All posts by Kiana Fillius

Grades and Pacifiers

College can be tough for anyone. Many students decide to focus most of their attention on it. Between midterms, finals, group projects, and long research papers, there is almost no time to take a breath. While some people struggle to handle this level of stress, others test their abilities by increasing this stress. Whether it is intentionally or by accident, pregnant students deal with a more intense degree of college pressure that many students could not handle. Continue reading Grades and Pacifiers

The Loud Voices of a Quiet Print

Seniors of the Women and Gender Studies department at San Francisco State University slowly filtered through the door of room 131 in the Humanities building. Most of the tables and chairs were pushed towards the walls of the room, leaving only two tables in the center. The seniors took their seats around the classroom and chatted with each other. As the room filled with more people, the volume grew and the atmosphere transformed from dull to lively.

The last senior walked into the classroom and Julietta Hua, the W.G.S. department chair and the class’ professor, considered it a que for her to take her position in the center of the class. Her outfit—a blue-knit sweater, a black a-line skirt, and thin-framed glasses—and confident stance displayed her authority over the class.

Starting with the student closest to the door, Professor Hua asked each student how their week went. The class only met once a week on Wednesday afternoons, so she decided it was important to start it by checking-in with each person to see if their physical and mental health improved or diminished from the prior meeting. Her goal is to make sure they felt included, a theme that not only ran the class, but also the entire department.  

Although the class is taught around the idea of inclusion, its overall focus is on the creation of a publication that reflects what is taught in the W.G.S. department.

“Early on there is the collective brainstorm of ideas, themes. And then they decide, sort of what they want to contribute, what role they want to play,” shared Professor Hua. She does not contribute anything to the publication, but she acts as the managing editor by making sure students stay on task and create a piece they are proud to publish.

The department chair has taught the class for a couple of years, but the department started the publication long before she was hired in 2006.

 

Throughout the years the publications became a combination of informative and personal pieces that showed how the students dealt with their own experiences and the experiences of the public, whether it was from a political or social perspective.

“It’s a research based article or its more of a conventional news piece or research piece, but the purpose of the collaboration is to reflect together with a group of your graduating classmates and to think about what-what is a feminist intervention,” explained Hua. “What does it look like and what does it look like when you have to think about it with other people, like collectively.”  

Professor Hua continued asking around the room, finally landing on Shonnon Gutierrez. She perked up, pushed her hair behind her ears and shoulders, and recounted how she felt over the previous seven days. Many of the responses Professor Hua received from her students were short or delved into hardships, but Shonnon was more positive. She explained how happy she was because she had the chance to go dancing the night before, something she could easily be caught doing when she was not commuting or doing homework. With all the adversities that the average American could face, she was glad she woke up to see another day.

At forty-seven-years-old, Shonnon is finishing her last semester at SF State. As she grew up in Los Angeles, she never finished high school and started having children in her early twenties, eventually having a total of two sons and one daughter. When 2014 rolled around, her two older children moved out which left her with less responsibilities and more free time. She knew it was her opportunity to start her academic career again, but she was unsure of how difficult enrolling into a community college could be.

“I didn’t have my GED [General Education Development Tests] and I didn’t qualify for a Pell grant due to that,” shared Shonnon. The fear of being academically held back because of past decisions pushed her to work hard for her GED diploma. She received it in May of 2014 then started community college shortly after that.

Her perseverance did not end with the start of community college. She was able to graduate in the spring of 2016 and was even asked to be a commencement speaker.

When she began attending SF State, she knew majoring in women and gender studies was the right choice for her.

“My parents are from Mexico and my mother had to deal with a lot of machismo from my father. My mother divorced my father and got citizenship on her own,” expressed Shonnon. She continued, saying that her mother’s struggle to be successfully independent and finding her identity guided her to the W.G.S. department and helped her choose a topic for her piece going in the publication.  

“On my own, I’m going to do a piece on identity, on claiming identity, and what that means whether it be gender identity, cultural identity. I identify as Chicana and what does that mean by claiming Chicana, what does it mean by claiming an identity,” shared Shonnon. She decided to format her piece as a letter to her daughter that touches on President Trump and America’s current political climate. Shonnon is also collaborating with other students from the class to create a feminist horoscope.  

“I feel like my piece is important for the publication because it gives voice to those that are hidden and are denied the claiming of their identities because of the binary systems, because of the gender norms, because of race,” said Shonnon.

Shonnon is not the only student to decide on personal pieces that surround controversial topics. Twenty-two-year-old Ines Diot graduated from SF State in December with a bachelors in women and gender studies. She contributed a piece to the fall 2017 publication that was written as a creative essay.

“I was sitting in my house one day and started reflecting on myself,” explained Diot. She shared that she wanted her piece to be personal by writing about abusive relationships, but it still touched on some heated subjects, such as the monuments of Confederate soldiers being removed. Her essay followed a theme of “out with the old and in with the new.”

Diot not only wrote a piece for the publication, but she also created a video and helped draw the cover while laying out the cover and everyone else’s work. Every publication has followed the idea of being completely student ran. The only part of the process that the students do not work on is the printing—which costs about $200 in total so each student can receive a couple of copies of the final product.

Diot is glad she has a tangible representation of her work at SF State. “I was really, really happy. I loved how it turned out. I keep looking at it because I’m really proud of the work we did,” exclaimed Diot.

As Professor Hua continues teach the class, she pushes her current students to create a piece and publication that is unique to their personal experiences and opinions.

“I think it’s important that at the end of your degree, you’ve had a chance to really take time and reflect on what that degree has meant or the journey you have taken, right? All the different classes, the things you’ve learned and to think about what you’ve taken away from it,” Hua stated.

 

While the end of Shonnon’s time at SF State draws closer, she plans on going back to school to get a master’s in social work to help survivors of domestic abuse and those that are in need.

She shared some advice for the students taking the senior seminar class next semester. “I would say to really get to enjoy the time with your senior class, seminar class, and make those bonds because I know that a lot of the friendships that I made are going to carry on. But also to take a moment to not only focus on getting work done, but to really enjoy it because this is your last semester and it’s the journey that really counts.”

Previous publications from the class can be found online or in the Women and Gender Studies department. The spring 2018 publication will be available in the fall.

The Butterfly Effect: The Results of Winged Popularity

Miniscule rain drops started collecting on the windows of the Conservatory of Flowers, but anyone inside the building would mistake it for the condensation found inside the building. The Conservatory’s staff is preparing the giant greenhouse for another day filled with curious visitors. While they move through the building to see if anything needs last minute attention, Drew Risner-Davis sits in the left wing, watching a monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis, a shell made of hardened protein that protects caterpillars as they transform into butterflies.

Drew, the exhibit manager and butterfly specialist at the Conservatory of Flowers, continues to makes sure everything in the Butterflies and Blooms exhibit runs smoothly, including the unfolding of a single butterfly. While a visit to the Conservatory does not break the bank, any exhibit visitor ill-informed about the price of admission might expect a higher ticket price.

“I’ve been completely immersed in butterflies, and moths a little bit, since last November,” shared Drew, who has worked at the Conservatory for four years.

With a warm smile and overflowing eagerness, the butterfly specialist begins his days at the Conservatory an hour before the greenhouse opens to the public. He first checks the Butterfly Bungalow, a large shadow box filled with rows of chrysalis pinned to the box and newly formed butterflies waiting for their chance to experience the exhibit. It allows him to make sure butterflies are emerging properly while looking for the ones that are ready to join the butterfly community in the next room.

Using cautious hands, the butterfly specialist moves the ready butterflies to the adjoining room where the mesmerizing insects hang from trees, plants, and the ceiling like vibrant Christmas ornaments.

Once he is done with the Butterfly Bungalow, he focuses his attention on feeding the butterflies. Discs carrying sponges filled with nectar — a mix of sugar and water — are placed around the exhibit. Although there are flowers in the room used to feed the butterflies, the extension of the exhibit to close in January, as compared to previous years when the exhibit ends in June, decreases the likeliness that the flowers will produce enough nectar on their own.  

For the rest of the day Drew keeps a watchful eye on the habitat while trying to answer visitor’s questions.

“I get to be here interacting with visitors and really explaining the beauty of butterflies and why they’re so important to the ecosystem as pollinators,” describes the exhibit manager as his eyes light up at the idea of sharing his butterfly knowledge with others.

The 138-year-old Conservatory of Flowers was home to twenty-two species of butterflies and a few species of moths — such as the luna moth — earlier this year, but now currently houses only twelve species of butterflies. With the butterfly’s average adult life cycle around 30 days, the exhibit can carry from 300 to 1,200 any given week.  

Although the greenhouse is the final home for all the butterflies, they do not start their lives in San Francisco. The Conservatory of Flowers receive chrysalis, which are low maintenance and require no sustenance, from farms in Florida and Alabama that breed several species of butterflies. Most of the butterfly species originate from Latin American countries, with the Malachite, a butterfly with gorgeous bluish-green wings, coming from as far as South America.

Unlike the remarkable winged insects housed at the Conservatory, the exhibits flowers are grown in the Conservatory’s own nursery.

“Our nursery specialists designed the exhibit to compliment the space,” explained Maryam Nabi, the marketing and communications manager for the Conservatory of Flowers.

Vivid colors portrayed by the different flowers act as beacons for butterflies. The bright colors tell them there is a probably a flower full of nectar waiting to be fed on. Visitors wearing vibrant clothing are likely to gain a hitchhiker or two while exploring the exhibit.

Butterflies and flowers do not have the left wing to themselves. Koi fish found in a pond in the exhibit add to the stimulating environment, especially one large koi fish that expects food from every visitor that hovers over its watery enclosure.

Thanks to the help of new and returning visitors, the Butterflies and Blooms exhibit was able to return several times since 2006. Due to popular demand, the exhibit’s run was extended to January 7, 2018.

“The community really loved the exhibit,” Nabi exclaimed.

“We really wanted to make sure everyone has an opportunity to see the butterflies.”

Other than the Butterflies and Blooms exhibit, the Conservatory of Flowers is a warm paradise that offers an amazing array of plant life for visitors’ visual consumption. But if you ask Drew, he would explain that the real stars of the building are the winsome butterflies found in the left wing.

“My favorite part is definitely getting to share with people the amazing diversity of our butterflies. And I think that it’s really important in all parts of our lives to really recognize how important diversity is, to our diverse plant collection to our diverse butterfly collection,” Drew remarked.

With San Francisco’s rainy season around the corner, the salient structure found in the northeast corner of Golden Gate Park can be a cheap getaway for anyone. The price of admission for the entire Conservatory is $9 for adults, $6 for youth, seniors, college students, and San Francisco residents, and only $3 for children between the ages of 5 and 11. If a San Francisco resident is also a college student, their entry is only $4, but they must show a piece of mail with their name and San Francisco address on it, and their student ID to receive the discount.

Anyone traveling near or from SF State can hop on the 28 Muni line and exit the bus at 19th Avenue and Lincoln Avenue. They can take a short fifteen-minute walk through the right side of Golden Gate park and find the Conservatory of Flowers at 100 John F Kennedy Drive. Future visitors coming from downtown San Francisco can catch the 5 Muni line, exiting at the Arguello Boulevard stop, then travelling south on Arguello Boulevard until they hit Conservatory Drive.

 

Photos by Cristabell Fierros

50 Years in the Making: Project Rebound Celebrates its Accomplishments

Families, pairs, and solo guests trickled into the dimly lit Jack Adams Hall found at San Francisco State University. Some dressed casually, donning clothes they probably wore all day, while others wore attire that was fitting for a prestigious awards ceremony.

Volunteers handed them red tickets and well-designed programs that read “Celebrating 50 years of Project Rebound” on the cover. On the back side of the clean cover was the program’s objective: “a special admissions program assisting formerly incarcerated individuals wanting to enter San Francisco State University.” Upon entering the dark room adorned with purple and yellow balloons, guests met the men behind the proud smiles, Jason Bell and Curtis Penn, the regional director and interim director of the program, who were happy to see the event off to a positive start.    

The visitors, some new and some used to the campus of SF State, slowly made their ways to the round tables, covered by black table cloths and several cups of water, while caterers rushed through the hall, setting up trays full of steaming foods that waited to be devoured.

Family members of Dr. John Irwin, the founder of Project Rebound, settled themselves at a table in the middle of the welcomed commotion. The caterers, all matching with surprisingly clean, white chef coats and white pants, already rushed from table to table, refilling any empty glasses they could find.

As the hall continued to fill with forty, fifty, sixty people, Bell rushed to the stage, studying the crowd to find the right time to start the event. He dressed for the part with a black button-down and a diagonally striped tie to accompany his walnut brown suit. Penn finished his conversation with a guest and slowly moved towards the front of the stage, focusing his attention on Bell. It was already 4:45 p.m.; the whole affair was fashionably late by fifteen minutes.

“A huge obstacle for Project Rebound is funding,” shared Penn, his deep voice carried through the almost empty conference room on the third floor of the César Chávez building. “We need the funding to continue the outreach at a high level,” he explained.

Penn was wary of the two Golden Gate Xpress reporters with their cameras pointed on him, but decided that it would not become a nuisance for him. He and Bell were popular and caught the attention of several news outlets, including KQED. It was one week before Project Rebound’s 50th Anniversary celebration, but the event became an added stress to the interim director’s already busy days.

The 54-year-old’s days are based around a recruitment strategy to get more people in the program.

“We’re going to the jails and prisons and into underrepresented communities,” shared Penn as his demeanor softened with each word. “We do a lot of resource fairs where we connect with men and women who were formerly incarcerated who can benefit from a program that assists them to matriculate into the CSU system.”

Recently, the program received a grant of $500,000 and could spread to eight other California State Universities: CSU Bakersfield, CSU Fresno, CSU Fullerton, CSU Sacramento, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, CSU San Bernardino, CSU Bakersfield, and San Diego State University.

Project Rebound started in 1967 thanks to Dr. Irwin, who went through the criminal justice system before earning his bachelor’s degree in sociology at University of California, Los Angeles. After earning his degree, he began teaching at SF State, where he felt a program was needed to help those in the prison system become acclimated to life and education outside of their current situation. He created Project Rebound with the intent of helping the formerly incarcerated find a path back into the education system.

 

50 years later, Irwin shared some similar experiences with the current interim director. The San Diego native can understand how difficult it can be for someone to transition from a prison to a college because he went through the criminal justice system himself. With the help of Jody Lewen—the founder of the Prison University Project, which gives the men in San Quentin a chance to involve themselves with higher education—and Project Rebound, Penn could graduate from SF State.

As he tries to extend that same helping hand to those being released by the prison system, he and Bell are pleased to look back at the success of their former students. In 2016, Project Rebound had 10 students graduate from SF State while their current students have an average GPA of 3.23. With such committed students, the program holds an eighty-seven percent retention rate and a graduation rate of eighty-six percent.

Penn and Bell wanted to properly honor Dr. Irwin and the students of Project Rebound with a celebratory event, but ran into several problems during the several months it took to plan it. One of the most glaring problems was the funding the event. Fortunately, with the help of President Wong and the Associated Students of S.F.S.U., the organization could pay for all the necessities for the celebration.

Hilda Villanueva, a marriage and family therapist from the county of San Mateo’s health system and a former SF State alumna, reached out to Penn about the Vocational Rehabilitation Services Workcenter in San Mateo. Villanueva wanted to let the people in the VRS program, who are mostly formerly incarcerated, help cater the event. Penn agreed and was excited to work with them.

As they planned the 50th celebration, the idea of an art gallery began to take off in Project Rebound’s small office. “The art gallery fell in our laps” exclaimed Bell, recounting the 23 pieces of art displayed in the exhibit. Each piece was created by a student in Project Rebound or someone that went through the legal system. Even though it was a last-minute idea, they had the chance to secure a spot at the art gallery located across from Jack Adams Hall, which usually needs to be booked months in advance.

“Early on we worried the speakers wouldn’t show up, although I knew Jody was good,” Penn remarked. With a little work, Penn convinced Honorable Judge Trina Thompson and Law Professor James Forman, Jr. to speak at the event.

The event ran almost seamlessly. Although it started later than usual, all the attendees seemed to enjoy themselves while Penn and Bell successfully honored the legacy of John Irwin and Project Rebound.

“Obviously the goal, the long-term objective, is to have a Project Rebound program at all twenty-three CSU campuses throughout the state,” Penn shared.

New Students: The Struggle to Acclimate to SF State

After a cold San Francisco summer, San Francisco State is brought back to life at the end of August. Another semester begins as the campus welcomes a new set of faces. As many students rush from one building to another, using their wonted shortcuts to get to their common classrooms, some find themselves in unfamiliar territory. These new students face a new academic standard with new peers and new surroundings. Some settle in quickly while others never gain traction in the flurry of SF State and San Francisco.

SF State eagerly welcomes its new students, but the problems a new student encounters in a new school, and city, are overlooked by the administration and the students themselves.

Alexa Uekert started her freshman year in the fall of 2014. At the ripe age of eighteen, she moved from her home in Chino Hills, a small city found in San Bernardino County, to the 14 floor of the nearly overwhelming Towers at Centennial Square. Her excitement did not radiate like the other freshmen joining her. She toured a few schools during her spring break of her senior year of high school, but quickly had an aversion to SF State once she saw it in person.

“I started crying,” shared Uekert, laughing at her reaction to her first university.

“It wasn’t what I expected, but it was the only California school I got into.”

She already had a game plan in mind for her college career: move away to a school that she loved and graduate within four years.

CollegeBoard reported that from 2008 to 2011 only twelve percent of students graduated with a bachelor’s degree within four years. For Uekert, these statistics were not helping her plan become a reality.

Graphic by Kiana Fillius, via Infogram.com

Her experience at SF State’s orientation did not help calm her nerves either, although that is one of the goals for the event.

“I went to the orientation and was stressed about getting the schedule together. My friend Jake was there and I told him ‘I can’t do this. I’m going to have a panic attack,’” Uekert remembers.

With the help of her friend and another freshman she met at orientation, she started to relax and finish the taxing event on a happier note, although the feeling of uneasiness still lingered.

During her first semester at SF State, it became harder and harder to ignore her lack of a strong mental state. Laurene Domínguez, a clinical counselor at SF State’s Counseling and Psychological Center, encounters many students that struggle with transition to college life. The biggest issues she comes across in her office is anxiety and depression. She explained that the severity of these issues depend on how prepared people are when they start their college career. Without a solid support system, students find themselves struggling to balance their personal lives and their academics.

“It is hard to separate yourself from what’s going on and it can affect your ability to study,” Domínguez explains.

While her mental state weakened, Uekert’s disdain for the school grew stronger. She went into her first semester with an undeclared major, hoping she would eventually be accepted into the impacted nursing program. Her hopes were not high because of the small acceptance rate into the program, initiating a fear that she would not graduate in four years.

In high school, she was heavily active in school events and loved to show school spirit, but once at SF State she struggled to come by that type of atmosphere. She treasured dancing, but was unable to find a dancing team on campus, which pushed her to minor in dance so she would not lose touch with the art she treasured.

Half way through her first semester she visited her boyfriend at his school, Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, and immediately felt at ease.

“It was my ideal picture of college. The people didn’t seem as warm and welcoming at SF State as they did here,” Uekert says.

During her short visit, she experienced the school spirit she sought and found a dance team that reached her expectations. She felt that Grand Canyon University was where she was supposed to be and quickly began to plan her next three and half years at GCU. As the fall semester of 2014 ended, so did Uekert’s relationship with SF State. She moved back home and never returned to the busy campus.

Even though she was relieved to leave school, she went home with her head held low.

“I went through a really hard time when I went home,” shared Uekert.

“I was disappointed in myself.”

She spent her second semester of freshman year taking online classes through GCU and taking her mother to appointments for chemotherapy.

Three months later, Teresa Hernandez entered the SF State campus to begin her freshman year for the fall 2015 semester. After moving from wine and barbecue rich Santa Maria, California, the university’s environment overwhelmed eighteen-year-old Hernandez.

“I did not know what to expect and I had trouble making friends during my freshmen year,” Hernandez says.

Unlike her, Hernandez’s roommate attended SF State with her two best friends, causing Hernandez to feel lonelier.

Majoring in business, she struggled through her freshman year, but continued to push through with help of her family.

“I probably wouldn’t be here without my family’s support,” Hernandez says, who kept in constant contact with her family during her first year at SF State.

 

Teresa Hernandez (Right), with her friend Liliana Chavez

As her sophomore year rolled around, she finally found a sense of belonging in her new sorority. Phi Gamma Chi introduced her to a group of girls that quickly became her best friends and helped her grow more comfortable with the school. While Hernandez struggled with the campus, she never had any complaints about the city. San Francisco made it easier for her to make friends and invite people to different places for a fun day or night.  

Hernandez still attends SF State, finally enjoying her life on and off campus. The third-year considers the sisters in her sorority as her second family. Looking back on her freshmen year, she wishes SF State offered a few more welcome days that were not as intimidating as the ones they hold.

Now twenty-one-years-old, Uekert is excited to graduate from GCU in the spring of next year, allowing her to stay on schedule with her four-year-plan.

“I still love the city.” shared Uekert, explaining that San Francisco itself was not a reason she left.

Like Hernandez, she wishes SF State would offer ways for students who do not live in San Francisco to get connected on campus because that was her largest problem while she was there.

San Francisco solaced Uekert and Hernandez, but it did not affect every student in that way. The city is a distraction, causing some students to lose their academic focus. Jason Jacobson, the director of undergraduate advising center, calls San Francisco a double-edged sword.

“SF is an amazing city with a lot to do. It is really exciting and can pull students from their studies,” Jacobson explains.

Although he understands the distractions of the city, he also understands that the city offers several opportunities for students to supplement their academic learning. He urges students to find the balance of fun and responsibility through the help of resources available on SF State’s campus.

A feeling of disconnect can lead to loneliness for new students, which can also lead to more serious issues. While mental health plays a large role in a student’s decision to leave, struggling with the fast pace of college can discourage students from moving forward with their academics.

If SF State students are struggling with their mental health, they can reach out to the Counseling and Psychological Services in room 208 of the Student Services Building. Students who are facing difficulties with their studies can seek help at the Undergraduate Advising Center in room 211 of the Administration building.