The “othering” of my daughter

Posted: September 3, 2013 by cyoder303 in Uncategorized

I’ve just returned from a three month internship in Washington, DC and the fall quarter is looming on the horizon. The US is contemplating action in Syria, which is an unbelievable humanitarian crisis. There are many things I could choose to blog about at this point in time, but instead, I feel compelled to blog about something much closer to home and to my heart. Bear with me, I promise I will connect it to my human rights degree.

My twin daughters are 8 and are as different as night and day. Anneliese is very confident, competitive and yes, stubborn. She has a much easier time letting things roll off her back, and if it really bothers her, she isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. Elena on the other hand, is very sensitive, empathetic, creative and joyful. She wants everybody around her to be happy and works hard to make that happen, sometimes at the expense of taking care of herself. It isn’t nearly as easy for her to ignore mean comments.

My daughters are definitely “Daddy’s girls” to some extent, but there are things that they only share with me. Since they were just able to talk I have usually made a habit of laying down with each one of them at bedtime. We talk about our days, what was good, what wasn’t so good. I’ll read to them, or more frequently, tell them a story I made up one night because I was too lazy to get a book and now they always ask for it. The other night Elena told me she was being bullied.

No parent wants to hear this from their child. I was bullied as a kid, but back then, they didn’t call it that. My parents didn’t have a lot of money so we wore hand-me-downs that were usually a year out of style. My parents also refused to let us wear jeans. In a small parochial school, it wasn’t hard to stand out as the one that was different somehow. So when Elena told me this, my heart broke.

She had been bullied last year too by a little boy who eventually started to get physical. I was very proud of my daughter for handling it so well. She tried numerous times to walk away. Even though she has been in kung fu since she was 5, she didn’t hit back. Anneliese most likely would have decked the kid. No, Elena went and told an adult like she was supposed to and the school actually took it seriously and did their job.

One thing I should explain about Elena is that she has quite severe ADHD. I can already hear some of you saying how she probably doesn’t really have it, it gets over-diagnosed by pediatricians, or that if we just changed her diet, or gave this or that she would be fine. None of that is true. We took her to a specialist to have her diagnosed. Part of her testing was a timed computerized test. She failed to finish it twice because she was much too busy watching the squirrel out the window. We tried changing her diet, we tried lots of things. Ultimately, her ADHD was interfering with school to the point where she wasn’t going to get anything out of it and we opted to put her on medication. While it has helped, she still has off days. She has had some wonderful teachers that have worked with her to give her extra time to finish her in-class assignments. But, kids will be kids, and she has been teased relentlessly for not being able to finish her assignments in class.

But this last incident wasn’t a little boy and it wasn’t the class teasing her for not being able to finish her in-class assignments. No, it was another girl. Girls can be the meanest. This particular one told my daughter she didn’t want to be friends with her because she didn’t wear nice enough clothes and was “weird”. My children don’t wear out of date hand me downs, but I am also not about to pay $40 or more for a shirt or pair of pants they will just grow out of in three months anyway. Ever the optimist, Elena’s response was that she was just going to have to show this girl how fashionable she could be. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I didn’t think that would make any difference. I’m guessing the “weird” comment has to do with Elena’s ADHD as my husband decided to take her completely off medication while I was in DC.

First, let me say that I am proud of my daughter for recognizing that what this little girl was doing to her was bullying. And I am proud of her for managing to stay mostly happy despite this girl’s comments and teasing. As a parent, I am naturally protective and sad for Elena. I told her that the girl probably says these things to her because she doesn’t feel good about herself and the way she makes herself feel better is to put other people down. I tell Elena she deserves friends who love and respect her for who she is. I tell her that not everybody will like her, but that is OK. But what I don’t tell her is how angry I am.

You see, this girl didn’t develop this attitude toward others in a vacuum. Even if her parents don’t say such things outright, they are teaching her by their example. And I have a problem with this, not just because of the pain and sometimes suicides that such attitudes cause, but also because this girl and her parents are part of the problem the world has with respecting human rights.

That may seem like a big leap for some of you, but it really isn’t. People that abuse others human rights, that torture, that commit genocide are able to do so precisely because they see their victims as “other”.  They are able to view their victims as “other” based on ethnicity, political affiliation, socioeconomic status, religion and a whole host of other things.  As soon as they see a person as different from them, as “other”, it becomes easier to also think of them as “less than”.  And once started down the slippery slope of “less than”, it isn’t far to “less than human”.

So what does this have to do with my daughter?  Somehow, the parents of the little girl bullying my daughter have come to see people like my daughter as “other”.  In this case, apparently based on fashion which I assume they use as a proxy for socioeconomic status.  And in seeing people like my daughter as “other”, they have also determined that she is somehow “less than” them.  I’m not suggesting that these parents will go out and torture someone.  They may be prone to discrimination against certain classes of people, they may not.  I don’t know them, just as they don’t know me or my daughter.  If they did, they might know that my husband is a highly sought after computer specialist and that I have a Master’s and a Ph.D and I’m a year away from a second Master’s.  But none of that is the point.

The point is that humans cannot fully realize their rights until everybody, or at least most people, respect those rights.  In order to respect those rights they need to respect “others”, even if they are different, and not view them as “less than”.  I’m sure if I were to ask those parents if they believed in human rights and respected them, they would say yes.  But how can we really claim to respect the rights of others if we are still capable of seeing those different from us as “other” and “less than”?  Those parents are teaching their daughter that it is OK to see somebody as somehow less than her and therefore not worthy of friendship and respect.  In this case, it certainly is a first world problem, but it is indicative of the problem of respect for human rights as a whole.  It may not seem like much, but we need to model this respect for all those future leaders who watch us.  They are the ones that will have to make decisions that affect not only them, not just our country, but people living in far away places.  It is disingenuous for us to preach respect for human rights to those abusing them if we can’t even show simple respect for someone who dresses a bit differently.  It may not be much, but even a small drop in an ocean can cause ripples.  And those ripples will spread.  I for one, want to be that drop.

Time flies

Posted: March 29, 2013 by cyoder303 in Uncategorized

I have been quite the slacker posting the past few months. Sometimes, life has other ideas about what my priorities should be. I can’t believe another quarter has already flown by and I just finished week one of the third quarter.

Spring break is only one week long here, and I chose to spend it in New York on a trip put together by the Office of Career and Professional Development. In three days, we visited 12 different organizations for informational interviews. I think some of my favorites were the International Rescue Committee, Doctors Without Borders, International Peace Institute, and UNICEF. Being rather shy, networking is really outside of my comfort zone, but I’m realizing how important it is in this field to get internships even. Speaking of which, I am still on the hunt for a summer internship.

I am loving all my classes this quarter. I managed to get into a class taught by Oliver Kaplan on civilian protection in armed conflict. I loved the class I took from him in the fall on foreign policy and human rights. This class seems to have a good mix of security students, human rights students, and there is one other humanitarian assistance student besides myself. It made for some very lively discussion in class this week, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the classes.

Other than taking 18 credits, plus and independent study in Swahili, I am trying to balance family life. I know there are a few other students that have children, so I’m not alone in trying to figure out how to get my homework done while trying to help my daughters figure out how many balloons Farmer Smith gave his pigs, or some such! But I’m loving every minute of it even though time is flying really fast right now!

Where does the time go?

Posted: January 17, 2013 by cyoder303 in Uncategorized

Wow!  It’s already almost the end of week two of the quarter.  I feel like I just caught my breath after break and my kids going back to school, and now I’m back in the thick of things.  I already have several papers due.  I’m loving my classes, but still trying to find time to look for summer internships.  Oh, and make time for my family so they don’t wonder who that stranger is wandering through the house!

Already?

Posted: November 18, 2012 by cyoder303 in Grad school experience

Seems like the quarter just started, and now I’m sitting in Starbucks trying to finish my final two papers of the quarter.  I can’t believe how fast it’s gone by.  So much different from the semester system I’m used to.  I feel like I’ve learned so much already.  The great thing is, all the stuff I’ve learned in each of my classes this quarter has been applicable to the other classes.  Now if there is just enough caffeine for me to finish this paper…

As October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I thought I would take the opportunity to make the next couple of posts about gender-based violence (GBV).  In 1993, the UN officially defined GBV as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”.  According to the World Health Organization, 15-71% of women have experienced some type of GBV depending on which country they live in.

Many of these incidents are a result of violence by an intimate partner.  A 1994 study by the World Bank showed GBV outranked cancer, car accidents, war, and malaria as risks to women’s  health.  One consequence of GBV is the increased spread of HIV/AIDS associated with it.  Some things that you may not have thought about as GBV include female genital mutilation, dowry murders (the practice of killing the bride if her family can’t come up with the dowry), honor killings (includes killing a woman for being raped), and forced marriage.

This is an extremely difficult problem to tackle, but there are good organizations and people working to help women trapped in these situations.  November 25 will be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and will be the first of 16 days of activism.  Check out the link at http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/global_campaign/16_days/en/index.html.  Take some time to remember all victims of GBV.  I close with the following quote:

“Violence against women and girls continues unabated in every continent, country and culture. It takes a devastating toll on women’s lives, on their families, and on society as a whole. Most societies prohibit such violence — yet the reality is that too often, it is covered up or tacitly condoned.”
— UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 8 March 2007

Next up:  Rape as a weapon of war

Your little bit of good

Posted: October 12, 2012 by Josef Korbel School, Office of Graduate Admissions in Grad school experience, Humanitarian assistance
Tags: ,

The Humanitarian Assistance program had a great speaker come in yesterday to talk about her experiences with UNICEF. It just really affirmed for me that I made the right choice by pursuing this. I know there are, as she said, no real warm fuzzies. It’s hard work and the burnout rate is high. But I still feel like if I can make a difference for even one person it is worth it. Life may not change for the multitudes, but for that one person, maybe the change means everything. And given the magnitude of the problem, I think that has to be good enough. Otherwise, it would just be too depressing after awhile.

On another note, I am hoping to be able to get some guest bloggers to talk about their experiences with human rights. The idea would be to try to get a well rounded view of a particular place by having someone who lives or has lived there talk about their experiences and then also have someone who has done some intervention work there also talk. More to follow…

Finally, I will leave you with a quote:

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Desmond Tutu

Hello world!

Posted: October 8, 2012 by Josef Korbel School, Office of Graduate Admissions in Grad school experience

My name is Christi.  I started this blog to document my experiences as a student at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies among other things.  I plan on reflecting not just on my experience as a student, but also on things I’ve learned in classes and elsewhere that interest me.  I am a first year student in the International Human Rights program, and am also pursuing a certificate in Humanitarian Assistance.  I am working on a second career completely different from the one I was in.  Hopefully, somebody will be able to learn something from my journey.  Just remember…not all who wander are lost!