Service Learning

Service learning was an interesting concept for me to wrap my head around. At the beginning of the semester I was a little skeptical of the concept; work, family, school, and church obligations left me with almost no free time to occupy with anything else. I didn’t understand the purpose or reason behind making students into slaves of UVU! Luckily, my first experience with the refugees changed the way I thought about giving service and the people to whom I was giving service. My first experience with refugees was the basketball activity. I remember watching the refugee children arrive and feeling that awkward apprehension that comes with meeting people who are so different from us. I eventually made my way over to a group of young teenagers and struck up a conversation about soccer. I introduced myself, and apologized in advance for not being able to remember their names.

            What stood out to me from the very beginning was the fact that I was dealing with people who were far different from my expectations. Sure, some of them didn’t speak English very well and had darker skin than I did, but through the broken conversations I was able to find so much in common with these kids. I made friends with two younger men, Aqueel and Sajad, and they were immediately fascinated that I drove an FJ Cruiser. They began to tell me about the FJ competitions that they hold in Iraq and Aqeel even showed me some pictures. They told me that Iraq was in a bad place right now, but that they were enjoying Utah. Above all, they missed their family and desired to return to a safe, peaceful Iraq.

            My wife Shannon was able to accompany me to the service learning adventure and immediately made friends with some of the younger girls that I’d been trying to befriend all night. Every time I tried to talk with them throughout the day, they would give me one- or two-word answers to my questions or even ignore me; as soon as my wife came in they looked at her, made an expression of shock, and said, “You’re so pretty!” and were inseparable the rest of the night.

            I’d say that one of the great takeaways from my time with the refugees was that many of them are just making the best of a bad situation. I can’t imagine having to leave Utah because of a threat to my life and, upon arriving in a foreign country for shelter, hearing things about my culture and country that weren’t true. Many times, throughout my service learning experience, I reassured the refugees that the words that come from President Trump’s mouth DO NOT echo the sentiment of many Utahns and Americans. Ignorance usually comes from a lack of exposure to other cultures, and the only way that America will be able to end the incorrect stereotypes and mental images of refugees is by giving service to them, getting to know them, and caring for them.

            I am very appreciative of the opportunity that I was given to contribute to society and help those in need by giving service to the refugees of Utah. My eyes have been opened and my opinions and thoughts are definitely changed from the beginning of the semester. Truly, America and the world would be a better place if everyone were mandated to give service to those in need! I plan on giving service when I can, even after my academic career is done demanding it of me. I was told that they could use some help coaching some of the soccer teams up there, so I will hopefully be able to take advantage of that.

Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis

Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks) is a French film that chronicles the journey of a man named Phillip who works for the French postal service. He is unhappy (for a number of reasons, primarily that his wife is in constant misery) and longs to be transferred to a station on the Mediterranean  to make his wife happy. As part of an initiative, the company is only going to send an employee who is disabled. Phillip sees an opportunity and feigns a disability, which inevitably backfires.

As punishment, he is sent to a station in Bergues, referred to as “The Sticks”. He dreads going there and, upon arrival, has a hard time adjusting to his new life. Eventually, he learns to love it and loves taking part in the unique culture of The Sticks (to be very brief). 

I thought this movie was great and that it reflected a phenomenon that happens quite often in our lives. Phillip has a preconceived notion of The Sticks as being a bad place and, consequently, does not enjoy being there. Over time, he begins to enjoy the culture and eventually he doesn’t want to leave. Sometimes we get it in our minds that we are not going to like something, someone, or someplace without even experiencing it beforehand. In Panama, there were many things that I didn’t like towards the beginning, but I eventually came to love every single aspect of the people, the culture, and the country. This is a truly great film that teaches a wonderful life lesson.

El Salvador Restaurant

Upon hearing about this restaurant in class, I decided to take a look at the menu online. I was surprised to see that much of the food served at this restaurant was food that I commonly ate in Panama! I was so excited that I took my wife that night to try it out.

The restaurant itself is very small- smaller than our classroom! It was fairly busy and we looked at the menu while we waited. Daisy (the only waitress on staff) sat us down and took our order. We ordered pupusas and fried plantains, and it was AMAZING! I enjoyed the food very much. The atmosphere reminded me of Central America and the staff only spoke Spanish there (along with some broken English). I’m definitely going back.


Post 10

This class was not my cup of tea, but I do appreciate the effort that Janet has put into teaching UVU students about being culturally sensitive. My main takeaways from this course are that there are many different ways that people see the world and, conversely, there are many different ways that the world sees people. We tend to think that our way of thinking is the only correct way of thinking and alienate those who don’t share our cultural norms. The more we learn to appreciate other cultures, the more we are able to bring peace and understanding to our interpersonal relationships. Inequalities that exist between races, genders, sexualities, and all other attributes will never completely die. However, we can be among those who choose to work against it.

Post 9

One of the best examples of how popular media has influenced our society was in this past election. So many stories were written about the storm of “fake news” that flooded social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. The fact that we as a people would put even a partial amount of blame on news stories that people found on social media (which probably shouldn’t be trusted in the first place) says a lot about the amount of trust we place in social media.

Another area of influence that popular media has is in the way we dress, talk, and act. Anywhere you look, you can see people who pick their outfits based on what celebrities and movie stars are wearing (or not wearing). Young people are especially influenced in this aspect. Our vocabulary and attitudes also tend to be influenced by the music we listen to, the movies we watch, and the celebrities that we admire.

Post 8

I was able to talk to my supervisor, John (whose real name is Ioane, the Samoan version of the name “John”), who came to the United States from Samoa to study at BYU about 12 years ago. There he met his wife, who had grown up in Utah in a wealthy family. John grew up in what we would consider poverty, but he often speaks about how he enjoyed his life in Samoa and the simplicity of it. When I asked him about the role that race has played in his life (and specifically his marriage), he replied that he didn’t think it would be much different if he were white. He said that over time the effect of race in his marriage has dwindled to near irrelevance. I feel that his view is somewhat unique, although it doesn’t surprise me after knowing him for so long. I feel that interracial relationships tend to be more affected from the outside than the inside; That is, people NOT in the relationship tend to experience more of a difference in their way of thinking than people who are IN the relationship. 

NPR/TEDTalk Assignment

In Bryan Stevenson’s TEDTalk titled, “We Need to Talk About Injustice,” Stevenson speaks about the plague of mass incarceration in the United States. He elaborates on how this mass incarceration has changed the cultural identity of America and has led to dismay and fear in black communities across the country. A small sample of the statistics he shares are as follows:

  • The United States has highest rate of incarceration. The Prison population in 1972 was 300,000; In 2012 it had risen to 2.3 million, with 7 million on probation or parole. 
  • 1/3 black men between ages 18 and 30 are in jail, prison, on probation or on parole
  • In Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C., 50%-60% black men are in jail, prison, on probation or on parole.
  • Projected level of disenfranchisement will be highest it’s been since Voting Rights Act in 1965.
  • 1 in 9 people on Death Row are exonerated.
  • The United States is the only country in the world that sentences 13 year-olds to life in prison.

Presenting this problem, he speaks about how it affects our identity. In an article titled Oklahoma’s Juvenile Justice System: Where We Are Today, The Problems We Face, and Where Changes Should Start, the topic of identity is discussed when referring to juvenile criminals. The article points out that the main purpose of the adult criminal justice system is punishment, while the main purpose of the juvenile criminal justice system is rehabilitation (Mason, 640). When we charge juveniles as adults, they lose the ability to rehabilitate and correct their behavior. Multiply this phenomena to a massive scale and you begin to alter the DNA that forms our society.

With the high levels of incarceration among the black population, this problem affects the black communities of America disproportionately. When speaking about the disproportionate effect that the justice system has on black Americans, Stevenson implies that this is the result of racism. He paints this picture while drawing connections between the current situation in America and a hypothetical Germany; This hypothetical Germany that Stevenson speaks of uses the Death Penalty in their criminal justice system and Jews are disproportionately convicted. He states that, because of their history, he could not sit still while Germany convicted Jews disproportionately. The only way this hypothetical situation holds up would be if the Jewish minority committed crimes on the same scale that the black population does in America and, in such a case, would they not be deserving of punishment assigned to them?

In an article titled Racial Discrimination, Fear of Crime, and Variability in Blacks’ Preferences for Punitive and Preventative Anti-crime Policies, Mark D. Ramirez speaks about the fact that black communities are conflicted when it comes to voting for policies that reduce crime because, while they do want crime to be reduced, they are reluctant to give more power to a system that they perceive as racist (Ramirez, 420). A vicious cycle arises, in which the very practices that would reduce rates of violent crime in black neighborhoods are not put into play because of perceived racism, and yet these practices are the only way to effectively reduce these rates in both long- and short-term spans of time.

In my opinion, the only way to bridge the gap is empathy and compassion. Mass incarceration is a symptom of a much greater disease among the younger generation of our society: A glaring lack of these two character strengths (empathy and compassion). Children raised in broken homes surrounded by friends who aren’t good influences on their behavior grow up not learning to show empathy and compassion for another, and this leads to higher rates of crime. The criminal justice system, on the other hand, seems only focused on punishment for crime instead of rehabilitation. Criminals will always be responsible for their crimes, but societies will always be responsible for their criminals. 

Post 7

My ideas surrounding privilege have changed significantly since the beginning of our study. I think the thing that I’ve learned that I have enjoyed most was the fact that privilege isn’t about being better or worse than anyone else. There isn’t a person alive who isn’t endowed with some form of privilege. I think that the key is to recognize the role that privilege plays in our life and use that privilege to benefit others. I feel that others, like me, become defensive when you try to imply that their success, to some degree, is based on the fact that their white. I believe that anyone can be successful if they want to; I don’t feel that my privilege is a limiting factor to others.

Post 6

I really enjoyed the presentation on racism this week. One of my main take-aways from the presentation was that it is everybody’s job to make sure that nobody is being treated unfairly because of their race. In my life, I have been fortunate enough to not experience many of the negative effects of racism; I am aware, however, that there are many people in our nation who feel that racism is the reason that they cannot be successful in life. 

When I served my mission in Panama, I came in contact with many people of different racial backgrounds. My experience with people of a different race helped me to appreciate culture and race when I came back to America. Our Country is a better place when we understand and can empathize with people of different racial backgrounds. 

Post 5

If you would have tried to talk to me about privilege two years ago, I would have made fun of you. I still might, but I have a much deeper understanding of the way that privilege affects me and those around me. Privilege isn’t so much about what people in a certain culture have, it’s more about what people of certain cultures and subcultures don’t have. Privilege has affected me in that it has made me grateful to have been born in this country and grateful to have been born in Utah into a mostly Mormon family. I am aware that others aren’t necessarily grateful for having been put in their respective situations, but I don’t think that we, as a society, should use privilege as an excuse for why certain groups have and others don’t (or can’t). Admitting privilege exists and affects certain people in certain ways is just common sense, but making it an excuse for why people can’t get ahead in life is something that I don’t agree with.