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Rutgers University adjusts grammar rules in solidarity with Black Lives Matter
The English Department is instituting a series of reforms that cuts across the entire university.
- Rutgers University's English department is instituting anti-racist policies, workshops, and initiatives in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
- Linguistic diversity and less emphasis on "traditional" grammar will be honored across the department's courses.
- Jonathan Holloway, the college's first Black president, said the school name will not change despite slaves having built the original institution.
Last week, New Jersey became the latest state to establish Juneteenth as a holiday. Support for honoring the day slavery ended was widespread, though a group of Republican Assemblymen abstained due to the "fiscal impact" another holiday would have on the state. Perhaps.
The government isn't the only institution in my home state currently practicing self-reflection. My alma mater, Rutgers University, announced its English Department is going through changes. Namely, the department will deemphasize traditional grammar rules as part of a wide-ranging attempt to curb racism in classrooms, faculty spaces, and the university as a whole.
All six major units of the English department are instituting anti-racist policies, workshops, and initiatives beginning in the Fall semester. Some examples include:
The Writing Program is offering summer workshop sessions focused on responsive teaching in remote learning. In the Fall, students can attend workshops on social justice and writing. The department is rethinking "critical grammar" so multilingual speakers are not put at a disadvantage. The announcement states that this move "encourages students to develop a critical awareness of the variety of choices available to them w/ regard to micro-level issues in order to empower them and equip them to push against biases based on 'written' accents." The 101 course will also include works by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Karen Ho, Michelle Alexander, and David Treuer in an attempt to diversify reading lists.
The Rutgers English Language Institute will continue developing courses in American and international identities, facilitate conversations on language rights as human rights, and launch a new website, "The Linguistic Landscape of Rutgers," to increase awareness of linguistic diversity in the university.
Black Lives Matter Protests Around the World
Undergraduate English will require that English majors take a course in African-American Literature (more on this below). During the coming semester, the department is offering 14 such courses, including Black Speculative Fiction and Afro-Futurism.
Creative Writing will offer a class about reading and writing on race and require professors to take a workshop on creating an anti-racist classroom.
Graduate English is placing emphasis on course proposals that focus on the history of racial injustice in America, as well as initiatives that offer graduate students opportunities to work with prisons, public schools, and community organizations as a form of political activism.
The Center for Cultural Analysis has committed to working with and supporting Black-owned businesses, and will be sponsoring a number of new working groups, initiatives, and exhibitions around race, including the working group, "Slavery + Freedom." It will also emphasize the experience of Asian students during the immigration crisis and the racialization of the current pandemic.
While these (and many more) changes appear exhaustive, such initiatives are generations in the making. The New Brunswick campuses have long been exceptionally diverse. (I'll leave Newark and Camden aside in these examples). In 1995, we held numerous protests over racially-insensitive remarks by then-president, Fran Lawrence, which included blocking Route 18 while marching to his Piscataway residence, and a basketball court sit-in to bring awareness to the systemic problem of racism. There were also numerous "Take Back the Night" rallies and marches addressing systemic abuse and harassment of women, predating #metoo by a generation.
Demonstrators stage protest in the Loop before marching to the private residence of Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker on July 10, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
Interestingly, I spent a few semesters in the English Department before switching to Religion. The best class I took while at Rutgers was "African-American Literature," taught by the incomparable Guyanese-born scholar, Ivan Van Sertima. Instead of demanding we read numerous books and articles, Van Sertima assigned just one book—Ralph Ellison's "The Invisible Man"—which we spent the entire semester dissecting and discussing. His approach was a breath of fresh air: going deep instead of shallowly skimming a breadth of literature.
Here's why I left the department: African-American Literature did not count toward an English degree.
A quarter-century later, such a class is now required for an English degree. Seemingly little steps forward have real-world consequences, especially at an institution like Rutgers. A racially-diverse university does not guarantee racism-free campuses. In fact, Jonathan Holloway, who recently took the helm as Rutgers' first Black president, is not shying away from calling out systemic racism.
Not everyone is happy about these changes, though the noise is mostly coming from conservative blogs. Their argument is predictable (hampering education) and ineffective. A contingent of American society seems perpetually concerned with an imagined "Golden Age," which in this case translates as maintaining the dominant white, Europ
ean model of language. Their concern is relatively confined to prescriptive grammar that influenced Europe and America in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Linguistics evolved to investigate theoretical grammar in the 20th century, which is more applicable in the decision at Rutgers. The purpose of language is to communicate an idea. You can do this through pantomime, of course, but language has always been a living process, not an arcane museum piece. Different people use similar languages to communicate to their peers.
Grammar has suffered in the social media age. People's inability to differentiate between there, their, and they're and your and you're is the source of constant frustration. I'll fight for the serial comma until the end of my days. But when someone doesn't use one, I generally understand what they're trying to communicate. These are minor debates in a vast world of divergent speakers.
Ivan Van Sertima on little known African achievements
If the goal is communication, there are many ways to accomplish this. Consider Deborah in James Baldwin's "Go Tell it on the Mountain," who, replying to Gabriel, says,
"You hush, Reverend. It's me that don't never kneel down without I thank the Lord for you."
And a little later,
"If she'd a-wanted a husband look to me like she could a just picked one out right here. You don't mean to tell me she done travelled all the way North just for that?"
Such writing might not fit into traditional English grammar rules, but it certainly honors the living language that actual people speak.
We can look at Jamaican patois for another example. In the classic film, "Rockers," Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace makes the following speech:
"I and I don't deal with violence. I and I is peaceful Rasta man. I don't steal, cheat; I man serve Selassie-I continually. No matter what the weak heart say, I and I is like a tree plant by the river of water. Not even the dog that piss against the wall of Babylon shall escape this judgment. All of the youth shall witness the day that Babylon shall fall."
If you're not familiar with this patois, the meaning might take some time to convey. For the culture that understands it, this passage clearly states an important idea—and it's entirely in English. Perhaps not the King's English, but that's in part what's beautiful about America: there are no kings.
Diversity isn't only in populations, but the languages those populations speak. Rutgers's new adjustments are ambitious and worthwhile. The university has long boasted the populations necessary to open up such dialogues. If they can find the languages needed to honor those populations, progress is possible.
Astronomers find these five chapters to be a handy way of conceiving the universe's incredibly long lifespan.
- We're in the middle, or thereabouts, of the universe's Stelliferous era.
- If you think there's a lot going on out there now, the first era's drama makes things these days look pretty calm.
- Scientists attempt to understand the past and present by bringing together the last couple of centuries' major schools of thought.
The 5 eras of the universe<p>There are many ways to consider and discuss the past, present, and future of the universe, but one in particular has caught the fancy of many astronomers. First published in 1999 in their book <a href="https://amzn.to/2wFQLiL" target="_blank"><em>The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity</em></a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Adams" target="_blank">Fred Adams</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_P._Laughlin" target="_blank">Gregory Laughlin</a> divided the universe's life story into five eras:</p><ul><li>Primordial era</li><li>Stellferous era</li><li>Degenerate era</li><li>Black Hole Era</li><li>Dark era</li></ul><p>The book was last updated according to current scientific understandings in 2013.</p><p>It's worth noting that not everyone is a subscriber to the book's structure. Popular astrophysics writer <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/ethansiegel/#30921c93683e" target="_blank">Ethan C. Siegel</a>, for example, published an article on <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2019/07/26/we-have-already-entered-the-sixth-and-final-era-of-our-universe/#7072d52d4e5d" target="_blank"><em>Medium</em></a> last June called "We Have Already Entered The Sixth And Final Era Of Our Universe." Nonetheless, many astronomers find the quintet a useful way of discuss such an extraordinarily vast amount of time.</p>
The Primordial era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTEyMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjEzMjY1OX0.PRpvAoa99qwsDNprDme9tBWDim6mS7Mjx6IwF60fSN8/img.jpg?width=980" id="db4eb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0e568b0cc12ed624bb8d7e5ff45882bd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="1049" />
Image source: Sagittarius Production/Shutterstock<p> This is where the universe begins, though what came before it and where it came from are certainly still up for discussion. It begins at the Big Bang about 13.8 billion years ago. </p><p> For the first little, and we mean <em>very</em> little, bit of time, spacetime and the laws of physics are thought not yet to have existed. That weird, unknowable interval is the <a href="https://www.universeadventure.org/eras/era1-plankepoch.htm" target="_blank">Planck Epoch</a> that lasted for 10<sup>-44</sup> seconds, or 10 million of a trillion of a trillion of a trillionth of a second. Much of what we currently believe about the Planck Epoch eras is theoretical, based largely on a hybrid of general-relativity and quantum theories called quantum gravity. And it's all subject to revision. </p><p> That having been said, within a second after the Big Bang finished Big Banging, inflation began, a sudden ballooning of the universe into 100 trillion trillion times its original size. </p><p> Within minutes, the plasma began cooling, and subatomic particles began to form and stick together. In the 20 minutes after the Big Bang, atoms started forming in the super-hot, fusion-fired universe. Cooling proceeded apace, leaving us with a universe containing mostly 75% hydrogen and 25% helium, similar to that we see in the Sun today. Electrons gobbled up photons, leaving the universe opaque. </p><p> About 380,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe had cooled enough that the first stable atoms capable of surviving began forming. With electrons thus occupied in atoms, photons were released as the background glow that astronomers detect today as cosmic background radiation. </p><p> Inflation is believed to have happened due to the remarkable overall consistency astronomers measure in cosmic background radiation. Astronomer <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGCVTSQw7WU" target="_blank">Phil Plait</a> suggests that inflation was like pulling on a bedsheet, suddenly pulling the universe's energy smooth. The smaller irregularities that survived eventually enlarged, pooling in denser areas of energy that served as seeds for star formation—their gravity pulled in dark matter and matter that eventually coalesced into the first stars. </p>
The Stelliferous era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTEzNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjA0OTcwMn0.GVCCFbBSsPdA1kciHivFfWlegOfKfXUfEtFKEF3otQg/img.jpg?width=980" id="bc650" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c8f86bf160ecdea6b330f818447393cd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="481" data-height="720" />
Image source: Casey Horner/unsplash<p>The era we know, the age of stars, in which most matter existing in the universe takes the form of stars and galaxies during this active period. </p><p>A star is formed when a gas pocket becomes denser and denser until it, and matter nearby, collapse in on itself, producing enough heat to trigger nuclear fusion in its core, the source of most of the universe's energy now. The first stars were immense, eventually exploding as supernovas, forming many more, smaller stars. These coalesced, thanks to gravity, into galaxies.</p><p>One axiom of the Stelliferous era is that the bigger the star, the more quickly it burns through its energy, and then dies, typically in just a couple of million years. Smaller stars that consume energy more slowly stay active longer. In any event, stars — and galaxies — are coming and going all the time in this era, burning out and colliding.</p><p>Scientists predict that our Milky Way galaxy, for example, will crash into and combine with the neighboring Andromeda galaxy in about 4 billion years to form a new one astronomers are calling the Milkomeda galaxy.</p><p>Our solar system may actually survive that merger, amazingly, but don't get too complacent. About a billion years later, the Sun will start running out of hydrogen and begin enlarging into its red giant phase, eventually subsuming Earth and its companions, before shrining down to a white dwarf star.</p>
The Degenerate era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTk3NDQyN30.gy4__ALBQrdbdm-byW5gQoaGNvFTuxP5KLYxEMBImNc/img.jpg?width=980" id="77f72" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="08bb56ea9fde2cee02d63ed472d79ca3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="810" />
Image source: Diego Barucco/Shutterstock/Big Think<p>Next up is the Degenerate era, which will begin about 1 quintillion years after the Big Bang, and last until 1 duodecillion after it. This is the period during which the remains of stars we see today will dominate the universe. Were we to look up — we'll assuredly be outta here long before then — we'd see a much darker sky with just a handful of dim pinpoints of light remaining: <a href="https://earthsky.org/space/evaporating-giant-exoplanet-white-dwarf-star" target="_blank">white dwarfs</a>, <a href="https://earthsky.org/space/new-observations-where-stars-end-and-brown-dwarfs-begin" target="_blank">brown dwarfs</a>, and <a href="https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/definition-what-is-a-neutron-star" target="_blank">neutron stars</a>. These"degenerate stars" are much cooler and less light-emitting than what we see up there now. Occasionally, star corpses will pair off into orbital death spirals that result in a brief flash of energy as they collide, and their combined mass may become low-wattage stars that will last for a little while in cosmic-timescale terms. But mostly the skies will be be bereft of light in the visible spectrum.</p><p>During this era, small brown dwarfs will wind up holding most of the available hydrogen, and black holes will grow and grow and grow, fed on stellar remains. With so little hydrogen around for the formation of new stars, the universe will grow duller and duller, colder and colder.</p><p>And then the protons, having been around since the beginning of the universe will start dying off, dissolving matter, leaving behind a universe of subatomic particles, unclaimed radiation…and black holes.</p>
The Black Hole era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjE0OTQ2MX0.ifwOQJgU0uItiSRg9z8IxFD9jmfXlfrw6Jc1y-22FuQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="103ea" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f0e6a71dacf95ee780dd7a1eadde288d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1400" data-height="787" />
Image source: Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock/Big Think<p> For a considerable length of time, black holes will dominate the universe, pulling in what mass and energy still remain. </p><p> Eventually, though, black holes evaporate, albeit super-slowly, leaking small bits of their contents as they do. Plait estimates that a small black hole 50 times the mass of the sun would take about 10<sup>68</sup> years to dissipate. A massive one? A 1 followed by 92 zeros. </p><p> When a black hole finally drips to its last drop, a small pop of light occurs letting out some of the only remaining energy in the universe. At that point, at 10<sup>92</sup>, the universe will be pretty much history, containing only low-energy, very weak subatomic particles and photons. </p>
The Dark Era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE5NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0Mzg5OTEyMH0.AwiPRGJlGIcQjjSoRLi6V3g5klRYtxQJIpHFgZdZkuo/img.jpg?width=980" id="60c77" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7a857fb7f0d85cf4a248dbb3350a6e1c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="810" />
Image source: Big Think<p>We can sum this up pretty easily. Lights out. Forever.</p>
Dr. Katie Mack explains what dark energy is and two ways it could one day destroy the universe.
- The universe is expanding faster and faster. Whether this acceleration will end in a Big Rip or will reverse and contract into a Big Crunch is not yet understood, and neither is the invisible force causing that expansion: dark energy.
- Physicist Dr. Katie Mack explains the difference between dark matter, dark energy, and phantom dark energy, and shares what scientists think the mysterious force is, its effect on space, and how, billions of years from now, it could cause peak cosmic destruction.
- The Big Rip seems more probable than a Big Crunch at this point in time, but scientists still have much to learn before they can determine the ultimate fate of the universe. "If we figure out what [dark energy is] doing, if we figure out what it's made of, how it's going to change in the future, then we will have a much better idea for how the universe will end," says Mack.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty