Homelessness, Hunger, and “The WVU Rack”

Though there isn’t enough adequate national data to support this claim, Barbara Duffield, policy director at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) says she believes the number of homeless students has increased over the last few years.

“The Free Application for Federal Student Aid tells the NAEHCY that there are 58,000 homeless students on campuses nationwide.” -USA Today

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As a student myself, it is very hard for me to believe that there are homeless kids who attend WVU, or any other college for that matter. Discovering that an estimated 58,000 students are homeless across the nation is truly alarming. Since some schools aren’t required to keep track of the exact numbers of homeless students, that count would probably increase by quite a lot if they were diligently recorded.

What we don’t realize is that poverty can hide anywhere and can easily go unnoticed. Some students may be too embarrassed to speak up about being homeless or not having enough money for meals each day, while some may not know that their are resources out there to aid them in times of struggle. Depriving your body of enough food day after day can potentially lead to health issues and even hospital trips.

Inspired by other campuses like UCLA, WVU decided to bring “The WVU Rack” to students who may be homeless or hungry. Since “The Rack” (as most people call it) was first set up in the Fall of 2010, WVU has been contacted by staff members from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, and Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. out of pure curiosity about the pantry.

As seen above in the video, what once was a somewhat bare shelf in 2010 has grown to a whole new level. “The Rack”, which is tucked away in a small hallway in the Mountainlair, is available to all students to utilize. No one is ever turned away, all that is asked is to sign your first name on the clipboard attached to the rack to keep a record of how many people are using it. It is fully stocked all year long through charitable acts of the Greek community, as well as by staff and student donations.

Items typically donated include:

  • cans of soup
  • Ramen noodles
  • fruit cups
  • poptarts
  • water bottles
  • toiletries

…and so much more.

For more information visit sos.wvu.edu

If you would like to donate to The Rack, you may contact Jacqueline Dooley at the Student Organizations Services office at (304) 293-4397 or Jaqueline.Dooley@mail.wvu.edu.

A Diverse Look at WVU: Susmita Patel

Traveling miles from home to go to college can be taxing on anyone, especially when it’s internationally. As I discussed in my last post, West Virginia University has many clubs and organizations based solely around diversity and students of different cultural backgrounds. One of those clubs is called the Indian Students Association, or as members like to call it, ISA. The association is very active and includes about 400 students, often having dinners as well as get-togethers.Photo Nov 22, 12 56 52 PM

“The goal of the association is to provide a congenial atmosphere for the student community from India.”

I had the pleasure of speaking to a former member of the ISA here at WVU, Susmita Patel, as she clued me in on happenings of the association. Aside from helping to put on different dance performances for Tarang, Diwali, diversity week, Indian Independence Day and other student organizations, Patel says there is much more to the association than performing dances.Photo Nov 22, 12 56 47 PM

Luckily she has never felt out of place or discriminated against in Morgantown, and even expressed that no one she knows has felt that way either. A culture shock upon first stepping foot into Morgantown seemed rather normal and exciting to her, though some international students might not be as excited. Although it may seem extremely diverse to a typical student, international students may feel like there is nobody to call “friend” or even “family.”

Student organizations like the ISA take control as soon as these students get off of the plane from India. They do so by picking them up from the airport and arranging a place to live, and even easing them into other school activities. These student associations create somewhat of a niche for all students to form their home away from home, giving them a sense of security and people to hang out with that they can trust.Photo Nov 22, 12 56 49 PM

Patel went on to tell me that every semester the ISA helps the new students from India to integrate into the social norms of the United States, especially if it’s their first time being here. It can be very scary, and can cause feelings of disorientation. To help with the transition, ISA holds an event called Freshers that acts as a type of icebreaker among the existing and new students.

“Freshers is very helpful, especially because they can find their place amongst potential friends, this way no one feels out of place or like that have to change themselves to fit in.”

The Freshers party is a huge way to combat feelings of not fitting in. The current students show the ins and outs, regarding social norms or even school work. Both parties, new students and old, benefit from each other during this process making integration much simpler.

American-born students still hold to the cultures and traditions of their ethnic backgrounds, though they may not completely understand the real cultural meaning behind some of the traditions, like language. This is Photo Nov 22, 12 56 40 PMwhere the international students can really help the more Americanized students in understanding their culture. On the other hand, the American students help the international students to lighten up and have a little fun, teaching them to become more outgoing and to open up socially.

Diversity clearly affects everyone in a positive way. Let’s hope we can show our loving spirit over the next few years and welcome even more international students to the Mountaineer family!

If you or someone you know would like to connect with ISA members, visit their Facebook page!

-All photos from Susmita Patel.

A diverse look at WVU: Intro

For many students, feeling like they belong or “fit” in with others may be the key to surviving a crazy college town like West Virginia University. Not everyone shares the same thoughts and feelings when it comes to somehow fitting in. For some it comes natural, while others like to focus on school, and some just focusing on how to learn to party. But what do the students do who are simply set out to find people that share the same values or ethnic background as them?

diverse

This photo from the Diversity page on the WVU website captures one of the many performances held during the Diversity Week.

Schools like Connecticut College, Ohio State University, The University of Texas and many others offer and support diverse cultural or ethnic organizations for students and staff. These organizations provide an environment where students can participate in discussions on diversity issues and their ways of life, all while gaining a sense of inclusion and social belonging. Also, colleges like WVU have formed diverse clubs and organizations, along with offering programs and different courses that aim to educate students of different ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs.

According to the Center for American Progress, there are 10 reasons why we need diversity on college campuses:

  1. Our nation is changing, and our higher education institutions need to reflect this diversity.
  2. While communities of color have made great strides in closing the education gap, disparities in higher education remain prevalent.
  3. It’s in our national interest to invest in our future workforce.
  4. Diversity in the workforce fosters innovation and competitiveness in business.
  5. Fortune 500 companies agree that diversity is good for the bottom line.
  6. Diversity is a national security issue.
  7. Diversity on campus benefits all students.
  8. The implications of race-neutral policies in educational opportunities are detrimental to the next generation.
  9. Research shows that race-neutral policies simply don’t work.
  10. The majority of Americans support race-conscious policies in higher education.

The original article explains these 10 listed reasons in much greater detail.

WVU's student enrollment by race/ethnicity according to Forbes.com

WVU’s student enrollment by race/ethnicity according to Forbes.com

Here at WVU there seems to be little diversity, yet the school makes it a point to set aside a whole week focused on issues students from different backgrounds may face. Every day of the week has a specific schedule for each diverse event or theme. Diversity Week includes a wide range of performances, discussions, learning opportunities for students to participate in, and even poetry readings by students and faculty. Whether you are a member of the club presenting or even of the same ethnicity as them, everyone is always welcome including family and friends!

In a Chanel 5 News interview, WVU Chief Diversity Officer David Fryson said, “We’re hoping the type of things we do here will spur the rest of the state to see the value of diversity. So often when you think about diversity you think about our differences, but diversity is the collection of similarities and differences.”

Students and faculty who possess different backgrounds present each other with new perspectives and viewpoints. I feel that adding diversity to your life will only make you a stronger member of society and a more well-rounded global communicator. Diversity helps to enhance discussions during class and even outside of class, which can easily aid in preparation for students to ease into this extremely multicultural world we live in.

The Mountaineer family always sticks together no matter what ethnicity you may be– “There’s a place for you at WVU.”

Make sure to check back in next Friday when I will dig a little deeper into this WVU diversity discussion. I will be telling the story of a recent WVU graduate, Susmita Patel, who actively participated in an ethnic organization while attending school. I will discuss her thoughts on discrimination and how these WVU student groups help international students cope!

WVU Smoking ban: Is Tobacco-Free really the way to be?

I’m sure majority of us Mountaineers have been oh so blessed with the chance to walk through the infamous cloud of cigarette smoke that surrounds the entrance of Eisland Hall, and other lecture halls alike. It’s like walking through a giant roll of fog on a beautiful morning, except not the slightest bit as refreshing…and may cause cancer.

tobaccofree

Photo used on WVU-issued articles and website pages that refer to the ban.

As stated in a Wellness Newsletter, West Virginia University put a new tobacco-free policy into effect this past summer on Monday, July 1, 2013. The WVU Board of Governors approved this switch to a tobacco-free campus in June 2012, which had formed from a previous decision in 2010 for a tobacco-free policy made by the Health Sciences campus.

“The WVU tobacco-free policy will extend to all premises owned, operated,
leased or occupied by WVU. This includes Milan Puskar Stadium, the HSC PRT
station and WVU property adjacent to the HSC campus. Also, use of tobacco in
personal vehicles while on WVU property is prohibited.” -Newsletter

Below are three different tweets I stumbled upon. Students like Megan and Walter support the smoking ban and feel as if this policy needs to be monitored better by WVU authoritative figures. On the other hand, some people don’t mind and are making funny, yet inappropriate jokes about the tobacco-free policy using the WVU Speak’s hashtag. Yikes, kids these days. That hashtag was actually created for the speak-up event hosted by SGA in October which allowed students to voice their opinions and ideas about the policy, but of course leave it to that kid to add a little unnecessary grunge to the topic.

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Like many students have voiced, the ban on smoking hasn’t really made much of a difference whether people smoke on campus or not. As a student myself, I get sick and tired of walking to class only to be basically crop-dusted by the person in front of me with huge puffs of their cigarette smoke; however, some people really don’t  seem to mind it at all. Morgantown residents are seeing things a bit different and noting unfortunate changes due to the passing of this policy. WVU students and staff now bombard resident-owned yards and sidewalks to get their fix in the mornings and in between class, causing some local families daily lives to be altered due to crowds of people producing heavy smoke. This ban is creating more and more issues as the days go by, but can there really be a “fair” line drawn? Smoking bans will forever have pros and cons in the eyes of smokers and non-smokers.

“I’m not saying people can’t smoke, I’m just saying they can’t smoke on campus. I don’t want to take away their personal rights, but we want this to be a healthy campus, and from a grass-roots effort, a majority of people came out and said ‘Please pass this policy.'” –University President James P. Clements tells DA reporter

There clearly needs to be some way to better enforce this policy on these little rebels walking amongst us, or things will never change–well, change 100% at least. Perhaps designated smoking areas should be created so yards aren’t invaded, while the campus sidewalks and buildings are more heavily monitored? Just a thought, though time will only tell how this policy holds up with this wild college town.

If you’re a smoker and want to help implement a healthier environment for our campus, cessation programs are available to employees and students that help you quit at your own pace. Employees are eligible for those programs free of charge (or reimbursable by insurance), while students can enroll in these programs through WellWVU.

Exchanging time & patience for textbook hell

No college student can make it all the way through the years without having to purchase books. They’re absolutely essential for our day-to-day school work and probably the most beneficial tool that aids us in passing our classes. The fact that students have to buy the textbook assigned by their professor seems to be the reason why book prices have shot up so drastically over each passing year.

It’s stated in a report by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) that college textbook prices increased three times the rate of inflation over the last decade. Personally, I know buying five or six books at West Virginia University’s Book Exchange have easily cost me 400 to 500 dollars per semester, so about 1000 dollars just for one year of classes. Thus far, I’ve spent roughly 4500 dollars on books. Yikes.

“About one in four first-year students and one in three seniors frequently did not purchase required academic materials because of cost, says a 2012 study by the non-profit National Survey of Student Engagement.”–USA Today

So let’s throw the general pricing issues to the side for a minute and focus on one of the more ridiculous, yet unanswered issues I’ve noticed with these local book stores around campus. They never seem to have enough books for all of the students! If the professors are ordering the books, I’m assuming by the exact student roster total for each of their classes, then why aren’t there enough books? It simply just doesn’t make any sense.

Normally a student has to wait until good ol’ syllabus week to figure out which books are needed for each particular course. That gives each student one week to come up with the funds, and go search for these books. May the odds be ever in your favor. I cannot tell you the amount of times I have had to drive back and forth between the two Book Exchanges set out for a single book—the missing link. Even though the map says it’s only a seven minute trip, traffic is ridiculous in Morgantown and adds a large amount of time to any “quick” trip. The downtown store is out, they resort to calling the other location on Evansdale, then stare at you with that optimistic look as they offer to order it for you. Nice gesture, but some professors here at WVU actually have reading assignments due during the first week (buzz kill, I know), especially in upper-level classes where more is expected of their students. Not having enough textbooks clearly leaves people short on time to hunt it down, or order from another website, placing textbook buyers in somewhat of a pickle.

Not only do these book stores not having enough supply stress students out, it has to be extremely upsetting and annoying for the professors who just want to get the ball rolling and begin teaching. I’m sure almost every professor in Morgantown has had their email accounts flooded with messages from frantic students explaining they do not have the materials for the assignment. Yet this is a reoccurring issue year after year and these stores still do not do anything to resolve it.

Majority of professors seem to be realizing this common issue along with the lack of energy for book stores to fix it, and are starting to come up with temporary solutions. Some professors place copies of the required text in both downtown and Evansdale libraries. Though there are usually only one or two copies available for a few hours at a time, these WVU professors are helping students get past these obstacles when purchasing books. Some professors even photocopy the first chapter or so to get students started, which could probably get them into some type of copyright mess but it’s much appreciated that they are trying to help their fellow Mountaineers.

Moral of the story is:
If you’re going to force students to spend such an immense amount of money on reading materials, then the bookstores should be required to have the exact number of copies for each class at every single store location.

Tuition Problems? Join the club.

I’m sure we all began those dreadful college applications the last few months of our senior year in high school, as we counted down the days to graduation. That boring and tedious process that our parents and teachers forced us through was finally rewarded by receiving some acceptance letters in the mail–such an exciting moment for everyone involved. Ah, the memories.

Source: Huffington Post

Source: Huffington Post

So what came next? Oh, just that little part where you had to decide how in the world you would afford the tuition attached with the college you chose to attend. This can be a very stressful time for a family, and cause quite a scare for your parents, or whoever is footing the bill.

In June 2013 a small hiccup in the Mountaineer’s lives occurred. West Virginia University’s Board of Governors approved a 6 percent tuition increase for in-state undergraduate students. This added up to $183 more each semester or $366 more for the year, while students in certain programs would pay even more. Out-of-state undergraduate students tuition rose by 4 percent, or $764 more per year.

That may have seemed like a major increase to some, but West Virginia University still ranks 14th as the nation’s most affordable out-of-state tuition cost. Also, our graduate programs are nearly $10,000 cheaper compared to others in the region. WVU’s Financial Aid office provides multiple ways to help you work through tuition problems so you can better afford your education.

  • Estimate Your Cost of Attendance: This estimates your tuition and fees by five simple questions. Included on this page are Undergraduate and Graduate specific charts explaining tuition and fees.
  • WVU ThinkAhead Net Price Calculator: This tool helps you to better understand the estimated cost through your income tax returns, earnings statements, bank statements, investment account statements, records of untaxed income, and student merit information.
  • Reduced Tuition: WVU offers reduced cost to eligible out-of-state students depending on their selected major, eligible residents of Ohio, DC, or students of Garrett College, and even senior citizens.
  • Scholarships: these are gifted aids based on your academic performance, talent, or achievement offered by WVU, an academic department, or an external source that you do not have to pay back.
  • Grants: WVU offers six different grants that act as a type of gift aid and do not have to be repaid. These can be federally funded or state funded and usually are based upon your need.
  • Employment: Through a federal work study students can earn money working a part-time job on campus, or with participating partners. Also offered for those who don’t qualify for the federal work study is a student employment program. This program allows students to work within the University to attain funds to help pay for school.

Navigating college websites can be difficult and may seem like too much information to handle all at once. Don’t fret! Through the many options I’ve listed, WVU makes it much less stressful when deciding your future. Even more options reside on the site aimed at helping closely monitor your financial state and get you through school.