Miller: WBA International Community Engagement and the Power of a Name

During the last week of winter break, along with twelve other trips spread throughout the country, 14 participants traveled to Puerto Rico for a week of service and solidarity. Having the privilege of being one of 12 students embarking to Puerto Rico, I learned and reflected a lot about the way we, as a country, as a school, and as individuals think about Puerto Rico. We can all agree that any place ravaged by natural disaster is undeserving of such tragedy and deserving of support in the aftermath. What became clear to me during our week in Puerto Rico is that the United States government should have been the agent providing such support.

For participants on the trip, the status of Puerto Rico was a common discussion, before, during, and after. From the time that the location was changed, we knew that we would no longer be travelling internationally, as originally planned. We didn’t get passports, our parents worried a little less, and some of us were careful with how we referred to our plans for the last week of winter break.

But what became increasingly clear as the office of Campus Ministry sent schoolwide emails and posted blogs for the world to see is that not everyone was quite as careful. Originally holding plans of travel to Ecuador, WBA International Community Engagement retained its name when the destination changed to Puerto Rico.

Though I was frustrated by the misrepresentation beforehand, the people I met in Puerto Rico crystalized this frustration. We heard stories of houses destroyed and the ways in which communities banded together in the aftermath of the hurricane. One man shared his story of driving around his coastal neighborhood with his chainsaw to ensure that everyone could leave. We heard of the fear families felt in the days immediately following Hurricane Maria, unable to communicate with their loved ones and unsure of their safety. Not once did I hear of any support from the federal government, nor did I hear of the intervention of FEMA.

As conversations continued throughout the week, some people we met shared the nuance of their name. Though referred to by English speakers as a commonwealth, in Spanish, Puerto Rico is considered a free and associated state. However, Puerto Rico is not a state, it is not free, and the US response to Hurricane Maria suggests that the association is weak at best, even in times when this association is crucial. The personal anecdotes of the aftermath of Maria seem to be representative of the experiences of the island as a whole.

The weakness of the association between the United States and Puerto Rico becomes evident when comparing the federal government’s response in the wake of Maria to the federal response to Harvey. Though FEMA was not completely absent from the island, a closer look at the varied responses reveals great disparities.

President Donald Trump traveled to Texas four days after Harvey hit, whereas it was thirteen days after Maria before he made his way to Puerto Rico. Nine days after Harvey, victims in Texas had received 5.1 million meals, 4.5 million liters of water, and 20,000 tarps which could be used for covering homes and preventing further damage. In contrast, nine days after Maria, victims in Puerto Rico had received just 1.6 million meals, 2.8 million liters of water, and 5,000 tarps. At the same time, 30,000 federal workers were deployed to Texas in comparison to the 10,000 sent to Puerto Rico.

Though some disparity can be accounted for due to the differing population of those affected by each storm, it cannot be ignored that the estimated death toll in Puerto Rico was approximately 34 times higher than that of Texas, despite the fact that the population affected in Texas is only approximately four times greater than that of Puerto Rico.

In learning these statistics and hearing personal stories, I had to wonder why these disparities exist. One can speak to the logistical challenges of providing aid to an island, but if you have visited Puerto Rico you know the flight from Florida to San Juan is relatively short. Others may argue of the financial burden, but a look at the Department of Defense budget or even the GoFundMe for Trump’s border wall suggests that there is always money available–if people care enough.

In recognizing these disparities, we must consider a few things. Does Puerto Rico’s status as a commonwealth disqualify them from equitable humanitarian aid in the wake of a particularly devastating natural disaster? How would this response have been different if Hurricane Maria occurred during the previous administration? What role did we play in allowing complicitness in the federal government?

After the powerful week on the island of enchantment, I was increasingly bothered at the schoolwide emails and blog posts referring to our week as a week of international community engagement. Confused, upset, and planning to share my opinion, I sought answers from Dr. Susan Gabert, Director of Campus Ministry.

Dr. Gabert explained that “the reason the name of the trip was an international trip was because originally the trip was meant to be to Ecuador,” and there was a change of plans due to circumstances beyond the control of the Service and Solidarity program. Dr. Gabert continued to take responsibility for “contribut[ing] to the misunderstanding of Puerto Rico” by “not changing the name to better reflect the relationship of Puerto Rico as a territory of the United States.”

While the naming of the trip is undoubtedly part of the ease with which many people disregard Puerto Rico, we also must be cognizant of the fact that we all could be doing more. We have all failed Puerto Rico, in one way or another. As a commonwealth of the United States with no voice in national elections, the Puerto Rican voice has been silenced. Those of us with voices and votes must constantly bear in mind those who have been denied this privilege. For me, this means electing officials that will govern with compassion on behalf of those who are silenced, and not electing officials who can be found in the aftermath of a tragic natural disaster throwing rolls of toilet paper into the crowd like t-shirts at a baseball game.

Saint A’s Encourages Students to “Just Take the First Step” During MLK Celebration

As students return to the Hilltop from their winter break, the Intercultural Center is hard at work in preparation for its Black History Month celebrations. The College is celebrating the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other champions of progressivism from a variety of ethnicities.

These celebrations, coordinated by the Intercultural Center, are focused on the mentality and theme of “Just Take the First Steps.” The theme is meant to facilitate dialogue and inspire action in students to work towards equality for all people. Wayne Currie, Director of the Intercultural Center, hopes students and attendees will take advantage of the opportunities and events being offered by the College. He continued that he hopes “attendees will feel empowered to embark on a journey toward progress and change by taking the first step.” 

Some of the events being offered include the Martin Luther King Jr Dinner on Tuesday, January 22nd, featuring keynote speaker Melanie Levesque, New Hampshire’s first African American senator.  The Intercultural Center will also be teaming up with the Gender Studies Department to commemorate the works of poet and activist Audre Lorde on Wednesday, January 23rd with a showing of the film The Edge of Each Other’s Battles: The Vision of Audre Lorde. The documentary will be followed with informal dinner and discussion of Lorde’s book Sister Outsider. The College hopes for these events to spark meaningful and productive dialogue.

A full list of the month’s events are below.

  • 01/22: MLK Dinner with State Sen. Melanie Levesque (NHIOP Auditorium @ 4:30pm)
  • 01/23: A Celebration of Audre Lord (Jean Auditorium @ 5pm, followed by a discussion in the LLC @ 7:30pm)
  • 01/24: Lucubrations Open Mic (LLC Classroom @ 7:30pm)
  • 01/25: Will the Poor Really Always Be With Us? (Joseph 005 @ 12:30pm)
  • 01/25: Philosophy Club discussion on race (Bradley Lounge @ 3pm)
  • 01/28: Latinxs, the Bible, and Migration (Perini Lecture Hall @ 7:30pm)
  • 01/30: A Talk by Dr. Jennifer Thorn: “Blackness and Boyhood in New England” (NHIOP West Wing @ 1:30pm)
  • 01/31: Mary Church Terrell, African American Women, and Suffrage (Dana 1D @ 4pm)
  • 01/31: Debate Team public debate on whether or not undocumented immigrants should be granted amnesty (Perini Lecture Hall @ 7pm)
  • 02/04: Showing of The Great Debaters (Koonz Theater @ 7:30pm)
  • 02/06: Showing of The Climb/L’Ascension (Perini Lecture Hall @ 6pm)
  • 02/07: Race and Baseball in the U.S. with a showing of 42 (Dana 1D @ 5pm)
  • 02/13: March and Vigil (Abbey Church @ 8:30pm)
  • 02/13: Campus Mass (Abbey Church @ 9pm)
  • 02/16: CAB Trivia on MLK and Black History (C-Shop @ 8pm)
  • 02/21: A Lecture by Debby Irving: “I’m A Good Person, Isn’t that Enough?” (Dana Center @ 7pm)
  • 02/22-23: Unity Retreat sponsored by the Intercultural Center
  • 02/27: Community Conversation on Race (President’s Dining Room @ 12:30pm)
  • 03/20: Conversation on Equity with community partners (NHIOP West Wing @ 6pm)

(Photo from History.com)

White Students Relieved by Whitewashed Syllabi

With syllabus week nearing its end, students are relieved to be met once again with multiple homogeneous syllabi. “I got concerned that I might have to listen to someone that doesn’t look like me,” a white male sophomore told The Hilltopper. “It puts me at ease to know that every class is filled with a slew of dead white men,” said another. Students in philosophy, theology, and English courses alike were comforted to know that their syllabi would remain representative of a single elite portion of the population.

A diverse syllabus can be harmful to systems of oppression that ensure the continuation of a white heteronormative patriarchal society, explained a white male professor from an undisclosed department. Male and female professors seem to agree with the assessment across disciplines – there simply isn’t room for anyone else.

The homogeneous syllabi are effective in reinforcing the systems of oppression with which many professors are comfortable. Said one student, “I thought that maybe there was even just one black or gay or Asian or Native American or Hispanic or female or transgender author in the past few centuries that had written something worth studying, but if my professor couldn’t find one, then I guess there isn’t! It’s honestly a relief to be reassured of my superiority.”

Other students seemed to agree, saying they didn’t sign up to read such trivial authors as Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Maya Angelou, Nobel prize winner Toni Morrison, or Pulitzer prize winner Alice Walker.

Select professors reported feeling pressure to update their syllabi due to the “changing times” and an increasingly liberal atmosphere in academia. Initially worried, professors have found innovative ways to satisfy these expectations without threatening the status of white men. “You simply put diverse scholars at the very end of the syllabus,” reported multiple professors. This way, they explained, you can still spend the majority of the class preserving the voices of dead white men. Backloading the syllabus allows professors to blame the exclusion of diverse voices on time. For example, one class simply “ran out of time for Dorothy Day.”

Among the other suggestions for skirting the demands for diversity? Some recommended using snow days as an excuse to skip classes that feature non-white authors, bemoaning ‘political correctness’ for the full 50-minute class time, and taking advantage of their tenured status to simply ignore any demands for inclusion.

Some professors blame the lack of inclusion on the demands of the core curriculum, which mandates they cover certain topics depending on the core learning outcome. With such rigorous expectations, it is nearly impossible to include voices beyond Aquinas and Bentham, explained theology and philosophy professors, respectively.

Other professors were simply confused by the request for more diverse perspectives. Said one, “I’m teaching a core course, not an elective. Why would I need to include someone who isn’t a straight white male? It’s literature, not African-American literature. I’m all for them being in a syllabus, but why can’t we just keep them separate but equal?”

Julián Castro Outlines Vision at Politics & Eggs Event

Julián Castro (D-TX) spoke at the Politics & Eggs event on campus Wednesday. (Photo by Mary Schwalm of the Associated Press)

Former Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Julián Castro was on campus Wednesday to outline his vision if he wins the presidency. Castro is the most prominent announced candidate for the Democratic nomination, but the field is quickly growing. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) has also announced she is running while Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) formally explore potential candidacies. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) is also scheduled to announce her entry into the race on or around MLK Day. Speculation continues to swirl around former Vice President Joe Biden (D-DE), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-TX).

Castro is the former Mayor of San Antonio, Texas. In his speech Wednesday, Castro talked about the experience of his grandmother’s immigration to the United States and the opportunities she built for her daughter and grandsons. He has tied this personal narrative into the issues he cares most about.

Castro speaks with a Saint Anselm student while signing eggs. (Photo by Nick Fulchino ’19)

In addition to his personal narrative, Castro spoke about a variety of issues he hopes to address as president. He called for universal pre-kindergarten and talked about when he passed the program in San Antonio, asking his constituents to agree to a sales tax increase to pay for it. His emphasis on early childhood education earned applause from the room.

Castro also spoke about criminal justice reform, climate change, and affordable housing. Questions in the audience centered on how Castro plans to pay for his ambitious agenda, mental health, and veterans’ affairs.

Julianne Plourde ’20, who is a New Hampshire primary voter, reacted positively to most of Castro’s remarks. “It was promising to hear a candidate want to talk about problems that are often ignored, such as our affordable housing issues,” she said before continuing, “He’s definitely someone I want to learn more about after his speech.”

Politics & Eggs is as much a New Hampshire tradition as it is a Saint Anselm one. It is hosted at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on campus in conjunction with the New England Council. It frequently features top political minds and nearly, if not all, presidential candidates.

Castro Announces Bid, Will Visit Hilltop

Former Sec. of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro (D-TX) announces his campaign in San Antonio, TX. (Photo from ABC News)

The parade of potential 2020 Presidential candidates continues next week with another stop at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

Julián Castro, who most recently served as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama, will keynote the next Politics and Eggs of the New England Council. Castro’s Politics and Eggs visit will be days a rally, on January 12, in his native San Antonio, Texas where Castro formally announced his campaign.

The rally in San Antonio comes after a barnstorming tour of Iowa, which began today, the first state of hold an electoral contest, a few weeks before New Hampshire’s own 2020 Primary.

Before serving in President Obama’s second term cabinet, Castro was the Mayor of San Antonio for three terms and served on the San Antonio City Council before that. Castro was frequently linked to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 vice presidential search before the job was offered to Virginia’s Tim Kaine.

Much of Castro’s appeal centers around his youth and his representation of the growing Hispanic population across the United States, as well as his liberal positions on issues, including a recent pledge of support for the “Medicare for All” proposal. In his announcement speech, Castro affirmed his support for universal healthcare coverage and announced plans for ending cash bail, universal Pre-K, and re-entering the Paris Climate Accord. As Mayor, Castro was a major supporter of same-sex marriage, despite the fact same-sex marriage was illegal in the State of Texas at the time.

Castro has a twin brother name Joaquín, who has been a member of Congress since 2013. Both Castro brothers have hinted at running for higher office but, it seems, they’ve decided that 2020 is Julian’s time. Regardless of which Castro brother is running, it seems that there is a new Kennedy family coming up through the Lone Star State – one more reflective of the shifting demographics and social trends in the country.

Castro will be the fifth potential Presidential candidate to visit the Hilltop in the 2020 Cycle, joining Republicans Jeff Flake and John Kasich and Democrats John Delaney and Andrew Yang.