Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Opportunity Nation Summit 2012

OpportunityNation Logo Transparent(Image from Opportunity Nation website www.opportunitynation.org)
This year at the Opportunity Nation Summit we discussed 'Our Shared Plan' and learned how we can engage our local political leaders.  I felt like this tied in nicely to one of the American Sociological Association(ASA) workshops that I went to in August on 'Working with the Media & Policy Makers.' This has definitely been something that I have wanted to learn about because I have a great love for politics but it is also extremely intimidating for me because I lack experience.

 The tips and information that we learned in the 'Engaging State Representatives' workshop was very basic but helpful for a novice.  In it, we were told that ideally we should try to engage our state representatives and senators at home.  In their home states, they have less time commitments and are easier to reach.  Also, at home, a community member, like myself, could offer an invitation for a site visit and take my representative to see the organization or program that I am promoting.  Site visits to effective programs that are making a difference or to others that are dysfunctional can influence a representative's opinion about my project of interest and find ways to make sure that legislation and state funding promote projects like mine.  This can also be helpful if you find that your representative is considering cutting funding in a social welfare sector that is working. Visiting the site and seeing the benefits would make you political leader think twice before pulling funding.

If you choose to meet your state representatives in D.C., work with the staffers and be very flexible.  As I mentioned before, state representatives are usually on a tight schedule in D.C. and cannot adapt to your schedule. Other methods that are less effective are letter writing and phone calls. These two methods are difficult because you must substantiate that you are indeed one of his/her constituents and that he does in fact work for you!  So many letters, e-mails and calls are made and yet they rarely actually make it to the political leader's desk.  The take away message: Use the human touch! Set up a meeting, a site visit and come with a plan.  Be conscientious of the representative's time and pitch your case with evidence.  At the ASA conference, they stated that you should make sure that your research is in laymen's terms with findings that are easy to understand and to the point.  And lastly, however you pitch it, share your plan and ask what he/she will do to address the issue that you raised.

Researchers can also share their findings on local research addressing pertinent social issues with the local media.  Op. ed.'s and brief articles can inform the general public of what is happening in the community.  Again, it is important to make recommendations of what can be done to address the issue or to enhance existing programs, laws, etc.  Know your craft. Be confident, but do not be cocky or condescending.

Although I am away from my state the majority of the time, I want to find more ways to do pertinent research in the communities that I live in, continue to vote for representatives that are conscious or my state's weaknesses and contribute to the the ongoing dialogue of social development in my community.  Professionally, I think I can best contribute to these efforts by performing pertinent research that has meaningful applications in my community.  What's your plan?

My plan is a work in progress but here is what I am doing right now:

  • I'm a new member of the county rape crisis team and working with the team coordinator to revamp some of the training material statistics, sources and citations.
  • I have completed the training necessary to volunteer at the local battered women's shelter and attend the weekly support group meetings. I'm also scheduled to volunteer at some of their upcoming events.
  • I'm working on getting my thesis and paperwork done so that I can jump into interviews and gather baseline data as soon as I get back to Jordan.

((Note: I know that my efforts don't even compare to some of the other Opportunity Nation scholars but I'm doing the very best that I can and pledge to do more when I have more time!))

(Image from HBR's "Mind the (Skills) Gap" http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/09/mind_the_skills_gap.html )
The summit was a wonderful way to network, meet new ambitious students and professionals and reconnect with those that I met last year.  You know you're on a dynamite team when each person is dedicating his/her time to making a difference.  Some of the other sessions that I went to were about volunteerism and how it helps youth and young adults gain valuable skills in preparation for entrance into the job force.  Some of the main issues that we talked about with these unpaid internships is the fact that they are not a reality for the low and some middle-income youth.  Although students would like to gain the experience, contacts and skills from these unpaid internships and volunteer opportunities, they cannot afford to boot the bill and opt out. Instead they work dead-end summer jobs (and part-time jobs during the school year) to make ends meet.  Another interesting point that one of my peers made was that in weaker economies, unpaid internships and volunteers sometimes soak up positions that used to be paid.  I think that's more true in places like Jordan and Spain, but when funding gets tight and eager students and recent graduates still want the experience, contacts and skills without demanding pay, why should they pay?

I had an awakening during one of the sessions when they were discussing two major problems that youth and young adults face in our slumped economy that I personified!  They talked about how recent college graduates are still having a very difficult time finding employment with their skill sets and when they do, they are oftentimes under-employed.  I've heard this a million times, but this was the first time that I really internalized that that was my story too.  I graduated with a BA and a great GPA and was intent on taking a few years off of school, saving up some money, gaining some experience and later down the road returning for a MA or PhD.  I had completed two internships -- both of which were abroad with the Jordanian government, an entity of which I cannot become a paid employee.

I rented an apartment and searched for a job, any job for about two months before I found anything that paid over minimum wage.  I was insulted that my four years of university studies, high grades, civic engagement and internships didn't put me ahead of the curve at all. In fact, I ended up getting a low paying job taking pictures of kids in a mall.  I love photography, but the pay was terrible and I could not survive off of the inconsistent hours that they gave me. On a positive note, I got some good Gandhi reading in on my bus rides to work.  The bleak job opportunities finally got the best of me and I decided that I was not going to survive unless I jumped straight into graduate school.  Although my parents were very supportive and gracious, I didn't want to move home. That seemed like defeat to me. I transformed my job-searching time into MSW and MS application program preparation time.  I met with professors, researched all of my school options and was determined to get a degree that would enable me to develop a marketable skill that was valued in the job market.

While I was anxiously waiting to hear back from graduate programs, I tried looking for a job again and found one! It too was low-paying but it was working with adults with disabilities.  I enjoyed it in spite of the pay.  I learned a lot of patience and became good friends with some of the clients.  When graduate schools began responding, I was faced with opportunity nation topic #2 issue of which I am a poster child-- barriers to higher education.  ((I recognize that ON focuses on access to undergraduate education, but my story still has some merit.)) I was THRILLED to find that I was accepted into the University of Chicago, Columbia University and the University of Denver MSW programs.  I was so excited and had my heart set on going to Columbia. While visiting the Morningside campus, I fell in love with the Harlem area instantly. After our tour, Q & A session and some frank discussions with financial aid advisers, I was crushed to learn that I would have to incur ridiculous amounts of debt that I may never be able to pay off without a loan forgiveness plan. The adviser told me that I shouldn't even plan on a loan forgiveness plan.  My status as a middle class American knocked all three of my schools out of reach. The idea that you can study anywhere if you're smart and work hard enough really isn't true. Those with less money have less opportunities when it comes to prestigious schools.

I was fortunate enough to have a safety net.  I had an incredible mentor and professor that convinced me to apply to my alma mater for an MS in Sociology. I did it as a last resort but had no intention on staying in Utah. However, when all of my other doors slammed shut, an affordable option through which I could study exactly what I wanted and go exactly where I wanted to go seemed really appealing.  I confirmed my acceptance and now am in my second year of my MS program and couldn't be happier.  With the incredible support of the faculty in the MESA and Sociology departments, I was privileged enough to make my institution proud by getting a Boren fellowship and a Fulbright scholarship. All of this was possible, #1 because I had a very supportive mentor and #2 because I was willing to listen. I think being innovative and persistent helped too.

 I am confident that after I graduate this time, I will be more marketable and will be able to get a job doing what I love working with vulnerable women in the US or abroad.  I know that I am very blessed and can see how easily I could have slipped between the cracks. I could still be stuck working at a dead end job, just barely getting by and wishing that someone had taken the time to warn me what I was up against. A gigantic thanks to those who took the time to invest their time in me!  I won't forget it and will return the favor.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Simmel and Society

What is Society?

Unlike the natural sciences, society is studied by elements from within it and emphasizes the significance of human interactions, not observable objects. Simmel argues that sociation, the creation of society, is revolves around human interaction. These interactions are motivated by both Freudian and moral objectives। A society is created when at least two individuals experience an interaction and is an association of free individuals. These interactions can be temporary or long term. Sociology's role is to study the forces, forms and development of sociation. As geometry is used to offer structure and insights into the physical science, sociology is to provide similar scientific structure to psychology, political science and other specialized fields that delve into the specialized topics by focusing on the forms of society.

Simmel notes that individuals are the elements of society and as more humans are introduced into a society, the dynamics of interactions between individuals change. He has clearly defined individual interaction within small societies by dyads and triads. Within a dyad, two individuals are able to maintain their identity as they interact with one another. There is not formal social structure and the individuals are able to dissolve this society by simply opting out of the relationship. Within triads, the group dynamic takes on a social structure that is independent of the individuals within it. Unlike dyads, members of triads inevitably experience competition, mediation or alliance.

As the size of a society increases, individuals gain more autonomy and are more independent of the society's structure. This is due to what Georg Simmel, David Frisby and Mike Featherstone describe as "the group's direct, inner unity loosens, and the rigidity of the original demarcation against others is softened through mutual relations and connections.” When society becomes large enough that individuals do not ascribe to the social structure established by society due to its elusive and undefined nature, smaller societal structures offer individuals connections, such as family, religious groups, sports teams, or political parties. Despite feelings of disconnectedness felt by some humans within large societies, large societies can offer its members more freedom of movement and action because these individuals are less tied to regimented demarcations of identity or obligated to fulfill specific roles within the society's division of labour.

In my place

During my first week back in Amman, I was being my feisty self when my friend's husband kept rejecting my offers to pay for my taxi fair.  As the taxi twisted and turned around the bends towards my apartment, I waved the money in his direction to no avail.  The taxi driver chuckled to himself and said "sister, you live in a man's world and what the man says goes. You are a lady and we respect you and want to protect you and do things for your good." My friend's husband looked at the driver apologetically and said, "She's an American and doesn't get it sometimes." The two smiled to themselves thinking that they had won the hospitality card for the day.  I was appreciative of the hospitality but my mind was preoccupied with what the taxi driver had said that afternoon.  Do the men do what they do to protect us and to show us that they love and respect us? In many respects I believe this is true.  Too many people forget the second portion of the quotation and just see the Middle East as a man's world that is hostile toward women. Yes, you do have to be smart and yes, you should be modest but as a single woman, I am just as safe here as in any bigger city.

My students are great! I'm so excited to have them all here.  When my first intern arrived, she said that Jordan is like my baby and I just want to share it with everyone.  This is true.  I love sharing my Jordan with others.  Each person that comes experiences the culture, the food, the smells and the people through a slightly different lens.  My first morning in Amman, I got kanafe khishna for breakfast and purchased a kilo of askedinias. Askedinias are my favorite fruits and kanafe khishna is my favorite dessert.  As time as passed and my Arabic has improved, so many opportunities and treasures have presented themselves to me. It has been a journey and a wonderful one at that.   Today I showed the students my favorite art galleries, Dar al-Anda and Dar al-Fanun.

I have finally gotten a chance to visit my dear relatives. It's comforting to know that they are close by. My apartment is small, quiet and clean. It is very modest, but I love it.

This past week I have decided that I need to learn more about Edward Said and his works. Not only do I think it would be interesting to read given my interest in Hisham Sharabi's memoir, Embers and Ashes, but also because of the Palestinian perspective that he offers about Orientalists and their sometimes condescending approach to Middle Eastern civilization.

I wish that I had more time to do everything and explore all of my curiosities.  There are so many books on my "To Read" list that I have lost track completely. Life is quite busy but I am content and am quite literally stopping to smell the flowers and grow a few of my own.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When regimented structure is terribly inconvenient: The Case of the Utah Bus System

This weekend my car developed some mechanical issues. I found time to take it in last night after running some last minute errands. I parked my car in the lot and left a note with my keys at the shop just as I was instructed to do. Before leaving for the shop, I looked up the bus route information to see how close the shop was to a bus stop and I was please to find that it was about 350 feet away. I am a worrier and as is expected, I double checked the locks on my door and after seeing the bus arrival time, I raced back to my car to check just one more time. As I was making my way back to the bus stop, I ran because the bus was scheduled to arrive any second. If anything, it was running a little late. I saw it approaching and I was at most 100 feet away from the designated spot. I stopped when it was apparent that the bus was not slowing down and with hopes that the driver would look and have mercy on me for being 100 feet away, I stuck out my arm and attempted to make eye contact with him. He zoomed right past and the stoplight was green. There was no way that I could catch it.

Now, if I was in Jordan, I would have gone to a designated bus stop OR I could have stood next to the mechanic shop and put out my arm and easily gotten a lift. Additionally, I would not have to worry about having exact change for my fare because the bus driver will allow you to exchange money with him. Obviously this is not the case with US drivers.

 I was a little frustrated, I checked the schedule, because I knew that this was not the last bus out for the night. Another bus was scheduled to arrive in 30 minutes. Now, the decision is do I wait by the side of the road in the dark for 30 minutes, walk further down the bus line or find an alternative activity for 30 minutes. I chose the latter. In some regards it bothers me that I would be safer if I was a man waiting at a bus stop at 8:30 PM, but as a woman, I elicit honks, flashing lights and calls. I do not believe that my attire provoked such responses because I was wearing a long-sleeved cardigan, a scarf and skinny jeans. The most significant difference that would elicit such responses was merely the time at which I was out -- in OREM!

Because it was a little chilly outside and I felt uncomfortable about the responses that I was getting from passing traffic, I decided that I would buy safety for 98 cents at Carl's Jr. It came in the form of a kid sized Dr. Pepper that was terribly flat. I made my way to a booth, sipped my Dr. Pepper and passed the time in the empty restaurant by reading a book. Because the buses can pass their stops early or late with no negative repercussions on their part and a world of a difference on my part, I ventured back out of Carl's Jr. 10 minutes before my bus was to arrive. It was late. It made me nervous that I had not given myself enough time to wait for it. "Had I missed it," I wondered. I hadn't it was late. I was relieved when it slowed down because I was concerned that even thought I was basically standing on the post, he would not see me yet again and steam past. The bus came to a stop and I was saved from waiting another hour for the next bus.

In being so efficient and structured, the bus system in Utah does not reach its goal - to serve the riders in a time effective manner. This was definitely not the first time that I have missed the bus when I was ahead of it in traffic. Had I been in Jordan, I would have received the transportation at the time that I wanted it, but because I was in Utah I was denied this because I was not on a designated stop - I was less than 100 feet away from it. The requirement to have exact change is also bizarre to me. Who carries $2.25 in their pocket these days? The answer is - those who have to ride the bus and no one else. In Jordan, it is a good idea to have a small bill or change, but they will switch your money out if necessary or you can get a bus card and forget the cash issues. Scanning it will charge you the exact amount. On our buses, you can also scan your credit or debit cards and get charged the exact amount, but what about those who do not have credit or debit cards? Is it a safe assumption that they will have exact change? Maybe it is.

Another issue that bothers me is the under-utilization of the buses. I see empty buses running their routes all of the time. I have been on buses where I was the only passenger for my entire trip. When I climbed the stairs of my bus, I was pleased to see four other people were riding. However, with a carrying capacity of at least 30 people, it is a shame that my bus was only carrying 4 passengers. In Jordan, the buses do not run until every seat is full. If the bus does not fill for hours, it will not run for hours. If it fills in five minutes, it will run every five minutes. I really like this model because it does not waste resources by running a route that no one rides at 12pm, but also does run the same route when passengers do use it - say rush hour. I know that Utah puts a lot of state money into the bus systems, yet they are still not meeting the needs of the riders and are grossly underused. I think the issues of under-utilization is exacerbated by the unforgiving and inflexible structure of the Utah bus system.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Saving Private Perez -- Arab Stereotypes From the Perspective of Mexicans

Stereotypes, we all have them and many of them are influenced by our own societal norms. Tonight I watched Saving Private Perez with a couple of new-found friends and was a little surprised by some of the perceptions held by the Mexican community toward the Arab world in general, but more specifically Iraq. This reminded me of a map of the world through the perspective of a Jordanian that I received from a cousin. I was quite intrigued at the stereotypes that Jordanians have toward certain peoples and cultures.

As is apparent by this map, Jordanians emphasize and place value on the culture, resources, and detail of some countries while completely glossing over others. For instance, in this map, all of South America is represented by Argentina, Brazil and coffee, while Africa's detail is almost completely limited to Northern Africa - Arab states. Each country is represented by a resource, football team, political threat, stereotype or opportunity that directly relates back to the Jordanian experience. This was obviously meant to be more comical than anything else, but this map is quite telling and expresses how Jordanians view themselves, their community and the world in which they live.  This also further feeds into the argument that individuals interpret the world in relation to themselves.

Back to Saving Private Perez...
In the beginning of Saving Private Perez, a Mexican crime ring leader, Juan Perez, has a similar response to the Islamic world, namely Turkey and Iraq. Perez's brother is serving in the US military in Iraq and has been reported missing. Perez's mother tells him that she will forgive him for past misdeeds if he retrieves his brother from Iraq safely and brings him back to Mexico. The determined and driven Perez knows that he must go to Iraq, but has no idea where it is. Several of his compadres had similar responses when they were recruited for the mission. It was clear that he really didn't understand where Iraq really was while he was describing the location to others because he stated that Iraq was near Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Holland. It was a nice touch of comic relief for the audience, but the director's casting choices revealed that the distance between Central America and the Arab world is much greater than I anticipated. Some of the key indicators were horrible Arabic accents, virtually all of the Iraqis were wearing scarves over their faces and had an al-Qaeda appearance. Some of the scenes looked as though they were actually trying to portray Afghanistanis instead of Iraqis.  None of the film scores were even slightly middle eastern. In fact,  it sounded like Indian music. 

It was very eye-opening to watch a Mexican film that allowed me to view an interpretation of "Arab" culture through the Mexican lens. Something that continues to bother me in films is the lack of authenticity that is offered to foreign groups that are portrayed in a film. In this case, the Iraqis, at least the ones that spoke had TERRIBLE accents. This leads me to assume that they are not Arab at all and in Turkey, the Turks were speaking Spanish upon first contact with the Mexicans. Would that really happen?!  I could be wrong, but I think not! Then again, as a low-budget film,  maybe they saved their pennies by using their own actors to play the Iraqi and Turkish characters.

This comedy is a good reminder that at large, Arabs and Central and South Americans do not seem to have much contact with one another and have few incentives to interact on a political, social or economic level.  This leads to some pretty entertaining stereotypes and some crazy movies!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Things that remind me of you

As I was sitting in one of my classes, my heart turned to you and countless memories and images raced through my head as I reminisced.

Red and white geraniums
Olive trees
Red poppies in April
Lux soap
Old black and white Egyptian TV shows
Traditional argila
stray cats
Kanafe na'ame
Kusa mahshi

One can maintain an identity even if she does not speak the language, practice the religion or live the culture. Family ties and claims to authenticity are enough. When you were there, I belonged. Thank you for giving me that gift!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Motivations for Mommy Blogs

While talking to one of my colleagues about her thesis on Mommy Blogging, my interest was piqued when she began explaining why popular Mommy Blogs have emerged and what roles they play for these women. I have several close friends that keep blogs of their growing families and their adventures together. When I asked them why they blog, their responses were just as I expected. They blog because they are far from their extended families and blogging is an outlet by which they can include their close friends and families on their latest activities, achievements and stories. It is also a place where they can read about others' experiences and ask questions.

As a single woman, I do not fully understand how young women cope with marriage, children or domestic issues because I have not experienced it for myself. Despite this, I have noticed that as my friends marry and progress in their marriages, they often move far away and we lose contact. I have often thought about my own isolation, but what I have not considered is THEIR isolation in new places with new experiences and limited support networks. Blogging is a way that these young women can maintain contact with friends and family and also keep a picture and video-filled record of their experiences and reflections on their lives. It also helps them transition into their new roles from students and young adults into wives and mothers.

In talking with my colleague, she mentioned these everyday moms that are proud of their families and domestic lifestyles, but she also mentioned another population of women who blog with different motivations. My colleague said that high profile mommy bloggers usually use strong language and are often an outlet through which women with prestigious degrees and careers try to prove that they are fulfilling their traditional gender roles as mothers. In a way, they use their blogs as proof that they are good moms. Through their blogs, they try to validate themselves by conveying that they are intelligent adults. They also feel like they have to prove that they are independent women AND great moms. Too often we assume that women "give up" careers to be "just a mom," when in reality, they are undertaking a very difficult task of socializing and teaching a new generation. This is by no means an easy task!

In a society in which being a stay at home mom is losing popularity and status, women who choose to pursue careers are still striking an interesting balance as they try to validate their position within the workforce yet feel a need to prove their success within the home as well. There is a really interesting balance of gender roles that are being expressed through popular mommy blogs. Someday, I would love to dig deeper into this topic and also into the power of gender roles to learn more about the motivations behind mommy blogging across demographics. If you have thoughts on the topic, please share them! I would love to read your insights.

Monday, January 16, 2012

He Who Has The Gold Makes The Rules

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! I hope that you took a moment to reflect on the progress that our nation has made, yet also recognize the work that lies before us. I am currently enrolled in a race and ethnicity class that is VASTLY interesting. As I was reading a chapter by Yetman, I came across a few principles that resonated with me. The concept of race and ethnicity were largely constructed by white men in the 18th and 19th century.

The terms that they used were extremely derogatory and emphasized the superiority of the Western Europeans (that later bled over into America as well). Terms that they used referred to skin colors, facial features, and linguistically different groups of people as other, barbaric, inferior and stupid. I always wondered why calling someone ethnic did not include white. "Is white the default," I wondered. According to the long history of ethnocentric white male researchers, yes, white is the default. However, we should rise above the mindset of the 18th and 19th century and recognize that assuming that any color is superior in any way or 'the default' is rooted in ethnocentrism. Unless we are willing to return other scientific practices of the time such as 'bleeding' with leeches, we should also questions sociological and anthropological terminology from the same time period.

Part of me knew this occurred in blatantly inaccurate studies from the recent past as well as exposure to movies in my childhood that attempt to recreate classic stories of Tarzan and The Jungle Book. As they studied peculiar people and cultures, these discoverers always did so with the preconceived notion that they were at the apex of civilization and the subjects that they were studying were in a lesser stage that would eventually develop to their civilized state.

Although the aforementioned concept is probably not new to you, I was shocked to learn that minority and majority groups are not based on size. Instead, they are based on the power and resources that one group wields over the other. For example, even though the white population in South Africa during apartheid was much smaller than that of the black population, the black population was considered the minority because the whites had a monopoly over the government.

Furthermore, the majority group typically establishes institutions and regulations that benefit the majority group and maintain their political and economic advantage over the minority group. As a result of this political and economic advantage, the majority group prospers while the most members in the minority group fall short. Their failure to compete with the majority group is not rooted in their inferiority, although this is often claimed to be the case, it is actually rooted in the partial institutions that favor one group over another and systematically limit the opportunity of the minority group.

As is obvious in the Forbes article, If I was a Poor Black Kid, it is apparent that privileged citizens in the United States still fail to recognize that poverty, unemployment, teen pregnancy, single-parent households, and high school dropouts are not a Black or Hispanic problem, but rather a MINORITY groups problem. The odds are stacked against these populations because of a long history of discrimination that must be actively rooted out and reversed. We do our country and our fellow Americans a disservice by failing to view our laws and institutions with a critical lens that will lead us to question the status quo.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

As I Enter A New Year

I try to make resolutions each year as the new year is starting and I guess it's about time to make a commitment to 2012 and another year of life.

- Improve my Arabic and fix my accent
- Get approval to begin my thesis research
- Return to Jordan and continue to build professional contacts
- Begin research for my thesis
- Learn how to manage my time more wisely
- Develop more compassion for others
- Be true to my convictions
- Take time to meditate and reflect
- Find happiness in each day