Apr 252017
 
 April 25, 2017  Posted by

“But what are you REALLY going to do with your life?”

“But, like, why would you come to Duke if you want to go into music? Why wouldn’t you have gone to NYU or something?”

I get these types of questions on a pretty regular basis from other students, family members, prospective students and their families, etc. Don’t get me wrong: I understand them. It is a little out of the ordinary that I chose to come to Duke–a research university generally known for things like science, public policy, and economics–to study music. And no, I’m not a music major and pre-med or pre-law or pre-anything else. In fact, I don’t have a career path more defined than a vague the arts just yet. As of right now, I am a music major, and I intend to pursue the arts professionally. I’m going to have a degree in music from Duke, not from a conservancy or an ‘artsier’ school, on my resumé–but I have a feeling I’m going to be just fine.

I began the college search process unsure about what I would want study but thinking about chemistry, Spanish, pre-med, and music. I started off my college search Georgia Tech, a university close to home known for engineering, science, and technology. Although I thought the campus was beautiful and the location was great, I decided that even if I did end up going down a science path, I didn’t want to go to a school with a bunch of people studying the same types of things. I wanted to be in an environment where I could be stimulated and challenged by those with different skills, areas of interest, and perspectives – and that’s exactly what I found at Duke. I believe that Duke’s commitment to interdisciplinary learning is as true as the beautiful admissions flyers say it is. The student body, full of students majoring, minoring, and earning certificates in all sorts of nontraditional combinations, reflects this sentiment.

And what about after I graduate? Get this–people do actually go into the arts and have “legitimate” careers! Crazy, right? Being a music major doesn’t mean I’m going to go be a professional concert pianist, a path that could be quite difficult to ‘make it’ in (and one that I don’t have any interest in). But a plethora of jobs in the arts exist. According to arts.gov, the website of the National Endowment for the Arts (which is terrifyingly in danger of being eliminated by the Trump administration), the Arts & Culture sector of the US economy accounts for $742 billion (4.2%) of our GDP and “adds millions of jobs to our workforce (more than two million full-time artists and nearly five million arts-related jobs).” Almost all of us at Duke engage with the arts in some form – attending concerts, taking music lessons, seeing theatre productions, listening to the radio, watching movies, playing the beautiful Steinway in the new Student Wellness Building – and there are, in fact, millions of jobs that go into making those things possible.

Even though there may be 10x as many Economics or Public Policy majors as arts majors at Duke, and although it may seem a little out of the ordinary for me to be studying what I am, I think Duke truly is a great place to be an arts major. It allows me to take classes like The Arts and Human Rights, or Arts, Theater and Film Arts Entrepreneurship and Social Policy. It gives me greater freedom in thinking about what lies ahead of me and how I can do what I love while making a positive difference in the world. I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.

Apr 242017
 
 April 24, 2017  Posted by

The author wrote this piece shortly before course registration season.

 

Course registration for the next semester opens in two weeks, and I’m still just as lost as I was when I arrived at Duke. Each time I go home, my parents ask me the dreaded question: “So, what are you studying?”

People often say that your major doesn’t have to determine your job – that you can do anything you want regardless of what words appear on your degree. So why, then, do people care so much about your major and what you study?

I enrolled in Duke as a student in the Pratt School of Engineering. I was always ironically proud of the designation of my status, by merit of having chosen a “hard” major. Yet, over the course of one semester, I gained a better appreciation for my interests and am, in all likelihood, transferring to Trinity. The reactions I get when I break the news—of mild surprise, subliminal consolation (usually in the form of self-relation), and/or assurance that I made the right decision—make me feel as if I must somehow regret abandoning a “better” course of study.

There is an idea that some majors, and thereby some professions, are more valuable, noble, honorable, productive, etc. than others; yet, with the idolization of one major or profession comes the belittling of another. We judge people based on our own experiences; that much is understandable. Yet, that leads to misconceptions of intrinsic versus societally-defined worth. Is a scientist or academic more respectable than a non-college degree holder, or even an artist or musician?

Take minimum wage as an example: people often argue that workers don’t deserve a raise because the work they are doing doesn’t merit higher pay; certainly, they don’t deserve equal pay to a skilled professional with a college degree, or a scientist that feeds his family on the merits of curiosity and intellectual breakthroughs.

We often define people not as people first, but as an external component of their being, whether that is profession, race, gender, or something else. We see people not as who they are, but what they do. Such an argument perhaps has deeply utilitarian roots; after all, people are only worth what they contribute to society. But that line of thinking can be deeply problematic. How do we measure the worth of one individual’s contributions to society? Can that be balanced and weighed against his/her contributions to friends and family?

Yet, at the same time, such distinctions over the merits of certain majors do follow a logic of their own. How could we rationalize a lifetime of debt in exchange for a job that barely sustains your living? And could all the extra work that seems to befall STEM majors really not confer some degree of higher intellect?

So then, where does the nuance lie? Should we distinguish major and profession? Or are the roots of the issue ingrained in societal roles of certain professions themselves? And what effects do student pursuit of success play in affecting this dynamic? Good thing I’m not an ethics major.

Apr 202017
 
 April 20, 2017  Posted by

A friend of mine is an American History buff. He’s the guy who would actually read Rob Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton but wouldn’t recognize Lin Manuel Miranda on the street. Whereas I will get the cliff-notes of the biography from him and will repeatedly listen to both Hamilton and the Hamilton Mixtape. The intersection of our knowledge is essentially “Cabinet Battle 3” on the Hamilton Mixtape.

Lin Manuel Miranda wrote “Cabinet Battle 3” but ultimately had to exclude it from the final Broadway musical. The song is a debate within President George Washington’s Cabinet about whether to abolish slavery. Hamilton argues that slavery will only cause more problems for the new nation and that it is hypocrisy for the nation founded on freedom to permit slavery. Jefferson reminds Hamilton that the Constitution prevents the government from addressing slavery until 1808, that emancipation will lead the South to secede, and that even if the government bans slavery it cannot undo the prejudice and hatred of the Southern slave owners. He says, “It’s a sin. It’s growing like a cancer/ But we can’t address the question if we do not have an answer. ”

We know Jefferson won that battle, but who had the moral high ground? Hamilton for not tolerating the hypocrisy or Jefferson for preserving the Union?

Consider the endless debates between President Abraham Lincoln and Congressman Thaddeus Stevens. The two frequently argued about the best way to end slavery. Lincoln wanted to end slavery, but he wanted to preserve the Union more. Stevens was one of the, if not the, staunchest proponent of abolition in Congress at the time. What came of their debates was the Emancipation Proclamation: the end of slavery…in the South but not in the Union or in the Border States where Lincoln actually had the authority to end slavery.

Yet we celebrate Lincoln and Jefferson, and not Stevens and Hamilton*. We praise Lincoln and Jefferson for getting shit done.

However, there’s a trend among liberal college students to criticize Lincoln and Jefferson for their hypocrisy. The criticism, particularly against the Founding Fathers, is that they created a system that called for equality but only benefited white, property owning men. (Lincoln isn’t as frequently criticized in this manner, but one could argue Lincoln was wrong to prioritize the Union and not abolition.) These students argue that because the Founding Fathers ignored everyone except white, property-owning men, their ideas are invalid.

My history-obsessed friend hates this. As an ardent reader of historical figures biographies, he knows that Jefferson was a unique individual who held and struggled with many contradictory opinions. Jefferson advocated for a liberal democracy and equal society, and still recognized that slavery was wrong and eventually must end. For Jefferson, slavery was an unfortunate and unavoidable cost of creating a new liberal democracy. James Madison, the author of the Constitution, was acutely aware of the hypocrisy of permitting slavery, but also saw slavery as an unavoidable cost of creating his new Constitution. The liberal democracy Madison, Jefferson and the Founding Fathers created allowed Congressman Stevens to debate President Lincoln about whether to prioritize the preservation of the Union or abolition of slavery. Moreover, historians argue that Lincoln’s decision to preserve the Union ensure the Union would win the Civil War and abolition of slavery.

It scares me that a simplistic view of history is being used to criticize the foundations of our liberal democracy; it is what allows us to debate, argue, hold our representatives accountable, tolerate cultural and ideological differences, essentially everything that we claim America to be. While democracies are far from perfect, in the words of Winston Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of government … except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” If the ideas of our democracy are wrong because the Founding Fathers were hypocrites, where does that leave us? A form of government that is worse than democracy?

It scares me that we treat the Founding Fathers as one-dimensional characters that were either perfect or hypocritical white-supremacists. In doing so, we are ignoring their humanity. We refuse to allow them to have made mistakes or to have struggled with these massively consequential, controversial decisions. There’s no room for any nuance regarding these ideas that we now take for granted.

Finally, it scares me most that the argument that the Founding Fathers were hypocritical white-supremacists because it’s simply wrong. Historians have shown repeatedly that the Founding Fathers struggled with the hypocrisy of what they were doing. It scares me because I see a lack of critical reasoning that is necessary to engage in public discourse of a liberal democracy.

For those who just consume Hamilton: The Musical, it’s easy to see Hamilton as a hero simply because he’s the titular character. It’s so easy to get swept away during the musical if you only listen to Hamilton’s side of the story. But if you listen closely, Hamilton is an obnoxious, arrogant ass (see: “Here’s an itemize list of thirty years of disagreements”). And if you do further research and read more about Hamilton, you learn that he was an elitist who believed only the wealthy and educated should vote and might have tried to militarize the United States. I don’t say this to diminish that Hamilton’s central bank plan was decades before his time, nor his work defending the Constitution in the Federalist Papers.

Simply, it’s complicated and we should embrace the complications.

 

 

*Yes, there’s a great musical about Hamilton and people are literally singing his praises. But before Lin Manuel Miranda, Hamilton was just Washington’s Treasury Secretary who was shot and killed by Vice President Aaron Burr.

Apr 172017
 
 April 17, 2017  Posted by

As a disclaimer, this isn’t a blog post functioning as a potential authority on the subject, but rather a coherent string of thoughts on the two subjects.

In the breathless whisper of autumn leaves, in the silent crash of waves against the sand, in the babbling of brooks and rivers, in the velvet petals and ripe fruits of stems and tree branches. In faded polaroid frames, in rough tree carvings, in exchanged or discarded clothing items. In songs, in movies, in poems, in artworks.

Yes, the L word is Love. It seems almost impossible to escape its manifestations and influence. There is love everywhere, eternally embodied to stand the test of time. Some people posit love as the most powerful force to construct human relationships and open pathways for empathy, compassion, and benevolence. I don’t know if I would hold love in such high esteem (mainly because I’m not familiar or overly comfortable with how to express it in my personal life), but I do see traces and multiplicities of love in almost all of my personal relationships with people, whether I’m close with them or not: family, friends, classmates, teachers, singers, artists, writers, home, birthplace, cities, streets, food, animals. In the depths of my complex human (dis)connections, every string is unique, crafted with different foundational materials and worn down at different knots and lengths due to the different experience they have weathered.

Considering this, questions that force you to absolutely compare multiple relationships confuse me. For children with parents of the opposite sex, who do you love more? Your mother or your father? Do you love your brother/sister/sibling or your cousin more? If your significant other or your best friend since elementary school were drowning and you could only save one person, who would you save? In elementary even middle school, there would be petty, naive bickering about who your best (implying singularity) friend was, or even a ranking of, for example, your top three best friends. Reflecting back on this, how are you supposed to place comparative values on such sensitive, distinctive, fundamentally different emotional compositions?

I know of people who have been in long-term relationships for over five years. I know a high school junior and high school senior couple who will probably end up getting married, as the junior’s parents were high school sweethearts themselves, going to colleges in the same area and giving up better educational opportunities for each other. I have friends that are at Duke specifically to look for their lifelong significant other (yikes). As someone who tries not to think too much about their future (a sad impossibility at such an intense, overwhelmingly pre-professional school), the institution called marriage is a mystery to me. I don’t know how the conversation came up, but I was in a car with some friends driving to H-Mart and we ended up talking about marriage and monogamy. I’ve never seriously thought about polyamorous relationships until that car ride. What is it about dividing our love, energy, and time to multiple people in a romantic context that’s forbidden and hated? Is it human selfishness? Jealousy? Or is that the natural order of things? I don’t have a definite answer to this, but it’s something that merits further reading and thinking on my part.

Apr 052017
 
 April 5, 2017  Posted by

Her: “Oh my goodness. I love your ring, where did you get it?! Urban Outfi-”

Me: *furrowed eyebrows and a blunt eye-roll*

I started my shift last week, with a very interesting interaction.

Me: “Hi! What can I get for –““NO. This is from my Grandmother, she got it from a Navajo Jeweler on the Navajo reservation. This is authentic, not that commercialized stuff”

Her: *Confused and annoyed*

“Oh… that’s cool… I’ll have a tea.”

My main concern was that this girl didn’t know what authentic jewelry was and that she couldn’t grasp why I would be offended.

I understand that people may not know what authentic Native jewelry may look like. Although she annoyed me with her ignorance , she was not completely at fault. It is a part of a larger battle.

Mainstream media has produced a stereotypical image of a Native American person. We have Western films to thank for streamlining this image. When most people think of Native people they often invision a  free-spirited, teepee-living, buckskin-wearing, pipe-smoking, long-haired, red-skinned Native person. Many people take this image as true because they have only been fed misrepresentations and appropriation their entire lives.

By now one would think our society would have learned these stereotypes are offensive – but we haven’t. This is why we still have the term name redsk*ns, headdresses at music festivals, appropriated fashion, and Native princess Halloween costumes. People still believe in these stereotypes today.

However, this does not excuse appropriation as acceptable. It’s not. Appropriation will never be justifiable because you are taking what belonged to Native people… for your own benefit.

Appropriation is a modern day form of colonization. My friend, Amber Hall, of the Cherokee Nation, says: “being able to manipulate the imagery of the indigeneity is part of the colonialism that still haunts native people today.” When you wear tribal pattern or print and don’t personally identify as Native you are really misrepresenting a whole population and their history. That is why your feathers and fringe are insulting to my people.

People who wear Native print are manipulating patterns from our sacred baskets to put on your underwear. You are making our ceremonial blankets into skater shoes. You are desecrating a symbol of honor to wear as your festival attire. These patterns have significant meaning to our people.  Our culture should not be someone else’s fashion.

People buying into the fashion do not know how damaging this is for Native people. One major  detriment to the Native designs one can see in Urban Outfitters is that it is that it’s not made by Native people. These appropriated products you see are designed by non-natives and sold for profit by non-natives. Then you are paying non-Natives for Native designs, which does not make sense. This puts many real Native designers out of their jobs.

Many do not see appropriation as a big problem because they do not see the direct impact, but the impact on Native people is  . The obsession that the fashion industry has with Native culture needs to end. You can play a major role in halting the misrepresentation. Now that you are informed, inform others.

Stop buying fashion that looks Native, if you question it – don’t buy it. Just remember appropriated Native designs always have an excessive amount of neon, beading, and fringe – always the fringe. If you have a genuine appreciation for Native jewelry and clothing then buy things from people who are Native.

There are many sites in which you can do that, so the money you spend goes directly to Native people. Websites such as NotAbove Jewlery made by my personal friend Nanibaa Beck https://notabove.com/, B.Yellowtail who created the “Indigenous Woman Rise” movement http://www.byellowtail.com/, Urban Native Era Movement http://www.urbannativeera.com/,  and Saba T-shirt designs https://sabahut.com/graphic-design/t-shirts/. I wouldn’t be upset if I saw someone walking around campus with these. I’d love to see more people supporting local artists.

That’s the only way to stop fashion designers from taking from our culture. Give respect back to our people and stop perpetuating the stereotypes.

Mar 302017
 
 March 30, 2017  Posted by

Suddenly it happened.

Two in the morning, on February 5th 2017.

Wearing an old t-shirt and jeans.

Just hanging out.

The blonde-haired and extremely ridiculous boy quietly analyzed me, watching my facial expression while I was working. He looked at me hopefully, as he whispered, “What is this?” I had never seen him act anything even remotely near coy, but something about that moment was so innocent.

The seriousness hung in the hair, and as a self-proclaimed commitment-phobe, I might have freaked out. Well, if we are being honest, I completely freaked out. “Ummmmm……we are a thing. Like you know like two people ‘just chillin’,” I blabbered to him.

Because I had been promised in coming to Duke, that our culture was one of hooking-up—that we all have so much to do, we don’t take the time to actually get to know the other beyond friendship. We want it all: close friends, amazing grades, great resumes, so where is the room for an emotional commitment with a significant other? We fill this void with physical actions, whether that is dancing at Shooters, one-night stands, hookup buddies, or whatever else fulfills the role of connecting without fully tying ourselves to another person.

Sure, I know people who have dated at Duke. Those people who spend nights with one other person–complete with the candle lit dinner dates, kisses from the west bus stop, and slow walks through the Duke Gardens holding hands–that characterizes actual dating.

 

Yet, I had never been able to see myself as a part of this ‘dating’ culture. Why? Because I had been hurt in the past, and I genuinely did not want anything to add to my responsibilities on top of being a student. Because I’m just a freshman, trying to find my own place in this university—desperately needing this identity to not be connected to another person. Because being ‘a thing’ seems less public and more ambiguous. Because not dating seems so much easier.

And it is. It is so much easier to never define things, never let another person know how much they mean to you, to never let someone else see the idiosyncrasies that make you tick. It is so much easier to break off things that never actually were, limiting your attachment to a group of people you once were a ‘thing’ with.

As a population, we Duke students are so afraid of committing, of labels, that we hide behind the uncertainty of being undefined. We are afraid of the time commitment and of being rejected, so we never allow ourselves to date–to sit down and have a simple meal and just enjoy someone else’s company. But in doing this we lose the true connectivity of a dating type of relationship, where everyone else in this kinda-dating, kinda-hooking up culture seems afraid to announce what exactly they want. It seems like everyone here is in the middle of a ‘thing,’ whether you are swiping right, hanging out with someone, or inviting each other to date-functions (WOW, y’all are basically getting married). Yet, this relationship hits a stalemate when people fail to communicate their expectations of what these interactions are, leaving both parties unfulfilled.

 

So what happens to the young couple at the beginning of this story? Well, after he outsmarted me with flowers on Valentine’s Day and I memed him, I realized that a lot of ‘dating’ is just enjoying spending time that special other person. I came to terms with the fact that I had feelings for the blue-eyed, foolish, passionate boy who never shuts up; but just being a ‘thing’ systematically invalidated any ‘right’ I had to these feelings. So I sent him a text, and I was honest with him. I asked him where he saw this thing going, knowing that sustaining this middle ground would be emotionally unfulfilling for me. He told me that he thought we could build a relationship, and soon after we started dating.

 

Now, I am not telling the entire Duke population to get ‘cuffed’ (especially if you aren’t ready for a relationship), or for each of you to start scoping out ‘the one.’ Life doesn’t work like that. I am asking for each of you to be straightforward and honest in what you want in a relationship, whether that involved dating, sex, or just a good time. It minimizes the grey area, and makes sure everyone is getting what they want–making things clearer and easier for everyone involved.

 

Mar 292017
 
 March 29, 2017  Posted by

A typical Sunday morning as a Duke freshman: I wake up around 10am and text my friends to see who’s ready to go to Marketplace brunch. I head to the bathroom to wash up, where the trash cans are indubitably overflowing onto the counters and floor. I go downstairs to find our common rooms in a truly disgusting state. Trash– food wrappers, empty pizza boxes, papers– litter the floor. Random belongings, perhaps a calculator or a computer charger, lie strewn throughout the room. Maybe some tables or chairs are overturned or in the wrong place.

Duke students are so aware of and engaged with the world around us. We volunteer in Durham. We major in public policy, planning to go out and change the world when we graduate. We choose professions where we hope to be able to have an impact on others’ lives. We are so engaged in a global, big-picture sense. Yet why are we so incapable of thinking about how we can support those within Duke’s community? We skip over the small, simple things we can do to make our housekeepers’ jobs easier – throwing away our trash, pushing in our chairs, putting paper towels in the trash can – assuming that ‘someone else’ will just take care of it later. We implicitly decide that we have better things to do than to worry about our garbage; someone else, someone ‘inferior,’ can deal with that.

I am implicated in this too. I’ve let many a paper towel fall onto the floor in the bathroom; although I see them every day, I have never introduced myself to the housekeepers in my dorm; I criticize the food that the Marketplace employees spend hours each day preparing; I complain about the construction going on outside my dorm. In an environment with so many incredible opportunities, it can certainly be easy to lose perspective, to take all of the great things about Duke for granted and become stuck in the minor inconveniences.

As Duke students, we care deeply about macro-level problems facing Duke workers. I remember visiting campus for Blue Devil Days last April and being struck by the tents I saw set up in front of the Allen Building – it wasn’t basketball season, after all. The students protesting, part of an organization called Duke Students & Workers in Solidarity, had quite a few demands, including a raise of campus minimum wage and the firing of Executive Vice President Tallman Trask for allegedly using a racial slur toward a Duke employee after hitting her with his car in 2014. The group’s actions on university-employee relationships are quite important and have an impact: for example, the university agreed in response to the protests to gradually raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour by July 2019. But I wonder if the organization could also encourage some action on the relationships between students and Duke employees. Perhaps fostering better connections would lead to even greater solidarity between these two groups and, in turn, increased influence of Duke Students & Workers in Solidarity as an organization.

So next time we are tempted to leave that pizza box in the common room after a late night out, let’s take a moment to remember the real people who will have to clean it up the next day. Rather than always being so tied up in broader issues of social justice, let’s all take that extra minute to look at our own lives and interactions – to treat the university employees who play such an integral, yet unrecognized role in our lives at Duke with a little more respect.

Mar 282017
 
 March 28, 2017  Posted by

 

Turn your neck away from the U.S. for a second. Yes, just a teeny tiny second. “But…Betsy Devos! Obamacare! The future of the world!” you will cry desperately. Understandable, but while you were completely engrossed by the dystopian reality TV fantasy hybrid American politics has become, the rest of the world moved on. Unfortunately, not to a good place. A genocide is being committed today, right now. People are fleeing, and not just the refugees you love hearing about because they’re a problem for European countries, but other people. Even worse, champions of democracy that the U.S. government supported through lofty speeches for decades, who bears all the hallmarks given so graciously to proponents of democracy in the “third world” (ahem, the Nobel Peace Prize), have stood by quietly and endorsed massacres.

Turn your neck a little bit further. You’re at war with seven countries. That’s your tax dollars at work being used to starve children in Yemen. Unfortunately, you can’t blame that one on Trump, though I’m sure he’s not about to make it better. The man you laughed at while saying thank you to for 8 years stood by while a dictator used chemical weapons on his people after drawing a “red line” in the sand. But these are not his faults either. Instead, a product of years of American exceptionalism. An accumulation of putting fingers in pies that were not yours to begin with. This is not to insinuate that you are complicit for the crimes of your government; but neither are you a mere witness to history’s passage.

As your neck begins to strain from watching the horror of watching things you thought we once declared to happen “never again”, know that you are not helpless. In fact, you are exactly where you need to be to effect change – in the right place, at the right time. You have a president you (presumably) despise, but who is willing to retract from the world. Use him to end the US’s support of Saudi war crimes in Yemen. Call your senators about the Rohingyas. If you are truly committed to building the kind of world that can uphold a promise of “never again”, your civic duty does not end with calling about Betsy Devos. In fact, your responsibilities as a global citizen have barely begun.

Take heart in the fact that you are the person the world needs. Then march yourself to the phone, and call your senator.

Mar 272017
 
 March 27, 2017  Posted by

First day of my freshman year of high school. I’m sitting in the cafeteria with some friends, not entirely sure where my next class is. A friend comes up to me, a boy I’ve never seen before in tow. She introduces me to him, all small talk and nervous smiles.

Flash forward four years, and that boy is grown up. He is a man, in a suit, speaking at my graduation party

“She’s been my best friend for the past four years, my person.”

He was right. He was my person. No one knew me the way he did. We had travelled together, relied on each other, trusted one another implicitly. Not only were we best friends, but we were speech partners and co-captains of our speech and debate team. The success of our performance relied on our ability to perform with synchronization and communication.

“We’ve cried together, we’ve peed our pants laughing together. But most importantly we found out who we were together.”

Last semester, Nate attended college in Utah. He called me nearly every day. Whether it was for a quick five minute hey-how’s-your-day-going or a longer conversation, his voice was something constant in a time of shifting ground. I was there for him, watching on FaceTime when he received his mission call. I watched when he opened it in front of a room of near-strangers. I watched as he read the words he had been waiting for since he was a child.

“Dear Elder Wutzke. You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the Czech/Slovak Mission. It is anticipated that you will serve for a period of 24 months.”

Earlier this year, Nate travelled to the Missionary Training Center in Utah. After weeks there studying the Czech language, he will find a new home in the Czech Republic. He will spend the next two years there on his mission, serving the people in whatever way he can.

All I can tell him is how happy I am for him. With every email, his joy is evident on the pages. He is dedicating his life to something he loves wholeheartedly. Still, I was not expecting to feel hurt that he would choose to leave. I was not expecting to wish he could have stayed. I’m terrified that he’ll come back, and I won’t know him at all. I know this isn’t fair, but I don’t want him to come back someone that I don’t recognize. I was not expecting for that to make me feel guilty.

The questions here are bigger than Nate and I. Is it wrong to wish the people you love won’t change? We all have personal interests in maintaining the relationships that are most meaningful to us, but how does that change as each of us has obligations outside of our relationships? I don’t want Nate to change because I love and know the person who he is.

At the same time, this is wholly hypocritical. I can’t expect to stay the same for the next two years either, nor would I want to. If I’m the same person at graduation as I was during convocation, then I did something very wrong.

The scary truth is that Nate and I may grow away from one another in irreconcilable ways. We’ll both go home in two years. We’ll learn to know one another all over again.

The day Nate entered the MTC, he called me from a strange number. I missed the call.

“Hey Sonali, I am about to enter the MTC so…there’s that. I love you um make good choices, have a great semester and I’ll see you in two years. Love you bye.”

See you in two years, Elder Wutzke. I can’t wait to meet you all over again.

Mar 242017
 
 March 24, 2017  Posted by

Ever since the result of the election, protest after protest has popped up to contest the Trump administration. On January 21st, 2017, over 5 million people across the world joined 673 Women’s Marches in what became the largest one-day demonstration in US history. A little more than a week later, people flocked to airports all over the country to protest the new immigration ban. As a movement, these protests advocate for human rights policies and legislations, highlighting the many inequalities minorities must face.

Yet, even though I agree with what these marches stand for, I can’t help but feel uneasy with the notion of protesting.

To begin, much of protesters arguments have been that Trump supporters are ignorant – unaware of the privilege they have and the hardship of others. But I’ve seen too many protesters guilty of ignorance themselves, going out to ridicule policies based on their perception of the law rather than what the law actually states. Combating ignorance with more ignorance doesn’t solve the problem, nor does it move us closer towards any agreement. This is not to say that protestors views are not valid, but that they must be informed before acting. They go in with the right intentions, but not the full picture of what is at hand. For example, many of the Women’s March participants only stood for women’s rights, when the demonstration was also meant to stand for immigration, healthcare, environment, and employment reform, as well as LGBTQ rights, racial equality, and religious freedom. Why didn’t they advocate for those issues too?

Understandably, some might say that protesting is the first step towards raising awareness and advocacy. But I believe raising awareness means educating, not a pep rally of chanting one’s beliefs. Hearing “the pussy grabs back” won’t make someone who is sexist suddenly treat women as equals, rather, it might even have the opposing effect. But hearing a better understanding of why feminism is important, and what feminism can do for the world, has a much more meaningful impact.

My next concern is that the protests only further the divide between opposing parties. How does congregating a group of people, who already agree with each other change the minds of people who disagree with them? How does sharing experiences of racism, sexism, and islamophobia make an impact, if those who sympathize with victims are the only ones hearing it? Ultimately, I believe we need people from conflicting sides to communicate with one another to better understand each other’s’ perspectives. Only with these conversations can we unite in a solution – otherwise the country will only continue in this gridlock. I love that liberals advocate for inclusion and fight for the rights of minorities, defending the importance of diversity. But at the same time, we ought to recognize that diversity still includes the views of our conservative counterparts.

There is a reason people hold the beliefs they do. There is a reason people from certain areas tend to hold certain views, as a result of their upbringings and experiences. We cannot categorize large numbers of people as “wrong” or “right” simply by the situations they were placed in, even if we believe the views derived from them to be seriously detrimental. Trump was elected, in part, because a large portion of Americans felt like they weren’t being listened to. But are protests doing to hear them? Is there a more effective way to involve their voices too? I believe that if we keep protesting, keep fighting with blinders on to the opposing side, our country only becomes further polarized–the very country we claim to be “united”.