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Culture, Identity, & Religion

Cultural topics such as "Who you Are?" and Religion.

Rubenstein Gift to Enhance Jewish Life at Duke

Duke University trustee David M. Rubenstein is giving $1.9 million to Jewish Life at Duke to expand programming, fund building renovations and enhance the college experience for Jewish students.

Most of the gift -- $1.5 million -- will fund new initiatives and staff positions for a Jewish student population whose needs and interests are changing, said Rebecca Simons, the center's director. New programs are expected to reflect an increasing student demand for information and resources related to globalization, leadership and community, she said.

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Flag of the Week - Uruguay

Uruguay, officially the Oriental Republic of Uruguay or the Eastern Republic of Uruguay, is a country in the southeastern region of South America. It is bordered by Argentina to its west and Brazil to its north and east, with the Atlantic Ocean to the south and southeast. Uruguay is home to 3.3 million people, of whom 1.8 million live in the metropolitan area of its capital and largest city, Montevideo. With an area of approximately 68,000 square miles, Uruguay is geographically the second-smallest nation in South America after Suriname.

Uruguay remained largely uninhabited until the establishment of Colonia del Sacramento, one of the oldest European settlements in the country, by the Portuguese in 1680. Montevideo was founded as a military stronghold by the Spanish in the early 18th century, signifying the competing claims over the region. Uruguay won its independence between 1811 and 1828, following a four-way struggle between Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Brazil. It remained subjected to foreign influence and intervention throughout the 19th century, with the military playing a recurring role in domestic politics until the late 20th century.

Modern Uruguay is a democratic constitutional republic, with a president who serves as both head of state and head of government. The government is considered to be one of the world's most democratic and the country is one of the freest in the world. There is complete separation of church and state in Uruguay, making it the most secular state in Latin America. Uruguay maintains progressive social policies, having recently legalized same-sex marriage and cannabis. Uruguay is also the first country in the world to provide a laptop for every primary school student. It frequently ranks as one of the most developed and prosperous countries in Latin America.


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Meet International Scholar Maria Christina Müller

March 2014

International Scholar Profile:
Maria Christina Müller
Country: Germany

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I am 27 years old and was born in the South of Bavaria, near Chiemsee. It is a very nice area, and the castle of Ludwig II is located there as well. I moved to Augsburg, where I studied to become a high school teacher. I was very interested in history, as well as German language and literature studies. After gaining my masters degree in history and education, I have since been working on my PhD in history. Currently, I am located at Duke’s Center for European Studies as a visiting scholar.

Can you tell us a bit about your PhD thesis?
My PhD thesis investigates delusions and hallucinations of patients during the mid 19th century until 1945. These records are all from one hospital, the Psychiatry of Kaufbeuren. I am not looking at the themes of delusions and hallucinations from a medical perspective, but rather a historical one. Through these records, I am able to see the beliefs and fears of the people from that time, and how they shifted with each year. For example, during the time of technological changes, many people heard voices of hallucinations in the telephone and radio or feared x-rays and magnetisms. During the 1920s and 1930s, many hallucinations about Hitler and other political rulers became more common.

Why did you decide to come to Duke?
Duke is very high ranked, even on the international rankings, and it is known as a place with many possibilities for me to do research. It is a pleasure for me to be able to come.

What is your impression on Durham?
Augsburg is perhaps a little bigger than Durham, but German cities are usually not so dispersed. Durham is a small but nice city, and seems to have everything you need like places to eat and go. I think that if I were planning to stay for a longer period, it would be important to have a car.

How did your expectations of the United States match up with reality?
This is my first time in the US, and some of my impressions of the United States were accurate. For instance, in Germany, we assume that Americans are always eating meat and burgers, and that seems to be the case. However, some things are very different. For example, Americans are very proud of their universities, and I got to see this when I went to Chapel Hill last weekend and watched a lacrosse game between UNC and Maryland. It was nice to see how lively it was. In Germany, students don’t usually stay on campus during the weekends because there is not much to do.

Did you have any culture shock?
I had culture shock in a positive way - the people here are very friendly and helpful. They are always smiling, open-minded, and pleasing. When I first arrived here, my associate director spent two hours showing me around the campus and drove me to the city. I felt very welcome.
However, I was very disturbed to see that the campus has its own police, signs that say you are not allowed to carry weapons on the bus or on campus, and services that bring students back home. Even if you are a little scared at night on a German campus, you don’t have the chance to call someone. On one hand, it’s disturbing, but on the other hand, it’s a good service.

What do you think of the people you have met at Duke so far?
Everyone has been very friendly. I’ve received tips for future funding and research. I’ve noticed that when you talk to someone, like a professor, their advice is much more positive and constructive. I think this is because they are more open-minded. I have met twice with a professor who does not study the time period I do, but has given me great advice. The experience was very positive and stimulating for my educational research. In Germany, it is not so easy to get in contact with somebody, and people are usually not so open to talk about a research topic that isn’t related to their own. The professor who invited me to come to Duke is more invested in Jewish studies and theology, but thought my research topic was interesting and told me she would like me to come.
It was a great experience to see how free the sciences can be. You get more help here, which is a great thing. German universities are usually more structured and people have less time. If there is an opportunity, I want to apply for a grant to last half a year, and compare my results with those of the United States to see differences or similarities in delusional and hallucinatory themes.

What do you miss about Germany?
I miss public transportation services because they are much easier and more convenient. The US has nice museums; in fact, I’m planning to go to the Nasher this weekend. I went to the Planetarium in Chapel Hill last weekend, and it was very nice.
I also miss the cultural life that comes with churches and older houses. From a historical perspective, Duke’s Gothic style architecture is not authentic, but its a beautiful environment to study at.

What do you do on a typical day?
On a typical day, I go to the office and work on my PhD. Right now I am at the stage where I am evaluating my sources. I often go to the library and work there, or I borrow some books and take them to my office. Sometimes I go to a lecture or have meetings with professors. I’ve been to the International House for their CLG talk on St. Patrick’s Day. It was very nice to learn about American traditions.

What are your future plans?
I am highly motivated to finish my PhD in one or two years. My huge desire is to publish it in English as well. If this isn’t possible, I would like to publish an article of it in English. I am attending a conference in Romania this July, and I will present my first paper about how hallucinations changed with technology.


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50 Shades of Black: A Small Piece of My Black Experience

Throughout this piece, Black will be referring to all descendants of the African Diaspora, a definition I first heard given by Ms. Guinn. Maybe this dispersal (both forced and voluntary) can be seen as a means to understand the almost schizophrenic fluctuations of the definition of Blackness and the subsequent complexity of my people. It is a complexity that the majority of Black folks are unaware of. We seem to forget that the different shades of brown we wear are not the only variations amongst Black people, which can be seen in the ‘light-skinned’ vs. ‘dark-skinned’ feud that has followed us from the plantation. Each individual comes to define and reflect Blackness differently based on their experiences and environment. My arrival to Duke has caused me to look at my own reflection questioningly.

Back home, Blackness is characterized by grammatically incorrect sentences, dope boy dreams, athletic prowess, and ‘being about that life’, or at least that’s the way it seemed to me then. My story is like many walking the quads of Duke. I was called an Oreo, and when I spoke, I was told I ‘talked white’. Regardless, I continued to use Standard English, and I refused to take part in activities that made you ‘about that life’. My life may have been easier had I given in and went further to fit in, but I found myself taking pride in the fact that I didn’t. I looked down upon those who did. The story changed at Duke.

Duke was where I was supposed to fit in. Finally, there were Black people that understood that my culture was a reason to obtain excellence not debauchery. I was amongst some of the biggest and brightest Black minds in the country. Grades suddenly mattered to Black men, and Black females wore business jackets to class. The Mary Lou, which effectively acts as a community center, encouraged professionalism, class, and community rather than hoop dreams. Let’s not get it twisted. I am aware of the ‘ratchetivity’ that can take place; but somehow, it doesn’t come to define us. What transpired in response to these facts was shocking. My private speech got even more ‘ratchet’, and I yearned for the small talk conversations of the country. Suddenly, I realized that it needn’t be either or. I could be both a black scholar and be at home at home a) because it was my desired expression and b) because they function as different sides of the same dice, not opposite entities. It also dawned on me that my picture of home was not complete. Just because it is not Duke does not mean that each male is a thug and every female a breeding ground. I had to make my understanding more nuanced. In reaction to this, I have reached a few personal inferences.

I have come to the conclusion that my people needn’t be saved from themselves, as I had believed before Duke. Like we admonish students for going overseas with a savior’s complex, I had to chastise myself for thinking that my presence and education should somehow teach other people, my people how to live. In reality, my only job is to expand their options and learn from the experiences that are unfamiliar to me. I had to reconcile my ignorance to historic hip hop performers and the intense dependence that others had on their message and power with the shared understanding that you can’t walk around a store for hours and not buy anything when your skin looks like ours.  In other words, it’s about realizing that though some reflections of Blackness are a different shade from mine, they are still black.
After my own moment of fleeting enlightenment, I am curious. Do we accept and acknowledge the hues of Black culture being represented in the ‘hoods’ and ‘country bumpkin towns’ many of us are trying to break out of? More importantly, do we appreciate them? Should we? Or am I wrong? Are we all representative of one grand Black culture, because of our shared subordination? As Black Duke graduates, what shade of black will we be? It is my hope that, once we are out of this space, we will not forget to acknowledge each person’s shade of Black with understanding and openness, as we are equipped with the understanding that there are gradations, there is no one color.


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I Don’t Say “Queer"

During last week’s Greek Ally Week, Blue Devils United hosted a student panel about being both Greek and LGBTQ on Duke’s campus.  The next day’s Chronicle article incorrectly identified one of the African-American panelists as “queer,” which made her uncomfortable.  “What is ‘queer’ supposed to mean?” she asked me later.  The term is vague, politicized, and simultaneously lacking a concrete meaning while burdened with decades of history.

Picking a label is one of the most difficult parts of coming out.  Speaking in stereotypes, “lesbian” calls to mind masculine-of-center women with buzz cuts and motorcycles.  “Gay” often refers to flamboyant, cisgender men.  Many people believe “bisexuals” don’t exist, but when they do exist, they’re hypersexual animals—for example, when I came out to my parents as bisexual, my mother thought I just wanted to have a boyfriend and a girlfriend at the same time.

When I was a freshman, I identified as “queer” and moved primarily within the LGBT community, where people knew what the term meant.  PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) defines queer as “an umbrella term…[anyone] who feels somehow outside of societal norms in regards to gender, sexuality or/and even politics.”  Academic E. Patrick Johnson, however, believes that “queer” is only for white people, and that blacks should identify as quare: “Odd or slightly off kilter…one for whom sexual and gender identities always already intersect with racial subjectivity” (Quare Studies, 2001).

As my friend groups changed and I transitioned socially to Duke’s “Black Community,” I couldn’t leave behind my sexual orientation.  As I came out (or was outed) to new people, I had to pick a label.  When I picked no label, people assumed I was a lesbian.  When I said “queer,” people didn’t understand.  “Bisexual” was the most familiar; people had at least heard of bisexuals, even if they didn’t understand the particulars, and so that’s what I’ve chosen for the past two years.

This isn’t to say that black people are unenlightened or homophobic—we’re no more “unenlightened” than any other racial group in the United States.  And some of the most progressive, gay/bi/queer/quare/anti-oppressive, anti-normative, anti-labelist activists I’ve ever met at Duke are black.  To that end, I also don’t say “queer” to white folk; if I had joined a PanHellenic or Multicultural sorority instead of NPHC, I would have come to the same conclusions. I don’t even say “queer” to myself anymore.

Maybe it’s my job to educate people about the nuances of the LGBTQIA community.  I should start conversations about the differences between being genderqueer and genderfluid, the subversiveness of drag, the dynamics of being capital-A Aggressive versus capital-F Femme, and the politics of polyamory.  The list goes on and on.  The LGBTQIA (and I’m still missing letters) community is diverse and lovely and confusing.  By hiding its nuances, I’m doing it a disservice and erasing people from the conversation.

I’m getting better about starting these conversations, because I know that I don’t give people enough credit.  As I have come out to people within the Black Community and within Duke’s campus at large, they have accepted me.  They have wanted to learn more.  And some have even come out to me, confused about their place in the broader LGBT community.

I no longer identify as queer because I feel that it doesn’t apply to me, but the next time someone asks, I won’t be afraid to have that conversation.


Original Duke Chronicle Article

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Flag of the Week - Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan, officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a contiguous transcontinental country in Central Asia. Kazakhstan is the world's largest landlocked country by land area and the ninth largest country in the world; its territory is larger than Western Europe. It has borders with Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, and also adjoins a large part of the Caspian Sea. The terrain of Kazakhstan includes flatlands, steppe, taiga, rock canyons, hills, deltas, snow-capped mountains, and deserts. With 17 million people (2013 estimate) Kazakhstan has the 62nd largest population in the world, though its population density is less than 6 people per square kilometre. The capital is Astana, where it was moved from Almaty in 1997.

    The territory of Kazakhstan has historically been inhabited by nomadic tribes. This changed in the 13th century, when Genghis Khan occupied the country. By the 16th century, the Kazakhs emerged as a distinct group, divided into three jüz (ancestor branches occupying specific territories). The Russians began advancing into the Kazakh steppe in the 18th century, and by the mid-19th century all of Kazakhstan was part of the Russian Empire. Following the 1917 Russian Revolution, and subsequent civil war, the territory of Kazakhstan was reorganized several times before becoming the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic in 1936, a part of the Soviet Union.

The current President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been leader of the country since 1990. Since independence, Kazakhstan has pursued a balanced foreign policy and worked to develop its economy, especially its hydrocarbon industry.

   Kazakhstan is ethnically and culturally diverse, in part due to mass deportations of many ethnic groups to the country during Joseph Stalin's rule. Kazakhstan has 131 ethnicities, including Kazakh, Russian, Ukrainian, German, Uzbek, Tatar, and Uyghur. Around 63% of the population are Kazakhs. Islam is the religion of about 70% and Christianity is practiced by 26% of the population. The Kazakh language is the state language, while Russian has equal official status for all levels of administrative and institutional purposes.


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A Word About Lavender Graduation

You may ask,  “Lavender graduation…why the need for a special ceremony?”  I’m glad you asked.  A lot of seniors at Duke have been positively affected by their existence at Duke as a LGBTQ student and/or as an ally.  Some students have also been very negatively affected and found the Center to be a safe haven at some point in their journey… a place to get support, a place to be greeted by a smiling face, a place to get a hug, a place to crash on the couch, a place to have fun and forget your troubles even if just for an hour.  But most of all Lavender graduation is about celebrating who you are and one another as you have walked the campus of Duke as an LGBTQA students…even if you consider that part to only be a small part of who you are. 

Whether a student has been in the Center every day or only just passed by our doors they are welcome to participate.  And yes, there have been students in the past who participated in Lav grad who had never entered the Center door before, but who as they leave Duke want to celebrate/embrace who they are, and we welcome them! We also especially welcome allies to participate because it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to thank you and recognize your contributions to making Duke a safer place to be for LGBTQ students staff, and faculty.  
If you are not a graduating senior why should you attend?  If you are a Duke staff member or faculty member why should you attend?  What a very visible show of support your presence is to the seniors as they leave this place they have called home for four years. It’s one of the last memories they will have of their time at Duke and you can help make it a very positive one that they will never forget.  It will also fill your heart with pride for them and hope…hope that we are making this campus a more welcoming and safe space for all students and recognition that you play a very key part in making that happen and in ensuring its continuance in the years ahead. 
I look forward to seeing you there!

Click here register to attend Lavender graduation


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