Gentrification: A Call For Reform or a Negative Acceptance?

by Iqra Ishrat, April 9, 2021

According to experts from Brookings Institute, gentrification is “the process of neighborhood change that results in the replacement of lower income residents with higher income ones” (Kennedy & Leonard, 2001), and has existed in United States urban centers since the 1970s (Fox, 2013). Since then, it has been changing communities, populations, developments, and professional opportunities in cities. According to statistics presented by population researcher Mark R. Montgomery, “During the period 2000-2024, the world’s total population is projected to grow by 1.76 billion persons, with some 86% of this growth expected to take place in the cities and towns…” (Montgomery, 2008). With populations increasing and more people moving into cities, some claim that gentrification can lead to health improvements, better education, lower crime rates, and more refined neighborhoods. However, it also leads to displacement of people, higher rent-prices, and animosity between inhabitants. These consequences and setbacks raise a question: do the benefits of gentrification outweigh the toll put onto original residents in the United States? Considering economic and political lenses along with perspectives of old residents, new wealthier inhabitants, researchers, and other community members in cities, gentrification is necessary for cities to develop and improve.

A major economic problem of gentrification is the cost of rent, which is increasing for former residents. Data from the US Census shows that in 1990, the median value of owner-occupied housing in central cities was 127,589 dollars and later in 2010 jumped to 184,839 dollars (Ellen, Horn, & Reed, 2017). That is a major price change of 57,250 dollars; many old residents are unable to pay for new, expensive housing, forcing them to leave. Along with increasing prices for housing in gentrifying cities, rent has also increased throughout the United States from 2000 to 2016. US Census data gathered by the Institute for Policy & Social Research shows that in states with many gentrifying cities like New York or Connecticut, the rent prices nearly doubled to over a thousand dollars per month (Institute for Policy & Social Research, 2018). Clearly, with such high changes in rent price, old residents do not have the wealth to afford increasing rent or house costs, forcing tenants to leave their cities.

Many old residents are angered with the inflating prices of housing. Since the prices keep increasing, people are being displaced from their communities. In other words, people are forced to move out to different neighborhoods since they cannot afford the current costs of living. Viewing the perspective of these old residents, they complain of the rent price rise due to gentrification. In an online newspaper entitled The Guardian, author Franseca Perry mentioned the opinion of a homeowner in Silicon Valley, “My entire family has left over the years to more affordable places for the working class… People are casually displaced every day and $1,000 a month rent hikes are not uncommon” (Perry, 2016). This view indicates that not all individuals can cope with economic changes occurring in gentrifying cities.

As the cost of living in cities is increasing, so are the cities’ tax revenues since homes have more value and wealthier inhabitants are moving in. Although this may promote displacement of the poor, it has many benefits that are necessary for cities. According to experts Maureen Kennedy and Paul Leonard (2001) from Brookings Institute, with the tax revenue increasing and more affluent individuals present, a city can spend more money to make itself vibrant, poverty rates can be decentralized, and commercial activity can be promoted. Thus, with more money, services can be added to revitalize the dull cities, and the old streets and broken-down residence cities can be cleaned and replaced with much needed improved housing. At the same time, new residents moving in can bring new customers to old businesses using their purchasing power and can also promote the development of new businesses, benefiting the economy. Overall, the better economy and increased number of wealthy occupants leads to decentralized poverty rates. According to the perspective of a community director in Cleveland, “I know it’s not politically correct, but with an average poverty rate of 42 percent, what my target neighborhoods need is a little gentrification” (Kennedy & Leonard, 2001). Although many old inhabitants in cities are displaced through gentrification, it will lead to much needed prosperity in neighborhoods and contribute to a more stabilized economy.

Additionally, while many residents have been displaced through the process of gentrification, studies found that the displacement may have been beneficial, to promote economics as mentioned previously, but also helpful to those that were forced to leave. In a large survey of five cities addressed by Professor of Economics Stephen Sheppard at Williams College, “displaced residents did not live in worse conditions following their moves. The majority of the displaced reported increased levels of satisfaction with their home and neighborhood and commute times were more likely to decrease after the move” (Sheppard, 2012). In other words, even though people couldn’t afford to live in their old neighborhoods, they are being moved to cities with better conditions where they can live their lives. Because of wealthier inhabitants, cities will have the benefit of a stronger economy; at the same time, old residents who cannot continue to afford the lifestyle get to live more comfortably when they move out to a new neighborhood.

Nevertheless, with changes occurring in cities through gentrification, animosity between residents is bound to occur. Specifically, the old residents are unhappy with the new wealthier individuals moving in. According to Elizabeth M. Kirkland who has a Juris Doctor degree and has focused on systemic racism at the Race Relations Institute of Fisk University, “the pre-gentrified neighborhood is inhabited mostly by African Americans or other people of color, and the in-movers are typically white” (Kirkland, 2008). Often, old residents of a certain ethnicity are unhappy with new groups moving in since they feel that their hometowns are being breached by people that will steal their city. Social Researchers Victoria F. Burns, Jean-Pierre Lavoie, and Damaris Rose interviewed elderly people in gentrifying cities on their thoughts of new individuals moving in. One interviewee, an 85-year-old woman, stated, “We ask ourselves where we are. I don’t like it. They are invading us…they are going to take everything from us… all the businesses; it’s them who are running them” (Burns, Lavoie, & Rose, 2012). Hence, it is important to note that community changes are not compensated within enlivening cities.

View of American poet Richard Blanco is similar to those unhappy with changes in the community due to gentrification. In his poem, “Looking for The Gulf Motel”, Blanco describes the changes that took place to his old neighborhood in Marco Island, Florida, and he wishes it was still the same as then:

“I am thirty-eight, driving up Collier Boulevard, looking for The Gulf Motel, for everything that should still be, but isn’t. I want to blame the condos, their shadows for ruining the beach and my past, I want to chase the snowbirds away with their tacky mansions and yachts, I want to turn the golf courses back into mangroves, I want to find The Gulf Motel exactly as it was and pretend for a moment, nothing lost is lost.” (Blanco, 2012)

In his poem, Blanco does not appreciate how everything that once was is gone. All the old buildings, scenes, and history important to him in Marco Island are gone; resembling the theme of change that is present in gentrification. This shows that not all will appreciate the changes done through revitalization of a city, comparable to the woman quoted earlier believing her community was invaded.

However, gentrification can decrease integration, or, race-based segregation in schools. Overall, with different-raced inhabitants moving in, gentrification leads to more diverse populations in schools. Professor of Law and co-founder of Perception Institute which focuses on researching social problems and creating solutions based on the research, Rachel D. Godsil wrote a paper on segregation in schools and how gentrification can help. In her paper, she states, “Diversity has been shown to play a critical role in spurring innovation and rigorous thinking” (Godsil, 2019). Simply, gentrification leads to interaction between diverse peoples, which ultimately encourages stronger thoughts and better relationships in schools. Also, schools can provide better education since they will have better funding due to increased tax revenue from wealthier inhabitants. With this money, supplies such as student recourses and/or technology can be added to a school district. So, with gentrification of cities comes the benefit of a better education due to greater diversity and increased funding. While this may not solve the problem of preserving communities and their history, it can ease tensions and lead to a brighter and more cooperative neighborhood.

When cities are re-developed through gentrification, health norms can be increased. Health conditions are typically bad in pre-gentrified cities due to low city budgets not being able to afford adequate standards. As stated by researchers Joseph Gibbons, Michael Barton, and Elizabeth Brault from the Department of Sociology in San Diego State University (2018), low income communities lack healthy food options, quality healthcare, and park space. Additionally, due to poverty in the cities, there are environmental factors that weaken residents’ health; physical examples such as living in broken and cramped homes, and social examples being the witnessing of depressed, drunk individuals on the streets (Gibbons, Barton, & Brault, 2018). Therefore, when communities described as such go through gentrification, improved healthcare is available, along with the availability of leisurely activities like community parks, overall helping to improve the health standards.

Along with better health for a community, crime rate can also decrease. Specifically, personal and violent crime rates tend to decrease in gentrifying cities. The United States Bureau of Justice Statistics defines personal crimes as “Rape, sexual assault, personal robbery, assault, purse snatching, and pocket picking” (Bureau of Justice Statistics, n.d.). Basically, it is any crime that may harm an individual. In a large study done that analyzed fourteen gentrifying neighborhoods by researcher Scott C. McDonald, it was found that as new wealthier inhabitants were moving in while cities were being changed, personal crimes overall decreased (McDonald, 1986). Recent statistics provided by the US Census also highlight the same results as McDonalds’ research. According to the data, in 1988 there were 13.5 violent crimes occurring per 1,000 population; but later in 2008, dropped down to a mean of only 8.9 violent crimes in the same population (Ellen, Horn, & Reed, 2017). This indicates that crime is reduced overall through gentrification and cities in the United States become safer.

Unfortunately, the uncontrolled gentrification process may not be able to maintain cities the way older residents prefer, but many positive and necessary changes in health, economics, safety, education, and revitalization occur to improve cities. However, improvements can be made to the gentrification process so that it doesn’t harm old residents of the cities as much. Currently, methods are used to ease gentrification and to keep the number of people being displaced low. Some methods mentioned by Kennedy and Leonard are, “tax abatements, housing trust funds, job linkage efforts, linkage fee programs, rent control, and so on” (Kennedy & Leonard, 2001). These methods allow more individuals to cope with economic changes occurring and they increase the number of old residents able to remain in cities. The goal is to achieve “equitable development”, described by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as “an approach for meeting the needs of underserved communities… It is increasingly considered an effective place-based action for creating strong and livable communities” (United States Environmental Protection Agency, n.d.). In other words, it was an attempt to make things fairer to old residents in gentrifying cities and to mitigate the detriments in the gentrification process overall.

First, it would be necessary to strengthen the relationships of community members so that they can devise a plan together. Cooperation would be important between different groups and communities within a city. “Strategies can and should be supported, implemented and funded by regional, city, private sector, non-profit sector and philanthropic interests” (Kennedy & Leonard, 2001). All these different groups coming together would be important to a city because they can help directly influence the outcome of the gentrification process. Through the various studies Godsil analyzed in her paper, she claims, “Studies have found a link between the quality of the informal interactions with diverse peers and analytical problem-solving and complex thinking skills (Godsil, 2019). If there is unity, diversity, and problem solving, different groups sharing their ideas would be highly effective.

Second, it would be required that all groups taking part have a common goal and view in mind. All people would need to know exactly what the purpose is for the city and how it is planned to achieve that goal. According to Kennedy and Leonard, working towards a common goal is not only beneficial since it creates a sense of trust, but it also allows for securing of land and homes for people through the communication of public and private sector leaders (Kennedy & Leonard, 2001).

Finally, once there is a common goal, work needs to be done to implement the desirable changes. This means policies may need to adjust, home development plans must go into effect, negotiations between leaders should occur, and overall taxes must be used effectively. If the entire process of gentrification occurs in this way, there will be far less drawbacks to it. Through this entire process, the necessity of gentrification will be revealed since it may bring positive changes to neighborhoods, bringing far more benefits than drawbacks through a much-needed stronger economy, better health conditions, lower crime rates, improved education, and most importantly, a united community.


Blanco, R. (2012). Looking for the gulf motel. In R. Blanco (Author), Pitt Poetry Series: Looking for the Gulf Motel (pp. 1-3). Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. (Original work published 2012)

Burns, V. F., Lavoie, J. P., & Rose, D. (2011). Revisiting the role of neighbourhood change in social exclusion and inclusion of older people. Journal of aging research, 2012,

Bureau of Justice Statistics. (n.d.). Terms & definitions: Crime type. Retrieved March 25, 2019, from Bureau of Justice Statistics website:

Ellen, I. G., Horn, K. M., & Reed, D. (2017, March 1). Has falling crime invited gentrification? Retrieved from Social Science Research Network database. (Accession No.

Fox, J. C. (2013). Urban Renewal. In K. L. Lerner, B. W. Lerner, & S. Benson (Eds.), Human Geography: People and the Environment (Vol. 2, pp. 653-656). Detroit, MI: Gale. Retrieved from

Gibbons, J., Barton, M., & Brault, E. (2018). Evaluating gentrification’s relation to neighborhood and city health. PLoS ONE, 13(11), 1–18.

Godsil, R. D. (2019). Rigor and Relationships: The Positive Case for Integration in Schools and Neighborhoods. Cardozo Law Review, 40(3), 1287–1326. Retrieved from

Institute for Policy & Social Research. (2018). Kansas statistical abstract 2017 (52nd ed.). Retrieved from

Kennedy, M., & Leonard, P. (2001). Dealing with neighborhood change: A primer on gentrification and policy choices. Brookings Institution, 5. Retrieved from

Kirkland, E. (2008). What’s race got to do with it? Looking for the racial dimensions of gentrification. The Western Journal of Black Studies, 32(2), 18+. Retrieved from

McDonald, S. (1986). Does Gentrification Affect Crime Rates? Crime and Justice, 8, 163-201. Retrieved from

Montgomery, M. R. (2008). The urban transformation of the developing world. Science, 319(5864), 761-764.

Perry, F. (2016, October 5). ‘We are building our way to hell’: Tales of gentrification around the world. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Sheppard, S. (2012). Why is gentrification a problem? [PDF]. Center for Creative Community Development. Retrieved from

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Equitable development and environmental justice. Retrieved March 26, 2019, from United States Environmental Protection Agency website:

The Micronesian Suicide Epidemic

by Brandon Chavez, January 25, 2021

Brandon Chavez is a Class of 2024 undergraduate majoring in History. He enjoys learning about social and political issues in other countries & places around the world. He also enjoys learning about the challenges faced by indigenous populations.


”Suicide rates since 1960 in Micronesia (the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands) have undergone an epidemic-like increase. This phenomenon is focussed narrowly within the 15-24-year male age-group”

(Rubinstein, 1983).

Family plays a quite significant role in Micronesian society. An individual’s self-esteem is very dependent on the acceptance and support of the family, more so than any other contributing factor. A firm place and role in the family is a source of self-esteem for an individual. The significance of familial relations and approvals are shown with one of Hezel’s statistics in his data: “Over 70 percent of all the suicides since 1960 were precipitated by conflicts within the consanguineal family” (Hezel, 55).

This phenomenon of high suicide rates among the male youth in Micronesia was first noticed by Reverend Francis Hezel, a Jesuit who was the director of Xavier High School in the Chuuk islands for nearly 18 years. Reverend Hezel wrote a magazine article about this phenomenon in 1977. Dr. Rubinstein, a researcher at Honolulu’s East-West Center, and Reverend Hazel later decided to research the issue further in the following years where they collected many facts about the situation but unfortunately did not come up with any solutions at the time. A later publication by Hezel in 1989 described the magnitude of the situation in Micronesia in comparison with the suicide rates of the United States: “The general suicide rate for Truk is 40 per 100,000. The rate for Trukese males between 15 and 25 is a startling 250 per 100,000. This is 20 times the youth rate in the United States” (Hezel, 1989).

Hezel observed that these suicides can be linked to small disputes between a young man and an older family member, like an older sibling or parent. Two examples were cited by Hezel to show his observation of the trend: one 13 year old boy hung himself after being scolded by his mother and a 16 year old boy also hung himself after his father refused to give him $1.

Another trend Hezel recognized was that the suicides would be clustered in groups; the death of one young man would often lead to suicides of others in the area. 

When thinking about possible causes for these trends, Hezel initially thought that the process of modernization and its pressures clashing with traditional island societies was responsible for this phenomenon. Hezel and Rubinstein looked further into the issue and found that poor family relations were a common pattern with their research. 

Hezel also described another insight into the issue that he gathered from his research: 

“Rather than an impulsive act, we found the suicides were often the result of a longterm intolerable situation”

(Hezel, 1983).

Reverend Hezel’s insight reveals that these suicides in Micronesia are not impulsive, but that there is a cultural aspect to the situation, regarding a traditional island defense mechanism taken to an extreme. The word “amwunumwun” is used by the Chuukese to describe the behavior of young men using withdrawal to express shame or anger. Refusing to eat or being silent are examples of actions that these young men engage in when showing this behavior. 

Reverend Hezel and Dr. Rubinstein believed that the strategy of amwunumwun became violent in the 1960s and 1970s where suicide might be considered the most extreme form of this behavior of bringing harm to oneself to save a relationship. A Chuukese suicide victim thought that being dead would repair more to a damaged relationship than if they were alive.In a later publication Reverend Hezel shed new insight on the suicide epidemic in the Chuuk islands (Hezel, 1989).

Figure 1

Note. Hezel found that anger was the leading cause of suicide in several islands in Micronesia (Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae and Yap), the Marshall Islands and Palau (Hezel, 1989, p. 49).

Hezel also sought to find out the significance of the types of interpersonal and familial relationships that lead to suicide in Micronesia. Below is the table of his recorded data:

Figure 2

(Hezel, 1989, p. 51)

The table revealed that a relational disruption or conflict between a young man and his parents was often the most common cause of relational disruption that led to suicide. Hezel notes that in suicide cases that were led by disruptions in nonfamily relationships, the victim might break off familial ties because of the shame that might be bringing to their family and fear of what their family members’ reactions woud be. The victim was ashamed of actions that could offend their family and feared a consequential disruption in familial relations.

In 2007,  Dr. Mao-Sheng Ran, a professor at the University of Hong Kong, reviewed pre-existing data on the characteristics of suicide in Micronesia. 

Dr. Ran’s research found another phenomena that highlights the effect of mental health on suicide in Micronesia the effect of mental health on suicide in Micronesia compared with another country such as the United States.

Figure 3

(Ran, 2007, p. 83).

The bar graph above reveals an interesting and peculiar observation about the correlation between mental illness and suicide victims in Micronesia. Only 10% of suicide victims in Micronesia had psychiatric disorders, while 90% of suicide victims in the United States had mental illness. Dr. Ran states that: “Mental illness did not appear to be an important factor in Micronesian suicides. Most of the victims have had no serious delinquency problems, psychological abnormality, or psychosis” (Ran, 83).

Dr. Ran noted that intergenerational conflict was the most common cause that led to suicide and most suicides occured because of a conflict, misunderstanding or argument between a young victim and their parents or older relative. 

The definition of anger in Hezel’s research is further explored in Dr. Ran’s review. Hezel’s publication in 1989 cited three distinct patterns of suicides which included anger suicides, shame suicides and psychotic suicides. It was previously mentioned in Hezel’s publication that anger suicides were the most prominent in Micronesian suicide cases, but this definition of anger adds a new understanding to the situation. Ran established that:”The definition of ‘anger’ was similar to the way Americans describe depression”(Ran, 2007, pg. 84). This definition of anger shows a cultural difference in how anger is defined in Micronesian society and American society. 

The review also included several aspects and social changes that may be responsible for the high suicide rate in Micronesia. The first change is the expansion of a cash economy in Micronesia and the decreasing reliance on subsistence production. The production may be responsible for weakening the significance of clan and lineage activities. The decline in clan and lineage activities narrows social support for teenagers, increases reliance and dependence on parents, and increases  parental-adolescent conflicts.The second change is the acceptance of suicide which can be attributed to this increase in suicide rates. As suicide becomes common among the youth, it became more acceptable and even expected.

According to Hezel, western solutions such as suicide prevention hotlines and counseling would not fully solve the suicide epidemic witnessed in Micronesia as the issue is not only psychological but also cultural. Dr. Ran offered several suggestions for future research to combat the issue. Ran suggests that there should be more surveillance on suicidal behavior in Micronesia, independent research on preventive and risk factors, and a longitudinal study on social and economic shifts affecting the male youth. Since there is not many mental health professionals available, Ran suggests that more individuals should be trained to counter the issue of suicide. 

The Micronesian suicide epidemic is quite unique as the root of the issue is concerned more with the inter-generational conflict and socio-cultural elements found within Micronesian society rather than mental illness. Solutions to the issue and research on the topic cannot be treated in a western approach, as the act of suicide has shown to be woven into the youth culture of Micronesian society. Future studies, research, and clinical approaches must consider the socio-cultural elements of Micronesian society & family to make progress in combating the Micronesian suicide epidemic.


Hezel, F. (1989). Suicide and the Micronesian family. The Contemporary Pacific, 1(1/2), 43–74. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from 

Micronesia’s male suicide rate defies solution. (1983, March 06). The New York Times. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from html 

Ran, Mao-Sheng. (2007). Suicide in Micronesia: A systematic review. Primary Psychiatry, 14(11), 80–87. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from

Rubinstein, D. H. (1983). Epidemic suicide among Micronesian adolescents. Social Science & Medicine, 17(10), 657–665. doi:10.1016/0277-9536(83)90372-6

AI – A Casual Overview

by Jeffrey Huang, January 21, 2021

Jeffrey is pursuing a B.A. in Psychology at Stony Brook. He enjoys technology and is always keeping up with the latest hardware releases.


Technology. Such a simple concept of scientific application can have many implications for our lives, history, and the world. When people talk about the dangers of technology, popular media has us thinking about robots, and by extension, Artificial Intelligence (AI). Media like The Matrix franchise, Person of Interest, or 2001: A Space Odyssey (either novel or film) highlight the potential that AI has in terms of changing our world through apocalyptic means, a dystopic society, etc. Would you believe me if I told you we were already, in some respects, in such a society today? For example, think of any time where you might have been discussing something in the open with a friend, but then see advertisements the next time you browse the web? Such was most likely the work of AI, or more specifically, Machine Learning (ML) Algorithms. The overhead of employing many human listeners would usually be too much, so such work would be mostly delegated to automation[1]. This essay is a culmination of what I’ve learned from Professor Brennan’s PSY 369, Psychology in the Age of Intelligent Machines, and what I know as a computer enthusiast.

The AI singularity seems like a technological milestone that humanity may never reach. However, despite less than ideal implementations of such technology in areas like human language translation[2], we have progressed significantly over the course of computing history. In terms of literal definitions, automated systems can pass the Turing Test, as it was written in the 1950s. Nobody uses the Turing Test in the way it was originally written; it is more of a thematic test of achieving near-human systems. I would recommend VSauce’s video here for reference (Stevens, 2017). Some key examples of AI efforts include major companies you’ve probably heard of. Tesla is one among many automobile manufacturers developing autonomous driving (“Autopilot AI”, 2020). Google, being the technological juggernaut it is, has general AI research and development along with custom computer chips (“Google AI”, 2020). Even Boston Dynamics is using AI, with some autonomous functionalities built into the Spot lineup of robots (“Spot®”, 2020).

Most prominently, AI is in the social media we use every day, through feed recommendations and those all-important corporate advertisements that provide these services to you. Most of these efforts are not usually made with malicious intent, but their implications may be anything but benevolent. Despite me writing this essay, the majority of users will not really notice AI as it slowly creeps into our lives. It’s like the rising sun; minute by minute, you don’t notice the incoming light. But, over time, if you were to compare your first minute to your last minute; assuming the sun is up, you notice this marked change. It’s a similar concept here. Slowly, technology and AI integrates itself into our lives until we don’t see its marked change before. For reference, ask older individuals what life was like before the internet, or the proliferation of accessible personal computing. We’ve advanced from expensive IBM compatibles to Chromebooks.

The issue with AI is not so much the underlying technology, nor the idea behind it. Like many concepts, it is a good idea on paper. In practice, nobody adheres to what might make it great. In the interest of expediency and cost-effectiveness, companies push forth half-baked implementations where we see more negative consequences. AI/ML algorithms are simply algorithms. They attempt to predict, with less precision than the real world, an approximation of what should be. It’s like walking through your house blindfolded. You probably won’t fall or seriously injure yourself, but seeing with your eyes is much better than relying on memory reconstructions. It’s similar with AI. However, instead of stumbling blindly in a controlled, familiar environment, such systems are thrown into the real world. Instead of being blindfolded in your house, you’re blindfolded and randomly placed on a football field. Imagine the disorientation – you would have no idea of where you were relative to the rest of the layout of said field.

AI’s implementations in the current justice system and in job selection are akin to these blind analogies. While you might think that this is due to evil programmers, this is not usually intentional. AI algorithms are mysterious in that regard. Given current frameworks and paradigms, how it generates results is unknown. Oftentimes, this is to shocking effect with its eerily accurate predictions, sometimes from scant data – privacy violations notwithstanding. Despite this, it’s sometimes claimed as a great innovation. Finally one can get “objective” judgements and predictions.

The truth is, though, there’s no such a thing as an objective algorithm. AI is only as good as the data that it’s fed, and in some cases, the wrong data leads to a perpetuation of broken systems. For instance, recidivism algorithms[3] are biased towards disadvantaged populations like people of color.

recidivism – a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior, especially to relapse into criminal behavior


In some cases, more privileged, Caucasian individuals are at an advantage given confounding lifestyle correlations tied to outcomes. For instance, an African-American who is considered high in recidivism risk will receive more scrutiny while on parole versus a Caucasian who is not. It’s ironic at times, as the end outcome can be that the African-American will obey the law and the Caucasian ends up back in prison. Despite these inconsistencies, such algorithms are pushed onto judges who don’t know any better, and innocent individuals can be caught in the crossfire (Angwin et al., 2016).

With that in mind, is there reason to panic, shout and protest? Yes and no. While it isn’t always great as I enumerated above, there are some benefits to these technologies, when used properly. An easy example of this duality is in nuclear technologies. It can be used to terrible effect, or used to generate power. AI has shown immense potential, as shown in various technology demos, or real-world implementations. For video games, AI can enable higher perceived visual fidelity with more realistic lighting or resolution upscaling, and such implementations are slowly being added to newer games and are present in next-generation consoles (“RTX. It’s On. Ultimate Ray Tracing and AI,” 2020; Battaglia, 2020). Outside of gaming, you have frame-interpolation for animations, where an algorithm attempts to make it smoother. Traditional animations like Pixar films may suffer visually from attempting this, as seen in this thread on Twitter:

For stop-motion, though, this changes the game completely. It’s much easier to just have an animation filmed at 15 fps than it is to use AI to enable a smoother, 30 fps final product (Boosting Stop-Motion to 60 fps using AI, 2020). And of course, there is the infinite comedic potential, especially with song generation or translations (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, 2020). Outside of that, this has the capability to change the way we work literally. Imagine a richer world where AI assists in creative work, or the formulation of novel chemicals that could change lives (Conti, 2016; Hessler & Baringhaus, 2018). That’s also in the works, as well as the dystopic solutions above.

The key point of this essay is not so much to get you fired up one way or the other about AI, but to just be aware of these systems and changes in our society. Congress has tried, unsuccessfully, to consider it, and it’s our job as the greater public to be informed and act accordingly. Greater awareness can be detrimental, as seen with Brandolini’s Law[4]. However, given how unconscious these processes currently operate, it’s best to bring them to light.


[1] Additionally, you probably consented to such listening when agreeing to the arcane and long Terms of Service or End User License Agreement for things like Google services.

[2] As improved as translation services are like DeepL, it can still sound odd to native speakers, as I’ve learned in Chinese with my own family.

[3] Algorithms designed to predict re-offending inmates after being released on parole

[4] It takes more information and effort to correct misinformation, especially on the internet.


Angwin, J., Larson, J., Mattu, S., & Kirchner, L. (2016). Machine Bias. ProPublica. Retrieved 31 December 2020, from

Autopilot AI. (2020). Retrieved 31 December 2020, from

Battaglia, A. (2020). PlayStation 5: what to expect from next-gen console ray tracing. Retrieved 31 December 2020, from

Boosting Stop-Motion to 60 fps using AI. (2020). [Video]. Retrieved 31 December 2020, from

Crimson Mayhem. 2020, October 6. “You want to know why converting animation that were specifically made in 24 frames per second to 60 FPS…”. Twitter.

Google AI. Google. (2020). Retrieved 31 December 2020, from

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Recidivism. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from

Spot®. (2020). Retrieved 31 December 2020, from

Stevens, Michael. (2017). Artificial Intelligence – Mind Field (Ep 4) [Video]. Retrieved 31 December 2020, from

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. (2020). Google Translate Songs with Halsey [Video]. Retrieved 31 December 2020, from

Should We Embrace Race in the Workplace and School?

by Ean Tam, January 16, 2021


As a student of the New York City public education system, I have always been in a diverse environment. For instance, my elementary and middle schools had an annual Multicultural Day Fair. The younger students performed traditional dances from different cultures, while the older students set up tents around the campus and presented research they had done on specific countries or an influential person. I enjoyed the Multicultural Day Fair, but I never thought of it as anything particularly special. It was just an event that I had always participated in since kindergarten. A few years into high school is when I realized that not all schools in America are as diverse as mine and how diversity can be a privilege. What diversity has taught me in terms of social interactions with people of other backgrounds is not a lesson that every person in America has the opportunity of receiving. However, in today’s world, where companies and firms can draw in employees from all across America and the world, employees may find themselves in workplaces where a majority of their coworkers are from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Schools are another part of society in which people may experience culture shocks or accidentally stumble into a cultural clash. Employers and school administrations may try to mediate these differences by encouraging either of the two strategies: color blindness or multiculturalism. The colorblind strategy advocates for people to be oblivious of race, whereas the multicultural strategy embraces race. Having been accustomed to the multicultural mindset all my life, I want to explore how the colorblind strategy compares. How successful is the colorblind strategy not only in leading people to ignore race, but also in establishing a cooperative and supportive environment? 

At the 2016 Republican National Convention, Ivanka Trump introduced her father, Donald Trump, and claimed, “He recognizes real knowledge and skill when he finds it. He is colorblind and gender neutral.” Evidently, she has linked color blindness as a means of seeing a person’s true worth—what he or she can bring to the table is more important than his or her race. This very same idea is highlighted in Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The notion that our personal attributes solely define who we are is very attractive. So, it is not hard to see why a colorblind strategy would be implemented in a company or school. But how successful is the colorblind implementation when it comes to people looking beyond a person’s race? Research suggests grim potential for the colorblind strategy. In a study conducted at Dartmouth College, researchers Dr. Jennifer A. Richeson and Dr. Richard J. Nussbaum found that participants who had been told the colorblind strategy was most ideal in a diverse setting were more likely to show signs of racial bias versus the participants who had been told the multicultural strategy was better (419-421). The research  participants were presented with names and were asked to categorize them as “White” or “Black” names, and they were presented with pleasant and unpleasant stimuli and were asked to categorize them as “Good” or “Bad.” Richeson and Nussbaum observed students of the colorblind group took longer to categorize negative stimuli as either “Black” or “Bad,” but were faster to categorize positive stimuli as either “White” or “Good.” They interpreted this discrepancy as a sign of the students’ racial bias. This categorizing system may seem like unconvincing evidence of bias. However, this system, called the Implicit Association Test (IAT), is well known and utilized by researchers to find the true attitudes people do not want to admit (“Implicit Association Test”). Richeson and Nussbaum’s research suggests that even the very idea of the colorblind strategy being successful was enough to create a considerable amount of racial bias within the students. The participants in this study were participating on their own free will without any personal repercussions (Richeson and Nussbaum 419-421). So this makes me wonder, what would be the effects on workers who have to keep a colorblind mindset since their paycheck depends on it? 

Dr. Michael I. Norton et al. of Harvard Business School demonstrate how color blindness affects work productivity and interactions between black and white coworkers. Norton et al. concluded that white workers were more productive with other white workers and communicated more in order to complete the task at hand (950). This ease of communication was facilitated because the white worker was more willing to use specific terms such as “black” and “African-American” when doing a categorizing activity. However, when the white workers were put in the same situation but with a black coworker, white coworkers no longer had the confidence to use those specific terms regarding race. Norton et al. explain that interactions between the black and white coworkers went further downhill as the white coworkers’ “… attempts to appear color-blind—by avoiding race—are accompanied by additional costs: less friendly nonverbal behaviors” (950). I found the results of this article interesting because it presents the colorblind strategy unintentionally becoming a form of extra-baggage in someone’s head. Instead of focusing and being able to communicate freely, a person who is attempting to be colorblind is carefully watching every one of his or her words. Now, I do not interpret (and I am sure the researchers do not imply it either) that being able to “communicate freely” means being able to mention race as comfortably as one likes. Not at all. “Communicate freely” is just everyday conversation that we should all be able to engage in. The colorblind strategy makes the everyday conversation subject to paranoia and increased self-restraint. Much like how a germaphobe is too afraid to venture outside because germs may or may not be on the next door handle, coworkers may be skeptical of those from other backgrounds because an accidental racial offense may or may not be lingering in the next conversation. As a result, coworker interactions are limited, brief, and uncordial. 

It is important to note that the workers described in the above study were not committing any kind of discrimination by limiting their interactions with black coworkers. They just did not want to be put out of their comfort zone, and that in itself should be convincing enough that the colorblind strategy is flawed. However, there is more research contributing to a narrative that the colorblind strategy separates people more than it brings them together. While the research mentioned so far has been focused on coworker-to-coworker interactions and not so much coworker-to-employer interactions, the research concerning education policy is just about equally focused on teacher-to-student and student-to-student interactions. This should give some insight into how the colorblind strategy affects authority and how such effects trickle down. 

Ideally, a successful educational system is one that makes every student feel welcome and comfortable to learn the material. In 2017, the United States Department of Education published a report stating, “Achieving a diverse student population in a given school building is a major accomplishment, but additional efforts are important to avoid the replication of inequities and disparities in achievement and access within a school that has a diverse student population” (18). This report takes the stance that a diverse student body will not automatically find its own way of including every student on the same path to success. Surprisingly, the twenty page report makes no specific reference to multicultural or colorblind strategies (it does not even use any form of the word “multicultural”). Although the US Department of Education report does not stress a particular strategy, it does advise school districts to consult legal experts if the school districts wish to recognize students’ race and cultural background (5). The report also emphasizes the importance of funding if a school wants to increase diversity because proper funding is necessary to enroll students from outside of their own districts (5). The US Department of Education report has made it seem that recognizing race, cultural backgrounds, and increasing diversity is quite the hassle: legal consulting, examining state and local laws, and allocating the proper funds. It may be possible that the colorblind strategy is an easier strategy to apply in schools than the multicultural strategy. A colorblind strategy ignores race, thus relieving any obligation a school administration may feel to increase the diversity of the student body. Not only does the colorblind strategy have an idealistic “I recognize people for their worth” mentality, but it can also be more practical and convenient. As mentioned earlier, this US Department of Education report was published in 2017, but the colorblind strategy and diversity in schools have been issues long before then. What is the historical basis for the colorblind strategy? 

Dr. Subini Ancy Annamma and co-researchers of the Stanford Graduate School of Education argue the persistence of the colorblind mindset in education is a result of the misinterpretation of a dissenting opinion from the famous 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case (147). The lone dissent in the case by Justice John Marshall Harlan stated, “Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law” (559). Annamma et al. see these two lines of Harlan’s dissent to be the root of colorblind policies not only in schools, but also in society in general. Annamma says it is important to understand that just because Harlan says all the laws of the land are colorblind does not equate to Harlan believing race is irrelevant in all matters (Annamma et al. 147). However, it would appear that Harlan’s dissent has indeed been taken as an advocacy for the colorblind strategy for an all-purpose use. In the years following Plessy v. Ferguson, “[a]ccording to the liberal discourse that has developed in the post-Jim Crow era, a good citizen is colorblind” (Choi 56). So, color blindness has become a methodology of progressives to combat the idea of “separate but equal.” While well-intentioned as a means to combat discrimination, the colorblind strategy in contemporary times has actually been shown to encourage discrimination and discourage inclusiveness in schools. 

In a 2016 article published in the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, Yale University researchers Aragón, Dovidio, and Graham defined inclusiveness as a means “to increase retention and enhance the achievements of people of color and women in STEM education, research, academic, and public sector careers” (201). Aragón et al. focused on the attendance of teachers to the National Academies Summer Institutes on Undergraduate Science Education, which  aims to promote inclusive teaching methods in schools. According to the post-attendance data, teachers who endorsed the colorblind strategy were less likely to implement inclusive teaching methods and activities and were more easily convinced that an inclusive education was a bad idea. The teachers who endorsed the multicultural strategy had the exact opposite results—they supported inclusive teaching and were not easily convinced that an inclusive education was a bad idea (210). Based on the results of Aragón et al., I interpret the colorblind strategy as a mindset that minimizes the needs of different groups. Schools may inadvertently leave some students behind because recognizing the students’ differences would disrupt the schools’ commitment to the colorblind strategy. 

While I am alarmed that teachers of the colorblind mindset would so easily dismiss inclusive programs, I am not surprised that teachers of the multicultural mindset were open to more inclusive teaching practices. Relating back to my own personal experience, I see now the efforts my elementary and middle school teachers made in order for every student to feel included. For example, whenever a cultural holiday would be approaching, our teachers would ask students of that culture to explain the importance of the holidays and traditions involved. It was not awkward or a forced one-off moment in class. The teachers would try to incorporate the holiday into the day’s lesson. In hindsight, I see how important such activities were to making us feel that we all had an equal opportunity to contribute to the class. We were not just students listening to the teacher—we had something to offer. Applying the evidence provided by Aragón et al., I can presume that if my school had embraced the colorblind strategy, no such activities would have taken place. We would have lost out on a chance to build a personal connection to our teacher and class. 

Inclusiveness may not be a priority for teachers of the colorblind mindset, but the reduction of discrimination in schools is a common goal for both the colorblind and multicultural strategies. In spite of that, the colorblind strategy has been found to decrease students’ ability to recognize discrimination when they see it. In a study of elementary grade students, Dr. Evan Apfelbaum et al. of Northwestern University investigated how the colorblind and multicultural mindsets affected the students’ responses to various scenarios (1587). In one scenario, a white classmate physically harmed a black classmate and then justified his actions by stating the black classmate would play rough too since he is black. Only 50% of the colorblind group of students said the black student had been discriminated against. In the multicultural “value-diversity mind-set” group, 77% of those students reported discrimination (1589-1590). Based on this data, I cannot trust any pro-colorblind school administration that touts a decreased rate of discrimination or bullying on the basis of race. I have no way of knowing whether the colorblind strategy actually decreased acts of discrimination or merely decreased the rate of reporting of such acts. 

On the other hand, if a school following the multicultural strategy reported a decrease in discrimination, there is data suggesting the multicultural mindset was actually responsible. In an article published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, Dr. Frances E. Aboud and Dr. Anne Beth Doyle assessed the attitudes and interactions of high- and low-prejudiced students. After discussing race with low-prejudiced students, the high-prejudiced students “became significantly less prejudiced in their evaluation” of others, especially if the low-prejudice students expanded on the similarities among people of different racial backgrounds (161). Aboud and Doyle’s advice: allow students to talk about race and start the conversation early on. If left unattended, students with prejudices and racial biases can grow up and allow these negative ideas to manifest and grow stronger. An open dialogue of race is essential to ridding students of any prejudices they may have. A colorblind school would frown upon discussions of race, and the students are deprived of an opportunity to learn how their prejudices were misguided. This not only affects a student’s behavior (whether or not he or she will discriminate), but also how he or she will interpret other’s behavior (deciding whether or not another student’s discrimination is wrong). 

Of course, it is not to be implied that colorblind students are prejudiced and that is why they do not report discrimination. Dr. Janet W. Schofield of the University of Pittsburg offers insight into the minds of the students who are aware of discrimination but decide not to report it. Schofield studied middle schools that insisted their student body were colorblind. Her data is especially valuable because Schofield did not impose the conditions on the students. The behavior she observed was the result of a long term institution of the colorblind strategy (268). To put in perspective of how long the colorblind strategy had been imposed on these students, one student was bewildered when Schofield told him Martin Luther King Jr. was African-American (280). In one school, Schofield noticed students had a harder time reporting any kind of problems—not necessarily problems of discrimination, just basic classroom complaints—because the students did not want to use race as a description. Schofield acknowledges that students in this particular middle school “[w]ere well aware that making references to race displeased many of their teachers and might also offend peers” (273). As a result, students, fearful of retaliation for identifying others by race, were hesitant to come forward when real problems arose. The students were clearly aware of their teachers’ colorblind expectations and—given the teacher-student relationship—conformed without question. The colorblind mindset does not solve the issue of discrimination in schools; rather, it merely shoves it under the rug and forces students to turn a blind eye. 

We can now see the parallelism between the workplace and the school setting. Schofield showed us that in colorblind situations, students will be mindful of their every word when reporting to teachers because they fear their teachers’ discipline. Recall Norton’s et al. study in which white coworkers became less friendly and communicative in order to appear colorblind; they too were filtering their words of any suggestions of race. Although differing in age and circumstance, students and workers manifest similar behavior when in colorblind situations. Both inhibit their everyday behavior in order to spare themselves an unpleasant reprimand from the authorities who implemented the colorblind policy. Given this parallelism, we can now return to previous studies and make a few assumptions. Apfelbaum et al. found students of the colorblind mindset to be oblivious of clear cases of discrimination; thus, workers will also be incognizant of racial injustices in the workplace. Aragón et al. exhibited colorblind-endorsing teachers to be opposed to inclusive teaching strategies; thus, colorblind-endorsing employers will also show distaste for programs to coalesce diverse workplaces. 

My personal experience convinced me that the multicultural strategy is effective in creating a cooperative and supportive environment. Examining the evidence, it is difficult to say the same for the colorblind strategy. Schools and businesses may find the colorblind strategy attractive due to its convenience and historical context, but they should consider the actual ramifications of imposing it. Is the colorblind strategy successful in making people oblivious of another’s race? No. The colorblind strategy encourages internal racial bias in coworkers. Given the similarities between worker and student behavior in colorblind situations, it is reasonable to believe that students would just as likely develop internal racial biases in school. Is the colorblind strategy successful in establishing a cooperative and supportive environment? Being that the colorblind strategy deters everyday conversation and work productivity, synergy may be hard to find. How does the multicultural strategy fare, provided the research and not just my personal experience? From the same studies, multiculturalism does what the colorblind strategy cannot. Inclusiveness is prioritized, and discrimination is recognized and—most importantly—reported. Multiculturalism does not mean students or coworkers have to address ethnicity in every conversation, but at least multiculturalism allows for that conversation to happen. Multiculturalism can disprove prejudices and improve our understanding of those who are culturally and racially different from ourselves. Acknowledging the research, the colorblind strategy would be an ill-advised imposition in both schools and workplaces.

Works Cited

Aboud, Frances E., and Anne B. Doyle. “Does Talk of Race Foster Prejudice or Tolerance in Children?” Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, vol. 28, no. 3, 1996, pp. 161-170. EBSCOhost,

Annamma, Subini A., Darrell D. Jackson, and Deb Morrison. “Conceptualizing Color-Evasiveness: Using Dis/ Ability Critical Race Theory to Expand a Color-Blind Racial Ideology in Education and Society.” Race Ethnicity and Education, vol. 20, no. 2, 2017, pp. 147-162. Taylor & Francis Journals, 1248837

Apfelbaum, Evan P., Kristin Pauker, Samuel R. Sommers and Nalini Ambady. “In Blind Pursuit of Racial Equality?” Psychological Science, vol. 21, no. 11, 2010, pp. 1587-1592. JSTOR,

Aragón, Oriana R., John F. Dovidio, and Mark J. Graham. “Colorblind and Multicultural Ideologies Are Associated With Faculty Adoption of Inclusive Teaching Practices.” Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, vol. 10, no. 3, 2016, pp. 201-215. PsycARTICLES, doi:10.1037/dhe0000026

Choi, Jung-ah. “Unlearning Colorblind Ideologies in Education Class.” Educational Foundations, vol. 22, no. 3-4, 2008, pp. 53-71. EBSCOhost,

“Implicit Association Test.” Hopkins Medicine, /implicit_association_test.html.

Norton, Michael I., Samuel R. Summers, Evan P. Apfelbaum, Natassia Pura, and Dan Ariely. “Color Blindness and Interracial Interaction: Playing the Political Correctness Game.” Psychological Science, vol. 17, no. 11, 2006, pp. 949-953. EBSCOhost, &scope=site

Plessy v. Ferguson. 163 U.S. 537 (1896). Supreme Court of the United States,

Richeson, Jennifer A., and Richard J. Nussbaum. “The Impact of Multiculturalism Versus Color-Blindness on Racial Bias.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 40, no. 3, 2004, pp. 417-423. Science Direct,

Schofield, Janet W. “The Colorblind Perspective in School: Causes and Consequences.” Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives. Eds. James A. Banks and Cherry A. McGee Banks. 5th ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005, pp. 265-281. 

Trump, Ivanka. Republican National Convention, 21 July 2016, Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH. Introductory Speech. Time, -ivanka-trump-transcript/

United States, Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. “Improving Outcomes for All Students: Strategies and Considerations to Increase Student Diversity.” Diversity & Opportunity, 19 January 2017,

Rated E for Education, Graded F for Failure

by Zarya Shaikh, January 12, 2021


In 2014, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio launched Pre-K for All to encourage “free, full-day, high-quality pre-K.”1 The program increased enrollment in Pre-K among different communities, especially within low-income families. Its success led to the creation of 3-K for All1 and yielded similar outcomes: “[o]f the 52,741 children enrolled in pre-K, 37 percent were Hispanic, 30 percent [B]lack” with no ethnic majority.2 One would expect that a student body with multiple ethnicities represented would have access to a teaching curriculum tailored to different backgrounds. The Pre-K for All handbook’s page 21 includes a list of “ emotionally responsive books about being safe” which says otherwise.1 Of the three books presented, all are written by white authors. This booklist is not an anomaly; authors of color are missing from the handbook and the curriculum itself. An analysis of the Pre-K For All curriculum reveals that “there are 0 Black authors, 0 Native authors, 0 Middle Eastern authors, 1 Latinx author, 1 Asian author, and 40 white authors” of the 42 total texts available.3 The number of white authors to authors of colors writing for younger ages is grossly disproportionate. It exemplifies the concept of a dominant culture – a “relatively small social group that has a disproportionate amount of power” – represented by the 17% of white students enrolled in the program.4 Some may argue that this is not an issue since there are Black characters in some texts. It is important to consider that “20 of the 22 books that center Black characters are written by white authors”3 who have not genuinely experienced life from the standpoint they’re writing from. The author may thoroughly research what would be their character’s background beyond the book and consult individuals who identify with the character’s community. Regardless, they may still inadvertently overlook or dismiss important details about the culture or traditions associated with their character’s identity.

The Introduction to Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies textbook defines institutions as forms of stratification among individuals by “gender, class, race, ability, and sexuality”.5 The Pre-K for All curriculum is, unfortunately, another example of an institution prioritizing white students over students of color. As coordinator Natasha Capers of the Coalition for Educational Justice phrases it – how can students of color “create a world view” from the books they read “[i]f they never see themselves in it”?4 Teaching students of color with textbooks and educational sources that do not reflect the perspective and struggles associated with their ethnic background is unfair and demeaning. Returning to the idea of the curriculum as one aspect of an institution, the common thread is neglecting authors of color and perspectives of BIPOC by BIPOC in favor of instilling at a young age that the normal “thought and behavior” is to exclude, misrepresent, and misunderstand BIPOC.5 Although the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional in 1954, racial discrimination continues well into the 21st century since we are still “teach[ing] these expectations . . . to younger generations” with alarming confidence in the school system to change course.5 BIPOC students should have the opportunity to see themselves represented in the education system as their white classmates do. That liberty should extend beyond elementary school as well. 

Education as a service to the LGBT community fails to deliver similarly in the reading curriculum. In the Ready NY CCLS and EL Education middle school curriculums, “there are no main characters that identify as LGBTQ+.”3 It would be beneficial to increase the representation of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities as written by individuals who identify with either or both within school curriculums. 


[1] NYC Department of Education. (n.d.). 3-K for All & Pre-K for All Handbook for District Schools and Pre-K Centers. New York, New York: NYC Department of Education. 

[2] Potter, H. (2016, September 20). Diversity in New York City’s Universal Pre-K Classrooms. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from

[3] Education Justice Research and Organizing Collaborative. (n.d.). Diverse City, White Curriculum: The Exclusion of People of Color from English Language Arts in NYC Schools. New York, New York: NYC Coalition for Educational Justice. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from 

[4] Elsen-Rooney, M. (2019, December 09). More than 80% of books in NYC schools’ curriculum for pre-K to eighth grade written by white authors: Report. Retrieved October 03, 2020, from mpmgjusevgtxnofdalchpq6ti-story.html 

[5] Kang, M., Lessard, D., Heston, L., Nordmarken and Kang, S., & M. (2017). Introduction to Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies. Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries. 

[6] Sergent, J., & Bravo, V. (2019, June 14). 7 maps show the mess LGBT laws are in the USA. Retrieved October 01, 2020, from doption-differ/1432848001/

Debating the Electoral System of the United States

by Cassandra Skolnick and Sanjana Sankaran, December 16, 2020

To conduct this collaboration, the authors participated in a coin flip. Cassandra lost the coin flip and has been entrusted to debate in favor of the Electoral College. Sanjana, the winner of the coin flip, has been entrusted to debate in favor of Ranked Choice Voting. Both authors have agreed to suppress all personal opinion and bias for the purpose of this debate. To make things more interesting, this debate was conducted through text message.


Which electoral system is better for the United States: the existing Electoral College or Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)?

Cassandra (Nov. 23, 2020 – 11:36 AM)

Opening Statement: I am disinclined to acknowledge this debate question as it is presented. The question is categorically wrong, deriving from the assumption that the Electoral College and ranked choice voting are mutually exclusive. Maine used ranked choice voting in the 2020 election, and the votes were then allocated to an elector in the Electoral College. So, your argument is still in favor of the Electoral College and there is no debate to be had.

Sanjana (Nov. 24, 2020 – 5:30 PM)

Opening Statement: I believe that ranked choice voting is better for the United states. The Electoral College and RCV are not mutually exclusive, and that is shown in various countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and Great Britain, who use RCV for various elections, both major and local, without the use of an elector. RCV is the epitome of majority rules, the system we have now is plurality rules, where a majority of people who vote do not get the candidate of their choosing.  Benjamin Reilly, an electoral system design expert at the University of Western Australia, said at best, RCV serves as a “prophylactic against extremism,” something America sorely needs (Kambhampaty).

Cassandra (Nov. 24, 2020 – 9:01 PM)

Your opening argument calls for the implementation of a Ranked Choice Voting system because it is “…the epitome of majority rules” (Skolnick and Sankaran). An analysis conducted on Ranked Choice Voting in the journal Electoral Studies “…analyzed some 600,000 votes cast using RCV in four local elections in California and Washington” (Waxman). The conclusion from the analysis was that none of the elections resulted in the winner receiving a majority of the votes.

Cassandra (Nov. 24, 2020 – 9:30 PM)

Ranked Choice Voting is an attractive concept, and I am willing to concede that it may be entertaining to rank candidates based on who you like best and who you like least; but let me propose a question to you. You are a passionate American who wants to perform their civic duty and vote in an upcoming presidential election. The ballot is in front of you and you have a selection of five candidates. You think hard and rank your top three choices.

Cassandra (Nov. 24, 2020 – 9:34 PM)

When the polls close, your three candidates are eliminated and one of the remaining two is declared the winner. Did you have a say in who won the election? Did the majority of Americans have a say in who won the election? Instead of voting for one candidate or against another, you now have to ask Americans to think strategically to make sure that the worst-case scenario fails to emerge.

Sanjana (Nov. 24, 2020 – 9:40 PM)

You say Americans have to prevent the worst case scenario, however many democrats believed Biden was the worst or last case scenario. There were many progressive candidates who had huge followings such as Warren and Sanders. Those democrats would argue that RCV would have given those people a fighting chance. Referencing your point about the elections in California, the paper that Waxman cites discusses the pros and cons of RCV, and says the candidate did not receive over 50% of the vote because of “voting exhaustion” (Waxman).

Sanjana (Nov. 24, 2020 – 10:00 PM)

While I can agree this is a problem with the RCV system, it has not been a problem for Australia for the past century. In a majority of these cases candidates always get over 50 % of the votes after a certain amount of rounds, and might I add that voting exhaustion is only a problem when voting is made to be extremely difficult. Mail in ballots being sent back, lack of same day registration, voter intimidation and suppression all contribute to voter exhaustion, and not solely because of RCV.

Sanjana (Nov. 24, 2020 – 10:04 PM)

In fact, according to many election result archives from the “Fair Vote,” places with RCV have increased voter turnout because candidates feel less guilty for voting for minority parties; additionally, because it is done in rounds, there is higher voter participation than the plurality system. Between 2006 and 2010 there was a 43% increase in voter turnout for the mayoral elections in Oakland, California (Richie and Hill).

Sanjana (Nov. 24, 2020 – 10:22 PM)

According to Rob Richie, the Conservative and Labor party used RCV for electing a mayor in London and “The Conservatives elected a winner on the first count, while the Labor nominee earned 59% of the final round vote after securing 37% of first choices – with more than 99.9% valid ballots out of the nearly 90,000 ballots cast” (Richie).

Sanjana (Nov. 24, 2020 – 10:30 PM)

One of the main reasons why the current system is dangerous to democracy is because it enforces the concept of negative partisanship whereby people would rather vote against someone than for someone. We saw this in the 2016 election where many people were unhappy with both options so they abstained, or they were extremely unhappy with the democratic option so they voted against Clinton rather than for Trump. This in turn creates more division and a politicization of issues that should be bipartisan such as the COVID-19 pandemic (“We’re Doing Elections Wrong”).

Cassandra (Nov. 27, 2020 – 12:40 PM)

This is the problem with proponents for RCV. There is a general understanding of RCV, but not the many parts that make the system up. For one, are you arguing for Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) or a Single Transferable Vote Proportional Representation (STV)? You brought up Australia but are you aware that Australia employs both of these RCV voting systems? I’m going to assume you have been thinking of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) since you keep speaking about the presidential election, so we will start there…

Cassandra (Nov. 27, 2020 – 12:43 PM)

The problem in the United States with IRV is that the advantage it proposes is illusory at best (Minguo). Proponents believe that IRV is the solution needed to prevent supporters of minor parties from stealing votes from a major party and therefore benefiting the other major party in an election: the spoiler effect. That sounds fantastic, as long as the minor party has no chance of actually winning the election. Well, Sanjana, I propose this situation to you; what happens when a minor party gains traction and becomes a threatening major third party? Well, then supporters pose the same risk they pose in a plurality system. Let’s explore this…

Cassandra (Nov. 27, 2020 – 12:50 PM)

Suppose that strong third party comes along. For the sake of argument, we will call this party the American Party. The party identifies as a politically centrist party, leaning left on issues involving social oppressions and environmental concerns. On November 3rd, your preference is the American candidate, and the Democratic candidate is naturally your second choice. After several rounds of counting, the American candidate is eliminated and your votes transfer to your second choice, the Democratic candidate. The Democrat ultimately wins the election. Great, you may be disappointed that the American candidate lost, but at least the Democratic candidate who shares a lot of your beliefs won.

Cassandra (Nov. 27, 2020 – 12:54 PM)

Now, let’s throw a monkey wrench into your early celebration of the IRV system. What if the Democratic candidate is eliminated before the American candidate? Unless all of the votes transfer to the American candidate, which is unlikely, the Republican candidate would win the election. You just helped the Republican win the election by not ranking the Democrat first. Which puts you in a familiar situation that you are experiencing in the current plurality system if you vote your true preference (Minguo).

Cassandra (Nov. 27, 2020 – 12:57 PM)

I understand your frustration with the Electoral College, but you are overlooking a fundamental flaw of IRV. The example that I described above fails to recognize one of your preferences in the election. By voting American and then Democrat, you increased the chances that the Democrat will be eliminated before the American. Once this happens, your preference for the Democrat over the Republican is essentially discarded or ignored. The only way that you can make sure that your vote is not wasted is to vote for one of the two major party candidates as your first choice (Minguo). Wait a minute, isn’t that what we’re doing already?

Cassandra (Nov. 27, 2020 – 1:05 PM)

You keep speaking passionately about democratic majority rule and bringing up countries like Australia and New Zealand. To quote you directly, “RCV is the epitome of majority rules” (Skolnick and Sankaran). I want to counter by throwing out Athens and France, where democratic majority rule ultimately led to tyranny of the majority, “…the majority of the electorate pursues exclusively its own objectives at the expense of those of the minority factions” (Wikipedia, “Tyranny of the majority”). This is one of the pitfalls of democracy that our founding fathers feared when they established this country and why they created the Electoral College. It ultimately destroyed Ancient Athens. Now, you want to establish a voting system that could result in this precise dilemma.

Cassandra (Nov. 27, 2020 – 1:08 PM)

Let’s take a moment to deliberate the case of Ancient Athens. During the 4th century BC, Athens suffered catastrophic democratic collapse amid “…crippling economic downturn, while politicians committed financial misdemeanors, sent its army to fight unpopular wars and struggled to cope with a surge in immigration” (Cambridge). What caused these horrific conditions? Two words… “mob rules” (Cambridge). Democratic majority cleared the way for demagogues and tyrants to seize power, ultimately destroying the city-state from the inside.

Sanjana (Nov. 27, 2020 – 2:09 PM)

The Electoral College may have been a solution back then when several Americans did not have access to education. However, with the advancement of technology, and increased education of American’s, the American government should recognize that we are capable of making informed decisions. Now I want to be extremely clear when discussing RCV I am specifically interested in applying that to primaries, and local elections rather than general elections. In the general election I believe that we should only go by popular vote.

Sanjana (Nov. 27, 2020 – 2:12 PM)

Within governmental systems RCV will be more beneficial, especially in a two party system because there are several candidates within each party you fall under various different umbrellas. You have the Tea party, Green party, Progressives, Moderates, and Libertarians. Because of the vast amount of choices that exist RCV would allow candidates to freely rank their candidates without the instance of a spoiler candidate or vote splitting. RCV will actively prevent extremists from either side of the spectrum from reaching the general election.

Sanjana (Nov. 27, 2020 – 2:15 PM)

On one side you have conservatives whose extremists are white nationalists or supremacists, and on the other side one may see extreme socialism or communism. RCV also results in less negative campaigning because if they want to be someone’s second choice or third choice they still have to appeal to a broader base and withhold divisive language that only leads to more polarization (Neal).

Sanjana (Nov. 27, 2020 – 2:39 PM)

Now looking purely at the objections of this system, I will argue that these worries are unfounded. The first concern is that it will go against the concept of “one person, one vote”. Because of this, several lawmakers have tried to litigate this system as being unlawful and unconstitutional. However, several of these litigations have not succeeded because there is nothing in the constitution that proves RCV is considered to be unconstitutional. The second concern is that it may be too confusing for voters, and they will have to know all of the candidates policies, and how the whole voting process works. To this concern I say, “well, obviously.” In any voting system, every voter should be educated in the candidates’ policies in order to make a proper decision and then decide whether or not they want to support the candidate.

Sanjana (Nov. 27, 2020 – 3:00 PM)

In order to make an informed decision, voters need to be exposed to candidates from an unbiased perspective. As voters become more educated in the candidates’ policies, extremism will go down. Much of the reason that Trump rose to power was because of rampant misinformation spread by social media and sites such as Fox News. Lastly, many critics also argue that with a less negative campaign, a politician’s past will not be held accountable.

Sanjana (Nov. 27, 2020 – 3:07 PM)

To this, I argue that just because a campaign is less negative towards their opponent does not mean their past won’t be held accountable. It simply means that incendiary language and vitriol will be less prevalent. In the case of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, many Sanders supporters attacked Warren and her supporters online with truly hateful comments. I am not saying that RCV will completely eliminate the concept of the online bully, but it will tame the fires and create a sense of unity amongst the party (Neal).

Cassandra (Nov. 27, 2020 – 6:10 PM)

While you have changed your stance significantly, I still find myself perplexed by your desire to support “tyranny of the majority.” Whether you are debating as an avid proponent of RCV or Popular Vote, you are still stacking the deck unfavorably against the minority. Do urban city Americans understand the needs of rural American farmers? No. That is an absurd and reckless thought. Then why should we rely on these same urban Americans to choose leaders to represent rural Americans?

Cassandra (Nov. 27, 2020 – 6:12 PM)

You know the answer to that question… we shouldn’t! You then go on to argue, “…An election should not have to depend on the Electoral College outcome of two states, but rather the country as a whole” (Skolnick and Sankaran). I agree! You just argued in favor of the Electoral College, because it prevents two states from deciding the outcome of an entire election for the country. Your argument is against implementing a system based on the popular vote!

Cassandra (Nov. 27, 2020 – 6:14 PM)

Arguing against only one of many reasons why the Electoral College was established is equally as reckless. As you stated, in a negative connotation, one of the reasons was that our founding fathers were concerned that not all voters were informed enough to choose a leader (Seigel). The Electoral College was also established to balance interests of majority and minority groups across state lines. Why was this important? Our nation had “…fought its way out from under a tyrannical king and overreaching colonial governors. They didn’t want another despot on their hands” (History). Why do you think it requires two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of states to ratify a constitutional amendment to append or abolish the Electoral College?

Cassandra (Nov. 27, 2020 – 6:15 PM)

If you believe the Electoral College doesn’t represent the will of the people it represents, then pass a Constitutional Amendment to tie electors to their state’s popular vote. In other words, eliminate faithless electors. What concerns me is your reason for debating in favor of RCV or Popular Vote is not because you believe them to be better electoral systems, but because you believe the systems will favor one political ideology over another.

Cassandra (Nov. 27, 2020 – 6:16 PM)

Whether we believe in particular political ideologies or not, barring actions that violate our natural rights, Americans have the right to celebrate political ideologies that are representative of who they are and how they believe. No electoral system should be established that eliminates political ideologies in favor of a single majority, because that is when democracy burns and tyranny reigns supreme.

Cassandra (Nov. 27, 2020 – 6:26 PM)

Closing Statement: As we stated at the beginning of this collaborative debate, we must remove our personal opinions and biases in order to effectively argue in favor of the electoral system we were assigned. There is a lot of fear, anger, and uncertainty dominating our nation presently. To blame an electoral system that has worked for over three hundred years because your ideologies have been oppressed is not the way to right the ship. I remain disinclined to agree with my friend’s argument in favor of Ranked Choice Voting and general elections decided by Popular Vote. This debate transcends to the heart and soul of a government that our founding fathers wanted to make immune from tyrannical oppression and domination that we fought desperately to escape. Overwhelmingly, the argument has been that Ranked Choice Voting and the Popular Vote would allow for the majority of Americans voices to be recognized. I contend that they already are. The Electoral College is far from perfect, but it gives each state the ability to cast votes in favor of a candidate that represents the will of their constituents.

Sanjana (Nov. 27, 2020 – 6:38 PM)

Closing Statement: I just would like to say that even though I find the Electoral College the source of many problems in the political sphere of America, abolishing it is only one part of the solution. Ranked choice voting and enabling the popular vote to decide the president-elect will allow for the will of the people to actually be heard. Ranked choice voting has been proven to also expand the two party system and allow for third party or minority party candidates to be heard as well, it is not necessarily in favor of one party over the other. RCV does have the ability to eliminate political extremism. RCV in practice has prevented spoiler candidates so voters will actually feel excited to vote for the candidate of their choosing. RCV in practice will reduce the polarization and political divide in this country.


The debate for the Electoral College vs. Ranked Choice Voting and the Popular Vote is one that is dominating headlines. The authors of this collaborative piece were given a limited number of exchanges in order to debate the opposing systems. We now ask you—as an unbiased reader—to decide who debated their assigned voting system better. Comment below with your thoughts, but please remember to be respectful.

Works Cited

“Historical Presidential Election Map Timeline.” 270toWin.Com,

Kambhampaty, Anna Purna. “What Is Ranked-Choice Voting? Here’s How It Works.” Time, Time, 6 Nov. 2019, 5:45 PM,

Neal, Jeff. “Ranked-Choice Voting, Explained.” Harvard Law Today, 26 Oct. 2020,

“The Problem with Instant Runoff Voting.”,

Richie, Rob. “New Zealand Holds National Election with Ranked Choice Voting.” FairVote, FairVote, 15 Dec. 2015,

Richie, Rob, and Steven Hill. “ The Real Story on Ranked Choice Voting in Oakland’s Mayoral Election, 2010.” FairVote, 11 Nov. 2010,

Roos, Dave. “Why Was the Electoral College Created?”, A&E Television Networks, 15 July 2019,

Seigel, Jillian. “The Electoral College and Popular Vote Explained.” RepresentUs, RepresentUs,

Skolnick, Cassandra, and Sanjana Sankaran. “Debating the Electoral System of the United States.” SBU Brooklogue: Stony Brook University Undergraduate Journal for Humanities and Social Sciences, 16 Dec. 2020,

“Tyranny of the Majority.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Nov. 2020,

Waxman, Simon. “Ranked-Choice Voting Is Not the Solution.” Democracy Journal, Democracy Journal, 3 Nov. 2016, 3:03 PM,

“We’re Doing Elections Wrong | Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj | Netflix.” YouTube, uploaded by Netflix Is A Joke, 22 June 2020,

Now and Then: An Analysis of Forced Sterilizations in the U.S.

by Sanjana Sankaran, October 18, 2020

In early September, news broke out about a whistleblower, Dawn Wooten, who alleged ‘medical neglect’ of ICE detainees and shined a light on the occurrence of unwanted mass hysterectomies. Wooten was a nurse who worked at one of the detention centers in Georgia.  She claimed that the care received was improper and unsafe which likely caused the spread of the novel coronavirus. According to the news reports and her statements, approximately seventeen to twenty women have confirmed that they were forcibly sterilized—that is, either their uterus or fallopian tubes were removed.  Wooten called this doctor, who was later identified as Dr. Mahendra Amin, a “uterus collector” (Miroff). Dr. Amin is a member of the Irwin County Hospital and has a private clinic close to the detention center.  Since the allegations have come out, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) wrote a letter that was signed by one hundred and seventy-three other representatives to launch an investigation into the medical practitioners employed by ICE, with a focus on Dr. Amin specifically (Miroff).

While the investigation is still ongoing, we know one thing for certain: we’ve been here before.  The U.S. has a historical precedence of conducting mass unwarranted and unwanted hysterectomies, causing many to worry that these allegations are true.

The development of the gynecological sciences itself is rooted in a history of mistreatment, neglect, and abuse toward Black, Latinx, and indigenous women.  In the 19th century, Dr. J. Marion Sims, who is now considered the father of modern gynecology, forcefully performed a number of experiments on enslaved Black women without the use of anesthesia.  Despite his strategically inhumane testing, Dr. Sims has been lauded for his discoveries and has statues erected in his honor across the country (Lennard). 

We don’t have to look that far in the past to see neglect and abuse in our healthcare system.  In the last century alone, thousands of women were forcibly sterilized across the nation.  At the turn of the 20th century, the eugenics movement started gaining more traction.  Perverting Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” many eugenicists believed it was natural and justified to facilitate the death of those with “unfavorable” genes.  This became shorthand for BIPOC lives, specifically the poor and the disabled.  This widespread scientific belief had shocking sociological implications. In the late 20th century, thirty-two states in the U.S. had federally funded eugenics programs involving sterilizing women who possessed “undesirable” genes (Lennard).   In the 1960s and 1970s, the Indian Health Service, which is the federal healthcare service provider for indigenous peoples, conducted hysterectomies at such a wide scale that the impact is still being felt now even generations later.  Around one in four women, and in some communities, as many as one in two women, were forcibly sterilized (Blakemore).

Figure 1 below provides a timeline of reproductive rights (Chuen).

Figure 1. A History of Racism, Sterilization Abuse, and Reproductive Rights (1919 – 1977).

To better understand the role ICE plays in perpetuating medical neglect and abuse, we must acknowledge the history of malicious activities within this organization.  The immigrant detention centers have been linked with racism and medical malpractice. In 1914, the United States Public Health Service partnered with the eugenics movement and worked together to prevent further immigration. They specifically targeted BIPOC’s, poor people, and the disabled implying they were the ones most likely to be criminals. This false view that BIPOC, especially those who are low income and living with disabilities, are more likely to commit crime than well-off able-bodied white people, still shapes our society today, most notably reforming our criminal justice policy (Ordaz).  Prior to President Trump’s election to office in 2016, ICE had an imperative to detain immigrants with criminal records.  Given the negative stereotyping and implicit bias that police officers have against BIPOC, this was already an unfair policy.  The current administration has since expanded this policy to apply to all immigrants who enter the country without documentation, removing the requirement of criminality.  Many federal investigations conducted over the past four years that have raised serious concerns about the state of ICE detention centers.  Specifically, the centers provide inhumane, unsanitary, and unhygienic conditions for detainees. When Dawn Wooten, the whistleblower, spoke out on the conditions of the ICE camps she stated, “I began to ask questions about why the detainees not be tested — symptomatic or non-symptomatic” (Alvarez).  Operationally, the centers already violate standard protocol and indicate clear negligence and devolution of human life (United States, Dept of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General).

During the Trump era beliefs of white supremacy, xenophobia and misogyny have only increased. His beliefs that all Mexicans are “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists” emboldened the racist’s in the U.S. further dividing an already divided world. It is astounding that the administration that is so clearly pro-life, allows sterilization to take place, it is an oxymoron. This lack of action is because this administration is not pro-life. If the administration were actually pro-life, they would have had a national mask mandate, done shelter in place in February, stop denying the virus’s fatality rate, and keep the Affordable Care Act, especially for those with pre-existing conditions. 

The allegations of mass hysterectomies in ICE right now must be met with the utmost seriousness.  The doctors who have participated in these events or were bystanders should be met with some kind of consequence. The mass hysterectomies are a direct attack against women and are the result of a long upheld belief that not only do BIPOC women not have value but that women should not be in control of their own bodies. Whether it was one or twenty or a thousand, forced hysterectomies are acts of absolute moral malfeasance. 

Below are other resources to learn more about the history of forced sterilization.

Works Cited

Alvarez, Priscilla. “Whistleblower Alleges High Rate of Hysterectomies and Medical Neglect at ICE Facility.” CNN, Cable News Network, 16 Sept. 2020, 

Blakemore, Erin. “The Little-Known History of the Forced Sterilization of Native American Women.” Daily JSTOR, JSTOR, 25 Aug. 2016, 

Chuen, Lorraine. “A Visualized History of Racism and Reproductive Rights in America.” Intersectional Analyst, Intersectional Analyst, 5 Feb. 2016,

Lennard, Natasha. “The Long, Disgraceful History of American Attacks on Brown and Black Women’s Reproductive Systems.” The Intercept, 17 Sept. 2020,

Miroff, Nick. “Hospital Where Activists Say ICE Detainees Were Subjected to Hysterectomies Says Just Two Were Performed There.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 22 Sept. 2020,

Minna, Alexandra. “Forced Sterilization Policies in the US Targeted Minorities and Those with Disabilities – and Lasted into the 21st Century.” The Conversation, 5 Oct. 2020, 

Ordaz, Jessica. “Perspective | Migrant Detention Centers Have a Long History of Medical Neglect and Abuse.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 Sept. 2020,

United States, Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General. “Concerns about ICE Detainee Treatment and Care at Four Detention Facilities.” Washington: DHS, 2019. Web. 9 Oct. 2020.

DIY Religion: Why Spirituality Should be Considered a Spectrum

by Marcela Muricy, September 21, 2020

This is a kind of mix-and-match approach to spirituality where people who are alienated by organized religions are in many ways cobbling together their own.

– Tara Isabella Burton, The Argument

Morality is relative. The lens through which people view the world is fabricated depending on how they’ve been socialized by those around them and what they’ve been exposed to throughout their lives. Every individual has this distinct perspective of life and, in the same sense, morality and what is considered ethical. In this context, it is difficult to imagine how one may fully benefit from being enthralled in a sole religious institution, because it restricts them to a single viewpoint, a single message being broadcasted to hundreds. Everyone’s moral compass is distinct from the next, so it is naive to assume one institution’s teachings are tailored individually to them, and that following it will automatically exonerate their past mistakes. There are flaws in the system of institutionalizing religion as well as the institutions themselves, which are often more dependent on their power and status quo than communicating the best moral standings to the public. This is especially true considering the common hypocrisy in the leaders who advocate for them, as well as the expired messages and traditions most religious institutions utilize to gain social and political power. If religion is meant to serve as a catalyst on the path to being a better person, it would be more beneficial if people considered keeping religion personal rather than placing their beliefs in the hands of an institution which profits off of their membership. Religion itself can be a beautiful, crucial aspect of one’s hope, motivation, and desire to have positive impacts on people and the world. Yet, it is known how dangerous this double-edged sword can be in malicious hands, and whose are ultimately more trustworthy than one’s own?

The “Take It Or Leave It” Stance

A 2019 Gallup poll estimated that 37% of Catholics have questioned if they should leave the Church due to the cases of sexual abuse, monetary greed, and homophobia within it (Jones). No matter their frequency of attendance, members are experiencing a grappling of morality, unable to ignore certain issues taking place within organized religion. This realization of institutional imperfection, for many, presents a set of choices in front of them — a complex, life-changing round of “would you rather”: either leave the institution and all it stands for, or continue being a member simply for the love of the practice.

This polarized perspective of religion — this “take it or leave it” — is harmful, and impacts both the incredibly devout and atheists alike. On one hand, the devout may feel like they have less of an option, required to tolerate aspects they don’t agree with. On the other, atheists may credit the religion for all the wrongdoings of the institution and decide to distance themselves from both entirely. This upholds the idea that religion and institution are synonymous, that they cannot be mutually exclusive.

The more accurate lens could be understanding the use of spirituality in society and how it exists separately from organized religion. It can be beautifully beneficial and even essential to human existence, providing people with a source of hope, motivation, and purpose as a foundation to their lives. With this in mind, it seems nonsensical to discard the ideas within religions simply because of the twisted way they have been reflected by institutions. What should be discarded is this limiting binary, replaced with a third option not many realize exist: the ability to mold your own.

A Devotion to Power

What likely tipped the boat of dissatisfaction with organized religions, spoken of in CNN articles and scholarly books alike, is the multitude of scandals within them. Jason Berry, an American reporter and writer, has been investigating issues in the Catholic Church for years, even having won the Guggenheim Fellowship for Humanities for his work. In his 1992 book, Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children, he details how “in the decade of 1982 to 1992, approximately four hundred priests were reported to church or civil authorities for molesting youths. The vast majority of these men had multiple victims” (Berry 1). These instances are not exactly uncommon, making the doubt and uneasiness of many “struggling catholics” (as Berry identifies himself) very rational and justifiable. The evidence of hypocrisy is so voluminous that Pope Francis himself has spoken of these twisted ulterior motives, stating, “On the outside, [cardinals] present themselves as righteous, as good: they like to be seen when they pray and when they fast…[But] it is all appearance and in their hearts there is nothing” (Martel 68). This quote, mentioned in Frederic Martel’s 2019 book In the Closet of the Vatican, specifically concerned the cardinals of the Curia. However, Martel goes on to discuss how it is one of many accusations Francis has made since he became the Pope, to several separate institutions. These scandals have been perpetually occurring within the Catholic Church for decades and are as visible as ever. Jason Berry began his investigations not for his own curiosity or interest, but with the desire to uncover the environment his children would grow up in if they remained members, concerned for their safety and morality considering the recent crimes. The Gallup poll indicates Berry’s questioning is not unique, with over one third of Catholics debating the same. These issues are most likely contributing to the shift in the demographic of religious affiliation in the US, causing many people to shun the institution and the religion altogether. This is not the ideal solution, because what should be perceived as the enemy is not the religion, but rather those who wield it with ill intent.

Problems of a “Sad Atheist”

Despite this, the number of atheists in the United States has been rising. There was an increase of 19.2 million people from 2007 to 2015 within the category of those “religiously unaffiliated”, according to a Pew Research Poll (Pew Research). Among the entire group polled, 65% claimed religion was “not too/not at all important” to their lives. This distancing from religion, however, can be an ineffective solution, because what may linger is a feeling of absence in their lives and an even stronger feeling of hopelessness. In a 2019 Vox article, writer and atheist Jay Wexler describes himself as a “sad atheist” due to the frequent existential thoughts he has, including “the world is meaningless and I am just standing on a giant rock swirling pointlessly through the universe” (Wexler par. 7). Atheism lacks the foundation that keeps many people motivated: that which explains the spiritual meaning of human existence and fills in the emotional gaps that science does not. Religion is essentially the assurance that everything will work itself out, that a “higher being” is present and caring, easing the existentialism Wexler experiences. As Zat Rana, a writer for Medium, expresses in a 2017 article, “People often think of belief as irrational. From a survival perspective, I can’t think of anything more rational than finding something to live for” (Rana par. 29). This is something psychologists would argue is one of the key factors to spirituality, what keeps humans healthy and sane. Rana himself explains in his article how he saw the corruption in organized religion (Catholicism specifically) and became an atheist very early in his life. As he matured, however, he felt the absence of a certain foundation, with no idea of life’s purpose and what comes after it. Rather than isolate himself from religion completely, Rana sought to, instead, benefit from learning and practicing several new religions so that he could make sense of the world without having to rely on an institution.

DIY Religion

So what if it were perceived differently? As less of a binary, but more of the spectrum Rana eventually tapped into? As more personal instead of a public occasion? What if it were viewed as ever-molding and -developing so that people could customize their beliefs? This is a practice sociologist Tara Isabella Burton, in an episode of the podcast The Argument, claims is on the rise in the US today:

While it is true that traditional organized religion is in decline, an important statistic to remember is that 72% of the so-called “religiously unaffiliated” say they believe in some sort of higher power. This is a kind of mix-and-match approach to spirituality where people who are alienated by organized religions are in many ways cobbling together their own.

(“Should Facebook Be Fact-Checked”)

Burton’s book Strange Rites, released in June 2020, covers this transition from organized religion to what she calls “DIY religious culture”. She brings to light how many people have already begun to understand that spirituality can vary and should vary for each individual. This supports the broader notion that religion is a personal aspect of someone’s life, suddenly opening up the conversation and the mind to new possibilities. With this fresh perspective, people can distance themselves from an institution yet continue to appreciate the emotional foundation the religion provides. Although this is increasing in the general public today, it cannot be considered a truly innovative idea; even nineteenth century philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson lived his life with a similar narrative. Despite being deeply religious all throughout his life, Emerson gave a speech at Harvard Divinity School in 1838 in which he advised graduates to “go alone…and dare to love God without a mediator or veil” (Emerson). He was an advocate for self-reliant religion, able to detect the flaws with organized religion even during a time when it was the default. He saw, as many see now, the many possibilities that arise once someone considers this idea of customizing their religion — tailoring it to their own needs and preferences in a meaningful and enduring way.

The Familiar in Disguise

This way of living can seem abnormal and foreign to members of organized religions, but it actually holds a strong resemblance to how people already practice their religions today. Most members have at least one opinion that misaligns with the belief of their institution, such as abortion, contraception, or LGBTQ rights. According to a Pew Research Poll, for instance, only 8% of Catholics believe contraception is immoral, with 48% believing it is not a moral issue at all (“Very Few Americans”). The Catholic Church itself, on the other hand, is strictly opposed to anything preventing pregnancy aside from abstinence. This highlights how people may remain in an institution yet disagree with some of its teachings, taking from some pieces of the religion while excluding others. In a similar sense, religion has very much drifted from the conservative way it was viewed hundreds of years ago. Many people neglect parts of the Bible which claim wearing two different textures of clothing to be a sin, along with tattooing, divorce, and eating bottom feeders (e.g., crabs, snails, codfish). These are explicitly forbidden in the Bible, but have become viewed as outdated or impractical over time. That does not invalidate it as a whole, but the shift to modern culture has caused the exclusion of certain beliefs from the minds of everyday members. The process of customization, then, already exists to a certain degree, because many people have individual beliefs that may contradict the institution or the holy scripture.

Keeping What Matters

People may shy away from the idea of this “DIY religion,” not just because they would be customizing their beliefs, but because they would be losing what makes organized religion appealing to begin with: the sense of community. It fosters unity and familiarity, as well as emanating a feeling of moral accomplishment. People create habits around attending the holy building, may it be with their family, friends, or even just familiar faces. Going to the Church, Mosque, Temple, etc. means having a community and contributing to its improvement, being a part of the good. Just as there is no limit to how someone can believe, there is also a wide range of alternatives to this feeling of unity outside of an institution. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), for example, is composed of people from several different religious backgrounds who come together to practice their own individual beliefs. They draw from science, scriptures, philosophy, and a variety of other sources for their teachings. Their goal is to “create spirituality and community beyond boundaries, working for more justice and more love in our own lives and in the world” (Unitarian Universalist Association). A transition away from organized religion can seem daunting with nothing to fall back on, but this is an example of another group people can become a part of, one with much more curiosity and exploration. Another alternative to involvement in the community would be to join a local community service group, taking part in food drives, aiding homeless shelters, and volunteering for charities. This offers the opportunity to impact the world positively without having to sacrifice any personal or political beliefs in order to participate. Being conscious of these other options — that comfort someone morally, socially, and emotionally — can make the prospect of stepping back from organized religion less intimidating and accessible even to those who love having a familiar community.

Explore the Religious Spectrum

“DIY religious culture,” as Burton describes it, is where the religiously unaffiliated “nones” seem to be headed, to a freer form of belief. The institutions that people have traditionally attended have been exposed as having fundamental flaws, causing a shift in how people identify religiously. William Chittick, Professor of Islamic Studies at Stony Brook University, claimed in a personal interview that he considers institutions “counterproductive because they’ve become less personal and more focused on power” (Chittick). The results of it, he claims, are these sexual abuse scandals and the reluctance to adapt scriptures to modern-day standards. Yet, even though this has become more blatant than ever, members of them have been hesitant to leave; they might assume the alternative to be a lack of belief, community, or morality. Understanding the other ways in which they can check off these boxes — through groups like UUA, community service, or even a local religious group among friends — can help expand their prospective options to more than just one institution and one set of beliefs. The customization of religion is ever present in the way people practice today; this “DIY religion” would simply be taking it one step forward, to a more flexible religious environment. By definition, religion and spirituality are philosophical entities — by no means rigid or caging, experienced and viewed differently by every individual. When people become more aware of the options they possess — whether they choose to believe in one religion or several — the spectrum of spirituality is theirs to delve into and explore.

Works Cited

Berry, Jason. Lead Us Not into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children. LevelFiveMedia, 1992.

Chittick, William C. Personal Interview. 21 October 2019.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Divinity School Address.” Harvard Square Library. Andover-Harvard Theological Library, 15 July 1838, Cambridge, Divinity School.

Jones, Jeffrey M. “Many U.S. Catholics Question Their Membership Amid Scandal.” Gallup, 4 Sept. 2019,

Lipka, Michael. “Religious ‘Nones’ Becoming More Secular.” Pew Research Center, 11 Nov. 2015,

Martel, Frédéric. In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy. Bloomsbury Continuum, 2019.

Rana, Zat. “Why Everybody Needs a Personal Religion.” Medium, 22 Feb. 2018,

“Should Facebook Be Fact-Checked?” The Argument from the New York Times, 31 Oct. 2019,

Unitarian Universalist Association, “Our UU Faith.” UUA, 7 Jan. 2019,

“Very Few Americans See Contraception as Morally Wrong.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, 28 Sept. 2016,

Wexler, Jay. “6 Things I Wish People Understood about Atheism in America.” Vox, Vox Media, 14 June 2019,

COVID-19 Disproportionately Affects Blacks and Indigenous Americans

by Sophia Garbarino, August 21, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected every American in some way. We’ve had to quarantine, socially distance, and make the difficult decision to avoid seeing those we care about, all to stop the spread of the virus. We’ve seen restaurants close, schools go completely online, and unemployment skyrocket. Most importantly, we’ve seen sickness and death at an insurmountable rate. Both the sick and healthy have died, and as of August 20th this year, the COVID-19 death toll in the United States is 172,416 (CDC).

Beyond the six-figure number, we’ve also witnessed weeks of unrest across the country, with people rallying in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. On May 25, 2020, the death of George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis, MN, triggered waves of protest both in the streets and online. While being arrested for paying with a counterfeit bill, Mr. Floyd “was killed by police” after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kept “his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck… for a total of nine minutes and 30 seconds” (Willis et al.). Police brutality has long plagued our country, and it is only now being recognized, thanks to body camera technology.

While these deaths may appear mutually exclusive at first, we cannot ignore the alarming extent to which systemic racism affects our people. Not only are Black folx subject to over-policing and constant fear, but they are also more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus. According to a recent COVID-19 study by the APM (American Public Media) Research Lab, “the heaviest losses [are] among Black and Indigenous Americans” (APM Research Lab Staff). In the last five months, Blacks and Indigenous Americans have seen the highest death rates (see fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Cumulative actual COVID-19 mortality rates per 100,000, by race and ethnicity, April 13-Aug. 18, 2020 from APM Research Lab,

The study found that “Black Americans continue to experience the highest actual COVID-19 mortality rates nationwide—more than twice as high as the rate for Whites and Asians, who have the lowest actual rates” (APM). Though COVID-19 arrived in the United States from China, Asian-Americans ironically have the second-lowest rate of contracting the virus. Yet as another reflection of racism, President Donald Trump previously referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus” and defended himself on multiple occasions (Chiu). Furthermore, Washington Post photojournalist Jabin Botsford posted proof of the president’s stance on Twitter, as shown below:

While the American president fuels racist agendas, Blacks and Indigenous Americans are being, perhaps avoidably, killed by the novel coronavirus. Individually, “Black, Indigenous, Pacific Islander and Latino Americans all have a COVID-19 death rate of triple or more White Americans (age-adjusted)” (APM). It’s important to note that while adjusting for age “remove[s] the role of age differences,” it also “increases the COVID-19 mortality rate for all racial and ethnic groups except for Whites” (APM). However, even without age adjustments, the death rates are still higher than those of Whites (see fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Actual versus Age-adjusted mortality rates by race/ethnicity through Aug. 18, 2020 (Blacks are on the far left in green, and Whites are on the far right in dark blue) from APM Research Lab,

The biggest question to answer is, why? Why are so many more Blacks dying from COVID-19 than other ethnicities? The answer is not as complex as you may think, and it has almost nothing to do with genetics.

According to Our World in Data, risk factors for contracting the coronavirus include:

  • Age,
  • Smoking and other lung compromises,
  • Obesity, and
  • Access to handwashing facilities and healthy hygiene practices (Roser et al.).

Black communities are more at risk for high COVID-19 rates thanks to systemic racism. Its influence on our policies and structures is deeply rooted in American history, dating back to colonization, slavery, and the White Man’s Burden. These practices and beliefs are still affecting us today, much more than most of us may realize.

Dr. Leonard Egede and Dr. Rebekah Walker of the Medical College of Wisconsin Center for Advancing Population Science (CAPS) recently published an article about the way systemic racism affects COVID-19 death rates in the New England Journal of Medicine, titled “Structural Racism, Social Risk Factors, and Covid-19 — A Dangerous Convergence for Black Americans.” Here, they provide a detailed explanation of how racial structures in the United States

“affect health through a variety of pathways, including social deprivation from reduced access to employment, housing, and education; increased environmental exposures and targeted marketing of unhealthy substances; inadequate access to health care; physical injury and psychological trauma resulting from state-sanctioned violence such as police brutality and chronic exposure to discrimination; and diminished participation in healthy behaviors or increased participation in unhealthy behaviors as coping mechanisms.”

Egede and Walker

After generations of being oppressed by the systems that are supposed to protect their rights and liberties, Black Americans are still facing racism and the powerful White agenda to keep them controlled and confined to lower economic classes (keep in mind that many Whites do not support this agenda; it derives from centuries of international racial divides, especially between Whites and Blacks). The coronavirus was just an unpredicted catalyst for exposing this agenda to the mass media and general population. Blacks continue to face death and discrimination from every side, from job opportunities to police brutality to medical care, and it now seems only more inescapable.

We must also be aware of the effects of COVID-19 on the Indigenous American population. We all know that frequently washing your hands with soap and water helps prevent contracting the coronavirus, but many indigenous populations do not have running water. This is nothing new, either; about 90% of the Navajo Nation (located at the intersection of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado) lives without running water. They also have “one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates per capita in the U.S.” (Baek). This is no coincidence, and we must be aware of these issues in order to make progress towards a solution.

The Navajo Water Project, a non-profit organization focused on providing clean, running water to Navajo folx, reports that 1 in 3 Navajo families have to haul water home every day (Navajo Water Project). As the Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez stated earlier this year,

“We are United States citizens but we’re not treated like that… we once again have been forgotten by our own government.”

Navajo Water Project

The astonishingly low access to basic hygiene resources like running water can be sourced back to the colonization period, when Indigenous Americans were massacred and terrorized by the White colonizers. Only a few tribes were able to secure their rightful territory. When the government signed the Navajo Nation Treaty of 1868, the tribe was finally able to return home after being “forcefully and permanently removed from their ancestral territory” (Ault).

Even though they live on their own land, the Navajo nation is still unable to access the same basic resources as all other U.S. citizens. The majority live below the poverty line, have no running water, toilets, or sinks, and lack adequate funds for education. This is why there are such high rates of coronavirus in these reservations; even before the pandemic hit, they had no defenses. After age-adjustment, “Indigenous people are 3.4 times more likely to have died than Whites,” and in Mississippi, over 1000 indigenous people have died from coronavirus compared to the 44 Whites as of August 18, 2020 (APM). This astounding disparity is undoubtedly race-related.

“The racial disparities in COVID-19 mortality—due to these compounding, elevated risks from our systems of housing, labor force, health care, and policy responses—are what is termed systemic racism

APM Research Lab

Our nation is not only experiencing a public health crisis, but also a crisis in justice. Our Constitution states that all men (and women) are created equal, but we are not, at least in the eyes of our racially-influenced institution. Our own citizens are being mistreated, discriminated against, abused, and ultimately killed. COVID-19 isn’t just a health concern—it’s a race concern. An ethnic concern. A justice concern. It’s your concern.

So what can you do to help? First and foremost, you can help spread awareness. Post on your social media accounts, talk about these issues with your friends and family, and of course, practice preventative measures against COVID-19, like frequently washing your hands with soap and water and social distancing. Listed below are resources to help you learn more about what was discussed in this article.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The Navajo Water Project

Works Cited

APM Research Lab Staff. “The Color of Coronavirus: COVID-19 Deaths by Race and Ethnicity in the U.S.” APM Research Lab, 18 Aug. 2020,

Baek, Grace. “Navajo Nation residents face coronavirus without running water.” CBS News, 8 May 2020,

“Cases in the U.S.” CDC, 20 Aug. 2020,

Chiu, Allyson. “Trump has no qualms about calling coronavirus the ‘Chinese Virus.’ That’s a dangerous attitude, experts say.” Washington Post, 20 Mar. 2020,

Egede, Leonard, and Walker, Rebekah. “Structural Racism, Social Risk Factors, and Covid-19 — A Dangerous Convergence for Black Americans.” New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 383, 2020,

@jabinbotsford. “Close up of President @realDonaldTrump notes is seen where he crossed out “Corona” and replaced it with “Chinese” Virus as he speaks with his coronavirus task force today at the White House. #trump #trumpnotes.” Twitter, 19 Mar. 2020, 2:06 p.m.,

The Navajo Water Project. The DigDeep Right to Water Project, 2014,

Ritchie, Hannah, et al. “Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19). Our World in Data, 21 Aug. 2020,, Haley, et al. “New Footage Shows Delayed Medical Response to George Floyd.” New York Times, 11 Aug. 2020, /