Be annoying

Panelists discuss the potential budget cuts to higher education (photo via The New Orleans Advocate).

Panelists discuss the potential budget cuts to higher education. (Photo via The New Orleans Advocate)

On Wednesday, March 18, 2015, Geaux Vote LSU held a Higher Education Forum in the Holliday Forum in the Journalism Building. The panelists were  LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander, University of Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley and Louisiana Budget Project Director Jan Moller. The evening was full of thoughtful discussion and advice to students on how to move forward.

Two words from Dr. Alexander stuck out the most to me: be annoying.

Those words resonated with me because they were a reminder that consistent efforts will not go unnoticed. For better or for worse, one thing is true: only the loudest voices will be heard. In this case, it is the loud, persistent and annoying student voices that will be heard.

Geaux Vote LSU worked really hard to plan this forum and spread the word far and to well received audiences. Students have clearly been concerned, and were interested in hearing what public officials had to say about those concerns. However, we still did not get the attendance we wanted. So at the end of the discussion when the panelists—all dedicated public officials—urged us to stand up for ourselves, it was clear to me what the real downfall will be for students.

If we lose everything, it will be because students were not annoying. Rather than express their concern, students are staying home and waiting for the crap to hit the fan. When millions of dollars in budget cuts rain down on Louisiana college students in the form of cut courses, degree devaluation, extended graduation, cut programs and the like, students will have few to blame but themselves.

It’s incredibly simple: legislators do not listen to students because students give them no reason to. We do not vote and we do not show up. Student decisions are made by everyone except the student. The budget cuts will be no different if we do not make a change.

However, this revelation is not a deterrent. There are students who are expressing their concerns in the form of action. Myself and other students will take those concerns to the Capitol. Student voices will be at the public hearing for the budget cuts.

But will that be enough?

A few students can make a difference, but we cannot speak for 300,000 college students (Though we are certainly going to try). More students need to take action. All students need to take action. Students need to find their legislator’s emails, mailing addresses and phone numbers, and start blowing up every form of communication with their concerns. (I’ll even help you out with the first step: here’s the state legislature website). Students need to show up to the Capitol and start talking to anyone who will listen. Students need to show their faces, because that is the only way to get our voices heard.

It’s time to be annoying.

Why is no one asking students what they think about the higher ed budget?: Valencia Richardson and Kira Schuette

This post was originally posted in NOLA.com. You can find it here.

Higher education in Louisiana is currently making headlines in light of the budget crisis that could possibly trigger $300 million in budget cuts. Since our governor is currently on the presidential campaign trail and Louisiana has divested more from higher education than just about every other state, this crisis has naturally called attention from all over.

The Washington Post has covered it. So has The New York Times. NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune and the Baton Rouge Advocate have been extensively covering the issue. Politico did a particularly interesting article on the ramifications this mess could have on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s presidential campaign. Though the coverage has been directed towards Jindal and his campaign, there has been adequate attention on the numbers and the facts behind the budget crisis.

There’s only one problem: Not a single article has asked a single Louisiana student how we feel about this. Students across the state have been reading, listening and watching updates on the budget crisis, but we have not once been asked about our reactions or our proposals. Since no one has asked us, we have come to the conclusion that we must represent our own interests.

We are concerned. At best, these spending reductions will cut numerous programs and result in the layoff of hundreds of people, including many of our instructors and professors. At worst, the budget cuts will be so devastating that schools will have to close their doors.

We are strapped for cash. In the last five years, tuition at LSU has increased by 200 percent, a fact that our governor doesn’t seem to know. Despite the possible tax credit for college students and potential revenue from a controversial cigarette tax, an additional increase is all but unavoidable. This is a frightening inevitability, especially since no one seems to know exactly how deep these cuts will go.

We are aggravated. On Jan. 24, Gov. Jindal held a prayer rally on our campus that gathered a crowd of thousands. In the midst of this were numerous protests, including one protesting Jindal’s proposed cuts to higher education that was largely ignored by both Jindal and the press. Student grassroots organizations are popping up all over the place, and students have even taken to the state Capitol in an effort to have their voices heard, all to little avail. It is hardly surprising that no one has had anything to say to these groups — Jindal’s administration has remained largely silent on the entire issue — but it is frustrating nonetheless.

We understand the assumption that goes along with students and political issues. The budget is a very complicated and complex document. Students are assumed to be indifferent about these issues because they are hard to understand. And it’s true; these issues require significant study.

However, there are particular facts we certainly do understand and cannot ignore. We understand that the size of the cuts is roughly equivalent to the size of TOPS and the entire community and technical college operating budget. We can foresee that cuts this large will lead to increased tuition and in turn increased financial strain on ourselves and our families. We know that if we lose course instructors, course offerings will soon follow. We suspect that if courses are cut, our pathway to graduation is threatened or lengthened.

We seek input into the conversation; our futures are on the line. At the end of the day, neither the Jindal administration nor the state Legislature will have to worry about how they are going to pay for school next year. The burden of lost professors and deteriorating infrastructure won’t just fall on the university. These changes will become part of our everyday experience.

As students, we understand the nature of our jobs and the job of the Legislature. However, we feel that the interests of those directly affected by the multi-million dollar cuts should be represented at the table. Everyone’s asked Gov. Jindal. They’re asking the Legislature, public policy experts, pundits and the like.

Why haven’t they asked us?

Valencia Richardson and Kira Schuette are co-founders of Geaux Vote LSU. They are joined in this opinion essay by Garrett Clawson, co-chapter leader, Students for Education Reform at LSU; Lauren Guillot, president, Common Sense Action LSU, and Emmanuel Smith, president, Students for Education Reform LSU.

¡Voy a la Argentina!

Este fin de semana, recibí mi pasaporte. Es la primera cosa necesito para el viaje a la Argentina este verano. Voy a ir por uno mes, y voy a tomar tres clases de español durante el viaje. Estoy emocionada porque lo será un oportunidad para hacer fluido. Les voy a tomar a los lectores conmigo en el viaje, como voy a escribir muchos entradas durante el tiempo en la Argentina. Estoy yendo en el 10 de julio y devolviendo en el 9 de agosto.

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Mary Landrieu stands for students

From a letter to the editor I wrote to the Shreveport Times.

“A college degree should help individuals build dreams, not debt.”

— Mary Landrieu, after introducing the Passport to the Middle Class initiative

In May, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu launched Passport to the Middle Class. This initiative represents two acts: the Middle Class Creating Higher Education Affordability Necessary to Compete Economically (CHANCE) Act to increase the Pell Grant award and the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Act to help loan borrowers refinance with lower interest rates.

There are more than 600,000 students in Louisiana who are being compounded with student loan debt at an average rate of $22,000. Mary Landrieu understands this. And through Passport to the Middle Class, she wants to help relieve the financial burden of students throughout the state.

As a student, I should be focused on graduating with a college degree. Instead, I — like many other students — face a future burdened with financial worry. It is unacceptable that years of dedicated time and hard work could result in years of debt.

That this is even a possibility should be enough to incentivize legislators to make a change. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many legislators, including Louisiana’s own Bill Cassidy. He voted to cut Pell Grant funds not once, but at least three times in the past four years. Bill Cassidy cares more about appeasing financial and educational institutions than he has concern for Louisiana students.

Through his voting record, Cassidy consistently has proved he could care less about the debt accrued by hundreds of thousands of Louisiana students.

Mary Landrieu not only cares but is taking action to lessen the financial burden of egregious student loan debts. I stand with Mary not only as a Louisiana resident, but as a Louisiana student.

— Valencia Richardson

Hillary Clinton (breaking walls and taking names): Part 3

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[Note: I’ll continue to use Lawrence and Rose’s Hillary Clinton’s Race for the White House as a companion to this series.]

In this conclusion, I would like to discuss the Hillary Clinton’s future in 2016 and what can be learned from her campaign in 2008. Obviously, Hillary Clinton’s future campaign is mostly speculation until she actually announces her decision about running, but until then we can work under the assumption that her nomination is inevitable.

The 2008 campaign trail had no shortage of landmark decisions. Aside from Hillary Clinton’s campaign, there was the election of President Barrack Obama and the Sarah Palin’s bid for the Vice Presidency. This year was a first for both the public and a media, and set new precedents about what is possible in American politics. This year of unconventional candidacies there is one takeaway: change is inevitable, whether or not America is “ready” for those changes.

One big advantage that Hillary Clinton has is that she would be campaigning after our first “different” president. While being a woman was almost certainly to her disadvantage in 2008, it could be one of her prominent features in 2016.

The book suggests that it was easier to vote for Obama than Hillary Clinton because as a man “he still looks more like every other president we’ve ever had than she does” (212). However, a March Gallup poll showed that regarding her personal characteristics, Hillary Clinton’s best selling point is the prospect of her becoming the first woman president.

The poll also showed that the next best selling point is her experience in foreign affairs. This is indicative of a change in status quo that Hillary Clinton can use to her advantage; that Hillary Clinton is regarded as someone credible in a “man’s job’ shows that people may be beginning to rethink the potential of a female politician.

In 2008, Hillary Clinton was constantly accused of “trying to demasculinize Obama,” undermining her campaign of experience and bolstering Obama’s campaign of change (212). If the these polls reveal a pattern, then this could mean that Hillary Clinton’s experience could become proof of her potential rather than an unsavory part of her personality. See: poll

Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2008 also opens up the question about how women should present themselves in major political campaigns. News media consistently focused on the barriers that Hillary Clinton had to face, but rarely covered the benefits of having a female Commander in Chief. To compare, Obama’s campaign was one that emphasized hope and change, which translated in the media as the benefits of a black president (not to say that Obama did not face his own challenges in the media, because he certainly did).

In 2016, Hillary Clinton can focus on the benefits on being a woman in office, simply because she has proven that she is a credible source of authority. Her work in CGI softens her demeanor without diminishing her credibility. The Clinton Global Initiative also emphasizes her ability as a community organizer, a strength that played very well in Barrack Obama’s grassroots-based campaigning.

To conclude, believe that Hillary Clinton would be coming into the 2016 race with some major advantages. The data from the first two parts of the series suggests that Hillary Clinton has the potential to work with new precedents set in 2008 to set a few of her own. Polls show that her Democratic nomination would be all but certain should she choose to run; unless her popularity suddenly declines within the next year and a half, these numbers should show little change.

Media still have changes to make, but as the social climate changes the media will have no choice but to follow suit. America may finally feel ready to believe in a woman for president.

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Hillary Clinton (breaking walls and taking names): part 2

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[Note: I’ll continue to use Lawrence and Rose’s Hillary Clinton’s Race for the White House as a companion to this series.]

In this second part, I will be discussing Hillary Clinton and the role the media played (and continues to play) in how she is perceived by the public. In order to examine this effectively, it is best to look at the political climate at the time of her first presidential campaign.

The 2008 Democratic nomination campaign was obviously a monumental one. Both candidates were unconventional, so no matter the outcome there would be historical implications. In my opinion, there could not have been a more perfect time for this match-up; the country was just coming out of the Bush-era, unsatisfied with conventional politics and ready for a change of pace. Because of the heightened stakes—the prospect of a black guy or woman Head of State—media coverage was imperative.

The book argues that media coverage surrounding Hillary Clinton was less than unbiased. The suggestion that “the standard media routines for covering presidential candidates served [Clinton] particularly poorly” is generally denied by the media themselves (10). However, considering that the media spent weeks covering Hillary’s “new title as grandma” in the midst of more important Clinton Global Initiative events going on, the argument doesn’t seem completely unfounded.

The more conspiratorial argument dates the media’s negative perception of Hillary Clinton all the way back to her days as the First Lady. President Bill Clinton, a popular president in his own right , made it known that Hillary would have an influence in much of what he did as president—even claiming that in electing him the people would get “two for the price of one.”

This came at a time when, according to a CBS News article, America was unsure about having such an involved First Lady, making her quite the divisive subject. Republican commentator Roger Stone reiterated this sentiment; calling her “grating, abrasive and boastful,” he commented that Hillary Clinton was coming in at time when “[t]here’s a certain familiar order of things, and the notion of a coequal couple in the White House is a little offensive to men and women.”

After her stint in the White House, Hillary Clinton’s positions and experience, both as a New York Senator and as Secretary of State, earned her more popularity and widespread acceptance as a credible leader. However, this did not play into her favor as well as it should have during the 2008 election.

According to the book, research found that Clinton’s coverage was more negative due to agenda setting and framing in the media; this in turn clouded the more substantial issues presented during the campaign (181). In other words, heavy horse-race coverage and “lack of substance” (182) within reporting severely damaged how she was perceived by the public.

But if her coverage lacked so much substance, what exactly was being covered in the race? That answer lies within the statistics. In a study that analyzed the covers of the New York Times, Los Angeles Ties and Washington Post, as well as CBS, ABC and NBC news programs, it was found that approximately 1 percent of stories headlined with Hillary Clinton’s name here issue-framed stories, 89 percent of those stories were horse-race coverage (183).  Data also showed that within the types of negative coverage by the media, Hillary Clinton had a higher rate than both John McCain and Barrack Obama of criticisms of personal characteristics and criticisms of strategies/tactics (184).

I believe this suggests a biased coverage of Hillary Clinton by the media. The race for president has always been a boy’s game, and both the media and the public had a hard time reconciling her as “one of the boys.” Associating a woman as president is an uneasy decision because of the social norms currently in place.

Despite all of this, I do believe that Hillary Clinton’s chances in the next election (if she chooses to run) are much stronger than in 2008. As of recent, media coverage, though it could be much better, has been doing a better job of bolstering Hillary Clinton’s credibility, particularly through her work in the Clinton Global Initiative. Her activism within CGI will likely work to her advantage in the upcoming election.

The current political climate could also work to her favor. Polls are now showing that her being a woman might be her best selling  point . Because of the election of President Obama, a precedent has already been set, which could make way for a campaign trail that doesn’t focus on how surprising it is that she is running (in 2008, the “it’s so shocking” coverage suggested that her election was so unconventional that it wasn’t meant to succeed). There is so much speculation surrounding her nomination, and so many polls that show  that her Democratic nomination bid is all but certain, that it seems unlikely that media will present her in the same manner as in 2008.  See: rep noms vs hc

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Hillary Clinton (breaking walls and taking names): Part 1

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With the possibility of Hillary Clinton running for President in 2016 looming, I thought it appropriate to conclude the school year with a series on Hillary Clinton. This first part will introduce the three-part series by discussing the barrier Hillary Clinton faced in 2012, and will face if she chooses to run in 2016.

In addition, I will be using a book that I am reading as a companion to the series. The book, Hillary Clinton’s Race for the White House: Gender Politics and the Media on the Campaign Trail is a book operating on the preface that the primary reason that Hillary Clinton lost in 2008 is because she is a woman. Providing commentary from different sources, statistics and historical background for their argument, I believe this book makes some interesting points that will complement my own thoughts throughout this series.

Recently, Jon Stewart addressed the barriers that women face in politics and the media. In particular, he discussed the recent influx of media attention Hillary Clinton has gotten after her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, announced that she was pregnant. After making the announcement, many news outlets pondered on whether or not Hillary becoming a grandmother will affect her running in 2016—a question, as Jon Stewart put it, “that has never, ever been posed to a male candidate ever.”

This question is indicative of one of the many barriers women face when running for any major office, nevertheless a presidency. The book summarizes this problem succinctly: “being a woman generally helps candidates when the stereotypical expectations for women coincide with the expectation office, but hurts when the expectations for women conflict with the expectations of the job” (23). This is why women have a considerably easier time gaining positions at the local level or in the higher position of governor, where the focus is more domestic (education, health care) than in in Congress or in the presidency, where the focus is more national and international (foreign policy, economic).

The office of President is considered a man’s job because the issues are considered more androcentric. The President has to be tough, willing to make the hard decisions and be able to handle foreign policy. Women are at an immediate disadvantage because two of those three behaviors (toughness, hard decision making) are traditionally unbecoming of the conventional woman.

True womanhood—what society perceives as the nature and responsibility of women—initially meant being selfless, emotional, and “untouched by both private vices and public life” (31). Though women’s suffrage movements have moved society past some of these expectations, the stigma still remains. A woman is more emotional and more domestic, and thus unable to hand the pressures of the presidency.

Another significant barrier is the current state of the political system. The book observes that there are essentially four ways that a person can become president, and that these have been the only ways we know since recent memory. The “pathways to presidency” are: 1) the military, 2) the vice presidency, 3) a governorship or 4) Congress (24). Considering these factors, this leaves only two ways that a woman has a chance at the presidency. Combined with media pressures and perception (as examined by Jon Stewart), this leaves creates a very difficult path for women.

Though no woman has ever won the presidency, it has not been for lack of trying. Ten women have run for President in the past with little impact and outrageously biased media coverage (one woman, Patricia Schroeder, was criticized for years after crying in an emotional withdrawal speech). See: women who have paved the way

Hillary Clinton is different. In 2012, she came in at a time of conventional presidency and almost won the nomination, finally presenting the first realistic possibility of a female president. She served as a US Senator and Secretary of State, the first First Lady to do so. Despite media scrutiny and ridiculous commentary about her next title of grandma, she continues to remain the strongest contender for the 2016 Democratic nomination. And to boot, she now has a leg up after Barrack Obama officially broke the barriers for every unconventional candidate by becoming our first African American president.

If anyone has a chance of tearing down the taboos that constrain women, it will be Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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Update: Hobby Lobby’s new hobby for hypocrisy?

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In a previous post, I suggested ulterior motives in the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case against the Affordable Care Act. Recently, it was reported that Hobby Lobby may not be as opposed to contraception as their religious freedom defense has led people to believe.

Mother Jones and Huffington Post reported that Hobby Lobby’s retirement fund includes investments in pharmaceutical companies that not only produce contraception, but also drugs used to induce abortions. The findings showed that roughly $73 million is invested in the manufacturers of these product.

What will this do to their case? And most importantly, what is Hobby Lobby playing at by trying to get rid of contraceptives in their health care plans?

This all seems suspect to me for multiple reasons. The first (most obvious) eyebrow raiser is that this company is going through such great lengths to challenge the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive regulations, but yet they are investing millions in a company that produces just that. And it isn’t like they can claim ignorance to something like this, because when you invest large sums of money you know what you’re putting your money into.

Next, I wonder why they chose now to bring contraceptives up as an issue when Hobby Lobby has been investing in this pharmaceutical company for so long without any problems. The timing is too suspicious.

I’m curious to see what this will to both their case and their credibility, since this new information will certainly have an effect on both.

See the articles here:

Hobby Lobby Invests In Abortion Pill Manufacturers http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/01/hobby-lobby-invests-in-em_n_5070279.html

Hobby Lobby’s Hypocrisy: The Company’s Retirement Plan Invests in Contraception Manufacturers http://m.motherjones.com/politics/2014/04/hobby-lobby-retirement-plan-invested-emergency-contraception-and-abortion-drug-makers