5,000 Miles, 10 Countries, 3 Months

When Saul Flores was a junior in college, he walked 5,328 miles from Quito, Ecuador to the United States. He traveled through 10 countries and took over 20,000 photos in an effort to capture the danger of an immigrant’s journey north. His project, “The Walk of Immigrants,” made national news, and Flores has been featured on NPR, TEDx, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post. Flores was invited as the Keynote Speaker for Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week and spoke in the Sarazen Student Union on Wednesday Nov. 14, 2018.

A map showing Flores’ journey

During his lecture, “Fleeing Home: Immigration and the Cost of Poverty,” Flores shared personal anecdotes from his experience as a first generation Mexican-American. He explained how both his parents were immigrants: “My mom left because she was escaping poverty and my father left because he was escaping a civil war.” Flores talked about his parents’ experiences working and struggling to provide for their family in New York City. “Being an immigrant in America is very hard,” he said. “It’s been a very turbulent time for a lot of people across the country, and I keep going back to my childhood.” Flores then shared a particularly moving story in which he and his sister witnessed his mother, who worked as a housekeeper on the Upper West Side, scrubbing floors for a living for the first time. “We had never seen my mom scrub the floors before,” Flores said. “My guardian angel, my protector, was on her knees scrubbing floors.”

Photo courtesy of the Franciscan Center for Service & Advocacy

Flores was inspired to take his 5,328-mile trek by a service trip to his mother’s hometown in Mexico. While visiting his grandmother in Mexico, he went to the tiny cinderblock schoolhouse that had been constructed in the 1970s to provide an education to the children of the community. When Flores and his friends went inside the schoolhouse, 124 children began singing the Mexican national anthem to them. “It was so beautiful because they were introducing us into their home,” Flores said. He started noticing the poor conditions of the building, like the crumbling walls, flickering light bulbs, and splintering desks. Flores’ grandmother explained to him that this would have been the school he would have gone to if his mother had not immigrated to the United States. This trip was the catalyst for Flores’ journey, especially once he was told the schoolhouse was doomed to close. In his travels, he took over 20,000 photos, which he sold and donated the proceeds to the schoolhouse’s repairs. Flores shared stories of his 3 month-long journey, with one particularly harrowing experience in the Darién Gap, a passage of swampland between Panama and Colombia. Flores spoke on the positive impact of his journey, explaining that it sparked a national conversation on immigration.

Throughout his lecture and into the Q&A, Flores emphasized the importance of international travel, the influence of passion, and the power of grit and perseverance. Keep an eye out for more extensive coverage of this event in my article in the 11/30 issue of The Promethean! If you’re interested in learning more about Saul’s experience, check out his social media pages at @sweetlikesaul.

Thinking About Grad School?

With registration in full swing, students are encouraged to think about their plans after graduation. One option many students consider is attending graduate school to get a Master’s degree and sometimes continue on to get their PhD. Continuing your education post-undergrad is a big decision, and it’s important to know all the factors that weigh into this choice. On Wed. Nov. 7, the English Department hosted a Grad School Panel where Drs. Snyder, Spain-Savage, and Dearing shared their own graduate school experiences and gave advice to prospective students. They primarily talked about their experience in grad school for English, but the advice they shared can largely be applied to any grad school program. Dr. Snyder explained the panel intended to “demystify” the process of applying to graduate school.

Dr. Spain-Savage talked about the importance of deadlines in graduate school, emphasizing that it is nothing like the undergraduate workload. In grad school, you impose your own deadlines, she explained, which is one of the reasons why not all graduates complete a dissertation. Unlike the strict schedules of undergrad, graduate school grants you the freedom to set your own deadlines, which can be troubling to students who struggle with time management or self-motivation. Dr. Spain-Savage also commented on the importance of finding a program that fosters and supports your area of specialization. Dr. Snyder shared his personal experience with grad school. He said, “You never feel smarter than when you’re in grad school.” Dr. Snyder emphasized the importance of doing research in the grad school search to find out where the funding is, showing that it is possible to get your Master’s and even your PhD and not have to pay for it. Dr. Dearing, fresh out of grad school last May, discussed the importance of knowing what to expect when continuing your education. She emphasized that graduate school is “not undergrad part two,” but schooling at another level. The panelists then shared their advice on applying for and attending graduate school. Another important part of applying for grad school is the application itself. Applicants usually need a certain number of letters of recommendation. Dr. Snyder emphasized the importance of asking your professors early for these letters and providing them with information to help write your letter of recommendation, like a resume, a personal statement, and a writing sample. Similarly, letters of recommendation should show different sides of you and your personality to reflect how you will fit into a particular program. Talking to current grad students is a great way to fully understand the experience. Because they are currently enrolled in programs, they will be honest and realistic about what grad school is really like. Similarly, ask graduate students what they’re doing once they graduate to get an idea of available jobs and realistic goals to set. Another helpful tip is to reach out to the department of a graduate school you’re interested in and ask to be put in contact with a graduate student.

One big concern for undergrads looking towards grad school is the debt. After finishing undergrad, most students have to begin working off their debt from student loans. All three panelists emphasized the importance of finding programs that will help fund you or at least help you pay for the process.  The takeaway? Research, research, research before applying to a program. Research can find you funding to help pay for your education and place you in an academic environment you thrive in. “You have to stay true to what you love,” Dr. Spain-Savage said. Graduate school can be a great opportunity for undergrad students to reach their potential and find themselves in the process. The panelists emphasized to not be afraid to go somewhere new, especially when you’re young. “It’s fun to live somewhere you’re not staying,” Dr. Snyder said.

Grad school is a big decision with many deciding factors and it is not for everyone. It is important to be well-informed about the goals, challenges, and benefits of attending graduate school. If grad school is something you’re considering or even just starting to think about, reach out to your professors, especially those working in your field of interest. They are great resources and are almost always willing to share their own education experience with students. Your academic advisor is also a great resource if you have questions about graduate school. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, reach out, and research the process!

#MeToo Forum Encourages Open Discussion

On Monday Oct. 29, Siena’s Women’s Center held an open forum discussion on the #MeToo movement. Other topics during the forum included Brett Kavanaugh, Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford, and women’s empowerment. These topics have repeatedly been in the news over the past few years, especially during the recent Supreme Court hearings and nominations.

The #MeToo movement quickly gained grounds on social media platforms in late 2017, providing a space for those who have been sexually assaulted or harassed to share their personal stories. Many confessions discussed workplace harassment. Even though the #MeToo movement gained prominence more recently, issues of sexual assault and harassment have always existed. There was much discussion of the #MeToo movement in the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual misconduct and assault by three women. One of the women, Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Despite the women’s allegations, testimony, hearings, and a brief FBI investigation, Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court on Oct. 6, 2018. 

People have been “blacking out” their social media to show their support of the #MeToo movement and that they believe survivors. In the wake of Dr. Ford’s testimony, social media sites were flooded with black profile pictures to stand in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault.

The Women’s Center held the forum for students and faculty to discuss their own thoughts and feelings regarding the larger #MeToo movement, as well as Kavanaugh’s recent swearing-in as a Supreme Court Justice. These types of conversations and open forums are especially significant on college campuses, where sexual violence can be prevalent. There are harrowing statistics about sexual violence and college students. For example, 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted during their college career. Similarly, 95% of these assaults go unreported. 

During the open forum, the facilitators emphasized that the only thing allowed to leave the room was what people learned during the discussion; all private confessions and stories were not allowed to leave the room. This created a safe space for students to share their thoughts and feelings on the #MeToo movement and its relevance. Because sexual violence is a prominent issue on college campuses, it is important to have conversations and safe spaces where students feel able to share their experience.

There are numerous confidential and non-confidential sources students can utilize on Siena’s campus; all this information can be found here. More information about Siena’s Sr. Thea Bowman Center for Women can be found here.

English Majors Wanted!

As an English major, I am constantly asked what my plans are after graduation. The general response I get? “Good luck finding a job!” “What do you expect to do with that?” “Why didn’t you pick a real major?” In my experience, people frequently dismiss a liberal arts degree as unnecessary, even useless. If I had a dollar for every time someone dismissed my field of study, I could make a good dent in paying off my student loans. However, these negative attitudes towards liberal arts degrees are proven largely invalid.

An article in CBS News by Aimee Picchi emphasizes the growing importance of a liberal arts degree in the eyes of employers. College students are widely unemployed, but in an underemployment rate of various majors, English majors are nowhere near the bottom at 29%, and compared with business majors at 31%. 

Picchi’s article suggests English majors and liberal arts students might have a better chance finding a job post-graduation than business or biology majors. Though popular majors are expected to perform well in the labor force, this isn’t always the outcome. Majors like business, legal studies, and social services professions are dubbed “problematic majors” by the article because they are expected to land graduates jobs. They similarly “comprise 4 in 10 bachelor’s degrees handed out by U.S. colleges” (Picchi).

Picchi explains that the main issue with these “problematic majors” is that they are preparing students for specific fields, rather than providing them with the skills to make them a “job ready adult.” Students will graduate without the necessary hard and soft skills needed for employment, making them not fully ready to enter the workforce. Picchi explains, “That’s not to say that business majors can’t find good job opportunities after graduation. But the key is focusing on developing skills that will help them stand out when they go on the job market.”

Liberal arts degrees, though unfairly considered invaluable, teach a broad range of useful skills that are adaptable to many career fields. The applications of communication skills, reading comprehension, and analytical abilities are endless. It can be frustrating to have your degree dismissed, but studies like this prove the value of a liberal arts degree. So when someone critiques your choice of major, remember that every major has value!

Dr. Lewis Releases New Book

Dr. Daniel Lewis held a book release lunch this past Wednesday, Oct. 24, to promote his most recent publication, The Remarkable Rise of Transgender Rights. The event was held in the Norm and drew in students of all majors and interests. When asked how he decided on pursuing the topic of transgender rights, Dr. Lewis said, “I’ve been broadly interested in the idea of how minority rights are represented in our democratic system. Through networking with my co-authors, I started doing some work there and realized there wasn’t really a comprehensive examination of transgender rights politics. We saw it as more of a need and something we were passionate about trying to understand.”

Dr. Lewis’ book seeks to explain how the transgender rights movement has taken shape over the years and how they can achieve political success. He shared some of the successes and obstacles transgender people have faced. He used a Powerpoint with images, graphs, and statistics that I thought helped the audience more fully understand his research.

Part of their research involved running national surveys asking about people’s attitudes towards transgender people and transgender rights policies. On a “hot to cold” spectrum, transgender people rank lower than gays & lesbians, gun owners, interracial couples, police, scientists, and veterans, which suggests there is a generally negative response to transgender people. Similarly, though the overwhelming majority of survey takers believed in discrimination protection for transgender people, the public opinion on bathroom access is still widely divided – there is an even split between those who believe people should use the bathroom reflecting their current gender identity versus birth gender.

Dr. Lewis’ research also reflected that knowing someone who is transgender increases one’s likelihood to support transgender policies. “The number of people that report knowing someone who is transgender has increased over time, not only among close friends or family members, but also acquaintances,” he said, “which suggests there are opportunities to increase support for their policies.”

Though there are still ongoing challenges faced for the transgender community, Dr. Lewis remains positive on the outlook. “A lot of these victories are tenuous right now, and there are challenges to come for the movement. Still, there is a lot of optimism for the transgender movement in securing these civil rights,” he said.

Philosophy Colloquium: Distrusting Distrust

How do we deal with our distrustful feelings? Dr. Jason D’Cruz, philosophy professor at UAlbany, has been working through this question in his research project, “Distrusting Distrust.” He broke down his plan for the lecture, wanting to first work through an analysis of distrustful behavior, then explain the risks of distrust, and finally deliver a proposal on how to respond to these risks.

“I think we should be distrustful of a lot of our distrustful feelings,” Dr. D’Cruz said. He gave an example of a study in which participants were shown several faces and were asked to choose which ones looked the most trustworthy; faces with a turned-down mouth and furrowed brow were regarded as untrustworthy. Dr. D’Cruz explained there is no correlation between one’s face and integrity, and that we respond to new faces based on our past experiences, which are also shaped by difference, prejudice, and stereotypes.

Dr. D’Cruz continued discussing the moral risks of distrust, which include insult & disrespect, and the notion of self-fulfillment. He also commented on the epistemic risks, which are interpretive biasing and asymmetrical feedback. When we distrust based on bias or preconceived notions, we never learn how the person would have responded if we had trusted them.

As a solution, Dr. D’Cruz proposed humble trust, which he defined as a “social virtue and skill that responds to the moral and epistemic pathologies of distrust.” The aims of humble trust are to cultivate full trust of those who are trustworthy. The humble trust mindset similarly seeks to reframe and reorient our thinking, pushing us to make the decision to actively trust in the face of fear. Ultimately, the humble trust mindset seeks to create conditions where a person can rationally trust that they will be trusted.

After finishing his lecture, Dr. D’Cruz answered questions from students and faculty to help the audience fully understand his research and proposals. “Distrusting Distrust” was an interesting, thought-provoking colloquium. To learn about upcoming events on campus, like and follow our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram!

2018 Clare Center Lecture

Siena hosted the 25th annual Clare Center lecture on Tuesday Oct. 2nd, welcoming Dr. Joy Schroeder, a religion professor and Lutheran pastor, to give her lecture on “Compassion and Imagination and Franciscan Biblical Interpretation.” Dr. Schroeder’s concentrations are in the history of biblical interpretation and women in the church. Dr. Holly Grieco introduced Dr. Schroeder and explained the origins of the Clare Center lecture. “It began as a way to welcome the religious studies department into its new home on campus,” Dr. Grieco said.

Dr. Schroeder emphasized the importance of slow, reflective reading during her lecture. She shared the statistic that the human attention span has diminished to eight seconds, which is one second less than a goldfish’s. Tying a majority of her speech and biblical interpretations into the Syrian and Central American refugee crises, Dr. Schroeder focused on the importance of using our imagination and compassion for the betterment of the world.

In reference to Siena’s Franciscan core curriculum, she mentioned the room to integrate compassionate imagination. “It can be done with holiness and imagination,” she said, “the kind that brings about good business ethics and good business practices.”

Dr. Schroeder’s lecture was part of the celebration of Francis Week, a week-long celebration of St. Francis’ life and values. Other events through this week include the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Feast of St. Francis, and Community Service Day. All students are encouraged to take part in this celebration. 

The lecture was a great addition to Francis Week because it highlighted the importance of the Franciscan traditions in both the Siena community and the world at large. “With both compassion and imagination, we can imagine new ways to do just a little bit of repair work to help heal this broken world,” Dr. Schroeder concluded.

Frankenstein Lecture Kicks Off October

I was ten years old when I read Frankenstein for the first time. It wasn’t the full novel; it was an abridged version for younger readers that cut out some of the more graphic and lengthy parts of the novel. It condensed down the story to the creation of the monster and Dr. Frankenstein’s struggles with his own guilt and grief. As an English major, I’ve learned about the origins of Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and discussed its impact in class. I’ve helped students in the Writing Center who read Gris Grimley’s graphic novel adaptation in their First Year Seminar classes.

Siena has been celebrating the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein’s publication since last year with film screenings, lectures, and theatrical productions. This Monday, I attended Dr. Michelle Francl’s lecture, “Making Molecular Monsters.” Even as a SoLA student, I could appreciate what Dr. Francl had to say about the intersections between Frankenstein and chemistry.

Dr. Francl, chemistry professor and chair of the chemistry department at Bryn Mawr College, spoke on the connections between the novel and chemistry. “Chemistry plays a really significant role in the story. It sets into motion Frankenstein’s first steps into peril,” she explained.

“I’m interested in molecules that misbehave, molecules that transgress the borders that chemists think exist for molecules,” Dr. Francl said. “Over this forty year career, what unifies it is thinking about what makes the molecule do the unexpected.” Dr. Francl gave an interesting hour-long lecture on monstrous molecules and how they connect with the larger themes in Frankenstein of exploration and control.

If students are interested in hearing more about Dr. Francl’s lecture, keep an eye out for my publication in the Promethean on Friday Oct. 5. Besides the physical copies found in the SSU, library, and Lonnstrom, the newspaper can be read online here. Like and follow our social media pages to stay updated on upcoming Frankenstein events this month! Happy October!

Here’s What You Missed: Constitution Day 2018

Nearly one hundred students and faculty attended Sarah Rogerson’s lecture in the SSU on Monday Sept. 24, titled “Immigration, Executive Power and the Constitution.” The lecture was in celebration of Constitution Day, which takes place annually on Sept. 17 in honor of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. The event was not only intended for students interested in political science, but those of all majors, political affiliations, and backgrounds.

After a performance of the Star Spangled Banner by the Siena Chamber Singers, Dr. Cutler, political science professor at Siena, introduced Rogerson. Rogerson is a clinical professor of law at Albany Law School, and the director of the Immigration Law Clinic and the Law Clinic & Justice Center.

“If you live and work in the United States, you are going to encounter immigration issues,” Rogerson explained. “The word ‘immigration’ is not found in the Constitution, so what gives?” She used a powerpoint to explore the Constitutional basis regarding immigration, showing students passages from the document and describing their origin.

Rogerson spoke on a number of immigration issues in our headlines today, including the broken legal system, Muslim Ban, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). She also discussed the ways in which immigration is depicted by the media. “Labels and terminology are important,” she said. “In order to be an immigrant, you have to have an intent to stay.” Rogerson emphasized the importance of knowing the difference between immigrant as a legal term and immigration/immigrating as a verb, something that is very hard to communicate through the news and news cycles.

Rogerson’s keynote lecture was valuable to all students and a great reflection of Constitution Day 2018. Check out and like our Facebook page to stay updated on upcoming SoLA events!

Sandwiches and Sculptures: An Artist’s Visit

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of sculptures? Probably not tuna sandwiches. But for sculptor Madison LaVallee, sandwiches help her deal with a way of thinking about sculpture. Tuna sandwiches represent the time she spent growing up with her grandmother and bring back the sense of nostalgia over sharing a meal together. The sandwiches also reflect her grandparents’ gender roles, which she described as the “traditional gender roles of the 1950s family unit” – her grandma was a stay-at-home mom and her grandpa worked for General Electric. 

LaVallee and a student work with materials

LaVallee makes “material sandwiches” when sculpting. Her works focus on materials used in the home, which she stacks together in resemblance of a sandwich. She sculpts with what she considers “material outcasts” – drywall, carpet underlay, and popcorn ceiling paint – to make her unique sculptures. LaVallee initially thought sculptures had to be sophisticated and created through negative space, a notion which she rejects in her own work. She showed the audience images of her finished works, one of which included bricks from her childhood home. The materials themselves are symbolic, not only of home, but of the memories they elicit in the viewer. LaVallee explained that her works were not site-specific but site-related. “I’m thinking about that place and responding to it,” she said.

Students collect materials during a hands-on activity

Her background was originally in drawing and painting, but LaVallee was drawn to sculpting. “I was unsure how to navigate what it meant to be a sculptor,” LaVallee said. “I kind of wanted to experiment.” During her residency, LaVallee began making industrial sculptures in the woods, which caused her to realize how disconnected she had been from nature. She started introducing fake trees and green elements, placing them with construction materials, in her sculptures. “I’m identifying with nature in this faux, false way,” she explained.

Students pose with their finished sculptures

LaVallee conducted a hands-on activity for students at the end of her talk. She brought crates full of materials, including chicken wire, yarn, cardboard, and pipe cleaners. Though there were no rules on what types of sculptures to make, LaVallee encouraged students to pick one “hard” and “soft” material while crafting. They were able to piece their work together with a hot glue gun and take them home to keep as a reminder of LaVallee’s work and inspiration. 

Students can check out LaVallee’s work on Instagram at @madisonlavallee_art.