Saturday, May 31, 2014

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

It continues to impress me the types of books RAs note as their favorite read.  Clearly this one was a favorite because of how it probably taught the reader about the terrible abuse of women worldwide and motivated the reader to think they should do something.  The topic itself is pretty depressing, the oppression of women worldwide.  The book is called Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by authors Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn.  The married couple travel around the world to provide individual profiles of women and their plight within their given society, South Africa (Congo, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan), Asia (China, Cambodia, Middle East), and in Europe (Netherlands) to name a few.  The authors present real life human rights violations against women in an attempt to raise awareness and get more people to become active in supporting their movement.  They highlight many women who have fallen prey to drug dealers, sex slavery/trafficking and genital mutilation, rape/beatings, and other travesties.  While the issues are presented through real life people, there are also many success stories illustrated as a way to show there is hope.  Additionally, the authors profile non-profit organizations that have been created to help address these violations vs. women.  A significant amount of violence data and finally what we can do to help make change, by either donating money or time to change the outcomes in people’s lives.  The book highlights these important issues and an insight as to how the US has/hasn’t been helpful based on “who” is in office.  Hard to read much of the book and the detailing of the abuse.  There are success stories in which the survivors have been able to escape the abuse.  An important story to be told, not sure I would make this the one book I bring on an island if I could only read one, but appreciate the information and ways to support the fight for women.    

Monday, May 26, 2014

Whistling Vivaldi (Extra book)

This one was recommended to me by one of my colleagues, Michael G (ACUHO-I Exec Board) for me to think about with our globalization/diversity inclusion, which it really did help.  The book, Whistling Vivaldi written by Claude Steele (faculty member at Stanford University), gives the readers a very helpful literature review and a review of his own research related to stereotypes, how they affect us, and what we can do about them. Steele begins the book by documenting data about gaps in achievement/intellectual achievement and identity (race/ethnicity).  Almost all of the work done in the book is focused on college level students (primarily African Americans, though some for other populations) and addressing how they might succeed in college (though some of the helpful hints could certainly be applied to high school students as well. He pulls from numerous studies to build his hypothesis and follows up with his research studies he conducted with colleagues to address his beliefs.  (This is great detail for any budding researchers who may need some “how to” approaches).  Steele interjects some brief stories on his own growing up as an African American in Chicago and how he was only allowed to swim at the local pool on Wednesdays and roller skate on Thursdays based on his color.  He notes he never knew he was different (based on his race) until he started to realize these distinct barriers shown to him by our society. Steele presents how the “cues” in our environment that signal stereotypes (for an individual’s identity) can have a negative effect on how a person functions and how these effects can explain gaps in performance.  Some of his suggestions for how we could respond to the challenges include: change the way in which we provide critical feedback to our under-represented populations (as this is a way we can improve student’s motivation and receptiveness) and do so in a straight-forward manner to explain why you are presenting this data to them; increase the critical mass of under-represented students on your campus (enhances comfort in the environment); foster intergroup conversation among students from different backgrounds; ask students to share their values to affirm their most valued sense of self (including them in sharing what matters most); and help students develop their own narrative about the settings of the college (let them share their frustrations) which can help them improve their sense of belonging and achievement.  Some simple, some not so simple ways to improve the climate and experience for the students who are most vulnerable in a majority Caucasian campus setting.  Steel’s work is pretty straight forward and valuable for educators to grapple with as educators.  A great read for a staff development in student affairs.  Thanks Michael!  

Sunday, May 25, 2014


I’m not a huge metaphorical philosopher, or a fan of books that fit that genre.  But the background for the message is certainly interesting, a gorilla attempting to teach man about the ethics of life and how man seems to be “screwing it all up” is the making of Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, written in 1992. The story begins with the main character, “the Narrator,” seeing an ad in the newspaper that reads, “teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person."  He is attracted to the ad on a whim by the “absurdity” of the ad and when he arrives he finds himself in a room with a gorilla!  A note next to the gorilla notes “With man gone, will there be hope for gorilla?"  The gorilla can communicate telepathically.  He learns about his arrival to his current location and how Walter Sokolow took him in and trained hm.  As the story progresses, Ishmael teaches the “nameless” narrator "how things came to be this way" for all of mankind.  Ishmael teaches the narrator a great deal regarding the history of civilization and how the culture was born from the agricultural revolution which separated the Takers (most of current humankind – those who take from this world and others and believe the world was made for them only!) and the leavers, those who use the world and leave some for others. The Takers believe they are to rule the world, of course Ishmael goes on to illustrate how flawed this premise and the Takers are in living their lives.  The Takers forget about the rest of the world, and those who live in it.  Takers are above the law of the land and he exemplifies this through Biblical stories, including the story of Adam and Cain and Abel. He explains the fall of man and how in the story of Cain and Abel, Abel is symbolized (as the Leavers), and how they were killed off and how their lands grew to become “cultivated (the agricultural development of land).  The Leavers take what they need from the world and leave the rest alone. Ishmael provides a synopsis on human culture by examining the story enacted by Leaver cultures, which provides a model of how to live—an alternative story for the Takers to enact where the land belongs to the world. He concludes with what the narrator can do if he wants to save the world. Unfortunately the gorilla disappears after being sold to a traveling circus (as the two meet semi-regularly) and in the end the gorilla dies of pneumonia. A lasting image is a note that the narrator finds from the gorilla that states, "With man gone, will there be hope for gorilla?" and on the back of the note it reads, "With gorilla gone, will there be hope for man?" Obviously not huh?  The story, which introduces early on the Nazi movement, shows how despicable the power of man has gotten and we need to rely on animals for our own salvation – for food and thought!  While the message is simple, yet deep, this one went over my head at times as it just didn’t keep me that interested.  Getting hit over the head over and over again.  Love the clever metaphors though and in the end, the message is right on, man is man’s worst enemy.  Our humanness will kill us all.  Good for a philosophy lecture, not a Sunday afternoon on the beach.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars

Sometimes you pick up a book and you can’t put it down… wish that happened more frequently in my life… today it did!  And to remember explicitly where I am reading the book… I am in Abu Dhabi for NYU’s first graduation at our portal site, now back to the book.  Having read one of the author’s other books, I knew I was in for something special, how special?  You should read this one – and don’t watch the movie (coming out NEXT weekend!) by John Green,  The Fault in Our Stars. The topic of the book is especially close to me at the moment as my sister suffers from cancer, and yes the book has cancer as the centerpiece of the problem, but the story is more about growing up, coming of age, and trying to understand the impossible nature of life, and of course death.  The story is set in Indianapolis where the lead character, Hazel Grace, is attending a support group meeting for adolescents with cancer.  Hazel, who suffers from a terminal cancer, though handling it at the moment, introduces the other youth who also suffer from various stages of cancer, with one or two in remission.  It is at this meeting where she meets a visitor, Augustus Waters, a “hottie” from Hazel’s perspective.  He's there to support their mutual friend, Isaac. Isaac suffers from eye cancer and will be going for surgery to remove the eye the next day.  As the story unfolds we learn that Augustus has lost a leg to cancer a few years prior.  During the meeting Augustus makes an overture to Hazel to spend some time together after the meeting.  Of course the two begin a connection that develops as only a true love story does!  Hazel, a voracious reader, shares with Augustus her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, by Peter Van Houten, a recluse who has virtually disappeared from human existence.  But he can’t escape Augustus, who attempts to find him because of Hazel’s love of the book, which has a most bizarre ending, the main character is writing a note and the book ends mid-sentence, leaving the audience to have to imagine what happened to the various characters.  Hazel, obsessed with the book, gets Augustus to read it… and he then attempts to find Van Houten.  Of course, Augustus does and after receiving the “Make a Wish” dream for cancer patients, guess who is going to meet the author to find out the ending?  Hazel and Augustus (with Hazel’s mom of course - they aren’t letting two 16 year olds off to Amsterdam alone).  I won’t ruin the ending, and yes cancer does play a major role in the ending, as does death, but more than that does understanding, love, emotion, and the beginning of really knowing what our relevance is in our world’s, those we love.  The characters are real, complicated, and loveable.  The story moves and the backdrop is moving.  Green is on his game.  Move over Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye) and the 2000’s Perks of Being a Wallflower… what they have in “journey” this has in heart and emotion.  If you don’t shed a tear on this one, hmmm... you don’t have any to shed.  Add to your book list.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Getting to Yes

A great series of tools and suggestions on how to negotiate a successful outcome to an impasse can be found in the book Getting to Yes by Fischer and Ury.  In their third edition, the authors offer a simplistic and thoughtful way to have both sides feel like they have their thoughts and needs discussed in the process.  As the authors note, this is pretty simple thinking, yet in the “heat” of the moment, we allow our “power hungry” side often to take the lead.  The five principles espoused in the book are: 1.) “separate the people from the problem"; 2.) "focus on interests, not positions"; 3.) "invent options for mutual gain"; 4.) "insist on using objective criteria"; and 5.) "know your BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement)."  The most important point is that one needs to speak from their interest and not their position. So often we are just about “winning” and not really listening to what the other is truly interested in, which may not always be monetary in nature.  I felt that this is a very helpful read that can be used in your daily job for having two employees work better together, or when you are selling a house, purchasing a product, or discussing a problem with a neighbor.  In the end it all goes back to one thing, be intentional, thoughtful and be prepared to give in some as we are often clouded by our own position and our belief that we are right without thinking about the other.  As in Stephen Covey’s highly touted Seven Habits, seek to understand then to be understood.  Anyone dealing with others would benefit from doing at least a skim of the tenets as it is pretty redundant once you get the concept.  The examples are helpful in putting into practice the concepts.  A quick read!