Foreign Culture Cuisine Exhibition

Last week I attended a foreign culture cuisine exhibition in the International Center. As I walked around the exhibition tasting different foods from around the world including Argentina and South Korea, among others, I was encouraged to think about the different cultures around the world. This little exhibition made me think a lot about my International Studies major and the impact that a leader within the international community can make. As small of a gesture as it was, this exhibition had a relatively big impact. Even by making Americans aware of different cultures around the world, we become a more globalized and open world. I think it should be a goal of everyone to live in an open world. Small gestures like this can be made by leaders across the world as a stepping stone to better international relations.

Take Back the Night

Having been unable to attend Take Back the Night last year, I made it a priority of mine to attend this semester. I had heard the event was extremely eye-opening, but in vague terms, so I figured it was simply something I had to experience for myself. I arrived early, and not many people were sitting in the forum, which I thought was strange because I had heard the event was well-attended last year. However, after only a few minutes of waiting, the entire forum was filled. This surprised me in that sexual abuse is a very taboo topic in general, and especially on this campus. Though it is not discussed at length at the university, I found it comforting that so many people came to support friends and strangers alike. Though I think blame can be placed on leadership at UR for the lack of outlets through which students can discuss sexual abuse, I think we as a student body are also somewhat culpable. CAPS provides trained professionals to talk about these issues, but after talking with my best friend from home, who attends Wake Forest University, I think students can take on leadership roles in giving sexual abuse survivors a means by which they can talk to students about their stories, not just older adults. At WFU, my friend is a part of an organization for which members are responsible for holding onto a cell phone that receives anonymous hotline calls from victims of sexual violence for certain shifts during the week. Talking to a student in addition to a CAPS counselor for professional help may be beneficial because peers of similar ages and places in live are likely to have more empathy. Take Back the Night was an experience that made me think about the ways in which students should show more leadership and accountability, and I think those who spoke at the event are perfect examples of admirable and strong leaders.

How do we view Race at UR?

When I attended the Brown Bag entitled “Terms of Racial Justice,”  I had other motives besides scarfing down four pieces of free pizza. As a Bonner Scholar, I’ve been fortunate enough to be a participant in numerous discussions about race in Richmond, but I’ve really always wanted to know how my fellow students (and even some faculty members) view race specifically on UR’s campus. The Brown Bag was an ideal space to talk about this issue because everybody was so open minded and had so many great ideas and suggestions.

This Brown Bag was quite different than ones I’ve attended in the past in that we were broken into groups and talked about issues of race as a whole, rather than having one speaker lecture about the topic. We were asked to draw a map of the positive offices and resources offered at UR that are helpful in spreading racial tolerance (the words written in blue on the map) as well as areas in which UR could improve in terms of racial justice (written in magenta). The most obvious area in need of improvement, in my opinion, is in school leadership. The fact that so many affluent white males on the Board of Trustees are making decisions for the entire student body is very off-putting in my opinion, as they have very little empathy. Although RCSGA and WCGA have been working to add a recent alumnus to the Board in order to more accurately represent the student body, more can be done to racially diversify UR’s leadership.

The faculty member who facilitated the Brown Bag Glyn Hughes, demonstrated excellent leadership skills by relegating the most interesting discussion topics to the students. As a leader, I think it’s important to know when to ask for input from followers. In this case, it made the most sense to have students talk about their personal experiences with race and resources on campus that deal with ethnic diversity rather than having an adult who cannot easily relate to the topic of student life at UR lecture about the subject. Overall, this Brown Bag was organized extremely well and left me thinking about race, as well as all the useful campus resources, such as the EnVision retreat and OMA, at UR long after it was over.

In Organic We Trust

Last week I watched the film In Organic We Trust, a food documentary which takes you on a journey through the inside workings of the organic food movement, which has become a $30 billion industry. The documentary forced me to realize just how little I, as well as most of my friends, really know about the food we eat, and where it comes from. The documentary addresses the problem that many people don;t actually know what the term “organic” means, and just rely on the assumption that it is in some way healthier. After asking people what they think organic means, the documentary goes on to provide the USDA requirements for companies to label their food organic, while explaining that organic farms still use forms of pesticides, but only those containing carbon — where the name organic comes from. While it is comforting to know that organic farmers remove the “most dangerous” toxins from their food, I was extremely surprised when I learned that organic does not mean natural and pesticide free.

While the documentary clearly attempts to provide its viewers with a better understanding of food, farming and nutrition, there are many aspects of the film that we can not believe to be fact. I understand that organic foods are a healthy alternative to pesticide ridden inorganic fruits and vegetables, but the documentary places too much of an emphasis on the negative effects of inorganic foods. The documentary’s radical stance against inorganic products even goes so far as to equate the consumption of inorganic food to higher rates of cancer and autism. While it is safe to say that large quantities of pesticides and herbicides, as well as any other toxin is harmful to someone’s health, there is not evidence linking the consumption of inorganic food to a spike in cancer and autism rates. People introduce toxins into their bodies on a regular basis from breathing in polluted air, so how can one say for sure that eating inorganic foods is causing illness, when it is extremely plausible that there are multiple factors at work.

While it is clear that the documentary is mean to be informative, I think that there are just as many good points as bad points. As a whole I found the documentary to be interesting, but I think viewers must take into account that not everything being presented can be taken seriously. The documentary takes a negatively biased stance against all types of inorganic food, and works hard to convert its viewers into members of the organic food movement.

Millennials in a Changing Society

The conference on the role of millennials in today’s society addressed a very relevant issue. Much of society questions the way millennials interact with society. An affinity for new technology, different social expectations, and a variety of new perspectives are a source of apprehension in older generations. However, this conference higlighted how millenials approach the concept of “service” differently than other generations. According to the speakers at the conference, Millennials view the military, coporate responsibility, and service as sectors of society that are not necessarily separate. Each of the speakers mentioned changes that millennials have brought or have sparked discussion about. From making service mandatory and giving individuals a choice to serve the community or the military, to running non-profits more like corporations, millenniasl are changing the way society functions.

This issue of leadership is vital because it demonstrates the impact that generational differences can have in different environments. On a societal level, the new perspectives of younger generations eventually leads to positive progress. On a smaller scale, millennials may often struggle to work within traditional buisness models. One of the speakers praised a group of millenials that  made a non-profit they volunteered for more efficient through the use of technology. However, this raises an important question. Is the change that millennials bring with them only positive in failing systems? Do sucessful systems need to make changes to anticipate problems? In Jared Diamond’s “Collapse,” systems and societies often fail to anticipate problems and proactively make changes. However, if a company continues to make changes can they really ever establish themself?

Ubuntu and a Changing Africa

In his lecture about corporate development in Africa, Dr. Ntibagirirwa rasied questions about a Southern Africa identity expressed through the concept of Ubuntu. While he focused significantly on the root of the word and its different implications, Dr. Ntibagirirwa discussed leadership implications most directly through his talk about companies and expansion in southern Africa. By proposing that corporations should work to be sensitive to African culture and create a cohesive idenitiy, Dr. Ntibagirirwa raises several questions related to group dynamics and the Rwandan genocide.

Though a discussion about the continued effects of colonialism through corporate influence may be necessary, it is not eniterely relevant in this matter. Whether or not Western corporations’ influence in Africa is right or wrong, it is a reality and should be dealt with as such. Thus, Dr. Ntibagirirwa’s discussion both serves as a way to keep corporate influence from becoming a destructive force in African society, but also uses it as an avenue to help fix past problems. There is no question that corporations are changing and shaping African culture. Therefore, by moulding corporations to include a positive aspect of African society, ubuntu, corporations would not only better integrate themselves in the society and perhaps become more receptive to community needs, but also continue to enforce the concept of a pan-southern African identity. This would not only help to soothe the struggles between ethnic groups aggravated by colonialism and incidents like the Rwandan genocide, but as the society adapts to include corporatism, they would also adapt the idea of a larger identity.

John Stuart Mill and the Journey to Socialism

University College London’s Professor Frederick Rosen gave a  lecture about John Stuart Mill and his views on economics and social responsiblility. The foundation for Rosen’s lecture was based on an active interpretation of several quotes from Mill. Rosen’s interpretation of Mill made several points very evident. First, Mill rejected democracy in practice but did not abandon the abstract idea. Apparantly, he believed that democracy does not secure freedom and is instead part of the problem. Mill referred often to the idea of “active character, ” which emphasized personal accountability. Rosen also highlighted Mill’s support of the working class by explaining that that the develpment of this group as a whole impacted the character of the entire society.

In his lecture,  Rosen wanted to focus on the question of whether or not Mills was a socialist. However, his conclusion was that there is no straightforward answer. Rosen questioned whether Mill can be “all things to all men because he did not commit himself?” or perhaps he “just sensed socialism coming?” Rosen’s unique interpretation of Mill has several implications for leadership. Though Mill’s theories have had a significant impact in the area of ethics, Rosen is proposing that perhaps Mill’s economic views are puropsefully ambigous. Mill is and was seen as a public leader during his time. This then raises the question of wheter leaders need to have a position on everything. For example, should we expect our president to have an opinion on every public issue? Should we allow our leaders to keep some opinions to themselves? If we expect our leaders to always declare their opinins and positions, should we make allowances for later position changes? Rosen’s interprentation of Mill raises the question of whether leaders are allowed to remain cryptic and how this alters the public’s perception of them.

Other Desert Cities

Last night I went to see “Other Desert Cities” which is a play about a political family that is kind of dysfunctional. They live in the deserts of CA away from people.  It is Christmas-time and Brooke, the daughter, comes home from the East Coast. She moved away and the family wants her to move back. Long story short her brother was involved in terroristic acts and she wrote a memoir about what she thought was correct and it was bashing her parents. At the end of the play she finds out that her political parents actually helped hide him in another country and effectively they aided and abetted a fugitive.

The entire time there were so many different things running through my mind. One of the things I thought about was how politics can shape people and even affect their own families. The parents are extremely conservative and Brooke, the daughter, is not. They were actually going to disown her because of this book, until she discovered the truth. On the other hand, it is truly amazing what people will do for the ones they care about.  They were willing to risk everything and hide their son.  This is often found in politics where people are constantly covering things up that they don’t want found. There are scandals all of the time which can show how power influences people in many ways.


Settlers of Catan

I found it very interesting how differently the two games of Settlers of Catan ended in class on Tuesday.  Settlers of Catan is a game designed to test the tragedy of the commons and has each group of two set up roads, settlements, and cities, as well as trade resources and interact with other groups.  The tragedy of the commons is the game theory that individuals will always act in their own self interest and ignore the long term goals of a shared group.  Obviously the game is designed so that all players should strive to win, but victory can be successfully achieved through negotiation and cooperation with other groups instead of fighting.

My game consisted of four groups and almost immediately each group realized that they must specialize in collecting a certain resource and trade with other groups to be successful.  My small group had a sheep monopoly and it was awesome.  For the most part, our game defied the tragedy of the commons because every group was able to cooperate and mutually benefit from the trades. Everyone wound up with an even distribution of points but the only reason my group won was because we had the longest road and received bonus points.

The other game, from what I heard, sounded like they had a rough time cooperating and proved the tragedy of the commons.  I could hear arguing and conflict from my table as the other game’s groups fought over resources and acted within their own self interest.  I may be over exaggerating slightly, but their was a clear difference in cooperation among the two games.  Although the cooperation in my game may sound boring and uncompetetive, I actually had a lot of fun and found the experience to be rewarding.


The Laramie Project and The World Of Theater

I found Moises Kaufman’s perspective and attitudes on leadership on stage and beyond fascinating and applicable to most fields. His ability to allow the audience to decide what judgments about the town of Laramie, its citizens, Matthew Sheppard and his abusers are fair was a really beautiful concept.  I think made the play special in a lot of ways, among the most important being the catharsis it brought to the town.  The idea that we, as people, are often better at telling strangers our stories and deepest pains than we are at telling each other is deeply sad, and the play was able to reconcile this problem or at least make a start.  Because the play portrayed the reality of the town in an unaltered and nonjudgmental form it was able to capture the reality and complexity of life in a rare and authentic way.

He also revealed a seemingly inherent flaw in the current journalistic and news system.  Rather than looking at context and the entire story, readers and journalists alike want only the basics.  All too often no one takes the time to get the whole story because of the sheer amount of time that it would take.  Instead, we are willing to settle for, often laughably partisan, slivers of stories that never allow us to understand in any real way.  Perhaps the arts are able to mediate this to an extent, but even they most often approach stories with an intended angle, even when they are nonfictional.

His idea that all we do should advance a movement rather than our own simply ambitions especially resonated with me.  The stagnant nature of theater for the past century and Kaufman’s willingness to change it in light of other options is so admirable, especially given his background and the more guaranteed success or stability he could have enjoyed in a safer environment.

Lastly, I found Kaufman’s closing remarks about the latent potential within my generation wonderfully uplifting and motivating.  His description of us as beautiful and entitled made me think more about the positive and negative connotations of the latter word.  Our willingness to fight for that which we deserve is definitely an asset, but I hope we haven’t lost the determination that characterized the “Golden Generation”.