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Walking through Turkish mental institutions, College of Law professor Arlene Kanter felt her heart sink. In the courtyard of Turkey’s largest mental hospital, barely clothed male patients languished on the ground surrounded by crumbling cement walls. Other patients—children and adults—are routinely bound in straightjackets to receive electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)—shock treatment—against their will, and without anesthesia. At another institution, she heard stories of children tied to their cribs who lay in their own excrement, becoming disfigured from atrophy and malnutrition. “Families deposit their loved ones in these institutions because they believe they have no choice,” says the Meredith Professor for Teaching Excellence, who is co-director of SU’s Center on Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies and director of the College of Law’s Disability Law and Policy Program. “The children literally live in cribs, with no opportunity for physical exercise or affection. To prevent self-abuse, which often occurs when one is deprived of physical attention, the staff tape plastic bottles over the hands of the children, and this is how they live—and sometimes die—in their cribs.”
Kanter and representatives of Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI), a nonprofit advocacy organization, documented these disturbing scenes in Behind Closed Doors: Human Rights Abuses in the Psychiatric Facilities, Orphanages and Rehabilitation Centers of Turkey. Kanter, who has worked with MDRI on the Turkish project for the past four years, says the report seeks to generate international pressure on the Turkish government to reform its current mental health system by correcting wrongdoings and developing alternatives to institutionalization.
Last summer, during a lecture at the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) International Congress in Istanbul, Kanter discussed the report as a case study of why the proposed United Nations Treaty on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which she is working on, is so important to ensure human rights protections for people with mental disabilities. “At the end of a WPA presentation, a Turkish psychiatrist stood up and said, ‘I work at the institution you mentioned and I’m looking you straight in the eyes, and you are calling me a torturer,’” she says. “I replied, ‘The European Union has recognized that ECT without anesthesia violates the European Convention Against Torture. When psychiatrists in Turkey start using anesthesia with ECT, then they may no longer be considered to be engaging in torture.’ I could see the pain in his face because he believed he was really helping his patients. It was a difficult moment for both of us. I don’t believe that all the psychiatrists in Turkey are acting maliciously. Many just don’t know there are alternatives to institution-based ‘treatments.’ They need to learn about other ways of helping and supporting people with mental disabilities outside of institutions.”
Kanter has spent the past 25 years, first as a lawyer and then as a law professor, advocating for the rights of people with disabilities through litigation, legislation, and education. The subject first stirred her to action when she witnessed similar abuses occurring in American mental institutions in the late 1970s and early ’80s. “I saw people tied down and living in these horrible conditions in the United States,” she says. “That was a huge turning point for me, and I knew I had to do something. No one should have to live like this.” She also has worked in Israel, where she helped draft the country’s first disability discrimination law. “I have seen enormous changes in the United States and in Israel during this past decade,” Kanter says. “That’s why I can remain optimistic that change will occur in Turkey. I have no doubt these institutions will eventually be closed and a new system of community-based mental health services will be created. But change is slow—and unfortunately too slow for the many children and adults who continue to die in institutions throughout the world today.”
The immediate goal of her MDRI work in Turkey was to stop abuse in the mental hospitals. Coverage of MDRI’s report in such newspapers as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the International Herald Tribune, as well as a letter from the European Union requiring Turkey to meet certain human rights criteria before consideration for admission into the organization, prompted a response. Currently, Turkey has no mental health law whatsoever. Since the report, Turkish government institutions have ended the practice of administering shock therapy without anesthesia and begun the process of developing new legislation to protect the rights of people with mental disabilities. In the report appendix, Kanter outlines what should be included in a new Turkish mental health law to ensure human rights protections for people with mental disabilities in and out of institutions. “We don’t want to just say what’s wrong,” she says. “We want to work with people in Turkey to develop solutions and provide support to enact the necessary changes.”
This fall, Kanter presented her work on Turkey as a case study for law students in a new course she has developed, based on a new casebook she has co-authored, International Human Rights and Comparative Mental Disability Law. “I’m basically throwing real-life problems from Turkey, Israel, and other countries at the students and challenging them to develop legal and policy strategies to ensure the protection against human rights abuses of people with disabilities,” she says. Kanter is also forging new partnerships with Turkish universities, lawyers, and self-advocacy groups to help change that society’s perceptions and treatment of people with disabilities by developing new curricula in the training of such professionals as physicians, psychiatrists, lawyers, and teachers. For example, she is working with the law faculty at Istanbul Bigli University on creating the country’s first disability rights law clinic, modeled after the clinics she directed at the College of Law from 1988 to 2006.
Kanter also hopes to encourage a self-empowerment movement among people with disabilities and their families by connecting them with disability rights activists around the world. “Litigation and legislation are important in initiating change, but in the long term, change also has to occur on the personal level,” she says. “We have to change people’s attitudes so there is no shame in having a disability or having a family member with a disability. We have model community-based, self-advocacy programs right here in Syracuse that we would love to show to our colleagues from Turkey. One of the most useful things we’ve done in Turkey is connect people with disabilities and their family members with others worldwide. All people, with or without disabilities, benefit enormously through personal connections. I know I have.”
Thirty-five feet underwater and outfitted in diving gear, Greg Cook shuffled across the murky depths of the ocean floor one-and-a-half miles off the coast of Elmina, Ghana, looking for sunken history. He made the first discovery with his head, ramming into a centuries-old ship’s cannon. The painful encounter was just a vague memory within moments. “I backed up and began feeling around,” says Cook, an anthropology doctoral student at the Maxwell School. “I could feel hundreds and hundreds of brass bowls and trade goods that were stacked up on the sea floor.” Securing a couple of basins, Cook rose to the surface and handed the objects to the Ghanaian fishing crew who had ferried him to the site. “They said these objects were very old and they hadn’t seen anything like them since their grandmothers’ time,” says Cook, a nautical archaeologist. “Then I knew we had something interesting.”
The 2003 find and follow-up investigations mark the first time archaeologists surveyed and excavated a shipwreck in West Africa. Two years later, Cook, who teaches at the University of West Florida (UWF), returned with a group of SU and UWF students to excavate the site, based on the survey. Their recovery efforts netted glass beads, brass and pewter basins, and manilas (brass bracelets), which were melted down by African coppersmiths for toolmaking. “The manilas are not frequently found, and we located hundreds of them, still stacked in a circular formation, probably packed in a wooden cask that had eroded,” Cook says.
He and his colleagues figure the find is a Dutch trading ship dating back to sometime in the 18th or early 19th century. “To find a preserved shipwreck, just before it reached the coast, is like finding a goldmine—not treasure-wise, but in knowledge,” he says. “I’m interested in how material culture—or goods—were used, comparatively between people of different cultures, and how they were used to interact.” In West Africa, Europeans traded goods for gold and other African commodities, and even for slaves. “If this ship had reached shore,” he says, “the goods on board would have been dispersed into the hinterlands through internal trade networks, used until there was nothing left, and would have never entered the archaeological record.”
Cook developed his interest in preserving these European and African trade artifacts while he was an Indiana University undergraduate exchange student at the University of Malawi in Southeastern Africa. After earning a bachelor’s degree, he studied underwater archaeology at Texas A&M. While working on his master’s thesis concerning a colonial sloop found off Jamaica’s north coast, Cook met SU anthropology professor Doug Armstrong, who does research in the Caribbean. Armstrong encouraged Cook to enter Maxwell’s doctoral program and work with anthropology professor and department chair Christopher DeCorse, whose work focuses on the settlement at Elmina, the site of the first and largest European trading post in sub-Saharan Africa. “Chris was interested in underwater archaeology in Ghana and secured funding from the National Geographic Society,” Cook says.
Cook and another colleague embarked on the survey in 2003. They used side scan sonar to search the ocean floor and detected 70 anomalies—sonar aberrations that might be other ships. On his first dive, Cook discovered the Dutch ship. The follow-up excavation two years later yielded more than 1,000 artifacts, which are undergoing preservation and analysis at UWF. “I’m hoping to display them here for a while, but they will all go back to Ghana,” Cook says. “That was a stipulation of our government permit. Ghana has a well-developed tourism industry, and many people go there to visit the castles where slaves were kept and traded, and examine the history. These items will make a unique exhibit.”
Along with government regulations, there were social traditions to follow, and they worked with Elmina’s fishermen chief to ensure they were being respectful to the culture, Cook says. In one instance, the researchers drank ceremonial libations with the local people before the work began, in honor of any human remains they might find. “Chris helped us prepare for those types of traditions and made sure everyone was happy with what we were doing,” he says. But he didn’t have to worry. “Ghanaians are known for being hospitable,” Cook says. “One of the chief’s advisors loaned us his canoe, and they were excited about the research.”
The research continues as part of an effort by DeCorse, the principal investigator, who is coordinating the land and sea finds for a long-term study on European and African trade. The sites are gems for researchers, because the wrecks most likely remain untouched by treasure hunters. The government forbids looting, and the rough, dark waters deter diving. “When we laid our hands on that first cannon, we knew the last person who touched it probably went down with the ship 200 years ago,” says Cook, who has written about the findings in an African archaeology journal. “The research in Ghana is so unique. If you’re an anthropological archaeologist and interested in cultural changes and historical forces, it’s a perfect place to work.”
Larry Mason’s first trip to Lockerbie, in 1996, wasa long time coming. “I taught eight students who died on Pan Am 103 in 1988, and I felt compelled to go to the place where it happened,” says the Newhouse photography professor. “The opportunity came when I was teaching in London. I took my class on a field trip to Scotland.” Mason and his students were greeted warmly by their hosts and dutifully taken to see grim legacies of the terrorist bombing: Tundergarth Mains, where the nose of the Boeing 747 fell to Earth; Sherwood Crescent, where the flaming fuel tank crashed, killing Lockerbie residents and leaving a crater at the side of the roadway; and Dryfesdale Cemetery, where a wall of remembrance bears the names of the passengers and those on the ground who died. During the decade since, Mason has returned to Lockerbie a dozen times, often accompanied by student photographers and writers, to attempt to capture the town and its people. He is currently collaborating with magazine professor Melissa Chessher to edit those efforts into a book tentatively titled, “Our Lockerbie.”
“I thought that by visiting those places, I had seen Lockerbie,” Mason says. “But it wasn’t true. All I had seen was ‘the Lockerbie disaster.’” The point was brought home to Mason as he prepared his photographs for an exhibition at Newhouse com-memorating the 10th anniversary of the event. “Alison Younger, a Lockerbie Scholar who was my student, wrote for the show, and as I read her work, I realized we had to do something that would take people beyond the image of catastrophe,” he says. With the help of a University Vision Fund grant in 1999, he began regularly taking groups of student photographers and writers to search for the real Lockerbie—a place affected by the fate of Pan Am 103, but not defined by it. Lockerbie, they discovered, has a long history that includes events in the accession to the throne of Robert the Bruce, Scotland’s first king, and that the ruins of his castle are in the area, as is the birthplace of the poet Robert Burns. “Did you know that curling is the big sport in Lockerbie, and that the captain of the British Olympic curling team is from there?” Mason asks. “In fact, one of the founders of the SU Curling Club was Andrew McClune, a Lockerbie Scholar. The team took the silver medal in its division at the U.S. championships in 2003, its first year in existence. We discovered so many rich things that people don’t know about the place and its people, and the relationship they have developed with us.”
Although born of tragedy, the bond between Syracuse and Lockerbie has taken on a multidimensional life of its own. “With all the Lockerbie Scholars who have come to SU over the years and all the friends and relatives who have come to visit them, you’ll meet quite a few people in Lockerbie who have had direct contact with Syracuse,” Mason says. “They have new memories and personal histories to share. There is more between us than just the negativity of the disaster.”
The Lockerbie Scholars Program, which brings two recent Lockerbie Academy graduates to study at the University each year, reached a milestone in 2006, when Joanna Graham, the first scholar not yet born when the Pan Am 103 attack took place, arrived on campus. “This a very interesting point in our shared history,” Mason says. “From now on, none of the Lockerbie Scholars will come with personal experience of the event. All they will know is that there are historical links between Lockerbie and Syracuse. It is our responsibility to make sure that they—and all the members of both communities—know the full story.”
It’s a warm, still summer’s evening, and Stephanie Eby G’09 is enjoying it as any other student might—by relaxing on the porch in a comfortable chair, taking in the natural beauty of her surroundings. But there is a difference. Instead of a playful kitten scampering at her feet, Eby is being pestered by a pair of dwarf mongooses attempting to climb the back of her chair. Instead of watching a cow grazing in a nearby pasture, she looks up the hill to see a giraffe nibbling on the leaves of an acacia tree. And instead of listening to the incessant bark of a neighbor’s dog, Eby hears the distant calls of a clan of hyenas.
Needless to say, Eby was not sitting outside her family home in Burlington, Massachusetts. She was in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, where she spent the summer studying the effects of a fire management plan on the park’s ecosystem as part of her doctoral research in biology at the College of Arts and Sciences. “I remember first wanting to visit Africa when I was in middle school and saw a special on the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti,” Eby says. “I finally got the chance to go when I studied abroad my junior year at Bates College, with the School for Field Studies in Kenya. Being in Kenya changed my whole view of the world, I feel for the better.”
According to Eby, the Serengeti fire management plan calls for controlled burning of grassy areas at the beginning of Tanzania’s dry season to create firebreaks. These firebreaks protect the park later in the dry season by limiting how far fires can spread. Controlled burning also creates firebreaks around sensitive habitat. “I’m studying the effect of controlled burning on how animals use the landscape, especially which animals are attracted to burned areas and why,” Eby says.
The park recently began formulating a new fire management plan to accomplish several goals: preserving sensitive vegetation communities and associated habitats; protecting rare and sensitive species; minimizing the impact of wildfires; protecting facilities and park infrastructure; and creating suitable conditions for patrols. “I hope to give park management new information to help it create and implement the best possible fire plan,” she says. “My study will address three of the new plan’s goals: to create suitable conditions for tourism, to maintain adequate foraging resources for animals, and to control disease vectors.”
This was Eby’s third field season in the park. “The project was my idea,” she says. “When I was in the Serengeti during 2004 for a biocomplexity meeting and preliminary field season, it became clear that the effects of the fire management plan on the ecosystem were not being studied—and definitely needed to be.” Eby also worked with researchers to create fire history maps of the Serengeti, information that will assist park ecologists in planning where to burn in the future.
Another facet of Eby’s research, which is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation, was the discovery that the seemingly lifeless burnt areas of the park actually attracted animals, and scientists had yet to determine why. “That is what I’m trying to find out,” she says. “I have four theories: They are eating the ash as a nutrient supplement; the areas are safer from predators; there are fewer parasites; or they are eating the fresh green grasses that appear a week or so after a burn.”
Performing this research was no small task. Eby and her fellow scientists were up at the crack of dawn every day, motoring in Land Rovers over many miles of rough terrain. Occasionally they spotted a hungry predator—a cheetah, jackal, or lion—and kept a sharp eye on its movements as they worked "Truthfully," she says, "my biggest worry in the field is snakes.”
Throughout the day, the researchers conducted “transects”—following designated paths as they recorded information on the animals that were present—a technique that allows scientists to estimate the density of animal life in the study area. “We have been conducting transects in burned and unburned areas, where we count the animals, classify them by species, sex, and age, and record their activity,” Eby says. “Then we collect multiple samples of vegetation, soil, and ash.”
For Eby, living and working in the Serengeti is an amazing experience. “There is a strong research center, and normally there are several Ph.D. students around, creating a nice research community,” she says. “It’s unbelievable to drive around; it really does look like a National Geographic TV special.”
Beyond her research, Eby says her time in Tanzania has provided important life lessons. “Our project has several full-time Tanzanian employees, and I interact with many Tanzanians who work at the park,” she says. “Spending time with them and getting to know the culture, traditions, and language has been an added benefit to the experience.”
Aerospace engineering student Justin Rubal’07 expected to be challenged intellectually working with a Russian professor on fluid dynamics during a summer internship at Moscow State University’s Institute of Mechanics. But imagine his surprise when he was questioned about something he learned in kindergarten. “The professor drew a circle, pointed to it, and asked what it was,” Rubal says. “I said, ‘A circle.’ He said, ‘No, the inside part.’ I said, ‘Ummm, a circle.’” After a quick discussion they realized that the Russian language has two distinct words for circle, while English has only one. “We had a good laugh,” Rubal says. “We had a really good dictionary on the computer for engineering and math terms, but sometimes the concepts just didn’t translate perfectly.”
Other language and cultural differences surfaced occasionally during Rubal’s internship that might have slowed his learning of fluid dynamics, but enhanced his overall experience abroad. For example, Professor Ilias Sibgatullin referred several times to common engineering concepts and theories by names that differ from what American education teaches. “The problem was American textbooks credit Western scientists with the same discoveries that Russian textbooks credit to Russian scientists,” Rubal says. “So we’d discover that we were talking about the same phenomenon using different names.”
Rubal says these moments—when he and Sibgatullin bonded despite, and sometimes because of, language and cultural differences—are what stand out from his research experience abroad. He sought out this opportunity in Russia through the Knowledge Exchange Institute (KEI), an American program. “I’ve studied Russian for two years and have always had an interest in Russian history, music, literature, and culture,” Rubal says. “Russia has resisted ‘Western culture’ as much as any country I know. I wanted to see how this affects everything from everyday social interactions to methods of problem solving in engineering.” He spent 15 hours a week for five weeks working with Sibgatullin, took a course on Russian culture, and visited museums, cultural and historic sites, and local markets and restaurants.
In addition to a richer appreciation for Russia and its people, Rubal returned to SU with a much deeper understanding of engineering concepts because of the work he did with Sibgatullin. The pair examined the diffusion of heat and salt in a fluid by creating a mathematical model to describe the process. This fundamental research could be applied to predict airflow in many scenarios, such as air circulation inside a plane. “Where does the hot air people exhale in the cabin of an airplane go?” Rubal asks. “How does that air circulate when it comes out of the vents? The solutions we worked on could help computers calculate that flow.”
Rubal says the internship involved more analysis and theoretical understanding than the hands-on research he completed in the United States. Rather than conducting experiments or running tests in lab settings and then recording data, he worked in an office with Sibgatullin, tackling fundamental equations with only pencil and paper. In Russia, scientists are expected to begin on fundamental equations and perform a series of derivations until they reach the point where they hope to create new equations. “They can’t just pick up their research where the last guy left off,” Rubal says. “It was very interesting to see how engineering is done halfway across the world—in a country that has had such an impact on mathematics and engineering. It was an all-around great experience.”
For 45 years, the Soviet Union’s communist regime held power over most of Eastern Europe. In 1989, the entire face of the region changed. First, the Berlin Wall fell and Czechoslovakia underwent its bloodless “Velvet Revolution.” Then, the Cold War officially ended in 1991, with the U.S.S.R. splitting into 15 separate nations. Two years later, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into two democratic nations, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Petra Hejnova G’08, a native of the Czech Republic, experienced the everyday reality of living under a totalitarian regime until her early teens. Her parents instilled an interest in politics in her, teaching her lessons and giving her books missing from schools, where history classes stopped at World War II. “I was lucky because my parents realized what a big deal the fall of communism was,” she says. “They took me and my brother to the demonstrations in Prague. It was a very exciting time, and I think I was the only 14-year-old in the entire world following every bit of political news.”
Since then, Hejnova has maintained her interest in politics; but now, when she looks back at the collapse of communism, she is baffled. In the early ’90s, women in the new Czech Republic faced gross inequalities in employment, political representation, and division of labor in the home, but seemed to largely accept their subordinate position in society. Czech women were unlike women in other regions of the world undergoing comparable revolutions. In the 1980s and early ’90s, for instance, women in Latin America responded to inequalities by mobilizing and working to ensure their rights were advanced. “To me, it is surprising to have all of these countries in Latin America, where women acted and worked to protect and advance their rights during the political and economic transformation,” Hejnova says, “while women in pretty much all of the Central and Eastern European countries stayed quiet and even rejected the notion of emancipation.”
As a political science doctoral student at the Maxwell School, Hejnova has been researching this puzzling and personal topic. For her dissertation, she is focusing on what caused differences in women’s mobilization efforts during democratization in the Czech Republic and Chile, where women faced political and employment inequalities and also shouldered the burden of household labor. Hejnova’s initial research included multiple trips to the Czech Republic. “Women in Eastern Europe seem to associate women’s rights and emancipation with the rhetoric and policies of the authoritarian regimes under which they lived for significant parts of their lives,” she says. Communism, after all, promoted strict equality for everyone in its rhetoric. “For example, many think that women’s rights were strongly protected,” she says. “But few know about the lack of child care facilities and other problems women faced during those times.”
With the support of research grants from the Maxwell School, the Tinker Foundation, and a Woodrow Wilson Women’s Studies Dissertation Fellowship, Hejnova traveled to Chile last summer to research her dissertation. She succeeded in gathering preliminary evidence and building contacts with women’s issues experts and the leaders of women’s organizations. Hejnova hopes her dissertation will contribute to the existing knowledge on women’s movements and the effects of public policies on these societies. But perhaps most importantly, she hopes women will take notice. “Once women come to understand some of the unconscious processes affecting their views of their roles and positions in the societies they live in, it will help them in their decisions about how to proceed in the future when their rights are endangered,” she says.
Lake Maracaibo in northwestern Venezuela, one of Earth’s 17 ancient lakes and the largest lake in South America, has provided a way of life for thousands of years. Its deep waters have sustained fish for eating and selling and fresh water for drinking, while salt deposits along its shores have offered another resource for development. In 1920, another precious natural resource was unearthed in the lake basin: oil. For decades, companies have extracted oil and salt in large quantities through expansive facilities. They widened and deepened a straight that connects the lake to the Gulf of Venezuela on the Caribbean Sea, so large tankers can pass. As a result, saltwater has seeped into the lake, altering its ecosystem. Today, Venezuela is the world’s fifth largest exporter of oil—and the lake is among the world’s most polluted. “Lake Maracaibo has been polluted by oil spills on a regular basis; slaughterhouse waste; lead, arsenic, vanadium, mercury, and other toxic byproducts of the salt and oil industries; and sewage from the seven million people who live there, which flows into the water at a rate of 2,500 liters per second,” says Elvin Delgado, a geography doctoral candidate at the Maxwell School who has researched the area for the past three years. “The environmental degradation of the Lake Maracaibo Basin is affecting the future and livelihood of the communities there.”
Supported by the Maxwell School’s Goekjian Summer Research Grant (see related story) and Program on Latin America and the Caribbean summer research grant, Delgado began his studies of the indigenous communities of Lake Maracaibo in 2003, and made some startling discoveries. Fishermen who routinely dive into the water to net shrimp and octopuses suffered from a painful red rash, and aquatic life died in the areas where the companies discharged their byproducts, he says. Also, a statistically significant number of women in the village of Lagunillas carried babies full term, only to learn, at birth, the babies had no brains or fatally underdeveloped ones—a rare condition known as anencephaly, according to Delgado. “This community had the second highest rate of anencephaly in the world because of the pollution,” says Delgado, who planned to return to the area in December to begin a yearlong Fulbright study. “The Venezuelan oil has high levels of the carcinogenic chemical, vanadium, which has to be removed before it can be sold on the international market. So I look at these issues from a political ecology perspective, and recognize that the relationships between economics, politics, and ecology create environmental injustice. This community is literally stuck between a wealthy oil-producing company and a dying lake.”
Initially, Delgado hoped to employ such tools as geographic information systems and medical geography methods to link illnesses in Lagunillas to the toxic dumping, and collect data on the vectors of contamination. However, he encountered a major obstacle that required him to revise his project. The Venezuelan government, led by President Hugo Chavez, assumed ownership of many oil and salt companies and made the records of their waste disposal confidential. As a result, Delgado’s focus has shifted from quantitative data collection to more qualitative studies of Los Olivitos, a fishing community of 1,700 indigenous people, exploring how the community is being affected by the lake’s changes. “I hope my research will bring these issues to the attention of the international community of scholars and activists,” he says. “I expect to write my dissertation in both English and Spanish, so that I can share my findings with the people of Los Olivitos. Then they will have the data and information they need to organize and find a better way to dispose of the materials being dumped in the lake. It would be amazing if my research could have that kind of an impact.”
Delgado, however, still has some major hurdles to overcome. For example, he is forbidden from talking directly to the village’s women. “In their culture, I am considered a foreign white man, even though I’m Puerto Rican and speak the same language,” says Delgado, who has recruited a female anthropologist from the area to interview the women. “I spent nine weeks there in 2003, 10 weeks there in 2005, and will be living there for a year. Hopefully, they will begin to trust me not as a member of their community, but as a person who is working with them.” Experience has taught him that earning trust will require him to participate in daily community activities—catching and cleaning fish with the men, teaching students basic math skills, helping villagers get vaccinated against diseases, and sometimes just playing with the children. “You cannot go there and be a scientist observing everything from the outside,” he says. “You need to get involved.”
Traditions for most cultures are a glimpse of history. They preserve memories and allow people to reflect on what once was. And, as College of Visual and Performing Arts graduate student Gregory Dorchak ’03 learned, sometimes looking at the past can lead to a new future. A descendant of Scottish and Irish heritage, Dorchak has always been interested in different facets of his ancestry, including the unique musical stylings of the fiddle distinct to both countries. Because of his family ties, he began playing fiddle at a young age, although he did not get the chance to expand his interest. “I never really had the people to draw from because there are not many active fiddling musicians in the states,” says Dorchak, who is originally from Detroit and studied broadcast journalism, history, and speech communication as an SU undergraduate. “I wasn’t going to play the fiddle in my residence hall room, so I had to reach out to other places, listen to CDs, and read up on the newest trends.”
In Syracuse, Dorchak discovered a downtown pub that featured live Celtic music and joined the Causeway Giants, a Celtic rock band that he still plays with. While pursuing his undergraduate studies and later a master’s degree in communication and rhetorical studies (CRS), he turned his hobby into an academic pursuit. He was reading a magazine about new styles of fiddling when he happened upon an article in which one expert claimed that the youth of Celtic fiddling were ruining the tradition’s purity. Dorchak turned that notion into the focus of his graduate thesis. “I was confused by the harsh criticism, so I started to look at traditions and music and how people construct ideas of authenticity,” he says. “It was a great way to make graduate school really interesting to me because I brought my hobby and passion into the work.”
With support from the CRS department, Dorchak began exploring the Celtic fiddling tradition of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. He looked at the area’s deep musical tradition, how it has evolved, and what aspects of the music remained traditional. With a grant from VPA, he traveled to the island in summer 2005 and learned that music is an essential part of life there. “You couldn’t walk two feet without meeting a musician,” he says. “There are only a few radio stations, so you have no other option than to make music yourself.”
Experiencing music in pubs, house parties, and ceilidhs—all-night dance parties with non-stop fiddling—Dorchak further developed his craft and a research focus. He completed his thesis on the island’s fiddling tradition and presented it this year at the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention in Aberdeen, Scotland. “VPA funded my presentation in Scotland and without that I wouldn’t have been able to go,” Dorchak says. “This really expanded my academic focus, and being immersed in the culture added to my research so much.”
Getting a well-rounded view of Celtic culture wasn’t all Dorchak gained while in Cape Breton. The island, which National Geographic Traveler ranked as one of the top tourist destinations in the world, provided an eclectic mix of scenery from mountains to sandy beaches. He also befriended community members and began dating a local fiddler. “I have found a second home, and my girlfriend is a Cape Breton fiddler, so I can’t really escape it,” Dorchak jokes. “But basically I learned that music is really an art form and, first and foremost, there are no rules.”
Dorchak’s research led him to believe that the article he had originally read was incorrect. For him, the Celtic fiddling tradition was not stagnate, but continually growing and evolving, touching new lives. “If a tradition wants to survive, it needs to actively welcome the youth and embrace new additions,” Dorchak says. “Change is the only constant, but within a folk tradition, it is more about the participation of everyone rather than purity.”
When cultural anthropologist Cecilia Van Hollen returned to South Asia as an undergraduate on a year-in-India program, she encountered “a wonderful kind of homecoming.” She had lived in Sri Lanka between the ages of 8 and 12 while her father was in the U.S. Foreign Service, and attended boarding school in Tamil Nadu, a state in south India. “The whole experience was very positive for my family and me,” says Van Hollen, a Maxwell School professor whose research focuses on medical anthropology, gender, development, and nationalism in South Asia. But when she returned home, she was unable to effectively communicate her experience in the face of stereotypes of India as a mystical land where everyone lives in extreme poverty or as a guru. “From that young age, I wanted to gain a better understanding of South Asia’s rich and diverse culture, society, and history, and to share that understanding,” she says.
Van Hollen returned to India as a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, studying women’s reproductive health and analyzing the impact of modernity on the lives of lower-class women. Supported by the Fulbright and Woodrow Wilson foundations, she interviewed more than 100 women, met with maternal and child health care policy professionals, and witnessed traditional pregnancy ceremonies and other childbirth rituals. “I was interested in looking at what we call the ‘biomedicalization’ of reproductive health as one element of globalization, and understanding how it takes on a different form and practice in a specific place,” she says. Her research explored how childbearing is influenced by ideas about gender, by cultural concepts about how the body works and about illness and healing, and by state and international development projects centered on family planning and maternal health care. “Much of my work focused on women’s complaints about the different kinds of discrimination they faced in hospitals,” says Van Hollen, who earned the Association for Asian Studies 2005 A.K. Coomaraswamy Book Prize for Birth on the Threshold: Childbirth and Modernity in South India (University of California Press, 2003). “In the interest of social justice, I tried to listen to what women felt needed to be changed, and to give voice to that.”
In 2002, Van Hollen traveled to Tamil Nadu to begin researching the HIV/AIDS epidemic in India, returning as a Fulbright Scholar and SU faculty member in 2004. This project, she says, explores HIV/AIDS and its relationship to medicine, gender, class, and stigma, and studies responses to the increasing availability of drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV during pregnancy and birth.
Of the 50 HIV-positive women Van Hollen interviewed for the project, 12 knew they were HIV positive while pregnant and decided to have their babies. Van Hollen believes that in addition to the new medical advances to prevent HIV transmission, several social and cultural factors contributed to that decision, including a lack of early prenatal care, the powerful cultural value placed on motherhood, and the complex political and religious implications related to providing and receiving treatment and counseling from government programs supported by international funds and Christian relief organizations. “Another factor was the development of the Positive Women’s Network and similar organizations, which promote the idea that women who tested positive can be mothers of children who have fulfilling lives—even if those children ended up HIV positive,” she says.
Van Hollen has written articles on this research and anticipates continuing the project for three years, while she writes a book to share her findings. She is also involved in supporting the development of an education fund for children affected by HIV/AIDS in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu. In the future, she hopes to return to Sri Lanka to study the impact of the country’s civil war, again focusing on women’s health—work she values because it speaks to the specific needs of individuals. “There’s real social value to giving a voice to women’s experiences, particularly for issues relating to reproduction,” Van Hollen says. “These issues are often ignored by those interested in international affairs, yet they are central to people’s lives and matter so much on a day-by-day basis.”
In a crowded hospital in Dong Ha, Vietnam, a 5-year-old boy is among the latest victims of a war that ended more than 30 years ago. A phosphorus mine he innocently picked up and placed in his pocket burns a hole through his thigh. Once exposed to air, the chemical burns until it is completely consumed. Sociology doctoral student Sara Smits G’02 saw the tragedy unfold at the hospital and heard the boy’s story, as well as the stories of many other victims in the Quang Tri Province who have been maimed and scarred by weapons left over from the Vietnam War. In her dissertation, Smits seeks to tell their stories and raise awareness about the ongoing suffering. “I’m examining the boundary between the end of war and the war that still continues for people in that area,” she says. “I want to show there are social consequences of war beyond combat casualties and environmental concerns.”
Her research into the effects of landmines and other unexploded ordnances (UXOs), such as cluster bombs and grenades, stems from her interest in social movements and war and peace. In 1997, Smits, who earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a master’s degree in sociology from the Maxwell School, attended a conference about UXOs in Washington, D.C. During that same time, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) won the Nobel Peace Prize, and Princess Diana adopted the cause. Since Princess Diana’s death, the issue’s prominence decreased, Smits says. “I wanted to revive awareness that this is still a problem and people are still working on these issues.”
UXOs are in more than 80 countries and cause more than 15,000 casualties a year, according to ICBL. “In Quang Tri Province, you can guarantee that every day or every other day someone is a victim of these munitions,” Smits says. Situated along the demilitarized zone during the war, the province sustained the heaviest bombing, and, consequently, has the most unexploded devices. To gather personal stories of victims and see what is being done to combat the problem, Smits ventured to Vietnam for several weeks in 2005 through a Goekjian Summer Research Grant (see related story), and in March with funding assistance from the sociology department. She worked with Clear Path International (www.cpi.org), a Vermont-based nonprofit organization that assists UXO victims with medical costs and programs to sustain them for the future. Smits visited hospitals with Clear Path workers and saw victims who suffered such injuries as loss of limbs and shrapnel wounds. She encountered the 5-year-old burn victim on one of her final visits. “He’ll be able to walk again,” Smits says. “But seeing his pain and the difficult conditions of the hospital, where there are three to four people to a bed, was one of the harder parts of being there.”
After receiving approval from the local Vietnamese government, Smits made home visits to interview UXO victims about their lives before and after their accidents. Ty, a 23-year-old man, told her of the injuries he sustained at age 16 when a metal object he tapped while hoeing exploded. He has shrapnel in his eye, scarring on his face, and a disfigured hand. He spoke of the difficulties of participating in activities with friends and his low expectations for getting married. However, assistance from Clear Path enabled him to get trained in repairing motorbikes, ensuring opportunities for his future. Smits also met a woman named Phuong, who lost a leg, but achieved her dream of having a child and won gold medals in the Asian Paralympics. “The most important thing that stood out to me is that they are moving on,” says Smits, who is also impressed by the support victims receive from family and community members. “This is what they have been given, and they are trying their best to persevere.”
Smits is also researching other groups working on the issue, including ones raising awareness to stop the use of landmines. “I’m trying to understand the social movement with its number of different networks,” says Smits, who spent time watching the Mines Advisory Group, a British organization, clear mines. She also met many U.S. veterans revisiting Vietnam. “I’d like to do some research with veterans and examine their connection to Vietnam,” she says.
Reflecting on her international experiences reinvigorates Smits as she works on her dissertation. “The best way to learn is to live among the people and create connections,” she says. “I’m fueled by the memories and knowing there are people who are struggling with the issues surrounding landmines.” She finds purpose in her research and does speaking engagements to raise funds for Clear Path. “They do amazing work,” Smits says. “I want to somehow give back to the people who gave me so much information and so much inspiration.”