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Cultivating Media and Minds
Updated: 42 min 47 sec ago

An Introverted Leader

47 min 23 sec ago
Jonny Goldstein via Flickr

People tell me to speak up all the time. At school, in restaurants, even in the car with my mom. My classmates sometimes ask me if I’m okay. And I am! I’m probably just daydreaming about my next meal, or how cute my crush looks.

I embrace my quiet side. It gives me some peace and solitude in this crazy world. It’s my own time for reflection and imagination. But when I need to, I can morph into beast mode.

At a leadership activity, we divided into two groups. On the left, people who enjoy public speaking, and to the right, people who didn’t. I went with the public speakers. Someone shouted, “Bianca, you’re on the wrong side!”

A counselor said, “You don’t know, she could be in student leadership.” I squeezed out, “well, I am.”

I just finished my position as media director for a student union, where I was shouting “one mic” at open forums and directing jumpy, tired students around our workshops. I enjoyed using my “loud” voice all the time.

I’m a naturally quiet person, but I’m still strong, and I see myself as a leader.

Categories: Blog

Words Of Wisdom From A Tech Actvist Unicorn

April 19, 2017 - 4:54pm
Danielle Olson. Photo via Twitter

Danielle Olson is getting her PhD in electrical engineering and computer science the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as MIT. She’s also a black female activist, which in the worlds of tech and academia make her something of a unicorn. So what is it like being a minority of a minority at one of the most elite schools in the country?

Let’s start with the bathrooms.

“MIT was a college campus predominantly for white males,” Olson says. One of the ways this plays out is that when nature calls, she either has to go to the top floor or bottom floor to use the restroom — there is no restroom on the main floor for women.

But the battle for belonging in a STEM-related academic world started way before Olsen got to MIT. “Traditional images that I had about what a computer scientist looked or acted like was someone [who] didn’t look or act like me,” Olson said. “If you were to ask me what is engineering when I was in third grade, I would’ve only thought of people  in yellow card hats, maybe making bridges and blueprints …my preconceived notion of [a scientist was] Bill Nye the science guy.”

As a non scientist-guy, she didn’t think she would fit into the world of STEM. That is, until a school counselor encouraged her to sign up for a program called “Girls Explore & Engineering.”

“This was a entire experience in which I was paired with a mentor who was also another woman of color who was in engineering,” she said “I was able to immerse myself in different hands-on experiments and projects. And that really was my catalyst for me getting excited about engineering.”

Danielle recently spoke to a team of young journalists and coders at Youth Radio’s headquarters in Oakland. Here are some highlights of that conversation:

Computers and technical devices actually reproduce discrimination and human bias. According to Olson, there is not much of diversity in engineering, which means there is not as many perspectives being processed in technical devices. For example, Polaroid made their cameras only considering how lighter skin tones would show up on film. Even more basic technology like the detectors to activate water and soap to wash hands might not detect darker skin tones because they weren’t designed with people of color in mind.

It’s OK to fail. “I actually got a D in my first mechanical engineering class my freshman year,” Olson said.  After that, she was discouraged but decided to switch her major to computer science, which she actually loved. Danielle has gone through failures and confusions, only to find her passion along the way doing something she loves. “I think it’s really important to not only share my successes but also my failures,” Olson said, “because I think that it’s really important to remember that the master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.” Olson says failure was actually was a turning point that helped her really fall in love with the field that she is in today.

You can be an engineer and an activist. Olson says she’s passionate about social change, and that being an engineer actually plays into that. “I think evolving as humans involves not only technological innovation, but cultural innovation,” she says. “So if you think about all of the issues that we face as people in our communities today, we need to think about the ways that we could give voice to those that are not being well served by policies.” Olson says engineers could really create the world that we want to live in, and that it’s up to us to really collaborate with other people and other perspectives in order to  catalyze change for those who need it.For example, engineers could create software or social media platforms to allow Black Lives Matter activists to connect, or help create Wi-Fi for poor urban areas.

Engineering and STEM don’t have to be boring. Olson has helped develop a couple of games and apps to help social issues in fun, innovative ways. One of the projects that she has worked on was a virtual reality game to help stop the cycle of violence. Here you can ask any personal question to people who are in combat to get a taste of both sides of the conflict. “I actually went through the experience myself, and what was the most shocking to me that kind of raised the hairs on my skin, was the reality of looking into the eye of this person that you’ve never met before,” Olson said. “The media of virtual reality really blends itself to really feeling more connected to the ‘other’.” Danielle has done a lots of things to help improve her community, and promote equality through her engineering skills

Categories: Blog

I Lost My Dad To Gun Violence

April 19, 2017 - 2:33pm

This commentary was produced as part of Youth Radio’s introductory journalism class. The author asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

In fourth grade I lost my dad to gun violence.

When I woke up that morning, it felt like just another day.  Little did I know that my life would change forever. It was spring break, and I didn’t have school, but I got dressed and ate breakfast like normal. My mom told me that I was going to my cousin’s house for her birthday. I had a odd feeling when I was there that I couldn’t shake. I don’t remember the specifics but I knew I was getting picked up early, and it wasn’t by my mom.

When I got home, it was like a old black and white silent film. Everyone was at my house crying screaming and falling out. My mom couldn’t even talk. I was so confused. My grandmother sat me down in her room to tell me that there was an incident. My father had been shot, and had passed away.

The tears ran instantly and I couldn’t keep my composure. In that moment, it seemed like, things would go downhill for me, but eventually, I found a way to cope with the situation. Family friends and therapy helped.

According to Pew Research, black people suffer a disproportionate share of U.S. gun homicide deaths. There are so many mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters affected by these deaths, just like my dad’s death affected me. We need to put a end to killing and hurting each other, no matter what our skin color. It was our ancestors who fought for us to have the right of equality, when we are put in prisons.

There are more prisons in California than there are colleges. The way I see it, that sends the message that society doesn’t want us to strive for excellence or that we can’t do it. That’s the message the government is sending the youth in our community. Young people learn more from each other–good, bad or indifferent–rather than from adults worth modeling. I think my father died because a teenager was modeling the bad life choices he saw around him.

We have the voice and power to change this. So why not take advantage of the social media, the resources, our education and the passion we have today to stand with each other and not against each other?

Categories: Blog

Trump Tracker: Are More Teens Employed Under Trump?

April 17, 2017 - 5:01pm

Earlier this month saw the latest “Employment Situation” report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s what you and I know better as “the jobs report,” and while plenty of people have hot takes on the overall number most are–as usual–ignoring the youth numbers.

Not us.

From the latest report: “the jobless rates for… teenagers (13.7 percent)…showed little or no change” when compared to the previous month. That previous month was Feb 2017, when the rate for teens 13 to 19 was 15.0%. According to the BLS, a change of less than 1.6% is not considered statistically significant. (The overall unemployment rate is down to 4.5%.)

Where things get interesting is when we start to put the numbers into context– namely the context of the past few years. A 13.7% rate compares favorably with March 2016 rate of 15.9%, and really looks great compared to previous years.

Here’s the breakdown:


13.7% March 2017

15.9% March 2016

17.6% March 2015

20.9% March 2014

That’s a steady decline in the jobless rate over the past three years for teenagers, a sign that prospects were looking up for those youth who wanted a job in an economy that was recovering from the 2008 recession. Backing that up are more facts from the BLS: teenage employment has been on the rise these past few years, a trend they say began in 2013.

Over the last year, however, the employment rate has changed little. In March of this year the employment-population ratio for teenagers was at 30.9%, which when compared to the March 2016 rate of 29.6% isn’t a statistically significant change as the BLS calculates things.

So these are the two stats to watch for watch for teenagers: the unemployment rate and the employment-population ratio. What we should all be looking for are swings of 1.6% or more, and we should be watching both stats equally. That’s what makes the past few years so interesting: while the unemployment rates can fluctuate and seem like there is a lot of action, the employment-population ratio tells a slightly more stable tale: with little change in either the teen (1.3% up) or overall (0.2%) rate.

TL;DR: Teens are doing better, but don’t stop socking away cash for a rainy day quite yet. (You’re allowed to do a little dance, however.)

Categories: Blog

Mixed Race

April 16, 2017 - 8:00am
Photo Credit: George A. Spiva Center for the Arts via Flickr

My mom is Chinese, with black hair and tan skin. My dad is white, with light eyes and skin the color of office paper. I, on the other hand, am an awkward midway point: dark skin, but not super dark; black hair, but not super black.

It used to be that I never thought about my mixed-race. But as I’ve gotten older, and now that I attend a predominantly white suburban school, race is constantly on my mind.

Recently, my classmates and I participated in a survey calculating our privilege, as a part of a diversity awareness workshop.

One question asked whether bandaids match my skin color. Are band aids supposed to, I wondered?

I looked around my English class and saw blond hair and pale skin.

At the end of the quiz, my white classmates had racked up scores suggesting they have three times as much privilege as I do.
I’m not white. I’m also not not-white. So it’s fuzzy figuring out exactly what privileges I benefit from.

Categories: Blog

mekailan interview

April 14, 2017 - 7:36pm

DESCRIPTION:I like the song when i was down by omb peezy because he talks about his struggle, how came up and had people come to him when he got rich but wasn’t there when he was broke . One of his verses is “Back then me and my brothers was struggling now me and my dawgs eating and girls on us“. this verse talks about how when you are down nobody cares about you but when you have money then everybody wants to be your friend. PROS/CONS: This song is good because he is saying and or telling people to be careful on who we trust. What i like about this song is that he is lyrical person.RECOMMENDATION: I recommend this song for teenager that has a someone that they care about a lot that died or that relates to what he is rapping about.

OUTRO: I’m mekailan for “(Primetime)” on Youth Radio Raw. For this review and more, visit www.YouthRadio.org      Primetime

Categories: Blog

Eyeliner Politics: Refusing to Pass in the Age of Trump

April 13, 2017 - 1:09pm
After Donald Trump was elected president, Desmond Meagley decided to amplify his non-binary gender presentation.

When Trump revoked federal protections allowing trans students to use the bathrooms that match their genders, leaving that decision to states and school districts, my first thought was: I guess it was only a matter of time.  

Since Trump’s election, I’ve felt a loss of control over who I’m allowed to be. My gut tells me, I need to push back, somehow.

All year, I’ve been on the verge of tears (and I’m not alone; crisis hotlines reported a spike in LGBTQ callers after the election). But instead of crying, these days, I reach for a tube of liquid eyeliner.

Until very recently, this was unusual for me. I came out as transgender at 14 and have spent years terrified of not passing as male. I used to bind my chest so tightly it hurt my ribs. I wore layers of clothing to disguise my body shape and shoes with huge lifts hidden in them to make me look taller. I avoided make-up and ‘girly’ outfits even if I thought they looked nice. And I laughed when my straight cis friends made sexist or transphobic jokes.

I believed that being totally stealth and assimilating into masculinity would allow me to lead a normal and happy life. But all it did was force me to keep hiding. I was holding myself to a standard I didn’t actually believe in. Coloring within lines that don’t exist.

Make-up used to make me feel dysphoric. Today, I stare at the black war paint around my eyes and I feel strong, defiant, and free.

Being stealth kept me safe. But a few months ago, I began to question what my life would be like without the privilege that passing as cisgender afforded. So many people just like me are visible whether they like it or not. How much do I really value a construct that is designed to punish them?

Now I want my queerness to be seen, or else discrimination will go unseen. I don’t care if my nonbinary identity isn’t “normal” enough for people to easily understand. “Normal” in our society is misogyny and queerphobia; the new administration makes that more apparent than ever.

During the presidential campaign, the Republican Party’s official platform took some of the the most anti-LGBTQ positions in its history, including ending same-sex marriage, legalizing taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and families, and asserting a parental right to use conversion therapy to “cure” their queer kids. That platform represents the agenda of the party that now controls the House, Senate, and the White House.

I can’t predict exactly what the Trump presidency has in store for me. But I am preparing for battle. And eyeliner is just the beginning.


Categories: Blog

A 17-Year-Old Made A Computer Program That Raps… But Is It Art?

April 11, 2017 - 4:28pm

West Virginia teen Robbie Barrat, 17, loves to think about artificial intelligence and the artistic possibilities that can come from it. He’s programmed a rapping robot, inspired by a discussion that sparked in his computer programming club at school. The point of contention: Can a robot do more artistically human things, like art and poetry? It was a joke at first when his peers suggested he create a rapping robot. But Barrat was up for the challenge–with the help from Kanye West.

The final result? Here’s a sample:

Some more choice RapBot Lyrics:

Bust a playa with the kids I never had

All his time, all he had, all he had, all he had

Most you rappers don’t even stop to get the most press kit

Playas is jealous cause we got the whole city lit

But without it I’d be worried if they playing that b——-t

You wanna complain about the nights even wilder

I swear to God I hope you have got to hear

I’ll touch every curve of your favorite author

No more wasting time, you can’t roam without Caesar

Back when Gucci was the best summer ever

Before Cam got the hundred with the peer pressure

She walking around looking like Herve Leger

So next time I’m in between but way more fresher

And they say you never know, never never NEVER

Awww yeee.

Aside from Barrat’s programming chops, RapBot (that’s what we’re calling the project) was made possible by a text-to-speech engine called a neural net, which is to AI what a brain is to a human being. As Barrat explains it, a neural net is like having nodes like synapses and neurons, and it requires an input and an output.

In other words, if you want a machine that spits sick rhymes, you gotta give it some flow to learn from.

For his project, Barrat fed his RapBot’s neural net Kanye West lyrics by translating them into a sort of shorthand that the neural net can digest. The output consisted of original rap lyrics arranged with rhyme and flow. I recently had a chance to chat with Robbie about what it took to create a rapping robot, and the larger ethical questions that emerged through the project.  

Q&A With Robbie Barratt, 17

Can you walk us through the process of creating [RapBot]?

You can’t just feed [RapBot’s] neural network a rap song like it’s pure text, because it wouldn’t know what to do with it. You need to format the data so its friendly for the neural network to learn from. What happens is this algorithm called a Markov chain looks at the Kanye West lyrics and it looks at frequency from word to word, so it’s able to generate a bunch of new lines. It doesn’t generate anything that rhymes, it will just generate new sentences that sound kind of like Kanye West lines.

The new text and the Markov chain, and the neural networks takes all this and its able to pick out the ones that have the right amount of syllables and the ones that rhyme with certain things, and is able to order those into a rap song that actually rhymes and to an extent has flow.

How much did you learn about the structure of rap lyrics? Any interesting patterns?

I didn’t learn anything about the structure of rap lyrics, and that is actually a pretty big problem with machine learning–the fact that if the neural network learns something, you can’t really extract that information, and you can’t get it to tell you what the patterns are. If you have a neural network that learns a pattern in your data, you can’t ask it, “OK, what’s the equation?” The neural networks are really like a black box in terms of trying to learn stuff from them.

When we hear the [RapBot] rap, are we hearing a freestyle piece? or is it a mishmash or groups of lyrics?

It’s kind of like a mishmash of lyrics. The Markov chain will make new lines, but [RapBot is] restricted to using the words that Kanye West has used. If Kanye West has never used a word, then it can’t use that. It also structures the order of words in structures present in Kanye West’s lines. Its learned pretty much everything it knows form observing the Kanye West lyrics.

Reporter’s note: Barrat says he was attracted to AI from the start because of machine ethics, a field of questioning that tackles the tricky, ethical issues that surface from the advancement of AI technologies. 

What kinds of things have you had to think about in terms of machine ethics through this process?

I don’t know if it’s all right for the robot to say racist things. Because the robot is saying the stuff that it’s learned from looking at existing rap. It’s not like [The RapBot] has bad intent. It’s kind of like if a little kid said racist things and didn’t know what they meant. If the neural network generates [offensive lyrics] then you know that’s kind of the representation it’s learned of all of Kanye’s lyrics. I don’t want to alter that in any way because then it’s no longer the machine’s rap, it’s kind of like my look at it and my version of it.

I feel like machine ethics and those sorts of questions are going to be a lot more prevalent in the coming years as AI gets more popular and powerful. I don’t think anyone knows where everything is going, what it’s going to be like in ten years. But there are a bunch of ethical and moral questions that need to be answered.


Robbie Barrat is currently working on an AI that can create abstract art and album covers. His next project is to create an project that uses AI to generate recipes.  

Categories: Blog

Looking Older

April 9, 2017 - 8:00am
Photo credit: Bretty Myers.

I get this all the time — from cashiers to full grown men trying to get my number — “You are not 15!”

Maybe it’s because I’m tall. Maybe it’s because I went through puberty early, but people have gotten my age wrong since I was 10. I remember my fifth grade teacher telling me to dress like a child. I did dress like a child; I just didn’t look like one.

The creepy part is the attention I get from older men. When I was thirteen at a fundraiser, a 30-year-old dude offered me a drink at an open bar. I said, “No thanks, I’m thirteen years sober,” thinking this guy would get the joke. I accidentally got this dude to go on an endless story about his best friend’s journey to sobriety. He kept telling me I was so brave and so strong.

It’s hard to know how to react in a situation like this. What if I tell him I’m fifteen, and he doesn’t care?

It’s hard being a teenage girl who looks older than she is. It’s unfortunate that it puts more responsibility on me. Adults should ask rather than assume I’m of age. And to all you freaky dudes out there: You’ll find better luck on Tinder.

Categories: Blog

My Mom, The College Student

April 6, 2017 - 7:00am


My mom was 21 when she got pregnant with me. She had to grow up faster than her peers, and take on a huge responsibility. Probably 10 years too early.

As a teenager, my mom ran away from home. She squatted in a warehouse in Oakland and became a performance artist. In a way I kept her from growing up on her own terms. In another way, I put her on track, forcing her to build a stable environment for us.

When I was born, she dedicated herself to giving me opportunities that she never had. And once she set me up with everything I needed to thrive, she refocused on to her own goals.

I was nine when she enrolled in community college to start her prerequisites. A few years later, she got into nursing school.

On my mom’s first day, she came into my bedroom with her backpack and her travel mug full of coffee, looking like an ecstatic little kid. I remember grabbing my phone off the nightstand to take a picture, capturing her dorky reading glasses, her bangs pinned back, and her big excited smile.

There were days, when she would leave me at the apartment for hours. Every time she left, she’d remind me not to put metal in the microwave! I remember being jittery with excitement at having the house to myself. I also remember the nights where the trees whipped the windows, and I wished she was home with me.

Being students at the same time gave us a common goal. My mom and I became each other’s dedicated cheerleaders. Before big tests she would get paranoid, convinced she’d get a C. When she inevitably came home with A’s, I’d shout, “I told you so!”

Just like the way my mom grew up faster for my sake, I did the same for her too. I lost my entitlement early. My friends sometimes seem to forget all of the sacrifices their mothers have made for them.

My mom has made countless sacrifices for me. I’m just glad that giving up on her on dreams wasn’t one of them.

Categories: Blog

Youth Radio Podcast: Healthcare

April 3, 2017 - 1:56pm

Trumpcare may be down, but it’s not dead.Last week, GOP leaders pulled the health care bill at the last minute because there weren’t enough votes in the house to pass it.The New York Times is reporting that the Republican leaders are hunkering down to reintroduce legislation to repeal Obamacare.

Young people are often thought of as the healthy ones, but healthcare matters to us too. Obviously! Listen to hear stories of young people whose lives are heavily dependent on health care.

Categories: Blog

Undocumented And Unafraid

April 2, 2017 - 8:00am

When I was eight, I crossed the border using my cousin’s papers. In other words, I came to this country pretending to be someone I’m not.

I went through life acting as if I was just another average citizen even though I’m undocumented.

The act was hard, given that my legal status was such a huge part of my life. UC Berkeley was the first school in the nation to support undocumented students, and it’s where I stopped pretending about my legal status.

I began to truly believe I was undocumented and unafraid, as the chant goes. But that’s changed since Donald Trump commanded the national spotlight.

At UC Berkeley, it’s become increasingly dangerous for undocumented students who are outspoken. Last June, I received an anonymous email threat. It began with the words, “This university should be ashamed to have someone like you.”

Because of the fear of deportation, undocumented immigrants like me feel more silenced than ever.

I graduate this May, and I’m worried that work and plans for law school might become impossible under this administration. I refuse, however, to return to the shadows in fear.

I refuse to pretend to be anyone but myself any longer.

Categories: Blog

Trump Tracker: The Education Edition

March 31, 2017 - 1:41pm

Altering the educational landscape of America is a key part of the agenda of President Donald J. Trump and his Republican allies in Congress. The President’s proposed budget calls for cuts to overall education funding, while increasing funds for voucher programs. These programs would put public funds into the hands of private institutions, something that teachers’ unions and organizations  like the National Education Association oppose.

The new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, was a controversial choice, in part because of her strong support for school voucher programs. DeVos ran a non-profit organization that advocated for school choice programs including vouchers and charter schools. That organization, American Federation for Children, gave its top ranking to a Florida program that provided tax incentives for scholarships to private schools.

That’s a whole lot of terminology at once, so if you’re having trouble tracking who’s who and what’s what—you are not alone.

To really understand what the Trump/DeVos education agenda means diving down into some pretty confusing language. There’s “school choice,” “charter schools,” and “school vouchers” for starters—and they all sound similar but mean subtly different things. Rather than requiring you to go back to school in order to understand what’s up, we’re breaking down some of the concepts in order to keep the big picture in focus.

Categories: Blog

Meet Bobby Brooks: Texas A&M’s First Openly Gay Student Body Pres

March 29, 2017 - 1:15pm
Texas A&M Junior Bobby Brooks is the 2016-2017 MSC executive vice president of diversity and will serve as next school year’s student body president. Photo: Hanna Hausman/The Battalion

[Editor’s Note: College campus politics don’t usually make national headlines, so you can imagine the surprise that gripped Twitter when Rick Perry–current Secretary of Energy and former governor of Texas–weighed in on the recent election at Texas A&M University of an openly gay student body president. It’s a story that is still playing out in both social media and the pages of the New York Times, where the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper–The Battalion–penned an editorial. Below you’ll find a profile by Josh McCormack of the newly elected student body president originally published by The Battalion. For even more context, read Sam King’s NYTimes editorial.]


Economics junior Bobby Brooks will serve as the first openly gay student body president after the end of the latest Student Government Association elections, setting a hallmark for the university and its culture.

The official confirmation of Brooks’ victory came weeks after the polls closed due to the disqualification of candidate Robert McIntosh, who filed two different appeals attempting to overturn his disqualification.

“I would like it to echo the sentiment that I’ve always had, that I am just ready to get to work here, get things done,” Brooks said. “Someone had do it at some point. I think it’s less about me, Bobby, and more about a person that filled that role is now here and that is what’s really exciting for me.”

MSC President Brian O’Hara has worked with Brooks as the MSC Executive Vice President of Diversity over the last year to bring about changes like creating diversity dialogue for students to participate in.

While Brooks being elected is exciting, O’Hara said, this is just one step toward inclusion in the university.

“I think it’s easy for us to say that we have made progress,” O’Hara said. “We have as a university to a certain degree, but what’s more important is that our student leaders are continually more and more representative, and more and more true to they are as the student body. I think Bobby Brooks is an amazing Aggie, he loves Texas A&M and he happens to be gay.”

Current senior class president Claire Wimberly, who was also Brooks’ campaign manager, is looking forward to having Brooks in office and seeing what he will bring to the table.

“I hope to see him accomplish all that he set out to do during campaign. His goals — keeping student fees low, making student services meet real student needs, increasing feedback regarding academics and making our campus more inclusive — are all attainable,” Wimberly said. “I know he’s going to surround himself with an amazing team, and I am looking forward to the progress they are going to make on our campus.”


Bobby’s life and struggles with sexuality

Before he had any question of who he was, who he was attracted to or what he wanted to do, Bobby Brooks knew he wanted to be an Aggie.

“I was an Aggie from the first day that I was born, there was no choice about it,” Brooks said. “My sexuality was a non-issue in terms of selecting Texas A&M as a university because I knew what this university could offer.”

Despite the easy choice of attending Texas A&M, Brooks said his sexuality wasn’t something that came easy.

“My sexuality was something that I never wanted to particularly address growing up,” Brooks said. “I had a strong history of suppression with my own feelings toward that. I had known for a very long time, but I didn’t want to accept that and thought it would just get better.”

In high school, Brooks began his career in student leadership and ran for student body president. Through that role, he also took his first steps in acknowledging his sexuality.

“Toward my senior year of high school, I actually ran for a senior class president position at my high school, and [when] I got that, certain people started paying more attention to me,” Brooks said. “Through that, there was someone who I had always thought was attractive and whatnot, so [we started talking]. So through that person, through that experience, I was able to explore that side of me, my sexuality, a little bit.”

After he graduated high school, Brooks spent time studying abroad in Paris. During that period he felt comfortable expressing himself as a gay man without the pressures he felt in Texas. Coming back to the United States and entering his freshman year of college put a pause of his self expression.

“So when I got here to Aggieland, it started out with me kind of being afraid of [my sexuality] in general because I was back in this Texas kind of pressure, but there was something new to it in that I was now my own person, more than I was back in high school,” Brooks said.

When Brooks made his way to College Station, he became involved with the organization MSC Freshmen Leadership International and made a friend who was French and encouraged Brooks to be comfortable with his identity.

“I eventually felt comfortable enough opening up to her … So she and I went to get coffee and I set it up. I was like, ‘I have something big to tell you,’” Brooks said. “I was still so nervous. We chatted about it and then I told her in French… ‘Je suis gay.’”

The friendship allowed Brooks to grow into his sexuality in a healthy way, Brooks said. As time passed he became more and more comfortable with who he was, eventually telling his family the truth.

“I started opening up to more and more people, little bit by little bit. My family was very accepting,” Brooks said.

These experiences led to him to pursue leadership roles at A&M.

“If I sell my identity short, I’m selling the identities short of every single person on this campus who doesn’t have the opportunity to run for student body president,” Brooks said. “How am I supposed to tell someone’s little sibling who wants to come to Texas A&M that ‘It’s going to be fine, we’re working on a better Texas A&M,’ when I actively repress my identity for X amount of time just to get something?”

Brooks will take office April 21.

To read the rest of this article, check out the full piece on the The Battalion’s website. 

Categories: Blog

Higher Education Needs to Secure Its Networks

March 28, 2017 - 11:11am
Close up of a network rack by Flickr user Kev. (Creative Commons: Attribution/Share-Alike 2.0)

I am like any other millennial: glued to her phone, immersed in the blue light that’s slowly killing my eyesight and keeping me from the next thing on my to-do list. When I’m not using the internet to catch up with my acquaintances lives’ on Facebook, I’m probably on my school portal. This portal is, in a sense, the equivalent to my online assignment drop box. It’s where I go to access class resources and discussion forums. When I’m on campus, I usually type in the URL and I’m there. Boom, no problem. But one day, I went about my normal internet browser routine and I couldn’t get online. I tried Facebook. Nothing. I tried the Cal Poly domain. Nothing.

Embittered by the wi-fi’s inability to meet my social media and school needs, I decided to look into why I wasn’t able to connect to the server. After talking to some of the information technology services staff on campus, I uncovered the cause of the inconvenience.

It turns out, Cal Poly’s firewalls, the gatekeepers of legitimate and malicious traffic, aren’t as strong as they should be. If firewalls aren’t able to perform their function, universities become vulnerable to cyber security attacks.

On a national level, the strength of cyber security features, like cookie verification (yes Yahoo, we’re looking at you), could make or break the safety of the billions of user accounts. Hackers can have ties to foreign governments — just look at the recent federal indictments of Russian operatives for a 2014 breach of half a billion Yahoo accounts.

But despite measures in place, like the firewalls within the California State University system, Cal Poly is constantly under attack.

Cal Poly Information Technology Services Deputy CIO Ryan Matteson told me Cal Poly is being attacked right now, every hour of everyday. It’s simply part of being on the internet today.

Attacks include things like distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which overload websites with traffic, and cyber-crimes like phishing and spam, which attempt to steal passwords and collect credit card information.  

It’s not just Cal Poly that’s a target, it’s higher education in general. Universities contain large amount of sensitive information, including social security numbers, passwords and personal information. All of these educational institutions are vulnerable to cyber security attacks.

Some hackers just hack for practice, according to Cal Poly computer science professor Zachary Peterson. In a sense, universities are like guinea pigs for hackers looking to carry out their attacks on a larger scale.

From a global perspective, people initiating these attacks could come from anywhere: around the world, around the country or even a neighbor living next door. A 2014 article in our campus newspaper, the Mustang News, showed that phishing emails to Cal Poly came in from countries  as far away as India, China, and Russia.

There’s not that much that can be done. While hacking into a computer system is illegal, criminals online are rarely caught. An attacker’s physical location is not always the same as where the computer attack comes from, Matteson told me.

When hackers escape retribution, universities are left with a muddled network and bitter wifi-less users, taking a toll on a 21st century campus. Nonetheless, universities must find better ways to secure their networks. Current methods of improving university internet networks include stronger filters within firewalls, more education for campus users, and software updates, Peterson said.

However, software updates aren’t a bargain; in fact, they cost millions of dollars. While some anti-virus software is affordable for individuals, like Norton and McAffee, costing between $20 and $50 dollars each, at a university level, costs are much larger. The California State University System allotted $25 million dollars to maintenance and utility infrastructure needs in the 2016-17 year, but the system’s budget report did not specify how much was allotted to network security.  To paint a rough sketch, a company of 30 to 50 employees may need to spend  $50,000 dollars to keep its internet security in check, according to a report by the Associated Press

So what seems to be a nuisance in my daily social media activities turns out to be a microcosm for what’s really going on: cyber security’s pitfalls.

Without proper security measures — like ways to prevent cookies from being replicated and cyber footprints from being cleared — we all face consequences as severe as identity and credit card theft. To better secure themselves, universities will have to view the issue of cybersecurity with the same seriousness as the IT professionals and computer science professors they employ.

While students like me can change our passwords and keep our computer software up to date, universities must also take the driver’s seat and steer us in the right direction. They can’t ignore roadblocks disrupting traffic flow within their networks. In the digital age, universities and students must prepare themselves for the worst-case scenario.


Megan Schellong, 20, attends California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California.


Categories: Blog

DISCUSSION: How Should Schools Address Privilege In The Classroom?

March 28, 2017 - 9:56am

Do Now

How should schools address privilege in the classroom? Join the discussion #donowprivilege on Twitter and tag @youthradio in your response.


Privilege is a big topic. You could hold an entire conference, write a whole book, or watch a Netflix series about it. But for this “Do Now,” we’re going to stick to some basics.

When you hear the word “privilege,” you might picture a super rich person wearing a tuxedo and eating caviar for breakfast. But it’s not just the “one percenters” who have privilege. Privilege is tied to your race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, immigration or health status, to name just a handful. You don’t necessarily have control over these factors, and yet they can influence the way people treat you and how you move through the world.

One of the most difficult things that comes up when talking about privilege is that it can seem invisible to those who possess it. But when you don’t have privilege, the rules are stacked against you, or at least made without taking your needs and realities into consideration.

Although there are many types of privilege, one phrase you may have heard a lot lately is “white privilege.”  It wasn’t that long ago that outright racist U.S. laws were on the books that treated white people as a higher social class than people of color. Many of those laws no longer exist stereotypes, implicit and explicit biases, and structural inequalities remain. As then-KQED host Joshua Johnson described in the series So Well Spoken,  “[White privilege] is the social perks many whites enjoy today through no fault or effort of their own, including insulation from subtle acts of racism.”

That’s not to say all [insert a type of privileged class] people have it easy. A 2014 study from Johns Hopkins found when looking at children who grew up in poor neighborhoods, hardly any individuals, white or black, successfully obtained a college degree. However, “even without the benefit of a college degree, “whites, and white men especially, had vastly better employment outcomes. At every age, the white men experienced shorter spells of unemployment, were more likely to be working full-time and earned more.”

There’s no doubt privilege is an important concept to discuss. But how should teachers teach or address privilege in the classroom?

Recently, Youth Radio reporter Sierra Fang-Horvath and her high school classmates participated in a survey calculating their privilege, answering questions, “Do bandaids match your skin color?” For Sierra, the answer was no. She was one of the few students of color in her predominantly white class.

“At the end of the quiz, my white classmates had racked up scores suggesting they have three times as much privilege as I do,” Sierra said. “Now, I no longer think of myself as Sierra. I’m brown Sierra.”

The sensitivity (and potential controversy) surrounding topics like race, class and privilege can make them difficult to teach in a classroom setting. Some teachers avoid talking about them altogether. However for students like Sierra, the risk is worth it.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge that privilege exists,” Sierra said. “We don’t have to become defensive, and we don’t have to feel guilty for it, but we do have to know when it’s there.”

Featured Resource AUDIO: Mixed Race Privilege?(Youth Radio/KQED)

Photo: Brett Myers/Youth Radio https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.youthradio.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/07162355/YR_Sierra_MixedRace_KQED.mp3

As a mixed race teen, Sierra Fang-Horvath knew on some level she was different than her white classmates. But she didn’t realize how different until her class took a quiz about privilege. Once she recognized the kind of privilege she did — and didn’t — have, she started thinking about her identity in a whole new way.


More Resources

AUDIO: Mixed, Passing For White (KQED/Youth Radio)

As part of KQED’s “So Well Spoken” Series, Youth Radio’s Maya Cueva reflects on her mixed race (but white passing) privilege: “Ever since I can remember, my mom has always searched for things that connect our Jewish and Latino identities. But out in the world, I often face identity policing. Because I pass as white, people ask if I’m actually a person of color or not. So I’m constantly having to prove my Peruvian heritage. Like having to tell my dad’s immigration story soon after I meet people. I call it ‘coming out as mixed.’”


AUDIO: Whispers of Racism (KQED/Youth Radio)

When Youth Radio reporter Isabella Ordaz and her family moved from a diverse but higher-crime neighborhood in Antioch, California to a more affluent, gang-free community in Danville, she felt like they had won “the Mexican immigrant lottery.” But the move also came with a new form of culture shock. As one of the only brown kids in her class, Isabella soon found herself missing the acceptance she had in her old neighborhood.


AUDIO: Feeling Like A Foreigner In Class (KCBS/Youth Radio)

Youth Radio’s Darelle Brown shares his perspective as one of the only black students in his college classes. “We have a lot of international students, but sometimes I feel like the one that’s foreign,” he says. “I’m a real outgoing person with my friends, but at school I’m anti-social. I’m afraid to talk to people because I don’t want to get stereotyped.’”


Categories: Blog

Refusing to Pass in the Age of Trump

March 26, 2017 - 8:00am
Photo Credit: Brett Myers/Youth Radio

I came out as transgender at 14. And, until very recently, I’ve been terrified of not passing as male.

I believed that being totally stealth and assimilating into masculinity would allow me to lead a normal and happy life. Makeup usually made me feel uncomfortable. But the morning after Donald Trump won the election, I stared at the black war paint around my eyes and I felt strong, defiant and free.

I don’t care if my non-binary identity isn’t “normal” enough for people to easily understand. “Normal” in our society is misogyny and queerphobia; the election just made the more apparent than ever.

This year the Republican Party’s official platform took some of the most anti-LGBT positions in its history. Being stealth kept me safe. But now I want my queerness to be seen, or else discrimination will go unseen. And eyeliner is just the beginning.

Categories: Blog

Youth Radio Podcast: Abortion in Texas

March 22, 2017 - 1:12pm

March is Women’s History Month, and we’re looking at women’s rights and reproductive healthcare. Abortion continues to be one of the most highly debated issues of our time. President Trump’s administration has stated it hopes to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that made abortion legal across the country. On the Texas/Mexico border, in the Rio Grande Valley, there is only one abortion clinic in the entire 1800 square mile region.

In this week’s podcast, Maya Cueva travels to McAllen, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, to learn about what this clinic means for the community and activists on both sides of the abortion debate.

Categories: Blog

UNTOLD: Teenagers Chop It Up About Secrets

March 21, 2017 - 3:47pm
This story is a part of Lit Mag: The Untold Issue.

Some teens tell their parents everything.  Maybe they don’t care about their parent’s reaction. Somedon’t tell their parents things because they may feel that they are too old to run to their parents, or they just simply don’t care. I don’t tell my mom things because of her temper and her overreactions to things. Whatever the case may be, these stories go untold.

In the studio with me, I have Aayala, Ben, and Dakota who shared with me who shared with me some personal experiences they may or may not have told their parents. We definitely shared the experience of stealing and hiding that from our parents as kids. What parent wouldn’t be upset about that? But as some of us have gotten older, relationships changed.

Tavonne Larkin is 18 years old and goes to San Lorenzo High. She is a Core Journalism Peer teacher at Youth Radio. Tavonne really loves writing on her free time and she has the skill for it. She writes poetry about life and its struggling and she enjoys it. Tavonne graduates from high school this year and will be attending San Francisco State University in the fall to become a teacher.


Categories: Blog

UNTOLD: Back in the Hills

March 21, 2017 - 11:40am
This visual piece is a part of Lit Mag: The Untold Issue.


Austin Lai is a freshmen currently attending Oakland Technical High School in Oakland, California. He have lived in Oakland all his life and has found a passion for biking in the Redwoods parks back in the hills. He has found a love for nature and hopes that everyone can enjoy it like he has and hopes that it can be shared with everyone. He has also found a place for himself at Youth Radio. He participates in Bridge and is part of the Multimedia track. You can usually find him doing something on Photoshop which he learned at Youth Radio.   



Categories: Blog