CHRONICLE

Vol. XXV, Issue 3 February 18, 2014

THE VASSAR

Chemical Leak Uncovers Lack of Care in West Virginia
by Hillary Frame

page 9

Mountain Keeper

VASSAR DEBATE

SMOKING As A SYMBOL OF WORKING CLAss IDENTITY 6 OUGHT VAssAR DIvEsT FROM FOssIL FUELs?
16-17

VASSAR & LOCAl PAGE 4-5

AN INTERViEW WiTH BOb WaLTON, VP FOR FiNaNCE aND ADMiNiSTRaTiON

CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

THE VAssAR CHRONIcLE

TABLE OF CONtENtS
Staff Editorial Vassar & Local National & Foreign Affairs Debate & Discourse Humour The Last Page 2 3 8 12 19 20

EDITOR-IN-CHIeF
The Student's Bill of Rights facebook page speaks of a lack of a lack of communication within Vassar’s community. By creating a Bill of Rights, the group hopes to overcome this and other problems on campus.
Ruby Pierce

MANAGING EDITOR
CHRiSTa GUiLD JOSHUa SHERMaN
PUBLISHeR-IN-EXILe Will Serio EDITORS Hannah Matsunaga Marya Pasciuto Gregory Perry Nathan Tauger COpY & STYLe EDITOR Jenna Amlani COpY & STYLe ASSISTANTS Tatiana Esposito von Mueffling Logan Hill Adam Ninyo Charles Perkins Hailey Steichen ILLUSTRATORS Madeleine Morris Advertising Policy: All advertisements will be clearly demarcated as such. Contact chronicle@ vassar.edu for rates. All material is subject to editors’ discretion. Nota bene: The opinions published in The Vassar Chronicle do not necessarily represent those of the editors, except for the Staff Editorial, which is supported by at least 70 percent of the Editorial Board.

ZaCK STRUVER

By the Students, For the Students

TReASUReR

V

Staff Editorial

assar’s administration touts the idea of shared governance; Chris Roellke, the Dean of the College, has spoken extensively on the importance of students having a say in the major ideas and proposals that the College considers. A number of students have started discussions about the creation of a Student’s Bill of Rights, a document which would outline the rights and entitlements of being a student member of the Vassar community. We at The Vassar Chronicle support recent initiatives for the creation of a Student’s Bill of Rights, and believe it is an excellent way to restore shared governance, as well as an opportunity to open discourse between students and administrators. As of this publication, the Student’s Bill of Rights remains a discussion, not a fully formed document or proposal that the Vassar Student Association (VSA) has supported. Two members of the VSA Council are crafting the Bill of Rights, Cushing House President Ruby Pierce ’16 and Raymond House President Ramy Abbady ’16. Pierce and Abbady have hosted two meetings where students were given an opportunity to not only share their thoughts on what a Student’s Bill of Rights should include, but also their own feelings about the relationship of students and the VSA with the administration and faculty. We think that this initiative addresses

major issues about the structure of shared governance at Vassar. At this time, the only document that details any specific rights or privileges of students is the Student Handbook, published by the Dean of the College. As far as we are aware, this document was created solely by that office with no guarantee of input by students as to how these rights and privileges may be amended. This document offers general principles, but fails to recognize, address, or show concern for specific forms of rights violations. The Student’s Bill of Rights may, for example, include a guarantee that professors must release reading lists far before classes begin. The Student’s Bill of Rights ought to be created solely by students, and through a process they deem fit to represent what students should define as privileges, not through a document produced and distributed by the Dean of the College Some may challenge the notion of a Student’s Bill of Rights because they presume that students at a liberal arts college are entitled to nothing. We have two reasons to believe that this is not a legitimate objection. First, there is already a list of expectations and entitlements that the College issues through the Student Handbook, so the College agrees that there are things that students can feel they have a right to on campus. Second, we believe this value is grounded

on the notion of shared governance, not simply on the value of rights themselves and how they are philosophically handed down or produced by some document. The Student Bill of Rights exemplifies shared governance; students would have a check on administrative policy, and administrators would understand the bounds of students’ rights. The VSA has an obligation to pass policies that it sees as helpful to the student body, and we believe that any Bill of Rights will prove productive. This document will not come to fruition without the support of the VSA and students. Even though two members of the VSA Council have sparked discussion on the Bill of Rights, we still urge all members of the VSA Council and student body at large to show interest in this project and actively engage in the discussions about it. Even if students feel we may not claim to any rights, participating in the process shows interest in helping better the student body and offers access to more opportunities and guarantees beyond what our Student Handbook offers. We at The Vassar Chronicle feel this initiative should continue to offer, at best, a new document to support Student accessibility and opportunities and, at worst, offer another avenue for discourse about the notion of shared governance on Vassar’s campus.

OUR EDITORs sTAND BEHIND THEIR PUBLIcATION.

WIN 5¢
FOR EAcH MIsTAKE FOUND IN

THE VASSAR CHRONIcLE
CHRONIcLE@VAssAR.EDU

www.FAcEBOOK.cOM/THEVAssARCHRONIcLE

@VAssARCHRONIcLE

www.vAssARcHRONIcLE.cOM

PAGE 2

CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

VAssAR & LOcAL
Lack of Focus Hinders House Team Spring Training
Marya Pasciuto Editor

O

n Jan. 20, 2014 — two days before the start of classes this semester — all of the House Teams on campus attended a full day of Spring Training. As the sophomore representative of Noyes House, I sat through an eighthour program with other confused and frustrated House Team members. Every step of “spring training” was, at best, seriously flawed, and, at worst, a complete waste of time. The Noyes and Cushing House Teams began their training with a half-hour of “Ice Breakers/Team Activities.” The entire time I wondered why a group of adults should be required to get together in a room, sit in a circle, and tell fun facts about their winter breaks. It occurred to me that I had engaged in a similar activity in kindergarten. We then spent nearly two hours engaging in a “House Reflection.” This discussion was the most productive portion of my day, notwithstanding the absurd requirement that we combine detailed schedules of our last semester on a big, pretty poster. The afternoon saw more reflection and “training” (masqueraded as child’s play) in the form of a “Spring Orientation Primer,” in which House Teams completed a privilege-based

exercise called “power flower.” The activity was intended as a practice run for student fellows in anticipation of Spring Orientation — a measure that I found unnecessary not only for house officers, who were treated as surrogate freshmen, but also for student fellows; the forms we filled out contained simple instructions that did not require additional training. Additionally, as House Teams performed a similar exercise two or three times during training last semester, the “power flower” was redundant and too closely resembled yet another elementary-school project. Another discussion, entitled “How to Have Campus Climate Discussions,” followed our “power flower” activity. I had actually been looking forward to this portion of the training; I would have liked to have some kind of protocol for holding bias incident and campus climate discussions within Noyes, but I continued to be disappointed. We did not, in fact, get any new information from the administration; it felt like the Office of Residential Life was using us for ideas rather than training us for any future campus climate-related house discussions. We then split up — house officers sat through “Programming Revisited” while student fellows engaged in “Spring Orientation Prep.” The programming segment I attended was a

frustrating waste of time, consisting of a comically oversimplified mock eventplanning session and a fruitless Q&A session in which one question was asked (and not concretely answered). The student fellows I asked about their Spring Orientation session seemed as dissatisfied as I had been. According to one of them, “It was the first time [the student fellows] heard anything about what was going on [with Spring Orientation]. A few people were unaware that there were things going on for the freshmen. … I don’t think we got through all of the material and people were really frustrated.” This lack of effective communication continued for student fellows throughout the Spring Orientation period; most never received copies of the orientation schedule, resulting in a sense of confusion permeating the activities they led. Some of this confusion can be chalked up to the fact that Spring Orientation was a new program this year, but a dearth of information and lack of proper training made matters much worse. While the administration assured us that it was committed to improving upon orientation in future years, one student fellow was disappointed in how their role was handled, stating, “I don’t like being a guinea pig.” I have no doubt that the general failure of House Team Spring Training stemmed, at least somewhat, from a lack

of focus and purpose throughout the day. I still find myself wondering what the administrators intended the purpose of the training to be. Was it intended as a time for individual House Teams to reflect on their team dynamic? If so, it was hardly worth making it a full-day mandatory session. Was the focus supposed to be promotion of campus climate discourse? This aim seems more likely, as many of the freshman spring orientation sessions, including those of both guest speakers, were related to social consciousness. If that were the case, however, then House Team training should have included more on the topic than an hour-long talk where administrators essentially declared that the school doesn’t know what to do. I certainly hope that the goal wasn’t to prepare us for spring house programming either, as this meeting was easily the least productive in terms of information given. Perhaps the most concrete purpose of the training that I could surmise is preparation for Spring Orientation, but this is also the area in which the training seemed to fail the most. If pre-semester programming is to be successful, the administration must better stimulate student leaders, preferably via a stronger focus for spring training. Otherwise, more House Teams and first-year students will begin the new year at Vassar feeling as disillusioned as I did.

CHESS PUZZLE
by Max Baumbach '15

With a mandate for private insurance, Awaiting our problems’ recurrence, The banks unabated, Still deregulated, If there’s one thing we have it’s endurance.

by Gregory Perry

White to move.
CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014 PAGE 3

VAssAR & LOcAL
Vassar's VP for Finance Discusses Health of Endowment
OFFIcE HOURS WItH BOB WALtON
Zack Struver Editor-in-Chief

Zack Struver ’15: First, we wanted to talk about your background — how you got into the field you’re in right now and how your job at Vassar is different than your job at the Claremont Consortium? Bob Walton: Well, I grew up in Texas. I went to the University of Texas at Austin. Actually, my first career was in technology — I was a consultant and worked for colleges and universities for about 15 years. This was back in the days when the word “technology” didn’t actually even exist, so it was some time ago. And then, I became CEO of a company — Cambridge — that sold software to colleges and universities. Then, I sold that company and went to Berkeley, California and joined two buddies of mine who did a start-up — in fact, the software in the library here at Vassar is their software. Innovative Interfaces was the name of the company; I was one of the founders of Innovative. So then, I sold my shares to my two partners and decided to leave the industry and do something totally different, so I went into higher education and started working as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at a college in Ohio called the College of Wooster. It was Vassar with no money and fewer students, but a good, liberal arts, residential college. I worked there for eight years, then the Claremont Colleges were interested in somebody to come in and be CEO who had business experience but also had worked in higher education, so that was obviously a good combination for me. I went out there as CEO — it was a great group of schools. Then, at the end of my contract, the board was interested in having me renew my contract, but I missed working for a single college. It was a great organization, but it was very focused on administrative and support services, so I really didn’t have much interaction with students or faculty. I wanted to do that again, so when the Vassar job was brought to my attention, I got lucky enough for the Board [of Trustees] and Cappy [Catherine Bond] Hill to decide that maybe they’d give it a go and see if I could work out here. ZS: Do you think that there’s a specific reason that they brought you in — something in your background that drew them to you? BW: You’d have to ask President Hill about that, but I think that they were looking for someone who had investment experience — we had quite a large amount of investments at Claremont. We had a little over $2,000,000,000 whereas we’re a little below $1,000,000,000 here. Also, I had facilities experience — experience running things, obviously financial experience, and I’ve had a lot of work with unions. ZS: Speaking about facilities and Vassar’s financial health, the new science building was built a lot on bonds and in 2012, Standard and Poor’s Rating Services (S&P) lowered our bond rating. They said that our draws from the endowment were unsustainable; they also mentioned

financial aid in their downgrade of the outlook of our bond status. Do you see the way that we’re drawing from the endowment right now as sustainable? What are your plans to fix the way we’re drawing from the endowment? BW: The whole issue of how to use the endowment strategically to benefit the college was part of my discussions with both President Hill and also with the Board when I was being hired. First of all, the practice of how the endowment was used at the time the bond rating happened is not what we’re doing today. Partly in response to that concern by the rating agencies, the Board and the administration before I got here made the strategic decision to change the way that they use the endowment draws. Historically at

Vassar

Vassar, you had an endowment draw that was very much like other colleges where you do a mathematical calculation, you come up with a percentage, and you draw that amount out which you use for the operating budget. They also have something called a supplemental draw which was primarily used for facilities. If you think about it from a financial standpoint, you have a balance sheet for an organization whether you’re for-profit or not-for-profit — we’re a not-for-profit organization — you have cash and you’ve got other assets. You move things around between those and it doesn’t really change the balance sheet. That was actually a very sensible strategy. It was when the financial downturn happened and we needed to fulfill our commitments to students who were on financial aid that Vassar began to use the supplemental draw for financial aid instead of for facilities. That’s when the change of philosophy first happened and that was what caused concern from the rating agency. Since that time, there has been a decision by the Board that I am working to implement, which is that by 2018 — four years from now — we will no longer be using that supplemental draw.

We’ll be at a flat rate of a 5% draw from the endowment. I’m not terribly concerned about it because we’re on a trajectory to get there; we’re easing off of using the endowment draw the way we have used it. I actually think it was a correct thing to do at the time because if you didn’t do that, you would, in my view, expose a group of students to what would be called an intergenerational inequity. You would have a different Vassar experience from people before you and people after you, and that’s not a good idea. Joshua Sherman ’16: Can you be more specific about the 5%? Is that a 5% on total endowment or on the earnings from the endowment? BW: Most colleges and universities have an endowment draw policy that describes how you calculate that. In the case of Vassar, we use something called gross financial assets, which includes the endowment proper — so we’ve got all these investments that we’ve put the money in — but we also have cash on hand and other things that are financial assets as well. It’s 5% of the value, so not really dividends or interest or payments that are coming from any particular investment. Most organizations have moved away from trying to use the income stream proper that comes from their investments, and the reason they’ve moved away from that is that it tended to, then, encourage you, or force you, to buy things that generated dividends or interest as opposed to say gross stock, like at Microsoft or at Google or Apple Computer, which didn’t pay dividends, in many cases. That meant that you were skewing your investment philosophy, so now, we use something called total return valuation, which means that you don’t really care whether it’s income or whether their stock value has just increased in valuation. You then do a calculation and then extract from the endowment regardless of the source of what that valuation is based on. ZS: Four years down the road when we’ve switched over to this, do you think

“ If you’re really advocating for an issue, you’re much better off being a stockholder and having a voice at the seat of the table than throwing your hands up and getting out of the game altogether.”
that the way we do financial aid and needblind admissions will still be sustainable? BW: Yes. That’s a top priority at Vassar. ZS: I want to talk about divestment. Do you think fossil fuel divestment would hurt the endowment? BW: Yes, it’s hard to imagine how you could avoid 16-18% of the economy and not hurt endowment performance. ZS:  The Vassar Greens have brought up commingled funds as responsible

investments. Do you see green funds as being a good strategy for investment? BW: It could be that some of the green funds are just really good investments. I don’t think you should invest by social categories. It’s not only Vassar that feels this way — almost all colleges and universities that have any sizable investments feel this way. There are some colleges that have followed the divestment, but almost every one of them have no investments, so that’s one of the reasons they can do that. What Vassar needs to do is, not that we’re trying to ignore that point of view — you always want to look at every good possibility — but the real goal here is to generate an income stream for the betterment of the academic program of the college. We should invest the money; this is what the investment committee and the Board has said and this is what pretty much every other college and university has said as well — it needs to be focused on maximizing returns. ZS: Do you see divestment from South Africa as an analogous case to this type of issue? BW: It’s analogous in the sense that the impact of divestment on what happened in South Africa is overblown and not entirely accurate, first of all. I think that if you look at what was driving people’s assessment of what was going on in South Africa — which was murder and some pretty severe genocidal techniques — this is quite a bit different than that. ZS:  So, I guess, Israel will also come up soon because there’s a big Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement beginning on campus. BW: Yeah, I think it’s the next one. I think we’re in for a long string of divestment movements and other kinds of activist causes. So, my belief is that it’s up to investment committee and the Board; my advice to them and to Hill is that we not try and reverse engineer society by the way we do passive investment. Number one, it doesn’t work. Number two, we were given dollars by donors who are really focused on generating returns that benefit students and faculty here; I think we have an obligation to actually honor their intent. The donor intent is a big principle of charitable giving in higher education. I don’t think the donors would be very appreciative that we do things that are less than optimal because we have a secondary goal in mind that they never agreed to support in the first place. It’s also not clear to me that divestment as a technique has been proven to work. When you divest, you’re selling [your shares] to someone else who’s betting that you are wrong [by divesting]. Someone else is buying this security. If you’re really advocating for an issue, you’re much better off being a stockholder and having a voice at the seat of the table than throwing your hands up and getting out of the game altogether. ZS: Has Vassar used its voice in that way with proxy voting? BW: I don’t know because I haven’t been here long enough, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Continued on Page 5

PAGE 4

CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

VAssAR & LOcAL
Walton Describes Fundraising, Sustainable Practices
Continued from Page 4

ZS: You brought up donors and their commitment to seeing our endowment grow. Compared to our peers, how do you see our rate of giving among our peers — a major aspect of funding next to net tuition and fees and the endowment? BW: We’re doing good. We just finished a very strong campaign — the Vassar 150 World Changing Campaign, which was extremely successfully. It demonstrated a strong commitment to the college. A lot of colleges our size and in our peer group have not been so successful. Secondly, the Annual Fund, which is part of every campaign, generates more than $10,000,000 each year; that’s huge. That’s important because it’s not giving to the endowment — that’s every year. That demonstrates a huge amount of support for what’s going on here, including with financial aid. Part of the reason I came here is because of the financial aid policy of Vassar. Vassar has made a very strategic and strong statement in support of students who want to have the best access to education they can regardless of their ability to pay; it’s part of the reason Hill is frequently published in a number of major news outlets — Vassar has taken this on when a number of colleges have not. At Claremont, only two of the colleges have the same policy that Vassar has and neither of those two have been as successful as Vassar has terms of achieving in diversity within the student body. I had to move to New York and live in the cold weather; in spite of that, I decided to come to Vassar. ZS: You wanted to do something good? BW: I have been moderately successful in my life and I do this kind of work because I like to do it; I didn’t have these resources when I was a student, so I understand how important they are. President’s Hill leadership is also key on this issue. She is someone I can stand with and really support. When I hear people say, “Well, what is the future of financial aid here at Vassar?” My answer is that as long as I’m here, it is our number one priority. Is that clear enough? ZS: Very clear. The next issue we want to talk about is sustainability in terms of green energy, getting solar energy, renewables, and the like. We were wondering why Vassar hasn’t taken a stronger position on getting greener energy on campus. BW: I agree with you. We have to pay more attention to this. I won’t say that it was neglected, but it just wasn’t a priority. But even in the short time I’ve been here, we’ve begun to have more serious conversations about what we can do here. I have a personal interest in this, but I also have some experience at Claremont. We did a lot of the things you talk about. When I sold my house to move out here, it wasn’t even on the grid — I paid nothing for electricity because it was all solar. I used almost no water. So I know that’s a place where the whole culture is around being environmentally-sensitive. At Vassar, there is a lot of interest in it, but there hasn’t been a lot of experimentation and investment. I don’t think it’s because of a lack of interest — it’s just an issue of priority. We’ve begun to look at these issues, including a number

of energy proposals. We had to turn down one because the math didn’t work out. Sometimes, these ideas we are given are intriguing, but you have to play the math out. We’re already looking at ways we can do this. We have a proposal before us to put together a solar farm, which I am looking at. You also have to do the unsexy stuff — having better lights and doing other things that help lower your consumption of power. There are a lot of other things that are lowhanging fruit that we need to pay attention to. Part of the reason this hasn’t been done yet is because of the intentionallyneglected part of our financial picture has to do with facilities investment. In the last decade, we’ve invested over $200,000,000 in buildings investments, but this was funded primarily through gifts and debt with bonds. We’ve spent a lot of money to renovate academic buildings, residence

“I just don’t agree with [the Student-Labor Dialogue] that the workers were not being treated well, were fearful.”

halls, and the landscape. But, looking forward, our first priority is financial aid. Our second priority is maintaining a really high-quality faculty and making sure that we are providing good compensation for faculty who are giving up a lot of other financial opportunities to teach in this kind of environment. Our third priority is running a campus that contributes to your academic experience, and the lowest priority of the big things you spend money on is facilities. We have been choking down the amount of money we spend on our operating budget with facilities, which limits the number of things that you can do, unfortunately. And I’m not happy about that. We’re beginning an audit and analysis of our facilities to see how we can do better, but I’m totally open to a number of green initiatives, such as metering individual buildings to see how much power each residence hall consumes. Knowing how much you consume changes behavior, but I’m not saying students are the problem — it’s something we can do in all buildings. We just don’t have a lot of the infrastructure set up to know where we’re acting badly. There’s a lot of things we will begin to do. ZS: Future dorm renovations will account for these meter systems? BW: I think we will have to retrofit every building on campus with basic technology that allows us to understand the amount of energy we are consuming. As we renovate buildings, we need to upgrade them to LEED-level buildings — regardless of which level within LEED — but we also have to just start making this more of a priority. ZS: The Student-Labor Dialogue (SLD) involves a lot of union negotiations. Can you speak to some of your discussions with

these groups? BW: There were a number of pamphlets that were put out [last semester]; I had two meetings with three of the members of SLD. One of the interesting things I came to learn is that this is a self-appointed group of students. It doesn’t represent anyone but themselves. I think that these are well-intentioned people who are focused on workers’ rights — I’m not a big fan of this word, but let’s use it for the purpose of this conversation — who, in their view, are being treated badly. I just disagree with that. I think Vassar has been a little bit of a frump since the financial challenges of a few years ago with hiring freezes and other things. It is true that we have to be careful financially to accomplish the goals we set out, but it doesn’t mean that we have to become a despondent, uncreative environment. Businesses do this all the time, though we’re not a business and I don’t want it to sound like I’m trying to impose a business practice here. But, I think there has been, in my judgement, a little bit of a lack of telling the story right and spending more time with staff to understand their concerns. We held a staff forum back in December. It was a very open, candid conversation — I don’t think any of the staff felt like it was a snow job or anything like that. I did a 25-minute Q&A at the very end to answer their questions. I have been working with the staff personally — seeing where they work, meeting with the unions, having breakfast with the leadership. Part of what we got to do here at Vassar — not that I think anyone was treated all that badly — is open up communication and listen as well as talk. President Hill and I have started a series of 50 meetings; there will be three per week and there have been three to date. We are having small group meetings with 12-15 staff for an hour to listen to them and talk to them about their perspective — what they think works here and what they think doesn’t work. We’re going to keep doing this for the next year until we meet with every staff member. JS: Have you had any conversations so far with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) representatives not from the College? What is their perception of this issue on campus? BW: When I first got here, I met with both of the union representatives. They want as much as they can get for the union; their goal is to benefit the members of the union and not Vassar — I’m not criticizing that or saying that these two things are mutually exclusive. This is what advocacy is. In fact, this ties back to the SLD. No disrespect to them, especially since they have spent a lot of their own time on this, but I just don’t agree with them that the workers were not being treated well, were fearful, and all of the other descriptions of what they felt the workers experienced here at Vassar. That, in my view, is not true. These employees are very smart people — they are represented by a professional union. They hire lawyers to come in to negotiate a contract. In my experience with more than a dozen organizations, these people are better represented and have more legal

advocacy than any other group I’ve ever negotiated with; it’s factually incorrect to say they are at any disadvantage. This is not any different than any other kind of union-management negotiation. You position everything as bad as you can make it so that when you go to negotiate, you can argue from a position of a need — management is supposed to respond to that. I don’t think that’s a very healthy way to negotiate and I don’t plan to do it that way. We are not going in with a lowball offer, but a fair offer to begin with. The unions have been here 40 years. They’ll be here another 40. They’re a big part of the Vassar community. We need to partner and not argue about the little details but focus on the big issues. I am confident that this won’t be a really drama-filled process. I have no problem with students being passionate about this, but I do think that sometimes, unions try to use students’ voices as leverage to try and advantage the arguments they would like represented in a contract. Even so, I don’t think this will be a big point of conflict. This is my eighth position in senior management — what really matters to me is going out and working with the staff. They have some real issues that are fair. So, let’s work on those and fix those; the contract-negotiation process is a bit of a drama, but in the end, we have to all go back to work. JS: How is Vassar considering its next tuition and fee increases? The previous VP for Finance and Administration, Betsy Eismeier, mentioned in her last letter that the goal of the college was to keep it at, I believe, a 3-3.5% increase. I was wondering if Vassar was still planning to continue raising tuition on that scale? BW: We try to stay where our peers are — try to maintain or slightly improve. What really matters is the sticker price and the price people really pay. At Vassar, it’s a really wide range. Some are very fortunate and they pay. As someone who has kids who fall in that category — I pay and I have no problem with it. That’s the way the system is. We then have people who do not have that ability to pay, but part of the reason we’re able to provide financial aid for them is because we do have some who will pay the full cost of attending Vassar. What’s also important is that, even if you’re paying the undiscounted price, you’re not paying the cost of attending Vassar, which is paid for by the endowment and benefits every student. Sometimes, the public media will talk about the high cost of education, but if you look at what students pay out-of-pocket to attend Vassar, it’s not very different from what they’d pay at many other institutions, including state schools or those that are locally-supported. So the answer is, yes, we will continue to see the cost of Vassar’s sticker price increase. The specific increase is up to the Board of Trustees, but I highly doubt there will be a great increase, unlike previous years. Joshua Sherman ‘16, Treasurer for The Chronicle, Nathan Tauger ‘14, a member of the Editorial Board, and Christa Guild ‘16, the Managing Editor, also contributed reporting.

CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

PAGE 5

VAssAR & LOcAL
Classed Usage of Drugs, Cigarettes Overlooked on Campus
Matty Thompson-Aue Contributor

I

n 2015, Vassar will implement a controversial campus-wide ban on smoking. Because the discourse surrounding cigarettes is so vivaciously centered around the medical hazards of tobacco, little has been done to push the class dynamics and beauty politics of smoking to the forefront of popular dialogue. The college has received a lot of good press in recent years about its various initiatives to increase socioeconomic diversity among the student body; consequently, it may be tempting to dismiss the all-too-evident class issues that continue to affect campus culture. Several articles in both major news outlets and elite college publications have called attention to the fact that, while generous financial aid packages and other forms of institutional aid improve educational access — and thus upward social mobility — for less wealthy students, cultural obstacles persist in creating an environment of silent alienation. This is as true for Vassar as it is for any other top-tier school. It is well-documented that smoking is overwhelmingly concentrated in the lower socioeconomic strata, particularly amongst poor and working-class youth. For this population, cigarettes – and perhaps the consumption of drugs more generally – present a more complicated set of questions that extend beyond medical truisms. Cigarettes aren’t just carcinogenic tubes of paper — they symbolize identities.

“ It is well-documented that smoking is overwhelmingly concentrated in the lower socioeconomic strata, particularly amongst poor and working-class youth. For this population, cigarettes ... present a more complicated set of questions that extend beyond medical truisms. Cigarettes aren’t just carcinogenic tubes of paper — they symbolize identities.”
Very seldom is there room for this idea in the context of popular health education. Cigarettes are bad for you, so don’t smoke them. This logic sounds like common sense, but in reality, it actively encourages the stigmatization of people who are not compelled to accommodate the moralizing confines of upper and middle-class bodily ideals. It erases the agency attached to drug use and forces bystanders to attribute

cigarette-smoking to “peer pressure.” (As a brief aside, the concept of peer pressure in and of itself is problematic. It presents youth as at once gullible, naive, and collectively malevolent, while simultaneously absolving the adult universe from responsibility in regards to social pressures. Drinking, sex, and smoking are all activities which adults regularly avail themselves of, but which are intensely discouraged, if not completely outlawed, for younger citizens.) Commercial anti-cigarette advertising often positions itself within the media of the middle class, championing the ideals, institutions, and aspirations of the nuclear family. Physical and emotional stability are emphasized as crucial components of the future, but for people who don’t fall neatly into the template of neuro-typical white suburbia, the murkiness of the future doesn’t invariably take precedence over the immediate predicaments of daily life. Which is to say, cigarettes are capable of providing a much needed – if temporary – relief. Vassar’s treatment of cigarette politics did not, and is not, deviating from the customary logic in any substantive way. Proponents of the policy have chosen to emphasize, consciously or not, the values of the demographic which sustains the college — white, upper-middle-class, and heterosexual — at the cost of policing those of us others who exist here. The opinions of the student body were given seemingly minimal consideration through the process and the voices of on-campus workers were not considered at all, despite the fact that these two groups represent the most significant concentration of working-class individuals who utilize Vassar’s space. This problem of space – how and by whom it’s utilized – is central to any consideration of cigarette-smoking on campus. Current policies already physically partition students into clusters of smokers and non-smokers. With an outright ban in place, this division will become increasingly prevalent. Though the smoking/non-smoking binary doesn’t precisely mirror the lower-class/middleclass division, it would be inane to dismiss the implications of this spatial and bodily policing in respect to the empirical and conceptual correlations between class and smoking. An immediate effect of the ban will be that some students and workers are effectually shunted off campus grounds for participating in a cultural practice to which the college has positioned itself in staunch opposition. This is alienating on a level that very few administrators are likely able to sympathize with and raises red flags about the physical and aesthetic goals of those tasked with marketing the school. In many ways, it is an immense privilege to

Roberto Maiocco

live daily life surrounded by the exquisitely crafted structures and vast expanses of forest that make our campus so visually striking. However, in becoming uncritically enamored with the beauty of the space, we aren’t always cognizant of the ways in which the organization and architecture of Vassar actively reinforce power structures rooted deeply in American history. Some insight into this can be provided through the language that is used to describe the college; “castle” and “mansion” — which are historically fortresses of exploitative potentates — are just a couple of the words that are thrown around casually. “Hogwarts” also gets more than its fair share of airtime; although it exists in a fictional world, I’m not convinced that J. K. Rowling’s unimaginatively whitewashed, heteronormative social universe is a more equitable or less bureaucratic one than reality. That being said, it’s difficult to deny Hogwarts’s widespread representativeness as a place of escape from middle-class vapidity, as well as the similarly enchanting effect the campus can have on new arrivals. Vassar capitalizes on this effect fully — it is impressive to the demographic responsible for funding the school. Still, the underlying assumption that everyone wants to live in a physically-symmetrical, “magical” place is erroneous and simplistic. Universal preferences in regard to space don’t exist — to fail to recognize the socioeconomic and geographic

diversity within the student body is to trivialize “homesickness” as a customary American middle-class rite of passage rather than as a very real and very painful process of estrangement for a multitude of students. For many, Vassar’s makeup is a perpetual reminder of otherness. Despite whatever initiatives President Catharine “Cappy” Bond Hill might pioneer, there are immutable aspects of Vassar that will always be permeated with elitism and cultural exclusivity. Cappy’s administration has been lauded at various times in the media — not without just cause — for being uniquely engaged in creating opportunities for poor and working class youth, but the smoking ban sends a troubling and contradictory message. The relationship between class and conventions of beauty is not only highly nuanced itself, but engenders a massive drama of other political issues revolving around identity, representation, and marginalization, in which cigarettes play a small but not wholly-insignificant role. Vassar’s inability to comprehend this, coupled with the reification of its disdain towards smoking, makes me wonder whether the expressions and narratives of poor and working-class students are actually welcomed here or whether we are simply convenient to put in brochures and distribute to the types of kids for whom this institution was built in the first place.

PAGE 6

CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

VAssAR & LOcAL
Rising Textbook Prices Require Reform at Local Level
Zack Struver Editor-in-Chief

C

ash-strapped students and compassionate editorialists – be they sympathetic economists, indignant professors, or egalitarian higher education experts – love to kvetch about the cost of textbooks. Indeed, as one University of Minnesota student bluntly put it in the Minnesota Daily, “Textbooks cost too much.” And they do. The CollegeBoard’s Advocacy & Policy Center estimates that in the 2013-14 school year, the average undergraduate student in the United States – whether enrolled in a community college or a private non-profit institution like Vassar – will spend, more or less, $1,200 on books and supplies, and a significant portion of that on books. Moreover, an oft-cited 2005 U. S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to Congress indicates that “textbook prices nearly tripled from December 1986 to December 2004, while tuition and fees increased by 240 percent and overall inflation was 72 percent.” Some commentators like to flesh out the implications of the GAO report, as Tyler Kingkade did in the Huffington Post: “College textbook prices have increased faster than tuition, health care costs, and housing prices, all of which have risen faster than inflation.” These critics then generally proceed to condemn the textbook publishing industry for their deplorable treatment of students. They argue that the release of increasingly expensive revised editions every few years, the bundling of textbooks with supplemental materials (including CDs, workbooks, and online course supplements), and attempts to limit the used book market hurt students so that they can turn a profit. These critiques of textbook prices inevitably devolve into either a cost-benefit analysis of higher education – with emphasis on the cost – or a discussion on the textbook alternative of the day, such as ebooks, open source textbooks, or abandoning the use of textbooks entirely. While everybody (except perhaps staunch capitalists) loves to attack big business – especially an industry that rakes in over $14 billion a year – I believe that this polemic approach is counterproductive. The textbook industry will continue to profit, especially as the ebook market gains prominence and more individuals attend college. We should not blame the textbook industry for engaging in business practices aimed at generating revenue, especially since other parts of the publishing world operate at major losses. Higher education and the publishing industry exist in a mutual relationship, as professors themselves are required to publish to retain their jobs, and textbook publishers need those same professors to write for them. Perhaps we ought to rethink the notion that academics are only being socially utile when they publish and contribute to the economy, but even if we did that, I doubt that introductory courses would survive without quality, peer-reviewed textbooks – and I doubt

The Vassar College Bookstore, operated by Barnes and Noble, sells and rents both new and used textbooks. The option to rent or buy used books diminishes costs for students.

Zack Struver

that many professors would write those textbooks for free. The GAO found that publishers price textbooks “based on development and production costs, expected sales, and competition from comparable products available in the market.” We cannot rely on the textbook industry to lower prices while they believe that their prices are fairly determined by the contour of the market. There are major structural problems in higher education, especially for students with financial issues, yet political solutions have failed to fix the problem. Textbook prices continue to rise even as the federal government and states have implemented policies aimed at easing the financial burden on students. In 2008, Congress passed the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), which has sweeping provisions that ostensibly reduce the cost of textbooks. I welcome the regulation of an industry that seeks to exploit its captive customers, but the HEOA merely provides a patchwork solution to a cultural problem in academia. First, the HEOA requires that publishers disclose the price and revision history of textbooks to professors. Though this helps professors weed out absurdly overpriced textbooks that are marketed to them, this presumes that marketing emails don’t go straight to spam, and that professors actually read them if they don’t. Vassar history professor Julie Hughes noted that she receives marketing emails far outside her area of specialty, and that she regularly ignores them. Moreover, it is doubtful that many professors change the textbooks they assign. In a field such as history, though the emphasis of the scholarship changes every few years, few professors assign textbooks above the introductory level, and those who do probably assign textbooks based on quality and their familiarity with the scholarly work of the author, rather than cost. This analysis almost certainly does not apply to a field like math, where there won’t be any new information about the basic principles

of calculus anytime soon. Professors then merely assign new editions of texts that they are familiar with, rather than radically alter their lesson plans. Second, all colleges and universities must publish lists of assigned course readings during their registration period. The law requires that these lists include the ISBN and price for each book, so that students have an opportunity to shop and compare prices. Yet, this stipulation does no good when textbooks cost in excess of $100 each. Finally, the HEOA mandates that textbook publishers offer “unbundled” packages – students must be able to purchase textbooks and any supplementary materials as separate products. Bundled textbooks are 1050% more expensive than the textbook alone, and this section actually affected a tangible shift in the publishing industry. Almost 50% of textbooks were bundled prior to the HEOA. Students can now avoid paying for extra materials that they will not use. I am committed to attacking high book costs using local solutions. Problems in education are inevitably pedagogical, and only faculty and school administrators can effectuate substantive changes in how their institutions teach and assign books. Professors have various options to reduce costs for students. First, they can assign course readers that include journal articles and selected chapters from books. These readers generally cost around ten dollars each, and would therefore save students a significant amount of money. Vassar history Professor Rebecca Edwards believes that textbooks provide good background information for students to orient themselves within a field: “When students are being introduced to a new era, field, or topic, a certain amount of basic information generally needs to be conveyed, and available in an accessible format so everyone can refer back to the basic information. … Some courses end up relying more on journal articles and

chapters than others do. Often there’s no substitute for reading a whole book, in its entirety, and there may not be any good alternative.” Indeed, though journal articles are shorter, they are often more specialized and require deeper reading than a generalized book. Journal articles may be good for seminars, especially since more than one can be assigned per class without incurring the anger of students. Professors also have the option to assign less books. In the humanities, professors ought to assign primary source collections or readers that collect the salient sections of a variety of sources. Professors also have a pedagogical reason to assign less reading. In the second week of my Taoism class this semester, philosophy professor Bryan Van Norden posited a distinction between intensive and extensive reading. Professor Van Norden explained that we only read one short book in his course – the Zhuangzi – because he wants students to read and reread each section of the text. He argued that intensive reading provides a corrective to the usual practice of extensive reading – requiring students to get through hundreds of pages of material per week. Although intensive reading may force students to reckon with complicated texts, many professors assign five or six books a semester because they want, or need, to emphasize the breadth of an academic field, rather than look at fewer works in depth.

“ Professors must be priceconscious, and schools must reward professors who seek to balance cost and quality. ... Students who have difficulty paying admission should not be burdened by overpriced textbooks.”
There are other practical solutions. Groups have advanced proposals for open, crowdsourced textbooks. Such texts could be used in conjunction with free online learning courses, or by professors committed to the open source movement in academia. Others have proposed that schools invest in e-reader technologies. Yet, before we delve into such practical solutions, academics need to rethink how they assign books. Professors must be price-conscious, and schools must reward professors who seek to balance cost and quality. Moreover, universities must implement policies that restrict professors from assigning new editions, unless substantial changes have been made, and so long as their school bookstores can maintain used copies of an old edition. Finally, schools committed to meeting demonstrated need must extend financial aid to textbooks and course materials. Students who have difficulty paying even subsidized admission should not be further burdened by overpriced textbooks.

CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

PAGE 7

Gun Control in America, Part II: Consent of the Governed
Spencer Virtue Contributor

NATIONAL AFFAIRs

T

his is the second installment in my three-part series on gun control. In the first, I wrote from an objective standpoint — I laid out the parameters that frame the debate and described arguments for and against gun regulations. In the next two articles, I will explicate my opinion in the hopes that you come to better understand why I hold it. I am strongly against nearly every restriction on private gun ownership that has recently been passed or proposed, especially in regards to background checks and waiting periods, which are already largely in effect nationwide. I have found this to be a very unpopular opinion on Vassar’s campus. In the next article, I will discuss why I believe many recently proposed gun control measures are both unconstitutional and ineffective. However, in this article I would like to discuss gun control from a more abstract angle. Why should private citizens own firearms at all? In short, if we could theoretically take guns out of the hands of every citizen of the U. S., making the nation completely gun-free except for military and law enforcement, would that be a good thing? Is there a valid theoretical argument for private gun ownership in society? In my opinion, an armed populace is the foundation of a free state. To explain why, I would like to begin historically with a discussion of the years preceding the drafting of our Constitution, the addendum of the Bill of Rights, and, by extension, the Second Amendment. In April of 1775, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith of the British Army was ordered to capture a vast store of weapons — muskets, gunpowder, swords, and the like — owned by the Massachusetts militia in the city of Concord. Ordinarily, the militia coexisted peacefully in the colonies alongside the British authorities. The militia served as the people’s army; they were groups of private gun-owning citizens that responded with military force whenever necessary. However, as tensions rose between the British authorities and colonial citizens, the British became wary of the militia. Until 1775, the Revolution was relatively bloodless, more a war of pamphlets and speeches than of cannons and muskets. However, the British knew that the militia had the violent force necessary to escalate the conflict into an outright blood-filled revolution, so they wanted to cripple the revolution before it could gain momentum. This led to Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith leading 700 British regulars to Concord in order to take the citizens’ weapons and capture their leaders in order to diminish the ability of the citizens of Massachusetts to defy British tyranny. However, the colonists received word of the British plans and, with weeks of notice, moved the weapons and mobilized the militias to confront Smith’s troops. On Apr. 19, 1775, the famous Battle of Lexington and Concord officially escalated the war into armed conflict. By July of that year, George Washington had assembled the militiamen into the infancy of the

William Warren / The Daily Sheeple

Continental Army — the force of armed private citizens that would eventually defeat the British army and secure American independence from British rule. Do not allow the term “militia” to detract from the amazing reality of this event; until the creation of a formal Continental force, the Revolution was fought by private colonial citizens — farmers, blacksmiths, cobblers, and the like — wearing whatever clothes they had and using the muskets that they had hanging over their fireplaces. These were not professional soldiers. They were not unlike me or you. According to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, “The ‘militia’ in colonial America consisted of a subset of ‘the people’ — those who were male, able-bodied, and within a certain age range.” In other words, the militia didn’t necessarily refer to a concrete armed force, but, rather, the total number of people that could logically be called upon to fight, if needed. And it is in this context that the Second Amendment was added to the Bill of Rights. There was a clear understanding by the founders of the Constitution that free people must be armed. Yale Professor of Constitutional Law Glenn Harlan Reynolds that the militia was the military arm of the common citizen — the last stand of the individual against oppression: “Scholars muster substantial evidence that the Framers intended the Second Amendment to protect an individual right to arms … it allowed individuals to defend themselves from outlaws of all kinds — not only ordinary criminals, but also soldiers and government officials who exceeded their authority[.] … [T]he presence of an armed populace was seen as a check on government tyranny and on the power of a standing army. With the citizenry armed, imposing tyranny would be far more difficult than it would be with the citizenry defenseless.” In my next article, I will delve further into a discussion of why the Second Amendment describes an individual right to bear arms that transcends direct involvement in a militia, but, for now,

it is enough to simply recognize that the Framers intended the Second Amendment as a measure to provide the citizenry with armed force to protect themselves from a tyrannical government not unlike the British. You may be thinking, “What of the rest of the Bill of Rights? Does it not secure for us certain inalienable freedoms that the government cannot breach?” I would argue that the Bill of Rights without a Second Amendment is an empty document — worth little value as a legitimate protector of freedoms. The very entity that the Bill of Rights seeks to protect us from, our own government, is the very entity that enforces the Bill of Rights. In other words, we expect the Bill of Rights to protect our right to free speech from a tyrannical government, and yet we trust that very government to protect that right. One need not look far into history to see that government is not afraid to infringe on the supposedly inalienable rights of free people. Open a text on U. S. History and pick your example, starting as far back as the Alien and Sedition Acts under John Adams, up to modern examples of civil rights abuses and the government giving rights to some and not to others based on sexual orientation, race, or any other factor. When the British government refused to answer to the non-violent petitions of the patriots, there were only two options for the founders — either give up and accept the circumstances or pick up weapons and fight. In an attempt to prevent the latter option, the British attempted to seize the weapons of private citizens, as was Smith’s goal at Concord. The British realized, as did the patriots, that revolution was only possible if the colonials were armed. I would like to speak more abstractly now about the role of consent in the political process. Let us imagine a world, as I proposed earlier, in which guns were only owned by police and law enforcement. Our daily political lives wouldn’t be much different. We would believe that we were consenting to the government under which

we lived. Occasionally, we would picket, write an article, give a speech, and the like; we would believe that we were participating voluntarily in the political process. However, this would most certainly not be the case. Since we could not dissent, our voluntary participation would not actually be voluntary, it would be obligatory. We wouldn’t actually be participating voluntarily since the opposite could not be an option. One cannot consent without the ability to dissent. Such is the same with anything — one cannot be good if badness does not exist. The two are opposite and mean nothing without their counterparts. If the government had a complete monopoly on violent force, the ordinary citizen would be forced to comply with the whims of that government. In the case of the government’s use of violent force, whether police or military, an ordinary citizen would be powerless. If the means of violent force are shared between the government and the people, the government must always be subject to the real and palpable consent of the governed. In other words, the Second Amendment, and gun ownership in general, is the consent of the governed built into our Constitution, the memory of tyrannical British rule, and the acknowledgment that no government is free from corruption, even our own. It is also important to note that civil disobedience, or non-violent action, still falls within the purview of obligatory consent, not dissent — they are intra-legal actions. Now, I surely hope that you do not read my words as supporting the use of armed rebellion as a solution to our grievances against the government. Though it usually takes a very long time to work through the system, our government eventually checks itself and eliminates entrenched breaches of individual rights. Such is the case now with the flood of states finally recognizing marriages for same-sex couples. I would, however, like to make three brief comments on the subject of actual revolt. First, if there ever were an armed rebellion, the government would have an incredibly difficult time suppressing it. Even though citizens do not have the firepower of the U.S. Military, the difficulty of distinguishing combatants from non-combatants, the unwillingness of police and soldiers to fire on U.S. citizens, and the sheer number of gun owners in this nation in proportion to the number of military and police personnel would undoubtedly result in a successful rebellion. Second, and far more importantly, formal rebellion is unlikely to occur anytime soon. The armed populace checks the government; the very knowledge that citizens have weapons is enough to deter the government from breaching our rights excessively. It is no surprise that in the twentieth century, nations that managed to practically eradicate private gun ownership — Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Communist China — were the most oppressive and deadly places to live. In my next article, alongside discussions of constitutional law, I will review the methods by which the government can balance gun control with both the necessity for an armed citizenry and the need for citizens to defend their homes.

PAGE 8

CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

NATIONAL AFFAIRs
West Virginia Chemical Spill Raises Regulation Concerns
Hillary Frame Contributor

O

n Jan. 9, 2014, two chemicals— crude methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) and a polyglycol ether mixture (PPH)—leaked into the Elk Rive, which provides water for around 300,000 people in southern West Virginia. Over the past few weeks, these people have gone without usable water, bottled water has become a scarce commodity, and schools have closed. People have relied on churches and the local YMCAs for showers and drinking water. The area around Charleston is still suffering from the effects of the spill. Reports advise against pregnant women drinking the “cleared” water and detail the strange environmental effects. A recent report noted that a couple that raises chickens in their backyard found their eggs to have a blue tint and to smell strongly of licorice. Posts written by friends resembling these reports have inundated my Facebook news feed, which has been filled with photos of people’s water in brackish yellow hues. Photos of skin burns have made their way around the Internet, though it has yet to be confirmed that the spill caused the ones I have seen. Around 400 people have sought medical attention because of the chemical spill.

Not much is known about the chemicals, hopefully, keep disasters like this from besides that one is a coal-cleaning agent happening in the future. The bill will and that they are both quite harmful to ensure that companies responsible for humans. future spills will pay for the damage if a The West Virginian government reacted future emergency does happen. This is immediately to the crisis, calling for a bill I feel West Virginians could unite national chemical regulation reform. behind. Besides protecting the United Governor Earl Ray Tomblin recently States from further chemical spills, this signed an order that mandated Freedom bill could also draw more attention to West Industries — the company responsible for Virginia in general, highlighting its innate the spill that stores and produces various value to our nation. chemicals — destroy its above-ground Where was the government before the storage facilities next to the Elk River. crisis? CBS News reported on the lack of Emails from various activist organizations safeguards put in place by the company. have been calling for more research on The Huffington Post reported that, since the substances spilled, while the physical 1991, the government has not inspected effects of the spill continue. the storage facilities for the chemicals. Questions have emerged throughout this Our elected officials are confused about turmoil, which is far from over. Why has no what to do from here. West Virginia one outside of West Virginia heard about Secretary of State Natalie Tennant this? Why was there so little information suggested that the state conduct a ten-yearabout the chemicals themselves? How can long study on the health effects of the spill. this be prevented in the future? Others are just trying to sympathize with Sen. Jay Rockefeller — who recently the pains of the people. However, this does stated that he certainly would not drink not change the fact that West Virginia’s the water — and Sen. Joe Manchin, both lack of regulations and the company’s lack of West Virginia, proposed a new bill that of upkeep allowed this disaster to take should help keep water safer throughout place. the country. The bill calls for more Adding to every other ugly part of this inspections of chemical storage facilities debacle has been the apathy expressed by as well as more financial safeguards to the national media. The Nation reported make sure there is support for victims if that many mainstream news outlets did such a crisis occurs again. While this bill not report the crisis until several days cannot compensate West Virginians for after it had occurred. The Golden Globes the problems of the past month, it could, were deemed more important than my Advertisement

state’s lack of water. When I told friends from out of state what was happening back home, they looked at me with shock. Many had never heard about the water crisis. Recently, there has been a growth in the number of articles about the continued problems and the legislative fixes, but in some ways, it feels as if it has come too late. I am a proud West Virginian. I am from a town called Hurricane — if you pronounce it like the weather pattern, we will know you are from out of town — and I know why the mainstream press has avoided this story. West Virginia is seen as worth less than the “more important” states. We, the hillbillies, the hicks, the hilljacks, and, of course, the rednecks, are not worth the media’s time. If the media does not care about us, and no one from outside of our state can see us, why should anyone else care? Why should the federal government care? While I am very pleased that our West Virginian elected officials are working hard to make sure that chemicals spills like this become rare, I am not pleased that West Virginia was not paid the attention it deserves. I want what is right for my home state; what is right is obviously no chemical spills, but even better than that would be the addition of the nation-wide recognition that West Virginians are just as American as everyone else in the country.

CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

PAGE 9

NATIONAL AFFAIRs
GOP Response to SOTU Eschews Substantive Issues
J. David Nichols Contributor

F

amiliar faces in the Republican Party have delivered their official response to the president’s State of the Union Address in the last few years– Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Paul Ryan, Gov. Bob McDonnell, and Gov. Mitch Daniels. Likewise, Sen. Jim Webb, Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and Gov. Kathleen Sibelius (now Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Obama) gave the Democrats’ responses during the George W. Bush administration. This year, however, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers gave the Republican response. Despite her lack of name recognition, Rodgers is the most senior Republican woman in the House of Representatives and the current chair of the House Republican Conference. In terms of speaker selection, she was the best choice that the Republican leadership could have made. In the wake of dozens of blunders by Republican candidates and incumbents alike on topics related to women’s issues–such as physiology with regards to abortion and sexual assault–a virtually unknown conservative woman of high rank was the perfect choice to present the party favorably. With a retired Navy officer husband, she has a close association with the armed services. With a child who was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, she cannot be accused of not understanding women’s reproductive issues, the tough decisions of motherhood, or the trials of navigating the American healthcare system. She was the ideal face for the Republican Party.

“Tonight the President made more promises that sound good, but won’t solve the problems actually facing Americans. We want you to have a better life. The President wants that too. But we part ways when it comes to how to make that happen. So tonight, I’d like to share a more hopeful, Republican vision,” Ms. Rodgers claimed in the introduction of her response. This Republican vision consisted entirely of end results, most of them intangible. Ms. Rodgers’s speech firmly established that she was in favor of, among other things, the American Dream, the ability of the people to make their own decisions, and helping people rise above poverty. Of the three concepts, the first is so intangible as to be laughable, while the latter two sound indisputably ideal. Good theater trumps accuracy in these speeches, and the lack of any clarifying statements allowed the GOP to position itself in favor of utopian ideals that directly contradict its actual policies. And then came the most telling part of her speech: “Because our mission — not only as Republicans, but as Americans — is to once again to ensure that we are not bound by where we come from, but empowered by what we can become. That is the gap Republicans are working to close. It’s the gap we all face — between where you are and where you want to be. The President talks a lot about income inequality, but the real gap we face today is that of opportunity inequality. And with this Administration’s policies, that gap has become far too wide. We see this gap growing every single day.” Is there a lack of opportunity in America? There unquestionably is, but it is linked directly to income inequality. 62% of

AP Photos

Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers delivered the GOP response to the State of the Union address on Jan. 28.

Americans born to families in the top fifth economically stay in the top two-fifths their entire lives. 65% of those born to families in the lowest fifth permanently remain in the bottom two-fifths. 42% of American men who were born into the bottom fifth remain there into their adulthood (New York Times, January 4, 2012). Opportunity seems inseparably linked to income, then. The fact that Ms. Rodgers presented “opportunity inequality” and “income inequality” as mutually exclusive, however, suggests that she wasn’t talking about actual inequality of opportunity. She tried both to make a non-issue out of a substantial problem in America today and to also shift the focus of the conversation to “opportunity inequality”—something intangible and unquantifiable. She moved the discussion away from facts and towards feelings. This deliberate effort revealed itself as

she repeatedly invoked vague images of farm life, parenthood, struggles, and the American Dream, without taking the time to supply even the most rudimentary details that would explain why they were relevant to anything she was saying. These words, rather, were meant to fall gently on the ears of the GOP’s followers and induce a type of euphoric rhapsody as visions of Americanness floated by their minds’ eyes. On the whole, what could have been a stirring speech by a qualified member of Congress failed to present even one solid plan. As a response to the State of the Union, it came across as evasive and unsubstantial—certainly not what was needed to successfully counter President Barack Obama. Rep. Rodgers may’ve been the right woman for the job, but that can’t help fix the Republican Party’s vague and unsubstantial response.

Reagan's Traditional Conservatism Inspires Resepct, Faith
Luka Ladan Contributor

F

eb. 6 marked the birthday of Ronald Wilson Reagan, the patriarchal figure of modern conservatism and one of the most influential presidents in the history of the United States. Whether you agree with him or not, Reagan left a legacy that deserves deep respect. His policies may have irked many, but nobody can deny his love for the American way of life or his primary concern of preserving it for future generations. Liberal or conservative, religious or atheist, we should all agree that Feb. 6 now marks a momentous day in our nation’s great history; it is a date that should invoke a profound emotional response in all Americans. For some, Feb. 6 may bring stinging tears to the eyes and spark nostalgic thoughts of a past long gone. It may remind others of what they believe to be this country’s most frustrating historical era. Whatever one’s political ideology or personal misgivings about the consequences of his policies, Feb. 6 must never be forgotten, if for nothing else than the fact that we owe this majestic man respect on the day of his birth. And, boy, was that quirky personality of his majestic to the death. Ronald Reagan was born to his parents, Jack and Nelle Reagan, some three years before the onset of World War I, and passed away in the

summer of June 2004, months before “politics” ever meant anything to me. And yet, Reagan has been formative in my political outlook and the development of my character. During the week of his birth, I watched YouTube clips of his speeches and coursed through the transcripts of one-onone interviews as a way of connecting with a great leader who lived and died before my political life. I browsed the online space for information about Reagan’s policies and consumed the words he used to make them clear to the public. We lost Ronald Reagan weeks before then Sen. Barack Obama made it to the national stage in Boston, yet this iconic figure still resonates with me to this day. The question, then, is how does a conservative ideologue who was at the height of his power in the 1980s still hold so much sway over a Vassar student studying Political Science in 2014? This simply attests to the power and majesty of a self-made man who made a religious brand of free-market conservatism cool in the eyes of the American electorate — a large chunk of it young, adventurous, and impressionable. But, policy aside, I am personally most drawn to his unwavering conviction in his beliefs, to the eloquently forceful delivery of his speeches, to his deep faith in God, and to the steady confidence of the religious fervor that permeated his being. I find myself mesmerized by his belief

system — his affirmation of traditional American values, his commitment to a slimmer tax system and a pro-life agenda, his promotion of the individual over the state, and his fundamental conviction that this set of traditional values was best for the United States of America and still is today. Though Reagan was a traditional conservative, his articulate, coolly-crafted expressions of faith — from addresses on Capital Hill to speeches full of wisdom that echoed off the cold stones of the Berlin Wall — gained him widespread support across the United States and the world. That was the majesty of Reagan. His ideologies inspired a multitude of subsequent beliefs even after his golden days in the Oval Office faded into a vague memory. I am living testimony that his values still matter. Even if they matter to nobody else, they matter to me. The political questions that we raise today still require an explication of the merits of free religious expression and arguments against the eternal shortcomings of oppressive, socialistic systems. I am a conservative in the traditional sense, but I am, most of all, a disciple of the man who rejuvenated conservatism at a time when the American public’s trust in the federal government was shaken to the core. On Aug. 23, 1984, at an Ecumenical prayer breakfast in Austin, Texas, Ronald Reagan explained to the audience that, “If

we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.” When I look beyond those words, and at his whole speech, steady lumps form in my throat in amazement. Reagan had an innately human touch in front of the podium, a touch that doesn’t come around very often. All politicians understand the art of spewing jargon and spinning narratives for partisan gain, but very few are able to connect with the listener on a personal level. Ronald Reagan connected with me, as he did with many before my time, from the beginning of his career to the end. Buoyed by his respectful humility in the midst of his and our Creator, his good-spirited demeanor, his witty jokes at the expense of Soviet Russia, and his loyal dedication to the free market, small business, and the individual consumer, Reagan’s personality and character persists a long and eventful decade after his death. And if the here and now is any indication, the memory of Reagan may well remain in our collective cultural consciousness for many more years to come. We will not forget Ronald Wilson Reagan, nor should we as proud Americans dedicated to life, liberty, and the never-ending pursuit of happiness. I most definitely will not. May he rest in peace on this day, and all others following.

PAGE 10

CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

Bulgaria, Romania Admissions to E. U. Spark Xenophobia in U. K.
Camilla Pfeiffer Contributor

NATIONAL AFFAIRs

C

ontroversy erupted in the United Kingdom (U.K.) just after the New Year over the changes in work restrictions placed on European nationals from Romania and Bulgaria. It started with the 2007 expansion of the European Union (E.U.) after the Treaty of Accession (2005, ratified in 2007). The Treaty of Accession established Romania and Bulgaria as officially part of the E.U.; standards would be set to curb political corruption and establish a free-market economy in order to qualify the two countries for E.U. status. As long as the two countries met these standards, they would immediately benefit from the perks of being an E.U. member nation — most significantly access to a larger, richer, and more stable economic market. This idea of that market has some members of the U.K. gravely concerned. The U.K. is a particularly attractive nation to immigrate to; it has a public healthcare system through the National Health Service, a strong welfare state, and a crippled but functioning job market. The U.K. also has an ethnically diverse population, which is partially a result of its years as a colonial power. Dr. Patrick Basham, founder of the Democracy Institute, published a report that quantified the future migration of Bulgarian and Romanian residents to the U.K.: “Over the next five years, at least 385,000 migrants will move from Bulgaria and Romania [to the U.K.] for an annual average of 77,000 additional migrants. Specifically, Bulgarian migration will average approximately 44,000 annually; Romanian migration will average approximately 33,000 annually.” (Daily Express, Dec. 5, 2013). Basham’s report provides hope for the future of the E.U. and the U.K., in that it implies the faith that the people of other European nations have in the British job market. It also indicates a large pool of immigrants willing to take low-paying jobs and help bolster the still-recovering British economy. Therefore, when the borders to the U.K. officially opened on Jan. 1, 2014, it marked the beginning of a potentially beneficial relationship between Bulgaria, Romania, and Great Britain. But the British people were scared. A media furor beginning in the autumn of 2013 created an inaccurate public

perception of the effects of the immigration; there were talks of buses and planes jampacked with unemployed Romanians and Bulgarians coming to “take British jobs.” Indeed, according to a poll in The Sunday Telegraph, “Seven in 10 Britons believe David Cameron [the Prime Minister] should retain restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian migrants, even if it means breaking European Union laws” (The Daily Telegraph, Dec. 28, 2013). Such views were perpetuated throughout the mainstream media. TV shows such as “Benefits Street,” a controversial documentary series airing on Channel 4, followed the residents of a street in Birmingham where most receive large amounts of social welfare, and fed off this public perception of migrant invasion. It showed a house inhabited by Romanian immigrants running an illegal garbagecollection business who were vilified by the street’s other inhabitants. It is clear that the British media has done little to prevent the xenophobic fear of mass immigration but has instead encouraged it. A large part of this prejudiced fear is grounded in the belief that with large influxes of Romanian and Bulgarian workers will come unwelcome Romani populations. In both Bulgaria and Romania, Roma are one of the largest minority groups in the country, making up 4.9% and 3.3% of the populations, respectively, while in the U.K., they only make up about 0.3% of the population. Though the U.K. has a very low Roma population, fear of these groups and the public perception of their criminality are still rife. This prejudice is common throughout Europe; in September of 2013, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls advocated forced expulsion of all Romani from France, stating that, “They should return to Romania or Bulgaria and for that the European Union, with the Bulgarian and Romanian authorities, must ensure these populations are firstly integrated in their countries.” (RT.com, Sept, 25, 2013). The wider fear of immigration is symptomatic of xenophobia that has been increasing in Britain in recent years. The phenomenon has arguably been fueled by the financial crisis that began in 2008. Around this time, far-right political parties such as the British National Party (BNP) and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) began to gain popularity. In the 2009 elections, the BNP won two seats in the European Parliament, with 6.26% of the national vote, much to the

Daily Mail

Citizens of the U.K. are wary of a possible increase in immigrants coming from Bulgaria and Romania after the two countries were admitted into the European Union.

dismay of many. Both parties advocated for the dominance of the ethnicallyBritish population with restrictions on immigration in order to promote Euroscepticism. Roger Helmer, a Member of the European Parliament affiliated with UKIP argued that immigration would cause irreparable damage to the British welfare system: “If 385,000 people from Romania and Bulgaria, as estimated by the Democracy Institute, actually come to the U.K., it will put unbearable pressure on our health, welfare, and education system.” (Daily Express, Dec. 5, 2013). Helmer concluded that the U.K. should close its borders to Romanian and Bulgarian workers, regardless of European law. It even seemed as if there was political support for these ideas from less radical parties, as “[Labour Party leader Ed Miliband] insisted it was not ‘prejudiced’ to believe that growing numbers of low-skilled migrants from the European Union would add to the problem of low pay and poor job security” (Daily Mail, Jan. 5, 2014). This trend is particularly unsettling, as the Labour Party is supposedly a socialist party — much more left-leaning than any popular party in the United States. For the leader of such a party to be speaking out against the immigration of workers is reflective of deep-set cultural prejudice. The real question is, is this fear legitimate? Has the anticipated influx actually occurred? Thus far, it would appear that it has not. On the first day, instead

of airports being flooded with a mass exodus of unemployed Bulgarians and Romanians, there was a relatively average number of travelers from those countries. Statistics vary, but the apocalyptic scenes described failed to materialize. Ion Jinga, Romanian ambassador to the U.K., stated that although exact numbers of immigrants cannot immediately be known because the U.K. does not require new residents to register immediately. In the Netherlands, where immediate registration for immigrants is required, “In the first 10 days, 21 Romanians and 15 Bulgarians have registered. I do not see any reason why Holland would be less attractive than the U.K., with the geographic proximity playing in favour of the Dutch.” (Independent, Jan. 15, 2014). Given the numbers from the Netherlands, it’s possible that the populations of Romanians and Bulgarians will increase gradually over time, as other ethnic populations have, but such a gradual increase would probably not be noticeable. Still, the realities of the numbers do not stop the anti-immigration fervor that seems to be a pattern in Europe and the United States. Many ethnic groups have faced similar prejudices; the situation in the U.K. is nothing new. Hopefully the British public can see beyond the politics of immigration and sensationalized media, and recognize the right of all people to pursue their life goals.

READING AND sHARING tHE vASSAR cHRONIcLE Is EAsIER THAN EvER
vIsIT OUR wEBsITE TO ENJOY IT YEAR-ROUND

www.vAssARcHRONIcLE.cOM
CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014 PAGE 11

DEBATE & DIscOURsE
Fear and Vulnerability: Recognizing the Flaws of Masculinity
Wilson Platt Contributor

R

ecently, I sat in an ordinary space, in relatively unprecedented circumstances. By ordinary, I mean Rocky 300; by relatively unprecedented circumstances, I mean I was at a social justice event and there were so many people attending that when the usual stragglers came in late, they had to stay by the door because even the floor was packed with bodies. It was nearing the end of the event and I was sitting towards the back with six men listening to the question and answer section of the controversially titled “Are You Man Enough To Talk About It” panel. I think about how it’s going, and about the men around me. How I begged some of them to come. It’s frightening, to plead with people to come to something and not know how it’s going to turn out. In retrospect, I think it means a lot — like a lot a lot — that this lecture even existed in our community. That we think it’s important. That people showed up. At this moment, there is a distinct feeling of unrest in the crowd. That’s probably putting it lightly. The event is not going well in many people’s eyes. I’m thinking about how I was hoping this event would do some of my work for me — some of the educating of my friends that I’d been struggling to impart — when a woman asks the panel, “Is it really that hard for guys to be vulnerable?” And, out of nowhere, six male voices in my row call out, “Yes!” When I was a little kid, I used to have a lot of trouble at sleepovers. For four whole, painful years, I could never make it through the night. Time after time, I would lie in bed, fighting against a swelling tide of panic, a pit in my stomach, a tug in my chest — all the cliché terms you can think of — but it’s a feeling that doesn’t translate very well into words. It was one that always flooded out in desperate tears to the bleary-eyed parents of my friends — in the choked, pathetic sobs of a helpless child, I just miss my mom and dad. Eventually, I would always end up on the phone with my parents, asking for them to pick me up. And they always did. But even when I was at home, I was scared. I had my parents check on me every two minutes. Literally. And I’d watch the clock and come get them if they were more than five. Looking back, I think it would be fair to say that I was a scared little kid. There’s something more important in this story than my inability to sleep, I think. Or there are two things, really. The first is this: every time my parents would pick me up, from the moment I got off of the phone to the moment I lay down in my own bed, this particular emotion would roll through me. I’d step in the car crying, my parents would give me a hug, whisper comforting words, and it would be there — right in that spot where you can’t tell if it’s in your chest or in your throat. All the way through the

car ride it would be there. It’s a kind of rushing and pulling feeling — like liquid extra gravity running across your skin, pushing you down. It is shame. I’m six-years-old and have literally so few physical and mental abilities that being in someone else’s house leaves me almost powerless. But, even at six, I know I’m not supposed to be scared. Not even if it makes perfect sense that I’m scared. Even at six, I feel ashamed that I have to call my parents for help in front of my friends. The other day, I was on vacation with my four-year-old brother. It was the first night and he was scared to go to bed. He wants badly to sleep in my parents’ bed instead of in a different room with my uncle or with me. He’s particularly eloquent when it comes to his feelings — maybe all four year olds are like this, but I hope this never changes — and so in the ebb-and-flow argument style that comes with trying to discuss things with a kid of that age, he starts to slip in things that bring me back to so many sleepovers. Whispering to no one in particular, he says things like, “I wish it was morning in one minute,” and, “When do we get to go home again?” Eventually, my father crouches down and says, dejectedly, “Jack, we brought you to Mexico because we thought you could handle it. Do you understand that? We thought you could handle it. Maybe we were wrong.” For me, this was far enough. I think he was tired and frustrated but trying to guilt-trip someone who isn’t even in Kindergarten yet about being afraid of going to sleep in a new country didn’t seem like a fool-proof plan. So, I stepped in.

“ This isn’t new knowledge, there isn’t any news to bring you about the ways boys are taught to be that hurts men and women alike, but it’s never felt quite so important as when you watch one of those little boys grow up, first defying, but eventually falling into place with those expectations. ”
I knelt down and told him that I used to be scared of sleeping too. All the time. And then I whispered to him that I would tell him my most powerful secret. “It’s ok to be scared,” I said. And it is. It is. It seems like nobody says that to little boys though. When they look up at you with big eyes or down at their toes, people say, “I know you’re scared, but you have to be brave.” Or, they say, “It’s time to be a big boy now.” I have no fresh news to bring you when I say that boys are socialized in our society to mask their fears at all times. We

aren’t supposed to be afraid; if we are, we are taught to divert, misdirect, and take care of it ourselves. Then, high school boys, acne tearing across their faces and insecurities threatening to come to light, find themselves telling each other, “Don’t be so gay,” instead of, “I feel ugly today.” (Credit to Kiese Laymon.) College boys, having seen or been personally exposed to what true vulnerability can look like, find themselves drinking heavily before any weekend situation that could lead to new sexual intimacy. Again, this isn’t new knowledge, there isn’t any news to bring you about the ways boys are taught to be that hurts men and women alike, but it’s never felt quite so important as when you watch one of those little boys grow up, first defying, but eventually falling into place with those expectations. So boys, both big and little, are scared. And maybe that’s mind blowing and maybe it’s not. What I’m interested in, though, is why we don’t acknowledge this fear or why we continue to pretend it doesn’t exist. How come, when guys say, “I don’t want anything serious right now,” we often think they mean, “I just want to fuck other girls,” even here at Vassar, as if the male species is this obstinately two-dimensional computer program. Like, for real? Do we think that most guys really just want to have emotionless one-night stands? Read that sentence again and think about it for a second. Or, perhaps another question: why is it that guys think that’s what they want? (Or, although I feel this is unlikely, why do they actually want that?) If I withheld gender and said that there was someone who seemed to be only having one-night stands, who shied away from any serious relationships, who went cold at the first sight of emotional attachment — how would you describe that person? I’d probably say, “You are scared shitless right now because of any number of reasons. You don’t think you deserve to be loved. You’re scared of not being good enough. You’re scared of someone having influence on your life.” In no way am I saying that everyone always wants to be in a relationship. Or that satisfying sexual desires is a bad thing. But the idea that guys find that kind of life alluring, and that we all assume those feelings are either deplorable — if you’re another guy — or an unfortunate reality — if you’re a heterosexual girl — is suffocating. Sometimes, “I just don’t want anything serious right now,” means just that. Or, sometimes it means, “I’m not in a good place to be in a relationship.” Or, maybe other times, it means, “I’m too scared and I won’t be a great partner.” But damn, why does everybody ignore that boys are just hella scared? Maybe because we don’t say it very often. And you know what’s kind of hard? Saying that you’re scared. Or maybe it’s really, really fucking hard.

But that’s not real work. Real work is trying to make it through your fears. Trying to communicate and build and get past your fears. Real work is facing them. Real work is saying that you’re scared and then. No matter what gender you are. And fuck. Maybe when someone asks, “What are you, a scaredy cat?” and the little boy answers, “Yeah, can you help me?” then we’ll see a change. Maybe, we’ll see a lot fewer of those little boys grow up to say and do hurtful things – like saying a girlfriend is acting “crazy” when she’s upset — just because it’s easier to ignore that someone else has feelings than it is to confront some of your own. Our own. “I’ll tell you my biggest secret. It’s okay to be scared,” I said to my brother that night in Mexico with no notes of condescension. “If you can’t fall asleep, that’s okay. You can just stay up and play until you get tired. And if you never feel like going to bed, then that’s okay too.” And you know what my four-yearold brother Jack did? He got out of bed, played quietly by himself, and, in about twenty minutes, went to bed. The end. The rest, of course, is to be continued. The other boy? The one who was ashamed of being scared of sleepovers? Eventually, he gets over his sleep issues, only to find himself in college, discovering that he has unconsciously sabotaged connections with people that meant more to him than almost anything else in his entire life — partially because he’s so afraid of being left alone, but mostly because he just doesn’t know how to talk about it to the people who matter. And he’s terrified he’ll do it again. As it turns out, I’m a scared big kid too. But it also turns out that so are most of the boys I know. And we pretend we aren’t as hard as we can and nobody calls us on our bullshit. Sometimes, even, they eat it up. I think about being at the “Are You Man Enough To Talk About It” panel recently. About how it seemed like everyone thought it wasn’t being done “right.” By the end, there were so many angry comments coming from so many different angles that it was impossible to figure out what the “right” way to do this would have been. Everybody wanted something different from this talk; they wanted it so much, so bad that it hurt — and I mean really hurt — when they didn’t get it. Somehow, I think that says a lot. And I think about that question, “Is it really that hard for men to be vulnerable?” and the chorus of blurted “yes’s” that rang out from the six men in my row, including from two embarrassed men who had said earlier that they would rather die than speak during the event. I think about what it means that we couldn’t hold in our voices. I wonder why nobody ever told us that to be vulnerable is really to be strong. I wish they had.

PAGE 12

CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

DEBATE & DIscOURsE
Time Warner, Comcast Merger Threatens Competition
Joshua Sherman Treasurer

I

n the 1980s, AT&T had what was essentially a monopoly over local telephone service in the United States. Today, we have various methods of communication available to us — cellular, broadband, fiber and telephone, to name a few — but back then, you had two choices: telephone and snail mail. When one company controls most, if not all, of the local telephone service it’s clear what sort of danger this poses to pricing and service opportunities for customers. Yet, here we are, and history is repeating itself —this time with Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Comcast and Time Warner, in case you’ve missed the news, are in the process of negotiating a merger. They represent the number one and number two largest cable companies in the country, respectively. They also happen to be two of the lowest-rated companies for customer service in the world — go figure. This deal is receiving wide criticism — at least, by anyone who doesn’t own Time Warner Cable stock — and many are pressing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to block it. However, there’s no guarantee that the FCC will do so. It all depends on how well Comcast can present the merger as an opportunity to better their company and the market, even as it reduces competition. The notion of regulation of market competition has been developing since the chaotic times of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. While some writers, such as Ayn Rand, advocate for the power of the free market to balance out this chaos, cities, municipalities, and even the

federal government have intervened in a number of instances for the sake of doing what they think is best for consumers. This includes both the creation and the reduction of competition. The notion that the state would reduce competition may surprise some. When utilities, such as telephone companies, power companies, and water companies, enter a town or city, they must engage in a number of construction projects to effectively integrate their product into the new location. This can create a number of issues, especially when a dozen different telephone companies want to dig up the street or string wiring across electric poles. In cities such as New York, this literally blacked out the sky with telegraph cables until the state mandated they be buried underground. In order to control this sort of chaos, many municipalities issue utilities the right to do business in their community only after they agree to a number of conditions. Usually, this is done in two primary ways. One way is to ensure these conditions are made with a multitude of companies in order to ensure that competition remains strong, despite giving only a few companies the right to do business. The second, strikingly, is to give a cable company a monopoly, but to mandate certain infrastructural methods or business practices, such as the installation of newer fiber optic cable lines, that ensure the municipality is getting what it thinks is the best deal. This, alongside the fact that cable is already a high-cost business, allows for few big players to emerge. This accounts for the contemporary structure of the telecommunications industry. This isn’t just true of the United States. Worldwide,

most nations have only a handful of major competitors for each region or even the entire nation — in the case of wireless service, for example — along with a handful of smaller companies that aren’t even close to the primary company in size or scale. For example, everyone knows the Big Four wireless carriers in the United Sates, as they are all nationwide services. Few, however, know of U.S. Cellular — unless you live where they do business. More importantly, U.S. Cellular is only one eighth the size of the number four carrier, T-Mobile, and only one twentieth of the size of the largest wireless carrier, AT&T. As a result of all of this, we often end up seeing only a few competitors in entire regions — sometimes the entire country. This is meant to ensure competition, but it also allows the two to be as competitive in pricing as they choose — rarely, these days, is there any motivation for competition among these firms. Why would they compete when it’s advantageous to keep prices high, cartelstyle? Mergers happen because it also reduces competition and allows for this cartel game to more easily take place. Ultimately, there are few ways to actually ensure that we maintain a healthy business environment. If the companies involved want to form a monopoly, it’s easy to do so and keep prices high for a service that has an extremely high profit margin. Wireless companies had been doing this for years until T-Mobile started a price war last year. In turn, it then leaves only regulatory agencies like the FCC to step in to try to allow businesses to make a profit while also encouraging competition, which is why the Bell System under AT&T was split in

the 1980s. The idea was to allow these smaller companies to compete with each other while still offering quality service, creating a good environment for AT&T and these subsidiaries to compete, become innovative, and offer a fair price. But, in the three decades since the split-up of the Bell System, the seven original companies have boiled down to just three — Verizon, CenturyLink, and AT&T. Even worse, however, is that these telecommunications companies have not just begun to merge their own services as a utility, but have also begun to purchase media assets. Last year, Comcast finalized a longstanding deal to buy NBC, not to mention a large stake in Hulu. The idea that these companies have expanded beyond the utilities market and into mass media organizations is even more startling. Think what you will of the free market, of business, and of mergers. In reality, there can only be two major perspectives at work — one where the government steps in to help guide the market’s direction, and another is blind promotion of laissez-faire economics and the trust that companies will always remain competitive. What Comcast and Time Warner Cable are doing can bring a lot of harm to the industry should it stop competitive business practices. Based on the precedents our government has set in the last century, it is, in a way, their obligation to continue to promote competitive business practices and prevent the creation of large, noncompetitive organizations. Ultimately, it seems like for every step forward we take, we just end up two steps back. Rest assured that once this is over, someone’s bill is going up.

Advertisement

CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

PAGE 13

DEBATE & DIscOURsE
Loathsome Protagonists Inspire Reformulation of Ethics
Nathan Tauger Editor

F

rozen in West Virginia over break with hopes of a tropical vacation dashed by the Indian Embassy, my only reprieve was the cinema. I wanted to see 47 Ronin because I like Keanu Reeves. I wanted to see Grudge Match because I like old people. But, being away from Vassar, I had already started to miss abundant wealth and New York State, so with a couple of friends, I saw The Wolf of Wall Street (TWOWS). (Spoiler alert: I will be discussing the end of the movie.) Later that night, I talked with each of my friends about the film. The first thought it was too long; the second thought it was just too much.

“The depraved protagonist can say and do things that our moral and societal filters would never allow us. Books and movies that let us live vicariously in unacceptable ways are then outlets that our consciences let slide. My friend does not like Frank Underwood for his heartless maneuvering, but he sure likes watching him for it. ”

It glorified selfish American excess, he complained. Present were the cars, prostitutes, drugs, and yachts, but not present were the people cheated out of their money by the main character, who is, in fact, a real person who stole a lot of real money. There was no scene to contrast the extravagant beach parties with the experiences of the disadvantaged. Instead, endless banter about sex, drugs, and midget-tossing interrupt scenes of sex, drugs, and midget-tossing. Even worse, the wicked protagonist, and also narrator, bounces back from

DO YOU wANT TO MAKE YOUR vOIcE HEARD? THE VASSAR CHRONIcLE ENcOURAGEs YOU TO sUBMIT cOLUMNs AND LETTERs TO THE EDITOR.
CONTAcT CHRONIcLE@VAssAR.EDU “SPEEcH Is cIvILIZATION ITsELF.” - THOMAs MANN

all of it. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort is finally tried and arrested, but he ends up coasting through minimumsecurity prison, writing a book about his life, giving TED talks, and remaking his millions. It was not an entirely cathartic ending. Underlying my friend’s opinion was the idea that films should communicate ideas that enrich our lives. For him, TWOWS’s message was crass and harmful — the sky’s the limit for the charming and slimy. But that’s just what my friend thought. I, on the other hand, liked the film. I am not even convinced that the film is harmless. If you’ve seen it, try and remember the almost-not-ironic infomercial in which the everyday people who attend Jordan Belfort’s seminars assert that the poor are poor because they lack initiative. Some of the people who saw this film walked away believing that. Some of the people who saw this film believed that Belfort’s actions are worth emulating. Don’t believe me? Type “Jordan Belfort interview” into YouTube and look for the Australian guy fawning at the real-life scoundrel. Not everyone saw this film as ironic. I still liked it, in no small part because of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort. He is manipulative, cunning, selfish, and often victorious. He uses people as means to his own ends, puts others in reckless danger — at various points in the film, he drives his sports car, his helicopter, and his company drunk, on hallucinogenic drugs, or both — and never feels obligated to change his ways. Donnie Azoff (played by Jonah Hill) — Belfort’s right-hand man — also deserves credit. His character is obsequious, pathetic, hilarious, and almost steals the light from DiCaprio at times. Reflecting on my feelings towards the film, I was not sure if I was a bad person for extracting some glee from the depraved main characters. I then started thinking about other works of art that I like. TWOWS’s formula of a captivating but unreliable narrator who spins their exploits in a deceiving light has

Martin Scorsese

a history. Vladimir Nabokov’s H. H. in Lolita comes to mind, as well as the justslightly-older-than-TWOWS American television series House of Cards and its main character, Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood, originally Ian Richardson’s Francis Urquhart in the BBC miniseries. The narrators in these works lend humor to truly ugly stories; in the end, they give us a more interesting perspective than what might come from a neutral, third person plot progression. Each of these characters turns the reader into a new friend and accomplice. We watch or read trying to remind ourselves of how repugnant Humbert’s actions are, but we find ourselves laughing at his depiction of French teacher Gaston Godin. It would be an understatement to call Frank Underwood a bully, but we are still impressed when he tricks the teacher’s union advocate Marty Spinella. Seeing these scenes from a perspective other than the narrator’s would turn them into more loathsome beasts. Even the worst monster doesn’t look bad when their story is told in a convincing way. Or, maybe, we watch these characters, not because we like them, but because they do what we lack the courage to do in real-life. The depraved protagonist

can say and do things that our moral and societal filters would never allow. Books and movies that let us live vicariously in unacceptable ways are then outlets that our consciences let slide. My friend does not like Frank Underwood for his heartless maneuvering, but he sure likes watching him for it. My final defense of TWOWS is that its decadence is not so far from the truth. For at least a few people — probably a few Vassar alums! — life is expensive drugs, houses, food, sex, and finance and consulting. They do not worry about the tragedies outside of their lives because, as far as their own self-interest goes, they do not have to. Let them embrace Wolf as their story. Let those who wish to be like them covet it as well. The film will be their monument — one that hopefully takes a lot of historical context to explain. And, for those for whom this film does not speak, let them remember it too. Just as I am convinced that some will leave this film wanting to be Jordan Belfort, others will leave with the message that TWOWS’s unbridled consumption and work-hard, play-hard attitude is something that the world could do without.

PAGE 14

CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

DEBATE & DIscOURsE
White Audience, Black Performer: Race and Comedy
Hannah Matsunaga Editor

T

he video begins with a school bell. It is loud and tinny — the way I imagine most school bells to be. The next shot is of an open biology textbook next to an animal preserved in a jar. The shot pans up. A black man in a white shirt and yellow tie stands in front of the chalkboard and announces that he will be the substitute teacher for the day. “I taught for twenty years in the inner city, so don’t even think about messing with me,” he yells. “Y’all feel me?” Next shot: the students of the biology class. They’re high school students. In the front of the bunch, there are two boys with large curly hair wearing safety goggles. One of them looks a lot like a boy from my Intro Art History class here at Vassar. Bored-looking girls sit at the lab tables and run their hands through their neat, straight hair. All of the students look as if they shop at the Gap. They look confused by their new teacher’s presumptuous accusations. None of these kids had thought about “messing with” their substitute teacher. All of the students are white. The video is a sketch done by KeeganMichael Key and Jordan Peele for their TV show Key and Peele, which premiered on Comedy Central last year. Both Key and Peele are black men and former cast members of MADtv, the MAD magazine and Comedy Central-affiliated sketch show that was like SNL’s edgy younger brother in the late ’90s. Key and Peele’s show generated remarkable viral buzz before its premiere, thanks to its creators’ savvy Internet marketing campaign and their quick, effortless comedic timing. I am watching the sketch on YouTube at a debate tournament at Wellesley College, surrounded by collegiate debaters. Everyone in the room is completely engrossed by the video, which is being projected onto a big screen. The substitute teacher, played by Key, continues. “Let’s take role here. JayQuelen.” The class is silent. The students look at one another with curiosity. “Where’s Jay-Quelen at? No Jay-Quelen here?” Finally, a blonde girl raises her hand and, in her best “valley girl” voice, asks, “Do you mean Jacqueline?” The teacher drops the clipboard and leans forward onto his desk. His eyes are stormy. “Okay, so that’s how it’s gon’ be. Y’all wanna play. Okay then. I got my eye on you, Jay-Quelen.” He continues with the roll call, naming BaLakay, Dee Nice, and A-A-Ron, getting progressively angrier at the confused, irritated white students who keep correcting his pronunciation of their names. Around me, the other debaters can barely contain their laughter at the sketch. At a few points, I lose it myself, especially when the sub goes back and forth with Dee Nice. “Say your name right, right now.” “Denise.” “Say it right!” “Denise.” “Correctly!” “Denise.” “Right!” “Dee Nice?” I think it’s pretty funny, but as my eyes drift away from the screen and towards the throng of laughing debaters, I can’t help but notice that, like in the

Keegan-Michael Key in a sketch for his show Key and Peele on Comedy Central.

Viacom

classroom from the video, none of the people around me are black. In fact, if you excuse the Indian kid from Tufts wearing Google Glass over his real glasses, a few of the East Asian girls from assorted elite private colleges, and half of me, everyone in the room is white. Most everyone in the room is laughing. I begin to wonder why everyone is laughing so hard. Maybe I’m not as in on the joke as I thought I was. Was the joke that the mispronunciation of common names was funny? The funny pronunciation of a common word is one of the most basic forms of humor — tell any four-year-old that French fries are made of “poo-too-toos” and you should get some kind of giggle. More than anything, I want to believe that this is the joke, but all I can see is Keegan-Michael Key’s black body and all of the white bodies surrounding me roaring with laughter like hyenas. I know the people around me are not laughing at the students in the video. They’re laughing at the comedic anger of the substitute teacher, marked by his loud voice, the violent way in which he is knocking things over in the classroom, and his frustration with the names of his students. No one reacts to the pronunciation of Aaron, but everyone laughs to the pronunciation of A-A-Ron. What does it mean for a black performer to perform for an all-white audience? I think part of what it means is that Key and Peele have made it. They have their own TV show. They write their own material, perform it, and people, myself included, really like it. This room full of debaters accounts for only one of the more than 44.7 million views of this specific sketch on YouTube. I think about advertising

and wonder how much money they’ve made from this video alone. I also think of Kimberly “Sweet Brown” Wilkins of “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That” fame. I think of the way Antoine Dodson, the man who became an Internet celebrity by telling a reporter that he should, “hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wife … cuz they rapin’ everybody out there,” tried to use his fame to ask for donations in order to move himself and his family “out of the hood” and pay the medical bills for his mother and sister’s Type 1 Diabetes. I remember watching their videos and laughing just as heartily as all of those people in the auditorium at Wellesley did. The joke was and still is blackness – the teacher is black and the students are white. The joke is that the names are black names and the students are white. The joke is that black names are hilarious. Or at least, that’s the joke for this specific audience. I doubt any of the debaters in this room are laughing because something about this reminds them of their lived experiences. I doubt any of them have close relationships with people who remind them of the substitute teacher, have any friends or family members with names like Jay-Quelen, or have ever tried to move their families out of the hood like Antoine Dodson. I wonder what all of the debaters in the room with me think of black culture — how cool or desirable or hilarious it is to them. I wonder what rapper Kendrick Lamar would think if he performed a show for an all-white audience. I also think about my political science reading, currently tucked away in my bag but just as present in this room as I am. The

reading is a book about slavery in America. It describes the way slaves would have to “step lively” on the auction block and sing and dance when they were commanded to in order to prove to white people that they were healthy and obedient. The book describes the way this kind of spectacle delighted the white spectators of the slave auctions and made the atmosphere of the auction cheerful for those who were not chained, dehumanized, and about to be sold. The book describes the way plantation masters would make their slaves perform for house guests as a way of exercising their will and their power. It speaks about the projection of white power onto the black body. Sometimes that projection of power took the form of entertainment. Sometimes that black body was manufactured with a heavy coat of minstrel-show blackface. I think that, maybe, I am being a buzzkill — that I am overreacting to a crowd of people laughing at the work of two incredibly gifted comedians. I wonder if I am being unfair to Key and Peele by making their work a racial issue and not just letting it be comedy. That’s a kind of violence in itself, isn’t it? Must the creative work of people of color always be specific to their race instead of being universally relatable? It certainly seems unfair of me to attach “black” as some kind of prefix to the word “comedian” when describing Key and Peele; I wouldn’t use “white” the same way to describe Louis C.K. I wonder if my critique of this situation is hypocritical given that I’m just as black as all of the other people who were present in that room at Wellesley, which is to say, not at all. I wonder how my own view of Dave Chappelle as the greatest living American comedian fits into all of this. I imagine Chappelle the way he was the last time I read about him — walking offstage

“ I doubt any of the debaters in this room are laughing because something about this reminds them of their lived experiences. I doubt any of them have close relationships with people who remind them of the substitute teacher, have any friends or family members with names like Jay-Quelen, or have ever tried to move their families out of the hood like Antoine Dodson. ”
before finishing a comedy set in Hartford, Connecticut, away from the young, drunk, majority-white audience booing him during what was supposed to be his return to stand-up comedy. I imagine him resisting the urge to, in his words, “pull a reverse Kramer and call them all crackers or something crazy like that.” I imagine him saying, as he did on stage that night, “Fuck you … I’m going to have to read about this shit for months.”

CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

PAGE 15

Debate: Ought Vassar Diveset from Fossil Fuels?

DEBATE & DIscOURsE

I

n this Debate of the Month, transcribed from a public debate hosted by The Vassar Chronicle, the Vassar Debate Society, and the Vassar Greens, Chronicle Editor-in-Chief Zack Struver ’15 and his partner Meg Mielke ’14, argued in favor of divestment, while Vassar Chronicle Editor Hannah Matsunaga ’16 and her partner Colin Crilly ’15 opposed the motion, that “Vassar ought to divest from all direct investments in the fossil fuel industry.” The divestment movement has international reach on college campuses and in cities, and this educational debate presents the issues in relation to Vassar’s ultimate decision to divest. Zack Struver ’15: The first argument we would like to make is that Vassar has a moral obligation to divest. Under this, our first point is that the fossil fuel industry is a major contributor to global warming. Research indicates that the annual discharge of 7.5 billion tons of carbon from burning fossil fuels is largely responsible for the annual rise in atmospheric CO2 levels. As we all know — and I don’t think our opponents will be contesting this point — rising CO2 levels definitely contribute to global warming, and global warming poses a deep threat to not only the environment, but also to the earth. As professor Robert J. Hart wrote, “Humankind’s continuing enhancement of the natural greenhouse effect is akin to playing Russian roulette with the earth’s climate and humanity’s life support system.” So, why does this matter? Well, we think this matters because, though we may have already passed the point where we can reverse the damage we’ve done by global warming, there’s always a chance that we haven’t. But, even if we have, Vassar still has an obligation to not fund corporations that are literally destroying our planet. We think that to contribute to an existential risk to humanity and the planet is a terrible thing under any moral system and that Vassar should not be putting its money into corporations that are predicated on the destruction of the environment. The extraction of fossil fuels requires destroying parts of the environment, but also, burning fossil fuels results in billions of tons of carbon that are largely responsible for atmospheric CO2 levels. My second point underneath this is that fossil fuel corporations harm ecological and human communities. First we’d like to talk about air pollution. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “several major pollutants are produced by fossil fuel combustion: carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxides and hydrocarbons. Suspended particulates contribute to air pollution; nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbons can combine in the atmosphere to form tropospheric ozone — the major constituent of smog.” So, fossil fuels are really bad in areas that have cars and other means of transportation because they contribute to smog which is really bad for not only the environment, but individuals’ health. We think that fossil fuels are terrible for people’s health in other ways. For example, in places where there’s a lot of strip mining for coal, there is a lot of environmental damage — a lot of the chemicals that are used are leaked

into streams and rivers, which provide water to a lot of people and are also used for recreation. Hydrofracking releases dangerous chemicals into the water table and hurts a lot of rural families. So, why is this important? Well, because Vassar encourages students to engage in social justice; environmental justice is a really important part of that. Environmental harms create major forms of repression across communities because people who are really damaged by the environment are people who are living in places where they don’t have a lot of political say. So, in rural communities, it’s really hard to do a lot of community activism. We think that Vassar needs to show its solidarity with these people; it has an obligation as an institution that is committed to social justice to enact its moral principles and divest in fossil fuels. Our second major argument is that Vassar has a political obligation to divest. If everybody believes that their divesting from fossil fuels can’t help, the movement will never begin. Vassar needs to take a public stance on divestment and be a part of the change. We need to accept that fossil fuels harm the environment and that by divesting, we will be contributing to a larger movement that will spark proper change. So, even though not a lot of institutions have divested at this point and not a lot of people have committed to divestment, we think that by making this commitment, we’re contributing to this growing movement that will eventually show investors that they can be responsible with the money they’re spending and that they don’t necessarily need to invest in fossil fuel companies. Indeed, several charitable foundations recently divested from fossil fuel companies, in part because of student movements for divestment in the United States. According to a recent article published by Reuters: “More than a dozen foundations representing more than two billion dollars worth of assets said they would stop investing in fossil fuel. Its members said, ‘Continued divestment in fossil fuels prevents financial and ethical risks and urges other companies to follow their lead.’ The announcement comes amid growing calls from the UN climate chief and student movements in the United States.” Vassar’s divestment would have a very big political impact. First of all, we’re one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. People would recognize that a school with a large endowment – almost a billion dollars – divesting all of their direct investments in fossil fuels is a pretty big deal. The divestment movement at Vassar has already gotten a lot of press. We think that this will increase press and maybe galvanize other liberal arts colleges in our cohort to divest. The final point that I would like to make is that Vassar should invest in green energy and socially-responsible funds. Lots of government officials are calling for green energy. We also think that green energy is a steadily-growing industry and that if Vassar invests relatively early in its growth, it can make a large return on investment. We think that the fossil fuel industry is a pretty bad investment at this point — a

carbon bubble is pretty inevitable. Since there are more carbon reserves than we actually use, we think that investing in fossil fuels is going to be damaging to our endowment in the long term. For all these reasons, we urge divestment. Colin Crilly ’15: My partner and I firmly stand against divestment. Our first argument is that direct divestment will hurt Vassar’s endowment. Even if we only have $7.5 million directly invested in fossil fuel companies, that is still millions of dollars Vassar should use responsibly, given our current fiscal situation. In November 2012, the S&P downgraded Vassar’s bond rating to a AA- because of its unsustainable and increasing endowment draw levels due to our operating costs as well as Vassar’s commitment to meeting 100% of the financial needs of its students while retaining need-blind admissions. So, yes, Vassar doesn’t invest a lot directly to fossil fuels, but with the economic strain

“Vassar divesting from fossil fuels would create a dangerous precedent of Vassar harming itself financially for a viewpoint that doesn’t reflect the diverse opinions of students on this campus. Sure, we divest from BP now, but what happens next year if there is a movement to divest from companies with homophobic CEOs, or from companies that spend millions of dollars on lobbyists in order to influence federal policy?” -Colin Crilly, ’15
that Vassar is currently undergoing, we need every cent that we can possibly get and fossil fuel companies have proven to be incredibly profitable investments. For example, BP makes an investment return of 10.9% for Vassar. Given that Vassar aims for an overall return of 8.5% a year from its investments, this is an incredibly profitable share. While the divestment side may argue that stocks and fossil fuel companies are inherently risky in the long term, we contend that they are much less likely to fluctuate than the stocks of alternative businesses. Our second argument is that divestment will not lead to positive changes in the fossil fuel industry. Now, let’s take a moment to step out of the Vassar bubble and realize that, in the grand scheme of things, Vassar’s investments don’t make or break fossil fuel companies. In fact, according to our director of investments, our total equity position in Chevron is only 0.002% of the company’s shares. Furthermore, if we were to surrender our shares, they wouldn’t be free for long. As Vassar trustee Catherine Wood, who has over 30 years of experience in the investment management sector, explained, “By petulantly selling your shares, you

have not hurt the company at all; you’ve just transferred ownership to some other party who cares much less about the issue than you.” So, not only does divestment have no negative impacts on fossil fuel industries, it is actually preventing Vassar from encouraging greener practices through its influence as a shareholder. The divestment side argued that Vassar has the opportunity to lead a nationwide movement to divest, but there’s no indication that other schools would follow our example. As of now, only five colleges have resolved to divest from fossil fuelconsuming companies. Funnily enough, they’re extremely similar to one another. They have incredibly small endowments — ranging from $1 million to $36 million, as opposed to Vassar’s approximately $850 million; four out of five of these colleges specialize in environmental studies or human ecology, so they’re more likely to attract investors who would support their divestment policies, and, finally, none of them have a need-blind admissions policy or meet 100% of the financial need of their students. Larger schools with a wider range of facilities and a desire to financially support their students are therefore not going to divest from fossil fuel companies in the near future. Schools such as Middlebury College, Brown University, and Harvard University have already issued statements that they will not divest because of the financial risk associated with limiting their investment options. It is clear, then, that the only result of divestment would be financial harm to Vassar College — harm to its students, faculty, and workers. My final argument is that, as an academic institution, Vassar should not politicize its endowment. Our endowment is largely composed of donations from alumni and investors who wish to help improve Vassar as a school for bright and talented individuals. To use this money to damage Vassar’s financial situation for the purpose of making a statement is completely irresponsible. Vassar divesting from fossil fuels would create a dangerous precedent of Vassar harming itself financially for a viewpoint that doesn’t reflect the diverse opinions of students on this campus. Sure, we divest from BP now, but what happens next year if there is a movement to divest from companies with homophobic CEOs, or from companies that spend millions of dollars on lobbyists in order to influence federal policy? This is not a sustainable practice. Divesting from fossil fuel companies is an arbitrary political stance that will, furthermore, alienate future alumni and investors who are now unsure of how we will use their money. I think the president of Harvard University said it best, “The endowment is a resource, not an instrument to impel social or political change.” Ultimately, divestment is financiallydamaging, will make no difference to fossil fuel companies, and contradicts Vassar’s philosophy as a liberal arts college to serve the students’ best interests. There are much better ways for Vassar and its community to address climate change and it is for all of these reasons that we are proud to oppose divestment.
Continued on Page 17

PAGE 16

CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

Divestment Poses Moral Question to Vassar's Investors
Continued from Page 16

DEBATE & DIscOURsE

Meg Mielke ’14: The opposition gets up here and gives their first point. They talk about how divestment is going to harm our endowment and, therefore, going to harm need-blind admissions. They paint this picture of Vassar where we either invest in fossil fuels and have need-blind admissions or we divest from fossil fuels and discontinue the policy. We think this is a really problematic depiction for four main reasons. The first is about money. This might shock some of you, but Vassar has a lot of money. We raised $140 million last year and we’re building a science building for $125 million, so, in the grand scheme of things, $7.5 million isn’t really that much. Besides the money, there’s the issue of image — Vassar has staked its claim on caring about need-blind admissions and recruiting low-income students. To quote President Catherine Bond Hill to other institutions that weren’t recruiting lower-income students: “Shame on you.” Regardless of whether Cappy actually gives a shit about low-income students, the issue is about image projection — we’ve projected this image that we care about these things, so we’re not going to sacrifice that over the issue of divestment, so we can shift back to other things. My third reason moves away a little bit from this alarmist rhetoric that says that we’re definitely going to lose $7 million; actually, we’re not going to lose the money, it’s just shifting to other things. There was a study published in the Chronicle of Higher Education that said that for schools that divest from fossil fuels, the risk increases by only 0.01%. So, there isn’t much of a risk when we divest. Next, I’m going to talk about how we can best enact change. The opposition mentions the idea of proxy voting — in theory, we have these shares, so we can go in and say, “Gee whiz, ConocoPhillips, we have $7 million in investments, so stop destroying the environment.” No, that’s not going to work because their business model is based on fracking and drilling and generally fucking everything up. It’s not going to change. They talked about how we will have this ability because of proxy voting at Harvard, which has a much larger endowment and therefore has many more shares than we do. Harvard hasn’t been able to enact change. They tried to create a ceiling on carbon emissions in ConocoPhillips in 2008 and they were blocked. Vassar is not going to enact change; we found their depiction of this ability to be really problematic. They talked about these other colleges that are divesting, but are smaller and don’t commit to needblind admissions. The difference between Vassar and those colleges is what’s going to make the difference in the change. We’re saying that we’re the institution with the larger endowment, we’re the institution that believes in need-blind admissions, and, yes, we’re going to divest from fossil fuels. That’s going to be the difference. Our opponents’ third independent point is that we should not politicize the endowment, which is irrelevant because we’ve already politicized it by investing in fossil fuels. By investing in fossils fuels, we’re making a political decision. Lastly, the opposition talks about

how there are better ways to help the environment, like encouraging the reduction of fossil fuels on our campus. Struver responded [in cross examination] by saying that we can do both at the same time. I would say that it is very hard to invest in fossil fuels while also telling people to reduce their fossil fuel consumption. We’re telling people that they should use less oil — try to reduce consumption — but we’re also saying that our financial success as an institution is tied to corporations that are basing their financial success on selling more oil and fracking more and all of these things. We can’t do both at the same time and the opposition is not addressing that in today’s debate. We talked about the moral obligation — we still believe in that, the political obligation. We can make a difference, as we’ve said. And because I haven’t reached my quota for talking about Alaska enough today, I’m going to talk about my home state. There’s a community in western Alaska called Newtok, which is most likely going to be the first community of climate change refugees in the U.S. because their community — the land that they live on — is being pushed into the river because of melting permafrost, which is caused by climate change, which is being celebrated by these fossil fuel companies. I would say that there are two options. First, let’s say there’s a small chance, a remote possibility that we can do something to slow or stop this process in Newtok and other communities across the country. Are we not morally obligated to try to do that? I think, hopefully, the answer to that would

“[The opposition] talked about these other colleges that are divesting, but are smaller and don’t commit to need-blind admissions. The difference between Vassar and those colleges is what’s going to make the difference in the change. We’re saying that we’re the institution with the larger endowment, we’re the institution that believes in need-blind admissions, and, yes, we’re going to divest from fossil fuels. That’s going to be the difference.” -Meg Mielke, ’14
be a resounding, “Yes!” Finally, let’s say there’s no chance — it’s going to happen and we can’t really do anything about it — is it not morally reprehensible to support these companies and tie our financial success, to hitch our wagon, so to speak, to their success? My partner and I believe that answer should also be a resounding, “Yes,” and for all those reasons, we believe in divestment. Hannah Matsunaga ’16: Our opponents’ first point was to go over the moral obligations to divest. They talked about global warming and harm

to communities. We, on the opposition, also believe that global warming is a really bad thing. So, why would we throw all our energy behind an empty statement instead of actually attempting meaningful change? I think Colin does a really good job of explaining why divestment doesn’t matter to fossil fuel companies. If we actually care about enacting change in the world and creating a more sustainable future, why would we throw all our efforts behind something that is kind of like a masturbatory exercise in selfrighteousness? They also talk about how our voice matters, and Colin responded to this by saying that if we lose our money, we lose our voice. Meg is put in a really interesting position when she talks about how our lack of money will make a difference, but the money we currently have invested does not make a difference; I think this is kind of a pernicious hypocrisy because we’re talking about when fossil fuel companies will listen to people. If we actually have money invested in them and we’re their shareholders and we can proxy vote, this is a really meaningful thing and a thing we can do to enact meaningful change. They, on the divestment side, try to claim that proxy voting does not work, but one of the people who handles the finances at Vassar has said, “The proxy process has produced gains over the last decade and shareholder voting rights through the election of directors.” For example, she says that there was a big victory this year when shareholders successfully urged Continental Resources and Oklahoma Oil and Gas Company to curb its gas emissions in North Dakota (New York Times, Sept. 5, 2013). We think this is a really great way to enact meaningful change. Also, there are other ways to be an environmentalist. Why not focus on sustainable things like educating the next generation of people to actually solve these issues? The opposition goes on to talk about political obligation — they say that we have a large obligation to spark change and that if we inspire everybody, we can all do it together. Divestment will not be a reasonable course of action until it’s financially responsible. We can’t encourage all of these institutions to take huge financial risks just because we think it sounds nice. This will not be a thing until its financially solvent to divest; it’s not currently solvent to divest, because if it was, we would have already done it. In the best case scenario, you have a situation like South Africa, in which, according to empirical studies, divestment didn’t actually do anything because the shares that we sold were quickly bought up by other people who wanted to make a profit. Moving on, they talk about green energy and socially-responsible funds. For a little while, it looked like Solyndra — a company that makes solar panels — was the hot, upcoming thing. In 2009, they were making $100 million a year, in 2010, they were making $140 million a year, and in 2011, they were bankrupt. This is why green energy is an unsustainable solution; it’s risky — it’s a new sector. Colin and I hope, just as much as everybody else in this room, that green energy continues

to make large strides in the future, but we also say that it would be completely irresponsible of Vassar, as an institution, to start investing in this sector before it is a financially-responsible thing to do. The endowment isn’t just this fund that we get to play with — it’s a fund that actually goes towards people’s tuition — it goes towards financial aid. It’s the reason that we have need-blind admissions. This isn’t just money that we can talk about — this is people’s lives, this is their education. Try telling to all of the students here who are on financial aid that their money is not as important as some statement that we could make. Now, on to Colin’s points. Financial responsibility. He talked about our bond rating going down and how investors actually have less faith in Vassar than they did previously because of the way we’re spending our money, and, yeah, we’re spending a lot of money on our science building, but I want to stress this again because we cannot stress this enough — need-blind financial aid. Need-blind admissions is really, really expensive. It means that we let people into Vassar without seeing whether they can pay for it and then we help them pay for it if they can’t. This is why Wesleyan, a college which is very similar to Vassar in many respects, stopped being need-blind – because they could no longer afford it. The divestment side can get up here and say that we’re permitting scare tactics all they want, but this is a very real thing that is affecting students — people who could’ve gone to Wesleyan but now cannot because Wesleyan can no longer afford it. We talked about how this wouldn’t have an impact on the oil companies and Meg is put in this really interesting position where she talks about how our money does not make a difference to these oil companies — the money that we currently have invested is not enough to have a voice, but the lack of that same money would be enough to give us a big voice. I think that the divestment team has to pick one or the other — either the lack of that money matters or it really doesn’t. Moving on, on our third point: politicizing the endowment. They claim that our endowment is already political and by investing in fossil fuels, we’ve already made a choice. I’d like to break something to you — Cappy and the Chief Financial Officer of Vassar are not investing in fossil fuels because they want to be evil; they’re not investing in fossil fuels because they want to fuck over the environment and sit in that big house and pet Persian cats. People who are choosing Vassar’s investments are choosing them because they want Vassar to be a profitable institution. They want Vassar to build science buildings, have resources, pay labor, pay professors, and have need-blind financial aid. The people who invest our money want us to make more money. If it were financially-solvent for us not to invest in those places, we would be doing that already. We have a team of people responsible for investment! In conclusion, I’d like to say, we’re really proud to oppose.

CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

PAGE 17

Makeup Entrenches Made Up Standards for Women
Christa Guild Managing Editor

DEBATE & DIscOURsE

I

t’s a fondly remembered ideal of mother-daughter bonding that many women share — that of the daughter trying on her mother’s makeup, and possibly even her clothes and her shoes, in an attempt to look older and sophisticated. By their early teen years, quite a few of those girls are already proudly wearing makeup regularly. At the same time, for aging women, makeup becomes a necessity; just look at the backlash that Hillary Clinton faced in 2012 for not wearing makeup for only one day. Younger women attempt to look older and older women attempt to look younger; most students at Vassar appear to be right in the sweet spot — the ideal twenties. And yet, it seems that so many Vassar students still spend their early mornings prepping for the day and their nights attempting to remove it all. The overwhelming inclination for women — and note that it’s almost entirely women — to wear makeup indicates a certain level of insecurity; the lack of perfection is unacceptable, even and especially among those who should be “in their prime.” This campus thrives on calling out misogyny, yet so much objectification still remains in the form of the judgment and appraisal of physical appearances. People may shoot down things like the 1-10 scale of attractiveness and call that offensive, but a certain level of self-induced objectification still occurs through the use and general acceptance of cosmetics. By wearing makeup, women become both victims and agents of a culture that shames women for their supposed imperfections. When I first came to campus in the fall of 2012, I saw makeup as a promise to be taken seriously and as an emblem of growing up. By hiding whatever acne I had and covering the dark circles that seemed to be becoming permanent, I made myself look like the challenges of college life weren’t affecting me. So, I applied makeup a few times a week, feeling a little better about myself on the days that I did. For someone who has some self-esteem issues, makeup was a really pleasant option. Over time, however, I began to see how this “improvement” was actually damaging

my self-perception. While in high school I had thought little about my appearance and had chosen to wear little-to-no makeup, in college I was becoming fixated on every little flaw. My minor insecurities flourished under this new pressure and so, one day, I quit. The makeup that was covering my insecurities was also covering some unfortunate truths. After I stopped putting makeup on, I noticed how makeup was universally damaging, even to those women who are lucky enough not to feel the need to rely upon it. The emphasis on a woman’s appearance rather than on her other attributes has encouraged an overwhelming desire for physical perfection. This constant societal obsession on the physical leads to unnecessary competition between women. Makeup is a constant attempt to outdo other women; if you don’t like what you were born with, change it. Eventually,

“People may shoot down things like the 1-10 scale of attractiveness and call that offensive, but a certain level of self-induced objectification still occurs through the use and general acceptance of cosmetics. By wearing makeup, women become both victims and agents of a culture that shames women for imperfection.”

DO YOU LIKE wHAT YOU’RE READING? WANT TO JOIN THE sTAFF OF THE VASSAR CHRONIcLE?

women wear makeup to attain the superhuman ability of never looking as if life is having any negative affect on them. Their own expectations then become unattainable; women are taught that they are not good enough as they are, so they keep applying makeup until they feel that their appearances are satisfactory. When I began to wear makeup, I had thought that my reasoning was noble because I was doing it for myself and not to please anyone else, but in reality, it just meant that I thought my appearance was insufficient. While some women do not wear makeup

and some people who do not identify as women do, our culture still undeniably entrenches cosmetics in femininity. The fact that men feel little-to-no pressure to wear makeup — and quite often even feel a pressure against it — is often viewed as natural. But there’s nothing natural about saying that women need to be perfect while men can look however they look, and, in fact, should not care about their appearance as much as women should. By maintaining this separation between men and women, we continue to think that any resistance to gender norms is an act of deviancy. This distressing double standard is completely embedded in our perceptions of genders. Women on television are almost never without makeup; if they are, it’s to represent sickness or fatigue. Dolls are often made to have obviously emphasized lips and eyes — effects only possible on actual humans with some artificial assistance. These early and constant indications that women need to be more than is naturally possible imbues our culture with incredibly lopsided expectations; people are taught to judge women more harshly than men, on their appearances alone, without even realizing it. The very act of putting on makeup asks a woman to examine and reexamine every part of her face. In reality, people take, perhaps, quick glances at one another, so those flaws that women spend hours learning to eliminate are of no consequence. As a result, women are inclined to fret over their own appearances and to feel the need for self-improvement much more than is necessary. Furthermore, the cultural obsession with feminine beauty teaches those attracted to women to have certain expectations. From the celebrities that people grow up idolizing to the porn stars they lust after, the ideal, sexualized woman almost never has a bare face. While women may then feel as if they have something to prove to those they wish to attract, the importance of image goes beyond romantic and sexual attraction. Many employers can and do legally require women to wear makeup to work to seem “more professional;” in 2011, a woman

had to leave her job at Harrods — a highend department store in London — when required to wear an excessive amount of makeup. Asking female employees and not male employees to wear makeup is blatantly discriminatory because it implies that a woman’s appearance could detract from her work, whereas a man’s physical body is secondary to his other merits. On Oct. 17, 2013, The Telegraph reported on a survey which claimed that 61% of company executives stated that a female employee’s lack of makeup would harm her prospects at receiving a promotion. In an already-biased job market, women are asked to maintain their femininity to please the men they work with and remember that they are, first and foremost, women. Furthermore, the very cost of makeup can create a fissure between those of different financial situations. Some women invest large amounts of money in makeup so that they can get both variety and quality, but most women simply don’t have that option. Asking women to set aside part of their paycheck for the purpose of buying makeup is completely irrational, but many women still feel the pressure to do so. The cost of eyeliner, lipstick, mascara, concealer, and foundation alone cost almost $50 from Maybelline, which not only gives little variation, but also is unlikely to last for more than a few months if used regularly. That cost is minimal when compared to high-end makeup; a single eye pencil from Clarins costs $25. Indulging in cosmetics is simply an expensive habit that discriminates against those who can’t afford it. As mentioned, after I stopped wearing makeup, I noticed a gradual improvement in my self-esteem. I always assumed that the sentiment that women look better without any makeup was just a feel-good thought without any real truth behind it, but after so many days of seeing the merit in my appearance without the intention of fixing its flaws, I can, however, attest to the truth of this statement. Even if makeup gives you confidence or you simply see it as a form of personal artistic expression, I encourage you to at least not rely upon it; the occasional day off could be unexpectedly empowering.

PRODUcTION & DEsIGN EDITOR, ONLINE EDITOR, COPY EDITORs, PHOTOGRAPHERs, ILLUsTRATORs, AND WRITERs NEEDED.
CHRONIcLE@VAssAR.EDU
PAGE 18 CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

HUMOUR
Recommendations on Properly Restructuring the VSA
Adam Ninyo Contributor

t has come to my attention that members of the Vassar Student Association (VSA) have been hard at work since October trying to figure out how to restructure their organization. When I heard this news, I couldn’t have been more ecstatic to get involved and help contribute to making the VSA a better government. I have taken the liberty of listing a number of my best ideas for how the VSA ought to change its structure so as to create a more perfect Association. 1. The VSA must wear powdered wigs and follow British Parliamentary procedure: As we have not been loyal British subjects for more than 150 years, I feel that we have lost a sense of the class, style, and honor that came with the parliamentary ways of yesteryear. Thus, in order to help return things to this superior era, the VSA ought to mandate powdered wigs and return to the British Parliamentary system of that time. It would also be best if they returned entirely to the same 18th century attire — perhaps Philaletheis has something they could let the VSA wear?

I

Of course, this also requires a customary sabre for every member, as fighting was quite the common affair on the floor of Parliament. Meetings will run from six in the morning until last light — or when everyone stops shouting. Poor dental hygiene, British accents, and wooden teeth are all strongly encouraged, but not required. 2. Every member of the VSA is to become an honorary Vice President: One of the big problems in the VSA is the lack of a bureaucracy. Yes, a lack of bureaucracy. They just don’t get it: We need a larger executive board, more committees, and more channels in which people can travel, struggle, and eventually get lost. While there are a number of effective ways to improve upon the bureaucracy, I feel the quickest way we can get this done is simply by dramatically increasing the number of Vice Presidents. We currently have five — we can easily bring this number to twelve or more. Simply making every member of Council a VP is also a wonderful solution for whatever public image issues they may have. Since this will add to the chaos of our already-chaotic student government, people will see the smallest

movements in the right direction as major victories (Congress, anyone?). By adding to the number of committees and overall bureaucracy of Vassar, we will thereby have more confusing, and ultimately more productive government – just think of all the amazing drivel we’ll get to hear! 3. Wiretapping of dorm rooms should be mandatory: Student activism is a blessing and a curse. On campus, we love to see new initiatives come to fruition—until they start to hurt those who have already worked so hard to come into power. We have a vey clear line of succession in the VSA: House President, VP of Something, VSA President, Bacio delivery guy and so forth. We need to continue this structure to give a clear, monarchial line of succession. The best way to do this is to ensure no student is trying to impede this structure, thus every room should be wiretapped with the help of CIS. Wiretapping would ensure that the VSA supports all proper forms of activism — those that target the administration rather than the VSA — while the converse could be stomped out of existence. 1984 wasn’t a warning, it was a manual! Read it (not just the Sparknotes), people!

4. Any remotely important part of the VSA is to no longer involve students: Now, as great as all these things are, I have to admit there is one major aspect of the VSA that we need to do away with: the students. You may think that students need to be involved in Student Government, but let me assure you that the issue is not students running their own government, it’s simply giving students some sort of government to follow. We can easily find administrators who will take the reins of the VSA and simply tell us what is right and wrong — no thinking required! Quite frankly, you couldn’t get a more square deal. All we have to do is go on with our lives and just be the students we want to be; the administration-led VSA will handle all the minor political issues and we can just continue our lives in ignorant bliss. In conclusion, there are just oodles of things that the VSA can do to further develop this crazy experiment we call student governance. I think we can try to implement at least one of these ideas before the end of the year, and the good it would bring to the issues of representation and acknowledgement on this campus is unmeasurable.

Cappy Ditches Scarf, Experiments with New Look
Zack Struver Fashion Correspondent

V

assar College President Catharine “Cappy” Bond Hill announced today at a mandatory campus meeting that she would begin to explore new forms of neckwear. “I've been wearing scarves for over 30 years now,” she explained. Though Hill noted that her scareves have become a “signature accessory in [her] clothing line,” she believes that now is the time to “change things up.” President Hill made clear that she'd consulted with various college administrators before reaching this decision, including long-time Vassar trend-setter and “Dean of Fashion,” Chris Roellke. Others, however, have pointed to growing internal dissent within President Hill's administration as a reason that she ought to continue wearing scarves. “[Dean of Students] D. B. [Brown] is extremely unhappy,” according to an anonymous junior administrator. Though President Hill has noted that this phase of her career is temporary, she hopes to incorporate what she learns into future administrative decisions.
Zack Struver

CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

PAGE 19

BREAKING NEWS:
The contractors, who were sourced from Sochi, Russia, have provided a few photos of their previous work.
For the new House, you can expect...

“GIVE ME tHE LUXURIES OF LIFE AND I WILL WILLINgLY DO WItHOUt tHE NEcESSItIES.” — FRANK LLOYD WRIgHt

THE LASt PAGE

VASSAR ANNOUNCES NEW DORM CONSTRUCTION

A classic, Victorian-styled dorm parlour

Julian Finney

State-of-the-art gym facilities

Chris Dufresne

Free wifi! Spacious, clean rooms
Kamil Wolnicki

Simon Stanleigh

Freshly stocked vending machines.

Shaun Walker

CHRONIcLE, FEBRUARY 2014

(It's still better than Raymond)