by Meghan Colwell ’16
International Development is a topic of frequent discussion at a globally-minded place like Middlebury
College. Many faculty members have taken it on as a subject of critique; others teach development economics and practice, regardless of their views on the field. Some students interested in global power structures, humanitarianism, colonial history, service, or justice consider international development a possible line of work for after Middlebury; yet those same students may harbor qualms about working in a field laden with neocolonial overtones, one governed more often by political motivations and economism than by an uncompromising and honest concern for human life.
During Tuesday’s “Racism in International Development” panel, three guest speakers shared their perspectives as academics, practitioners, and entrepreneurs on how racism informs development theory and practice.
Professor Emma Crewe of University College London SOAS began by holding up an intersectional lens to racism in the development sphere. As an academic conducting ethnographic research on INGO projects in East Asia and East Africa, she observed the infantilizing, feminizing, and devaluing language that (largely white) European practitioners (mostly male) used to describe local cooking techniques and technologies that women employed in their homes. Crewe commented, for example, that words like, “traditional”–which the aid workers used to describe a chimney that women had in fact only recently innovated–relegate (black and brown) women, their work, and their lives to the status of primitive. They become the problems to be fixed, the practices to be improved upon. “Knowledge is power,” is University College London’s motto. Yet, knowledge, Crewe noted, does not always give you power. As a development consultant, too, Crewe witnessed racism play out in such interacitions as hiring decisions. British and American development organizations too often hire white Americans and Britons to do work that could otherwise be done by members of the communities where development projects are being implemented; these organizations justify such decisions with language that hardly masks real racial bias. Crew cited managers who have said that local people–local professionals–are disorganized, unmotivated, unable to handle the analytical rigor of the work–though of course it’s “nothing racial.” Hierarchies of gender, knowledge, nationality, and ultimately, race, shape development work and the decisions that critically affect people’s lives in developing countries.
Connor Shapiro ’03, founder and CEO of St. Boniface Haiti Foundation, offered his thoughts on why the development field so easily writes off the people it aims to help. He described the healthcare desert that exists on Haiti’s southern peninsula. St. Boniface is the only quality health care facility on the southern part of the island. While the organization provides healthcare to thousands of people and has even expanded its services over time, it faces funding and infrastructures limitations that donors (individuals, foundations, NGOs, government aid agencies) explain away by appealing to “cost effectiveness” or “project sustainability.” Port-au-Prince, as Shapiro pointed out, is less than two hours from Miami by plane. There is no credible reason why infrastructure and supplies should not make it to Haiti, nor would well-off Americans accept such limitations on our own health care. In our world, some lives simply do not matter as much as others, Shapiro asserted. In Haiti’s case, black lives do not matter to funders in the same way that their ideas and dollars do.
William Michael Cunningham, founder of Creative Investment Research, affirmed this analysis with a bang and took it even further: “Economics does not work for people of color.” With its system of values, economics doesn’t actually work for anyone. Cunningham, himself an economist by training, challenged the assumptions of classical economics and even questioned its effectiveness as a tool for understanding human life and behavior. Within a discipline as old–and as powerful–as economics is today, there needs to be more innovation. Cunningham presented his own analysis of GDP’s inefficacy as an indicator: while global GDP comparisons, for example, put the U.S. and Europe “on top” in terms of wealth, Africa and Antarctica house the majority of the world’s natural resource wealth. The countries in the Global South also have immense human resources and potential. Indeed, these countries produce a significant portion of the manufactured goods and parts that ultimately make it to “rich-world” consumer markets. This output, resource wealth, and even cultural capital is not considered or valued equally within the framework of contemporary economics. Cunningham is a proponent of crowdfunding as a means of circumventing barriers to just resource allocation such as racism. By democratizing and diversifying financial flows, he believes that people can challenge big banks, the IMF, USAID, and other hegemons of global resource governance.
These three talks sparked audience questions that shaped a rich conversation after the panel. In what other ways are brown bodies fetishized and devalued in international development? Can we use the tools of economics to produce just knowledge, or do we need entirely new tools? How can we encourage interdisciplinary development work, and would such an approach address some of the problems mentioned today? There was a sense that students and other community members would take these questions and thoughts with them into their work, scholarship, and personal lives.
International development work is necessary today because colonialism disrupted organic social structures, destabilized societies, altered psyches, and established extractive economies that persist today. These legacies perpetuate global power differentials and pauperize millions of people. While, optimistically, empathy and a shared sense of humanity drive both Middlebury students and others to work in international development, we must acknowledge, in classes and in conversation, that colonialism itself was a project based on racism. In a field that sometimes obscures difficult realities with technocratic language, donor-dependence, and good intentions, our guests revealed the ways in which racism still pervades efforts to address the very problems that racism created.
Racism in International Development, a panel on Tuesday, February 21st, was designed and co-sponsored by the Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs; the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity; and the Center for Creativity, Innovation, and Social Entrepreneurship.
by Grant Olcott ’19, Social Entrepreneurship Intern
There are several different ideas of what it means to be smart. Through his experiences, Professor Murray Dry gave a new, inspirational definition: a smart person loves to learn. Smart means celebrating and respecting the role education plays in a successful and satisfying life. By this metric, Professor Dry is brilliant. He takes great pleasure in reading good books and engaging in discussion on their inquiry. Even during this talk, he could never wander into stories from his personal life without finding his way back to the classroom. To him, learning is the best pursuit. It means reading and, ultimately, the good life. A smart social entrepreneur, therefore, ought to focus on learning broadly rather than working on one particular cause.
Smart people read because they love to learn. Just as a sword needs whetstone to sharpen, the mind keeps its edge when pressed upon a book. Given the choice between rhetoric and writing as the one medium of knowledge in the world, Professor Dry picks the latter. True, speeches allow the listener to respond and ask questions. However, words vanish quickly without the chance to settle. Reading a book allows words to repeat the same message again and again. While the stubborn words don’t change, their meaning does. With patience, one can read and reread Plato and Aristotle — as Professor Dry does — to gain something different each time. It sounds monotonous and frustrating. That’s why being smart requires humility. Such disciplined reading is a challenge. One cannot presume to absorb all the ideas in the Bible on one take. By reading, smart people seek out the perspective of others so they can access the brilliance in opposing viewpoints. Smart students take classes with professor Dry.
Professor Dry’s story shows how being smart is a lifelong commitment to learning. Even on sabbatical, he runs an alumni book group out of his New York apartment where he recently read and discussed the differences between town and country in Jane Austen. Being smart means being intellectually curious, something that cannot fade, but only grows. Once the mind has been sharpened, its owner must commit to its upkeep. Professor Dry embarked on the lifelong journey of learning after studying with Joseph Cropsey and Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago. Later, when a professor showed him the faculty library at Harvard Law School, he was determined to teach. He never asks what if. He simply finds it funny that he worked in Washington alongside Antonin Scalia before; did something go wrong? No. Looking back, he’s lucky. Not everyone can do what they love and afford Middlebury’s tuition. Perhaps as a professor, he hopes to serve his students as Cropsey did. His most memorable classroom experience was a display of gratitude. His students prepared their reading extra hard, knowing that the class would be under review that day. Being smart also means being generous and wishing well for others.
So what can the social entrepreneur learn from the political philosopher? Be smart. Recognize the limitations of imposing certain views on others with the hopes of effecting social change. In the Platonic Dialogues, characters grew offended when others challenged their viewpoints. Appreciate the power of restraint and self-reflection. If one has intense passion for a cause, one must support it without any expectation that others will change. This unconditional drive will encourage learning and a commitment to reading, just as Professor Cropsey inspired Professor Dry to change the world from academia. In short, Professor Dry’s words of wisdom are: look around the world for a classroom and then become the professor.
by Grant Olcott ’19, SE Intern
Officer Paul had to set the record straight. Right after sitting down, he confronted the slips of paper that often make his first impression: citations. They don’t mean what students think. Citations are not a strict sentence to some cruel and unusual punishment. They don’t flag misbehaving students for extra screening at the airport. Rather they — like the public safety officers — are there for the community. Citations don’t say “you’re a bad person,” but rather “we care.” It takes a sense of ease to appreciate this warmth, especially on the recipient’s behalf. Officer Paul sees power in stepping back, trying a little less, and appreciating what is worth struggling over and what’s not.
Excessive punishment is not the way Paul Barrett approaches life. He believes people feel their best when they let things be rather than try and force what they think they want. Restrictive rules that bend everyone to do the same things and have the same values are the opposite of what Officer Paul seeks to instill on campus.
His own story reflects that. He met his wife in high school. Right after a breakup with his big crush, he struck up conversation with a girl in the cafeteria. No intentions. She was just a classmate. Later they found themselves holding hands. Shortly after graduation they married. Officer Paul would never chase someone or insist life be a certain way. Out of pure respect for others, he accepts people for who they are.
Listening, learning, and growing take less effort than one might think. These changes respond better to small and persistent actions by many than to hefty rare endeavors by few. To Officer Paul, sports serve as a reminder that every person in one’s life has an impact. A sport involves challenges and rewards, and most importantly, everyone’s small actions make the biggest difference. When Officer Paul coached little league, he found that always being engaged secured lifelong relationships with the team. Off the field, it’s the same. The simple gestures are the most contagious: opening a door and showing genuine interest in one and other. A community feeling grows when everyone’s small efforts to appreciate each other connect.
Whether at a party, on a date, or within a team, genuineness shines; however, Officer Paul suggests, someone needs to act first to provide the proper structure for ease to flourish. With tough love, Officer Paul fosters the necessary respect and appreciation. By ensuring everyone’s safety, Officer Paul allows students to enjoy themselves with fewer worries. As a sign of gratitude, current and former students packed the audience and showered him with praise for executing crucial role he plays in the community with humility.
by Grant Olcott, Social Entrepreneurship Intern
Maggie Nazer spoke about two themes interwoven through her experiences: privilege and poverty. A tension between the two has motivated her passion for social change. In the face of poverty, both her own and that of others, she finds hope and inspiration by expressing gratitude for her privileges. Maggie’s story echoes expresses the importance of sharing: how sharing alleviates the stress of poverty and widens one’s perspective on privilege.
Despite financial troubles, Maggie dedicated herself to helping others as a child. She sold hand-made cards to raise money for a sick classmate when she was nine. As soon as she could, she found a job to help support her family. She looks back at this time with more gratitude than relief. In fact, she highlighted several privileges she enjoyed: having a home where everyone loves and supports each other, for example, and being part of a community that never questioned her ability to make change.
Maggie discussed how she confronted poverty while abroad in Jordan. She realized early on that she scarcely had adequate funds to live on, nor could she afford a plane ticket back home. The precarious situation tested her creativity. She networked extensively and found an internship, which provided the income she needed as well as the professional work she sought. While a difficult memory, she smiles at the rewarding experience—the privilege of a Middlebury education, the confidence built using her ingenuity, talents, and qualifications to overcome obstacles.
By the time she started college, Maggie was no stranger to these adventures. She spent a gap year traveling around Europe, living off less than $2 a day at times. With her free-spirited and risk-embracing nature, she hitch-hiked and connected with many new people. Maggie values and even prioritizes vulnerability. She knows that openness allows people to share, connect, trust, and progress. For her, vulnerability opens a window to the world of privilege and poverty. To connect the importance of vulnerability to her story, Maggie offered a brief but powerful message to the world: “Let yourself be broken.” By embracing vulnerability and openness, one can truly appreciate one’s privilege, discover self-knowledge, and share with others more openly. Vulnerability, she implies, often comes unwanted at first. However, if we let ourselves break a little, we can learn more about each other, and become better changemakers — just as Maggie does at home, abroad, and in the Middlebury community.
After graduation, Maggie hopes to bring these values to communities around the world through the English language immersion program that she is starting back home in Bulgaria. She hopes that students at Middlebury will embrace vulnerability, find brightness and strength even in challenges, and take their perspectives with them into the professional world. Maggie envisions a community where people matter most, and the room on Friday was filled with students, faculty members, staff members, and people from the community whom Maggie has touched.
by Grant Olcott, Social Entrepreneurship Intern
The combination of friendship and citizenship leads a community to the ideal form of communication: open-minded discussion. Sebastian Kern’s goal as a social entrepreneur is to promote this free exchange of ideas. He finds that people in communities that challenge themselves embrace this ideal. By agreeing and disagreeing with one and other openly, they drive the movement towards truth and progress. They achieve the most change by taking risks and communicating genuinely and deeply with each other.
Sebastian is not critical of the Middlebury community. He has had satisfying learning experiences with his group of friends. However, perhaps that illustrates the problem. As other SE fellows previously expressed in this space, he wants to understand the peculiar tendency for people to atomize themselves into separate ideological cliques. He fears what is lost when people split themselves up. Such division creates comfort zones — areas we dread leaving even when we know there’s something great on the other side, much like how we prefer to remain cooped up indoors during J-Term rather than walk to the athletic center.
Safe spaces could be the overlooked antidote to this phenomenon. To understand their importance, they must be distinguished from comfort zones. As redundant as it sounds, comfort zones emphasize comfort, and safe spaces safety. Comfort is something we as active citizens, friends, and community members could do with less of. It hampers our ability to openly and honestly communicate, and therefore holds us back from the truth. But in order to encourage each other to give up comfort, we must ensure our safety. Only in a safe space can we speak freely. To get there we must practice empathy, cultivate curiosity, and demonstrate respect.
Such a transformation would improve our community. One of Sebastian’s favorite quotes is “Loneliness is the inability to communicate what’s important to you.” Loneliness is essentially a symptom of too much comfort. In safe spaces, people develop the ability to talk openly and become what John Stuart Mill described as “noble and beautiful objects of contemplation.” In this ideal community, no one would feel isolated. Mill’s vision of human beauty would shine through the faces of engaged and active students.
Sebastian once told a professor that he wanted to take classes where he clashes with others. Learning requires communication, and the ideal type involves respecting and listening to alternate viewpoints. This attitude allows one to develop a greater idea of reality. The brightest changemakers live by it. Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway never allows himself to have an opinion on anything that he doesn’t know the other side’s argument better than they do. Whether for self-knowledge or industry expertise, truth cannot be found in an echo chamber.
In order to push towards this vision, Sebastian believes people can start by taking more risks. They can say hi and sit with people they don’t know. Small risk-taking can help assure us that Middlebury is a safe space. Leaving the comfort zone can guide us to our futures and teach us what matters. Sebastian suggested that a vibrant life starts, in a way, where the comfort zone ends. As a community of bright and talented people, Middlebury is the perfect place to engage with others and listen to embrace new ideas.
Finding a campus mentor is an important experience in college. Mentors can help us think through things. Together we develop a shared understanding and build a vision. Judging from the energy in the room many students have found a mentor in Grecia. At her Reflection Friday, she inspired a vision of inclusivity and empathy. Her goal as a mentor is to introduce people to more experiences, cultures, and ideas. Friends, family, and neighbors matter to her, because the connections she builds with them help her bring out the best in everyone — the dream of any changemaker.
Being an international student shaped her experiences at an American college. She told this story through language. Leaving the warmth of her 2,500 person hometown for a foreign country meant she had to learn a new language. The challenge became how to be herself in English and Spanish. As a senior in college, she’s grateful for the opportunity. She learned to appreciate how interacting with others is something that’s always there to lift her up. Overcoming one challenge can create a new one, however. When she comes back to Mexico, people are unsure where she’s from. Her accent suggests Guatemala! Correcting them makes her uncomfortable, but it’s all part of how her experience abroad enriches her. Identity and language have a special meaning to her. Through her own language and way of communicating, she mentors others.
As a CSE fellow and Semester at Sea participant, Grecia expressed this vision. The best moment from her Semester at Sea experience was afterward, when she shared pictures with her Grandfather. In that moment, she served her family and friends from across the world world as bridge — linking and expanding experiences. As part of her fellowship, she traveled to Chile to design sustainable energy sources and connect with a new corner of the Spanish-speaking world. A mentor collects her experiences by showing grit and courage, just as Grecia has done.
The greatest take-home message from last Friday is this idea of mentorship. It’s one that Grecia never specifically mentioned, but constantly shone through her thoughts and stories. Everything she said focused on people — bringing out their value. What matters to Grecia is really appreciating the people with whom she can flourish. Sometimes, flourishing can be a challenge, as it was when she came to Middlebury and dove into an academically rigorous program in a foreign country. At other times, success can be simple and honest — when she tells her friends at 7PM that it’s nap time. Regardless of how she flourishes, the sense of empathy and community remains. The vision that drives her each day is being a mentor — a bridge, as she puts it.
Post written by SE Intern, Grant Olcott ’19
Submitted by Greg Conrad, ’17
June 30, 2016
Over the past two months, my business partner Mason Pulde and I have worked diligently in getting our program off the ground. We have reached out to over 50 families, contacted numerous professionals, and spoke with various collegiate players that we felt could serve as potential mentors. As an organization, we have officially made New England Core a DBA, established a social media presence, hired new staff, purchased jerseys, adjusted our pricing/curriculum, finalized our insurance policies, and received agreements from NCAA liaisons to continue our project.
Since May, we have made tremendous growth as a program and really got our legs under us. Our professional team added four new members including a strength and conditioning coach, a nutritionist, a spacial awareness specialist, and a secondary school consultant. Our summer mentor team added six new collegiate players including players in leadership roles at Dartmouth, Brown, Bowdoin, Boston University, Babson, and UMass Dartmouth.
Right now, the Core is heading into the closing weeks of recruiting before starting our first tournament between July 29th-31st. Families have shown tremendous interest in our program and our three-day curriculum has improved remarkably. We have gotten great feedback from coaches in the area and can’t wait to take the ice in less then a month. We have also been thinking about getting sponsorships (an organic protein company) for t-shirts and other gear for our players and teaming up with a non-profit to assist us in our mission. Unfortunately, we were not ready for the July 9th tournament, but we feel as though we are now prepared to really make an impact in player’s lives at the end of this month.
Greg is a hockey player, Psychology major and Sociology minor at Middlebury. With his 2016 MiddChallenge grant, Greg co-founded New England Core, in his words, “a hockey tournament team for middle school aged kids, that uses the power of mentorship to both inspire youth and create a team culture that promotes leadership, personal growth, and player development on the ice and beyond.”
Naomi is a rising junior at Middlebury College currently interning in Morocco with theAnou.com, a fair trade web-based platform that connects Moroccan artisans with larger market spaces. The following is an excerpt from her blog about her experience.
“I felt like I was praying with my feet.”
– Abraham Joshua Heschel 1965
The houses are empty. Neatly organized rows of tagines line the balcony across the way. David beach, a quiet suburb south of Rabat is full of summer homes, and summer is just beginning. Hibiscus, tea, round wheat bread, and the smell of the ocean, this journey has begun.
I arrived in Morocco yesterday, where I will be for the next ten weeks working with a company called Anou that connects Moroccan artisans to larger market places at fair trade prices via their online website. (theAnou.com)
I learn at dinner on my plastic chair around a small wooden table pulled into the center of the kitchen of the different languages spoken even within this villa that we live and work in together. Berber, a language of the Atlas Mountains, and Derisha, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic
Across the table is a young Moroccan woman, clad in a long bright pink dress, smiling at me, though few words are mutually intelligible between the two of us. She is an artisan leader, working at the Anou headquarters. A weaver by trade, but now also performing administrative work for the collaborative. Tzadik in derisha, Moroccan dialect Arabic means “friend.” In Hebrew, Tzadik means “righteous,” or “righteous person,” I like the slightly warped interpretation from one language to the next.
Jinny, the professional fellow also working with Anou teaches me the word “Jugaad,” an Indian word that tells us to “figure it out” with whatever you have. The water pipes went out today, the first day of Ramadan, and she filled up a bucket of water and lugged it up the stairs to the bathroom. This is jugaad, she says. After a run I slosh the water up the stairs to the second floor, using a smaller bucket to risk out my hair and clean my face.
I feel like I am talking, though I know I am not. Surrounded by words I don’t understand, I realize that most of the conversation is occurring only within myself. This inner companion that I have is one I have not spent much time speaking to in the past few months. This will be a long conversation – one I must get used to. Just like the bucket baths and the sticky smell of salt coming from the ocean, like the wooden table and the call to prayer at the first ray of daylight.
I intend on praying with my feet for the next few months, though I will admit I do not know yet what that will mean. Tomorrow we leave for the high Atlas mountains. My guess is that I shall find out very soon.
By Grant Olcott
CSE fellow Sarah James gave a fascinating exposition of her study of poetry. Through eloquent exchanges with Melissa Hamerly, Sarah expressed the personal meaning she’s found in books. She identified connection, whether between friends or poems, as a significant theme in her life. To Sarah, discovering connection — this fifth dimension — represents the true essence of learning. Indeed, this talk shows how ideas studied in the classroom extend far beyond the final exam. A liberal arts education allows students to connect personally with their coursework by intermixing the material with their personalities.
Words, what she occupies herself with everyday, were a core part of her reflection. Language tries to capture all parts of life. However, some elusive ideas escape such confines. One of Sarah’s professors illustrated this mysterious fact by explaining the word “like.” If one thing is like another, it is similar but also different. This sometimes overlooked implication ties well into Sarah’s discussion of connection. Everything is connected, but yet separated by some unmeasurable distance.
The word “humanities” expresses the significance of connection. Linguistically, it refers to the study of the works of humans. By studying literature, one can indeed learn precious life lessons gleaned from all kinds of experiences. Grounding beliefs in literature provides greater depth and allows one to express those ideas that live outside the reach of language. Sarah’s thoughts on life seemed to have page references; she illustrated her opinions on campus issues by quoting the ideas of Wordsworth and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
In order to be a successful changemaker, one must read. Sarah shows how reading plugs one into the power grid of emotional energy captured by the brightest minds. Admiring the beauty of ideas in poetry allows Sarah to stay emotionally on task and understand the complex situations people in the world experience. As the only CSE fellow majoring in the humanities, Sarah represents the benefit literature can offer innovation in a world of interconnectedness.
April 22, 2016
By Grant Olcott
In his talk, Debanjan quoted poet Marianne Williamson who said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” Indeed, Debanjan focused on access: people need support in order to overcome their fear of being unstoppable. They need guidance to find their light. As a teacher and activist, Debanjan hopes to help keep education open and accessible. Personally, he wants to achieve this task, while being remembered for his light, laughter, and fire.
Debanjan believes everyone has his or her own place and path in the world. Finding the specific way that one fits into the jigsaw puzzle of life is why education is so important. Perhaps recognizing that one has the power to decide which part of that puzzle to contribute to invokes a certain fear. Individuals can overcome it, and Debanjan wants to dedicate his life to helping them do so.
While working with Chicago teens, Debanjan witnessed the incredible difference that lending support to talented children can bring. This experience bridged the ideas of individual power and the importance of access. By working with teens, he gave them the confidence to access their rap skills and set them on their path to success and self-discovery. He saw how important access to mentorship was. As a teacher and activist, he hopes to always support the light of others at the times they need it the most.
Mentoring teens is one way Debanjan hopes to apply Williamson’s words to his life work. What will always matter to him is making sure doors are open. As long as he ensures it, people will find what they love and life’s puzzle will become less terrifying. They will become unstoppable.