Posted in Fall 2007, Features, Spring 2008, Virginia Assembly | Comments Off on linda

Post-traumatic stress disorder widespread among returning troops

By Jenn Hoffman

Robert Brown's assignment for his English class at the University of Richmond was to describe an experience that had an effect on him. While other students wrote about the goal they scored in a soccer game or the winning lottery ticket they scratched off, Brown's seven-month deployment in Iraq set his paper apart from the others.

"While writing that paper," Brown said, "I went from my computer room to a place in my past dealing with a car bomb that killed 64 people. I had to pick up women's and children's body parts that had nothing to do with combat at all. It was not the best place to go, and I went back to that, and kind of got incapacitated for a little while. When I came to, I was on my knees with tears on my face when writing the paper. I don't think I'll do it again."

Brown, 24, said he blocked out emotions and memories, comparing flashbacks to virtual reality games where you're transported into a new environment with realistic sounds and visuals.

"I have the emotional range of a teaspoon," he said. "I deliberately sit around and say €˜la la la' in my head because if I occupy my mind crunching numbers or doing calculus, I won't think about it. I can either live in the past or I can live now, and I really don't want to live in the past."

Brown, who is originally from Ashland, joined the military in 2002, following in the footsteps of his family and eager to get money toward college.

He is one of 181,000 veterans in Virginia between the ages of 17 and 44. His flashback is a common experience among soldiers returning from war.

Roughly one in five of the U.S. troops who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from depression or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, an intense and ongoing emotional reaction that stems from events that threatened or caused physical or psychological trauma.

This figure jumps with increasing tours, and only about half of these veterans have sought treatment, according to a study by the Rand corporation in a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch article.

Yet, Steven Danish, a psychology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said this figure was closer to 30 percent.  Danish created the F.R.E.E. 4 Vets Program, a self-directed rehabilitation initiative for returning soldiers, after one of his doctoral students was deployed to Iraq. The program helps veterans readjust to civilian life by acknowledging combat stress-related injuries, ways to overcome them and how to advance goals and get reacquainted in the workforce.
F.R.E.E. 4 Vets is one of few initiatives that teach veterans that the skills they acquired on the battlefield are directly transferable to the workplace, Danish said. A good employer can teach anyone how to perform a specific task, but qualities fostered in combat€”teamwork, problem solving, initiative, endurance, creativity and work ethic€” not only can't be learned in a cubicle, but are valuable at any job, he said.

Yet many veterans with PTSD struggle with short-term memory loss, anger management issues and sleep disorders, which present obvious issues in the workplace, said Laura Browder, who interviewed 46 female war veterans for her exhibition on women in combat at the Visual Arts Center in Richmond. "If you have a hard time sleeping at night, concentrating during the day at work is difficult," she said.

Many veterans don't want to seek psychological counseling at the Department of Veteran's Affairs because of the stigma involved, Danish said. For others, the VA is simply too far away without missing a day of work.

"There are only three VA's in Virginia," Danish said. "If you live in Richmond, it is okay, but if you live in Staunton, it's a half-day travel at least. That's a day lost at work, and you don't want to tell your boss why you're leaving early."

Danish said was impossible to predict which soldiers would have PTSD.

"We don't know a lot about the lives of the individuals before they go overseas and what effect it will have," he said. "If you have seen a friend in a car accident here, it might be more likely to precipitate something over there. Some people are able to compartmentalize their lives. We all know people who take their work home with them. They're very different from the people who don't."

Danish said stress contributing to PTSD could be physical (such as from dehydration or loud noises), cognitive (from a lack of information or ambiguous roles), emotional (such as the death of a friend), social (isolation or lack of personal space) or spiritual (such as an inability to forgive or a loss of faith).

"While I was there," Brown said, "I was thinking, €˜Okay, how do I live through today?' That was the main goal in life: personal survival. I spent many days plugging people with IV's to get them hydrated. I've been on patrol in 140-degree days in the desert in body armor. You have your helmet, shoulder pads, large amounts of gear, just layers of heat. I drank 28 liters of hot water in eight hours and sweated it right out. You could rub salt out of my uniform from all of the sweat."

Nathan Hancock, 27, who spent 14 months in Iraq and is now a student at University of Maryland in Baltimore City, said he, too, focused on staying alive.

"My inspiration was a calendar," said Hancock, who enlisted in the Army three weeks after Sept. 11 to show his patriotism. "I would put an X on the day at the end of the day. There were a lot of times that I thought I wouldn't make it back, so I was just happy if I made it through the day. I usually put a smiley face or a frown face on the calendar."

Hancock's PTSD symptoms surfaced gradually.

"About six months after I had been back, strange things started to happen," Hancock said. "I had nightmares, and I would lash out, and I became very emotionally unstable. I was dating someone, and I got very angry over something stupid, and I punched with my fist through the drywall where I was living.

"That's when I was diagnosed with PTSD. The past two years, I've struggled with this new battle. It has manifested itself in more classic ways in flashbacks, nightmares, depression and anxiety attacks. One thing that still gets me is if I'm driving down the highway, and I see a cardboard box, my heart starts to race, and I start to panic. I don't do what I used to do, which is swerve across lanes and drive like a madman, but I still think, €˜That's a bomb. That's a bomb.'

"It's hard to pin down one thing that happens. Some people become very emotional and some become very emotionally distant. It's not just war veterans who suffer from PTSD, but also rape victims or people after 9/11. They function perfectly fine until something triggers it, and then they go crazy for a little bit."

Yet the symptoms of PTSD may differ, depending on the situation and the role of perpetrator versus passive recipient, Danish said.

"Women who were accosted may have PTSD, but it's different from women in Iraq because they were a participant in the problem rather than passive," he said.

Women in combat was a topic that Browder wanted to bring into the public consciousness. An author and English professor at VCU, she spent two years compiling portraits and stories of female veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan for her exhibition "When Janey Comes Marching Home" at the Visual Arts Center in Richmond.

"The first shock was how many women loved deployment," Browder said. "The bonds within a unit were often stronger than family bonds. One soldier had to come back because her child needed surgery, but she didn't want to return. Her son said, €˜Mom I need you,' but she felt like she was letting her unit down if she left. Those bonds were stronger than the bond we think of as being the strongest in our culture, that between mother and child."

Sgt. Paigh Bumgarner, a 28-year-old veteran in Browder's exhibition, spent one year in Iraq and described her most pain-wrenching experience overseas: the death of her close friend, Ski.

"I was like, €˜Where's Ski?'" Bumgarner's story read. "I looked in the back and there was my buddy, completely in pieces, so I got the body bag and put him in there. I wouldn't let anyone near it because no one else needed to see that."

"That experience superseded all," Bumgarner said in a phone interview. "It's all I think about. There is not a day that goes by where I don't think about it, and I don't think about him.

"Someone else I knew was recently killed this tour, but it doesn't affect me in ways it did with Ski because I didn't have the visual and all five senses right there.

"When I got back home, the first thing I did was go to three months of counseling, and I seemed fine. Then eight months later, I started having really bad nightmares. I went to the VA, and they diagnosed me with PTSD and put me on Zoloft. If I don't take it, I get bad nightmares."

Bumgarner said her PTSD was only manifested in dreams and hadn't affected her at work. Yet a new outlook on life after combat had changed her career goals.

"Before I left to go overseas, I loved my job and I wanted to move up the corporate ladder," said Bumgarner, who worked as a senior coordinator for a company in the fan. When she returned from Iraq, it had been bought out by a bigger company and had become obsessed with revenue, she said.

"When I got back from Iraq, I was more laid back and not as high strung," she said. "I used to have so much anxiety, but now I don't care about those things. It took me about a year and a half before I had the courage to say, €˜This isn't for me anymore.'

I didn't want to work behind a desk the rest of my life and make money for someone else. I decided I wanted to work in nonprofit and joined Habitat for Humanity. My salary is now $10 an hour, but it's completely worth it."

Hancock wanted to help the underprivileged after fighting overseas, too.

"One reason I chose to major in social work is that I've developed this almost unhealthy sense of right and wrong," he said. "I've become very self-righteous at times, and I think that's because I saw so many things that I thought were wrong, and I want to try to fix them. I see that in a lot of other veterans, too. They became militantly self-righteous or the opposite end: They don't care about anything and become more callous and cruel at times or even self-destructive."

Elizabeth Sartain, 32, a veteran in Browder's exhibition, was unable to continue her work in the military because of her PTSD, Browder said. She had anger management issues resulting in conflicts with coworkers, sleep and eating disorders, restless leg syndrome, flashbacks and nightmares. Sartain had been married a few weeks before being deployed to work as a mortuary specialist in Iraq, where she went through 900 human remains in six months.

"When we work on the remains," Sartain's story at the exhibition read, "we go through their personal property. We see letters from their family, pictures, a baby sonogram, and we have to double check to make sure if they have a wedding ring on. I just felt guilty for doing that.

"I became anorexic and lost over 30 pounds in six months. Since I've been back, I still have insomnia and nightmares, and now I overeat. I have gained 40 pounds€”just from the depression.

"I'm angry. I didn't have this PTSD before deployment, and it's a career-ender for me. I know PTSD is so prevalent. There are a lot of people who have it, but they're two years away from retirement, so they don't want to get help. Or they're up for a promotion, so they just end up living with it.

Browder said Sartain told her that people in her unit had ostracized her for PTSD because the military saw it as a sign of weakness.

"A lot of PTSD is undiagnosed," Browder said. "They say no one really tells the truth at the VA. Some don't know the truth yet. Some units are more open, but there are others where members are ostracized. There is an incentive not to open up about it. None of the mothers I interviewed admitted to having PTSD because of the stigma I have to believe about being a bad mother."

Hancock said the public was sheltered from the reality in Iraq and the atrocities of war.

"It's interesting," he said, "because the only people who understand are other veterans, but at the same time you don't necessarily want to be around other veterans because they remind you of everything you're trying to forget. It was quite conflicting at first because I wanted to start a new life and get away from the Army.

"I appreciate everyday life much more, but I don't put too much value in it. I'm pretty much an atheist, and this sounds so gloomy, but I saw so many things that it's really hard to believe that there is something more powerful than us. Some people say I'm more pessimistic, but I just figure it's another day, and you might not have another one because there are a lot of people who don't."

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Current economic conditions make it tough for veterans to find jobs

By Emma Anderson

Current economic conditions are making it tougher for some military veterans as they return to civilian work life. Some can't find work and others have discovered that their former jobs no longer exist.

Steve Garbett, a veteran's employment representative with the Virginia Employment Commission, said many companies wound up having to fill positions they had held for employees who went on active duty. That could lead to a variety of transition problems for veterans who have been out of the workforce for some time, he said.

"They just don't know how to go about finding work and what the world of work is like out there right now," he said.

There are resources to help, Garbett said, and wider interest in helping veterans adjust to civilian life.

The commission held a Veterans Day career fair to help unemployed veterans connect with potential employers. The fair, held at the Richmond Raceway Complex on Nov. 13, brought in more than 100 employers as well as organizations aimed at helping veterans reintegrate into the working world.

Representatives from Wal-Mart attended the career fair because the company is supportive of veterans, said Angel Perez, a veteran and people manager for Wal-Mart.

"We like to employ veterans because they have a lot of discipline, the relationship building they gain in the military and their dedication to task," said Perez, a Gulf War veteran.

There was also information at the career fair about educational opportunities for veterans who want to return to school. One of the schools, Bluefield College, accepts military benefits and offers a military discount to those in active duty, Althea Brooks, an admissions counselor, said.

"We're here to present an educational opportunity," Brooks said. "Sometimes veterans realize when they get to a career fair that they're not prepared to enter the workforce."

The Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice sent representatives to the fair because of a partnership with the employment commission, said Krystal Walker, a department representative.  The department works with the commission to conduct mock interviews and to answer any employment questions veterans might have.

"Not only do we help VEC, but it also allows us to get our name out for potential future employees," Walker said.

Another challenge is to help veterans who joined the military when they were young and have little experience with civilian jobs. Many veterans aren't familiar with office politics and they don't know how to sell themselves to employers because they are used to being promoted solely on merit, said Nathan Ainspan, editor of the reference handbook "Returning Wars' Wounded, Injured, and Ill."

"If you're in a fraternity you learn to schmooze with people versus working in the field and working on merit," Ainspan said. "That could be an issue especially in a highly politicized office.  …They are so used to their merit speaking for itself. Someone who gets injured at age 30 is now dismissed from the service and has no clue how to get a job."

An unemployed veteran may also face discrimination because employers can subconsciously discriminate against a physically or mentally injured veteran, Ainspan said.

"People are really freaked out about psychological disabilities," Ainspan said. "In an extreme situation, they think, €˜What will this person do? Will they kill me?' That kind of thought, when they look at disability research, that's always been the biggest factor in preventing people from getting jobs and then getting promoted in jobs."

Getting a job is now considered an integral part of rehabilitation for all types of disabilities, and that part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is that the person can feel depressed and that they cannot accomplish anything, Ainspan said.

"The advantage of how a job can be therapeutic is it positively reinforces you,” Ainspan said.  “You realize that every morning you're getting up, you're leaving the house, you're going out and you're getting things done. The job can help you faster reintegrate into civilian world."

The employment commission has a registry system that matches veterans with employers with job openings that fit their skills. Garbett said veterans received "priority of service." That means they get first notice when the commission gets a job request and before the job listing is released to the public.

"It gives them a little bit of a leg up, maybe a day's head start on somebody," Garbett said. "First in can be first considered, and then they get the job."

Another resource is the Job Accommodation Network provided by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy.  Anne Hirsh, co-director of the network, said her colleagues worked with veterans who needed assistance about how to disclose a disability to an employer or how to request accommodations for a disability. Hirsh said that some employees had run into problems with post-traumatic stress disorder while at work.

One person had difficulty at his workstation because he couldn't see people coming up to him and was constantly startled by people standing behind him and talking to him, Hirsh said. "It sounds simplistic, but we would look at ways of how to talk about this with your employer," he said.

If employers can keep an open mind about hiring veterans, they would find that many skills learned in the military are transferable to the civilian workforce, Ainspan said.  Employers are usually looking for someone who shows up on time, respects authority and gets the job done, he said.

"For virtually all service members, that is part of their DNA," Ainspan said. "It's almost amusing when you talk to them and you tell them those things and they're like, €˜Everybody does that.' And it's like no, very few people have those qualities."

Posted in Business, Fall 2008 | Comments Off on Current economic conditions make it tough for veterans to find jobs

Alcohol policy can have a strong influence on students

By Reilly Moore

Alcohol policies are different at colleges and universities around the country, but depending on the policy, it can influence prospective students as well as current ones.

At the University of Richmond, the student handbook says, "The use of alcoholic beverages on the campus is expected to be in compliance with federal, state and local laws as well as University policy." Because the legal drinking age in the United States is 21, this policy theoretically prohibits drinking by the majority of Richmond students.

But the policy is not always enforced, resident assistant Josh Huffines said. Students often drink in small groups in dorm rooms or the University Forest Apartments, but these types of incidents are too hard to prevent, he said.

"If I wrote people up every time I knew people were drinking, I would be writing incident reports all night," Huffines said.

When students are caught for routine alcohol violations, such as possession of alcohol in a residence hall room, the consequences for a first offense are not severe, he said. The resident assistant relays the information to the area coordinator, who then deals with the incident further. The police and the student's parents are rarely contacted for a first offense, he said.

The primary focus of the current policy is to prevent large-scale parties and binge drinking, Huffines said. Recently, enforcement of the alcohol policy has become stricter, he said.

"The policy is definitely enforced more this year than it was last year," Huffines said.

Evidence of the crackdown on large-scale drinking was shown before this year's Festivus, formerly known as Pig Roast. A flyer was posted on the door of every University Forest Apartment warning that any alcohol-related violations during that weekend could result in immediate evictions.

University police have also been taking a firmer stance on alcohol violations, Huffines said.

"The police are writing up more students than the RA's," he said.

Richmond College freshman Dan Alper, received a written arrest from university police after an incident earlier this year, he said.

Alper had been drinking in his residence hall room and decided to go to the apartments with some friends, he said. Along the way, one of the people in his group gave him an open beer can, he said.

As the group approached the apartments, Alper saw a University police officer and tried to dispose of the can, he said. The officer stopped him, took his information and gave him a written arrest.

Alper received sanctions from the school as well as the police. He met Patrick Benner, associate dean for residence life, who punished Alper with a $50 fine and 15 hours of community service.

Alper also had to appear in Henrico Country court for an arraignment in April and must attend his hearing at the courthouse on May 6, he said.

"I have to stay in Richmond for five extra days to go to court," Alper said. "One half-empty beer can is causing me a big hassle."

Though Huffines said enforcement of alcohol-related infractions had increased, Richmond's policy was lenient compared to some of its competitor schools.

Furman University in Greenville, S.C., is one example. The school, which had been a dry campus, permits alcohol in only four areas on-campus, according to the Furman web site.

The web site reads, "The ban on alcoholic beverages in the campus residential and educational facilities reflects the reality that too many college students, often legally and underage, drink to excess….The possession and or use of alcohol beverages is prohibited in all campus locations except [the four] listed below."

Unlike at Richmond, where students 21 and older can possess alcohol and register parties, Furman's alcohol ban applies even to those students older than the legal drinking age, according to the website.
For prospective students and their families, questions about different alcohol policies are frequent, especially on tours, freshman tour guide Mary Morgan said.

"I get asked about the alcohol policy or how easy it is to drink on every tour," Morgan said. "Usually, the parents ask about the police or how strict the enforcement is and the students ask how big the parties are and how much drinking happens on campus."

Rather than make a firm stand on the issue, Morgan said she was trained to respond to question about the alcohol policy by telling students and their parents that the university abides by all state and federal laws.
"I'd like to just be able to say, €˜Almost everyone here drinks and it isn't hard to find alcohol,'" Morgan said. "But alcohol policy is such a sensitive issue with some parents."

At the end of tours, when the tour guides informally take any questions from the students or families, the questions about alcohol are answered more honestly, Morgan said.

"If a kid comes up to me alone and asks, €˜Is it really easy to drink here,' I am much more likely to give them a real perspective without having to be careful about what I say," Morgan said. "That actually happens a lot."
The actual admissions officers at the school face the question of alcohol less frequently, admission officer Kate Wheeler said.

"Prospective students rarely reveal to admission officers that they desire a campus where alcohol is free-flowing and there is no enforcement of the law," she said in an e-mail interview. "It may be the case for many that they do want this, but they aren't going to say it to the people who read their applications."
The parents of prospective students are usually the ones to ask the admission officers about the alcohol policy, Wheeler said.

"I don't know if it's a reflection of student interest or unease with the topic," she said.

Wheeler said that she didn't think there would be a decrease in applications if Richmond advertised more restrictive alcohol rules.

Applications and enrollment do not suffer because of the dry campus policy at Furman either, Furman admission officer Woody O'Cain said.

"For the typical, everyday life of a student, the campus is still considered dry," O'Cain said. "However, this does not seem to be a deterrent in students applying and enrolling, especially as every year the size and quality of our applicant pool increases."

Because Furman and Richmond are both competitive schools with difficult academic programs, students who are concerned only about drinking tend not to apply, O'Cain said.

"Classes are rigorous," O'Cain said in an e-mail interview, "and it would be difficult to be academically successful if a student's first priority happened to be drinking. Those students who perceive college as a place to party for four years (classes optional) would not be a good fit for Furman."

O'Cain also said that though the campus was dry, students and prospective students knew that drinking still occurred.

"If students wish to include alcohol in their socializing, it can be found," O'Cain said, "even as the dry campus policy is enforced by administration and RAs."

Though the evidence, such as the increase in applications mentioned by the admission officers at both Furman and Richmond, indicated that alcohol policies do not act as a deterrent to all students, for some students, the party scene at a school was a deciding factor.

"I wanted to go to a school where I knew I could have a good time," high school senior Elizabeth Donaldson of Avon, Conn., said. "I applied to schools because of their academics, but breaking the tie between schools came down to little things like the party scene and alcohol policy."

Donaldson applied to Richmond, University of Maryland, Elon University and Syracuse University. She decided to enroll at Syracuse partially because of the party scene, she said.

"I know people who go there and say it's a great time," Donaldson said. "The other schools were good options, too, but Syracuse is good academically and socially."

Another high school senior, Jack Hodil of Hampton, Pa., who will attend Richmond in the fall, said that he didn't initially consider alcohol policies when applying to schools, but was glad that Richmond's policy was not too strict.

"It didn't affect my decision at first," Hodil said, "but I consider the drinking policy a major addition to Richmond's positives."

Other students were not as worried about partying as Hodil and Donaldson, but were still happy that Richmond was not a dry campus.

Keely Naughton, a senior from Atlanta, said she planned to attend Richmond in the fall. Her decision was not at all based on drinking policies, she said, but she chose not to isolate herself from alcohol completely.
"I don't drink," Naughton said. "I know there is substance-free housing for girls, but I didn't want to participate in that. I didn't think it was healthy to completely isolate myself from €˜substances.'"

For some students, the more casual party scene that Richmond offers is a positive. Naomi Mayeux, a high school senior in Tarrytown, N.Y., is still deciding between Tulane and Richmond.

"What I like about Richmond," Mayeux said, "is that it's more like my private high school€”not a rowdy party scene, but more of a house party or frat scene. I actually like that the school seems more serious about academics and less about drinking/partying."

Naughton said: "When I was visiting schools and tour guides were throwing around terms like dry campus I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted. But then I found Richmond and I just fit, so it doesn't matter what the alcohol policy is."

Though some students disagreed with Naughton, most students believed that the college-selection process is more about academics and fitting in than drinking and partying.

Posted in News writing, Spring 2008 | Comments Off on Alcohol policy can have a strong influence on students

New Strategic plan deals with five areas of University life

By Stephen Utz

There is a sense of urgency to institute the strategic plan, University of Richmond President Ed Ayers said in May.

The strategic plan outlines five areas that the university wants to improve. They include increasing affordability, diversity, increasing community involvement and creating a cohesive environment between schools and linking student life with all of these, Ayers said.

The five-point plan he released early in March is still in its draft stages. How each principle will be addressed is still being determined. The university released a draft of the plan and is creating working groups composed of administrators, faculty and students to create a specific plan to accomplish the five principles, Ayers said.

The working groups will meet all summer through conference calls to develop strategies to achieve the goals that they have set out to reach, he said. It is their job to define the metrics of success for each goal, he said.

A new draft will be presented at the beginning of classes in August and the final plan should be announced in October, he said. This is a five-year plan that will be coupled with a new capital campaign that will be implemented in a year or two, he said.

Other schools have recently instituted strategic plans that are similar to the University of Richmond's. "We didn't look at other plans," Ayers said. Diversity and affordability are issues that all colleges are facing, he said. Other schools' plans were not looked at because the University of Richmond is a unique institution with specific needs to address, he said.

As Ayers traveled the country, welcoming alumni and donors, he kept asking one simple question, he said. "What do we want the University of Richmond to be known for?"

The responses repeated the same objectives, he said. An emphasis on diversity and affordability was important to donors and alumni, he said.

The rising cost of college is a problem, he said.

The university is reviewing its financial-aid policies to make sure it has the best policy for its students, Ayers said in an interview with news writing students. The tuition increases must end, he said.

The strategic plan will address the issue of diversity. "The University will be a diverse community, strengthened intellectually and socially by the range of knowledge, opinion, belief, and political perspective as well as background (race, ethnicity, gender, age, religious, economic,
geographic) of its members," according to the strategic plan.

The lack of diversity on campus has been a predominant stereotype about the University of Richmond.

Students have described Richmond as a homogeneous place with one race dominating all others. African-Americans make up 10 percent of the campus population, Ayers said. That is consistent with the average throughout the rest of the country, excluding the historically black colleges and universities, he said.

The most common stereotype about the population demographic is that the university is made up of rich, white, Northerners. Ayers said that was not the case, but students believe that was the truth so the stereotype has persisted. "People are willing to believe the worst about themselves," he said.

Even though Richmond's population is consistent with the rest of the country, there is room for improvement, Ayers said.

Another area of importance to Ayers is increasing the connectivity between the schools on the campus, he said. "How do we maintain contact with the liberal arts?" he said.

"The University will have an academic enterprise that will be connected, innovative, rigorous, and personal with the intent to foster faculty growth and ensure student success," the plan said.

Business majors should be able to take other classes that interest them, Ayers said. They should not be secluded in the business school without access to the school of arts and sciences, he said.

Faculty will be in charge of the curriculum that will bring the schools together, he said. The curriculum should be challenging for both the students and the professors, professor David Leary said. "In the end, you want something that everyone can agree on," he said.

The draft of the strategic plan also calls for increased community involvement by the university. The university will "shape, both educationally and experientially, its students and as a means to contribute its skills, energy, and goodwill to the identified needs of the larger community," according to the plan.

The university already contributes to Build It and other programs in the community, Ayers said. Students build a house for a family as part of the Build It program. He noted in his Inaugural Address that students are very active in community service.

The strategic plan will determine what the university will do to increase its community involvement for students, faculty and administrative staff. "What aspects of community engagement will ensure that our students develop an ethic of service that is transportable to any community worldwide?" according to the plan.

Each point of the strategic plan is intertwined with the others, if one progresses the others will also be successful, Ayers said.

The success of the plan will create an identity for the University of Richmond, he said. "No school has been on as rapid an ascent," he said. The school has not had time to forge a new identity as it has thrived, he said.

"It's within our power to define what we want to be known for," he said.

The increased cohesion between schools will make the university unique, he said. That will create and identity as a strong liberal arts school combined with a graduate program that is exposed to undergrads.

"Our peers have to recognize that Richmond is a leader," he said.

Schools similar to Richmond have released plans that have goals that are comparable to Richmond's. Wake Forest University and Furman University are trying to increase affordability and diversity. Wake Forest is trying to link the liberal arts with the professional world in a similar way to Richmond.

"We have a tremendous opportunity to build more productive connections between and among arts and sciences and professional schools in law, medicine, business and divinity," Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch said in his state of the university speech recently.

Students like the proposals set forth by the draft. "I'm optimistic and hopeful that with the new leadership of Dr. Ayers and his staff that we are ready to move the university forward, and also focus out attention on student life and how they perceive the university as undergrads" sophomore Brendan Schlauch, a Richmond College senator, said.

Mike Murray, a sophomore senator, was cautiously optimistic. "I like the increased voice that the students' have, but I want to make sure the administration follows through and listens to students throughout the process," he said.

Other students have hope that the strategic plan will create a new identity for the university. " It should be a well-respected, liberal arts school that students like to attend, a place where prospective students want to be, and alumni want to give to," sophomore Josh Huffines said.

The school may need to do a better job of educating everyone about the strategic plan. "I haven't heard about anything, and I feel that generally I am an educated student about what goes on," freshman Justin Nguyen said.

Improving student life is one of the principles of the plan. "I love that it is a 24-hour strategic plan that focuses on life in and out of the classroom," Steve Bisese, vice president for student development, said. The school has begun to integrate itself with the Living and Learning Communities, which allow different students to come together to discuss topics outside of class, he said. The Living and Learning Communities are programs that are centered on a class that everyone involved in the program must take, and then they must do projects together outside of class as well. There are many different programs offered, including Civic Engagement, Campaign 2008, and language across the curriculum program that have brought students together, he said.

Richmond is at a crossroads, Ayers said. Ayers is excited about the prospects for the future, and is ready to forge an identity for the school, he said.

Posted in News writing, Spring 2008 | Comments Off on New Strategic plan deals with five areas of University life

Two campus clubs raising awareness of environmental issues

By Fred Shaia

Graphic pictures don't affect people anymore; organizations have to get in people's faces to generate a response and make a difference, Carly Vendegna, co-head of the RENEW Club, said recently concerning the "No Tray for the Day" initiative proposed by Dining Services.

This initiative promoted water and waste savings during Earth Day on April 22.

During the past two years, Richmond has been undergoing a slow, but noticeable environmental shift toward becoming a greener campus. The Richmond Environmental Network for Economic Willpower and the Sierra Club, two independent environmental organizations, are planning a merge, uniting all students dedicated to protecting the environment and raising awareness about monumental environmental issues on and off campus, Vendegna said.

During the fall semester, RENEW petitioned President Edward Ayers to sign the Presidential Climate Commitment, conducted two Heilman Dining Center waste surveys, initiated the Eco Spider competition, promoted recycling and held an apartment energy conservation contest among other activities this year, Andrew Essington, a freshman member of RENEW, said.

The PCC commits Richmond to becoming more environmentally friendly by tracking and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Essington said. This means the president will perform projects toward a greener campus, Essington said.

RENEW achieved its main objective this year when Ayers agreed to sign the PCC, Michael Olson, a freshman member of RENEW, said. The school is making environmental changes a priority, Olson said, and greenhouse emissions are being monitored.

The PCC ensures that all future buildings will be LEED-certified and officials are working to replace heating in the apartments with a more energy efficient system, Essington said. A building that is Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design certified meets design and construction standards set by committees of
the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED certified buildings are nationally accredited for their environmental sustainability by the USGBC.

The Weinstein building is already using low-flush toilet systems to conserve water and some campus vehicles are using bio diesel to be more economically friendly, Essington said.

During Environmental Awareness Week, which began on Nov. 5, 2007, RENEW and Dining Services conducted a waste survey in which several members collected uneaten, solid food from trays and weighed how much food would have been thrown away. After one day, the club collected about 1,760 pounds of food waste, which could give thousands of people a meal, Vendegna said.

On April 22, 2008, RENEW worked with Dining Services for a second waste survey. This time, the club promoted Earth Day by having "No Tray for the Day," Cathy Moran, purchasing manager of Dining Services, said. By opting not to use a tray, students saved water, wasted less food and consumed a more balanced meal, Moran said.

"The football players were mad at us for not having trays and they did not like having to place their food waste in the trash can," Vendegna said.

Although some of the athletes did not respond well, there was 372 pounds less food waste than the November waste survey, Moran said.

"Many, many colleges are doing things like this to reduce food, water and energy waste," Moran said. "I think that no trays should be implemented daily, but we need student support."

"I am proud that the Heilman Center has been certified as a Virginia Green Restaurant," Ayers said. "This honor recognizes the university's exemplary efforts in the areas of recycling, water conservation and energy efficiency."

RENEW Club recently met with Ayers to discuss future plans for the club. "We are fortunate to have a very cooperative administration and a president who is actually interested in our initiatives," Vendegna said.

RENEW discussed building bike ramps around campus to promote using bicycles as opposed to driving to and from campus, Vendegna said. There was also talk of moving the bus stop to the commons to make public transportation more accessible.

"RENEW received a grant that was used to install a monitoring system so that we can examine how much energy each dorm uses," Vendegna said. "We plan to hold competitions between dorms to promote energy reduction."

Next year, RENEW plans to merge with the Sierra Club to be called the RENEW-Sierra Student Coalition, Vendegna said.

"Whatever change happens to the environmental organizations at UR, it must be a positive change that leverages our collective organizing power better than we are doing now," Jason Levinn, the founder of RENEW, said regarding the potential merge.

RENEW also plans to have an informational session educating students and faculty on green curriculum, Vendegna said. "People don't realize the consequences of their actions, but it's not their fault," Vendegna said. "Our job is to educate."

Next year, RENEW will also continue documenting where recycle bins are located and plans to re-label the bins; this will ensure that the proper recyclable materials are placed in the proper bins, Vendegna said.

The Cellar and E.T.C., two food establishments on campus, are also helping the environment on campus by "going green." In the restaurant, The Cellar is using napkins and pizza boxes that are recyclables, Brendon Cristobal, a freshman employee, said. The Cellar also has special bins to recycle glass and cardboard, Cristobal said.

"When people order take-out meals, we use containers made from sugar cane instead of non-biodegradable Styrofoam boxes," Keaton Cristobal, a freshman employee, said.

E.T.C. encourages customers to bring their own bags to the store so that new bags are not wasted, Lauren Brunt, an E.T.C. employee, said. E.T.C. also recycles all cardboard boxes that package merchandise, Burnt said.

"If a customer re-uses a plastic bag, he/she will receive a five-cent discount on his/her purchase," Christina Quinones, an employee, said.

Last November, RENEW promoted energy conservation among apartments by holding a contest; members measured digital readouts behind apartments and block 1600 received a prize for conserving the most energy throughout the week, Vendegna said.

"We also participated in the Eco Spider competition and created a spider from recyclable materials," Olson said. "It was stationed outside the library."

Last October, RENEW held a three-day e-waste project to promote recycling. More than 60 organizations and 1,559 people turned in unwanted computers, monitors, printers, keyboards, cell phones and television sets, some containing toxic waste, that would have otherwise poisoned Virginia landfills, Vendegna said.

RENEW collected more than 125 tons of old electronics and transported them to a facility where all plastic and usable materials were recycled and all toxic components were safely disposed.

Last summer, the university also installed new laundry machines that save approximately one million gallons of water each school year.

"We aren't going to fulfill our goals if we don't alter the mindsets and uneconomical consumption patterns of students," Vendegna said. "We need student support to make a change."

Posted in Environment, News writing, Spring 2008 | 1 Comment

Students have differing views on UR’s new unit system

by Anna Kuta

The University of Richmond faculty's decision to change from the hour system to the unit system has been met with both opposition and acceptance by students.

As of the fall of 2008, all classes will be measured in units. The effect of the change was first seen in the spring as students registered for their fall classes.

All courses in the arts and sciences, business and leadership studies schools are now weighted under the unit system, and student transcripts will be converted to units beginning in May 2008, according to the Academic Advising website.

The university was previously using the hour system. Under the hour system, a typical class was either three or four hours, indicative of the time recommended that students spend on work for each hour spent in class.

A unit is equal to 3.5 credit hours, Joe Kent, the interim provost, said. The primary motivation behind the change was to get students to focus on four courses per semester in an in-depth manner rather than five courses per semester, he said.

"After some compromises the total number of units required for graduation was set at 35," Kent said, "which means that during three of eight semesters a student might take five units." With AP and transfer credit, most students will only need four courses per semester to graduate in four years, Kent said.

With the change to units, the total number of courses the typical student must take during four years will be reduced, the curriculum will be simplified, staffing flexibility will be expanded, and clearer expectations across courses will be created. These goals are listed on the university's website.

The majority of private national liberal arts colleges comparable to UR have a system where students take four courses in a typical semester, Kent said. Some call them units and others measure in semester hours with most courses being four semester hours, he said.

Many of these schools have an additional short term or winter term where students take a single course, Kent said.

The decision to move to units was proposed and voted on by the faculty. Thirty-six of the top 40 colleges in a U.S. News & World Report survey required that students take an average of four rather than five courses per term, many on unit systems like the one UR is adopting, according to the university's website. The survey found that no institutions have moved back from four courses per term to five.

There has been a lot of controversy on campus about the new system. Some students said they didn't understand why the university was making the change, and many students said they simply weren't informed about it.

"I only found out through the grapevine," Kelly Larsen, a freshman science major, said, "and even then, the people that told me didn't know much about it. I know they had meetings regarding the switch to units, and specific meetings for science majors, but I was unable to attend these and therefore I still do not really know anything about units."

Emily Dowd, a freshman, said she didn't think the change was explained very well. "Everyone was complaining," she said.

Much of the resistance to the change might have stemmed from the fact that students were simply informed, one student said.

Faculty and students have a wide range of views about the unit system. Some are opposed to the change, and others support it fully.

Dr. Joseph Essid, director of the campus writing center, said he strongly supported the unit system. "We assign a lot of work at Richmond," he said. "The new system encourages more focus by students.

"Our students try to do too much, in particular pursue double and triple majors. I think anything making this harder, and encouraging minors and intellectual exploration for its own sake is good." Essid also teaches English and Core. He is among the faculty who helped make the decision about the change.

"I like that under the unit system, a lot of majors and minors got smaller," said one student who is considering a double minor.

The intent of the change may be to keep students from double-majoring or triple-majoring, but students who really want multiple majors and minors will still find a way to do it, one freshman said. Many students still plan to double-major, and they are concerned about graduating on time.

Emily Dowd plans on double-majoring in English and psychology with a Spanish minor. She said she was concerned she might face limitations with studying abroad, because she would have to find somewhere that offered classes that counted toward her major, or not study abroad at all, so she could graduate on time.

Another student who is considering double-majoring said: "Now not only is it harder to double major, but it is hard for people like me who are still undecided to figure out what they want to do. Once I do figure it out, it might be too late to complete everything under the unit system."

Other students still do not understand the reasons behind the change.

"Why fix something that isn't broken?" Elizabeth Hyman, a freshman, asked. "My major gripe with the unit system is that it changes my fine arts requirement. Under the unit system, chorus is now a pass/fail class, which means that we all have to take an extra semester of it to get credit. And I know a lot of science students are upset because it will affect their labs."

Some students are questioning the motives behind the credits-to-units change. "It seems like we are getting the unit system to be more like Ivy League schools," one student, a freshman, said. "That is not a good enough reason to switch everything up."

"It seems unfair that labs do not factor in at all to the unit system," Larsen said, "because labs tend to be the reason I can’t take some classes because of conflicting times." Larsen said she was finding it hard to fit in her COMII requirement, which is two units, on top of two labs.

Not everyone disagrees with the change. "I don't think it's a big deal," Ashley Miles, a freshman, said. Miles said she didn't know why people were upset, because the unit system would make registration easier for everyone and make all classes weighted the same.

Next semester, students will experience firsthand the differences resulting from the change.

Posted in News writing, Spring 2008 | Comments Off on Students have differing views on UR’s new unit system

Excessive stress can have serious health consequences

By David Larter

The typical Richmond student is working toward a double major and is involved in multiple extracurricular activities, but being overcommitted can lead to unhealthy amounts of stress that can have serious health consequences.

Neal Holly, a Richmond College area coordinator in the Residence Life office, said that students are stressed before they come to college, and that once at college they continue the patterns they learned in high school. "The students here worked hard in high school not just to get into college, but to get into €˜the right' college," he said. "They put a tremendous amount of pressure on themselves, and that continues once they come here."

Grade inflation has become an epidemic among the top universities in the country, and Richmond's high academic standards add to the stress levels, Holly said. "Students come here who had a great GPA in high school," he said. "A student might have been valedictorian in high school, but they come here and get Cs. It can be very stressful."

Peter LeViness, the director of University of Richmond's Counseling and Psychological Services said that about 12 percent of the student population go to CAPS every year and about a third of the population will go to CAPS before they graduate. "A common pattern we see among the students that come through here is that they are taking on too much," he said. "A lot of the stress they have is self-imposed. It comes from perfectionism."

Though academic standards add to stress levels, many students say that the stress comes from assigned academic work. A survey conducted during the fall 2004 semester revealed
that 45 percent of Richmond students think the heavy academic workload caused "very high amounts of stress" for them.

"I think stress is a major issue on campus," said Richmond College sophomore Tyler Morris. "Occasionally I'll have so much to do that I know I'm just not going to have enough time to do it."

Stress comes at various times in the semester and comes in several different forms, students said. "I'm most stressed when there are a lot of papers due at the same time, especially at the beginning of the semester," said Rachaphum Panichsombat, a Richmond College freshman. "I can accept it during finals, but at the beginning of the semester it's really hard to deal with."

Westhampton College junior Emily Smith said: "I think that midterm week is the most stressful time. It's just as busy as finals but you know that you are still only halfway through."
Graduating senior Ashley O'Keefe said: "The times I think are most stressful are when I have life things to do as well as academics. If I have to run a lot of errands or if I have interviews, I start to feel really overwhelmed."

Richmond students experience a whole range of stressors, LeViness said. "When we see students, a lot of times they are dealing with more than one thing," he said. "They are overwhelmed by academics, they are overcommitted with activities and they are dealing with things at home. They are getting hits from all sides and they get overwhelmed."

Not all stress is bad. There are three levels of stress. Not enough stress leads to boredom. Eustress is when a person has enough stress to motivate and to drive toward completing
goals. But distress is when a person has too much stress, and this can lead to exhaustion and other serious medical conditions, according to LeViness.

Sarah Fisher, a nurse at the Richmond health center, said that many of the students that come into the health center were dealing with stress-related illnesses. "It's difficult to document these kinds of things," she said, "but stress seems to tie in with any number of health issues that we deal with on a regular basis at the health center." Headaches, nausea, diarrhea, and, in extreme cases, pulmonary problems can all be linked with stress, Fisher said.

Insomnia is a common reaction to stress among Richmond students, Fisher said. "A lot of students that come through here with stress-related issues are having difficulty sleeping."

Students often sacrifice sleep during stressful times to catch up with work, but that will only increase stress and lead to exhaustion, said Tracy Cassalia, who is a health educator with the recreation and wellness department at Richmond. "If you are not getting enough sleep, it actually reduces your effectiveness by 50 percent," she said. "And pulling all-nighters are about the worst thing you can do if you are stressed. It takes your body three to seven days to adjust to a new sleep schedule, so you will not feel 100 percent again during that time."

LeViness compared studying while sleep-deprived with studying after a night of drinking. "Nobody would ever think about studying after six or seven beers," he said. "But students will not hesitate to study on four to five hours of sleep. Studies have shown that it is about the same thing."

Long-term, unmanaged stress can lead to behavioral, psychological and medical consequences down the road, LeViness said.

"Students often handle stress by binge drinking on the weekends or form other bad habits," LeViness said.

In the short term, high amounts of stress trigger the same reactions in the body that are used in self-defense, LeViness said. Adrenaline is triggered in the system and released into the bloodstream, but if the adrenaline is not enough to handle the stress, cortisol is then released as a long-term stress-coping mechanism, he said.

"Adrenaline is like a match," he said. "It gets the fire going. Cortisol is like a furnace that keeps burning. The problem is that cortisol, when it is in the bloodstream for prolonged periods, can damage your body."

Cortisol can cause people to gain weight under stressful situations, he said. "Adrenaline releases the fuel," he said. "Cortisol increases hunger so that the fuels can be replenished. That's why people have a tendency to eat high-carb foods and sugars when they are stressed and they put on weight."

Cortisol in the blood can also affect the brain, he said "Your memory will not work as well," he said. "Recent animal studies have shown that cortisol could be linked with brain degradation. It can cause damage to the hippocampus."

It may also explain why so many people get sick during midterms and finals, he said. "Cortisol works away at your immune system and leaves you more susceptible to sicknesses like the cold and flu."

In the long-term, stress, combined with prolonged large amounts of cortisol in the blood, can have serious behavioral and mental consequences. People under stress are prone to heavy smoking, eating disorders and alcohol abuse. Psychologically, stress can lead to sexual dysfunction, anxiety disorders, burnout and depression.

There are also serious medical risks associated with prolonged stress. Stress can cause heart attacks because cortisol has negative effects on the cardiovascular system, LeViness said. Stroke is another possible consequence of unmanaged stress. High blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, tension headaches, ulcerative colitis, skin breakouts, and general aches and pains are all possible consequences of unmanaged stress, he said.

So what are some good ways of managing stress? Students said they had different ways of limiting stress in their lives. "I never work for more than two or three hours at a time, Panichsombat said. "I find other things to do. Going to D-hall and talking with friends are good ways I have of managing stress."

Richmond College freshman Matthew Plotzker said that he used several healthy methods of stress management. "I sleep, talk to my roommate, play videogames," he said. "Sometimes I go to the gym."

Graduating senior Ella Fratantuono said that sports helped her clear her mind and limited her stress. "Definitely athletics help me focus more," she said. "I play ultimate frisbee and that's really effective in relieving stress."

Exercise is one important way that experts say helps manage stress, Cassalia said. "Exercising releases endorphins into the blood," she said. "That is where the €˜natural high' that
people talk about comes from. Really, it relieves stress by getting your mind off of whatever it is that is stressing you out."

LeViness said that working out would not only relieve stress, but it would also increase energy. "Stress triggers the fight-or-flight reaction and all those fuels, the adrenaline and cortisol go into your body," he said. "The problem is that when you are under stress, especially in an academic environment, physical action is very rarely what is required. Exercise allows you to use and burn off all those extra fuels."

O'Keefe said that time management was an important part of relieving stress in her life. "I definitely try to schedule things as opposed to cramming them all in at the last minute," she said.

Experts agree that this is an excellent way to control the impact of high levels of stress. "The problem becomes that people, even if they schedule, will start to over schedule," Cassalia said. "People need to understand that when they make their schedule they need to schedule time for exercise or meditation, or whatever it is that they do to relax."

LeViness said that meditation could also aid in stress relief. "Things like meditation, visualization, deep breathing and muscle relaxation are all very helpful ways of managing stress," he said.

Holly said that students should be aware of the resources on campus. "Its important to realize that there are people here that you can talk to," he said. "The people that you see succeeding here, who are involved in multiple activities, are the ones who are constantly talking with people about their issues and getting help."

Posted in News writing, Spring 2008 | 1 Comment

It’s Skype season and many are flocking to it.

By Elizabeth Hardy

A new trend is developing at the University of Richmond, and it has nothing to do with Seersuckers or sundresses. University of Richmond students are downloading a new video-chat technology, Skype.

Skype is being downloaded by more than just the UR population. At the beginning of August 2005, the Skype counter showed more than 144 million worldwide downloads, according to O'Reilly Media Network, a website about technology trends.

"Skype may not take over the world," O'Reilly Network columnist James Gaskin wrote. "However, Skype makes the world's highest-quality phone connections available for the world's lowest price: free."

More than 25 million registered users were persuaded to join Skype by word of mouth, according to the O'Reilly Network. That is how it is primarily spreading across the University of Richmond campus.

"Skype fans spread the word that Skype was a hip and free method of talking to friends anywhere in the world," Gaskin wrote in his 2005 article "What is Skype?"

So what can Skype do for UR? Students have different opinions.

"I use it to video-chat and play online games with my girlfriend," freshman Brendon Cristobal said.

Cristobal is not the only one. Long-distance couples can put on their wireless headsets and stay connected through Skype anytime they are on their computer. Skype users can play games, instant message and see each other's faces during conversation.

In a survey conducted about Richmond students' Skype usage, one respondent said, "Skype is the closest thing to actually being with the person."

Long-distance relationships are not the only relationships Richmond students can keep up with on Skype. UR was named the "Hottest School for International Studies" by Newsweek in its 2008 issue "25 Hottest Schools in America." Student panelists at the spring Study Abroad Orientation said they appreciated free international calling methods like Skype.

Of 50 randomly selected Richmond students, half said they primarily use Skype to talk to friends who are studying abroad.

"While abroad, I was able to use Skype to keep in touch with my family and friends," one survey participant said. "We used the video feature, so I was able to keep in contact better and it helped me avoid feeling homesick. Also, it is a cheap alternative to using a telephone."

Another respondent felt similarly.

"Without Skype, I don’t think I would have been able to afford calling my family as much as I did," the respondent wrote.

Survey participants also said they used Skype to talk with family members and to friends who go to different schools.

"It allows me to visually communicate with my friends who are at different schools," a participant said.

Junior Yasmin Wazir talked about the benefits of Skype as a college student away from home.

"I used Skype for an interview process," Wazir said. "The night before my interview I made my mom download Skype and she quizzed me with medical questions for two hours. It was extremely beneficial. She actually yelled at me for twirling my hair and not having good posture. It was a lot more beneficial for my mom to €˜interview' me over Skype from West Virginia than over the phone."

The wide-ranging uses of Skype prompted bloggers and journalists to explain the Skype "phenomenon."

"Why do we Skype?" journalist Phil Wolff asked on "Off the cuff: freedom from cost, privacy from government and employers, multiple modes of communication in one conversation, and presence for avoided voicemail."

But not everyone joined Skype. It poses risks to your computer, some students said. "Skype is a joke," freshman Jesse Goss said, "It screwed up my computer and made it go so slow."

The Australian National University explained this issue in greater depth on the Information Services' "Pros and Cons of Skype" page. It listed Skype as a target for hackers and susceptible to viruses, malware and the rapid spread of malicious files. Skype bypasses network security and firewalls, which worries security experts.

The quality of Skype's video-chat software also concerned students. Senior Nicole Huetter relied on Skype's video chat to maintain her relationship with her Australian boyfriend.

"I used Skype a ton when it came out," Huetter said. "It was a pain to call Australia, though. The calls to Australia always had delayed responses."

Another senior, Diana Gallagher, agreed.

"I used it to maintain a long-distance relationship with a guy in Canada and then in Scotland," Gallagher said. "In Canada it was fine, but in Scotland the service was really bad, so it would end the call or be staticky. I could hardly hear him."

Skype continues to address these concerns, but students said that it was not always as successful at addressing its competition. Some students preferred AOL Instant Messenger, MSN or Mac's video-chat software.

"Skype's video quality is darker than and not as good as MSN," Huetter said. "Skype's calls are often dropped."

Sophomore Ally Watkins tried Skype but reverted back to Mac's video-chat.

"My boyfriend has a Mac and so do I," Watkins said. "So we use that video-chat program."

Sophomore Jacquelyn DeWolfe stayed loyal to another competitor, AOL Instant Messenger.

"I've used Skype to talk to people who have it," DeWolfe said. "But I don't make the calls, I only receive them. I haven't gotten into it yet, not like AIM."

Students preferred AIM over other forms of online communication, according to the student survey. More than 60 percent responded that AIM was their favorite form of online chat, with one person listing Skype as a first choice.

Nevertheless, self-proclaimed "Skype fanatics" like Gaskin trust in its value and its future.

"Dig a little deeper into what else Skype offers now and plans to roll out soon," Gaskin wrote. "You realize Skype is the most advanced voice communications tool available today. […] Many companies are hitching their products to the global Skype bandwagon."

UR students who follow the Skype trend agreed.

"Sometimes it is the best option when face-to-face contact is not available," a Richmond survey respondent said.

Posted in News writing, Spring 2008 | Comments Off on It’s Skype season and many are flocking to it.

CAB plans big concert in Spring of 2009

By Lochrane Smith

The University of Richmond's Campus Activities Board is planning a big spring of 2009 concert with a headline-name band because CAB received increased funding from the Board of Trustees, sophomore Josh Huffines, vice president of finance, said at the end of the spring semester.

CAB's budget will increase from $75,000 to $90,000 because the Student Organizations, Budget and Appropriations Committee, SOBAC, received additional funding from the Board of Trustees for student events, and its members allocated an extra $15,000 to CAB, Huffines said. CAB members hope to have a big spring of 2009 concert with a group that will attract a large crowd, and members are considering Lupe Fiasco, Guster and the Ying Yang Twins as potential entertainers, he said.

"The increase in budget helps, but we're still quite a ways off," Huffines said. CAB spent only $69,000 of its $75,000 budget this year, which is good for CAB because the group benefits from rolling funds over each year to cover costs, Huffines said.

CAB members have discussed a joint concert with a rock band like Virginia Coalition opening for a rap group at a big spring concert, sophomore Natalia Sanders, special events coordinator, said. A joint concert would cost around $90,000, she estimated. To promote a big concert, CAB would call radio stations and pay for newspaper ads, freshman Jen Le, publicity chairwoman, said.

CAB's biggest problems in recent years include insufficient funding and facilities that are either too big or too small for an event, such as a concert, a comedy show or another entertainer, CAB advisers Max Vest and John O'Donnell said.

The University of Richmond does not match up with a number of comparable institutions in regards to funding, Vest said. Senior Maggie Lubbers researched student funding at other institutions and found that Davidson College has $250,400 reserved for student funding, Colby College has $230,000, Rhodes has $194,000 and Wake Forest University has $200,000. Of these institutions, Davidson, Colby and Rhodes have no more than 2,000 undergraduate students and Wake Forest has just over 4,000 students, she said.

CAB has a budget of $75,000 for the year, and it replaces money lost in previous years' events by charging admissions, though the admissions typically make no more than $5,000 a year, Vest said. Last year Matt Nathanson's concert, for which students paid $7 per ticket, sold out, but Robert Randolph and the Family Band, which cost $20 per ticket, lost $20,000, Huffines  said.

CAB's biggest limitations include having a facility and a time for an event, Vest said. Because the university plans to renovate the floor of the Robins Center in the fall of 2008, CAB will not have that space available for a large-scale concert or event, he said. In the past, CAB has used the Robins Center for large concerts, such as Robert Randolph and the Family Band in the fall of 2007, Vest said. In previous years, CAB has brought to campus Yellowcard, Guster, Ben Folds and Maroon 5, he said.
"It's college.  People expect a big concert with a headline name," junior Mary Colleary, CAB president, said. "People don't take CAB seriously because of our lack of ability to bring that big concert."

On average, concerts lose $30,000 per show, Vest said. Kenny Loggins, Dave Mason, George Clinton and Ben Folds did, however, make money for CAB, he said.

Folds, whose concert profited CAB, attracted a 75 percent non-UR crowd, as evidence that CAB concerts need the support of the Richmond community because usually around 1,000 students attend, Vest said. CAB needs about 3,500 people in the audience to break even, he said.

Many students who have attended CAB-sponsored concerts in the past have enjoyed themselves. Sophomore Liza Billington attended the Matt Nathanson concert in the spring of 2007 because she had listened to his music before she heard he was coming to campus. "The venue [Modlin] wasn't that big, but it was packed," she said. "Half the people had heard of him, and those who liked him just spread the good word."

Freshman Amelia Vogler attended the Robert Randolph and the Family Band concert in the fall of 2007 and said, "It was a good concert, and it seemed like a lot of people were there, but apparently they didn’t sell as many tickets as they would have liked to have sold€¦ maybe because it was on a Thursday night, and the fact that Robert Randolph is usually an opening act for bigger bands, not just a solo act."

Robert Randolph and the Family Band invited audience members on stage during one part of the show, sophomore Hillary White said.

"The Robins Center is not really equipped for a show," Vest said. The university needs to rent generators, a stage, lights, sound and security and to promote the event by advertising in roughly six or seven student newspapers, he said. "You need to hire it out because students have classes," he said.

CAB members attribute poor attendance to not enough students recognizing the artists, different tastes in music and the wrong timing in conjunction with other activities, Vest said. "The availability of the Robins Center is the big factor as they are limited one to three dates a year," he said. "Lining up the date and talent is the prime challenge." Concerts have been poorly attended in the past because students have other obligations during the week, and with limited funding CAB cannot attract an expensive headline group to appeal to all students, Vest said.

Because Camp Concert Hall holds 600 and the Robins Center holds 5,000, CAB struggles to juggle the two options, Colleary said. The Greek Theater seats roughly 1,200, but CAB needs a back-up facility in case of rain when planning events there, she said.

O'Donnell said, "In my opinion, we shouldn't be doing major concerts here." O'Donnell tends to have a pessimistic attitude toward CAB, Colleary said.

CAB puts 75 percent of its budget on the line when it sponsors large-scale events, such as concerts, O'Donnell said. To break even or pay off debt from a poorly attended concert, CAB will hold off on other events, he said.

"We get around 900 to 1,000 students and need to attract 2,000 plus non-students to break even," Vest said. "The cost of a large concert is $100,000 plus, and CAB can only loose so much money."

Few small private schools can afford to hold events on a regular basis, Vest said. Although it is not a small private school like Richmond, "VCU virtually does nothing," he said.

CAB has looked into other alternatives for concerts, and next year it hopes to better promote Toad's Place in Shockoe Bottom in downtown Richmond, a venue for concerts that holds roughly 1,700 people, Vest said.

In addition to concerts, CAB plans movies every week in the commons, the student organization fair, orientation events and comedians, and it donates money to other organizations, such as Alpha Phi Omega, the university's service fraternity, Vest said. CAB usually puts on 30 events throughout the year, he said.

During orientation, hypnotist Tom DeLuca consistently attracts from 1,200 to 1,500 students, just as comedic magician Craig Karges has a large turnout of roughly 500 during family weekend, O'Donnell said. The Cellar also does between 25 or 50 events per year with grants up to $100, he said.

The comedian Zach Galifianakis did well, as did Stephen Lynch, Vest said. Comedians from Comedy Central or comedians whom students recognize from other television shows usually attract large crowds, he said.

Steve Starr the Regurgitator comedian attracted so many people that some had to stand in the back, Colleary said. Comedians have been sold out for the past three years, she said.

Next year CAB members plan to capitalize on Fall Festival, which will have a fair atmosphere on the Westhampton green during the day, and a band will cap off the night, Vest said. Student groups can perform to keep costs at a minimum, he said.

Student groups can sponsor different events, however big or small the groups would want, Colleary said. "It's a work in progress right now," she said.

CAB members are more seriously looking into a big concert in the Greek theater, for which CAB would need a back-up location other than the Robins Center, Colleary said. CAB could work around a smaller-named band because of the expected cost and turnout size, she said.

Sanders planned Taste of Richmond, and she will plan the fall fashion show and a cookout on the James River. CAB members are even looking into bringing in a portable ice-skating rink, she said.

CAB members are also planning a trip around Richmond for freshmen to museums and different venues downtown, which is scheduled for Sept. 27, in addition to a trip to Washington, D.C., in October or November and a trip to the outlet malls in Williamsburg, freshman Colby Sheffer, the trips and travel planner, said. "As a freshman, I didn't have that experience of getting outside the UR bubble," she said.

Commenting on the funding required to maintain so many student organizations, Vest said, "We need to do a little bit better job to work the groups together." Nevertheless, groups like individuality and working separately as long as there is money for them, he said.

As the president of CAB, Colleary meets with members of the executive board for one hour weekly in addition to constant email correspondence, she said. "As president, my foremost goal is to bring what the students want," she said.

Posted in Arts, News writing, Spring 2008 | Comments Off on CAB plans big concert in Spring of 2009