Exploring the Travesti Community in Argentina

By Sofia Knutson


In Argentina, the term travesti is used to refer to transgender individuals. This essay will therefore use the term travesti referring to transgender individuals in Argentina. The discourse regarding sex, sex category, and gender is based on the essay “Doing Gender” (West and Zimmerman 1987). In this essay, sex is defined as the socially approved, biological markers of sex which typically refers to genitalia. The sex category is the sex assumed by others based on actions and other socially gendered displays an individual may have. Gender, on the other hand, is based on the individual’s adoption or rejection of actions and displays, defined by society via the sex category, due to the feeling or desire of being more or less masculine and feminine (West and Zimmerman 1987). The analysis of policy, media, and the travesti community is grounded on the essay by West and Zimmerman. However within the analysis I keep in mind that the travestis in Argentina do not necessarily abide by the local social constructions of sex, gender, and sex category; travestis live in a gray area between male and female and between masculine and feminine. While the evidence for this essay unfortunately does not come from direct interaction with travestis in Buenos Aires, all news articles discussed were published in Argentina. Along with having personal experience of living outside of Buenos Aires for three years, my analysis of the travesti community in the Argentine capital strives to be sensitive and particular to Argentine people and culture.

Understanding the Argentine, and specifically the Bonarenses, sociopolitical space for travestis requires the knowledge of the geographical space travestis occupy. At least for a living, the travesti prostitutes do business in the popular park Tres de Febrero. However this has only been the case since 2008 when the Head of Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri, decreed that travestis perform their business in the park rather than the famous Rosedal, the capital’s rose gardens (Tomino 2008). While moving the travestis out of the Rosedal reveals prejudice, seeing as the Rosedal is not only in the area most embassies are, but is across from the United States’ Ambassador’s residence, the fact that Macri allotted a popular park as the space for the prostitutes’ economic activities sanctioned the travestis a geographical area. Furthermore, the political action allotted a space within the political sphere for travestis to be discussed. Luckily, the room given for political rhetoric revolving the travesti community in Argentina has progressed to be more accepting of the individuals and their rights.

Argentina can be seen as one of the most liberal countries in the world when assessing the rights endorsed by the government and population granted to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, and Queer (LGBTQ) communities. Since 2010 the city of Buenos Aires has allowed same-sex marriage and, as of May 2012, the city passed the Gender Identity law permitting Argentine citizens to legally change their gender regardless of sex. One of the most exciting components of the law is that there are no requirements for an individual seeking to change their gender legally to make physical changes to their bodies: there is no need for doctors to ensure mental sanity, hormone therapy treatment, or sex reassignment surgery. The Gender Identity law is the only one in the world which allows individuals to assert their gender and sex category based purely on how they feel. The law even permits children, those under the age of eighteen, to legally change their gender given that their legal guardians agree (Argentina 2012).

Yet what happens when an individual does not adhere to the normative gender binary? What do you do if you are living in between the hegemonic distinction of male and female? The Gender Identity law does not approach this problem, but also does not give a definition of gender or different genders. The Gender Identity law does allow travestis to legally adopt the name they go by and gender the individuals feel most comfortable with, but this means travestis must conform to gender normatives instead of having a law conforming to individuals outside of the socially defined norm. The Gender Identity law is a success for the LGBT community, then, and allows space for the travesti community.

A look at newspapers shows interest and understanding of the travesti community, but also reveals how strongly violence is correlated with the travesti community. There is an article which mentions violence surrounding travestis when it covers the rape of a young travesti in Buenos Aires (“Violan a un travesti en los bosques de Palermo” 2006). This article was published before legislation recognizing the rights of travesti individuals, but while referring to travestis with a male article, “un,” the article also defends the rights of the travesti individual to not be raped.

One article from a different national newspaper and that takes place in Buenos Aires narrated the story of Marilyn. The headline reads “Mató a su familia, se hizo travesti en la cárcel y se casó”—which translates to “Killed their family, became a travesti in jail, and got married”—without gender identification which is typically found in the Spanish language. When describing the circumstances as to why Marilyn had killed her mother and brother, the article refers to how the family “comenzaron a hostigarlo” and “lo molestaban”—they harassed and bothered him—using references to his masculinity, at least when describing the time before his ‘conversion.’ However, when the article is describing how excited Marilyn is to plan the wedding, she is referred to using feminine language (“Mató a su familia, se hizo travesti en la cárcel y se casó” 2013). While this article appears to be respecting the fact that Marilyn is a travesti, it also highlights that she murdered her family. This article from Buenos Aires, then, reveals how media portrayals, while still associating the travesti with violence, can also keep in consideration the right of Marilyn to affirm her identity as a travesti.

Existing in the gray area between the gender binary makes life difficult for travestis from an economic standpoint as well as a political one. Prejudice, oppression, and discrimination lead to the inability to attain a job as a travesti. Prostitution and other activities parallel to the formal market, and therefore typically illegal, are the easiest ways for individuals and communities who are marginalized to survive. In 2011, an article was published in the newspaper Clarín describing the Zona Roja or Red Light District of the Tres de Febrero park in Palermo (Coronel 2011). The article described how the travesti prostitute community had come together. While Coronel claims that the marginalization of foriegners was visible due to their location in the back of the park, he also revealed that, regardless of nationality or other conflicts, when a travesti is being accosted the travestis forget their differences and come to the victim’s aid. While both foreign and new travestis must earn their geographical area to do business, “where there is a novice there is another with more experience. Always. The bigger ones protect and show the code of practice” (Coronel 2011). Prostitution, then, while dangerous and likely not the ideal economic activity off which to base one’s survival, is a major way travestis are able to form a community. But the desire for other forms of making a living have led to the creation of social support and networking to gain access to human capital.

Since 2008, when the city of Buenos Aires sanctioned the popular Tres de Febrero Park which, during the day, has runners, cyclists, dog walkers, and families, to be the center of travesti prostitution at night, the geographical space allotted to the travestis also allowed for a space in political discourse. Argentina has since become one of, if not the most, liberal countries with regards to government endorsement of rights for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, and Queer communities. Progressive political and legal advocacy for LGBTQ rights has also translated into the progressive acceptance of the LGBTQ community in media and thus society. While certain sectors of society criticize travestis, even more conservative critics are concerned with the vice of prostitution and the ills the act causes rather than upset with the travesti community. While prostitution has helped create a community for travestis out of the need to protect each other from stigmatization or to show each other the ropes, other economic activities have been sought out.

While the economic sector might need to catch up with legislation and society, Argentina still proves to be a model for countries looking to endorse the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, and Queer communities.


Sueños Sin Fronteras

By Alex Perez


If I had listened to those voices telling me over and over again that I wouldn’t have made it past high school, I wouldn’t be the strong and determined individual I am today. After high school, many have the opportunity to succeed in life, and a college education is a seemingly easy route to success. Even though there is no way to measure the percentage of undocumented immigrants that pursue a college degree, different sources state that less than 5% will get a bachelor’s degree. Once undocumented students finish high school, major road blacks are put in their way since they are prohibited from obtaining federal loans, only 14 states provide in-state tuition for these students, and some universities in Georgia and Arizona prohibit undocumented immigrants from enrolling in their schools.

Currently I go to George Fox University on a full-ride scholarship that was awarded to me based on a combination of my academic and leadership achievements. Out of over 400 students in my junior year, I am the only undocumented student. I wear this status like a badge of honor and am the only student on campus who is open from a handful of DREAMers. Fear of humiliation, rejection, and deportation are some of the factors that keep DREAMers in the shadows about their status, but this is a fear I have learned to let go of. Once a face and name is put on a social issue, they make the situation more tangible and real. I cannot vote for legislators that can advocate for my rights, but by being open about my status and being a positive contribution to my community they will hear my voice. Over the last few years DREAMers have started to fight for their rights, and the light is beginning to shine.

The tides are beginning to turn for undocumented students like myself and over 1.4 million immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, including many who have limited memory of foreign lands they used to call home. President Barack Obama put out an executive order mid-June of 2011 called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). This means individuals who were brought as children to the US, are continuing their education, and have a good criminal record can be authorized temporary protective status (not having to fear deportation) and obtain work permits.

I could have mentioned all the different troubles that being an undocumented immigrant has brought, but the positives are currently outshining the negatives.  Soon I will be completing my college education, and with a work permit, will be able to give back to my community all the blessings that throughout the years have poured into my life. Thanks to DACA I was able to obtain a paid internship last summer, get my first car, and work full-time while getting my bachelor’s.  More importantly, I do not fear deportation while I continue my education. There are individuals who consider me a criminal, outlaw, illegal, etc. for reasons that are not under my control, but deep inside I consider myself an American.

Good Intentions Are Not Enough: On Listening, Fucking Up, and Having Hard Conversations

By Danielle Blechert

Setting up for aftercare at a predominantly white charter school, I overhear a conversation between a white male teacher and black female parent. She asks if the school’s director and teachers would be interested in participating in a conversation on what Portland Public Schools are doing to promote and support diversity. The teacher nods and gives a brief albeit vague comment about how she can get in touch with the director. The parent revisits the idea of having teachers attend and again gets a glossy, quick response from the teacher. He looks uncomfortable. He looks like he doesn’t know how or want to engage in a conversation about diversity and race. As the conversation trails off, he laughs for no apparent reason. I wonder if his laughter is the byproduct of being uncomfortable, a coping mechanism or a micro-aggression. Racial micro-aggressions are defined as, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults towards people of color.” By laughing he asserts his position of power, subtly and maybe unintentionally, saying, “I’m not taking this conversation seriously.”

So, what does it mean to attend a college largely comprised of upper-middle class, white students, be one and call oneself an advocate for social justice? In part, it means redefining what it means to listen, to really listen. Such listening entails shutting up, giving space for anecdotes and potentially uncomfortable subjects. It means refraining from correcting, redefining and relating the conversation back to you.  All too often we respond to a friend’s story with one of our own. While this is well intentioned, an attempt to relate and build empathy, what it really says is “Ok, you told your story; I half-assedly listened; now it’s time to talk about myself and how your story relates to me.” Advocating as a white upper-middle class individual also means you may feel the inclination to speak for and about a group you have no apparent affiliation with. Accordingly, it means you should probably think twice about “helping” another person before assessing whether they actually want or need it.

That being said, as a recent article by Ngc Loan Trn noted, we should make space for fucking up, for making mistakes and respond by “Calling In” folks, as opposed to constantly calling them out. They define Calling In “as a practice of loving each other enough to allow each other to make mistakes; a practice of loving ourselves enough to know that what we’re trying to do here is a radical unlearning of everything we have been configured to believe is normal.” Fucking up is a natural by-product of having biases that are deeply rooted in an often racist, sexist and classist society. We have to own up to the fact that our behaviors are habitual, deeply engrained and worthy of scrutiny. Constantly criticizing and monitoring others behavior discourages conversation and puts people on the defense, especially if it comes from the mouth of someone they do not trust or respect. Often, we’re so afraid of saying something wrong, we say nothing at all. Americans may have trouble openly discussing suicide, domestic violence, and race for this very reason. A coworker recently told me, “When opportunity arises to discuss these ‘taboo’ subjects, when you’re feeling uncomfortable, when things get icky, push through because that’s when progress happens.”

So here we go, let’s get icky. Let’s talk about how problematic the phrase “giving voice” is. It implies an inherent lack of voice when in truth; the voice exists. The phrase “we are giving voice to [insert marginalized community]” is deeply embedded in our language and seldom questioned. It’s problematic because while the “we” may amplify the voice, give it a platform, it sure as hell doesn’t “give” these folks a voice.  The fault lies in our ineptitude with listening. Case in point: the song Same Love. While I am in no way denying the impact of the song or picking a bone with Macklemore for writing it, I am drawing attention to the fact that, for many, it took a white straight male to finally hear the message that queer folks (often of color) have been spreading for some time. Let’s also talk about how problematic it is that middle-upper class white folks often “act thug,” engage in “ghetto” culture and make light of twerking. Let’s talk about how by being in a position of power, upper-middle class white folks get to “visit” what it’s like being black without having to experience the societal injustices often inflicted on black folks. Let’s talk about how I recently had a conversation with a white male LC student on the racist acts on campus and he responded, “What about freedom of speech? What if they were joking?”

Let’s talk about when to listen up and when to speak up. Let’s talk about how to admit and amend our fuck ups.

Let’s talk.

People First Language

By Allison Curtis 

The way that we talk about people determines, and is determined by, how our society values certain characteristics over others. We can take a few easy steps to shift our perspectives on the way we talk about identity and ability. By recognizing that each individual is a person first, and not identified solely by their disabilities, we can begin to create a paradigm shift that will encourage our society to value every person as an individual with unique abilities, gifts, and needs. As noted in Katie Snow’s work on People First Language:

Disability diagnoses are, unfortunately, often used to define a person’s value and potential and low expectations and a dismal future are the predicted norm. Too often, we make decisions about how/where the person will be educated, whether he’ll work or not, where/how he’ll live, and what services are offered based on the person’s medical diagnosis, instead of the person’s unique and individual strengths and needs (Snow).

While there are quite a few misconceptions and misunderstandings about people with developmental disabilities, the purpose of this article is not to outline those misconceptions, but rather to give a few simple tips that can be used to speak appropriately to and about our peers. It is important to remember that everyone has abilities and disabilities and we all deserve to be celebrated for our strengths and not defined by the things that we may lack.

People First Language “puts the person before the disability and describes what a person has, not who a person is” (Snow). There are times when we must talk about the particular barriers that exist in our lives, and in these cases we can use People First Language.


A person who has a developmental disability.   

Rather than:

A developmentally disabled person.


Children without disabilities.

Rather than:

Normal children.


Danny uses a wheelchair.

Rather than:

Danny is wheelchair bound. (This description makes a wheelchair sound like a punishment, rather than a tool that someone can use to navigate the world.)


Person who has visibility impairment.

Rather than:

Blind person.

The words that we use generate attitudes about those who we speak of and by simply acknowledging someone is a person first we can begin to value everyone for their abilities.

The Political Thinkers of Our Generation

By Caroline Gray

The following are photographs and responses from students under 18 years of age in Winnetka, IL.

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Abby & Annie: I think being overwhelmed translates into a little bit of hopelessness. All of these problems, being so overwhelmed by all of them, and not feeling like you can make a difference… feeling like you have no power while you hear about all these news stories that are so tragic, and you don’t agree with them, but you feel like you can’t do anything about them… I wonder what the long-term effect of that is.

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Chaitan: We are contributing to the argument in a very uninvolved way: through Facebook and social media. No one is really doing anything about it. Back in the ’70s, you could see people protesting with picket signs and actually PROTESTING things, and now-a-days, it’s like, “Hey, let’s go on Facebook and fix gay rights.” They don’t actually DO anything.

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Greg: No one really thinks about this, but local politics are so important. I wasn’t 18 for the presidential election, but I am going to vote in my local election, and I think that is something everyone should do. You might not be able to do anything on a national scale, but on a local scale, there is so much you can do. If you play a part in your local government, that’s a really good way to make changes.

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Julia & Bevo: I think a lack of caring is a huge part of any kind of issue. I think that we don’t care about our environment, we don’t care about the policies, and if we do care, sometimes our voices aren’t heard. So I would say that with any kind of problem, there is a lack of responsibility that people feel they have.

“Why We Play Basketball”: The Importance of Sport in the Native American Community

By Katherine Quaid

Google “basketball rules” and you will find millions of webpages that will give you information about the rules and regulations of the game. Google “rezball” and only a handful of web pages come up, most of which only mention the word and do nothing to define it or provide rules. This is because rezball doesn’t have rules, not in the traditional sense anyways. It lies at the cross-section of performance, athleticism, and creativity. Instead of trying to define it I will attempt to describe it.

Five on five still applies but the strategies have changed. No zone defense, fouls are many but calls are few, and players must be ready to run for the entirety of the game. Most rezball tournaments take place in community centers and gyms past their prime that are the social hub of most reservations. Players run back and forth trying to beat their opponents down the court. They pass behind their back, in between their legs and even without looking, something I never excelled at. Players will make insane shots from the half court line, from underneath the basket and from positions traditional basketball players would only dream of. Rezball is often described as “fearless” and “creative” by those who are recent newcomers to this “racehorse style of basketball” (Colton 2000: 172). The re-appropriation of basketball into rezball has led to a new liminoid space, where structure is subverted and resistance blossoms.

Anthropologist Jean Comaroff notes that under oppressive authoritarian states, resistance forms in seemingly apolitical spaces in which new stories are created and symbols are fought for (1985: 261, 196-197). Basketball as a symbol, once of assimilation, is constantly fought for by Native American athletes who represent the Native American population. The basketball court is a space in which resistance against dominant stereotypes, concepts of play and racial epithets occurs because of its liminoid characteristic. The term “liminoid” is alternative to “liminal” because it further encapsulates the creativity of activities. Comaroff defines resistance as “typically neither an all-or-nothing phenomenon nor an act in and of itself; it is frequently part and parcel of practices of subjective and collective reconstruction” and these practices, especially as it pertains to basketball, are contained within the body (1985: 195).

To learn rezball is not to be taught rezball. A player must grow up in a certain type of environment, one in which these characteristics of athleticism, performance and creativity are valued and learned through watching others. These are learned and maintained through the body and become a habitus of not only basketball but general sport performance. Anthropologist Marcel Mauss labels these types of bodily practices as “techniques of the body” defining them as an “action [that] is imposed from without, from above, even if it is exclusively biological action, involving the body” (2007: 54). By viewing these as techniques we can see how seemingly apolitical actions become forms of resistance that are transferred from one generation to the next, evolving from the boarding school era to now.

Native American college athletes like Shoni Schimmel, Abby Scott, and Lakota Beatty use the techniques of rezball to prove to the general public and to their own communities that Native Americans are more than just a statistic.  In one interview Schimmel states, “one thing that my mom has talked to me about is, you have to go out there and show that you can come off a reservation and you can make it” (Oregonlive). This concept of “making it” becomes tricky when living in the “White man’s world” because athletes must constantly navigate the line between cultural pride and cultural assimilation. The Schimmel sisters are constantly navigating a line with their coach, who is continually trying to understand the rezball techniques that they use. By continuing their practice of their rezball playing style, the Schimmel sisters are models of agency and resistance for young girls all throughout Indian country.

Their position as star athletes and as some of the only female Native Americans in the public eye gives them an extreme amount of power and responsibility. Buford May found that kids don’t just pick role models based on their athletic skill but also what they do for their communities (2009). All of his participants viewed their “chosen role model as a resource to the overall Black community. Thus, the young men take into consideration professional players’ off-the-court behavior” (450). The athletes must also give back to their communities in order to fulfill the role of role model. Most of the communities that support these athletes, view the athlete’s success as helping the population (Anderson 2006).

Jude Schimmel, for example, was nominated for the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Allstate Good Works Team, an award that commends student athletes who are active members in their communities through volunteerism and civic service (Gocards.com). During her spare time Jude travels all across the country to speak at reservations and let other Native Americans know that “they can do it, too” (Gocards.com). The Schimmel sisters, Scott, Beatty and all the other female college athletes out there not only subvert societal notions of gender and race but they provide role models for women and girls on the reservation.

Women are able to fit into this role because, in general White society, they do not threaten the status quo, and they become subverters of patriarchy as they become the main role models within their own societies. By getting a foot in the door female college basketball players give a voice to Native Americans and take over the role of representing culture and pride in an apolitical realm. By doing so, they provide millions of young Native girls with hope for upward mobility, education and opportunity.


With Brian Lindstorm 

What are some tangible, everyday things folks can do and say to advocate for individuals with mental illnesses?

I was recently at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India with my wife, Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild, Tiny Beautiful Things, and Torch. We had the pleasure of seeing Gloria Steinem. She talked of her early political organizing in India in the ’50s. She would go into villages and sit down and talk with “everyday people” about women’s rights. This experience re-enforced for her the Ghandian principle that true change starts at the bottom. We can’t wait for our leaders to lead. We must lead. So I think the first thing to do is to risk a simple “hello” the next time you encounter a person with mental illness. Even that little effort can help reduce mental illness’ stigma. And then I suggest joining and supporting the Mental Health Association of Portland, which advocates tirelessly for people with mental illness and has an excellent newsletter about challenges facing people with mental illness in Oregon, and opportunities to help.

What are some societal misconceptions about schizophrenia?

The unfounded fear that a person with schizophrenia is likely to be violent. The fact is that schizophrenics are less likely than the general public to act violently.

Since the release of Alien Boy what, if any, changes have you seen in the way police interact with individuals with mental illnesses? (Referencing the DOJ report on Portland Police Bureau use of excessive force when interacting with folks who have mental illnesses.) Do you have any comments on the implementation of the settlement agreement and the success (or lack thereof) of it’s terms?

A lot of people, myself included, thought that the DOJ coming on the scene would quickly and substantially change Portland Police Bureau practices for the better. That hasn’t been the case. And as Alien Boy makes clear, the incredible power of the Portland Police Union is an impediment to meaningful change.

In the past, you’ve done  participatory video projects. Can you elaborate on these and how they empower the folks you work with?

I’ve done several projects that put a camera in the hands of hard-hit folks: Kids in juvenile detention for Measure 11 crimes, Long term addicts in clean & sober housing, residents at the Blanchet House, a homeless shelter in Portland, Middle School students in one of the poorest sections of the South Bronx, immigrant teens in Hermiston, Oregon, People dealing with “Dual Diagnosis” (mental health and addiction issues) in supportive housing in Old Town,  and many others. I’ve found over and over again that the collaborative nature of filmmaking is a powerful antidote to the isolation that so many of these people feel. And the opportunity to share their visions of themselves and their world with a large audience can be transformative both for the filmmakers and the audience. These projects offer a bridge from “the other” to “us”, starting meaningful conversations that otherwise might never take place.

You visited Coffee Creek Prison recently and mentioned you were interested in making a short documentary with the women in the program. What was your experience like and how did it reveal misconceptions folks have about those in prison? Have there been any developments with the project?

I recently showed my film Finding Normal to 150 inmates at Coffee Creek. After the film, one of the women asked me: “Who can I trust? I’ve trusted the wrong people and it ended me up here. I don’t know how to trust or who to trust. Who can I trust?”  You can imagine the self-knowledge and confidence it takes to ask such a question in a group setting. And it seems to me that incarceration ideally is about this kind of self-reflection and soul searching.

The Family Preservation Program at Coffee Creek works with inmate mothers to examine their lives and identify what forces led to their incarceration. The women make “geneagrams”–visual representations of the major forces in their lives– a sort of life map. I was present the day several of the women presented their geneagrams to the group and it was enlightening. Mental illness, drug addiction, alcoholism, sexual abuse, poverty, incarcerated parents, major illnesses, deaths of parents and siblings were all represented in personal symbologies that vividly illustrated the major forces that contributed to the choices that led to incarceration. This exercise was very freeing to the participants because it took some of the shame away so that they could evaluate their life not with the outlook of “I’m a bad person because I did these things and I’m now in prison” but with the outlook of “I’m aware of the roles that say drug addiction or family dysfunction for example have played in my decisions that led me here, and I can now make changes that will empower me to make better choices.”

I’m happy to report that the Regional Arts & Culture Council awarded me a grant to make a film with the women of the Family Preservation Program at Coffee Creek. We plan to start shooting in March.

Your films have been featured at international film festivals, screened in penitentiaries and correctional facilities, and appeared on public television. What role has higher education, especially at a liberal arts institution, played in helping you reach your achievements?

I transferred into LC as a junior after attending the University of Oregon and Rutgers University. I was looking for a more personalized college experience. I was incredibly fortunate to take Communications classes from Prof. Stuart Kaplan. He showed me that there was a documentary tradition that “spoke truth to power”. He showed Harvest of Shame and I remember feeling that I was in the right place with the exact teacher/mentor that I needed. He challenged me and inspired me. After I had taken all the video classes that LC offered, Stuart gave me a gift certificate to take a class at the Northwest Film Center which enabled me to make my first documentary. Flash forward all these years later, and when LC alum/Alien Boy editor Andrew Saunderson and I finished the last edit of Alien Boy, the first person we showed it to was Stuart and he made a suggestion that greatly improved the film.

As the first person in your family to go to college, what surprised you most about your time at Lewis & Clark?

The incredible kindness and support of people like Prof. Stuart Kaplan, Mary Potter, Louise Hankenson and Kurt Armstrong. And the overall ethos of the place which was if you have a goal and are willing to work hard, the college will be there to guide and support you.

Provide two words of advice to current students interested in combining theory with practice.

Level gaze. Meaning:  look at the people you will be serving as your equals. And remember that they have a lot to teach you. Hard hit people almost always do.

Collaboration through Education: Uniting Students with Unionized Workers

By Caleb Diehl

Sent back to minimum wage jobs at Starbucks for the summer, and trained in econometrics during the fall, working college students inhabit contradictory class locations. To pay for textbooks on obscure literary terms, students toil at Wal-Marts and Safeways, joking with coworkers while preparing to rise above them. While parents might cover the cost of tuition, most of these students generate very little real income, often able to work only around ten hours each week while classes are in session. Some split their time between a minimum wage job, sweating next to the line cooks, and an unpaid internship at a prestigious firm, where they network with elites. In a time of polarized class divisions, where capitalists in many cases seem increasingly out-of-touch with working-class problems, we can’t let students, who might become the next generation of elites, forget their first jobs where they forged ties with coworkers. 

At the same time, unions should look for ways to improve their members’ access to education. As Sam Gindin argues in Rethinking Unions, Registering Socialism, “a unionism with a class sensibility would prioritize making their union halls into social spaces for laid-off members—places to stay in touch with coworkers, get information and support in accessing social rights, see films, participate in educationals and mobilize for jobs.”  In addition to laid-off members, I would include students, who exist in a similar liminal space—not fully workers but not yet capitalists. With proper support, students could furnish unions with relevant films, articles and information for union members to discuss. To fully integrate unions into communities and students into unions we must consider how working students in contradictory class locations can help the working-class rise above oppression.

For students and union organizers to come together, they must see shared values and goals. Students stretched between jobs, internships, club meetings and schoolwork long for free time. Gindin argues that workers also need free time to develop ideas, strategize and dream. Students clamor for lower tuition, and workers for higher wages. Both students and workers in unions also question authority. Students wonder why professors load them up with busywork, while workers grumble about the trivial tasks the manager delegates to them. As for goals, each shares the fundamental human goal: to be recognized and valued for contributions to society. Workers seek a wage and working conditions that will prompt them to take pride in being a machinist, waiter or cook. Working students strive for grades that will affirm their right to a voice in academia, just as workers cry for a voice in management. When workers and working students meet together behind a fast food or café counter, they often form personal ties, each recognizing that the hard work of the other should lead to success. When systems of authority block that success, each gets angry. It seems natural then, that when deciding what to do about such a common injustice, workers and students should act together.

One way to develop workers’ and students’ understanding of a shared class would be to bring union members to college, where they can learn alongside students. In the classroom, unionized workers would discover a second café counter—another place to form social bonds. Colleges could offer free classes, or at least allow the public to audit classes for free, with few stipulations. Unions could contribute by requiring, in addition to paying dues, that each member attend one class relevant to the union’s purpose at a local college. Although this takes time out of a worker’s day, it is no more intrusive than exacting dues from a worker who is paid by the hour. It goes further, even, toward the union’s cause if a worker feels more loyal to the union after learning about its history or strategies. Workers would also stand to benefit from exposure to the opposite dynamic—a dried-out lecture taught by a staunch elitist who degrades Union involvement by neglecting history and focusing only on its disruptions. Workers at the ground level would see that the professor’s statements don’t align with their everyday experience nor what the Union leadership tells them.

Unions could even work with the college to develop a sort of curriculum for workers, selecting courses in philosophy, ethics, economics, sociology, and history. Workers who have not completed a high school education could still benefit from the program by auditing classes and listening to discussions. In these classes, students will benefit by grounding academic discussions and lectures in the stories of living people, told in person. By talking with workers, students will understand the pressures of the factory floor and tie those challenges to concrete images—they might meet a worker who mentions splitting time between his kids and overtime shifts. Through each exchange, worker and student will meld academic insights and the gripping reality of personal experience.

Likewise, students could venture into the worker’s environment. Colleges might consider offering a class like Lewis & Clark’s Inside-Out program, in which history students join prisoners to hear the professor give lessons inside a correctional facility. Instead of prison (or maybe in addition to), the students could bring class to the union hall. A union could work to establish an educational space where college students and unionized workers would meet together to discuss social justice. Readings would draw from the memoirs of union leaders and excerpts from histories of the labor movement. Lectures could include not only professors, but union leaders who deliver reports on workplace conditions and struggles against management. Students would contribute the theoretical frameworks they’ve learned in classes to help unions solve practical problems. The union would augment students’ grasp of socioeconomic problems by pointing to the immediate challenges they face. Before students complete a business administration or economics program, they would tie themselves to laborers through empathy. Before becoming CEOs and crushing lives, Inside-Out students would understand the meaning of solidarity. They might collaborate with unions on fundraising campaigns or stand on picket lines. The professor could even require students to attend a certain number of regular union meetings or protests. That way, when it comes time to pick sides in a labor-management dispute, the sides may be fuzzier and the dispute more nuanced.

The Whole Truth

By Celestina DiMauro 

Honesty is significant to me when, instead of worrying about lies or truths, it becomes a question of bullshit. You can be completely honest and full of shit at the very same time. There are often multiple sides to one truth, and I define bullshitting as not giving credence to the whole truth. To tell just one side of your truth is a disservice to those who you are talking to; it makes a mockery of communication and turns otherwise genuine conversational opportunities into time-wasting superficiality. If people—myself obviously included—communicated with whole truths, I believe that the paths towards many aspects of social justice goals would be much more smooth.

When I saw the question for Brown University’s Supplemental Essay Questions on my Transfer Application, I instantly knew they wanted a half-truth response. They wanted the kiss-ass “Brown is so awesome” response. I wrote an honest answer, using the definition of honesty that I think best serves social justice: an all-encompassing one. And then I sold out. I lied. I kissed a bunch of ass and wrote a boring short essay about how awesome Brown is. Here is the honest essay to Brown that I should have but never sent.

“Please tell us more about your interest in transferring: Why does Brown appeal to you as a college option? Who or what has influenced your decision to apply? (2000 characters).”

At risk of sounding blunt, I think this prompt is poorly chosen and borderline insulting. Why does Brown appeal to me as a college option? It’s a world-renowned academic powerhouse and a haven for independent thinkers. Who or what has influenced my decision to apply? My own research into which schools would provide me with the best education possible, in the most supportive and enriching environment. I imagine that response is pretty similar to my fellow applicants.

I could sit here and grovel at Brown’s feet like most of the responses to this prompt may have, but it would only 1) belittle myself and all the other applicants who are already pleading for admission, and 2) place Brown on a pedestal that it’s already on, with or without me. Yes, Brown is an incredible and unique school, without a shadow of a doubt. You have a mission statement and an incredible educational institution that I obviously admire or I wouldn’t be applying – the thing is, I shouldn’t need to worship and regurgitate them.

If you’d like me to attend your school, I would be thrilled to be admitted (that is why I am applying, after all). But if this tough love is off-putting, then I would understand and appreciate if you close this folder, and place it in the pile of rejections, because I don’t want to attend a school that isn’t interested in hearing the whole truth from its students.

A rejection from you is just as valuable to me as an acceptance. A rejection says, “you know what, we don’t think you would do well at our school.” It says, “we don’t share your values and we think you would be better off somewhere else.” And if you truly believe that, without the slightest hesitation, then I would be obliged if you reject me, because you know far better than I what kind of school yours is, and I surely need not try and explain it to you for 2000 characters.

Policy Proposal: Restricting Juvenile Solitary Confinement

By Joyce Iwashita


According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the US is currently imprisoning more than 2.3 million people, giving the US the highest per capita rate of incarceration in the world. Despite the high figure, inmates often do not receive the support that they need to successfully reenter society. Instead, more than 80,000 inmates across the country are held in isolated confinement on any given day, including about 25,000 in long-term solitary in supermax prisons (Vera Institute of Justice). On June 19, 2012, a Congressional hearing on solitary confinement held before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights recognized that solitary confinement has human rights, fiscal, and public safety consequences. Yet, despite widespread recognition of its failures, even children continue to be placed in solitary confinement. The following is a policy proposal to Attorney General Eric Holder to restrict the use of solitary confinement on incarcerated juveniles.

To: Eric Holder
Office Held: United States Attorney General
From: Joyce Iwashita
Issue: Restrict the Use of Solitary Confinement on Incarcerated Juveniles

Problem Statement
Solitary confinement, the isolated confinement of inmates in closed cells for an average of 23 hours a day, can have serious psychological effects on inmates and lead to mental illness, self-mutilation, and suicide.1 The harmful psychological effects can impede inmates’ abilities to successfully reenter society and escape recidivism.2 Individuals under 18 years of age are especially at risk of the mental health consequences of solitary confinement.3 Department of Justice (DOJ) Standards for the Administration of Juvenile Justice state that juvenile inmates should “never” be held in solitary confinement for more than 24 hours.4 Yet, DOJ’s 2003 Survey of Youth in Residential Placement (SYRP) estimated that of the more than 100,000 juvenile inmates in the US at the time, 35% had been held in solitary confinement. 87% of these previously isolated inmates had been isolated for longer than 2 hours and 55% had been isolated for longer than 24 hours.5 Best practices guidelines recommend that youth held in solitary confinement for longer than 2 hours see a counselor.6 However, according to SYRP, 52% of those isolated longer than 2 hours indicated that they had not talked to a counselor since entering the facility.7

Proposed Solution
The Department of Justice should implement existing federal standards that regulate the placement of children in solitary confinement. DOJ should make a public statement to correctional facilities across the country communicating that they must comply with existing standards. The statement should clarify the standards and guidelines on solitary confinement. DOJ should regularly request information from correctional facilities on the frequency and extent of the facilities’ use of isolation measures and publicly report the information. Public reporting of solitary confinement policies and practices would allow the public and elected officials, in addition to DOJ officials, to engage in oversight to ensure that standards on solitary confinement continue to be followed. Correctional facilities that repeatedly fail to comply should be subject to internal review. Furthermore, legislation should be proposed to Congress to ban the use of solitary confinement on juvenile inmates in all correctional facilities. The legislation should provide for funds to incentivize the development and implementation of alternative practices, and to enable facilities to hire counselors to talk to juvenile inmates deemed to need the support.

Major Obstacles/Implementation Challenges
A major challenge to enforcement is the current institutionalized use of solitary confinement. Under current practices and budget allocations, correctional facilities may have difficulty developing and implementing alternatives to solitary confinement in a timely manner. In its statement to correctional facilities, DOJ could suggest simple alternative measures like requiring a consultation prior to placing an out of control youth in isolation.8 Another obstacle is the cost to ensure that information correctional facilities provide on their use of solitary confinement is accurate and follows standards. Funds should be allocated to the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to support the OIG’s increased oversight efforts. Additionally, a challenge is that the implementation of partial restrictions would hurt the urgency of legislation that could comprehensively reassess solitary confinement. However, addressing the failures of the use of solitary confinement on some of the most vulnerable incarcerated individuals, including children, would be the first step to reassessing the use of solitary confinement in general.

1. Craig Haney, “Testimony of Professor Craig Haney” (testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights hearing on solitary confinement, Washington, D.C., June 19, 2012).
2. Michael Horowitz. “Top Management and Performance Challenges Facing the Department of Justice – 2013,” U.S. Department of Justice, December 11, 2013, accessed January 14, 2014, http://www.justice.gov/oig/challenges/2013.htm.
3. Juvenile Justice Reform Committee, “Solitary Confinement of Juvenile Offenders,” American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, statement, April 2012.
4. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Standards for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, Standard 4.52, supra note 52.
5. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Conditions of Confinement: Findings from the Survey of Youth in Residential Placement, by Karla McPherson and Andrea Sedlack, NCJ 227729 (Washington, D.C., 2010), 9.
6. David Roush. “Desktop Guide to Good Juvenile Detention Practice,” National Juvenile Detention Association, October 1996.
7. McPherson and Sedlack, Conditions of Confinement, 9.
8. Gary Gately. “ACLU Calls for Ban on Solitary Confinement in Juvenile Facilities,” Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, November 26, 2013, accessed January 10, 2013, http://jjie.org/aclu-calls-for-ban-on-solitary-confinement-in-juvenile-facilities/.