At around 11 A.M., dozens of workers stand knee-deep in the fields surrounding USF’s MLK Plaza, shoveling their way through a lengthy project. Today these workers begin their second week of sweating and dirt-tossing, with the goal of creating an extensive tunnel to provide a route for electrical wiring. This project, which is scheduled to reach completion in a few months, will result in 105 scattered light posts protruding from the fields, creating a more attractive and well-lit campus.
The densely packed streets surrounding the University of South Florida community are visited daily by thousands of car, bus and motorcycle drivers, constantly wary, on-guard and prepared to slam on their brakes.
The reason for this vigilant behavior can be attributed to the fear of a pricey punishment, a penalty of $158. Vehicle operators pose the risk of receiving this penalty when running red lights at an intersection where a camera is present.
“If you don’t pay it within the 30 days, the price of the ticket jumps up a good amount,” said Frank Harned, a corporal at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
After this 30-day mark, the fine increases substantially to $253.
Red light cameras (RLC) have legally been used in Florida since July of 2010, when a state law went into effect allowing the new traffic enforcements. These cameras are now present at more than twenty known Tampa intersections. In the city of Temple Terrace, the monthly red light camera report indicates 668 violations issued in March 2012.
The USF area seems to be a hot spot for these cameras. RLC locations near the campus include the intersection of Fletcher Avenue and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, the intersection of Fowler Avenue and 56th Street and the intersection of I-275 and Fletcher Avenue.
Serena Yeager, a USF sophomore, said she has friends who have received these tickets and often warn her about them.
“I think they could potentially make the road more dangerous,” she said. “Drivers might be paying more attention to avoiding the ticket than what’s going on around them.”
In 2008, USF’s College of Public Health concluded in a controversial study that these cameras are a hazard, contradicting the belief that they make the roads safer. The study was published in the Florida Public Health Review. USF researchers claimed that the previous information gathered in favor of the cameras used flawed methods.
“I definitely think there are pros and cons,” said Ryan Ortega, a public health graduate student. “It motivates people to be more mindful of laws, but it could also put people at a greater risk.”
Many citizens try to appeal these tickets because they see them as unconstitutional and unfair.
“It’s better than being pulled over by an actual police officer,” Harned said. “The ticket is cheaper.”
The Corporal Harned said that although many people try to fight tickets issued from red light cameras, the attempt is almost always futile.
Jared Jenkins, a volunteer for Friends of Internationals at the University of South Florida, grins and reminisces while sitting at his dining room table.
He has accumulated countless stories from his experiences with international students, some that leave him laughing hysterically and others that make his stomach sink.
Friends of Internationals is an organization dedicated to helping international students create social networks and enjoy their stay in America. However, the ride isn’t solely filled with laughs and adventure. Severe depression and homesickness are rampant among these students.
Jonathan Rottenberg, associate professor of psychology at USF, believes that homesickness is an understudied phenomenon.
“They get seriously depressed and don’t get help, in part because they are away from home and don’t know what mental health resources are available to them,” Rottenberg said.
Jenkins prays for his loved ones at every given opportunity. The tone of his voice combined with the long pauses and sighs suggests he wishes he had the power to change the distress.
“This last semester is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” he said, adding that he has had students who are very close to him go through depression.
Rottenberg believes social integration is essential for international students because it is an important part of remaining resistant to serious depression.
Fortunately, Friends of Internationals provides students with many opportunities to socialize and develop relationships in their new setting.
Jenkins and his wife Cindy became active in Friends of Internationals about five years ago, and since then have hosted numerous events for these students including cookouts, birthday parties and boat rides.
“They treat me like family,” said Jake Qingteng Zhang, a student from China.
The organization also offers students a program that sets them up with American families for holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. The “Friendship Partner Program” sometimes helps hundreds of students a semester.
“We give the students an opportunity to have a cross-cultural experience,” said Joseph Pardo, Director of Friends of Internationals. “This way they can build friendships and even a family.”
Jenkins and his wife connect with international students during holidays, as well. Although the couple usually invites students to their home to celebrate Easter, this year they offered students the option to attend their church.
Alex Kessler stopped using LSD approximately three years ago.
Due to the effects of the drug, Kessler developed a morphed perception of colors and patterns.Two years ago, it finally went away.
He has no regrets. In fact, he claims he would not be where he is today without the substance.
“I took it every three days. Your brain builds up a fast tolerance,” he said. “You don’t have many effects if you take it every one or two days.”
Despite the year-long history of severe drug abuse, Kessler said he breezes through his physics classes and maintains a 3.3 GPA.
Kessler is an atheist living in a house of faith. He often speaks without a filter because he does not understand social norms. He has problems with relationships, mostly because he cannot access his emotions, he said.
But he wasn’t always like this.
When Kessler was 16, he used LSD for the first time. From the very first use, it was clear his life would never be the same. He experienced “ego-loss.” He said brain damage is a possibility.
“LSD gave me the ability to make judgments without my parents’ influence or things I wanted to force myself to believe,” he said. “I dropped my religion and stood up to my parents when they tried to force it on me.”
He would take five to seven hits with every use. It didn’t matter where. He would use it at the park, at the beach and even at home around his parents. LSD wasn’t enough by itself, either. He also incorporated other substances such as marijuana and alcohol. He used anything to enhance the effect of the drug.
Kessler’s family life went downhill, and friends were lost along the way. Some friends weren’t into the drug use. Some friends were too into it. One of his friends was baker-acted after taking 40 hits of LSD over a span of two days.
He no longer associates much with drug-users. Not because he’s offended. Not because he’s against it. He’s bored with it.
Instead of dwelling on the negative situations, or over-analyzing the past, Kessler said he’s content. Whether this is just his personality or a result of drug-induced apathy, he isn’t sure.