Expanding social circles through dating apps

Jaclyn Jacobs had just gotten out of a tough relationship.

The biochemistry and microbiology junior decided she did not want anything serious, but wanted some intimacy, so she sought out Tinder, a phone app typically used for hooking up and one-night stands.

“I was embracing the stereotype of Tinder and just rolling with it,” Jacobs said. “I was kind of just busting through it. … I very much went into it with the mindset of ‘this isn’t anything serious,’ every single time.”

The app allows users to match with others by liking them, or swiping right. If a user wants, he or she is allowed to message whoever they match with and go from there. Sometimes users will meet up once or twice and then end things, no strings attached, but some find romantic relationships.

For Jacobs, though, any time the other party began getting too serious, she ended things.

“I didn’t know how to actually initiate it, but when (someone) was forward with me…I didn’t know how to deal with this,” Jacobs said. “Then I got scared and got too busy with school and stuff and peaced out.”

However, her and a few of her friends used it to just talk to people or increase their social sphere.

“It’s more of a thing where they just talk to people, (it’s) more like a way to talk to guys in different fraternities and go to parties and stuff like that,” Jacobs said. “It’s more getting to know people in all sorts of different ways thing than a ‘I want to find my next boyfriend.’”

When strategic communications graduate student Dakota Ratley set foot in Norman for school, he didn’t know anyone.

Instead of moping about, the then-public relations freshman found friendship and solace in Tinder.

Ratley also used Bumble, a similar app to Tinder, but differs in that women are required to message men they match with first within 24 hours of the pairing. He made friends from that, too.

“I think one of the keys (the apps) is to not take them too seriously,” Ratley said. “I mean, there are going to be people who are looking for relationships.”

According to a 2016 Pew Research Center study, 27 percent of 18-24 year olds use online dating, a 17 percent increase since 2013.

The research also found that two-thirds of those who used online dating actually went on dates with people they met online.

In an effort to help users meet people for platonic purposes, the apps made a few modifications.

In July 2016, Tinder released “Tinder Social,” which allows groups of friends to match with other groups of people while going out. The update has since been removed from the app, but that doesn’t mean some people don’t have accounts on Tinder purely to find friends.

Although Tinder took their social specific avenue away, Bumble, one of Tinder’s competitors, added “bumblebff,” but they didn’t stop there.

At the very beginning of downloading Bumble, users are able to select who they are looking for first: dates (known as “bumble”), new friends (known as “bumblebff”) or a network (known as “bumblebizz”). The app assures users that, “you’ll only be show to people looking for the same thing as you and you can always change your mind later.”

According to Bumble’s website, the company received a multitude of requests to make a friend-finding feature on the app, so they did.

However, Tinder and Bumble are still not regarded as a typical or serious way to meet significant others and are far less taboo — that is left to websites like eHarmony, OkCupid and PlentyOfFish.

“With the latter two, I think there’s a little bit of a taboo for them since those are strictly looking for relationships,” Ratley said. “A lot of people would think that if you’re on those then you can’t find somebody in  the real world. I think with Tinder and Bumble and kind of behind the genius of marketing those is that they’re marketed as more casual.”

Reaching for dreams leads to no lingering “what ifs” for three OU students

Three OU students took a chance in performance.

One quit school, one moved to Los Angeles and the other just walked into an audition for a random movie, all in pursuit of a career most fight tooth and nail to get into.

After trials, rejection and a lot of patience, each student is either moving forward with life, moving on from the career or embracing the life and moving up the chain.

Moving forward

Caleb Brown auditioned for American Idol three times — twice in the same season — and failed to make the cut.

The health and exercise science senior grew up playing the cello and listening exclusively to classical music outside Lansing, Michigan. As he got older, he listened to lyrical music — mostly Adam Lambert, Chris Daughtry and other American Idol celebrities.

At his senior graduation, he performed Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” with choir accompaniment.

“I graduated and it looked like music may be done for me,” Brown said. “Then…things happened in my life and I found out that that’s what I was passionate about.”

Brown left home for Michigan State University and put music behind him. Then, he saw a general call for auditions in Detroit. He dropped out of school for the show, auditioned for producers and immediately got cut.

“I just went and I sang, I had no idea what I was doing,” Brown said.

He went home, upset, and thought “how could I not get cut?” But he wasn’t going to give up.

He looked up the audition schedule and saw the show was having another cattle call in Omaha, Nebraska. He had to try again.

Brown looked around his room and wondered what could make him stand out, what could separate him from the thousands of people who audition in the first round — that’s when he spotted his cello.

Brown auditioned again, his instrument in hand, and made it all the way to the fourth round: the celebrity judges.

“I got three nos from the judges — I got absolutely murdered in the audition,” Brown said. “It was one of the best things to ever happen to me. … I was way in over my head that year, and I had a lot of soul searching to do.”

Done with the competition, Brown transferred to the University of Oklahoma. Instead of going out, he taught himself how to play the guitar and piano.

“I would go into Walker (Center)…on weekends and I would just sit and play,” Brown said. “I would try to sing a little bit. It was really awkward, but it was the only street performing I could do.”

But he grew over the year, despite the awkwardness. Brown decided he wasn’t going to audition any time soon.

Until he got a call from a friend telling him to audition one more time.

In 2014, he auditioned for Idol again in Minneapolis. He made it through round one. A few months later, he auditioned for the celebrity judges.

They gave him three yeses.

He was going to Hollywood.

“I grew a lot because I realized I didn’t have to emulate people, I could be my own artist,” Brown said.

And then he got cut in the lines of 10 round.

Brown said adjusting to life back at school was difficult and getting cut was a shock wave. After he got back to Norman, he got a big box of Oreos, went up to his room and didn’t leave until the box was empty.

Looking back, Brown realized the show isn’t the end-all be-all — it’s about the music and the song.

“The destination is every time you pick up the instrument and every time you perform,” Brown said. “It’s because you’re at this destination, but you’re dragging everybody else along this journey with you through the songs that you sing, whether it’s a cover or a song that you’ve written.”

Brown performs music when he can, singing at weddings, bars and street corners. But he also performs as OU’s mascots Boomer and Sooner, preferably known as being a “friend of” the mascots, Brown said.

After he graduates in fall 2018, he plans to travel the country and perform his own music.

Moving on

Megan Sherrill can scroll through the contacts on her phone and see Winona Ryder’s name — yes, that Winona Ryder; the woman who starred as Veronica in the 1980s classic film “Heathers” and shoplifted designer goods and later became one of the faces of designer label Marc Jacobs.

The public relations sophomore played Ryder’s daughter in “The Iceman” (2012) during her freshman year in high school. While there, producers made sure she had the opportunity to get a proper education by having tutors on set — but school didn’t distract from Sherrill being awestruck, especially when she met David Schwimmer.

“I fangirled like crazy when I met him, I started quoting ‘Friends,’” Sherrill said. “I told him that him and Rachel were not on a break — this was all within the first two minutes of meeting him.”

Sherrill’s career began with the show “Barney and Friends” after auditioning in Dallas. As she got older, she attended Cathryn Sullivan’s Acting for Film school, and got her agent Kim Dawson. After graduating from high school a semester early in December 2015, Sherrill moved to Los Angeles to pursue her career.

Sherrill lived with her dog in a one-bedroom apartment 10 minutes outside of Hollywood and paid $2,500 a month.

She would go on audition after audition, waiting to hear about callbacks or offers. She modeled for Lifetime Fitness, Razor Scooters — anything she could find.

“It paid me money, I didn’t care,” Sherrill said. “It got me 600 bucks for the day.”

As she got rejected for parts and waited for callbacks, Sherrill realized living alone in Los Angeles was more expensive and more difficult than she imagined.

“I thought I was going to move there and get famous in five minutes, and that’s just not how it works,” Sherrill said.

After speaking with another actress working three jobs just to sustain her living in Los Angeles, Sherrill realized she didn’t want to go broke trying to make it in the business and couldn’t fathom being older, working three jobs at once and not having a degree just to pay rent.

“In her mind, that’s normal because she kind of grew up in that atmosphere,” Sherrill said. “For me, I couldn’t do that..risking all that (to make it in the business).”

In July 2016, she left Los Angeles and enrolled in a community college in Dallas. This Fall, Sherrill transferred to OU and rushed as a Kappa Kappa Gamma. She said she is much happier now in school than she was outside of Hollywood where the lifestyle was more “glitz and glam” and felt like constant competition.

“I’m not constantly feeling like I have to impress everybody,” Sherrill said. “Here it feels more like, I have steps that I can do to get (somewhere).”

But she doesn’t regret it.

“I’m glad that I did it — otherwise I would’ve always wondered, ‘oh, what if I hadn’t done it,’” Sherrill said. “If you’re just one of those people who lives, breathes, ‘I would die without doing this,’ then that might be worth it, but I can go to school (and) be happy, doing that, too.”

Moving up

Michael Breath walked into a studio in Atlanta, looking to audition for “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2.” Instead, he received a role in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

When the acting junior arrived at the studio, he learned the “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2” auditions had closed. That’s when he saw open auditions for a movie called “Summer of George.”

“I didn’t hear anything for a month,” Breath said. “In the acting world, you don’t hear anything in two weeks, you didn’t get it — don’t try.”

After that month, though, Breath got a callback. He went, did a callback, and two weeks later, he was asked to meet with the director.

Breath walked in, sat down, and in came John Watts, the director of “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

“I knew who John Watts was the second he walked in that room,” Breath said.

And that’s when Breath found out he had made it into a Marvel movie as a featured extra.

“I was so freaking out because at this point I was thinking I was being pranked,” Breath said. “‘There’s no way I landed this, this is such a lie, I’m getting pranked.’”

Watts wrote down an address and told Breath to be there at 5 a.m. the next day. Breath expected a movie set but arrived at a bus station.

“Further making me believe I was getting pranked,” Breath said.

A bus pulled up, Breath got on, was taken to the set and immediately put into hair and makeup — but it didn’t hit him until Tom Holland walked across the room.

“I said, ‘Is that Tom Holland?’ And the lady (doing hair and makeup) said, ‘Yes, this is Spider-Man,’” Breath said. “And I lost it.”

Breath’s acting career began with his love of Disney’s “Mulan” and his opportunity to play Mulan’s father in his sixth grade show.

He discovered a love and a passion for acting, entertaining people and becoming a character. But he wasn’t the type to be considered the class clown, he said.

“I was the shy and timid kid, so people were really shocked when they found out I was doing theater — I wanted to play sports, I wanted to play basketball,” Breath said. “When I was in seventh or eighth grade, kids in athletics, they would bully me. … They would beat me up, they would make fun me.

“When I went to theater that day, I had a black eye, my nose was bleeding, and everyone there was just worried about me, they took care of me,” he said.

And that’s when theater felt like home.

Since his sixth grade musical, Breath has played roles in “Okay, OK,” “Mime Cop” and just finished filming “Sleeping in Plastic.” With each piece, Breath learned more and more that what directors care about most is being yourself.

“I was having this conversation with some extras on the last movie I did,” Breath said. “They were asking me how did I get it, what did I do, and I said, ‘Honestly, you’re saying you’re just an extra, you’re just in the background — they could’ve picked other people to be in the background, but they picked you. You have a unique something about you, roll with that.’”

Q&A: Anna Bauman’s time with OU club rowing team by Siandhara Bonnet

In Fall 2015, Anna Bauman walked onto the University of Oklahoma campus as a freshman majoring in environmental engineering, set on helping the world become better.

Bauman was about 360 miles, about a five and a half hours, from home — a self-described introvert missing home and needing a new place to call her own. And she found it with OU’s club rowing team.

Siandhara Bonnet (SB): What was it like moving from a small all-girls private school to a public university and finding a niche pretty quickly?

Anna Bauman (AB): I think I got really lucky because I made some really close friends pretty fast, so once I had that core group of people to do college with and get through missing home, it was fine. The jump from small school to big school was weird. It was like ‘why are there boys in my class?’ I think I just got really lucky and met some really awesome people right away.

SB: How’d you get involved with the club rowing team?

AB: I met my friend Andrea freshman year at the very beginning of the year. Actually, the three people that would become my best friends in college and still to this day are my best friends in college, we went to lunch the first day and mentioned, casually, ‘Yeah, I used to row. There’s a club rowing team here at OU — you guys should totally come out to practice.’ … There was a carpool that met at 5:30 a.m. outside The Huff. I was like, ‘that’s ridiculous,’ but for whatever reason, I got up at five that next day and met them outside at The Huff and went to practice. … I never expected to join the rowing team, it wasn’t something I intentionally set out to do, but it was the people that I met that got me into it. Then we became really good friends through that and I kind of just kept going because I liked the sport and enjoyed spending the time with them.

SB: How often did you guys practice?

AB: We practiced four times a week — it was Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday mornings. Looking back, I have no idea how I did that. It was a huge commitment because we had to wake up at 5 every single morning for those days that we had practice. I’m not a morning person, I never have been and I never will be, as much as I try. Somehow I just got out of bed every single day because I knew…one of the girls that was on the team, my friend Melissa, she lived across the hall from me in the dorms — she was very reliable. She would always get up for practice and so I knew if I didn’t wake up, she would come and knock on my door. I did not want to let them down, so I was like, ‘Gotta go, gotta get up.’

SB: Did the people play more of a part than the actual rowing?

AB: (Rowing) was a lot of what our friendship was based on. We do this thing together four times a week every single week, so that really brought us together a lot. I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have those friends on the team and didn’t enjoy the people. … But we had these cool little boats that we would carry down to the water and you had the oars and everything — there was definitely a steep learning curve. It took a while to get it and figure out little things: how to get in the boat; how to hold an oar; there’s a coxswain, they call out commands, and you have to know what everything means. It was a lot of fun just jumping into something new that I had never done before and figuring out how to do it. After a year, we got pretty good, and that was a lot of fun just to be able to get out on the water and know what you’re doing and row in a boat with other people. You have to be completely in sync with everyone else and once you do get that, it’s the most amazing feeling.

SB: Can you talk about being in sync with everyone a little bit more and how that felt?

AB: Probably the first couple of months, honestly, you’re in the boat and everyone is kind of just doing their own thing, so you’re rocking back and forth and, ‘oh my god, are we going to flip? I don’t want to fall into this river, it’s disgusting and cold.’ It’s really, really difficult to get the hang of and everyone’s frustrated — it’s kind of miserable, just a little bit. But then you kind of start to pick it up and get the hang of it, and then the people around you start to figure it out as well. Then you’re in this thing together. … You’re all moving in the same exact way, we’ve all been taught the same motion of how to pull an oar through the water and it’s really dependent on the mechanics of rowing. You have to place the oar in the water this exact way and get enough resistance. Everyone has to drop their oar in at the exact same time in order to move forward. If you’re timing is off, it’ll be rocky — you can feel it, it just doesn’t feel right. If someone’s not pulling hard enough, you’ll stall or go the wrong way. It requires so much…Everyone has to be perfect and once you do get there and get to as perfect as you can because it’s never going to be exactly perfect, once you get close to that, that boat just flies. You don’t even really feel like you’re doing anything because everyone is working just as hard as you are and everyone just moves. You’re just flying across the water.

SB: What kind of role did rowing play during your freshman year when you were going through major changes from engineering to literature?

AB: Whenever I was stressed about school or worried about a test, or whatever it was, I always knew I could go to practice and the second I would get out on the water everything was just… (it was) this place where I could just be with my friends out in a beautiful place on the water. … You’re so focused on what you’re doing in the boat, you don’t feel the stress, you don’t feel anything else. … Being at this huge university, I found this little home that gave me purpose and let me have fun.

SB: Did you continue with the rowing club into your sophomore year?

AB: I think I did it at the beginning of sophomore year first semester, but that was when I started working at The Daily and as I got more involved in that, I found myself having less and less time. At the same time, the team dynamic sort of shifted: we got a new coach, some people left. … It wasn’t what it was my freshman year, it wasn’t the same — then it wasn’t really worth it for what I was putting into it. I just didn’t have the commitment and it wasn’t necessarily something I wanted to spend my time doing as I got more involved in The Daily.

SB: What was it like to see the change in the team not being as cohesive as it was and turning into something more competitive?

AB: I felt like it was what it was when I needed it and when it changed and I changed, I just no longer really had room in my life for that. Of course I miss it, I still miss rowing itself and that team dynamic we had, but I’m glad that it happened when it did. Now I’m just moving on.

SB: How close are you to your friends that were on the rowing team?

AB: That was the beginning of our friendship, but since then. We moved in together (my sophomore year) and I see them all the time. Our friendship started with rowing, but went beyond that. We became friends in all aspects.

SB: Do you still live together?

AB: We still live together and we’re about as close as I’ve ever been with friends. We try to eat dinner together and that kind of stuff. I don’t see them all the time or for the day-to-day, but they’re my best friends.

Siandhara Bonnet: The story behind ‘The Poisoned Generation’ by Vann Newkirk II

Originally, it was not about journalism.

Writing was just a side gig, something to pass the time while Vann Newkirk II worked to get his master’s degree in Public Health in Health Policy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Now, he is one of The Atlantic’s staff reporters covering health and politics — the bachelor’s degree in biology and analyses knowledge don’t hurt, though.

“I’m never going to say I’m an expert on anything but healthcare,” Newkirk said. “For things like voting rights, for things like covering a race or like environmental justice, the most important part of the job is to report, to interview people. To not just write their quotes down, but to absorb their expertise.”

In May 2017, Newkirk published “The Poisoned Generation” as part of The Atlantic’s Beyond Diversity Project, one that explores how a “multi-ethnic society navigate(s) the tensions between identity and assimilation.” The project is supported by the Open Society Foundation.

“There’s no real sort of mandate whenever we have a special project that we cover certain stories a certain way,” Newkirk said. “Usually I’m working on one feature every quarter or so…but I was able to take this problem, which was lead poisoning…for some reason, all the different threads seemed to connect to New Orleans.”

Newkirk started with lead poisoning, a subject he covered at the Daily Kos, a self-described “news organization, community and activist hub.”

The cases led him to the obituary of one of the lead plaintiffs of a lawsuit, Marcel Coleman. After going through funeral homes, he found contact for his lawyer who represented Coleman’s mother in court, Dion Coleman. Newkirk spoke with the family and they asked to not be used in the story. He spoke with their lawyer who pointed him in the direction of Casey Billieson.

“The difficult thing with this story was the fact that so many people after Katrina left the area, so finding people in, or near, New Orleans that I could speak to or photograph…that was difficult,” Newkirk said. “Casey Billieson was one of the few who was still there and who was very interested in telling her story. This is a difficult story to tell, a lot of people just didn’t want to say anything. And a lots of people were still in litigation trying to handle the last bits of legal stuff, getting their money. … She ended up as being the perfect person, the perfect vessel for the story, and I guess that’s why she ended up being the lead plaintiff on the story.”

Newkirk begins the story with Billieson’s story, her sons growing up in the Lafitte housing project in Treme outside of New Orleans. He wrote about how they grew up and later had troubles in school.

“If there’s any connection I can make to a person, whether it be being from the south, too, a sports team….you build a connection any way you can. That’s important because it’s not just a cynical ploy to get them on paper — they have to understand you were there not to railroad them, not to turn them into police, not to exploit their story.”

The feature is broken up into sections, starting with Billieson and moving to Gary Gambel, more victims to the lead poisoning and science behind the lead. Newkirk said he arranged the story this way in so he could introduce a character within each part.

“Yu get people the variety a feature demands you tie them to the story,” Newkirk said. “You want to have a sense of time, a sense of place, you want a narrative arc. … I looked at pieces of feature writing I liked and mirrored it.”

Newkirk said he went through an estimated 600 pages of courthouse paperwork and spoke with about 96 people for the story. He used a story web to keep it all straight.

“I plot out every single significant event, every single significant place, every entity and every person,” Newkirk said. “I had something in the order of 96 people. … If you’re reporting for something full time for a couple months, you talk to 10 to 20 people everyday.”

After sitting down to write after months of research and interviews in Louisiana, Newkirk ended up with an internal draft of 17,000 words. After intense editing, though, the final publication was around 7,000.

“You have to decide a focus,” Newkirk said. “With features, even though you can luxuriate a little bit, you get to go long, you still want to have a good narrative focus that keeps people in the story and keeps them looking at your pages.”