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Elon students generally environmentally aware; University promotes awareness through Earth Week events

April 17, 2009

Jessica Dexheimer

April 17, 2009

As Elon University continues to promote its green initiative, students are taking notice.

In an informal convenience poll of 132 Elon students, 90 percent said that they consider themselves to be environmentally aware. Sixty-four percent said that the university has played a major role in their level of environmental awareness.

“I’m a biology major, so obviously it’s a big issue in a lot of my coursework,” said senior Scott Russell. “I think other students are becoming more aware, especially when it comes to the small things like recycling and turning off the lights.” 

Freshman Britta Winans said that she often walks to class to save gas and she also recycles. She credits these practices to lessons learned from some of her Elon professors.

“Because of my global studies classes at Elon, I’ve realized that humans making more of an impact will ultimately impact our whole world for the better,” she said.

Junior Nicole Bonine echoed these sentiments. 

“I think that it’s important to sustain the habits of animals that have no voice in the destruction that we are causing,” she said. 

Actions for a greener future

The majority of students polled take some sort of action to protect the environment.

Of the 82 percent of students who said that they do make an effort to be greener, the majority (75 percent) said that they did so by recycling. An additional 48 percent said that they tried to save gas by walking more and taking fewer trips by car.

However, some students are less proactive in protecting the environment. The majority of students polled were not concerned with reducing their carbon footprint, and even fewer students took steps to conserve water.

Junior Justin Darby said that he only recycles “when it’s convenient” for him, and generally does so while on campus. Sophomore Alberto Rojas echoed these sentiments by saying that he recycles, but mostly recycles only plastic, although paper and metal recycling receptacles are available across campus.

This week, Elon will be celebrating Earth Day with a week-long series of events, including special meals in on-campus dining locations and a farmer’s market.

                  Steps that Elon students take to protect the environment

(from a random sample of 131 students)

(from a random sample of 131 students)

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New frontiers: Elon plans to launch master’s program in interactive media

April 17, 2009

Jessica L. Dexheimer

April 15, 2009

Elon University will expand upon it’s four existing graduate programs by launching a Masters of Arts in Interactive Media program this summer.

The program is a one-year, full-time program that offers students access to Elon’s cutting-edge communications technology and provides students with the opportunity to travel abroad to work on a complex, multimedia project.

According to the program’s Web site, 36 total students will be admitted in to the program, and both professionals and new graduates are encouraged to apply. But, what exactly is interactive media? 

Ken Calhoun, an associate professor in the School of Communications at Elon, defines interactive media as a two-way system of communications that promotes participation between the audience and the text. Calhoun explains that readers appreciate interactive media as it gives them “choice and control.”

Interactive media is becoming more common, and can be seen in  different types of Web sites, computer games and even some movies. Calhoun says that interactive media is “the must-do for the future of communications,” and therefore, students hoping to break in to the field of communications or journalism could benefit from Elon’s new graduate program.

“I think you can create more options for yourself if you have more skills,” he said to a group of journalism undergrads. “I think it’s important to focus on that one skill … and the more it touches on different types of communications, the more likely you are to find a job.”

 

Click here to hear Calhoun talk about “machinima,” a cutting-edge new trend in interactive media.

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Finding a place to call home: Refugees settle in the N.C. Triad

April 10, 2009

Jessica Dexheimer

April 10, 2009

Fjolla Berisha came of age in a war zone.

She grew up in Kosovo, just outside the capital city of Pristina. Her childhood was comfortable; her father was a businessman and her mother a teacher, and Berisha and her two brothers had many friends in their close-knit neighborhood.

“We had a pretty normal life,” Berisha said. “We were just a normal family, we weren’t very involved with politics or anything like that. We weren’t looking for trouble, but somehow, the worst happened to us.”

In 1996, tensions between Kosovo’s Serbian majority and the Albanian population came to a head. Violence increased, and by 1999, Berisha’s life was forever changed.

“It was so dangerous,” said Berisha, an ethnic Albanian. “The Serbians bombed our neighborhood schools. It did not matter to them about the lives of the teachers, the students inside. They would kill the boys and rape the girls. Every day, it was a danger to leave our house.”

In April 1999, Berisha’s family escaped to Macedonia. Here, they settled in a United Nations-run refugee camp.

Fjolla (rear) lived with her family in a refugee camp in Macedonia for two months before being accepted as a refugee in the United States.

Fjolla (rear) lived with her family in a refugee camp in Macedonia for two months before being accepted as a refugee in the United States.

 

 

“The living conditions were horrible,” said Berisha. “They had started these programs where you signed up and said you wanted to go to a safe country and find a home. We signed up.”

After two months in the refugee camp, Berisha’s family found out that they had been granted refugee status and were being resettled in the United States.

“We had no idea what was going on,” Berisha said. “We were told we were going to America, and that was pretty much it. We felt lost, but we thought anything could be better than the camp.”

On June 24, 1999, the Berisha family arrived at the Raleigh-Durham airport in their new home of North Carolina.

Coming to America

The Berisha family is not alone.  Every year, thousands of refugees are admitted to the United States: in 2007, 54,942 refugees entered the country and approximately 4 percent were resettled in North Carolina. The majority of these refugees are placed in Buncombe, Craven, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Wake counties where they receive help in starting their new lives. refugeedefinition

“Whenever a refugee comes to the United States – or any developed host country, really – they obviously need help assimilating,” explained Miriam Kessel, a case manager at the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants field office in Raleigh. “That’s why VOLAGs are so important, they help immensely in those first few weeks.”

The term “VOLAG” refers to ten United States voluntary agencies that work with the State Department to provide resettlement services for newly arrived refugees.

The North Carolina Division of Social Services currently recognizes five VOLAGs in North Carolina: Catholic Social Services, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Interfaith Refugee Ministry, Lutheran Family Services and World Relief Refugee Services.

refugeegraphThese agencies rely on self-generated income and funding from the State Department to provide refugees with crucial services, including cash assistance, food stamps, Medicaid, transportation, job preparation and social adjustment services. They also pay for three to six months of rent and utility bills for each family.

“The ultimate goal is to help these refugees become self-sufficient as quickly as possible,” said Kessel. “They are guaranteed assistance for six months following arrival, and ideally, by that time they will be able to navigate the American culture and can provide for themselves and their families.”

‘You might as well do a good job.’

Although all the agencies are required to provide certain services, the quality of service that they provide varies widely.

Berisha’s family was assisted by World Relief. The High Point-based organization met the family at the airport, and after a brief cultural orientation, showed them to their new home.

“The house looked like it had been in a war,” recalled Berisha. “There was no furniture, holes in the wall. The water only worked sometimes. We were like, ‘give us a tent. Give us tickets and we’ll go back home.’ We were refugees, but we deserved better than that.”quote2

After two weeks, World Relief found a church in Burlington that was willing to host the family. After the family moved to Burlington, they had no follow-up contact with World Relief.

Berisha thinks that the VOLAG could have done more.

“I do hear cases where some people had everything ready when they came,” she said. “But for us, they didn’t have it ready. We were already depressed and lost, and having to come here to where nothing was prepared, it was really bad. If you’re going to take on the responsibility of helping people like us, you might as well do a good job.”

Jassem Altaie, a 24-year-old Iraqi refugee, had a more positive experience with the VOLAG that helped him and his family.

When Altaie arrived in North Carolina in June of 2008, he was aided by Lutheran Family Services (LFS), a VOLAG from Greensboro.

Altaie’s family left Iraq in 2006 after his father, a translator who worked with the United States military, was shot six times by an anonymous gunman.  Fearing for their own safety, Altaie, his mother and grandmother escaped to Jordan, where they lived until they were resettled in the United States in 2008.

“The way we lived in Jordan was not desirable,” he said. “The Jordanians were not exactly welcoming. We couldn’t work. We had no money. We lived with another family in an apartment with only two rooms. So, when we came to Greensboro, life was good.”

In Greensboro, LFS placed the family in a modest townhouse and helped Altaie enroll at Guilford Technical Community College.

“It seemed as if everyone from LFS wanted us to succeed,” he said. “They have things that they are required to do for every refugee, but they did more than that. They did everything to make us feel welcome and happy with our new lives.”

Tara Greenlee, Altaie’s case manager, said that all VOLAGs are similar in the services that they provide for refugees, but the quality of services is dependent on the individual’s case manager.

 “Honestly, we receive the same amount of funding as any other organization in North Carolina, and we provide the same services,” she said. “It is more of an issue of the individual case manager, if they are overworked or if they have time to devote to each refugee.”

Some refugees who come to the United States are ‘sponsored’ by friends or family members who already live in the country.

Alee Lwamba Saltzmann, 38, a Rwandan refugee, arrived in United States in 1997 and lived with her uncle’s family in Winston-Salem until she saved enough money to support herself.

In cases such as Saltzmann’s, Kessel said that the state has “minimal intervention” with the refugee and provides only the most basic financial and medical services and asks the anchor families to help orient the new arrival.

Balancing both cultures

Refugees are forced to adapt to a new culture immediately upon arriving in the country.

“If you’ve ever been in an airport, imagine getting out of that airport without being able to read any of the signs or ask anyone for help,” said Bonnie Harvey, an Elon University senior who has volunteered extensively with refugees for six years. “If not knowing the language is bad enough, imagine being surrounded by all sorts of foreign technology. That’s exactly what refugees go through when they first arrive in the States, and some of them have the added dilemma of not knowing basic concepts of how to wait in line or respect personal space.”

 Harvey added that she once worked with a group of refugees that was lost in an Atlanta airport for more than eight hours.

However, the problems that refugees face do not end at the airport. Although some refugees learned English in school or through aid workers at the refugee camps, far more need help learning basic English phrases.

Altaie was fluent in English before arriving to the United States, but neither Saltzmann nor Berisha spoke the language and had to rely on innovative ways to learn it. Both women said that they watched hours of American television and would listen in on conversations between native American speakers.

Saltzmann used creative ways to learn the language.

“In Rwanda, we spoke Bantu [tribal] languages but I also spoke French,” she explained. “They don’t make dictionaries to translate Bantu to English, but they do make French to English dictionaries. So, I bought the English lessons that they make for French children and taught myself the language through that way.”

She said that within six months she was fluent; Berisha said that she was fluent after four months.

Once refugees master the English language, they must focus on assimilating with the American culture.

“The littlest things can make you stand out,” said Altaie. “I remember how when I first arrived, I tried to imitate the American men that I saw in movies and on television – loud and always joking and flirting. It was obvious that I was trying to be something I wasn’t and that made me stand out more.”

Greenlee said that most VOLAGs offer classes designed to help refugees fit in with the American culture. The classes cover a variety of topics including personal hygiene, American slang and making social plans.

However, some refugees are hesitant to participate in the classes.

Altaie said that his mother and grandmother have not taken any of the classes provided by LFS.

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“You have to understand that refugees walk with one foot in two cultures,” he said. “We have to deal with fitting in in American culture because we have to, but we still want to remain true to the country where we were raised … We left because we had to, not because we no longer cared for our homeland.”

 Working hard for a new life

Before arriving in the United States, refugees are extensively screened by the Department of Homeland Security and are eligible to work immediately upon arrival. Within two weeks, they are given Social Security cards and any necessary vaccinations and are encouraged to start looking for jobs soon after.

Each VOLAG assists the refugee with securing a job and provides pre-employment training. According to the N.C. Division of Social Services, working refugees start with an average hourly wage of $8.29. 

For some, any employment is welcome.

“When I first arrived in Winston-Salem, I was definitely suffering from what you might call post traumatic stress disorder,” said Saltzmann, who lived in a refugee camp in Zaire for three years before moving to the United States. “All day long, I would sit in my uncle’s house and think about horrible things that happened in Rwanda. I felt sorry for myself. When I started to work [in a nursing home cafeteria], the work was easy and I was able to think of other things. I was able to forget for a little while.”

For others, menial labor for little more than minimum wage was accompanied by an unwelcome decrease in status. It can also be a new experience for women and teenagers who would not have been allowed to work in their home countries.

“For my parents, [the resettlement experience] was an absolute horror,” said Berisha. “It was very, very challenging. You have to understand that they were both educated and successful in Kosovo, but in America, they were working bad jobs and not getting respect.”

In Kosovo, Berisha’s parents had both worked; her mother as a teacher at a prestigious private school and her father as a successful businessman. In the United States, their first jobs were as cashiers at a convenience store and a gas station, respectively.

“It was difficult for them because they had literally spent their whole lives in Kosovo working hard to get educations and further their careers, and all that was wasted in a dead-end job,” Berisha said. “The worst part was the lack of respect from customers and co-workers. They thought, here are these people who don’t speak English, working in a gas station, they must not be very smart.”

Harvey said that in her experience, VOLAGs try to place refugees in jobs for which they are qualified. Sometimes, refugees have little formal education but may be skilled in a trade like sewing, woodworking or cosmetology. Ideally, caseworkers try to capitalize on these skills and build a career, but they often run in to the problem of a lack of funds.

services“Basically, the refugees have the skills but not the money to buy a sewing machine or open a shop or whatever,” explained Harvey. “So, it’s back to some low paying, dead end job.”

However, plenty of refugees are able to build careers. Saltzmann makes an admirable salary as a high school French teacher; Altaie hopes to succeed with his anticipated degree in Computer Information Systems.

Learning to succeed

As caseworkers help adult refugees to find jobs, they also place the children in schools.

Public schools present students with a new world, new opportunities but also new challenges.

Grade level is determined by age, not by test scores, and as Harvey explained, this can lead to “16-year-olds in high school who cannot read or write at all.”

Harvey works at a Greensboro community center that is sponsored by AmeriCorps and the North Carolina African Services Coalition. Here, she works with refugee youth and plans after-school programs, tutoring sessions and reading workshops. She said that these services are especially crucial in cities and other areas where overworked teachers do not have the time or resources to spend in assisting struggling refugee students.

Far too often, a student’s academic struggles lead to emotional struggles.

“In Kosovo, I was happy, I had friends and I actually liked going to school,” recalls Berisha. “When I started seventh grade [in Burlington], I was lost and depressed. I didn’t connect with any of the kids and I didn’t understand most of the things people said to me.”

Harvey acknowledged that all students react to stress differently, but said that she has noticed general trends in the behavior of refugee youth.

“Normally, they’re the quiet kid in the back of the classroom who is doing their best not to get noticed,” she said. “Occasionally, we do see refugee youth who act out. They won’t calm down in class, or in worst case scenarios, they’re violent towards other kids.”

For the most part, though, Harvey said that most students seem eager to learn and participate. 

Altaie, for one, was grateful for the educational opportunities.

“What happened to us in Iraq was awful,” he said. “But I am happy that it brought me here to the United States, to all this great technology and teachers that I could never have had back home.”

Trying times

The recent economic slump has led to even more struggles for refugees.

Many job prospects have vanished, and funding for VOLAGs and other support groups has slowed.

Although Greenlee could offer no specific figures on how much the economy has affected the budget for LFS, she estimated that the organization is currently operating on a budget that is 20 percent less than that of previous years. She said that she thinks this decrease has been standard for most VOLAGs.

Omer Omer, the director of the North Carolina African Services Coalition, a Greensboro-based organization that aids in the resettlement process, said via email that the economy is “by far the biggest problem that refugees will face in 2009.”

He said that the poor economy has led not only to a decrease in jobs but also a decrease in the amount of medical and cash assistance that the government has to offer. He also noted that the poor economy might also lead to a decrease in the number of refugees who are admitted to the country.

Saltzmann, for one, has remained optimistic.

“Of course this year will be difficult for many refugee organizations,” she said. “But keep in mind, most of us refugees come from countries with very little … We have already survived the worst things the world threw at us, we can make it through this just fine.”

 

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Senior human services majors host HIV/AIDS awareness events

April 9, 2009

Jessica Dexheimer

April 8, 2009

Students from Dr. Cynthia Fair’s Human Services senior seminar course hosted an HIV/AIDS awareness event called ‘No Glove, No Love’ at West End Station bar in Elon, N.C. on Tuesday night.red_ribbon1

Members of the Elon University community paid a $3 cover charge to enter the event, and were given free condoms, flyers with information about safe sex, condom-shaped stickers emblazoned with the logo ‘Just Wear It’ and red ribbons to show support of the anti-HIV/AIDS movement.

The funds raised from the cover charge and all donations were donated to Alamance Cares, a local HIV/AIDS awareness organization.

Amy Gatto, a student from the human services class that organized the event, said that the total amount of money raised has not been counted, but they expected to make a large donation to Alamance Cares.

“The turn out was amazing,” she said. “We’re going to be able to make a much larger donation than we initially anticipated, which is great. We’re also really happy that we were able to educate Elon students about safe sex and not discriminating against people who do have HIV or AIDS.”

The human services class will also offer free HIV testing in Moseley Center today.

Update: More than 100 students were tested for HIV yesterday. All students were provided with information on how to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

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“Not on our watch:” Activist John Prendergast speaks at Elon about Darfur genocide

March 6, 2009

Jessica Dexheimer

March 6

On Wednesday, Elon students were called to action.

Human-rights activist and author John Prendergast spoke in Whitley auditorium and urged members of the Elon community to take action to stop violence in Darfur.

During the Clinton administration, Prendergast was the director of African Affairs at the National Security Council and special advisor for the Department of State. It was in this capacity that he became involved with the human rights crisis in Darfur.

To give a face to the genocide in Darfur, Prendergast told the story of Amina, a young mother from a rural village in Darfur. When the Janjaweed militia came in to Amina’s town, she tried to flee. The militiamen brutally killed two of Amina’s children, but she and two of her other children managed to escape to a refugee camp.

 

During the Clinton administration, John Prendergast worked as the director of African Affairs at the National Security Council and as a special advisor for the Department of State.

During the Clinton administration, John Prendergast worked as the director of African Affairs at the National Security Council and as a special advisor for the Department of State.

However, what happened to Amina was not an isolated incident. Prendergast estimated that the Janjaweed have killed at least 300,000 Sudanese, burned 1,500 villages and left three million people homeless. The militia targets non-Arabs from the Fur, Massaleet and Zagwa ethnic groups.

 

“This isn’t to divide and conquer, this is to divide and destroy,” Prendergast said of the Janjaweeds. “They do it to stay in power, by any means necessary.”

Barriers to aid

Prendergast said that the outside world has not done enough to alleviate the violence in Darfur.

He said that Sudan represents the “three greatest issues of our time: Iraq, counter-terrorism and energy security.”

Osama bin Laden lived in Sudan for six years in the 1990s. After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the Sudanese government gained favor in America by sharing secrets about al Qaeda’s inner-workings. Sudan is also oil-rich – 70 percent of China’s oil comes from Sudan.

“Another factor is America believes Africa is helpless,” Prendergast said, attributing this in part to movies like “Blood Diamond,” “Lord of War,” “The Last King of Scotland” and “Hotel Rwanda.”

“[The movies] show a moment in time, but it happens to be the darkest moment in that country’s history,” Prendergast said. The movies do not show the economic and political advancements that the countries have since made.

“The point is, Africa is not hopeless,” Prendergast said. “Africa is a continent full of hope and limitless possibilities. That is the Africa I know.”

A call to action

Even though Prendergast believes that the major world powers have not done enough to help Darfur, he has not given up hope.

“I believe it’s darkest before the dawn, and I believe Sudan’s dawn is coming,” he said. “We can help the dawn come more quickly.”

Prendergast offered five “windows of opportunity” that he believes will lead to a difference in Sudan.

The first is the election of President Barack Obama,whom Prendergast believes will champion for human rights reform.

“We now have supplanted the three biggest activists from the Senate into the White House: Obama, Biden and Clinton,” Prendergast said.

He is also looking forward to the upcoming Sudanese elections, hoping that they could bring some change to the tumultuous region.

Prendergast also says that the United States should urge China to cut economic ties with Sudan, and hopes that this economic pressure could force the Sudanese government to denounce the Janjaweed militia.

On Wednesday morning, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Omar Al-Bashir, Sudan’s head-of-state. Prendergast compared this to the Nuremberg trials, and hopes that it is the beginning of a major change for Darfur.

“The fifth, final window is you, all of us in this room,” Prendergast said. “That could be the biggest game-changer in the world.”

He urged audience members to become involved with the anti-genocide movement by contacting Congress, the White House, and the local media, or just by relying on their own talents.

“The key is to see what kind of contribution you can make to the anti-genocide movement, and just do it,” he said. He recounted the story of one activist who planned a charitable poker tournament that raised more than $750,000 to donate to those affected by the conflict.

The easiest contribution that any individual can make, Prendergast said, is simply creating awareness about the conflict.

“If we make enough noise, we have a chance to make a difference,” he said. “We need to raise our voices as loudly as we can and say, ‘not on our watch!’”

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Snowstorm means no school for Elon University students

March 3, 2009

Jessica Dexheimer

March 2, 2009

Students at Elon University (N.C.) awoke Monday to find the campus covered in snow.

The snowstorm began around 8 p.m. Sunday, and overnight, nearly 4 inches of snow accumulated. According to The National Weather Service, the Raleigh (N.C.) area has only experienced March snowstorms of more than three inches 11 times in 122 years.

Most of main campus was still unplowed as of 9 a.m.

Most of main campus was still unplowed as of 9 a.m. (Photo by Jessi Dexheimer)

 

Originally, the University planned to operate on a 4-hour delayed schedule, but by 9 a.m., administrators made the decision to cancel classes altogether.

However, the snow day was not as relaxing as some students had hoped. The storm caused power outages in many dormitories and off-campus apartments, and students seeking heat were advised to go to Moseley Campus Center or Danieley Commons. Duke Energy estimated that 4,145 Alamance County residents experienced a power outage.

“Most students were excited because the snow day gave them a chance to sleep in,” said Amy Schilling, a senior who lost power in her West End apartment. “But not for me, I was up early just trying to find enough clothes and blankets so I could stay warm.”

By mid-afternoon, the snow and ice had melted significantly. (Photo by Leila Wall)

By mid-afternoon, the snow and ice had melted significantly. (Photo by Leila Wall)

Power was restored on-campus by 10 a.m., and power was restored to most Alamance County residents by 11:30 a.m. 

Many students opted to use the day off to have fun, building snowmen and igloos and having snowball fights.

However, the fun seems to be short-lived, as The National Weather Service expects temperatures to reach 68 degrees by the week’s end.

Sarah Delphias, 3, makes a snow angel in the snow at Elon Intramural Fields.

Sarah Delphias, 3, makes a snow angel at the Elon Intramural Fields.

Update: Elon University has announced that classes will be held as scheduled on Tuesdsay, March 3. Alamance County Public Schools will open two hours late.

Update: The Alamance County School System has announced that students will attend classes on Saturday, March 7 to make up for the snow day Monday. Classes will begin at the regularly scheduled time, but will be dismissed 2 hours early.

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Club field hockey starts spring season with doubleheader

February 22, 2009

Jessica Dexheimer                                                                                                             Feb. 22, 2009

Elon University‘s club field hockey team kicked off the spring season with a doubleheader against Davidson College and the University of North Carolina-Wilmington on Feb. 22.

Elon sophomore Libby Dean keeps the ball from Davidson.

Elon sophomore Libby Dean keeps the ball from Davidson. (Photos by Jessica Dexheimer)

The Elon Phoenix soared over the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks with a 2-0 win, but later lost to the Davidson Wildcats with a score of 2-1.  

Because several of Davidson’s players were unable to attend the game, both teams were forced to play only eight players at a time, instead of the usual 11.

The game marked the beginning of Elon’s spring season, which will continue March 1 at High Point University.

“Our double-header was a great kick-off to spring season,” said Elon senior Molly Donahue. “We only had two weeks to practice, but we played great. Our girls had good stick skills and communicated really well. I’m excited to see what we can do with more time and practice.” 

Elon freshman Katherine Mantz dribbles the ball down Firehouse Field.

Elon freshman Katherine Mantz dribbles the ball down Firehouse Field.