The President’s Concert

One perk of the OU Cousin’s program is the numerous opportunities it presents to its participants to engage in activities throughout the semester at no cost or at a reduced price. I was fortunate enough to attend one of these sponsored events this semester.

On April 23, 2017, Catlett Music Center showcased a joint orchestral and choral demonstration in commemoration of the University of Oklahoma’s President, David L. Boren. The concert opened with a moving performance of the Star Spangled Banner, featuring the OU symphony orchestra and OU combined choirs. This performance was followed by three orchestral feats of genius: Six Pieces For Orchestra, Op.6, La Valse, and Symphony No. 1 in D major, “Titan.” Each piece encapsulated the noble character of human resiliency and fortitude, a testament to the mentality of the President Boren.

Standing Ovation

The program closed to a standing ovation, truly necessitated by the pure, refined talent of the OU symphony orchestra. It was an honor to get to experience this magical moment in President Boren’s service in the continuing history of the University of Oklahoma.

Language and Religion: the Case of Arabic

Dr. Muhammad S. Eissa, independent scholar and president of Eissa & Associates, Inc., expounded upon the correlative and associative nature of language and religion in his seminar on April 21, 2017. Within this roundtable discussion, Dr. Eissa delved into the connection of faith to language in ritualistic practices and ceremonies, for instance the use of Latin in Catholic mass, Hebrew in Judaic services or Quran recitations in Arabic. When the revered/associated language is incorporated the religious experience and atmosphere is enhanced. A hierarchy is often established within the religious community among those able to speak and translate the language in question. Identity, in regard to language, can also be influenced and tethered nationalistically, as is the determination of the sociolinguistic field. The association between Arabic and the Islam faith is so strong that the two are almost indistinguishable in the eyes of modern society. While some have accounted the preservation of the Arabic language to Islam and its prevalence and essentiality within the religion, this assertion is not entirely accurate. Arabic cannot be confined within a single religious endeavor, however, it can be consolidated as such.

Unity in Arts

On April 18, 2017, the first ever Unity in Arts ceremony took place at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History. This event featured a variety of cultural talents in order to celebrate the vital topics of diversity and inclusion. The art displayed was presented in many forms: Persian calligraphy, spoken word poetry, Quran recitation, lion dancing, violin performance and traditional latin american dance. Each artistic demonstration exemplified a common or revered cultural practice and was met by an appreciative audience, eager to witness the exceptional exhibits of skill and prowess. An international buffet was also incorporated, allowing the adventurous among us to sample home-cooked creations, highlighting customary dishes from different cultural backgrounds. 

Buffet

Overall, the first ever Unity in Arts observance was a smashing success that promises to become a staple of international events, honoring the plethora of cultural and religious affiliations OU has to offer through the beloved medium of art.

Bangladesh and the Implications of Climate Change

Bangladesh is located on the northern coast of Bay of Bengal in a vulnerable delta region encompassed by the numerous branches of water that spill in from the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna Rivers. Because of its geography, Bangladesh is exposed to more tropical monsoons and cyclones than any other country in the world. This problem is further amplified by rising sea levels that cover the low-lying land mass. It is estimated that twenty-five million people will be displaced from their homes by 2050 if the effects of climate change are not addressed and natural energy alternatives are not implemented. Bangladesh and other shallow, riverine countries will continue to sink underwater due to a system of structural violence that thrives while relinquishing none of the benefits to those it victimizes and robs underdeveloped countries of the agency required to mandate necessary environmental changes.

The inequality Bangladesh faces is further established when elements of environmental injustice and class are evaluated. Environmental injustice posits that living arrangements are separated by social factors, like class and race, wherein those with less means or stigmatized social identities are more likely to be subjected to hazardous environmental factors and less likely to be able to escape or advocate against environmental contamination. The members of Bangladesh most susceptible to fresh water scarcity and water-related diseases are those who live within poverty-stricken regions, who cannot afford to relocate and who spend a majority of their lifetime actively trying to survive. Dry fish businesses, a primary source of income for individuals located in poorer regions of the country, have taken a direct hit as the high tide continues to encroach and rainfall becomes more frequent, thus propelling lower income families further into poverty. While Bangladesh suffers as a whole under the barrage of detrimental climate change effects, it further isolates those reviled due to social factors and maintains that they remain in the most vulnerable position of society.

In a world where wealth is directly tied to power, countries with a big wallet will ultimately have more sway in deciding global policies. When these countries speak, they will have the ability to talk directly into the microphone of the media, and what they have to say will be printed and accessed easily. When countries of a lower power dynamic speak, it is into cupped hands at the back of a meeting they are rarely allowed to attend, and what they have to say is easily disregarded. In an international gathering of the Major Economies Forum addressed to the United Nations General Assembly,  Tony A. deBrum, the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, directly spoke to the effects of rising sea levels on the relatively small piece of land he calls home. In response to the despair and demise of the Marshall Islands, the Environmental Minister of India curtly replied, “So what?”. This level of apathy is dangerous when the topic of climate change affects not only capsizing countries but the overall inhabitability of the planet. Structural violence in this case is perpetuated by government denial of human involvement in climate change, even though factual evidence points otherwise. Furthermore, accommodations are not being made to provide for migrants fleeing to the countries releasing the greenhouse gases that have created the problem. Instead, those who have contributed the least carbon dioxide emissions are left the most vulnerable and with little to no resources to combat the issue.

If no long term solution is put into effect, it is only a matter of time until these countries, rich in cultural history and diversity, are lost to the sea. Structural violence harms not only those who are situated in a defenseless position, but also those it seemingly elevates into a position of power. It will ultimately be the world’s loss when the irreversible damages inflicted by climate change are cemented. Bangladesh, while dispensable in the eyes of some countries who do not directly face the very real dangers imposed by the rising sea level, is the first domino in a chain of events that will shape the world. The most tragic aspect of the situation lies in the fact that resistance without reform is futile. As long as countries in power align themselves in a stance of ecological ignorance and apathy, the waves will continue to rise and entire countries will be consumed.

25 Years of Favela Tourism: continuities, changes and challenges

Bianca Freire-Medeiros, professor of the department of sociology of the University of São Paulo and author of Touring Poverty (Routledge Advances in Sociology), specializes in the detrimental effects of commercialized poverty in regard to favela tourism. Favela tourism encompasses a fairly recent industry that highlights and normalizes a day in the life of extreme poverty. The tourist market, built on entertainment and pity, guides visitors through despondent and deteriorating slums so that they may witness firsthand the ‘poor experience.’ Favela tourism expands past actual favelas (an agglomeration of substandard urban housing), in what Bianca labels as the ‘traveling favela,’ the brand that increases market value to any restaurant or club that embraces the favela theme, such Favela Chic, a club bar restaurant in Paris. None of these funds are allocated, however, to the individuals whose privacy is violated by voyeuristic commerce. Thus, a system of structural violence is established wherein those in power are further amplified by the exploitation of the victimized and vulnerable who, in turn, reap little to no benefits.

This inequality is best highlighted by the recent sale of a ‘favela arm chair’ composed entirely of wooden planks resembling the shacks and shanty towns of which favelas are constructed. The ‘favela arm chair’ sold for the equivalent of $7,900, more money than what a typical Brazilian home would cost located within a favela. Big media exposure has only vivified the problem, with movies like City of God, that romanticize and naturalize poverty as part of the landscape stir a desire in onlookers to take a peek themselves and marvel at the horrors. Governments are then less inclined to address the issue of poor living standards and declining heath in these areas because wealth is being accumulated. From 2009-2015, 70,000 people were displaced from their homes in the favelas of Brazil due to failed reconstruction projects that merely demolished and abandoned buildings. The police that regulate these areas are delegated to where tourism occurs most frequently, in order to better protect those visiting instead of those indigenous to the land. Costly decorations are erected to attract tourists instead of distributing funds toward more dire needs because appearance has more profit than people. The odds are increasingly stacked against favela residents, who live their lives in a glass cage bound by poverty and are further humiliated by the morbid fascination of the global community.

Brexit and the Future of Europe

Sir Roger Scruton, renowned author and British citizen, in an informative lecture, discussed the series of events that lead up to Britain’s controversial decision to leave the European Union and the implications this decision. The reasoning behind such a drastic measure he claims lies within the Treaty of Rome, first enacted in 1957. The Treaty of Rome was meant to be merely an economic trade system, but it conferred on itself unlimited legislative power without an electorate. Sixty percent of laws passed by Parliament were proposed by the European Union. Britain suffered severely from this inflexible document and reforms are nearly impossible with its demand for a majority consensus (some 27 sovereign states) to impose alterations. Meanwhile, massive migration took its toll on Britain, as many from the Middle East and North Africa fled to the English speaking country. Predominately patriotic, Britain has adopted a nationalistic perspective that could not support any ties to an outside governing force.

When the referendum was called, government officials should have stepped back from the issue, allowing British citizens to decide for themselves on this important topic. Instead, propaganda was forced down their throats, creating an atmosphere of mistrust and rebelliousness. Therefore, when it came time to vote many voted against what they felt the government was forcing upon them, despite what research or logic may have led them on their own to believe.

Now, as Britain has voted to separate from the European Union, a new precedent has been established. Government officials did not really establish a back up plan in the case of an exit, thus revealing the referendum to have been a mere formality on their part. Britain will have to restructure trade with most of Western Europe and rework many of its relations with foreign neighbors. Who knows what country will follow in Britain’s footsteps or if a new trade agreement could be reached? Only time will tell.

Aurora Oklahomis

Nothing quite brings people together like a lovely stroll through a Christmas light display. At least, this is the mindset of the OU Cousins program. After a glorious forty-five minute drive, we are greeted with the sight of forty-three acres of light filled goodness.

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Chilly is an understatement for the weather we were thrust into once exiting the vehicle. Winter has hit unexpectedly and inconveniently, skipping autumn altogether. The frigid air congregates closest to the water, but the way the light reflects off the waves beckons even the most frozen human-icicles among us.

 

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We trek through the sparkling forest to the steaming warmth of hot chocolate, which has never felt more deserved or appreciated. OU Cousins knows how to you show a good time, and this night was no exception. Despite the frosted state we returned in, I would easily wager the general consensus offers rave reviews.

Low Voter Turnouts

As 2016 comes to a close and the Trump presidency looms over the United States, some are preparing to bunker down and wait out these next four years with fingers crossed and dismal hopes. A pessimism and cynicism has seeped into our nation, wherein progress is stifled by lack of belief in the governmental system. Only 55% of eligible voters cast their ballots in this election, the lowest turnout in 20 years. Less than 20% of Americans believe that Congress represents people like themselves. Perhaps these disappointing statistics can be attributed to an especially nasty political campaign or even to the conspiracy of a ‘rigged election,’ but I think the truth lies closer to an attitude problem that needs to be addressed. The stress of the election and seeming destruction of the Obama administrative advances have caused many to abandon optimism for America. ‘The good days are behind us. It’s all downhill from here.’But the irony here is, the governmental system will only continue down the path laid before it unless the American people intervene. The requirement for governmental change is empathy and enthusiasm, two character qualities sorely lacking in today’s political discourse. Genuine emotion must be stimulated and utilized in order to shift the paradigm of American politics. As long as apathy is the dominant force, it will only propel the governmental system into further stagnancy. So yes, Trump won. Am I particularly thrilled by this prospect? No, not particularly. But I cannot sit idly by and watch this country be further and further divided by misunderstandings of cultural differences and ignorance propelled hatred of people of different backgrounds. If we do nothing, things will not get better; things will not even remain the same. Our country is in a perpetual state of motion and evolution; if you are not gaining ground then you are losing it.

Ruined Childhood Films

One of my favorite classes of the semester entailed a final project utilizing a literary critique method of analysis of the film Mulan II. The class itself was very illuminating as is covered topics such as critical race theory and feminism. I was excited to qualify watching a Disney movie as being productive for once. When dissecting this childhood Disney film, however, I uncovered many horrifying trends of orientalism and complete disregard of Chinese culture.

After getting to truly experience Chinese culture having spent a good portion of last semester composing jueju alongside my OU Cousin match, Chinese native Yifei Cui, I was horrified to calculate the number of instances that Disney favored Western consumerism over a more accurate portrayal of Chinese beliefs and perspectives. Instead of shedding light on a different way of life that favors a collective good and self sacrifice, Disney portrayed arranged marriages, that of which statistically half the world partakes in, as egregious and counterintuitive. Chinese religious beliefs were highlighted only so far as to diminish their effectiveness and poke fun at a people who would place their faith in a stone figure or the universe. The further the movie progresses, the less Disney attempts to hid the fact that the Chinese element of this film is merely a ploy to sell scenic backgrounds and asiatic merchandise.

I am wary now of reviewing any of my favorite childhood films that feature any form of cultural diversity because accuracy is often sacrificed for aestheticism and commercialism.

The More the Merrier

This semester marked an overwhelming contribution of American students to the OU Cousins program. Americans outnumbered foreign exchange students at about a 3 to 1 ratio. While this made the match process slightly difficult and I unfortunately could not be paired for this semester, there were still many opportunities to get involved and experience the joy that is encountering other cultures.

Around the Thanksgiving holiday, the OU Cousins program hosts a potluck Thanksgiving to give Oklahoma visitors a chance to participate in fine Southern cooking. There was a large array of food offered, ranging from cornbread to turkey. I personally brought a Dutch apple pie and a pumpkin pie to the dessert table. At my table we discussed what a typical Thanksgiving consisted of and what activities generally take place. We also comforted each other with the thought of final projects and tests looming over our heads. It was nice to get to bask in the warmth of friendly strangers’ company for an evening. I am always astounded by similarities possessed by a group of individuals so seemingly different. Even though most of us lived thousands of miles apart and came from tremendously diverse backgrounds, we all appreciated the prospect of good food and even better people to enjoy our meal with. In this sense, even with its makeshift elements, the OU Cousins Potluck Thanksgiving really captures the ambiance of the holiday and provides a similiar boost of morale entering into the frigid winter season.