Category Archives: JC Smart

How much is enough? Truth about accomplishment

By Nikea Ulrich ’17

“Overachiever” is a label I get constantly. The connotation of the term in high school was one of mild disdain, but it has since then, in some respects, morphed into astonishment and appreciation. Truth be told, I don’t know which response I favor. No matter what way you look at it, “overachiever” sets an intrinsic expectation: an expectation for continued success and accomplishment.

This expectation is something I have struggled with for as long as I can remember. Of course, there are different types of expectations: those I place on myself and those that come from others within academia and society as a whole.  I am fortunate that others see high potential in me and have so much faith in me; my gratitude goes beyond words. But that is just it: I am uncomfortable shedding light on my inner struggles because I feel like I should always be grateful for the experiences and recognition I have gotten. No one seems to mention the added stress and expectation that comes with notable accolades. Granted, a lot of it comes from my own personal issue of comparing myself to others, of fearing disappointment and failure. I have worried in the past that I wanted to achieve because I felt like I had to achieve. So, how do you get out of the cycle of comparing your success to others when you are one such person to whom others seem to compare themselves?

Take high school, for example. The teacher is handing out the graded tests, the classroom atmosphere is filled equally with relief and dismay, and the first question most students ask their neighbor is: “What did you get?” It’s a simple question, but in my own experience, it’s a loaded one. It didn’t matter how vaguely I answered the question. If someone found out they scored higher than I did, they had somehow “truly succeeded.” Conversely, if I had scored higher, I heard “of course you did” as a retort. Maybe this is commonplace for every valedictorian in high school, but the expectation for always being exceptional has affected and continues to affect me.

Fast forward to college. The resume says Goldwater Scholar, DAAD Undergraduate Scholar and Young Ambassador, Fulbright Fellow, and first author on a research publication, among other things. I have worked my butt off, and I have been fortunate to have the amazing opportunities I have had.

However, it doesn’t mean that they came easy for me. The label “overachiever” makes me cringe inside because in my view, such perception diminishes the work involved during the process. It is as if those accomplishments were going to happen anyway, regardless of what I did, or that they were somehow effortless. This is not true.

Image result for trophyI think that sometimes the inherent struggles associated with accomplishment are overlooked and those that have found what people may deem as “great success” don’t share them for fear of showing weakness. Another possibility is that I represent a minority of those who feel this way. But, that doesn’t mean I am weak! In fact, I have started to view things a little differently: is something a true accomplishment if there is no struggle involved? Challenge is an integral part of success! For example, during my study abroad experience in Germany spring of 2016, I took a master’s course through the Max Planck Institute of Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg. It was a completely new level of academic rigor for me, and I struggled so much that I honestly didn’t think I would make it through the course. But I did, and wow did I learn a lot! I felt so accomplished upon the course’s completion and so proud. In retrospect, the struggle was definitely worth it.

Personally, I love challenges. I love being academically pushed and tested. I seem to thrive off busy schedules and coffee-filled mornings, afternoons, and evenings. Of course, a daily dose of chocolate and a nice run outside are also needed.  Work doesn’t always come easy to me, and I don’t always accomplish what I set out to do. I struggle too, and thank goodness for that!

So when does the bar stop rising, when do the expectations plateau? I hope never, so long as the expectations are from within myself and not dictated by others. How much is enough? Well, for me, I know that I will always feel the need to do more and to be more. Imposter syndrome is a common companion, but if anything, I am starting to feel pride in my accomplishments. It comes down to feeling pride in my work rather than in my reputation. Lastly, I have begun to appreciate and understand the advice from Daniell Koepke: “Let go of the judgement you have about what you should be or could be doing, and today, allow yourself to simply be…Quiet the voice telling you to do more and be more, and trust that in this moment, who you are, where you are at, and what you are doing is enough.”1

1Koepke, Daniell. Internal Acceptance Movement. Tumblr, 23 June 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.



Face Work: Addressing Racism and Exclusion in Pittsburgh’s Movement Families

By Maeve Gannon ’17

Let’s talk about activist communities and face work. You can consider yourself part of an activist community when you have a network of movers and shakers that you run into at every single protest you attend. This is my definition.  Face work, on the other hand, is Erving Goffman’s scholarly framework for understanding social interaction. The face is defined by Goffman as, “the positive social value a person effectively claims for himself by the line others assume he has taken during a particular contact.”[i]  He considers a line to be a pattern of verbal and nonverbal acts by which someone expresses their view of a situation or of another person.

Activist communities, anti-racism work and developing one’s own understanding of “allyship” are better understood in the context of face work.  In everyday life as well as in activist communities, we rely heavily on the dance of risk and reward as people strive to maintain face, mend faux pas and navigate the missteps of themselves and others.[ii]   And there will always be plenty of faux pas and missteps in the pursuit of anti-racism and “allyship.”[iii]

Activist communities are messy. There is just as much division among like-minded people working towards a common goal as there is between people who consider themselves to be enemies. This internal division—call it family feuding if you will—has been strikingly played out in current activist communities in Pittsburgh. Mainstream white liberal feminists and radical black feminists, who are working in similar spheres, are also at each other’s throats.  This intense dialogue surrounding inclusion and white feminism is making national news.

But let’s back up for a second because context is key…

Pittsburgh, my city of origin, has been going through a series of shifts.  To this day, family and friends who recall the days of steel mills and smog are surprised to see clear blue skies, a crisp skyline, bright bridges and a relatively healthy trio of rivers.  In recent years it has made it onto lists like, “Most Livable City,” “Next Portland,” or “Hottest Cities of the Future.”  It is true that art in all its various forms is blossoming in Pittsburgh. Additionally, breweries, bookstores and bike lanes are popping up all over the place. It has attracted a lot of attention. However, along with its influx of quaint coffee shops, hole-in-the-wall art galleries, boutiques, yoga studios, and health food stores come the hipsters. Yes, a particular breed of quirky, unique, white “gentrifiers.” Construction has turned previously rundown neighborhoods into places non-natives now describe as “charming.” Poor Pittsburghers are being displaced as hipsters swarm these neighborhoods. More specifically, poor, black Pittsburghers are being displaced under the guise of progress and citywide improvement.

Now, if there is a store that embodies wealthy, white liberals, it is Whole Foods.  Black communities in Pittsburgh have been fighting the construction of a second Whole Foods in their neighborhood that would destroy the homes of countless community members. Even more insulting is the fact that a second, mega Whole Foods is only a number of blocks away from this new construction site.  The gentrification debate, sparked by the removal of a beloved community mural, has brought a new level of consciousness and involvement of people in the city. As a city, we have had to confront issues surrounding racism, gentrification and the need for intersectionality in our activism.mural-pittsburgh-east-liberty-lend-me-your-ears-monahan-sprout-fund-1

On January 21st, the day of the National Women’s March on Washington, Pittsburgh hosted two marches.  One considered itself to be a “sister-march,” offshoot or derivative of the National Women’s March.  It had permits and was organized by predominantly white women. The second march had a Facebook page entitled, “Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional.” and was organized by black women who highlighted inclusion and accessibility in their efforts.  This march was clear in stating that it was, “a hollaback march to the one in D.C.” and not the gendered “sister march.”  It began in East Liberty, the site of the new Whole Foods and recent hipster havoc.

This “hollaback march” was born out of deep historical problems within feminism that we see even to this day.  It came initially from a lack of accountability, lack of inclusion and lack of diversity among the organizer of the “sister march.”  According to black leadership, when they pointed out flaws in the “sister march,” they were snubbed and pushed aside by white leadership.  This lit an angry and impassioned fire among the group of black women.  White women organizers who tried to approach them or mend the relationship were met with outrage and insults.  There was no longer any way for white women to pretend that they hadn’t screwed up. I was able to witnessed the event page of the “hollaback march” go from exclusively a celebration of the black women and femmes who had been snubbed, to something that was meant for every person who believes in intersectionality.  It took some time for the page to evolve into something that could counteract and point out the deficiencies of the “sister march.” They were able to do it, but first they had to re-construct their face.  By softening their message and re-establishing a line with the greater activist community, they were able to communicate in a way that people related to. Their language had previously excluded, constrained and pigeonholed people. They had to revise their page multiple times in order to be inclusive and approachable.  As soon as they pulled back, reassessed and rewrote their mission statement they had regained the trust and respect of black allies and white allies alike, while still being able to center and celebrate black womanhood.  In a matter of days their march grew to be a force to be reckoned with.

What we are seeing currently, following this march, is the fallout and hurt from white women invested in mainstream avenues of resistance.  Black women in Pittsburgh do not trust in the law or the police or even politicians to save them. White women in Pittsburgh are very invested in challenging, but also in depending on, their politicians and police officers to protect marches.  Many white women have approached black women in an attempt to save face, begging to know what was wrong with the “sister march.”  They have attempted time and time again to reconstruct their face or re-establish a line of communication, but they continue to mess up, even in their attempts to re-establish themselves as “good white people.”  Because the concept of self is embedded in community and our relation to others, it is impossible to heal one’s image or concept of self without working through our role or place within our communities or cities.  Until white women understand the intersections and connections that construct identity, they will continue to ignore, be overwhelmed by and not learn from the judgment and social pressure from black leadership.[iv]

We have seen blunders on both sides as Pittsburgh tries to reconcile or heal before it is ready.  As humans, we are in a constant struggle to understand the lines that connect and divide us and understand how we see one another, how we operate in certain contexts and within certain discourses.  Until we start to see our own transgressions we will have to struggle with the idea of having lost face. White women need to be humble and listen. Instead of scrambling to reconstruct themselves or convince people that they aren’t ignorant or aren’t privileged, perhaps white women would do better to fess up.  A simple and genuine apology could go a long way and is a good place to start.

[i] Tiryakian, Edward A., and Erving Goffman. “Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior.” American Sociological Review 33, no. 3 (1968): 462. doi:10.2307/2091926.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Gergen, Kenneth J. “61. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life.” Essays and Reviews, 2016. doi:10.1515/9781400848393-062.

Confessions of a Book Hoarder

By Maddie Caso ’17

Reblogged from

My name is Maddie, and I am a book addict. I have about 300 babies. They are all meticulously organized on my bookshelf and around my room. On the shelf, they’re alphabetically by author’s last name. To the left of my bed, there’s the VIP section, consisting of my beloved Harry Potter collection and Game of Thrones books and a vinyl Drogon, still in the box. To the left of the VIP is my historical fiction section, in chronological order, starting with Eleanor of Aquitaine and ending with Elizabeth I. Finally, we move into the classics section, once again arranged alphabetically by author’s last name. And we’ve come full circle.

Image result for book hoarderExcept, I forgot to mention there’s a stack of books right next to my bookshelf, waiting patiently to be read. I can’t help but feel bad at how long they sit there. Every time I make my way to my To Be Read pile, I imagine that they sit there and silently scream, “Pick me, please! I’ve been sitting here unread for 6 months! When will it be my turn?”

Alright, I have a bit of a problem. I love to read, and I always have, but over time, I’ve started to buy books just to have them in my collection. Yes, I will get around to reading them…eventually, but my budget does not agree with my addiction. And neither does my mom.

It’s gotten so bad that I’ve had to hide all of my Barnes & Noble giftcards so that I don’t buy more books. I manage, for the most part, during the school year, but when I come home, it becomes harder and harder to resist the lure that bookstores have over me. Don’t tell my mom, but I’ve been in San Diego for three weeks and have already bought 5 books, and read 3 of them.

So what do you do when you hoard your books? Set yourself a goal. Read X number of books from the TBR pile, then buy ONE book. Repeat until your TBR pile is manageable. Read books from your local library. You don’t have to buy them, but you still get the immense satisfaction of reading a book.

If you are a book addict, fear not. There are ways you can curb your addiction, and the first step is admitting that you have a problem.

See Maddie’s other advice in her post “How to Read the Books You’ve Already Bought.”

Slaying the patriarchy: Everything I need to know I learned 20 years ago from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

By Stacia M. Fleegal

Stacia M. Fleegal is the author of two full-length and three chapbooks of poetry, as well as many essays. She teaches at the Elizabeth Ayres Center for Creative Writing, works for the Baker Institute for Peace & Conflict Studies at Juniata College, blogs erratically, does nonprofit domestic violence victim advocacy work, and resists. She tweets as @shapeshifter43. Her favorite season of “Buffy” is 6.  Reblogged from Image result for buffy vampire slayer

On March 10, the most feminist show in the history of television celebrates its 20th anniversary. Today, the many lessons of Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” become even more necessary, because women aren’t any safer or more valued than they were two decades ago.

My love of this show — a campy, brilliant feminist relic of the 1990s that still boasts legions of fans just like me — runs deeper than the love stories, the witty verbosity, the gutsy fashion of Lucite rings and platform combat boots, or even the woman-centered witchiness I adore so much. Those are the reasons I continued watching the first time through; now, I come back to Buffy because I need a hero. Here’s what Buffy taught me:

Women get it done

You’d think this would be duh, right? Remember that Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced by men on the Congressional floor only a few weeks ago. To say nothing of what happened when Hillary Clinton tried to claim power. The colossal efforts of organization and activism by women of color are routinely ignored. Clearly we need the reminder.

Buffy is a hero because she kicks all of the ass, up and down the Big Bad streets of Sunnydale. “The thing about the Slayer is … she is a whiny little thing, but when it comes to the fighting, she does have a slight tendency to win,” Spike, the vampire who was at turns her nemesis and lover, once said. She does not lose, ever.

Buffy was a fierce warrior, but reluctant. Further, she is a hero with both flaws and a strong moral compass. Often, her faith in humanity facilitates the redemption and perseverance of supposedly evil characters; think season 5’s half-dead Spike chained to a wall in Glory’s mansion, or tortured and enslaved by The First in season 7. Often, he copes by muttering over and over, “She believes in me, she believes in me.” To maintain that kind of faith in the face of incomprehensible evil requires work, especially when it’s constantly tested.

Buffy starts out as The Chosen One, but by the TV series’ end, she and her best friend Willow have activated thousands of potential Slayers, called them into a realization of their own power, so that there isn’t a One anymore, but many. She doesn’t just get the job done, she lifts other women up, too.

The adolescent female voice has value

In an article in The Atlantic celebrating the 18th anniversary of the show, Sophie Gilbert asserted that, “in transmogrifying common teenage issues into actual, tangible villains, Buffy makes them seem important, and worth agonizing over. It also makes them seem conquerable.”

As an adolescent girl, I was angry all the time. There are a hundred reasons, maybe more. Joss Whedon created symbols of teenage angst in the form of villains; those villains include, according to Gilbert, “a controlling mother who’s so intent on living through her daughter that she switches bodies with her, a pack of teenage boys who become uncontrollably feral, an Internet boyfriend who pretends to be a normal kid but whose real identity is much more complex (in this case, he’s a demon called Moloch who got accidentally uploaded onto the Internet”). Whedon’s not-your-typical-blonde protagonist fights demons made literal and given greater weight and meaning.

Giles, her Watcher and librarian mentor, routinely questioned Buffy’s interest in school events, dating, shopping — all the “normal teenager” things she wanted to do. She did them anyway and still managed to “save the world a lot” from a rotating cast of Big Bads. Was Buffy distracted for long after Angel, her vampire boyfriend, dumped her? Nope. She missed prom to stomp some hellhounds. Was she swayed when Angel’s soul was restored despite the portal to hell opening anyway at the end of season 2? Her boyfriend, cured of his evil ways, was back! Nope. She stabbed him in the heart and sent him to hell, because it was either him or the rest of the planet.

Instead of cringing when Buffy cries over Angel or wants to go shopping instead of patrolling for monsters, we root for her to have that normalcy. Whedon turns inside-out the idea “that being young and frivolous and having profound influence are mutually exclusive,” which subverts both the sexism and ageism that prevent young women from being taken seriously. And then lets Buffy kick its ass.

Emotions and friends are total assets

Time and again, Buffy is told she should fight alone. The show’s opening dialogue features Giles’ voice reminding us, “In every generation, there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.” Though Buffy’s Watcher eventually gave up admonishing his Slayer for resisting solitude and an unwavering focus on slaying, Giles initially opposed her friendships.

Kendra is the Slayer who is activated to replace Buffy when Buffy drowns at the end of season 1, and the two meet in season 2. Kendra is appalled that Willow and Xander know Buffy is the Slayer. Giles tries to explain what a “friend” is to Kendra, who doesn’t understand. “You allow this?” Kendra asks Giles. Ha. Later, Buffy assures Kendra, “My emotions give me power. They’re total assets.”

Buffy comes to realize very early on that she could be even more powerful with a little help from her friends. She asks for help when she needs it. She includes her friends in her battles, though she expresses frequent misgivings about the danger they will encounter. She accepts their aid and support because it makes her feel more human and because she knows that they know what’s at stake and what’s worth fighting for, and believes they deserve to have a choice to take on that fight as their own.

Throughout the show, Buffy relies heavily on the Scooby Gang — always Willow and Xander, usually Giles, often Cordelia, Oz, Tara, Anya, Riley and Robin Wood — for help fighting demons. When Kendra dies early in the series, Faith is activated as the other second Slayer, and arrives in Sunnydale looking for a good time. But Faith, like Kendra, has no friends. No matter how devil-may-care she acts, Faith is not the contented loner she wants to be. Her loneliness is her very downfall, as she overzealously kills a human, pretends it doesn’t bother her, and is ostracized by the Scoobies. She takes solace with the up-and-coming Big Bad of season 3, the mayor, who exploits Faith’s barely concealed emotional neediness by treating her as his daughter so she will do his evil bidding. Faith has Buffy’s superhuman Chosen One strength. What she doesn’t have is Buffy’s support system.

Take no prisoners, but remember: redemption is possible

The truly evil are never spared on “Buffy,” but the sort-of baddies are never abandoned, never deemed lost causes. Spike, a notoriously savage vampire, was never a typical savage vampire. He loved. Spike loved his companion Drusilla. It wasn’t a convenient relationship; he was generally nuts for the nutso Dru and was devastated when she left him — so devastated that he kidnapped budding witch Willow to make her perform a love spell that would bring Dru back to him. When the Initiative kidnaps Spike in season 5, they implant a chip in his brain, making him incapable of killing or harming a human without suffering agony. Buffy refers to him later as a “neutered vampire”; I would argue that that the chip is only a literal manifestation of the emotions Spike already possessed. Love made Spike soft long before Buffy was the object of his affection; once he realizes he loves Buffy, he doesn’t kill anymore.

At the end of season 6, in the most notorious scene among Spike haters, Spike’s true evil resurfaces and he tries to rape Buffy. He becomes any abuser, any rapist, any misogynist in the world — both the imagined world of “Buffy” and the real world where I’m writing. And Buffy, of course, kicks his ass. I love Spike’s character, and I loved the arc of his feelings for Buffy and how it plays out, but this scene sickened me. Still, it is necessary that we are reminded of Spike’s true evil, to make the restoration of his soul carry more weight, to make his redemption that much more remarkable. “How can men not rape?” the show asks. The answer: By getting a soul.

Redemption is a major theme in “Buffy,” and one that allows her heroic qualities to transcend ass-kicking. Buffy makes both Angel and Spike, two ex-demons, want to be better men — to protect women, but also to stand back as women protect themselves. (“God, I miss watching this,” Angel says as he moves aside so Buffy can pummel Caleb in season 7.) In their feral, delirious, post-soul-restoration states, Buffy is the only one who can get through to both Angel and Spike. Buffy nurses them back to health (yeah yeah, tired female caretaker trope, I know), convinced they can be allies for good.

But men aren’t the only villains she helps. Buffy believes a grief-stricken, magic-drunk Willow can be rehabilitated after flaying Warren for shooting the woman she loves. She begs Faith to show remorse for accidentally killing a human because she doesn’t want to take her out, but knows she must.

And then there’s Anya. When the former vengeance demon is making Xander happy and not killing people, Buffy tolerates Anya’s quirks. When Xander breaks Anya’s heart and she takes up vengeance again, Buffy has no problem setting out to kill her after Anya’s massacre at a nearby college frat house. If you murder humans on “Buffy,” the heroine is coming for you. Except Anya wants to take back what she’s done and live as a moral human again. Conundrum! Can it be done? Can murder be undone? Buffy, twice dead and twice revived, lets Anya live when the boss vengeance demon “undoes” Anya’s bloodbath.

Anya is no stranger to apocalypse. She fled one in season 3, when the aforementioned mayor was fixing to unleash hell on Sunnydale High’s graduation day and she thinks Xander is crazy to stay and fight. At the end of season 7, though, Anya has different thoughts about humans: “And they have no purpose that unites them, so they just drift around, blundering through life until they die. Which they — they know is coming, yet every single one of them is surprised when it happens to them. They’re incapable of thinking about what they want beyond the moment. They kill each other, which is clearly insane, and yet, here’s the thing. When it’s something that really matters, they fight. I mean, they’re lame morons for fighting. But they do. They never… They never quit. And so I guess I will keep fighting, too.” By aligning herself with Buffy and the Scoobies, Anya redeems herself not just as a former demon, but as an apathetic “new” human, too.

What would Buffy do? Slay the patriarchy

It’s obvious to me now that “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is an allegory for patriarchal society, for all the misogyny and trauma and struggles women have to endure. I mean, Buffy kills Caleb, uber-misogynist and vehicle for The First Evil, with a girl-power scythe to the cock; and she smashes Warren’s Orbs of Nezzla’Khan, the barely concealed metaphor for testicles. It would be disheartening if, at the heart of that allegory, the conclusion is that only one superhuman woman can defeat the patriarchy. Whedon knew better. Further, he knew better two decades ago, and few stories bearing that knowledge have been written for the mainstream since.

What if we think of all the Potential Slayers in “Buffy” as survivors of rape and domestic violence? What do they have that we don’t have? Superhuman strength, and each other. Without each other, though, the superhuman strength couldn’t have saved the world, and the show would’ve had a very different ending. Collective power and consciousness are necessary for the survival of women. The show couldn’t have been more clear about that fact.

Many of the Potentials take a lot of coaching from Buffy before believing in and channeling their own prophesied power. Listen to Buffy, I say to today’s young women. Girl knows what she’s talking about, though she doesn’t look like an authority on more than leather jackets and lip gloss. Believe in your own power to save yourself and make the world better for everyone.

What would Buffy do about gendered violence? Empower women to fight back in large numbers, on a large scale. Urge them to take on the fight, not wait for it to come to them. I think Buffy would be a huge fan of self-defense classes, and I think she’d always believe someone who says they have been victimized.

What would Buffy do about misogyny? Surround herself with a support system of friends and allies. It’s OK if they’re mostly women, or female-identified, or witches, or lesbians, or formerly vengeance demon bad girls. It’s OK if they don’t look like you. Try to understand all of their unique, intersecting struggles.

What would Buffy do about consuming anger and fatigue in the face of persistent gendered violence and misogyny? Continue to believe in the good of humanity, even when it’s constantly tested. And never stop fighting back.


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Fire Station and Campus

by Claire DeLaval ’17

Claire DeLaval was a finalist in the 2017 Bailey Oratorical competition. This year’s prompt was: “At the heart of the liberal arts is civic engagement: How can we use the values of our liberal arts education to heal divides in our nation and world?”

I love my life. This semester I’m taking all politics and economics courses, like Human Rights and International Political Economy. Once I’m finished with my day on campus, I head down to the fire station next to Johnny’s, Huntingdon Regional District 5. Three nights a week I have to be there by six o’clock to do my fire classes: four hours of classroom or practical skills all about how to lay fire hose in the bed of a truck so that you can pull it out quickly and smoothly; how to rescue a person from a vehicle; how to fightImage result for fire hose fire in its various forms. Being a volunteer firefighter in Huntingdon is just as important to me as being a student of the liberal arts at Juniata, but sometimes I feel like, in my daily life, I have to cross a divide between these two spaces I care about. I’m sure I’m not the only person here who’s experienced that–the feeling of belonging, somehow, in multiple places that are divided from each other. And on a societal level, it’s clear that we’re struggling with how to live in a divided America. Hillbilly Elegy, the memoir by J.D. Vance, was chosen by the New York Times as one of the “six books to help understand Trump’s win.”

For me, living in both these worlds has been a test of my values. I have learned that the values of one person’s reality will not always be a road map to understanding another person’s reality. I have had to suspend my reflex for quick judgment, practice open-mindedness, and most of all, confront my assumptions. Let’s confront the assumptions in tonight’s question.

“How can we use the values of our liberal arts education to heal divides in our nation and world?” I think we cannot put our liberal arts education to real use if we don’t start by seeing and second-guessing our assumptions. Historically, and even in the writing of this prompt, the liberal arts seem arrogant. Are we assuming too much? Until we confront our assumptions–examine each and decide whether or not it can stand–we are not ready to engage in civic action.

First, let’s examine the assumption that everyone wants these divides to be healed. There are clear divides between the fire station as it exists in the community and our college, up on the hill. But, since I started, my presence has created new divides in the firehouse itself. I’m the only one of us not from Pennsylvania. I’m the only woman. Not long after I started, the guys found out I was a politics student. I knew I was the only one in the station with my political views, but I value honesty, and so I was honest. We had arguments about Benghazi, and emails, and conspiracy theories. I told them I thought there was no way Trump would win. I heard a lot about that after the election.

Despite all our differences, the guys have let me in and we all get along. But we are firmly divided along political lines. We talk about politics in the station, but none of us is going to heal this divide and it seems no one really wants it to be healed, because we would each rather coexist with this divide than change our political beliefs. I find some of their views morally outrageous. They think I am an out-of-touch leftie. Sometimes, I wonder if I am. In electing Donald Trump, our country and our friends chose the candidate campaigning against intellectual elitism, against unity, and indirectly, against the values of the liberal arts. The changes people have experienced in the United States and the world have been a long time coming but the nationalism, racism, and separatism that define the world’s current divisions have been, in part, reactions against ideas that the liberal arts values, and against the condescending assumption of liberal elites that they know best. For us to assume that divides must be healed before different people can coexist is a critical mistake. If we demand that these divides be healed before we engage with people different from ourselves, we are walling ourselves in.

We have examined the first assumption of the question (that everyone wants the world’s divides to be healed), and it is up to each of us to decide whether or not that assumption can stand. The second assumption of the question is that we are owed a special ascendancy because we are students of the liberal arts. How can we–distinguished from others by our prestigious education, which we are lucky or talented or rich enough to receive–use our values to alleviate the disunion? It is dangerous to assume that if we only find the right strategy, stringing together the right parts of what we have been taught, we will be what is needed. If we allow this particular assumption to stand, we fail to live up to our liberal arts values by failing to face the world’s discrimination, exclusion, and inequality of opportunity. In the words of bell hooks, an academic and activist whose life’s work has been to challenge assumptions, “If we want a beloved community, we must stand for justice, have recognition for difference without attaching difference to privilege.” We students are in this room because, somewhere along the way, we were privileged enough to attain an expensive liberal arts college education. When we graduate our experiences here, in our classrooms, in our labs, on our sports fields–these will have shaped our educations and they will set us apart. We will be different from the 68 percent of Americans who did not have a bachelor’s degree in the 2014 census. Our educations may allow us to do things other people cannot do. But we must not ever forget that the differences between people–whether it is the degrees we have, the colors of our skin, or the bathrooms we wish to use–do not make us better than each other.

The third assumption in the question is that we are the only people with liberal arts values. Our fire station is full of misogyny. But at the same time, the guys are committed to making sure I succeed as a firefighter. They encourage me to take leadership roles. Last year, when I told our Chief that I was applying for a Forest Service training program in California to get certified in fighting wildfires, he did everything he could to help me train for the fitness test. The crew I trained with in California made the news, and for a few weeks Chief kept forwarding videos he found online of me training in California, because he was proud of me. The guys encourage me to be the best firefighter I can not because they have read bell hooks or even because they spend their free time thinking about workplace discrimination, but simply because they believe a woman can do the same physical job just as well. They believe this even though they laugh at rape jokes in my presence. The complicated thing about values is that other people can share your values without sharing all of your values; other people can share some of your values while also having values that are completely antithetical to other things that you value. People do not have to be us to be good people. People with liberal arts degrees are not the only people with good and useful values.

Civic engagement is indeed at the heart of the liberal arts. From its beginning in late Classical and Hellenistic Greece, the liberal arts education was formed around the subjects considered obligatory for a free person who would participate in civic life. I argue that before engaging in civic action, we must challenge our own assumptions, and that this is best done by getting an outside view of our world. If divides are going to be healed, anyone can lead the way. Let us be open-minded. Our liberal arts do not preordain us to heal the world, but they may be our best tool in civic action. Let us remember what we have been taught. We can take note of opposing views without compromising our own values. We can listen to what others think without forgetting or abandoning what we think. We will not necessarily be the people who heal our divided nation and world. Let us have faith, and remember that our values are strongest when tested by the challenge of reckoning with our assumptions.

Waiting to Have a Family

By Megan Neville, Educational Services Assistant for Humanities and Budget Officer for NSF & GCAT Grants at Juniata College.

Tick, tick, tick.  Can you hear that?  What is that? It grows louder and louder as my pulse increases.  Oh yes, the perpetual biological clock; constantly ticking away.  Growing louder in my ears, especially now as I recently hit the 40 mark.  Do I feel 40 years old?  No, no. That doesn’t seem possible. 27 was just a few years ago.  Oh wait.

Let’s face reality:  I am 40.  I put my career first before a family; just as several of my fellow female colleagues did as well.  I thought that was the right thing to do at the time. I had so much to do, to see.  I set goals for myself that I wished to accomplish.  Now I wonder… Did I make the right decision?  Will I pay the consequences for being an older wife or mother should that opportunity arise?  These are just a small sample of the millions of questions that float through my head throughout the day.  I now have quickly have come to recognize the “look” from my mother, my older friends and acquaintances that wonder why I’m not married and don’t have children yet.

So, what gives?  Why are women delaying their opportunity to have children until later?  Could it be that women as a whole, myself included, are opting to choose career over family?  Or is the family option still ever-present, just placed on the back-burner?  “There are so many factors involved.  First off, more young people are using effective contraceptives…that weren’t used in younger women initially.  More importantly, women are obtaining higher degrees and taking more time to achieve career goals, which means they are putting off having their first child until later,” (Kelly, 2016).

Women are finding that if they do wait to start a family, they potentially increase their own working class status through drive and diligence; working up the corporate ladder. Which in return, theoretically increases their economic situation for, not only themselves, but also in planning for their future.  Furthermore, by carving the path for others to follow, women who wait to begin their families are often in a higher position in which they may create “or set policies that they and their female employees would benefit from, like offering paid maternity and paternity leave or allowing flexible work schedules,” (Kincaid, 2015).  “Women want to accomplish specific goals, to have certain experiences, to be in a relationship with the right partner, to be financially and emotionally stable, or any combination of these factors,” (Gregory, 2007).

Looking back at my life, I’ve been very fortunate to have had incredible experiences where I’ve traveled all over the United States, traveled internationally, grown within the field of higher education by helping students and administrators, obtained an advanced degree (still weighing the options of pursuing my doctorate degree) and have made countless connections and friends all over the world that work within education.  I would never trade any of these experiences as they all have brought me to where I am now.  Yet, I question, am I missing out on the family factor?  A majority of my friends have had children and they are balancing being brilliant, working mothers.  They seem to have it together.  Would I as an older potential wife or mother be able to balance as easily as someone who might be younger?

As Gregory (2007) explains, women that begin families at a later age have several benefits; “There is a stronger family focus, as women greatly appreciate their children and the opportunity to have a family.  It is a desired factor.  Self-confidence is present as a result of accomplishments and self-confident women can be especially able advocates and models for kids.  Studies continue to show that older mothers could potentially have fewer health issues and add life longevity.  In addition, older mothers are often much more stable financially than their younger counterparts, which therefore reduces stress levels in both parenting as well as marriage.”

There are disadvantages that must be examined as well.  The most obvious reduced fertility rates.  It is a proven fact that women’s fertility rates begin to fall at the age of 32.  It decreases again between the ages of 35 to 37 and falls again sharply after the ages of 40 to 44.  However, fertility is not impossible.  In addition, alternative options such as adoption and in vitro fertilization (IVF) may be possible.  Kincaid (2015) writes, “Miscarriages and a number of complications due to pregnancy, including gestational diabetes and high blood pressure are more common for women over the age of 35.”  However, multiple doctors have stated that with monitored, frequent check-ups, healthy pregnancies may be achieved.  Gregory (2007) goes on to say that another disadvantage of being an older parent is having smaller families.  Due to the fact that women start later, they are limited in the number of children to which they may give birth.  Many couples often stop with just one.  Finally, there is another obvious factor that “older mothers could have lower energy levels.  However, many new parents respond by working harder to stay fit,” (Gregory, 2007).

We can clearly see there are pros and cons to both sides of the story.  Either way, women, as a whole, are having children at a later age.  This is largely due to the fact that career paths are chosen first and personal and professional goals are set to be accomplished.  Is this a bad thing?  In my humble opinion, not in the least.  Women are becoming more independent and self-sufficient, finding that they can live a fulfilled and successful life as a single.  However, for others, family life continues to be desired.  So, the pinnacle, personal question comes into play:  Would I be ready to be a wife or mother?  After conducting the research for this blog and with careful debate, I definitely would consider, with the right partner.  Keeping true to my stance since I was a young girl, I never give up hope and I never let anyone tell me that my dreams or goals cannot be achieved.  We shall see…



Gregory, Elizabeth, 2007, Ready: Why Women Are Embracing The New Later Motherhood, Basic Books, Pgs. 8-10, 12-26.

Kelly, Johnna, 2016, American women waiting longer to have kids,, accessed 1/27/17.

Kincaid, Ellie, 2015, Business Insider: Why having kids later is a really big deal, Accessed 1/27/17.

“You are so nice.” Emotional Intelligence in Our Professional Lives

by Kati Csoman, Dean of International Programs

I often hear this from people, which may seem like a compliment at first.  However, my experience is that “You are so nice!” is sometimes a veiled assertion about my abilities as a woman in a position of leadership.  “So nice” is code language for the perception that I may not possess the wherewithal to make tough decisions or to have difficult conversations.

Throughout our lives, many women are socialized to be nuanced and respectful in our interactions with others.  We are often expected to be indirect in our speech so as to not appear to be too forceful, too opinionated or too discomforting.  We are taught to play nice.  But being genuinely nice is not a gender-specific attribute, nor should it be perceived as coming from a place of weakness.  My idea of the concept of being nice is that one is authentic and strives in all interactions to understand the authenticity of others.   Simply put, know who you are and how it is that you can interact with others as they are.

Practicing emotional intelligence in the workplace appears to be vastly undervalued.  Too often, the inability to engage in honest conversation acknowledging someone else’s feelings or perceptions is misappropriated under the guise of “professionalism.”  It does not make us less effective in our work if we acknowledge the humanity of someone else.

Image result for mr rogers senateThe most influential practitioner of emotional intelligence was Mr. Fred Rogers, the renowned and respected child psychologist and famed television host of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.”  And one of the best examples of Mr. Rogers in action was his ability within six minutes to recover $20 million dollars in funding for public television at a U.S. Senate hearing in 1969:

Among the many profound ideas that Mr. Rogers expressed in his testimony was the idea that “feelings are mentionable and manageable.”  Emotional intelligence requires great discipline as we overcome our own egos to become deeply introspective and to be in control of our thoughts, feelings and reactions as we interact with others.  You can be steadfast in your convictions.  You can be persistent in achieving your goals.  At the same time, you can acknowledge someone else’s opinions or way of wanting to do something.

Too often, strength is perceived as loudness and forcefulness.  Strength can also be expressed through calm and measured action and interaction.  I believe deeply that if we could engage in more open dialogue in professional settings about how we feel about behavior, actions, and decisions, we might more readily address interpersonal conflicts that are often at the root of ineffective relationships in the workplace.  It is naïve to think that emotional intelligence should and can be dismissed from our professional lives.  We are human.

“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has–or ever will have–something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.” (The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember)