Friday, May 8, 2009

Extra! Read All About It

Big news organizations are shrinking, but young people's interest in finding out what's happening is not. During the Spring 2009 semester, 21 Rutgers University students in an extra, add-on section (due to overflow registration) of News Reporting and Writing explored a wide variety of topics on campus and farther out into the world. From describing hopes and dreams and activities of classmates--including a compendium of college survival tips, an inside look at a Big East sports team and student reactions to a fatal shootout just off campus--to sorting out what happened at various municipal meetings. From reporting ways that poets and other accomplished speakers convey the essence of complex experiences to how the economic recession has impacted the fashion industry. And with an eye on the future--from exploring how recent college grads and one of the nation's oldest newspapers are trying to attract readers on the Internet to studying how innovative filmmakers draw audiences to tales of harsh struggles in India and Iraq. These and many other articles provide an array of fascinating stories that student-reporters found as they delved into the realm of journalism.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Jagazine: A New Wave of Journalism

By Jason Scharch

In a time when small journalism businesses are shrinking in number and size, three Rutgers alumni have had the courage to endeavor into the field and make their voices heard.

Jagazine is a monthly magazine published by Rutgers graduates Dan Scharch, Rob Bajor, and Jessica Kizmann that gives their readers the opportunity to contribute. Their mission is best summarized in this quote from their website, jagazineonline.com:
“We might just be crazy, but we’re sick of the same ol’ same ol’. We want to know why the American mass media tells us the same information every day. We want to know why we waste our precious time in our classes and at our jobs. And most of all we want to know why we can’t do anything about it.” The magazine survives as a voice of the underrepresented--the youth culture that is constantly ignored and force-fed their news, entertainment, and information from the media conglomerates--but most importantly it gives the individuals a chance to be heard by their peers.

The magazine has now completed its fourth issue and is working towards its fifth to be released in June. Popular recurring articles include “Adam Blum Reviews Movies He Hasn’t Seen, nor Does He Plan on Ever Seeing,” “Mixtape,” and interviews with celebrities such as G4’s Morgan Webb, and popular “nerdcore” rapper MC Lars.

The magazine readership has been growing based almost solely on word-of-mouth advertising, and other guerilla tactics such as Facebook and fliers, but they hope to begin a rapid expansion for a larger fan base and financial support system. Currently the magazine has a circulation of roughly 200, with yearly subscribers making up one fourth of that group. Dan Scharch, the Editor-In-Chief, said: “The beauty of Jagazine is that the fan base decides the magazine. We, the original Jagazine staff, have a vision of an underground library of content where people could learn from one another. Whatever direction the magazine has to go to get to that goal is fine by us.”

The creators of Jagazine have also teamed up with small companies that they feel have the same vision as they do in order to strengthen their individual efforts. Formatic Clothing and DeezTeez are both clothing companies who have teamed up with Jagazine and expect big things for the future. Formatic Clothing invited the Jagazine team to celebrate the release of their spring clothing line and promote the magazine, at “The Waiting Room” in near-by Rahway, NJ on March 29. Meanwhile, DeezTeez has helped out the magazine in the traditional sense by purchasing advertisement space in Jagazine. Scharch told me, “We are all young people taking a risk in a risky world and believing enough that people will join in with what we got. It may be business but it's not about money. It's a message that anything, at any age, in any industry, is possible.”

For now the creators say their main goal is just to survive, and ultimately thrive in this challenging economy. Scharch said, “Assuming the monetary concerns didn't exist though, our long-term goal is to develop and harness a community that is dedicated and constantly contributing to the Jagazine idea.” Reader and contributor Adriana Lee, a 21 year old student at Brooklyn College, said this about the first issue: “I just read through the first issue, and all I have to say is wow! They did an amazing job, really. They are so talented!” The idea has impressed the groups growing and dedicated fan base, but its independent thoughts and missions still rely on the commercial success with their readers and sponsors. The founders are optimistic about the future, and say that every month is exciting for them to see the new contributions and growing number of readers.

For more information on how to contribute or subscribe: jagazineonline.com

Jason Scharch is an undergraduate student at Rutgers University, studying Journalism and Media Studies, and Visual Arts with a concentration in Video. He has interned for ACM SIGGRAPH, worked as the Public Affairs Manager for Rutgers University Television Network, and is aspiring towards a career in broadcast journalism and television production.

The Local: Is Community News the Way to Go?

By Kaja Stamnes

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. But in a time of decreasing newspaper loyalty and readership, the bubbling blogosphere and 24-hour cable “news,” traditional newspaper formats are going to have to muster up the strength to roll over or else risk being put down.

The New York Times, for instance, has invested a great deal in their website in order to keep up with the current times. One particularly interesting experimental way in which The Times is trying out new ideas is through The Local, a more localized blog-like creature begun in two separate test locations; Maplewood, NJ and Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Will this be the news format of the future? Can a local, anecdotal news blog with participants throughout its community interest the average Joe? Only time will tell.

The Maplewood Blog is spearheaded by Tina Kelley, a reporter for The New York Times. Her reasons for choosing this particular town are exceedingly simple. “The Times wanted me to launch this experiment in New Jersey, and I live in Maplewood. And I knew the conversation here would be rich, fun and meaningful, because intriguing people live here, and for good reasons,” she writes on the website. The blog actually incorporates the two neighboring towns as well—South Orange and Millburn, creating a trifold community on the Internet.

The goal of The Local is to be as citizen-friendly as possible. Tina writes, “The foundation of The Local will be local news, both breaking and simmering... I have my whole work day, plus a press card, to devote to getting answers for you.” The emphasis on “both breaking and simmering” can be seen right away as one visits the website. Often featuring pictures from around the community and soft news stories or reflections, The Local definitely has the laid back, tolerant vibe that emanates from the towns it grew out of. These suburbs, located about 40 minutes away from New York Penn Station on the Midtown Direct Train line, draw young couples from the city to settle, and keep them there with the family-friendly, open-minded attitude and the possibility of escape to the Big Apple whenever the urge is pressing.

The Local features numerous bloggers from the community, writing on an equally numerous array of topics. The various contributors bring their own experience, whether in journalism or from some specific community point of view. Hilding Lindquist, 70, is a longtime writer and recent playwright who calls his blog “The Old Man” and writes about end-of-life issues. As his bio catchily sums it up, “Going into his 70’s on hemodialysis and being evaluated for the kidney transplant list is not what Hilding Lindquist planned, but neither is blogging for The Local.” Other bloggers include Risa Olinsky, a personal trainer and wellness coach who blogs about staying active and healthy while living in Maplewood.

Aside from the highly diverse set of contributors, The Local also encourages submissions from the average Joe or Joanna. Artwork, articles and comments or suggestions are encouraged. There is even a small section called “The Fridge” where artwork from local schools is displayed. This morning there is a Castle drawn in perspective by a fifth grader at Maplewood's Tuscan Elementary School. The site also impresses with its inclusion of a “see.click.fix” box, encouraging people to inform each other of things that need fixing around town. However, it seems the same few problems have been lingering there, neglected in the box (perhaps it really is unused).

The challenge for The Local may be the need to find itself a niche. While it has the backing of The New York Times, a sleek, easy to navigate design and the best intentions, some people still don't get it, or think it has already been done. The first comment, written under the name Jay, reads “I don’t understand what this is supposed to be. I don’t see any solid mechanism to include content related to news items of pressing interest. Are you tied in with The Times and your wire service to dump stories related to our towns in here as blog entries?” Others felt it was The New York Times' attempt to rip off Patch.com, a Jersey-based news blog with similar goals. But others felt more optimistic: For example, John X. Kim of Maplewood wrote, “There are tremendous opportunities for stories here in Maplewood/Millburn/South Orange…stories of local significance but also of national resonance. The unique demographics of Maplewood/SO make the towns a bellweather for larger cultural currents on politics, education, race relations, to name a few.” He continued by professing a hope that The Local would take on some of these more concrete issues and stay away from fluff.

The future of The Local is yet to be determined. The posts keep going up, and under the leadership of Tina Kelley, it will continue to roll out the stories. Whether it will find its one draw, the spark that draws the loyal reader with his cup of morning Joe, will be seen as time goes on and adjustments are made. But at the very least this new project, birthed out of the desire to expand and adapt journalism to the future, has carved out its own little plot in cyberspace. And while that may not be enough in the long run, the fact of contributing and working under the umbrella of The New York Times is enough to satisfy and motivate the people who make it happen.

Kaja Stamnes is a junior double-majoring in Political Science and Journalism with a minor in Italian Studies. In her free time she enjoys the beach, camping and good music in the sunshine.

Hometown Baghdad II: No 'Home Sweet Home' for Iraqis

By Sylver McGriff

Part II
In Part I of my story, I profiled producer Kate Hillis. This week, I take a deeper look into the lives of the three Iraqi students documented in her Webby Award-winning weblog documentary,“Hometown Baghdad.”

The Middle East. Baghdad. An oasis of palm trees, gold-gilded edifices, a heat with humidity thick enough to veil every view behind a blurred, wavy haze.

Like a mirage.

Saif, a 22-year-old student in his last year of dental college at the University of Baghdad, lives such a mirage. His hazy visual is a tease of a spectacled, eager student studying with enterprising intensity the x-ray of a set of damaged teeth. In this segment of Kate Hillis’ documentary “Hometown Baghdad,” we listen to Saif enthuse in heavily Arabic-accented English about his future. “I will earn my [dental] certificate, and go abroad to study to make higher certificates.”

Three months later, Saif’s future is revealed as a mirage.

A dejected Saif slumps in a chair in his undershirt, barely contained emotions – anger, frustration, helplessness - battling visibly across his shadowed face. “Nobody wants to live here if he feels he can live on the road,” he says in a voice scarcely recognizable as the same one that, 3 months earlier, enthused about his future. “So the government noticed that, and they decided something very, very, very stupid...[they] will not give certificates for doctors or dentists who are new graduated [sic] unless they serve 3 years in Iraq.”

His expression darkens. Behind the anger, there is no mistaking the fear. “They want me to serve 3 years here. I can’t bet on myself to live 3 days here!” His anger and fear fuse. “I will leave this country. I want to live. I’ll go to work in a gas station. I’ll go to work to sell peanuts. I want to live!”

This, from a student of a wealthy family that lived in comfort, nee luxury, before the war began. After the U.S. invasion, millions of wealthy and middle class Iraqi families fled their homeland to live as refugees in countries from Syria to the U.S. in order to escape the violence of daily bombings and gunfire in their neighborhoods between U.S. and Iraqi soldiers. According to UN estimates as of January 2009, this military violence has killed 1.7 million Iraqis, including Iraqi civilians – a statistic that remains unreported in U.S. mainstream media.

Though the term 'refugee' tends to conjure images of malnourished hoards living in tents on destroyed acres of land, Iraqi refugees are its upper and middle-class: doctors, lawyers and judges, scientists and technology specialists, college professors and teachers. It is from this highly educated crop that the “Hometown Baghdad” documentary students come.


"Curfew is 8 p.m. So there is nothing called life here,” laments 20-year-old Adel, a talented rock musician whose musical dreams exploded in the violence of the U.S. occupation. “You have no choice but to lay down, very low, and listen to the symphony of bullets.” This is the title of a disturbing segment of Hillis’ documentary: “Symphony of Bullets.”

In this segment, Adel, preparing to go out to meet fellow University of Baghdad College of Engineering students for a study group session prior to impending exams, is forced to make the decision to stay at home. “I was going to meet my friends at college to prepare for exams, but I couldn’t get out today. The reason is...well, why don’t you just hear for yourself.” In the background, a multitude of rapid, overlapping “Pop! Pop! Pop!”’s can be heard as gunfire explodes around Adel’s home.

Lowering himself onto the floor of his bedroom, he sighs, “I just better lay down, and listen to the symphony of bullets.” Though his voice is monotone and his expression cynical, the sudden beads of perspiration - not visible just moments before the gunfire - belie his attempt at indifference. This boy is afraid. And who wouldn’t be, with bullets whizzing around their head in the ‘safety’ of their own home?

“Unfortunately, American kids are only interested in Brittany Spears and her flat abs,” MTV News & Documentary producers informed Kate Hillis when she tried to pitch her “Hometown Baghdad” project to them. Such is a detrimental example of ignorance masking itself as bliss.

“Sadam is not Iraq. You can’t punish 26 million people for the actions of one!” a tearful, angry Iraqi student informs a group of American students in a “Hometown Baghdad” spin-off documentary in which a group of University of Baghdad students converse via satellite with a group of American students from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. In response, an American student defends the importance of oil to the U.S. economy. It is an astonishing, surreal exchange.

Ausama, a 22-year-old medical student at the University of Baghdad Medical School, recounts his story in the “Hometown Baghdad” documentary. “I wanna be a good doctor. I wanna get a global degree in medicine...to have a Ph.D.”

On the University of Baghdad campus, one day, he encounters a group of female students. “I wish I could...hang out with my friends,” says one. “But as you know, we see each other only in the college. The situation is very bad, so I'm going to have to stay at home. I can’t do anything. I can’t even go out to the market and shopping, or even go out in a car.” Ausama nods with understanding. “I used to hang out with my friends until 1am...those places 
now are destroyed.”

Ausama, it turns out, is the son of the vice president of Iraq before Saddam took power. Ausama’s father was assassinated just prior to Saddam’s presidency, allowing Hussein to place his own choice in the office of vice president. However, Ausama’s feeling about the U.S. invasion is not one of infinite gratitude.

“Their [U.S.] soldiers are arresting [Iraqi] people just because they [Iraqis] have thoughts against the American presence here in Iraq. Iraqis are not allowed to sue for any actions they [U.S. soldiers] do.” He is referring to the fact that his grandmother’s home, in which he resides with her, has been repeatedly broken into, attacked, and nearly destroyed.

In a segment of the documentary entitled “Troops,” Saif ‘s opinion of U.S. troops dovetails with Ausama’s: “I don’t like the American army. I admit that. Because they began a mess...it’s a total mess. I can’t do nothing. No one can do anything. Because they are the man [sic] with the gun.”

Clearly, the clean-cut version of “mission accomplished” perpetuated by the Bush administration is not shared by Iraqis trapped in the crossfire.

Sylver McGriff is a student at Rutgers University with a double major in Journalism & Media Studies, and Middle Eastern Studies and a minor in History/Political Science. She is working toward becoming an investigative international correspondent and photojournalist.

For Part I, see:
http://raritanjournal.blogspot.com/2009/04/hometown-baghdad-no-home-sweet-home-for.html

Bullets Fly in New Brunswick

By Shaun Van Moerkerken

It is sad to think that in today’s society, bank robberies and gun-related deaths are a daily occurrence in the headlines of our major newspapers. These traumatic events not only affect the people involved, but also change the lives of innocent bystanders who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. On Thursday, March 12 at about 6:30 p.m., four suspects fought a gun battle with police outside St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick in connection to a robbery at the Bank of America branch on Route 27 and Veronica Avenue in Franklin, New Jersey (www.dailytargum.com).

The suspects drove a green mini van and led police officers on a wild chase through Franklin and into New Brunswick (www.mycentraljersey.com). After trying to lose police, the suspects trapped themselves at a dead end that abuts St. Peter’s Hospital, near the Rutgers University Campus and in a neighborhood where many students live. At this time “one or more” of the suspects began to open fire on police officers, said New Brunswick Police Director Anthony Caputo (www.mycentraljersey.com). No policemen were shot during this firefight. All suspects involved with the chase were wounded by gunfire and immediately rushed to the hospital, police said.

“I can’t believe that this happened. Normally you see stuff like this happen in the movies or on TV and it’s no big deal, but when I heard those gun shots fired, I was speechless,” said Claire Wheeler, a junior at Rutgers University, who lives adjacent the spot where the shooting took place. “I was sitting in my room when I heard the shots and ran to my window and saw this guy fall to his knees, this was the most terrifying experience I have had at Rutgers,” said Wheeler. Other Rutgers students were also upset by this traumatic event. “I thought this was the safer part of town. I quickly realized that I was mistaken,” said Rutgers Senior Eric O’Toole.

The four suspects were identified as James Phillips Jr., 58, of Newark; James Holmes, 54, of East Orange; Sammie Dobson, 52, of Jersey City and Anthony Peterson, 43, of Newark (www.mycentraljersey.com). All suspects were rushed to the hospital to be treated for gunshot wounds, and were later moved to the hospital ward of the New Jersey State prison in Trenton. Phillips died from his injuries and was pronounced dead on April 4 in the hospital ward (www.wnep.com). Authorities say Phillips was one of the men who opened fire on them at the shootout (www.mycentraljersey.com). Phillips was faced with six counts of attempted murder, one count of eluding police, and a weapons charge (www.wnep.com). The other three suspects faced similar counts and are waiting their trial dates.

Several weapons were recovered after the shootout along with the money that was robbed from the bank, said city police Director Caputo (www.mycentraljersey.com). A crowd of onlookers gathered around the scene afterwards to take in what just happen. After this incident, many Rutgers students who live in the area question their safety. “So far in my career at Rutgers, I’ve gotten my car window smashed, my radio stolen, and watched bank robbers get shot right outside my house. I don’t know how much longer I can deal with this,” said Wheeler, who is currently trying to transfer out of Rutgers.

Shaun Van Moerkerken is a junior at Rutgers University. He is a Journalism and Media Studies major and has a minor in Psychology. His career goal in life is to work at an advertising firm or write for sports media.

Rutgers Students and Faculty "Take Back The Night"

By Kiyanna Stewart

On April 23rd, as late night classes came to an end and dining halls closed their doors, Rutgers students of various academic concentrations participated in the annual “Take Back The Night” march. The group of approximately fifty students and faculty members marched down George and Somerset streets, as well as College Avenue, cheering “Communities unite, take back the night” and “No more silence, no more violence.”

The event has an extensive history, in which women across the globe have participated in projecting an active voice about omnipresent gender-based violence. According to the official “Take Back The Night” website, its “roots may lie in 1877 when women protested the fear and violence they experienced in the night-time streets of London, England.” However, the function of this particular event has grown to encompass international spaces and address the desires of women of various ages, socioeconomic background and cultural context.

Students topped off the eventful night at the Cooper Dining Hall on the Douglass campus, where musicians and spoken word artists performed work reflecting their opinions about violence against women. Among the performers was Rutgers University’s only all-female a cappella group ShockWave, whose member Alice Haefeli says the group believes “in women being stronger.” Angela Marquis, 20, a sophomore in the School of Arts & Sciences, told The Raritan Journal, “it was incredibly powerful to be with not only other women, but men as well, who seemed to be unified around a common cause. It was extremely empowering for me and others.”

“Take Back The Night” is one of many rallies which occurs on college campuses and in towns across the country in protest of domestic violence. However, much has changed since its emergence in the late 1800’s.

According to “Take Back The Night” Treasurer Pratima Munagala, a University College senior, when the event first started, men were not allowed to attend. Over the course of 132 years, male attendance has increased, partly due to an ideological shift within surrounding movements like feminism and human rights. These causes have expanded to include not only the rights of women, but of men as well. A recent article published in the The Register-Herald stated, “Not all aggressors are male, and the number of women arrested for domestic violence has increased, particularly during the last 10 years.” It would only make sense that these rallies would ideologically reflect current behavioral trends.

One of the motives of “Take Back The Night” is to educate citizens and promote awareness about partner violence. “We want to defy stereotypes tonight,” said Livingston College senior Alex Bringham. He later added, “By me being here, I’m making a statement about this issue's importance, regardless of race, gender or interest. This impacts everyone.”

Laura Luciano, assistant director of University Sexual Assault Services and Crime Victim Assistance, helped coordinate the event. She talked to The Raritan Journal about the chances of young women in university settings encountering rape. “What we know about sexual violence is that about one in four college women in their four to five-year college career will be the victim of rape or an attempted rape,” she said. Similar statistics were published in The Daily Targum on April 24th.

According to the front-page article, women ages 16-24 are most at risk to experience intimate partner violence, and about 28 percent of high school and college women will experience dating violence. “The ages of victims of these sorts of crimes are lowering at an alarming speed. It’s horrifying to think that my 16-year-old sister can, at some point, be a victim of violence by a boyfriend. That’s why I’m here tonight,” replied Amina Lee when asked why she participated in the rally. She concluded with, “There are so many reasons, but I really want to be an example for others and for my little sister. I want to show that women are not passive when it comes to issues of social and political importance.”

Kiyanna Stewart is an undergraduate student at Rutgers University, majoring in Journalism & Media Studies and minoring in Africana and Women's & Gender Studies. With plans to work as a Fashion Journalist/Editor, she has been published in Women's Wear Daily, and has interned at reputable fashion labels, Theory and John Varvatos.

The Big East: No One Is Safe

By Shawn Lopez

The Atlantic Coast Conference is historically known as the most competitive conference for women’s lacrosse. With “old school veterans,” like North Carolina, Maryland, Duke, and Virginia, fans are quick to assume that the national champions will most likely belong to this conference. However, the popularity of women’s lacrosse has been rapidly growing over the past several years and competitors are coming from all over, namely the Big East.

The women’s lacrosse Big East Conference has consisted of six teams for the past few years. These teams include Rutgers, Syracuse, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Connecticut, and Loyola. The addition of two new programs, Cincinnati and Louisville, was made this 2009 season.

Syracuse, Georgetown, and Notre Dame have made names for themselves over the past decade, making NCAA tournament appearances year in and year out. These three teams match up well against the powerhouse Atlantic Coast Conference teams.

Rutgers and Loyola have see-sawed back and forth for the fourth and lowest seed of the Big East tournament leading up to the NCAA’s. The first 3 seeds are most often secured in place. Not this year.

The Big East Conference was extremely competitive this year. The teams matched up very well against one another and there was no powerhouse team. The so- called “upsets” were no longer upsets. They became the norm, and no team’s position in the Big East tournament was safe.

Georgetown and Syracuse tied for the Big East Tournament’s No. 1 seed with matching 6-1 records. Cuse’s sole loss was to its fellow first seed, Georgetown. The No. 3 seed was Notre Dame (5-2). The Irish’s losses were to both Syracuse and Georgetown. This news is standard, almost predictable but here is where things get confusing.

Georgetown’s sole loss was to Loyola. However, Loyola did not even make it to the Big East tournament, with a record of 3-4. Loyola shared this record with Rutgers and Louisville. Despite having the same record, Louisville beat both Rutgers and Loyola and therefore advanced as the No. 4 seed in the Big East Tournament. On top of all this, Louisville was the only team out of the three to lose to the No. 6 seeded team, Connecticut.

Kelly Quinlan, sophomore attacker for Loyola, was devastated when she found out her team was not advancing to the Big East Tournament. “Here we are going out of our minds because we just beat the No. 1 seed and now we come to find out our season is over. It’s just really heartbreaking. This was supposed to be our comeback year.”

Rutgers Head Coach Laura Brand shared a similar response. “It’s hard not to think, ‘if only that one play, that one game, we could have done this or fixed that.’” This will be the first time in three years Rutgers will not be making an appearance in the Big East tournament.

Louisville, on the other hand, was clearly ecstatic about their advancement because it will be their first Big East Tournament appearance. Only a year into the program and the Cardinals beat out four other Big East competitors. Sophomore defender, Melissa Little said, “I’m just so proud of the progress we’ve made. This is quite a feat.”

Clearly, every team in the Big East was beatable, which is extremely rare for women’s lacrosse in general. A two-way tie for first and a three-way tie for fourth makes for a very interesting season for all of the teams.

The Big East Tournament will begin at 5:30 PM on Friday, April 24 in Washington D.C at Georgetown University’s Multisport field when the No. 2 seed Syracuse matches up with the No. 3 seed Notre Dame. Directly after that game, the No. 1 seed Georgetown will compete with No. 4 seed Louisville at 7:45 PM.

The winners of each game will compete in the Big East Championship 1:00 PM Sunday April 26. The Big East Champions will proceed to compete in the NCAA tournament in Towson, MD. It is possible to advance to the NCAA tournament without winning the Big East Championship. Depending on a team’s overall record and toughness of schedule, a team may receive a NCAA bid to advance. I have a good feeling multiple Big East teams will make appearances in the NCAA tournament this year and they might just show the ACC kids a thing or two. Anything can happen!

Shawn Lopez is a sophomore at Rutgers University, double majoring in Journalism and Media Studies and Exercise Science, Sports Management. She is also a member of the Rutgers Women's Varsity Lacrosse team. After college, she would like to pursue a career in sports journalism.

For previous reports on the women's lacrosse season:
http://raritanjournal.blogspot.com/2009/04/maher-over-matter.html
http://raritanjournal.blogspot.com/2009/03/rutgers-looks-to-forward-after-upset.html

Every Writer's Journey: Being Their Own American



By Maria Monica Abrenica

Immigrants in the United States come from all over the world. Their homes by birth vary and their experiences vary even more. While a majority of these experiences remain private and unknown to many, writers work to tell these stories.

Last Sunday, March 29, the Woodbridge Township Arts Council and Middlesex County College presented a festival of contemporary immigration writing. The event started at 2 p.m. and was held at the Barron Arts Center in Woodbridge. It was the last of the 3-day festival that began on Friday, March 27.

“My New Life, My New Poem,” was the catch phrase used for the event and it was a gathering that celebrated the experiences of 22 immigrants and their award-winning writing. Each writer got up on stage and read their poems. Their voices filled the room illuminated by sunlight going through the stained glass windows all around it. They each spoke with confidence before an audience of about forty people.

Guitarist Chris Marashlian and the Middle Eastern Ensemble played their music before the reading of poems began, during an intermission, and during the event’s closing. Zarouhi Otchy, a professional dance artist, also performed during the event.

Festival Director L.E. McCullough opened the ceremony by giving an introductory speech. He said “My New Life, My New Poem” was inspired by PoetsWednesday, which is a reading series that takes place at the Barron Arts Center every second Wednesday of the month. He added that this open reading at the Center started in 1978 and that it is one of the longest-running poetry series in the nation. "The idea was to extend this local activity into the national and ultimately global realm by gathering New Jersey-connected writers who write about what it means to be and become an American in the 21st century,” said McCullough.

He explained that the writers come from diverse backgrounds. They are of different ages, ethnicity, religion, and writing technique. They all have different experiences, but there is also something that ties them together. McCullough said that this is the fact that each one of them has been on a journey and that their writing has been an instrument to share that journey with the world.

Laura McCullough was the first writer who shared her poems. She began with “Lovely Men,” a poem from her most recent book, What Men Want. She mentioned how she was raised in an “all-boys family.” She grew up with five boys in her family. This, according to her, is the inspiration for the poem. She also read “2 Skulls, 6 Teeth, and 80 Other Bones,” a poem that she dedicates to her mother and her Italian grandmother. In her poem, “What We End Up With,” McCullough raised the subject of stereotypes and racism.

McCullough also talked about being a parent of two children she adopted from Taiwan. She described the transformation of each child, as well as their experiences in becoming a child in America.Laura McCullough is also the author of the poetry collections Speech Acts, The Dancing Bear, and Elephant Anger. Her writing has been published in The American Poetry Review, Gulf Coast, Crab Orchard, The Pedestal, Boulevard, Hotel Amerika, and many others. She received an award for prose and poetry from the NJ State Arts Council Fellowships and was also a Prairie Schooner Merit Scholar. She currently teaches at Brookdale Community College in Monmouth County.

“Whose land this is, is a question, but whose child this is, is not,” read McCullough from her poem, “Flags We Raised."

Maria Mazziotti Gillan followed McCullough’s reading. She has been empowering Italian-American writers through her work and has published nine poetry books. She founded Passaic County Community College’s Poetry Center and is the current Executive Director.

From her book, Italian Women in Black Dresses, Gillan read “Growing Up Italian.” She talked about her childhood and her early observation of physical differences from a young girl’s eyes.

“My aspiration then was to be pale and blond, and beautiful,” said Gillan.

She admitted that in her earlier years, she had been taught to hate her “dark, foreign self” due to the large anti-immigrant feeling in this country. She also read “Nothing Can Bring Back the Dead” from Things My Mother Told Me, a poem she dedicated to her mother who passed away nineteen years ago. “Daddy” was a poem to her father and in this poem, she described how she called him papa, but referred to him as his father or daddy when other people were listening. This was a manifestation of her shame then.

Today, Gillan honors her father’s hard work and her mother’s wisdom. She said that her writing seeks to celebrate the Italian-American self and that is her self. She encouraged everyone to acknowledge the diversity that people offer and that it should be embraced.

Writers Paul Sohar, Sheema Kalbasi, and Basil Rouskas also read their poems. Each one shared a different experience that showed how being an American could never be defined rigidly. Writing, in the words of L.E. McCullough, is “a journey we all take at some point in our life, whether we’ve immigrated to another country or never left our hometown.”

Maria Monica Abrenica is a junior at Rutgers University majoring in Journalism and Media Studies with a minor in Psychology. She transferred to Rutgers in 2008 from the University of the Philippines. She wants a career in investigative journalism and international relations.

Immigrants Unite Through Poetry

By Diana Curreri

Immigrants and their stories of hardship in coming to America have slowly been forgotten over the years. People born in the United States take for granted the unavoidable struggles their ancestors endured to allow for an easier life for future generations. Woodbridge Township hopes to change this by showcasing immigrants.

About 35 people gathered at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 29 at the Barron Arts Center in Woodbridge, New Jersey for a festival of contemporary immigration writing, “My New Life, My New Poem.” This event joined twenty-two immigrant writers and poets from many countries such as Russia, Italy, Mexico, Hungary, etc.

Festival Director L.E. McCullough led the event and welcomed first the Middle East Ensemble consisting of a guitarist, a violinist, a man on the lute, and a dancer.

Laura McCullough, a poet and professor from Brookdale Commuity College in Lincroft was the first poet to speak. Although McCullough was never an immigrant herself, she adopted two of her five children from Taiwan. The poems “Submission” and “The Flags We Raise” were about the struggle her son, Rutger, had to endure while in America and Taiwan. “When I say Rutger, / I hear Kuan Lu. When I say Kuan Lu, I hear / beautiful boy. When I say beautiful boy, a flag / is raised in my chest that belongs to no country, / but the one all the hostages to fortune live in, one with no borders, which can not be escaped from, / and of which there is no government, only taxes.” Racism was a recurring theme in “What We End Up With” which she dedicated to her father. She also dedicated a poem to the excavation of the bones of 57 Irish immigrants working on a railroad in Duffy’s Cut, PA in 1832, whose identities have never been confirmed.

Following McCullough was Maria Mazziotti Gillan. Born in Italy, Gillan immigrated to America and was raised in poverty. Her poem “Growing up Italian” from Italian Women in Black Dresses spoke of the bullying she encountered in America as a child. Her voice hardened when she spoke of wishing to have “light hair and light eyes” like all the other pretty girls in her class. “It did not take me long to learn / that olive‑skinned people were greasy / and dirty. Poor children were even dirtier. / To be olive‑skinned and poor was to be dirtiest of all,” she said.Yet while being verbally harassed, Gillan believed that no American is really American unless they are Native American.

“Nothing Can Bring Back the Dead” from Things my Mother Told Me was a poem dedicated to Gillan’s mother, who had passed 17 years ago. Already having brought some of the audience to tears, Gillan stated, “the one who makes me furious could also bring me comfort.” The poem reminisced about how she could still remember the noise of the clasp on her mother’s purse that would snap shut after getting a sucking candy when she was young. Her lying father was the theme of a later poem, and although his relationship with her family members left much to be desired, she still loved him. Gillan is the founder and Executive Director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College and has been published in the New York Times

The last poet, Hungarian Paul Sohar, immigrated to the United States in the 1950s and attended the University of Illinois where he received his B.A. in philosophy. He had been touched very deeply by the effects of immigration. Speaking longer then his allotted time, he told stories, read his writings from the magazine The Big Open World, and translated three short Hungarian poems written by other poets. He recounted his trip to America sitting in steerage, being told he had to leave behind his old country, in order to grow in a new one. His poem “The Toe Head” told of his struggle in accepting himself for who he was, and not to be bothered by the abundance of tan, dark haired people that now surrounded him. “Portrait of a Poet as a Young Foreigner” delved deep into the soul of poetry and how it quenches his hunger for comfort in his own skin.

The event was presented by Woodbridge Township Arts Council and Middlesex County College from March 27-29. The weekend-long workshop grew out of PoetsWednesday, a reading series at the Barron Arts Center that takes place every second Wednesday of the month since 1978. L.E. McCullough states PoetsWednesday is the longest running series of its kind in the nation.

In a pamphlet from the event, professional poets and regular citizens would “share the stage and express thoughts about Everything through the medium of The Spoken Word,” McCullough said. According to him, “My New Life, My New Poem” or similar events will continue to take place in the future. McCullough said on the event’s website, “We’re always hearing about immigration from the politicians and the talking heads on television. 'My New Life, My New Poem’ is a chance to hear what people are saying with poetry and stories and songs.”

Diana Curreri is a student at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. She will be receiving her B.A. in Journalism and Media Studies next year.

Students With No Home

By Russell Booth

At the end of each spring semester, college students must find a place to live for the next term. At Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, students must sign up for a lottery number on the housing website. The web address is housing.Rutgers.edu. According to the housing office and website, this is a fair solution to figure out where students will live for the fall semester. Yet, many undergraduate students detest this lottery.

There are five campuses that host for student dorms. The five campuses are Cook/Douglas Campus, Livingston Campus, College Ave Campus, and Busch Campus. There are currently 40 housing units on campus. Towards the end of the year, students apply for a lottery number, and depending on how low the number is, they could possibly live in the on-campus suites or apartments. The numbers range from one to 10,000. The best number to get is a lower number. All undergraduates with the lower lottery number are capable of living wherever they please. Civil Engineer student Gary White, 21, said, “It should be chosen based on year. People have good lottery numbers and are not old enough to live at certain places they are eligible for.” This is also another major problem with housing on campus. There is a year requirement to live in certain suites across the university. Although a sophomore may receive a low lottery number, he will not have enough credits to park his car in the suite parking lot. A 21-year-old junior, Monique Williams exclaimed, “Housing should be done by seniority.” The way the lottery is set up, any sophomore, junior, or senior could possibly be left to live in a freshman dorm.

The housing process at the University has received much criticism from the undergraduates. The number of students that entered Rutgers over the past two years has been so high that there are not enough dormitories for them to live in. This drastic inflow of incoming freshmen caused Rutgers University to reach out to hotels to accommodate those who were unfortunate enough to receive a high lottery number. The major issue that those living in the hotel have to face is the commute. The Holiday Inn hotel, for instance is located about twenty minutes away from the University, but the shuttles that run from the hotel to campus only come around every thirty minutes. Any student that gets out of class and misses the shuttle must wait thirty minutes for the next one.

However, the University is currently trying to solve the overcrowding problem by informing upperclassmen of off campus housing and also building new dorms on both Livingston and Busch campus.

Over the past two years, many upperclassmen have decided to move off campus rather than apply for a lottery number. The Rutgers housing website on also offers a link that shows all houses and apartments that are available to rent off campus. These off-campus homes are cheaper than living in the dormitories when including utilities. As more upperclassmen decide to move off campus, more dorms open up for incoming freshmen. Rutgers uses the off-campus housing as a way to limit the number of upper classmen that live in dorms. There are also negative aspects that college students must face when living off campus. Landlords are able to increase the rent from 2.5% to 5%, according to one Rutgers University student. It is vital for all the residents of the off-campus housing to have money to pay for cable, phone, Internet access, and food. These facts still do not deter college students from renting apartments and homes off campus, because most of them would rather live on their own rather than rely on the arbitrary lottery numbers given out by the housing department.

Despite the large number of students who have great disdain for the lottery numbers, some feel that it is unbiased. Dom Pickett a 22-year-old senior stated, “I don’t like the lottery, but doing it by seniority would mean that the incoming freshmen would not have any housing.” This statement does hold some validity, because if given the option the upper-classmen would chose to live in dorms and suites, leaving the hotels for the freshmen. The housing department feels that seniority is too biased and unfair for incoming students. So housing lottery remains a controversial, unresolved issue among Rutgers students.

Russell Booth is a junior at Rutgers University. He is majoring in Journalism and Media studies and has an American Studies minor. After college, Russell plans to write for film magazines.

Patriots Without a Home

By Ezra Dreiblatt

Since the Iraq war began on March 13, 2003, it has claimed the lives of over 4,000 American soldiers. While these soldiers died as heroes and will be remembered as such, there is a larger group of soldiers who survived Iraq and are now homeless. These former soldiers are largely forgotten as the media focuses its attention on the economy, foreign policy, and the everyday goings on in Washington.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, there are currently 154,000 homeless veterans on any given night in the United States. Currently, Iraq war veterans make up around 3,000 of the homeless veteran population. While the majority of the homeless veterans served in the Vietnam War, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans reports that the number of Iraq war veterans who are homeless is growing at a rate equal to the rate of homelessness that Vietnam created.

There are many reasons why so many of our bravest have found themselves on the street after serving our country in Iraq. The majority of our Iraqi homeless veterans are single males. This implies that for the most part, they do not have a loving supportive family waiting for them when they come back. If they do have loved ones waiting for them, many of them are so damaged physically and emotionally that they shun their loved ones and alienate their friends. Another main reason for this serious problem is that many of the soldiers coming back from Iraq suffer from mental or substance abuse problems. Around half of the Iraq war homeless veterans either suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or suffer from alcohol or drug abuse according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. This is due to the fact that the majority of these homeless veterans served for three or more years in Iraq. On top of that, the majority of them served in the field in some of the most dangerous cities in Iraq.

According to Karen Tollin, a representative from the New York branch of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, “the main problem is that our Department of Veterans Affairs does not have the funds to help these soldiers who are damaged emotionally.” She went on to say that too often money to help veterans who have PTSD or substance abuse problems is lost in the shuffle on the House floor as the Congress people argue over partisan issues. A representative of the United States Department of Veteran Affairs said that while he could not comment on the goings on in Congress, he could say that money and help is given to veterans suffering both mentally and physically when they return home. However, advocates for homeless veterans say that not enough money and help is given to soldiers returning from war.

While this plight of homeless veterans from Iraq and other wars is a national issue, it is a particular problem in New York City as well as New Jersey. According to Ms. Tollin, there are currently around 500 homeless veterans in New York City and the surrounding area including New Jersey. She attributed this to the fact that many of the veterans coming back to New York and New Jersey cannot handle the “hustle and bustle” and noise that the city provides. She also stressed that many of the soldiers coming from New York City are from lower income households and therefore have even more obstacles in front of them than just their mental or substance problems.

This was backed up by Kris Goldsmith, an Iraq war veteran who travels the country talking about his experiences in Iraq and his struggles with PTSD. While Kris had a supportive family to return to in New York, he said that some of his friends did not have the same financial or familial stability when they returned home.

With the start of a new administration and the recession that this country is in, many small yet important issues have been pushed off the front pages. On cable news, ideology and ego gets in the way of talking about the veterans coming home who are being forgotten by the VA. How is it that an issue that should be so bipartisan still gets caught up partisan bickering? These veterans need the help of the United States Government as well as the citizens of this country so that they can finally get back on their feet.

Ezra Dreiblatt is a sophomore at Rutgers University. He is majoring in Journalism and Media Studies with a minor in American Studies. A native of New York City, Ezra plans to pursue a career in sports journalism.

Veteran Opposition to Iraq War Increasing

By Joe Bindert

Since the Iraq War started in March of 2003, people throughout the world have been mounting resistance to both the invasion of Iraq and the continued war waged throughout the country. While most Americans are aware that there is a great deal of civilians against the war, many are unaware of the increasing opposition to the war amongst veterans that have returned home from overseas. For a variety of reasons, a group known as “Iraq Veterans Against the War” has formed and is actively opposing the combat operations it was part of.

The primary reason that the group opposes the war is due to the belief that the Iraq War was based on deception by the Bush administration. According to the group’s website, “[The Bush administration] used the false pretense of an imminent nuclear, chemical and biological weapons threat to deceive Congress into rationalizing this unnecessary conflict.” Other criticism listed on the website include the fact that the Iraq War violates international law, the war has cost the United States a great deal of money, the casualties on both sides of the war have been tremendous, and, interestingly enough, the idea that soldiers have the right to refuse to fight in an illegal war. While their website claims that soldiers will most likely be prosecuted if they attempt to refuse serving in what they see as an unjust war, the group stands behind the principle that, in theory, the soldiers should not have to “pay the price for political incompetence [and be] forced to fight in a war instead of having been sufficiently trained to carry out the task of nation-building.”

Since it was formed, the group has called for three major things to be accomplished: First, they call for the immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces in Iraq; Second, reparations for the human and structural damages that Iraq has endured, while also stopping the corporate profiteering in the expense of the war; and third, full benefits and healthcare, including mental health, and other support for returning servicemen and women.

The group boasts 57 chapters in 48 states across the United States, with over 1,500 members currently a part of the group. One of these members, Kris Goldsmith, spoke at Rutgers University on April 7 about his experiences leading up to his involvement in the Iraq War and his time after coming back. Goldsmith recalled the day after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, where he sat in a pizza restaurant after school and talked with locals about how they felt the Middle East needed to be bombed and all inhabitants needed to be killed. Today, after his experiences in Iraq, he reflects on that day and realizes the true severity of his and others statements, noting that advocating genocide was not the way to handle the situation.

Goldsmith joined the military shortly after graduating high school and was deployed to Iraq shortly after, claiming that joining the military had been his life’s dream, with the September 11 attacks providing even more incentives to join. Goldsmith notes on his blog on the Iraq Veterans Against the War website: “By the fall of 2004 I had pretty much figured out that my life's dream had become my biggest nightmare.”

During his presentation at Rutgers, Goldsmith recalled the horrors of the war, including the feeling of being shot at, having to investigate graves of tortured and murdered soldiers, and more. Goldsmith returned home in 2006, and became alcoholic and overly aggressive and violent with many of those around him. While he did not know it at the time, he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which causes unusual and often unruly behavior in those who have lived through some terrible repeated event. The disorder is most common to veterans, and came to public attention after the end of the Vietnam War. While he was home, Goldsmith was ordered to return to combat near the end of 2007. The day before he was to be deployed, Goldsmith attempted suicide. After this, he was discharged from the military with no pension or benefits that veterans are intended to receive.

When asked how other soldiers feel about Goldsmith telling his story to college students in the area, he explained that while the number of veterans opposed to the Iraq War has been increasing for some time, there were many that were seriously opposed to the idea of Iraq Veterans Against the War. He noted that many veterans feel it undermines the work that was done in Iraq, and that a good portion of them believe that the Iraq War is worth fighting and, moreover, winning.

President Obama announced on February 29 of this year that combat operations in Iraq would end by August 2010. Ending the Iraq War was an essential point on which Obama focused during his presidential campaign last year.

Iraq Veterans Against the War was founded in July 2004 at the annual convention of Veterans for Peace in Boston, Massachusetts. For more information, visit http://ivaw.org/.

Joe Bindert is a Journalism and Media Studies and Political Science double major at Rutgers University. He plans to graduate in May 2010 and work in broadcasting.

Fear, Worry and Investigative Journalism

By Stephen Yoon

Being a good reporter often means investigating out of the ordinary situations in search of a story. Indeed, the intrepid reporter must journey to places they would ordinarily never venture, as they are a bastion of news, especially in their local communities. Jan Barry, professor of journalism at Rutgers University, has had to deal with many uncomfortable situations and events during his tenure as a news reporter at the Record of Hackensack. In a speech entitled, “Tapping the Grassroots, Unofficial Sources,” Barry reflected on his experiences doing investigative reporting in such disturbing places as a nursing home full of AIDS patients in Wanaque, NJ.

“For many readers, their newspaper is an important part of their life,” said Barry. Indeed, newspapers serve as a primary source of information for many citizens. Barry then went on to emphasize his point by using stories of experiences of readers calling in with proposals for news stories, from deaths to a suburban mayor being arrested by the FBI on bribery charges.

On March 27 Professor Barry his “Tapping the Grassroots, Unofficial Sources” speech where he spoke of the utility of using local citizens as information sources for news reporting, tips that he learned during his tenure as a reporter. “A trade secret of the news media in America is that its major sources include the public—ordinary citizens who call, write, fax, e-mail, or personally deliver an interesting tip or complaint,” Barry wrote in his book, A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns.

Barry went on to say, “Finding good unofficial sources takes patience, persistence, and sometimes luck or fortuitous timing.” He then reflected on his experiences covering a story about young AIDS patients being put into a nursing home ward due to New Jersey’s “controversial policy of consolidating AIDS patients in one place for treatment.” Indeed, he got his tip about this matter from a public meeting in neighboring Pompton Lakes. “Despite my own worry and ignorance about this disease, I wanted to write about the AIDS patients’ experiences of being in a nursing home, where many of them were much younger than the typical nursing home patient,” Barry revealed. His diligence paid off, as he got enough information to write a heartbreaking feature story about young adults in an old-age home withering away from a terminal virus.

After the story ran, Barry got a call from one of the AIDS patients, who explained that the patients might have to leave the nursing home and be separated from one another due to a Medicare funding dispute. The patients were highly opposed to this, as they had formed a strong group of supportive friendships in their time there, and the healthcare was very good. “They were very upset with the idea of having to move and asked for coverage of their concerns,” explained Barry. He complied with the patients’ request, writing multiple articles about the matter and interviewing many people connected to it, such as state officials, nursing home owners and managers, patients, community members, and members of an advocacy group for the patients. Barry learned quite a bit from this ordeal, as he “went from knowing nothing about this health issue to chronicling the short life and death of a controversial program from all sides.” Indeed, he was so moved by the matter that he wrote a short poem about what happened with one of the patients he chronicled in his original story, entitled Bitter Fruit, from his collection of poems: Earth Songs: New & Selected Poems.

He further used his experience attained while doing an investigative series on dangerous chemical herbicides being used by the Rockaway River in Morris County, NJ. Indeed this tip did not come from an environmental organization, but from a statement made by a man at a municipal council meeting. At this meeting Barry learned that the same chemicals were used in Agent Orange, a deadly herbicide used during the Vietnam War. Clearly finding unofficial sources requires effort like meeting with people after municipal meetings or going to homes trying to get information.

When trying to follow up on this information with official sources, Barry ran into a roadblock. “Federal officials, it became evident in reporting that story, preferred to stonewall rather than forthrightly address the implications that the United States government poisoned many of their own troops as well as much of Vietnam and its people,” he revealed.

Barry was then forced to turn to unofficial sources, the best of which turned out to be concerned veterans and independent researchers. Although the process was very time consuming it was beneficial, as these citizens had gotten information from obscure industrial medical journals, military reports, and Veterans Administration files.

“Finding those folks and reporting their decidedly unofficial—but now historic—story took the better part of three months,” commented Barry.

Indeed having a large, even unorthodox network of sources is absolutely crucial to a proactive news reporter. “I also tap an informal network of people I’ve met while hiking, canoeing, in college classes, at conferences and awards dinners. Another trade secret is that reporters trade sources. Sometimes reporters are sources,” Barry revealed.

Although we may think of a typical journalist as a someone who provides news about national or international affairs and major breaking news, that is not necessarily the case. It has become apparent through Barry’s accounts that journalists have the power of voicing concerns of citizens, and increasing awareness and empathy for the issues of today, especially when a reporter gets involved with his/her local community and its citizens. Indeed, a proactive investigative journalist must often report on uncomfortable situations and events, as they assume the role of public voice of the community. “Finding well-informed sources in the vastly bigger, diverse, and diffuse world beyond the statehouse, municipal building or school board offices takes work. It means listening to gabby gadflies at local meetings and afterwards in cold dark parking lots,” Barry revealed. What we can take away from his speech is that although the work of a news reporter never truly ends, the rewards can be great with enough patience and persistence.

Stephen Yoon is a junior at Rutgers University. He is double majoring in Political Science and Journalism and Media Studies with a minor in Music.

A Crossroads Classic Returns: Sheila's Day Comes Back 20 Years Later


By Alex Guadagno

Sheila’s Day, the South African music and dance celebration which brought the Crossroads Theatre international acclaim, is back—and the timing for celebration at the New Brunswick theater company could not be any better. Plagued by financial woes and a lack of resources near the beginning of the decade, despite winning the 1999 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre, Crossroads has recently recouped its position as one of the country’s most eminent African American theater showcases. On April 16, the theater welcomed the return of its triumphant daughter, Sheila’s Day, which was created at the Crossroads by South African writers Duma Ndlovu and Mbongeni Ngema in 1989 and directed by co-founder/Artistic Director Ricardo Khan. The show came back to Crossroads after a highly commended March run at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Sheila’s Day features an all-female ensemble of gifted musicians who use buoyant gospel, mournful blues numbers and lively Zulu chants to chronicle the lives of two women living in the southern United States and Johannesburg, South Africa during the respective struggles in each country for civil rights and racial integration.

Sheila’s Day’s proud return to the Crossroads is symbolically weighted in light of the theater’s reclamation of its former prominence.

“Crossroads has always had the capacity to do great work despite financial challenges,” says Crossroads’s Executive Director Marshall Jones III. “There were people who thought the theater was too important to let it go,” Jones said, in spite of Crossroads closing its doors for two seasons in 2000. The small theater had nearly $2 million in debt at the time. According to Jones the prestige was always there, but Crossroads needed better artistic management and found it in Richard Nurse, a former board member who became executive director and helped negotiate down the debt.

“Crossroads is a different institution now,” said Peggy McGlone in a 2005 Star-Ledger article. “It's leaner for having spent five years digging out of a fiscal hole, and though its leaders believe they have weathered the worst of the crisis, they admit there's much still to do.”

Jones maintained a relationship with the Crossroads Theatre since his undergraduate years in the mid 80s at the nearby Rutgers University and joined as Executive Director in 2006. After holding executive positions at several prestigious New York City arts institutions, such as Radio City Music Hall and the Apollo Theater, Jones says his decision to join the Crossroads was inspired by the importance of the theater’s mission to create an honest portrayal of African Americans in theater, as well as the challenges of restoring the theater company back to being one of the country’s most prominent.

The theater’s co-founders Khan and Lee Richardson recognized the lack of representation for people of color in theater of the late 70s. They were each only two years out of graduate school when they decided to found the Crossroads, according to Jones—who, as a board member of Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts and the American Conference on Diversity, is a major advocate of diversity and inclusion in theater. “Look at the landscape of 1978—there was no cable, no Cosby Show,” he says. “There was Sanford and Son and Good Times, but if you were black and you couldn’t sing or dance you were playing a pimp or a drug addict. Any culture is more than just a stereotype.”

Despite the uplifting underdog theme that resonates throughout the story of Sheila’s Day returning to Crossroads, the theater’s Director of Press and Public Relations Barbara Martalus experienced considerable difficulty in gaining publicity for the show.

“Here we have this African American theater company that has survived despite a huge economic crisis,” says Martalus. “The anticipation was, particularly after the November election and knowing that Obama was going to be our president, that someone [in the press] would pick up on the historical perspective.”

2008 also marked the Crossroads’s 30th anniversary. To commemorate, Crossroads featured the return of several other of its classics. In September, The Colored Museum by George C. Wolfe returned, and in November, It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues—the show that went from Crossroads to Broadway—also returned to the theater. When Crossroads closed in 2000 it was coming off the high of national recognition for It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues and its 1999 Tony for best new musical, according to Martalus, who says she was trying to put together a journalistic picture that they had some newsworthy stories, particularly surrounding Sheila’s Day. “To have made it to 30 years, we assumed this would be the angle. But we did not want to draw the conclusions for them.”

Martalus attributes the press’s neglect of this story to the particularly stressful year journalists have been experiencing. Crossroads is learning to explore other outlets to appeal to new audiences, such as its participation in Theater ROCKS!, a program that offers discount tickets to young professionals interested in experiencing theater.

Sheila’s Day will be running at the Crossroads, located on 7 Livingston Avenue, through May 3rd with both evening and matinee performances.

Alex Guadagno is a junior at Rutgers University. She is majoring in Journalism and Media Studies with a minor in Anthropology.
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Photographer: Ruphin Coudyzer

Cast of SHEILA'S DAY ...
Front row - Selloane Nkhela , Mary Twala, Anne Duquesnay
Second row - Thuli Dumakude, Chantal Jean-Pierre, Erin Cherry, Shelley Thomas, Wendy Lynette Fox, Futhi Mhlongo
Rear row - Me'Lisa Sellers, Ashley Bryant

Trends in the Videogame Industry: Street Fighter IV


By Lucas Sullivan

I can still remember gazing at it in wonder as a very young child. It was the early 90s, and it stood inconspicuously in the lobby of a hotel my family was staying in. In my fascination, I knew that I had to interact with this machine, unaware that this event would spark an interest that would last more than a decade. Having borrowed two quarters from my parents and plunked them into the cabinet, I began playing the game that, unbeknownst to me, was sweeping the nation. The machine was an arcade game, and the game was Street Fighter II.

Street Fighter II, released by Japanese videogame company Capcom in 1991, was a game that launched an empire and furthered an entire genre: the fighting game. It features two-player head to head fighting, using a variety of characters, each with their own unique moves. At the time of its release, Street Fighter II immediately skyrocketed in popularity in arcades across the US and Japan. Dozens of imitators tried to cash in on the game’s success by making similar games of their own; this spawned series such as Mortal Kombat by Midway and King of Fighters by SNK, and later Tekken by Namco. Each of these series has had their fair share of popularity, but they pale in comparison to the reputation of Street Fighter. The game had an incredible number of spin-offs and individual iterations, adding new content and refueling fans’ excitement with each release. Street Fighter II encapsulates a sort of early 90s nostalgia for many gamers ages 20 to 30, and is still played by many thanks to rereleases on current-generation consoles.

Time passed, and in 1997 Capcom released Street Fighter III: New Generation, which would go on to incorporate various game changes and balances and culminate in Street Fighter III: Third Strike in 1999. Unfortunately, by this time, arcades were becoming a dying breed. Cabinets went from being an attraction at the local teen hangout to a relatively niche market with little exposure. Home videogame consoles were becoming more and more powerful, rendering the technology of the arcade machines less revolutionary and allowing the player to stay at home instead of making a trip to the arcade. Despite all this, Street Fighter III enjoyed success with the “hardcore” fans, a community which had been quietly growing since the fighting game boom of the 90s. The central hubs for this community, as well as the majority of highly skilled players, are located in California, though both the east and west coasts have their own star players and hotspots. But as arcades faded away leaving only the most dedicated behind, it looked like the Street Fighter series had run its course and the franchise that established fighting games had come to a close.

Or had it? After confidentially working on it for more than two years, Capcom unveiled Street Fighter IV in Japan on July 18, 2008. A home console release for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 soon followed, with North American gamers receiving it on February 18, 2009. Its release was a huge hit, with over 2 million copies of the game sold worldwide, not including arcade cabinets or the soon-to-be-released PC version. Lead producer Yoshinori Ono, who had worked on Street Fighter III and made it a success, headed the game and made sure that it would be a title worthy of the Street Fighter franchise. In an interview with GameSpy.com, Ono said “the whole reason that Street Fighter IV even exists as a project is because the fans demanded it. It's something that the media always told me, what the fans always told me, and what our U.S. branch constantly told me.” On top of strong sales figures, the game also received rave reviews from critics, scoring a 94 on compiling website metacritic.com. With this concurrent success, Street Fighter IV has brought in newcomers and more casual players to be added to the already existing fanbase of hardcore players.

With this influx of new players, the community has seen a flood of people interested in both playing and discussing Street Fighter. Websites such as Shoryuken.com offer a forum where these players can come together and discuss their passion for the game and various tactics that will lead to success. Pillars of the community also take it upon themselves to start up their own website and public events. One such community member is Ryan “Gootecks” Gutierrez, who runs gootecks.com and hosted the well-attended Street Fighter Bar Fights event in California recently. Players like Gutierrez enjoy the game as a competitive sport as well as a hobby. In an interview with beefjack.com, Gutierrez stated that there are two main reasons that he has such a passion for the game: “one is the actual competition of it, because I love the feeling of really beating someone down, so that’s part of it. The other part of it is that since I was a kid I’d read Gamepro or EGM and read about guys like Alex Valle or Mike Watson [two professional players covered in some videogame publications] and I would think: wow, what these guys do is like the coolest thing imaginable.”

Pros like Gutierrez have their own arena to display their prowess to fellow competitors: the Evolution Championship Series, or EVO for short. Held annually, EVO is the pinnacle of the fighting game community here in the US. It is at EVO that celebrities in the community are born, such as Japan’s Daigo Umehara or America’s Justin Wong, both of whom are able to make a living off of their winnings from conquered tournaments. Players gather together at EVO from all corners of the globe to take part in intense matches for thousands in prize money, or just to get together and play a few friendly games.

And what about more casual players, who are discovering Street Fighter for the first time? Dan Woredekal, a Rutgers University junior and newcomer to the game, says that he thoroughly enjoys the “intensity of close matches” when playing. Rutgers junior Alvin Arunkumar says that “there’s a steep learning curve, but you have a real feeling of accomplishment once you get over it. And no matter how many times you may lose a match, you still feel like you could win the next one.”

Aspiring players like Woredekal and Arunkumar can try and prove their proficiency at this year’s EVO, which is taking place from July 17-19. But be you a grizzled veteran of the series or an eager new challenger, Street Fighter IV marks the renewal of a legendary franchise and a sign of more good things to come for the fighting game community.

Lucas Sullivan is a student at Rutgers University in New Brunswick majoring in Journalism with a minor in Psychology.

Showing Off SCILS

By Alexander Cole

On the first-ever Rutgers Day, the journalism department showcased some of its most prestigious alumni. One of the Rutgers graduates, known on air as Sharon Stone, is a three-time award winner for Channel 7 News. She told the audience at Saturday’s event how she got her start in journalism working on campus with 88.7 WRSU FM. With a smile, she said that despite her work in television, her favorite medium is radio. According to Stone, she would not have gotten to where she is now without the internships she got during her time at Rutgers. One example Stone gave was how with the help of professors in Rutgers’ journalism department, she gained an internship at WCTC in New Brunswick.

Another alumnus in attendance spoke of how he also got his start at WRSU. He spoke of his work with The Fan, a sports radio station, and how it led him to a promising career in the sports media industry. Sitting in chairs on the lawn of the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies building on the College Avenue campus of Rutgers University, the alumni spoke in groups of five throughout the day.

This reporter spoke to Steven Miller, Coordinator of Undergraduate Studies for the Rutgers University Department of Journalism and Media Studies. When asked how SCILS gathered so many alumni in one place, he simply stated that all they had to do was ask. According to Miller, the alumni “want to come back and give to the students of today and help them out. Rutgers is a family, especially in journalism… I’m a Rutgers grad myself. I bleed scarlet and black.” He recalled examples of how Rutgers students have gotten internships and jobs from other Rutgers alumni. Miller believes the reason for this is that the alumni know that “the quality of student that we [the journalism department] produce is as best as one can get.” As evidence for this, he offered that SCILS graduates have gone on to be producers, directors, reporters, and gained many other prestigious titles.

One might find this single lecture series to be impressive enough, it was only one of several events that were being held at the SCILS building that day. Various professors and part-time lecturers spoke on topics such as the history of television, conflict and romance, political cartoons, and conspiracy theories. There were small workshops in which attendees could improve their public speaking skills or learn to be a “Cub Reporter.” Also included in the day’s festivities was a story telling marathon that lasted all day for children and a free raffle.

None of this would be possible were it not for the Event Design and Management course made available to the undergraduate students of SCILS. According to Rich, a Rutgers undergraduate student and journalism major, their job was to “coordinate the planning and running of this entire event.” This reporter spoke to him as he was handing out floor plans and event schedules to those who walked through the building’s doors.

Meanwhile, a colleague of his was standing by the stairs to another floor, guiding people to the various events. When asked how she felt about the SCILS events as a whole, she was very enthusiastic. Annette, another Rutgers undergraduate student, said she felt it was a good community event and that it should have been done sooner. “It’s a good way for the public to see where their public money is going to. Also, SCILS isn’t on the normal Rutgers tour, so this is a great way for high school students to see what we have to offer.” This reporter had a chance to speak to one of these potential Rutgers students. Dan Marley, a high school student visiting Rutgers with his parents, said that his interest in SCILS stemmed from a website announcement about the day’s events. He stated that he’d always loved sports journalism and worked for his school’s newspaper and had a strong desire to learn more about the journalism department at Rutgers.

It is true that all of this took a lot of planning and effort, but even that pales in comparison to the college wide event held that day. Saturday April 25th was Rutgers Day, the first event of its kind meant to open up Rutgers and all of its students and departments to the community. Many parts of the university, from health care, to environment, to various clubs, were involved across all four of Rutgers’ campuses. In the program for Rutgers Day, Richard McCormick, president of Rutgers University, reached out to the community. “We are delighted to share these programs with [the state of New Jersey] as we roll out the scarlet carpet for our first-ever Rutgers Day,” said McCormick. He invited attendees to explore the campuses, as well as meet Rutgers students and faculty, as they experienced the different events that were available.

This reporter spoke to Ashanti Maya Alvarez in the days preceding the massive event. Alvarez, a Rutgers graduate student and staff member, was responsible for much of SCILS’ involvement. “This is the first Rutgers Day ever. We've never done anything like this, on this scale, that encompassed this much of the New Brunswick Campus and involved as many staff and faculty across Rutgers,” said Alvarez. She mentioned that SCILS had to send in ideas for events to the Office of Community Affairs, followed by writing summaries of the events for the Rutgers Day program. She cited the event’s timing, since late April is when many students are wrapping up their classes for the semester and preparing for finals, as another hurdle that had to be crossed. When asked about the volunteers, she credited roughly 12 students from the event management course and another 10 SCILS faculty who agreed to assist. When I spoke to Alvarez before the event, she said she hoped the event would be informative and fun for all ages. On Saturday, from alumni to students to children of alumni and community members, this reporter only found smiles as SCILS showed its colors.

Alexander Cole is an undergraduate student in journalism at Rutgers University, specializing in reporting on radio. He has worked as a news editor in the News Department of 88.7 WRSU FM.

Special Friends Day 2009

By Jaclyn Mandelbaum


Smiling faces warmed the hearts of many as a young child said, “This is the best day of my life.” On March 1, over 100 children with developmental disabilities filled the Cook/Douglass Recreation Center for a day of fun organized by the Rutgers Recreation Advisory Council (RAC). At the annual Special Friends Day, the children were “buddied up” with over 200 Rutgers students who served as their “special friends.” Each child had two buddies.

Many children are students of the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey, although admittance is not limited to just those students. Any parent wanting to bring their child to the event is welcome. The large majority of children who attend Special Friends Day have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder or quadriplegia, although each child’s handicap varies tremendously.

The event has been running for the past 19 years. Organizers come up with a new theme each year. This year’s theme was board games. With the help of various sponsors and volunteers the recreation center was transformed to fit the theme. The decorations featured life-sized Monopoly pieces, Candy Land d├ęcor, Twister displays, and much more.

Rutgers sophomore and decorations chairperson Amanda Griglak said, “I really hold this event so close to my heart. It took months of preparation, but me and the rest of the RAC were completely determined to give the recreation center a total transformation. We wanted to make it like a paradise or an escape. We also wanted the decorations to be interactive and come to life. I think it came out pretty well.”

The event included a variety of activities and entertainment for the children. Organizers were conscious to include many things that children confined to wheelchairs could participate in as well. The day featured a dunk tank, clowns, jugglers, face painters, and two “moon-bounces.” Twenty-four clubs and organizations from Rutgers set up tables with a variety of arts-and-crafts and games. One organization set up a picture-frame-making station, while another provided children with material to create their very own crowns, for example.

Recreation Advisory Council President Michael Daley said “It is really nice for children to be ‘buddied up’ with college students. There is an older sibling feel to it, and it’s awesome to have that kind of comradery. It is also nice for parents to relax and get a day for themselves knowing their children are in good hands.”

The Red Bulls professional soccer team also made an appearance. A lot of children gravitated to them and the team immediately taught them how to do some soccer skills. The Seeing Eye Puppy club from Rutgers brought many of their dogs and puppies to play with the children. For Christina, an attendant of Special Friends Day, playing with the Golden Retriever’s was the highlight of her day according to her mother.

“DJ Mike” played music and games with event-goers. He has been the disc jockey at the event for the past several years. Many children were fascinated by the equipment he brought with him. He allowed them to spin their own music. Charlene Nobleza, a RAC executive board member, said “I thought that it was really cool of DJ Mike to let everyone spin their own music. I know a lot of DJ’s get really protective of their equipment but he was totally great about it.”

Only minor glitches seemed to occur throughout the course of the day. One of the inflatable moon-bounces deflated a few times. Within a few minutes the moon-bounce was up and working. The Mounted Patrol was also supposed to come by with a few horses for pony-rides. An unexpected snow storm prevented this activity from occurring.

When Paul Fichbach, professional staff advisor of RAC, was asked about the event he was eager to share some of the reactions he received from parents. In a letter he received, a mother wrote, “What can I say? Brittany thoroughly enjoyed another ‘special’ day with her friends at Rutgers! Her buddies, Annie and Fufa befriended her the moment she walked through the front door. She had a blast crafting and swimming and seeing the big dogs, chatting about girlie stuff and swimming yet again.” The letter continues, “I asked her if there was anything that could have made her time greater and she simply replied, ‘Today was the best day of my life!’”

When Special Friends Day Chairwoman Corrie Payson was asked if the event will run again next year her reply was, “Absolutely. As long as Recreation Advisory Council is existing, so will Special Friends Day.”

Jaclyn Mandelbaum is a Rutgers University junior. She is double majoring in Journalism and Media Studies and Environmental Policy, Institutions, and Behavior. She aspires to do environmental public relations.

A Group that Chose to Give Back

By Travis Drobbin

The Pike Rutgers Outreach Program (PROP’s) can be best summed up with one word: inspiring. That is because it shows what a group of people can do when they put their minds to bettering the community. The organization was founded to teach mentally and physically challenged kids to play sports, as well as to have an overall fun day. This goal has attracted many members to the student group’s quickly growing roster.

“People have been very interested in what we are doing with PROP’s. When people see a good opportunity to help the less fortunate, they jump at the chance,” said John Eibelheuser, 20, a Rutgers sophomore and the president of the organization. PROP’s was recognized by Rutgers as an organization in the beginning of the 2008/2009 academic year. The organization took part in Cook College’s Special Friends Day, which occurred on March 1.

Sponsored by a number of campus organizations, Special Friends Day is an event held on Cook Campus, which children with mental disabilities partake in different activities with 100 Rutgers students’ assistance. PROP’s came out in full force, with a number of dedicated volunteers. The organization had a table set up were they organized soccer games with the kids, and as a prize the children got a temporary tattoo. The children really took to the temporary tattoos and came back numerous times to the table. Everyone was very pleased with the introduction of the organization to the Rutgers community. The most appreciative of the people were the parents of the children. These parents saw their children experience a day of nothing but fun.

The Pike Rutgers Outreach Program started because of one individual. John Eiebelheuser felt the need to bring a program to Rutgers that would bring a positive addition to the community. “I figured that it would be great having just pledged a fraternity to bring something positive to the Greek community at Rutgers. I thought that my personal fraternity would find this organization not only beneficial to the reputation of the fraternity, but it would also give fulfillment to the members involved,” Eibelheuser said. PROP’s was started from an organization called Hunterdon Outreach Program (HOP’s). Eibelheuser was a volunteer for HOP’s and felt it was the perfect sort of organization to bring to the Rutgers community. The Hunterdon Outreach Program, started in Hunterdon County in the spring of 2003, serves to promote and develop different sports for children in the community who are physically or developmentally disabled. Eibelheuser wanted to bring the same mentality to the Rutgers organization.

“When I was part of the Hunterdon Outreach Program, I realized that the kids were having a genuinely good time. But even more than the kids, the volunteers were enjoying themselves. They all felt a sense of fulfillment after the event,” Eibelheuser stated. HOP’s programs currently include soccer, basketball, baseball, and tennis. They strive to introduce kids to new sports that they would normally not be recruited to participate in.

PROP’s has big plans for the future; it plans to schedule one more event before the semester is over. “We want to have a carnival in Buccleuch Park, where the kids can enjoy the nice weather and enjoy the activities we have set up,” said Eibelheuser. The organization seems to be taking a positive step forward in achieving their goal of having an event every two weeks. Next year seems to be the time when the organization really makes a push to become one of the more influential programs on the Rutgers campus.

Travis Drobbin is a Journalism and Media Studies major at Rutgers University. He plans to work in the film and music industry.

The Electronic Cigarette: A Better Alternative to Smoking?

By Tiffany Y. Hsia

Electronic cigarette smokers have begun to rally together as the Food and Drug Administration placed a ban on e-cigarette importation in the United States.

Originally launched in 2006 by the Ruyan Company in China, the electronic cigarette has been creating controversy around the world in recent months. When it first arrived onto the market, the new invention was lauded by smokers and health professionals as a breakthrough in health technology. Even the World Health Organization conceded that, “it does not discount the possibility that the electronic cigarette could be useful as a smoking cessation aid.”

“I was a smoker for more than 10 years and suffered from many of the side effects of smoking…After three days of using the e-cig, I haven’t touched a normal cigarette since. It’s been almost a year and I lost my smoker’s cough, my lungs are open and clear and I never have to clear my throat anymore” said Sunil Rao,27, of Edison, N.J.

However, as the technology has grown in popularity and thousands have joined the ranks as e-smokers, the tide is beginning to turn as it attracts the attention of its fiercest competitors, the pharmaceutical and tobacco industries, and the federal government.

So what exactly is an e-cigarette? In essence, the electronic cigarette is an alternative method of nicotine-replacement therapy. It is an electronic device that replicates the smoking experience. It is composed of three parts; a battery with a LED indicator light, an atomizer and a cartridge/mouthpiece.

As a person inhales on an electronic cigarette, the LED indicator lights up and the atomizer vaporizes the nicotine liquid inside the cartridge, producing an odorless water vapor that resembles smoke. The nicotine satisfies cravings, the ritual of smoking satisfies an addict psychologically and because the body absorbs the nicotine inhaled, the exhaled vapor is not dangerous like secondhand smoke.

For all intensive purposes, it looks like you’re smoking a normal cigarette and it feels like you’re smoking a normal cigarette, but you avoid almost all of the negative aspects of smoking a normal cigarette.

The high price tag on electronic cigarettes sold at mall kiosks like Smoking Everywhere may dissuade many cigarette smokers from testing out the new technology but smaller companies like http://www.freshsmoking.com/, a New Jersey based online retailer of e-cigarettes, offer electronic cigarette starter kits for as little as $50, significantly less than the price of a carton of cigarettes.

An electronic cigarette sounds like a godsend for the millions of smokers out there. So why is there controversy surrounding it?

Opponents of the e-cigarette question the safety standards of the product, which is mainly produced in China. Since China’s track record on product safety hasn’t had too many glowing reviews lately, it seems inevitable that the tarnish has been slated onto the electronic cigarette, despite its benefits.

The major focus of the opposition isn’t to the technology itself -, especially since Philip Morris, the grand daddy of cigarettes, has developed its own electronic drug delivery device, the Aria Inhaler, as well as their newest invention, developed by Altria group to be released in 2009, the Smokefree Innotec Rauchless, but rather the nicotine that is contained in the cartridges. Currently, most of the nicotine cartridges and liquid refills are produced in China, where regulation standards are not as closely enforced as they are in the United States. The nicotine allows the e-cigarette to fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA, which regulates the use of nicotine in smoking cessation products.

One of the most vocal protesters against the electronic cigarette is New Jersey’s own Senator Frank R. Lautenberg. Lautenberg recently wrote a letter urging the FDA to remove electronic cigarettes off the market until they are proven safe. Lautenberg has a history of “protecting” Americans from the harmful effects of smoking and is known as an anti-tobacco crusader. He authored the law that banned smoking on airplanes, as well as in buildings that house federally-funded facilities that serve children.

What is a bit hypocritical about “the anti-smoking champion,” is that he is also currently supporting legislation that would protect standard tobacco cigarettes, which are scientifically proven to kill and has killed millions of people around the world. The Waxman Bill would authorize the FDA to regulate labeling, marketing, transport, content and sale of tobacco products. Another unsettling fact about the Waxman Bill that Lautenberg is supporting is that Philip Morris USA supports the legislation as well.

According to an open records search done by the Ashtray Blog, not only did Senator Lautenberg openly receive more than $126,000 in 2008 alone for his political campaign from pharmaceutical companies but he also has close ties with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which was established by Johnson & Johnson, a pharmaceutical company that makes billions of dollars selling nicotine-replacement therapy. The question arises to Senator Lautenberg’s true motivations. Are they heart felt? Or possibly pocket lined? A reply to these statements went unanswered by Lautenberg’s press office.

Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, stated that the success rate of current smoking cessation aids is at less than 10%. He also recently stated in an article, “How special that a public policy maker who touts himself as being a champion of the public’s health as well as some of the leading national health advocacy organizations are demanding that we ban what is clearly a much safer cigarette than those on the market, but that we allow, protect, approve and institutionalize the really toxic ones.”

Another defender of the electronic cigarette is Representative Cliff Stearns of Florida. Rep. Stearns, who has been seen openly smoking and demonstrating his own electronic cigarette at the cafeteria in Capitol Hill, has sent electronic cigarettes to House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and to President Obama. According to an article in The Hill, Stearns stated, “There is no evidence that the device is harmful. Before the FDA takes any immediate action, it should put forward scientific evidence that these products are harmful or unsafe. These e-cigarettes are smokeless and do not produce carcinogens.”

While perusing through a popular e-cigarette forum, the general consensus was that responsible electronic cigarette vendors do not promote e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation product; the ones that do have been branded as interested in soley profit and are responsible for garnering the unwanted attention from the FDA.

The largest and most well-known of these vendors, Smoking Everywhere¸ filed a lawsuit against the FDA on April 28, 2009 stating that the FDA overstepped its authority and did not follow procedures as required by the Administrative Procedure Act in its banning of the importation of electronic cigarettes. They are also requesting that the electronic cigarette be classified as a tobacco product under which the FDA would have no jurisdiction. The lawsuit was prompted by a large shipment that was recently confiscated by customs under the FDA import ban on electronic cigarette products.

The lawsuit, if approved can only be seen as a short-term solution for electronic cigarette vendors. If the FDA gains the right to regulate tobacco under the Waxman Bill, then the protection that Smoking Everywhere seeks will become moot. Not only that but it can further harm the electronic cigarettes road to full and legal acceptance.

This lawsuit raises even more questions in the electronic cigarette’s short and traumatic life. If electronic cigarettes are categorized as tobacco products then wouldn’t they also fall under the same restrictions that currently ban tobacco use as well as face additional taxation and restrictive advertising laws? Perhaps an alternative route would be for electronic cigarette products to have its own separate classification that does not tie them in with tobacco or medical products.

The battle of the electronic cigarette versus everyone else is rooted in power, control and money. The mere existence of this new technology has already proven to be a threat to Big Tobacco with thousands of cigarette smokers converting to electronic cigarettes around the world according to eSmokers of the US. Big Pharma has also been hit with a loss in nicotine replacement therapy revenue. Even the government has lost revenue on tobacco taxes in the short-time the electronic cigarette has been sold. Will the e-cigarette, a product with the potential to help millions, eventually be outlawed? It definitely will if the FDA, Big Pharma and Big Tobacco gets its way.

Tiffany Y. Hsia is a second bachelor’s degree student in Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University and hopes to pursue a career in entertainment public relations and broadcast journalism. She completed her first B.A. in History and Geography from Rutgers University and graduated with honors.