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Why Medical Anthropology Works and Why More Countries Should Be Implementing It

For years, most nations have struggled to create an equal and effective healthcare system for its people because of their failure to recognize inequality. Many have instead chosen to fall into a “fee-for-service” system in which the neediest are ignored and the necessitiesof only the rich are met. Therefore, in order to properly understand the disparities found in a community’s experience of disease and its access to health care, “one needs a deep understanding of history and political economy” (Paul Farmer). Now, more than ever, with increasing mortality rates and global dissatisfaction toward the approach of modern medicine, the need to look at a people’s social, political, and economic history in order to properly treat has proven to be crucial. Such a holistic approach is what ultimately stands in the way of universal and effective health care and proper diagnosis of the issues at hand: social and economic inequality.

         Amid the global confusion of how to approach community health disparities and unequal healthcare models, Medical Anthropology suggests that in order to create an efficient healthcare system, social and cultural constructs of society must be understood. From the social origins of illness to the stigma and fear surrounding certain diseases, this perspective turns a critical lens toward our society’s institutions of power that continue to further disease and poor health. For example, in its analysis of industry contribution to pollution and the serious health disadvantages it creates, the Medical Anthropology perspective attributes such lasting calamities to social and economic hierarchies that have prevented the poor from bettering their health.  Thus, it is clear that for healthcare to reach those most in need, a major shift is needed in how we assess and define health. Anthropological discourses, like Medical Anthropology also encourage countries like our own to understand health concerns not only in a medical context but in the context of social, economic, and political inequalities. Implementing such strategies will thus help us hold various institutions of power responsible for their actions, and it will inspire nations, cultures, and communities to re-think and recognize health concerns within their diverse social contexts.  

         As an Anthropology major myself, I think a discourse in which diseases and public health issues are viewed both biologically and socially is crucial for the betterment of our society, both on an individual and community-based level. Although it is a newer perspective, it is also encouraging to see more countries consider social contexts and inequity when studying various diseases and how they affect their people!

Mental Health in South Asian Community

Talk of mental health in the South Asian community is largely nonexistent. Despite assimilation and adoption of a more American lifestyle, many South Asian households encourage the taboo that surrounds depression, suicide, and mental illness. Told to “tough it out”, to “stop showing weakness”, many first generation South Asian children grow up with a warped sense of what mental health is and why it should be prioritized. Young, Indian women especially, have shown to have poorer mental health because of such discrepancies in their upbringing. Although this is a prevalent issue among millions of families both in the U.S. and around the world, there is little research on how familial ignorance of mental health negatively impacts young women. According to an Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum report (APIAHF), South Asian Americans have had the lowest rate of utilization of mental health services. This has perpetuated the fear and shame that is experienced by first generation South Asian millennials when they seek treatment, therapy or help. A major reason for this is the intergenerational culture differences that occur in many families. In order to understand why this frequently occurs in South Asian families living in America, it is important to explore how the South Asian community has defined itself within the contexts of mental health, seeking help, and vulnerability.

Tummala- Narra (2018), discusses the numerous challenges experienced by South Asian immigrants and their children, that prevent this group from prioritizing their mental health, especially among South Asian women. Although acculturative stress and trauma exist within this community, it is rarely acknowledged, leading to the universal denial of such mental health outcomes, both in previous immigrant generations, and current ones. It has therefore been recommended that a restructuring our understanding of immigrant mental health is required in order to better define and diagnose the issues of the South Asian American community. 

As a first generation, Indian woman myself, I have witnessed firsthand how destructive the invalidation of mental health in my community has been. As I complete my project on this topic, I hope to investigate how taboos surrounding mental health have been normalized, and why intergenerational stigmas have encouraged poor mental health in young, millennial, Indian women. In order to present how severely stigma functions in American-Indian communities.

Tummala-Narra, P., & Deshpande, A. (2018). Mental health conditions among South Asians in the United States. In M. J. Perera & E. C. Chang (Eds.), Cross-cultural research in health, illness and well-being: Vol. 1. Biopsychosocial approaches to understanding health in South Asian Americans (p. 171–192). Springer International Publishing.

The Lack of Higher Education of Girls in Rural India

Although access to education has been considered a basic right in India since 2009, many girls in rural India are not attending higher education, or are dropping out of school before completing their primary education. In Rajasthan (state in North India), girls are three times more likely to not attend school compared to their male counterparts (UNICEF Report 2019). A UNCRC report submitted in 2000, stated that girls living in rural areas of India, are constantly deprived of adequate access to basic health care, nutrition and education. The report even found that families preferred to educate their male child rather than their female child. Evidence for this claim was supported by the statistic that almost one third of the girls who enter formal education in class I (grade 9) drop out before entering class II (grade 10) (UNICEF Report 2019). 

UNICEF also reported in 2017 that illiterate women in rural areas have especially high rates of young pregnancies, infant and maternal mortality, and overall morbidity. UNICEF’s report states that there are many “barriers to girls’ education, including poverty, child marriage, gender-based violence, and gender biases”(UNICEF Report 2017). Research also suggests that in many rural communities educating girls is looked down on, and assumed to be a useless endeavor, since many girls are married off before they turn 18. 

In its National Plan of Action for Children (2016), India has asserted that its priority areas are health, nutrition, education, water, sanitation and environment. This plan gives special consideration to children in difficult circumstances and aims at providing a framework, within which equal and accessible education for all can/should be implemented. The Indian government has also repeatedly urged all state governments to prepare plans of action for children within their territories, while taking into account the regional and cultural disparities or stigmas that exist there. Although on paper, the Indian government seems to have created multiple ministries and programs (Ministry of Women and Children Development, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan Education Initiative, National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level) to combat the high percentages of elementary and high school dropout rates among girls, there is very little evidence that suggests the country’s efforts are effective. As of 2018, Rajasthan, India’s 7th largest state, still has the lowest literacy rate for women at 46% (rural Rajasthani men- 76%). Despite slight increases to Rajasthan’s literacy rate over the years, research has shown that almost 37% of literate women had dropped out of school before completing 8th grade. 

As dropout rates among rural Rajasthani women continue to increase, serious modifications must be made to India’s approach toward universal education, through both policy change and cultural de-stigmatization. School conditions, house work, the child labor industry, and stigma surrounding menstruation, are just a few of the reasons  rural women are kept from obtaining an education, whether it be elementary or higher education. Therefore, without intervention, these issues will continue to prevent Indian girls, living in rural areas, from obtaining an education and living longer, healthier lives. 

 In terms of effective solutions to the state of girls’ education in rural areas like Rajasthan, the NGO Jolkona suggests that while the “government continues to work on a large scale with little success, NGOs and nonprofits can work at a local scale where a significant difference can be made”. The Veerni Project (a local Rajasthani organization) for example, has played an important role in increasing the number of adolescent girls enrolled in secondary education. By establishing several secondary education centers in Rajasthani villages, and by providing community development programs for the women of these villages, this NGO works to empower young girls to pursue an education and continue their schooling. Thus, “mobilizing communities” in support of girls’ education in rural India and have made substantial improvements in not only educating girls in proper facilities, but also in “educating rural families in the positive impacts of educated daughters”. 

Educating young women not only empowers them, but also improves the quality of life of a woman’s family and her community. Although we consider the right to education a fundamental and basic right in America, it is important to understand why countries like India have been unable to set a similar standard in their urban and rural regions. As the gender gap in education continues to widen in rural India, the social and cultural beliefs and practices, as well as the infrastructural issues that prevent girls from obtaining a proper education must be considered. In order for more rural women to more readily negotiate structures of power, according to the critical feminist perspective, they must be educated. However this is not possible until India and other countries with such education gaps, reassess funding allocations, societal stigmas, and international pressures.

HIV/AIDS and the Disease Experience of Women

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), HIV/AIDS is a major public health issue that has affected millions of lives worldwide (33 million as of 2019). As a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, HIV specifically targets CD4 cells and integrates itself into host DNA via reverse transcription. Although the symptoms of HIV vary, the infection severely weakens the immune system, leaving an infected individual vulnerable to a plethora of infections and complications. AIDS is a later, more advanced stage of HIV infection, which occurs when HIV positive individuals develop “long term clinical manifestations” (cancers, infections). In 2015, the Center for Disease Control stated that those who partake in “risky behaviors” that include having unprotected sex and sharing needles/syringes, or live in communities where many people have HIV infection, are more likely to be at risk for infection themselves. 

Recent research also shows that women are more disproportionately impacted by HIV infections and are typically infected at “rates twice that of young men”. In 2017, it was found that more than 7,000 young women (15-24 years) became HIV positive and that 1 out 5 HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa impacted young women. In America, 57% of HIV positive individuals were African American women, 21% were white women, and 18% were Latina women. As a public health issue, with undeniable links to politics, socioeconomics, power, and culture, HIV continues to disproportionately affect millions around the world, especially disenfranchised women. However, despite its threatening global presence, discrepancies between public health and biomedical research methods have prevented a thorough understanding of why this group is severely disadvantaged when it comes to HIV infection and transmission.

As a serious public health issue, HIV/AIDS has become a social and cultural phenomenon that is undoubtedly linked to social constructs like power, gender, socioeconomics, race, and politics. However, discrepancies between public health initiatives and biomedical research have prevented a thorough understanding of why certain groups are most at-risk, despite numerous preventative methods. Though disenfranchised women are not part of the traditional risk groups (white men, white, gay men) associated with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., their experience of the disease must be evaluated, in order to further understand and potentially reassess who should be considered high-risk. The relationship between HIV/AIDS and stigma must also be considered when analyzing the disease experiences of such a rapidly infected demographic. 

Although advances in biomedical research and technology has helped us better understand the scientific technicalities of diseases like HIV/AIDS, there are still significant gaps in HIV/AIDS research that can only be filled by humanities-based frameworks. Consequently,  combining biomedical research and the perspectives of social sciences like Anthropology and Sociology, will allow for a better understanding of HIV/AIDS, and how it affects, and is affected by an individual’s race, gender, and class. 

Richardson, E. T., Collins, S. E., Kung, T., Jones, J. H., Hoan Tram, K., Boggiano, V. L., Bekker, L. G., & Zolopa, A. R. (2014). Gender inequality and HIV transmission: a global analysis. Journal of the International AIDS Society, 17(1), 19035.

We’ll Have Beautiful Mixed Babies

You know,
Like how Goldie locks wanted everything
Not too hard, not too soft,
Not too hot, not too cold,
But just right.
Let’s do the same to these here kids.

You know,
Not wanting them too dark
But they can never be too light,
Not wanting hair too hard,
But it can never be too soft,
Just right…..according to who?

You claim it’s just what you like,
Just what you want in an unborn child,
No immediate concern for a safe, healthy delivery
But did your preference deliver the green eyed,
Loose curl,
Non dark eared baby
that wasn’t you as a baby?
If not,
Is it really a mixed baby?
Is it really beautiful if it looks like you?

No!
Because you don’t,
And never will like what you see in the mirror,
Why would you want offspring
That’s just another mirror
You’ve been meaning to genetically toss?
No,
No,
No,
No,
No!

It’s My Preference

To have Her
Is to have the Woman of my dreams
An Ivory Empress
Born in an Ivory tower
Born to an Ivory Emperor
Who’s riches I want to possess.
And I feel in my squalor as a man
That I want to up my roots,
Leave my detestable land,
Dust myself of the soot of blackness
Leave what I see in the mirror behind
To possess Her,
And the Men who I really want to be
But I don’t tell my Empress,
Tell my Emperors that,
But I run to the women who birthed me,
The children I made bastards
And tell them that it’s my preference.
I’ll immobilize ebony and her children
their gears locked in destitution
So they remain silent,
As my resolve is to nest in the bosom,
Shine the cobblestones leading to whiteness,
Because that is what I want to possess.
And I’ll tell you as I shine Ivory shoes,
Jest for an Ivory court,
Raise the mixed conquests with my Ivory Women
That it’s my preference.
Though their Ivory foot will always be on my neck
Though they shoo me to the kitchen,
Though I am the heel they scuff,
I prefer it this way,
My badge of honor.

What do you suppose my Ivory Masters are laughing at?

What Is Misogynoir

It’s when you’re too kinky for the White Women
And too kinky for the Black Men
Who join forces to call your crown kinky, nappy,
Call your features undesirable,
Call your spirit undesirable
Too strong to waver, bow, submit.
It’s when as a Black Woman,
No one sees your femininity
But can undermine you ‘cause ain’t you a woman?
And no one wants to see color
But can still undermine your skin
‘Cause ain’t you Black?
Yes Misogynoir is a double edged sword
Where both sides are sharp
And seek to cut you down a size
For being Black,
For being a Woman,
For being a Black Woman.

May I burn my cape?

College Life

From firsthand experience. [English]

Hello guys! I hope all of you are doing okay. When I started college I was super lost. I remember that if it wasn’t for a group of friends I met at the Borough of Manhattan Community College Learning Academy, I would have been alone and feeling like I didn’t belong. This inspired this project. The podcast focuses on resources, tips, and strategies that will be extremely helpful for you to succeed in college. This is the first episode!!! And my first solo podcast ever! Here, I briefly talk about Choosing Your Major, Academic Advisement, CUNY First, Financial Aid, and Scholarships. In the following episodes, I will discuss time management, stress, taking tests, and much more! There is also a Spanish version of it coming up soon!! Stay tuned!

It is available here: https://anchor.fm/carolina-rosa-martnez

Music credits: Two Feet, Felt Like Playing Guitar And Not Singing. Brian Tyler, Neela Drift.
Not for profit podcast project.

Rose is…Rising

First and foremost, I am so sad I missed Steven’s session in February. Every time I hear him speak, I learn something new or gain a new perspective. We entered Futures Initiative the same year and have been connected ever since. He’s not just doing the work, he’s living the work. I am consistently inspired by him and I know that session was on fire.

For my project, I am most excited about unearthing what life was like for freed and enslaved people in early New York. Since I am writing a fictionalized account of Rose Butler’s life, I need to understand what Black life was like in the 19th century, which hasn’t been an easy feat through the years of my research. Information about Black life in the North is scarce because of the popular narrative that slavery was rare up here. However, New York is a direct product of slave labor involving both Blacks and Natives, which means there has been rich and abundant Black culture here since the 1600’s. I want to delve into that for my project.

I’ve already found a few sources of information directly related to Rose Butler. I first started this project in 2018 with my Media and Production class. We decided to do a “haunted New York” theme for our project, and through our research we found our Washington Square Park used to be some gallows. We then found out a young 19-year-old enslaved woman named Rose Butler was the last person to be hung there and decided to focus on her story. Initially, we could only glean so much information about Rose and her crime. We focused mostly on slavery in early 19thcentury New York and why Rose would have been compelled to try and kill her “masters”. We found a poem written about her, as well as some blog posts here and there which go into the early gentrification of Tribeca and the areas surrounding Washington Square Park.

There is far more information and content out about Rose Butler now, including a short film by an accomplished Black actress and writer. The interdisciplinary project required that we produce our media script, create an advertisement campaign, social media profiles and the like. A lot of our information and sources were compiled online, and it makes me wonder if we inspired this latest interest in Rose Butler’s life.

Her Wikipedia page offers some information in the body, but the sources provide more valuable resources. It brought me to the textbook, In the Shadow of Slavery: African-Americans in New York City, 1626-1863 by Leslie M. Harris, which provides an incredible amount of insight into slavery in post-Colonial New York. I plan on using the information in this textbook to establish the physical, political and social setting surrounding our girl, Rose.

Harris reveals that Butler was said to be a thief. In fact, the catalyst to her crime was a conflict between her and Mrs. Morris about her stealing. A minister who attended to her speculated at her involvement in an underground crime network. I’m not necessarily inclined to believe this minister, simply because free white men could openly and brazenly lie on any Black person at this point in history. At the same time, Rose lived and socialized among free Blacks and could have wanted to taste what she was, in all honesty, entitled to, especially as an unpaid laborer. Either way, I plan on using this information in my characterization of Rose. I think the idea of her stealing adds some depth to the situation, and could be a conduit to explore the sociopolitical reality of New York at the time.

I found the most exciting and salacious information on Newspapers.com. I clipped a few articles about Rose Butler that were primarily in gazette-type publications. In her book, Harris points out that Rose Butler was an impactful figure of her time, a representation of the “dangers” of emancipating New York Blacks too quickly, too soon. However, I was surprised to see the New York Times or any other reputable publication did not cover her crimes or execution. I looked NYT articles from the week of the signing Emancipation Proclamation; no coverage of it was front page, nor did it address the freeing of enslaved peoples. Considering at the lack of coverage of both incredibly newsworthy stories, my tenuous conclusion was that white New Yorkers at the time weren’t willing to confront the reality of slavery in their city, nor were they willing to make any kind of substantial change until they felt comfortable.

The text reads: Case of Rose Butler.
Rose – (a colored woman) was this day brought up before the Supreme Court to receive sentence of death, for the crime of arson. She had previously been tried and convicted by a verdict of the jury at the Oyer and Terminer, held in November last, before chief justice Thompson.It appeared, from her own confession and other proof, that she had set fire to the house in which she lived, late at night, and after the family, consisting of her mistress, two young ladies, a small child who slept with her mistress, a young gentleman and a boy, had retired to bed, and were all asleep in the upper parts of the house. The combustible materials and the fire were placed upon the kitchen stairs by the wench. She then retired to bed in the same room where the boy slept. The fire soon kindled and made considerable crackling and smoke. The boy was alarmed by it, and twice asked Rose if he should go and call up Mr. Morris. She told him to lie till, as the noise he heard was only the cat jumping about[.] AT last he did go. Mr. Morris was awakened, he alarmed the rest. The fire by proper exertions was put out, after consu-[cont.]-ming three steps of the kitchen stairs.

The articles provide much more insight into her crime, the family structure, and her role within the home. In one article, the author writes “We are happy to learn, that coloured people of this city, being convinced of the enormity of the crime, are generally reconciled to the fate of Rose Butler, and it is hoped that no offence of a similar nature will ever again occur.” I wonder how much of that is true. I’m sure many Black people were offended by Rose’s crime and felt she threatened their progression into greater American society. However, I’m also sure many Black people were offended by the institution of slavery itself and felt that Rose made the right choice. Harris mentions that some publications hinted at groups of Black people were sending letters to the Mayor, threatening to repeat Rose’s crime.

Leslie Harris’ textbook, the other sources mentioned in the newspaper articles as well as the sources listed on Wikipedia are strong and provides a roadmap to other sources I would like to look into. My next step is making an appointment at the New-York Historical Society library to look at Rose’s affidavit and some pieces of witness testimony.

March !

Hello everyone and anyone reading this blog post. It means a lot to me. It feels like a long time since I’ve written a post even though it’s been a month or so. 

I am grateful for this opportunity to always have a place to go to read other people’s thoughts on prompts or life and share my own! Man have things been rocky these past couple of weeks. Besides participating in the panel a few weeks ago (one of the top highlights for me this year so far) I have been struggling. Everyone can attest to being drained in this pandemic. I’m no different right now. I have hit a wall this semester for the first time in my academic career that school isn’t a safe haven. Previously in my life, I could lean on the fact that I could see friends or be assigned something that would change my perspective or give me insight into new things. My esteem for learning has shifted into just trying to make it through each day in this Zoom life we find ourselves in.

I recently read a book called Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo + Me by Ellen Forney for my Literary Genres class. I really loved this memoir. Long story short, the author has Bipolar 1 and detailed her journey. After years and years of struggles, she finally found her balance. This was very inspiring for me because that’s something I’ve been struggling with for a year really.

 

I look back at the post from September and the tone has definitely changed. While I still feel all the sentiments about me having hope and being cheerful, my tank is on E right now and that’s okay. I have been a workhorse all my life and it’s time for me to take graceful strides instead of charging. Didn’t expect a horse metaphor in this post but let’s keep going! I have been recently setting up everything I need for the big project at the end of the year. I plan on doing a podcast. The image for this podcast was very different in October. I envisioned it to be a lot of inspiring content with a focus on being a reminder for people to keep pushing and find inspiration. I have since changed the focus to be an expressive outlet which I can go to like this blog. I wanted to do something to inspire others but not it will be to keep myself inspired. I have hit this wall and want the podcast to be a way to overcome it while also flexing my creativity. Last year my project was an Instagram page where I answered questions with various photos and I really loved it. I want that same energy with this podcast. I want to still be a motivator but also speak on things happening to me at every scale. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, I can refine what I want the message to be and how I will execute it. I think I would love to include anyone on it who is willing and also would love to be on anyone else’s podcast if it’s for a project or etc.

This blog post has been a little bit of everything and I love that. I want to end it by answering our formal prompt for this month “Who is a Woman who inspires you”. For me, it’s three beautiful ladies that have changed my life in so many ways. The three women are my two older sisters and my mother. These three women raised me with love and helped me build my character. My mother instilled in me not only responsibility because I was the only male in the house, but she made sure to still protect me any chance she could. It didn’t matter that I was a six-foot giant, she was still Super Mom for me standing at five foot five. My two older sisters gave me love and many valuable lessons on how to treat people and myself. The three of these women changed my life in so many ways. One of them literally gave me life. They inspire me to be true to myself and continue fighting no matter what. I’m dedicated to always making them proud. If I could pay them for the sacrifices and time spent on me, I wouldn’t have enough money. The way I can pay them is to pay it forward and remember to always tell them they are appreciated.

 

Thank you for reading this if you got this far,

Thank you for just clicking anyways.

Be safe everyone

25 to Life: A Character Monologue

My name is Jeffrey, and I hope I don’t make it to 25. Bold, right? Yeah, I know. But I always told myself that at 25 years old that that was the year things would change for me. The year I get married and have kids. The year I would travel the world. But all of that doesn’t seem possible now. Why? Because I am a black man, and I am hurting. You know, not a lot of people have an idea what it’s like being a black male in today’s world. I can’t simply because it’d be pages long, but I’ll shorten it. You see, I am a monster to most people that never met me. I walk down a white neighborhood, and I get looks from whites like I’m a bad person or something, like I’m going to rob them or kill them or rape them or kidnap their children. They clutch their bags and tell their children to walk on the other side and away from me. The truth is that it hurts more than one could ever know. I tried everything to make them stop giving me looks like I’m not human, but nothing works – anime tees, hands by my sides – nothing. For this very fact, I wish to marry a light-skinned woman so my son can be light like them and not get those looks. And I know what you’re thinking, and yes, it is true – I’m a bum.

I’ve hurt people in my past that I can’t forgive myself for. I emotionally abused a girl I loved because I couldn’t control my anger and sadness. That was 7 years, by the way – just in case you wanted to know. But enough of that story.

I feel alone most days, especially now that I’m at some fancy college. Maybe it’s cause I’m much older than most of my classmates – I don’t know. Maybe it’s the pressure I feel from those around me to succeed. I mean, I’m not as smart as others, especially those who start out of high school, and I’m only good at math – so there’s that. I try talking to people, but most times, it fails. Maybe I’m too open, or maybe I’m just a bum… I can’t decide. But I don’t want to feel like a bother to others, so maybe that’s why.

I have let God down more times than I can count, and I know God forgives me for my sins, but I can’t forgive myself.

I wish I didn’t have this pressure on me. Here I stand at 24 years old and three freshly minted quarters, and 25 doesn’t seem all too appealing to me. It’s just another year knowing that I failed and that my blackness makes people uncomfortable and that I won’t find the love of my life and that I am a disappointment and that I’m letting others around me down and that I’m a bum – emphasis on the bum part. But hey, at least I got career aspirations, right?

I want to live, trust me, but I just wish time would stop and allow me to experience life just this once and not be a bum while doing it – emphasis on the bum part.

Applying to Grad School? Read This!

Applying to graduate school could be an incredibly taxing process. But fortunately, you have me to walk you through it- your fairy grad mother (I just had to). Okay, so let’s dive right in!

Planning is essential to surviving this process. Ideally, I would say to start exploring programs of interest a year before applying. The summer before applying, however, is way more crucial in the planning process. Take the summer break to start drafting your personal statements. Also, start thinking about how you might financially take on the costs of graduate school and research scholarships and grants.

What I found amazingly helpful was creating a spreadsheet. Open a google sheet and consider having a column dedicated to the following information: list of the schools and programs, required documents, required tests, application deadlines, and any other vital information you may want to include.

So let’s talk about the letters of recommendation. You might need 2-3 letters but be sure to inquire on whether the program specifies that a portion of the letters come from certain people such as professors. Identify potential recommenders early and make a list of 4-5 people you could ask to write the letters. When you find people to write those letters you must give them more enough time to write them. I would say to allow them around a month to complete them and possibly even send them a reminder email a week before the month is over. Your recommenders might specify the type of information they need from you to write the letter (e.g., a draft of your personal statement and resume) but, it wouldn’t hurt to create a package with any information you think might be helpful.

Last, but in no way least are the personal statements. Constructing personal statements are arguably one of the hardest things to do, at least in my opinion. It’s strongly recommended that you tailor the personal statements specifically to the schools/programs you’re applying to. A few ways to make the statements unique is to focus on the different courses, distinguished faculties (and possible research supervisors), and program design and structure. You’re going to want to make sure that these statements are top tier like it needs to scream, “YOU CAN’T AFFORD TO NOT ACCEPT ME!” To perfect these essays you must have them revised over and over again. Take advantage of the writing services on campus. Also, elicit help from career advisers and professionals in your prospected field of interest. Don’t rush it and take the time to plan out what you want to convey to the board of admissions, and be sure that your essay addresses the prompt sufficiently.

A few last thoughts:

  • Plan ahead. Last-minute planning will bring unnecessary stress and might even jeopardize your chances of getting into your program of choice.
  • Pay close attention to deadlines and thoroughly research the program(s) you’re interested in.
  • Attend as many info sessions as you can before you start the application process.
  • Don’t forget to apply for financial aid and brainstorm ways in which you can finance your higher education.

Best of luck!

2.3 Million Americans, Adrift on the Carceral Archipelago

“Prison is a second-by-second assault on the soul, a day-to-day degradation on the self, an oppressive steel and brick umbrella that transforms seconds into hours and hours into days.” 

-Mumia Abu Jamal

A horrifying statistic that always sits in the back of my mind is the fact that there are currently 2.3 million Americans in prisons as of 2020, and this doesn’t include the number of people who are being held in ICE detention centers. To put this in perspective, 2.3 million people would fill up Madison Square Garden ninety five times, the Barclays Center one hundred times, and Metlife Stadium twenty four times, numbers that seem almost impossible to visualize. 

In our CUNY Peer Leaders session on mass incarceration, presented by Laguardia College’s Professor John Chaney and co-founder of Black Crown Media and activist Steven “Flow” Pachecho, we discussed its devastating effects on BIPOC, most especially Black and Latine communities. 

Mass incarceration is a result of a cornucopia of laws and institutions that find their foundations in white supremacy and exploitation of the poor and working classes. When discussing incarceration, it’s important to recognize that policing and incarceration are so deeply entwined together, as their existences are contingent upon the other. With the loophole in the 13th Amendment that justifies slavery so long as it is a punishment for an individual who is duly convicted of a crime, the genesis of American police forces that sought (and still seek) to serveil and brutalize Black people, and the United States’ insidious affinity for carceral language and punitive logic to create a sense of “criminal inclination” and “otherness” against BIPOC communities, we have entered into the age of a new type of enslavement: mass incarceration. 

Professor Chaney explained that a significant number of currently incarcerated individuals are suffering from mental health issues, which is devastating information when you realize that mental health programs in NYC receive an 816 million dollar budget while the NYPD receives a staggering 6 billion dollar budget, which is almost 7 times more than the funding for mental health resources. A lot of the discussions around prison abolition and reform and the necessary steps needed to halt the epidemic of mass incarceration are centered around reallocation of funds, so it makes you question why the city spends so much money on riot gear rather than services meant for the betterment of people living with mental health issues. 

Steven “Flow” Pacheco also presented on the cyclical nature that stems from parole and probation and is fed back into prison. He mentioned that most of the people who are in prison are there for violation of parole, a system that disregards the way it’s meant to be carried out and consistently gives power to the people in charge. Parole is not freedom, as it creates this concept of an open-air prison. Individuals on parole are subjected to just as much surveillance, brutalization, and manipulation at the hands of parole officers as they would if they were confined in a facility. And breaking parole, which can be something as minor as failing to inform the parole officer that you’re buying groceries, automatically sends the individual back to prison, leaving them victim to the never-ending cycle of the carceral continuum. The prison and policing system is interconnected, and it’s a difficult system to break away from, especially if you are poor and/or are a BIPOC. 

It goes without saying that mass incarceration in the United States is an epidemic that needs to be stopped. It’s a new type of slavery, one that so many Black, Latine, poor, and working class people face devastating effects from (and it’s not their faults either). Professor Chaney and Flow Pacheco’s presentation was super thought-provoking and called attention to so many of the corrupt systems behind mass incarceration. What stuck with me the most was the line typed by Mr. Pacheco:

“We are Kalief Browder.” 

Kalief Browder was a Bronx man who, at the age of 16, was convicted of stealing a backpack and held at Rikers’ for 33 months, much of which he spent in solitary confinement, starved and brutalized by his correctional officers. It took the justice system three years to decide that there wasn’t enough evidence and drop the charges made against Browder before he was allowed to come home. In his process of reentry and return to the community, he ended up going to Bronx Community College, a part of the CUNY system, just like all of us. This made the story a lot more personal, because he could’ve been sitting next to us in class. He received exceptional grades in the classes he took, wrote papers about his experience and the need for justice, and is often remembered by those close to him as being surrounded by books and papers at his kitchen table. Unfortunately, Kalief Browder took his own life at the age of 22, the devastating aftereffects of solitary confinement and abuse at the hands of the state playing a significant role in the deterioration of his mental health. The justice system did nothing to seek justice for him, and ended up taking his life. 

So where do we go from here? What are the solutions? The answers to these questions can seem so difficult, but I think a good place to start is being educated on the hows and whys of mass incarceration and the carceral continuum. It can help us understand how to combat these institutions that directly target specific groups of people, and prevent further harm to these individuals, because we are worthy and deserving of doing more than just existing. 

We are Kalief Browder. 

Reflections on Mass Incarceration with Steven Pacheco and Dr. John Chaney

DRAFT

Our February 2021 session, “Mass Incarceration with Steven Pacheco and Dr. John Chaney,” introduced me to the work and perspectives of these advocates for incarcerated people and have the lived experiences themselves, and I’m grateful I attended this lively and candid discussion. My biggest takeaway from the session was the exploration of how we can all express solidarity with the people unjustly subjected to this oppressive system. When I think of the worst atrocities the world experiences, with mass incarceration among them, I think of our failure to enforce human rights and if there is any way to correct that. I think how we respond to human rights atrocities deeply reveals who we are as individuals and as a society. How is it that we can know of mass death, starvation, enslavement, and abuse and be either so helpless or so apathetic to it all? Perhaps even more disturbing, how is it that we don’t even know about these issues? I think about the social and cognitive challenges we face when expressing solidarity for the people that need it the most. I think about how often I fall short of this lofty, elusive, and perhaps basic goal of being an enduring, consistent and resilient ally for humanity’s essential rights. Is there even a way to truly advocate for a collective goal without eventually succumbing to the ego? 

The philosopher Bertrand Russell said to “make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life.” While I believe it is a fool’s errand to transcend the ego and that there can even be a healthy coexistence with it, I do believe Russell’s insight is both important for cultivating solidarity and exposing the limits of it. Viewing mass incarceration stereoscopically with tangible and abstract lenses, broadening our abstract, and theoretical knowledge of mass incarceration can help one become a better advocate for the people subjected to its injustice, but humans must also contend with cognitive challenges of being tribal creatures. We relate to people and stories, and more so for people we identify in our tribe. From an individual perspective, it is hard to sustain collective action for the plight of those suffering human rights atrocities because we limit our sustained aid efforts to those we consider in our tribe.

In theory, penal systems should function as a barometer of a society’s commitment to human rights. Ostensibly, people that enter the penal system have committed crimes that justifies a punishment that limits their freedoms to only the rights that are bestowed or given to individuals just for existing; therefore, whatever rights a society acknowledges or gives to an incarcerated individual represents the essential value they believe people are worth. Of course, this does not reflect reality. This logic rests on premises that societies either do not live up, deliberately ignore, or does not promote greater societal welfare; namely, an equitable and uniform interpretation and application of the law, the fairness of the laws themselves, the utility of punitive justice for societal welfare, and the commitment states make to acknowledge and respect human rights.

What Children’s Books Teach Us About Race

In the Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo tackles powerful themes such as power, conformity, and race. One of the key issues that concerns me is how rats are persecuted and confined to the underworld of society, and how their plight mimics the globalized oppression of people of color, specifically the African diaspora in the United States. There is a critical ideological element that governing bodies utilize to differentiate and categorize civilized bodies from non-civilized bodies, informing the way in which foreignness/blackness is interrogated, terrorized, and categorized. The rats in the text are symbolic of how prosecuted groups in Western societies are marginalized, thus such groups develop coping mechanisms and strategies to survive. Through systemic exclusion, racism creates “rat nihilism”, paranoia, and anti-self-issues which Roscuro develops as a strategy to cope with rejection from his society.

In the article, “Critical Race Theory Speaks to the Sociology of Mental Health: Mental Health Problems Produced by Racial Stratification,” Tony Brown lays out how racism and racial stratification are intrinsically linked to mental health. The author uses critical race theory in attempts to explain the way in which racism has negatively impacted Black individuals social, economic, political, and family life. This is an approach that is more concerned with placing critical race theory in dialogue with the sociology of mental health, and Brown hypothesizes five mental health issues that can arise because of racism. The problems tied to mental health that Brown identified were nihilistic tendencies, anti-self-issues, suppressed anger and inability to express oneself, delusional denial tendencies, and extreme racial paranoia. The nihilistic tendencies Brown addresses deal with how non-white communities engage in risky behavior, such as getting involved in a gun/knife fight, using alcohol/drugs excessively, or attempting dangerous behavior. The anti-self-issues that point to mental health issues are a Black person feeling estranged from other Black people and wanting to be Caucasian, and go to such lengths as bleaching one’s skin, or trying to be white by adopting white middle class behaviors, etc. The suppressed anger expression behaviors that point to mental health are Black people not expressing their racial views, pretending to be nice to Caucasian to get ahead, holding on to their anger and getting mad at themselves for not vocalizing their feelings. The last category, extreme racial paranoia, focuses solely on Caucasians and how “extreme racism” is a mental health issue and those indicators would be a Caucasian person feeling sick when around Black people, and when Caucasians telling black people to go back to Africa. I believe that these mental health disparities can be mapped over to rats, and how Chiaroscuro negatively responds to his oppression through rat nihilism and anti-self-issues.

In an act of deviance and resistance to rat conditioning, Roscuro makes a proverbial journey to the Kingdom (akin to Icarus journeying to the center of the sun). The sun in this case would be civilization, where the gatekeepers of civilization are not accepting or welcoming of rats. The purpose of Roscuro’s life was to answer his inner calling and inclinations that led him to the upstairs world of civilization, culture, beauty, music, and those things associated with light. Roscuro resisted his conditioning that told him that he was only his environment, and resisted Botticelli’s advice to only aspire to be a rat, whose purpose was confined to darkness/savagery.

Roscuro is unsuccessful in trying to recklessly defy his limitations and he is crushed and after his skirmish that leads to the queen’s death. DiCamillo notes, “In the darkness of the dungeon, he sat in his nest with the spoon atop his head. He set to work fashioning for himself a regal cape made from scrap of the red tablecloth. And as he worked, old one-eared Botticelli Remorso sat next to him swinging his locket back and forth, back and forth, saying, “You see what comes from a rat going upstairs? I hope that you have learned your lesson. Your job in this world is to make others suffer (Dicamillo 120).” The rejection that Roscuro experiences causes him to develop a nihilistic attitude because he cannot go against the prevailing beliefs and attitudes that construct rats as bad/undesirable.

Chiaroscuro’s anti-self-issues manifest early in the text when his self-conception begins to bump heads with his culture’s beliefs. When he gnaws at the rope like he is instructed to by Botticelli, he is apprehended by Gregory the jailer, who admonishes Roscuro and burns off his whispers with a lit match. This flame introduces Roscuro to the light, and radically alters his perception of his limited reality. DiCamillo interjects, “From that moment forward, Roscuro showed an abnormal, inordinate interest in illumination of all sorts. He was always, in the darkness of the dungeon, on the lookout for light, the smallest glimmer, the tiniest shimmer. His rat soul longed inexplicably for it; he began to think that light was the only thing that gave life meaning, and he despaired that there was so little of it to be had (DiCamillo 88).” Roscuro’s destiny is bound up in challenging his environment and the prevailing society’s belief about the status of rats, just as Despereaux challenges his fear-based culture. Roscuro is distinguished from his counterparts in other ways. He uses lofty, eloquent speech unalike his rat counterparts, and he can empathize with the plight of others. When he is addressing the prisoner, who sells his daughter for mere trinkets,

Roscuro is confronted with the man’s prejudice despite his genuine curiosity. Roscuro indignantly interjects, “Come now,” said Roscuro. “Close your eyes. Pretend that I am not a rat. Pretend that I am nothing but a voice in the darkness, A voice that cares. (Dicamillo).” Roscuro wants to overcome and transcend his rat heritage, so that other people can see him for who he truly is, an empathic being who desires to be surrounded by light.

In the end, Roscuro is not able to express his anger outwardly towards those who have humiliated him and caused him suffering. The real target of Roscuro’s anger is the system of oppression that prosecutes the rat community. Instead, he declares to get revenge on Princess Pea, because of the nullifying power of her gaze and its power to vilify, which shatters his sense of self.  

The Tale of Despereaux. Turtleback Books, 2015.

Brown, Tony N. “Critical Race Theory Speaks to the Sociology of Mental Health: Mental Health Problems Produced by Racial Stratification.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, vol. 44, no. 3, 2003, p. 292., doi:10.2307/1519780.

Revisions, reviews and revamping

Wow, it’s my first time blogging in 2021! A lot has taken place in my life since the time I posted something on our blog. Personal and otherwise. As my title suggests, I’ve reviewed what I want my project to look like at least a handful of times. I’ve created a podcast with my friend Nick and we are indefinitely taking a hiatus as of now. We might pick it back up later HOWEVER, it looks like it’s going to be only after the presentation in May. We’re just not in the right place in life right now where we can give mental or creative energy to it. THAT BEING SAID! I still have LOTS of ideas for the project that I want to launch for this year. Please be patient with me! My plate is full with school, work and world events in general. I truly appreciate my parents, friends, teachers and the coordinators of the CUNY Peer Leader project of their patience, support and understanding.

My project is going to be centered around documenting the world through my eyes from sketches, photos, screenshots, and paintings – mixed media that I will be presenting as a Powerpoint in May. It will largely center around the military coup in my home country of Myanmar. We are going through the worst political event in our history in decades. The military is now in charge, once again, and declared a year-long state of emergency since February 1st. The military government is responsible for numerous human rights violations, including murder, rape and uprooting the Rohingya people along the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh. This was in 2016. Nothing has occurred to hold them accountable so far; nothing that really made much of a difference. The democratic party won by a landslide in 2015 and the military reluctantly withdrew its power to wreak havoc on the Rohingya. The leaders of the military knew this horrendous act would ruin the reputation of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD). The international community then condemned Suu Kyi for denying that the military ever committing genocide. She cannot publicly announce anything as the military has the means and power to cause a million more deaths and destruction. People from other countries do not understand that the military formed its own totalitarian government since the death of Suu Kyi’s father, General Aung San. The general is known as the “Father of Burma”, who won independence for Myanmar from the British. The people are technically without a military or police that is willing to sacrifice and protect them. Burmese citizens are not allowed to carry firearms. How can we protect ourselves? The NLD cannot protect us either, they are without a military. Instead of providing substantial aid, the United Nations revoked Suu Kyi’s Nobel Prize and international organizations withdrew her human rights awards. I find it immensely frustrating with the world leaders; there is so much happening behind the scenes politically and economically that is causing more and more deaths in Myanmar.

What’s happening right now

With the police, the military is marching on the streets of my hometown, Yangon, shooting down peaceful and unarmed protestors. There has been 16 deaths (possibly more). I would like to take this space to honor those who died violently in the last month.

Feb 8, ’21: A man named KoKo Oo (AKA Ko Na’ Pwar) was run over by a car and killed on the spot in Mandalay. (+1)
Feb 15, ’21: A boy named Nay Nay Win Htet was brutally beaten while he was on the night patrol. He died a day later. (+1)
Feb 16, ’21: A military jeep ran over a boy named Salai Khwar Kone from the Chin tribe after being released from jail because he participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement. He didn’t survive the accident. (+1)
Feb 17, ’21: Two children died in a fire intentionally caused by the military at a refugee camp in Hpa-An, Kayin State. (+2)
Feb 19, ’21: A young woman named Mya Thwet Thwet Khine got shot in the head by police officer KoKo Lwin in Nay Pyi Taw. She suffered from left brain dead and her family decided to pull the plug on her on Feb 19, 2021. (+1)
Feb 20, ’21: Seven young men were fatally shot during the crackdown in Mandalay. (+7)
Feb 20, ’21: A defenseless neighborhood watch member was ambushed and fatally shot in the head in Shwe Pyi Thar, Yangon. (+1)
Feb 20, ’21: Two male adults were run over by a car and killed in Inn Sein, Yangon. (+2)

For Burmese people who are living abroad such as I, all we can do is raise awareness through protesting, posting on social media and fear for our loved ones still in Myanmar. I wish more than ever that I can stand alongside my fellow Burmese people right now in this historic event that is going to change our futures forever. This is all I can do and I wish I could do so much more.

A crowd of people standing in the Downtown area in Yangon protesting against the military junta that has taken over the country. The stupa of the Sule Pagoda can be seen standing in the distance.

Credit goes to ‘Myanmar Now’ on Facebook.

One Night in The Bronx…(A Prelude to the Screenplay)

The title is inspired by Regina King’s, “One Night in Miami”, a film chronicling a night shared by Mohammad Ali, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X. This story of one night in The Bronx isn’t nearly as iconic, but maybe it could be one day if hindsight is 20/20. That’s why Elijah Marcelin’s story begins 34 years from now, it’s 2055, and he’s sort of in the middle of a job interview. In fact, the interviewers are politicians, the room is on the United States Senate floor, and his job application is for Director of the FBI. It seems unlikely Marcelin’s nomination will have any strong opposition until a junior senator inquires about the night of one historic protest turned violent in New York City. Rumors fester surrounding Elijah’s time as a 19-year old activist in the summer of 2020, which raises questions he refuses to answer in detail. Questions become accusations amid polarizing Senate hearings.

Evidence is gathered, witnesses are called, and the events of one night that haunts Elijah’s future begins to unravel before the eyes of a nation.

Sidebar: Thanks for reading. I’m a little late to the party, but let me know what you think!

Heavy by Kiese Laymon- A Brief Discussion

Heavy by Kiese Laymon- A Brief Discussion

I read Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon and here are my thoughts (with a couple of spoilers).

Trigger alert: This piece contains some mention of eating disorders, abuse, and sexual violence.

So before reading Heavy, the memoir by Kiese Laymon, I had watched a few interviews with him describing the book and his thought process. My favorite interview though, was the one he did with a YouTuber named Joulezy because I think she was able to connect with him in a very genuine way. The authenticity he showed in that interview was also very prominent in this book and was the vehicle that carried some of the key themes of black masculinity, gendered and raced violence, sexuality, eating disorders, and abuse. When I first starting reading it I felt as though I was in the midst of a deeply personal conversation and I wrote in my notes, “I’m tearing up. I feel like I’m opening the curtains to the lives of individuals I have not earned the right to.” There was this clear feeling of intrusion. That feeling did subside a bit as the book continued but it was still uncomfortable to read especially in the beginning.

Laymon is essentially writing this book to his mom as a tell-all account of all that he has been through throughout his life. From the very beginning though, he makes it known that the relationship he had with his mother was very intimate in ways that were comforting at times but also quite distinctly unhealthy. For most of his life, it was just his mother and him, although his grandma did play a very important role. His mother was a professor who always encouraged him to read and so from a very young age, he was able to gain these skills that helped to advance him academically. However, his mother represents what I believe to be for many black children, the pressure to have to be excellent and to work twice as hard.  It’s that love that parents and guardians try to express but it’s that love that feels prickled with pain.

As the book continued we see that Laymon takes on the role of being the man of the house (as a boy) which is where I think he became entrenched in an emotionally draining relationship with his mother. I couldn’t help but wince during certain parts of the book, which I suppose was the author’s purpose, because I felt the heaviness in his experience of growing up as a black boy in the south. In one of the chapters, his mom called him his best friend and those were one of the parts that we were able to see that “okay yeah this isn’t supposed to be like this.”  This creates a weird relationship between them because at the same time his mother is also disciplining him in an abusive way.  It becomes kind of difficult for Laymon to understand the type of relationship they have because he still feels the need to protect and care for his mother. This showed the complex ways of loving a black woman while being a black man.

He details his experience of being overweight and not loving his body but also wanted his body to experience being touched. He spoke briefly in part about being prompted into having sexual relations with an older woman, who was actually at the house to babysit him and feeling rejected after seeing her engaging with someone else. His response though was to blame himself for being fat.  I thought it was interesting to see how most of the times when he described his experiences with wanting to or actively engaging in intimate relationships with women he also mentions food or his body. We see this connection he had with food and his body progress throughout the book, as he goes to college and begins to start aggressively dieting and exercising. He becomes so obsessed with being as thin as possible that he manages to injure himself. It’s quite apparent that he is suffering from an eating disorder possibly body dysmorphia but he’s eating to avoid dealing with the trauma he has experienced. Food becomes his therapy. His obsession with food is very present throughout the entire book and is a motif that enhances the weight of his experiences.

This book doesn’t end with a “kumbaya” moment but it ends more so with an acceptance of what it means to be black in society. He’s owning his experiences and he’s lingering in the realities of those experiences and the experiences that other black Americans like him have faced and continue to face. 

This was a very condensed run-through of the book so I would strongly encourage you to read it. It was such a great read and Kiese Laymon is a dynamic author so I know you’ll enjoy it. Also, please feel free to leave any book recommendations in the comments!

The interview I watched!

The Future is Queerer

Reflections & Q’onnections

Two years ago I sat in the bullpen of John Jay’s student council. I exhaustedly slaved over project after LGBTQ+ support project. I wanted so badly to change something. The Student council president Amber Rivero nodded and held my chicken scratch notes: “No these are good Sam, yea you can do this keep fighting you and others deserve a seat at the table here.” I felt vindicated in my work, I craved more I wanted more. “Yea man nothing is stopping you just do it start it up.” Said my cohort leader Jon Salamak. I want to thank Student Academic Success programs Jay Chopra for helping me come up with a training program for my mentees.

https://youtu.be/2i_HPKBlQtE

Developing the program wasn’t easy, oftentimes I felt frustrated trying to figure out the path that the program NEEDED to take rather than where I wanted it to go. A lot of LGBTQ+ folx face a lot of interpersonal violence, mental strain, or this feeling they have to overachieve to be competitive in higher education. These are the types of things they don’t talk about when developing LGBTQ+ programs and how varied your obstacles are going to be. I wanted to tear my hair out sometimes I felt like I couldn’t get my mentors to get things done but that’s not on them. About 2 of my mentors went homeless and 4 got hospitalized for different reasons. It was frustrating, I’d be waking up at 8 am on Sundays trying my best to figure out last-minute changes. Most of my Sunday was just rallying everyone together to be ready for the morning and afternoon sessions. It was good having two sessions it let you understand when things needed to change or sometimes the energy difference meant you had to change up your facilitation style.

In the end, it paid off. All of the mentees created these really great projects! I mean I couldn’t imagine anyone failing them or these projects not getting these huge spotlights. These were topics I myself didn’t even think of! It blew me away.

We had this great graduation ceremony in gather.town and everyone had a great time. We were huddled together and like a real community and the smiles and feels were so genuine through the screen. The mentors loved their mentees and even though I personally felt I wasn’t rallying them enough in the end I found that that personal connection was still happening. These mentors called and stood by their mentees sides 24/7 and when mentees stopped showing up they were disappointed and hurt. That’s a realness you don’t get just anywhere.

In the end, Q’onections caught everyone on campus eyes they loved that grassroots action we took. The Center for Student involvement and Leadership fought to fund our mentors. I handed off the program to my club coordinator Jon and now it’s his forever. It’s a mainstay in John Jay and fully funded by a stipend. It actually pays to be queer now. What a world.

I think my favorite thing to come out of Q’onnections is all the feedback from students. One mentee named Eashan told me constantly about how he told his friends to join and wanted loved the program. When he finished he said:

“Q’onections has given me a sense of community and belonging. The program has allowed me to expand my knowledge on what it means to be apart of the LGBTQ+ community. Being a part of something with people who have dealt with the same or similar situations has allowed me to feel more seen. To future mentees, if you want to be an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community this is the place to be. You’re understood and seen by folx just like yourself and its truly a beautiful experience.” – Eashan [Queer Mentee]

The future is bright for mentees

Q’onnections Morgan Q’onnections project was on athletics inclusive, she went on to present her project to President Mason and is now head of the Student Pride Network at John Jay.

Why do you feel it’s essential that John Jay have a queer mentorship program like Q’onnections?
Going to college is hard. Queer individuals in general face additional difficulties that are hard to understand for those who haven’t experienced it. Q’onnections goes above and beyond your typical mentorship program. The program creates a space where mentees can receive guidance and learn more about their unique identities. It goes beyond academics and specifically addresses issues faced by LGBTQ+ individuals. In our current virtual world, and with the current political environment, queer students are feeling emotionally exhausted. Q’onnections offers students a safe space where they can be their authentic self, be supported and can learn and grow without any fear. Q’onnections is about love, support, and acceptance.

“Q’onnections is about love, support, and acceptance.” —Morgan DeGlopper

For students who are considering booking a meeting with a mentor, what do you want them to know?
It’s not as scary as you think it is. I know before joining Q’onnections, I was afraid I wasn’t knowledgeable enough about LGBTQ+ issues to relate. I was scared that the mentors would look down on me, but that wasn’t the case at all. The mentors are great at meeting you where you are and making you feel comfortable. They have a wealth of knowledge and have been training hard to make sure they can help. Don’t hesitate to reach out.

After the success of Q’onnections and their mentees went on to advocate for an LGBTQ+ center and policy reforms.

Here we see the presentation our students made for an LGBTQ+ center and the other project proposed by the team. As of currently 2/27/2021 nearly 80% of these projects are nearing their completion.

The Future

Honestly, I don’t know where Q’onnections or the new LGBTQ+ center are going to end up. I suppose I have mixed feelings about writing a page in John Jay history, you know I get to say that now. I created a milestone, I am in the history books for that one in a way. I don’t know where those particular projects will end up, they are officially apart of the community, and where they end up depends on the dedication they have to the projects themselves. What matters is our voice is heard. This isn’t the end for my projects, I’ve taken up a chair seat on a committee in USS now, of course, I had to! Our projects are CUNY-wide pronouns, databases, and a how-to guide for students who want to bring an LGBTQ+ center to their campuses. That’s big you know! We all have a stake in that one. I want to thank Dr.McSpadden from Bronx Community College for taking me under their wing as a mentee this past month. We are working on a dissertation for the argument of an LGBTQ+ major at John Jay, we think the campus is primed for it. I also want to thank Mitch Draizin for creating the CUNY LGBTQ+ advocacy academy, with my current acceptance into the program, Draizin asked that I bring my experience with Q’onnections to the advocacy program itself and help define the curriculum. I will help in the first cohort of LGBTQ+ advocates for CUNY and the chance to develop with fellow peers is both a dream and anxiety-inducing. I am hoping these kinds of projects gain traction nationally and internationally, I hadn’t considered the international audience here, but if we’re talking about equity for education I want to see more. I’d like Q’onnections to help bolster a LGBTQ+ college pipeline for NYC and international students. I can’t say what future I am looking forward too with my project because I am not sure where it really lies anymore. I think in a way I am my own project now and I need to hone that.

The (Not So) Itsy Bitsy Spider of Surveillance

Various discourses following the 2016 election postulate that America is edging fascism. To unpack the vicissitudes responsible for this deduction, we must investigate the influence of the internet. Particularly, its ability to regulate our cultural framework while augmenting the dominance of the American empire. Since its inception, this esoteric realm of the wide web has been replete with spiders. Observing this clandestine blueprint exposes that alas, the internet is another mechanism for the state. Through profoundly pernicious surveillance, institutional figures augment their digital and tangible power. It was Karl Marx who discerned capitalism to be a vampire. Within Marx’s blood-sucking Capitalism, a new terror emerges, that within a spider’s web of surveillance.   

Anthropogenic creatures execute draconian measures to monitor this digital space. Parsing niche spaces through obscure anonymity, the state employs technological surveillance as a tool to besiege adversarially erudition. Upon detecting anti-capitalistic desires, these venomous figures entrap and annihilate leftist channels. The media is congenial with these 8-legged freaks. As channels amplify the ostensible threat of communism, they instill a prevalent and divisive fear. The inevitable consequence of an amalgamation of interests is a sort of cultural amnesia. Fear manifests as the symbiotic relationship between these entities renders a harbinger for communication and freedom.

Neoconservative users of the internet are awarded a greater range of platforms to organize. Across various channels, the alt-right is galvanizing with an unprecedented audience. As observed through forums on Reddit and horrifying reply guys on Twitter, this group believes they are the voices being repressed through the media. This sense of alterity gained momentum when Jack, the CEO of Twitter, deactivated Trump’s account. Parsing this phantasm of the infringement of conservative voices reveals a dialectical lack of awareness over the surveillance of spaces. Nevertheless, the epistemological loop of error continues for the alt-right.

While few would dispute the de-platforming of authoritarian fascists, Jack’s decision appears to be a performance. This exercise in establishing boundaries and tolerance occurred years after it should have. Thus, cynical leftists remain ambivalent about Trump’s banning. For many years we have witnessed numerous comrades being removed from the platform. The site removes accounts for acts as futile as making jokes about Nancy Pelosi. The juxtaposition of who has endured repercussions from posting ideas institutes a deep frustration. Eventually, these scenarios implore one to grapple with the implications embedded within the first amendment. The forrmer 45th President utilized Twitter as a tool to encroach his enemies, disseminating incorrect information to millions of followers. Poisonous venom leaked from the user’s fangs. It is too late to alter the course now.