Workshop combines social media, advocacy

October 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Dr. Donna Bliss explains the importance of social media while showing off her smartphone.

For the University of Georgia student body, social media can be integrated in many facets of everyday life. But for Donna Bliss, an associate professor in the UGA School of Social Work, social media exploration sparked education.

During September, Bliss coordinated the workshop, “Using Social Media to Advocate for Your Cause.” The idea stemmed from her exploring how to become a better advocate through digital and social media.

Bliss’ main research interest is addiction, and she uses digital media to advocate for people recovering from alcohol and drug addiction through a string of websites for Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Macon and Savannah.

“Social work is about advocating for vulnerable populations, and not growing up with this medium myself it was sort of like learning a second language,” Bliss said. “Even though these kinds of media are only a few years old, I really believe they’re such a part of our lives.”

Bliss sees social media as more than just a way to share personal information and believes the digital revolution can be compared to the onset of telephones or TV.

“Digital and social media [are] ubiquitous in the world, they’re more than just a way for people to share pictures to their friends of what they did,” she said. “They’re very powerful tools that can advocate or market whatever you’re interested in.” home page

It is important for students to understand that they can be independently influential, especially those in social work, Bliss said. Social media can be used to broadcast advocacy internationally.

“Say you want to advocate for the environment or for kids; before you would write letters to the editor, maybe send a letter to your congressperson, maybe sign petitions,” Bliss said, “Those are fine but they are limited in scope.”

While encouraging her students to actively use social media as a vehicle to promote a cause important to them, Bliss’ cause is social media use.

“I’m actually advocating for [students] to use [social media] to advocate for what they want, because I think these tools are so powerful” she said.

Deborah Harnishfeger, a graduate student in the School of Social Work from Athens, said Bliss is a consistently excellent teacher.

“She’s so thought provoking and always encourages students to speak out,” Harnishfeger said. “In Dr. Bliss class I’m really seeing just how powerful and useful the social presence can be. It’s really been inspiring.”

Though all social networks have their strengths and weaknesses, Bliss believes at minimum a company or organization should have a website to use as its platform for a Facebook and Twitter presence.

Bliss’ heavy interest in multimedia and social advocacy and inspiration from students has her considering the development of independent research opportunities for students to work with local nonprofit organizations by revamping outdated websites and creating rich, integrated social media packages.

“I’m going to keep exploring and going forward because I think that’s what young people and students need to do, too,” she said. “There isn’t a lot of research out there on the best ways to do this, so you get to be a pioneer.”

Campus outliers transcend University society

October 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Most people do not remember puberty too fondly. But for Ryan Pemberton, a fourth year studying Forestry and Wild Life Sciences at the University of Georgia, the thought of puberty is exciting and he cannot wait to begin the process all over again.

“Taking hormones will make me basically go through boy puberty,” he said. “Woohoo!”

Pemberton’s voice will drop, his fat deposits will redistribute to where they would be in a male body, and he will experience acne. His muscle mass will shift as well and he will be able to gain muscle easily. Pemberton’s hairline will recede and although he hopes that he won’t go bald, he stressed that things like that just come with the territory. Eventually his facial hair will come in and he will experience enlargement of the sexual organ.

Ryan Pemberton, a senior Forestry and Wild Life Sciences major at the University of Georgia. Photo by Sophie Cox.

“Basically the clitoris will get bigger,” he said. “Nothing that your partner would be in shock about or too impressed with, but there will be a tiny penis there. And it will be fully functional.”

Before Pemberton came to college, he had never heard of the term transgender. He believed that he was stuck in a body that he hated and couldn’t relate to, and that there was nothing he could do about it.

When Pemberton got to UGA, however, he met his first transperson who had gone from female to male.

“I was just fascinated with him because I was just like ‘I want that, I want what he has,” Pemberton said. “I had never thought it was possible.”

Pemberton has since done extensive research on the transitioning process from female to male and hopes to start hormones as soon as he has time. He also plans on legally changing his name before finals, a process that will help solidify his transition in the eyes of his professors and UGA.

“My name on the roll in class says Whitney Michelle Pemberton and oh gosh, I’ve always hated that name,” he said. “I’m telling all my friends ‘Hey, this is who I am, call me Ryan, call me he,’ and then I go to class and the professor calls out ‘Whitney’ and it just feels like a punch to the stomach.”

Although situations like these don’t bother Pemberton as much as they used to when he was first starting to transition, he does think that UGA could make some improvements in how they accommodate transpeople. Pemberton laments that students are often narrow-minded about transpeople and that UGA should make an effort to educate people about the trans community. He fears that not a lot of people know much about the queer community and that what they do know, they learn from their parents who tend to be more conservative and unwilling to accept the queer community.

“So you end up with a lot of close-minded students who get to college and they are very ignorant about the transgender community,” he said.

Jennifer Miracle, the Associate Director of Intercultural Affairs for the LGBTQ Resource Center, has devoted her time to educating the UGA community on LGBTQ issues in order to make students like Pemberton feel more comfortable on campus.

Jennifer Miracle, the Associate Director of Intercultural Affairs for the LGBTQ Resource Center. Photo by Sophie Cox

“Universities all over the country are trying to figure out a way to make campuses not only safe, but inclusive,” Miracle said. “UGA needs to embrace people when they come here, regardless of how they identify.”

Miracle noted that UGA could also work on its housing accommodations for incoming transgender students. UGA does not have an option currently where people can live in a gender-neutral environment and students must be placed based on their legal gender. Miracle is hopeful that one day there will be a safe gender-neutral space on campus.

“I think we have a lot of allies in housing, but the fact of the matter is we are a state institution, so I don’t know how high up the decision would have to come from,” she said. “I don’t know that if we had support all the way up to President Adams that we could necessarily get the support from the state legislature.”

For Dr. Janine Aronson, a professor of Management Information Systems in UGA’s Terry College of Business, her transition from male to female came later in life. Aronson went fulltime as a transwoman in December 2009, and after over 20 years at UGA teaching as a man, she was a bit nervous about keeping her job. Since UGA does not protect gender identity under its antidiscrimination policy, neither Pemberton nor Aronson have any legal protection.

Miracle would like to see the nondiscrimination policy change to include gender identity, noting that it is difficult to create a safe space for transpeople on campus if they aren’t even recognized as a protected group of people. Pemberton stated that he would feel more comfortable as a university student if gender identity was added and that he worries sometimes that a professor could punish him academically just because of his gender identity.

UGA, however, has been what Aronson calls “surprisingly kind” and extended its anti discrimination policy to protect her.

Dr. Janine Aronson, professor of Management Information Systems at the University of Georgia. Photo by Sophie Cox.

“I don’t know why the University would do that,” she said. “But I guess the real reason is that there’s no reason not to protect me. I’m grateful, however, that the University extended protection to me because I’ve heard that other educational institutions aren’t as gay friendly.”

With help from Miracle and the LGBTQ Resource Center, Aronson came out to her department during a meeting. The group did a workshop and Miracle helped Aronson explain the situation.

“I just go up there and said that I was transsexual and part of the treatment was living fulltime as female,” Aronson said. “And then my friend Jennifer took over and explained. It was all very powerful.”

Aronson recalls that one of the Doctorate students in her department asked if she would be wearing women’s clothing and makeup from now on.

“What they didn’t realize was that I was already wearing makeup and more androgynous clothing, they just hadn’t noticed,” Aronson said.

One of Aronson’s colleagues jokingly asked her if she would be putting on makeup in the car on the way to school and Aronson responded “no, heavens, no. If I used mascara in the car, I’d poke my eye out. I’ve already come close a couple of times.”

Although living as a transwoman has its ups and downs, for Aronson, life is good. She admits there are bumps, but that she and others learn from those bumps. Most of the negative response from UGA about her transitioning process has come from students. Back in 2010, Aronson and the other MIST staff had some issues with a few kids in the program who were laughing at Aronson. Some of the students responsible were what Aronson calls leaders in the program, and when she questioned them about the issue, the students were embarrassed that they had treated her so poorly.

“I told the students that this wasn’t funny, that people don’t do this for grins,” she said. “This is a serious medical condition and by transitioning and living as a woman, I’m getting the treatment I need.”

Arts & Leisure Roundup

October 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Pole dancers turn out to fight breast cancer

The Athens Vertical Pole Dance Academy is teaming up with the first annual Women Who OWN IT  to raise money for BreastFest Athens. According to the Red and Black, the night will include various performances and demonstrations against breast cancer.

Office of Global Programs in Sustainability encourages students to go on ‘storytelling’ study abroads

The Red and Black reports that the Office of Global Programs in Sustainability encourages its students to study abroad in places that have stories to tell.  Students are more successful when they can hear the story firsthand, as opposed to hearing or seeing it in the classroom setting.

Georgia Bikes Hosting 2nd Annual Georgia Bike Summit in Athens October 7-9th

Athens, recently named a “Bicycle Friendly Community,” will host the 2nd annual Georgia Bike Summit. According to the Weekly, the conference will address how Georgia can create a safer and more accessible space for cyclists.

UGA Women’s Studies Hosts WAGG Conference

The University of Georgia’s Institute for Women’s Studies will host its 4th annual Women and Girls in Georgia Conference on Saturday, Oct. 8. According to the Flagpole, this year’s theme is women and the economic crisis and topics will range from worker justice to childcare.

Three minute interview: A. E. Stallings, Genius Poet

According to the Red and Black, 1990 University graduate and poet A.E. Stallings has received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation award. The fellowship gives recipients $500,000 and the chance to spend the money on furthering their creative careers.




Arts & Leisure Roundup

September 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

UGA Residence Halls Face off to Help the Environment

The University of Georgia’s Office of Sustainability and University Housing are teaming up to hose the 3rd annual Green Cup Challenge.  According to the Athens Patch, five residence halls will compete in diminishing their carbon footprint.

American students abroad pushed out of ‘bubbles’

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, students studying abroad often do not meet people outside of their own program, preferring to stay in their own ‘bubble’ of English-speakers instead. University student Lauren Hook resisted the bubble and explored on her own.

Art sale gets hot for ceramics student showcase

The University of Georgia’s Student Ceramic Organization will host its bi-annual pottery sale today. The proceeds will help fund the group’s trip to New York, according to the Red and Black.

Pride event a time to be seen

The University of Georgia’s Gay Lesbian or Bisexual Employees and Supporters teamed up with the Athens Pride Committee to form the first annual Athens Pride festival last weekend.  According to the Athens Banner-Herald, the weekend allowed people within the LGBT community to meet each other and helped to foster tolerance.

Candlelight Vigil Held for Troy Davis at The Arch

University students and Athens locals came together at The Arch to honor the memory of Tory Davis, who was convicted of the murder of police officer Mark MacPhail and executed last Wednesday. According to the Flagpole, members of the Athens community joined UGA students from Amnesty International in showing support for Davis’ family in a candlelight vigil.