Diffusion by Any Means Necessary

By Harold “Harry” Young of Austin Peay State University

MPSA-Young-Diffusion
Members of the “GRAD SCHOOL: What to Expect at a Job Interview at a Teaching School” roundtable at the 2018 MPSA conference in Chicago.

They stood in place at each poster in the exhibit hall, graduate students eager to share their research with anyone willing to take the time to listen, ask questions, or possibly offer some instructive or encouraging advice.

While sometimes considered as a consolation prize by more experienced researchers, for grad students the poster sessions are an essential component of learning, a form of knowledge diffusion featuring visual experiences and personal interactions. Elements we all know are integral to effective communication in diverse forums.

The posters’ second-class status is not deserved as this the ideal forum for students entering academia. As our future, their work deserves our attention and support. Since not all exhibits are equal, however, I zeroed in on several that were both topical and presented solid research effectively.

My first stop was an exhibit on the effects of visual aids in political literacy by Breanna Wright of Stony Brook University. Political psychology is not new (Merriam, 1924) but its resurgence is evident (Political Psychology). In the current environment, identity politics is at a new high (or low if you are disapproving of it). What the News Means to Me: An Exploratory Experiment Investigating Social Identity Salience After News Exposure by Ming Boyer and Sophie Lecheler of the University of Vienna was an interesting dive into identity politics in Austria. Echoing what we experience in the U.S., their research illustrated the intersection of politics and communication or Political Communication. While the topics in the program were extensive and diverse, in my view, the demographics of the graduates were not representative (which was a challenge for the conference more generally).

Moving from those presenting posters to an Author-Meets-Critics session, I was moved to another world where scholars were more seasoned, but fortunately, still as passionate about their work.

First, Chris Sepeda-Millan of UC Berkeley discussed his first book, Latino Mass Mobilization: Immigration, Racialization, and Activism. Well-received by the critics in the session, Sepeda-Millan introduces a term worth mentioning: “racialized illegality.” This elegantly merges the controversial issues of race and legal status into a single term,  capturing inequitable approaches to legal status based on race. I suggest, in fact, that racialized illegality captures the real underpinnings of the decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856).

Andrea Benjamin of University of Missouri’s book Racial Coalition Building in Local Elections: Elite Clues and Cross-Ethnic Voting was also well-received. It reminds us of the immortal words of the former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Tip O’Neill who said, “all politics is local. Dr. Benjamin was also concerned with diffusion of her work, having written an op-ed piece and contemplated a podcast.

I had the opportunity to be actively involved rather than merely an observer. First, I was a panelist in a session for graduate students about interviewing for jobs at teaching schools. While each panelist was able to cast their own pearls of wisdom, what I found most surprising– and disappointing–was the guidance, or lack thereof, provided by many schools.

In one case, the student had been told he should not waste any more time teaching classes, even though he had not taught any introduction courses, a requirement of new faculty at almost any university. In another case, the student had gained no teaching experience at all!

While it is crucial that we are able to diffuse knowledge not only to political science majors but to students from any discipline, I humbly submit that discouraging a student interested in teaching, coupled with their lack of pedagogic experience is a recipe for catastrophic failure. Our students–and the discipline– deserve better.

Finally, I shared a meal with Barbara dos Santos of American University and some other students working on environmental politics. They were not only enthusiastic, but embraced the need for knowledge diffusion and its potential impact on society.

Overall, I hope my conference vignettes show that our work is important, interesting, and can meaningfully contribute to relevant spheres in society. The graduate students I met demonstrated the knowledge and skills to carry on the work. The conundrum, however, is whether we remain in our academic towers or start responding to the question, “What have you done for me lately?”

Our futures may depend on our willingness to rise to the occasion, by any means necessary.

About the Author: Harold Young is a blogger at the 2018 Midwest Political Science Association conference. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research focuses on Public Law and examines an American and international perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision-making. Previously, he worked as a health communications manager, a social worker and practiced law. Read more from Harold on the MPSA blog and Avnon World Series. He can be reached at youngh@apsu.edu.

 

When the elite abandon democracy – A Warning from Belize?

By Harold Young of Austin Peay State University

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As always, my first full day in Belize starts in my barber’s chair. The “trim” (haircut) is accompanied by spirited conversations with other barbers and clients. The topics run the gamut. Sports, weather, sex and, of course, domestic/international politics merge and intertwine at various junctures highlighted with grand gestures, fist bumping and laughter. In the middle of a particularly animated discussion about the latest corruption revelation, a young man walks in and starts grooming his beard in the mirror. Half under his breath he says, “Barrow di teef franh di poa” (Prime Minister Barrow is stealing from the poor).

This statement reflects the perception that he, a poor individual, is being acted upon or taken advantage of by the elite represented by the Prime Minister. The term “elite” is grounded in a long history of study in political science. It springs from the Greek notion of the “guardian” class of rulers or the best among us to govern. This minority forms the leadership in a society and is studied in political science as elite theory. Elite theory, therefore, can be defined as the perspective that a small minority of people are arguably best suited to handle public affairs and that this arrangement is inevitable in modern societies (Maloy). Lasswell and Lerner point out that understanding the role of the elite is indispensable to understanding politics and the processes by which we are governed. We should also note that the term “elite” includes those with political, economic/business, educational, law enforcement, faith/religious, national defense and bureaucratic power and/or influence.

The elite, therefore, should serve the source of its power and authority while working against democracy because it has faith in the rule of the few. It rejects the idea of rule by the people in general (Johari, p.104). Therefore, Maurice Duverger suggests that “government of the people and by the people must be replaced by another formula, a government of people by an elite sprung from the people” (p. 425).

At the expense of being an alarmist (or offending), I suggest that Belize is teetering on the precipice of being a failed state.

The Fund for Peace developed the Fragile States Index which includes twelve distinct conflict risk indicators. Based on these indicators, Belize rates 115th out 177 countries. Worsening from 2007 to 2017, we are one stage below “Warning” (but not in “Stable” category) and one step in front of Guatemala, which is in the Warning stage. Further, the Belizean elites are more factionalized according to Index declined from 5/10 in 2007 to 4.3/10 in 2017.

Source: The Fund for Peace

Further, the Global Policy Forum  defines a failed state as follows:

Failed states can no longer perform basic functions such as education, security, or governance, usually due to fractious violence or extreme poverty. Within this power vacuum, people fall victim to competing factions and crime, and sometimes the United Nations or neighboring states intervene to prevent a humanitarian disaster. However, states fail not only because of internal factors. Foreign governments can also knowingly destabilize a state by fueling ethnic warfare or supporting rebel forces, causing it to collapse.

With all this in mind, Belize is not a failed state (yet) but the elements are present. Arguably, nothing is inevitable, but I suggest the current course is unsustainable without change, or the likely outcome will be at best be a contained intrastate conflict or, at the worst, adsorption by Guatemala (or the former followed by the latter).

That these scenarios are raised in disparate social groups is serious enough for concern. In Belize, the elite blames the poor for being poor. They view the poor as lazy and unambitious disregarding the inequities in society and institutional indifference and neglect that frames the lives of many of poor and mostly working strata of society. While I did see some people idle, most were working or hustling in some fashion. Second, on more than one occasion the use of government-sanctioned extrajudicial executions (a la the Philippines) is a viable crime-fighting alternative to keep them safe found support in elite discussions. They assume that they will be exempt from such a measure. Third, those in Belize’s upper echelons are overtly suspicious of any foreigners who are not Caucasian, or wealthy. Fourth, the wisdom of universal adult suffrage was questioned. The basis is that much of the voting public is stupid and/or corrupt. Fifth, it is widely believed the government needs to be more authoritative with a strong leader enforcing law and order at the expense of civil rights and freedoms. This is reminiscent of the “big man syndrome” which where one person or group exercises absolute control over others and ultimately leads to instability, further neopatrimonial corruption and increased disparities (Shawa 2012). Sixth, people do not feel safe unless walled in at home. The rise of private security is an indictment of public law and order institutions. The irony (if you want to call it that) is that those employed to secure are guarding the very ones who care little about their interests. Seventh, general disgust with politicians (part of the political elite) and blaming the very people who secure the interest of a portion of the elite. Eight, I was shocked at the resignation to the notion that independent Belize has failed. This seems to open the door to accepting dismemberment of the country within the realm of possibility (even acceptability).

The big question: how do all citizens (the voting public) ensure that the public’s interests are not ignored, and democracy is not undermined? There is no silver bullet. I humbly suggest that a part of the answer rests with the elite. What is expected of the elite, therefore, is that men and women who see beyond self-interest step forward in their respective spheres of interest and influence (not everyone can run for office) to champion the general welfare. Countries like Belize (and the U.S.) have no dearth of politicians but a shortage of statespersons, which means campaigning never transitions to governing after an election cycle. Policy development with consistent and equitable implementation must focus on the most good for the most people. None of this is to say that individuals or some civic groups do not do good works, but Belize is at the point where it must be more widespread, coordinated and focused to address the systemic problems of accountability, corruption, and disparities that drive societal problems. Though easier said than done of course, let us start with a public discourse of the real underlying issues and our failures to hold the political elite accountable. Does this account sound familiar?

P.S. At my last visit to the barber three weeks later, I was told that the young man was seriously injured in a shooting a few days earlier.

About the Author: Harold Young is an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research focuses Public Law and examines an American and international perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision-making. Previously, he works as a health communications manager, a social worker and practiced law.

Intrastate Conflicts: Refocus on the Intractable

By Harold A. Young

The burden and devastation of intrastate conflicts are disproportionally borne by people of color in the developing world. While many people of color in the United States may view these conflicts as distant, they are not. Some may have relatives and friends in these conflict areas; however, it is worth noting that many products we take for granted use raw materials extracted despite of and sometimes even used to fuel the conflicts. One only has to think of “blood diamonds” coming out of Sierra Leone and “conflict minerals” from Democratic Republic of Congo for graphic details. Further, while details are just emerging about the plight of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar (Burma), we do know that there has been little or no international response.

Without clear domestic and international leadership, a seemingly paralyzed global community struggles with sporadic attempts at cease-fires, humanitarian aid, and limited peacekeeping intervention. The designation of armed conflict is grounded in three key characteristics: (1) it is a political conflict; (2) it involves armed combat by the armed forces of a state or the forces of one or more armed faction seeking a political end; and (3) at least 1,000 people have been killed directly by the fighting during the conflict and there are at least 25 combat deaths annually (Project Ploughshare). Figure 1 illustrates the continuous decline of interstate conflict and death after World War II. Even with a brief decline in the mid-1990s, the growing trend in intrastate conflict (international conflict/war) is especially significant since the end of the Cold War (Human Security Report 2013).

Figure 1: Average number of Interstate conflicts per year by decade, 1950-2011
Figure 1: Average number of Interstate conflicts per year by decade, 1950-2011

There has also been an increase in the number of non-state armed conflicts resulting in significant casualties. These conflicts may involve groups in armed conflict outside the control of the government. Figure 2 displays comparative data on the numbers of intrastate conflicts (domestic conflict/war) and battle deaths (Human Security Report 2013).

Figure 2: Global trends in Intrastate conflicts and battle deaths, 1989 to 2011
Figure 2: Global trends in Intrastate conflicts and battle deaths, 1989 to 2011

State sovereignty remains an important concept in international politics. Westphalian “model states” never really existed nor were the geographic and political entities that existed unassailable. Acknowledging those realities would contribute more to peace and stability (Krasner 1995). Further, since the end of the cold war, some states are willing to lead, participate in, and publicly support multilateral humanitarian interventions using force against a state under certain circumstances. As was seen in the 1999 case of Kosovo, states are willing to act without authorization of the United Nations Security Council and without the U.S. expressly basing the intervention on humanitarian grounds. After the Cold War, the most important doctrinal development on humanitarian intervention is probably the U.N. authorization of intervention in Somalia in 1992 (Charron 2006). While the outcome is less than desirable, there are subsequent examples. The rationale may include reputation (U.S. as a champion of human rights), loyalty or history (e.g., colonial power and former colony as was seen with U.K. intervening in Sierra Leone starting in 2000) or to protect some specific national interest (U.S. intervention in Kuwait in 1990). While such interventions may be legitimate, there is a clear question of legality vis-à-vis the U.N. Charter. Nevertheless, the sample of intrastate conflicts in the table below shows that most of the conflicts affects people of color with little action from the international community.

Table 1 presents a sample of intrastate conflicts that have captured the attention of the media and the international community over the last four decades. This sample represents intrastate conflicts in several regions of world involving different groups and varying motives.

State

Conflict

Consequences

International Response

Democratic Republic of Congo,
1998-

Conflict over control of vast natural resources

6 million dead; 3.4 million internally displaced and 2 million refugees

No international military response

Cambodia,
1975-1979

State persecution
under Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge

Approximately
1,500,000 dead

Intervention by
Vietnam

Somalia,
1992

Inter-clan and inter-factional

350,000 to 1,000,000 dead

Intervention by US

Kosovo,
1999

Religious/ethnic
cleansing

1.5
million dead; 225,000 Kosovar men are believed to be missing. Estimated 5,000
Kosovars executed.

Intervention by NATO

Rwanda,
1994

Tribal conflict

Estimated
800,000

Intervention by UN
but did not prevent genocide

Sri Lanka,
1982-2009

Government vs. Tamil
separatist

Estimated 80,000-100,000
people killed

No international military
response

Sudan,
2010-2012

Ethnic cleansing

Estimated 30,000
killed and 1,000,000 displaced

No international military
response

Syria,
2011-2017

Government vs.
resistance movement; faction wars

More than 465,000
dead and 145,000 reported missing

No international military
response


Table 1: Examples of major intrastate conflicts since 1975

 

There is some agreement that the world community should act in the face of a humanitarian crisis. There is, however, a divergence of opinion on the scope for fear of abuse by more powerful states advancing national interests. Despite the changing scope of state actions and their role in the era globalization, no one takes the issue of state sovereignty lightly. As posited, there is a prima facie presumption of state sovereignty over intervention although that presumption may not hold in certain circumstances (Carey 1997) or may be contingent on the existence of circumstances that warrant a violation of state sovereignty. What is missing is a set of agreed criteria or benchmarks that will trigger an intervention or response by a force recognized by the U.N. and a method for assigning duties and distributing costs.

Undoubtedly the debate about the tension between real state sovereignty and the international community’s obligation to protect people within a state will continue. The framework needed for the world community to act on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) commitment is yet to be developed and agreed to despite the priorities agreed to earlier in the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, The Responsibility To Protect (ICISS). The report identifies preventing the development of humanitarian crises in the first place thereby avoiding the dilemmas and pitfalls of intervention that will inevitably plague the best-laid plans. Second, it specifies the responsibility of the international community to respond with military intervention as the last resort. Third, the responsibility to help the state rebuild after the intervention. Nanda (2013) reviews the future of R2P and the principles identified in ICISS is the light of the ongoing crises in different part of the world. Nanda expresses doubt that the principles of R2P and consistent international responses will become the norm.

It is unclear how far the current U.S. administration is willing to go in Syria or anywhere else based on the current mixed signals about guiding policies or plans of action. The 59-missile attack on a single Syria target on April 5, 2017 is characterized as a response to the use of chemical weapons as part of the ongoing conflicts and genocide (Rosenfeld, April 7, 2017). Further, despite establishing a commission in 2011 to investigate human right violation in Syria, its efforts have been stymied due to inaccessibility within Syria and the reports that have been produced based on sources escaping Syria have not yet resulted in any prosecutions. Frustration with the international commission peaked with the resignation of an experienced international prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, in August. She states “I am frustrated, I give up……We thought the international community had learned something from Rwanda. But no, they have not learned anything” (Gordts, August 6, 2017).

Meanwhile, intrastate wars smolder and rage in the hotspots around the world precipitating death, destruction of vital infrastructure, internal population displacement, refugee crises, and economic pressure on neighboring states. Those skeptical of the international will to act to prevent or stop intrastate wars have good reason while those who remain hopeful have little basis to do so.

About the Author: Harold Young is an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research area is Public Law and examines an American and comparative perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision-making. Previously, he was a health communications manager, a social worker and practiced law. Contact Young at youngh@apsu.edu.

Politics and Sunburn: Snapshot of the U.S. from Belize

By Harold Young, Ph.D.

Portrait of US President Donald Trump, Michael Gordon (Belize), acrylic on canvas with wooden window frame, 2017The sun blazed, cooled only by sporadic showers, during my recent visit to the Central American and Caribbean nation of Belize where I spent my formative years. The size of Massachusetts, Belize is racially and ethnically diverse population of 332,000 that depends heavily on U.S. for trade, investment, and tourism. A cross section of people receive remittances, vacation in and access tertiary and medical institutions in the U.S. My goal during this visit (in addition to enjoying family, friends, the cuisine and seasonal fruits, indulging in the local beers and rums, and avoiding a painful sunburn) was to capture a local snapshot of the Belizean view of the U.S. and the current Trump administration.

After a few days, you quickly glean that Belizeans are passionate about domestic politics and versed in international politics. In a parliamentary democracy patterned on the British system (Grant 1976), domestic politics is close-up, dirty and discussed openly. Assad Shoman, a local political observer, diplomat, writer and academic challenges Belize’s classification as a liberal democracy (Diamond 2002). The United Democratic Party and the opposing Peoples United Party have trade terms governing through many election cycles of bitter partisan fights that merely entrench the status quo (Shoman 1987). Shoman’s (1987) characterization of the democratic system in Belize questions whether elections in Belize make a difference to the lives of ordinary people. His assertions that there is little to differentiate the two major parties and public disillusionment with both arguably puts  the country in the category of an “electoral democracy” described by Diamond (2002) as based on degrees of “freedom, fairness, inclusivity and meaningfulness of elections” (170). I suggest Shoman’s observations are arguably still true today.

With an uncensored press and freedom of expression (Balboni, Palacio and Awe 2007), there have emerged numerous newspapers and many radio and TV stations with a plethora of channels carrying U.S. and international programming that bombard Belizeans twenty-four hours a day. Particularly popular are BBC International, MSNBC, CNN International, Al Jazeera, and the major U.S. outlets: ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. Domestic and international events are passionately discussed in homes, on beaches, in bars, on street corners, in barbershops, and online. Despite love of county, there is widespread disenchantment with local politics and politicians (Shoman 1995). Belizean views of U.S. and the current administration, however, are more complicated. As many have relatives in the U.S., emotional and economic ties are strong. The U.S. is admired, loved, feared, disliked, envied, and made fun of in a deep love-hate cauldron. Belizeans love American pop, hip-hop and R&B music, Disney characters, hamburgers and fries, reality TV, the NBA, MLB, and the general notion that America can be a land of opportunity. Any combination of those elements fuels the exodus of Belizeans to the U.S. (Vernon 1990). Conversely, Belizeans are suspicious of U.S. foreign interventions, dislike the “ugly American” tourists and the rehashed refrain from then-candidate Ronald Reagan during the 1980 presidential campaign to “Make America Great Again” (Margolin, September 9, 2016). My conclusion is that the locals view Donald Trump and his administration’s policies with a combination of bewilderment and amusement. Both reactions stem from the conclusion that the most powerful country on earth has elected a president who seems as visionless and as tainted as many of the local politicians and administration. One friend referred to Trump’s election as a “self-inflicted wound” which is a phrase often used in the U.S. media for President Trump’s actions and proposed policies (See Borger, January 29 2017; Lake, May 11, 2017) and mused about the specter of China or Russia filling the possible super power vacuum (Graham-Harrison, Luhn, Walker,Sdghi and Rice-Oxley, July 7, 2015) .

The most widely read bi-weekly local newspaper is the Amandala. In addition to standard editorial content, a health section, classifieds, and advertisements, each edition contains a smorgasbord of local crime, sports, local political intrigue, and international news. A snap shot view of this newspaper from June 15 through July 20 provides an interesting picture. Based on a cursory count of the ten issues over five weeks, there is an interesting distribution of subjects (See Figure).

Figure: Distribution of five categories of articles by percent from June 15, to July 20, 2017

There are 64 international articles (15% of all articles in sample) averaging 6.4 per issue. Of 64 articles, 10 articles (16%) discuss the U.S. and the current administration; none of which discuss the administration in a favorable light. An article reprinted in the Amandala entitled, Donald Trump at the Abyss, Ford (July 12, 2017) concludes, “Nevertheless, the real danger to the Republic are the intentional and malign acts of a soulless presidency that will haunt this country for years after the man with the Tiny hands is forgotten.” Belizeans still feel connected to the U.S. but with an increasingly negative view of the U.S. (or disappointment) for electing Donald Trump. Belize is not alone. A recent Pew Research poll of thirty-seven nations reflects a significant drop in the favorability rating of the U.S. under President Trump when compared to President Obama.

Map of BelizeConsidering the media coverage (Ford August 7, 2016) and my personal discussions (absent formal opinion polling), it is not a stretch to conclude that most Belizeans do not have a favorable view of Donald Trump and his administration. The artist and educator Yasser Musa captures this in his poem Tea with Trump. Musa eviscerates Mr. Trump’s character, hubris and domestic and international policies. A collage of images and footage of the artist Michael Gordon painting a portrait of Mr. Trump accompany the reading of the poem.

As descendants of pirate, colonial, slave and native cultures, Belizeans are a hardy people with welcoming dispositions. For this small country, therefore, drastic policy changes or instability in the U.S. is always deeply worrying. While I do not expect the current administration to precipitate a total disillusionment with the U.S., there is perceptible cynicism about U.S. commitment to the world community. Nevertheless, there remains a belief in the underlying strength of American institutions and an expectation that the U.S. will remain the stable beacon to the North. Let us hope that we all survive this tumultuous period without a painful sunburn!

About the Author: Harold Young is an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research area is Public Law and examines an American and comparative perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision-making. Previously, he was a health communications manager, a social worker and an attorney-at-law. Contact him at youngh@apsu.edu.

Humanitarian Missile Attack? Responsibility to Protect (Redux)

MPSA blog - Humanitarian Missile Attack?

“There’s not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime…. regime change is something that we think is going to happen because all of the parties are going to see that Assad is not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria”  – U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley (April 9, 2017)

As the ongoing and complicated intrastate war in Syria festers in the shadow of the tragedies in Cambodia, Rwanda, Somalia and Kosovo and the smoldering conflicts in South Sudan, Burundi and Ukraine (to name only a few), the latest action by the Trump Administration is worthy of examination. Ongoing calls for direct intervention to stop flagrant human rights violations have not yielded real results. It begs the questions of the responsibilities of the state for the welfare of its citizens and what responsibilities other states have to those impacted by intrastate wars.

The answers may indicate a reappraisal of the concept of sovereignty and internationalize the protection of human rights. Humanitarian intervention can be defined as the threat or use of force by a state, group of states, or international organization to protect people in the target state (Murphy). The debate around the issue of protecting of human rights juxtaposes interventions in support of universal human rights against the premium of national sovereignty (Booth). Third-party state(s) intervention can be examined through the prism of two questions. First, what is the status of “sovereignty” if a government exercises authority or acquiesces to actions detrimental to the citizens? Second, can a new paradigm of legitimatized humanitarian interventions be reconciled with the asymmetry of power between states?

The state is a pillar of the international community where the sovereign state is the primary and most powerful actor in international relations (Mearsheimer). Others argue, however, that the state has lost some of its potency as a political variable and have elevated the role of non-state actors Keck & Sikkink. Further, the authority of the state “is, increasingly, being either shared with, sustained by, or constrained by these proliferating authorities” (Strange). Yet persuasiveness of either position is debatable. Following the Bush administration’s (mis)adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration’s reticence about direct involvement in regime change and nation building was understandable. Some suggest those were lessons too-well-learned leading to an overly hands-off policy. In the case of Syria, the Assad regime remains the de facto and de jure government of Syria with all the rights and responsibilities represented in part by its seat at the U.N. Recent developments under the Trump Administration is a pivot in this crisis. The firing of 59 missiles at a Syrian airbase by the U.S. Navy on April 7, 2017 should cause pause about the role of powerful states in the international community. The position of the Trump Administration is further complicated by the seemingly contradictory statements on Syria. First U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that the attack was a one-off event in response to the chemical attack on civilians by Syria’s Assad regime on April 5, 2017 and that the removal of President Assad is not the number one priority for the U.S. Then, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said that peace is not possible in Syria while President Assad remains in power (Schulberg).

An examination of the U.S. policy developing out of the Kosovo intervention in 1999 may clarify the state’s criteria for supporting humanitarian intervention. Following President Clinton’s March 24, 1999 speech on U.S. involvement, then-National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, offered three criteria underpinning the policy: (a) there must be genocide or ethnic cleansing; (b) the U.S. must have the capacity to act; and (c) a U.S. national interest must be at stake (Brown). It should be noted, however, that the commitment to act does not reflect any international commitment but primarily reflects U.S. interests. Using this as a benchmark, does the decision to Syrian attack satisfy these criteria? Clearly, there is genocide and the U.S. has the capacity to act. Establishing the validity of the third criteria is a bit more nebulous. Is the disaster in Syria a threat to U.S. national security? The debates continue on this issue.

This dynamic of intervention policy and use of force for humanitarian interventions, concerns some states. Smaller and weaker states are concerned that this trend makes them possible targets of “humanitarian intervention” by stronger states. A Reuters report on the North Korean response is exemplary of this concern. The unnamed North Korean spokesperson is reported as saying that the Syrian attack supported and justified its drive for nuclear weapons as a shield to any possible intervention. As a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group heads to the Korean Peninsula, Secretary Tillerson states that the North Korean nuclear missile program is dangerous and something must be taken to stop it. While the U.S. appeals to China to do more to rein in North Korea, the U.S. President tweets that the U.S. will deal with the Korean problem even without China’s help. Meanwhile, the North Koreans state they will respond to what it calls reckless aggressive actions by U.S. (Reuters). Further, Russia and Iraq who are allies of the Assad regime characterize the U.S. missile attack as aggression which crosses “red lines” (Reuters). Cynics may wonder if that is the same “red lines” President Assad crosses when he bombs and gases civilians. Finally,

Despite discussions about prevention and enforcement of international law (Wang; Damrosch), the focus continues to be on armed interventions (jus ad bellum or “right to war”) and the nexus between protection and international criminal tribunals (jus post bellum or “justice after war”). The 2011 removal of President Gadhafi and the ensuing chaos in Libya is a good case study for the disadvantage of not having an international agreement on guidelines and frameworks for interventions (Thakur). It is unclear, however, how far the Trump Administration is willing to go in Syria, North Korea or anywhere else based on the current mixed signals about its guiding policy or plan of action.

Meanwhile, wars smolder and rage in the hotspots around the world precipitating death, destruction of vital infrastructure, internal populations displacement, refugee crises, and economic pressure on neighboring states. Without clear international leadership, a seemingly paralyzed global community struggles with sporadic attempts at cease fires, limited humanitarian aid and now a 59 missile attack on a single target is characterized as a response to genocide.

About the Author: Harold Young is an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research area is Public Law and examines an American and comparative perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision making. Previously, he was a health communications project manager, a social worker and an attorney-at-law. He can be reached via email at youngh@apsu.edu.

Alone and Working: Making the Transition to ABD

Alone and Working: Making the Transition to ABD

The change from being a PhD Student to a PhD Candidate is a big one. The moment we cross that threshold of becoming ABD, we fall in to a kind of purgatory where we are no longer students and not yet peers of our professors. This purgatory, or as it is better known as ABD, is something that no one prepares you for. One of us (Harold Young) went through the process in the last two years and the other (Adnan Rasool) just started down this path a couple of months ago after I defended my dissertation prospectus.

Here we share our common experiences.

So what changes? What do we do? Why it matters and how do you survive this process?

The biggest change is that you are on your own. As one my professors keeps saying “you are on a little island all by yourself, trying to find a way back”. That is the reality and the way back is finishing the dissertation project. While the first few years of grad school provide the tools and framework needed to survive, during this phase there is little to no accountability leaving you alone to figure out how to harness the discipline needed to complete the dissertation.

But how does one go about doing this? Well you start figuring it out when you acknowledge and accept that you are virtually alone in this now. That realization eventually does hit even if it might take a few weeks or months. But when it hits home, that is when you realize a host of other things as well.

Firstly, you are no longer treated as a student. You are treated like a future peer. This means that the way your work is viewed is significantly different and the expectations are much higher. The kind of mistakes you could have made and powered through are no longer acceptable. More importantly, you cannot depend on constant guidance and advice of your mentors and professors because that part of the program is over. The only time you will get detailed feedback is when you submit significant chunks of your dissertation project.

While the department remains cognizant of you and wants to see you finish on time and hit the job market, they leave it to you to decide when to do that. What we mean by that is, the only time you will go back to the department is when students are specifically required to be there (e.g., student symposiums), need signatures or for scheduled practice sessions for job interviews. Otherwise, the only departmental contact you have is with your committee and specifically with the chair of your committee.Alone and Working: Making the Transition to ABD

Secondly, you will very quickly realize that your cohort is splitting up and going their own ways. Because everyone is working at a different pace on different projects, the tendency is for the comradery of the first few years of grad school to dissipate. You need to be prepared for your social circle to slowly thin and change over time. There is a certain amount of emotional toll the ABD experience and dissertation writing process takes on you and that should be expected. The best thing one can do is to prepare for it in advance by acknowledging this will happen.

Lastly, acknowledge and understand that this will be grueling process but ultimately you will be rewarded. You are here because you love learning and producing knowledge. This is the most time you will ever get to dedicate yourself to the singular pursuit of knowledge, so enjoy it. And while you do this, keep an eye on the job market. Your timeline depends greatly on the job market you wish to enter. The decision to enter the job market after writing a few chapters or waiting till finishing the whole project determines how you settle yourself in for the long haul. So, keep an eye on that and make reasonable accommodations.

Reach out and thrive!

The purpose of this piece is to talk about not just surviving but thriving during the hardest part of the PhD. Program. The clichés ”you cannot edit your head, so write” and “a good dissertation is a finished dissertation” ring true. However, getting to that goal is fraught with mental, emotional and physical stress. So, reach out to those are in the same phase or have recently succeeded, acknowledge your fears, discuss strategies and make new friends in the process. You will be pleasantly surprised at the friendships you make as they are the only people who can relate. That is actually a major reason we are such good friends.

The going can be tough but that is the whole point of academic rigor and pursuit of knowledge at the ultimate level. You can do it and, when you succeed, be there for the next ABD newbie!

 

About the Authors:

Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate & Student Innovation Fellow 2016-2017 at Georgia State University. He is also the recipient of the Taiwan Fellowship for 2017 by Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC. His research focuses on role of bureaucracies in democratization and populist clientalistic appeal in new democracies. You can also find Rasool on Twitter and his website.

Harold Young is an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research area is Public Law and he examines an American and comparative perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision making. Previously he was a social worker, a health communications project manager, and an attorney-at-law. He can be reached via email at youngh@apsu.edu.

 

Race and “Ism”: Incoming Fire from All Directions

Since it is impossible to discuss the issue of racism from the beginning, I will just start where I find myself. As an Assistant professor, it is probably safe for me to say that the multi-directional pressures and demands from administrations, departments, students, and parents are universal in academic life. What is different for faculty of color is the racism in the form of micro-aggressions encountered while going about the tasks of engaging a diverse student body and fulfilling other responsibilities in a challenging social and political environment. We are charged with supporting our students who also share these experiences. In “Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses, Ross (2015)”, Lawrence Ross points out that it never seems to matter when or how often we bear witness to these realities, the incidents are marginalized as being isolated, or the acts of “one bad apple”.

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Used with permission. See more and support the artist: http://www.patreon.com/barry

My goal here is to share some divergent experiences to reinforce to others that we, as faculty of color, are neither alone nor insane, or even overly-sensitive. Here are a few examples of what I have personally encountered:

  1. During a faculty orientation, the facilitator suggested the primary way of recognizing when a student was experiencing high anxiety or having a panic attack in class was a change in complexion. This is a “curious” indicator considering that approximately 20% of our students identify as Black or African American. Even considering the diversity within that group, the facilitator seemed completely oblivious to the inappropriateness of that indicator for those identifying as Black or African American where there would be no apparent physical change in complexion.
  2. I witnessed a Black female student recounting her anxiety about being judged about how she styled her hair: (a) If she went “natural” it may be interpreted as making a radical statement by the mainstream community; (b) a hair wrap might be critiqued as being “Aunt Jemima” and (c) wigs and other forms of “fake” hair might be interpreted as an identity crisis or trying to fit in. Her words to her classmate were literally, “you just don’t understand what Black women go through!”
  3. Following a controversial police shooting of unarmed Black men last year, I participated in two public forums in Fall 2016 which included law enforcement. A police chief opened his remarks by referring to Ferguson as the start of the problem between law enforcement and the black community. When the point was raised that it is a 400-year-old problem, he immediately apologized and backtracked – standard responses when caught marginalizing and isolating the issue. Many attendees were obviously traumatized by the recent events (I say this not because of any complexion variation that may or may not occurred) and expressed fear of any possible encounter with law enforcement.
  4. From the discussion in the forum mentioned above, the law enforcement representatives seem to have little understanding of the differences between community relations and community engagement. While the police chief was touting police-youth programs (public relations), I personally witnessed three White officers harassing three young Black men over a vehicle moving violation. The situation escalated to the point where one of the young men was pulled out of the car where he crouched as the officers searched the vehicle (and found nothing) while shouting at all three. Despite their “public relations” activities, this is an example how law enforcement engages the community.
  5. In another forum, a White colleague expressed his complete understanding of racial discrimination because he has had a ponytail since the 1960s and 1970s and often felt rejected by some of his counterparts. It never seemed to occur to him that while he could choose to cut his hair, skin color is not a choice.
  6. Finally, I attended a social gathering at a recent political science conference. Not recognizing anyone, I introduced myself to two colleagues and took a sip of wine. Seconds later a gentleman asked to join the table, introduced himself to my colleagues, then on looked directly into my face and turned his head without introducing himself. Make what you will of that!

As faculty of color, we must manage ourselves, encourage our students, and promote learning in sometimes less than ideal social climates. This task is often complicated by the denial or minimizing of the problems by segments of university communities and the society as a whole. We have to carefully choose when, where and how to respond to incoming fire lest we be labelled thin-skinned and aggressive. There are no simple answers, but know that you are not in this alone. As positive outcomes are dependent on multiple veto players, it is incumbent upon our personal leadership and the leadership of our colleagues, regardless of racial identity, to acknowledge these societal problems and constructively engage with one another to develop strategic approaches to support one another. We then must follow through, and repeat!

About the author: Harold Young is an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research area is Public Law and he examines an American and comparative perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision making. In previous lives, he was a social worker, a health communications project manager, and an attorney-at-law. He can be reached via email at youngh@apsu.edu.