Why the Royals?

I’ve never really understood the American fascination with the royal family of the United Kingdom, which typically comes to a heel whenever we had a royal wedding (much like the impending nuptials between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle). In a larger context, it isn’t like royal families don’t exist in other countries… indeed, even other Western European countries still have some semblance of a monarch, however ceremonial their position might be. It seems odd that a nation founded on the rejection of a certain country’s monarchial system is later celebrated by the cultural descendants of those same people.

I think that the fervor has been uniquely intense this go around because Markle is a uniquely American icon. She brings a sense of realness and accessibility to the royal family, which I would theorize is only going to light the fires of the Anglophones among us. But really, why do we have such a fascination with royal families?

I theorize that it is due to a number of factors, one of which is the proclivity of American’s towards celebrity. Our political affairs, our entertainment, our education… everything seems to be mixed up with the idea of being famous and a notable figure. Who, then, is more famous than the person born in to fame and power? We fetishize everything the royal family represents… effortless class, effortless power, and, especially for Americans, effortless wealth. Being a royal means being above it all, and even in a society that prides itself on lacking that kind of social stratification (ignoring that we’ve replaced titles with dollar signs), it again seems odd to me that we celebrate the royal family and hold it up as something to be valued. I’m not sure what about the foreign yet familiar feel of Britain has to do with it, but it is certainly an interesting international question to explore.

A Mentor’s Update

One of my favorite parts of growing older at OU is the chance to be a mentor to some really outstanding people in the GEF classes, so I thought I’d use this opportunity to give little shout-outs and updates to what my original class, the Class of 2020, is up to.

Lucy is returning home for the summer after an amazing year in which she served both in TOG and as the Co-Chair of the Sooner Freshmen Council. She’ll be working at the Wisconsin State Department of Children and Families doing all kinds of amazingness. She’s spending next semester in France as well.

Hennessey is spending a summer in Oman fully sponsored by the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship, after which she’ll move to Jordan for an entire semester (everyone is fleeing). This year, she served as the OU SGA Budget Chair, overseeing a budget of over $600,000.

Noah is finishing up another successful year of research and scholarship and will be spending some time next year in Russia as a part of OU’s Study Abroad program. As per usual, he spent this semester championing LGBTQ acceptance and equity, especially in CIS.

Madison is continuing to be an outstanding Arabic student and will spend next year serving on the Honors Student Association Executive Board (something that I did a year or two ago… like mentor like mentee?)

Ryan and Lydia continue to do all kinds of awesome things in the School of Drama, and while I don’t get a chance to see them as much as I would like (Fine Arts is a whole other world), it is always exciting to see their names listed in the playbills of any of the OU productions that I get to go see.

I can’t wait to see what next year’s class of mentees is like!

Musings on ICDG

ICDG is honestly one of my favorite student organizations on campus, and as I’m approaching the end of my second year as Chair, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on why the mission of the organization is so important. The idea that we’re becoming an increasingly disconnected society who’re obsessed with our phones and incapable of having conversations with others is pessimistic and cliché. Rather, I think the truth of the matter is that we’re increasingly unlikely to view people with opposed viewpoints as deserving of respect. In an era of political discourse primarily marked with discussions of basic human rights and oppressed peoples, it is almost impossible not to take politics personally.

The point, then, of ICDG is to provide a space for interested students to engage with others on any topic that they find interesting. Recently, the conversation has turned to a number of international topics, including the Iranian nuclear deal and the seeming truce between the Koreas. During these events, ICDG has provided an opportunity for students to state their opinions and feel heard in an environment that lacks a professor or other authority figure that can correct them from a place of power; at the end of the day, I think that’s one of the most important aspects of the organization. In terms of age and relative education level, everyone is pretty much at the same level. This allows for logic and free thought to prevail as opposed to dogma.

In providing a more explicit international connection for the purpose of GEF, I’ll also note that many of my group leaders have noted how much they appreciate the presence of international students at this university and in their groups in terms of elevating dialogue about national issues. Americans often have a singular paradigm through which we evaluate the rest of the world, and as such, ICDG makes significant gains when international students choose to engage and sign-up for groups.

French Students and General Education

One of my favorite things about OU is that we are an institution that prioritizes international relationships not only on an individual level, but also on an institutional one. One such example of those relationships exists between the College of Arts and Sciences Leadership Scholars (of which I am a member) and the University in Clermont-Ferrand, a town in France that our new members visit the summer after they join the organization. Because of this relationships, we also try to welcome the students of Clermont-Ferrand when they end up studying abroad here at the University of Oklahoma. One such event that we had this year was a study night where we shared food, played games, and studied together. There were not too many students that ended up showing up, but those that did seemed to be engaged and to enjoy the event.

I got the chance to speak to one of the students about the differences in coursework between Europe and the United States and while the experiences seemed to mostly be similar, I was also struck that the idea of general education was pretty foreign to these students (pun intended). One student, a biology major, was unsure why she had to take a literature course when that wasn’t her field of study, especially considering that she had studied these things before university. This made me wonder about the salience of general education courses in education systems that actually value and fund education… in a European system that pays teachers well, invests in schools, and generally promotes education as a means of mobility, is general education necessary at the university level? A lot of research indicates that general education courses at universities are remedial at best… so maybe it is time to reconsider where they fit relative to our international counterparts.

SGA/IAC Mixer

I’m not sure why, but this year, the Student Government Association and the International Advisory Committee have been much better connected this year than in previous years. This relationship was exemplified by a recent mixer that we hosted between the two organizations, where members of both organizations came together for food, conversation, and fun. It was incredibly well-attended (especially for an event hosted late in the year) and provided an opportunity for the difference branches and faucets of both organizations to better explain their mission and the resources they could provide for the other group. I particularly enjoyed being the MC for some of the icebreakers that we played intermittently. It was exciting to see the members of IAC engage and question a lot of what SGA does, because we don’t grow as an organization by being unresponsive to the needs of students, especially those that have a history of not being well-represented.

This was also a excellent opportunity for some of the international students who hold office in SGA to discuss what they saw as the barriers to entry that other international students faced to getting more involved. We also discussed the necessity of their being an SGA presence at the NISO event that happens at the beginning of every year to make sure that international students are aware of what SGA does on campus and how they can benefit from those resources/get involved themselves. All in all, I think that it was a uniquely successful event that saw two different groups of students come together to better plan for the future. A lot of similar events on campus would have seen low turnout, would have been self-congratulatory, or would have failed to accomplish its mission. I think that it speaks to the students in both organizations that it was indeed none of these things.

Davis Event

As a scholars both of international relations and gender, I am endlessly fascinated by identity and how we, as a human race, construct it. As such, I was really excited that Crimson Club was hosting an event with RC Davis, the author of the newly released “Mestizos Come Home”, a book about Mexcian, Latin American, and American culture and how they interplay to form mestizo identity. It was really amazing to talk with the author directly about the book which few of us had gotten to read. He regaled us with a lot of stories from his childhood, and you could tell from his speaking alone that he was a captivating writer. The book itself speaks to what Davis’ calls a general amnesia about indigenous culture and mestizo culture in Mexico and how the topic itself is relevant for Latinx-identified people as well. In addition, it was great to listen to Dr. Davis just give advice and offer guidance for those of us who weren’t too scared to ask questions. He encouraged study abroad and language acquisition, but he noted that, in order to really grasp a language, you have to immerse yourself in it, and in its history. He then explained that the majority of his work involved old frescoes and drawing, which, for a classics major like myself, was an incredibly exciting thing to hear. Identity and ancient artifacts in one lecture? This was seemingly made for me.

Musings on ICDG

Chairing the Informed Citizens Discussion Group is a real treat, but moderating an engage group is honestly so much better. This semester, my co-discussion-moderator and I were lucky to have a core group of about 7-8 students who came back to our room in Cate once a week to talk pop culture and politics. We had a number of students from different home countries and it was fascinating to listen to them describe the news occurring in their own worlds. As the year progresses forward, it is going to find someone that can keep the program running in perpetuity… as I approach graduation, I want to make sure that ICDG is forever supported by the University and won’t die when I receive a diploma. It is vital that students find a way to actively engage with other students and respectfully argue with opinions that aren’t your own. I’d also love to see more representation from the international study body on both ICDG exec, the moderator team, and within the organization itself. ICDG can function as such an amazing vehicle of cultural exchange, and if I’m not doing enough to encourage that now, I certainly need to going forward. This semester specifically, I really enjoyed our conversations about the impact that the University President has on international students, which a student brought up when discussing what Boren had done for him as a student and expressing a hope that such support would continue.

Jerusalem, Israel

Trump is a disaster on an international scale, and nowhere is there more apparent than in his international policy. Recently, the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel must have been the most asinine and idiotic thing to do. Countries around the world look to the United States as a potential peace-broker for Israel and Palestine and this executive decision effectively prevents the United States from acting in that capacity in any significant way for the forseeable future. This also likely means that Trump supports a one-state solution, which is not going to win the United States any pals in the Middle East when it comes time to fight small terrorist cells that are hiding in those countries. This was clearly a move meant to energize his pro-Israel and pro-Christian supporters and had absolutely nothing to do with potentially larger policy complications. This is a dangerous precedent to set, but I fear that it’ll be a predicament for the next few years. The question, of course, is will the President use America’s role as a n international leader to galvanize support within his own party instead of using America’s resources in the most effective and efficient way possible. His actions with North Korea indicate that Trump has no idea how to engage diplomatically with others, and indeed that he views the United States as intertwined with him. Any attack against him is one that Trump believes must be dealt with swiftly and vitriolically, and that doesn’t work in international diplomacy. I just hope we survive the next few years.

Trafficking Class Reflection

This semester, I took Dr. Cruise’ Illicit Trafficking class and learned an incredible amount about the international forces at work around us. There a few things that struck me as particularly poignant, which I’ll outline below:

1. We, the consumers, are responsible for a good amount of money that’s pumped into the trafficking industry. By constantly embracing the cheapest option when it comes to consumption, we encourage companies to cut corners, often illegally, in order to reduce costs and increase their own market share.

2. The Cold War and the lifting of the Iron Curtain actually encouraged trafficking in those former Soviet Bloc nations and they became major transit and production states for sex trafficking. The bi-polarization of the world that resulted from the Cold War also gave rise to a good number of non-state conflicts, which drastically increased the amount of weapons trafficking. Basically, Cold War = Good for Traffickers

3. Olive oil is actually one of the more trafficked commodities. The majority of the olive oil we buy in the states fails to meet basic standards imposed by the Italian or United States governments. Also on the list of “weird things to get trafficked” are butterflies and holy water.

Jake Goes to the Networking Fair

I am always so impressed by the events that the College of International Studies is able to put on. Despite their relatively small size as compared to other academic units on campus, CIS makes an awesome use of their alumni and resources to put together great programming for students. More specifically, I really enjoyed the Networking Fair that the College put on this semester, not because I’m necessarily interested in an international career after I graduate, but more because I enjoyed seeing all the stuff that my classmates are doing through the international organizations that they’re a part of.

For example, I learned that James is working with Syrian refugees to connect them with Arabic language learners so that the refugees get paid and the Arabic student is able to speak with a native speaker and gain valuable practice. I learned about The Dragonfly Home in OKC, where OU students and alumni are working to help victims of human trafficking in the OKC area, and are planing to open a shelter in 2018. I met with students who are working for the State Department and other governmental agencies, and even though I’m not interested in working for the Trump administration in any capacity whatsoever, it was really amazing to hear about the work that they’ve gotten to do as a part of that program. I also heard from some of OU’s institutions… I had our Career Services advisor check over my resume and ask for some tips about upcoming interviews, met with the Pre-Law advisor and chatted a bit about the best time to take the LSAT, and chatted with Katie about potentially doing a dual MA/JD program wherever I end up for law school. Certainly one of the most useful international events that I attended this semester.

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