Monday, June 30, 2014

On Equality

It's not every day that someone else's decision makes me so infuriated, so incredibly frustrated that I can't function until I write about it. But then, it's not every day someone else's decision directly affects half the population of this country, myself included.

In an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court of the United States essentially granted personhood to corporations today. By a five-four ruling, SCOTUS has declared that a corporation can deny birth control coverage to its female employees if the owner of the company finds it morally wrong. There are so many reasons I'm furious, but I'm just going to list a few.

First, this opens the door for personhood appellations in a lot of icky and gross ways. What if the owner of a corporation feels women shouldn't work for religious reasons? Or their religion tells them that people with disabilities should work? Or gays, or minorities, or Jews, or any other protected class as recognized by the 18th amendment? I realize this is rather reactionary, but the way that SCOTUS works is on precedent, and this has set an extremely harmful precedent. UPDATE: From the Dissenting opinion, by Justice Ginsberg:

"Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah's Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today's decision."

Second, forget Roe V. Wade. It's now legal to deny birth control let alone abortions. And let's be clear what specifically we're talking about here: Plan B, commonly called the Morning-After Pill. When taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, Plan B can stop ovulation, fertilization, and/or implantation of a fertilized zygote in the uterine wall. *Can*. It is not 100% effective, as a friend of mine and her daughter can tell you. Hobby Lobby argued that in the eyes of their owners, Plan B was an abortion pill which it fucking is not. (Those sources are Princeton, Christianity Today Magazine, and NPR, by the way).

Let me break it down for you: The owners of Hobby Lobby hold opinions which have been proven to be incorrect in multiple peer-reviewed studies. Regardless of this, they fought all the way to the Supreme Court, and instead of being laughed out, SCOTUS backed them, and now any woman who works for a "closely-held" corporation (meaning no separation between the company and the people who own it), can be denied basic birth control because her boss disagrees with it.

All of this is maddening enough. But Justice Alito's suggested solutions were just plain insulting, dumping the burden of closing the gap in coverage on the government or the insurance companies, instead of on the employer like the rest of the nation. 

But the worst salt in the wound, the thing that made me furious all over again: Every Justice in favor of the ruling was male. That's right, the three female Justices, including Sotomayor, who is fairly conservative, were against this decision. Doesn't that tell you everything you need to know?

Friday, May 16, 2014

An Open Letter to Legislators RE: Gainful Employment Proposal

I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about how proprietary schools have changed my life for the better, and why I believe that the “Gainful Employment” requirement is, to use familiar words “arbitrary and capricious”.

First, I met my husband at the proprietary school where he was returning to school after having to leave to take care of his family; I was attending a Graduate Program while working full time. While the results of that serendipity are significant to my own path, it is the circumstances that led to it that I wish to highlight. Both of us were approaching 30, and had very limited options when it came to advancing our studies given our situations. Because of the programs and flexibility offered, as well as the financial aid and assistance available, we have been able to advance our careers and financial goals in ways that would not otherwise have been possible.

Second, I have worked in proprietary education since late 2008. Having worked for two different entities (Alta Colleges and EDMC), I can tell you first-hand about the culture of these types of schools. When I began working at Westwood College in 2008, I was immediately imbued with pride in the work we were doing. Our students were lower-income, from struggling public high schools, largely Latino and other minorities, and here they were able to achieve and afford higher education. Every person on campus, from Admissions to Career Services was dedicated to serving and elevating our students, creating life-long learners and giving them not just a degree, but the knowledge, skills and credentials to succeed and thrive in the workforce.

The culture is no different at Western State College of Law. I have only been with EDMC for a few months, but what immediately struck me is the incredible amount of love and pride with which each member of the Staff and Faculty approaches their work. These are dedicated educators who approach the growth of their students with passion and verve, and I find it difficult to avoid feeling daunted to find myself among them.

It has been disheartening over the last few years. I have seen many in Congress target these schools that have given me so much, personally and professionally. I hear them accused of manipulating and abusing their students, taking advantage of their hope and poverty and tricking them into borrowing for degrees they’ll never be able to pay off. However, the problem of unemployment and the shrinking market of skilled entry-level jobs is universal. An undergraduate degree from Harvard may open more doors than one from ITT, but if there are no doors to knock on it doesn’t much matter.

Targeting proprietary schools may seem like a simple solution to the problem of rising student debt, but that growing deficit is a symptom of the much larger issues facing our young adults entering the workforce. I urge you to consider that proprietary schools serve those in this country who need higher education the most. Many graduates from Western State are first generation US Citizens, often the first in their families to finish undergraduate studies, let alone to achieve a higher degree. Accountability and outcomes assessment are important to all sectors of Higher Education; however a better rule would apply to all institutions with fair metrics that assess value over time. 

Thank you,

Self-Rescuing Princess

Friday, January 17, 2014

Tips for First Time Ren Faire Goers

*This is based on my opinion, which is based on my experience. Your experience may have been different. Positive suggestions for additions are welcome.*

I went to my first Renaissance Faire in 2002, and have been going 4-16 weekends a year ever since. I've been a patron, a guildie, a boothie, a circuit act, and I've worked behind the scenes on staff. While I am by no means an expert, I am both seasoned enough that I have a good idea of how Faires work, and yet removed enough to understand how to translate "Rennie" to "Normal People."

Because of this, I get asked a lot for tips for "Ren Faire Virgins" or more simply, people who have never been to a Renaissance Faire. And so, thinking perhaps I could a) help people I don't know and b) save myself some time typing it here, I present:

Tips for First Time Ren Faire Goers

1) Don't Dress Up
I know this sounds counter-intuitive, and in fact it goes against what a lot of other sites and similar articles say. Hear me out.

As a Faire worker, we're often directed to give our best show to people not in costume. Why? Because people who dressed up have already drunk the Kool-Aid. They are invested and ready to be a part of the show. People who aren't in costume are new. They need to be shown the wonder that is Renaissance Faire so they keep coming back.

Also, every Faire has its own culture when it comes to costumes. Some are more historical, others tend towards Fantasy, while still more look like Tortuga from Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean. If it's your first time going to a new Faire, its often more fun to go in street clothes and buy something fun that you like there. Plus, you'll be supporting local small business owners, which makes you awesome.

2) You WILL Be Outside in the Hot Sun
Many people seem very unprepared for this. Don't be one of them. Wear Sunscreen. Bring a Hat and Sunglasses. Bring a Parasol if you have one. BRING WATER! Pretty much every Faire will let you bring in water, and most will also let you bring in snacks or food, especially if you have special dietary requirements. Remember to listen to your body, and go sit down if you feel tired or very hot. The stage shows are fun and free!

3) Bring Cash
Many vendors accept credit cards, however I have never seen a Food Vendor or Ale Stand that did. There are usually mobile ATMs, but they charge as much as $5 per transaction. Plus, a lot of vendors will drop the tax or give you a discount if you pay them cash. Don't bring more than you can afford to spend, but for a first-time couple, I recommend at least $100.

4) Ask Questions
Most of the people who do Renaissance Faire do so because they love creating a part of history. Ask the woman at the spinning wheel about her yarn. Ask the glassblower about his sculptures. Ask the Food Vendor what's in his meat pies. Renaissance Faire is one of the biggest collections of Historians and Artisans in the world. You'd be amazed what you can learn.

5) Have a Beer
If you're able to, have something from the Ale Stand (they often serve Cider and Wine, too). Again, Renaissance Faire is often home to specially crafted microbrews that you can't get anywhere else. Don't overdo it, though, especially on your first day. I recommend drinking one glass of water after each alcoholic beverage. 

6) Prices are High
One of the most common comments I get from newbies is shock at how expensive many of the items for sale are. Remember that much of what you see is handmade, quite often by the people selling it. In addition to covering the costs of materials, which are often locally sourced and high quality, they also have to pay for the labor to create it, the packaging, and most Faires charge a booth fee AND a percentage of sales to each merchant that attends. The food you see is typically prepared from scratch on site, often made to order. If you're really questioning a price, ask the merchant about the item, you might find out something amazing about it.

7) Wear Comfortable Shoes
I can't tell you how many unfortunate ladies I've seen proudly prancing in their platforms at 10am who are miserable and ready to go home by 2pm. There are rocks, there is dirt, there is grass, and there's often hills and uneven terrain. Don't be a hero. Wear comfy shoes.

8) Some of the Shows are Not Kid-Friendly
If you have kids with you, be warned that some of the shows are on the naughty side. If you're unsure whether a show is safe for your kids, most performers will be happy to tell you if you ask them. If your kids are particularly sensitive or have special needs, it might be a good idea to take an adults-only trip first to see if it's something they can handle.

9) Be Aware
There are jousters, parades, mounted riders, jugglers, fire-eaters, musicians and hundreds of other performers that can injure you or can become seriously injured by a collision. Get out of the way of parades and keep clear of stages and performance areas.

10) It's An Interactive Show
Many participants will try to include you in their games, their shows, or their "lives" at the Faire. You are free to play along, but you are also free to politely decline, and you are ALWAYS free to set boundaries. We want you to have fun and play, not be embarrassed and uncomfortable.

And now for the bad news....

First Time "Don'ts"...

-Don't touch anyone anywhere unless you're invited to.
There's a lot of cleavage and a lot of sexual innuendo, but we are not Sex Workers and you may not treat us as such.

-Don't touch anyone's weapons without being invited. Many of the weapons are museum quality replicas, and still more are functional tools that are well oiled, sharp, and dangerous. This should also be expanded to include instruments, tools, and animals.

-Don't let your kids wander off. At least not on your first visit. We will protect wandering kids as best we can, but there are lots of ways for them to get injured if they're left unattended.

But the biggest and most important piece of advice I can give a first-time Faire-Goer: Have Fun. For those of us who have been doing Faire a while, this is our playground, and we can't wait to share it with you.