If it were me

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2015

Returning from vacation this summer, I pulled off I-80 in Pennsylvania at a truck stop to get gas. I filled up the tank, paid in cash, then I went to the restroom before heading home.

Back in Meadville, I stopped to get groceries. No wallet. Hm. I realized I must have left it in the restroom. I had about $100 cash in it. My first thought: it’s a truck stop; a lot of people pass through. If someone did find it and didn’t return it, I figured he or she needed the money more than I did. My mom felt certain someone would return it.

One problem: I had no idea where I’d stopped.

I knew it was a Travel Center of America. I checked my odometer: 183 miles. I called the corporate headquarters. A kind woman suggested I could have stopped at Milesburg or Lamar. She called Milesburg with me on the line. Nope. I told the woman that I remembered that the restroom was by the ATM machine and the sodas.

“That’s Lamar.”

I called Lamar. Loretta answered the phone. “Yes, we have it in the safe. Josie, a waitress, found it and turned it in.”

A few days later, I drove back to Lamar. I wanted to meet Loretta and Josie in person and thank them. I had a hand-written note for Josie. I tucked some money inside. I’ve worked as a waitress.

Josie tried to wave off my envelope. It’s a thank-you note, I said.

She accepted it. I shook her hand. I thanked her again.

“If it were me, I’d want someone to do the same for me,” she said.

I spent a chunk of my summer swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, spending hours reading books for fun at the beach and listening to programs by the British Broadcasting Corporation on my shortwave radio. The story of the summer was one of waves of refugees arriving on the shores of Turkey and Greece, fleeing the ravages of war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last Thursday in our journalism classes, we discussed the photo of the body of a 3-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan, a refugee who drowned and whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey. We discussed the ethical considerations of running an image of a dead child. The students agreed it was a harsh photograph that reflected a harsh situation. The world needed to see it, they concluded.

It can be too easy to turn away from devastation and horror if it’s not impacting your life, your family. You may feel there’s nothing you can do. By the end of the summer, I didn’t want to hear the stories. My heart hurt. And the stories stirred images of my own work when I had documented refugees fleeing conflict.

One BBC report told of women arriving hungry and exhausted from their odyssey across the desert and the sea. The reporter described how the women used their last shreds of strength and will to push their children onto the trucks, to hurl them to strangers if necessary.

My mind instantly projected a memory, an image of a time when I stood at the Kenyan border watching Somali refugees appear in the shimmering heat, near skeletons in ragged clothes heading for the hoped safety of a refugee camp in Liboi. When the women arrived, they would heave their children into the back of the United Nations trucks. They wouldn’t have any remaining strength to pull themselves onto the vehicle.

In August, before classes began, I listened to a report on National Public Radio.

Ari Shapiro was in Izmir in southwest Turkey where Syrian refugees board boats at night to cross to Greece. He shared the story of a man who joined 40 others who piled into a raft made for 10. The boat sank. Many died.

Smugglers and local merchants take advantage of the refugees’ plight. Shapiro reported that going rate for the short boat crossing to Greece is $1,200 per person.

He then told the story of another man, a Turkish merchant, who lets refugees charge their cell phones at his restaurant. He offers them water and food, free of charge. He lets women and children sleep in his upstairs offices, even though it’s illegal.

“These are people who are running away from war, and if I put myself in their shoes, I would appreciate it if someone would do the same for me,” said Ali Demir, the restaurant owner in Shapiro’s story.

When I was a young photojournalist, I wanted to save the world with my photographs. In my years in Africa and the Middle East, I realized that it’s my actions as a human being while I do my work as a journalist that make the difference. And we’ve talked about this in our classes, too.

No matter where we live, each day we are given opportunities to show kindness, to offer assistance.

As Josie the waitress in Lamar, Pennsylvania said, “If it were me, I’d want someone to do the same for me.”

As Ali the restaurant owner in Izmir, Turkey said, “If I put myself in their shoes, I would appreciate it if someone would do the same for me.”

If it were me. A thought that inspires action.

From one person to another, a simple, tender gesture of kindness can make a world of difference.

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

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Let love anchor us to our lives

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Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2015

Theo Padnos stands center stage with stack of loose papers in his hand. Hundreds of journalists and students wait for him to begin his presentation. The seats in auditorium are nearly full. People line the aisles and the back wall.

I’ve probably written more here than I’ll have time to say, Padnos tells the audience, so I’ll start with what’s most important.

Padnos is the opening speaker for The Power of Narrative conference at Boston University. I attended the conference with three student journalists from The Campus newspaper staff.

He speaks in a soft voice. Audience members ask him to use a hand-held microphone. Padnos is a scholar and writer. He’s fluent in French, Arabic, German and Russian. He has a doctorate in comparative literature. He taught poetry to prisoners in Vermont. His interest in Islam led him to study in Yemen then Turkey, near the Syrian border.

Working as an independent journalist, Padnos was kidnapped in Syria in October 2012 and released in August 2014.

In the early days, Padnos said he was afraid of his captors. He was held in a dark room.

“This was a torture hospital,” he said of where he was held. The captors would take a victim to the boiler room. Within 10 minutes, he would hear a scream from “deep in the soul.” The soldiers called it the room of death, Padnos said.

“I dreaded everything. Every noise. Every footfall. Every turn of the key.”

He said he would put a blanket over his head and recall former girlfriends, his mother, the forest, a dog or two, poems. Padnos said he’d been pushed to the edge of life and feared that death might come at any moment.

In those dark days in that dark room, he realized what was important.

“I hadn’t loved enough,” Padnos said. “If only I’d cared, if only this love had anchored me to life.”

“I wish I’d loved other people more. I wish I’d loved myself more.”

On Sunday, I witnessed the marriage of two Allegheny colleagues at Christ Episcopal Church in Meadville.

Light illuminated the stained glass windows and poured onto the altar.

The pastor spoke of the sacrament of marriage, of the joy and deep thoughtfulness the couple brought to their relationship, the altar and their vows.

They had chosen several readings from the Bible for their ceremony, including a passage about raising Lazarus from the dead. In my experience, this story is not a staple at weddings. I was puzzled by the introduction of death and darkness.

The pastor said that each had gone through dark times. They found enough faith to keep going. They met, fell in love and found a new way forward.

Yes, it’s story of death and darkness. It’s also a testament to faith and a return to life and light.

“Cloak yourself in love,” the pastor said.

The days are longer now, offering light and a welcome warmth. The snows have melted and Ernst Trail is accessible again.

As I’ve walked the trail, I’ve noticed the signs of renewal and new life. The twisted green shoots of skunk cabbage as they push their way out of the black, damp muck and into the light and fresh air.

I’ve encountered several snakes that have left their dark winter habitats. They stretch out on the asphalt, absorbing the heat radiating from below and the warmth from the sun above. With a gentle nudge of a stick, I try to encourage them to leave the path. I’m concerned a passing cyclist’s tire might flatten them, rob them of life. They seem loath to leave the light. And I leave them alone.

On campus, daffodils have burst from the ground in what seems like the blink of an eye. When I head to my yoga class one morning, I notice their tight buds. When I leave an hour later, some have burst their bonds. Their bright flowers now face the sun.

I have known dark times, times of self-imposed seclusion and hibernation. I have kept company with despair and fear, lived with and through threats on my life.

Because I’ve traveled through darkness, I know I am blessed to be alive.

I stand at the altar of life and a simple moment of staggering beauty reminds me of what is holy and sacred—and important—in my life and this wide world.

I am with Padnos, the pastor and the newlyweds.

Let love anchor us to our lives. Let’s cloak ourselves in love. Let’s love one another and ourselves.

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/columns/outside-the-box-let-love-anchor-us-to-our-lives/article_eff46544-e3c5-11e4-a6b7-138af07835d0.html

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

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Fare well to Kazi, who sees each person he encounters

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2014

Not long after I arrived in Meadville, I was feeling worlds away from my family and friends. At a table outside the Pampered Palate, I noticed two men talking. I heard the lilt of Africa in their words. My heart sang.

Steve Onyeiwu and Kazi Joshua were sharing a meal and conversation when I popped in front of them.

Hello. I’m Cheryl Hatch. I’m new here. I’ll be teaching journalism at Allegheny College.

I barely stopped to take a breath in my enthusiasm to make new friends.

Where are you from?

At the college, I have since been chastised for asking this question; however, as a military brat, a journalist and a relentlessly curious traveler, I love to hear people’s stories of their origins and journeys.

I explained that I had lived and worked in Africa. Allegheny professors, Steve said he was from Nigeria; Kazi, Malawi.

As students finished their finals this week, Kazi spent his final days at Allegheny. He accepted the “newly created position of associate dean for intercultural affairs and chief diversity officer” at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, according to a story in The Pioneer, the weekly student-run newspaper.

When I had lunch with Kazi recently, he told me he remembered well that day in the fall of 2012. He said I was having lunch with the editor of The Campus, our student newspaper. He already knew a bit about me from conversations at the college.

It turns out Kazi collects and cherishes stories, just as I do.

Kazi is easy to spot on campus with his high energy and bow tie. He calls me Professor Hatch and he addresses students with honorific titles and respect. Mr. Hailsham. Ms. Mauroni.

Students, faculty and staff call him Kazi.

His full given name is Kazipuralimba. I asked Kazi once what it meant.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Indeed.

When the going got tough, I went to Kazi.

As a new faculty member and the adviser to The Campus, I welcomed his advice. Kazi is a wise man—with the instincts of a journalist.

I would pass Kazi’s former office on the third floor of the Campus Center, usually on my way to or from The Campus newsroom.

I’d wave and say hello. Often, Kazi would invite me to sit and talk. He’d turn his chair and lean in to listen as I shared a challenge or hurt. Stories of students who were troubled, harassed or struggling. Stories of my own troubles.

Kazi always made time for me, as he did for countless students and colleagues in his five years at Allegheny. Our talks were not always about challenges and setbacks. We talked about life, current events, matters of the heart and spirit.

I would leave Kazi’s office and presence feeling uplifted. I always felt heard.

Kazi is a skilled listener.

In meetings, at speeches, in the classroom, Kazi’s quiet presence was felt. He would sit in silence and listen, profoundly.

At the end of a discussion or near the end of a meeting, Kazi would summarize what he’d heard and then ask a thoughtful and thought-provoking question.

Like the best journalists, Kazi is not afraid to ask the tough questions.

I remember when Sheryl Stolberg, a reporter for The New York Times, spoke at Ford Chapel as part of Allegheny’s Year of Civil Rights in the fall of 2013. After she had fielded numerous questions, Kazi stood. As was his practice, Kazi had let the students have the floor first. I will go from memory now since I don’t have my notes with me.

Kazi asked her about the media’s coverage of President Barack Obama. He asked if she felt racism played a part in the way journalists reported on America’s first black president.

I believe many in the audience had that question on their minds, maybe on the tip of their tongues. No one had dared to stand and ask it. Kazi did.

I felt a deep respect for Kazi in that moment. To me, he demonstrates the qualities that are imperative for a journalist—and human being. He listens carefully. He risks asking the tough questions that may yield unpopular and hard answers. Or may encourage resolution and results.

Kazi is a gentle man, a man of faith. He spoke with passion in the classroom—and on occasion from the pulpit in Ford Chapel. A colleague called him a brother and soldier for social justice.

I consider Kazi my brother, a fellow journalist and storyteller.

In South Africa, there’s a Zulu greeting, sawubona, which translates as “I see you.”

Kazi sees me. Just as he sees each person he encounters.

He took the time to sit with me and listen. He asked about my mother and father many times as they passed through their health crises these past two years. He sat with me as I weathered my hurts. He asked about my health—and my heart.

These past weeks, Allegheny students, staff and faculty offered Kazi fond remembrances, celebrations and farewells. Whitman waits to embrace him.

I am happy Kazi has found a place where he will be cherished and respected. And I am sad to see him go.

Fare well, my dear friend. I see you. Thank you for seeing me.

 

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

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http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/columns/fare-well-to-kazi-who-sees-each-person-he-encounters/article_703177d4-866e-11e4-bf45-77df09ba2756.html

Breathe well, as we have just this one life

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Outside the Box by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

 

Breathe well.

Our yoga teacher repeats this often during our practice.

I came to Allegheny after working in Afghanistan by way of a hospital bed in Kuwait.

For my first year on campus, I was under doctor’s orders to rest. No running. No swimming. No yoga. Only walking. My body and lungs needed time to rest, repair, restore.

Breathe well.

A respiratory illness tried to take my breath. Now I breathe beauty. Sunshine. Rain. Wind. Tears. Ocean. Light. Laughter.

When I left Afghanistan, I left the world of breaking news. For two decades, I’d been in crisis mode. Wildfires. Plane crashes. Murders. Executions: at a federal penitentiary, in urban neighborhoods, on dirt roads in Africa. Earthquake. Floods. Famine. Civil war. Political campaigns. Sports playoffs. Serial killers.

I had more stretches of 90-hour weeks than I want to admit. Yes, the news never sleeps; and, too often, neither did I. It was a fun and frenetic career—and it took its toll.

When I came to this small liberal arts college in this small town, I envisioned a slower pace of life. I would write letters. I’d read books. And I’d write a book, a memoir, the book people had been asking about for more than a decade.

To my horror and surprise, I discovered it’s possible to live at a crisis-mode pace without a breaking-news job.

I noticed a disturbing, familiar pattern.

How are you? I’d ask. Busy.

How about a walk? I’m busy.

Dinner? Busy. So busy. Too busy.

In Arabic class, the students already know the word for tired. When the professor asks how they are, one by one, they often respond taa’baan. Tired. I’ve heard the word “exhausted” escape from my lips too often

Breathe well.

I remember my childhood and the lives of my parents and grandparents. We gathered around a table for meals every evening. On weekends, we played, visited friends. On Sundays, we went to church and relaxed. Our “free” time was just that: ours. There was time for family, friends, community and service. The professional and the personal lived in separate places.

On Sunday, I drew two columns on a yellow legal pad. One column I labeled “for me;” the other I labeled “for others.” For me, I listed Arabic homework, cleaning, doing an annual report for my nonprofit and writing this column. I also wanted to do some things for my well-being: swim, read, walk.

In years past, I did a great job of crossing things off my list for others and sometimes I’d work on evenings and the weekends to get that work done. It’s not a tradition I want to continue.

Some Sundays, I go to church. This past Sunday, I went for a long walk. I consider both forms of worship and meditation.

As I walk, I listen to the wind, the rustle and rattle of leaves and unseen animals that scatter and plop as I pass. I hear the tickle of the creek as water slips over rocks.

I notice a brown snake, slender as a pencil, stretched across the path, sunning. I walk gently by it, careful to leave it undisturbed.

Wait. Go back, Cheryl. What’s your hurry?

I turn and return to the snake. I get down on my knees and lean on my elbows, chin in my hands. I study the snake, sun on my face, sun on its scales.

I watch it breathe. Sides puff out slightly. Sides collapse. I am alone on the trail for long moments with the snake, its breathing, the sun and the wind.

Slowly it moves, tasting the air with its flicking tongue, finding its way through curled, fallen leaves. It slithers into the grass and vanishes from my sight.

Breathe well.

Our yoga teacher reminds us to expand our breath, expand into our bellies.

When I’m afraid or fatigued, my breath grows shallow, sprints ahead, dares my heart to join it. When I’m stressed, straining, struggling, I hold my breath.

When we hold our breath, we tighten. Constrict.

As our yoga teacher reminds us, when we breathe well, our breath opens our chests. It exposes our hearts. Leaves us vulnerable. Nourished. Alive.

We have this one life.

One sacred life. One sacred moment. One sacred breath.

Breathe well.

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/breathe-well-as-we-have-just-this-one-life/article_dfa18a00-5fcc-11e4-84cd-8f6dbec5499b.html

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

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Key to success in class, and life, is to show up–even when things get tough

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Outside the Box by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

Last fall at the annual welcome bash at the president’s house, I met Allegheny’s new professor of Arabic, Reem Hilal, and her mother.

Ahlan wa sahlan, I said. Welcome.

I chatted with Hilal in my rusty Egyptian dialect and I told her I’d love to study Arabic.

Ahlan wa sahlan, she said.

I next met Reem Abou Elenain, the Fulbright foreign language teaching assistant, who hails from Alexandria, Egypt. Both Reems—Hilal and Abou Elenain—insisted my Arabic was too advanced for the beginning course and advised me to join the intermediate class. I knew better.

I have lived in Saudi Arabia and Egypt and I worked for a significant stretch of my career in the Middle East and Africa. I have no formal training in Arabic. I learned by ear—and by necessity.

I speak street. I knew enough Arabic to scream at the man who called me a sharmota, whoreas I passed near Tahrir Square when I was a young journalist in Cairo. I had enough vocabulary and moxie—yes, moxie is part of the language—to talk riot police into letting me pass through their phalanx during Gulf War protests.

Yet, I don’t know classical Arabic, the gorgeous language of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, with its lyrical script that I can barely read and a grammar I have never tackled.

I held my own in the early weeks of intermediate Arabic. As the semester passed, I attended fewer classes. As a professor, I discovered that teaching class, grading assignments and attending meetings often sidelined my attempts at being a student.

And, as a professor, I am keenly aware that I set an example whether I am in front of a class or in it. By midterm, I realized I couldn’t keep up—and worse, I wasn’t setting a good example. I was embarrassed when I didn’t have the right answers to write on the white board. The students were gracious and patient with me. I eventually beat a retreat.

This semester Reem Hilal is on maternity leave and Reem Abou Elenain is back in Egypt. I spoke with Bilal Humeidan, the professor teaching Arabic this fall, and Salah Algabli, the new Fulbright assistant.

Déjà vu.

After chatting with me, Salah insisted I take intermediate Arabic. I insisted I needed the beginning class.

Three times each week, I join a group of intrepid Allegheny students in a tiny classroom in Ruter Hall where we stumble and sparkle through our Arabic lessons. It’s fun to be a student. I join others at the board for dictation exercises. We play games to improve our vocabulary.

Last week Humeidan led an impromptu Arabic version of Pictionary, a game I’ve never played in English. The word was shebaab, people. As I stood at the board with my dry erase marker poised, I decided it would take too long to draw a crowd of faces, so I wrote the word in Arabic. I felt clever. Problem solved. My team guessed correctly—though I was disqualified. Not so clever. I learned a player can only draw images—no words allowed.

Who knew? I know I’m still competitive, just as I was as an undergrad. I still strive for an A in class.

I took the first quiz. I wasn’t sure how I’d done. I would like to have studied more. I would prefer if my memory and retention were as sharp as when I studied French and Russian years ago at Oregon State University.

When the professor returned my quiz, I didn’t dare look at it. I hesitated. Then I opened it slowly and peaked at the score. An A. A smile busted out across my face and I busted into a happy dance.

I couldn’t help myself. I posted on Facebook. “I got an A on my Arabic quiz. As a student, I’ve still got game.” My friends around the world gave me thumbs up.

I enjoy learning. I don’t mind looking silly, taking a risk in Pictionary or mispronouncing a word. I’m learning to read and write Arabic. Alhamdulillah. Thanks be to God.

I do mind falling behind. It is getting tougher to keep up now. We switched books and gears. We’ve finished learning the alphabet and we’re on to bigger things: grammar, syntax and verbs. The amount of homework and the time needed to complete it doubled overnight.

I tell students in our journalism courses that one of the keys to success in class, and in life, is to show up. That’s what I intend to do. Keep showing up.

There’s a midterm on the horizon.

I can do this. Insha’allaah. If God wills it.

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/outside-the-box-key-to-success-in-class-and-life/article_ce85287a-5a23-11e4-939a-d74312c02238.html

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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How you play a golf course reveals how you live your life

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2014

A member of the Allegheny men’s golf team invited me to watch the team play during the recent Guy Kuhn Invitational at the Country Club of Meadville. I accepted and walked a number of holes on Sunday afternoon and a couple more on Monday.

I watched a visiting player hurl his club after a missed putt on what must have been a bad hole for him. I heard another visiting player swear loudly after a shot he didn’t like. That would not fly in the Hatch family, I thought. At any sign of disrespect for others or the game, my father would discipline us.

I grew up in a golfing family and I’ve walked innumerable golf courses. My father has played golf for as long as I can remember. My brother played in high school and college and still carries a single-digit handicap.

I never played the game when I was younger. Never liked it much, actually. I rowed crew in college. Family vacations were often planned around the availability of golf courses and tennis courts. I wanted to scuba dive.

My mom is a natural, competitive athlete. She played volleyball, basketball and tennis most of her life, until her back had other plans. She picked up golf later in life.

Last month, my mom called, thrilled to share the news of her hole-in-one on the Tournament Player Course. Number Three. A water hole.

Giddy, Mom described her shot. She suspected immediately that she’d made a hole-in-one. Dad was playing ahead of her. He said he watched her shot but didn’t see the ball on the green. He said he figured it went in the water.

Of course you did, Dad.

I tried golf a few years ago. My instructor told me I had a natural ability so I decided to take lessons. I found a woman golf pro, whose approach to the game was the right fit for my style. She gave me a few tips on my swing and then told me to see the target and send the ball to the target. And I did. On my first drive, I hit the ball well.

How far is that? About 225 yards, she said.

Giddy, I called my dad that evening. Dad, I hit my driver 225 yards.Cheryl, you cannot hit the ball 225 yards.

Well, how far do you think I can hit it? About 150, maybe 180 yards, my dad said.

Huh. My instructor might have been mistaken, though I liked the idea that I could send the ball 225 yards.

The next time I visited my folks, I went with my father to the driving range at the country club. He sat right behind me as I teed up the ball. Tense, nervous and anxious to impress my father, I hit the first few balls poorly.Then I sent one flying. I looked back at my father. How far was that, Dad?

About 225 yards. I don’t believe it, he said. Then he dashed to clubhouse to find the golf pro.

As I played more golf, I discovered that I could learn a lot about a person’s character in a round of golf, sometimes after a few holes. It turns out, in my view, how you play a golf course reflects how you live your life.

People will offer unsolicited advice: there’s a bunker over that rise; there’s water on the left; the rough is brutal on this hole. They focus on the potential problems.

I don’t want to focus on the hazards or obstacles. I aim for the flag, the green, the goal. I know that where I send my mind, my ball will follow.

My father and brother often coach me on the reasonable shot or appropriate approach. Play it safe. Play it smart.

Once, my father told me I couldn’t reach the green on a water hole. The safe shot was to lay up short of the green. In other words, don’t go for it.

I insisted I could hit the green. My first shot went in the water.

Now you know the shot to play, Dad said. My second shot went in the water. I was headed for a “Tin Cup” moment; and, I still believed I could reach the green.

On my third attempt, I hit the ball so hard it flew over the water and the flag and landed behind the green.

I happily accepted the inflated score on that hole because I proved to myself what I knew to be true—that I could reach that green.

Golf has taught me to trust myself and have confidence in how I play. And how I live.

I play by feel, by intuition, and I don’t play it safe.

Some players focus on problems. I look at the target and go for it. Some players dwell on the negative. They swear and throw things when the going gets tough.

I usually choose to focus on the positive. On some rounds of golf, I simply remind myself how lucky I am to be alive, to have the sun on my face, to be healthy enough to swing a golf club and share the game with friends.

The day after the Gators finished fourth in the Guy Kuhn Invitational, the assistant golf coach emailed me, thanking me for showing up to support the team. The coach thanked me, too. The student who invited me sent a thoughtful, handwritten thank-you note.

You can learn a lot from how people play and their follow through.

Allegheny College’s golf team is a class act.

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

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http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/article_c638f20c-44e6-11e4-945b-7b2d00a84efe.html

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