Friday, June 30, 2017

This Week Should Get a Speeding Ticket

My first week here at Cornell Summer College went by in the blink of an eye.

 I learned so much about International Human Rights Law. Before, I knew what my morals and obligations to the world around me were. I was opinionated (still am) but couldn’t exactly explain my thoughts to others in an articulate manner. Now, I have the evidence and legal knowledge to back up points that  I have been making for years. 

Maybe I’m jumping ahead, but I feel as though I might have figured out that this is the work that I want to do the rest of my life.  

Then again, my career's progress isn’t the only part of the future that I look forward to. What’s most important to me is being able to establish connections with people that might not share my experiences. I gravitate towards protecting my feelings and wanting to make sure these people are approachable and open to trying out new things, even if that means playing Pictionary and Twister on an incredibly hot day in my dorm room for an hour. Just to be clear, that’s exactly what J’nai, Sultana, Wendy, Robson, and I did this afternoon. 

I learned then how much of a blessing it was for me to be even staying in this room. Apparently, my dorm is a lot larger than what’s considered normal. I also have two closets instead of one, a personal sink, and a ceiling light (that’s a luxury, I've heard). The students residing in Mary Donlon Hall don’t have access to any of these resources, which makes me feel a little bit better about not being in a dormitory such as theirs that’s social and fun. 

Laundry for me isn't social nor fun. I spent a good portion of today walking back and forth to the basement library room. What that meant for me as someone living on the tallest floor (6th) was that I had to trek up and down six flights of stairs at least 4 times. The room itself was boiling hot and humid, no wonder they had a vending machine in there to try and sell you expensive water as you suffered. The water turned out to be the least of my worries. I had problems with the dryers and had to switch my clothes several times before I found one that worked well for me. What was most annoying about it wasn't the process itself, but more so the fact that people hadn’t cleaned out their lint traps, so I had to do it for them more than once. I guess that demonstrates another improvement that I’ve made during this seven-day period. That is, being more responsible and independent,

Begging Mama to complete tasks for me isn’t an option. I need to and have had to learn how to do things myself. I believe this has prepared me for my future away from home more than anything else.

Views to picture while walking to class
 Robson and I stumbled upon a concert near the Clock Tower. It wasn’t a typical concert as in there weren't any teenagers pushing one another to get closer to the band. Instead, there were community members, elders and youngsters dancing and reacting positively to the lead vocalist singing encouraging phrases. The phrase that stuck with me was “You are a stone-cold miracle.” I’m pretty sure that was the name of the band as well. I'm still not 100% sure what they meant by that, but the encouragement and positivity the message offered were incredibly enlivening. 

As this week is coming to an end, I’m beginning to realize all of the changes it has brought about in me and not just the major ones. I can appreciate the details.

For instance, a few hours ago I saw fireflies at night for the first time in my life. That might not seem like a huge accomplishment, but it will most likely stay with me for the rest of my life.  

Thursday, June 29, 2017

7.3 Mile Mark

Evacuated for the Fire Alarm going off
Today turned out to be pretty long and exhausting, but also extremely rewarding. I woke up earlier than I thought I would and caught up on homework that I hadn’t had the chance to finish the night before. The International Human Rights course that I’m taking requires a lot of reading. Usually, I have it done the night before, but yesterday my body decided that it was going to sleep earlier.

The fire alarm went off again this morning. I was inside my room when it happened, and although I assumed that it might be a drill (not recommended), the screeching did startle me. Because it had been set off in South Balch Hall, all of us girls made our way outside into the courtyard. Some people were still in their pajamas; others had their toothbrush in their mouths. One of my greatest fears is being in the bathroom while one of these drills go off. After all, there were girls wearing bathrobes with towels wrapped around their heads amongst the crowd.

Progressively, the day became more and more eventful. In class, we talked about universality and cultural relativism. The reasoning behind the debate on whether or not Universal Human Rights can be achieved on a global scale in today’s diverse world was captivating. International Organizations’ history as viewing other cultural groups as inferior and in need of salvation was the main issue that I had with the work. Learning both sides to that argument has made it easier for me to explain my thoughts and feelings in a rational, articulate way.

Spot the wolf in sheep's clothing
Hint: It's not me
What I found even more interesting was a scenario that one of our classmates, Lassan, came up with to argue both sides, for and against freedom to practice religion when it’s used to discriminate against others. In the situation, a Muslim baker doesn't want to offer a gay couple a cake for their wedding. How does international and domestic law go about securing the rights of both of those actors and why isn’t there any consensus on this issue within judicial systems? I don’t know and that is why I found the topic to so interesting. 

On one hand, I totally agree that you can’t disregard the rights of a group of people and deny them service based on your religious beliefs. I also agree that lgbtq+ rights should be respected and granted more protection. Still, as irrational and horrible as it is, there isn’t any way in which you can effectively force someone to complete an action that goes against their morals and beliefs. 
So many books at the Olin Library!
I want to check some out sometime soon.

All in all, the discussion was fulfilling. So was the “make your own” pasta that I had at Trillium for lunch. A group of us classmates went down to the dining hall and chatted as we ate. It was nice getting to know my fellow students better. They are a diverse group of people, not just in terms of background and nationality, but thought process as well. We will be spending a great majority of these three weeks together finding potential remedies to world issues. It’s important that we know each other's stories and can understand each other's perspectives. 

The afternoon session for our class started at 2:00 PM. Our guest speaker for the day was Sharon Hickey, research and advocacy director for the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide and Former Women and Justice Fellow at the Cornell Center for Women and Justice. Ms. Hickey is an incredibly talented and intelligent woman who has accomplished a lot for the international community. Her thoughts on military sexual assault, working with victims, and the extent to which it's a problem in the US  was eye opening.

I never knew that Military cases couldn’t be tried in normal courts. Today was the first day I realized this and it fully changed my perspective on the matter. It’s absurd that these women and men are not provided with the resources that they need to successfully combat assault and rape. 

After class, a group stayed behind to talk to Ms. Hickey. I wanted to know what her stance on the death penalty was, and as I expected, she didn't condone the practice. Ms. Hickey also encouraged us to reach out and email her if we ever had any other questions or concerns. 

These past few days we have learned in class that most if not all International Law is implied and cannot be enforced in any ways other than international pressure. This has discouraged me just a little bit. What is the purpose of an International organization if it can't technically bring about any change? 

I have found out since that there are many other ways in which they accomplish these goals (through conventions, soft law, etc.). Ms. Hickey, however, had an entirely different way of thinking about the process. She said that looking back and observing history itself gives her hope and allows her to appreciate the amount of social progress that we have made during her lifetime alone. 

For office hours, a group of fellow students including Robson and I engaged in conversation with our professor about the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar. We also asked for her thoughts on questions relating to our reading that we had forgotten or not thought about in class.

Afterward, our little friend group consisting of Pooja, Sultana, Robson, Eunji, and I decided to take a long walk in the wrong direction. Although I had my map with me in my backpack, Pooja seemed to know where she was going, so we let her lead the way. It turned out that we were walking downhill in the wrong direction, approaching downtown Ithaca instead of the gorge we desperately wanted to see. The walk back up was not fun, but it I guess it was great exercise and brought us closer together. 

I had dinner at the RPCC around 7 PM and then Pooja, Sultana, Robson, Marian (who we'd met in the dining hall), and I spent the rest of the day at Olin Library and the Libe Slope (perfect spot to take in the view) watching the sunset and laughing the night away. On our way home, we made sure to play on the ball structures located outside of the Architectural building. I had a blast!

Back in my dorm room, I checked the application on my phone that tracks the number of miles I've walked each day. Today, I made it 7.3 miles! 

It was definitely one of the better days I have spent here in Ithaca. 

I Just Want Cake, Man

The names are from front to back, Pooja, Marian,
Javaria and Sultana is hiding in the back.
Today was very fun and relaxing. Today in class we had a very long and engaging debate in our class on universality and relativism and in the afternoon we had a guest speaker that gave a presentation of sexual violence in the military and her work to help stop it. 

I went with a group of friends to my instructor’s office hours which is always amazing because she is very smart and obviously passionate about what she is teaching. 

Upon realizing that we had no homework for class and the day after tomorrow we would be having a four day weekend my friends and I wanted to go somewhere and do something so we decided to find a trail by a creek, but we got really lost so when we found our way we were tired, gave up and decided to do something after dinner. 

After dinner we went to a library (I forgot its name) but the view from the top was amazing, we went to a beautiful grassy slope and outside the architecture building where there were these glowing globes on a concrete slope. Today was a perfect day (I’ve been having a lot of those recently).

I got breakfast and went immediately to class because I was running a little late because I enjoyed my sleep a little too much. I made it to class and this class was great. We started off by going over relativism and universality. Relativism says human rights depend on culture and can’t be universal because of people’s culture while universality says human rights apply to everyone no matter the culture. I personally fell on the universality side because I feel relativism is used as an excuse to discriminate against a certain minority. We discussed this in greater detail when we discussed a scenario of a baker denying a gay couple a wedding cake based off of his deeply held religious beliefs. I said he had no right to do so. And many people brought up the point that his religious freedom would be suppressed if he participated or condoned something his faith says is a sin. I thought it was a valid point, but the flaw in that argument was that he wasn’t participating in the wedding or condoning gay marriage he is simply baking a cake. An additional point was brought up that denying the baker his religion is like denying a gay person a service for being gay. I got heated and said if I wanted a wedding cake I am not forcing the baker to go to my wedding or forcing him to accept it and I shouldn’t get denied a service that everyone else gets. At the end of my rant I just felt like I needed to say something so I said “I just want my cake, man.” That line became infamous. People found it funny and quoted it throughout the day. 

We had a similar debate, but applied it to abortion and an international court case called “Sahin v. Turkey”. “Sahin v. Turkey” involved a student at a university that at the end of the case was forced to take off her hijab that she wore to school every day out of her own free choice. The class basically all agreed that she should be able to wear her hijab because she isn’t hurting anyone as she is doing it out of her own free will.  

The guest speaker we had was amazing. Her name was Sharon Hickey and she discussed how she fought alongside our instructor using the international system for ending sexual violence in the United States military. It was fascinating to directly see how the systems and conventions we were learning about were used to actually enforce or attempt to enforce a human right. Sharon Hickey also went into detail about the strategy that her team used to pressure the United States because there was no real way to force America to enforce human rights. It was also interesting to see how they got around the fact that America signed little to no treaties or conventions or ratified little to no charters. This sort of attitude America has about focusing on itself for ideas and laws instead of the international community is called American Exceptionalism, but that is another can of worms for another day.

I met up with Javaria, Sultana, Pooja and Eunji and we walked to our instructor’s office. After waiting for a while we decided to go in together. We asked our instructor about last night’s reading, how to enforce human rights and any other questions relating to human rights in general. From talking to our instructor in her office hours it is clear that she is teaching summer classes not because she needs or wants more money, but it is because she loves what she is teaching. This was made clear in the passion with which she answered our questions and how happy she was to do so.
After office hour my group of friends and I decided to find a trail that was near the suspension bridge. To make a long story very short, we got lost. We got so lost that we were basically heading in the direction of downtown Ithaca. The problem with this was the heat and humidity which washed over my body in hot and miserable waves. When we found our way we just went to our dorms and decided to meet up during dinner.
After we met up during dinner we added a new friend to our group -- her name is Marian. She is very nice, artistic and smart and I met her that morning during breakfast. We walked together to the clock tower, but since we couldn’t climb it, we went to a tall library that was across the courtyard. The building may have been shorter, but the view was beautiful and gave to a nearly full view of the campus. From there we sat on a grassy hill and rolled down it (rolling down that hill was so fun fun!) We sat on the grass and talked until sundown, and then we went to the architecture building to look at and climb on top of these interesting glowing globes that would change color.
Overall this day was perfect. I can’t wait for tomorrow’s class (we are studying strategic approaches to human rights advocacy) and our class’s four day weekend. I had a perfect day and can’t wait for many more.

Chill Vibes

I woke up at my typical 6:30 AM alarm before I realized I was still tired so I went back to sleep for another hour and a half which was a great decision. I got ready relatively quick and I heard the fire alarm go off, yes, again. I was leaving for class anyways so I walked out with the rest of the girls who actually evacuated the building this time around.

I got to class fairly early and talked with some of the students about our different leadership experiences and how we go about resolving a conflict when working as a team. Everyone had a very unique take always from different activities such as starting their own organizations to being an advocate for raising awareness about their passions.  It was interesting to learn more about the community of future leaders I was surrounded by and I knew it would help us think more critically in class discussions.

During the class discussion the instructor had joined in alongside our TA, Nick. We discussed the ending of our first book, and our feelings about the layout as being a dialogue and business meeting setting, as well as how it would be changed if another version of it was to be published. More students are stepping up to participate in the discussion and the more engaged my peers become in the material of the book, the more fun and easier it becomes to comprehend. We talked about a commander’s intent and how that compares to a leader’s intent, and basically broke down what a leader has to accomplish and how they are responsible for making sure that the team completes the task at hand.

Afterwards our TA, Nick gave a presentation on his leadership experience, which was a significant part of his life being a firefighter, when I say firefighter I mean putting out the massive forest fires in the Rockies. I could definitely understand and relate to what he was saying because of living in an area where we have dry heat. It was so interesting to learn about the process of living with your team and having to complement one another both on a professional as well as a personal one. The expression on the faces of his team members told all about what they had to go through in order to even attempt to complete the task at hand. 

After class I had lunch at the Trillium once again which is really nice but it makes me nervous because I am not eating as healthy as I usually do, but oh well, all part of the experience? Today our whole leadership class was sitting together for lunch and we of course exchanged social medias and contact information as well as talked about our feelings about the class and the direction it's headed in. 

We tried some face masks because my face doesn't
 know what humidity is. 
Khirishana and I ran into Josh, our other TA while we were walking to Mary Donlon which is where she lives. We stopped and talked to him about how we're looking forward to early next week when we will have our discussions without raising our hands. He was talking to us for quite some time about the class and how to reach out to him or any of the other course instructors if we have any questions, or even if we just want to talk to him about college, etc. He was laughing at me when I didn't realize that it snowed in Cornell during January and told me had some great resources he could reach out to for me because of my interest in the Information Science major at Cornell. TA's are definitely another great resource to take advantage of for college advice and class questions or anything else. 

I went with Khirishana to her dorm to get started on another essay I have due this weekend and prepare the reading for tomorrow's class discussion when a girl form her floor brought us some leftover cupcakes her mom had shipped over from New Zealand! Such a sweetheart! It honestly made my day. We had dinner and I was hanging with her and some student studying Middle eastern History since we were all working on our essays for our courses while they were making fun of me for listening to rain sounds while working. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Rights Enforcement, Housing Discrimination and Boba

Today, my rhythm continues as I got up at a reasonable amount of sleep again! I feel so great because when classes started it was so weird going to school again and having school work so I was really flustered and found it hard to blog and read all the course material and go to sleep at a reasonable hour, but now I am doing very well and handling all the work well. 

Today in class we learned about how human rights are enforced on the domestic level. Instead of having our TA sessions after lunch, we had an absolutely amazing guest speaker who is at this moment the highlight of the class. She gave the most helpful lecture in the class because she discussed her work on enforcing housing rights in Tompkins County and enforcing human rights on a local level. I took five pages of notes because this knowledge is exactly what I need to bring home and what I want to bring home so I can use it in my school and neighborhood so I can fulfill my dream of improving my community. After that class I felt super motivated, but it was hot and my big lunch settled and I felt sleepy so I went back to my dorm to nap and take a shower. 

Later Javaria and I decided to go out because we haven’t done anything fun that wasn’t related to class recently so we went to college town to get Boba tea and some pretty touristy and dumb T-shirts, but we couldn’t resist. If this summer experience is anything close to real college, then I am absolutely going to LOVE College. I am so excited and motivated I spent most of afternoon blogging, reading and making plans for the start of school so I can implement what I learned in my class. 
Today I got up went to breakfast and had A LOT of cereal. I don’t get much cereal at home so I took advantage of the massive amount of cereal available. 

I walked to class anticipating the next class because I read the material three times and I felt like I had a pretty good understanding of the reading. 

The class was very interesting because we finally finished our discussion on symphysiotomy being practiced in Ireland without the woman’s consent. We talked about what provisions of CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) were violated and had to apply the provisions to a legal argument. I thought this was really fun and came really easily to me because in Mock Trial I had to use case law and the Constitution of the United States to argue in a “trial”. After we had a discussion of what provisions we would use and how we would use them (the class agreed on what provisions, but had different ways of using them). The interesting question was whether or not the case would be admissible because many cases of symphysiotomy happened before Ireland signed the CEDAW so I thought it wouldn’t be admissible. But the instructor and other students brought up the fact that it would be admissible based on the fact that Ireland took no action to redress or pay reparations to the women who were affected by the procedure. Ireland’s lack of action makes it admissible because in many ways inaction on the part of a state to stop or redress a certain human right violation is the same as directly violating someone’s rights.

We went on to talk about how states enforce human rights domestically. We discussed theories of Dualism and Monism, civil and common law systems and self-executing and non-self-executing treaties. I found this very interesting, because I would prefer this blog not being 3,000 to 5,000 words. I can use that many words just describing Monism and Dualism and my thoughts on it. So I will move on to lunch which I had with Javaria and people from our class. It was fun to talk to them and when we walked back to our class for the guest speaker we saw a cute bunny, but all my pictures of it looked like a blurry brown dot.

We made it to the hall again and listened to the guest speaker. And she was amazing. Her name was Karen Baer and she is the director of the Tompkins County Office of Human Rights. Her talk was so amazing to me because it was directly related to what I want to do in my community. Her talk was broadly about how to enforce human rights on the local scale, but she went in depth about the different rights people have such as human rights and civil rights and the different types such as social, economic or political rights. 

But the part that really sparked my interest and got me excited was when she talked about what she was doing in Tomkins County to protect housing rights to Section 8 voucher holders. The problem was that Section 8 voucher holders trying to find an apartment were being rejected by landlords at massively high rates especially when compared to people who don’t have vouchers. This disproportionately effected women (especially single mothers), and racial minorities. What Mrs. Baer did to combat this was to find the issue and research it. She gathered all the data she could. She looked for data that supported her side and data that didn’t help her side because she wanted to make sure what she is fighting is real and needs to change. She also talked to landlords to find out why they were denying Section 8 voucher holders. Many of the reasons were misconceptions. The biggest one was that Section 8 voucher holders were bad tenants and drug dealers or criminal when in all of Ms. Baer’s research showed the opposite because voucher holders tend to be long term and reliable tenants. 

She is currently working on the legislative side to get a bill passed to protect voucher holders’ rights. The thing that hit me the most besides how she described the process behind enforcing rights was when she said “Don’t blindly trust your community when they say they are progressive.” That spoke strongly to me because I heard that before many times from teachers, counselors and other members of my community and it is used in a way to say “Don’t worry there is nothing really wrong in our community.” Ms. Baer’s word spoke strongly to me because it made me think critically and be skeptical of what those teachers and counselors told me. It also opened my eyes to the fact that no matter how many progressive values a community accepts there are still blind spots when it comes to human rights. I stayed behind with Javaria a little to ask Ms. Baer about her career, but after that we walked to our dorms.
After that my day slowed down. I went to my dorm, took a shower and went to meet Javaria at South Balch because we wanted to do something fun so since the Uris Library and Dairy Bar was closed we went to College Town to have Boba. It was yummy. I had Oolong milk tea and it basically tasted like normal black milk tea, but it was still tasty. We went to a store to buy the “Ithaca is Gorges” T-shirt. I know it is dumb, but I could not resist. When we walked back we took the scenic route. We went to see Ezra Cornell’s statue and walked across a suspension bridge. I already did it and blogged about it, but it was still so pretty that I didn’t care. It was such a great way to end an amazing and exciting day.  

Ithaca is Gorges

Earlier today, I met up with my friend J’nai for breakfast. The RPCC (Robert Purcell Community Center) usually has a long line of students waiting to get inside, but I was relieved to find out that wasn’t the case this morning. I ate a muffin, banana, and some strawberries for breakfast. The cup of hot chocolate ended up being too sweet to drink. It was an odd combination of food, I know. Still, I’ve learned to love the freedom that comes with being able to eat whatever you want, whenever you want it here in the dining halls at Cornell.

After breakfast was over, the two of us walked over to the Cornell Law School where our class is held. We spoke about climbing the Clock Tower in Ithaca some day. I have thought about it, but the idea of waking up several hours earlier than I normally do to walk up hundreds of steps is agonizing.

The view, I've heard, is supposed to be amazing. Maybe not worth the asthma complications and sleep deprivation, but I most likely will end up following through with the plan to climb this tower regardless. 

I do not want to be the kid that goes home and immediately regrets not participating in as many activities or gaining the experiences that they could have. 

Today’s class lasted up until 12:30 PM. For the most part, we talked about ways in which International Law is placed into effect domestically. Our discussion revolved around NGO’s and other international organizations’ contributions to the implementation of human rights within states.

Libe Slope
Our textbook states that in order to be a progressive nation, you should have an abundance of local NGOs. I found this interesting and also a bit of a  false generalization. There are many NGO (especially USAID) employees in nations such as Pakistan and Afghanistan that have gotten away with corruption worth millions of dollars. 

Boba Tea!
NGOs (non-governmental organizations) weren’t the only topic that we discussed in class today. Guest speaker, Karen Baer, who is the director of the Tompkins County Office for Human Rights asked us to think hard about ‘justice’ and the ways in which we define that term. Her presentation was inspiring; immediately afterward, I wanted to look into doing the same activist work that she does. Ms. Baer especially brought up Section 8 and the City of Ithaca's inability in the past to deal with landlords who make it practically impossible for people with disabilities and financial problems to have access to housing. The conversation did open me up to considering working for my own city. Then again, that's not exactly what I want to do with my life, but I can still appreciate people who dedicate their lives to the work. 

Robson and I stayed behind after class to ask Ms. Baer questions about her career and contributions. 

Happy to be here
I went back to my dormitory to shower and meet with my RCA (Resident Community Advisor), Angela. She wanted to check in and make sure that the girls on our floor weren't facing any serious emotional/physical problems. Angela is a sweetheart. We get along very well and might be having lunch together sometime soon. I'm relieved that she's an easy person to talk to and interact with. We've told one another about our time at Cornell so far. My personal favorite was her story about students stealing trays from dining halls during the winter time and using them as sleds. It's an awful thing to do and I don't approve of it, but the thought of someone doing that still manages to crack me up. 

Before blogging and sleeping, Robson and I went to College Town to take pretty pictures for the blog. I had to have an “Ithaca is Gorges” shirt and ended up buying it along with a tie-dye Cornell T-shirt for my brother. What’s hilarious is that the cashier thought I was getting the smaller size for myself and told me that it “might not fit.”

We grabbed a boba tea from one of the shops on our way back and took the longer route back to Balch, passing Ezra Cornell’s statue (none of the pictures of the statue turned out great) and the suspension bridge. Sightseeing was a great way to end the day!