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Drewid organizes “die-in” for Thurs in response to Ferguson decision

Dani Leviss – Editor-in-Chief

updated 4:41 p.m. – Dec. 10, 2014

Across the nation, students are lying down to express their thoughts and emotions over the decision not to charge Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. On Thursday, Drew will join the growing list of colleges at which students have staged “die-in” demonstrations.

At the helm of the peaceful protest is Dana Gill (T’16), president of the Theological Student Association. She explained that many students including herself have “wanted something done”  for a while now, especially since Eric Garner’s death in Staten Island after a police officer’s apparent chokehold. Gill said, “It took time for some ignition, but late last week, things started to take form with the fruition of the die-in idea on Monday.”

The demonstration will begin with prayerful reflection at 11 a.m. on Thursday in the new Interfaith Prayer Room in the basement of Mead Hall. During this time, participants of any faith can offer prayers and reflect on the situation. Gill explained the decision to make the demonstration an interfaith one. She said, “It’s an opportunity to come together and work towards a common goal. Regardless if you are Muslim, Hindu, Taoist, Christian or Jewish, you are affected by these events.”

Dean of the Theological School Javier Viera offered a statement of support to the Drew community. He said, “My hope is that Drew can be a safe space for people to lament the needless loss of life, express frustration, voice fears and find support. Demonstrations alone will not dissipate anger nor reform society, but they offer, nonetheless, viable and effective paths to healing.”

At noon, the peaceful protest will move to the lawn of Mead Hall for the four and a half minute die-in. There, demonstrators will lie on the ground for 4.5 minutes to represent the 4.5 hours that Michael Brown lay dead in the streets of Ferguson. Gill added that those who would like to participate but cannot be at the lawn at noon can participate wherever they are, as long as it is safe to do so. She also encourages participants to “bring signs or write on t-shirts with your message to the community and our society.”

Gill advises demonstrators to dress warmly, as “it is supposed to be cold and wet” and the temperature “has the potential to get into the low 30s.”

Drewids from all three schools are invited to participate. Gill said, “I want it to be a university-wide event because it affects everyone. It’s important for the entire school–administrators, faculty, staff and students.” Explaining why people should join the demonstration, Gill added, “It’s an opportunity for us to show our support for and initiative on an issue larger than us. This is an important moment in history to make systemic change.”

Gill told The Drew Acorn that she was contacting the Dean’s offices of Drew schools, Public Safety, Campus Life and Student Affairs and Student Activities.

In requests for comments, The Acorn received several overwhelming statements of support and encouragement.

Sara Waldron, vice president of Campus Life and Student Affairs, said in a statement, “This is a community that supports academic freedom, freedom of expression and inquiry, and one that encourages civil discourse.” She cautioned that the demonstrations must not “interfere with University business, disrupt classes or block roadways or building entrances and exits.”

From the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies, Dean Robert Ready and Associate Dean William Rogers echoed a similar sentiment of support of students’ rights to demonstrate “as long as they are respectful and peaceful, which we know they will be.”

Following the die-in, Drewids are invited to Craig Chapel for reflection and dialogue about the demonstration. Gill said, “I feel it is important for us to both take a stand and let our voices be heard as well as digest the experience afterwards.”

Gill will keep Public Safety updated with the numbers as people show up on Thursday. Chief Robert Lucid referred The Acorn to Drew’s Communications department, which planned to issue a short statement. Wednesday morning, President MaryAnn Baenninger sent out a campus-wide email to the Drew community. The University did not release a separate statement.

Baenninger expressed her support of all members of the Drew community, including faculty and staff, who choose to participate in Thursday’s events. She said, “I am asking the administration to respect staff’s individual choice to attend this event and suspend work duties during this timeframe unless the service is essential at that time.”

When the president closed her message, she referenced the University’s mission statement, “We are very proud of the University’s mission to “add to the world’s good by responding to the urgent challenges of our time,” and we are proud of our students for manifesting that mission. Thank you for your on-going commitment to raising awareness for racial and social justice.”

Gill explained that she and fellow Theological School student Rodney Lynch (T’14, T’15) are planning something long term as well. She said, “It’s been known for a long time that the Theological School has a focus on social justice.” She mentioned that she has been in communication with University Chaplain Rev. Tanya Linn Bennett, who, according to Gill, has encouraged that this event be a student-led one.

Bennett said in a statement, “People of faith are called to be bold and prophetic in times of social conflict and strife.  We cannot live in fear and silence and expect to justice to arrive. We need to act with courage and compassion, and demonstrate solidarity in bringing what is right and fair for all people.”

In his statement, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Chris Taylor explained the events of Ferguson, Staten Island and others serve as a “reminder that the experiences we have with law enforcement in this society are still too often defined by the color of our skin. The legal system in this country is not yet color blind. The struggle to achieve racial justice is not over.” He added, “We must continually assert that black lives matter just as much as white lives do. We also share an obligation to insist that everyone is afforded exactly the same treatment by those charged with enforcing the law.”

When Student Government President Michael Gualtieri learned of the demonstration planned for this week, he gave a joint statement with SG Vice President Michelle Taliento. They said, “In this difficult time that our nation is experiencing, it is comforting to see the faculty and students of Drew University create an avenue for everyone to express their concern and sympathies in a non-violent manner.  We would also like to express our thanks for the actions being taken by Dana Gill and the Theological School Association. We are appreciative of them taking the time to create an event for those of us at Drew University interested in expressing our condolences through prayer to the family of Michael Brown.”

Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Jessica Lakin said, “It is incumbent on all citizens to be active participants in the processes that will effect change, and sometimes even create the processes themselves.”

Gill hopes to put her Drew education as a minister to work this week. She said, “I really want this opportunity to put our faith into action and apply what we are learning as ministers to represent the Drew community well.”

Those interested in more opportunities to demonstrate can join a group of students attending the protest in New York City which starts at 2 p.m. on Saturday, according to Gill. She added that another group of students will travel to Washington, D.C. for a demonstration. A free bus will leave Harlem, N.Y. at 5 a.m. to reach Freedom Plaza by 10:30 a.m. Contact Gill with questions at dgill@drew.edu.

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Shalini Chalikonda – Staff Writer

It is that time of the year again—the time where the near future of Drew University is determined by the undergraduate student body. Yesterday, Student Government presidential and vice presidential elections were held.

This year, only one set of candidates ran for SG president and vice president. Michael Gualtieri (’16) ran as a presidential candidate and Michelle Taliento (’17) as his vice presidential running mate. Hetika Shah (’15), then-SG president said, “I wish there were more candidates running for office because election time is a good time to get SG noticed on campus.”

On the two candidates, Shah said, “I think the two candidates that are running are a great asset to the Drew community. They love Drew and they love SG.”

At the time, Gualtieri was SG’s SOAB Chair, and Taliento was a sophomore senator.

On Monday, The Drew Acorn moderated the SG Presidential Debate. Gualtieri and Taliento responded to questions posed by the Acorn and the audience of five attendees. During the debate, the candidates spoke about several issues they hope to tackle. Responding to a question posed about promoting safety and protection of students from potential assaults on campus, Gualtieri explained he’d like to work with WoCo and Drew University Feminist Union “to get the BC courtyard filled for Take Back the Night because sexual assault is an important issue that affects many people.”

Taliento added, “There should be more prominent blue lights on campus that are very bright and easily visible.”

When asked why she is running for vice president, Taliento answered, “I have a lot tolearnandIwanttodosoby listening and talking to people and learning how Drew operates. Presidents set the tone for how things happen and I want to be a part of that.”

The Acorn asked the candidates to discuss the implications if a proposed N.J. bill were to pass during their administration.

The bill, which has so far passed the state assembly, would ban the requirement of purchasing meal plans and instead would consist of meals plans on debit cards. Taliento said, “A lot of students don’t necessarily use their meal plans and this would be a positive way to give more students control over what they put in their bodies.” Gualtieri said, “They are finding ways to update the meal plan and tweak rather than do away with it.”

Addressing the topic of diversity on campus and INTO students, Gualtieri said, “[INTO students] aren’t as large of a body as we hoped but they are a key part. I want to hopefully get an INTO member on the SG board.”

Taliento added, “All groups should be represented by someone who they think embodies them as a whole.” Gualtieri added, “Commuters should not be put on the backburner because they also have issues that we can address moving forward in the SG.”

About student and SG communication, Gualtieri said, “Numbers are decreasing but we are increasing in areas we haven’t seen before. Keeping senate office hours that President Shah initiated should be required, and better advertising should be done so that more students can be aware to come and talk with the members of SG.”

The Acorn also asked, “If selected, how do you plan to balance your student government responsibilities with your other activities?” Gualtieri is stepping down as the president of New Social Engine and will still continue to be a resident assistant. Taliento said that all of the positions that she currently holds are larely related to student government.

On what kind of legacy will be left behind by the candidates, Gualtieri said, “I want the students to love coming to Drew and there to be a high retention rate, as the current retention rate is horrible.” Taliento agreed by saying, “I want students to love DrewasmuchasIdo.Iftheydo love Drew, I will be very happy.”

Election results released last night showed Gualtieri and Taliento as the election winners with 83 votes. There were several write- in candidates which included Maleka Blaize (’16) with 16 votes; Kirby Clark (’16) with 5; Nycole Nurse (’16)/Michelle Mensah (’16) with 1; and Jessica Shannon (’17) with 1. This election had a voter turnout of 106.

At the last Student Government meeting of the semester, Gualtieri and Taliento were sworn in as president and vice president. A new cabinet was also appointed and sworn in–Aaron Arias (’16) as attorney general, Michelle Mensah (’16) as chief of staff, Jonathan Van Dongen (’17) as secretary and David Njoroge (’16) as chief financial officer.

Staff Writer Kei-Sygh Thomas and Editor-in-Chief Dani Leviss contributed to this report.

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Kei-Sygh Thomas- Staff Writer


A group of 50 high school teachers and guidance counselors gathered on Wednesday to hear Drew Alumnus, Robert Franek, speak on the implicit and explicit value of obtaining a college education.

Franek (C’93) began his career with the Princeton Review in 1999, where he eventually became the senior vice president, publisher and prolific author. He recently authored “The Best 379 Colleges and Best Value College,” the newest addition to the growing standardized testing and college mentorship company.

According to data drawn from both qualitative and quantitative survey research on about 14,000 students and parents in the college process, 51 percent of students and 53 percent of parents share utilitarian views on higher education and agree that the main benefit of college is the potential to secure a better job, higher income and more career mobility–meaning that college graduates are more able and better equipped to change careers or progress to higher positions within their respective careers than non-graduates. Other latent functions of education–the more unintentional or unrecognized purposes of higher education–include access to broader professional and social networks, honing of communication skills and increased civic engagement.

However, prior to entering college, the biggest stress for parents and students are the standardized tests and financial forms needed in order to be admitted to good colleges. In a survey from over 15,000 schools, standardized test scores were rated as the third most important factor of admission, with GPA being the champion and high school rigor as runner-up.

With more schools opting to be standardized-test optional, standardized testing is the lesser of the two obstacles. The SAT/ACT/AP exams are coachable exams, and students can opt to apply to test optional universities.

The bulk of the college conundrum is largely financial. How much is one willing and required to pay for an undergraduate education?

The fear surrounding the affordability of a college education is a concern that is very much alive and evident considering the inflated cost of college tuition, stagnant financial aid awards and outstanding student loan debt.

The average total cost of attendance for one year at a public university is $18,000, while a year at a private university is reported to be, on average, $41,000. With the average student loan debt hovering around $29,000, and the total student debt in the United States currently at $1.3 trillion, it is more than practical for students and parents to be conscious consumers when looking at prospective schools.

The Princeton Review’s annual “College Hopes and Worries” list included the fear of the amount of debt a student will incur to fund their college degree, while many also feared the unfair reality of acceptance to their top-choice, yet unaffordable school. Of the individuals surveyed, 89 percent stated the financial aid is very or extremely necessary in order to afford school, which makes the fact that 53 percent of students apply to financial aid safety school unsurprising.

Franek argued that aside from a college’s financial fit for a prospective student, academic fit and career interest fit are equally important. But with the cost, are college-bound high school students acting like conscious consumers? Are students getting the maximum return on their lofty investment?

Indicators of positive return on investment–or return on education–include costs, average loan indebtedness, quality of education, alumni salaries, connections, time of degree completion, academic success, access to opportunities and other factors. But how will this information be quantified and made accessible to parents and students partaking in the college process?

Federal plans for college ratings are looking to rate schools on the scale of “excellent,” “good,” “fair” or “poor,” and the aid provided for the university will be tied to ratings and would be rated on affordability, accessibility to low-income and minority students and graduation rates.

Although changes will not be seen until 2018 during the Higher Education Act reauthorization, individuals challenge these plans due to the emphasis being put on quantitative rather than qualitative data and how narrowly student outcomes are measured.

University President MaryAnn Baenninger believes in the value of continuing education and is an avid proponent of the liberal arts curriculum. She is scheduling a series of coffee meetings in the spring called President to Parent to motivate parents and their college-bound children to be aware of their options and pursue the sort of college education they deserve.


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I’m so hurt right now.. I honestly can’t breathe…

-Aliya McNeill, Associate Director of Admissions for the Theological School


I am reminded of the story of Rizpah in 2 Samuel 21, a story permeated with political ironies and gross injustice, where the “word of the Lord” is twisted to serve political ends, where innocent lives are destroyed and bodies desecrated for suspiciously self-serving reasons cloaked in the appearance of “restoring order.” Seven descendants of Saul are executed for a crime they did not commit, their bodies left to rot in public display, all to correct a supposed wrong for which there is no evidence. Only Rizpah, the former wife of Saul and mother of two of the victims, keeps a vigil over the slain for months on end.  Eventually Rizpah’s persistence shames David into taking action to address the injustice. Only after David responds, albeit it in a way falling woefully short of the travesty, does God bring restoration to the land. This is one of the Bible’s most poignant and dramatic scenes of public protest, as well as one of most graphic stories of how the lives of “others” become expendable in the hands of the politically powerful.

- Danna Nolan Fewell, John Fletcher Hurst Professor of Hebrew Bible


It is not true that white people’s right to live and breathe deserves more respect and care by police officers than that of persons of color. It is not true that the enforcement of laws can occur without even a modicum of fairness in predominantly black U.S. neighborhoods without active resistance to the continuing moral taint of anti-black racial prejudice and discrimination. This is true: when we join together across our differing racial, ethnic, and immigrant backgrounds in activist hope, courageous faith, and stubborn persistence we can end our tolerance for all of the routine forms of abuse and violence in our communities.

-Traci West, Professor of African American Studies


When fear, mistrust, and ignorance overwhelm a will for kindness, compassion and bone-deep justice, violence will become the rule of order.

-Tanya Bennett, University Chaplain


America has a long, tragic history of having fear serve as the motivation for and justification of racial violence. It is time to make an honest assessment of what kind of community we are and who we want to be. If we don’t like what we see, then we must be shapers of the change we seek.

-Kesha Moore, Professor of Sociology


Twenty years ago Anthony Baez was tossing a football with his brothers on Staten Island when the ball hit a nearby police car; in the ensuing altercation an officer put Baez in a choke hold that killed him.  The recent cases of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice (a 12-year old who was shot by Cleveland police for having a toy gun at a recreation center), and Eric Garner have shone an urgently needed spotlight on racism in the criminal justice system.  These cases unfortunately all illustrate the problematic linkage between masculinity, violence, and control.  Bringing long overdue change requires our sustained engagement in the political and policy processes.  I can only hope that our righteous outrage gets channeled to catalyze the justice that is long overdue.

- Debra Liebowitz, Associate Dean for Curriculum and Faculty


This verdict, on top of the many other similar ones, reminds us that justice and the legal system are not necessarily the same–that legal systems all too often preserve the status quo, and protect the dominant groups. If we benefit from the protection of the status quo, as most white people do, we are easily lulled into thinking that the law=justice. The yet another lack of indictment peels back the curtain, ever farther, on the embedded nature of structural racism, and on the sanctioning of violence in our culture, particularly with regard to people of color. We are called to work to fight racism, to speak the truth, as I have seen many students do today, to their friends and families who are quick to blame the victim. For those of us whose everyday reality does not remind us of the structural and personal experience of injustice, we are called to make sure these are not one, two day headlines, then to be forgotten until the next outrageous decision. For those whose lives are shaped by such injustice. who cannot forget the headlines, and all those who deserve headlines highlighting their injustice, we need to stand in solidarity, to bear witness to the grievous injustices and to fight the message of no accountability that each decision clearly communicates. Black and brown lives do matter!

- Laurel Kearns, Associate Professor of the Sociology of Religion and Environmental Studies

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Janel Gist - Assistant News Editor


Change in New Jersey legislation could mean the end of required meal plans at universities throughout the state. For Drew students this would signal the end of being required to purchase any sort of meal plan, even when living on campus.

The bill requires schools to offer meal plans in the form of prepaid debit cards. At the end of the year, students would be refunded for anything that was unused. The proposal would affect all public and private four year universities, except Princeton University. The sponsor of the bill excluded Princeton because of its track record of high graduation rate and free tuition to lower-income students.

Amanda Bryant (’17) said, “I think it’s a good idea to stop forcing meal plans onto all students because it’s not the best option for everyone. I use up all my meal plan and I like having one, but that’s not the case for every student. It can be a waste of money for someone that doesn’t use all their meals or points because they don’t roll over to the next semester. However, I do think meal plans are a good option and if it’s used regularly, it helps save money.” Currently all residential Drew students are required to have one of six meal plans which range from $2,194 to $2,274 per semester. Meal plans currently consist of a number of meals per week at the Commons, points that can spent at other places or a block of meals and points for the entire semester.

With this meal plan many students find themselves with leftover meals or points at the end of semester which are not refunded.

Cece Ewing (’17) said, “Currently, no, I don’t use all of my meal plan. There are definitely meals leftover at the end of the semester, along with plenty of points. I think this system should also be worked out. More flexibility in meal plans would be really helpful. I use my meal plan, yes, but there is so much left over it feels like money wasted.”

While the change would benefit students and assure that they did not waste money on meals they did not use, it could also potentially hurt those who work in food services at New Jersey universities. If schools lost revenue in their cafeterias, food service workers could potentially be laid off.

This bill, though still far from reality, passed the state assembly but still must pass the senate and be signed into law by Governor Chris Christie.

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