Rainforest Cosmetics

Rainforest Cosmetics

Global poverty and sustainable development probably aren’t the first things on your mind when you get ready for a big night, but the cosmetics and beauty products you use may be helping indigenous communities half a world away.

Products with natural ingredients line the walls at Douglas J Aveda Institute in downtown East Lansing (photo credit: Emily Lawler).

Douglas J Aveda Institute, 331 E. Grand River Ave., sells beauty products made from 95 percent plant ingredients, said Kate House, a Douglas J guest services coach. “There’s no plastics, synthetics, things like that,” she said. “People in their lives are trying to become more green. This is a way they can switch their beauty regimens over to a more sustainable product.”

Evan Miller, director of global communications for beauty products manufacturer Aveda, said its products are not certified as organic, but use as many natural ingredients as possible. According to Aveda’s website, it also has agreements with organic ingredient providers in Peru, Bulgaria, South Africa, Australia and Morocco. “We have a mission … to not only provide people with the most high-performing products possible, but to be as environmentally friendly as possible,” he said. “Aveda’s philosophy is that you shouldn’t put anything on your body … that you wouldn’t consider putting in your body or back into the earth.”

House said customers who use natural products see a difference over time, such as less build-up in their hair. “The ingredients are all water-soluble, so every time you wash your hair they all wash out,” she said. “Most people, once you use it, end up using mostly Aveda products. A lot of people come here primarily because it’s an Aveda salon.”

Some of the ingredients in the cosmetics come from traditional communities in the Amazon rainforest. The company has relationships with traditional communities around the world, especially in South America, and has been working with the Yawanawa tribe in Nova Esperanca, a town in the Brazilian rainforest, for 17 years.

“The founder of Aveda went to a summit about climate change in Rio de Janeiro” where he learned about rainforest destruction, Miller said. “What he learned was the Brazilian government was stealing [traditional tribes’] land.” The Yawanawa originally owned 200,000 acres of rainforest land. Miller said Aveda sent the tribe’s Chief, Tashka, to college so he could learn how to defend his tribe’s rights in court. The Yawanawa now have about 160,000, some of which had already been cleared for development. Now, the Yawanawa used the land that was already cleared for urukum, a nut containing a red pigment they use for sun protection. Miller said the urukum is useful for products with sunscreen or red coloring in them.

“We’ve provided them with a sustainable economy,” he said. “We’re helping communities in other parts of the world remain self-sustaining. … We want to not only help ourselves run a successful business, we want to help other people.” He said in addition to providing the urukum trees and jobs for the people who harvest the nuts, Aveda helped to build a pharmacy there. “We’re not just looking to buy an ingredient and leave,” he said.

This natural product features tea (photo credit: Emily Lawler).

Another traditional group with which Aveda has an agreement is a women’s cooperative in Maranhao, Brazil. Miller said the company found the babassu nuts the women harvest in 1996, while looking for a new ingredient for soap and shampoo. “We started looking for an alternative to some of the ingredients in our products that are petroleum-based,” he said. The women’s cooperative had formed before Aveda’s involvement, in response to threats to the women’s traditional way of life. “People … were burning sections of the forest to raise cattle on,” Miller said. “It was the women that actually fought back. They lobbied … and there was a law called the Free Nut Law” which gave forest-dwelling peoples the right to gather nuts and protected the land where they live from development.

Miller said Aveda agrees to pay traditional communities a fair price for ingredients, but he does not consider the agreements to be part of the fair trade movement. “We work as directly as possible with these people to get the products,” said Miller. “The people get all the additional benefits of us helping them economically and socially.”

Still, House said sustainable products are more expensive than others. She said Douglas J’s business dipped with the economy as customers bought fewer products. “It is more expensive, but it’s also a lot better for you,” she said. “Ultimately [our customers] understand that the difference is worth it.” She said, despite display boards highlighting traditional communities, the sustainability is probably not a major motivation for customers who buy their products. “The average guest coming in here probably doesn’t understand the depth of the commitment,” she said.

Jessica Wendlandt, a junior majoring in landscape architecture, said sustainability is one factor she considers when buying beauty products. “I like the fact they’re made of all-natural products. I think they’re good quality too, so that’s why I buy them,” she said, adding that she doesn’t buy them often because of the cost.

Jessica Stull, of Ada, Ohio, who was visiting friends in East Lansing, said sustainability is not usually something she considers when buying beauty products. “Most of the time I just buy name brands,” she said. “I’d rather buy the stuff here than go to WalMart and buy their products.”

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Not There Yet: Minority Faiths Still Have to Work Around a Christian-centric University

Not There Yet: Minority Faiths Still Have to Work Around a Christian-centric University

This fall, Michigan State University created a ‘reflection room’ in Anthony Hall, which students of any faith can use for prayer. Certain faiths, such as Islam, require daily prayers during the hours classes are normally held, which can be difficult to fulfill on days when students have classes and have to find a quiet spot to pray. Yet prayer is just one religious obligation that students of a religious minority must fulfill. Sometimes students have trouble eating cafeteria food due to dietary restrictions, are unable to celebrate religious holidays not recognized on the university calendar and must work to overcome misconceptions about their faiths.

MSU does not collect information on students’ religious beliefs, said Paulette Granberry Russell, director of the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives. “I think the diversity of religious beliefs that are represented on campus is hard to gauge,” Russell continued. “It’s not mandatory for anyone to disclose that kind of information.”

While the university does not collect statistical data on students’ religions, it does try to ensure that these students feel included. “When MSU identifies and states that we value inclusion, that’s intended to include one’s religious values,” Russell said. MSU has a non-discrimination policy and has held workshops for faculty and administrators on the legal aspects of non-discrimination and how to accommodate students’ different needs. The university also has a religious observance policy that allows absences for religious holidays so long as they are prearranged.

Despite these efforts, some students of minority faiths still find campus life challenging.

Geoffrey Levin, an international relations junior and president of the Jewish Student Union, said Kosher food rules forbid eating pork and shellfish, and mandate other animals be killed in a way that drains their blood and minimizes pain. He said he keeps Kosher, though other Jews don’t always.

“I’m a vegetarian while I’m in the dorms,” he said. “It’s rough not being able to eat meat on campus, but you sort of get used to it.”

Kosher also requires different pans and cooking utensils be used for meat and dairy products. The Lester and Jewell Morris Hillel Jewish Student Center has separate kitchens for preparing different foods, Levin said, and Jewish students can set up to eat there for Passover.

“If you have the meal plan the university will give the money to Hillel to pay for the food,” he said.

Levin said there are three movements of Judaism who differ in how strictly they apply Halakha, Jewish religious law: reform, conservative and orthodox. Orthodox Jews observe the requirements for worship and daily life, including Kosher, as closely as possible, he said, and conservative Jews looking for a compromise between traditional law and modern society.“The reform movement is the most progressive. They think that the Jewish law is not binding … and they think that Jews should do what they find spiritually meaningful,” Levin said.

The Jewish Student Center holds services for all three movements. Kesher and Koach, the student groups for reform and conservative Jews respectively, both have meetings there. Levin said he has gone to a reform synagogue and has orthodox friends, but went to a conservative high school.

“It tends to be more fluid than most religions,” he said.

Levin said, in addition to holding weekly services, the Jewish Student Center also holds special services the high holidays, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah, observed in the fall, requires Jews to apologize to anyone they have wronged. Yom Kippur is celebrated 10 days after Rosh Hashanah and is dedicated to prayer for forgiveness for a person’s sins the previous year, he said. Yom Kippur also requires Jews to fast.“That definitely doesn’t make going to class any easier,” Levin said.

Fasting is also required by other religions represented on campus.

Sarah Bashir, an apparel and textile design sophomore and outreach chairwoman for the Muslim Students Association, said Muslim students have to fast until sundown during the holy month of Ramadan. Bashir said some Muslim students find it harder to focus in class during the fast, but others find it easier because they don’t have to interrupt whatever they are doing to go to the cafeteria. “When you’re busy and you have classes … it makes the day go faster,” she said.

At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate Eid-ul Fitr by going to their mosques, visiting friends and doing charity work. About a month later, they observe Eid-ul Adha, when a sheep or goat is sacrificed to symbolize Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his older son Ishmael. The meat is often given to charity, Bashir said.

Bashir said Muslims can only eat an animal if its throat was cut to kill it quickly, and its eyes were covered so it would not be frightened by the blade or the sight of other animals dying. The concept, called Halal, is similar to Kosher, she said.

“It has to be from a place where the animals are treated right,” she said. “It’s quite difficult [eating in the dorms] for people who are carnivores.”

She said Muslim students can get Halal food off-campus.

Some Muslims may find it easier to eat off campus, but schedules often demand they find a place to pray between classes. Bashir said Muslims from all traditions have to participate in daily prayers facing the Ka’aba, a large stone cube in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Muslims pray before sunrise, in the early afternoon, in the mid-afternoon, at sunset and at night.

She said the prayers generally take five to 10 minutes, beginning with specific phrases, followed by personal prayers and time with God. Some students find it difficult to find a quiet place to pray.

“We do have a reflection room [in Anthony Hall] now, which makes it easier,” she said.

In addition to having to adjust to dietary differences and challenges finding a place to pray, Bashir said students from countries with Muslim majorities sometimes experience culture shock because many American students have more relaxed attitudes toward drinking alcohol and interactions between males and females. Islam forbids premarital sex and using alcohol or drugs. “I think it’s eye-opening for some Muslims,” she said.

She said some non-Muslim students also are shocked when they encounter Muslim social norms. Bashir said she started wearing a headscarf about a year and a half ago, and many people she met initially thought she was being forced to cover her hair. The Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, does not explicitly require Muslim women to veil, or practice hi’jab, although this issue is constantly debated among Muslim scholars and academics. “I really loved the idea of being viewed as an individual … for my mind and my personality and my thoughts,” she said. “I think once I explained it to people they saw the beauty in it”

Ginger Gamble, a senior studying global and area studies- gender and global development and a member of the Bahá’í faith, said many students also have misperceptions of her faith. “A lot of people get it confused with a sect of Islam or Christianity,” she said.

Bahá’ís believe all religions come from the same God, and their religion’s founder, Bahá’u’lláh, is the most recent messenger from God.

“Bahá’ís believe in progressive revelation … God sends different manifestations for different ages,” Gamble said. “As long as humanity needs some guidance on social teachings and on their own spirituality, God will continue to send manifestations throughout the ages.”

Gamble said Bahá’ís pray one of three prayers daily. The shortest prayer is three or four sentences, she said, and the longest takes about five to seven minutes. The prayers can be read silently or spoken aloud.

“In college, specifically in the dorms, it’s difficult to navigate that roommate relationship [with prayer],” she said.

Bahá’ís hold a worship service called feast every 19 days, Gamble said, where they come together for prayers, singing, readings, and socialization. The 19-day cycle, based on the Bahá’í calendar, means that feast can fall on weekdays, making it more difficult for students to attend.

“There’s a lot of flexibility,” Gamble said. “When you go to church, it’s every single Sunday. That’s the way the calendar’s structured.”

Gamble said the Bahá’í faith started in Persia (modern day Iran), and its holidays are celebrated in ways similar to Muslim ones. Bahá’ís fast from March 2 to March 20, one month in their calendar, and celebrate the new year March 21. Part of the fast usually falls during spring break, she said, making it easier to use those days for reflection.

“You start thinking about why you’re fasting and why you’re a Bahá’í and why you believe what you believe,” she said.

Bahá’ís also celebrate the birth of Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of their religion, as well the birth of the Bab, Bahá’u’lláh’s forerunner. Bahá’ís believe both are manifestations sent by God to guide the world. Other holidays include the ascension of Bahá’u’lláh and his son. Work traditionally stops on those holidays, but Gamble said observances vary depending on an area’s Bahá’í population.

Kritsada Kittimanapun, a physics doctoral student and practicing Buddhist, said Buddhist festivals are also celebrated somewhat differently at the Dhammasala Forest Monastery, near MSU, than in countries with larger Buddhist populations. He said in Thailand people traditionally celebrate the Buddha’s birth, death and entrance to Nirvana by giving food to the monks in the morning, listening to the monks’ teaching in the afternoon, and walking three times around the temple and meditating at night.“Here in Lansing we have the first two activities,” he said. “If [a holiday] is a weekday, we usually move the day earlier or put it off a little later to have it on a weekend.”

Kittimanapun said unlike followers of some other religions, Buddhists in the Theravada branch, commonly practiced in Thailand, are not required to attend services. They meditate to reach enlightenment by concentrating on breathing, though practices vary among the branches of Buddhism.“If you are in a quiet place, it might help you do it better, but in principle we can do the meditation anywhere,” he said.

Kittimanapun said Buddhists emphasize mental control and are also not supposed to drink alcohol.“Some people, if they’re not so strict, might drink some alcoholic stuff, but in the small amounts so they can control themselves,” he said.

Buddhists are also forbidden to kill animals, Kittimanapun said, but they can eat them to maintain life.“We can eat meat, but we are not allowed to kill a dog that just walks by us,” he said.

Raman Anantaraman, a physicist at the MSU Cyclotron and webmaster for the Bharatiya Temple of Lansing, said Hindus are not allowed to injure other living things, and vegetarianism is encouraged, though eggs and dairy products are allowed.

Anantaraman said the Hindu students have a temple nearby that holds worship services every day and provides spiritual resources. Each day of the week is dedicated to a different group of deities and the length of the services varies. For example, Ganesa, a deity with the head of an elephant, is worshiped for 45 minutes Sunday mornings.

Anantaraman said Hindus can also worship at home. The pooja can last from five minutes to an hour, and involves making offerings of food and other gestures to a picture or statue of the god being worshiped, after consecrating the objects involved.

“You invite the god as a guest to your home. He is like a guest who has gone a long way,” he said.

He said as Hindus grow spiritually they can move beyond using physical objects in worship.“The ultimate concept is that God is in you,” Anantaraman said. “Every human is potentially divine, and the core purpose of life is to manifest that divinity.”

Anantaraman said the university is inclusive, but believes that it is not the university’s business to do anything special for religious minority students.“They aren’t discouraging it. They are facilitating it at some level,” he said.

The students interviewed said the university has done a good job being inclusive to religious minority students. “I think with the diverse group on campus, the university has become more understanding,” Bashir said. “There are still some professors that need to have more training.”

She said the university could do better by providing more reflection rooms around campus and more funding for campus religious groups. Levin said the Jewish Student Union also is talking to the university about possible improvements.“If we could get just one mini-fridge in one dorm with some Kosher meat that would be a major accomplishment,” he said.

The university is legally prohibited from discriminating on the basis of religion, but is not required to accommodate all of students’ needs. Providing extra services, including the reflection room in Anthony Hall, is optional. Religious minority students will continue to face different challenges in terms of dietary requirements, holidays not on the university calendar and views of their faiths.

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Destination: Lansing

Destination: Lansing

The United States will admit a maximum of 80,000 refugees in 2009, according to the Cultural Orientation Research Center Web site, and many of these will end up in Lansing.

Each of the world’s regions is assigned a limited number of slots that can be filled with people meeting the U.N.’s standard for refugees.  Those same people, according to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, cannot return to their native countries for “fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

About half of the 65,602 refugees admitted so far this year come from Iraq, Bhutan or Burma. In 2008, the maximum number was also set at 80,000, up from 70,000 the previous two years. Only about 60,000 refugees were actually admitted, though. The number of refugees to be admitted is determined annually by the President in consultation with Congress, according to the Department of Homeland Security Web site.

Anneli Lukas, Volunteer coordinator for the Refugee Development Center in Lansing, said in a post on the group’s Web site that refugees are only eligible to move to a third country if the country they flee to does not allow them to get jobs and integrate into society. About 1 percent of those who can neither integrate nor return to their home countries are selected by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to settle in a third country. Only about 20 countries frequently accept refugees, and the United States is the only country to accept unaccompanied refugees under the age of 18. These refugees are placed in foster care after being admitted to the United States.

Diane Baird, refugee foster care program manager for Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, which provides services to refugees, said refugees are identified by U.N. aid workers after they escape their home countries. “If they’re coming from Burma for example … typically the kids have left on foot or been smuggled in a vehicle across the border to Thailand or Malaysia,” Baird said. “[In Malaysia] those young people have typically been living in the jungle, trying to survive, or living in some kind of urban setting,” Baird said.

After refugees are identified for resettlement, they undergo an interview with the Department of Homeland Security and are screened for health problems. Unaccompanied underage refugees are then placed with one of 16 programs, taking into account the children’s ages and any special needs.

Michigan is one of only three states with two refugee foster care programs. One is based in Lansing and the other in Grand Rapids. Lukas said a total of 400 to 700 refugees settle in the Lansing area each year, and more than 10,000 are already living in mid-Michigan. “Lansing is a destination for many refugees due to its status as a free case city, a home for refugees who don’t already have family living in America,” Lukas said. “It is a mid-sized city, therefore the cost of living isn’t too high, with adequate bus lines, and an already-diverse population.”

Young refugees in Lansing have two programs to help them settle into life in the United States: Lutheran Social Services of Michigan (LSSM) and the Refugee Development Center. Diane Baird, refugee foster care program manager for LSSM, said it has contracts through the state and federal governments to provide foster care to unaccompanied refugee youth, in addition to holding social activities and life-skills classes. The Refugee Development Center also has leadership and extracurricular activities, as well as an after-school program to help young refugees with their homework.

LSSM began in 1909 as Missionsbund, German for “Mission Federation,” a group dedicated to social services. Missionsbund was incorporated in 1934, and under several different names, expanded its mission to working with children, elderly and new immigrants. In 1959 it merged with another group in Saginaw and took its current name. The group is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and has more than 70 programs in 43 Michigan cities dealing with issues like foster care, adoption, homelessness, elderly and disabled.

Baird said more than 100 refugee children are currently in foster care in the Lansing area. Another 10 children who have aged out of foster care are taking advantage of an education and training voucher. The voucher provides support services and $5,000 per year toward each child’s higher education. “All but three of those are teenagers,” Baird said. Most of the refugee youth in foster care are ages 15 to 18. Each refugee child has a case manager, similar to those in state foster care, and access to a bilingual therapist for trauma they suffer from said Baird. Some were abused, and others ran away from being forced into military groups. “Sometimes it was ‘I witnessed my entire family being murdered,’” Baird said. “They’re amazingly resilient.”

LSSM offers independent living classes that teach financial skills, how to rent an apartment and basic dos and don’ts of American culture for older teenagers. It also offers sports and social activities. “The one language they seem to speak, kids from 10 different countries, is soccer,” Baird said, adding the Lansing youth have a rivalry with the refugees resettled in Grand Rapids.

The youth in foster care came from a variety of backgrounds. Some sought asylum after fleeing their home countries and others came as part of refugee families, only to later face abuse or neglect. Baird said about 80 percent of the children her group serves fit the definition of a refugee. Current refugees came from Burma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Botswana, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. Some of the non-refugee children they serve were brought to the United States under false pretenses and then abused. Others are in foster care temporarily while the federal government decides whether to allow them to stay or to return them to their home countries. Typically, those children are Central American and attempted to cross the border to get away from abuse by their governments or families. Less than 3 percent stay, Baird said. The rest are returned to their families or deported. “The U.S. detains 5,000 to 7,000 children a year through that process,” Baird said.

The Refugee Development Center also serves refugees in the Lansing area. Started in 2002 by Christ Lutheran Church, its approximately 350 volunteers now provide English language training to more than 200 refugees. The center also provides driving and life-skills training, and has a youth program for more than 200 refugee students. The center’s director Shirin Timms said it runs an after-school program for unaccompanied refugee youth and the children of refugee families at its building, 122 S. Pennsylvania Ave., and at Eastern High School in Lansing. The program provides help with homework and schedules leadership and extracurricular activities. The center works with the resettlement agencies, the School District of Lansing and Michigan State University, which provides volunteers.

Linda Gjokaj, a sociology doctoral student at MSU, worked with 10 students at the Refugee Development Center as part of a project examining their perceptions of family and how they adjusted to living in a new culture. The students came from Sudan and Liberia, with some spending time in refugee camps in Ivory Coast. Gjokaj said they had been in the United States for several years and were now in their early teens. “There were a lot of things that were common with other teenagers,” she said. “What was distinct with them was their view of family as a source of support in a new culture.” She said the refugee children she interviewed had a broad definition of family, including people who were very helpful to them but weren’t blood relatives.

Baird said LSSM is looking for mentors and tutors, because many young refugees did not have the chance to go to school, and those who did generally did not get the same education in their home countries as an American student does. Mentors do not need any previous knowledge of the refugee youth’s cultures, Baird said. “We can train people on the cultural needs of these kids,” she said. “We’re looking for people who have patience [and] a little bit of time each week to give to a kid, who are good role models, who are flexible.”

Gjokaj said most of the children were eager to talk about their experiences. “Some of them did talk about being in a conflict zone, or being in a refugee camp, or having family being separated,” Gjokaj said. She said they also talked about their hopes when coming to the United States not only to avoid wars, but to find increased opportunities. “They had positive views of the future, and of the present,” Gjokaj said.

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Developing Diversity

Developing Diversity

When students come to MSU for their first semester, they are suddenly one of 40,000 students from all different backgrounds. Different skin colors, loyalties to political parties, and levels of income collide in one small cubicle of a dorm room. Sometimes it’s an enlightenting experience, other times it’s miserable. But for both of those times and all others in between, the Office of Academic Transitions (OCAT) is there to smooth out the ride.

Before Proposal 2 passed in the 2006 election, making affirmative action illegal in university admissions and government hiring in Michigan, OCAT was named the Office of Racial Ethnic Student Affairs. The name change was part of a shift to become more inclusive, coordinator Terry Walsh said.

“I think then the office was focused more on just helping certain groups acclimate to the university,” Charles Brown, an OCAT aide in West Circle complex, said. Brown, a criminal justice junior, has been an aide for two years and plans to move to Butterfield Hall next year as a team coordinator, supervising a group of aides.

Brown said an aide’s job is to help students succeed and help freshman, transfer, and international students get acclimated to MSU. The job entails holding programs on topics like time management and building relationships with students. “Mentors try to do the same thing on the floor, whereas OCAT aides work on the scale of the whole building,” Brown said. “We’re here for any problems that [students] have throughout the building, at home, or relationship issues,” he added. “We’re here to help solve those issues, and if we can’t, we’ll help find somebody who can. If they’re having financial issues, we’ll help them get in contact with financial aid.”

Brown said the cultural aspect of OCAT mostly involves raising awareness of the various racial and ethnic groups on campus through programs with the Coalition of Races Ethnic Students (CORES). CORES groups sponsored by OCAT include the North American Indigenous Student Organization, Asian Pacific American Student Organization (APASO), Black Student Alliance and Culturas de las Razas Unidas. They work with other subgroups to put on cultural programs. For example, APASO has 10 groups, including ones for Korean, Hmong and Chinese students. All of them combined to put on Cultural Vogue, a spring semester fashion show.

OCAT aides also mediate cultural conflicts between students. “Say if students of different races have an altercation that involves race, the mentors try to handle it first, … but if they feel we could do a better job, then we come help,” Brown said.

He said mediating racial or cultural conflicts can be difficult because of the sensitivity of the issues, but said that his training with OCAT helped. “I just try to hear both sides equally. With a situation like that, there’s usually two sides of the story and then the truth,” Brown said. “Sometimes there may not be an issue, just a misunderstanding.”

Tom Rios, acting director of OCAT and associate vice president for Student Affairs and Services, said it’s important for students to talk about racial issues, but encouraging a diverse group of students to work on projects that don’t necessarily involve race is important too. “Most of our programs have to have a relational heart, so it’s not just exhorting people to be sensitive to others,” Rios said. “Learning is social, so you learn with, by and from others.”

Rios cited International Volunteer Action Corps, a group that tries to build relationships between domestic and international students through service learning, as an example of using a common interest as a jumping off point for building the trust needed to talk about sensitive issues. “Trust requires a relationship,” Rios said.

Brown said student attendance at cultural programs varies with things like weather and exam schedules, much like other programs. “It’s gotten better,” he said. “I think sometimes it’s kind of a taboo or a touchy subject for people to come out of their shells and try something different.”

Rios said getting majority students involved in multicultural activities can be difficult. “It’s hard to reach out to [majority] students and make them see that they indeed have their own culture,” Rios said.

Walsh, who works on programs to get majority students involved, said students don’t always notice the unique qualities of their own cultures until they are exposed to others. Walsh said the dominant American culture is usually seen as white middle class, but that even something as small as the Izzone can be considered a culture because it has its own social customs. “If you live in the inner city of Detroit versus going 15 minutes out, those are two very different cultures,” Walsh said.

Walsh said that sometimes leaving words like “multicultural” out of an event’s title can change the composition of the group that comes. “I think any time that something is titled ‘multicultural,’ majority students a lot of times won’t think it’s for them,” Walsh said. “If they see that there are students like them involved, they might feel more welcome there.”

Rios was skeptical of whether students, particularly majority students, take the time to check out the multicultural groups on campus. “Michigan State’s the size of a city,” Rios said. “All I know is that each college has a representative to talk about issues related to diversity. For a lot of people those are difficult discussions. If people aren’t drinking deeply from the cup of experiences, it doesn’t matter how many opportunities the university offers.”

Still, Walsh said he’s seen progress in race relations, and that the OCAT aides generally sit in mixed groups at lunch. “They’re able to have conversations about race and race relations that I couldn’t in college 15 years ago,” Walsh said.

When he was training a new group of aides, Walsh divided them into pairs and told them to talk for two minutes and find their differences. “Not one of the students brought up ‘I’m black and she’s white,’” Walsh said. “I think that’s not because they’re colorblind, but that they realize that there are things that are more important than the color of someone’s skin.”

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Developing Diversity

When students come to MSU for their first semester, they are suddenly one of 40,000 students from all different backgrounds. Different skin colors, loyalties to political parties, and levels of income collide in one small cubicle of a dorm room. Sometimes it’s an enlightenting experience, other times it’s miserable. But for both of those times and all others in between, the Office of Academic Transitions (OCAT) is there to smooth out the ride.
Before Proposal 2 passed in the 2006 election, making affirmative action illegal in university admissions and government hiring in Michigan, OCAT was named the Office of Racial Ethnic Student Affairs. The name change was part of a shift to become more inclusive, coordinator Terry Walsh said.
“I think then the office was focused more on just helping certain groups acclimate to the university,” Charles Brown, an OCAT aide in West Circle complex, said. Brown, a criminal justice junior, has been an aide for two years and plans to move to Butterfield Hall next year as a team coordinator, supervising a group of aides.
[brown]Brown said an aide’s job is to help students succeed and help freshman, transfer, and international students get acclimated to MSU. The job entails holding programs on topics like time management and building relationships with students. “Mentors try to do the same thing on the floor, whereas OCAT aides work on the scale of the whole building,” Brown said. “We’re here for any problems that [students] have throughout the building, at home, or relationship issues,” he added. “We’re here to help solve those issues, and if we can’t, we’ll help find somebody who can. If they’re having financial issues, we’ll help them get in contact with financial aid.”
Brown said the cultural aspect of OCAT mostly involves raising awareness of the various racial and ethnic groups on campus through programs with the Coalition of Races Ethnic Students (CORES). CORES groups sponsored by OCAT include the North American Indigenous Student Organization, Asian Pacific American Student Organization (APASO), Black Student Alliance and Culturas de las Razas Unidas. They work with other subgroups to put on cultural programs. For example, APASO has 10 groups, including ones for Korean, Hmong and Chinese students. All of them combined to put on Cultural Vogue, a spring semester fashion show.
OCAT aides also mediate cultural conflicts between students. “Say if students of different races have an altercation that involves race, the mentors try to handle it first, … but if they feel we could do a better job, then we come help,” Brown said.
He said mediating racial or cultural conflicts can be difficult because of the sensitivity of the issues, but said that his training with OCAT helped. “I just try to hear both sides equally. With a situation like that, there’s usually two sides of the story and then the truth,” Brown said. “Sometimes there may not be an issue, just a misunderstanding.”
Tom Rios, acting director of OCAT and associate vice president for Student Affairs and Services, said it’s important for students to talk about racial issues, but encouraging a diverse group of students to work on projects that don’t necessarily involve race is important too. “Most of our programs have to have a relational heart, so it’s not just exhorting people to be sensitive to others,” Rios said. “Learning is social, so you learn with, by and from others.”
[rios]Rios cited International Volunteer Action Corps, a group that tries to build relationships between domestic and international students through service learning, as an example of using a common interest as a jumping off point for building the trust needed to talk about sensitive issues. “Trust requires a relationship,” Rios said.
Brown said student attendance at cultural programs varies with things like weather and exam schedules, much like other programs. “It’s gotten better,” he said. “I think sometimes it’s kind of a taboo or a touchy subject for people to come out of their shells and try something different.”
Rios said getting majority students involved in multicultural activities can be difficult. “It’s hard to reach out to [majority] students and make them see that they indeed have their own culture,” Rios said.
Walsh, who works on programs to get majority students involved, said students don’t always notice the unique qualities of their own cultures until they are exposed to others. Walsh said the dominant American culture is usually seen as white middle class, but that even something as small as the Izzone can be considered a culture because it has its own social customs. “If you live in the inner city of Detroit versus going 15 minutes out, those are two very different cultures,” Walsh said.
[rios1]Walsh said that sometimes leaving words like “multicultural” out of an event’s title can change the composition of the group that comes. “I think any time that something is titled ‘multicultural,’ majority students a lot of times won’t think it’s for them,” Walsh said. “If they see that there are students like them involved, they might feel more welcome there.”
Rios was skeptical of whether students, particularly majority students, take the time to check out the multicultural groups on campus. “Michigan State’s the size of a city,” Rios said. “All I know is that each college has a representative to talk about issues related to diversity. For a lot of people those are difficult discussions. If people aren’t drinking deeply from the cup of experiences, it doesn’t matter how many opportunities the university offers.”
Still, Walsh said he’s seen progress in race relations, and that the OCAT aides generally sit in mixed groups at lunch. “They’re able to have conversations about race and race relations that I couldn’t in college 15 years ago,” Walsh said.
When he was training a new group of aides, Walsh divided them into pairs and told them to talk for two minutes and find their differences. “Not one of the students brought up ‘I’m black and she’s white,’” Walsh said. “I think that’s not because they’re colorblind, but that they realize that there are things that are more important than the color of someone’s skin.”

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Money Matters

Money may or may not be the root of all evil, but one thing is certain, money can cause a great deal of stress for people worried about managing it. In a study published in October by the American Psychological Association (APA), about 80 percent of Americans reported that the money and the economy caused them significant stress. More than half were also stressed by job stability or housing costs.
For college students, the situation can be even worse. Many have to worry about paying off student loans or paying their tuition if their parents become unemployed. Those who are graduating in May also have to worry about finding their first job in a tough economic environment.
[money]Most universities still treat stress and money problems as separate issues, said Dennis Martell, health education services coordinator at Olin Health Center. Change is coming, though. Olin has launched a financial wellness program aimed at stopping students’ heartache when they check their account balances.
The pilot program, which began earlier this semester, allows students to schedule free appointments to learn about managing common financial concerns. These concerns include issues with credit cards, budgeting, student loans, health insurance and even identity theft. The difference between traditional financial planning and this program is that the goal is to reduce stress. A similar program is already in place at The Ohio State University.
Brian Winters, a health education staff member who heads the program, said people in human services have realized the link between balanced finances and overall health, especially since the economic downturn.
“[Even] social workers are bringing a financial component to what they do,” Winters said. “Finance has become an integral part of being successful in our society.”
[Martell]Rising layoffs and foreclosures have recently made the economy an dire issue for many people. Martell and Winters started looking into the effects of finances on stress a year ago by reading the results of the National College Health Assessment. According to the assessment, based on students’ responses to a survey, nearly 30 percent of MSU students reported that they got a lower grade or couldn’t complete a course last year because of stress. Martell said he also heard students talking about financial stress and saw an increase in clients at the MSU Student Food Bank.
“I don’t think that most people recognize that financial matters have a huge impact on stress, which in turn impacts sleep and daily activities,” Martell said. “When it impacts their stress, it impacts their health.”
When students first go to Olin for financial wellness counseling, they fill out a survey that gauges their level of stress. The survey identifies a student’s mental, academic and physical stress levels, Winters said. He can handle a maximum of 10 appointments per week. However, he only sees about half that number because the program is just getting started.
Aside from fliers on bulletin boards and in residence halls, the program isn’t advertised. “We don’t want to drum up more demand than we can handle,” Winters said. “But for a program that’s just out there [without advertising], we’re definitely seeing a response. It’s tough out there and we’re here to help.”
Many students who call for appointments have simple questions that can be answered over the phone, Winters said, or need to be directed to other offices for things like loans.
The students who do get counseling attend an hour-long session where Winters teaches them the basics about dealing with financial problems. Additional sessions are possible for students who need them. He follows up with the students a month later to see if they feel less stressed and more confident in dealing with finances.
Winters said one of the most important things he wants to teach students is to “live within their means and be realistic about credit card debt and even student loan debt, knowing that it has to be paid back.”
If student responses indicate that the program is successful, it may expand the partners it works with, including referring students with very high levels of stress to the Counseling Center. For now, Winters said, his main partner is Spartan Smart Statements, a student group that gives presentations about basic financial literacy.
[Becker]Counseling Center visits are up about 40 percent from last year, Associate Director Scott Becker said. The rise in visits can be attributed to the extended hours set by the Counseling Center. Though the center doesn’t divulge patient records, Becker said most counselors at universities around the country have noticed more anxiety and depression as the economy worsens.
“I think often it exacerbates pre-existing conditions like depression and anxiety,” Becker said. “What we try to do is help students sort out the causes.”
Often, Becker said, people with anxiety or depression exaggerate or make problems seem worse than they are. For those students, counselors work on relaxation exercises and breathing to “help people get past losses and look at the long term,” Becker said. While Becker works on the anxiety or depression financial fears cause, Winters works on the concrete problem of financial worries in and of itself. The center is also working on a partnership with the Office of Financial Aid, Becker said.
The Office of Financial Aid is helping to create new partners and resources for students. One such resource is Spartan Smart Statements, a student group that gives presentations about basic financial literacy. The group’s adviser, Kevin Schwemmin, senior student services coordinator at the Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, said he started it last year because of a request from the Office of Financial Aid.
Spartan Smart Statements President Cody Taylor described financial literacy as “knowing what you have to deal with and how to deal with it.” This includes understanding basic financial terms and techniques like budgeting and making transitions to different housing or to work. Winters found the group and asked Taylor to refer students whose questions they couldn’t answer.
“He sort of functions as our financial expert,” Taylor said.
[card]Taylor said the group doesn’t discuss stress and wellness in its presentations, but hopes giving students tools for managing money will “lead to better financial health.”
The group’s adviser, Kevin Schwemmin, senior student services coordinator at the Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, said he started it last year because of a request from the Office of Financial Aid.
“What we do is mostly a nuts and bolts piece, but we know it fits into that more holistic [approach],” Schwemmin said.
The group had about 10 students last year and seven this year, with Taylor as the last original member who hasn’t yet graduated. Last year, the group presented on residence hall floors and at several conferences. The goal of the presentations was to help students become knowledgeable of financial processes and terminology.
“There were [responses] ranging from ‘This really opened my eyes,’ to people saying ‘This is common knowledge,'” said Taylor, a senior accounting major.
Many of the students are finance or accounting majors, but the group provides basic financial training to anyone who wants to join. The group is working on holding a Financial Awareness Week later this semester. Taylor hopes that as the group recruits more members it will be able to hold more workshops and offer peer counseling in its own office space.
Schwemmin said he expects it to continue even after the economic situation improves. “It’s not a quick fix. There are always going to be students who need assistance with budgeting,” Schwemmin said.
Taylor said the group and the financial wellness program need to continue to work on finding ways to reach students. “I know there’s a need out there,” Taylor said, “but you don’t know what you don’t know, so you might not know you’re in the dark.”
Resources for students dealing with stress caused by financial insecurities are taking shape all over campus. Students seeking guidance are not limited to just one place. What’s more, it’s all free. The Counseling Center offers help on managing stress, anxiety and depression. The Office of Financial Aid and Spartan Smart Statements give out information on techniques for managing finances, and the Financial Wellness program tries to combine both approaches. “It’s tough out there and we’re here to help,” Winters said. Stress a little less. Financial wellness is in reach.

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Congo’s Civil War

The men with guns stripped then bound their victims. To save bullets, they stabbed them or broke their necks, throwing the dead into piles. What began as a Christmas Day celebration ended as a nightmare that left over 250 people dead as the Lord’s Resistance Army targeted crowded churches to maximize casualties in retaliation to a government offensive. But here in the United States, the situation was far from people’s minds as Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin drew headlines with her expensive taste in clothing and President Barack Obama defended connections to radicals.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, though, edged toward civil war as the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group that wants to form a government based on the 10 Commandments, terrorized citizens. The group is only one of several now based in eastern Congo, though the primary combatants are the Congolese National Congress for the Defense of the People and the government. U.N. peacekeepers stationed in the country have been able to do little to stop the killing of civilians, and the conflict has gotten little attention from the general public, prompting some MSU students to say, “Enough.”
“It makes a lot more sense to prevent a genocide than to stop it later,” said Britt Larson, a junior pre-veterinary medicine, animal science and zoology major and the vice-president of STAND. The student group, originally formed in 2004 at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. in response to the genocide in Darfur. STAND’s mission has expanded to hiring guards for refugee camps and raising awareness of “any genocide or conflict where innocent people are being killed,” Larson said.
[congo]Despite several years of work, Larson said STAND still has a long way to go. “If you ask the general public what’s going on in either region, they might know that there’s genocide in Darfur and that there’s a war in Congo, but I don’t think they’d know anything beyond that,” she said.
That is partly because news coverage often reflects government security priorities, said journalism assistant professor Manuel Chavez, who has studied how media report on armed conflicts overseas. Generally, that means conflicts in nearby countries and direct threats to the United States or its allies, such as terrorism and nuclear weapons, get the most attention, he said.
“[Conflicts are covered that way] not because the problems are not sensitive, but when you consider the number of the countries in the world [the United States] has to focus on priorities,” Chavez said. Other reasons that conflicts are sometimes ignored are when they settle into long stalemates or if there is no clear victimized group, he said.
Larson said that some people she talked to see civilians’ deaths as unavoidable because of the lack of a victimized group in Congo, where the conflict is between government forces and rebels. Others, though, want to hear about the less-familiar conflict, she said.
“Unfortunately, I think on a general scale people are tired of hearing about Darfur,” she said. “I think people are interested when you bring up something new, but it’s difficult to educate people because it’s such a complicated conflict.”
Some of the confusion results because the conflict began in neighboring Rwanda in 1994, said James Madison College assistant professor Rita Kiki Edozie. In Rwanda, a civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups resulted in thousands of Tutsis dying, and a million Hutus fleeing after Tutsi rebels seized control of the government. The Rwandan Tutsi government claimed that many of the Hutus had gone to eastern Congo and crossed the border to catch them. The ensuing instability spread the civil war into Congo, Edozie said, and though fighting has varied in intensity over the years the government has not been able to control the whole country since then.
“They establish security where they can,” Edozie said. She added the conflict has little to do with ethnicity anymore, and relates more to tangible issues like allocation of resources. “[The rebels] are choosing to use militancy to get what they want.”
[LARSON2]The conflict has been deemed a “low-insurgency conflict,” Edozie said, placing it in the same category as countries like Thailand and Burma, where the military and anti-government forces sometimes clash. Sometimes excessive government responses to an insurgency can cause human rights violations, which in turn lead to retaliation, she said.
Congo also lacks the racial element that draws attention to other conflicts, such as Darfur, she said.
“It is being postulated that in the Sudan, the country is divided; in the north they tend to be Muslim … and more Arabized, and in the west and south they are Christian and more African,” Edozie said. “This is the reason that this conflict made it to the international attention. It’s perceived as a racialized genocide … an accusation that still has not been proven.”
A 2005 report by the United Nations found the Sudanese government and Arab militias had committed war crimes, but not genocide, which it defined as “a specific intent to annihilate, in whole or in part, a group distinguished on racial, ethnic, national or religious grounds.”
The distinction is crucial. The United Nations cannot send peacekeepers into a country without its consent unless the government is allowing genocide, or has invaded another country. In Congo, there was no need to prove genocide, because the government allowed the peacekeepers to supervise an earlier ceasefire with the rebels.
To STAND member Larson, however, the difference is irrelevant to the main issue of human rights violations.
“To me, the definition of genocide is targeting people for who they are,” she said. “To me, it doesn’t have to be an ethnic or racial focus. [Darfur and Congo] are very different issues, so I think it’s important to distinguish between them, but in both cases people are dying on a massive scale and both need attention from the international community.”

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Capitol Chill

It was the sort of night when even homeless people know not to sleep outside. I had no way of knowing this when my phone alarm started playing irritatingly cheerful attempts at music at 2:30 a.m., while I lay in bed debating whether the inauguration was really so historic that it was worth poking my toes out of the warm covers after only four hours of sleep. I had anticipated this dilemma and accordingly made my roommate Morgan promise to keep me from going back to sleep.
I had gone to the inauguration expecting to wake up at a less unholy hour and to ride a comfortable bus to Capitol Hill, where, ticket securely in hand, I would see the inauguration up close. That was what the conference I was attending had led me to believe I had paid for, but of course by that time there was nothing I could do, except bundle up and think unprintable thoughts as my three friends and I left our hotel at 3:15 a.m. The conference leaders had assured us was a 45-minute walk, at most.
About an hour later we first caught sight of the Washington Monument. That giant obelisk, startlingly white against the deep-purple sky, seemed to say, “You think you’re cold and tired? My soldiers at Valley Forge didn’t even have shoes. So stop complaining and keep marching. I didn’t found this country so you could whine.” Yes, anything you say, Gen. Washington.
When we got closer to the National Mall the police and army vehicles reminded me of the news reports from countries in the midst of civil wars. We were diverted from 18th to 15th Street, then back to 19th. Still, eventually we reached the grassy strip of the Mall, and I felt a strange pride in the collective insanity I shared with such a crowd. We were lining up in the middle of the night, not for a concert or the release of a new video game system, but to watch democracy in action.
[hart]The Mall had opened at 4 a.m., and Capitol Hill was full by the time we got there at 5:15. Fortunately, someone had had the foresight to set up jumbo screens, and so we settled down to wait it out on a towel someone had “borrowed” from the hotel. That was when we realized it was cold.
I had thought I knew what cold was after three years in East Lansing. After all, I had felt the water vapor in my nostrils freezing on the way to and from class. It is one thing to be cold for 15 minutes, when you have a definite destination in mind and can pick up the pace when you realize your extremities have gone numb. It’s quite another when your obstacle is not space, but time, and you realize that nothing you do can make the sun rise faster and begin to drive the chill from your bones.
We tried to cope by making a human wigwam, piling on top of each other and taking turns being on the bottom, the warmest spot. It did not help much. Two people left after about an hour, and my remaining friend Justin started looking for newspapers to use as blankets. Since all of the cardboard boxes that had been lying around were already occupied, I just reminded myself, again and again, that I only had to be strong until sunrise, that it always gets colder before it gets warmer. In those early morning hours, believing the sun will rise feels more like an act of faith than acknowledging a scientific truth.
Still, it was worth it for the chance to be there. What I saw at the inauguration made me proud of my country. Not just the fact that apparently racism is less important to the majority of voters than the economy, but the fact that people came together on this cold day. No one was allowed to sell anything, but some people were just handing out mini American flags. About halfway through the morning, when they put on Monday’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial, people were singing along to “This Land Is Your Land” and waving their flags. The pride and excitement in the air went deeper than I can find words to describe.
[hart3]The ceremony itself was almost anticlimactic. After the entrances that I was pretty sure would go until midterm elections, there were musical performances, the oaths themselves and President Obama’s address. His message, as usual, was one of hope and faith in the American people, and the spirit was contagious.
I don’t know if he can keep his campaign promises. I don’t even know if he made the right promises. Just as getting through the crowds and out of the National Mall was a lot harder than getting in, the president’s real challenges are still ahead. He was elected on people’s faith in our ability to come together and get through times that look so dark to so many.
But if faith is blind, so is cynicism. I’ve heard professors and even students express the view that America is so deeply broken that all our attempts to fix it are as useless as trying to leave a permanent indentation in the Pillsbury Doughboy’s stomach. During my time studying in the United Kingdom this past summer I was amazed at how quickly my American classmates would join the British students in bashing their countrymen. Apparently some people really believe Americans are a bunch of stupid lemmings who have lost all sense of duty to anything but their wallets.
They are wrong. Hopefully we’ve elected the right man; maybe we haven’t. Time will tell. The stock market was plunging even as over two million people stood cheering the new president, and the whole world did not join hands singing “Kumbaya.” We still face a long, hard road. But you know what? For now at least, we’re walking it with our heads held high.

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Watching War Unfold

Cattle are a common sight on the roads in Abkhazia. Tanks are not. A dozen tanks carrying Russian soldiers sat beside the road, setting up a checkpoint for vehicles going to and from the tiny Caucasus nation of Georgia. The soldiers glanced at the two men driving past in a jeep. Their combat fatigues marked them as militants who fought against Georgia, but the soldiers let them pass without question – or a good look at their passenger. In the back, international relations senior John Hudson reached for his camera to capture the opening moments of the Russia-Georgia conflict.
The rebel leaders in the driver’s seat immediately warned, “No photos.”
[jhudson11]”Those were the first English words I heard them say,” Hudson said. He had gone alone to Abkhazia, a region that broke away from Georgia after a civil war in the 1990s, to report on what had happened to the war’s victims as part of his field experience for James Madison College. The older reporters at the Tbilisi radio station where Hudson had been interning since late May told him to take at least one other more experienced person along on his trip into the region. The Georgian reporter who had planned to go with him balked at the danger. “I ended up paying off some rebel leaders in Abkhazia to drive me into the capital there,” he said. Hudson hardly expected that he would end up covering the stories of refugees from an entirely different conflict.
The contention between Russia and Georgia began Aug. 8, when Georgia launched a military offensive to reclaim South Ossetia, a province that, like Abkhazia, broke away in 1992 and sought to join Russia. Georgia was formerly a member of the Soviet Union, and South Ossetia and Abkhazia are regions that broke away from Georgia and have governed themselves as separate nations. Both provinces are still officially part of Georgia, though the Russian parliament and the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry recently recognized them as independent. [johnhudsonphoto1]
According to Zarema Kumakhova, an assistant professor of Russian, the breakaway regions’ status has always been contentious. “Even under the Soviet Union, Abkhazia had ethnic conflicts with Georgia,” she said. “Even at the time [of Georgian independence], when [the borders were just drawn], it was fraught with problems.”
Norman Graham, director of the Center for European and Russian/Eurasian Studies and associate dean of James Madison College, said many Russians likely did not see their response to Georgia as a problem because many people in the breakaway regions embraced Russian advances. “It wasn’t as if they were taking over an area that didn’t want to be taken over,” he said.
Both sides claimed the other provoked the fighting. Russia had begun building up troop levels along its border with South Ossetia since spring, prompting a warning from NATO, but Georgia’s Interior Ministry claimed only to be retaliating against mortar attacks by South Ossetian militants when it began its shelling on Aug. 7. While the United States trained some Georgian forces, the Russians quickly overwhelmed them.
Entering Abkhazia felt like arriving in another country, Hudson said. The people spoke Russian and used Russian currency and license plates. “[Abkhazia] definitely was not modern. A lot of the [residents] were pretty poor, but there were some rich Russian tourists who came for the subtropical climate on the Black Sea,” Hudson said. “There’s nothing normal about the place. This one building looked like it was bombed out, but they were just taking the bricks for other buildings.”
[johnhudsonphoto2]Georgia, while not as developed as the United States, recovered much better from the civil war than Abkhazia and has most of the amenities of modern cities. “Even in the smaller cities in Georgia they have banks, you can use ATMs,” Hudson said. Another important difference is that civilian authorities are in control. “[In Georgia] the police kind of have a presence, instead of separatist militants driving around,” he said.
Despite the lack of normality in Abkhazia and heated rhetoric from politicians, Hudson never expected to see an armed conflict. “Everybody had this feeling like, wow, this has been a 14-year frozen conflict. Nobody was expecting it, but no one had the imagination that we were in a safe part of the world,” he said.
Hudson left Abkhazia an hour before the border with Georgia was sealed. Though there was no official sealing, “No one was even thinking about crossing unless they wanted to die,” Hudson said. “Once the war started, there were troops everywhere, so you weren’t going to be able to come from or go into the breakaway zones unless you were a soldier.”
“At first, getting out of Abkhazia, it was pretty scary,” he said. He called his mother to let her know he was safe before going to report on refugees crossing into Georgian territory. Hudson, who had articles about the new refugees published in Salon and other American publications, and plans to continue in journalism, said the danger did not bother him because he “fed off” the other reporters’ energy. “This was the moment. Editors who wouldn’t give you the time of day three days ago were begging for a story,” he said.
[johnhudsonphoto3]Hudson was not ready to assign blame to either side. “The Abkhazians see themselves as victims. Their history books will record this as, yet again, aggression by Georgia. The Georgian perspective is [that] yet again, Russia can’t accept Georgia as a free nation,” he said. “Personally, I think Russia has been playing a somewhat insidious, meddling role, but it was a bone-headed decision by [Georgian president Mikheil] Saakashvili to try to take over South Ossetia.”
Hudson said that the humanitarian aspect of the conflict was sometimes forgotten as reporters covered its larger geopolitical implications. “These 12, 13, 14-year-old girls would run into a house and see a bright light and the house would blow up around them,” he said. He interviewed Georgian refugees, because Russian refugees had fled for the northern border. Most of those he talked to expected more help from the United States. They would ask, “Where is your country?” Hudson said.
[jhudson2]Although the United States could not offer more military aid, it will probably continue to support Georgia, Graham said. While Georgia is not “intrinsically valuable” to either the United States or Russia, it controls oil and natural gas pipelines from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, Graham said. He also said the United States has generally supported former members of the Soviet Union. “Georgia has been struggling ever since [the breakup of the Soviet Union] to become an independent democracy and a viable economy,” he said.
Kumakhova said Russia also has a long-term interest in good relations with Georgia. She said her father was educated in Georgia, and that many taxi drivers in Moscow are Georgian. “You have to be realistic. Georgia was part of Russia for centuries. Then it became independent. You don’t cut ties right away,” she said. “You are nice to your neighbors. In response, you want your neighbors to be nice to you.”
Relations among Georgia, Russia and other countries in the region fall short of the good neighbor ideal, Hudson said. “For students of international relations, it’s kind of an interesting area. It’s kind of an ideal east versus west conflict,” he said. “Saakashvili was educated by Columbia University. If you look at [Georgian] combat fatigues, they’re U.S. fatigues. It’s a Christian country in the middle of the Muslim world.”
Hudson’s exit from Georgia, while not as precarious as his jeep ride into Abkhazia, was still unconventional. He got a ride on a convoy of charter buses hired by the American embassy to evacuate American citizens, Georgians with green cards and one Canadian to Armenia on Aug. 15, the day Russia and Georgia signed a ceasefire after a week of warfare. From there he flew to London, and back home to Chicago. He said that he still thinks about the people he knew in Georgia.
Under the terms of the ceasefire, the tanks Hudson saw on the side of the road have returned to their prewar positions, leaving behind rebuilding for Georgians and Russians alike in the breakaway regions. “It was kind of a feeling of general malaise, thinking of my friends who had lost their homes, whose towns were occupied by Russians until very recently,” he said. “Despite everything that happened, it was the best summer of my life. Few things are more enriching and depressing at the same time.”

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