Many times in the Bible it says that God will always be there through every trial, yet that may be hard to remember if you are a Christian who is also one out of every five college students that struggle with a mental disorder.

In the past five years, mental health on college campuses has become an increasingly important issue, and the Center for Collegiate Mental Health reports that there has been a 38% increase in students seeking counseling.

However, there are concerns over whether there is still a negative stigma associated with mental illness, especially on a large Christian campus like Liberty University.

“It has kind of been difficult to create this network on a Christian campus,” said Sabrina Grohowski, who is the Liberty University chapter president for the National Alliance for Mental Health, “From my experience, a lot of people are coming from areas where there was a stigma with mental health and Christianity. Just because you have a mental illness does not mean it is because of sin and you can pray it away. A lot of people come to this campus with this mentality and we want to spread awareness that just because you are dealing with this, it does not mean you’re a bad Christian.”

This stigma is something Liberty’s administration is striving to fight by providing various resources like:

  • Student Counseling Services, which provides free counseling, group sessions and self-help guides
  • NAMI, that focuses on mental health education and support group events
  • Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered group support system based on the Sermon on the Mount
  • Speak Up,  an anti-bullying and assault campaign in partnership with the Title IX office.

Timothy Johnson, a junior at Liberty University, received counseling from Student Counseling Services which helped him deal with stress and anxiety brought on by low-level Asperger’s.

“I would talk about what was going on in my life and the counselor would help me process it in a positive way, and even though Asperger’s is a lifelong disease, but now I have better tools to handle my emotions since I’ve gone to the counseling center,” Johnson said.

However, many students are not able to recognize the difference between going through a bad time and suffering from a mental disorder. Although NAMI is an organization that is fairly new to Liberty’s campus, the events that the chapter hosts are bringing awareness to a religion that sometimes struggles to find a good balance between personal faith and mental health.

“Everything that concerns mental health starts with breaking the stigma and talking about it, we’re trying to move into a new era and I think on-campus resources like NAMI are a great way to accomplish that,” said Grohowski.

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source: NAMI website

Another aspect of Liberty’s campus that is beneficial when it comes to mental health is its status as a dry campus and strict curfew enforced by campus leadership. While many complain that these rules hinder students or does not allow them to develop their own sense of responsibility, these same rules might be helpful to a person suffering from a mental disorder.

“The campus is very safe,” said Johanna Schick, a junior at Liberty. “I know not everyone likes the rules, but those rules help me cope with my mental illness better than if I was on a campus that didn’t have a curfew or an on-campus ban on alcohol.”

Although Liberty does many things right, some students feel as if there are areas that they could improve, especially when it comes to blending counseling with faith.

“I don’t believe that being a Christian means reading your Bible and everything will be better, but I do believe it can give you peace,” said Ashley Clemons, a senior who attended on-campus counseling. “When I went through counseling and generally on this campus, I feel as if people are too hesitant to use the Bible when it comes to talking about mental health, which I find strange. There is definitely a lot of room for improvement.”

The resources provided on campus give help and accountability to students dealing with mental illness, yet the process starts with them taking strategic steps to protect their personal mental health.

However, they do not have to go through their journey alone. There are many things their peers can do for them such as:

  • Watch out for signs and symptoms of mental illness
  • Give support and encourage them with positivity
  • Continue to learn about the specific mental illness they are suffering from

Liberty’s Student Government Association is another group striving to help those that struggle with mental illness. Currently, the Liberty Way, which is an honor code that every Liberty student has to sign, makes self-harm a punishable offense. Yet a resolution being pushed through SGA this year by Johnson is attempting to change that so self-harm victims receive help instead of a fine and mandatory community service.

“The resolution that changes the Liberty Way will aid in helping people with mental health issues instead of blaming them for what they are going through,” said Johnson.

Tackling the issue of on-campus mental health is an almost impossible task for any college. Yet at Liberty, students are encouraged to focus on a unique blend of the mental, physical and spiritual aspects of their lives. While there is always room for improvement and the campus has a long way to go, the fact is that these resources and those who lead them are dedicated to helping and serving students.

Ways that Liberty University students can get connected:

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What a World Without Community News Would Look Like

By Sydney Jones

I believe there are two types of people in this world: those who care about community journalism and those that don’t know they care about community journalism.

Before finishing my time learning all about this topic in a class I took this semester, I definitely belonged to the latter group. However, once I seriously began to contemplate what a world without community journalism would look like, I became increasingly shocked that more Americans are not protecting this mode of news dissemination with every ounce of democratic freedom they possess.

This is how the American media was started, with news concerning communities being distributed by local newspapers according to geographic location.

Yet many reporters do not see the benefits of local reporting, and some even question if hyper-local journalists have the same abilities as traditional reporters.

“I am offended to think that anyone, anywhere believes American institutions as insulated, self-preserving and self-justifying as police departments, school systems, legislatures and chief executives can be held to gathered facts by amateurs pursuing the task without compensation, training or, for that matter, sufficient standing to make public officials even care to whom it is they are lying to,” said David Simon, who is a producer for The Wire.

Although there is much criticism for hyper-local news, a 2012 Pew Research poll showed that 72 percent of American adults still follow local news closely.

People care about their community and what is currently happening. But many take for granted their local community newspaper and do not consider the implications if it did not exist.

Cold Transmission of Information:

If community journalism did not exist, the transmission of information would potentially be reduced to stories made up of hard facts.

Many major national publications or media companies are not concerned with the small-town feature story or hyper-local niche news. This is a large section of news that is covered not only by journalists but by casual observers as well.

A Journalism Practice study by Evelien D’heer and Steve Paulussen found that in a community soft news about the community’s lifestyle and culture is often covered by citizen reporters.

Citizen journalists help connect members of the community with relevant and meaningful stories. Without such an extremely personal form of journalism, news would not be as appealing to audiences. Citizens want to know what is going on in their specific community.

“At their best, community newspapers satisfy a basic human craving that most big dailies can’t touch, no matter how large their budgets – and that is the affirmation of the sense of community, a positive and intimate reflection of the sense of place, a stroke for our us-ness, our extended family-ness and our profound and interlocking connectedness,” said Jock Lauterer in his book Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local.

This relationship is vital to the health of the community and learning more about one’s culture.

“There is a vital, organic and synergistic interaction between various constituencies within the community, as well as between the community and the newspaper,” said Lauterer.

News as Potential Propaganda: 

Another concerning aspect of a world without community journalism is that it completely eradicates the personal aspect of reporting. While major news companies can still cover stories about a specific community, it is not as meaningful as a citizen reporter who is invested in the community covers the story.

Once community journalists and their exercise of free speech is eradicated, there is also potential for news to become government propaganda.

There is evidence for this in North Korea, where all the major news websites are government run and journalists are not able to properly do their job due to extreme vetting.

The Korean Central News Agency is the only source of news broadcasting available to the North Korean people. There is no room for journalistic integrity or citizen journalism due to everything being vetted through a government agency.

However, citizen journalists are able to fill the role of traditional reporters during a conflict or at an event. The Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan is one example.

“News channels were barred, while police foiled distribution of newspapers and seized newspaper bundles,” said Rabia Noor in her article about the challenges posed to citizen journalists. “Hence, Internet was the sole medium available with people. [The journalists] used blogs and social networking sites to disseminate the news.”

While the news companies were seized by the government, citizen journalists were able to effectively inform their audience about current events happening in their community.

Community journalism is vitally important not only is peaceful times but also during conflicts in order to give the most accurate and relevant information.

Local Journalism as the Lifeblood of the Community: 

Citizen journalism not only provides an interesting and unique perspective, it also brings communities together. Reader’s are becoming more aware of their community through hyper-local blogs and they are being educated on the current events that could affect them.

“Nowadays anyone can be a citizen journalist, since Internet and new media technologies offer unlimited opportunities to upload, and share content for public consumption,” said Noor. “Topics that could not make it to traditional media earlier have nowadays unlimited space to be published on citizen journalism sources, especially news portals and blogs.”

If this mode of reporting did not exist, a gaping hole would be left that would be disastrous. If you believe in personal freedom and free speech, it is imperative you fiercely protect this mode of reporting.

Salt & Light: Working as a Christian Journalist

By Sydney Jones

There is an unfortunate stigma that going to school for writing is a waste of time and money. Add Christian to that mix, and you have a recipe for disaster.

I have always loved to tell stories. As a child, I would constantly create my own stories with accompanying illustrations and present them them proudly to my parents as something worth of a Pulitzer or Nobel. As I became older, I wanted a profession that could merge my love of telling stories with my desire to connect with people.

Being a journalist has given me that opportunity, as I am able to blend my talents and my passions together in a career field that is known for being a pioneer of personal freedom.

However, many currently do not view reporters in a positive light. We are stereotyped as being shady, manipulative and biased. Many major news networks are considered untrustworthy by those who do not line up with their ideologies. The same could be said about Christians, with the popular opinion being that all who adhere to the Christian faith are alt-right racists.

Yet as a Christian journalist I believe my faith helps rather than hinders my reporting due to the fact that I am being held to a higher standard of truthfulness and accuracy in my reporting.

Called to Excellence

There are multiple times in the Bible that Christians are called to pursue excellence in all areas of life. This naturally pertains to my career in journalism.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus admonishes his follows to let a Christian’s works reflect God. This is a concept that I am constantly reminded of during my work as a reporter. If I am lazy and produce mediocre content, it reflects poorly on my God.

Therefore, I am extremely motivated to become an accomplished journalist so that I can glorify and exalt the God who created me.

 

Combating Bias

I believe that every member of the media has bias due to the fact that every human adheres to some sort of ideology or worldview.

However, as a member of the media my job is not to try and convince my audience to follow my worldview. My role as a member of the media is to inform and educate my audience of the current events happening in the world so that they can be more well-informed citizens.

I must be aware of my bias, but at the end of the day do not allow them to hinder me from doing my job to the best of my ability.

Positive Influencers

I believe that the media can be a wonderful force for good. Whether it is disseminating important information, revealing corruption or covering historical events, I have a duty to my audience to do my job in a concise and accurate way.

As a Christian journalist, I continually strive to be a positive influence on my audience. I hope that through my reporting, my faith and commitment to excellence will be obvious. If more reporters stay committed to their craft, maybe negative stereotypes might start to change.

Learning New Tricks: Bridging the Gap Between Generations

A person’s interaction with those of different age demographics is vital to understanding different perspectives and developing an open mind, and this is something that Peter Lundrigan discovered through his relationship with his grandparents.

“Every day I came home they asked ‘how was your day, Peter,'” said Lundrigan. “I have never met anyone more compassionate and caring than my grandmother. She believed in me from day one. My grandfather taught me to never argue with an umpire and the phrase ‘if you don’t like it, go play in the street.’ He was the person that taught me what respect and decency is.”

However, Lundrigan’s relationship with his grandparents makes him an anomaly.

“A growing geographical disconnect has occurred between members of many extended families causing the decrease in opportunities for consistent intergenerational learning and support,” states Sally Newman and Alan Hatton-Yeo in their study with the Oxford Institute of Aging.

This lack of communication is becoming the status quo, with people preferring to associate with members of their own age demographic. This issue also has detrimental affects in homes, social settings and the workforce.

“Globalization, gentrification, migration, urban transience, digitization and housing bubbles have all contributed,” said Alex Smith in an article for The Guardian. “The multiplying effect is that many older people have deep roots in their communities but few connections, while many young people have hundreds of connections but no roots in communities.”

Yet the situation isn’t as grim as it seems. All generations have many things to learn when it comes to connecting with others, but the first step to true change is a willingness to learn something new.

The Technological Barrier

There are more ways to communicate than ever before, but that comes with more opportunities for misunderstanding and disconnect.

“Because of technology, we have lost our ability to communicate generationally,” said Mary Donohue at a TED Talk conference. “We no longer see a face or hear a voice or feel the tension in a room. We sit at our screens and we type.”

According to a Pew Research poll, the majority of social media users are under 29. The average user spends up to nine hours a day online, hindering their ability to connect with those in the oldest generation, which has a significantly less obvious presence.

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Denise Thomas, the forensic speech coach for Liberty University, believes that this social media trend leads away from traditional communication.

“The biggest change is the availability to the internet and social media,” said Thomas. “There’s less face to face communication. I think social media facilitates the move away from the traditional family.”

Social media is not the main problem in this situation. Deborah Johnson, a retired small business owner, believes that while social media is beneficial, intergenerational communication is the glue of a society.

“The younger generation has more monetarily than the older generation had and more intellectually because there are more mediums out there to learn from,” said Johnson. “But you can only learn so much from a video game, a magazine or social media, you can’t learn compassion and love and all of the other qualities that will keep our world together.”

 True Diversity

Today’s younger generation embraces diversity in their social spheres, yet rarely recognize generational diversity as something that should be sought after.

This is made even more obvious in working environments that have different requirements than normal social interactions.

“A lack of understanding across generations can have detrimental effects on communication and working relationships and undermine effective services,” says Constance Patterson in an article for APA.

Different generations are also more likely to be on opposite sides of the political spectrum, with the younger generation leaning more to the left.

Pew Research Infographic

People of all ages must learn to accept each other’s differences and be able to disagree in a appropriate way. Learning to respect different perspectives is key to creating good relationships between generations.

“We want to experience things for ourselves and learn things the hard way,” said Thomas. “Even if I could download my experiences into a younger person’s brain, they don’t have the same perspective to understand things the way I do.”

Complexity and diversity are not issues, and every generation should strive to learn new tricks when attempting to communicate with others.

Influence and Be Influenced

This issue is one that has been caused by all generations, not just one group of people.

Therefore, truly committing to connect with and influence a variety of different ages is important to bridging the gap. Pastor Esteban Monduy believes that influencing each other will bring about positive change in society.

“The best way to change and improve not as a generation but mankind as a whole is for each and every single one of us to focus and work on our own lives,” Monduy said. “And influence those around us towards a positive change. That way if everyone has that attitude you will reach all generations across the board from youngest to oldest like myself.”

Just as Lundrigan learned and allowed himself to be influenced positively by his grandparents, he believes that we should all value those relationships more.

There is much to learn from the differing perspectives of generations and appreciating those differences will help society work together.

“We’re going to have to learn from each other,” said Johnson. “The world is full of too much hate, but if each one of us could influence someone to do things a little differently than they are done right now, I believe there could be a change.”

Food Truck Thursdays at Miller Park

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Nomad Coffee Co. is a traveling coffee company whose business model helps promote positive change in the Lynchburg community.

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Looking for organic and locally sourced food? Uprooted is the food truck for you, featuring food from local farms.

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Checking out the menu

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Kyra Thompson enjoying a beautiful fall day and good eats.

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Serving the Lynchburg community

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Locally sourced kombucha from Uprooted

Trust In Me: An Analysis of Journalistic Integrity

By Sydney Jones

When asked about the difference between a journalist and a fiction writer, my 9-year-old sister replied, “Nothing, they both lie to people for a living.”

Sorry, I wasn’t telling the whole truth. I never asked my sister that. Yet I’m fairly sure she would say something similar if asked, so I’m just going to include it anyway.

Journalists today are facing a major public trust crisis so severe that it threatens our livelihood, careers and reputations. Yet we created this crisis.

There is a disconnect between the way journalists’ view ourselves and reality.  In the study Verification as a Strategic Ritual, researchers found that many journalists hold themselves to an extremely high personal standard.

“The single most frequently and clearly stated value expressed in journalists’ self-identification is a drive for accuracy,” the study stated.

Since the beginning of news-dissemination, it has been a journalist’s duty to provide concise and truthful facts to the public. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics has an entire section dedicated to truthful reporting.

“Journalists should take responsibility for the accuracy of their work,” states the Code of Ethics.

The Problem

I would argue that many journalists, myself included, have dismissed the direct correlation between accuracy and public trust. A reader must be convinced that the journalist can be trusted, but in recent years the media’s truthful reputation has been ruined by lazy reporting and a willingness to twist the truth in order to persuade audiences.

There are far too many examples, but one that stood out to me when it was presented in my community journalism class is Stephen Glass, a former reporter for The New Republic. Glass was found by Forbes journalist Adam Penenberg to have fabricated sources, quotes and people for multiple stories over the course of three years.

“The truth is, bad journalism can be found anywhere,” said Penenburg. “It is not the medium; it is the writer.”

In this specific case, one journalist held another accountable. However, this presents a unique problem, due to the fact that readers are increasingly distrusting of all media, regardless of whether or not it has been proven distrustful.

The statistics are grim, with a 2016 Gallup research poll finding that members of the public who believe that news organizations report consistently accurate news fell to 32 percent.

In the case of Stephen Glass, he not only destroyed his reputation, but also the magazine’s. And he deceived hundreds of readers in the process.

“Think of your reader as a good neighbor or a best friend, someone you would never knowingly deceive,” said Jock Lauterer in his book on community journalism.

I believe this deception is ultimately brought on by three things:

  • Laziness, the vehicle through which dishonest or untrustworthy media is produced
  • Arrogance, which prevents the journalist from admitting and taking  responsibility for their mistakes
  • Lack of Appreciation for Audience, whom a journalist’s entire career is fixated on serving.

Once a journalist allows these three things to permeate their work, it is only a matter of time before irreversible mistakes are made.

“Journalism is just the art of capturing behavior,” claims Glass’s character in “Shattered Glass”, a movie about his exposure. “You have to know who you’re writing for. And you have to know what you’re good at.”

I believe that is a dangerous misrepresentation of what truly makes journalism unique. It is not solely an art form or mode of communication. Genuinely great reporting separates itself from the mediocre by informing, motivating and inspiring people to take action in their community.

Anyone can sit at a computer and write well for a specific audience. Yet it takes real talent, real integrity, to tell the stories that people may not want to read.

“There’s going to come a time when you have the story—and your town won’t want you to publish it,” said McClure. “They’ll say it would be bad for business. And your publisher might not want you to write it. He might even threaten to fire you. But you know you’ve got to write it. Besides, you’re no good in community journalism unless you’ve been fired for taking an unpopular stand at least once.

These are the stories that preserve our free speech and democracies, yet these are the stories journalists are unable to tell because of our untrustworthy reputation.

The Solution

So here’s where we stand: journalists still view themselves as possessing high integrity, yet statistics, multiple scandals and public opinion says otherwise.

And the solution, as I see it, starts just as the problem did, with each of us in the journalism community.

We must be vigilant in order to ensure our stories are consistently factual. Gone are the days in which we rely on editors to follow behind and clean up our messes.

Because of the trend towards community journalism and self-publishing on blogs, we have become the sole fact-checkers of our work before the piece is published.

“If you care passionately about what you are doing, any inaccuracies, any mistakes, any mischaracterization of the degree of importance or significance of things, greatly undermines what you are trying to accomplish,” state researchers in the Verification as a Strategic Ritual study.

Actually holding ourselves to the standard that we claim to believe in is the only way to gain back public trust. While it may be a long and difficult road, I believe it is one that must be taken in order to protect our God-given rights and liberties; I think that my sister would agree with that as well.

Why a Journalist’s Relationship With Their Community Matters

By Sydney Jones

A community is built up of many intricate parts that ultimately create a space in which people interact with each other. Yet this space would not be possible without the help of local journalists to form an important network that informs, connects and bonds members of a community.

People in communities everywhere are talking about things that interest or matter to them, and it is part of a journalist’s job to listen and spread the story to a larger audience.

If a journalist is proactive at seeking out these stories instead of waiting for sources to reach out, this shows a desire to not only report on a community, but to form a relationship with it. While being a member of the media does not currently have the best connotation attached to it, local journalists can change perspectives by forming a bond with the members of their community.

One way to do this is to be collaborative. Sourcing stories from local news groups and working towards the common goal of bringing the community closer together helps bridge the gap between traditional and non-traditional media. Combining these two together also fosters good relationships with the trendsetters and newsmakers of a specific community.

A journalist writes what the audience wants to consume, which means that they are constantly searching for interesting and engaging prompts. Yet it is very difficult to find these stories if the reporter does not have connections in their community that are willing to share stories with them.

Therefore, people in a community talk and share news-worthy stories, which then prompt journalists to listen and spread them, and then finally those who read the journalist’s work are prompted to share stories of their own. This is the cycle of community journalism today, and the constant conversation leads to endless possibilities for reporters!

Today’s fast-paced, social-media-driven world is the best time to be a journalist in the local sphere. Never before has it been so effortless to connect with your community and find fascinating stories while also engaging in important conversations with members of the community you never had access to before.

Ways journalists can get involved:

  1. Following niche blogs on various social media platforms and strive to get connected with various events that they host.
  2. Go to a local place where there is a saturation of culture and talk to local shop and restaurant owners.
  3. Build on your current network of sources and try to be relational instead of only focusing on your job. View sources as friends instead of a potential product.