English House Gazette 2016

Our blog features the work of Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College students enrolled in Bryn Mawr’s Art264W News and Feature Writing class.  We open the fall season with four profiles:

Sabrina Emms writes about canning maven and blogger Marisa McClellan, who has won fame for her canning of jams and jellies from her small kitchen in Philadelphia.

Ana Gargiulo tells the tale of Andi Moritz, the Bryn Mawr student who left the school after she posted a Facebook request for a ride to a Donald Trump event that drew hundreds of angry comments from fellow students.

Audra Devoto profiles Sorelle Friedler, the Haverford professor of computer science who is researching the bias found in algorithms.

Ana Alvarez has a profile of Sandra Andino, a Penn professor and photographer who is chronicling the lives of Philadelphia Puerto Ricans of mixed African and Latino heritage.

The Magic of Canning

It all happens in Marisa McClellan’s tiny kitchen

 

By Sabrina Emms   

She may can in her grandmother’s kitchen but she isn’t making her grandmother’s jam. Armed with a potato masher and a worn wooden spoon, Marisa McClellan is a kitchen revolutionary.

McClellan wants to lead city folk back to their tiny kitchens, and, on those modern hearths, breathe life back into the art of canning.

Like other DIY pursuits, canning may be making a comeback. McClellan, through her blog and then her books, has had quite a bit of influence on the Philadelphia canning scene. She is using this influence to encourage adventurous, brave canning, for everyone from beginners to experts like herself.

---- Marisa McClellan

—- Marisa McClellan

In her Amazon author’s profile McClellan looks more scrap booker than rabble-rouser, in her late 30s, with shoulder-length blond hair, and a large, bright, necklace. She looks far too young for old school canning’s target demographic. On the surface, her books promise to teach people to make their own delicious seasonal jams. Her deeper mission is to demystify the production of canned goods, encouraging people to forgo store bought and make their own. She doesn’t sell her jams, jellies, preserves or chutneys,

“Urban canning”, is what McClellan calls it in her books and on her popular blog, Food in Jars. “Up until recently all canning recipes were written for people who were canning in order to have enough food to make it through the winter.” McClellan explained to Mother Nature Network an online new source. Her passion — small batch urban canning — liberates canning from its previous function. Preservation brought McClellan back to canning but her blog has taken spectacular leaps from there. Already a food writer when she started Food in Jars in 2009, McClellan paired innovative, often beautifully colored combinations, with easy instructions and charming anecdotal writing. Soon, gleaming jewel-tone jars filled her shelves and food writing flowed with the ease of a natural talent. “Writing about food felt the most natural, an abundant and juicy area,” she explained.

McClellan isn’t just about unique or intriguing flavors, she also wants to share the joy and satisfaction of canning, and to extinguish some of the fears. “Hear me now. If you stick to the high-acid foods—most jams, fruit butters, and pickles—you are not going to kill anyone,” she writes in her third book, “Naturally Sweetened Food in Jars”. McClellan tells new canners that while there are real dangers in canning, like botulism, the acidity in jams blocks the growth of the botulinum bacteria.

The environment, not within the jams, but on Pacific coast, may have helped McClellan get where she is today. She was raised by a, “hippie mom” in her words, who was a causal, almost instinctive, canner. McClellan reminisced about her mom’s raisin concentrates and syrups to Margaret Roach, a former editorial director for Martha Stewart in an interview for Roach’s blog, A Way to Garden. Despite her Portlandian upbringing McClellan’s people have been Philadelphians for generations and when she inherited her grandmother’s apartment, she moved and became part of the Philadelphia food scene.

The Pacific Northwest may boast the abundance of apples and blackberries McClellan remembers, but Pennsylvania is no slouch in the produce department and so many recipes still begin from some kind of abundance. McClellan cans seasonally, and so she is partially constrained by what is growing. Now is the right time for apple and pear based jams or compotes, possibly with ginger or cranberries.Canniing I like

 

When you are a popular urban canning pioneer, with legions of eager followers, foods find a way to your door, and new concoctions arise, like when strawberry grower Driscoll’s sent her a large box of strawberries, and she whipped up a Strawberry Lavender Caramel.

McClellan doesn’t can in a vacuum; she isn’t immune from the pressures of the world of food. Often the taste du jour makes its way into her pot. In 2015 it was, “Small Batch Strawberry Balsamic Jam”. In 2012 it was “Orange Tomato Jam with Smoked Paprika.” Sometimes the combinations are off the wall, like Peach Oolong Jelly, on her blog, or an apricot-barbecue sauce with gochujang, a spice Korean condiment, a recipe found in her “Naturally Sweet Food in Jars”.

McClellan is not one to shy away from the new. “I love the fact that as a country our palate is expanding,” she said. And it makes sense, new flavors offer new avenues of discovery. Of her pickled blueberries, she writes on her blog, “When I first started pickling fruit four or five years ago, I experienced a lot of resistance.” But now, she loves the expanding tolerance to, as she calls them, funky fermented flavors. “I remember 10 or 12 years ago, no one had heard of kombucha, now you can buy it at Target.”

Clearly the food world, and the Philadelphian food scene are expanding. Gone are the days when the Philadelphia food scene was small enough McClellan felt she could “have her whole arms wrapped around it”. While she likes the changes, McClellan does wish that trends would slow down a bit, to let her really engage with the flavors a little longer.

Canning, something born out of necessity, has morphed into a stand-in for authenticity, for wanting a personal stake in the food we eat. The Food in Jar’s kitchen may be old — this is McClellan’s fifteenth year there — but the flavors are new, and the pots on the stove are always bubbling. Few grandmothers are likely to have made the Cantaloupe Jam with Vanilla that appears in, “Food in Jars”, but they would recognize the creativity, love and effort, all mixed with just a touch of nostalgia, that go into McClellan’s work.

 

 

A High Price for Being Pro-Trump

Just mentioning his name got this Bryn Mawr student in big trouble

 

By Anna V. Gargiulo

If you stepped onto the campus of Bryn Mawr College on the night of September 20, it would have seemed relatively calm and routine. However, on the Facebook site called Bryn Mawr Ride Share Group, anger and chaos was unfolding among students on campus.

“Nobody has the right to an opinion of bigotry. 0 Tolerance for fascists!

“It would be great if you didn’t invoke the honor code to justify your racism…”

“So, you want to feel safer on your way to make the world less safe for everyone else…?’

Words like “ignorant shit” and “toxic white” were used. There were several hundred comments on the Facebook group, created for the innocent purpose of letting students ask for ride shares or anything else related to transportation.

The avalanche of comments were all aimed at one first-year student: 18-year-old Andi Moritz, of Hershey, Pa.

What did Moritz say to set off such a fierce reaction?

She posted that she was a Donald Trump supporter and asked if anyone wanted to share a ride to a Trump canvassing event in nearby Springfield.

She clearly did not expect her posting would draw such outrage from her classmates. In fact, the incident caused her to leave the college two days after the event, even though she had only recently at Bryn Maw as a freshman a month before.

“My dad is a Republican, my mom is a Democrat; I’ve grown up with political conversation to be very normal,” Moritz said during a recent phone interview from her home. “Most of my friends at high school were very liberal; my boyfriend is very liberal.”

Disappointment could be heard in her voice when she remarked how it upset her that people supposedly committed to freedom of speech and liberal ideas did not respect other people’s political beliefs.

“It’s always been very normal to me to be friends with – even get married to – people who don’t agree with you in the political arena,” she said.political-correctness-at-university

What exactly did Moritz post on Facebook on that Tuesday night in September? It read:

“Do you have anything to do this Saturday…? Perhaps you wouldn’t mind campaigning for Trump? I’m headed into Springfield to do just that but I’m carpooling with a guy I don’t know. For obvious reasons, I don’t want to go alone, so would anyone be willing to go with me?”

Instantly, comments to her post started flooding in from Bryn Mawr students. Moritz shared with me the screenshots of the comments she got.  Though she did not keep an exact count, there were clearly hundreds.

The post and the comments are no longer on Facebook. Moritz deleted both after it attracted negative attention for hours.  They were a mixture of people saying she was a “white supremacist,” “fascist,” and “bigot.” Others tried to ask people to calm down. A few others defended her, saying that: “We shouldn’t be crushing people’s freedom to think how they want to.”

In an interview, Moritz expressed frustration on how, on that night, people were judging her based on her “political beliefs, without bothering to know me or what my stances on things are at all.”

People she knew posted comments defending her; those who were against her had never met her. Even her roommates who were Chinese and Hispanic – two groups Trump has talked about in disparaging ways – stood by her.

“When people started jumping on that very angry bandwagon, I started getting more and more upset,” said Moritz.

At one point, one of her dorm’s peer mentors approached her, but not to offer her support. As Moritz recalls it, the mentor told her where the people commenting against her “were coming from” and said that she had “personally attacked” people on campus by posting on Facebook that she was a Trump supporter.

Peer mentors are Bryn Mawr students who have paid positions of authority in the dorms and are responsible for advising students on personal and academic matters.

As Moritz recalled the conversation: “She was like, ‘I feel attacked by that, you should understand how other people would feel attacked by that because Trump is very against people of color and against LGBT people…so that makes people on campus feel very upset and angry and unsafe.’”

Moritz rejected the idea that she was racist or homophobic. She said that she did not think Trump was against people of color and LGBT people, adding that she was part of a gay-straight alliance in high school.

She also talked of how her parents were childcare workers who took care of boys who came from many different races. “They are brothers to me and one of them is Egyptian, one is Latino, and two are African American,’ Moritz said. “So, it was like…you are saying I hate people who are not white? But, I live with people I care about very much who are not white.”

The night after being bombarded with the Facebook comments, Moritz had a difficult time. She had already been dealing with negative feelings while at college and now she was faced with the fact that it seemed the majority of students on campus despised her.

She called the Suicide Hotline and went to bed late, emailing her teachers that she was not feeling well and would not be in class the next day. That next morning, she went to look for help. She did not find much.

“I had already been going to the health center for counseling, so I went there to talk about this, and my counselor wasn’t not much help really,” Moritz said. “She basically defended the people who had said mean things to me – and that was something I ran into a lot at Bryn Mawr, where the school itself had a strong liberal bias.”

Moritz said she found it ironic that the health center claimed to be a “safe space.”

“It’s not a safe space if you’re a conservative,” she said. She also talked to campus security after her friends had expressed concern about her safety.

Later, her dean, Christina Rose, called her in for a talk. (Each Bryn Mawr student is assigned to one of the seven deans at the school.)

“She asked me how I was doing, that this has been brought to her attention, and if there was anything I’d like to do about it,” Moritz recalled.Stop Trump

She said that though Rose appeared neutral, it was clear to her that “it wasn’t going to be presented that anyone has done anything wrong.”

According to Moritz, Rose suggested that the best way to deal with the situation was to organize an open discussion for those who wanted to talk about their feelings on the issue. She also suggested that Moritz try to talk one-on-one with the people who were upset with her.

Two days later, when she told the dean that she had decided to leave Bryn Mawr, Moritz said that Rose appeared “relieved.”

“She made no effort to try to convince me to stay…she didn’t seem upset about it at all,” was the way Moritz recalled it.

Rose declined to comment on the meetings, citing the policy that contact between a dean and a student must remain confidential.

Moritz remains upset about what this event and its aftermath says about Bryn Mawr and U.S. colleges in general: “Nationwide, there’s a problem of students trying to infringe on other student’s freedom of speech, which happens to both political parties, but I think the way things are right now, the conservatives are bring more attacked.”

She also talked about the negative long-term effects that the school’s culture could have on a student’s professional life.

“Many people at Bryn Mawr are going to leave college, and the real world is going to hit them like a truck.” She gave an example of getting a job where your boss is a conservative. “What are they going to do when their boss is a conservative?” she asked. “Are to yell at their boss? Call their boss a racist?”

The way Moritz sees it students are “sheltered” at Bryn Mawr…”in this bog bubble of people who will echo your opinion. You can throw something out there and…if it’s a liberal opinion, you’ve got a ton of people who jump on and say: ‘Wow, you’re right, I agree with you.’ This is a big problem.”

Moritz sees her case as an example of what happens when a student utters an opinion that strays from that norm.

 

 

 

 

Searching the Maze of Math

A Haverford Professor’s search for bias in algorithms

 

By Audra Devoto

“I like this algorithm; it’s clever” Sorelle Friedler said to her Haverford College class, tilting her head back and admiring what looked to be a tangle of dots on the screen. The algorithm she was referring to could discern which two dots out of millions were closest to each other in the blink of an eye—clever indeed.

Algorithms, or computer programs designed to solve problems, are gradually becoming so sophisticated that referring to them with human qualities is not unwarranted. Now used to make decisions ranging from the advertisements we see to more sinister outcomes, such as the sentencing order a judge might hand down in court, algorithms are quietly and constantly affecting our daily lives.

Friedler is well aware of the power of algorithms. She has purposefully embedded them in her life by studying them in an academic context.

In an interview sandwiched between classes, labs, and meeting with thesis students, Friedler talked easily and with obvious ardor about her research on algorithms.

-- Sorelle Friedler

— Sorelle Friedler

After graduating from Swarthmore College, she attended graduate school at the University of Maryland, where she studied the algorithms that can be used to describe objects in motion. Then she left academia seeking a different kind of challenge: Google.

“It was a lot of fun to get to see inside the belly of the beast for a while,” she recalled almost wistfully. But she said doesn’t miss the corporate atmosphere.

“It doesn’t give the leeway necessarily to work on what you are interested in”, she said, “or to go off on a tangent that might not be related to the task at hand”.

Friedler worked in a semi-secret division of Google called simply ‘X’, on a project aiming to provide universal internet access through weather balloons. If it sounds crazy, well, that’s kind of the point.

“[X’s] goal is really to tackle moonshot problems” Friedler said. But ultimately, Friedler said, “I liked the autonomy of being a researcher in an academic environment.”

Friedler’s current work is a reflection of something that she cares about deeply: discrimination and bias.

“I have a longstanding personal interest in discrimination,” Friedler told me. “Certainly discrimination within tech but more broadly in society”.

It turns out that algorithms, just like the rest of us, can be exceptionally and unintentionally biased in their decisions—a problem Friedler is trying to solve.

The reasons for algorithm bias are many and complex, but essentially it is because they typically rely on past data to make decisions—past data that was collected and generated by biased humans—thus perpetuating any biases in that data.

Is there bias here?

Is there bias here?

“I think it’s one of those things where if you understand data mining and machine learning, and you understand how biases are replicated in society, the fact of the problem is sort of obvious” Dr. Friedler said. “You don’t spend very long at all talking about whether there might be a problem but more jump immediately to what you can do about it algorithmically.”

Friedler came to Haverford in 2014 as an assistant professor of Computer Science. For her, the suburban Philadelphia college is the ideal place to conduct her research.

“Especially with this research, it’s really useful to have an understanding of the societal impacts and the societal context and I think that Haverford students, because of the liberal arts environment, are far more likely to have that,” she said.  “I think that’s a real strength of the college and doing the research here.”

Although Friedler describes happening upon her current research project as an accidental event—it was born of a serendipitous lunch with a fellow researcher who had the same interests—her path to Haverford cannot be considered as such.

“Haverford is not actually an unusual atmosphere for me,” Friedler explained. “It’s an atmosphere I am very comfortable in and liked a lot in college.”

“I always sort of suspected I wanted to come back and get to do some teaching”, she added.

As both an undergrad and a graduate student Friedler took classes on college education theory, something she recommends for anyone considering a career in higher education.

Ultimately, research and teaching are closely related for Friedler. She structures her classes as a series of questions rather than answers, something she claims to have picked up from her education theory courses. With the help of thesis students and other collaborators, Friedler has used her research to produce an algorithm that can check other algorithms for bias, sort of like an unbiased algorithm police. Although her algorithm is not yet widely implemented, she has been presenting her work around the country and hopes it will be adopted by companies who use algorithms for decision making.

Recently, the interest in algorithm biases among both the public and researchers has exploded, something Friedler views as a wonderful thing.

There is a potential downside, however.

“I’ve spent a lot of time talking to reporters,” she said, “which is sort of a bizarre thing I never thought I’d do.”

 

Studies in Black and White

A Puerto Rican photographer chronicles the ‘Negraluz’

 

By Ana Alvarez
For Sandra Andino, it is difficult pinpoint the exact moment she became fascinated with photography. “I remember being a child and there being hundreds of photographs at home,” she says. Her dad, “the photographer of the house” as Andino calls him, loved photography and decided to share his fascination with his daughter. By the age of seven, Andino had her own Kodak Instamatic: “I wanted to photograph everything: my classmates, things at home, etc.”

Sandra Andino

Sandra Andino

Andino, 50, is a cultural anthropologist and a Puerto Rican faculty member of the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. She also specializes in black-and-white photography and is the founder of Negraluz Productions.
Aside from Andino being an educator, Negraluz is her main artistic endeavor and photography project. Negraluz’ aim is to “present and represent visual images of Latinos of African descent, heritage, and ancestry in a positive light as history makers of our community, society, and the world,” as Negraluz’ website describes its mission.
Andino chose to juxtapose the Spanish words “negra” or black and “luz” or light in order to signal that blackness can bring enlightenment and consciousness to those within the Afro-Latino community (a community that she is a part of) who are trying to reconcile with their identity:
“In Hispanic culture, there are many negative connotations when the word ‘negro’ or ‘negra’ is utilized,” said Andino. “I wanted to do sort of a play on words and juxtapose these two words to demonstrate how blackness can be an opening– a path. To me it meant that blackness is not a negative thing but something very positive that can create awareness.”

Within Puerto Rican culture, the term “black” is constantly utilized with negative connotations and even those who have darker skin tones are referred to as “trigueño” which does not directly translate to black, but instead means “tan.”
Historically, the acknowledgement of African heritage within Hispanic cultures has been dismissed. Use of the term “Afro-Latino” itself is quite recent.
For Andino, black-and-white photography turned out to be the ideal method for acknowledging the role of African heritage within Latino identity.
In her last exhibit, titled “Afro-Latino in Philadelphia: Stories from El Barrio,” she presented eight black-and-white portraits of Philadelphians who identify as Afro-Latinos. Among the subjects were academics, entrepreneurs, artists and educators. These 30×44-inch portraits adorned the walls of El Taller Puertorriqueño’s Lorenzo Homar Gallery in North Philadelphia where visitors could also listen to recorded excerpts of Andino’s interviews with her subjects:
“I learned so much from these interviews and that’s what I wanted to share with viewers– excerpts that may reveal something more about the subjects in the exhibit.”
For Andino, this exhibit combines her previous history with black-and-white photography with her journey of becoming aware of her identity as an Afro-Latina. As an undergraduate in the University of Puerto Rico, Andino decided to take a course in basic black-and-white photography where she also learned how to develop film:
“Through developing my own film, I learned a lot about how light and darkness works. I believe that through black and white you learn to pay attention to details, to really see through the lens and to focus more in how light hits various subjects.” said Andino. “You go into the darkroom knowing that you’re going to be developing shades of white, black and grey. You begin to think in those terms.”

Andino's photo of Jesse Bermudez

Andino’s photo of Jesse Bermudez

After taking the course, Andino was given a scholarship by the Arts League of San Juan which allowed her to continue her studies of black-and-white photography. During this time Andino became fascinated with the work of renowned French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and with the work of other photographers such as Ansel Adams and Jesse Castellano:
“I got very involved in the world of black and white,” said Andino “I loved how black-and-white photographers could present images that conveyed various emotions– it said so much about the subject and about the emotions the photographer wished emphasize. All I wanted to do was black and white for years.”
At the 2009 Arturo A. Schomburg Symposium, where Andino was part of a panel of women that sought to discuss Afro-Latinas and activism, she became interested in how the definition of what is Afro-Latina fluctuated:
“I saw and I heard all the different versions of what it meant to be Afro-Latina– from the opinion of ‘Yes, I am black because I have kinky hair’ and the typical image about black people to other opinions such as ‘Well, we don’t necessarily have to be phenotypically (observably) black to consider yourself a woman of African heritage.’”
To Andino’s surprise, the women on the panel who had the darkest skin tones were the women who seemed less aware of their African heritage. When observing their participation in the panel, Andino questioned herself:
“How can these women talk about themselves in the way that others view them, through stereotypes? It’s astonishing that people with strong African ancestry do not see themselves as black nor recognize their blackness as something positive, right?”

Evelyn Laurrent-Perrault, former visiting professor at Bryn Mawr College, was sitting next to Andino in the panel when she suggested to her to create a project that built upon her experience
in the panel.
Following Laurrent-Perrault’s advice, Andino applied for a grant from the Leeway Foundation which allowed her to begin work on her exhibit for El Taller Puertorriqueño.
This exhibit provided an opportunity for Andino to come back to black-and-white photography and also accomplish the goal behind Negraluz: to create awareness of the connection that exists between Latinos and their African heritage:
“I wanted to provide visibility and a space, to demonstrate that Afro-Latinos in the city exist.”

English House Gazette 2015

Welcome to the English House Gazette, the news blog with content reported and written by students in Bryn Mawr’s ART264W News & Feature Writing class, which draws students from Haverford and Bryn Mawr.. We’ll begin with four stories focused on life at the two colleges.

Chloe Bellamio writes this year’s class project, a look at what Haverford and Bryn Mawr students thinks about their schools’ system of grading. An important part of the culture is not to speak publicly about grades. Does it work?

In the week before finals, Canaday Library opens its doors for 24 hours a day for Bryn Mawr students to study. Alison Robins spent a day and a night at Canaday and emerged with a funny and, at times, surreal story of life inside the library’s walls.

It isn’t easy being a female college in today’s co-ed world.  How does Bryn Mawr do it? The school this year had a record number of freshmen. Aliya Chaudhry explains how the school manages to swim against the tide.

Bryn Mawr has a large contingent of international students.  Being so far away from home — and the culture they grew up in — draws some of these students to religion. Fiona Redmond offers the tales of how four students from around the globe cope.

Even though her topic was procrastination, Phoung Nguyen turned her story in before the deadline. She writes a funny and insightful story on the fine art of waiting until later as practiced by college students.

Grading Our Grading System

Students admit to mixed feelings about how grades are handled 

By Chloé Bellamio 

As the second week of December comes to a close, the students of Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College seem to get busier by the minute. Holed up in the libraries or in their dorm rooms, they are hunched over heavy textbooks and squinting at their computer screens, learning various formulas and writing multiple papers.

Finals week is upon the 2,500 students of Bryn Mawr and Haverford, dragging along its fair share of stress and worry.

GRade AIt would be natural to assume that grades, and their anticipation, play a large role in this stress and worry, even though both colleges they do not emphasize grades and discourage their students against discussing them too much.  This is done in the name of creating a less stressful learning environment.

To test this theory, we conducted dozens of interviews with Bryn Mawr and Haverford students and also conducted an email survey of all students with the goal of getting a clear picture on what students’ think about the present system.

We got replies to the survey from 118 Bryn Mawr students and 332 Haverford students. This sample, representing about 10% of Bryn Mawr’s enrollment and 25% of Haverford’s, offers a good notion of the students’ thoughts on grades.

Here are our major findings:

  • Most Bryn Mawr and Haverford students do not think there is too much emphasis on grades and too much open competition over grades, but they think the competition is mostly internally driven.
  • If most Bryn Mawr and Haverford students come from competitive high schools, their high school experience mostly did not influence their choice to attend Bryn Mawr of Haverford. When it did, it was more because their high school encouraged them to look at top-level colleges than to escape grade competition.
  • While most students agree with the emphasis the colleges put on grades, for some students, the lack of insistence on grades make it more difficult to know where they stand academically compared to others.
  • Students from both colleges strongly dislike the fact that the 4.0 scale does not allow for an intermediate grade between 3.3 and 3.7, and want a 3.5 inserted.
  • While students have a lot of thoughts about the systems in place at Bryn Mawr and Haverford, they are not inclined to make many changes, if any.

The emphasis of both colleges on grades appears to be at the heart of the students’ perspectives on grades.

When asked to quantify the emphasis of their colleges about grades, 68% of Bryn Mawr respondents indicated it is “about right,” against 27% arguing there is too much emphasis on grades and 11% too little.

The results for Haverford indicate a slightly different view: 59% of the respondents believe grades are talked about enough, whereas 41% wish grades were more discussed.

Internal pressure

For Meredith Scheiring, a Bryn Mawr College junior, the perceived emphasis on grades depends on the individual.

“If grades are something that is important to you, you’ll see it influences more, she said.“I think there is a lot of pressure to do well, but I don’t think it equates to grades. I really don’t see people comparing numbers or letters per say… There is a level of competition and high expectation […] but I don’t see it specifically with grades.”GRade B

Bryn Mawr College senior Amy Callahan agrees that the emphasis put on grades by the college instills more of an

“internal competition” rather than setting up people to be “super-competitive with one another.” She added that it “creates a really intense energy, so [students] almost don’t need to be competing against other people”.

Continue reading

Canaday All Night and Day

A library open for all of finals fosters a (stressed) community.

By Alison Robins

             During finals week, students barricaded themselves on the site of the first Bryn Mawr College’s dean’s former home. For the next two weeks, the never-closed Canaday Library would be their office, dining hall, bathroom and bedroom.

Canaday, one of three libraries at Bryn Mawr, remains open continuously from the Monday of the last week of classes to the end of finals every winter semester. For some, the open-access to the study space and information trove is a blessing.

For others, it is a necessary curse.

“It’s a narrative of misery,” said Bridget Murray, a junior and a student worker for the circulation desk. “People don’t leave.”

In the wee hours of a Wednesday morning, Canaday was the great equalizer. The library could have been full of complete strangers, yet everyone had a similar story to tell: one of exhaustion and stress. Few escaped its hold—that is, until the morning light.

12:20 a.m.—“Wait, it’s 24-hour Canaday?”

The Lusty Cup café, located in the basement of the library, was abuzz with over 20 students as Tuesday turned to Wednesday.

All heads turned toward the door every time it opened to see who entered. Then, just as suddenly, the students would return to their homework, finals and Facebook.

“Wait, is 24-hour Canaday in session?” Asked Nehel Shahid, a sophomore. “Already? Sweet.”

Studying for Finals, Bryn Mawr circa 2011

Studying at Bryn Mawr circa 2011

Shahid’s confusion was understandable as the Lusty Cup, referred to as Lusty by students, was always open throughout the semester. The café aspect of the Lusty Cup—a student barista manning various coffee machines in a corner—was only open Sundays through Thursdays from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Shahid had just arrived, hoping not to pull an all-nighter. Last night, she stayed until 7 a.m.

“I’m more productive at night,” said Shahid. “It works for me.”

Her table, also occupied by two other students in this packed café, was covered in papers, computers and peanut M&M’s. One piece of candy flew from her hand to my face.

“Whoops, it’s that time of night,” she laughed.

Isabella Dorfman, a junior, was also unaware that 24-hour Canaday had started the night before. Her goal this semester? Not to watch the sun rise.

“That was awful,” she said, reflecting on her previous all-nighters. Yet, there she was, sitting at one of the available computers in Lusty.

“There’s a rhythm going in the room when it quiets down,” said Dorfman. She spoke about how the rhythm makes it easy to concentrate and get work done.

There are other benefits to the night owl environment: community.

“You don’t feel so alone,” she added. A beat. “That’s so sad-sounding.”

* * *

            Walking through Canaday in the middle of the night was like being on a journey through a never-ending labyrinth. You must weave through stacks of decades-old books, dodge the odd carrel filled with tea and, sometimes, you locked eyes with another lost soul and felt a connection as if you two were the last people in existence.

Hidden in the back of the basement stacks, past Vietnam-era change machines, Bara’ Almomani, a senior, was passed out with her head on her laptop.

“I’m almost done…with my methods,” said Almomani, who perked up when she heard the approach of another human. She was working on her biology thesis, which was due the next day.

Behind her were whispering women seated at large tables. The table was covered in laptops, notebooks, papers, binders and drinks—in closed vessels, as is Canaday protocol. All their respective jewelry—bracelets, watches and rings—was off on the side. Nothing could interfere with their typing speed.

Committing to 24-hour Canaday meant avoiding all distractions: a difficult task, considering to leave even this floor, students must walk past tempting DVDs of distracting movies and television shows.

Placebo drunks

The library definitely had a different vibe during 24-hour Canaday, no matter the hour of day, according to its nocturnal student employees.

Kelsey Rall, a junior, worked at the circulation desk on the first floor. According to her, there were at least four times as many patrons in the library.

She would know: student workers must occasionally go through all five floors of the library to check for students and wake them up if they are unconscious.

Studying in Canaday circa 1970's

Studying in Canaday circa 1976

The difference between the Canaday of finals and the Canaday of the rest of the semester was not just its operating hours, but student attitude.

“People are acting more tired and more delirious than usual,” said Rall, no matter the time. When she was working, it was around 1 a.m., a time at which the library is normally still open. Typical weekday hours are 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Rall likened the student sentiment during 24-hour Canaday to that of when children are given grape juice but are told it is wine. They act drunk, though technically they are not.

Kelsey Peart, a senior and a Help Desk student technician, had a more positive outlook on 24-hour Canaday.

“I like it,” said Peart. “I am getting paid to do homework right now.” Though the first floor was packed with students, no one was coming up to her for tech advice.

As most of the Canaday employees were also students, Peart noted, “I’d be here otherwise,” in reference to the work she had to do this finals week.

Though the Special Collections department was closed and the reference librarians had gone home, the Help Desk, almost equally unneeded, remained open.

“No one needs their passwords changed, I guess,” said Peart.

* * *

            Mimi Gordor, a junior, was leaving the library…for now. She was coming back.

“I am in my day clothes and I need to be more comfortable to be more effective in my studies,” said Gordor.

Gordor lived on campus, so she could in theory just study in her room. But rooms have beds, and that was no good for her.

“My friend wanted to study, and I feel more productive when I am in Canaday for some reason?” Gordor said, her voice rising on the last word. “Just not seeing my bed is good for my study life.”

Was tonight an all-nighter in the making? Gordor was not sure.

“I will stay until the work gets done,” she said. “It’s not about me, it’s about the work so…until I’m fully satisfied that I have at least 70% of what I came to do done, I’m not leaving.”

Gordor had a portfolio due at the University of Pennsylvania in 15 hours. She was just going to stay and work on it until they kicked her out of the library—she did not know 24-hour Canaday was in session.

“Yeah, I was just going to wing it,” she laughed.

“Quiet” floor

As students entered the third floor of the Canaday library, M. Carey Thomas haunted their very souls. That is, a bust of her face stared at student’s backs as they walked through the doors separating the stairs from the stacks.

One student sat in the stacks studying as the hours ticked on. She would not leave that spot the whole night.

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Swimming Against the Tide

How one female school thrives in a tough enviroment

By Aliya Chaudhry                                                                                                                                                       

It is a tough time for women’s colleges, but not for Bryn Mawr.

Despite the college’s small size, the declining popularity of women’s colleges and the rising price of college tuition, Bryn Mawr College is thriving, with application numbers increasing each year, according to Marissa Turchi, associate dean of admissions.Bryn Mawr logo

Bryn Mawr College is a small liberal arts college for women located outside Philadelphia. It has roughly 1,300 students, with around 370 students enrolling each year, according to the college’s website.

This year, the college enrolled its largest class in history. The class of 2019 had 389 students, according to the college’s website.

The acceptance rate, now at 38 percent, is decreasing, while enrollment is increasing, according to Peaches Valdes, dean of undergraduate admissions.

It is up to the admissions office to process the growing number of applications and select the students who get admitted.

Inside Admissions

Bryn Mawr College receives roughly 2,700 applications a year, according to the college’s website. These applications are read by an admissions team of 20 people.

According to Valdes, of those 20 admissions officers, five are part of outreach and recruitment, three work in campus visits and events and seven work in operations, which is the team that collects application materials.

Admissions officers work year-round. In the fall, they spend three to eight weeks traveling across the globe.

They spend November through March reading applications. In April, the admissions officers focus on admitted students as they visit campus, attend events and select which institution to attend.

Admissions officers travel in the spring to recruit the next class of students. In the summer, they reflect on the past year and start preparing for the next, along with doing more traveling and hosting more events.

Reading applications is just one of the admissions officers’ many responsibilities. But it’s an important one.

“Just like a student is diverse and multi-faceted, so is our process,” said Valdes, who graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1999.

When an application is submitted, it is given to the officer who handles the region the applicant comes from. Each admissions officer is assigned certain territories, and they are responsible for knowing information about schools in those areas and for contacting high school counselors there.

Thirty-five percent of Bryn Mawr’s students come from the Mid-Atlantic while 13 percent come from the West, according to the college’s website. The states from which Bryn Mawr received the most applicants in 2015 were California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Texas and Virginia, according to Turchi.

May Day is one of Bryn Mawr's many traditions

May Day is one of Bryn Mawr’s many traditions

Each application is read by two to four admissions officers. Some are brought to committee, where the admissions officers discuss the applications at greater length.

Valdes said, “We have multiple people looking at it so it gives us a good sense that when we bring a student to campus we know that we’ve done all the checks and balances in the sense of academic fit, social fit, potential for growth, desire to have a transformative experience.” Continue reading

Finding Their Religion

How religion helps international students connect 

By Fiona Redmond                                                                                                  

Bryn Mawr College offers a unique melting pot of students from all over the world.

International students come from all over the globe—from Turkey, to Kenya, to Vietnam—to study in America, bringing with them new traditions and perspectives.

Religious life on campus reflects the students’ various backgrounds, and each student uses religion in a different way: for personal comfort, to stay connected to home, or to start building communities of their own.

These are the lives of four international Bryn Mawr students, each coming from vastly different parts of the world, and how religion helped them create a new life in America.

Aliya Chaudhry

“Home country?” asks Aliya Chaudhry, Bryn Mawr class of 2018. “I’ll just go through the list.”

Chaudhry’s passport was well used even before she was 10 years old. Born in the U.K., Chaudhry has lived in the Britain, Pakistan, New York City, and Kenya, all before coming to America for college.2000px-Star_and_Crescent_svg

Chaudhry lived in the U.K. for two years, before moving to Pakistan until she was four. Despite this short stay, Pakistan is the only country that Chaudhry has citizenship from, and the country that both of her parent’s grew up in. Chaudhry then moved to New York City for five years, before moving to Nairobi, Kenya, where she has lived up until coming to college.

Her father works in Somalia, but Nairobi is what she calls her family’s “home base”, and where her mother, father, and sister live while Chaudhry’s at school.

All this moving around effected how Chaudhry viewed her connection to Islam. “Because I moved around so much I didn’t really have much of a culture.” She said. “Religion in a lot of ways substituted for that.”

And, according to Chaudhry, coming to Bryn Mawr has helped further this connection to her religion. In Kenya, Chaudhry is part of what she calls an “interesting situation”—a strong minority of Muslims and other expats living in a country that has a Christian majority. In fact, Chaudhry felt that religion in general was looked down on at her high school.

However, after coming to Bryn Mawr, Chaudhry has found a community within the Muslim Student Association (MSA), for which she is the club publicist, and other Muslims on campus.

“Recently, I’ve taken a more active role in my religion.” she said.

According to Chaudhry, the MSA focuses more on community building rather than actual prayer. She would like to see discussions of religion and Friday night dinners to increase in the future.

Chaudhry doesn’t mind that the MSA members don’t actively worship together; she has always felt religion was a more private affair. She and her family used to pray together, and since coming to college Chaudhry still finds it easy to take time from her day-to-day life at Bryn Mawr to worship. She prays in between classes, in her room, and even took a renewed interest in reading the Qur’an.

“Being around more Muslims and having that space to talk about [religion] did make me more invested in religion.”

According to Chaudhry, being away from her family made her feel lost at sea, looking for some kind of connection to be grounded in.

“I was feeling alone and I needed something to connect to” she said, recalling how she felt her first few months of living abroad. “It’s like, spiritually, needing that connection.”

Chaudhry says she feels more comfortable practicing religion at Bryn Mawr, but there is still a cultural unawareness about Islam that permeates the campus,

“And that can be a little awkward.” she said sheepishly.

But that doesn’t stop her from having a positive and optimistic attitude about the future of the MSA and Muslim community at Bryn Mawr.

“It’s a really good community.” she said with a smile.

Fiona Benmayor

Fiona Benmayor, a Bryn Mawr senior, talked quickly and concisely. When she wasn’t gesticulating with her hands, she would pause a moment for breath, and to take a bite of her sandwich. She’s the embodiment of “places to go, people to see,” yet still devotes time and passion to the tasks in front of her.

And that passion is clearly transferred to her religious beliefs, and her love for her native country, Turkey.jewish-symbols-image

Benmayor grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, before moving to Boston, Massachusetts with her family when she was 15. According to Benmayor, they moved to America for the better education system, mostly for her younger brother, who has learning disabilities.

In Turkey, Benmayor is one in about 17,000 Jewish people who live in a country that has a population of almost 75 million people, according to the World Bank.

“We were such a small community that we all knew one another, and that made us very traditional.” said Benmayor, remembering her life in Istanbul.

It was her family’s Jewish identity that helped them settle when first coming to America, connecting them to a new community of Jewish people away from home. Although it was difficult to retain the same religiosity that they did in Turkey, the Benmayor’s still used their Jewish roots to stay close as a family.

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