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Author: Maddy (Page 1 of 4)

Hello!

My name is Madeline Bray Welch, though most people call me Maddy, and I use the pronouns she/her/hers. I was born in Jackson, Mississippi, but have lived most of my life in Maine. I’m currently twenty-one years old and pursuing a Bachelor’s in Social Work at the University of New England. I plan to go for a Master’s in Social Work as well.

I am very passionate about issues such as social justice, equality, and mental health, and I will advocate for them whenever I can. In terms of hobbies, I enjoy anything creative, with writing, reading, drawing, or knitting being my go-to activities when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I also like listening to musical soundtracks, watching and/or complaining about the television show Grey’s Anatomy, and playing with my dogs Edith and Tallulah.

QCQ 21: Masterpiece Cakeshop

Quotation:

“Phillips told the couple, ‘I’ll make your birthday cakes, sell you cookies and brownies, I just don’t make cakes for same sex weddings’…It is hard to see how this statement stimatizes gays and lesbians more than blocking them from marching in a city parade, dismissing them from the Boy Scouts, or subjecting them to signs that say ‘God Hates F**s’ [asteriks added]–all of which this court has deemed protected by the first amendment” (Masterpiece Cakeshop, LTD, et al. .v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission et al., Thomas 13). 

Comment:

This quote comes from the concurring opinion of Justice Thomas. He agrees with the court and other Justices that Mr. Phillips’ religious rights and right to freedom of speech were being impeded by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. He emphasizes how making a cake might be seen as an expression of speech, and how “states cannot punish protected speech because some group finds it offensive, hurtful, stigmatic, unreasonable, or undignified” (Thomas 12). 

When I read this quote, I immediately wrote in the margins: ‘declining to make the cake is still very stigmatizing because it refuses to validate/accept their human right to marry. It makes LGBT folks less than human.’ I felt that all of the other things listed, while perhaps more aggressive, also contributed to that dehumanizing practice even if they had not been challenged at that point. Reading it all again, though, I grow more and more frustrated by the implication that people are not only allowed to be cruel, but that they have legal protection to be cruel.

I understand why freedom of speech exists. For me to be able to say what I believe means that those opposing me should get to say what they believe. I also understand the context in which that right was established: because of oppressive governing forces. But I’ve always said that ‘freedom of speech doesn’t give you the right to be a jerk.’ Yes, people can say what they want, but they shouldn’t be shocked or offended to learn that others were hurt by that. They shouldn’t hide behind that phrase like a shield. Unfortunately, though, it is a shield in many ways. It’s a law. A constitutional right. 

There are certain groups who face more harm inherently than others. It’s for this reason that one of the ethical principles of social work is social justice. We are compelled to focus on vulnerable populations first and foremost, not ever contributing to the issues they face. Maybe we aren’t allowed to police people’s opinions, but if that opinion is very intentionally attacking one of those vulnerable groups, shouldn’t there be consequences for that? And it isn’t always words themselves, either. Mr. Phillips may not have said anything outwardly offensive, but he was contributing to stimaticization and discrimination. Denying them service for this cake, even if he was willing to sell other products, is undoubtedly not free speech but discrimination.

We’ve talked a lot about cancel culture, saying that simple statements shouldn’t necessarily land people in jail. I’m not condoning it by asking for greater protections for marginalized individuals in day to day life. For perhaps some amendment or law that prohibits that active discrimination. I know this case happened in 2012, and that it has been eight years since then. Changes have happened. Yet ‘freedom of speech’ defenses are still going strong. I also know that people can be educated, that people can learn and change after saying or doing something offensive. I just struggle to use that reasoning to justify turning a blind eye to incidents like these, were discrimination is clearly still taking place in our society. 

Question:

How do we find the balance between protecting vulnerable groups and allowing people to express opinions or assert their own rights?

Class discussion and impact:

My contributions: I spoke quite a bit. After giving the summary about the case, I brought up a piece of evidence throughout the opinions of the other court decision. I talked specifically about how it made me uncomfortable to compare those cases because they seemed similar but were different. I shared my QCQ and my issues with free speech, gave a footnote from the text as an addition to a comment, and finally examined intent in all this and whether or not that justified ruling in favor of Phillips.

Others’ contributions: Jack spoke right away about how the court seemed a bit hesitant to make a concrete declaration, going back and forth between saying same-sex couples have rights and that religious people do a swell. Maeve spoke a bit, discussing how technicalities and opinions can change the course of a case, as well as the importance to making it through a court document so as to learn about other cases. Anna also mentioned intent and meaning, as well as finding a balance between those technicalities and reality.

This was a good final discussion in that we got to take our thoughts on justice and apply them to a legal example. There wasn’t a ton of talking (I normally fill up two pages of notes and only had one today) but the ideas shared where important. In particular, how it is important to be knowledgable about other cases and citing them in opinions, and what intent in a given case truly is and whether or not it matters. I challenged myself to be more aware of others’ opinions that I disagreed with, and with this case that was difficult because I definitely sided more with Ginsburg and Sotomayor and they were in the minority. But going through the other opinions more carefully I can see what they’re trying to say as well.

QCQ 20: Cancel Culture

Quotation:

“‘In an interesting departure from democratic tradition, they don’t try to win the other side over. They only condemn and attempt to silence’” (Noonan, qtd. in Nwanevu 7). 

Comment:

This quote comes from author Peggy Noonan who had written a piece in the Wall Street Journal about the dangers of cancel culture. She had referenced “torture and indoctrination under Mao,” indicating that present cancel culture is not new but in fact tied to a dark legacy of censorship and control of citizens (Nwanevu 6). 

As I read through this article, unsure about the stance I wished to take about ‘cancel culture,’ this line jumped out at me. I was mulling in my mind the idea of ‘freedom of speech’ and its origins, and I thought, ‘you know, this really isn’t new.” As Nwanevu illustrates, the idea of attacking a person for what they say and believe has existed for centuries as “Galileo was cancelled. Martin Luther was cancelled. Joan of Arc was cancelled” (7). The implication follows Noonan’s fears about what cancel culture could turn into, but I sat there thinking how comical it was that some of our present laws were established via cancelling.

When Americans grew frustrated with Britain and the crown for all the taxing and rule making, they set about on their own version of cancelling. Not just with general talk and ‘ranting’, but actually going after those people they were debasing: British soldiers as well as the Loyalists (aka Tories). Those who still supported the crown could expect to find themselves not only verbally attacked but also could face things like tarring and feathering, where they would be “stripped of clothes, covered with hot tar, and splattered with feathers,…then forced to parade about in public” (ushistory.org para. 6). The Boston Massacre, too, was a prominent example of ‘fake news,’ where a misfire and subsequent attack of soldiers led to a false story of bloodthirsty killers. It is notable that even those perceived of loyalty to Britain were threatened. This cancelling was not only very present but also mainstream, and people would have faced serious consequences for being “forgiving rather than punitive” (Nwanevu 4). 

Let’s think of the implications of that. When drafting rights like freedom of speech in the Declaration of Independence, they were doing so because of how much they disagreed with and couldn’t stand certain individuals. Really think about that. Critics of cancel culture lament that their freedom of speech is being stolen, that ‘safe spaces’ are somehow a threat to that. However, their ‘freedom’ was brought into being because of cancelling. Because people decided to actively establish their rights and opinions by targeting others. It’s almost troubling, then, to think that it’s okay to go scream about first and second amendment rights as justifications for abuse and death; that’s just being American. That’s always been American. It’s just not American to question America, to go against its beloved figures or ideas. 

None of this is to defend the actions of Loyalists or British soldiers during that time. The latter, too, did many awful things. I’m not trying to say that there aren’t issues with the idea of cancel culture and the actions being taken in the name of it, and I’m also not using the Revolution as an example for why we should support those being called out. I just want people to remember that we have never been immune to it, especially not in America. I want people to consider these questions before criticizing young ‘activists’ online: What is so important to protect? What is it you’re saying when you demand the protection of freedom of speech? And what does freedom of speech really even mean? 

Question:

How might we reconcile our own #problematic history with present ideas about forgiveness and education? If we in many ways were shaped by canceling, is it right to deny its power and potential effectiveness? 

Other source: https://www.ushistory.org/US/13c.as

Class discussion and impact:

My contributions: Today I started off by agreeing with Maeve’s point that often cancel culture is quite negative, and how it might give advocacy in general a bit of a bad name. But then on the flip side I examined Audre Lorde’s full quote of the master’s tools and how, when law and the government (tools) fail turning to online work could bring change, however that is sadly not really happening. In terms of comedy, I talked about Mel Brooks and The Producers, the idea that comedy can be a tool to some but hurt others who don’t see it the same way. Later I mentioned that comedians sometimes rely on shock humor, intentionally saying ‘hurtful’ things with the sole intent of getting that reaction out of people. Finally, I used my friend’s essays as an example for why we should be trying harder to teach and welcome versus tearing someone into pieces. We all start somewhere, and not everyone can have the same enlightenment as everyone else.

Others’ contributions: Maeve made a significant point about cancel culture in some ways deterring important conversations, and noted how it is possible to understand someone without agreeing with them. Anna talked about social media being a sort of veil for people to hide behind, and how it could be both a tool and a hindrance. And Sinead spoke about it being hard to find the line in comedy, how people sometimes use it to work through difficult topics or using it as a social critique.

This was a very important class for me because it helped me solidify my thoughts about cancel culture. When I gave my example towards the end, that was the first time I’d ever framed the culture in that way, but I definitely stand by it. We talk a lot in this class about how important education and conversations are, and I really couldn’t agree more. If we never want to work together, we never will. Things won’t actually change, they’ll just stay the same but disguised in a different manner. I really hope that in my future career I can remember this; still hold onto my beliefs but never letting them get in the way of helping others.

QCQ 19: The Case for Reparations

Quotation:

“When President Roosevelt signed Social Security into law in 1935, 65 percent of African Americans nationally and between 70 and 80 percent in the South were ineligible” (Coates 21).

Comment:

This quote comes from the fifth section of the article The Case for Reparations, entitled The Quiet Plunder. Coates explains the foundation of America being built upon slavery and oppression, and how the government sought to keep barriers in place for black Americans. This bled even into the New Deal, which sought to help citizens but, it seems, not all citizens. 

This quote, I believe, represents the main underlying issues with policy and law: the people writing them up and what their beliefs are. It reminded me of other assignments of mine in my Social Welfare Policy & Advocacy II class. Asked to identify a piece of legislation and create a policy brief regarding it, I had found the Hyde Amendment. It was passed not long after Roe v. Wade and ensures that federal funds cannot cover abortion. This semester, I followed and advocated for the EACH Woman Act, which would do the opposite and ensure federal funds can cover the procedure.

When Henry Hyde pushed for that amendment, he may not have been thinking of specific people he’d be hurting, rather he saw this as one way that he could stop the power of Roe v. Wade. Still, it’s undeniable that he knew low-income women and many others would be specifically left behind. I don’t know what was going through Roosevelt’s head, meanwhile, but I think it comes back to our discussions of privilege; him not having to think about anyone other than white Americans when trying to help the country. 

Both these men were problematic in that they created legislation that harmed others, intentionally or not. They may not have been alone in their decisions, but they were decisions that still came from them. It might be said that this was a long time ago, that politicians are better now. I would disagree. Just look at that the so-called “heartbeat bill” passed recently, which harms many women seeking an abortion. The bias and beliefs of policy-makers undoubtedly leads to oppression and discrimination, which Coates intends to highlight in his article. 

Now, I’m aware that not everyone involved in creating laws is inherently corrupt. For example, there are several social workers in the Maine State House who bring their perspective into politics in order to help others. Passionate legislators such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also fight for social issues regularly. It can just get frightening to know what gets missed in bills due to a lack of understanding, implicit and explicit bias. It’s even more frightening, I think, when it is unintentional; people who are seen as so unimportant that they don’t even cross the minds of those in power. Roosevelt made a lot of good decisions, but this quote alone shows he wasn’t perfect. As Coates says, our country is made up of “the work of fallible humans” (35). 

Question:

How might we address and therefore remove implicit bias in decision making?

Class discussion and impact:

My contributions: I spoke a few times today. I noted that oppression tends to be subtle, like real estate agents only showing people of color specific neighborhoods and increasing segregation. I talked about how people like to make an example of ‘success stories’ as if that erases all other issues. I connected this piece back to DAWNLAND in terms of how opening the discussion about atrocities is almost more important than any financial reward, though later noted that opening that door would reveal so many other issues and hurt groups. Finally, I drew off of Anna’s comment about roleplaying history with my own school experience, noting that it was important not just to create a game like that but to open that discussion afterward.

Others’ contributions: Anna connected this article back to Stacy Abrams and voter suppression, how oppression is made to be the fault of the individual rather than the system. Jill responded that many neighborhoods are still restricted and labeled as places only for people of color despite the fact that white people in poverty could be there as well. Korin opened our conversation about the importance of education, how learning properly about past wrongs might prevent future issues.

I particularly enjoyed the end of the discussion when we narrowed in on education. I think it’s very easy to repeat history if you don’t learn about it, if you aren’t aware of it. Anna’s idea about teaching how to learn history rather than history itself I think was very important, as many adults still struggle to see multiple sides of a situation. I do think that in general we as a society need to be having more meaningful conversations about our past.

QCQ 18: Aziz Ansari

Quotation:

“I thought it would take a little longer for the hit squad of privileged young white women to open fire on brown-skinned men. I had assumed that on the basis of intersectionality and all that, they’d stay laser focused on college-educated white men for another few months” (Flanagan 3). 

Comment:

This quote came at the end of the article The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari by Caitlin Flanagan. She had previously been examining the story given by the anonymous woman Grace and how it was used to attack the actor. She based it in the magazines and stories she had read years ago, and how women should recognize power that they have to say no. She ended with this idea that it was Ansari’s race that was the main reason why people were so eager to go after him. 

I really have a bone to pick with this quote, but likely not for the reason Flanagan was intending. I had previously been bothered by her rant about girls knowing better and saying no, because it felt to me like victim-blaming. Especially when she went after the woman Grace. But this last bit really and truly bothered me, because it implies that the so-called ‘PC culture’ would lead people to look the other way when a person of color was accused of a crime. That powerful white men must be the only perpetrators of assault. 

I recognize that this is likely a throwaway line, that I should focus more on that previous content where there was more clear evidence of ignorance. In a sense I do get what she is trying to say, because it links back to a previous QCQ of mine about how it’s important to consider the implications of who you are accusing. Ansari is, after all, a Muslim man and therefore more open to attacks. But I never once tried to claim that those considerations should prevent one from coming forward, and it disturbs me that a published author would. 

In Disgrace, it’s impossible to ignore the time and place of the situation. The characters are exiting Apartheid South Africa, where life is still very difficult for black men and women. It is also true that wanting to remain silent is considering the climate of the area. Flash forward to here and now. Racism is certainly alive and well in America, despite it being years since slavery or the Jim Crow laws. It might be easy to say, ‘Well, that proves that this was an attack on the man’s race, and that white women are trying to take power away from him.’ I won’t try to claim that race is not a factor, that there aren’t still problems to consider with how easy it was to target Ansari. But I’m also not ‘so caught up in PC culture’ that I would ever try to say that one’s identity should excuse the actions they take.

It’s undeniable that, as an influential man, Ansari still had power over Grace. He still felt the need to disregard what she may have truly wanted. He also happened to be a man of color. Well, abuse of power is not unique to one race, even if it might be more common. Bill Crosby also happened to be a man of color. It’s hard for people to deny that what he did deserved punishment. Yes, intersectionality is important. Recognizing oppression is important. But it doesn’t matter that both of these men are of marginalized populations; they both did something wrong. It’s just as important to recognize that who you are doesn’t matter. What you do does. 

Question:

What are some situations where considering race or other marginalized identities is important?

Class Discussion and Impact:

My contributions: I spoke more today than last class. I talked about potential victim-blaming in the first article, wondered if Grace had stayed because she wanted the night to go well since Aziz was this famous person, whether he thought the end result was always supposed to be sex, and how consent can change halfway through an act. I also clarified some of my feelings about this still being an assault and that it wasn’t Grace’s job to prove how it was, and shared an example of my friend who didn’t want to come forward about an assault because of disclosing trauma repeatedly. I had a bit of a back and forth with Maeve about how ‘ruining careers’ shouldn’t be a barrier to coming forward, where we both acknowledged that we weren’t trying to defend any perpetrators rather just to have a conversation. Finally, I talked about my uncertainties with Aziz’s apology, sharing a quote from Disgrace about apologies.

Others’ contributions: Me, Anna, and Maeve certainly spoke a lot, but other notable contributions were Hayley, who made sure to clarify that no one has the right to take control of another person and that assault is assault no matter who did it. Josh shared that he had always been taught that it’s up to men to be paying attention during a sexual act and that Aziz really should have known better. Saying that consent must be earned at every stage, even among close people, was very important as well. Koren spoke up a lot too, noting the importance of education for both men and women, but especially men. She also clarified about clear communication and the role of fame in this particular situation.

I enjoyed this conversation because we were all able to talk and share and be open about our perspectives. I was noting all the times I took issue with certain statements, but realized that I was still interested in hearing what others said and totally understood that they weren’t trying to hurt anyone just by speaking. This rang true with me and Maeve; I knew that she was passionate about women’s rights and that she wasn’t trying to cause harm, I just wanted to hop in and challenge a particular thought about ‘destroying careers’. I like that we resolved any potential issues right afterward as well. I think online it’s easy to dismiss these kinds of perspectives as trying to go against victims and women in general, but I was happy that I did not easily take offense as I normally might’ve.

QCQ 17: Disgrace pt. 3

Quotation:

“‘Are you telling me you are going to have the child?…A child from one of those men?…Why?’

‘Why? I am a woman, David. Do you think I hate children? Should I choose against the child because of who its father is?’” (Coetzee 193). 

Comment:

David, having previously left to continue his work on his life and opera, returned to see Lucy again. He had felt she seemed off, and now sees the reason why. Lucy is pregnant. David, outraged, wants her to have an abortion. But, having already had that procedure in the past, Lucy has decided against going through that again and intends to carry this child to term. 

This portion of the book, so close to the end, actually surprised me. Not in a gasping sort of why, but because it offered a perspective on abortion that I don’t often think about. I am a big advocate of reproductive rights, having written an article about it for another class and intending to intern at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England next fall if all goes well. I feel that every woman should have the right to control her own body, and so as such I forget to think about women who still wish to have children even after a traumatic event such as assault. 

Usually, you would see the parents insisting that their daughter should have the baby, perhaps not necessarily because they think it was her fault but because it’s not in their beliefs. We’re not often shown the flip side of that, where the daughter would be disagreeing with the parents about not having an abortion. It’s not as though this has never occurred to me, but I suppose I don’t often think about it because it conflicts with my own thoughts. 

We don’t know much about Lucy’s life, as we mainly hear things from David’s perspective. We know that she is a lesbian, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that she always knew that, especially if she has slept with a man before and became pregnant. It could also be that she had been assaulted in the past. But whatever her reasoning the first time, she knew she did not want to have a child. Now, she is not necessarily excited to have a baby, but based on that quote, she doesn’t think that she should punish the baby based on who the father was or what he did. 

I think I can see others using this argument, that children are born innocent. That they should be given a fair chance at life. Again, it’s not what I believe, but it’s something I should probably keep in mind as I advance further into advocacy of women’s rights. That some women would not see it as a stolen choice, but as a responsibility or moral courage. I still think that what Lucy and others went through was awful and that shouldn’t have to take on that burden, and I know that there are still plenty of other women who would disagree with her as well. However, at the end of the day it’s up to the woman herself what she should do with her life, and ultimately that’s what I hope to fight for. 

Question:

 How might Rawls’ notion of social contract theory, of everyone entering a society as equals, conflict with the pro-choice perspective? Does an unborn child have the same rights to equality as the mother or father?

Class Discussion and Impact:

My contributions: I spoke less today, but I don’t regret that as there were many interesting ideas and voices to hear from. Going off of something Anna said, I noted that men tend to process emotions in more of an external fashion whereas women tend to focus internally. I shared my QCQ, talked about personal connections of parental disagreement and how Lucy’s decision was ultimately her own. Finally, I connected this reading to Coates in terms of how things such as racism and rape are portrayed and how that can create confusion.

Others’ contributions: Maeve talked about the importance of sexism over racism, how David’s lack of presence in Lucy’s life changed how he approached the situation, and brought up the painting in David’s office which may have conceptualized rape as only an act of violence for him. Jack talked about Petrus, his audio cut so it was difficult to make out but I believe he was saying that it was interesting if not confusing how David had such a great dislike of Petrus who ultimately ended up becoming a ‘solution’ to the problem. Finally, Sinead brought up the important point about rape being about control and dominance, with any resulting pregnancy being more of a side effect rather than an intentional act of mating.

I was happy to finally wrap up this book, as it wasn’t one of my favorites. I think as always we had a very engaging discussion, approaching topics such as feminist theory and reproductive rights. I think ultimately my point in my QCQ was embedded in a lot of the conversation about autonomy and agency. I especially feel like the final point about justice being a luxury is significant. Not everyone has the means nor the courage to make a private affair public, not only for risk of their life but also because they believe it might cause too many problems. While this is certainly a problematic view, it gives context for why many people do not come forward after a violent act is done to them. As my friends have been saying in my english conversations, context is very important, but ultimately people’s decisions about their lives will still be their own. We must respect those decisions even if we don’t agree with them.

QCQ 16: Disgrace pt. 2

Quotation:

“A pause. ‘Why aren’t you telling the whole story, Lucy?’ 

‘I have told the whole story. The whole story is what I have told’” (Coetzee 108). 

Comment:

After leaving his teaching position, David has gone to stay with his daughter Lucy on her farm. An incident occured wherein three black men robbed them, shot the dogs she was looking after, and at least one of them raped Lucy. Having spoken to the police, Lucy omitted that last detail, and David wants to know why. Lucy says that  “in this place, at this time” (post-Apartheid South Africa) she does not feel she should come forward, and that it is only her business (109). 

I chose this conversation to talk about because it held similarities to David’s inquiry. He quickly pleaded guilty, not wishing to dwell on it, and grew annoyed when he was being asked to be more specific and to show remorse. He explained why he slept with his student, but as Farodia Rassool said, “yes, he says, he is guilty; but when we try to get specificity, all of a sudden it is not abuse of a young woman he is confessing to, just an impulse he could not resist” (50-51). He had this power over Melanie that undoubtedly factored into her decisions, but that’s something he hasn’t fully registered. David still doesn’t accept what he did, and that is why he was remaining figuratively silent.

Meanwhile, Lucy has more than accepted what happened to her. It was not an action that she took, like with David, but something out of her control. It was traumatic and frightening, and she does not have the luxury of ignoring that. But the difference between her and her father is that David was holding back for the sake of himself, and Lucy was holding back for the sake of others. She recognized that, even as a victim, she had some element of power over the attackers. To be clear, by ‘power’ I am not saying that she should have been able to physically stop them, or that she in any way deserved what happened because of said power. I am acknowledging that, as a white woman, it would have been very easy for her words and the assault to justify violence against those men because of their race and the situation of their country.

She was not just taking into account the general climate either. When she realized that Petrus knew at least one of the intruders, she was even more adamant that nothing should be said. She felt the police shouldn’t be contacted because, “everything will be destroyed for him” (129). She knew that speaking up was going to hurt this man and his family; neighbors and, in a sense, coworkers. His recent land transfer, too, might have been called into question. Again, to clarify, I’m not saying that excuses what happened, especially not if Petrus is revealed to have had an active role in this. I think it’s worth noting, though, this distinction between silence to protect oneself and silence to protect others. How David choses to use his power versus how Lucy does. I’m not saying it’s right that Lucy should remain silent, rather that she might be more mature than her father in that she is considering the implications this horrible event has for everyone involved.

Question:

How might utilitarianism and the greatest happiness principle come into play in this situation? Is it truly just if the needs of the many involves suffering on the part of an individual?

Class discussion and impact:

My contributions: Again I spoke quite a bit. Other than sharing my QCQ, I mentioned how in David’s inquiry he was trying to use an explanation of impulse. I connected my QCQ to the #MeToo movement in terms of women being hesitant to come forward before, mentioned the implications of race in the incident with Lucy. I talked about potential bias that victims run up against, as well as a belief that David in the hypothetical situation of being assaulted might not have wanted to come forward due to emasculation or shame. Finally, I expressed my optimism about Petrus but lack of clarity as to why he would act against Lucy, as well as noting that harmful messages for men are everywhere.

Others’ contributions: Koren brought up her QCQ and frustration with David’s ideas about attractiveness, and how David constantly thinks about being wrong but does nothing about it. Jill also noted the expectations that society has of women. And Sinead brought up how David’s thoughts on what happened with Melanie are different from how he sees what happened to Lucy, and that she has the right to take time and process the event without immediately coming forward.

I knew going in that we were going to run up against some difficult topics, but I appreciate that we were able to have a mature conversation. I like the connections to Mill and Machiavelli in terms of the greatest happiness and autonomy, as it drew all our readings together. I am a bit nervous to move forward in the novel, but I feel safe with this class and feel like we will be able to have more constructive conversations.

QCQ 15: Disgrace pt. 1

Quotation:

“‘Well, my advice would be, as a matter of strategy, get a woman to represent you.’ He mentions two names” (Coetzee 40).

Comment:

David, having had sex with one of his students, is facing the consequences. He was harshly reprimanded by Melanie’s father, and stands to face an inquiry by the school about both the relationship and the inconsistencies about the girl’s reported attendance. He meets with the lawyer “who handled his divorce,” or at least one of the divorces he’s had (40). This lawyer, as is stated in the quote above, recommends a female attorney for this case. 

With this quote, I thought almost immediately about the Harvey Weinstein trial. While that man and David have many differences, they did both have a certain level of power over women. They did both assault a woman. (Despite David’s claim that the last time with Melanie was not rape, I firmly believe that it was, given Melanie’s resistance.) But the main reason I thought of Weinstein was because he, too, had a female attorney, even if that didn’t end up helping him.

I remember clicking on a news story regarding his decided guilt. I had been excited that a man who had hurt so many, who in many ways had come to represent the #MeToo movement, was getting what he deserved. But what struck me so profoundly was one of his attorneys who had “built her career defending men accused of sex crimes” (ABC News). In that video she gave an interview regarding the victims, saying, “when you make certain choices, there’s a risk when you make those choices.” She continued by denying she was victim-blaming; “if you don’t want to be a victim, don’t go to that hotel room” (ABC News). 

When I shared that with my mother, she said-and I am inclined to believe her-that Weinstein and his defense time likely brought her on in the first place because she was a woman. Because that would somehow make the words coming from the men be more acceptable. Still, though, there are many women like this woman, who firmly believe in things like ‘rape happens for a reason’ and anti-choice. They may believe, too, that women are overreacting when social issues like these are brought forward. 

It always surprises me to see these women. I try not to judge them, to try and understand why they believe what they believe. Upbringing, religion, morals can all play a part in shaping their worldview. It still doesn’t sit right with me, though. I really do dislike when women put other women down, especially when it comes to things like assault. Blaming victims instead of supporting them is only ever going to lead to their continued pain. It also, as I said, gives men who agree with them more power. To keep doing what they have been doing, and allows them to say, “Hey, look, here’s a woman saying this. She must be right.” 

I would go so far as to say that Melanie was a victim, even if it appeared as though she was making her own decisions and had agency. This is made clear with the quote, “‘as teachers we occupy positions of power’” (50). Melanie was never going to be completely able to give consent so long as there was that power imbalance. Even with only one ‘straightforward’ example of rape, that remains true. And David getting a female attorney just for the fact that she is a female attorney, him using her as a shield and her opposing other women, will only stand to get in the way of that truth. 

Question:

Why are certain (usually unfavorable) beliefs made more acceptable when coming from marginalized individuals? 

Here is the video I referenced: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJYAwGqGKTs

Class Discussion and Impact:

My contributions: I spoke a lot today. I clarified issues of consent in teacher-student relationships, how that power dynamic impairs any notion of consent. I talked about ‘yes means yes’ vs. ‘no means no’ in terms of consent. I shared my QCQ and brought in the connections to Harvey Weinstein’s trial, pondered about David’s insecurity, clarified that the men on the trial wanted to help David out. Finally, I noted that we might have certain expectations of justice of causing remorse, when really it is just a tool to give punishments rather than a tool to ‘fix’ the perpetrators.

Others’ contributions: Korren brought up the scenario of reading from Melanie’s perspective, noting that she may have been confused and unsure of what to do. Other than that I think the most vocal voices were Sinead, Anna, and Hayley, though Jill stepped in to make a point about the agency/control that Melanie may have had.

I thought today’s discussion was interesting, though I do feel bad about talking so frequently. I think it’s just a topic I’m very passionate about. When talking about consent and power dynamics, I hope that I made some things clear that, more often than not, women do not have a great deal of power over what happens to them. That’s why consent is so important, because it is an opportunity for them to take back some of that power which should have been acknowledged inherently. I also think that our final thoughts on justice was interesting, because it made me realize that we really do expect a lot from justice. We want remorse, repentance, and so forth from the perpetrator, but at a certain point we do have to see that justice is about identifying a crime and punishing it, but our personal ideas of justice and what we truly want and expect might differ from that.

QCQ 14: No Future Without Forgiveness

Quotation:

“It was pointed out that we none of us possess a king of fiat by which we can say, ‘Let bygones be bygones’ and, hey presto, they then become bygones…the past, far from disappearing or lying down and being quiet, has an embarrassing and persistent way of returning and haunting us unless it has in fact been dealt with adequately” (Tutu 28). 

Comment:

In the aftermath of the apartheid in South Africa, there was great consideration as to what should be done to deal with the trauma that took place during that time. A barrier was those who had contributed to it, those “who opposed the trial option and suggested…that we let bygones be bygones” (27). The Truth and Reconciliation Commission would ultimately become the solution, where victims were encouraged to share their stories not to assign blame but to ensure “summum bonum–the greatest good” (31). 

I was very eager to read this story because last semester, my classmates and I watched the film Dawnland, a documentary about Maine’s own Truth and Reconciliation Commision (TRC) with the Native populations that live here. I don’t exaggerate when I say that film changed me. I learned so much and strove to share that knowledge with others. This quote stuck out to me, though, because it shows the problems that some people have with TRCs. 

One of the first stories that we hear in the film is from an older woman named Georgina, who was understandably frustrated with the idea of sharing her story. She asked, “some of the wounds are so deep, how do you propose that we’re supposed to be healing?” (Mazo & Pender-Cudlip). She shared how she and her sister had been put into a bathtub full of bleach by her foster mother, who was determined to lighten the color of their skin. She was far from the only one who had suffered, too. For this reason, like in South Africa, not all would “acquiesce in the conciliatory approach” (40). 

Georgina’s concerns, I felt, were valid. What she and others have gone through was horrific, and if someone had framed TRCs to her as simply a way to make nice with perpetrators, I think she would be greatly offended. History did indeed haunt her. I understand the point of TRCs, but I can see how the idea of having to essentially re-traumatize yourself by sharing stories from your past to strangers would be an uncomfortable one. Georgina was right to ask how this group was going to help her, especially when they were mostly non-Native and did not have that shared history of pain. Who may have been seeking a way to make themselves feel better rather than truly address their privilege. 

Apartheid was such a strong period of South African history, where hundreds were hurt and killed. Critics of TRCs may wonder how storytelling could fix that. How it could save Native peoples from their pain at the hands of white settlers and foster parents. For me, I resonate with that quote by George Santayana, “‘those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it’” (qtd. In Tutu 29). If we don’t hear these stories, not only is healing impossible but also, it helps outsiders see the wrong that was done very clearly. That even if they were not directly involved, they were still letting it continue. Maybe speaking up can’t rewrite Georgina’s story, but it can provide closure and a more favorable ending. It can reach others who need to see that they were not alone, and that moving forward is possible. 

Question: 

What do you see as pros and cons of TRCs?

Class discussion and impact:

My contributions: today I gave my opinion on Nadia’s article, saying that it did challenge people’s assumptions and also wondered about the impact of children seeing everything going on with COVID-19. I noted that, with Hayley’s quote, Tutu probably was being genuine in his idea that seeing everyone together is sort of like a scientific discovery. I shared my QCQ, as well as my conversation with my mother and the concerns that she had with TRCs, and I noted that a lack of acceptance within TRCs could be problematic for avoiding justice.

Others’ contributions: First of all I really wanted to highlight Nadia and her article, because it’s always great to see student work out in the public. She had some interesting points to share with us in class. Sinead’s QCQ prompted me to share my own because of her emphasis on accepting or acknowledging the past in order to move forward, which I appreciated. Finally, Jill made a point that having your past in the public record would increase the likelihood of future retribution.

I enjoyed this class a lot. We didn’t really dive deep into the content because of time but I like what we had to say about justice in amnesty. I don’t personally agree with my mother that amnesty means a completely free ride, but I shared her concern because I do think others could easily have it. I liked that Hayley brought up the idea of whether or not prison means justice, which again I don’t necessarily see. And Professor Cripps noted the financial strain all those trials might have caused too. A situation like Apartheid pushes us to consider our own conceptions of justice; are we righteous folks seeking punishment for the guilty, or do we simply desire revenge? And where, too, do we think that revenge is going to take us? I like that we read this piece because I got to dive back into former concepts from my other class, and I definitely want to watch the Dawnland film again. I will hang onto these conversations and this reading when I consider justice in the future.

QCQ 13: Rawls’ Theory of Justice pt. 3

Quotation:

“In arriving at the favored interpretation of the initial situation there is no point at which an appeal is made to self-evidence in the traditional sense either of general conceptions or particular convictions” (Rawls 19).

Comment:

Rawls is wrapping up his section on the original position by clarifying that, when the principles of justice are being decided on, they are not decided on by someone’s personal ideas or evidence but rather a general understanding reached behind a veil of ignorance. If the people are meant to come to conclusions without knowing about themselves or others, that is considered to be fair in this particular scenario. 

I chose this section because it reminded me of a debate among social work researchers. It boils down to a question of whether research informs social work practice or practice informs research. It’s being made into a dichotomy, kind of like the argument of the chicken and the egg and which came first. Being a student, I don’t presume to know more than the several others who have tackled this issue, but generally I believe that both sides are important. For example, knowing how to help a certain population would require research, however that research wouldn’t exist without first hand experiences. 

In Rawls’ imaginary creation of society, individuals are meant to make decisions that are not based on others and that ignore aspects of themselves. He calls it the veil of ignorance. I mentioned in my previous QCQ how it might be beneficial to ease someone’s state of mind and eliminate bias, but now I question it more. I think the only way you can know what would be the best course of action would be through experience (i.e. practice). You can make a claim and then see that it is wrong, but you wouldn’t know beforehand. Whatever conclusion you reach won’t make the most sense, because you’re only basing it off of what you can think up and not what you’ve seen. Of course, we all have to start somewhere, as even children experiment and change their beliefs. But basing an entire society off of that seems unstable. 

I said I agree with both sides of the research debate in general, but with social contact theory, I can see the greater value of practice informing research (personal experience dictating decisions and agreements). With the specific principles Rawls determines, I think the second would be one where experience might alter precious views. For this reason I would circle back to another idea in this section that we should be able to “modify the account of the initial situation or we can revise our existing judgements” (18). I think that because we can’t truly know the specifics and complexities of a given situation without having experienced it at least briefly, we need to be able to change that original agreement of justice as needed. Or at least, make some kind of amendment. We might very well change our minds, but we shouldn’t be restricted by that original choice we made. And the first principle of equality shouldn’t be put at risk because of the limited information we had before. 

Question:

What are some specific examples where not having prior knowledge might cause harm?

Class discussion and impact:

My contributions: I asked a few clarifying questions, one being about what Rawls’ intentions were with the veil of ignorance and the other being about the diversity or lack thereof in the original group making decisions. I also shared my QCQ and wondered whether this imaginary society was still going to be a capitalist society and the problems that might create.

Others’ contributions: Anna made a very good point that it’s impossible to take ourselves and our interests out of the decision making process, as explaining things simply still boils down to, “well, what would you want in that situation.” I also just want to acknowledge Hayley’s willingness to answer my questions because she did clear a lot of things up and give me a new perspective. I like what she said about how, even in what appears to be a homogenous group, you will still see lots of variety in views.

I do feel like I learned a lot this class just in terms of what Rawls is trying to say and also how I personally feel about the world. Being a social work student and also highly empathetic, I know I tend to tense at passages that seem to favor certain negative lines of thought and a lack of acknowledgement of marginalized groups. The question raised about whether a person stripped of their peculiarities and identities could truly be a person really struck me and sums up my thoughts, but I do also see that other side of it. That you can know enough about a person or group and, along with the first principle of equal rights, be able to see basic rules that would not intend to harm anyone regardless of identity. I’m glad we got to take this dive into Rawls and I will try to keep him in mind along with Mill and the other literature we’ve read as we move forward.

QCQ 12: Rawls’ Theory of Justice pt. 2

Quotation:

“The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance. This ensures that no one is advantaged or disadvantaged in the choice of principles by the outcome of natural chance or the contingency of social circumstances” (Rawls 11). 

Comment:

Rawls is getting into the specifics of social contract theory and what it would look like. He uses an “original position of equality” to determine which rules would be made and accepted (11). In this hypothetical scenario, he states that the individuals should not know what advantages or privileges they have, which would include social position, class, or “natural assets and abilities” like intelligence (11). In his opinion, this is the most fair way to go about setting up principles of justice because everyone is on the same page, at least in terms of awareness. 

I’m currently in an ethics class, specifically for social work practice. This week, in light of the situation with COVID-19, we spoke about the idea of limited testing for individuals. We were given a list of five people, trying to decide who (if anyone) would be most deserving of the three tests available. The difficult thing was knowing that these were all vulnerable populations with different circumstances and levels of concern. 

I have to wonder, based on this quote, if it’s truly better not knowing before making a big decision. The idea of a blind pick, a lottery as it were, might seem appealing for the reasons Rawls lays out. No one is being considered as better or more deserving than the others based on their assets. It also would take our own biases out of the equation, for as much as we like to pretend we were free of judgement there will always be subtle beliefs that dictate your decisions.

But there are problems with this as well. Sometimes history and background are very important to consider. I know Rawls’ theory depends on a considerable lack of a former society, and these imaginary people have been brought together to make decisions are not privy to knowing any other way of life. But in this scenario that I was presented with, I knew it wouldn’t feel right leaving things to chance because there were some in more critical states than others that I wouldn’t want to risk harming further if they didn’t get picked in this blind system. 

For example, one woman was living in an abusive household, and so a test would either mean she is free to get away or that she would need to find resources to help her (two very important paths). Meanwhile, there was also a man who was homeless and with no place to quarantine, so if he tested positive you would want to know so that you could actually find a place for him and stop the spread of the virus. The others all had similar pressing matters. On the one hand, who am I-in my position in life which I am constantly aware of and cannot ignore-to decide the fate of these individuals? On the other hand, can I ignore that some are at higher risk of harm than others and therefore should be considered before anyone else? 

I don’t have a clear answer for all of this, and I’m not sure if Rawls would either. I actually appreciated that one of my classmates bypassed the decision altogether to look for more tests. I can see both sides of the problem, which is what makes it harder. In a way I envy these people in the original position of equality, because they have the luxury of going in fresh. But I cannot, as my social work education has pushed me to never forget history and hidden privileges and oppressions. Of course, I don’t see this as a bad thing, but it certainly does make ethical decisions that much more difficult. 

Question:

I turn this ethical dilemma to everyone else. What’s better: giving all people careful consideration and then deciding something for them, or letting fate and a veil of ignorance do the work for you? 

Class Discussion and Impact:

My contributions: Other than sharing my QCQ from last class, I noted that I agreed with Nadia in that mistrust can be important to create social change, that it’s important to have a clarification on who a ‘rational’ person is, and I provided my opinion on why people should make decisions in that original agreement based on themselves (even if it wasn’t entirely on the mark).

Others’ contributions: Jill shared aspects of her QCQ from Tuesday (context of gender, 12 Angry Men connection), and Josh shared his QCQ for today as well as the idea that it’s human nature to want to better oneself.

I’m starting to notice a pattern in that we as a class will flag statements that we either agree with or are confused/conflicted about, and then we go over what Rawls’ intention was. It’s not necessarily declaring him as right every time, but it gives us more context and information to our arguments. I really enjoyed what everyone had to say regarding the issues of privilege and how not everyone should be assumed as altruistic at the outset. I’m interested to keep going with Rawls and learn even more from him.

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