The Worth of College and Community

In “The College Calculation,” (New York Times Magazine, Sept. 24) writer David Leonhardt questions the worth of a four-year college education in our current economic setting. Students graduate with an unmeasured amount of knowledge gained, few — if any — job opportunities, and $20,000 in loans to pay off. Is the debt worth the education that may or may not guarantee you a higher-paying job?

Leonhardt cites a 2007 Census Bureau report that claims college graduates with bachelor’s degrees earn an average of $47,000 annually, while their dropout counterparts earn $33,000. I have trouble commenting on this sensibly, because I am a College Graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree, but in my first year out of school I made approximately $3,000. I applied to exactly 46 full- and part-time jobs before I gave up counting, and then only a few more before I gave up and enrolled at Sacramento City College. To me, the question is not whether the education guarantees you a higher-paying job; it’s whether the education guarantees you a job at all.

When I was accepted to UC Davis in 2004, I think it was partially thanks to (what I believe to be) the campus’ desire to rise into the “upper tier” of the UC system, alongside UCLA and UC Berkeley. After “increased efforts to attract prospective students,” the university accepted way more freshmen than it had room for; this didn’t hit until 2006. That fall, classrooms overflowed, an influx of bicyclists caused more funny accidents than usual, and — the craziest part — freshmen were turned away from the dorms and asked to find apartments instead. We complained about it then, but compare it to now, when UCs are accepting 2,300 fewer students per year, and I would much rather have a seat on the lecture hall steps than a rejection letter.

That said, I would also prefer a seat on the steps even if it meant paying a tuition increased by 32 percent, because of one aspect of a college education Leonhardt failed to mention: everything gained outside of a classroom. I learned how to take pride in my school and my town, how to fix my bike, how to make friends who will most likely be business connections for the rest of my life. My English B.A. might not mean anything to potential employers, but my experience at KDVS and The California Aggie (both of which I could participate in because I was a Davis student), doing real-life PR and publication work, will get me where I need to go.

So to answer Leonhardt’s and my own question, yes, it is worth it. It is worth it to be a part of a community, to learn exactly what that means, and to write your own definition of how you fit into your school, your world — just hope your definition doesn’t include the word “unemployed.”

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September 30, 2009. Tags: , , , . currents. 2 comments.

Cultural Splits in Okinawa

Painting of Naha Port in Okinawa by Seikichi Tamanaha

Every college student in the arts and humanities learns this magical, essay-salvaging word: dichotomy. It’s the perfect basis for any legitimate or bullshit thesis statement, and professors eat it up. Webster’s defines it primarily as

1 : a division into two especially mutually exclusive or contradictory groups or entities

This word came to mind while researching for my upcoming trip to Okinawa, a small Japanese island in the southern archipelago of the Ryukyus. Long before Japan took Okinawa as a prefecture in the late 1800s, the tropical island had established a strong cultural identity that thrives today. But there is also strong Japanese influence; for instance, the native language has nearly been forgotten and replaced by that of the mainland. There is a split, a distinct dichotomy of cultures on a piece of land merely 60 miles long and at most 12 miles wide.

But Okinawa is much more than a dichotomy. A multichotomy, let’s say. Strategically placed at the center of East and Southeast Asia, Okinawa takes influence from all surrounding countries. Plus there’s the whole U.S. occupation for 27 years after WWII thing.

Okinawa imported a plucked three-stringed fiddle from China (along with their musical scale and notation system) and called it the sanshin. The Okinawans adjusted the instrument’s tone and structure, and it eventually made its way to mainland Japan, where it became the better-known shamisen (maybe you’ve seen God of Shamisen or Masters Musicians of Bukkake play electrified versions of this).

I will write much more on this later, but I wanted to tonight partly because I got to hear stories of this culturally confused haven at the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis‘ presentation on Okinawan Art, Culture & Character: Past and Present Perspectives (one of which was my aunt’s), and also because, by wonderful celestial coincidence, it’s a quarter moon tonight, which covers Webster’s secondary definition of dichotomy:

2 : the phase of the moon or an inferior planet in which half its disk appears illuminated

September 26, 2009. Tags: , , . music. Leave a comment.

How’s the Weather?

sunclouds rain

My favorite season ends next week, but lucky for us Central Valleyites, Indian Summer is upon us. I will celebrate the autumnal equinox on Tuesday by sweating in air-conditioned classrooms while the afternoon reaches near 100 degrees.

I think a lot about the weather. When someone asks me how I’m doing and I reply with something weather-related (“You know, just trying to stay cool” or “Freezing!”), it’s not just because I’m a horrible conversationalist. The weather dominates so many of my actions and emotions that I don’t consider it to be a mundane, last-ditch-attempt-at-social-interaction topic.

My friend Clara wrote about the recent phenomenon of mass weather updates on Facebook:

[T]hey are all prompted by the same question, the queasily intimate, “What’s on your mind?” This suggests that on Sunday, when valley temperatures topped out at 110 degrees and most local updates read along the lines of “[Name] is too hot,” weather was somehow occurring in the mind.

This is reassuring to me, that other people are just as pushed and pulled by climatic changes as I. A gray drizzly morning coaxes me to stay under covers until 2 p.m. as much as a balmy 85-degree valley nighttime energizes me to create sweaterless adventure until 2 a.m.

I am also reassured by what I learned today: The standard Japanese greeting konnichiwa did not always mean “hello” or “good afternoon,” as we translate it today. As our teacher explained, people in Japan do not ask “How are you today?” as a greeting. Instead, they ask, “How is the weather today?” Konnichiwa, over generations, has morphed in meaning and translation from an atmospheric inquiry to a simple salutation.

So maybe — if I can actually learn the language — in Japan I will be a better conversationalist. How’s the weather where you are?

September 18, 2009. Tags: , , , . autobio. Leave a comment.

Schooling Sac City College on Bicycling

In the Sept. 2 Sacramento Bee article “Free bike program liberates Sacramento State students from their cars,” Li Lou writes of the program that gave away 75 bicycles to students who normally drove alone to campus. Made possible by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the giveaway promoted  the option of alternative transportation, dissuading some of the 26,386 students who drive solo to do otherwise.

I felt so proud to be a bicyclist, a Sacramentan and the daughter of a former SACOG executive. Then I thought about Sacramento City College in comparison to Sacramento State, and the high faded. Having just moved back to Sacramento from Davis, the self-proclaimed “Bicycle Capital of the World,” I am spoiled when it comes to infrastructure, facilities and education devoted to bicyclists.

bike racks At City College, proper bike access is cut off on the major bordering roads, with no bike lanes on Sutterville Road or on Freeport Boulevard north of Sutterville. This forces uneasy riders onto the sidewalk, which — believe me — makes you feel like a jerk. On campus, bike racks are few and far between, and most are exposed to the elements. Having my handlebars be too hot to touch after sitting in direct sunlight for a class period is pretty bad, but having it sit unprotected in the rain in a few months is unacceptable.

According to the Los Rios Community College Bicycle Access Report, prepared by the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates in 2007, City College’s new parking garage cost $35.2 million, adding 1,964 more parking spaces to campus. Do the math — that comes to $18,000 per free space. Now compare that to the 284 exposed, outdated bike rack spaces, and I’m longing for my Aggie days.

City College could take some lessons from its neighboring universities — perhaps start a bike giveaway program like Sacramento State’s, or at least invest in adequate bike signage, parking and street access. And students cannot just wait for this to happen; we should promote bike events and education.

Here are some resources to help get us started:
Sacramento Bicycle Kitchen
– Do-it-yourself bike care and maintenance
Sacramento Critical Mass – Monthly recreational overthrowing of the roads
Davis Bike Collective – Bike maintenance workshops and classes

Los Rios Community College District

Community College Bicycle Access Report

September 16, 2009. Tags: , , , , . currents. 1 comment.

Lookin’ Good to a New Generation

My grandmother is from the Philippines, where public officials are decided by attractiveness. “If you are good-looking, people will like you,” she told me. She admitted the mindset still sticks with her, and part of her reasoning for voting for Barack Obama in the then-upcoming election was that he is “handsome.”

Appearances aside, she recognizes all the necessary qualities of a nation’s leader. I asked who her favorite U.S. president has been, and she answered Carter without missing a beat, and rattled off a few other front-runners and their winning traits.

Hearing her speak with pride about past presidents, I realized my generation and younger have never known the president to be anything but a joke. Sure, I remember holding a mock-election in first grade and checking Bill Clinton’s name — but mostly I remember that the boy I had a crush on checked it too.

By the time I was at all in tune with current events, Clinton’s sex scandal was in full flare, and by the time I could vote, it was half-heatedly for John Kerry.

Kids now need to grow up respecting that person and position, knowing that he is there to help in their education and livelihood. So they finally had a chance to learn this, to finally form a positive impression; that some were denied the right by teachers and parents makes me sick.

The new generation of kids should be able to exchange their mental image of the president from a monkey-faced cartoon to an intelligent and responsible leader — handsome, too, Nana.

September 11, 2009. Tags: , , , . autobio, currents. Leave a comment.

Journalism and Jumpsuits

I have wanted to be a journalist, or in some way involved with media, since I was 5 years old. Back then, I published my own legal paper-sized editions of The Sacramento Bee and longed for a yellow jumpsuit like April O’neil’s.

Since those early days of entrepreneurship, I have worked for a handful of media outlets. My greatest love has been DJing and working at KDVS, UC Davis’ student-run community radio station, where I was in charge of editing and publishing the quarterly magazine, KDViationS. I learned the art and science of copy editing at UC Davis’ daily newspaper, The California Aggie, and currently copy edit for The Sacramento Press.

While copy editing and page-designing are fun and rewarding jobs, I still feel that 18-year-old desire to write and report (and I still lack a proper jumpsuit). So here we go. This is a test run.

September 9, 2009. Tags: , , , . autobio. 2 comments.

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