Elon University sophomore Sophie Zinn considers herself the person in her friend group that is constantly encouraging others to talk about religion, a subject she is very passionate about and believes is not talked about much.
“It’s not really in the public sphere of college life or America in general as something that’s positive,” Zinn said. “I think that there are a lot of positive elements to religious dialogue and learning from other people’s interest and faith traditions.”
Zinn was raised Jewish and has been practicing Buddhism for four years. She does not identify with one main religion but bases her experiences more on her religious studies experiences learning why various religious traditions matter to those who don’t follow them.
“I think that our society has stigmatized religion as something that’s private and something that shouldn’t be talked about,” Zinn said. “However, because we have suppressed our religious identities in our country, we haven’t been able to interact on more personal levels with each other.”
Zinn, along with five other sophomores at Elon University, has recently been selected to be part of Elon’s first cohort of Multi-faith Scholars. The program combines academic coursework, undergraduate research and community engagement in multi-faith contexts. The students selected receive $5,000 annually in their junior and senior years to assist them in their development as engaged multi-faith leaders.
The idea of this program sprouted from the 2015 Multi-faith Strategic Plan of the Elon Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Society, which advocated for the development of this program. A $100,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis foundation supported the establishment of the program.
Amy Allocco, associate professor of religious studies and director of the Multi-faith
Scholars program, said that the money from the grant will be used to underwrite the program during its first years, and then the university will assume its funding.
Allocco said that the goal of the program is to be interdisciplinary. It stretches across the whole university, and its first cohort is composed of students with a variety of majors, backgrounds and research topics.
“We are privileging students who are not otherwise cohorted,” Allocco said. “This is a great opportunity for students who wouldn’t otherwise have a research platform to get involved in this.”
Though a requirement to be admitted to the multi-faith scholars program is to be a religious studies major or interreligious studies minor, its first cohort ranges from students majoring in public heath, English, strategic communications, religious studies and international studies.
“Students who have multi-faith commitments will have the opportunity to pair classroom learning and a closely mentored undergraduate research experience with engagement outside of the university, with our local communities and use those three building blocks intersectionally,” Allocco said.
Sophomore Kristina Meyer, who is in the program’s first cohort along with Zinn, says she chose to apply to the program not only because of her interest in doing research with interfaith organizations, but also because she finds building relationships with her cohort as a valuable aspect of her experience.
“We each have different research topics,” Meyer said. “But the fact that we are engaging in multiple religions and engaging with people of multiple religions, we will be able to challenge each other and offer each other different perspectives.”
This two-year program requires the selected scholars to pursue their projects closely with faculty mentors. It also requires the students to engage with the local communities to promote multi-faith learning and diversity. During their first year, the scholars will work with their mentors to plan global engagement endeavors as well as research experiences that will assist in broadening their development as multi-faith leaders. During their senior year, they will take leadership roles on campus within different departments and lead educational events focused around religion.
Zinn hopes to gain a wider perspective of individual experiences not only from her cohort, but from those she engages within the community.
“I think a lot of the times its easy to associate different religions with particular belief systems or practices,” Zinn said. “But when it becomes more personal, I think that people’s convictions of others religions deteriorate.”
For Meyer, learning from other religions has made her more compassionate.
“I found that studying other religions and studying how people interact has strengthened my own faith,” Meyer said.
Meyer and Zinn are excited to see the expansion of the program and learn more about what they will be doing with their cohort and in their individual research projects.
Allocco hopes for the scholars to bring the communities that they engage with outside of Elon back to campus to facilitate conversations within the student body. She wants to see increased communication between religious communities at Elon and believes the scholars can change the conversation about religion at Elon. Her first meeting with the cohort will be Thursday, May 4. She hopes this meeting will serve as the “launching pad” for the cohort that she is looking to build.
“I hope we support one another in the challenging kinds of projects,” Allocco said. “Share resources and cheer one another along and ask hard questions to one another as we dig into these research projects and topics.”
The Elon Poll conducted April 18-21, 2017 found that the support for President Donald Trump among North Carolina voters has declined as he approaches the 100-day mark.
The findings showed that 51 percent of those surveyed disapproved with how Trump is handling his job as president. 42 percent approved it and seven percent did not know.
Jason Husser, director of the Elon Poll, said that typically a president enjoys strong support during their first 100 days even from former opponents or critics, but Trump’s presidency has been different.
“His level of support on the first 100 days both for himself personally and for his key policies is as low as we’ve seen in the history of opinion polling,” Husser said. “Trump’s difficulty in presidential approval likely comes from two sources- his rhetorical and policy decisions which he has control over and a divisive polarized and dysfunctional political environment that makes it harder for any incoming president to function.”
Husser said that despite the low support, his core supporters remain loyal.
Sophomore Mollie Richter believes that Trump is very unprofessional as president of the United States.
“In his twitter, he’s yelling at people and making accusations with no evidence,” Richter said. “I don’t trust my country in someone like that.”
The same poll showed that nearly 75 percent of voters showed that Trump’s use of Twitter is inappropriate while 55 percent said it was appropriate.
“The people who like him are radicals and extremists and that is the crowd that he appeals to,” Richter said. “Anyone who has a rational state of mind and is logical can see that he’s not running things effectively.”
Senior Darius Moore agrees with the Elon poll findings and said that Trump’s use of twitter is not filtered or intelligent.
“Trump has done a really good job of being a grassroots kind of like connecting to the people leader,” Moore said. “He needs to work on being an intelligent speaker and less of a reality television star.”
The poll also found that voters in North Carolina oppose the border wall with Mexico and it showed an even split on the Affordable Care Act.
The Elon poll is a live-caller survey done through landline and cell phones of 506 voters. These were registered voters who were classified as likely voters in the Nov. 8 election. It has a margin error of +/- 4.36 percentage points.
All Takeva Mitchell could think of was getting clean, showering, hoping to erase the disgust, guilt and pain she felt. When her roommate found her crying she encouraged her to call the Elon Town Police. It was March 13, 2014. She had been sexually assaulted.
The sophomore at Elon University lived in the same apartment complex as Adrian McClendon, then a junior. They were hanging out for the first time until things took an unexpected turn at around 11:45 p.m. Mitchell struggled to fight him off. All she could think about was that she could use her strength to escape the touching, groping and pushing.
“It wasn’t until he got real physical with me that I realized, ‘Oh this is about to happen,’” Mitchell said. “Anything I did, he was on me. He was on my every move.”
Eventually, Mitchell yelled for McClendon to stop and let her go. He stopped and shooed her away. She gathered her belongings. As she approached the door of the apartment, he followed her. He reached out and put his hands inside her pants. She broke away.
Sophomore Crystal, a sophomore whose name has been changed to protect her identity, was walking home from a fraternity party after consuming alcohol. She texted another sophomore to see if they could meet. Crystal always made sure to tell guys she had consensual non-penetrative contact with that she wanted to wait for marriage to have sexual intercourse. It was Sept. 3, 2016.
As they laid naked in his bed, he kept on asking Crystal how certain contact felt. She responded saying it was fine but warned him not to go further or he would be inside of her. As she laid on top of him, he aggressively thrusted his hips and penetrated her after she had clearly told him she did not want that.
“I hopped off and went to the bathroom and there was a lot of blood. That was the most terrifying part of it,” Crystal said. “I looked down and there was blood everywhere.”
Unfortunately, these women’s experiences are like those of about 20 percent of college women. It is estimated that one out of every five college women will experience an attempted or completed sexual assault before they graduate.
Reporting or remaining silent
When Mitchell reported her case on the night of her assault, she remembers that her mind was going crazy. She did not know if the officers were going to believe her story and if they would take it seriously. After telling the officers who arrived at her apartment what had occurred, she was then taken to the station to give an official statement. She recalls the process of officially reporting the assault being long and tedious.
“They want you to tell where were you standing when this happened and where was he standing and where was his dresser at and where was his TV at and where was his bed,” Mitchell said. “Still to this day I can tell you exactly like how his bedroom was lined up.”
Mitchell said that the information she had to give in her statement had to be very precise with time and with specific details of what exactly had occurred. She said she understands why many victims do not report their cases. Going through the reporting process requires victims to constantly remind themselves of an experience they want to forget or not talk about.
The 2015 Elon University Annual Safety and Fire Report, the most recent report, states that there were three reported cases of rape and one of fondling. This is the same number of reported cases of rape and fondling in 2014 and two more than those reported in these areas in 2013. Because of the different avenues students have to report their cases, this is not a clear estimate nor does it say that only four sexual assault reports occurred that year.
When Crystal walked home after her assault, she called the university’s 24-hour confidential support hotline, Safeline, through which an advocate told her the options she had if she wanted to report the case as well as if she wanted to go to the hospital to complete the rape kit. The morning after the assault, she went to the hospital to complete the rape kit which she said was almost as bad as her original experience.
“I had to tell the story about seven or eight times, which is a nightmare because it just happened so I had to relive it over and I cried every single time I told it,” Crystal said.
According to the Elon Department of Health Promotion, students who believe they have been victims of sexual assault can report the incident by contacting law enforcement whether that be Campus Safety and Police or Elon Town Police, Elon University Student Conduct, Human Resources or filing a Title IX Report. They have the right to report in one or all of those avenues. They can also contact the Safeline and keep it confidential through the coordinators for violence response or counseling services.
Before choosing to report, Crystal was contacted frequently by the Safeline responder to remind her of the options. Though he was her friend and she knew there would be social repercussions that would affect both sides if she decided to report, Crystal chose to make her official statement on Sept. 16, 2016, through student conduct. She did so because according to the National Sexual Assault Violence Resource Center, about 60 percent of those who commit sexual assault are likely to do it again.
“Every time I was going through the process and I was tired and sad and didn’t want to do it anymore, the responder said, ‘Why did you choose to press charges in the first place?’” Crystal said. “I didn’t want this happen to another girl. I can’t let this happen again.”
According to the National Assault Hotline, females of ages 18-24 who have gone through sexual assault, do not report to law enforcement due to fear of reprisal, the belief that the police will not do anything to help, not wanting to get perpetrator in trouble, the belief that it was not important enough to report and the belief that it was a personal matter. Most students surveyed said they did not report due to other reasons.
Students Promoting Awareness, Responsibility, Knowledge, and Success (SPARKS) at Elon try to advocate for social justice and wellness. SPARKS peer educators such as senior Sara Blough mentioned that the reporting process can be traumatizing for someone who was just assaulted that day.
“We currently don’t live in a society that is welcoming to supporting survivors and still has victim blaming undertones,” Blough said.
Blough also mentioned that there is a lot of stigma and shame that only exists in society but also in police stations since there is a lot of victim blaming during the interrogation process.
Stepping into the Reporting Process
Randall Williams, director of student conduct, says that it is up to the student to decide if they want to report and press charges either through student conduct or campus police. Even if a student goes to student conduct to report, they are still reminded of resources available to them such as counseling or if they want to take the case to the police.
“What happens is that students have their choice. You don’t force a student to report to us,” Williams said. “We don’t force a student to go to the police. There are a lot of different avenues in which a person can report this information.”
Both Mitchell and Crystal carried out their case through student conduct. This office investigates under the standards that they follow. They take the information found to their Title IX coordinator and share what they have found to the respondent and defendant.
Williams believes a lot of students choose to report through student conduct because this office uses a lower standard of proof in holding someone accountable than when reported to the police. Students chose to report through student conduct because this civil system is more likely to find someone accountable for their actions and sanction them.
“We’re dealing with sanctions as it pertains to the university,” Williams said. “In a criminal process, it pertains to someone’s freedom.”
Under the student conduct investigation, both sides provide statements on what occurred on the night of the assault along with statements of witnesses.
In Crystal’s case, her perpetrator was found not guilty of non-penetrative sexual assault but found responsible for nonconsensual sexual intercourse and penetration. He had a one-year suspension, which he appealed under procedural error and then his sentence was reduced to six months.
Crystal’s case exceeded the 60-day timeframe on decision making under the Department of Education’s school’s obligations under Title IX. It took about 90 days for the decision on her case to be made. This frustrated Crystal. So did the perpetrator’s appeal, which was based on the fact that he had not been told the reasoning behind his sentence. According to Crystal, both parties received the same email and the reasoning behind the sentence was offered in the final report that the student conduct office offered to both.
“It’s very hard for me because I wanted him to be responsible for his actions,” Crystal said. “If he isn’t held responsible then it can occur again without any repercussions and that’s problematic, but I also didn’t want to ruin his life.”
In Mitchell’s case, McClendon was charged by the state in March 2014 for sexual battery and false imprisonment by the Town of Elon Police. In a May 15, 2014, Alford plea in which the defendant maintains innocence but admits the state can convict, the sexual battery charge was dropped and the sentencing for false imprisonment was dropped for two years.
Through student conduct, Mitchell’s case had a hearing to decide what would be the university’s decision regarding the case. McClendon was placed on preliminary suspension, a decision that frustrated Mitchell. She had asked the hearing board to suspend him for a semester.
“I felt everything was a slap in the face, I should have never reported. I should have never gone to the school,” Mitchell said. “Because at the end I took a loss. He didn’t take any Ls- no he got to stay on campus, he is still on the football team, he still started that following year.”
Though McClendon admitted to touching Mitchell without her consent, she did not understand why he did not get disciplined the way she had hoped.
“When is enough, enough? What does a woman have to go through for justice to really be served when it comes down to sexual assault or rape?” Mitchell said. “What are the qualifications for real justice for sexual assault and rape?”
Entering the healing process
Becca Bishopric Patterson, coordinator for health promotion, serves as an advocate for sexual assault survivors.
“There is no right or wrong or normal way to feel or heal after an assault and that’s going to look vastly different for many different people,” Patterson said.
The effects that come after the assault can affect a person’s physical, emotional and psychological aspects. A person’s personal, social, professional and academic responsibilities can be affected as well. Though every experience and its effects afterward are different, similarities exist within the reactions that survivors feel.
“It is devastating for both parties,” Williams said. “You’re bound to see changes in behavior, some students become depressed, some students have high anxiety or stress.”
After the assault, Mitchell had a hard time sleeping, did not do well in classes and did not have a desire to be around people. She recalls being scared and could not be alone. Though at some moments she wanted to leave Elon, she knew that if she had made that decision then she would know that her perpetrator would have won and that would have hurt her even more.
“I’ve done all the crying, the moping, the depression, the weight loss, the not eating. I would sometimes pee on myself at night,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t want to be around guys. I didn’t want anybody to touch me, to hug me.”
Seeing McClendon on campus made her uneasy, scared and nervous. Her family and friend support system along with her faith is what she believes helped her recover.
“I pushed through and I knew at some point through my faith I kept thinking, God, I have been through a lot I know you can get me through this,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell studied abroad in Australia the following Spring after the assault. She refers to Australia as her “healing place.” There she could find peace and the ability to be comfortable with herself and around others. Though she has not spoken to McClendon since the time of the incident, she said she used to pray for him and for his healing as well.
“Life is so short, it is not worth being depressed and sad over one thing that happened in your life,” Mitchell said.
Crystal still has not told her parents. She has made a conscious decision not to and says it is a cross she is willing to bear. After the assault, Crystal recalls having a difficult time being alone and reliving the experience. She went through withdrawal and had a lack of motivation. Despite having a cease contact order, which was issued by student conduct to prevent any communication with her perpetrator, there are aspects that she still recalls from him.
“It’s the small things that you don’t even think about,” Crystal said. “The way he talked, the way that he moved, you think you see him at the corner of your eye and it’s not him.”
The support from her friend system as well as from the coordinators for violence response has helped her through this process. She considers herself on the path to recovery.
“I am not back to normal because that won’t exist anymore,” Crystal said. “This is part of something that happened and this is part of who I am now, but it’s not all of who I am.”
Defining sexual assault
A problem exists within the definition of sexual assault.
The Elon University 2016-2017 student handbook defines sexual assault in two categories- non-consensual sexual contact and nonconsensual sexual intercourse. Sexual exploitation can be linked to the definition of sexual assault as well.
For Mitchell, a simple definition would be any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent.
Crystal would define sexual assault as an unwanted or unwarranted sexual advance. She acknowledges that people of all gender identities will have their own definition of this term since everyone’s views and experiences with sexual assault are different.
Leigh-Anne Royster, director of inclusive community well-being at Elon, said that though the definition of sexual assault not only varies between states but also between institutions it is also an umbrella term that can cover a lot of different offenses.
According to the 2015 Elon University Annual Fire and Crime Report, the North Carolina definition of sexual assault is “an offense that meets the definition of rape, fondling, incest, or statutory rape as used by the National Incident Based Reporting system. A sex offense is any act directed against another person, without the consent of the victim, including instances where the victim is incapable of giving consent.”
“I think that sexual violence is such a severe epidemic with severe consequences for such a huge proportion of our population,” Royster said. “We don’t even consider it to be the same kind of issues as other epidemics that cause detrimental effects for folks. It is critical because it is largely ignored by much of our population.”
She recalled that when she began working at Elon 12 years ago, there had only been about one or two incidents of sexual assault reported. Once she began working to improve and add resources that could assist victims with the reporting and healing processes she saw the numbers steadily increase to 32 the following year after she arrived.
The percentage of sexual assault is not clear on college campuses due to the divide that exists between reported and unreported cases. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center states more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.
Senior Emily Seligman and SPARKS peer educator said that the rates of people who experience sexual violence on Elon’s campus are comparable to the rates of national college statistics.
Addressing society’s stigmas
Since there is no normal healing process, Patterson believes that an aspect that consistently helps is that whomever the survivor confesses to the first time on the assault responds positively and is willing to help them, then the survivor may seek other resources. If that person responds in a way that blames the victim, the number of those survivors that will speak out and seek help drastically declines.
Crystal believes that victim blaming makes society easily wrap their head around the subject of sexual assault.
“I blamed myself when my friends didn’t blame me,” Crystal said. “The whole culture of victim blaming is so innate to both human nature in rationalizing these actions.”
Though Elon offers the HAVEN program for incoming first years, skits during orientation, speakers and events throughout the years, and many other resources, work still needs to be done to raise awareness and create an environment where survivors feel comfortable reporting according to Crystal.
“We have to continue to change the narrative of what sexual assault looks like,” Williams said. “There’s got to be deeper conversations about consent and college culture.”
Patterson, who works closely with the educational aspect of sexual assault and other issues on campus believes that the most powerful way to educate people is through peer to peer interactions. Through these interactions, people know how to respond and handle sexual assault incidents.
“The more student voices we have spreading the word all over campus, the better the culture is going to get,” Patterson said. “We’re all participating in this culture and we’re either participating or challenging it. We all have a responsibility in this.”
As Gabriela Rosales crossed the Williamson Avenue crosswalk on March 16, 2015, she was excited to attend her first meeting of the Eta Zeta chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha at Elon University. Instead, she was struck by a Toyota Camry that left her with a shattered skull and multiple fractured bones.
It was around dusk as she laid on the crosswalk. She heard the sound of sirens growing louder and her friends telling her everything was going to be OK.
“I was like estaba con pena [embarrassed] of what people would say about me,” Gabriela said. “I was like ‘What are people thinking about me?’”
Gabriela’s sister, Carmencita Rosales, said she had dreamt that something bad had occurred, and when she woke up to her phone blowing up with people asking her about her sister’s health.
As Gabriela was flown by helicopter to UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill, her family that lives thousands of miles away in Managua, Nicaragua, was notified of what had occurred. Her parents dashed to the airport to find two seats left on the earliest flight to North Carolina.
“It changed the life for my whole family,” Carmencita said. “Gabby is my best friend. Since the accident, at first, I felt my best friend was gone.”
Before her parents arrived, Gabriela’s aunt and cousin, who lived in Raleigh, were notified about the incident. They were at UNC Health Care that night along with Sylvia Munoz, interim director of the Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity Education. Gabriela’s close friends, Claudia Rodriguez and Sofia Wensel, were also at the hospital.
During that night, doctors said they couldn’t do surgery because of the injuries Gabriela’s brain had sustained. There were fractures on three parts of her skull. The Wednesday following the accident was one of the most critical days in Gabriela’s health, according to Munoz.
The doctors said procedure would be done where part of Gabriela’s skull had to be taken out to relieve the brain pressure. If they did not operate, they said she would die or remain in a vegetable-like state.
At 2 a.m. that Wednesday night, Gabriela’s brain pressure went down and stabilized. The doctors told her family that the surgery would no longer be done.
“The doctors insisted that medically they cannot explain why she woke up and why she was alive because, according to her injuries, she shouldn’t have been,” Munoz said.
Gabriela said she fell asleep and did not wake up until three weeks after being in a medically induced coma for about two weeks. Gabriela was in the intensive care unit for a fractured skull and a broken hip and right scapula.
Gabriela said that it was “amazing” to wake up to the sight of her mom by her bed.
“I tried talking to her, but I couldn’t,” Gabriela said. “I forgot how to talk.”
Gabriela could not speak, walk, read or feed herself. She was discharged from UNC Health Care in late April and was transferred to WakeMed and Health & Hospitals in Raleigh to receive speech, occupational and physical therapy.
Claudia Rodriguez, currently a senior at Elon and one of Gabriela’s closest friends, visited her numerous times and noticed her progress in a few months.
“We saw this gradual progress, and you could tell through the hope that her parents had, that her family and friends had, that she was gonna get better even though the doctors didn’t think it was a possible outcome,” Rodriguez said.
Therapy still underway
Gabriela recalls that the day she began to speak again through speech therapy, the doctors told her family they had a surprise for them. They placed a poster behind her bed that said: “Gabby started talking today.” Her first words were, “Mom, I love you.”
The improvements happened slowly, as the support Gabriela received from her family and the Elon community helped her with her recovery.
“Every day we would motivate Gabriela to keep going,” Carmencita said. “That is what kept her motivated.”
Munoz and Gabriela’s Elon friends visited her in both hospitals during her recovery.
Gabriela also began physical therapy, which required her to use a wheelchair. When she was placed in the wheelchair, Gabriela remembers that she did not want to return to Nicaragua and have people feel bad for her. The moment she stood up from her wheelchair hurt. Gabriela remembers saying to herself, “I am not gonna fall. I want to make them see that I can actually do it.”
Rodriguez always knew that Gabriela remained determined and hopeful throughout her recovery. She admires how Gabriela has gone through something so difficult that she said she could never imagine happening to herself. She recalls that despite the difficulties, Gabriela always kept smiling — from the moment they met to when she was in therapy.
“Seeing how they have stayed strong as a family and just as support for her and for each other really shows me that there’s not anything that we can’t go through that is going to be tough enough to put us down or have us stop because she showed me that you can literally do anything,” Rodriguez said.
Through months of therapy, Gabriela said she even learned to cook while at WakeMed. She also said that with her mother’s help and Facebook, she was able to remember names of friends and family that she might otherwise have forgotten.
Returning to the scene
Gabriela recalls asking her mother to take her to the scene of the accident to show her
where it had occurred and in what part of the crosswalk.
Rodriguez, who considers Gabriela a sister because of their friendship while they were together at Elon, said that seeing her on campus was a unique experience.
“She was so happy, you could see that Elon was where she wanted to be because she was so ecstatic to be here and see her friends, the faculty, her professors that she hadn’t seen in a long time,” Rodriguez said.
Life today and aspirations
On Oct. 27, 2015, Gabriela was discharged from WakeMed and allowed to return to her home in Managua. She arrived as a surprise for her younger sister Maria Fernanda’s 15th birthday.
Though no longer in the hospital, Gabriela continued different types of therapy. Through therapy with classical music, she could remember a lot of what she had forgotten, even the specific details of how the accident occurred.
She also picked up a passion for drawing. Gabriela has a book of all her sketches featuring Disney characters with inspirational quotes on each page.
Gabriela’s experiences at Elon encouraged Carmencita to apply to the university two years later. She was accepted and is currently a freshman.
“If it wasn’t because of Gabby, I wouldn’t be here at Elon,” Carmencita said. “Ever since I came here, I had this feeling that my sister is always here with me.”
Carmencita believes that a part of her sister is with her at Elon. Their relationship has grown stronger since the accident and Carmencita is glad to get to know the little things such as friends and memories that her sister had at Elon.
With hopes of returning to Elon as a full-time student, Gabriela is currently a student at Universidad Americana in Managua. She is studying marketing with a minor in business administration.
“I will keep going until I get back to Elon,” Gabriela said. “It would be amazing to get back.”
Gabriela has returned to Elon multiple times to visit friends such as Rodriguez and now her sister.
“She really wants to just be here and have the normal life of taking the classes and having her friends, living here,” Rodriguez said. “She’s pushing for that, that’s what she’s working toward.”
Gabriela will have her two-year checkup at WakeMed on April 10 and 17 this spring. During these appointments, the doctors will confirm whether she will be able to return to Elon next fall.
“My hopes are for her to be back at Elon,” Carmencita said. “She’s ready to have her life back. She felt like her wings were cut, but she’s building them up again.”
Opening rehabilitation center
Gabriela has big plans in mind after graduation. She wants to study physical therapy and open her own rehabilitation center in Nicaragua. She wants it to be called “Miracle,” and the motto, “Si, se puede,” which means, “You can do it.”
Gabriela said that she has grown as a person and learned to appreciate what really matters in life in the past two years. She said that she has learned the meaning of goodness and helping others.
“If you’re a good person, good things happen to you, and I think good things have happened to me,” Gabriela said.
Carmencita said that other patients in Nicaragua have noticed her sister’s improvements and work in therapy.
“She inspired others with her work,” Carmencita said. “The work she’s done is showing to other kids, that, ‘You can also do it.’”
Carmencita believes that her sister’s purpose in life is to open the rehabilitation center because having personal experiences with therapy can help her connect with other patients. Gabriela wants her story of recovery to be an example for many others.
“I want to show people that you can do it,” Gabriela said. “Yes, it was hard at first, but you can overcome it.”
A phone call is no longer the most efficient way to contact an Elon University alumnus.
According to Tricia Teter ’13, alumni engagement officer at the Martin Alumni Center, new methods of outreach, such as sending text or video messages, have proven to be more successful than just phone calls.
For the past seven years, Elon has committed to improving its alumni network, and the results are being nationally recognized. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education holds Elon University as “an example of new thinking around alumni affairs” and highlights the university’s efforts to be “hands on and personal” with its young alumni.
The sixth theme of the Elon Commitment Strategic Plan, “developing innovative alumni programs to advance and support the Elon graduate,” echoes this high praise.
Some of the key objectives of this theme are to launch a new alumni service and engagement programs and to promote a culture of philanthropy within alumni.
As a result of this, the university has made efforts to increase alumni engagement with the opening of the Martin Alumni Center and the development of new staff roles, such as Teter’s, along with new programming. There are three alumni engagement officers — Teter, Matthias Bouska ’16 and Conner Croxson ’15.
“Alumni engagement officers provide an individual point of contact for our alumni,” Teter said. “Our alumni engagement officers help to spread the partner, advocate and investor message individually to alumni across the country.”
Besides the partner, advocate and investor message that seeks alumni participation, another way Elon seeks alumni participation is by traveling to visit alumni in their regions. Teter, along with the two other alumni engagement officers, explained there are 37 alumni chapters in the United States and one in London. These chapters host different ways for alumni to network and socialize while continuing to interact with the university.
Brintha Renganathan ’16 is part of the Atlanta alumni network and finds out about local alumni events through Facebook and email. She feels connected to Elon through social media posts of current students.
“I would feel much more connected to the school if I continued to get alerts on campus issues or innovations,” she said.
For Renganathan, the most important thing for her is to give back enthusiasm, support and advice to current students and alumni.
“There is a connection between all Elon students, alum and faculty, and it is super important to keep those connections alive once you graduate,” Renganathan said. “Especially in Atlanta, it is not often that you run into other Elon students, so enthusiasm is important to get together at alumni events when possible.”
Teter believes that individual relationships, such as the one Renganathan has with her alumni network in Atlanta, increase involvement. By developing relationships like these, alumni engagement officers are able to assist alumni in staying involved in regional events, volunteer opportunities and philanthropic campaigns.
One of the largest alumni engagement campaigns is Elon Day. This year’s Elon Day featured 37 events throughout all of the chapters. There will also be secret donation challenges that will take place.
“These challenges encourage giving because every donation leads to a bigger impact for Elon,” Teter said. “We want to remind people that we are Elon, and that any part we play, no matter how small, in Elon Day contributes to something much bigger — to the success of Elon, a place that we all call home.”
While reading off-beat publications, Vince Beiser stumbled upon a story of the sand mafia in India which has led him to write for multiple news organizations and cover issues that deal with sand all over the world.
“Sand is the most common substance in the world, and yet the world is running out,” Beiser said.
Beiser had never thought about the importance and dependence that different countries had on sand. Sand is the basis for bricks, glass, computer silicon and much more.
“All over the world, our cities are made out of sand,” Beiser said. “Every skyscraper, every office building, every shopping mall that’s being built anywhere in the world is just a huge pile of sand glued together with cement.”
After reading the story that he found on the sand mafia in India, Beiser pitched a sand story to Wired about a farmer in a little village. This story led him to a book contract and to cover the sand issue worldwide.
Throughout his career, Beiser has written for The New York Times, Wired magazine, Harper’s, Rolling Stone and The Atlantic. He has reported on California’s harshest prisons, trained with troops bound for Iraq and ridden with first responders to disasters in Haiti and Nepal. The Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting recently funded his exploration on sand.
“If you want to do it, be prepared to hustle,” Beiser said.
Ever since he began his coverage on sand issues around the world, other news organizations have begun their own coverage on these issues as well. Beiser explained that he often tends to find new ways to repackage stories on sand for different audiences.
“There is a lot of different angles to selling stories in different countries,” Beiser said.
Beiser mentioned that he analyzes a variety of angles such as the environmental, business or crime angle for stories on sand and then see whom he could pitch it to. As he covers a wide range of countries that deal with this issue, Beiser believes that there still is not a clear solution to the war on sand.
“We use 50 billion tons of sand every year,” Beiser said. “The only real solution is to change our whole way of living.”
Since there is no clear substitute for sand, Beiser said that there are ways to recycle glass but not many to use less concrete. The issue is to learn how to use less sand.
Being a freelancer
Beiser also spoke about what skills are needed for a freelance journalist today. He mentioned that he frequently uses #sand in his tweets hoping to get more engagement for his stories and compared using a hashtag in a tweet to filling out a lottery ticket hoping someone can read his work.
“A big part of being a freelancer and journalist at this stage of the game is you gotta self-promote,” Beiser said. “You can’t be shy.”
He began his career in the middle-east and has covered a variety of stories ranging from profiles, technology, criminal justice and social issues. Beiser spent a lot of time reporting on prisons in the United States during the 90s when the number of incarcerated people in the country rose steadily.
“ I didn’t get into this business to get rich,” Beiser said. “I try to report mostly on things that I think are important that I care about.”
For freelancers like Beiser, it is hard to make substantive stories. Beiser mentioned that he sometimes writes stories that know will pay him well so he can spend more time researching the stories he cares about.
“The whole industry is in tough times, nobody knows what is going to happen, Beiser said. “It is not an easy way to make a living, but it is great when it is going good.”
Beiser encouraged aspiring journalists to make outlines before writing in-depth stories and to take notes while drafting stories. Though the industry is evolving, Beiser believes that stories will still play a major role in journalism.
“The future really belongs to the people who are flexible,” Beiser said.
“My Black is,” is a simple yet complex phrase — just like the concept of blackness.
For senior Chann Little, it is the title of his recent video project which displays how black students on campus define their blackness in one-word.
Little was inspired for this project after seeing the phrase “my black is solid,” printed on shirts that students wore during Black Solidarity day, a day-long event sponsored by the Center for Race, Ethnicity & Diversity Education (CREDE) for students that identify as black.
“’My Black Is,’ is black people labeling themselves in positive ways,” Little said, “I just wanted to add on that and make it where we can reclaim our own blackness because I feel like society labels black people a lot.”
This project is featured on Little’s blog “Chann Daily,” which he began in November of 2016. It features different sections of beauty, fashion and inspirational content. Little’s “My Black is” project launched as a new section of his blog: Daily Inspiration.
Little said he reached out to black students at Elon through a group message of students of color and asked them if they could help him out with the project. About 20 students showed up the next day willing to share their definition of their blackness.
“Everybody defines their blackness in a different way and I think that’s interesting because in society it feels like at times we are portrayed in the media — and just everyday life — as being lumped together and stereotypical,” Little said.
The words used in the video included knowledge, joy, unapologetic, revolutionary, polarizing, enduring, brilliant, empowering, unstoppable, radiant, powerful, omnipotent, cultural, bold, proud, worthy, dignified, valuable and all-encompassing.
Sophomore Brigette Agbozo used the word “intricate” to describe her blackness. She chose this word because she believes there are several parts in how she chooses to express and love her blackness.
“Just like there are many layers to me, there are even more layers to my blackness,” Agbozo said. “As a first-generation American, my view is not typically celebrated, or, frankly, even considered. People usually lump me in the black American group.”
Though she explained that being grouped in the black American group is not inherently wrong, she said there is much more to her blackness and it has been a mission for her to let everyone know that she is Ghanaian.
Little hopes to break down barriers with his inspirational videos. He wants to cover different minorities and groups of people that do not have much representation on campus such as socioeconomic and sexual orientation groups that differ in perspectives.
“I think that with any of the projects I am launching I just want my blog to be a platform for positivity and to give a lot of people voice,” Little said. “A lot of my website is not about me, it is about other people and giving them the opportunity to say whatever they need to say and tell their own stories using different aspects of what I perceive as my brand.”
Students such as Agbozo believe that Little’s project brings a lot of unique, complex expressions of blackness together.
“I feel like it challenges everyone to confront the complexity within black and brown identities,” Agbozo said. “Movements like this challenge our preconceived notions and put a variety of black people at the forefront of something.”
Looking ahead, Little believes his projects and blog can be a platform for a wide range of people with differing backgrounds. He says projects like these can help him develop as a person since he will be exposed to people of different races and perspectives.
“I just think that it will break down a lot more barriers. Getting to know more people with different backgrounds and their stories really softens people’s perceptions about other people,” Little said. “I think a lot of dehumanization happens in predominantly white culture on minority groups, which is because we don’t know each other well.”