For those of you who know me,  you might be surprised that after a year away from blogging, I decided to jump back in with a post about Veteran’s Day.   Politics aside –don’t mistake my anti-war beliefs as an anti-veteran stance.

I am the proud daughter of a Vietnam Veteran who continues to advocate for the needs of all veterans through his ‘volunteer’ work as the Chairman of the American Legion War Memorial Commission and Vice Commander of Cathay Post.   He has worked with the Commission to preserve the San Francisco War Memorial so that it continues to provide services to US veterans of all wars. Just as importantly, his work with Cathay post advocates for the recognition and acknowledgement of the work and sacrifice of Asian and Pacific Islander soldiers in all wars.

As we take the day to acknowledge veterans, I find myself a bit perplexed.  For the past year and a half, I have worked on a number of projects that taught me a lot about the post-war experiences of veterans  –particularly around the issues of homelessness and mental health.  I look at the statistics and I ask myself –how do we truly honor veterans? Ignoring the needs of military men ,women, and their families, who voluntarily sacrifice their lives in support of our country is a violent act –one that each of us should be committed to improving if we truly want to support Veterans.

Here are just a few facts and statistics that trouble me:

DEMOGRAPHICS OF HOMELESS VETERANS (usich.gov)

  • 13% of the homeless adult population are veterans
  • 20% of the male homeless population are veterans
  • 68% reside in principal cities (e.g. Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC)
  • 32% reside in suburban/rural areas
  • 51% of individual homeless veterans have disabilities
  • 50% have serious mental illness
  • 70% have substance abuse problems
  • 50% are age 51 or older, compared to 19% non-veterans
  • According to the Housing and Urban Development Department’s 2011 Homeless Assessment Report 67,495 Veterans experienced homelessness on the night of the annual homeless Point-in-Time (PIT) count for January 2011[i] (This count may be low because it only reflects the one-night when the survey occurred.)
  • The Department of Veteran Affairs reports that 22 veterans commit suicide every day!  This is a conservative estimate –the data used excludes California, Texas and Illinois who are the first, second, and fifth largest states with veteran populations. The numbers are most likely higher.  That is almost 1 death per hour!
  • According to a 2008 RAND study, nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans screen positive for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or depression.[ii]
  • The same study found that about 19 percent of troops surveyed report a probable Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) during deployment.  It is unclear what the long term effects of TBI are on veterans because the symptoms are often hard to distinguish from PTSD.

While I could continue to list off a bunch of statistics I am going to stop here.  If we are truly going to honor veterans on Veteran’s Day —it’s time that we start working to help preserve and improve their quality of life.  We pay billions of dollars to profiteering, multi-national corporations who build weapons –but we fail to provide an adequate budget to care for our veterans.  While I’ve focused on mental health and homelessness, I think it is also important to note that we fail to pay our current enlisted soldiers a living wage so that they can support their families.   How is this right?

So this Veteran’s Day, if you want to honor Veteran’s and thank them for service –get educated on the issues.  Honor our Veterans by helping educate your fellow citizens on the real sacrifices soldiers make when they choose to defend our country.

November 6, 2012 –Election Day. –a day where we take to the polls to (re) elect a president. We are reminded that not so long ago, minorities and women battled for suffrage, for the right to be heard and counted.  Even today, in states across the country there remain numerous acts of voter suppression and legislation aimed to disenfranchise minority voters in particular.  We are reminded that in order for democracy to succeed we must constantly fight to maintain and sustain the rights that ALL citizens are entitled to –and work against those who would try to strip or pervert the rights guaranteed to all of us in the eyes of the law.

I was compelled to write this short blog post because today my colleagues and former students at the University of San Diego are beginning a protest to combat the university’s violation of the tenets of academic freedom and censorship.  Actions taken by the university to rescind Dr. Tina Beattie’s invitation to serve as a fellow at USD point to the ways in which donor dollars trump democratic education.  Much has been written about this controversy (see links below) that can provide those interested with a much deeper understanding of the issue.

I am a firm believer that education, at it’s best, provides students with a diversity of ideas, understandings and perspectives.  Particularly in the Social Sciences and the Humanities, these ideals should be used by students to inform their positions and beliefs.  For any authority in power –whether that’s the government, university official, or professor to actively prevent the presentation of ideas –whether one agrees or disagrees with them from those willing and wanting to hear them is an act of violence and totalitarianism., and violates the very foundation of education.

So this is a short note to say, I stand in solidarity with my friends and colleagues today. I admire your heart and passion.  Stay Strong.

Highly recommended reading:

Tina Beattie’s blog explaining her position and USD’s rescinded inviteKPBS audio interview with Drs. Beattie, Mannion, and Hinmen

Inside Higher Ed: An invitation rescinded

After a long day that began at 5:15am, I was more than exhausted when I returned home a little over 12 hours later. The idea of cooking dinner was the furthest thing from my mind. After scouring Yelp for a few minutes, I decided I would try this Korean Sashimi place that got good reviews and was three blocks from my house. Perfect –sushi would be easy, and not heavy and I’d be home early enough to chill out, watch a movie, and go to bed early. Let’s just say, I learned a huge lesson in the difference between Korean and Japanese sashimi.

I arrive at this hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and the Korean gentleman welcomed me. After I sat down, in broken English, he explained that the ‘small’ size was $30. I said ok. I assumed that this restaurant served everything like Japanese style Omakase –that it was Chef’s choice. $30 seemed reasonable since Omakase is usually $50 or more. I sat back and waited my order. Not unlike other Korean restaurants the first thing to come was the banchan (side dishes). 2 kinds of kimchi, some crunchy salty baked thing, seafood pancakes, steamed egg, seaweed salad, potato salad, and some other jello like thing that is marinated in soy sauce. In truth, I would have been full with just the banchan.

Now the real surprise begins….

Had I not been half asleep, scrolling through my emails, I probably would have noticed that the chef had gone over to a fish tank and pulled out a live fish (I noticed this much later). The waitress comes over to my table and starts moving the banchan plates around to make room. She then leaves, and comes back with a huge plate of sashimi –beautifully displayed in a spiral fashion. There it was –the whole fish, sliced into sashimi slices sitting on the table in front of me. I looked at her and said, “Oh my God… are you kidding me. This is the small?” She smiled politely at me, nodded, and then left. As I was grappling with how much food had just been placed in front of me she came back with an octopus salad. The octopus was really fresh –I swear you could still see the tentacles moving. It had a red sauce on top of it and was delicious.

Needless to say –this was definitely a foodie lesson –Korean sashimi and Japanese sashimi –very very different things. I left that night, more comatose than I had started –this time from the pure amount of food. I don’t think the picture can even begin to display just how much food there was.

I, of course, sent this picture off to one of my Korean friends who called me laughing a day later. Lesson learned. Next time, I bring a friend.

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Starting New in and Old Place

Posted: August 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

ImageWow…I’ve lived in LA for almost 3 weeks already.  How did that happen?  I’m almost out of all my boxes —I’ve hit that point where I’m tempted to just throw out all the things that still need to be unpacked, but you never know, there might be something I need in there.  Let me see if I can quickly answer a few of the usual questions.

1.  How do you like living in LA?

It’s been amazingly easy to adjust to Los Angeles  –I did live here for 9 years prior to moving to San Diego.  Living in Koreatown is great –good food, easy access to public transportation, and amazing access to all sorts of culture.  On my first full weekend here, I went to see a modern hula troop perform for free at Grand Performances –a downtown art performance space.  The extra special added bonus –my amazing friend Zoe called me 4 hours before a concert and says – —“Belinda, I’ve got extra tickets to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, wanna go?”  My response, “Are you serious??  Ummm…YES!”  Well it turns out the tickets were on the 14TH row –just to the right of the stage!  Anthony Kiedis is a one man advertisement for yoga  –he looks as good in his mid 40’s as he did 25 years ago.   Such a fun concert!

I feel very lucky to have moved back to a space where I have some really good friends.  They’ve helped make the settling in process so easy –and more importantly given me really positive energy as I let go of the old, and embark on this new journey. 

2.  How’s the new job?

Two words. “Rigo’s crazy!”  Just kidding (well sort of, but he’ll probably never read this and he knows I say that with lots of love).  In all seriousness,  I might just be in the honeymoon phase, but it’s been really fantastic.  Working on “place based,” systems change initiatives is fascinating.  Although I’m hyper-scheduled with meetings (yes more than I was at USD) I’m starting to get a real sense of the long term goals we’re working with organizations to achieve.  In short, place based initiatives means investing resources in particular locations over an extended period of time (10 years or so) in order to improve community outcomes.  In a recent presentation on place based initiatives she noted that her organization (Center for Study of Social Policy) began it’s work 15 years ago.  It started when they heard one specific statistic –that in New York State, 65% of inmates in NY prisons were from 4 zip codes.  She argued that what this simple statistic illustrated, was that if you invested resources long term, in those 4 zip codes, working to improve health, education, employment, etc outcomes in these communities you could decrease incarceration rates and potentially stop cycles of poverty, recidivism, and joblessness.    In short, I’m working on teams that are using that philosophy to help communities help themselves.  While I still find myself overwhelmed at the magnitude of the work, I am excited by the potential and all that I’m learning.  So much of the foundational philosophy and methodology are social science based and it’s nice to be applying my expertise in different ways.   

Anyways –that’s the update for now.  As difficult as it was to leave San Diego –I have to say that the new start in LA is just what I needed.  Ask me in a month and I’ll let you know if I still feel the same way.

Dear Friends & Colleagues,

As some of you already know, I am leaving the University of San Diego at the end of the Spring Semester. I’ve lost track of who I’ve told, and who I haven’t, so please forgive the rather generic way I’ve posted this information.

This summer, I will move to Los Angeles and work as a Consultant with The INNOVA Group, Inc. This firm specializes in community based research, strategic planning, and non-profit capacity building –among a myriad of other things. I will work on projects including but not limited to higher education, immigrant civic engagement, homelessness, and community access to health resources. The opportunity to work on these issues in substantive and meaningful ways excites me and opens up numerous possibilities for me.

It has been an honor and privilege to work with all of you —and I want to especially thank my colleagues in the Department of Sociology and Ethnic Studies for the unwavering support. I’ve had an amazing opportunity to work with fantastic colleagues, and some pretty terrific students. All of you remind me that individual effort, tenacity, ingenuity, and innovation, can overcome individuals, environments and institutions that fail to make meaningful commitments to social change and diversity. As I move forward in my personal and professional journey, I feel empowered by the amazing work my colleagues and I have done, and hopeful about the future because of the really phenomenal things I’m watching my former and current students do with their lives. Although I’m moving to new things, I will no doubt make an appearance or two around USD –particularly during women’s basketball season, so perhaps I’ll see a few of you around the JCP.

While change is inevitable, I think it’s important to look towards the future and not live in the past. I am focused on setting goals, making moves, creating new paths, and being open to new opportunities and possibilities.
With love and admiration,

Belinda

When you choose a career as a professional sociologist that studies race and ethnicity, immigration, and organized labor –you know you are signing up for a career where you try and teach students and those around you that: 1) Inequality Matters; and, 2) there are a multitude of ways that inequalities based on race, class, gender, and sexuality manifest themselves in everyday life.  On good days, you’re grateful when the majority of your students “get it.”  You relish those moments when your students aren’t trying to “please” you by trying to simply give answers that they think you want to hear –and instead they get real and say what they truly think and start true and meaningful dialogues, regardless of how uncomfortable people may feel.  These lessons and meaningful discussions, however, are often tempered by the realities that lie just outside the doorway to your classroom.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself astounded by the ridiculous amounts of tokenism that permeate the academy.  As many of you have already seen in the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education –Naomi Shaefer Riley a journalist affiliated with the neo-conservative “think tank” (I use this term loosely) the Institute for American Values attacked Black Studies and 3 specific graduate students after simply reading their dissertation titles. She provides no empirical evidence for her assertions, and fails to offer any type of substantive critique based in empirical research.  Furthermore, she asserts in a second blog post that because she is a JOURNALIST she doesn’t need to read or provide evidence before writing a 500 word essay.  I’d argue that this type of arrogance that has lead to the downfall of journalism as we know it.  The very simple fact that the Chronicle of Higher Education gives space to racist blog posts with no empirical basis, and written for the sole purpose of spreading vitriol and demeaning a program that’s desperately needed in order to diversify the academy –should make all of us question whether the Chronicle of Higher Education should legitimately be considered the standard bearer for higher education news.

The real danger, however, is that this type of unfounded and uninformed opinion has become the accepted norm.  Instead of actually looking at the realities that surround us everyday, we allow institutions and people to believe that race (or any axes of difference really) doesn’t matter anymore.  That somehow the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 magically ‘fixed’ all racial inequalities and we no longer need to pay  attention to the persistence of race based inequalities in health, housing, incarceration, and housing (to name a few.)  People point to individuals (e.g. President Obama) as proof that success has happened for minorities –but fail to look at the system and the ways it needs to change.  These attitudes permeate all areas of higher education where adminstrators, professors, and institutions see no problem in tokenizing students or professors and using them as proof of ‘what a good job they’re doing” —when in fact they’re simply reproducing the racist, sexist, homophobic mores that historically have gone unquestioned in the halls of academia.

For more years than I can count, I’ve been haunted by the fact that I’ve had the same conversation with a multitude of students of color around this time every year.  Student X comes to my office, they’re unhappy and want to leave.  They’re seeking support, affirmation that their feelings are important, and want some advice.  Unfortunately, after five years, I’m all too familiar with the sources of the unhappiness, and the importance of the student being able to exert some semblance of control over their reality.  At some point in the conversation, they talk about how angry, mad, stressed, and confused they are by how they’re being treated by others in the university.  The student will say something like, “When I told Administrator Y that I wanted to leave, they immediately started lecturing me on why I should stay.” Or, “Administrator Z keeps cornering me and pressuring me telling me I need to make a decision and that they think I should stay.”  In almost every single instance, the student ends by saying, “It’s funny that now that I want to leave –people want to “help” but they are still doing the same thing they always do –talking over me and not listening to me. “

Imagine what life would be like if we listened more and talked less.  Instead, we’ve created a culture in higher education (and broader society really) that privileges the promotion of unfounded accusation and self interest without regard to empirical real world experience.  In higher education, we become so focused on tokenizing people of color that we encourage a culture that lets people care more about numbers and window dressing, than we do about substantive engagement and contribution.  This type of culture allows for the persistence and legitimation of unfounded attacks that lack any real substance or merit.  In addition, it promotes the idea that the way to diversify education is by investing in the ‘claiming’ of students rather than true engagement and conversation with students.  In the end, this type of tokenization leads to anger, resentment, and the transferring of talented and amazing students who could have enriched our university

For those wishing to support USD students, please see the following website:  https://sites.google.com/site/ausd4everyone/

_______________________________________________

I turned on the news two nights ago and found myself listening to a San Diego 7 News report titled, “A Campus Divided” (click here)  that reported on the supposed division among students on the PRIDE groups’ decision to sponsor a Drag show designed to educate the campus community about trans community and gender identity.  PRIDE has worked diligently to navigate the considerable number of bureaucratic hoops and hurdles placed in front of them.   The irony of this report is that it constructs upheaval among students, when in fact, it’s off campus individuals and organizations creating the upheaval through their hate infused messages and harassment.

The response from those ‘concerned’ about “Catholic Identity” has been a litany of hate mail directed at the students, their organization, and University administration.    While part of me wanted to laugh when I saw that someone said that the University of San Diego stood for “Undeniable Satanic Destruction” –I found myself saddened (not surprised) by the level of intolerance and vitriol aimed at students trying to honor and celebrate individuals who face discrimination and prejudice everyday.  Just as frustrating and saddening is listening to the type of hate being aimed at these college students in the name of religion.  I fully respect the right of every individual to freedom and religion –but wonder what religion, god, gods, goddesses, or deities preach hate as an acceptable form of behavior and social interaction.  It seems antithetical to any form of religion.

Many of us were reminded when reading an autobiographical article written by the late Dr. Joseph Columbo,, who taught in the Theology and Religious Studies Department, that it wasn’t that long ago that this community and their allies had to meet in secret –in fact professors had to keep their gender and sexual identity in the closet.  While the university has come a long way since that time, my hope, is that we remind ourselves that this is not the time to take a step backwards. For five years, I’ve watched as too many students have struggled to live their lives out loud and be respected for who they are regardless of their sexual orientation, race, religion, gender, or class status. The LGBTQQ community has become the target of religious zealots who claim to stand for all Catholics and Christians –when in fact, we know there is great variation in the ways in which different parts of the Catholic Church and denominations within Christianity view same sex partnerships and unions.  In truth, I might have  a lot more respect for those sending hate mail,  emails, and comments on Facebook pages and blogs if they stepped out from behind their keyboards and actually opened themselves up to a public and meaningful conversations.  Hate thrives in silence and anonymity –so it’s time for us to combat this bigotry by taking a stand against homophobia and hate.

I stand with PRIDE and celebrate the strength, tenacity, and perseverance of the students who are working hard to educate the campus community and combat hate.  I thank USD for standing behind them too.