Sexism in Bollywood

By Faria Athar
August 7, 2015

MUMBAI, India – Bollywood, the sobriquet for India’s $3-billion dollar Hindi film industry, is filled with immense colour, vigor and light. It has vociferous dance sequences, tear-jerking dialogues and a whole lot of sexism.

Lyrics from some of its famous musicals like ”Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast” and “Fevicol se” include calling the female protagonist an “awesome thing”, a firecracker, a piece of meat and such. But the lyrics seem banal when compared to the music videos that accompany them, men dancing along to music, while the hero abuses, catcalls or physically mishandles his “girl”. And in the end the hero ends up getting the girl and they live happily ever after.

Plotlines like these have thrived in this 100-year-old business of the rich, the pretty and the privileged. While Bollywood’s massive appeal is astounding, it is also incredibly scary. With its objectification of women and portrayal of an always win-win situation for men, Bollywood is criticized for being chimerical, unrealistic and an instigator for the rapes and sexual atrocities committed in India.

So recently when Deepika Padukone, an extremely popular Bollywood actress stood up for feminism, hearts ignited. Her message was released as a video in collaboration with Vogue India. It was a viral hit. Men and women began sharing it all over social media, and in the span of a couple of days it had millions of views on YouTube. It was being lauded for its independence and power, but slowly criticism rolled in.

The video titled “My Choice: Women Empower” shows the actress talking about how it’s her choice (or rather a woman’s) to wear the clothes she likes, to be a size zero or a size fifteen or to have sex outside marriage.

This is all wonderful. Of course it’s a woman’s choice to do want she wants with her life, but was the video fair to all?

In a country where, according to UNESCO, the female literacy rate is only about 50% and an alarming gender wage gap is present across all sectors, the actress’s problems seem to be the last on an Indian woman’s mind.

Being a woman is difficult in India. If you manage to escape female foeticide (the act of aborting a foetus because it is female), its takes only a few years before you are married off as a child bride with a significant amount of your parents’ income given to your groom’s family as dowry. When you get older, your education is your parents’, your husband’s or his family’s will. In urban India, you may not face these difficulties, but constant prejudice and fear of harassment follow you around like a shadow. These issues form major impediments to women’s empowerment.

India’s version of feminism, as portrayed in the media and in this ”empowering” video, never sheds light on female empowerment. Rather the focus is on liberation from Indian forms of clothing, music and customs, which translates to Westernization. This feels shallow and superficial. It creates negative stereotypes about the modern and conservative woman that harms feminism more than benefiting it. And while body issues are important, they are not central to feminism. Empowering women has great potential in India with some serious implications for the country’s economy, politics and progress. It is great to have celebrities with such mass appeal endorse feminism, but it would be even more powerful if it focused on issues to educate women about their rights, health and professional development, eventually helping promote equality and female leadership in Indian society.

And now the hypocrisy: The video shows actresses with beautiful hair and skin and fails to include size 15 women or even those that are close to a size 10. The star herself endorses products to promote weight loss and skin lightning (in accordance with the Indian belief that dark skin is inferior to light skin and thus should be altered).

The video is also over-sexualized. Pre- and extra-marital sex are taboo in India. And while it’s a woman’s choice, there is nothing particularly empowering about either. This type of feminism is flawed and doesn’t resonate with the average Indian girl’s wants or needs. Yes, breaking the rules is necessary to empower women, but sometimes it may result in losing friends and family. Young girls and women must instead be encouraged to bring about change within their societies. Confusing feminism with nudity or excessive Westernization repels women who want progress for themselves and their daughters. It presents feminism as a monolithic facade, which further alienates women from their culture and creates a long-lasting negative stereotype that fails to empower India’s women.

Feminist movements, however, haven’t completely failed in India. After the gang-rape of a student in Delhi in 2012, various organizations started to focus on women’s issues. While some took to the streets to protest rape, others have made long-standing contributions to women’s rights

One such movement started in Bundelkhand (Northern India), a place rife with domestic violence, child labour and widespread female illiteracy. Women of the region gathered to form a gang called “Gulabi (Pink) Gang” to fight their detrimental patriarchal culture. They call themselves “Rural Women In Pink Saris, Wielding Broomsticks In Pursuit Of Justice”. These women who themselves come from poor families or the lower castes (Dalit), have successfully stopped several child marriages, overcome corruption in several levels of administration and worked to eradicate the dowry system and violence against women. Since their movement has gained momentum, they’ve also participated in local elections and won.

“For the People and By The People” has worked splendidly in India with regards to feminism. And this is the model that seems to garner the most attention and bring about change.

Immigration Rights in America

By Jeffrey Pulido
July 5, 2013

dream act inside

Dream Rally 011 by Edward Kimmel, CC-BY-2.0.

LOS ANGELES, Ca. – Immigration in the United States has existed since the country’s beginning. The British came to North America, and those who stayed could be called the first immigrants. As time has passed, many laws have been created to make this a great nation, but what rights do immigrants have? The answer is not many. Some states, such as Arizona, have passed strict immigration laws, driving immigrants out of the country and separating families.

Why is this important? An estimated 11-12 million undocumented immigrants live and work in the United States to make better lives for themselves and their families. Not only that, but one out of 20 of those people who come, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center, are on government figures. President Barack Obama has enacted regulations in which undocumented students have rights, such as being able to receive financial aid, better work opportunities, and much more.

During the presidential debates that happened on October 16, 2012, Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney discussed what they would do to help the undocumented. Romney was criticized for his use of the word “illegals” when speaking about undocumented immigrants. Soon, Obama told the audience that he would not go against students, but only those who abuse the law and hurt their communities. By doing so, he caught the attention of those who would benefit from the Dream Act, legislation yet to be passed that would help undocumented youth get help with going to college and becoming citizens.

Another good example of a politician who is helpful to immigrants is California Gov. Jerry Brown’s approval of the California Dream Act to support young immigrants in California. In signing the bill in October 2011, he gave undocumented people in the state the right to have work permits and be able to receive scholarships and grants for colleges and universities in California and in other states. In order to qualify, immigrants must have been younger than 16 when they came to the U.S. and have graduated from, or are attending, a California high school. With this new bill, around 30,000 undocumented people can benefit from this opportunity.

On October 9, 2013, I interviewed an anonymous person and asked him questions about his feelings on immigration, and he said, “I truly feel as if there are some rights that we are supposed to have, but Americans don’t want us to have. I have noticed many families that have been broken apart because of these rights and inequalities we have. The truth is that we are all human beings and nothing more and no one can change that. But as time changed, the people started to forget the equal rights we all have as people. I think Obama is really trying to help the undocumented with his policies.”

He added that with Obama’s reelection, “there might be a better future for the country and for its people and immigrants inside of it.”

Personally, I see some inequalities between an American citizen and an undocumented person. I’ve seen some families broken apart because of deportation. The thing that some anti-immigration proponents don’t realize is that the people who come to this country just want a better life for themselves and their children. They perform hard labor in farms to other jobs that many people would not like to do because of the low wages and tough physical demands. The truth is that, in many cases, they work to feed their families or just simply support the families from where they came. In the end, I honestly think if immigrants had more rights, it would help them throughout the time they are here to support their families.

Editor’s note: This story is one of seven pieces written by students from Santee Education Complex as part of a joint project between the high school and the Daniel Pearl Foundation.


Demi Brae Cuccia’s Story

By Steve Helmeci
July 8, 2013

MONROEVILLE, Pa. – Pictures of a young girl flash up on the projector screen hanging in the auditorium. As Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie” plays in the background, the sad story of Demi Brae Cuccia is relayed to 300 or more people. Video clips of shocked friends and members of the Gateway community talking about Demi’s kind demeanor or love for life cycle between more pictures of the girl. A few news clips offer some explanation of the tragic night, but the true story isn’t fully explained. Eventually, text comes over a photo of Demi that describes her horrible premature passing.

From the raw emotion conveyed in the video, it felt as though she passed yesterday, not a whole five years ago.

But that was only the beginning of the presentation.

On Aug 15, 2007, Demi, a Junior at Gateway High School at the time, allowed her ex-boyfriend, John Mullarkey, to come over and talk. Perhaps she expected a small altercation, but not what would happen next. Nobody would expect what happened next.

In what is believed to be a premeditated assault, Mullarkey pulled a knife on Demi and attacked her, stabbing Demi 16 times. Somehow, Demi was able to escape the house, where she collapsed on a neighbor’s lawn. One of the lacerations severed a major artery in Demi’s shoulder, causing her to bleed to death that night. It was the day after he she turned 16.

Nobody becomes a parent expecting to have to bury their child someday. But, Dr. Gary Cuccia had to bury his daughter, a “beautiful girl [who] loved everybody.”

“You never want to walk in my shoes,” Cuccia said. “It’s one of those clubs you never want to be a member of.”

Cuccia is the head of the Demi Brae Cuccia Awareness Organization, which he founded in his daughter’s memory with the goal of educating high school students about the perils of teen dating violence. On May 2, he came and gave his presentation, including the sobering video, to Mt. Lebanon High School freshmen and sophomores.

Immediately after Demi’s death, however, Cuccia took an activist path. He worked to champion a bill in the state House of Representatives that mandated teen dating violence education in all Pennsylvania high schools in honor of Demi. Despite the passing of House Bill 2026, Cuccia calls the process a “nightmare.”

“I was so frustrated with the legislators,” Cuccia said. “We mailed a letter to every state representative; there’s 214 state representatives and 50 senators. That’s a lot of legislators. We got four responses back.”

Although Representative Scott Conklin (D) of Centre County agreed to sponsor the bill, the headaches were only beginning for Cuccia.

“The problem with legislation is, once there’s a bill that is getting a lot of attention, it’s gaining momentum, a lot of legislators want to attach something to it, because they think, ‘this is how I can get my agenda passed,’” Cuccia said.

After his frustrating and draining battle to get his daughter’s legislation passed, Cuccia changed tactics, despite offers to aid in federal legislation. He said, “Then I thought, I have to do something. I have to share Demi’s message to high school students.”

Though Cuccia acknowledged the importance of the legislation, he realized “it’s just not as important as I had [thought] initially.”

Cuccia knew he needed a way to get Demi’s story directly to students, to teach them that dating violence is real and prevalent. That was the beginning of the Demi Brae Cuccia Awareness Organization.

Cuccia says that, after more than 50 presentations to approximately 40,000 high school students, the presentations can take their toll.

“I get emotionally drained,” Cuccia said. “I pour my heart out when I’m speaking to you guys. I just really want my daughter’s story to resonate so that it makes a difference.”

Cuccia says that it makes him uncomfortable to do more than one presentation in a day. He has tried to do three in a day, but physically cannot do it. There are only so many times in one day he can talk about his daughter.

It is Cuccia’s belief that hearing his daughter’s story will have a more profound impact on the students he speaks to. “A health teacher can have a lesson on [dating violence], but I think it’s more powerful to see my daughter, and to feel her story,” he said.

Cuccia touched on a number of points during his presentation, but, for those who weren’t able to see it, he has one piece of advice for all teens: “If you think you’re in a controlling, abusive relationship, be extra careful in taking steps to get out of it. Do it in a public setting around friends; do not allow yourself to be put in a situation where you’re alone,” he said.

For more information about Demi or the organization, scan the QR code, go to or “like” The Demi Brae Cuccia Awareness Foundation’s Facebook page.

Girl on Wire

By Faria Athar
July 8, 2013

MUMBAI, India – Tension, anxiety and concentration. The girl’s face is a collage of emotions.

A young girl of about 10 years old does what most people would not dream of doing: balancing on a tightrope. Some may dismiss it as childish, but her perseverance and hard work say otherwise. It is clear she has put in hours of hard work to master this craft — it is easy to imagine that her next venture would be making her way across the rope on a wheel.

It is an extraordinary moment in an everyday setting. The plastic, hoardings and formal shirts all signal globalization among this spectrum of Indian colors. The girl, too, exhibits her bit of Indian revelry. The sparkly earrings, tiny nose ring, bangles and prominent metal pots on her head bear testimony to her village heritage. Her clothes may not be extraordinary, but her profound facial expressions give her more dignity than any other assets could offer her.

She balances on a thin rope tied between two colored wooden sticks. The pole she holds onto for balance looks heavy, weighing her down in ways both tangible and immaterial. Look carefully and you will see that it is tied around her neck and the thought of an albatross comes to mind. The men in the picture don’t seem to be looking at her. They have seen it all before.

Walking on a tightrope is probably not her ‘talent,’ nor does it come ‘naturally’ to her. It is the result of several hours of “deep and deliberate practice,” and the outcome of much failure and perseverance. Here the cost of failing is dangerous and painful — and if the tightrope is situated high enough, perhaps even fatal. The studied expression on the girl’s face indicates practice and perseverance, but also a hint of fear. One can only guess. She is not telling.

Unfortunately, the rewards she gains each day after all her practice are not very impressive, but she does not let that deter her. She will be here again tomorrow, and many more brave children all over the world will do the same. They are applauded and appreciated for their effort, but does this attention make them happy?

Although it is nice to think of rosy images of a brave young girl or boy, the real issue is hidden in plain sight: This is probably the most prevalent form of child labor you will see in India. Typically — outside the frame — one will see her parents or other adults collecting money from the spectators who have come to watch.  The money they get may not be much, but it is enough to feed the family for a night. A carnival, the hustle of traffic and of people, makes business better and perhaps more profitable by the end of the day.

The sad part of such depictions of sheer bravery is that they are so common; people watching hardly consider the scene to be child exploitation. It is a sunny afternoon in the picture, so the girl has evidently skipped school to perform and earn her keep. The question that must be asked is, does she even go to school?

This child may not have all the credentials or accolades to call herself  ‘great’, but she has the courage and bravery necessary to be successful in her own right.

A Closer Look at the Problem of Teenage Pregnancy

By Wendy Garcia
July 5, 2013


The belly by koalie, CC-BY-2.0.

LOS ANGELES, Ca. – Teenage pregnancy is a huge problem for our generation. A lot of teens are getting pregnant at an early age — the Los Angeles Times reports that around 400,000 American teens age 15-19 have babies every year — which can interrupt a girl’s plans and school attendance. It can also cause the teen stress and possibly depression, especially when thinking about how to break the news to everyone who cares about her.

Rather than thinking about what she was going to do after school and going out to have fun, the teen instead must worry about taking care of the baby and whether she can make enough money to support her child. Most teenage pregnancy is unplanned, which can cause major problems for the teen and the baby if she is not ready to become a parent.

Some teens do not know how to take care of themselves yet and still need their parents’ help. If a teen is not ready for a child, the mother may not know how to care for the baby, which can result in bad parenting.

At school I see many pregnant teens and think to myself, “Poor girl, she doesn’t know what she just got herself into.” Pregnancy can affect a teen most negatively when her peers make fun of or talk bad about her. This could lead to depression, or she might try to hurt herself or her baby. She might also think that no one will help her.

The teen might be scared, but if she is willing to get help, she can become informed about the baby’s health and how to best take care of the baby.

Teenage pregnancy is a serious issue, but a teen mom who may not seem mature can learn how to take care of and support her child, especially with the guidance of an adult or an organization, such as Project NATEEN at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, designed to help young parents take care of their babies — and themselves.

Editor’s note: This story is one of seven pieces written by students from Santee Education Complex as part of a joint project between the high school and the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

‘Harlem Shake’-Up

By Steve Helmeci
July 5, 2013

PLUM BOROUGH, Pa. – So lets suppose we’re bored tonight and want to watch some YouTube videos. More than likely, one of the “Most Watched” videos will be a Harlem Shake video done by some professional sports team, television show cast, or just a group of random people. We don’t watch YouTube videos often, so we don’t know what a Harlem Shake is, but it looks interesting–let’s click the link. Immediately the video starts playing, and we see a room full of people working diligently or otherwise occupied while one person is repeating the same motion over and over in the center of the room to a techno beat. After about 15 seconds of this, a man’s voice says “DO THE HARLEM SHAKE!”

Then the bass drops, and all hell breaks loose.

Suddenly everyone comes alive, gyrating in his or her own special way to a more prominent techno beat. Let’s just say most of the motions wouldn’t be allowed at a Mt. Lebanon school dance. Despite the provocative nature, we share a laugh and our night continues on as before, leaving us rather unaffected by the video in the long run, and certainly not upset with the people in the video.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the reaction that school administrators at Brownsville High School in Pennsylvania, Nyack and Tappan Zee High Schools in New York, Milford High School in Michigan and countless other high schools throughout the United States had when they saw that students from their schools made Harlem Shake videos.

Students all across the country are being suspended for creating Harlem Shake videos, whether in school or after a school event. Although they are not the only cases of suspensions connected to Harlem Shake videos throughout the U.S. or even the world, the suspensions at three schools mentioned above have garnered national media attention for various reasons. Despite the precedent being set by administrators regarding the Harlem Shake, however, the schools could be violating the students’ constitutional rights by censoring their ability to make the videos.

As each of the three scenarios is an entirely different case study, it would be a disservice to them to lump them all together. Therefore, they will each be individually highlighted below. With the help of Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, D.C., the constitutionality of each school’s respective actions was examined. At this point, none of the schools has given any statements on the nature of the suspensions.

Brownsville Area High School, Pennsylvania

“We were given permission to [make the video]. The sub watched us do it about four times.”

Senior Whitney Ptak expected zero blowback after she and 12 other students in her Photography class made a Harlem Shake video during a free period with a substitute teacher.

“One of my friends was talking about it then they were like ‘let’s make one!’ I’m not one to just sit there and say no, so I did it,” Ptak said.

Therefore, it came as a shock to Ptak and her classmates when they were called down to the principal’s office and told they were suspended.

“[The principal] called us down and said ‘Don’t talk — listen. You have two days out.’ then left,” Ptak said. “We were not given any reason for our suspension. None at all.”

Upon hearing Ptak’s description of the events surrounding her suspension, LoMonte couldn’t help but chuckle. “You have to know what it is you’re accused of doing and have a chance to respond before serving the punishment,” he said.

LoMonte feels that, assuming the principal acted as he was described to have acted, the students’ Fifth Amendment rights to due process were clearly violated.

“If the students weren’t given basis for suspension, then they’re violating basic due process,” LoMonte said.

Another issue LoMonte had with the actions of the school was the apparent violation of the Pennsylvania Administrative Code by the Brownsville administrators.

“Under Pennsylvania regulations, you can’t be punished for the content of your speech unless it disrupts the school day,” he said.

The regulation LoMonte is referring to comes from Section 12.9b of the Pennsylvania Administrative Code on the Freedom of Expression. The Code reads: “Students shall have the right to express themselves unless the expression materially and substantially interferes with the educational process, threatens serious harm to the school or community, encourages unlawful activity or interferes with another individual’s rights.”

Based on a cursory overview of the video and the events surrounding it, LoMonte feels that unless the students were punished for jumping up on desks (which not all of the students did), the school would have trouble making a case for the suspensions. Even if the students standing on desks caused the suspension, LoMonte said that the school would “have a hard time making [a case for the punishments] stick.”

“If you’re doing something under teacher approval, it’s hard to make the case for disruption,” LoMonte said.

Ptak and her classmates, meanwhile, still had to serve out their suspensions, and despite pressure from the ACLU and NCA, the school still stands firm in their decision.

“I’m trying to get a scholarship for track, so I’m hoping this doesn’t mess up my future,” Ptak said.

Nyack and Tappan Zee High Schools, New York

After working incredibly hard all season and skating to the best regular season record in team history, a compilation hockey team from Nyack and Tappan Zee High Schools in New York state was forced to forfeit their first round playoff game after the schools suspended 11 team members for their participation in a Harlem Shake video in the locker room after practice.

“My whole team and I were definitely disappointed because we had such a great season,” Senior Corey Aronson said.

According to Aronson, the video was identified by administrators as having “crude and vulgar gestures,” thereby making it punishable by suspension.

The suspensions and the forfeit were definitely lumped together, according to Aronson. “[The schools] said 11 in the video, 11 suspended. So, that’s not enough players on the roster to play by the league rules,” he said.

Like Ptak, Aronson was greatly surprised when the suspensions came down. “We created the video to follow a popular new fad,” he said. “We didn’t think anything would happen besides our school getting a good laugh.”

The suspensions were even more surprising for Aronson and his teammates due to the fact that they posted the video online anonymously, with no team name or player names attached. What makes the suspensions more problematic is that the video was shot in a locker room that is not on school grounds.

Upon hearing that kids were suspended for behavior not occurring on school grounds or physically at a school event, LoMonte was adamant that the school’s actions are not in line with what power schools truly have.

“Engaging in vulgar speech is absolutely, positively not punishable by a school unless it is on school grounds or at a school event,” LoMonte said with clear conviction.

“If that were the case,” he continued, “a student could be suspended for having sex with his girlfriend or cursing at his parents. School authority cannot go that far.”

LoMonte went on to say that the administrators at Nyack and Tappan Zee were “pushing the outermost boundaries of school jurisdiction.”

With regard to both Brownsville and Nyack/Tappan Zee, LoMonte said that the administrators were “treading on thin ice” considering the students’ First Amendment rights as well as their right to due process.

Milford High School, Michigan

Senior Alex Yono and a large group of his friends from Milford have been creating videos for a year under the name “WhiteBoysMakingNoise” before they got the idea to make a Harlem Shake video. They often use a school classroom to shoot their videos, which they make as entertainment for their classmates and the community.

Therefore, as in the two other case studies, Yono was very surprised when, a week after posting the video to YouTube, he and 35 other classmates were called down to the office and given suspensions for their roles in either the Harlem Shake video, another previous video which has since been taken down or both.

“I think the suspension [we] got was very unfair because we had permission and we didn’t harm anyone,” Yono said. “We did all our videos with no intent to hurt anyone and we are sorry if we offended people.”

Yono said that the teacher who granted the group access to the classroom “didn’t care because we had shot videos in there before.”

The issues the school had with the video, according to Yono, were the use of a live animal – a duck — in the video, the lack of shirts on some of the boys and overall conduct during the video.

Kim Root, Director of Communications and Community Relations for Milford, gave another reason to The Oakland Press. “With the increase of social media … these things can lead to copycat videos and kids trying to push the envelope,” Root said.

LoMonte does not see Root’s statement as a valid reason for suspensions. “You definitely cannot suspend people just because you anticipate people copying them in a disruptive way,” he said.

However, LoMonte does feel that Milford has the most valid case against the students of the three cases presented. “If [they shot the video] on school grounds and without teacher supervision, there is at least a question of whether [they’re] violating school rules,” he said.

Milford has a rule against animals on campus other than service animals, and the kids were technically in violation of that rule.

“If [the suspensions] were about the pet, then that’s not the content [of the video]. If it’s not about the content then it’s not a first amendment violation,” LoMonte said.

LoMonte did say that, because the students had permission from a teacher and did the video after school hours in an empty classroom, it is hard to say that they were disruptive and the content of the video is protected by the first amendment. However, if the suspensions were as a result of rule violations such as the animal rule or a dress code and not the content of the video, then the school has a solid case. In essence, it all hinges on what the school suspended the 36 kids for. As the administration has not given any statement regarding the suspensions, it is impossible to say.

While LoMonte is hardly arguing that schools cannot suggest that students take down videos that they deem inappropriate, he feels that granting suspensions is “very harsh,” especially when the videos could possibly be under the protection of the first amendment.

What we can all take from these three Harlem Shake case studies is that it is vitally important that students know their first amendment rights. Schools cannot violate your First Amendment rights unless very stringent criteria are met. Unless you threaten someone, encourage unlawful activity, disrupt the school day or violate school rules, there is very little schools can do.

While I’m hardly suggesting that everyone make Harlem Shake videos, it is important that we are informed. Without the knowledge of due process and our first amendment rights, we could either be unnecessarily pushed around or unknowingly act in ways not protected by the Constitution. Let’s make sure no more students are suspended for funny videos.


Going Green

By Emiliano Vera Jr.
July 5, 2013

LOS ANGELES, Ca.: I would love to live in a community that is healthy, clean and energy-efficient. Growing up in the streets of Los Angeles, where thinking green isn’t a concern, I have seen the dirtiest streets–it is not a pretty sight. This leads me to wonder: If many parts of a big city look like that, what does the rest of the world look like?

Now that we are running out of resources and we are realizing the Earth is changing at a dramatic rate, commercials, posters and even politicians are urging us to find ways to help save energy and cause less pollution. Why? There are many reasons.

One reason is saving money. By saving energy–which means turning off lights that are not being used, unplugging any unnecessary devices from outlets, etc.–electricity costs can be reduced while helping the environment at the same time. But some people either do not know or care about these facts and currently don’t make saving energy and fighting pollution a priority.

Crystal Penaloza, a student from Santee High School, noted, “We all know what’s the right thing to do, but we don’t make it a priority.” I agree, because when people, including myself, see people litter, we often just continue with our day instead of doing something about it.

I have my own reason why we should go green. Walking in the streets of Los Angeles can be an adventure–and not a fun one. You could walk on one block and it might be in decent shape, but another might be dirty and smelly.

But who wouldn’t want to live a community that is healthy and vibrant? The only way a community can be as clean as possible is if everyone in the community is involved and communicates. This leads to less conflict and teaches kids that keeping the streets clean is the right thing to do.

Thinking green should become a worldwide habit, because we all live on the same planet. Even if we are keeping our part of the world clean, another might be polluted, and we will all be affected by that, too.

I am a student from Santee High School, and as someone who enjoys nature, it makes me sad that the planet is being destroyed by bags of chips and pollution from motor vehicles and that I am one of the few people I know who practice green thinking in daily life. I would like to spread information about why being green is important and how to take steps to save the planet.


Editor’s note: This story is one of seven pieces written by students from Santee Education Complex as part of a joint project between the high school and the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

Put Down the Guns, America

By Steve Helmeci
March 14, 2013

PLUM BOROUGH, Pa. – I’m sure we’ve all heard about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting late last year. It’s a depressing topic, and everyone would agree that the shooting was a horrendous, saddening act. However, it called into question the gun culture in America, and I would argue that it’s time that we worked to reverse this country’s propensity towards violence.

It’s time for full-scale gun control. The production and distribution of handguns and military-style assault rifles to private citizens should be made illegal, if only to buck the trend of violence.

By all means, keep the hunting rifles and shotguns. Guns for sport are understandable, even useful for sustenance in some situations. I highly doubt, though, that handguns or semi-automatic assault rifles are necessary for hunting.

It is appalling to me that 33 people die daily in this country from gun violence, mostly precipitated by personal handguns or assault rifles. That makes 12,045 people a year on average. It’s despicable.

Despite the propensity for some people with mental illnesses to commit heinous crimes, it can be proven that access to firearms only increases the carnage. In China, on the day of the Sandy Hook shooting, a man entered a school with the intent to murder. Not a single person was killed, though, because the man entered with a knife, not a gun. I think it’s safe to assume that he was not mentally stable, so, that makes the death totals guns-26, knives-0 in the same circumstance.

The arguments for having personal guns baffle me. When the Second Amendment was written, it provided for militias to protect the American citizens from foreign invasion or attacks by Native Americans. These issues simply don’t exist anymore. We have the largest and most formidable army in the world, nullifying the threat of foreign invasion as well as the need for citizen militias. I don’t think we have to worry about Native Americans as a threat anymore, either.

Benjamin Franklin himself said that the Constitution was created to be amended and changed with the times. In case it has gone unnoticed, the times have changed massively since 1790, and we need to adapt to ensure peace and tranquility at home.

As for the self-defense argument, you’ll be far more likely to use your gun to kill yourself or a family member than a criminal. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 19,766 suicides by firearm were committed in 2011. And, according to the Violence Policy Center, having a gun in your house makes it three times more likely that you or someone you care about will be killed by a friend or family member in your own home. Compare those numbers to the FBI’s confirmed average of just 213 self-defense shootings per year over the period of 2005-2010, and suddenly owning a gun to defend yourself doesn’t look as necessary.

After Columbine; Virginia Tech; Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ assassination attempt in Arizona; Aurora, Colorado; Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide; the Oregon shopping mall; Sandy Hook; and the countless other horrific acts of gun violence that occur daily from homicides to robberies and assassination attempts, you’d think we would have seen enough.

68% of all murders in the United States were committed with personal firearms, and, based on a 10-year trend studied by the Center for Disease Control, gun deaths will number 33,000 by 2015—an amount that would exceed the projected number of automobile deaths in the same year. Guns are a major problem, and it needs to be remedied.

It won’t be immediate. It’ll be fought by gun lobbyists and owners alike, but if making the production and distribution of handguns and assault rifles illegal takes a few guns off the street and saves a few people each year, then we’re doing our job as civilized humans.

It’s not too late to reverse the awful gun culture in this country. Let’s make sure those 20 children did not die in vain. Let’s make sure none of the countless victims of gun violence died in vain.

Students’ Online Rights: Cyberspace’s Uncharted Territory

By Steve Helmeci
Jan. 7, 2013

PLUM BOROUGH, Pa. – Between Twitter, Facebook, and text messaging, students have at their fingertips a host of new ways to express themselves and to voice their grievances. However, the success of these different media serves to call into question the issue of what rights students have online.

From the streets of Cairo, Egypt, to nearby Plum Borough, Pennsylvania, students are exercising their right to protest what they deem unsatisfactory. When the recent Plum Senior High School Twitter campaign, #brownbagginit, trended in the local area, it resulted in the abandonment of the school-provided service for packed lunches by a majority of students.

While it is not apparent that any students suffered any punishment as a result of the Plum lunch boycott, punitive measures have been handed down across the country due to student online activism. However, such punishments are often appealed through the court system, and more often than not the courts have sided with the student.

For example, in Layshock vs. Hermitage School District, a Pennsylvania court upheld the First Amendment rights of a student who created a parody MySpace account of a school administrator. Even cases such as Tinker vs. Des Moines upheld the First Amendment rights of students.

Because of precedents set by various federal and state court cases, students have a fair amount of First Amendment protection under the law. While individual states have their own laws and precedents, an organization called the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) in Washington, D.C. is mandated to protect the First Amendment rights of students across the country.

According to Frank LoMonte, Executive Director of the SPLC, Pennsylvania is a state where the courts have not come to a definitive ruling; therefore there is little in the way of precedent to protect students’ rights. However, “students should always appeal discipline [for matters regarding their rights] all the way up the chain of command,” LoMonte said. “Unless you threaten the school with violence, it should not materially and substantially effect the school day.”

Another point LoMonte made was that simply being annoying to a person or isolated incidents of rudeness online should not result in punitive measures being meted out by school staff. “It’s that person’s fault for bringing it to school if you’re only annoying them,” he said. While LoMonte does not condone online bullying, he does not think that simply embarrassing someone should result in punishment by the school.

In grade-level assemblies earlier this year at Mt. Lebanon High School, Unit Three Principal Mr. Peter Berg vaguely referenced a policy regarding punishment for the activities of students on online social networking sites. The brief overview left Mt. Lebanon students wondering exactly what was acceptable online and what sort of disciplinary action the school could take regarding online social networking.

One of the points of contention for students was whether or not school administrators had the right to visit students’ private social networking pages.

“We don’t,” Principal Berg said. “Let me clarify that. The school is never in the position to go out and look at students’ private Facebook pages, so the notion that any of the unit principals here are generally getting on your pages and looking at them, that’s not accurate.”

While school officials have the right to act on issues deemed outside the protection of the First Amendment, such as harassment or assault, they never become involved in online incidents unless they are handed a hard copy or print-out of the issue at hand, according to Berg.

Even then, the school is not always in a position to address the issue. “The bullying policy is very explicit about what we can follow up on,” Berg said. “The policy talks about behaviors that are severe or persistent in nature and that fall under harassment.”

School administrators operate on the basis of reasonable cause. While it is a far lower standard than law enforcement’s probable cause, school officials cannot enter private social networking sites for any reason, even in the case of a tip to administrators about illicit online activity. “[A student] coming in as a hearsay person saying this is happening on Facebook doesn’t help me,” Berg said. “At that point I’d say bring it to me, and when the hard copy is sitting in front of me I’d have a chance to read it, interpret it, and to make some subjective judgments about the persistence, severity, pervasiveness, and if this is really impacting the school environment.”

Another point of confusion was the language “interferes with the educational process” regarding illicit student expression. This language was used during the grade level assemblies and is in the student handbook as well.

“It has to be significant,” Berg said. Unless a situation is deemed persistent and pervasive, the school cannot and will not act against students.

Students should be aware, however, that while the school is relatively unable to act with regards to goings-on outside of school, administrators have more access to information shared with the school’s network and wifi because they have oversight.

In reality, there are not too many differences between the policy of the school and the SPLC. The main point of contention is the grey area created by the lack of precedent law that exists when it comes to social media issues. The school will often side with the distressed student, while the SPLC will more often than not side with the student who is arguing for their First Amendment rights.

Jagan’s Story: Child Labor in India

By Faria Athar
December 13, 2012

Outside, the night was cold and its chilly winds made Jagan shudder as he lay in his thatched hut. Mosquitoes were hovering over him and seemed to suck both his blood and energy out of him. Lying quietly on the thin mattress, he reflected on his life.

Jagan Peters Reddy is an 18-year-old living in the slums of Orissa in Eastern India. He lives in a family of five, of which only he is able-bodied, the rest being either too weak or dependent on toddy, a country-made liquor, for their existence. He has no education but considers himself lucky enough to have learned his numbers and alphabet from the city-bred child for whom his mother worked.

Antony, Jagan’s brother, is twelve. A few years after his birth, the Right to Education (RTE) Act was passed in India, which required the state to provide free and compulsory elementary education to all children from poor families. It became a law a year later, in 2010. Antony thus had the privilege to go to school. It was not his choice; his father forced it upon him. Although he would rather have had his son working as a mason, he was lured by the scholarship money they would receive from the government if Antony went to school.

Jagan wanted his brother to receive an education. He feels that if Antony did well in school, he would get a good job in the reserved sector. Jagan himself had worked as a farmer with his father but was forced into masonry when the rains failed. His mother’s employer had warned her, saying that if Jagan did menial work without an education she could be arrested for child labor. However, she could do nothing but nod and carry on.

For his part, Jagan does not see much value in education. He thinks education is ‘highly overrated,’ though he knows that  it might lead to long-term gains, but they are not his priority. He lives in the perils of poverty and needs money to help him and his family survive for the day. The future is too far-fetched. As the rains failed, his father had quit working and taken refuge in toddy. The teenager is now the only ray of hope left for his family.

But Jagan isn’t alone. According to an International Confederation of Free Trade Unions report, there are as many as 60 million children working in India’s agricultural, industrial and commercial sectors. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates India to be the largest employer of laborers below 14, with about 70% of child labor deployed in agriculture, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. Child labor is rampant in almost all sectors of the Indian economy.

UNICEF highlights poverty as the root cause of child labor. The report suggests that in impoverished parts of the world, where schools and teachers are unavailable, children have no real and meaningful alternative. The International Labor Organization (ILO) defines child labor as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.” It has been severely condemned by the Indian Constitution in the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.

Jagan’s sister often goes to church to attend mass. The clergy supported families like hers and contributed substantially to their economic uplift. Jagan accompanies her sometimes, not for religious motives but because he managed to meet some of his friends there. Like Jagan and his family, they have converted to Christianity.

This story of Jagan’s family is the reality of many Indian households, with unemployed men at home and children working in mills, over 42% of India’s population remains under the poverty line (UNICEF). According to the latest report for 2011-12 published by the Union Ministry of Labor and Employment, over 47 million Indians are unemployed. These high rates have led to an increase in child labor.  Unemployed parents and paucity of money are the main factors that have led many Indian children to join the work force. The traders see them as cheap and quick labor compared to their adult counterparts.

The recent case of Tirumalasetty Venkateswarlu, a seven-year-old who was engaged in bonded labor and was burnt, caned and ultimately killed for asking permission to go home, highlights the conditions in which such children live. According to his father, Tirumala used to work at his master’s house and business all throughout the day but was tortured and paid very little. Tirumala was forced to work as his parents had allegedly failed to repay a loan taken from the master. The master had taken Tirumala away from his family for the last few months when his parents stopped going to the farm where they had been working as bonded labor to repay the loan, according to The Deccan Chronicle.

With child labor so common in India, the question arises: Is there anything that can be done to stop it? Other than the governmental steps of banning child labor and implementing free education, a lot can be done on an individual scale. Many Indians look at such children with pity and think they are doing good by hiring them, and this factor contributes greatly to the problem. If everyone refuses to employ them, this practice can be mitigated. Awareness campaigns, legal petitions and public education can also contribute greatly towards reducing child labor.