Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Reminiscing the University of Pennsylvania

The opportunity that I was given to attend the University of Pennsylvania went by faster than I ever thought it would. The day I left felt like the first day I stepped into Philadelphia was only yesterday. I walked into the Quadrangle not knowing what I would expect. The only thing I knew were the people I came there with – Allonna, Chris, and Diana. I was released in an unfamiliar environment to adapt, learn, grow, and be strong representatives for our area. As I returned, I became more developed in my mindset, personality, beliefs, goals, and overall character from when I left the Bay Area. If it weren’t for the University of Pennsylvania, I don’t believe I would be as exposed and understanding to the world I have been living in my whole life.

From the Beginning
From the moment I had stepped onto the campus, I felt at home. The program directors, other students, and the dorm counselors made the UPENN campus feel extremely welcoming. All, were friendly and filled with eager and excitement to be and have us there. There were plenty RC’s around who helped us with our bags and showed us to our dorms. We were given tours of the Quad, campus, and “home” area to familiarize our surroundings. This hospitality and their positive attitudes made adjusting to the new area comforting and easy. The vibes and mood I sensed of the campus allowed me to feel comfortable being myself and opening up to new people. No one was judgmental and accepting of one another. It wasn’t difficult to grow so attached to the university.

At UPENN, I was always encouraged to experience new things. I was given plenty of opportunities to make new friends, know the people in my dorm, and have space to myself to settle into my dorm; we had ice breakers for an entire week. There were activity sign-ups for throughout the week with a variety of choices to choose from. The activities ranged from Phillies games, to the mall, ice skating, laser tag, magic garden (garden filled with mosaics and flowers), movie dates, duck tours, spa nights, talent shows, cheese steak days, trivia nights, and so much more. With all of these activities to choose from, it was hard not finding something that you would be interested in or even trying out for the first time. I am a major fan of baseball and the San Francisco Giants. Experiencing a free baseball game at a beautiful stadium could not get any better than the opportunity PENN had offered me. Along that trip, I also met a new friend from San Jose who’s a Giant’s fan too – we still keep in contact today.

Aside from the spectacular events they had lined up for us, the university had entrusted with us a great amount of independence. UPENN treated me as an actual undergraduate student enrolled at the school. I was living on the campus, I was expected to handle all my business, and I could walk anywhere within the “home” area and throughout campus with the comfort of knowing I was in a safe environment. I never was once scared or felt as if I were in danger or at risk. It was always best to go places with a buddy, but being alone never bothered me. I was independent and free – to an extent. I was in control of what I wanted to do, when I would do something, where I pleased to go, etc. I was still required to follow within the program’s boundaries and rules, but this opportunity gave me a taste of the college life and real world. I never really had this much leisure and independence back home, so when I first found out this would be my lifestyle for three weeks, I did my best to enjoy and take advantage of it. I explored the campus and home area, tried new food restaurants, and did my own thing. Getting a feel of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, I knew I belonged there.

With this great amount of privilege, I had at UPENN, came an equal amount of responsibility and trustworthiness that coincided with it. All students were required to go to class on their own, get up on their own, complete all assignments, be in your room by a certain time, follow all of the given rules, etc. Upholding my end to these requirements was not hard, at least I thought.  Before I came to the University of Pennsylvania, I was naïve. I convinced myself that I could handle anything that was thrown my way, including the college life. Being at this prestigious university, I received a major reality check throughout my time there. I juggled between class, homework, and blogging along with giving myself enough time to participate in activities and get enough sleep for the next day. I had underestimated the energy it would take me to handle all of these efficiently.

Class was at least six hours each day with an hour in-between for lunch. The homework consisted of article readings, watching Ted-Talks or videos, and responding to discussion questions in relation to the topic of the day as well as a final capstone project with scholarly research. Trying to complete my daily responsibilities along with getting enough rest and down time was harder than I had anticipated. I began working through a system to where I would sleep for a few hours then stay awake the rest of the night completing my all my work and blogs before class started; it wasn’t the best system. This worked for the first week but after that, I began knocking out right when I got to my dorm room until sign-in time near 11:00 PM. As I got back, I would knockout again. Because I didn’t learn how to manage my time and allowed procrastination to get the best of me, I began falling behind in my blogs. I was aware of the challenges I would have prior to actually attending PENN when it was explained to me, but I never fully grasped the understanding of it until my warning became my reality. I, of course, got back on top of this...eventually. From what I learned out of this is experience, I will use best to my advantage in preparation of my future. This includes focusing my attention on skills such as time-management, multitasking, researching, and balancing out my budget. This lesson was only one of many I would have coming my way.

As I first started the Social Justice Research Academy, I thought I knew about Social Justice and the real things occurring in society – I didn’t. I was ignorant, more than I thought I was. Each day we unpacked an intriguing new topic ranging from the death penalty, LBGTQ+ community, race and policing, disabilities, social impact, violence against women, religion and discrimination, environmental injustices, poverty and housing, and the list goes on. We went into depth of what each topic is, why it’s considered as a social justice issue, viewed films about these issues, what causes these societal problems, etc. We participated in interactive activities such as listening to one another’s thoughts about these concerns and discussed ways that we could actually change this within our society in discussion groups, built our own ideal education system, taught the class about gender, sex, and sex category. Outside of class, we were taken through different parts of Philadelphia where we visually learned about these issues in museums dedicated to the topic we were learning about or different neighborhoods where these injustices are occurring in. The program helped us learn more about each other and the areas and backgrounds in which we all come from.

To the Middle
If I was not a part of the Social Justice Research Academy, I would not have fully understood the meaning or the history tying into today’s problems or even the real meaning of some of our topics. For example, the discrimination leading back toward the segregation times had, and still does, a major effect to housing locations and conditions of where people of color were living, the majority of them in poverty. Moving into a better neighborhood was made difficult due to the pricing and the violence used against them. In third world countries, young girls are getting kidnapped, raped, then married to the abductor as a part of the culture there. When you’re disabled, the real struggle is not just dealing with your disability, but the way in which you are treated by society for having that disability or accommodating to a world that is not accessible to you. Gender is a way of identifying with how you perceive yourself or who you define yourself as while sex, is the physical genitalia you were born with, and sex category is the male, female, transgender category in which you are labeled in society. These few things are only scratching the surface of what we uncovered.

Throughout the program, there has been a few things that stood out the most to me. As we learned for three weeks in class, we had touched upon the areas of privilege and social impact. Many of us are unaware of and don’t appreciate enough of having the things that we do or for who we are as individuals. There are things that put you at an advantage or disadvantage within our society that may or may not be able to control. Those things may be the gender you identify as or sex you were born, your race, social class, income, and the list goes on. For those areas you are at a disadvantage at, you may have wealth somewhere else such as a family, home, higher education, etc. A lot of these things can be turned beneficial depending on the choices you make. Every choice that we decide upon has an effect on not only our lives but the rest of society, whether it’s large or small. A decision you may view as so small or insignificant may lead to a great deal of change later on down the road. Even I had not realized this before until it was broken down right in front of my eyes. Learning this has made me feel more appreciative of my life and resources I have I never considered before.

Without the support of Professor Hansen, along with the TA’s, dissecting each issue with a guest speaker, I would not have absorbed so much knowledge and gained a deeper understanding of the society we’re living in. Towards the beginning of class, all of them would rotate days to instruct or break down a topic before going into further detail about it. This way of teaching allowed me to follow the lesson plan with ease if I had little knowledge of the topic itself. They have exposed me to so many different ways of learning and perspectives that I have never even thought of before. They encouraged me to think with an open mindset, use different methods of problem-solving, become interactive, and find my own definition of what social justice is.

During my time in the Social Justice Research Academy, I learned about the definition of Social Justice. The reality of this definition is that there is no specific meaning to these two words – we create our own meaning. What people see as a social justice varies on perspective of that individual along with what they choose to do about it. It’s not something everyone will agree on or even believe in and is realistically, something that seems futile to achieve. But, if we do not give any attempt to change this, these results will remain that way. My definition of Social Justice means balancing out our society to where everyone has access to resources, opportunity, education, affordable living areas, medication, health or support services, food, etc. or to where everyone has a fair chance at surviving. It will be challenging trying to achieve this with history being known to repeat along with long-lasted societal constructs and stereotypes, but a small effort can influence a change to be slowly implemented.

I have been educated greatly in ways that I could not have received from a more fitting university than UPENN. The many lessons I was taught, were instructed within the boundaries of the classroom as well as beyond the historic walls. Those lessons reflected on life, society, and the pursuit of seeking justice for all as we were promised back when this nation was formed. I chose to participate in the Social Justice Research Academy to learn these life lessons and find ways to apply it to my life and the ones surrounding me. With the knowledge I gained from this program, I know I can make an impact in the world in some way. This school, and program, has helped further guide me along the path in pursuing my passion and hopefully transforming into my future career. I longed to expand my horizons and actually open my eyes up to the things occurring around me that are overlooked too often or are underrepresented, and give those people a voice that the world will hear. Thanks to the University of Pennsylvania, the Social Justice Research Academy, the ILC, and others included, I am one step closer to achieving this.

Each day I spent at UPENN, I did my best to make each day last to its fullest extent. Day by day, the time had just been disappearing faster than I could even blink. I still cannot believe my time there has vanished so fast. I still reminisce on the little details of the campus, program, Philadelphia, and the people as if I were still residing there. I developed a deep attachment and love for UPENN that grew immensely after each day. If I stayed longer, I probably would’ve had attachment issues by the time arrived for me to depart and return back to my original home, the Bay Area. Looking back at this adventure of a lifetime, I already know this is the highlight of my year and I am proud to state, Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, will always be my other extended home.

Through the End

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Discovering Too Late

*note: this blog is an entry from 7-20*

With having only one more day to prepare for our final capstone projects, Professor Hansen was generous enough to actually dedicate the beginning of the day for us to focus on them. During this time, we could go to the library, get help from Professor Hansen or the other student teachers, or just finish up what we have already started independently. I took this opportunity to get permission from my group leader, Yun, to go to Biddle Law Library in search for cases in relation to domestic violence or even help from someone who works there to steer me in the right direction.

Biddle Law Library is located past the PENN bookstore and along Samson St. I found out how to get there earlier in the week so I could access this help sooner. The time it took me to finally figure out that the library was within the law building, it was almost closing time and the only people who could help at the Information desk were gone for the day. I was annoyed and disappointed. The library itself is spacious and beautiful. My eyes had lit up the first time I stepped through the doors; I was dumbfounded. It made me sad that I only entered this library the last week I would be here. I wish I had discovered this library sooner; if I had, most of my free time probably would have been occupied there. Leaving was as difficult as finding the library. It took me five minutes of wandering around to figure out that I couldn’t leave the way I came. I asked another college student for help getting me out of there and he showed me the way and understanding my confusion being my first time in the library. Next time, I for sure made it my goal not to make the same mistakes twice.

I walked up the limestone steps and into the grand building known as the Law School. I turned left past the security desk and down the hall passing the brick walls with hanging paintings of past deans of the school and floors made of tiled limestone. Step by step, I walked up the staircase leading me to the entrance of Biddle Law Library. I opened the one way doors and went straight to the information desk.

Entrance of Biddle Law Library
The librarian there was busy typing away on his desktop before I had approached him. Polite and pleasant, he asked me what I needed help with. I explained to him about my capstone project and what information I was seeking and asked him for help trying to access it. Naïve as I was, he simply told me that I would not be able to access specific cases in relation to domestic violence and testimonial from children because they’re to be sealed from the public because of their age. After being in Law and Justice for two years, that had completely slipped my mind making me feel so stupid since I already knew that. The librarian had instead, showed me to a nearby desktop and showed me how to access other scholarly sources using the LexisNexis Academic search engine from the PENN Library website. He explained to me which sources to look at and which would be most helpful to me then showed me how to limit the results so all that appears will be useful to me. I was completely grateful for his help because I would not have figured that out and gained all of my information without him. I thanked him and continued along with my research.

I spent about thirty minutes doing research on the library desktop before I had to return back to class. I was reading through so many articles that I began to memorize everything as if I already knew it prior. My time there was peaceful and productive to my research gaining valuable information for the project such as how Florida is putting in effort to build resource centers for battered women, to educate parents on how to take care of a child, community centers, and domestic violence centers to help lower the rates of child abuse and domestic violence within the state.  I wish I could have extended my time longer there but we were all required to meet back at McNeil by 11:30 AM and it was already 11:15 AM. I closed all of my tabs and headed out of the library.

Hall of  Penn Law School Displaying Portraits of  Past Deans
I knew it wouldn’t take fifteen minutes to make it back to class but I wanted enough time to stop by the farmer’s market on the way back. I haven’t been to a farmer’s market in at least a year. I loved going there so much back home that I would go all the time with my dad early in the morning; a rush of memories started flooding my mind. The best part about farmer’s markets is the freshly made food that is sold by different prospering companies. There is always a variety of things being sold like fruit, vegetables, baked goods, etc. This farmer’s market was set up along the sidewalk of the block with Urban Outfitters and the PENN Bookstore. It was smaller than what I was used to seeing but was the highlight of my day. While I was there, I purchased a chocolate muffin from a vendor selling baked goods such as bread and cookies. He had a good sense of humor turning my question of “Can I buy something?” into a light-hearted joke. I don’t know why I ask the obvious questions but it just comes out my mouth. As he handed me my muffin, I asked the times that the small market was out here selling. He responded nicely telling me that they were there every Wednesday from 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM. The same saddened feeling I had when I found the Biddle Law Library so late in my time here at PENN returned back to my body. Everything I had come across was all for the last time and made me long for it even more. I made it my goal to go to a farmer’s market when I return home. I thanked the man and wished him a good day and returned on my way back to class.

Walking down Locust Walk, I encountered Diana on her way back to McNeil too. She had come from Van Pelt Library conducting research for her project as well. She told me it was difficult concentrating on her project in McNeil so she asked her TA, Diamond, to go to Van Pelt. Understanding her situation, I told her I’m the same way as we walked up the stairs back to our class on the second floor. As we entered the room, almost everyone was still working their project. After about five more minutes, the professor had asked everyone to wrap up what they were working on and get ready to head out for lunch. Many of us worked up an appetite doing such consistent and studious work we were ready to chow down. Eager to eat my muffin, I unwrapped the chocolate starch and broke a piece off and popped it into my mouth. It was delicious. I shared some with Diana as we headed down to Houston Market for lunch with Chris and Sam.

The rest of the day went by in a breeze. From our discussion groups to the end of class, it all ended before I knew it. All that I could think about was how our final days were drawing near and we would be leaving within just a few days, that, and my capstone project. This entire trip has felt as if I had dreamed it all in my mind. I needed to make every day last as long as possible while I’m still there. For the rest of the night, I  dedicated my time to do more research on my project so I would be fully prepared for my presentation in two days. 

Learning Beyond the Eyes

*note: this blog is an entry from 7-19*

In this world, whether we can see it or not, there are people who are struggling because of an impairment of a major life function. The impairment itself is not the whole reason to the hardships they go through, but because of the way they become treated by the rest of society for having this impairment. This a major social justice issue that is going on today that many people are unaware about. Professor Hansen had introduced us to this topic today of disabilities along with our guest speakers of the day, Dr. Kelly George and Ms. Clare Mullaney.

Dr. George and Ms. Mullaney, had a PowerPoint open and ready to go once they had walked through the classroom doors along with a lesson plan for our entire class. Both ladies had strong energy in their voices along with passion for what they do to help bring justice to this group of people; I could tell this was about to be a lively session. These ladies started us off with explaining to us why disabilities are a social justice issue and what it is exactly. These groups of people often become exception to civil rights verses other groups of people and are treated unjust. The word “disabilities” holds multiple meanings to it.  People use it as a polite word, legislative term, to refer to someone as “different” or as a community of people. These people are often restricted to be known only for their disability and not who they are as a person. Many choose preference in being referred to as disabled people because it identifies them as a person but describes the disability as a part of them.

Slide From Dr. George and Ms. Mullaney's Presentation
As a way to get us to comprehend the information being delivered to us and so we don’t fall asleep on them. We were to define what it was to have a disability, an ability, and to be normal. In ten minutes my hand was flowing jotting down my own interpretations of what each of these were to me. I defined disability to be under represented. There are disadvantages to where people with these may not be able to perform the same way as others and also classifies them into a select group to where people deem them as helpless. They become treated in isolation from society or as if they’re fragile glasses that will break in one touch. For those with disabilities that are not physical, it’s hard finding the right attention or care for them. The main reason I chose under represented was because of my mom. She has back problems and a heart condition which prevents her from working or being eligible to find work with ease. She is fighting Social Security for aid that she needs but has not been able to receive. This is not fair representation from the government for the people like my mom; I’m sure that there are even more people out there who are fighting for similar reasons such as my mom.

I defined ability as an attribute or capability. People with ability have the privilege of having a functioning body system – mental, physical, emotional, etc. There are no restrictions to what you’re capable of doing as an average person. Your legs can help you walk, your eyes give you vision, your ears give you hearing, your mind or ability to learn is not obstructed by a condition; you have ability. Even without a 100% functioning system, you can still have ability. You may be capable of playing multiple instruments, or painting as if you were Picasso or Van Gough, or even having a voice as powerful as Whitney Houston; that is ability.

My definition of normal is versatile. Everything within the world is constantly changing including what is considered normal. Back in the 40’s it wouldn’t be normal to see a biracial child or couple, it wouldn’t be normal to see same sex couples, it wouldn’t be normal for women to be working; today, all these are something you could see almost anywhere and among society. Something normal is based on perspective, exposure, and the likeliness of seeing it. The Bay Area is a diverse place and an area that I feel has great acceptance for others. Coming to the East Coast, I have met many people with different views that I am not used to seeing and I would consider absurd but would be normal to them and the area that they come from.

"I Know" Imitation of Blind Writing
Ending our intriguing lesson, we returned back after we finished eating for our fieldtrip to a museum called, “Common Touch” that focuses on the history of the blind. Through walking and the subway ride, it took us about twenty minutes to get there. I was in awe as I observed my surroundings. We had crossed into the Gayborhood of Philadelphia and it looked the same as it did in the images as our previous guest speaker, Mike Krasulski. There were rainbow crossroads, underneath street signs, and flags throughout the streets. It was creative and beautiful to be in sight of.

Finally arriving at the Library Company, Common Touch Museum, we had turned into a small room where we were all seated in a circle. There were two speakers who reviewed to us about what disabilities was and what this museum was about. Having already learned this before we had left it seemed a bit redundant to have the same speech given to us. Instead, our two guides had discussed with us about life was like to be blind. Our particular focus was while competing in sports. If a track runner was blind, they would run with another person in front of them guiding them where to go. Because they are attached to one another, the movements that the person in front of them makes the blind person can feel. For example, when the person in front jumps over a curb or turns a corner, the vision impaired person can feel the turn or small leap.

Owl Created by Ms. Jayne
Our group was then led into another room with different displays protected in glass case barriers showing to us different forms in which the blind had learned. Everything in the exhibit was created by Theresa Jaynes, the museum founder. Not knowing the alphabet, the blind had learned to write their own version of it based off of what they imagined the structure of each letter within their mind. Ms. Jaynes had used large metal letters spelling out the phrase, “I know” and displayed some of the hand-written entries from blind people showing some examples of what their alphabet had appeared. To learn about the density of an object, they used large wooden shapes and figures and held it in their hands feeling its weight, shape, and size. On a small table in the corner of the room, laid several different objects where we were able to pick up and flee for ourselves. When they were taught about animals, they used their sense of touch to feel different animal figures to give them an idea of what each had looked like or features and characteristics each had. A papier-mâché owl was created with soft feather-like fabric along the exterior with a sharp wooden beak resembling how it would feel if one were to touch it.

My favorite part of the museum was guiding my eyes in the glass in a back room at the different passages of Braille. There were prayers in Braille plastered on the wall along with the braille alphabet and word contractions, along with books with three-dimensional letters, maps, and images. As I was reading along each display, Professor Hansen had pointed out in one of the labels that Braille was originally made and used in the military to send secret messages to and between stationed troops during the night or bases. Learning this gave me inspiration to want to learn braille on my own. It was soon time for us to depart this unique museum and back to the university. We thanked Ms. Jayne and our other guides and embarked our way back to our summer home. 

The Lord's Prayer Displayed in Braille 

Expression of the Oppression

*note: this blog is an entry from 7-18*

Returning back to class from an unforgettable weekend, I was a bit worn down, but ready to be mind-blown unpacking our new topic of the day, the Death Penalty. I didn’t know much about what was going on with the death penalty in the real world. It wasn’t until John took us to DC towards the beginning of the ILC journey, where I first heard about what was going on by standing in front of the Capitol Building listening to a man share his thoughts about the death penalty in front of a small crowd for about five minutes. It was interesting and eye-opening to how our criminal justice system is working. I was prepared and intrigued to hear about what our guest speakers, Marc Bookman and Dana Cook had to say about this controversial issue.

Death Penalty Protest  *link to death penalty protest in DC*

Mr. Bookman is a lawyer himself. He started us off by breaking down his interpretation of the death penalty to us in an explicit way. The death penalty itself is simply just a legal outgrowth of lynching. When the death penalty was first in establishment, it was used to target black men with accusations of raping white women. Even today, the results of the men on trial still remain the same. What doesn’t help this scenario is the horrible representation that the defense has to support their case through trial and the lack of resources focused on the cases.  Many of the convictions that go through are done with ignoring the presented evidence, with no DNA evidence, or no evidence at all. Most of the lawyers who defend these types of cases have no experience or knowledge in regards to it. They can be trained in an entirely different field and still be eligible for these cases; all they need is to manage six cases win or lose. The way this system was made was only for money saving purposes; why invest time and money into doing it right the first time when cutting back won’t cost a dime? The reality of this mentality is immoral and contradicting. The amount of money that it takes to give a lethal injection to a person costs two to three times more money than it does to keep them alive for life sentencing. The judges or authority figures who push for the death penalty more than life sentencing are only trying to make themselves appear tough on crime for the sake of their jobs and not justice.

Miss Cook is a mitigation specialist. Her job is to find out information or the story of her defending client as well as their mental or psychological state of being. Doing this helps bring a stronger defense to the trial by showing what type of person the defendant is giving the jury and judge some background about them. They also talk to family members and those close to the defendant to uncover this information. A lot of the times, the information found out is not pleasant or something that the defendant would not want people knowing, like sexual abuse. The mitigation specialists are the real help towards the defense. They coordinate with specialists or experts to run tests, give testimony, and evaluations for the defendant along with developing a strong evidence based case for them. These specialists are more trained than most of the lawyers that are given to represent, without them, the defendant would be at an even further disadvantage.

Guerrillero Okulto Performing
Our speakers ended their presentation with a story from Mr. Bookman. He was watching the Lion King with his six-year-old daughter. Scar had killed Mufasa and tried framing Simba so he could claim to become the leader of the pride lands. The only way that this could be settled was a duel between the two off them. Simba knew he wasn’t the one responsible for his father’s death but had to continue with the traditions. Towards the end of the movie, Scar had almost fallen off the edge of the cliff and with one push he could’ve been killed. As Simba moved closer to him, Scar had told him to do it, to push him off. Simba refused proving that he wasn’t a killer like him. Mr. Bookman had asked his daughter before this part had shown asking her what she thinks that Simba should do, push him off, or let him live. His daughter replied saying that he shouldn’t because killing is wrong and that would make Simba no better than Scar. The point of this story was that if a six-year-old can interpret and understand how wrong it is killing someone is as a way of achieving justice, then the death penalty should not be an option. A person’s life is on the line, more care and legitimate resources should be put into better effort for these types of cases.

In the afternoon, we were introduced to a film called “Estilo Hip Hop.” This is film was created by our new guest speaker, Loira Limbal and her team. The setting takes place within multiple countries in South America including Brazil, Cuba, and Chile telling the stories of three different people expressing how they used Hip Hop and Rap as a way of political activism and an outlet for their life struggles. Watching this independent film, it was hard not growing a connection with the characters. Guerrillero Okulto was in the process of fighting for the custody of his two daughters, keeping his job as a landscaper, as well as fighting the brutality going on in Chile. Growing up, his family was always struggling with space to live and financial needs. He turned to music and rap as a way of expressing the problems he and most people are facing including police brutality. Eli Efi similarly used music as political activism to fight the police brutality that the government had been enforcing on the people in Brazil. They were being shot at, run over, beaten, all resulting with the death of the people who were targeted. From Cuba was artist, Magia. She was never into rap and hip hop until she met her husband. Hip Hop was his passion and being a supportive girlfriend, at the time, she developed it as hers. They perform together speaking out about multiple issues, one of their main focuses being women’s rights and respect.

Ms. Loira Limbal
After the movie had ended, Ms. Limbal had answered our questions about the film and the people in it. She told us it took her and her team over ten years to complete Estilo Hip Hop. They had to fly out from New York to Brazil, Chile, and Cuba back and forth to get all of the footage that they needed. Sometimes it would be risky recording because they weren’t allowed to record without a permit and could be arrested, especially in Cuba. Other times it would be because of what they would be recording such as the police and brutality going on which put their lives in jeopardy. These factors also played into action for extending the time it took to finish and release the film.

Reflecting on our society, I was amazed to see how Hip Hop has played a major role in people’s lives from all over the world in expression of their oppression. Listening to the raw rhymes of these talented street artists reminded me much of certain rap artists from back in the 90’s and a few songs and artists today such as Tupac, the N.W.A., the Notorious B.I.G, Kendrick Lamar, etc. They may not be as vulgar as a couple of the artists I compared them to but they all have similar inspirations for doing what they do and making a social change within their own ways. People like these make Rap and Hip Hop even more influential and powerful on society and gives strength to those that are unrepresented and who can relate to the messages being sent. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Reflection on my ILC Journey- Chris Tan

Although my ILC journey was an amazing experience and culminated in success for me, it actually didn't start out quite so auspiciously. In fact, I found out about the Ivy League Connection on the day of the initial presentation they held at Pinole Valley High School. A senior friend of mine, Sara, had asked me if I was going to the presentation, to which I could only respond to with confusion, as I had never heard of the program before. She then described the program briefly and told me that the only requirement to get in was a 3.5 GPA, which I had. To this day, I am so glad she did, because if she hadn't, I would not have had this incredible opportunity. During our lunch break, I went to go see my school counselor and asked about the program. She informed me that I should have received an invitation (I had not), but I clarified that I was a recent transfer student and showed her my transcript. She then told me she would add my name to the list of attendees, so I thanked her and left. When fifth period started, I went over to the multipurpose room to attend the presentation and was surprised to hear that my name wasn't on the list. However, I insisted I was supposed to be there and offered to show the assistant principal my transcript, but he declined and told me I could stay.

Despite the rocky start, I was finally able to take my seat, which ended up being front and center, right in front of a man wearing a now familiar aloha shirt. He introduced himself to us, but asked us to address him mononymously as Don before proceeding to talk about the Ivy League Connection. As I listened, I grew more and more fascinated, and resolved to get into this program, despite the difficult aspects he mentioned. After hearing three previous ILCers- Katherine Phan, Lisa Romero, and Jagjeet Kaur- talk about the respective universities they went to as part of the ILC, I was certain that this would be something that I wanted to involved in. The first program I applied for was for the University of Chicago, and although I made it to the interview process, I did not secure a spot in the Chicago cohort. That was somewhat difficult to accept at first, but with some help and support from Don, Katherine, and Lisa, I persevered and succeeded in securing another interview, this time for the UPenn Social Justice Research Academy, and, as you can probably tell by now, was among the four students fortunate enough to land a spot in the cohort.
However, the others that were not quite fortunate enough to be selected were still very competent, and I think the amount of competition each of us faced from each other demonstrates that the West Contra Costa Unified School District is fully capable of producing adept students, despite many being underserved. The Ivy League Connection further tries to help underserved students by providing each of those selected with an opportunity to go to the East Coast and take a course at one of the top universities in the nation at little to no personal expense. It also helps WCCUSD students expand their horizons and explore universities beyond the boundaries of California. Personally, I feel more comfortable with the notion applying out of state now and am very confident I will do so in my college application process. The site visits to other universities also helped us gain a better sense of our college preferences. Prior to my visit to Columbia University in New York City, I was considering applying to it. However, after actually visiting it, I realized that the environment wasn't really a good fit for me, as I found it a bit too intense for me and discovered that I wasn't particularly fond of New York City due to the tight, busy spaces and the lack of fresh air. The visit to Georgetown University in Washington D.C. was also elucidating, particularly in contrast with Columbia University from the day before, as it provided me an example of what I considered a more pleasant experience and an environment I could potentially feel comfortable in, although it turned out they didn't really have an engineering program themselves, instead offering a joint program with Columbia. Through these college visits and the time spent at UPenn, I believe that I now have a much better idea of what I want in a college.

Being in a college environment and living life more independently also inspired personal growth for me. While there, I developed a stronger sense of accountability with the knowledge that I was essentially responsible for myself, and that led me to act with greater maturity. I became more organized, created a more structured routine and schedule for myself, and kept in mind both the activities I wanted to participate in and what I needed to accomplish so that I would be able to create a better balance. I also tried to take full advantage of the once in a lifetime opportunity I had been granted by trying out many new things, including meeting more people there and trying new foods and activities. As a result of the course, I have greater motivation to use my abilities to create change and promote social justice and I hope to invoke in others a similar desire to advocate social progress. This course also emboldened me by allowing me to prove to myself that I can be just as capable as other amazing students from around the world, and I have been inspired to pursue greater knowledge not only in topics related to my anticipated major in computer science, but also across a broader scope so that I can be an informed and conscious global citizen that contributes to the improvement of not only our society, but also the environment around us. Hopefully, I can spread this grand and largely idealized vision of our future to others, starting from those I directly interact with in daily life, at school, and in the various clubs and organizations I participate in, to those beyond my immediate vicinity.

Before I underwent this amazing experience that has transformed my outlook on the future, I had the pleasure of meeting several a number of former ILCers, including a close friend from my childhood, some of my classmates, a fellow member of the Youth Leadership Committee of Richmond, some that showed up to support us at the interviews, and of course, the special guests of honor at our dinner at the Town Hall restaraunt in San Francisco. In each of them, I noticed a unique, but distinct aura that all of the former ILCers seemed to possess, one that radiated confidence and the power to produce change. one that I greatly admired. At that time, although I recognized that it had something to do with the ILC, as that was the common thread among them, I wondered about how they had each acquired it. Now, after going through the ILC experience myself, I believe that I have been able to unlock this capacity within me as well and that at least to a slight degree, I, too, am capable of influencing change.

This has been a truly invaluable experience for me, and although nothing can adequately express my gratitude for being presented with the opportunity to be a part of the Ivy League Connection, I'll begin with a simple "thank you." Thank you to all the people that make this program possible: the administrators, the sponsors, the WCCUSD and the Board of Education, the interview panelists, the program coordinators, the universities themselves, and everyone else involved that I may not have mentioned. They provided each of us, the ILCers, the means to go across the country to study and live on a university campus for a few weeks through funding and their dedication to helping students pursue their academic aspirations, myself included, and I'd like to acknowledge and show my appreciation for their efforts. I'd also like to issue special thanks to Don, who worked with us tirelessly to ensure everything went smoothly, and to John, who served as our chaperone and made sure all was well regularly. I hope that I have been representing the WCCUSD and the Ivy League Connection well, as well as that this program will continue for years to come. I believe that the ILC is an incredible opportunity for any student with greater educational aspirations and will advocate it in hopes of inspiring other students to become agents and beacons of positive change.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

My Experience at UPenn- Chris Tan

From the moment I stepped onto the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, the atmosphere felt calm and welcoming. I enjoyed the setting, as it actually felt how I thought a college should, somewhat removed from the intensity of the city itself, instead occupying its own space. The campus itself seemed what I would describe as refined: aged, yet still well-maintained with an air of dignity.

Before I actually went to the East Coast to experience UPenn firsthand, I hadn't quite known what to expect, and merely imagined that it was a small campus, given that it is a private university. I also expected sweltering heat and chaotic weather from various descriptions of the East Coast, as well as the purportedly "meat locker cold" dorms, a stark contrast that left me utterly perplexed when I was trying to pack for the trip. There were also conflicting accounts from the previous ILCers about the quality of the food offered at the dining commons and the condition of the housing, which merely added to my confusion. In addition, I found the prospect of assuming greater responsibility for myself and leaving a familiar environment rather daunting. However, I knew that I wouldn't be alone in this process and that, with the advent of modern technology, my family and friends were only a phone call or text message away,
Before our departure to Penn
Throughout my time at UPenn, most of my preexisting notions of what it would be like were dispelled. The weather was always warm, and only uncomfortably so on occasion, albeit somewhat humid. We also didn't see many instances of the unpredictable weather, although the storms we did encounter were sudden and somewhat more intense. Although Mr. Hillyer told us that we had gotten a pleasant summer, it was certainly nothing like what I had imagined it would be, as I had been picturing regular thunderstorms, when in actuality, I encountered about two or three in all the time I was there. The campus was also fairly large, or at least much larger than I had initially expected. In addition, I discovered that there is a temperature setting as well as a power setting on the air conditioning unit in my dorm, so I was able to control the climate in my room. As for the housing facilities, the quality varied from building to building, as some were certainly maintained better than were others. The food quality also varied from item to item, place by place, as some items were prepared better in all the food commons, and the Houston Market was better than the 1920s Commons, and breakfast was better than dinner, which nearly everyone reached a consensus on.

Prior to the social justice course, I had mostly gotten an understanding and developed an interest in social justice through reading news articles online, so my knowledge was still rather rudimentary, making me somewhat apprehensive and worried that my lack of knowledge about social justice would put me behind the other students. However, after starting the class there, I soon realized that was not the case and that most of the other students were at a similar level. Instead, we developed our understandings of social justice together, learning from the lectures, refining our positions on the various topics using each other as sounding boards in discussions, and gaining insights through our field trips. The course was not graded, so while it may be counterintuitive, I felt that it allowed me to dedicate more of my efforts to actually learning about social justice because I was able to spend more time reading and thinking about the material, as opposed to trying to complete various assignments. Of course, there are probably students that abuse that privilege and get away without having to learn or participate in anything, although that's somewhat of a waste of time and other resources, in my opinion.

I really enjoyed the sense of independence and the culture of learning I experienced during my time at UPenn. I actually liked being responsible for myself, even though I had been uncertain about it before the program started, because it gave me a greater sense of control over my own life. In addition, it gave me the opportunity to prove to myself that I was able to assume responsibility without dramatic changes to my lifestyle. I was able to have plenty of fun spending time with friends and participating in the activities offered by the Summer Discovery program while still learning from the course and attending to my responsibilities.

The culture of learning I'm referring to was the general interest among the people there to advance their knowledge and understanding, their willingness to challenge what we heard rather than accepting it without question, and open-mindedness to discuss more difficult topics rationally, although our subconscious biases affected our thinking to some extent, of course. I really enjoyed this environment, as it allowed me to present unorthodox ideas and engage in actual discussions about those ideas instead of being personally attacked in response, which I encounter in many other situations. The safety of an environment where any topic was open to discussion was something I really appreciated in my time there, and I believe that it contributed to my learning experience at UPenn.

Of course, the people I interacted with and the activities I participated in at UPenn helped make my experience there fun and shaped it into a summer to remember. Nearly everyone there was friendly, and within the first few hours of meeting my RC group, I had already gotten fairly comfortable with them and remained on good terms with them throughout my time there, even as I made other friends along the way. The RCs of the Summer Discovery program as well as the Social Justice Research Academy teaching staff were also really friendly and helpful, which only contributed further to the warm atmosphere (figuratively, although it was literally warm as well). There were plenty of activities available for us to take part in, and the ones I did join were lots of fun, including laser tag and bowling, as well as the mandatory ones to Hershey Park and Ocean City. Even though we went to UPenn for the course in social justice, I don't feel like I sacrificed having fun or enjoying my summer break at all. In fact, this trip is the highlight of my summer, which has now become one of the most fun, meaningful, and significant summers of my life as a result of this experience.
The House of Representatives
My RC group
Hershey Park
Ultimately, the Social Justice Research Academy at UPenn made me aware of all the issues facing society today, but also provided me with the contexts of each of them through lectures and the diverse perspectives of my fellow students in the discussion groups as well as exposing us to real-life exhibitions of social justice or injustice via field trips. I was also able to experience the college lifestyle there, which defied almost all of my expectations and allowed me to gain better insights into my college preferences. Finally, I was given the opportunity to be in an environment that allowed me to truly express my ideas safely. This course also gave me a greater sense of purpose, as my goals have expanded beyond simply living out my existence to wanting to make a positive influence  and perhaps even bring about change in the world. Furthermore, none of this came at the expense of fun or enjoyment, as I was able to spend plenty of time with friends and create many memories from all the activities I took part in. I'm so grateful to have been granted this opportunity to experience the entirely different environment at Penn.
After our trip to Penn

7/23 Tastes Like Home

5:30 AM is the time I woke up for the day I would finally return home. I set an alarm so I would have the chance to say my final goodbye to my friend before he left at 6:15 AM. Him being very busy, I wasn’t able to in person. I decided to send him a snap chat goodbye before it was time for him to leave instead. I felt disappointed that it wasn’t a real goodbye but it was better than not saying anything at all.

I went back to sleep for about an hour before packing up the rest of my belongings. Fitting everything in my luggage was harder than I remembered it being when I was first packing to come out to Philly. I had to sit on my bag while zipping it closed to make it easier to ensure its security. I made a final clean throughout my room and tossed out all my garbage near the trash chute. On the way back to my vacant room, I saw so many people walking all over the Quad with large rolling boxes filled with their things or soon to be filled. Their parents and RC’s aiding them and other students crying while saying their final goodbyes to one another. A depressing and solemn feeling grew within my stomach facing the reality that this was it; most of us would never see each other again, at least not for a while.

I unlocked the door to my dorm building, Leidy, walked up the four, dusty, black, stairs, turned left into the quiet hallway, and to the second door on the left was the final time I would unlock my room door. Time was running out for me. 10:00 AM came closer than I had hoped it would for when the airport shuttle would come pick us up with John to leave UPENN for the rest of the summer. I picked up the handles of my luggage and rolled out the door. I paused for a minute to imprint a mental image into my mind of what was no longer my room. I sad smile appeared on my face as I reminisced the memories of me rushing in and out of the room to make it on time for class, working on my homework late at night, lugging my laundry over my shoulder in and out, and my favorite one, the time when I first walked into my room the first day I was there. I remembered all these emotions and feelings as if it just happened yesterday. It felt as if I just unpacked the same morning I was leaving. I turned my head around and took those final steps out my door, out the hallway, down the stairs, and out of Leidy for the final time. 

Rolling my way through the Quad, I forgot the struggle I had carrying my luggage when I first came out here. It was such a nuisance. I signed out in the main office and headed to outside the gates the Quad where I would return my room keys. I was trying so hard to get my things done so I wouldn’t delay the group from getting to the airport. I signed in my keys to the front office and met with John, Diana, Chris, and Allonna in the front. Before walking to the shuttle bus, I looked through the automatic gates of the Quadrangle letting go all the sadness I had built up and locked in all of my summer experience in a safe in my mind and heart that I know will never fade away. We each stepped into the van and sat there as we pulled off the side of the road and to the airport.
Group Picture at Chickee Pete's
The time it took to go through the airport procedures it was around 11:00 AM. All of us were starving. John decided to take us to a little restaurant inside of the airport called Chickee Pete’s where we ate for the last time together as an ILC PENN Cohort. I ordered a chicken parmesan sandwich and had crab fries to share all together. I wish we all ate together more often while we resided at UPENN. I never would have thought we would be so preoccupied with our class, work, and activities at the university program that we would barely have time for ourselves. We all finished eating, and made our way back to the waiting area for our return home.

Before it was time for us to board, Allonna and I needed to go to Jamba Juice. Being out in the East Coast, finding a Jamba Juice is scarce. The only time I saw a nearby one was in Grand Central Station in DC on the way back to the Sheraton. We were in desperate need to have a sweet, thirst-quenching smoothie. Allonna had ordered a Caribbean Passion and I ordered a Pomegranate Paradise. The first sip I took reminded me of home and soon that’s where we would be.

As we boarded the plane, we found a mother and daughter sitting in our seats. Their flights were changed last minute because their original flight got cancelled. Their seats were placed in front of each other but Diana and I switched seats with them so they would be able to sit next to one another. The girl was five years old and asleep. I sat right next to them while Diana sat next to Allonna and Chris. Her husband and other daughter were seated somewhere else in the back of the plane and were trying to accommodate seating arrangements so they wouldn’t be separated. The mother was genuinely nice. She had told me that they moved to New Jersey for a job relocation for her husband and she eventually found a job out there herself. They are originally from California where she and her husband met at UC Berkeley and are coming back for their wedding anniversary to spend it with their families in Santa Cruz. It was pleasant hearing about her successful life, it gave me hope to have a similar one of my own.
Window View From the Waiting Room
Everyone on the plane patiently waited for the plane to lift off and zoom through the air back to the West Coast. All of us passengers soon found out that our flight would be delayed due to a rain storm that is potentially dangerous to fly through. Once the storm had passed over, we were fourth in line to take off. The closer it drew to us being next, we had to return back to the airport to refuel. It made sense because it was ninety-seven degrees outside and the AC was blasting throughout the plane the whole time we were stalled. The plane had finally filled up again with gas, but by that time there were thirty-five other planes who needed to take off as well. No one knew how long this was going to take and three hours had already passed. The time we finally made it in the air was 7:30 PM, three and a half hours later than from when we were originally set to take off. My mood went beyond irritation. We all wanted to stay in Philly a lot longer than three weeks but none of us had anticipated that this was going to be our ticket to stay. Frustrated and tired, I sat for another six hours for our plane to land at SFO.

The plane had landed at 10:51 PM in San Francisco. Everyone was eager to get off and go home or wherever they intended to go. Each row decreased in people until it reached the back of the plane. Before exiting the aircraft, I waved goodbye to the mother and her child and wished them luck on their vacation in California, and she did the same. I hurried into the airport of California grounds finally relieved that plane ride was over it. We waited for John to get off before we went to go pick up our luggage on the other side of the airport. I felt sentimental being back in the Bay. There’s no people out there like the ones from the Bay Area and that’s what I missed the most along with Jamba Juice.

After everyone grabbed their bags, we hopped into our black shuttle van to transport us back to El Cerrito High School where our families would pick us up at. The air outside was cool and breezy but somewhat warmer than I remembered SF to actually be. I was satisfied with my wardrobe choice to wear leggings and a long-sleeved shirt. The weather out here soon made me miss the heat and humidity the East Coast had. I hated the feeling right when I walked out an air conditioned building to the moist air but enjoyed the warmth and consistency of it. It was convenient knowing the temperature every day despite the environment of the weather. If it was overcast and breezy it was still warm, if it was raining with thunderstorms it would still be consistently warm outside.

The drive back to El Cerrito was a reminder for my brain to recollect my memories of the familiar, but faint surroundings of the Bay Area. I had forgotten how beautiful the Bay Bridge was until we were physically gliding right over it. I felt so embarrassed forgetting its gorgeous luminosity, especially when I looked back at my ugly drawing of it from the first day of class. My eyes became fixated with the scenery outside of the car window until we reached El Cerrito High. It was like I was familiarizing myself with a new area all over again except it wasn’t as difficult to remember.
Final Returning Cohort Photo
Twenty to thirty minutes passed as we finally pulled into the parking lot of the dimly lit school from where we originally departed on the start of our journey. Cars already parked in a line alongside the school waiting for our arrival. The first steps out of the van, Don was already snapping pictures of us like we were famous and he was the paparazzi. We all waited to grab our luggage from out the back of the barely visible vehicle. Before we could depart back to our homes, Don had required a group picture of the entire cohort together for the last time. Groaning because many of us were fatigued, we pulled our smiles out, hidden deep in our droopy faces in time for the last shots of us together. Once we were done, we each gave one another a final hug farewell and went our separate ways. This has probably been one of the best experiences I have ever had and with people who were fun and pleasant to be around. I could not have asked for a much better cohort, trip, and experience than what I received this summer. For that, I thank Don and the ILC for the opportunity