Ben West


Recent Articles:

NEWS

Tune into RUSA debates

Where will you be at 7 p.m? A better question is where should you be, and I believe that I may have the answer. The candidates who are vying for the position of Rutgers University Student Assembly president will face off today, at 7 p.m. in the Eagleton Institute of Politics on the Douglass campus in the University's first-ever presidential debate. This event will be broadcasted live on RU-TV channel 60 and by WRSU. At stake for School of Arts and Sciences junior Yousef Saleh, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore Sam Firmin and School of Arts and Science junior John Aspray is the office of president. In the balance lies the future of the University community during a most troubling time.

NEWS

Vote in RUSA elections, have your voice heard

Today is the day that you can get involved as a member of the Rutgers University Student Assembly. A mandatory information session will be held for all students who are interested in running for a position on RUSA at 7 p.m. today in Room 410 of the Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue campus. The Elections Committee will discuss and answer questions about the timeline of the RUSA election. Students will also be provided with RUSA's election's guidelines, which discuss the rules that govern the election, and they will be asked to submit their Declaration of Intent to Run, which is a document that allows the student to declare their interest in participating as a candidate. Attendance is mandatory for all students who seek candidacy. Students who are unable to make it may send a proxy. A proxy is simply an individual who does something on behalf of someone else. The proxy must come with a copy of the Declaration of Intent to Run that is signed by the candidate. The document is available online at http://rusaelections.webs.com. Once candidates have submitted their declarations at the end of the elections information session, they may begin to actively campaign.  

NEWS

RUSA elections bring student interests forward

As University commencement draws near, members of the Class of 2010 will soon begin to step down from leadership positions on campus, leaving younger generations of Scarlet Knights to step up and continue the work of student organizations. These organizations not only provide students with invaluable leadership experiences, but more importantly, they also make a substantive and sustainable impact on the world around them.

NEWS

Teach for America needs support now more than ever

As the campus campaign coordinator for Teach For America here at the University, I am especially excited that several hundred Scarlet Knights applied from Rutgers alone. That's why I am troubled by a new federal budget proposal that would dim future admissions prospects for college seniors and derail the organization's long-term goal of ending educational inequality. As a result, I felt compelled to respond to Tuesday's column, "Cuts to TFA not significant."

NEWS

Health care support will only grow

Week after week, many Republicans continue to deny the merits of President Barack Obama's health care reform legislation. More generally, Republicans reject any role for government in securing positive rights such as health care.

NEWS

FairTax lacks practicality

The tea party patriots' movement claims to be united by core values expressed in the nation's founding documents, such as the Federalist Papers. Tea is an acronym that stands for taxed enough already. Many tea party patriots have called for fundamental tax reform, demanding that the nation's progressive federal income tax be replaced with the "FairTax," which is a federal retail sales tax. Taxing consumption, assert many members of the tea party, is more fair and practical than a progressive income tax that unfairly burdens more than it burdens others. But are these calls for reform truly in line with what the founding fathers wanted? Would the founders lampoon a progressive, federal income tax, and would they believe that the FairTax is a fairer and a more practical solution?

NEWS

Strong not small government

The author of "Liberal ideals fail to explain," featured in The Daily Targum on Feb. 8 responded to my criticisms of the Tea Party movement. In my article, I pointed out that the rights to life, liberty and property that members of the Tea Party cherish require a competent, well-funded and strong government for their enforcement. Therefore, the Tea Party's generalized demonization of a strong government was misguided. So in the author's tirade, two counterarguments made against my point merit a rebuttal:

NEWS

The folly of Tea parties

These are the core principles of the Tea Party Patriots — "constitutionally limited government," "fiscal responsibility" and "free markets" — a group that calls itself "the official grassroots American movement." This conservative group hopes to ensure that public policy is made in a manner that is consistent with these principles. They claim that once these core principles are instilled into our policy-making process, public policies will go on to protect individual liberty.

NEWS

Every drop counts

A blood drive is being held in your residence hall. Seeking to serve his community and hoping to receive a free T-shirt by doing so, your friend, a fellow University student, decides to get in line in order to donate his blood. After several minutes, his time in line is over, and he is asked by an attendant to sit down and complete a questionnaire that seeks to screen out those who are ineligible to give blood. He is asked if he has lived in Europe for a certain period of time, and if he weighs less than 120 pounds. Having never left the state of New Jersey and being quite big-boned, he answers no to both of these questions. He is then asked whether or not he has had sex with another male. Your friend '- a gay student '- answers, 'yes' to this question. After he completes the questionnaire, the attendant reviews his answers. She informs him that unfortunately, he is not permitted to give blood because he has had sex with another male. He cannot give his blood because of his sexual orientation.' Back in 1983, when the risk of AIDS from blood transfusions was first recognized, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration instituted a ban on blood donations from men who have had a history of sex with males - MSM. The current form of the ban was instated in 1992 and is based on statistics that show that MSM are drastically more likely to have HIV and other infections, such as Hepatitis C.' But many have voiced opposition to this ban, citing that blood donations are needed more than ever today. According to New Jersey Blood Services, one out of three of us will require a transfusion at some point in our lives, but only two percent of the eligible New Jersey residents donate blood each year. New Jersey Blood Services conducts an estimated 250 drives a month and must recruit approximately 100,000 blood donors annually in order to serve the hospitals and patients in our local communities. However, this still does not provide an adequate blood supply and forces New Jersey to import thousands of units of blood every year from other states in order to meet the demand for blood from N.J. hospitals. In order to cover its blood deficit, New Jersey must import a whopping 14 percent of its blood.' America's Blood Centers, the American Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks asked the FDA in 2006 to review the policy. Seven members of Congress asked the agency in April 2009 to reconsider. Opponents criticize this ban as discriminatory. Such voices point out that the current ban 'relies on generalizations to justify a double standard for MSM compared to heterosexual donors who engage in high-risk sexual activities.' Others believe that the ban is arbitrary. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MSM are indeed the highest 'risk group;' however, if one looks beneath the surface, some have argued, one can see how illogical this ban is. Black heterosexual women are nearly as high-risk as black MSM. Black MSM make up 10,130 of new HIV infections in the United States, but black heterosexual women are not that far behind, making-up 7,340 of those HIV infections, and they actually outnumber the 5,360 new HIV infections that Hispanic MSM contribute to the US total. There is, however, no ban instituted against black heterosexual women; such a ban would be unlikely to survive scrutiny by the public.' The groups who oppose the ban claim that instead of screening out all male donors who admit to being MSM during pre-donation screenings, it would be more logical, less discriminatory, less arbitrary and safer to ask blood donors more specific questions about specific behaviors that increase their risk of HIV infection during pre-donation screening. They also point out that the FDA's multilayered approach to blood safety includes not only pre-donation screening-out of potential donors based on risk behaviors, but also screening of donated blood with sensitive and improving tests for infectious agents such as HIV-1, HIV-2, HCV, HBV and HTLV-I/II.' Several universities have banned blood drives outright on their campuses, citing that the ban is a violation of their principles or policies of nondiscrimination. In October 2009, Rutgers, like many other universities, was faced with the question of whether or not the FDA's ban was a violation of its nondiscrimination policy. The Rutgers University Student Assembly took action with a resolution that recognized that this ban was indeed a violation of the University's nondiscrimination policy, which includes the category of 'sexual orientation.' In the same resolution, RUSA also called for blood drives to not be banned on campus, because it correctly understood the great need for blood donations in New Jersey, and the positive contribution made by University students who give blood.' Now, RUSA would like to again address this issue in a way that benefits both members of the Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual community at the University and those who are in desperate need of blood transfusions.' We are looking for friends of the University's LGBT community to make blood donations in the name of an LGBT friend. You can donate your blood in the name of a male friend who has engaged in sexual activity with another male, or a female friend who has engaged in sexual activity with an MSM - they too are banned under the same policy banning MSM. If the donor would like to donate his or her blood but does not have an LGBT friend or has an LGBT friend who prefers not to be named, he or she can make the donation in support of the general cause. After giving blood, the donor will be asked to sign an affirmation that states his or her disagreement with the FDA's ban, and that affirmation will be sent to his or her representatives in the Congress.' By holding this event, we hope not only to raise awareness to this discriminatory ban but also to increase the amount of blood given to those who need it. The event is being held on Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 PM in the Busch Campus Center's Multipurpose Room B. Arrive early and become a part of this momentous advocacy event. Give blood in the name of your friend. Give blood to voice your opinion. Ask your friends to give blood for you. Spread the word! And above all, make a difference for members of your University community. Every drop counts, both for those who need blood, and for those whose blood is deemed worthless as the result of discriminatory policies that should be immediately revised.' ' Ben West is a Rutgers College senior majoring in political science and organizer of the 'Every Drop Counts' initiative.' '

NEWS

Make marriage equality a reality

Today, the New Jersey Legislature will consider a proposal to grant same-sex couples the right to marry. The proposal will be considered today by a Senate committee and could be posted for a full Senate vote later in the week.

NEWS

Strengthen religious diversity

Kerri Wilson and I hosted a discussion that focused on the possibility of creating an Interfaith Student Council at Rutgers University. Several student leaders from the University's diverse religious community were in attendance, ranging from leaders in the University's Pagan Student Association to the presidents of the Rutgers Hillel and the Jain Association at Rutgers.

NEWS

Westboro not the only source of hate

The past week has seen numerous articles about the visit that the University will soon receive from the infamously anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic and anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church Wednesday at 8:45 a.m. outside Rutgers Hillel. At first, I was hesitant to address this topic, as it was clear that so much has already been said, but upon examining The Daily Targum and the numerous counter-protests that have been planned on Facebook, I realized that a very broad point regarding hate speech on campus has been entirely overlooked in our ongoing dialogue about the subject.

NEWS

What's on your mind Rutgers

This month marks the Rutgers University Student Assembly's implementation of an exciting new initiative called "What's on Your Mind Month." During October, the members of RUSA will focus on learning about the concerns of students on campus through a "What's on Your Mind" survey, which will be distributed by members of the campus and professional school councils to all University students. Students will have the opportunity to share their thoughts about whatever issues concern them in this open-ended survey. These surveys will give administrators a more general understanding about the concerns of students.

NEWS

RUSA retreat an unnecessary expense

At last week's Rutgers University Student Assembly meeting, several student representatives, including myself, took a stand against the use of $20,000 in student fee money to fund a retreat for 150 members of RUSA at "Happiness is Camping." The retreat was conceived of by RUSA Chairman Werner Born and approved by the nine members of the Council of Presidents over the summer before the first meeting of the assembly. According to Josh Slavin, chairman of the Internal Affairs Committee, "The retreat is a part of the assembly's attempts to build better relationships between members … It's the best way to get students excited about student government." To be fair to the views of those who support the retreat, retreats were once held by each of the nine separate campus and professional school councils, and this year the Council of Presidents, which is made up of the presidents of each campus and professional school councils, thought it would be a good idea to pool their funds in order to hold a large retreat. The reasoning behind this decision was articulated by Slavin, who said, "We've tried on-campus activities and it did not foster the type of relationships we want to see between people that will work together in three-hour meetings for the entire year." At this point in time we have been given three erroneous justifications for the retreat by its supporters. The first justification is that spending in the past justifies spending today; because RUSA's executive board is spending the same amount of funding that the campus councils had spent on several smaller retreats in the past, it can justifiably pool that money and spend it on an even larger retreat today. The second justification is that bigger is better and that the results of the smaller retreats, which did not foster the type of relationships among a small group of people, will not be repeated in a larger, less intimate retreat for 150 people. These two assumptions, however, are clearly flawed. Last year, the College Avenue Council and the Livingston Campus Council went to the Poconos together for their retreat. The LCC had a successful year but the CAC experienced a turbulent year that saw the impeachment of its president, consistently low attendance and a few resolutions that made no perceptible impact on the student body. Its biggest achievement was the give away of several thousand dollars to student organizations. If off-campus retreats were as worthwhile as Slavin asserts they are, both campus councils would have had a successful year. If it is clear that a small off-campus retreat does not guarantee success, why would we expect a larger one to be productive? If the necessity of past retreats stands in question, what justifies the use of $20,000 on another retreat today? It is clear that wasteful spending in the past does not justify wasteful spending today and that bigger versions of past events will not succeed merely because they are bigger. Success takes more than a retreat, and examples exist to prove this. The Douglass Governing Council, for example, has not held its own retreat; however, it has already arranged several events, including a visit from three New Jersey assemblywomen, who are coming to speak to the Douglass community and the University community as a whole about what it means to be a woman involved in politics. They are also assisting in efforts to find a new dean for Douglass. Empower Our Neighborhoods is on the verge of changing New Brunswick government for the better, yet you do not see its executive board using $20,000 to plan a retreat so that organization members can become excited and make friends. This realization leads us to the third and most misguided justification that has been given to us for this $20,000 retreat: that $20,000 should be spent on elected representatives in order to help excite them about a position that they voluntarily decided to take in the first place, to help them make friends on the assembly and to allow them to learn how to perform their job duties. Several questions arise. Should assembly members be allowed to spend $20,000 to become excited and make friends? Should they not already be excited about the opportunity to represent others and look forward to making friends as they take advantage of that opportunity and actually work? Could these student leaders not also do both of these things by staying at the University and using the funding to perform a community service project together? Could representatives who have served longer and who are in leadership positions teach newly elected representatives how to perform their jobs during smaller meetings on campus? The answer to all of these questions is yes. Furthermore, if rope swinging, rock climbing and zip-lining are that important, the University offers many of these activities on campus; one need not go to "Happiness is Camping" and pay $20,000 to make friends, get excited, learn how to perform one's job or swing on ropes. What is most alarming is that some of my fellow representatives have seemingly ignored our code of ethics, which was passed unanimously on Feb. 21, 2008 during a RUSA meeting. This code is meant to guide the behavior of all members of RUSA, and among its several clauses it includes a clause on "Financial Responsibilities" that reads: "RUSA is responsible for approving the distribution of student fees to recognized student organizations at Rutgers University. For this reason, representatives must be aware of the requested expenditures and keep in mind that expenditures should be justifiable in terms of benefit to the students of the university." Is an exclusive $20,000 all-expenses paid trip to "Happiness is Camping" for elected student representatives really justifiable in terms of benefit to the students of the University when the success of past off-campus retreats has been questionable, when there are countless examples of extremely successful organizations that have not needed retreats and when our University has faced a budget cut nearly every year? When the budget is so limited, why is RUSA unnecessarily spending money when so many other groups on campus are underfunded? Why is RUSA, which has been invisible to many for the past three years, retreating when it should be advancing by staying home and serving the student body? I encourage you, members of the student body, to come to the next RUSA meeting at the Student Activities Lounge on the College Avenue campus on Thursday, Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. to ask RUSA's executive board, "Why?"  

NEWS

Racism Alive in a New Form: Blatant Ignorance

In Wednesday's edition of The Daily Targum, Jenna Greenfield offered her thoughts on race in American society in her article, "Racism alive in a new form." What troubles the author is that "some black people refuse to let go of racism that plagued their ancestors, channeling their resentment toward white citizens in what is easily identified as racism." She believes that although there are still a couple of racists in America, "we have risen above the … issue of unequal rights and undeserved discrimination, [so] we should collectively dissolve our differences and focus on the grounds of our shared humanity."

NEWS

More time needed for RUSA constitution changes

Did you know the Rutgers University Student Assembly planned to vote on a newly proposed constitution on Thursday, which, if approved, would have only required support from only 2 percent of Rutgers students to be adopted by RUSA? Do you even know what RUSA is? Don't worry if your answer is "no," you are not alone — most students have no idea that Rutgers has a student assembly. 

NEWS

Flaunt this

Apparently, Jeff Wisniewski, the Rutgers College junior who graciously submitted his opinion to the Pendulum on March 12 in The Daily Targum, believes that same sex marriage is fair, which I applaud him for. But then, like many American heterosexual citizens who feel that it is "not what I would do," he goes on to say that he does not want it "flaunted" in his face because "there is a difference between having pride and then just flaunting it to get a reaction from someone." He thinks that's "just not tasteful."

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