Daniela Valdes Bennett and Ana Garcia, visiting students through the NYU Hurricane Maria Assistance Program, in Bobst Library at NYU. Photo by Claire Tighe
When Puerto Rican college students Ana Garcia and Daniela Valdes Bennett applied to transfer to NYU for their spring semester after surviving two hurricanes, they kept it a secret from each other. The friends broke the news through emojis — an airplane, followed by another airplane and an American flag.
“I texted her saying, ‘Hey, I have news,’” said Bennett. “Ana said, ‘I have news too.’ And we freaked out.”
Garcia and Bennett are two of the 57 students admitted to NYU for the Spring 2018 semester through the Hurricane Maria Assistance Program. Through the program, NYU covers full tuition, a meal plan, housing and health insurance for students whose educations were interrupted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria last fall.
“There were over 400 applications and several hundred more that were not completed,” said Josh Taylor, Associate Vice Chancellor of Global Programs at NYU. “We prioritized students with challenging living situations, no internet and who attended campuses with no electricity.”
Other major universities, including Tulane, Cornell and Brown, are offering similar programs this spring.
Bennett and Garcia decided to transfer after barely managing one semester on the recovering island. Throughout the fall semester, closed classrooms, destroyed equipment and loss of power made studying nearly impossible.
Garcia’s school was closed for weeks due to the storms.
“Water came through the roof and ruined all the computers, everything,” Garcia said. “When the school opened again, we were taking classes in different places. It was a mess. When classes resumed, the power wasn’t guaranteed.”
Today, 131 days after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans on the island continue to struggle with the lack of reliable power. According to status.pr, 69% of the island has electricity, leaving 450,000 people currently without power. Garcia’s family completely lost power for four months. For Bennett’s, it was three and a half months, but they still have intermittent outages.
“Just this morning my family lost power again,” said Bennett. “It’s coming and going. Talking to them on the phone makes me kind of sad to know that they are still there. My twin brother is still studying in Puerto Rico and he keeps calling me saying, “‘I’m so jealous of you.’ I know it’s hard for them.”
During the fall semester, both students did homework using flashlights and candles. To do research, they drained their cell phone batteries and used what little data they had. When it was time to recharge, they took their laptops and phones to local cafes and waited along with dozens of other people who shared surge protectors and outlets.
“There were so many lines,” said Garcia. “For everything.”
At the cafes, the young women submitted their applications to NYU, which felt like a much-needed relief from the stress in the aftermath of the storms.
“The situation is just so overwhelming,” said Garcia. “You can’t think of anything but getting your power back and being able to shower with hot water.”
For Garcia, the chance to attend NYU for the spring seemed like a second chance to buckle down after a semester lost to the hurricanes.
“I found out that I had gotten into the program while I was at the bakery charging my phone and my laptop,” said Garcia. “And then I started crying and the people at the bakery were like, ‘Are you okay?’ And I was like, ‘Yea, I’m just really excited. This is good news.”
On campus at NYU, the transfer students feel embraced by their peers, despite the differences in their experiences.
“As soon as I told my roommates I was from Puerto Rico, they asked me about the hurricane,” said Bennett. “They sat around the table and I told them all of my stories and they were like, ‘Oh my god, wow.’
But the visiting students feel like their peers aren’t talking about Puerto Rico as much as they should be.
“I do feel like a lot of people have forgotten about it,” said Bennett. “People think it’s over and there has been so much progress, so I don’t want to complain. But it’s not over yet.”
By Wyatt Salsbury
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A panel discussion with leaders in childhood education that took place at the Sheen Center last Sunday addressed the negative public perception of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
Launched in 2009, The Common Core is a state-led effort to ensure that students, regardless of where they reside, are meeting standards for college and entry-level job positions, but the initiatives have been met with strong resistance from parents and students who think that the testing is excessive and unnecessary.
“Common Core seems to have come out of left field,” said Daniel Weisberg, CEO of the New Teacher Project. “It’s a huge change. We’re not just talking about some different textbooks we’re talking about different ways of teaching.”
Weisberg, along with panelists New York State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia, and New York City School Chancellor Carmen Farin, brought national, statewide and New York City perspectives to the drawbacks of the new learning standards.
The panelists addressed that the programs were, in some cases, rolled out as mandates. The lack of communication, of “selling” the idea of the Common Core to parents, made the initiative seem like excessive testing and unnecessary new ways of teaching old subjects, they said. Adding to the confusion, Weisberg notes, was lack of preparation and implementation problems in states that waited “until the last minute” to adopt the standards.
These problems contributed to a negative perception of the seemingly mandated standardized testing, and in this year’s PDK/Gallup Poll only 24% of adults said they were in support of the Common Core, leaving more than half in opposition who have been turning to retaliation in the form of opting out. In an analysis conducted by the New York Times, in New York State approximately 165,000, that’s one in every six children, passed on at least one of the two standardized tests this year.
“The communication stream on Common Core just virtually didn’t exist, if it did it got by nearly everyone in the state,” said Elia.
She said that having data on how well students are doing is integral to giving teachers resources as they transition into a new pedagogical style. The high percentage of opt outs skews the data, so Elia, within three weeks of taking over the position as commissioner, has hired a new company to revamp the test to make it less stressful for students.
“You don’t change assessments on a dime,” Elia said. “But we’re going to be shortening up the assessment to the greatest extent that we can this coming April. That’s one thing I heard from parents and teachers in the district…. And as we move forward with the new company we are infusing the development of the assessments with teachers’ input. “
The panel discussion was attended by 65 people who were mostly educators and parents in support of the Common Core Learning Standards and Universal Pre-Kindergarten.
“I see both sides,” said Christina Oliver, who works for the national non-profit Classroom Inc. that develops literacy learning games for struggling students. “The idea that your children could potentially be having multiple tests without understanding the value and purpose of those tests can be overwhelming. I sympathize with the stress of that choice, but from an educator’s standpoint it’s hard to make decisions without the data.”
Imagine being an LGBT student on an American college campus in 1969, in fear to come out because of gay bashing, police brutality, and even murder.
“This is a liberation, a really different moment in lesbian and gay political possibilities,” said Ann Pellegrini, the author of “Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance”. “It went from ‘don’t arrest us for wearing women’s clothing’ or ‘don’t arrest us for having sex with a person of the same sex’ to ‘we want the law to regulate us in our intimate relationships’.”
Pellegrini said she is confident that LGBT students are in a more tolerant environment than they would have been years ago. She attests this tolerance to the legalization of same sex marriage.
“It’s really different to have marriage be the thing,” said Pellegrini. “This was not what the people were rioting about at Stonewall, they just wanted the police off their backs.”
The Stonewall riots, which were demonstrations by the gay community against a police raid in 1969 in Greenwich Village, are far from what LGBT students face today in New York City.
Since 2004, when Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same sex marriage, there have been 71,165 same sex marriages according to the Pew Research Center. In correlation, the Human Rights Campaign reported that 75 percent of LGBT youth say that most of their peers do not have a problem with their identity as LGBT.
This percentage is illustrative of how far the LGBT community has come since the 1960’s.
But according to a New York University graduate of 2009 from Deal, NJ, who would not give his name because of fear of discrimination, there is still a lot of work that has to be done. He said gay students were mocked.
“I thought that out of anywhere in the world to go to school, NYU would be the easiest to come out because there was a culture of acceptance in the village and New York City as a whole,” he said. “There were gay closeted people at NYU because they were afraid to come out and I know this because I was one of them.”
One of the ways that New York University tackles the difficulties that LGBT students are confronted with is by creating a safe environment at the LGBTQ center.
“We talk a lot about microaggressions and we have a lot of programming that takes on these kinds of conversations,” said Leah Miller, a first-year student at NYU and volunteer for Ally Week, a national youth-led effort that empowers students to stand up against anti-LGBT bullying.
She defined microaggression as comments or jokes that don’t necessarily have a mean or malicious intent at all, but the impact that they have perpetuates sexism, homophobia and transphobia.
“For example with LGBTQ, if someone were to say ‘oh do you have a boyfriend’ if you were a woman or ‘when are you going to get married and have kids’ assuming things about peoples lives based on norms,” she said.
Another way that New York University works to stop intolerance against LGBT students is through Bystander Intervention which teaches non – LGBT students who are present during emergency situations how to successfully intervene and stop any acts of violent discrimination.
“Our training notes hate speech and discrimination among a number of other examples of scenarios where there may be opportunities to intervene to help others,” said Caroline Wallace, Director of Health Promotion at NYU. “The purpose of the training is to let NYU community members know they can play a role in mitigating or avoiding negative outcomes around a number of topics.”
But New York University doesn’t only want to train their students to fight against anti-LGBT bullying. They also want to educate them and find out where these negative and positive messages are coming from.
Claire Mahany and Piper McCain, outspoken peer educators for the LGBT Center and volunteers for Ally Week, asked their students during a Safe Zone class, a training program a the LGBTQ center, how they internalize the messages they see in their daily lives while on campus.
“I would say that something that stood out for me was meeting someone that was out and proud and not apologetic for who they were,” said Tom, a participant in Safe Zone that would only go by his first name in fear of intolerant backlash. “I think having that type of role model makes a difference.”