Saving for a Home Birth: How COVID-19 Will Change Fertility in the United States

by Sophia Garbarino, February 25, 2021

The novel coronavirus pandemic has significantly changed life in the United States, both temporarily and probably permanently in many ways. Not only has it impacted or directly caused the death of over 200,000 Americans, but it also rapidly changed the social norms of relationships and birth (CDC). Quarantining, social distancing, and working from home are all essential to the new normal American life. COVID-19 and the policies it has produced will ultimately accelerate the U.S. population decline by delaying marriage while pushing more parents away from medicalized births and into the comfort of their own homes.

Financially, the pandemic will decrease the fertility rate via unemployment. According to a July 2020 report by the National Women’s Law Center, “women have disproportionately suffered pandemic-related job losses: since February 2020, women have lost over 8 million net jobs, accounting for 55% of overall net job loss since the start of the pandemic” (Ewing-Nelson). On top of rising “levels of student loan and credit card debt,” unemployment and social distancing measures have forced many couples to delay marriage and pregnancy (Mather). Before the pandemic, the U.S. had already seen a “historically low birthrate” due to women’s increased participation in the workforce, meaning “women are having their first child at a later age. And when that happens, the total number of kids they have is fewer” (Belluz). Now that unemployment numbers are skyrocketing, the nation can expect to see older parents with up to “300,000 to 500,000 fewer births next year” (Kearney and Levine). For many, COVID-19 is simply not the ideal, welcoming baby climate.

While financial hardship is turning parents away from expensive hospital births, the pandemic will also change the fertility experience via fear and COVID healthcare policies. As more patients become afraid to seek or are denied direct hospital care, more expecting parents are turning to alternative, natural birthing plans, like delivering at home with a midwife and/or doula (de Freytas-Tamura). Even before the pandemic, the “rise of surgical births with other medical interventions has meant a set of concerns over the high costs of births, as well as of the safety of maternal and neonatal patients” (Curreli and Marrone 29). Hospital birth is expensive and more risky now that coronavirus poses a potentially fatal threat, making home births seem much more appealing. In fact, the U.S. may see a drive towards European birth culture, “where more than 75 percent of all births are assisted by trained midwives… midwives [are] safer, less expensive, and more likely to facilitate a satisfying experience for the mother and family” (Wagner 37-40). Currently, “only three-quarters of the states allow licenses for midwives to practice out-of-hospital deliveries,” meaning many women will still have to give birth in a hospital or a birthing center (de Freytas-Tamura). As such, several expecting mothers are switching from hospital to birthing center deliveries, a trend that will likely continue to increase past the pandemic.

It’s difficult to say exactly how the pandemic will affect U.S. fertility in the long-term, but there are several short-term responses that suggest what the American birth experience may look like years from now. Unemployment, delayed marriage and birth, and home births are just a few responses indicating a future decrease in fertility and reduced medicalization of birth.


1Based on the U.S. COVID-19 mortality rate reported on October 1, 2020.


Works Cited

Belluz, Julia. “The historically low birthrate, explained in 3 charts.” Vox, 22 May 2018, https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/5/22/17376536/fertility-rate-united-states-births-women.

“CDC COVID Data Tracker.” CDC, https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases_casesinlast7days. Accessed 1 October 2020.

Curreli, Misty, and Catherine Marrone. “Professional Certification and Doula Work: Measuring the Significance of Credentialing in the Field of Birth Companionship.” Marrone, pp. 29-34.

De Freytas-Tamura, Kimiko. “Pregnant and Scared of ‘Covid Hospitals,’ They’re Giving Birth at Home.” The New York Times, 21 April 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/21/nyregion/coronavirus-home-births.html.

Ewing-Nelson, Claire. “June Brings 2.9 Million Women’s Jobs Back, Many of Which Are At Risk of Being Lost Again.” National Women’s Law Center, July 2020, https://nwlc-ciw49tixgw5lbab.stackpathdns.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/june-jobs-fs-1.pdf.

Kearney, Melissa S., and Phillip B. Levine. “Half a million fewer children? The coming COVID baby bust.” The Brookings Institution, 15 June 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/research/half-a-million-fewer-children-the-coming-covid-baby-bust/.

Marrone, Catherine, editor. Deeply Private, Incredibly Public: Readings on the Sociology of Human Reproduction. Cognella, 2019.

Mather, Mark. “Life on Hold: How the Coronavirus Is Affecting Young People’s Major Life Decisions.” Population Reference Bureau, 23 July 2020, https://www.prb.org/how-the-coronavirus-is-affecting-major-life-decisions/.

Wagner, Marsden. “Maternity Care in Crisis: Where are the Doctors?” Marrone, pp. 35-41.

Rated E for Education, Graded F for Failure

by Zarya Shaikh, January 12, 2021

***FALL 2020 CONTEST WINNER***

In 2014, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio launched Pre-K for All to encourage “free, full-day, high-quality pre-K.”1 The program increased enrollment in Pre-K among different communities, especially within low-income families. Its success led to the creation of 3-K for All1 and yielded similar outcomes: “[o]f the 52,741 children enrolled in pre-K, 37 percent were Hispanic, 30 percent [B]lack” with no ethnic majority.2 One would expect that a student body with multiple ethnicities represented would have access to a teaching curriculum tailored to different backgrounds. The Pre-K for All handbook’s page 21 includes a list of “ emotionally responsive books about being safe” which says otherwise.1 Of the three books presented, all are written by white authors. This booklist is not an anomaly; authors of color are missing from the handbook and the curriculum itself. An analysis of the Pre-K For All curriculum reveals that “there are 0 Black authors, 0 Native authors, 0 Middle Eastern authors, 1 Latinx author, 1 Asian author, and 40 white authors” of the 42 total texts available.3 The number of white authors to authors of colors writing for younger ages is grossly disproportionate. It exemplifies the concept of a dominant culture – a “relatively small social group that has a disproportionate amount of power” – represented by the 17% of white students enrolled in the program.4 Some may argue that this is not an issue since there are Black characters in some texts. It is important to consider that “20 of the 22 books that center Black characters are written by white authors”3 who have not genuinely experienced life from the standpoint they’re writing from. The author may thoroughly research what would be their character’s background beyond the book and consult individuals who identify with the character’s community. Regardless, they may still inadvertently overlook or dismiss important details about the culture or traditions associated with their character’s identity.

The Introduction to Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies textbook defines institutions as forms of stratification among individuals by “gender, class, race, ability, and sexuality”.5 The Pre-K for All curriculum is, unfortunately, another example of an institution prioritizing white students over students of color. As coordinator Natasha Capers of the Coalition for Educational Justice phrases it – how can students of color “create a world view” from the books they read “[i]f they never see themselves in it”?4 Teaching students of color with textbooks and educational sources that do not reflect the perspective and struggles associated with their ethnic background is unfair and demeaning. Returning to the idea of the curriculum as one aspect of an institution, the common thread is neglecting authors of color and perspectives of BIPOC by BIPOC in favor of instilling at a young age that the normal “thought and behavior” is to exclude, misrepresent, and misunderstand BIPOC.5 Although the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional in 1954, racial discrimination continues well into the 21st century since we are still “teach[ing] these expectations . . . to younger generations” with alarming confidence in the school system to change course.5 BIPOC students should have the opportunity to see themselves represented in the education system as their white classmates do. That liberty should extend beyond elementary school as well. 

Education as a service to the LGBT community fails to deliver similarly in the reading curriculum. In the Ready NY CCLS and EL Education middle school curriculums, “there are no main characters that identify as LGBTQ+.”3 It would be beneficial to increase the representation of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities as written by individuals who identify with either or both within school curriculums. 


References

[1] NYC Department of Education. (n.d.). 3-K for All & Pre-K for All Handbook for District Schools and Pre-K Centers. New York, New York: NYC Department of Education. 

[2] Potter, H. (2016, September 20). Diversity in New York City’s Universal Pre-K Classrooms. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://tcf.org/content/report/diversity-new-york-citys-universal-pre-k-classrooms/?session=1

[3] Education Justice Research and Organizing Collaborative. (n.d.). Diverse City, White Curriculum: The Exclusion of People of Color from English Language Arts in NYC Schools. New York, New York: NYC Coalition for Educational Justice. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://www.nyccej.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Diverse-City-White-Curriculum-3.pdf 

[4] Elsen-Rooney, M. (2019, December 09). More than 80% of books in NYC schools’ curriculum for pre-K to eighth grade written by white authors: Report. Retrieved October 03, 2020, from https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/ny-school-curriculum-diversity-20191204-b mpmgjusevgtxnofdalchpq6ti-story.html 

[5] Kang, M., Lessard, D., Heston, L., Nordmarken and Kang, S., & M. (2017). Introduction to Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies. Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries. 

[6] Sergent, J., & Bravo, V. (2019, June 14). 7 maps show the mess LGBT laws are in the USA. Retrieved October 01, 2020, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/06/14/lgbt-laws-hate-crimes-religious-exemptions-a doption-differ/1432848001/

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and E.B. White: Controlling the Narrative with the Confidence of Their Readers

by Ean Tam, January 3, 2021

***FALL 2020 CONTEST WINNER***

At first glance, it may seem odd to compare Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and E.B. White. Other than spending their childhoods in Westchester County, New York, what else do they have in common? Ocasio-Cortez is a current United States congresswoman, representing New York’s 14th district. For many, she is a symbol of change: she defeated her well-established primary opponent despite being outspent 18-1; she is the youngest woman to serve in the US Congress; she sponsors bills considered to be radical, such as the Green New Deal and Medicare for all; and she even has an asteroid named after her (Hajela; Mosher). On the other hand, White can be seen as a standard bearer, an idealistic image of an Ivy League-educated white male who came to age before any of the two world wars. Even during the Great Depression, White lived comfortably as a writer for the New Yorker (Heitman). As a co-author of the prolific style guide, The Elements of Style, White has set the bar for writers for decades. His books, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, have influenced countless children as they learn to develop their own styles of writing. Dr. Laura Lisbeth of Stony Brook University characterizes White’s influence as “a tradition in Anglo-American literacy,” for The Elements of Style “certainly turned the English language into a personal expression of his idiosyncratic preferences” (Lisbeth).

Comfortability would not be an accurate descriptor of Ocasio-Cortez’s life. Despite rising from poverty and winning her own voice in the United States Congress, her troubles as a young, idealistic woman of color were far from over. On July 23, 2020, Ocasio-Cortez gave an impassioned speech on the floor of the House of Representatives. She reprimanded her colleague, Representative Ted Yoho, for his offensive remarks that he delivered to her personally on the steps of the Capitol Building. Ocasio-Cortez rebuked not only Yoho’s remarks, but also Yoho’s compliance with a culture that has served to the detriment of women throughout American history. In 1941, almost 80 years earlier, White made his mark in literary history and published his essay “Once More to the Lake” in Harper’s Magazine. In the essay, he details his vacation to a lake in Maine with his son. White weaves in and out between the past and present, merging them together and revealing how some things never change.

As different as Ocasio-Cortez and White are, a common theme between these two works is the past and how it affects our present and future. Because the barrier between past and present is fluid for White, he uses the past as a way of telling the story of the present. Nostalgia would not be enough to describe White’s attachment to his childhood: he actively lives in both worlds. Ocasio-Cortez uses the past not as a point of nostalgia, but as a point of reference from which society should use to change the future. Unlike White, Ocasio-Cortez does not wish to live in the past. She would rather live up to her reputation and change the future for the next generations of women. Both White and Ocasio-Cortez share a common theme, but differ in how they examine the implications. Using rhetorical devices such repetition, parallelism, anadiplosis, and antimetabole, Ocasio-Cortez and White engage their readers with cohesive and rhythmic sentences that display the authors’ control over their narratives. By having this control, both writers can focus their readers to the details and emotions they wish to convey. In return, the readers have confidence in how each author interprets their relationships with the past.

Prominent rhetorical devices used by Ocasio-Cortez and White are parallelism and repetition. In the opening of Ocasio-Cortez’s speech, she describes exactly what Yoho had said to her. She says, “[H]e called me disgusting, he called me crazy, he called me out of my mind, and he called me dangerous” (00:14-01:43). The repetition of the opening, “he called me,” creates an intensity that is palpable to the reader. Even to those in the audience who are already aware of the incident involving Yoho, there is an anticipation built up because of Ocasio-Cortez’s wording. To those who are not aware of Yoho’s remarks, this repetition would be even more enthralling: ‘He did what? He called her what?’ This kind of excitement provides emphasis to Yoho’s comments. There is particular stress on “crazy” and “dangerous.” The parallelism allows the reader to find cohesion (Kolln and Gray 129, 152-153). The remarks Ocasio-Cortez relays to her audience are not broken up by different structures or introductions. She consistently states, “he called me.” This, in effect, keeps the reader focused and attentive to the string of offensive remarks, instilling outrage and disappointment.

A second instance of repetition and parallelism in Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks comes soon after the first. She denies that Yoho’s comments hurt her personally. She says, “Because all of us have had to deal with this in some form, some way, some shape, at some point in our lives” (01:43-03:11). As she repeats “some,” she implies that Yoho’s remarks are not an isolated event; rather, his remarks come in a long line of incidents that Ocasio-Cortez acknowledges she shares with “every woman in this country.” Thus, her use of “all of us” and “in our lives” allows her to build a relationship with the women in the audience. When considered together, the two quotes accomplish three things: instill anger in the audience towards Yoho and disgust towards his remarks, imply Yoho’s remarks are not isolated and are an unfortunate consistency throughout Ocasio-Cortez’s life, and build a shared experience with Ocasio-Cortez’s target audience, which is actually split. She is simultaneously addressing men and women to different effects: men are meant to feel guilty and responsible, while women are meant to feel sympathy.

In his essay, White observes his fellow campers and writes, “This was the American family at play, escaping the city heat, wondering whether the newcomers at the camp at the head of the cove were ‘common’ or ‘nice,’ wondering whether it was true that people who drove up for Sunday dinner at the farmhouse were turned away because there wasn’t enough chicken” (3). Here, White exhibits parallelism in structure. His use of gerunds provide a sense of eloquence and activity. Given White wants to reminiscence in past experiences and merge them with the present, eloquence and activity are welcomed sentiments for the reader. White does not provide the kind of repetition that Ocasio-Cortez has. However, White’s objective of describing the experiences at the lake is made stronger without repetition. Although repetition does not imply the experiences themselves were repetitive, it may lead the reader to believe they were. Ocasio-Cortez uses repetition to make it apparent to her audience that Yoho’s remarks have been a repeated occurance in her life. Thus, repetition may not serve White so well in this manner. After all, why would someone feel nostalgic about a camping experience that feels repetitive? Repetitive would be counter to White’s portrayal of activity and eloquence. Even though White and his son engage in almost routine activities—fishing, swimming, boating—White’s recollection of his childhood negates any sense of the story being repetitive. He says, “You remember one thing, and that suddenly reminds you of another thing” (1). He adds, “I kept remembering everything…. It was like the revival of an old melodrama that I had seen with childish awe.” (4-5). By continuously remembering the first time he ever experienced these activities, White allows himself to reconnect to the “childish awe” those first experiences instilled in him. He is not so much repeating activities, but instead repeating positive emotions. As for the reader, they can see a parallelism in his wording as well as the parallels between White’s past and present but without any perception of repetitiveness.

Both Ocasio-Cortez and White portray themselves as being in control of the narrative. Both of them make their statements from personal sentiments, but from different sources. White derives his purpose from the personal bonds he has forged with his son and his own childhood: years could not separate White from his affections for his childhood memories, sentiments he hopes to pass on to his son. Ocasio-Cortez makes it evident she derives her purpose and conviction from personal wounds: “he called me.” Both Ocasio-Cortez and White build shared experiences. Ocasio-Cortez shares her experiences with the women in her audience. White shares the experiences with himself (past and present), his father, his son, and the other campers. 

The two works differ in how the reader assesses Ocasio-Cortez and White. The reader is meant to feel sympathy and reverence towards Ocasio-Cortez — sympathy for her years of being the recipient of offensive remarks, and reverence for her bravery and solidarity with her fellow women, a stance that many would argue is long-overdue. The reader feels more inclined to involve themselves with Ocasio-Cortez’s narrative, whereas the reader may feel more inclined to ‘sit back and watch’ the narrative being portrayed by White. White’s narrative is unique to himself not only because it is, of course, his personal story, but also because his story evades the circumstances of his time. As White and his son have a nostalgia-filled summer escape to the lakes of Maine, the world is in its second world war, and many sons are dying far away in unfamiliar places. White is afforded the privilege to take his reader for a ride as he navigates his way through past and present experiences that are out of the readers’ control. Ocasio-Cortez, representing herself as a casualty of another person’s privilege, wants to apply the past to the future. The future is never certain and she is addressing all generations of Americans, men and women as well. Ocasio-Cortez forces the reader to think with her about the implications of the past. She has a universal message, whereas White’s message is most definitely not shared amongst the readers of his time. 

In the use of parallelism, an author may feel inclined to also build up to a climax. The term climax used here should not be confused with the climax in a sequence of a story, but it does bear resemblance. Just as a story can develop to a critical moment for its plot, a sentence or set of sentences can end itself with a climax of ideas (Kolln and Gray 49-51). For example, observe how Ocasio-Cortez uses parallelism in this sentence: “I could not allow my nieces, I could not allow the little girls that I go home to, I could not allow victims of verbal abuse and worse to see that, to see that excuse and to see our Congress accept it as legitimate and accept it as an apology and to accept silence as a form of acceptance. I could not allow that to stand which is why I am rising today to raise this point of personal privilege” (04:35-05:49). The parallel structure and repetition introduce a series of clauses with “I could not….” The repeated use of the opening is an example of anaphora (Kolln and Gray 130). The parallelism builds up until Ocasio-Cortez reaches the climax: She could not allow that to stand, and she goes on further explaining her purpose before the House. The climax is the definitive statement. This is where all the repetition and parallelism has led to. This is the most important statement. This is “why [she is] rising today.”

White also creates a climax in his sentence: “We caught two bass, hauling them in briskly as though they were mackerel, pulling them over the side of the boat in a businesslike manner without any landing net, and stunning them with a blow on the back of the head” (2). White uses climax to narrate a specific instant with his son. This is another use of parallelism (continuous use of gerunds) that culminates with the climax of killing the fish. The reader is drawn into this action sequence that is resolved by a climatic finish. It is climactic both rhetorically and in terms of the sequence of events. Both Ocasio-Cortez and White create a climactic point to show their readers that they have reached a control over the ideas, and they are steering the readers toward an end goal. Ocasio-Cortez’s climactic end goal is to show purpose for speaking. White’s climactic end goal is to finish an action sequence. 

Another way Ocasio-Cortez and White take an authority of their narrative is by using short sentences. In order to dispel Yoho’s use of his daughter and wife as part of his apology for his behavior, Ocasio-Cortez issues this statement, “I am someone’s daughter too” (05:49-07:12). She then goes on to claim she will not anguish herself waiting for Yoho to properly apologize: “I will not do that to myself” (07:12-08:18). Short sentences gravitate more attention than longer sentences (Kolln and Gray 29-30). Here are clear instances of Ocasio-Cortez using that fact to her advantage. There is no surprise that both sentences begin with “I.” Ocasio-Cortez wants her reader to feel the impact of these short, yet meaningful sentences. What made her write such short sentences in the midst of her longer remarks? Obviously, it comes from personal conviction: “I am…,” “I will….” Similarly, White uses short sentences. When he describes the nature of the lake, he says, “There had been no years” (3). White wishes to be firm and declarative to his readers in his recollection of events. He asserts with confidence that nothing has changed. The emphasis in the sentence falls on “no.” This strengthens the readers’ trust in White’s narrative. Another short sentence by White is a deliberate fragment. Within his remembrance of the lake, he adds, “Peace and goodness and jollity” (4). White only wants to encapsulate the serenity of the experience. This serenity must not be shared with any other ideas because it is personally significant to White. Thus, a short sentence suffices. 

Both Ocasio-Cortez and White use short sentences to command authority from their audiences. Ocasio-Cortez obtains authority through justified defiance and strong will. White obtains authority through his confidence in detail and assessment. Of course, the authors do not blatantly say, “I am defiant,” or “I am confident in my recollection.” Good narrators will show, not tell. Through short sentences, Ocasio-Cortez and White show these sides of themselves without explicitly telling the audience. 

Throughout their respective pieces, Ocasio-Cortez and White enhance their writing with a play on words. The first device is anadiplosis. This is used when one clause ends and another begins with the same word or phrase (“Anadiplosis”). There are two instances where Ocasio-Cortez uses it in her speech. When she begins a fiery condemnation of men using derogatory terms towards women, she says, “It happens when individuals who hold the highest office in this land admit, admit to hurting women and using this language against all of us” (09:06). In the course of her speech, Ocasio-Cortez insinuates that Yoho has not only wronged her, but also wronged women across the country; he adheres to a terrible culture that has treated and continues to treat women so poorly. Insinuation is one thing, but now Ocasio-Cortez puts special emphasis on “admit” by ending the first clause and beginning the second with the same action. In Ocasio-Cortez’s mind, the act of Yoho admitting he has used derogatory terms towards women is not best served by saying it once. She needs to say it twice and add how Yoho’s admission is an affliction towards “all of us” women. In the second clause, “admit” is not the only word that has emphasis. “Us” also has stress on it, creating an even greater sense of solidarity with her female audience. 

Contrast her first use of anadiplosis with her second use of it: “Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man, and when a decent man messes up as we all are bound to do, he tries his best and does apologize” (08:18-09:06). “Decent man” is clearly in the limelight of Ocasio-Cortez’s sentence. This is another instance of showing, not telling. Ocasio-Cortez has branded Yoho as the opposite of a decent man because he admits to his actions but refuses to take the proper responsibility for them. Yoho is evasive and not forthcoming. Characterizing him as such without explicitly saying so can be created by Ocasio-Cortez’s use of anadiplosis. The emphasis and stress allow the reader to infer the intention behind her words. 

White uses anadiplosis in a manner similar to Ocasio-Cortez’s second use of it. Towards the end of his essay, as White begins to make his final assessments of the camping experience, he states, “This was the big scene, still the big scene” (5). It is a conclusive statement, in which White reaffirms that the present lake and camping experience resembles the experiences from his childhood. There is emphasis on “still” and, of course, “big scene.” The reader can feel the confidence White instills in his statement. There is no uncertainty. An alternative way White could have written this sentence is, “This was the big scene, [and it] still [is] the big scene.” We can see here how White uses ellipsis to leave out phrases that are understood (Kolln and Gray 132-133). This omission allows the sentence to be more precise and controlled by White. 

Ocasio-Cortez’s use of anadiplosis is to uphold Yoho to his actions, turn her audience against him, and place herself on the moral high ground. White does not use anadiplosis to reflect badly on anyone else. Rather, he uses anadiplosis to reflect on his own ability to recall detail and connect to the past. Nonetheless, their uses of anadiplosis aid in their ability to command the narrative and direct the readers towards sentiments the two authors want them to feel. This is an indispensable tool, not only for politicians like Ocasio-Cortez, but also for storytellers like White. 

An additional rhetorical device involving repeating phrases is antimetabole. This time, however, the repeated phrases are in reverse. For example, Ocasio-Cortez explains the wife and daughter excuse is a fallacy: “And so what I believe is that having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man” (08:18-09:06). Ocasio-Cortez reverses “decent man” and creates two different meanings. Her proposition can be more definitively stated as, “Having a daughter does not transform a man into decency. Having a wife does not show the decency of a man.” The use of antimetabole is a witty way for Ocasio-Cortez to explain herself. The purpose of her speech is to condemn the idea that having a daughter or wife excuses inappropriate language towards women. The antimetabole accomplishes this and has the added benefit of being catchy and quote-worthy. Politicians are always searching for the one-liner or debate hook to jab at their opponents. It is evident to the audience that Ocasio-Cortez has found hers.

White also uses antimetabole but more subtly. White says, “I began to sustain the illusion that [my son] was I, and therefore, by simple transposition, that I was my father” (2). White has reversed “was I” from one clause to the other. The purpose of White’s essay is to illustrate how the imagery and sentiments of the lake remain constant, but the roles are transferable: he becomes his father, and his son becomes him. White’s use of antimetabole is an eloquent way of stating this occurrence. Recall how White’s repetition and parallel use of gerunds added an eloquence to his wording. The antimetabole reaffirms that eloquence and engages the reader with the abstract idea of transposition. 

Ocasio-Cortez’s use of antimetabole puts her in a position to judge. Her moral high-ground gives her that responsibility. Her self-identification as a fellow victim gives her the right to confront the culprit. As stated earlier, White exhibits eloquence in his imagery and eloquence in how he describes such imagery. This duality adds to the fairy tale-aspect of his story. Fairy tales, or children stories, usually involve a lot of flowery language to charm the reader with the ‘magic’ of the scene. White authored many children’s books, but he may have excused this essay from that flowery diction. His use of antimetabole helps get similar ideas across to his audience. Without antimetabole, Ocasio-Cortez’s idea would be more lengthy and less characteristic of a political speech, and White’s ideas would lose the essence of eloquence and charm he had been establishing throughout the essay. 

The last major rhetorical tool that Ocasio-Cortez and White share is the use, or lack of use, of conjunctions when creating a series. Polysyndeton is the excess use of coordinating conjunctions, while Asyndeton is the absence of coordinating conjunctions (Kolln and Gray 128-129). Ocasio-Cortez uses asyndeton as she depicts Yoho’s actions as having greater repercussions than he may have assumed. She says, “In using that language in front of the press, he gave permission to use that language against his wife, his daughters, women in his community, and I am here to stand up to say that is not acceptable” (07:12-0:8:18). The list is composed of wife, daughter, and women in the community. Ocasio-Cortez does not put “and” before “women in his community.” Ocasio-Cortez implicates Yoho’s actions as an offense to a never-ending list of women in America. The asyndeton does not give any emphasis to each listed object (wife, daughter, women in community), but it implies the list of victims can go on and on. ‘Victims’ is a strong word, but given the circumstances, it would not be a far cry to assume Ocasio-Cortez wishes to portray women as victims of never-ending misogyny from men. This misogyny coincides with the use of the asyndeton: never-ending misogyny equates to a never-ending list of victims. 

White uses polysyndeton in his essay. In the beginning, he describes why he prefers to go to the lake than the ocean. He claims, “I have since become a salt-water man, but sometimes in summer there are days when the restlessness of the tides and the fearful cold of the sea water and the incessant wind which blows across the afternoon and into the evening make me wish for the placidity of the woods” (1). Here, White uses an excess of “and.” The polysyndeton allows White to list three aspects of the ocean (restless tides, cold water, and wind) without sacrificing emphasis on any one of the three. The excess “and” adds rhythm to the sentence, as the reader bounces from one idea to another. The sentence is lengthy, but White can focus the readers’ attention to the details he feels important to him. White begins his essay by describing a trip to the lake in Maine when he was a young boy, but now he has “since become a salt-water man.” White is his own man now with his own preferences and judgements. He can go where he pleases. So what would compel him back to the lake? What would override his preferences that he has accumulated in the years since boyhood? Evidently, it is the restless tides, cold water, and incessant wind of the ocean. All three can be so brutally harsh that they convince White to turn his back on his own present-day preferences and return to the sanctity provided to him when he was a young boy: a sanctity from his past. 

Ocasio-Cortez and White—separated by decades, circumstance, and purpose—show that rhetorical devices are not limited by genre or style. Kurt Vonnegut said, “Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style” (qtd. in “Quotable Quotes”). Ocasio-Cortez and White, when writing their respective pieces, did not think to themselves, ‘I will use parallelism and anadiplosis to convey my ideas.’ It was the passion that led them through their drafts: Ocasio-Cortez’s passion for change and White’s passion to enjoy the memories of his childhood.

In a chapter of Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, Craig Hulst writes, “The rhetorical situation of a piece of writing is everything surrounding it—who the audience is, the purpose for writing it, the genre of the writing, etc.” (88-89). The difference in rhetorical situation between Ocasio-Cortez and White is obvious, but the rhetorical devices they used empowered both authors to control the events around them and command the narrative. The reader trusts White’s recollection of his camping experience, and the reader understands how White jumps between past and present and realizes the end of his childhood and the beginning of his son’s. The reader can feel the frustrations in Ocasio-Cortez’s speech. The reader grows disappointed with Yoho’s poor excuse and the culture he perpetuates. The reader can focus on the implications of the issue Ocasio-Cortez addresses, and she engages them to think about how to prevent the future from being a repeat of the past. Some readers may believe White’s essay is an example of his privilege or that Ocasio-Cortez’s judgement is incorrect, but there is no dispute that the correct rhetorical tools gifted the two authors with the means to make their case in the first place.


Works Cited

“Anadiplosis.” Literary Devices, go.shr.lc/2Zia6Ul. Accessed 6 Aug. 2020. 

“Antimetabole.” Literary Devices, go.shr.lc/30RgT6D. Accessed 6 Aug. 2020. 

Hajela, Deepti. “Political Novice Ocasio-Cortez Scores for Progressives in NY.” AP News, The Associated Press, 27 June 2018, apnews.com/45eb9af59317402699b23c4826a8192c. Accessed 7 Aug. 2020. 

Heitman, Danny. “The White Pages.” Humanities, 24 Jan. 2014, www.neh.gov/humanities/2014/januaryfebruary/feature/the-white-pages. Accessed 8 Aug. 2020. 

Hulst, Craig. “Grammar, Rhetoric, and Style.” Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, edited by Driscoll, Dana, Mary Stewart, and Matthew Vetter, vol. 3, Parlor Press, 2020, pp. 86-99. 

Kolln, Martha, and Loretta Gray. Rhetorical Grammar. 8th ed., Pearson, 2017. 

Lisbeth, Laura. Interviewed by Carolyn Cosentino, Sophia Hoss, Kathy La, and Patricia Paulynn Mallari. The Elements of Style, 26 July 2020, you.stonybrook.edu/elements/laura-lisabeth-interview/

Mosher, Dave. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-Year-Old Who Defeated a Powerful House Democrat, Has an Asteroid Named After Her — Here’s Why.” Business Insider, 28 June 2018, www.businessinsider.com/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-asteroid-2018-6?utm_source=copy-link&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=topbar. Accessed 8 Aug. 2020. 

Ocasio-Cortez, Alexandria. United States House of Representatives floor, 23 July 2020, United States Capitol, South Wing, Capitol Hill, Washington D.C. Point of personal privilege. 

“Quotable Quotes.” Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/quotes/3247685-find-a-subject-you-care-about-and-which-you-in. Accessed 6 Aug. 2020.

White, E.B. “Once More to the Lake.” Harper’s Magazine, 1941.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

by Pavithra Venkataraman, October 24, 2020

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month! See the infographic below for more information.


Breathing in Discrimination: Asthma and Vulnerable Populations in the United States

by Sophia Garbarino, October 14, 2020

Asthma is a quite common diagnosis in children, and cases have risen significantly in the past few decades. From 1980 to 1996, “the number of individuals with asthma in the United States grew to 73.9%,” roughly equivalent to 14.6 million (Brown et al. 125). Scientific evidence has found correlation between asthma and air pollution, while sociological evidence has linked the condition to socioeconomic status (SES) and racial minorities (Brown et al.). Furthermore, SES influences not only who is diagnosed with asthma, but also who has a better health outcome.

According to “The Health Politics of Asthma: Environmental Justice and Collective Illness Experience in the United States,” a 2003 article co-authored by several sociologists and published in Social Science & Medicine, “asthma has become, for many poor and minority neighborhoods, one of the most visible and pressing problems” (Brown et al. 128). These neighborhoods are most commonly urban, with the past three U.S. Censuses revealing that “well over half of America’s largest cities are now majority non-white” (Frey). The increase in asthma has been attributed to the rise in air pollution, which is typically worst in cities. Public transportation, such as diesel buses, has been criticized for discriminatory budgeting in states including Massachusetts, where the Alternatives for Communities and Environment group (ACE) “successfully framed an issue of transit spending priorities into one of health, justice, and racism” in 2000 (Brown et al. 131). At the time, over half of Boston’s population was non-white, and the folks who relied on the buses to get to work and school were forced to use “dirty” buses that “trigger asthma attacks” on a daily basis (Jimenez; Brown et al. 132-133).

In addition to living in the most polluted and asthma-vulnerable areas, minority populations typically have lower SES than their White counterparts. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the average household income on non-Hispanic Whites was $45,904, while the averages for Hispanics and Blacks were roughly 30% lower at “$33,447 and $30,439, respectively” (Denavas-Walt et al.). Not only do minorities have higher asthma rates, but they are also less likely to be able to afford quality health care. With limited access to quality education and everyday treatments such as albuterol inhalers, “frequent trips to the emergency room are the norm for impoverished families seeking asthma treatment, resulting in both poor management and the loss of control” (Brown et al. 135). Thus, the cycle of poor health continues.

As medical sociologist Irving Kenneth Zola wrote in his 1972 article “Medicine as an Institution of Social Control,” “man’s power over Nature is really the power of some men over other men, with Nature as their instrument” (Zola 599). Asthma is just one example of how SES and race interact, and we have yet to consider other factors such as gender, ability, and ethnicity. Our social structures perpetuate each other and are certainly reflected in our health care system.


Works Cited

Brown, Phil, et al. “The Health Politics of Asthma: Environmental Justice and Collective Illness Experience in the United States.” The Sociology of Health & Illness, edited by Peter Conrad and Valerie Leiter, SAGE Publications, 2019, pp. 125-138.

Denavas-Walt, Carmen, et al. “Money Income in the United States: 2000.” U.S. Census Bureau, 1 Sept. 2001, https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2001/demo/p60-213.html.

Frey, William. “Melting Pot Cities and Suburbs: Racial and Ethnic Change in Metro America in the 2000s.” Brookings Institution, May 2011, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/0504_census_ethnicity_frey.pdf.

Jimenez, Carmen Rixely. “New Bostonians Demographic Report.” The Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians, https://www.cityofboston.gov/newbostonians/pdfs/dem_report.pdf.

Zola, Irving Kenenth. “Medicine as an Institution of Social Control.” The Sociology of Health & Illness, edited by Peter Conrad and Valerie Leiter, SAGE Publications, 2019, pp. 591-603.

DIY Religion: Why Spirituality Should be Considered a Spectrum

by Marcela Muricy, September 21, 2020

This is a kind of mix-and-match approach to spirituality where people who are alienated by organized religions are in many ways cobbling together their own.

– Tara Isabella Burton, The Argument

Morality is relative. The lens through which people view the world is fabricated depending on how they’ve been socialized by those around them and what they’ve been exposed to throughout their lives. Every individual has this distinct perspective of life and, in the same sense, morality and what is considered ethical. In this context, it is difficult to imagine how one may fully benefit from being enthralled in a sole religious institution, because it restricts them to a single viewpoint, a single message being broadcasted to hundreds. Everyone’s moral compass is distinct from the next, so it is naive to assume one institution’s teachings are tailored individually to them, and that following it will automatically exonerate their past mistakes. There are flaws in the system of institutionalizing religion as well as the institutions themselves, which are often more dependent on their power and status quo than communicating the best moral standings to the public. This is especially true considering the common hypocrisy in the leaders who advocate for them, as well as the expired messages and traditions most religious institutions utilize to gain social and political power. If religion is meant to serve as a catalyst on the path to being a better person, it would be more beneficial if people considered keeping religion personal rather than placing their beliefs in the hands of an institution which profits off of their membership. Religion itself can be a beautiful, crucial aspect of one’s hope, motivation, and desire to have positive impacts on people and the world. Yet, it is known how dangerous this double-edged sword can be in malicious hands, and whose are ultimately more trustworthy than one’s own?

The “Take It Or Leave It” Stance

A 2019 Gallup poll estimated that 37% of Catholics have questioned if they should leave the Church due to the cases of sexual abuse, monetary greed, and homophobia within it (Jones). No matter their frequency of attendance, members are experiencing a grappling of morality, unable to ignore certain issues taking place within organized religion. This realization of institutional imperfection, for many, presents a set of choices in front of them — a complex, life-changing round of “would you rather”: either leave the institution and all it stands for, or continue being a member simply for the love of the practice.

This polarized perspective of religion — this “take it or leave it” — is harmful, and impacts both the incredibly devout and atheists alike. On one hand, the devout may feel like they have less of an option, required to tolerate aspects they don’t agree with. On the other, atheists may credit the religion for all the wrongdoings of the institution and decide to distance themselves from both entirely. This upholds the idea that religion and institution are synonymous, that they cannot be mutually exclusive.

The more accurate lens could be understanding the use of spirituality in society and how it exists separately from organized religion. It can be beautifully beneficial and even essential to human existence, providing people with a source of hope, motivation, and purpose as a foundation to their lives. With this in mind, it seems nonsensical to discard the ideas within religions simply because of the twisted way they have been reflected by institutions. What should be discarded is this limiting binary, replaced with a third option not many realize exist: the ability to mold your own.

A Devotion to Power

What likely tipped the boat of dissatisfaction with organized religions, spoken of in CNN articles and scholarly books alike, is the multitude of scandals within them. Jason Berry, an American reporter and writer, has been investigating issues in the Catholic Church for years, even having won the Guggenheim Fellowship for Humanities for his work. In his 1992 book, Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children, he details how “in the decade of 1982 to 1992, approximately four hundred priests were reported to church or civil authorities for molesting youths. The vast majority of these men had multiple victims” (Berry 1). These instances are not exactly uncommon, making the doubt and uneasiness of many “struggling catholics” (as Berry identifies himself) very rational and justifiable. The evidence of hypocrisy is so voluminous that Pope Francis himself has spoken of these twisted ulterior motives, stating, “On the outside, [cardinals] present themselves as righteous, as good: they like to be seen when they pray and when they fast…[But] it is all appearance and in their hearts there is nothing” (Martel 68). This quote, mentioned in Frederic Martel’s 2019 book In the Closet of the Vatican, specifically concerned the cardinals of the Curia. However, Martel goes on to discuss how it is one of many accusations Francis has made since he became the Pope, to several separate institutions. These scandals have been perpetually occurring within the Catholic Church for decades and are as visible as ever. Jason Berry began his investigations not for his own curiosity or interest, but with the desire to uncover the environment his children would grow up in if they remained members, concerned for their safety and morality considering the recent crimes. The Gallup poll indicates Berry’s questioning is not unique, with over one third of Catholics debating the same. These issues are most likely contributing to the shift in the demographic of religious affiliation in the US, causing many people to shun the institution and the religion altogether. This is not the ideal solution, because what should be perceived as the enemy is not the religion, but rather those who wield it with ill intent.

Problems of a “Sad Atheist”

Despite this, the number of atheists in the United States has been rising. There was an increase of 19.2 million people from 2007 to 2015 within the category of those “religiously unaffiliated”, according to a Pew Research Poll (Pew Research). Among the entire group polled, 65% claimed religion was “not too/not at all important” to their lives. This distancing from religion, however, can be an ineffective solution, because what may linger is a feeling of absence in their lives and an even stronger feeling of hopelessness. In a 2019 Vox article, writer and atheist Jay Wexler describes himself as a “sad atheist” due to the frequent existential thoughts he has, including “the world is meaningless and I am just standing on a giant rock swirling pointlessly through the universe” (Wexler par. 7). Atheism lacks the foundation that keeps many people motivated: that which explains the spiritual meaning of human existence and fills in the emotional gaps that science does not. Religion is essentially the assurance that everything will work itself out, that a “higher being” is present and caring, easing the existentialism Wexler experiences. As Zat Rana, a writer for Medium, expresses in a 2017 article, “People often think of belief as irrational. From a survival perspective, I can’t think of anything more rational than finding something to live for” (Rana par. 29). This is something psychologists would argue is one of the key factors to spirituality, what keeps humans healthy and sane. Rana himself explains in his article how he saw the corruption in organized religion (Catholicism specifically) and became an atheist very early in his life. As he matured, however, he felt the absence of a certain foundation, with no idea of life’s purpose and what comes after it. Rather than isolate himself from religion completely, Rana sought to, instead, benefit from learning and practicing several new religions so that he could make sense of the world without having to rely on an institution.

DIY Religion

So what if it were perceived differently? As less of a binary, but more of the spectrum Rana eventually tapped into? As more personal instead of a public occasion? What if it were viewed as ever-molding and -developing so that people could customize their beliefs? This is a practice sociologist Tara Isabella Burton, in an episode of the podcast The Argument, claims is on the rise in the US today:

While it is true that traditional organized religion is in decline, an important statistic to remember is that 72% of the so-called “religiously unaffiliated” say they believe in some sort of higher power. This is a kind of mix-and-match approach to spirituality where people who are alienated by organized religions are in many ways cobbling together their own.

(“Should Facebook Be Fact-Checked”)

Burton’s book Strange Rites, released in June 2020, covers this transition from organized religion to what she calls “DIY religious culture”. She brings to light how many people have already begun to understand that spirituality can vary and should vary for each individual. This supports the broader notion that religion is a personal aspect of someone’s life, suddenly opening up the conversation and the mind to new possibilities. With this fresh perspective, people can distance themselves from an institution yet continue to appreciate the emotional foundation the religion provides. Although this is increasing in the general public today, it cannot be considered a truly innovative idea; even nineteenth century philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson lived his life with a similar narrative. Despite being deeply religious all throughout his life, Emerson gave a speech at Harvard Divinity School in 1838 in which he advised graduates to “go alone…and dare to love God without a mediator or veil” (Emerson). He was an advocate for self-reliant religion, able to detect the flaws with organized religion even during a time when it was the default. He saw, as many see now, the many possibilities that arise once someone considers this idea of customizing their religion — tailoring it to their own needs and preferences in a meaningful and enduring way.

The Familiar in Disguise

This way of living can seem abnormal and foreign to members of organized religions, but it actually holds a strong resemblance to how people already practice their religions today. Most members have at least one opinion that misaligns with the belief of their institution, such as abortion, contraception, or LGBTQ rights. According to a Pew Research Poll, for instance, only 8% of Catholics believe contraception is immoral, with 48% believing it is not a moral issue at all (“Very Few Americans”). The Catholic Church itself, on the other hand, is strictly opposed to anything preventing pregnancy aside from abstinence. This highlights how people may remain in an institution yet disagree with some of its teachings, taking from some pieces of the religion while excluding others. In a similar sense, religion has very much drifted from the conservative way it was viewed hundreds of years ago. Many people neglect parts of the Bible which claim wearing two different textures of clothing to be a sin, along with tattooing, divorce, and eating bottom feeders (e.g., crabs, snails, codfish). These are explicitly forbidden in the Bible, but have become viewed as outdated or impractical over time. That does not invalidate it as a whole, but the shift to modern culture has caused the exclusion of certain beliefs from the minds of everyday members. The process of customization, then, already exists to a certain degree, because many people have individual beliefs that may contradict the institution or the holy scripture.

Keeping What Matters

People may shy away from the idea of this “DIY religion,” not just because they would be customizing their beliefs, but because they would be losing what makes organized religion appealing to begin with: the sense of community. It fosters unity and familiarity, as well as emanating a feeling of moral accomplishment. People create habits around attending the holy building, may it be with their family, friends, or even just familiar faces. Going to the Church, Mosque, Temple, etc. means having a community and contributing to its improvement, being a part of the good. Just as there is no limit to how someone can believe, there is also a wide range of alternatives to this feeling of unity outside of an institution. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), for example, is composed of people from several different religious backgrounds who come together to practice their own individual beliefs. They draw from science, scriptures, philosophy, and a variety of other sources for their teachings. Their goal is to “create spirituality and community beyond boundaries, working for more justice and more love in our own lives and in the world” (Unitarian Universalist Association). A transition away from organized religion can seem daunting with nothing to fall back on, but this is an example of another group people can become a part of, one with much more curiosity and exploration. Another alternative to involvement in the community would be to join a local community service group, taking part in food drives, aiding homeless shelters, and volunteering for charities. This offers the opportunity to impact the world positively without having to sacrifice any personal or political beliefs in order to participate. Being conscious of these other options — that comfort someone morally, socially, and emotionally — can make the prospect of stepping back from organized religion less intimidating and accessible even to those who love having a familiar community.

Explore the Religious Spectrum

“DIY religious culture,” as Burton describes it, is where the religiously unaffiliated “nones” seem to be headed, to a freer form of belief. The institutions that people have traditionally attended have been exposed as having fundamental flaws, causing a shift in how people identify religiously. William Chittick, Professor of Islamic Studies at Stony Brook University, claimed in a personal interview that he considers institutions “counterproductive because they’ve become less personal and more focused on power” (Chittick). The results of it, he claims, are these sexual abuse scandals and the reluctance to adapt scriptures to modern-day standards. Yet, even though this has become more blatant than ever, members of them have been hesitant to leave; they might assume the alternative to be a lack of belief, community, or morality. Understanding the other ways in which they can check off these boxes — through groups like UUA, community service, or even a local religious group among friends — can help expand their prospective options to more than just one institution and one set of beliefs. The customization of religion is ever present in the way people practice today; this “DIY religion” would simply be taking it one step forward, to a more flexible religious environment. By definition, religion and spirituality are philosophical entities — by no means rigid or caging, experienced and viewed differently by every individual. When people become more aware of the options they possess — whether they choose to believe in one religion or several — the spectrum of spirituality is theirs to delve into and explore.


Works Cited

Berry, Jason. Lead Us Not into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children. LevelFiveMedia, 1992.

Chittick, William C. Personal Interview. 21 October 2019.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Divinity School Address.” Harvard Square Library. Andover-Harvard Theological Library, 15 July 1838, Cambridge, Divinity School.

Jones, Jeffrey M. “Many U.S. Catholics Question Their Membership Amid Scandal.” Gallup, 4 Sept. 2019, news.gallup.com/poll/247571/catholics-question-membership-amid-scandal.aspx.

Lipka, Michael. “Religious ‘Nones’ Becoming More Secular.” Pew Research Center, 11 Nov. 2015, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/11/religious-nones-are-not-only-growing-theyre-becoming-more-secular/.

Martel, Frédéric. In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy. Bloomsbury Continuum, 2019.

Rana, Zat. “Why Everybody Needs a Personal Religion.” Medium, 22 Feb. 2018, medium.com/personal-growth/why-everybody-needs-a-personal-religion-304255c9962b.

“Should Facebook Be Fact-Checked?” The Argument from the New York Times, 31 Oct. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/31/opinion/the-argument-facebook-mark-zuckerberg.html

Unitarian Universalist Association, “Our UU Faith.” UUA, 7 Jan. 2019, www.uua.org/beliefs.

“Very Few Americans See Contraception as Morally Wrong.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, 28 Sept. 2016, www.pewforum.org/2016/09/28/4-very-few-americans-see-contraception-as-morally-wrong/.

Wexler, Jay. “6 Things I Wish People Understood about Atheism in America.” Vox, Vox Media, 14 June 2019, http://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/6/7/18652423/atheism-america-facts.