10 Comics to Watch: Lena Waithe’s Pop-Culture Voice Comes Through in ‘Twenties’

Originally posted on Variety:

Growing up in Chicago during the early ’90s, Lena Waithe watched “A Different World,” which depicted the highs and lows of students attending a black college, and told herself that one day, she too would find a way to share relatable humor on a large platform.

Though her post-college, pop-culture-infused storylines often get her compared to name-twin Lena Dunham — albeit an African-American, lesbian version of the “Girls” creator — the 30-year-old Waithe has found it takes some serious ingenuity to be heard in an industry dominated by white-centric comedy.

“I want to tell stories that aren’t being told in an authentic way, so basically the way to be part of the conversation is really to use all platforms,” says Waithe.

SEE ALSO: Gallery: Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch

She wrote for online, including the popular YouTube parody “Shit Black Girls Say,” and started sending jokes to aspiring director Justin…

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Starbucks college program an effective idea

This article originally was published in USC’s Summer Trojan on June 19, 2014

In America, a good education is not easily brewed up. So when Starbucks announced Monday that it would pay for its employee’s college education, the company showed that it valued its employees’ educational aspirations by financially supporting them through the process of gaining their bachelor’s degrees. To make a more impactful statement about the role of education within the large corporation, however, Starbucks should give the employees who take advantage of this new policy the chance at more promotion options that allow them to integrate their degree and newfound skillset into the company.

Art by Grace Wang

As the largest coffeehouse chain in the world, Starbucks employs 151,000 full-time employees, according to 2013 statistics from Starbucks Company. Under a new deal with Arizona State University, Starbucks employees will be able to take online classes that are paid for by the company. According to The New York Times, the employee has to work at least 20 hours a week and have the grades and test scores to gain admission into the university. Once that criterion has been met and the employee has already completed two years of college, Starbucks promises to pay for full tuition for at least two years of college. If the employee is just starting his or her higher education, the company will pay part of the cost.

“In the last few years, we have seen the fracturing of the American dream,” Starbucks Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz said in a statement.

The push to provide its employees with a college education is not new to Starbucks. This plan replaces an existing tuition program that gave workers $1,000 a year to study at City University of Seattle, located in the same city of the company’s headquarters, or Strayer University online.

The decision to make this an online degree program is spot on. According to a 2011 study by U.S. News, online enrollment for college classes is increasing. More than 6.1 million students took at least one online class during the fall of 2010, which was an approximately 10 percent increase from the previous year. Furthermore, Arizona State University has one of the largest online degree programs in the nation with a great assortment of options for classes.

Yet with any educational aspirations there has to be a plan. At most U.S. universities and colleges there is a career center where students can access and meet with counselors to discuss how his or her major and field of study will correlate to a job at the end of the day. College is about finding a career.

Therefore, as part of this wide-net plan, Starbucks must look at the full picture. Where do they want their employees to go after completing their degrees? Surely not everyone will stay. There should be the option, however, of getting promoted or more integrated into the company if the bachelor’s degree is achieved under Starbucks’ dime.

If baristas are given no plan of what to do with their degrees then they will just be more college-educated baristas with no higher career options. That doesn’t seem like a fix to the problem.

According to the Guardian, in 2013, more than a quarter of a million college graduates were working minimum wage jobs. There is nothing wrong with minimum wage jobs, but since college degrees have traditionally led to a promise of a solid job with security. a transformational educational initiative such as Starbucks’ must try to return a college degree to the same standard it once had.

Yes, an education should take one to the next level. And yes, Starbucks is sending a clear message that they value education in their workers. But if Starbucks is doling out the cash they should plan to integrate the returns of a more educated workforce back into that company. That will surely keep the company — and its employees — moving forward in the future.

 

Jordyn Holman is an incoming junior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column “Making the Grade” runs Wednesdays.

 

Upbraided — My Summer With Braids

Upbraided: To find fault with or reproach severely.

The last time I had braids George W. Bush was still president and I had yet to step foot in high school.

There’s a stigma with braids when a black girl pushes past puberty.

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I had braided extensions in the summer of 2007 when I was 13 and visited Los Angeles.

In our society where hair is expected to be flowing and long, tightly twisted cornrows or elaborately crafted individual braids fail to fit into the mold. And when you’re in high school and growing into your own, that’s the only thing a young black girl wants to do — fit into the mold.

So after the summer of 2008 I took out my braids for the last time and opted for getting my hair pressed about every three weeks. Yes, there were pockets of time where I wore my hair half cornrowed and half press or those three months of sophomore year where I had twists. Yet, those hairstyles were always temporary and while I had them done I was always counting down the hair appointments until I could get my hair pressed again.

As age 17 and 18 rolled by most of my closest friends had never seen me with any other hairstyle than my bone straight shoulder length, black hair, parted on the left side. It was simple yet so Jordyn. I was comfortable with that hairstyle. I found comfort in that hairstyle.

Then college came and so did the major changes to my hair. One bad hair appointment took away the natural length and healthiness of my hair. Because I had become so complacent in my regular hairstyle I failed to realize the changes.

I put so much trust in my hairstylists that I failed to question. I failed to learn about my hair. I felt like overall I just failed.

So upon arriving home for Thanksgiving break during my freshman year of college, my regular hair stylist recognized the changes to my hair – it looked like I was given a perm that I did not know about – and she tried to do damage control. But that meant cutting significant portions of my stringy hair. To say the least I was troubled. I was so accustomed to leaving the shop and having shiny shoulder length hair frame my face. Now I just had hair that barely went passed my ears.

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The length of my hair after my hair catastrophe freshman year.

After long contemplation, boatloads of tears and some deep soul-searching, I realized that I either choose the changes that were being made to my hair or let nature try to repair the damage of my past failures. After consulting every person with black hair under the sun, I went with the first option.

The braids were coming back.

I’ve been thinking about getting braids sense January. That’s six months. I was plotting and trying to plan the perfect opportunity to get my hair braided. Do I do it during the school year when I have limited time in my schedule? Or do I wait until summer when I’m around less people…less people who might judge me?

For a hairstyle that came so carefree when I was younger, I felt like I was making a political statement when I decided to get them. I did research. Thought about the work environment I was going to be in. Imagined what my friends’ reactions would be. And then finally thought about myself.

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The kanekalon hair used for box braids.

The night before my hair appointment (which would take 8 hours!) I went to the beauty supply store to pick up my several packs of 1B kanekalon hair, watched a few episodes of Moesha and took several pictures of my shoulder length (sew-in) pressed hair. I was going to do this. There was no turning back.

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Last photo of me before my braids.

Selfies should not be taken at graduation

This article was first published in USC’s Daily Trojan on June 3, 2014.

Graduation ceremonies can be one of the most exciting and memorable parts of a young adult’s life. After completing years of schooling, surely filled with challenges and growth, an important aspect of a commencement ceremony is documenting it. However, as new students graduate in the ever-advancing technological age, standards surrounding commencement must be maintained, which includes eliminating the presence of distracting elements at the ceremony. Therefore school administrations should have the right to discourage students from taking selfies, a photograph that one has taken by oneself usually with a smartphone and uploaded to a social media account, at commencement ceremonies.

Art by Grace Wang

 

According to the Sacramento Bee, the administration at Elk Grove High School near Sacramento, California decided to withhold diplomas from two graduates who took selfies while walking across the graduation stage. The administration, who had warned students prior to the ceremony not to take selfies, characterized the students’ actions as “inappropriate behavior.” The school reasoned that selfies slowed down the progression of the already long ceremony.

And it seems like it would have. The high school has an enrollment of 1,800 students, according to the school’s website, which would mean that about 450 seniors were graduating across the stage during the ceremony. If each student took the moment to stop and take a selfie before crossing the stage it would surely slow the ceremony down.

The problem is not with documenting the ceremony and act of graduation — it’s the method by which it’s now being done. In the U.S., senior portraits and yearbooks are common memorabilia for graduates to mark the end of their schooling. Yet the growth in technology and the selfies trend has changed the way graduation day looks.

People between the ages of 18-24, or college-aged people, according to a 2013 study by StyleCaster, are the most likely to take selfies. Furthermore, each day more than 1 million selfies are taken and posted to social media accounts.

With the growth in freedom that technology and selfies bring, students might think that the school administration does not have the place to regulate whether they can take selfies or not. Yet standards need to be set on this growing trend.

Since the school institution is doling out the cash for the graduation ceremony and is in charge of planning it, school officials should have the right to set the rules. Yes, students and their families generally contribute to the funds of the school. Then again, in return for the payments, they are receiving an education and a diploma with the school’s name on it.

Yes, selfies are en vogue. But traditions have been around longer. If a school deems it necessary to maintain the sanctity of a commencement ceremony (not to mention its flow) by restricting students from taking selfies on the stage, then they should be allowed to do so.

The rules and regulations will have to be taken with a grain of salt, however. Though rules may be in place there’s always going to be the handful of students who will try to sneak in a selfie right before they grab their diploma, the same way that for years students have been cartwheeling and dancing across the graduation stage even though the administration prohibits it.

Yet a school must stay firm in the rules they have outlined, and if the students’ diplomas must be withheld for a few days because he did not heed the warnings, then so be it.

There are plenty of opportunities for students to have photo ops by more traditional areas on campus. Plus the real memories made at college will not come from a hastily taken selfie on the graduation stage. Instead, they are documented in the days, semesters and years before. That should be the real focus on graduation day.

 

Jordyn Holman is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism.

 

City must encourage use of summer programs

As the summer for students at the University of Southern California begins, the school year is still winding to an end for kids within the Los Angeles Unified School District. When I was in middle school and high school, those three months of summer break that laid ahead of me were ideal for spending all of my time outside in the warm weather or watching as many hours of Disney Channel as I could. But in City Hall and among officials at LAUSD, they are hoping that Los Angeles’ students’ summer schedules will be filled with more educational and career-focused activities than they have in the past.

Last week, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the creation of the Summer of Learning program. The program, which is directed at both younger and older students, is a partnership between his office and LAUSD that aims to enhance their science, technology, engineering, arts and math skills, as well as provide them with job-readiness training, according to the Los Angeles Times. The program will be structured through both online and in-person classes. The program website went live yesterday, and sign-ups for those classes will begin June 6.

During the announcement of the new summer program, the mayor of the city with the nation’s second-largest school district said that it was imperative for students to be involved in a structured program, similar to school, over the summer. “We imagine that we all start at the starting line as equals, but we don’t. The Summer Learning program will seek to close a gap across the city, based on your ZIP code,” Garcetti said.

Based off of the number of students who receive free or reduced meals at LAUSD schools, more than 80 percent of the students eligible for this summer program come from low-income families. Many of the families cannot afford to send their students to expensive summer camps. Therefore, the Summer of Learning is an ideal opportunity to provide a summer camp experience to students while also incorporating educational institutions and using the city as the classroom. Mayor Garcetti said the program would include outings to classic Los Angeles spots, such as the Getty Center.

Though traditionally summer was viewed as a break from the rush of school, many are beginning to view these three untarnished months as an opportunity to catch up on, get ahead in and review lessons that are not given enough time during the regular school year. With these changes in the pace of the world and the extra demands being put on children, the new summer program offered to Los Angeles students is essential to keeping the city a bustling and educated one.

A summer program like this is also valuable because it aligns with the goals of the school district and larger goals of the city as a whole. The city has been debating and testing ways to close the digital gap between students from disadvantaged neighborhoods and more privileged areas for several years. The recent failings and setbacks from the iPad rollout in the beginning of the 2013-14 school year was part of this. With the digital aspect of the Summer of Learning program, however, students will receive digital badges to track their progression and successes. This will lead to more students using technology during their time off from school — a time that might have had certain students go without access to technological tools like some of their other counterparts.

According to the American Camp Association survey from 2011, 63 percent of parents who had students involved in camp and enrichment programs over the summer said that their child continued to participate in the activities they learned at camp. In the same vein, the more students involved in the Summer of Learning program learning key skills in the arts and sciences as well as picking up interviewing and cooking skills, the more young adults there will be in the city developing those skills year-round. Hopefully this will lead them down career paths, or even to lifelong passions and hobbies.

For a program like this to be successful, support from all sectors of the city has to be behind it.

Therefore when the city and mayor’s office begin offering summer programs for all students, the city must take heed. When investments in the future — through educating and nurturing Los Angeles students all year round — are made, then everyone has an obligation to make sure the program is working to its best ability, reaching out to as many students as possible and actually preparing the minds of the city’s future stakeholders for the coming years.

 Jordyn Holman is an incoming junior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column “Making the Grade” runs Wednesdays.

 

Obama College Prep must consider location

In some cities, the high school you attend can determine a lot about your trajectory in life. This was definitely the case in my hometown of Chicago. On Thursday, I was one of the excited Chicagoans who received news that my hometown would be adding another highly ranked high school to its list of selective-enrollment schools. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel said the name of this high school would be Barack Obama College Prep, named after our nation’s current president. Yet the announcement raises concern about how the opportunities for a quality education are distributed within the nation’s third largest public school system.

Wendy Fu | Daily Trojan

I am a product of the Chicago Public Schools selective-enrollment system, a network of schools in which students are required to test into and, once attending, primarily take honors and Advanced Placement classes. Like most of my classmates, my daily commute lasted more than 30 minutes and took me out of the neighborhood I lived in. In my case, I passed a couple of other selective-enrollment high schools on the way to mine. But for some students in the city, they must travel several miles out of their way to reach a top-tier high school.

Once it opens in the fall of 2017, Obama College Prep will be located near the former location of one of the largest housing complexes in the nation — and also about 10 blocks from my alma mater, Walter Payton College Prep. Meanwhile, the Southwest Side of the city will continue to lack a selective-enrollment high school. Currently, there are 10 selective-enrollment high schools in the city and, according to the Chicago Public School website, there are 112,029 students attending public high schools in the city. The city projects that eventually Obama College Prep will accept up to 1,200 students.

The potential location of the high school is problematic, and might contribute to the larger issue of access to quality school systems in Chicago’s urban center.

Chicago is not the first city to want to name a school after the current president. Here in Los Angeles, Barack Obama Global Preparation Academy opened its doors three years ago in South Los Angeles. Though it’s always risky to name a school after a living person, the bigger concern with the announcement is that Barack Obama College Prep’s location will not represent the work the president accomplished in the city. President Obama spent his adult years working as a public servant on the South Side of Chicago, where he eventually got married and began his family. For this reason, the school that will bear his name in the city where he first became known should be on the South Side.

Another reason to reconsider the placement of the new selective-enrollment high school is to ensure that the city’s students are rising to a new level of education. In the same week as his announcement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that Chicago Public high schools are on track to achieve a graduation rate of 82 percent. According to a study by the University of Chicago, the graduation rate has increased by 25 percent since 2007 and 9 percent since Emanuel took office in 2011. The current graduation rate in CPS, however, rests at 61.2 percent, according to a recent press release by CPS.

The issue of strategically locating high schools in areas of the city that could use a boost from a rigorous, resource-filled school is not one simply confined to Chicago. Schools that are usually referred to as “failing” schools are largely confined to communities and neighborhoods with low income and high unemployment rates. Furthermore, the city voted to close approximately 50 public schools last year, most of them located on the South Side of the city. This became the largest batch of school closings in any U.S. city, according to the Chicago Tribune. I think it’s about time to have a solid selective-enrollment school on the Southwest Side of the city.

Selective-enrollment schools are a necessary system to have in Chicago right now. But the selective-enrollment system should not be exclusive to only certain parts of the city. As the old adage goes, location is everything.

Every student should have the ability to attend a school on their side of town with ease and a little shorter commute than currently possible. This can be achieved if the city’s newest top-tier school would be built on a side of the city without one currently, instead of being concentrated in an area of a city that already has a top-rated school. This reconsideration would truly represent a city government that is focused on educating all of its students to the best of its abilities and creating citizens who can make salient contributions to the rest of the city, nation and world.

Jordyn Holman is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Making the Grade,” ran Wednesdays.

 

Schools should not threaten suspension carelessly

Suspension. It has to be one of the scariest words a student can hear, right next to expulsion, that is. A suspension is usually handed down after a student has violated school code and possibly put his or her peers in danger, therefore leading to that student being temporarily prohibited from school grounds and classes. In the past week, however, some school administrators have threatened suspension not for the best interest of the student body, but to seemingly silence students from exposing a point of view they disagree with. In an age when one’s school record is vital to success and his or her opinions are protected by law, school administrators should not misuse the act of suspension by using it as a threat to make students fall back in line.

When a group of 18 students from the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation occupied USC’s Bovard Auditorium on April 15 to shed light on workers’ rights and the university’s relationship with a vendor — the parent company of which has ties to factories in Bangladesh and who SCALE claims has contributed to the death of numerous workers — the administration’s response was to claim that students would be given a letter of “interim suspension.”

In an email to the Daily Trojan, Vice Provost of Student Affairs Ainsley Carry said that no letters of interim suspension were handed out and the students were informed of the possibility of suspension prior to the beginning of their sit-in. Furthermore, he added that if students were suspended they “would likely face the loss of any university scholarships.” For a university where tuition costs $42,602 a year, according to the USC Financial Aid website, the possibility of receiving a suspension and losing one’s scholarship is a steep punishment.

Yes, schools have to maintain a sense of decorum and standards for student conduct, but suspension should not be used as a way to stifle the student voice. Students have rights, as was seen in the case of Tinker v. Des Moines, in which the Supreme Court ruled that students have certain constitutional rights and that disciplinary actions by the school should not violate these rights. Though the ruling applied to public schools, private schools should have the same regard for students’ rights.

A few days after students were threatened with suspension and loss of scholarship because of their sit-in here in Los Angeles, a high school senior in Pennsylvania was suspended for asking Miss America Nina Davuluri to his prom, according to New York Magazine. Central York High School administrators, according to the Associated Press, said they were tasked with keeping the rest of the school’s teenage students in order and had warned the now-suspended Patrick Farves of the possible consequences before he conducted his “promposal.” Despite pleas from Miss America to the administration to reconsider their punishment of Farves, the school stood by its decision to give Farves a three-day in-school suspension for asking Miss America to prom against the administration’s wishes.

Over the years, the number of students who have been suspended in the United States has risen. According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 3.7 million students received out-of-school suspensions in the 2009-2010 school year. Therefore, one out of every nine secondary school students was suspended at least once during that year. Once a suspension is on a student’s record, it stays there. Though the record can become private, the stigma surrounding suspension remains.

During the formative years of high school and college, a student should not be penalized for forming beliefs, standing by them and letting other people know how he or she feels. Students in high school and college should be able to use this time in their lives to explore their ideas and find unique ways to express them. When the administration uses suspension as a way to seemingly stifle the dissenting focus on an issue that has larger social implications rather than using it to remove a bad apple from the crowd, then suspension is not being used correctly. Instead, it is being used as a political tool — and students don’t have an equal one to pry back with.

When students come to the administration with their concerns, they should not be met with stringent punishments, but instead with an open dialogue to discuss why these grievances have been made, and possibly clarify any misunderstandings surrounding concerns of workers’ rights over in Bangladesh. Furthermore, if students are consistently threatened with suspension over seemingly non-harmful crimes, such as sitting in the hallways of the administrative building and asking one of the nation’s prettiest women to prom, then when suspension is actually needed to curb a student’s actions it will not have the same effect. It will not be taken as seriously and threats of suspension will fall on deaf ears. We should reserve suspension for the real crimes and wrongdoings that students could possibly do.

Suspension is a scary action. Yet high school and college students, particularly here at USC, should not feel like inaction on the issues that matter should be the way to prevent suspension. Therefore, high school and colleges administrators across the nation should be wary of threatening to suspend their students. Rather, they should sit and listen to what the students have to say before we decide to kick them out of school for three days. Suspension is meant to discipline, and we should be cautious of enforcing such discipline on students for simply holding opinions on social justice.

Jordyn Holman is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Making the Grade,” runs Wednesdays.