The week before finals can be a hectic time for students. For pre-med students Muhammad Rehan, Kashif Ali, Ibrahim Rahman and Karim Hussein, a little retail shopping at the University of South Florida’s bookstore is just the break they needed before heading back into the books.
“I should be writing an essay, but you know…” said Rahman. “Doesn’t this look like the most comfortable thing ever?”
I would have never thought that the smiling, happy-go-lucky lady running around the fourth floor of Cooper Hall was a staff member.
Sporting a bright yellow USF shirt and jeans, Sue Viens, is more like everyone’s mom. She visits office after office making sure everyone is on track to have a good day.
“Did you eat breakfast? Would you like a cup of coffee?”
Viens is the office manager at the University of South Florida’s Department of Religious Studies. It is her responsibility to make sure that everyday office operation and procedures are in place, ensuring organizational success and efficiency.
“I keep the department running,” said Viens, “making sure that we have enough pencils.”
Student assistant Jesare Morano doesn’t argue with Viens on that one.
“Well, I’ve never had a shortage of pens at my desk,” chuckled Morano. But he says Viens does much more for the department than just stocking supplies around the office.
Viens career started at USF 23 years ago as the secretary of Parking and Transportation Services.
“It’s a terrible place to start off in at a university because everyone is mad about parking,” said Viens.
Since her early days at PTS, Viens has built up quite the résumé at USF. She has worked within the Department of Communications, Office of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Geography (ESPG) and Human Resources.
Working in the HR department at USF, Viens always knew what positions were opening up and when. She was good at her job but was ready for a change. Many opportunities came and went but Viens never applied. It wasn’t until the religious studies department needed an office manager that Viens knew that was the change she was looking for.
“Religious studies was interesting to me,” said Viens, “and we have a fantastic faculty.”
Within the first week of Viens being the department’s office manager, she got a phone call from a very disturbed woman. Being new to the department, Viens handled it as best as she could.
The perturbed lady worked at a Catholic bookstore and was furious when a student came in looking for the King James Version of the Bible for his The Bible as Literature class.
Viens recalls the lady screaming, “That’s not the true Bible!”
She told Viens that if USF instructors were going to teach this course, they needed to have the Catholic Bible because that was the only true Bible.
Viens calmly and politely informed this bookstore worker that instructors are free to teach out of whatever text they chose.Not happy with that response, the irate store clerk worked herself up into a frenzy and threatened Viens.
“She told me she was going to report me to the Cardinal,” said Viens. “When I hung up with her I said, ‘well, I guess the Cardinal is not going to be happy with me.’”
A couple days later, one of Viens co-workers informed her that The Bible as Literature is an English course, not a religious studies one.
Organizing payroll, scheduling meetings, answering the phone, assisting staff, training new employees, and filing papers is just a short list of the many tasks Viens performs on a daily basis. What she really would like to do is attend some of the classes that the students she assists go to.
“I would love…love to be able to spend a couple days a week going to a couple classes,” said Viens.
But Heidi Paintner, the academic program specialist for the department, wants Viens to stay just where she is.
“She has a lot of responsibility and does a very good job,” said Paintner.
According to Paintner, Viens is one of those people that go above and beyond. When the religious studies department was moving from the third floor of Cooper Hall up to the fourth floor, Viens took on the extra responsibility to ensure that the faculty and staff had all the help they needed.
“She came in on the weekends to try to make sure everything got done,” said Paintner.
Viens cares deeply about not only her job but also all the people that walk into her office. It’s clear that the experience is very personal for each person she comes across.
“She’s always very friendly,” said Morano. “ She really does care about how you are doing.”
The latest polling shows a continued decline in how influential organized religion is viewed in America.
According to a Gallup Poll published in December 2010, “Seven in 10 Americans say religion is losing its influence on American life.” That is up 56 percent from when Gallup first asked in 1957.
Dell De Chant, an instructor and associate chairman of religious studies at the University of South Florida, is familiar with the trend.
“It’s nothing new,” said De Chant. “New institutions have replaced religion.”
In the 20th century, religion gave people an identity, an understanding of the nature of the world and of themselves.
But an associate professor of sociology specializing in religion, James Cavendish, says the decline of religion is not a clear-cut case.
“Some trends would suggest that religion is losing an influence, but you can’t just make a blanket statement that secularization is occurring,” said Cavendish.
Secularization refers to the belief that as society modernizes, religion will decline.
Cavendish wouldn’t say there is a decline in religion, but he doesn’t deny the fact that there is evidence showing a slow, long-term, downward trend in certain aspects of religious behavior. One example; fewer people today attend religious services on a weekly basis than in years past.
According to the same Gallup Poll, church and synagogue membership has declined over the years. In 1957, more than 70 percent surveyed answered yes when asked, “Do you happen to be a member of a church or synagogue?” Now, fewer than 61 percent answered yes to that same question.
Although weekly church attendance rates have gone down, according to Mark Chaves, professor of sociology, religion, and divinity at Duke Divinity School, the percentage of those who have never attended a religious service has increased by 9 percent since 1990.
Ben Moser, the president of USF’s Atheist Student Alliance said this trend is a good thing.
“Religion, as an institution, if you look at history, has done some very horrible things,” said Moser. “It’s a form of mass control, an invention of the mind.”
Moser didn’t grow up in a religious household, but as a child he attended church with his school friends. He has dabbled in many different religions over the years, from Catholicism to Judaism. Moser doesn’t consider himself religious or spiritual, but rather an intellect.
“Look at established religion,” said Moser. “They want you to believe that people die and can rise from the dead and that certain people can walk on water or heal the sick and do a whole list of miracles, but I don’t see any evidence of that,” said Moser.
In Moser’s opinion, the decline of religion is simply because America has become more educated.
“In general, the more educated a person is, the less likely they are to hold strong religious beliefs,” said Moser.
When former USF student, George Martinez, read about a 12-year-old Nebraska middle school girl being told by her principal she violated the school’s dress code because of her rosary beads, Martinez just shook his head.
For Martinez, rosary beads have a special place.
“My rosary beads protect me from the evils I face in my life,” said Martinez.
Martinez’s rosary beads are a permanent accessory to his faith. He’ll never have to look for them or worry about them being broken; they are tattooed around his neck. Martinez didn’t do this as a fashion statement or to be cool, but rather as a safeguard.
He said that the school has gone too far this time.
“She’s a sixth grade girl! No 12-year-old should have to go through that. It’s a religious belief. You should be able to wear a rosary. It’s not a gang symbol whatsoever,” said Martinez.
But the Fremont, Neb., public schools system says otherwise. It justified the ban by saying local authorities have notified the schools of certain gangs in the area that were using the rosary as a symbol of their affiliation.
Dr. Carlos Lopez, assistant professor in the USF Department of Religious Studies, shares Martinez’s thoughts.
“These people are stupid,” said Lopez, referring to the Nebraska case. “A rosary is a religious symbol.”
Lopez expressed concerns about where one would draw the line between freedom of speech and religion and gang affiliation.
“If you banned one symbol, then what are you going to do, ban the next symbol?” said Lopez. “Because they’re going to find something else. It doesn’t address the problem.”
Lopez said he doesn’t understand how such a ban would hold up in court. Jon-Paul Vertuccio, a USF Catholic Student Union member, couldn’t agree more.
“She wasn’t harming anybody,” said Vertuccio. “She wasn’t imposing her thoughts on anybody, and her constitutional rights were violated. Clearly.”
Vertuccio feels that the school and the principal should have come up with some solid evidence first tying the sixth grader to a gang connection before telling her to take off her rosary.
Joshua Bertrand, a senior at USF and president of the Catholic Student Union, understands the difficulties facing the Nebraska principal and agrees that it is a tough issue to tackle.
“It is a hard situation because, as a principal, you have the responsibility to protect your students and to create an atmosphere that’s conducive to learning for all students,” said Bertrand.
Bertrand sees this as a religious state of affairs.
“If it’s not something that is distracting someone or causing harm, I don’t think there should be a reason for the young girl to take off her rosary,” said Bertrand.
Dressed in fishnets, thigh-highs, bras, stilettos and panties, protesters rallied on Sept. 17 for Slutwalk Tampa, a demonstration against the stereotyping of sexual assault victims as being responsible for their attacks.
The international series of protests that is Slutwalk grew out of a comment made in January by Toronto police Constable Michael Sanguinetti, who told students at Osgoode Hall Law School that in order to prevent being sexually assaulted, women should “avoid dressing like sluts.”
When Charli Solis, event organizer of Slutwalk Tampa, was taken aback by the comment and knew something had to be done.
“I’m here to make a movement, to get people talking because that’s what going to bring about a change,” Solis said.
She and more than 500 others gathered at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square and marched the streets of downtown Tampa to raise awareness and combat the notion that women are the ones to blame for sexual violence. It’s because “WE’VE HAD ENOUGH!” the official Slutwalk Tampa’s Facebook page states.
Two male protestors, who declined to give their real names, but identified themselves as Sister “Agitha Frisky” and Sister “Monica Muffdiver” of The Tampa Bay Order of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, said they wanted to help spread the word.
“We firmly believe in self-expression and that goes all the way down to what you wear. It doesn’t dictate who you are or how you should be treated or respected. NO MEANS NO,” said Sister “Frisky.”
According to dictionary.com the word slut means one of two things. 1 a dirty, slovenly woman. 2 an immoral or dissolute woman; prostitute.
To FSU sophomore Teagan Alexander, a rape survivor who took part in the Tampa event, slut does not mean that she dressed up and looked sexy because she “wanted some pig who is obviously too creepy or too unattractive to get any ass on his own to rape me.”
Alexander told the crowd that she joined the movement after a night gone horribly wrong her first week of college. She was drugged and has no recollection of how her virginity was taken.
As a society we need to take a stand, said Solis, a University of Tampa student and female activist. She attends protest/rallies around the Tampa Bay area regularly and said the people who came out in support of Slutwalk Tampa are not the same people you see normally at these kinds of events.
“This is the first time really that there’s been an uprising of people that came out and said we are really pissed,” Solis said.
Aspen Wright, a sophomore at USF studying biomedical science said, she heard about the event on Facebook. She is not a victim herself nor does she know anyone who is, but she supports the cause.
“I think what the event stands for is great and it’s important to get the word out there,” said Wright.
Shelby Cohen, a junior who studies Chinese at the University of South Florida, was one of the many student volunteers who attended USF’s Second Annual Chinese Culture Festival.
“It’s a great event for students to come out and explore what the Chinese culture is all about and what USF has to offer for it’s students,” Cohen said.
The event, hosted by the Confucius Institute, was held Tuesday, April 12, in the Marshall Center Ballroom from noon to 5 p.m. The many facets of Chinese culture were showcased throughout 16 exhibits, which included instruments, dances, pop culture, myths, folktales, and, of course, free food.
“This is my sixth year at USF, and I still attend events just for the free food,” Jordan Fluck, a graduate engineering student said. ”Can’t go wrong with egg rolls and fried rice, right?”
Whether it was food or an interest in Chinese culture that drew guests, the Second Annual Chinese Culture Festival had something for everyone to enjoy.
Scheduled performances started at 1:30 p.m. and lasted for three hours. Among the performers was Jiaghua Zou, a returning musician who plays the pipa. The pipa is one of the most popular Chinese musical instruments; it looks like a pear and has four strings.
Assistant Professor of Chinese Dr. Eric Shepherd proudly welcomed Zou to the stage, saying she was, by far, the best act last year.
“You all better sit down,” Shepherd said, ”You won’t want to miss this.”
How would you like to spend a week exploring the urban culture of India’s capital city New Delhi, followed by a week taking in the sun on the beautiful southern beaches of Kerala? USF World hosted an information session on March 30 in Cooper Hall explaining how students can do just that, and earn course credit, to boot.
Religious studies professor Dr. Carlos Lopez and geography professor Dr. Pratyusha Basu will accompany studies on a two-week Indian adventure from Dec. 26 to Jan. 7. The program, “Urban-Rural Contrast in India,” will give students first-hand experience with the diversity of the nation, comparing the cultures, religions, languages and ways of life of the northern and southern regions. Religious and environmental studies will begin in New Delhi in the north and end in the southern districts of Kerala. Participants will also examine the complexities of contemporary globalization.
Not only will students enjoy the privilege of ringing in the new year in India, they will also experience a unique culture and receive an education, amounting to three USF credits.
Dr. Lopez and Dr. Basu are available for interested students, and more info can be found at USF World’s Web site.
An information session will be held on April 20 in Cooper Hall.