Summer 2015, Issue IV: Activism
Since its founding in 1871, Smith College has been defined by its commitment to social activism. No matter the time or place, Smithies have always been deeply engaged in the social issues of the world around them. In this issue, we aim to highlight this distinguished tradition in its increasingly global context. As our diverse submissions show, activism does not have to be limited to traditional protests or educational initiatives – it can be re-writing classic plays to highlight modern day problems, creating a website to try and define a controversial yet incredibly important concept, increasing public awareness through art and photography, or applying unique scientific research to the struggles of indigenous communities. There are no limits to imagining efforts that can help to make our world a better place.
We invite you to submit a short essay for our next issue, Tastes. We want to hear about how your tastes have developed, changed, or expanded due to an experience abroad. Submissions are being accepted until Friday, October 2, 2015. For more details, see our submission page.
In 2006, I traveled throughout the Middle East and finally started to define my passion more deeply. All of my naive beliefs were shattered in Palestinian refugee camps, slums in Cairo, and a clinic for asylum seekers in Istanbul. These experiences inspired me to educate myself by enrolling in community college, transferring to Smith, and applying to graduate school.
I wouldn’t feel defensive if I didn’t agree with, at least partially, the question’s implication: what right do you have to go to other countries and purport to advise on anything? How can you think you can improve education in foreign lands when education in your homeland faces so many obstacles? People in glass houses ought not to throw stones.
My mother was a passionate and creative recycler, and that’s how I grew up. I couldn’t imagine it any other way besides hand-made and often repurposed. In the many years since I graduated from Smith, I’ve worked and lived around the world, beginning in 1973 in Chile where my first house gifts were a couple of empty milk and wine bottles without which I would not have been able to buy any milk or wine!
This was my first time at the refugee camp. I had come along with a group of four other students from the University of Jordan. Thus far, everything I had learned about the Syrian crisis and its effects had come from media outlets or reports from various international organizations. However, what I witnessed in Zaatari was beyond what any article or report could describe.
I only know one word, with absolute certainty, in Quechua, the language of an estimated 8 million indigenous people in South America. “Ajima,” I can imagine Royner, my guide-turned-friend, saying in his low, resonant voice. It is a catch-all for everything that is good, bright, and beautiful in this world.
The following are the final scenes of Afreen Seher Gandhi’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, set in modern-day Islamic India, which she presented as her honors thesis in the Theatre Department. Eight years ago, Maha borrowed money from and signed a promissory note with Khizir, a friend and rival of her husband’s, forging her dying father’s signature, to pay for an operation to save her husband’s eyesight. Maha’s overprotective and conservative husband, Ali, believes that the money was a gift from Maha’s father.
I’ve just been told by my professor that from 1927 to 1944, a collection of human remains encompassing some 5,000 items were housed in the attic of this very building. So when I ask, “Where am I?” it is not simply a matter of physical location, but one of history and more importantly, the interconnectedness of one building’s life with colonialism and with it the first genocide of the 20th century, perpetrated thousands of miles away in what today is known as Namibia, and another, perpetrated in Germany and across Europe thirty years later.
It all began on March 8th, 2013: International Women’s Day. The French Ministry of Women’s Rights organized an initiative, Every Day is the 8th of March, that invited stakeholders, ranging from established organizations to newly-formed collectives, to organize an event every day of the year that highlights issues of gender and women’s rights.
In the small, wooden, house-shaped box on my bedside table, I would keep change that I collected from returning soda cans and plastic bottles at the grocery store. After I’d saved up a few dollars, my mother would take my sister and me to Staples, and we’d pick out a few notebooks and boxes of crayons. They weren’t for us, however – they were for the kids in El Salvador who we had heard so much about.
Kaitlin Burns & Chelsea Orefice
One early Smith activist student, Esther Follansbee Greene, class of 1901, volunteered with Smith College’s effort to the war service during the aftermath of World War I, many years after her college graduation. Working as a missionary and as a caregiver in orphanages in Armenia, Esther was able to provide direct aid to those devastated by the war.