WELCOME TO THE SPRING 2018 edition of the English House Gazette, the official blog of Bryn Mawr College’s ART264 News and Feature Writing class where we post a sampler of the diverse stories reported and written by student journalists in the class.

 

Stories range from on-campus profiles and trends to ventures outside the bubble, all based on beats selected by the students.

This year we have a particularly interesting lineup.

Bryn Mawr’s RACHEL LIGHTSTONE clues us in on the latest trends iin tattoos on campus, including the popular pick and poke style.

YI GAO, a Bryn Mawr student, writes about the growing use of ancient and modern artifacts in the college classrooms, with an emphasis on some striking Japanese prints.

Bryn Mawr’s AZALIA SPRECHER, who made immigrants her beat, offers nuanced and often poignant tales of two Bryn Mawr students who are “Dreamers” who were born in Mexico, raised in the United States and now are among the 600,000 so-called DACA men and women facing possible deportation under President Trump’s crackdown on immigrants. Sprecher also profiles Bryn Maw sociology professor Veronica Montes, who arrived in the U.S. from her home in Mexico as a teen.

YUQI ZHA, a Bryn Mawr senior, chose the Chinese in America as a beat. One story reveals how a Bryn Mawr student from China manages to bring a suitcase full of food from home. It’s called The Smuggled Dumpling Caper into the U.S. The descriptions can make your mouth water. Zha also writes about Pangpang Lulu, a niche delivery service that delivers food to Chinese students yearning for their country’s food. Try the Chicken Feet stew.

To test the attitudes of Bryn Mawr’s growing cadre of Chinese students, Zha surveyed them all and lays out her results. It’s amazing how a bad bowl of white rice can ruin your day.

Haverford College senior SEAN WOODRUFF goes beyond the confines of campus to cover his beat on high tech. For starters, there is a bar in Fishtown that offers virtual reality headsets to its customers.  And he looks into the popular and successful Hackathon held each year by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Finally, Woodruff accompanies a group of accomplished Lower Merion students as they compete in a regional robotics competition with their robot Everest. Can he do it?

Haverford’s STEVE LEHMAN has a funny and endearing tale about a would-be student movie maker who reveals how hard it is to make a movie without lights, a camera and actors. Lehman’s classmate JOSEPH STARUSKI, who is a mass transit freak, adds to the canon with a look at the rage for electric bikes.

Covering the arts, Bryn Mawr’s COURTNEY EU writes about how diversity has come to the comics. Superman make way for an Afro-Latino Spiderman, a gay Iceman, and a Muslim Ms. Marvel.

Bryn Mawr’s ANIKA VARTY, whose beat was the arts, gives us an update on creative dance groups breaking new ground in ballet.

 

The ‘Invisible Yellow’ Speak

Bryn Mawr gets high marks from Chinese students….

But many wonder if the understands them.

By Yuqi Zha

The number of Chinese students at Bryn Mawr College has increased 20 times in 10 years, from only nine students enrolled in 2008 to 181 Chinese students enrolled in 2018, according to Patricia Lausch, the director of International Student and Scholar Services and Advising at Bryn Mawr College. Chinese students now represent 13% of the total student population, the largest single group of international students.

What do Chinese students think of Bryn Mawr College?

To find out the answers, we surveyed all of the Chinese students on campus, including a few recent graduates, and interviewed eight respondents. Seventy-nine students answered our survey, which is a 43% response rate, high for a voluntary survey. In addition, 31 students appended anonymous comments to the survey sent out through Survey Monkey in late April. Chinese students are willing and eager to share their feelings and opinions.

Overall, Chinese students are pleased with their experience at Bryn Mawr, with 24% rating it excellent and 61% rating it good.

Q: Overrall, how would you rate your experience at Bryn Mawr?

They also have a generally favorable opinion of the services they use. The percentage of students rating each service good or excellent are: 73% for the Pensby Center for international students, 65% for the Writing Center, 63% for the Health Center, 67% for the New Dorm Dining Hall and 59% for the Erdman Dining Hall. The one exception was the Counseling Center, considered good or excellent by only 35% of the respondents. The low rating of the Counseling Center is partly influenced by the fact that fewer Chinese students have contacted with the counseling service.

As one respondent to the survey put it: “Without BMC I would not be who I am. In my four years here, BMC not only taught me priceless professional knowledge and expanded the scope I interpreted the world around me, but also helped me have a better understanding of myself. I learned critical thinking here, but more importantly, I learned tolerance from the open and comprehensive environment of BMC.”

Praise was not universal. When asked if the school offered a welcoming environment, 33% students rated it fair or poor. Another 34% said they had experienced some discrimination at the school.

Interviews with students fleshed out some of those feelings. Some aspects of the college have not adapted to the explosion of Chinese students.

In sum, Chinese students want improvement in three areas: They want staff with Asian backgrounds on the campus. They want International Student Orientation back. They want attention to their particular needs and not be the “invisible yellow” anymore, as one student put.

There is one issue that symbolizes that failure to adapt. It centers on the issue of white rice.

Bryn Maw College offers Chinese students lousy white rice.

White Rice

Bryn Mawr College has two dining halls, the New Dorm Dining Hall and the Erdman Dining Hall. Erdman provides only traditional American food, while the New Dorm  has a special buffet, devoted to food from different countries and regions around the world, including Chinese and other Asian food. Students call that part of the New Dorm Dining Hall the special bar. The origin of the food provided on the special bar changes every month.

Probably because of the special bar, Chinese students slightly prefer the New Dorm Dining Hall over the Erdman Dining Hall: 87% said they frequently use the New Dorm Dining Hall, compared to 67% who said they frequently use Erdman Dining Hall.

When the special bar in the New Dorm Dining Hall provides Asian food, it also provides white rice, because white rice is the basis of Asian food. Asians have very different opinions about rice from Americans. They like tender, moist, sticky and fluffy white rice, very different from brown rice. If cooked white rice has the same hard and chewy taste as brown rice, it is considered as “half-cooked” and terrible by the Asians.

The white rice provided at the special bar followed the American standard of preparation. That’s why Chinese students had many complaints about it.

“I don’t really understand how they can make white rice taste so bad,” said Cheyenne Zhang, a sophomore Math and Philosophy major.

“Is it so hard to cook white rice? Come on, it’s just white rice!” said Hou Wang, a senior Fine Arts major.

“It’s true that Chinese food has many regional cuisines and it’s hard to satisfy all the Chinese students from different parts of China, so I don’t even want to comment on the Chinese dishes on the special bar. But I just want a bowl of normal white rice every day,” said an anonymous respondent to the survey.

Probably, there is no other culture that can exceed the extent to which Chinese culture values food.

“Food is the first necessity for man,” according to an old Chinese saying.

Therefore, if a bowl of white rice can make the campus a much more comfortable environment for Chinese students, why not make the change?

Q: Have you ever felt discriminated against at school because of your nationality?

Staffs with Asian Backgrounds

Shining Zhu, a junior Psychology major, who has worked at the New Dorm Dining Hall for three years, provided an answer—lack of student supervisors and managers with Asian backgrounds at the New Dorm Dining Hall.

“They think sticky and fluffy white rice is gross,” said Shining Zhu, referring to American staff and student workers at the New Dorm Dining Hall.

The student supervisors and managers at the New Dorm Dining Hall are predominantly white, so the food provided there is according to an American standard, including the special bar.

“There isn’t anyone to represent the opinion of Chinese student workers or Chinese students in general at the weekly staff meeting,” said Zhu, “Chinese students might be afraid or nervous to give advice directly to the managers or the college.”

The New Dorm Dining Hall is not the only place lacking staff with Asian backgrounds. Out of the six services surveyed, the Counseling Center was the least frequently used by Chinese students, with 71% saying they rarely or never used it.

There are complicated cultural and social reasons behind this phenomenon. In China, the education system doesn’t pay much attention to the mental health of students. Therefore, many Chinese students didn’t realize that the Counseling Center was an option they could go to when they encountered problems.

Four out of eight interviewees mentioned that they didn’t think they needed any counseling service, but they also mentioned that they felt homesick or stressed, especially in their freshman year.

Another important reason behind the low usage of the Counseling Center is the language barrier.

“I am afraid that I can’t express myself clearly in English, especially for emotions and feelings,” said Jia Wei, a freshman, “The multilingual service of the Counseling Center is only available in Spanish. Therefore, I didn’t use it frequently.”

“It makes me sadder when I need to pour out my fears and worries in English,” said one respondent in the survey.

The presence of an Asian psychiatrist or counselor may encourage Chinese students to use the Counseling Center more often.

The phrase “a dean or Admin staff with an Asian background” also appeared frequently in the comments from the survey.

“I think the only way to ensure that Bryn Mawr creates a supportive environment for international students (Chinese students particularly in this case) is to hire an official dean with a real Chinese background—not someone who grew up abroad but someone who really knows the academic, cultural and professional barriers that Chinese students face,” said one survey respondent.

“We don’t even need an Asian dean, but just someone who really understands Asian culture,” said Hou Wang, “someone who can really understand us.”

All the interviewees agreed that this would be a good idea.

“It’s not like we want an Asian dean to handle all the Asian students, but the mere presence of such a dean will help us feel safer and have more sense of acceptance,” said Wang, “the psychological effect of such a dean or admin staff is very essential. We will feel recognized by the college.”

As in the case of the New Dorm Dining Hall, Chinese students want a dean or a member of the administrative staff with an Asian background to function as the connection between them and the college.

“I feel like if we have such a dean, the dean’s office and the administration can consider the need of Chinese students better when they organize activities or make decisions,” said Siyuan Luo, an alumna who graduated in 2017.

 

“Invisible Yellow”

Fifty-six percent of Chinese students said they never or rarely encountered discrimination on campus. However, 36% percent of Chinese students said they felt discriminated against usually or sometimes because of their nationality Surprisingly, most of these experiences were academically related. It is hard for many professors and domestic students to recognize or respect the struggle international students face, especially when it comes to language.

Luo described her experience in a class called Introduction to Modern Architecture: “I got a really bad grade on my first paper and I decided to talk to the professor. The first thing she said in our conference is ‘I can’t understand your English. I think you should withdraw from this class’, without telling me what I did wrong or helping me improve. I am an East Asian Languages and Cultures major and I have to do a lot of writing. But I never got the similar comment from any other professors.”

In the end, Luo withdraw from the class because she was afraid that the professor wouldn’t offer her any help to pass the course.

Gaoan Sheng, a freshman, encountered great difficulties when she tried to communicate with her classmate in ESEM. ESEM is a seminar course all the freshmen have to take, in order to prepare them for academic writing and discussion.

“The American student sat next to me every class,” said Sheng, “but whenever the professor asked us to discuss in pairs, she always ignored me, even if there was no one else she could discuss with.”

Sheng felt especially hurt when she saw that student happily talking with other students both in class and after class.

The discrimination that Chinese students encountered was mostly due to certain stereotypes about Chinese in American culture, ignorance about Chinese culture and a lack of understanding of the recent development of China.

“It’s not really about feeling discriminated, but about feeling ignored,” said Wang, “We are part of the ‘invisible yellow’ in the American society.”

Chinese students themselves have to take some responsibilities for this invisibility. Compared to other ethnic groups on campus, Chinese students are quieter when it comes to campus-wide conversations on many issues.

As one respondent to the survey said, “I wish Chinese students could engage in more panel discussions on campus, or hold the panel discussions themselves.”

Part of this reticence is due to Chinese culture—Chinese are used to tolerate and adapt themselves to difficult conditions. They are good at changing themselves to fit into the environment, but not at changing the environment for themselves.

However, another essential reason behind the “invisibility” is the feeling of insecurity Chinese students face on this foreign land.

“Because we are living on a foreign land, sometimes I felt I don’t have the right to comment on things,” said Eva Liu, a sophomore Biology major, “I am afraid that I will be attacked if I ask them to change. In the end, they are the owners of this land, you know.”

“I am sorry that sometimes I am a coward,” said Wang, “When I heard people having silly conversations about China, I didn’t have the courage to correct them. Because this is not our home, we can’t always say what we want.”

Chinese students also don’t have a student association that can organize and represent their voices in the campus-wide conversations. Probably this is something Chinese students have to work out themselves. But if the college can appoint a dean or admin staff with an Asian background, they may alleviate the feeling of insecurity of Chinese students and give them more courage to speak out on this foreign land.

As the number of Chinese students increases, more and more Chinese students do speak out or participate actively in campus-wide activities and discussions.

“I am really grateful for those who actively raise their voices on campus, like Koukou Zhang in the LGBTQ movements and Xiaoya Yue in SGA,” said Wang, “but for some reason, their efforts as Chinese students ended up invisible. I don’t know why and I don’t know how we could change.”

Q: Rate the efforts made at the school to create a welcoming environment for Chinese students. International Student Orientation

Surprisingly, Bryn Mawr College recently made a change regarding international students, but a negative one. Bryn Mawr College will no longer have International Student Orientation (ISO) for freshmen, starting from next fall.

 

Originally, international students would come to campus two days earlier than domestic students for the ISO. The college would take the students to get their Social Security numbers and arrange a series of events to help the students adapt themselves to this new environment. International upperclassmen would work as volunteers during the ISO to take care of the freshmen.

In the interviews, when asked about the best thing the college has done for international students, half of the interviewees mentioned ISO.

“ISO provides a soft landing for international students,” said Eva Liu, “we were able to meet students from the same origin first before we were fully exposed to this unfamiliar environment.”

“International students need more time to adapt themselves to this new environment,” said Cheyenne Zhang, “even just for the jet lag.”

“It’s a perfect chance for upperclassmen to know freshmen,” said Gaoan Sheng, “it’s crucial for freshmen to have this bond with upperclassmen from the same origin. Because they are the only people on campus who can understand the struggle that the freshmen will go through.”

However, the freshmen coming in 2018 will no longer have all these experiences.

At the end of a long welcome back email from Patricia Lausch to all the international students during this winter vacation, she said, “International Student Orientation will be incorporated into Customs 2018. If you are interested in greeting incoming students, consider applying for a Customs positions.”

Customs is the general orientation for all freshmen at Bryn Mawr College.

“I knew ISO was canceled only when I decided to apply for ISO assistant and contacted Patti,” said Sheng.

The situation was the same for Jia Wei.

“I think they should at least give us an explanation,” said Wei, “Patti mentioned in a meeting, not about ISO, but something like ISO was canceled because the number of international students has increased and we can take care of ourselves. I don’t understand the logic at all.”

“I feel bad for the freshmen coming next fall,” said Liu, “they will see all the parents of the domestic students helping them moving in, while they are alone in this strange land. And they will only have Customs People to help them, who wouldn’t be able to offer any help.”

The Customs People are student volunteers working during the Customs and throughout the whole year. They help organize traditional events to welcome the freshmen to the campus. Each floor of each dorm will have two Customs People. However, during the interviews, freshmen and sophomores had many complaints about Customs People.

“My Customs People never showed up in any events,” said Wei, “she didn’t even greet me when we encountered in the hallway.”

“Many Customs People don’t care about their responsibilities at all,” said Sheng, “they just care about the good single room they can get.”

In exchange for their work during the year, Customs People get the opportunity to choose one of the best single rooms on each floor. Room Draw at Bryn Mawr College is a random process—each student will get a number randomly and choose a room based on the sequence of their assigned numbers. Only the first 100 students of each class year can get a good single room. Therefore, applying for the Customs people becomes a good way for many students to avoid the risk of bad luck in the Room Draw.

“I don’t understand why and how the college made this decision about ISO,” said Sheng, “it’s definitely not because of lack of ISO assistants. Many freshmen like me are very passionate and willing to become ISO assistants.”

As the number of international students increases, the resources, especially money and staff, devoted to international students haven’t increased accordingly. Therefore, the attention that each international student receives decreases.

“I don’t want to feel like an ATM, but sometimes I do,” said Wang, “we paid so many full tuitions to the college but they cared less and less about whether we feel good or not.”

 

Can Everest Make It?

Lower Merion High School’s robot, Everest, faces a big challenge

By Sean Woodruff

When his body is fully extended, Everest towers over almost everyone. His steel skeleton sits upon a sturdy base with wheels and a single claw protrudes from his neck.

But right now, he is asleep. Most of this robotic behemoth is covered beneath a large plastic shroud.

Everest’s elevator mechanism, which allows him to grow to eight feet tall, is broken and the young engineers of Lower Merion High School are scrambling to fix it before the end of the night.

It’s the evening before the Mid-Atlantic-District Championship of FIRST, a major event in the world’s largest youth robotics contest (FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).

If these students and their robot do well enough over the three day competition, their team will qualify for the World Championships in Detroit later in April.

But everything depends on Everest’s elevator. Without it, he won’t be able to perform a critical move at a tomorrow’s event. He needs to be able to lift boxes more than 6 feet in order to secure an important source of points.

Tonight, the lab is electrified with a sense of subdued activity as students in safety glasses hasten to make adjustments. Another group tinkers with his claw to make sure he has a strong and consistent grip. Others sit at computers, optimizing his code.

The focused murmur is occasionally interrupted by the buzz of an electric saw.

***

It’s day one of three in the District Championship. A sea of people in color coded t-shirts are gathered in Lehigh University’s Stabler Arena. The “Gearaffes” wear orange, “Wolfpack Robotics” wear navy blue. The Lower Merion High School students, nicknamed “Dawgma” wear a distinctive deep maroon.

Maya Levitan, Dawgma’s Team Captain, stops by the Pit, where Everest is inspected and fine-tuned between matches. “It’s like in NASCAR”, Maya says.

Maya is the shortest person in the lab, but she’s poised and confident. She watches carefully as the robot is unpacked. Luckily, the elevator was fixed last night and seems to be working correctly. Nothing more can be done but hope for the best.

Satisfied, Maya enters the arena and is confronted by a wall of sound. An announcer speaks enthusiastically into a loudspeaker. Pop music blares in the background. Teams fight over the remaining sonic real estate with various chants.

An opposing team begins a cacophonous cheer. “Blue Alliance!” Clap. Clap. Clap-Clap-Clap. Their voices crack as they stretch the limits of their adolescent vocal cords.

The members of Dawgma begin to bark and howl back, embodying their school’s mascot. A student in a full Bulldog costume coaxes them on from the lower bleachers.

It’s time for Everest’s first match of the day.

Each match is between two alliances of three teams: Red and Blue. In these early matches, the alliances are pre-determined and change every game. Right now, Everest is wearing red.

The most compelling part of the game is the Scale, a large teetering see-saw on which the robots must balance bright yellow cubes. Tip the Scale to your side, and your Alliance gains control, earning 2 points for every second that you maintain the advantage.

Two similar mechanisms are on the floor called Switches. These are important too, but without control of the Scale, it’s almost impossible to win.

“3…2…1…Power up!”

The match begins and Everest zooms across the field, beating everyone else to the Scale.

These first 15 seconds of the match are completely autonomous—they are also critical to the game.

“It’s really hard to catch up if you lose control of the Scale early,” says Paul Leeds, a junior.

If anything goes wrong, Everest is all alone.

But Dawgma’s hard work last night paid off. In one smooth motion, the robot extends his elevator up and drops the cube onto the Scale, gaining control for the Red Alliance. Everest is standing tall.

For the next two minutes, human drivers take control of the robots. The Blue Alliance gains brief control of the Scale, but not for long enough.

Paul was right—their opponents were unable to overcome the early loss and Dawgma ended the first match with a 100 point lead. The entire team shoots up in excitement.

There are 12 more Qualification matches to go and this early success has boosted the team’s confidence.

The matches continue over the next two days. A win. A win. A win. A one point loss. Another win.

The team’s energy is palpable and Paul smiles a goofy grin.  It’s looking like they will be ranked high enough to be Alliance Captains.

During the final day of competition, the top eight teams get to choose their alliance for the remainder of the games.

But choosing who to pick is a complicated strategy question in and of itself.

Maya and Annie Liang, a Sophomore, are tasked with scouting out the best teams to work with Everest.

In between Dawgma’s string of wins, Maya and Annie take meticulous notes on each match and log information in an intricate set of Excel spreadsheets. These scoring algorithms are nuanced and complex—a Dawgma alumnus dedicated weeks to set them up.

As Annie and Maya carefully discuss their plans on the bleachers, Dawgma scoops up six more wins.

An enthusiastic parent swings a Dawgma sign and dances after every single one.

***

Back in Dawgma’s lab, before the final day of competition, Maya and Paul reflect on the semester so far.

It’s taken a lot of commitment to design and build Everest from the ground up. The team met for more than 15 hours each week.

“This year, we decided to pull out all the stops,” says Maya.

Instead of playing it safe and building a robot that specializes in just one task, Dawgma built Everest to be a versatile competitor.

“We bit off exactly as much as we could chew,” Maya says while adjusting her glasses.

Paul jumps in: “Yeah, we were up until midnight before the last preliminary competition.”

They built two robots this year, which allowed them to tinker with multiple design elements simultaneously. They even built a mock playing field in a spare classroom to practice driving Everest.

So far, their work has paid off. “This has easily been the best year so far,” Maya says.

The team is good natured, and lives by the FIRST’s mantra of “gracious professionalism”, which states that learning and communal growth are more important than winning.

Dawgma has even helped other teams with their code.

But there is also no denying the stakes at tomorrow’s competition: prestigious awards, ego, and of course—how a good ranking will look on college applications.

Most importantly, tomorrow’s performance will decide whether Dawgma moves on to the World Championship.

***

It’s the final day of competition. After two long days of Qualifications, Dawgma has come out strongly ahead.

Now ranking seventh among 125 teams, Maya and Annie get to pick their carefully selected dream team as the Blue Alliance: The Pascack π-oneers (π as in “Pi”) and the Mechanical Mustangs.

The Quarterfinals are three back to back matches against someone else’s dream team. Tensions are high.

Quarterfinal Match 1 of 3

The first Quarterfinal match is a little hard to watch. After two days of working flawlessly, Everest seems tired. The elevator that the young engineers worked tirelessly to fix is now stalled.

Everest tries to reach up to the Scale, but strains only a few inches away. What once appeared a towering behemoth now looks more like a toddler trying to reach the counter on his tip-toes.

He spends the rest of the match trying to hold control of the ground Switches, but it’s not enough. They lose 263 to 386.

Dawgma only has six minutes to repair Everest before the next match.

Maya sits stoically, trusting the technicians down in the playing field to fix their robot before the next round.

Paul shifts a bit on the bleachers.

Quarterfinal Match 2 of 3

Luckily, the technicians know Everest in and out, and he enters the second Quarterfinal match good as new.

As if make up for his previous flub, Everest places an impressive two cubes on the Scale during the all-autonomous portion of the match, creating an insurmountable lead that gives the Blue Alliance its first Quarterfinal win.

The team’s barking and howling becomes deafening. A human “wave” makes its way around the stadium.

Quarterfinal Match 3 of 3

The third match starts even better than the second. A robot on the opposing alliance loses connection for more than 40 seconds, allowing Everest to swoop in and tip the Scale.

“Last year, things like that happened to us a lot,” Paul says, obviously proud that Dawgma has learned how to be more consistent.

The team screams each time Everest balances another cube on the Scale. Maya creates a megaphone with her hands, amplifying her cheers.

In the last ten seconds, the Blue Alliance has more than a 100 point lead. Everest does a victory lap around the field before the clock even runs out.

High fives and hugs are shared all around. Dawgma is now the leader of a top 4 alliance—this is a big deal.

“We’re also in the running for a control systems award,” Paul says.

“Yeah, the judges have been to our Pit several times,” Maya says. She allows a smirk to breach her natural humbleness. “We’re probably going to get the award.”

Semifinal Match 1 of 2

Spirits are high going into this match. Dawgma’s cheers easily drown out their rivals’.

The match begins and Paul sits on the edge of his seat, his eyes glued to the chaotic flurry of yellow cubes in the arena below.

These six robots are top-notch and the whole match looks like a well-coordinated dance.

Unfortunately, the Red Alliance is just a bit more coordinated. It’s not looking good for Dawgma.

The rival chant begins to gain steam as the Blue Alliance’s defeat becomes inevitable.

“Red Alliance!” Clap. Clap. Clap-Clap-Clap.

As soon as the match is over, Paul hunches over.

The team members look back and forth at each other. “We usually lose the first match,” they try to reassure themselves.

Semifinal Match 2 of 2

The arena is more packed than its been the whole event. It’s hot—and humid with the sweat of more than a thousand people.

“Who let the Dogs Out” starts playing on the loud speaker. One Dawgma member swings her head back to the others.

“Stand up!” she shouts. “Are you listening to it? It’s our song!”

It seems like a good omen for the next match. The team begins to bark again.

The Bulldog mascot does his best to keep up the energy, but three days of dancing has begun to take its toll.

One of Dawgma’s alliance members calls a time out. The Mechanical Mustangs’ robot, Cutlass is having a technical problem. “It looks like his claw is broken”, Paul says.

“Red Alliance!” Clap. Clap. Clap-Clap-Clap.

The barking fizzles out.

The match begins, but Paul looks a little worried. “I don’t know if it’s fixed or not…”

Everything starts well, but Everest accidentally knocks a cube from the Scale. Cutlass stutters along, and his injured claw fumbles several cubes.

Maya claps in encouragement, but most of Dawgma is silent. With thirty seconds left Dawgma’s alliance is more than 100 points behind.

But the Blue Alliance has one last trick up their sleeves.

The Pascack π-oneers’ robot, Dragon, begins a dramatic transformation as two huge wing-like platforms fold down from its body. The robot extends its neck and latches onto the Scale.

There is one more important source of points in the game. If your robot lifts itself a foot off the ground at the end of the match, your Alliance gains extra points.

It’s a difficult task, and the only thing in the game that Everest can’t do.

But he can be lifted by robotic comrade and Dragon’s platforms were specifically designed to carry other robots up to victory. Maya and Annie added Dragon to their dream team for just this reason.

It’s risky, but it’s their only chance.

The clock counts down. 4— Everest climbs onto the platform—3—he secures his placement—2—the platform begins to rise…

At the last second, Everest topples. Down with him goes Dawgma’s chance at competing in the Finals.

Everest lays motionless on the ground as Paul and Maya give a few conciliatory claps from the bleachers.

“I think I have to go change,” says the Bulldog, drenched in sweat.

***

Although they didn’t make it to the final round, the whole team is proud.

Dawgma finish the regional championship ranked 6th out of 125 teams, and they did end up winning the prestigious “Innovation in Control Award”.

Even more impressively, Dawgma’s performance secured them a spot at the World Championship in Detroit.

Detroit is a long trek from Ardmore, but the team is ecstatic.

“I’m definitely going to go—even though I’ll miss a lot of physics class,” Paul says.

Bryn Mawr’s Dreamers

The life and times of two students born in Mexico, but raised in the U.S.

By Azalia Sprecher

Jocelyne Oliveros and Daniela Lopez are both active members of Bryn Mawr College. Like any college student, they can usually be found in the library, hanging out with friends, or rushing to their next class. But there is an invisible trait that both young women carry with them: they are both undocumented, DACA recipients.

According to the Pew Research Center, there are about 690,000 unauthorized immigrants who are enrolled in the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, which was established by the Obama administration in 2012.

Although DACA allows students like Oliveros and Lopez to attend college, be employed, and travel, it does not guarantee their future nor provide a path towards citizenship. Although Bryn Mawr College is aware of the students who are undocumented, the administration does not reveal students’ information unless a subpoena is presented, nor does it use government programs like E-verify to check students’ employment eligibility.

Undocumented students come from all racial, economic, and religious backgrounds. Although they don’t hold U.S. citizenship, many do not remember their birth countries. Students like Oliveros and Lopez are constantly wondering if they’ll get to live out their dreams in the only homeland they know.

Jocelyne Oliveros

Jocelyne Oliveros

Jocelyne Oliveros opened the door to reveal a bright room full of wall art. As she gave a tour of her room in Rockefeller Hall, she paused at the replica of a Diego Rivera painting that hangs over the fireplace.

“I love Diego Rivera’s paintings. The original of this painting is housed at the Detroit Institute of the Arts. When I was there on a school trip recently, I wanted to see it, but I ended up riding the trolley all day. I passed by the museum, but that’s as close as I got to the real painting,” Oliveros jokingly said.

The replica Rivera painting is one of the many markers of Oliveros’ Mexican heritage. There are flags, artisan mugs, and small Day of the Dead skulls adorning her room. Although she honors her roots, there are no stereotypical “Mexican characteristics” that define Oliveros’ appearance. Her light complexion, rosy cheeks, golden-brown hair, and flawless English make her hometown of New Rochelle, New York, a more believable origin than her birth town of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.

Oliveros arrived in the U.S. when she was 18 months old with her sister and mother. The young family travelled by plane with tourist visas to meet Oliveros’ father, who had been working between Mexico and the U.S. since the age of 16. Oliveros, now a 22-year-old Economics major at Bryn Mawr College, has not been back to Mexico since.

Being undocumented affected many parts of Oliveros life. She didn’t enjoy milestones such as getting her driver’s permit with her classmates. For college, Oliveros was not sure if she should apply as an international or domestic student.  Oliveros also separated herself from other Latino students to fit in with the white students, in an effort to distance herself from her undocumented status.

“I was able to navigate certain spaces like most of the white kids. I was the only Latina in the advanced classes, and I began to think that the other Latino kids were just lazy,” she said. “I got a harsh wakeup call when I got to Bryn Mawr and saw that everyone else was just as smart as me and did not have the same kids to compare myself with. I thought I could use education to get away from my undocumented status, but I realized that my education doesn’t matter in the eyes of the law.”

Oliveros says that her experience at Bryn Mawr has made her more aware of her status and about how much more she needed to learn about undocumented students.

“People don’t realize that being undocumented is a very real thing that exists around them,” she said. “For people at Bryn Mawr, it’s easy to distance themselves from the issue of undocumented students because they don’t know anyone who is affected by immigration laws. People would care if they could put a face to the term ‘undocumented people.’”

Oliveros believes that if Bryn Mawr were more open to talking about undocumented students, the student body would be more aware that being undocumented affects their friends.

“There is a certain face that goes with being undocumented, and it’s import to let the student body know that it can be anyone of their friends,” Oliveros said. “The stereotypes make us look for a specific person, and when they don’t fit the stereotype we automatically think that this issue doesn’t affect this person.”

Oliveros believes that the only way people will become engaged is if they know someone who is undocumented.

“The issue of undocumented migration is so arbitrary. When we talk about race and gender rights we have a face we can connect the cause to, but because this is also a very quiet matter that many people are private about, it is harder to put a face and emotion to the cause. Not having a face for the cause puts it on the backburner because there is no sense of immediate danger.”

Bryn Mawr has not always been a comfortable space for Oliveros. During residential life training her sophomore year, Oliveros overheard a student talk about the status of illegal immigrants as a political stance that she rather not comment on.

“I think about the issue of undocumented people in terms of other human rights issues that at one point were political stances. You could probably make the same argument about gay rights, but if anyone [at Bryn Mawr] were to say that someone’s sexuality is a political opinion, people would be upset. People here don’t realize that being undocumented is also an identity that shouldn’t be politicized. I never considered my humanity a political opinion.”

The last time a ruling on DACA happened, the Bryn Mawr President’s office sent out an email saying deans would check in with students they knew were undocumented, but Oliveros never received a call or email.

Oliveros comes from a working-class family: her father paints houses and her mother is a housekeeper. She herself has worked in Bryn Mawr’s dining hall and as a teaching assistant for the Economics department. Oliveros was excited at the prospect of a livable wage and health benefits when she was hired by a consulting firm in her hometown, but the uncertainty of the DACA program overshadowed her accomplishment.

“When I heard that DACA was being debated in congress, I had just been offered a job. My current DACA permit expires in February 2019.  I knew that if DACA wasn’t upheld, I wouldn’t be able to reapply for the program, which meant I would lose my job. It worried me a lot last semester.”

Oliveros doesn’t have faith in the government changing her situation and thinks the battle for migrants’ rights will be a long one. She does have hope in student run organizations like United We Dream, but does not expect anything to happen soon. Congress has yet to come to a decision about the future of DACA. For now, it will continue to provide temporary security for child arrivals who are students, active military members, and Millennials who are now in the work force, including Oliveros, who begins her new job in July.

Daniela Lopez

Daniela Lopez

Daniela Lopez, a small, bright eyed junior at Bryn Mawr, played with her long, black hair while soaking up sunrays in the college’s cloisters. While enjoying the spring weather, the philosophy major and avid Chinatown visitor described a defining moment in her life.

“While visiting New York City, I walked through the National Museum of the American Indian,” said Lopez. “The pictures on the wall told the history of Native Americans. As I walked through the exhibit I thought ‘Hey, they kind of look like me!’”

The irony of this discovery did not escape her. Lopez does not have documents to prove she is from the land that is now the U.S, even though she claims her Mexican ancestors have been here for generations.

“We live on stolen land but I still have to prove I belong here. I’m native to America, but it baffles me when people tell me to go back where I came from. I am from here!”

Despite this revelation, Lopez has felt like an outsider for a while. Born in Mexico City, Mexico, Lopez arrived by plane to the U.S. when she was four years old. She still remembers her grandma’s house and the short months she spent in Mexican preschool, but she has not returned since. Lopez was raise in Houston, Texas, in a working-class family that struggled to make ends meet. Lopez attended school in River Oaks, one of Houston’s wealthiest neighborhoods. She found it difficult to adapt and says she was at a disadvantage in multiple ways.

“Your parents are supposed to impart certain knowledge of American culture, but my parents couldn’t give me that. When I was in second grade, a classmate told me she was happy we were friends, but she couldn’t tell her parents about me because they didn’t like Hispanics.”

Lopez says she was an outsider in high school and tried her best to adapt to the environment she was in by teaching herself American culture.

“I wasn’t confident in my intelligence, and I felt uncomfortable in intellectual spaces. I always felt inadequate, especially around my white debate teammates since they were very focused on knowing everything.”

Lopez says she pretended to be something she was not because she wanted to fit in. Even though she spoke Spanish at home, Lopez did not speak Spanish at school until her junior year. She was divided and did not confront her undocumented status until she wrote her personal statement for college applications.

“As I was writing my personal statement, I broke down crying. I realized how angry I was at my parents and how frustrated I was at my own situation.”

In college, Lopez said she continued to feel like an outsider, even though she received an excellent high school education, speaks perfect English, and grew up with mostly white friends.

“By looking at me you wouldn’t think I’m undocumented,” Lopez said thoughtfully. “But I quickly realized that you can look like, talk like, and act like everyone else at Bryn Mawr but still feel like an outsider in your own home.”

At Bryn Mawr, her social struggles continued. Lopez has encountered professors who have family members who are Border Patrol officers. Some of the professors have made insensitive comments without realizing there could be undocumented students in the class.

“It’s closer to home than most people think. It could be the person you see in class or in the dining hall who is undocumented. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not real,” Lopez said. “People on campus make assumptions about your choices, such as going abroad or being able to vote. It’s a normal thing for everyone, but not for me, and it can be exhausting to explain myself.”

Like dozens of her peers, Lopez was eager to study abroad her junior year. As a DACA recipient, Lopez was eligible to apply for Advanced Parole, which would allow her to leave the country with the permission of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, but there was no guarantee of reentry into the U.S.

“It’s kind of like wearing a promise ring,” says Lopez playfully. “It’s a loose commitment, and they can go back on their promise at any time.”

Unlike her peers, Lopez was concerned about the problems her status could pose if she decided to leave the country. Although she was determined to study abroad, she had to make the difficult choice of staying in the U.S. to ensure her safety.

“I thought I’d be able to apply for [Advance Parole], but then Trump was elected. I wasn’t going to leave the country then! That was hard on me, and not because I couldn’t go abroad, but because it was another reminder of how I was different.”

The hostile environment towards undocumented people is everywhere in Philadelphia.

“Philly is home to one of the most aggressive ICE offices, and it has arrested the most migrants who don’t have criminal records.”

Ironically, the Office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is located right outside of Chinatown, Lopez’s favorite Philadelphia destination. As a regular visitor, Lopez frequents the SEPTA regional rail line. It has unfortunately become an uncomfortable place for her.

“I was returning from Chinatown with some friends when a white man approached me out of nowhere and said, ‘Excuse me, pretty lady, are you a citizen of this country? Because if you aren’t, I’ll have to report you to ICE.’ I was the only Latina amongst my friends and he didn’t ask anyone else. I was in shock. I had no idea what to say.”

Lopez says the man waited for a response until her friends told the man to walk away. Her friends notified the SEPTA conductor, who told the man to leave the young women alone, but no other action was taken. Lopez and her friends got off the train a few stops before the Bryn Mawr station so the man couldn’t see where they lived.

Despite the challenges, Lopez says she has found a support system. Her dean and mentors have provided emotional and academic support. Professor Montes of the sociology department, a former undocumented migrant, inspired Lopez to share her story. In the fall, Lopez will lead workshops in Philadelphia high schools and colleges to teach students and school administrators how to provide support and protection for undocumented students.

Jocelyne Oliveros and Daniela Lopez are just two of the thousands of students across the country who have been living on college campuses with this invisible identity.

Everything they know is in the United States, but they are unsure if they will be forced out of the only home they know.

 

I’ll Have a Beer and a VR Headset

A bar in Fishtown is the latest to offer the virtual reality experience.

A Mad Rex patron uses a VR

By Sean Woodruff

 Caz Czworkowski is aboard a space station, looking at the Earth from above.

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Suddenly, he is on a rollercoaster, doing loops that seem to defy gravity.

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Now he is shooting zombies, running through a forest for his life.

Czworkowski escapes these worlds by taking off his virtual reality (VR) headset—he experienced all of that without ever leaving his living room.

As far-fetched as it may sound, modern VR has become incredibly life-like, and millions of people like Czworkowski are spending many hours a week exploring virtual worlds.

Czworkowski is the current head of Philly VR, a group of VR enthusiasts who regularly meet up to discuss the technology, play games, and even do some VR programming.

Despite the fact that VR closes off your senses from the real-world, Czworkowski says that it can be a powerful medium for social interaction.

Instead of solo games, Czworkowski says he prefers games like Rec Room and VR Chat, which act as open social spaces in which you can interact and collaborate with other people online.

“The goal is really just to explore and hang out and have fun together”

Unlike typical online games, where you have little control over the fine-tuned movement of your avatar, in VR games, you can use hand and head tracking to communicate with body language along with your speech.

“You feel like your friends are there with you. It’s the next best thing to actually being there with people,” he says.

Czworkowski isn’t the only one who sees VR as a social technology. In fact, VR is now entering one of the most social spaces of all—the bar.

Mad Rex, a new Fishtown restaurant and bar, has an entire space designated as a “VR Lounge”.

Paul Bruce, general manager at Mad Rex, says that the lounge is a great way for friends and family to hang out in novel environments.

“With multiplayer games you can link up with your friends and family members. So there are a lot of interactive elements,” Bruce says.

Mad Rex has worked hard to make the VR Lounge feel as much like a normal bar as possible. They even serve beer and cocktails in Camelback bags that you can sip through a tube while hooked up to the system.

A man and his VR device

It may seem gimmicky on the surface; but so far, their model has been highly successful.

“At least 90 percent of our customers do the VR,” Bruce says. At $2 per minute per customer, that’s a lot of money for Mad Rex.

When asked whether other restaurants and bars will also adopt VR, Bruce replies, “I think they’re going to have to.”

It’s easy to feel skeptical of Mad Rex’s vision of the future. For many people, sipping beer from a bag and talking to your friends through a microphone probably doesn’t sound like the most fulfilling form of night-life.

But even if VR doesn’t end up in every hipster bar, there are many reasons to believe that VR is about to go mainstream in a big way.

Schools like Mercy Career & Technical High School have already begun using VR in the classroom to give students virtual tours through the human body. Museums like the Franklin Institute are using VR to give visitors a first-hand look at the deep sea. And even restaurants like Honeygrow are using VR to streamline and standardize employee training.

This recent surge in VR adoption is the result of rapid advancements in hardware as well as plummeting costs for the devices.

Although the initial hype surrounding VR began in 2012 with the announcement of the Oculus Rift (the first modern VR headset), prices were high and the early headsets weren’t as flawless as they seemed.

“There used to be a strong disconnect between where your head is and what you’re actually seeing,” Czworkowski says. “This broke the illusion of immersion, and made VR feel gimmicky and fake.”

In some people, it even caused nausea.

But with the newest models, tracking is essentially flawless. “When you move, you see exactly what you expect to see,” Czworkowski says.

Prices are plummeting too. A VR system used to cost up to $2,000. This year, entry-level headsets are expected to sell for as low as $200.

With these dramatic cost cuts, sales are predicted to rise rapidly.

In 2016, only 2.3 million American households owned a VR headset. In 2018, International Data Corporation predicts that over 12 million headsets will be sold.

Czworkowski believes that as the prices continue to drop, even non-gamers and technophobes will fall in love with VR just like he did.

“I wasn’t even interested in gaming until the Rift came out,” he says. But once he got his first glimpse into a VR world, he was in awe.

“It’s just the kind of stuff you dream about.”