RAn’t Enough

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Laws Hall is one of the three halls in the JoLaLa (Jones Lathrop Laws) collective, all around 60 years old in age.

It happened again.

No, that isn’t said in annoyance, more in desperate exasperation.

Another rape occurred in Laws Hall, an already infamous residence hall here at Mizzou. I mean, it has it’s own Wikipedia page that recounts residents falling to their death from balconies, in elevator shafts, and accidental auto-erotic asphyxiation hangings.

But, that is neither here nor there. This is Laws’ second case of sexual assault in a month and third in the past school year. Laws isn’t the only hall that has experienced this in the past school year, with the Rollins complex also affected by a sexual assault case in October.

As a Resident Assistant, or RA as we are known as the umbrella term to our alphabet soup of positions, I have received the clery releases with follow-up emails and talks from ResLife pro staff on how to answer residents’ questions and how to enforce safety standards. We went from locking our exterior doors earlier (from starting at 11 p.m. to starting at 8 p.m.) to being in a total lockdown 24/7 now. This means that our residents have to meet their guests at the door to let them in and escort them everywhere while they are in the building.

These safety procedures and meetings to drill it into their Polo cap adorned skulls that this is how we have to stay safe ruins any sort of street cred as a “cool RA.”

We get the annoyed sighs as the ladies find out their lover boo was told to go back outside in the cold because he tried to ghost into the building behind some unsuspecting resident (nothing gets past our desk staff). The constant “Ugh this is sooooo stupid” is always cut short when I tell them the story of the guy that snuck into Jones tunnel last year and went into residents’ rooms to look over them while they slept (have fun sleeping now).

Oh, if you didn’t know, Jones is right across from Laws. We have tunnels, that are now locked, much to the dismay of our perpetually cold and underdressed Jones women, that connect Jones, Lathrop and Laws Hall. We are are quite literally connected to anything that happens in the other halls, thus causing me near tear-inducing panic whenever something happens so close to my little resident babies. No matter how much their high-pitched squealing of my hated nickname, “Ronnie,” angers me, I would never want anything horrible to happen to them and I do what I can to prevent that.

So, it kills me that one resident in the first article I linked says how hopefully the RAs will be more alert about it. Laws Hall already trumps most halls by putting up to 4 staff members on call on the weekends, doing rounds at 8 p.m., 11 p.m. and around 1 or 2 a.m., also with doing some on call duties during the day.

RAs are human. We all get the same clery releases and feel a sort of desperation of another familiar ping of an email, one after another, blaring “There was a sexual assault…” from the first sentence.

It’s so fascinating that these residents even said something to the effect of wanting more security when they are usually the ones complaining about it and blatantly breaking it by holding the door open for people. Even when I began writing this post, the small siren of an Amber Alert resounded from iPhones up and down the hall with residents exclaiming, “Oh, another Amber Alert!” a sort of tone of concern novelty.

The repetition of these cases can do one of two things: create an increased sense of ensuring safety or desensitize people to the issue where they loosen their reigns on self-safety.

I worry that my residents will start blowing these things off because it isn’t happening to them directly, much like the distant ring of the Amber Alert. All I can do is reinforce their sense of urgency to secure themselves and let them know that I am with them in this situation. And, hopefully, that is enough.

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Samstorm

Michael Sam was a first team All-American player as well as top defensive player in the SEC.

Michael Sam was a first team All-American player as well as top defensive player in the SEC.

Sunday, Feb. 9. That date was familiarized in my brain because of its reference in multiple planners and iCal for my weekend General Assignment shift at the Columbia Missourian. A seemingly sleepy Sunday that started with me flipping through the first 5 pages of the MUPD blotter making sure that there really was not anything for me get a story out of. I then came back to work on a life story of Polly Anna Dunavant that eventually got pushed aside for the life story of Wynna Faye Elbert.

Wynna Faye Elbert worked closely with fellow deceased activist Almeta Crayton and was known for her work with the First Ward, especially Douglass Park and the Blind Boone House. She worked to preserve the history of the African-American community in Columbia and created many programs for them in her position of recreations supervisor for the Parks and Recreations Department of Columbia.

Her story became my priority because of her prominence in the community. I worked to get in contact with some co-workers and friends to get a little taste of her life to put something together to put on the site. The community needed to know.

The ACE desk became my perch for the hell that was about to break loose.

The phone rang. Adam, my Assistant City Editor, picked up as I tapped my rings on my laptop, impatiently waiting to finish my editing session. My antsy pants had come on around 7 p.m. after being there since noon. The click of the phone halted my tapping as Adam told me to go let someone in the north door to the building.

I skittered down the stairs to let in Tom Warhover, our Executive Editor, who greeted me with a “How are you this evening?”

My standard “Decent” was the reply as I bounded up the stairs to return to the roll-y chair on Adam’s right.

The ICE Desk came to life as they all started exclaiming, “Check New York Times, they broke the story. Michael Sam came out as gay!”

Tom started commanding the one sport guy to get his fellow sports desk mates to come in as Sports Editor Greg Bowers bust through the doorway.

Being the crazy football fan that I am, an all too typical “Oh my god!” escaped my lips as Adam flipped back and forth to different tabs to the New York Times story, Twitter and ESPN.

“I don’t even care about football,” he said nervously as he clicked.

“Oh, I do. Football is my thing,” I replied as I freaked out at this strangely familiar sounding news. It felt a little like deja vu to me hearing the words “Michael Sam is gay.” I still can’t place how I knew about it before the blast of news Sunday night, but it sounded too familiar for me to not have encountered this information before.

The rest of the sports desk filled up as Greg and Tom barked orders for people to finish stories that should’ve been done, getting photos from the photo bubble and adding to the django file that had been under construction for awhile.

“They are stressing me out… and I don’t even like football,” Adam repeated as he flipped tabs as Tom threw up the first post on the site.

The cacophony of frantic, near yelling phone calls, mutterings of “fuck” and “shit” intertwined with news terms under bated breath  and clomps of salty snow boots back and forth in the room was fascinating as I spaced out from my story. Tom joked with me on his one occasion of using “frickin'” as a replacement.

“Care to comment on Michael Sam coming out?” was the broken record playing as the sports reporters rushed around the room trying to space themselves out from each other to frantically phone interview sources.

“We’ll have Sam on the phone in 30! His agent said we can call him back if he doesn’t call by 8:30!” one of them bellowed talking the phone only ever so slightly down from their ear.

The Mizzou Store had an unfortunately placed banner ad over the the story in the Missourian that Tom was on the phone with the ads guy to try to get taken out. The ad had a football figure that the general public could just use as placeholder for Sam if they felt the need. The main worry was that we weren’t sure if the Mizzou Store would want to be so closely connected to the story right yet, and we couldn’t take that chance.

“It’s your decision, I just have to live with it,” Tom as he hung up the phone.

He turned to me and asked about my story and I told him that it was about Wynna Faye.

“She has done a lot for the community,” he nodded as I explained our rush to get something out for that reason. “Thank you for doing that,” he said. Her story was still important and he slightly apologized for the craziness that might overshadow it.

Apologize?

Sure, I had been in the newsroom for over 8 hours, I had left my Alternative Break Co-site leader without my help for a site meeting, my FiberOne bar was only doing so much to tide me over, and it might be all for nought because my quick little story would whimper in comparison to the package they were completing. But, I didn’t feel sorry for myself (maybe my stomach a bit, and definitely my co-site leader). (I still got a budget shout out for my story).

I got to experience the side of news that I loved. I got to get that second-hand adrenaline and watch a story be pieced together, like a chaotic, timed puzzle. I saw the human side and the mechanical side. It was real, live journalism that I saw.

It was the makings of the storm and the rainbow that broke through the clouds and it was crazy and beautiful.

Planes, trains and snowmobiles

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Driving in the snow is my jam.

This week blessed the schoolchildren and college kids of Columbia, Mo. with some snow days. What we gained in snowy (and sometimes booze-fueled) fun, we lost the ability to travel with ease. Coming from a suburb of Chicago, I have pretty high expectations when it does to snow clearing, expectations that Columbia shies away from. When they do finally put their plows to the pavement, there is an ordinance on cars parked in priority plowing areas saying that if there is 2 inches or more of snow on the ground that the cars have to be moved or else they will be ticketed and possibly towed.

Walking the streets of downtown Columbia and seeing all the snow piled up in the intersections (seriously, why did it take them so long to move that?) and the cars wedged in between banks of snow reminded me of my treacherous travel tale of when the Polar Vortex first hit when I had returned from the Cotton Bowl (thank you, ESPN, for catching me hyperventilating on TV). In the wake of these snow-filled days, I thought I would share my crazy story for you to snuggle up with a cup of hot cocoa with and read before you catch up with Gossip Girl on Netflix (no shame).

For some context, I left my house in the late afternoon of Christmas Day to go to California for a family vacation. We came home on New Year’s Eve, well technically New Year’s Day because we pulled into my garage after midnight. At 10 a.m. on New Year’s Day, I was on a train to St. Louis to get picked up by my friend Mary to go to Columbia for the night before departing on Jan. 2 for Dallas for the game.

I got into STL okay and we made it to Columbia for Mary to realize that her apartment keys weren’t on her newly gifted Vera Bradley wristlet. We spent time trying to see if any of her roommates was home to let us in and at a friend’s house watching “The League” until her one roommate finally got off work to let us in the apartment. Mary’s boyfriend, Justin came later with her keys so she could unlock her room and we both crashed knowing that some snow was on the way for our early morning drive into campus.

It was snowing a decent amount overnight into the morning, making it hard for Mary’s car to leave the Cottages (her apartment complex), thus having us all travel in Justin’s car to campus for our bus ride to Dallas. We made in it just fine and were ready for our Cotton Bowl Adventure.

Dallas was a couple days of MIZ amazingness, to say the very least, even though it was unseasonably cold in Texas. We planned for the worst as we headed back, knowing that snow was on its way. When we safely made it back to Columbia, everyone headed to Walmart to stock up on the necessities (wine, for those who were of age).

My ticket was for the Sunday 3:00 train after we got home on Saturday, but MoDoT gave us little hope for making that with their purple lines painting a  “completely covered” picture over I-70. Mary, Justin and I made the executive decision to cancel my ticket for the train that day, meaning I got to bond with Susan the Amtrak automated customer service lady, and try to head into the St. Louis suburbs that evening when the highway was cleared so I could get on the train the next day.

The St. Louis suburbs had seen little love from the plows and Mary and I practically sledded down the cul-de-sac to Justin’s house. After some luggage to car exchanges, Mary and I made the drive to Wildwood in the sub-zero temps, just hoping that the car wouldn’t quit on us. We flopped into Mary’s basement bunk beds, planning on waking up early to try and get me to the 7:55 a.m. train.

Sleep held us nice and tight and that 7:55 a.m. train quickly became not a thing, especially with the temperatures threatening for the car not to start that early. We were lucky to make it into the city for the 3:00 train, where I gave many thanks and hugs for Mary and all her help. As I walked up to buy a ticket for the train, I thought my journey was finally going to be on its way to ending.

Wrong, I was just so wrong.

Being the little bubbly chick I am, I went up to the Amtrak ticket booth and asked for a ticket to the 3:00 train.

“That train is canceled,” the seemingly crotchety Amtrak man replied.

“Okay, well how about the 5:30?” Silly, naive me.

“Well anyone with the 3:00 tickets is being put on the 5:30 train, so there isn’t any tickets being sold for it.”

I begged for someway to get on that train, especially after he went on to say that people had the option to refund their tickets, thus freeing up seats. I, of course, called my mother in a panic to figure out what to do. Being the strongly stubborn women that she is, she told me to continually go up to the Amtrak ticket office and make my case to get on a train home that night. I cried in front of these navy vested people to no avail. Their hearts were Polar Vortex frozen to my tears.

Mary came throughout once again after she asked me how it was going and I spilled the whole ordeal to her over text. Her brother lives several blocks from the station and had a nice loft with a coach that was just waiting for me. His car was in the shop so he took the bus to walk back to his apartment with me. The Amtrak lady told me to buy a ticket for a train the next morning because worst came to worst, they would move me onto a new train if anything was cancelled because I had a seat bought already. The only ticket available before 3:00 p.m. the next day was the 6:30 a.m. train, and it just so happened that Mary’s brother was getting a ride to volunteer that early and that they could drop me off for my train.

Once again, everything looked like it was working itself out, even when I got the call saying that my train was canceled because I (thought I) knew that they would put me on some other train like they did yesterday for the other people. I get to the train station and go up to the ticket office that I spent almost all of yesterday floating around to see the same stone-cold faces. I bounced in asking about what train I would be put on since mine was canceled, referring to what happened the day before.

“All trains are canceled for today.”

The words echoed in disbelief around my brain as I stammered, “Well, um… But…”

“We are putting people from the 7:55 a.m. on buses to the stops.” Typical. The train that I wanted to be on but couldn’t get a ticket to. The begging and tears began once again as I tried to wiggle my way onto being one of the passengers of that bus, citing how I was told to buy a ticket the day before because they would take care of me and how I couldn’t keep couch surfing. I hadn’t been home for more than 9 hours (which were just packing and sleeping hours before the Cotton Bowl trip) since Christmas Day and Naperville sounded absolutely amazing.

I called my mom once again to explain the whole situation. It was 7:00 a.m. and all I was guaranteed was a spot on the standby list for one of the buses. My mom started to yell at how she wanted to give the Amtrak people a piece of her mind and told me to say all the things that I already tried to beg. Then my dad clicked in on the line.

“Honey do I just start heading to get her,” my mom talks over me. “I can’t deal with this bullshit anymore.”

My mom started the 4 hour drive to STL as I sat awaiting and hoping to possibly be put on a bus, nervously flipping through my Vogue.

It’s 9:30. One of the Amtrak workers walks up to me and puts his hand my shoulder asking where I was headed again because he had a spot a bus for me. I called my mom and told her to stop at the nearest Amtrak station on the route. She was waking her way toward Springfield so we planned to meet there.

After sitting at the station in the bus for about 20 to 30 minutes, we were off to stop at all the stops the train would’ve made on its way to Chicago. I am still astounded that they wouldn’t run trains but instead put buses on roads, some of them being decently covered still.

After a couple hours, I saw a myriad of Abraham Lincoln statues in a park and I knew that I had reached my destination (not final, by any means). I hopped off the bus and there was my mom, awaiting my hug. I wrapped my arms around her, in a shirt I had worn 1.5 times in the previous week, my hair slicked back to prevent nervous pulling (also because of the greasy, travel feeling) and my glasses sliding down my nose. She told me how the Amtrak people at this station got equally screwed over by the STL Amtrak people because they were selling tickets to trains/parts of the line that STL had just canceled and had yet to inform them.

It was Tuesday. I was in my mom’s minivan eating a mini chicken pot pie from a local Springfield eatery and I was on my way home, something I had been trying to do since Sunday.

Those days that I spent way too much time in the Gateway Station in St. Louis taught me a few things. One, I am not a big fan of the Gateway Station in St. Louis. Two, Missouri is really shitty when it comes to snow. Three, and most importantly, I am incredibly lucky and blessed to be surrounded by people that care enough about me to drive through snow and deal with the Polar Vortex to get me to the train station, make sure I have somewhere to stay, and eventually rescue me.

You may not be able to rely on train, planes, or automobiles, but you can depend on the people that love you. That’s all I can ask for.