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Interns in the News

The Hillman Interns are given the opportunity to write Opinion Articles in The DePauw student newspaper as a forum for ethical discussion.

March 18, 2014

Privilege at DePauw University: a personal understanding

Conner Gordon, Sophomore Political Science Major

In light of recent discussions on campus, I’d like to offer up my own understanding of privilege. The notion of privilege has frequently come up in conversations around campus, but rarely does it seem to be understood. I have heard numerous complaints that discussing privilege demonizes someone for something they cannot control or that it is some sort of boogeyman of reverse discrimination. This understanding of privilege is far from the truth.

By only thinking of privilege as a personal attack on someone for factors they cannot control, we ignore the destructive effects that privileged society continues to have on marginalized peoples.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand privilege is to consider its everyday, real-life impacts. Let me give you an example. I use my privilege every time I put my name down on a job application. Let’s face it: as far as names go, “Conner Gordon” sounds pretty stereotypically white. And studies have shown that, because of that, I will be more likely to be called back for an interview than an equally qualified individual with a “non-white-sounding” name.

But my privilege extends beyond the job interview. When I hear about tragedies such as the Jordan Davis shooting, I don’t have to worry that my light-skinned friends or I will be faced with the same threat of profiling. As a man, I don’t have to worry about being paid less than a female coworker for the same work. Nor do I have to worry that the morality or legitimacy of my relationships will be questioned – a criticism that LGBTQ individuals face constantly. These are just the most basic of countless benefits that my privilege grants me.

It is clear that privilege exists in our society, as well as on our campus. However, that doesn’t mean that pointing it out constitutes a personal attack. Acknowledging your privilege doesn’t invalidate the struggles you’ve had in your life or make you bigoted. It only recognizes that, in getting where you are today, you may have had advantages due to ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or income that others haven’t. Privilege is not the direct result of personal circumstances, but of social inequalities – inequalities that have destructive effects on the marginalized.

Consider it this way. The United States produces some of the highest per capita carbon dioxide emissions in the world. Yet nobody is blaming you for growing up in an environment with such destructive effects. After all, that’s not something you can control. However, this does not absolve you of being part of a system that has numerous negative effects on others. If you do nothing to change this destructive status quo, the blame is nonetheless deserved.

Privilege works in a similar manner. It is not inherently wrong to be a part of a privileged group. You are not being demonized for being white, male, straight, wealthy or any other status that grants you privilege. But if you are doing nothing to change the social inequalities that make you privileged in the first place, you are contributing to the problem.

While I have done the best that I can, the picture of privilege I have described here only scratches the surface. To truly understand privilege, you have to talk to those who are the victims of it. I am by no means an expert, and given my own privilege I am not qualified to accurately portray how it affects others. I urge you to take this conversation beyond the opinion pages of The DePauw and to take the first step in solving the numerous inequalities that affect our campus.


March 11, 2014

TOMS: when ‘conscious capitalism’ is not enough

Cheney Hagerup, Junior Psychology Major

With great anticipation for TOMS founder BlakeMycoskie’s visit radiating throughout DePauw’scampus, I had to do a double take every time I saw the words “conscious capitalism” broadcasted on posters.

The term “conscious capitalism” has arisen out of the assumption that through making ‘helping’ fashionable, we are somehow working to end poverty. The reality, however, is that philanthropic enterprises such as TOMS allow us to feel that we are helping the world without relinquishing our role as consumers.

According to DePauw University’s website, while traveling in Argentina in 2006, Mycoskie was struck by the daily struggles faced by shoeless children. He consequently decided to create a for-profit organization that would provide impoverished communities throughout Argentina, Ethiopia and South Africa with shoe donations.

As a result, TOMS One for One campaign emerged, and for every pair of TOMS shoes purchased in the U.S., one pair is donated to an impoverished community.

I can’t help but question how Mycoskie came to the conclusion that dumping loads of shoes into these communities was the right answer. Was there ever any sort of collaboration in which Mycoskie was told by community leaders that, of all the uses for financial capital, the greatest need lay in shoes imported from the U.S.? The image of a brigade of privileged Americans participating in these ‘shoe drops’ seems only to perpetuate the white savior industrial complex.

The reality is that the communities TOMS donates to have shoes. Shoe brigades are detrimental to existing shoe markets because no retailer can compete with ‘free.’
In response to TOMS’ “A Day Without Shoes Campaign,” which is a day for Americans to experience what it’s like to walk without shoes, the “Day Without Dignity” campaign was launched. This video portrays how campaigns such as TOMS dehumanize poor people by perpetuating the helper vs. helped dichotomy.

The reality is that organizations such as TOMS oversimplify the situation of poverty. In their attempts to ‘help,’ local markets are flooded with free goods. While ‘shoe drops’ may provide the community with shoes for the time being, when the shoes wear out the community faces dependency.

We see these dynamics play out with like-minded organizations such as Goodwill, who often donate or sell clothing and textiles to foreign markets by the pound.

According to Garth Frazer, associate professor of business economics at the University of Toronto, “Used-clothing imports are found to have a negative impact on apparel and textile production in Africa, explaining roughly 40 percent of the decline in African apparel production and roughly 50 percent of the decline in apparel employment.”
Thus, the perceived shortage in apparel and shoes is not the problem but, rather, the conditions that sustain poverty.

According to Slavoj Zizek, Slovenian Marxist philosopher, in buying into these green capitalism schemes, we are prolonging the disease rather than curing it.

He describes campaigns such as TOMS as “a short circuit where the act of egotist consumption already includes the price for its opposite.”
As follows, feel-good campaigns do not initiate substantial political change. They are temporary and often cause more harm than good in the communities they attempt to ‘help.’
It is our responsibility as global citizens to break from the consumerist act. It is time that we think critically about these issues and join the resistance against systems of exploitation that perpetuate poverty.

February 27, 2014

Ubben Lecture by TOMS founder offers chance to think and act

Natalie Weilandt, Junior English Writing and Art History Double Major

On Sunday, March 2nd, Blake Mycoskie, the president and founder of TOMs will deliver speech about his story and his revolutionary Buy One Give One (BOGO) business model. I don’t need to point out that the Ubben Lecture Series has a reputation for bringing in impactful speakers from varying fields. The Ubben guests I’ve heard from over the course of my time at DePauw have opened my eyes to a bigger picture and given me an opportunity to connect the wonderful privilege of my education to a new and interesting narrative. Part of the aim of bringing in these speakers seems to be to motivate us to do everything we can with the knowledge we take from DePauw. That’s why I find this choice of speaker particularly intriguing.

Blake Mycoskie will draw students in. He’s relatable. He graduated from an American university and got the idea for TOMs on a foreign aid trip to Argentina, an idea students at DePauw are not strangers to. He has a track record for starting businesses throughout his college career and afterwards, and his story is inspiring to everyone, especially young people. Choosing him to speak was a brilliant marketing move because we all want to see a little bit of ourselves in a young entrepreneur like Mycoskie.

He hit the jackpot. He had an idea that went viral: service based capitalism. TOMs rests at the intersection of business and social movement, which is something that many thought was impossible.

While there’s no shortage of praise (magazines, public figures, us), it’s important to shed light on the fact that TOMs has its critics too. Some say the company donates shoes to those who don’t need them. Others consider it foreign intervention that contributes to and simplifies a complex wheel of poverty. Still, others see it as a “band-aid fix” for something that’s just a symptom of poverty. While the criticisms come from many angles, they can all be boiled down to one simple message: buying a pair of TOMs is not enough.

The solutions to problems of global hunger and poverty aren’t waiting for us in Kresge. They live in the way we’ll be thinking when we leave. We should view Mycoskie’s speech as not a message, but an idea to be questioned—isn’t asking questions how he came to his creative business model in the first place?
Blake Mycoskie’s speech is a platform, not an end. His company has its pros and its cons. It’s our responsibility to be aware of them as we listen on Sunday. We have the tools to be critical thinkers and decide for ourselves what counts as fulfilling our social responsibility.

The impact of TOMs and similar corporations can be translated in several different ways. Whether it’s the shoes they put on the feet of the needy or the shoes we slip on for our short walk to class, Mycoskie’s product has someone, somewhere, thinking about poverty. But it’s not enough to just think about it. Raising our awareness is part of the good impact of TOMs. Hopefully, we will learn about the possibilities of socially responsible business models and how our travel experiences can be shaped into something more meaningful. But remember, talking doesn’t save the world—listening and acting does.

February 14, 2014

Belafonte’s speech powerful, no one there to hear it

Ronnie Kennedy, Senior Political Science Major

During my time at DePauw University, I have listened to lectures from esteemed guests such as Leymah Gbowee, Bill Clinton and Ron Paul. But this week, I heard a speech more critical than any other that I have heard on this campus: a speech from 87-year-old activist Harry Belafonte.

Belafonte comes from a time when a tweet was not the endpoint of a political movement, but rather from a time when social activism was rampant. Known to be a beacon of controversy, Belafonte delivered a straightforward lecture about the growing plague of complacency and immorality that has been dominating American society and the global community. His ideas are the most important ideas I've heard at DePauw.

Not enough of my peers heard Belafonte’s speech. DePauw filled Kresge (a room with a capacity of 1400) when Ron Paul offered his "criticism" of American domestic, social and foreign policy. Only about 200 people attended when Belafonte spoke, and Belafonte's speech was more powerful.

While Belafonte did identify the government as contributing to the moral and social decay of the country, he also identified the role each of us plays in that decay. Our support of excess, our celebration of greed and, most importantly, our pronounced apathy causes us to accelerate the fall of our country. Those same traits are ultimately causing the destruction of the planet as well. I, myself, have participated in the apathy that categorizes the millennial generation, but Belafonte's activism and passion have rekindled my own. (I'd be happy to sit down and talk with anyone about my plans after DePauw.)
Belafonte raised the point that radical thinking is falling, or has fallen, out of fashion. We have become too content with docility. But Belafonte did not end his speech on such a grim note.

 In the small crowd of students, faculty and locals, Belafonte saw hope. He believed that among that audience lay the possibility to change the ills in society.

"The civil rights leaders were in the same place [we] are now,” Belafonte said in his lecture. “They were the ones sitting in the auditoriums in the universities."

So I urge you all (especially those that missed out on the opportunity to hear the speech for yourselves) to take up Harry Belafonte's cause-- shrug off apathy, and find a way to get involved, not in the perpetuation of the status quo, but in the positive change we all would like to see in our community, in our nation and in our world.

November 22, 2013

US drone use anything but ethical thus far

Conner Gordon, Sophomore Political Science Major

Time and time again, there is one military strategy that has proven itself in its sheer destructiveness: shoot first, ask questions later.

Whether seen in the trenches of the Western Front or rural villages of Vietnam, it has been shown throughout history that simply trying to kill the other side without considering a larger strategy produces some of the most horrific consequences of war.

And yet, even after its own traumatic experiences with shooting first and asking questions later in Vietnam, the United States has failed to give up this reckless strategy. Instead of the humid jungles of Southeast Asia, however, we have taken our fight to the arid highlands of Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. And the means of this attrition do not come from the rifle of a soldier on the ground, but from the wing-mounted missile of an unmanned drone flying thousands of feet overhead.

It is these drone strikes, which the Obama administration and the military have tried to paint as precise and legal, that help perpetuate some of the greatest abuses of our military power in recent years. Unless we take more care in their use, our drone policy will only add to a growing list of problems that jeopardize human rights and foreign policy alike.

In some limited cases, drone strikes certainly constitute a legal means of warfare. However, in a number of cases their use is marred by a deplorable track record of civilian casualties. Between 400-900 civilians have been killed in drone strikes since the program began, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Among them are community leaders, grandparents and even children-- all innocent bystanders that pose no threat to the United States.

All of them were killed by a weapon system lauded as precise and legal. But the abuses of the drone program are not simply limited to unintentional civilian casualties. In some cases, our drone policies have targeted militants and civilians alike, all for the sake of attaining higher body counts.

Often, in the moments following a drone strike, a number of first responders rush to the scene to assist the wounded. The last thing these responders expect is to become a target. Yet this is exactly what happens when, several minutes after the first strike, a second missile is fired to kill anyone drawn to the scene.

This technique, dubbed the “double tap” method, is a key aspect of the CIA’s drone program. For years the technique, which makes no distinction between militants and civilians, was allowed to continue without public oversight. And, in all likelihood, it continues today. Evidence suggests that, despite a brief hiatus caused by public outrage, the CIA has continued to use this technique, targeting people simply due to their urge to help the wounded and dying.

Even civilians not directly targeted by drones suffer from their negative effects. Constantly terrorized by the sound of aircraft buzzing overhead, entire communities are forced to live with the fear that their homes could be the next one targeted by a missile. The results of such fears are profound. Children are kept home from school, community leaders avoid holding meetings and people avoid congregating in public, all out of fear that they will be the next ones in the drone’s crosshairs.

Though our administration may be comfortable to wage its detached war of attrition and ignore the consequences, we won’t be alone forever. Drone technology is becoming increasingly accessible, and in a matter of years it will likely be found in the arsenals of many major militaries. It is these nations that will be looking to international precedent to determine how drones can be used in the future. As of now, the precedent we have created is anything but ethical.

Our government must look to the future and understand the long-term implications that the drone program has created. If we continue to practice drone warfare haphazardly, with little regard for civilian life or international law, we can only assume that other nations will eventually follow our example. In order to prevent such a future, we must reform our drone practices to adhere to the ethical and legal standards of combat. Otherwise, when the dust of our wartime fervor settles, we may be faced with even more questions than when we began.


September 24th, 2013

U.S. Must Make Humanitarian Mission in Syria a Priority

Conner Gordon, Sophomore Political Science Major

After two long years of brutal civil war, it appeared that the world’s inaction over the Syrian conflict had finally been broken. The killing of hundreds of civilians through the use of chemical weapons, presumably fired by the Assad regime’s forces, had firmly crossed President Obama’s “red line” and captured the world’s attention. After debate flared over a potential military strike, the Russian proposal that Syria turn over its chemical weapons stockpiles received widespread praise. And while the world congratulated itself for avoiding the outbreak of a larger war, the Syrian people continued to suffer just as they had for the past two years.

While the accomplishments made by the international community in recent weeks are by no means insignificant, we as a whole have still failed to address the most pressing issue of the Syrian civil war. In dealing with Syria’s larger security threats, in fact, the United States and other countries have lost sight of the larger issue at stake – the overwhelming humanitarian need of the Syrian people.

It is an issue largely forgotten among the larger politics of the conflict in Syria. Despite this, its effects are just as devastating to the country and its people. Over six million Syrians have been forced out of their homes, two million of whom have left the country as refugees. Crammed into overcrowded and often underfunded camps, many refugees have lack of access to fundamental needs, including adequate shelter and basic educational services. The continuing influx of Syrian refugees to these camps places an ever-growing strain on their resources that will only compound these issues as the conflict drags on.

Our involvement in the humanitarian aspect of the Syrian crisis is not an unprecedented one. The United States has already sent over $1 billion in aid to Syria and funds numerous medical, sanitation- and food-related missions, according to figures released by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In conjunction with a number of United Nations and non-governmental agencies, the work done by USAID has made significant progress in easing the suffering of Syrian refugees. However, even with these efforts, the increasing burden placed on refugee camps and other humanitarian aid programs threatens to undo the progress made and threaten the security of every Syrian who flees the conflict.

It is now that the United States must match its massive diplomatic efforts towards Syria with a renewed, wholehearted focus on the basic humanitarian needs of its citizens.  We must act as an example to the world by increasing our support of USAID programs that help Syrian citizens endure the conflict, return to their homes as soon as possible and rebuild their shattered country.

Some may say that international aid, especially to refugees, is hardly in the interest of the United States, or that we should spend our tax dollars elsewhere before solving problems abroad. Admittedly, providing humanitarian aid may not topple the Assad regime or weed out the extremists in the Free Syrian Army.

However, the importance of aiding the Syrian people goes far beyond mere national interest. Aiding the Syrian refugees constitutes a moral imperative on the part of the world, an imperative that it has not yet met.

It is of utmost importance that the United States fulfills this imperative, and that it assures that the basic needs of every Syrian refugee are met. By furthering our commitment to caring for Syria’s citizens, we send a powerful message to the world that, despite than the political debates of the conflict, it is in the lives of the Syrian people that we find our true measure of success.