For the last couple of weeks, my English 111 class (with Professor Corey Dressel) has been studying about the conflict in South Sudan and all of its hundred thousands of victims. Many victims are young boys, who’ve become known as Lost Boys. Three of these Lost Boys wrote a book called They Poured Fire on us From the Sky, and reading it taught me a lot about the troubles and hardships these people went through and what they are still going through.
For those of you who don’t know, North and South Sudan have been in conflict since 1983—it’s a civil war of epic proportions. North Islamic leaders tried to convert all of Sudan to Islam. War broke out and many were killed. Those left behind were mostly young boys who had no one to take care of them and no where to go. Of course, since the conflict started when these boys were just children now many, like the three authors of the book, are in their 20s and 30s.
Our final project for the highly engaging reading was to come up with non-profit organizations. Now, these organizations are not real, but have all the necessary writing components to explain what that non-profit would do.
My non-profit would send new and used soccer balls to the Bredjing refugee camp. When I was little, I played on a soccer team in my hometown. I loved it and was actually really good at it, so when I learned that the boys in the refugee camps also liked soccer I knew I wanted to do something to support that shared passion. In They Poured Fire on us From the Sky, the boys at the refugee camps loved the game because it gave them a chance to escape the horrors they had witnessed. But they don’t have the kind of equipment that we do. Their soccer balls are just bound-up pieces of fabric.
Our class had to go through extensive research to find out all the information needed to get these non-profits off the ground. I had to do research on the effects of war on children and ways to help them cope. I found that children are at a higher risk for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than adults. The children in Sudan who somehow survived months of walking to find safety have seen much more death and traumatic events than most of our own troops.
These children have had their lives uprooted. Everything they had and everyone they knew was gone in a matter of seconds. They took with them only what they had on them and ran for their lives. Of course, a child with nothing would be ecstatic to have any semblance of normalcy—that includes playing like the kids they are, so I thought that real soccer balls would be a way to brighten their lives.
The assignment was to teach us how to write reports for a business and to bring awareness to a huge issue in our world. It accomplished this, but also made me and everyone else in the class see how much one person can do to help. The conflict and resulting social problems are still really bad and even with all the efforts made, people are still dying from diseases and illnesses. The people in these refugee camps deserve basic human rights we all take for granted.
A single person can make a difference, even if its just bringing awareness to others. You can learn more about the conflict in Sudan by watching this video that I saw in class:
The Trans* Day of Remembrance happens every year on November 20. It is a day to not only mourn and remember the loss of the hundreds of Trans* and gender non-conforming people who have been murdered or taken their own lives due to the hatred and violence they face every day, but to also celebrate them and their lives. This year, Full Spectrum: Winona State University’s Gender & Sexuality Alliance held a several events to honor this day including a viewing of Laverne Cox’s documentary “The T Word” about the lives of trans* youth, a cis-gender privilege/trans* education workshop and the traditional candlelight vigil. This was my second time participating in the vigil and each time is just as powerful. Thinking about innocent people who lost their lives simply because they wanted to live in a way that was 100% true to themselves brings both sadness and a fire inside that urges me to do something about it.
One way I was able to take action was running the workshop and introducing people to Preferred Gender Pronouns (PGPs) and the Trans* and gender non-conforming community through the use of the genderbread person. PGPs can include he/him/his and she/her/hers, which are the ones that most people know, but can also include they/them/them/theirs, ze/zir and many others. The genderbread provides us with information about the four aspects that help make up a person’s identity:
After this quick introduction to the trans* community, we launched into a discussion about cisgender privilege. For those of you are unfamiliar with the term “cisgender,” it refers people whose gender identity aligns with the gender and sex they were assigned at birth. For instance, I identify as cisgender male because I was born with male anatomy and have always thought of myself as male. The discussion about privilege covered of a lot of different points including using bathrooms and school locker rooms. It was crazy for many of us there to realize how simply going to the bathroom can be an experience that most of us experience privilege in every day of our lives. For trans* people going into the bathroom you were assigned at sex, or the one you identify with can result in harassment and for gender non-conforming people, they are simply not included in the discussion. The fact that our conversation consisted mostly of something as simple as having to use the restroom tells us the seriousness of the issue and how much work we have to do in order to create equal establishments and opportunities for trans* and gender non-conforming people.
As I said earlier, I identify myself as cisgender male, and I take this status very seriously. Why? Because I know the privileges I have and I want to remind myself and other people of those privileges. For example, I can:
This list could go on and on. That is why I don’t just identify as male, because I would be ignoring those privileges that I am granted. When talking to other people, I try not to assume anything and ask for preferred gender pronouns. This is extremely important because I know people who get seriously hurt and offended when someone mis-genders them, and they have a right to get offended. There is more to PGPs than simply a word – they carry weight and they matter because they define a person and the world we all live in. If someone gives you their PGPs, it is your job to respect that person and use the pronouns they ask you to.
The events that Full Spectrum held were extremely successful and we were able to reach about 30-40 different members of the Winona community and to educate them about the issue at hand – trans* and gender non-conforming people are losing their lives for no reason at all except that they are trying to be themselves in a world that tells them not to. That might seem like a low turn-out, but every person who attends these events gains knowledge and understanding about a community who is marginalized in most popular culture and mainstream media. And we believe that’s better than doing nothing.
The thing that I personally want people to know about the trans* and gender non-conforming community is that these individuals just want to do able to live as the rest of us do– without fear, without resentment and without violence. Nothing about them is in any way harming our cisgender existence or changing the way we live our cisgender lives–except to extend to them the same respect and safety we receive.
I was honored to be a part of the Full Spectrum team with these events and so thankful to all of those who helped us put it together. These things are important and we need to start bringing them into focus so that we can deal with them. Now is the time for active change.
The practice of knitting has been around for thousands of years and knitting used to be a skill handed down from mothers to daughters. Then in the 80s and 90s, people started pulling away from knitting as a symbol of old-fashioned domesticity. Now in the 21st century, more and more people are picking knitting up as a hobby. I myself knit and so do many of my friends. In fact, there are enough knitters on campus that we’ve formed our own club, is also a Knitting Club on campus now.
The cool thing about the Knitting Club is that the members don’t just knit for themselves, they knit for others. Knitting needles and yarn are provided by the group and whatever they make–often hats, scarves and gloves–they donate to children or people in need. To them, knitting is fun so why not do something you really enjoy and then donate it to someone else.
The Knitting Club meets up with another local club called Knitting for Others at Yarnology on the first Saturday of the month. For several hours, they happily knit away and at the end they donate all of the completed items to Kids First, area hospitals, nursing homes, homeless shelters and sometimes to other countries such as Tanzania and Morocco. Unfortunately, I usually have to work on Saturdays, but one of these months I would love to be able to go with them just to watch how it all happens to see what everyone else has made.
It really is an amazing thing to do. These people in these clubs are going above and beyond what is expected of them. The items that they make can help so many people and provide warmth for those who do not have it. You can get involved with this effort as well, by joining the Knitting Club Facebook page. Here, they post when the meetings are going to take place and you can also message anyone on that page to ask for details!
“Do you know about this year’s midterm election?” “Would you like to register to vote?” “Have you considered who you’re voting for this year?”
These are just a few questions from my door-knocking script. That’s right. I’m one of those people, knocking on your dorm room door when you’re just trying to enjoy leftover pizza and watch Grey’s Anatomy.
I apologize for my intrusion, but despite having loud mouths and big opinions on hot topic issues like abortion, gay marriage and student loans the so-called “youth vote” is weaker than ever. Less than 50% of eligible youth voters actually show up to vote. It’s up to volunteers like myself to get students hyped about this year’s upcoming election.
Volunteering for Winona’s Democratic-Farmers-Labor (DFL) party was one of the best decisions I’ve made since I started school at WSU this past August. Through the volunteer program I’ve met a lot of likeminded people that share the same views I do and made some really great friends. Activities the volunteer program offer consist of going door to door asking people to register and helping them find their polling place, calling people to remind them of the upcoming election day, handing out flyers to students on campus, and helping set up for big events like the “Get out and Vote” bus tour. I was even given the opportunity to meet a few of the politicians running this year like Steve Simon and Gene Pelowski.
If you’re not from Minnesota or don’t know much about Minnesota politics, volunteering is a great way to find out more about the different politicians and policies. In fact, even if you’re from out of state you are still eligible to vote in Minnesota’s midterm and presidential election. I came to Winona from a small town in Illinois, but after just two months of volunteering I like to think I’m pretty savvy with MnSCU jargon and politicians running in this year’s election.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the course of volunteering is the importance of a vote. While in presidential elect years nearly everyone turns out to vote, midterms are often overlooked. But think about it for minute–how can the president you helped put in office do anything without a cooperative congress? It’s easy to vote for the president. There are endless ads and almost every history class you take will be talking about it at the time of the election. Midterm elections are just as important as presidential elections, but are not taken as seriously by voters. This needs to change.
Regardless of party lines, everyone should get educated and vote. As a citizen it’s your right to vote and it’s a right we’re very lucky to have. If you don’t like the way your student loans work, if you want more or less government involvement at a state level, if you think there should be more emphasis on equality rights, I’ve got great news! You get in a say in it this Tuesday. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t register. If you show up to your polling place (PDF) with a valid ID, you can vote.
Please, take the time out of your Tuesday this week to vote. No party has this election ‘in the bag’ there’s no sure fire winner. Everything is close and everything is up in the air. Your voice matters and here is your chance to have it heard.
Hope to see you at the polls on Tuesday!
It’s about two months into my freshman year of college and one of the biggest things I’ve learned so far is that being as involved as possible at school is incredibly beneficial. Not only does it help you meet new people, it also helps you in the long-run as you build up your resume.Extracurricular sports and clubs are always a good idea, as well as eventually finding some sort of job whether on or off campus. But volunteering has a special significance and value all its own because you are helping others.
For me personally, I didn’t get a lot of job experience in high school, but I was involved in volunteering and this sticks out on my resume. If you can time can be found in your busy schedules during the week, or even a day on the weekend, you can change someone else’s life by just setting aside a few hours of your time.
Volunteer opportunities can be found all over campus. A great place to start is simply the Improving Our World – Winona State University Facebook page. This page is constantly posting information about service opportunities on and off campus. Just scroll through and you will find countless causes that need volunteers. Some of these causes are Winona-based such as the Sauer Health Care and the Winona County Historical Society and these are more casual and less of a commitment. But others need volunteers to travel around the world such as the International Volunteer Abroad Programs for Students. IVS would be an amazing life-changing opportunity for students interested in traveling abroad and you could potentially even get academic credit for it too. If you go on a service-based travel study through WSU you will defintiely receive academic credit. For example my Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies teacher offers a trip during the summer to the Virgin Islands where you can do volunteer work on the islands and take a class as at the same time.
Another tip for finding places to volunteer is to pay attention to posters and fliers in your residence halls and academic buildings. These colorful papers hanging in the common areas of offer so many different things for students to do. This is where I saw the information to join Hall Council and the Residence Housing Association of WSU. RHA is a group on campus and it is fantastic to put on resumes, to meet new people, and to work with a group of people to help with events and socials to make campus life the best it can possibly be for students. It has been one of the best choices I have made this year so far, and I found the information for it simply by looking at a poster by the Sheehan elevator and talking to my RA. RAs are another great resource to help you get involved with volunteering as well because they have been at the university longer and have more connections than we freshmen do.
These are just a few different ways to find volunteer opportunities. The internet is always a great source, but you don’t even have to search that hard if you pay attention next time you walk through the halls of Kryzsko as well. I strongly recommend keeping on the lookout for amazing opportunities throughout the year!