Round Table Comments

A few thoughts from my peers that couldn’t be posted due to technical difficulties!

Travel is Ugly

Amy Macrae – I think that you wrote about an issue that is so much more than just travel. Social Media is a lie as most people only post the best of their days. No one is sitting posting pictures of themselves crying over a heartbreak or sitting in their room during hour eight of a study day. We are all guilty of showing only half the story and I think you gave a wonderful window into this principle with this piece. Using travel as a window into this world of false perceptions of people thanks to social media is a simple way for people to start thinking about social media. I often think about the number of young girls sitting at home watching a model’s instagram feed or snapchat story and thinking that is what society’s perception of beauty is. Social media is scary but thank you so much for being so open and honest about your experience with travel and this issue!

Natalie Balladarsch – I think the idea of that the ugliness of travel is an important part of it that is hidden is really interesting. Even more than that, I think it can be taken further and connected to life in general. With social media and our sharing culture today, we often curate our profiles to select highlights that make all of our lives look far more glamorous. We all want to have the best, most amazing, most fun experiences, but we forget that showing the uglier side of life can be beautiful too. Overcoming hardships or getting through tough times is something to be more proud of than having a seemingly smooth life.

Hamdah Salhut – This is a great read. Often times, people go places just to take a picture and show it to others. The fascination with having everyone see what you’re doing is just “in” right now. You say “Realistically, no one wants to see delays, dejection, and diarrhea when scrolling down their phone screen. But what puzzles me is how little dialogue centers around those topics.” This is so true! Everything you state about travel is true, but somehow we still see it as so glamorous.


We Must Change the Way Society Reacts to Sexual Harassment

Natalie Balladarsch – I agree that the way these issues are handled is appalling. I was (and still am) absolutely shocked that Trump could make the comments that he did on the Access Hollywood tape and still go on to become President. If a job applicant was found to have said something like that, a company would not hire him because they can find a higher quality person to fit their position. So, how did Trump make it to the White House even after proving just how he thinks about women? I think it says something about the way people still think about women who are victims of sexual harassment and abuse. It says people still don’t think it’s as serious of an issue as it is, and they’d rather turn the other way and pretend it’s fine because that’s easier than finding a new candidate or show host. It goes without saying that this is absurd and needs to be changed.


Leadership is Overrated

Amy Macrae – I think that you brought up a very interesting topic up by writing this piece. The issue of leading and following is not something new, but is something that has never really been openly addressed like this before. I think you summarized the solution perfectly by writing, “The solution lies in an immediate culture shift. It must begin with a simple adjustment of word choice on job descriptions and interview questions, followed by teaching decision-makers to look for intense dedication, integrity, and passion towards whatever the candidates do, and will bring with them to the university or job.” Students are encouraged so heavily to get leadership positions but I completely agree with you in that there is such an obvious need for people to be good at following others. Do you think that college counsellors should start telling their clients to “follow more” instead of “lead more”? I think this is sensitive material as you want to encourage students to be their best but to also understand both sides of this principle.

Audrey Blow – Your piece was interesting to read. I had never thought of whether it might be better to promote being a follower in our society, as opposed to a leader. I agree that often people mix up status for leadership. A good example is celebrities. People often look up to these people and follow their suit, because they are famous and wealthy individuals. Being part of the elite does not make one a suitable leader in our society and this is a dangerous assumption people have. The quote you incorporated brought up a good point that schools promote leadership because this is what is sought after in the corporate world. I agree that this should shift. Being a follower does not deserve the negative connotation it is often given. Being a good follower is far better than being a bad leader.


Serving the Environment and Community, One Crayon at a Time

Audrey Blow – I had not heard of the Crayon Collection before reading your post and I am glad I was introduced to the idea. I applaud people like Sheila Morovati who take the initiative to better their community and make a change in the lives of our younger generations. This story is an example of how more people, myself included, should become involved in their communities and the betterment of society. In times such as these, when the world seems like it is falling apart and there is a split down the middle of our country, we must join together in ways that will make a difference. The way they expanded the Crayon Collection into an Arts and Education Program is a great way to bring back the education that people are trying to take away from children. There is significance in art education and the way that they have worked within national standards to provide a fun and hands on curriculum for children will boost creativity in the classroom. Art brings joy and happiness to young children and the way the organization has chosen to expand and promote art is a great contribution to their communities.


Deadly Flaws: The Legality, Efficacy, and Morality of Capital Punishment

Hamdah Salhut – When you presented this in class, I defiantly saw where you were coming from. While I would not parade around and say I am for the death penalty, I feel like there are some crimes that are so tragic and just so awful that there is no real punishment for them. The justice system, some might find, is unjust. The example of the man who died for 40 minutes was really eye opening for the entire class, I think. The fact that non-registered nurses and people with no medical training  delivering these injections is mind boggling, but I think the future of this is still up in the air.


To Tolerate Organized Racism is to Validate It

Audrey Blow – This post is one of the posts that most caught my eye. I had never heard of the National Democratic Party of Germany before reading your post. It is disgusting to hear of another organization that holds racism dear to its heart. The decision that the party is not a threat I believe is a mistake as well. Voicing racist beliefs in the form of an organized group is dangerous. Racism is very much still alive and I believe it to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest threat to our society today and I believe the NPD to be the same sort of threat for Germany. But how do we stop racism? We cannot take away the first amendment right to freedom of speech, which I do agree with. But, we should be able to shut down an organization that promotes violence and even acts on hateful urges toward people in the community. If Germany allows an organization like this to build and expand and continue to commit heinous acts of discrimination, then years or decades from now there will be a catastrophic event that will make them regret the decision to not act now.


Travel is Ugly (And It Should Be)

Last summer, I had the privilege of exploring South America’s west coast – from Lima’s culinary masterpieces all the way down to the sublime terrain of Chilean Patagonia.

To stay in touch with my world back home, I filled social media outlets with images and clips of my highlight reel. I shared the glorious meals I devoured, the stunning landscapes I traversed, and the amusing idiosyncrasies that I encountered in unfamiliar territory. Clearly I was having the time of my life. To the outside world, I projected a facade of effortless hedonism.

The first statement is anything but a lie – I can’t think of a more fulfilling way to have spent the few weeks preceding a rigorous internship, and wouldn’t trade my varied experiences for anything. But were my adventures effortless? Not even close.

Outside the scope of my Snapchat story was an entirely different narrative. For one thing, all those amazing meals hit my wallet with serious force. My trek of the Torres del Paine W-route was delayed by a full 24 hours after the airline carelessly left all of my gear back in Santiago – every backpacker’s worst nightmare (the tearful reunion with my bag is pictured below). And as wild and beautiful as Chile’s capital proved to be, my time there was graced by leering strangers, mocking konnichiwas, and even a mugging attempt.


And that’s what amuses me most when perusing my Instagram feed, stuffed with the seemingly carefree conquests of my cultured friend list (my contributions included). Where are the long hours at the airport? The piercing moments of loneliness that occasionally settle on the brave solo traveler? The inevitable food poisoning that everyone faces at some point in their career abroad?

Realistically, no one wants to see delays, dejection, and diarrhea when scrolling down their phone screen. But what puzzles me is how little dialogue centers around those topics. Because in my opinion, discomfort is what truly sets an adventure apart from ordering Thai to be delivered to your apartment and binging a season of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Those stressful, even nightmarish moments are what make us take steps forward as human beings.

To me, travel is the beads of sweat forming on your upper lip when trying to juggle removing your laptop, jacket, shoes, and liquids in the airport security line. Travel is the bruises blossoming on your hips from hiking all day with a thirty pound pack. Travel is that distinct feeling of melancholy that bleeds through your consciousness when thinking about just how far you are from everything you know and understand.

But those struggles, inconveniences, and discomforts are an absolute privilege to own. Travel is ugly, but its externalities are of a distinct and powerful beauty.

We Must Change the Way Society Reacts to Sexual Harassment

Bill O'Reilly
Image credit to

When Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape leaked, the country was split between the horrified…and the annoyed. The latter was a group of people who viewed the then-nominee’s lewd comments as outdated, irrelevant, and a distraction from the “more important” policy issues at hand. There are several statements along these lines tweeted in response to Trump’s quasi-apology video, including this one from Twitter user @Nycusatony28:

“Let’s stop getting distracted and focus on the things Trump wants to do to make this country great again.”

Fast forward to the beginning of this month, when another right wing personality joined the ranks of Roger Ailes and Donald Trump: Bill O’Reilly. The Fox News star was revealed to have presented settlements totaling around $13 million to the five women who made harassment claims against him. This news was immediately followed by substantial public backlash and the termination of several dozen advertising contracts that support his show.

However, just because the people are angry doesn’t mean the problem has been solved. What with the deprioritization of victims’ accusations and the settlements that successfully silence them, this entire incident has revealed yet another ugly layer of the complex issue that is sexual harassment in the workplace. When properly addressing these crimes is relegated to “getting distracted” and money is seen as justice, it cheapens the value of a woman’s body and encourages repeat behavior from offenders.

On one hand, who are people to say that sexual harassment isn’t a pressing, current issue? According to a 2015 survey of 2,235 part-time and full-time female employees, 1 in 3 of those women experienced some form of workplace sexual harassment at some point in their lives. This is a real, repulsive problem that is plaguing an unfathomable number of Americans. How can that possibly be irrelevant? It certainly sounds like these complaints are stemming from a demographic of individuals that will never find themselves in the terrible situations that Nancy O’Dell, Gretchen Carlson, Wendy Walsh, and millions of other women have faced.

And on the other hand, there is the use of cash as a muzzle. High-profile sexual harassment cases, from that of Clinton to O’Reilly, are almost expected to end in a large payout – rather than the criminal charges that the offenders often deserve. This fails to eliminate the issue at its root. If these wealthy, powerful men and their companies receive only a slap on the wrist and a dent in their wallets for their atrocious behavior, it’s unlikely that they will be moved to change. The fact that these firms sometimes even let the accused retain those positions of power is equivalent to zookeepers leaving a hungry lion in a pen full of zebras.

It doesn’t look like workplace sexual harassment is going to end anytime soon. Which begs the question: why, at the very least, aren’t we responding to these incidents properly?

Trump is in Retrograde


Clean Energy

According to the acclaimed online astrologists of our time, the arrival of April is joined by four planets in retrograde: Venus, Saturn, Mercury, and Pluto. But this list of masses currently dampening everyone’s mood isn’t a comprehensive one. It would be rude to omit our current president, who, through his attempt to bring our country back to the “good old days,” has won the title of the most backwards celestial body in our solar system.

Astrology defines retrograde as the orbit of a celestial body whose spin runs counter to that of the unit it circles. American politics defines retrograde as exactly what Trump is doing – running counter to his country’s needs with his recent dismantling of the Obama administration’s climate change efforts.

Last week, Trump signed an executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency to begin withdrawing from his predecessor’s Clean Power Plan. The purpose of this decision was to roll back environmental regulations that led to the shutdown of many coal-fired power plants, and to bring back the associated blue-collar jobs. As he said in no uncertain terms, this is “A NEW ERA IN AMERICAN ENERGY!”

Flanked by grinning coal miners, Trump did the legislative equivalent of performing CPR on a mummy. Because coal is nearly dead.

And it has been dying for decades. Between lessening demand when pitted against cheap natural gas, automation from machines and explosives, and the growing popularity of renewables, bringing back the industry is more a romantic delusion than a feasible goal. Robert Murray, a prominent independent operator of coal mines in the United States, admitted that Trump should “temper his expectations” about the coal industry, and that employment “can’t be brought back to where it was before the election of Barack Obama.”

Yet even if the jobs he wants revived still existed, Trump is about to encounter another beast of a problem: by trying to breathe life into a sector that barely has functioning lungs, the president is forgoing the innovation and crucial economic growth that comes with forging the inevitable path towards a zero-carbon society.

This recent regression in environmental policy, combined with Trump’s threats to pull our country out of the 2015 Paris Agreement, puts an economic rival of ours in a unique position. Once the subject of Obama’s insistence to follow the United States’ lead on environmental innovation, China is now pushing past us at breakneck speed.

“Trump’s rejection of regulatory action on climate change creates a vacuum in global climate leadership that China can now seize,” states Alex Wang, UCLA law professor and environmental expert.

His assertion is not hyperbole. Currently, China is overperforming on a majority of its environmental benchmarks – researchers have determined that the country is five years ahead of its goal to reach a carbon emissions peak by 2030.

The Chinese also drive both domestic and global investment in renewable energy sources. In 2015, they spent $103 billion on sustainable infrastructure, and last year expended $32 billion in renewables-related deals overseas. Their 2016 implementation of stringent environmental inspections, their addition of over 3.5 million jobs within their clean energy industry, and their plans to slash steel, fertilizer, and aluminum production by half this upcoming year all come together to reveal how seriously China is taking its new role.

As nice as it is to think that China is acting on totally benevolent intentions, there are immense rewards to be reaped when it comes to sustainability. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) predicts that the worldwide clean energy workforce will reach 24 million by 2030 – nearly 3 times the current count.

Narrowing in on the United States, one report finds that solar and wind jobs are growing a dozen times as fast as the entire economy. These jobs cannot be outsourced, pay above average wages, and are found in every state. While oil and gas producers conduct layoffs, those involved with renewables thrive.

So why isn’t Donald Trump, patron saint of job creation, looking towards the long term? Why isn’t he pushing for the route that will truly Make America Great Again?

The answer lies somewhere between his desire to mollify his voter base, and him utterly lacking foresight. Change is understandably terrifying to an industry as deeply rooted in the American culture and economy as coal once was, and it is much easier to stick a band-aid over a bleeding wound than it is to prepare for surgery.

Unfortunately, the end of April will only bring our planets back into alignment. Trump, on the other hand, is going to take more persuasion. But the sooner he realizes that the American Dream has always been a steep climb towards the unknown, the sooner we can take our rightful place at the forefront of environmental innovation and job growth.

Leadership is Overrated


Not everyone is, can be, or should be a leader. If everyone who claimed to have leadership skills was being truthful, little to nothing would ever get done – companies and schools would be writhing masses of Type-A personalities, all pushing to accelerate in different directions.

As someone who has now survived both college admissions and the job application process, I can state with utter confidence and derision that these institutions, and thereby their applicants, often confuse “status” for “leadership.” A recent New York Times opinion piece by Susan Cain directly addresses this modern values shift:

Our elite schools overemphasize leadership partly because they’re preparing students for the corporate world, and they assume that this is what businesses need. But a discipline in organizational psychology, called “followership,” is gaining in popularity. Robert Kelley, a professor of management and organizational behavior, defined the term in a 1988 Harvard Business Review article, in which he listed the qualities of a good follower, including being committed to “a purpose, principle or person outside themselves” and being “courageous, honest and credible.” It’s an idea that the military has long taught.

Cain brings up a brilliant point – when you stress title over integrity and push breadth of experience over depth of learning, you ultimately force students into molds that may very well not fit them. The moment words on a resume are worth more than genuine commitment to a cause, our society begins shaming the nature of some of its most valuable members.

So what can we do to fix this? The solution lies in an immediate culture shift. It must begin with a simple adjustment of word choice on job descriptions and interview questions, followed by teaching decision-makers to look for intense dedication, integrity, and passion towards whatever the candidates do, and will bring with them to the university or job.

Because in the end, these qualities encompass both the ideal leaders, and the finest followers.

Serving the Environment and Community, One Crayon at a Time

CC Photo 1

It’s commonly recognized that in the United States, arts programs are among the first to be sacrificed when public education budgets are slashed. Deemed at first glance as superfluous, especially when pitted against core subjects such as math and language arts, creativity is an easily justified casualty of anemic school districts.

But what is the real tradeoff when you prioritize academics ahead of the arts? A 2011 study conducted by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities found that on top of raising test scores, visual arts programs teach skills that improve reading, critical thinking, and motivation levels in students of all ages. This and dozens of other analyses emphasize just how closely creativity is linked to growth and self-esteem.

Even though California has one of the strongest statewide policies on arts education, thousands of its students suffer as a result of weak implementation and emaciated budgets. In fact, 8 out of 10 LAUSD elementary schools fail to meet the standards they are held to, with many having no art or music classes whatsoever.

Washington has certainly made its priorities clear, what with a proposed budget that guts the Department of Education and aims to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts. And Betsy DeVos, when asked whether she would promise to support public schools – which provide education for 90% of our country’s children – gave a chillingly noncommittal answer:

I look forward, if confirmed, to working with you to talk about how we address the needs of all parents and all students. We acknowledge today that not all schools are working for the students that are assigned to them.

So where policymakers fail to deliver, community members must take a stand.

That’s where Crayon Collection comes in. Homegrown in Los Angeles by Sheila Morovati, the nonprofit was founded on a simple action: collecting lightly used crayons from large diner chains and putting them in the hands of students at schools that often don’t even have funding for the most basic supplies. Thanks to the work of a small team of 3 and hundreds of community volunteers, their services can be found at restaurants and schools nationwide – and even internationally.

Having solidified their core services, Crayon Collection is now ready to take the next step. On March 31st they will launch their newly minted Arts in Education program. With the help of doctorate students in education from Loyola Marymount University and local LA artists, the nonprofit has developed a curriculum that meets state and national standards and serves kids from Pre-K up through grade 6. Each lesson pairs perfectly with the donated crayons, which are diverted from landfills to support learning and creative expression in the children that need it most.

In addition, their Artist Rotation Program enlists local artists and cultural ambassadors from a variety of backgrounds to visit these same classrooms and teach. By offering a robust curriculum that teachers can adopt at zero cost and wholesome lessons that utilize recycled objects like newspaper, Crayon Collection is just one group that is chipping away at a pervasive, deeply rooted problem affecting our most vulnerable neighbors.

The arts should be a right, not a privilege.

To learn more about Crayon Collection and to offer your support, visit their website.

From Dylan to Miranda to Kendrick: Breaking the Cultural Barriers of Traditional Awards

Kendrick Nobel Prize Medal.jpeg
Image credit to Vice’s Noisey

On April 18th, 2016, Broadway musical phenomenon Hamilton was announced as the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Six months later, American musician Bob Dylan was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature.

The main link between these two events is a sharp departure from the traditional – the hit musical, though progressive and culturally significant, uses rap instead of dialogue, and a folk singer is far from the standard, pen-to-paper winner of the prestigious literary accolade.

And as with any deviation from the norm, there was backlash. Stephen Matcalk wrote a piece for Slate arguing that though Bob Dylan is a genius, he is not a good fit to win the Nobel Prize. Matcalk states:

The objection here hinges in the definition of the word literature. You wouldn’t give the literary prize to an economist or a political saint. You shouldn’t give it to Bob Dylan…My thinking goes as follows, and who knows, I’m probably wrong. But the distinctive thing about literature is that it involves reading silently to oneself. Silence and solitude are inextricably a part of reading, and reading is the exclusive vehicle for literature.

Whatever definitions and semantics may be debated, the reality remains that Dylan received and accepted the award. The U.S. Ambassador to Sweden read his humble words on the Nobel Banquet stage in the Stockholm City Hall on December 10th, forever sealing his position as a laureate.

The rapidly evolving nature of prize recipients makes one wonder: what is on the horizon? I would argue that some far more unconventional winners became plausible contenders when Miranda and Dylan shattered the lyrical glass ceiling. For one thing, Pulitzer recognition of hip-hop artists may be closer than we think.

Take Kendrick Lamar. His second studio album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, was critically acclaimed for its depiction of heavy, poignant themes such as the gang violence, sex trafficking, and cyclical poverty that plagues minority communities in the United States. Positive criticism has deemed it “one of the most cohesive bodies of work in recent rap memory” and “brim[ming] with comedy and complexity.” The record’s lyrics are even being studied in a freshman composition class at Georgia Regents University, where students juxtapose Lamar’s words with those of authors such as James Joyce and James Baldwin. Professor Adam Diehl states adamantly that “Hip-hop is about immediate feedback to the world people observe around them,” and that the genre should not be excluded from academia, as it unearths and analyzes underrepresented and pressing issues. Diehl has a powerful point, and the doubtless resistance the idea of a rapper winning a Pulitzer will someday garner mirrors the backlash that Dylan met not too long ago.

Many will tell hip-hop artists to stay on their territory, and stick with the Grammys. But it took until 1984 for a black man to win a Nobel Prize in Literature, until the 1950s for an African-American to win any of the 21 Pulitzer categories, and until 2016 for the Tonys to commend a hip-hop musical. Times change, prejudices fall away, and new art is recognized as a result.