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Tag: university of missouri

Making a mountain out of a … poop bag?


Vanderbilt University may well have some racial inequities worth addressing. And some racist acts may take place on campus from time to time. But Marley’s poop was not one of them.

A sack of dog poop left on the front steps of Vanderbilt University’s Black Cultural Center — discovered the day after a student demonstration to show support for protesters at the University of Missouri — was quickly decried by a student organization as a “vile” and “racist” act.

In reality, the bag was left there by a blind student who cleaned up the mess left by her guide dog, Marley, but could not find a trash receptacle to place it in.

On Monday, about 200 Vanderbilt students staged a walkout over campus race relations — one described as a show of support for the Missouri students, but also held to draw attention to Vanderbilt’s own problems when it comes to racial imbalances.

On Tuesday, the bag of feces was found in front of the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center.

Backers of a university campaign called Hidden Dores, the mission of which is to “draw attention to the racial and ethnic minority experience on a predominantly white campus,” quickly placed a post on Facebook decrying the deed.

“The Hidden Dores team is appalled to announce that our demonstration yesterday was met this morning with a vile act. This morning someone left a bag of feces on the porch of Vanderbilt University’s Black Cultural Center. The center has served as the nexus of many aspects of black life on Vanderbilt’s campus since its inception 31 years ago. The violation of a place that in many ways is the sole home for black students is deplorable.

“As many of us sit in grief, recognize that these types of actions are what we speak of when we note the reality of exclusion and isolation of students of color and specifically black students on our campus. This act has hurt many and will not be received lightly. We will not allow for the desecration of the place we call home. As we announced yesterday and reaffirm today, we will not be silent.”

Campus police launched an investigation immediately. After surveillance camera footage was reviewed, officers contacted the student who appeared to have left the bag of feces there.

“The investigation found the bag was inadvertently left by an individual with a service dog who was authorized to be in the building who could not find a trash can near the entrance and did not wish to take the bag inside. VUPD has concluded, based on their investigation, that there was no criminal or malicious intent in this action, and the investigation is considered closed,” Vanderbilt News reported yesterday.

The blind student posted her own account of what happened on Facebook:

“I would like to inform everyone on this campus that no racial threat occurred. I am a blind student on this campus with a guide dog. I was meeting with a group last night to go over our debate for one of my sociology classes. My dog did her business outside on the grass and I picked it up and put it in a bag like always … I did not want to bring the feces inside and make the building smell, so I left it outside by the door … Everyone is going to point me out now as the blind girl who left her dog feces by the black cultural center. I am sorry that I do not know where all the trash cans are on main campus…”

Leaders of the Hidden Dores campaign put a new post on its Facebook page, apologizing to the blind student, and for reacting a little too swiftly.

“Given the recent elevation in polarization on this campus in the aftermath of our silent protest this Monday, evidenced by tough personal exchanges and anonymous targeted posts, it was too easy for us to believe that a member of our community would stoop low enough to maliciously leave fecal matter at the Black Cultural Center,” the Facebook post said.

“Nonetheless, we apologize to the Vanderbilt community for jumping to conclusions and for any personal trauma caused by the quick escalation of this situation.”

(Photo: Hidden Dores Facebook page)

Dogs better walking companions than humans


Dogs are better walking companions than humans on almost all counts, a new study shows, with the possible exception of conversation (though I generally favor them in that category as well).

Research at the University of Missouri has found that people who walk dogs are more consistent about regular exercise, walk at a brisker (therefore more healthy) pace, and show more improvement in fitness than people who walk with a human companion, according to the New York Times health blog, “Well.”

In a 12-week study of 54 older adults at an assisted living home, 35 people were assigned to a 5-day-a-week walking program — 23 walking with a friend or spouse, 12 walking dogs at a local animal shelter.

The dog walkers showed a big improvement in fitness, while the human walkers began making excuses to skip the workout. Walking speed among the dog walkers increased by 28 percent, compared with just a 4 percent increase among the human walkers.

“The improvement in walking speed means their confidence in their walking ability had increased and their balance had increased. To have a 28 percent improvement in walking speed is mind boggling,” said Rebecca A. Johnson, a nursing professor and director of the Research Center for Human Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Johnson said the dog walkers were far more consistent in sticking with the program than those who were walking with humans: “In the human walking group, they were regularly discouraging each other from walking,” she said. “Missouri is a hot state. We would hear them saying: ‘It’s hot today. I don’t want to walk, do you?’ ”

The dog walkers, on the other hand, were nearly always up for the task:

“When the people came to the animal shelter, they bounced off the bus and said, ‘Where’s my dog?”’  Johnson said. “And the dogs never gave any discouragement from walking.”

The study, not yet published,  is continuing, and Johnson said she suspects differences will show up in other areas, like depression and anxiety.

Already, though, Johnson said, many people in the dog-walking group stopped using canes and walkers. “They would say, ‘Now I’m physically fit enough to take my dog for a walk,”’

Two Beans, one dollar and a homeless guy


It was the sort of scene I can’t walk past: A muttly looking dog, a white-bearded homeless guy and a handmade cardboard sign offering: “Dog Tricks 1$.”

On the sidewalk along Franklin Street — the main drag in Chapel Hill — Mark Williams, after offering me some room on his bench, said he and his dog, Two Beans, have been homeless for about a year. “Work’s kind of slow now” in the construction /handyman/odd jobs field, he explained.

The dog trick — Two Beans knows only one — helps rake in enough money for meals.

I’d gone to Chapel Hill for a meeting of the Board of Advisers of the University of North Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, an esteemed panel on which I still serve, despite having left my most recent newspaper job a year ago, and despite – other than doing some revisions on the book I left the business to write, and writing this website — being unemployed.

Twice a year at UNC, members of the board gather to hear what the school is up to in terms of research, fund-raising and curriculum changes, which are coming pretty fast and furious nowadays as the industry, facing declining profits, continues to try to pull new tricks out of its hat, or in some cases get a whole new hat.

This meeting was a special one because it’s the journalism school’s 100 birthday — a benchmark the university’s basketball program also hit this year. That’s pretty old, but there are older journalism schools, I learned during the festivities, such as the highly respected one at the University of Missouri, which was the nation’s first.

DSC06777Getting ready to pick up my dog Ace (who I’d dropped off for a bath during the meeting) and leave town, I was walking down Franklin Street. Doing that always triggers memories of my days as a student. Thirty-four years ago, I was getting ready to graduate with my degree in journalism, and I was sending job applications to newspapers across the country. I used the seventy-some rejection letters I got then to wallpaper my room.

It dawned on me that, today, I’m in sort of the same situation – job hunting, getting a few rejections, and much more often getting no response at all. At least in the good old days they sent you a form letter. Today, many companies often don’t even bother to acknowledge receipt of your application. While students are still finding jobs, the journalism job market — like journalism — seems tighter, shallower and meaner than ever.

So bleak, in fact, that when I saw Mark Williams’ sign, I ever so briefly considered getting my own piece of cardboard, picking up my dog and setting up shop on the next bench down, offering higher-priced, upscale dog tricks (the Starbucks approach) for $5 to cover gas for my trip home.

Two Beans’ trick requires a dollar bill. Having only a $10, I asked Williams if that would work. He pocketed the ten dollar bill and pulled from his other pocket a crumpled one dollar bill. “Now go back in that alley and hide it somewhere, and Two Beans will find it.”

I wedged the bill behind a drainpipe, about waist high, and sure enough, Two Beans, when I called, came around the corner sniffed around, pulled it out, and brought it dutfifully to his master.DSC06809

Williams got the dog from a friend, shortly before he began a stretch of life on the streets. He named him Two Beans, he said, because the dog — a golden retriever-Rhodesian ridgeback mix, he suspects — is not neutered. Williams said police don’t give him any trouble about his street business. “They’d rather me do this than just be panhandling like these other guys,” he said.

In addition to providing some income — as much as $70 a day when there’s a home football game – Two Beans makes life on the streets “a little less miserable,” Williams said. He said teaching Two Beans the trick cost him $3, because the dog ate the first three dollar bills

As we sat and talked, Williams, originally from Greenville, N.C., revealed that he once wrote a book about dog training. It was only 20 pages and, so it wouldn’t cost him much to mail it out, weighed only an ounce. “It was basically plagiarized, and not very good.” He took out an ad in the National Enquirer, offering the mini-book for sale for $3.  He says he only sold two copies, one to a customer in Virginia Beach, another to a customer in Acapulco — making him, he joked, an “international author.”

When he learned I was a former newspaper reporter, Williams revealed that his family was in journalism as well: His grandfather, Walter Williams, founded the journalism school at the University of Missouri.

“That’s the nation’s first journalism school,” I said.

“Yup,” he answered.

Coincidentally, I’d also recently applied for a job there, in my continuing quest to sniff out writing/teaching/multi-media positions. I received an emailed rejection, one of at least a dozen so far.

I don’t print out my emailed rejections. They don’t have the cool logos on them that I once found decorative enough to serve as wall art. I think I also take them a little more personally, now that I have experience and credentials. So I won’t be using them as wallpaper — either the kind you put on your wall, or the kind on your computer.

Instead, I’ll keep plugging along, like Williams, and waiting for the better times I keep hearing are ahead.

Until then … dog trick, anyone?