Piece of OU history finds its way home [news feature]

Published in The Oklahoma Daily on February 18, 2013

It was sitting in a dark corner of warehouse north of campus in 1966 when he found it: a piece of OU’s history.

David Harper was working for OU that summer, having recently graduated from Norman High School. He said he was working with a crew of 15 summer hires and six “grown-ups” in the area they called the “north base.”

His crew was dusting classroom desks in a dark warehouse when he found a piece of granite, engraved with the year 1892, a list of names and a word he didn’t recognize: “regents.”

Continue reading “Piece of OU history finds its way home [news feature]”

EDITORIAL: Baseless blood donor restrictions risk lives

Published in The Oklahoma Daily on November 13, 2012

Our View: Blood donation eligibility should be based on health, not identity.

If you’ve ever wanted to donate blood but didn’t, it was probably because you dislike needles or happened to be sick at the time.

But a certain group of Americans cannot donate blood even if they choose to — and it’s not because of a health problem or a phobia.

Continue reading “EDITORIAL: Baseless blood donor restrictions risk lives”

Every step out of the closet is in the right direction [Editorial]

Published in The Oklahoma Daily on October 11, 2012.

Our View: Coming Out Day is about more than personal decisions — it’s about community progress.

Today is National Coming Out Day, dedicated to the difficult process of revealing one’s identity as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender American.

Coming out is a life-changing decision that makes or breaks careers, families and lives. And, of course, it’s not something you can do in a day — it’s a continuing process.

But today is about more than just the brave personal decisions of individuals. As important as it is to live honest and open lives, Coming Out Day represents something more significant.

Continue reading “Every step out of the closet is in the right direction [Editorial]”

Awareness vs. Wallowing [Mental Health Blog]

Published on my mental health and recovery blog.

 

These last few weeks have been about me taking the first faltering steps out of depression. And I’ve already written about how those steps are frustrating, slow and often involve just as many steps back as forward. That’s still the reality. While I haven’t come anywhere near close to how I felt at my worst, I still spend most of my time below what I’ve identified as my “normal” — much less thriving. I feel capable of getting basic things done (self-care, school, communication, etc.). But those things are still often a struggle, and I almost always do them despite lacking motivation.  My moods are much more stable than they had been, and I find myself more and more genuinely enjoying the pleasant things in my life. But I still can’t think about my life or my future for more than a few minutes without triggering myself.

But I have had another good day. Another day where I felt normal, energetic, happy. Where I had motivation and ideas and clear thoughts. I found myself walking back from the subway actually dancing along to the music I was listening to, looking around at the people walking past me like they were interesting, complex, probably not malicious fellow human beings. Like they might actually pertain to me and be worth meeting. I thought about projects I wanted to work on, books I wanted to read and stories I wanted to write. I thought about the future and felt like I could (and would, and wanted to) accomplish anything.

It’s amazing how easy it is to forget what all of that feels like after even a short time being depressed.

Of course, that mood didn’t last. But it left me feeling a little better than before and with a clearer picture of what I’m working toward in this recovery effort. It was a nice reminder that what I’m feeling right now isn’t who I am.

 

It’s time to get up 

And it did something else even more important. It made me realize that it’s time to get my life going again, even if that means starting at a slower pace than I’m used to. See, I had put everything I could on hold once I realized how hard recovery would be. Over the summer, I finally started to see how I had used work and responsibility to enable my denial. As long as I was throwing everything I had into a job, a leadership role, various projects, etc. I could push away the depression and anxiety. It was like being in crisis mode 24/7, and my mind had realized early on that I do well in a crisis. I’m allowed to push away my emotions in crisis. Who would expect anything different?

Once I realized this disassociation from my emotions was a big part of my mental illness, I knew I needed to disconnect from my usual coping mechanism that relied on that disassociation. Basically, I needed to be depressed. To let myself be depressed and feel unpleasant things and take time to take care of myself and stop running around trying so hard to healthy and functional on the outside while I was hurting on the inside.

That was, and still is, true. But these coping mechanism have been with me since adolescence. They were literally the way I survived that part of my life. They are a fundamental part of the identity I’ve developed, and when they’re happening, they’ve practically invisible to me. The only reason I could see them in the first place was because I had a breakdown big enough to force me to be depressed long enough to look inward and see the clockwork.

So what did I do? I cut out everything I thought would let me fall back into those habits. I took a break from activism and even partially stopped reading the news. I was lucky enough to have some time before I needed to find a job, so I decided to take this semester off. I didn’t look for groups to join on campus, I didn’t look at internship offerings (because this is DC, and if I looked, I would find one I couldn’t refuse). Even school ended up not being quite the challenge I expected. I went from a full sprint to a nap over the course of a month.

You can probably already see where this is going. By trying not to listen to the impulses in my head that want to keep me in denial about my depression and disassociated from my emotions, I had inadvertently given my depression everything it wanted. I was trapped at home, often alone given my roommate’s schedule, watching TV, occasionally reading philosophy and trying really hard to remember to shower and eat. As much as I do need more rest, downtime and self-care than before my depression, this lifestyle is the opposite of conducive to recovery.

And those two good days I’ve had? Both came on my one day a week I have class. The day I have to get up, go be around other people, accomplish something and feel smart. Obviously, not a coincidence.

 

Finding a balance

So when an opportunity to apply for an internship practically fell in my lap (thank you universe, for speaking loudly enough that even I have to listen), I took it. I’m interviewing sometime this week for a part time internship at a housing equality organization.

But as sure as I am that this is the right step, a funny thing has happened as my depression has slowly and unevenly gotten better: My anxiety has gotten worse. At the worst point in my depression, my anxiety was completely gone. The week or so, I haven’t gone a day without taking one of my anti-anxiety meds. And they freak me out a little, so I only take them when it’s really necessary. A lot of this anxiety is focused around this internship and around my other responsibilities.

What I’m moving too fast? What I’ve lost my ability to do, well, anything since my depression started? What I have a significant relapse? Can I go and do a job while I feel like that? Can I face the idea of not being able to do my best work? What if I have to take a day off because of my mental illness? Something that should be so easy (who wouldn’t take a day off for a cold?) sounds like a cardinal sin to my ears.

What if I never get over this incredible flutter of fear every time I have to respond to a damned email?

Fear of not being able to achieve something I want (or, worse, not being able to trust that I will continue to even want it) is not something I’ve had to deal with before. And all the while I know I need to be on the look out for these old habits that I’m not completely sure how to recognize. So I need to trust myself to succeed, but do so in a way that’s different from everything I’ve done before.

That’s the balancing act I’m dealing with right now. But I’m committed to biting the bullet and going for this internship. I think this may be one thing you can only learn through experience.

The danger of “feeling better,” or The sneakiness of depression [Mental Health Blog]

Published on my mental health and recovery blog.

 

The past few weeks since my last update have been very productive — both a blessing and a curse. I’ve noticed more and more that my good days, my normal periods, come after periods of high productivity. When I’m coming back from my long class day feeling smart and capable or after a day at my internship accomplishing measurable things. So I know I’m doing the right thing by not completely stopping my life to make room for recovery.

At the same time, all it takes is a few decent days an unfinished to-do list to set off some subconscious subroutine that decides I’m fine. Totally normal now. Depression over. No need to think about that anymore. Let’s work on all of your ambitions at once. It’s like I only have two settings: slow, easy, remember-you’re-in-recovery or fast-forward.

And when I’m in that state, I become completely disconnected from my own mental state, completely in denial about the fact that I don’t have the mental resources to do all the things I want to. This gap between my thoughts and reality begins to generate massive amounts of anxiety, which (at first) I have no idea the source of. And when I can’t get things done, can’t find my focus, etc. I start to panic even more. After all, I’m only even trying to do a fourth of what i was doing last year. I’ve never been so overwhelmed by a little to-do list before.

As this escalates, the depression symptoms start to break through, but I instinctively, ruthlessly push them down. Subconsciously, I’m terrified of giving up “normal” and admitting I’m still depressed. Who wouldn’t be? And, after all, I’m very good at pushing through. At putting my head down and just working,

All this tension and cognitive dissonance eventually lulls me back into old thought patterns, the old coping mechanisms. (In a way, this whole cycle is itself a coping mechanism.) These quickly devolve into the fear, frustration and pain that characterized my pre-recovery life. I end up lashing out a myself and those closest to me with negative thoughts and emotions. Nothing I do is good enough. My best friend doesn’t really love me or want to be around me. I’m not worth the air I breath, You get the idea.

Until I realize what’s going on (which thankfully happens after only a little while of this now that I recognize the pattern), these thoughts don’t seem like symptoms of my mental state. They just seem like reality. Even though I logically recognize the conclusions as false, the premises that lead me to them seem valid and entirely based in empirical evidence. Right now, coming out of one of these cycles, I’m struck by easy it is for my brain to lie to me about reality. And how completely I believe those lies.

This cycle isn’t particularly surprising, given that my primary way of coping with my childhood trauma was to center my entire identity and self worth on my achievements/ambitions. But it does have an interesting side effect: It’s actually better for me to stay depressed right now.

I need a real recovery, one that’s founded on new ways of thinking and processing the world, and these false starts are just making that goal harder to reach. So I have to work to avoid the relapses into the worst of my depression, but i also have to work to avoid relapses into “everything is fine.”

 

On what trauma feels like [Mental Health Blog]

Published on my mental health and recovery blog.

 

On Thanksgiving, I had a major triggering event. You’ll have to forgive me for not going into details, but suffice it to say it was basically deja vu of my childhood trauma (funny how that can happen even when your family is thousands of miles away). So I thought I’d try to describe what the effects of trauma can feel like.

My initial reaction was crisis mode: Things needed to be done and said, so I went to that place where everything is calm and rational and devoid of feeling. I did what needed to be done. Before I started recovery, this state would be both my first and last reaction – until I went into a depressive episodes several days later, anyway.

Now, several steps down the road to recovery and with just enough progress that I recognize dissociation for what it is, I don’t have the luxury of not feeling. I know that’s a blessing, but that day it felt like a curse. I sat there, hugging my best friend/recovery buddy, shaking slightly, thinking Any minute now all of this will recede, I’ll straighten up and be ready to go to Thanksgiving dinner. It didn’t happen.

When the tears came, it was like each one had to force its way between my eyelids. Each breath tore out of my throat in a ragged gasp, stalling at the height of my exhale like my diaphragm had spasmed and caught. Like the force of denial and emotions, all mixed up and unidentifiable, was trying to punch its way out of my lungs. I was stuck there, noncommittally crying, dragging my lungs through each stuttering breath, thinkingWhat happens now? and I think I’m supposed to let myself feel things, but I don’t know how, until my best friend took control and told me “We’re going to go in the other room, lie down and cry for as long as you need to.”

As soon as we curled up on the bed, the tears came in earnest, but my mind was still an obliterated blank. In the last few months, I’ve fought off my obsessive need for control so many times. I’ve climbed over mental walls and liberated emotions like stolen princesses. I have let myself cry. But this was the real deal. This was a tendril from my past. This was a real test.

I’m not sure I passed.

I tried to open up to what I was feeling, but damn those old habits are deeply ingrained when push comes to shove.  I felt the edges cracking, and I tried and tried to tell my recovery buddy what was going on in my head, but I could barely even begin to pull apart the threads.

The moment started to get fuzzy around the edges, distant, like I wasn’t in my body or in that moment in time. But for once, my emotions didn’t lift and separate. They become more real, and as they loomed bigger and bigger, everything else become less so. I looked around my home, and it was like looking at a backdrop. I stared down at my hands, wiggling my fingers, and they were completely alien.

And then the flashbacks came.

I told my best friend it was like I was experiencing every moment of my life at the same time. Old, traumatic memories slipped through my head and some stuck, as real to me as the present even though I wasn’t experiencing them with my senses. For a little while, I was a scared 14-year-old girl again.

EDITORIAL: How to watch tonight’s presidential debate

Published in The Oklahoma Daily on October 16, 2012

Our View: There is a right way and a wrong way to watch the presidential debates.

The third presidential debate of the season begins at 8 tonight and will feature the presidential candidates responding to pre-screened questions from the audience in a town hall format. To help prepare you, here are a few tips for getting the most out of the debates.

Watch with an open mind

The debate’s primary purpose is to educate voters on the details of the candidates’ views in their own words. If you go into the debate expecting to have the exact same views when it’s over, you’re unlikely to learn anything valuable.

So, unless your goal is simply to get your blood pressure up, you should approach the debates with an open mind.

Of course, if you come into the debates already knowing who you plan to vote for, nothing these candidates say is likely to alter that plan. But the ever-evolving discussion surrounding the election is about more than who you vote for.

In a well-moderated debate, candidates reveal details about their past actions, their future plans and the effects those plans will have on the nation. It is a time to deal in data and facts, allowing viewers to compare the minutia of the candidates’ platforms.

It’s essential to do this accurately and fairly for the candidate you oppose, but it’s even more important for the candidate you support. You can criticize a candidate’s debate performance and find fault in his plans without changing your vote.

And if you are one of those undecideds, the debates are a chance to actually listen to the candidates’ views with less interference from the opposing party’s attacks.

Ignore the rhetoric and focus on the facts.

But be skeptical

You cannot take either candidate at his word. The most important thing you can do during the debates is fact-check every claim made by either candidate.

If you’d rather devote your focus to the candidates’ performances during the debate, you can check any of the major news sources or fact-checking websites for comprehensive coverage when the debate ends.

If you like to multi-task and would rather have live analysis, social media can help. The Twitter accounts listed here will offer live fact-checking from experienced researchers, journalists and political analysts. If you hear a claim that hasn’t yet been checked, you can tweet with the hashtags #factcheckthis or #PolitiFactThis.

Whichever method you choose, just be sure to fact check any claims before believing them, forming opinions based on them or — most importantly — dispersing them to other voters.

Keep your priorities straight

Ignore the rhetoric and focus on the facts. While a candidate’s attitude sometimes can reveal important details, the debates should not be performances.

Unless it’s about a personal subject, any claim that cannot be fact checked should be disregarded as a political tactic.

Let your opinions be swayed by numbers, facts and specific plans to improve the nation — not by political theater.

EDITORIAL: Only informed citizenship can protect democracy

Published in The Oklahoma Daily on October 2, 2012

 

Our View: New outreach project highlights the importance of education about citizenship and democracy.

A democracy functions on the activities and choices of the people, and effective participation relies on those citizens understanding the political and legal framework of the nation. But a recent study shows only 27 percent of high school seniors have a proficient understanding of civics.

The National Assessment of Student Progress 2010 test in civics found that just 24 percent of students across grades four, eight and 12 demonstrated a proficient understanding of the political and legal framework of this country.

How can we expect these students to become responsible voters and informed citizens if they are not taught about the process of government, the extent of their rights and the limits on governmental power?

Recognizing the importance of civics education, OU’s Institute for the American Constitutional Heritage and the Alumni Association have launched a project to give students, alumni and community members free access to lectures about constitutional law and history. Freedom.ou.edu starts today with eight lectures.

This project will share the university’s educational resources with a broader audience and start a broader conversation about citizenship, politics and American identity.

It is only with an understanding of these issues that citizens are able to properly participate in government, whether in the form of informed voting or activism. It is a democratic citizen’s most important responsibility not only to vote for the best candidate but also to recognize and stand up for the rights of all.

If Americans do not ensure the civic education of the populace, the result will be a voting public that cannot defend its rights, petition its representatives for change or fight an abuse of governmental power. Such a populace makes a poor shepherd of democracy.

That’s why projects like this are so important. They give the broader community access to OU’s effective civics educations, which the administration has long worked to foster. Now, if this program is successful, anyone will be able to benefit from a virtual version of an OU classroom. It could help spark a sorely needed discussion about these issues.

Every citizen should be thinking about and questioning the nature of American democracy, particularly in the year we will elect a leader whose vision will guide the country for the next four years.

Universities like OU are uniquely situated to encourage and spread civics education. As an institution of higher education, OU is dedicated to starting open dialogues and spreading essential knowledge — and that mission doesn’t stop at the edge of campus.

We hope this will be one of many future projects that spread the intellectual wealth to the community in a convenient and accessible way. For now, be sure to visit freedom.ou.edu and find out if the resources there can help you become a better voter and a better citizen.

Is your favorite read on the banned books list? [Editorial]

Published in The Oklahoma Daily on October 1, 2012.

 

Our View: No book deserves to be banned; speak out about book banning this week.

 

This week marks the 30th Banned Books Week, a national celebration of the freedom to read. The American Library Association created the event to raise awareness about book banning across the country.

When a parent or concerned individual objects to the content of a certain work, they can make a challenge to the institution asking that the material be removed or that access to it be restricted. If the institution agrees, the book is considered banned.

The American Library Association makes a distinction: “Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.”

Of course, not every challenge results in a banning. Though reliable data on the number of sustained bans is not available, Oklahoma saw three challenges in 2010, one of which was successful. This proportion seems accurate for the nation.

In the last decade, 10,676 challenges have been reported to the American Library Association. But because reporting of such challenges is voluntary, the association estimates that only 25 percent of the challenges and bannings in the country make it into its database. With this in mind, the numbers are unsettling.

In general, challenges have been decreasing since they hit a peak in 1995 with 762 challenges. But this isn’t a perfect trend — though in general the numbers are going down, fluctuations between years show dramatic ups and downs. Even with the decrease, 326 books were challenged in 2011, according to American Library Association data.

And these aren’t just obscure, perverted titles. The 10 most banned books from each year of the last decade include some important works with incredible cultural and historic significance:

“Of Mice and Men”

“Catcher in the Rye”

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”

“Huckleberry Finn”

“The Color Purple”

“To Kill a Mockingbird”

“A Brave New World”

These works are essential to any American’s education. You simply cannot be a well-educated citizen of this society without exposure to at least a few of these books. They speak to important time periods and trends that built this nation and still significantly impact modern culture.

The top 10 lists from each of these years also include popular modern works with benign content, such as the “Harry Potter” series. Worst of all, the lists include books with important educational content essential for the age group they target — books about “mommy’s pregnancy” and what to expect during puberty. That “sex education” is considered a valid grounds for a book challenge in the first place simply is ridiculous.

Other common reasons for a book challenge include sexually explicit content, inappropriate language, material unsuited to the age group, occult themes, homosexuality and violence.

Sometimes, the reason is much less rational: In 2006, the “Diary of Anne Frank” was challenged in Oklahoma when administrators met with an unnamed English teacher in an unnamed school “to request book not be taught in the next school year after complaints by a parent concerning (that the book was) promoting Jewish religion,” the Oklahoma Library Association reported.

These challenges are not just coming from concerned and controlling parents. While the majority of challenges, about 72 percent, affect schools and their libraries, 25 percent affect public libraries. Surprisingly, 1.4 percent of challenges are brought against colleges and universities — a small portion compared to the rest, but one is too many for insitutions devoted to the education of adults.

It is shocking that so many are ready to restrict the access of their fellow citizens to information they dislike. This is particularly stunning when it involves universities, which as institutions of higher education should take free access to information as their most important principle. But even when it affects public libraries or schools, it still represents an unacceptable effort to tell other people (or other people’s children) what they can read.

As Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., said in the Texas v. Johnson decision, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

Simply put, there is never a reason to ban a literary work.

If you want to help fight this dangerous censorship trend, you can go here to participate in the Virtual Read-Out, in which people across the country share videos of themselves reading from their favorite banned book. This campaign is a way to educate about the issue of book banning and to highlight the value of some of the challenged books.

Better yet, seek out and enjoy your favorite banned book this week and share it with your friends.

EDITORIAL: Citizen voice evident in presidential debate moderator

Published in The Oklahoma Daily on September 26, 2012

 

Our View: The selection of the first female presidential debate moderator in 20 years shows the power of citizens’ voices.

Wednesday night, Sooners had a chance to learn about the 2012 presidential election from Candy Crowley, a journalist with years of experience covering campaigns. But Crowley was chosen to speak at the President’s Associate’s Dinner for more than just her experience in the trenches — she will be the first female moderator of a presidential debate in 20 years.

Presidential debates give Americans a chance to see candidates in the same space answering the same questions. They cut through some of the double-speak of the campaigns and provide a forum for voters to directly compare the stances of both candidates.

Debates educate the public about the specifics of each candidate’s views that can get lost in commercials and soundbites, as well as influencing what issues will become the focus in the last weeks before the election.

Within these debates, the moderator is charged with keeping the flow of the debates going, steering candidates to important issues and not letting them run off course. Through all of this, an unbiased position is critical. Poor moderators have proven to result in pointless debates full of non-answers, hedging and fluff.

As an experienced journalist known for being tough on sources and for challenging insubstantial answers, Crowley is set to do better. Given the importance of the debates, it’s essential for the Commission on Presidential Debates to choose the best moderators — without concern for gender.

Frankly, it is unacceptable that it has been 20 years since the last female moderator, when Carole Simpson moderated the 1992 debates. Jim Lehrer, who will moderate a debate this season, has moderated 11 such debates in that time.

While it’s good news that the commission has corrected this exclusion, it’s even better that a grassroots movement likely contributed to the decision.

Three New Jersey high school students started a Change.org petition urging the commission to choose a female moderator this year. Sami Siegel, Emma Axelrod and Elena Tsemberis started the petition after learning about the exclusion of women in a civics class.

The petition earned more than 122,000 signatures and inspired several public statements by influential women.

The commission has denied the petition had any effect on its decision — of course, it is expected to say as much — and that’s OK. Crowley was chosen for her experience first and her gender second.

But it’s undeniable that the timing is a little too perfect to be a coincidence.

The petition, and the high-profile attention it attracted, likely reminded the commission of its responsibility to avoid unfair bias in moderator selection. After this reminder, the commission noticed the many highly qualified women who could serve in this important position and chose accordingly.

Crowley’s appointment is a big win for our political dialogue and an even bigger win for individual activism.It demonstrates the power of active, concerned citizens and the way new technologies amplify citizens’ voices. It proves that with the right tools, your voice can be heard through the noise of the Information Age.

So make sure to watch the presidential debates this election season. But first, go to Change.org and lend your voice to the movements started by citizens like you. If you don’t find a petition for the causes you believe in, just start one yourself.