Combatting the Sophomore Slump and Staying Connected

They call it the Sophomore Slump, that feeling of detachment from what once excited you about campus life. Characterized by your lack of attendance to the kind of events that made you want to come to Tufts, the Sophomore Slump affects us all at some point or another. Recently, however, I have been trying to connect back to what made me so excited to attend this school, as I realize that I will be going abroad next semester I can’t help that I’m already feeling the nostalgia.

I would say that one of the major themes of discussion of the school year that resonated deeply with me has been issues surrounding sexual assault and how they relates to female identity and campus culture. In light of events that occurred last year with Tufts’s violation of Title IX of the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act there has been a noticeable push for the expansion of resources. As a member of Tufts’s Greek community, I can honestly say that my organization is working to make changes and promote dialogue across the entire Tufts community. In October, the Tufts Inter-Greek Council formed the Greek Life Anti-Sexual Assault Initiative Task Force. The aim of this independent task force is to have each member of Greek life sign a letter of intent to complete educational anti-sexual assault workshops.

Though we are far from fixing a myriad of issues within the Tufts Greek system, it’s refreshing to see some action being taken. Escaping my aforementioned Sophomore Slump, I attended “It Happens Here” this past February where 30 sexual assault survivors shared their experiences to a packed Cohen Auditorium for the second year. The event was significant for both speakers and the audience; it served as a reminder that our campus culture has many faults and events like this are necessary for fostering dialogue and bringing about positive changes.

In addition to “It Happens Here” I also had the pleasure of attending “Not Your Mother’s Monologues” a revamping of Eve Ensler’s production ‘The Vagina Monologues.” This new production aimed to extend inclusivity to groups that were underrepresented in the original monologues. The monologues covered many topics associated with the female identity. I was impressed by the originality of the production, and how it pushed the boundaries established by the original monologues. Most of all, it reminded me that our campus goes to great lengths to lend a stage for unique and important forms of expression.

What do these events have to do with communications and media? I for one, heard about these events exclusively online, whether it was through Facebook events or the Daily’s website. It’s interesting to think about how much of an impact the Internet has on the attendance and knowledge of what’s going on on campus. As I prepare myself for my journey away from Tufts this coming Fall, I know that I’ll be connected to campus even just through logging onto Facebook, and when I return, I hope to see more and soak it all in.

-Shivani Shendye, A’17

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Tweet Today; Termination Tomorrow?

On Monday, potential presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s political action committee Right to Rise announced that it had hired Ethan Czahor as its chief technology officer. By Tuesday night, Right to Rise had released another statement, which read that the organization had accepted Czahor’s resignation.

The first day at a new job is always rough.

Here’s why: By 3:30pm on Monday, February 9, Buzzfeed reported that nearly 50 tweets had been deleted from Czahor’s personal Twitter account. Apparently, from 2009 through 2011, Czahor had a habit of calling women sluts, complaining about gay men at his San Francisco gym, and using MLK to justify racism.

At 9:17pm on Tuesday, February 10, Czahor tweeted again—no ‘sluts’ or other slurs in sight. “I apologize in advance to whoever fills my position,” he wrote.

This pattern of quick, ‘voluntary’ resignation after a social media-activated PR crisis is nothing new in Washington. Last week, Rep. Aaron Schock’s (R-Ill.) senior advisor for policy and communications Benjamin Cole resigned after ThinkProgress published a series of his 2013 Facebook posts that compared African Americans to zoo animals. In December, Congressional aide Elizabeth Lauten resigned in the wake of backlash from a Facebook rant criticizing Malia and Sasha Obama’s behavior and dress at the White House’s annual turkey pardoning ceremony. Lauten wrote that the first daughters should “try showing a little class” and “dress like [they] deserve respect, not a spot at the bar.” Malia and Sasha are 16 and 13, respectively.

All this commotion begs an important question: Why does it keep happening? Were these resignations justified? And, in Czahor’s case, should the dumb things you thought were funny in college (or right after) affect your career opportunities for the rest of your life?

It’s especially important to consider these questions right now; the university class of 2015 is, in a way, America’s first to grow up online. We were 13 when Facebook opened to 13 year-olds, 14 when Twitter launched, and seniors in high school when Instagram went big. At some point along the way, each of us posted something somewhere without thinking—and we’re the future’s political candidates and staffers.

I want to be clear: I don’t like Czahor circa 2009—we probably wouldn’t have gotten along. I don’t think one-liners about female science majors being uglier than art majors are funny. But I think he should have the right to demonstrate his worth to Right to Rule now rather than being judged on his conduct six years ago.

“i deleted some old jokes i made years ago that i no longer find funny or appropriate. #learning #maturing,” Czahor wrote on Twitter on Monday evening. What his resignation tells me is that there’s no room right now, at least in politics, for growth. But while my generation was warned six years ago (as far back as Buzzfeed dug) about the permanence of social media, we weren’t prepared for the extent to which our tweets, posts, and statuses might affect our future prospects.

As Tufts professors Sarah Sobieraj and Jeffrey Berry wrote in The Outrage Industry, political media has become far more commercial in recent years. In seeking profits and pageviews, reporters go in search of political scandals, and we value their findings as character judgment. Tufts alum Matt Bai says in his new book All The Truth is Out that this business of political media is depriving our political system of many possible candidates (and aides), due to past transgressions on their parts. Recent social media scandals show that this premise applies to online actions as well.

Czahor might still be sexist, racist, and homophobic, and Bush might have later discovered that Czahor was not someone he wanted to work with. He’s still exceptionally candid on social media; on his LinkedIn profile he wrote of East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 2009, “The school sucks. But hey, I was poor, and graduated with zero debt.”

I don’t want to say, however, that his resignation was justified, because I’m worried for myself. I’m nervous that my generation might be no longer allowed to make mistakes, because everything is preserved online forever for a journalist to dig up someday. I don’t need my leaders and their aides to have perfectly clean online profiles—I just want them to come clean and show that they truly are #learning and #maturing.

I don’t know what’s coming, to be honest. But I guess the lesson for now is to delete those jokes from 2010 from your account before, rather than after, you start a new job in politics.

  • Gracie McKenzie, A15

Whatever it takes: A Look at Deflategate

It didn’t take long for accusations of foul play during the AFC Championship Game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts to take root in all corners of social media. If you haven’t heard about this story that everyone and their father has been talking about, here is a quick summary.

The National Football League has opened an investigation into why 11 out of 12 of the Patriots’ footballs seemed to be deflated to the point that they did not meet the set standards for air pressure. Due to heavy rain during the AFC Championship Game, many are saying that the deflated footballs were easier to grip, giving the Patriots an unfair advantage. Since each team plays with its own balls when its offense is on the field, the Colts would have no supposed benefits to playing with the deflated balls.

What’s interesting about this story is the superfluous amount of attention it is getting from the media. Deflategate has been a top news story since the news broke shortly after the game on January 18. Not only has this story been circulating around major news outlets, many have taken to the Internet to offer their own two-cents on this so called controversy. The commentary ranges from allegations that the Patriots are cheaters to detailed debunkings of any kind of evidence that would suggest there was foul play involved.

Just this morning, a story in the New York Times examined the work of researchers from MIT and Carnegie Mellon that seemingly support the notion that the balls may have deflated on their own.

Yet an ever-growing army of Patriot detractors continue to trumpet the notion that the team – and the legacies of its leaders, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady – are forever tainted because of Deflategate and Spygate, a 2007 incident where the Patriots were outed for videotaping another team’s defensive signals, ignoring previous league memos to cease and desist in such practices. A petition to ban the Patriots from this weekend’s Super Bowl against the defending champion Seattle Seahawks, for instance, has garnered more than 65,000 signatures to date.

Then there are others who say that Deflategate isn’t even worth talking about. In fact, Forbes went so far as to say that “Deflategate is the dumbest sports controversy ever.”

News stations and social media aren’t the only mediums offering extensive coverage of Deflategate. Saturday Night Live aired a sketch that poked fun at Belichick and Brady’s press conference. Additionally, Jimmy Kimmel Live! featured a spoof that showed several actors coming forward as the “locker room guy” who may have been responsible for the deflated footballs. Several famous Massachusetts natives, including Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and John Krasinski made appearances in the spoof that has now gotten more than 150,000 views in less than 24 hours on YouTube.

So why do so many of us care about something as prosaic as a few deflated footballs? Why is this story getting more media attention than the actual Super Bowl itself?

Deflategate shows us that everybody loves a scandal, and that the media is as intent as ever to indulge in one.

– Shivani Shendye, A17

How Skimm’ing is Changing the Ways we get the News

As an International Relations and Economics double major I pride myself for knowing what’s going on in the world outside the Tufts bubble. As a college student, however, it’s easy to get bogged down with the college lifestyle and feel out of touch.

So, when I heard about theSkimm, I was interested. theSkimm is a free daily newsletter that provides a concise summary of current events and news stories. Currently, it has over half a million subscribers with its customer base rapidly growing. Snappy headlines with pop culture references such as “bye Felicia” and “pick me, choose me, love me” attract a key demographic: busy, educated millennials in the work force.

I heard about theSkimm from one of my friends who happened to be interning at their Boston office over the summer. I liked the idea of a free daily newsletter summarizing that day’s news stories, and decided to subscribe. Before I knew it, I was checking theSkimm every morning. I, like many other customers, was drawn in by its readability and its apparent lack of media bias.

This being said, I’m not 100% ready to call myself a Skimm’er. As the world saw a major transition from print to digital journalism, there was a major change in the way people receive the news. Although it is still very much in its early stage, theSkimm raises questions about the future of digital journalism. With this convenient resource, will people still look to news sites for their daily fix of current events? Will people be less likely to delve into certain worldly issues, and lead to a less informed voting base? Or will a consolidation of the news and an increase in accessibility lead to a more informed public?

Shivani Shendye, A17

The Social Media of Political Change

On Tuesday, August 19th a video of the beheading of an American journalist by terror group ISIS surfaced on YouTube. Yes, YouTube, the same website we look to for music, cats, and pranks was used as a platform for terror and threats. We live in a world where there is unlimited knowledge, and unlimited channels of spreading that knowledge in a matter of seconds. So, what does this virtual freedom mean for political movements? We first heard of ISIS back in early June when a group of Sunni militants seized several government offices, police stations, and an airport in the city of Mosul, Iraq. Since then, the terror group has killed several journalists sparking Americans’ outrage and pressure on politicians to take action. ISIS’s extreme brutality is not the only thing that sets it apart from other terrorist organizations. It has created an online propaganda machine through site such as YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram effectively recruiting members, spreading its mission, and receiving donations. As a result, several social media sites have been working with governmental organizations to take this media down. Tech-savvy terrorists pose several challenges when it comes to international politics, and ISIS will surely change the way the government deals with cyber security issues. Although social media can be used to spread fear as ISIS has done, it can also be a springboard for activism and solidarity among different groups of people. Back in early July as the fighting erupted between Israelis and Palestinians, so did the discourse among many people in the United States. I remember sharing coffee with some friends from Tufts, and all of a sudden, complete strangers were joining in on our conversations about the implications of violence and the morality of the issues. I received a great deal of news updates from my personal Twitter account, and it seemed that everyone was eager to share their opinions on the fighting through various social media platforms. One of the stories that kept reappearing on my feed was about solidarity movements between Palestinians and protestors in Ferguson. Palestinians were sharing advice with Ferguson protestors about how to deal with teargas and rubber bullets that the police were using to break up protests. Many took to twitter to stand in solidarity with those who were speaking out against police brutality. This story left the most impact because it clearly demonstrated the effects that globalism and technology have had on the relationships between international communities. I believe we are entering an era of cyber political activism. What do you think?

-Shivani Shendye A17

The Faults of Facebook

Only a few short years ago, Facebook reigned supreme, providing the masses with not only an outlet to communicate, but also a means of checking what Suzy wore to the prom in 2008…in case anyone forgot. While it may be that Facebook, as a domain for communication and information sharing, is still thriving, the site has taken on a number of more negative “statuses” in recent years.

Perhaps the harshest of these new reputations is that Facebook is becoming uncool. That’s right, Facebook—the multi billion dollar social media giant with 802 million daily active users—is uncool. Although the losses haven’t seemed to affect Facebook in the slightest, a study conducted by researchers John Cannarella and Joshua Spechler from Princeton University controversially noted that Facebook is on a downward trend of popularity. Additionally, analyst reports, as well as the Facebook CFO himself, have stated that more than 11 million young former-Facebook users have left the site since 2011.

Many Facebook users, in the midst of finals week or looking to get a better handle on their time management, will self impose a Facebook cleanse, temporarily deactivating their accounts for a period of time until they miss that familiar shade of blue. Aside from this practice, though, what is causing young users to deem Facebook unimportant and leave the site has recently been called into question.

One theory for this decline is that Facebook is straying away from its origins as a tool for communication and is becoming a host for unwanted parasites such as spam advertisements, or worse, targeted advertisements. Such advertisements record our online activity—what we like on Facebook and even which websites we view off of Facebook—and then use that information to provide us with advertisements that may suit our preferences. So, for example, if you search for a hotel in New York City, you may see ads for hotels in New York City on your Facebook page. While this may be beneficial for some, others see it as an eerie invasion of privacy and a possible deterrent from using the site, which already provides more than its fair share of spam by way of that friend who is constantly posting updates about what he ate for breakfast.

Another possibility as to why teens are leaving the site is that Facebook makes us sad, as brought to light by a study conducted at the University of Michigan. The reasoning behind feeling the Facebook blues is that it incites social comparison—if you weren’t present at the event that everyone is posting about, unhappiness may set in when you click through the posts and pictures. Since the Internet first rose to popularity, researchers have backed the theory that our increased online presence and decreased personal interactions have heightened our susceptibility to both depression and loneliness.

While what may be triggering teens to leave Facebook is debatable, what is certain is that Facebook usage isn’t always beneficial. What comes with the perks of using the site is a responsibility to be aware of Facebook’s faults. Even though seeing Suzy’s prom dress from 2008 may bring back fond memories of high school, too much Facebook-ing could come at a price.

— Lauren Witte, A14

Do Awards Shows Really Take the Prize?

While many of us are gearing up (or gearing down) for the end of the current cold season, those in the entertainment industry have been eager about a different type of season. This is a season that sparkles with glitzy dresses, shining smiles, and over-the-top extravaganzas. This is a season of celebration and commemoration. This is what Hollywood refers to as “awards season.”

Awards season provides celebrities, entertainers, and artists alike the chance to exhibit, showcase, and applaud each other for the year’s work in the form of small trophies and accolades. From the People’s Choice Awards at the beginning of January through the Academy Awards in March, the major awards events (including the Golden Globes, Grammys, Critic’s Choice and Screen Actor’s Guild in addition to the two mentioned above) flood our television screens. For those who can’t get enough, there are countless more.

All of the hubbub surrounding these awards merits the question: are they worth the hype? For the networks televising the shows, the answer is a resounding “YES!” The awards shows draw in mass quantities of viewers, with the numbers at record high this year for the shows that have aired thus far. It is simple to explain why the shows are so entertaining. Who doesn’t want to see their favorite celebrities donning tuxes and gowns worth more than we can imagine?

Amidst all of the hype however, lies a darker side to the glitz and glam. Besides, perhaps, causing an annoyance for journalists, the major awards shows often paint a one-sided picture of the industries they wish to highlight. For the film awards, this means a lack of recognition of anyone not a part of the “big five,” as I call it—writer, director, producer, actor, and editor. While the additional categories exist—cinematography, visual effects, sound design, music, and costume design (among fourteen others)—only the majors are broadcast during the events. This leads to the assumption and reinforcement, for the general population who does not know about film production, that these faces of films do it on their own, when in fact it takes teams of hundreds if not thousands or more to make a movie happen.

Music awards shows—most notably the Grammys—often marginalize the vastness of the art, only televising awards for best pop, rap, country, and R&B albums and records. Although they also award beyond these categories, the show often turns into a radio-love-fest, with the year’s top radio hits sweeping the televised categories and leaving one to wonder what happened to all of the other music.

While televised recognition is not necessary for appreciation of these forgotten categories, recognition is. I, too, love indulging in the fame and fun of the countless red carpets, but the shows should be viewed as merely a carefully crafted sampling of the talent that exists in the entertainment industry. So as you fill out your Oscar ballots and gossip about the Grammys, remember—‘tis the season for a broader appreciation of those who work to keep us entertained.

Lauren Witte, A14

Jan. 31, 2014

Experiencing Murketing through Experience Marketing

Once upon a time, advertisements appeared in print or on the air, simply explaining why their product was better than its competitors, or offering a cute jingle to get into the heads of potential consumers. But now, that’s not enough. According to Forbes writer Krizstina “Z” Holly, “these days, if you’re not thinking about getting your customers to run through a train station or assassinate a stranger with a water gun, you’re probably getting lost in the crowd.”

She’s talking about a trend she calls “curated experiences,” or a new trend in marketing that offers your customer an adventure connected to your brand, rather than a traditional advertisement. She says this surfaced as a business model originally, as with the performance art pieces “Sleep No More” and Invisible Cities, which offer an interactive experience in a venue that is usually presentational. Now, companies are getting in on the act, if you will, and in our social media-inundated world, this experience of adventure leads to online sharing, guaranteeing more exposure.

We’ve seen examples of this trend recently here in Boston: cliff diving off of the ICA building courtesy of Red Bull and 10,000 motion-activated LCDs along the Esplanade in the Lucy Activewear #lucylightforest. You could probably even think of a few more subtle examples, manifested in your own life. What did you Tweet about?

In his book, Buying In, culture and media analyst Rob Walker calls the phenomena “murketing,” a portmanteau of “murky” and “marketing.” For Walker, though, it’s about more than the experiential nature of this new marketing; he talks quite a lot about how, through this, the brand becomes about more than the product. It’s a symbol of something more, a lifestyle, or even an ideology. Gone are the days of ads like this. Instead, companies like Twitter rarely advertise themselves traditionally, focusing more on building that experience.

What’s hard to comprehend is that our own sharing, as Holly mentions in her article, becomes further marketing, or marketing, for the brand. One great example of this would be posting photos on Facebook after the Color Run, which is more than an experience. At the end of the day, it’s a business and each participant pays around $50 to participate in “the happiest 5k on the planet,” and for the privilege to share those photos.

Murketing becomes an issue because we sometimes aren’t even aware that it’s happening; thus, do we know that we’re being subtly manipulated? The implications of this are great, and as technology and marketing techniques become more sophisticated, that manipulation could become even more subtle. Yet, as both Walker and Holly mention, this new form of marketing allows us to be more involved in the process. Because, in this new world, we do have a say in the brand’s ideology, and we are participating, whether through active learning or water gun battles, in the future of the company.

What do you think: is it worth giving up total awareness of marketing to have more experiences worth sharing? Are you fooled by murketing? How will this change as today’s college students become marketing executives?

– Gracie McKenzie, 2015

Don’t Mess With Texas Reporters

On October 21, 2013, the city of Dallas, TX hosted a community town hall meeting in the conference room of a police station, announcing it in advance in a press release. But, despite the public nature of the meeting, one group of people was not welcome. This wasn’t discrimination based on class, gender, or race; no, the people not invited to the discussion were the media. As this is technically illegal, the reporters called city hall, and after 40 minutes of work the unofficial ban was overturned.

Once inside, the reporters found a discussion about crime in the community and the possibility of opening a new alternative high school. Not so controversial (unlike past town hall meetings). It wasn’t a secrecy issue, either: it was a public meeting and thus cameras were not banned. Any member of the public could have live-tweeted, blogged, or even posted videos of the event to YouTube as it was happening (and, the media could have picked up those posts as evidence if necessary). As area reporter Tristan Hallman wrote, “Basically, the decision to ban people came down to who employed them.”

So why is this important, if they eventually did get into the meeting? The situation forces us to think about the role of media in society. As an idealist and a college journalist (two things that may go hand-in-hand), I’d like to think that the media should be the truth tellers, even when that truth is a run-of-the-mill community meeting. I recognize that the news media we consume have an extremely powerful affect on the way we perceive the world. So, in this case, did the Dallas Police Department. Those in power might prefer to have the media cover their actions only when it is personally convenient. It would certainly be more efficient and less confusing, but when the media is controlled by the government, that’s a police state.

As it turns out, a recent high-profile shooting has the police chief tired of talking to the press. But again, Hallman says, “Of course, we did ask about the shooting after the meeting… But we got the chance to ask, and he got the chance to decline comment.” Our country was instead founded on freedom of the press. This doesn’t mean that the media will always have access to the information, but it means that they should have a fair chance, as a member of the public—especially when the information is made available to the rest of the public. If it doesn’t play out this way, the media has a right to protest and change that unfair treatment. Let’s handle this the American way, with more meetings, discussion, and input. And Chili’s.

What do you think about this story? Have you noted any examples of silenced media in your community?

–Gracie McKenzie, A15

My aunt, like countless others, hates watching television in the morning. “All that’s on,” she says, “is the news and morning talk shows, both of which have little positive to say and really put me in an awful mood for the day ahead.”

Can we blame her?

We have heard time and time again that the media is not just a passive form of entertainment. What we watch, read, and consume through screens and over airways has a direct effect on the way the think, act, and process our surrounding world, as well as, for my aunt and others, our mood and well-being. This effect is demonstrated in full-force when talking about the recent spree of gun violence in the past few months and years. It seems as though there is a constant influx of disheartening and demoralizing news—a gunman on the loose, children killed, a domestic dispute with a tragic ending. It’s as though the bad days have come to outnumber the good, and we find ourselves lucky when a day goes by with no such violence.

Although it may seem as though our society is slipping into a violent abyss, the U.S. is statistically as safe as it has been in the past twenty years. While gun violence is by no means under control (nor is this a piece about the gun control debate), there is another force that is clouding our days with such frightening news: the media.

Every screen we turn on shouts at us that violence is all around, pleads with us to recognize viciousness. How much is too much, though, when it comes to news coverage of violence? Considering gun-related crime rates haven’t increased but our media coverage of those crimes has, should we be worried that we are becoming a society too focused on what is going wrong?

The news putting us in a bad mood may be for good reason. Sensationalized media stories capture the public’s attention and are cultural markers upon which we can convene, discuss, and mitigate our own feelings, thoughts, and ideas. Through media coverage of events related to gun violence, we can remain citizens informed of what is going on in our country and our world, so that we can pursue the knowledge we need to fix it.

Conversely, the news also may be worsening our well-being. Media outlets often over-sensationalize violence stories, urging us to pay attention to the gruesome details even before they have the correct facts or information, leading to issues of mistrust and fear.

While some argue that there is not enough coverage of gun violence in the media, and others have appeased media consumers by scaling back in the wake of too much violence, the question remains, then, is sensationalized violence a necessary component of a modern, media-based society? Is it our duty to consume such news or deplorable that it is even broadcast in such a fashion? Can we or should we choose to tune out?

– Lauren Witte, A14