Reflections

2018-2019 Global Studies Events

Jake Halpern Reflection - 5/7/2019

Jake Halpern’s talk was without a doubt one of my favorite global studies events to date. In talking to a friend afterwards, we both said “that talk made me want to become a journalist!” The way he talked about using narrative storytelling in journalism was fascinating and inspiring to me, and it is easy to see it in action in the article of his that I read, The Underground Railroad for Refugees. From the first sentence of the article he lays out a narrative. It is the story of two Afghan police officers in America, and it could’ve been told in a very matter-of-fact way. It could’ve even been left out altogether and all the facts still would’ve been there, but it wouldn’t have been so personal, and wouldn’t have been able to evoke the emotional reaction that it does with the narrative structure.

I have long been interested in the power that narrative stories have to give people an understanding of as issue that is largely foreign to them. In fact, I wrote one of my college essays for my future college on that very subject. However, I mostly discussed that power when it is used in a different format than everyday journalism. I discussed mediums like books and film, so listening to a person whose job it is to tell people’s narratives in the form of articles was an interesting twist on a concept that is familiar to me. One of the things that struck me which I had failed to consider was the challenge of remaining objective when telling stories about divisive topics. It makes sense that when the goal is to present a complex narrative and humanize each player, it would be natural to become personally invested in the story and it would be difficult to remain objective. I have considered the challenge of being objective in my capstone on guns in America, but never in the context of a story. After listening to Mr. Halpern’s talk, I believe using storytelling as a tool in reporting is a powerful tactic and is underused by many journalists. As such, I plan to integrate it into my global studies night presentation in order to make it easier for people to digest the variety of opinions I will be covering.

Rising Sun Powwow Reflection - 4/28/2019

I am a part of the Order of the Arrow (OA), which is a branch of Boy Scouts, (the honor society of scouting). A lot of what we do in the OA is based around Native American culture and traditions. As a result, I am already familiar with some of the stories, ceremonies, and regalia that were part of the powwow. One of the great benefits of having this baseline knowledge was that I was able to talk to people about what was happening and ask questions confidently. Most of the Native American people I approached at the powwow were happy to talk to me and answer questions.

One of the things that struck me most as I talked to people was the way they talked about balancing modern lives with the traditions that come with their culture. Going to school or work every day and then dressing up in regalia and going out to a powwow is a pretty jarring shift. According to the people I talked to, some parts of this balance can be difficult to maintain. As a result, many people have tweaked the traditions here and there. These slight updates were easy enough to spot just by looking around at one of the vendors at the powwow. Woven puppets of Mario, little drums with minions painted on the side, and bird call whistles resembling the roadrunner from the Roadrunner cartoons are just a few examples. In hindsight, it seems obvious that people wouldn’t stick blindly to tradition without modernizing in any way, but the more I think about how easy and prevalent the modernization of traditions like powwows is, the more impressed I was with how true they seemed to stay to tradition. Beyond those small differences, almost half of the people at the event were in traditional regalia and many knew traditional dances. Even young kids were familiar with a few of the simpler ones.

The last thing that surprised me was how open the whole event was to everyone. Despite how well the Rising Sun Powwow honored tradition, there were a remarkable number of opportunities for people from outside the Native American community to participate. Every 20 minutes or so, there would be an announcement that the next dance was open to all people from any tribe or heritage, even if you weren’t native! Unfortunately, I was never able to work up the courage to actually step in the circle and start dancing, but I was impressed with the openness an oppressed population showed to the very population responsible for their centuries-long oppression. It gave me a bit of hope that if we put forth the effort and make connections with other people and peoples, we will be able to view each other as equals and eventually, we can end the systematic oppression that is so common in western society.

Syrian Cooking Class Reflection - 4/23/2019

I enjoy cooking in general, so the Syrian cooking class was a lot of fun for me. The food was incredible, especially for being mostly vegetables. I will definitely be preparing those dishes with my family sometime in the future. However, I felt like most of the event didn’t do much to educate us on Syria or the refugee crisis or connect with the Global Studies Themes. The best we got was the discussion at the end, which was interesting, but I felt like we could have made a more deliberate connection between the food and Syrian culture or the experience of Syrian refugees in America. In retrospect, I probably should’ve asked a question about that during the discussion, but it still would’ve been nice to have that built into the time.

However, the discussion that we did have was informative, and it was interesting to compare her answers to the experiences of the refugees we read about in Welcome to the New World.

Tomboy Movie Screening Reflection - 3/1/2019

I have done some research on transgender issues and talked to Jamie about the subject extensively. In addition, I have watched two of my friends transition to another gender, so I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about the science behind being transgender as well as the emotions and struggles that come with making the transition. However, Tomboy showed an entirely new side of the transgender experience.

Showing it through the point of view of a child is the most obvious difference from my past experiences. More often than not it’s the transgender teens that are talked about. Being a child, Mikael’s had yet to develop to the point where his sex was immediately obvious. In fact, he could take his shirt off and go swimming without anyone knowing his biological sex. In addition, it was interesting to see how similar the childish reactions of Mikael’s friends was to your average adult transphobe when they realized he was biologically female.

Beyond simply showing the experience through a child’s eyes, the movie also made a point of showing Mikael and his family’s unfamiliarity with the concept of being transgender. Throughout the movie, they refer to Mikael’s transition as “pretending to be a boy” or “playing the boy.” His parents don’t have a problem with him acting like a boy. Rather, they are upset with him for “lying to everyone” about his gender. It seems possible that if they knew that being transgender was an option, they would be very supportive of Mikael’s transition. Instead, they are very stuck in the mindset that Mikael will always be a girl and he needs to get over his delusions of being a boy.

The discussion after the movie made me realize that I have only really talked about transgender issues with a couple of people. All my other knowledge of the subject comes from things that I’ve found online or heard from them. Having a conversation with a larger group of people really helped me to understand how diverse people’s opinions on the subject are. I had combined a lot of the points I was exposed to into two sides. Having a discussion with a larger group of people with a slightly more varied group of opinions gave me a glimpse of how wide the spectrum of opinions really is.

Big Tech Forum Reflection - 11/16/2018

I liked many parts of the Big Tech forum. The panelists all had diverse and interesting insights, and I liked that they brought both optimism and realism to the table, expressing their hopes of what technology could do for us and their fears of what it could do to us. I also really liked their analysis of the damage technology has already done to us and the suggestions they have to fix these problems. For example, they suggested keeping your phone in your pocket when you are with people because having your phone, say, out on a table has been proven to make people less social.

Despite how much I enjoyed these topics, which were largely discussed in the beginning of the forum, I didn’t enjoy how they talked about my generation. Of course, in a forum on big tech, Millenials and Gen Z came up often. When they talked about us, they generally referred to us as victims of technology. They always referred to adults as “us” and younger generations as “them.” This is understandable, of course. The panelists were all adults, as was most of the audience. However, I really started to notice it more as the event went on and they kept on coming back to the effects of technology on the younger generation. I felt that they shouldn’t have focused so much on the topic without bringing some younger voices into the conversation. It’s like how you wouldn’t have a forum event about race with a panel of white people. It doesn’t really matter how experienced or learned or diverse they are. If they are all white, they don’t have the experience of a black person or a Hispanic person or a middle eastern person, even if they can rattle off statistics and show an understanding of the issue. None of the people on the big tech panel had any experience growing up with technology, and thus can only study the effects of such an upbringing from afar. I think having the voice of my generation is important to have in a conversation where we are discussed so often, and I was a bit disappointed to watch four adults who had never had the same experiences as I have discuss those experiences in depth without any input from anyone who had.

Arts4Peace Performance Reflection - 11/5/2018

First of all, I’m mad they couldn’t get the recording rights for those songs because I was getting ready to download a few of them on iTunes. My frustrations with the lack of downloadable content, the Arts4Peace performance was probably my favorite global studies event yet. I am a huge music nerd and a huge proponent of the idea that music is best when there is a story behind it. The stories that were told at the performance about the Cambodian genocide were terrible and gruesome, which made the peace they found through music even more incredible to watch. Arn especially is probably among the nicest people on the face of the earth, which is a triumph when you consider what he has gone through.

Refugee Panel Reflection - 11/5/2018

I feel that it was a good idea to take a look at the more personal side of a refugee’s life in America. Often all people hear about refugees is statistics on how many are or aren’t being allowed into America or how many need our help. Although I’ve heard plenty of secondhand accounts of what a refugee’s life is like thanks to global studies, I’ve never heard it from an actual refugee. The stories had more weight to them when the people telling them had experienced them. I was forced to realize that because of America’s current policies, someone sitting right in front of me wouldn’t see his brother for many years as he is stuck on the other side of the Atlantic. However, it was also interesting to hear how well they had transitioned into their lives in America. In the past, I’ve often heard of refugees, especially from the middle east, being bullied in American schools and being outcasts in society in general. However, the panelists said this, on the whole, wasn’t the case. They said that, while there were those who were unkind to them, it wasn’t any worse than it had been in their own homes, and many people had actually been quick to accept them. Overall, the presentation made me a bit more optimistic about the potential of America as a safe place for refugees, and much more convinced that the US needs to make it easier for refugees to enter the country.

Embracing the Other Reflection - 11/5/2018

I loved the first half of “Embracing the Other”. I thought the panelists did a great job of balancing idealism with realism, resulting in an optimistic, empowering message. Together, they talked about Abraham and his determination to be hospitable and kind to everyone and everyone, no matter their appearance or background. But they also talked about keeping all the hate that is pervasive in our world out of our lives. Of course, I have a pretty strong liberal bias,  but I still felt that helping and embracing everyone in need who comes my way, while difficult at times, is a great way to do my part to make the world a better place. I also felt that turning away hate at my door whenever I am given the chance is a very empowering thought. However, I felt that this sentiment was contradicted by the second half of the “Embracing the Other”. All my gripes about the way it was conducted aside, I thought the second half of the event didn’t do a good job of balancing idealism with realism like the first half did. I felt that the message of always finding a middle ground with everyone was overly idealistic. As the deacon addressed, there are some things that I cannot compromise on, and the two presenters refused to address this, even when they were asked about it directly. I am willing to have respectful conversations with many people, but there are those who I refuse to validate with such discourse.

Dr. Bilal Sekou Seminar Reflection - 10/18/2018

The concept of Dr. Sekou’s message about the importance of mentors and role models was nothing new to me, but the way he talked about it made me look at it in a new light. I had previously discussed the topic many times, like in young women’s empowerment group when we talked about the importance of young women and girls being able to see women in positions of power and in professions like engineering and other STEM fields. As such, I had often looked at the issue from the perspective of a third party where my only role was to accept and encourage potential role models and mentors for future generations. However, Dr. Sekou presented this in a more personal way. He talked about people needing someone to believe in them before they can believe in themselves. Dr. Sekou’s version of a mentor was anyone who gives someone who is struggling another chance and a push in the right direction, and his idea of a role model is someone who simply conducts themselves in a kind and respectful manner and is hardworking and dedicated. They don’t have to be some far-off figure for people to aspire to be, they can just be a teacher or friend who helps those around them. They can make an impact without being famous or fighting the system or defying the odds like the people I used to think of as role models. I like Dr. Sekou’s philosophy more than my old one because it moves away from idolizing famous people and towards giving everyone a chance to make a meaningful difference in the world. It moves towards a world where people simply help each other when they need it. When I thought about this a bit, I realized I have experience being on both ends of this kind of mentorship. I have had people like my coaches, teachers, and parents to act as role models and mentors for me, and my experiences with those people have been important as I grow into my own person. Likewise, as a high schooler, camp counselor, and senior patrol leader, I have mentored those younger and less experienced than myself plenty of times. Thus, I also find I have a personal connection with Dr. Sekou’s philosophy.

Freshly Squeezed Reflection - 10/9/2018

As someone who is generally pretty liberal, it is easy for me to blame the general lack of political decorum on conservatives. They certainly are not innocent of frequent aggressive attacks on political rivals and the democratic party in general. However, liberals are not entirely innocent, either. When I think of why I believe liberal ideals and not conservative ones, I think of how many conservative ideas fail to take all demographics into account when making decisions. However, there are parts of liberal policies like Obama Care that raise taxes for many without significant gain to them as they pay for the healthcare of those less healthy than themselves. This can be a frustrating thing, but I generally choose to overlook it because of all the good Obama Care does. This is easy for me because Obama Care hasn’t directly affected me throughout my life so far; I don’t pay taxes and don’t really understand all that much about healthcare. It seems like a small thing to overlook, but if I try to see my own views from the perspective of a conservative taxpayer, I look like an idiot and a jerk for overlooking something like the taxes others have to pay. From this standpoint, many political ideologies become easier to understand, even if I still don’t agree with them. People who oppose gun control want the power to protect themselves in their own hands and see that the majority of deaths in America have nothing to do with a gun. Because of this, they are willing to overlook the deaths that are caused by guns and the relative ease with which anyone who wants to hurt or kill someone else can get their hands on a gun, an oversight that would seem awful to a proponent of gun control, but perfectly reasonable to a gun advocate. In this way, I think hostile political decorum is allowed to run in both directions, with both sides willingly overlooking their party’s missteps and highlighting and exaggerating their opponents’.

Tying together: A Path Appears, SDGs & Kiva - 9/27/2018

Kiva.org is able to help accomplish many SDGs on a smaller, more personal scale. They have a “Women” category, working towards the fifth SDG, an “Education” category for the fourth, “Food” for the second, “Water and Sanitation” for the sixth, and “Health” for the third. In fact, so many of the SDGs line up with kiva.org categories, I wouldn’t be too surprised to find that the UN had taken some notes from Kiva. At the very least, both organizations have similar goals and motivations. One way they differ, though, is in the fact that, while the SDGs are meant to impact a wide range of people across many countries, Kiva is simply a platform to help one impoverished person or community at a time. Kiva is more personal - donors get to read the life story of the person they are donating to before they give any money. They also have the choice to give as much or as little as they want, as opposed to the SDGs, where many are complaining that achieving them will be far too costly for everyone. I believe Kiva is an organization and an effort that would likely be supported over the UN’s SDGs by the authors of A Path Appears. They discuss the importance of personally helping communities and people, especially early on in their lives, rather than emphasizing big government spending to decrease poverty. I realize I probably sound a bit harsh as I am talking about the SDGs. It isn’t that I don’t support them - I believe they are a great way to get governments involved and raise awareness in the countries they govern. However, I would question their efficacy in achieving their goal, especially when compared to an organization like Kiva. It will be much more difficult to raise taxes across many countries in order to fund the SDGs and solve the problems of a faceless mass than it is to convince donors to donate to a single person they can understand, relate to, and feel for.

A Path Appears Reflection - 9/17/2018

I liked how personal the stories were. I think too often people use statistics to motivate action. As has already frequently come up in class, statistics are a good way to figure out how to solve problems, but they are not a good way to motivate people to solve problems. A much more effective way to motivate is to evoke an emotional reaction, and a good way to do that is to allow someone to relate to those they would be helping. Personal stories do this in a way that statistics cannot. Because of this, I certainly felt inspired by many of the stories to go out and do service to help those less fortunate than myself. However, because of the way I have been raised and the way I’ve come to see the world, I already see service as an obligation as someone who was fortunate enough to grow up with wealth. As such, the book didn’t really break any new ground or cause an epitome in me (like last year’s summer reading book did). I felt that there should have been more instruction or advice on specific ways to do service. Despite this, however, I did like how much the book challenged many common ideas, such as the idea that people like addicts or impoverished people are helpless. Several of the stories in A Path Appears featured poor or addicted people rising above their station in life and going on to help people in the situation they were once trapped in. In addition, the book humanizes those that are often depicted as their stereotypes, so I am no longer donating to help the sad little black kids in Africa. Now, I am donating to a real person whom I can connect to and care about. I have had these ideas challenged before, but every time it happens, I find the new angle helpful in breaking down those subconscious structures I have created over the years. After reading A Path Appears, I don’t believe my actions will be changed drastically going forwards, seeing as I already do plenty of service whenever I get the chance. However, my opinions on those I do service for has changed, which will, I hope, allow me to relate to them and help them even more.

2019 by Oliver Avery

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