Archive for November, 2008|Monthly archive page

Are we in a post-racial age?

I ask this question because of a conversation that I had this past week. I went to observe my organization’s after school mentoring program last week for the first time. The program takes place in the rec room of an apartment complex in southwest Houston where many refugees and immigrants live. Most of the kids there were from Spanish-speaking countries, Turkey and a few African countries. The kids all knew each other fairly well and speak English pretty well. When I arrived, they were at the table talking about how much they disliked school.

After reading and an arts and crafts activity, I sat down with the kids while they were playing with blocks with a high school volunteer. As the kids started fighting over the blocks, one of the Turkish boys said that he did not like black kids and that he only liked white people. The other volunteer and I were literally speechless because the child was six. The other volunteer pointed out to him that he was playing with a Congolese boy at the moment and he also played with another black student at school. I asked him why he said that and he told me that one of the black students was mean to them so he did not like black people.

After Senator Obama began President-Elect Obama, there has been a lot of writing and talking about the post-racial age that we are in. But as the passage of anti-gay marriage bans in three states and my conversation with a six-year old about race shows, people are still supporting and at least implicitly teaching intolerance. This experience made me wonder which adults in his life taught him the stereotypes that he now believes.

Striving for a post-racial age seems to miss the mark. Ignoring our cultural backgrounds is impractical. Our cultural differences exist and impact our lives, so why should we ignore them? Shouldn’t we be striving for an age of tolerance?

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What are we fighting for?

This post’s title is not meant to be absurdly philosophical. I asked myself this question today as I mired through hundreds of foundation profiles to find grant opportunities for PAIR. I do love my job. But working on a Sunday is less than ideal, and working with the fundraising part of my job is not my favorite part. It was moments like today that I wonder why all of us working in social change do what we do and what gets us through the less glamorous and enjoyable parts of our work.

I have been trying to follow some of the news coverage of the backlash to the gay marriage bans passed in three states. I think the measures’ success in California, Arizona, and Florida took everyone by surprise for how much progress still needs to be made. The use of democracy as a tool to curtail rights only makes it more pernicious. Blaming minorities for passage of these ballot measures only obscures the real problems of ignorance and discrimination. Using the best charm offensive may help reduce ignorance on an interpersonal level, but changes on an institutional level will require a different strategy.

So I was really inspired to read Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish as he captured photos and readers’ account of the protests this Saturday through The View From Your Protest. Here in Houston, about 600 people gathered together in support. It’s incredible to hear about so many people fighting for something because it is the right thing to do; it makes all the frustrating moments worth the struggle.

This only a test: Tackling the GRE

Standardized tests may be your forte or your weakest link but they will be part of any application for graduate school. I know after taking the SAT for admission to college that I had hoped to never see another standardized test again. Unfortunately, that simply was not possible.

The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, is basically a grown up version of the SAT. The test includes the same sections: Verbal, Analytical and Writing. As before, expanding your vocabulary can only help you with the verbal section. I know that many people often use flashcards to learn hundreds of the most frequently used words. For me, it was more useful to learn to recognize word roots because I have a hard time with rote memorization. This test will require you to brush off those rusty math skills that you likely have not used for years. I didn’t find anything too complicated, but preparing for the test will allow you to be comfortable on test day.

I found the biggest adjustment was becoming accustomed to a computer-administered test. You can’t make notes beside the reading passages. Knowing the computer actually increases the difficulty of each test item following every correct answer until you miss an answer. I personally think this is ETS’ way of playing mind games with test takers. The key to avoiding a whirlwind of worry about the correctness of your answers is learning how to pace yourself before taking the real test. While practice tests will not exactly capture the testing experience, you can follow the same rules as the real exam.

Keep in mind that your test scores are valid for five years. Even if you are not sure that you want to go to grad school soon, you can save yourself some trouble by taking the GRE sooner rather than later. Because you can schedule the test on your own schedule, you can choose how much time you will need to prepare even if you are working fulltime. For those still in college, the summer months are perfect for preparing and then taking the GRE since there is more free time. While it’s no picnic, The GRE may be as close as you can get to having a stress-free testing experience.

Unite for Refugees United

I was not about to miss the change to blog today as part of the Bloggers United effort to support refugees. When I learned about the theme for today this summer, I was excited to write. But since I have started working as an AmeriCorps VISTA for the Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees, this has taken on a newfound importance for me to raise awareness about the challenges that refugees face.

This cause is particularly personal after meeting some of the children that have been directly affected by the escalating crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Violence in recent weeks has escalated to an untenable level. While violence is an obvious contributor to the high mortality rates, the majority of deaths are caused by preventable and treatable diseases. Because the infrastructure in eastern Congo has been practically decimated, authorities cannot deliver much needed food and medical supplies to the people who need them.

The lucky ones who survive violence and disease can spend years in makeshift refugee camps in neighboring countries. Refugee resettlement is an action of last resort; less than 1 percent of identified refugees are relocated to other countries. The emotional impact of relocation from leaving one’s home under duress complicates adjustment to life in a new country. Resettlement agencies offer direct assistance for the first six months including job placement and housing. As one can imagine, six months is not truly enough time to adjust.

The youth that I work with encounter more difficulties because they have to learn English quickly, adjust to differences in the school system, and sometimes need remediation to be at the same level with their classmates. All of these challenges in addition to the stigma that refugees sometimes face when the public confuses refugees with immigrants. Not to say that discrimination is justified against immigrants; adjustment becomes more complicated as a result of ignorance.

Events like Bloggers United provide a great opportunity to help break through the ignorance. For information about refugees worldwide, check out the following resources.

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency
International Rescue Committee

A little Twitter experiment

I realize that I have been relatively absent from my blog lately. I would have to say that my grad school applications are the culprit. Frustrated my lack of progress in both activities, I vented via Twitter about my desire to finish my essays so that I would feel like blogging again. Fortuitously, a Twitter friend @RocchiJulia suggested that I crowd source my essay writing. I thought that was a genius idea, so I am asking for your input and constructive criticism. I will be sure to blog about the results as part of the Idealist.org Grad School Project.

Main statement

I would like to study the global health track in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences so that I may learn the theories behind the practice of behavior change communication in developing countries. Behavioral intervention facilitate the power of individual changes to cause collective actions, improving the health of populations and remedying inequalities. I would like to learn about theoretical frameworks and gain greater research experience by pursuing a master of public health to learn about the intersection of global health and social sciences.

While at the Academy for Educational Development, I worked on health communication projects concerning domestic health issues. My principal project involved supporting a community-based childhood obesity prevention program. I provided technical assistance for participating community-based organizations and coordinated community outreach to potential participating organizations. That experience introduced me to implementation of behavioral interventions and health communication. I hope to learn more about planning, designing, and evaluating programs by earning a master of public health at [X University].

I chose to volunteer in Mozambique to become more familiar with the challenges of global health. By volunteering with a capacity building program for Mozambican NGOs working in HIV/AIDS, I learned about how public health functions in the field and how programs have to adapt in resource-limited settings. I contributed to a training to equip participating NGOs with strategies and tactics to counter stigma and discrimination. I drafted a manual in Portuguese to guide NGOs to establish administrative and financial policies. I interned at the Centro de Salud para Referencia de VIH/SIDA, a community health center serving patients living with HIV and other STDs in greater La Plata, Argentina. Through this internship, I coordinated patient outreach, establishing the foundation for the creation of an advisory council of patients.

I look forward to learning about behavior change theories that underlie the practice of global health. I can combine my interests in psychology and public health through studying sociomedical sciences with a focus in global health. Eventually, I would like to lead program development for behavior change communications programming. Behavior change communications focuses on increasing access to information in combination with resources that imbue people with the ability to make changes that improves health in their lives.

I plan to work with marginalized populations, such as ethnic minorities because these populations often have the least access to the information and resources that allow individuals to stay healthy. My primary interest is in resolving the effects of health inequalities that often plague these populations. Earning a master’s of public health from [X University] offers the chance to learn more about audience research and communication strategies through research projects and case studies to better understand how my previous community outreach experience fits in with planning, designing, and evaluating programs.