What I Take For Granted

Coming from a middle class family living in a suburban town in a developed country, there are probably a lot of things I take for granted. Many of which I probably don’t even realize. I never had to worry about food, clothing, or transportation, and most importantly I have never felt unsafe because of my gender, race, or values in the town in which I grew up or in the towns that surrounded me. But the one thing I certainly know I have taken for granted is my education.

By now, it’s no secret that about three weeks ago over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School by an Islamist group called Boko Haram, simply just for going to school. The group is now selling these girls into slavery or as “wives.” Boko Haram actually means “Western education is sinful.” These girls did absolutely nothing wrong on April 14th, the day their school was attacked and they were taken as hostages and transported to a remote forest outside of Cameroon. They were simply just trying to get an education- they weren’t asking for a miracle, they weren’t expecting the impossible. They just wanted to learn, which is apparently a “sinful” concept to some.

Living in the United States, schooling for me was always a given. You have preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, and then high school. Our public schooling system makes education accessible to everyone despite gender, race, or religion. In the public school system in which I attended, college was also pretty much a given. I never felt like continuing my education onto college was an option, rather more like a requirement. I know very few people who didn’t continue onto college after high school, whether it was part-time, full-time, one town over, or across the country. There are very few times that I think twice about my college degree. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I am very fortunate to have had the college experience, to have a Bachelor’s Degree to my name. Looking back, I feel overcome with joy and happiness. I made some awesome friends, attended many thrilling classes  (some not so thrilling), and created many life lasting memories. But at the same time that lack of personal acknowledgement, that sense of feeling like college was a requirement rather than a privilege, makes me sad and a little less incompetent.

Incompetent? A little strange, yes. But how could I not feel that way? There are so many young girls and women out there who are constantly restricted. Restricted on what they can wear, who they can marry, what job they can hold if any, or what they can believe in. And here I am, a 20-something year old woman in my career of choice, married to the man I chose, with a college degree, and a house of my own. What do I really know about life? About struggling? About challenges? About being told I can’t do something? About being restricted? Let me answer that for you- absolutely nothing. And despite all my years of schooling, I couldn’t even begin to pretend I understand.

So, I won’t pretend. I absolutely cannot wrap my “educated” brain around what is happening in Nigeria right now. I especially could not begin to fathom the lack of importance some people put on an education. Ojonwa Miachi, an education activist in Nigeria, recalls remarks she remembers hearing from some of her extended family members, “We don’t need to spend much on their education, they’re just going to go off and get married.” Of course, having an education is not a prerequisite for marriage but what does that have to do with anything? An education is a priceless commodity. Wait, education? A commodity? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what it has become. Education is not a given, it’s not a requirement, nor should it be privilege. Education is not accessible to everyone, but it very damn well should be.

An education is not about how much Shakespeare you have read, how much calculus you understand, or if you can recall the dates of World War I. It’s about the ability to think. The ability to formulate your own opinion. It’s about the ability to acknowledge that everyone doesn’t have the same opinion  as you do. That many times, there is more than one right answer to every problem. It’s about knowing that everyone’s life should be equally valued, regardless of gender, race, religion, or morals. Most importantly, it’s about having the chance to become your own person. To shape your future into the life you want. If you end up being a housewife- great. If you end up being a doctor- great. But that ability to think, to comprehend, to formulate is priceless. It’s a skill that every single one of us should possess. Therefore, each and every one of us should have an education. Each and every one of us needs an education.

I may not be able to completely understand what is happening in Nigeria. And I certainly do not agree with it. But what I do know is this: violation of human and women rights is a very real thing. We may want to shut our eyes and turn our heads because yes, it’s horrific. But that doesn’t change a thing. It’s still there. It’s still happening. No matter how perfect your own life is, no matter how easy you have it, no matter how few obstacles your life entails- oppression is still there. To not acknowledge it is ignorance. To not talk about it is ignorance. To not accept it’s existence is ignorance. But to not educate yourself and your loved ones- your friends,family, neighbors, and even complete strangers- is the worse ignorance of all. I can promise you this, our darkest days will arrive the second we stop learning.

We are all entitled to an education based on the simple fact that we are all human. As Miachi said herself, “We can’t keep quiet or sit back or think, ‘You could lose your life.’ Because we want to ensure the rights of human beings and women and girls are not violated.” To me, that’s a truly educated woman.

So, please bring back our girls and let’s all get educated.

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We Have A Right To Choose

I never really liked Hobby Lobby. Why? I’m not completely sure. It seems exactly like my kind of place- full of fun and creative things to decorate your house with, one craft project after the next. You can seriously get lost in there for hours. My friends rave about the place, but I just don’t understand it. Time after time I seem to have a bad experience there. Long and slow lines, poor customer service, long waits on the phone, or crappy store hours for us busy folks. But now, my time has come. I now have a real reason to dislike Hobby Lobby.

It’s no secret that Hobby Lobby is a religious company- founded on typical Christian beliefs. They are closed on Sundays and host a variety of religious paraphernalia throughout the store. I think this is great (except the closed on Sundays part- sorry, blame it on my generation). There aren’t many major companies out there today that abide by morals and beliefs such as these. Most companies just care about making money in any way possible, completely diminishing any personalized touch or uniqueness. Eventually every business or store gets mushed into one big smorgasbord crying for people to come and spend money there- any time, any day. So I get it, Hobby Lobby is different- they have values, that’s great. Really.

On March 25th, Hobby Lobby will present their case to the Supreme Court for a right to deny their employees with birth control coverage. As a company, they are legally responsible to provide birth control coverage under their health insurance plan but of course, this goes against their Christian beliefs…

There you go- I rest my case. I could just end this blog post here. But of course, you know I won’t.

Now, we must remember this is a company, a corporation, a business. This isn’t a church or a religious institution, “We’re not talking about religious organizations—we’re talking about corporations and commercial businesses. We’re talking about the guy who’s made a living selling needlepoint kits, glitter glue, and artificial topiaries deciding whether his employees should have access to affordable birth control,” quotes an article from The Daily Beast. I really can’t believe Hobby Lobby, along with other businesses, are seriously contemplating this. I can’t believe they are wasting our courts time with this. I thought we’ve made progress. I thought we were finally reaching a point where people were allowed to make their own decisions-  who they want to marry, when to be sexually active, or whether one wants to have a baby or not. Apparently we need a lot more progress, a lot more change, and a whole lot more communication about the reality of these issues and struggles that many people are faced with every day.

I can’t even begin to fathom a rational answer to this one. I just don’t see how the owners of any business can seriously sit around and decide for their employees whether or not they should have access to birth control because it doesn’t abide with the companies beliefs. But what about the morals and beliefs of your employees? Part of running a business is making your employees happy, treating them like human beings, making them feel like they have a say, that they are making an impact. Part of paying back your workers for their efforts is to provide benefits of interest to them. Health insurance is one of these benefits that is very important to many people, in fact many people solely depend on their job just for the insurance. Birth control is legally part of that package. If you provide the health insurance, the access to birth control needs to be there too. Your employees rightfully deserve the whole package, they work for the whole pie not just for a piece.

Just because the access to birth control is there, doesn’t mean it needs to be used. If an individual is against birth control then they won’t use that part of their plan. That doesn’t change the fact that every employee has the right to take birth control if they so choose and they certainly should not be denied that right because their employer doesn’t deem it morally right. As an employee you have a right to those health benefits, you work hard for them, and are a conscious human being capable of making your own decisions. You are the only one in control of your body- not your job, spouse, partner, religion, or government. Only you. You have the right to choose.

Taking birth control is responsible. The woman recognizes that pregnancy isn’t the right choice for them at their current position in life. They might be too young, financially unstable, not in a committed relationship (gasps!), or just not ready to devote their time to and love another human being to their fullest potential. As a woman, we have the right to choose when to procreate. We have the right to say when it’s time, if ever. We have the right to protect our best interests and the interests of our future offspring. It’s not fair to bring a child into a world that isn’t ready for them and a mother is the only person who knows when that time is right.

The scariest part of this whole debate for me is to think that there are women out there, whether they are working for these companies or not, that are okay with this restriction. It’s not about what religion you believe in, if you support birth control use or not, or what your views on abortion/procreation are. It’s about the freedom to choose. To have control over your body. To have options, tools, and the education to make the best possible choices regarding your own life. It’s about creating a life that works for you. And most importantly, it’s about keeping the public out of your personal life. We need to support each other, to fight for the type of world we want to live in and not become comfortable in the world we are living in.

The use of birth control does not determine what type of person you are. It doesn’t determine your race, religion, or sexuality. It doesn’t determine your values, beliefs, or morals. It’s a choice, it’s an advancement. It’s a token of our freedom. And it’s about time that the rest of the world starts to catch up.

Seizing The Moment: Winter Olympics 2014

“Just get out there and know you have the opportunities. Just try it.”

Sarah Hendrickson, on encouraging young women to take up a sport.

Wondering who Sarah Hendrickson is? After this year’s Olympics you probably won’t have the same question. But for now, let me answer that for you. Hendrickson is the reigning female ski-jumper world champion. Now nineteen years old, Hendrickson started jumping when she was just seven. By the time she was twelve she was jumping off the Olympic large hill at the Utah Olympic Park and just one short year later she was traveling all over the world for competitions. At a young age of thirteen, Hendrickson was ready to make a name for herself, ready to go all the way to the top.

The problem? Hendrickson excelled in a sport that didn’t really support her, that didn’t really support any women athletes- until recently. The 2014 Winter Soci Olympics will be the first time women athletes will be competing in the ski jumping event and Hendrickson will finally get to celebrate her success, along with many other female ski jumpers, the way she deserves. The long battle is finally over. Female ski jumpers have been petitioning to be included in the Olympics since 1998. They  have heard all sorts of excuses ranging from it’s a man’s sport, there aren’t enough women involved, or that it’s not “medically appropriate” for women to participate. Hendrickson and other young aspiring ski jumpers had full support of their older teammates, women who knew what an accomplishment and honor being an Olympic athlete truly was. Just before the 2010 Vancouver games, Lindsey Van and Jessica Jermone helped to lead a gender discrimination lawsuit. The lawsuit was unsuccessful at the time, but a year later in 2011 the International Olympic Committee finally approved women’s ski jumping as an Olympics sport looking ahead to 2014.

This story really stuck out to me because this just isn’t something many people think about anymore. We get too comfortable, we think that since we have come such a long in gender equality that’s enough, we assume that everyone has the same rights, we don’t pay attention to it anymore. This proves that there’s still plenty left to do and that there are really amazing women out there trying to make it all happen. I was a competitive swimmer since I was 9/10 years old all throughout college. I was lucky enough in those 12-13 years never once to feel undervalued or excluded based on my sex. I was lucky enough to be in a sport in which, because of the brave women that came before me, I was accepted. Being a part of a competitive sport has taught me more skills, values, and life lessons then I would have ever imagined. Being fully immersed in a sport goes way beyond the physical, it shapes the person you become mentally along the way. You form friendships, develop skills, experience failures, celebrate successes- you inherit a second family. I never once stopped to think that other women haven’t been as lucky as I have been. I never once stopped to think that the struggle isn’t over.

Despite being excluded in the Olympics, these female ski jumpers could still compete, could still enjoy the sport, could still excel on an international level. But, in the end they were still told they couldn’t do something that their male counterparts have been doing since 1924. Their success automatically stopped. Not because they couldn’t make it to the Olympics but because someone told them they couldn’t. As Hendrickson recounts in a TIME interview (in which I got the rest of this information as well), “It’s really hard to pursue a sport like that, where there’s not really support, not really a future.” With all setbacks and disappointments included, Hendrickson stuck it out despite her temptation to switch her full focus onto soccer. She is a prime example that nothing is truly impossible. If you want something bad enough you will do whatever it takes to get there.

What does this mean for all us non-Olympic-athletes? A lot.

1. Never take anything for granted. Be thankful for every person, place, thing, or opportunity in your life.

2. Support and inspire each other.

3. Try something new.

4. Don’t take “no” as an answer for anything.

5. Do what you love.

6. Never pass up a new opportunity and don’t give up on old ones.

7. Always seize the moment.

The Olympics are about more than just the sport. It’s about what it takes to get there and the lessons you learn a long the way- it’s about the journey, both good and bad. This year while I am watching the Olympics, this is what it will mean to me. It will be about the athlete’s impact both on and off the “court.” It will be about their impact on people just like me. What does the Olympics mean to you?

When does being “comfortable” go too far?

Lately there has been a lot of attention in the media about college-aged women and their sex lives. If you are a normal person you probably already said, “Wait- stop right there. Why should we care?” And you are exactly right, why should we care? Unfortunately, there are many reasons why we should care that go way beyond your personal morals about sex. Barnard College, a prestigious women’s college in New York, is one reason we should care. When students arrived back to campus this Fall they were greeted with a new guest policy that they were never warned about. The new guest policy states that no student is allowed to host an overnight guest “no more than three consecutive nights and no more than six nights total in any 30-day period.” Their guests actually have to sign in (and sign out) with security guards located in each dorm- another reason we should care. The college claims that this new guest policy came about from other students being uncomfortable with their roommates guests- one more reason we should care.

I see so many problems with this that I don’t even know where to begin- it’s actually kind of infuriating. Being a recent graduate of a women’s college this strikes a very personal cord with me. Let’s take it piece by piece. First, the wording and implications of the new guest policy really irks me. Why do they care how many TOTAL nights a student has a guest a month? Six nights doesn’t even cover all the weekends in a month. It seems to me that they are insinuating that when a student has an overnight guest they have sex and they are trying to control that personal choice. I just don’t see any other reason for it. If it was solely for the roommate’s sake they would have stopped at the “three consecutive nights” rule. Yes, even that part seems a little unfair but at least I understand it. It’s uncomfortable to have someone you barely know staying in your room and they certainly shouldn’t over stay their welcome so that part is totally fair. In life you have to give and take a little. But there is absolutely no reason any college or university should be concerned with how many times a student chooses to have an overnight guest. Another reason I feel this new rule is mostly about sex is that it pertains to all students, even those students living in singles. These students are not bothering anyone when they have a guest so why should they be restricted? Why should it matter? I realize that it’s hard to have a rule that only pertains to certain students but that’s one of the many perks of single living or of being an upper classmen. If the roommate issue was the only reason behind the new policy there are many other ways Barnard could have went about it.

Next, I do understand that many colleges have guests policies but how much they are actually enforced is a different issue. I do believe in some sort of guest policy because it’s necessary for the safety of the students but once again, Barnard has gone too far. The fact that these students have to sign in and out their guests with a guard stationed at their dorm is beyond me. It’s like your literally displaying your personal life to the public. I completely understand why students would feel like their guard is constantly judging their personal decisions, even if the guard could actually care less and is just doing his or her job. Every time you bring the same or different person back you are wondering what they are thinking. It’s uncomfortable and a private decision that shouldn’t be logged on a piece of paper. Not to mention that this is occurring in a place that celebrates all the freedoms women have gained and all the successes we have made. But how can you stand for that when your actions say the exact opposite?

Lastly, and the the biggest problem I have with this whole thing, is that this is resulting from the roommate’s “uncomfortableness.” Are you kidding me? How old are we again? Do we know how to use our voices? Apparently not. If these students can’t function in a safe, sheltered, single sex environment there is no way they are making it in the real world. What ever happened to working through your own problems instead of running to administration or a higher power? It’s an essential life skill that these women seem to be lacking. If you don’t speak up your roommate is going to assume you don’t have a problem with her guests so she is going to keep doing it. If these “uncomfortable” roommates could nicely express their concerns I bet 98% of these students would take those concerns into account and be more considerate about their guests next time. There are always going to be the few who don’t care about anyone else or their feelings but that’s what your residential/student advisers are for, not the administration. If three intelligent and grown women can’t work through their problems and differences I really do feel hopeless for the future. Once you bring your problems to a higher power you are then making someone else feel uncomfortable and are invading their privacy and two wrongs never make a right.

This controversial debate couldn’t of come at a better time for my blog, right when I’m talking about being in “uncomfortable” places. So naturally I feel inclined to throw out a few tips about how to talk to your roommate (or anyone for that matter) about something they are doing that is making you uncomfortable:

*Talk to your roommate in private. Not when your or his/her friends are in the room or when you are in a public place. Also, make sure it’s a good time for them to have a serious talk. If they are going through something super stressful they aren’t going to be as understanding as they normally would be.

*Be specific. Don’t just say, “I don’t like when you have guests overnight.” Tell him/her why. Is there something that they do that annoys you? Does it prohibit you from doing what you have to do? If you don’t give them something to work with they aren’t going to be able to fix it.

*Once you voice your concerns, you need to listen to theirs as well. What’s important to you may not be important to them and you aren’t going to be able to change that. You are going to have to find some even ground that you can BOTH live with.

*Whatever you do, don’t be judgmental. Don’t tell them that what they are doing is “wrong.” Make it clear that this is your personal preference, not a matter of right or wrong.

*If you need to, make a list of each of your needs and expectations then compare and contrast. Find a solution that meets all these needs.

*If all else fails, get a trained student involved. Talking to someone else who recently probably went through the same thing you are could be really helpful for the both of you.

*And sometimes you just have to suck it up. That’s what adulthood is all about, welcome to the real world.

College is an essential time for students to grow on their own, think for themselves, make their own mistakes, and learn from them. In four very short years you are supposed to become an adult, a full functioning adult. It’s scary and not easy. But guess what? You have to do it. Rules like these do not exist in the real world but problems like these certainly do. If you can’t learn how to handle them in a safe environment I’m not sure you ever will.

Here are a couple interesting articles about the this new guest policy from The Daily Beast and The Nation.