VOICE The Georgetown
February 9, 2018
Stressed and Silent page 8 Georgetownâ€™s Complementary and Alternative Medicine Program Sparks Debate page 10
FEBRUARY 9, 2018
THE GEORGETOWN VOICE Volume 50 • Issue 11
staff editor-in-chief Alex Boyd Managing editor JAKE MAHER news
executive editor lilah burke Features editor ALEX LEWONTIN assistant features editor EMILY JASTER news editor MARGaRET gach assistant news editors noah telerski, katya schwenk
executive editor mike bergin Leisure editor Amy GUAY assistant leisure editors brynn furey, Mary Mei, Xavier Ruffin Sports editor jorge deneve Assistant sports editor Santul Nerkar, Aaron Wolf
“Untitled” by Aicha nzie Photo By Sam k. Lee
contents Editorials Carrying On: Thai Sauté Bananas Abhichana Naiyapatana
Friendship Send Failure Mica Bernhard
What in Tar-nation?: Why Tar Sands Really Suck Samantha Panchèvre and Celia Buckman
Stressed and Silent: Georgetown’s Culture and Mental Health Jack Townsend An Integrative Education: Georgetown’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine Program Sparks Debate Alex Lewontin Art in Style: GUCCI Brings Creativity to Songbyrd Mary Mei From the Top: The Unfinished Story of Graduate Student Unionization at Georgetown Lilah Burke
8-9 10-11 12 13
Black Movements Dance Theatre and The Power of Expressive Motion Rachel Lock
Beauty and Empathy in A Fantastic Woman Suna Cha
Executive editor CHRIS DUNN voices editor SIENNA BRANCATO Assistant Voices editors Lizz Pankova, Julia Pinney Editorial Board jon block, Alex boyd, Nick Gavio, Alli Kaufman, Alex lewontin, Caitlin Mannering, GRAHAM PIRO, Isaiah seibert, PHillip Steuber, Jack Townsend
Leisure editor Claire goldberg assistant leisure editors Dajour Evans, Rachel Lock, Eman Rahman Sports editor Beth Cunniff Assistant sports editor Teddy Carey, Jake Gilstrap, Tristan Lee
Executive editor Jack Townsend Spread editor Jake Glass Photo Editor Rachel Zeide cover Editor aicha nzie assistant design editors Delaney Corcoran, Margaux Fontaine, Egan Barnitt, Lindsay Reilly Staff designers Matt Buckwald, Rachel Corbally, Alexandra Falkner, Samantha Lee, Sarah Martin, Janis Park, Max Thomas
copy chief audrey bischoff assistant Copy editors Cade Shore, Hannah Song editors Mya Allen, Leanne Almeida, Mica Bernhard, Brendan Clark, Kate Clark, Kate Fin, Nancy Garrett, Caroline Geithner, Isabel Paret, Madison Scully, Maya Tenzer, Neha wasil
website editor Anne Freeman Podcast editor Gustav Honl-Stuenkel assistant podcast editor Parker houston social media editor isaiah seibert MULTIMEDIA editor DANIELLE HEWITT
general manager naiara parker assistant manager of alumni outreach anna gloor assistant manager of accounts & sales karis hawkins
The opinions expressed in The Georgetown Voice do not necessarily represent the views of the administration, faculty or students of Georgetown University, unless specifically stated. Columns, advertisements, cartoons and opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or the General Board of The Georgetown Voice. The university subscribes to the principle of responsible freedom of expression of its student editors. All materials copyright The Georgeton Voice, unless otherwise indicated.
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contributing editors Cassidy Jensen, Kaei Li, Graham Piro, Rebecca Zaritsky associate editors Jonny Amon, Nicholas Gavio, Allison Kaufman, Caitlin Mannering, Devon O’Dwyer
Umar asif, MOnica Cho, Rachel Cohen, Annie Coyne, Damien Garcia, jayan hanson, tristan lee, Brynne Long, Shadia Milon, Brice russo, Will Shanahan, cam smith
THE THE GEORGETOWN GEORGETOWN VOICE VOICE
Read & Listen on georgetownvoice.com georgetownvoice.com NEWS PODCASTS Georgetown Slave Descendants Seek Reparations from University
A of descendants of the slavesWilliam sold bySnowden Georgetown in 1838 is callingdiscusses on the In group Defenders United Episode 2,272 attorney fromUniversity Orleans Public Defenders administration to do more to address theoffender school’sstatute, history. writer Garciaand recaps the diversity in law school, Louisiana’s habitual hisNews non-profit TheDamian Juror Project, Professor group’s callsradical for monetary reparations and“Racially its support from Danny Glover. Paul Butler’s 1995 law review article Based Juryactor Nullification: Black Power in the Criminal Justice System.”
WMATA’s ‘Rush Hour Promise’ Refunds Subset of Delayed Passengers
Assistant sports editor Santul Nerkar details the Washington transit authority decision to refund Metro riders who experience delays of 15 minutes or more. Read more to learn about resident reactions from around the city.
Falling Back: Women’s Basketball Drops Fourth Straight After 0-2 Weekend
Sports editor Jorge DeNeve recaps the Georgetown women’s basketball team’s losses to conference rivals St. John’s and Seton Hall. Read more to find out who led the Hoya scorers and what the losses mean for the rest of conference play.
Well Done, Indians. Now Change the Name.
Halftime assistant sports editor Aaron Wolf reacts to Major League Baseball’s decision to remove the Chief Wahoo logos from Cleveland Indian uniforms in 2019. Read about the history of the “Indians” name and the reasoning behind making a change.
10 Amazing Movies You Missed in 2017 Trailer Takes: Super Bowl LII TV Spots Edition
Halftime leisure editor Claire Goldberg and Halftime leisure assistant editor Eman Rahman spotlight last year’s most worthwhile but recaps underappreciated movies. Be sure notanticipated to miss thesefilm must-see films, ranging from The Halftime leisure staff all of the Super Bowl’s most trailers. From The Clobiography to horror. verfield Paradox to Solo: A Star Wars Story, read up to learn what to watch out for in 2018.
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February 9, 2018
Time to Quit Qatar 2018 marks the 13th anniversary of the opening of Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q). Georgetown’s satellite campus in Doha is a joint partnership between the university and the Qatar Foundation. Although the Qatar Foundation bills itself as a private non-profit, Qatar’s ruling House of Thani holds three of its key leadership positions, and the U.S. Department of State describes it as a “quasi-governmental organization.” This editorial board urges Georgetown to end its relationship with the Qatar Foundation and to close GU-Q. By partnering with the Qatar Foundation, Georgetown is tacitly endorsing the government of Qatar and its policies, many of which are antithetical to Georgetown’s mission as a Jesuit institution. Qatari law limits the human rights of women and members of the LGBTQ community. Qatari women must obtain government permission to marry a foreign national and cannot transfer Qatari citizenship to their children. Any man convicted of having same-sex relations may be sentenced to a seven-year prison term. All of these policies run counter to Georgetown’s Jesuit commitment to community in diversity. Most appalling, however, is Qatar’s kafala labor system. Under kafala, migrant workers who come to Qatar, often from impoverished states like Nepal and
Bangladesh, are locked into one job and forbidden to unionize. Kafala also prohibits migrants from leaving Qatar without employer permission and even allows employers to confiscate workers’ passports in some cases. If a migrant worker tries to leave an abusive job, he or she will face legal prosecution, and Qatar often forbids workers from returning to their home countries, even during emergencies. In 2022, Qatar hopes to showcase itself on the international stage as the host of the FIFA World Cup. The associated need for gigantic soccer stadiums has caused migrant worker abuses under the kafala system to skyrocket. Human Rights Watch alleges that hundreds of migrant workers die every year as they are forced to work in extreme heat to prepare Qatar for the soccer tournament. Because of the high-profile nature of the World Cup, Qatar has drawn increased international criticism over the kafala system. In October 2017, Qatar made a show of committing to new domestic labor reforms. This editorial board views these reform pledges as ineffectual at best and insincere at worst. Workers are still not allowed to leave the country if they have outstanding debts, which are common because of predatory labor placement organizations, the high cost of living in Qatar, and regular wage theft.
Migrant workers make up 90 percent of Qatar’s population. It is not an exaggeration to say that Qatar’s international aspirations would not be possible without widespread human suffering and the systemic denial of human rights to workers. To be a migrant worker in Qatar is to experience modern slavery first-hand. By partnering with the Qatari government, Georgetown is complicit in these crimes. Georgetown has taken many steps to make itself a more inclusive university in the 21st century. In 2008, Georgetown was the first Jesuit university to open an LGBTQ resource center on campus, and in 2015, Georgetown began to publicly reckon with its own involvement in slavery in the United States. To continue to partner with a country which systematically discriminates against citizens because of their gender and sexual orientation, and which routinely denies migrant workers their most basic human rights tarnishes Georgetown’s reputation and taints its mission. It is time to quit Qatar. To be sure, the divorce will be painful, and the university may suffer financially as a result. But this editorial board believes that Georgetown should be willing to accept any such costs. The integrity of our school is at stake.
Georgetown Must Make Tuition Affordable Last month, the Office of the Provost emailed the Georgetown community to announce that tuition rates for the 2018-2019 academic year would be raised by 3.5 percent. Georgetown is just one of many colleges nationwide where the cost of attendance is steadily increasing out of proportion to inflation. The trend toward more expensive tuition is unsustainable and harms both students and the ideals of the American higher education system. A college education is becoming out of reach for many because of its cost, and the financial burden that a college education places on those who do graduate is eroding the concept of secondary education as a means for social mobility. This editorial board’s response, though, comes at the risk of sounding repetitive. Tuition increases have settled into a steady routine. The university’s annual announcement is greeted with an initial outrage which later subsides into apathy without any substantive opposition to the hike. The challenge for Georgetown students then is to maintain a critical outlook when thinking about tuition changes and not to accept the
rising cost of a college education as simply normal. Moreover, students at Georgetown must understand the tuition changes at Georgetown within a national context, in which students like themselves across the country are facing similar challenges in an educational system that is deeply flawed. The debt that students incur while going to college becomes a financial burden that can have lingering effects for years after graduation. Higher education, once the foundation of American social mobility, is now so expensive that it weighs graduates down. Meanwhile, the job market for those without a college degree is shrinking, putting those who cannot afford to attend college at a greater disadvantage than ever. The tuition hikes that continue to create ballooning costs for attending college come in the form of marginal increases year to year, announced over email. To be sure, Georgetown’s tuition increases are not outside the norm of other colleges. Georgetown’s most recent hike is also less than anticipated because of the university’s efforts to cut costs and increase revenues,
according to the email. The editorial board commends Georgetown’s efforts to minimize the increase in tuition, as well as Georgetown’s commitment to meet all demonstrated need for financial aid. Still, while some competing universities have embraced no-loan financial aid policies, Georgetown packages continue to feature loans. The university has demonstrated a receptiveness to students’ complaints: After criticism over its lack of transparency surrounding tuition hikes announced for the 2016-2017 school year, the university addressed tuition in a roundtable discussion in November 2017. The problems with college tuition go beyond Georgetown. However, Georgetown’s tuition increases are still part of a higher education system that is putting severe financial burdens on many students and excluding others through its cost. American higher education is broken. This editorial board calls on all students to demand more of their universities when it comes to affordability and calls on Georgetown to fully commit to slowing the trend of increasing prices for college.
THE GEORGETOWN VOICE
I scooped up the honey-glazed bananas soaked in melted ice cream, dripping onto the strawberries left in the bowl. I took a bite, expecting the ice cream to be coconut milk flavored. Instead, I tasted velvety vanilla. Putting down the spoon, I questioned why my high school dining hall named what was unmistakably a banana split “Thai sauté bananas.” When I saw the menu, I pictured delicious kluay buad chee, boiled bananas served in thick coconut milk, a dessert my grandmother loved to cook, and crispy kluay tod, golden deep-fried bananas I frequently bought from Bangkok street vendors. These “Thai sauté bananas” were nothing close to either of the dishes I imagined. In fact, they did not even deserve to be called Thai. The honey-coated bananas thinly resembled kluay tak, but ice cream and strawberries are definitely not part of a tropical Southeast Asian dessert. Adding an ethnic word to the menu cannot magically transform a Western banana into a Thai kluay. I disappointedly chewed on the bananas, wondering whether they felt guilty that they did not taste Thai as their name indicated. Like the dessert, I am also labelled with a misfit ethnic word. Born within United States borders to Thai parents, I am a citizen of both countries; my Thai citizenship is Jus Sanguinis, the right of blood, while my U.S. citizenship is Jus Soli, the right of land. Having finished their doctoral degrees, my parents returned to Thailand when I was a three-month-old infant. Even though I had no memory of the United States, I romanticized it. While in Thailand, first-grade me doodled stars on the blue stripe of a paper Thai
ana pat a y i Na
flag. When I failed to get an exceptional score on my English exams, I wept, ashamed that my imperfect English invalidated my Americanness. My childhood dream was to return to my birth land, so I applied for a competitive study abroad scholarship from the Thai government. At Georgetown, despite the 18 years I spent in Thailand, I am not considered an international student. Still, I constantly feel my foreignness. The people at Leo’s always frown at my GoCard, trying to figure out how to pronounce my name. When I joined the Asian-American Student Association, I did not feel that I was part of the Asian-Americans. My coworker frowned at my American passport, and when I voiced my opinion on American politics, someone remarked: “But you’re not American.” But what does it mean to be “American”? If “American” refers to citizenship, then I am indeed American. If “American” refers to heritage, then not so much. In fact, I am a non-resident American. While I was born in Illinois, I do not say I come from Illinois. I do not even have a state ID. I do not have a place I call home in the United States. Except for the fact that I hold an American passport, nothing about me is American. Yet, because of that blue book, I feel obligated to be American. How so? Because with that American passport comes the rights that American citizens possess, and with those rights come responsibilities. For example, I was able to vote in the 2016 presidential election. I am responsible for America’s future, so I want to be acknowledged as American. However, I am also responsible for Thailand’s
CARRYING ON: VOICE STAFFERS SPEAK
future, as my scholarship requires me to return to Thailand. Dual citizenship has complicated my identity. Humans learn, rather than inherit, their national identities. I am Thai—not because I am genetically Thai, but because I was raised in Thai culture. Therefore, for me to be American, I would have to consciously learn about American culture. Nationality used to be quite simple: You were a citizen of the nation in which your ancestors lived. With globalization and immigration, it is no longer simple. There are complicated cases, like mine, where nationality cannot be stated without some extra explanation. It does not matter which national or ethnic label fits me better, Thai or American. What matters is how the two cultures will shape me into who I am. My 18 years in Thailand have been the main ingredient of my identity. But my upcoming years studying at Georgetown will sprinkle Americanness into the recipe. I will become an amalgam of the two cultures, like the “Thai sauté bananas” in my high school dining hall. Their flavor was neither Thai nor American, but they tasted unique.
Abhichana “Anna” Naiyapatana is a freshman in the SFS. She is a staff designer for the Voice and the secretary of the in-development Georgetown Thai Student Association.
Thai Sauté Bananas
FEBRUARY 9, 2017
Friendship Send Failure
There’s something raw about being a freshman in college. I liken my first week at Georgetown to the feeling of getting lost in a supermarket as a child, running down what feels like a mile of fluorescent aisles, each overcrowded with products yet somehow empty. I eventually found my place here, just as I eventually found my parents by the cereal. But it wasn’t as easy as calling out their names amidst produce and strangers. As it turns out, I needed the collective vulnerability of my fellow freshmen to make myself feel comfortable in a strange and foreign terrain. I felt it in the beginning of NSO, when friendships grew out of convenience and not out of preference. Without yet belonging to a community to give us armor, we had no choice but to be friendly. I remember walking up to another freshman one night with no pretext and introducing myself with my name and my hometown (because that was all that defined us, apparently). The handshake was warm and the smile that came with it, warmer. Now, a year and a half later, we avoid eye contact. We met in a strangely comfortable vacuum where unprompted introductions were socially acceptable, if not encouraged. We no longer live in that freshman-year vacuum.
I can still close my eyes today, in the throes of my sophomore year, and recall the fleeting social transparency that got me through my homesickness. My freshman floor grew closer as the seasons changed, thanks in part to our open door policy. I could walk down the hall and know that one of my neighbors was FaceTiming with her mom or playing guitar or eating chips in bed. The type of mundane activity happening around me didn’t matter. It was the humanness I saw up close, in passing, that made my dorm feel less like housing and more like a home. I now live in a dorm that can best be described as the hallway from The Shining, minus the twins. With each room I pass, the more suspicious I become of its inhabitants. “Sarah” and “Michael” and “Tom” all live on my floor, according to the name tags attached to their doors, but I have yet to see physical evidence of their existence, despite sharing the same space for months. “Sarah” could be a centaur taking part-time classes who also struggles to fit in the shower. “Michael” could be the first student robot. “Tom” could be my best friend. So long as their doors remain closed, I will never know. Once a hearth, a home, carved out for my freshman floor,
the common room now remains empty most nights, which is perhaps fitting for the ghosts I call my neighbors. The few times I venture in there for myself, I imagine my freshman floormates, some sprawled across the floor, playing cards, others deep in existential talks while waiting for the cookies to finish baking. These memories of last year are a deep reality, even if they are phantoms embellished in my mind. The one variable I have failed to mention up until this point is technology. Maybe the “collective vulnerability” I seek still burns within us all and it is technology that keeps it dormant. I recently rode in an elevator with a student my age and a senior citizen. For all of eight floors, the student never looked up from her phone. The senior citizen eventually took notice and asked her, “What’s the longest you’ve been away from that thing?” The student indulged him with half a smile, then returned to her phone. I narrowed my vision in on her screen, only to find her aimlessly swiping, deciding which app to click on, refreshing the Snapchat page she had just refreshed a mere moment ago, all the while never blinking. I left that elevator enraged—that the opportunity of conversation and relationships comes second to a “thing,” that we can never truly be naked. Then, I became most frustrated with myself for feeling anger when I should have felt pity. The technologies that control our lives don’t make us villains; they make us victims. As I think back to anecdotes I heard growing up about my parents’ college days, I am beginning to piece together the mystery of my own experience at Georgetown. With no Netflix to keep them entertained on a Saturday night, they would instead leave their doors open and invite neighbors to come in. Should they be meeting a friend at the dining hall and show up early, there was no phone to keep them looking busy. And because video chat didn’t exist, they opted for in-person communication, often in the common room. For all my bitter isolation, in the dorm and beyond, I can still find a connection with my disconnected peers. I have come to learn that vulnerability can exist from behind screens and closed doors. When I see a girl unable to look up from her phone in a space as small as an elevator, I see a girl attempting to hide. But I also see a girl lost among her own supermarket aisles that run parallel to mine.
Mica Bernhard is a sophomore in the College. She’s probably lost in the ICC right now. Egan Barnitt
THE GEORGETOWN VOICE
What in Tar-nation? Why Tar Sands Really Suck Egan Barnitt
Why have the First Nations people of Canada disproportionately developed cancer? Tobacco use? Nuclear waste? While both are good guesses, the answer is actually a nasty form of oil called bitumen. At room temperature, bitumen is as thick and hard as a hockey puck, but it’s full of hydrocarbons that can be refined into oil. Extracting oil from tar sands is very energy-intensive because tar sands are a mixture of sand, water, and bitumen oil; this makes the processing of bitumen release much more greenhouse gas than light crude oil. Bitumen is also mostly found in tar sands in Canada, which infringe on First Nations land and wreak havoc on their water sources and air quality. Breathing in the fumes from dirty energy production can be fatal—in Alberta, a tar sands hotspot, cancer rates among indigenous peoples have skyrocketed by 28 percent in the 30-year period since bitumen production started. This environmental injustice extends to the United States as well. Due to the high temperatures needed to transport tar sands oil through pipelines, the National Resources Defense Council found that such pipelines spilled 3.6 times more oil than conventional crude pipelines between 2010 and 2012. In 2010, a pipeline operated by Calgary’s Enbridge energy company spilled nearly a million barrels of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River, causing evacuations for local residents and resulting in a clean-up effort that remains active today. This tragedy has become the costliest oil spill cleanup in U.S. history. Conventional oil typically floats on water, but tar sands oil tends to sink because it’s so heavy, making it much more difficult to clean up. This is the primary reason why the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines are so contentious. Tar sands pipeline spills are much more damaging than typical oil spills because submerged oil tends to remain in the environment. Additionally, large, open-air facilities that refine tar sands oil produce a particularly dirty by-product called petroleum coke, more commonly referred to as petcoke, which causes higher than average levels of respiratory and cardiovascular problems
when people are exposed to it in the air. Adding insult to injury, petcoke facilities are overwhelmingly located near low-income communities, such as those in Detroit and Chicago. Georgetown continues to invest part of its $1.5 billion endowment fund in the fossil fuel industry, a primary contributor to climate change and the exploitation of poor communities. The exact investment is unknown, as the university has not been transparent about specifics. Since early 2013, GU Fossil Free (GUFF), a student campaign, has been committed to persuading our university to divest from fossil fuel companies and re-invest in more sustainable companies. Our original proposal to divest from the top 200 coal, oil, and gas companies was rejected by the board of directors in favor of selectively divesting from direct investments in coal. It became apparent that GUFF would have to determine individual types of dirty energy for divestment. Due to the hazards faced by Canada’s First Nations and the exceptionally high contribution to greenhouse gases, tar sands are the target of the latest divestment proposal GUFF submitted to the Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility. Georgetown says it cares about environmental stewardship and social justice—any first-year out of NSO can tell you that our school is Jesuit and takes pride in shaping “people for others.” Our proposal is an opportunity for the university to live up to that rhetoric. If the board of directors votes yes to divest from the 18 companies outlined in our proposal, the Investment Office would be required to shed all of its shares in tar sands companies. This move would also bar the money managers of our endowment from investing in such companies in the future, signalling a momentous withdrawal of institutional support from tar sands. More and more student groups are capitalizing on this opportunity to align the university’s values with its actions by formally endorsing GUFF’s proposal. Clubs focused on environmental causes, such as Environmental Futures Initia-
tive, Animalia, Georgetown Sustainable Oceans Alliance, and Georgetown Renewable Energy and Environmental Network have signed on, as well as other social justice groups. Sexual Assault Peer Educators and H*yas for Choice, for instance, support the proposal, as rates of sexual harassment and STIs have been linked to the presence of tar sands oil production. The Georgetown Solidarity Committee backed the proposal because many of the tar sands workers’ immigration statuses prevent them from reporting abuse on the job. The Native American Student Council approved the proposal, recognizing the egregious degradation of First Nations’ health and sacred land as a result of tar sands expansion. The breadth of these student groups’ causes—among others, listed on GUFF’s Facebook page—represents just how far the ripple effects of tar sands go. There cannot be racial justice without the removal of dirty energy sources from communities of color, whether that’s in Alberta, Canada, or Detroit, Michigan. There cannot be justice in international development without discussion of climate change, which disproportionately affects poor countries without the resources to cope with natural disasters and rising sea levels. It’s time for Georgetown to uphold its values of fighting against injustice and listen to the student body demanding that it do so.
Samantha Panchèvre is an active organizer for the GUFF campaign and a participant in the GUSA Sustainability Policy Coalition. Celia Buckman is an active GUFF member and a contributor to the tar sands divestment proposal.
FEBRUARY 9, 2018
Stressed and Silent Georgetown’s Culture and Mental Health By Jack Townsend
Will Emery (COL ’19) has noticed that Georgetown students have the same conversation over and over as midterm season arrives. “They go, ‘How are you?’ ‘Well, I have nine tests, 10 essays.’ That sends a bit of an affirmation to this other student, I am working harder than you, I am doing truly inhuman work.” Those conversations might seem like an attempt at commiseration, but Emery finds that they have the opposite effect. They create an environment which harms students’ mental health: “stress culture.” Emery, who has led several mental health organizations on campus, believes the solution starts with recognizing that Georgetown’s culture is failing students. “We all don’t like this,” he said. “This is awful for all of us. How can we collectively slow things down a little bit?” Kenna Chick (COL ’20), who chairs the GUSA Mental Health Policy Team, believes that such conversations create impossible expectations. “Stress culture is further exacerbated by the facade of perfection,” she wrote in an email to the Voice. “This leads to students feeling even more pressured to have internships and be in leadership of a variety of clubs as they are comparing themselves to their peers.” The challenge, Emery says, is asking students to slow down and be better stewards of their mental health. “It’s a bit of a prisoner’s dilemma. What it can sometimes sound like is we’re asking students to do less,” Emery said. But asking that of students conflicts with their ambitions. Josh Sirois (SFS ’20), a GUSA senator at large, agrees that Georgetown’s problems with stress culture stem from students’ ingrained tendencies. “Georgetown students,” he said, “are obviously very passionate about the jobs, clubs, internships, and other projects they take on.” Emery has not led any of Georgetown’s mental health organizations since the last academic year. But while he led the now-disbanded Mental Health Advisory Board, much of Georgetown’s mental health infrastructure improved. Emery and others successfully lobbied the university to reduce student rates for services at Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS), which provides mental health treatment to
members of the Georgetown community. Now, some students who couldn’t previously afford to go to CAPS can get the assistance they need. Emery also helped found Project Lighthouse, a student-run mental health program that connects students to their peers. But the Georgetown mental health landscape still has craters. CAPS isn’t designed to deliver long-term care. If a student requires long-term treatment or care that CAPS cannot provide, CAPS refers them to off-campus treatment options. These off-campus treatment providers are not always as accessible as CAPS. They may be too far away or too expensive, which means that some students end up trapped between CAPS and an external care provider. For those students, GUSA has partnered with SaxaFund to create the Off-Campus Therapy Stipend, which will help students pay for off-campus therapy. Initially, the organizers aimed to raise $4,000 to fund seven students’ therapy. Since then, the university has promised $10,000. The program will start in the coming weeks. However, the stipend is not a sustainable solution. “[The initiative is supposed to] encourage administrators to quickly work toward committing to a plan of funding the stipend in the future or developing an alternative plan to offer long-term mental health care for all students,” Sirois wrote in an email to the Voice. The stipend project, along with initiatives by CAPS to reduce costs and increase accessibility, is also not a solution to stress culture. “Georgetown is doing great with supportive care. If you are a student in crisis or a student who just isn’t feeling that great, Georgetown will be there 100 percent for you,” Emery said. “[But] how do we build in preventative care?” Emery’s vision for preventative care revolves around building what he calls a “culture of care.” Georgetown, he says, has a “legendary stress culture.” The challenge is in transforming that stress culture into one that better supports students. In Sirois’ opinion, Georgetown has to strike a new balance in its collective culture. On one hand, students need to fulfill
their goals: “We want to apply ourselves and create something positive,” Sirois wrote. On the other hand, students need to relax and take time to look after themselves. But striking that balance is a challenge that Sirois hopes to address by putting students in conversation with each other. “Hopefully, we can soon bring in more students from all different parts of campus to have meaningful conversations about mental health and brainstorm more student-based projects and solutions,” he wrote. Laura Marcucci, who works at Health Education Services, oversees several programs which are designed to work against stress culture. One is the Stall Seat Journal, which is a publication posted on the backs of stall doors in public campus restrooms. The Journal is a means to help students understand what “normal” means on a campus where students regularly hear conversations like the one Emery recounted. It also provides information about many other health topics, including alcohol and drug use, sexual health, and flu-prevention strategies. In addition, Marcucci advises the Georgetown chapter of Active Minds, which is a national organization dedicated to fostering conversation about mental health on college campuses. Marcucci emphasized that stress culture can be difficult to change. “The issue is complex, and its origins and solutions aren’t cut and dry,” she wrote in an email to the Voice. “Changing a culture takes time. Some strategies for addressing this issue include, but are not limited to, considering the many reasons why stress culture is maintained; exploring the academic, career, and personal pressures that students face; marketing new norms around mental health, self-care, health promotion, success, and individual fulfillment; and working on ways to add in down-time and balance.” Leanna Syrimis (COL ’19), who is the executive director of Project Lighthouse, agrees that addressing stress culture requires changing the way Georgetown students approach their mental health. Syrimis advocates for stronger conversations around self-care. Every night, from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., Project
THE GEORGETOWN VOICE
Lighthouse connects volunteers with Georgetown students who could use a sympathetic ear. They talk about anything and everything, but neither party knows the other’s identity. Open conversation, which Project Lighthouse hopes to inspire, is a bridge between the culture Georgetown has now and the culture Syrimis is working toward—it lowers the barrier to frank conversation. “We’re all going through something unique,” Syrimis said. “If we wear our hearts on our sleeves, we can build such a strong community.” But Syrimis envisions a culture in which those sorts of conversations are completely normal and not subject to the stigma which makes Project Lighthouse’s anonymity necessary. Syrimis has found that Georgetown’s sense of community is vibrant yet superficial. “I have spent my time on this campus longing for those kinds of connections [that are meaningful],” she said. She has found one with her roommate. “If I’m crying in my living room, she will come down from the loft. If she hears me, she’ll come over to me and won’t even say, ‘What’s wrong?’ She’ll just sit next to me and wrap her arms around me.” Syrimis thinks helping others find their own genuine communities too has the power to improve Georgetown’s culture. “There is something so special about that that I feel like could make a community where we’re all striving to change the world and we’re all striving to make it better.” But for now, she says, Georgetown students don’t always use the resources available to them, like Project Lighthouse, Health Education Services, and chaplains. As a way to kickstart the conversations Syrimis envisions, Chick is bringing together two of the organizations with which she spends her time. The GUSA mental health policy team will partner with Project Lighthouse—for which Chick is the director of outreach—to gather stories from the Georgetown community to post anonymously around campus. Chick wrote that she hopes the program will let students “see that they are not alone in [their] struggles and that it is more common than we know.” Each of these leaders in Georgetown’s mental health landscape accepts that there is no single solution for, nor a single cause of, stress culture. But each leader believes that Georgetown must move in the same direction: toward improving students’ mentalities. When Emery summed up his approach to creating a culture conducive to mental health, he sounded like a dean invoking Ignatian spirituality in a convocation speech. “How do we … have college be an opportunity for education about how to live one’s entire life?”
Confidential Mental Health Resources National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-877-726-4727 Counseling and Psychiatric Services 202-687-6985 studenthealth.georgetown.edu/mental-health Project Lighthouse projectlighthousegu.com Egan Barnitt
February 9, 2018
An Integrative Education:
Georgetown’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine Program Sparks Debate
By Alex Lewontin Dr. David Gorski has quite a bit to say about “quackademic medicine.” “Quackademic,” a portmanteau of quack and academic, means exactly that. “It’s the infiltration of quackery into academic medicine,” Gorski said. “I wish I had coined [the term], but I didn’t.” Gorski is a surgical oncologist, a professor at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, and the managing editor of the blog Science-Based Medicine. Gorski himself has been accused of quackery and has developed a degree of internet infamy among anti-vaccination advocates for his staunch and public criticism of their movements. He has been the subject of several smear campaigns which have, without evidence, accused him of everything from being a paid shill for the pharmaceutical industry to having associations with pedophiles. What Dr. Gorski sees as “quackademics” is not the anti-vaccination movements, however, but something else, something that can be found much closer to the Hilltop: the Georgetown University Medical Center M.S. of Physiology in Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) program.
The CAM program was founded in 2001 by Hakima Amri, who holds a doctorate in biochemistry and reproductive physiology, and Aviad Haramati, who holds a doctorate in physiology. The program was based on a National Institutes of Health grant to develop a curriculum to expose graduate students to the field of complementary and alternative medicine in a critical and evidence based way. What exactly is “complementary and alternative medicine”? Technically, there are three similar but distinct terms for the field: alternative, complementary, and integrative. “Alternative medicine is essentially anything outside the mainstream of medicine. The term complementary medicine came into being in the U.K., because what they found was that people weren’t using [these practices] instead of conventional medicine, which is what the term alternative connotes, but rather to complement treatments in conventional medicine,” Haramati said. “Integrative medicine is really the blending of both conventional and nonconventional, bringing the best evidence from both to improve patient wellbeing and the health of the public.”
Haramati prefers the term integrative medicine to describe the curriculum of the CAM program, which covers subjects like naturopathy, homeopathy, chiropractic medicine, acupuncture, reiki, yoga, mindfulness, and other systems of non-conventional medicine. As one of the leading names in integrative medicine education, Georgetown has been in Gorski’s crosshairs. On July 27, 2015, Gorski published an entry on Science-Based Medicine titled “Bastions of Quackademic Medicine: Georgetown University.” Specifically, the post addressed the Spring/Summer issue of Georgetown Medicine, which was dedicated to the CAM program and associated research. “Georgetown is telling its medical students: Forget all that boring old reductionist ‘Western’ science you’ve learned all these years,” Gorski wrote. “Open your mind to the sympathetic magic that is homeopathy. Never mind that it has no basis in science and its precepts violate multiple well-established laws of physics and chemistry.” The CAM faculty doesn’t see it that way, however. “As scientists and academicians, as long as we have the evidence, and our statements are evidence-based, then that’s what we’re
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“This is the military. They’re not exactly San Francisco hippies.” Gorski also believes that students should be taught about complementary and alternative practices, but he sees far less gray area. “I’ve always said that physicians should know about alternative medicine, but that isn’t the problem. The problem is that it’s taught in a credulous fashion, as though it were accepted, as though it deserves to be ‘integrated’ into regular science-based medicine,” Gorski said. “These programs are not taught by skeptics or critical thinkers who are familiar with the evidence and know why the evidence doesn’t show that these things work. They’re taught by believers.” Still, Gorski doesn’t believe that everything taught under the umbrella of integrative medicine is pure fiction. “There are parts of integrative medicine that potentially work, but they’re the parts any primary care physician will already recommend, things like diet modifications, exercise, et cetera,” he said. “The good parts of integrative medicine are not unique to integrative medicine, but what is unique is not good.” The truly alternative fields have already been discredited for Gorski. For example, he describes acupuncture, which has gained popularity and acceptance in recent years, as “a theatrical placebo,” where the location of the needles, or whether or not they penetrate the skin, doesn’t make a difference in the result. “The problem with giving a placebo with no effect is that you’re basically forced to lie,” Gorski said. Haramati doesn’t see it that way. “The body has the intrinsic ability to heal itself. If our mind perceives that a treatment is helping us, and we can leverage that through engagement and treatment, isn’t that what we’re after?” he said. “If this is a less
invasive and less deleterious form of treatment that can help the patient, I can’t imagine why we would not want to do that.” Placebo or not, it is hard to dismiss all those interested in integrative medicine as quacks. The Department of Defense, in response to the opioid epidemic, has been investigating acupuncture, mindfulness, and other integrative treatments to help veterans with chronic pain. “This is the military,” Haramati said. “They’re not exactly San Francisco hippies.” The CAM program itself uses the same scientific standards as any other program in the Medical Center. “We’re not going to be teaching students about crystals. We are careful about what subjects we bring to the table. There is something called ‘biological plausibility,’ where we start with practices that are common and which there is an evidence base for.” Haramati does understand the tendency for conventional medicine to reject some alternative practices. In 2010, he led a delegation to India to gather data on Ayurveda, a system of Indian traditional medicine. He was disappointed with the state of research in the country. “If you want to make a dent in the Western scientific world, you’re going to have to use the scientific method.”
going to teach our students,” Amri said. “I want [our critics] to show me what they have read that is really a good study, and shows negative effects. If there are negative effects, I want to know also. I want to show that to the students. We are not teaching the students to become advocates of the field. That’s not our focus. Our focus is to teach them how to separate the good from the bad.” Haramati, a self-described skeptic, sees this as in line with Georgetown’s Jesuit philosophy. When he started the program, he met with university President DeGioia, and warned him that there could be pushback. “I told him, ‘We are going to explore areas with objectivity, and with rigor, and isn’t that the Jesuit way?’”
If history is any indication though, each side could find affirmation for some of its ideas as evidence builds. Gorski cites laetrile, also erroneously known as vitamin B-17, a substance extracted from stone fruit pits. “In the ’70s, it was touted as a magical mystery cancer cure,” Gorski said. “We eventually did clinical trials on it in the early ’80s and showed it doesn’t work.” Actor Steve McQueen died of pleural mesothelioma in Mexico, having travelled there to seek treatment with laetrile. For Haramati, mindfulness demonstrates just the opposite. “The Buddhists have promoted the practice of mindfulness for a very long time. In the ’70s, John Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts brings this practice, secularizes it, and teaches it to patients with chronic pain as a way to become present in the moment,” Haramati said. Today, mindfulness has become a mainstream practice for dealing with physical pain, as well as a host of mental illnesses. The next decade of data will shed more light on the very debates that swirl around the Hilltop today. But until then, don’t expect people like Gorski, Amri, and Haramati to stop speaking their minds.
February 9, 2018
All photos Sam K LEe
Art in Style: GUCCI Brings Creativity to Songbyrd By Mary Mei The Georgetown University Collective of Creative Individuals (GUCCI) is the perfect embodiment of what happens when a group of motivated and artistic students are left to their own devices. GUCCI is the brainchild of Alexander Lubeck (MSB ’17) and his friends. The founders decided to create a community committed to “a disparate artistic discipline, together under a Facebook group,” said Paul Henderson (COL ’18), one of the Collective’s administrative board members. The Facebook group, which is the main portal and information disseminator of the Collective, currently has nearly 900 members. The success and growth of GUCCI since its founding in 2015 is a testament not only to its artistic appeal but also to its culture of inclusivity. Natasha Jafanza (COL ’18), another board member, has a strong vision for GUCCI’s purpose in the Georgetown community. “We didn’t want it just to be a music club or just visual art. We really wanted to push the boundaries, experimenting with multimedia and multimodal, and also connecting people from those different disciplines,” Jafanza said. “We just wanted it to be very mutual between people who are appreciating art and people who are creating it.” Recently, GUCCI added to its host of events—open micnights, art shares, and local music shows—by partnering with the Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House in Adams Morgan. On Jan. 26, Songbyrd and GUCCI presented a night of performances by Georgetown student bands Right Stuff, Terrakann, and Panini Girlfriend, as well as artists Joe Sonza, Rico Triste, and iAgo. The Songbyrd event is a big step for the Collective, which has never collaborated with a venue or charged for admission
before. For Ahmed Latif (COL ’19), a GUCCI board member and Right Stuff drummer, the profits from the event are an encouraging sign that speaks to the future longevity of the group. Around 115 audience members, mostly Georgetown students, turned out for the event. However, Henderson, whose stage name is Rico Triste, also noted some audience members from the outside community. “I was surprised at the number of people that did not appear to be students at all, kind of just hanging in the back,” Henderson said. “I don’t know if they were coming for the next set, but they didn’t seem to be because they cleared out by the end. It was very cool and definitely very encouraging.” Although Henderson, Jafanza, and Latif all agreed that they would be open to having similar events in the future, they are careful to remain true to the objectives of the Collective. “While Songbyrd was really awesome, the core of GUCCI is more in those simple, community events that maybe you don’t have to pay to get in to. We want to keep doing the basics of what has kept GUCCI going,” said Jafanza, a member of Panini Girlfriend. “The biggest thing is balancing the presence on campus with these kind of events,” Latif added. “I think the emphasis is campus for GUCCI as a whole, doing open mics and promoting visual arts—which is something we’re working on.”
GUCCI has typically held its events in house shows and backyard gatherings, which Henderson believes is advantageous in making concerts more intimate. “It’s hard to do an art show at Songbyrd while you’re also doing a concert. But that’s easy enough to do in a Vil B,” Henderson said. GUCCI continues to try to increase its influence in the Georgetown community and the D.C. music scene. Still, the Collective is not a university-sponsored or recognized organization. The university declined recognizing GUCCI on the grounds that it is too similar to Art Aficionados, an art appreciation club. GUCCI filed an appeal consisting of a co-signed letter with Art Aficionados that recognized the differences between the two groups, but it was denied again. Henderson argues that the university’s decision is unreasonable. Jafanza believes that GUCCI’s independence has contributed to its stronger identity and sense of self-sufficiency. “There’s a lot of stuff that is free for everyone, it’s just a matter of being creative. A lot of people [are] pitching in and volunteering. I think it’s that kind of attitude that helps us. It’s awesome that we made money from the Songbyrd thing. It’s cool to think that we didn’t need that [support] from the university.” GUCCI attempts to foster a welcoming environment for everyone who is interested in art by creating a sense of community for its members. “That’s part of the power of GUCCI, that it’s super open. We don’t turn down people. That also gives people freedom and confidence to express their art in a way they wouldn’t be at another event,” Henderson said. “The casual environment and non-competitiveness allows people to feel really comfortable sharing their art—whatever it is.”
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From the Top
The Unfinished Story of Graduate Student Unionization at Georgetown
March 2016: The university increases work hour expectations for Ph.D. candidates from 15 to 20 hours per week, without a proportional rise in pay, and revokes the ability to take a separate part-time job with the school.
April 18, 2016: The DSC petition reaches 257 signatures, 75 percent of which are from Ph.D. candidates. Dean Grzywacz decides to postpone the changes. He asserts that graduate students are students first and employees second.
Sept. 2, 2016: The DSC announces that it is investigating the level of student assistant interest in unionization. Over the summer, its working group on unionization discussed the prospect of organizing.
Jan. 26, 2017: Ph.D. candidate Hailey Huget announc-es the formation of the Georgetown Association of Graduate Employees (GAGE) in an opinion piece for the Voice. A DSC-conducted survey shows that 80 percent of 160 graduate student respondents are in fa-vor of forming a union. Members of the DSC form GAGE with the mission to campaign for a graduate student assistant union. Dec. 4, 2017: The university declines to voluntarily recognize GAGE as a union. Provost Robert Groves and Edward B. Healton, executive vice president for health science, outline in a letter the administration’s position that graduate students are students and not workers. They express doubt that a union with a large annual change in membership could be a stable bar-gaining unit.
Jan. 9, 2018: Provost Groves announces in an email to students that the university is considering GAGE’s proposal for a third party arbitrator. He notes that the administration is searching for a framework that recog-nizes graduate students’ relationship with the universi-ty is fundamentally educational, while also responding to the desire from graduate students to have a louder voice at the institution.
Last week, graduate student assistants at Georgetown came one step closer to having a recognized union. The Voice decided to take a look back at the last two years of graduate student organizing. Links to our coverage of these events are available at georgetownvoice.com
March 29, 2016: The Doctoral Students Coalition (DSC), made up of Georgetown Ph.D. candidates, begins circulating a petition asking that Norberto Grzywacz, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, postpone and reconsider the policy change. Doctoral students say they were not properly consulted about or informed of the change. Aug. 23, 2016: The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rules in a case with Columbia University that students working as teaching and research assistants at private universities have the right to unionize. This decision gives both graduate and potentially undergraduate teaching assistants and research assistants at universities and colleges like Georgetown a federally backed right to collectively bargain. Nov. 2, 2016: The DSC holds a town hall to discuss unionization. It presents the findings of the working group, which read union contracts of similar students, became familiarized with the university’s Just Employment Policy, and spoke with different union representatives over the summer. DSC member Ben Feldman notes that they haven’t found a case of an affiliation that didn’t result in a pay increase or cost of living ad-justment. Nov. 1, 2017: GAGE delivers a letter to President DeGioia declaring its intention to unionize and requests that the university voluntarily recognize GAGE as a collective bargaining unit. Members claim that over 50 percent of graduate students assistants have indicated their support for the new union. Unions are typically recognized after they demonstrate support through an election held by the NLRB, after which the employer is legally required to bargain. But an employer can also choose to recognize a union voluntarily, as GAGE asked Georgetown to do. Late December 2017: GAGE proposes to the univer-sity an election administered by a neutral third party instead of the NLRB. This would avoid the possibility that the university could challenge the results of the election in court and potentially reverse the NLRB’s 2016 decision to give student assistants the right to or-ganize.
Feb. 1, 2018: The university and GAGE enter discus-sions with the goal of agreeing to a union election con-ducted by a third party. The administration commits to respect the results of the election, even if the NLRB reverses its decision.
By Lilah Burke
February 9, 2018
Black Movements Dance Theatre and the Power of Expressive Motion BMDT Students Explore Political Oppression in Exodus
By Rachel Lock At the end of her reaching arm, a single outstretched finger points up to the sky, demanding an undelivered promise. The dancer’s ascension is no solitary feat. Supported by arms and backs strengthened from practice, her peers raise her far above the crowd. In powerful, broad strokes, the performers then dart across the vast expanse of stage in mere seconds—an illusion seemingly manipulating time and space itself. In these motions there is power, drama, and something one may not expect from a dance recital: a resonance of ambitions for affecting change. Black Movements Dance Theatre’s (BMDT) spring production, Exodus, seeks to answer relevant questions in striking, unconventional methods. BMDT asks their audience to search for answers in compelling movements of both face and body, finding socio-political activism in the physical form. “We like to tell stories—not only through our dancing but also through the entire show,” said Ashley Newman (COL ’18), student co-director. “You’ll see that the show has a specific flow and that it goes from one end to the other, and then you feel at the end that you went through a complete journey, through a complete story.”
Photos by Rachel Zeide
BMDT offers class credit for students selected through auditions and rehearses for a new performance each semester. The dances are each choreographed by a student, BMDT’s artistic director professor Alfreda Davis, or a featured guest choreographer. Each piece serves as a self-contained storyline, yet the thematic ties make for a coherent performance. Exodus may not provide all the answers to the questions it raises, but it certainly allows for their exploration. The viewer is granted freedom of interpretation through thought-provoking pieces. Specifically, questions of racial inequality and exclusion from promised freedoms come to light through these dances. Newman and her co-director, Kathryn Threatt (SFS ’18), designed Exodus to reflect the current political climate. “Exodus comes from the idea of a mass movement to find a place, a home, that is more accepting and safe for a group of people when the place they thought was home ended up harming them,” Threatt said. “We wanted to make sure that we were talking about what was happening in our country and around the world.” The show opens with this idea of migration. The dancers express a deliberate desire for change, each pointing in a different direction to represent the search for a more welcoming environment. Determination and urgency drive their movements—every dancer conveys the need to occupy new space by relocating throughout the stage. Set to Jack Trammell’s song “Convergence,” this piece sets the main tone before exploring its complexities. The company makes full use of the stage with a seemingly unsustainable energy. Instead of falling back on the symmetry and conformity often found in choreography, these elements are used sparingly. The fluidity with which the dancers transition in and out of formation in their opening number gives the impression of a single-mindedness which is allowed to intermittently shatter and then merge again unscathed. This makes for a striking contrast—BMDT both dominates the stage as a singular group and highlights each dancer’s individuality in movement. Threatt mentions Charlottesville, the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and racial unrest as factors when considering this year’s theme. This political dissatisfaction is conveyed through dances varying in tone from borderline ferocious intensity, to piercingly melancholic reverie, and even to joyous celebration. Each dance represents the different emotions that are tied up in an unjust system, from the heartbreak and anger it produces to the joy felt in spite of it.
The members of BMDT employ both grace and strength. No part of the body goes underutilized—from the fingertips to the neck, each dancer’s entire person is fully engaged in the creation of Exodus. The performers skillfully respond to specific changes in the music and vary in their agency, from succumbing to invisible strings to abruptly fracturing conventional expectations of what should come next. There is a permeating illusion that the music moves the dancer as much as she moves in response. “Technique is important to putting on a good show, but to be able to tell the story and leave the audience with something that inspires them to go out and change either the way they think, or the way their friends think, or change something in the world, is really what we strive to do in each show,” Newman said. “We want you to leave our concert different than when you came.” Equally crucial to such a performance are the theatrical aspects. The dancers drive home the show’s thematic elements through their acting, engaging their facial expressions in the world-building of Exodus’ narrative. One of the more subdued performances, set to Soap and Skin’s song “The Sun,” starts with the dancers on the floor, introducing levels to their movements as they eventually rise. It is not only this transition but the frantically sorrowful facial expressions, seen in furrowed brows and downcast eyes, that make this number particularly entrancing. Conscious artistic expression is ever-present throughout a performance both poignantly meaningful and engaging to watch. While it may seem easy for one to get caught up in the sheer beauty and athleticism of the dazzling and, at times, acrobatic dance movements, the show’s advocacy for equality manages to be read clearly through the dancers’ expressive motions. For Threatt, this method of storytelling has long been part of BMDT’s legacy. “Our mission talks a lot about roots and where we come from and what it meant for black women on this campus to, 30 years ago, find a company for them to tell their own story and their own truth,” Threatt said. “It stems not only from African roots, but from where dance was a whole production and told you the history of your tribe, the history of your people.”
Exodus will run Feb. 16 and 17 at 8 p.m. in the Gonda Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online at the Georgetown Performing Arts website or at the door.
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By Suna Cha IMDB
From Sebastian Lelio, the director of Gloria (2013), comes a highly anticipated movie nominated for this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Featuring Daniela Vega, Chile’s first openly transgender actress, A Fantastic Woman creates a ground-breaking platform for new ideas about beauty and strength, particularly within the transgender community. While it centers around one woman’s story, the film covers universal themes of identity, grief, and most importantly, love. “My name is Marina, Marina Vidal. Do you have a problem with that?” Portrayed by Vega, Marina is a hardworking waitress and aspiring singer planning a future with her lover Orlando. As far as Marina and Orlando are concerned, their love is unapologetically beautiful, fiercely passionate, and wholly sincere. However, others invalidate their relationship because of its disturbance of social norms: Not only is Orlando leaving a family behind for someone 30 years younger than he is, but also Marina is a transgender woman. Yet society’s disapproval is not the driving force that separates the two, as Orlando’s sudden death leaves Marina floundering, forced to stand alone in the face of animosity and scrutiny. In advance of the film’s Washington release on Feb. 9, the Voice had the opportunity to sit down with Lelio and Vega at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Georgetown. Lelio said that he had been talking to Vega for over a year until he realized that she was the perfect fit for Marina and the organic key to crafting his next motion picture. “I could not make a film about a transgender character without having a transgender actress,” he said. With a Spanish language translator, Vega explained her experience in preparing for the role and fleshing out her character’s emotions on the screen. “The three things that I shared with Marina is that we actually sing opera, that we like good looking guys, and that we are rebellious,”
she said. Working with Lelio and her co-star Francisco Reyes, who played Orlando, was also a valuable learning experience that allowed for a deep personal connection to form between the two. The climatic scene of her development is the last one when she sings on stage. It is a transformative, powerful moment as she sings her heart out and delivers a mystical, almost avant-garde, performance to the audience. The mellow music evokes a tinge of sorrow mixed with self-love, confidence, and beauty. “It was the last scene which [Marina] had to give a lot of power to it as well as magnetism,” Vega said. “It was either everything or nothing. It was a lot of fun to do it. This scene was a sequence, so I had to do it in one take until they said ‘cut.’” For Lelio, the most challenging and fun part of putting together the film was “to be able to combine so many different tonalities and to flare with different genres.” “In Spanish, the word that is used to refer to sexual identity is the same one that is used to allude to narrative style: genre. In this sense, the film itself is ‘trans-genre,’” he said. With a polymorphic DNA that corresponds with Marina’s character study, the film dips its foot into romance, biopic, and fantasy. Given the film’s context, Lelio also kept in mind his country’s current political climate. “Chile is a very divided country, and that’s good and bad news at the same time. I mean, it’s a simplifiction, but half of the country still lives in the ’80s, and the other half is more future-oriented,” Lelio said. “I think this film operates in that tension, in the tension between those two forces. But the government and the laws and the power is like 30 years behind. But the level of modernity you can feel, especially in younger generations, gives me hope.” The film addresses the breakdown of traditional structures and paradigmatic concepts. “We are orphans of utopia, but at the same time there is a great potential in front
of us,” Lelio said. In a world of clashing ideologies, Lelio believes that there are no absolute solutions to the problems that we face; life is obscure. Nevertheless, it is important to orchestrate dialogue, asking these questions and opening minds to improve society. Rather than sending a particular message, Lelio hopes to expose the public to a new point of view and let them learn from that emotional experience. “I guess you make films so you don’t have to fall in the trap of sending messages. That’s priest business. That’s the pope … or, uh, Trump,” Lelio laughed. “You know, you make a film because you want to expose people to a complexity and to allow them to hopefully touch beauty. And then that can change your perception of life. That can touch your level of consciousness, that can open a new idea about what is possible in the world within you.” Following the stages of her journey, the strongest point about the film is that the audience is able to relate to Marina, to feel and empathize with her as a person—a human being who is constantly changing, evolving, and growing. The film focuses on celebrating the fierce complexity of the individual and the unifying force of love. “[A Fantastic Woman] is an act of love,” Lelio said. “It’s an invitation to explore the limits of your spiritual elasticity, to connect with someone that maybe you think you don’t have any kind of connection or possible connection. And to see what’s going on with the belief of your own empathy. But it’s not a solution. It’s more like a question.” In a world of black or white, Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman attempts to illustrate a multi-colored lens, emphasizing the importance of art in light of today’s culture and political climate. Expanding the boundaries of perception, he encourages the celebration of differences, whether those differences are visible through flesh or more nuanced in identity. Whatever the case, there is indeed something liberating, and breathtakingly fantastic, about being yourself.
Beauty and Empathy in A Fantastic Woman