Well, here we are, exactly 9 days before spring break begins, and I’m writing this from the shelter of my room looking out over Bard’s central campus, listening to the sounds of snow plowing trucks as they’re battling with Mother Nature. That’s right, Dutchess County was hit today by the second “nor’easter” within a week – which, according to the Weather Channel, is “a strong area of low pressure along the East Coast of the United States that typically features winds from the northeast off the Atlantic Ocean, most often associated with strong winter storms crawling up the Northeast coast”. In less scientific terms, this means that we got approx. 15 cms of snow this afternoon, and it keeps accumulating, which has led to road closures in the County due to hazardous conditions as well as a couple of services shutting down on campus. Basically, this is the perfect time to catch up on some reading and essays as midterms crawl in – that is, until the wifi and/or the power goes out, which, we’ve been told, is entirely possible. But hey, it’s sooo pretty!!!
Speaking of readings, essays, and midterms – yes, they’re inevitably approaching me as well. I’m taking 4 classes here at Bard, and since I’ve already graduated back home, I decided to use this time to fill in some gaps from my Bachelors and also to do something fun and different. The ‘fun and different’ part is mainly fulfilled by the introductory Painting class that I’m taking – though which, quite unexpectedly, is almost as much if not more work as each of my academic classes. It’s great and challenging as the class has people with widely differing backgrounds in studio arts, so everybody brings very different approaches to each project, which makes class crit (evaluating each other’s work) super interesting.
This doesn’t mean that my academic classes are less fun. I decided to take a Middle East history course as I never really studied much about the region, which I felt was a huge disadvantage last semester when my internship at Oxford Analytica required me to work a lot with Middle Eastern countries. Well, I’m filling in that gap now! Another one, which I decided to take along a similar logic, is one called “China’s Environment”, and it’s exactly what it sounds like – we’re studying the development of China’s environmental policies from the imperial period up until today, so it incorporates a lot of geography, political ecology, but also study of the social landscape of China in addition to policy studies, which I feel is a very unique lens to look at an issue area which is so-so important in the 21st century. Finally, I’m taking a course on Free Speech, which is my favorite out of all them. We’re studying philosophical approaches to the issues around freedom of expression as well as specific case studies on controversial speech that were nevertheless protected by the First Amendment. I feel like a lot of the issues we talk about really make us question our prejudices and beliefs, and I’m honestly curious by if and how my perspective is going to shift by the end of the semester, and if it brings me any closer to figuring out my own answer to the question of whether it’s freedom or security that’s more important.
Quite related to my Free Speech course, we’ve recently had Chelsea Manning speak on campus to the largest student turnout maybe ever at the Fisher Center – some 900 seats were sold out in I believe less than a day. Her invitation also brought to the forefront issues around free speech on campus – should a convicted felon with a clear anti-government agenda be allowed to speak at an educational institution? For those not familiar with Chelsea, she’s a former intelligence analyst of the U.S. Army who served in Iraq, a position in which she had access to classified military and diplomatic documents which she decided to leak through WikiLeaks in 2010, resulting in multiple criminal charges for which she was sentenced to 35 years in prison. President Obama commuted her sentence to 7 years and she was released last year, and now earns a living as a public speaker and has recently announced that she will run for a seat in the Senate in Maryland. She completed her gender transition in prison and is now an activist for queer and transgender rights along with issues surrounding government surveillance, among others. In her talk at Bard, she mainly spoke about these, with a focus on political protest and dissidence, advocating a need to work outside government structures power structures to make progress against the system. She was also challenged on the ethical considerations of her decision to leak the sensitive documents. I have to admit, I was really unsatisfied by a lot of her answer and arguments, and walked away quite upset after the talk, but I’m definitely glad I had this opportunity to listen to her in person.
Also, weather permitting, we continue the exploration of the Hudson Valley through trips organised by the PIE office. Recently, we went to roam the streets of Kingston, the historic town which was the first capital of the State of New York and accordingly has a lot of Dutch history to show for it. Even though I did make fun of Kingston’s own version of Wall Street (pictured below) which is a bit less prominent than the one in the city, but it really is an adorable little town very Dutch architecture and some impressive street art that I was fangirling over, as well as home to lots of cute coffee places and shops, like Rough Draft Bar & Books, which we took shelter in for a bit, only to discover that this was the cafe that went viral a couple of weeks ago by setting up a stand of books under the label of ‘Writers from sh*thole countries’ – a reference to Donald Trump’s infamous remarks. If anyone ever finds themselves in Kingston, I definitely recommend this place (they have great beer)!