A New Home for Activism

College students have found their voice through college activism.

Emma Getz, president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kent State, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) KSU and The Flashes of Fem Coalition.

Kevin Cline, secretary of YAL and senator for the College of Communication and Information for Kent State’s Undergraduate Student Government.

Tala Niwash, president of Students for Justice in Palestine. Niwash is wearing a checkered and floral scarf called a keffiyeh, which she describes as “a scarf that represents resistance and solidarity within Palestine and all the Palestinian people.”

Words by Amanda Levine | Photos by Olivia Seidel and Sophia Adornetto

On a rainy, cold spring day of 2017, students marched down the Esplanade, holding signs reading “I defy racism” and “I defy sexism” while others chanted “My body, my rights” and other cheers focused on the Trump presidency. The march ended at front campus, when the students painted the rock with hot pink spray paint, Planned Parenthood’s colors. Around 30 students gathered in Risman Plaza that day while leaders from different student organizations led speeches to encourage students to resist hatred and bigotry.

The first time senior Emma Getz walked into a Planned Parenthood Advocates of KSU meeting she instantly felt welcomed. Activism wasn’t a part of her life until college, but she is now the President of three organizations on campus: Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kent State, The United Nations Children’s Fund KSU and The Flashes of Fem Coalition. Getz is also an intern at the women’s center.

“A lot of times you hear Planned Parenthood thrown around, but I didn’t know a lot about it,” Getz says. “I had never gone to the clinic, but I just knew that the type of people who were in that organization usually aligned with my values, my beliefs and the things I like to do.”

Planned Parenthood’s initiative is to educate college students on women’s reproductive health. During meetings, they discuss topics such as different methods of birth control, prices and insurance. As well as weekly meetings the organization participates in outside events, such as the PRIDE parade in Akron.

Getz compared the protests she participates in on campus to the ones she has gone to that aren’t affiliated with the university. Last January, Getz went to the women’s march in Cleveland which she described as empowering.

“I was amazed at how much people care,” Getz says. “There was a girl who’s up there talking and she was a DACA recipient. She was crying because she was having a really hard time talking about it, and she kept apologizing and were just shouting out ‘Oh, it’s okay. We love you, you got this.’”

Getting involved on campus is a part of the college experience for many students at Kent State. From 4 the Love of Paws to History Club, there are over 400 student organizations to join.

Professor Ashley Nickels of the political science department believes the large amount of opportunities colleges offer is the catalyst for college activism.

“The college experience [is] a space to become immersed in, different opportunities. So getting involved in different clubs, different student organizations, you see students becoming participants and members,” Nickels says. “Over time, as people are invited to engage more, they see this as a being a part of creating change.”

Kent State is no different. Kent has had a history of activism. On May 4, 1970 students were protesting the Vietnam War on Memorial field, when the National Guard opened fire- killing four and wounding nine. The May 4 site, located in Taylor Hall, is now recognized as a national landmark.

More recently, alumna Kaitlin Bennett has held multiple open carry protests along with Liberty Hangout, a student organization Bennett formed on campus. She was previously the president of Turning Point USA-Kent, before resigning. Bennett and Liberty Hangout teamed together to educate fellow students on open carry laws and the second amendment and brought Kent into the national spotlight when her graduation pictures went viral for holding an AR-15.

Tala Niwash, president of Students for Justice in Palestine, didn’t consider herself an activist until she attended Kent State. During Niwash’s freshman year, she went to Blastoff where she found the Students for Justice in Palestine group. It was here that she found people with similar beliefs and values similar to her own, especially after living through the occupation in Israel-Palestine.

“I just started going to their meetings after that. My biggest motivation was that I’m Palestinian, and I lived through the occupation, and know firsthand experience about everything,”  Niwash says.

SJP focuses on educating its members about issues in Israel-Palestine. Each weekly meeting involves a discussion about current events and culture. In the spring SJP has a week dedicated to talking about the occupation called Israeli-Apartheid. Each night SJP holds meetings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They constructed a model wall based on the wall Israel built on the West Bank and a map of Israel-Palestine with facts about the occupation.

Last year, Students Support Israel held an Israeli education day for the anniversary of Israel’s independence. SJP held a silent protest against SSI in retaliation where they gathered in Bowman Hall with the Palestinian flag and homemade signs. With masks covering their faces, SPJ walked down the Esplanade to the second floor of the student center where they stood in a line holding the flag and signs.

“We wanted to do something to show people the other side of everything,” Niwash says.

Sociology professor at Kent State-Stark Katrina Bloch says activism is “engaging in activities to try and further positive change.” Bloch and Nickels both agree college is a space where students with different backgrounds can get together and share their personal experiences.

“They’re asked to think about their ideas, think about what’s important to them and reevaluate those thoughts.” Bloch says. “For some students it’s just reaffirming what they already knew, coming to new ideas, but then you create a space where you can act on those.”

Before the 2016 election, Kevin Cline, a senior majoring in public communication, hadn’t been involved with campus activism. Later, he noticed there weren’t any Libertarian groups on Kent State’s campus and worked with recent Kent graduate Colton Dalton to create one.

Young Americans for Liberty’s national branch worked with Cline and Dalton to start a chapter at Kent. YAL says they are a nonpartisan group that isn’t associated with any political party on campus, including the Libertarian party. They aim to focus on educating students on libertarian values.

“We don’t back candidates or legislation or anything like that. A good way to differentiate is we’re pro lowering taxes and tax cuts, but we wouldn’t endorse a tax cut bill,” Cline says.

For the past three years, YAL has hosted an event on Risman Plaza where students can sign an eight foot beach ball to advocate free speech. The goal of the event is to educate students on the First Amendment. In addition to the beach ball event, YAL has focused on informing others on their civil liberties, such as the “Restore the 4th” event. Last spring the organization went up to students and asked if they could look through their phones and bags to inform students on the fourth amendment.

“I think in a messaging standpoint, the best thing is to find out what [students are] passionate about. So politics in government in general, intrude on all of our lives,” Cline says. “I like to say that you may not care about politics, but politics sure as hell cares about you.”

In fact, Nickels believes activism on college campuses comes from being exposed to people with the same values.

“The more you move from this involvement as a member of an organization to adopting kind of that as part of your identity definitely influences your own form of activism, seeing yourself as an activist, seeing yourself as an agent of change,” Nickels says.

Organizations like SJP and Planned Parenthood Advocates partner with other activist organizations on campus as an effort to fight oppression. They both partnered with other clubs to work together to educate other students about their values.

SJP partnered with the Spanish and Latino Student Association to host an open panel about the similarities between Israel building a wall on the West Bank and President Trump’s idea of building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I feel like most of the organizations that we do deal with are activists and they’re all fighting for their interests and what they want to see in the future,” Niwash says. “We all just help each other out by standing in solidarity.”

Unlike Planned Parenthood and SJP, YAL only partners with other organizations on nonpartisan issues. Because they are not a political party group, they can’t work with the College Democrats or the College Republicans to support a candidate or policy; however, YAL and these two organizations have held debates together on a wide range of social issues.  

After the election of President Trump, Cline noticed a rise in right-wing groups organizing on campus. He believed the election gave people with these platforms a space to voice their opinions.

“Post 2016, I think there’s a lot more political tension on campus than there was because there is a battle of these ideas that we’re both bringing to the table with the left and right wing,” Cline says. “I’ve had a lot of great interactions with people that we have completely different worldviews, and every time we talk we get to learn something new about them and they learn something new about me. We generally agree more than we disagree is what I find.”

Nickels says although people are mobilized by political events, it is hard to see if there is a rise in activism or not. However, some research has shown mass demonstrations leading up to — and following — the 2016 presidency have been some of the largest.

“There was a mobilization of people interested in re-engaging in politics or engaging in new ways,” Nickels says, “I think for many, especially on the left, this was motivated by concerns around what the implications for a Trump presidency might mean for policies that were both important to them ideologically, but also had very real implications for their lived lives.”

For Cline, activism doesn’t stop at the campus. Cline and his friend have recently opened Mil Liberty Initiative. This organization is an advocacy nonprofit that focuses on “advocacy of the ideas of liberty to improve people’s everyday lives.”  

Like Cline, Getz also has a love for activism that goes past her college experience. After college, Getz wants to work for the Peace Corps and eventually attend graduate school or work for a nonprofit organization.

“I think activism is probably my passion. I think it’s what drives me,” she says. “Quite honestly, that’s pretty much what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

The ‘best years of your life’ can actually be the loneliest

Today’s college students are struggling to navigate loneliness — high expectations, social media could be why

Words by Valerie Royzman

Last fall, Lauren Woodbury waited outside the lecture hall for “Introduction to Statistics” to start. The professor was running a few minutes behind. Synchronously, students, many of them freshmen, rubbed tired eyes, yawned, directed attention back to the glowing companions in hand.

As the professor unlocked the heavy, gray double doors, Woodbury shuffled into the crowded classroom of Generation Z robots where everyone was a stranger.

“And all of the sudden, I was overcome with emotion,” says Woodbury, a Kent State sophomore studying psychology. “This big moment of ‘Is it all worth it?’”

She quickly ditched the class and wound up in the bathroom, where the frustration welling up in her wide blue eyes turned to aggressive crying. She trembled, but she managed to pull herself together enough to call her boyfriend. Jared, a University of Akron student, stayed on the line with her for three hours. He wanted to reassure her she didn’t have to brave this flood of feelings on her own.

Woodbury says she had a mental breakdown that day.

She also says this was the moment she realized she was incredibly lonely.


Woodbury, surrounded by people, felt alone.

Across the country, college students — freshmen, especially — feel this same sense of isolation, says Nance Roy, the chief clinical officer of the JED Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to protect the mental health of teenagers and young adults.

“You’re thrust into an environment where you typically don’t know anyone. … Now you’re in a place that’s completely foreign to you,” Roy says. “You don’t have a ready-made group; you don’t have the support on a daily basis that you were comfortable and surrounded yourself with for 18 years.”

A nationwide survey from the health insurer Cigna in May reported loneliness is reaching “epidemic levels in America” — and young people are among the hardest hit.

According to the 2018 study — which surveyed 20,000 online across the country— nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone or left out. Based on the UCLA Loneliness Scale, which ranges from 20 to 80, those who score 43 and above are considered lonely, and the average score in America is 44.

Generation Z, born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, “is the loneliest generation” and scored 48.3, the survey found. Millennials follow this trend, though not to the same extent, and they scored 45.3. Baby Boomers, ages 54 to 72, and the Greatest Generation, age 72 and above, scored lower — 42.4 and 38.6, respectively.

Roy says loneliness, which she defines as an emotion and not a mental illness or condition, strikes individuals in this age group particularly hard because they’re stumbling through a transitional period. She wasn’t involved in the Cigna study.

“What most college students hear before they go off to college is, ‘Oh, these are going to be the best years of your life,’ and, in fact, that’s a pretty unrealistic picture, and you have unrealistic expectations,” she says. “You don’t have 100 friends as soon as you step on campus.”

When this realization settles in, Roy thinks students begin to feel like something could be wrong with them. And so, the loneliness unfolds.

Alexander Colbow, a psychologist for Psychological Services at Kent State, echoed these sentiments. He says loneliness “regularly comes up in the counseling office.”

“Any major transition that people experience in their lives can make them a little bit more vulnerable … especially when they’re moving and being uprooted from their social networks that they had,” Colbow says.

Woodbury says her assumptions of college didn’t match the reality.

“I couldn’t really find anyone who wanted to do anything, ever,” she says. “And last year, I didn’t have a car with me either, so I was like, ‘I’m stuck on this campus doing nothing.’ There was a lot of times that I would just come back to my room and cry.”

This realization arrived too late for Woodbury, who says the “magnitude of difference” from high school to college escalated her loneliness.

“In high school, there were a lot of things just thrown into your lap,” she says. “In college, those opportunities are still there, but you kind of have to look for them and take the initiative and realize, like, ‘I’m not just going to be handed things anymore.’”

Ericka Schneiderman, a Kent State junior studying conflict management, says she normally doesn’t have much trouble starting up conversations with strangers. When she fails to prioritize her social life and spends extended periods of time on her own, though, she feels her loneliest.

Schneiderman recalls a period when even a companion didn’t help. She says her ex-boyfriend was even more introverted than her, and they spent the bulk of their time shoulder to shoulder, not interacting with many others.

They were lonely together.

Today, Schneiderman gushes she’s happily dating someone new. Like Woodbury, her relationship is easing her loneliness. But still, when Schneiderman’s boyfriend graduates at the end of the semester, she knows this all-too-familiar monster will creep into her life again.

“He says he’ll still make time to see me, but I know how difficult adult life can get,” she says. “And there I’ll be, feeling like no one cares, that if I disappeared tomorrow, who would really notice?”


Although loneliness isn’t new, how it’s affecting today’s college students — a culture in a committed relationship with its cell phones — could be.

Roy says college students are attached to technology, and the colossal amount of time they spend with it may have repercussions. Friends post their “best selves” to social media — glamorous grins and red Solo Cups in hand — and if students are refreshing their Instagram feeds repeatedly, they begin to feel bad about their decisions to stay in their dorm rooms or home for the night.

“If I’m seeing that 24/7 or I’m glued to my screen and tracking what everybody else is doing all the time, it can certainly exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation,” she says. “Even though, somewhere in the back of your mind, you know it can’t be as good as it looks — even still, it has an impact.”

In a July 2017 study, American Journal of Preventive Medicine researchers found young adults who frequently turned to social media “seem to feel more socially isolated than their counterparts.”

Roy and Colbow agree social media use alone isn’t the culprit of loneliness, but because young people rely on it so heavily, they may be having trouble navigating their loneliness.

Even though her friends would say she “gets along well with others” and “is such an entertainer,” Schneiderman says this is only one version of herself that she shows the world. The other spends her time alone, locked in her room.

“Netflix and Hulu and movies and music are my main companions,” she says. “It’s not that I don’t like going out — I do. I just don’t feel motivated enough.”

Students occasionally post to Kent State’s class pages on Facebook with messages like, “SOS in need of friends to hang with” and “Looking to make some new friends. Drop your Snapchat snapcode below.”

Woodbury hasn’t tried this. She says she doesn’t think her social media use is detrimental because she didn’t have “super strong connections” with people back home in Cincinnati, so she doesn’t feel jealousy, guilt or loneliness when she sees them online.

“I actually, since graduating, haven’t talked to anyone I graduated with. … I never really felt that distance, I guess, because there wasn’t really anybody from home that I was missing,” she says.

Face-to-face interaction has changed Woodbury’s outlook as a sophomore. For her own sake, she stepped into a busier life. With a full course schedule, an internship at Akron Children’s Hospital and involvement in two psychology clubs, she feels less lonely.

“It’s just realizing that you really need to make an effort yourself  to look out there and figure out what’s fun to you. … When you find those things, that’s when you’re going to find those people that have the same likes, the same dislikes as you,” she says.


Colbow says because loneliness stems from a variety of things, solutions are case by case and depend on the student’s identity — the LGBTQ community, first-generation students, international students and others have differing situations — and what concerns they’re dealing with.

“Some of it is exploring the thoughts you have about yourself or the fears that come up when interacting with people if somebody is isolated,” he says.

Besides digging for the root cause of that student’s loneliness, Colbow recommends seeking new social interaction, which could mean joining clubs and study groups on campus, participating in residence hall activities, volunteering or sports.

“And then also kind of exploring what makes it hard to take those risks or share about something you’re struggling with or putting yourself out there in some way and saying ‘hi’ to somebody new and developing those deeper connections with people,” he says.

Woodbury says conversations with her residence hall assistant, who agreed her expectations of college were too extravagant, led her to realize her loneliness was normal. When she made more of an effort to stop toting around her loneliness, things slowly improved.

On the first day of class in the spring of her freshman year, she checked with the girl beside her to be sure she was in the right music class. That conversation, Woodbury says, led her to her best friend.

Woodbury says counseling at the Counseling Center in White Hall helped remedy her loneliness. She attended sessions in the fall and spring of freshman year out of fear her loneliness would grow too heavy for her to carry.

Roy says loneliness is not necessarily a precursor to anxiety or depression, common among college students.

“I do think that when folks are isolated for long periods of time and are lonely for an extended period of time that it certainly can be helpful to get some support, whether that be your counseling center or your family or clergy, if that’s who you go to,” she says.

Roy urges students to take note of when their loneliness — what she calls the “single biggest struggle for first-year students” — develops into “staying lonely for three years.”


Though Woodbury feels better this semester, she suspects loneliness will wrap its eerily familiar arms around her again, especially during stress-filled weeks or on weekends when fewer students are roaming campus.

This time, though, Woodbury says she isn’t so afraid.

“It’s definitely survivable,” Woodbury says. “You kind of have to have an ‘aha’ moment to get yourself out of it. You have to know that it’s not a switch that once you’re out of it, you’re going to stay out of it. You’re going to have moments — and that’s OK.”

At the start of this fall, Woodbury’s phone rang. On the other end was the secretary from the Counseling Center, who asked if she was interested in sessions this semester — asked if her loneliness was overwhelming her.

“No,” Lauren says, smiling into the phone. “I’ll reach out if I feel the need to, but so far, I’m definitely not in the same place as I was last year.”

Then she hung up.

#GIRLBOSS

Female leaders are on the rise and in Kent, women are stepping up to lead clubs, create organizations and manage businesses.

Words by Taylor Robinson | Photos by Richa Sheth and Sophia Adornetto

Women in Kent, OH and at Kent State are founding clubs, running organizations, running businesses and inspiring other women to become a #GirlBoss.

The term #GirlBoss was created by Nasty Gal clothing brand founder Sophia Amorusso with her 2014 book of the same title and later Netflix Original series. Amorusso has since turned the term #GirlBoss into a media website, inspiring women to chase their dreams and support other women.

But the American Association of University Women (AAUW) says, “women are less likely than men to be in leadership positions. In universities, businesses, unions and religious institutions, male leaders outnumber female leaders by wide margins.”

AAUW reveals the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports 30,000 cases of sex discrimination creating hostile work environments, negative stereotypes of women in leadership and biases keeping women out of roles.

Women are breaking those stereotypes and creating positive work environments within Kent and offering advice to other women in the community to step up to become leaders too.

Rachel Schrantz is a junior majoring in fashion merchandising. Last year, Schrantz formed the Kent State College Diabetes Network chapter after discovering there wasn’t any club or support group available for students with diabetes.

Last fall, Schrantz was testing her blood pressure before class when a classmate approached her. The pair bonded over being diabetic and when they realized there wasn’t an organization or support group on campus for diabetics, they decided to start something together.

Schrantz founded Kent State College Diabetes Network and held the first meeting last spring. The network is a chapter offering a support group for type one diabetics to volunteer and give them a network of students all going through similar problems..

While the club is open to all genders, the officer board and adviser are all women.  

“From the get-go, this was a very empowering group of women,” Schrantz says. “It helps to find other women who are on the same page because you can build each other up as you go.”

Elizabeth Ferry, a junior majoring in visual communications design, is the president of the all-women organization Changing Health, Attitudes + Actions to Recreate Girls (CHAARG).

While Schrantz did not face any challenges forming and running her organization, other women leaders on campus haven’t been as lucky. Elizabeth Ferry says her organization faces jokes from guys mocking the all-women organization.

“We actually get a lot of jokes from guys saying, ‘Oh, why can’t we join?’” Ferry says. “I try to ignore them because I know we’re doing something great. We’re changing lives, we’re helping girls feel super confident with themselves. I try to tell everyone else not to let it get to them, because we’re doing a great thing and it shouldn’t matter what others think.”

CHAARG helps college aged women find ways to make working out fun. Ferry says it is a great way to make friends and get involved in different social events. The organization hosts retreats, weekly workouts and small group workout days together.

“To have a bunch of girls looking up to you to make their lives better, it encourages me to make my own life better,” Ferry says. “It’s a whole different atmosphere because we are so supportive of each other and I love making all the new friends and I think since it is all girls it is really special.”

Jeanette Lansinger, a junior majoring in business, worked her way up from an Independent Beauty Consultant to a team leader of Mary Kay in the past three years.

Lansinger had similar experiences of men hearing she works for Mary Kay and judging her for being part of an all women’s company.

“Working in an all women organization, I never really had any discrimination, but I definitely had people look at me and ask if I’m sure this is what I want to do,” Lansinger says. “Mostly that comes from men. There are some people who look at it as a fun way to make money and not really a career.”

As a team leader, Lansinger says they focus on empowering women with their inner and outer beauty.

“I enjoy empowering other women,” Lansinger says. “I am a very self-confident person and I love to give that to other people. I love what I do and I help people by loving on them and telling they are loved.”

Lansinger says her experience working with all women has been empowering and has boosted her self-confidence.

“Women have this nature to lead,” Lansinger says. “Women leaders are incredible. We need more women leaders throughout the world.”

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In 2009 Michelle Sahr opened Off the Wagon after working with her dad in retail and other toy stores through the years. After learning of downtown’s development plans, Sahr decided on Kent to open the toy store. Off the Wagon was the first store that was all her. It is also their most successful store.

“Sometimes you have to fight to be taken seriously. But, the way I always approach it is I plowed on ahead and I acted very professional and serious,” Sahr says. “On occasion, I would just walk away from something if it wasn’t that important to my business.”

Sahr says she tries to never think about being a woman holding her back and moves forward expecting to be treated equally.

“It shouldn’t be in the back of your mind that being a woman could interfere with anything you try to do. I don’t even think about it and I think that actually helps,” Sahr says. “People are going to take you seriously if that is how you present yourself.”


Scribbles Coffee Co. owner Beth Budzar took over the store from her friends and former owners after years of being a barista.

Budzar says while it hasn’t been a struggle, she feels motivated to be taken seriously in a predominantly male business, and she feels like she has to know every aspect of her business.

When Budzar took over the ownership of Scribbles, she worked to start the roastery side of the business. In about two months, the business outgrew the small roaster in the back and they recently found a location in Tallmadge to roast their own coffee.

“I know how to roast. Every Saturday my husband and I go to roast together,” Budzar says. “I what to know all about what a good bean looks like.”

“Something that I am very proud of, is that being a woman in the coffee industry I find ways to support other women in the industry. One of those ways is searching for farms that support women’s rights,” Budzar says. “We found a coffee farm in Honduras that supports gender equity which allows the woman to have the same rights and pay as the male workers. They have 77 woman working on the farm. We named the Honduras coffee Honduras 77 in honor of those 77 women. We we hope that number grows.”

Schrantz, Ferry and Lansinger see the need for more female leaders in the world and hope to inspire and empower other women to become leaders and a #Girlboss.

“I think every woman has this overflowing self confidence inside them, but it’s about cutting through what other people have told you what you are and telling yourself you are beautiful, worthy, strong and you are a leader,” Lansinger says.

Women should believe in themselves and not care what other people think or what their opinions are, Schrantz says.

“Be proud of what you’re doing, because it’s hard, but be proud, because it’s amazing. You should be lifting other girls up, whatever you’re doing,” Ferry says.

THE MENTAL GAME

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Breaking stereotypes and finding an accepting, open environment in the gaming world.

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Words by Ray Padilla | Photos by Jacob Golden, Olivia Seidel and Ray Padilla

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.9″] Junior Cody Minnick joined one other student in the library room — each bringing their own controller and headset. They connect through the application Discord and loaded up the vehicle soccer game, “Rocket League,” to add an additional player. Meanwhile Minnick connected to their Twitch channel and began streaming — beginning their practice. The practice took place in the basement floor of the Kent Library. There I met Cody to interview him about the program in a small room with no cell service. This room houses six monitors, keyboards, mice and desktops. After the interview, he sat down at one of the computers and began playing. Nowhere on the stream is the name Cody Minnick. Instead, listed above the cars were MinnickToWinIt [Minnick], ChrisWithaK (Holliday) and Rubik (freshman Wesley Miller). These three are players for Kent State’s esports’ “Rocket League” team. MinnickToWinIt and ChrisWithaK are among four students on the varsity team for the game. In May, Kent State offered a community tournament featuring teams from University of Akron, Bowling Green University and surrounding high schools — starting the esports program for the school. Since then, it has boomed with popularity and features four different varsity teams; “League of Legends,” “Hearthstone,” “Rocket League” and “Overwatch.” This semester is the first for Kent State esports. Currently, there are over 80 varsity esports programs across the country according to ESPN. Kent State has yet to be listed with these universities. The varsity collegiate esports programs began at Robert Morris University in Illinois in 2014, and now esports programs have popped up regularly as the interest levels have spiked. “We are still working out some of the small pieces, but I’m not worried at all,” Steve Toepfer, the director for the esports program at Kent State, says. “We have a lot of student passion and interest. We have a staff in place and this is going to be a good year.” As new esport programs emerge, opinions of the sport come along with them. Some people believe it’s not a sport at all because the little physical activity needed. There’s still little we know about the effects it has on the players involved. In the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Jacksonville, Florida, where three players were killed and 11 wounded at a “Madden 19” tournament, the esports industry has considered tracking the stress levels the players endure while competing. Given its appearance just four years ago at Robert Morris University, there are many aspects people still don’t understand. Some might think of this program as students just playing video games in the basement of a library for fun. Others might look at it as a dangerous environment where they are playing violent video games and damaging their mental health. It might be where they sit at computers for long periods of time, affecting their blood pressure. Fortunately, the program at Kent State has a solution. It’s setting up a research lab to find out the truth about esports. Enrico Gandolfi (Lazariel) is an assistant professor in Educational Technology at Kent State within the Research Center for Educational Technology, and he also plans to conduct research on the gamers involved with Kent State’s esports. “Esports are, I would say, a very complex phenomenon,” he says. “As researchers, I think our goal, our aim right now, is to understand them better — to understand why they work, why they don’t work, to understand what they can do for good or when they can be distracting.” Lazariel’s focus is finding out how games might be used for an educational purpose in classrooms. Although, before putting game consoles in classes, he wants to understand the positives and negatives of gaming. He it’s hard to say esports is good or it’s bad, and he believes we are in a grey area in between because there’s not enough research to prove on side or the other. “The goal of our research branch is to look into this stuff and see what are the best practices, what really is negative,” Toepfer says. “I don’t for one second deny that this is a sedentary activity.” He doesn’t want to ignore the stereotypes or controversial subjects related to esports. Rather, Toepfer wants to tackle them head on and find solutions or prove that the program is beneficial to students who take an interest in the gaming world. MinnickToWinIt was selected as captain of the “Rocket League” team by Toepfer. The director felt he needed to select someone who was not necessarily the best on the team, but someone well organized and had the ability to lead a group of students. He hoped for someone like MinnickToWinIt to kickstart the team. In the basement room of the library, I could hear only the clicking noises coming from their controllers and the sounds of strategic planning or reactions. Not much conversation was happening between them and me. They were wired in and focused on winning their practice matches. “Close one,” “It’s fine,” “It’s going down,” “I can beat him,” “I should have caught that sooner,” “I don’t have boost,” “I’m mid,” “Nice!” “Oh my God, turn!” These mentions only made sense because I was looking over their shoulders at the game in front of them. The ball was flying all over their screens and they used cars with attached rockets to chase it down and hit it into the opposing team’s goal. Sporting a yellow car with blue lighting blots was MinnickToWinIt — looking for the ball and being the “playmaker,” as he called it, of the team. He didn’t always start out as esport player though. Two and a half years ago he was introduced to Kronovi’s YouTube channel, where he would watch montage videos of “Rocket League.” The Youtuber has over 346,000 subscribers and focuses his videos only on the vehicle soccer game. After watching montage videos, MinnickToWinIt started a club called “Kent State E-sports” in January 2016, but he lost it a year later after the previous advisor had left and it was unable to find a new advisor in time. [/et_pb_text][et_pb_image _builder_version=”3.9″ src=”https://theburr.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/IMG_3495-e1543606769167.jpg” /][et_pb_blurb _builder_version=”3.9″] Two varsity “Rocket League” players and one JV player practice their skills in the esports lab of the library. When playing together in person they talk to each other through the application Discord or they remove their headphones and communicate face to face. [/et_pb_blurb][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.9″]

Filter

MinnickToWinIt enjoys having a place where he can game with fellow members and friends. He says it’s much better to play in person because it helps avoid yelling. He explained how when someone plays remotely, it’s easier to yell at another teammate for a mistake; however, when that same person is in the company of others, it’s harder to show anger. ChrisWithaK, the self-described defender of the team, described it as a filter. “If someone messes up, you don’t really want to say, ‘dude, come on man, you gotta step it up,’” ChrisWithaK says. “It would make you feel bad about saying it. So you have to think about how you want to say it because everyone gets video game rage now and then.” Once, when playing “Rocket League” for fun before joining the team at Kent State, he experienced a rude Twitch streamer he had just met. He played a great game and was invited by the streamer to join a couple days later. He thought nothing of it and did. While playing with the streamer he was noticeably off his game — not playing as well as he (and the streamer) had hoped. The streamer became angry and started criticizing ChrisWithaK saying he was terrible at the game and asking what had happened to the player he saw before. After the game was finished, the streamer kicked him from Discord and was never heard from again. ChrisWithaK was ghosted from someone he didn’t even know. “I guess people have these standards after the one thing. They uphold you to this and if you can’t fulfill that all the time, you not even needed,” ChrisWithaK says. “But, it’s just a game in the end. I think of it that way. I play for fun all the time.” He found that playing for fun was one thing, but while playing on the esports team at Kent, he’s created a bond with his co-players and a new purpose. One of his friends found out about the program first and told ChrisWithaK to tryout because he could make the team easily. He immediately contacted MinnickToWinIt once he realized he missed the second day of qualifiers. Luckily, MinnickToWinIt told him to come down to the basement floor of the library and tryout that same day. For the “Rocket League” team, both ChrisWithaK and MinnickToWinIt played with people who were “too emotionally involved” in games. With their team, they try to avoid it and remember it’s all just a game in the end.

Escape

Rather than chasing a ball from a rocket-powered car, Hazard [senior Shaun Anschutz] assembled his team for a new game focused on statistics and a little luck in the free-to-play online called “Hearthstone.” Captain Hazard is not new to the esports scene and worked for three years with Tempo Storm as a general writer, client relationship manager and a manager for one of its teams, Heroes of the Storm. Before working with Tempo Storm, Hazard went to school at Youngstown State University looking to study computer engineering or computer science, but quickly understood it was much more difficult than anticipated. After leaving YSU, he joined the U.S. Navy and was stationed with the Marines as a Fleet Marine Force Hospital Corpsman and stayed for about three years until he was discharged. “I had a very rough personal time while I was in,” Hazard says. “So I got out in 2013 with an early out — with a general under honorable conditions discharge.” Hazard found the Navy difficult because he was serving as a gay man around the time of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal and his medical officer was a strong Republican from the south. At the same time, while in the military, he attempted suicide and sought out help shortly after — still talking to a professional to this day and feels much better. Video games have helped as well. “[esports] makes me happy,” Hazard says. “Especially when I have a team or a set of players that I can help navigate through a series of events or mentor.” He later described in an email conversation about how esports is open and accepting of others — one of the most liberal spaces on the internet. There are trolls, but if people look past that, they can be themselves and be involved. Hazard believes esports created an open environment for people to be themselves, socialize and create a community with one another. He says it’s a way for some people to battle depression and it definitely helped him. Like Hazard, varsity esports coach for “League of Legends”, XEndgamerX (Glenn McDowell) used video games to distract him from his problematic reality. Ten years ago, XEndgamerX went through a divorce. During that time, he played “World of Warcraft” regularly. “It was an escape from my life at the time,” XEndgamerX says. “But, it allowed me to stop thinking about that situation and actually go to sleep. It actually allowed me to rest during that and it got me through a really hard time.” He says the game helped him recover from what happened and he felt video games were a better alternative than what most people turn to — alcohol or drugs. He’s seen the effects of alcoholism in his family before. XEndgamerX is also a Kent State employee working as a senior military science instructor. While he doesn’t play video games as much as he would like to, he says it’s a stress reliever at times. It shocked me to realize that this fit-military man in his 50s sitting in his office in front of me still played video games. Some of the most well known gaming YouTubers are in their 20s. Never did I picture a gamer with five children. Although, I will probably be in the same boat, playing the newest Call of Duty 30 years from now. XEndgamerX says basically since video games were invented, he has always played. He grew up in Silicon Valley in California and used to roller skate to the arcade with a pocket full of quarters. His mother would call him “Johnny Atari.” While at Kent, he heard “League of Legends” was played in the esports world and this game was not unfamiliar territory. The master sergeant had played it with his older cadets and approached Toepfer telling him he had a team ready and willing to play for the school. [/et_pb_text][et_pb_image _builder_version=”3.9″ src=”https://theburr.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Seidel_45.jpg” /][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.9″]

The Program

The players, XEndgamerX and Toepfer all see this semester as a starting point for esports at Kent State and are hopeful it will continue to grow. Toepfer says he sees a lot of “awesomeness” in the esports program and he believes the growth will be massive. With that, he sees awareness growing as well. Older generations find it hard to believe these programs are excelling and gamers have found a great deal of money within the industry. “For this program, I think we are little behind,” Toepfer says. “But, we’re just in time to be there before everybody adopts an esports program. There’s some resistance here and there, but it’s giving way pretty fast in my estimation.” XEndgamerX says the younger generations need the older generations’ help to make esports grow and succeed. He believes the younger generations need to push and be active for what they want for the future. “Look to the future of what the next generations are going to actually do,” XEndgamerX says. “And really see are we stagnant or are we progressive.” During the esports Boot Camp in September, Toepfer highlighted the four “Pillars of the Program:” community, competition, health and research. In addition, he went over the guidelines, rules and expectations — focusing on students becoming a representative of the university. He made sure to include good sportsmanship, politeness and things to refrain from saying while playing for Kent State. “We will be the most polite gamers in the world,” Toepfer says as laughter in the room follows. It seemed like an unrealistic expectation the director was setting, but he made sure to go over the consequences — including probation, dismissal or a loss of scholarships — just as a reminder. [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_code _builder_version=”3.9″]<iframe src=”https://e.issuu.com/anonymous-embed.html?u=theburr&d=burr2018fall&p=44″ width=”944″ height=”500″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=”true”></iframe>[/et_pb_code][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]

ABORTION: MORE PERSONAL THAN POLITICAL

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While arguing what is right and wrong, we often forget about the individual.

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Words by Cameron Gorman | Photos by Sophia Adornetto 

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Sitting in one of the leather recliners in an abortion clinic recovery room, a saline IV in her arm, Taylor Fearn feels overwhelmed.

According to Fearn, as she sat waiting for her surgical abortion, crying from nervousness, women were brought into the room in wheelchairs, some “barely able to stand up on their own.” She doesn’t like to see people in pain, and she recalls that women were vomiting and “groaning,” many of them still in pain from their procedures. Fearn (not her real name) says what she saw affected her “more emotionally than the thought of killing a baby.”

“I just felt emotional, not because I felt bad about my choice, but I just felt emotional because of how invasive and just how intense abortion is physically on the woman’s body,” Fearn says.

It all began few weeks before school started. Fearn says she knew she was pregnant.

“I kind of just knew,” Fearn says. “Something just felt different and off in my body, and I just — I just knew I was pregnant. And I took tests probably like a week before my period should have been, so I was like, really worried about it. Something was off, I just knew something was going on with my body.”

Within 20 minutes of seeing “positive” on her pregnancy test and speaking with the man who she’d had sex with, Fearn, a senior at Kent State, says she called Planned Parenthood. Her first instinct was to look into having an abortion.

“I just was being kind of reckless with myself, and wasn’t taking care of myself like I should have, so the fact that I couldn’t take care of myself, I definitely couldn’t take care of a baby,” Fearn says. “Even if I get married one day, I know that I don’t want to have children, so I know that I never want to have kids, so just abortion was my only option in this case.”

Fearn isn’t an outlier. The Ohio Department of Health reported 20,893 “induced pregnancy terminations” in 2017 alone. In the United States, the CDC reported 652,639 legal abortions in 2014 — “12.1 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years.” The figure is a one percent increase from last year — but, the ODH says, abortions have been in “steady decline” since 2001.

Ireland legalized abortion in May. And with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh entering the nation’s highest court, abortion activists are heated over his stance (or lack thereof) on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that made access to abortion legal in the United States. Looking at the world, abortion seems to be a thoroughly political argument. But if viewed through this lens alone, are we getting the whole picture?

The political environment isn’t lost on student activists such as Jordan Whidden, the president of KSURGE, or Kent State Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity. She says the group, which has around five active members this year, often advocates for abortion rights by speaking with politicians and lobbying.

“We would consider ourselves pro-choice, yes, but more pro-people,” Whidden says. “Like, we don’t consider a fetus a person until it’s born. A baby isn’t a baby until it’s born, it’s a fetus until then, and so it doesn’t technically have rights and we just want to protect the rights of the person who is having the child.”

Whidden considers herself staunchly for abortion rights.

“I feel like it really is the person who is carrying the fetus. I feel like it really is their choice to do what they want with their body,” Whidden says. “I feel like the right answer may be a little in the gray area, but for me it’s really up to the person carrying the child, and I don’t think it should be a law or anything against having an abortion because it’s really none of their business. It’s only about the person and maybe the other person involved with getting them pregnant.”

And opposite beliefs, on the other side of the political aisle, are just as strongly held. Klara McKee, the president and co-founder of Kent State Students for Life, a student organization with about 15-20 active members, says she just doesn’t see abortion as a choice.

“Hypothetically, speaking more so with my group, I would say we want to see abortion become illegal and unthinkable,” McKee says. “But more on a personal level, I would say I would love to see culture change first. And laws follow culture.”

McKee believes that human life starts at conception.

“It is so unique, it is so innocent. It did nothing. And it needs to be something that we change the culture on, and make it so people feel that they’re supported in other choices besides abortion, more than, ‘You have all these options, figure out what’s best for you.’”

Still, McKee says she fears if abortion were made illegal today, it would hurt women, that they might begin having unsafe abortions and putting themselves at risk of death.

“There is so much cultural pressure, like presidential elections run on things like this … as we saw in the last election. And justices, and people aren’t moderate anymore,” McKee says. “It’s all or nothing now, it’s you’re fully for abortion or you’re fully against abortion, and that’s what it seems like.”

The world is up in arms about abortion, about who has rights and who doesn’t, about where life starts.

“It is a medical procedure, but I think that it’s all because it’s concerning what could potentially be a human life,” Emma Getz, the president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kent State, says. “And you know the whole idea of when does life start is still a continuing debate to this day.”

It has been, it seems, for a long, long time. The 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade is often the first thing we think of when we recall the history of the abortion debate– but the argument stretches beyond that. In the middle of the 1960s, according to NPR, the pope told bishops in the U.S. to make abortion a priority. Many women had illegal abortions before “Roe,”remembers an article from The Cut, using items such as coat hangers. And through abortion’s contested history, we never have reached a consensus. Is our macro-level fight forgetting the individual stories in the abortion argument?

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Vitamin C and Parsley

Fearn says she was for abortion rights before she had her abortion — that she viewed it as a case-by-case decision.

“I kind of tell myself if I ever got to the place where I was pregnant and I didn’t want to be, I always knew that abortion would have been the right thing for me … I’m just pro choice, I feel like women should have the right to choose what they want to do with their bodies,” Fearn says.

Her family, however, doesn’t feel the same way. They’re highly religious, and Fearn says she’s afraid they might disown her as their child should they find out about the procedure.

At first, Fearn thought it might be easier to try to induce a miscarriage herself. She wanted to take care of the situation, she says, before her family found out. Fearn used Vitamin C and parsley, a method she says is used by women in countries where abortion is illegal.

“If you buy Vitamin C at the grocery store as a supplement, that type of Vitamin C, just the chemical structure that it’s presented as won’t induce an abortion, but I got like special Vitamin C, I won’t really say where, but I got special Vitamin C that should have induced an abortion and I used parsley to try to induce an abortion, and it didn’t end up working,” Fearn says. “It made me bleed and stuff like that, but it didn’t successfully produce an abortion.”

Instead, Fearn wound up going to Preterm, a Cleveland abortion clinic.

“My family doesn’t know that I had this done at all. There was  a consultation appointment that took three hours at the abortion clinic and then the actual day of the abortion I was probably there for about four hours … but I had to lie to my parents about where I was going,” Fearn says.  “I paid for it with my debit card, I didn’t use my parent’s insurance, I paid for it completely out of pocket, and I gave them a fake address too when I went there, in case they mailed me anything.”

Fearn didn’t feel as though she was pressured into her decision, but instead was given all of her options from the beginning of her journey. In fact, while waiting for her procedure, she witnessed another woman change her mind.

The nurse doing her IV saw that the women was distressed and crying and it was one of the nurses, the abortion facility staff, that said, ‘You don’t have to do this.’ It wasn’t the woman who spoke up for herself. That nurse could read her body language and could tell that she didn’t want to go through with it,” Fearn said via email.

Fearn says that even now, she’s only told a few of her close friends about her abortion. She still hasn’t told her family. It’s a sentiment echoed by Riley Katro, another Kent State student who chose to remain anonymous for this story. Katro is bigender, and uses they/them pronouns.

12 Years Old

Katro, who had their abortion at 12 years old after sexual assault by a family member, says that some of their family still doesn’t know they ever had the procedure. The decision to have an abortion was made by Katro and their stepmother.

“I, because the Ohio education system absolutely sucks, didn’t even know what sex was, didn’t even know what abortion was, anything like that,” Katro says. “Found out I was pregnant and … she was just like, okay, well we need to get an abortion. And I didn’t really know, I was like, ‘I don’t know what that is,’ and she like tried educating me as much as she possibly could, because you know, she’s also a young mom in her twenties, and so we decided that was the best decision for my reality at the time.”

Katro recalls that, as they walked toward the clinic on the day of their abortion, protestors shouted at them.

“There were a lot of protestors outside, and I was just scared because I didn’t really know what was going on — I did but I didn’t,” Katro says. “Like, I’m a kid, this happened when I was a child. And a lot of people were screaming at me and I didn’t know why, and they were being really demonizing towards my stepmother, and this one lady actually tried like grabbing on me … and my stepmom had to jerk me inside.”

Today, Katro feels as though they made the right choice. They haven’t experienced any lasting negative feelings about their decision.

“That is a long-term decision, as most decisions are in your life,” Katro says. “And if I were to decide to carry to term, hospital bills would have been so hard for us. Just doing that, because I mean, I don’t even know if my stepmom even had insurance.”

But what about from the other side of the aisle?

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Like a Little Bean

In 2015, Kent State graduate Eric Felton and his girlfriend at the time decided to proceed with an abortion once they found out she was pregnant.

“She kind of just took a pregnancy test casually, not really thinking about it, and I just remember she started shaking, you know, kind of hard when she looked at the results of the test,” Felton says.

They’d only been dating a few months and Felton says his mind immediately turned to the procedure as an option. His girlfriend wasn’t so sure and he says he wanted to leave the decision up to her in the end.

“I remember it took her a bit longer to come around and especially when I first presented the idea of getting rid of it, she was kind of like, ‘Wow, you heartless asshole,’ and … the more I let her have space and think about it, was kind of the more she came around naturally.”

Still, there were moments where the decision was hard for the couple.

“When we went to Planned Parenthood — they do an ultrasound, and then they actually give you the picture of the ultrasound so you can see the embryo or whatever stage it’s at forming, and that was kind of a rougher moment, because I was like, ‘Oh, crap, you know, it’s like a little bean in there,’” Felton recalls. “They tell you, ‘This is what you’re getting rid of,’ and that was a tough, tough spot for us, because when you actually see a picture of it, it becomes way more real.”

Today, Felton feels that the choice was the right one, though it did take him some time to work through emotionally and to “let go.”

“If I see a particularly young couple, like in their early 20s or even late teens that either have a kid or are clearly pregnant or something, I kind of think about it, ‘Man, that could have been me.’ And usually my thought is, ‘Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad’ as opposed to, ‘Oh, thank God I did what I did,’ but at the same time, I don’t necessarily regret my decision because I know it was for the best,” Felton says.

McKee, though, maintains that those going through abortion can feel a sense of loss afterward. In fact, she’s been through a similar experience herself.

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Distinct Features

“When I was in middle school, I was raped by a close family member of mine,” McKee recounts. “I became pregnant and I miscarried and I didn’t tell anyone. At all. And I didn’t come up and forward about that until I was… I think the end of my freshman year of high school and I’m like, ‘This isn’t right,’ like, I would have been forced to have an abortion.”

McKee remembers the night she miscarried.

“When I had my miscarriage I had it on my own. In my own bathroom, actually, in my parent’s house when I was in middle school, I was actually coming home from basketball practice and I felt horrible,” McKee says. “And after I went to the bathroom, all you heard was a plunk. And I saw that in the toilet, and I freaked out. I have never reached my hand in a toilet before this, and I reached my hand in and grabbed it out. And I thought to myself, like, how. How can someone do this, there are distinct features.”

From that point on, McKee says, she’s been an advocate for anti-abortion or (“pro-life”) causes. She feels she would have been forced to have an abortion if she hadn’t miscarried– and she wants women to feel as if they have other options.

“It’s something that we need to work on as human beings is being more compassionate and loving, and understanding of people’s situations, and changing culture and changing the mindset that you can do whatever you want however you want whenever you want and it won’t affect anyone else,” McKee says.

Katro, though, still sees their decision as the result of factoring in the long-term choice of having a child.

“I do think about it sometimes, and I don’t think about it in the sense of like, regret. But I think about it in the sense that, like, I shouldn’t have been assaulted,” Katro says. “Like, that was the worst time of my life. The procedure was just you know, helping me not make that whole experience of being assaulted worse.”

Cassandra Pegg-Kirby, from Kent State’s Women’s Center, agrees that the decision has lifetime consequences.

“I think the whole thing emotionally weighs on them, because you also think if you’re considering having a child– I mean, that’s a lifetime decision,” Pegg-Kirby says.  “And so if you’re weighing both of them in terms of decisions that impact you, I think a lot of focus is played on the impact of someone choosing to have an abortion, but I also think we don’t always consider what that means if they have that child.”

Pegg-Kirby says that at the Women’s Center, she’s worked with individuals who’ve made a variety of decisions about their pregnancies.

“Everyone sort of hinges on that one decision, but we need to think about what– what are people bringing to this that they get to this decision? So are we providing them with education, are we providing them with birth control, are we providing them with these things? Okay, so we can sort of think about what happens before, and then we think about those circumstance. And then we think about after,” Pegg-Kirby says. “Depending on what you decide, you have a child and now you’re responsible for that child, or you choose not to and now there’s maybe other things that impact you because of that decision.”

Either way, Fearn says, it’s a decision that isn’t likely to be an easy one.

“It was just something else to see like, all of the women like recovering from the procedure, and because of how like physically intense an abortion is to go through, it’s not something that’s fun, it’s not something that’s easy, it’s not something that’s simple, it’s not something that I’d ever want to endure again physically, and people just talk about it as if it’s like, this easy thing to just magically get rid of a pregnancy,” Fearn says. “And that’s not what it is.”

And, Katro mentions, in all this fighting… we might be missing something.

“People are seeing what they wanna see,” Katro says. “People have tunnel vision, they wanna see point A to point B and not the mess in between. But it’s going to be a messy topic, right? Things about individual people and their journeys can be messy. And I feel like people just like the easy way out. They just want to say this is how I feel you can’t change my mind and just never talk about it again. People don’t wanna think about individuals. And maybe sometimes I feel like that’s why these kind of topics are so easy to pick a side over….They just want to think about in the black and white, what’s easy. And move on.”

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REMEMBERING NICK MASSA

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A son, brother, best friend and fisherman. Nick’s family tells his life story and who he dreamt to be one day.

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Words by Shelbie Goulding | Photos by Sophia Adornetto

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.9″] [dropcap]P[/dropcap]ale blue waves dance in a glass box stretching along a bare wall. Flashes of vibrant blue, orange, purple and yellow flitter back and forth in the water while seagrass and other aquatic plants sway. The setup is a homemade fixture made to perfection by someone who loved to be out on the water. It was his dream to have a piece of the ocean he could call home. The fish tank sits in the living room where it could be shown off with pride by its creator. “I had a saltwater tank as a kid, and it was a lot of work,” Joe Massa says, “but Nick talked me into doing it.” His son, Nick Massa, was 17 years old at the time. “I helped, but Nick did most of the job by himself,” Joe says. “Look, just let me do it, leave me alone, let me get it done,” Nick had told his father when building the tank. Behind the tank there are pipes that slip through drilled holes in the wall. Following its path, the pipes lead to a large, homemade filter system based in its own area of a finished basement. On the ground, tubs filled with water are interspersed with tubes twisting every direction, leading to more tubs filled with more water. It is a complicated, high-maintenance system with a lot of responsibility, but Nick knew what he was doing. “When he went off to college, he had to show me how to do everything,” Joe says. “This is a daily thing I got to do every morning.” Nick’s handwriting is stretched across the homemade device explaining what each tub is. He even wrote a to-do list on how to take care of the tank for when the family went on vacation. “This was Nick in a nutshell,” Joe says as he points to his son’s creation. “This was his fish tank.” [/et_pb_text][et_pb_image _builder_version=”3.9″ src=”https://theburr.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/MG_7870.jpg” /][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.9″] February 7, 2016. Most remember this day as Super Bowl 50, where the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers 24 – 10. However, it wasn’t the same for the Massa family. Instead, they received a phone call that changed everything. Nick Massa – a freshman in college studying business and entrepreneurship, starting his life as an independent, and following a lifelong dream – was shot and killed during an attempted robbery. Although Nick wasn’t a student long at Kent State, he still made an impact on the lives of many, especially his family and friends. [/et_pb_text][et_pb_divider _builder_version=”3.9″ /][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.9″] “We called him the fish whisperer,” Nick’s mother, Jackie Massa, says. “He always said he had a way with fish.” A large fish is mounted on the wall in Nick’s bedroom. It was his first big fish: a pike. He caught it in Ravenna when he was 13 or 14 years old. “I watched him [reel it in],” Joe says, “but he said, ‘No, dad, I got this.’ I never thought he was gonna be able to bring it in. It took about 20 minutes but he got it.” Nick’s fishing hat hung draped over the side of its fin. Joe says his son loved being out on the water, and he thought if Nick was out on the water every day he’d grow to hate it, but that wasn’t the case. Nick fell in love with fishing at a very young age. Joe says the family went to Florida every summer, and it was a vacation dedicated to fishing for him and Nick. The girls would go to the beach while the boys rented a boat and spent the day off coast. “He was all about family,” Jackie says. “We were super close and did everything together, and the vacations were always awesome.” Both say the best memories with the family were in Florida, and Nick had always planned to move down there someday. “He wanted to go down to Florida and open his own fishing charter business,” Jackie says. “He’d say ‘just let me get down there, let me get things started, I’m gonna make a lot of money and then I’m gonna buy a big house and move you guys down there with me.’” Her face became distressed, and she wipes a tear from her eye. “I’m sorry. It’s still so hard. Every day.” The Massa family hasn’t been to Florida together since Nick’s death. The vacation there was always about fishing and getting out on the deep blue water, but it’s not the same. Nowadays the family vacations are more low key, and the destination is anywhere but Florida. “We’ve wanted to go to Disney, but it would be really hard,” Jackie says. Joe begins joking about how his wife is a Disney addict, and Jackie laughs in denial of her love for Disney. They say the family went to Disney in Orlando at least five times. It was one of Jackie’s favorite memories to look back on with the family, but she doesn’t know if she could do it without Nick. Most vacations are now spent around Christmas. “We decided we didn’t want to spend Christmas [at home] anymore,” Jackie says. The family now travels to a destination far from their home every holiday. The Massa family used to spend the holiday taking the same family picture in front of the fireplace each year. But after Nick died, the tradition died with him. Now a photo of the last family Christmas, in 2015, hangs above the fireplace with Nick smiling ear-to-ear. Jackie says his smile and presence could always light up a room. Nick was the comedian of the family. He was always cracking jokes and breaking the tension. Both Jackie and Joe agreed Nick was the reason the family had fun, lively vacations and road trips. “He’s the funniest person I’ve ever met,” Joe says, “and it’s weird saying that about your son.” Jackie breaks in, “Yeah cause we’re not that funny,” as she chuckles looking at Joe. Although his way of sharing laughter is greatly missed, no one misses his humor more than Nick’s sister Kelly, 27. “The one thing I miss the most is how funny he was,” Kelly Massa says. “He could do the best impressions of almost anybody. Like, I’ve seen a lot of the things he could do impressions of that make me laugh.” Jackie describes the two siblings as inseparable; they even shared the same birthday, Aug. 17. “He was my best friend,” Kelly says as she looks over to her mother. “I don’t even know where to start.” Kelly continues saying how Nick had the best taste in music – classic rock, Green Day, Blink-182 and rap. “Lately I’ve had all these free concert tickets, and the first person I would have asked to go would have been him.” “I’ve never heard Nick rap,” Joe breaks in with a look of confusion on his face. Both Kelly and Jackie begin saying how he would listen to rap during a workout, at a party or in a car. “He never sings it though,” they both say. Joe’s face fills with shock as though he learned something new about his son. [/et_pb_text][et_pb_divider _builder_version=”3.9″ /][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.9″] February 7, 2016. While Nick was visiting a friend’s apartment, Damantae Graham – who was 17 years old at the time – broke into the apartment with a group demanding money. According to another friend of Nick’s – Alex Mangels – the apartment’s resident (and friend of Nick) Justin Lewandowski said Graham threatened them, and Nick responded saying Graham wasn’t going to shoot him. Aimed at Nick’s chest, the gun was then fired by Graham. Nick was gone in a matter of minutes. Not only was a caring, honest and compassionate friend lost that day, but also a loving son, brother, comedian and fisherman. [/et_pb_text][et_pb_divider _builder_version=”3.9″ /][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.9″] “The girls aren’t the same as they used to be,” Joes says about Nick’s three sisters. “It’s hard to describe.” Nick was the third born of his four siblings. Both Jackie and Joe say how Nick’s sisters don’t talk about it a whole lot and that the family as a whole has changed. “We talk all the time and are still close, but we’ll never be as happy as we once were,” Jackie says. Nick would have been 21 years old this past August, and it was hard for his sisters, especially his youngest sister Sarah, 19. “It’s hard on her because she realizes she’s getting older than Nick was,” Jackie says. Sarah’s in her sophomore year of college at Baldwin Wallace University. Jackie says every time she and Joe take their daughter to college it’s difficult. “She originally wanted to go to Kent, but everything changed after,” Jackie says as she processes her thoughts with a blank stare facing down at the wooden floor. “The choice was up to her on whether she wanted to go or not, and I hoped she wouldn’t.” She says her daughter, Jess, 24, had a wonderful four years there, but going back isn’t the same anymore. “We went out to the campus again and everywhere Sarah looked she said she could see Nick,” Jackie says. “It would have been too much of a struggle for her.” “They’re still going to be themselves,” Joe says about his three daughters, “but if Jess was out and Jackie texted her at 11 p.m. and she doesn’t answer, Jackie’s going to think ‘what’s wrong?’” “Until you lose a child you don’t know what that feels like,” Jackie says. “You don’t know if it’ll happen again.” Jackie says how the girls know and understand how she feels when it comes to staying in touch. She says they do their best to not put her through that kind worry and panic. Kelly says she used to fish with Nick and still tries to go, but it’s not the same for her father. “We had a boat here up in Cleveland,” Joe says. “We loved it, but it wasn’t the same as being out on the ocean.” He sold the boat six months after Nick died. “I just couldn’t do it.” He says he doesn’t fish anymore unless it’s with Kelly. “It’s hard for me to just be by the water.” The day before Nick died, he surprised his parents at home. He and a group of friends – including Alex Mangels and Justin Lewandowski – were roaming around Cleveland taking pictures and adventuring to different places. “They would always go to obscure places in Cleveland and take pictures,” Jackie says. “In fact, I was looking at Nick’s Facebook the other day and the last message I sent him was this article on these underground tunnels in Cleveland, and I said ‘Next adventure?’” She looks down in her lap. “I don’t think he got to read that.” While visiting, Nick showed off his fish tank to his friends and shot airsoft guns in the backyard. They had to head back to Kent soon after. “At least I got to hug him and he told me he loved me,” Jackie says. “It was like he knew.” “There are some nights where I can’t sleep because I think of Nick,” Joe says. He says how his siblings and members of his band have sons, and it’s hard to cope with it sometimes. “The guys [band members] would complain about their sons,” he says. “And I never had anything to complain about Nick. But when I hear them complain, they don’t realize how lucky they are.” Jackie mentions how people forget the things they say makes it harder for them sometimes, but they don’t know or realize it half the time. “You don’t want people to understand because that means they go through it,” she says. “You just have no clue how bad it hurts or how lost you feel. There’s a piece of me missing and I’ll never be the same person again.” Jackie says she would run into people at the high school she works at, and they would ask the basic “how are you?” question. The other day she asked that question to a mother she knew that had a daughter the same age as Nick. The mother said, “Oh I’m good. My daughter is graduating from college this year.” Jackie is polite in these situations, but she’s like “yeah that’s great, but I know she is because Nick would have graduated this year.” People don’t necessarily forget what happened, but they forget out of context. Both Joe and Jackie agree this makes it hard to talk to people sometimes. And even though Nick never got to finish his college experience, his parents saw him change significantly in his first semester of college. “He had grown a lot lately,” Jackie says. “He started going to the gym to start losing weight, and he dated a girl for a short time – they had just broken up a month before it happened.” Jackie says she saw Nick blossom in just a short amount of time. “He was in love and really happy, and I’m glad he got to experience that.” Nick was starting to finally feel comfortable with himself by being himself. Jackie saw him start to embrace his personality and flourish. “He struggled to find his niche,” Jackie says, “and when he went to Kent, I saw him start to blossom. I knew he was going to do a lot of great things there. It would have been nice to see him and where he was at his senior year. God only knows what he would have went on to do after that.” Joe begins to mention how they have a family song: “More Than a Feeling,” by Boston. “The weirdest things would happen with our family and for some reason that song would come on,” Joe says as he tears up. “It became our family song.” He says now when they hear the song they think of Nick and how he would be there listening to it with the family. “The pet store where Nick worked at, I still go there, and I came walking in six months ago out of the blue and at 11 in the morning I walk in and the song came on. I looked at Greg [Nick’s boss] and I said ‘Come on!’ And Greg said ‘It’s one of those days, Joe. He’s here.’” Since Nick died, his picture hangs on the wall behind the counter of the pet store. “If I could have five more minutes with Nick, I’d ask, ‘Is there any way I could turn back time to keep you here?’” Joe says. “He was my best friend, and it hurts to know he’s gone.” He knows nothing is going to bring his son back, but he says he’s as proud of him today as the last day he saw him. “I’d ask if he realized how many lives he touched,” Jackie says. “I don’t think he realized that.” She said she wears his finger print around her neck every day. The family made necklaces of his finger print to always keep him close to their hearts. When it comes to the water, Nick’s parents both have different perspectives on how to look at it since they’ve lost their son. Where Joe finds it hard, Jackie finds peace. “I feel close to Nick when I’m by the water,” she says. “Just sitting by the ocean I can feel Nick’s with me. I know that’s where he’d be.” [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_code _builder_version=”3.9″]<iframe src=”https://e.issuu.com/anonymous-embed.html?u=theburr&d=burr2018fall&p=34″ width=”944″ height=”500″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=”true”></iframe>[/et_pb_code][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]

HEADS AND TAILS

[et_pb_section bb_built=”1″][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_post_title _builder_version=”3.0.102″ saved_tabs=”all” title=”on” meta=”on” author=”off” date=”on” categories=”off” comments=”off” featured_image=”off” featured_placement=”below” text_color=”dark” text_background=”off” text_orientation=”center” title_font_size=”34″ border_style=”solid” global_module=”5001″ /][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.0.102″ background_layout=”light”]

Being a furry is more than tails and roleplay: 

it’s being a part of a community.

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.0.102″ saved_tabs=”all” background_layout=”light” text_text_color=”#e02b20″ text_orientation=”center” header_2_font=”|300|||||||”] Words by Megan Ayscue | Photos by Jana Life [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.0.102″ background_layout=”light”] [dropcap]A[/dropcap]lly is an orange possum with green eyes, fox ears, long red hair and large hips. She works two jobs, owns three cats, one small dog and a lizard and likes a good coffee. Ally is Alaina Rose’s fursona. Rose has been a part of the furry community for 20 years of her 34-year life. Generally speaking, a furry is someone who likes animals with human characteristics, particularly anthropomorphic characters such as in “The Jungle Book” or “Zootopia.” Furries may also like to create their own furry-persona (or fursona) for fun or roleplay, either online or in person. There are some disagreements about where furries began, some saying it started at a science fiction convention in 1980 where someone’s drawing of a character from “Albedo Anthropomorphics” started a discussion group, while others believe older media, such as Disney’s “Robin Hood” or “Kimba, The White Lion” from 1973 and 1965, respectively, started the trend. Just liking anthropomorphic animals doesn’t automatically make you a furry, though. “You’re a furry if you call yourself a furry,” Rose says. And Rose is unabashedly a furry. Rose draws furry artwork, creates fursuits, runs furry-related social media and attends furry events and conventions. Looking back, Rose even used to wear dishtowel tails when she was six. “I’ve just always been a furry,” she says. Rose was introduced to the furry community through Sonic the Hedgehog, “when it was cool.” “That’s what I grew up with,” Rose says. “Any kid that was born in the ‘80s grew up with ‘Duck Tails,’ ‘Tail Spin,’ Gummy Bears, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,’ ‘Street Sharks,’ everything. We were like, ‘Yeah, no, anthropomorphic animals are par for the course for us.’” It was these shows and movies that introduced Rose, and others, to the community. From Sonic fan art and wearing tails in high school, Rose now runs several furry community accounts and incorporates being a furry into her everyday life. She runs a Northeast Ohio furry group called NEOFurs on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. On top of that, she also occasionally weighs in on other local groups and runs her own Tumblr and art pages. With hundreds of members in NEOFurs, running the account doesn’t come without its own set of issues. On Oct. 9, some members of the group met up at Cedar Point. They went in everyday attire, but wanted to enjoy the day with people of similar interes: being a furry. While there, group members discovered one of the people who came had recently “admitted to viewing child pornography” and was in legal trouble because of it. After learning this, Rose immediately banned him from the NEOFurs account. With more minors in the furry community than ever before, Rose says it was better to be safe than sorry, and she wasn’t going to stand for anything like that. If it happens to be a big misunderstanding, Rose says she might reverse her decision but “for right now, no. You’re gone.” “The biggest struggle is holding members accountable,” Rose says. “The internet in the late ‘90s, there was a different sense of community. You had to work to find people to talk to, people with the same interests. … You had to dig to find people, and you had to really dig to find local people.” With that struggle to find people came complacency. Rose says it wasn’t uncommon to turn a blind eye to things from phobic tendencies to even illegal actions, like child pornography and bestiality. Speaking out against people who were doing wrong meant the possibility of being ostracized from the group as a whole. Rose says that the “call-out culture” nowadays is much better. However, being a furry is still not “mainstream.” A councilman from Connecticut resigned from his job after it was discovered he was a furry. On his old furry profiles, Rose says there was nothing wrong; nothing illegal and nothing about sex. But because of perceptions of what a furry is, he still resigned. Despite stories like this, Rose believes furries will continue to be more accepted by society. Michael Zickefoose, another member of the furry fandom, says being a furry is “becoming more acceptable [because] we have this huge influx of people who aren’t young; they aren’t naive.” While the furry community started out small, there are a lot of factors to its growth. Rose says media today such as “Zootopia,” a Disney movie about anthropomorphic animals, and BoJack Horseman, a darker Netflix show with anthropomorphic animals and humans together, has grown the interest in the furry community. Movies, shows and the internet as a whole have led more people to discover that furries exist, and the bettering community allows for people to explore what being a furry means without as much toxicity. There are also more conventions, meetups and websites for furries than ever before. With so many more members, Rose says it’s easier to be selective with whom to hang out. Groups are quicker to not invite people who make others uncomfortable to meetups. Rose also says she needs to have more in common with someone other than “you’re a furry and I’m a furry so let’s be friends.” Her biggest issue is, as the admin of a larger group, she can’t exclude people she doesn’t like from local meetups who haven’t done anything specifically illegal or wrong. While managing her mini community, Rose has to be proactive. The wrong decision could reflect poorly on the NEOFurs group as a whole, whether that is blocking someone or not blocking them. C. Hillson, a friend of Zickefoose and also a furry, says, “You could be anywhere on the internet, and you’d have weird, creepy people you’d have to block.”   [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_image _builder_version=”3.0.102″ src=”http://theburr.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Untitled-2-1.jpg” show_in_lightbox=”off” url_new_window=”off” use_overlay=”off” always_center_on_mobile=”on” force_fullwidth=”off” show_bottom_space=”on” /][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.0.102″ background_layout=”light”] However, more furries today do not allow other members to get away with things they had in the past. Rose says groups like NEOFurs are quick to ban accounts that have been known to have or promote child porn or bestiality. There are some figures in the community as a whole, however, that remain despite these efforts. “With more minors and this bigger community, we just can’t have that,” Rose says. “I don’t get involved in the drama, that’s your thing,” Rose’s husband Tony Stark says. Recently, there have been other issues the furry community has been facing as well. One of those is “Nazi furries.” “Back in the day it was just like, ‘You know [those certain people] just like drawing [their character in Nazi uniforms],’ whatever,” Rose says. “That’s their fetish or whatever,” Stark says. “And it was relatively quiet,” Rose continues. “Even though they were assholes,” Stark remarks. “You didn’t have people who were outwardly speaking Nazi ideology. You just had people who were kind of drawing stuff and keeping to themselves about it,” Rose says. But then some furries would show up places in fursuits with Nazi uniforms and would be told, “That is clearly Nazi symbolism, you’ve got to go.” “Nazi furries have been phoning in bomb threats, and they have to cancel conventions, and a bunch of them have been banned from local meets — not just around here, but around the country,” Hillson says. “These people are getting banned from conventions and getting conventions canceled. I mean that’s becoming a problem.” “I think it boils down to the anonymity you have,” Zickefoose says. “You’re not you. So a lot of these people feel like they can get away with whatever. It makes me wonder if some of the people are even serious about it or if they’re rabble-rousing and intentionally trying to start up problems.” “Even when it’s at its bad points and bad stuff is happening, like all this stupid stuff that’s going on with these Nazi furries, I’m not thinking about leaving the fandom or no longer being a part of it,” Hillson says. There are lesser problems within the community as well. Some furries don’t like the illusion of fursuiting, when people dress in complex animal costumes, to be broken. This is a problem to “greymuzzles,” or older (35+) members in the furry community, more than others. Sometimes they don’t like when other furries “poodle,” or wear a head and just arm and leg pieces of a costume, or when members take of their heads even when it’s the middle of summer. “I’m not here for your entertainment,” Rose says. It takes thousands of dollars and many, many hours to put together a full fursuit. Rose has no empathy for those who are upset when someone “ruins the magic” by airing out their suits. [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_image _builder_version=”3.0.102″ src=”http://theburr.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Untitled-1-2.jpg” show_in_lightbox=”off” url_new_window=”off” use_overlay=”off” always_center_on_mobile=”on” force_fullwidth=”off” show_bottom_space=”on” /][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.0.102″ background_layout=”light”] Conventions, like AnthroCon in Pennsylvania, have special rooms dedicated for airing out suits, however. AnthroCon is in the summer and fursuits can get extremely hot, so for those who don’t want to break the illusion or those who have anxiety, like Stark, special rooms are set aside as a safe place to cool of. “I’m a bitter, old and jaded furry greymuzzle,” Stark says. “But I also keep to myself, and I don’t get involved in drama because I’ve got better things to do with my time.” “Headless lounges” have PVC pipes with air that heads can be placed on to dry while the person in the costume can sit and relax or drink some water. There are no cameras in these rooms, and they are separated from the rest of the convention. With over 4 million attending AnthroCon, Pennsylvania tries its best to take care of its furry friends. Smaller conventions, Hillson and Zickefoose say, are the most at risk for being shut down from the groups such as the Nazi furries. Even more than the big safety issues, Hillson also says, “There have been furries who aren’t necessarily dangerous, like the Nazi furries threatening people, but people that just act up at conventions lately.” Zickefoose says it’s because when you’re a furry, especially in a fursuit, people think they can act out more than they would otherwise. Both Hillson and Zickefoose still like the idea of owning their own suits one day, though. Possibly when they have the disposable income. While Ally doesn’t have a fursuit of her own to wear, she often will wear one of Stark’s. She also has some pieces and plans to make her own. At her home, a “wipe your paws” mat lays outside the door. Upon entering, heads from fursuits lay in boxes to the left while every other surface is covered in games, books, stufed animals and art. One head, Tony, one of Stark’s fursonas, has a red mohawk, matching with Stark’s own red stripe. Large plastic bins are filled with paws, feet, extra fur, claws and materials, kept closed to keep Beans, one of the cats, from sleeping on the fabrics. Stark says a lot of furries wear their suits because it helps them to cope with their social anxiety. Stark likes it because nobody knows who it is underneath the fur; he can be anyone. At places like AnthroCon, there are parades of fursuits during the conventions. Rose’s friend, Lysa Anderson, is not a furry. She first found out about the community when she saw a “furry parade.” Some furries were showing of their suits, while others were showing of what they had — just heads, just tails, arms and paws and a mismatch of everything in between. “The only thing I didn’t like was how dingy some of the tails looked,” Anderson says. “One guy’s fursuit, though, was really nice.” Rose told Anderson all about furries over the years, answering any and all questions she had. On sites like Tumblr, Anderson says that genuinely curious questions can be met with hostility. Rose was always happy to answer any questions. “It’s not for me, but I understand it now,” Anderson says. That is the biggest step: understanding. With the culture inside the community improving, and the call-out culture improving, Rose says people not in the community are more accepting of furries. People understand the collective is not just “basement-dwelling dog fuckers” but they are intelligent people who have a hobby. “We wake up and make fun of furries while we’re eating breakfast,” Hillson says. Zickefoose agrees, adding “It’s totally absurd, and that’s the best thing. … It is what it is.” [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]

A SCHOOL DISTRICT’S FIGHT FOR FUNDING

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Nearing the brink of state intervention, Field Local Schools needs something from its community it hasn’t gotten in 27 years: new funding.

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.0.102″ saved_tabs=”all” background_layout=”light” text_text_color=”#e02b20″ text_orientation=”center” header_2_font=”|300|||||||”] Words by Ben Orner | Photos by Sophia Adornetto   [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.0.102″ background_layout=”light”] [dropcap]T[/dropcap]he last time voters in the Field Local School District passed a tax levy for new funding, Erin Roberts was a student at Suffield Elementary. That was 1991. And even then, funding was an issue in the school district that serves the southern part of Kent and sits less than a mile from Kent State. “I remember being a kid and this happening,” Roberts says, thinking back to the same arguments community members were having then. Twenty-seven years later, Roberts is now a mother of two kindergartners who attend the financially distressed Field school district. In that time, she has gone from student to concerned citizen. She and her sister-in-law, Brandi Roberts, lead the Field Levy Committee, a group of district parents and residents promoting the district’s tax levy that will be on the ballot May 8. “Instead of joining the PTA,” Brandi, who also has children in the district, says, “it was joining this.” If the levy passes, it will give Field Local Schools new operational funding for the first time in more than a quarter-century, and it will end an exhausting streak of a dozen consecutive failures in elections dating back to 2011. A tax levy is a property tax increase proposed by a public school district. Ohio is a referendum state, meaning school boards have to put tax levy proposals on election ballots. Passing the levy is then solely up to voters in the district, unlike in states such as neighboring Pennsylvania, where school boards can just raise property taxes themselves. The Field school district handles the logistics, such as how much money the levy will raise and what that money will go to. The levy committee handles public outreach. The levy on the ballot in May would raise about $4 million, which comes out to about a $380 increase in property taxes for a home valued at $100,000. Most of the funds would go to day-to-day operations costs to keep the district financially stable through the 2021-22 school year. “The levy isn’t going to bring anything back, but it’s going to continue what we have,” Brandi says. “We wouldn’t have to cut classes and courses and teachers.” A small part of the levy would go toward replacing the high school parking lot. “If you’ve not driven our main campus, you should,” Superintendent Dave Heflinger says of the continually deteriorating pavement. “Just be careful. It’s a very rough parking lot.” The district as a whole is also in rough shape. Few people know this more than district treasurer Todd Carpenter. According to his figures, the district spends about $9,000 per student, which is the lowest in Portage County and the 42nd lowest among Ohio’s more than 600 school districts. In the past seven years, the district has lost 37 percent of the new staff it has hired, mentored or trained. “New teachers come in, we train them, we get them their resume builder and they move on to another school,” Erin says. “And that’s a hard turnover for our school.” The teachers union even agreed to not take a pay increase this year so the district could remain fiscally solvent. “The teachers have very often — since we’ve started this levy process — either taken a salary freeze or a step freeze,” Erin says. “They’ve taken ones for the team quite often, and they’re not getting rewarded for that.” A school district’s costs naturally rise as time goes on. Inflation drives costs up, teacher salaries and benefits increase, and the tax base shrinks because families leave the district. Plus, in Ohio, the state legislature often reduces public school funding. “The district is a service-oriented business,” Carpenter says. “It’s not really a spending issue. It’s a funding issue.” Heflinger puts it in relatable terms. “If people were trying to live on the same budget at home on an income that they made 27 years ago, I think they would have found that their expenses would have gone up dramatically,” he says. The lack of funding since 1991 has forced the district to make significant cuts. To name a few, there is no bussing for high schoolers, students have to pay to play sports and elementary electives were once cut in half. “There’s no more money to find,” Heflinger says bluntly. “There’s no more big-time savings.” “There’s nothing left except to go back to the voters,” he says. Those cuts cause a negative feedback loop. As the district loses programs, parents move their kids to other districts through open enrollment. That diminishes Field’s tax base and thus its ability to raise money. “Every time you cut, you’re taking things away from the students,” Heflinger says. “Whatever it is we’re cutting, it’s a service we’re providing somehow for kids.” The cuts also have a negative effect on public perception — for the levy at least. As the district tries to stay afloat by throwing things overboard, community members think the ship will always stay upright. “We keep getting by by the skin of our teeth, which is really fabulous,” Erin says, “but to the voter it looks like they had more money than what they said.”   [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_image _builder_version=”3.0.102″ src=”http://theburr.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/MG_9281.jpg” show_in_lightbox=”off” url_new_window=”off” use_overlay=”off” always_center_on_mobile=”on” force_fullwidth=”off” show_bottom_space=”on” /][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_image _builder_version=”3.0.102″ src=”http://theburr.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Untitled-1-1.jpg” show_in_lightbox=”off” url_new_window=”off” use_overlay=”off” always_center_on_mobile=”on” force_fullwidth=”off” show_bottom_space=”on” /][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.0.102″ background_layout=”light”] The school district of 1,900 students has not had any new operational funding in 27 years, but it is not because of lack of trying. Some version of the current levy proposal has been on the ballot in almost every election since August 2011. Twelve elections, 12 failures. Erin and Brandi have led the levy committee for the past three or four years, but they joined it during that August 2011 election, when the levy failed by more than 2,000 votes. That ended up being its worst defeat, however, as voters warmed up to the levy over time. In November 2013, it failed by just 80 votes. But then the trend reversed, and by last November, voters denied it by 570 votes. “You almost feel like there’s no way it’s going to pass,” Brandi sighs, “but then you just sit and hope, ‘Maybe.’” That “maybe” is what keeps them going. Each levy cycle, the Robertses will add a new strategy to close the voting gap. In levies past, they’ve held community meetings, made T-shirts and mailed flyers to every registered voter in the district. “Before … we made this flyer, and we mass-mailed it to everybody who was a registered voter in our community,” Erin says. But with this levy, social media may be the key. The committee has an active Facebook page, website and video blog. The group regularly posts videos and other media to virtually reach into the community and pull out supporters. The online outreach has seen some early success. A video Erin posted in January promoting May’s levy gathered 1,500 views in just a month. “I feel like this conversation is changing,” says Erin, a stay-at-home mom whose efforts during levy season essentially turn into a full-time job. She tells a story in which she went to a Suffield Lions Club meeting to promote the levy, and an elderly woman came up to her and complimented her on the committee’s Facebook videos. “We were putting out flyers and stuff on Facebook or a post, and we’d get maybe 300 views,” Erin says, “and now we’ve done videos and we’ll get 3,000 views.” But that online presence is not without its challenges. “Social media has been a great avenue for us to get our information out, but it’s also a great avenue for people to spread misinformation,” Erin says. Whenever the levy committee posts something, people will comment and argue with false information. “We do our best to be on there correcting it,” Erin adds. Misinformation is a major hurdle in the committee’s efforts. “People don’t understand how their local government works, how their local levies work,” Erin says. “People don’t understand that one ‘mill’ is not $1 million.” Another strategy the Robertses have committed to is heavily reaching out to parents, who they think include a lot of “yes” voters who just don’t show up at the polls. “We have a lot of parents in our community that are not registered to vote or just don’t go bother to vote on that day, and that’s what kills us,” Erin says. “Here’s a group of people that have every reason to vote for the levy.” If the levy does not pass this time around, the district moves closer to intervention by the state. Heflinger says if the voters don’t pass a levy by next year’s primary election, Ohio will likely put Field in “fiscal emergency.” The state auditor’s office comes in and helps the district get back above water by loaning it money and cutting things it sees as excessive. In fiscal emergency, Heflinger worries, many important things the district provides could be fair game for the state to slash. “There is nothing good that will come from kids and families that would come from reducing the number of teachers or reducing extracurriculars or eliminating electives,” he says. “We’re trying to hang on to those opportunities as long as we can.” “The state tells us what we’re doing, not our local school system and our local board,” she says. “So that terrifies me.” But even with deep cuts to district offerings, the state would still need Field to pass a levy in order to pay of the state’s loans. “Even if the state comes in, you pass a levy,” Heflinger says. “That’s what happens eventually. You just pass a bigger levy, because you have to pay all the money back the state’s given you.” Erin and Brandi have deep roots in the district. Both their sets of parents attended Field High School. Erin’s grandparents attended the district, and the football stadium is named after her grandfather. But if Field’s dire financial situation continues, the Roberts family may not see a third generation of Field High School graduates, forcing Erin to make a decision of whether to keep her kids in the district. “I’ll have to have that conversation,” Erin says frankly. Through the doubts, the failures and the tough conversations, Brandi and Erin keep pushing. “You can’t give up,” Brandi says as she thinks back on the cycle of disappointment from a dozen straight levy failures. “As many times as you want to give up, then you are giving up on your own kids and your community.” “The school is one of the pillars of our community,” Erin says, “and if that goes downhill, so does the community.” From superintendent Heflinger, a plea to the voters, who ultimately hold the power of whether the district sinks or swims: “We’re trying to provide our kids with the best opportunity for their future,” he says, urgency rolling of his tongue. “Someone did it for us when we were in school. Somebody provided for us. That’s how we are all where we are today. The kids today need those same opportunities.” [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]

WORRIED ABOUT KENT STATE FOOTBALL? SEAN LEWIS HAS YOU COVERED.

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At 31 years old, Sean Lewis is ready to lead the Kent State football team back to relevance.

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.0.102″ saved_tabs=”all” background_layout=”light” text_text_color=”#e02b20″ text_orientation=”center” header_2_font=”|300|||||||”] Words by Henry Palattella | Photos by Jana Life [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.0.102″ background_layout=”light”] [dropcap]S[/dropcap]ean Lewis is busy. At 31 years old, he’s the youngest coach in NCAA Division I Football Bowl Sub-division history, three years younger than Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley. At 6 feet 7 inches tall, Lewis is a mountain of a man. With his bald head and full beard, he looks more like a lumberjack than a football coach, but his passion for Kent State football is evident as soon as he speaks, his booming voice echoing through the long hallway that makes up a majority of the football office. For all intents and purposes, he’s home. His office sits at the end of that long hallway, with each door between him and the receptionist housing a member of his new staff, most of whom are spending the early parts of their February morning looking at film with players, laser pointers focused on televisions in their office. He’s dressed casually, electing to don sweatpants and a Kent State football sweatshirt, the outfit of a man who has spent a good majority of the past four weeks on the road, working on his inaugural recruiting class; a class that went from 12th in the Mid-American Conference to sixth in a matter of a month. The 31-year-old has made some serious headway in his first 48 days as head coach of the Flashes, but by the look of his office, you’d think he got the job yesterday. The biggest eye-catcher in Lewis’ office are graphics on the wall of current and former NFLers Roosevelt Nix, Brian Winters, Usama Young, Josh Cribbs and Julian Edelman during their respective times at Kent State. Winters, who is currently an offensive tackle for the New York Jets, visited Lewis’ office earlier in the day, the ink still wet on his signature on the wall. A wagon wheel stands propped up against the windows in the far corner, a tangible marker of the heated rivalry that Lewis has been dropped into for a second time in his young coaching career. To say that Lewis has a challenge in front of him would be an understatement. He’s succeeding former Kent State head coach Paul Haynes, who amassed a 14-45 record in his five years as coach, a tenure summed up by injuries and heartbreaking losses. Haynes was brought in to replace former coach Darrell Hazell, who turned an 11-3 season in 2012 to a head coaching job at Purdue. None of this influenced Lewis’ decision to come to Kent State. In a way, it’s a job that he’s been preparing for all his life. HUMBLE BEGINNINGS When Sean Lewis first entered the college football coaching world, it was on the other side of the Wagon Wheel. Lewis joined Akron’s coaching staff as a graduate assistant during the summer of 2011, hoping to help lead the Zips to the top of the Mid-American Conference. It didn’t work. The Zips limped to a 1-11 finish on the year, with one of the losses coming in the form of a 38-3 drubbing at the hands of Kent State. Following that season, Lewis went down a winding road that saw him head west to Bowling Green, up north to Syracuse, New York, and finally, to Kent, Ohio. Lewis started his path toward head coaching in his hometown of Oak Lawn, Illinois, where he starred as a quarterback at Richards High School, totaling 42 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions his junior season and earned a berth in the state quarterfinals. Lewis and the Bulldogs followed this up with an early exit in the second round of the playoffs. Despite Lewis’ strong showing behind center in high school, he went to the University of Wisconsin playing a position he hadn’t played since Pop Warner — tight end. It was there he was coached by Badgers legend Barry Alvarez and routinely traveled to play against some of the premier programs in college football history. “I learned from [former Wisconsin running back] Brian Calhoun to just kind of put blinders on,” Lewis says of playing in front of large crowds. “You don’t know if there’s another person watching you, or just the trainers and your teammates watching you, or if you’re in Camp Randall Stadium and there’s 100,000 people watching you. You train that way and then play that way.” On the stat sheet, Lewis’ time with the Badgers was anti-climactic. He had one catch, a seven-yard reception on third and eight during Wisconsin’s 41-34 loss to Minnesota on Nov. 17, 2007. For reference, Lewis played against current Tennessee Titans wide receiver Eric Decker [30 years old] in that game, with Decker recording 125 yards receiving and two touchdowns. After spending four years with Wisconsin, Lewis came back to Richards High School as an offensive coordinator before heading to Division II Nebraska-Omaha. It was there that he caught the attention of former Wisconsin assistant coach Kevin Cosgrove, who brought him to the Zips. “Sean and I kept in touch after he left Wisconsin,” Cosgrove says. “You could see he was a talented guy. He really understands football.” Cosgrove had helped initially recruit Lewis out of high school as a quarterback, but left Wisconsin after Lewis’ freshman season. Cosgrove then ended up at Akron, where he brought Lewis on the staff for a year before Lewis headed to Bowling Green to work under head coach Dino Babers. It was with the Falcons where Lewis first met Matt Johnson.   [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_image _builder_version=”3.0.102″ src=”http://theburr.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Untitled-2.jpg” show_in_lightbox=”off” url_new_window=”off” use_overlay=”off” always_center_on_mobile=”on” force_fullwidth=”off” show_bottom_space=”on” /][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.0.102″ background_layout=”light”] ‘HE HASN’T CHANGED AT ALL’ On Oct. 24, 2015 Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson added another chapter to his historic 2015 season, throwing for 430 yards and totaling six touchdowns in a 48-0 beatdown of Kent State at Dix Stadium. Johnson and the Falcons finished the regular season with a 10-3 record and earned a invitation in the GoDaddy.com bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Kent State finished the season 3-9. Lewis was the Falcons’ quarterbacks coach that year and personally helped work with Johnson. “Coaching him, it was a pleasure since he was a gym rat,” Lewis says. “He was always in the facilities all the time. He was always hungry. That’s what we’re looking for in kids that we’re recruiting.” After brief stints with the Cincinnati Bengals and the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Johnson left the Tiger-Cats after suffering a career-ending ankle injury in the preseason opener. Johnson wasn’t away from the game for long. He joined Lewis on the Syracuse coaching staff as an offensive quality control coach after spending the season prior as the quarterbacks coach at Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Johnson is now a member of Kent State’s coaching staff and, at 25, is following in Lewis’ footsteps. “When I got hurt, it was time to give up playing,” Johnson says. “It sucked, but as soon as the fall rolls around, I’m going to be running and throwing with those guys.” Lewis and Johnson had talked about coaching before, and that dream became a reality when Lewis called Johnson when he joined at Syracuse asking if he would want a spot if one opened up on the Orange’s coaching staff. He accepted, and the rest has spun into history. But through it all, Lewis has stayed the same. “It’s impressive to see that he hasn’t changed at all throughout the process,” Johnson says. “He’s still the same coach Lew. Obviously, now he has more responsibility, but he’s still the same.” Both Lewis and Johnson are bald with scruffy beards, and if you didn’t know better, at first glance, you’d think they were brothers. “I was bald first,” Johnson says laughing. “I had the beard first. I had the look first.” ‘FIRST RECRUITING VICTORY’ Lewis made his first big splash at the helm of the Flashes on January 14, 2018, when he signed former four-star Auburn quarterback Woody Barrett. Barrett transferred after a year at Auburn to Copiah-Lincoln Community College, where he threw for 1,294 yards and recorded 14 total touchdowns. “I first learned about Woody two years ago when I was at Syracuse,” Lewis says. “He was a senior in high school and I recruited central Florida. He decided to sign with Auburn, and over the past two years, I’ve gotten to know his high school football coach pretty well. When we came to Kent, we knew that he was available so we contacted his high school coach.” Lewis and his coaching staff got Barrett to visit Kent on the final recruiting weekend of the year, with Barrett commiting to Kent State the same day, a move Lewis calls his “first recruiting victory.” He was in the same boat with his coaching staff, as he had to put them together quickly after he was hired as coach in a process that Lewis described as a “sprint.” “When you’re in this profession you’re always talking to guys you know and you respect, playing that fantasy game saying, ‘Man, if you become a head coach, we’re going to get together and do this,’” Lewis says. “It’s always good to have those fantasies, but then it becomes real world, and you talk about those coaches moving and coming here. That’s when you truly know guys are all in.” But for Lewis, it wasn’t just the players that needed to care about the team; it was the whole community. “Having been in the MAC, I know the parity,” he says. “The biggest thing I was looking for in the interview was if Kent had the people that cared about football, and do we have a community in the town and university that can help our young men grow? The fact Kent had all those things, I was good.” Being the youngest coach in the FBS gives Lewis a relatability edge that some other coaches might not have. He listens to the same music as some of the players he’s recruiting. He uses social media more effectively than other coaches. He thinks Jordan is better than LeBron. (We’ll work on that one.) Having always been an ofensive coach throughout his career, it’s a natural concern that the defensive side of the ball could be a problem for Lewis. But, Lewis says, he and defensive coordinator Tom Kaufman have you covered. “At the end of the day, everyone up and down these halls are ball coaches, myself included,” he says with a smile, his voice rising ever so slightly with every word. “Whether it’s a football, tennis ball, golf ball, if you’re a ball coach, you find a way to coach ball. We’ll be just fine.” [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]

HAZED

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Pulling off the blindfold of a harmful practice

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Words by Cameron Gorman | Photos by Dani Watts

 

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n his office in Kent State’s Twin Towers, Todd Kamenash is an imposing man. Tall, with wide shoulders under his button-down, the assistant dean of students and director of student conduct embodies the athlete-turned-administrator. He seems like the kind of all-American guy who might have had an easy ride through college.

Ask him, and he’ll tell you different.

“I was on a sports team, a club sports team, and I was a sophomore when I was able to make it onto that club team,” Kamenash says. “And I had guys that were my year, and they were on the team the year before, and they just absolutely treated us like garbage.”

On his team in college, Kamenash was hazed. He and other players were forced to do all of the team’s setup and had to carry stuffed animals in public for months.

“We had our first tournament where we went out of state,” Kamenash says. “We were blindfolded. There were several of us, at the time there were four of us. … They blindfolded us and made us hold hands. And they had it orchestrated, and they were telling us, ‘One of you has not done what we want. … And as a result, effective immediately, that person is not going to be one of us anymore.’ And then, everybody, because of how they set it up, had a hand release, so we didn’t know who was next to us, but each of us, a hand let go.”

As it turned out, veterans had been stationed in between them. Still, it was frightening.

“It gives me chills now to think about it,” Kamenash says. “That was mentally a mess for us. How do you do that? Who thought of that and thought that was going to be OK?”

For Kamenash, hazing, which Kent State defines as “any action or situation intentionally created, whether on or of university premises, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment or ridicule,” took the form of humiliation and intimidation.

For some at Kent State, it was physical. To others, like David Carlyn, a member and the corresponding secretary of Phi Kappa Psi at Kent State, and a member of IFC, the Interfraternity Council, where he’s the director of community service and philanthropy, hazing is anything that causes discomfort.

“Hazing’s … anything that makes you feel uncomfortable physically, mentally or emotionally,” Carlyn says. “Anything that would cause trauma. Anything … that would degrade an individual.”

These definitions of hazing can seem familiar, even unthreatening. It’s college, or a sports team or a club. To get in, you have to go through something, right? No harm, no foul. But with the rise of coverage on the topic nationwide, awareness of the true threat of hazing is growing — and there are those at Kent State who want to stop it entirely.

The cultural shift is becoming evident for those such as Matt Sellers, who says his fraternity, Phi Sigma Kappa, holds hazing at zero tolerance.

“With all the national press, the bigger organizations, they don’t want to deal with it,” Sellers says, “because they can start a new one at any college they want to, so they could just get rid of you if you do it. So now, it’s more of a PR thing from the top.”

Some working to prevent hazing, like Dennis Campbell, the assistant director for Fraternity and Sorority Life in the Center for Student Involvement at Kent State, have good reason.

Campbell is proud to tell you that he was a part of a fraternity in college. A Sigma Nu. And he’s proud to tell you that, at its core values, Greek life offers something no other experience on campus can.

“I believe the fraternity … is the best thing on the college campus when done right,” Campbell says. “Nothing else compares to the advancement that a student can recieve and the experience a student can get out of that and lifetime satisfaction and commitment, which was shown in a recent study, that members of fraternities and sororities have a better lifetime of career and happiness than non-members.”

When asked to describe his hazing, though, he goes quiet.

“I would prefer not to,” Campbell says. “It’s — it was not good. It was not necessarily saying dangerous activities. I’m just saying it wasn’t good and it did nothing for me as a man. And so, I don’t dwell on it. I dwell on how I can prevent it from happening to anyone else.”

Hazing, which Campbell defines as “unwanted, uncomfortable situations,” has been a point of contention in the media recently, with stories such as the death of Penn State student Tim Piazza dominating headlines. But the fight against hazing in Greek life is an old one.

Andrew Coffey died during hazing at Florida State University’s Pi Kappa Phi in November of 2017. Maxwell Gruver lost his life in September of the same year to hazing at Louisiana State University’s Phi Delta Theta. In November of 2012, it was David Bogenberger at Northern Illinois University. In 2011, George Desdunes at Cornell. 2010, Samuel Mason, Radford University. 2009, Donnie Wade, Prairie View A&M University. 2008, Carson Starkey at Cal Poly. The list goes on.

“I personally was hazed,” Campbell recalls. “And my organization has since … eliminated hazing in my chapter. I now serve as the chapter adviser for my chapter, and so we’ve spent our time eradicating it. It doesn’t happen in our organization. We don’t permit it, and so we’ve spent a lot of time on that.”

No one has died of hazing at Kent State, but in 2013, the Gamma Tau Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi was suspended for a history of hazing, including paddling, caning and mental anguish.

Kamenash says they aren’t the only ones who have been disciplined through the years. In fact, he says, there have been “several.”

“We’ve had paddling, yes,” Kamenash recalls. “… I don’t remember if it was here or at my previous place where we had blindfolding. So I’ve been here since 2010, and we’ve had a lot of different varieties of things that have occurred, and thankfully, the level of harm has been limited, but … the paddling is an extreme. That’s happened since I have been here, and the people freely admitted to it. And in that situation, the fraternity was found responsible and endured sanctions.”

 

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Sanctions for fraternities found to be involved with these risky behaviors can range anywhere from interim measures to suspension or other consequences. Kamenash says there is no norm.

In the Kappa Alpha Psi case, crackdown came in the form of a previous suspension, two probations and, finally, another suspension, according to the Kent Stater’s reporting. It lasted three years.

“It’s a case-by-case situation, and it really is so dependent on the issues that occured,” Kamenash says. “If there was some alcohol there, there could be some element of alcohol education. If it’s severe or pervasive, and it’s creating a safety risk to the university, then yeah, we have to say, ‘You need a timeout.’”

Those sanctions, though, aren’t meant to punish, but to change, Kamenash explains. He seems to have thought this philosophy through before, perhaps explained it to many other kids sitting across from his desk.

“Look, I’m not telling you not to have a good time,” Kamenash says. “I’m not telling you to find that what you’re doing is bad. I’m not judging you. What I’m saying is, you have an opportunity. You have an opportunity because we didn’t just completely de-recognize you. We gave you an opportunity to review yourself. If you want to think of me as the bad guy, OK. This isn’t about me. … My goal is not to wield power. My goal is to help these people think about for themselves: What does this mean to them?”

Carlyn, who also serves as the community service chair for the Order of Omega, an honorary organization for Greek members, says he hasn’t heard anything about hazing at Kent State. Still, he seems to recognize the issue.

“I would hate to think that there is, but I would be ignorant to say that it doesn’t go on,” Carlyn says. “ … I know for a fact, my fraternity, we don’t do that. We don’t accept that at all, and I would hope that’s the same for all others, but I can’t say or know what they all do.”

Lamar Hylton, the dean of students at Kent State, seems to share Carlyn’s skepticism. “Hazing, party culture, alcohol, high-risk drinking, sexual misconduct, diversity and inclusion issues, you name it,” Hylton says. “I don’t want to sugarcoat it for what it is. Those are the issues that we deal with, and also are some of the driving forces and driving attractions for many of the people who are joining our organizations, unfortunately.”

Hylton, an energetic man with a bright bow-tie, is also involved with a fraternity: Phi Beta Sigma.

“These organizations were founded on the principles of brotherhood or sisterhood, scholarship and service, and so regardless of what organization you are aligning yourself with, it is likely, about 99 percent chance, that you would be hearing those terms,” Hylton says. “… That is what distinguishes a fraternity or sorority member: that you are committing yourself to those values in a very prominent way and that you are in some ways taking up the mantle to be academically successful, to provide quality and meaningful service to the community and to share and to promote the concept of brotherhood or sisterhood among all people. Those are the reasons why you join an organization. We have gotten very far away from that, in my opinion.”

But what about fraternities breeds this behavior?

“I think it’s very individual to the individuals that are participating in the behaviors,” Hylton says. “Some of it may be power, some of it may be, ‘This is the way that I was brought in, and so I have to do it to somebody else.’ Some of it is … allowing the organization to make the individual rather than the individuals making the organizations. Some of it is — most of it is — downright buffoonery.”

Carlyn believes it might be a misguided way to bond.

“It’s a concern because you have people with different trains of thought,” Carlyn says. “You think, some people believe — I don’t even understand it myself — some people believe that hazing is a way to create a stronger bond, it’s a way to … test devotion or whatever. I just don’t see it. … It’s coming out now because people aren’t afraid to speak out about it.”

Campbell, who admits he also participated in hazing, because “that was the culture of it,” contests that hazing isn’t the way to foster friendships.

“A lot of times, it’s the destroying of self-worth,” Campbell says. “You also don’t know the individual and their past experiences, and what they’re coming into it, whether it’s through depression, whether it’s loss of a family member, and now you’re doing something to them, and you’re hazing them, and it could cause a whole ricochet, all the way up until death.”

Campbell also mentions that hazing could undermine the very bond it might be trying to forge.

“It systematically destroys trust,” Campbell says. “You can’t trust someone that you treated that way or that treated you that way, there’s an inherent lack of trust and empathy. And loss of humanity.” Because of this, Hylton says hazing, among other recent struggles in Greek life, can undermine the original purpose of the organizations. There are crushed beer cans on the hallowed halls’ floors. “It underscores the issues prevalent in fraternities and sororities, regardless of the reasons why people choose to engage in those behaviors,” Hylton said. “At the core of it, it’s weakening the foundation of things that have been built over hundreds and hundreds of years.”

Fixing hazing, then, can seem like a Sisyphean effort. What isn’t known about can’t be fixed. Still, there is optimism in Kent State’s bones.

“I think anything is possible,” Hylton says. “I never want to say it’s impossible. I think it will take a lot of work to undo. And it will take a lot of continual focus on making sure that we’re not becoming complacent, that we’re not sitting back and resting on our laurels, but that we’re actually continuing to address these problematic behaviors, and I think it can be done. It will take the work and intentionality of the people who are part of the community.”

Campbell says his group worked toward prevention by overcoming the culture’s occasional acceptance of hazing as normal. In fact, Sellers says he believes if a hazing incident were to come to light today, all of Greek life at Kent State would be shut down.

“We, as a community of scholars, a university, needed to transcend our culture,” Campbell said. “And that’s been the biggest thing for us, and my chapter specifically, is to transcend the culture and address the issues.”

He attests that hazing is dangerous not only in a physical sense, but in a mental one.

“Yeah, there’s scars that will never heal from those situations,” Campbell says. “That’s why it’s so dangerous: It reopens old wounds and creates new scars that can’t ever fully be healed. And you work the best you can, … but there’s moments that will always, … especially when you’ve participated in it, that wound never fully heals. So, for me, … my goal has always been to eradicate it.”

And the effort to stamp hazing out seems to be shared by nearly everyone on the administrative level. Hylton says he has been speaking to Kent State Greek leaders to try to encourage preventative measures.

“I shared with our fraternity and sorority council leaders last semester that I would really like for them to put together a plan as to how to begin to proactively address these issues,” Hylton says. “I don’t want to have to wait until somebody comes forward and complains or we have a major issue to then begin to try to address behaviors that may or may not exist.”

Kent State Greek life hosts an annual “Hazing Prevention Week” already, part of a national event that encourages schools and campuses to raise awareness about the phenomenon.

“I think it’s incumbent upon any fraternity or sorority community … to be as proactive as possible to mitigate as much opportunity for these behaviors to be resident in any one community,” Hylton says. “There’s probably behaviors that need to be changed in our community. I mean, I think that you would find that with any fraternity or sorority community around the country. It’s all about the way in which you address it, and try to be as proactive and innovative and cutting-edge as you possibly can to minimize or mitigate any opportunity for those behaviors to be a prominent part of the culture.”

Fixing hazing isn’t in the realm of impossibility for those invested in Greek Life — they haven’t lost sight of the original values of the groups. The prestige and meaning of their letters still shines through.

But for those affected by hazing, the memories may never truly fade.

“It did nothing to make me a better man,” Campbell says. “And so my pledge has always been: I get a chance to see great men graduate that are in my chapter and see them completely change the world and be better men because they were never touched by something like that. Because it’s cancer, and it destroys people. It destroys grades, destroys lives, causes alcohol addiction, causes all sorts of issues. And we need to destroy it from the root.”

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