Jan 23: Students, don’t claim a victory with ‘gender-neutral’ option just yet

Next year Ohio University will give students the option of rooming with a member of the opposite sex. Gasp! How revolutionary!

That’s right, starting in the 2011-2012 academic year students – almost exclusively upperclassmen – can apply to maybe be placed in one of 50 dorm room beds provided as part of the university’s one-year PC-ed out “gender-neutral” housing trial run.

The pilot program is not about creating some sort of social experiment to see if boys and girls can set aside their inherent differences and create long-lasting Platonic relationships. It’s about appeasing the LGBT community, and making OU look sympathetic to students’ wishes.

The thought is that gay or lesbian students might feel more comfortable living with a friend of the opposite sex, rather than a stranger of the same. Makes sense, no? Off campus, it’s already a common practice.

Sure, there are ways for dormers to change roommates on the basis of their sexual identity, but the current process – aside from the bureaucratic hoops that must be leapt through – is far from ideal. Is a person who’s uncomfortable “outing” himself or herself to a roommate going to be more comfortable telling the residence life staff?

Students and parents pay the school a pretty penny to live in the dorms, which by the way is a requirement for freshmen and sophomores. They should at least get to live with someone they’re compatible with.

OU isn’t exactly blazing the Appalachian Trail here. A number of other schools, including that bastion of liberal ideology Miami University, are ahead of Ohio’s first and finest with programs in place already.

The application for coed housing – at least the way it has been conveyed by university officials – appears to be more extensive than the one students filled out to, you know, attend Ohio University. It even has its own essay section where students must explain how they can “add or benefit from living in such a community.”

Of course the school is worried that heterosexual couples will ignore the spirit of the new program for the chance shack up on a nightly basis. Here’s a hint: if a couple is willing apply to share a dorm room, odds are they’re already doing it, and making one of their current roommates uncomfortable doing so.

If two sophomores want to ruin their relationship by spending every waking moment with each other, so be it. They’ll learn from their experience or probably end up getting married.

Besides if mom and dad are paying the bills and aren’t too keen on the lovebirds pushing their beds (and bed bugs) together, the problem is going to solve itself.

But OU officials are making huge strides offering a gender-neutral housing option. They’re showing how much they value diversity and the voice of students. Just ask them.

And remember that when tuition costs go up.

Jan. 16: Not your typically ‘sappy’ seasonal column

The first thaw of the spring is holiday in my family. It’s not that we despise the cold Northeast Ohio winter weather, far from it. The thaw means there’s work to be done. It’s time for the first run of the season.

My grade school teachers in Columbus thought it strange when I explained to them I would be missing class to go make maple syrup. Even when the words came from father’s mouth as he was signing me out, they seemed vexed.

“You’re taking him out of school to make maple syrup? Like Mrs. Butterworth?”

My old man couldn’t say if it was anything like Mrs. Butterworth. He’d never touch the stuff.

“We make real maple syrup,” he would simply reply.

And we would be off to Gustavus, a small rural town in Trumbull County where he was born and raised.

By the time we got to my grandparents’ farm, Papa Logan was already out in the sugar woods with my father’s five brothers and their kids. We had to change and hurry, but Grammy would send us with supplies for the woods – hotdogs, rolls, soda and the like.

The imprints on the ground from the old Allis Chalmers half-track were our walkway. The maple trees surrounding us were adorned with old tin sap buckets. My dad would take one off, and we would watch – for just a minute – as the sap dripped from the spile onto the muddy, leafy ground below.

We could smell the Sugar House before we caught sight of it. The delectable aroma of boiling sap traveled quickly through the brisk forest air and sped our pace. I hopped the creek that ran next to old wooden shack, while my dad grabbed a beer from the old sap bucket floating in the water.

Papa would be inside with the uncles, skimming the foam off the boiling sap in the wood-fired evaporator pans. We could hardly see any of them through all the steam.

Once Papa fired up the half-track, my cousins and I would hop on the sap cart behind it and hold on for dear life as he navigated the rugged Sugar Woods trail.

He would stop by a cluster of Maples and we’d jump off with 5-gallon plastic buckets, pour the sap into them, and lug them back to cart to empty into the tank. When the tank was full, it was back to the Sugar House.

By then, the first quart of syrup was ready. Papa would pour golden-brown nectar into an old tin coffee mug and we would pass it around, each taking a sip from the first run of the season.

It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of maple syrup. We never made money off of it. Grammy’s pancakes the next morning were all the payment we needed.

Holidays are best spent with family. We just spend ours sloshing through mud – with sap splashing and soaking our clothes

Jan. 9: Time for ‘adult conversations’ during elections

I was sitting snug on my couch in Athens Saturday afternoon enjoying a John Wayne movie marathon when my roommate walked in, grabbed the remote and changed the channel. On the other side of the country Gabrielle Giffords, a U.S. Congresswoman from Arizona, was being life-flighted to a Tucson-area hospital after being shot in the head outside a supermarket.

Rep. Giffords was speaking with her constituents at an event called “Congress on Your Corner” when a gunman approached her an opened fire. Chaos ensued. The aftermath left six dead – including federal judge John M. Roll and a 9-year-old girl – as many as 20 wounded, and Giffords fighting for her life.

The suspected gunman, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, is in custody.

I sat transfixed to the television, watching as the anchor fumbled through conflicting reports, breaking news when there was no new news to break.

Politicians and pundits alike expressed their shock that a public servant could fall victim to such senseless act of violence. They were equally mortified that it occurred as Giffords was in the midst of fulfilling her most basic but fundamental role of a legislator – listening and interacting with her constituents.

Shock was my initial reaction, I thought. Then I became cold and my stomach began to churn. I wasn’t shocked. This is the current state of American political culture.

Politics is and will always be polarizing. Different people have different views, and in a country of over 300 million, there are bound to be disagreements.

The beauty of representative democracy is that we vote for and try to elect officials that share our views. They take our views and ideas with them and engage in debate, from the town halls to the halls of Congress.

‘Adult conversation’ was the buzzword around the Capitol in the days preceding Saturday’s assassination attempt. Legislators needed to put an end to ‘partisan politics’ and ‘reach across the aisle’ after November’s midterm election.

The months leading up to the election told a very different story. Politicians sought to energize their bases by demonizing their opponents. Adversaries were ‘unpatriotic and ‘fascist’.

Florida Republican congressman Daniel Webster wanted Taliban-esque decrees against women. Nevada senator Harry Reid voted to use tax dollars to pay for Viagra for convicted sex-offenders. Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady even voted to kill your dog.

And Giffords, a Democrat, appeared on former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s election ‘target list’, with Tucson in the crosshairs.

Palin didn’t want her supporters to go out with elk hunting rifles and shoot up all the congressmen and women who had voted for health care reform. She wanted to see the Republicans take back the House, and they did. And now they want to have ‘adult conversations.’

How about adult conversations during political campaigns? How about adult conversations on cable news shows?

Doctors at University Medical Center say that Gabrielle Giffords is expected to survive and make a recovery. I hope we can say the same about the political environment that put her there.