College students are frequently told it’s their responsibility to independently gather and discuss hard-hitting issues in the news.
Yet sometimes, junior Tatiana Sy said, media are flawed when it comes to providing spotlight coverage on the crucial news that students should be discussing. “Food For Thought,” a group Sy helped organize, intends to fill that gap for students at Ithaca College, she said.
“It’s more focused on what’s really news [and] separating it from your average human interest story about things that ultimately don’t really matter,” Sy said. “Instead of focusing on NBC’s clip of Britney Spears’ custody battles, [the group] focus[es] on the clips of the blood in Africa.”
Every Thursday since Nov. 4, nearly 40 students have spent their lunch hour watching selected news stories in Textor Hall. Sy, the vice president of communications for the Student Government Association, meets each week with sophomore Billie Dawn Greenblatt from Students for Economic Equality, sophomore Mike Amadeo of Generation Rising, junior Taylor Desir from the African-Latino Society and senior Alison Bliss of IC Feminists, to select the stories and the free-lunch menu they provide for their audience.
“It’s not a huge time commitment,” Sy said. “I just have to depend on the groups to send me their articles and links.”
Sy realized the need for such a forum in September when she attended a screening hosted by the Center for Culture, Race and Ethnicity of a video on the Jena 6 controversy. The video covered the group of six black teenagers who were charged with the beating of Justin Barker, a white teenager from Jena, La., last December.
“A student came up to me after and said, ‘I know who sold more albums — Kanye or 50 — but why don’t I know about Megan Williams?’” Sy said.
At the first Food For Thought forum Nov. 1, text and video from ABCNews.com told the story of Megan Williams’ rape and kidnapping in West Virginia in September, followed by an audio broadcast of the National Public Radio’s analysis of latest updates on the Jena 6 controversy. The forum culminated in a short video, filmed by a member of Generation Rising, of the testimonies of Ithaca High School students in front of the Ithaca City School District Board of Education in October.
At the second meeting, clips from NPR and NBC illustrated the ongoing congressional battles surrounding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP bill. Afterwards, Stewart Auyash, associate professor of Health Promotion and Physical Education, helped lead a discussion on health care policy.
Sy said she is certain Food For Thought will grow in popularity in the weeks to come. Upcoming meetings will feature stories and background information on the political chaos in Pakistan, followed by a meeting dedicated to the key candidates running in the 2008 presidential election.
After a selected story, taken from sources like ABC, NPR and Democracy Now, is presented to the audience on Textor Hall’s projection screen, students attending are given time to discuss. Greenblatt, who moderates the discussions, said that anyone is welcome to attend the one-hour meeting where she and other students discuss the news stories and issues they hope to screen at that week’s Food For Thought.
“It’s such a simple setup,” Sy said. “It’s free lunch and watching the news. [Students] always seem to be really excited about it anytime we mention it. I think it’ll catch on and become a tradition even after we graduate.”
Greenblatt said the need for a good visual component has led her to search for a story she first reads on a source like Al Jazeera on more mainstream sites like ABC.
“We find a lot of these stories on alternative news sources, but we want it to be visual for the nature of what we’re doing,” Greenblatt said.
For Greenblatt, the main motivation is to keep students actively involved in current events.
“Complacency is the most dangerous thing that is happening within our generation today,” Greenblatt said. “I want [students] to leave [Food For Thought] and read more news, or get really pissed off and join a club, or start a movement.”
Students have responded thoughtfully to the presentations during the meetings thus far, and many are glad to contribute to the conversation, Greenblatt said.
Junior Louis Caligiuri, an executive board member of prism, said he attends the Thursday meetings with his own social causes in mind. He said he is particularly interested in the racial issues in the Ithaca City School District.
“I’m interested in any type of human rights issues,” Caligiuri said. “I care a lot about these matters, and this [particular] issue means a lot to me.”
Because representatives from so many different student groups participate, stories cover issues ranging from health and poverty to race and inequality, as well as other social concerns.
Andrea Levine, a member of Students for a Just Peace, said she is glad to take part in an event that gives light to substantive news stories.
“It’s just important that they can provide accurate information altogether,” Levine said. “The problem lies in that people have no way of knowing about the real, painful things going on in this country.”
Food For Thought plans to meet every Thursday in Textor 102 from 12:10 to 1:05p.m.