“To Teach, To Learn, To Inspire”

This time last year, I made the last minute decision to apply to be an instructor for the FIGS program on campus. At the time, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into, and now, almost an entire year later, I can honestly say that getting involved with FIGS has been one of the most challenging and most rewarding opportunities I have undertaken as a student at Rutgers. If you are unfamiliar with the program, FIGS stands for First-Year Interest Group Seminars. These seminars are 1 credit classes designed for first-year students– they all cover different topical areas that connect to different majors, as well as more general information about navigating the enormous university that is Rutgers. The unique thing about these seminars is that they are taught by upperclassmen–juniors and seniors that take on the role of “Peer Instructor,” and receive 3 credits for attended several training sessions over the summer break, creating 10 weeks of lesson plans, and actually implementing those lesson plans in the classroom. This semester, I taught “Exploring English Literature” to a class of 23 first years.

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“To Teach”

Even after an entire summer of careful planning and prepping, walking into my classroom during the first week of September was one of the most intimidating things I have ever done. I felt awkward and rushed, and having twenty-three pairs of eyes examining my every move didn’t help. Ten weeks later, I am comfortable leading discussions, even when things begin stray from my lesson plan. I see students making connections between different poems and texts we have read throughout the semester. I get to read their reflections and first responses to short stories I selected as a part of their reading lists. And tomorrow, during our last class, I will be able to watch my students present their final projects on authors they chose and researched. I am excited to see what my students create and what they have learned from my class throughout the semester. I’ve always been interested in teaching, especially at the level of higher education, and writing and instructing my own FIGS seminar only confirmed this.

“To Learn”

When I really stop to think about this past semester and the FIGS process as a whole, I truthfully think that I learned more than my students. Some of the most important lessons I have learned directly apply to my future career interests, and will definitely give me something to talk about in future job interviews. As FIGS was really my first experience in a leadership role at Rutgers, I have become so much more confident speaking in front of people and leading group and individual discussions. My time management skills have improved, as well as my general organizational and administrative skills. I have learned about my students and the variety of backgrounds and different high school experiences and educations that they have. I have also learned more about myself, both as an individual, and as a teacher.

“To Inspire”

While there were many moments this semester that stand out, the most inspiring was something that happened just last week. After nine weeks of class, one of my students approached me as asked, “What can I do to become a FIGS instructor?” As cliche as it sounds, it is a really cool thing to think about the ways in which I possibly inspired her to take on the same leadership role as I am currently in.

It’s been a long semester and FIGS as a whole has been a lot of hard work filled with more than my fair share of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. If you are a sophomore or junior this semester, and you have any interest in teaching, or even just really love your major and want to share it with the next generation of Rutgers students, I cannot recommend the FIGS Peer Instructor experience enough.
The application comes out in the next week or so, and will be available here: https://figs.rutgers.edu/peer-instructors/teach-a-figs.

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A History of Halloween

I can’t believe Halloween is tomorrow! It seems as though this semester just started. Halloween is a great time to forget the stress of classes and midterms and to dress up and have fun for a weekend!

The Halloween traditions we know and love originated in the religious festival of Samhain (Nov 1). The Celtic festival of Samhain was a celebration marking the end of the Harvest season as people looked ahead towards and prepared for the cold months that were to come. The dark and cold winter was often associated with death because of the hardships (freezing to death, starvation, etc) that came with it. To the Celts that lived in what is now Ireland, the coming of winter meant a blurring of the line between life and death, and allowing spirits to pass through to the “living” world of people were not careful. To prevent this, Celtic priests lit huge bonfires which were then used to re-lit the hearths of everyone in the village. This fire would protect the residents of the house from the spirits of the dead. Many of the traditions that originated in the original All Saint’s Day celebration eventually led to the traditions and practices we follow on Halloween in the US now.

As the influence of Catholicism spread to Ireland, traditional festivals such as Samhain blended with Christian traditions such as All Saint’s Day, a day to celebrate all of the Saints in the Catholic church. To go along with this day, some of the Samhain traditions were adopted in a celebration called All Soul’s Day, which is still celebrated in the Catholic Church on November 2nd, and is a day to honor you friends and family members who have passed away. The combination of these traditions, as well as the All Hallow’s Eve night before All Saint’s Day, were brought to America by immigrants from Catholic countries, specifically to the American colony of Maryland. The immigration boom from Ireland during the years of the Irish potato famine helped to spread the ideas and traditions of Halloween across the states.

During the eighteenth century, Halloween shifted from a time to celebrate and fear the dead to the more fun, community oriented celebrations we know and love today. The tradition of trick or treating was inspired by English and Irish traditions, and partly because of this, there was an emphasis put on being neighborly and kind during Halloween. Eventually, Halloween in the United States lost many of the heavily religious undertones, and by the beginning of the twentieth century, it was just a fun celebration to dress up and get some extra treats!

The American tradition of Halloween, though it was born in Celtic religious traditions, does not really resemble the original Samhain festival. Now, Halloween is seen more of a commercial opportunity, as Americans spend an estimated $6 billion on the holiday! No matter what your thoughts on the religious and cultural history of Halloween, it’s fun to put on a cute outfit and treat yourself to something sweet!

Fun Rutgers Things To Do This Fall!

This Friday is  finally the first day of fall! I say finally because I am excited for the changing leaves and cooler temperatures that await us! However, after a summer full of lazy beach days and outdoor activities, it can sometimes be difficult to find things to do as the weather begins to break! I’ve gathered a list of events and activities on and around campus that can fill your free time and help you get the most out of my absolute favorite season!

  1. Football games!! (and tailgates!)- What better way to enjoy the weather and celebrate Rutgers? Though our football team may not have the best record, it is still fun to cheer on the Scarlet Knights! Some of my favorite moments from my years here at Rutgers come from the Student Section of High Point Solutions Stadium! Even better than going to the game (in my opinion)? Enjoying all the food and fun that is tailgating! From burgers to mac and cheese to fruit and veggie trays, there’s something that everyone can enjoy!
  2. Scarlet Day of Service- Did you know that Scarlet Day of Service is the BIGGEST single day of community service in the entire state of New Jersey? Every fall semester, RUPA plans an incredible day of giving back to the community that so many of us as Rutgers students get to call home! Through Scarlet Day of Service, students will have the opportunity to help clean up New Brunswick, revitalize outdoor spaces, and work with youth and senior citizens, and more! Each and every person can make a difference in the community through this very special Rutgers event!
  3. Explore Rutgers Gardens! Or the Ecological Preserve!- Rutgers Gardens, located on the far side of Cook Campus, and the Ecological Preserve on Livingston are some of the best places to get outdoors as a Rutgers Student! There are many events throughout the Fall semester in the Gardens, from farmer’s markets to the Fall Festival on October 15th. It’s a beautiful place to explore and a great way to learn more about plants! The Ecological Preserve is also something I think all students should take advantage of! As the leaves begin to change, walks through the preserve will only grow more beautiful!
  4. Scarlet Harvest!- Scarlet Harvest takes places on Douglass Campus every year, and is another fun event planned by RUPA! There are a number of different events going on all afternoon, from pie eating contests to mechanical bull riding! There will also be live music and free food! This year the event will be happening on October 4th of Woodbine Lawn on Douglass!
  5. Get off campus and go hiking!!- Fall is the perfect time to get outdoors and go hiking! Though this activity is a little less accessible (you’ll need a car to get to a good spot), it’s still a lot of fun! As the leaves change the trails just get more beautiful and the dropping temperature means it’s a lot less sweaty outside! Some of the closest/best spots for hiking? Delaware Water Gap and Mt. Tammany, Buttermilk Falls, and Hacklebarney State Park, all under two hours away from campus!

Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum

I recently found myself in Philadelphia with my boyfriend on an unseasonably warm day, without any real plans of what we would see or do in the city. Due to the high heat, we didn’t want to just pick a neighborhood and wander, which is usually my go-to activity in any large city. We settled on the Mutter Museum, mostly because of the awesome student discount, its central location in the city, and the promise of a few uninterrupted hours of air conditioning.

The interior of the main section of the Museum

The Mutter Museum is a medical museum that contains hundreds of historical medical instruments, wax representations of different diseases and samples of mutations and “oddities.” The museum is named for Dr. Thomas Mutter, who collected many of the specimen now in the museum throughout his career in the middle of the 19th century, keeping many of the skeletal and wet samples for his own biomedical research purposes. Dr. Mutter greatly improved the surgical techniques of his time and expanded the understanding of the ways in which the human body works and heals. With the student discount, a ticket to the museum is only $13, which grants access to every single exhibition, collection, and the garden full of medicinal plants in the museum’s courtyard.

At first, I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy or even “get” the museum. I am not very fluent in medical terminology, and haven’t taken any biology-related science since my freshman year of high school. I also usually favor art museums over any other type of museum when I am traveling. That being said, I recommend the Mutter Museum to everyone, regardless of their interest in or knowledge of science and medicine. As someone who is more humanities-inclined, I appreciated the historical approach taken by the museum towards medicine. I can honestly say that the Mutter museum is equal parts science and history. There are many specimen that are completely unique to the museum such as slides of Albert Einstein’s brain, the full skeleton of an “American giant,” and the connected livers of Chang and Eng Bunker, a set of Siamese twins born in 1811. The collections allowed me to reflect on the ways in which the practice of medicine has drastically changed in the last 200 years or so, and better appreciate the fact that I am alive in a time of modern medicine, anesthesia, and better acceptance and understanding of genetic mutations and birth defects.

The skull collection, containing 139 skulls from various people throughout the world.

Personally, my favorite part of the museum was a permanent exhibition focusing specifically on medical care and access during the Civil War in the hospitals of Philadelphia. This collection included surgical instruments and horrific descriptions of common medical practices such as amputation. I also appreciated the focus on the important role of women as nurses in the Civil War hospitals, and the use of Walt Whitman quotes throughout the exhibition, which further combined science with the humanities.

Just one of the many interesting skeletal specimen you can check out in the museum!

After visiting, I can truly say the Mutter Museum has something for everyone, regardless of personal interests and prior knowledge. I highly recommend taking advantage of our university’s proximity to Philadelphia and visiting the fascinating museum for yourself!

How to Plan for a Productive Summer

As finals and the end of the semester approach slowly but surely (or entirely too fast in some people’s opinion), I am beginning to plan out my summer and the details of all of the tasks I must complete before the beginning of my senior year. The list is daunting, to say the least:

  1. Study for and take the GREs and obtain a somewhat respectable score.
  2. Plan out and submit a curriculum for the Exploring English Literature FIGS section I was chosen to teach next semester.
  3. Research the English Literature PhD programs at various schools, with a particular focus on the specific research work of the professors at these schools.
  4. Research and read for source documents that will be relevant in the writing of my thesis, closely read the novels I plan on analyzing in my thesis, and begin to outline and draft the project.
  5. Research Fulbright ETA programs in various Spanish-speaking countries and around the world, work on the Fulbright Student ETA application.

Hopefully NOT a representation of how I will feel this summer..

Phew! Even though it only takes up five bullet points, it’s a lot to cram into one summer. Additionally, I will be working full-time (groceries aren’t going to buy themselves…), volunteering with a New Brunswick summer camp program, and I also have several important family events to attend, including my sister’s high school graduation. And of course, I would like to *try* to enjoy myself at least a little, as it is my final summer before I graduate from undergrad.

In order to alleviate some of my stress when I look at the list, I’ve broken my summer in month-long chunks to help me better manage my time. For example, after the semester ends to the second week of June, I will be focusing on my GREs. I will take the exam in the second week of June, and will hopefully be pleased with my score so that I can focus on everything else. Next, from about the second week of June to the end of that month, my focus will primarily be on planning my curriculum for FIGS. The written plan for my class is due at the end of June, and getting both the GRE and FIGS out of the way will open up the rest of my summer for the other items on the list. Breaking things down like this in terms of time really helps me to feel less anxious about the longer list of everything that must be completed by the first day of class next September.

Another thing I have learned can be extremely helpful is creating an actual written plan on how I am going to spend my hours. I’ve been putting this into practice this semester to find time to study for my GREs. Every week, after I get my work schedule, I sit down with my google calendar and enter the hours I will have to spend at work. My classes and the major due dates for papers and exams are already programmed in, so once my work schedule is in for the week, I add two to four blocks of time (depending on their length) specifically meant for studying for the GRE. In this way, I can better hold myself accountable to actually get some practice problems and vocabulary flashcards in, instead of just saying that I will do it in my free time. I plan on continuing this practice throughout the summer, and I recommend it if you also have major projects going on. Another great thing about this plan is that your free time is genuinely free. Because you have spent your scheduled time doing all of the major things you need to get done, you don’t feel as though there are important tasks looming over you when you are just trying to enjoy yourself at the beach, at a barbeque, or whenever you are just trying to enjoy the fact that you are not in the middle of an annoyingly busy semester.

The four months off in between the two semesters can be so valuable if they are managed correctly. I hope my summer productivity tips helps you figure out how to get big things done this summer, whether you have an internship, summer classes, or several important projects!

Fingers crossed that I’ll be able to spend at least a little bit of time here!

 

 

Documentary Review: She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry

Perhaps it is because I am currently taking a class on documentary filmmaking, but I have never been so interested in watching documentaries as I am this semester. To continue the trend I started last month with my review of 13TH, I would like to recommend a second, equally important documentary. She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry tells the story of the beginnings of second-wave feminism, a history I would know little about if I were not a Women and Gender Studies minor. The history of the feminist movement in the United States is often overlooked, without any explanation, in high school history classes. Speaking for myself, I would have loved to learn about important political figures involved in the movement, including Kate Millet, Muriel Fox Linda Burnham, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and a number of other strong women that are featured in the film. All of these women were important activists throughout the period, and are still fighting for women’s human rights and equality.

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The movie covers the wide range of activism throughout that time period, beginning with the formation of NOW (National Organization of Women), to the more radical and outrageous actions of groups such as W.I.T.C.H. (Women’s International Conspiracy from Hell!). Even with my own strong background knowledge about the movement, I could not help but learn from the histories the women shared. Hearing personal stories about rallies, protests, and organized groups from all across the spectrum of the fight for women’s liberation was enlightening. My favorite aspect of the film is the ways in which they use the older, archival footage along with the new interviews, showing how the women have changed and developed over time. It puts an active face to all of the women we see in photographs of the protests surrounding the era.

Another aspect of the film I really enjoyed is its acknowledgment of the issues that arose as the movement grew. The attempts to create an intersectional movement encompassing women of all races, socio-economic backgrounds, and sexual orientations often failed, and She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry doesn’t try to hide it. The women are aware of the difficulties that they faced and sometimes created themselves, when expanding their movement. Only by acknowledging the past errors with intersectional feminism can we remedy them as we progress with today’s feminist movement.

Overall, I was inspired by the film. In the current political climate, it important to continue the fight for reproductive rights and true equality and against the normalization of sexual violence. However, we cannot move forward with progress unless we take a step back and recognize the incredible efforts of the women who came before, paving the way with activism that, though sometimes was extremely radical, helped us to achieve the position we are in today. I recommend She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry to anyone that ever wished they could learn more about the history of the women’s movement, or even just the current state of women in society today. The movie made me laugh and made me cry at other parts, and it is a really great way to begin to explore the rich history of feminism.

Documentary Recommendation: 13TH

Powerful, infuriating and at times overwhelming, Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13TH will get your blood boiling and tear ducts leaking.” -Manohla Dargis, New York Times

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It is not a secret that the United States of America, despite having only 5% of the entire world’s population, is home to 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. And, despite only making up only about a quarter of the country’s population, black and hispanic men combined make up 58% of all prisoners in the US (NAACP, 2017). Ava DuVernay explores why that is the case in her award-winning documentary, 13TH.

Found on Netflix, the documentary is a powerful and important one. DuVernay exposes the oft-overlooked loophole in the 13th Amendment, which states: “Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States” (United States Constitution, 1865). Though the 13th Amendment freed the slaves on paper, the loophole it created through the phrase “except as punishment for a crime” has, as DuVernay explores in her documentary, contributed to the mass-incarceration of black men, something that, as author Michelle Alexander describes, is just a new form of slavery and racism.

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The documentary looks farther into the theory Alexander presents in her book, The New Jim Crow. She argues that the idea of black men and women as slaves in the United States has never really gone away, despite the 13th Amendment. She charts the development of Jim Crow, from restrictive voting laws to the idea of “separate, but equal,” and follows these ideas to their role in today’s society, what she calls “The New Jim Crow.” She focuses specifically on the “War on Drugs” waged by the federal government through the late twentieth century, described as backlash against the gains that were made during the Civil Rights movement and the ways in which longer sentencing, the privatization of the prison industry, and general racism has contributed to the extremely high number of incarcerated black men.

I watched the documentary last semester as part of my Gender, Culture, and Representation class, and it was highly recommended by my Gender and Human Rights professor this semester. Though it had been on my list for a few months, I am grateful that I had a class that finally forced me to sit down and watch the film. To call it eye-opening would be an understatement. Prior to watching the film, I was relatively confident in my historical knowledge, at least in terms of the history of the United States. However, 13TH showed me just how many important topics my high school history classes left out, topics that, though they expose the “uglier” side of American history, are essential to the understanding of the racial divide in the United States today. I highly recommend 13TH to anyone interested in the topic of the construction and application of “race” in American society, as well as to anyone interested in general US history following the Civil Rights movement. Additionally, 13TH has a powerful soundtrack, and is visually interesting to view. Next time you’re looking for something to watch, try 13TH. Here’s a link to the trailer: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5895028/videoplayer/vi1201321497?ref_=tt_ov_vi

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Inauguration Day Fun Facts

As we prepare for the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States of America, I realized that though I have seen several different inaugurations in my lifetime, I did not know that much about the history of the day. The inauguration date of January 20th is relatively new, with the first inauguration on that specific day occurring in the year 1937. Before 1937, the inauguration took place on the fourth of March. Here are some other interesting facts about the history of Inauguration Day in the US:

  1. Theodore Roosevelt was the only US President to not use a Bible when swearing in to the office at his inauguration in 1901. After six months of serving as the vice president, William McKinley was assassinated earlier in the year. However, there is no consistency regarding the use of the Bible in other inaugurations–some presidents flip open to a random page, others pick out specific verses or passages to place their hand on, and some prefer to keep the Bible closed completely.

  2. Though it is relatively well known that William Henry Harrison’s inauguration speech was the longest ever delivered (which ultimately led to his death at the hands of pneumonia when he refused to wear a hat or coat in the snowstorm that occurred during his swearing-in), the shortest inauguration speech was given by George Washington before he began his second term in 1793. The speech was only 135 words long and only took a few minutes to deliver.

  3. After Jimmy Carter’s inauguration ceremony in 1977, he walked from the Capitol Building to the White House with his wife and daughter in a parade. The only other president to have done so is Thomas Jefferson. Carter did so to appear as though he was more connected to the people than recent presidents preceding him. The mile and a half walk in took forty minutes total, and Carter later called it “the perfect day.”

  4. The Inaugural Ball was open to the public for the first time during Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013. The tickets were originally priced at $60, but were scalped online for $12,500 in some cases. In contrast, tickets to the celebration only cost $4 at James Madison’s inauguration in 1809.
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  5. The official Presidential oath can be found in the United States constitution. During George Washington’s first inauguration he recited the oath perfectly, and adding “So help me God” at the end of the last sentence. Though this phrase has never been officially added to the oath, it has become a tradition for newly sworn-in presidents to follow in the footsteps of George Washington, including Barack Obama during both of his inaugurations. One of the only presidents to break from this tradition was Theodore Roosevelt, who instead concluded the oath with the phrase, “And thus I swear.”

It will be interesting to see what sort of traditions and memorable moments emerge from today’s inauguration!

Winter Break Book Recommendation

I recently read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel, Americanah, for my Black Novel class here at Rutgers with Professor Cheryl Wall. It is, by at least 35 years, the most contemporary book I have ever read for an actual academic class, including all the books I read for my classes in high school. Not only was it unexpectedly refreshing to read something younger than I am, but the novel proved that you don’t have to go back generations to find a book worth discussing.

Americanah is a coming of age novel about the challenges of immigration, the notion of race, and the search for one’s own identity in today’s world, which includes the complications of online media. Ifemelu, the main character, immigrates to America as a college student, determined to escape the constant strikes that interrupt her studies in Nigeria. The novel follows her as she struggles to navigate the United States, with passages from familiar places such as Philadelphia, Trenton, and Princeton. My personal knowledge of some of the places Ifemelu experiences made the novel come alive.

Another fascinating aspect of Americanah is the way in which Adichie uses digital media to tell the story. Ifemelu starts a blog when she is in America, and through these blog posts, the reader comes to understand her struggles with race and identity in a new place. She is not used to being seen as a black woman, her identity defined solely by her physical characteristics. In America, she has her first white boyfriend, who seems to “collect” foreign women; she is asked to give the “black perspective” in her classes by professors that assume her life experiences based on the color of her skin, and she becomes invested in the election of Barack Obama and the importance his leadership as a black man holds for many of her close friends.

The novel moves through time and space, not only charting Ifemelu’s experiences in the United States in a non-chronological manner, but following the life of her old college boyfriend from Nigeria as well. Obinze and Ifemelu seem to be meant for one another, but after she moves to America, they cannot help but to grow apart. Obinze has always wanted to go to America–he idolizes the culture of the country, only reading American books, only watching American films, and staying up-to-date in current political and social issues there. However, when he is given the opportunity to leave Nigeria, he has no choice but to go the England. His experiences there are very different from Ifemelu’s in America, and the contrast between the two is striking.

The transnational scope of the novel gives the reader the unique chance to read about the issues of immigration, race, and class from several different perspectives. Americanah is a book that addresses the issues of race and identity in American, questioning the notion of belonging. It truly is one of the most unique novels I have ever read, following the characters and they cross borders and deal with the challenges of finding out who they are in a completely unfamiliar space.

If you are looking for a great novel for the next few weeks of winter break, I cannot stress enough how fulfilling of a read Americanah is. Though it is long (almost 600 pages!) it reads quickly and easily, and is definitely worth it. Check it out!

Great Short Reads: Honors Seminar

One of my favorite parts about being involved with the Honors Program is the classes it allows students to take. This semester, I am taking a one credit seminar called “Great Short Reads” that is only offered to students within the Honors Program. The class only meets about five or six times throughout the semester, but is constantly active online, in Sakai forums. We have to read three short novellas during the semester, the first chosen by Paul Blaney, the instructor, and the following two chosen by the students.

We meet every few weeks, with pizza of course (thanks to Honors Program!), to discuss the novella and tp watch a movie adaptation of it. The discussions, especially the online potions of them, are very thought-provoking. It’s also fun and relaxing to get together as a group every few weeks to hang out, talk about really interesting books, and compare the movies to the novellas with my peers.

The first novella, titled Death in Venice, was unlike anything I have read before. I flew through the story, finishing the entire book in one sitting. Thomas Mann painting a beautiful, yet bleak, image of the city of Venice. The story was slightly disturbing, as an older man became obsessed with and fell in “love” with a young boy while on holiday in Venice, Italy, but I still enjoyed reading the it. The internal conflict and thoughts of the main character were fascinating to read and try to understand. The movie adaptation was enjoyable to watch because of the way in which we were able to compare it to the novel as a class.

I am looking forward to the next two novellas we plan on reading: The Lover by Marguerite Duras, and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Though I have not read these novellas yet, it is interesting to think about the major themes of the class that have formed through our choice of books. The overarching theme of the class has somehow been turned into aging, or more specifically, the acceptance and fear of it. Other themes that will form links between the three stories are likely to expose themselves in our readings, and I look forward to trying to find and discuss them.