Last week I attended a lecture for my Introduction to Islamic Studies class. It was given by a professor at Rutgers University who had studied with my own professor. The title of the lecture was “Debating Muslim Marriage: Then and Now.” The professor opened by explaining a modern islamic phenomenon that is being debated mostly in India today. The practice is called triple talaq, and it is a legally recognized form of divorce where a man can divorce his wife (not the other way around) by saying the word talaq (which means divorce) three times. Dr. Stephens explained after the lecture that the Qur’an says that if a man divorces his wife by triple talaq, he should wait a month between each time he says it. This way at the end of the three months, he can assure that his wife is not pregnant.
While this issue receives a lot of publicity today, many women object to the focus on it because they think it distracts from other more important issues of gender inequality. Some women say economic inequality is far more pressing than the issue of divorce, because when a woman becomes divorced she is often cut off from her supply of income and is without resources. Dr. Stephens gave us a history of divorce cases and how they’ve been handled by Indian courts. The influence of imperialism and the British common law system is immense. Historically, issues of divorce have been treated as private, familial matters and issues of property were for the courts. However the system has failed to recognize how intertwined these things become especially for women. Women who do go through the court system to reclaim their possessions after divorce often have to claim a special kind of status, equivalent to helplessness or stupidity, that means she is too incompetent to handle the issue on her own. While this is degrading to women, it also can help them get legal support for their divorces. Overall this event opened my eyes to a lot of marriage, divorce and property issues in islamic law I was not aware of. The gendered components of these issues are fascinating but often disadvantageous to women. I think without serious overall of the legal system and a more egalitarian approach of Islam and sharia towards women, this may remain the case in places like India for a while.
Today as my third event (since we could attend anything but film) I attended a Tai Chi class this morning. In addition to it being he last event, I also figured it would be rather fun. While I was abroad I visited this big park in Bangkok called Lumpini (similar to Central Park). Here, hundreds of people from older generations (ie over 45/50 to age 90+) practice their Tai Chi in small groups in this park. I was always fascinated at how active people this age were. I once even had horrified elderly villagers ask me if it is true that in America when people get too old, we send them away from their families to live in assisted care homes. I know that Tai Chi can not be the sole reason why the elderly who partake are more physically fit than others, but I wondered if there was a correlation.
This class was part of a series of classes offered but I was still allowed to join in. We discussed a little bit about the history of Tai Chi and what the potential benefits are. Originally a method of self defense, Tai Chi has developed into a form of exercise that can have positive impacts like reducing stress and anxiety, as well as improving flexibility and balance. After a brief introduction we started going through and learning the motions of Tai Chi. During this class I can honestly say I was surprised at how physically demanding it was. Obviously we were not sprinting around or bending out bodies in near impossible positions, but I still felt embarrassingly out of shape when my body started to get a little sore from stretching into different positions. I begun to think about those people I saw practicing this in the parks of Thailand and look back with a newfound respect. I also found the whole activity to be rather stress relieving (except for my initial embarrassment). To a calming background music I had to move my body through a series of poses and motions, making sure that one pose flowed from the next and that my body never stopped moving. It was particularly stress relieving because I had to constantly focus on the flow of my body and my breathing. That may not sound like a lot but while I was at this class I managed to not think about all my finals and other stressors (at least for a little). We went over some positions as well as breathing techniques and the instructor covered the proper way to practice Tai Chi alone. I really am glad that I attended this class because it gave me a little insight into what I saw while abroad as well as a new method of stress relief!
This one was more of an accident than an intentional visit. I play the organ and often visit the chapel at odd times to play it. This week, I entered the chapel to find a Kairos event going on. Professor Kocher was speaking, so I was interested in what he had to say. I managed to sneak in there without totally interrupting them and listened. I have accidentally attended Kairos events before just by being there when they start (having been playing the organ) and feeling to awkward to leave. Christianity is not really my jam right now, but it is good to listen.
Professor Kocher was talking about the parable of the prodigal son. For those not familiar, it is the story of two brothers, one who spends his share of the family estate on booze and women, while the other stays home and works. The first brother runs out of money and returns home, seeking to be employed as a servant, but the father welcomes him and restores him to his previous position. The hardworking brother is outraged that the father has rewarded his brother for his recklessness, but the father mentions that they must celebrate that they had lost the other brother and now had him back. That the brother who worked had always had his fathers support, while the brother who left was only now returning to it.
The remainder of Professor Kocher’s talk was about returning home with both success and failure and knowing those who welcome you all the same. I think the parable makes a far better point for divine acceptance rather than familial acceptance. Even as the father should forgive a little, the Father forgives entirely (with sort of modern theology on the idea of God as a good that supports everyone, even the sinners). I am not sure about the line being drawn between these concepts, but it is nice to hear. They went to a party afterwards to celebrate the graduating seniors, and I went to play the organ.
Last night Will Michalopolus, a Richmond alum with a son graduating this year, gave a talk regarding Pubworx which is a magazine publisher. The point arose that millennials are not buying magazines to such an extent as prior generations to which Stella and I exchanged a look of agreement whilst attempting to remember the last magazine purchase we had. It was Mr. Michalopolus’ idea to bundle together three magazines, the example of Vogue Cosmo and Allure, to then sell for a higher price in order to get them into Costco and increase sales for all magazines. An idea which somewhat went over my head due to the increase in price and possibility that the customer may not want all the magazines, thus he addressed that the problem remained clear – people were not browsing in stores but rather online thus the encountering of magazines became less likely. The solution I found most combative was his hope to continue keeping magazines in checkout lines where you cannot order online, such as grocery stores. Not only did this inevitable remind me of the recommendations paper but rather the Harvey article of leadership and the 7 questions asked, prominently that of “Do we understand?” This is important because as Mr. Michalopolus is not a millennial the act of addressing the discrepancy between the two generations shows understanding, obviously the goal of a magazine publisher is that of sales so this question must be answered but nevertheless the two correlate.
A personal take on the concept of purchasing magazines correlates with my hatred of Kindles. For as a generation we love to have things at easy access and accessible whenever we please but personally even with regards to homework assignments I must have it tangibly available to hold and the joy of flipping through a book is lost upon when simply clicking forwards, the visibility of being almost done is not similarly acquired when seeing a percentage at the bottom of a screen. Another strange correlation to this talk, which may be a slight stretch, is to the Zinn reading. The connection of a false narrative based on the storyteller, for the decline in magazine purchases is due in part to the rise in technology which we constantly hint is so grand and great but in actuality it is lowering tolerance of hard work which may be an aggressive statement but holds true to the easy accessibility of everything in this modern day and age.
Last night, I attended the PubWorX talk on campus with Will Michalapoulos, the Vice President of Retail Sales and Marketing. PubWorX is a joint company by both Hearst Publications and Conde Nast, who are typically competitors but have joined together temporarily due to the low interest in magazines. PubWorX’s job is to try and figure out new and innovative ways to sell and advertise magazines. It was interesting to see much of what we learned in class about advertising applied from to a real-world situation. Furthermore, I got the chance to understand why advertisers make the decisions they do. For example, one of the ways they try to sell magazines is to package them together or to sell them with another product. This means that magazines such as Good Housekeeping, or a fashion magazine, or sold with products such as weight-loss bars for women.
Clearly, there are several assumptions being made here. First, they are assuming that all women are interested in fashion, housekeeping, and want to lose weight. While this, of course, is not true, it does make some sense from a marketing perspective. To sell the products, they have to rely on some stereotypes in order to package the magazines together in a way that is likely to sell. There is a higher probability that people are interested in the combination of a fashion magazine and a housekeeping magazine, as opposed to a fashion magazine and Men’s Health. While it may not be right and may play on our biases/stereotypes, there is some logic to the way advertisers package and sell their material.
Overall, this talk was both interesting and informative due to getting the opportunity to see advertising and marketing from another perspective. This got me thinking that a lot of the possible solutions are much more complicated then forcing advertisers to not stereotype. While this may make sense theoretically, in reality it could cause magazines, at least in the short run, to lose money, and thus the magazine companies and advertisers will be highly resistant to making these changes. This relates back to Dorner and systems theory as when making recommendations, it is important to remember that everything is complicated and interconnected. This is why we need strong leadership to come up with valuable solutions to issues such as this advertising/magazine issue, as leaders must keep in mind the complexity and interconnectedness of the solutions.
On Wednesday night, I attended an event in the International Commons hosted by he Inclusive and Engaged Learning and Teaching Spaces Faculty Learning Community. The event was called Pa’lante: Fundraiser for Puerto Rico. The event was a fundraiser created by concerned members of the community to raise appreciation for the struggle Puerto Rico is currently facing as a country and to raise monetary funds to assist them in that struggle. I found the dual purpose of the event both informative and engaging. At the event, which was extremely open and accessible to the public, made the event engaging and conducive to discussion on campus. The event featured live Puerto Rican music played by a band, traditional Puerto Rican cuisine, and I heard that they even had salsa dancing lessons available for individuals to try out! The event as a whole was a celebration of Puerto Rican culture with the intent of raising funds in the wake of the hurricane that occurred last year.
After almost a year after Hurricane Maria occurred, the island as a whole still remains largely in a state of ruin and disarray. In the wake of the storm, the island received significant media attention and assistance from other nations. However, today, the nation still possesses significant burdens that have largely been forgotten about. I loved that this event was both a celebration that drew attention to the vibrancy of Puerto Rican culture and raised awareness about its plight and need for assistance. The event opened up dialogues about personal responsibilities that we possess as a largely successful, well off nation. The discussions reminded me of McAskill’s Doing Good Better and as I was at the event I wondered what kinds of things the money made by the auction would go and how they beneficial they would be within the island. At an event like this, obviously it was impossible for me to understand the efficacy that would be caused in a monetary, charitable sense. However, I do not think that whatever the results of that question turn out to be that the question would be any less worthwhile. The event was a stand by faculty and staff of the university. Many mentioned that this event marked the beginning of an increased effort to assist Puerto Rico. Overall, I found this celebration of Puerto Rican culture very informative and eye opening. It reminded me of how much we as students at a university have to learn about the world around us and the potential impact we can have.
Each semester, my sorority offers an array of programs and talks on campus that are available for our chapter to attend. These events typically bring in outside, professional speakers or experts on particular topics. Typically, these topics are academic in nature, but are usually also applicable to real world situations or work experience. I love these events because they provide into into the professional world and give us an opportunity to hear from individuals who have taken classes like we do now in undergrad and built a career from that. Moreover, these SOE’s make events like these extremely accessible to us. For example, one week a professional nutritionist came to speak with us. She not only presented information about the scientific evidence and implications behind the food we put in our bodies, but she also spoke about what her job looks like on a daily basis. Thus, we received applicable advice related to our physical well-being and gained insight into a potential career opportunity.
However, one SOE that I just attended is the one I will focus on in this particular post, because the event really stuck out to me and was somewhat different than typical SOE’s. This SOE centered around drug awareness. When I initially heard the topic of the SOE, I planned on skipping it. Throughout middle and elementary school, I have sat through countless talks given by police officers and firemen about drug awareness. And they all end in the same predictable way with “Drugs are bad.” or “You don’t believe this can happen to you, but it can.” And that was the perspective I went into this talk with. I was not expecting to gain much insight from it, to be completely honest.
However, the woman who spoke defied my expectations. When she initially started speaking, I just assumed that she was professional speaker, or someone who worked in a legal setting or for a non-profit that raises awareness about drugs. However, I quickly realized I was wrong as she began to tell her story. She first described her ambition and life path for the majority of her life. In undergrad, she went to a prestigious university, worked extremely hard, excelled in sciences, and made significant sacrifices throughout her time that enabled her to be accepted to a prestigious Physician’s Assistant program. This really struck a chord with me because I am studying sciences and hope to pursue a career in the healthcare field. She then went on to describe a day that changed everything for her. It was a long story, but essentially, just weeks before she was scheduled to enroll in classes at her PA school, she went to a concert, was stopped by the police, and was arrested for being in possession of a single pill of the drug Molly.
She went on to describe the shock, emotional difficulty, and financial burden that this placed on her family. Her enrollment to PA school was denied and she faced significant legal action and bills. Based on the court’s verdict, they required that she contact a certain number of academic institutions and give talks to undergraduate students about her experience. The court wanted her to raise awareness about the dangers of drugs not only from a medical perspective, but from a legal one that has potential to jeopardize your entire future. After giving her talk and informing us about the significant struggle her entire case has been and the extent to which it has impacted her life, she engaged us in discussion. This was my favorite aspect of the event. She gave us the opportunity to ask questions and discuss issues. She confronted us with difficult questions such as why are drugs so prevalent on college campuses even though so many people recognize them as wrong? Do we understand the consequences of drugs: legally, medically, socially, etc.? And considering what those consequences are (as she described) are they fair or what should be the consequences be?
Her questions got me thinking about how prevalent and how much of an issue drugs are on college campus and how that intersects with our lives as university students to an even greater extent than we realize. One thing I was thinking about was the ethics behind taking ADHD medicine when you are undiagnosed in order to enhance your performance. This was actually also spoken about significantly in one of the readings we read earlier in the semester. Her talk stood in direct contrast to the perspective of that reading, which claimed that self-prescription should be diagnosable.
Finally it even relates to university policy on this campus. I started thinking about of athletes are randomly drug tested and their participation is often contingent on these tests coming out clean. Moreover, many students at UR are on financial aid. Drug violations go directly against national and university policy. Such instances can jeopardize one’s financial ability to continue to study here.
Overall, this SOE was very informative and thought-provoking for me. It challenged me to think simply beyond “drugs are bad for you” and grapple with why such strict parameters and consequences are in place and what happens as a result when they are violated.
In my Justice and Civil Society class, Dr. Williamson recently invited a guest speaker to address us about community wealth building in the city of Richmond. In class, we have read various authors and philosophers for Dr. Williamson, connecting their messages to the injustices that exist in the real world. These injustices exist especially for women, the poor, and people of color. The city of Richmond is a perfect example in showcasing these injustices. In a city where the child poverty rate is nearly three times that of the national average, there is also an elite liberal arts university surrounded by Victorian mansions.
The speaker who came to class was an incredibly accomplished woman who worked for the city and discussed the projects that were underway in order to bring people out of poverty and getting them sustainable jobs. She works especially with high school students and setting them up with employment and educational opportunities for them once they graduate, as many students in lower income districts have no prospects for what they want to do next once they get their degree, if they can even finish school. The work that our speaker does is invaluable, and it was especially interesting to hear from her since we are finishing up our service in the Richmond public school system for the semester, so we have seen the problems that she is working to solve first hand. Her talk taught me that it is essential for communication between service members like us, the students, and people like her who work administratively, to bring about the most change in the Richmond area. She also spoke about the interesting tension that exists between being helpful and being paternalistic, since while we want to do as much good as possible, we cannot be restrictive or overhaul people’s lives as we try to make a difference.
Last week, I visited the Richmond Holocaust Museum with my Justice and Civil Society Class. Before attending, our class took the time to read Elie Wiesel’s Night, a book which I had never been made aware of before. As much as the event and the museum was significant, and as interesting as it was to meet two survivors of the Holocaust, the part of that night that I am going to carry with me is the private discussion I had with Professor Kocher on the bus home after the event concluded.
In Night, Wiesel struggles with God. Indeed, Professor Kocher told me that Wiesel struggled with God for the remainder of his life. In my private research, I found a story Wiesel wrote in which a small village holds God on trial. This relationship with God is very clear as Wiesel writes about Judaism in the Nazi concentration camps. He never doubts the existence of God, but feels that God has abandoned or betrayed those who love Him.
I mentioned this to Professor Kocher, who is a chaplain at this university, and began a quiet conversation that lasted until we returned to home. We talked about our own faith (his and the lack of mine) and how we feel that we can find God. We talked about the scientific method of reasoning (his concerns with how it may not account for anything and my belief in it as a bizarre secular Gospel). It has been a long time since I thought about religion and my relationship with any manner of divine entity. It was a welcome conversation, and I hope that I have not betrayed his trust in writing about it here.
Last Monday I attended Dr. Betty Crutcher’s talk on the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment which she revealed her local community was affected by. A friend suggested this talk to me because her sorority had to attend it and I was thrilled because I’ve never heard Dr. Betty Crutcher speak and it was also such an interesting topic. I’ve always known about the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment and its racist history in the U.S but I’ve never heard it spoken about in depth. Her talk had great ties to social science and leadership specifically in terms of ethics. The practices of this study were completely unethical and outright racist. The experimenters were injecting African American men with the syphilis virus and were not even telling them. After the men were suffering with this disease, the experimenters observed them and their reactions and did not give them any help or treatment. The researchers completely deceived the participants and caused them mental and physically harm which goes against all the rules that have since been put forward in the IRB for psychology studies. The researchers allowed their racial biases to influence their whole experiment and took control and ruined the lives of so many innocent African American men just because the researchers viewed them as less of a person than they were.
I thought that it was so important and so moving hearing this speech from Dr. Betty Crutcher because of the connection she personally has to the experiment. She’s actually from Tuskegee, Alabama where the experiment occurred. She saw her community ruined and devastated by this experiment and saw racial harm up close. The experiment is something I never learned in school but have seen many times on my twitter and facebook timelines and I think that says a lot about how our education systems have tried to hide gigantic wrongs committed in relation to racism. I’m not surprised that I never learned this in high school though because as we’ve learned in class, biases alter the way our information is relayed to us and what information is relayed to us. I also really liked the fact that it was our university’s president’s wife who gave this talk because that definitely says something about the progression of our university.