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.”

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Support the Ugandan people, not the Kony films [editorial]

Published in The Oklahoma Daily on April 23, 2012.

 

Our View: Invisible Children’s new Kony film commits the same sins as its predecessor.

 

 

Last week, posters for the Stop Kony campaign appeared in interesting locations around campus — most notably covering the anatomy of the statue outside the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. These posters were likely placed by students as part of Invisible Children’s “Cover the Night” event, announced in its second Kony film.

This new film was clearly an attempt by Invisible Children to answer some of the criticisms aimed at the campaign. While this second film does offer some small redemption from these criticisms, it is not nearly enough: This film commits the same sins as its predecessor.

The film is centered around what privileged members of American and European communities are doing to organize and fight these issues. It portrays the filmmakers and the organization, once again, as white knights. It paints the simple act of being aware of others’ suffering as a heroic act, worthy of praise, reward and adulation.

Never mind the fact that these problems have been going on for years with little notice from the international community. Never mind that Western societies contributed to — even caused — them in the first place. Never mind that these young activists know very little about these cultures, nations and people. Never mind that they couldn’t point to Uganda on a map.

And in inflating this sense of feel-good activism on the part of non-Africans, it ignores the voices of the Ugandans, Congolese and other people who are actually affected by the war and the actions of the Lord’s Resistance Army. It ignores their unique understanding of the true situation and what must be done to solve the problems there.

The new film does feature a few token individuals. But their roles are small and clearly situated simply to justify the efforts of Invisible Children against widespread criticism.

On top of that, it argues yet more strongly for militarized intervention and support of the local regimes. These local governments have human rights records to rival Kony’s. Did we not learn our lesson about supporting harmful dictators against a common enemy after Iraq?

In our last editorial, we illustrated the racism inherent in the white savior complex: The idea that privileged white Americans can drop into a foreign country and “save” the poor, savage, colored populations from problems the privileged white citizens know nothing about.

But at the time, those of you concerned about the Kony situation didn’t have much of an option. It was either support Invisible Children’s convenient campaign or do the hard work of educating yourself about another culture and a complex socio-political situation in Africa. And who has time for that?

Well, now, you have another choice. If you are really concerned about the Kony situation, go to OUDaily.com to watch the informational video made by the group Uganda Speaks. The group has started a campaign called Uganda 2012, appropriately placing the spotlight back on the nation and people affected instead of the mass-murderer himself.

Both of Invisible Children’s films have focused on a white man’s story and given very little space for actual Ugandans to tell their story. This disenfranchises and infantilizes the very people the campaign is supposedly trying to help.

Uganda Speaks’ video gives a voice to those affected by Kony and the war, putting the truth and the efforts to improve their conditions back in their own hands.

But we must warn you, supporting them will not be as glamorous. This group’s film offers no easy answers. And it doesn’t come with a marketing campaign.

The group’s website explains, “If you help fund this project, we will not send you a T-shirt. We will not send you a bracelet. We will not ask you to vandalize your city with the face of a mass murder.”

This is the test. We want to see the same passion in the support for this group. We want to see this video reach a million views. We want to see tweets and Facebook posts pointing people to this local effort.

We want to see people get the same emotional tingle, the same calling, without the flashy film techniques. And we want to see you do your part, donate and spread the word, without the rewards or the T-shirts or the savior complex.

If you truly care about the people, the children, of these African countries once plagued by war and still suffering from its aftermath, you must see them as equals and offer them enough respect to put their words over the self-righteous white-knighting of some privileged documentary filmmakers. You must work to make them visible.

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‘Stop Kony’ campaign’s approach will cause more harm than good [Editorial]

Published in The Oklahoma Daily on March 14, 2012.

 

Our View: The Stop Kony campaign silences Ugandan voices.

 

You’ve probably seen or heard of the “Kony 2012” documentary created by Invisible Children, Inc. about child soldiers in Uganda. With the YouTube video becoming the most viral video of all time, the Twitter tags trending and a widespread Facebook campaign, it would be hard to miss.

 

In the days since this effort has gained popularity, it has been targeted by loud and earnest critic — who often were countered by even louder outcries from supporters.

We could point out the concern about Invisible Children only using one third of their income on direct aid or remind you that sharing a YouTube video doesn’t actually help the people of Uganda. We could add our voices to the cacophonous debate. But we prefer to focus on the only voices that really matter: those of Ugandans.

It would be easy to answer the common criticisms against this campaign, as many have, with the claim, “At least they’re trying to do something. Even if it accomplishes very little, what harm can it do?”

Indeed, “What harm can it do?” is exactly the question we should all be asking.

 

Spreading violence

Behind the demands to “Stop Kony” is the call for militarized intervention in the region. This call is an excellent excuse for the U.S. government to send even more aid and weaponry to the nation, cementing ties with what Adam Branch, senior researcher at the Makerere Institute of Social Research in Uganda, calls a “war-crimes-perpetrating military and its brutal, corrupt, human-rights-abusing dictatorship” in an oil-rich nation.

With its misleading, emotional propaganda, Invisible Children is urging Americans to support the U.S. government’s continued militarization and exploitation of Africa. Well-meaning citizens, desiring at least in some small way to help, actually are contributing to the very same interventionist policies that led to these problems in the first place.

In a March 9 essay in National Geographic, Anywar Ricky Richard, a former child soldier of the Lord’s Resistance Army and director of Friends of Orphans, writes of perceptions of Invisible Children in northern Uganda: “They are not known as a peace building organization and I do not think they have experience with peace building and conflict resolution methods. I totally disagree with their approach of military action as a means to end this conflict.”

Oh, and the military and dictatorship that America would be supporting? A 2010 U.S. State Department report profiling them includes a long list of abuses, including arbitrary killings, sex trafficking, sexual abuse of children and, yes, use of child soldiers.

Ultimately, U.S. consumers are driving the resource-driven conflicts in the region, purchasing products created through the theft of African resources. Centuries of what Branch calls “exploitation and devastation” by Western nations has created a climate of war, chaos and poverty in Africa.

The Western world is responsible for the conflict in Uganda. America helped start it, and U.S. policies are helping sustain it. That does not give privileged white armchair activists the responsibility — or the right — to demand military intervention to “save” Uganda. America’s presence there will do nothing but make things worse.

 

White Man’s Burden

This entire campaign represents the rapid spreading of damaging, racist sentiments. The White Savior Complex has gone viral.

The Stop Kony campaign teaches us white activists from the West must band together to save the poor, helpless black populace. It ignores the progress already made by Ugandans and local campaigns. It takes the voice and agency away from Ugandans and places the opinions and actions of white Americans in the spotlight. But what else is new?

Ugandan-born TMS Ruge wrote, “It is a slap in the face to so many of us who want to rise from the ashes of our tumultuous past and the noose of benevolent, paternalistic, aid-driven development memes. We, Africans, are sandwiched between our historically factual imperfections and well-intentioned, road-to-hell-building-do-gooders.”

It’s not as easy as a bunch of white activists coming in and deciding things must change. The Stop Kony campaign, and your involvement in it, is a privileged ego-trip that allows white activists with no accountability to the culture they “represent” to ride in and drown out the voices of Ugandans.

Invisible Children’s work, at least this part of it, is contributing to keeping these populations invisible.

Branch wrote about the concerns he has heard from Ugandans about the Invisible Children Project, identifying “their portrayal of Africans as helpless children in need of rescue by white Americans, and the fact that civilians in Uganda and central Africa may have to pay a steep price in their own lives so that a lot of young Americans can feel good about themselves and a few can make good money.”

But what do we do?

So you saw this video and you’re horrified at the situation in Uganda. That’s good. It is important to be aware of suffering and struggles throughout the world. But before you demand that the American government put on the white armor, climb on the white horse and intervene in another country’s affairs, try asking yourself what this country already has done to contribute to the problems there.

That is what you can and should be doing if you care about the situation in Africa or the suffering in any other part of the world. Do some research. Understand the context for these conflicts. Identify the ways American policies and interests have contributed to or outright caused them. Then figure out how to keep that from happening again.

It is not about doing something — anything — to help the situation in Uganda or anywhere else. It is not about clicking a button or watching a video or buying a wristband. It is not about making yourself feel better. It is about joining Ugandans to do what must be done to protect their lives and freedom.

And that requires more than a 30-minute, emotionally masturbatory YouTube video — it requires listening to the voices of those actually affected and giving them a louder voice than your own.

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EDITORIAL: Sunshine Week is about highlighting public’s right to information

Published in The Oklahoma Daily on March 12, 2012

 

Our View: This Sunshine Week, join us in highlighting the importance of freedom of information and transparency.

Today marks the first day of Sunshine Week, a national initiative to spark discussion on the importance of freedom of information.

Click here to view The Daily’s open record requests submitted this semester.

Last semester, we wrote much in this space about the importance of transparency in government and other public operations. We dedicated ourselves to focusing on these essential issues, bringing information to the public and advocating for greater legal protections.

Most importantly, we made it clear this isn’t about journalists having some special, privileged access to information. This is about the public’s right to access, about every citizen’s right to be informed about what their government or public officials are doing.

Public information belongs to all of us. These are our documents and our meetings, detailing actions taken with our tax money by our officials. Public officials have been elected or chosen to represent the citizens who pay their salary and are affected by their decisions.

They owe the public transparency — and, thus, accountability — in return for that representative power.

In order to help bring attention to and advocate for this essential right to information, we decided to illustrate how we use open records and to advocate for stronger legal protections. We created a box on our front page to track the records requests we make and how long it takes for these requests to be filled.

Now, we’re going one step further.

The current feature allows readers to stay informed only about the most recent records requests that have not yet been filled. But we also want readers to have access to all the requests we make and the amount of time it took for those requests to be filled.

So we have created a new page on OUDaily.com that will house weekly updates about all the records requests made by The Daily.

In addition, in honor of Sunshine Week, we will be attaching a sunshine icon to some of our stories this week to indicate which stories reporters used public records.

In tackling these issues last semester, we also wrote a series of editorials detailing ways the open records and open meetings laws could be strengthened. We will continue these efforts.

Though few strides have been made toward our most important request — that a specific time limit be placed on filling open records requests in Oklahoma — the legislature has made strides on another important improvement.

The state legislature is expected to vote next week on House Bill 2379, which would create an online open records request portal through which the public could make faster, easier requests for information. This will save time and money for both the average citizen and the government, and we urge our legislators to pass it quickly.

Then there is HB 1085, which would apply open records and open meetings laws to the Oklahoma legislature. Currently, the legislature is unfairly exempt from these requirements. The House will consider the bill later this week, and it must be passed to ensure that Oklahoma’s legislators are accountable to the public.

On the local front, President David Boren has just announced his intention to meet with students this semester about the possibility of gender-neutral housing next fall.

We call on him to make these meetings open to the public and advertise their time and place so all members of the OU community may stay involved, be informed and have a chance to express their opinions.

But this isn’t just The Daily’s fight. We hope other organizations on campus — from student groups to academic departments to the administration — will stand with us in declaring a commitment to the public’s right to know.

Help us educate this community about these important issues and advocate for greater freedom of information protection for Oklahoma’s citizens.

Speaking of citizens, this all comes down to you. This is a fight for your right to know, for your right to hold your public officials accountable.

This is your fight.

So educate yourself about freedom of information issues, consider making an open records request or attending an open meeting to find out more about your government and be willing to stand up to fight for these essential rights.

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When you joke about rape you protect, enable rapists [Editorial]

Published in The Oklahoma Daily on February 8, 2012.

 

Our View: You are living in a rape culture. Don’t perpetuate it with rape jokes.

 

In its short lifetime, the Facebook page OU Memes already has gathered over 4,500 fans and a constant stream of submissions. If you go to OU and use Facebook, there’s a good chance your news feed has been overrun by these OU-specific Internet jokes.

Some are clever and some seem to miss the point entirely. Predictably, some have crossed the line into offensive and started long, angry comment arguments (greeks vs. GDIs, anyone?). But some in particular have gone beyond the realm of “bad but true” or “picking a fight” and tipped right into completely unacceptable.

One particular meme showed a picture of the “Sheltered College Freshman” with the words “First night partying in college atmosphere. Gets roofied. Gangbanged.”

The comments below the picture are a tangled argument between those decrying the joke as indefensible and those championing the poster’s right to a “sense of humor.” And it wasn’t the only rape-related meme sparking similar arguments.

We want you to know this one important truth: It is never OK to make a rape joke.

No, they’re not funny. No, it isn’t “dark humor.” It isn’t clever or edgy or rebellious against the “politically correct” mainstream.

By joking about rape, you’re trivializing the issue, making it something to laugh about. One of the great powers of humor is minimizing fears, making them seem smaller and conquering the monsters by laughing at them.

But rape is one monster we should never work to make smaller. Our society has done just that for far too long. Only by facing the true, horrible reality of rape will we be able to fight it. One of the most important steps to fighting rape is ending what activists call “rape culture.”

Rape culture is a society that ignores, minimizes, laughs at and, by extension, encourages rape. It is a society that blames victims of rape because they flirted, wore the wrong thing, went to the wrong party, slept with too many men or in some other way indicated they “wanted it.” It is a society that protects rapists.

It is a society that tells women they must be careful not to walk alone, not to walk at night, not to drink too much, not to wear that outfit and not to make eye contact with a stranger. To get a roommate, get a dog, take a self-defense class. To always be alert, always be prepared, on guard, watching your back, watching your surroundings.

It is a society that tells women if they don’t follow these rules, they will be raped — like one in six of their fellow women, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. And it is a society that ignores the one in 33 men who have been raped as well.

Rape culture is a society that accepts rape as an inevitability, that teaches only some types of people get raped, that ignores the prevalence of rape.

Rape culture is our culture. And by making it something worthy of laughing at — by normalizing it, by ridiculing consent and down-playing the objective and innate horror of it — rape jokes allow that culture to continue.

When you, thinking it’s “just a joke,” laugh or simply fail to object, you implicitly indicate you support it.

The fact that you can make a rape joke — and even, in many settings, be relatively certain someone will laugh ­— is itself the clearest evidence we live in a culture that perpetuates and protects rape.

This is not an issue of us needing to get a sense of humor. We appreciate humor as much as the next person and understand that pushing boundaries and addressing taboos is an important part of that. It’s also not a free-speech issue. You are, and should remain, legally allowed to say anything you want that doesn’t incite violence.

But if this nation is going to fight rape, it has to fight the assumptions, myths and ways of communicating that perpetuate it. The only way to do that is for every person who is against rape to stand up and fight these things where they occur: in our daily, seemingly harmless conversations. Even (especially) on a silly Facebook page.

We’re calling on all our fellow Sooners to stand up against rape, rape culture, rape lies and rape jokes. OU should be a community that gives more than just lip service to the idea that a woman’s body is her own, that consent is necessary and that the responsibility for rape lies solely with the rapist — Sooners should live it with their actions every day.

In the end, rape jokes are a part of a system that protects and enables rapists. And if that doesn’t disgust you, horrify you and make you consider the effect of your actions, maybe you’re not as anti-rape as you thought.

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