Chicago, Batavia, and the Future

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Dennis Austin

“What is a Batavia, NY”? were among the many questions, family members, friends, and colleagues had asked me as I began to prepare for the move from the glamorous city of Chicago to a region where there were more cows than people.

For most of my life Chicago was home. The people, the culture, the food, the music, and other key characteristics that define our great city, was an everyday experience I had come to know since I was born. For goodness sakes, I was born in 1993, a year the Chicago Bulls accomplished their first three-peat. If Basketball was our religion, Michael Jordan would be God himself. I had made good memories here, met interesting people, and lived a steady life.

Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan

So why leave?

When people from this region would find out about my Chicago origins, I was always asked by default “Why Leave?” “Why Batavia?”

Chicago skyline at night

For me, it was simple. I had grown tiresome of the fast-paced lifestyle that had encumbered my ability to be more flexible as it pertained to seeking opportunity. There was also the reality of friends moving across the country for academic and professional reasons, collapsing my social circle at home. Working in a hospital call-center, albeit with zealous colleagues whom I heap nothing but praise on to this day (except for one individual), was not something I envisioned for myself when younger. If anything, compared to previous years spent travelling across the country campaigning for politicians, this was a rather tedious tenure. While there were several enjoyable conversations with patients and physicians alike, I was beginning to grow weary of my long-term prospects and thus sought an opportunity to change course. In late summer 2017, I began a vigorous search for community colleges with on-campus accommodation housing and respectable tuition fees. At the end of this search were two colleges, GCC being one of them. On November 3, 2017, by way of a 12-hour Amtrak journey I made my way from the city Michael Jordan made famous to Rochester, N.Y. Assisted by my former advisor Lourdes Abaunza, I would register for Spring 2019 classes, spurring a new relationship with this community.

I remember my first day arriving on a cold and wet January vividly. Upon exiting my ride-share, I was introduced to the harsh Western New York weather with heaps of rain pouring down upon my face and luggage. I hurriedly grabbed my bags and began a brief sprint to a room beneath the safety office at College Village. I would be given my keys and a packet for new residents, including an itinerary of weekend activities. Escorted by a tall and lanky Resident Assistant known as Matt, I would find myself standing in the middle of my new home, miles away from the comfortable settings that had become familiar to me. The experience was foreign to me. The absence of 24/7 buses and trains with sprawling downtown buildings that made the city glow, was foreign to me. However, I soon became accustomed with my new surroundings. Learning about the region and inhabitants served as a history lesson. People I saw as strangers would become friends, some of them lifelong.


Getting acclimated to a classroom setting was an entirely different set of challenges. I recall my first class. Math 091 taught by Professor Mark Siena. I remember arriving 25 minutes before class began at 7:45 am.  Awaken by the sound of my alarm at 6:30 am, I began to get ready for my first day of school in nearly five years since dropping out of high school. As the semester persisted, I would eventually find my place academically and socially. While there was hesitation to return, I did the following fall. It has not been easy being in Batavia. My race and sexual orientation as a gay man has proved to be an issue for some people.  However, my brash and abrasive attitude gave it back in kind. Regardless of those struggles, there is some virtue during my time here. It is a theme I have kept coming back to recently.

Resilience has been a major theme in my life. I was born and grew up in one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. Left with a single mother at home who herself combated the issues of education and poverty as a child, me and my other siblings did not have the proverbial “silver spoon” by any stretch of one’s imagination. What we were given in place of the materialistic possessions not affordable to us, was education. My mother did not have the privilege of finishing her education, thus, she worked hard to ensure we would be the generation of our family to break the glass ceiling of the issues that afflicted my mother’s generation. When I left high school, she was obviously disappointed. I was always seen as the “one with potential” and for that to occur was an emotional hardship for the both of us. However, as life would continue for me, I would find myself in the company of high-profile politicians, working on their campaigns. Meeting President Obama was a turning point in my life as I began to realize the potential I truly had. How to revive and sustain it? Well, I set out to try. In 2016, I obtained my GED and the following year returned to work. It was during this time I began to be honest with myself and future ambitions.

When I was six-years old, my first Presidential Election was George Bush vs Al Gore and while not old enough to properly comprehend the events of that evening it left a small child on Chicago’s south-side awestruck. That feeling never left and would manifest itself over the course of my life. I wanted to be a politician. Which office would I hope to occupy? Senator does sound tempting. However, in order to attain that level of power and prestige, one must obtain an education. A conscious choice I made when arriving at Genesee Community College. Since being here I have been active in various clubs and organizations, winning numerous awards for academic and extracurricular achievement. At present I am working on a lengthy thesis paper, a project that I have come to appreciate for its rigor and challenge.

As for what is next upon departing Batavia? I go back home and then to the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, studying Political Science. I will not lie. I am hopeful for the future, but somewhat demurred that as this process continues, I will not get any younger. Comical, I know, however it does present a concern of how long I wish to be in academia. Time will tell. For now, I am excited at the prospects of what my new institution will offer.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus

As I prepare to graduate, I would like to take this time to thank the various professors, faculty and friends for imparting on me wisdom, advice, and friendship through the good times and rather questionable times. More importantly, I am thankful for the opportunity to understand the culture and way of living in this community. I have always believed that getting outside your comfort zone presents an opportunity to grow, and I feel that I have. My advice to those who are younger: Do not be afraid to take risks. The outside world can be intimidating, however, never turn down an opportunity to grow. Whether that process occurs through incidents of failure and frustration, learn to appreciate the journey.

I learned a valuable lesson from two mentors of mine who passed away a few years ago. Life is a like a train station, we all arrive and depart from stops—those stops being certain chapters in our lives. So, enjoy those “stops” along the way and more importantly, appreciate the people you encounter as you venture toward greater opportunities that await you.

Thanks to the many people who left an invaluable mark on me during my time at GCC.

As conductors on Chicago trains say “Doors Closing. Next stop is…”

CTA Train station in Downtown Chicago



Dennis Austin is a graduating Sophomore from Genesee Community College. He will enroll at the University of Illinois’ Champaign-Urbana campus in January.

GCC Social Justice Day 2019: The Voice of Farmworkers’ Rights

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On Thursday November 21st, 2019, GCC invited the campus and overall community to its second annual Social Justice Day featuring Robert F. Kennedy Humanitarian award winner Librada Paz as the keynote speaker. The keynote speech was followed by the breakout sessions of various topics surrounding the labor rights of farmers and minorities.

Librada Paz speech, The Voice of Farmworkers’ Rights documented her personal journey from being a 15-year-old migrant farmer picking tomatoes after crossing the Arizona desert into the US. Her teenage daily consisted of laboring in the field up to 10-14 hours a day, seven days a week and living in cramped living quarters with 16 other people. While being a voiceless migrant farmer, she suffered from sexual assaults and discrimination that were rampant in the agriculture industry in which labor rights were nonexistent. With financial support from her siblings, she attended high school in Brockport while working in the fields during weekends and eventually earning a mechanical engineering degree from RIT while juggling part-time jobs, farm works and advocating for farmer’s rights. After her RIT graduation, instead of diving into the fruitful career as an engineer, she worked full time to advocate and educate migrant farmers communities to know their rights.

You can learn more details about her tirelessly inspiring journey on how she became a national human rights activist for farmworkers’ rights here.

(Photo: National Farm Worker Ministry) “Let migrant farmworkers live and work with the dignity befitting the importance of their task.” – Dr. Gloria Mattera, Founder of Geneseo Migrant Center

Here are some background and key takeaways on farm workers’ rights in the US:

“Since the 1930s, farmworkers across the US have been denied the most fundamental labor protections: minimum wage, a day of rest each week, overtime pay, disability insurance, collective bargaining, worker’s compensation, and a safe and sanitary work environment.” (1)

Yes, you read it right. Farmers work 10 hours a day, seven days a week with no break, not even a single day, lest they risk losing their jobs.

“Farmworker work up to 16 hours a day with no overtime and no protections from retaliatory firing. They also suffer from higher rates of cancer and other health hazards due to pesticide and herbicide.” (1)

One of the breakout session titled Social Justice Work and Migrant Workers: Past, Present and Future , presented by Geneseo Migrant Center members, addressed all aspects of a farmer’s life (from their seasonal follow-the-crop migration, to their lack of healthcare and education) was an eye-opening lecture for me. One of the slides detailed a devastating healthcare condition of a farmer that Geneseo Migrant Center worked with,

“Dr. Matlin remembers one extreme case found through in-camp health screening. A diabetic man had severe osteomyelitis. An ulcer had eaten through his skin and flesh into the bone. Lacking money, insurance or first aid supplies, he had stuffed the ulcer using toilet paper and kept on working. With the center’s intervention, he was finally admitted to a hospital, where the ulcer was treated.”

Two decades after New York farmers fight for their basic rights, the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act was finally passed in 2019 and will be in effect on January 1st 2020 (2). 

The last time the bill reached the Senate was 2010 (almost a decade ago!), which it lost by three votes. Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act will grant New York farmer the most fundamental  labor protections that all other hourly workers enjoys. 

We all want to feel good about the food we consume every day, and the unending ignorance and injustice in labor rights against farmworkers are just some of the many disgraces in our food system that must be stopped. “Imagine the time that people were slaves,” Paz said. “A lot of the farmworkers were slaves, and since that time, they’ve excluded farmworkers from having equal rights with other industries.”

Sources:

  1. https://rfkhumanrights.org/assets/documents/Librada-Paz062018-2.pdf
  2. https://citylimits.org/2019/02/12/will-new-yorks-farmworkers-get-labor-protections-in-2019/

Featured photo: ROC United

GCC Internship Program: Inside Look

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By: Ta’tiana Lee

My first internship is literally changing my life! I am an intern with the Marketing & Communications department at Genesee Community College, also called MarCom, and already have experience gained in areas that I never thought would be within my reach. I have documented and created event calendars throughout the local community. In doing this I found great free sites to advertise publicly and the structure and manner of creating an event. I got the opportunity to work under a trained photographer while practicing photography myself. At this moment, I knew that I would enjoy being a part of MarCom at GCC.

The hours are flexible and my portfolio will definitely look a lot better because of the opportunities provided by MarCom. I have two days minimum in an office setting and one day minimum working from home. New opportunities come often and they are things to brag about. For instance, I arrived on one of my office days to a professional videographer hired by the school. I was able to witness the beginning process of videography. I was even able to sit in and brainstorm with the team for that project, which included my supervisor and the videographer himself. Not only was I able to sit in and bear witness but I actually felt as if I had a voice. That opportunity will forever stay with me because it became motivational in a way. It reminds me that this can be my life and that I can have a career!

I am also a student at Genesee Community College and MarCom is very understanding when it comes to education. If I have a test or need the day to study, they will not only assent but they would help me find the time to make up the hours that I’ve missed. My goal was to gain experience in an office like setting and in the business world and MarCom has made it possible for me to do exactly that plus more. I can’t wait to blog an update with even more experiences gained by completing my internship with the Marketing & Communications department at GCC.

Here is a picture taken by me at Discover the Stars

This was the first event that I had attended for GCC’s Internship Program. This was also where I was able to learn from and work under a Professional Photographer. It was filled with students and donors, which made the moments I’d captured even more special.

Here is a picture I captured at an event for student athletes

At this event I got to practice taking in motion shots. This event was the same day as Discover the Stars.

Here is a picture taken by me at the Homecoming Weekend Car Cruise

This picture was taken at a car show at Genesee Community College. I love cars so this event was also a lot of fun.

Seeking a Challenge

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By Dennis Austin

As a GCC Honor’s Program student, I approached Professor(s) Garth Swanson and Anne Wood last semester with a goal in mind: complete a thesis project with a 100-page count. Suffice to say, I was met with concerned reaction. Thesis projects of this size and stature are not normally undertaken by community college students.  Initially, I was discouraged in approaching this project, and advised to seek a more specific topic with a shorter page length.

 I said no.

 I’m glad I did.

Throughout my tenure here at Genesee Community College, I have searched high and low for opportunities to expand and build upon my intellectual capabilities, which undoubtedly will serve me will in later stages of life. I had gotten used to the usual essay outlines which my professors feverishly assigned me. In essence, writing an essay became too simple of a task. The routine became boring, predictable, and mundane. There is no intention of disrespect toward my professors. One in particular remarked to me that their reason for being a light course load was their concern that many students would be unable to keep if they increased the rigor.

Not entirely unpredictable but unfortunate. Education, to me, should be an opportunity for students to dive deep into a subject of their choice and familiarity, with no restrictions applied. Many days and nights pondering what the next academic challenge could be. As a six-year old, my first Presidential Election was Bush V. Gore. While not of an age to properly perceive the events of that campaign, I was enthralled by the pomp and circumstance of that evening. Getting older led to more political awareness which eventually I found across the “pond.” Inspired by the events of Brexit and previous political developments in the country, compelled me to choose Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as the basis for my project. While already familiar with her Premiership, I wanted to examine how her government’s economic policy and theory, led to what I deem as an unraveling of the British working-class.

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Currently in my research, I am reviewing her flagship policy known as the MFTS (Medium Term Financial Strategy), in which her decision to raise interest rates, eliminate credit controls, and how the concentration of Britain’s money supply range, led to unsavory conditions for lower-income individuals and families. For example, 1981 saw a peak of unemployment at 3 million, which was the highest number recorded since the Great Depression. During the period of 1979 to 1980, industrial production fell by 6.4%, with downturn in manufacturing output and capacity, at 20%.

As the project continues throughout the semester, it is with great intention to (hopefully) provide updates on newer findings and to offer further explanation of how her policies were applied in working-class Britain.

Professor Swanson remarked to me that this is the first project of its kind for our Honors Program. While there have been other creative projects in the past, nothing of this nature has been done before. To our knowledge, there has been no other student at this institution, past or present, who conducted and penned a project of this magnitude.

Why 100 pages? To admit, there is some braggadocio involved, however I feel that for the first time since arriving on campus that there exists a subject within familiar realms which require a discipline and focus arguably unlike any other form of study I have taken here or anywhere. Not just due to page requirement or quantity of work involved. It is due to the fact that I am asked to go beyond my comfort zone in search of not just finishing the project, but in search of my own potential, henceforth the insistence that I adhere to this project—from start until finish. I have been given the support, encouragement and occasional sternness from my professors, since this project began. They know what I am capable of and as such, are holding me to a high standard.

As I prepare to graduate from GCC, I hope this project in some way can inspire one student to go outside of their familiar realm and seek an opportunity to truly challenge themselves. Not for the prospect of failing, but for the virtue of expanding one’s creativity. This has been a journey and while the final page has not yet been penned, this has been an experience that I will appreciate many years from now.

Call for Participation in GCC Holiday Greeting Video

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Holidays are approaching all of us and GCC would like to celebrate the holidays with their students and staff by creating an annual Holiday Greeting Video Projects for 2019. You can check out Holiday Greeting Video Projects of previous years on GCC’s Youtube Channel.  

This year’s theme is one significant word, “Peace.” We are looking for different members of our campus community to say that one word on camera with as much finesse and sincerity as possible. We are asking international students to say it in their native language, theatre students with their unique flair, fashion students with panache, and anyone else who wants to be involved to join us with their own projection and sentiment of the word Peace.

If you are interested, please join Maureen Spindler in Room D360 for approximately 2 – 3 minutes during one of the following time slots:

Wednesday, Nov. 13 (11 am – 1 pm; 2 pm – 4 pm)

Thursday, Nov. 14 (9 – 10:30 am; 1 pm – 3 pm)

Friday, Nov. 15 (12 – 2 pm)

Or By Appointment

To make an appointment, please contact Lori Ivison by:

Credit: Background vector by freepik.

GCC exhibits “What Were You Wearing?” Art Installation

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Inspired by a poem “What I Was Wearing” by Dr. Mary Simmerling, Jen Brockman and Mary Wyandt-Hiebert created the first exhibit of “What Were You Wearing” in 2014 at the University of Arkansas. Since then, many “What Were You Wearing?” survivor art installations were developed across the US to shatter the decades-old myth that the responsibility of an assault lies in the victim. Similar victim-blaming questions, such as interrogating the victims’ alcohol consumption and their sexual history, bring shame and blame upon the victim and take the focus away from the real offenders. Such prejudices intimidate victims from reporting the assault and further feeds the rape culture. 

(Photo by Jennifer Sprague from HuffPost News) The original art exhibit “What Were You Wearing?” at the University of Kansas. 

“you see

i have been asked this question

many times

it has been called to my mind

many times

this question

this answer

these details. 

if only it were so simple

if only we could

end rape

by simply changing clothes.

i remember also

what he was wearing

that night

even though

it’s true

that no one

has ever asked.”

From “What I Was Wearing” by Mary Simmerling

On November 7th, GCC exhibited its own survivor art installation, displaying nine outfits hanging next to 9 rape survivors’ narratives about what they wore when they were assaulted. 

A long sleet shirt and Khakis. A T-shirt and jeans. A sweatsuit. A 6-year old girl’s dress. They were all there. Attendees not only see themselves reflected in the outfits “I have this similar shirt at home,” but also in the settings or contexts in which assaults took place, “a family’s friend came to visit,” “at a social gathering before entering grad school,”…

Within the exhibit were support groups and organizations at GCC and local communities: 

  • Al-Anon is a newly created peer support club for students at GCC that aids recovery for the families and friends of alcoholics. Weekly meeting will be held in room C201 every Tuesday from 12:30-1:30 pm.                                                              
  • Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse (GCASA) is an alcohol and substance abuse prevention and treatment agency whose services include prevention, treatment, EAP and residential programs in Western New York.
  • GLOW Women March empower women of local, rural communities of the GLOW region to participate and rise to positions of power that create positive changes.
  • RESTORE, a program of Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York, leads the community response to sexual violence through advocacy and education, by providing the safety, support and validation that changes the lives of all those affected.
  • YWCA Genesee offers domestic violence crisis and prevention services, accessible childcare at Genesee County Family Court, and economic empowerment opportunities.
Al-Anon – new club at GCC
YWCA Genesee

More facts about domestic and sexual violence in the US:

  • October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month
  • April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) – NSVRC
  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men (1).
  • Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime (1).
  • Only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries (1).

Sources:  

  1. https://ncadv.org/

GCC celebrating Day of the Dead

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On October 31st, 2019, Global  Education club, in collaboration with WOKE, Student Government Association celebrated The Day of the Dead, or  Dia de los Muertos. It’s easy to be confused, but Day of the Dead is not a Mexican version of Halloween. Dia de los Muertos celebrates the memories of the departed ones and welcomes the visits of their family members’ spirits into their homes with food offerings, beautifully decorated altars and cemeteries. On the contrary, the Celtic-originated Halloween strongly associated with fear of death and spirits from the underworld, with disguised costumes and jack-o’-lanterns to frighten off evil spirits and motifs of graves opening and the dead rising. As both traditions developed and popularized, their influences and symbols influenced one another (1).

Having learned about Mexican’s Day of the Dead during high school, I could not comprehend how people could remember the dead and their lost ones in such a festive mood and vibrant decorations instead of mourning, almost as if death and departure to the underworld is good news to be lauded and strived toward. But after watching Coco (2017 film), I realized by honoring the dead, we are honoring life itself, the time our beloved ones had struggled through and lived to their fullest. By celebrating the dead, we are keeping our departed ones alive even when they are no longer with us, “Our memories, they have to be passed down by those who knew us in life – in the stories they tell about us” (Coco Film, 2017).

The most essential aspect of Day of the Dead lies in Ofrenda (Spanish for offerings), an elaborately decorated altar with personal items and favorite food and drinks of the one being honored. Many mistaken Ofrenda to be for worshipping, but those offerings are to entice the deceased to visit and to have a meal like a family.

I got to enjoy many of the traditional foods during the Day of the Dead at the celebration yesterday, including Mexican Rice and Beans, Churros and Dulce de leche sauce (cinnamon sugar stick with caramel milk sauce), Pico, Tortilla and Mexican Hot Cocoa.

Churros and Dulhe de leche sauce (cinnamon sugar stick with caramel milk sauce)

The most easily recognizable symbols of Day of the Dead are Mexican Marigolds (or Flor de Muerto) and Chrysanthemums. The flowers’ vibrant colors and scent help guide the departed souls to come back to their altars and family for a visit and feast on offerings dedicated for them. Despite its bright yellow and orange colors, marigolds are often known as “flower of the dead.” Many people even craft their own colorful marigolds from colored tissue paper, plastic and pipe cleaners, just like many of the students and GCC staff crafted at the event.

Sugar skull, or Calavera, is another part of the holiday that emphasizes Día de Muertos is all about celebratory, not gloomy. The skulls are often colorfully drawn by hand with smiles, as if to laugh at death (2), and that “death doesn’t have to be bitter, it can be sweet” (3). They are also decorated with colorful icing, beads and confectionery.

The event also educates the attendees on some of the Mexican tradition by introducing Spanish phrases associated with the holiday and the culture. And if you are also learning Spanish like I am, let’s dig in / review some of the Spanish vocab (4):

  1. Día de Muertos: Day of the Dead
  2. La calavera: skull
  3. La Ofrenda: offerings (including personal items, food, drinks, decorations dedicated to the loved ones)
  4. La calaca: skeleton figure
  5. El espíritu: spirit / soul
  6. La ánima: another word for spirit / soul
  7. Flor de muerto: the vibrant orange/yellow marigolds

If there’s one thing you can take away from this post or from this holiday, embrace this irony, “The Day of the Dead makes us reflect on life. In order to have life, we need to have death. It’s that perfect and necessary duality” (5).

Sources

  1. https://parade.com/220221/yvettemarquez/what-is-day-of-the-dead-and-how-is-it-different-from-halloween/
  2. https://dayofthedead.holiday/
  3. https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/sugar-skull-meaning
  4. https://www.worddive.com/blog/ten-spanish-words-to-talk-about-the-day-of-the-dead/
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=203&v=j44yUsIzUks