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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This semester, I had the distinct pleasure of running a campaign for Student Body President/Vice-President along with my best friend, and it was utterly exhausting. Day in and day out, the only thing that really got us through the drudgery of the entire process were the students, and there was no better group to visit than the International Advisory Committee. Headed up by Vanessa and I’s good friend Bob, we got to give our presentation to leaders of the international students groups on campus, but then we also got to stick around to hear how governance works in nations across the globe. We heard from students that lived in countries ruled by a single political party, those that had very limited government, and those that had a parliamentary style democracy (which is far and away my favorite kind of government).
During these conversations, I started to wonder what the Untied States would look like under different forms of government. I fear that we’re going to find out far sooner than perhaps we had hoped what living under a despot is like, but imagining the United States as a parliamentary democracy, like the one found in Britain, I think would alleviate a lot of our stresses as a nation. Parliamentary democracies allow for a plural government instead of a necessarily bi-partisan ruling structure, which removes a lot of what I perceive to be the challenges preventing American government from moving forward. A lot more people will feel like they have their interests represented when the contests are not winner-take-all and loser-lose-all. Parliaments force compromise, because it is incredibly rare that you have one party so in control of Parliament that they are able to seize the majorities they need to pass legislation effectively. I also talked to a Canadian student and was shocked at the power that the Prime Minister of Canada has. As he put it, “Justin Trudeau has the power that Donald Trump wishes he could have.” Trudeau has incredibly broad authority to spend money and put policy into place without necessarily the consent of the legislative body, which I found to be fascinating.
Also makes me wonder who the most powerful people in the world really are. Trump certainly has an incredible amount of hard power, but is someone with less hard power but more access to that hard power better than someone with more power but less access? I’m sure IR theorists have contemplated this, but as someone who hasn’t studied theory too much, I can’t really come to a conclusion. Either way, the point of the story is that, be it government on a school-wide or nation-wide level, I find public institutions to be utterly fascinating, and I really enjoyed getting to spend time with the IAC.
Our time in Paris is truly something that I will never forget. Between a private party in one of France’s most historic monuments with the French Alumni Network, a visit to the Moulin Rouge, and a number of adventures with my best friends, how could I forget? However, one of the things that I remember most clearly about our trip was a story that I heard about the building of the Eiffel Tower. Originally, the people of Paris resisted its building because they were worried that it would look out of place. It was supposed to come down when the World Fair ended, and yet, it stayed standing. I think there’s quite a lot of virtue to unpack there. A love of beauty, an appreciation for art, and an open-minded attitude that enable the administration of Paris and the World Fair to recognize the significance that the Tower could have for future generations if only it was left standing. On the subject of aesthetically pleasing things, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the incomparable beauty of both the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre. What I found particularly interesting is that both buildings were not constructed to serve as museums… the first was a train station and the latter an administrative building. However, someone had both the vision and ability (what I would identify as significant intellectual and executive virtue) to transform those spaces into ones that celebrate beauty in so many different forms. I loved that each museum displayed art writ-large; they did not presume to judge what counted as art and what didn’t in cultures around the world, choosing, instead, to display the world and her people in full splendor. Especially for the Europeans, for whom art is such an integral part of their history and global recognition, this kind of open-mindedness and compassion for the experiences of others speaks volumes about the intention with which these exhibits were put together. Finally, I have to say that the shopkeepers of Paris exhibited compassion to a degree that was certainly not required of them. Despite the language barrier, I was constantly made to feel at home in the various shops and restaurants I visited. They were receptive when I tried to speak French, and gracious when I reached my linguistic limit. More so than the food or the items that I bought, I felt welcomed and accepted into their little corner of France. What a magnificent experience.
I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but Europe, and France specifically, is not the United States. In my opinion, that couldn’t be a better. While I’ve been abroad, I’ve been reminded that, when people think rationally and work to construct a society that rests on values like conservation and rationality, things work really well. Here in France, the priority is not work, but rather leisure and enjoyment. Meals last as long as you want, the workday lasts as long as there is work to be done… the only downside is that there aren’t really stores open 24-hours, but I’ve survived. I’ve also realized that there’s far less sugar in things in Europe. Despite a focus on food that many Americans might abuse in a cultural sense, the French relationship with food focuses on quality ingredients and a healthy balance of caloric intake and excercise. It is no wonder to me that there aren’t really many overweight people in France. The understanding of food is just a bit different.
There are certainly some things about French culture that have been a bit hard to adjust to. First of all, there is no ice. Anywhere. I am someone that really enjoys an ice-cold beverage, and the only place that seems to serve them is Starbucks. I’ve went to the one in Paris more times than I’d care to admit. There’s also sufficiently less air-conditioning, and it may just be that I run a temperature a bit above the normal Frenchmen, but I’d rather be outside than inside most of the time when it comes to climate control. The thing that has been the most uncomfortable for me has been the incessant propensity for smoking. I would never say that Americans are more healthy than the French, but there is certainly not a widespread belief that smoking is an activity meant to be avoided. I am shocked by the amount of pollution in cities like Paris that come from discarded cigarette butts.
However, other than that, I can’t fault France for much, especially because this week my president decided to walk away from the Paris Climate agreement while Machron stood up to Putin about the Russian state media’s influence (among other things). Machron has even gone so far as to invite American climate scientis to France in order to continue their work in an environment hospitable to their work (pun included). One last thing about French culture that I’ve found to be interesting is their relationship with the language. I am a novice of French, but I have learned enough to be somewhat functional in a bakery or similar place. That being said, without fail, the owner of the shop switches to ENglish when they hear my American accent. The French language is not to be mauled by foreigners, especially not by one that has only learned a few phrases for the purpose of the trip. THe message is kind yet clear: This is our language and our heritage. Either speak it with grace, or don’t speak it at all.
On the evening of February 9th, 2017, I attended an event sponsored primarily by the OU Humanities Forum featuring Dr. Andrew Porwancher, Professor Sean Churchman, and notable New York theater critic Peter Filichia discussing the meteoric rise of the popular musical Hamilton. As a Hamilton biographer, Dr. Porwancher was particularly fascinated by the musical, and was excited to lead the event. In addition to a panel discussion, the audience was also treated to a number of performances from OU’s own School of Musical Theater, which were breathtaking. The discussion, at least from Dr. Porwancher’s end, focused on his research regarding Hamilton’s likely Jewish origin. The question and answer portion from the audience was also particularly engaging. Most of their questions centered on the rise of musical adaptations of historical characters and stories… the panelists didn’t think anyone could top Hamilton. I certainly agree.
The panelists also discussed Hamilton’s immigrant roots, and it was this particular topic that I found the most intriguing. Hamilton was raised on the island of Nevis, and was passed around from family member to family member. His childhood is a case study in the British West Indies of the time; he was a white man that was well-educated (by virtue of his own talent) that ended up maintaining a ledger for a sugar trading company. After he was sent to America, the panel also discussed how his status as an immigrant in the early days of the republic influences his relationships with some of the other Founding Fathers. According to the panel, his immigrant identity caused great tension between Hamilton and other members of Washington’s cabinet. What I found particularly interesting about this is that it indicates that, even at the beginning of our nation, which was a time when we were supposedly embracing the “great American melting pot,” xenophobia was still prevalent. The problems we face today, it seems, are not new; clearly, the solutions we propose to them need to be.
On March 9th of this year, the Informed Citizens Discussion Group convened for one of our favorite events of the year: ICDG with Food. For those unfamiliar with this organizations, ICDG is an organizations that holds about ten different small discussion groups every week where students of all different political backgrounds convene in order to share ideas and talk about current events. During ICDG with Food, we (the co-chairs, myself and my friend Alex) buy food for the group at large, and meet as an entire organization. This enables our members to get introduced to new worldviews and opinions outside of their group, which is the main point of the organization.
The main topics of discussion during this event where the international ramifications of Donald Trump’s assertion that President Obama wiretapped him during the campaign. Many members expressed concern that America’s allies would see this as just another example of the Trump campaign making illegitimate claims, and they also worried that foreign leaders would then be accused by Donald based on their relationship with him. On the other hand, several of our members asserted that Trump’s statements were true, and that it didn’t matter what foreign nations thought, because American policy should be endlessly concerned with its own nation, and not with foreign actors.
We also talked about the fall of the Chinese economy, and while that is certainly not my area of expertise, it was incredibly fascinating to listen to people that were far more intelligent than I on the subject matter talk about how they think that India is soon going to replace China as the primary Asian economic powerhouse. The people in the group mentioned that the aging population of China was leading to a significant decline in productivity, which, considering the one-child policy, I found to be particularly interesting. Would China economically be served by removing this policy, and if so, why haven’t they removed it? The responses the Economic students gave was really satisfactory, but lacking in a background knowledge, I couldn’t offer much more of a critique.
Finally, we talked about the similarities between European and American right-wing groups. Several of the members of the group were worried that European leaders of populist parties would use Trump as a template for how to win elections, and even more, including myself, were concerned that Angela Merkel is going to be voted out of office in the upcoming German elections. By the time that we reached that discussion topic, the pizza had run out, so we didn’t get much farther…. however, as always, it was fascinating to discover how different people with different expertise conceived of these issues that I knew little about.