Low interest rates: business majors lack interest in their field

(MANJU SHIVACHARAN / THE STATESMAN)

Though business is the most popular field of study in the U.S., a recent Gallup poll showed that business graduates were the least interested in the work that they do. (MANJU SHIVACHARAN / THE STATESMAN)

According to a recent Gallup poll, students who pursue the most popular field in college in the U.S. are not too happy.

The study, published earlier this month, concluded that of the four major college areas of study, students who choose business show the least amount of interest in their own work.

A random selection of about 30,000 people who studied areas of social sciences/education, sciences/engineering, arts and humanities, or business were asked if they strongly agree with the statement, “I am deeply interested in the work that I do.”

For college graduates between the years 2000-2014, social sciences/education came out on top with 40 percent agreeing with the statement. Sciences/engineering comes next at 38 percent, followed by arts and humanities at 36 percent. Business graduates agreed only 34 percent of the time.

Isaac Doustar, a senior business and economics major, said interest in your own work is a key to success.

“I genuinely show 100 percent interest in my own work,” he said. “I believe if you don’t have 100 percent interest in what you’re doing it could be one cause of failure.”

Doustar is the chief operating officer of his father’s cosmetics company, Doucce, and is also working on a new makeup line. He said “the flexibility you acquire when you’re the boss is great.” But for those without the opportunities or drive to start their own business, Doustar said it is probably more the work being done than the attitude of the worker.

“Business graduates most likely show the least interest in their work because they tend to end up at a firm with a mid-level position which has them doing little work of importance to them,” he said. “The ones who do show interest in their work tend to end up towards the top as officers of a corporation.”

Even financially, business majors don’t find themselves with much of a lead. The same study also asked participants if they consider themselves financially thriving—little economic stress and increased financial security.

For graduates of 2000-2014, business came in second at 30 percent, leading social sciences/education and arts and humanities by five percent. Science/engineering graduates agreed 35 percent of the time.

Professor Mark Palermo, who teaches upper level MBA courses at Stony Brook and has over 20 years of business experience with companies like Chase and Gordon Brothers Capital, says the ambiguity of a MBA degree might be the cause of a lack of interest.

“A business degree is very general,” he said. “People who graduate with a degree in business can end up almost anywhere. Compare that to an engineer or computer scientist who moves to a lab after graduation where she continues to study the things that interested her to begin with.”

As for his interests, Palermo said a history of college tutoring and educating colleagues have his passion leaning more towards teaching.

“I thoroughly enjoy both,” he said. “Teaching is what I like to do the most, though I am well-suited to both. I have had a lot of fun and excitement in my business career and I love passing on some of that experience to the next generations.”

Ernestico D’Ambrose, a fast-track MBA student in his last year and the director of communications and public relations of the MBA Association, shares the same level of interest as Doustar, but with a twist.

“My interest is 100 percent in my field, but not in business,” he said. To D’Ambrose, the business field is more of a stepping-stone or a foundational layering.

“Business education is more of a tool to understand the housekeeping for an idea,” he said. “My work is in human services, whether as an EMT, a direct support professional, or a consultant.”

Though it may not be the most interesting or lucrative field, business will continue to draw students from around the world like it did for Professor Palermo.

“The world of business represents the social contracts that we make in order to produce and distribute the things we want from the raw materials and resources available to us,” Palermo said. “This was my first draw to business. Of course markets don’t always work, and understanding why and when they fail is sometimes even more interesting.”

Data shows SBU students use web library more, despite Pew research

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According to a Pew Research Center study conducted in 2013, only 53 percent of adults aged 30 and over agreed with the 62 percent of those aged 16 to 29 who said that some important information is not on the Internet. (MEGAN MILLER / THE STATESMAN)

There is a curious duality that recent studies show regarding college students and how they get their information.

A 2013 Pew Research Center study found that 62 percent of those between the ages of 16 through 29 said there is a lot of useful, important information not on the Internet. Those ages 30 and over agreed only 53 percent of the time.

Dr. Thomas Woodson, an assistant professor in the Department of Technology and Society, thinks that perhaps because the younger generation is so tech savvy, they have learned to know the internet’s flaws.

“Millennials know a lot about technology and the Internet and they see Internet ‘trolling’ and how easy it is to post false information,” Woodson said. “As a result, I think they are skeptical of some the information they encounter on the internet and will look to non-internet sources to find more information.”

But the other half of the problem is the question of what “non-Internet sources” college students look to, and how frequently they do so.

For Seawolves, these sources are found in the stacks of the Melville Library.

Yet according to the Stony Brook University Libraries Research and Instructional Services (RIS) of 2012 to 2013, the library website traffic has steadily risen over the past four years–rising about 18 percent since 2009.

The average duration of a website visit has gone up by about two minutes since last year, and the total online library reference questions has also increased. The most frequent inquiry is how to access JSTOR from the library website.

In one statistic, the library website in 2011-2012 had about 7,300 visitors from an Apple iPhone, an increase of 565 percent from the year before.

Therefore, the concept of a library has taken on a much more electronic presence among students at Stony Brook. Research Services Coordinator and Head of Reference for the library William Glenn says it is because of the “Internet generation.”

“They have grown up in a very different world,” Glenn said. “The two biggest dates, in terms of marking historic generations, would seem to be 1977, with the introduction of the personal computer, and 1994, as kind of a kickoff date for the Internet.

Things changed dramatically after those events in libraries and in the society at large.”

In the article “Information Commons: Meeting Millennials’ Needs” from 2010, Joan Lippincott said, “One of the most important things a library can do as part of its planning process is to conduct some type of needs assessment of its student population. It is important to collect information on the actual needs of students and not just on needs perceived by librarians, who are frequently from a different generation.”

College students of this generation have many different needs than those of old.

“The younger generation has different learning requirements and preferences than older generations,”  Woodson said. “Libraries are actively pursuing programs to better meet the needs of students. They rent tablet computers, build learning websites, engage in social media and hold a myriad of seminars to train students and professors to be teach and absorb information.”

Professor Edwin Tjoe, who teaches a class in technological trends, thinks that the vast amount of information available on the Internet might deter student exploration of a physical library.

“I don’t think younger people are aware of all that’s inside of a library to an extent,” Tjoe said. “Sometimes people are astonished at the amount of material.”

Tjoe even proposes that parents play a part in the younger generation’s preference of the internet over library.

“Some parents might feel all the information’s online so they’re child won’t need to go into a library to learn some things,” he said.

In “How Do I Get a Campus ID? The Other Role of the Academic Library in Student Retention and Success,” a study was cited from 2007 at California State University, Monterey Bay.

Data analysis in that study showed that about half (47 percent) of all inquiries made by students were related to either hardware or software problems with the Internet systems in place.

It is safe to say that percentage has gone up since then, as all signs are beginning to point to a new kind of library that can be carried in a bag.

“I think libraries will be around for a long time,” said Woodson. “Libraries may not have as many rows of books but there will always be a need for a library-like space in the community.”

State of the University Address looks toward future of university

(SONGGENG ZHANG / THE STATESMAN)

The State of the University Address took place on Wednesday, Sept. 17. Stanley both addressed concerns and expressed hope for the future of Stony Brook. (SONGGENG ZHANG / THE STATESMAN)

In his annual presentation to the campus community, President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. looked back on the university’s success, but also highlighted the challenging road ahead in his State of the University Address on Wednesday, Sept. 17.

Among the school’s accomplishments was a higher than usual number of faculty hires and admitted students, with 181 new faculty and about 2,900 new students this year. Stanley also noted the improved average grades and SAT scores of those admitted.

“Alumni say to me, ‘I couldn’t even get in today because of the grades,’” Stanley said. “And I say yeah, that’s right,” he joked.

He also noted that about 20,000 new donors gave over $50 million from 2011 to 2014.

But Stanley’s main concern was the future. One problem he said must be addressed is the four-year graduation rate.

“We could do better,” Stanley said. “We need to make sure students don’t drop out from financial issues.” He pointed out the near stagnation of four-year graduation rates since 2007, which has been hovering under 50 percent.

He introduced the Finish in Four Fund, which allocates up to $250,000 to be distributed to students “in good academic standing” that “max out their financial support.”

Another challenge Stony Brook and other research universities face is the stagnation of federal investment in research and development. Stanley said that from 2001 to 2011, there has been little to no growth in federal support.

According to worldbank.org, the percentage of the United States’ gross domestic product that went towards research and development in 2012 was 2.8 percent. That same year, the U.S. percentage of GDP that went towards public health expenditures was 8.3 percent.

This news is troublesome for a school as invested in its research as Stony Brook.

“Federal support has transformed the world since World War II,” Stanley said. “We’re really not moving at the state we need.”

But overall, Stanley said his vision of Stony Brook in the years ahead is bright.

“I’m really optimistic about our future,” he said. “The state of the university is strong. This is the best place we’ve been in since I’ve been here.”

(Graphic by Josh Wein)

(Graphic by Josh Wein)

Concerning more the campus itself, Stanley announced the statuses of different construction projects, including the Stony Brook Arena, opening this Oct. 1, and a Stony Brook Union redesign in place to begin by fall of 2016.

Another project the president seemed relieved to mention was the anticipated renovation of the Pritchard Pool to be completed by spring of 2016.

“Many of you have been unhappy,” he said. “I understand why.”

Stanley also took time to personally congratulate the new permanent and interim faculty.

“You’re an extraordinary and distinguished group,” Stanley said. “You all share the commitment to excellence.”

New faculty members Jarrod French of the Chemistry department and David Matus of the Biochemistry department found positives in joining the Stony Brook community.

“I’m just excited for the pool,” Matus, a new assistant professor joked. “But it’s a good relationship within the biochemistry department and there are good colleagues.”

“One of the things that attracted me was the relationship between the departments,” French, also a new assistant professor, said. “It’s a good time to be at Stony Brook. The school’s on an upward trajectory.”

Gallup survey: LGBT adults report lower well-being

(HEATHER KHALIFA / THE STATESMAN)

According to a Gallup poll, LGBT respondents to a survey that asked people to rate several aspects of their lives on a scale from zero to 100 consistently responded with lower values, indicating a poorer quality of life. (HEATHER KHALIFA / THE STATESMAN)

When Holland Blankenship, a senior biology major, heard about the first ever LGBT group being allowed to march in next year’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City, she received the news with hesitation.

“I thought, ‘OK, good, that’s another baby step,’” she said. “But it’s simultaneously good and frustrating. We need laws.”

The vice president of Stony Brook’s LGBT Alliance’s response parallels the findings of a new Gallup survey—the American LGBT population still has a long way to go.

A study published by Gallup late this past August revealed that on average, LGBT adults report a lower well-being score than non-LGBT adults in five key areas: financial, physical, social, community and purpose.

“Importantly, these differences hold true even after taking into account the effects of gender, age, race and ethnicity, educational attainment, state of residence, and population density,” the study reads. From January to June of this year, about 3,000 LGBT adults and 81,000 non-LGBT adults were interviewed over the phone and told to answer on scales from zero to 100.

The largest discrepancy between the two groups was in the area of financial well-being. LGBT adults scored themselves an average of only 29, while non-LGBT adults reported an average score of 39.

In 2011, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality published a report called “Injustice at Every Turn,” which contained the results of the financial plight of transgender people.

Of the about 7,000 transgender people interviewed, respondents reported an average unemployment that was twice the rate of the general population. About 90 percent of those 7,000 also reported some sort of workplace harassment or discrimination.

“Nearly every system and institution in the United States, both large and small, from local to national, is implicated by this data,” the report read.

Another reason for the financial gap, especially among transgender people, is the expensive medical world they sometimes end up in.

“The transgender medical system is a confusing one that some people just don’t want to go into,” Blankenship, who prefers to go by Hol, said. “They feel their needs as trans won’t be acknowledged.”

According to lgbtmap.org, 52 percent of the LGBT population lives in states that do not prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“But this phone system might have even filtered out the most financially disadvantaged LGBT adults,” John Martin said, a Stony Brook alumnus and a former president of the LGBTA club.

Hol added, “Some people are literally homeless because of their gender expression.” She said non-acceptance by families is probably one of the reasons why there is a six percentage point difference in social well-being between the groups.

Stressing the importance and benefits of a supportive family, Blankenship said the risks of depression settle in when there is a void in that area.

In the area of community well-being, Martin attributes the divide in part to blatant disrespect.

“It’s hard to find pride in a community when people don’t respect you,” Martin said.

According to Stony Brook’s Center for Prevention and Outreach website, there are a total of 24 unisex, single occupancy bathrooms on campus.

An ex-member of the LGBTA club, speaking with anonymity, said that while there are gender inclusive bathrooms on campus, they are remote and gas station-like.

“The university does a lot, but not enough. There isn’t enough money going into LGBT issues like this.”

LGBT women reported the lowest scores in the realm of physical health. Their average score of 24 is a whole 12 percentage points below non-LGBT women’s score.

“This mirrors larger problems against women as a whole,” Martin said.

But for LGBT women, Hol said, “The root of all evil is society not validating gender expression.” She said since the modern feminine body type is depicted as slender, curvy and busty, “people who want to feel validated will do X, Y, and Z to get people to accept them.”

In the last category, an overall sense of purpose, LGBT women again lag behind their non-LGBT counterparts by eight percentage points. LGBT adults as a whole report a lowly 33 to their neighbors’ 37.

“There are a lot of issues that don’t get airtime because they aren’t pretty,” Martin said, citing rampant suicide and homelessness problems. “Marriage isn’t enough to solve those problems.”

Stony Brook looks to make graduation more eco-friendly

Graduation robes can be made of cotton, broadcloth, rayon or even silk. Stony Brook's robes will be made of recycled plastic bottles. (NINA LIN / THE STATESMAN)

Graduation robes can be made of cotton, broadcloth, rayon or even silk. Stony Brook’s robes will be made of recycled plastic bottles for a more eco-friendly graduation. (NINA LIN / THE STATESMAN)

In an effort to be eco-friendly, Stony Brook University is ordering graduation caps and gowns from a Virginia-based company called Oak Hall Cap & Gown, which uses a method called GreenWeaver to turn about 23 plastic bottles into one graduation uniform.

The five-step procedure has already recycled more than 44 million plastic bottles.

First, the bottles are processed to remove impurities, like the labels and the caps. Then, the bottles are chopped into small pieces called flakes, which are then melted and solidified into chips.

Next, the chips are melted and pressed out into yarn, which is woven and dyed Stony Brook red.

This GreenWeaver process is what determines the cost of the cap and gown—there are multiple steps and costs along the way that make recycled material generally more expensive. For instance, an average 20-pound case of Staples copy paper is $46 while the 100-percent recycled copy paper is $52.

This year, the University Bookstore is selling bachelors caps and gowns for $70.98 and masters for $75.98, about a three-dollar increase from the year before.

The Stony Brook Health Science Center Bookstore on East Campus said the prices depend on Oak Hall, which they buy from in retail price.

In partnering with Oak Hall Cap & Gown, Stony Brook joins other universities across the nation that strive to hold greener graduation ceremonies. GreenWeaver customers include Columbia University, the University of Florida and the University of Notre Dame. Oak Hall pioneered the GreenWeaver method in 2009, making them the first to introduce such attire to higher education.

In 2010, the Associated Press reported that colleges across the U.S. were beginning “a new graduation trend this year: tossing their ceremonial gowns into recycling bins.” Companies like Oak Hall specialize in gowns made of recycled plastic bottles, while others, like University Cap & Gown, design apparel made with fabric intended to be reused.

Jay Ahgharian, assistant store manager of the campus bookstore, praised Stony Brook’s environmentally friendly approach to graduation.

“Stony Brook is a green university,” Ahgharian said. “We like to be a part of this trend.”

Eric Engoron fulfills personal promise

Eric Engoron, born with cerebral palsy, was blah blah blah. (PHOTO CREDIT: EFAL SAYED)

Eric Engoron, born with cerebral palsy, promised himself he would walk the entirety of Circle Road. He achieved this goal on Sunday, April 13. (PHOTO CREDIT: EFAL SAYED)

On Sunday, April 13, at around 10:45 a.m., Eric Engoron fulfilled his goal.

Starting in front of Yang Hall with his walker in hand and suitemate at his side, he set out for Circle Road. About three miles, three hours and 14,000 of what he calls dips later, he collapsed in his dorm hallway, victorious.

Engoron, a senior computer science major, has cerebral palsy. He said he never walked more than a mile before that Sunday. But walking Circle Road was a mission he set for himself when he started at Stony Brook.

“In my freshman year I said to myself one day I’m going to walk Circle Road,” Engoron said. “But I forgot about it and put it in the back of my mind.”

According to WebMD, about 10,000 infants are diagnosed with cerebral palsy each year. There are degrees of CP, and Engoron said his is on the mild side. Though he cannot walk, he has full use of both of his arms.

“People don’t use walkers as much as I do,” he said. “I’ve pretty much used my walker my entire life.”

Engoron said on that Sunday morning, the weather was perfect and the decision was immediate.

“I said ‘You know what, I’m going to do this,’” he said.

In order to move his walker, Engoron must first do a dip—pushing the walker and then pulling himself forward. His estimated 14,000 dips over three miles yielded badly swollen tricep muscles.

He said his journey to the baseball fields was the easiest part, but the real battle was going uphill after that.

“I stopped along the way, and collapsed twice near the Health Science Center,” he said.

His walking partner and suitemate of four years was senior Dominik Wegiel, who said his job was to motivate Engoron because at some points, Engoron wanted to give up.

“I would keep walking ahead to get him to catch up, giving pep talks, blasting rock music and calling him profane names to motivate him,” said Wegiel. “Those parts were enjoyable for me.”

By 1:30 p.m., Engoron had circled the campus and returned to Yang Hall but did not quite make it to his dorm. After his arms finally gave out in the hallway, he lay there for 30 minutes. The floor was still damp from a recent radiator explosion, but he did not mind—soon would come the Advil, ice and immobility.

That same day he posted a picture of his triumph on Facebook, where it quickly gathered shares and hundreds of likes. Currently, it has over 400 likes.

“We laughed a lot even during the hard moments, and it was a great experience to be a part of Eric’s conquest of Circle Road,” Wegiel said.

Engoron admits all the fame and recognition makes him feel cool, but that is not why he did it.

“I didn’t do it to be inspirational,” he said. “I did it to challenge myself.”

Alcohol is for more than simply drinking

Alcohol is ultilized in herbal medicine to allow for easy absorption and preservation of all-natural remedies. (JESUS PICHARDO / THE STATESMAN)

Alcohol is utilized in herbal medicine to allow for easy absorption and preservation of all-natural remedies. (JESUS PICHARDO / THE STATESMAN)

Alcohol is one versatile organic compound. It can be chugged in cans, gulped in glasses or squandered in red Solos. The ignorant suck it out of hand sanitizer, and the wise tape it to their bodies to pass security. They even give it out for free at church. But alcohol is also used in another, more important aspect—in medicine.

The history of medicinal alcohol is lengthy and complex. In 400 B.C., Plato prescribed drinking wine as being beneficial to a healthy and happy life.

Alcohol is mentioned in a medicinal context 191 times in the Bible. Historian W.J. Rorabaugh said that Americans in the 18th century thought liquor could “cure colds, fevers, snakebites, frosted toes, and broken legs, and…relieve depression, reduce tension, and enable hardworking laborers to enjoy a moment of happy, frivolous camaraderie.”

But in time, as alcohol became an integral part of modern medicine, many cultures, professional organizations and people continued using it in alternative means.

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is any form of treatment that is not a part of standard care. While the benefits of this kind of medicine are well documented, the reason they are “alternative” is because scientists do not fully understand how safe many CAM treatments are.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted the annual National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) in 2007. Of about 23,000 U.S. adults interviewed aged 18 or over, 38 percent said they used some form of complementary or alternative medicine. Of about 9,500 children and teens, the use was recorded in 12 percent.

Though the umbrella of alternative medicine is large and covers a variety of practices, alcohol has a particularly special use in herbal medicines. In herbal lingo, alcohol is known as a “menstruum”—a liquid used to extract substances from plants. Alcohol preserves the herbal medicines well and is easily absorbed into the body to get the effects of the herbs.

Homeopathy, which involves absorbing harmful but diluted substances to trigger the body’s natural defenses, also uses the powers of alcohol. The alcohol extracts and absorbs drug substances better than water and preserves them.

Herbal medicines and homeopathic practices have indeed yielded health to the numerous who choose CAM. But simply drinking alcohol has also proved healthful to the relief of moderate drinkers.

The Catholic University of Campobasso in Italy conducted a study in 2010 which concluded that regular consumption of alcohol reduced the risk of heart attack and stroke of people who had already suffered one or the other. Similar effects were also shown in healthy people.

There is also good news for the men who tire of the Viagra and Cialis commercials. A 2009 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that alcohol drinkers were 25 to 30 percent less likely to have erectile dysfunction.

Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of alcohol is its presence in everyday substances. There is some level of alcohol content in many medicines used by doctors and bought in stores.

Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is found in antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizers. It kills most bacteria, fungus and viruses, especially on the hands. It is also used in the wipes that usually imply a needle is coming.

Laxatives, DayQuil and NyQuil and mouthwashes all have alcohol content. While it would be entertaining to see someone drunk off laxatives, medicines like these usually have fairly low alcohol contents, which is why they are safe for children.

So the next time you are holding a cold one in your hand, think about the numerous other capabilities alcohol has. It is trusted in the alternative and standard medical worlds, and has countless practical benefits from mere consumption. Bottoms up.

Expanded Verizon service available on campus

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Verizon’s partnership with Stony Brook University’s DoIT and CEWIT will bring about faster wireless service across campus for mobile devices. (HIRAL KADAKIA / THE STATESMAN)

Because of a recent partnership between Stony Brook University and Verizon, students will notice a significant improvement in wireless performance this semester.

A distributed antenna system (DAS) was implemented throughout West Campus late last year with the help of Stony Brook University’s Division of Information Technology (DoIT) and the Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology (CEWIT). This helps to boost coverage and performance of Verizon devices where quality was lacking before.

“Several years ago the university embarked on a journey to fix major radio frequency coverage gaps across the campus,” Michael Ospitale, DoIT’s campus network manager, said, “Realizing that the campus had the necessary in-house expertise to resolve the issue was the first step, then it came down to finding the right cellular carrier as a partner.”

In 2011, Ospitale worked in Campus Residences. He used to receive constant complaints from students in Noble Halls and West Apartments about the terrible cell reception, and turned to a start-up company in CEWIT to alleviate it, according to Director of Data Network Services Jim Hart.

“Verizon was able to implement a low-cost solution by leveraging technology from Intelibs, which completely covers the campus with a high-quality cellular signal,” Ospitale said.

According to an article on Stony Brook University Happenings, the problem began with the recently built Yang and Lauterbur Halls. Author Kerrin Perniciaro, manager of IT Communications and Web Strategy, wrote that the buildings were constructed with materials certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) to save energy.

But these materials were also preventing radio signals from going inside the buildings, causing students to voice concerns.

Intelibs, a DAS equipment provider founded by Seyong Park, collaborated with Verizon Wireless on the mission to bring better wireless service to students and faculty. Park is a Ph.D. graduate in electrical engineering at Stony Brook University.

Last year Verizon apportioned $400 million to upgrade its wireless performance in the New York metro area. As a result, the entire project came at no cost to Stony Brook—Verizon handled the financial expenses.

Also in the article from Stony Brook’s online newsletter, Park says, “This solution makes sense for Stony Brook because it is such a large venue and hard to cover by a single tower, not to mention how many people are using a multitude of different devices all trying to connect at the same time.”

The DAS system was activated on New Year’s Eve. Harrison Rose, a junior majoring in environmental design, policy and planning, is thoroughly pleased with the boost in coverage.

“I wouldn’t get good service in the library and Union before. But I’ve definitely noticed a difference in service,” Rose said.

Christmas celebrated through consumerism

There will always be confident party-goers donning unforgivable sweaters pasted against the white shadows of winter. There will be carols that no amount of eggnog could auto-tune. There will be awkward mistletoe mix-ups, unsatisfactory secret Santas and discourteous family dinners. But the majority will celebrate Christmas the way it has always been celebrated in the United States—by buying a lot of stuff.

Consumerism and Christmas both start with a “C.” Coincidence? I think not. The truth is that in our country, the words are synonymous. It is how we celebrate. And it is not a bad thing.

History.com outlines the history of Christmas not as a time of baby gods, adventurous gift-bearing camel riders, or virgin births. “The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter.”

The Norse would set large logs of wood on fire and feast until they burned out. The Germans honored Oden, the pagan god. Roman slaves and their masters would switch social statuses to celebrate Saturnalia. Whether it’s called the winter solstice, the death of long dark days, or Christmas, it has always been about celebration.

Christmas in the U.S. consists of buying. We buy and we give and we exchange. According to the National Retail Federation, Black Friday weekend last year yielded sales upward of $59 billion. In 2011, sales totaled around $52 billion.

If the “spirit” of Christmas is giving, this is how we do it.  Many people believe the reason that major retailers like Walmart begin holiday advertising before Thanksgiving is to take advantage of us–the consumers. I like to think of it the other way around. Consumers take advantage of the low prices of retailers, which act as the mediator of the giving spirit. Yes, Walmart makes a pretty penny in the process, but if Americans give through buying, and buying is cheaper, than giving is easier and more plentiful.

Besides making giving easier, the consumerism of Christmas also provides employment. The National Retail Federation shows that since 2008, holiday employment has increased each year to a high of about 720,000 in 2012. Putting more people to work has been a consistent demand of the U.S. public of late, and that’s exactly what the holidays do. Though the financial status of such employments is unclear, a job is a job, and low holiday prices broaden the horizon and the possibility of gift giving.

Major holidays in our country have their own identity when it comes to celebration. Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day involve drinking. But the U.S. identity is not alcohol. On Independence Day we blow up the sky and on Halloween we scare children. But the U.S. identity is not jingoistic or sadistic. For Christmas, we buy. But we the citizens are not simply pawns of major organizations who run on Dunkin’ Donuts, do it with Nike, have it our way with Burger King or go places with Toyota.

The “Christmas Creep” may seem like it’s getting closer and closer every year, but it does not mean people are buying things earlier. Placed.com, an analytics company, reported that Christmas Eve was the busiest shopping day for Target stores in 2012. Other major stores yield similar results, with most shopping taking place a couple of days before Christmas Day.

Our economy works based on the concept of buying and selling. For about two months in a year, the attitudes and ideals of Christmas cross paths with the characteristics of our economy. It is celebration by giving, giving by buying and buying thanks to consumerism.

Activism on campus lacks initiative

(STATESMAN STOCK PHOTO)

Student activism on campus is often lazy and ineffective. (STATESMAN STOCK PHOTO)

This past week, I was strolling through the Student Activities Center when a good-looking young woman in a bright pink shirt approached me.  Needless to say that whatever organization she belonged to had a very brilliant marketing mind, I obviously stopped to see what she had to say.  “Would you like to sign the board to vow to stop using the word ‘retarded’?”  Uh, sure thing sweetheart.  I scribbled two indecipherable words to the satisfying tune of “Thanks so much!” from Ms. Pink Shirt, and I was on my way.  I was a changed man!
Now I don’t know about some people, but something as simple as writing my name on a board won’t turn my perspective upside down.  Am I the only one who fails to receive a slap to my semantic integrity when a girl tells me I’ve been using a certain word in a naughty fashion?

Before lamenting over the lazy activism of whichever organization this was, I must make transparent my feelings about the word “retarded” first.  It’s a fabulous word – three magical syllables harmonizing for a masterpiece of the English language.  Just like the word “sarcasm.”  Yes, nowadays the word is mainly used with negative connotations, and yes, it should be used less regarding a mentally handicapped person.  But a recommendation, an encouragement to discontinue using the word is as far as it goes.  I believe the word should return to its literal definition, but nothing and nobody can suppress a word definitely.

So if a group is actually tackling the task of convincing people to use one less colorful word, there has to be a much more involved method of advocacy.  A name on a board proves only that that particular student must not have been running late for a class.  Or it proves, in my case, the PR was convincing.

Two years ago, Stony Brook paralleled the admirable activism of one Ben Cohen and his StandUp Foundation by establishing our own StandUp Charter.  The charter’s goal is not only to have students sign its “Commitment to End Bullying and Homophobia” pledge, but provide bystander-intervention training and visit local schools to spread the word.  From their website: “By bringing people together in schools, colleges, and groups to concentrate their focus on how they can ‘do their bit,’ we can literally save lives.”  Now that’s activism.
When compared to the StandUp Charter, the group working to oust “retarded” misses a key component — not enough “doing.”  A word can’t be talked off the streets.  Activism with such a goal requires widespread effort and purposeful implementation.  A sign for passersby is simply lazy and ultimately fruitless.

What if the group does not have the resources that the StandUp Charter has?  What if a widespread effort is still too far down the road to attempt so immediately?  Well, there are still more productive ways than signing a board.  I would personally propose a little business card bearing the maxim, “Have you said ‘retarded’ today?  Think about it next time.”  Again, this may be too much of an expense to the advocacy group, but financial sacrifices must be made for true progress to blossom.

The modern English language, though a relatively young language, has over the years adopted some pretty dumb words.  Who ever comments on the dungarees of a waif anymore?  But dumb words come and go, as well as connotations. “Gay” just does not mean happy anymore.  So with time, and the right amount and type of activism, the use of a word like “retarded” will come to be retarded (slowed).

An ode to appropriate clothing

(JIA YAO / THE STATESMAN)

Now that fall has arrived, students are frequently seen wearing outfits similar to this: a jacket, scarf, jeans and boots. (JIA YAO / THE STATESMAN)

Too soon has October been prematurely suffocated by tight jeans or congested with hoodies. Sweatpants work like saunas at the first mention of the word “fall,” and long-sleeved shirts initiate insulation as soon as the leaves brown. The advent of autumn is inaccurately viewed as the point of no return for temperatures above 70. And thus the sacrifice of comfort for style is untimely, unfortunate and unnecessary.
Seriously guys, check your weather forecasts before the 3 p.m., 75-degree October heat provides a puddle for your behind and dual Niagara Falls for your armpits. The weather is right there in your pockets, by your bedsides, in your bags! It is literally right there! With “cellphone” and “laziness” being pretty synonymous nowadays, you cannot use “I was just too lazy to check the weather.” No, that means either you do not care if Mother Nature is on her period today, or you would honestly rather look good melting than be comfortable.

Since the beginning of this October, we have already seen temperatures constantly flirting with the 70s, and even shooting up to the mid to low 80s. It is true that these nights no longer carry the humidity and heaviness of summer, but the sun still flexes its might during the day. It may be a foreign concept to some, but the seasons are transitional. The point is that the coming of browning leaves, Halloween and basketball season does not necessarily mean the coming of just-the-right-chill for daily sweatpants.
Last Friday, Oct. 4, at around 2 p.m., I began the trek through the Sahara to the campus train station. That day, temperatures reached 82 degrees, and I dressed as lightly as I could while hauling my backpack and another bag. Scavenging for shade on the train platform, I was both sickly amused and disappointed to notice the amount of jeans, sweatshirts, long sleeves and jackets sticking to the skin of students. What masochistic ritual from the depths of hell do you people perform? Am I missing out on some anti-skin showing movement?

So I propose a simple, nearly foolproof set of rules for preparing accordingly during the transitional period of summer into autumn.  (1) If it is going to reach anywhere over 70 degrees, shorts and a t-shirt are always safe.  (2) Any temperatures floating between 67-69 degrees cut it close for shorts, but a little chilly is always better than a little hot and bothered.  (3) Sweatshirts or hoodies can pass with shorts up to the low to mid 70s.  (4) Mid 60s or below is prime jeans weather.  (5) Sandals with socks–do not leave the dorm. (6) Wind acts as a spoiler/wildcard for these rules. Prepare accordingly.

With this arsenal of information, I urge you to check the weather forecasts daily and find the perfect balance between style and comfort.  It is not as hard as you think.  I cannot bear to see another student equipping the sweatshirt-jeans combo and melting into oblivion while waiting for the train.

Yes, it will get colder soon.  The winds will snake through campus in bursts, the 50-degree weather will slowly creep on and before you know it, the snowflakes will litter the ground like diamonds.  But until then, the remnants, the last grasps and gasps of hot summer weather will sprinkle over October. Simply glancing at the high temperature for the day can save a whole sock’s length of sweaty, smelly, moist feet. I dare deduce that such practice will make everyone smell better overall, if not make them more comfortable.  Smelling nicely is the first key to a successful university.

Campus biking initiative not riding along smoothly

(JESUS PICHARDO / THE STATESMAN)

Wolf Ride stations can be found in three different locations on campus. (JESUS PICHARDO / THE STATESMAN)

In an effort to go green and fight carbon emissions, Stony Brook University launched SBU Wolf Ride in April of this year. This promotion of health, sustainability and eco-friendliness parallels projects like Citi Bike in New York City and joins other national movements promoting a healthier lifestyle. The message is clear and positive, but the scope, effectiveness and utilization of the program are impotent.

The most evident drawback to the entire SBU Wolf Ride project is the scope of the project and placement of the bike stations.  Four bike stations are currently placed “strategically” at West Apartments I, the Student Activities Center and the South P Lot – a total of 48 bikes. I can see the headline now: “Battles rage over 12 bikes at West Apartments: Students petition for pegs to access more efficient ‘peg-riding’.” Understandably, the commuters who use the South P Lot should be given the healthier option over the bus, but H Quad? Walk. Kelly Quad?  Go backwards to ride, or walk. Tabler Quad? Enjoy the stroll.

Besides the option for commuters in the South P Lot, do we really need this? For a majority of the students on campus, walking is the healthier, easier and more preferred method. The average person burns 80 to 140 calories walking per mile. This adds up after a long day of classes. Stairs and even that Zebra Path are good for working on those glutes.

My daily walk from Dewey College in Kelly Quad to the SAC takes about 10 minutes.  That’s about 44 calories burned for someone around 160 pounds.  If I were to bike that same distance, it would probably take less than half the time, and I would burn less than 24 calories. It’s no secret that walking is a much healthier option.

Even so, students here rarely use SBU Wolf Ride and prefer personal modes of transportation such as longboards or even the occasional unicycle. Statistics from the SBU Wolf Ride website show that in August, about 15.7 rides per day were recorded. Also, the average ride is 17 minutes. Evidently, very few students take advantage of the bike share program, and when they do it’s only for a long trek.

To me, this should be an all-or-nothing program. Either expand the program to allow campus-wide access, or abolish the rarely used project altogether. The bike sharing website hints at no future expansion, except for the fact that it says “currently,” there are four bike stations. We have a large campus, but it’s clear that students favor walking over the bus and other means of transportation.

Set your alarms 10 minutes earlier, and your thighs will thank you in time. Commuters from the South P Lot should be given the option of SBU Wolf Ride, but for everyone else on campus, it is not utilized. Maybe that one student, who for a moment recalls the attitude of Lance Armstrong and must race back to West Apartments I late at night to avoid the claws of the twilight that befalls Stony Brook University in the winter, is the one who is keeping SBU Wolf Ride in business.