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Stuffed animal science

Written by: Claire Phillips | Entertainment Editor

Stuffed animals have been a childhood staple since the late 1800s. They provide limitless opportunities for creation and imagination for young minds, in addition to being a soft, cozy toy. The joy plush toys bring to people doesn’t have to be confined to one’s childhood — they can provide psychological assistance throughout your entire life.

For children, stuffed animals are tools that can help regulate tactile sensory skills and act as a “friend” to promote security. Especially for neurodivergent folks, these benefits may carry on into adulthood. However, carrying around a stuffed animal as a twenty-something or above is not as socially accepted as a toddler.

Let’s face it — adults are more likely to have chronic stressors as opposed to adolescents. So what is the harm in practicing whatever self-care skills we can to regulate our mental health? A lot of adults these days, especially college students, could also still learn a thing or two about sensory regulation.

Additionally, the way we play with stuffed animals as a child may play a role in shaping our social and emotional development. Engaging with these toys may help children practice empathy and communication, while providing a safe space for them to express their feelings. These are critical skills that are used in everyday adult life, such as at work, school or in personal relationships.

I’m not looking to start a trend or anything, but it is exciting to watch young adults continue to enjoy things that once made them happy. Jellycats, Squishmallows and those weighted dinosaurs from Target have, in my opinion, been popularized by teenagers and adults more than children — their original intended audience.

The moral of the story is, at the end of the day, if you still love snuggling up with your teddy bear at night, don’t let anyone stop you. Take your favorite soft stuffie to your upcoming doctor’s appointment. Keep a small support friend in your bag for a job interview or a final exam. They are still cheering you on, every step of the way.

Contact the author at howlentertainment@wou.edu

Mother v. Mother Earth

Written by: Ruth Simonsen | Digital Media Manager

Content warning: Taylor Swift hater ahead

In 2023, Taylor Swift was the celebrity with the highest carbon emissions for the second year in a row. This is absurd. Of course, these were the same years in which she went on her global Eras tour, which contributed to these massive amounts of carbon emissions. 

While this could constitute a valid excuse, there are many other artists and bands that went on world tours during this time. Foo Fighters, for instance, hit five continents on their world tour, the same amount as Taylor Swift, but their carbon emissions did not even make the 2022–2023 list.

The difference between Taylor Swift and the many other artists who went on tour during these years is the possession of a private jet. Many artists who are going on worldwide tours still need to fly to different countries, but they often use public transportation, while celebrities such as Jay-Z, Kim Kardashian and Travis Scott get around in privately owned jets. 

Taylor Swift also owns not one, but two private jets. This is simply unnecessary. There is no valid reason that anyone should own two private jets, even if they do go on world tours and have a boyfriend in the NFL. 

With a net worth of over one billion dollars and single-handedly costing the earth a vast amount of its health, Taylor Swift needs to change her act. To the public, she preaches global health. 

“Swift’s lyrics frequently reference nature, and she has been a public advocate for several environmental causes, including global clean water access and protecting endangered wildlife,” Forbes quotes. “She also called climate change one of the ‘horrific situations’ plaguing the world.” 

This is insane. No one in their right mind would be supporting ideals like this while also contributing the highest amounts of carbon emissions, approximately 8000 tonnes, out of every celebrity. Some of these trips were for her tour, which could leave room for some justification. Other trips were to see her boyfriend play his sport. Her hypocrisy is baffling.

Instead of contributing to the number one thing that is rapidly killing the earth, she could just watch him play his little game on the television screen like the rest of us. I understand the importance of being a supportive girlfriend, but it should never be at the cost of the planet. 

There are many different, eco-friendly ways of traveling, especially for someone with as much wealth and amenities as Swift. She has thousands of resources at her disposal, all accessible to her through her millions of dollars. It is entirely inexcusable for her to act the way that she is. Change needs to happen, and it can only come about by calling Swift out. 

Instead of discussing her newest revision of her already-made albums with your friends, bring up her lack of care for the environment that we all live in. I promise it will make for an interesting conversation.

Contact the author at howldigitalmediamamager@mail.wou.edu

The dangers of media with young kids

Written by: Claire Phillips | Entertainment Editor

Media consumption in the present day is a major concern for developing adolescents. For pre-teens, especially young girls, social media apps such as TikTok are major sources for the latest trends. However, are they the most accurate sources?

Anyone can be easily influenced by the internet. Short videos and status symbols in the form of consumer items have a knack for drawing attention from the young and old. 

This article is in no way, shape or form meant to shame parents. However, parenting is the cause of many children wanting to grow up quickly. Lack of internet restriction and access to outdoor entertainment may have led to this phenomenon. 

Millennials and older Generation Z alike are stunned at the newest generation’s trends. When you take a closer look, they’re not all that different from what we had — simply in new plastic packaging. 

Older generations were drawn to bright colors and glitter in the ‘90s, 2000s and even into the early 2010s, but Generation Alpha’s draw to pastels and muted colors may have stemmed from their parents — yes, the children of “sad beige” and “millennial gray” parents are growing up, and these parents are enabling their children to engage in dangerous behaviors.

The biggest worry of older generations dealing with the next generation maturing has to do with behavior. Many of these younger kids have exhibited disrespectful behavior when sharing public spaces, especially with those who are older than them.

My advice to anyone who does not identify with Generation Alpha — do not let these kids get under your skin. Some of their critical developmental years were stolen by the pandemic and they have not yet learned their place in the world. They are not yet teenagers — sometimes not even close, so it’s on you at this point if you let them push you around. The internet is not the greatest space to complain, since it has also become the most popular space for Generation Alpha to hang out.

From a psychological standpoint, so much has been stolen from Generation Alpha. Parks are being bulldozed and COVID hurt cognitive development, all while the internet is becoming more accessible every day. Now, it’s up to the older generations to guide and shape the children who will someday be leading us.

Contact the author at howlentertainment@wou.edu

Domain expansion, Gojo’s international fame

Written by: Liberty Miller | Lifestyle Editor

Anime is a long debated and frequently frowned upon part of society. The dislike of anime stems from certain aspects that are rooted in misogynistic and objectification culture, as well as language barriers and the perception of animated shows being aimed towards younger audiences. 

However, there is a fast-growing population of anime consumers, especially within recent years, that have initiated anime’s mainstream media appearance through viral videos, media and demand. While many shows such as Demon Slayer, Naruto and My Hero Academia have garnered high amounts of publicity and box office appearances, the star of the show is none other than Jujutsu Kaisen — more specifically, Satoru Gojo. 

Jujutsu Kaisen is a shonen anime depicting the journey of Yuuji Itadori — a high school boy who is thrown into the world of curses and jujutsu sorcerers. The series introduces a massive amount of extremely overpowered characters with a wide array of techniques, allegiances and goals. 

One of the biggest talking points of the show is the lack of male fan service. It’s typical for there to be many sexualized female characters in anime series that are aimed to attract male attention. There is a noticeable lack of fan service for female characters, but a new phenomenon has taken place — female fan service. A majority of Jujutsu Kaisen fans are familiar with the superb animation and voice acting of the male characters, namely Kento Nanami, Fushiguro Toji, Ryomen Sukuna and the ever-so-famous Gojo Satoru. 

From figurines and posters to Gojo shrines, drinks and businesses, the blue-eyed, white haired jujutsu sorcerer has captured the hearts of the masses. Gojo Satoru is known in Jujutsu Kaisen as “the strongest” in the anime verse, easily defeating some of the most challenging villains and curses in the first few episodes. He is at the top of the power rankings with a power called the “six-eyes,” a hereditary power that enables him to control and wield cursed energy much better than others. He developed skills such as the reverse cursed technique, which allows him to heal mortal wounds, and “limitless,” which allows him to control space to an extent to which no one can touch him. 

While his powers are unique and the strongest in the series, his looks and personality granted Gojo favoritism and unending support from his fans. With pure white hair, shocking blue eyes and a slight build, as well as a glib, cocky and charismatic demeanor, Gojo Satoru has won the hearts of his fans. Most recently, superstar performer Usher has been selected to perform at the Superbowl. Usher’s hit Hey Daddy — Daddy’s Home — which has reached 123,096,622 streams on Spotify, has been used as a homage to Gojo Satoru within the fanbase. 

A petition on Change.org has collected 36,181 signatures for Usher to perform “Daddy’s Home” in honor of Satoru Gojo, and many fans have taken to TikTok and Instagram comments to appeal to Usher directly. On Jan. 15, Usher posted a Gojo cosplay and earned 9.8 million views as well as 1.4 million likes, his sixth most popular video onTikTok. 

Anime has been discussed before by celebrities such as Michael B. Jordan and Megan Thee Stallion, but Gojo Satoru may have the chance to gain recognition on the NFL stage, making a clear break into mainstream media as a singular character, which would be a notable feat. 

Gojo Satoru has an ever-expanding fanbase that has gained the attention of millions of fans, including celebrities and international figures that will continue to shatter stereotypes and stigma around anime.

Contact the author at howllifestyle@wou.edu

Barbie isn’t what you think

Written by: Libby Thoma | Staff Writer

Barbie, the hot pink movie that made over one billion dollars, made history by “…instantly (becoming) the biggest debut ever for a film directed by a woman.” 

This movie was seen as the feminist movement of the century. It even earned a whopping 88% on rotten tomatoes but controversially, I don’t see it that way. There were many instances within and outside of the movie that diminished the movie’s “feminist” premise entirely. 

Starting with the movie itself, I enjoyed America Ferrara’s speech in the movie, and I thought Barbie’s subjection to the reality of the world — along with its treatment of women — was well put and interesting. I enjoyed the messages of bonding between women, anti-beauty standards, critiques of the patriarchy and more. 

However, I thought these lessons were leveled by two things in particular. The first was how easily and quickly the Barbies fell into patriarchy, and, the second, was how quickly the Kens were able to take over a long laid land of women. 

Although this might not have been the intent, how easily the Barbies were brainwashed portrayed them as ditzy — a stigma that the whole film was trying to fight. I think this sequence made it so that the Barbies were more easily labeled as stupid girls, or as Jo Koy alluded to, “…nothing more than a doll with big boobies,” even though Barbies should be and are so much more than that, especially in the current world. 

Along with this, I can not stand the ending scene where Barbie apologizes to the Kens, where they repeat that not every night has to be girl’s night. 

This is a problem in two ways, firstly, we should not be teaching any girl that a “Ken” has to be included in their safe space, or that Kens have to be included in their private home life at all. Along with this, little girls are already taught to think about and cater to men’s feelings in addition to tending to their own mental health. While men, on the other hand, aren’t. 

As a society, we are trying to step away from this, and the movie did a poor good job of supporting this notion. I understand there may be some deeper meanings to these apologies, and maybe the movie is even trying to show men ‘how it would feel,’ but as a movie that is classically marketed to a younger audience, many may not understand and take this idea of inclusivity and catering to men, to heart — even if that’s not what it’s meant to be. 

All of this also made the movie more so about men than it should have been. I wish the movie would have been more focused on apologizing to and focusing on women, not men. Although I have many complaints about the movie’s lack of feminism, there were still many important parts throughout the movie, which were then diminished multiple times by the Oscars. 

Firstly, there was the joke made by Jo Koy, stating that ‘Oppenheimer’ is based on a 721-page Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the Manhattan Project, and ‘Barbie’ is on a plastic doll with big boobies.” 

This joke had many upset, completely ignoring the attempted point of the movie, and broke hearts around the world as many — other than myself — found it to be an important feminist film. 

Another joke Jo Koy made was, “The key moment in ‘Barbie’ is when she goes from perfect beauty to bad breath, cellulite and flat feet. Or what casting directors call character-actor!” 

The whole point of the character Weird Barbie and the transformation of Barbie herself is not to judge other women based on their appearance, and a short bald man commenting on Margo Robbie’s looks is ridiculous either way. 

Maybe Jo Koy should have watched the movie before writing his “jokes,” or maybe he’s just not that funny. 

Finally, Ryan Gosling has spoken out about his win at the Oscars, stating that there would be no Barbie without Greta Gerwig or Margo Robbie, for they were responsible for the film. 

Margo Robbie did not win best actress, even though she and America Ferrara carried that movie, but Ryan Gosling, who should have been a silly addition to the movie, won best actor for it. Absolutely ridiculous. 

In the future, I would like to see a movie solely about empowering women, leaving out ditziness and any apologies to men. Hopefully, when the next major feminist movie comes out, men like Jo Koy — and the other men in our lives — will understand its importance, and maybe the awards will focus on women. 

Contact the author at ethoma23@wou.edu

Where nature and human nature intertwine

Written by: Liberty Miller | Lifestyle Editor

I grew up country. I’m not talking suburban outskirts country, but rather an unincorporated town, population four hundred and twelve, hay bales on the side of the road kind of country. The kind that someone would have to go out of their way to get to. 

Yet, it was within that capsule of limited population and small-town idealism that I got to see the wonder of simplistic living in my backyard. I didn’t grow up with technology, so my days were spent flipping through paperback books, playing outside with my sister and dad and finding any part of the earth to mess with outside. 

We foraged for mushrooms and wild blackberries, or put on big rubber boots and stomped in the mud. We stared up at the sky, rode four-wheelers out in the large, unoccupied field in our backyard and climbed a huge tree with my dad, who built platforms for us to sit down and take in the expansive view of the meadow. 

When I got into middle school, all of a sudden, phones and tablets were introduced to my world. I met people who spent their childhood behind a computer monitor, or playing on concrete sidewalks or “fake playgrounds,” as I like to call them. Who on earth would need to build all that when you could have trees and dirt piles and slug kickin’ in your backyard? 

My classmates in middle and high school told me that it was shameful to have a country home, embarrassing to have grown up without using Snapchat or playing video games, and I was young, so I believed them. 

When COVID-19 forced everyone back into their homes, I suddenly had the opportunity to travel back in time and revisit my childhood. I stayed at home, and I spent time outside where my old friends, the flowers, the grass and the sunlight were. I could forage for berries, lay in the dirt and spend time in the home that I was once ashamed of. It was then that I realized — there is no life more fulfilling than this. 

I felt horribly, deeply saddened by those who didn’t grow up the way I did — the people who spent their time trapped in concrete jungles, surrounded by asphalt and car engines and Xbox systems — and, frankly, it just didn’t seem like the right way to live. I was mad that at some point in my life, I was envious of the people who lived the way they did. 

As I grew up, I saw more of the world. Perhaps the most eye-opening experience for me was traveling to Hartford/New Haven, Connecticut. When I arrived there, the sky was the wrong shade of blue. It was pale, tinted with a sickly yellow, and I felt unsettled. I figured out a short while later that it was air pollution. I looked around and all I saw was concrete and pollution — a dulled out life. I knew that I wouldn’t be happy living there. It felt suffocating. 

My belief system after COVID had only been reinforced after seeing city life in different areas of the US, and I had come to the very important conclusion that the world feels best where it is untouched. We, as human beings, have destroyed, pillaged and burned the earth. We have buried it in cement, poisoned it with exhaust, littered it with plastics and oils and ruined a very large portion of what used to be, in my opinion, something precious. 

But the inherent need for us as human beings to connect with the earth cannot be ignored. We are one with the world and we cannot exist in a society where Mother Nature is being plundered for profit and reshaped at the cost of our rivers, mountains, trees and fields. 

What I would encourage everyone to do, at least, in the most serious way possible — touch grass. Go drive to the coast and stare at the ocean, or lay down in the dirt, take vegetables from a nearby crop and run away like a Hobbit. Whatever inspires us to traverse outside of the house, outside of the city and into the natural world, existing as designed. 

As I sit here writing this article, I know a large portion of readers are not the biggest fans of country music. But Keith Urban sang something that I remember every so often because it used to play on the radio as I spent my childhood running around in the great outdoors: 

“I’m gonna kick off my shoes and run in bare feet. Where the grass and the dirt and the gravel all meet. Goin’ back to the well, gonna visit old friends. And feed my soul where the blacktop ends.”

Contact the author at howllifestyle@wou.edu

Western students struggle with safe on-campus dining

Written by: Libby Thoma | Staff Writer and Claire Phillips | Entertainment Editor

Valsetz Dining Hall is a required amenity for on-campus freshmen and a necessity to many other on-campus students. Given that many students are required to have a meal plan with Valsetz, one would assume that its food would be high quality, nutritious, inclusive, and most importantly, safe. 

Unfortunately, one would be incorrect in this assumption.

Valsetz has consistently had a problem with serving moldy, undercooked, and improperly prepared food, such as leaving feces in the food. Valsetz has also struggled with safely serving students with allergies, has racked up complaints from students of unlabeled ingredients and has been caught claiming to have food that is not available. Additionally, Valsetz has a critical lack of allergy food training within the kitchen, confirmed by a Valsetz worker.

Nearly every student who has paid for the dining hall has a horror story, and a disproportionate amount of students have experienced mild to severe cases of food poisoning due to the food they were served. Food-related illnesses have a significant influence on students’ education — affecting attendance and the ability to keep up with homework. 

Food poisoning is not an issue to be taken lightly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 128,000 people a year suffer from food poisoning while 3,000 people succumb to this ailment in the US alone. It’s not surprising that Western students are now avoiding Valsetz Dining Hall after hearing stories from their peers or experiencing illnesses themselves.

Moldy bread, raw chicken, feces in shrimp, and many other unsafe food products have been served to the students of Western, resulting in terrible tales of food poisoning. 

Out of 10 randomized students and workers who have a meal plan at Valsetz, only three haven’t had a stomach ache, mild to severe food poisoning, raw food or an allergic reaction. Three of 10 spoke of light stomach reactions to the food, one of 10 spoke of mild food poisoning, one of 10 spoke of severe food poisoning, one of 10 spoke about eating raw chicken and three of 10 said they haven’t had negative experiences. 

Although, those who did not experience these things first-hand spoke of friends getting food poisoning, one even mentioning the story of a roommate getting food poisoning seven times from Valsetz in one school year.
Multiple students explained their stories of food poisoning. One anonymous student is quoted saying that after eating Valsetz steamed vegetables, “I was throwing up for days and was just throwing up literal stomach acid. They had to close the bathroom and use an ozone machine in it because the stomach acid was creating such a toxic smell and environment.” 

Another anonymous student said they were “…severely ill for a week” due to moldy bread on a sandwich. 

This is just a fraction of the many food poisoning stories breaking out across campus.

It is important to note that staff cannot be the blame for this. Staff members of Valsetz deal with plenty of their own problems such as being underpaid, understaffed and not having enough materials or time. The root of the problem is the dining hall isn’t getting sufficient funding.

This is shown through interviews with staff. One worker, who wanted to stay anonymous due to fear of getting into trouble, states that the fault does not lie with the student workers or the cooks, but with the managers. The workers began with their own experience with food poisoning when they ate a noodle bowl and had food poisoning for two weeks straight, with constant trips to the bathroom — another case of food poisoning greatly affecting a student’s academics. 

The interviewee spoke about their experience with training, which they received little to none. This lack of training particularly pertained to training around safe food handling and, as the interviewee states, “We are unaware about how to safely handle the food and there’s been no clear explanation for how to keep the food separate for dietary needs.” 

When managers were asked, each manager responded differently. However, even this may not even be the manager’s fault as they may have a lack of training as well — clearly this goes to the top. 

The lack of training surrounding dietary needs is extremely dangerous, as some allergies are fatal. There have been many complaints, as stated earlier, of dietary restrictions not being met and allergic reactions occurring.

The anonymous Valsetz worker ended the interview stating, “That’s what made the work walk out necessary. During one of the lunch shifts, all the student workers walked out, protesting the unsafe food handling, the immense amount of waste and the unfair treatment of some of the workers. Although our concerns were heard and some things have changed, the process is slow and ineffective. The problems are being ignored and avoided by the managers.”

Many students are concerned that their tuition is being dispersed to other organizations on campus, and not to those that they use daily — such as their main source of food. Additionally, accessibility has become an issue for students who have dietary restrictions and who do their best to regulate the food they consume — their needs are not being fully met. 

Regardless, many students contract food poisoning whether they have a dietary restriction or not — simply consuming the only food that is accessible to them. 

CJ Denison, a sophomore and Resident Assistant at Western, recounted their Valsetz experiences since becoming a Western student. The RAs, who are paid primarily in food and board, are given the top meal plan to spend at the dining hall — only to be faced with potentially unsafe food. “I’ve reached a point with Valsetz where I mostly buy protein drinks and snacks and not the actual food they serve, because I don’t trust it,” Denison said.

The safest food options are also not necessarily the healthiest. “The fried food, which unfortunately is the least healthy, is generally the safest, because it’s cooked all the way through, and there’s not a lot of cross-contamination,” Denison said. 

Cross-contamination is a major concern for students who have a gluten intolerance or Celiac disease, as well as for those who have other severe and life-threatening food allergies.

Many students have pointed out that the labels on each food item are not quite descriptive enough. Nutrislice, the online menu, does describe each item, but ingredients are not posted in person. Students may be consuming food they are not aware will cause them to have a reaction.

To make matters worse, another dilemma for college students with dietary restrictions is the rising price of safe foods offered by Valsetz. Gluten-free food is typically more expensive than its gluten counterparts. Because of the cost of a university education, and other costs of living, many students find themselves skipping meals and struggling to pay for healthy food.

If you find yourself in this position, Abby’s House, located on the first floor of the Werner University Center, provides basic needs resources for students who may be struggling with food insecurity. Additionally, the Food Pantry — located in the Welcome Center — provides students with food at no cost.

Even if the dining hall isn’t the only food option on campus, it should be working to provide a safer dining experience for all students who rely, or are forced to rely, on its services. 

Contact the authors at howlentertainment@wou.edu and ethoma23@wou.edu