(Aiyah Sibay/Bloc Reporter)

Zein El-Amine

Lecturer and advisor in the UMD Arabic Department; poetry instructor at the Writers’ House; hosts weekly program on Middle Eastern culture on WPFW 89.3 FM called “Shay wa Naa Naa” (tea and mint) on Wednesdays, 2 to 3 p.m.

Zein El-Amine was born in Lebanon and came to the United States in the late ‘80s. He pursued a successful career in civil engineering, until the urge to write bid him to return to college and pursue a passion he thought he had subdued. Since then, his works have been published in GYST, Penumbra, DC Poets Against the War anthology, Joy Bringer and more. El-Amine is also the first prize winner of the Tallahassee Writer’s Association Annual Poetry and Haiku Contest.

“The first paid gig that I ever did was here at the university at Terpoets. Terpoets has invited me to do my first solo show.”

Does the political setting of the Middle East influence your work?

“I am a strong believer in protest, but protest does not belong in poetry. I call one protest poetry and one political poetry. The protest poetry is more preachy and is more fashionable, unfortunately, on open mic. I feel that protest poetry is a turnoff, in a sense that even when it is successful and draws applause, it’s sensational but not long-lasting, like a sugar high. The political poetry is something that haunts you, that stays with you and is usually not overtly political.”

“But having said all of that, as an Arab, merely humanizing myself and my community is the ultimate political act. Saying that I love in the same way you love. I am the same in the nuances of love and hatred and whatever feelings. Sadly, that is a political act. The current that is pulling away at people is the media here which is dehumanizing us and devaluing us. So I merely have to write truly and honestly about the human condition, and that is a political act as an Arab. So I’m not interested in writing about politics, I am interested in writing about the human condition.”

Photo courtesy of J.T. Stanley.
(Photo courtesy of James Levin)

J.T. Stanley

Junior sociology major, with a pending individual studies proposal

J.T. Stanley will be serving on the University Senate during next year’s term. Stanley has also served as deputy director of the Student Sustainability Committee in the Student Government Association. In his freshman year, he was a representative of the freshman class in the Student Government Association. During that same year, he served on the University Student Judiciary. Stanley went from being a resident board member on the University Student Judiciary to being a community advocate under Office of Student Conduct and Office of Rights and Responsibilities, which he compares to the role of a “prosecutor.”

“I handled things from sexual violence cases, one in which I was actually representing two survivors against a perpetrator who brought his own lawyer, and the case went on for 14 hours over two days and set the record for the longest case.”

“That’s what makes it worth it at the end of the day, is having the impact and knowing it had a tangible difference. That hopefully this will have gotten some of the resources they need to deal with some of the pain they are dealing with as a survivor of sexual violence and to develop people into the mindset of what consent is.”

(Aiyah Sibay/Bloc Reporter)
(Aiyah Sibay/Bloc Reporter)

James Levin

Senior multiplatform journalism

James Levin is a contributing photographer to “Humans of College Park,” a Facebook page dedicated to sharing human interest stories fashioned after  the original “Humans of New York,” founded by Brandon Stanton. Levin is also a photo editor for the Diamondback and a photographer for Capital News Service (a wire service for Maryland).

“I don’t necessarily think of myself as a distinguished photographer at all really. Like a lot of people in photography, we do it because we really enjoy it, because we love making that connection with the person.”

On what he looks for in his photos: “I think the most important thing is to make sure you connect with your subjects. You won’t produce as good of an image if your subject isn’t comfortable, if they’re not natural. Photography is more than just showing up and taking the picture. Your viewer is not going to have a connection with the image if you don’t have a connection with the image. It’s really important for photographers to make the subject feel comfortable.”

“You really gotta talk to the person. If you’re shooting people, you gotta find out as much as you can and that’s what’s going to translate into a better image.”

(Aiyah Sibay/Bloc Reporter)
(Aiyah Sibay/Bloc Reporter)

Ori Gutin

Junior environmental science and policy

Ori Gutin was a finalist for the Omicron Delta Kappa Sophomore Leader of the Year award. Gutin is currently a teacher’s assistant for the Environmental Science and Policy Department and has served as Director of Sustainability for the Student Government Association in the past two years.

“We can have a much stronger relationship with the environment where humans are integrated into it rather than butting heads with it.”

What significance does the environment hold amidst the other prevailing issues of this day?

“Comparatively to other issues, whether its sexual violence or any type of violence or discrimination, those are things impacting someone right now. If someone said something derogatory to them, it’s impacting them right at that moment. In environmental sustainability, the impacts of inaction are longer term and broader globally. I think what directs me most directly towards it, and it’s cliche, but literally every single person on the planet, despite race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity shares the same planet, shares the same resources, and acting environmentally consciously and acting in a responsible manner towards the environment, in my opinion, is something you could do that impacts everyone equally. It’s not like you’re doing it to support one specific community or another. And that’s not to say that we shouldn’t be doing things be doing things to support different communities, but it’s such a human issue. It’s not one class of society, not one type of person.”

“The step for me in organizing and doing this work on a college campus is not about getting people to care, it’s about getting those who care to take action, and I think that is such a critical step because there are people who are going to care and there are people who are not, and you can spend all your time trying to convince those people who don’t care to care. You can come up with economic impact, you can come up with social impacts, personal things that impact their lives directly and try to convince them. So it’s about getting those people who do care and who are passionate about it to turn that into action.”

(Aiyah Sibay/Bloc Reporter)
(Aiyah Sibay/Bloc Reporter)

Mandla “Kosi” Dunn

Sophomore, pending proposal for an individualized studies major in transmedia storytelling

Mandla Dunn, otherwise known as “Kosi,” is the founder of UMD Slam Team. Kosi was a former member of the DC Youth Slam Team and, in 2011 and 2012, he competed with in national competitions. In 2013, he served as a youth coach for the team, and the year following that, he was an alumni representative of DC at various national competitions. Kosi also works at the MICA office as the bi-racial and multi-racial community organizing student intern.

“I actually started as a writer, which is funny. I started writing really cheesy love poems on Facebook my freshman year of high school, and I would tag all these girls I had crushes on. So ya I would post these really crappy love poems, tag every girl in high school I thought was cute. None of them responded, they were like, ‘Aw, that’s so cute.’ I remember one of my friends, a year younger than me, who is a rapper and he would perform at these open mics, so he saw one of the poems and he was like, ‘Yo, aside from it being cliche and kind of tappy, I think you should come spit at this open mic.’ So I came in and I performed there, and ever since I’ve kept going back to that youth open mic at Busboys and Poets.”

On how spoken poetry and written poetry differ: “It’s difficult to effectively say a spoken word piece, you have only so much time to say before someone’s attention span tapers off, and they don’t have the luxury of going back if they don’t understand it. If you don’t understand a page poem, you read it again. You don’t understand it then, you read it again. You look it up, you figure out how to understand the poem. For spoken word pieces, I have one shot. I have to make it relatable, it has to be something authentic. You have to be able to get across what this poem is supposed to do to you, what it’s supposed to mean to you immediately. In that case, I think spoken word poetry, in comparison to traditional page poetry, we’re more focused on performance value. We don’t care about how the poem reads, we care about how the poem sounds, what the poem makes you feel. And I think that each one has its benefits and advantages.”

(Photo courtesy of Pedro Moreno. Taken at the US embassy in Bogotá)
(Photo courtesy of Pedro Moreno. Taken at the US Embassy in Bogotá)

Ulysses Muñoz

Senior multiplatform journalism major

Ulysses Muñoz served as editor-in-chief for the PublicAsian from 2013-2015. Currently, Muñoz does freelancing for the Baltimore Sun media group and works as a photojournalist for the ViewFinder Advanced Video Storytelling Capstone.

Do you believe that journalism is more effective than storytelling in addressing societal issues?  

“It’s hard for me to separate journalism and storytelling. Human interest stories are popular for a reason. People care about people. You could hear about tragedies, but without a face and a name, people won’t care about it.”

“I’ve always liked to fix things. For me, the excitement of putting together the puzzle pieces of a story and learning about other people’s lives was what drew me into journalism.”

“My life is run on a deadline. I’ve always been good under stress. Always living under pressure in journalism can be tough, but that’s when I perform best.”

(Aiyah Sibay/Bloc Reporter)
(Aiyah Sibay/Bloc Reporter)

Gavri Schreiber

Sophomore philosophy major with a Chinese minor

Gavri Schreiber is the president of the Maryland Parliamentary Debate Society, a team that competes in the American Parliamentary Debate Association with other universities from the East Coast. Schreiber also works at the Help Center and is currently working on establishing a new social fraternity, Delta Upsilon, a “non-secret fraternity to combat these secret societies” on campus. Schreiber is also one of two U.S. Presidential Scholars selected from each state, as well as a Banneker-Key Scholar.

“The style of the debate we do is very open-ended and very much lends itself to an exploration of any type of topic. Topics range from economics to feminism to philosophy to constitutional law, etcetera. So it’s really a place where you can explore all different policies and philosophies and moral justifications, constitutional justifications, which I really like. The activity is not research based either. You’re most successful in the activity when you’re thinking hard about complex topics and talking about them with other people. It’s all about oration and logical argumentation.”

“Next year during, recruitment season, we are going to diversify a bit more. We’re hoping to reach out to more women and minority groups just because we see a lack of that on the team.”

Do the skills you acquire in debate assist you with your job at the Help Center?

“Ya, I think so. What’s really important in debate is reframing issues within a debate round in certain way that paints your side in a positive way.”

“I think that framing things in a way that gets you to certain conclusions helps me a lot at the Help Center. When talking to people, framing their problems in such a way so that it’s much more easy to see the positive side I think is something that is definitely helpful.”

(Photo courtesy of Carl Sessions Step)
(Photo courtesy of Carl Sessions Step)

Carl Sessions Stepp

For 12 years, Carl Sessions Stepp had served as a reporter and editor for the St. Petersburg Times, Charlotte Observer and USA Today. He has published two books, ‘Writing as Craft and Magic’ and ‘Editing for Today’s Newsroom.’ Currently, he serves as a full-time professor at this university.

What is one of your most memorable experiences from your years as a journalist?

“When I was in college, I interviewed the President, Richard Nixon. That was pretty memorable.”

“I was an editor at the very beginning of USA Today, which was created in 1982. I was the original national editor of USA Today, and that was an interesting experience, helping start a big news organization.”

Have the changes in journalism been easy to adjust to or has it come fairly easy to you?

“I think [the changes have been] hard because it’s such a fundamental change. For most of the years that I was an active professional journalist, news organizations made two or three times [more] in profit [than] the typical business did. They were very profitable. There was generally enough money to have an adequate staff. If you needed to travel to do a story, you could do that. If you needed to take extra time to do a story, you could do that. Now, there’s less money, which puts a lot more pressure. Fewer journalists have to do more stories faster in a lot of newsrooms. And that does take a lot of adjusting for the people that have been doing it for a long time.”

How do you think you have evolved as a journalist?

“I think you keep learning how important journalism is to people and how people take their stories very personally. They want you to get their stories right, and they feel deeply about many of the topics that they are talking to you about. So I think it’s important never to take people for granted; always listen to them and try to do a fair and thorough job getting their stories across.”

You’ve been a reporter for so many years, and now you’re a professor. Do you think there is much of a difference between the two?

“Obviously there are differences, but there are a lot of similarities. You’re trying to communicate what you think is important to a group, to help them understand it and benefit from it and process it. Communication is something that you do almost your whole life. You do it in relationships, you do it jobs, you do it in social settings, you do it everywhere. So that in a sense, the things you learn in journalism, talking to people, listening to people, gathering information and putting things in order, are things that carry over in teaching too.”

(Aiyah Sibay/Bloc Reporter)
(Aiyah Sibay/Bloc Reporter)

headshotAiyah Sibay is a sophomore English literature major and can be reached at ak_sibay@hotmail.com.

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