Op Ed: Student Loans

By Armeen Namjou

As a child I either wanted to be one of three things when I grew up: a mailman, a firefighter or a paleontologist. In hindsight I don’t understand my desire to become either one of the former two, however the latter still seems really cool—but I digress. Today, I am a psychology pre-med student with little conviction if I want to pursue either of those careers, and riddled with so much self-doubt that even my advisor asked me why I always look so serious. If my childhood self knew what the reality of college was, I think he would have opted for mailman. Bottom line, I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s not a shocker to anyone who’s been or is in college right now, but it doesn’t make it any less stressful. So when I was asked to write for the blog this week, though I enjoy it, the anxiety-ridden part of my mind bemoaned the idea. I couldn’t help but think about all the other obligations, exams, and papers that were just trying to agitate my epilepsy. However, in all of this negative thinking, I thought of a topic that is universally hated and gives everyone profuse amounts of stress—student loans. And, since this is Students for Social Justice, I tried to see if student loans were in anyway connected to social justice—for example: did racial bias exist in relation to student loans, or do minority groups suffer more from college debt? Spoilers: they do, and the findings—unsurprisingly—have often been contradictory and have implications that are not black and white.

For my own sanity (and because this isn’t for a grade) I focused on only one sociological study that (I felt) did a nice job of grounding a lot of its claims in prior research, and even discuss research that contradicts their findings. The study, by Brandon A. Jackson and John R. Reynolds and published by sociological inquiry, sampled 8740 non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black college students ranging from age 16-25. The study then examined student loan use, cumulative student loans, enrollment persistence, those who received a bachelor’s degree, and any student who ever defaulted loans in each group and compared the two groups. The overall theme of the findings was: black college students seeking degrees will end up facing more debt vs. white college students.

In general, black college students had more student loans than white college students—58% of 48% respectively. Only about 10% of black college students received a bachelors degree with no federal loans—compared to 31% of white college students. When comparing students who did not complete a degree the racial contrast is even starker: one-third of black college students who took out federal student loans and didn’t finish a degree also defaulted on a federal student loan—the rate for white students is just under 9 percent. So not only does there seems to be greater consequences for black college students if they don’t complete a degree, but (as mentioned before) it seems that they will just in general face more debt compared to white college students.

So, what could be causing these discrepancies between white and black college students? The authors of the paper quote a phrase that (I think) nicely characterizes the issue—“sedimentation of racial inequality”. The term describes how racial disparities are a reflection of the cumulative disadvantages that past generations of had to face. So, black college students’ greater need for financial aid is can in part be explained by racial gaps in their parent’s income, wealth and education. So, basically, the effects of centuries of racism and oppression still linger (shocker). It seems then that (and I really wish I had thought of this analogy) the authors compare student’s loans for black college students as a Catch-22. Loans do attempt to bridge the racial gaps in parent’s socioeconomic status, thus increasing black students chances to attend college and complete college. Conversely, black students will more than likely, face more college debt to pay off and have higher chances of defaulting. It seems that for black colleges students, there is, compared to most, higher price to pay to pursue higher education.

Of course, like all scientific studies, this study is by no means prefect. Though, a lot of similar scientific literature has found similar racial disparities when, some of the evidence, the authors explain, is mixed. Also, a key argument this paper wants to make is that ultimately the pros of student loans outweigh the cons for black college students, however the authors cite a study by Kim Dongbin in which she comes to the opposite conclusion. On top of that, this study—along with the other studies it cites—analyzed data of college students from the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. So these reported racial disparities could have widened or shortened since then. Ultimately (like the end of every single scientific paper I have ever read states) we will have to wait for future studies to reassess and further explore these claims.

College is a wondrous place—that also happens to be littered in copious amounts of bullshit. It has allowed me to make myself feel like more of a grown up than I actually am. It’s a place where someone can someone can drunkenly approach you and proudly reminiscence about the threesome they had the night before (and to that girl, fucking rock on). It’s a place that gives you the rare opportunity to listen to both your heart and your brain and lets you decide what to do. But it also feels opulent in a way that I never appreciate but also resent: the pseudo-adulthood that it provides me sometimes makes me act like a privileged ass, and then I consequently resent college and myself in general for allowing me to act like a person I hate. And, what’s worse is that all of it so fucking transient. I mean out of the 100 (minus 95) friends I have made, how many will I actually try and keep in touch with? How many of them will want to keep in touch with me? I (hopefully) have another seven decades of life left, and you mean to tell me that a piece of paper, and paying loans off till that sixth decade is worth it? Is four years really long enough for me to know what I want to do for the next seven decades? I don’t know, and I’ve become oddly okay with that. I do know this: when I initially wrote this, I was consumed and agitated. And though those feelings are valid, when I started writing this I realized that the privileged asshole side of me was what was making me feel this way. I’ve grown up with family that’s very much academic orientated and have grown up in relative middle-class suburban comfort. And though I’ve gone through (and will continue to) go through shit that my friends and family will not have to go through I felt humbled reading that study. Student loans are a big part of that pile of bullshit that college has, and for some it will be worse and be more perverse in their lives than others. That’s not news to anyone, but sometimes I feel like we distance ourselves from that reality willingly or not—I know I can sometimes. It’s disheartening that someone’s pile of college bullshit will be statistically, larger than someone else’s, but I don’t want to end this with some TED talk faux hope. I’ll leave with this: if you want to work for a piece of paper, that’ll cost tens of thousands of dollars, definitely does not have the same value it once had, feel pressured to do it because everyone else is doing it, have to take classes that are irrelevant to your interests, deal with people that are irrelevant, and so much stress that your resting face is now a scowl—you should be able to do it without the side effects of centuries of prejudice.

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Op Ed: Mental Health in Oklahoma

By Armeen Namjou

A friend of mine told me that Griffin Memorial hospital would be closing down soon. After my initial shock, and thanks to my best friend Google, it turns out Griffin will eventually be moved from where it’s at now—but, my Googling session turned out to be much longer than I anticipated. As a psychology pre-med student at OU I know enough about my field to understand, firstly, that there is a massive stigma surrounding the mentally ill and, secondly, that budgets to care for the mentally ill are generally low. As someone who has struggled with bouts of depression, this issue has stuck with me, so I decided to investigate how much Oklahoma invests in caring for the mentally ill—and, spoiler alert, what I found was discouraging.

To start, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services or ODMHSAS for short, Oklahoma only spends $53.05 per capita to provide mental health services—the national average is $120.56. This is quite alarming considering that 22.4% of all Oklahomans experience some sort of mental illness—which is the 3rd highest ranking among states—and 11.9% of Oklahomans suffer from some sort of substance abuse, which is the 2nd highest ranking among the states. Given Oklahoma’s seemingly rampant mental health problem, it is discouraging to know that 6 out of 10 adults and 4 out of 10 youth do not receive treatment. Perhaps it is this lack of treatment that leads to the statistic that 4.4% of Oklahoman adults report serious thoughts of suicides—the 5th highest rate in the nation.

Though I didn’t realize how bad the mental health problem was in Oklahoma, in some ways it is not too surprising. In general, we’re a very physically unhealthy state, so is it any real surprise that we would have serious issues with mental health, too? We are also a state that firmly believes in working hard and making it to the top, which is a wonderful way to approach many aspects of life, but as a side effect this approach has led to stigmas surrounding mental health. I mean, think about your general health care physician: have you ever brought up any negative psychological symptoms you’ve had with them or have they asked you?

The way we address mental health problems in Oklahoma is through extremes. People won’t receive help until they are calling crisis centers; or, their mental illness will manifest until they become incarcerated. This blog, and this club as a whole, aim to tackle and discuss the social injustices that plague our community—mental illness is a part of that. In fact, it is a universal affliction, no matter who you are or where you come from. And, granted, many mental illnesses stem from the environment you grow up in, which relates back to social justice and economic, racial, and social inequalities, but if we can’t even provide sufficient services for people who have reached a point where the way they think or act negatively affects their everyday lives—then what are we doing?

Conscious Consumerism: Broke College Kid Edition

by Audra Brulc

Money. I have none of it. And I’m guessing I’m not alone. But the problem is, when you have no money, it’s pretty hard to feel like you’re spending what you do have in a socially responsible way. Our current economic system pretty much forces us to prioritize cost over morals, so the idea of “conscious consumerism” has become a hot topic lately. And that’s great, but here’s the thing: a lot of alternatives just aren’t that feasible for people living on a fixed income. Yes, I would love to buy shirts and shoes made exclusively from fair-trade, organically harvested items for the totally reasonable price of $85. Unfortunately, I have about $24 left each pay period after my living and academic expenses are factored in. As a result, I’ve had to look for the little ways to dig my heels in and resist completely giving in to the cold embrace of heartless capitalism. I’ve gathered some of these tips here for our readers, and though some of them might seem pretty obvious, it doesn’t hurt to think about new ways that we can integrate these habits into our patterns of consumption.

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LET’S DO THIS, Y’ALL.

1.) Embrace Your Local Hipster Hideout Coffee Shop

Wait! Please don’t roll your eyes, snort derisively, and close the tab! Hear me out. I am a flagrant over-consumer of caffeine. I know my coffee, especially here in Norman. I know my shops, too, as I’m always on the hunt for the perfect studying-with-coffee ambiance. I used to be a pretty open hater of non-chain coffeeshops, insistent that Starbucks would always be the slightly burnt but more affordable option. (Am I allowed to say that here? Will I be hearing from their lawyers?) However, while you still might pay a little more at a smaller, local operation, both the coffee and the environment are usually far superior. This might not be news to anyone, but ending our reliance on large chains and constantly trying to shift to local businesses when possible is definitely worth it.

2.) Support the Arts (No, Really, You Can Do It)

Feminist Sticker Club

This is a pretty specific tip, but it’s cheap as heck so I’m throwing it in here. One of the wonderful women I work with told me about the Feminist Sticker Club, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. For a cool $2.50/month, you get a snazzy new sticker designed by an activist artist that touches on some aspect of (intersectional!) feminism. Last month, the theme was self-love, and this month’s sticker proudly promotes trans-inclusivity. Even though I’m broke AF 90% of the time, I’m a sticker fan. Like, a HUGE sticker fan. Like, I’m running out of room on my laptop to express my opinions so that people know what they’re getting into before they even approach me. This is a great, low-cost way to support badass artists, and I actually have found that these stickers are even better quality than retail sites like Redbubble.

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I have a few opinions. Like five, tops.

Going to local music shows just to support the artists and their art

As much as it pains me to admit it, I don’t have the money to see my favorite artists (looking at you, Florence Welch) at an expensive music festival (directly at you, ACL). But do I have an extra ten bucks after payday to buy a ticket to a local, artist-driven showcase? Sure, why not! Even if you’ve never heard of an artist, going to their show with a few friends can be a fun, cheap night out – and you might even discover someone who will completely rock your world. (Is that a pun? It’s not supposed to be a pun.) I was lucky enough to experience this a few weeks ago at Oxford Karma’s Endless Summer event, and now I already have plans to see one of the performers, Samantha Crain, next month. I risked $10, and in return gained some lovely memories and an artist whose lyrics shake my very soul. Not a bad tradeoff, in my opinion.

Decorate your lair/space/enclave with prints and drawings from friends/local artists instead of buying mass-produced, often culturally-appropriative things from Urban Outfitters

Okay, I guess I pretty much showed my hand with this subtitle. As we move into the realm of tentative adulthood and start decorating our overpriced apartments, the desire to nest in a cool and aesthetically appealing way is strong. There are approximately 82 million reasons not to support Urban Outfitters, but from a pragmatic standpoint, things like this horrendously overpriced lamp are just one of many. When it comes to decorating, there are actually plenty of ways to think outside the box! Local shows and festivals provide a great opportunity to meet the people or organizations producing artwork, and you can rest easy knowing that you’ve done what you can to support your local art scene.

3.) Book It

When you realize you have no money but you still have to order all 14 of your textbooks
When you realize you have no money but you still have to order all 14 of your textbooks

This also might not be new information to most people, but lately I’ve realized just how many sites are available that provide cheap used textbooks and novels. It’s not always immediately apparent, but there are a lot of sites besides Chegg (which I’m still a fan of, don’t get me wrong) that provide even better prices for used books. I think it’s amazing that the world of used books has reached the internet – as Thrift Books points out, buying used textbooks and novels keeps books out of landfills and greenhouse gases out of our atmosphere. Also, while I realize that some may regard Amazon as one of the Worst Things Ever, sometimes it is the best or fastest option. For those times when we have to resort to its almighty stocking powers, we can at least use their charitable giving option, Amazon Smile, to do a little bit of good while we’re there (and retain Amazon Prime/Student shipping options). Below are three of the sites I’ve had luck with!

4.) Decolonize Your Meals

Because coffee just isn’t enough for me, let’s talk meals as well.

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With a little creativity and a tiny bit (like, ten minutes, I swear) of planning, even us broke college kids can take steps to decolonize our diets. No, groceries aren’t cheap – but that’s where the creativity comes in. Here’s what I’m suggesting: instead of stocking up solely on pasta and Prego, for one meal a week, get the ingredients to make something vegan if you’re not vegan. Make something Mexican if your family is totally assimilated and you’re not about that shit. A package of fideo noodles and a can of crushed tomatoes are about as simple as it gets and available at most grocery stores, but they also represent a meal that my great grandmother passed along to my mother, her granddaughter-in-law. It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to be different. Substitution is a way to change your mindset and purchasing habits, which can ultimately lead to a shift in how we consume and approach food.

5.) Make Like Macklemore and Embrace Thrifting

Just kidding. I would never endorse Macklemore references on this blog. And really, I don’t think I even need to say it, but don’t discount (hehe) hitting up local thrift stores the next time you’re in need of some new-to-you clothing. The stigmatization of thrift store shopping can come from intensely classist assumptions, intentionally or not. If we really want to minimize our consumption and turn our support away from the often-unjust fast fashion industry, what better way to do it than putting reuse first?

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The man has a point.

I get it. You’re not always going to find exactly what you want at a thrift store. But you might find a custom-made “Bob’s Wife” sweatshirt, and, in the process, you’ll be making reuse the norm while supporting local charities and small businesses.

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Did you think I was kidding? Think again. This is serious business.

Bonus for Normanites: Guestroom Records’ $5 CD grab bags

I’ll be totally honest: the first time I went to Guestroom, it was in some sort of abstract hope that I would walk away magically cooler and more in tune with my own musical sensibilities. Do I have a record player? No. Do I have any money to buy a record player? Definitely no. (You’ve gathered that by now.) However, I was and am pee-your-pants excited about their CD grab bags, which are pretty much exactly what they sound like. For $5, you get a hefty and very random assortment of CDs to enjoy. Not every single one might be a winner (unrelated note: is anyone interested in a thirdhand copy of the Twilight: Breaking Dawn score?), but it’s a fun and cheap way to support a smaller business and expose yourself to some random new artists.

Thanks for reading, y’all. I hope some of these suggestions have empowered you to seek affordable transitions to conscious consumerism. Comment below with your own tips!

Op-Ed: Female Incarceration: the Real War on Families

By Audra Brulc

Introduction

Female incarceration is an issue that I became particularly interested in after attending a presentation on the “war on drugs” at OU’s Sooner Mosaic Social Justice Symposium last year. (Shameless plug: register here for this year’s symposium!) In August, after attending a presentation on women in prison at Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Summer Policy Institute, I became armed with the stark facts about female incarceration in Oklahoma. I’ll list these resources, and others, at the end of this post. As awareness about the issue of female incarceration and US drug policy spreads (thanks, Orange is the New Black), I hope that these facts will be enlightening and useful to our readers.

The Facts

There’s a lot to be said about the reality of female incarceration, especially in Oklahoma, but the facts really do speak for themselves. Let’s take a look at the statistics so that we’ll be equipped to break down their implications:

  • According to the 2010 documentary War on the Family: Mothers in Prison and the Children They Leave Behind:
    • 90% of female inmates are non-violent offenders
    • 80% are mothers
    • 75% have lived below the poverty line
    • 60% have been physically and/or sexually abused in their lifetimes
    • 50% did not finish high school
  • Oklahoma consistently leads the nation in female incarceration.
    • As of 2009, the average rate of female incarceration was 68 per 100,000 women in the general population. In Oklahoma, that number rose to 132.
    • In Oklahoma, “14 counties incarcerate females at 300 percent above the national average” (Source: OK DOC)
    • Around 80% of female inmates in Oklahoma are non-violent offenders
    • Over half of incarcerated women in the state are mothers (Source: The University of Oklahoma)
    • The majority have experienced domestic violence and a family history of “dysfunction and instability”
    • 64% of female inmates received in FY 2010 needed substance abuse treatment. Less than 30% of these women were likely to actually receive it, based on previous years’ statistics (Source: OK DOC)

Incarceration as a Social Justice Issue

So what does female incarceration mean for social justice activists? I could write pages and pages on this topic, but for brevity’s sake I’ll focus on our skewed perceptions of drug charges, mothers in prison, and what happens to women once they are released.

One of the key issues at play is the nature of the crimes for which women in Oklahoma are being incarcerated. We already know that most female offenders are serving time for non-violent crimes. Furthermore, according to statistics presented by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, about 24% of sentences in FY 2010 were for possession of controlled substances, and about 19% were for distribution. These statistics continue to remain steady because of US drug laws and mandatory minimum sentencing. As both inmates and academics have pointed out, the current US criminal justice system is primarily focused on treating drug abuse as criminal activity. The alternative would be a public health approach, which would focus much more heavily on rehabilitation. Instead, as many of the women interviewed in War on the Family observed, the system seems intent on maintaining a cycle of recidivism and re-incarceration. If we cannot help liberate women from oppression based on class, race, and gender, circumstances which help incentivize the abuse and sale of illegal drugs, we are perpetuating an incredibly oppressive cycle. As long as we accept the current state of our justice system, we are accepting this cycle of poverty, abuse, and incarceration.

As the statistics show, many female inmates are also mothers. They are separated from their children, resulting in tremendous stress—sometimes even PTSD—for their children, who often must care for themselves and their younger siblings while coping with feelings of anger and betrayal. Women who give birth in prison are often shackled during the process and are separated from their infants after hours or days (ACLUWar on the Family). This psychological turmoil reinforces the cycle of drug abuse and incarceration for inmates and their children (ACLU).

After women leave prison, they are left with little resources and support. Thankfully, programs like Women in Recovery now exist to help female inmates reintegrate into society. However, former inmates have a hard time finding employment, reconnecting with their families, and getting care for their battles with addiction and mood disorders (War on the Family). And remember in Orange is the New Black when Taystee got out of prison, only to return because she couldn’t find a job and was still indebted to the prison system? Yeah, that actually happens.

My Take

When I first learned about our discriminatory drug laws and the numbers behind female incarceration, I was shocked. Like many other social justice issues, this is a reality that forces us to challenge our deeply socialized beliefs and assumptions about criminal justice and, at a much more basic level, right and wrong. It’s easy for us to make the surface level diagnosis that breaking the law is wrong and criminals should go to jail. However, there’s a lot to parse in that statement. First, it assumes that a society’s laws are inherently just. Second, it reinforces the idea that drug addiction is a criminal act, rather than a public health issue. Finally, it relies on the notion that retributive justice is the best way to deal with criminal acts. However, when we approach drug addiction as a health concern that requires rehabilitation and social oppression as a factor that continually subjugates certain social groups, we realize that we must transcend the notions of retributive justice with which we have been raised and act with compassion, empathy, and a true dedication to social justice.

Resources

Like I said, I could spend years researching and writing on this topic. If this is something you’re interested in, I would encourage you to do some digging (try starting with The Sentencing Project) and explore the web of interconnected issues that has created this pervasive injustice.

These are some of the sources that I used, as well as a few additional places to find information on this topic:

Op Ed: The Scarcity of Female Programmers

By Reagan McCreary

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Margaret Hamilton

A flaw in the Apollo 11 Lunar lander’s radar system began sending loads of false data to its onboard computer three minutes before the lander reached the moon’s surface. Fortunately, NASA programmer Margaret Hamilton designed a system “smart enough to recognize that it was being asked to perform more tasks than it should be performing.” Without her work, we would not remember the Apollo 11 mission as the first to place human beings on the moon (alive).

Katherine Johnson calculated the flight trajectories for the Apollo 11 mission. Ada Lovelace wrote what we now recognize as the very first computer program. Grace Hopper wrote the first compiler, which is the software that turns raw code into a set of instructions understandable by a computer. Barbara H. Liskov’s research enabled the design and implementation of object-oriented programming languages, which are the most widely used languages today. While recuperating from childbirth, Erna Schneider Hoover came up with a computerized telephone system which revolutionized telecommunication in the 1950’s.

These are a small number of the many women whose work in the early days of computing showed that the Y-chromosome has nothing to do with the potential to succeed in the field. From the advent of the modern computer until around 1984, the ratio of female to male computer scientists increased steadily:

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Source: National Science Foundation, American Bar Association, American Association of Medical Colleges; Credit: Quoctrung Bui/NPR

But what happened in 1984?

A bunch of white dudes happened.

Early personal computers required much more hands-on coding than today’s, and they were primarily marketed toward men as a tool and toward boys as a toy. As sad and hilarious as this advertisement appears to us now, the culture of the 1980’s was effective in encouraging boys lucky enough to have access to a Commodore 64 to play games and learn how to code. The same culture taught girls to attract men and become homemakers with their Tinkerbell Makeup and Barbie Dreamhouses.

Because the first commercial computers required complex knowledge for effective use, the first few who truly understood them typically preferred time spent learning alone above interpersonal interaction. Gradually, the stereotype of the socially awkward programmer geek took flight, pushing more women away from the field. Not only is programming for boys; it’s for “weird,” arrogant boys with bad hygiene and no fashion sense who love to creep people out.

This is especially problematic now that computer science is so vital in our society. The ever-increasing human dependency on thinking machines places certain people in an elite class of knowledge. Our economy values technical skill and rewards it with higher pay. Discouraging women from entering highly technical and challenging fields can only serve to widen the existing gender gap.

The idea that select people can enter these fields belies the nature of computer programming. Too many people fail to meet the challenge of learning math or programming because they’re “not good at it” or it’s “not intuitive” to them. I take every opportunity to correct people who say things like this. In reality, if you can understand this sentence, then you can understand the pure logic of programming. It’s just too easy to give up early when you believe, consciously or not, that you inherently lack the ability to do something. Our culture produces an environment which allows budding female professionals to believe that their efforts toward learning math and science will ultimately fall short to those of males, that somehow their gender dictates a limit on their ability. Beyond that, women who manage to overcome the barriers preventing them from learning the necessary skills face even greater barriers once employed. Feelings of isolation in a sea of men, constant (often unintentional) acts of microaggression, and environments which treat women as foreign objects can turn even the most capable female programmer away from doing what she loves.

“You can do anything you put your mind to.” I remember hearing phrases like this from the moment I could understand them. Now that I’m older it rings true, at least in my case. I question its validity in general. I decided to study computers in college, and now I can make software. My status as a white, suburban male opened all of the avenues for me, and I felt no pressure to stifle my love for math or science because it would be unbecoming of someone of my gender, race, or socioeconomic class. I cannot say with certainty that I would have made the same decision had I been born anything other than a white male. I definitely would not have made the decision had it been unavailable to me, as it is to many.

Op Ed: The Knowledge Problem of Privilege

By Neil Pruthi

I’d like to discuss “The Knowledge Problem of Privilege,” an essay by Nathan Goodman. I’ve met Nathan. I quite like him. And I quite like this essay.

Nathan introduces an application of the knowledge problem to social inequality. The knowledge problem is a concept that was introduced by economist Friedrich Hayek in 1945. Hayek proposed that agents in a market each possess unique knowledge of factors that influence the price in that market. Each agent has particular knowledge of her preferences, skills, budget, risk aversion, future plans, and other factors that all affect prices. No one agent can set market prices because the necessary knowledge is dispersed among producers, workers, consumers, and other individuals. This has important ramifications for central planning as well as for large, hierarchical firms.

“The Use of Knowledge in Society,” in which Hayek explains the knowledge problem, was later selected as one of the best twenty papers the American Economic Review (a top-level journal) ever published! It’s a pretty cool paper. I encourage you to read it. Oh, and read Nathan’s essay too!

So how does the knowledge problem apply to social inequality? Well, just as economic agents possess unique knowledge of markets, individuals possess unique knowledge of their social locations. Women, for example, have particular knowledge of misogyny. As Nathan writes, “Many individual women know things about sexual harassment, casual sexism, and a wide range of other gender issues that I will never know, because I am not a woman, and I do not experience them.” Like Nathan, I don’t have that particular knowledge, so it’s important that I don’t presume to understand women’s experiences as well as they do. It’s important that I take on less of a role than women when it comes to women’s issues. And the same goes for the experiences of racial minorities, LGBT individuals, individuals with disabilities, and other oppressed groups. Knowledge of social inequality is dispersed among all individuals in marginalized locations. We should recognize that no one individual or organization has access to that knowledge. As Nathan puts it, we should listen to marginalized groups talk about their experiences. And we should let marginalized groups take on a larger role than ourselves in their struggles.

Really, you probably would’ve been better off just reading his essay rather than reading this.

Uhhh. Well, see you Sunday!

“The Knowledge Problem of Privilege” by Nathan Goodman

Op Ed: HONY Gets It Right

By Shreya Patel

Humans of New York is a vastly popular blog about New Yorkers by former bond trader Brandon Stanton. After being laid off from his job, he set off with a camera in hand with a project to take 10,000 photographs of people around New York and plot them on a map. First, the blog started as just photos of people, but he soon began including quotes from these New Yorkers – which is when the blog started attracting more followers. The HONY Facebook page now boasts almost 12,000,000 likes. The blog offers the online world the opportunity to take a step through their screen into the life of a particular person or group. The beauty of all of this is that (besides a few exceptions), the photo and the quote are impromptu – enabling us to see the person raw.

When we learn about the lives and insights of these strangers, we gain a sense of empathy. In everyday life, many of us never venture out of our social circles, which are typically composed of people of similar backgrounds as us. For example, I’m a sophomore pre-Medical student involved in a couple student organizations. The people I interact with the most are those in classes (such as physics or organic chemistry) with me, involved in the same student organizations (my sorority, Honors College, etc) as me. I would most likely never meet a senior English major who is not involved on campus. I would not know them because they are not like me. Yes, we may live in the same city and go to the same school, but we would most likely never meet because we are different. This is also true on a large scale. I’m a college student in Norman, Oklahoma. I will most likely never meet a 45 year-old construction worker in Portland, Oregon unless there is something to connect us. We very rarely interact with people outside of our circles, which make the lives of others foreign to us. We never hear of the struggle a person is going through. Or, we may know that a problem exists, but nobody we know has this problem. This makes it impossible to empathize with people from different walks of life. HONY makes it possible for us to understand a situation and visualize the person that goes along with it, making issues real. This allows us to empathize and connect with the person we are seeing on the screen. HONY also allows us to see people as individuals, rather than view them under stereotypes or their single story, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes in her TED Talk. HONY allows people to choose how they present themselves and to tell their own story themselves, allowing the rest of the world to see them how they want to be seen. Depictions of people by the media can be so stigmatizing. Take the portrayal of Africa, for instance. The media portrays the people in countries across the continent as helpless and uncivilized. In this post by HONY, we see that this is not the case.

"We don't like pictures like this. It is not good to deduce an entire country to the image of a person reaching out for food. It is not good for people to see us like this, and it is not good for us to see ourselves like this. This gives us no dignity. We don't want to be shown as a country of people waiting for someone to bring us food. Congo has an incredible amount of farmland. An incredible amount of resources. Yes, we have a lot of problems. But food is not what we are reaching for. We need investment. We need the means to develop ourselves."  (Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo)
“We don’t like pictures like this. It is not good to deduce an entire country to the image of a person reaching out for food. It is not good for people to see us like this, and it is not good for us to see ourselves like this. This gives us no dignity. We don’t want to be shown as a country of people waiting for someone to bring us food. Congo has an incredible amount of farmland. An incredible amount of resources. Yes, we have a lot of problems. But food is not what we are reaching for. We need investment. We need the means to develop ourselves.”
(Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo)

Ideas of empathy and self-presentation are so important when related to social justice, and HONY allows us to engage with these concepts.