Power Play in the Classroom

“You complain a lot”, Naya, my roommate, said to me recently. “Apparently, that’s the only way to get things done around here”, I replied. I’d noticed that our heater needed to be fixed, and had tracked down the maintenance staff to assist me with the necessary repairs. As an Emergency Room volunteer, I’ve observed that patients who speak up and enunciate their problems spend less time waiting for the doctor. The difference between mediocrity and excellence lies in the ability to take action on issues at hand. This concept can also be observed in a classroom.

A few weeks ago, my professor attempted to change the class schedule from meeting twice a week for 90 minutes to once a week for 3 hours. This new schedule was to occupy our free hour period. I objected for many reasons, but mainly because I felt it was an unnecessary inconvenience. This time conflict also affected some other students, so we voiced our opinions. The class now meets twice a week for 90 minutes, as per the initial schedule. That was the first time in long time that my opinion counted. After that situation had been resolved, I began to ponder on where power lies in the classroom. One might quickly jump to the conclusion that the instructor holds the power. This is true to a large extent; professors have authority with respect to tutelage and grading of the class. However, students have a great amount of power in and out of the classroom, but only a few recognize this.

For instance, in my sophomore year I discovered that international students in my department were foregoing internship opportunities. In order to partake in an internship opportunity and earn money, an international student has to file for Curricular Practical Training (CPT). In order to file for CPT, the student must prove that the internship is directly related to his/her major, and to a class that he/she is currently enrolled in. Most internships occur during the summer when there is no scholarship or financial aid available. Students ended up paying $5,000 out-of-pocket to enroll in a 4-credit class in order to get CPT approval. Students who could not afford to pay that amount of money had to forego their internships. My classmates and I petitioned for a 1-credit internship class to reduce the financial burden of enrolling in CPT. It’s been a long journey, but this course will be available in Spring 2017. This story is a testament to the fact that students can indeed influence change.

Another simple way that students give up their power in the classroom is by portraying a lack of accountability. By skipping class, showing up late, or focusing on gadgets during a lecture, you are wasting your money, time and inadvertently, your power.

Being the nerd that I am, I calculated the amount of money that goes to waste when a student skips class. For a full time undergraduate student enrolled in 12-17 credits, tuition costs $16,150 per semester. Let’s assume a student, Peter, is enrolled in 4 courses totalling 15 credits. By missing 3 classes of a 3 credit course, Peter has lost $810. To put this in relatable terms, he’s wasted money that could buy either an iPhone 6 Plus, or 5 Jordan sneakers, or Halal food for 150 days.

What’s my point? Be proactive. We often give up our power by remaining silent and feigning apathy on critical issues. I dare you to speak up, voice your concerns, pursue your education with passion, and take action on any injustice you observe. If you need support, contact your campus Student Government Association, the Community Service Center or your campus dean.

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Protect the Child

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    This story begins with me scrolling down my Instagram feed innocently the week before Christmas. My friend had shared a picture of a beautiful Christmas tree with the hashtag #Christmas2015. I clicked on the hashtag with hopes of finding similar Christmas decorations, and for a while I did see beautifully decorated lawns and houses. However, a few seconds later my eyes were assaulted by the nastiest image I’ve ever seen. I’ll spare you the gory details, but someone had posted child pornography under the hashtag #Christmas2015. I was furious and I reported the picture. I soon realized that was the end, there was nothing else I could do about it.

    Fast forward about a month later, still on Instagram, I had many mentions and saw that a decently-sized group of people were rallying for mass support to shut down a page that had child porn. Now, given that I still had the first image in my head, I decided not go to the page at all. It was in that moment that I decided to pick up this fight against child porn.

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    About a week ago, my friend recommended that I read the book “Restavec” by Jean-Robert Cadet. The book narrates the odyssey of a young Haitian slave child who later migrates to the USA. I was reminded that child slavery is an active social issue to which we pay little attention. Currently, there are over 5 million children that are enslaved or sex trafficked. To put that in context, the population of Houston is 2.2 million. That means there are 2 times more children in slavery than there are people in Houston, Texas.

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What exactly are the laws in place for criminals convicted of child exploitation? United States Code, Title 18 – Section 2256 describes child pornography as “any visual depiction of sexual explicit conduct involving a minor (someone under 18 years of age)”. Violation of this law can result in a 15-year prison sentence and registration as a sex offender. However, it has become increasingly difficult to apprehend cyber child pornographers. We need accountability and everyone needs to play a part in the efficient enforcement of these laws. To report an incident involving the possession, distribution, receipt, or production of child pornography, file a report on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)’s website at www.cybertipline.com, or call 1-800-843-5678. Your report will be forwarded to a law enforcement agency for investigation and action..

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Do you remember when you were a child and your biggest concern was whether you’ll get ice cream after school or you’ll get a bike for your birthday? Perhaps for you always looked forward to getting a new game or going on summer vacation. Life was really simple when we were kids. It is difficult to fathom the possibility that not everyone enjoys this privilege. Knowledge and dialogue about these issues are the initial steps towards reform.

For more information, look here or there