'Gravity's' Explosive Silence

Caution: Some mild spoilers may appear. Read at your own risk.

Award-winning director Alfonso Cuarón, having previously directed diverse films such as the Prisoner of Azakaban and Children of Men, has now turned his attention towards the heavens in his latest film, a sci-fi survival film called Gravity.

An ambitious project, Gravity features stunning, surreally beautiful visuals which capture the enormity of space and the wonder of human spaceflight as well as the potential for horrific disaster. Cuarón, whose previous long continuous takes and documentary-style filming of Children of Men were truly ambitious now turns his attention to the uses of 3D filming, and manages to create a film where the 3D truly enhances the experience, creating a disoriented floating sensation not unlike weightlessness.

Indeed, the entire film has a weightless, serene feeling to it, combined with frequent embryonic imagery in the capsules and many silent exterior scenes of debris hurtling through space in every which way, while ruinous to the exquisite CGI models is also hauntingly beautiful.

However, while the film is visually arresting, the script suffers somewhat from a protagonist who while ultimately strong, driven and perhaps above all human, is let down by an initial portrayal as bumbling and disregarding of important orders. Played by Sandra Bullock, Dr. Ryan Stone is a medical engineer and astronaut who seems genuinely out of her element and sometimes cringe-inducingly oblivious to her surroundings in the first half of the film – traits that while perhaps are necessary to show her later development stretch credulity for a trained astronaut.

Ultimately the script comes into it’s own, but not after some initial hiccups, and one curious choice in the climax which stretches the reasonably high degree realism the film strives to otherwise maintain. This is yet another character-driven moment, and it is these moments which, while providing a necessary integrity to the plot, are also some of the weakest in a film whose actors give excellent performances but simply don’t feel integral.

Perhaps Gravity should not be remembered for it’s characters or plot, but rather for the awe and terror which it’s visuals evoke. It is not an earthly movie – indeed the focus is overwhelmingly kept in space, in weightless sets where the characters are merely instruments in a composed symphony far greater than them. And if it is a symphony, it is a symphony also grounded in realism, in physics which feel realistic to the environment of earth orbit and technically accurate science.

Beyond all else, Gravity is a beautiful movie, and one I unhesitatingly recommend in spite of it’s flaws.

Race and Education: A Lecture by Philosopher Laurence Blum

Baltimore native and well-known philosopher Laurence Blum lectured on race and education within his experience teaching a high school course on race and racism in a Cambridge, Massachusetts’s school. The event was co-sponsored by the DeSousa-Brent scholars program, Educational Studies and the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department. Blum achieved his PhD at Harvard University for Philosophy and has been teaching at the University of Boston since 1973.

He handed out a course outline to the audience previous to beginning the lecture. It looked like a standard syllabus for a class and you could tell he was a teacher. He started the lecture with a description of the course he taught at Cambridge and Rindge Latin High School and then talked about his students in the class. As he explained, Blum approached the topic of race through a historical and scientific lens so he could show his students where today’s societal racial categories were born. He compared the racial systems in Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States in order to trace their origins. One of the exercises he gave students in class was to think about the African role in the slave trade and in particular the morality of selling other Africans to Europeans.

Blum stresses the importance of talking about race without being stigmatized or shut down, as he says that “I think that Americans ignore race” and to even talk about it is considered an attack on the person. There is a civic side to his teaching, where his students could learn “basic racial literacy”. This means they learned how to engage with and learn from other students who did not belong to the same group as them. The school in which he taught the class was 33% white and a mix of Latinos/Hispanics, African American/Black/ Caribbean and Asian students. In making the composition for his class, Blum wanted to evoke cross-racial conversations and also, an atmosphere where all would feel able to speak freely about their experiences without persecution. He wanted students of color to be a majority in the class, as in most of the Advanced Placement classes white students were the majority and that can cause discomfort as well as feelings of inadequacy. Sophomore Kareem Adams thought that the lecture “was informative and opened up a proverbial window to look at race differently regardless of ethnicity. We all need to get out of our comfort zones.”

One of the main reasons Blum taught this class was to show that anyone could talk about race and he wanted to “deracialize race”, meaning that no matter who you were you should be able to talk about it without being ostracized. A common misconception is that white people in the US are not interested in race and Blum challenged that through his designing and implementation of the class. As a white teacher teaching about race and racism, Blum had a few rules for himself to follow. Some of these included affirming people of color’s stories (giving them the same validation all humans should get), showing belief in student’s abilities, to really be interested in what they have to say and lastly, to make clear that there is a lot a white Professor such as himself will not understand since he is a white male.

Highly informative and fascinating, the lecture ended with a question and answer session open to the audience. Several people raised their hands and around six or seven people were called upon. The questions ranged from how to implement a core class on race that is a requirement across counties or even states, and also about how even relating a experience of what someone has had to go through is often seen as an ‘attack’ on white students. An example would be a person of color relating the experience of being followed around a department store and another person denying their experience or perceiving it as a threat to their belief system because it does not fit into their idea of what happens in the world. Fatima Dainkeh, junior, “thought it was wonderful and important to have a person not of color talk about race especially at a majority white school.” The lecture was an enlightening and well-thought out look into modern American society and our education system in regards to our perspectives on race and ethnicity in this country.

DeSousa-Brent Scholars Celebrate the Lunar New Year

In terms of followers, the Lunar New Year celebration is one of the most significant traditions in the world. Millions of people in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and other parts of South East Asia participate in the festivities or one of their local permutations. With this in mind, three Saint Mary’s DeSousa-Brent Scholars, first-years Ashley Simmons, Hanmei Knoll, and Ashley Dam, hosted a Lunar New Year celebration in Daugherty-Palmer Commons (DPC) on Friday, Feb 7.

The event in DPC had two primary purposes. First, it was meant to be a fun and enjoyable festival for Saint Mary’s students and faculty. Second, the hosts hoped to use the event to expand awareness about lunar celebrations as well as certain aspects of Asian culture. A major focus in this regard was separating the traditions of the Chinese New Year from those of other cultures. Many countries, including China, celebrate the Lunar New Year, each with their own twists and traditions. Ashley Dam compared the nature of the celebration to that of Christmas in the West – although many nations celebrate Christmas, they each have their own traditions and styles. As Dam put it, “Portraying the Lunar New Year exclusively as a Chinese holiday is about as inaccurate as portraying Christmas as an exclusively American holiday.”

The highlight of the event was the food. As the festivities got started, students were invited to fill dumplings with ingredients that had been set out in large bowls. Once enough dumplings had been made, they were cooked and served in a buffet line. When approached for comment, sophomore Hannah Dickmyer provided the following review: “You may quote me as saying that the dumplings are excellent.” Fried rice and cooked vegetables were also featured in the buffet line-up.

Perhaps the most interesting foods were the pre-packaged treats and candies that were scattered across the various tables. Of particular note was a strangely sweet red-bean treat that looked like a pitted date and was coated in fine, powdered sugar. This reporter also had the chance to sample sesame seed brittle, ginger candies, and oat crackers, all of which were quite tasty, if slightly unusual.

The most bizarre thing, by far, was a plastic tube filled with jelly candy. This particular jelly was as slippery as Vaseline and had the viscosity of engine grease. It claimed to be grape-flavored. All oddities aside, the dumplings were the star of the show. Junior Dylan Hadfield regrettably informed the press that “I ate the dumplings too fast to really taste them.” In a review that is highly open to interpretation, senior Chris Hammond described the dumplings as “ticklish.”

All in all, the celebration appeared to meet the goals of hosts and attendees alike.

Composting Program Comes to St. Mary's

This year, a composting program has been put into action, headed by Jennifer Walker, the Sustainability Fellow at St. Mary’s College. Every Monday or Tuesday, white buckets with compost stickers are collected from the townhouses, filled with the past week’s compost, and taken to the campus farm. After it is taken to campus farm, the compost is put into one big pile, then split into smaller piles based on the percentages of what they have. Over the course of approximately six months, it all becomes dark material that can be used on the farm. In addition, there are composting bins in Lewis Quad (LQ) and Waring Commons (WC). The Great Room and the Daily Grind are also participating, sending their compost the campus farm every morning. It is Walker’s hope that eventually the traditional residence halls will be able to have composting buckets, though she admits that pick-up is currently more complicated and logistics need to be figured out before that can happen.

In terms of assisting St. Mary’s with sustainability, composting removes a certain percentage of carbon from landfills. “Last year we probably removed 30 metric tons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere through the creation of the composting program,” Walker said. “Now that the program is much bigger, we’re looking to remove a lot more carbon from our emissions.”

Walker also said that many students are not aware of the composting program or its purpose. “Mostly I just want the students to know how much organic waste we produce and how much of that we can put in a different location for a different use than what you would normally do with a landfill,” she said. “It’s good to get the students involved in understanding where their food comes from and what is required for that food to be there.” Additionally, she said she has been seeing some apathy in many students; last week, several composting buckets that had never been used last semester were collected. “I want people to email me and ask for buckets,” Walker said. “You don’t have to be a composting superstar, you just have to do enough to know what you’re doing makes a difference, and every little bit helps, even an apple core or an orange peel. It adds up, and it’ll absolutely benefit the farm. Hopefully,  we can eventually start to take compost from the community [outside of St. Mary’s] and divert more of that waste from landfills.”

Some Environmental Science classes are required to spend time with Walker as part of their service requirements, such as Environmental Perspectives and Biology 101: The Science of Gardening. Eventually, Walker would like for all of the Environmental Science classes to have to do a sustainable initiatives service hour.

In an effort to get students more involved, Walker is working on programs to get more information out about composting. During Arbor Week (the week of March 30), the St. Mary’s Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) will be leading a workshop with sustainability-targeted events. Walker said, “I created the theme to be human impact, so it’s how we affect our environment and how our environment affects us… It’s not even just about being green. One of the films that I’m showing is about eco-terrorism, and that’s a direction that we haven’t really explored before… There are consequences to actions and there are limits to actions, and there are different ways to get involved. I want people to be interested.”

While there are other sustainability programs in the works, Walker said that the composting program is “probably the biggest success that’s going on right now.” For those who are interested in getting a composting bucket, email Jennifer Walker at jawalker1@smcm.edu.

December Q&A Gives Voice to TFMS Budget Concerns

On Dec. 12, 2013, growing concern over possible budget cuts within the Theater, Film, and Media Studies (TFMS) department resulted in a Question and Answer session between students and Beth Rushing, Dean of Faculty at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. One of the chief concerns of the students and educators in TFMS was the elimination of part-time positions within the department, and how this would ultimately affect student’s ability to complete their degree requirements, as well as general concern over the loss of several dedicated faculty members.

Students representing the different elements of the department first presented their cases for why the arts were essential to St. Mary’s, and why efforts should be made to preserve the budget. The case was made by a student panel that while enrollment within TFMS is small, the number of majors and minors is not representative of the number of people who use the music department as a resource; many students and faculty outside of the department take private music lessons and participate in musical organizations like choir and orchestra. Furthermore, cuts to productions and recitals would jeopardize the ability of faculty like concert pianist Brian Ganz to stay on, due to the absence of revenue he receives for performing at the college.

Junior Rachel Buxton proposed the idea of using the talents of Brian Ganz and other performing faculty to members as a fundraising tool for the college, using their talents to help fill in budget gaps and to portray the college in a positive light. Moving from music into the potential budgetary concerns within the theater, Elizabeth Porter, a senior and a theater department student liason, discussed the harm a hiring freeze would do to student’s ability’s to receive the instruction that qualifies them for a degree in Theater, and the department’s ability to do productions.

She pointed specifically to the loss of the position of scenographer, which is currently filled by Visiting Assistant Professor of Scenography Jessica Lustig. Junior Madeleine Barry echoed the impact of such a loss in her statements, and summed up the student portion well by asking that budget decisions be made at the department level, and the administration try to understand the character of the department when making these decisions.

Moving into the response portion of the meeting, the Dean of Faculty began by highlighting some of the challenges the college is facing with its current financial state. According to Rushing, the budget is currently down 1.3 million dollars from last year’s, and enrollment is unlikely to be up again for the next several years. Rushing’s current target for academic cuts is $900,000.

In the question and answer session that followed, Rushing answered several student inquiries, explaining that while not every decision the office of Academic Affairs makes regarding the budget will have the consent of the department, the Dean of Faculty will strive to make sure members of the department and students within the department are updated and aware of the budgeting process.

While the mood within the meeting was very somber and emotional, students seemed to leave with a positive feeling about the way their information had been received. Student representatives at the meeting, juniors Hannah Sturm and Valerie Holt, expressed their satisfaction with the way the session had gone. The 2014-15 budget has yet to be determined.

A Letter from Ms. Elsie

The following is an edited transcription of a handwritten letter from Elsie Dickerson, a former employee of the SMCM housekeeping staff. As reported in the previous issue of  The Point News, Dickerson was fired last semester under uncertain circumstances. Since then, students have signed an online petition created by junior Ruth Tyson to remove “fired with cause” from Dickerson’s employment record, and an online fundraising petition to support Dickerson financially until she begins to receive her unemployment compensation.

To whom it concerns:

I wanted to write to you all—students of St. Mary’s College, including those in [Waring] Commons, Calvert Hall dormitory, LQ residents, Health Center nurses, Schaefer Hall faculty and staff members, and other concerned employees of the housekeeping department who wanted to get a chance…to support Ms. Elsie…

I just want to say how [honored] and appreciative you all made me feel! It’s something I will never, ever forget for the rest of my life!

I know quite a few of you fought for me in order to get my job back as a caregiver in the Housekeeping Department, but as some of you know, that would be impossible for Ms. Elsie, and management probably won’t make any arrangements to have it happen. Mostly based on the past work-related issues held over my head up until the last incident where an employee reported a fake accusation that got me fired. Working along with an uncontrollable superior who deliberately intervened and contributed to quite a few of counseling sessions that I alone could not have started by myself, and even more complicated, a matter that management won’t step up to the plate on allowing certain work-related issues of certain supervisors to continue on assaulting one’s pride. [S]howing disrespect on one’s interest (as far as employer’s job performance; [f]avoritism, a role that if any supervisor accept[s] could destroy the fairness of doing their job successfully or effectively; but most of all, to listen to [someone] say false accusations on another employee’s point of view, playing a role in employee’s work force.

Again—management failed to stop. Enough is enough. I always believed and will always say right up to this day: if you respect others, that same respect comes to you in return. And up to the day of October 9, 2013—at Waring Commons—I was wrongfully misjudged by an employee who stated to management that I “argued and performed aggressive misconduct” and wrongfully told them that Ms. Elsie “threatened” her. A horrible thing to say and to use against anyone.

Again—management failed to assist me in this. It was a horrible lie that was mishandled by housekeeping management, [who] along with Human Resources [have overlooked] up to this point in time [a] letter I wrote [to them] to see what [the employee] meant by  saying I “threaten[ed]” him/her. [There was] no matter of investigation on this issue…It seemed that [they were] not concerned and this was pushed under the rug…to be overlooked.

I just continue to pray that God will change the minds of people who worked in such conditions I faced, to speak up for your rights—especially when you know in your heart “It is true.” God bless and take care of all of you!

With all regards!

Ms. Elsie

Coming Soon: 'The Vagina Monologues'

Once again, FUSE (Feminists United for Sexual Equality) is set to stage its yearly production of The Vagina Monologues, a play by Eve Ensler composed of several first-person narratives in which different women recount a discovery she has made about her sexuality. The play is performed in multiple venues globally every February 14 in celebration of V-Day, a movement to end violence against women and girls. The play will be performed in Room 25 in Montgomery Hall on Feb. 14 and 15 at 6:00 pm. To add a bit of variety, TNA (The Nightingale Association), SMCM’s all-female a-capella group, will perform before the Feb. 15 performance.

Sophomore Simone Levine, the play’s director, has put her own spin on the theatrical structure of the production. “The theme and energy are different this time,” she said. “Because [Montgomery Hall 25] is such an intimate space, I wanted the theme to be just as intimate, which is why I chose to structure each monologue as a piece of spoken word poetry.”

Each actress (15 in total) will read her monologue off of a set of cards. “This is different from having an actress portraying the actual woman each monologue describes,” Levine added. “Instead, each woman will read her monologue as a poem to acknowledge the monologue as another woman’s story.”

The costuming of the production will also differ from those in past years. “Usually, the clothing [the actresses] wear are all black with some red, which to me shoves in your face that vaginas bleed once a month, and they do so much more than that,” said Levine, who opted to have each actress wear black with a splash of color which symbolizes how she visualizes her own vagina. For example, a woman who sees her vagina as a river will wear a blue motif, or a lesbian actress will wear a rainbow-themed item.

In the theme of spoken word, Levine is “trying to make the event as low-key as possible,”  and to emphasize the monologues as individual pieces rather than one continuous play.


A Man's Guide to Walking on the Path

Hello, gentlemen of St. Mary’s! I probably don’t need to be telling you this, as you are all so PC and aware of women’s issues and such, but I thought now would be as good a time as any to offer a a gentle reminder to be conscious of the paranoia some women feel while walking on campus alone at night. Even on a relatively safe, in-between-a-river-and-a-field-of-bamboo-nowhere campus like St. Mary’s, women are still on the alert for predatory figures on campus, especially after the disturbing rash of assaults we had last semester. It’s a sad statistic, but most sexual assaults happen to women (according to RAINN [Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network], nine out of 10 victims of rape were women in 2003), and most of their attackers are men. However, I do not want to vilify men and victimize women by making this a direct exhortation to men to be solely responsible for making women feel safer on campus; ladies need to know how to handle these situations as well (know where the Blue Lights are, have P.S. on speed dial, know some basic jiu jitsu moves). So in the interest of making everyone feel safer on campus, here are  a few pointers on the etiquette of walking around campus at night without causing undue worry to your SMCM sisters (heck, even brothers).

1.) Crossing Over

The classic scene from about half of the episodes of Law & Order: SVU: a woman is walking down a dark street, when suddenly a shadowy silhouette appears and begins to walk towards her. If you are walking down the path one night and realize that you are that shadowy figure, do the lady a favor and walk on the far side of the path, or even cross to the other side of the road if possible to make it clear that you don’t have any intention of harming her. It’s a little gesture that can do wonders for someone’s feeling of well-being.

2.) Headgear Horror

Sometimes wearing a hat or hood can conceal someone’s face a bit too much. I realize that we have recently been experiencing bitingly cold weather that necessitates bundling up your ears and face. However, if you find yourself passing a woman at night while wearing some identity-obscuring piece of clothing, hold your head up a bit straighter and make your face visible. If she can see your face, she is more likely to A.) recognize you as an upstanding member of society or B.) feel that you are trustworthy if you are willing to reveal your face as a way to say “I’m okay with you knowing what I look like”–otherwise, she might suspect that you have a shady reason for concealing yourself, i.e. not being identified in a police line-up.

3.) Call Your Momma

To subdue someone’s fears even more, you can always use a ruse. Pull out your phone and pretend to be updating your mom about how much of a boss you’re being at college. Maybe throw in a line about how you plan to go visit a local nursing home to play bridge with the residents, or how you’re so happy that your WGSX class has turned you into a staunch campaigner to end domestic violence.

4.) Loosen Up

Simply relaxing your arms, shoulders, and legs can create the impression that you are not interested in making sudden movements or anxious and tense about doing something morally ambiguous. Swing your arms back and forth like you don’t have a care in the world, and the woman walking past you won’t either.

5.) Keeping a Safe Distance

If you find yourself walking behind a woman at night, make sure you stay a good distance behind her (about 30 feet or so) and keep your steps even. Quickening or slowing your steps can be a signal to her that you are preparing to pounce. If you are a little too close, just pass in front of her very casually so she knows you’re headed somewhere else.

I hope that you find these tips useful in keeping our campus atmosphere safe and relaxed. As said by Alastor Moody: “Constant vigilance!”

Student Trustee Finalists Announced

On Wednesday, Jan. 29, the open forum for the Student Trustee of the Board took place despite the rest of the school closing for a snow day. The Student Search Committee, which consisted of five students from various backgrounds and on-campus activities, questioned the seven candidates (two first-years and five sophomores) while students who attended the forum filled out response sheets with their feedback.

Questions ranged from serious inquiries regarding the candidates’ qualifications and experiences to silly questions meant to give the candidates an opportunity to showcase their personalities, the forum lasted for almost two hours due to the number of candidates. In recent years, the highest number of candidates at the forum was four.

In early December, an email was sent out to professors requesting student nominations. This year, twenty students were informed of their nomination in early January, a few days before an all-student email was sent out requesting applicants. All of the applicants participated in the open forum and were questioned by the committee, which included current student trustee Michael Killius and the current trustee-in-training Taylor Schafer.

On Sunday, Feb. 2, an email was sent to sophomores Elaine Bucknam and Eric Schroeder congratulating them on becoming the finalists for the position. The next step for the two students will be an interview on Feb. 7 with the Board’s Student Affairs Committee, who will then vote and announce the winner later that afternoon.

Bucknam, who is a Nitze scholar, is a co-head manager of the campus farm and works in the rat lab, as well as being on the Dean’s Advisory Committee, a member of the Middle States Commission on Higher Eduction, and a Multicultural Achievement Peer Program (MAPP) mentor. She is double majoring in Psychology and Studio Art and minoring in Neuroscience. Schroeder is the treasurer for the class of 2016, a senator for Lewis Quad (LQ), a Point News staff writer, and a student conduct board member. He is double majoring in Political Science and American Public Policy and minoring in Economics. Both candidates are extremely qualified, involved in on-campus activities, and knowledgeable of the inner workings of St. Mary’s. “I think the board will be impressed with who we present them with,” trustee in training Taylor Schafer said before the finalists were announced.

The Student Trustee is essentially a bridge between the Board and the students; as a member of both the student body and the Board of Trustees, the Student Trustee has a hand in serious conversations about the direction of the college and helps settle issues and delegate different committees.

Whoever is selected to be the Student Trustee for the 2015-2016 school year will be introduced to the Board on Feb. 22 and will essentially become Schafer’s mentee in the fall when she takes her place as Student Trustee for the 2014-2015 school year.

St. Mary's Institution: The Bamboo Forest

Located behind Caroline Hall, across Mattapany Road, far to the right of all the practice fields, and directly off of the the access road that takes the groundskeepers to the fields sits a forest of tangled bamboo shoots rising, it seems, for eternity. As you stumble and force your way through the tangled web of underbrush, mud, hay, and cutting bamboo you will come across The Fort, looming like the aged colossus it embodies.

Made of shipping planks and reinforced with railroad ties, The Fort’s walls rise eight feet high and contain a clearing with multi-leveled tree-huts, a fire pit, a semi-circle of aged benches, a work table, unused wood, a rope swing and, of course, lots of bamboo. The treehouses themselves are two separate entities. One is a high rise loft fort (loosely defined, and constructed) that can easily hold five people about eight feet above the ground and has space underneath for six to gather near the fire pit.

Across from the fire pit sits the second treehouse-hut combination. The second fort consists of two creaking platforms of ancient shipping pallets that sway and bend as the wind rustles the leaves high up in the trees. These planks are “secured” to the large magnolia tree and the pseudo-basement is walled off by planks and plywood; the second fort seems more homely and offers space to sit, stand, or lie down if you so choose.

These forts, which have been here for as far back as anyone I know can remember offers a fun place to hangout with friends and an escape from the hustle and bustle of “on-campus” life. A word to the wise, however, be cautious of what you bring to the fort. Public Safety has a keen eye for students heading in the general direction of the fort and are well known for busting first-years who think they are the pioneers to discover the “Atlantis” that is our tree fort.