March 21, 2012 - 3:26 PM
I woke up this morning to an eery silence and a strange quality of light. My first thought was that last night's rain had stopped, and second that I must have overslept. Then I looked out the window to see over six inches of new snow carpeting Eugene.
Six inches of snow would be big news any time of year in Eugene. There is rarely any snow in the city, and the occasional inch-and-a-half isn't too impressive for a Colorado girl like me. However, this time of year is spring in Eugene. Spring! Usually we'd be complaining about the continuing rain or maybe about a few days of strong wind. But snow?
It was beautiful. I love a good, heavy, snow like this. It was so silent and so beautiful in Eugene that morning, as I slogged to the Eugene City Bakery-the few brave souls to fight through the weather to serve coffee and delicious pastries to a confuddled population. The University was closed until 1:00, disrupting finals scheduling and sending us all into an ordered chaos. What do you do when you have finals to turn in but no power or internet at your house, and the University is closed?
Well, if you're me you sit at a café for several hours, through power outage and coffee shortage and several delicious baked goods, and chat with friends and attempt to get some work done. It was a very strange morning, and a powerful reminder of just how used we are to a certain kind of climate.
My old physics professor, Greg Bothun, was quick to point out that this is what Global Warming will look like in Eugene. It won't mean a warm, dry climate all year ‘round. It will mean wild swings of temperature and weather, based on the changes in the Jet Stream and the ocean currents which drive our costal weather. As these shift, the gentle winters we take for granted could change profoundly. And as you know if you live in the Eugene area, the result can be both beautiful as fresh snow and sad as broken trees. The cherry trees are already in blossom and were hit particularly hard. I heard today that the tree removal companies are saying they will be busy through summer cleaning up from this one storm.
One lesson from the day was another wave of gratitude for my snug little apartment and the ability to walk myself to good food and then a warm (and internet stable) campus. It made me think of my snowy childhood and all the good times I've had as the snow has come down. And it also made me appreciate how messy our plans can get, and how near we really are to the natural world.
Hopefully we don't get more snow overnight! Here's to a quick thaw and no disruptions of folks' spring break plans. And now... back to work on the various projects and thesis chapters on the docket for this snowy, snowy day.
March 20, 2012 - 6:51 PM
Winter term is over, which means that classes have wrapped up and we're moving rapidly into spring break mode. This term has been a real challenge and a whole set of interesting opportunities, making this a good forward-moving last bit of time at the University of Oregon. But of all the class experiences I've had at the UO, the final for my Negotiating Northern Ireland CRES class has been the most interesting of all.
By 1:00 am we had several provisional agreements regarding education, policing, and ways of dealing with the violent past in the region. That was after we had opening addresses from those calling for reconciliation to those calling for the removal of ‘terrorists' from the negotiating room. We had political maneuvers, clergy hollering ideology, and an international community quite concerned for the lasting peace for Northern Ireland.
And we still had over an hour to go.
As a class, we were assigned roles of real individuals who had been involved in the Northern Ireland peace process. Professor Shaul Cohen prepped us both to understand the political complexities and the historical animosities playing into the anger and hurt present in the negotiating room. Political leaders on all sides jockeyed for both personal gain and ideological ends. The ‘masses' from the Protestant and Catholic communities expressed outrage at all sides and all turns. "Neutral' parties felt the heat of mediating conflict while also holding interests in the outcome. The press flitted around, publishing quotes for both good and negative results. And through it all, Shaul was guiding the process toward greatest authenticity of character and negotiating realities, from advising policy positions to recommending tactics.
The final negotiations began at 7:30 pm and ended well after 2:00 am.
My role was Bertie Ahern, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Republic of Ireland. As such, I worked as a member of the international community alongside Tony Blair and Hilary Clinton. Heading up the whole negotiation process was US Senator George Mitchell, who held special significance for me as the person for whom the Mitchell Scholarship is named.
The history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the peace process is extremely complex, and draws on a history of colonialism and identity politics which result in a great deal of pain for the majority of people living in Northern Ireland. Although it is often spoken of as a conflict between Catholics and Protestants, the root of the conflict has to do with heritage and when families arrived in the region, and to what economic and political privilege.
Although peace has been reached, it is contingent on the continuance of a democratic process and threatened both by demographic shifts and by a continued undercurrent of violence and social division. The vast majority of children are educated in separate school systems, and individuals live and recreate in separate areas and in different ways. Such a profound division within a community as small as Northern Ireland (with 1.8 million inhabitants) remains a concern for peace now and in the future.
As often happens in mock negotiations, we did not reach any kind of real solution. But we did make progress, and spent time in the anger and pain of that place. As Taoiseach, I walked a delicate line of desiring to support all Irish people, including Northern Irish citizens, while also recognizing that re-uniting all of Ireland could wreak havoc on both the economy and society of the Republic of Ireland. As students, we were striving for authenticity of character. As negotiators, we were working to maintain our ways of life and integrity of community.
To launch my final remarks of the negotiation, I quoted Bertie Ahern himself. This is a fitting close for this blog, and for much of my studies in conflict resolution: "Let us consign arguments over the past to the annals of the past, as we make history instead of being doomed to repeat it."
Northern Ireland is an example of conflict resolution in relative success. Let us hope that it continues to serve as a model for transition from violence to peace in the modern world.
March 11, 2012 - 9:47 PM
Twenty-four hours from now, we will have formally completed another Inside-Out class. Tomorrow we hold a closing ceremony for "Divided Societies." We hand out certificates and anthologies of student work, share a meal, offer a few words with University guests present, and then we take our leave of the experience and the term together.
Each year when we arrive at this time, I feel an intense loss. We create a community in the classroom, and when the term ends that community disbands without hope of coming together again. Inside and outside students cannot be in contact outside the course, so my job as a leader is to help shepherd the class through saying goodbye. This time in particular it's bringing up some intense feelings: this will be my last Inside-Out class at the UO. Even more difficult: in June I will be taking my leave from Oregon and from my work with the OSP Think Tank. It will be like my first Inside-Out experience: ending with goodbyes that are forever this time.
But that wasn't what I intended to blog about. My intention was to write about the alumni work which continues in Oregon, and about the future of Inside-Out alumni projects after this year.
We had an alumni meeting on Wednesday this week which went extremely well, and involved several Inside-Out students who are currently participating in a class. Those of us with longer involvement presented about our programs, and talked through the work we've done and our ideas for future projects. Alex and Ted described the book club, including the exciting news that Mayor Kitty Piercy and a former mayor of Springfield will be participating in book club's closing ceremony during finals week. That's some exciting exposure for book club, and an opportunity for the youth to describe their work and their ideas to people with real power to impact their lives.
Pretty cool for a program that started a year and a half ago without any real sense of knowing what we were doing. Turns out that, in some cases at least, it is enough to arrive with a real sense of commitment and enthusiasm, and just take things from there.
I spoke about a proposal to hold a facilitated re-entry support group for youth offenders returning to the community. These youth would be 17-24 year-olds, and the project would be directed by an organization in Eugene. Our UO students will participate as group members, as a kind of built-in mentoring or role modeling as young people who (at least for the most part) are successful in the community. The pilot project is set to start in April, so hopefully I'll have more to write about then.
We brain stormed ideas for additional alumni projects, from simple to program development. We talked about book drives and working with children of incarcerated parents. We discussed creating art programs for Serbu, or developing a writing group or even a filmmaking seminar.
I left the meeting re-inspired and energized. There is so much passion for this kind of work, and for using the lessons we learned in Inside-Out to continue to engage with this kind of justice work. UO students are leading the country in developing alumni programs, and are emerging in Eugene as a resource for organizations seeking skilled volunteers for projects related to incarceration and re-entry.
The end lesson of our meeting is that these projects will continue to develop, expand, and thrive over the years. I started something here in Eugene when I pushed through the Serbu book club, and when I first started reaching out to the other Oregon universities to work on regional development. We have something vibrant and lasting here in these projects. And there are new leaders emerging, including members of my current "Divided Societies" class, who will take the reigns once I graduate and leave the University of Oregon.
If I can claim only one thing for my time at the UO, it is this: that I have helped build something worthwhile and lasting in Inside-Out. I am so proud to pass these programs to the next generation of students, and to someday hear how they have grown and thrived under new leadership, hopefully for years to come.
March 9, 2012 - 6:26 PM
Almost two years ago, some Inside-Out student alumni got together and started a book club at the John Serbu Youth facility, working with high school-aged kids in a residential drug and alcohol treatment program. Our idea was to reach out to connect the University with this institution and work with the youth there, and to thereby extend our Inside-Out experience and ideology beyond our time in the classroom.
I facilitated the book club for two terms: the summer and fall of 2010. I learned what it was to work with youth in that situation, and how different it is to direct a program with youth than with adults. I also learned how to develop a new program, and to build something with purpose and vision, and adapt to lessons learned in the process.
I handed off the book club to Alex and Ted in the winter of 2011. I was too busy to commit the time it needed, and I put my energy into other things. But Alex and Ted have run the project with an energy and skill far beyond what I brought, and have taken the concept to a new and exciting place over the past year. This term they are discussing social structures and the problems facing Eugene and the youth who live there. They've brought in texts from pop music and pop culture, and are engaging the youth on a level of personal belief and worldview which is close to home.
I am so proud of this project. I'm perhaps most proud of the fact that it has flourished without my presence: that I started something and left it in good hands for the benefit of everyone involved. Of the many programs I've been involved with at the UO, I am particularly humbled and honored to be part of this one.
It is also exciting to be involved with the Serbu program more generally. This afternoon, Alex and I went to a showcase for their MLK Education Center's culinary arts program. MLK is an alternative high school program for youth in Lane County, and involves an impressive array of programming and commitment to the youths' experiences and ability to engage with education. http://www.mlkedcenter.org/
The catering sampler was a really impressive event: they had food of all kinds arranged so that folks could check out the menu offered by the program, which caters events throughout Eugene. Alex and I talked with the youth and the program directors while we munched on short ribs, butternut squash soup, pork sliders, vegetable stir-fry, fruit salad, and some delicious baked goods. I was particularly impressed by those short ribs, and by hearing from these young men and women how excited and proud they were about learning the various recipes and the process of working up through the program. When I asked what they did first in the culinary arts program, they all said "dishes" with an appropriately unhappy look on their faces. But those who were actively engaged worked quickly through learning to prep ingredients, mix spices, and prepare delicious meals.
Some of these youth went through book club with Alex, and were happy to see him there and still taking an interest. We were able to speak with some of the program administration, including those who were supportive in the early days of book club. One program director had recently come up to the Oregon State Penitentiary to accept a donation from one of the inmate clubs, organized by an Inside-Out student.
What I see in all this is the ability for inter-organization relationships and the opportunity to improve through dialogue and shared volunteer knowledge and experience.
And when those efforts include short ribs, then I'd say that life looks pretty good.
March 4, 2012 - 6:37 PM
With only two weeks left of term, things are winding up extremely quickly. I'm busy with classes and thesis writing, internship, GTF, and the mechanics of living a normal student life. As happens each year, it feels like time is accelerating into spring and summer. Each sunny day brings us closer to graduation, with promise of both deadlines and freedom.
So it's important to maintain sanity. My favorite way of doing that is with PE classes that take me out of my head and into some activity which is totally outside all the work and focus I pour into ‘normal' life. As you know if you've read my blog for a while, this used to be Zumba almost exclusively (and I miss it so much! Hopefully a Zumba class will fit in my schedule next term). This term it is two fabulous classes: kickboxing and Rock II.
This week was particularly fun in both classes. Since term is ending, there is a level of comfort and skill which means we are getting more serious about the sport, and having more fun.
In kickboxing on Tuesday, we rotated through the class, holding brief sparring bouts with each other person. This involves the normal boxing punches, as well as light kicking. The bouts were fast, and the point was to throw some competitive moves and take turns attacking and defending. By the end of the hour I'd been bopped in the nose a couple of times when I didn't block fast enough, but I'd also landed a few solid hits on my partners. I love the flow in martial arts: the attention and control, and how quickly the world focuses down to not being punched in the face. There's an odd kind of poetry to it.
Thursday we did drills with ‘focus mitts' or big target pads held first by one partner and then the other. I enjoyed class, but the best part was the final two minutes when I was paired with the instructor. It's a bit like dancing in a way: a good lead can set you up for moving fast and getting the moves just right.
Friday's rock climbing class was another experience in improved body mechanics and a kind of zen of physicality. I'm not a particularly skilled rock climber, and still have a long way to go before my upper body strength is enough to really feel comfortable on the wall. But for part of class we were supposed to work on our weaknesses on the wall, and one of mine is in overthinking. So I did two speed climbs, trying to keep in mind all the skills I'd learned but also just throwing myself up the wall. It was so fun! There's a great rush that comes with racing yourself up a 30' wall and arriving at the top without any sense of hesitation or imbalance. It felt like a breakthrough, as well as an adrenaline rush.
But then we got to do the other drills for the class, one of which involved one minute sets of bouldering followed by ten push-ups. Oof. The good news is that I've gotten much stronger over the course of the term.
So that's it, folks. When I'm not hunched over a computer, you can find me kickboxing and rock climbing. Climb on!