Political views on campus

This article was written December 2016.

November 2016 marked a new era of politics. Despite controversy, lawsuits and incorrect published winner predications, President-elect Donald Trump took the presidential election victory with a 306-to-232 electoral vote, according to the 270 to Win website.

Immediately following the election, San Diego State students began using their classrooms and campus as means to discuss the election.

On Nov. 10, hundreds of students, faculty, staff and community members alike rallied around campus protesting Trump and intolerance on campus as well as in the nation, according to the Facebook event page for the protest.

While hundreds of students against Trump actively express their sentiments on campus, there are a smaller amount of Trump supporters who said they aren’t able to express their political views without feeling ostracized.

SDSU student and Trump supporter John Weil said he feels thrown aside by the university.

“It’s like I’m in a very small community of people (on campus) who are Republican,” Weil said.

Weil said most of the Republicans he knows don’t discuss their political views on campus for fear of judgement.

“(Professors) commented on their own political views in almost every single one of my classes, and I was extremely upset with the fact that San Diego State did not have a proper way to regulate what the professors talked about in class,” Weil said. “It was extremely unprofessional, and I actually have a lower view of San Diego State after that.”

Weil said because he doesn’t feel comfortable expressing his views on campus, he has a group of friends he actively discusses politics with.

“Without that we feel like we’re basically the minority in politics,” Weil said.

Weil said beyond his group of friends, he receives negative comments because of his views.

“Every part of my daily life is considered negative now just because I voted a different president than someone else,” Weil said.

Weil isn’t alone in his fear of safety.

On Nov. 9, a Muslim woman on campus was victim to hate crime, robbery and vehicle theft by two men who made comments to her regarding Trump and the Muslim community, according to a community safety alert sent to the SDSU community by the SDSU Police Department.

Weil said he did not pay attention to this hate crime on campus.

“I don’t check any of those emails or follow the on-campus trends because most of them are just a one-day fad where everyone posts on Facebook, which has no purpose and really no one cares to be honest,” Weil said. “They just want to comment on Facebook so they look like a good person, and it moves on. So I just ignore everything and go about my daily life, and so no, it has not affected me.”

Communication Professor Luke Winslow, however, said he feels it is his responsibility to address hate crimes and oppression.

“People like me are going to be fine,” Winslow said. “I have a good job, and I’m white, and I’m tall, and I get my healthcare through my job, and I’m kind of isolated. But if you’re brown, particularly if you’re a single mother, if you’re a Muslim, if you live in another part of the country, if you have an unplanned pregnancy, if you’re not as privileged, Trump’s presidency means something different for you. I’m not going to get beat up because Trump won. But someone else might.”

Winslow teaches multiple communication classes on campus, including Communication and Politics.

He said many of his students like to discuss Trump in particular.

“‘Why Donald Trump? What happened?’ … I don’t have a very good answer,” Winslow said. “But it makes for good discussions. … One of my students said something like, ‘He’s the devil.’ And I said, ‘Well, he’s not the devil. This is bad what he did and said. But he’s not the devil.’ And it’s important to make that distinction.”

Winslow said he worries about groupthink occurring because his class has a somewhat anti-Trump climate.

“I’m very careful to create space for all reasonable opinions to be heard and to feel valued,” Winslow said. “There was a student in this class I taught in the spring that was a vocal Trump supporter. There haven’t been any in this fall. I would bet that there’s probably several people that either voted for him or supported him in the class, but no one has said it.”

Political Science Professor Stephen Goggin said social pressure is a big deal on campus and in this election.

“That’s why you have ‘I voted’ stickers,” Goggin said. “We know social pressure can influence engagement and turn out and stuff.”

He said that political opinions can depend on those around you, college students included.

“People don’t like to rock the boat,” Goggin said. “Whenever you ask people their opinions, people want to not appear bad. This pressure can definitely influence what people say and make that different than what they’re actually doing.”

SDSU student and Trump supporter Jolene McKee said she tries to avoid discussing politics while on campus.

“It’s just kind of a headache sometimes,” McKee said.

She said she has experienced harassment on campus after the election results were announced.

“There was a day … I wore my ‘Make America Great Again’ hat and was harassed by students in my class, and my car was vandalized,” McKee said. “There was a professor who yelled at me down the hallway (because I support Trump). It is a bummer that you can’t openly discuss your political views just because it’s very liberalized.”

McKee said she doesn’t think faculty and staff do a good job at preventing incidents like hers from occurring.

On Nov. 17, California State University (CSU) Chancellor Timothy P. White sent out an open letter to faculty, staff and students of the CSU system.

“I write to provide assurance that we will continue to make every effort to provide a safe and welcoming campus environment for all our students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the community,” White said in the open letter.

SDSU student Andrew Dyer said despite attempts to be inclusive of all ideologies, faculty and staff are still set in their own beliefs.

“We saw huge protests on campus against the police and after the election of Trump,” Dyer said. “There’s a lot of faculty, if not participating, on the sidelines of those protests. That was supported.”

Although he is a registered Democrat, Dyer said his beliefs aren’t fully represented on campus either.

“I think the college community is one that is supportive of progressive ideas,” Dyer said. “I think they’re not as progressive as they think they are. I see a lot of resistance to actual progressive ideas.”

Dyer said, however, when he talks to people on campus with different political beliefs, the conversation is always civil. He said he aims to find common ground.

“I know a lot of conservative students feel like their views aren’t welcome on campus, and they feel like they can’t speak out,” Dyer said. “But I do not feel my views are being suppressed in that way, if views are even being suppressed. It’s an if. But I understand why they feel that way.”

He said that the stigma against Trump supporters is due to all the controversy surrounding Trump during his campaign.

“If you consider yourself a Trump supporter, there’s a lot of things that go along with that, including this perception of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant bias, which everyday during the campaign, he was talking about these things,” Dyer said. “So whenever you come out and say, ‘I support Trump,’ people are going to rightly or wrongly assume you’re maybe Islamophobic or against immigrants. Whether or not that’s fair, that comes with the territory.”

Dyer said the passion in this election is why politics have become so personal.

“If I’m a Trump supporter, maybe my support for him doesn’t run as deep as some people’s hate for him,” Dyer said. “Some people dislike him at a level I don’t support him at. I think were I a Trump supporter, there’s no way people are even going to hear me. It’s just gone too far with his rhetoric.”

SDSU student Jack Sellas said as a Trump supporter, he feels people won’t listen to his views.

“The second you say one differing (opinion), a screen blocks off. ‘Oh, you vote for Trump?’ A shield comes on and blocks the whole thing,” Sellas said. “That does sometimes happen. … It gives people with different beliefs thicker skin.”

Sellas said he ultimately feels comfortable disclosing his support for Trump on campus because most people can hold a conversation without tension.

Student Will Fritz said students who support Trump should be willing to speak up.

“I had a roommate last year who was a Trump supporter, and he told me last year, ‘I don’t really say anything.’ He has a Trump hat, and he said, ‘I want to wear it, but I don’t want to,’” Fritz said. “Okay, like I think your political opinions are stupid, but they’re your opinions. On one hand I disagree with you, but on the other hand you should own it. It’s your opinion. Don’t be afraid to say it. You’re entitled to your own opinion.”

Cat man on campus

A glimpse of a tail, the scurry of paws, a whiff of cat food in the mornings: There are seven cats that call San Diego State their home, and one man who knows and cares for them more than anyone.

“Over by the bookstore, there’s a grey and white [cat] named Hermione,” said John Denune, a former SDSU staff member.  “Her mother lives over near the mediterranean garden and her name is Buddy. In front of Hepner Hall, there’s a black one named BJ. Her brother and mother live on the other side of this building; that’s Orion and Darcy. There’s a relatively new cat on campus … named Blondie. Probably the oldest cat on campus … is Mama Calico.”

Several students have acquainted themselves with the cats but many are unaware that all seven cats are cared for by John Denune, the creator of the Aztec Cats program.

Aztec Cats was started by Denune in 2009 when he was leaving work for the night and noticed four cats on campus looking for food in trash cans.

“I grew up with lots of animals; I grew up on a farm,” Denune said. “I just felt that wasn’t a way for a cat to eat.”

Denune began feeding the cats every day to ensure they were well fed at their home on campus.

“But just feeding them wasn’t enough since the cat population would multiply if they weren’t neutered,” Denune wrote on the Aztec Cats Facebook page.

He then teamed up with the Feral Cat Coalition, a non-profit organization based in San Diego dedicated to reducing the overpopulation of feral cats, according to their website. With the help of the organization, Denune keeps the cat population on campus in control.

“We don’t want a lot of feral cats running around campus because [of] the chances of them getting hurt or somebody on campus getting hurt,” Enterprise Technology Services Budget and Administrative Manager Sheryl Necochea said, one of the Aztec Cats feeders.

Necochea is part of the team of feeders Denune recruited to ensure the cats are fed on a daily basis.

Denune was a technology security officer at SDSU until 2011, when he took a position at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). When he left his job at SDSU, he formed a group of staff members who also share a passion for taking care of animals to feed the cats. He then created a schedule for all the feeders to follow.

“He actually used to feed all the cats every day, and he would also take them to the vet, try to find homes for them, everything,” said Nance Lakdawala, an SDSU staff member and Aztec Cats feeder. “He took care of them completely. … There’s actually six of us that do a week at a time, and we just trade off.”

Each of the feeders takes turns feeding the cats on a week-by-week basis.

On weekends and holidays, Denune comes to campus to feed the cats despite no longer being employed by SDSU.

“They’re kind of my extended cat family, and I actually look forward to coming here every weekend and just walking around the campus,” Denune said. “It’s a beautiful campus. Feeding my cats and seeing my cats, it’s just part of my life.”

Over the seven years since Aztec Cats first began, several other cats, besides the current seven, have called SDSU their home.

Denune said 19 former Aztec Cats were adopted out, including two adopted by Necochea and several he adopted himself.

However, he said there were two instances that he knows of involving students taking the cats.

One student took an older Aztec cat to the animal shelter, thinking he was a lost cat.

“One day [a cat named Papa] just disappeared, and when he didn’t show up for a couple of days, we really started to worry,” Denune said. “Just for kicks I looked at the county animal shelter mugshot pictures, and there he was.”

Another instance occurred when a student took home an older cat, Crook, thinking she was lost.

“The student said, ‘Yeah, I took her home because I thought she was lost,’ so we tried out an adoption with them, and Crook growing up kind of alone and on campus didn’t really socialize well with this person,” Denune said. “We took her back, and actually, a faculty member adopted her, and she’s been doing great at the faculty member’s house. He sends me pictures every once in a while holding her and sleeping on the bed.”

Necochea said the goal for the Aztec Cats program was to adopt out the kittens. The older cats prefer the outdoors, so those Denune and the other feeders don’t have the same goal in mind for them.

Denune said the feral cat program is written into the grounds policy for staff members to take care of the cats and feed them.

“It’s kind of an official blessed program,” Denune said.

The cats are safe living on campus, and the living situation of the cats is safe for students as well.

“We had the blessing of [the] vice president for business affairs, and she checked it out with other campus police constituents and environmental health and safety,” Denune said. “They didn’t see a big risk to the campus.”

Many students and staff alike enjoy the presence the cats bring to the campus.

“[The Aztec Cats program] means a lot because it kind of brings a sense of nature to the campus,” media studies sophomore Sumner Shorey said. “There’s a sense of hospitality, too, and comfort.”

Shorey’s favorite cat Hermione lives near the graphic design office, and many people who work in graphic design help with the care of Hermione.

“I love [Aztec Cats],” SDSU Senior Graphic Designer Nader Rastakhiz said. “I think it’s very friendly … I see people are coming and relaxing [with the cats]. It’s a good thing.”

Around the graphic design office, the designers know Denune as a provider for the cats. He makes a gift every year for everyone who helps with the care of the Aztec Cats.

“One year he made a mug with a bunch of [the cat’s] pictures on it,” Graphic Designer Elizabeth Brozek said.

He’s working on a fundraiser to produce cat calendars and sell them to the SDSU community, Lakdawala said.

Besides the perk of getting the calendars for helping with the program, the feeders are grateful to Denune for what it brings to them.

“Working with the campus cats and John just gives me that little bit extra step where I feel involved in the university and doing something good for the university,” Necochea said. “I’m grateful to John to have started the program, and I’m grateful to be involved.”

“I just love animals, and these guys didn’t ask to be born on campus, they didn’t ask to be born without a home, so my goal is to try to make them the happiest home as possible, and they seem to really enjoy living here,” Denune said. “You walk around and see them sleeping under a bush or something like that, and it’s just very heartwarming to see that.”

“He’s definitely a cat person,” Necochea said.

SDSU crime and incident report: Domestic violence, new safety app

Originally published in The Daily Aztec on Jan. 27, 2016 

Suicide attempt

On Monday, Jan. 18 around 7:30 p.m., San Diego State Police responded to a report of a suicidal man at the SDSU Transit Center.

According to SDSUPD, the 19-year-old subject had a plan to overdose.

He was transported to the hospital for additional care.

If you or someone you know is looking for help, SDSU Counseling and Psychological Services is available for all students. 

They are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Students needing immediate help can call 619-594-5220 during business hours. 

After business hours, students seeking help can contact the San Diego Access and Crisis 24-hour Hotline at 888-724-7240. 

Foot patrol

On Wednesday, Jan. 20 at 5 a.m., SDSUPD contacted a man sleeping at the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union. 

During the contact, officers discovered the subject had controlled substances with him.

The subject then attempted to flee.

He was caught after a brief chase with SDSUPD members and arrested for his violations.

Disturbing the peace

On Thursday, Jan. 21 shortly before 2 p.m., there was a report of a verbal disturbance in the courtyard north of Love Library.

A subject was protesting and several individuals were verbally disagreeing with the protester.

SDSUPD stayed on the scene to ensure all parties’ right to freedom of speech and that it wouldn’t escalate to violence, SDSUPD Cpl. Mark Peterson said.

Domestic violence

A non-SDSU student was arrested at the Granada dorms on Friday, Jan. 22 after 3 p.m.

The subject was trying to enter the apartment of his ex-girlfriend, who refused to let him in, according to SDSUPD.

He was arrested on the scene for domestic violence.

SDSUPD app launch

On Tuesday, Jan. 26, SDSUPD launched a new app for SDSU students, faculty and staff called Aztec Shield.

The app can be used for emergency or non-emergency situations and provides users the ability to reach SDSUPD.

Key features include: an interactive crime map detailing the activity of SDSUPD in the area, a “Friend Watch” feature to allow people of the user’s choosing to monitor their location, and the ability to report incidents with picture and video, among other features.

Aztec Shield will be available for both iPhone and Android users.

SDSUPD’s bicycle registration event

On Thursday, Jan. 28, SDSUPD will be hosting a bicycle registration event.

From 1 to 5 p.m., SDSUPD will be giving out free Kryptonite bike locks and a copy of the new San Diego regional bike map to all SDSU community members who come to register a bike.

The event will take place on Cuicacalli Walk.

The goal is to lessen the number of bike thefts on campus, Peterson said.

Registering a bike provides SDSUPD the bike’s serial number that will help with recovery if stolen.

All SDSU community members attending the event should bring their bike and Red ID.

After the event, bikes can be registered at the police department’s front lobby Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

Bike locks will be given out with all registrations while supplies last.

New brain microchip could mobilize people with paralysis

Originally published in The Daily Aztec on Nov. 4, 2015.

San Diego State researchers are part of an effort to help paralyzed people regain mobility with a microchip installed in the brain.

SDSU is part of the National Science Foundation-funded Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, along with University of Washington and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“(CSNE) focused on developing a unified framework for helping paralyzed people, specifically people with spinal cord injury, to restore their sensorimotor functions based on some implementable devices we develop as a center, as a whole,” said Ke Huang, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

“I hope that this can provide a nice opportunity for researchers, educators, and our whole community,” Huang said. “This would be a good start for us to develop new courses, develop new research and attract students.”

Professors and researchers across a variety of disciplines at SDSU are working together to develop the technology. These fields include the mechanical, electrical and computer engineering departments.

“There are many scientists from different disciplines working in the center,” said Ashkan Ashrafi, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. “We have neuroscientists, we have material engineers, we have software engineers.”

Ashrafi said his role in the research is to interpret brain signals.

“The brain is a very, very complicated device and interpreting by recording the signals from the brain is not easy,” he said. “If I can explain the problem in a nutshell, you have millions of neurons firing and every single neuron is responsible for a certain motor task, and what we capture is just one signal or a certain number of signals that represent the activities of millions and millions of neurons.”

His role is one of the many disciplines and researchers involved in CSNE across the three campuses. There is student involvement in the research, as well.

“SDSU engineering students are also building CSNE projects for their senior design experience, some of which are destined for research and clinical application,” said Dr. Karen May-Newman, professor in the department of mechanical engineering.

Bioengineering graduate student Maria Vomero has worked on the project through her research and master’s thesis for two and a half years.

She, along with SDSU CSNE Deputy Director Sam Kassegne, and her colleague Pieter van Niekerk, have contributed through their research on material being used for the brain chip.

“We are currently at the level of (implanting the device) into primates, such as the monkey, to see if we can actually provide the regaining of the motion,” said Kee Moon, professor in the department of mechanical engineering.

The goal for the next five years is to provide stroke survivors, amputees and other people who could benefit the ability to do daily tasks, Ashrafi said.

“Hopefully, in the long run, we’ll be able to achieve bigger goals,” he said. “But right now, for the next five years, this is the goal. The most important thing is we want to have a single chip, not a complicated device, to be able to put it inside the brain of people.”