Concealed weapons on college campuses stirs debate both at Elon and across the nation

by Dalton Cox

photo by Dalton Cox
photo by Dalton Cox

In April 2015, North Carolina legislature removed language from a bill that would allow gun owners with concealed weapons permits to bring a gun onto the property of private schools. In 2013, at least 19 states introduced laws that made allowances for concealed weapons on campuses, and in 2014, at least 14 states introduced similar legislation.

In March 2015, the Texas state Senate passed legislation that would allow concealed weapons to be carried legally on college campuses. The bill, however, must still be approved by the state House.

“Students have expressed concerns to me about their ability to protect themselves,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Brian Birdwell, reported The Associated Press. “It’s time we don’t imperil their safety.”

Several students at Elon University disagree with Birdwell’s logic.

“I would not feel safe about it if a bill of this nature was passed in North Carolina,” said Erin Valentine, Class of 2015. “I wouldn’t feel very safe if students around me could carry concealed weapons. If you’re going to carry a weapon, I should know about it because it’s my right to know.”

Julia Elleman, an Elon First Year, agrees.

“Even though they would have a permit, I don’t’ think anyone should have that control,” Elleman said. “You never know what could happen, especially on a college campus.”


Thomas Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University.

“This has nothing to do with anybody’s rights,” Arcaro said. “It has everything to do with selling a particular view of the world, selling more guns and ammunition and using the massive lobby influence of the NRA to move in that direction. These types of laws would have an effect on the culture in moving it further along the path of really separating a true democracy from one that is dominated by powerful lobby influence groups like the NRA.”


Panel Discusses Hunger and Food Hardship in Alamance County

(From left to right) Norwick, Nepocatych, Crawford, and Allison discuss the issue of food hardship in Alamance County and encourage volunteerism
(Left to right) Norwick, Nepocatych, Crawford, and Allison discuss food hardship in Alamance County and encourage volunteerism

On March 31 Elon University and the Times-News of Burlington, N.C. organized a panel discussion, entitled Hunger in Alamance County, as part of the organizations’ Community Connections program. Local community members, including students, local residents, activists and city government officials filled Elon’s McKinnon Hall to listen to the guest speakers discuss the issue and answer questions from the audience.

The panel included President of United Way Alamance County, Heidi Norwick, assistant professor of Exercise Science at Elon University Svetlana Nepocatych, Executive Director of Allied Churches of Alamance County Kim Crawford, and Deputy Director of Alamance County Department of Social Services Linda Allison.

The issue that these ladies discussed may be more pertinent to Alamance County than many Elon students ever realize, despite North Carolina ranking tenth in the United States in food hardship. Svetlana Nepocatych explained that much of Alamance County is considered a food desert, where nutritional food sources are scattered and not easily available to those with limited means. Nineteen percent of the citizens of Alamance County are food insecure; the national average is only 14 percent. Also, over half students in Alamance County public schools were eligible for free and reduced school lunches in 2011.

“For us, anytime we talk about numbers it leaves an indication that some number’s ok,” Crawford said. “As long as one person is having to deal with this issue then we have one too many in Alamance County.”

The food hardship of Alamance County was intensified in September 2013 when Loaves and Fishes Christian Food Ministry was forced to close. Crawford worked with Allied Churches of Alamance County to help fill the gap of approximately 7,000 meals previously provided by Loaves and Fishes.

“When the previous food bank closed, we had so many step up,” Allison said. “We didn’t sit back and watch it happen. Everybody came together immediately, beginning the very day we knew it was happening, and started meeting to see how we could pull together.”

Though this effort has evolved in to a community-wide process, Crawford explained several issues that still stand as obstacles to eliminating food scarcity.

“The biggest challenge is nutritional food,” Crawford said. “I will tell you we don’t need corn, and we don’t need green beans. We need to provide more of a balanced product to people that are coming. Most of the people in our shelter have chronic health issues. Many of the people coming to the pantry have chronic health issues. What they eat and what we provide for them often doesn’t help.”

To learn more about the challenges exacerbating food hardship, watch Crawford’s detailed explanation below.

Crawford described the best efforts of community members to aid in overcoming such hardship and hunger in three words: “time, talent and treasure.” Volunteerism for any amount of time is beneficial, especially if one is able to aid in a unique area of expertise – such as nutritionist or a person able to give cooking classes.

Approval of police body cameras highlighted by Elon University

Elon’s Director of Campus Safety and Police Dennis Franks (left) and Town of Elon Police Chief Cliff Parker discuss body cameras
Elon’s Director of Campus Safety and Police Dennis Franks (left) and Town of Elon Police Chief Cliff Parker (right) discuss the use of body cameras by police

by Dalton Cox

Though the majority of US citizens support the use of body cameras by police, the logistics of equipping police with cameras have generated debate in the past several months. Such deliberation considers issues of transparency, privacy concerns, and cost. North Carolina lawmakers have recently proposed legislation to require the use of body cameras by some, if not all, law enforcement officers, and a recent poll conducted by Elon University found that 91 percent of the North Carolinians agreed that police should wear body cameras while on duty.

Police Body Cameras Info
Infographic by Cassidy Stratton

“Support for police body cameras is nearly universal and is clearly a response to increased media attention on police shootings,” said Kenneth Fernandez, director of the Elon University Poll.

In August 2014, Elon Police began using four body cameras, primarily to record the enforcement of parking violations. Elon police did not begin using cameras in cars until 2013.

“We were exploring this before Ferguson and before the national conversation started,” said Cliff Parker, Town of Elon Police Chief.

Elon Assistant Police Chief James Perry suggested the contemporary requirement for officers who are equip with body cameras to use the camera.

“A lot of the situations we have are very fluid,” Perry said. “If we get out of the car quickly and forget to hit the button it looks negative. It looks like we’re trying to hide something.”

This year, lawmakers in at least 15 states have introduced legislation to keep recordings of police encounters out of public records.

The Elon poll found that approval for publicly releasing recordings varied based on respondents’ political affiliations and race.

Approximately 70 percent of Democrats favored transparency, compared to 48 percent of Republicans. Seventy-eight percent of African Americans respondents favored transparency, while only 58 percent of Caucasians favored such public availability.

The average cost about of a body camera is approximately $1,000, and the recordings from such devices are typically kept in the police database for 90 days, according to Elon’s Director of Campus Safety and Police Dennis Franks.

“I’ve had a positive response,” said Franks. “They act as an impartial witness and record both sides of an event. The only negative I can see to them is if they go down. Obviously, we enjoy a low crime rate and they’re just another tool”

Still, Parker described that the recordings from such devices were only a piece of the evidence considered in conducting an investigation.

“ We don’t just rely on one account,” Parker said. We look at officers’ statements, witnesses’ statement, victims’ statements. The body camera acts as part of the picture but not the whole thing.”

Videos by Dalton Cox

The cross-country education of an ‘angry, young’ academic

Professor Michael Strickland teaching in the Elon University Community Garden
Professor Michael Strickland teaching in the Elon University Community Garden, photo by Dalton Cox

by Dalton Cox

Michael Strickland sat cross-legged with dozens of others on the floor of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Elementary School in Boulder, Colo. The door to the classroom swung open, and a musical procession led by Tibetan monks began to encircle the students. Four men, dressed in the style of Hells Angels, followed the Tibetans. This leather-clad foursome each pulled from their backpacks a Yuban coffee can.

They opened the lids.

These visitors brought to the Catholic school, not gifts of frankincense and myrrh, but dozens of marijuana cigarettes. The benevolent bikers sparked the spiffs and began to distribute them. At the front and center of the hazy room stood the American poet Allen Ginsberg.

The students were not children, but young-adult writers attending the fledgling Naropa Institute – now Naropa University – which had rented the building during the summer months. It was the mid-1970s and Michael Strickland was in his early 20s.

“The school was started by a Tibetan monk, who was Ginsberg’s meditation teacher,” Strickland said. “Ginsberg named it the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, and immediately upon hearing that name I said, ‘I have to go there.’ Now it’s accredited and everything. When I went there, it was this totally crazy scene.”

That day of the monks and Mary Jane was Strickland’s first day of a Bachelor of Fine Arts program that he would never finish, though he currently holds several graduate degrees, including a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Georgia. Today, Strickland is surrounded by more traditional academia, as a lecturer in English and environmental studies at North Carolina’s Elon University.

Apart from his formal learning, Strickland has also received another equally extensive education by his own travel and experiences, as an active disciple of the Beat Generation writers.

Strickland sits in his present-day office in Elon’s science building. A photo of Allen Ginsberg stands on his desk. Near the frame is parked a small replica Harley Davidson that doubles as a lamp – Strickland’s wife’s alternative to him owning an actual motorcycle. It is March and finally beginning to become warm. Strickland prefers this weather. Wearing a faded Pawleys Island baseball cap, he remarks that North Carolina has always hosted much colder winters than his native South Carolina. Strickland grew up on the South Carolina coast, though he did spend much of his childhood summers in Stanly County, N.C. on his grandfather’s farm.

Professor Michael Strickland in the Elon University Community Garden
Professor Michael Strickland guiding students in the Elon Community Garden, photo by Dalton Cox

“As a young kid, I was very happy,” Strickland said. “As I got to be in my late teens I was an angry young man. I grew up in the ’60s, so that was a volatile time for young folks. The Vietnam War had been dragging on for a long time, and there was a lot of change we were hoping for. As a young person, you don’t always see the big picture of things, so you get impatient. The older you get, you understand how embedded things are.”

It was during such restless days of Strickland’s sophomore year that one of his classmates lent him a copy of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” Kerouac had passed away that fall; Strickland, inspired by Kerouac’s novel, hitchhiked for the first time during a holiday weekend that spring. He had told his parents he was staying at a friend’s house, but had truly spent much of the weekend in Montreal with a young couple that had picked him up in southern Pennsylvania. Strickland did not tell his father about the trip until nearly 30 years later.

“I immediately came back and read all the rest of the Kerouac I could get my hands on,” Strickland said. “It doesn’t have the same impact toady. I’ve read ‘On the Road’ enough times; I teach it once a year. I see it for all its bumps, warts and flaws now, but at 16, at 17, at 18 and still well into my 20s, it was a really, really powerful novel. It doesn’t have the same impact today, but it still does have impact.”

Hitchhiking would soon become a custom, shaping much of Strickland’s early life. Though it began as an outlet for adolescent angst, hitching rides became necessary once Strickland began attending Clemson University in 1972; it allowed for spontaneity, and when an oil crisis caused gas prices to escalate in his sophomore year, hitchhiking became an economic inevitability.

“I would never recommend it for people today,” Strickland said. “It was way safer. People went out of their way to pick you up and not just young people. I would get rides sometimes from little old ladies, who would say, ‘you look like a nice young man, and I’m getting tired of driving.’ There was a lot more trust.”

Still Strickland recalls several instances when hitchhiking took a turn for the worst. Once when Strickland was escorting a young woman to her home in Boston, the two were picked up in the Berkshires region of Massachusetts by a man in a rickety, English sports car.

“He made her sit in the front seat and me in this nonexistent, little backseat,” Strickland said. “He was either very drunk or very high, and he was driving erratically.”

When the two companions switched seats at a gas station, the driver became livid. Once back on the road, the driver pulled a pistol on the young couple, and demanded that they switch back to their original seats as he weaved through traffic. When the driver finally pulled up to a stop sign, the two passengers jumped from the vehicle and ran.

“That wasn’t the only time I had a gun pulled on me,” Strickland said. “Probably happened three or four times over the years. I never had the real sense that this person was insane to shoot me, but insane enough to pull a gun on somebody.”

As the 1960s’ “spirit of love” began to fade and hitchhiking became more dangerous, Strickland developed a fervor for another means of travel.

“I went to a big train phase in the mid ’70s,” Strickland said. “I rode trains all over the country and in Canada, sometimes legally – sometimes not so legally. I never was big on the hobo train travel – the jumping on freight trains. There’s certainly a lot more options for that kind of train travel, but I did it once or twice and it’s really hard and uncomfortable.”

Professor Michael Strickland teaching in the Elon University Community Garden
Professor Michael Strickland instructing a student in the Elon Community Garden, photo by Dalton Cox

Though Strickland would eventually obtain several graduate degrees, he spent four of his postgraduate years on the road in a Volkswagen camper van, earning an income as a woodworker. Strickland’s grandfather – the one who was not a farmer – had taught high school woodshop and agriculture classes, and he had passed to his grandson his love for craftsmanship.

“I told myself that I was in a phase of life where I was actively trying to avoid winter,” Strickland said. “A good year for me, I’d be working in Maine in August and in South Florida in January. I would’ve considered that a very successful year.”

After completing graduate and doctorate degrees and teaching at several other institutions, Strickland began his career at Elon in 1999. He had come to conduct an outside evaluation of an academic program, and admired Elon’s intimate community and growing resources. Elon was on the cusp of a rapid period of expansion, and Strickland had always enjoyed watching things grow.

Both Strickland’s grandfathers were proficient agriculturalists, and Strickland’s father had owned an agriculture supply shop. Strickland carried on this familial tradition. From the day he began teaching at Elon, Strickland has been involved with student gardening. In 1999 a garden was located on the location that became Elon’s south campus, then a site for Elon Homes and Schools for Children (EHSC).

“It was an orphanage school,” Strickland said. “There was this beautiful, permaculture garden over there. I don’t know how I found out about it, but I found out about it immediately.”

It was then that Strickland began to supplement gardening in to his coursework, even in his English classes. His students would work alongside the children of the EHSC to cultivate the garden; however, as a result of Elon’s expansion it bought the property. The EHSC was relocated, and Strickland was cast out of the garden to find a new genesis for student agriculture.

In the fall of 2006, Bree Detwiler, Class of 2007, developed Elon’s Community Garden with Strickland as an academic project. Strickland’s currently teaches a garden studio class to continuously tend the site.

“Michael’s work in developing and maintaining Elon’s Garden enables students to have hands on experience with innovative and organic practices,” said Megan Isaac, chair of Elon’s English Department. “He believes in experiential learning. I got to know Michael eight years ago, when I was hired at Elon. As a colleague, I think he brings some unique qualities to his teaching – qualities that reinforce Elon’s commitment to engaged learning.”

This belief in engaged learning has been reinforced for Strickland by a lifetime of education through experience. In his garden studio class, students become familiar with Strickland’s philosophy.

“You are continuously learning, and it’s the exact opposite of a lecture class,” said Kelsey Price of Elon’s Class of 2015. “I feel like I’ve already learned more about soil, compost, productivity and the work that goes in to gardening than I could have from a formal class, simply by asking questions. It’s a unique space where people from all across can connect, and I think a lot of that spirit originates from the open attitude that Professor Strickland encourages in his students.”

Strickland also traditionally teaches a month-long course focused exclusively on the Beat Generation.

“My goal is to give students an alternative perspective on a literary period that may be closer to them in time than the many others that they may have studied,” Strickland said. “As long as each new generation of students find their own way to engage in it, then I’ll continue doing it. If I ever get to the point where it’s no different than studying something for the 19th century, then I’ll stop.”

Strickland believes in learning from experiences, and encourages his students to take the time after their undergraduate gradation to peruse experiences that may be less obtainable in later years, ridden by responsibilities.

Strickland is the personification of engaged, experimental and interdisciplinary learning – the embodiment of an idea, heatedly expressed by Jack Kerouac in “On the Road.”

“The best teacher is experience,” Kerouac writes.

Journalist Alice Su visits Elon to lecture on Middle Eastern Refugees

by Dalton Cox

From March 12-13 Elon University hosted Jordan-based journalist Alice Su as a guest lecturer. Su is a 23-year-old graduate of Princeton University and Pulitzer Center grantee, who reports on the experiences of asylum seekers in Jordan and Lebanon. Elon’s School of Communications and the Pulitzer Center co-sponsored the event.

Alice Su lectures at Elon University
Alice Su lectures at Elon University, photo by Dalton Cox

Currently, Jordan houses over 620,000 Syrian refugees. Su puts this statistic in perspective, comparing Jordan’s immigration surge to the hypothetical migration of Canada’s entire population into the United States.

Su’s lecture, entitled “Interim Lives: Refugee survival in Jordan and Lebanon,” gave a broad overview of what she has learned as a young journalist working with refugees. The presentation detailed the unyielding challenges and small triumphs met by these alienated people, incorporating humanizing firsthand accounts. One example included the story of a destitute family attempting to celebrate Ramadan for the benefit of their young child.

Su originally relocated to the Middle East after graduating Princeton in 2013 to complete two intensive Arabic language programs. She then began interning in Jordan with a small radio station, translating investigative reports from Arabic to English. Su did not want to teach English, so she began freelance writing to earn an income. Her first story was for The Atlantic Magazine about the Jordan-China fair, an exposition for Chinese commercial products trying to break in to the Middle Eastern market.

“I pushed this because I thought, I’m probably the only person who can write this story because I speak Arabic and Chinese,” Su said. “To my surprise they took the story. Eventually I realized I could sustain myself off my stories, and all of them at first were just cold pitches.”

Su’s persistence paid off. Today she has produced articles for such media sources as The Guardian, Wired and Al Jazeera. Through such extensive professional reporting, however, Su has had to cope with a sense of helplessness that comes with crisis reporting.

“I think I had an inclination to go to the Middle East with a kind of savior complex,” Su said. “I thought, maybe I’ll just write about the problems, and things will get better – or maybe if I write enough stories, then the refugee crisis will stop – or maybe if I write a book, the Syrians will stop fighting. It’s very humbling to see the scale of the conflicts that are going on and to see the scale of suffering, and to feel like I can’t fix it.”

Su has also come to understand what can continue to drive a reporter, despite the despair made evident by firsthand reporting of a crisis.

“If I think about what drives me in reporting and writing, it’s not so much anymore but I’m going to save this region,” Su said. “I just want to understand it. I feel like just doing that is enough.”

Video by Dalton Cox