IAS Student Advisory Committee

This semester, I decided to step back from my involvement in Model UN. I still absolutely love it and it was a difficult decision, but I wasn’t going to be able to put in the time and effort it deserves. I hope to rejoin next semester and be able to balance my time in MUN with my other time commitments. For this semester, it meant finding a new international organization! I applied and was accepted to the IAS Student Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, an issue that overlaps with Model UN and is near and dear to my heart.

Diversity and inclusion are the main focus at OU, and rightly so, as they are major issues that all students face. We each come from a unique intersectionality of identities and every person deserves inclusion, but this is easier said than done. Especially on the international stage, tolerance and inclusion are often major issues that don’t have an easy answer. From funding issues, to American interventionism, to racial tension, diversity and inclusion are integral to many international conversations and organizations. Although we’re only one committee at OU, we have tried to do our part in raising awareness surrounding issues of diversity and inclusion. Our main event this semester was a film screening of “Out in the Dark,” a film that raises a discussion about inclusion of the LGBT community and issues around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The very definition of marginalized is “pushed to a place of marginal importance,” and marginalized groups are often not included in conversations or opportunities, or even social groups, as non-marginalized groups. This film discusses the marginalization of LGBT people, while also touching on the tense topic of racial inclusion, as far as land appropriation and labeling go.

I’ve really enjoyed my time with the IAS Student Advisory Committee this semester, raising and discussing important issues of power, inclusion, and acceptance. I hope to be able to continue with it next semester!

Arabic Talent Showcase

The Arabic Talent Show has a special place in my heart because I know several Arabic students and it’s always a pleasure to see them at the show, and sometimes even see them perform. This semester it was also cool to go see my second Arabic Talent show, which offered another unique set of performances, and I’m looking forward to even more in future shows.

The night began in a festive mood, with AMAZING food (do you see the trend here lol). I sat with some friends from the Big Event, and there were a few Arabic students with us. We all chatted and ate, and then the show began. The tone of the event was informal and relaxed, and many of the performances were laid back and even humorous. One video stood out to me; it was about students without an Arabic professor and the disastrous effect missing Arabic had on their lives. The video was ironic and hyperbolic on purpose, which made it hilarious. But what struck me the most about it, and all of the other performances, was the expression on the performers’ faces. They all seemed to truly enjoy the language, their performance, and each other. Although the video was a comical situation, the students really were genuine in their love for the language.

Another thing I noticed both this time and last was the wide variety of students performing and attending. The acts are from introductory and intermediate classes, various individuals, and even the Egyptian Club. The diverse students within each diverse group were brought together by one common thread, a love for Arabic and their colleagues, and what else is International and Area Studies about? What better way to enjoy life? OK, I’m done being a hippy now, I promise 😉

Street Art as a Medium for Political Commentary

First of all, can I just say thank you to the Latin Americanist Lunch program, which not only is a really cool program but also always has great food? Cool, now on to the really neat part of the lunch I attended, which was a fascinating talk on street art in Brazil called, “Love without Fear.” The talk was given by Dr. Misha, an amazing speaker and storyteller, who really brought the presentation alive with narratives and pictures of her subject. Dr. Misha began by introducing herself and setting the scene of her time in Brazil, which was during the chaotic aftermath of the 2016 Olympics. She traveled between Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro and noticed the different approaches to art between the two cities.

In Sao Paulo at the time, the local government frowned upon graffiti and street art in general, even going so far as to literally whitewash the city walls in a campaign known as the “grey tide.” In Rio, the local authorities were more tolerant of graffiti as art, but only as long as the graffiti didn’t hold any subversive messages. Amid the turbulent political context of 2016, with the haphazard renovations to accommodate the Olympics and a tense impeachment vote in the House, much of Brazilian street art focused implicitly on sociopolitical issues. One of the popular themes was that of community and socioeconomic stratification, with many images of faces, eyes, and large groups of people appearing on favela walls to invoke the image of a unified community. There was even one message sprawled across a favela wall that said, “we aren’t a zoo,” touching on the prevalent issue of “voluntourism” in Brazil’s more economically disadvantaged areas. Other popular themes commented on freedom and democracy, the violent state-sponsored police task forces in favelas, and the critique of both politicians and their media presence.

Since most of the graffiti in Rio was politically charged, and all of the graffiti in Sao Paulo was being painted over, Dr. Misha was asked if the artists were discouraged by the constant erasure of their work. Her answer was unexpected and incredibly interesting: no. Whereas I would be disheartened by the efforts of the government to paint over my voice, Dr. Misha brought up an excellent point. Graffiti is a temporary art; whether at the whims of the government, the weather, or other graffiti artists, all graffiti eventually fades away. Instead of being discouraged, the artists are accustomed to the fleeting nature of their work and are thankful to have the opportunity to have a voice and have it heard, no matter for how long.

TUW Cultural Night

A couple months ago, I dragged myself into the Meacham Auditorium, tired and irritable. I had had a rough couple of weeks, and the last thing I wanted to do was to go to an event, but I was interested in what World Day had to say, so I went anyway. And I’m so glad I did.

Similar to Eve of Nations but with its own unique spin, World Day was an explosive celebration of arts, cultures, and acceptance. Structured as a series of performances connected by two emcees, the tone of the event was infectiously joyous as dancers danced, singers sang, and actors acted; there was even a telenovela-inspired stand-up skit! Although this might seem like a superficial celebration, the underlying message was incredibly important: no one culture or performance was valued over others, all were celebrated uniquely and equally. Each performer brought a mix of their culture and their individual personality to create an evening of acceptance.

Even beyond the fun and creativity of the performances, a speaker came to the stage at the end of the night to commemorate the organization behind the night, The United World. The United World is an organization created by the United World College Scholars Program, which awards international students with scholarships at US universities every year. I had limited experience with the UWC before, but I knew several outstanding students who were a part of the program. Having the opportunity to attend such an enriching, accepting event reminded me of an incredibly important factor: international students here at OU. OU’s culture is undoubtedly enriched by the large percentage of international students living and working here. Even in the face of budget crises, changing presidents, and an uncertain future, I hope and pray that the leaders of our University recognize the incredible importance of keeping the student body, including the international student population, the top priority.

“I Shall Not Hate” from “Voices of a Changing Middle East”

So far at OU, much of my involvement with international events and clubs has stemmed from my interests in European studies, African studies, and international relations. This semester, however, I had the opportunity to broaden my horizons and attend a social justice symposium on the Israeli-Palestine Conflict.

I attended a one-man play sponsored by the Mosaic Theater Company called “I Shall Not Hate,” followed by a panel of students answering questions about the important issues addressed in the play. The plot was incredibly sophisticated and paid tribute to the true story ofIzzeldin Abuelaish; one actor moved about the stage, telling the story of the Palestinian doctor with the aid of props, lighting, and multiple languages. Weaving between Arabic and Hebrew, between the audience and the stage, between light and dark, the story followed the doctor’s life, and ultimately, his struggle with tragedy. Although the format of the play focuses on the doctor’s life, the themes of the play are deep and complicated: racial tension, hatred, violence, intimacy, and loss.

The predominant message of the play was that even though he lost family members to horrific bombings, Dr. Abuelaish chose not to hate. He knew both Israelis and Palestinians, and even with unspeakable loss and pain, he believed that the answer was not to lash out in hate. The story and it’s portrayal were enrapturing and deeply moving – I don’t think there was a dry eye when the curtain closed. Following the performance, a panel of four students sat on the stage to discuss various angles of the conflict and the value of the play’s message. The student panel included a Jewish woman, a Jordanian man, a student who studied abroad in Israel, and a moderator. Both the audience and the panelists were thoughtful and judicious, but honest, with their answers. The discussion eventually settled on the question, is there hope? And the main answer was yes, the important thing is to act on it.

I found both the play and the following discussion to be incredibly impactful. I had heard of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I had even done extensive research on it for a debate project in high school, but being confronted with the whole reality was brutal. Getting to know Izzeldin and his family members, and then experiencing his pain and anguish at their loss, humanized the conflict and gave me a taste of what the people involved have experienced. For me, this symposium combined knowledge and insight into the conflict with humanization and raw emotion, resulting in a more complete and nuanced understanding of diverse perspectives. Most of all, I was reminded that even when it seems incredibly difficult, we have to consciously choose to love, and not to hate.

Youth Culture in Contemporary Iran: an Unexpected Favorite Class of the Semester

To be honest, I started out the semester feeling a little lukewarm about my class on youth culture in contemporary Iran. It was an IAS class and sounded interesting enough, but I would have preferred a class on Europe or Germany or the EU. But once we delved into the material, I loved it.

 

Since the course was over youth culture in contemporary Iran, we covered several aspects of youth culture and history. We discussed historical perspectives, art and leisure, social relations, and comparative perspectives to gain a more holistic view of modern youth in Iran. Although there is a tendency in Western media toward Orientalist oversimplification, contemporary Iranian, and especially youth, culture is incredibly complex. This class taught me that the Islamic regime is more than it appears to be, and the portrayal of Iranian citizens as depressed and downtrodden is not the whole story. As with many stereotypes, there is some truth to that image: many people struggle with low-grade depression, unemployment, and feelings of wellness. However, there are also those who agree with the ideals and actions of the Islamic regime and those who feel the government is willing to compromise and reach an agreement. Much of my final paper argues the latter: that concessions between the Islamic Republic and the youth of Iran are producing small changes that will eventually lead to compromise.

 

In addition to the critical thinking and communication skills I further developed through this class, it was also a potent reminder of my inherent biases and assumptions about Iran, the Middle East, Muslims, even just other people. The surface is never the whole story, and though I try to be cognizant of that fact, I sometimes allow others to shape my perception of people without engaging with them myself. This class allowed me to engage with the culture of Iran on a more macro scale, with all sides of the story shown, whether that was varying socioeconomic classes, different religions, different generations, or different genders. That’s not to say the class taught me everything I need to know about Iran, no single class could ever do that, but it definitely complicated my perception of Iranian society, state, and culture, and made me want to learn more.

Summer in Ukraine! (I hope)

One of my main goals for my time in college is to take advantage of as many opportunities as I can while still balancing my other priorities. I’ve found planning constructive summers to be one of the most challenging aspects of reaching my goal. Summer programs tend to be expensive and short, and if possible I’d like to round out my experience with internships and other forms of learning than summer classes. Last summer I went home to Alaska to work for the Alaska World Affairs Council, but this summer I have no prior commitments, so I’m trying to work my short-term study abroad trip into this upcoming summer.

 

I have several potential options, including a Journey Program, a German program, and other international summer schools. The option I’m most jazzed about, however, is an REU in Sioux City, Iowa. Now, you may be thinking, “what does this have to do with studying abroad and who in their right mind would be excited to go live in Iowa for 10 weeks?” Believe me, I thought the same thing, but the REU at Dordt College turns out to be an amazing potential opportunity for me to hone my psychology skills and learn more about international politics and culture in eastern Europe.

 

REUs (Residents Undergraduate Experience) are programs sponsored by the National Science Foundation to help undergrad students gain experience in hands-on application of science and research. The REU at Dordt College is looking specifically at the correlation between mental health and various wellness outcomes in conflict-ridden areas of Ukraine. For example, the program is looking at PTSD rates and development, risk factors for distress and trauma, self-assessment of health, substance abuse, and domestic violence. If my application is accepted, I would go with the research team to Ukraine to collect data, and then spend the rest of the summer in Iowa analyzing and drawing conclusions from that date. If it were to work out, this program would be an incredible opportunity for me to combine my passions for psychology and international studies. Now to apply!

OU Model United Nations

For the past three semesters, I have had the pleasure of participating in the OU Model United Nations (MUN) club here on campus. This year is particularly exciting for MUN, as our membership has grown significantly and we’re looking to branch out from conferences to add programs. As Vice President of MUN, my duties are flexible to fit the needs of the club; as a result, I’ve been working closely with Jessica (the treasurer) and Andy (the president) to plan a panel event focusing on the role of the US in the UN today. The panel is set for next semester and we’re currently looking for additional faculty panelists to lend their experience, so if anyone has recommendations, please feel free to let me know!

 

Although I’m excited to be adding more programming for Model UN, my favorite part of the club is the conferences. MUN has three conferences every year: we sponsor one middle school and one high school conference, and we attend a collegiate-level conference in St. Louis, MO every spring. This November we held our middle school conference, for which we wrote background guides and held a training session for the middle schoolers to prepare them for the format of the conference. On the day of the conference, Emma and I were Vice Chairs for the UNESCO committee, with Amer as Chairman. Emma and I both got to sit at the dais and chair for a while, which I really enjoy. We tried our best to make the conference educational while still being engaging and fun, and we got mostly positive feedback from the kids. Next semester I’m looking forward to our conference we participate in, MUN of the Midwest, and the high school conference.

Journey Launch Party

On November 2nd, the Journey programs held their launch party, an event to inform students of their opportunities over the upcoming summer. The event was two hours and gave a very detailed overview of the six programs: Journey to Italy, Journey to Tanzania, Journey to China, Journey to Brazil, Journey to Peru, and Journey to the Middle East. The event was helpful from the start, as I had heard a lot about the Italy, Tanzania, China, and Brazil programs, but didn’t even realize they had options in Peru and the Middle East.

 

Both professors and former participants gave an overview of each program, including the classes taught, the logistics and finances, and (most importantly, in my opinion) the excursions and cultural activities included in the trip. Each program includes engaging classes and prevalent cultural activities. Since each of the destinations is unique, the combination of recreational activities differs for each trip. Some of the highlights for me would include Lima and Machu Picchu in Peru, Dar el Salaam and a safari tour in Tanzania, Beijing and the Great Panda refuge in China, Haifa and the Dead Sea in Israel, and Venice and the cathedrals of Italy. As you can probably tell, I really enjoy a combination of nature-oriented outings and more social and cultural experiences. This combination of education, application, and perspective is what I think the Journey Programs excel at: students can gain academic understanding as well as actual experiences in-country (and of course, lots of fun).

 

Overall, the Journey Launch Party provided a lot of useful information and tips, and gave me and the other students a more realistic view of what each program would look like. Of course, if I end up choosing a Journey Program, now the difficulty is deciding which program would fit me best, as they all sound fantastic.

Modernizing Conventions Between Persian and Urdu: Print, Punctuation, and Poetry

At the beginning of the semester, I had the opportunity to attend the debut OU lecture of Dr. Alexander Jabbari in the Farzaneh Center for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies. Dr. Jabbari was recently hired as a faculty member in the College of International Studies and his intriguing debut lecture on the coevolution of Persian linguistics and culture was both informative and interesting.

 

Since I have a limited knowledge base of Persian history, this lecture was especially interesting to me. Dr. Jabbari began by tracing the literary history of Persia (modern-day Iran) back to the 17th century. Like many other languages, Persian was heavily influenced by nearby languages, especially Arabic and Urdu. However, in the last two centuries there have been localized movements to “purify” Persian and return it to its roots, sans other linguistic influences.

 

Similarly, Dr. Jabbari tracked the cultural shift of Persia in recent history. Although modern-day Iran is the world’s only theocratic republic and is infamous for its religious conservatism, ancient Persian poetry is counterintuitively liberal. Dr. Jabbari gave examples of romantic, mysterious, and even sometimes homoerotic Persian poetry. This openly sensual and romantic style was gradually replaced with a more reserved and bashful tone in the 1800s, when wide-spread dissemination of European culture and ideals began. It was through “Victorian-ization,” Dr. Jabbari argued, that the cultural context of Iran began to change.

 

Not only did Dr. Jabbari’s lecture give me a new perspective on Iranian history in an innovative and convincing argument, it was also pertinent to current events. Instead of reinforcing stereotypes of Iran as a one-dimensional, barren land with depressed men and oppressed women, Dr. Jabbari highlighted the interconnectedness of Iran’s history and political trends with those of other areas of the world. Instead of judging a country by the current political climate, Dr. Jabbari’s lecture took an objective stance and traced Persian literary and cultural tradition in its entirety.