The Food Security Debate

What will ultimately promote health and prevent hunger?


The World Food Prize international symposium might be the largest scientific conference that you’ve never heard of. Each October, hundreds of top government officials, food scientists, policymakers, and social justice workers convene in Des Moines, Iowa, with the stated mission of “advancing human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.” The symposium is capped with the annual award ceremony, where the World Food Prize is presented to an individual who has made remarkable strides in the fight against world hunger. It’s often regarded as the Nobel Prize of food security (although with a much smaller fraction of press coverage). If anything, however, the world needs to spend more time listening to what comes out of this conference. Chances are, the opinions generated by the symposium might be radically different from your own impressions on food security, and they will undoubtedly have a major impact on guiding food policy decisions worldwide.

sonder market

Student group Sonder Market sells organic food on campus. @SpencerNelson

So why are the ideas of the conference so important, and how do they stack up against the beliefs on food security commonly held by the American public and students at UNC? One of the key principles agreed upon at the conference (and overlooked by much of the public) is that solving world hunger is a complex and vastly multidimensional issue. The going mentality in many public institutions is that a certain problem is best solved by compartmentalizing it in a specific “silo”–a system of thinking that minimizes collaboration, resource-sharing, and interdisciplinary solutions. We see silo management at work at UNC and many other universities: the department of chemistry does chemistry, the department of computer science does computer science, the department of economics does economics, and so on. UNC has improved on its interdisciplinary course offerings in recent years, but they are still rather uncommon. Most collaboration occurs among fields that show obvious similarities: biology and chemistry for example, or mathematics and physics. The biggest divide exists between the hard sciences and the humanities–very rarely will you encounter a class or department that works between the two. However, the dialogue at the World Food Prize demonstrated that this type of interdepartmental cooperation is absolutely critical to winning the fight against world hunger. Food security lies at the crux of public policy, economics, and science: idea sharing is the only way that the global food security movement will succeed. The objective of the conference wasn’t just to gather all the leading experts on food security, but also to recognize how incredibly diverse the expertise is. Dr. Amit Roy, President of the International Fertilizer Development Center in India, sums it nicely: “One intervention area won’t be enough to end hunger. Achieving sustainable food security depends on holistic solutions… Going forward, it is vital to have partnership: between the farmer, the research institution, the policymaker and others.”

The conference spent a good deal of time covering the use of technology and how to best integrate it into food security solutions. Here is where I think the views held by the attendees of the World Food Prize and the opinions of college students most differ. Certain technologies deemed critical at the conference are non-contentious and infrequently discussed outside the field: developing precision farming methods and using computers and big-data to make farming more efficient, for instance, will be key over the next fifty years. But most people choose to devote their attentions to the more controversial tools- the most (in)famous of which is the GMO. The use of genetic modification in crops is bitterly debated on the news and on college campuses, but the consensus among most environmental groups is that GMOs are anathema to sustainability and healthy food production. Keynote speakers and panelists at the World Food Prize conference were, surprisingly, mostly pro-GMO. They made an important distinction between GMO, the technology, and GMO, the agricultural system that most people don’t understand. They recognize that GMO the technology is just that: a technology, a tool that should be used with many others to solve hunger problems in a diverse set of situations. When used appropriately, this can be a tremendous boon to global food supplies. In fact, the 2014 World Food Prize winner, Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram, focused his research on selective wheat breeding, ultimately creating over 480 wheat varieties adapted to grow in a huge array of climates and environmental conditions. His work boosted wheat production by over 200 million tons in 51 different countries.

However, most of us only hear about GMO the agricultural system. The one associated with large crop monoculturing, environmental destruction, big agribusiness, nutritional deficiencies, over-fertilization and pesticide use…or basically, the US system of agriculture. When Americans hear “GMO”, they automatically associate the technology with the negative effects of the system, when in reality, the two are not necessarily linked. As Mark Lynas, author and environmental activist, said in panel discussion, “We can have GMOs produced in the public sector, without patents, which are offered free of charge to smallholder farmers.” When used correctly, GMOs can be adapted like any other scientific development. The same principle goes for fertilizer and pesticides–well-regulated use must happen to revitalize agriculture in struggling regions in the developing world. Leaders at the symposium dubbed this concept “sustainable intensification”- acknowledging the need for technology in agrisystems without abusing it.

Many of UNC’s student organizations related to food development and sustainability share a similar profile: UNC Sprout, FLO (Fair, Local, Organic), and the Sonder Market, an organic food stand that just recently debuted on campus, all favor organic crop production over conventional. Does this mean that they wrongly reject the idea of “sustainable intensification?” Not necessarily. The principle behind sustainable intensification is to embrace technology where it’s most needed. And it’s clear that in the United States, conventional food technologies have been overused at the cost of consumer and environmental health. So it’s also a matter of recognizing differences in priorities across regions: in developing nations, food production and boosting yield are most important, while in food rich countries like the US, nutrition and environmental health have become top concern. So far, organizations at UNC have done a good job of promoting more sustainable agriculture in North Carolina, and finally giving students on campus some healthier eating options.  One must only remember that “local and organic” is not always superior to conscious conventional farming, nor is it always feasible in developing countries facing shortages.

Ebola: Sensationalized or Plausible Threat?


Once a disease that was just an urban legend to most Americans, Ebola has now flourished into an outbreak of uncalculated fear, inappropriate jokes, and media frenzy. The presence of Ebola in the first-world community, although in an infinitely smaller proportion as what is found in Africa, has illustrated the varied response to the disease across different cultures. While thousands of people die every year of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa, Americans have only just now become interested in the hysteria caused by the disease because it has finally presented itself in the United States.

640px-Ebola_virus_particles“I don’t like the response in the United States particularly because we didn’t get involved until it was a threat to us,” freshman public health major, Sarah Wright, said. “It’s a world health crisis and the way that we’re responding just isn’t very directed.”

Ebola is a relatively new disease, discovered in 1976 in Western Africa. The initial case of Ebola passed from a fruit bat to a human, and since then it has drifted across Africa. The main problem with the tumultuous reactions of many Americans towards Ebola is that few understand how difficult it is to contract the disease.  Ebola can only be transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids, which mostly comes from sex, vomit, or blood.

The World Health Organization now reports over 10,000 recorded cases of Ebola, and warns that that number could escalate to 20,000 by the end of the year without preventative care. Like most viruses, the more people that have the disease, the more likely it is to spread.

This factor makes it necessary for people to be taught proper prevention techniques in third world countries such as wearing protective clothing. While maintaining a clean environment and quarantining infected bodies in Africa may be difficult, the United States has had little to no trouble. Most Americans see Ebola as a disease that has the potential to sweep through an entire population, but that is simply not realistic. In Africa, the main reason behind the spread is that the burial rituals require a cleansing of the bodies. This puts many people in direct contact with the dead that are still infected, while this would very rarely be the case in the United States.

To give a better idea of how controlled the virus actually is, one can look at the Center for Disease Control’s web page and find the well-documented list of possible people who may have had contact with infected people. These people are then checked out in order to make sure that they are disease-free and once the disease is found in a person, extensive measures are taken in order to keep them from getting in contact with anyone else. These measures range from protective clothing to proper disposal of used equipment, which are things that are lacking in African, third world countries.

To be fair to those that have an extreme fear of contracting Ebola, its symptoms do truly seem as though they came straight out of a horror film. The hemorrhagic fever not only leads to shortness of breath, chest pain, flu-like symptoms, and rashes, but it also results in vomiting blood, blood in diarrhea, bleeding from the eyes, and heavy bleeding in the gastro-intestinal tract. In cases that end in mortality, that death occurs approximately six to 16 days after the contraction of the disease.

The sad reality of the situation is that the American response to Ebola has an eerie similarity to the response to World War II in the respect that the United States didn’t actively care about the genocide of millions of jews until they were directly implicated. The reactions to the cases that have appeared in the United States have drawn similarities to reactions to Pearl Harbor where Americans reacted dramatically to the approximately 2,500 deaths from the attack. Most Americans had no tangible knowledge of what Ebola was before the viral infections occurred, and now millions of dollars are being funneled towards research and prevention efforts, even though the main method of prevention is sterilizing instruments used to treat Ebola patients. In other words, donating to ease the spread of Ebola is definitely good, but organizations dealing with Ebola need much more directed efforts towards the root cause.

“Senator Hagan has failed the people of North Carolina and the nation by not securing our border,” Thom Tillis said during an Oct. 7 debate with Hagan. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have an Ebola outbreak, we have bad actors who can come across the border. We need to seal the border and secure it.”

This quote from Senator Thom Tillis not only exemplifies the overreaction of the American people, but it also displays how Ebola is being used as a political tool. In this case, Republicans are using the lack of action as a way to attack Democrats and are attempting to capitalize off of public unease about the issue.

The outbreak has been plastered all over every source of media, which has only amplified the American response. However, the Obama administration has fought back against the stigma surrounding the transmission of Ebola by having an American nurse infected with the disease meet with the President. At the end of the meeting, Obama gave her a hug, which has been put on display for all to see so that the general public understands the exaggeration of their own responses.

Only 19 cases of Ebola have arisen outside of third world countries (mostly from African aid workers bringing it back to their respective countries), and these have been well contained but have gathered more media attention than any previous Ebola death in the third world. In Spain, a nursing assistant contracted the virus, but has just recently been medically cleared. During her time in the hospital, however, authorities killed her dog out of fear that it might act as a carrier, which drew much criticism from the public. Ironically, it seems as though more people on the world stage cared about the death of the dog than the death of thousands of African men, women, and children with the disease.

Furthermore, Ebola has often been paralleled to AIDS in the transmission process, such as when Center for Disease Control Director Tom Friedman stated that “In the 30 years I’ve been working in public health, the only thing like this has been AIDS,” but that is simply not the case.

AIDS affects approximately four more people per person infected, but it occurs over a lifetime and spreads slowly. Comparatively, Ebola spreads to approximately two more people for every person infected, but over about a 30 day period. Ebola has a higher potential for spreading. This, paired with the menacing 50 percent mortality rate in the third world, grants justification to the panic; however, it must be understood that prevention techniques are simple and make the virus virtually impossible of becoming a pandemic in the United States. The media, unfortunately, tends to leave out how simple the disease is to control.

Ultimately, it must be understood that as long as Ebola is not an airborne virus, there is no reason to dramatize its implications or even panic as a nation. It is undoubtedly a disease that must be dealt with, but this can be done with public awareness in favor of public fear.

“The general population of the US doesn’t understand that it’s NOT going to happen here,” Wright stated. “We need to step towards clearing the stigma about it so that fewer people panic irrationally.”

Eric Garner, the human being

How would you describe Eric Garner?

A father?
A grandfather?
A New Yorker?
An American?
A black man?
A dead man?

How about a human?

First and foremost, Eric Garner was a human being, and he was killed, unarmed and in public by men whose job it is to protect civilians.

When looking at Eric Garner’s death, various hypotheticals are useful when considering why the police treated him in such a violent manner. If Eric Garner was woman, a child, a banker, or white, would he have been choked out in broad daylight? It is essential to not only consider race but also gender and socio-economic status when perceiving situations in which police abuse and misused their power and authority. Recently, the United Nations expressed legitimate concerns “relating to a pattern of impunity when the victims of excessive use of force come from African-American or other minority communities.”

Following his death and the death of Michael Brown, Steven W. Hawkins, the executive director Amnesty International USA, issued a statement urging the Department of Justice to “conduct such a review and to collect and publish national data annually on the number of people killed each year by law enforcement.” Not only do these tragic events highlight flaws in the justice system, but they also expose a major human rights violation: the inappropriate use of lethal force by police officers and a complete lack of accountability for unjustly killing civilians.

America, a longstanding beacon of human rights, equality, and freedom, is under the microscope, and the militarization and brutality of the police force show a dire situation. When it comes to Eric Garner, the complications of the Michael Brown case don’t exist. Unreliable statements and speculations are not needed because a fully explicit video exists, one where the words “I can’t breathe” can be heard as Eric Garner suffocates on the concrete. Following the events in Ferguson, one widespread conclusion was that proper documentation is need for police, and the president himself is pushing for legislature that would place cameras on every cop. Yet in the case of Eric Garner video evidence did exist, and still there was no indictment. This issue exists not because actions go unseen, but because the system allows violence to happen without consequence.

The lack of indict for the officer who killed Eric Garner is simply unacceptable, and it is also inhumane. At the very least, the family of the Eric Garner deserves a trial. On behalf of those who have died for humans right and for those still fighting for them today, Eric Garner deserves a trial. The sounds of civil suffocation are everywhere, and everyone has the right to breathe.

Commentary by Norman Archer

Divesting from Coal at UNC


Although UNC has stated fixed goals for reducing its reliance on coal, it has been slower at addressing disinvestment from coal, despite student activism. In its most recent sustainability report in 2013, UNC listed the goal to be coal-free by 2020, a sharp decrease from coal’s current 36% share of all fuel sources used on campus and its off-campus electricity provider. Recent student activism has focused on divesting UNC’s endowment fund from coal. Coal has a range of detrimental environmental impacts, particularly since it is very carbon-intensive. By disinvesting from coal, utilities are financially encouraged to shift from coal to renewable energy. Furthermore, it is suggested that a disinvestment from coal would not significantly harm the university’s investment portfolio, particularly if the university invests in new forms of renewable energy.

Campus groups such as the Sierra Student Coalition, and campaigns such as Beyond Coal have been advocating for UNC’s complete disinvestment from coal over the past couple years. Their efforts have garnered strong support across campus. In 2013, 77% of the student body voted to divest the endowment fund from coal. However, despite the student support, progress toward divestment remains slow. The most recent progress occurred this fall when a clean energy resolution was passed unanimously by the board of trustees. The board of trustees requested that the UNC Management Company research investments that focused on clean energy.  However, there is still no firm plan for complete disinvestment from coal or a timeline for doing so.

Reasserting Native Consciousness: The Role and History of Indigenous Peoples Day


A speaker at a rally in Seattle to institute Indigenous People’s Day.


Holidays mark our calendars, punctuating and shaping our experience with time. While many function as welcome rests from work, holidays also commemorate historical moments that have impacted cultural beliefs, ideas, and frameworks for viewing the world. Columbus Day – celebrated annually on the second Monday of October – serves to celebrate Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of North America (even though he landed in the Bahamas.) Nevertheless, the days we give symbolic importance are slowly changing–seen here with the movement to alter Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Ultimately, Indigenous Peoples Day not only recognizes a oft-neglected history within the Americas, but also posits the existence and lived experience of indigenous peoples in the present–an imagining and welcomed shift in the cultural dialogue regarding historically marginalized peoples.

Within the United States, Berkeley, California was the first city to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. The city formalized the change in 1992, proceeding to celebrate the Bay Area’s Indian community. The process which lead to the change began with the creation of the Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Jubilee Commission on August 7th, 1984, formalized in 1985. The Commission’s purpose was to  “conduct the commemoration of the voyages of Christopher Columbus and to set forth general provisions and policies governing [...] Quincentenary projects.” While the commission was terminated in 1993, the Jubilee was initially scheduled to be held in the Bay Area, spurring the formation of the Resistance 500 Commission–500 referring to the number of years since Columbus’s arrival in the Bahamas. Ultimately, the commision was the group that not only challenged the Jubilee “commemoration of the voyages” but also successfully petitioned the city council to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.

The subsequent changes, or rather, the increased recognition of indigenous peoples expressed through a day of commemoration was not limited to the United States. In 1994, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed August 9th as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. Continuing into the present, the theme for this year’s International Day emphasizes the importance of implementing the rights of indigenous peoples throughout the world. This culminated in the first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September. While more events have recognizing indigenous peoples has been created in the present, the United Nation’s work in recognizing indigenous identity first began in the mid-late 20th century.

In 1974, a NGO of indigenous peoples was granted recognition for the first time by the the United Nations Economics and Social Council. A few years later, the first proposal to change the celebration of Columbus Day occurred in 1977 when the United Nations supported Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations promoted the International Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations in the Americas which aimed to challenge discourse and prejudice towards those populations. As those committees laid the groundwork for change, the First Continental Conference on 500 years of Indian Resistance attended by over 120 Indian nations resolved to challenge Columbus Day. Their declaration aimed to “turn [Columbus Day] into an occasion to strengthen [the] process of continental unity and struggle towards…liberation.” Ultimately, the roots of the Resistance 500 Commission that transformed Columbus Day in Berkeley stemmed from the First Continental Conference.

Following Berkeley’s path, other states and cities have dropped the celebration of Columbus Day adopting remembrance of indigenous populations. Codified into state law, South Dakota celebrates Native Americans’ Day, where that celebration is noted as “remembrance of the great Native American leaders who contributed so much to the history of [the state].” More recently in 2014, the cities of Seattle and Minneapolis swapped Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples Day. The Seattle city council passed a unanimous resolution adopting the shift in recognition of the contributions that indigenous populations had made to the area.

In an interview with Jean Dennison, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and member of the Osage Indian Nation, Dennison commented on the importance of recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day and how it challenges colonial discourses regarding native populations.“To this day, American Indians face ongoing representational issues, including sports teams using dictionary defined racial slurs against indigenous peoples as their mascot,” said Dennison. Even more, she commented on the importance of recognizing the diversity of Native American peoples, not people stating how “differently situated American Indian populations exist, each as their own polities.“

While a shift towards recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day is occurring, that shift is localized, and the majority of people within the states still celebrate Columbus Day. The holiday was established on a federal level in 1937, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was lobbied by the Catholic fraternal service organization, the Knights of Columbus, to commemorate Columbus Day within the United States.

Many of the current groups, notably Italian American ones, have protested the transition to an Indigenous Peoples Day due to historical connections with the Knights of Columbus. As protests ensued the 2005 Columbus Day Parade in Colorado, various Italian Americans expressed their support for the event connoting it with a celebration of Italian heritage. Other proponents in favor of Columbus Day argue that their support stems from Columbus’s spirit of exploration, not his exploitation of Native populations. While there is no fault in asserting ancestral pride, doing so through the medium of a man that symbolizes conquest, subjugation, and destruction potentially obfuscates the celebration of that pride. Furthermore, it seems to ignore Columbus’s entanglement and dependency with Spanish powers as well as Italy’s own complex development as a state and nation.

In a political and cultural climate that has often ignored and brushed aside its indigenous population, it is fitting and just for that population to be not only remembered but also imagined in the present. Not as a mascot, not as a figurehead on a coin, but rather as polities and peoples who exist in the present striving for recognition and greater livelihoods within their own communities. Whereas our cultural legacy has often mythologized Native Americans as wild, natural, or characteristic of American frontier values of individualism and freedom, to caricaturize is to reduce the complexity within these populations, the problems they face, and their present existence. In this regard, Indigenous Peoples Day can serve as a step towards exposing past histories, celebrating a rich and diverse cultural legacy of various native traditions, and opening up the imagination of future possibilities and existences.

Where There Are Moutains

This story is the winner of Campus BluePrint’s first annual creative writing contest, and is also in our print edition out now.


The brother is always the first to wake up in the morning. When he wakes up the mini blinds are not yet white with the glow of morning. His mother is curled up on the couch, still wearing the starched white khakis she wore to work the graveyard shift. His little sister sleeps on a futon in the other room. She snores and kicks at her covers and calls out softly in her sleep. The brother is nineteen, and the sister is only ten. They call her the little one.

He stands in the doorway of the trailer, eating cheerios dry from the box and watching the dogs that run in packs through the trailer park. These dogs are filthy, light-footed scavengers. One ragged looking dog—all bones and greed—roots through the plump black trash bags that line the streets. The ragged dog finds a bag of stale bagels and the other dogs circle round. They bare their teeth at one another and cut savage lunges towards the bagels.


This family lives in Laredo Texas. It is a town emerged of dust, gardens of dust. They live on the outskirts, right on the border between Mexico and America, in a neighborhood called la colonista. Except it is not exactly a neighborhood. You cannot find la colonista on a map.  The trailers and shanty houses do not have street addresses. The streets themselves are dirt roads. The water comes from wells, and is not safe till boiled twice. None of the trailers have heat or air-conditioning. In the summer this family puts fans in every window and keeps the door propped open with a cement block. In the winter they insulate the walls with newspaper. They tack blankets over the windows and wear layers on layers. La colonista is not Mexico but just barely America. This family can look out their window and see their old country across one hot flat stretch of land, one thin strip of river. They say, we have not come very far.


The brother does push-ups and sits-ups on the kitchen floor. He is strong and every day a little stronger. When the father returns to la colonista the brother will be strong enough and will look enough a man to quietly tell him to leave. He will not have to say it twice. He will not even have to roll his fingers into a fist. The father will want the little one. He will say, she is my child. The brother will say, she is no more your child than I am.

Now he fries eggs in the cast-iron skillet for him and the little one. He flips the eggs and peppers them black and scrapes them off the pot and onto plates. He looks for bread but the bread is gone. There are tortias thawing on top of the ice box. He heats two up on the burner until they are ringed with golden spirals. The little one wakes up. From the kitchen he watches her watch the dogs fight over bagels. She props open the screen door and sits out on the stoop. She wears red overalls and a white baseball cap colored from the dust.

There is a wooden baseball bat propped up beneath the coat rack. The brother takes this bat and goes outside and beats the bat against the white metal siding of the trailer. The dogs scatter, tails tucked. He tells the little one to go inside, her eggs are getting cold. And, he says, we’ve got an adventure to go on.

What kind of adventure, she asks.

I’m going to take you to see the mountains, he says. Now go eat.


The brother stands out in the sun and smokes a cigarette while the little one eats. The mother wakes up, stands in the doorway tucking her hair into a bun and looking at the brother.

She says, I keep thinking one of these mornings I’m gonna wake up and you’ll be gone.

I wouldn’t leave her, he says, even if I had a way out.

Even when he comes back?

The brother flicks his butt into the weeds where the bent sunflowers grow. Even then, he says.

Are you going somewhere?

Into town.

Take the little one.

I am.


The brother and the little one walk the dirt road into town. The sun is high and white above them. They pass by the children who kneel in a circle shouting and shooting marbles. They pass by the dogs who lay huddled in the shade of a trailer, mouths gaping, tongues hung to the dust. From far away both the dogs and the children look black as silhouettes.

Just beyond la colonista is a pit about four feet deep and twenty feet across. It is usually caked dry. When it rains though, the pit fills up with water, and the water mixes with the dust and thickens to mud. The children of la colonista wade across this lake of mud in their shorts and shirtsleeves. They come out covered in mud, with mud in their pockets and stuck to their legs.

The brother and sister spit into this pit of dust as they go by. The children say it is good luck to spit here as you leave la colonista. To spit is to leave a piece of yourself in la colonista with the ones you love. The brother no longer believes in luck or ceremony. He spits because the sister spits. The little one believes. She plants her feet and spits for her mother, for la colonista.

The brother hopes that the children are right.

The father will come south soon. He will want what he left behind and he will promise what they do not have. He will say, nothing that came before was real. He will say, I can get you out of la colonista.  The mother will agree, she will think it is best. The brother will say, you are walking into another hell. They will live in some apartment in town and in the evenings the father will sit back in his armchair with a strip of cloth tied tight just above his elbow. He will be the same, an awful man, an awful charming man. The mother and the sister, they will dream of the look of the sunflowers bent against the trailer, they will dream of the dogs and the dust and the hunger and the heat and the cold. Nothing and no one will bring the old world back, not even the brother doing sit-ups in the kitchen, not even the brother with murder in his heart.


They spit and then they go on. The sister runs ahead, looking back at the brother through the dust she kicks up. She asks him, where are we going?

He says only, we are going to see the mountains.

Laredo is as flat as the palm of a hand. In the country there is nothing to mark the horizon but telephone poles. Further south, where there are no telephone poles, it is easy to believe that there is no such thing as movement.

There are no mountains, she says.

You’ll see, he says.


He takes her to the clothes warehouse. This is where the Salvation Army and the Good Will send all of the clothes unsuitable for resale. Jeans without zippers. Shirts stained beyond salvation. Shoes with the tongues cut out. These clothes end piled up in hills and mountains, nearly to the top of the warehouse ceiling fifty feet above. The brother calls it the cotton landfill. People buy these clothes in bulk. They pay 35 cents a pound. What the warehouse cannot sell they compress into cotton blocks and ship to Mexico.

The little one has never seen this place. She stands at the foot of a cotton mountain and looks up in awe. Men and women hike up and down these mountains, sorting and untangling the clothes beneath their feet. They look for things that they can use. Shirts that can be washed and mended, leather coats that can be cut into strips, cloth aprons that can be cut up into dish rags, little shoes to fit a child. All the while the children run in ones and twos up the slopes and then tumble down, doing summersaults till they hit the floor and roll to a stop.

The brother begins the climb. He digs his feet into the cotton slope for traction. He stops ten feet up and calls down to the sister.

El nina, he says.

She follows him. A few times she loses her footing and slips earthward. He grabs her by the wrist and pulls her up onto his shoulders. They reach the top and he sets her down next to him. He looks across the colored hills.

This is it, he says. The mountains. You didn’t believe it, did you?

Yes I believed it, she says.

No you didn’t, you said there are no mountains in Laredo.

Well I believe it now, she says.

If anyone ever tells you there are no mountains in Laredo, you can say, yes there are. You can say you know where there are mountains.

No one will ever tell me there are no mountains because everyone can see Laredo’s flat as a map.

Even if no one says it you’ll still know better.

I don’t see what good that does, she says.

It’s worth something, he says.

The mountain shifts beneath them. The children on the slope yell, landslide, landslide. The brother and sister hold hands, not out of tenderness but to defy the steepness and the instability of the ground beneath them. With his other hand the brother grabs at a tattered pant leg. This is not enough. The pants fly loose and brother and sister are slipping, they are falling, they are carried down the mountain. The little one calls out and the brother takes her other hand and holds her close, so close she can see nothing but the blue and white patchwork of his plaid shirt. The landslide slows, they tumble forward to the concrete floor. The brother stands up and pulls the little one to her feet. She will not let go of his hand. The brother laughs. The little one laughs until she is breathless.

Again, she says.

And again they climb the mountain, and again they tumble down. Again and again, until the little one tires.


As they are leaving the brother sees a man in a jean jacket faded to white at the elbows, a man who looks like the father. He is standing in the shadows near the scales where people weigh what they salvaged. His face is white and worn-looking beneath his beard. He is smoking a cigarette and rocking on his heels. But it is only a moment’s fear for the brother. Then this man who looks like the father walks into the light of the warehouse door and it is not the father, it is some other white man with a beard. And they—the brother and the little one—are together, and safe in their togetherness. For now there will be no end to what they have which is one another.


Why It’s Important to do a Little Soul Searching in College


I don’t know about you, but there are times when I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I mean, I made it, right? I worked hard in high school. I was editor-in-chief of the yearbook, senior class secretary, and graduated with straight A’s. I got into every single college I applied to. I was loved, I had an exceptional group of friends, I went to parties, and well, everything about high school was great. I guess you could say I was part of the “in crowd.”

So from what you can tell, you would probably say I’m a fairly normal girl, right? Wrong.

Before I begin to explain, let me make this clear. Part of me loves where I came from, I really do. But there has always been something missing, and it wasn’t until I went to college that I realized what had been lost all along.

To put it quite simply, it was myself.

I feel like high school was this constant blur of always waiting for the next big thing. Here’s how it goes: get good grades, join as many clubs as you can, sex, drugs, and alcohol on the weekends, apply to college, graduate, and then what? What happens next? For those of you who already know, congratulations, you’ve managed to solve your never-ending mystery. Want to solve mine?

But that’s the thing, you can’t. It sounds so simple, but it can get pretty complicated, so keep up.

Let’s just say I’ve got these friends, and I love them to death. But it’s not their ideal Friday night to sit in bed writing up poetry, thinking about how great Eddie Vedder used to look with long hair. Normally I get the whole “Eddie Who?” or “Writing?………But we don’t even have a paper due?”

It’s also probably not their ideal Saturday morning to get up and do some exploring.

“Wait, you want to wake up before 1 p.m. and do what?”

“But it’s $3 Fireball shots tonight!”

And don’t get me wrong. I love having drunk dance floor competitions to Rihanna’s “We Found Love in a Hopeless Place” as much as the next person. But there’s this part of me that feels like college has amounted to this constant need to get plastered and make bad decisions. And somehow, that’s what’s supposed to help you figure out what your next big move should be.

Something about downing tequila shots every Tuesday-Saturday night doesn’t scream self discovery to me. So that’s why it’s important to have a balance. You need to do things for you.

It’s hard. Trust me, I know. Because it’s easy to take the next step while looking to what your best friend is doing. But instead, take a step back.

It took a long time for me to realize the importance of a little a-l-o-n-e time. Take my advice. Alone time IS HEALTHY. And sometimes we need it, not only for our sanity, but also for self-realization.

So, in my own attempts at this foreign concept of alone time, I’ve come to the realization that this is my next big step:

Read a biography about one of my favorite lead singers. Walk down to the farmer’s market every Sunday. Go to as many concerts as I can, and get high off the adrenaline from the crowd. Write. And don’t just write because I’m assigned to do so, but write because it’s what makes me feel my purpose. Go on nature walks, and ride bikes with that best friend who gets what no ones else does. Travel, and travel a lot. Study abroad. Have a GOOD relationship with my family. Become vulnerable to my sister. Let her fill the holes, and patch up the broken pieces. Take care of my body and be happy with it. Eat 100 mini M&M’s and feel no pain. Light candles when I’m feeling blue, and take long hot showers because it’s the only thing that can drown out the moments of self-defeat. Reason with myself, and then unreason with myself. Be confident, be gentle, and be bold. Try every single food place I can, and more. Don’t be afraid to ask for what I want. Stop thinking I deserve less and, start thinking how I can deserve more. Do everything I never make time for. Do ALL of this. But more importantly, do it for myself and no one else.

This is MY recipe for how to get lost in a little soul searching.

What’s yours?

Voter Turnout in NC Hits Record Highs


It’s finally done. Students at UNC can finally walk across the pit peacefully, without the fear of a random stranger popping up out of nowhere whispering the words: “Have you registered to vote?” or “Have you voted yet?”

Although most people find them annoying, these volunteers work tirelessly to ensure that people’s voices are heard in North Carolina. That being said, voters just broke the state of North Carolina midterm voting record that had been established in 2010 by getting more than 2.7 million citizens to vote. Early voting also played a large role in this increased number by increasing by more than 20 percent from the 2010 election. Even with the controversial voter regulation laws that make the voting and registration process more arduous, North Carolinians decided to exercise their right to vote in unprecedented ways for midterm elections.

On the flip side, however, the turnout for the midterm election is still truncated compared to the population of North Carolina and even compared to the general election. In 2012, 4.5 million ballots were cast in the state of North Carolina, which accounted for 68.3 percent of the registered voters. With a population of almost 10 million people, North Carolina should undoubtedly have more voters, or even citizens that are registered to vote. Democracy is an institution that lacks validity and reliability when less than half of the population takes part, so something definitely needs to change in order for the American people to be heard.

Many countries, such as Australia and Chile, require their citizens to vote, which adds to trust levels in their own government. If they decide not to do so, a relatively small fine is imposed, so the opportunity cost of voting is generally justified. The majority of European countries don’t even require citizens to vote, and yet they have over 75 percent voter turnout. This is a trend that the United States is attempting to create, but the current numbers don’t suggest any change in the near future.

Ultimately, the definition of voting is: “a tool that is used to express a wish to follow a particular course of action.” The use of this tool is entirely reliant on whether Americans believe their vote will matter, and this is a problem that must be tackled by progressiveness in the government.

Sexual Assault Laws: Does Yes Mean Yes or No Mean No?


Definitions are crucial in politics. The debated definition of conception is why no consensus can be reached on abortion, and the placement of “a well regulated militia” in the second amendment is the difference between the right to bear arms and gun control. More recently, the definition of consent has been up for debate.

One in five women experience sexual assault during college. That number is frighteningly high. Scarier still is the treacherous judicial system that victims of sexual assault face once they attempt to seek justice. It’s part of the reason why UNC is one of 85 universities currently under investigation for sexual assault policies by the US Department of Education.

Sexual assault policies are difficult to construct in a fair manner. Either someone has to be able prove that they were assaulted, or someone has to be able to prove that they did not assault. However, California has taken a step towards making the judicial process following a claim of sexual assault a bit easier for the victims.

All sexual acts must have some form of consent. Most people can agree on this. However, the definition of consent is where things get hazy. At present, consent is defined as the absence of a ‘no’. However California just passed a law that defines consent exclusively on college campuses as a clear and verbalized ‘yes.’ UNC has adopted the same definition in its new sexual assault policy. The shift in wording has led to the colloquial phrases ‘no means no’ and ‘yes means yes’ laws.

In many ways, the change makes a lot of sense. By putting the burden on the accused, it gives urgency to the need to ask for consent. Now, when a victim claims that they did not give consent and they can prove some kind of sexual act occurred, the courts will lean their way. This change has the potential to help more victims and encourage more victims to report.

On the other hand, there are two major criticisms of the policy change. First, for all other laws in the U.S. people are innocent until proven guilty. With the ‘yes means yes’ definition, the accused are guilty until proven innocent. When someone claims they did not give consent, the accused are forced to prove their innocence.

Additionally, critics argue that having to ask for consent is not reasonable in all situations. This critique has been met with much skepticism. The overall point, while maybe not be reason enough to revert back to the old definition of consent, has some merit. It might not be reasonable, and in many ways not enforceable, to regulate what happens in the bedroom. Arguably, many times non-verbal cues are used in sexual acts, so demanding verbalized consent could be a big change. But, if more people are safer for it, it certainly seems reasonable to require a quick verbal confirmation that everyone is consenting.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that only three percent of sexual assault accusations are fraudulent, according to the FBI. When people report sexual assault, we should listen. California makes it easier for us to believe victims in a legal sense, it makes the judicial system easier to navigate, and it makes it more likely for offenders to receive consequences. The ‘yes means yes’ policy change is new and frequently debated, but overall, I think it makes a lot of sense.


The following is the second of two runners-up from Campus BluePrint’s inaugural fall creative writing contest.




We found him like that.  What I mean is, he was dead.

This was on the beach, in the middle of the sand dunes where we weren’t supposed to be walking, but my wife and I were walking there anyway.  And here was this corpse.

“Jesus!”  Mary said.  She was a military brat.  It took a lot for her to appeal to any authority higher than herself.

“He’s dead,” I said.

“It’s dead,” Mary said.  She was right.

I looked at him, half-burrowed under a blanket and a pile of grocery bags.  “Was he homeless?”
“Must have been.”

“Should we call someone?”

“No,” Mary said.  “We really shouldn’t.”

Then she wrapped her hands around my neck and kissed me.  I still wasn’t used to the slick feel of her wedding band against my skin; this was our honeymoon, after all, and we were only two days married.

The part of the Outer Banks we stayed on that November was skeletal.  The pastel beach houses were sparse and empty; everything had already closed down for the winter.  This was how we’d wanted it—an entire town to ourselves, sand and water and air for us to grow into each other.

But here was this dead man tucked against the dunes.

For the rest of our time there we didn’t talk about it.  We stayed on the beach to the north of the house Mary’s parents had rented for us, smoked cigars naked on the porch and tried to plunge into an ocean so cold it was sticky.

We would mention him later, but only peripherally.  It became a kind of prayer that we recited to each other.

“Remember him?  Like that?”

We only ever said ‘like that’ because both of us had been there and we didn’t need to try to describe it.  After a while we stopped even saying ‘like that’, and we would just give each other a certain look across the kitchenette or a touch on the couch, and that would be enough for us to know: now.  Remember it.


The first time we talked about it was after the divorce.

Our house was barren—me leaving, Mary selling—and we stood in the middle of the living room with the last of our boxes, sharing one more six pack of Fat Tire.  There was a feeling of ending but also of opening.  The walls were down.  Now we could breathe.

“So the dead guy,” Mary said.  She was sitting cross-legged on the carpet where the coffee table used to be.  I had stayed standing.

“Yeah,” I said.  A valve cranked loose somewhere deep in my grey matter; I was relieved but I wasn’t surprised.  “Do you remember how blue he was?”

“Like a bus sign.”  She smiled at that like she meant it as a joke.

Maybe she had—sometimes it was hard for me to remember how much I used to know about her.  Eighteen years of marriage and I had more questions leaving than I did when we started.

“It’s weird,” she said, “how many times I’ve thought about it since then.”

I nodded.  “Every day.”

“Every day.”

My wife—my ex wife—sat down her beer.  Mary.  Forty-two and still saline, she had a kind of rippling prettiness that made you think you were seeing her through water.  Now I’d started to wonder whether I was drowning.

“I have dreams about him,” she said.


After I’d finished the beers I drove down Carolina Beach Road slower than I should have, slower than I wanted to, even.  A Dominican couple had just closed on the house—I didn’t have a reason to go back there anymore.

There were only a few things that scared me; starting over was one of them.

Mary and I had spent the last five years growing apart together.  Neither of us wanted to be the one to admit that it wasn’t working, I think, so she did the brave thing and gave me a reason to leave her: an affair with her quivering boss at the real estate company.  She did that for me, and even when I filed for separation at the county clerk’s office I knew she’d only made me love her more.  Maybe it was just a different kind of love.

Now—alone in my empty rental house, waiting for the end of Sunday—I had to decide what I was supposed to do.  I thought I might build a shed in the backyard, ask the landlord for permission.  I could start drawing.  Take salsa lessons.  But all of that seemed forced.  Those were distractions, not desires.  What did I need?  What did I want?

I looked out the window and thought about Mary on the beach, the sand and the wind trickling around us, the things we’d thought we shouldn’t say.

I wanted to drive to Cape Hatteras and find out about the dead man.


Hatteras was a stretched out sand dune.  The trees were stretched out shrubs.  The people—the few folks who lived here year round—stretched out their hopes for fall, for spring and for the first part of summer before the tourists and mosquitos.

There was a Ramada Inn on the south side of Buxton.  I checked in for two nights and sat on the edge of the bed while I called my wife.

“I’m in Buxton,” I said.


“I need to find out about that dead man.”

She sighed—behind the phone filter it sounded more like a curse.  “Charlie.  Is this about what I told you yesterday?  I was drunk.  It wasn’t important.”

I laid back on the bedspread.  The ceiling was painted with a kind of distressed pattern, I guess so you wouldn’t notice mildew stains.  Looking at it sent anchors through the backs of my eyes.

“No,” I said.  “This is about me.”


When my wife and I bought a house together we hadn’t known what we were looking for.  This was before she got her real estate license, back when she was in art school and the only things that made sense to us were Cheers and the Sudoku puzzles we kept on our bedside tables.  We’d go to open houses and listen to realtors talk about floor plans or down payments, trying to look like we understood.

What my wife wanted most were spare bedrooms.  She was twenty-six then; she still thought she wanted to have kids.  We never talked about it, but I could tell by the way she chewed on her thumbnail every time we found out one of my old college friends was going to be a dad, like any child that wasn’t hers put her farther away from getting pregnant.  I should have brought it up myself but I was afraid to ask her.  I didn’t even know what I wanted yet.

The thing that finally convinced us to buy our house—her house, now, but the one where we’d spent sixteen years together before that—was stupid.  It was the kind of idea that might seem logical in a dream, when you weren’t thinking linearly, but as soon as you woke up you could see all the ruts in the train tracks.

We’d decided to marry each other in a dream, I think, because now when I look back those wedding rings made no more sense than the baby or the dead man that we never talked about.

We bought that house because of a skylight.

It was in the master bedroom, right where you’d be looking if you laid flat on your back in the middle of our king sized—this was under the assumption that you put the king sized up against the far wall where my wife wanted it, but for me that had been less assumption than fact.

“I like it,” my wife said.  “We can stargaze.”

We’d been on the market for three months by then; I was tired, whittled all the way down to the marrow.

To my wife I said, “Sure, yes, okay, very good.”

To the realtor I said, “How much?”

A month later we were lining up the king sized under the skylight.  Pretty soon after that I started sleeping on my stomach.


Monday morning it was raining.  I woke up at nine and laid there, not moving, trying to imagine what it would be like to die.  I pictured a spiral, a set of concentric circles dropping down toward the south side of infinity.  A pairing down of motion.  A stillness of thought.  Meditation in theory, not in practice.

When I couldn’t make my heart beat any slower I rolled out of bed and checked the clock: 9:03.  Death got boring pretty quick, I guess.

I went to the library first.  There would be old newspapers, I assumed, some kind of archives.  The woman at the counter pointed through a door that looked like an emergency exit.  “Record room.  Check the file cabinets.”

The cabinets sprouted all the way up to the ceiling.  They looked like someone got paid to polish them regularly.  I walked down to the end of the wall.  I walked back to the other end.  I walked down again, then back, then stopped somewhere close to the middle.  I still had no idea what I was supposed to be looking for.

I stood there looking at my reflection in the front of the cabinets until I felt stupid.  A librarian stuck her head through the door.  She wanted to know if I needed help.

“No,” I said.  “I was about to leave.”

Outside of the library there was a tent full of Baptists.  They were handing out cookies and scones, selling them for some charity I didn’t recognize.  There were pictures of smiling African children hanging up in the tent.  I guess those kids needed the money more than they needed the baked goods.

“Want a muffin?”  A lady said.

“No thanks,” I said.

“But they’re for charity.  What about the children?”

I stopped at the curb and so did she.  The edge of the asphalt must have been some kind of invisible barrier.  “I never had any,” I said.

My wife had never gone to church, so I didn’t go either.


Back at the hotel it was still raining.  It felt like rain might be all there was to this place, water and sand and wind all tugged down by gravity.  The idea of going to the library seemed ridiculous, driving up here to look at a row of file cabinets—and I didn’t know where else to look.  I didn’t know anything.

The hotel lobby was full of men in business suits.  They were talking about portfolios and waiting for the elevator; I took the stairs instead, got to my room and turned on the TV.

My wife would be at work by now, in her office or in her car on the way to a house she was selling.  If she was in the car she would be listening to a book on tape, a Tom Clancy novel.  If she was in the office she would be doing Sudoku.  Her boss would be leaning on the edge of her table trying to flirt with her.  Sometimes it scared me how beautiful she still was—it was the kind of thing that could scare anyone.

I picked up the phone.  I was starting to get an idea of what I was doing.

“Hello?”  My wife said.

“Hey,” I said.  “It’s me.”

“Are you still in Buxton?”
“Yeah,” I said.  “Still here.”  Someone was yelling in the hallway.  Not words—not syllables, even—just sound.

My wife breathed gut-deep; this must not have been a good time.  “Did you find anything?”

“There were scones,” I said.  “And church people.  But no, not really.”

“Church people?”
“Outside the library.”

“Oh,” she said, and she made that one word a sentence.

Silence, five seconds.  I needed to ask her things.  “Have the people signed the deed yet?”

“Yep,” she said.  “Just this morning.”

“So that’s it?”

“It’s done.”

I knew she was right but I couldn’t feel it.  I had to keep pressing.  “You never told me where you were living.”

“Stuart—I have to go.”

“I wish you hadn’t sold our house.”

“Bye,” she said.  The buzz of an empty line quivered through my phone.

It didn’t mean anything, I told myself.  It was just sound.


On Wednesday I checked out of the hotel.

“How was your stay?”  The clerk at the front desk asked me.

“I’m not sure,” I said.  I sounded like an asshole but I was just being honest.

It had dropped below fifty overnight.  I had to smear my hands over the windshield to clear away the condensation.  My wife had chosen this car for me because it was fuel efficient.  She was my ex wife now, but I still had this car.

  I turned up the heater until my fingers were sweating.  There was one more thing I had to do.

I drove to the last beach access with a cigarette and the windows down.  Before I left Buxton I’d stopped at an Exxon for a pack of Marlboros; I hadn’t smoked since I asked my ex wife to marry me.

The road split south down the beach, dark and smooth and basically straight even though the coastline was puckered with divots.  Purple storm clouds lumped together over the ocean.  Rain was coming.

I stopped when the road did.  This was the edge of the island, the channel where the waterway slopped into the ocean.  It was two miles past the place where we had found the dead man.

I took off my shoes.  I started walking.

This beach ran north for fifty miles.  I looked and looked for the other end but it was tucked somewhere behind the horizon line.  Up there the dunes and the tideline and the ocean all converged, twisting together into something impossible.  I’d heard that the earth was actually an oval; to me it looked triangular.

I didn’t notice the rain until my shirt was stuck to my chest, until my feet fit into the sand a little easier.  Here was a flat topped sand dune.  I had no way of knowing if this was really the spot where we had found him, but I told myself that it was.  I got on my hands and my knees and I crawled to the crook where the dune met the beach.  The dead man had been lying on his side.  I lay on my side.  The dead man’s eyes were open.  I kept my eyes open, too, and I waited and waited to feel something.

The rain fell.  The wind trickled grains of sand across my face.  Nothing was happening.

I didn’t call my ex wife.