Human Interest Stories

STUDENT SPEAK-OUT PROVOKES DISCUSSION OF CAMPUS SEXUAL ASSAULT RESPONSE

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Sophomore Nina Truslow stood with a megaphone and recounted being raped at UVM.

“My name is Nina and I have experienced sexual assault,” Truslow said.

Heaviness hung in the air Friday as Justice for Queer/Trans Students held a speak-out on sexual assault.

Atop a rock near the Davis Center, survivors of sexual assault shared their stories, and asked UVM to do more to prevent sexual assault on campus.

Truslow was assaulted by someone she was dating last year, but decided not to report because he did not understand that he raped her, she said.

“You have a panic attack and you go home and they text you asking you what is the matter,” Truslow said.

The only education she received from UVM was during her first weekend of school and the CatAlerts that give tips on what to do to avoid assault, she said.

“That’s telling people how not to get raped instead of telling people not to rape other people,” Truslow said.

The students requested that there be a change in education.

Around 50 students joined Truslow, gathering to hear and share stories of their sexual assaults and voice concerns with the way sexual assault is handled on campus.

Students discussed access to education, the importance of intersectionality and the impact of rape culture on campus.

Students were not alone at the rally. Among those in attendance was Victim’s Advocate Judy Rickstad.

In the past year, 61 sexual assaults were reported to the Women’s Center, Rickstad said during an interview last April.

“I speak for victims,” she said, “but sometimes I don’t have a lot of power.”

All of these cases went through Rickstad. She said she meets with each survivor at least 20 times per year.

“We live in a culture where we’re told women are sexual objects,” Truslow said. “I have had enough of being sexualized for having a female body.”

This rally was in response to a recently reported sexual assault on UVM campus.

On Sept. 23, a UVM student was sexually assaulted in her residence hall by a man unknown to the victim prior to that night, according to a CatAlert.

The suspect is believed to be a “white male, approximately 40, with long blond hair, last seen wearing a black sweatshirt with the word ‘Hawaii’ written in pink and green lettering,” according to the CatAlert.

However, the CatAlert noted “this incident is not under active investigation.”

Students can report an incident without requesting an investigation, according to UVM’s Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Policy.

Some students argue colleges aren’t doing enough to prevent assaults, while others firmly believe colleges are addressing the issue effectively.

First-year Loret Mircia said students seem to be reminded of sexual assault regularly.

“With the constant exposure to drugs, alcohol and the closeness of residing alongside peers, sexual misconduct is, to some extent, inevitable,” Mircia said. “Hearing about the next ‘campus rape story’ is becoming a daily regularity.”

She said colleges are doing a sufficient job handling sexual assault, despite cases that have been highly publicized and made the center point of news coverage.

“Keeping the assailant on probation of some sort and ensuring the population is the way to go,” Mircia said.

First-year Camille Evans said sexual assault prevention at UVM is helpful.

“I can only speak for UVM,” Evans said, “but I was actually impressed with what [sexual assault training] they had us do.”

However, even with the training and discussion of sexual coercion, she said she believes this kind of crime will still happen.

While some students appear to feel colleges are doing the best they can, others say there needs to be improvements.

Sophomore Sara Werth said the way colleges are handling this matter is “disgusting.”

“There should be more prevention strategies, rather than just dealing with the aftermath,” Werth said.

Sophomore Polina Gorshenkova, an international student from Moscow, Russia, said sexual assault is worse in the U.S.

“[In Russia] it’s not a big deal…we don’t talk about it,” Gorshenkova said. “[But in the U.S.] it’s pretty bad… sometimes I’m scared hearing all of the stories. It can happen anywhere.”

Professor Ellen Andersen, who teaches courses on the politics of sexuality and holds a joint appointment in the gender, sexuality and women’s studies program, highlighted what she sees as the underlying force of the issue, which has been causing sexual coercion and its continual prominence in colleges.

“There has been a large increase in our awareness that sexual assault happens on campuses,” Andersen said.

This has steered the issue into the direction of the media, allowing it to become more “publicly visible, in a way it used to not be,” she said. “More people are willing to report now.”

“[Colleges] are addressing the issue, and you can’t get through first-year orientation without going through these modules about consent and awareness,” she said.

However, the tone of these discussions needs to be changed, Andersen said.
“The tone is ‘how not to get raped,’ and not enough of ‘don’t rape,’” she said. “We are getting a little bit better, certainly at UVM.”

VERMONTER LEADS A MISSION WITH HEART

All StoriesBTVSelected storiesStories by BeatStories by publicationVTDigger

Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger on July 13, 2016.

GEORGIA — After a story broke that Vermonter Zachariah Fike, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, had reunited a Purple Heart with a veteran’s family, he received a call. It was from a man in Michigan who said his father had found a Purple Heart medal nearly 50 years ago. It sat in a candy jar and was played with by the man’s children and grandchildren.

The recipient of that Purple Heart was named Thomas Earle Hadley II. He was a pilot in the Korean War who died saving one of his fellow officers.

Fike tracked down his family. He found Hadley’s sister, Connie Bachman, in Massachusetts and returned the medal during a ceremony with her family in 2012. A few months later, Bachman’s daughter called Fike and said her mother was suffering from throat cancer and wanted to speak with him.

“You brought my brother back to life,” Fike recalled Bachman saying over the phone. “Now, I am no longer afraid to die.”

Two days later, Bachman died beside her family. She had told her family she felt her brother was there with her, Fike said Bachman’s daughter related.

Fike says it was then he knew he had found his passion: bringing Purple Heart soldiers to life again and honoring their lives and service by reuniting them with their medals.

“It is such a humbling experience to watch families be brought together as they are reunited with a Purple Heart. It is really bringing them together” that motivates him, he said.

Fike has just been named the Military Times Army soldier of the year. Over the past seven years, Fike has returned hundreds of medals to Purple Heart veterans or their families since he began his quest in 2012 through his nonprofit Purple Hearts Reunited.

Fike said his family has had a history of serving the country dating all the way back to the American Revolution. The military is in his blood, he said. Both of his parents were in the military. Fike served two tours in Afghanistan as an Army officer. After coming home from his first tour in 2009, he became a military collector.

“When a soldier comes home from war, they change,” he said. “They find something to keep busy.” Fike began going to antiques shops with a friend. He saw an old war helmet and didn’t think objects of such importance should be discarded in that way, he said.

For Christmas that year, Fike’s mother gave him a Purple Heart that she had purchased in an antiques store. Fike said that as soon as he opened it, he knew the medal did not belong to him.

“It was the one thing that should not be in a collection,” he said.

For the next three days, he searched for its owner, then he was deployed to Afghanistan. On Sept. 11, 2010, after Fike returned home as a wounded soldier, he picked up the search and found the family of his first Purple Heart soldier: Corrado Piccoli.

Purple Heart
A Purple Heart medal. U.S. Marine Corps photo

Now, Fike and his team hope to return 150 medals over the next year, a rate of one every three days.

He has volunteers across the country who help him with rescuing medals, researching veterans and returning the medals to their owners.

Half the medals the nonprofit acquired are donated, and half are bought by rescuers for up to $300 each.

Purple Hearts Reunited first has the medals framed by Village Frame Shoppe in St. Albans.

The medal then takes a journey home to be ceremonially returned, Fike said. The ceremony includes a history of the Purple Heart and anecdotes from the family of the veteran the medal honored.

“It really brings them alive again,” he said.

Bringing Purple Hearts home is a lifestyle for Fike, he said. As CEO, he spends almost all his free time working on the nonprofit, he said. Fike works on active duty as a captain in the Vermont National Guard from 9 to 5, he said, and as the father of two children until they go to sleep.

Fike said that when his children go to bed, he begins his third life: reuniting Purple Hearts. In addition to being CEO, he has taken part in ceremonies around the country. One of Fike’s goals is to reunite the 100 World World I Purple Hearts the organization has with their families by April 6, 2017, the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into that war.

Fike said he sometimes drives eight or nine hours on the weekends and sleeps in his car to save money for the nonprofit.

He said the group’s greatest challenge is funding. To return one medal from start to finish costs around $1,500. Last year, the group spent $50,000 just rescuing these medals. That was not including additional costs to reunite the medals with their families, he said.

“We need help,” he said.

The honor from Military Times is not the first time that Fike’s work has been featured nationally.

It has been on various National Public Radio programs, including the StoryCorps podcast in 2012 and WBUR’s show “Here and Now” in 2013.

In May, The Associated Press released a story on Purple Hearts Reunited.

FUTURE OF YOUTH CENTER EYED WITH NOSTALGIA, CHANGE IN MIND

All StoriesBTVStories by BeatStories by publicationVTDigger

Author’s note: This story was originally printed by VTDigger on June 30, 2016.

BURLINGTON — A previous generation of young Burlington residents found a haven and a creative outlet at 242 Main, a historically user-generated youth space that dates to the days when Bernie Sanders was mayor in the 1980s.

Now, with the facility losing its home in the bottom of Memorial Auditorium, the city is beginning discussions on how to move it into a new identity and a new generation. The youth center has to move by the end of December because of the auditorium’s maintenance needs.

The city began a public discussion on the teen center’s future at a meeting this month at Fletcher Free Library. The Department of Parks, Recreation and Waterfront manages the youth space, but the library is interested in taking over its content and financial programming in light of the center’s role in making information accessible to youth, said the library’s director, Rubi Simon.

Community members who used the space as teenagers and young adults in the 1980s and ’90s came to offer their opinions on its future.

The hub for Burlington youth was started in the ’80s when Sanders was mayor. His youth office, then led by Jane O’Meara Sanders, created the space to empower young people in Burlington creatively by giving them a safe space to go and to explore new ideas.

The space fostered a community of artists age 8 through 25, said City Council member Selene Colburn, P-East District, who used the space when she was a teenager. Those at the older end of that range would foster a safe space for the younger artists through informal mentorship, she said.

Over the next 10 years, the space would become known nationally as a venue for punk rock. But for Burlington’s youth at that time, it was much more, according to some who were involved.

Jessica Morley, a Burlington resident, said the safe and independent nature of the space allowed her to explore creatively. It kept her out of trouble, she said.

“I would have been dead without it,” Morley said.

But Matt Kimball, 30, of Burlington, who is 242 Main’s current booking manager, said the space is not the same now as it was. “The truth is there is nothing happening. … There are occasional shows, but that’s it,” he said.

In efforts to revitalize a youth-created space, the library has created a teen board with two students from every school, both public and private, in Burlington.

The hope is for the board to act similarly to the Mayor’s Youth Office in the ’80s, empowering youth to create the space and providing the resources to do it, Simon said.

Some who attended the meeting felt the space should operate in a more organic way, relying on students to come to it rather than reaching out to schools.

Recreation Superintendent Gary Rogers said any new space must be created for today’s youth and may differ from what arose in the 1980s and ’90s. “We need to reach out to the teens of 2016 and ask them what they want from a teen space …,” he said.

Liam Corcoran, 22, of Burlington, commented on the demographic change among the area’s youth. In the past 20 years, the ranks of local youth have become more ethnically diverse since many refugees and other new Americans have moved in.

Corcoran said the new space for 242 Main must accommodate this change. “There is a great need for a place where new Americans feel comfortable,” he said.

Simon said this meeting was the first of many in planning the next steps. The next will be scheduled for sometime in July, she said.

Simon, who is leaving the library in August for a new job, said people interested in becoming involved in a new teen space can contact teen coordinator Lisa Buckton at lbuckton@burlingtonvt.gov.

NEIGHBORS: UVM OFF-CAMPUS HOUSING HAS MADE BURLINGTON UNAFFORDABLE

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Author’s note: This story was originally printed in the Vermont Cynic on Oct. 27, 2016.

BURLINGTON — Keith and Penny Pillsbury have lived on University Terrace for 43 years. When they moved to the downtown Burlington neighborhood near the University of Vermont campus, the single family homes on their street were occupied by families and hospital guests.

Now only students live on University Terrace, and the Pillsburys complain that no one else can afford to live on their street.

Penny Pillsbury recalled one couple with promising careers and two children who were priced out of the neighborhood. The landlord kicked them out to renovate the apartment and so he could charge more for the rental unit. The couple offered to buy the house, but the landlord would not sell it to them, she said. After they realized they could not afford to continue renting, they moved out of state.

Nearly half the properties on University Terrace are now investment properties that are rented to UVM students who bring in more money for landlords over a longer period of time.

“What we have here is a street out of 22 residents only nine are longer term residents on the street and each year, on June 1st, we get all new neighbors,” Keith said.

The Pillsburys are part of Vermont Interfaith Action, a coalition of religious groups based in Burlington. On Monday, members of the coalition and local housing and community groups gathered at the Pillsburys’ house, which is located across the street from the UVM Davis Center, to talk about how the University of Vermont could help to ease the housing crisis in Burlington.

The city’s 2015 Housing Action Plan identifies the construction of new student housing as a step UVM could take to make housing for families more affordable in Burlington.

About 2,200 UVM students choose to live in downtown Burlington each year, according to the plan, and the size of the off-campus student population puts pressure on housing in the rest of the city. Students compete with residents for rentals, driving up rent.

Rita Markley, the director of the Committee on Temporary Shelter, which provides shelter for homeless residents, said many landlords want to make higher profits by renting to students who will pay more for smaller spaces, than a family with one or even two incomes.

Right now, 36 percent of Burlington renters put half or more of their income toward housing, said Erhard Mahnke, the director of the Vermont Affordable Housing coalition. The recommended maximum for housing is one-third of a renter’s income.

Mahnke said that UVM has made some progress to lower the density of students living downtown, but a lot more work needs to be done — and quickly.

The group identified ways that the university could encourage students to remain on campus, including a change that would allow college students 21 or older to drink alcohol on campus.

Lisa Kingsbury, the university’s planning relations manager, said the university houses 62 percent of the student population on campus and that number will increase to 63 percent once construction of new dorms is complete.

“We are doing more than most other public universities,” Kingsbury said.

In the past 12 years, the university has expanded housing at University Heights, the Redstone Lofts and converted an administrative building into dorms, she said. The three buildings have created 1,363 new beds, Kingsbury said.

Focus groups that UVM has conducted with students show that the university’s dry campus is not driving students off campus, Kingsbury said.

Kingsbury said the university recognizes that students who live off-campus are putting pressure on housing costs for the city and has participated in the Neighborhood Revitalization Plan to help address the issue.

The group agreed that off-campus housing is part of a larger rental crisis in Burlington.

“UVM students provide the city with so much vibrancy, we would just like to see more initiative to help with housing,” Markley said.

Markley also said residents want more accountability. Housing agreements between the city and the college have not been moved forward quickly enough, advocates said.

Under the 2015 Housing Plan, the city is to begin discussions with UVM in early 2016 on how to add an additional 900 beds by 2020.

Kingsbury said while no formal discussion or plan has begun at this time, UVM has looked at informal plans to develop 900 beds.

The dorms could be built by a non-affiliated, private developer not directly related to UVM, she said, that would market the housing to students, she said.

Markley said that in the past UVM has made agreements with the city to build more housing, but there has been no follow-through.

Vermont is the 13th most expensive state for renters according to a national report called “Out of Reach.” A two-bedroom apartment in Vermont on average costs $1,099. Vermont renters need to earn $21.13 an hour, or $43,947 a year to keep rental costs for a two-bedroom apartment at 30 percent of their income. The “housing wage” for that same two-bedroom rental in Burlington is $26.08 an hour.

BURLINGTON REMEMBERS THE LIFE AND KINDNESS OF AMOS BEEDE

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Author’s note: This story was originally printed by the VTDigger on June 9, 2016.

BURLINGTON — In January, Amos Beede noticed Anne Heather sipping coffee alone at Panera Bread on Church Street. Beede didn’t know it, but she sat there feeling worthless after having recently become homeless, Heather recalled Wednesday.
Beede walked up to her, said hello and gave her his bagel. The two spoke for a while, Heather said. It was a small act but made her feel human again.

“He gave me more than any amount of money or jewels or anything. He gave me back a sense of meaning, a sense of worth, a sense of power that I thought I had lost,” Heather said, addressing the media after a memorial service for Beede, who died last month of injuries suffered in an attack at a homeless encampment.

More than 50 people — including the mayor, other city officials and Beede’s family — gathered Wednesday at Perkins Pier to remember him. Heather was one of many who spoke about how Beede had touched their lives. The event was hosted by the Pride Center of Vermont, an organization that promotes the health and safety of LGBTQ people in the state.

Amos Beede
Friends mourn the death of Amos Beede at a memorial gathering at Perkins Pier in Burlington. Photo by Kelsey Neubauer/VTDigger

Beede, 38, was a transgender man, and law enforcement officers have not ruled out his gender identity as a motivator in his death. He was an active member of the LGBTQ community and well-known to people at the Pride Center.

Beede lived in Milton but was a Church Street regular with strong ties to the city’s homeless community. He would frequently stay in Burlington’s homeless encampments, according to police, especially on weekends, when there is no bus service to Milton.

That was the case the night he was killed, when he was staying with friends in an encampment in the Barge Canal area off Pine Street.

Beede attended a concert May 21 at the Flynn Center with his girlfriend, Aunnah Guzman. After the show, Beede walked her home to her apartment. He was supposed to text Guzman when he reached the campsite, but she never heard from him, according to documents filed in Chittenden County Superior Court.

Later that night four people in their 20s who were staying in a nearby camp pulled Beede from the tent where he was sleeping and attacked him savagely with a plastic crate and their feet and fists, a witness told police, according to court documents.

Police said they identified Beede’s attackers as Erik Averill, 21, Jordan Paul, 21, Myia Barber, 22, and Allison Gee, 25. The four fled the day after the attack, according to police, and were later arrested in San Diego, California. Each faces a charge of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 20 years to life. Police have not said when the four will be extradited to Vermont.

The attack was prompted by an escalating dispute between the two camps, according to police accounts and court documents.

Two days before he was attacked, Beede called police from the encampment to report yelling and screaming. Officers who responded reported a disturbance caused by someone urinating on one of the tents there.

Beede approached a Burlington police officer the next night to ask if he could take out a restraining order on someone he identified only as Erik — later determined to be Erik Averill, the documents show. But Beede refused to provide more information about the person unless the order could be granted immediately, according to police.

That same night, Beede also approached a different officer, saying someone in the camp was threatening to assault him. He said he did not have the person’s name but would call police if there were any issues, according to the documents.

After Beede’s death May 28, the Pride Center of Vermont and others in the community organized the memorial gathering, said Julia Berberan, a SafeSpace program coordinator at the center.

“The murder of Amos has helped shine a light on the number of ways we are failing our communities,” said Berberan.

Beede knew many people who lived in homeless camps in Burlington, according to friends. Joshua Baker, 42, and Gavin Walendy, 18, both of Burlington, were among those he had met at the camps, Baker said. Earlier this year, Beede paid for their wedding at City Hall before a justice of the peace. He was also the only attendant, Walendy said.

Beede had a fire for bettering the lives of those around him, said Tim Farr, 29, of Burlington.

Farr said he remembers Beede helping a group of 16 people register to vote. Beede wanted to make a change and a difference in Burlington, he said.

Farr said Beede also had many ideas on how to help the LGBTQ community in Burlington.

“The spirit of Amos will always live on, and it is up to us to keep that fire that was in his heart burning forever,” he said.

At the memorial, Beede’s friends gave his mother, Barbara Beede, a card they had made. The card included many origami cranes like the ones Beede had taught friends to make.

Berberan said this will not be the last time the community gathers to remember Beede and the impact he had on those around him.

VTDigger reporter Morgan True contributed to this story.

STUDENT TO BIKE NEARLY 4,000 MILES FOR CHARITY

All StoriesSelected storiesVermont Cynic

Author’s note: This story was originally printed in the Vermont Cynic on March 25, 2015. 

UVM is a place where students take personal interests and turn them into public inspiration and service, said Kailee Brickner-McDonald, director of the Dewey House for Community Engagement.

This summer, senior environmental studies major Alyssa Solomon, along with Lucyanna Labadie and senior Hannah Lees, will cycle from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Vancouver, British Columbia – nearly 4,000 miles – building affordable housing in 10 cities on their journey as part of a program called Bike and Build, according to a press release.

“[Lack of] affordable housing goes hand-in-hand with homelessness, which goes hand- in-hand with the school-to-prison pipeline and to many other systemic issues,” Solomon said. “This is just a part that I think can be a solution, and I really want to contribute to it.”

Bike and Build has raised nearly $5 million for affordable housing efforts in 12 years, according to the Bike and Build website.

For the past few months, Solomon said she has been fundraising in an attempt to raise $4,500 through bake sales, a self-run taxi service and an upcoming benefit concert.

The money that she and her peers will raise will go toward building materials and grants to help fund the organization’s partners, such as Habitat for Humanity, Solomon said.

Her eagerness for such service has been drawn out and amplified through aspects of the UVM community such as the Dewey House, which Solomon said she has been a part of since her first year. Solomon said her inspiration has been the program’s director, Brickner-McDonald.

“I met Alyssa as a first-year student; she already [had] a background and a passion for service and connected it to UVM through her academic and leadership role,” Brickner-McDonald said.

Brickner-McDonald also said the Dewey House contributes to the UVM community by “helping people stitch together their community experience, and providing a container to show them how [their efforts] are shaping their community.” Solomon integrates service into every aspect of her life.

She led a social mission for one of her favorite bands, Dispatch, while touring with them as a sophomore, Brickner-McDonald said. When they performed in Burlington, she connected them with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.

She also teaches figure skating and educates children on the environment, two of her other passions, Brickner-McDonald said. “It is in students like Solomon, that personal becomes public at UVM,” Brickner-McDonald said. Solomon said that she is also interested in the affordable housing crisis here in Burlington.

“The healthy average for vacancy rates is 5 percent; in Burlington, there is a 3 percent vacancy rate, so this is a local issue as well,” Solomon said.

It is not just Solomon who is interested in community involvement. Yahaira Escribano, a first-year international and community development major, said that the best results begin when individuals within the community take the initiative. “You know your community the best,” she said.

Solomon said that it is inspiring to see the outpour of generosity that the campus community has shown her. She is over 40 percent of the way to her goal of $4,500.

Solomon’s benefit concert is March 31, and will feature Bison and Weak Signal Broadcast Service, according to the event’s Facebook page.

PROFESSOR REMEMBERED FOR BEING ‘BRILLIANT’

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Author’s note: This story was originally printed in the Vermont Cynic on Sept. 23, 2016

Teachers, students, friends and family of professor Dan Archdeacon  gathered in the Ira Allen Chapel March 10 to remember his life.

Archdeacon was a graduate of Ohio State University.

He began his career at the University of Kansas, and came to UVM as a professor in 1982, according to the UVM CEMS faculty website.

He held positions in both the department of mathematics and the department of computer science, the website stated.

“It was his goal to teach every course offered in the mathematics department and he came the closest in decades,” professor Jim Burgmeir said.

Many friends and colleagues who were in attendance joined in remembering his contributions to the community.

His dedication to the community was extraordinary, President Tom Sullivan said.

“I met a different Dan in 1975, with long hair and glasses like Lennon’s, he was a total hippie,” said Dr. Jeff Dinitz, a professor of mathematics and statistics at UVM and a college friend of Archdeacon.

Several students who spoke at the service said he was an inspiration.

“When I learned that one of the best researchers in topological graphing was at the University of Vermont, I knew I had to come here,” said Dr. Melanie Brown, a former doctoral student of Archdeacon’s, and a current professor at Champlain College

“He was brilliant,” graduate student Amelia Mattern said.

Archdeacon was one of the top researchers in topographical theory, according to a University Communications press release.

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