Posts in: Block 5

Week 3: Movements, Members and Music

For our last full week of class, we focused on art’s ability to influence social movements. Art is extremely multifaceted, which makes it the perfect tool for communicating values, drawing interest, and motivating community members to take part or join a movement. A more simple work can easily and quickly communicate a paramount message. Complicated artworks can invoke fierce or profound emotions in a viewer and force them to look at issues, that they may have found trivial before, differently. The resources necessary to create art are practically accessible to everyone. This is significant because it grants people the opportunity to publicly question hegemonic ideals and guidelines.

The wide array of art forms give everyone with some form of expression or style; people of different interests, origins, ages, and values. With such a variety of approaches, art provides movements with a means of connection with outside communities. By connecting with these outsiders through art, movements can attempt to shift or transform the outsider’s frame of reference or analysis in which they use to look at a movement, view an issue, or feel about a social concern. This concept was highlighted in our course when Kathy had us take part in a group activity about music. Each class group picked a contemporary song that related to protest and wrote up three words that represented the primary focuses of that song up on the board. Every group chose a hip hop or R&B track, many of which had similar messages and intentions. The activity allowed us to physically see what social issues are dominating our society today and highlighted how art’s versatility provides movements with a means of granting people a greater understanding and accessibility to a cause.  

Week 3: HIV Tomatoes?

Okay, so this title clearly requires a bit of context but don’t worry it all comes together in the end. Let’s start by talking about GMOs. Yikes. But what exactly is a GMO? Dubbed as “Frankenfood” it undoubtedly has a negative reputation among most today. But what is it that incites so much fear in us about the idea of “genetic modification”?

Let’s face it: Colorado tomatoes are nothing to ride home about. That’s probably because they’re from Florida, or California and have been picked while they’re still green so they don’t over ripen on the truck ride to Colorado Springs. But being picked so early has its downfalls; theses premature tomatoes have failed to receive nutrients and proteins that make them flavorful.

At one point, scientists had proposed a clever way to resolve this problem. Let’s examine some background information first. DNA is transcribed into mRNA, which is translated into proteins, which perform a myriad of functions in cells. A long time ago it was discovered that plants had a pretty nifty defense mechanism against viruses: they are able to recognize double stranded RNA viruses and target them for destruction. Back to our tomato situation: fruit ripens due to a gene coding for the expression of ethylene. When you put a pre-ripe fruit next to a banana to ripen, it’s because the ethylene secreted by the banana will stimulate ripening. Scientists figured that if they could somehow slow down the expression of the ethylene gene in a tomato, it would slow ripening. This would allow tomatoes to be picked when they were riper and not over ripen before reaching the store. After the tomato transcribes the ethylene DNA into mRNA scientists engineered the tomato to make another mRNA from the same gene that would bind to the first mRNA. What do we get? Double stranded RNA, which will be seen as a virus and degraded. Bottom line? Less mRNA means less ethylene protein translated: slower ripening.

This idea seems pretty clever, plausible, and benign. Yet it was not taken quite as well. Double stranded RNA? They’ve put a virus in a tomato. HIV is an RNA virus right? Does this tomato have HIV?

Now I’m not saying all GMOs are completely harmless but I think it’s important to understand what something actual is before forming a definitive opinion. I guess my point is that GMOs and non-GMOs aren’t necessarily antitheses…maybe more like tom-A-to tom-AH-to.

Week 2: Gatekeepers, Bricolage, and Social Activism

This past week, we dove into the processes of how one enters and, more importantly, stays relevant in the art world. A variety of intricate social circles, firms, and gate keepers dominate the art world. To be a part of a movement, is to join and work in a specific stylistic group. To get one’s work out into the public, an artist must network their way to the top and strike a balance between following social conventions and being innovative. From there, it’s a constant competition to stay in front of the public eye in the overflowing realm of art production. Those who end up being the most successful are those that work with the market, not against it.

Kathy provided us with a prime example of what a superstar looks like by showing our class the film, Sing Your Song. The documentary follows Harry Belafonte’s journey to success. Belafonte networked his way to the top, introduced new styles of music while working with the market, and used his platform to promote social activism. He constantly evolves his art styles and strategies for activism, in order continuously do social work that is beneficial, and to push art and music into new waves.

The second primary focus of the week was the audience. The audience is who gives meaning to an artwork. Art communicates through symbols that represent universal ideas. Art, social groups, or movements begin to become powerful when they harness the power of symbols through bricolage, the application of new meanings or definitions to symbols that are outside usual social conventions.

The art world operates by a series of rules and is much more exclusive than it seems. I realized that the fundamental steps to becoming a successful artist should be applied to my life and can serve as key strategies in the development of my success. I also recognized that, without an audience, the art that society, my community and I make becomes pointless. Art is unable to stand alone, it must be understood by those who consume it.

Now we come to ask, “Do artworks and movements actually matter?” We’ll see what third week has in store.

“Movements don’t die because struggles don’t die.” -Harry Belafonte. Credit Amazon Prime

 

 

Week 2: Genes are Accommodating

While it seems logical to think that gene expression is a fixed, unchanging thing, like the Rosetta Stone of human biology this isn’t necessarily the case. Genes are often viewed as sequences written into our DNA that remain unaltered through our lives, yet today we spent the majority of class time disproving this idea.

As it turns out gene expression can be influenced by many factors, one of the main being one’s environment. Different stimulus in our surroundings can have a great impact on our genes such as causing one section of the genome with specific genes to be replicated multiple times, a phenomenon known as gene amplification. Think of it as a supply and demand type situation. Genes code for proteins, which perform specialized functions; as the need for a protein goes up, our bodies respond by supplying more copies of the corresponding gene. For example, when small mammals are exposed to heavy metal (not just the headbanging kind) there is a significant increase in replication of a gene coding for a particular protein that will remove metal from the bloodstream. Conversely, sometimes it may be desirable to prevent gene amplification. Take chemotherapy as an example. Chemotherapy is generally given in large doses. This helps to prevent cancer cells from undergoing gene amplification and subsequently being able to protect themselves from treatments aimed to destroy them.

So at this point in class we’ve firmly established that gene expression is malleable. But how does this idea apply to things that are more relevant to the general population (i.e. something other than disease treatment or metal exposure)? Well there’s another mechanism in the cell that can result in the generation of genetic material, a process called gene duplication. When there are multiple copies of the same gene this means that one copy could theoretically develop a mutation and the cell would still have one functional copy. As it turns out this is one way in which new genes come onto the playing field. It’s kind of like if you have your best player bat cleanup so top of the line you have more room to experiment.

Needless to say, by now I’ve become more than convinced of the incredibly adaptable nature of gene expression. Maybe if the human genome is anything like the Rosetta Stone it at least has some extra carving space and an eraser.

Week 1: A Peek into the Genome

Imagine a stack of textbooks, packed like sardines with words, and standing four stories high. Now think about being given the task to find not one page, not one paragraph, but one word. Seems like an impossible task. To some extent, this is comparable to the task scientists were charged with in the late 1980s while attempting to pinpoint the location of a mutant gene responsible for causing cystic fibrosis. When I initially heard this daunting analogy I could scarcely imagine any way in which one could accomplish this job. And yet in three hours, minus time for water and snacks, our professor was able to give us a pretty good idea.

Our DNA is made up of different bases abbreviated with letters, which are wound around proteins that make up structures called chromosomes. And incredibly, some three billion letters are all able to fit into 23 pairs of chromosomes, which reside happily in the cell of each nucleus in each cell. I find sometimes in class as we work through problems, attack complex scenarios, and delve deep into peculiar topics it’s easy to get caught up in minute details that demand your attention and forget the sheer vastness and breadth of genetics. But when I take a step back it’s pretty astonishing to me, even as a science major, that genetics can weave its way into nearly any subject imaginable. And I guess that’s obvious, I mean biology is the study of life after all, but its scope and relevance is pretty impressive.

It’s T-minus 5 minutes to the start of class and I’m anxiously filtering through yesterday’s information trying to make room for today’s. Class typically begins at 9:00 am and lasts until lunchtime. Rather than watching slides on a PowerPoint or reading from a textbook our professor engages us in often seemingly different topics which somehow always manage to come down to one thing: the gene, a pair of genes, or some combination of genes. From hypercholesterolemia to baldness to chocolate and yellow labs I usually manage to leave class with more questions that I came in with. But one week in and I’m trying to accept that maybe that’s the whole idea of genetics: to realize how much there is and how much is still widely unknown.

Week 1: Self Reflection, Hegemony, and Eating Chocolate in the Dark

On Friday I finished my first week in Kathy Giuffre’s Art and Society block and I can already tell that this block will be one to remember. On the first day, I wasn’t sure what this class had in store. As we moved through the week, we developed a definition for art, discussed art’s role in satisfying the subconscious, highlighted forms of propaganda, and designated what aspects are critical to the relationship between society and art. Everyday Kathy introduces a new perspective to our class that we then used to unpack the relationship between art and society. One of my favorite elements of this course is that for each key concept or issue we discuss, Kathy ties a physical experience to it. For example, we read an article last week, “He’s a Cripple an’ Needs my Love,” which discussed the latent impacts of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, an American opera that showed around Europe during the 1930’s. Our class listened to Billy Holiday, on vinyl, in the dark, while eating chocolate because 1. It was an experience that Kathy believes everyone needs to have and 2. It provided us with a clearer picture of what the audience we had read about that day may have experienced. We also visited the Fine Arts Center and have been consistently tying the works that we saw in the museum back into our class discussions.

I enjoyed being introduced to a series of new lenses last week through which I can now use to see the art world in different ways. I’m excited to see how our class uses these new perspectives to further dissect the relationship between art and society.

A String of Thoughts

“We fixed the education system”, my classmate exclaimed during our group discussion on Tuesday. Later in the week, we found out that our “solution” to the education system in the U.S was closely related to market theory, and that has a lot of issues in and of itself. We have been aggressively looking for answers through debates and questioning. Every day, our class has a new set of discussion leaders. Their job is to lead the class in thoughtful and productive conversation. So far, this is one of my favorite things about the class. Every day, we gain a new perspective on how to question our current system because we have different people every day questioning us.

Today in class, the discussion leaders wanted us to work in a pair to create thought diagrams relating to a theme and set of questions. Their only instructions were to look at the questions and create a visual. The options were endless on how each group wanted to present their set of questions. Through this process, we came up with potential solutions to inequality in schools.

My partner and I focused on collaboration among schools to reach a more unified form of educating. We identified forms of collaboration that are already implemented but could be used in a greater magnitude to be effective in unifying education. Data-based decision making, teacher and administrative conferences that focus on training, and online forums (blogs) could all be used in this manner.

Another group focused their thought diagram on innovation as a way to resolve inequality. An idea this group had was to put more importance of qualitative data in conjunction with quantitative data. An example they gave of qualitative data used in schools was student testimonials.

One group dealt with a difficult question about who has the right to choose a child’s education. Their thought diagram expressed the benefits and consequences of government choice and parent choice. One of the benefits to government choice is standardization, but parents have more “skin in the game”. A consequence to making only parents accountable for choosing their child’s school is that information is power. Families with higher socioeconomic status have more access to information, and this process reproduces inequality.

 

Because families with higher socioeconomic status are privileged due to their access to information, another group worked on how to get the information about choosing schools to all parents. This group believed that it was essential for the schools to reach out to the parents besides the parents having to seek out information for themselves. Their main categories for getting information to parents included ads/pamphlets, sessions, the internet, public service announcements, and information given in class.

 

I enjoyed making thought diagrams as a brainstorming process. The activity produced great conversations and debates.

An Open Letter to the U.S Education System

Dear U.S Education System,

Why can’t we fix you? My class has spent a total of nine hours this week talking about how to combat re-segregation alone, and we have not gotten the slightest bit close to an answer. My problem is that I don’t even know where to start. Re-segregation is only one problem among many, but I will start there.

In class this week, we have talked about the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. After Brown v. Board, the problem switched from de jure segregation to de facto segregation. Basically, after the law tried to fix you, U.S Education System, people were still able to segregate schools based on housing segregation and zoning. Not only were schools re-segregated, but some schools shut down because the whites did not want to integrate. In Prince Edward County, the public schools shut down, and a private school was created for white students only. The public schools were shut down for over five years. When they finally opened up, the public school was predominately for black students, and the private school was predominately white. We watched a video about Prince Edward County in class, and it was powerful to hear students’ stories about not having access to an education for over five years. We talked a bit about the idea of sacrificing an entire generation for a cause, and this concept has stuck with me for the past couple days. That is what happened in Prince Edward County, an entire generation was sacrificed.

The situation that occurred in Prince Edward County also made me question the power of court rulings. Brown v. Board was viewed as a victory for the Civil Rights Movement, but black students in that county went more than five years without an education. Why don’t people follow the laws that apply to you? I believe that is has to do with choice; you give people too much choice. Integration theory says that choice without civil rights considerations will lead to inequality. Maybe, this is why our schools are re-segregating.

I want to say that we need to write up an entire new system because there is so much flaw in you, but I do not think that is a possibility because of your history. Besides, I am learning more and more through this class that it is hard to please everyone with one set plan of action. I believe choice has created issues, and I blame you for that. On the other hand, if you were a different system, there would be a new issue at hand to address. That being said, you’re not off the hook. There are ways to fix de facto segregation. Magnet schools were created in the 1970’s to combat segregation and to provide minority students with a “better” education. Although Magnet and Charter schools come with their own problems, the idea is a step in the right direction. Magnet and Charter schools bring in the question of more choice, but I am personally not against choice alone. I am against choice without civil rights considerations.

Ultimately, U.S Education System, you’re a mess. I wish I could offer more constructive criticism, but I have tried my best to make sense of you. The further I dig into your policies and trends, the more confused I get. The more questions I try to answer, the more questions I seem to have. I hope my class, the Sociology of Education, continues in this manner. Questions and confusion aren’t bad, but I used to think they were. I thought that the more questions I had meant the less I knew. In fact, the more questions I have means how much I want to fix you.

A concerned student,

Harley Guzman

P.S: On an unrelated note, why didn’t I learn about how to pay taxes in high school. I think that’s important. You should get on that.

Winter Ball Examined Through Theories of Sociology in Education

The ballroom was dim, and the music was loud. All I could see were my peers lumped into one organism, flowing on the floor, spinning like a tornado, and destroying everything in its path. All I could hear was the chatter of students and jazz music. All I could feel was hypocrisy itchy down my spine like a spider full of venom. Not only was I feeling and experiencing hypocrisy, but I was a hypocrite, myself. On Friday night, I attended the Winter Ball: Enchanted Forest at the Antler’s Hotel, and I left more confused and dazed than I have ever felt before.

In light of the Winter Ball this weekend, I would like to take the opportunity to examine what I witnessed and experienced Friday night using the sociological theories of education I learned in class last week. Our class began with the history of public education in the United States, and we moved on later in the week to talk about sociological theories relating to the purpose of education and why inequality exists in terms of education. The Winter Ball can be examined through two macro-level theories of education. First, there is the functionalist theory which focuses on how education helps society run smoothly. Contrastly, there is the conflict theory which focuses on how education serves the needs of the elite class. Both of these theories can be applied to the events I witnessed on Friday. I would like to clarify that I don’t mean to bash the students who attended the Winter Ball through this analysis. I mean to bring to light some problematic social features of the Winter ball. Clearly, I am no expert. Take what I have to say with a grain of salt because I am clueless. Simply, I am trying to make sense of the world around me through the sociological theories SO280 has taught me.

The aftermath of the Winter Ball has made me question why a college would provide its student body with a giant party. If you look at other colleges, especially larger universities, institutions of higher education rarely provide dances that equate to high school homecoming dances or prom. If you do see celebrations like these in college, they are run by student organizations or Greek life. Functionalists would argue that the Winter Ball serves a purpose for the college and for the students, but it is not for the reason you may think. Functionalists view education as a means to equip youth with the tools they need to be successful in society. For example, teaching students physics will equip them with the knowledge to be successful engineers. Functionalists would say that the Winter Ball is a tool used by the college to socialize its student body. Everyone comes together and mingles. Although we don’t view the Winter ball as a ploy to control us as students, perhaps it is. It could just be a fun night for all, but maybe there are hidden intentions. Functionalists say that a part of education is the manifest function of maintaining social order through shared knowledge and national principles. Based on what I have learned this week in class, I would argue that the Winter ball could be used to do just that. We get dressed up in a nice outfit, listen to music (good or bad), and we see all of our friends in a formal setting. An event like the Winter Ball could be used to teach us how to socialize and behave at formal events. Of course, the intention backfires and what I am arguing is a stretch, but events like the Winter Ball could serve this purpose.

I remember sitting at a table near the food in the Jazz room with my two best friends, and we were eating citrus tasting cheesecake bites. The plates from the people before us were piled on the table, and one of the boys helping run the event came over to clear off the table. We looked around us, and we saw plates scattered all over the place. There was food on the floor and lost items littering the tables. The boy who cleared off the table I was sitting at couldn’t have been older than fifteen years old, and it made me wonder what kind of people were working the Winter Ball and what kind of people were attending the Winter Ball. When my friends and I got back on the bus to head back to campus, my friend next to me turned to me and said, “I’m disgusted.” I didn’t say anything for a few seconds thinking about what I had experienced. I turned back to her and said, “Yeah, me too.” Although applying the functionalist theory to the Winter Ball was a stretch, conflict theory is pretty spot on. Collectively, we like to think of ourselves as warriors for social justice, but maybe the Winter Ball has problematic social implications. Conflict theory focuses on how groups compete for resources, power, and status. Education is a resource, and the winners obtain and maintain this resource. In terms of the Winter Ball, we are allowed to go because our institution provides this event. We would not be at this institution if we did not have some sort of intellectual or economic resource to be here. Because we attend CC, we have the privilege of a college education. We have the resources to go to Winter Ball. On the other hand, the workers at the Winter Ball did not, yet they had to clean up our mess which was a big mess. Conflict theory would argue that students from high socioeconomic status families or white students made it to CC because of their elite status in society. It is beneficial to be white and rich. For students who do not fit these categories, conflict theory would argue that you are at CC because you were not tracked in school at an early age.

All of this being said, the Winter Ball made me think of conflict theory relating to education because we like to think that we are at CC because of our merit, but maybe it is because of luck. Maybe, you were born into the right family. Maybe, you were born with the right skin color. Maybe, the people who weren’t born into the right family or with the right skin color were working Friday night at the Antler’s Hotel to clean up after the people who were given the luck to attend CC. We went into the Winter Ball privileged, and we didn’t think about who had the job of cleaning up after us.

For these reasons, that is why I felt like a hypocrite. I like to think of myself as a pretty liberal person, but I participated in Winter Ball. I want to major in Sociology, yet I didn’t think about the underlying implications of Winter Ball until I got on the bus. I didn’t question my participation until after I took advantage of the event provided for me. Seriously, I don’t mean to ruin the fun of Winter Ball, but I think the student body should question these events more. We should question the purpose of college run events and how they might be reproducing inequality in our community. Yes, SO 280 is teaching me a lot of sociological theories, but most importantly, it is teaching me how to question everyday life.  

Let’s Be Clear: The “Dear White People” TV show Is NOT Racist

In the second week of this class, we watched the movie Dear White People. Have you seen it? It came out in 2014 and Netflix ordered a TV version of it, also named “Dear White People” last May. While there was some backlash at the time to a tv series of “Dear White People,” it was nothing to how many (white) people reacted to the trailer that was released yesterday.

The video garnered over 1 million ‘dislikes’ in one day, with many taking to Twitter, denouncing the show for being “racist” and encouraging “white genocide” and cancelling their Netflix subscriptions.

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Let’s be clear. Let’s be super super clear. There is no such thing as reverse racism. You cannot be racist towards white people. All together now: Reverse racism does not exist.

Why is being racist towards white people NOT a thing? Because to be racist you need two things: power and prejudice. Racism connotes a system that disadvantages those based on race. Therefore,people of color cannot be racist– they can be prejudiced– but not racist because they do not hold power in a racist system and thereby cannot benefit from this system.

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When white people argue that people of color are being racist toward them, it is just untrue because this understanding of racism refers more to when someone (usually non-white) makes them feel bad (cue white tears) for their identity. This understanding also completely ignores structural systems of oppression that has and does consistently disenfranchise people of color in obvious and in invisible ways.

In the online article “What is Reverse Racism and Why It Doesn’t Actually Exist in the U.S.,” Phillip Lewis argues “But in reality, the United States has a long legacy of racism that makes it difficult for people of color to receive quality health care, access affordable housing, find stable employment and avoid getting wrapped up in the justice system.” (hyperlinks in original)

Thus when white people cry “racism,” it ignores this legacy of racism that still disenfranchises people of color in concrete and tangible ways.

Let’s say it all together just to make sure the people in the back heard us: REVERSE RACISM DOES NOT EXIST

Rather, these conversations about “reverse racism” or a TV show that questions race has much more to do with whiteness.

In “The Social Construction of Whiteness” Martha R. Mahoney (1995) argues “Whites have difficulty perceiving whiteness, both because of its cultural relevance and because of its cultural dominance. . .like culture, race is something whites notice in themselves only in relation to others. Privileged identity required reinforcement and maintenance, but protection against seeing the mechanisms that socially reproduce and maintain privilege is an important component of privilege itself” (331). And, I would argue, protection against these mechanisms that produce whiteness is an important aspect of whiteness.

When white people operate off the understanding that racism is just when someone of another color is mean to you, it simply reinforces the category and supremacy of whiteness to begin with. Learn your non-white history, read some articles like this one or this, and stop pretending reverse racism is a thing.

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