Monday, July 18, 2016

Halfway Done, Still Growing

Wednesday marked the halfway point of our time at Penn. It seems like I've been here for so long, learning and making connections with my fellow students, but at the same time this experience is passing so quickly! I'm definitely trying to make the most of the rest of my time here, and take advantage of all of the great opportunities I have here while I can. I'm also trying not to look ahead too far to when I'll have to say goodbye to all the great people I've met here, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

We started off with another film, the third one this week. In fact, we have watched one every day this week, but I don't mind. I find all of them very interesting, and a good way to get an introduction or an overview of a topic. Wednesday featured my favorite film thus far, called Difret. Our speaker, who would come later that day, had recommended that Dr. Hanson show it to us. Difret differed from the other films we had watched in that it was not a documentary, but it was based off of a true story.

In the film, a girl from Ethiopia named Hirut was kidnapped from school by a group of men from her village. These men kept her locked in a room for several days, during which one of the men raped her. Hirut eventually managed to escape, but ended up killing the same man in the process. She was sent to jail in the capital, where an attorney who worked for a law firm dedicated to helping disenfranchised women and girls attempted to save her from death at the hands of the villagers, who wanted Hirut dead because they thought  she killed her captor without just cause. It turns out, it was a tradition in their culture to kidnap the girl one wants to marry. Hirut was eventually set free, and her case ended up setting a precedent for abduction for marriage becoming illegal in Ethiopia. However, her life and she as a person was still damaged, as she had to adjust to life in the city and without her family. She did this with the support of her lawyer Meaza, who risked her business and challenged systems of power to protect Hirut.

We spent the whole morning and most of the lunch period watching Difret. After the film was over, we split into discussion groups, where we were able to talk about what we had seen and how we felt about it. I and the rest of the class were captivated by the trial and the different power dynamics at play in the film. Even though we were reading what they were saying through subtitles (the characters only spoke Amharic), I know I for one was able to really connect to the people in the film. I think that it was good for us to see something that showed social justice issues on a wider scale and beyond just what affects those of us in the class.

Our guest speaker of the day came in the afternoon. Her name is Salamishah Tillet, and she is a professor at University of Pennsylvania. She also is a co-founder of A Long Walk Home, Inc., which is an organization that uses art to express the struggles that African Americans face. Dr. Tillet came to speak to us about violence against girls and women, something that seemed very appropriate given what we had witnessed before she came. I found Dr. Tillet's talk very engaging, because she made a presentation for us that featured video and audio clips to demonstrate her points. Mostly, these consisted of songs that different black women throughout history have written and performed to express their unique struggle. Some of the artists that she showed us were Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, and Beyoncé. Dr. Tillet's theme and the focus that she put on black women's roles in the feminist movement in particular fit perfectly into some recent discussions that we have had about intersectionality, as well.

After Dr. Tillet's presentation and the discussion that followed, class let out. Myself and my fellow classmates were determined to get some work done on our Capstone Projects, so that we wouldn't have to hurry to do them last minute. We also remembered that Wednesday was the day that we had to sign up for activities on Thursday through Sunday. The competition for these activities would be fierce this week, especially for the upcoming Phillies games. Not wanting to be at the back of the line, a group of seven of us went up to the lounge where sign ups take place and took some seats. We arrived about two hours before sign ups were set to begin, so we had some time to really make a dent in our projects. The question that I have finally decided to pose, which has changed and been developed from the ideas I had before, is whether or not American society has become less racist since the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. This seemed like an appropriate question given the racial and economic inequalities we've heard about in class, and how those two things intersect. For the next two hours, I selected sources and started taking notes that will later be incorporated into the written element of my project.

By the time the RCs on duty came to conduct sign ups, the lounge we were in had become a zoo. There were so many people waiting to get the activities they wanted that the line actually stretched out of the lounge and into the hallway. Luckily, we were in front. Our foresight had payed off, and we were all able to get spots to go to the Friday night Phillies game that we had wanted, as well as a trip to Reading Terminal Market on Sunday.

We hurried out of the crowded lounge to go get dinner, which we proceeded to burn off at the gym. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not very athletic, but I actually don't mind going to the gym with my friends here. There is something really satisfying in pushing myself until I know I've accomplished something, even if it's only something small. After the gym, my friends Jack, Reva, and I set out to do our laundry. I had a lot of clothes that I needed cleaned, so I piled them all into my mesh bag and hauled them across the quad and into the basement of the main building. The laundry room is very hot and muggy; it almost feels like a steam room. I had to have some patience as I waited for washers and dryers to free up, but it wasn't as much of a hassle as one might think. It was pretty easy to operate the machines, and everyone had very good laundry room etiquette. As a result, I was able to complete this task with little stress.

For the rest of the night, I simply hung out with some friends in the quad listening the music. It was a more low key day than some others, with no field trips or activities involved. I felt like I had accomplished a lot by the end of it, however, and was able to get a good night's sleep.

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