NPR: National Public Relevance

Bringing relevant NPR stories to a collegiate audience. Because we all get caught up in the college bubble.

Church and state: oil and water, right?

Except, not really. Or at least, it shouldn’t be like that.

For those who don’t know, Rick Santorum is out of the presidential race (read about it here). Santorum, a devout Catholic, made it a goal to blur the line between church and state. He managed to fire up super conservative voters and piss off college students in his months of campaigning for president. 

So here’s this guy trying to link together church and state when really, the two institutions have similarities that exist on their own.

Obviously, a political battle is upon us and has been since forever.

However, there’s also a church battle going down within the Episcopal diocese, one that has been happening for awhile. It just popped back onto my radar after hearing about it on NPR’s All Things Considered.

In the story, Anglican churches across Virginia were forced to hand over everything they owned: the church property, prayer books, etc., as the result of a schism in the American Episcopal Church.

The story explains that after the American Episcopal Church elevated an openly gay man to bishop, the split happened in Episcopal churches everywhere. Two sides were taken: Stay with the Episcopalians or peace out with the Anglicans.

Hmm, sounds a lot like a certain bicameral government, doesn’t it? Separated by difference in interest, serving a separate entity, a winner and a loser.

As college students, most of us take a more vested interest in political affairs than we did back in high school. Most of us are also more liberal than we were back in high school. We’re all about coexisting, man.

So maybe instead of making this whole church and state thing comparable to oil and water, we should recognize that the two institutions do have common denominators. Maybe they can coexist until soon, it won’t be an issue of separation of church and state, but rather an issue of fostering respect between the two.

Orange juice and champagne, if you will. Mmmm Mimosas.


Here’s a church.

If Instagram and Facebook had a love child

Well, they did. For $1.1 billion Monday, according to this story (1) I heard on NPR’s Morning Edition this morning. 

I sold out and got Instagram on my Android phone when that became an option in the app store last week. Basically, you take a picture through the application or upload one from your phone’s camera library, and add some sort of artsy filter on it.

There’s Rise, which puts the image under the kind of lighting that would happen in a sunrise. There’s Toaster which adds an antique, almost sepia feel to the photo. Many filters put a boarder around the picture, like X-Pro, Hefe and my personal favorite, Nashville, which gives the photo an old school camera boarder.

Seriously, I feel like a professional photographer when I use this app.

If Facebook has indicated anything in the last few years, it’s that it likes to change things, the most recent and largest change being the switch from the traditional profile to Timeline.

Will they change Instagram?

Darlissa Andrea, a student at St. Johns River State College in Jacksonville, Fla., fears this. 

Andrea uploaded a screen shot of a story (2) from Fortune Finance on CNN to Instagram with the caption, “The future of Instagram may be doomed! Hopefully Facebook leaves the simplicity of the app alone! They could possibly ruin the best app ever created. This is sad.”

Andrea is an Instagram expert, with 222 followers and 181 photos. The post got 17 likes. 

The company says it won’t change the application, according to story (1), however, if there is one thing that Facebook has made apparent in the last few years, it’s that it likes change: the Timeline, the photo uploader, the megacreepy instant ticker.

The beauty of Instagram lies in its simplicity, as Andrea pointed out. Let’s hope there are no complications in this birth.

Take a moment to enjoy some of the art I’ve made on the application. I use the term “art” loosely.

My cat, Jett.

Century Tower at the University of Florida

Me wearing entirely too much purple. It happens.


Music makes me lose control

And NPR’s music blog is just the bee’s knees.

It covers everything. Everything that is up-and-coming and everything that is good. This includes The Shins’ new album, “Port of Morrow.” The review speaks for itself, but may I just say that this album appeals to so much?

It appeals to the drug addict in all of us with the chillwavey-ness of the last track, titled the same as the album. It appeals to the hopeless romantic in all of us with the not-so-simple “Simple Song,” and all of frontman James Mercer’s love for his wife up front and personal. It appeals to the disco, Chicago (the band) loving, jazzy rocker in all of us with “Fall of ‘82.” 

And there are no words for “40 Mark Strasse.”

"James Mercer seems to adapt well to the more bombastic, stage-ready style of music present in ‘Port of Morrow,’" said Tiernan Garsys, first-year computer science major.

That can be reinforced by listening to the live stream of the album, and it will become apparent as to why Mercer dropped the musicians from his last album (“Wincing the Night Away”) and created this masterpiece of vocal intoxication and instrumental beauty with a new team of artists.

"It’s absolutely f****** fantastic," Garsys said. And he goes to UPenn, so there’s some intelligence behind that opinion.


A shameless Spotify promotion.  

Imagine police keeping records of your everyday activities without your knowledge.

It’s a little unsettling, right? 

But for Muslim students at New York University, Columbia University and other universities in the New York area, this is a very real possibility.

I encountered Article 1 on a couple weeks back and have since discovered Article 2, Article 3 and Article 4. Each article provides additional perspectives and information, so reading all of them isn’t imperative to understanding this issue.

An NYPD squad car in Times Square, New York City.

Since I read the articles, I compiled three interviews with Muslim students at the University of Florida.

Amara Fazal, a second year economics major at the University of Florida, wasn’t surprised.

“It’s not a secret that a lot of Muslim students are under surveillance,” Fazal said. “It’s almost expected, which is very sad that we should expect that kind of treatment, but we do.”

Fazal also believes surveillance happens at UF as well.

Sumrah Iqbal, a second year mechanical engineering major at UF, agrees.

“I was actually surprised that it was made such a big deal because I would expect it,” Iqbal said.

These expectations root themselves in the treatment that Fazal and Iqbal have received in various situations.

“Obviously I get stopped every time I go to the airport because I wear the head scarf. That’s just expected,” Iqbal said. “I know our family has been followed by the cops before and they’ve questioned our neighbors about us before.”

“That’s pretty much why you expect it,” Fazal said. “You know you’re being profiled.”

Fazal and Iqbal believe that the profiling is a result of a general misunderstanding of Islam as a religion, a misunderstanding with greater sensitivity for Americans because of 9/11. However, there is also a global misunderstanding.

“I would love to study abroad in Turkey,” Iqbal said, “but I know if I went to Turkey, because I wear the head scarf, I wouldn’t be allowed in any government buildings or in any universities because they banned the head scarf there.”

Why does this skewed global perception exist?

“I mean, it starts with media perceptions,” Fazal said. “After 9/11 you had the first association of Muslims as people that attack the country; you have them as terrorists. So now that you first introduce this idea of Muslims as terrorists, it’s going to be hard to separate from that image.”

“At the same time I feel like every religion goes through this at some period in time,” Iqbal said. She used the examples of President John F. Kennedy countering attacks about his Catholic faith as well as President Barack Obama countering attacks about his middle name (Hussein) and its implications.

“I think it’s a reoccurring theme and it’s frustrating that we as people haven’t been able to break out of that,” Iqbal said.

Iqbal and Fazal are both involved in Islam On Campus, a student organization that fosters an understanding of Islam within and outside of the group.

However, because of the recent news and other issues that have been ongoing for years, students are discouraged from joining groups associated with Islam, Sama Ilyas being one of them.

“I didn’t join IOC because I wanted to retain my anonymity in some way,” Ilyas, a first year biology major, said. Ilyas is also an international student from Saudi Arabia.  “I’m the least bit religious, but even if I was religious, I wouldn’t go to meetings out of sheer fear, which I think is really sad.”

This really hit home for her when an IOC event was protested at the Reitz Student Union by Terry Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center, the same group that called for the Koran burning last year. Fazal and Iqbal also brought up this incident.

All three women were glad to see the turnout of Muslim and non-Muslim students to oppose the Dove Center protest with chants of, “Dove needs love!”

“I thought [the protest] was really sad, but then I was really happy to see non-Muslims protest the protest and become angered by it,” Ilyas said.

Also, as is seen in Article 1, this was the same result on Columbia’s campus in response to the NYPD surveillance. As Abdullah said in the article, “We’re now feeling a sense of unity, because this is not an issue that affects only Muslims.”

Here at UF, Iqbal, Fazal and Ilyas are grateful for the general acceptance seen on campus.

“We’re really happy and we’re really privileged to be at a university where there’s so much diversity and so much acceptance and tolerance and awareness,” Fazal said.

And while there are obvious negatives of situations like the ones mentioned, all three women recognize the positives that come out of those situations.

“I think the irony of all the hate that you see is that it’s what brings people together,” Iqbal said.

Ilyas in her residence hall.

Social media wut?

Amongst a spring break in Manhattan with only my Facebook and Twitter apps, it became apparent to me how relevant social media has become to the news.

I follow NPR News (@nprnews), Breaking News (@BreakingNews) and Associated Press (@AP) which allowed me to somewhat keep in touch with the real world, a feat surprisingly difficult in the concrete jungle that is the busiest place in America.

It also occurred to me after seeing a post by NPR on my Facebook newsfeed that news mediums are starting to use social media to collect witnesses, interviews, etc. from their audiences in an interactive manner. This can be explained here: 

I mean, that’s pretty exciting. Because we as readers hold the power now in so many ways. Not only are we becoming our own gatekeepers, choosing who to follow on Twitter or which websites to visit or which television program to watch, but we are now becoming the sources in such an accessible way. 

But as our friend Spiderman said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” No pressure.

Here’s a picture of the New York skyline taken from my phone and uploaded to Facebook.


Vote! no matter what

This article popped up on my Facebook newsfeed today. 

There is a larger percentage of libertarian voters among college students than other age brackets in America, and, for those voters, Ron Paul is where it’s at. 

One Paul supporter said in the article, "Until they (Republicans) finally reaffirm the importance of the separation of church and state, I can’t see supporting the mainline party."

However, if Paul doesn’t get the ticket, this supporter isn’t voting, period. 

Here at UF, Student Government elections just finished up, with voter turnout higher than it’s been since 1983 (see election result story here). And it made a difference. The election was closer than it’s been in years.

So vote, people, vote! Start with the primaries and then, even if the preferred candidate doesn’t make it to the national election, vote for the next best thing. Because it’s our country and our leadership and there is a silver lining, so find it.


The UF Students Party golden retriever, Sammy.

Affirmative action still exists?

Apparently so, my friends. 

At least at the University of Texas it does. According to this story, from NPR’s “All Thing’s Considered,” the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed in 2003 a 1978 case that ruled that race can be a factor in considering admission to college. 

However, the current court is revisiting the issue, and it is far more conservative than the group that gave the 2003 opinion. Read/listen to the origin of the new challenge in the full story.

"I mean, I’m all for it because it helps me out," Monika Gonzalez, first year University of Florida student said. However Gonzalez, Ecuadorian, also acknowledges the disadvantages to others. "I recognize that it doesn’t help Caucasian people out. It’s basically discrimination." 

Diversity is important on a college campus, as I’ve come to find out. However, this raises an important question as to whether that diversity can be developed by a blind admissions process.

"Affirmative action emphasizes and rewards a student’s background over their actions and accomplishments," David Zander, first year Emory student said. Zander is Caucasian. "It tells students they can rely on their race to succeed instead of actually having to work for success." 

Just like me revealing the race of the two students quoted questions the credibility of the student’s opinion, revealing one’s race on a college application can change the way admissions officers evaluate the student.

Whether said counselor is for or against affirmative action, the race factor still remains which can unintentionally change the decision making process.

After all, we are human, and even after all the equal rights advances made in the last century, skin color still remains relevant whether we want it to or not, a factor that will only disappear with time. And that is the real affirmative action we need to tackle.

University of Florida’s Criser Hall, home of the Office of Admissions. 

Love is on the air

Punny, I know.

I heard this story on NPR’s Morning Edition this morning and my heart melted a little. And I might have teared up. Yep, that happened.

The story centers around John Fugelsang’s parents’ unique love story. The mother was a nun and the father was a Franciscan monk. If you’re scratching your head right now, read the story and find out when and why the parents changed their vows to God and gave their own to each other.

The NPR Advantage: This story is rather obscure and brings a refreshing perspective on a greeting card holiday. Also, you can hear the inflection in Fugelsang’s voice as he’s telling the story. This creates for a poignant sense of authenticity, his hesitations and husky voice at times pulling at the heart strings.

Fugelsang’s parents on their wedding day, courtesy of his Chirpstory

Generation ________

Check out the link Article 1 pertaining to the PIPA and SOPA protests.

Remember back in January when Wikipedia, Tumblr, Reddit, etc. blacked out to protest the Protect IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)? There was a meme explosion, all pertaining to students getting papers and homework done before Wikipedia could no longer explain finding the integral or provide information on the Civil War. Imagine this inconvenience all the time.

Yeah, it would suck. And those are only a few websites in the giant realm of never ending information. Also, we still had the big two: Facebook and Twitter. An entire Internet shut down would, as the article says, not kill anyone, but be really super inconvenient.

For Iranians, life is really super inconvenient. See Article 2.

The Iranian government is planning on creating a national Internet in response to an announcement from the Iranian opposition that foreshadows large anti-government demonstrations.

This national Internet would prevent communication between protestors, virtually ridding the entity of non-Iranian or non-Muslim websites. In fact, Iranian citizens are already having trouble with Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and other sites, the article says. 

We are not a lost generation, but a generation defined by innovation in the media realm. The Baby Boomers left behind consumerism, Generation X drove progressive social standards and our generation is in the process of shaping an entire shift in communication. 

If we lose Internet freedom, we lose our identity as a generation. Iranians are dealing with this right now.

Global relevance, everyone. 


I’m Kathryn Varn, a journalism major at the University of Florida. In an attempt to lessen the boredom of my high school commute and prepare for life as a journalist, I began listening to NPR. Turns out it’s more than just something my grandparents listen to. 

So I guess I want my peers to realize that as well - That NPR’s thorough and unbiased reporting produces stories relevant to a younger audience.

Maybe it’s a shot in the dark, but hopefully I’ll get you hooked on NPR and, more importantly, the news.


P.S. Here is a picture of me eating a sandwich.