But Do You *Really* Love the South?

Welcome to the South.

Whether you’re from around here or not, you’ve likely Instagrammed the multicolor mosaic of autumn leaves, shouted the lyrics to “Wagon Wheel” at the top of your lungs, and fallen victim to fried chicken and waffles.

Living in the South sure has its benefits, and we love ‘em! We’re proud of where we come from and love sharing our signature hospitality and culture with you out-of-towners. That being said, we aren’t too fond of some of the negative stereotyping that comes with it.

Inspired by an article from the online magazine, Everyday Feminism, which details the harmful, ignorant things urban feminists say to rural folks and why they’re problematic, this slew of thoughts is an extension as it pertains to being from a smaller town in the Southeastern United States.

Generally speaking, the media tends to present us in a binary representation: the Southern belles, Luke Bryan-esque gentlemen, and cowboy-boot wearers of the world, or the down-home, uneducated, Confederate-flag-waving country bumpkins.

As you can probably figure out, that’s a little too simplistic.

Thus, it’s discomforting when upon meeting someone new, they act perplexed about things like a lack of an accent or, worse, our overall intelligence level, despite an accent.

“Among many others, ’Buckles, your accent doesn’t lend credit to your level of intelligence,’ is one of my personal favorite phrases I’ve encountered since entering [the Navy],” says Petty Officer Kristina Buckles, a 21-year-old from Johnson City, Tennessee.

Johnson City is a small town in the easternmost tip of Tennessee, and it has been home to Buckles for practically her entire life. In addition to giving new acquaintances a 10-minute spiel about the geography of her home state, such as the location of her hometown with respect to Nashville or Memphis, Buckles says that she’s also had to offer an explanation about her signature twang. She adds that people have even gone so far as to attribute it to a lack of a proper upbringing.

“One upper-level officer [in the Central Intelligence field of the Navy] said to me, ’Well, my parents loved me enough to beat the accent out of me, so you would do well to lose yours before applying for a job in a private sector of our field,’” she says.

Buckles prides herself on keeping up with the news and regularly educating herself on political, social, and economic issues while working towards a Masters in Computer Science and Cyber Security. She has, however, become irritated at the blatant discrimination she has received that has primarily stemmed from her Southern accent.

Wake Forest University senior, Ivory Shelton, who also hails from East Tennessee, agrees, saying that she’s even been asked to repeat words to others, to a point that it has even prevented effective conversations.

“One person I was speaking with interrupted me, asking me to say, ‘right’ again, with a grin on their face, and the original topic was completely forgotten,” she says.

Enter the act of linguistic profiling. According to Dr. John Bauch, author of Black Linguistics: Language, Society, and Politics in Africa and the Americas, “Linguistic profiling can have devastating consequences for those U.S. residents who are perceived to speak with an undesirable accent or dialect.”

Southern accents are perceived as “cute” or “charming,” not “intelligent” and “commanding of respect.” Just as it’s difficult to discern from where such negative stereotypes—such as that people of color, particularly blacks, are innately violent, dangerous, or angry—stemmed, it’s also difficult for us, as proud Southerners, to understand why people have it in their minds that having an accent deems us as slow, uneducated, incompetent individuals.

This being said, both the problem of linguistic profiling and the ignorance it breeds aren’t just pertinent to the Southern United States. This simple concept can also be applied to any aspect of language across a multitude of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

Dr. Agnés Krozser-Hamati, Chief of Oncology at the Mountain Home VA Medical Center in Johnson City, TN, has said repeatedly that had she spoken with a thick Hungarian accent, her competency as a doctor would be vilified.

“When I moved to Cleveland, Ohio, at eleven, I did everything in my power to be as American-sounding as possible,” she remembers. “I got tunnel vision—I practiced speaking English every day after school with my teachers. I was determined to put an end to the mindless bullying that surrounded my being foreign.”

Krozser-Hamati has called Johnson City home for nearly thirty years, and is proud to live there. One note she, Buckles, and Shelton have made is this: “You can’t pick and choose which parts of a culture you idolize while dismissing the rest.”

Cultural stereotypes are multifaceted, and each facet can be dreadfully harmful. They pose a power struggle between the powerful and weak; the able and disabled; the civilized and savage.

Stereotyping is the Regina George of society: even though it’s the popular, conventional, and—dare I say—ingrained thing to do, it deepens the divide between equality and progress.

For Shelton, such cultural stereotyping has “created opportunity for linguistic and social elitism to put chinks in an otherwise solid armor.” It is disheartening. However, grinning, she retorts that witnessing such moments of ignorance have helped her to avoid stereotyping others, and gain perspective on a broader scale.

“I have personally seen these experiences are frustrating for me as an Appalachian woman, but, [in looking at the broader problems of profiling and stereotyping as a whole], I see a jumping point off of which to check privilege and leave elitism at the door.

In the South, the sweet tea is sweet, and the accents are sweeter. What would really be neater, however, is fostering respect towards our culture by challenging such hurtful stereotypes. We, too, are multi-dimensional and dynamic idealists, and we’d be more than happy to discuss our ideas with y’all, anytime.


Third Student Reflection: The Multifaceted Role of Guns in Society

Gun Culture 2.0

Here is a third student reflection on the normative question of the role guns should play in (American) society, from my Sociology of Guns seminar. The first reflection can be found here, and the second here.

On the range aug 15 5

By Ashley Hamati

The role of guns in our society is multifaceted. Thus, it is difficult to determine one single catchall phrase to describe the role of guns in American society. There are areas in which I believe they are portrayed appropriately, for example, as a means of self-defense or sport. However, there are also areas in which I believe need some work, particularly with regard to gender issues. Thus, my personal view of the role guns should play in our society is that they must take into account gender equality and can be used recreationally or as a means of self-defense.

Part of my pro-gun stance stems from growing up…

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a spoonful of culture

The truth is, I’m always hungry.

Hungry for empathy, hungry for change, hungry for an intersectional dialogue that respects various cultures. My stomach is growling for public communication that disregards systems of oppression and is rich with the recognition of privilege.

Coming from an eclectic mix of Jordanian and Hungarian roots, I have a passion for culture and learning about people and their traditions. From Kolkata to Rome and places in between, I have acquired an appetite for connecting with people and finding the most effective means of communication. It has taught me to recognize privilege, both within myself and within others, and to notice oppression and the ways systematic oppression is further reinforced in the media.

Learning about these similarities, differences, struggles, and passions can open windows to cross-cultural communication. Empathy and travel can also teach you how to encompass respect with each action, thus creating a more inclusive environment, engaging more people, and making a larger impact.

Putting Shaming to Shame

It’s risky for women to get frisky. Whether or not she does, critical condiments (and condoms) will be peppered in. Slut is such a spice frequently tossed, but it’s not settling well with many stomachs.

“Slut is the absolute worst insult you can call a girl or a woman.” according to Leora Tanebaum, author of “I Am Not a Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet.”

With hookup culture at its hype across United States college campuses, slut shaming has become a regular byproduct. Hookup culture is defined as a culture that “ accepts and encourages casual sexual encounters, including one-night stands and other related activity, and focuses on physical pleasure without necessarily including emotional bonding or long-term commitments,” according to the Urban Dictionary Online.

In contrast to hookup culture, however, slut shaming is not an entirely a new concept, with origins dating even further back than Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel, “The Scarlet Letter.” To “slut shame” is to “degrade or mock a (typically) heterosexual woman because she enjoys sexual activity, frequently participates in sexual activity, or is rumored to be sexually promiscuous,” according to Tanebaum.

Yes, even if the woman hasn’t actually participated in sexual activity, simple perception is sufficient for her to be rendered “whorish.” Calling someone a slut, too, “causes the offender to draw further negative conclusions about her character,” adds Tanebaum.

In a survey of Wake Forest University students, the majority agreed that regardless of fact or fiction, simply hearing that others had gotten a taste of a fellow female student could spoil her reputation. Seventy-five percent had even gone so far as to say that if they heard someone was a slut, they would automatically consider her to “have no morals,” be a “terrible person,” or “a cheat.” However, there was much variation with regards to what would render her as slutty.

Such discrepancies ranged from what the individual wore to the number of sexual partners. The number of perceived sexual partners especially contributed to the level of sluttiness, with 89 percent of students considering 10 or more to be the magic number in contrast to a very mere 2 percent considering three or fewer.

Still, one factor was unanimous: the individual is female, and even the most minute of behaviors, like the amount of makeup she wore, could contribute to her perceived promiscuity.

One student, who shall remain anonymous, defined a slut as: “someone who searches for gratification and worthiness in the form of affection from others, especially sexual partners.”

Another anonymous student said that a slut is “a girl who casually gives up her body for some form of sexual intercourse and does so with many different partners.”

While many other respondents agreed with the above definitions, others denied the term and instead claimed that, “Nobody has the right to call anyone a slut for a decision that they make.” Slut shaming, however, still prevails. And despite the casual nature of hookup culture, the consequences of slut shaming are anything but.

A Recipe for Disaster

Though the perceived loose lips of a “slut” are deemed shameful, it is really the loose lips of the offender that cause real damage. “She’s ruined for life,” says Tanebaum.

It is, indeed, difficult to forget the publicized suicides of adolescents Phoebe Prince and Hope Witsell, all due to being labeled as slutty. Though suicide is a rarer consequence, issues such as having a lesser likelihood of being hired for a job due to perception as slutty are quite common. Publicity, too, does not yield many benefits.

A paramount example comes from the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton scandal of 1998, which spread from an internal to an international affair. “Overnight,” said Lewinsky, “I went from being a completely private figure to a completely humiliated one worldwide. I was seen by many but actually known by few.”

Lewinsky was crudely rendered “a little tart” in a 1998 publication of the Wall Street Journal. It was as though she was a dessert on display in a glass case, subject to any and all criticisms of passers-by.

Clinton, on the other hand, was “glorified for being a womanizer,” says Tanebaum, “which is also the case among heterosexual males who are perceived to participate in similar activity.”

Interestingly enough, in the Wake Forest student survey, 92 percent perceived Lewinsky to be among the sluttiest of celebrities, along with Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian, and Taylor Swift. On the other hand, when presented with some spicy male celebrities, such as Hugh Grant, Channing Tatum, or Cristiano Ronaldo, and asked to explain their reasoning for whether or not they branded them as slutty, 82 percent did not perceive them in a negative light. Instead, they pardoned any charmer-like behaviors, going so far as to say, “[Grant] isn’t slutty, he’s super hot.”

These responses show the immense power that being associated with whore-like behavior has on a female individual. Slut shaming forms a brick barrier of negative preconceived notions around whom it victimizes, blocking others from seeing any value in the individual, to a point of further isolation.

In fact, a study at Cornell University revealed that college-aged women are far less likely to form friendships with women they consider promiscuous because they view them as threats. This, in turn, may cause women to lash out against other women in an attempt to rise above the competition.

Furthermore, with regards to mental health, slut shaming replaces empathy and compassion with shame and humiliation, according to Lewinsky in her March 2015 TED talk entitled, “The Price of Shame.” “Public humiliation, whether on the news or within a college campus, is a commodity in an industry of shame,” added Lewinsky.

Humiliation, according to a 2014 meta-analysis psychology study, is also an even stronger emotion than happiness or anger. It can thus leave deeper wounds in those who undergo victimization than perhaps what the offenders can perceive.

“Those wounds are further deepened by the Internet,” said Lewinsky. “With just one click, we become more numb to the human lives behind the humiliation.”

Writer Danica Johnson agrees. “As a culture,” she wrote in an article for Everyday Feminism magazine, “we are quick to use the words that paint female sexuality as disgraceful, regardless of excessive or relatively no participation within it.”

This negative, socially constructed notion of female sexuality could even be considered oppressive in that it traps women in what feminist theorist Marilyn Frye describes as a “double bind” of oppression.

Frye says that in the United States, particularly younger, heterosexual women, “are in a bind in which neither sexual activity nor sexual inactivity is all right. If she is heterosexually active, [she] is open to criticism for being unprincipled or a whore…if she refrains, she is labeled as ‘frigid,’ a ‘man-hater,’ or a ‘bitch.’”

Tanebaum adds that, essentially, if one is a heterosexual female, she is “damned if [she] does and damned if [she] doesn’t [participate in sexual activity], regardless of the choice to participate.” This reveals a further layer in that there is potential for a woman to be rendered a slut even in cases of rape. The questions of choice and consent disappear from the equation, which can, in turn, provoke even more traumatizing consequences.

We’ve All Got a Shame Allergy, But We’ve Got the Cure

Regardless of whether consent is a part of the recipe, Lewinsky believes that the culture of slut shaming must be put to an end.

Although it is a very intricate problem, it can be changed through compassion and empathy. “Though I [actively chose] to make the mistakes I did at 22,” said Lewinsky, “I would not have been able to recover from the harsh criticisms had it not been for the empathy and compassion with which close family and friends surrounded me.”

She adds that, “It is easy to forget that a woman is dimensional, and has both agency and a soul, and, thus, it is easy to shame her for it. But, to quote Brené Brown [a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work], ‘shame cannot survive empathy.’’”

In empathizing with or showing compassion for an individual as opposed to criticizing them or writing them off as valueless, the industry of public humiliation can finally be shut down. “We talk a lot about freedom of expression,” says Lewinsky, “but we need to talk about our responsibility to freedom of expression.”

What Lewinsky means is that the choice on whether to shame another or to use constructive words lies within everyone. She also encourages starting a conversation and taking action.

In addition to Lewinsky’s TED talk, active efforts have been made to end the regime of slut shaming. On March 22, 2015, Melissa Harris-Perry discussed such efforts, including detailing how people are fighting against slut shaming on her weekly MSNBC talk show.

Harris-Perry first referenced popular ABC sitcom ” Scandal,” and a recent episode in which two characters subtly sent a message to audiences advocating for victims. The message was that even if slut shaming occurs, nobody should ever feel ashamed for “owning [their] bodies and using them in as many ways and as many times as they want, and having great sex along the way.”

E! News Correspondent and guest speaker on Harris-Perry’s show Alicia Quarles spoke to non-victims, telling them to push back against Internet backlash. “Let’s use our words to build rather than to harm,” she says.

Amer Ahmed, another guest and the Intercultural Center Director of Swathmore College, agreed: “Men need to take more responsibility,” he says, adding, “I think we need to have a conversation about the implications of our actions and how they affect women. We have to get honest with each other and address those issues.”

Harris-Perry concluded that to successfully push back against slut shaming, society’s current notions of sexuality and the tie with the double standard it carries must be severed. It will involve conversations among the sexes that evoke self-awareness about what it means to be either a male or a female in society with or without participation in sexual activities.

Through collaboration, empathy, and compassion for others, the tools are at the ready to build a more inclusive environment for all individuals and finally toss slut shaming down the drain.

The ONLY Time You’ll Ever Hear a Tennessee Fan Say, “Roll Damn Tide”

Scribbles on a blank white page. Splattered canvases of pastel soy milk vomit. Getting a piece of artwork into a contemporary museum seems so easy, a Kindergartener could do it, right?

While the times have changed, as have the styles and forms of art expression, so have the mediums through which such artists express themselves. The other day, my sartorialist friend sent me an interesting BuzzFeed link about one such case.

The link lead me to an O’Keefe-esque photography exposé of beautiful abstract waves streaked with shades of plums, violets, and magentas. The medium du jour? Menstrual blood. While societal instinct would have it to be immediately taken aback with a gag gesture, the real question is what exactly are we gagging about?

For years, the topics of “female issues” such as menstruation have either been considered taboo or patriarchal tools of purity control. (Cough cough, in Romeo & Juliet’s days, the monthly gift was a celebration– people would literally parade blood splotched bedsheets around town…but to celebrate the fact that the girl was still pure. I rest my case).

With regards to our contemporary and oh, so “progressive” times, girls are still humiliated to talk about their periods. I, for one, remember in high school that my friends and I would make a drug deal esque ordeal to pass around spare tampons. Furthermore, some women are even afraid of saying the word, “VAGINA.”

Vagina. (Not Voldemort.) Let it sit with you for a hot second, and I swear I’ll get back to the topic of how this relates to art. Okay.

Vagina is like the gnarly monster under your bed–the elephant in the room. Art is a form of expression, whether that expression is love, passion, struggle, hatred, psychedelic influence, what have you. It is a movement that promotes change. Artists are the soldiers and paintbrushes are their bayonets.

By using such a medium, artists like Jen Lewis, at least how my dear friend and I interpreted it, aim to promote a change on how we view women and their bodily functions. By making something beautiful out of something considered dirty and gross, this art has the ability to start a conversation through an unconventional means.

This expression is not just limited to art! Social media was abuzz with Anglomania with regards to Ms. Kiran Gandhi-– the badass who ran the 2015 London Marathon while letting her Crimson Tide flow freely.

Gandhi’s aim? To shed the light on another issue related to the menstruation topic: the access (or lack, thereof) of many women across the world to feminine products. Gandhi also aimed to encourage women to not feel embarrassed by their periods.

26.2 miles later, she says, “I ran to say [the pain and oppression that come with menstruation] do exist, and we overcome it every day.”

As a fellow marathon runner, I can honestly say that I’ve run every long distance race while receiving my monthly gift, including my very first marathon. While I did not choose to follow suit, Kiran’s message speaks loud and clear, and that is that women should also never feel incapable because they have their period; that much can be accomplished, and that, no, you are not a disgusting human being.

These blatant testimonials to vaginal function liberation may help getting people on board, because, let’s face it, hearing things on television or by word of mouth can feel like sitting through a two-hour-long chemistry lecture. People have short attention spans and are visual beings. Seeing such forms of expression through art or athletics may just be the tool we need to move forward with how we treat other women.

Sound crazy? Brilliance…um…flows from it.

Bringing Yoga To School: Winston-Salem yoga instructor Crista Baker is changing lives, one asana at a time

Yoga can happen anywhere, even in a lunchroom. The quiet hum of the cafeteria in the Forsyth County Special Children’s School is broken by the mystical, serene voice of Crista Baker, a yoga instructor in the Winston-Salem community. She turns to a group of four middle-aged women resting on yoga mats and says, “Take a moment to give yourself gratitude.”

Self-gratitude is exactly what Baker hopes to instill in these particular women, as with any of her yoga students. “We all have busy schedules, and we often neglect our own needs. It’s important to take time for yourself,” she says.

Two long tables form an L shape, enclosing the small square space among which the women lie. Schoolteachers, they are clad in jeans and work attire: their faces worn by years of strain from teaching rambunctious youngsters with special needs. Yet, in the midst of yellow painted brick walls spotted with drawings featuring Crayola squiggles and stick figures, there is an undeniable aura of calm that surrounds the room.

Baker herself radiates a peaceful feeling with her pleasant, balanced demeanor. Her dark, curly hair curves along her face in a similar fashion to her lips, which are constantly pulled apart in a welcoming smile.

“I find that yoga brings me happiness, comfort, and balance in addition to the physical benefits,” she says. These feelings were what inspired Baker to further her own practice by becoming an instructor. “I wanted to share how I felt with others and help them find balance in their own lives.”

Baker trained at Ananda Ashram in Upstate New York, a far trip from her native South Carolina. “I chose it because they taught Ashtanga style as well as Sanskrit, mantras, and meditation,” she says. At Ananda Ashram, Baker “really got to live in this yogic culture I had known so little about.” It furthered her desire to share the benefits of yoga practice with others.

She teaches at various yoga hot spots throughout the Winston-Salem area. “I teach a Hatha style class twice a week at Paz Studios downtown, and I have taught at The Breathing Room,” Baker explains.

Wake Forest University juniors Elisabeth Young** and Lauren Schwartz** are loyal aficionadas of her Friday Hatha-style class at Paz. “I feel so rejuvenated after every practice. It’s such a detox after a hectic week of pre-med college classes,” says Young.

Schwartz agrees. “Crista really has a way of connecting with each of her students on an individual level, whether there are ten people or one person in a given class,” she says.

Yoga is Crista’s passion, but it ran even deeper beyond the dim lights and heated walls of a studio. She was determined to find another way to give back to her community. “I wanted to give back and extend my experience to everyone!” she exclaims.

Baker realized it wasn’t realistic to try to enlighten everyone, one downward-facing dog at a time, so she pointed her new focus to teaching people she felt would truly benefit from the practice: teachers. This, in turn, fired her incentive to pioneer Bringing Yoga to School, a project that “allows teachers to enjoy all the benefits of a yoga class in the comfort of their own school.”

Bringing Yoga to School’s roots originated at the Special Children’s School. “I [chose to teach at the Special Children’s School] because its teachers give so much to the community. I wanted to show appreciation for what they do, and say, ‘Hey, you know what? You’re doing an awesome thing and you deserve to do something awesome for yourself, too.’”

She comes to teach these women for thirty minutes every Wednesday morning, at only a dollar per class. “There are very few things you can get for a buck, let alone something that you can use every day and retain in the long run,” she says. Jokingly, she adds, “Even the Dollar Store charges taxes! I don’t.”

In her classes, she incorporates the meditative practices and mantras she was taught at Ananda Ashram. This explains the waves of calm and lightness that Baker radiates. Laughing, she says, “It’s a great stress relief!”

Her mother, Carol Baker, is a teacher at the Special Children’s School. She attests to the stress relief benefits she’s received from her daughter’s morning yoga classes. “As a mother and as a kindergarten teacher, I rarely take time for myself. It’s all about the kids, and they are pretty high-energy,” she says. “With the yoga, I zone everything out, and I leave feeling calm and collected the rest of the day by doing this one little thing for myself. It’s a nice feeling.”

It’s also a feeling Crista intends to be attainable on any given day, and sustainable over time. She says that by incorporating mental practices—called pranayama in Sanskrit—in times of stress, it calms the body down. Smiling, she remembers one of her students.

“She was super self-conscious at first, but a month later, we had gone from worrying about little things like what to wear to class to finding more ways to incorporate pranayama in times of stress.”

The learning aspect is extremely important to Baker. She is, after all, a teacher, too. Baker says, “It brings me so much joy to know that I’ve helped others strike a chord with balance, retain what they’ve learned, and continue to learn with a curious appetite.”

Crista adds that yoga is also exciting, and that each practice is different because the body is constantly changing. “Yoga always brings the body a new challenge regardless of your experience level,” she says. “It’s something anyone can do. Everyone can benefit from the practice.”

Edie McBurney, one of Baker’s loyal students and a speech pathologist at the Special Children’s School, says that this is one of her first exercise programs. “I had never done yoga prior hand, but I’ve loved the stretches for my back because I spend a lot of time sitting in little desks with small children,” she says. With Crista’s guidance, McBurney has since incorporated those stretches and more to loosen her muscles throughout the day.

The yoga has also instilled in Baker’s students an air of self-confidence. Of her daughter, Mrs. Baker says that although Crista will modify the practice based on how everyone feels on a given day, she will also take things for a challenging turn. “She motivates you to challenge yourself. She’ll physically move me into some positions, and that makes me go, ‘Oh! I did it! I can do this!’ when I had never thought I could before,” she says.

Her teaching has benefited her students so much that she has inspired them to take it into their classrooms. “It’s given me a new way to teach my kindergarteners their right from their left,” says Mrs. Baker. “They don’t even realize that they’re learning it, but by learning it in a fun way through yoga, it carries over.” She adds that it has also given the children similar gains in self-confidence to those that she has received herself.

Crista hopes that her initiative to bring yoga to schools will carry over to other schools in the Forsyth County area, including at high school and college levels.

“So far, it’s just at the Special Children’s School, but I am confident that it will spread elsewhere. There needs to be faculty and staff on board and a need for it, which, let’s face it, we all could use stress relief,” she says with a chuckle. “I just want to be able to give other teachers the same benefits I’ve seen within both myself and my current students.”

Whether in a school or a studio, Baker thinks anyone can attain mindfulness, so long as they set aside some time for themselves. She firmly believes that taking that time allows one to better interact with others. She calls this the “Oxygen Mask Theory”: putting on your own oxygen mask on an airplane before helping those around you.

After thirty minutes of flowing through a series of mentally and physically strengthening poses, the stress of the four teachers has evaporated. Now, a glow of mindfulness surrounds them. Crista breathes with an air of genuine satisfaction, “The light, peace, and joy in me honors the light, peace, and joy in each of you. Namaste.”

** = Name has been changed for privacy