Category Archives: Opinion

Garbage Meteorology

By Lionel Gilliar-Schoenenberger CE’23Image_Pioneer_ArticleOn a rattling steel bicycle with a welded luggage rack, I begin a planned route just as it becomes dusk. I, and a handful of other “trash pickers” and “scrappers,” are out on the prowl in Nassau County, NY. The most exhilarating evenings are those before large garbage collection day. These endeavors are hopeful, but I know I will never run across a bin of jewels, or a haphazard stack of Picasso paintings. To base one’s life on the rejected garbage of others has formed an invisible ecosystem that springs to life for only a few moonlight hours, and although I like to take the more flattering title of “Curb Shopper,” I don’t romanticize such a life.

Becoming a contributing member to this odd craft requires an unorthodox upbringing among the gruff and weathered. Starting to work at the local flea market at the age of twelve, I quickly became accustomed to the toothless grins of other vendors, each upon their throne of haphazard collection of items. Each week, I go out to collect discarded items on these garbage nights, in order to fix and resell these finds at the market or over the internet.

Trial and error determining what is sellable, also known as something that “qualifies,” refined my taste and intuition when searching for garbage, which is referred to as “hunting.” The blanket characterization that would classify all “pickers” into one category is inaccurate. As the name entails, “scrappers” look to find items containing precious metals in the form of appliances and raw rubbish to be sold by weight at a scrap yard, whereas most other pickers will pick up items based on whether it qualifies. The standards of what one picks up varies, some look to also take construction materials while some only take items that look to be clean and accessible. The manner in which a picker goes hunting varies from the wealth and geography of a given region, yet an unwritten etiquette remains common among most: do not open garbage bags, the items must be on the curb, on pavement and, most importantly, do not make a mess.

Familiarity with picking routes and selling used goods develops an archival knowledge and intuition. Patterns in what people throw out appear over time. People are affected by weather, holidays, traditions, and drastic change. As a result, the type of garbage on display for pickers and raccoons each week follow the reactions people have to these events. Just as an old farmer knows when to plant and when to harvest, a veteran picker can reasonably give the forecast of garbage.

Image of a garbage pile
Image of a garbage pile

In addition to regular household garbage, individuals throw out other things as well. Early spring and the end of summer bring air conditioners, propane grills and outdoor furniture. Late fall and the weekends after Labor Day Memorial Day bring about electronics and indoor furniture, generally after large promotional sales in big-box stores. Additionally, applied trends such as garage sale remnants being thrown out as leftovers are a common sight when weekends have had nice weather consecutively. Households purge their home of clutter before Thanksgiving and Christmas to make room for new items to impress family. Only will there be household food and paper waste, known as “garbage garbage,” when people experience drastic changes in weather such as the first good day to go the beach in spring or after the first snowfall. Poor weather generally yields a lull in the quality of garbage.

Suburban areas that offer more than once per week collections of household garbage are good neighbor hoods to start out finding items that qualify to be taken. Wealthier areas have less garbage on an average each week, yet they can present great finds occasionally after the stimuli previously listed. Lower -income households produce the most waste as their standing only allows them to purchase cheaper goods that often break and are subsequently discarded.

By the end of the run, I will have filled part of my yard and garage with items that must be tested, possibly repaired and then hopefully sold. I awake physically exhausted the next morning, returning to the “normal world” where documentation and designated wages define an individual. Over a third of my life has incorporated picking, selling at flea markets, and repairing an array of different types of items. They have defined a part of who I am, just as any profession will. I am proud; yet these skills, this hidden life, will remain off any heavy-weight paper with the bold letters ‘CV’ written atop.

Beyond theory, these nighttime hours are often uninterrupted as exhaustion builds from riding back and forth from a drop off point for the picked items, but there can be altercations. Even among those on the fringes of societal normality, civility is maintained in most encounters and disputes of large groupings of good rubbish. Tension in such moments is unique. One on one when the rest of the world remains asleep and only streetlamps provide only a shadow to identify the other. Patience and standing your ground becomes paramount to winning your claim, but a difference in power is especially defined in my practice of curb shopping. Only having a rickety old bicycle versus the cargo van of my competitor places my position below since I have less carrying capacity. Nevertheless, I have gained respect from other local pickers as I do not back down out of principle, although my equipment may be lacking. Upgrading to a car or truck may help in this regard one day.




By Nora Ashwood A’23

Azure, lapis, cobalt, Phthalocyanine Blue BN– “This color is also present in Lidl’s Dentalux Total Care Plus toothpaste, listed as the final ingredient.” Farizandi’s Cobalt has a brilliance close to International Klein Blue, but its hue morphs and varies in value, deeper and older– older in that it looks like a blue you remember and not a blue that is before your eyes. The blue is rich and vast and flat, but flat only until your eyes travel to the top right, to the black and (avian) orange at a 30-degree angle. The angle inverts the way you see the entire painting. Suddenly, the blue takes shape and forms an urban space of corners of buildings and too many small apartments jammed into former tenement buildings. Like the product of 3D glasses in a movie theater, the single perspectival slant transforms what is understood as a flat surface into an illusion of deep space with only a pair of black dots, like Mizar and Alcor, anchoring your eyes and keeping them from rising off the top and out of the frame, along with the rest of the shapes… Cobalt is a theatrical stage on which you can apprehend the near naturalistic renditions of light, color, and space taking shape before your eyes.

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The Traitors of Modern Feminism: “Gender Critical” Misogyny

By Deena Fahed A’23

Trans exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs, are a plague on the contemporary feminist movement. Although these “gender critical” radical feminists comprise a relatively small percentage of people who call themselves feminists, they are a very vocal minority. J.K. Rowling made headlines earlier this month for tweeting that trans acceptance is a Trojan horse for the erasure of “real women’s” identities, adding yet another chapter to her long history of platforming transphobic messages. TERFs contribute heavily to dangerous cultural narratives about trans women, often expressing a vitriolic hatred for them. These narratives contribute to real world violence – nearly half of the trans population in the US experienced some form of harassment in the past year, 47% of them have been sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, and “trans panic” in still a legally viable defense against murder charges in 40 states – and this violence disproportionately affects trans women of color and lower income trans people.

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Supporting Spirituality: Religious Groups at Cooper

By: Abdullah Siddiki (EE ‘18)

Artwork by Zekiel Maloney (Art ‘20).

The opinions in this article are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Pioneer as a whole.

The Bill of Rights was added to the United States constitution in 1791 to better protect the individual freedoms of the American people. First in the list of these ten amendments are principles essential to maintaining our civil liberties: freedom of speech and freedom of religion. All Americans are given the right to freely exercise their religion, and Cooper Union students are no strangers to this on campus. Among a student body bursting with religious and cultural diversity, organizations like Intervarsity, Hillel, and the Muslim Students Association are vital to students’ life on campus. This article aims to explain the goals of some of these organizations, and offer insight into why it is so vital for these groups to exist on campus.

The Value of Religious Diversity
Before diving into the details of what these groups have been doing, it is worth taking a look at the value of fostering religious diversity on campus. In any higher education community, allowing students to explore new avenues of collaboration and diversity holds tremendous promise and offers vast opportunities.

Think about not allowing this religious diversity to be fostered at Cooper. We would run the risk of hardening stereotypes that run in society. Interaction and diversity foster understanding and love, whereas separation and exclusion foster hatred. Not allowing religious groups to thrive could serve well to deepen the cynicism near the discordant aspects of religion. We could discourage religious students in their pursuit of intellectual growth by failing to integrate spiritual growth. The encouragement of diversity and religious practice has a dazzling, positive effect on what a university education can begin—a life of deeper respect for difference and the intriguing and demanding work of envisioning a world where coexistence is a highly prized goal.

John Inazu, associate professor of law at Washington University, wrote on pluralism, “Pluralism rests on three interrelated aspirations: tolerance, humility, and patience… Pluralism does not impose the fiction of assuming that all ideas are equally valid or morally benign. It does mean respecting people, aiming for fair discussion, and allowing for the right to differ about serious matters.” All of these qualities are not only compatible with higher education, but they are, in fact, essential for authentic learning.

Even in an increasingly secular culture, distinct and diverse faith communities continue to exist and thrive. Because religion plays a significant role in American public life outside of the university, it should be represented within the microcosm of educational institutions. Removing clubs that are predicated on religious practices limits students’ exposure to the diversity they will face outside academia, a diversity that is both a strength and challenge of American culture. The tolerance, humility, and patience that are needed for this kind of pluralism are ideal qualities to encourage in students, as well as all citizens. These qualities are essential for students’ “moral formation”—a concept that may seem passé in today’s culture but has traditionally been the hallmark of higher education. Emile Durkheim, a founder of the modern field of sociology, wrote in 1925 that formal education inherently cultivates these kinds of qualities, which serves both society and the individual. The ability to navigate the tension between self-interest and the good of others—which is, coincidentally, the core challenge of religious practice—is perhaps one of the most important outcomes a college education can have.

Religious Groups at Cooper
Abe Chung, the large group coordinator for Cooper Union’s Intervarsity Christian Fellowship had the following to say about what the club does: “Our hope for our fellowship at Cooper is to reflect the love and grace God has shown to the entirety of the campus. We believe that every person is made in the image of God and we want to affirm that in every person we meet! We try to do this in every event and group we host, from our large groups and community groups to prayer meetings and mercy & justice events.”

Intervarsity holds large groups and small groups to foster discussion and offer space for students to talk about their religion and their life. They also host multiple charity events throughout the year. On the importance of Intervarsity to Cooper’s community, Chung added, “we’re grateful that we can provide the place for all, Christian and non-Christian alike, to actively learn more about God. We’re able to connect with members of the community, where people from all different backgrounds can be brought together. Cooper is a tough place to be, academically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, and this community is a way that we build up each other past those struggles. As we juggle our countless responsibilities, it opens up the marvelous opportunity to see more of God at Cooper.”

A member of Intervarsity spoke about the impact the club had on him personally: “To me large group is important because when I felt alone, it became a family or friend to me. It had people that I could see when I needed help whether in academics, social life, health, religious life and such. I thought this only applied when I was a freshman yet it still stays true even when I am a junior. Small group has been meaningful to me because I could talk openly about things related to life other than school. Next thing you know, sharing had been really good for me mentally, which allowed me to function well. It is not a counseling session, but I was able to learn more about myself that I did not know about. It is not easy to talk openly about myself in a big environment like large group, but small group is a self-contained family environment. I also got to know others very well, resolving any misunderstandings that I had. Also free food was a good thing for me because at some point I literally had no money to buy food.”

The Cooper Union Muslim Students Association, albeit small, is also an active religious organization; one that I am personally involved with. When I first arrived as a student at Cooper, I had no idea whether or not there was an MSA at our school like there is at many others. I remember in my first or second week seeing a poster on one of the bulletin boards, simply listing the five prayers that are mandatory for Muslims to perform every day and an e-mail address for contact. A single person, a graduate student who was finishing up his masters was the entire MSA, and he himself was actually a convert to Islam.

Today the MSA is almost 20 students strong. They organize meet-ups for performing daily prayers; the group chat dings throughout the day, “does anyone want to pray right now?” and students grab prayer rugs from the fifth-floor lockers and head on down to the second-floor staircase where prayers usually take place. The value of this cannot be emphasized enough. Fulfilling the five daily prayers is not an easy task when considering the workload and business of the average Cooper Union student. Having a group of brothers who encourage this practice is very helpful when it comes to balancing school and religion. Asides from this daily prayer, which can be fulfilled individually, the MSA also holds a weekly congregational prayer. Attending the mandatory congregation at a mosque is difficult for many students because of conflicts with class and work. The MSA provides a weekly, student delivered sermon and prayer. Topics range widely from mercy, the importance of seeking knowledge, setting goals, giving charity, and much more.
When asked about the impact MSA has had for them, a member responded, “I love MSA. The brotherhood is amazing. It makes practicing religion easier for me. I don’t have to deal with a dilemma of choosing between following my religion and getting an education because the avenues offered by the MSA afford me both. You get to see the people whom the media tries to demonize—you see that they are just like you. The MSA increases tolerance, camaraderie, understanding, and appreciation.”

The Cooper Union Hillel supports the Jewish community on campus. Unfortunately, Hillel was unable to comment.

Overall, Cooper Union’s religious groups foster diversity and understanding on campus. They offer avenues for students to vent, to practice, and to explore their spirituality. Often neglected and not thought of, these organizations have a valuable impact on campus life. ◊