Category Archives: viewpoint

ACLU educates teenagers in social justice

Following the 2016 presidential election, I realized that I had become more self-aware when it came to politics and the injustice that various minorities face. I felt like their voices and experiences, as well as mine by being a part of the communities, were silenced and deemed unimportant by our government. I sensed that I had an obligation to do something, and to use my privilege and platform as a writer to influence those around me. So, I submitted an application to the American Civil Liberties Union Summer Advocacy Institute, a week long camp held at Georgetown University, where rising juniors and seniors can learn more about social justice issues that interest them and how to bring activism into their community. Being surrounded with roughly 500 like-minded students was inspiring; I was excited so see so many young people with as much of a passion for change as I had.
Throughout the week, we were introduced to various speakers, mostly ACLU lawyers, covering a wide range of topics—from free speech to institutionalized racism. These speakers were able to take complicated and controversial issues, educate us on their impacts on our everyday lives and put into perspective their relevance.
One speaker in particular who moved me was Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney who specializes in free speech, privacy and technology. She spoke to us about the importance of free speech, and while I knew that the First Amendment was a key factor in our democracy, Rowland emphasized how essential it really is.
Without free speech, parties on either side of the political spectrum would be unable to voice their opinions. As frustrating as it might be to hear an opposing argument to your side, without First Amendment protections, none would have a platform to spout any views, whether hateful or inspirational. Sometimes, when arguing in support of a position, it can be easy to dismiss an opponent’s thoughts and voice, but in order to change minds we need to be patient and be able to peacefully converse with those different from us. And while there are topics, like white supremacy and racism, where there is no room for compromise or negotiation, it is crucial to realize which battles to fight, and be able to respectfully and civilly discuss these issues.
The most influential speaker at the ACLU Summer Advocacy Institute had to be whistle blower Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former technology contractor for the National Security Agency, exposed classified files that offered evidence of the government invading civilians’ right to privacy by reading and listening to phone calls and texts while ostensibly looking for signs of terrorism. Snowden currently is taking refuge in Russia, unable to return to the U.S. for fear of criminal prosecution due to this, his speech was done via video chat. Between taking curious questions about his living status and recounting his internal struggles and repercussions of his actions, Snowden offered insights into ongoing issues over cyber security. However, he made it very clear that he was not to be looked at as a hero. He said that he had just been doing what was right. He emphasized the importance of speaking out against our government when we see injustice and not reacting in silence and cooperation. We must take advantage of our democratic rights and use them to speak up when we feel that our government is not doing what is needed to protect the American people under the guidelines of the Constitution.
Before going to the ACLU camp, I was nervous about meeting those from all different walks of life and in different phases in their journey of activism. In such a rural and old-school town, I was confident in my views and wasn’t afraid to speak out, but going to a camp where hundreds of other students felt the same way—and might be able to express this more articulately and with more experience—made me question myself. While I definitely consider myself an advocate for social, racial and economic equality, I hadn’t made a huge impact in my community like other teenagers, and I was insecure in my abilities to represent my school and my ideals in such a new environment. But after the first few days, I found myself feeding off the energy and confidence of my peers, making me speak up more in discussions and not second-guessing whether what I had to say was “politically correct” or clashed with another student’s views. I had a newfound assurance of myself and found that hearing other students’ situations in their hometowns gave me a better understanding of other communities. This validates where I am on my journey, and even though I haven’t made the strides that Malala Yousafzai or Gavin Grimm have, that doesn’t make my fight and passion any less important.
That week was the most influential and inspiring week of my life; attending this camp put into perspective how passionate I am about making a change in current social justice issues. The amazing speakers and students made me realize how much a group of 500 students can touch different corners of the world and truly make a difference in each community, resulting in a monumental difference. Throughout history, the youth have been those at the forefront of change, making their voices heard and not backing down from the resistance of older generations. So, my advice to my peers is don’t be afraid to stir things up and create a little confrontation; go to protests, talk to your representatives, educate those in the dark, and speak out against hatred and bigotry.

We, the people, are responsible for our own fate, and without the help and support of one another, nothing will change. Remember: Dissent is patriotic.

~erica gudino, editor-in-chief


Tolerance offers hope for a divided world

The past five years have seemed riddled with disaster: civil war and violence in the Middle East has generated a worldwide refugee crisis; disease emergencies have wreaked havoc in areas of the world that were already suffering; mass shootings and terrorism have plagued the world.

Instead of coming together to find solutions to the growing list of problems, we’ve let ourselves become divided. Instead of civilly sharing opinions and beliefs, we talk loudly over the person next to us, vying for more support, as if doing that will prove us right. We shut down anyone with different perspectives or ideas — if we even choose to listen or associate ourselves with them in the first place. In the midst of this war of words, its no wonder we’ve failed to resolve issues. However, there is a way to improve the world around us.

From Jan. 6-8, I attended the Civitan Leaders in Freedom Conference where I participated in seminars on leadership, economics, religious freedom, and politics. I met people with nationalities, backgrounds, beliefs, and concerns that were different from my own. While I was there, I gained a deeper understanding and new perspectives on world issues and on my role in finding solutions to those problems. The most important lesson I learned, though, was the importance of being open to new ideas and tolerant of different beliefs and opinions.

At the conference, Derius Swinton of the Soar Group, a leadership development and training company, led a discussion on the traits that effective leaders should and shouldn’t have; one of the most important traits we discussed was open-mindedness. Being open-minded doesn’t mean that you abandon your beliefs and opinions and adopt those of others, and it doesn’t mean that your views are unimportant. Being open-minded only requires that one listens to and considers different ideas. Learning about another person’s experiences or hearing new ideas allows solutions to problems to be found. It also helps us become more empathetic toward others and appreciative of our differences. Oftentimes, listening to different opinion allows a person to better support her own, through understanding others’ concerns and finding ways to address them. Instead of assuming someone’s character based on which presidential candidate he supported, or his position on abortion, ask him why he feels the way he does, with sincere intent to learn. Chances are, you’ll learn something new that will deepen your understanding of the topic and the person.

Along with open-mindedness comes tolerance—the willingness to accept and honor opinions and beliefs that differ from one’s own. Tina Ramirez, founder and president of Hardwired, an organization that advocates religious freedom worldwide, spoke at the conference, detailing ISIS’s genocidal attacks on the Yazidi in Iraq, and the experiences of thousands of girls who were abducted and sexually exploited. More than 5,000 Yazidis have been massacred since 2014 because of their religion. This seminar made me realize that, if tolerance had been practiced, those lives could have been saved, and thousands of girls could have been protected from unspeakable horror. Tolerance could have saved more than six million Jews in Europe, one million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, one million Tutsis in Rwanda, and millions of others who were murdered simply because of their religion or ethnicity.

Everyone, regardless of religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, or background, deserves to be respected, and everyone has the responsibility to offer that respect to others. We don’t have to agree with someone’s beliefs, lifestyle, or choices, and we shouldn’t expect people to agree with ours. But tolerance isn’t about agreement; it’s about mutual respect and the recognition that we can’t force someone to think a certain way. It’s about the realization that everybody has the right to make his or her own decisions. Tolerance is a two-way street; if we refuse to respect different perspectives, how can we expect others to respect ours?

In a few years, this generation will be leading the world and solving its problems. We can choose to continue the current trends of closed-mindedness and intolerance that propel crises and create more obstacles, or we can choose to change our approach and work together to effect change. We need to be willing to listen to and consider new ideas and respect people for who they are. By doing so, we’ll be better able to compromise and make decisions that will benefit everyone, not just a select few. When we change our attitude, we’ll change the world.

~katie johnston, features director

Editorial: Holiday season cries out for generosity

In the midst of the holidays, with constant reminders to express appreciation and give thanks, it’s appropriate to think of those who are less fortunate than we are. 2016 has had no shortage of oppression, injustice, and harsh treatment of minorities, both at home and halfway across the world, so to combat this, we encourage you to have compassion and be aware of other people’s struggles. There are always things that can be done to help whether it’s lending a hand at a local soup kitchen or donating money to Doctors Without Borders. You can make a difference.

If the presents you get for Christmas this year leave you unsatisfied, thinking about civilians under siege in Aleppo may help you regain perspective. For the past five years, Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, has been caught in the cross hairs of a brutal civil war, with the rebels fighting for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad. Russia has now allied with Assad and is conducting airstrikes on hospitals, schools, and neighborhoods full of civilians trapped within the city by a blockade imposed by the Syrian government in early July. Of the 250,000 civilians in the rebel-held part of the city, approximately 100,000 are children, according to the New York Times. With food and medical supplies running low, children have become the most frequent and heart-breaking victims of the bombings.

Although the conditions in Aleppo are horrible, the world community should not give up hope or stop caring. One day, when the blockade is lifted, civilians will need medical attention, food, and other supplies, and there are ways to help now to ensure those supplies will be available. UNICEF USA, a humanitarian organization, has been giving aid to the Syrians and Syrian refugees since the beginning of the crisis, and it is dedicated to delivering much needed supplies and giving the children a better future. Along with other humanitarian organizations, including Doctors without Borders whose members risk their lives providing medical attention to the wounded, UNICEF welcomes donations to provide resources for the wounded and the citizens that are left in the city.

So while you’re writing your wish list, remember the thousands of people who are just hoping to find a hot meal or clean clothes under their tree this holiday. By giving back to those in need, you’re making an impact in someone’s life, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Keep in mind that the spirit of the holidays revolve around being grateful for what you have, and recognizing that others aren’t so lucky; take the step and start your 2017 with compassion and generosity.

Societal pressure distorts teens’ body image

The practice of making critical, potentially humiliating comments about one’s self or another due to their size or weight is known as body shaming, and, in an age where social media makes it easy to voice one’s opinion, putting people down for their appearance is easier than ever before. Even President—elect Donald Trump has been quoted several times as saying several derogatory things about women, in particular, Miss Universe 1996 Alicia Machado. The culture’s obsession with what’s “in” regarding physical appearance encourages teens to judge and shame those who do not exactly fit the mold.

“Body shaming happens to everyone,” senior Luisa Turner said. “Everyone’s body is different from one another, yet for some reason we still mock people for their differences.”

Society’s ideal perfect body shifts constantly, leaving teens open to criticism for being too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny, too frail, or too muscular. Photoshop editing alters the appearances of famous celebrities, and while portraying a celebrity in an attractive way is a selling point for magazine ads, several magazines have come under fire for blatantly distorting a woman’s body or lightening their skin tone. Zendaya, Jennifer Lawrence, Lady Gaga, and many other celebrities chide these magazines for creating a false ideal body for their fans to look up to. It seems that the media is pushing the idea that we should want to change, and that we should care about looking slimmer and taller, yet curvy all at the same time. Continuous body shaming has been linked to eating disorders, and can also severely cripple one’s self-esteem, resulting in social anxiety from a sense of rejection regarding physical attributes.

Body shaming creates a divide between people, separating them into groups that matter and those who are not worthy of consideration. According to April Lyons, a licensed psychotherapist, body shamers ostracize others because they feel discomfort with deviations from their ideas of beauty and social acceptance. What gives people the right to put down someone simply because he or she doesn’t fit their perception of beauty? According to Braintree Adolescent Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), when someone feels upset or perhaps intimidated by another, he or she may use body shaming as a self-defense mechanism in order to feel better. It may be easier to attack someone than express how she or he truly feels.

We should aim to live in a society where we can accept all, regardless of our differences. To create a more accepting world, attempt to confront those who take part in body-shaming. They may not realize how they could be offending someone else, and you could very well be a body shamer yourself. Instead, identify someone in your life who is body-positive. No one has to be perfect to be body positive, and the very positivity he or she exudes could help you accept yourself more.

And finally, find something you like about your body. It can be hard sometimes, as we all can get in a funk about our appearance, but your body is yours alone. While you live in it, you should learn to appreciate your body while you can. And when one can accept oneself, it is then easier to accept someone else. Acceptance of one another is the ultimate test of humanity, and we possess the ability to heal through love and the openness of our minds and hearts. If the majority of society can band together and accept the very fact that we are different, then the few who hate will be snuffed out by love.

~tatjana shields, staff reporter

Candidates model poor behavior, values for future generations

It seems like this year’s presidential election has been more focused on xenophobia, low blows, and “he said, she said” than any other. With Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump going at each other’s throats, we have forgotten that this is more at stake than a petty competition of who can throw the worst insults.

Since spring, 2015, the race for president has seemed like an under budget soap opera with the big, mean bully and the lying goodie-two-shoes front and center. With the front runners being the main topic discussed over dinner, people are forgetting about the children that will grow up during the campaigning and the next presidency. There couldn’t have been a more inconvenient time for parents to teach their children about right and wrong when the media is fixated on Clinton’s truthfulness or Trump’s lechery.

When I was growing up, my parents instilled strong values in me, including respect, honesty, and compassion; that’s the baseline of raising a good person. Now that’s hard enough; it’s even harder when the media is full of allegations about Trump sexually assaulting women or Clinton’s secrecy and dishonesty about her health, e-mails, and a host of other topics. Kids are impressionable and follow by example; shouldn’t the president be someone all Americans can look up to as a role model? Is it hard to imagine that when children hear their parents advocate for someone who doesn’t respect women, they will come to believe that it’s all right to touch someone without consent? Or that they will come to believe that lying is acceptable, as long as it gives them an advantage?

The presidential debates are meant to show voters where the candidates stand on the issues. However, the Clinton-Trump debates (which had the most viewers in history) have seemed more like a competition of who can deliver the best insults, rather than an informed discussion of their tax plans. The debates have featured childish outbursts, name calling, unsupported assertions, and interruptions—far from a reasoned, well-informed discussion of issues affecting the nation’s future. Children shouldn’t think that the way to confront a problem is to throw a temper tantrum, spit nasty remarks, shout down the opposition, and lie through your teeth.

The candidates are the most disliked in history; according to a poll by the Washington Post, Clinton has a disapproval rating of 56 percent, while Trump takes the lead with 63 percent. With neither of the candidates registering well, it seems inevitable that the American people won’t be happy no matter who gets elected. Whichever joker gets into the Oval Office, he or she will represent America as the figurehead of this country. Young girls and boys want to look up to the president, but when the major parties nominate two such unpopular and unsuitable candidates, children can draw the conclusion that someone doesn’t have to be a good person to lead the free world.

For those who are voting in this election, the choice may be between the lesser of two evils as to which candidate will make the best role model for the children who are maturing and forming themselves during this next presidency. According to a study done by Livescience, personality is set by the time a child reaches first grade. By the time the kids of this generation are adults, they could potentially be molded to think that this is acceptable behavior.

Which candidate would you rather have a child modeled after? A lying corporate puppet or a loose cannon? Get to the polls on Nov. 8; your vote counts. And hope the nation has better choices four years from now.

~erica gudino, editor-in-chief

Challenges broaden horizons, opportunity

For the last real summer before college changes my life forever, I decided to finally live in the moment and seek new experiences. In mid-July, I attended the Washington Journalism and Media Conference (WJMC) at George Mason University to learn about a field I am interested in pursuing. But what I didn’t know was that the experience would spin my perception of myself and the world on its head. It would shape who I am today and who I hope to become.

The conference welcomes high school students from all over the country to participate as National Youth Correspondents and to engage in an innovative learning environment in the fields of communications, media research, and journalism. WJMC gives upcoming journalists a chance to learn “on-the-ground” information not usually available in a high school classroom. It also promised to deliver personal growth for each participant, which I originally dismissed as exaggeration; however, after the first two days I began to feel the change within myself.

I met Youth Correspondents my age from all across the country, from California to New Jersey and everywhere in between. Making personal connections with people from different social and physical environments widened my concept of the world; I came to realize that life is bigger than Virginia and that there is opportunity in every corner of the country.

I attended speeches by Hoda Kotb, the host of the Today Show, and Tina Rosenberg, one of the founders of the Solutions Journalism Network, who spoke about the importance of determination in the workplace. Both of these powerful women struggled to get to their current positions. Rosenberg was been determined to find effective ways of reporting the news, when she realized that, instead of reporting problems, the world needed to hear solutions. After her solutions journalism concept was rejected by The New York Times, Rosenberg broke off on her own and began the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) with two other founders. Three years after its birth in 2013, SJN now produces solutions journalism and trains journalists in 33 newsrooms.

Kotb also aspired to be a key influence in the world of journalism. However, it took her many years to advance from a position at a small-time news station to hosting a show on national television. She had the door shut in her face more times than she could count, but she never gave up. Together, these two women are influential role models who taught me to embrace who I am and what I aspire to become—a woman who will excel.

Before the conference I was terrified of failing if I branched out in an attempt to reach a goal; I was scared of how vulnerable one needs to be to become a cultured adult. You have to be willing to get hurt if you want to succeed; nothing comes easy. You need to be humbled by nonbelievers before you can prove to yourself that your ambition is justified. As Kotb said, “It’s not about the fall; it’s about what happens afterwards.”

With a new-found confidence in who I can become, I realize that the world is truly ours. We are the generation being groomed to take control. The world is open to us, to our dreams and goals, and it is up to us to claim it. During a seminar on politics, Brian Lamb, the founder and former CEO of C-SPAN, said that we are the generation that is going to control the world and we are being molded into adults who will soon mold the country.

What I learned was that along with the gift of inheriting America comes the responsibility of nurturing it. As young adults, it is our duty to engage our minds and energies in service to the community and to understand politics and how the world works. Instead of depending on Twitter for daily news, or some other form of social media, people should explore formal news sites. These sources offer in depth and reliable information that an instant media source cannot provide. No single news source will have the full story; to get an understanding of a shooting, a trend, or a political scandal, the reader needs to read multiple news sources and compare the information. We have to be devoted to learning the truth of the world around us in order to understand it.

WJMC has taught me that as young adults we are stronger than we think we are. At 17, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest recipient ever of a Nobel Prize. At 18 years old, Mary Shelley wrote the acclaimed novel, Frankenstein. At 19, Mark Zuckerberg commercialized Facebook. This is our prime age; don’t waste the opportunity.

Step out of your comfort zone and sign up for that internship or that challenging AP class. You can’t learn and grow if you do not push yourself and try new things. This world is bigger than high school; it is bigger than Fauquier County. Our youth shouldn’t be wasted; instead, this generation of students should be engaging in the world around us. Don’t forget what the real objective of high school is: to help us see beyond trivial concerns and to engage effectively with the world around us.

~nina quiles, managing director

Trails lead to revelation, independence is key

From freshman to senior year, high school has been the best and the worst years of my life so far.
In the beginning, people told me that by senior year, I would have a solid group of friends and a happy head on my shoulders. As freshman year cruised along, I already felt comfortable with the friends that I’d made so quickly. I had an idea of what I wanted to do with my life. Most of all, I was happy. I walked to and from school and was amused by the gang of smokers that would lurk at the base of the “black path.” Little things didn’t bother me. I felt that I already had it all figured out.
The onset of sophomore year was something I was completely unprepared for. In middle school, even if I didn’t have classes with my friends, I still saw them often. This was different. The pals that I had had as of freshmen year were now nowhere to be found in the spacious new building. In addition, I was left in the dust of the iPhone craze, meaning that my friends no longer existed in my life at all, not even virtually. Nowadays, I can keep in touch with the people that I don’t see in person through the convenience of iMessage and Twitter, but sophomore year, my friends dropped like flies. I did manage to introduce myself to other people, but due to conflicting interests and schedules, I barely kept in contact with anyone.
By junior year, I started associating with people differently. I no longer expected anyone to become close with me, so I treated most people as acquaintances. With a grand total of three boyfriends coming in and out of my life during my last two years of high school, I kept myself occupied in relationships without the omnipresence of friendships. Junior year was also academically difficult, but unlike in previous years, I didn’t really mind. The extra work kept me occupied, and that willingness to tackle the tasks I was given continued on into my senior year—that is, until a lonely late autumn.
November, 2015, was probably the worst month of my life so far. I hit rock bottom in several aspects of my life; the comedic television show Parks and Recreation kept my spirits from lagging too heavily. It sounds sad, I know, but in the end, it was the month of high school that shaped my character the most. November, 2015, taught me how to continue to thrive in high school entirely on my own despite an incredible lack of socialization in my classes. I came home every day to a happy greeting from a loving dog; I told my parents all about my days in detail. All in all, I found some of the sweetest comfort in simply being at home and by myself or with my family. In December, I went to Canada with lots of kids from schools all around Northern Virginia, and it was the last big group experience I allowed myself to have for a while. Developing my independence was critical to the happiness that I possess now, and it will continue to carry me into college where it will likely become even more important.
So, here I am today amidst a chilly and rainy May. I’m taking life as it comes and enjoying my final days as a real kid. The weather, I feel, is symbolic—it demonstrates that high school was hard for me. The feeling of being in and out of a mental fog was always prevalent. But did I mention that I love the rain? It’s so refreshing. It washes away the impurities of the world and encourages us to embrace a new tomorrow. Despite all of the little bad things (and the bigger bad things, yes) that I stumbled upon in the past four years, there was so much good to be found just by picking myself back up. I may not have established a single solid group of friends, but I’m thankful for the ones that came and went, as well as the few that stuck around. In the end, what I did establish were my own roots within myself. Thank you, Fauquier. I didn’t plan on missing you as much as I know I will.

~claire shifflett, staff reporter