Walking a fine line

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Outside the Box, a column by Cheryl Hatch/copyright 2016

Allegheny College is losing a treasure this week.

Director of Campus Communications Kathy Roos retires on April 29, 2016, after 19 years of service.

When I first met Kathy four years ago, I joked with her. You work for the dark side, I said. Public relations and journalism use the same skills for distinctly different objectives. Both tell stories. Sometimes we’re on the same page. Sometimes we’re not.

In my career as a professional journalist, I’ve encountered many public relations professionals who assume an adversarial or hostile approach to members of the media with whom they need to work. I can think of software giants who hire entire firms to craft their image and message, complete with stylists and wordsmiths who want to manage press conferences and photo opportunities. Politicians, the United States military, sports teams and colleges and universities all have public relations professionals on the payroll to help members of the media see things their way.

Kathy and I have both been around long enough that we realize that a working relationship can be built on respect and professionalism without thwarting our separate—and often disparate­—objectives.

In the four years I’ve had the privilege to work with Kathy at Allegheny, she’s been nothing but a pro—and unceasingly kind.

I often gauge people by the way they treat students, particularly student journalists at The Campus newspaper.

Kathy reads the student newspaper and has sent email messages complimenting the students on stories. I pass these messages to the students, where they serve as a kind of salve on the sting of remarks and rebukes they also receive.

This is an indication of a consummate communications pro. She can do her job while working with and respecting members of the media.

Last year, Sam Stephenson and Meghan Hayman won first place in the Society of Professional Journalists Region 1 Mark of Excellence Awards. This was a first for The Campus and a high achievement. The students earned the award for their coverage of the Kirk Nesset arrest.

Kathy wrote the press release and didn’t go into the details of the story that won the award. She highlighted the students’ accomplishment without citing the title of the news story, which would have brought renewed, potentially negative attention to the college.

In August 2013, Kathy responded to a request from community members and The Campus. A number of Meadville residents asked if the paper could include notices of campus events so they could attend. Kathy began compiling a weekly calendar of events at Allegheny College, which now fills a third of a news page in The Campus each week.

Two weeks ago, the student journalists hosted a surprise farewell party for Kathy in the newsroom, complete with balloons, cards and pizza. Christina Bryson, the editor-in-chief, offered her a prized Campus coffee mug, a gift of gratitude and respect.

Kathy, in turn, offered her congratulations to the students on their 2016 awards and commended them on their improved coverage.

I wrote part of this column Monday morning in the Market House Grille. I looked up to see a man tucked under a ball cap at a table next to the big frig. He was reading The Campus and I watched him study the page with the calendar of events.

Thank you, Kathy.

Since I arrived at Allegheny College, my goal has been to raise an awareness and understanding of journalism and its role on campus and in our community and democracy. I believe Kathy and I have been partners in this endeavor. We know and respect the limits of the partnership and honor the instances when we can collaborate.

Kathy attended every Ida Tarbell birthday party The Campus staff hosted. She wrote excellent releases for all the journalism in the public interest and Campus events, particularly our annual journalism conference and multimedia workshop. She wrote press releases that served faculty, staff and students from all parts of the Allegheny community.

Her good work brought local, regional and national media attention to the college.

Most mornings I look out my kitchen window and see Kathy and her husband of 42 years, Bob, walking to campus, often hand-in-hand. Bob, a professor of computer science, will retire, too.

On Monday morning, the smell of fresh-cut grass hung in the air as I backed my car out of the driveway. I saw Kathy and Bob walking down the brick road.

I stopped the car and jumped out. Not many more days, I called to Kathy.

She held up her right hand, showing five fingers.

I crashed their morning walk for a short distance, savoring a few moments of conversation.

I will miss Kathy Roos. The Campus journalists will miss her.

She walked the fine line between our two worlds with professionalism, dedication and respect. And she always walked that line with a gentle reverence for the integrity of words and importance of impeccable communication.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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The Campus journalists courageous in face of their own fears

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

Last Wednesday afternoon, a news story broke on campus: professor Kirk Nesset had been charged with one count of obtaining and one count of distributing child pornography. Students learned the news through social media: Yik Yak, Twitter, Facebook. Some broke the news to their professors.

Like many students, members of The Campus newspaper staff knew within less than an hour of the first news reports. Unlike their fellow students, the student journalists would be covering the story.

As the adviser to the paper, I communicated with the editors first by text and then by phone. I told them that they needed to report the story themselves and get the facts firsthand. They could not rely on other news sources or swirling speculation and gossip.

I advised them that they could not tweet, post or print anything until they had seen and read the federal court documents with their own eyes. They needed to contact the college administrators for comment.

And they had to go to Nesset’s house and ask if he had any comment, if he wanted to share his side of the story. Neither student who decided to go to Nesset’s house had had him as a professor.

The sun was slipping low behind the trees when an editor and photographer knocked on Nesset’s front door just after 6 p.m. last Wednesday.

He opened the door. They asked if he wanted to comment on the story of his arrest. He said he wouldn’t. They asked if he intended to resign, as a campus administrator had told them earlier. He said he didn’t know and he was in talks with the provost. The students observed that his trademark flip-flops were outside the front door and he was holding his dog while he spoke.

The students are the only journalists who knocked on his door to talk with him, according to Nesset.

The next morning, just after sunrise, I knocked on Nesset’s door. I brought him baked goods. I told him that I had not come as a journalist. I responded as a human being, concerned for his mental and physical wellbeing. He’d been publicly exposed and exiled from his community. I wanted him to know he wasn’t alone.

He told me that The Campus students had been respectful. He said that his house and garage had been egged.

Later that day, last Thursday, the faculty voted to cancel classes and give students and all members of the campus community a time to pause, reflect, grieve and express their emotions, including outrage and anger.

As I listened to comments on campus, I had images in my mind from an old black-and-white movie where villagers grabbed pitchforks and torches and drove Frankenstein from their community. I thought of The Scarlet Letter and Lord of the Flies.

In a meeting in Shafer Auditorium on Friday, I stood in front of a microphone and shared my thoughts.

Kirk Nesset is my friend. He has been kind to me. As a journalist, I am bound to a code of conduct that charges me to be fair and balanced. As a human being, I choose to reserve judgment until I know the whole story.

The FBI affidavit states that he waived his Miranda rights and admitted that he downloaded thousands of files. We don’t know the circumstances under which he waived his rights and admitted wrongdoing.

We know he’s been charged with a crime. He has not been convicted in a court of law. By law, we are innocent until proven guilty. Until the story hits the media. Then a person becomes guilty until proven innocent.

It’s the mob mentality that concerns and unnerves me, the ease and ferocity with which a community can turn against one of its own. As a journalist, I have covered conflict in the Middle East and Africa. I have witnessed what can happen when people turn on one another.

The fabric of civility and community can be so fragile and unravel quickly and violently.

A few people on campus noted that I couldn’t understand the anger and outrage because I wasn’t a mother. As if being a human being weren’t enough. I understand fear and pain.

Others asked if I weren’t afraid. Afraid? Afraid of speaking up.

I am a visiting professor. People believe I might be afraid of losing my job.

I am an educator at a liberal arts college. And I am a journalist. If I am afraid of speaking up, afraid of losing my job for speaking up, then I am not doing my job.

As I told those gathered in the Friday meeting, as I’ve told journalism students on numerous occasions, journalists are truth seekers. We shine a light in dark places and shed light on the facts. It’s not an easy job or a popular one. And it’s a vital one for our communities and democracy.

My journalist colleagues have been following The Campus newspaper staff’s reporting. I had two journalists visiting campus last week when the story broke. Both admitted that they hate covering such difficult stories. Journalists have to keep their personal feelings and biases at bay. They don’t want to knock on the door. It’s one of the worst things journalists have to do. And yet they do it. Just as the students did.

I am proud of the student journalists who volunteer for The Campus newspaper. They have demonstrated a commitment to the standards of journalism: balance, fairness, accuracy. They understand the responsibilities and role of the media on campus and in society.

They have chosen to report and publish when remaining silent is too often the norm.

They have been courageous in the face of their own fears.

http://alleghenycampus.com

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/article_ed0a9d66-5014-11e4-8a7b-47007d079dd6.html

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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You’re never too old

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Caption information, names of interns.  left to right:  Back row: Eric Boodman, R.J. Schaffer, Jourdon LaBarber, Ryan Petrovich, Alexander Nieves, Idrees Kahloon, Sarah Schneider, Sean Hammond, Hayes Gardner, Maxwell Radwin, Daune Robin, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Connor Mulvaney. Front Row: Lorri Drumm, Golzar Meamar, Mary Hornak, Trenise Ferreira, Emma Brown, Emily Kaplan, Wesley Yiin, Marisa Iati, Yanan Wang, Kate Mishkin, Ye Zhu.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette summer interns pose for a group photo, from left to right:
Back row: Eric Boodman, R.J. Schaffer, Jourdon LaBarber, Ryan Petrovich, Alexander Nieves, Idrees Kahloon, Sarah Schneider, Sean Hammond, Hayes Gardner, Maxwell Radwin, Daune Robin, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Connor Mulvaney.
Front Row: Lorri Drumm, Golzar Meamar, Mary Hornak, Trenise Ferreira, Emma Brown, Emily Kaplan, Wesley Yiin, Marisa Iati, Yanan Wang, Kate Mishkin, Ye Zhu.

Writer’s noteI am a journalist in academia, a woman who has traveled among many cultures. I live outside the box and I like it — and I want to share my perspective with you every Thursday.

“You can do anything you want to,” her guidance counselor told her. “You’re smart.”

That’s the only guidance she received before she started college. She liked science so she enrolled in pre-med at Gannon University in Erie straight out of high school.

“I made it the first year,” she said. “By the second year, I started floundering.”

She admits she didn’t know what she wanted to do. Her parents told her to get a degree, any degree. By her sophomore year, she’d lost interest in school and took an interest in her future husband.

Thirty years later, Lorri Drumm and her husband had raised four children when she read an article in the paper about the Allegheny College Association Continuing Education Scholarship. It’s a competitive program that offers financial support to women older than 25 who have completed less than two years of college.

Drumm decided to give college — and herself — a second chance. She applied and the committee awarded her a scholarship with the funds to enroll in three courses for the academic year.

In 2012, she took English classes with a focus on lots of reading and writing while working full-time.

“That was kind of my test,” Drumm said. “I didn’t even know if I could write a college paper.”

She also didn’t know if she’d get additional support as an ACA scholar. Recipients must reapply for a new year of studies; each year, the competition is tighter.

“Each year, you don’t think there might be another year,” Drumm said.

Drumm didn’t focus on her grades. She focused on learning.

Her work earned her a second year of support and she enrolled in news writing, a class I teach each semester. She did her research. She read up on me and my background in journalism. She said the course sounded unique, different and interesting. Again, she thought she had one shot and decided to make the most of it.

During discussion in class early in the semester, Drumm shared that she’d been fired from her job after more than 20 years. The firing knocked her down but not out. She continued to attend classes while she pushed for her unemployment benefits.

Spring semester she took our multimedia journalism course with its focus on radio. Drumm joined her classmates in producing a radio piece on the aftermath of the fire in downtown Meadville that displaced several families. She was persistent in pursuing sources and information and scored excellent sound bites that were an important component of the final piece.

Drumm’s initiative and growing journalism skills earned her a summer internship at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She applied for student summer housing at Point Park University where the other interns would be staying. She’d have affordable housing a short walk from the newspaper offices.

A dean told Drumm that the university doesn’t offer the housing to anyone older than 25. A student and an intern, Drumm was denied the chance to stay with her fellow interns.

She wasn’t deterred; she was determined.

Drumm searched online listings for affordable housing and applied for supplemental funds from Allegheny. She found a landlord who understood her situation. The woman told Drumm that she’d been where she’d been, that she had made a new start in mid-life. She rented Drumm a room in her house.

As a professor, I am proud of Drumm. She’s a shining example for her younger classmates. In less than a year, she went from a beginning news writing class to a prestigious internship where she’s already pitching story ideas to her editors in the features department.

When she doesn’t know how to do something, she asks. When she hits an obstacle, she finds a way around it.

In her third week, she wrote the obituary for Ann B. Davis, who played Alice, the housekeeper on the TV series, “The Brady Bunch.” She grew up watching TV’s blended family, long before the Internet and social media.

Drumm now posts links to her stories on Twitter and LinkedIn. She writes about her experiences and insights on Gator Blogs at Allegheny’s website, sites.allegheny.edu/gatorblogs/author/drumml.

This week she received an assignment to write about a “degree of experience.” She was told her words will be read by prospective college students.

Drumm already has an idea for her piece. She learned that graduate students, 24- and 25-year-olds, are often reluctant to get internships.

“Don’t be an old person,” Drumm said.

Whether you’re older than 25 or 50, take advantage of your opportunities.

Especially your status as a student, Drumm said, citing advice she learned from Associated Press photographer Ted Warren, who visited our multimedia class via Skype last semester.

Next year, Drumm will return to Allegheny for a third year as an ACA scholar. She plans to take a photography class to round out her journalism skills.

“I really do want to get my bachelor’s,” Drumm said. “I don’t know how old I’ll be or how I’ll get it.”

I agree with her guidance counselor’s assessment years ago.

You can do anything you want to, Lorri Drumm.

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/x1396875904/Whether-you-re-older-than-25-or-50-take-advantage-of-your-opportunities

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

 

 

College is the place to dare–not worry about every grade

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Outside the Box

By Cheryl Hatch/Copyright 2014

Writer’s note: I am a journalist in academia, a woman who has traveled among many cultures. I live outside the box and I like it — and I want to share my perspective with you every Thursday.

I hate grading.

At the end of each semester, I am required to submit grades for the students in our journalism classes. As a professor, I hate grades. As a student, I cherished them, worshipped them.

OK. Hate is not the right word though I do love the succinct lilt and assonance in the sentence. Worship is the right word.

And there’s my problem with grades. We’ve created a system that creates students that revere grades. Some students believe those grades measure their accomplishments and determine their value, their worth.

They don’t. You are not your grade.

Don’t get me wrong. I never met an A I didn’t like. I am, and always have been, a straight-A student. Heck, I even like saying it. I’m proud of it.

And, my constant pursuit of perfection cost me dearly at times in my life. I was well into my double-degree program and cruising for an ugly crash before a professor pointed out that it would be impossible to earn 100 percent on 100 percent of my work.

A 90 is still an A, he said. A-minus, I countered. I was uncomfortable with the concept. Do less than my best? That was impossible.

In high school, I had friends whose parents would buy them a car when they got A’s on their report cards. I knew one student whose dad bought him a car for a single A. I worked as a grill cook and waitress to earn the money to buy my first car and pay for insurance and gas.

A’s were expected in our house, not rewarded.

Once I came home with a C on a quiz. Not an exam, a quiz. Dad was not happy. What’s the problem? That’s average, Dad. Not average for you, he said.

Point taken. Not average for you etched in my psyche.

I understand the system. Back then, I needed those A’s for scholarships, to prove I was worth an investment.

Years later, I created a scholarship named in honor of my parents at my undergraduate alma mater. The scholarship is awarded to someone with high hopes, not a high grade-point average. Someone who wants to explore the world. Who believes in public service. Someone with big dreams and the big, tender heart needed to go the distance in pursuit of them.

As an A student, I know the grade does not always reflect the student’s effort or learning. I often earned A’s without breaking a sweat, until I encountered a computer science programming class.

I failed the first exam. I was confounded. I studied like I’d never studied before. Humbled but determined, I tackled the preparation for the next exam. I studied. Did the exercises. Met with a tutor. I got a 35. Yes, out of 100. That definitely did not compute. I remember thinking I could have thrown a dart at the empty circles on the answer sheet and produced a better score.

I like and excel at languages — French, Arabic, Russian — not Pascal. I did my best in that class and my grades said I failed. I failed to earn an A. I earned a C.

When I sit down to calculate a student’s final grade, there are tangibles I can assess. Meeting a deadline. Using The Associated Press style correctly. Hitting the word count. Getting a variety of quotes. Effective transitions.

I also consider intangible, vitally important accomplishments. Did the student do the work? Did he learn from his mistakes and improve? Did she push herself? Did he go outside his comfort zone? Did she risk failing?

When I was an adolescent, my dad gave me a quote by Theodore Roosevelt from a speech he gave April 23, 1910, at the Sorbonne in Paris, France.

I give it to students in our classes now. I add “woman” and “she” when I read it aloud.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

These words are also etched in my psyche. I love the idea of daring greatly. Since I was young, I have never wanted to be someone who has known neither victory nor defeat. (Yes, defeat is a drag.)

I want students to know that they are not their grades. In pursuit of that A and the illusion of perfection, they might be tempted to play it safe. By avoiding failure — or worse — being ashamed of it, they risk missing the deep and valuable lessons they might learn from stumbling.

I do not like to fail. And I am not afraid of failing.

These many years later, I can still taste that C in my first and only computer science class. I do not like that C and I prize that C. I learned a lot in that class. I don’t like computer science. It would have led to a great career — not for me.

College is the place to dare greatly. Figure out who you are and what you want. What you like and don’t like. Find your voice and your path.

Can I live with that C? Yes. That’s the point. I can live with the grade.

It was not the end of the world. It was the beginning of a whole new world and a great adventure.

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/x1667052278/College-is-the-place-to-dare-not-worry-about-every-grade

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

A seat at the table

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Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/x493485708/Getting-a-seat-at-the-table-takes-a-strong-jaw-and-spirit

When I graduated from college, I had no job. I was told to get an unpaid internship to build my portfolio.

Even then, I balked. I didn’t like the idea of working for no money; however, I relented and found a gig at the local daily newspaper.

A calendar with a bikini-clad woman straddling a motorcycle greeted me in the darkroom.

It was the worst version of a Cinderella story. The two male staff photographers envisioned my job as a step-and-fetch, answer-the-phone, do-what-we-don’t-want-to-do internship. Instead of mentorship, they offered me their disdain and the dregs of the assignments. I poured my energy and enthusiasm into each one, assuming I had to prove myself.

One day, a presidential candidate was passing through town and everyone on staff was covering his visit and speech. I was thrilled. I had no hope of getting a plum assignment or photo position; however, I knew I’d get a shot at photographing a major news event. I’d get to go to the party. After all, I’d paid my dues.

The photo editor assigned me to the newsroom, to answer phones, file negatives and cover any other news that might come up.

What? There is no other news.

Then and there I realized the editor and his sidekick were not interested in offering me learning opportunities. I went to the managing editor. Of course you can cover it, he said.

I covered the event and left the unpaid internship.

I hopped on a plane to Cairo. I figured if I had to make no money I’d rather be where I was doing what I wanted to do.

Out of the frying pan. Into the fire.

Egypt—then and now—is not an easy place for women, especially for a single, foreign woman. Photojournalism—then and perhaps less now—is a male-dominated profession in the U.S. and Egypt.

I first landed a job at a monthly English language magazine. As an independent photojournalist, I also got regular assignments from the wire services, Reuters and the Associated Press. Later I photographed assignments in the Middle East and Africa for photo agencies in Paris and Milan.

On one occasion, I went to the presidential palace for a press conference. I arrived an hour early to get a position. There was only one other woman in the press corps that day. Just before the conference started, an Egyptian TV cameraman walked in and set up his tripod and camera directly in front of me.

Naturally, as a woman, I was invisible to him and had no place there.

I knew it was risky and ill advised to challenge him; however, I needed that camera position to do my job. There was a heated discussion among the journalists and a scene. He eventually shifted his position.

A few weeks later, I was back at the presidential palace to cover an event with a visiting delegation of United States congressmen. The press scrum had tripled and included U.S. traveling press from major TV networks and newspapers.

The same Egyptian TV cameraman set up his gear directly behind me. Each time I raised my camera to shoot, he pushed me, jarring my arm and ruining the photograph. I decided to escape his retaliation and move. As I left, I shoved him so he would give me room to shift position. He turned and punched me in the face.

I did what I learned in Egypt. I made a scene. A woman from CBS said she’d file an official complaint. A melee ensued. The congressmen looked confused as the security guards rushed them from the scene and swarmed the journalists to pull our presidential credentials.

I quickly tucked my presidential press pass inside my shirt and covered it with my hands when the guards tried to strip it from me. I pointed to the cameraman. Strip his credential. He punched me in the face. He lost his credential. I kept mine.

If I sound like I was tough, I wasn’t, truly. I took a lot of punches—literally and figuratively—in my career. I’d get the wind knocked out of me and I’d get back up.

As an Army brat, my father raised me with stern instructions not to rock the boat or talk back. And definitely not to challenge authority.

I told my father years later that it was crippling advice for a woman in a man’s world.

This semester, I’ve been mentoring a student who wants to be a sports reporter. I arrived at a basketball game one evening and discovered a row of men seated at the long bench that serves as the press table. There was no place for the young woman reporter.

I asked the men for a seat for her. Most ignored me. A few glanced in my direction. A couple shrugged and turned their backs to me. They didn’t make room for her.

I climbed up the bleachers and found the director of sports information.

At first, the men found a seat on the cement stairs next to the press table.

No. A seat at the table, I insisted.

The next game I arrived and found a large paper with the reporter’s name and publication taped to the press table. She had an official, reserved spot.

I showed her the paper and made a photograph of it. You have a seat at the table, I said. Literally and metaphorically. This is important. Remember this.

No one is going to give you anything. You have to ask for it. Then you demand it. Then you take it and own it. You have every right to have a seat at the table.

This week I am proud to announce the inaugural Allegheny College internship at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A woman and non-traditional student will be a features reporter for 10 weeks this summer. She’ll have an accomplished staff journalist as a mentor.

And she’ll be paid for her time and talent.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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Women: Celebrate your bodies and revel in your strength

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Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

When I was a college student, I would often leave my apartment and go for a 12-mile run for fun, to unwind after a tough class or a long week. I would swim two hours nearly every evening, conjugating French verbs or writing a story in my head as ticked off laps like a metronome.

When I was younger, I would see middle-age women in loose T-shirts and running shoes, laboring under extra weight and shuffling along the sidewalk at a barely-more-than walking pace. In my youthful ignorance, I’d think ‘how did she let herself get like that?’

Now, I am that woman.

My first semester at Allegheny, a student mentioned my pregnancy. I wasn’t pregnant. It was a wonderful teaching moment in our journalism class. Get facts. Don’t make assumptions. And never ask a woman if she’s pregnant. As a professor, I handled the moment gracefully. As a human being, I was devastated.

Two years ago, I was preparing for my second embed with the 1st Battalion 5th Infantry Regiment 1/25 Stryker Brigade Combat Team in southern Kandahar Province. I’d returned to do a story on the women soldiers of the Female Engagement Team for The Christian Science Monitor. I walked on daily patrols with 19-year-old soldiers. It was a point of pride to hold my spacing and keep pace with the young men and women, even though I felt my age and extra weight on those long marches.

By late March 2012, I was in a hospital bed in Kuwait, struck by some “fever of unknown origin” and a wicked infection that set up camp in my lungs so fast it was like a flood of refugees fleeing a war zone. The disease threatened to take my life. It didn’t win though it left me weak. The doctors warned my recovery would be slow and I needed take it easy.

I asked about yoga, running and swimming. Swimming? The doctor looked at me. No, he said. Walking. Only walking.

Surviving Afghanistan and its aftermath, I have a newfound appreciation for my lungs, my life and my body—the very body I disparaged as a young woman.

In college, I was lean with a mere 9 percent body fat. I was on the crew team and we usually worked out when the guys on the football team lifted. My friends on the offensive line would spot me when I bench pressed more than my body weight. They pushed me to make a record 13 pull-ups.

I was an accomplished college athlete and a Pac-10 champion. And I never felt strong enough, fast enough, pretty enough or good enough.

It hurts me to think about it now.

I have become the woman I mocked in my youth. I want to believe I’m also a wiser and more compassionate woman. I’ve learned that things happen that change our bodies and challenge our health: bearing children, bearing witness to suffering and death, battling diseases, exhausting ourselves banging on some glass ceiling or mirror.

This past year, four women dear to me were diagnosed with breast cancer. They’ve taken different paths to healing: surgeries, chemotherapy or a combination of interventions. Each one is finding her way back to health, into her body and into her life.

I want to find my way back to health and fitness, back to my body.

I called one of my friends who is recovering well. Let’s swim the Save the Bay this summer, I proposed. (It’s a two-mile swim in open water.) She accepted and she’s already started training for the July 16 event.

I may not have much muscle at the moment. I do have muscle memory. The athlete I’ve always been is still there; she’s simply out of practice—and yes, a bit overweight.

I know I have plenty going for me on my road to recovery. I still have the mental toughness that kept me upright on those Afghan patrols. I have the will that kept me rowing when I wanted to bail. I come from a long line of athletes, including my mother. She played college basketball and volleyball long before Title IX changed the rules and opportunities for women.

I hope young women—and all women who read this column—will not judge, as I once did, any woman who is doggedly pursuing her personal path to wellness. Especially, if that woman is you.

I encourage you to celebrate your bodies. Be grateful for your health.

Revel in your strength.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

 

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Recent uprising gives Egypt hope for the future

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Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

As a young girl, I dreamed of visiting the land of the Pyramids.

Mighty Isis was my favorite comic book heroine. On my teenage bedroom walls, posters that featured ancient Egyptian tomb paintings with Nefretari and Isis flanked my Led Zeppelin poster. I was fascinated with the art, religion, history and mythology of ancient Egypt.

In graduate school in France, I studied Egyptology with experts in the field.

After graduation, I earned an internship at an English language monthly magazine in Cairo. My childhood dreams were coming true.

I stepped off the plane in Egypt and quickly realized I knew nothing about the modern country and its culture.

On my first night in the hotel that would be my temporary home, a colleague came to welcome me. Three men burst into the room and escorted my guest to the lobby. I was a single woman and I was not allowed to have men in my room, the interlopers told me. They publicly chastised me and called me a prostitute.

Ahlan wa sahlan fi Misr. Welcome in Egypt.

I learned the men were members of the mukhabarat, the secret police. I would have many encounters with them during my three years in Egypt.

As a foreigner and journalist, I was under surveillance. My phone was tapped; my movements were monitored. I became adept at identifying the plain-clothed mukhabarat, who often followed me.

On one assignment, I accompanied a reporter from Reuters, the British news agency, to cover a press conference announced by a Muslim sheikh in a town outside of Cairo. The sheikh was rumored to be both abroad and under house arrest in Egypt. It was a good story.

We were stopped on the road outside the oasis town. The police asked for our documents and refused to answer our questions. My colleague handed over her British passport; I kept mine. Once they had her passport, they told her that she could not legally proceed.

I got out of the car and starting walking.

Where are you going? I’m walking to the press conference.

By this time, the police forced my colleague into a vehicle. I had a choice: leave her, or go with her and abandon the press conference.

I went with her; I still did not relinquish my passport. The men took us to a small building in the middle of the desert in the middle of nowhere and stuck us in a room with two metal chairs and a beat-up desk.

Am I under arrest? No.

Then I’m free to leave. No.

I want to call the American embassy. No.

I was not under arrest. I was being held against my will. I had no rights.

Ahlan wa sahlan fi Misr.

Hours later, they released us. They had successfully blocked us—and other reporters we later learned—from attending the press conference.

They told us to go back to Cairo. We didn’t. We were bound to determine if the sheikh was indeed in the country and under house arrest. We spent the night in town. A secret policeman followed our every move on his tiny motorcycle. He wore a fake leather jacket and a long, white scarf that trailed behind him. He sat in a corner of the restaurant where we ate dinner, hiding in plain sight.

The next day we went to the mosque we’d heard the sheikh attended.

As we waited, the mukhabarat gathered at a distance on all sides of the dirt road. As soon as the sheikh crossed toward the mosque, the secret police pounced. They dragged me in one direction and my colleague in another, lifting us off the ground. I resented being manhandled and resisted. Resistance is futile, as the “Star Trek” saying goes.

They roughed us up and sent us on our way again. We left. We had the story.

Twenty years later, I was in Alaska when the events began in Tahrir Square two years ago. As a journalist, I longed to return to Egypt, to witness and document the historic uprising as the people who packed the square for weeks demanded an end to the rule of Hosni Mubarak, who’d been president since 1981.

In this case, resistance was not futile. Through social media and solidarity, the crowds held against the authorities. The vice president announced that Mubarak resigned on Feb. 11, 2011.

Last semester, a young woman came to my office and asked to join our news writing class. Her name is Reem Abou Elenain and she is a Fulbright foreign language teaching assistant from Alexandria, Egypt.

The class is full, I told her. She expressed her enthusiasm for learning about journalism and news writing. I could put you on a waiting list in case a spot opens, I offered.

She wouldn’t take no for an answer.

I told her she had the qualities of a journalist: passion and persistence. I added her to the class roster. She brought fresh perspectives of American news coverage of events in the Middle East. She now writes columns and works as an editor at The Campus, the student newspaper.

Reem was in Egypt when the revolution began on Jan. 25, 2011.

Before the revolution, Reem said people were terrified and without hope. They felt watched.

“I didn’t feel that Egypt was my country,” Reem said. “Other people owned it through corruption and monopoly.”

“When the revolution happened, it was the happiest moment in my life,” Reem said. “I was screaming from my heart and it was never too loud. We united as a people. It was beautiful. As women, our voices were loud and heard.”

“We removed the most powerful and corrupt person,” Reem said, referring to Mubarak

Now Reem believes there’s a future for her and her country.

“Now it’s mine. I love it. There is hope.”

This Thursday, Feb. 13, Reem is bringing the Academy Award-nominated documentary, “The Square,” to Allegheny College. I couldn’t be in Tahrir Square in February 2011; I will be in Quigley Auditorium at 7 p.m.

Ahlan wa sahlan.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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