Not afraid to speak his mind

Detroit rapper Eminem has been a cultural symbol of media controversy since the release of his raw breakthrough album in 2000, “The Marshall Mathers LP.” Despite this controversy, he has 13 Grammys, eight #1-ranked studio albums and an Academy Award under his belt. He is the best-selling rap artist of all time.

Yet Eminem is constantly in the spotlight as a result of lyrics that some have said are both sexist and anti-gay. Even his most recent release in November, “The Marshall Mathers LP 2” has many lyrics people have called offensive.

In a changing world where the acceptance of homosexual and feminine rights is becoming the norm, Eminem’s listeners struggle to decide if his lyrics are too controversial. Containing insults and stereotypes from a culture rooted in the past, his raps have an angst and passion that have been present since the beginning of his career.

Private vocal teacher and hip-hop enthusiast John Hummel said that controversy is what fans should expect from the artist.

“Eminem built his career on making controversy,” Hummel said. “That’s what his identity is. He has to be inflammatory, because if he wasn’t, people wouldn’t listen to him.”

Many of Eminem’s lyrics target very specific groups of people, though, criticizing their beliefs and cultures.

An example of this is in his 2000 song “Criminal,” in which he writes, “My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge / That’ll stab you in the head / whether you’re a f– or l– / Or the homosex, hermaph or a trans-a-vest / Pants or dress – hate f—? The answer’s ‘yes.’”

Hummel takes the stance that Eminem is simply portraying what he knows and grew up with in a satirical way.

“While I think that some of his lyrics would offend people, I think sometimes he’s being a satirist, and I think sometimes he’s being very honest,” Hummel said.

But senior Jimmy Messmore, President of the Queer-Straight Alliance of Dexter High School, said that the homophobic slurs in Eminem’s music are not acceptable regardless of whether they’re meant as satire or not.

“Inside of his songs he includes homophobic slurs, yet outside of his music he expresses support for the gay community. For that reason, it’s hard to have any strong feelings against him, but at the same time, he still includes the slurs in his music which is inexcusable,” Messmore said.

For Messmore, if Eminem wants to support the gay community, then it seems unclear why he would include these slurs in his songs unless he wishes to cause controversy willingly.

But this controversy is what draws senior Sierra Lakey to Eminem’s music.

“My favorite Eminem album is probably ‘Relapse’ (2009) because it’s really disgusting, and I love how he just goes crazy on it,” she said. “The sexist or homophobic lyrics never offend me because I feel like it’s sort of an act that he plays along with, and it doesn’t bother me.”

For Lakey, Eminem’s music has much more to offer than just offensive remarks.

“I’m drawn to Eminem’s music because I feel a connection to him. I can relate to him and what he’s saying,” she said. “I feel like he’s more genuine than other rappers with his lyrics. There’s a message behind every song.”

Senior Evan Burke has a similar opinion about the positive aspects of Eminem’s music, regardless of the controversy surrounding his lyrics.

“Even though some Eminem songs have offensive lyrics in them, he also has many songs that help people as well. For example, ‘Lose Yourself’ has helped thousands of sports teams get pumped up over the years,” Burke said.

However, Burke also didn’t fully agree with everything that Eminem has to say.

“I think that the homophobic remarks may be going a little far. He could leave those out, because it could offend some people,” Burke said.

Despite the controversy that Eminem causes, many can still find positive and artistic messages in his music.

“He has many insecurities about himself that all pertain to his music,” Hummel said. “His failed marriage, his children, his mother, all of those things kind of add up.”

Hummel also said that Eminem is a perfect example of what hip-hop can offer to the musical world. Because of the value of Eminem’s music, Hummel said that people should look past the controversy, and view the art with an objective gaze.

For Hummel, Eminem does hip-hop justice.

He said, “The thing that I find most interesting about hip-hop is that it takes something from the past, rebuilds, and puts it in a new cultural lense by giving new ownership to the whole idea. At the end of the day, Eminem is both the hero and the villain in every one of his songs.”

Santa is not the real spirit of the season

Disclaimer: If you are under the age of 12, please do NOT read this.

I ran downstairs on Christmas morning, seeing presents under the tree and filled stockings.  I frantically searched for the magical present that would be all mine, the one that would say those glorious words: “To Noah, From Santa.”

But once I found it and began to open it, I realized what it was. What it had to be. Clothes.

What 12-year old wants clothes for Christmas?  I looked closer at the handwriting on the tag.

Suddenly, it dawned on me.

It was the exact same handwriting as my mother’s.  I looked up at her suspiciously, and at that moment, she knew I was getting closer to revealing the secret all parents try to keep from their children as long as possible.

“Noah, we need to talk,” my mom said.

“No. If this is about the birds and the bees again, I don’t need to know anymore.”

But then she broke the news to me, and it all made sense.

How can a fat man travel around the entire world in one night? How could reindeer carry that fat man all night, let alone fly? And how could that fat man, the fat man that so many continue to believe in, fit down a chimney without getting stuck?

Let’s say Santa is 6 feet tall, even though people who live in colder climates are usually a couple inches shorter. There are 6 billion people in the world.  No man on this planet could ever consume that many cookies in a lifetime, no matter how big and tall he is. But somehow Santa does it in one night.

So why do parents continue telling lie after lie to children, making them believe in Santa Claus? Shouldn’t we avoid lying to kids? If we keep this big of a lie going for so many years, all we’re doing is setting a bad example. We’re saying that lying is OK.

I’m not saying that we should end all the usual Christmas activities like getting a tree, making egg nog and trying to lure that one girl, who we all know is way out of my league, under the mistletoe.

But we can get in the holiday spirit without the big man in a red jumpsuit. I’m perplexed about why he’s even relevant to the season.

So when should we stop believing in Santa? The answer to that is that we should never have believed in him in first place.   I’m sorry, faithful parents and children, I just want to stop the heart-breaking moments children have when they find out there is no Santa Claus.

Running downstairs with the same Christmas spirit is not affected by knowing that the tags on the presents say “From, Mom and Dad.”

Common App creates common problems

The fourth version of the Common Application, often referred to as the Common App, was released on Aug. 1, and since then, at least 42 colleges and universities pushed back their early deadlines due to system malfunctions.

Complete application submission became a problem under this year’s version of the Common App, a nonprofit college admission application company that allows students to create one master application that will be submitted to its member colleges for consideration.

Documents wouldn’t load, PDFs wouldn’t attach, students’ entire accounts froze and complete applications wouldn’t submit.

For senior Megan Lynch, many of these issues added extra stress to her application process.

“My University of Michigan application didn’t go through,” Lynch said. “They emailed me saying they couldn’t find my transcripts or my test scores, so I didn’t make early action.”

Senior Sabrina Meo had similar problems in her application process. She wasn’t able to submit her actual application, and sometimes she wasn’t even able to log into the Common App. website.

“I would wake up at 4 a.m. to submit and work on my application,” Meo said. “There were less people on the server, so things didn’t run as slow.”

Since 517 different colleges and universities use the Common App in some form, and 175 of those schools use the Common App exclusively, students around the country, including Meo, were starting to worry.

“The problems I had didn’t affect my deadlines,” Meo said. “Just my stress level.”

According to Scott Anderson, the Senior Director for Policy at the Common Application, the newest version of the Common App was intended to be a more robust system that would effectively guide applicants and schools through the complex application process. But he recognizes this year’s version of the Common App was far from perfect and said he appreciates the way most people reacted to the problems they encountered.

“Since the Aug. 1 launch of the 2013-14 Common Application, nearly 480,000 applicants have used the system to submit college applications,” Anderson said. “We are grateful for the patience exhibited by these applicants, their parents, counselors, and teachers as we worked to support them through the technical challenges they may have faced in the application process.”

Problems with the Common App were not only encountered by students, but by counselors and teachers too. In fact, for counselor Gerry Holmes, the Common App upgrade felt more like a downgrade.

“None of (the Common App) was working,” Holmes said. “There were plenty of upset people with important deadlines to meet. Teachers were emailing me left and right about it. It was just chaos.”

Holmes said she dealt with plenty of students as they faced problems loading documents, submitting documents and viewing recommender-submitted documents.

“The college application process is stressful enough as it is,” Holmes said. “Students don’t need anything added to that.”

English teacher and yearbook adviser Barry Mergler was one of the many teachers who had problems submitting a recommendation. He said a recommendation letter that appeared to be complete and submitted wasn’t received by the University. His problems were eventually solved when he switched browsers.

Mergler, who has used the Common App for years, said he has never had problems before this year.

“Usually things are easy, very straightforward,” Mergler said. “This year, things were rather rocky.”

Former English teacher, Jo Muszkiewicz had problems that surpassed submission difficulties, though. After Muszkiewicz set up her account under the new version of the system and submitted recommendations for several students, she said she could not even log into the site.

“At first I thought it was because I was in Europe when I was trying to submit the recommendations,” Muszkiewicz said. “But when I got home, I still had problems. There were times when I was able to access the site and times when I simply could not sign in.”

So Muszkiewicz called the Common App help desk, and they were able to fix the problem quickly. After that, though, she had more trouble getting help.

Finally, the help desk suggested that Muszkiewicz switch browsers, just as Mergler had.

“Rollouts of new systems always seem to have bugs that need to be ironed out,” Muszkiewicz said. “Sometimes the only way to find the problems is to have people use the system.”

That being said, the Common App still feels responsible for the complications users have, and Anderson said they are working to make sure the problems users encountered this year don’t happen again.

“We want to reinforce the message that we are sorry for all of the frustrations experienced during the rollout of the new system,” Anderson said. “We are fully committed to guiding each applicant and recommender to a successful submission.”

WISD program provides life skills training

It’s 12:45 in the afternoon. Hundreds of students flock out of the lunch room, heading to their fourth hour classes. The cacophony of teenage voices fades away and silence floods the air.

However, a handful of students remain in the lunch room. These are the students enrolled in the Washtenaw Intermediate School District classroom for students with moderate cognitive impairment at DHS, and they are at their next activity: lunch room cleanup.

Four days a week, after C lunch, students from this classroom aid in stacking chairs and cleaning up the lunch room. While some believe that these students are unjustly forced to work, the purpose of this activity, according to teacher, Liz Shields, is to prepare the students for life after high school.

“Part of our curriculum for this class is to learn life skills,” she said. “And working a job is a life skill.”

Just as DHS students are enrolled in two semester classes, these students practice cleaning throughout the entirety of the school year. “Learning job skills is an ongoing thing, because a lot of them will start with needing a lot of help from us as their job coach, but then by the end of the year, they’re more independent with it,” Shields said.

Special education teaching assistant Richard Korth shares a similar view.

“Everyone has to learn their job and figure out how to do it,” he said. “If you don’t do your job for a while, you get out of the routine and you have to relearn your work.”

While parents reserve the right to opt their child out of this activity, said Shields, none have ever done so. “All the parents understand that having a job and learning how to do a job is part of our curriculum and part of what the kids are going to need after they leave DHS.”

However, the life skills in the curriculum practiced in this classroom aren’t limited to stacking chairs and washing tables; the program also emcompasses a myriad variety of other pivotal tasks.

“We also do all kinds of other life skills things like cooking and laundry and hygiene because those things are all part of our curriculum,” Shields said. “Getting down there and doing that works gives them job experience that will help them for the future.”

Prom moves to the Big House

What’s happening?

For about 25 years on the Friday before Prom, just under 100 prom committee volunteers flooded the halls after school, glue guns in their hands and determination in their eyes.

They had one mission: transform the whitewashed walls and tiled floors of Dexter High School into something unrecognizable, something fit to host a prom for hundreds of juniors and seniors.

And for almost a quarter of a century, they’ve succeeded with the extreme makeover. In just over 24 hours, they’ve created enchanted forests, Mardi Gras festivals and schools of witchcraft and wizardry.

But this spring, the prom committee won’t need to wield their staple guns and extension cords. Instead, breaking with tradition, the junior-senior prom will be held at University of Michigan’s football stadium a.k.a. “The Big House.”

How did it get this way?

According to student council adviser and high school teacher Al Snider, there were two major factors that led to the venue change: liability and a declining number of volunteers.

“It became harder and harder for the prom committee to make it as big as they wanted,” he said.  “I know people are busy, and the committee was having a tough time getting people to help.”

In fact, at one point a few years ago, some students were given the responsibility of a couple halls due to a lack of parent volunteers.

According to Paula Staebler, chair of the prom committee, parents are busy and oftentimes over committed, which is probably the main reason the numbers of volunteers have dwindled over the years.

“Because of the extent of time, energy, and creativity that is needed, many parents just cannot commit to such an undertaking,” Staebler said.  “A committee chair spends at least three months planning and executing their ideas, and the weekend of prom they literally spend the entire weekend at DHS.”

So, as Staebler put it, the new location will make this year’s prom “kinder and gentler for the volunteers.”

The number of volunteers was shrinking, and, although the prom committee was never actually cited by the fire marshall, the concern about liability was growing.  Sprinkler heads, fire alarms and fire extinguishers at the high school were covered up by decorations and creating a fire hazard.

And just last year there was a slight snafu in the “Nearlyweds” game room, where one of the powerstrips became overheated and started smoking.

“That really clued us and the administration in that we needed to look elsewhere because of the liability issues,” Snider said.

And so began the hunt for a new venue.  Other locations on the U of M campus such as the League and the Union, as well as Eastern Michigan and Washtenaw Community College’s new venues were all in the running before the final decision was made. Staebler said she was brainstorming with her son, junior Tristin Staebler, and one of her son’s friends, junior Chris Ryan, when having the prom at Michigan Stadium came up.

“I quickly, as we were sitting there talking, emailed the contact at the Jack Roth Stadium club,” Staebler said.  “And the idea was born.”

How is it playing out?

Despite the drastic change in venue, many of the aspects that made up former proms will still be present this spring.

For example, neither Snider nor Staebler predict that the price of $35 a ticket will change much.

According to Snider, the price has been the same for about 10 years, a factor that will be taken into consideration when deciding this year’s ticket cost.

“If it did increase, it would not increase more than $5 per ticket,” Staebler said.  “Prom ticket prices have been the same for a number of years, so an increase would not be unreasonable.” Many of the games and activities that have made an annual appearance at former proms, will also make the trip to The Big House.

“We store the poker tables and the putt-putt in the building at Creekside,” Snider said.  “We just have to trek it a little bit farther, as opposed to around the corner.”

Staebler agreed that the prom parent volunteers will try to keep the games consistent, too, in order to maintain the integrity of past proms.

“We are hoping to keep some of the same old favorites available for the students, to keep the same feel as in years past, just in a new format,” she said.

The prom will also still be theme-based. This year’s theme, decided by an upperclassmen vote,  is “Under the Stars.” However, decorations will not hang from the walls and ceilings like they have in the past, due to the same liability issues, according to Snider.

As for venues in the years to come, Staebler wants to keep her options open, but she is also considering having prom at The Big House each year.

She said, “I would like to see how it goes and possibly keep it there.”