Tag Archives: classes

Wisconsin student accused of assaulting 4 more women

A University of Wisconsin-Madison student already accused of sexually assaulting a woman in his apartment this month has been charged with sexually assaulting four other women since early 2015.

Alec Cook, 20, of Edina, Minnesota, faces seven counts of second-degree sexual assault, three counts of third-degree sexual assault, two counts of strangulation, two counts of false imprisonment and one count of fourth-degree sexual assault.

The complaint prosecutors filed Thursday accuses Cook of assaults dating back to March 2015. Prosecutors said one of the women was assaulted multiple times during a ballroom dancing class she was attending with Cook this past spring. Cook also is accused of assaulting a woman he met at a party in March 2015; a woman he met in a human sexuality class in February; and a woman he met during a psychology class experiment in August.

Cook was charged last week with assaulting a woman in his apartment the night of Oct. 12 after the two studied together.

Media apeports of those charges have driven dozens of women to report to police their encounters with Cook.

Officers searching Cook’s apartment found a black book listing women he’d met and documenting his “sexual desires” and including the word “kill” without explanation, authorities said.

Dane County Circuit Court Commissioner Brian Asmus set Cook’s bail at $200,000 cash during a brief hearing. Cook made no statement at the hearing.

His attorneys, Jessa Nicholson and Chris Van Wagner, told reporters after the proceeding that they believe the ballroom assaults never happened. The rest of the encounters, they claimed, were consensual.

Van Wagner showed reporters a page from Cook’s book with the word “Killed?” written at the top and said it’s unclear what it means.

He said Cook has been vilified on social media but the prosecution’s case is “just dust.” Women are coming forward because they’ve seen social media postings about Cook and have become frightened, he said.

“He’s been painted as the face of evil,” Van Wagner said. “That’s wrong.”

According to the complaint, the accuser from the Oct. 12 incident says she went to his apartment after studying with him at a campus library. She said he assaulted her for 2 1/2 hours, maintaining what she described as a “death grip” on her arm or body.

Another woman came forward two days after charges were filed in that case. She said she met Cook at her friend’s birthday party in March 2015. Two weeks later she visited his apartment, where he began kissing her forcefully, then sexually assaulted her.

The same day that Cook was charged with the Oct. 12 assault, two other women reported being assaulted by him.

One woman told police she was in a ballroom dance class with Cook during the spring 2016 semester. She accused him of repeatedly touching her while they were dancing despite her telling him to stop. The touching occurred 15 to 20 times over the semester, she said.

The class instructor told investigators she got an email from the woman saying she was uncomfortable with how Cook touched her. The instructor responded by speaking to the class about appropriate contact during dances. Another woman told police that she met Cook during a human sexuality class and began dating him in January, the complaint said. She said he assaulted her at his apartment in February.

Another woman told police that she met Cook during a psychology class experiment. They had consensual sex at his apartment in August, the woman said, during which he tried to choke her. After taking a break to smoke marijuana, Cook tried to have sex with her again, this time slapping her and leaving bruises.

Driftless Folk School teaches classic skills

In Viroqua, a small educational anomaly has found its footing in the heart of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area. Founded in 2006, the Driftless Folk School has brought more and more students west to experience its creative and alternative classes.

The exact definition of a folk school varies among states and regions depending on local values and customs. The Driftless Folk School is one of several in the country, others are located in the Door County region of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Florida.

Loosely, a folk school is a supportive community of teachers and learners who come together to share ideas, traditions and skills. Classes focus on sustainability, living in harmony and hands-on activities. 

To learn what a class at a folk school is like, I attended one: “Beyond Cabbage: Fermentation for the Late Harvest Season.” 

Taught by Heidi Krattiger and Bjorn Bergman, the three-and-a-half hour class held at a Viroqua High School was designed to give even novices the courage to try the process at home. During the initial session, we tasted a delightful sampling of items from Krattiger and Bergman’s own reserve. The couple offered cherry tomatoes, ramp bulbs, coriander, bean paste and raspberries — each with its own unique tang. 

After the tasting, we received two demonstrations on starting a ferment — one with cabbage and the other with sweet potato. The final hour was designated for experimenting with vegetables from the couple’s own garden and the local co-op. 

We swapped techniques and chatted among ourselves while chopping, squeezing and salting vegetables, preparing to seal them into sterile canning jars at the end of the class. When the hour concluded, we took these ferments home to nurse over the coming days and weeks. 

The most important lesson Krattiger and Bergman impressed upon us is fermentation is a fun process that can yield tasty results, especially when traditional ingredients are abandoned for audacious ones. 

It can also save food from going to waste. As Krattiger noted after the class, “We started to realize we were beyond normal when we noticed that not everyone kept homemade fermented items in their fridge.” 

This epiphany is what led them to the folk school, aware that their quirky talent for pickling everything from lemons to sweet potatoes might interest local residents. 

The “folk” aspect of their talent lies in the way it was acquired — by absorbing knowledge passed on by other practitioners. The couple have attended classes at the Kickapoo Country Fair in La Farge and Fermentation Fest in Reedsburg. They also own books on the subject such as Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation. 

Krattiger and Bergman say they have taught at the school for a year and the most recent class was their largest. They separately teach classes, such as “Growing Greens Year Round,” “Low Tunnel Design” and “Holiday Baking.”

In addition to these classes, the Driftless Folk School offers other opportunities, ranging from autumn beekeeping to spoon carving, woodworking to contra dance. Most of these are held in homes and in other local venues because the school does not yet have a unified campus that can accommodate a growing number of students, more than 600 in 2015.

True, many of its classes are designed around the schedules of the residents of Viroqua and the surrounding area, known for its robust farmers markets and thriving arts scene. But it is not just a school for locals. If you are a student with a genuine desire to learn, you will be greeted enthusiastically no matter where you come from.

For more, visit driftlessfolkschool.org or call 608-632-3348.

New UW program addresses work/life struggles like mine

We’re told to work hard and play hard in order to succeed. But earlier this year I almost learned the hard way that unbridled demands on my time and energy could have fatal consequences.

The beginning of 2015 was a tumultuous time for me. I was working as the director of a small nursing program at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 125 miles from my home in Madison. I was responsible for getting the new program national accreditation and also teaching three courses. In fact, I taught almost all the nursing courses in the program.

At the same time, I was finishing my doctoral dissertation on the school nurse’s role in managing childhood obesity at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 

In the moments that weren’t jammed with work, I helped manage my 94-year-old mother-in-law’s failing health. In January, she contracted the flu and had to be hospitalized. Shortly thereafter, she developed a urinary tract infection that left her profoundly confused and agitated. Every day, either her physician or her assisted living facility contacted me with some new concern.

There was no end to the stress. 

Weeks passed, but the pressures of my life did not ease. Every Monday I would leave for my teaching position, working 12-hour days on campus, then go to a hotel and work another four hours on my dissertation. 

Every Wednesday night I would return home and care for my mother-in-law and help manage household tasks.

Every night I would go to bed exhausted and listen to the pounding of my heart.

As a nurse practitioner, I realized I was on a dangerous path and needed to do something before my pounding heart ceased pounding. 

I made an appointment with a nurse practitioner and learned that I had dangerously high blood pressure, making me a likely candidate for a massive stroke. In addition to prescribing blood pressure medication, the NP suggested I enroll in a mindfulness-based stress reduction course. I did so at the end of April. 

The course was taught by practitioners who had studied with Jon Kabat-Zinn, a well-known expert on mindfulness and meditation. The course met for two-and-a-half hours a week for eight weeks. 

We began each session with a word or words that would form the focus for the week: Beginner’s Mind, Non-Judging, Non-Striving, Letting Go, Trust, Breathe, Forgiveness, Patience, Acceptance. Then we would meditate for 20 minutes, discuss our experience and meditate again.

In addition, we were required to meditate for 45 minutes every day and record our thoughts, impressions and feelings. 

I remember walking into the classroom feeling tense and rigid. My breathing was shallow and rapid. I would walk out of the room relaxed, feeling expansive and as if I were floating. Our course culminated in a daylong meditation. In a room with 80 people nobody talked. There was simply silence.

My experience was, in a word, bliss.

‘Living well’

For those feeling over-extended, overworked and outright exhausted, a new series of courses offered by the University of Wisconsin-Madison may help restore much-needed balance.

“Living Well — Today and Tomorrow,” offered by the UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies, is designed to restore health and happiness to life. The 16 courses, ranging from daylong sessions to six weekly meetings, will give lifelong learners the ability to better manage the rigors of everyday living, according to Lynn Tarnoff, the division’s outreach program manager and series director.

“There’s no manual for life, but these courses deal with problems all of us face,” Tarnoff says. “This is a unique offering from a major university and it addresses a real need in the community.” 

The courses begin on Oct. 2 with the daylong “Mindfulness: Your Door to the Present Moment” and conclude in May 2016 with “Caregiving: Care for Your Loved Ones, Care for Yourself,” a four-week course devoted to effectively caring for elderly relatives. The courses are offered on an individual basis and priced according to their length and content.

“We’re acknowledging a great need that we see in the community, where people need a hand in getting the information necessary to better manage life’s transitions,” Tarnoff says. “Our goal is to help you be the best person you can be today no matter which stage of life you’re in, while thinking about what tomorrow’s going to look like and how you’re going to get there.”

Tarnoff, a trained educator, social worker, health care administrator and artist, led the team that developed the program’s outline. Each course has a syllabus developed by an instructor, an expert in the subject being taught.

Mindfullness is one of the topics being taught as part of the series. Other topics include planning for retirement, navigating life’s transitions and understanding and managing personal finances.

Tarnoff will draw on her art and education background as instructor for “Color My Life: Tools for Managing Mood and Stress,” a six-week course beginning on Oct. 7 that explores the power of color and its ability to boost energy, sharpen focus and relax both body and mind. In February, she will teach “Color My World: Tools for Creative Communication at Work and Play,” which builds on the previous course.

Like the other courses in the series, Tarnoff’s sessions offer continuing education credits. All courses are taught at the Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St. on the UW-Madison campus.

Tarnoff and her team examined possible topics from an emotional, spiritual, occupational and financial point of view. Each course followed a methodology based on research conducted on the UW-Madison campus or at other universities.

Most courses can accommodate up to 30 students, but the optimal size for many requires is six to 12 students, Tarnoff says. Fees range from $135 to $270, based on course length and content.

Bringing greater balance and mindfulness to all areas of life is the program’s guiding principle, Tarnoff says. “We’re looking for experiences that transform us for the better and all of these classes have exactly that potential.”

The UW series of courses hadn’t been created when I finished my own mindfulness training in June. I have meditated every day since.

My sense of peace and calm are now constant companions. My blood pressure is normal and I am not taking any type of medication. My mother-in-law’s health continues to decline, but she has overcome her earlier illnesses. I am no longer affiliated with UW-Stevens Point, but am happy to note that the nursing program I helped develop is well on its way to accreditation.

Oh, and I also successfully defended my dissertation, receiving my doctorate in nursing in June. I guess you can call me Dr. Nurse.

Life, at last, is good. Thanks to mindfulness training, I am still around to enjoy it.

Madison resident Jean Muckian holds a Ph.D. and is an RN. 

The fruits of ‘divide-and-conquer’ politics

Conservatives have turned middle and lower classes against themselves.

The right wing is on a roll in this country and most certainly in Wisconsin, where divide-and-conquer tactics are working effectively to alienate citizens from each other. 

Tyrants have promoted resentment and turned people against each other from ancient times through modern capitalism and fascism. Divide-and-conquer tactics deflect criticism away from those in power and distract people from the real sources of their problems. 

When people are busy sniping at each other and fighting among themselves, they are less likely to question authority or work together to bring about change for the common good. They can be controlled and dominated.

I got to obsessing about this after spending too much time in the comment sections of Wisconsin newspapers. Many partisans gather there, armed with their keyboards, sometimes arguing reasonably, more often descending into slurs like “idiot,” “wingnut” and “libtard.”

Within this hateful stew, what stands out for me is the persistent criticism by many conservatives toward working people — seemingly any working people who are not them.

We’ve seen the near destruction of public sector unions through Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10, which conservatives actively promoted and celebrated. Teachers in particular were spoken of with contempt, their employment rights stripped away. That same derision is evident in the way those on the right are anxious, even gleeful, about seeing thousands of professors and researchers throughout our University of Wisconsin system forcibly retired or laid off, despite the fact that those positions represent solid, family-supporting, middle-class jobs.

Scorn is aimed at fast food workers organizing to raise their minimum wage to $15. How anyone can possibly survive on wages of $7.25, $8 — or even $10 an hour — is beyond me. It’s impossible to raise children on that pittance.

Fast-food employment is no longer just an entry-level field. Given the collapse of our manufacturing sector, outsourcing of jobs and crooked trade deals, they are the only jobs available for many Americans. Why begrudge our fellow citizens a chance to have a better wage to support themselves and their families? 

Besides, studies show that people earning minimum and near to minimum wages at places like McDonald’s and Walmart have to obtain food stamps and other government support to sustain themselves and their families. Where’s the outrage against Walmart, whose Scrooge-like ways require taxpayers to provide $6.2 billion in public assistance for its employees annually?

The newest attack by conservatives is on Wisconsin’s “prevailing wage” law, which sets wages for workers on public works projects. Meanwhile, some members of Congress are talking about repealing the federal minimum wage law entirely.

This wage-cutting, anti-worker, divide-and-conquer strategy is bad for all Wisconsinites and our state’s economy. People with low incomes cannot afford to buy goods. Merchants and manufacturers who cannot sell goods go broke. Poor people need public assistance, which requires more taxes.

This is not a growth strategy. In 1914, Henry Ford paid his workers an unheard-of $5 a day. It reduced turnover and enabled workers to purchase their own autos, boosting the auto industry. 

People who engage in horizontal hostility, who revel in attacks on their fellow citizens, are forgetting an important lesson of history. 

When your own livelihood or rights are threatened someday, who will be there to stand up for you?

ACLU challenges gender bias in Wisconsin schools

Earlier this year, the ACLU and the ACLU of Wisconsin asked the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights to investigate the Beloit School District after analyzing documents obtained in an open records request.

The ACLU said two Beloit elementary schools offer programs that violate state and federal laws, forcing students into single-sex environments and employing educational concepts based on gender stereotypes.

The ACLU also had asked the Education Department to investigate the Barron Area School District.

The investigation is pending in Beloit, but the Education Department won’t be acting on the Barron complaint because, at the time of the filing, the district had suspended the program, said ACLU of Wisconsin communications director Sarah Karon.

The ACLU said the documents showed that both Wisconsin programs were influenced by the ideas of psychologist Leonard Sax. His theories about boys and girls having different kinds of brains and being hardwired to learn differently have been debunked.

Sax, the author of “Boys Adrift” and “Girls on the Edge” and the founder of the National Association for Choice in Education, has said girls do badly under stress so they should not be given time limits on tests. And boys who like to read, don’t like contact sports or lack close male friends should be firmly disciplined and required to spend time with “normal males” and play sports, he has suggested.

Galen Sherwin, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, said it’s harmful for schools to promote such stereotypes, “particularly with children who are so young.”

In its letter regarding Beloit, the ACLU asks for enforcement of “federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on sex in schools.”

“There is no solid evidence supporting the assertions that the supposed differences between boys’ and girls’ brains on which these programs are based (exist), and there is absolutely no evidence that teaching boys and girls differently leads to any education improvements,” Sherwin said in a statement.