Quit Smoking at EMU!

If you’ve been on campus this summer, you have probably walked by one of these signs over the last month or two. Well, today is the day:  EMU is going Tobacco Free. I have two general thoughts about all this.

First, as a former smoker who gave it up over twenty years ago, I have gotten to the point where I now pretty much hate any whiff of cigarettes or cigars or whatever, so I am all for this ban. If anything, it seems to me like this tobacco ban should have been in place a long time ago. Just as points of comparison: U of M has been smoke-free since 2011, and Washtenaw Community College banned tobacco in 2005.

Second, we will see how this transition and the enforcement of this policy works out. I look forward to not having to walk through a cloud of smoke outside of Pray-Harrold Hall, but I think it will take a little time to really convince smokers that they aren’t supposed to be smoking there. And I’m not so sure EMU is ever really going to be able to ban smoking in parking lots and the like.

“Hurons logo, harassment prompt meeting at EMU”

From the Detroit News comes “Hurons logo, harassment prompt meeting at EMU.” Here’s the opening paragraphs:

U.S. Justice Department officials came to Eastern Michigan University this week to meet with president Susan Martin and a Native American campus group to discuss concerns over the continued use of the school’s Hurons logo after students allegedly harassed a Native American elder in April.

At the meeting Tuesday, Martin refused to remove the logo after being asked to by the EMU Native American Student Organization, according to Mark Fancher, a staff attorney for racial justice for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. Fancher attended the meeting at the request of the student group.

Martin returned the Hurons logo, which depicts a Native American face with paint and feathers, to the EMU Marching Band uniform in 2012 to promote what she calls the university’s history and pride. It is hidden under a front flap.

“She takes the position the logo was retired. Its presence under the flap does not equate its return,” Fancher said. “Martin says it’s a part of the university’s history. My response to that is yes — it’s a disgraceful part of the history. It is causing harm to the students. It needs to go.”

The article goes on to recount the recent incident where students were dressed up as mock Indians and they yelled at and threw a beer at Ypsi local Nathaniel Phillips, who is Native American and who is always described in these articles as a “Elder.”

I don’t think it was a good idea to put EMU’s past logos– including this one– under a hidden flap on the band uniforms, and I also am pretty certain that there is no cause and effect relationship between these uniforms and these drunken college kids yelling “We’re fucking Hurons!” at this Native American man who happened to be walking around Ypsilanti one night. Rather, I think the cause of that unfortunate incident was the combination of the fact that EMU once was “The Hurons,” Phillips is himself Native American, and those dumb kids had too much beer.

And I suspect that the powers that be at EMU were attempting a PR move that would have satisfied the “once a Huron, always a Huron” alumni, and now it’s coming back to bite them. I am almost certain my colleagues in the EMU communications office are wishing they had a “do-over” on that one.

But on a slightly different note: I have to say that as a professor who studies and teaches about rhetoric, I am pretty fascinated about the power of this hidden symbol. Remember: this logo is on the uniform but out of sight. Members of the band would know it’s there of course because they’re putting on the uniforms, but if the fact that it was there had not be publicized, we would never know that it was there.

So symbols– even the idea of a symbol, not even its actual manifestation of its presence to an audience– are incredibly powerful, and not merely as a metaphor. They are powerful enough to cause a meeting between the DOJ, the ACLU, EMU officials and lawyers, and student groups. That group of people certainly spent some time debating the removal of an image that few people can actually see. That’s pretty fascinating to me.

 

 

It’s only a drill, folks…

This sounds kind of interesting: Geoff Larcom sent a campus-wide email announcement the other day with the subject line “EMU to use Convocation Center to stage emergency response training Wednesday, May 13 from 12:30 to 3 p.m.” The full text is below, but the upshot is there is a going to be something described in Larcom’s email as an “active shooter exercise.” And actually, it also looks like a lot of it is going to be happening on the campus for St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, too.

I don’t think I’ll be making it through the area then, but I am kind of curious as to what this will all look like. But the point is it’s a “fake” shooting; don’t panic.

Continue reading

“Little recourse against faceless commenters”

A loyal EMUTalk.org reader sent me this link the other day, “Little recourse against faceless commenters,” a column by Froma Harrop in “Herald.Net” out of Everett, Washington. It talks about a variety of examples of bullying online and the problems of anonymous identities and the like, but the reason I include it here is because it makes reference to our own local Yik Yak controversy:

Three female professors at Eastern Michigan University were shocked to learn that some young scholars in their lecture hall had been on their cellphones attacking them with lewd public posts, complete with imagery. It was all done anonymously, courtesy of an unusually obnoxious social media app called Yik Yak.

Their lecture topic, post-apocalyptic culture, seemed somehow apt. And to think, this was an honors course.

One complained to her union rep as follows: “I have been defamed, my reputation besmirched. I have been sexually harassed and verbally abused. I am about ready to hire a lawyer.”

It’s not clear what a lawyer could do for her.

She really has only two options: 1. Rip the electronic devices out of the students’ grubby little fingers. Or 2. Choose to not give a fig what anybody says about her anatomy/age/hair color/sweater size.

Having been on that receiving end any number of times, I’d advise 2. The more obscenity and general abuse flourish online the less impact any of it should have. These days, even high schoolers need skin 10 feet thick.

And then the commentary goes on from there.

Say, speaking of different online forums:  remember that the sun that is EMUTalk.org is setting for good some time this summer/early fall, and if you haven’t done so already, now is a good time to join the Facebook group EMUTalk. It has the disadvantage of not being anonymous (well, unless you set up a pseudo-anonymous Facebook account), but it has the advantage of being about as close to an open-ended forum where anyone can post and comment as we’re likely to get. So if you have a Facebook account (and really, who doesn’t?) go and join the group.

“EMU students say dressing as Native Americans was part of theme party (WITH POLICE REPORT)”

Not much new going on lately (not surprising since we’re now into the slower months of spring and summer), but this story from the Ypsilanti Courier is kind of interesting: “EMU students say dressing as Native Americans was part of theme party (WITH POLICE REPORT).”  Here’s a quote:

An Eastern Michigan University police report has provided more details into an off-campus party where students dressed as Native Americans with faces and bodies painted with red paint.

The report sheds light on student behavior during the April 11 party, that included a game of beer pong that one man said was a metaphorical “impregnation ceremony.” It also includes interviews with party goers who said dressing up was part of a “theme party” and there were no racist overtones.

The police report, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, is part of a university investigation that could result in punishment for students involved if their behavior is deemed to have violated the university’s code of conduct. Names of those interviewed were redacted by university officials because of federal student privacy laws.

Here’s a link to the police report itself, which is posted on Scribd. As far as I can tell, what you’ve got here is a bunch of drunk college kids doing some racist and stupid things, which is to say that this pretty much confirms the previous story as well. Reading the actual police report is kind if interesting though.

“Rally planned at EMU after Native American man reports harassment”

From mLive comes “Rally planned at EMU after Native American man reports harassment.” Here’s a quote:

Native American students at Eastern Michigan University are hosting an on-campus rally Wednesday at 3 p.m.

The Native American Student Organization will gather outside the student center near the lakeside entrance to discuss a recent altercation between students and a Native American man at an off-campus party in Ypsilanti.

There’s one other bit of news that I hadn’t seen previously about this incident in the story. The Ypsi cops came and busted up the party after Phillips’ complaint and there is an EMU investigation going on “for internal purposes.”

“EMU showing ‘American Sniper’ again after protesters interrupt first screening”

From mLive comes “EMU showing ‘American Sniper’ again after protesters interrupt first screening.” I saw this the other day in an announcement sent around by Geoff Larcom, but here’s the mLive story and discussion about it. The second showing is going to be this Friday, April 24, at 8 p.m. in the Student Center Auditorium. Two quick thoughts for now:

  • I saw this article in my newsfeed shortly after I got up this morning and it had like three comments on it. I’m posting this at about 8:30 AM and now it has over 130 comments and the comments seem to be coming about one or two a minute. And of course most of the comments are pretty stupid.
  • I probably won’t attend this screening because it’s on a Friday night and I am guessing I’ll have other plans, but I have to say I’m tempted. I didn’t see it in the theater when it came out and if I had to pick a side in this, I’d probably be on the side of the people protesting this movie. But the added discussion about the movie might make for an interesting night, and besides, it’s free.

Four students arrested for protesting “American Sniper” movie

This made the news in The Eastern Echo here– “Four students arrested protesting American Sniper Friday night movie” and also at mLive here– “Protesters detained after disrupting ‘American Sniper’ showing at EMU.”  And it’s also a story that got picked up by Inside Higher Ed, too. It’s a bit of a confusing story to me, but here’s a quote from the mLive story that also paraphrases the Echo story:

About 40 students protested the film, according to a report by the university newspaper, The Eastern Echo.

The Echo reported that student protesters filed onto the stage and held up signs under the screen, before one student began speaking to the crowd.

“Do you want me to play a movie painting your people this way?” the student asked the audience, according to The Eastern Echo.

Audience members reportedly shouted back, “Tell us after.”

Larcom said the protesters received several warnings from police before the four were detained.

They were released shortly after with no charges, he said.

First off, I haven’t seen the movie. It’s not the kind of thing that appeals to me much for all kinds of different reasons and I probably would have agreed with the basic point of the protesters, and besides, I heard a lot of kind of mixed reviews when it came out. But second, I kind of agree with the audience members here: it seems to me it would have made a lot more sense to have some kind of discussion about the movie– maybe both before and after it was shown– rather than to simply try to stop it from being shown in the first place.

This all comes on the heels of events over at the University of Michigan, of course. There the movie was scheduled, then canceled, and then was going to show it along with a panel discussion, then savior football coach Jim Harbaugh tweeted his support for the movie, and then the U of M folks announced they had made a mistake originally in canceling the showing. And, to quote the mLive piece:

Ultimately, the movie was shown as previously scheduled on Friday, with the added option of a showing of the movie “Paddington,” to no major protest.

I wonder how many people saw Paddington?

“Yik Yak catches flack form Mich. universities”

From The Detroit News comes “Yik Yak catches flack form Mich. universities,” which, as the headline suggests, is more about, well, Yik Yak and flack.  It more or less rehashes the same arguments about Yik Yak that have already been trotted out, though I will highlight two passages I thought were kind of interesting. First there’s this:

Laura Krench, a junior at Eastern Michigan University, is a huge fan of Yik Yak. She downloaded the app onto her phone about a month ago and checks it about every 20 minutes throughout the day.

Recently, she commented on a yak from someone who posted that they had stopped cutting themselves for almost six months but had cut themselves three days in a row.

“If you feel like cutting, write about it, cry about it,” Krench wrote. “Find an alternative because hurting yourself is not the solution. I’ve been there and I believe in you. You can quit again, you truly can.”

I have to say that I’ve seen a lot of Yaks along these lines– maybe not quite this extreme, but Yaks that anonymously express some kind of loneliness, depression, etc. There are obvious problems with the anonymity of Yik Yak, but I’d suggest that a) Yik Yak becomes a safe space to express these kinds of thoughts, and b) Yik Yak is used a lot more for this kind of thing than it is for harassing professors.

The other passage I wanted to highlight from the end of the piece takes a bit of set-up. In the opening paragraphs, the reporter– Kim Kozlowski–  makes reference to Plato’s (aka Socrates’) low opinion of anonymity generally. I don’t know the dialog specifically where Plato talks about this, but given the high value Plato/Socrates places on the exchange between Socrates and others as a means of arriving at “Truth,” this makes a certain amount of sense. Then Kozolowski quotes EMU Professor Margaret Crouch about how the infamous Yik Yak incident made it impossible for her to teach because “they (the students, that is) did not respect us.” That leads to these concluding paragraphs:

Crouch said students need to be held accountable for violating the student code of conduct, especially in a world that continues to be changed by technology. Already the Internet has created distance between people who use it more often to communicate than face to face, and sometimes to hide as trolls on blogs.

Social media apps that allow anonymity change things even more, leaving no social sanctions — exactly what Plato was talking about centuries ago, Crouch said.

“The kind of behavior we think of as ethical or even just decent is kept in place by social sanction — by other people,” Crouch said. “There will be people who will do bad things if they don’t have the social coercion to behave. … So the idea that people will behave badly if they have anonymity has been around a long time. It’s not anything new.”

A couple of quick thoughts. First, without going too far into the weeds with this, what Crouch is talking about in terms of communication technologies like the Internet is more or less what my dissertation was about. What I argued way back then was that these technologies create what I described as “immediate” rhetorical situations, where the term “immediacy” has both positive and negative connotations. On the one hand, the quickness and juxtaposition of “immediacy” can be confusing and chaotic because of a lack of perspective, reflection, etc. On the other hand, immediacy also breaks down barriers, and it can foster connectedness and intimacy between communicators over a great distance. Or to be more direct about it, while the internet and anonymous communication is not universally good, it’s obviously not universally bad either.

Second, I’m not so sure about the “social coercion” to make students “behave” squares with students “respecting” their teachers. I’m not sure the two are related, and I’m quite sure that “coercion” is a bad way to get “respect.” We’ve all been in situations as students or other kinds of listeners where we “behaved” but where we also had zero respect for the teachers/speaker. So I guess I’m questioning the point where “respect” broke down, and I also am of the opinion that “coercion” is not a great approach to teaching.

And third, as Crouch says, this is nothing new, which is again why I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to ban Yik Yak.

“EMU business students offer free tax preparation services for income-qualifying residents”

I saw an EMU press release about this too, but here’s a link to the mLive piece: “EMU business students offer free tax preparation services for income-qualifying residents.” The first couple of paragraphs:

Members of Eastern Michigan University’s Beta Alpha Psi honorary accounting society, and the Accounting Club of the EMU College of Business are offering a free tax preparation program students and members of the community.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance service is being offered to individuals and families with annual income less than $53,000 or $60,000, depending on their filing method. Each student volunteer involved in the VITA service is certified with the Internal Revenue Service to ensure the filings are done accurately.

Pretty cool– though the notion that there’s a student club where the idea of “fun” is preparing tax returns is hard for me to wrap my brain around.