August 8, 2017

Extreme Weather, Soccer for Kids in Need, Activism and Gay-Straight Alliances, and Increased Minority Participation in Computer Science

This past week, a study published in The Lancet Planetary Health reported that, “weather-related disasters could affect about two-thirds of the European population annually by the year 2100” (see 1). That number is equal to about 152,000 people a year, which is “50 times the number of fatalities occurring annually.” The authors, Dr. Giovanni Forzieri, Alessandro Cescatti, Filipe Batista e Silva, and Luc Feyen, include in their study an interpretation of the data. Forzieri et. al state that adaptation measures must be taken, or the costs of these disasters will simply keep increasing. The authors also argue that the “unequal burden of effects on human beings” should be addressed by shifting regional investments. Adaptation and mitigation steps are rapidly rising in necessity as increasing numbers of studies are published that explain why we will, by the end of this century, likely experience a global temperature increase greater than or equal to 2°C. Beyond this point, scientists believe that “life on our planet will change as we know it,” and for the worse – including “rising seas, mass extinctions, super droughts, increased wildfires, intense hurricanes, decreased crops and fresh water and the melting of the Arctic.”

Last week, Leslie Berestein Rojas of National Public Radio reported that on the field of a Westminster middle school, roughly 24 children play soccer every Tuesday morning. This summer activity is special in that most of the kids playing are refugees. One child, Neegina, recounted her relationship with soccer back home: “We were playing soccer in the home, not outside, because there are bad people, and they say they will kill you. That is why we were just at home, all the time.” World Relief, a refugee resettlement agency, has been able to provide this free weekly activity. Jose Serrano, a staff member of World Relief, started an art program for these kids. He comments on the necessity of these activities: “There was a need, and that need was to provide these kids with the opportunity to simply be kids,” Serrano said. “A lot of the kids came from war-torn countries, where they went to school and the next day, the school wasn't there anymore.”

This summer, Robt Seda-Schreiber was awarded the Social Justice Activist Award from the National Education Association. Seda-Schreiber created, after much pushback, a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at his school – the first GSA established in a New Jersey middle school. He also works with other schools to help them establish their own GSAs. Jake Nisse reports, “[Seda-Schreiber’s] belief in equality for all fueled Seda-Schreiber decision to try to launch a GSA at his school to create a safe, inclusive space for students of all backgrounds.” Seda-Schreiber comment on the needs of students, “They need to feel like they’re loved, in their schools, in their homes, in their communities, no matter who they are, who they love, what they represent, how they identify.” GLSEN has been a nonprofit for LGBTQIA+ students since 1990. A 2015 GLSEN National School Climate survey has shown that “students who attended schools with a GSA were much more likely to report that their classmates were accepting of LGBTQ people.” The survey also found, “students in schools with GSAs were almost twice as likely to describe their peers as accepting compared to students in schools without a GSA.”

Last week, Anya Kamantez of National Public Radio reported an increase in the number of minorities who took an AP Computer Science (CS) exam (see 5). In fact, Kamantez states, “from 2016 to 2017 the number… nearly tripled.” Unfortunately, there were still vastly disproportionately fewer underrepresented minorities and women taking AP CS last year. But, even these numbers are enormous increases from just ten years ago. is a nonprofit that is one of eight providers authorized to provide curriculum for AP CSP. reports that the participation of female students from AP CS since 2007 has multiplied more than 11 times over, and has increased 135% since 2016. This increased participation is not fortuitous. Hadi Partovi is the co-creator of Partovi states, “The entire reason the new exam and course were created was to broaden participation in computer science.” The significance of this intention is that it will change the face of the workplace in the computer science industry. 70% of students taking’s AP CSP indicate wanting to “pursue computer science after graduation.” is optimistic that the progress “will have a downstream impact on diversity in tech at the university and workforce level.”

Written By: Faith Lewis, LLS Contributor


(1) European Extreme Weather


(2) Soccer for Kids in Need


(3) Activism and Gay-Straight Alliances


(4) Increased Minority Participation in Computer Science


Written By: Faith Lewis, LLS Contributor

August 1, 2017

The Military Ban and Title VII, Cuts to SNAP, Further Repercussions of Lead, Roem Running for Office as the First Openly Transgender State Legislator, Environmental Defenders are Dying and Innovative Technology Use.

*Content warning: transphobia and sexual assault*

On the 26th of July, Donald Trump, in three tweets, stated that the US government would no longer allow transgender individuals to “serve in any capacity in the US Military.” He cites the “tremendous medical costs” he believes to be associated with transgender individuals (see 1). Aliana Kupec was a Navy intelligence officer in 1992. This transgender woman stated, “it just really saddened me for the transgender sailors and soldiers who are serving around the world today and are selflessly giving themselves to protect our country.” A number of Republican senators do not support the President’s decision. Republican senator Joni Ernst of Iowa is a 20-year military veteran who has stated that anyone who is qualified should be able to serve. Later that same day, the Department of Justice filed a brief that argued that Title VII does not protect workers from being discriminated against for their sexual orientation. The American Civil Liberties Union attorney James Esseks commented on the matter: “the Sessions-led Justice Department and the Trump administration are actively working to expose people to discrimination.”

The White House’s Budget Proposal for the 2018 Fiscal year includes beginning a 25% cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over a decade (see 2). SNAP is better known by its previous name “food stamps.” The budget states that these reforms have been implemented to “encourage[e] work among able-bodied adults without dependents.” The majority of people on SNAP already “live in a household where someone had a job in the year before or after receiving SNAP”. According to James P. Ziliak of the Center for Policy Research at the University of Kentucky, SNAP “is increasingly operating as a work support for higher educated, but low-income households…” Orgul Demet Ozturk, Associate Professor of Economics at University of South Carolina states “making SNAP less accessible may mean not only major short-term impact to the most vulnerable but also very significant long-run effects.”

Earlier this month, reporter Yvette Cabrera of ThinkProgress published part two of her investigation into the impacts of lead in children (see 3). Cabrera found that even when children have blood lead concentrations below the threshold at which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends intervention for children (5 mcg/dL), “irreversible neurotoxic effects on the developing brains of children” could still occur. According to the CDC, “no level of lead in children is safe.” Cabrera reports, “low level lead exposure … affect[s] not only a child’s intellectual and academic abilities, but are also a risk factor for higher rates of neurobehavioral disorders such as hyperactivity and attention deficits.” Ceasar Gaspar is one boy who has suffered under the effects of lead. His mother told him that he doesn’t behave and the child replied with, “it’s because I can’t behave”. Fortunately, Ceasar has received the assistance that he needs but Gabriela Hernandez, a mental health therapist, expresses concern for children like Ceasar that have been placed on gang registries – “did they have some special education impairment that was overlooked?”

Democratic nominee Danica Roem is running for the House of Delegates 13th district seat (see 4). The Victory Fund is a group that aims to make American politics have a more inclusive voice by increasing the number of openly LGBTQ officials at all levels of government. The Victory Fund states that if Roem wins, she would be the first openly transgender candidate to win and serve as a state legislator. Running against her is Republican Rob Marshall who is, according to reporter Sarah Rankin, has “sponsored some of the most socially conservative legislation in Virginia in the past 25 years.” In an interview, Marshall referenced Danica by both her name and her “deadname” or “birth name.” Writer Sam Riedel states that referring to a trans person by the name they were assigned at birth, rather than the name that they use could “be a source of profound, dysphoria-inducing anxiety.” Despite this, Marshall has said that he respects all people “because we are all made in our Creator's image.”

According to a Global Witness report that was released earlier this month, in 2016, at least 200 people have been recorded as murdered for “defending their land, forests and rivers against destructive industries” (see 5). According to Global Witness, sexual assault, arrests and aggressive legal attacks are other tactics that have been used to silence environmental defenders. Jakeline Romero, a Columbian land defender, has said, “They threaten you so you will shut up. I can’t shut up. I can’t stay silent faced with all that is happening to my people. We are fighting for our lands, for our water, for our lives.” Columbia has the second highest incidents of murder of environmental land defenders in 2016 (37 people). Only Brazil has more at deaths of this kind (49 people). Incidences of death are increasing and taking place in more countries. Indigenous peoples represent a disproportionate amount of those killed (40%). In Global Witnesses’ “Defenders of the Earth,” they outline that governments, investors and corporations should “tackle the root cause of the risk…support and protect defenders… [and] ensure accountability for offenders.”

Daniel Saltzman, the chief of pediatric surgery at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, used virtual reality (VR) to help separate conjoined twins (see 6). This is the first time that VR has been used to help separate twins partially conjoined at the heart. A month before surgery, Saltzman and Anthony Azakie, chief of pediatric cardiac surgery at the hospital, and their team explored VR models of the twins’ hearts. The VR models were blown-up replicas of the twins’ small organs. It was due to this rendering that the doctors realized that incorrectly severing splitting tissue that connected Paisleigh and Paislyn could result in the death of them both. The doctors decided to simply flip the twins in order to avoid that angle. Two months after the twins were separated, the doctors say that they’ll have lead healthy, independent lives. Saltzman said, “..the fact that we got to [separate these infants] using virtual reality for direct patient care makes that feat truly incredible.” There is currently a GoFundMe campaign to support the care of both children (see 7).

Written By: Faith Lewis, LLS Contributor


(1) Trump’s Tweet re Military Ban:

DOJ’s Anti-LGBTQ Position re Title VII


(2) Cuts in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program


(3) Further Repercussions of Lead


(4) Roem Running for Office as the First Openly Transgender Candidate


(5) Defenders of the Earth are Dying


(6) Innovative Technology Use


(7) Gofundme for Paisleigh & Paislyn Martinez


Written By: Faith Lewis, LLS Contributor