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Today's word on journalism

May 8, 2009

The Last WORD


The Fat Lady Sings, Off-Key, Drools

At about this time every year, like the swallows to Capistrano or the buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio, the WORD migrates to its summer musing grounds at the sanitarium —St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose.

The reason is clear, and never moreso than as this season —the WORD's 13th —peters out.

It's been a fraught year of high palaver and eye-popping transition, both good and not-so-much. An interminable presidential campaign saga finally did end, and in extraordinary and historic fashion. Meanwhile, the bottom and everything that's below the bottom fell out of the economy, with families, homes, entire industries and —of particular interest to WORDsters and the civic-minded —dozens of daily newspapers ("I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying--it's watching them commit suicide that pisses me off." --Molly Ivins). . . all evaporating. What replaces them, from the individual to the institutional to the societal? Are we looking at a future of in-depth Tweeting?

As any newsperson or firehorse knows, it's hard to turn your back on day-to-day catastrophe --we just have to look at the car wreck. But even the most deranged and driven need a rest. As philosopher Lilly Tomlin once observed, "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."

So this morning, as a near-frost hovered over northern Utah, the unmarked van pulled into the driveway and the gentle, soft-spoken men in the white coats rolled the WORD out of bed and into a straitjacket for the usual summer trip to St. Mumbles, where the blathering one will be assigned a hammock and fed soothing, healthy foods --like tapioca, dog biscuits and salmon --while recharging the essential muscles of cynicism, outrage, sarcasm, social engagement and high-mindedness, in preparation for the next edition.
Summer well, friends.

Speak up! Comment on the WORD at

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Feedback and suggestions--printable and otherwise--always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

Women's Center giving hope and opportunity for students taking difficult road to college

By Lisa Christensen

April 25, 2009 | In 2005, Jenny Erazo decided she'd had enough.

Taking her three children and little else, she left Oregon and her abusive husband to move to Utah, where she had an aunt. She thought she would be able to get a good job to support the four of them because she had worked for seven years in her field, working with people with disabilities. However, because she had no college degree, she said she was unable to make anything above minimum wage. She had no job, no income, no savings.

Erazo realized she had to go back to school, and her aunt suggested applying for a scholarship through the Utah State University Women's Center.

"I would not have made it (back to school) without the support from the Women's Center," Erazo said.

Erazo is not alone in her story, her circumstances or, fortunately, the opportunity she has had as a single mother to go back and finish her education. According to 2008 scholarship application information from the Women's Center, the average age of the 143 applicants was 33.3 years and had an average of 2.41 children. Some are single because of divorce or death, and a few have never been married. But whatever the reason, single mothers have a very different college experience than the typical student.

"When you're paying for it on your own and spending time away from your kids, it makes school very different," said Patricia Stevens, director of the Women's Center.

Theresa Handy, another student who has been helped through the Women's Center, said she found it amazing how much different school was after her divorce than before she was married.

"It's a really big change to think about going back to school again," she said.

Stevens said the university doesn't keep statistics on how many of its students are single mothers or fathers, but she estimates 12 to 15 percent being "non-traditional students," students who have a five-year or more gap in their formal education. Around 40 percent of these non-traditional students are single parents, she said, most of these being single mothers but a few single fathers are also among the number the center helps. Most are divorced, Stevens said, many of them from situations involving domestic violence, which is a big problem in Utah.

According to the 2006 report released by No More Secrets, nomoresecrets.utah.gov, domestic violence has been steadily rising this decade, with nearly 165,000 volunteer hours, or the equivalent of more than 20,500 work days, given between July 1, 2004, and June 30, 2005, at 15 Utah shelters. Of these, almost 30,000 days of service were given to women, more than 35,000 to children and 613 to men, it states. Stevens said Utah's domestic violence problem is worse perhaps than in other places because of other factors unique to Utah, chief among them the strong emphasis on families and children.

"You couple (Utah's domestic violence problem) with that Utah has the highest birth rate," Stevens said, "and the statistics are against you."

Children frequently make it harder for a mother to leave a domestic violence situation because trying to survive on her own without the help of a partner is a daunting prospect. Especially when going to school, Stevens said, a single mother has to learn skills that other parents and more traditional students don't have to worry about as much.

Handy is currently pursuing a master's degree in hopes of becoming a school counselor, having already graduated with her bachelor's in math education in 1990 from BYU. She did well in school being in the top percentage of her graduating class and was even invited to speak at graduation. She taught junior high and high school math for eight years before getting married, when she quit to become a stay-at-home mom. The pair welcomed a daughter in 2000. Unfortunately, Handy said, the marriage was rocky from the beginning. She felt lonely, rejected, put down and unloved, and they divorced a little more than six years after the wedding. Even though she had a degree, Handy was unable to get a good job because she had let her teaching license lapse, not thinking she'd need it again. Furthermore, she said, the world was a little different since the last time she taught.

"You know, things had changed since 1998," she said, noting the explosion of computer technology, especially in the classroom.

She knew she needed more education but was not emotionally ready immediately following the divorce to go back to school. In 2005 she first went to the Women's Center and said they were very encouraging about helping her get back to school. Handy still wasn't quite ready, but said she continued to consider the idea and in the meantime became involved with the Women's Center's monthly workshops.

The Women's Center holds monthly workshops which are open to the public but directed at single parents and non-traditional students. Topics addressed at these workshops include stress management, depression, financial advice and body image. Additionally, Stevens said, the Women's Center makes sure to focus on three issues single parents need in particular: money, child care and time management. Each of these issues carries under with it several other issues, Stevens said. Money, for example, she said, involves consideration to money for rent and other necessities, as well as tuition money and money to pay child care providers.

Child care is another consideration in itself, Stevens said, because besides trying to figure out how to pay for it, single parents might not know where to find it, and then they have to work around the hours of that daycare. To help alleviate this problem, Stevens said, the Brigham City USU campus has an on-site daycare for students while they are in class called Students With Children. Children are cared for but not fed or changed, Stevens said, because that would require a higher level of child-care license, and are only allowed to be in the center when a mother or other caregiver is in the building. Mothers are alerted via pagers and through the use of cameras when their child needs changing or feeding. This model works at the Brigham City campus, Stevens said, because the entire campus is one building; however, with the Logan campus' multi-building structure, many of which are far distances apart, it is not a practical idea for the main USU campus.

In part through the topics presented at these workshops and from the social bonds she built at them, Handy said, along with more consideration and healing, she decided to go back to school in summer 2006. She was accepted into the Professional School Counseling Education program in fall 2007 and is scheduled to graduate in May 2010.

"(Going back to school) became very empowering," Handy said, citing networking, friendships and opportunities to volunteer as side benefits of returning to college. She brings her daughter, now 8, to volunteer activities to help teach her to serve and take care of others.

The encouragement of the people in the Women's Center was what made the biggest difference in her decision to return to school, Handy said.

"Those little things you know someone's being your little cheerleader that gives you a boost," she said. "It's not easy being a single parent going to school."

Stevens said personal relationships with the students through the Women's Center is one of the most important things they do. Students have almost always come from difficult circumstances and sometimes a lot of healing is necessary.

"We do a lot of talking," she said

Erazo agreed and said the financial support from the Women's Center has only been the start of the help she's received.

"Monetary support is great," Erazo said, "but the emotional support makes the difference."

Now a junior in social work set to graduate in May 2010, Erazo said she wants to help others who have been the victims of domestic violence by trying to reform laws and policies to keep people from falling through the cracks or becoming prey to loopholes. Custody rights and procedures, for example, need reforming, she said. Even though her ex-husband was emotionally and physically abusive to her and her children and abandoned them financially and emotionally after she left, she said, he still technically has custody of them.

"If he were to show up tomorrow he would have full rights to my kids, and to me that's just not fair," Erazo said.

She said she feels so strongly about helping others because of her own experiences.

"I can either be upset about the way my life has gone or I can use my experiences to make changes to (the system)," she said. "(My experience) has helped me to be more understanding, not so judgmental."

Stevens said mothers will often tell her their ability to finish their education has not only helped them but benefitted their children, as well. This is because numerous studies have found the education level of a child is directly affected by the education level attained by the mother, she said. Mothers are seeing that education is the way out of their situation, their current status, Stevens said, and she is glad to help in any way to help them get the most out of their education. The valley is full of generous donors who help fund the scholarships and even opportunities for study abroad or internship programs, she said.

"There's a lot of support in the valley," Stevens said, "an incredible amount."

The recent economic downturn hasn't made a significant dent on the funding from the donors because they also feel strongly about this program and helping the women in it, Stevens said.

"They're amazing, strong, intelligent women and they are incredibly grateful for any help we can give them," she said.

Stevens said each of them are individuals and have their own story to tell. Handy said she is often amazed at what some women have had to go through, but no matter the perceived difficulty, each story is a very personal thing.

"Everybody's got their own story, but that's my story, so it is a big deal to me," she said. "This is me, this is my life."

Erazo said her story has caused her to now have a really positive outlook on the world and she appreciates her current life and is grateful she got out of her previous situation.

"My very worst day today is better than my best day when I was in that (abusive situation)," she said.

For more information on the Women's Center, go to www.usu.edu/womencenter/ or email womenscenter@usu.edu.

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