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History of Muslims Lecture: A Step in the Right Direction

Students would not make the trek to Muskie Archives on a rainy Thursday night for just anything. But on November 1, they did just that for a talk by Edward E. Curtis IV titled “The Long History of Muslims in the United States.”

Curtis was this year’s speaker for the Bertha May Bell Andrews Lecture, an annual talk sponsored by the Multifaith Chaplaincy that was first established in 1975 by Dr. Carl Andrews. His aim was to honor his mother, who not only created the first physical education program for women at Bates, but also had a deep conviction that education without morality was useless.

The lecture highlighted this conviction of involving morality in teaching, discussing the misconception that Muslim heritage can only be traced back to as recently as 1965, and the effect this has both on Muslim families and on the recent rise of Islamophobia. Curtis described this phenomenon through the language of misremembering; he said, “There has been a forgetting, a forgetting that is useful to those who say that Muslims are foreign to America.” His goal of the lecture was to correct this misconception and emphasize the various contributions of Muslims, who have been in this country from its very beginning.

Muslims have served in legislatures, saved corporations, played for sports teams, won a Nobel Prize, held the Olympic Torch, and built skyscrapers. Probably most commonly known to students would be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a retired professional basketball player who still remains the all-time leader in points scored and career wins, and Muhammad Ali, a professional boxer and activist. As described by Curtis, “Muslims have changed the way America looks, the way it plays, the way it is heard.”

Perhaps less famous but just as important are Muslim politicians, who are becoming increasingly numerous in today’s political environment. Ninety Muslim candidates are running for federal, state, and local office in this year’s midterm elections, significantly more than in any other year.

Although Curtis focused primarily on the history of Muslims, when asked about how to have conversations about Islamophobia, he responded with the necessity of people respecting the dead. He called for Muslims to put their differences behind them and stop focusing on their disagreements over past activists, a lesson relevant to everyone regardless of religion. In approaching religious discussion, he also offered the advice for students to move past preaching – attempting to convince others that Muslims are peaceful and hate terrorists – and into deeper conversation.

Nahida Moradi ’22, a member of the Muslim Student Association and an attendant of the lecture, described the importance of students being educated about this history and having conversations about Islamophobia, explaining, “At a school like Bates, where religion is generally not very present in students’ lives, Islam is often seen as strange and maybe even threatening. You could see that level of threat by looking at the vandalism of the Muslim prayer room in Chase Hall. Inviting Dr. Curtis to talk about the History of Muslims in America is a step in the right direction for Bates to do its job right.”

Curtis’ lecture on the history of Muslims in the United States was especially relevant in today’s world of Islamophobia. His talk helped to identify the misconceptions in Muslim history and to offer guidance on how Bates students can approach difficult religious conversations.

 

Searching for a Home in Lewiston

Lewiston’s diverse population is what makes the city a vibrant and dynamic community. Many of these same Lewiston residents, though, struggle to find and maintain stable and safe housing.

On Nov. 1, as part of the Harward Center’s “Theory into Practice” series, the Bates community and public were addressed by three prominent women on the forefront of solving housing issues in Lewiston and beyond. The panel discussion was titled; “Housing Matters: Challenges to Housing Security for Low-Income Families,” and sought to unbox some of the problems and pose solutions for housing concerns in Maine communities.

The first remarks of the afternoon came from Bettyann Sheats. Sheats is serving her first term in the Maine House of Representatives and is currently seeking re-election. Sheats has brought her experience as a landlord and community member to the Maine State Legislature to advocate for safer and more affordable housing options.

During her remarks, Sheats stressed the need for reliable housing. She cited statistics claiming that the best predictor of childhood success in school is access to reliable housing, with the same concept applying to recently released prisoners. When individuals are in a stable living environment they can become more productive workers and active members of their communities.

A plethora of factors are required for people to keep steady housing. Often times, the problems people face with their housing stem from external factors. “It’s not about the tenants, and the landlords, and the housing; it’s about losing their housing because of economics, job insecurity, low wages, not enough affordable access to health care,” said Sheats. Fixing the toilets and touching up the paint on the walls isn’t what makes a good landlord, but rather being able to actively listen to the greater needs of your tenants. According to Sheats, in order to cultivate a working relationship between landlords and tenants, communication is a necessity.

As far as solutions go, Sheats says, “It’s not one issue that got people into a problem, it’s not one fix that is going to get them out.” For Sheats, throwing money at only one area like healthcare or education won’t do anything to solve housing predicaments. It’s going to take a system-wide reform before the community will see improvements. In her opinion, collaboration between community members and policy makers will be key to procuring safe, affordable housing alternatives for Maine residents.

Amy Smith discussed her experiences as a landlord and founder of Healthy Homeworks, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building healthy homes and relationships between low income tenants and landlords. Smith is committed to providing safe and healthy living conditions for her tenants, but notes that it isn’t always easy. “It is really hard to create and maintain safe and affordable housing,” says Smith, “The health and safety of thousands of Lewiston residents relies on the health and safety of very, very old housing stock.” The real estate in Lewiston is dated, and inadequate conditions can lead to serious health complications.

As well as talking about the challenges of being an effective landlord, Smith described some of the difficulties her tenants have faced with housing assistance. The Section 8 Housing Voucher is one of the best options low income families have for housing assistance, but it isn’t perfect. The waiting list is very long, and once someone reaches the point where they can pay their full rent the assistance is taken away. “After just a few months at that level, your voucher is done, and you’re left without a safety net,” says Smith. If a person loses their job, or something else goes wrong, they’re back at the end of the waiting list. Smith recommends policy reform for housing assistance.

Both Bettyann Sheats and Amy Smith are role-model landlords who strive to provide affordable and safe housing for their clients. As Patricia Ender – an Attorney for Pine Tree Legal, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to justice and fairness for low income Mainers – says, “Landlords provide an essential service, and good landlords are worth their weight in gold.” Following that statement, Ender shared some horror stories from cases she has had dealing with housing discrimination and sexual harassment. Ender said that housing insecurity creates a scenario where tenants are very vulnerable to sexual harassment from landlords, owners, and neighbors. Ender also described the prevalence of housing discrimination based on race.

Thankfully, there are many opportunities for Bates students to get involved in Lewiston housing concerns. All three speakers agree that it is important to embrace the Lewiston community. Students can attend community meetings dealing with housing issues. Students can also be on the lookout for internships at nonprofits that deal with affordable housing, and the Harward Center is always a good place to look if you want to get involved.

 

Phillips Fellowship Students Reflect on Experiences

On Tuesday, Oct. 30, students and staff gathered to listen to Johanna Hayes ’19 and Shangwei Deng ’19 discuss their experiences working on projects funded by the Phillips Student Fellowship over the summer.

Each summer, Bates awards students around $6,000 dollars to explore something they are passionate about. The requirement is that the project the student undertakes must be outside their cultural comfort zone. Students in the past have conducted projects ranging from research or career exploration to arts or community-engagement.

This summer, Deng participated in a full-immersion program in Latin while living in Falconieri Villa, about a half-an-hour away from Rome, Italy. Deng is currently a Classical and Medieval Studies and Politics double major at Bates. His talk “Making Latin Modern?” dealt with how the Latin language heavily informed one of his favorite modern works, “The Wasteland” by T.S. Eliot, which is ripe with references to antiquity.

When Deng first arrived in Italy, he could not speak a word of Latin. “On the first day, I was not able to speak the language with any other people. People were from France, some were from Egypt, there were people from Spain, Germany and also many Americans.” As he humored, “All I could reply was ‘Ita, ita, ita.’” Ita is a word for ‘yes’ in Latin.

However, he began to pick up the language by listening to others, “I was able to make sounds, I’d pick up here and there over a conversation between fluent people. I could sort of tell if a word meant ‘to speak’ or ‘to hear’ and I’d be able to compile a sentence using these words, telling them “sententia mea” or my opinion.”

Those in the program started by asking everyday questions such as “How are you?” “Did you know” and “Can you pass me the cheese?”

“And gradually,” recounted Deng, “during the second and third week, I unburdened myself with the inquiry of ‘what is the distance?’ and ‘what is the experience of time?’ and gradually and gradually, I played along and became more and more a part of the community: singing, going out for excursions that are still in Latin, and it’s a fascinating experience.” In a sense, he experienced what it would be like if Latin were still a modern language.

However, the question for him still stood what the ramifications of resurrecting a dead language are: “When I was writing the proposal, I knew what challenge I may have. Latin itself is not really easily connected to our present culture…and there will always be a realistic struggle between me plunging into an ideal world and airlifting Latin into a contemporary one. And I was also very aware of a slippage of a dead language into a contemporary one…there were so many things that I could not name.”

After Deng’s presentation, Hayes, a Dance major and Anthropology minor discussed her project titled “Studying Self-Identity and Culture in Dance Environments.” In her two-and-a-half months spent in Europe, Hayes travelled to Germany, Spain and Austria and took four different dance and moving programs.

One question she found herself asking was “How do different dance practices’s values shape an individual and their relationship with others?”

Per Hayes, “This was the biggest question of this project, just because I grew up in a ballet background and I was taught to stand up straight and suck my stomach in and a boy would lift me up and that’s how I built a relationship with my own body and understanding how I could touch people, not touch people—that built my world, and the moment I got out of that ballet context to a modern context, I was like ‘Oh wait! There are other ways of moving! I don’t have to pull my stomach in any more. Wow, does that feels great!’”

Hayes spent the first month in the small town of Stolzenhagen, Germany, living in an artist commune surrounded by an idyllic landscape where the Freedom to Move Caucus was held. In the program, dancers dealt with issues like consent, identity, and how embodied experiences differ between people. For Hayes, “It was so tangible, even in movement, to feel those differences and to feel our own stories come out and social things come into play and it kind of blew my world apart and it left me with a lot of questions about dance and the dance space, and the way that it’s structured and the way it definitely excludes people.”

Hayes then headed to Spain to participate in two dance programs, one in Zaragoza and one in de Pedra. “After coming out of the Freedom to Move Caucus, I still had all of these questions of privilege in my mind and was kind of wondering why am I here lying on the floor listening to my collarbone while there are some real things going on. And that was a huge barrier for me, something that I’m still trying to address,” Hayes said.

While she loved the movement and dance styles in Spain, she did not enjoy how it was taught. When speaking about her time in de Pedra, Hayes said, “You would just be so exhausted and so torn apart and you would just get up and go to the next class. And you’d get torn apart, and you’d be told to go more and faster and harder and you’d die, and you’d go to the next one.”

One dance element Hayes seeks to bring to the U.S. is how emotion can inform postmodern dance. “And so going forward as a dance artist, hopefully, I hope that I can take what I experienced in Spain and apply the other teaching ways of consent or social issues and self-guided practice into some of those movement styles that I learned in Spain. Out of this project I just feel like I have so many tools, like I can pull from so many different situations, and that’s a gift. It just made me really believe in dance and think there’s so many ways to do it, and that makes me super excited about it.”

For those interested in applying, the deadline for the Phillips Student Fellowship is February 1, 2019. Students interested are strongly encouraged to begin working now with an advisor, as the trip requires a lot of planning and forethought.

Bates Habla Español:

The Bates Student runs a regular column covering Bates foreign language teaching assistants, highlighting the invaluable work they do and gaining insight into their cultural background.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to Daniel Guarín, the Spanish teaching assistant who hails from Armenia, Colombia. Recently, he reached out to me to cover a new learning initiative he has taken on: Bates Habla Español. The program, which comes in the form of a Facebook group, aims to digitally engage Spanish students at Bates through informal dialogue in Spanish. I spoke with him to learn more about the program and what it hopes to achieve at Bates.

Madeline Polkinghorn (MP): What is Bates Habla Español? What are its objectives?

Daniel Guarín (DG): Bates Habla Español (Bates Speaks Spanish) is a group created thinking about the needs of my Spanish students as a boost for their language acquisition. It is a group in which students can feel free to comment and interact in Spanish, out of the classroom and its formality: no stress, no pressure, just fun…

Bates Habla Español is a public group and it is available for all the Bates students who want to learn, improve or practice Spanish. And of course, learn more about Latin American and Spanish culture, literature, history, etc.

MP: How did you get the idea to start Bates Habla Español?

DG: The idea of creating this group was born during one of my master’s degree courses called ‘The Role of the 21st Century Language Professor’. The Internet is changing the world, it is changing communication, education and languages. We – language teachers – must be ready to face these changes and take advantage of them. We must also know that those formal and archaic language classes belong to the 19th century; now is the time to think about the informal ways of learning and teaching a language outside the walls of a classroom.

MP: How will this project help Bates students learn Spanish?

DG: There are many articles, books, videos, memes, and pictures that I would love to share with my students in class, but time is never enough and it flies when you are having fun, so this group is the opportunity for students to go deeper with Spanish and practice, because the more you practice the more fluent you become.

MP: What kind of content will be shared in the group?

DG: Well, everything has to have an educational purpose, even if I’m sharing memes, they must have an impact and must help students improve or learn or think. So there are many different kinds of content, such as videos about poets, writers, history. There will be pictures with fun facts about Spanish language and Hispanic culture, memes, music, etc. Everything in Spanish.

Interested students can access the group by searching Bates Habla Espanol, or following this link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BatesHablaEspanol/.

 

Protest as Pedagogy: Social Movements in Latin America Class tries experiential learning

On October 2, a gaggle of loud Bates students could be heard cheering for immigrant rights and hoisting up posters outside of Commons.
The content of the protest — given the fact that the news cycle that Tuesday was almost exclusively centered around Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination — seemed like a slightly abrupt topical shift.

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Finding Silence

Coming onto a college campus amongst the lively, energetic environment of orientation, the experience of freshmen is unlike any other. Everyone is excited to introduce themselves and make friends; orientation is marked with a substantial increase in the number of times eye contact turns into small talk.

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Calling for a Calling-In Culture: Bates reflects on Kavanaugh appointment

On October 5, Senator Susan Collins voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, a vote that ultimately decided his lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
Two days before her decision, Collins received an open letter signed by faculty, administration, and staff members of higher education institutions around Maine: 84 of the signatories were from Bates.

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Climate Change on Maine Gulf Coast

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) prepared its next climate assessment and Brett Kavanaugh edged closer to the Supreme Court, conservationists in Maine came together on October 3 to celebrate the positives in what has been a difficult year for environmental protection.

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Being Smart on Crime: Officials discuss improvements for Maine’s Criminal Justice System at Bates

On October 10 in the Muskie Archives, the Bates and Lewiston community were joined by Maine State Senator Mark Dion and Maine State Prison Warden Randall Liberty for a panel on criminal justice reform.

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Plot Garden Party Plants Interest in Sustainability

Tuesday, October 9 brought with it sun and warmth–conveniently, two ingredients needed for a successful and first-ever “Plot Party,” hosted by Bates College’s EcoReps. The Plot Party, located on Russell Street, attracted over 50 Bates students to stop by and enjoy the two-and-a-half-hour event.

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