Author Archives: Madelyn Grassi

Thinking Critically

Wow. That podcast was awesome, and it just helped me so much. I have recently been really stressed and questioning whether or not I should continue with the leadership major for a number of reasons which aren’t really important, but after listening to the podcast, I don’t see how I could not continue. I think with all of the talk in my life recently about careers and getting prepared for life after college, I forgot the reason I wanted to be a part of Jepson and how excited I was coming to Richmond because of the leadership school in the first place. Like Dr. Bezio said, leadership studies is an unsafe degree that steps outside the boundaries of what is expected and conventional in this society. So many of my peers, friends from home, and older people in my life are in the finance world, and there is nothing wrong with that, but it just isn’t me. Yet, I believed that was the only path that made sense. But after listening to this podcast, I was reminded that different types of knowledge are what we need to serve the greater good and make a positive difference. I doubt I can make a positive difference with solely a finance degree (maybe I can, and some people do, but still…). I was also talking to my advisor the other day about this stress I was having, and he asked me what it is that I do like about leadership studies, and I responded that even though these are some of my most difficult classes, they are really the only ones where I feel like I am learning and growing. My leadership classes are, to me, the epitome of what I think college should be all about — hearing different perspectives, understanding the world around you, learning about your own beliefs and what you want your life to look like, and just growing as a person who can make a difference in the world. My Jepson classes are the ones that do this for me, and I was reminded of that in the podcast, so I’m really grateful and excited to continue on this path to be the best leader I can be in every context.

Blog Post 4/20

The most interesting thing I read for today’s class came from the Beysthetics reading, which talks about the way Beyonce “has earned the right to claim her spot among the greats”, and it is because she has earned the right that she is able to elevate her family and her lineage. It’s kind of patronizing the way it seems she only gets to talk about her lineage positively because she has worked her way to the top of the music industry. And it’s not just her own specific lineage but that of all black people that she feels like they can only be raised up now at this point in her career. While she most definitely has earned the right to do pretty much anything, I don’t think this is something in which a right needs to be earned.

In terms of the podcast, I was shocked by how important music really is for so many different reasons. I obviously know that music is a universal language and brings people together, so it is important in that regard, but its association with protest is something I hadn’t ever thought of before. It is used for propaganda, to communicate to others, and to convince people to join your side. The way music changes with the times and the way one song can make such a difference is mind blowing. But in watching the Formation and This is America music videos I realized how important it is to listen to the lyrics. Something can sound like pop and pure entertainment, but the words are deeper than the surface and they can make people feel things and change minds. This brings me back to our previous discussion on context, which goes for music as well. The meaning behind lyrics of songs is dependent entirely on the time period, the artist, and the intended audience. Taking songs out of their context strips them of their meaning, so we must make an effort to understand the context of music in addition to just listening to the words.

Blog Post 4/15

The most interesting thing to me after reading the story and then listening to the podcast is the context Dr. Bezio put The Yellow Wallpaper in. The story hits on underlying themes about the oppression of women and the reality of mental health problems, and Gilman is advocating for women’s rights in writing this. It sounds good, but then when Dr. Bezio put the story in its context alongside the way Gilman (and others) aimed to advance the rights of white women at the expense of people of color, it puts the story and Gilman in a different light. I don’t think this takes away from her credibility or her advocacy for women’s rights and the work she did, but it does make you think how much you don’t know about certain things and what is kept hidden. And, in going back to our discussion about pop culture yesterday, these contexts matter and they determine how important or influential certain people and things are.

I also think it’s important to talk about the reader response theory, and the bonus question we must ask when we read closely, which is “why is this relevant to me?” This is something we should all consider when we read, hear, or see anything — we need to truly understand the importance it plays in our own life. Especially when it comes to feeling angry about something. If something upsets us, we of course have the right to feel upset, but in order to make that anger or sadness mean something, we must understand why it matters to us specifically. I find that a lot of the time people will perceive something they see/hear/read from the perspective of someone else, and although it is vital to put ourselves in others shoes, we should always make an effort to be fully aware about what those things mean to us specifically before understanding what it means to someone else. I think this is the best way to make change.

Pop Culture

In talking about the way we define high culture and low culture and putting popular culture in the low category, I was left wondering who makes those definitions. Everyone responds and reacts differently to aspects of culture, and it should be for the individual to decide whether something is important or not. The one thing that seems pretty universal in defining the importance of pieces of culture is the aspect of time. Works of art that transcend time periods, like To Kill A Mockingbird and 1984, are important and influential because they shed light on a part of the human condition. Dr. Bezio talks about the importance of pop culture and the way it shapes minds and has more influence than facts, so what would make that not high culture?

She also talks about the way storytelling is at the core of leadership. The stories we tell, whether true or false, matter and have the ability to make change. The entertainment and popular culture show us what is important to us and what our society looks like, and it is this entertainment, deemed as low culture, that have the biggest impact. The podcast talks about Robinhood and its ability to transcend time, and it talks about the false stories created throughout history that have created revolts and upset people who then make change. This makes me think about social media and the way trends become popular and change the way people do things. In today’s world, one person has the ability to create a movement by reaching millions of people in a matter of seconds, and this is the difference between the way pop culture is today versus the way it was in the past. There is more pop culture now than there was in the past, and this is telling about the way our culture changes frequently and the way individuals are constantly moving on to the next exciting thing. For better or for worse, we all have the ability to make a change or start a movement. And we know what is important to people of other cultures because we are all so interconnected. The stories we tell have always mattered, but today there are more stories being told to more people, and this makes culture bigger than it ever has been, and potentially more important and influential.

Blog Post Podcast 9

Of the many things Dr. Bezio talked about in her podcast, this line really stood out to me: “If we believe history, poor people, women and people of color never did anything.” This just shows that history is determined by those who write it, and those who write it are the people in power. And for the majority of history (and present day I suppose), the people in power are white men. Even if the story has the same facts, it differs based on who tells it – this is human nature. It would be okay for this to be the case if everyone was given the same platform and ability to voice their side of the story and their perception of the circumstance, but when only one group of people is given the privilege to tell the story, we consider that to be the story because there is no other side.

This podcast resonated with a lot of the things I have been thinking about in our present society. Dr. Bezio talks about how history, up until recently, is focused on great people – the leaders, the voices, the change-makers, and these people are vital for movements (like MLK, George Washington, etc.), but they would not be nearly as successful without their followers and the people on their teams whispering in their ears and making decisions. History is written to make certain people look good, but that is not the real history – it is tailored and modified and exaggerated so the powerful people can live on as “the greats” in the eyes of future generations. But, did everyone at that time really think they were so great? What about the bad decisions they made? What would those whose voices were oppressed say about these leaders? Dr. Bezio gives the example of Queen Elizabeth I. She says how we will never know if she was liked by her constituents because if they were asked and said they did not like her, they would be killed. So it’s possible they were telling the truth, but it could also be the case they were lying so they would not be castrated and decapitated. The problem is we’ll never know, and this means we will never have the full story about history. Yes, we have uncovered more and more, but I don’t even think we can be sure the facts we find out later are true either.

The only thing we can do is make a conscious effort for all the voices of people living today to be heard and documented so that when today becomes history to future generations, they have the full story. It is unfortunate to say that this is not the case. I think because of social media, a lot of words will be permanent and everyone is given a voice – sort of. It seems like everyone should have a voice, let’s say. But cancel culture makes this not the case. Right now, we are hearing from pretty much just one side on a number of issues (and the side differs) and a lot of people are making assumptions about what others believe because we assume the voices we hear are the majority opinion of everyone – even those who are not speaking up. A lot of opinions are being taken off of social media outlets (or moved so far down that it becomes nearly impossible to find), facts are being skewed to push a certain agenda, and people live in fear of getting “cancelled” or thrown into a certain category based on their opinion. So, a lot of people with the “minority” opinion on a number of issues stay quiet because it is not worth the scrutiny or the attack they will receive (reminds me of Elizabethan England without the execution). In my eyes, we are not laying a good foundation to have this history be the real history, and it is sad because this is history repeating itself and I don’t think a lot of people are noticing that.

Candidate Ads

This ad put forth by Eisenhower in the 1956 presidential election was my favorite of the ones I watched from that year because of the way it told a story and the way the narrator is an average American citizen instead of a newscaster or TV personality. The ad follows a cab driver and his dog on a walk in DC – they stop to look at the White House and the cab driver wonders aloud about Eisenhower as a person rather than a leader. In doing this, the cab driver humanizes Eisenhower and brings him to the level of the average citizen, which I think can be beneficial for anyone running for president. Part of this humanization of Eisenhower comes about in talking about where he came from – a small town and a poor, hardworking family.

Even though some of the things the cab driver mentions are war and violence, the overall feeling of the ad is peaceful and makes the audience feel like all of those things will be okay because Eisenhower has it covered. The overwhelming feeling of security is present here as well. The ad shows the American people, and says, “I think he knows all about people like me…”, “he’s thinking about children maybe”, and “how to help farmers grow crops”, etc. At the end, the cab driver says, “while I’m thinking of him, I got a feeling he’s thinking of me”. This gives the audience the sense that Eisenhower really is thinking of them and cares about each individual. Given nothing else, this is definitely an ad that would make me want to vote Eisenhower into office.

Millenium Village Simulation

This game was frustrating for a number of reasons. The first of those reasons being the fact that it is meant to simulate actual life for people living in sub-Saharan Africa. While playing the game, which seems impossible to do well at, I just felt sad and defeated thinking about Kodjo and Fatou as real human beings. In each game they started out strong – 100 health, subsistence met from last season – and things look good for two or three turns, and then boom… maize yield is low, there’s a drought, and Kodjo has a disease that requires a CFA 300.0 trip to the doctor. When this started happening, I honestly just didn’t know what to do. I tried to solve the problems, but nothing seemed to work. And then I thought if I can’t solve these problems as I sit in my warm, furnished house on my $1200 computer, how can someone who is impoverished, malnourished, and dehydrated solve these problems? The answer, I suppose, is they can’t. They have to make sacrifices, and just when you think you might have enough money to buy something, another more pressing issue may occur. So, really, throughout this game, I just felt defeated and sick to my stomach thinking about the actual human beings living in the environment this game is meant to simulate.

What really got to me though was when I got a few rounds in and a checkbox came up that said “Attempt to have a child”, and all I could think was “Are they serious? How on earth am I supposed to keep a child alive when I can barely keep myself alive?” Again, I thought about the people living in the environment the game is meant to simulate. They don’t have the resources to take care of children, AND they also don’t have the resources to prevent having kids. Birth control is unavailable and most people are not educated about sex. This results in overpopulation and underfunding and lack of resources, which then results in more deaths, especially child deaths. Many people think first about clean drinking water and food as the most essential resources for individuals in sub-Saharan Africa, and while they are extremely high on the list, I would argue that investing in sex education and cheap birth control strategies should be higher on the list because this can help with overpopulation, which would then mean less tangible resources like food and water are needed further down the line.

Board of Trustees/President Crutcher Letter

The email from President Crutcher, which included the statement from the Board of Trustees, feels very much like an empty gesture. Over and over again this year I have watched people, in many different situations, make decisions that just cover themselves and try to eliminate criticism instead of actually doing the things that are for the good of the community. The same applies here. While I understand it may be difficult to address all of the concerns being voiced, I think the least the university can do is not pretend they are making positive changes when they clearly are not. In both the letter and the statement, it talks about progress, advancements being made, care for the students and faculty, and other things that don’t seem to me to be the reality of the situation. President Crutcher urges “students and members of the community to continue to participate in this work to inform”, but individuals and groups are informing the university about what needs to change, and no advancements are being made. I do get that some decisions are difficult to make and change can be hard for a number of reasons, but I find it kind of hard to understand how they expect the UR community to take those letters in a positive manner when they are basically being told all of their work, informing, and advocacy are for nothing.

Blog Post 5 – Favorite Ad

This ad for Extra gum is one of my favorite ads ever. It follows the story of Sarah and Juan, two teenagers who fall in love and eventually end up getting married later down the line. The ad takes us through some of their best and worst moments, including their first kiss, a picnic, a fight while moving into a new house, having to do a long distance relationship, and eventually their engagement at the end. Throughout all of these moments, there was always a piece of Extra gum and at the end it all comes full circle incorporating the brand when Sarah sees drawings of their moments on the gum wrappers before the proposal and it brings her back to all of those times. Additionally, by naming the characters in the advertisement, it helps the audience relate to the characters and remember it better. I also like the way there is no speaking in the advertisement, and the only sound is the song “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, which is a popular song so it helps grab the audience’s attention.

I think this ad is genius because it makes the audience believe that a love story and Extra gum go hand in hand, and if you chew Extra gum you may get your own love story. Obviously that is not the case, but it still works. This goes back to the Teays article and how she talks about the change in advertisements over time — focusing on the product itself was once the norm, but now what we want is what the product will bring into our lives. Additionally, she talks about winners and losers in advertising and how we look at advertisements of people who have lives we want and these ads assume we want to enter that “parallel universe”. I don’t think this ad goes as far as that but it still presents a universal theme of desire for love, which spans across all demographics and is a powerful message to pretty much anyone over the age of 12.


Teach-in Response

I want to begin by commending the students who put the teach-in together and spoke about their demands for change at this university. I have been so impressed by my peers, and all people my age, throughout this difficult time who have found the strength to speak up, voice their opinion, and be a catalyst for change. One of the most interesting parts of the teach-in to me was the discussion about the university’s empty gestures on a number of levels. With empty gestures in mind, the students spoke about the “light workload week” we were given and the fact that putting that up for interpretation from each faculty member individually was only a way to act as though they care about the students’ wellbeing. More importantly, though, the renaming of Freeman Hall to Mitchell-Freeman Hall is also an even more disrespectful empty gesture made by the Board of Trustees and the university. It was news to me that concerns over the names of the buildings had been brought up to the university in the past, and those concerns were ignored. Now that the university was under greater scrutiny, they decided to have a name change, but it does not even come close to fulfilling the requests made by faculty and students. It is clear the name was changed just to make it look like they were helping or doing something beneficial for the Richmond community. Clearly, it did not work. The Board of Trustees and others making decisions on behalf of this university have made it crystal clear that money is more important to them than the welfare of their students, and especially the welfare of Black students who have voiced concerns that have not been respected. Additionally, I think it is very important that it was emphasized that the burden to start and hold conversations about racial injustice is falling on black students and faculty, which is extremely damaging. As stated in the teach-in, it should not take the suffering of black lives for people to notice, and we all need to be held accountable in making changes to this university, the larger Richmond community, and the world.