Monday, February 27, 2012

Why Reporters Have a Bad Name

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Okay, so there is arguably a stereotype about reporters being dirty, underhanded people who are only interested in the story and are willing to the skew the reality of the situation to make sure that it’s an interesting story. Naively, I didn’t believe this stereotype. And that mistake is the reason for the rant in today’s post.
As many of the friends and readers know, I am almost finished with my Bachelors of Psychology program over at Grand Canyon University. Also, those of you know who know me know that it has not been an easy journey.
I had some serious issues with my financial aid crop up late last year and among the resources that I uncovered was a reporter who works at the Arizona Republic who was writing a story about the “woes of online schooling”. Naturally, I reached out to her. I know that my issues were not an isolated incident and my hope was that by holding GCU accountable for the mistakes that they are making, they might institute better policies and prevent this from happening to other students.
I spent about 3 months talking with this reporter, telling her my story, sending her emails and ensuring that she had access to my records at GCU. The article broke in yesterday’s paper in the business section (the electronic version is here:
The article does mention me and my plight by name. However, that’s about where the accuracy stops. The school, as I suspected they would, lied to cover up their mistakes. The Vice President told the reporter that he “never knew anything about my issue”. Well of course not, the Student Resolution Team specifically blocked that from happening. I asked to meet with a Dean or a President of the school and I was told, and I quote “as far as meeting with a Dean or a President, they will not be able to assist you with financial issues.” It is therefore no surprise that the school told the reporter that they didn’t know anything about my plight.
However, that’s about where the school’s credibility ends. In the article Chris Linderson, the VP for Finance and Compliance is quoted as saying that I have had four Finance Counselors since I started at GCU. That’s a lie. I’ve had at least six. They are; James Mitchell, January Harrison, Jasmine Taylor, Sarah Crouse, Chrissy MacDonald and David Jacobson.
Going back to my issue with Financial Aid, on July 14th, 2011 I received an email from FAFSA saying that my aid had been processed and that I would be getting the full amount. The following day I received another email from FAFSA saying that my aid had been processed and was available.
Then, on July 18th, 2011 I got an email from GCU saying that I have been selected for “verification” and that I needed to redo my FAFSA and turn it in, and that’s when the trouble began. On August 9th, 2011 I got another email from FAFSA saying that my student loan had been changed; it had been cut in half.
I immediately contacted GCU about this and was met with nonchalance. They literally told me “nothing’s wrong”.  Apparently getting your financial aid cut in half inexplicably and being told that you had to pay for half of your schooling out of pocket is “not wrong”.
Continued efforts to contact the school were met with increasing hostility. The school blamed the government for the error saying, and I quote; “The decision to give you less money for the academic year is not GCU’s decision, it is the Federal government.  You need to call the FAFSA representatives if you have concerns about how much money you will receive.  I will have the Office of Financial Aid review your account regardless, just to make sure everything is correct.  Keep in mind, if you are reaching your aggregate limit, there will be no more funds for your education.” Are you kidding me? What kind of bullshit answer is that? Reaching my aggregate limit? I’m not even halfway there yet, I have plenty of aid remaining. And the Federal Government awarded me full financial aid, then GCU “corrected something”, then I have half the aid and I’m just supposed to believe that the government changed their minds?
Next, at the behest of GCU themselves, I called FAFSA directly on August 10th. I spoke with someone named Crystal. She told me, and I quote “the Federal Aid Administrator at GCU is the person who is completely and solely responsible for this. FAFSA has no reason to deny additional aid based on your income and the change in your award was the direct result of the correction made by GCU.” Hmmm…so GCU says that they aren’t responsible, but FAFSA says they are. Call me crazy, but I’m inclined to believe FAFSA on this one.
I contacted GCU again via email that same day. The response I got was, and I quote “everything is in order on your account.”  Really? My financial aid is cut in half, FAFSA says that you changed it, and my academic counselor is telling me that I have to pay half of my costs, and everything is in order? There haven’t been any changes to the laws or regulations about how financial aid is awarded. There haven’t been any changes to the number of classes I’ve been taking, my number of dependents and my income has dropped and yet my award is reduced.
It wasn’t until several weeks later after I involved the Department of Education that Finance counselor miraculously discovered the error; the Verification Packet that GCU submitted to FAFSA had me marked down as a half-time student. FAFSA recalculated my aid based on that information. Once they corrected it, my aid was restored to normal.

In the article the VP at GCU is quoted as saying: “In this case, Clayborn's financial-aid calculation changed last summer, in part, because the number of class credits he was taking increased and there were changes in his household income. It took a few months -- until early December -- for all of the federal loan and grant payments to show up on his account, she added. That may have led Clayborn to conclude that he would have to pay expenses out of pocket, Linderson said.” What a crock of shit. This school and this spokesperson obviously do not know the innate detail of the records of which I keep. My first semester at GCU was 12 credits (UNV103, CWV101 & EDU 310). My second semester was also 12 credits (EDU230, EDU 215 & EDU 225). My third semester was 16 credits (ENG260, PHI103, MAT134 & ENG350). My fourth semester was also 16 credits (ENG450, ENG358, EDU313N & ENG460). This financial aid incident happened during my 5th semester, during which I took 12 credits. So, if I went from two semesters of 16 credits and full financial aid, I ask you, dear readers, how the hell does dropping to 12 credits constitutes and “increase in the number of credits”?

What does all of this have to do with why reporters have a bad name? Because I gave all of this information to the reporter at the AZ Republic and she didn’t do anything with it. Instead she wrote an article that painted me to be an unassuming imbecile who can’t calculate student loans. By the time this happened let’s not forget that I was starting my third academic year with this school so It’s not like I was new to the process. This reporter was armed with enough information to call the school out on their lies and hold them accountable and get answers, and she blew it. The whole reason that I cooperated in the first place was so that she could make people more aware and keep this kind of thing from happening to others. I was na├»ve to think that a reporter had the civic duty to spread the truth and inform the people who read the paper about what happens. This will certainly be the last time that I cooperate with a reporter on a story like this one. I’m just offended that after all of the conversations that we had and the mountain of evidence that I sent her that would even imply that I just didn’t know what was going on. 


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Deafening silence

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Sorry guys, I’m long overdue for a new post. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. Busy with work and school and recovering from the flu. I’ve got a few deeper, more political topics I want to write about, but they will have to wait until the weekend.
For now, I’ll tackle a more light-hearted philosophical quote. One of my favorite quotes is; “If you don’t understand my silence, you will never understand my words”.  Admittedly, I have absolutely no idea where this quote originated and all of my attempts to uncover the etymology of this expression have turned up nothing.
What is interesting is the huge amount of people who simply do not understand this expression. Some of the websites I came across had comments like; “flawed logic is flawed”, “this is hands down one of the dumbest sayings I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading”, and “this is retarded”. Obviously, these people aren’t capable of grasping the meaning of this expression and, ironically, it is people like this that the quote is most applicable to.
Some of the websites had answers that were partially true. Many of the websites understood one facet of this expression; it is often associated with anger. However, anger in and of itself is not the only explanation or use where this quote applies.
Yahoo! Answers featured a response that reads thus:
“Here's an example. When I am upset at someone for something that I believe they have done that has wronged me, I may give that person the silent treatment. If that person doesn't pick up    on these non-verbal cues, and he/she has no idea why I would be upset about what he/she did      because his/her ethical/moral perspectives are different than mine because we have two    different sets formed from two different sets of life experiences-- well then, that person will not                 understand why I am upset even if I tell him/her why I am upset using words.”
This poster definitely hit on part of the situation. However, the essence of this quote is more than just about being angry. It’s about having a communicative disconnect so deep that it is without measure and words, no matter how intelligent or eloquent, will never be able to bridge that gap.
Another site, Bookmunch, had a review about some completely unrelated book, but the top of the article was a paraphrase of this quote which read “If you can’t understand it without an explanation, then you can’t understand it with an explanation.  This too, is only part of it. There are many topics that I can think of that I do not understand without an explanation, but with an explanation everything becomes clear. After all, that is the entire model of our education system. However, if you substitute “it” with “my behavior” , “my thoughts”, or “my feelings”, then it takes on a different meaning altogether and one that is far closer to the point.
I also came across another website, a blog called e-stranged, about families who are estranged from one another. This post makes many interesting statements that are also in line with this as well. For example, in the image on the wall is written “silence is speech”. This, I think, more than any of the other explanations is closer to the truth of the matter. Silence is also speech. If you don’t understand my non-verbal speech, you won’t understand my verbal speech.
There are a few other paraphrases of this quote as well. One of them reads “if you don’t understand my silence, then you don’t deserve my words”. This one I’m not so sure that I necessarily agree with, although I do understand the point that they are making. I think that there may be quite a few exceptions to the above quote. Also, my words are mine to give to whom I will. I may decide that someone is worthy of them, even if they don’t understand my silence. Failure to comprehend the meaning of my non-verbal speech is not an automatically disqualifying condition of my verbal speech.
The e-stranged blog also features a quote by Leonard Peltier; “Silence, they say, is the voice of complicity. But silence is impossible. Silence screams. Silence is a message, just as doing nothing is an act.” This too is very appropriate.
I often use silence in many facets of my life. Yes, the most obvious is when I am angry with someone. If the anger is fresh I often get very quiet until I’ve had a chance to reflect upon my thoughts and feelings because I don’t want to say something that I don’t mean and that I’ll regret and have the message I’m conveying be lost in the tone with which I am saying it (see Art of Arguing). If the anger is older it could just be that I have nothing to say because I’m too hurt or in disbelief about what happened.
Sometimes, as I just alluded, I am silent when I’m in a state of shock. “Congratulations, your son’s mother is pregnant and the father is a registered sex offender!” What do you say to something like that? Do you speak words that are hollow fillers of thoughts that you haven’t even fully formed yet? Or do you remain silent and reflect on this information.
Sometimes I am silent because I have nothing to say. As one poster put it, the silence can sometimes mean that you are comfortable enough with a person that you don’t feel as though you have to say something every minute of the day. Sometimes silence is a comfortable silence.
And yet, other times silence is a tool. Sometimes the silence says “I know. I know your secrets. I know that every word coming out of your mouth right now is a lie, but I’m not going to call you out on it simply to have you lie more and tell me that I’m wrong when I know the truth. It’s easier to let you believe that you’re getting away with these lies for now than it is to start a fight every time this comes up.”
And still other times it is a shield; like when you meet new people for the first time. Do you just run into a party full of strange people that you don’t know “guns blazing” spouting off to every person that you see? Or do you sit quietly and observe the room and try to ascertain who the fool is, and who is the intellect? When you are the new person on the job it’s sometimes disrespectful to be offering up all kinds of solutions when you don’t even know the situation.  It’s entirely plausible that someone already thought of that. It’s possible that someone equally intelligent as you are has shown them this already and there’s a reason that they aren’t using it. To avoid coming across as arrogant, you can sit quietly until you make that determination.
Silence can also be a conveyance of emotions; I’m sad, I’m hurt, I’m lonely, I don’t feel well. When people are sick or in pain they don’t want to talk much (especially if their throat is what hurts). If they are depressed they might not feel like talking about it.
Far too often the deeper statement of what we mean is lost within the more superficial context of what we say. This is a far too common problem with oral communication that leads to fights and arguments, and one that is intensified when trying to ascertain meaning through electronic communication like text messages. People have a tendency to latch onto specific words and phrases, which really might not mean much in the overall context of the message, and inject their own meaning upon them. Case in point, look at Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Princess Leia says “Why you stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking, nerf-herder!” Han Solo’s only response is “Who’s scruffy looking?” Clearly, the meaning of Leia’s message is lost on Han.
Granted, those of you who know me know that I am a self-professed logophile (lover of words) and I obviously feel that verbal and communication plays a huge part in understanding one another. However, that being said I also believe that a lot of us need to spend far less time speaking and jumping to conclusions and more time listening and understanding.
The e-stranged blog has some more apt feedback. Admittedly, their take on the quote is rather the opposite viewpoint of mine, however, that’s not to say that aren’t some things that we can agree on. For example, they state that “silence is not a simple statement. It is a highly complex form of communication.” Quite so.
They believe that no one should have to interpret the silence. And to that point, I agree also. However, until they ready to actually listen to my words, it’s not worth wasting my breath on. This other blog is of the opinion that you should speak simply because you are worth speaking about. And I don’t disagree with that. However, you must consider that communication is a two –way street. Sometimes the person with whom you are conversing is emotionally or intellectually incapable of comprehending what you say. How long will you continue talking before you give up? Sometimes the person to whom you are speaking is so self-centered and opinionated that whatever you say is automatically wrong, simply because you said it. In cases like that my silence may mean “I’m not even going to engage in your antics because I have better, more productive things to do with my time”. That’s certainly no slight to myself, in fact, I could argue the opposite; I’m smart enough to know that this conversation would be futile.
Sometimes, you can communicate more with silence than you can with words. Sometimes, a simple look can speak volumes in seconds where words would take minutes and not accomplish the same task. Silence is often misunderstood, and because of that we often misconstrue all silence to mean that the other person is angry or upset, even if that’s not the case. Instead of assuming that they are mad, try approaching the situation with an open mind and inquiring about their silence, then you will be in a better state of mind to hear what they are trying to say.