29 November 2010

Islam Awareness Week

Last week was a fun time for after-school events.  For starters, the Muslim Student Association sponsored Islam Awareness week.  Unfortunately, I didn't hear about that until about halfway through the week, so I was able to go to only two events, a panel discussion on Islamophobia and a panel discussion on the hijab.  Both were interesting and kept me thinking long after they had ended.

Two points of observation/possible places for improvement: it would have been nice to have a woman on the Islamophobia panel and it would have been nice to have a man on the hijab panel.  In respect to the former, some women in the audience had a unique perspective on Islamophobia much different than that of the men.  While the men on the panel discussed media portrayal of Muslims, women in the audience talked about discrimination against the hijab in the workplace.  One woman shared a horrifying story of how a boy had pulled off her daughter's hijab in school and had used derogatory names against her.  Having a woman on the panel would have given clearer voice to Muslim women's concerns about Islamophobia.

As for the second point, there is a bit more of a background story.  First, the three women on the panel were fantastic.  Really, truly, an inspiration to listen to.  The biggest fault on the panel was a lack of diversity.  All three women wear the hijab (one also wears the niqab), all three agreed that the Quran says Muslim women should wear the hijab, and all three were women.  Again, some men in the audience did enter the discussion and added their perspective to the mix, but it would have been nice to hear from a man on the panel.  Also, I've heard some heated arguments amongst Muslim women and men about what the Quran says and doesn't say about the hijab.  I'll also add that the arguments were among native speakers of Arabic, so the idea of "bad translations" doesn't really carry the discussion (which was the perspective mentioned on the panel, ie: that the translation from Arabic into English was partly responsible for any confusion).  Not being Muslim, I don't have an opinion on the matter-- everyone is free to worship as he or she chooses; however, I thought it was dishonest to not give voice to both sides of an important issue on the panel.  Most sad about the lack of diversity was the fact that the "discussion" did get preachy towards the end.  I ended up not remembering the question I had wanted to ask until after the discussion was over.  I'll ask it now in hopes someone can answer me:

Regardless of what the Quran says or doesn't say about the hijab, it seems that everyone agrees it does tell Muslims-- men and women-- to dress modestly.  I applaud and respect the Muslim women on campus and in the Muncie community who choose to wear the hijab or niqab despite the discrimination they may face because of it.  I also applaud and respect Muslim women who dress modestly without the hijab or niqab-- in the Muslim-majority countries I've lived in, that usually means keeping arms and shoulders covered and wearing long skirts or loose-fitting pants.  Which brings me to my point: in the Muslim-majority countries I've lived in, men also wear a distinct type of modest clothing, characterized by loose pants and a longer shirt, like this for example.  While I see Muslim women in Muncie dressing modestly, I can't say I've seen the same of the men.  And that irritates me.  Why not?  Even the Muslim men who spoke up at the panel in support of the hijab weren't dressed particularly modestly-- they wore tight jeans and short-sleeved shirts.  Again, I do think everyone has the freedom to dress as he or she sees fit, but it seems, well, hypocritical, to be a strong advocate of the hijab while not maintaining similar standards for yourself.  Maybe it's just me, but its been on my mind since the panel discussion.

28 November 2010

Hunger Banquet

Last week was Oxfam's Hunger Banquet, co-sponsored by the Social Justice League.  When attending a hunger banquet, you are assigned a class when you first enter-- lower, middle, or upper.  Lower class individuals sit on the floor and are served small pieces of bread with water (sometimes colored brown to represent unclean water).  Middle class individuals sit in chairs and are served bread and butter with clean water.  Upper class individuals sit at a table and are served a real meal, in this case peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, lemonade, and a cookie.  Each group represents the same statistical group of real-world lower, middle, and upper class people.  So really, it's a very interesting idea.  Here are some photographs from our hunger banquet:

Opening Remarks.

Here you can see the lower class and the upper class.  Something I learned: if you make more than $12,000 a year, you're considered to be among the top 15% wealthiest people on earth.  Now there's some perspective.

Middle class, where I was.  Not many of us here.

Interesting information on what Oxfam does around the world.

Learning about world hunger and economic non-equality.

Preparing our middle class meal.

Talking while we eat.

Nom, nom.

It gives "middle class" a whole new meaning, doesn't it?

16 November 2010

Rhodes Finalists-- I told you it's a big deal!

Here's an email the Ball State Communications Center sent across campus yesterday:

Two vying for Rhodes Scholarships

A pair of Ball State University students have advanced to the final round of the Rhodes Scholarship selection process, the first time in school history that two students have reached the last stage of competition for the world's oldest and most prestigious international graduate scholarship.

Abigail Shemoel and Matt Tancos, both members of the Class of 2011, will participate in final interviews with members of the Rhodes selection committee on Nov. 20 in Indianapolis.

Shemoel is a landscape architecture major and international resource management minor from Kokomo, Ind., and currently a Udall Foundation undergraduate scholar at Ball State. Also a past recipient of the National Garden Clubs Scholarship, she already has studied the effects of environmental management on ecotourism in Costa Rica and recently completed an internship in Argentina with the Foundation for Sustainable Development. She'll spend her final semester as a Ball State student conducting additional research on sustainable community development in Brazil.

Tancos, from Valparaiso, Ind., is a biology major and chemistry minor concentrating in genetics and ecology. He previously earned an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Greater Research Opportunities Undergraduate Fellowship and has completed research internships at both an EPA lab and Cornell University, investigating the microbiological treatment of drinking water for arsenic removal, microbial biofilms on lead drinking water pipes and pathogen diagnostics, in addition to his studies at Ball State.

Administered and awarded by the Rhodes Trust (Cecil John Rhodes, 1853-1902, was an English businessman and founder of the De Beers diamond company), Rhodes Scholarships provide recipients with up to three years of graduate study at Oxford University, U.K. In addition, scholars receive a monthly maintenance stipend to cover accommodation and living expenses.

Scholarships have been awarded to applicants annually since 1902 and are widely regarded as the most distinguished graduate awards in the world.

Landmark event

Ball State has never had a Rhodes Scholar and only a handful of candidates have made it to the state semifinalist stage (a category no longer used; finalists now are selected from specified geographic districts), reports Barbara Stedman, director of national and international scholarships. She calls Shemoel and Tancos' advance "historic" and proof of the university's strategic plan that emphasizes attracting greater numbers of high-achieving students, as reflected in the growing percentage of entering freshmen holding the Indiana Academic Honors Diploma from high school.

"The Rhodes not only is the most prestigious of graduate scholarships it's also the most rigorous in terms of its academic standards and other requirements," observes Stedman. "That two of our students have reached this level in the selection process this year, I believe, speaks loudly to Ball State's success in increasing the overall quality of our students and giving them the additional tools, through immersive learning and other opportunities such as research assistantships and study abroad, to achieve still greater things. This is a landmark event for Abigail and Matt, certainly, but also one in which the entire university community should take great pride and satisfaction."

If successful in her Rhodes bid, Shemoel expects to pursue a master's degree in environmental change and management at Oxford. She sees the opportunity as especially fortunate. The Oxford program is among the best in the world, she says, reckoning that the Rhodes committee probably doesn't see too many landscape architecture majors.

"But that's what I love most about landscape architecture - it's all about good stewardship of the land," says Shemoel, who hopes to make a career working internationally on the issue of adequate and sustainable shelter for millions of the world's poor, possibly with the U.N. Centre for Human Settlements.

Tancos also has international career plans. He will seek a master's degree in plant sciences in Oxford's equally renowned Plants for the 21st Century program. Ultimately, he intends to earn a doctorate in plant pathology in preparation for joining the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) or similar nonprofit organization working to improve crop production in impoverished countries.
The world's fertile soils will soon be pushed to their limits as human population growth becomes a formidable "resource vacuum," says Tancos, who was raised on a farm and learned early "how intricate and connected life is."

While environmentalism typically emphasizes protection of nature, Tancos says, "I believe protection of people should come first and agree with Indira Gandhi that 'poverty is the greatest environmental threat in the world.' Humans will attempt to survive by all means, which include poaching or clear-cutting forests in order to acquire new fertile soil and resources. Plant technology, however, offers one way to alleviate famine and its environmental consequences."

Instincts to lead

Although popularly perceived to be largely a reward for academic performance, the Rhodes Trust also establishes that candidates be adjudged for their "literary attainments" and "energy to use one's talents to the full" as well as their "truth, courage, devotion to duty . moral force of character and instincts to lead."

Only 32 American students are chosen each year as Rhodes Scholars. Notable past U.S. winners include former President Bill Clinton and his one-time senior counsel, now ABC News correspondent, George Stephanopoulos as well as singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson, film director Terrence Malik ('Badlands," "The Thin Red Line"), feminist author Naomi Wolf and current Newark (N.J.) Mayor Cory Booker. From Indiana, current U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, a graduate of Denison University, earned his Rhodes Scholarship in 1954.

10 November 2010

Today was a Long Day. . . And it's not even over yet!

Something unthinkable happened to me on Monday:  I got excited about a studio project.  No, really.  I was legitimately excited to design, develop, and create an idea for Seattle's waterfront.  Likewise, my group members were equally jazzed about the project.  You should have seen us: we had the trace paper outside, our pencils and pens scratched away, and I'm pretty sure there was some squealing.

Surprisingly, we were still excited about the project today.  Then we had a crit, which is when professors come to your desk, look at your design, and tell you how to make it better.  Our crit was. . .  less than satisfying.  Our professor brought up good ideas that we're going to look into more, but we never really got to talk about our ideas for the site.  *sigh*  I guess we'll just keep going as we're going, then try again on Friday.

In the meantime, the semester is picking up again.  I've realized most of my projects are due in less than a month.  Ick.  I have a lot of work to do.  But there is always a silver lining.  Today's silver lining is multifaceted-- I really, genuinely love all my classes and really enjoy the work we're doing; I'm starting to get back into a "normal" pattern of activity here in Muncie (after being abroad last year); I'm beginning to look into graduate schools and other opportunities for next year; and I'm almost certainly graduating in May.

Something else that's been good: Students for Peace in Israel and Palestine has been picking up.  We now have a mission statement AND our first event planned.  Our mission statement is:

"Students for Peace in Israel and Palestine is dedicated to promoting peace, human rights, and equality in Israel and Palestine for all people, regardless of ideology, ethnicity, or religion.  The Purpose of SPIP is to be an educational resource on Ball State's campus, encouraging understanding and promoting peace through public events and philanthropic endeavors."

Not bad, huh?  Our first event is this Friday, 12 November, at 6:00 in AJ 175.  We're screening Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.  It's a really interesting movie about the ways Arabs are portrayed in the film industry.  You should come!

Tonight is a panel discussion about Islamophobia at 6:30 in SC Ballroom.  Be there, or be square.  (BTW, I've never fully understood that expression.  And it kind of sounds threatening for some reason.  Huh.)

03 November 2010

Congratulating Rhodes Scholarship Finalists by Day, Drag Show on the Weekend

Yep, that's right.  Ball State is the proud university of TWO Rhodes Scholar finalists.  One of them happens to be a friend of mine, and we're all SO PROUD of her!  Actually, we're proud of both of them--I work in the office that helps students find and apply for scholarships, so I can say firsthand that our two students are legit.  I've never read their files--because that would be a gross invasion of privacy--but everyone speaks very highly of them, and--geez!  They're flippin' Rhodes Finalists! So, congratulations and the very, VERY best of luck to both of you!!!

On to other news, Spectrum hosted a fund-raising drag show last weekend, so as a straight ally with an empty Saturday night, of course I went.  : )  I also convinced a few of my roommates to go, and we had a great time of it.  Here are some highlights:

Yeah, she's really singing.

And here are some drag kings representing.

This was just a fun performance.

I'm not sure if that's me singing along or not.  As you can see, they're REALLY working the crowd.  They were stellar.