Geena Davis honored for her acting, activism

Boston University Alumna Geena Davis was awarded the Bette Davis Lifetime Achievement Award Friday for her efforts to empower women and her success in film and television.

“I not only had unshakeable faith that I was going to realize my dream, but I am so lucky … to actually see my dream become a reality,” said Davis, who graduated from BU in 1979. “I have only played very powerful roles that inspired girls.”

More than 600 people attended the ceremony, hosted in the Metcalf Ballroom by the Bette Davis Foundation and the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. The ceremony featured extensive collections of both Bette and Geena Davis’ work. Vita Paladino, the director of the Gotlieb Archival Research Center Director spoke at the ceremony. Chairwoman of CBS Entertainment and Davis’ former BU roommate Nina Tassler and Bette Davis’ son and representative of The Bette Davis Foundation Michael Merrill also gave speeches.

The Bette Davis Lifetime Achievement Award honors individuals who use their prominence in film and television to inspire positive change.

“The Bette Davis Foundation presents this award only every so often,” said Danielle Klaussen, the Gotlieb Archival Research Center’s public relations consultant. “Geena Davis has a career dedicated to gender studies in media and believes that there are not enough programs for women.”

Geena Davis starred in several acclaimed films and programs, including The Accidental Tourist, Thelma & Louise and Commander in Chief, a show in which she played a female president.

Davis, who has won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award during her acting career, has devoted much of her time to the women’s empowerment movement and the crusade against gender inequality in film and television.

“In addition to being a fine actress, she is a voice for women and she has what we call television quotient, which means she can get her cause heard front and center,” said Diane Gallagher, an archivist at the Gotlieb Archival Research Center.
Paladino said Bette and Geena Davis, both New England natives, had strong similarities.

“They enrich our lives through their art and activism,” she said.

Davis founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and See Jane, programs that work to prevent gender stereotyping and inequality. Davis started her career at BU, which Gallagher believes should inspire BU students and provide an example for what they can accomplish.

“BU has always been a leader in good causes,” Gallagher said. “Students need to realize that they have the ability and the responsibility to take action.”

By awarding Geena Davis with the Lifetime Achievement Award, BU demonstrates its support for equality, said BU Academy’s Director of College Counseling Jill Atkinson, who attended the ceremony.

“It is a noteworthy honor for her to be given,” she said. “It sends a strong message that diversity and equality are two things that Boston University values.”

Several students said Davis’ career and activism inspired them.

“This event shows BU students that we can do something big,” said Annabel Sanchez, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore. “It is so great to see alumni doing such great things with their lives, especially because Geena Davis uses her fame and celebrity status for a progressive movement.”

Brian Fleming, a College of Communication sophomore, said he was impressed by Davis’ ability to use her fame empower women.

“In my sexism class we’ve been discussing the importance of giving a proper voice to women and women’s rights,” he said. “Ms. Davis is a good role model not only for women, but for men.”

Janée Johnson, an employee at the research center graduating from the School of Law this year, said while many forget their alma mater after graduating, Davis has been back to Boston University on more than one occasion.

“It’s nice to have someone who honors BU and honors her education,” she said. “It’s good for BU students to see someone from BU who is an example of what can be done with an education — just like she did, students can succeed.”

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Activists hold rally to fight for reduced fare student MBTA passes

In the wake of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s recent late-night service additions, the Youth Affordabili(T) Coalition is rallying for the creation of youth and university passes that will make riding the bus or subway cheaper for middle school, high school and college students.

As part of a movement referred to as Youth Way by the MBTA, 250 youths and adults in the coalition rallied at the Youth Power March at the Park Street T stop Wednesday to present their case and show the need for lower costs and extended hours for students and youth riding the T.

John Griese, a Boston University junior who has spearheaded the program calling for the implementation of the University Pass, said the new system would require all Boston universities to purchase MBTA passes for their students at discounted prices, saving college students money and generating enough revenue for the MBTA to afford the new Youth Pass.

“Thirty percent of students have said that they’ve missed class because they couldn’t afford a fare,” he said. “MBTA just does not have the funds for [the Youth Pass] but the University Pass would generate internal service revenue … and increase enough revenue for the Youth Pass program.”

The youth-led power march followed a meeting between Boston’s youth leaders and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board of Directors, where young people delivered testimonies about their experiences with the current MBTA student passes, said YAC representative Dave Jenkins.

“We need the T to follow through on their commitment,” he said. “Student pass is the only pass that has restrictions on it. It does not allow high school students to ride for free on weekends. One very inexpensive fix would be to simply lift that restriction.”

Jenkins said the YAC’s long-term goal is to create a public transportation system that will be accessible for everyone, without barriers.

“The future of the city depends on public transit,” he said. “The Youth Pass combined with the University Pass creates the framework of the transit generation.”

Youth Way has requested that the MBTA take two concrete steps toward affordability, including a broader use of the student pass on weekends and an implementation of a Youth Pass pilot program, neither of which should have large economic implications on the MBTA, according to a Tuesday press release.

Joe Pesaturo, the MBTA spokesman, said the MBTA has always had an active dialogue with the YAC and other activist groups about fare changes and opportunities for student passes.

“The MBTA already offers discounted fares as well as a discounted student [passes] for Junior High [and] High School students for only $28 per month, less than half the cost of a regular monthly Link Pass,” he said in an email. “As part of our conversation, the MBTA in the past year changed the terms of the student pass to include use on weekends and through the end of service.”

Jason Lowenthal, 35, of Randolph, is a former Boston University student and YAC activist who attended Wednesday’s rally. He said the changes recommended by the YAC would have a significant impact on the lives of Boston’s youth.

“At ever increasing rates, students in middle school and high school are being expected to help cover living expenses, their own expenses, and in many instances, even some of their family’s expenses,” he said in an email. “As Boston Public Schools cut bus service, a $10 Youth Pass may be a necessity for some students to continue to attend school.”

Lowenthal said the improved youth passes would also allow the MBTA to efficiently serve the needs of the public.

“Youth Passes are as important to students’ wellbeing as expanded, late-night hours are for late shift employees … to safely return home,” he said. “A youth pass will show the MBTA’s commitment to helping students learn and grow.”

Snowfall insulates soil, BU research suggests

Milder winters and a decrease in snowfall due to rising temperatures may cause a decline in soil quality, air quality, tree health and human health, according to a study published Friday by researchers at Boston University.

Researchers in ecosystem ecology, biogeochemistry and global change at BU found snowfall decline could have a lasting effect on our ecosystem.

“Climate models predict that air temperatures will continue to rise and the depth and duration of snow in New England will continue to shrink,” said Pamela Templer, a professor of biology at BU and one of the study’s primary researchers.

According to the study’s research summary, snow acts like a blanket that conserves the temperature of the soil and the living things within, preventing them from being exposed to harsh winter conditions.

“Snow is an insulator,” the research summary stated. “When the snow pack accumulates to sufficient depths, the soil beneath it can remain unfrozen, even when air temperatures are below freezing.”

Due to climate change, air temperatures have increased, causing the amount of snow accumulation to decline, Templer said. The freezing of soil leads to nitrogen runoff that may pollute nearby waterways and pose a health risk to humans.

“Snow insulates all of the living things in soil during winter,” Templer said. “Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for all living things, but if large amounts of nitrogen move into streams and rivers it can further damage trees, acidify stream water and lead to fish mortality and at really high concentrations, can be harmful to human health.”

The researchers conducted a two-year experiment by shoveling snow off research plots in New Hampshire in order to expose the soil to cold temperatures and determine the impact of soil freezing, the research summary stated.

The experiment simulated the effects of a warmer winter. Researchers observed that the exposed soil reached temperatures as much as 10 degrees Celcius lower than the temperatures of soil covered by snow.

This change in ground temperature would cause the soil to freeze and stay frozen long into the changing seasons, Templer said.

“Soils do not typically freeze if they are covered by at least eight inches of snow,” she said. “Taking away snow exposed soils to cold winter temperatures and led to deep freezing of soil.”

As the researchers expected, a smaller amount of snow in their experimental plots caused soil to freeze, which lead to root damage, a decrease in the amount of nitrogen taken in by trees, and an increase in the amount of nitrogen in waterways, Templer said.

“Biota living in soil — plant roots, microbes, insects — rely on snow to insulate them in winter,” Templer said. “Without snow, soils freeze and damage these organisms.”

Researchers have predicted that as air temperatures rise, snow depth and duration in New England will continue to decrease, Templer said.

Templer and her team plan to follow up their recent experiment by examining the effects of warming the soil after it has been frozen.

“We will conduct a new climate change experiment,” Templer said. “The idea is that we take away snow in winter by shoveling as we did in the past, and in the summer we are going to warm the soil continually by 5 degrees Celsius [to] see if the damage gets offset by warmer soil in the summer.”

Templer said climate change was a current and pressing issue.

“We need to educate the public about the implications for climate change,” she said. “Our ecosystems and economy are already being affected by a smaller winter snowpack.”

House passes updated anti-bullying bill

Working to update the current bullying laws in Massachusetts, the State House of Representatives voted in favor of an anti-bullying bill that would set requirements for tracking and reporting cases of bullying in schools throughout Massachusetts.

The law passed in 2010 required schools to teach kids about the impact of bullying. It led to the establishment of various anti-bullying programs in schools across the Commonwealth, said Robert Trestan, Anti-Defamation League regional director.

Many of the provisions added into the new bill were discussed in 2010, but there was not a consensus to include them in the law at the time. The two new additions to the legislation will specifically protect LGBTQ students from bullying in Massachusetts schools, Trestan said.

“[Bullying] can impact anyone from the day that they may be the target of bullying, and that can carry through their entire life,” he said. “It is critical that we teach kids about the impact of their actions. At one point bullying was almost seen as a right of passage … [but] causing people to commit suicide is not a right of passage.”

Michael Givens, communications manager for MassEquality, said the new bill would ensure that students are able to go to school and participate actively in an environment that is free from bullying or harassment.

“Bullying interferes with the ability of students to participate fully in the educational process,” he said. “Students may lose interest in school, have trouble concentrating or do poorly academically. They may experience depression, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts. We are hopeful that this law will greatly increase our ability to identify interventions that are successful in curbing bullying.”

Filed by Massachusetts Attorney Gen. Martha Coakley, Massachusetts Rep. Alice Peisch and  Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and supported by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, the H-3909 bill passed in the House Wednesday by a 143-4 vote.

“I am proud to join my colleagues in strengthening our anti-bullying laws,” DeLeo said in a Wednesday press release. “We are fortunate to have an exceptional educational system in Massachusetts, and it is our duty to ensure students are safe and are able to maximize these resources to the full extent. I believe this legislation will allow us to better understand and prevent bullying.”

If passed by the Senate, the bill will enhance the bullying prevention law approved in 2010 by establishing a data-reporting system to be used statewide. The bill also requires that measures be taken to provide certain vulnerable populations with a supportive environment, stated the release.

“This legislation builds on the 2010 anti-bullying law by providing additional tools and resources to support bullying prevention efforts in schools across the Commonwealth,” Peisch said. “[It] will provide an opportunity for the state to measure the effectiveness of these efforts and the impact 2010 law.”

Jennie Williamson, the education committee research director for Peisch, said the new bill strengthens the old bill with new issues that were not included in the 2010 bill at the time of its passage.

“The bill is reflection of recommendations that have been made after a year of investigation and testimony received on ways to update the law and strengthen it,” she said. “We decided to move forward with it.”

Several residents said this bill is only the first step, and they hope to see more measures taken by the legislature and the schools districts to tackling bullying across the state.

Doug Fowler, 45, of the South End, said the improvements in the 2010 anti-bullying law will create a school atmosphere that protects all students, rather than some.

“I’m sure there are certain people who are most picked on,” he said. “We need to think about them in particular.”

Phil Schneider, 29, of the South End, said bullying affects students on a regular basis, and this new bill will be working to tackle a huge problem in school districts.

“Having worked in schools, it is particularly tough because students don’t feel that they can be comfortable,” he said. “Bullying presents a serious challenge for students.”

Carrie Siracuse, 34, of the Seaport District, said she would hate to see her daughter, who is currently one year old, be discriminated against.

“Bullying was so prevalent, especially when I was growing up,” she said. “I’m glad to see that there is such a big anti-bullying movement.”