Students Study Nonviolent Conflict Resolution in India

by Glenny Brock

UAB students in front of the Taj Mahal. "People are sick, people are in poverty, it's 120 degrees in Delhi—and this is where you study peace?" Sharyn Jones, Ph.D., associate professor of anthropology, offers this rhetorical question with a lilt of laughter. Jones recently returned from a three-week sojourn to India with 11 UAB students; the trip was the first study-away opportunity offered as part of the UAB College of Arts and Sciences' new minor: Peace, Justice, and Ecology (PJE).

"You are educated in an entirely different way when you are immersed in the sights and smells of a place, where the language is different and the customs are different," Jones says. "Trips like this allow students to spend time with people in other cultures and to actually engage them."

The study-away course, the Culture of Peace in India, included major sightseeing stops—the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Qutb Minar, and the Bahá'í Lotus Temple in Delhi—but the Active Nonviolence Education Center (ANEC) in Dharamsala was perhaps the most important site on the itinerary. During almost three weeks of daily workshops, the students learned from and worked with Tibetan refugees who offered instruction in nonviolent conflict resolution. They learned about the lives of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. They learned how the concept of peace is perceived in a variety of different cultures. Since the PJE program focuses on real-world strategies for social justice and environmental sustainability, the chaos and tumult of India provided a vibrant—almost overwhelming—context for students to consider these inspiring concepts.

"Issues of peace, conflict, and social justice have always been a part of the study of anthropology," Jones says. "But our students constantly encounter problems in the real world without knowing how to fix them. One of the goals of this minor is to show students ways to change the world on a small level but ultimately to make a large impact."

Life Lessons Via a Major Minor

As a CAS interdisciplinary program, the PJE minor evolved from what was the environmental studies minor. The new program is the brainchild of Jones and Lori Cormier, Ph.D., program director for the master's degree in anthropology. It gives students the opportunity to examine themes of ecological adaptation and sustainability as well as investigate environmental health and human rights in local, cross-cultural, and global contexts, and then use scientific, philosophical, and ethical reasoning in developing solutions to problems. The point is to provide students with a broad learning experience in human-ecological interactions and biocultural diversity. Put another way, the minor offers deep digging in what it means to be human.

Genevieve Begue and Dr. Sharyn Jones in front of Heritage Hall. The PJE minor has attracted students majoring in biology, chemistry, and international studies as well as students with individually designed majors. For Genevieve Begue, a senior pursuing a double major in international studies and conflict resolution and the Middle East, the travel opportunities afforded through the PJE minor make for particularly potent learning experiences. Begue, who wants to work as a "peace builder" in the Middle East, traveled to Israel during her sophomore year at UAB, but she says even that life-changing trip didn't fully brace her for India.

"I left Birmingham with few expectations and a bunch of fears," Begue says. "I purposely tried to avoid getting much information on India and on Dharamsala. I wanted this trip to be a culture shock as much as possible, although I couldn't help talking about it as we got closer to departing and my excitement grew. I packed every kind of wipe and hand sanitizer and had planned to cover myself from head to toe. I must admit I was a little scared. "Despite leaving with few expectations," she says, "India kept catching me by surprise. I had been warned that no matter how much I tried to prepare myself, India would just blow my mind. Indeed, it did!"

Begue often felt numerous contradictory emotions all at once. "I experienced a rollercoaster of emotions: fear, love, hate, apprehension, amazement, irritation, compassion, gratefulness (a lot of gratefulness), sadness, joy, disgust, and fascination," she says. "The best part of India is that even when something is disappointing, you probably can find the very opposite as well."

Begue's travels have convinced her that study-away trips should be a part of every student's college experience. "I learned so much about the cultures of the countries I visited, and learned from and with the people I met," Begue says. "I simply came back a different person. Immersed in other cultures, I was able to understand firsthand some of the political issues I had studied in class."

Peace Through Nonviolence

According to Jones, the students were challenged not only to absorb and confront concepts of peace in the endless upheaval of India, but also to strategize on how they might bring that peace home. "How you make the world a more peaceful place was a major focus of the trip," Jones says. Daily interactions with Tibetans taught Begue that peacefulness through nonviolence is a way of life. "I learned one Tibetan expression, 'Tashi Delek!' — a greeting for which the translation may vary from 'May everything be well!' to 'Auspicious greetings.' The expression is a key that opens a smile-box, bringing full, bright smiles to their faces, which stay long after you pass by." Begue explains.

"Tibetans cherish and celebrate life in every form, the smallest insect being of great significance for simply being alive," she says. "From Dharamsala, I brought back a sense that peace can only live as we cultivate and nurture it. Peace takes work in every instant—a work of education and tolerance, of love and of patience."

Begue's numerous unique personal experiences represent the transformative power of immersion learning. "In our discipline, we aim to observe different cultures from an insider perspective," Jones says. "We often see students very quickly transformed by their new surroundings. "One of them—one of us, any of us!—may be saying, 'I'm different than these people. It's hot. The food tastes different.' But as you get really engaged with people," she says, "the less intense those differences become."

Cover of "Beyond Sound." Beyond Sound

Students of music technology have a new guide to college and careers in the industry, thanks to a new book by Scott Phillips, Ph.D., assistant professor of music at UAB. Beyond Sound, The College and Career Guide in Music Technology, was published last year by Oxford University Press.

Phillips is co-director of the UAB Music Technology program and has spent his career researching and documenting the development of college music technology programs across the United States.

“Beyond Sound” offers an in-depth consideration of music technology education. Phillips provides detailed comparison of more than 200 schools that offer music technology, recording, industry and business programs. He offers clear explanations of different types of degrees and provides practical guidance on career preparation, including how to get a great internship, land a first job, make connections and move up in a variety of businesses, from recording to television and film to video games. The book is available through Oxford University Press, Amazon.com, UAB’s Barnes and Noble Bookstore and booksellers nationwide. Go to www.beyondsoundbook.com to learn more. Phillips at slpmusic@uab.edu.

Cover of "Beginning Partial Differential Equations." Beginning Partial Differential Equations

This new textbook from Peter O’Neil, professor emeritus in the Mathematics department, focuses on methods of writing and determining properties of solutions of partial differential equations, concentrating on those that describe diffusion processes and wave phenomena.

As O’Neil explains, a simple diffusion problem might involve determining changes in temperature along the length of an object. Wave motion is seen in vibrations of guitar strings, drums, support beams on bridges, and the like. At a more sophisticated level, partial differential equations are used in economics, the physical and life sciences, studies of global weather and ocean current patterns, and many other areas of interest and importance.

O’Neil’s textbook guides students through the process of mapping these and other equations. O’Neil is at pvoneil@uab.edu.

Ireland Prize winner Leon Botstein exposes a black hole of musical history to the bright lights of lecture and performance

Leon Botstein has a passion for education. As the president of Bard College in Annandale, New York since 1975, he has argued for the value of learning for its own sake, not merely as the first training step in a vocational or academic career.

He also has a passion for music. As the musical director and conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra since 1992, he has transformed the concert experience for audiences worldwide. As a musical historian and musicologist, his contributions have helped reset thinking about composition, theory and performance.

Leon BotsteinAll of which makes Botstein a significant American cultural figure. But what makes Botstein remarkable, and what led to his selection as the winner of the 2014 Caroline P. and Charles W. Ireland Distinguished Visiting Scholar Prize, is his ability to synergize these two disciplines into a one-of-a-kind performance that brings context and meaning to the musical score.

“I’m interested in the relationship between the way we understand and write about music history, and what is available to us in the concert repertory,” Botstein explains. “There is a divide between the academic study of music history and the practice of concert giving. As a music historian and a performer, I’ve discovered that concert programming distorts the history of music and indeed what music is all about. A stultifying routine has grown in concert repertory that disguises the vast and endless works of music that are actually available. I am seeking to alleviate that sense of routine and, if I may say so, boredom on the part of contemporary audiences by reintroducing unjustly neglected works and bringing music history back to life in all its variety.”

While at UAB to accept the prize, Botstein conducted a special performance of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra at the Alys Stephens Center on March 13th. He says that his interest in refreshing the audience’s experience in listening to live music is what catalyzed his plans for the Birmingham concert. “That [was] the inspiration for the program for this occasion,” Botstein says. “I [wanted] to explore the era in the history of the symphony between the death of Schumann and the premiere of the first symphony of Brahms. For most audiences this is an historical black hole. And yet there is so much wonderful music to be heard from that period. The concert program that we [performed offered] two examples of accessible, captivating symphonies that you rarely … hear in live performance.”

Botstein says the recognition from UAB has been meaningful to him. “I was very thrilled to receive the Ireland Prize from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and to conduct the Alabama Symphony. This has been an unexpected pleasure and honor.”

About the Ireland Prize

In 1984, Charles W. Ireland and his wife Caroline P. Ireland gave a personal gift of $250,000 to establish the Caroline P. and Charles W. Ireland Endowment for Scholarly Distinction. Today, the fund awards two annual Ireland Prizes, one of which is the Caroline P. and Charles W. Ireland Distinguished Visiting Scholars Award, which brings to the campus outstanding scholars who are generally recognized as figures of distinction in the arts and sciences. During their time on campus, these prizewinners give a public lecture and share their knowledge through informal meetings with students and members of the faculty. The annual Ireland Visiting Scholar prize is $10,000 and an engraved award.

UAB faculty members nominate candidates for consideration each year, evaluating individuals who have achieved international excellence in his or her field of study and who can share his or her enthusiasm and knowledge with the university community.

A Compelling Story Sells It

By Caperton Gillett

UAB graphic design professor Doug Barrett with students Jennifer Waycaster, Samantha Gibbons, Amy Clark, and Daniel Twieg at the Cahaba River. Selling a product is one thing—but how do you market a region in need of revival? If you're a graphic designer, like UAB assistant professor Doug Barrett, M.F.A., you approach it like any other commodity: Talk to the client, develop a true understanding of the product, and perhaps most important, find the story that will sell it.

That's what Barrett did as a graduate student at the University of Florida, when he worked with Mayan villagers in Mexico to help them develop a sustainable economy around local honey and orange juice. And that's what he's now teaching his students to do for Bibb County, Alabama—tour the area, meet the people, and discover the unique qualities that can help revive an economically struggling county—with the help of well-designed brochures, signage, and marketing collateral.

AIGA, the professional organization for graphic designers in the U.S., calls it "Design for Good." Barrett calls it an independent study class, which is by invitation only. Through this class, students come together to work in a student-run design studio called Bloom Studio, where they take the design process beyond the standard in-class curriculum, using what Barrett calls the "graphic design toolset" to solve social problems and benefit their community. The final result will be a tangible product for the client to put to use and the students to add to their portfolios.

The goal of their current project is to promote tourism in Bibb County—an effort that has involved weeks of research, numerous visits and interviews, and lots of questions. "Who is their audience? Who is their competition? And what does Bibb County have that we can leverage into something interesting people might want to come see?" Barrett says, characterizing Bibb County's assets and attractions as "the story behind the brand. What is the story, and how do we get the story out there?"

The class's project last fall was to create marketing material for the Cahaba River Society (CRS). Barrett's students designed a collection of three brochures—graduated in size and designed to nest artistically—promoting the river, including basic river excursions, canoeing safety, the Children Linking with the Environment Across the Nation (CLEAN) Program for children, and of course membership in the nonprofit CRS. They also designed a license plate benefiting the society that will be available for purchase next year. This work resulted in the award of a Sappi Ideas That Matter grant of $47,000 to create a book to tell the story of the CRS.

Networking

The students' work with the CRS led them to the Friends of the Cahaba, for whom they developed a Web site. One of those friends was Matthew Hartzell, Bibb County extension coordinator, who had an idea for the students' next client.

Barrett and his students worked in conjunction with the Alabama Innovation Engine (AL Engine), which is a collaboration between Auburn University and The University of Alabama that supports the AIGA's Design for Good initiative. "Our contact at Alabama Engine is Matt Leavell, who has done a ton of work finding those in need and those with the skills to help," Barrett says.

In touring Bibb County, talking with locals, and exploring local attractions, the UAB group discovered that the county's main draw dovetailed nicely with another project supported by the AL Engine: the development of a Cahaba Blueway, a watery trail with points of interest for canoers and kayakers that flows right through the center of Bibb County.

But the tourist attractions in Bibb County extend beyond riparian pursuits. Barrett and his students visited the Brierfield Ironworks, the West Blocton coke ovens, the Cahaba National Wildlife Refuge, and other dry-land destinations that could make up a full day's visit—if visitors know where to go. "Sometimes people think, 'Just highlight everything in Bibb County,' but that's kind of tough," Barrett says. "If you're just driving in, it's difficult to enjoy everything they have, and there isn't a lot of infrastructure." The solution? A collection of day trips to promote to tourists, based on attractions already available in the county, with signage and maps to direct visitors around the area.

Some of the most curious new tourists, Barrett says, were the students themselves, many of whom have lived in Jefferson County all their lives without visiting the Cahaba River or Bibb County. "It's an eye-opening experience and very worthwhile," he says. "The important thing is not just coming from the outside and trying to effect change, but also getting local people interested in effecting the change."

The students who choose to participate in this course come preloaded with an interest in the world around them. "They're interested in preserving natural beauty and preserving culture, whether that's outside the United States or in a small town in Bibb County," Barrett says. "They recognize the significance of culture, history, and community, and how important it is to preserve those things."

For those students, the end product is a better understanding of and appreciation for their community, a chance to use their developing skills in a real-world application, and a portfolio of completed work to take out into the world after graduation. "The students get really thrilled by it," Barrett says. "The power of this is that they're not just doing work in a class, in a vacuum. They actually get to meet the client, work with the client, and do real projects that end up getting produced. It's a real professional experience."

Branding A River

The Cahaba River has been recognized nationally and internationally for its biodiversity and has been named one of the 19 and 52 most important places to preserve in the next decade by the World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club, respectively. Barrett's students are working with the coordinators of the Cahaba Blueway Project and others to develop interest around the river and highlight resources that can help sustain the local economy. "It's interesting to think that we're trying to brand a river, with a logo and type palette and color palette—and that goes into things like signage along the take-outs and put-ins of the river, and T-shirts, and books and maps and wayfinding applications," Barrett says.
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