International Event: “It’s Good to Be the King, or Is It?” Lecture

It's Good to Be the King Lecture On Friday, November 3, the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Middle East Studies welcomed Dr. Mohamed Daadaoui as part of the Brown Bag Lecture Series. Dr. Daadaoui’s lecture “It’s Good to Be the King, or Is It?” discussed the three main challenges facing the Moroccan monarchy, the monarchy’s responses, and what these challenges mean for the future of the monarchy. Dr. Daadaoui concluded that it is no longer good to be the king in Morocco because the monarchy has opened itself up to criticism by delving into the political fray. Dr. Daadaoui predicted that it will take reinvention to lift the monarchy back into its place of irreproachability.

After an introduction by Dr. Samer Shehata, Dr. Daadaoui launched right into his lecture. After differentiating the types of monarchies and management techniques they employ, Dr. Daadaoui presented the three challenges to the monarchy. The most effective example was the challenge presented by the popularity of the Party for Justice and Development under the leadership of Abdelilah Benkirane, and the monarchy’s response of sacking him. This example best demonstrated how the monarchy had lowered itself into the political scene. Dr. Daadaoui convincingly demonstrates that doing so has shifted the monarchy’s iconography from one of order and stability to one of a political institution capable of being criticized, and it will therefore require rebranding to succeed in the long run.

Dr. Daadaoui was careful not to portend the death of the monarchy, which makes his argument more credible because it is clear from the 2011 uprisings that there is no predicting the future of the region’s regimes. The lecture was very substantial and provided solid evidence for its claims, without going too extreme in its conclusions.

International Event: A is For Arab Traveling Exhibit

A is for Arab Exhibit          On the lower level of the Bizzell Memorial Library is the A is for Arab traveling exhibit, which comes from the Jack G. Shaheen Archive from New York University. The exhibit seeks to depict and subvert the stereotypical portrayals of Arabs in American pop culture. The exhibit is composed of eight large panels — front and back — six of which introduce the exhibit and the stereotypical portrayals of Arabs and two of which challenge the prevalent stereotypes. The exhibit is on loan through October 27. Although a compact exhibit, A is for Arab successfully introduces viewers to the topic and makes them confront some of their own prejudices and assumptions that are perpetuated by U.S. pop culture.

The exhibit is limited because it is a traveling exhibit, so there is not a lot of material to read or view; however, the exhibit makes good use of what space it has by showing many different representations of Arabs over the last 100 years, all of which center on Arabs being “other” and therefore inherently different than the white Western consumer. I think the exhibit highlights the most damaging realizations of Arabs in American media — that Arab women are oppressed and sexualized and Arab men are terrorists out to destroy the West. Although the exhibit does not delve deeply into the consequences of these representations, the images do speak for themselves, and they tell a story of a country with a white-savior complex and a mission to vilify a region in order to justify its own behavior.

The best panel of the exhibit is the V is for Villain panel because it reflects what I consider to be the biggest prejudice Americans have toward Arabs. This panel does an excellent job connecting the dehumanization of Arabs and Muslims to the violence committed against them. Of course, a single film or comic book is not going to drive someone to commit a hate crime, and the panel does not argue this. Rather, the exhibit as a whole and this panel in particular show how an upbringing raised on such images truly does have an impact in the way people view each other. After the attacks on 9/11, Americans were desperate to view all Arabs as terrorists out to destroy their way of life, and pop culture fed them the narrative they wanted to hear. The panel points out how Hollywood does not distinguish one nationality from another and therefore portrays the region monolithically, which only makes it easier to dehumanize all people from the Middle East (and even beyond since Americans often do not distinguish Arabs from South Asians).

Although I understand the constraints, I wish the exhibit included more current examples of depictions of Arabs in pop culture. While I understood the message of the exhibit, I could not fully appreciate many of the examples because they were from so long ago. Since this is an exhibit traveling around colleges, I think the exhibit could stand to benefit by including more recent examples so college students would have to confront how the media they grew up with perpetuates the same stereotypes that have been around for decades.

The exhibit is a valid condemnation of the way Americans have portrayed Arabs in their media. The stereotypes on display are ones that surround me every day in headlines, in Hollywood, in conversations. The message in the exhibit is one that needs to be said more often and more loudly if we ever want to see American culture change to truly be more tolerant and welcoming like we often pride ourselves on being.

International Event: “Producing Healthy Citizens” Lecture

Producing Healthy Citizens: The Politics of Women's Outdoor Exercise in IranOn Friday, October 6, guest lecturer Dr. Nazanin Shahrokni, an assistant professor from Syracuse University, presented a lecture entitled “Producing Healthy Citizens: The Politics of Women’s Outdoor Exercise in Iran” as part of the Iranian Studies Lecture Series. After a brief introduction by Dr. Manata Hashemi, an assistant professor in the Farzaneh Family Center, Dr. Shahrokni began her lecture, in which she demonstrated how the Iranian state has pivoted its discourse on women from objects of Islamic morality that the state must protect to citizens whose health is vital for the well-being of the nation. The lecture was engaging and informative throughout, although there were a few areas that I hope are further addressed in her upcoming book tentatively titled For Women Only: The State and Politics of Gender Segregation in Iran. 

Dr. Shahrokni began the lecture with an anecdote from 2010 when she met with a director from the Tehran municipality office, who lamented that the women-only parks designed to foster healthier women (and therefore better wives and mothers) became spaces that created feminists who nagged their husbands. The anecdote was attention-grabbing and introduced the topic of the lecture: the development and politics of gender-segregation in Iran. Honestly, I feel that the lecture should have had a title more along the lines of “Producing Healthy Citizens: The Shifting Politics of Gender-Segregation in Iran” because the lecture was on more than just women’s outdoor exercise and it might have attracted a bigger audience.

With the help of a PowerPoint and key graphics, Dr. Shahrokni presented her evidence chronologically, which was an effective way of presenting her position because it clearly demonstrated the shifting dialogue from the Iranian state regarding gender-segregation as well as women’s reactions to these women-only spaces. After a brief historical background of the Pahlavi Dynasty and the Islamic Republic of Iran, Dr. Shahrokni then compared in more detail the 1980s in Iran versus the 2000s. The graphic for this information was very strong because it showed how gender-segregation was originally framed in a narrative of Islamic morality and only later became framed in a narrative that women’s health is important because of their role as citizens of the state. Later in the lecture, there was another strong visual that showed the transition from the 1980s when women’s exercise was viewed as a problem to the 1990s when women were allowed to exercise in public but largely remained inside and up to the 2000s with the emergence of women-only parks as popular spaces for women of all ages to not only exercise outdoors but also organize politically and form bonds across class and social divides.

While the lecture convincingly demonstrated the implications of gender segregated spaces for women, it did not fully answer what the shifting gender segregation practices reflect about the Iranian state — which was one of the guiding questions of Dr. Shahrokni’s research. I believe that this question could have been more fully answered by discussing the future of women-only spaces as well as a more in-depth discussion about the consequences of the Ministry of Education’s report that directly linked wearing the veil with a decline in school girls’ health. Additionally, a discussion about similar segregation elsewhere in the region might have provided more context for the Iranian state’s decision and its implications.

Baahubali- ‘One with Strong Arms’

One of my favorite pastimes is watching movies, whether it is a silent film, a foreign film, a cult classic, or a new action packed blockbuster, I’ll watch just about anything once. I had just gotten out of a long day of class on Thursday, October 19 and I was casually sitting on campus and decided to scroll through my Facebook feed, unwinding for a bit. I saw an event pop-up on my timeline from the Indian Student Association (ISA), stating that they would be showing the film Baahubali: The Beginning. I realized I had no plans, and nothing to study for (relatively speaking, this is college there is literally always something to study for), so I decided to head over and watch the film. I have never been to an ISA event on campus, but I was not too worried, you don’t have to know people well to sit around and watch a film with them. Baahubali is actually a Tollywood film, which simply means it is apart of Telugu Cinema, which is another film market in India where the films are typically in the Telugu, or Bengali.

Growing up as a kid, my mother and I used to watch Bollywood music videos on Saturday mornings, so going to watch this movie was an nostalgic experience for me. Whether it’s Tollywood, or Bollywood I adore the vibrant characters and colors within the films. I love the exaggerated acting, the fast-paced romantic developments, and of course the choreography and melodic tunes, of the musical numbers. If you ever find yourself in a bad mood, I would strongly encourage you to watch an Indian film, you will laugh, cry, and rejoice with the characters onscreen. Also, it just offers a differing experience from some of the monotony from many of the films produced in the United States currently, don’t get me started on our film industry though, that could be a whole blog series. All I’m going to say I throughly enjoyed the movie, and will be watching Baahubali 2: The Conclusion on Netflix soon. So, if you are debating whether or not you should go to a new event by yourself I say go for it, I had a great time and made a couple new friends.

Caffè e Conversazione

Anyone who has gone through the process of learning a new language knows that it is a huge commitment. Even a week without practice can set you back a month in terms of understanding, so constant practice is necessary to improve and retain what you learn.

So, imagine me - strolling into a conversation group after 6 months of no Italian (aside from the occasional arbitrary thought in the language). As a member of Baccano Italian Club here on campus, I am expected to be a leader, a teacher, etc. But as I sat in Crimson & Whipped Cream sipping on hot tea, I could physically feel the mental strain of trying to remember vocabulary words and conjugations, piecing together thoughts in strange fragments. I found myself filling in gaps with words from Spanish, my second native language. I essentially created my own language, Spanglishtalian.

On the positive, I had a fabulous time. It was neat to reawaken the part of my brain associated with language learning, to refresh my memory by crowdsourcing knowledge from the new friends surrounding me. My own favorite part of conversation groups is the mix of people, everyone from native speakers and professors of Italian to those who haven't yet conjugated a verb in their beginner class. It fosters a great notion of collaboration, helpfulness, and the pure joy of learning and conversing with other humans.

We do our best, switch into English when necessary, and experience the odd sensation of telling familiar stories with new words.

The group at the most recent Coffee & Conversation event.

International Event: Caribbean Musical Expression in Mexico

Here at OU we recently enjoyed Mexico Week, which was full of different events highlighting both the rich culture of Mexico and the study abroad opportunities available to students in Puebla, Mexico.

I attended a lecture titled Caribbean Musical Expression in Mexico, which was taught by Juan Gabaldón. The lecture was an overview of different styles of music that have traveled from the Caribbean and become popular and reinterpreted into Mexico. What made the lecture engaging was the inclusion of samples of these styles into the presentation. For example, Gabaldón discussed merengue as an example of a musical genre that entered Mexico from the Dominican and he also played part of a merengue song from the . My favorite part of the lecture came at the end when Gabaldón had one of his colleagues lead the students in a quick dance workshop. We learned a few steps that would help us fit in if we were to travel to Mexico.

The lecture was very fun and informative. I discovered some new musical genres and added some new songs to my Spotify playlists because I really think that learning and enjoying the music of a language you are learning is incredibly beneficial.

International Event: Latin Americanist Lunch

On Thursday, September 7, I attended the first Latin Americanist Lunch of the semester. For those of you don’t know, the Latin Americanist Lunches is a series of roundtables and lectures that take place on campus about once a month. They cover a range of topics about Latin America, and they are hosted by the College of International Studies and the Center for the Americas. And, perhaps best of all, in addition to learning a lot of cool information, there is free lunch involved when you RSVP!

This month the lunch was part of the Brazil Week we had on campus, and the topic was OU Latin American Study Abroad Programs. The meeting featured several important faculty members who have led study abroad trips themselves to countries all over Latin America, from Brazil to Mexico and many more. The faculty addressed the importance of studying abroad and how it is vital to a student’s education outside of the classroom in order to truly appreciate and begin to understand cultures outside of our own. Each faculty member who has led a trip spoke about how much the students they traveled with grew because of their experiences, no matter the length of the trip. Professors who led trips for only a week had many of the same observations as professors who led semester-long programs. What I personally enjoyed the most about the lunch was the student perspective. The lunch was a round table where anyone was allowed to participate in the discussion, so several students shared their experiences with studying abroad, and listening to them just made me want to go abroad and have my own experience immediately. The students addressed how they became more confident because of the fact that they had to be more self-reliant and flexible while being abroad. Overall, listening to the experiences of both the professors and the students was really motivating.

The other component of the luncheon, outside of sharing study abroad experiences, was to discuss how to encourage more students to take advantage of the study abroad programs offered at OU, specifically the Latin American programs. As a Global Engagement Fellow who studies Spanish, I was already wholeheartedly on board with studying abroad even before the lunch began. Afterwards, I walked away with an even bigger desire to study abroad in Latin America. I believe that the most effective strategy brought up at the round table was the idea of using students to connect to students. As was the case for me, the personal stories of my colleagues moved me more than those of the professors. Specifically, the idea is that during country specific weeks like Brazil Week or Mexico Week students who have studied abroad in those regions can briefly speak directly to classes in the College of International Studies about what they gained from going abroad.

I am very happy I attended the first Latin Americanist Lunch of the semester, and I look forward to attending many more. The next lunch will be on Tuesday, October 17, and will discuss the relationship between film and military dictatorships in Brazil. The following lunch will be on the topic of the U.S.-Mexican War on Thursday, November 16.

Shiza Shahid Visits Oklahoma

On the 28th of September, the Delta Gamma Alpha Iota Chapter at the University of Oklahoma hosted Shiza Shahid for lectureship. Lectureship is a program which only 19 of the Delta Gamma national chapters are able to host every other year, and Alpha Iota’s goal is to educate students about the importance of leadership and involvement.

Shiza Shahid is an entrepreneur and social activist who is the founder and CEO of the Malala fund. Shiza Shahid now has dedicated her life into building an organization that will advocate women’s rights and education.

Shiza Shahid began by thanking the women of Delta Gamma for having her at lectureship and told the audience that living “a life that is meaningful, and impactful is cool.” She continued her statement by saying that in order to do that “you must interact with people, and reimagine the life that you are living.” I was intrigued by this statement, because not only was she trying to relate to the youth that she was speaking to, but she was also giving profound life advice that she took and taught her all that she knows.

Shiza Shahid continued by giving the audience a brief background of her life. Shiza Shahid was born in a small rural city in Pakistan, where she was raised by her father and mother. She told the audience that her parents were very supportive and empowering to her life. Shahid also spoke about how she received a relatively good education but there were many social challenges that she had to face. Shahid spent her teenage years volunteering for nonprofits, and from a young age her mission was to “create a world less divided and more united.” After graduating high school, she received a full scholarship to Stanford University where she studied for four years. When she found out that Malala had been shot, she said that “there are points in your life where you have to choose who you are.” This really stuck within her, and she flew back to Pakistan to be with Malala and her family. She gave the audience a brief story about how she started the Malala fund, but wanted to get deeper into it through the question and answer part of lectureship.

Someone asked Shiza, “what is your mission for the Malala Fund in the next ten years?” Shiza responded by stating that she hopes that the fund becomes a catalyst for education and grows exponentially. Another question that was asked to her was about the education in Oklahoma. Shiza’s answer was intriguing, she said that public education is driven by politicians and that we have to participate in politics in order to receive change. Although it is scary, we cannot sit around and wait for change to happen but we must act and get involved.

Although there were many more questions, those two were the ones that stuck with me the most throughout lectureship. Undoubtably, Shiza Shahid opened up my perspective on an issue that I thought had no affect on my life. I want to continue the kindness and empowerment she brought to the University of Oklahoma, and I want to help in any way that I can.

At the University of Oklahoma I am a Delta Gamma, and this by far the coolest and proudest thing I could ever be a part of. I am thankful to be surrounded by a group of women who empower each other in being the best person they could be.