You don’t live in the best country in the world: Lessons learned about nationalism in Berlin

East Side Gallery, where artists painted murals on remaining parts of the Berlin Wall

This might be a tough pill to swallow, but here it is: You don’t live in the best country in the world.

My semester abroad has taken me some exciting places, but I’ve never been more moved than my solo trip to Berlin this weekend. The city itself was incredible: it has an awesome art scene and lots of energy and young people. Looming over Berlin, however, is its dark history. Berlin chronicles the worst and most vile side of humanity: it’s where Hitler rose to power, grasped and held onto control of its citizens through terror and orchestrated the mass extermination of an entire race.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp just outside Berlin

The Berliners are well aware that they live on the ground Hitler terrorized Germans on. Unlike the rest of the world, however, I noticed that they talk about their country’s horrifying past. They don’t try to sweep it under the rug. They want to learn from it. My biggest takeaway from my time in Berlin:

Nationalism is dangerous.

I’ve been aware of the dangers of nationalism for some time now, especially in an era where politicians seem to be thriving on riling up its people with this idea: for example, Donald Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again”, Brexit, Marine Le Pen’s campaign in France, etcetera. Never, until this weekend, have I thought much about how far it can go past mere ignorance.

Let me take a moment here to make the distinction between nationalism and patriotism. I love my country. I miss the United States dearly, and I can’t wait to return in a month. I am patriotic. Just because I love something, however, does not mean I find it without flaws. It does not mean I think it is the best country in the world. It also does not mean I think I am better than anyone else because I am an American.

This does not just apply to the United States. I took a tour of the important historic sites of Berlin, as well as a tour of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp just outside Berlin. On both tours, the tour guides noted an important mindset of the Germans. Whereas many countries and their politicians condition its citizens to believe that they live in the best country in the world and that no other country measures up, Germans are not so overtly nationalistic. Why? Because they’ve seen the dangers of nationalism firsthand and how far it can go.

Hitler manipulated a overwhelming mass of people by exploiting the struggles of the country. World War I left Germany devastated. The Treaty of Versailles had the people feeling humiliated. Throw in the financial crisis of the 1930s and many people starving to death, and you’ve got the perfect setting for an authoritarian leader to take charge. It’s easy for someone with a strong demeanor to come to power when he’s promising to restore the country to its previous glory.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp just outside Berlin

The Nazis did a lot of terrible things. Other nations, however, are not the totally blameless saviors they often paint themselves to be. In fact, Germany modeled its anti-semitic Nuremberg laws on the United States’ racist Jim Crow laws, which were in still in place decades after the fall of the Nazis.

That’s not the only inspiration the Germans gathered from the United States. In their letters home, many German soldiers used Manifest Destiny (the westward expansion of America at any cost, often displacing and murdering Native people) as justification for conquering Eastern Europe.

A portion of the Berlin Wall standing outside the Topography of Terrors, a museum about Hitler’s rise/stronghold of power through political terror

I’m not insinuating in any way, shape or form that the United States or anyone other than the villainous Nazis are to blame for the Holocaust. I’m just pointing out how twisted our own history is. We, among many other colonizing nations, kidnapped countless Africans, displaced them from their home and forced them into slave labor for centuries. We massacred Native people because we felt like we had a right to their land. We inserted ourselves into conflicts like the Vietnam War and killed innocent women and children. We had — and still have — major institutionalized racism.

Every nation has skeletons in their closet. They each still have their own struggles, corruption and social issues. The difference, however, is that many modern nations pretend that history never happened and does not still affect the way the country is conducted and the people within the nation.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp — “Work brings freedom”

(On a quick side note, I would also like to note the difference between remembering and memorializing. Just because the Germans remember doesn’t mean they memorialize. The site above Hitler’s bunker where he committed suicide is now a simple parking lot with a small plaque noting what it was. That plaque was not even placed there by the government, and the government has long since destroyed any entrances and exits to the bunker. They did not want to attract the wrong kinds of people to the site. After the Charlottesville incident, many Americans rushed to the defense of keeping up Confederate soldier statues, saying they were “remembering” the events of the past. No. Those sites memorialize and glorify a dark era of racism and slavery.)

I’m not trying to be completely doom and gloom. Every nation also has its positives. Think of any profession or field, and there’s a famous German that contributed to its growth. Science? Einstein. Music? Beethoven. In every history of journalism class I’ve ever taken, my professors contributed the birth of the modern newspaper to Gutenberg’s printing press. Every nation has so much to be proud of, but one country’s accomplishments or downfalls does not make the people who live there any better or worse than another country.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin

It’s important to not wear blinders. Be educated. Read books. Watch documentaries. For the sake of my journalism-driven heart, read the news. Know what has happened in the world and what is still happening. Don’t get wrapped up in thinking you’re any better than other people just because of your address.

I will end on this note. I spent a significant amount of time walking around and reflecting at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It is composed of 2,711 concrete slabs of various heights. Whenever architect Peter Eisenman is asked about what it means, he always replies that it is up to the viewer’s interpretation. My interpretation is that if you look at all the slabs, they are all slightly different, but are fundamentally similar. To me, that represents that even though we are all different and come from different backgrounds, we are all fundamentally the same: we are all humans.

As we conduct our day-to-day lives, keep that in mind. We are all fundamentally the same.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin

CPS got a new therapy dog this semester, and he’s adorable

Dug is a 2-year-old golden retriever who is the newest addition to CPS. He is handled and trained by Rinda Scoggan. (Photo by Abbey Marshall)

Ohio University Counseling and Psychological Services hired another furry friend this semester.

Dug, named after the talking golden retriever in Disney/Pixar’s Up, began seeing clients this academic year after the semi-retirement of Buddy, a 10-year-old standard poodle.

Rinda Scoggan, a senior counselor who trained both Dug and Buddy, said though Dug is only 2 years old and is new to the office, he is making significant progress as a therapy dog.

“Coming here, he wasn’t so sure about the size of the building,” she said. “But now he comes in, and he’s good about coming into the elevator now. He didn’t ride an elevator for the first time until the summer.”

She described him as being a “little shy” because he was raised by Scoggan’s son in the country and wasn’t used to being around so many people.

“Dug is slowly evolving,” she said. “He’s still a 2-year-old.”

Dug visits CPS offices on the third floor of Hudson Health Center every Monday.

“It’s helpful because some students have a dog back home, and they miss it,” Scoggan said.
“It just makes their day. They do form bonds that they love to pet him, and he’s so excited to see them. … He cares about them.”

Dug began visiting the offices in lieu of Buddy, who began experiencing arthritis associated with age. Scoggan tried giving him medicines to combat his ailments, but it just made him sick.

“I noticed at that time he had started limping last year,” she said. “I wanted him to be able to relax his body and his bones.”

Buddy’s much-needed break proved beneficial, and Scoggan noticed a renewed pep in his step.

“He’s much better,” she said. “I just think he needed to take a break. As long as he is able and as long as he wants to, I’m willing for him to come in once a month.”

Since Scoggan now has two dogs trained to help students, she said she is toying with the idea of having them come in more than one day a week.

“He really only sees the students who come in on Monday,” she said. “Some people schedule specifically on Mondays to just see him.”

Scoggan said as long as Buddy does not face any more medical problems, she would like to continue switching the two out.

“Sometimes dogs that do therapy can get a little depressed themselves,” she said. “The trainer recommended definitely switching out the dog.”

The therapy sessions are not only beneficial for the students, but also for the canines.

“A few years ago, when my kids all moved out, it was just Buddy and I,” she said. “Buddy started becoming depressed being in the house all the time. … It really helped him. He’s one that really needs to be petted, be loved on. Being in the house all day was not good for him. I just could tell there was a major difference.”

Other programs on campus exist to connect students to dogs, such as Bobcats of the Shelter Dogs which allows students to volunteer at the local dog shelter. Alden Library also hosts therapy dog visits near and during final week. Alden is hosting therapy dog events during finals week, and Dug from CPS will be the featured pup at one of the events.

Mia Chapman, a senior studying biological sciences pre-medicine, has been training a service dog named Clary since August through the OU branch program of 4 Paws for Ability. She said having dogs on college campuses is beneficial for not only students, but also all people who interact with the animals.

“As a student, it always brightens my day to see a dog because it’s a great stress relief and break from my daily activities,” she said. “Fostering a service dog has helped me realize the value that service dogs have to offer people with disabilities. These dogs are highly trained and help those who need them feel more comfortable out in public, as the dogs can help them physically and emotionally.”


Originally published for The Post on November 29, 2017.

WashPo was handed a false sexual assault case — and they didn’t bite

Photo via Huffington Post

Out of 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free.

Why? The glaringly obvious reason reported by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network is that only 310 out of those 1,000 will report it. The reason is fear. Fear of what might happen to them, what people will think and most importantly, if they’ll be believed.

That’s why when something like this happens, I’m enraged. It delegitimizes the stories of men and women who have actually suffered a traumatic experience and will be told that they’re lying or exaggerating because of what happens only 2 to 8 percent of the time (which — in and of itself is a misleading statistic).

We’ve seen report after report of men with power in Hollywood and D.C. being  unveiled for the horrific monsters they are. It has been appalling but refreshing for all women watching from the sidelines.

Finallywe are cheering. This isn’t a new thing. Sexual harassment, assault and rape is are taboo topics women have been dealing with since the dawn of humanity, but oftentimes, men are so quick to turn a blind eye, stating that it rarely happens or it’s just “boys being boys.” Now no one can’t ignore  it.

Rule of thumb: if someone comes and reports a case of sexual assault to you, you believe them. The difference is, once your career and other people’s lives depend on that story, it needs to be validated. It’s a matter of ethics.

As a journalist and a feminist, I struggle. I want to believe every woman, but every case needs to be substantiated when being presented to the general public, especially considering someone’s career and life could be destroyed.

Journalists have fallen short in this arena before. I’m sure many remember the Rolling Stone article exposing rape on college campuses where a student completely fabricated an entire story of being sexually assaulted. The slip up cost Rolling Stone tons in legal fees, $1.65 million to the fraternity in question and most importantly, their credibility to readers.

So in comes a woman with a dramatic story alleging Republican congressional candidate Roy Moore of impregnating her as a teenager. It’s without a doubt tantalizing story for The Washington Post, but also incredibly dangerous. The reporter spent two weeks conducting a series of interviews about the alleged assault that caused her to get an abortion at age 15.

Fortunately, The Post did not publish an article with the unsubstantiated story. The reporter confronted the woman about her inconsistencies and questioned her motives once reporters saw her entering Project Veritas, a New York based organization that targets mainstream media and left-leaning groups. The organization’s goal is to conduct “stings” by using false stories to expose what the group calls “media bias.”

Leaders of Project Veritas have declined to comment on the woman, but the evidence leads The Post to believe they were being deceived. Although The Post has a policy stating they will not publish off-the-record comments entered in good faith, reporters did so anyway under the argument that Project Veritas wouldn’t exposed the conversations anyway, had The Post fallen for the trap, Executive Editor Martin Baron said.

I applaud The Washington Post for their impeccable and thorough (as usual) reporting. Having read through their expansive ethics policy, I am assured of the integrity of their reporters. The Post has proven that fair, unbiased news organizations exist, despite constant criticism from skeptics of good journalism.

What leaves me reeling is how this one instance of fabrication affects the narrative of sexual assault victims. The lying tipster approached The Post almost immediately following an article published about Roy Moore’s sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32. Some people immediately rushed to his defense, even though the story had been backed with pretty significant evidence. If people didn’t believe her — among countless other women  — before, what about now? The baffling part is how this woman could be so against her own agenda as a woman. Females everywhere have experienced some form of harassment or assault, and bringing these true and numerous cases to light is important step in breaking down the system and restructuring it in an equal and fair way.

The conclusion I keep coming to is there will always be evil people with cruel intentions, whether than is a twisted adult assaulting an underage girl, a man in power abusing his position for his own sexual gain or a woman lying about something so horrid for her political or personal agenda (although some of those instances far outweigh the others in frequency)

The best we can do as individuals is hold the men in our lives accountable, educate others who we justify as “always having been that way” or are “ill-informed,” and believe women who have the bravery to come forward about their horrible experience, removing all judgement and stigmas attached.

As journalists, we must be thorough in our investigations, accurate in our facts and unbiased in our reporting. Publications like The Washington Post make me proud to do what I do.

What to say when your family asks, ‘How’s OU?’ at Thanksgiving

College Green on Aug. 18, 2016 (Photo by Patrick Connolly)

When your extended family gathers around the table on Thursday to eat food and chat, the inevitable, “How’s college?” question will arise. Here are some talking points about Ohio University to bring up at the dinner table.

1. This was Pumpkin’s month.

No, it’s not because it’s Thanksgiving and we’re about to eat pumpkin pie. It’s because Pumpkin the cat, everyone’s favorite part of walking past the Board of Elections window on Court Street, finally got the love and attention he deserved during election season. He was more than just a spectacle to be looked at through the BOE window: he was an active participant in the demo-cat-ic process.

2. We have the most romantic (and famous) professors around.

I’m sure we all recall the heartwarming story that captured national attention about our very own assistant professor Dan West. After a student in his Introduction to Human Communications class posted this tweet, his story went viral and he garnered attention from national media, including Buzzfeed.

Today somebody asked my professor how he knew he wanted to marry his wife & he said, “I took her to the grocery store to get ice cream & while she was picking out a flavor, I realized she was who I wanted to grocery shop w for the rest of my life..”😭

3. Athenians can now smoke weed without penalties (well, sort of). 

On Election Day, 2,000 Athenians cast a vote to penalize misdemeanor marijuana charges within city limits. The Athens Cannabis Ordinance voids fines for those misdemeanor charges to decrease the incentive for officers to enforce marijuana laws. But before your mom freaks out — the new ordinance doesn’t apply to citations on OU’s campus.

4. We take care of our Athens pets.

Black Sheep hosted “Tuck the squirrels of College Green in and read them bedtime stories” on Oct. 23. The Facebook event had more than 100 people interested in giving back to the squirrels who have “a hard life.”

5. Speaking of furry friends, Tumbles, the two-legged pup is now two years old.

Tumbles, the local two-legged dog that captured national attention a few years ago, just turned two in September. He no longer uses the 3-D printed wheels the OU Innovation Center printed for him; rather he opts to hop around on his stomach or walk on his hind legs.

6. The infamous “Cocaine Plane” pilot was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Remember when authorities discovered more than 300 pounds of cocaine on a plane that unexpectedly landed in Athens earlier this spring? The verdict’s out, and the Canadian man who landed the plane was sentenced to serve eight years in prison.

7. Quit it with the “OU is only a party school” thing already.

OU didn’t make the cut for the top 20 party schoolsfor the second year on the 2018 Princeton Review. Despite the number one rating in 2011 and third place ranking in 2012, we fell off the list completely in 2016, but we were listed in The Best 382 CollegesBest Midwestern and Green Colleges.


Originally published for The Post on November 20, 2017.

Despite low enrollment, women in OU tech programs thriving

Nicole Sova, a graduate student studying as a woman in STEM, poses for a portrait. (photo by Abbey Marshall)

Alexis Lanier, an electrical engineering student, has four women in her class.

According to a 2015 headcount from the Office of Institutional Research, only 15 percent of the Russ College of Engineering is female, despite the fact that technology is a “lucrative” field.

“There’s a lot of guys so (women) think they shouldn’t do it,” Lanier, a sophomore, said. “It’s definitely intimidating because it’s new to me, and I feel like the guys have always been really into it.”

J.J. DiGeronimo is no stranger to the frustrations those current students experience. As a 1995 OU alumna from the J. Warren McClure School of Information and Telecommunication Systems, DiGeronimo said most of her classes were at least 75 percent men.

Like many students, DiGeronimo’s main goal was to come out of college with a job. Because the ITS school was known at the time for a 100 percent job placement after graduation, pursuing a degree in communication systems management made sense.

“I was great in math,” she said. “I was great with numbers and science. … It was important for me to learn a feasible skillset the marketplace was looking for.”

As a keynote speaker and advocate for girls in STEM, DiGeronimo said gender stereotypes and inaccurate perceptions of the field can hinder a woman’s decision to enter the technology field.

“There’s some perceptions that it’s really geeky, that it’s a lot of coding, that they’re not going to fit in,” she said. “They don’t know people in the field to get experience or even ask questions of what it might be like. … There’s some preconceived notions that (women) are not going to like it.”

In most career fields, research shows women make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes, but in STEM fields, DiGeronimo said women make 92 cents for every dollar a man makes.

“As a whole, women in any field and men in any field should be about equal (numbers) just because it’s different points of view,” Katie Meeks, a sophomore studying biological sciences, said. “You are able to get a lot of different points of view and you are able to make more informed decisions.”

Although DiGeronimo said the lack of women in her college classes was unfortunate, she viewed it as a great preparation for the professional world.

“Most of my career, I have often been the only woman at the table,” she said. “Obtaining a degree that had more men than women prepared me for the workforce. I really didn’t have a lot of fear. I had already worked through some of my concerns about being the only woman.”

Meeks said her mother, a high school biology teacher, inspired her to pursue her dreams in STEM.

“Throughout elementary and middle school, I thought I didn’t like science,” Meeks said. “Once I came into high school and saw what my mother was doing, it made me want to do something better with my life.”

Though it helps to have representation in the field, DiGeronimo said those role models don’t always have to be female.

“I had a lot of great male mentors in my program that helped move me in the right direction,” she said. “You don’t necessarily have to look for the same gender. A lot of women look up to fathers, uncles, professors. It’s about getting around good people willing to help you in your career.”

Lanier agrees. She said her professors, who are primarily male, have been incredibly helpful because many of them are encouraging female participation in STEM fields.

“A lot of women tend to take support roles instead of the lead roles,” DiGeronimo said. “Don’t talk yourself out of the lead role. … Keep at it. It’s more about perseverance and persistence oftentimes than it is about how high of an IQ you have and how well you’ve done in your classes.”


Originally published for The Post on Nov. 16, 2017.

Issue 1 passes; Issue 2 fails

The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. (Provided via Ohio Department of Development)

Here is how Ohioans voted on Issues 1 and 2.

Issue 1: Passed

The issue, otherwise known as Marsy’s Law,  will repeal and replace the Ohio Constitution’s Second Amendment passed in 1994. Similar to Amendment 2, Issue 1 establishes constitutional rights for victims and their families, but the two differ in the actual execution of those rights.

Marsy’s Law designates 10 specific rights in its text. They include a right to a timely notice of all public proceedings, the right to restitution, the right to prompt conclusion of the case and the right to refuse interviews the defendant requests.

Five other states have implemented Marsy’s Law, which is named after Marsalee Nicholas, who was stalked and killed by a former boyfriend in 1983. Marsy’s parents ran into the accused murderer in a grocery store. They weren’t alerted he was released on bail.

Opponents, like the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union, said the law interferes with due process and raises fair trial concerns. Since the victim would be able to intervene in any of the proceedings, the Ohio ACLU argues that it could interfere with the defendant’s right to a speedy trial.

“There are several problems with this initiative, but the most important aspect is that it will essentially turn our system of due process on its head,” the Ohio ACLU said in their FAQ section on their website.

Issue 2: Failed

It would’ve require state agencies to pay the same for prescription drugs as the Department of Veteran Affairs, which typically pays 24 percent less than other agencies for prescription medication.

Supporters of the bill said it would save taxpayers $400 million by reducing prescription medication prices, which could help fund police, schools and other public services.

Critics argued the $400 million figure has no factual backing and operates under the assumption that Ohio doesn’t already receive significant drug discounts. Opponents also said citizens who don’t get their drugs from the state wouldn’t benefit since drug companies would likely drive up prices of other drugs not purchased by the VA.

OU College Republicans President Ryan Evans said he opposes the policy because it will increase costs for citizens whose drug purchases don’t go through the government.

“Any time you force these companies to provide lower costs for certain individuals what they do in turn is charge everybody else higher rates,” Evans said. “You’re basically paying more so somebody else can get it for less.”

OU College Democrats President Ashley Fishwick said she supports Issue 2.

“I think Issue 2 is a really important step on checking pharmaceutical companies,” Fishwick said. “It’s a step in the right direction for Ohio.”


Originally published for The Post on Nov. 7, 2017.

Grounded in Athens: Here’s what Peter Kotses would do if he’s reelected

Kotses at his business, Athens Bicycle. Photo by Abbey Marshall

Athens native Peter Kotses has three fundamental passions: bicycles, streets and his community.

Kotses, a 1992 Ohio University graduate and local business owner, is up for re-election as an incumbent of one of three at-large city council positions.

Kotses, a Democrat, was elected in 2015, making this the first time he’s run for re-election against four other candidates. Of the five candidates who are running, three are on council currently.

“A lot of that first term is just getting your feet wet and understanding what the position is and how it works,” he said. “If I were to move into a second term, what’s cool is I would move up the latter on some of the committees.”

Kotses expressed interest in leading the transportation committee, an issue he has focused on heavily during his time on council.

“You boil back the ingredients to make a city, it’s streets and people,” he said. “If those two don’t exist, you don’t have a city. … It’s the most important property the city owns, so it’s something we can always do a better job of analyzing and providing a better system in which people can get through the city.”

His passion for transportation within the city extends beyond council. Kotses has owned and operated Athens Bicycle, 4 W. Stimson Ave., since it opened in 1998.

“A lot of people love this region, but finding employment and staying is hard,” he said. “When we opened up, it was to provide something for the community that should be present in the community we love.”

Kotses said his business skills transferred over to his position as at-large councilor.

“I have over 40 years within the city limits, so I have a good history of what this town has done and what they’ve been trying to achieve.”–– Peter Kotses

“I see a lot of parallels to what I’ve done for 20 years here being good assets for the job,” he said. “I have to manage a budget and make sure people run a tight ship. Being on council is kind of similar. You have to provide a watchful eye and make sure the funds are being spent in a proper fashion.”

Of his time on council, Kotses cites his proudest moments as the votes he casted in support of the Stimson Avenue roundabout and the bikeway extension bridge over the Hocking River. He made $7,919.55 in calendar year 2017 as a councilman.

“Every street system needs to be analyzed … so people can get around better maybe without a vehicle and so can we encourage a healthier lifestyle for people,” Kotses said, referencing the complete streets project, which is aimed to accommodate multimodal forms of transportation.  “If you can make the streets safer, that (could) bring more people out so we have more human interaction. It’s breaking down barriers and making things more accessible.”

Kotses was born to an OU professor and raised in Athens. He lives in the city with his wife and 10-year-old daughter. He believes his 40-plus years of experience with the city gives him an advantage when it comes to being successful in his city council position.

“I have over 40 years within the city limits, so I have a good history of what this town has done and what they’ve been trying to achieve,” he said. “A lot of the initiatives we’re working on now, I can go back and look at why things are the way they are because of things that were happening in the ‘90s.”

Kotses said he would love to continue to serve the city he loves if he is given the chance come Election Day on Nov. 7. The other at-large candidates are Sarah Grace and Noah Trembly and incumbents Arian Smedley, D, and Pat McGee, I.

“I’ve always enjoyed the town,” Kotses said. “It’s a great place to grow up. I was excited that I was able to find something that allowed me to stay and raise a kid here. … Council is just another extension of providing help and assistance to a community I love.”

Originally published for The Post on Nov. 6, 2017.