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Raw DS Article: It Gets Better, Version 2.0

October 11, 2010

Last week I wrote an article about intolerance and ignorance in the region that elicited one of the strongest responses I’ve ever received after it was published. Many of the responses were written by people who thought what I wrote was overly negative, and even went so far as to accuse me of being as intolerant as the people I wrote about. Most of the e-mails, Facebook messages and word-of-mouth responses I received where wholly affirmative of the point I was trying to make. After traveling to and spending a measurable amount of time in 23 countries, 3 Canadian provinces, and 38 US states in addition to meeting and interacting with people from any number of countries beyond that, I stand by my assertion that this region is one of the most intolerant toward outsiders I’ve encountered. This week, I want to continue to explore one particular aspect of the issue, but will be taking the criticism about my negativity in stride, and will make the best attempt to be more positive in making my point.

Growing up in Colorado, I spent much of my upbringing at a flower shop in Cherry Creek where my mom was a former owner and continued to help even after she sold out of the business to give birth to and raise me (and eventually my sister as well).  For those that never had the opportunity, spending time in a flower shop as a four, five, and six year old is one of the most awesome things ever. There was a huge walk in cooler that was often filled with colorful flowers of many sizes and varieties, floral foam that, when wet, could be molded into fun shapes, and a weekly supply of huge flower boxes that, depending on the current trends in 5 year old obsessions, doubled as an awesome airplane, car, or fort. There were several floral designers and delivery drivers to keep my sister and I entertained while my mom was busy elsewhere.  One designer and eventual owner of the flower shop continues to stand out in my memory both for his hilarious antics and the fact that as we grew up, he treated us like family. Whether it was stabbing a cleverly concealed ketchup packet in his hand with a knife or designing the flowers for my Bar Mitzvah, he was well loved by my family. From my own young age, he was the first gay person for whom I consciously knew. Whether it was prank phone calls posing as my great aunt or the giving of Chanukah gifts, his sexuality never played into the fact that, deep down, he was a caring, funny, and inspiring person. I mourned his death several years ago just as much as I did any other person that played a role in my upbringing. Above all else, he was a human that exuded many of the qualities that make our people great, and some that don’t, just like everyone else on the planet.

Gay, bisexual or straight; white, black, or anywhere in between; Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or atheist; even Democrat or Republican; what is often lost in the dogmatic and pedantic way of life of many Americans is the fact that at the very center, we are all human beings—creatures that deserve to live a full life free of intolerance, bullying and the threat of physical violence. In the last several months, we’ve seen stories of young people who, bullied into a corner, decided that the only way out of the hurt and the harm being wrought upon them was through suicide. It would be easy to dismiss this problem as being something that occurs elsewhere, as people in Grand Forks are so keen on doing, yet one of the teens, 15 year old Justin Aaberg, lived in Anoka, MN, a place where I can count on both hands (at least) people I know grew up.  In six years here, I’ve witnessed harassment, bullying and cruelty of the same vein that caused the now dozens of teens to search out a permanent solution to a very temporary problem.

Last week I alluded to Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project on YouTube. Its central premise is that even though bullying and intolerance in high school, college and real life can be a living hell, life gets better. There are now thousands of videos on YouTube supporting this assertion. Some are hilarious, and others heartbreaking. This week also plays host to National Coming Out Day, on Monday. By the time you read this, the day will have come and gone, but take a moment to think about the equality we all deserve as human beings.

I, Martin Rottler, am a straight ally, and I’m coming out for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality because it’s 2010 and you can still be fired from your job in 29 states for being lesbian, gay or bisexual and in 38 states for being transgender.

What are you doing to make the world a better place UND?

 

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Raw DS Article: It Gets Better

October 3, 2010

Grand Forks, North Dakota is a shitty place to live. The rest of the state, and its neighbor, Minnesota are not much better. Branded by some natives as God’s country, one look around this region and you’ll realize that those people have never seen mountains, the ocean, or Israel/Palestine, that place where God (if you believe in him/her) actually did most of his best work. Jesus never had a sermon on the lake, Moses didn’t part the Lake of the Woods to escape from the Canadians, and God didn’t destroy the twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul in place of Sodom and Gomorrah, but that’s likely splitting hairs.

There are many people in this surrounding area that will be perfectly content living in this part of the country. They are most often white, Christian, straight, and refer to casseroles as “hotdish.” Don’t fit that mold? It’s not going to be easy living here. For those that may be struggling to find a place here, rest assured that even though it might be lonely at times, there are other people like you out there. Gay, Muslim, atheist, Democrat, or

I have lived in this community as an active Jew for the past six years. The synagogue community here is unlike any I’ve encountered in several dozen states, and at least five other countries.  Somehow, a small group of very amazing people have carved out a spiritual home for me during that time. Outside of that small building on Cottonwood Street and in the homes of congregation members around the community, I’m about as far away from home as one can get.

Living in the dorms, I had bibles placed on my computer while I was away. My friends and I continue to face uphill battles with professors and GTAs to get time off for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and other holidays. My lowest point as someone different came over several months in the spring of 2008 when inaction, intolerance, ignorance, and, quite frankly, several idiotic individuals in the school’s Housing and general administration forced a fellow student out of the dorms for fear of retribution for being Jewish. Two years later, systemic changes stemming from that series of incedences are finally being made, thanks in large part to the departure of several bigoted and otherwise ignorant school administrators.

How does it feel to be different? It’s not something many people on this campus, and, on a larger scale, citizens of our country consider often, if at all. In the past several weeks, we have seen a huge rise in the public’s awareness of a fellow minority group as a result of the suicides of several gay and lesbian teenagers around the country, including one from Minnesota. These young men and women faced years of taunts, bullying, as well as emotional and physical violence from their classmates because they were different. To this problem, these young men and women found a permanent solution…one that has left their families, friends, and supportive members of the community questioning what they could have done to help.

Dan Savage is one of those people. For those 11,800 or so at UND that didn’t attend his entertaining talk at the Memorial Union earlier this year, Dan is a nationally syndicated sex-advice columnist for Seattle’s alternative newspaper, the Stranger.  In response to the growing number of oppressed gay and lesbian teenagers committing suicide, Dan and his partner created a YouTube channel with their own stories and one overriding theme: It gets better. The idea? Hundreds of people of many backgrounds and sexual orientations sharing one idea: yes, high school and college can suck, but life gets better. The videos are heartbreaking and paint a picture of the type of intolerance faced every day by people in “welcoming” cities not unlike our own.

Six years in Grand Forks as a Jew has embittered me toward the concept of “North Dakota Nice” or “Minnesota Nice.” Somewhere between the wanton acceptance of the delusional preaching of Pastor Tom Short and the eightieth time I was asked why I didn’t believe in Jesus as the lord and savior I suddenly realized that, much as I like to try and change the world, there isn’t much I can do here to change the community at large. I can, however, hope to make others like me have an easier time during their tenure at the University of North Dakota and here in Grand Forks.

This article isn’t intended to affect those normal readers of the Dakota Student, although I hope you take the time to read, listen, and watch the stories and experiences faced by your fellow classmates and professors. Take their experiences in stride, and do your best to make this campus a welcoming place for individuals of all races, religions, backgrounds and sexual orientations.  It is instead, intended for those who are different, who are made to feel different, and who don’t have a place to fit in.

It gets better. I’ve found that out myself. Find members of the community that aren’t intolerant, aren’t ignorant, and aren’t hiding behind a veil of Jesus to express their true feelings. Escape as much as you can and soak up the world outside of the Red River Valley. There are like-minded people similar to you around the world. It might take some searching to find them. Don’t use suicide as a way out of your problems. Find help, talk to someone, visit a counselor. Your friends and your families don’t deserve the pain and heartache at the hands of people’s intolerance.

Raw DS Article: Annual Airplane Geek Memoir

September 27, 2010

14 years ago, my parents created a monster. Some might argue, however, that the
monster was created 24 years and 8 ½ months before that. In either case, 14 years
ago, this now-24 year old man, then recently-turned 10 year old boy first took to
the skies in a Cessna 172. After that point, I was a hardened airplane geek and there
was no turning back.

I’ve always been a fan of aviation and airplanes. My 6th birthday party was held
at the old Stapleton International Airport in Denver. My friends and I got to visit
the control tower and climb aboard a Continental Airlines 737. One of the best
photos of my childhood is from the cockpit on that airplane. In some measure
of foreshadowing, there was a photo taken of me in the First Class section of the
airplane…something I’ve done on Continental a few times since then.

Early morning, September 25, 2002: I’m winging my way around the traffic pattern
in another Cessna 172 at Centennial Airport in suburban Denver. Unlike that time in
1996, there’s no one else in the airplane with me. I’ve managed to solo an airplane
before even having a driver’s license in my pocket. My Airplane Geekdom is further
cemented.

Fans of aviation are a unique kind of group. We can spend hours upon hours talking
and arguing about all things ranging from regulations to aerodynamics, economics
to teaching methods. What sets us apart from, say, stamp collectors, is an unyielding
drive to learn more, experience more, and to tell more stories. Our use of jargon
parallels even the most educated group of doctors. Relationships with one another
in similar groups tend to be competitive, yet highly supportive at the same time. We
always want to have the better story compared to someone else, landing shorter,
flying faster, or experiencing more malfunctions than our friends. At the same time,
milestones are celebrated with a sense of relief and sympathy having been there
before.

Airplane geeks have a propensity toward keeping their eyes focused skyward, able
to identify airplanes based on sight, and if experienced enough, sound. We relish
visiting airports and “plane spotting.” My computer’s hard drive is clogged with
thousands of photos taken at airports around the world, of things as unique as the
Concorde and as banal as a UND Cessna 172.

Since that first launch airborne 14 years ago, I’ve come to build a community of
fellow aviation fans around the world. Never would my family have imagined their
son having a 400 card strong safety card collection, flying from Minnesota to Maine
in a small airplane, or being a two-time guest on the Airplane Geeks podcast, an
official ode to the condition he suffered from. Without their support, none of this
would have been possible.

Support for airplane-geekery is hugely important as we geeks hope to expand our
ranks. Unfortunately, we have a lot going against our cause. The FAA predicts that
new pilot certifications will drop in the next 20 years before rising again. Congress
recently passed new rules that make becoming an airline pilot (most geeks want to
reach the airlines one day) much more difficult. Flying is expensive, and in this down
economy it can be difficult to afford. Programs like UND’s Aerospace Camp help
build support amongst high schoolers, however, the camp is not what it was when I
attended in 2001 and 2002.

There are lights on the horizon, however. Light Sport airplanes have made flying
cheaper and more accessible to the general public. Aviation organizations like AOPA
and EAA are expanding recruitment programs. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and
many other social networking sites, even the most amateur airplane geek can now
connect to thousands of others around the world.

Airplane geeks: it’s time to expand our ranks! Tell your friends! Take them flying!
Let them experience the magic and wonder of flight, particularly from the front seat
of a Cessna. It’s so much different, and much better, than row 38 on a Delta 757.

Raw DS Article: Whether we like it or not…Welcome to UND, 2010 edition!

August 29, 2010

Whether we like it or not, Fall is now upon us. Hordes of freshman are making the annual right-of-passage stumbles over the Coulee and across Columbia Road and back for a night of “academic tours” of the Greek houses on campus complete with fully-laden backpacks filled with what I can only assume are books for this semester’s classes. Dining Services and the Parking Office continue to wage an ever-constant battle to see who can increase their prices more indiscriminately. Right now, the Parking Office is winning, with their poor customer service and lack of actual improvement in infrastructure. These two things are just two examples of what new students, faculty and staff to the area have to look forward to in the coming months and years. For those of you that have just arrived in the Grand Cities, welcome!

This marks my fifth year writing a “Welcome to UND” column. Things in the twin cities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks have changed greatly during that time. Restaurants have come and go, stores have opened and closed, and global warming has yet to hit our winters, much to the dismay of those of us here in January and February. For such a small city, there’s a fair amount of new things to learn about, see and do. As a voice of experience, having been here for the past six years, I’ve experienced almost everything there is to see, hear, and do in these Grand Cities. Here’s your (brief) guide of the places and people you need to hear about in your academic and professional careers.

Grand Forks’ mayor is Mike Brown. He can sometimes be seen  in the community and on campus. Mayor Brown is an OBGYN–Freshmen hopefully won’t need his prenatal services during their sentences here. The President of the University of North Dakota, Robert Kelley can often be found in and around his lair in Twamley Hall. Unlike past presidents of UND, Kelley is a very student-focused administrator that genuinely cares about our concerns as paying customers of the university. If you get the chance, introduce yourself to him or any member of his cabinet (those people with titles like “Vice President” and fancy nametags).  The administration here at UND used to be markedly less friendly toward students, but has seen several changes in personnel that have greatly improved the student experience here.

In Grand Forks proper, there are several places to go and things to see that are out of the ordinary for Grand Forks. Stop by the North Dakota Museum of Art behind Twamley Hall for a dose of culture unlike anywhere else in GFK.  Their current exhibits: Fantastic and No Lo Se are fascinating and very different. Get over your hangover and stop by the Farmer’s Market in downtown on Saturday mornings. Fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs abound. Culinarily “diverse,” in restaurants that have colors in their names, Grand Forks offers a wide array of places that offer fried foods and meat repackaged with different seasonings to meet a very bland North Dakota palate. The dining beat for the Grand Forks Herald is covered by a very grandmotherly-woman affectionately called the Grand Forks Grandma by members of my family. Her Wednesday Eatbeat restaurant reviews have provided many entertaining insights about napkin sizes, Shirley Temple refills, and hummus being “disgusting food dredged up by people with strange tastes.”

The University community continues to grow and develop, and is completely different than the school I came to as a freshman in 2004. There have been some things that remain the same (the Parking Office’s wanton raising of parking fees), but many things have changed. Some have been for the better (the divisive and racist Fighting Sioux nickname retiring) and other things for the worse (have you activated your UND Pride Card, and therefore shared your private information with a third party yet?). Grand Forks as a community is far from the perfect paradise many people here will try to convince you it is. There still aren’t cultural food options, and the community’s attitude toward outsiders of both origination and race/religion/sexual orientation/political belief need improvement. Some of the things I’ve seen and experienced as a Jewish person here are unlike anything I’ve encountered in 38 states and 23 countries. If you do happen to fall into one of those “different” groups, please stay strong. If you are one of the majority, be open to new people, new ideas, and new experiences.

Like it or not, Grand Forks is the place we have chosen to live, study, eat, and play in. Make your experience here for the duration of your degree the best possible—participate, have fun, make mistakes, see the world, and, most importantly, don’t die from hypothermia. Good luck this year!

Raw DS Article: Your 1010/1030 In Review

April 29, 2010

Another school year has come to a close. As we say goodbye to semesters 1010 and 1030 (as coded by the Registrar’s Office), the University Of North Dakota finds itself in a precarious, yet hopeful position moving forward. Moving forward…a concept that, although somewhat alien to much of Small Town America, will hopefully provide the students, faculty, staff and administration of the school with a positive experience in the future. To forget one’s past is to almost certainly guarantee that you will repeat yourself. As such, I’d like to take a look back at the people, and things that have made a huge difference in our lives at this fine University.

There are no greater events during the past year that have greater foreboding on the University and the larger Grand Forks community than decisions that were made in March and April of this past year. A board was convened, decisions were voted upon and ultimate statements were made: the editorial board of the Grand Forks Herald decided to publish a restaurant review of McDonalds, written by (previously mentioned in past articles) the Grand Forks Grandma. Whether extolling on the philosophical virtues of the profit margins on soda or remarking how instead of a Mocha Frappe that she should “stick to the plain coffee,” the Grand Forks Grandma continued to place the Grand Forks restaurant scene on the cutting edge of journalism in the city.

While on the topic of journalism and things that make people laugh, the Twamley Shuffle made its published debut on campus. Featuring satirical articles about the people and places at UND, this newspaper is everything the Student Journal (the one-time “competitor” to the Dakota Student) was, but without the serious mission statement and fiscal mismanagement. Sean Lee and his team get mad props from this opinion columnist for the hilarious photo/article combo on the student search for Upson Hall. I, for one, wish them the best of luck next year.

In aviation news, the merger between Northwest Airlines and Delta Airlines was finalized in January, thereby giving travelers flying out of Grand Forks (like myself) something new to complain about. This merger has been a mixed blessing for the city and its people: we still haven’t found our unicorn (westbound flights), but can now find ourselves crammed into a sub-human existence onboard one of six (!) Delta Connection Canadair Regional Jet flights to Minneapolis each day. The airport and business community considered this a major victory. They obviously haven’t flown on these airplanes before.

Speaking of things that get up and fly away, this year was yet another banner year of travel for me, much of which, unfortunately, was on Delta Airlines. Bushwhackers on St. John, USVI; Guinness in Dublin; Pilsner Urquell in Prague—I made sure to leave just a small part of my liver in each location around the world. Thanks in large part to the experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met on these journeys, I will continue to lobby readers of the Dakota Student to get the hell out of this sometimes cold, often windy part of the country.

Far and away, the biggest news of the year from the campus of the University of North Dakota was the recently announced retirement of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo. Nothing has stirred the emotions and opinions of the community in the past several years like this decision. Feelings continue to run high, both on-campus and on Facebook groups devoted to the logo. One of the biggest things gleaned out of the entire situation was that, should I be asked to return to Grand Forks and UND for a ceremony in my “honor,” I should expect nothing less than people asking me to “kiss [their] white ass[es]” and claiming that I should return the tuition waivers and scholarships I received as an Honors student and Graduate Service Assistant. In the ensuing onslaught of comments online, the true nature of fans both pro-and-anti logo was revealed. Quotes from Ralph Engelstad and Thomas Jefferson were thrown out for debate (“To Adolf, From Ralph” was conspicuously absent from the discussion). Some hold onto a fleeting hope that their “beloved” Sioux might return. Frankly, I hope it doesn’t. UND has a grand opportunity at its doorstep: a new beginning. One in which everyone can move forward, standing proud behind a logo that doesn’t ostracize, stereotype, offend or marginalize. A logo that, according to President Kelley, will not be the Flickertails.

For that, we can all be thankful.

Have a great summer! Be safe, have fun, and congratulations to this year’s graduates!

Airplane Geeks Part Deux

April 19, 2010

Greetings listeners of the Airplane Geeks! As mentioned in the podcast, I’ve uploaded a one-page PDF with a basic overview of what the aviation program I’m working on will encompass.

You can download it here.

If you’d like more information, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me.

Raw DS Article: “I’m Caucasian…so I can’t really see their perspective”

April 15, 2010

Note: This article is set to publish in the Friday, 4/16 edition of the Dakota Student. The events listed in this article correspond to that date.

“I can’t see it the way they do because I’m not Native American. I’m not. I’m Caucasian. Umm…so I can’t really see their perspective and how they feel about it [the nickname issue].”

In three sentences, this nameless UND student interviewed at last week’s rally at the Ralph Engelstad Arena demonstrates why the University of North Dakota, and, as an extension, the city of Grand Forks and the surrounding area, does not deserve the Fighting Sioux moniker/mascot/logo. As a result of our community’s ignorance, racism and lack of perception, we have done nothing to reach out and truly honor our Native brothers and sisters, contrary to what so many people claim. Over the past week, I’ve scanned newspaper articles, message boards, and Facebook with a great interest to see if President Kelley’s prediction about a mature and just community able to handle the change in an adult manner would hold true.

What I found were comments that range from the outlandish (“ther isnt one true native american alive in the usa there blood line has waterd down with other races tradition doesnt make you native american”) to the just plain stupid (”Board of Higher Education” and the others that didnt like our nickname can all kiss my white ass!”) and the outright racist (“Not to sound racist but the new team name should be the North Dakota Fighting Prarie Negro’s just to piss the sioux off even more hahahah”). Much as I would have wished it possible, I did not make these up. Actual people, on actual Facebook groups said these things. What does that say about a community that “honors” the now-retired nickname and logo? It’s obvious that President Kelley’s statement was nothing more than wishful thinking.

The internet often empowers people to say and do things that they wouldn’t normally do in real life. I really wanted to give President Kelley’s assertion a chance. With that in mind, I headed out with a personal recording device in-hand to the two “demonstrations” that were held outside of Twamley and the Ralph Engelstad Arena. I use the term “demonstration” lightly here, because I don’t consider a group of 40 people singing “In Heaven There is No Beer” or 300 people posing for a picture to be quite the level of attempted-message delivery and civil disobedience associated with most demonstrations. What I overheard and talked with people about during that two hours was, although a bit toned down, still pretty intolerant and ignorant.

There were several people clamoring for the removal of non-existent “free rides” for American Indian students. How many times does it have to be stated that Native American students graduate with just as much, if not more, debt than your average Joe Halvorson or Christina Aasen from Grand Forks or Tioga? Would those clamoring for “equal treatment” also advocate for the removal of full-ride scholarships and special treatment for athletes that play for the all-too-beloved sports teams on campus?

On the periphery of the 300+ person demonstraphoto were media people from various organizations (like myself), Shriners from the circus held at the Ralph, one enterprising clown from the same event, and several other outsiders. Among the latter, there were several Native Americans. I soon found myself sitting with two UND students, both of whom were quite visibly frustrated by what was going on. In the emotional discussion that soon followed, I realized what a comparable situation these students were facing was to my own life: that of watching a demonstration of neo-Nazis chant and yell anti-Semetic comments at no one in particular, yet those comments still finding their way toward my heart, my beliefs, and my people.

One of the two students with whom I observed the crowd with brought up an even more damning and sad observation to the nickname saga: there were more people and UND students in attendance at the demonstraphoto than there were at the last Wacipi. There is no clearer evidence to show that the “honor” shown by the majority of Fighting Sioux fans was skin deep and superficial at best.

Tonight, nickname supporters will once again meet and walk together in a demonstration of solidarity. Danielle Sime, a community member who planned the walk said in a recent Grand Forks Herald article: “this is a peaceful walk to bring everyone together to show our support for Native Americans and to show how much we do honor the Sioux name and logo.” The timing of Sime’s walk of “honor” places the event during the opening ceremony of the Wacipi. The irony of the decision to ignore an important cultural event is not lost on this Dakota Student columnist.

Instead of segregating, it should be the goal of everyone on campus and in our community to show true honor and respect by attending the Time Out Week events and Wacipi, celebrating the rich cultural heritage Native Americans.

The old saying goes: “Never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his mocassins.” We haven’t taken more than a few steps in the past 80 years. Let’s go forth together with a great stride. I’ll be at the Wacipi Grand Entry at 7PM tonight. Will you?