Tag Archive: UNK

In my art appreciation class we are studying architecture, and as one of our final assignments we had to drive around town to various addresses and describe the buildings. I have lived in Kearney for almost four years not, and I was seeing many of these homes for the first time. There are a variety of houses that do not fit the cookie cutter mold I expected. I will not go into detail and describe the architecture, because I’m no expert. Instead take a look for yourself. I took pictures of most of the homes with my phone on my tour.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


[Warning: this post recounts brutal acts of violence that some readers may find disturbing. I did. All names have been changed to protect the innocent.]

In my political science class, human rights and democracy in Colombia, we discussed this quote, “One must always try to be as radical as reality itself.” I did not give it much thought at the time, but on my way home from the class trip to Bogota I began to understand, and realize I had not lived up to the ideal set by Lenin. While in Colombia I heard some gruesome and appalling real life stories and could not bring myself to write about them. I plan to fix that here.

Maria with a picture of her murdered daughter Ana.

Maria spent the day wearing her daughter’s picture like a necklace. It was the only way she could keep Ana close, and keep her memory alive. Maria walked to Villavicencio that day to share her daughter’s story, which was cut short by the Colombian military.

Ana wanted to be a doctor, and she was smart enough to do it. She left her home in a rural area of Colombia to attend medical school, and after she finished, Ana returned to provide care for members of her community. They were some of the tens of millions of Colombians who live on less than $2 a day, and as such were subject to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of members of the military.

Despite her vulnerable position, Ana would not keep quiet. She traveled around Colombia to voice her concerns. In a country that has been fighting an insurgency group since the 1960s, and a variety of armed groups have emerged travel can be difficult, and it was not made easier when Ana became pregnant. Despite the human rights abuses by paramilitaries, the military, and the insurgency groups Ana continued to voice her concerns until she met the abuses she was fighting first hand at a military checkpoint.

Maria recounted the event from her investigation. Pregnant Ana was pulled from the car and gang raped by the soldiers. A knife was plunged into her stomach and her unborn baby was removed and killed. The soldiers proceeded to cut Ana into pieces before finally decapitating her. When they finished, they played a game of soccer with her severed head.

Listening to Maria’s story, in the hot humid upstairs room with a circle of people, it seemed unbelievable. But person after person stood up to share their tear filled stories. Victims were often selected at random, with much less provocation than in Ana’s story. Many lost family members who were tortured and killed, simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At the Colombian equivalent of the FBI these stories were confirmed for our group. Colombia passed a peace and justice law that allows paramilitary members to lay down their guns and confess to all their crimes, in exchange for a maximum jail sentence of around 7 years. At one point in our tour we were able to step into a back room where a law officer was watching a paramilitary member’s confession on closed circuit television.

The confession was translated to me by one of our Spanish speaking students. Paramilitary members were sent to convince the population of a small village to move, and used violent force. They rounded up the villagers and forced them all away from the village into the forest. Because the Colombian Navy had a group in the area the paramilitary group had to be quite and couldn’t use guns. Instead they got metal pipes and beat the villagers to death to make less noise. The particular paramilitary leader this person was describing was called ‘the German.’ He earned the nickname for his use of ovens to burn the remains of his victims, as was done in Nazi Germany.

Bike tricks, Dutch style

Everything you have in Nebraska, we have in the Netherlands. That is what my advisor told me when my plane landed in Amsterdam. I guess he was right, somewhat. I did eat at a Burger King in the airport. Of course, I had King Wings a fast food take on chicken wings, with a side of curly fries. The Burger King in Kearney doesn’t have those, but they were amazing.

Fast food was not the only thing I found with a European twist. Outside the airport was a giant, multi-level parking garage filled with more bicycles than I had ever seen in my life. Stationary bikes are pretty exciting, and after a semester studying in the Netherlands I found the Dutch can do way more with two wheels than just park them.

Over the approximately four months I spent in Middleburg the bike culture caught my attention. Dutch bikes are more of a city cruiser style, as opposed to the more familiar mountain or racing bikes. Passengers can ride on a small rack over the back wheel that is a more suitable spot for a case of beer, and is often used for just that. Despite the humble appearance, the Dutch bikers I saw were flashy in their own way. The ease my hosts displayed on two wheels left a constant impression, but three events stuck out from all the others.

The earliest, and in hindsight most mundane, of these events happened in my first weeks in the country, only a block from my house. I was walking to the school down a skinny brick alley with several of my housemates. We were lost in discussion, walking shoulder to shoulder and unknowingly blocking the entire path. He must have approached silently because the biker’s hand on my shoulder was my first clue he was there. With one hand he guided my out of the way like a small child and peddled away, only looking back to deliver a ‘pardon me.’ That someone had the balance it must have taken to slide me out of the way was shocking.

A romantic reunion at Middleburg’s train station set up the next feat. A college-age guy came to the train station to pick up his girlfriend, of course on his bike, but his girlfriend was rolling a giant suitcase with her. No problem. His girlfriend hopped on the back of the bike and he took off, turning through a busy intersection while rolling the suitcase behind him with one hand.

Middleburg’s market square provided the setting for the final display of Dutch bike riding skill, and combined the activity with another local pastime—smoking. In the most impressive demonstration of my visit, two Dutch girls balanced on a bike, one driving and the other on the back seat, with cigarettes between their lips. Without a toe on the ground and barely creeping forward, the two ladies proceeded to light their cigarettes simultaneously before wobbling out of the square.

My advisor was right. There are plenty of bikes in Holland and Kearney has some of its own. Despite the similarity, I have never seen anyone here light up a cigarette on two wheels.

Villavicencio: False positive

[A version of this article appeared on a blog for the Kearney Hub. The meeting discussed below was part of a political science class titled Human Rights and Democracy in Colombia. The class of roughly 12 listened to testimonies from various Colombians for more than 5 hours, which was both physically grueling, on account of the hot and humid atmosphere, and emotionally grueling, thanks to the stories shared that were all similar to the one below.]

Mothers are lucky in Nebraska. When their sons go out for the evening, they come back. Mothers in Colombia are not always so lucky.

After hours of driving, our delegation met in Villavicencio with union leaders, human rights lawyers and victims of the violence from the country’s ongoing conflict. Victims gave personal testimonies of the atrocities each suffered, all with one thing in common­-the ones responsible for the murder, disappearance and even torture of the victims’ relatives were members of the Colombian military.

“Unfortunately in this country, the Colombian state is the greatest violator of human rights,” human rights attorney Carolina Hoyos-Villamil said.

One woman shared the story of her son, 22, who was in the middle of his term of obligatory military service with the Colombian army. While visiting his home, a friend invited him to go downtown for a beer.

He never came home that night.

Days later, a friend of the woman told her that her son had been at a restaurant, between two men in Military outfits, and could not control his arms or posture in the chair, as if he had been drugged.

Without this knowledge she was growing worried and began to look for her son all over town. After days of repeated assurances not to worry from the DAS, an organization similar to our FBI, they claimed that her son was a guerrilla­­­, a member of an insurgency group.

It would cost 100,000 pesos for the return of her son’s body, but a proper burial was extremely important. The wake was attended by friends and family, as well as two strangers. These men questioned many of the guests and eventually called the boy’s uncle away from the crowd. They told him that if the family tried to sue, the first person to be killed would be the victim’s mom.

Crime at UNK

I finished my third interview for the American Democracy Project sponsored in-depth campus crime story. The most recent interview was with the University of Nebraska at Lincoln’s assistant police chief and director of patrol operations Carl Oestmann. The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s director of police and parking services Michelle Hamaker and the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s manager of campus security Paul Kosel.

So far the story is that campus crime is relatively low at all three campuses with the biggest problem areas being larceny and alcohol violations. Still, only a few crime rates rise to a level effecting more than one percent of the student population.

Each of the campuses is taking measures to lower the rates of larcenies and other offences. Changes of interest are adding additional surveillance cameras around campus and allowing police officers inside residence halls. On the home front, UNK’s police force will employ an additional officer next semester charged with part time duties as a regular officer and part time investigating sexual assaults. No sexual offenses were reported at UNK in 2009 (the most recent data available), with four reported in 2008 and one reported in 2007. Below is a chart of the total offenses reported in UNK’s Campus Crime Report.

Colombia is one of the most incredible places I have ever seen. Not at all like I expected when I was studying the county in my political science field study course Human Rights and Democracy in Colombia. The grim subject captured all my attention during the summer course and was a stark contrast to the landscape once we arrived for our trip.

So, on the way to Villavicencio and one of the most chilling stops on our trip I made up for neglecting the scenery by sticking my head and my camera out the window nearly the entire way from Bogota. I have already tried to pen a description of the trip and found I was not up to the task. Instead of setting up another flop I think it is best to let the pictures speak for themselves.

These were some of the fun parts of the trip, but much of what we did was far from pleasant. But that is a story for another day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Writers block v. insomnia

This blog post is going to be a bit unconventional.

I tried the conventional approach tonight. I sat in front of my computer for more than two hours and stared at the same blog draft I spent an hour gazing at the previous night. So, I’ve given up, at least for tonight.

The post to be is a lackluster disapproving review of “The Boondock Saints,” and for that reason I’d like to send my apologies to Nate in advance. It is of course a man movie, just not one I’m a fan of. But enough about that.

Tonight I’m parked in front of the laptop watching Dexter. I’ve wanted to catch an episode ever since I learned a UNK alum was one of the writers. I won’t bore you with a star rating or plot summary. It should say enough that I’ll finish at least four nearly hour-long episodes tonight.

Dexter brings a lot to the table, even more than the blades and saran wrap (To anybody who watches the show, is that really saran wrap? It can’t be, can it?). He’s dark, about as dark as they come. He’s a serial killer who claims to feel no human emotion. Despite this claim, Dexter maintains a ‘normal life’ with a sister, and a girlfriend. The combination is enthralling.

The show also taps into the same emotion cop shows have been abusing at least as long as I’ve been alive. It makes me feel like I could be a detective—a thought no doubt shared by many an NCIS viewer, or whatever other cop show is on besides “Cops” (heavy on sprinting, light on detective work).

Anyways, I thought I’d cure some writers block with this post, but alas I’ve spent just as much time on this one as I did on the last. I think I’ll call this post finished and watch one more episode before I go to bed. Good night.

Monopoly: UNK Edition (Delux)

Monopoly is a fun game that comes in a variety of versions, such as Star Wars, Pokemon, Batman and Robin, Bible, and Family Guy. At UNK we have our own edition of the game, except we traded the Parker Brothers for Chartwells.

In Monopoly: UNK Edition the game is food on campus and Chartwells holds all the properties. By contract, no organization, or class can bring outside food for an event on campus without Chartwells approval. Donated and home cooked food is excluded by the ban.

Groups are expected to have Chartwells provide food for events. Not only is the catering below par, but the price tag is excessive. Complaints aren’t hard to find if you ask around campus, and neither are rule breakers.

Whether it’s pizza in class or snacks for an organization’s meeting, people all over campus are breaking the rule. Others avoid it. A few years ago high school students from across the state flocked to UNK for SIFE’s (Students in Free Enterprise) New Venture Adventure and Little Caeser’s offered to donate pizzas. The donation saved a fair amount of money, but couldn’t be eaten on campus. At lunch time the enterprising young students marched across campus to a church across the street and ate there.

New Venture Adventure hosted hundreds of high school students on the Kearney campus, providing UNK with a great recruiting opportunity. But campus policies punish SIFE by forcing the organization to waste its budget, which does not exceed $2,000 annually according to former student body president Cade Craig, on food. Between paying for regular expenses, events and trips student organization budgets are stretched thin. Blocking donations and forcing organizations to buy expensive food only reduces the number of events organizations can host.

Price differences might seem small, but for big events prices can fluctuate greatly. For example, if Little Caeser’s donated 50 pizzas SIFE’s bill would be about $0. A Chartwells pizza costs between $9.95 and $11.95 according to the company’s website. That means a lunch tab of between $497.50 and $597.50. Chartwells’ bill is far too high for an unnecessary expense. Even if SIFE purchased the Little Caesar’s pizzas at $6 a piece, lunch would only cost around $300. That’s a savings of $197.50 to $297.50.

As any good entrepreneur knows, spending approximately 25 percent of the budget on one lunch is a recipe for failure. At best the campus food monopoly forces students to break the rule; at worst it could limit the activities of student organizations.

University policies shouldn’t force students to take a hike. The monopoly over food on campus has led to sub-par food at high prices, forcing the campus community to break or avoid the rule. When the new food service contract is negotiated this year the university should let this monopoly go bankrupt.

Run with it!

Loper history is teaming with vibrant, passionate, and timeless opinion, and debate. Of those debates that have raged on throughout the school’s history, some have shifted the very core of this Kearney campus, and the students that live here. Shifts in the river of UNK’s history have never been short on causes, but one of the most influential currents at this school has always been the university newspaper.

Who can forget when in its first issue more than 100 years ago the Antlelope editorial board demanded Kearney invest in our youth and train the future teachers of the heartland? Decades later the paper rocked the foundations of the school when, after a particularly one-sided football game against the cornhuskers of Lincoln, its editorial asked, “Is it time to face easier competition?”. And surely no one needs to be reminded of the key role the Antelope played in spurring Mr. Edward R. Murrow to challenge the angry wave of McCarthyism that was sweeping the country in the 1950s.

More recently the Antelope has shifted toward columns instead of editorials, but its opinion pages have lost none of the fire that has been burning for more than a century. In only the last few years a now famous blogger warned the campus of their technology dependency through the Antelope editorial page. The Antelope has challenged the nation as linguistically malnourished, through the writing of a renowned linguist, and even expressed disappointment with the Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court.

Now is no time to let up. Several topics are ripe for discussion on campus. It is time for the Antelope to make its opinion known.

A topic that is always hot, unlike its food, is Chartwells, which runs campus dining.

Even though someone could blog on this topic for longer than it takes to digest the burgers and chicken sandwiches served in the Commons, I would narrow my topic to what college students learn from buffet style eating. Another offshoot could be pricing, which is outrageous in light of the food quality.

Safe driving conditions is a second potential topic. Perhaps it goes unnoticed, but there are several intersections with limited visibility. Putting new students in uncomfortable driving situations isn’t fair and could be deadly.

Whether opinions about driving or eating find their way into ink, the Antelope is sure to continue its storied role as the center of debate on Kearney’s campus.

ADP Investigation

Thanks to an agreement between the American Democracy Project and the UNK communications department The Antelope will be taking proposals for investigative stories. Though I have not seen the guidelines, I assume the projects will require one or a series of stories on the proposed issue.

Last semester, while I was senior reporter for The Antelope, I tried to take on an investigative project. My topic was the ageless and infinitely gripping, terrifying household adversary, mold.  More specifically I investigated the prevalence of mold in the University Heights Apartments, based on complaints I heard from several classmates.

Even though I was less than pleased with the story I wrote, I did gain some fun experiences. I was denied public information, almost filed my first freedom of information request, received both veiled and explicit though unfounded threats, and got to see a few administrators experience various shades of anger.

Now, I know that may not sound like a great deal of fun, but I had a blast. So, I’m looking for new topics to investigate as part of one of these sponsored investigative projects. As a university, UNK offers a host of interesting topics, from alcohol, drugs and sex, to illegal aliens, to the budget.

But, I’d hate to limit my topics to the ones that seem obvious to me. In my several years working for the paper, I found a number of interesting occurrences that never surface in the papers or even in public discussion. As with my mold story I think we all benefit when some of these more secret situations are aired out in public.

So, I’d like your help. If you have any ideas for a project, that you don’t mind if I take up, or just have something you think should be covered, please let me know. Even if you have an idea you would like to keep for yourself please share it (just let me know you want to claim it).

Writing about uncovered issues can make a difference and lead to change. If you have an issue worthy of an investigative project, I encourage you to pursue the story, or suggest it here for someone else to claim.

%d bloggers like this: