View: Colleges must stop hiding suicide

Originally published in The Journal News, Sept. 16, 2015

By Julianne cuba

Colleges, and beyond, must open up about suicide and broaden access to mental health treatment

During one of my first days of journalism school, in an ethics class, I got into a civilized argument with most of my classmates.

We were broken up into small groups and given different “real-life” scenarios, then we had to decide how to report the story.

Most of us acknowledged that it is not the reporter’s responsibility to out someone’s disease, like HIV.

We also agreed that sharing someone’s past and irrelevant criminal record is not appropriate for a story about how, years later, he became a successful, local baseball coach.

But for one of the scenarios, I stood alone: Whether or not to report on a young woman’s suicide.

Most of my classmates believed the information should be kept secret; I firmly said yes, we report on her suicide.

As we would with any other news report, we share her name. We show her personality and talk about her unique qualities and achievements. We share her family members’ and friends’ tributes.

We also share her struggle with mental illness — and because mental illness should be treated as if it were any other disease, we share that she lost her battle.

I fully understand and appreciate that family and close friends have full discretion in how much they share with the media.

But it does need to be addressed, at some point. It needs to be done respectfully, poignantly.

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Young and living in the ‘burbs

Originally published in The Journal News as part of my monthly “How We Live” Column.

July 16, 2015

A friend of mine recently shared with me a Facebook post — inspired by Thought Catalog — that reported on what four individuals were doing at the age of 23.

According to the post, “At age 23, JK Rowling was broke. Tina Fey was working at the YMCA. Oprah had just gotten fired from her first job as a TV reporter and Walt Disney had declared bankruptcy.”

The list could go on and on. And in fact, it does. An article from Bustle also shares what nine powerful women were doing at the age of 23. They weren’t so powerful at the time.

At age 23, Hillary Clinton, now campaigning to receive the democratic nomination in the 2016 presidential election, was saying no to marriage proposals from her now-husband, former President Bill Clinton. In an article published about the political duo’s love-story, Clinton said, “I was desperately in love with him but utterly confused about my life and future.”

Jane Fonda, at 23, was years away from becoming the iconic fitness guru she is today, as well as a pioneering women’s rights activist, writer and award-winning actress.

And Taylor Swift… Oh wait, she’s an exception.

But I digress.

The post that my friend sent me a few weeks ago now has over 42,000 shares. And that number is still climbing. That means that over 42,000 people from all over the world — whether they’re 22, 24 or 44 — feel, like Hillary Clinton did, utterly confused about life. What resonated with each of them was the idea that though things may be rocky and uncertain now, they can and will get better.

The post went viral not because everyone cares what Walt Disney was doing over 90 years ago, but rather because it’s relevant, it’s relatable and it gives us hope.

And as 23-year-olds, it gave my friend and me hope.

Today, there’s a certain lifestyle that’s often associated with the post-graduation years: an apartment in the city, a full-time job, happy hours. It’s hard not to get caught up in that idealized vision of what our 20s are supposed to look like — and for many, what they do — and realize that that’s not what mine looks like right now.

I’m happily learning at my unpaid internship this summer, but sometimes when I tell people that, yes, I’m living at home, because no, I’m not making any money, I feel like I have to explain myself.

Others may not catch it, but I see it — I see that look of pity when I share that my current everyday job is learning. Unpaid.

Many of my friends are fully employed and sometimes it feels like I’m in a race to catch up to them, counting each missed happy hour and pay check.

I’m not sure when life sped up, when fast track MBA programs became not only routine, but encouraged; when young adults like us spent less time figuring themselves out and more time earning money in the workforce. I don’t know when that happened — probably around five years ago according to a 2009 article from The Wall Street Journal — but I don’t like it. I don’t like that today, being unsure or confused, or wanting to spend more time learning is considered unsuccessful.

I don’t like that we need viral Facebook posts to make us feel OK about our unpaid internships, our living situations, or our confusion about the ways in which we want to contribute to the world.

Success isn’t just a steady salary or a newly signed lease in the city. It’s also learning, transitioning and realizing the things that make us feel confident, accomplished and happy.

After a little bit of weight lifted off my shoulders knowing I’m not the only 23-year-old who feels this way, I shared the post with a few of my other friends. “We’re going to be OK,” one of them said. And the rest of us echoed, “Yeah, we’re going to be OK.”

In unfamiliar surroundings, millennials have a common bond

Originally published in The Journal News as part of my monthly “How We Live” Column.

June 19, 2015

I’ve heard many things about my generation — about us “millennials,” as we’re so often called: We don’t know how to settle down; our necks will be forever crooked; we’ll never be able to pay off our student loans; and our ability to communicate through genuine conversation is quickly fading, as is our ability to handwrite.

I agree. Most of that is probably true.

But there is one other thing that trumps all of that and defines Generation Y so much more than a selfie-stick: We travel; we explore the world; we learn new languages; we meet new people; we try new foods; and we practice new faiths.

We are lucky that technology has grown with us, and that better, faster and more reliable means of both communication and transportation have evolved so rapidly to enable us opportunities that have not always existed.

I remember my family’s first computer when I was about six-years-old, which was a Gateway desktop computer. That computer sat unopened in our living room in its large, cow-patterned box for a few days until the technician came to set it up. Back then, the Internet was dial-up, so if my mom needed to make a phone call, I needed to stop playing Neopets.

But that was more than 15 years ago.

Now, as young adults, we can pick up our smartphones or tablets to see our parents’ and friends’ faces and hear their voices from halfway around the world.

I recently returned from a trip to South America, and I am not sure I would have had the courage to go so far from home, albeit for about two weeks, if there had been no way to tell my family that I was safe.

In an unfamiliar place where the language wasn’t my own, it was comforting to know my phone could bring me back home for just a few moments.

We are quick to criticize technology and list all of the ways it hurts society, especially for millennials, but it is incredible to realize how far it can take us. It took a friend of mine and me to Peru this summer.

Just by chance, we happened to be in the city of Cusco during Corpus Christi, which is a major global holiday that celebrates the tradition of the Eucharist. Just as my friend and I were looking for someone to take our photo in front of the church, three young girls, who were around our age, came up to us smiling and with one of their arms extended.

We didn’t speak the same language, but we didn’t have to. We are millennials and we just know what makes a good picture.

Everything we weren’t taught

After four years of writing for Pipe Dream, and after 46 columns discussing issues from cheese to feminism, my 47th article was my final, goodbye column.

“On the first day of my senior year at Binghamton University, I navigated my way through the infamously confusing Engineering Building to find myself a seat in my classroom.

My class began at 1:10 p.m., But by 1:25 p.m., my classmates and I were still anxiously awaiting the arrival of our professor.

When he didn’t show, I was dismayed. What a poor start to the beginning of the end of my college career.

Was this how my last year at BU would go? Would I have to be taught by a lackadaisical professor who missed the first day of class? Or was this the fault of the beloved BU Registrar? Regardless of the circumstances, I was disappointed.

The next class, I arrived eager to see what kind of professor would be teaching me for the next few months. My professor stood calmly in front of our classroom. “I apologize for missing class yesterday,” he announced. “My wife gave birth.””

Read the full article here 

Brandeis’ decision to nix commencement speaker is misguided

The choosing of a commencement speaker for a college graduation is a big decision, so when Brandeis University students broke out in protest once the speaker was announced, and then again once that same speaker’s invitation was revoked, I decided to write an article discussing the issues that gave rise to the protests.

“Yet early this April, Brandeis rescinded its invitation to have Ayaan Hirsi Ali speak at commencement.

Ali is a politician, writer and women’s rights activist. As a Muslim-born woman who went through genital mutilation in her home country of Somalia, Ali speaks out loudly against the relationship between conservative Islam and abuse toward women. The university originally confirmed Ali as one of the 2014 commencement speakers until a petition, which argued for the withdrawal of Ali as a speaker, circulated the campus and gained over 7,000 signatures. The president of Brandeis University, Frederick Lawrence, announced on April 8 that Ali would no longer be speaking at commencement.

After its initial decision to have Ali as a speaker, Brandeis faced nothing but criticism. Lawrence was condemned for offering Ali a microphone to purport her anti-Islamic values before a large and diverse audience, and he was then later condemned for taking that very power away from her.”

Read the full article here

Sans facts, missing plane conspiracy theories abound

Following the disappearance of flight MH370, the Malaysian airliner that lost contact with satellites and landed in the ocean somewhere of off Perth, Australia in March, I wrote an article discussing our fascination with such occurrences, and why, in an attempt to explain what had happened, we created conspiracy theories.

“Within hours of the plane’s disappearance, it came to the attention of the media that two passengers on board had stolen passports. The accusations of an attempted terrorist attack began immediately, along with other theories that the plane vanished into a black hole, that aliens captured the plane and are now holding it hostage on a faraway planet and that the pilot purposely sabotaged the flight. The idea of a mere technical problem was unimaginable; its straightforwardness made it uninteresting and, even more, its simplicity made it a fear that it could happen again, that it could happen to any of us.

When we indifferently question the logistics of what occurred and when we fabricate theories to replace the truth or fill a void, we distance ourselves from our emotions. We mask our fear with better, more entertaining stories because the one that is true is the one we don’t want to face.”

Read the full article here

Web classes are more accessible and flexible than classroom learning

As part of a Point-Counterpoint for Pipe Dream, I wrote a column advocating for the use of MOOC’s, massive open online courses.

“The argument surrounding MOOCs, though, is not whether they generate substantive revenue, as they undeniably do. It is whether their place in the education system is beneficial for those taking them.

Many point out that distance learning provides a false or inadequate pedagogy and that learning through anything other than a professor who stands before you is unsuccessful. But it is important to note that MOOCs, like an in-person class, are wholly what you make of them. A student’s presence in the classroom doesn’t necessarily equate with retaining the information given; one can just as easily go sit in Lecture Hall and spend the entire time surfing the Web instead of actively listening to the professor.”

Read the full article here 

Redefine success and live a happier life

In one of my favorite pieces published in Pipe Dream, I wrote about the difficulty in balancing success with happiness, and what success means for the individual.

But why does everything we do have to be for the sake of getting a job? Can we not learn for the pure love of learning anymore? Have we become so blindsided by corporate America that studying the works of Shakespeare, Hemingway and Twain are no longer important? And have we become so caught up in the need for wealth and empowerment that those who have a passion for history should change their area of study because that track will not land them a job behind a large desk in a private office overlooking Manhattan?

Today, success is consistently defined by money, power and where we stand in the socioeconomic hierarchy that charts America.

But what if we defined success by our happiness? What if instead of basing our human contribution to this world on the number of zeros on our paycheck, we made sure we felt happy, fulfilled and proud at the end of each and every workday?”

Read the entire piece here 

Gun violence demands legislation

On September 16 2013, a shooting took place at the Washington Navy Yard, and just three days later, another shooting took place on a basketball court in Chicago, leaving a three-year-old boy in critical condition. Admittedly, I only learned about these shootings a few days after they took place. My article following these shootings sought to discuss and question Americans’ reactions.

I am ashamed that I only learned about the Chicago shooting an entire day after it had happened, and I am worried that our nation does not appear to be as alarmed or distraught by the violence.

Have Americans become so accustomed to mass shootings in our country that they are just considered routine? Does the fact that an innocent 3-year-old was severely injured from gun violence not seem as disheartening as it did nine months ago? And as Cenk Uygur, a Turkish-American political commentator, tweeted, “One day someone’s going to shoot 12 people & people aren’t even going to notice because it’s so common. Is today that day?”

I hope not. And the majority of the American people hope not as well.

It is clear that something needs to change and that stricter gun control is the change we need so that that day never comes.”

Read more from the original article here

Despite bombing, resist stereotyping

After Boston and every other U.S. city was shook by the bombings that took place during the Boston Marathon in April 2013, a newfound hatred toward Muslims was ignited. In my column in Pipe Dream a few weeks after the bombings, I wrote about the unwarranted prejudice for a group of people that stems from events like these.

Our enemies are not one group of people who practice one religion from one country; our enemies are the individuals that choose to hurt us.

In the wake of the Boston bombings, immigration reform has been under much scrutiny. Supporters of the Gang of Eight’s plan, which is the proposed bill to strictly reform immigration as well as identify the 11 million foreigners living in the U.S., were even more adamant on securing our nation’s borders.

But unfortunately, no one piece of legislation is going to stop the violence, because there is not just one identifiable enemy.

As much of a tragedy as it is that three lives were lost and more than 250 were injured from the Boston bombings, it is also a tragedy that we Americans are still so closed-minded in the face of adversity.”

Read more from the original article here