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Mashallah to Muslim Women: Hijabi Athletes Changing the World of Sports

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Source: Vivienne Balla/Nike

When it comes to the opinion of Muslim women in Western media, the general state of representation is often limited and tricky.

Stereotypes, such as Muslim women being passive to their male counterparts or “oppressed”, linger within our modern discourse. Unfortunately, these biases are further maintained by the lack of nuanced representation.

Film and television often present Muslim women as being “oppressed” by their culture,  silent and forced to wear the Hijab. Yet within the world of sports, Hijabi athletes are more prominent than ever.

These athletes are redefining their respective fields in terms of the “traditional” notion of Muslims and female athletes.

Ibtihaj Muhammad, an American sabre fencer, made history by becoming the first Muslim-American woman to compete in the Olympics while wearing a hijab.

In a conversation with Ellen Degeneres, the famous fencer recounted how her family was drawn to the sport of fencing due to the sport’s conservative uniform of long pants and sleeves, allowing Muhammad to be athletic while observing the Muslim code of modesty.

Source: Marie-Lan Nguyen

As a proud African-American Muslim woman, Ibtihaj Muhammad is an advocate for the recognition of diversity in today’s society. She constantly challenges any limitations associated with her gender, race, and religious affiliation.

In an interview with The Guardian, Muhammad counters preconceptions associated with her identity. She argued against the idea,

“that someone is forcing me to wear this hijab…That I’m oppressed. That I don’t have a voice.

I remember being told that I shouldn’t fence as a kid because I was black, and it’s like why? I want to fence, and this is what I want to do.”

Another athlete changing the game is Zahra Lari, a figure skater from the United Arab Emirates who drew massive media attention for competing during competitions with the hijab on.

Competing in a sport not normally known for “conservative” attire, Lari faced challenges wearing her headscarf on the ice, having points marked down in her first international competition as it was not approved by the competition’s set costume regulations.

However, today, Lari is challenging these regulations, working with Nike to develop the Nike Pro hijab, designed for athletes like herself to compete freely while maintaining hijab. Lari, as the first figure skater from the UAE to compete internationally, hopes to inspire other Muslim girls to compete in sports.

In an interview with The Mary Sue, founders of the Riz Test, a test measuring the portrayal of Muslims on film and television, the founders quoted,

“There is no nuance when it comes to Muslims. Instead, we are highly likely to be portrayed as one dimensional… the Muslim women are seen as oppressed veiled victims.”

Unfortunately, within today’s world, Islamophobia is more prominent than ever. Hate crimes continue to spike in the U.S., especially since Donald Trump’s election.

While fictional media currently lacks enough positive portrayals to counteract this negativity, there are real-life heroes like Ibtihaj Muhammad. Through their international recognition, hijabi athletes are fighting to showcase Muslim women’s resilience and power in the face of prejudice.

To paraphrase Rumi, these women “are the universe in ecstatic motion.”

They continue to change the idea of what Muslim women can do and how they are seen.

By: Michele Kirichanskaya

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The Future of American Health Care

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Under the Biden administration, the  Future of the American Health Care system still not clear
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With President-elect Joe Biden taking office in January, what will the future of American health care look like?

On November 6, AP called the election for Joe Biden, after passing the 270 electoral votes needed, with a win in Pennsylvania. What will the future of American health care look like under the Biden administration? 

Even under Biden’s administration, the Senate is so divided that it is unlikely that anything significant will change in the American health care system for at least two years. The debates over Medicare for All, public insurance, and federal control of drug prices, will likely lead to a standstill in the near future. Biden endorsed lowering the Medicare eligibility age and expanding Affordable Care Act grants, which is projected as unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate. 

Nonetheless, the Biden administration is planning ambitious actions to improve the future of American health care. Beyond expanding the ACA, Biden plans to help public health agencies as they deal with the continuous spread of COVID-19 and pass a stimulus bill to help support hospitals, doctors, and nursing homes. 

The most significant facet of Biden’s policy is the public option he intends to implement. This will be sold on Obamacare’s marketplaces—where nearly 12 million Americans buy their insurance—adding more competition in places where only a limited number of health care plans are available. The public option will also cover low-income Americans that cannot get insurance because their states are opposed to Obamacare. Biden’s plan will immediately enroll nearly 4 million citizens that have not been able to get health insurance because their states will not expand Medicaid. However, this plan may be too controversial to pass through Congress without a Democrat majority. 

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For the majority of the 150 million people with employer-sponsored coverage, it may not make sense to join the program. They will not be able to use the money their employer pays for insurance premiums, nor can their employers choose to put their employees on the government plan. This will most likely make most people—from both large group coverage and the public option—still reliant on their job for health insurance benefits. Health insurance today is very unaffordable for middle-income citizens. However, under Biden’s plan, a family making $150,000 would pay no more than $12,750 in annual premiums

Biden will likely implement regulations to combat COVID-19. He rolled out his COVID-19 task force on November 19. The task force members include David Kessler, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner; Vivek Murthy, the former surgeon general; and Yale physician-researcher Marcella Nunez-Smith. Biden has said he wishes to implement a national mask mandate, but this will need to go through the local government. Aside from mask mandates Biden plans to work with Congress to implement several more components in his coronavirus action plan. Such as, providing free testing for all Americans, getting rid of out-of-pocket expenses for coronavirus treatment, and getting personal protective equipment (PPE) for essential workers. 

It is likely that Biden’s administration will review the regulations put forward by Trump to prevent birth control. Biden can reverse the Trump administration’s changes to the Title X program that institutes access to birth control and other reproductive health care. 

Politically, there are going to be many hoops the Biden administration will need to jump through to secure his plan for the future of American health care. The ACA—that narrowly passed eight years ago—will be brought back to court with Republicans looking to dismember it. This could mean that millions may lose their health insurance, including millions more with preexisting conditions. If the Supreme Court strikes down the ACA, Biden will put his “Bidencare” plan forward. This policy is estimated to provide health insurance to every person that resides in the U.S. legally. It will also, however, leave nearly 6.5 million undocumented immigrants without health insurance.

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Yet, if Biden’s plan is put forward it would mean that much of the current health care system will remain in place. Workers will be able to get their health insurance through their employers, but also Medicare and Medicaid will remain. In order to do this, Democrats will need to win two Georgia Senate seats in a January runoff to reach a 50-50 tie in the Senate. Also Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris, will give the chamber to the Democrats as the president of the Senate. 

On January 20, the Biden administration is set to take office at the White House. Thus, marking a new presidency and beginning the new future of American health care.

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The Most Efficient Ways to Support Indie Authors During COVID-19

Emma Peterson

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A close up of the side of a book with the pages forming a heart and a red back light.
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Indie authors were struck hard by the pandemic; here’s how to support them! 

The goal of any writer is simple: selling their books. For the author who isn’t aligned with a big publishing company, known for ease’s sake as an indie author, this mission becomes even harder. Tours and TV/radio interviews are key to getting publicity and garnering support for indie authors.

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, many of these events were cancelled, leaving authors to rely purely on the income of their books, but without as much publicity. “I’m hustling around the clock and stressing out beyond belief,” said Adam Gnade, author of This is the End of Something But Not the End of You.

Indie authors, beyond the struggle of writing their books in the first place, now have to become their own publicity teams. Therefore, it is up to the consumer to seek them out individually and validate their efforts.

What is “indie” and why does it matter? 

“Indie” has accumulated a buzzword kind of status. It’s used most commonly to describe musical artists who have a less-than-mainstream following or image. However, the origin isn’t even as “indie” as one may hope. “Indie” is just short for “independent,” and it is used to point out that a creator isn’t attached to a major company. In this case, an “indie author” is a writer who is not attached to a major publishing company like Penguin Random House, and instead, working with “indie” publishing houses.

These publishing houses are smaller, publish fewer books, and work more intimately with the individual author. Some indie publishers, such as 39 West Press and Blair, specifically seek out traditionally underrepresented groups to represent. So if you’re looking to diversify your library, indie books are a good place to start! 

A close-up of a microphone with headphones on a table.
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Where to start 

If there is a book you’re looking to buy, look for who the publisher is. Look up that publisher’s site, or the name of the book and the author. Some authors will also have their own website where you can buy their books. If not, and you’re looking for a new book, the first step is to find a publisher. There is a wide diversity of publishing houses, both with literary content and authors. 

Kaya Press, for example, focuses on voices from the Asian and Pacific Islander diasporas. Dorothy, a publishing project, publishes works of fiction written by women. Damaged Goods is a queer and trans owned publisher. Cross Your Heart specializes in YA fiction and coming-of-age stories. CLASH seeks strong voices and global perspectives. Peirene Press only publishes books shorter than 200 pages. The possibilities are endless!

First big step to support indie authors

Buy directly from the author’s or the publisher’s site! This is the most optimal way to support these authors, as it is their primary source of income. Buying the book from the author’s or publisher’s website as opposed to Barnes and Noble maximizes what the author receives. Independent presses will have a section for you to peruse their publishing selection just like you would any online book store. Authors like Kim Powers, the writer of The Rules for Being Dead, have their own website where you can buy the books you need. Take your time to browse and find pieces you will really enjoy! 

How to still support independent writers without spending money 

Buying books for pleasure can get very expensive. Especially when you have all the time in quarantine to accumulate them in your cart. And you may not be able to support indie authors directly. However, you can still support them by spreading awareness of their works and interacting with them! 

Support them on social media

Follow their social media and share it with others. The wonderful but dubious aspect of social media is that you can promote whatever you like. Independent creators, like authors and artists, have seized upon these opportunities and created outlets to interact with their customers directly. This is listed as the second-most important way to support a creator because it really does matter that you boost an independent creator’s profile. Even if you can’t afford their books at the time, chances are there’s someone within your friends or followers lists who can! And if it’s getting close to your birthday, they’ll have the perfect idea of what to get you. 

Check first if the publishing houses themselves have social media; these accounts will have direct links to their websites which you can share, as well as interviews with their authors and links to their social media accounts! Retweet, comment, and share these accounts and posts to help indie authors get a greater following. 

A women that supports indie authors sitting on a stone wall reading a book.
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Support their podcasts and interviews 

Listen to podcasts and interviews that have featured these authors. Podcasts have boomed over the last few years to the point where it feels like everyone and their mother has one. So of course it would make sense that there are podcasts to support indie authors. These podcasts feature individual authors from several small presses. Listen to them when working out, on your commute, or trying out the new recipe that you’ve been hoping to get to during self-isolation. Be sure to share and recommend them to anyone who may be interested in unique books and independent creators! 

Lastly, reach out!

Authors are humans too, and interacting with their social media can give them the emotional boost they need. Reply to their social media posts and send emails if they provide an address for interacting with fans. 

Indie authors are often responsible for some of the most thought-provoking pieces of work one can find. Their creations should absolutely be recognized and promoted as much as possible. To write an entire novel or novel’s length of poetry or short stories is no easy feat. Even though Covid-19 may have stunted indie authors’ publicity, we can still support them! Let’s reward these writers as best we can.

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5 Life-Changing Nonfictional Books That You Must Read Before You Graduate

Ivonne Scaglione

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When it comes to books, there are those that professors make you read. And, there are those particular books that spark an interest in you. The ones you read for pleasure. And, if you are lucky, one of these books will change your life. It will change your perspective of the world. It will help you perceive your place in this world and prepare you for it. A study in Ohio has demonstrated that books can change you through something called experience taking. This process helps you develop empathy and understanding for the character.

The following books are life-changing because each shows real-life humanistic experiences and takes you into a deep self-reflection that would lead to a change of your perspective about life dilemmas and afflictions. 

1. Option B – Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy 

by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

Malala Yousafzai said about Option B, “none of us can escape sadness, loss, or life’s disappointments, so the best option is to find out Option B.”  The book is full of painful experiences, hurting emotions, but at the same time, it’s full of hope and optimism. Sandberg and Grant write the touching stories of several people whose lives have changed unexpectedly by tragedy. This life-changing book attempts to answer the question: how do we move forward after the unimaginable happens? How do we cope with loss? And ultimately, how do we build resilience?

The book teaches us that the seeds of resilience are planted in the “ways we process negative events.” If we know how to process traumatic events, we build resilience.

The authors of this book have the answer to cope with loss with the three P’s of recovery. Personalization is the belief that the unfortunate events that happen to us are our fault. Pervasiveness is the belief that these events will affect our entire lives and in all areas of our lives. Lastly, permanence is the belief that the sadness and desperation of this event will last forever. If we become incredulous about the three P’s, we build resilience. This book doesn’t only help you understand its characters and build sympathy towards them, but it aims to help you understand the hardships of life and how to cope with them. This book has the power to motivate you to move forward in times of adversity. It’s a reminder that each day we get to live, survive, and breathe is an extraordinary gift. 

The front cover of Option B with an image of a cinder-block with a red balloon tied around it
Source: Ivonne Scaglione

2. Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind

by Yuval Noah Harari

More than a history book, this book is a story. The story of our species. Using a chronological structure, Harari narrates the story of human existence that began about 300,000 years ago, when the homo sapiens began conquering the world. This book explains how everything, from language to science, began. It gives you a new uncanny perspective about our species and how we became who we are now. The narrative answers the question: why and how did humans conquer the world?

It explains the cognitive, agriculture, and scientific revolutions and how these have changed the course of history.

Also, Harari gives you a sense of how much humanity has improved, from child mortality rates decreasing, to managing agriculture so our mass population can be fed. It also explains the beginning of the use of currency and the transition of our needs becoming more and more materialistic. As a result, we keep striving for better things. At the end of the book, Harari speaks about a feasible future in which our bodies will change grammatically through science and the use of antiaging remedies with the purpose to increase our lifespan. This life-changing story conveys a universal perspective of understanding our species, our past, and our future. 

The front cover of "Sapiens"
Source: Ivonne Scaglione

3. When Breath Becomes Air

by Paul Kalanithi

This book is simply impossible to forget and a real tear-jerker. Paul Kalanithi spent his entire life dedicated to his education, earning two bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees in Literature and Philosophy, and graduated from Yale University as a physician. It was when he was doing his post-graduate fellowship in Neuroscience that he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Kalanithi narrates about his life as a student, a husband, a doctor, and eventually, as a patient. There is a notable transition between his interest in medicine to his interest in humanism.

Through its pages, we can see that Kalanithi still lives to influence others with his life-changing story about fragile and impetuous mortality. “Most lives are lived with passivity toward death – it’s something that happens to you and those around you.” Even though Kalanithi’s life was being truncated by illness, he makes the ultimate decision to have a child with his wife. He wishes for longevity. He says in the book, “Words have longevity I do not.”

While reading this book, you can vividly see that while he is dying, he becomes wiser. But, the most important lesson from this book is that, even if it’s true that we will all succumb to death, the meaning in our lives never dies.

The front cover of "When Breath Becomes Air"
Source: Ivonne Scaglione

4. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

by Barack Obama

Besides addressing issues of race, this life-changing story is about finding one’s identity, accepting oneself, but most of all finding one’s destiny. Obama shows his struggle with biracial identity, but his decision to discover his father’s past leads him to find his true identity and destiny.

Obama narrates that, despite barely seeing his father, his curiosity to find more about Kenya and his father was his ultimate decision in changing the course of his life.

After traveling to Kenya and meeting his father’s family was when Obama found himself and decided to move on with his own life. Since this book is a story about his younger years in college, he doesn’t address his political inclinations but conveys the importance of community work and unity. The book takes you on an unmissable journey through his beginnings in Hawaii and Indonesia, to Chicago, New York, and Kenya with the only motivation to find one’s identity and life purpose. 

The front cover of "Dreams from My Father"
Source: Ivonne Scaglione

5. Educated 

by Tara Westover 

While other students at Brigham Young University stepped into their new life as college students, for Tara Westover, it was her first time in a classroom setting. She was 17 years old, had studied on her own for the ACT, and passed. During her college classes, she realized she didn’t know what the Holocaust was or who Martin Luther King was. Ridiculed by her classmates, she struggled with having a social life. Coming from a Mormon family living in Idaho, she was only allowed to read the book of Mormon and the Bible. She didn’t have a birth certificate, and she has never been to a doctor’s office for check-ups.

Her father suffered from extreme paranoia about the government and the education system. Also, he didn’t want his children to be “brainwashed” by the education system. Her father refused to go to a hospital or hospitalize his children even though they were badly injured. She realized her only way to escape her bipolar father and physically abusive brother was through education.

This life-changing book is a lesson of survival, the power of transformation, and the determination to shape your fate. Westover is not just another young woman leaving home to go to college; she escaped home to seek unknown knowledge and her greatest talent was her desire to learn.  

The front cover of "Educated" with an image of a pencil.
Source: Ivonne Scaglione
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