GEF: On the Middle East

A few months ago I was able to help plan and attend an event for my fellow Global Engagement Fellows and international students. The event was one from a series that the GEF Event Planning Committee is putting on throughout the year highlighting various regions of the world.

This particular month, the region was the Middle-East and, as someone who has yet to leave mainland USA I was very interested in learning about the region and it’s cultures.

In main stream media, the Middle-East is often depicted in an incredibly negative (and homogeneous) light. However, after hearing the stories from my fellow students who have lived in and traveled to the region, I quickly began to realize just how false these stereotypes truly are.

With each narrative that I heard — about hair fetishes, pottery, bookstores, and encounters with friendly strangers in the park — I began to see the extreme depth and dimension of the Middle East that our media generally neglects to mention.

In my experience, when someone begins a conversation about the Middle East, people talk about two things: ISIS and refugees. Obviously, each of these topics is important and deserves to be discussed. There are millions of people who have been displaced in the region that are in need of assistance, and ISIS is a very real threat that we must be vigilant in guarding against.

However, I believe that it is equally as important to begin discussions about the diversity and cultures of the region, so as not to marginalize the lives of those who live there. And, I believe that this event allowed myself and all others in attendance the opportunity to begin those discussions on the OU campus.

GEF: On Enactus

This semester has been a whirlwind of long days in class and even longer nights studying (and procrastinating while watching the Office), and on many occasions I felt as if I could nap for 3 days straight. However, Enactus has been an excellent source of energy and motivation throughout the entirety of this semester.

As the Project Hope Lead, I have had far more responsibility in the organization this year, and have been busy planning for the future of both Enactus and Project Hope. This semester, Enactus has been focusing on recruitment and marketing to the OU student body in order to reach all corners of the campus, and diversify our organization to include representatives from all backgrounds and majors. In doing so, we hope to gain insightful perspectives on each of our three projects.

In past years, Project Hope has partnered with No Boundaries International — a local anti-trafficking non-profit — to aid in the fight to end modern day slavery on both a local and a global level. In the past we have hosted art galas and anti-trafficking conferences to help raise money and awareness on the issue.

However, this semester I chose to steer the project in a different direction. As I continue to learn about the issue of human trafficking in our society, it has become increasingly apparent to me that the problem of human trafficking overlaps with many of societies other problems as well: Gender equality, equal access to education, and affordable health care, just to name a few.

For this reason, Project Hope will be taking more preventative actions to assist in ending human trafficking this year, and in the years to come.

It is no secret that the Oklahoma Public Education system is failing under our current state government official’s leadership; for that reason, Project Hope has chosen to partner with Educators from around the state to host a Facebook live event (and corresponding GoFundMe) to give teachers a state-wide platform to explain the many problems that they are facing due to state budget cuts to education, and to inform Oklahomans on how we can support them as they continue to pour into the lives of our children.

Although this does not appear at first glance to relate directly to modern day slavery, the two issues are far more connected than one would expect. We hope that by raising the standard of education that is provided in this state, we will also shield our youth from the threat of trafficking and enable them to learn more about the issue in a safe and productive environment.

In addition, Project Hope is also in the beginning stages of creating an educational curriculum about the issue of human trafficking that will incorporate perspectives on the issue from various fields. We hope to begin distributing this curriculum in the Fall of 2017.

On Brexit

The past two weeks have been filled with talk of Great Britain’s exit from the European Union and the drastic effects it could have on the UK, EU, and the entire world. Initially, only a small faction of people believed that Brexit would actually happen. However, in the wake of the UK’s separation from the EU, many people worry about how Britain’s decision will affect the British (and global) economy, stability of the EU, and the state of the British political system.

In order to fully understand Brexit, it is important to consider the reasoning behind such actions. Initially, I assumed that the reason for Britain’s separation from the EU to be purely economic.; however, I have since come to the realization that Britain’s objections to the EU stem primarily from xenophobia. As a member of the EU, Britain has been required to maintain open borders and has thus received a significant number of immigrants (many of which being refugees) from the Middle East. Despite the overwhelming proof that these immigrants and refugees have worked to STIMULATE the UK’s economy, many Brit’s argue that they are doing more harm than good.

The value of the pound began a steady decline after David Cameron began the four-month battle to determine the UK’s future with the EU. And, on June 24th, the day of the Brexit referendum, the pound’s value dropped to a seven-year low. Unfortunately, this is not the only potential consequence of the referendum. Without the EU, Britain could face significant trade barriers and increased taxes with many European nations. These set-backs could possibly  result in the relocation of various international corporations located in the UK and subsequent job loss. Many people wonder if Great Britain will be able sustain itself independently of such a powerful alliance with such a small economy and limited resources.

The EU will also face economic difficulties, seeing as Great Britain was the EU’s second largest contributor (after Germany). In fact, Great Britain has consistently contributed billions more than it received from the EU. Many people also suspect that Brexit will have a domino effect within the EU and will prompt other member nations to consider independence from the EU. While it is unlikely that this will happen immediately, depending on the precedent set by the EU and UK, more European nations may follow in Britain’s footsteps – further weakening the EU.

Despite the marginal majority of the Leave Vote in the Brexit referendum, many citizens would have preferred to remain in the EU. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, Prime Minister David Cameron declared his resignation, leaving the British government in a state of rocky transition. Although Prime Minister Cameron has agreed to remain prime minister until another is appointed in October, he has made statements that he will only “steady the ship,” not advance it. Furthermore, after the Brexit vote, Scotland’s government has taken action to hold another referendum independence from the UK, claiming that they still wish to maintain membership in the EU.

In the wake of Brexit, it is important to reflect on the effects that fear can have on a nation. It was fear of the perceived threat of foreign immigrants that motivated Britain to separate from the EU. It is fear that has lead to the overwhelming support of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump despite (and, in some cases, due to) his xenophobic policies. If we are to make true progress, we must set aside fear of those who are not like us and embrace our differences.

On Oklahoma’s Financial Situation

I received an email from President David L Boren yesterday regarding OU’s financial situation and the effect that the severe lack of state funding will have on students this upcoming year. According to president Boren, since 2008 “the state share of the OU budget has dropped from 46% to 12%.” This lack of funding has resulted in a 7% increase in tuition during the 2016-17 school year that will burden both parents and students. Furthermore, these budget cuts have resulted in the loss of jobs for over 300 university employees.

Higher educations institutions are not the only ones facing these substantial budget cuts; Oklahoma’s public education system is also facing a severe lack of state funding. In the last five years, legislators have cut per-pupil education aid by 20%. Furthermore, many legislators have begun to advocate replacing public schools with private charter schools completely. At first glance, these charter schools seem like a positive alternative. However, what charter school advocates don’t tell you is that these schools are authorized to potentially discriminate against students based on their gender, ethnicity, religion, and even finiancial situation.

Meanwhile, our legislators just recently approved a massive tax incentive for oil companies that will cost the state over 300 million. In order to contend with the budget crisis that this would undoubtedly create, legislators decided to severely reduce a tax credit devised to help Oklahoma’s working poor; this cut will negatively affect over 130,000 households in Oklahoma. In short, big businesses thrive while working families struggle to make ends meet.

It is time that we take a good look at the state of Oklahoma’s financial situation and who it is currently benefitting, because it is certainly not the lower class and it certainly isn’t the education system. It is time that we hold our legislators accountable for their actions, and stop turning a blind eye as they defund programs that benefit OK citizens in order to support big oil companies and their own agendas.

Read more here!

To whatever end,

One Down, Three To Go

Anyone who has been following along with this blog should know by now that I am passionate about ending modern forms of slavery. Regardless, for anyone who is just now tuning in — let me catch you up to speed. I came into my freshman year at OU knowing all of the facts about human trafficking: I could easily tell you how many people were being affected, how victims were initially trafficked, where trafficking typically took place, etc.  Perhaps what I knew the most about was why human trafficking is such a seemingly unstoppable system of violence and injustice. However, the one thing that I didn’t know how to do was join the fight.

Sure, I participated in social media movements like #TheEndItMovement and I bought all of the t-shirts and necklaces that donated proceeds to non-profits dedicated to eradicating slavery. I even became involved in an especially large anti-trafficking organization and planned to intern at their Florida office while in law school. Each of these was a great opportunity for me to become more involved and make global connections in the world of anti-trafficking, but I was still left feeling like I wasn’t making any real, sustainable impact.

During my first two weeks at OU, I tried to find organizations involved with anti-trafficking, but I had no luck and eventually gave up the search. However, about a month later, I happened upon an article about Dr. Kevin Bales (an OU alumni and the founder of Free The Slaves) and a course he taught on modern day slavery at the University of Oklahoma in 2014. After a little bit of searching, I was able to track down his email address and, knowing that I probably wouldn’t get a response, decided to shoot him an email asking about how I could get involved with anti-trafficking at OU. Much to my surprise, he responded within an hour, giving me the contact information for a senior at OU named Lucy Mahaffey.

After I got over my initial shock, I emailed Lucy and we ended up meeting for lunch at Chipotle. After hearing about all of the amazing things that she had done to fight slavery, I immediately knew that I was completely out of my league. Still, when she asked if I would be interested in co-planning Off the Market (a symposium on slavery and what we can do to end it), I was thrilled and agreed immediately. After months of planning, the day of Off the Market finally arrived on March 4th and, despite a broken down car and a miscommunication with one of our speakers, it went off without a hitch! Now, Off the Market is a registered student organization at OU with over 60 students who have expressed interest in joining next year.

Not long after meeting Lucy, I was introduced to the OU organization ENACTUS. I was initially hesitant to join ENACTUS because it is focused primarily on business endeavors and, as an International Studies/Anthropology major, it didn’t really sound like my thing. But, after hearing about ENACTUS’s involvement with No Boundaries International (a local anti-trafficking non-profit organization) I quickly reconsidered and applied to be a member of ENACTUS’s anti-trafficking project: Hope. This year, Project Hope put on an Art Gala called Shining Hope in which 50% of all proceeds were donated to No Boundaries. Since the current Project Hope Lead, Kes, will be studying abroad next year, I decided to apply for the position for next year. After a long process of applications and interviews, I was eventually nominated to fill the position, and I am ecstatic to begin planning for next school year.

I was also recently chosen to be a part of OU’s Global Engagement Fellowship’s Event Planning committee. Although, we have not yet planned very many events for the GEF Community, I am very excited to begin planning more fun things for GEF’s to do during next school year. I am amazed at the many opportunities that I have been presented with, and all that I have been able to achieve this past year, and look forward to continuing my involvement at OU as I furture my education.

To whatever end,


Dr. Laura Murphy

This year at Off the Market: Slavery Then and Now, I had the privilege of hearing from Dr. Laura Murphy, a world renowned expert on modern forms of slavery. Unlike many others in her field, Dr. Murphy has made it a priority to focus her work not only on helping enslaved individuals escape their circumstances, but also on helping them to tell their own stories. A current professor at Loyola University, Dr. Murphy is also the Lead Researcher for Loyola’s Modern Slavery Research Project. So far, Dr. Murphy has interviewed over forty survivors of slavery — documenting their first-person accounts — in order to better understand their experiences, and the lasting effect that those experiences have had on them.

Dr. Murphy began her speech by explaining that real-life slavery is nothing live the Liam Neeson movie: Taken. The majority of enslaved individuals do not have a wealthy fathers in the CIA who have the resources to rescue them within a week; In fact, the majority of victims are targeted because they do not have any local friends or family — no one will come looking for them. This means that many of the targets are either immigrants or individuals of low socio-economic status. Another sad reality of modern-day slavery is that, despite years of joint efforts between governments and NGO’s, there is no easy way to rescue people from slavery. This is because the majority of people are not aware that it is going on, and do not know the signs to look for in order to identify it. If we are to truly end modern slavery, it is imperative that we dispel of our false notions of what slavery looks like.

During her speech, Dr. Murphy emphasized the importance of allowing survivors of slavery to tell their own stories without criticizing them for not explaining every horror they experienced in graphic detail. She explained that many times survivors intentionally skip over some of the most violent situations that they endured because the experiences are simply too painful to share with the world, or they do not feel that they should have to share the entirety of their story with the world. Dr. Murphy elaborated that many survivors are weary of allowing others access to the pain and suffering that hey endured because they had relatively no privacy while enslaved and do not feel obligated to share their private experiences with the public.

Survivors of slavery have multiple tactics of sharing their narratives without laying their experiences out in the open for anyone to examine. Many survivors will use deflection, shifting the focus from themselves to another individual (either a friend or someone whom they helped after escaping slavery) when describing traumatic events. Others will completely skip the most violent encounters by panning the focus to a seemingly insignificant details of the situation. For instance, it is common for sexual slavery survivors to focus on something like a candle, or the color of the walls, when they are describing their rape. In other cases, survivors will code their speech in metaphors, that allow them to explain their experiences without blatantly stating them.

Presently, it has become a trend for (typically) wealthy white women to narrate, or co-narrate, survivors stories with them. Although this does seem beneficial in that it allows survivors stories to be told, it also distorts the survivors original stories. In fact, in many cases, the survivors original story can end up playing second fiddle to narrators personal agenda (whether it be fame, fortune, or the furthering of a specific organization). In order to truly understand and eradicate modern systems of slavery, we must stop viewing survivors as merely the helpless victims of circumstance and begin to recognize them as our equals, allowing them to voice their own stories without our interference.

UN Symposium

On Thursday, April 22nd, in celebration of the United Nation’s 70th Anniversary, the UN symposium was held in Zarrow Hall featuring an eye-opening lecture from Jennifer Foray, an Associate Professor of History at Purdue University. In her lecture, Dr. Foray discussed the many behind-the-scenes interactions between different people and organizations that directly affect our history. She specifically mentioned September 28, 1950 – the day on which Indonesia was accepted into the United Nations as an independent state. She explained that the Indonesian Flag raising ceremony outside of the UN headquarters in New York City was simply the finite result of years of Indonesian struggle against Dutch imperialism and the extremely complex process of decolonization in the East Indies.

Until December 27th of 1949, what we now know as Indonesia was recognized as the Dutch East Indies – “the crown of the Dutch empire.” It is a commonly-known fact that Indonesia is now a free and autonomous state; however, the long and violent process that lead to Indonesia’s independence from the Dutch, and the United Nations’ (and a few especially influential delegates’) instrumental role in the process of decolonization are less well known. The process began during World War II; while Dutch officials (who were typically stationed in the Dutch East Indies) were away in London, Indonesian nationalists declared their independence to the world. Unsurprisingly, their declaration of sovereignty was not recognized by the Netherlands or, initially, the United Nations. This lack of recognition speaks to the massive inequality between states in that it displays the ubiquitous hierarchy between the Netherlands and the East Indies which allowed the Dutch to determine the status of the East Indies, thereby denying Indonesians the right to self-sovereignty.

Both Jeanne Mintz and Ambassador Sutan Sjahrir played instrumental roles in Indonesia’s journey to independence. Due to Dr. Mintz’s extensive knowledge of both the Netherlands and Indonesia, she was able to provide incredibly valuable insight that ultimately resulted in the UN decision to allow Indonesians to fight to obtain their independence. Despite its status as an “observer,” granted by the United Nations in 1947, Indonesia still had no voting power and was thus unable to determine its own fate when the larger UN powers determined that the situation in the East Indies was not threatening and closed the case. Again demonstrating the inequality of power between states on the global stage. Imperialist powers like the United States and the United Kingdom have relatively absolute power over smaller states and especially nations who are not recognized as sovereign. Since these Imperialist powers have such a huge amount of power, smaller states often have no say in international dealings.

Fortunately, in 1949, the United Nations realized that the Netherlands had repeatedly violated its cease-fire agreement with the East Indies which prompted the UN to reevaluate the situation in the East Indies and reconsider Indonesia’s declaration of independence from the Netherlands. After Indonesian delegates, specifically Ambassador Sutan Siaharir, presented their argument at UN Headquarters in New York City they were finally granted their independence. The fact that Indonesia was not able to declare its sovereignty from the Netherlands, despite the violent Dutch treatment of Indonesians and having created a stable government is further testament to the inequality of states; there are a few large and powerful states who hold the majority of global control. They are responsible for making many decisions of international importance, and play crucial roles behind-the-scenes of most global interactions even when their influence can’t be directly observed.

Indonesia was the first state to transition from colonial control into the United Nations. Since 1949 many other states have followed in the steps of Indonesia, and have gained active positions in the United Nations. However, even states who are active members of the United Nations do not have the same weight and influence as the larger, more powerful countries. I found Dr. Foray’s lecture to be extremely insightful into global politics as a whole, the United Nations and inequality between states. As Dr. Foray began to explain how the United Nations was involved in Indonesia’s journey to Independence I began to realize how much power the elite powers wield in comparison to smaller states who have a limited influence. I was also surprised by the “observer” status of states that aren’t recognized as sovereign by the United Nations. I feel that this system gives large nations a significant advantage over smaller, poorer states that could (and most likely already has) result in corruption. I certainly agree with Dr. Foray that the UN played a significant role in Indonesia’s independence from the Netherlands, especially after hearing the extensiveness of UN involvement.

It’s a Wrap

This is it – Two more weeks until my first semester of college officially comes to a close! My college experience has been everything that I expected and so much more, and I feel like this semester has flown by. Upon initially coming to OU, I knew that I wanted to get as involved on campus as I possibly could, and I also hoped to find an organization that was involved with combatting human trafficking. During my first three weeks at OU, I was bombarded with opportunities to get involved and, unable to decide which organizations I was most interested in, I ended up joining almost all of them. So, as you could imagine, my first few months at OU were an absolute whirlwind of meetings and events. However, I was having some serious difficulties finding any clubs or organizations involved with modern slavery.

By September, I was convinced that I would never find an anti-trafficking organization to get involved with. So, as a last resort, I decided to email Dr. Kevin Bales – founder of Free the Slaves and a graduate from the University of Oklahoma. Imagine my surprise when I actually got a response! Dr. Bales put me in contact with Lucy Mahaffey – a senior at OU – and together we decided to put on Off the Market Symposium 2016 to raise awareness on the issue of human trafficking. Soon after meeting Lucy, I was introduced to Kes St. Clair through the Global Engagement Fellowship and was able to join ENACTUS – an organization that is currently partnering with No Boundaries International (an anti-trafficking organization based in Oklahoma City) to create sustainable solutions for trafficking on the local, national, and global levels.

Overall, my time at OU – although it had been so busy that I have, at times, struggled to keep up – has been spectacular and I have been able to become more involved with human trafficking prevention than I would have ever thought possible. Through my work within these two clubs, I have been able to meet a multitude of diverse people – all of which have been incredibly influential throughout my first semester here at the University of Oklahoma.

Until 2016, LK.

Journey to Turkey

Coming into my freshman year here at OU, I had absolutely no idea where I wanted to study abroad. When I thought about where I wanted to study abroad, my line of thought looked something like this: “Norway! No, India. No, Peru.” and so on and so forth. So, as you can see, I had no concrete idea of where I wanted to go whatsoever. However, a few weeks into my Becoming Globally Engaged seminar I began to realize that I was extremely interested in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. I have been passionate about helping the Syrian Refugees since the weapons crisis in 2013. However, up until recently I had never considered how learning their culture could better enable me to help them. It is with this sentiment that I decided to travel to Turkey with the University of Oklahoma’s Journey Program.

Turkey and Syria have extremely interconnected histories and during Journey to Turkey 2016 Dr. Jill Irvine is scheduled to teach a course on Turkish history. Ironically, Dr. Irvine is one of the professors that I have been working closely with while planning the Off the Market Symposium on modern slavery and human trafficking, and I am very excited that she is also one of the professors sponsoring the trip! After going to a few meetings with a study abroad advisor I began to realize how multifaceted country and has an extremely rich and diverse history. I hope that while in Turkey I will be able to learn a lot about the Turkish culture and history and expand my worldview and broaden my global perspectives.

Soccer, Sex and Scandal in Brazil

On November 17th, I attended a lecture entitled “Soccer, Sex and Scandal in Brazil” given by anthropologist Don Kulick. During the lecture, Mr. Kulick explained the situation surrounding the scandal involving the famous Real Madrid soccer player Christiano Ronaldo. Earlier this year, Ronaldo hired three prostitutes that were, as explained by Mr. Kulick, “travesties”.

Now, upon first hearing this term I was extremely confused and had no idea what this term could be referencing. However, Mr. Kulick continued to explain that “Travesties” are men who have chosen to dress like when and modify their appearances with plastic surgery to appear more feminine. However, these individuals have no desire to undergo surgery to remove their penises, nor do they wish to change their identification from that of a man to that of a woman. I found this to be an interesting difference from transgenders in the United States who commonly wish to make full transitions. However, after hearing Mr. Kulick speak I began to wonder if the only reason that this image of transgenders is so common is because it is perpetuated by pop culture and the media. Andrea Albertina, one of the hired prostitutes that was labeled as a travesty, was the individual who leaked the event to the media and triggered the entire scandal.

Sexuality in Brazil, as explained by Mr. Kulick, was an extremely odd idea to me and was unlike anything that I had ever heard of before. In Brazil, a man is considered “straight” so long as he is the “perpetrator” during sexual intercourse regardless of whether he is engaging in intercourse with a woman or another man. Ronaldo fell under scrutiny, not because he hired prostitutes, but because he hired travesties. Many individuals believed that Ronaldo’s actions called his sexuality into question, alongside his manhood, because he hired men dressed as women (travesties) as opposed to those deemed to be true women by Brazilian society. The only view on sexuality that I have ever been exposed to is that of American society in which an individual’s sexuality is based solely on the gender with whom they engage in sexual intercourse with. The fact that Brazil has such blurred lines dividing different sexualities was very strange to me.

In multiple interviews Ronaldo was under the impression that he had hired female prostitutes; however, Mr. Kulick explained that, in Brazil, travesties are most often highly identifiable by Brazilians in the way that they hold themselves. He also explained that these travesties advertise heavily in certain districts of Brazil. So, with this sentiment in mind, it is highly likely that Ronaldo was aware that he was hiring travesties. However, I do not believe that he should be defined by whom he chooses to have sexual relations with. To be quite honest, I have no problem with the fact that he elected chose to higher travesties over female prostitutes, rather that he hired prostitutes at all.