April 28, 2009 - 10:00 AM
I am currently in the planning stages of a thesis project that will inevitably be the consuming factor of my senior year. An undergraduate thesis is a requirement for graduation from the Clark Honors College. Your thesis is usually written in your area of interest, using original research and providing a new scholarly work in your field.
They tell us to shoot between forty and five hundred pages. That's quite a range, don't you think? Science majors sometimes write their thesis on the research they have participated in during lab work at the UO. A friend who is a Spanish major is doing original translations of Chilean short stories. Creative writing majors might write a first novel, students who have been involved with overseas internships might publish studies based on their experiences.
The honors college gives a huge degree of flexibility in choosing our thesis topics. We have three advisors: a specialist in the field, a second reader frm your major, and an advisor from the honors college. Your thesis should have something to do with your major. Beyond that...
So, on to my specific thesis plan.
I will be writing my senior thesis with a focus on the Inside-Out Program. I have previously blogged about this program, but just to catch people up, this is a national program that takes college classes into prison settings. College students and prison inmates participate in classes as peers and academic equals, with facilitation by a professor who has been trained in this specific area. I took an Inside-Out class my freshman year: a literature class in which we read House of the Dead and Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I am participating in this class again, this time a class on literature and ethics: studying the books Don Quixote by Cervantes and The Idiot by Dostoevsky. We are also reading excerpts from the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas.
The experience of participating in a literature class with prison inmates was an incredibly transformative one for me. I came to see all the members of my class as my peers: as academic equals despite the fact that society generally warns me to stay away from convicted persons. We have so much to learn from every individual person we encounter, if we can only overcome our prejudice and fear of the unknown Other.
My prospectus class professor gave us worksheets to help us refine our topics. So here are the four questions and the four planning areas I am currently working on.
1: What do you want to know? The central question, the specifying questions:
Humanity is incredibly divided: segregated by race, religion, culture, habit, location, and social boundaries. Yet, in the course of daily existence in this globalized world, we inevitably encounter these "Others" in our lives. How, then, do we construct these zones of contact in ways that allow for peaceful and productive interactions? How do we dissolve conflict, encourage understanding, and allow for a plurality of perspectives and experiences in this varied world that is so volatile and in which we have more and more opportunities to encounter strangers?
And now a more specific question: Why does the Inside-Out Program function so well as a medium of successful dialogue? How does this class lead to deeper understanding between usually separate groups of people? And, as an extension of this question, how can these techniques be extended beyond the program itself?
2. Why should anyone care?
The peaceful resolution of conflict, or the mediation of meetings with "the Other," is a hugely important issue in this globalized and crowded world. How can we, as individuals, learn to see our Others as our peers? And how can we, as institutions, create systems that are inclusive and equal when dealing with diversity and competing interests?
If the Inside-Out class can bring students at institutions of higher education and introduce them to our incarcerated peers, and then have these people work together in a classroom setting, participating as equals toward a goal of greater learning, then there is hope for resolution to some of these other social justice concerns. If college students and convicts can see each other as equals and peers, then what else could be accomplished? Or, more specifically, if college students and prison inmates can peacefully collaborate to achieve academic goals, then how can we expand that model to encourage collaboration between more diverse groups?
3. Thesis and working hypothesis
A key part in creating a safe and equal space for communication is to recognize the humanness of the other individual. It is to see the self in the Other. The Inside-Out Program utilizes a variety of mechanisms to encourage this, including
-The use of ice breakers during the first session in order to introduce each student to every other class participant, and to remove some of the nervousness of the circumstances.
-Collective creation of and enforcement of classroom rules and procedures
- An academic purpose (most Inside-Out classes are focused on the criminal justice system. The classes I have participated in are literature and ethics classes, and I find this focus on a non-justice oriented subject to be very helpful)
-A time limitation
I plan to utilize conflict resolution and dialogue theory in the research for this thesis project. I hope that the application of this theory in an Inside-Out setting will allow me to identify the particularly helpful elements and strategies.
4. Sources and Methods
I will utilize social theory on conflict resolution, dialogue, and peacemaking to theorize on effective methods. This will hopefully include not only professional research and publications on the topic, but also academic coursework in the field.
I will also be informed by the Inside-Out Program and the training, philosophy, methods, and teaching styles utilized by classes taught in the program. How are strategies different than most teaching styles? What techniques of conflict resolution theory are employed? How did they develop their style and format?
As a participant, I will also be informed by my observations and reflections. I also hope to survey other participants (students Inside, Outside, and professor/facilitators). I am also participating in this spring's course as a participant-observer, serving as both a class member and as someone interested in the format and structure of the course. What works? Why? And do participants feel that the experience has remained relevant in their subsequent encounters with "Others," or with experiences outside of their comfort zones?
Hopefully the majority of this work will be focused on theories of conflict resolution and dialogue, but I will use the program as a focus and illustration of dialogue "done well" that leads to comfort and at least partial understanding of the Other.
- - -
So there you have it: my thesis plan. I am extremely excited to learn more about all this, and to have an opportunity for continued participation in the program.
I am extremely excited to be working in this field, and to have the chance to explore this program and this topic more deeply. I feel very strongly on the topic of peaceful interactions and conflict resolution. Because of my previous experiences with the Inside-Out Program, I am also very excited to continue working with them. If all goes well, I will be attending a training session for the Inside-Out Program this summer, which will allow me to gain a more complete understanding of the program's philosophy and methods. In any event, I will have the opportunity to work with many people who are involved in conflict resolution in general, and the issue of prisons in particular.
April 25, 2009 - 11:00 PM
I lost my heart tonight.
I know that's kind of a dramatic statement, especially following so closely to that dramatic renunciation of all foods not grown organically. I guess I'm a bit drama-prone this weekend. But my heart was stolen away and I might not ever be the same again.
Her name is Mariza, and she's a Portuguese folk singer. Fado is the style, which means a "melancholy destiny."
Portuguese is such a beautiful language. And Mariza is a life-changing performer. She has this incredible presence that filled the entire concert hall at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts. She spoke to us in English and sang in Portuguese, and I can't even remember ever hearing a human voice sound so beautiful.
Mariza's performance group included herself, three guitar players, a drummer, and a piano/keyboards/trumpet player. The musicality of the group was just incredible, and I have never heard any style of music quite like Portuguese guitar. It is reminiscent of Spanish guitar, but with different rhythms and sound. Not that I'm an expert, but that's my humble interpretation of it. There is actually a guitar made specifically for Portuguese folk music, the Portuguese guitar.
Mariza told us a story about being a little girl in a new neighborhood, leaving her mother's country of Mozambique to live in her father's country of Portugal. The neighborhood was full of Fado music, and her father soon opened a music hall every weekend. She started singing for the neighbors when she was five years old. Then she would sneak back to the hall after she had been put to bed, wanting to enter into this atmosphere and belong there.
Whenever I go to a performance like this, I immediately want to learn some performing art. I regret my abandonment of the trumpet and French Horn that I played in high school, and wonder why I've owned a guitar for years and still haven't mastered the whole "strumming" idea. I want to learn to dance and drum and play the didgeridoo if that will allow me to participate in the creation of a performance like that. Imagine performing a song you wrote that every person in the audience can sing to.
Maybe it's just starry-eyes and big dreams. Hero worship. My resolve to practice guitar or harmonica or salsa dancing never seems to last long, just like my resolve to attend bluegrass concerts on a regular basis hasn't yet panned out. But it's a recurring theme that these kinds of events just tear me apart, and make me want so badly to look that joyous and confident in the accomplishment of some task.
This time, though, I felt like a part of the whole production. Mariza taught us some Portuguese words, which was fun, but more importantly talked about the impact her tours to hundreds of communities and cultures has had on her personally and on her music. She had the crowd shout out what countries they came from, and we had nationalities as diverse as South Africa, Thailand, Algeria, Italy, Guatemala, and "Portland." What is so great about this is that all those people were there, together. We all have that experience together. And that is a great and beautiful thing.
So I'm not sure what to do now that I'm home and kind of bouncing around my room. It's too late at night to try for some harmonica practice, and guitar just makes me sad because I am SO BAD. I'm seriously considering some Portuguese lessons, and maybe taking some tango lessons. These things are not directly connected anywhere but in my own mind, perhaps, but it seems so essential to be able to get out there and project something beautiful and uniquely yours to a crowd of people. Maybe it'll never happen for me.
But at least tonight I can go to bed feeling changed, and completely challenged and renewed by the artistry demonstrated this evening. Fado is a new favorite, and I think Mariza is now my number one most impressive vocalist, which is really something considering the number of fabulous musical performances I have seen. But if you'd been there, you would understand. Her presence filled that hall, just like her voice did on her final encore song, when she and two guitars performed un-amplified in that huge hall. I have never heard such silence in a crowd of people, nor have I ever heard a vocalist so completely fill a room on the power of voice alone.
To Listen to Mariza click here.
April 25, 2009 - 4:00 PM
Today I participated in an awesome event put on by the University of Oregon student group CAER: Coalition Against Environmental Racism. Voices for Environmental Justice was an inspiring series of speakers on topics surrounding environmental justice and environmental racism.
CAER is an amazing student group whose mission is to bridge "the gap between the struggle of social and environmental equality" ("What is CAER"). They consistently bring great speakers to campus to educate the community about issues that surround environmental racism, especially in the areas of unequal health detriments specific to a neighborhood's ethnic makeup. Environmental Justice, an offshoot of the wider Pro-Environment Movement, seeks to become more inclusive to ethnic minorities or those of a lower socioeconomic status. The larger Environmental movement often has a stereotype of catering solely to those of higher socioeconomic classes, who can afford to pay for organic food or worry about distant issues like rainforest depletion. While these issues are important, it is equally important to focus on environmental issues in our own backyards, where pollutants and other factors affect ethnic minorities at a much higher rate than they do to richer members of the same societies.
Today I attended two events out of a day-long series.
First I attended a talk by a Navajo activist, Louise Benally, regarding the Navajo people's struggle to preserve their lands and traditions in the face of coal and uranium mining in Northern Arizona. Native American peoples face a large degree of Environmental Racism in the US and around the world: they are often pushed onto the least-habitable land, and the US Government also has a history of re-appropriating land when something of value is discovered there. In the case of Louise Benally's talk, she leads political action against huge mining corporations that not only destroy the Navajo people's sacred mountains, but that also expel huge quantities of toxic dust and fumes into the air during the process of mining and refining the minerals.
The second event was a panel discussion on Food Justice. This is a topic I think is extremely interesting and important: our food choices hold huge implications in our personal health, and have implications on the welfare of our fellow human beings and the well-being of our planet.
The first speaker, Reese Erlich, spoke about Cuba and their experiences with organic farming. Cuba is unique in that organic food is sold at the exact price of other produce. Erlich talked about organic food prices in the US being driven mostly by grocery stores that have created an organic niche market, and know people will pay more for organic apples, even if the production cost is no higher than that of chemically-enhanced foods. Erlich also said that the Cuban governemnt assists neighborhoods in the construction of community gardens, and sends agronomists to help with any new project. What a radical idea!
The second speaker, Judy Castro, spoke mostly on the health benefits of organic foods. She also spoke about something I've never heard of before, which is irradiating food. Most grocery stores sell food that has been sprayed with radiation "recycled" from nuclear waste in order to kill any pests on the food and to give it a longer shelf life. This is done without any understanding as to the health implications of eating irradiated foods. And we eat it!
The final speaker was Sarah Cantril, a community member and organizer of the nonprofit organization Huerto de la Familia, which provides garden and farm space to Latinos in the community who live below the poverty line. The garden provides food, education, a community spirit, and an opportunity for people to work together to feed themselves healthy, organic food they might not otherwise be able to afford.
During the talks, I decided a couple of things.
First, I will be volunteering with Huerto de la Familia this summer if at all possible. I love being outside, working in the garden, and if I get to practice my Spanish so much the better. They also have programs for kids, which I always love to be a part of. They are expanding into small-scale farming projects, sponsored through my favorite NGO, Heifer International. I would love to experience working with an organization like that
Second, I will be working at the University of Oregon's Urban Farm project this summer. There is a class on organic urban farming and gardening offered through the Landscape Architecture Program, and hopefully I can learn more techniques in gardening and local agriculture through them.
Third, I have finally decided it is time to go organic. I've been resisting this for years because I try to live a very frugal life, and am currently spending only about $100 a month on groceries, mostly because I buy in bulk. This whole year I've made the commitment to only buy high-quality, hormone-free, organic and free range meat. This has meant that I a) eat less meat, and b) feel better about the health implications of the meat I do eat. But I think it's time to finally embrace organic, at least in my produce. So I'm announcing publicly, by means of this blog, that from now on I will be eating all organic fruits, vegetables, and meat, and will be trying hard to avoid irradiated food as well.
Fourth, I will become a more active member of CAER. Please check out their website, and keep your eye out for more events, because their speaker events are some of the best I have attended at the University thus far.
Happy spring guys, time to get some high-quality produce into our systems.
April 20, 2009 - 5:00 PM
I just got back from the most wonderful trip home. I was only there for three days, but it was a fabulous chance to see my family, catch up with my friend Melanie, and take a breather from life in Eugene.
I arrived in Denver just in time for the snow to start falling. What a change! I spent a little time with my grandmother, who had also just arrived for the weekend. The point of this whole gathering of the family was that my little sister, Kelly, had a lead part in the high school musical. They performed Damn Yankees, which is a lesser-known musical. Grandma came all the way from Minnesota to see her act. Over the winter break I had asked Kelly if she would prefer me to come home for her play or for graduation. Since then we hadn't discussed my plans, and she was ignoring several accidental mentions of my plans from Mom to pretend she didn't know I'd be coming to the show.
On Thursday night I showed up at the high school just in time for the last few minutes of the play, and then was standing in the hallway with flowers when my sister came out afterward. She was so excited! We've been close our whole lives, but in recent years it's been increasingly tough to stay in touch, since we're both extremely busy. But I was there with flowers, and that's the important part. I was planning to see the show both Friday and Saturday nights, and couldn't wait to finally get to see Kelly act a lead role in a play.
The weather had other plans, though. It was still snowing Friday morning, but with only about four inches on the road I could still run my errands. I went to the DMV to renew my license (when you turn 21 everything in your life seems to expire). Then I got my hair cut, which doesn't sound that interesting unless I tell you I hadn't had it cut since BEFORE my trip to Chile, which put me at over a year in a free-growing state. It was time. I made a last-minute decision to donate my hair to Locks for Love, so I'm sporting a dramatically different hair style than any previous time in my life.
Then I spent time with Mom and Grandma, and got increasingly nervous about the weather. Not to be deterred by the eight to nine inches of snow on the ground, I set off to visit a couple of friends from high school, only to end up trapped at my friend Melanie's house for the night, with the high school performance postponed for another night. Could I have driven home? Probably. But instead I spent the night watching movies, drinking tea, and going on an epically long walk in the snow with Melanie. We even built a snowman in someone else's front yard, which isn't something I get to do too often in Eugene. Melanie is my best friend in Colorado and it was so wonderful to get to catch up with her.
On Saturday I finally got to see the play. It stopped snowing mid-day after snowing close to two feet total. Even if the snow made it a less-than perfect situation for visiting home, it's great that Colorado got the moisture. It's been a dry, dry winter out there, and drought is something we have to worry about on a regular basis.
During Saturday afternoon I got to hang out with my dad, swapping music and listening to some of his new songs. Dad has been in one band or another since before I can remember, augmenting his business livelihood with some rock n' roll lifestyle. We have a recording studio in our basement, complete with guitars, basses, keyboard, and a picture of me at age one wearing a jean jacket with the name of my Dad's band, Too Much Fun, silkscreened on the back by a family friend. My dad, the rock star.
My Aunt and Uncle and other grandmother arrived Saturday evening for dinner at our house before attending the play. It is a relatively infrequent occurrence for me to get to spend time with these relatives, and I am appreciating them more and more as I get older. It was so fun to have them come down to see us, and to go to Kelly's play together.
And finally, the event itself. I had never seen Damn Yankees before, and although I had heard some general descriptions of Kelly's part, I was not quite prepared for the full glory of it all. She played the part of Lola, the Devil's assistant sent to tempt the main character into...sinning. She had three main song and dance numbers, and she hit them out of the park. My little sister is quite the performer anyway, with this huge personality and a love of being in the spotlight. The quality of the whole performance was incredible, including the pit orchestra where I spent several musicals during high school. Maybe I'm biased, but Lola (Kelly) stole the whole show.
And that was that: my trip home. I got on the plane the next morning, saying goodbye to my grandma, to playing cards with the family, to Little Sister, and to my childhood house that feels increasingly distanced from my idea of "home." I won't be living in Colorado this summer, as I have a year-round job in Oregon and a lease that goes through August. So I feel so very lucky to have spent a weekend at home in Colorado, even if it was a brief one.
And I got to see my little sister perform her heart out. What a wonderful weekend.
April 16, 2009 - 12:00 PM
I am writing this with profound gratitude to the donors who made the Wigham Family Thesis Prize possible. This scholarship is awarded to Honors College students entering their senior year who will be completing an undergraduate thesis. I recently received notice that I was one of the chosen recipients for the 2009-2010 academic year.
I truly appreciate the support I will be receiving next year.
University of Oregon students come from all over the country and all over the world. We study a huge variety of majors, and are involved in all kinds of sports, clubs, volunteering, and internships. We study hard and we work hard. The support we get from scholarship donors is incredibly important in allowing us to pursue all of these activities and lead a full college life.
So, to all of the donors who have made scholarships for students possible, thank you very much. I have been able to pursue my academic, career, and extracurricular passions and pursuits because of financial support I have received from the University in general and family donors in particular. As an out-of-state student, I probably could not have completed four years at the University of Oregon without this help.
I want to express my gratitude specifically to the donors of the Wigham family. Thank you for making a college education at the University of Oregon more full of possibilities for students you have helped. Thank you so much for supporting me.