Tuesday, July 26, 2016

One Final Night

Finally, the Friday we had all been dreading had arrived. Not only was it the last day of class, but it was also the day we would have to present our capstone projects. I woke up at 4:00 AM that morning to make some last minute adjustments and look over my project with "fresh" eyes, although they were more exhausted than fresh, given the time. However, after reading my essay a few more times and making some final revisions to my essay until I was ready to submit it, I discovered my laptop was having Internet connectivity issues. After spending several minutes unsuccessfully trying to resolve them, I decided to leave it alone and work on my PowerPoint presentation instead. For my theme, I decided to use two shades of green alongside various shades of the grayscale as well as Oswald and Alcubierre for fonts. I also used some basic geometry for visual effects to make my presentation look more interesting as well. After I finished my presentation (or at least when I thought I had, as it later turned out I had forgotten a slide), I made another attempt to fix my Internet, to no avail, so instead, I simply let Yun know about the problem and brought my laptop with me to class.

When I got there, I was making a few more adjustments to my PowerPoint when I realized I had forgotten my laptop charger as well, so I went over to Yun and asked to go back to get it, to which he responded I could go when we were going from the McNeil building to College Hall. Dissatisfied with the problems I had been encountering so far but with little I could do, I was forced to put it out of my mind as Caroline presented with Patrick about the LGBTQ+ community. Although most of the people they interviewed thought that it had been a linear path of progress from the 1960s to the present, they revealed that the journey for equal rights for the LGBTQ+ had suffered some setbacks along the way and described the process as "two steps forward, one step back." They went on to demonstrate this through a chronological sequence of events by decade from the 1960s to the present before concluding that there was still a need for the gayborhood. I thought that their presentation was quite organized, starting with a video of them interviewing people to show what people thought before using the timeline to provide the factual evidence, and finishing by making a pitch for their argument.
The Memorial Tower
While my section started heading for Room 311-F, I ran all the way back to my dorm, where I grabbed my laptop charger and double-checked that I had everything else I needed before running back out to our room in College Hall, where I found I had arrived not too long after the rest of them, a relief to hear after all the problems I had run into so far. The next presentation was by Charley, who talked about the history of workers' rights and how it has led to the outsourcing of jobs. Over time, the U.S. has passed more measures to protect workers, but that led to outsourcing due to companies seeking fewer restrictions and cheaper labor. While I recognize that companies need to try to maximize profits and that these measures may be more difficult to comply with, I don't think it's right of them to make money at the expense of humanity, as they are promoting poor conditions for workers simply by using it.

Charley's presentation was followed by Matt and Mike's, who had prepared both a slideshow and a rap for their topic, police brutality. I appreciated that they presented multiple perspectives on the issue, as they demonstrated the disproportionate instances of police brutality towards blacks while also clarifying that there are still many more whites being killed at the hands of the police. I also liked the rap, which they performed live over the instrumental of Eminem's "Mockingbird" because it was a more interesting and memorable manner of conveying their point.

After them was Ayyah, whose topic was about the portrayal of Muslims and Arabs (which are not synonymous, as Muslims are followers of Islam while "Arabs" refers to a cultural and linguistic population of people) in the U.S. media. Interestingly enough, even before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Arabs were already being portrayed as terrorists, as numerous movies released before 2001 still featured Arabs as the primary antagonists. She also made it clear that not all Muslims are Arabs and not all Arabs are Muslims, and most importantly, only an extremely small number of either group are affiliated with terrorist organizations.

From there, we shifted over to a presentation from Sam Ruiz (the guy) on women in the military. He informed us about all the injustices women are faced with in military service for the United States, including discrimination, as they are sometimes unable to get the position they desire, and sexual harassment, which is in part due to the masculine environment. There is also an equality vs. equity dilemma, as some argue for the same fitness requirements for both men and women to make while others believe that would lead to de facto segregation in the military and instead support the different tests for men and women. I would support the equity side, as men have a natural advantage over women and that should be taken into account, making it unfair to have the same tests for both men and women.

It was my turn to present once Sam was done, and although I was somewhat nervous, particularly because I hadn't had the chance to rehearse my presentation, I was pretty comfortable, as it was a small group of people I had gotten acclimated to already. To my surprise, the presentation came to me fairly naturally and it went quite smoothly, with the exception of a slide I had forgotten to add under the "Detrimental Health Effects" section. I covered the correlation between concentration of air particulates and SES as well as the one between concentration of air particulates and race, demonstrating through statistics on my presentation that people of lower SES and racial minorities are both exposed to disproportionately higher concentrations of air pollution. After that, I covered the harmful effects air pollution has on human health, which include increased susceptibility to asthma in children and higher mortality rates in the elderly, as well as the local relevance of the issue to me, as I live near Richmond, which has high levels of pollution due to the toxic emissions of nearby facilities. With the exception of the missing slide, I thought my presentation had went pretty well and was satisfied with the results.

Following me was Jin, who talked about the role of education in the process of stratification. He demonstrated that education plays a key part in establishing one's place in the social hierarchy and illustrated through graphs and charts that minorities have a stronger inclination towards downwards social mobility while whites are more likely to move upwards. Going back to the earlier debate we had over the role of education as an equalizer or a stratifier, I think that Jin's presentation helped demonstrate that it is more of the latter.

In the subsequent presentation, Lucie discussed the injustice in rape cases, as well as the inaction of institutions on the issue. She mentioned several cases, but focused more attention on the Stanford rape case, in which the perpetrator got a rather lenient sentence of six months, pointing out a possibly dishonest connection between the judge and the rapist, who both attended Stanford. However, according to Lucie, Stanford said it had done all it could to bring justice, although she did not believe that. Instead, she placed the onus on society's preference for males. I certainly agree that the sentencing is rather kind for a detestable crime like rape and hope our justice system will eventually be more fair.

Next up was Sam Wilder (the girl), who delivered her presentation on the right of women to decide when to get pregnant in the style of the New York Times' Room for Debate section, although she was the one who provided all the perspectives. Even though contraceptives have been around for a relatively long time, they have only become considered more acceptable recently. While it provides women with greater agency, those opposed to contraceptive use argue that it allows women to be more promiscuous. Although that is a valid argument, I think that we should still promote agency and trust in women to be responsible.

As we moved into the last three capstone projects, Elene demonstrated hers, which was on Stalin's cult of personality. Despite some of his cruel actions, including "purges" of certain people, he managed to amass great support and affection for him through propaganda that portrayed him as a strong leader that cared for his people and that merely did what was necessary for the country. To this day, he is still widely revered. It seemed rather worrisome to me that people could be manipulated into accepting what the media shows without questioning it first, although it also demonstrated the power of the media.

Kamillah, the second-to-last presenter, began with a video that illustrated domestic abuse from the perspective of a child. While everyone else simply saw the external image of kindness his father projected, the child also saw the violent outbursts of rage at home that started over rather mild situations. She then gave us a visual model of the cycle of domestic abuse, which consists of four stages. Essentially, the model demonstrates that there is a buildup of tensions, which then explode before a period of reconciliation and calm before the cycle starts again. I think that it's important that people recognize these symptoms of an abusive relationship so that they can avoid these situations, as no one should have to endure toxic behavior. I liked that she engaged us with questions through the presentation that also demonstrated general knowledge about the topic, including symptoms of domestic abuse as well as possible solutions.

Finally, we reached the final presentation, Diana's, on the topic of depression. She chose it because it is such a prevalent problem, particularly among teens, and because she had a personal experience with it and wanted to help others. I certainly appreciated her honesty and willingness to share her story with us and think that it's great that she's trying to bring more awareness to the affliction. She showed us that, despite how widespread it is, how infrequently people receive help or treatment for it, largely due to the great expenses it comes at, as sessions with a therapist could cost $90 an hour. She concluded her presentation with a video of a man suffering from bipolar depression delivering a performance about his condition in a more lighthearted manner. I thought her presentation brought up a good point that treatment for depression should be widely available without taking too large a toll on a family's finances, as that discourages treatment.
The McNeil building
After that, we headed back to the lecture room in the McNeil building, where they had pizza and soda for us. Once we had all satiated our hunger, one of the students, named Omar, delivered his own poem on media in the United States. I found his performance very impressive, as it had great wordplay and lyricism. Nevertheless, he managed to execute it almost flawlessly and received a long round of applause from the class for his effort. We then transitioned over to an evaluation of the course. The first part consisted of three components: describing an Aha! moment we had during the course, sharing what we learned with others, and discussing our goals for effecting social change. For my Aha! moments, I included Chris Rabb's lecture, as it truly demonstrated the power and influence of speech, and Valarie Kaur's Divided We Fall, as I found it quite moving and because it made me more aware of my own prejudices. As for the sharing aspect, I intend to share the understanding of these situations that I learned from presentations, the different perspectives I gained from discussions, and the insights I gained from the field trips. Finally, my goals for effecting social change are to create an active and conscious community in Richmond and its surrounding areas and possibly expanding it beyond our borders if that's successful. I will also be promoting environmental justice and sustainable practices through a club that I am founding, called the Revitalize Club. We also completed a small form including our feedback on the various aspects of the course, including speakers, field trips, our section leader, and other changes we would make to the program. My primary complaint with the program was that it wasn't long enough, as I had wanted to spend more time delving into the topics deeper and engaging in more discussions about them. Once we had accomplished that, we gathered into groups to talk about our experiences with the course. Almost everyone agreed that we had learned a lot from the course, and although some of the topics we had discussed were rather heavy, most of us felt empowered with all the knowledge we had acquired.

Finally, in our own version of a graduation ceremony, Professor Hanson called each of us, one by one, to the front of the room to receive our certificate and a handshake, while the rest of the teaching staff lined up on the side. After the ceremony, most of us stayed for a while to take pictures. My section, the House of Representatives, gathered one last time for some final pictures. We did a regular photo first, then one where we copied a pose Caroline had invented earlier, and finally one with all the guys and one with Yun and the girls as well, before lining for individual photos with Yun.
My certificate
The House of Representatives
The guys of the House of Representatives
My individual picture with Yun
Once everyone had finally exchanged farewells and went their separate ways, I went around to each of the staff members to personally thank each of them for giving us the opportunity to participate in this course and learn about social justice and express how much I had enjoyed the course.
The amazing teaching staff for the Social Justice Research Academy. From left to right: Ms. Tonya C. Bell, Mr. Yun Cha, Ms. Diamond Zambrano, Ms. Angela Simms, Dr. David Salmanson, Dr. R. Scott Hanson.
Once class had ended, I hurried back to the dorm to change before heading back out to the Pottruck Fitness Center to try the rock wall there, which I had been wanting to do for my entire stay there. I ended up bouldering for over an hour before getting one last dinner at the 1920s Commons. After I had showered, I accompanied Kamillah to Shake Shack, where she ordered her dinner while I merely ordered a milkshake, specifically a Malted Chocolate Cheesecake milkshake, which happened to be the shake of the week. Along the way, we talked about our experiences at Penn and both of us expressed our wishes that it had lasted longer.
The rock wall
By the time we got back, the carnival in the Quad had begun. Although it seemed rather underwhelming at first, I ended up having a lot of fun at the magic station, where I remained for about the next two hours or so. I find magic tricks absolutely enthralling, and although I recognized some tricks, I still greatly enjoyed watching the magician, named Doug, perform his tricks, which included tricks with cards, foam balls, ropes, a bag and an egg, metal rings, and even an ordinary pen. Finally, after he concluded his performance, I went around the Quad to find the friends I had made to say my goodbyes and take some final pictures.
Doug, the magician
Me with Doug and his flaming wallet (yes, it was real fire)
My RC group and I, outside of the Franklin building
After we had the brilliant idea of taking a picture indoors, with better lighting
I really enjoyed hearing all my fellow section members (representatives, if you will) present their capstone projects and spending the last day of the course with them, and I'm going to miss the environment and people at UPenn.
The iconic Locust Walk

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