Weekend reading: stage fright, trigger warnings and bananas

The New Yorker | I can’t go on! What’s behind stage fright? Joan Acocella explores the history of stage fright and how it affects people.

The Atlantic | The Coddling of the American Mind Can trigger warnings, which aim to protect university students, actually harm their mental health?

The Atlantic | That’s not funny! Today’s college students can’t seem to take a joke Are American universities rejecting comedy that unsettles in favour of comedy that soothes?

The Economist | The medium matters Does the physical act of writing (slumped or erect, in bed or at a desk) influence how and what we write?

Quartz | Move over Shakespeare, teen girls are the real language disruptors Researchers think it was young women that changed hath, doth, maketh to has, does, makes. We can also thank them for vocal fry, the use of “like” and uptalk.

SuzelleDIY – How to Make Braaied Brandy Banana Splits

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Let students – not baby politicians – lead our country’s Student Representative Councils

Prof Jansen over at University of the Free State has been given a hard time about the fact that he wants to limit political activity on the Student Representative Council (SRC). I just want to give him a pat on the back. I think that it is a step in the right direction and should become common practice across all South African universities.

I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of KwaZulu Natal and I have seen firsthand the negative effects that political agendas can have on student institutions and students. I believe that political organizations have an important role to play on campus but that they have no place throwing their weight around in the SRC.

Firstly, student political organizations receive a mandate from their national counterparts. That mandate instructs them to do one thing: garner support for the national agenda. These youth wings then spend their time doing just that. Their mandate is not to pursue student issues like funding, exclusions or housing shortages. Rather these student issues become the means to forwarding their national agenda. They use, for example, the lack of funding available to students to garner support for their respective political party.  They rally the troops, create a fuss, make promises and maybe stage a protest – and all the while, all they are saying is “look at us, we have support!” Most of the time the real issue falls by the wayside – forgotten or ignored. The students are then left with a shirt on their back and that niggling feeling that they are no better off than when they started.

Secondly, allowing political parties to contest SRC elections grants them an unfair advantage over independent candidates. Youth wings receive funding from their national political parties. This funding goes towards their administrative costs, election campaigns, posters, transport costs, banners and the aforementioned t-shirts. Compared with this level of funding an independent candidate can’t compete on an equal basis. This funding also creates a situation in which student political organizations are pressured to pursue certain agendas on campus – lest they lose their funding. It’s also ironic that their political activity tends to escalate in both quantity and quality come national election time. SRC election campaigns turn into displays of resources and the issues are ignored. Independent students who earn their seat on the SRC should be there because they have shown the student body that they are committed to their issues. Seats should not be won by flashy grand standing funded by national movements.

Thirdly, allowing political parties to run in most cases means that a party list will be used when elections occur. At UKZN there were 10 seats on the SRC and when students went into the ballot box they would cast two votes – one for a party seat and another for an individual candidate. When the party comes to fill the number of seats they have won they are able to choose who to place in that seat. This system does two things: it rewards party loyalty and reduces accountability. If members of a student political party know that their seat is dependent on being chosen by party leaders then their loyalty will be to those bosses. It will not be to the students that they are meant to represent. The SRC is meant to be accountable to the student body but if the students don’t know the names and faces of the representatives who will fill the party list seats how will they be able to hold them accountable?

Prof. Jansen’s suggestion seems legitimate considering the above. Do we really want baby politicians throwing their weight around SRCs around the country? Or do we want to offer students the opportunity to learn about leadership free of national agendas and undeclared funding? The SRCs on campuses around the country should be concerned with student issues. Let’s leave the SRC to students who want to represent their fellow students’ interest. SRCs should not represent the first wrung on the ladder for career politicians.

Just pretend like there’s a fire: the postgraduate mentality

At UCT they have special computer rooms for Humanities’ Postgraduate Students. At UKZN computer rooms were called lans, here they are called labs. Mixing them up is a no-no. You reveal that you’re not actually from UCT and that you did your undergraduate degree at another university. It’s like that scene in Inglourious Basterds where the English officer’s identity is revealed because he signals for three drinks with his three middle fingers. Germans signal with their thumb, index and middle finger.

The equivalent of saying lab at UCT

 Heaven forbid they find out you are from UKZN. Then you get asked “how did you find it there?” or ”aren’t you so happy to be at a proper university now?”. Alternatively they just snigger. You get used to it.  

But calling them labs isn’t enough. They have also been bestowed with the titled Knowledge Commons. Newly renovated and stocked with shiny computers and comfy, ergonomically designed chairs they are a perfect place to study. One long wall is wallpapered – floor to ceiling – with a picture of a lush green forest. Instead of the sound of tweeting birds, the air is filled with the frantic typing of postgrad students with deadlines.  

On Wednesday that sound was pierced when a continuous blaring alarm sounded. Students raised their heads and searched for an explanation and when none was offered they returned to their work. The Knowledge Common’s Monitor announced in a manner befitting his title that it was a fire alarm and we had to evacuate the building.  

“Is it a firm alarm or a fire drill?” An American student drawled from the back. 

The Knowledge Common’s Monitor announced that it was a fire drill. No need to panic then! Postgrads you see are pardoned from life’s more mundane activities – social lives and regular exercise included. When the Knowledge Common’s Monitor realised that no faux evacuation was imminent he started trying to herd everyone out 

“Just imagine there’s a fire!” he cried opening the doors and motioning for some sort of mass exodus. He wildly swung his arms around trying to elicit some sort of response from the group. He was really getting into his imagining.   

A collective groan sounded as people realised that they weren’t going to be able to escape the fire drill. So, as they imagined there was a fire, they calmly shuffled all their papers together, safely removed their USB drives from the computers and headed out. We may not have much respect personal safetly but as Postgrads we have the utmost respect for safely removing our flash sticks. 

Ten minutes later we were allowed to enter the previously imagined engulfed building and resume our work. Frantic typing once again filled the air and all was well in the Humanities Postgraduate Knowledge Commons.

Those Funny Capetonians

When I saw the homemade signpost advertising breast milk for sale I was shocked. Who was this woman? Was it a woman? A breast milk cartel? How much was she charging? Had she been tested for HIV? Who was buying it?

It wasn’t till I got further down the road that I realised that the same person was also offering haircuts. Further down the road a sign offered tickets to heaven.

Hello Cape Town

I’ve moved out of home and in with my boyfriend. I now own a double bed not a single bed. I have to wash my own dishes. Make my own bed. Clean my own toilet. Fold my own clothes. Buy groceries. Remember to buy groceries. Remember that milk goes bad after a week. Cook for myself. Not fall into the trap of eating tuna sandwiches all the time. Pay the water bill. Pay the electricity bill. Find a job. I drink instant coffee now. Remember that this is all normal.

I left UKZN and signed up at UCT. I was a big fish, now I’m a little fish. I’m the new girl. I get lost. I look lost. I have to ask for directions. I walk around with a map in front of my face. I was friends with lecturers. They knew my name. My history. Now I have to introduce myself. Make friends. Find friends. It was easy and now it’s hard. I knew how to work the system. Now I don’t understand the system. Parking discs are more expensive. Girls are at varsity but dressed for something much more important. I feel underdressed in lectures. There are a lot more white people. I’m not used to it.

I lived in Durban and now I live in Cape Town. The sun sets later. The traffic’s worse. The air’s less wet. The ocean’s freezing. The beaches are beautiful. The people are different. I don’t hear Zulu. Every second voice is foreign. American. European. People wear cameras around their necks. The skies are always clear. It hasn’t rained and it’s summer. Things are faster. There’s no humidity slowing things down. Making people take their time. I mix up the mountains. I’m surrounded by ocean so I never know which way is up. I can’t say I live in KZN anymore. There’s no acronym for the Western Cape.

Goodbye Durban.

Ghost Writer or Cheater?

Let me throw down a hypothetical situation for you:

You’re a university student and you have an essay due. You don’t have enough time to write it. Either because you’re lazy, pressed for time, or there’s been a family emergency. You hear about a person on the internet who will write it for you. You send them the topic, the due date and R700.00 and it’s yours. No questions asked. No reasons required.

Would you do it?Picture from Esquire

Hypothetical situation number two:

You’re a university student. You’re able to write essays pretty well and need some extra cash to pay off a loan, buy a new pair of shoes or pay the lights and water in your flat. You hear someone mention that students are willing to pay for essays. You put your details up on an anonymous website. The next day someone emails you asking for an essay which they will pay R700.00 for.

Would you do it?

Over at Salon Emily Brown wrote a piece called I’ll write your college essay for cash. She details how due to the shortage of work she resorted to writing essays for college students to make ends meet. Students from across America send her their essay topic along with $100 and she writes it for them. The comments hailed down from above and she has received sympathetic words, as well as words which essentially damn her to academic hell and damnation. Writers beware: do not admit to anything that can be perceived as cheating, plagiarism, or making ends meet. And if you do: use a pseudonym like dear Emily did.

It’s not illegal, doesn’t violate copyright law and no person producing essays for sale (or person found out to have bought an essay) has been successfully prosecuted for engaging in the transaction. It will violate most university’s code of conduct, is certainly unethical and not exactly what you want to hear about upcoming graduates. But where there is a demand there will always be someone willing to fill the void – especially when there’s a bit of money to be made. I can’t say that I was shocked and appalled by her confessions. If you’ve been through university you’ll know that a fair portion of your fellow students are capable of this sort of behaviour – with some already engaging in it.

And I also can’t guarantee that it’s something that in desperation I wouldn’t resort to. If I had to choose between making R2800 per month waitressing or by writing an essay once a week I’d chose the latter. You could always comfort yourself with the thought that you were a ghost writer of sorts – albeit with a lower paying client and a less glamorous project.

Would you buy an essay or write one for cash?