Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Work and Play

Breakfast started at 7:30 this morning, and I went down to the dining hall with my fellow ILCers. Having rained the night before, the air was very humid, and I feel that I've finally had my first encounter with true east coast summer weather. Luckily, it isn't such a long walk to the dining hall, which was air conditioned. After we finished our meal, we went back to the Quadrangle to pack our backpacks and get ready for the first day of class. 

We were to meet in the quad at 8:30 so that an RC could show us where our class was taking place. Once outside, I quickly spotted the man holding a vibrant sign with the words 'Social Justice Research Academy' on it. Our group was larger than I expected. There had been a rumor that there were only 18 people, but the number turned out to be closer to 50. Together with the other ILCers and my friend Jack from Maryland, we followed the group to the Robert Lincoln McNeil Building, which was luckily just a short walk from where we live. I don't think I'll have to worry about getting lost!

We stood in the lobby of the McNeil building for a few minutes before being greeted by one of our teachers and taken upstairs into a big classroom. We took a few minutes to find seats (I got a spot in the middle of the room) and settle in. Then, a man introduced himself as Scott Hansen, one of
our tour guides, and got started.

Scott told us about his experience with studying religion and how it connects to people's migration patterns and cultural practices. He then went over our schedule for the next three weeks, which included a lot of guest speakers, films, and field trips, all centered around a new social justice topic each day. We would also be split into smaller discussion groups for a part of each class period. I like the way that our class will be structured, because it includes not only reading and theorizing but actually going out and seeing things and hearing from the experts in a given field. I'm also glad that we will have the opportunity to get to know more about a wide range of social justice topics, giving us a better understanding of the work in general but also allowing us to become more educated about what's going on in the world.

Each discussion group will be led by a teaching fellow, who came up to introduce themselves after Mr. Hansen had finished. My discussion group leader's name is David Salmanson, and he like the other teaching follows shared his first memory of being involved in social justice with us. It was when he was in 7th grade, and he offered financial assistance to students who needed it to be able to attend a disco-night at the local roller rink.

After a short break, we broke up our discussion groups, all four of us heading to different rooms/buildings. My group started off by sharing signs that we had made with our names, and visual representations of where we were from, why we were here, and what we hoped to accomplish by the end of the program. On my sign, I attempted to draw the state of California, as well as a pair of eyes, a think bubble, and a speech bubble. The last three were representative of how I hoped to see new things and meet new people in my class that would give me a new perspective on social justice issues.

Our task for the day was to come up with a definition of social justice. After about 40 minutes of discussion, my group decided that social justice was the idea that regardless of a person's social background, they would be treated fairly at all times. By fairly, we meant that although not everyone can or should be treated exactly the same way, everyone should get the support from society that they need to have equal opportunities as those of different social backgrounds. With that decided, we broke for lunch at 12:00.

We got a little lost on the way to Houston Market, our lunch destination for the weekdays of our program, but we made it eventually. Inside, it was kind of hectic, with long lines at each station and a mob of people trying to buy and finish their food before they had to go back to class. Jack and I stuck together so as not to get lost, and grabbed pretty much the first thing that we saw (sushi), so that we didn't have to venture too far into the crowd. Shaken, we went outside to finish our food. 

Our class all met back up at the McNeil building to prepare for our first field trip, to the American Philosophical Society. We were taking the subway there and back, and would be touring both their museum and their library. With instructions to stick together with our discussion groups as we travelled, we set off, and arrived in Old City fifteen minutes later. The American Philosophical Society was split between two different buildings, and two of our groups went into the museum together while the others started in the library. We would be switching locations after 30 minutes in each area.

My group began our field trip in the museum section, where an employee told us about Thomas Jefferson, one of the founders of the American Philosophical Society, and his relationship with Native Americans during his presidency. The exhibit featured documents where Jefferson had translated hundreds of English words into various native languages, as well of portrait of natives throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century and the means that they used to interact with Americans and increase literacy within their own societies.

We didn't get to finish the tour, because we ran out of time in the museum, and had to go across the street to the library. There, we were instructed to leave our bags in a side room and led upstairs to a room with several yellowing documents spread out on top of a large table. Another employee of the American Philosophical Society explained to us the significance of each one. They included really interesting things such as a draft of the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson wrote himself, original sketches by Benjamin Franklin (another cofounder of the APS), and a journal from one of Lewis and Clark's expeditions. It was insane to be so close to such old documents, which had actually been touched by such iconic historical figures.

After our field trip, we were dismissed for the evening. I was really tired, so I went back up to my room to recharge. Before meeting my friends for dinner, I walked to Starbucks, in need of refreshment after spending so many hours in the heat. My friends and I went to dinner at around 5 PM, and then came back to get ready for our Duck Tour. 

The Duck Tour began for us at 6:45 when we met the group going on the tour in the quad. We took the subway, me for the second time that day, down to near Independence Hall, where we got lost looking for our tour bus. It turned out that it had been parked just down the street from where we got off of the train, but we had been led by our RCs in a giant circle there instead. As a result, we were rather late, and ended up rushing to take a group picture and get the tour started.

The tour began outside of Independence Hall and took us last City Hall, the Rocky steps, and other Philadelphia landmarks. We were supposed to be able to take the bus out onto the Delaware River, the most unique feature of Duck Tours, but were unable to do so because of how late we had started the tour. I was disappointed by this, but I still had a good time because of the sense of humor of our tour guide and the atmosphere that was created by the fun music that he played and being surrounded by my friends.

After the Duck Tour, my friends and I went to CVS to purchase some breakfast food, reluctant to wake up so early every morning to eat. Then, myself and my friend Sahar tried Dunkin Donuts for the first time. They were okay, but I definitely still prefer Krispy Kreme.

Overall, I would say that today was a successful first day of class. I liked my teachers and my classmates, and it sounds like every day will be exciting and different. I'm looking forward to seeing what the next few weeks will bring! 

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