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Joe Dennis: shaped by journalism

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Journalist. Father. Teacher. Husband. Student. Friend. Mentor. Son.

There are many hats underneath the fedora that frequently adorns my head, but at the core of every aspect of me is a passion for people. Whether they are family members, students, colleagues, church members, friends or even strangers, I am fascinated by the uniqueness of each individual and the stories underneath their hats. It’s why I’m a journalist. Every person has a story, and I want to discover it.

My journalistic journey began at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. My summer orientation leader was sports editor of the college newspaper, and he needed a volleyball reporter. I didn’t know much about volleyball, but had a huge crush on one of the volleyball players. Middle hitter Tara, and the promise of free pizza at the newspaper meetings, roped me into journalism.

Little did I know that a little crush and a lot of pepperoni would set up the rest of my life.

The stories I heard, wrote and even lived through shaped who I am today and the hats I wear. I became an organ donor after profiling a man’s unsuccessful wait for a new liver. My respect for police officers grew immensely after spending 20 hours with a unit during a meth-lab drug bust. My compassion for the poor — especially children — was reinforced after visiting the blighted home of a slum-lord victim. My faith was strengthened after witnessing victims of various tragedies be thankful for the silver linings of their situation.

In addition to shaping who I am, journalism has also been a lot of fun. My career has given me the opportunity to hang out with several “stars,” such as musician John Mayer, WWE superstar Chris Jericho and basketball legend Isaiah Thomas. I’ve met several historical figures including civil rights leaders, war heroes and prominent politicians. But the most inspiration came from the everyday people I encountered: the principal of an impoverished school who is doing all he can to stop the cycle of poverty among his students, the nurse who has dedicated her career to providing free healthcare for the poor, the retired couple who are housing and keeping the local Red Cross chapter alive.

I tried my best to tell their stories through an article, later published in a newspaper. But their stories didn’t die there. Although the physical papers may have been trashed, their stories continue to be recycled in every interaction I make, each an individual thread in the hats that make me who I am.

21 and Illegal

At the age of 21, kids across the country transition from teenager to young adult, as they are finally allowed to consume alcohol. But here at Piedmont, once you become 21, it is still illegal to drink on campus grounds.  

Piedmont College recently held a campus meeting between RAs and residential students. The meeting would cover many new guidelines that have been put in place involving alcohol, animals, COVID restrictions and vaping. Where the vaping policy is new this semester, it is said that unless you are 21, the legal tobacco age, you are not permitted to vape or smoke on campus. The school applied this policy to coincide with new laws.  

For the COVID policy, some changes were made due to the number of positive tests increasing in the state of Georgia. Guests from outside campus are now no longer permitted on campus grounds.  

The two policies that saw the most changes were the pet and alcohol policies. With the pet policy, it is said to be the same as it has always been.  

In the alcohol policy it is said that “possession of alcohol paraphernalia is prohibited, this includes but not limited to electronic alcohol signs, empty or open alcohol beverages, and games.” Many students were shocked to learn that now, even if you are 21, you will no longer be permitted to have a “wet suite.” Here at Piedmont, having a “wet suite” means all your roommates, as well as yourself, must be 21 years of age (legal drinking age). This does not allow for underage drinking, but it does provide a place for anyone 21 and over to drink without any repercussions. However, this right seems to have been taken away. There are no more “wet suites” and you can no longer wear any alcohol-related attire.  

“This past fall semester, we actually had an increase in a lot of alcohol and pet violations,” Jestel says.  

The whole point of the RA and residential student meetings were to make it clearer about the policies within the housing contracts. With that in mind, students were caught off guard at first. Within days, many emails were sent to try and make a change within the alcohol policy.  

These policies are set in place to try and set us students up for success. However, with that comes backlash. With college comes the college experience. Socializing, trying new things, reinventing ourselves, and figuring out who we want to be are all part of the college experience.  

“If at any point in time a student has questions about a certain policy, please reach out to us, we are open to feedback,” Jestel says.  

Whether some students may not like the policies put in place here at Piedmont, there is always room for improvement. You can always contact the residential staff at any of their emails or make an appointment on Starfish to discuss certain policies or changes. 

The Mountain Fog that Blankets Piedmont College

On Feb. 4, 2021, a civil war erupted at Piedmont College between the voiced and the voiceless after a ruling was made on sports around campus due to COVID-19. With sports on Piedmont’s campus picking back up, a ruling was made to not allow any fans at any sporting event for the remainder of the semester. Tensions between student athletes and theater majors have been on the rise since last fall, and athletes have been pushed into the fog.  

The fall semester saw a division between the two groups around campus. Conflicts arose and escalated due to controversy among politics. Voices and opinions were heard on the Piedmont app, the college’s app for students and faculty. One side became silenced and the other was allowed to speak freely with no repercussions. Student athletes saw their voices taken off the app. Theater majors could say anything and saw no backlash from the college. Within days, all student athletes were told by coaches to not post anything on the app, as it could look bad for the program.  

This caused an uproar among student athletes as we felt silenced. We felt as if our freedom of speech was revoked by the college. If we said anything about politics, we were silenced. Meanwhile, theater majors could say anything they wanted because their political views aligned with the colleges. As we were silenced, theater majors took to the app and began throwing insults at student athletes, calling us “in-bred,” “retards,” and bringing up movements that had nothing to do with certain conversations. We were not allowed to fight back. I, along with the other student athletes, felt threatened, and we were mad. We wanted change and saw nothing happen.  

Fast forward to Feb. 4, the ruling on sports— “D-day” at Piedmont College. The school ruled that sporting events would not be permitted to have any outside guests or students in attendance. This only caused a greater rift between the student athletes and the school. While we were not allowed to have fans for the remainder of our seasons, the theater department was permitted to have outside guests and students attend a play where it was $5 a ticket. This gives the impression that the school only cares about making money. This action shows student-athletes that we are not as important as the fine arts students. And when we voice our concerns, we become silenced and sent away into the fog that now covers Piedmont College. 

Autobiographical Column: Imperfections

Brett Loftis

            What is the worst thing that one human being can do to another human being?  There are probably a lot of things that can be thought of.  If you think about it long enough, you can come up with your own answer and probably pinpoint a time when you have experienced it in your own life or see it happen. However, what is the worse thing that a child can do to another child?   Bullying.

            Race relations, mental health and suicide rates are all major issues in America today.  In 2019, there were 47,511 suicides in the United States. Could these three issues all stem from one place?  Is there a time in a human’s life in where these terrible issues begin?  Is there a way to stop these issues before they even start?

            My name is Brett Loftis.  I am overall a very happy human being.  I live a great life as a college student at Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia.  I am very involved in both the mass communications and the athletic communication departments at Piedmont.  I am a follower of Jesus Christ, an avid writer and a huge sports fan. However, there was a time in my life when I was not happy.  There was a time in my life when I did not know if I ever would want to move forward with my own life.  There was a time where I was bullied.

            As a male in today’s America, it is rather difficult to talk about the tough times in our lives.  We feel as if it is better to hide our emotions because it will make us appear sensitive if we discuss our low times in life.  I fall into this category as well.  I usually hide my emotions and not talk about them.  I bottle up times in my past when I was at an all-time low. 

When I was in middle school, I found myself at an all-time low.  I was bullied constantly for my size, my looks or even my school spirit at times.  I tried to surround myself with people who would build me up, but inevitably those same people would tear me down.  I tried to combat the name callings and the physical abuse by telling my teachers and administration, but no one seemed to care. My middle school had motivational speakers who came into our school to talk to us about bullying.  The very students who seemed to terrorize my life would be the very people who would now act as anti-bullying activists around these speakers.  These students never faced any repercussions for their treatment of others, but yet were looked at as “student body heroes.” Finally, after three years of going through living hell on a daily basis, I escaped.

            With the help of my loving parents, I transferred school districts to begin high school.  I found out when I arrived that there were kind people in the world.  Yes, there were still the people who liked to belittle others, but more people who wanted to uplift others.  I found out what I wanted to do in life.  I found friends who would last a lifetime.  Most of all, I found a will to live. 

            Today, I am trying to live life at its fullest.  I try to treat every single person I meet with the utmost respect.  I have now also found ways to combat those who do not treat others with the same amount of kindness.  With the help of Jesus, my parents, Clinton High School and Piedmont College, I have realized that everyone is destined for greatness somewhere in life.  However, just a few mean people can ruin their lives, and they may never get to experience their greatness in life.  Just remember, your life is worth living, greatness is out there and never give up on a life worth living because at the end of the day, every life is a life worth living.

Editorial: Why Do We Have to Take This?

Brett Loftis

            “Why do I have to register for this class?”

This is the most often-asked question at Piedmont College for students registering for classes.  As for most good questions, there are not a lot of good answers for this question.

            In order to receive and graduate with a 120-credit hour undergraduate degree from Piedmont College, students must take credit hours of general education classes.  The following subjects are the requirements for general education: 9 credit hours of communication class, 12 credit hours of humanity and arts, 9 credit hours of social sciences, 3 credit hours of math, 4 credit hours of natural sciences, 3 credit hours of ethics.  For many students, some, if not most, of these subject clusters do not apply whatsoever to what their majors are.  So, again, why do we have to take these classes?

            Most college students attend college for an average of eight semesters, which equates out to four school years. An average course load for a college student is 15 credit hours per semester.  Therefore, almost three out of the eight semesters that students are in college are dedicated to classes that are not even remotely tied into their major.  Students are taking classes that will not help take them further in their careers.  If anything, these classes are encouraging students to regress in life.  While a nursing student is stuck sitting in an American History class, they could be learning more about their own major. Are general education classes encouraging a well-rounded education or stopping students from maximizing themselves in their major?

            If students did not have to take  credit hours of general education classes, they could also graduate at a faster pace.  Students could finish their degree in four to five semesters, compared to the average six to eight semesters that it takes students right now. This would help cut down on the large student debt in our general population, help give students more knowledge about their majors and even help students have more “in the field” experience in their field.  All of these factors would then lead to greater success upon graduation and improve the quality of workers in society today. 

            All in all, there are no answers that can be given to Piedmont’s student population to why we have to take these classes, except that these classes give us a “well-rounded education.”  However, what does a “well-rounded education” do for someone in the real world? Does it help them land their first job?  Does it help them when working in their field of study?  Maybe general education classes help students become more “well-rounded” as a person, but that  does not help them become a well-rounded employee, because it took away from the time that students could have spent learning within their own major.  This is an issue not only at Piedmont College, but at institutions across the nation.  That leads to one final question: when will this be changed?

https://piedmont.smartcatalogiq.com/en/2018-2019/Undergraduate-Catalog/General-Education-and-Degree-Requirements/B-General-Education-Requirements-for-Degree-Completion-Program-B-A-B-F-A-B-S-or-B-S-N-Degree

Piedmont College Counseling Should Not be a One-Woman Job

When counselor Evonne Jones left the Piedmont community a year ago, it sent shock waves through the college. Jones, who had been with Piedmont for five years, is now the Program Manager at the Turner Center. The school now has a hole in the counseling department since Gayle Robbins is the sole counselor available to students.

In the 2019-20 school year, Piedmont College reported that there were 2,571 students enrolled at the college. As a school that boasts about their student-to-teacher ratio, shouldn’t that same sentiment be extended to counseling services?

The American School Counselors Association recommends that for every 250 students, there should be one counselor on campus. Based on that ratio, Piedmont should have at least 10 counselors on campus. After Jones’ departure, there is only one counselor available for students to meet with in person, making the ratio 2,571 to one.

We, as the student body, should all have equal access to counseling services on campus. Students should not have to prioritize whether they believe that their mental health disability is more or less important than others. All mental health issues are valid, and although some are more severe than others, students should not have to downplay their issues because the college is not equipped with the tools to help each and every one of their students.

According to Niche’s analysis of demographics at Piedmont, 43% of students are non-white. The U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health, Culture, Race and Ethnicity reports that “racial and ethnic minority persons” are being ineffectively served by mental health professionals. Because Piedmont only has the one counselor, minorities on campus are doubly being underserved.

Cultures are different. A white person will never understand what it means to be black. A black person will never understand what it means to be Asian. The list goes on and on, but the underlying message is that unless you are of a certain race or ethnicity, you will never understand what it is like to live in the skin of another race. This is not to discredit white counselors, but if a student of color approaches a counselor with a race-related issue, a white counselor will not be fully equipped to help the situation.In order for Piedmont to be fully equipped to handle issues students may face, they need to hire more counselors and ensure that they are diverse. Studies have shown that clients have different preferences with self-disclosure when their counselor is of a different ethnicity. Why is Piedmont asking one woman to take on the responsibility of having some of the most difficult conversations with students that she cannot fully relate to?

We Need to Stop Victim Blaming or else Nothing Will Change

This is not the first story of this kind, and it certainly will not be the last.

What started out as another relationship turned sour. In my sophomore year in high school, I met this guy. We began hanging out pretty regularly, even though he went to another school and lived 30 minutes away. He was my first in many things, he was my first serious crush, the first guy I introduced to my parents and the first person to take advantage of my emotions.

Since the first time we hung out, I was hooked. As a reserved person, I was addicted to the chaotic nature he brought into my life. He broke all the rules, and even convinced me to break some of them, too. Even though he was one of the worst influences on my life, I never saw it. I only saw the good. I ignored how he made me feel like the last choice, because sometimes he would text me back. I pushed aside all my insecurities, because he called me “pretty” once or twice. I ignored it when he hung out with other girls, because sometimes he would ask if I wanted to hang out instead of me asking him.

As months passed and our relationship (that was never a relationship) progressed, it became clear to everyone surrounding me that this was not a healthy situation. I stopped acting like myself, I was a person that my friends and family did not recognize. I did not care that my parents did not like the guy, because it was the first time that I felt like I was making my own decisions. I was so happy with this guy that I never realized he was emotionally manipulating me.

People who experience emotional manipulation tend to feel the effects longer than the relationship even lasts. Emotional manipulation can lead to problems with many aspects of life — trust, respect, intimacy and security — all of which are things I experienced after this relationship. You start to question yourself, wondering if things were as bad as you remember. If you have a history of mental health issues, being emotionally manipulated will only make things worse.

Even though my story got a somewhat happy ending, the majority of people who experience emotional manipulation are not so lucky. I walked out of it, for the most part, unscathed. A few months later, I would start a relationship with someone who treats me so much better than he ever did. Until the cycle is broken and nobody is taking advantage of others, we will be experiencing the effects of emotional manipulation.

We have to change the cycle of blame. We need to stop placing blame on victims and instead place the blame on the manipulators. Although there is no real consequence for the manipulators, they get away with these things because society chooses to blame the victim for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. We, more than likely, will never see the end of the cycle of manipulation. We can, though, see the end of victim blaming.

Everything Changes when it Hits Home

Any test a person gets ready to take likely makes them nervous. Whether a simple drivers’ test or a small five-question quiz, the moments before a test often causes heart rates to rise dramatically.

Every day there is something on the news related to COVID-19. At the beginning of this pandemic, many people didn’t take it seriously, which I admit I didn’t as well. However, I did what I needed to do to avoid causing harm to myself or anyone else I was around. People worldwide are losing their loved ones, but the flu has caused the same destruction each year. My older relatives are making sure I follow the rules, giving my body the right amount of immune support to stay healthy and avoid being around large groups of people. I’m an athlete that runs every day, plus I don’t leave the house unless it’s for something important. I felt that I didn’t need to worry about anything because chances were extremely low for me to get sick.

Life always finds a way to bring us back to reality. When my grandmother tested positive, I wasn’t completely worried since she worked in the medical field and, knew all the right steps to recover from this deadly virus. Everyone has different experiences with COVID, and my grandmother was one of the lucky people who didn’t have a life-threatening battle but, everything started to go downhill from there. Each week someone I knew tested positive, I still didn’t take this disease as seriously as everyone else did since I knew I had a low chance.

My attitude didn’t change until I was required to take a COVID test to return to school. Before taking any test, studying is a priority for passing, but how do you prepare for a test that is life-changing? After taking the test, I had to wait a day for my results. It seemed like those hours took forever, and each hour I repeatedly told myself I was OK because I barely went anywhere. The following morning I received a phone call from my coach, and I got the worst possible news anyone would want to hear during these challenging times. It felt like my heart jumped out of my chest, hearing that I tested positive, especially since I followed all the rules to stay safe. The worst part was the quarantine, where each day I was nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. Even though it felt like my world was ending, my dad was the main person who got me through those rough days.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I didn’t have a bad experience with COVID, but now I take things very seriously.

College Stress

We have all reached that breaking point.

Stressing each week to ensure every assignment is completed and making sure you get enough sleep to repeat another long week. Everyone says that college will be fun, or the best moments in life are going to be in college. People don’t speak about the long hours of studying for a test, long chapters the teachers want the class to read, or a 10-page research paper due the following week. The amount of stress college students endure to receive a simple piece of paper is ridiculous. According to a study from New York University, “55% of students, nationally, claimed their biggest stress or to be academic in nature.” Students should enjoy the subjects they are learning and get excited to return for another day of class. However, students are on the verge of dropping out of college from the amount of stress their assignments cause. “Many of the emotional and physical symptoms that occur commonly in the college population, such as headaches, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and the inability to cope, can be attributed to or exacerbated by stress.”

 Parents will tell their children to work ahead or write stuff in a planner to make days easier. That advice sounds like a great idea, but professors find a way to make that impossible. Professors somehow make multiple assignments due on the same week and forget we are humans just like them. Professors had to forget they went to college because they continue to assign an enormous amount of work to students. With that in mind, papers are college students’ worst nightmare. According to Howtolearn.com, “On average, college students will write about 10 to 15 essays each semester. That averages out to 40 to 60 pages of writing.” For a college student to write this many pages for one semester can drive them crazy, but most importantly cause a ton of stress. Before reaching the halfway point, students are mentally drained and are repeating the same thing in papers.

Hopefully, one day professors will decrease the amount of work they assign, and students will be stress-free. Maybe professors can coordinate with other professors, so assignments don’t fall during the same period. Until that happens, students still have to prepare for war every semester and avoid the breaking point.

Being Happy

*Names and specific details changed/left out due to confidentiality*

I still remember the day it happened. 

“Mom, Dad, I think I’m bi.” The cracking in my voice wasn’t hidden by the bustling of the Mexican restaurant we were sitting in. 

Their reply: “Row, you’re 13 years old. You shouldn’t even be worried about that right now. If you still want to be bi when you’re older, then that’s fine.” 

That is not what one wants to hear after expressing their sexual confusion to their parents. 

I thought they were right. Maybe my unhealthy obsession with Scarlett Johansson was normal.  So I repressed it. The thoughts, feelings, same-sex crushes – all of it. That was until Grace came along. 

I was a junior in high school, and she was a freshman. She was 5’11”, played basketball, and was openly gay. Grace and I sat next to each other in Spanish, and we were good friends. 

I envied her. 

I envied her style, athleticism, and ability to like and be liked by everyone. More than anything, I envied how open she was with her sexuality and how utterly happy she was, even for highschool standards. She was kind and funny and everything I wanted to be, despite being a few years older than her. On this particular day, we were hanging out together in our shared free period, and she was telling me all about the new girl she had been talking to that week. 

When I asked her how she did it, how she was so open and unafraid of who she was, I will remember her response forever. 

“Stop running away from who you are; run towards that person instead.” 

It’s easy to do when you have an accepting family, so I took her statement to heart. 

For the next year, I carried that statement with me and blindly stumbled down a path of self-discovery towards what I hoped was blissful queer happiness. I knew I liked boys. I had had boyfriends and crushes in the past, so what was this insatiable infatuation I had with women? 

I did loads of research, took Buzzfeed quizzes to see what level of queer I was, and even talked to people anonymously on chat sites about their own experiences. I knew in my heart what the answer to my question was, but it was hard to come to terms with the reality. When I had expressed my concerns as a child, I was brushed off by my parents and made to seem like it wasn’t a big deal. 

Everything changed after Kairos, a “self-spiritual” trip the senior class does every year.  I was super excited to participate. No one knew what it was due to its secrecy, but one thing everyone knew for sure is that no one leaves the weeklong trip without crying at least once. 

It was the third night of Kairos, and we were listening to a classmate – one of the leaders for this specific trip – talk about the hardships in her family life. Her parents were generally accepting but disapproved of the fundamental aspects that made her who she was. 

I’m not sure why it was this specific moment that made everything click, but suddenly, everything made sense. Thousands of gears working against each other finally fell into place and began moving in a well-oiled machine. The disapproving parents, the fear of being who I was, and the lack of support; it was like listening to your least favorite song on repeat, and I was sick of it. 

“I’m bisexual, and I am done hiding it. Hate me, love me, I don’t care, but this is me, and I like me,” was what I told my parents when I got back from the trip. I didn’t let the image of the similar conversation we had in that Mexican restaurant years prior run rampant through my head; this is what I needed to do. 

They merely smiled and said, “If you’re happy, then we’re happy.” 

It’s been about two years since then, and yeah, I’m pretty happy. 

Life Isn’t Fair, But It Should Be

The students and faculty of Piedmont College should see themselves as lucky to get a spring semester in person, as Piedmont is very COVID-19 conscious. However, when it comes to restrictions put in place to “stop the spread,” how far is too far? 

Since last fall, the promise of sports in spring 2021 kept our student-athletes and fans motivated for the new semester. So far, the spring season is slowly and cautiously moving along. This is a huge deal for students. It provides a sense of normalcy where it is hard to find now. 

However, this sense of normalcy was short-lived as Piedmont College determined that “only essential gameday personnel will be in attendance at home athletic events until further notice.” This caused a minor uproar throughout the campus. 

Most students find this ridiculous, seeing as most spring sporting events are outside, and social distancing is possible. Parents, students, and faculty alike believe these are very drastic measures, especially considering that Piedmont is a small D3 school. If UGA can have home games with spectators, why can’t we? 

While Piedmont fans have access to the different games and matches via live streaming, it doesn’t replicate watching the game in person. The players won’t be able to hear the roar of the crowd cheering them on, and the spectators won’t be able to get that same sensation they get from supporting their home team live and in person. 

Many parents have taken to Facebook with their frustrations -and students have blown up the Piedmont app with their anger over this policy noting that this restriction doesn’t apply to theatre productions, art exhibits, or concerts. Those events are open to the public, It’s easy to understand why many students and parents feel that the school is targeting sports. 

The college should be consistent with its policies on crowds and audiences, whether it’s an art exhibit or a baseball game. Perhaps the college could limit the number of people allowed to watch the games and have designated areas marked for safe social distancing seating, as the theatre department is doing for its productions. 

Piedmont prides itself on being a big family. In this sense, the administrators, faculty and staff are like the parents, and students are like the children. When it comes to keeping the campus safe from COVID-19, every family member is on the same page. We all want the school year to go as normally as possible, and the children are willing to go along with any reasonable rules set forth by the parents to ensure this happens.

But the inconsistency of the spectator policy is like parents favoring one child over another. It’s time for the parents to recognize the inconsistency of their rules and treat every one of their children equally.