Illustration by Priyanka Pai
On April 2, the Supreme Court released their decision for the case McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. The Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that individual campaign donors may now give money to as many candidates as they would like. The decision was justified on the grounds that it is unconstitutional to cap the number of candidates to which an individual can donate based on freedom of expression rights of the First Amendment. Many commentators have criticized the decision as further enabling the American political system to be dominated by the ultra-wealthy. The American campaign finance system need not become this way. Many countries across the world have developed finance systems that are less subject to the influences of private money. In fact, American campaign finance is growing to resemble that of countries frequently criticized for inequality and corruption.
Money always has been influential in American elections. In fact, President Abraham Lincoln funded most of his campaign out of his own pocket. In recent years, though, the amount of money spent on campaigns has grown dramatically. Setting judicial precedent for the McCutcheon decision, in 2010, the Supreme Court radically changed the nature of American campaign finance in the landmark decision of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The court ruled, also in a 5-4 decision, that corporations, associations and labor unions can donate as much as they would like to political candidates’ campaigns. This ruling was also made on the grounds that these donations are within these groups’ First Amendment freedom of expression rights.
Citizens United has already had a dramatic effect on the American political landscape in the four short years since it was passed. The decision allowed for the creations of Super Political Action Committees (PACs), groups that may engage in unlimited political spending on behalf of politicians or parties without directly giving candidates money. Individuals can give unlimited money to Super PACs. Since Super PACs cannot give the money directly to candidates, much of this money has been spent on vicious attack ads, debasing opponents’ character. As a result, in the 2012 presidential election, wealthy political donors wielded more political power then they ever have before in American elections. For example, Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire gambling magnate, donated over $94 million to Republican candidates in 2012.
McCutcheon effects have yet to be seen since it was just decided a few weeks ago. Commentators speculate that the decision may reduce the influence of Super PACs because it allows individual donors to give more money to campaigns without the Super PAC middleman, further empowering the ultra-wealthy. More importantly, the decision could set further judicial precedent that will enable the Supreme Court to abolish all individual spending limits for future political campaigns.
While commentators are uncertain of the effects that the McCutcheon ruling will have on American politics, we can get an idea of the effects by looking abroad. Many other countries actually have campaign finance systems similar to what the American system is becoming. In Brazil, individuals and corporations can spend almost unlimited amounts of money on elections, as long as it is reported to the government. Private campaign donations constitute the vast majority of political spending. In Brazil’s 2010 presidential election, almost 98 percent of President Dilma Rouseff’s campaign funds came from private corporations.
In Nigeria, campaign spending is also unchecked. Unlike Brazil, there is no real monitoring of campaign finance, so no one is quite sure of what exactly is going on. Despite uncertain details, it is certain that money plays a large role in politics, leading to tremendous corruption. In part from this murky campaign finance system, Nigeria ranks as the one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Transparency International, a nonprofit organization that follows global corruption, ranks Nigeria as 144 out of 177 ranked countries for transparency.
In addition to having campaign finance systems that enable large amounts of private spending, Nigeria, Brazil and the U.S. all have a high level of income inequality. In a global comparison of family income inequality of 139 countries based on the Gini coefficient, Brazil ranks 17th, the U.S. ranks 41st, and Nigeria ranks 47th. The Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon reflects this growing inequality, institutionalizing it in our political system. If such trends continue, the American political system is at danger of becoming merely representative of the interests of rich campaign donors rather than the constituents of varying wealth whom politicians are supposed to serve.
As the role of money increases in American politics, money’s role actually seems to be decreasing across the pond in the United Kingdom (UK). In the 2010 parliamentary election, 26 percent less money was spent than in the previous election in 2005. In contrast, over one billion more dollars were spent on the 2012 American election compared with the previous election in 2008. This represents a 19 percent increase.
While the British similarly allow unlimited spending on behalf of candidates, people spend comparatively little money. This is because there are fewer outlets for donors to spend their money. In the UK, political ads are prohibited on broadcast media, such as television and radio. The vicious attack ads that dominated television commercial breaks during the 2012 American presidential election are illegal in the UK.
Norway has taken an even more egalitarian approach to campaign finance. Like the UK, political ads are banned from broadcast media. But, unlike the UK, the national government funds most of the election in Norway. The Norwegian government funds 74 percent of political party income. This system is seen as a global model.
Rather than following the path of Nigeria and Brazil by institutionalizing inequality, the U.S. should attempt to reduce the role that money plays in American politics, like our transatlantic allies, the UK and Norway. While the Supreme Court has made its decision on McCutcheon, the American political system is not sealed to the fate of an indirect, campaign finance oligarchy. With sufficient public opposition to the government’s recent campaign finance policies, leaders may be forced to relent.
Opposition can also come from the same wealthy whose exuberant spending has been criticized in the campaign finance controversy. There is nothing stopping them from creating Super PACs opposed to Super PACs themselves and the heightened role of money in campaign finance — maybe you have to play the game to change the game. Such steps do not address the inequality that pervades the U.S., but they would at least lessen the power that the ultra-wealthy have over the American political system.
- By Ben Perlmutter
Courtesy of Marcie Casas
During the weekend of April 4, I had the privilege of spending my weekend with 27 undergraduates during Emory’s first ever DataFest, a weekend-long data analysis competition. DataFest originated at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2012, and has since expanded to multiple universities, including Duke and Princeton. Emory’s DataFest was sponsored by the Institute for Quantitative Theory and Methods of Emory University, IBM Academic Initiative and energy conservation company GridPoint. Similar in spirit to the recent Emory Hackathon, where students competed in teams for more than 32 hours to produce a product in the form of software or an app, DataFest students competed in teams to provide insights into real and complex data. Given the new age of “big data,” the high demand in the workforce for employees with data analytic capabilities and the increasing presence of statistical analysis in all fields of academic research, this was a tremendous professional development opportunity for all students involved.
The data provided was from a real business with real questions to answer. GridPoint supplied information regarding 110 of their restaurant and retail clients from across the United States spanning 2006-2013, which was provided in five relational data sets with more than three million observations and nearly 80 variables. This real life data was rich in issues that students do not often get to explore in the traditional classroom setting — classrooms which tend to have tidy data sets with finite solutions. Different measurements were made before and after the installation of the energy management system by GridPoint, repeated measurements were made over time, there was substantial variation in energy use daily, monthly and geographically and, as expected, energy use was highly correlated to weather readings.
There were no prerequisites to enter the competition, and students came in with varying backgrounds and capabilities. Faculty and graduate student volunteers were on hand all weekend long to provide assistance, and guidance as students stumbled through uncharted data territory. Just as volunteers were represented from departments such as political science, mathematics and computer science, sociology and psychology, the student participants were also very diverse with majors in business, applied math, economics, psychology, anthropology, neuroscience and behavioral biology, computer science and many more. Diverse backgrounds strengthened teams by providing different perspectives on problem solving approaches and taught students how to collaborate with others outside their area of expertise, accurately mimicking a real-world experience.
For example, in my previous employment at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, identifying solutions to control the spread of a disease would often involve discussions between a biostatistician (myself), an epidemiologist, an entomologist and a medical doctor. Communicating with experts in different fields is more challenging than it may appear on the surface — while I needed to understand the disease process in order to appropriately analyze the data, I also needed to effectively explain statistical results to the team in order to create recommendations together. This collaborative and interdisciplinary process was evident in DataFest, as all teams approached the analysis from different angles and discovered unique insights in energy expenditure. No matter their skill level, all students made tremendous gains in their statistical and programming knowledge over the weekend. They also strengthened existing friendships, formed new ones and had the opportunity to interact with the volunteers and learn about how they use statistics in their research. Most importantly, everyone had fun. This was a low-pressure, low-risk environment for which the investigative process had no right answer — like assembling a jigsaw puzzle without edges where multiple pieces can fit together. An anonymous student review stated, “I loved it! I loved having the opportunity to focus on only one thing for two days and keep trying until I got it right. Our team didn’t win, but I learned a lot and was very proud of the work that we did.”
The value of this co-curricular event to the academic community was reflected in the judging panel, which consisted of myself, IBM representative Scott Pesses, Senior Lecturer in Psychology Nancy Bliwise, Chair of Political Science and Director of Institute for Quantitative Theory and Methods Cliff Carrubba and Dean of Emory College Arts and Sciences Robin Forman. Despite this formidable line-up, all of the students impressively presented their findings. Because of the high quality of investigation and research presented, the judges were all quite challenged to identify a winner. But, of course, you all know the cliché which rings especially true here — all DataFest participants were winners in my mind.
On a personal note, while many professors may understandably feel the urge to hide from students over the weekend, I surprisingly found that spending my weekend with a group of students was energizing. Unfortunately, I do not often have the opportunity to engage with students on a personal level, given the large class sizes that I teach; I relish such experiences, and DataFest was incredibly refreshing. I am consistently impressed with the intelligence and dedication to academics of the Emory undergraduate student body in general, and I feel incredibly fortunate to teach at Emory and have the opportunity to introduce so many excellent students to the real world applications of statistics.
I am also nearly giddy pondering what DataFest 2020 will look like. The nation has experienced rapid growth in the number of statistics and biostatistics programs offered, and recently ‘data science’ has emerged as a formal discipline — Emory College is now too riding this wave. The newly created Quantitative Social Science major (beginning fall 2014) is uniquely on the forefront of curricular offerings at the undergraduate level as it develops quantitative skills by integrating statistical, mathematical and computational techniques with an applied area of interest.
Given this new major and the plans to eventually offer more elective courses in the Institute for Quantitative Theory and Methods, I suspect that the student body’s data analytic capabilities will be growing exponentially. But, for many students, this change has not been happening fast enough, as many have expressed frustration at the lack of general courses dedicated to applied statistical analysis. Until the university is capable of fully satisfying this demand, I am pleased that we can offer DataFest as a brief and intense (and wide-open!) window into the investigative process of exploring and analyzing complex data.
- By Shannon McClintock
Courtesy of BGBlogging
Writing is one of the hardest fields to break into, and rightly so. Theoretically, anybody can write. The difference is that not everybody can write professionally — it takes a solid understanding of their own writing, sufficient knowledge in the publishing world, a strong work ethic and a splash of positive attitude.
In 2012, I published my first novel, a 50,000-word young adult fantasy titled The Writer (Itoh Press). Last month, I signed my second novel, a 65,000-word middle grade fantasy titled Sort of Saving the World with Curiosity Quills Press, and it’s tentatively set to be published in winter of 2014. Excerpts of these novels won YoungArts 2013 and 2014 Merit Awards, respectively. Currently, I’m working on another middle grade fantasy novel titled Kidstincts.
People ask me what the trick is to getting published so young, and the thing is that there is no trick; the best I can do is share my publishing stories and offer advice.
First, you have to start with the novel itself. The Writer took me about four years to write, on and off. I essentially wrote it over the course of four summers throughout high school. Sort of Saving the World was written almost entirely last summer and required a more rigorous schedule — I aimed for about 1,000 words a day. The similarity between my writing process for the two novels was that I had workshopped the first few chapters of both in my creative writing classes in high school.
I can’t stress enough the importance of giving and receiving feedback in order to become a better writer. You can find an overwhelming amount of information online for specific writing, editing and proofreading advice, both in the general writing field as well as folks who would be more than happy to help you out personally. Definitely try to work on your piece on your own — or utilize free help — before hiring a professional. One of my favorite casual sources for writing advice and prompts is Chuck Wendig’s blog, terribleminds.com (warning: he is a big fan of swearing). More professional sources include Writer’s Digest, and I’d encourage everyone to check out National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) if you want to hammer out that novel as quickly as possible.
After having a novel edited and polished to the best of your ability, it’s time to start trying to get published. There are several routes to this, and each has its own perks. Self-publishing is an increasingly common form of publication — you do pay for publishing costs, but you have much more control over the process and keep all of the profit. Also, if the work is in an untraditional genre, you might have better luck self-publishing than finding an interested publisher. However, it is exceedingly difficult to become a bestseller without the help of a publisher. Check out Createspace, Amazon’s self-publishing platform. Then there’s vanity publishing, a type of publishing company that offers print-on-demand technology in return for a fee. I’d generally advise against this, as most companies offering this end up being scams, and you’d be better off self-publishing. However, they are generally non-selective, which is something to consider if you are having a lot of trouble publishing otherwise.
Most authors, however, go down the traditional publishing route, though there’s still variation here. You can query agents or query publishing houses directly. To be honest, there’s a much better chance of “making it big” if you can successfully land an agent who represents your genre. The agent helps you edit and tries to get interest for your work usually from one of the “big six publishing houses” today (Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin Group, Macmillan and Hachette Book Group). However, the process is generally much more time-consuming (plus it is very difficult!) so, personally, I’ve opted to query publishing houses directly with my novel.
Before querying publishing houses, check Preditors & Editors to make sure that they are a legitimate publishing press. Either way, the process involves having a strong query letter that explains the work (a pitch that gets them interested), plus a small blurb about who you are and what your credentials are. You can find sample query letters and online writing communities that would be more than happy to help you edit one — I’d suggest resources like AgentQuery and QueryShark.
Also, knowing people and having experience goes a long way. The more experience you have in the publishing, writing and editorial world, the better you know the market, what readers are looking for and how to be a better writer. In addition, especially in publishing, contacts can sometimes mean the difference between a contract and form rejection. The main thing, however, is to keep your head high and keep writing. The professional writing world, like every other business, can be cutthroat, competitive and very disheartening. You have to remember why you write in the first place — and how it should be for yourself. And with discipline and hard work, you should be able to share it with the rest of us. Getting started is as easy as opening a Word document and beginning to type.
- By Emily Sun Li
I cannot remember the exact moment I met then-Dean of Campus Life Bill Fox, but it was very soon after I arrived on the Emory Campus as a freshman in the fall of 1979. He was just about always smiling. He was just about always available. He was always in our midst, and it was evident he loved being with us, the students of Emory University.
I was fortunate to get to know Bill very well over the years. By the time I was heading towards graduation, I counted Bill among my closest Emory friends. That might sound strange to many…how an administrator would be such a close friend with an undergrad…but all the Emory alumni who knew Bill understand. He did not set boundaries or limitations based on age or rank. He opened his heart to those around him, no matter how young.
As an undergrad, I would get together with Bill from time to time to have lunch and catch up. I had the opportunity to take a class with him my senior year, where he had us journaling about the books he assigned us to read. Although we already had a strong bond, we came to know one another even better through that class.
When I left Emory to pursue graduate school, it was hard to say goodbye to so many people I loved at Emory, such as Bill. These were the days long before the Internet, e-mail, texting and Facebook. Long distance phone calls were costly. Keeping in touch took more effort, and sometimes it’s hard to remember how we did it then, but we did. I stayed in touch with Bill Fox. We had him come to our alumni club in Philadelphia, and he remained one of the most sought after Emory speakers for alumni events. Whenever I would visit Atlanta, Bill had advance notice so we could get together and catch up.
Soon after my husband and I became engaged, I attended an alumni leadership seminar at Emory. My then-fiancé flew down to join me at the end of the conference, so I could introduce him to my beloved university and to some of the people who had made those college years so special. My husband, Bill and I had a lovely lunch together at what was then The Depot.
I was very excited for my children to meet Bill, and his wife Carol, when I took them to Emory a few years ago. They had heard me speak about him over the years, and I also was looking forward to Bill meeting my kids. Unfortunately, Bill was not feeling well, and so that meeting did not take place, but while my family dined at the Sun Dial Restaurant at the Westin Peachtree Plaza, I left the table to speak with Bill when he called, happy to know he was close by, even if we did not get to see him.
Facebook has been abuzz with the news of Bill Fox’s passing. I almost expect his name to be listed as what is “trending” right now. It is comforting to read what others are writing about this special man. He touched so many of us.
When I think of Bill, his smile is the first image that comes to mind. Then comes his slow, lovely Arkansas drawl, saying a word he exclaimed often: “Wonderful!” There is warmth in his eyes. Concern. Interest.
Bill Fox was one of a kind. The many thousands of us who were fortunate to be at Emory when he was have benefited immensely from his leadership. When I learned Bill would be retiring in 2005, I was quite sad, finding it nearly impossible to imagine an Emory without Bill there. Now I am finding it almost incomprehensible to imagine a world that no longer has our Bill Fox in it.
Tali Segal is a member of the Emory College Class of 1983.
Courtesy of suvival198
Is the absence of mental illness mental health? This question was proposed by Emory’s own Sociology Professor Corey Keyes and serves as one of the central themes to the newly emerging field of positive psychology. This field serves as a way to counterbalance the traditional field of psychology’s emphasis on diseases and deficits, referred to as the deficit-or-disease-based model.
In other words, traditional psychologists often sought to simply identify their patient’s deficits and disorders, then remedy them. Positive psychology posits that we should be as concerned with our strengths as we are with our weaknesses. As I will discuss shortly, studies have shown that increased levels of positivity benefit us in a multitude of ways and actually alter the cognitive architecture of our brains.
Two terms can help us better understand this discussion: flourishing and languishing. Keyes describes flourishing as the presence of mental health or those filled with positive emotions. Languishing, on the other hand, is described in adults who possess incomplete mental health and are poorly functioning, both psychologically and socially. Put simply, those who are flourishing are the most satisfied with their life and are socially and psychologically healthy. Those who are languishing are more likely feeling “empty” or unfulfilled.
So now let’s get into the numbers, because after all, as the essayist Christopher Hitchens said: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
In a study spanning from 1995 to 2009 and including over 1700 subjects, Keyes and his fellow researchers found that the traditional deficit-based model was lacking and instead called for the need to invest in mental health promotion and protection. These conclusions were drawn after finding that nearly half of the subjects who were free of mental illness in 1995 stayed at or later changed to moderate mental health in 2005. This group was now equally as vulnerable to mental illness as the 17.5 percent of subjects who initially had a mental illness in 1995! Furthermore, nearly six in 10 adults free of mental illness had as high or even a higher risk of developing a mental disease as individuals previously diagnosed with a mental illness.
But why should we care?
Aside from the fact that leading a life absent of mental health (languishing) sucks, according to Keyes (2002), you are nearly six times more likely to suffer a depressive episode (more numbers for you). Further, your creativity, productivity and energy levels will all suffer.
But don’t worry, there’s hope!
Higher levels of positivity and well-being contribute to what positive psychology researcher Shawn Achor calls “the happiness advantage.” After three years of research in 45 different countries, Achor found that in both various schools and companies that our brains perform significantly better at positive than it does at negative, neutral or stressed. Further, our intelligence, creativity and energy levels rise.
Achor determined that our external assets (our job, our salary, our appearance, etc.) have very little to do with our long-term happiness. Whereas only 10 percent of our long-term happiness is predicted by these aforementioned external assets, 90 percent of our long-term happiness is predicted by the way our brain processes the world. For example, Achor found that 75 percent of job successes are predicted by optimism levels, social support systems and the ability to see stress as a challenge and not a threat. In summary, Achor states: “What we’re finding is it’s not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality.”
Unfortunately, many of us, myself included, have been following a broken formula for years. That formula is, “If I work hard, I’ll be more successful. Once I’m more successful, I’ll be happy.” However, according to Achor, this formula is scientifically broken and backwards.
Achor describes this unfortunate situation as, “first, every time your brain has a success, you just changed the goalpost of what success looked like. You got good grades, now you have to get better grades, you got into a good school and after you get into a better school, you got a good job, now you have to get a better job, you hit your sales target, we’re going to change your sales target. And if happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there. What we’ve done is we’ve pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon as a society. And that’s because we think we have to be successful, then we’ll be happier.”
Sounds all too familiar, right? I know it did for me. But here’s the secret. We must first think positively. This will activate the previously mentioned happiness advantage, which will in turn increase our productivity, our energy and yes, our happiness levels, both short- and long-term.
Achor found that an exercise as simple as writing down three things we are grateful for each day for three weeks was enough to actually rewire our brain and allow us to think positively and more optimistically. Doing this trained our brain to not scan the world for the negative, but instead, we now were able to scan the world and seek out the positive. Find the good, think positively and you are well on your way to seeing the world in a new and improved way.
— By Matt Kohn
“Out of face, out of mind, right?”
It’s not until it’s placed right in front of you through a direct impact, or someone around you, that you know it’s there. The truth is, at some point, it will be part of your life. What am I talking about? Mental illness. One in four people in the U.S. experience mental illness every year. This means that your family members, friends, peers and even you can or will experience mental illness. You are probably thinking that this is very unlikely because you have not seen or experienced it yet. Mental illness is real, but it’s not talked about.
Most members of American society view mental illness as a taboo. We go out of our way to avoid it. We fear mental illness, we fear discussing it and we condemn those who suffer from mental illness. According to the annual report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): one in two are frightened by mental illness, two in five people think people with mental illness are a threat to society and “psycho,” “nuts,” “mentally ill” and “crazy” are the top descriptors for those with mental illness. As a result, these unfounded myths are helping to create a deep, dark hole into which the mentally ill are enclosed. I’ve had people who are very dear to me hide their mental illness. Their hesitancy to discuss their illness ultimately led them to take their own lives. The thing that affected me the most after these individuals passed away was people’s reactions to these situations.
After the death of a friend of mine, I was told my friend had a heart condition and passed away after some sort of heart attack. Two weeks later, a relative of mine, who is very close to this individual’s family, told me, “I have to tell you something, but you cannot tell anyone, because the family does not want anyone knowing. They were suffering from severe depression, they overdosed on medicine and took his life away. Apparently they had been suffering for years from it, but the family does not want anyone knowing. The mom seemed very embarrassed about it.”
At that moment I cringed and put my hand over my mouth. I found it disgusting that people so close to this individual placed him in such a dark place, and because of ignorance, pushed my friend to his death. Ignorance about mental health is a real problem in this country. Mental illness is the most stigmatized disease in this nation. Just the other day, I read an “Emory Secrets” post about an individual who broke down to their parents, admitting they were ashamed of having a mental illness when this individual is supposed to be okay.
I am proud of this person for speaking out because the majority of people do not. Just look at the impact mental illness has on college campuses. More than 45 percent of young adults that withdrew from college because of mental illness did not request accommodations. Half of these individuals did not access mental health services and supports, either. What I find most alarming is that the number one reason for not seeking help is the concern about the stigma. This stigma has pushed college students to a breaking point. Suicide has become of major concern for college campuses. Seven percent of college students have “seriously considered suicide” during the past year. Not only that, but suicide is the third leading cause of death on college campuses.
We can change this; taking a different point of view can do a lot. How? By letting individuals with mental illness know that there is nothing wrong with having a mental illness and by being a supportive and loving community. Take the community in Zanzibar, which views schizophrenia as a possession of a spirit. Schizophrenic individuals receive better treatment there than first world countries. It is important to note that the word ‘treatment’ is not simply psychotherapy and medicine, but it is every single step the individual chooses to take for his or her betterment.
Recent positive psychology studies show that the determinants of happiness are as follows: 50 percent is determined by genetics, 10 percent is by living conditions (i.e. socioeconomic situation) and 40 percent is up to the individual. Therefore, the individual has a vast majority of the control to flourish. If a mentally ill individual, with clinical depression, for example, takes the appropriate medication, therapy and engages in healthy life choices such as exercise, attending alcohol and drug free events and enjoying every single moment of life, then he or she can overcome this predisposition. Even though the “recipe” for mental health treatment is written, people seem to be lacking in ingredients. What do I mean by ingredients? “Ingredients” are the understanding about what mental illness is and knowledge of the resources available. People’s oppression of mental illness is not only creating an emotional cage, but is covering people’s eyes, not allowing them to know about the resources around them.
At the beginning of the semester last year, I was undergoing severe anxiety to the point that I couldn’t breathe or sleep. I contacted Emory’s Counseling and Psychological Services and found out about stress workshops, psychotherapy sessions, co-dependency group sessions and much more. After I learned about this, I thought about how students really don’t know about what is available to them here on campus.
You know why? It goes back to the same issue of people fearing judgment or exclusion, so they ignore their illness and do not seek resources. To reiterate, we need to change our perspective, and we need to be more open. The treatment options are there but society itself is hiding them from those who need them. Thus, if we view mental illness in an open and positive manner, individuals will seek the necessary help and support he or she needs. Everyone deserves to be loved; everyone deserves to love him or herself. By changing our perspective about mental illness, 61.5 million Americans can be mentally healthy. Help mentally ill individuals speak out and seek help. So, are you ready to talk about mental illness?
— By Eva Kassel
Mariana Hernandez | Staff
“Hi, how is everyone doing? Will we be starting with appetizers tonight? Have y’all had a chance to look at the drink menu?”
I have spent the last 10 months working as a server at a sushi restaurant in Buckhead. We are known for sake bombs.
When people find out about my part-time job, they always have a lot of questions for me. The most difficult question to answer, though: “How much are you paid?” Technically, I am entitled to the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. In practice, my wages are extremely variable. According to the Department of Labor, because servers are “tipped employees,” or employees who “customarily and regularly receive more than $30 per month in tips,” my Georgia employer is only responsible for a minimum required cash wage of $2.13 per hour.
The difference of $5.12 per hour comes from customers. I am essentially paid in tips. At the end of the night, servers calculate their total sales and are required by management to “tip out” based on this figure. In other words, servers don’t keep all of the tips they make, but instead must redistribute some of their earnings to kitchen staff, the hostess, the bus boys and maybe the bartender. For me, this means that I keep approximately 80 percent of my tips (depending, again, on how high my tips were with respect to my sales).
Here is a simple example of how this works. Pretend you are a single person eating at my restaurant. Let’s say you order two specialty sushi rolls and two beers on draft for a total cost of $30, including tax. You pay in cash and leave a $5 bill on the table for a tip. At the end of the night, based on your $30 check, the kitchen staff are entitled to $0.68 (2.25 percent), the hostess to $0.30 (1 percent) and the bus boy to approximately $0.15. So, from your $5 tip, I will keep $3.87, or about 77 percent. Five dollars on a $30 check is fairly standard. It comes out to just over 16 percent. (As a rule of thumb, if you want to give a moderate tip in Georgia, leave cash equal to double the sales tax on your check.)
Let’s say that you were absent-minded (or vindictive) and did not leave a tip. I did not only lose your tip. Remember that I “tip out” at the end of the night based on total sales, not on tips. In other words, I not only failed to make money, but I lost $1.13 because I bothered to serve your table.
Thus, it is possible to take home less than minimum wage at the end of the night. If this happens, of course, the discrepancy will come back in my pay check at the end of the month (less Social Security and taxes). This does happen occasionally. For example, because of a bad tip night, I took home $40 for eight hours of work on the Fourth of July. Because eight hours times the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is $58, my employer then owed me $18 for this shift.
On a busy night in the restaurant, I can make up to $25 per hour. More generally, I can depend on about $85 on a week night and $130 on a weekend or $15-20 per hour (the difference made up in alcohol). My average tip is 22 percent. Serving is hardly a career option I would like to pursue after I graduate from Emory, but I do earn in excess of minimum wage. But then again, my experience is atypical for a server working in Georgia: My restaurant has a loyal clientele, we are located in an affluent Atlanta business district and I’m a chatty college girl with a knack for flattery.
I come into this discussion from a place of relative privilege. To begin with, I only work part-time and often less. If I have a few consecutive $60 nights, or if I don’t have time to take on a shift, my parents can step in to help me cover my basic expenses. Most of my coworkers don’t have a parent or a spouse who can be a stop gap if things go wrong. For example, last month one of my coworkers’ car broke down. The associated costs were more than he could afford and since then he has been unable to make repairs and has been taking MARTA to work.
Restaurant employees are some of the hardest working people I have ever encountered. Restaurants are high-stress environments. The back of a restaurant is a hot, frantic place filled with the sounds of sizzling food, the clatter of dishes and the back-and-forth shouting of cooks and wait staff in many different languages (at my restaurant, these are English, Spanish, Japanese, Vietnamese and an Indonesian dialect). Customers’ orders and extra requests send me running all night in an Euler circuit around the floor; a six-hour shift is a workout. Although servers tend to be an extroverted bunch, it’s hard to be unremittingly cheerful when confronted by the inevitable demanding or petty customer.
People employed by the restaurant industry are disproportionately the working poor. More significantly, these people are disproportionately immigrants and racial minorities. According to the Center for American Progress and the Restaurant Opportunities Center, a not-for-profit organization working to improve wages and working conditions for the nation’s low wage restaurant workforce, 40 percent of tipped workers are people of color and 23 percent are immigrants, compared to respective rates of 33 and 16 percent in the general workforce. Moreover, over 50 percent of tipped workers with incomes below the poverty line are racial minorities.
I am writing this article to inform you, potential Georgia restaurant patron, that a vulnerable and hard-working population is at your mercy. The Georgia General Assembly has allowed service industry employers to shift the burden of employee wages onto customers. As a result, servers are dependent on your largesse for their livelihood. It is essential that consumers understand wage laws and the concept of tipping. Tipping is not merely a courtesy, but a custom assumed by state and federal governments.
The next time you eat at a restaurant, spare a thought for your server. Poor college student that I am, I try to figure in a 20-25 percent tip for good service on top of menu item prices in deciding whether I can afford to eat out. If your server is rude or makes a mistake, either look past it or complain to the management — don’t take it out on their tip.
— By Rebecca Berge
Zachary Elkwood is a member of the Class of 2015. His cartoons appear in every Friday issue of the Wheel.
Most of the morbidity and mortality in societies is due to individual behavior. Individuals usually enhance their health by either avoiding risky behaviors (e.g., smoking) or adopting healthy behaviors (e.g., physical activity). These behaviors have led to increased interest in individual-level interventions that address health problems through lifestyle change. However, new orientations in health promotion interventions have included community action through the use of health education. Moreover, community-level interventions use lifestyles and environmental changes to promote behavior changes, which are able to address health problems. Health promotion programs should include not only actions to strengthen individual skills but should also focus more heavily on community efforts to change social and physical environments into healthy environments.
Individual-level intervention reflects incomplete intervention content. This is because of the lack of effective evidence, which eventually reflects inappropriate intervention delivery. For example, an intervention derived from a stage theory of behavior change should incorporate several key elements. Individual-level intervention that is used to modify risky behaviors is based on stage theories, such as Trans-theoretical Model (TTM). Stage-based theory suggests that behavior change occurs through different stages facing several barriers rather than a continuous process.
Previously mentioned information suggests that individual-level interventions will be more effective in addressing health problems, but this is not true because of the complexity of the factors that play a role on each individual stage of change. Individual-level intervention stages include: 1) those who have not decided to change their behavior, 2) those who have decided to change behavior and 3) those who have already engaged in behavior change.
The need for community-level intervention can be seen when looking at strategies used for HIV risk reduction. For example, Health Intervention Project (HIP), a community-based program, targeted African-American female drug users in order to reduce the risk of HIV infection. This project explores the difference in results between women’s individual characteristic intervention as opposed to community intervention.
Several women gave up crack cocaine by ending individual social relations and changing their daily life structures. However, women who were part of a 12-step community program were more likely to stop cocaine use and injection drug use. This is because these women were provided with positive reinforcement and social support.
Furthermore, some participants have said that the absence of community organizations, youth/elderly associations for health and social services were problematic. This is because individuals within these social networks or systems acquire information, change attitudes, develop beliefs, acquire skills and practice behaviors which eventually will have positive influence on changing bad behaviors. The community-level intervention assumption is that individuals make up large and small social networks or systems in order to promote health.
Community level interventions are more promising for addressing health problems and improving health because of the possibility of modifying the social environment. A study about the prevalence of coronary heart disease (CHD) risk factors found a 50 percent decline in the CHD mortality rate with the implementation of a community based CHD prevention intervention program community-level interventions are done to improve health outcomes by reducing the populations’ overall risk rather than just the individual risk. They further aim to decrease the disease burden through risk reduction strategies across community.
Moreover, community level interventions are aimed to reduce CHD risk factors, which are cost effective and a possible approach for reducing CHD rates and associated morbidity in the community.
However, community-level intervention, which is designed to create healthy social environment, is still in need of more development in terms of research because there is a lack of understanding of concepts, a lack in interventions that bring social change as well as a lack of feasible methods.
Individual-level intervention has been less effective because public health research often highlights the community level interventions while ignoring the individual level interventions. This is because of limited knowledge regarding how the efforts at the individual level rise as well as a limit in the understanding of the strategies needed to improve the public’s health.
Therefore, until we have more of an idea about how to increase understanding of the individual level approach to intervention, community-level intervention should be used.
—By Rania Al-Qudaihi
Health disparities are the main obstacles to achieving equal health rights, in which everybody has a good standard of health quality. In other words, wiping out health disparities should be prioritized in order to attain health rights. Health disparities can come in the form of disparities in health outcome or disparities in health care access. Even if people have an affordable health service and good health quality, there are factors affecting their health that lead to health disparities, which will be addressed later. In order to address health disparities among racial minorities, some considerations must be taken into account to diminish the effect of health disparities.
Socioeconomic status (SES) is one of the main obstacles facing health disparity programs. People with low SES usually will have low income, education and insufficient employment, so they will end up with poor health outcomes. Because of health inequalities in accessing health care, people who have poor health outcomes will have low incomes and the jobless rates will increase. This vicious cycle can be interrupted as the effects of health disparities decrease. Although some literature shows that SES is not related to racial health inequalities, other literature shows that SES factors (i.e., income, education and occupation) are important for addressing health disparities independently. Therefore, health politicians and health programmers must take SES factors into account when they target health disparities.
Racism exists in most countries. Unfortunately, its effects encompass health services and health quality, which lead to health disparities. Offering health services and good quality health care that is race-dependent will make certain population groups suffer from health inequality and end up with poor health outcomes and bad health behavior. Additionally, poor health outcomes will often exacerbate those conditions already affecting SES. Racism might also lead to residential segregation, in which people cluster in a certain location according to their race. Residential segregation will affect the housing and rental-housing prices, which could make poor people poorer and decrease their chances for getting jobs, affecting their health outcomes.
The aforementioned factors will increase the gap of health services among the population and will increase the burden of health disparities. Moreover, race and genetics are responsible for many inherent and familial diseases such as sickle cell anemia, thalassemia and non-communicable diseases, which increase health disparity burdens. Also, belonging to a minority group or having a different skin color could lead to perceived racism, in which a specific group of people psychosocially perceives that they are being discriminated against, whether it is true or not.
Culture and belief are directly associated with health behavior. Cultural norms such as language, religion, thoughts and customs will affect people’s health either positively or negatively. Additionally, race is a culturally constructed entity, and racism can be a result of a population’s culture. People are immensely affected by social and psychosocial environments in which they are embedded, and they are affected by their cognitive thinking as well. Thoughts and customs are responsible for many behaviors that lead to many health outcomes.
For example, smoking, alcohol intake, diet habits and physical activity are important measurement criteria of health status. As a result, they are an intrinsic part of measuring health disparities among people. Religion also might increase the burden of health disparities by, for example, preventing condom use, potentially making people more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases.
Addressing health disparities is crucial, as it affects people on individual and economic levels. Although health disparities are inevitable, diminishing their effect on the population is a must. Decreasing the gap of culture in terms of health behavior among people might offer great promise in combating health disparities.
- By Abdulaziz Aloufi
In Integrated Chinese Level I Part II, a popular collegiate Chinese textbook, the character Gao Wenzhong complains to his friend Wang Peng that he is noticing some rather unfavorable changes in his physique. Peng responds that Wenzhong eats too much and needs to start doing daily moderate exercise in order to notice a positive change in his health. After trying some exercises such as swimming, jogging and playing basketball, Wenzhong decides that he cannot find the right sort of exercise for him and continues on with his daily habits. The story leaves the future health of Wenzhong to the reader’s imagination; however, it teaches a crucial lesson about the need to exercise while also teaching me how to say “fat” in Chinese. More importantly, the story reminded me of a glaring problem in American society today: a health care system that needs urgent saving.
Now, if you’re wondering how I suddenly made the connection between an educational dialogue and a national issue, let me first say that I was also watching “Escape Fire” that week. The 2012 documentary, directed by Matthew Heineman and Susan Fromke, uses evidence ranging from a doctor’s testimony to a saddening patient exposé to present a shocking revelation that our health care system is much closer to insolvency than we previously thought. It asserts that a significant portion of our health care expenses come from preventable chronic disease. While it does call for radical changes to be made in U.S. health care policy, the documentary also focused on alternative, proactive ways to approach the treatment of disease and improve health. This film wasn’t the first to call for fundamental change in American health care; however, the methods and evidence it utilizes make a convincing point. Ultimately, changing the trajectory of U.S. health care lies in the hands of those who built it: the people.
It was President Theodore Roosevelt who pushed for socialized medicine in his Progressive platform for the Bull-Moose party. It was President Lyndon Baines Johnson who passed Medicare and Medicaid, giving millions of Americans access to affordable health care. Recently, it was President Barack Obama who wrote into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), which included a Patient’s Bill of Rights and gave health care access to over 30 million who were previously unable to obtain insurance.
Reform at the policy level is happening. However, rampant health care problems such as rising costs remain unsolved. For example, it is estimated that obesity alone contributed 12 percent of the growth in health care spending alone between 1987 and 2001. Rising chronic illness and a stagnant culture surrounding health awareness contribute towards a system that doesn’t care for health, but rather manages disease.
What’s worse about this problem is that poverty proves to be one of its main ingredients. Unhealthy foods are disproportionately subsidized to the point where it makes much more economic sense to forsake diet to get food on the table. Additionally, health care for millions of people remains inaccessible and is still considered a privilege, not a human right. Today’s system ultimately forces many to decide against health in the name of fiscal responsibility and then refuses to provide a safety net for said choices. It is a cycle which works to prevent the lower class from rising and ultimately raises costs for all.
My point is this: Americans need to take charge of their health. It is not a question of more or less red tape from the government, but rather a question of changing our culture to one which encourages fundamental lifestyle changes and puts the focus back on improving our health, not managing disease. It is necessary for Americans to realize that health is holistic and can be fundamentally improved over time. Studies have shown that going from no daily exercise to 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily contributes significantly to weight loss and boosts overall happiness. Scans can detect cancers in their early stages and neutralize them before subsequent metastasis. In “Escape Fire,” many patients noted considerable improvements in pain management and decreases in pain medication consumption after switching to acupuncture. Actively addressing health means prioritizing physical well-being, mental awareness of the implications of good health and actively addressing health problems early on before they worsen.
Many of the above preventive measures are expensive for millions of Americans, for much still has to be done to change health care policy; however, the heart of changing our health care system relies on the idea that the people’s health belongs to them. Creating a culture with this fact in mind will mean a catalysis of reform at the top, which will work to improve the overall wellbeing of the people. By making that first step in the home rather than in the emergency room, our population ends up much healthier and happier.
Additionally, emphasis of preventive health will end up cutting costs, making health care for all much more affordable. If the government were to invest $10 per person in programs encouraging preventive health, it would end up saving $16 billion over five years, money that could be pumped back into the system to deliver care through Medicare and Medicaid.
This would significantly aid access of private insurance as well, as health insurance companies would lower premiums due to less risk stemming from a healthier population. Lower prices will mean increased access, leading to competition between companies that will serve as a catalyst to drive prices even lower. There is no further proof than this trend that our health care system is built for the people, by the people.
Wenzhong serves as an example of what we shouldn’t be when it comes to our approach to health. While he is a nice kid, he unfortunately doesn’t realize the long-term effects of paying attention to his health. I urge the American people to not follow in the footsteps of Wenzhong.
- By Somnath Das
123...55Next Page 1 of 55