The needs of these people are overwhelming; their anguish is unbearable”

Thursday, June 20, was World Refugee Day, a day to raise awareness for the increasing number of refugees worldwide. As David pointed out before, it’s a strange day to try and “celebrate.” Unlike what we have grown accustomed to with holidays, there are no presents, no turkey, no days off, no Google doodle. Instead, the observation of World Refugee Day is meant to draw attention to the world’s millions of refugees, a situation that is only getting worse.

The number of refugees is the highest it’s been since 1994. Included in the newly released UNHCR global trends report for 2012 are some startling numbers:

  • 3,000: average number of people, per day, who became refugees
  • 28,800,000: number of people displaced by armed conflict, generalized violence, human rights violations
  • 45,200,000: number of people worldwide considered as forcibly displaced

refugee

On World Refugee Day, the focus on Syria was prominent, as the country’s civil war has contributed significantly to the rise in new refugees. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres made Syria the central issue in his statement. Coverage of Syria most often revolves around the movements of rebel and government forces, the consequences of the conflict on the world stage.

In contrast, World Refugee Day aims to, if only for the span of twenty-four hours, move away from the debates on political implications. It, instead, recognizes the people displaced from their homes, persecuted, or forced to seek asylum in foreign countries. We, thus, “celebrate” World Refugee Day by remembering the people most affected by these global conflicts.

-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.

A Homeless Bill of Rights: Necessary or Not?

Last year, Rhode Island lawmakers introduced a Homeless Bill of Rights, the first of its kind. Although homeless individuals receive some protection under federal law, such as the right to emergency medical care, there are currently no state laws which prohibit discrimination against the homeless.

With Connecticut legislature following suit, the idea behind the bill appears to have taken hold. However, opponents of the bill claim that the rights mentioned are already upheld in other parts of the law. Is it really necessary to reestablish similar rights specifically pertaining to the homeless?

Contrary to common belief, homelessness is not usually a permanent condition. Many people experience homelessness for a certain period of time as a result of the increase in unemployment or decline in public assistance. However, these people often report discrimination and harassment on the direct basis of their homelessness.

Living in Baltimore, I often heard disparaging remarks about “bums on the street” and their “laziness” that keeps them from jobs. One homeless man was, quite un-affectionately, deemed “crazy Mike” by students. This is not an uncommon phenomenon. Homeless people are often reduced to stereotypes defined by their homelessness.

In reality, once homeless, it is increasingly difficult to secure a job and other basic needs. Imagine applying for positions without the benefit of a computer or attending an interview without the appropriate attire.

Regardless of whether or not it can be effectively enforced, the Homeless Bill of Rights does well to draw attention to the prejudice that often accompanies being homeless. The bill reminds us that these people are still part of our community and should accordingly be afforded equal treatment under protection of the law.

-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.

An Era of Lazy Activism?

Graduation season is upon us! It’s a bittersweet time of year, one filled with goodbyes, excitement, and FedEx boxes. It’s a time to celebrate academic accomplishments, and, accordingly, the ritualistic spectacle of a graduation ceremony is unparalleled.

This year, my own graduation took place a few days following the disastrous Oklahoma tornado, and as we prepared to walk in our cap and gowns, the tragedy was undoubtedly present in all our thoughts. Many of my classmates expressed sympathy and support on social media for the tragedy and its victims – generally accepted as genuine sentiments. But some reactions included an insinuation that the time taken to make a status or tweet would have been better spent donating money or being otherwise proactive in helping.

I couldn’t help but think they had a point. There seems to be no practical reason to write an essay-length status expressing condolences or to post photos of the damage. These often come across as cases of overboard sentimentality, devoid of purpose. To me, it was particularly salient amidst the pomp and circumstance of graduation. I often wondered why we insist on wearing odd-looking caps for the sake of tradition. And why wear black robes in the Baltimore summer? Trust me, those things do not breathe. How much sweating can one graduating class do before we can forgo symbolism? Have we lost our sense of functionality to display?

A similar issue broke out surrounding the recent Prop 8/DOMA Supreme Court hearings, during which a tide of red equal signs appeared on Facebook. It’s easy to mock these gestures as the worst of lazy internet activism (Surely the Supreme Court is counting the number of equal signs on Facebook before making their decision!). But these pictures were not for the sake of persuading the Court or even to incite any specific action. Instead, they were a show of support and a sign of solidarity to those who would be most affected by the Court’s decision.

Massive Tornado Causes Large Swath Of Destruction In Suburban Moore, Oklahoma

Likewise, it may be true that sharing a touching photo of Oklahoma rescue efforts does nothing to contribute to its aid; there are plenty of ways to help directly. But at the same time, let’s not be so quick to scoff at these gestures. Just as the uniformity of our graduation robes (read: heat conductors) signifies our camaraderie as a class and university, people can appreciate emotional support and well-wishes. And it seems to be human nature to try to offer some solace in the face of tragedy, even if it is through a Facebook status or through posted pictures. Action is certainly not to be undervalued, especially if we could all be Carrie Underwood. But one does not have to take away from the other. Practicality is not everything. And expressions, words, symbols of unity are certainly not nothing.

 

-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.