Social Justice

Houseboat Cruise on the Kerala Backwaters

Houseboat Cruise on the Kerala Backwaters

A houseboat cruise on the Kerala Backwaters sounded like a great way to unwind from long hours in a tour bus. Kerala is a low-lying state in the South of India, on the West coast.  A long skinny strip, Kerala seems to be more water than land, including rivers, lakes, and the Arabian Sea.  All of these bodies of water are collectively known as the backwaters, a term that apparently has a connotation of beauty and serenity here, unlike in the US.  We are never far from water, and have so far gone on an afternoon boat ride on the Kerala backwaters and spent the night on houseboats. For a long time, the quickest way to get around Kerala was by water.  However, roads and cars eventually came to God’s Own Country.  With the boats no longer being used, that way of life (and all those jobs) were going to go by the wayside.  The story is that houseboat cruises on the Kerala backwaters were conceived as a way to maintain jobs and keep those (repurposed) boats in the water. Personally I’m curious how much this has actually benefits individual workers, since it seems like there are just a few companies that now own all the boats and hire a couple of guys to drive the boat, cook the food, and cater to guests.  Of course, they do have access to tips, but I would love to learn more about the level of truth to the claim that Kerala backwaters cruises are “like a form of social welfare.” Dina shooting the sunset For our houseboat adventure on the Kerala... read more
College Rape: Preventing Sexual Assault on Campus

College Rape: Preventing Sexual Assault on Campus

College rape in particular and Sexual assault* in general, are is being discussed publicly now more than ever. With the president’s task force to combat on campus sexual assault as well as several lawsuits against universities under Title IX for mishandling sexual assault reports from students, the focus is more intense.  Sexual assault and gender-based violence as a whole is a public health crisis in the United States, and people are starting to notice.  It is amazing progress that people are starting to discuss sexual assault on facebook, among friends, and in major news outlets, and we need to keep that momentum going with concrete action.  While we need to work on prevention with people of all ages, including those in high school, the high rates and mobilization of activists on college campuses has brought that environment to the forefront.  For those colleges and universities looking to make a real difference, here is my advice on how to reduce sexual assault and its harmful effects on campus. Train your personnel Train RAs in bystander intervention and receiving disclosures.  This will enable them to step in when they see an unsafe situation, and better prepare them if a student discloses to them that they have been assaulted.  Disclosure training helps a person understand the possible needs of a campus rape survivor**, how best to speak with them, which resources are available, and how to quickly ensure the safety of the survivor and connect them to resources, like medical advocates, SANE nurses, counseling, legal assistance, and university-related assistance.  If your school is in the Boston Area, get in touch with the Boston... read more
Review: Cuba, My Revolution

Review: Cuba, My Revolution

It seems crazy that I somehow didn’t know there was a graphic novel about Cuba, but alas, that was the case until I saw The Mary Sue’s books section of their fantastic gift guide.  Written by Inverna Lockpez, illustrated by Dean Haspiel, and colored by José Villarrubia, Cuba: My Revolution tells Lockpez’s life story via Sonya, an aspiring artist who is 17 when the story starts on New Year’s Eve in 1958. After Fidel takes the country that night, her world changes quickly.  She decides to put her love of art on hold in order to become a doctor, following in her father’s footsteps and fulfilling a pressing need after so many medical professionals jumped ship.  We follow along as she trains with limited equipment, is relied upon too heavily due to personnel shortages, and eventually goes to the front lines of Playa Girón, known in the US as the Bay of Pigs Invasion.  From there her life takes a turn for the dark and surreal, and it becomes harder for Sonya to see the good in the Revolution, even as she tries to hold on to that hope.  As scarcity becomes more common, private property is seized, behavior is monitored, and it gets harder to leave the island, Sonya tries to reconcile what she and others fought for with the reality of what eventually becomes a communist (or “Marxist-Leninst”) state.  There’s also an interesting look at how both the medical professions an the art world of Cuba evolved in the early days. The visual aspect of this book is stunning, and the use of panels, background illustrations and... read more

The Things that Comfort Me

As I was writing my last post, it felt important to be honest.  I know that we’re all supposed to see the silver lining and be uplifting, but that’s not particularly how I feel.  But I also know that there is so much good that has happened in the last day or so, and that is equally honest, so I thought I should put it here as well.  There are a lot of lists floating around talking about marathoners giving blood and Joe Andruzzi being a fantastic guy (we already knew it, glad to have more proof), but that’s not what this is about.  This is all the odd little things that are making my hours a little less long, and sleep a little less elusive. The only thing that helped me power through Monday was trying to be useful.  Locating everyone, posting, fact-checking, and sharing were the only things I felt like I could do that could possibly help anyone.  I don’t really have much choice in the matter–my hyper-vigilence goes into overdrive any time there’s an actual crisis at hand, and getting all the “I’m ok” responses and disseminating them to others seemed to keep some of the mania in check. I got two different emails from strangers kindly thanking me and applauding my humanity for offering up my apartment to those in need.  The cynic in me knew almost immediately that there was no way anyone would come back out to Brookline to stay, and given how quickly the list spread and grew, it became clear that adding our apartments to the list was more about... read more
They Came for My City

They Came for My City

Boston has always been my city, just like it has always been my mother’s city and her mother’s before that.  The only place my family has ever been from, other than Boston, was Ireland.  I was born at the Brigham and spent some precious early years on the South Shore, just outside the city limits, in a place so deeply entrenched in all things Bostonian that it has always felt more intensely Boston than many of the tony neighborhoods within the city. We got our passports stamped and moved to the North Shore.  The ultimate freedom for my friends and I was to take the orange line in and wander around the city, unaccompanied by adults or reminders of how suburban we all were.  When it came time to pick a college, I knew I didn’t want to be anywhere else.  Sometimes friends or family back home made the mistake of thinking that the proximity of my parents’ home to Boston meant they would see me often, or that the two places were alike.  Neither presumption could have been more wrong. This city, which I more often call a town, has given so much to me.  While others lament the unreliability or rising price of the T, I find freedom in my ability to hop on a bus or train and discover whole worlds opening up before me.  I feel liberated by the knowledge that no matter which train or bus line I get on, I will never truly be lost.  I love the MBTA, I just don’t think it necessarily loves me back–especially the green line.  This city... read more

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Since moving from a study abroad participant to a leader of trips abroad, I have had some recalibrating to do.  There is a difference between the risks I’m willing to take myself and those I’m willing to allow my students to take. This came rushing to the fore last summer when I was walking at night in Havana with the majority of our students, and at least one of the Cubans with us was stopped by the police for walking with white women while black.  It is important to note that this is a significantly worse offense than walking while black, although that’s an issue in Cuba as well.  The reason is not only due to racism and history, but also tourism, industry, and hegemony.  While I find the term “tourism apartheid” a bit strident, there is more than a nugget of truth to it, and the way it plays out in Cuba is that it’s somewhat acceptable if the white woman is visibly into it, but otherwise all young black men are assumed to be harassing your tourist dollars away.  Of course, not once has the policia ever showed up to stop genuine harassment (to my knowledge).  And the component of hegemony: when it comes down to it, some lives are deemed more worthy than others, and white skin and our little blue books protect us.  Somewhere in the 20th century, it became unacceptable for an American to lose their life abroad.  It’s cool at home, especially if they lost their life to a legally purchased gun, or if they are not white and middle class.  But that’s... read more
Walk for Change

Walk for Change

I am walking because sometimes using your voice, showing your presence, and providing support for those fighting the good fight is the only thing any of us can do, and that is a very important thing.

I am walking because what they want is silence.  What they want is compliance.  What they want is fear, and what they want is power.

I am walking because no one can be silenced, no one should live in fear or shame, no one should ever be or feel powerless, and because we will not go quietly.

I am walking because I can, I am walking because I feel I must, and I am walking for those who cannot yet walk for themselves.

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In October, we lost someone so magnetic that he’s still pulling us together, even in death.  Someone so funny and kind that at his funeral we laughed (almost) as much as we cried.  Someone so good to the core that he was donating as much time and money as he could, without fanfare or pretense.  Someone who is the only person who would know what to say to during all of these raw times. I met Naman on my trip to the Dominican Republic in May and June of 2011.  He was on my team, Rojo, and immediately became the most distinctive person on the entire trip.  As many have said, everyone felt like he was their best friend on the trip, because he treated everyone like the most important person he had ever met.  As we rumbled in a hot van with too few cracked pleather seats around that wonderful island country, Naman was always there with a song, dance, or imitation to keep our spirits up.  He always took his work seriously, although he never saw it as work. Everyone grieves in their own way.  But for people like us, people who can’t sleep at night because we can’t stop thinking of injustice in the world, people who are no fun at parties because we keep talking about this great new NGO or social business we just learned about, passive or solitary grief is not for us.  We have to do something, we have to organize, mobilize, and funderize.  We have to do this not just because it’s who we are, but also because it’s who Naman... read more

Does Voting Even Matter?

Okay, so full closure: for the last month, I’ve been a one-woman Get Out The Vote campaign.  I helped my UK/US dual citizen intern register for her first ever Presidential election.  I made sure my ex-expat coworker was properly registered.  It has gotten to the point where people have blocked me on facebook, and people have told me to stop speaking and have walked away from me mid-sentence.  I’ve even stooped to rewarding friends and family with food for their political participation.  And it all started with my near-nervous breakdown when a friend told me he had never voted. So yeah, this matters to me.  But is that a surprise?  I watched the entirety of West Wing in real time (if you know my age, you know that’s a little strange) and many times since then.  My dad and I made a tradition of watching election returns together.  I signed my first petition and wrote my first letter to a member of congress before I could drive.  I’ve been to political rallies on three continents.  I worked for Amnesty International.  I’ve devoted thousands of hours to Model-Whatever, AKA a very elaborate game of political pretend.  I have spent years studying this stuff formally, and I spend my leisure time reading what other people would consider textbooks. So yes, when you tell me, “It’s just politics,” I do take it a bit personally.  Not just because of my years invested thus far, but also because of what is at stake.  No matter what side of the issues you fall on, the two mainstream candidates have (or have had) differing opinions on... read more

‘Ta Luego a la Tarjeta Blanca: The Exit Visa is on its Way Out

Today a pretty amazing thing happened: Raul Castro made good on a promise to abolish the dreaded exit visa, or Tarjeta Blanca.  Cubans will be able to leave (starting “before January 14, 2013” or as I like to call it, January 13) without acquiring an exit visa.  The exit visa was an excellent way for the state to maintain control not only by denying dissidents the right to leave, but also by rewarding demonstrated loyalty to the state and its one and only political party. Once Cubans have left, they will now be able to stay 24 months instead of 11 without effectively losing Cuban citizenship.  Cubans will also be able to apply for an extension while abroad.  Prior to this change, not returning after 11 months would result in loss of property, loss of the right to return home, and even if a Cuban in this position did manage to get back in, they would be ineligible for the ration card, housing, use of schools, health care, and any other benefits of being Cuban. That being said, and this being Cuba we’re talking about, I still have some reservations. Doctors, military and some other professionals will likely still not be able to leave as they are considered valuable “human capital” in Cuba.  This is an effort to prevent brain drain/the Imperialist US from stealing people that Cuba desperately needs.  I get the argument, as every developing country has to fight brain drain.  But in most of the developing world, promising students go abroad for their education.  In Cuba, the state has educated these people for free, and thus feels a bit more... read more

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