Take Back the Night in Retrospect

After attending Take Back the Night for the first time last week, I was utterly shocked at how many victims of sexual assault were in the audience and were brave enough to share their stories.  Never at Richmond have I seen such undivided attention and sincerity from an audience.  The crowd was incredibly respectful and I would consider the event to be a huge success based on the awareness that it raised, especially on our campus.  However, I feel as if one night  is not enough to raise awareness on sexual violence and rape.  With an issue so severe and psychologically traumatizing, a greater effort needs to be made collectively to prevent future incidences and provide help and support for those who have already been affected.

The large number of stories shared that night serve as a reminder of a painful issue that is all too often brushed under the rug.  The difficulty with raising awareness against sexual violence and rape is that it is so hard to talk about.  However, many of the survivors stated that they were only able to share their stories because of the sheer amount of support, respect, and silent encouragement of those at Take Back the Night.  I believe that more events such as Take Back the Night need to be held raise awareness our campus and simultaneously show survivors how much support truly lies out there for them.

Pictures with Symphorien Ntibagirirwa!


Causes of Failure in American Society

In chapter 14 of Collapse, Jared Diamond identifies four reasons groups often fail. These causes of failure include “groups may fail to anticipate a problem before the problem actually arrives”, “when the problem does arrive, the group may fail to perceive it,” “after they perceive it, they may fail to even try to solve it”, and finally, “they may try to solve it but not succeed”.

While reading this book we have often related the anecdotes and examples we read to today’s society. I believe that the majority of problems facing American society today are caused because of the third reason that Diamond identified, that society has perceived a problem, but simply fails to solve it effectively. Do you agree? Why or why not?


In Organic we Trust

I’ve started to notice that when I go home my parents have started making the switch to buy more organic foods at the grocery store. I usually don’t say anything because I just assume that the organic food is healthier, but when they buy organic chips that literally have no taste is when I start to question what the hell I’m eating. The documentary on Monday, “In Organic we Trust,” actually answered a lot of questions that I have been asking myself when I go home. Is organic food really better for you? Is the price that we pay for organic food really worth it? It was pretty interesting to see that in the beginning of the documentary when people were asked why they bought organic food they really didn’t know the answer, but just assumed it was better for you.

What was interesting from the documentary is that there is actually a difference between organic food and certified organic food. Just because something says organic, doesn’t actually mean it is better for you. One specific argument that was made is that companies are making organic chocolate, but it’s still chocolate which isn’t exactly the healthiest of snacks. There’s actually a long process that’s set up to get organic food certified, but the problem is that large factories are taking over and processing “organic food” and it’s hurting the actual organic farmers, who are in turn being charged more. This is why organic food actually cost more because not only are we getting what we pay for, but they are being charged more. In the beginning of the film I actually thought we were going to learn that organic food is not healthier for you, but in fact it is healthier and despite the price differences it is better to go ahead and go organic.


Does knowing you’re making a mistake, raise the stakes?

What I found particularly interesting about Diamond’s chapter 14 in Collapse, was that many of the mistakes made by society are based on many forms of fallacious reasoning that we’ve discussed in class. For the most part, despite what terrible events happen in the past, we fail to prevent future events from happening again because we fall back into our comfortable niches filled with attainable resources. We aren’t always thinking about the consequences of our actions, and even if we do, it’s often not enough for people to actually take action or make wiser decisions.

Diamond touches on another author’s theories about why people make the decisions or bad choices that they do. The quote from Tainter that he included in the text made a lot of sense, even though he did not focus on environmental fall backs like Diamond does. I think that it’s important for us to consider Joseph Tainter’s view as well. “My UCLA undergraduates and Joseph Tainter as well, have identified a baffling phenomenon: namely, failures of group decision-making on the part of whole societies or other groups” (420). How often do we base our decisions off what the rest of people (or the rest of the group) are doing? Many of us would like to think that we don’t base our choices off of the greater populace; we like thinking that we’re independent. However, this “centralized” decision making may be a key reason to why people continued to make poor decisions despite the consequences they didn’t know or actually knew would arise because of them. “Individuals, too, make bad decisions: they enter bad marriages, they make bad investments and career choices, their businesses fail, and so on. But some additional factors enter into failures of group decision-making, such as conflicts of interest among members of the group, and group dynamics” (420). Group dynamics and the decision-making flaws within, is a subject that I wish we would’ve had more time to discuss in further detail inside the classroom this semester. But, I think that it’s definitely something to consider as we move forward in the leadership school.


Diamond’s thought about civilization collapse

In Jared Diamond’s book, he talks about the three key factors that will destabilize a civilization to the point of collapse.  The three factors are that a civilization cannot foresee a problem before it becomes a life or death issue, that a civilization cannot recognize the problem when it arrives, and that the civilization fails to solve the problem once it arrives.  I immediately thought of nuclear weapons when I read this, and thought about Pakistan, India, and Russia specifically.

I think it is fair to say that most people recognize that nuclear weapons have the power to end the world, but few people realize how few it would actually take to end the world.  For example, there are two countries with extremely bad blood between them that have nuclear weapons — Pakistan and India.  Pakistan is a country that has strong ties to terrorist organizations, and is a place where it would not be surprising if a religious zealot became the president.  If that type of religious zealot became president, the world would be faced with a situation where the president of Pakistan actively believes that there is a better world after death and that if he dies while wiping out his enemies he is granted automatic entrance into paradise — and there is such a country, India, next door who can fire enough nukes to wipe Pakistan off the map.  Even if Pakistan and India only fired some of their nuclear weapons, it would be enough to cause a nuclear winter that would end the world — with the rest of the world not having to fire a single missile.  Russia also misplaced so many weapons of mass destruction after the fall of the USSR that it is just a matter of time until terrorists obtain some.  If terrorists hit a hyper aggressive country like Israel with that kind of weapon — as many have threatened to do — Israel will retaliate back.

What worries me is that the United Sates keep building bigger and more dangerous weapons of mass destruction, and does not focus enough on salvaging the situation if one gets used.  The United States has the firepower to singlehandedly destroy the world if it so chooses, and has a military that is so dominant that global foreign policy is based of off the threat of U.S. might — so why on earth do we keep adding new weapons?  We are literally decades ahead of where the closest other countries are militarily, but yet we keep outspending every other country to try to get even better weapons.  As more and more countries get nuclear capability, army based warfare will disappear — as invading a country with nuclear capability is suicide.  So why don’t we focus our energy on how to stop a nuclear Armageddon if some are set off?  In the next 100 years, some country will be hit with a nuclear weapon — and depending on the country, there is a good chance that they will fire back.  Our giant stockpile of weapons will be useless then, and all of our knowledge of how to blow things up will do nothing to stave off the nuclear winter.  As Diamond says, we need to recognize that this is a serious issue — and start planning for it.  There are absolutely conceivable ways of coming up with ways to protect the world — such as an enhanced and modified version of the “STAR WARS” policy, or looking at ways to diffuse and eliminate the fallout from a nuclear strike.  If the United States is going to insist on spending such a large portion of the budget on defense, it should actually be for defense — and not for new ways of blowing up enemies.


Take Back the Night

On Tuesday, April 8th I attended Take Back the Night, an open forum event on campus where students can speak to the community about their experiences regarding sexual abuse and sexual harassment. Hundreds of students attended this event to show their support for those sharing their stories, and dozens of students  also stood up and spoke to the community about their experiences as victims, survivors, or advocates of sexual abuse or violence. Though I also attended this event last year as a freshman, it was not until this year that I truly realized the importance of holding this event on our campus. Take Back the Night is immensely important for UR students not only because it provides an opportunity for students to speak their mind and share their stories, but also because it reminds our campus community that sexual abuse, sexual violence, and rape, exist among our community itself as well. It is often easy to disregard issues such as rape and sexual violence by telling yourself that UR’s campus is safe, and since nothing has ever happened to you or any of your friends it must not be happening to anyone else on campus either; I’m certainly guilty of thinking this way, as I know many other students on campus are as well. However, Take Back the Night reminds the entire community that rape and sexual abuse are prevalent on our campus and therefore pertinent to our individual lives as well as our communal environment as well.

Jepson Symposium

I found the Jepson Symposium really interesting, and I learned a lot from visiting the various different stations. At the Jepson Symposium, Jepson students presented their thesis, both honors and not, to any person who stopped by their station. There were many different kinds of theses at the Symposium, but the majority seemed to focus on challenges facing minority members of the United States — with some others focusing on groups, such as women, that have may not be minorities, but are still discriminated against. It was a simultaneously depressing and uplifting experience. It was another reminder of the many, many problems impacting some of the minorities in this country – but also uplifting, as it at least shows that people today are working to try to fix these issues. There were many important issues that stuck out to me, but the one that stuck out to me the most was a thesis done by Jackson Taylor. In the thesis, he outlined many of the health care problems facing young immigrant women in the city of Richmond. He broke this issue up into many different parts, and focused on the many different aspects that lead the women he was working with to experience problems obtaining the proper healthcare. For example, one of the issues Jackson Taylor was looking at was what level the women he worked with could speak English. Not being able to speak English could drastically alter the care received by an individual, and would naturally be a large hurdle for these women to overcome in order to achieve even satisfactory healthcare. While Taylor’s data was drawn from far to small of a sample size to be representative of the issues facing young immigrant women in Richmond, his data did show that an inability to communicate effectively across language barriers to be a large problem. Additionally, Jackson found that cultural problems were a significant factor in immigrant women receiving proper health care. In many cultures around the world women are taught to be remain quiet, and not “bother” the men with their problems. This obviously has a huge impact on the health of these women, as they will tend to ignore sickness or pain for as long as possible. As a result, by the time they contact a health care service they are sick enough that they may require more aid than they can afford – or that they can travel too. It is not uncommon to find family placed above all else in cultures around the globe, and I have actually spoken with sick people form other cultures who were choosing to die with their family instead of risking getting help and dying without their family. This symposium, and Jackson Taylor’s thesis, really opened my eyes to some of the most challenging aspects of leadership – working with other cultures and values. There were many issues that Taylor found that could be fixed to promote better health care, but there are some issues that are not as easily changed. Chief amongst these is how do you work with people from cultures that promote ideas differently than your own? In our culture, education is highly valued — but this dedication to formalized schooling is not universal.  For example, I have worked with a culture in Australia that values family so much that almost none of the students make it past the first semester of the first year of a boarding school, as they cannot stand to be away from their family and tribe for so long. The government even offers to drive hours and hours to come get them, and then fly them to the school at no charge – but it does not matter to the people with these values. Even though they know that this lack of western education means essentially living off of almost no money and having access to almost no Western jobs, they are happy with that — as long as it means that they have their family close by. It took me a while working with this culture to feel fully at home with it, and I had to change my leadership style greatly while living with them. I think leaders also have to be extremely careful when working with these different cultures, as sex roles can vary greatly between cultures. For example, the tribe I was in was split into many different sub sections, and most of the girls over the age of thirteen were not allowed to speak with me because of their subsections — and none were supposed to make eye contact with me. I think understanding all of these cultural differences is key to being an effective leader, and that when working with different cultures it is important to be careful.

Diamond’s Reasoning for the Fall of Civilizations

In Diamond’s novel Collapse, Diamond categorizes three reasons as to why seemingly strong civilizations can soon begin to crumble. These societies may either fail to foresee a problem before it becomes an issue, fail to perceive the problem when it does in fact arrive, or fail to attempt to solve the issue once it has been identified. After examining the examples he provides under each context, the issue of global warming especially stood out to me as it involves a dangerous problem that our current society is attempting to combat. Diamond explains that people easily become skeptical of whether or not global warming is in fact real as it tends to have a slow trend with various fluctuations, otherwise known as having a “creeping normalcy.” Due to this long period of time, individuals do not see or experience the sudden effects of global warming and often dismiss its dangerous costs.

However, failure to address this potentially life-endangering issue is something that our society cannot ignore forever. While we personally may not witness its impact, our future children and certainly their children will experience the effects of our ignorance to global warming. Individuals tend to use “rational behavior” or advance their selfish interests while ignoring the harm to others. The potential for profits often clouds an individual’s judgment. While some societies may not realize their destruction, I feel that it is inexcusable to be aware of a problem negatively affecting our society and continuing to ignore the consequences.

-Danielle DiPretoro

Romanov Lecture

I found this lecture really interesting, as I had never thought of the importance of names with anywhere near the depth that this lecturer brought up.  I had always known that names in various cultures could describe lineage or family profession, but I thought that would more or less be the extent of names.  The lecturer showed me how mistaken I was.  The lecturer had these incredible graphs that showed the name usage across the ancient Islamic world, and showed how many different things you could learn from one person’s name.  More interestingly, he showed the audience how to analyze each part of the name – and what it could tell you.  At one point he showed the audience an Islamic name from the middle ages that was over half a page long. From that name, I learned about what tribe he was from, what clan within the tribe, from whom he was descendent, where he lived, where his family was from, what his job was, and what his place in the social hierarchy was. This blew me away, as it seemed more like a biography than a name.  This would have been an incredibly important tool, as it would instantly allow people to judge the proper way to behave with each other based off this type of information.  One of the most interesting things to me was that the people in the community got to decide part of a person’s name. So if a person living in Cairo claims to be from Mecca, but his grandfather was the last one in his family to be born in Mecca and the person has never been to Mecca – then the community could say that a person is not really from Mecca, they are from Cairo.  I think the lecturer made a lot of really interesting points, and I have already begun to examine names more closely.

This lecture was really interesting to me, because not only did I learn more about names – I learned more about leadership in the Middle East.   A person’s background information is so important that it is literally the first thing that a person in the Middle East finds out about the person they are talking with.  I can understand the family name, tribal, and clan aspects, as it clearly sets a social hierarchy, but I would have never imagined that where the family is from is considered to be very important as well.  It seems apparent that family status is a huge factor in interpersonal relationships, and that would be key for any leader to understand.  A leader could use this type of knowledge to their advantage in multiple ways, such as by partnering people from the same tribe together – as this shared background and culture means that in all likelihood the people will work well together.   They could also use their knowledge to ensure that tribes with negative or hostile views towards each other do not get thrust together – and in the process saving much bloodshed.  Additionally, the names of people would give a leader valuable information about the migratory movements of their people, such as whether their population was becoming more urban or rural – and focus on the appropriate area.  It is a really useful thing to keep in mind while studying the vital people in the history of Islam, and I would guess that there will be more one or two instance of trying to claim a heritage or tribal connection in order to climb through the ranks.