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Sunday, June 23, 2024
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

Jessica Digennaro


It's been real

I've always hated it when people say, "Our lives are just beginning," because at this point, my life has been well underway for the past 22 years.


UB has top-rated professors

After 10 million ratings of over 6,500 schools, the University at Buffalo has come out on top.The highly popular professor evaluation website,, has released its list of the top college professors for 2010, and UB instructors Jim Javor and Rob Busch were named 10th and 22nd in the nation."There are over a million professors in the RateMyProfessor database," said Carlo DiMarco, vice president of university relations for mtvU, which owns and operates


Blind Ambition

Catherine Scharf is a UB swimmer with a secret. She is legally blind. But water is a great equalizer. In it, her eyes don't matter. She can be like everyone else, if not better. She just can't see the scores when she gets out of the pool. Cat, a Division I athlete and a junior health and human services major, competes as a sprinter in the 50 and 100 freestyle and the 100 butterfly on the women's swimming and diving team. In and out of the pool, Cat refuses to be labeled "the blind girl." "I hate that - it's not me, it's just a part of me. It doesn't define who I am, it's just something that has made me who I am," Cat said. "And I think that's still something I'm learning." Diagnosed at the age of nine with Stargardt's disease, a macular degeneration that causes vision loss in children, Cat barely remembers what it was like to have full sight. She cannot see the details of her mother's face, but can recognize a blurry image walking toward her as her mother by the way she holds her purse on her right shoulder, always with one hand grasping the strap. This is one of many things Cat has learned to pay attention to in order to compensate for her lack of sight. She recalls a time in high school when she was swimming and her mother was sitting in the stands. "I said to my friend, ‘I can smell my mom. Is she here?'" Cat said. At first, she struggled with being different. She has 20/300 vision in one speckled, hazel eye, and 20/400 in the other with or without the help of corrective lenses. That makes her legally blind, according to The American Federation for the Blind, which sets the bar at 20/200. "I think the worst time is junior high because you start trying to figure out who you are and where you fit in," she said. "And a person who is visually impaired, with a rare impairment, doesn't really fit in with a group." Today, Cat stands 5 feet 6 inches tall and walks with the confidence of someone much taller. But she admits getting around a campus the size of UB does pose its challenges for a visually impaired student. "You feel confined because walking through the halls, you can't see people's faces," Cat said. "It shows what solitude you're living in when you're unable to see their expression and recognize people and you feel so vulnerable because they can see you." Cat always excelled at sports and early on, that helped her make friends and a place for herself in her hometown of New Hartford, NY. But as her vision loss progressed, the sports she loved – basketball and soccer – became more and more difficult. She hated to admit it, but she could no longer see the ball. She knew she had to find something else. "I started competitively swimming in sixth grade. It was the better one of all the other sports because it doesn't rely on a ball flying at you," Cat said. "Swimming put me on a level playing field with everyone else. I got to jump in and be like every other person, and rely on myself and depend on myself – and that was something that I wasn't used to." It wasn't hard for Cat to keep her secret protected while in the pool. In the water, all that mattered was speed, strength and will. A Section III champion in the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly, Cat qualified for the New York State Championship meet all four years of high school. During her junior year, her closely kept secret escaped. She tied in a vital race because of a missed flip turn and someone told a reporter that it was because she was visually impaired. The reporter wrote an article blaming the mistake on her deteriorating eyes. Cat was enraged and wrote a letter to the reporter informing them that her condition was not to blame for her missing the wall. She added that she does not "suffer" from her eye condition – she lives with it. Today, some may argue that Cat does more than live with Stargardt's disease – she thrives with it. "[Cat's] just done a tremendous job for us," said Andy Bashor, head coach of UB swimming. "She is very committed to the sport of swimming and being the best she can be." Bashor says that Cat has adapted in the pool the way she has in her everyday life. "Suprisingly, she has one of the best flip turns on the team because I think she had to learn from a really young age that she had to practice that," he said. "That would be where the vision would hamper her, but she does that really well." Alie Schirmers, a sophomore undecided major and Cat's teammate, says Cat makes them all better swimmers and people. "She's always very positive and can find light in the darkest situation," Schirmers said. "She just wants to make everything around her better. And that's how I feel when I'm around her – everything should be better." Schirmers didn't notice anything unusual about Cat when she met her last year. They were on the team together a few weeks before Cat opened up about her condition. "That's probably the hardest thing – to know when the best time is to tell [my teammates]," Cat said. "All the freshmen each year, I sort of have to announce it to them. And I never know how to say it or how they're going to react – even though I've done it so many times, it doesn't get any easier." When people hear that Cat is legally blind, the most common reaction is shock. Cat's condition rarely manifests itself in any outward characteristic as she walks around campus among the rest of her peers. She has also mastered the art of fake eye contact during conversations by using her peripheral vision to guess where a person's eyes are located. "I can never directly look at a person, or that person disappears," Cat said. The Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired provided Cat with a laptop equipped with Zoomtext software to enlarge print five times, to the point where she is able to see it. UB's office of Disability Services has also provided note takers and large-print tests. Bashor does what he can to ensure Cat's success in the pool. He included a portable pace clock in the swimming budget to place in Cat's lane. Now when practicing swimming sets, Cat doesn't have to watch the person next to her to know when to push off. "That showed me that he was really looking into something that could make it easier for me, and that was different," Cat said. "Usually people do what they can and they do what you ask for, but they don't go out of their way to help you." But during meets, Cat is unable to see her final time. "Swimming is an extremely demanding sport both mentally and physically, but it's also very rewarding when you look up at the clock after a race and see all of your work pay off with a best time," said Caitlin Reilly, a senior international studies major and team co-captain. "Cat doesn't get that opportunity. She is forced to rely on someone else to give [the final] time." Despite this and other difficulties, Ellen Scharf says she has never once heard her child complain. She said Cat had the most maternal instincts out of her brother and sister, and always looked out for her twin brother. "Even though there is only two minutes between their births, Catherine and her twin couldn't be any different," Ellen said. "They continue to stay close, even though they have both chosen very different life paths. Catherine chose college and to be a Division I swimmer, and Adam chose to follow his dream … and is working for Disney World." Today, Cat lives off campus with her two teammates and Ellen is exceptionally proud of the independent young woman that her daughter has become. "Cat is an example to us all," Ellen said. "At times, I find myself complaining about little things that, most likely, I could fix if I chose to. And then I think about Cat, who faces obstacles and difficulties with a smile on her face. She conquers those obstacles because of an inner strength that I think she doesn't even know is there … she makes me very grateful that I have her as my daughter." During her senior year of high school, the Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired featured Cat's story in their newsletter. They talked about her being an inspiration, as a championship swimmer with a visual impairment. A Utica paper picked up the story and interviewed Cat for a front-page article. That was when Cat officially let her secret out – for a little while. She admitted to all – in writing – that she was legally blind. She figured that if her story could reach one person with a disability – perhaps even another young athlete going blind – it was worth it. According to the New York State Commission for the Blind, 120,000 New Yorkers are legally blind and nearly one million live with vision loss. Twenty-five million Americans live with significant visual impairment, according to the American Federation for the Blind. After she finally learned to accept her own condition as a part of life, Cat began educating other students about being more tolerant toward those with special needs – a quest she continues today. Cat says a career in mental health counseling is what lies ahead. She believes that in a world of people looking out for themselves, there will always be a need for those who are willing to dedicate their lives to others. According to Cat, living with a disability for the past 12 years played a part in the decision of where her future will take her. "It's actually quite ironic, really. With everything I cannot see, there are so many more important things that I can see," Cat said. "I can be more compassionate and I can be more understanding or patient because I know that I've needed that from other people. I've needed other people to take time for me … [and] I want to give that time back to other people when they need it." E-mail:



If Gwen Stefani were to comment on the current Hollywood chaos, she would say, "This s*** is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S." Tiger Woods, Jesse James and now Bruce Springsteen have reportedly joined the ranks of the other Tinsel Town tools for cheating on their significant others, according to the New York Post. Like any other respectable human being, my own reaction to the recent headlines has been disgust and then a later state of confusion when photos of the mistresses begin to surface. My heart went out to Sandra Bullock, the actress that I have adored since her Speed days, who, right after her long overdue Oscar moment, was blind-sided with the news of her husband's year-long affair with a tattooed ex-stripper. But once the shock of, "How could her husband cheat on her with THAT?" wore off, I began to realize that Bullock was just another starlet to fall victim to the curse of the leading ladies. Kate Winslet, Halle Berry, Gweneth Paltrow and Julia Roberts are just a few on the list of actresses who won an Academy Award and then suddenly no longer had their man. It's sad that I'm not surprised when the accusations of infidelity come flooding in. Hollywood has long had the reputation of being synonymous with cheating and numb to the concept of divorce. What I find disturbing, however, is what happens to the men after they are exposed as cheating dogs. The term "sex rehab" is starting to creep into the headlines at an alarming rate - and it's creeping me out. Woods and James are names currently in the news for checking themselves into treatment facilities for their reported sex addictions – a trend started by X-Files star David Duchovny last year when he spent two months in rehab for his similar problem. I can't help but wonder, is addiction to intercourse an actual medical condition? Can these stars undergo behavioral counseling, take some sort of anti-Viagra pill and then suddenly not cheat on their wives? I don't think so. In my opinion, the only reason these disgraced men are checking into celebrity clinics is so they can hide from the media and stay out of the limelight until their scandal has passed. It's also their public way of saying sorry to their wives and fans. Well, I'm not buying the apology. Blaming their behavior on their "disease" doesn't sound very sincere to me – a little bit of accountability and personal responsibility can go a long way. What's worse is that after these men leave rehab "cured" of their addiction, they expect their wives to go back to them. And remarkably, some do. Duchovny's wife did - after a brief separation, the couple claims to be going strong. For now. Didn't anyone learn from Halle Barry, who said on the night she made history as the first black actress to win an Academy Award, that she was dying on the inside and her husband's indiscretions were to blame? Her then-hubby, Eric Benét, also tried rehab to kick his so-called sex addiction, but after a year of the couple trying to work things out, Benét reportedly relapsed and their union was over. The funny thing about celebrities is just when you think they have it all, scandals such as these break, and then you realize they're no different from the rest of us. Although I personally can't relate to a cheating situation, plenty of my friends can. Based on their experiences, the old saying is true - "once a cheater, always a cheater." I've cringed and lectured and then gave up as I've watched some of my friends continue to go back to their cheating boyfriends for the sake of "love." And with all the speculation in the media right now of, "Will Sandy give Jesse another chance?" - I can only hope that she makes the right decision and leaves him. Enough is enough. E-mail:


A not so common place

Many students were still in high school when the end of an era rang through the University at Buffalo. The student body had worn out PJ Bottoms for decades – the bar, not the bedtime garment – and enjoyed the "food, booze, and boogie" with their notorious $0.10 chicken wings, $3 bottles of Labatts, and disorderly crowd belting "Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison until the sun came up. Daniel Focher, an urban planning graduate student, says he will never forget PJ's "wings." "They were amazing," Focher said. "Plump, jumbo, sashaying – whatever adjectives you want to apply – they were pure bliss. And the chicken wings were great, too." Focher might be referring to another aspect of the bar's infamous existence – a hangout for salacious underage college students looking to pick up incoming freshman meat. Unfortunately, this was what eventually led to PJ's demise. On Dec. 15, 2005, the State Liquor Authority raided the bar located on 3270 Main St. Charges were brought against 20 minors for underage drinking and three bartenders who were accused of serving them alcohol. PJ Bottoms was "temporarily" shut down – and after years of unanswered rumors of the bar's return to UB, students began to expect the closure was permanent. Until now. Michael Bolton, who earned his B.S. in business administration from UB in 1987, is now being celebrated as the hero who will bring the "food, booze, and boogie" back to the university. After the bar's nearly five-year hiatus, Bolton obtained a new bond and liquor license. PJ Bottoms is expected to re-open its doors in September. But they won't be the same doors or even the same location that UB graduate students and super seniors remember – because Bolton decided to bring the bar a little closer to home. "I approached the university last year about moving the bar on campus because then many students won't have to worry about transportation, and also because I've seen bars on other campuses, such as St. Bonaventure University," Bolton said. Initially, University at Buffalo's administration did not buy Bolton's proposal. They pointed out that the UB student population exceeds that of St. Bonaventure by 25,000, so safety concerns are multiplied. They said UB doesn't have the resources for adequate safety personnel to be on duty monitoring a bar every night. Bolton switched gears and approached representatives from the Commons, a location that, while technically still on campus, offers land-lease flexibility and public-private partnership options. After receiving much a much more favorable response, Bolton realized that they were the perfect fit. PJ Commons will be across from Burger King in an area formerly occupied by a variety of office space. Construction will begin next week, and the project will set Bolton back around $2 million. Bolton, who says he spent nearly every weekend of his college life at the old PJ's, says he's going for a nostalgic design. "It will be just as students remember it," Bolton said. "Wood paneling, cheap beer and wings while watching Sunday football, sticky floors, the hockey pucks in the urinal, darts, pool tables and all your best friends around you enjoying every minute – perfection." Bolton has just received final approval by the university to accept Campus Cash because he doesn't want students to worry about handling cash or credit cards. However, one thing he insists on all students bringing with them is a valid I.D. "The major difference between the old PJ's and the new PJ's will be the underage drinking. I'm going to make sure the bar doesn't get shut down this time," Bolton said. The big comeback is tentatively scheduled for September 30. Bolton says a massive '80s party is scheduled for the grand re-opening to commemorate the decade when he considered PJ's his second home. Jesse James, the television personality best known for cheating on Hollywood royalty for the tattoo-faced "Bombshell" McGee, is expected to host the '80s blowout. "Jesse and I are good friends from my Choppers days. I told him about what I was doing here [in Buffalo] and he promised he would come out," Bolton said. "This party is definitely going down in UB history." Depending on the success of PJ Commons, Bolton says he's considering looking into re-opening other old UB hotspots to complement the bar. "Everything is still in the works, but I would love to open a Sal's Pizza next to the new PJ's," Bolton said. If all goes well, the upcoming fall semester will mark the beginning of a new era – or at least the return of an old one. Just as their predecessors did, University at Buffalo students will soon be chugging cheap beer before stumbling over to Sal's for a slice of pizza, which, in their drunken haze, will be the most delectable creation their taste buds will ever experience. And the tradition will live on. E-mail:


Alternative arrangements

Instead of soaking in the Florida rays last week, 20 University at Buffalo students made use of their spring break by preparing lunches for the Buffalo City Mission and collecting 200 pounds of garbage throughout the Queen City. In UB's third annual Alternative Spring Break, selected students got the opportunity to give where they live and volunteer for seven local charity organizations. "It's a very traditional spring break where we live together and eat together," said Terri Budek, community engagement coordinator for the Center for Student Leadership and Community Engagement. However, the not so traditional part of ASB is that students are also volunteering together for 15 hours a day. "We're doing [work] for the Buffalo City Mission, Vive la Casa, Women and Children's Hospital, Junior Achievement, Habitat for Humanity, Buffalo ReUse and Catholic Charities," Budek said. "Most people love it, but I don't think they expect it to be as intense as it is." Budek and one other coordinator joined 18 participants and two team leaders last week to reconstruct houses, help the homeless and give back to the place they all currently call home. "We tried to get as diverse of a group as we could from different majors and different backgrounds," Budek said. "We get a lot of international students partly because they don't have anywhere to go over spring break, but also because these kind of experiences are not available in their own countries, so they want to get as much of them as they can while they're in the States." The program also attracts a number of local students, according to Budek, who believe they haven't performed enough service in their hometown. "Some volunteers who are from Buffalo didn't know these [organizations] existed, so it's an eye-opener for them, and I think once they see the need, they're very happy that they could help in their own backyard," Budek said. To make the experience as meaningful as possible, the students were given daily orientations at the organizations they would be lending their hands to, learning what resources they provide to the community and why they are needed. The group slept on mattresses in Goodyear Hall and explored the city of Buffalo during their much-needed down time. Their work was rewarded with a trip to Niagara Falls, a guided tour of City Hall, tickets to a Sabres game and a bowling and movie night. On day six of ASB, the coordinators prepared a Thanksgiving dinner for the volunteers to show their gratitude for the group's tireless efforts. David Molina, a senior biomedical sciences major, said that though he was volunteering, it was he who was thankful. "I can honestly say this was one of the best experiences I've had at UB," Molina said. "Most students in college, I feel, see the break in March as an opportunity to do things that benefit themselves and not the community in which they live in. Doing volunteer work and making a difference in the Buffalo community has really made an impact on the way I view certain aspects of life." Ankita Kale, a sophomore environmental engineering major, said seeing the way many Buffalonians live put things in perspective for everyone. "Interacting with the children, teens and refugees made us realize the conditions they come from and are currently in. Their stories [brought] tears to our eyes and made us more sensitive towards people and life," Kale said. And according to Budek, one of the most surprising things for students at the end of ASB week is always how close they get to the people they didn't know existed just days before. "When we first entered Goodyear, it seemed like The Real World [on MTV]," Kale said. "But we were all very cooperative and considerate of [each other]. We did a lot of good work and put our best efforts into whatever we did. All in all, I would say that I had the most amazing spring break, and I am thankful to the CSLCE for giving us the best days at UB and the best of friends." E-mail:



It's hard to ignore the trench-sized pit of plastic bottles present in the Student Union these last few weeks or the 15-foot signs invading the university entrances to measure its recycling rate. This is all evidence of UB's attempts to triumph in the nationwide RecycleMania competition, which has now reached its halfway point.

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