One of the international events I hosted this semester as chair of the CIS Student Advisory Committee was a film screening of Out in the Dark. This is a touching movie, though its pro-Israel bias is unfortunate. However, this bias is to be expected as the movie comes from the Israeli Film Fund. The movie is in Hebrew (and a little Arabic) and follows the love story of a Palestinian man who falls in love with a (male) Israeli lawyer. The film chronicles the hardships that come with this, and addresses homophobia in Israel/Palestine. As someone who wrote his honor thesis on homophobia is Russia, it was really interesting to look at the similarities and differences between Russian and Israel/Palestine. Had the movie had a more balanced depiction of the Israel-Palestine conflict, it would have been amazing.
Another international event that I went to this semester was a series of posters run by the German embassy. The event was about the refugee crisis in Germany. The coolest thing I learned at the event was that in Berlin, they are constructing a place a worship that would be composed of a church, a mosque, and a synagogue that is scheduled to open in 2019. The goal is to increase interfaith dialogue and promote fellowship within the communities. Each place of worship will have its own space in the building, with a central community room for all three. You can find out more at https://house-of-one.org/en. In 2015, Germany declared an open-door policy towards refugees. Since then, hundreds of thousands of refugees have entered Germany (and there have been over a million asylum requests), costing Germany approximately 20 billion euros. This has caused major backlash in Germany and has caused populist alt-right groups to gain popularity. I would love to see the House-of-One idea gain popularity and be brought to major cities outside of Germany. I also think the idea could be expanded to non-Abrahamic religions.
One issue near and dear to my heart is human rights in Russia. In fact, my freshman year, I wrote my senior honors thesis on homosexuality in Russia. In 2013, the issue garnered a lot of attention when Russia passed a nation-wide anti-“gay propaganda” law. This incredibly vague law made it illegal to “propagandize” un-traditional sexual identities to minors. The vagueness of the law allows it to be used in a wide variety of circumstances. Over the last couple years, the law has attracted less and less media attention; now, it gets hardly any. In October, a woman in Samara, Evdokiya Romanova, was convicted and fined 50,000 rubles for breaking this law. Her crime? Posting links from BuzzFeed and The Guardian on her FaceBook and VKontakte pages about gay rights. This issue is still affecting Russians every day and I wish it would get more attention.
In my IAS 3643: Illicit Trafficking course, I had the opportunity to write an extensive research paper on drug trafficking in Russia. I learned a great deal about not only Russia, but also Afghanistan in doing this research. As much of my academic work focuses on Russia and Eastern Europe, it was really nice to learn about Afghanistan’s role in Russian politics. The research mostly focused on the role of Afghan opium in the Russian drug trade. I learned that while 39 countries produce opium, Afghanistan produces more than half of the world’s supply (approximately 380 metric tons of opium each year). Almost a third of this opium goes through Russia. This has caused skyrocketing heroin addiction rates in Russia, which has the highest heroin addiction rate per capita in the world. The influx of Afghan opium into Russia started increasing rapidly during the Soviet-Afghan conflict of the 1980s, but the increase is still continuing. This caused Russia’s heroin addiction rate to double between 2011 and 2014. In addition to learning about trade routes for illicit narcotics in Russia, I also learned about Russian drug laws and the different bureaucratic agencies tasked with dealing with Russia’s drug problem.
Another international event I attended this semester was the PhotoVoice Exhibit, which gave trafficked women in Uganda a voice. Below is a reflection I wrote on it for a course on Illicit Trafficking:
“The PhotoVoice exhibit was a powerful way to let these women’s voices be heard. While the entire project was emotional, there were several particularly poignant examples that stuck out to me. One of these is the distress one woman felt from not being able to express herself in English. She was devastated that she had to use a translator and felt that her words were being taken away from her. The entire point of the project was to give these women a voice, yet this woman still felt like she didn’t have one; this stuck out to me. Another particularly emotional story was that of a mother on the run with the Lord’s Resistance Army. While they were running, she started going into labor. She and her eldest child found a pond and sat by it while she gave birth. Her child found some sort of grass or stick and used it to cut the umbilical cord. I could not process this; I can barely process the idea of someone giving birth without an epidural. Not only did she obviously not have access to this luxury (in my mind, necessity), but she also had no access to medical care afterward. Additionally, this was all while on the run. The emotional and physical trauma of the ordeal quite literally cannot be imagined by someone who has lived as privileged of a life as I have. It was incredibly difficult to read. Another poignant aspect of this exhibit was the reminder of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. In the West, we still highly stigmatize HIV/AIDS. We also think of it as an issue only gay men and drug addicts face, but this is not the case. HIV/AIDS is a profoundly widespread problem in certain parts of Africa. And, in many of these places, they simply do not have access to the abundance of medication that Westerners do. This event was highly impactful, and I hope it gains more attention soon.”
One international event I attended was a lecture and film screening on women’s rights in Romania. I helped plan and program the event as co-chair of the College of International Studies’ Student Advisory Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity. We watched the film “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days,” a Romanian film from 2007 that won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival along with two other awards. The film follows two Romanian college students in the 1980s, one of whom is pregnant. At this time, abortion was illegal in Romania, so they have to go through back channels to get an abortion. The entire process is extremely arduous, and the abortion doctor ends up raping one of the women as “payment” for his services. Near the end of the film, there is a graphic depiction of her abortion. As you can imagine, the film is incredibly difficult to watch, but I believe it is important. Remembering what happens when women do not have safe access to abortion is important, as we do not want to go back to those times. In addition to the film, there was a lecture by Dr. Rebecca Cruise to give the film context, which is important for a film like “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days.”
One international organization I was a part of this semester was the College of International Studies’ Student Advisory Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity. I had the privilege of being the co-chair of this nascent organization this semester, and next semester I will be its chair. The organization started the semester before I came to OU and was run by Dr. Noah Theriault, the professor I had for Understanding the Global Community. This semester, we restructured the organization and got two new amazing faculty advisors, as Dr. Theriault left the University. We also hosted a film screening and a lecture with the wonderful Dr. Rebecca Cruise, which turned out really well. We recently selected four new applicants to join the organization, and I am really excited to work with them next semester. Next semester will be the first semester we apply for funding from outside of the College of International Studies, and I’m really looking forward to see what we are able to do. One thing we are interested in is co-programming an event with an international student organization, such as ColSA or the Angolan Student Organization. Two of our new members are involved in the Fine Arts Diversity Committee, so we might also be able to co-program an event with them.
(As I am using OU Cousins and the CIS Student Advisory Committee as my International Student Groups, I’m using this an international event. This is an Honors Reading Group, so it met once per week for an hour.)
One of the Honors Reading Groups I participated in this semester was “A Peace to End All Peace,” by David Fromkin. This was the second Honors Reading Group that Jaci moderated that I have been in, and it was her final Honors Reading Group to moderate here at OU. While I was sadly unable to attend all the meetings this year, I still greatly enjoyed the group and got a lot out of it. It was an incredibly interesting way of telling the story of WWI and how its treaties created the borders of the present-day Middle East. Though written in 1980, it was still super relevant to current events. We were able to talk about the invasion of Iraq and the rise of ISIS, both of which happened well after this book was written. One of the books main strengths was simply pointing out the incompetence of leaders, which definitely has parallels today. As someone whose major has nothing to do with the Middle East, it was great to be able to learn so much about the region from not only the book, but also Jaci. As one can probably tell from my multiple blog posts about it, I love OU’s Honors Reading Group program and would recommend it to anyone and everyone at OU.
This semester, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to conduct my honors research requirement and write my senior honors thesis as a freshman. I could not be more thankful for Dr. Rebecca Cruise’s guidance and direction while writing this paper. The paper focuses on the history of homosexuality in Russia and popular views of homosexuality there. Additionally, the paper discusses the rise of Vladimir Putin and its effects on views of homosexuality in Russia. One of the most interesting trends I found throughout the semester was that a society’s concepts and ideals of masculinity can often predict how they will treat LGBT+ persons. What a society defines as ideally masculine is meticulously constructed by socio-political institutions, such as the government or the Church. As such, things as simple as a shift in trade routes can affect a society’s views of homosexuality. In the late middle ages, for example, there was a series of Crusades. One major affect of these Crusades was the creation of new trade routes for Western Europe. This shifted trade away from Crimea and Kiev, straining the Kievan economy. Due to this and a number of other factors, Muscovite Princes began becoming more and more powerful, which led to the start of the Muscovy period of Russian history. While the Muscovites were building a city and forging their society, they were not focused on social legislation, and homosexuality was not illegal. This led to a fairly drastic uptick in gay visibility that was recorded by Western European travelers to Moscow. Writing this paper led me to discover many other things like this, and has ultimately improved my knowledge of Russian politics and culture.
In early April, the department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics hosted a series of seminars on the translation of literature, mostly focusing on international poetry. I attended two of the three workshops and learned a ton from these distinguished OU graduates. One of the speakers was an expert on Russian translation, which, as an Eastern European Studies major, I was very interested in. The other was an expert on lusophone poetry in Africa. During the seminars, participants learned much about the process of poetry translation. First, we discussed glosses. While often the translator does both a final translation and the primary gloss, at times they will have a native speaker create a gloss and will then create the final translation. A gloss is essentially a word-for-word translation, which usually doesn’t flow well at all. A literary translator uses the gloss as a base and builds upon it to create something poetic. As long as the final meaning is nearly identical, the translator has quite a bit of freedom. They can try to put meter in or alliteration or whatever they feel matches the quality of the original author’s work. While I do not want to be a literary translator, I am interested in doing some freelance translation in graduate school. So while these seminars were specifically about poetry, they were definitely still interesting and helpful.