Don’t save the drama: Drama-shaming prevents growth

Cartoon Credit: Jackson Turcotte | The Los Angeles Loyolan

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Don’t save the drama: Drama-shaming prevents growth – The Los Angeles Loyolan.

Ugh, drama. Don’t you hate it? All of a sudden, when you’re not even looking, drama’s just there, lying in wait for you. Festering, brought by a bunch of haters. Haters always bring drama. You’re just trying to party and turn up and turn down and all this drama is getting up in your life, in your mind, in your drink – aw, man, now your drink is haterade. Who likes to drink haterade? Drama queens. Better get rid of that before the drama gets in your system.

One quick question, though: What is drama?

The very idea of drama is hilarious in how much of a silly trifle it is – as if there’s this airborne pollen that somehow drops onto you and ruins your life. Drama is not concrete. It is not some viral plague; you can’t avoid drama by doubling up on your vitamin boost at Jamba Juice. Drama is merely the product of two or more people with differing views on a subject rubbing up against each other. In the scientific world, they call that friction – and that’s probably the best synonym we have for it.

Drama is a poppycock term that has somehow violated our vernacular without anyone bothering to explain what it is. Blame Kim Possible. Or maybe Mary J. Blige. Blame whoever is responsible for drama becoming the enigmatic behemoth we all fear and hope to blame others for – hell, it’s probably all of us at fault. But drama presents a serious problem – a dramatic one, if you will.

Unlike most modern tweens, teens and 20-somethings, scientists don’t roll their eyes and text their friends whenever friction happens. They study it. They evaluate it. They learn from it. I know, this is a ridiculous metaphor, but drama is a silly topic, so it’s deserving of such a bizarre comparison.

Yet as strange as the parallel is, it’s also apt. Why do we, when drama enters our lives, not learn from it? Why do we get so defensive and insist that we don’t create drama, it just finds us? Instead of taking the chance to grow from an experience, we avoid all consequences and seek to blame others for creating an uncomfortable situation. Call it “drama-shaming,” if you will.

The problem with drama-shaming is that it uses a situation where, yes, someone probably acted at the inconvenience of others, and bashes that person with the weight of their action until they find themselves properly chagrined for daring to do so. You also wanted to ask that guy to your date night event? Drama. You disagree as to the best plan for a weekend night? Drama. Your schedule isn’t flexible enough to meet whenever for a group project? Drama, drama, drama. Don’t bring that here, you drama queen.

Instead of wagging our collective finger at someone for creating drama, we can – and should – be able to step back and figure out why there’s a situation in the first place. Is there a compromise not immediately visible? What can we learn from this situation to prevent them in the future? How can we grow as people from this? But hey, that’s hard, I know. Much easier to just shoot out that subtweet. #drama

I myself have talked about drama – at length – with friends and co-workers in the past. But somehow, the people who tell me that they never create drama always find themselves surrounded by it. Those are the people who could most use some self-reflection. As an angsty, closeted teenager, I thought all the world’s drama was finding me and that I was a saint. I wasn’t. I was an angsty, closeted teenager. I had more on my mind than you could imagine. I needed more self-reflection than Justin Timberlake could find in a funhouse.

In no way do I mean to drama-shame-shame with this piece. On the contrary, I absolutely did it myself. Sometimes I still catch myself doing it. But I’m doing my best to grow from the experiences, as I think everyone can – and should.

So the next time you find yourself bemoaning the drama in your life, maybe take a step back and see what’s going on. You might just learn something new. Leave the drama in your theatre class.

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Burning Questions with First Amendment Week Keynote Speaker Jon Lovett

Photo Credit: CAA

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Burning Questions with Jon Lovett – The Los Angeles Loyolan.

1. You’ve done a great deal in your life, and you’ve only just turned 30. What keeps your work ethic so strong?
I’ve had a few really lucky breaks. Getting to work for Hillary [Clinton], getting to work for President Obama, getting to write a TV show for NBC – these were very lucky breaks where I happened to be at the right place, at the right time. Other than that, it was two things: one, trying to be really honest about how much I had to learn and trying to really learn from people around me. … The other part was about knowing when to listen.

2. Is there something you haven’t done yet that you want to do?
I have no idea. I really try not to be a planner. I really try not to think too far ahead. I try to take things as they come. When you think of your life as a series of career choices, I think that’s a mistake. I think it’s much better to take the opportunities as they come … and also be ready to take a chance.

3. What do you think is the most valuable thing you’ve ever done?
I’m really proud of the number of speeches I had the chance to work on in the White House. There were moments where I had the chance to help influence important decisions, that being a speechwriter gave me the chance to make an argument that I’m really proud of. That experience – working at the White House – there’s nothing quite like it. There’s no experience like seeing the president deliver a set of remarks that you helped write and that you’re really proud of. Those were the times I felt like I made a real contribution.

4. What does the First Amendment mean to you personally?
It’s our great defense. It’s our great protection. There are a lot of places that don’t have that. They do have the right to elect their leaders, but they don’t have the same set of protections that we do. The First Amendment is our defender against the people who tell us that our ideas aren’t worth hearing, that our ideas are dangerous or that our religion is dangerous or that what we’re saying about power is dangerous. There have always been times in which really good ideas are considered unacceptable, but we’ve been protected by the fact that we have this amendment that says it doesn’t matter what everybody thinks.

5. What’s your reaction when people protest “First Amendment!” in cases that aren’t governmental, like when “Duck Dynasty”star Phil Robertson was suspended for homophobic comments in a GQ profile?
When people say, ‘Oh, they’re violating First Amendment rights,’ but it’s obviously not a First Amendment issue, it’s an inarticulate way of saying that they don’t like somebody being told not to say something. So obviously, that’s incorrect. There was no actual First Amendment issue in play. … But it is actually an important point. It’s obviously a point being made incorrectly, but it’s a really important point, that the freedom of speech doesn’t begin and end with the government. … In this particular case, what he said was pretty terrible. I understand both sides, and it obviously wasn’t a First Amendment issue. But that conversation playing out, of people having the right to say terrible things, at the same time, a conversation about what you’re saying is unacceptable is sort of how the culture changes. It’s how we decide how we change as a culture. … That’s a good thing.

6. You’ve spoken multiple times about bulls— in our culture. What makes this subject particularly compelling to you?
The culture is nothing new. I think it’s been around for a long time. We’re in this position where it’s almost like it’s been weaponized. Politicians have gotten very good at using that to figure out how to craft their message. Advertising companies have gotten very good at pushing the buttons of consumers. … Also, the Internet and social media and all the different ways we absorb the entertainment information now means that not only have companies gotten better at it, they’ve also gotten everywhere. An advertisement is no longer the back of the paper. It’s on your phone, it’s in your life – we’re surrounded by it. … I just think it’s an interesting time for people to try to tell the truth.

7. You’re really an active Twitter user – do you think having such a public, immediate forum for using our First Amendment right helps the cultural dialogue?
Yes, I do. I think Twitter has a downside. I think thoughts that come quickly aren’t always the best ones. We’ve all said things in conversation that we regret. Twitter is a way of saying things immediately, and that of course has some risk to it. At the same time, I think Twitter has been an incredibly positive force. It’s done really great things for people that didn’t previously have a voice, or a way of connecting with powerful interests that controlled newspapers and TV stations. They have a voice now, and they can reach those people. When there’s an important story, we don’t just read it now – we share it. And that sharing is powerful. People now can argue and debate with each other and make their best case … and, look, obviously, it’s a mess. It’s a big mess. But I think that conversation is really good. A lot of people make fun of Twitter and make fun of social media and say that it’s a bad influence on culture. But it’s amazing how often that comes from people that already have a platform, a way to reach out to people. … There are people who don’t have that. They have a chance to be part of that conversation. I think that it’s without a doubt, even with some negatives, a much better think for the culture.

8. With the 2014 Winter Olympic Games having just started in Sochi, where freedom of speech is not only unprotected, but is also particularly threatened, do you feel like this is a good time to be reflecting on our First Amendment rights?
There’s never a bad time to do that. I think you look at what’s happening, and you see journalistic institutions being shut down in Russia, and then you see all this corruption in the Olympics, and you see the crackdown on people, and you think, well, the freedom of speech is a great protector against corruption. And when you get rid of it, you very often find yourself not just in a country where people don’t have the right to speak – you find yourself in a country that’s fallen apart because there’s nobody holding the government accountable. We’re so lucky that we have this incredible tool of protecting ourselves and keeping our country on the right path.

Exploring the unknown: Divas at the gym

Cartoon Credit: Georgia Henderson | The Los Angeles Loyolan

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan and co-written with Design Director Tyler Barnett. For original, please refer to: Exploring the unknown: Divas in training – The Los Angeles Loyolan.

It takes a brave pair of editors to take the TurboKick class at the Burns Recreation Center after not working out for years. We are not brave editors. We took one look at the class through the window and ran. But fitness is still important, we decided, so we hopped on a cycling machine and tried to work out. This is what we talked about in the process.

Kevin O’Keeffe (KO): Do you feel like the gym is a welcoming environment if you haven’t been working out in a while?

Tyler Barnett (TB): I think so. I’m not uncomfortable.

KO: I think now that there’s not a lot of people, I feel more comfortable. But I feel like if it was really packed in here–

TB: You’d feel less comfortable?

KO: Well, because I don’t really know what I’m doing. I know LMU offers the personal trainers, but I wish they had–

TB: A gym attendant?

KO: How-to instructions, at least. I can use the cardio machines because they’re so self-explanatory, but if you give me the weights? Nope.

TB: This workout is starting to burn.

KO: Yours is intense! What heart rate are you going for?

TB: I didn’t set one.

KO: No, I just mean generally, do you know what heart rate is good? I feel like that’s what a gym attendant would be good for.

TB: Right. “Excuse me, but am I gonna die if I keep doing this at this rate?”

KO: But that’s such a diva question. “Could we get a gym attendant in here?”

TB: “Do you have any SmartWater?”

After approximately 10 minutes on the cycles, we were already bored. We moved to another cardio machine, where Tyler confessed she was inspired to work out more.

TB: Seeing people I know, I’m like, “Well, what’s my excuse?” They’re up in here, working out, caring about themselves. Not that I don’t care, but I just always say I don’t have time.

KO: That’s my excuse, too, and I’m thinking about my week, about when I would come. I think the hardest thing is that there’s not one particular time I would come regularly. I could probably find little spots of time here and there, but I feel like one of the big parts of the gym is that you’ve got to make it routine.

TB: Yeah, once a week is progress, but I feel like at least two or three would make sense.

KO: What does it say that the people on TV are doing more athletic activity than we are?

TB: A lot. Where is this?

KO: Glendora. Oh, it’s a flash mob! Would you ever do a flash mob?

TB: We were trying to do one in high school. I don’t know. I feel like those are out.

After less than half an hour of mildly half-hearted cardio, we left, pledging to come back more prepared next time – even if we’ve never quite been able to make the commitment in the past.

KO: I have never seen fitness as required. I’ve seen it as nice, but not necessary. And as I’ve grown older, it’s become more necessary to be fit.

TB: I’m a really healthy eater, so if I don’t work out, I’m not gonna have high cholesterol or whatever. But it would be nice to be a fit person, and to prove to myself that I can do it and can keep with it.

KO: The whole theme of it is that it’s personal pride. If you’re looking at the fit student body and constantly compare yourselves to those people, it’s not really healthy.

TB: It’s not, because you’re not working out for yourself. You’re working out for others.

KO: And the best habits are self-motivated.

TB: Absolutely. Because you don’t know that person. They can come from a family of athletes. So you can’t compare yourselves to them. It has to come from yourself. And for me, I want Kelly Rowland legs.

KO: And I want a Beyoncé body.

Adjunct faculty aim for union

Graphic Credit: Kevin O’Keeffe | The Los Angeles Loyolan

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Adjunct faculty aim for union – The Los Angeles Loyolan.

Chiara Sulprizio, a visiting professor at LMU, adopted a baby in March. The adoption had been in the works for quite some time, but the child, Evan, arrived earlier than planned.

“My husband and I had intended to get the baby in summer,” Sulprizio said. “But as is the case with most babies, they come when they want to come.”

Evan arrived in the middle of spring break, when Sulprizio was visiting family in Reno, Nev. Coincidentally, Evan was also in Reno – serendipity Sulprizio said she couldn’t ignore.

She got the call Sunday and picked Evan up on Wednesday. Due to technicalities with the adoption, Sulprizio couldn’t leave Nevada until into the school week, cancelling her class the following Tuesday.

“And that was all the time I took off,” Sulprizio said. “One day. Just one day.”

Ordinarily, someone in Sulprizio’s situation would have colleagues informally cover for her. But Sulprizio is one of three professors in the classics and archaeology department and teaches four classes. Finding a cover for maternity leave is impossible – and as a non-tenure track professor, Sulprizio was confused as to whether she had the right to take time off.

“Admittedly, I did not demand anything,” Sulprizio said about petitioning for leave. “But even if I did, it doesn’t mean I would have gotten it. It’s not that anybody said to me, ‘No, you cannot take a leave.’ But realistically, how would that have worked?”

Sulprizio is in her third year, often the last for visiting professors at LMU. However, unlike other part-time professors, she has four classes, instead of just one or two. She is still a member of contingent faculty – the broader term used to describe those who must reapply for their positions on a semester-by-semester or year-by-year basis. And it is those contingent faculty members who are now considering unionizing.

As of 2012, 51 percent of LMU professors are employed part-time, according to Andrew Dilts, a political science professor on the tenure track. A former adjunct professor at other universities, Dilts has a strong interest in the trend of what he terms “adjunctification” – the shift towards more part-time professors versus full-time – not only at LMU, but nationally.

“In the 1970s, 70 percent of everyone who was teaching at an institute of higher education was on the tenure track,” Dilts said. “In 2011, 30 percent of instructors at institutions of higher education were on the tenure track. So it’s reversed in the course of a 40-year period.”

According to Anna Harrison, a full-time professor in the theological studies department, contingent faculty are ineligible for health care benefits and can’t buy in to a group plan. No part-time faculty are permitted to sit on committees. Additionally, according to Harrison, the academic freedom touted by University President David W. Burcham during his Convocation address this year is put in jeopardy when part-time professors lack the job security of tenure.

Teaching a course at LMU pays approximately $5,000 – limited to two classes a semester, part-time professors make just over $20,000 each academic year at maximum. Many part-time faculty take other jobs, often at other universities, to supplement their income. One such professor is Emily Hallock, a part-time political science professor both at LMU and UCLA. Because she’s teaching in two places, her students are shorted on available time in office hours.

“I simply cannot be here when I’m teaching another class,” Hallock said. “The students lose out if the person that they see and interact with is not a permanent member of the department.”

She’s also unable to devote time to research, something that affects the viability of the “teacher-scholar” model mentioned in LMU’s Strategic Plan. In the Strategic Themes section of the Plan, one of the objectives is to create “an educational environment that fosters lifelong learning for both students and faculty.” Because teachers like Hallock are taking part-time jobs elsewhere, they cannot focus on building the scholar aspect.

As a result, many adjunct faculty members are making strides towards a change. First, they created an online network for the Bellarmine College of Fine Arts (BCLA) adjunct faculty – designed to improve the work environment for adjuncts. Now comes a move towards unionization, thanks both to motivated faculty and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), representatives of which have slowly begun building a presence on campus.

For their part, members of the University administration are aware of the efforts, according to Rebecca Chandler, LMU’s vice president for human resources. Because this is LMU’s first brush with potential unionization, the administration has no official position on the topic.

“We do recognize and respect that it is an individual’s legal right to participate in unionization efforts, or equally, to refrain from such activities,” Chandler told the Loyolan via email. “We respect an individual’s right to speak and/or meet with union representatives.”

Similar unionization efforts have occurred at other universities – successfully at schools like Georgetown University and George Washington University with the assistance of SEIU. While there will be obstacles along the path, including different adjunct faculty needs and the lack of a central communication system, professors passionate about the issue are ready for a shift.

“I would like to leave this place in a better state than I found it for people working off the tenure track,” Sulprizio said. “This place can afford … to do a little bit better and a little bit more for its contingent faculty.”

Trying to make a living

“My biggest mistake, had I wanted to pursue a teaching career in academia, seemed to be that I didn’t marry well,” Elizabeth Quiros-Loe said with a laugh. “Which pissed me off.”

Quiros-Loe came to LMU’s theological studies department last year on an externship from getting her graduate degree at Vanderbilt University. She taught one course to get some teaching experience. When it became clear that adjunct work wouldn’t be enough to live on, she moved to her current position as the program administrator at the Bioethics Institute.

“I was planning on continuing teaching, but this position became available,” she said. A much more secure job – year-round versus semester-by-semester, 20 hours per week – Quiros-Loe said she was grateful to be able to go to the dentist and not worry about future employment. While she could have found work elsewhere, LMU is important to her; her parents met in Malone when they were students here, and she said she felt connected to the campus.

“I want to work at one institution, and I want to work at LMU,” she said. “The only reason I’ve been able to teach here was because it’s subsidized by student loans. So the moment I get a Ph.D., I wouldn’t be able to teach here. … I did not want my Ph.D. to be my pink slip.”

The path to a union

Efforts to make working conditions better for part-time professors have been in the works at LMU for some time. Contingent faculty like Sulprizio and Quiros-Loe started the Contingent Faculty Network (CFN) last year with a web page that included resources like a guidebook for contingent faculty that with information on everything from contract renewal to where to park. According to its own website, CFN wasn’t a unionization effort in and of itself; rather, it was a more general effort to support contingent faculty.

“We just wanted to reach out to other people in our situation and not feel so isolated,” Sulprizio said.

The CFN was designed with BCLA professors in mind, and was received well by then-Dean Paul Zeleza’s office. The long-term goal of those who created the network wasn’t a union, but when Zeleza left LMU at the beginning of this year and the CFN went “by the wayside” in the transition, according to Sulprizio, things changed.

Enter SEIU, an organization that has worked in Washington, D.C. and Boston to unionize part-time faculty as part of their Adjunct Action program. They’re now in L.A. and at LMU specifically. How they came to campus isn’t quite clear – according to Jesse Yeh, an organizer for SEIU, they were invited when they spoke to over 200 adjunct faculty on campus. Yet when asked about which professors in particular formally invited SEIU on campus, Yeh hedged.

“I guess ‘formally invited’ wouldn’t be the case,” he said. “It’s that we see there’s a lot of really strong support here … to organize.”

For her part, Quiros-Loe was curious as to why SEIU was the right organization to get involved versus an organization like the American Association of University Professors. The answer: It came down to resources. “SEIU had the ability to make a local campaign and a metro-wide campaign,” she said, the latter half of which was deemed important. “We’re metro workers – we work here, we work there … so having union representation at one place isn’t quite as helpful as having it across the place where we work.”

Additionally, according to Dilts, the tenure track political science professor, SEIU has “a track record of working with existing organizations” on a city level. “They’re one of the few unions that’s seen that what’s happening with higher education has this particular quality in cities that’s different than in rural areas or in suburban areas,” Dilts said.

‘I’m not going to skimp on the students’

So where do students fit into the unionization equation? According to Hallock, the professor who teaches part-time at both LMU and UCLA, students are the most important aspect.

“I think a lot of students don’t realize that the people who are teaching them are being paid basically a tenth of what one student pays for their tuition and everything for the year,” Hallock said. “If I were a student and I was paying $50,000 to go to school, I would wonder why half of the people that were teaching me were making so very little when I was paying so very much.”

For Quiros-Loe, the whole reason for the vicious cycle is because professors care about their students. “We tend to be complicit in our own exploitation,” … she said … “because we love the students. And it’s not their fault. So we do more than what we’re paid for, going above and beyond, and we do this … because we feel committed to our students.”

“I’m not going to skimp on the students, because that would be wrong,” Hallock added. “But the result of this is that I don’t have much time for anything else.”

Deadline: December

The goal is to file for an election by the end of the semester, according to SEIU organizer Cindy Flores, which will allow for a vote to unionize. To file before the end of the semester is important, according to Quiros-Loe, because of the turnover in adjunct faculty – in other words, the part-time professors on staff now aren’t necessarily the same professors that will be on staff come January.

Still, the group seeking to organize faces some obstacles. For one, as Quiros-Loe sees it, there is a deep-seated feeling that being passed over for the opportunity to move onto the tenure track is somehow merit-based. Additionally, when it comes to attempts to organize, according to Dilts, management or administration obstruction can be one of the most difficult obstacles.

“At LMU, I have incredibly high hopes, though, that our administration will understand that this movement is coming as a response to the shared goal of the administration, faculty and students, which is to find a way to increase the quality of our educational program here and support all our members,” Dilts said.

Should a union come to pass, Chandler, LMU’s vice president for human resources, said there would be significant change. “Human resources and the administration will, for the most part, not deal directly with individual part-time faculty members,” Chandler said via email. “Part-time faculty will have the union as their ‘voice’ and exclusive representation.”

Whether or not the vote can be mobilized, for Sulprizio, the issues with part-time faculty at LMU aren’t going away.

“I don’t think this is the worst place to work as a contingent faculty member,” Sulprizio said. “But the time has come to deal with the problem.”

Falling under Kelly Clarkson’s Christmas spell

Photo Credit: RCA Records

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Falling under Kelly Clarkson’s Christmas spell – The Los Angeles Loyolan.

Kelly Clarkson has turned me into my least favorite type of person: a Christmas-in-October person.

It’s all her fault. I’ve never been a big fan of the celebrity Christmas album – sure, Michael Bublé sounds great on his, and Celine Dion’s version of “O Holy Night” is still one of the best things that’s ever been recorded, but they’re the exceptions to the rule. So when I heard that my favorite Texan vocal powerhouse was releasing a holiday record, I sighed. First she did the greatest hits album, now this – is she retiring at 35 or something?

But then I listened to “Wrapped in Red,” released last Tuesday – Oct. 29, not even close to Christmas – and now I can’t get “Silent Night” out of my head. Or “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Or “White Christmas.” It’s a serious problem.

Leaping straight to Christmas right after Halloween – er, before Halloween – is a bad idea. It means you’ll burn out of holiday cheer right around Dec. 8. It means you’re ignoring Thanksgiving, the most woefully overlooked holiday. Christmas takes over a whole month anyway – why does it need any more time?

Oh, wait, Clarkson’s new song “Underneath the Tree” just came on and reminded me that Christmas needs more time because it is the best. Just thinking of a fireplace roaring as snow falls outside gives me warm, fuzzy feelings. (“But Kevin, you grew up in Austin, Texas–” Shh, snow is falling outside. It’s very important to my creative vision.) Why wouldn’t you want to play Christmas music all year long?

In the years since Clarkson won “American Idol,” I’ve also forgotten how good she is at big band-style music. It serves her so well here, as she nails even the most tangentially Christmas-related songs – who decided “My Favorite Things” was about the holidays? Quite frankly, there’s not a bad cover song on the record.

But wait, I think, waking from my snowy reverie. The most important part of a Christmas album is the original hit. And an original Christmas song hasn’t become a new standard since Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” I’ll probably get bored with Clarkson’s takes on the classic Christmas songs, right?

Wrong. Because Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree” is a hit just waiting to happen. “4 Carats” is one of her hottest songs ever, regardless of the holiday theme. And “Winter Dreams (Brandon’s Song)” is an adorable, sweet-hearted tune for her new husband.

That’s it. I’m done resisting. I’m letting the early holiday feels wash over me. After all, if letting Kelly Clarkson make you love early Christmas music is wrong, I don’t want to be right.