Category Archives: class

Dear Class of 2015:

In roughly two weeks (give or take a couple days), you will step foot on Colorado College. Some of you have visited, while some have not. Regardless, that first glimpse of Colorado College will be something magical for this will be your home for the next four years.

This is the place where a ‘unique, intellectual adventure’ is about to take place. You’ll have the opportunity to be a biologist, an historian, or a philosopher for 3.5 weeks. You have the opportunity to share your thoughts and ideas in a classroom with students from across the world. Professors become your friend, and really do care about your well-being and your many existential crises.

This is the place where you get a Block Break after that mind-blowing and exhausting FYE course. You then decide to go camping, visit some friends in Boulder, or stay on campus to catch up on sleep.

This is the place where you will meet incredible friends. You lived on the same hall, went on your NSO trip together, or bonded over your FYE.  You sometimes can’t get over how special your fellow classmates are, but more importantly, you can’t get over that they share your passions.

This is where you belong: the most magical institution of higher learning.

I will hopefully see some of you during NSO week!

A New System of Jim Crow?

“Jarvious Cotton cannot vote. Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in our electoral democracy. Cotton’s family tree tells the story of several generations of black men who were born in the United States but who were denied the most basic freedom that democracy promises-the freedom to vote for those who will make the rules and laws that govern one’s life. Cotton’s great-great grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation. His father was barred from voting by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole.” (The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander)

The story of Jarvious Cotton’s family tells more then simply generations of black men being unable to vote in the United States. It tells the history of a group of people in the United States of America who have been legally discriminated against for over 300 years. From slavery to Jim Crow to now mass incarceration, the United States has maintained a system of social. Today, the criminal justice system in this country has come to operate as a system of social control analogous to Jim Crow.

Today our criminal justice system has come to operate as a system of laws, policies, and customs that operate to create and maintain a second-class status of a group defined largely by race. However, for many people this idea is hard to swallow. It seems impossible that there could be a system in place today that operates in the same way that slavery or Jim Crow did during their respective times. Furthermore, it is hard for people to take to the idea that today’s system was created and maintained under the guise of a War on Drugs, a war that was promoted and supported under the false premise of a drug epidemic in this country. However, in order to truly understand the comparison between slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration, it is important to understand the reality of our criminal justice system, and the political culture that allowed it to come about.

When President Nixon came into office, he brought with him an ideology and strategy, which later came to be known as the Southern Strategy.

However, this “War” came truly into being with President Reagan. Reagan announced his administration’s own “War on Drugs” in October 1982. At the time he declared this new war, less then 2 percent of the American public viewed drugs as the most important issue facing the nation. (Alexander) However, that was not a deterrent for Reagan, who was more concerned with public opinion surrounding race. Due to this new focus there were immediate policy changes that Reagan began to implement.

It is important to note that this declaration of war was made not only in direct conflict with how the public felt, but also the reality of drug use in the United States. In 1982, when the drug war began, the recreational use of illegal drugs was in decline. Surveys conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed significant drops in drug usage over long periods for a wide range of age groups.

Almost immediately after the War on Drugs was declared, there were clear impacts on employment as well as incarceration rates among black men in the United States. When it came to unemployment, it was clear that the combination of previous inequality, partnered with the War on Drugs led to dramatic consequences. In 1970, more than 70 percent of all blacks working in metropolitan areas held blue-collar jobs. Yet by 1987, when the drug war hit high gear, the industrial employment of black men had plummeted to 28 percent. (Alexander)

The other impact of the Drug War was an increase in incarceration rates in this country in a way that had never been seen before. The incarceration rates have exploded in the United States, to the point, where as of 2009, 1 in every 31 adults in under some form of correction control. This explosion in the prison population is directly linked to the war on drugs. Drug convictions account for nearly two-thirds of the rise in the federal prison population, and more then half of the state population since 1982. Today, a half million people are in prison or jail for a drug offense, compared to an estimated 41,000 in 1980—an increase of 1,100 percent.

It is also important to note, that these drug arrests are not for trafficking or large distribution. In 2005, for example, four out of five drug arrests were for possession…and furthermore marijuana possession accounted for nearly 80 percent of the growth in drug arrests in the 1990’s. When it comes to the racial makeup of the prison population today, and specifically when talking about drug arrests, the numbers are even more astounding.

The Sentencing Project has done a lot of studies that have exposed the true racial disparity within our prison system. More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. Today, 1 in every 8 black men is in prison or jail every year. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the “war on drugs,” in which three-fourths of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color. The Sentencing Project also points out how today the national ratio of black to white in the prison system is 5.6 to 1. These statistics are astounding when you look at the population demographic statistics as identified by the U.S. Census Bureau. In the 2010 Census, they found that the US population is 12.6 percent black, while it is 72.4 percent white. Given this percentage, one would expect the ratio of white to black imprisoned in the United States to be more like 6 to 1 white, the exact opposite of what it is.

This once again, while thought to be true by a lot of Americans, couldn’t be further from the truth. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that illicit drug use by blacks as compared to whites was pretty much equal. They identified how 9.2 percent of blacks above the age of 12 having used illicit drugs, while 8.1 percent of whites have. Other studies have shown, that particularly among youth, actual drug use happens earlier and with a wider variety with white youth as opposed to black youth.  Another study done by the University of Michigan suggested that at all three grade levels (10,11,12), African-American students have substantially lower rates of drug use then do whites.  So given these statistics, if the incarceration rates were reflective of drug use as well as the population, then African-Americans would make up less then 15% of drug arrests and inmates. However, since African-Americans in some states make up 80-90% of drug arrests, it is clear that the system in instead motivated by racial prejudice.

The final portion to the creation of a system of social control is the policies in place that allow for the legalized discrimination of people who posses criminal records. Across the country, people with criminal records are discriminated against when it comes to housing, employment, voting, job licenses as well as preventing them in some cases from utilizing federal benefits. By forcing a certain group of people out of the job market, and discriminating against them in all aspects of life, it is creating a system of control very similar to Jim Crow Laws. Furthermore, it is forcing poor, urban black men and women into the drug market, because in many cases it is the only way to make a real living.

The Decemberists, Block Break, and Block 8. Oh my!

Last weekend, I went to see The Decemberists play in Colorado Springs.  Oh, you haven’t heard of them?


They are probably one of my favorite bands ever! Each album, each song, and each instrument tells a story in a manner that completely absorbs me. The youtube video I posted is of their latest single “This is Why We Fight” from their album The King is Dead. I highly recommend this new album. How can you deny the beauty of lyrics like these, “When we die/We will die/With our arms unbound.” Plus, they are great live–fantastic energy and sound amazing!

Also, a really cool thing The Decemberists do when they tour is make posters for each city they tour. It’s art. The Colorado Springs poster is so awesome! (Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures because I wasn’t close enough. Being 5’2” has its pitfalls sometimes…)

Block break came and went.  I ended up staying in Colorado Springs to dog and house-sit for a professor, and finish up some work for the History Department.

And when I say dog sit, I mean I was dog-sitting for three dogs.  Above, you see Hank.  He was the most playful and wanted to be outside alllll day.  (Note to self: when I go to graduate school,  I will have a dog to keep me company)


Block 8 starts tomorrow! This means two things: 1) I will be in a very difficult class (Junior Seminar: Studying History) with Tip Ragan (one of my favorite professors), 2)Summer is coming!


This summer, I will be doing education policy research with a professor at a nearby university.  I’m excited, because this gives me a first-hand experience in something I really want to pursue in the future. I’ll update more on this once this summer.


Until next time,


Dear Blog Readers,

It has been months since I’ve last posted.  I sincerely apologize.

Let me catch you up on the ‘exciting’ world of Melissa.


  • I worked at high school job again. I secretly love it, but I disliked waking up at 4:30 in the morning to open the bakery.
  • My friends Hannah and Justin drove to see me in all my Oklahoma glory. Accent and all!
  • I went to Disney World and Universal Studios (including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!). Six theme parks total in six days. phew!

Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Now the new school year:

  • I co-led an New Student Orientation trip to an organic farm. It was lovely!
  • I was the First Year Experience mentor for Freedom and Authority taught by Susan Ashley and Tip Ragan.  The students were brilliant! I loved baking them goodies all the time…
  • I took Social Theory with Jeff Livesay blocks 1 and 2. Hardest sociology class I’ve taken.  Definitely loved the last couple of weeks where I learned about modernity and postmodernity (maybe it’s the history major in me?).
  • Now! I’m in Hero! Honor, Outlaws, and Order in East Asian History and Culture with John Williams. I haven’t been in a history course in about 8 months! GASP! I’m really enjoying the class.  I’ve so far grasped that the course is about studying the concept of ‘hero’ and how its definition changes through historical context. An interplay on tradition versus modernity (modernity, again…?! Maybe I truly am a historian-ish).
  • Also, I’m working as the research assistant for the History Department. It’s lovely, except that I have to be at work at 7:30 in the morning! eek! I get to see this in the morning (win/lose situation):
  • I’ve been freaking about what I’m going to do once I graduate from CC in 2012.  My options: masters in social work, masters in education, masters in public affairs (focus on nonprofit organizing), Teach For America, and taking a couple years off to learn French so I can apply to programs for European history…

My life, thus far, in a nutshell. Sorry everyone!

With much love and MANY apologies,

Melissa Tran

p.s. Here’s a funny picture to make up for everything.

CRA-sia: a Conclusions and Farewell Blog

Its only competition being the tumultuous New Student Orientation Week, I returned home just in time for possibly the most eventful, chaotic and memorable week of college, “senior week” as it is called and graduation time. Starting with Llamapalooza, CC’s annual spring music festival that the entire school fantasizes about all year long which happened to start about 12-hours after my return, followed by days of soaking up time with all of the people that have been such influential and important parts of my life for 4 years that are redistributing themselves around the country (and world for that matter), having critical last minute meetings about my thesis, the incredibly over-stimulating graduation schedule full of thank you’s, goodbye’s, and plenty of glasses of champagne… not to mention my seemingly incessant daze caused by jetlag and lack of sleep that was unmatched by the activities set out for all of us soon-to-be-graduates who were willing to consume ourselves with just about anything that would take our mind off the inner-freight and anxiety about leaving college-life and being thrown full-force into the scary real-world. To say it plainly, I was immediately consumed in the vortex of the most exaggerated form of life at Colorado College, leaving me dumbfounded as to how to reconcile my experience in Taiwan and be present in my life back home during such an indispensible time. It seems it has taken me until now, a whole month later, to have both the time and concentration to sit down and write, and I suppose to have even digested the experience enough to write about it coherently.
The trip turned out to be quite an adventure, with very dichotomous extremes of highs and lows. Ultimately, it ended on a very good note and I very much appreciate my experience there. The time was in a sense two different trips, which even a half-a-world away mirrored the life of the CC block plan, split into very distinct 3 ½ week  “intellectual adventures” as they call them. I would more call them “unique 3 ½ week psychological, cultural, interpersonal and intellectual adventures,” but that’s probably too wordy (and heady) to advertise to prospective students and donors on the brochures…artist promo
The first three weeks (7th block) were some of the hardest of my life, challenging so much of the reality that I thought I knew— I call it my “Murphy’s Law and Madison learns self-preservation techniques” block. At times I was convinced I could not make it, that I had over-committed myself, that I was not strong enough personally to handle the web of unanticipated hurdles, that the last $100 to my name was not going to stretch far enough, and that my immune system (particularly digestive system) was too delicate for the highly glutinous and soy-soaked cuisine. I came out of it though with some very valuable self-engineered methods to promote my own survival and happiness, as well as some new travel “do’s” and “don’t” (don’t mostly), a decent start on the research, design, and implementation of my thesis, and oddly had grown accustom to my bug-bitten body and anomalous food digestion (of which happened to be a parasite, Giardia, I discovered a week after my return home after surprisingly having no relief after I restored my meticulous gluten, dairy and soy free diet).

kung fuThe last three weeks (8th block) were absurdly busy, but in a different way than the typical CC senior back home— taking their last class pass/fail (or not in one at all) and panicking about the future, yet numbing the thought of it by partying to each night’s different themed gathering as outlined on the 8th block Senior Calendar. Rather, I call it the “Mastering the (my) World Many Things at a Time” block. I think I felt more accomplished on my last day in Taiwan, when I turned in my final paper, did a presentation on the Dance and Disable Project, and submitted my 37-page thesis all in the same day, than I did the day I graduated college!
During the last three weeks, many things changed. For one, the sun came out… which after almost a month of clouded disarray made the world of difference. Having previously contemplated the progressive hubs like Seattle, WA or Portland, OR after graduation, I now know that being a Colorado native I can never live long-term somewhere that doesn’t see the sun at LEAST every 3 days! Having the other 23 students around transformed our involuntary isolation we felt at the beginning into a need to, at times, voluntarily seclude ourselves from the rambunctious bunch of foreigners. It provided us with a variety of fresh perspectives. Visiting museums, reading and writing, accepting guidance about food and activities, and people to help resolve the language barrier, gave us the opportunity to experience traditional culture in ways that we didn’t the first half of the trip… not to mention I got to study Kung-Fu, Calligraphy and Tai-Chi, which particularly Tai Chi, remain on my “Top 10 Things I Learned in Asia” list.

dance and disable projectThe Dance and Disable project, the most unifying part of the trip, actually turned out to be one of the most significant and life-changing experiences I believe I will ever encounter. Being so ripe in the present, it has been difficult to reflect on the experience in a well-articulated way. What I do know however is that forming cross-cultural relationships, developing creative and authentic means of communication in the lack-there-of conventional verbal language, participating in a social-welfare program, and integrating movement and meditation of my own western-raised heritage into a small community within a larger culture that itself is so centered on the philosophical beliefs of social concern, spirituality, community and personal well-being generated an unmatched experience. It solidified my belief in the healing potential of movement, touch, and creative expression, as well as illuminated the direction that I would like to take my life as an artist, educator, and conscious citizen. I can’t imagine it to have been better, for anyone involved.
So what next? Well, besides working at the front desk at CC for the summer, living with the parentals and taking a breath from the crazy journey of my CC career that accelerated on until the very end, I am working alongside the local Parkinson’s Disease group that my stepmother, Amy, is part of that participates in ‘Movement and Music’ and ‘Water Tai-Chi’ classes to help their condition. It is truly astonishing and has been the best part of being home so far. As I hope to be a part of continuing and expanding the program, my time in Taiwan gave me not only experience and a heightened passion for the field, but the confidence in my ability to take on such a project. Although I do not see myself staying in the Springs much past the summer, I would like to invest myself in being part of introducing the initiative to wherever it is that I go, which is yes… still TBA 🙂
For now, I am finally beginning to connect the dots between my time at Colorado College, my unique expeditions abroad, my unconventional upbringing, and my future aspirations. My hope is that if I continue to surround myself with people and pursuits that both enhance my well-being and that of the world around me, that I’ll end up somewhere good. I suppose that’s all I can ask for— so for now, I’ll end this blogging endeavor with a genuine thanks all of the wonderful people I know who were part of my life before, during and since this adventure (especially those who made it this far in reading my slightly scattered, sporadic, and often incredibly cheesy blog). THANK YOU!
Oh and I’ll also leave you with the inspirational quote-of-the-day I had e-mailed to me yesterday that so appropriately articulates the challenge and enlightenment I experienced in Taiwan….
“A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery, even on a detour.”
Mad love.
wow frog eggs

“Ça Va?”–History of the City of Paris

The Seine River

The Seine River

Casablanca. Gigi. Sabrina. Amelie.  Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (my two personal favorites).

Media has romanticized our imagination of the city of Paris.  The examined and lived, however, brings this city to a whole new level.  As I sit writing this, I am reliving Paris in my imagination.  I was able to examine and experience the city of Paris.

Want to see the Seine River?  It’s only a twenty minute walk.  The Louvre?  Cross the Pont d’Artes and you’re there.  Want to see Notre Dame?  Eiffel Tower?  Pompidou  Center? Done. Done. And Done.

Katherine, Brenna, Kelly, Alissa, Me, and Connie

From front left: Katherine, Brenna, Kelly, Alissa, Me, and Connie

However, what does the everyday person know about the layering of history within this beautiful city?  To tell you the truth, I knew nothing.  Susan Ashley (Dean of the College) and Tip Ragan (Chair of the History Department) co-taught this course.  I’ve never been so challenged by any professor as I have with these two.   Susan focused on teaching the intellectual history of Paris, while Tip focused more on the social history.  Together, they were masterful in teaching the thirteen of us how Paris developed and progressed in the middle ages, the Age of Absolutism, and Modern Paris.

The class was amazing and probably one of the best courses I have ever had in my entire life.  The workload wasn’t too much or overwhelming, but I was challenged by the class discussions.  Susan and Tip would steer discussion by asking a single question, and the class would try to find answers or more questions within the 2.5 hours.  My brain literally hurt after each class, because I had never imagined Paris to be so brilliant.

Oscar Wilde is buried in Paris.  Look at all the kisses!

Oscar Wilde is buried in Paris. Look at all the kisses!

There are no words to describe how I feel about this class–it’s a true “unique, intellectual adventure.” Consider taking this summer block when it’s offered.  I promise you, it will be mind-blowing.

View from the Eiffel Tower!

View from the Eiffel Tower!

How I chose CC.

After hosting accepted students during the April 2nd and April 9th Open House, I started to reminisce about my college process.  It delights me to think this was just last year.

I’m not going to lie.  As a senior in high school, I did not have the slightest idea of where I wanted to attend college.  Many of my classmates had romanticized the idea of college.  Students applied to very prestigious universities with a major already in mind.  I DIDN’T.  Something was wrong with me.  I wasn’t looking forward to the college process-I had no clue for what I was looking for in a college.  My parents assumed that I was going to apply to the major universities in Oklahoma.  Nevertheless, my teachers, friends, and college counselor recommended that I look at other schools outside of Oklahoma.  While I did apply to three Oklahoma universities, I also applied to six more schools.  Researching colleges was overwhelming.  Did I want a school in a rural or urban location?  What is your ideal student body size?  Diversity?  Financial aid?  Majors? Campus life?

These questions opened up a lot possibilities for my future.  The thought of planning my future as a 17-year-old scared me.  My solution for this dilemma?  Apply to a wide range of schools to insure that come decision time, I would have many options.  I applied to the medical research university, the religious-affiliated university, the engineering university, the pre-law school; a few schools in the South, Southwest, North, Northeast, the West; schools with predominantly right or left political views; and of course, liberal art colleges.  Come acceptance/rejection time, I was accepted to all nine schools.  I didn’t expect that to happen, because I assumed that schools would essentially decide if I was a good match for them.  There was no way that I was a “good fit” for all nine schools.  I realized the most important aspect of my future necessitates an interdisciplinary and critical understanding of society.  A liberal arts education would definitely fulfill the expectations of my future.  To make matters more difficult, I applied to two liberal art colleges-one of course being Colorado College.

I visited both schools.  First, I visited CC and knew I loved it.  The other school wasn’t the right match for me.  Essentially, I knew that Colorado College was going to be my home for four years.

I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but I wanted to go to a school that truly believed in a “unique intellectual adventure.” This school is unique-there are few like this.  Where else are you able to submerse yourself in one class at a time?  Where else are you able to be a philosopher, an educator, a theologian, a sociologist, and a feminist within a span of a year?  This school is intellectual–I’ve been able to take courses that I never thought I would love or interests that I am passionate about.  Without the block plan, I would never be able to experiment with different courses, start friendships with everyone in my current block (despite differing opinions), or share a common love for knowledge.  Overall, it’s been an adventure. Undoubtedly.

Seriously, don’t ever apply to nine schools.  CC is awesome.

When I visited CC last year.  It was snowing and cold!

When I visited CC last year. It was snowing and cold!

Block Six!

Hello, hello, hello!

I can’t get over the fact that I am less than three blocks away from finishing my first year here at CC.  This school year has gone by too quickly.  Sure, getting acclimated to the school, community and altitude was difficult; however, I’ve loved every moment of it.  The good and the bad.

This block I am taking something completely out of my comfort zone.  I am in Topics in Feminist and Gender Studies: Women and Violence with Eileen Breshnahan.  I Love it! I know what you’re thinking, “she loves a class about women and violence?”  It’s true-I really do enjoy this class.  Let me quote a course objective from my class syllabus, “to develop an understanding of the socially constructed nature of gender and gender relations and of how these relate to the social construction of gender-based violence. ”  I’m seeing our society in a different light-a socially constructed system of patriarchy.  After not even finishing my first week of the class, I am finally admitting to myself that I am a feminist.

On a lighter note, tomorrow I am going to do ED: 100 after my Feminist and Gender Studies class.  It’s been a week since I’ve seen the students!  I hope they remember me.  Then, I’m heading over to finish the last of my training for one of the local nonprofits I’m working with this year!  Wish me luck.

Until then,


She’s a Witch!…or is she?

Since I’ll be taking the LSAT this February, I thought it would be a good idea to take a logic class.  This block, I’m taking Formal Logic pass/fail.  This is the first pass/fail class that I have taken at CC; I wanted to enjoy the class and focus on studying for the LSAT, not on getting an A in the class.  There is something quite relaxing about not worrying about grades. 

I love my class.  It’s nice, because after three reading and writing intensive blocks, I have a class that is extremely interesting, yet not too demanding. I also love our professor, Ben. I’m pretty sure that he read encyclopedias for fun as a kid, because his knowledge of random trivia is far too vast for a normal human being.  He also has a great sense of humor, so we spend a good portion of our class breaks joking around and watching youtube videos.  

Yesterday, we learned about categorical syllogisms and how to determine valid and invalid arguments. We watched a scene from Monty Python (She’s a Witch) and analyzed Sir Bedevere’s reasoning.  He argued: All witches are things that burn; all things made of wood are things that burn; therefore all witches are made of wood. By constructing a rather illustrative Venn diagram, we elucidated that this type of argument is clearly invalid.  The premises do not provide enough information to conclude that “all witches are made of wood” because there could be witches that burn that are not made of wood.  Tricky stuff, I know.  It’s actually quite funny, because I’m picking apart arguments without even realizing it.  I’ll be talking with my friends at lunch, and then I’ll find myself explaining why an argument they made is invalid.  I’m sure it’s really annoying to them, but I can’t help it.  Formal logic has become second nature.

I’m also really excited for our class party.  Well, technically it’s a Philosophy Department party, since they’re paying for all of the food.  It’s tomorrow night at one of our classmates’ houses.  I’ll be sure to post pictures, don’t worry.