A Letter To Barnard

By Rachael Severino

Dear Dean Hinkson,

I am writing to you today to explain why I will not be applying to Barnard College for my Bachelor’s degree this fall.

I would like to start by introducing myself. My name is Rachael. I am a sixteen-year-old Jewish young woman. I have been on the Dean’s List every year and I deeply care about school. My life-long passion lies in writing, and, had I attended your school, I would have majored in English with a concentration in Creative Writing.

Recently, your students voted to take an incredibly anti-Israel stance, which I am sure you are well aware, as there has been quite a bit of backlash. Your school has remarkably strong ties to the Jewish community, evidenced by the fact that roughly 33% of the student population identifies as such. However, more than half the students have turned their back on their peers by campaigning, and subsequently voting, to sever ties with businesses which are pro-Israel.

I have read nothing but heartbroken responses from your students. Holding this vote on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day proves how tremendously disrespectful a portion of your students have become towards their Jewish peers. Students at your school seem to have tunnel vision with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as exhibited by setting up an anti-Israel booth only feet from the Holocaust Remembrance Day booth. Palestinian terrorist groups have a poor habit of abducting, torturing, and murdering Israelis and Jewish tourists, along with stoning anyone in reach of the border. Yet, your students remain blind.

Israel has created a powerful army, and an even more powerful intelligence and counter-terrorism agency, Mossad, to combat being sandwiched between states that hate Jews, who happen to be the indigenous people of Israel. Not becoming martyrs [like other native populations] doesn’t make Jews the villains in this story.

When is one Jewish life important? When stonings, bombings, and beheadings are a staple in everyday life, the Israeli government has the right to defend their people.

The Palestinians are not to blame, but the terrorists who reside among them are.

Those of the Muslim religion have suffered in America for a great deal of time. Having young people come to their aid and rally for a hate-free world is fantastic, but defending Palestinian terrorist groups is not the way to go.

Jewish women have stood arm in arm with their Muslim counterparts in the on-going civil rights battle. Both groups fully understand what it means to long for a safe place to worship, and America, despite being the self-proclaimed land of the free, has not been kind to those who wish to be free when their faith is not Christianity.

Jews know what it means to be without a safe place. They have had a single homeland for only seventy years, preceded by thousands of years displaced and homeless.

Neither the Muslim nor Jewish communities are to blame for this conflict; ignorant groups fueled by hate are.

Your students do not seem to understand the situation at hand and have let centuries of both latent and overt anti-Semitism blind them.

College is meant to be a safe environment – one where students gather information and take steps into their future. How can a Jewish student feel safe when more than half the other attendees are rallying against them and their faith?

Barnard has been hailed as a place of learning that creative, talented, and bright young women of all backgrounds can attend, to both join together and change the world. The women currently at your school are changing things, but not for the better.

Jewish women have suffered since their religion first came to be more than 5,000 years ago. Barnard has spent it’s one hundred and twenty-nine-year long history drawing these women in, providing them with a safe place to flourish; now, it is just another place that stands against them.

Liberal colleges have never been kind to the Jewish people, leaving them out of their activist revolutions and renaming them as the scapegoat. The ignorant who forget history are inclined to repeat it, as your students have so clearly done; yet your history department is renowned. How can this be? How can they be so blinded by hate, even now? It begs the question, what are they learning at your school?

How can the women of your school turn around and hate the most marginalized group to have ever been?

Barnard has taken the horrific role of leading the charge against Jewish-American students.

Your Jewish students have so much to offer your college and the world. Brilliant and talented Jewish women want to go to your school. There are, however, other colleges, with similar opportunities that offer a safer environment. As evidenced in Twitter posts and comments following the vote, many of the 33% of your school are considering their options, including transferring to schools that will not only protect them, but respect them. They are exhausted from constantly defending [out of necessity] who they are, particularly in a space that is supposed to accept and celebrate them as part of the diverse culture at Barnard.

I have wanted to attend your college since I was twelve years old; since I learned about Columbia, but then found Barnard and wanted to attend there even more. Barnard, the school Jewish women raved about and beamed at me for when I said it was my dream school. Barnard, the school my friends oohed and ahhed at. Barnard, the school I would have been proud to mention in my author’s letter on my first book. Barnard, the school I looked at online nearly every night. Barnard, the school that helped mold Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first African- American women on New York’s highest court, Ann Bernays, a novelist, Katherine Boo, a journalist and recipient of the Pulitzer, Ann Brashaes, an author, Elise Clews Parsons, the “founding mother of anthropology”, Edwidge Danticat, an author, Helen Gahagan Douglas, the first Democrat women elected to the USA Congress, Delia Ephron, an author, playwright, and screenwriter, Muriel Fox, founder of NOW, Cristiana Garcia, a journalist and novelist, Greta Gerwig, an actress, screenwriter, and director, Mary Gordon, an author, and countless others.

Barnard, the school that I have removed from my college list.

Barnard, the school that has become yet another unsafe space.

Barnard, the school that could have been.

With great sadness,
Rachael

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Rachael Severino is a quirky eleventh grader, aspiring author, tiny feminist, and cat enthusiast.

A League Of Her Own

 

In 1920 women in the United States were given the right to vote. Since then, the League of Women Voters has been at the forefront of the political arena engaging with legislators and people across the country in affecting policy and helping to facilitate important discussions on both sides of the aisle that impact all Americans.

Below, is my interview with Dr. Sondra Cosgrove, President of the League of Women Voters for Nevada.

LR: You’re the President of the League of Women Voters for the state of Nevada and a Full-Time History professor at College of Southern Nevada. In addition to those titles, you’re a mom, a mentor, and a volunteer. How do you juggle?

SC: I’ve figured out how to lead a three-dimensional life. I layer my time to efficiently multitask: through technology, I can use every minute of the week as effectively as possible. This means that much of what I do happens virtually. I teach half my classes online and half in a hybrid modality, which gives my students the freedom to complete work on a schedule that best fits their lives. It also allows me to create course content and assignments while I am on break; to stay connected through email and messaging; and to grade anywhere I have an internet connection. I manage my community and family roles similarly. While League has in-person meetings, most of what I do as President of League of Women Voters Nevada happens in virtual space. I manage our social media accounts and blog electronically and I can do voter registration, community outreach, and mentor our younger members through a combination of in-person and virtual activities. My children are grown, so I’m at an age where I have a lot more time for my own goals.

LR: For those who don’t know, how would you describe the work and mission of League of Women Voters?

SC: The League of Women Voters began on February 14, 1920, six months before the 19th Amendment established women’s right to vote. The suffragists who fought so hard to gain the right to vote realized that women would need help registering to vote, engaging with elected leaders, and running for office so they created the League as a women’s organization to promote civic engagement. Since it’s founding, League has added issue advocacy to its mission. There is sometimes confusion over this part of League’s activities. We are a non-partisan, but political organization under the I.R.S. This means that we do not work directly with either political party and we do not endorse candidates, but we do advocate for issues with elected leaders. Our 501c3 legal designation allows us to do this type of political work. We still spend much of our time ensuring that every eligible voter can register to vote, learn about candidates and issues, cast an easily accessible ballot, and engage in legislative processes, but – especially since the Civil Rights movement – we also advocate for issues legislatively and through litigation to strengthen our democracy. These two main focuses make League one of the oldest women’s groups in the country that gives women leadership opportunities and a political voice outside the political party structures.

LR: LWV is neither Democrat nor Republican and is issues focused. It’s been around ninety-eight years and is still going strong. How would you like to see the organization grow?

SC: To survive for almost one hundred years, League had to become adept at evolving early in our history. This doesn’t mean that change is easy or even orderly, be we do understand that League must reflect the needs of women in each generation. We are currently refreshing League practices and issues to better align with Millennial and Gen Z needs. In addition to access to voter registration and election processes, younger women are also worried about access to affordable higher education, various forms of harassment in the workplace, and affordable healthcare. In the current iteration of League, we’ve increased our use of online forms of communicating and advocacy and we’ve integrated more professional development on diversity and cultural competency into our training programs. Each day, League of Women Voters of Nevada is listening to our very diverse community and offering opportunities for empowerment and action that reflect local needs.

LR: The current political climate evokes a lot of impassioned emotion from many people. What are some of the issues that most concern you as a woman? How is LWV participating in that conversation on a regional and national scale?

SC: While I would definitely describe Leaguers as passionate, what mainly attracted me to League is how the organization uses rational, academic processes for determining outcomes. We’re sticklers about adhering to Robert’s Rules of Order to manage our meetings and organizational processes, which ensures every member can participate and feel safe and heard. This strong commitment to using good processes to produce good outcomes also applies to how we decide which issues to support. Before any issue comes up for a vote of the membership, it goes through a detailed study process. By the time we vote on adopting an issue or position, we all feel included, heard, and sure the outcome will be fair. Personally, I am working to guarantee women have equal opportunity and are treated fairly in the workplace in political spheres. The League of Women Voters US is currently working through Congress and the Courts on redistricting reform, immigration reform, and restoring the Voting Rights Act. And in Nevada, League is working with our legislature on behavioral healthcare, renewable and sustainable energy, and reforming how we manage legislative sessions.

LR: Recently, I attended a meeting where you had speakers sharing their thoughts on Intersectionality and how LWV can be a part of that process. For people who don’t know what Intersectionality is, how would you definite it and moreover, why is it so important?

SC: Intersectionality is an introspective approach for pursuing social justice. The theory of Intersectionality teaches us that to truly address social inequality and discrimination it’s vital to be aware that every person’s reality consists of many identities and experiences. Intersectionality informs anyone dedicated to advancing social justice to be acutely aware of the oppression people of color and other minority groups face in American society. Intersectionality reminds me that what I view as important, may not be as important to distressed community members. And, to achieve social justice outcomes, I must listen, work to provide spaces where anyone can feel safe to ask for help, and be ready to address the issues that are most important to those who ask for help. League members want to make things better – it’s our reason for being. So, for me, it makes sense that the concept of intersectionality should guide how we prioritize our advocacy and how we marshal resources for immediate community needs.

LR: On days when you’re not teaching, what’s a typical schedule like for you in terms of your LWV duties?

SC: As I mentioned, I live a layered life. During most of each day, I am a professor, a League president, and many other roles simultaneously. Daily, I post reliable news and political analysis on our League social media accounts to keep folks updated on important issues. I attend events and community meetings as they arise. I find and invite speakers to our League meetings, which happen on the third Saturday of each month. We have a very active Behavioral Healthcare committee that meets once a month and we have board meetings quarterly. During the legislative session, I testify during hearings related to our issue priorities, watch hearings to keep track of votes on important legislation, and post legislative updates on our League blog. I also speak at civic and community group meetings to provide legislative updates and advocacy training. Lastly, because I am the state of Nevada LWV President, I travel to Reno/Carson City area at least once a quarter to meet with our northern League and to Washington DC or other cities to engage in national-level League business.

LR: You’re invited to speak at many events and spend a lot of time with legislators and policymakers too. What’s the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of that part of your responsibilities?

SC: I guess I’m a bit weird because I like to attend meetings and other types of events. I find that each is an opportunity to meet people with different perspectives, to exchange information, and to form new coalitions. I see every person as an expert in something and I’ve found that most people are happy to share their expertise if asked. Political work can be frustrating at times when someone disregards established protocols, practices, and rules but, by and large, the lawmakers and other elected officials I work with are all dedicated to making Nevada a better place.

LR: Nevada is among the states with the greatest proportion of female lawmakers, is home to the first Latina Senator in the United States Senate, and had a DREAM Act recipient elected to the United States Congress. In a state as diverse as Nevada, how does that affect LWV?

 SC: Nevada is an awesome place to live for all those reasons! Because League is a federated organization, state and local Leagues have great latitude to adapt in ways that reflect individual community needs. For the Nevada League, that means recognizing that every part of our rich and diverse population has unique challenges. We are aware that we cannot assume to know what issues need to be addressed on a day-to-day basis, so, we strive to maintain a constant stream of information coming in from our members and community partners. Leaguers are ready to listen and then act to help.

LR: What would you say to encourage a young person about the importance of civic engagement?

SC: As a history professor, I am an ardent advocate of civic engagement. Our political systems and processes do have problems, but I can professionally attest to the fact that our nation has achieved great things, despite these problems, when more people vote and advocate for their needs. Why would our history be so full of epic battles over voting rights if voting and fair representation didn’t bestow power? League recognizes that the fight to empower voters and defend democracy is still with us. As long as people of color and the poor are denied the right to vote and the right to fair representation, League will stand strong to eradicate those strains of injustice.

LR: How can people find out more about League of Women Voters?

SC: The League of Women Voter’s US website offers League’s history and a summary of our current efforts nationally. The URL is www.LWV.org. Anyone can access our state and local Leagues through our state League website at www.LWVNV.org. We also have a blog with updates on meetings, elections, and governing processes. The URL for that site is www.LWVNVblog.org. In addition to those tools,we have Facebook pages for the League of Women Voters of Nevada, League of Women Voters of Southern Nevada, and League of Women Voters Northern Nevada. On Twitter, you can follow us at @LWVSNV.

Healing in Heels

With 2018 around the corner and many women looking to make some changes in their food and lifestyle habits, I decided to interview Melissa Botten, a wellness guru who incorporates holistic healing through food and movement with her company, Healing In Heels.

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LR: What made you decide to start Healing In Heels?

MB: I literally looked down at my swollen, arch-damaged feet and decided I needed to heal them. I was wearing high heels that day – really cute expensive ones that I found on sale – and I realized I was ready to leave my career in corporate fashion and work on healing my feet and healing in general. I started doing lots of research on Plantar Fasciitis, bunions, and herbal remedies for feet. I found ways to treat my swollen toes, mend my damaged heels, and improve the sides of each foot. Shortly thereafter, I was introduced to a woman who has since become like a mother to me. We began working on her healing journey by eliminating meat, dairy, sugar, and processed foods from her diet. With the elimination of those items, we added strong vegan proteins, lots of nutrient-dense foods, and meditative breathing. She was super dedicated to trying anything I recommended to her and saw positive results quickly. Within a couple of months, she went from having difficulty breathing and thinking she was going to die, to doing yoga, hosting gatherings, taking long walks, and laughing with her friends again.

LR: That’s great! Have you always loved cooking and experimenting in the kitchen?

MB:  I started cooking with my dad and grandmother when I was a little girl. They taught me recipes that are special to our family. As I got older, I started learning about different Italian dishes from my aunts and uncles who lived in New York. So I guess we really are a family of chefs! My company, Healing in Heels, grew out of my desire to help people heal through yummy cuisine, organic and natural herbs, and colorful presentation. After all, food should be good for you and delicious, but it should be beautiful too.

LR: How do you make healthy taste so delicious? Do you have any favorites or “Go-To” meals for busy women on the go?

MB: That can be challenging for anyone! You know, I’ve been at this for a few years professionally, but I have been using cooking as a modality for healing my mind and body my whole life. I’ve learned the fresher and more natural the ingredients are, the more delicious the food is to even the most discriminating client’s palate. Anything you can put on collard greens or in a vegan gluten-free wrap with fruits and vegetables is probably my favorite Go-To meal. I also enjoy making muffins with five simple ingredients. They’re so amazing, I’m afraid to leave my house at night with a basket of them because someone might accost me just for those darn muffins!

LR: I need to try the muffins! What about women over forty? How does healthy eating help?

MB: Women in their 40s, 50s, or even their 60s are all experiencing different hormonal shifts and trying to figure out the necessary steps to get them through these stages in their lives. There’s definitely a transition with each decade and for some, it’s easier than for others. Our hormones can be really out of whack from things like childbirth and menopause or acute and chronic stress and medications. It can be difficult to regulate our body temperatures, keep our bones strong, and ensure all our parts inside – big and small – function properly. In addition to this, a lot of women feel their emotions and stress levels are hard to control and are exhausted emotionally, mentally, and physically. A good place to start is by adding nutrient-dense food, herbs, and spices to their diet to either help prevent or minimize some of these symptoms. Teaming up with Mother Nature is great because even if you don’t feel like something is working or it’s taking too long, you’re still making healthier choices in your daily routine and getting a vitamin or two out of it as an added perk! If targeted nutrient food healing is needed, that’s where I’d suggest a customized diet or menu for helping to heal specific ailments in the body.

LR: You’re a single mom of two. How do your girls influence your work?

MB: My children influence everything! I made a conscious decision when I decided to really take charge of my life and embark on a journey of healing. I healed from the loss of my parents and my divorce. I healed insecurities from past relationships that had been hindering my growth. I knew that I had to follow a path that was true to who we are as a family and who I am as a person – one that would influence healthy living for the three of us – especially since my girls were still so small at the time. If I keep the house positive and make it a nurturing environment then that’s what the girls are going to experience and want to emulate when they’re older too. When I’m consistent they feel safe and comfortable. I’m selective when it comes to food we keep in the refrigerator and in the kitchen, but I offer the girls choices and explain the reasons behind each option. I don’t believe in depriving them of things to eat but we do limit our indulgences to an acceptable level that works for our family’s needs.  Both of them volunteer with me in the community, help me cook, clean up around the house, and care for our dogs. We create recipes together, we paint together…I really do credit them for a lot of my inspiration, creativity, and success.

LR: I know you’re based in Southern California, but you are able to Skype and travel to clients all over the country, right? How do people contact you for a consultation?

MB: Yes, I’m based out of Long Beach, California. Ideally, I prefer to meet people in person because one-on-one connecting is vital when a woman is choosing a supportive partner to help in her healing journey. However, I know some people live in other cities and states so I offer consultations over the phone, via FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom too. Curious friends, new referrals, or prospective clients can find me at my Healing In Heels website or through social media on my Instagram or Facebook pages. There’s a contact form they can submit which goes directly to me. After I receive it, I’ll reply and we can discuss the next steps to connect.

LR: What’s a typical weekday for you? Is there such thing in your line of work?

MB:  It differs slightly depending on the day. I share custody of my children with my ex-husband but I’m very involved in their day-to-day and after-school activities. Plus, we have two puppies so the needs of the dogs are also figured into my schedule. Weekdays are reserved for clients when the kids are in school. I coach over the phone or in person and do home visits too. Some days, I may have a private cooking lesson scheduled with an individual client I’m coaching or a group I’m teaching. Since so much of my volunteering, special event guesting, and community projects are done on weekends, I’m also mindful to keep one day a week just for myself so I can do things that nurture my own soul like meditation, yoga, and roller skating.