November 28, 2010 - 9:48 PM
That's right, folks. The turkey is eaten, the long weekend ending, and I'm staring town a terrifying finals schedule, wondering if another helping of pie would ease the pain.
Please forgive the meladrama. First, I should say that I had a fabulous Thanksgiving weekend--the first Thanksgiving at home in Colorado in four years. It was wonderful to see my family, and to relive the old traditions. I got to see my Colorado mountains, eat Gran Fran's turkey (she's 91 years old and says she's only got four Thanksgivings left before the next generation has to start cooking while she watches), walk around my old neighborhood, play cards with my family, and enjoy some true sunny days. It's been a fabulous blur of family and food, and I really wish it wouldn't end.
But, friends and readers, there is the end of term barreling down at us. The light at the end of the tunnel might be winter break. Let's hope we make it that far.
So here's the run-down of my next two weeks:
Intimidating project #1: Psychology of Peace and Conflict
This is a group project. On Thursday, my group will turn in a collaborative 30 page essay, and do an hour and a half class presentation. That's seven of us, working together on Power Point and word choice. Yikes! Good news is that my group is totally awesome, and we're working really well together so far. The other good news is that the project is on a really interesting topic: structural violence. Essentially, structural violence is institutionalized inequality. It can lead to, and result from direct violence. It includes racism and sexism and economic disparities, and is why the inner city schools don't have resources and why environmental toxins end up near poor neighborhoods. We're studying environmental racism, globalization, militarism, and International Human Rights Law. It's been really interesting to study conflict from this perspective--looking at structures and underlying causes, rather than the single reference point of violent conflict. So it's an exciting project, but I still need some luck beamed my way.
Intimidating Project #2: Negotiation final
My negotiation class has been one of my favorites this term. And one of the most challenging. For the final, we have to do a large and multifaceted simulated negotiation between a fictional city and it's police officer's union. We have to renegotiate salary, benefits, stipends for uniforms, and the union's public support for the mayor in the upcoming elections. It's a partner negotiation, meaning that I'm working with another student against two others. And, as a final bonus, the three hours of scheduled negotiations are filmed, to be examined later. The negotiations are on Wednesday and Friday of this week, and the paper discussing the negotiations are due the following week.
Intimidating Project #3: Perspectives in Conflict Resolution paper
This class has been a kind of background and interdisciplinary look at the field of conflict resolution. We've had a guest speaker almost every week, and have explored a wide variety of new ways to look at the field, from the perspectives of anthropologists, psychologists, photojournalists, labor representatives, the police force, etc. I have totally loved this class. For the final, we essentially have to pick an area of conflict resolution and write a paper about it. My 18-25 page paper will be exploring the different perspectives on the US/Mexico border and the conflicts of immigration. This paper is due next week.
Intimidating Project #4: Adjudication and the Courts Final
This class is essentially about how the US legal system works. We have an actual multiple-choice test as the final, which means a whole new kind of preparation. I'm not too nervous, but have a lot of preparing to do. The test is in a week.
So that ends the list of intimidating upcoming events, at least in academic terms. As I've been writing all this down, I've felt alternatively quite nervous and oddly calm about the list. There's a lot to do, and this week will be completely packed with getting it all done. But I think it'll be OK. I think I'll work really hard and write some good papers, perform some stressful in-class activities, and then winter term will be upon us.
I guess I'm saying, again, that I'm happy to be in this Master's Program. Challenging enough to make me feel the pressure, interdisciplinary to stretch my immagination, and something I look forward to, even for finals week.
Chao, Colorado! Time to head back to face the finals.
November 26, 2010 - 8:41 PM
The Oregon Quarterly http://www.oregonquarterly.com/ is a fabulous free publication of the University of Oregon, featuring campus news, artwork, and profiles of important people around campus. I've been a reader for the last few years, when I first noticed the free stack available at the entrance of the Duck Store on campus.
So I am incredibly excited to announce that Inside-Out was featured in the Winter 2010 issue of Oregon Quarterly magazine.
The article is under the subheading of "News, Notables, Innovations." It was written by Katherine Gries, who I have worked with before on Clark Honors College communications and outreach activities. You can find it online at [ http://www.oregonquarterly.com/winter2010/winter2010-digital.html ] , or you can get a hard copy and find the article on page 16.
What makes me happiest about this article is that it approaches Inside-Out from the three critical viewpoints--professor, UO student, and incarcerated student--but the heart of the article is the interview with inside student, James. The article is extremely accessible to those who have not heard about Inside-Out before, and explains the class environment and the program philosophy in a way that is incredibly approachable. But it's James's story that's at the heart of the article.
If you read the article, you'll hear about a lot of what I've already reported on this blog. Katherine Gries was an integral part of Turned Inside-Out magazine, and has met with James twice now. I have done several interviews with her for various Honors College projects, so when she quotes me she does so with the full appreciation for my passion for this program. As a journalist, Katherine captured the heart of the story and invites the reader into the micro-level experience of an Inside-Out classroom. But she also speaks from the viewpoint of someone who has witnessed the program personally, and who has taken more than just a passing glance at how UO students have been changed. This makes the article feel real.
Even if it's a little bizarre to see myself quoted in a magazine.
So here's a special thanks to Katherine Gries. Thank you for putting my experience into print, and to getting the word out to all the Oregon Quarterly readers. It means the world to me.
November 20, 2010 - 6:33 PM
This week Dr. Fred Luskin, author of Forgive for Good and director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project was here at the University of Oregon campus. He spoke in two classes: the Reconciliation class I GTF with Professor Cheyney Ryan and Jane Gorden's "Perspectives in Conflict Resolution" class, and gave a public presentation at the UO Law School.
Doctor Luskin is one of the world's leading researchers and teachers on the subject of forgiveness. His background is in Positive Psychology, which is the study of human happiness and positive social functioning. His projects on forgiveness has included groups who have experienced violence in Northern Ireland and Sierra Leone, as well as families of victims of 9/11 attacks. In addition to the work on forgiveness in circumstances of extreme violence and trauma, he also works with "just normal forgiveness," in all its own individual pain and challenge, in family counseling, education, and as a clinical psychologist.
This man was a fabulous speaker.
He spoke about forgiveness in a wide variety of ways, always returning to the basic physical implications of stress and anger. He told Cheyney Ryan's class that, in situations of anger and hostility, blood is drained from the pre-frontal cortex, resulting in a drop of creative thinking in favor of a simplistic focus on a single, overwhelming problem. First adrenaline and then other chemicals are released into the bloodstream, causing physical and mental stress. He told us not only that hostility is a prime indicator of heart disease, but also that the physical response to five minutes of anger is four hours of reduced immune system function.
And, after all of that, he said that love and kindness improves immune systems, heals the cardiovascular system, and opens the mind to new and positive experiences. He said that in every study and by ever standard (which is miraculous in the notoriously ambiguous field of social science) that optimists "do better." Jobs, health, overall satisfaction... Optimists live better lives.
At the public event, he told us "I developed this curriculum out of my own deep misery." Standing there before approximately seventy-five audience members, with his casual demeanor and sweatpants, this almost sounded like a joke. But it wasn't. He suffered the betrayal of a dear friend, and spent years agonizing and aching because of it. He then wrote his dissertation on the subject, and began teaching people how to forgive. As he has progressed from university students as his research subjects to working with mothers who have lost children to direct violence, he reports that the process of forgiveness is always the same and is never easy. It is only the context that changes, and the stories that accompany the individuals through their processes.
He talked about the habits we form and the communities we live in. Human beings are naturally wired both for bitterness and for graciousness. How we develop our reactions is a fundamental piece of our identities, and is something we have the power to change. The most fundamental step we can take in moving toward forgiveness is to "Be in truth with the good in your life." When there is an overwhelming sense of gratitude and fortune, there is less room to begrudge the actions of others. I feel so empowered by this idea, and hopeful for the change this might make in my life. Indeed, over the last several days, I have worked in practicing gratitude in all aspects of my life. I already feel freer.
Finally, he defined forgiveness. The state of un- forgiveness is that gap between what we wanted and what we received. This can be from three sources: from other people, from the world at large, and from ourselves. The intention of the other person is not terribly present in our state of forgiveness, it is our own unmet expectations and resulting disruption of our understanding of the world and safety in it. To move beyond un- forgiveness is to create new stories for ourselves, to let go the desired outcomes, and to re-write our narratives to include new realities. This is not an instantaneous process, and is one that usually requires a phase of both anger and grief. But at some point, the healthy response is to let go the bitterness and create a new understanding of ourselves.
A final, bumper-sticker definition of forgiveness: "Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past."
November 16, 2010 - 8:51 PM
On November 1st, my GTF class "Justice, Reconciliation, and Community" went to tour the Oregon State Penitentiary. I wrote about the tour in this blog: http://www.isupportuoregon.org/my_duckstory/blog/katie_d/looking_through_the_walls I have since had the opportunity to debrief the experience both with the class as a whole and with individual students. Field trips of any kind are very rare in the university setting, and visiting a correctional institution is rarer still, so I found our conversation about the prison tour to be extremely interesting and helpful in understanding experiential education and the advantages of taking class out into the "real world."
The tour was in two parts. First, we saw the actual grounds of the prison: the cell blocks, the yard, the intensive management unit (IMU), and the execution chamber. For the second part, we spent an hour in the Activities center, talking with a group of incarcerated individuals in small groups, hearing their stories and asking questions about life in prison. To debrief the experience, we talked about the two questions separately.
Many students expressed the weirdness, the zoo-like quality of touring a prison. You walk down the cell block and have the awkward choice of peering into the tiny cells, or of looking at your feet or the tour guide, trying not to make eye contact. We talked about that feeling, and the alternative ways of handling it. We talked about our own sense of being observed, and the response we received. One of the men I spoke with in the second half discussed the tours, and said both that they were unwanted and disruptive and that he thought they were really important so that the public could see what prison really looked like. The feelings of discomfort were shared throughout, and I think are really important when trying to understand the overall experience.
The IMU was even more difficult to see. It is a U-shaped block of stacked cells, with dim lighting and no windows. It is a "prison within a prison," the punishment for violent or otherwise illicit behavior while on the inside. It was loud and altogether an alarming place, obviously one of high stress for the guards and of horrible seclusion and oppression for the inmates. It is a difficult thing to describe if you have not been there, and continues to be the most violently alarming place in my experience.
The execution chamber was also a powerfully moving place. Students reported again on the "weirdness." There are two small adjoining rooms: one is the chamber itself with the gurney, straps laid out and ready; the other is a tiny holding cell where the condemned man spends his final seventy-two hours. A procedural list is posted, with the precise final steps of the man's life laid out in single, short sentences. The reports of the execution chamber was that it was "sterile," "creepy," and "felt like a public bathroom." Indeed, with its whitewashed concrete, the continuous small walls and florescent lighting, it did somewhat resemble a tiny public bathroom. I think we all left there feeling powerfully unsettled. Two men had been executed in that room, on that gurney, within my lifetime. Thirty-three more are waiting.
Everyone's favorite part of the tour was the hour we spent talking with the inmates on the activities floor. They were selected because of past participation in education programs, public education efforts, and activities. Some were within five years of release. Others were serving life sentences. They answered the students' questions about their lives on the inside: about their daily routines, their jobs, the culture, religious experiences, education, the visitors they had, and their future plans. Several groups talked at length about gangs and gang membership on the inside, and the violence that was very common, especially as gangs jockeyed for space in the cafeteria. They shared very personal stories, and also general prison life stories. Some were talkative, others more quiet. Some were anxious to hear from the students--about their classes or their experiences at the University. Some wanted to talk about the Ducks football season, and about the "normal" stuff in life. Other groups delved deeply into painful memories of pasts and crimes committed.
The group reported an overwhelmingly powerful experience from the prison tour. They found the inside guys we met to be insightful and generous with their stories. They expressed a sense of connection with the men, or a sense of distance and the overwhelming quality of the complete institution of the prison. The experience complicated some strongly-held opinions from the class, either of stereotypes held or theories now questioned by the witness.
After hearing the responses to the prison tour, I feel more strongly than ever that UO classes reach beyond campus into the wider community. We must do everything we can to foster dialogue, and to ground our theorizing on experience.
November 14, 2010 - 7:25 PM
We had the most amazing book club meeting on Friday. Aside from discussing the reading from Calvin and Hobbes (including a discussion of the idea of nostalgia, and a report back on our favorite strips from the week), we discussed the movie Avitar.
The Inside-Out book club ( see http://www.isupportuoregon.org/my_duckstory/blog/katie_d/insideout_alumni_and_the_serbu_book_club_take_two ) has been meeting since July. Again and again, I have been surprised and inspired by the thoughtfulness and intelligence of the youth we are working with. The twelve girls and boys we have read with over the past fall term have demonstrated the ability to pull complicated ideas from a simple comic strip, and to bring open minds and personal experiences into the conversation.
So I have come to expect profound discussions from our Friday afternoon meetings.
Our discussion of Avitar was on a similar level to my upper-division classes in English and Comparative Literature. We not only discussed the important aspects of the film, but employed literary theory, used the film as a lens for historical and contemporary social criticism, and discussed the racial and gendered aspects of the film.
Avitar is obviously a beautiful movie. It brought out a strong admiration from the youth, and we discussed the feeling of freedom in the movie, and how beautiful the imagined world was. We also discussed technology, and how this movie represents a true innovation in film techniques and movie technology.
Then we started talking about the more complicated and troubling aspects of the film. Together, we wondered about the villain of the film, and the way that militarism is explained as a combination of irrational violence and economic greed. This led us to a conversation about the mineral being extracted from the world, and what that might relate to in our contemporary world. The youth made the jump to modern resources, and to an interpretation of the movie as reflecting the wars in the Middle East, and the exploitation of the world's resources.
We also talked about technology, which has been an ongoing theme in this group. A couple of the youth feel very strongly that we would all be happier if we had less technology--that modern inventions create many of the situations that lead to crime. But we also discussed the positive aspects of technology, and what it might mean to live in a less materialistic society.
I asked the group if they had seen the Disney movie Pocahontas. Everyone in the group had seen it, even if it was long ago. When I asked why they thought I had asked, they were off. Without further prompting, they walked me through a comparison of the two movies, and explored where the plots were similar and different, and if it mattered. So, if this was a retelling of the old story of European and North American Indian contact, then are we the good guys in this story? Is the colonial power of Avitar the analogue of a contemporary and historical America? And (my favorite question for this story) what does it mean that the main character is white, and that his leadership is essential for the "good guys" to win?
What I loved most about this discussion was the range of voices and opinions heard. Some of the UO participants had very strong opinions, as did the youth. Several youth contributed passionate and profound ideas about social structures and the construction of narrative. Others were active in generating ideas about parallels between what they understand about political and social affairs.
I am still flying from this discussion. The Inside-Out Book Club has been a continuous source of energy and inspiration for me this term. On Friday, I was reminded why the group is so important: everyone needs an avenue for creative discussion, even of mundane things. This group of youth was absolutely ready to take the discussion to an amazingly high level. But they need to be prompted, supported, and challenged to do so. If our work in the book club accomplishes nothing else, I hope that we will enable at least a couple of kids to take a look at their lives and examine where their truths are coming from.
You can't always take the story at face value. Dig deeper. Discuss.
Repeat each Friday.