We need to talk about rape

 I was talking with a friend of mine a few days ago, a guy friend, about a plan he was devising to create a dating app similar to Tinder. He wanted to build an app with solutions to the prominent issues that the current online, match making site had.

“The biggest problem for girls is they don’t want to be raped or roofied, and the biggest problem with guys is they don’t want to be catfished. So…. to fix the guys’ problem….”

I didn’t let him finish that thought before I interjected with “Oh, so don’t fix the fact that women are being raped by participating in online dating?”

“Yeah I mean, that’s just too difficult to do,” he responded.

Is it too difficult to keep men from luring women in through dating apps and websites to rape them? I don’t want to compromise the integrity of a friend of mine, because it isn’t particularly his fault to think this way. Society has made rape and sexual assault a taboo topic.  It’s “embarrassing” or “inappropriate” for women to have discussions on their experience with rape. It’s unsettling to feel like there’s no answer to sexual abuse for the fact that men, quite frankly, don’t want try to find an answer.

So, let’s talk about it.

Recently performing artist, Kesha, has been in the public eye dealing with her court case to get out of her contract with Sony. The case was brought on over the ordeal of her claims that producer, Dr. Luke, had sexually and physically abused her. She didn’t even want to get out of working with Sony altogether, but simply asked to record an album without interference from Dr. Luke and Kemosabe. Yet in her case, the judge ruled against her. Another instance where a woman’s claim of sexual assault is dismissed, where her words weren’t enough proof.

In a study done by the Department of Justice  on Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization of College-Age Females, 80% of students and 67% of non-students surveyed didn’t bother to report cases of sexual assault to police. Reasons for not reporting a case included believing the “police couldn’t do anything to help” or “fear of reprisal.” I read these statistics and try to wrap my mind around a man in fear of reporting any crime committed by a woman because he was scared of retaliation. Would that even happen? Why would women feel comfortable making their case for sexual assault when high profile cases like Kesha’s are clearly dismissed?

 Kesha isn’t the only one undermined by sexual violence in the work place. From personal experience, even from the age of 17, I’ve had cases where male managers have said crude things to me in person, via text, etc. I was put in situations  where I could playfully brush it off or lose my job. Sometimes I wonder, what would have happened if I would have spoken out? When the result is typically a scenario like Kesha’s, where NOTHING was done, where she is expected to play nice or see her career crumble, it makes it very difficult to believe that anything beneficial would have come from it.

What is it going to take?

We, women, need to come forward and talk about rape.  We need to make people uncomfortable, like we have felt. 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence, and who knows how many unreported numbers could be factored into that statistic. Our voices are a lot louder than they were decades ago. We have power to make it known that we are not the perpetrator’s of rape, we “don’t ask for it,” and we deserve our cases to be taken seriously.

We need to work to get to a point in society where fear of being raped isn’t “too difficult” of a scenario to solve in dating apps, or any case, period.

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Relationship vs. Grad School: I chose to be selfish

The winter holidays have come and gone, and at least 10 of my Facebook friends have gotten engaged. 2016 begins as another year starring me, myself, and I (and my two cats), but the thing is.. I chose for it to be that way.

Six months ago I moved to New York City as a 22-year-old recent grad, on track toward earning a master’s degree in journalism. I was brand new to this fast-paced city of 8 million strangers, and was thrown into a demanding program with roughly 100 other experienced and skilled candidates. Two or three weeks in, I was already feeling my head slip under water trying to balance deadlines, learning new technology, falling in line with the motions of the city, etc., all while simultaneously trying to maintain a long distance relationship.

I had tried the long distance thing before, knowing it typically failed. But I honestly believed, possibly in a naive sense, that I loved this person enough to make it work. I had been with them for three years collectively, and the program was only a year and a half. With so many people in my hometown getting married, engaged, having kids in their early 20s, I thought it made sense to simply follow suit once I earned my degree.

But the weight grew to be too heavy, and the stress of juggling everything was making me feel physically sick. I found myself having to choose between my work and my relationship in one too many scenarios, which felt a lot like making a choice between myself and someone else.

After the first few months of being constantly frustrated I had to ask myself – why did I move to New York in the first place? Not to settle down, that was for sure. The move in general was a life lesson to me. Despite the social norms of the south I was used to, I realized that right now I am too young to worry about being with someone forever. As many times as I’ve felt that I had gone through the “I’m just figuring it out” stages of life, it was clear to me that I wasn’t finished with them. I didn’t want to look at someone that I did care for as a hinderance on my life, so I ended it.

Selfish? Maybe.

I’ve finally come to a conclusion in my life where I feel that being selfish isn’t necessarily bad in every situation. I’ve made countless decisions over the years worrying about how they would effect others, always considering the wants and feelings of those around me before my own. But when it came to this, when it came to my future, my career, and my potential to grow as a professional, young woman in this huge city of opportunity, I chose to be selfish.

You could call me cold, heartless maybe, but I see myself as more powerful than ever. You see, we are part of a generation that has more opportunity at our fingertips than generations before us, and I’ve always believed in seizing that opportunity. I’ve never been interested in settling down early for the sake of social norms, or “settling”for anything, really. I think that drive and that ambition should be seen as a value to another person in my life. If it isn’t, I’m going to keep working until I get to a point of success where I’m satisfied, with or without someone else at my side.

Once I reach that point, whether I’m 25, 28, or 32, I genuinely believe the rest will fall into place.  And well, if it doesn’t, I still have two cats.

Grad School: It’s not for the faint of heart

I started graduate school for journalism, J-school some may call it, less than a month ago, and yet I feel that I’ve aged 30 years in that time. Moving from South Carolina to New York is nothing less than thrilling, but when the honeymoon phase is over and the workload begins to pile it undoubtedly hits hard.

I jumped into this scenario somewhat impulsively, with a desire to become something other than mediocre. I finished my undergraduate degree with better than average grades and worked diligently to get there. I imagined I would conquer grad school with the same stride.

Well, my friends, graduate school seems to not be for the faint of heart.

I, at least, considered myself to be a fairly decent writer. That’s what I wanted to pursue, and that’s what I enjoy doing. Well journalism is much more than that these days, as I obviously already knew. I expected to learn more fundamentals other than writing, and even wanted to learn some new skills in digital work and video. But what I have come to realize is that I have much left to learn, even in areas that I had confidence in prior to my move.

I’m beginning to learn interactive basics in coding, touching on photography and photoshop, and actually going into practice by starting to report in my assigned community district of Mott Haven in the South Bronx. It’s dense, and that’s putting lightly. And it’s only been the first two weeks. I could be weak for admitting that I’m already questioning my worth in this program, or I could be strong by being able to publicly come out and express that self dilemma. Whatever you, as a reader, decide in that aspect, you should know that even with my doubts I would never give up.

That’s where I come to discuss what I’ve really learned in the past two weeks.

1.) No one cares where I came from. They only care what they can make of me from where I stand now, and for the future. I could have way less experience than a majority of these other candidates. I could be from a small town in the south, where I had essentially been my entire life in a very comfortable state. I could feel as though I’m entering a completely different world where I not only have to learn to adapt, but have to be out learning new skill sets for my future career at the same time. No one cares about that. They set the same bar of expectations for everyone, and I need to meet them.

2.) You can not be scared. Being a journalist requires you to talk to people. I have been shy all my life, and have grown to be more outgoing at a turtle’s pace over the past few years. Once I actually get a conversation going, I enjoy interviews and talking to people from all walks of life, which is a big factor in why I’m heading down this career path. But it’s the initial stage of contact that is comparable in feeling to Michael Myers staring me down in the distance that keeps me hesitate from interaction. My motto for the next few months, inspired from orientation (and also Nike), is going to be “just do it.” You have to. I know the worst that can happen is an awkward rejection that I can just laugh about with a friend over wine later.

3.) I need to accept that sometimes I will fail. Being a competitive, stubborn, perfectionist by nature, this a topic for an entire other blog in general. However, it is relevant here, so I had to at least mention it.

4.) It is going to be overwhelming. It’s graduate school. But I’m not the only one feeling it. There have been times over the past couple weeks where I’ve felt that I have to be the only person sweating bullets over finding my first good story, but I’ve noticed others are also stressing over different areas of the coursework. We’re all in this same big boat together, sink or float.

My head may constantly be pounding from research, my eyes may be strained from staring at a computer for hours, and the days may seem just a tad bit longer, but at the end of the day I find myself back at the same point of happiness with joining this program. After accepting the difficulties ahead, I can look forward to the experiences I will get practicing this wonderful craft of journalism in the vast playground of New York City. Sometimes I’ll fail, but sometimes I’ll succeed; all while (hopefully) achieving the ultimate goal of an amazing career in the process.

Sink or Swim: The first weeks in New York

To start this blog with the phrase “just a small town girl” may make my life sound like the beginning of a Journey song. But as cliche` as it sounds, it could very well be the kicker to a story about my move from the quiet, southern lifestyle I knew only two weeks ago in Spartanburg, SC, to the noisy, crowded, and hustling city streets of New York that I’m starting to learn now.

Every life altering transitions comes with its own set of learning experiences that not everyone is quite ready to encounter, but I love them. As anxious of a person that I may be, at the end of the day when I look back at the lessons I’ve learned from an adventure or new experience, there is nothing I would rather do. The thing about New York City in particular is that I don’t think I will ever stop learning.

I’m not a fan of stereotypes in general, but I know as human nature we often find ourselves subconsciously preparing for how certain groups may act, or perhaps treat us if we’re a little different than they are. The stereotypes that southern people place on northern groups is one that paints a picture of cold, rude, sweet tea hating people, that I have come to find is very untrue. Well, I’m not sure about the sweet tea part, but the former is definitely inaccurate.

Coming from a more suburb area where a vehicle is an absolute necessity, the subway system has been a puzzle for me thus far. The expression on my face during my first few trips must have given that away, because I had several people offer to help and give me directions without my asking. There was one woman who gave me directions, made sure I got off on the right stop, and even walked me to my transfer train before going into the complete opposite direction to begin her own day, all while giving me advice to conquer public transit in the future. This interaction was the first step in really diminishing the southern stereotype of New Yorkers.

Today was our second day of orientation at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and at least I personally felt thrown into the fire, as we were assigned go out to talk to random New York residents and produce a story on a particular topic by a 5:30pm deadline. I have barely talked to ANYONE since I have moved to New York City, and now I’m going to start by jumping straight into reporting?

I guess you could say I was pretty nervous and not expecting many people to talk to me, but everyone I approached with my “HiI’maJournalismStudentPlzAnswerMyQuestion” spiel was surprisingly, openly inviting in having me to sit and chat with them. It was interesting, hearing the viewpoints of different people about an important urban matter specific to these city residents. And it wasn’t just, “hey, let me ask one question and I’ll move on.” I sat and had lengthy conversations with these strangers. It made everyone seem so real and so human.

These experiences combined reiterated what I’ve been telling myself for the longest time. People are just that, they’re people. The northern, southern differences, the cultural differences, the racial differences, they may make us all different, but in unique and wonderful ways that add a necessary and beautiful diversity to the world we live in. But what we all have in common is that we are all human, with the majority of us having good intentions and intuition. For whatever reason, we’ve learned to focus on the small percentage of negatives about each other. We take the bad experiences and actions made by a few, and peg them to entire group of people. When in reality, that isn’t a real reflection. It’s a fun house mirror distortion.

Today we were asked “what do we want to do as journalist, what do we want to accomplish?” And many of us said, “we want to change the world.” I hope this is the way we can do that. I hope the advancements of technology and the evolution of journalism can bring the stories of different people to life for what they really are. To clear the distortion, reflect the reality of our positives, connect us with our similarities, and embrace our differences.

It’s funny, for the longest time since I’ve chosen this profession as a career path, I’ve wanted to tell the stories and share the voices of people who need to be heard, to better society, as a way to change things, and create a more positive way for communities to see each other. Now I sit in a room everyday with 111 graduate students who want to do the same thing. I sit in a room of people who are all very different, with different backgrounds, with different languages, of different race, culture, gender, etc., who all share the same common goal of making an influence.

And I can honestly say, it’s empowering.

Here’s to You, Sparkle City


 In the seemingly short, few weeks that remain before my departure toward a new journey, and a new life, in the city that never sleeps, I find myself in constant reflection of the small, southern town I currently reside in. Spartanburg, South Carolina, do I call you home?

I find myself wondering what makes a place “home.” Although I wasn’t born here, I’ve lived and matured in this place for the past thirteen years. I’ve had all the most important firsts, as well as the meaningful childhood, adolescent, and young adult experiences all right here. I’ve not only gotten older, but I have grown here.

In those years that I transitioned from high school to college to post grad, I had no desire to continue to be a part of the southern small town lifestyle and rituals. I loathed it at times, and believed that the only way I would ever honestly be happy is if I eventually broke away from it. I felt trapped. But now that my escape is in clear sight, I’m starting to really see the value in the town that I’ve called home all this time. Everything about it has made me who I am.

Not only have I grown in Spartanburg, but Spartanburg has grown too, and grown on me. I’ve witnessed so much progression here that it makes me proud to be a member of this community, even if only for one more month. Spartanburg has transformed into a home for creativity. The arts have made an impact on the city landscape, which in turn has made a more active downtown area. Local businesses are beginning to pop up more rapidly, allowing us to support ourselves. Effort is genuinely being shown by city leaders to support the ideas of local residents. This sense of community grows stronger with each new project that emerges. A spark of excitement emerges when I think about the future of my hometown. It makes me eager to visit in the years to come to see how local leaders will continue to make an impact.

Just a couple years ago, there wasn’t much to downtown Spartanburg. A couple restaurants here and there, a few events, and a solid amount of vacant buildings. I remember how bored I would get over long weekend nights, and how much that made me want to get out, and be a part of something bigger. And although I am still eager to take on the step of my life in New York City, I no longer detest this small, or growing rather, city that I was raised in.

I support you, Spartanburg. I support the efforts to make this city more urban, active, safe, and fun for all. I hope to see this progression flourish in years to come to put this area in the running along side Greenville for growth in South Carolina. It may take time, but my faith for this place, that was almost non-existent, has increased two fold over the past years I’ve observed its growth.

Here’s to you Sparkle City, you’ll always be home.

#LoveWhereYouLive(d)

Excuse me, could you grab my servant, I mean server?

Ah, working in the service industry. Bittersweet.

I’ve been itching to write about this topic for some time, but have hesitated in fear of losing jobs at various restaurants. Which is sad isn’t it? An aspiring journalist scared to exercise the amendment she should know the most? Not to say I support ignorantly blasting a company, customers, etc. blatantly on social media, because I don’t. However, if someone has something they want to share about or express their feelings on concerning work in a tasteful way, then they should be free to do so. That freedom is something we have fought to have right?

I’ll start with a story. Recently, I had some guests ask me what I do. What do I do “outside of this.” This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked this, but this situation in particular was a little different.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Do you go to school, something?”

 I shared with my guests that I recently finished my undergrad at local university and will be moving to NYC in the fall to attend graduate school and continue my education in international journalism.

The usual “oh wows” and “that’s wonderfuls” commenced and one member of the party followed with this later during the visit:

“You’re the first to give me an answer that surprised me,” they explained “I ask all my waitresses that question that I asked you. I usually get something I would expect.”

Initially I thought, “something you’d expect?” Should I be insulted or flattered by this? I understand it was meant as a compliment, but this concept sat in my mind for a few hours while I finished my shift for the night.

The common misconceptions about servers’, bartenders’, etcs’ place in society are some that intensely irritate me at times. It’s not that ALL people treat ALL members of the service industry this way ALL the time, but it does happen often enough. I’ve constantly told myself over the past few years that when I earned some major credentials as a journalist, I will voice my opinion even more to get the point across that these people deserve to be treated as the human beings that they are.

I jumped into this industry at age 18 when I started my colligate journey, and I’ll have to say I’ve learned more about the characteristics of people and human interaction from waiting tables than my introductory sociology class could have even touched. It also taught me a lot about diligent work. I’ll admit, serving isn’t for everyone. It takes a lot of patience and hard work, but mostly patience.

The most common misconceptions that is transcend in customer/server interaction often are: the idea that their server is uneducated, that there is a level of superiority over the server that needs to be established, and that the server hates their job and just wants to make a quick buck off of their guests. No, no, and no to all of those.

Now in my opinion, being server/bartender is one of the smartest moves financially someone can make, especially in college. Yes, of course, the hourly $2.13, maybe a bit more in other states, sucks. But good service and hard work will rack up money faster and more easily than most other hourly rated jobs. So actually, your server is probably pretty intelligent and ambitious to pursue a job where they can make good money, quickly.

Next, I understand guests want to be treated extremely well during their meals and enjoy themselves. I know that I, and for the most part all other servers, want that ideal for them too. There are always exceptions, but the majority of servers love what they do. They love interacting and talking with their guests, and they want to give them a great experience to the best of their ability. But the minute a party starts being pretentious, that ideal is gone.

Servers are human beings. Not magic fairies that can grant obscene meal requests in the kitchen. Not servants who deserve to be ignored and looked down on. Not con artists who deserve to be treated as though they are trying to cheat their guests out of money. We have all felt or experienced these situations in one instance or another. If I earned a dollar for each time I was ignored as I tried to give my name, for each time I was treated like an idiot, for each time a guest flaunted financial superiority over me, for each time I dealt with comments that were borderline sexual harassment and was expected to playfully brush it off, well, let’s just say I’d make more I do during my Saturday double shifts.  It’s frustrating, and honestly sometimes demeaning.

Bottom line is we are people. We live and breathe just like you do. Most of us won’t do this forever. Most of us are in transition as we work toward another career. And even for those who aren’t, even those who wait tables as their job for the long term, they deserve the same respect as anyone else.

You wouldn’t treat your bank teller that way, you wouldn’t treat your nurse or doctor that way, you wouldn’t treat your professors that way, or any other professional person who provides a beneficial service to you.

Think of that next time you decide to go out to eat. Talk with your server. Ask them “what they do.” I’m sure if you run into one attending medical school in the works of being a neurosurgeon, you’ll think twice about expressing a rude or condescending demeanor towards them.

All Wonderful Women: We are a We.

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Feminism, in its typical and simplest definition, can be described as the support of the equality of women and men in all areas of society. Basically a support of women and their voice in the world. You would think that everyone, in our country at least, would encourage the support of women. Of course, you do have those few that are stuck in the past who believe that women have a certain role in society, and that their voices should be softer spoken than those of men. But what’s more disturbing to me than the idea of men not respecting and supporting women, is grown women not respecting other women.

Naturally women are catty. They look for reasons to be competitive with other women, whether it is in the area of appearance, talents, lifestyles, opinions, etc. It’s constant comparison and evaluation, which actually often to leads to women putting down each other. Not to say that I don’t fall guilty of this myself, because I do. I pride myself on being such an advocate of equality, diversity, and acceptance, and yet this is probably the area I fall short in the most, with people who identify with me all the way to a biological core.

After a lot of thought over the past week, I’ve come to find that I am disappointed. Not only in myself, but in others. It hurts me to see women put down other women, and tease, and bully, and disrespect them, especially as adults. As a group of people who has fought, and continues to fight, for a right to have a voice and to be a respected gender in society, we should want to empower other women. We should want to represent something worthy of respect. We should be able to congratulate each other on our successes, instead of expressing hateful, ill-natured, and often envious gestures towards each other. We should be able to lift each other up out of disheartened or self-conscious states of mind, instead of sticking up our noses, or turning our heads from each other. We should be able to support all types of beauty, and body shapes. Do we not get enough judgement of our outer, physical appearances from men? We should at be able to be accepting and complimentary of each other, from the inside, out.

Passing irrational judgement is sometimes involuntary and difficult to suppress when it comes to our own thoughts. The different personalities among us does mean we won’t all get along, or see eye to eye on all opinions, or be the best of friends. But those differences are what make each and every one of us beautiful, and unique. And that, is something we should at least be able to respect.

From now on I’m making a challenge to myself to turn any discouraging thought or action toward any fellow woman, into an inspiring one. I want to inspire strength. I want to inspire acceptance. I want to inspire all definitions of beauty. I want to inspire respect.

And I hope that the rest of the women who read this, or at least a few, challenge themselves to do the same.

We could be blonde, brunette, tall, short, thin, thick, out-going, introverted, outspoken, shy, a nurse, a student, a chemist, a bartender, an artist, or any other subcategory of description. But we are all women.

And we are all wonderful.