Isabella Farrington is a first year politics and international relations major, whose experiences in the program are the focus of this spring’s segment of the series.

This post is the second of our spring segment.  If you have not yet done so, please read this introduction for some brief context.

In the current COVID-19 era, every other click-bait headline screams “mandatory jabs,” “anti-vaxxers this” or “anti-vaxxers that.” The issue on mandatory vaccinations has been brought to the forefront as government and school-mandated COVID-19 vaccinations persist. The debate tensions between state power and obligations to public health, religious and philosophical freedom of belief, and parental choice are conflictions both ethically and emotionally involved. Complex matters such as this stress the importance of debate principles in creating a constructive discussion. John Stuart Mill’s (2011) debate ethics outlines the dangers of “…argu[ing] sophistically…suppress[ing] facts or arguments…misstat[ing] the elements of the case…or misrepresent[ing] the opposite opinion,” (99). The ignorance of misinformation, the sociopsychological facets of the debate, and the validity of opposition opinion contradict Mill’s debate principles. By recognizing the presence of these factors, the mandatory vaccine debate paradox can be better understood and more effectively approached to promote constructive, respectful, and inclusive debate.

In 1905, the Supreme Court ruled on the issue in Jacobson v Massachusetts, where state powers over public health allowed required vaccinations for students “Twenty-First Century Jacobson V. Massachusetts” 2008, 1820). Despite the conclusions of Jacobson v Massachusetts, the controversial debate on mandatory vaccinations for children continues as popular opinion contradicts medical science. The vaccine debate phenomenon is largely due to persistent misinformation and perceptions of opposing views. Most detrimental to the vaccine debate, however, has been the disregard of truth within opposing views, from both positions. One exemplification of these conflictions is the passing of Senate Bill No. 277 in June of 2015 by California’s governor Jerry Brown. The bill eliminated the opportunity for individuals to file religious or philosophical exemptions from required student vaccinations (Allen and Pan). As one could guess, the bill was met with an abundance of both supportive and antagonistic responses.

Anti-vax arguments have shown to survive off a sort of “scientific denialism” and, in extreme cases, conspiracies that stem from and further stimulate distrust for major corporations and government intentions. We’ve all heard the idea of “Big Pharma” – the global industry of manufacturers and companies that hold manipulative, for-profit monopolies on medical products (d’Ancona as cited in Numerato et al. 2019, 84; Cheng 2022). And, while this description may be accurate in some ways, it is also generalizing and often used flippantly. The social media age has contributed largely to the formation of illogical positions, providing platforms to create “echo chambers” that strengthen confirmation bias (confirm the beliefs individuals already have) and raise concerns over the quality, accuracy, and credibility of shared knowledge on vaccines (Numerato et al. 2019, 83, 87). Misinformation, of course, is more than correctable inaccuracies, but emotion-driven persuasion that can deliver crutches of (mis)information to sustain vaccine uncertainty and institutional distrust.

While there is a high saturation of misinformation within the mandatory vaccine debate, there still poses a great need for recognizing the value and truth in opposing opinions in order to ethically and responsibly approach debate and action. First, there is the stake of personal freedoms, whether that be religious and philosophical freedoms or autonomy rights. For instance, some anti-vax positions may claim rights to parental authority, while others refuse vaccination based on the unnatural ingredients within that do not align with their religious beliefs. This sort of autonomy, or the right to self-government, is a foundational principle to medical ethics (Cheng 2022).

In terms of the mandatory vaccine debate, most states have allowed religious and even philosophical, in addition to medical, exemptions up until the passing of S.B. 277. Since the bill abolishes the acceptance of religious or philosophical vaccine exemptions, opponents critique its passing on ethical grounds as it conflicts with freedoms of religion and expression. Recognizing the value of opposition does not require discarding empirical evidence but can inform decisions in ways that expand the capacities, applicability, and effectiveness of action. The immediate judgement of unvaccinated individuals, circulation of blame, and unwillingness to understand, however, has directly inhibited the advantages of constructive debate between opposite views.

With the extremely binary nature of the vaccine debate, misrepresentation of the opposite opinion comes hand-in-hand with disrespectful debate. For instance, in response to the signing of S.B. 277, news reports intentionally included language emphasizing the “heated” debate, spotlighting interviews that blamed Governor Brown for “single-handedly screw[ing] California” and “fail[ing] California’s children” (“Gov. Brown Signs Vaccination Bill” 2015). This dysfunctional “intemperate discussion, namely invective, sarcasm, personality…” as Mill (2011) would say, is incredibly ineffective and detrimental to debate (100). Insulting use of language illustrates a lack of respect, preventing effective communication of what can be done and what needs to be done, instead only stimulating emotions and abetting distrust. It is easier to place blame on parents, vaccine manufacturers, legislators, or the government rather than reconcile differences, but this impulse inherently makes assumptions and generalizations that misrepresent the opposite opinion and discourages any form of productive debate, cooperation, or collaboration.

Personal biases have influenced the policy surrounding the mandatory vaccine debate for children, restricting the applicable nature, and in turn value, of the laws. A significant facet of the mandatory vaccine debate is the psychological construction of risk. Essentially, each individual’s personal perceptions of the world and others can influence their perceptions on the importance of vaccinations or of being unvaccinated. These unconscious biases can also “shape the views of legal decisionmakers who act with broad discretion,” such as the legislature involved in deliberation and passing of S.B. 277 (Fentiman 2017, 247). Thus, it is important to hear diverse perspectives and voices, as co-author of the bill Senator Ben Allen claims was achieved as the bill was processed through three committees (“Gov. Brown Signs Vaccination Bill” 2015). Hearing different perspectives can alter world views in ways that create opportunity for better decision and policy making on the vaccine debate.

It is necessary that both debate positions not only avoid invective language and production of misinformation but recognize the sociopsychological dimensions of emotionally involved debate that dissuade productive debate as outlines by Mill’s principles. Doing so requires mutual respect and a willingness to understand by encouraging open-mindedness. Medical professionals have a responsibility to approach vaccine uncertainty or anxiety with respect and empathy, relating to the desire of parents to keep their children healthy, operating from a patient, relationship-building standpoint (Hilton 2019). Legislators have a different role, though a responsibility still. One proposed institution that legislatures could enact is the distinguishment of vaccination requirements between “medically necessary,” those that are vital to prevention of disease, and “practically necessary,” vaccines to which there are alternatives, though these alternatives are mainly insignificant in practice (“Twenty-First Century Jacobson V. Massachusetts” 2008, 1820). Additionally, specific to S.B. 277, due to the manipulation of emotion by misinformation within the larger debate, the bill could benefit from a clause that allocates funds towards providing education resources on vaccinations with purposefully patient, respectful, and empathetic delivery. Pursuing these methods of debate may pose challenges of frustration and dissociation. Nevertheless, to make progress in reaching a common consensus on vaccine mandates and public health goals, intentionality and debate awareness is the first and most important step.

 

References

Allen, S, and S Pan. 2015. “SB-277 Public Health: Vaccinations.” California Legislation Information. https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB277.

Cheng, FK. 2022. “Debate on Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination.” Ethics Med Public Health 21: 100761. doi:10.1016/j.jemep.2022.100761. Accessed at Debate on mandatory COVID-19 vaccination – PMC (nih.gov)

Fentiman, Linda C. 2017. Blaming Mothers: American Law and the Risks to Children’s Health. New York: New York University Press. muse.jhu.edu/book/56535.

“Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Vaccination Bill Removing Personal Belief Exemption.” 2015. CBS News. CBS Broadcasting Inc.Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Vaccination Bill Removing Personal Belief Exemption – CBS Sacramento (cbsnews.com).

Hilton, Lisette. 2019. “Navigating The Antivax Movement.” Contemporary Pediatrics. Contemporary Pediatrics. July 23. https://www.contemporarypediatrics.com/view/navigating-antivax-movement.

Mill, John Stuart. 2011. “On Liberty.” The Project Gutenberg. https://gutenberg.org/files/34901/34901-h/34901-h.htm.

Numerato, Dino, Lenka Vochocová, Václav Štětka, and Alena Macková. 2019. “The Vaccination Debate in the ‘post‐truth’ Era: Social Media as Sites of Multi‐layered Reflexivity.” Sociology of Health & Illness 41 (S1): 82–97. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9566.12873

“Toward a Twenty-First-Century Jacobson V. Massachusetts.” 2008. Harvard Law Review 121 (7): 1820–41. Toward a Twenty-First-Century Jacobson v. Massachusetts – Harvard Law Review

Vedantam, Shankar, Maggie Penman, Camila Vargas Restrepo, Laura Kwerel, and Tara Boyle. 2019. “Facts Aren’t Enough: The Psychology of False Beliefs.” NPR. https://www.npr.org/2019/07/18/743195213/facts-arent-enough-the-psychology-of-falsebeliefs.

Dr. Robin Lauermann, professor of politics, edits this series

(What is From the Field?  Check out the introductory post for the series here.)

This spring’s segment features posts sampling the work and experiences of a first year student in our program, Isabella Farrington.  Over the course of the segment, you will have the opportunity to read her academic analysis of the debate over mandatory vaccines for children, the democratic challenges faced by the Philippines, as well as her retrospective on her first year in the program.

Some background for her first post: At Messiah University, currently all new (non-transfer) students enroll in a First Year Seminar, which helps students cultivate critical thinking, information literacy and writing skills.  One of the several topics offered by faculty in the Politics and International Relations program is Democracy in America: The Critical Citizen.  In addition to discussing the classical and American roots of representative democracy, students delve into the complexity of issues.  Reading John Stuart Mill’s On Libertyone of several works that has become a cannon for understanding the foundations and norms for democratic systems – students wrestle with the idea that civil debate brings many benefits in uncovering truth and, in the realm of government, making policy decisions.

For their second paper, which required students to write an analytical paper using academic resources from the library, students completed an analysis of the debate around a specific public policy, using the lens of arguments that Mill raised.  Whether focused on the partial perspectives that many stances hold or the dangers misrepresentation of opponents perspectives in ways that do not support decision-making based on logic and evidence, students found that each issue had its own level of complexity, including trade-offs that weigh down the potential benefits of a policy.

In this post, distilled from a larger essay, Bella provides a thoughtful and effectively written analysis applying these ideas to California legislation that required mandatory childhood vaccines.  Note that the goal is not to take an issue stance, but to evaluate a specific debate to improve understanding of the issue and learn ways that we can improve decision-making.

Through their writing, students learned that while it is easy to focus on winning the argument, identifying solutions to collective problems is much messier.  However, it allows a society to see the issue within a larger perspective.  Effectively policy-making often requires evaluating consequences for multiple stakeholders; not all may be satisfied with the outcome, but valid issues should, when possible, be addressed within the process.  Doing so can not only make for better policy, it can also lead to greater legitimacy of decisions within the public.  After all, the intent of a democratic system that handles decisions through established institutions is intended to provide a peaceful means to reach decisions and resolve conflicts.

Dr. Robin Lauermann, Professor of Politics and International Relations & Chair of History, Politics, and International Relations, pens this series.

(What is Civic Mind?  Read our welcome post for the series!)

Recently, the governor of Florida gained attention for coordinating the transportation of a group of Venezuelan immigrants from Texas to Massachusetts.  This event is the most recent in the lengthy and often vitriolic debate over immigration policy.   The heated language and reactive responses from many in the public sphere conceal the reality that the situation is far from simple: these humans are fleeing desperate circumstances and yet receiving countries need to have policies to regulate entry and ensure that resources are available to integrate them successfully without displacing the needs of their populations.  The context of regional and US foreign policy adds important perspectives both to grasp and respond effectively to the problem.  The situation in Venezuela is dire, but with deep roots that make for complicated solutions.  Moreover, in light of the history of US policy in the region, change will require longer-term work and requires that we address our policy in light of that reality.

The roots of the current crisis in Venezuela stretch back decades.  Its transition to democracy in the middle of the last century resulted in the country’s macroeconomic growth but without increased access to opportunity and resources for the larger public.  Its reliance on oil reserves allowed government officials to profit and left the larger public vulnerable when oil prices declined.  After two failed coup attempts in 1992, Chavez built support to garner electoral victory for the presidency in 1998.  He implemented economic reforms to address poverty, including the nationalization of the oil industry as a source of revenue to support these programs.  Despite gaining more support with the adoption of a new constitution, opposition soon began to grow followed by authoritarian shifts to a repressive one-party state. (For more on this era, see this helpful timeline provided by the Council on Foreign Relations.) The country became more repressive during the remainder of Chavez’s rule.  That pattern continued with his successor, Nicolás Maduro, elected in 2013 and still president today.  Meanwhile, Venezuela began to isolate itself from the US, as well as other countries and international organizations supporting economic development and democracy.  This development, though troubling, was not surprising.

For well over a century and a half, the United States has played a significant role in the internal political and economic – and hence, social – developments in Latin America.  For its strategic advantage and economic development, the United States has engaged in economic activity designed to enhance its development (through U.S.-originating multi-national corporations) with modest to minimal benefit to the larger populations of the countries in which it operated.  Moreover, interventions in the region typically occurred to either protect economic interests or serve as a national security initiative, such as during the Cold War.  These interventions – and outright aid of authoritarian, military governments – not only supported extreme violence by governments against their people but also have significantly impaired social, political and economic development. (Talons of the Eagle by Peter Smith and Ana Covarrubias offers a thoughtful and detailed analysis of this history.)  In all, it has spurred reactive policy in Venezuela and elsewhere, with little recourse as Venezuela slid deeply into authoritarian rule.

Shortly after Maduro´s election to the presidency, the bottom fell out of the economy due to the crash of oil prices, the primary revenue source that the government used to fund its extensive social benefits.  The resulting economic disruption produced a humanitarian crisis that persists today.  Combined with the political repression, one-fifth of the population has left the country.  According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the events in Venezuela have produced the second highest level of displacement for people from their country. The current government is neither capable of launching a solution nor willing to surrender power – especially in light of its disputed win in 2019.  Given the history of US-Venezuelan relations and the severity of the situation, resolution of the crisis will require mediation by other parties, a process sure to take time once stakeholders agree to participate.    In the interim, the people of the United States and its policy need to account for this complex situation and its history.

Despite attention to immigration in recent years, the United States is sorely overdue for an update to its central immigration policy.  It has been over 30 years since Congress last passed a major law in the form of the Immigration Act of 1990.  In addition to increasing immigration levels, revising the basis of immigration claims to more of a skills-basis, as well as other reforms, it also created the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) option for individuals coming from countries facing extreme circumstances. However, not all Venezuelans are eligible under the TPS provision.  Unfortunately, as circumstances have continued to evolve, Congress has been unable to agree upon any steps to update the larger web of policy, which continues to lag behind changing conditions and available resources – regardless of the policies in place, we are not able to enforce them humanely and effectively.  Although the history of its foreign policy does not oblige America to take any one specific action, at minimum, awareness of the past should inform our conversation and choices.

Simultaneously, the region would benefit from a US policy that focuses on the underlying causes of displacement by empowering and supporting governments to establish and maintain inclusive political systems that offer economic opportunity for their populations. Congress began that process in 2016 with the U.S Strategy for Engagement in Central America, which has seen progress despite some inconsistencies in its rollout.  More recently, the current administration has launched a new strategy, which is already bearing some fruit in changing conditions on the ground, to address the root causes of the migration crisis in Central America.  The humanitarian assistance approved for Venezuela last week is one such step.  Given the extensive scope of past US policy impact, developing regionally broader initiatives has the potential not only to help restore some of the sovereignty that our actions have undermined but also to contribute to our national security, as well as enhance opportunities for economic partnerships.

Prospects for the Venezuelans who remain are grim, despite recent rebounds in oil prices.  Maduro remains stubbornly in power, with the next election still two years away.  US intervention is not a realistic option, and its history is troubled at best.  The Venezuelan context is only one piece of the larger immigration situation.  The American public and officials participating in the larger debate over immigration have a responsibility to examine the larger and longer-term picture, if they wish to address the issue successfully, in a way that respects the dignity of the humans affected by these events as well as the very real impact of receiving them.

Autumn Miller is a new alumna with degrees in History and Politics & International Relations. She will be attending Regents University’s law school in the fall.

 

(From the editor, Dr. Robin Lauermann: This post is a stand-alone entry in the From the Field student blog series.  Autumn shares insights about the experience writing her department honors project for the Politics and International Relations major, for which I served as faculty advisor.  Once available, a link to the thesis on Messiah’s institutional repository MOSAIC, will be included here.)

Imagine it is your senior year at Messiah University and you are enjoying all of your “lasts”. You spend the evening with a few roommates watching your favorite show Outlander when you really should be thinking of a topic for your Politics Seminar research paper. The thought suddenly hits you as you watch the Jacobites line up on the screen to enter into, for many, their last battle. After studying both politics and history, there is a sense not everything appears as it truly does. The cogs in your brain start to turn and realize you actually have a good research idea. As they say: From this point, the rest is history!

What I could not imagine when I submitted the project proposal was for a small research project to turn into my department honors thesis, in one semester no less. Typically, a student who desires to complete a senior thesis will start to consider the step in early fall of their junior year. Once decided upon, the student may sit down with a potential faculty sponsor to discuss next steps, which include writing a formal project proposal that needs to be sent to the department head and dean of the school in which the degree is housed. I would be lying if I said this part of the project is not stressful, especially if the school decides to change how to go about submitting proposals. There were many times during this period where I considered not even partaking in the project if this would be the trend of headaches caused throughout the semester. An added obstacle both myself and my faculty sponsor had, was convincing the administration to approve not only expanding a paper I had written a semester before but also complete said project in only a semester. During this time I leaned heavily on the Lord and my community for guidance. Ultimately, I was advised that an honors-level research paper would be an asset when I started law school the coming fall. From the point of advice, I sat down and committed to the project.

One of the most important pieces of advice I could ever give to a student thinking of doing a department honors piece is to choose the faculty sponsor carefully. Like students, faculty have a wide array of specialties, quirks, availability, and personalities. My options were limited in the politics department due to only having three professors. I wanted to choose a professor who not only valued the same time management styles as myself but was also easy to access; personality complementary to my own; knew the field of quasi-comparative and quasi-case study my research would take. The other problem was to make sure the desired faculty member did not have too many students already doing research projects. Generally, a faculty member will have no more than two or three doing a research project underneath them due mainly to prior commitments, course loads, etc. If you are strongly considering a faculty member and the amount of spaces available for students is almost filled, I would recommend a sit down with the professor to show interest as a way to ‘reserve’ said spot. Personally, I knew I needed a faculty member who worked well with deadlines to keep me on track as well as someone who could easily curb me from branching out too far in the topic.

Once all of the paperwork and finding a faculty member is settled, the student may move on to the research phase. I was lucky to use a majority of the same primary and case study sources from the first half of the project, so I was not starting from scratch. It is important to perform a little bit of research every day so as to not overwhelm yourself when it is closer to the writing portion- using a project management template helped me plan it all out. Taking time off during the long research hours you may have planned is also important, as to give your eyes and brain a rest. I often spoke about my research with my history professors who closely studied the field of 18th Century Scotland and England. Dr. Huffman was an incredible resource during my entire project, but especially during the research phase as he directed me to primary and secondary sources I would have missed just searching through the library. During the process, I highly recommend using an essay map and annotated bibliography to collect thoughts, quotes, and ideas together. Spending the extra time on the map and bibliography makes the writing process faster, as you already have a majority of your content. Essay maps are also extremely helpful when you need to go back and find a quote rather than going through the source. The research phase is never truly over as new information comes out every day, but there will definitely be a point when in your gut you know the writing can begin.

The writing process is when the pen finally hits the paper. Often this part of the paper is when the breakdowns, burnouts, and writers’ block comes into play. As someone who experienced all three, it is extremely important to have a good sense of community. Like many bestsellers, a community was behind the author who wrote the book. Whether the community is your friends, professors, family members, or classmates they are the rock to rely on during one of the toughest parts of your academic career. When the going gets tough, they are also the ones to encourage you to take a few moments to yourself and have fun, it is your senior year after all. Different departments may have different page minimums, but do not think of your paper in that way or you will never get it done. Think of the writing phase as writing everything you know on the topic; editing is saved for the proofreading phase.

The last phase of the process can either be the most painful or helpful. Proofreading is probably not many people’s idea of a good time. However, to ready the paper for public dissemination, it needs to go through a few rounds of help. Between you and the faculty member, you can decide how many rounds to plan out for proofreading. I submitted sections throughout the writing process, so by the time I had a complete product, there were fewer things to correct. While a paper will never be one hundred percent perfect, you still do want a paper that shows everything you learned academically in college, including new grammar skills.

Finally! You have made it to the end of the whole project and graduation is just around the corner. Relatively early on, you can decide to present your findings. I highly recommend you do so as it is fantastic practice for oral communication and your community would love to hear about the finished product. It is an opportunity to show the skills you may have developed throughout the project. If you are planning on going to law or graduate school, a presentation is a perfect opportunity to practice defending an argument or thesis. They also provide snacks!

Regardless, I hope you decide to take the same journey I did and complete a department honors research project. There is nothing more gratifying than looking at a fifty-three-page paper knowing I finished the project. The best feeling though is knowing those six-page bi-weekly papers feel like nothing now after spending a whole semester writing something nearly eight times larger. Looking back on my project, I am absolutely proud of how the paper shows the very best of everything I have learned in my three short years at Messiah.

Carpe Diem.

Jackson Hazen is a rising junior studying politics & international relations, as well as Spanish.

(What is From the Field? Click here to read the intro for this latest segment to our student blog series!)

When I traveled to Ecuador this Spring Break, I was not sure what to expect. How different would the social norms and customs really be? Would I be expected to act or behave in ways that I had never done before? How would I interact with people who had such different world view and life experiences than my own? All these questions and more were swirling around in my head in the weeks leading up to our departure. When I stepped on the plane headed to Quito one word could describe how I felt: anxious. I certainly was feeling some level of fear, this was a completely new country, I was traveling during a pandemic, and I had only limited knowledge of what to expect when we landed. But there was also excitement, I was going to experience and learn a new culture and see the Lord work in ways I never imagined.

When we finally touched down in Ecuador and we met our guide, Israel. I knew that the week was going to be transformative. Immediately we were greeted with the Ecuadorian hospitality that would come to surprise us again and again during our stay. I felt that if this was Ecuador, maybe things would not be so bad. And even though I did continue to have fears each day, I learned to face them, and most importantly, to learn and grow from them. On this trip, I believe that I was able to grow in two ways. First, my understanding and level of comfort with using the Spanish language grew immensely on this trip thanks to being able to use it on a daily basis with native speakers. Second, I learned how to appropriately interact with and learn from people who come from vastly different backgrounds than my own.

To better illustrate each area that I grew in, I will share a story that I believe explains what I am talking about. For my growth in my use and understanding of Spanish, I will share our story about when we toured the National Assembly and for my growth in understanding people I will share our story of helping the elderly in an indigenous community.

When we toured the National Assembly (or Asamblea Nacional in Spanish) we were given a guide who spoke only Spanish and a translator who was to help translate the tour for those who did not speak Spanish. When the tour started I could notice that the translator was trying his best to keep up with the guide’s information, but he was falling behind and missing a lot. Unfortunately for me, that meant that I could not rely on the translator to understand everything that the guide was saying, I had to listen intently and in some instances, even translate for my classmates. This experience was incredibly helpful. It forced me to immediately adapt and use the skills that I was less than confident in. I learned so much during the tour, and a surprising amount of that was not about the National assembly, but it was about my language skills. At the end of the tour, our guide ended by asking if we had any questions and I was able to ask a question about something, and then hold a conversation with our guide, while both of us understood what the other was saying, even with a certain barrier in place. And this tour was just one example, many times on the trip I had to help translate and use my skills which I felt were inadequate for the task at hand. I am so glad to have gone on this trip because it helped my confidence grow in my use of the Spanish language.

The other way I grew on this trip can be best shown by our trip to a local indigenous community. One day, as part of our trip, we visited this indigenous community and met with the elderly population to help them. That was all the information we were given going into this situation, so needless to say we were anxious to see what we would encounter. It was definitely a culture shock. When w arrived, we walked into a room full of elderly people and they all started clapping for us. We were a bit taken back considering we hadn’t even done anything yet. Then, after they introduced us, and the program (called Hope Hands) we were instructed that we were going to be “helping” by playing games, coloring, and dancing with the elderly. So we did just that, we went around the room asking about their pictures, playing games, and eventually dancing and by the end of it all, it was time to say our goodbyes. This was another moment of culture shock. Several of them came forward and expressed their gratitude for all we did for them, it brought some of them to tears. I don’t tell this story to make our group sound so great, like we did these people some kind of great service, after all, all we did was play games and color and dance, but I tell this story because it shows the hospitality culture of Ecuador. Everywhere we went in this country we were welcome, everyone we met offered their home to us should we ever come back, and this was shocking to us. We had to learn that hospitality and generosity were customary in this country, and we also had to learn that just because someone says that you can come and stay with them does not actually mean they want you to accept their offer, it just means they are trying to respect you. I learned that in this culture respect was important, and even strangers you just met deserve a high level of respect. This is not something that we necessarily practice here in America, so it opened my eyes and taught me about a new culture and how to navigate it.

In all, this trip was transformative. I can safely say that I left Ecuador a different person than who I entered as. I know that I will carry the lessons I learned while on this trip for years to come and I will cherish the experience and the memories made along the way.

Newly graduated alum, Alyssa Reiff majors in Politics and International Relations

(What is From the Field? Click here to read the intro for this latest segment to our student blog series!)

Over spring break my United States and Latin American Relations course had the opportunity to travel to Ecuador as part of our studies. As with any trip, you never know just what to expect and actually being in another country felt wildly different from what I expected. The Lord used my time in Ecuador to teach me so much and to grow my understanding of who He is. Prior to arriving in Ecuador, me and my classmates had read eight different articles about social and political life in Ecuador. These articles, though helpful in teaching me about Ecuador’s history, could not have prepared me for the conversations we would have in-country. One of the ELI goals that I made before we left for Ecuador was to be able to come up with at least one question for each interview.

I hope to develop interviewing skills by participating in interviews with various leaders in Quito. I will develop my ability to formulate questions by coming up with at least one question for each interview. This will help me to grow skills in active listening and critical thinking as I thoughtfully formulate questions.

As I look back on this goal I realize that this is something that I did accomplish in Ecuador, but in a very different manner than I expected. Our interviews were much more intensive than I expected. We spoke with some of the most passionate, brilliant, and inspiring community members in Ecuador. What they told us about Ecuador and the role they and their organizations play in Ecuador was steeped in far more social and political context than I ever could have learned in a few journal articles. Additionally, with most of the speakers we communicated via a translator which was a venue of communication I was not used to. In addition to the delays between communication, it was hard to know who to make eye contact with and how to honor both the speaker and the translator. Over time I became comfortable navigating this tension and separating the translator from the speaker. I had anticipated preparing questions ahead of time, but I did not know enough ahead of time about who we would be speaking with and what they would be sharing about to be able to do so. However, this ended up being a good experience to come up with thoughtful questions on the fly based on whatever the speaker shared. I learned to be adaptable in situations where I didn’t know what to expect and where I couldn’t speak the language.

A view of the volcano Cotopaxi, from the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador

During our week in Ecuador there were many opportunities to grow in adaptability. I have traveled out of the country before, but never to a country where English was not widely spoken in addition to the native language. I am so grateful for this experience because it opened my eyes to how difficult it is to navigate a place where you do not know the language and are unable to communicate with others. I became acutely aware of this difficulty during our time visiting Hope Hands, a nonprofit that serves elderly Quichua people in Riobamba. We were volunteering with the organization by playing games with the elderly and handing out materials for other activities. I was able to introduce myself to a woman named Alinda, but was unable to speak with her beyond introductions. Each of the people there were so kind to us. We, rather awkwardly, tried to help them with their activities and make conversation and they smiled back at us kindly as if to encourage us.

The visit to Hope Hands culminated in dancing with the elderly members of the indigenous community in celebration of International Women’s Day. Afterwards, many members of the community came to us to shake our hands and share words of gratitude. I remember feeling uncomfortable with how kind and grateful they were after how little we had done. That moment taught me so much about grace. The people we met that day were so generous with grace, giving us gratitude and kindness we had not earned. I left Hope Hands full of joy, because of how the people there had blessed us. Their spirit and their generosity is not something I will soon forget.

 

At the entrance, the Puerta del Sol, of the Pucará Tambo Cultural Center of the Cacha Community, near Riobamba, Ecuador

One of my favorite things about the Ecuador trip was being able to observe the communities we visited. I was struck by how committed the people in Ecuador we met were to their communities. Paul in particular, the director of Love On, was so passionate about his city, Riobamba, and seeing it changed for the better. Love On is a nonprofit that seeks to promote the development of the most disadvantaged in society through education. Paul is helping to better children’s lives through education, fueled by his love for the Lord. When I spoke with Paul about his work with Love On he was always quick to point me to Christ, saying that none of this could be done without Him. Paul’s love for his city inspires me to be engage and invest in my own community.

Meeting with Melania Toledo (Mela), the founder of Casa Mis Suenos, an organization that helps women out of prostitution and fights sexual exploitation in Quito enlarged my sense of vocation within community. Mela shared her vision for the restoration of women in Ecuador and how the Lord has instilled this passion for justice in her. Her passion for her work and vision for the city of Quito was so contagious. Listening to her speak gave me a new perspective on calling. It was so clear that the Lord had called Mela there to do the work that she was doing from the way she spoke about it. I began praying that the Lord would give me the same passion for and confidence in my own call.

Before I went to Ecuador I expected to learn a lot about culture, politics, and develop professionally. Although I did learn those things, what stood out to me the most is how much the Lord taught me about Himself. The way the people we met serve the Lord whole-heartedly is such a clear testimony to His Kingdom. As I step into the call the Lord has placed on my own heart to serve in my community in New England, I am continually reminded of the commitment and passion of those I had the privilege of meeting in Ecuador.

Colleen Quinn is a recent alumna who studied Politics and International Relations, as well as French

(What is From the Field? Click here to read the intro for this latest segment to our student blog series!)

Reflecting on my time in Ecuador is like reopening a favorite book or having a conversation with a friend that you haven’t seen in forever. We were only there for a week, but that time was so rich, each day filled with learning, little adventures, and memories that can only happen when you fully commit to living in the moment. Myself and the other students that embarked on this trip are forever changed by the people we met and everything we learned. I saw a volcano. I met a man who is working to preserve his community and educate visitors on indigenous culture. I delighted in the little joys throughout the days and let the views (and the elevation) take my breath away. I ate so many incredible dishes that I have attempted to recreate without notable success. My only conclusion is that I am just going to have to return to Ecuador in the near future so I can really remember what everything tasted like and re-experience the wonder of a country that is so full of beauty, be it the creation or the people. All of the unforgettable experiences I lived made my ELI goals quite relevant, because they were focused in two areas, communication with the groups we interacted with and cultural learning.

Colleen inside the Basílica del Voto Nacional (Basilica of the National Vow) in Quito, Ecuador

Communication is an integral aspect of a relationship, so I wanted to be able to communicate with the people we met in Ecuador to form meaningful relationships with them. This element became one of my goals because I plan to work in a profession where I interact with other cultures. With that in mind, I thought our short term stay in Ecuador could be an opportunity to seek to understand languages and cultures of the people with whom I hope to interact, and to test if I could be responsive in an unfamiliar language.  In order to do this, I needed to be able to speak Spanish, the official language of the country. I wanted to learn some common phrases and sayings so I could attempt to converse with the locals, especially since the sites we visited were not common for tourists, and therefore, many of the Ecuadorians spoke very little English. To achieve this goal, I attended the Messiah University Spanish club meetings and watched and listened to Spanish videos and music.  In Ecuador, I planned to use a few common words and sayings that I picked up on to listen and hopefully be able to respond to our hosts.

When we arrived in Ecuador, I committed myself to absorbing as much Spanish as possible because I really wanted to be able to talk to everyone we met. This proved to be somewhat overwhelming, because there was Spanish everywhere. By the end of our first day there, I had a headache from trying to remember all of the phrases I learned and all of the signs with Spanish that I had seen. I began taking photos and videos of street signs and billboards so I could remember what they said later, a habit which a few people in our group found to be a bit odd. I told them I wanted to take everything in and be able to remember it all, and because I do still have all the photos of the random billboards or street signs, I remember what they all mean!

While my endeavors with signs were fairly successful, I quickly realized that I was woefully underprepared to communicate with the locals in Spanish. Every time I started a conversation with someone we met, I quickly switched from Spanish to French (a language with which I am much more familiar), which garnered quite a few confused looks and an occasional “que?” from my conversation partners. In one attempt to make a connection, I accidentally told a tour guide that I was the mother of five children. I am not. Definitely not my best moment! I quickly decided that it would be best if I focused on listening to our hosts, to see how much  of the conversation I could understand without a translation. This proved to be a much more attainable goal, and I found that I was able to comprehend about half of what was being said most of the time. Although I ended up focusing more on listening, I am eternally thankful for our host and sometimes translator Israel, and Jackson, another student on my trip, who were both willing to help me ask questions and shared many easy-to-remember phrases with me. Without them, I would have ended up lost somewhere and asking the locals questions in the mixture of Spanish and French that I adopted.

To learn a nation’s culture and community is an incredible gift, something I discovered during my time in Ecuador. For my second goal, I hoped to learn how the indigenous culture is included and respected in the larger Ecuadorian community or what actions are being taken to give the indigenous people a space a part of Ecuador’s culture. My hope with this goal was to gain insight about how other countries are including people who have typically been excluded, and bring that information to the communities of which I am a part in the future.

Overlooking Colonial Quito

I had the chance to visit one of the many pueblos indígenas in Ecuador, where our guide, Segundo, showed us his community and shared with us his people’s history and customs. I was inspired by the bravery of the indigenous people in their struggle against the Spanish colonists who attempted to subjugate them. Their strength and courage to resist seemingly hopeless situations has finally convinced the Ecuadorian government to begin the process of giving indigenous peoples rights to their own customs, and protection from industrialization and western modernization. During our tour of Segundo’s community, he introduced to restorative justice, the indigenous way of punishing community members who have committed a crime. He slapped our hands with ortiga, or stinging nettles, to give us the sensation that criminals experience when they are whipped with the plant while completely naked. I can definitely see how this punishment would be an effective deterrent from committing future crimes, since my hand was stinging for the rest of the day. While the government has begun working with the indigenous communities, many of the indigenous and people working alongside them see this as a small beginning and have hopes for a future where the indigenous communities are treated as equals with the citizens of Ecuador.

In creating my goals, I believed I knew what I was walking into in Ecuador. I was surprised to find that my time there was much different than I imagined it would be. The rich depth of culture and community that greeted me upon my entry into Ecuador was better than any experience I could have imagined. I am so thankful for the opportunity that I had to go on this trip, the other students who went with me, and all of the people we met there. Even though I am not fluent in Spanish, I learned to appreciate the gift of being able to communicate and the opportunity I was given to listen, because I learned so much more about the people and culture of Ecuador than I ever imagined. Instead of ‘adios’, I am saying, ‘nos vemos’, or ‘see you soon’, because I know I will be back in Ecuador soon.

Cody Ford is a rising senior majoring in Politics & International Relations, as well as Finance

(What is From the Field? Click here to read the intro for this latest segment to our student blog series!)

I am going to be completely upfront with everyone, before this trip Ecuador wasn’t a place on my travel bucket list. I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel around the globe and see many remarkable places, and in my mind, Ecuador didn’t match what I would call remarkable. But, after having the opportunity to travel through this breathtaking country and interact with its truly beautiful people, I can now proudly say that I was wrong about everything. During our travels, I had the opportunity to truly learn what it means to adapt to an entirely new place and feel uncomfortable – but the kind of discomfort that allows you to grow. I also learned about the importance of community, both with the people I traveled with and also within the places that we went. I am forever grateful that I took the opportunity to travel to Ecuador with Dr. Lauermann and the rest of the class, this trip has become a defining part of my college experience and I am so ready to travel back in the near future.

When thinking about the professional development I experienced while in Ecuador, the one that comes to the forefront of my mind is learning to feel okay with being uncomfortable. I have always found myself in a position where I never necessarily felt uncomfortable jumping into new experiences: from being elected to serve my campus as Student Body Vice President, interning in one of the most cut-throat investment banks in the world, or even deciding to attend college across the country from my home. But being in an entirely new country for a purpose other than tourist activities had me feeling a tad bit uneasy. I had done the reading and prepared to the best of my ability, but thinking about meeting with the important community leaders, visiting the National Assembly, and touring the Presidential Palace added a new layer to the travel experience that I had yet to experience. But it was in these experiences that I was able to learn and grow the most because I had no preconceived notions or knowledge that would affect my learning. Getting to connect with the Love On Foundation and working with their students for a short while was a truly amazing experience, even if I was simply helping them glue paper, and while trying to do it in my very beginner level Spanish, it was still an impactful event that I will carry forward throughout my professional experiences. This trip showed me that even in the midst of not knowing, there is always a path to follow even if you cannot necessarily see it. And regardless of the destination, the journey is what makes it all worth it.

It is hard to describe the feelings I felt while in Ecuador, but what I can remember is sharing those feelings with everyone that I was on the trip with. From being in awe of the Cotopaxi volcano with everyone and watching in wonder from the rooftop of our hotel in Riobamba as its snowcapped peak would peek through the clouds. This trip would have not been the same had I experienced it with another group. Seeing Dr. Lauermann’s passion for Latin America, and specifically Ecuador, truly shaped my mindset going into this trip, and I can say that it rubbed off on all of us. The same is true for all the amazing community members we met while abroad. Everywhere we went we were brought in with open arms and shown an immense amount of hospitality, even if we were only visiting for a short time. Traveling throughout the highlands of Chimborazo, from the city of Riobamba to the capital of Quito, with the group was a true blessing. From exploring Parque La Carolina, the Central Park of Quito, to enjoying an espresso in the many coffee shops we visited, we embodied what it meant to be more than a tourist, we tried to truly embrace everywhere we traveled and look beyond the veil and see this beautiful country for all it truly is.

The beauty of this country is one of the many things that struck me the most. I can say that one of my favorite experiences was when we traveled to Teleferico Quito and rode in a cable car to the top of Guagua Pichincha. Once we got to the top it was a truly breathtaking view of the vast city and the vast mountains that surround the city. Standing on the edge and feeling the wind blow through my hair while overlooking the historic city is an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world. And to top it all off, in the heat of the moment, we all decided to hike towards the peak. I always thought that I was a relatively fit person but trying to hike up a mountain at 13,000 feet put me into my place. However, regardless of how out of breath, I was, standing in the literal clouds and basking in the glory of creation.

Overall, I am forever grateful that I decided to go out on a limb a class that involved traveling to an entirely new country and experiencing an entirely new culture. Dr. Lauermann’s overview of the class in the fall semester was definitely true, and some of the experience was even better than what she showed off. Getting to travel the country with new friends and experience all the beauty in both the creation and the community have cemented Ecuador as one of my favorite travel experiences. I was able to learn so much due to the vulnerability that I allowed myself to feel while abroad, and those experiences have impacted me in more ways than one. But I think my biggest takeaway is the importance of community. We are not called to be individualistic and isolated from people, but instead called to fellowship with all people, and it is when we adopt this mindset that we can see the heavenly beauty in all things.

Dr. Robin Lauermann, professor of politics, edits this series

 

I am pleased to introduce a long-awaited segment for our student blog series, From the Field!  Why long awaited, you may ask?  The seeds for the experiences shared in these upcoming blog posts stretch back to 2018 and involved, unsurprisingly, a pandemic delay.

In February 2018 I traveled to Quito Ecuador in my then role as associate dean of general education and common learning.  I was there to conduct a site visit to discern whether conditions and programming with a potential new partner, Living and Learning International, would allow Messiah University to again send students for semester-long experiences to Ecuador.  Not only did we end up approving LLI’s Ecuador site as an off-campus semester option for students, I learned about additional opportunities that would let me reconnect with the aspect that first drew me to the field of political science – learning multiple languages – while providing a different way for students to gain international experience.

Over the next year, as I began my transition back to faculty, I proposed a new type of course – one in which travel was an intentional but only partial component of the course.  Students would have a traditional classroom experience in the first half of the semester, learning about the arc of international relations between the United States and the Latin American region. We would then spend an intensive experiential week of learning in Ecuador. Having met our contact hours at that point, students would only need to focus on policy research during the second half of the the term.  (Note to fellow teachers – since it was a new type of experience and I was then an administrator, that process would involve developing parameters for others who would want to offer such courses and getting them approved through our university governance.)

Although the class ran for the first time in Spring 2020, our travel was canceled three days before departure due to – yes, COVID.  I was able to partner with LLI and an external funding source to host a 4 part global lecture series, in which students heard from several in-country speakers related to the latter course topics of indigenous communities, dollarization, human rights, and intraregional organizations.  Although not quite what we envisioned, we had some really enriching conversations and I would begin to build relationships with some of the non-profit directors who spoke with us.  It would be two years until the next attempt for this course, but another opportunity would arise to deepen my connections and further shape the next iteration of the course.

With travel still suspended in the 2020-21 academic year, I pivoted from plans to co-lead a cross-cultural to France and instead developed a virtual cross-cultural course on Culture and Civil Society in Ecuador.  I was determined to design an educational curriculum that could offer a meaningful cross-cultural experience despite the online nature of the course.  Partnering with LLI, the three week course included one week of academic foundations – readings as well as lectures by me and directors of several non-profits from Ecuador, along with several teams working on projects for those partners in the second and third weeks of the course.  The group projects went phenomenally well producing websites, a fundraising campaign, and research on non-profit and fundraising status in the US.  (You can read a bit more here in this article published in Messiah University’s Bridge magazine.)  This experience would have a formative influence on the second attempt to have the US-Latin American Relations course travel to Ecuador.  As planning began for this spring’s course, I learned that one of the non-profit directors with whom we had worked in the prior course  – Paúl Cevallos of the Love On Foundation – would be coordinating the meetings for the class in-country.

With the pandemic still persisting, planning remained uncertain, but on March 5, my students and I departed for Quito!  I will leave their words to share about our time in-country.  However, my very successful experiences in facilitating the group projects the prior spring encouraged me to change the planned policy research paper to another virtual group project. The students spent the remainder of the semester developing a strategic plan for growth for Love On.  Their presentation and researched information was well done; I know it will make a difference to help Love On continue their work of educating and supporting vulnerable children.  I also know that these experiences made a significant difference in the life of myself and the students.  I look forward to continuing to lead such important experiences and am thankful for the staff at LLI, including our host Israel Rodriguez, who helped manage the on the ground logistics and became a part of our class community.

Read on to learn more about the in-country journey of our students!

 

Isabel Villegas is a senior studying Politics & International Relations and Spanish

(This post is the next in Readings in Reconciliation.  Click to learn more about the segment and the series, From the Field.)

COVID-19 has existed for only two years, yet has already changed the world insurmountably. The novel virus has disrupted global markets, shaken political institutions, and transformed social structures. Certainly, no country will ever be quite the same in the aftermath of the pandemic. Assessing this permanently-altered state of the international system, journalist Fareed Zakaria penned a list of insights to navigate this new environment in his book, Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World. Although in some ways the piece feels like it may have been written prematurely, the book as a whole does an excellent job at raising awareness of some of the world’s most pressing issues, in order to help humanity discern their collective steps
moving forward.

Perhaps one of the most significant and critical takeaways from Zakaria’s book is the fact that, in this pandemic era, the world has — and will only continue to — change at a rapid pace. Notes Zakaria, “human beings have been developing their societies … at unprecedented speed. It is as
if we have built the fastest race car ever and are driving it through unknown, unmarked terrain” (28). Advances in technology, dynamic political relationships, and even environmental transformations are somewhat inevitable at this point in human history. It is now up to
individuals and societies to make the decision of whether or not they will prepare accordingly. Zakaria concludes his race car metaphor, stating, “it’s time to install [airbags] and buy some insurance. And above all, it’s time to buckle up” (28). Most individuals have some degree of wariness when it comes to change and the upheaval that it has the potential to bring, but Zakaria aptly warns that it is not only impossible but also unwise to avoid it.

Overall, Zakaria’s insights are astute and well-informed, but one cannot help but occasionally wonder if his reflections come too early. His book was only published in 2020, the very same year that the global pandemic began. One could argue that not enough time has passed
between the circumstances he describes and his analysis of them. History and lived experience alone could demonstrate that clarity and understanding of a situation increases and improves with the passing of time. In some ways, Zakaria’s predictions about the state of the world moving
forward are at best mere speculations. And while his reasonings are thoroughly supported by data and statistics, if the pandemic era has demonstrated anything it is that the future is unpredictable. As Zakaria even admits himself in his book, “nothing is written” (246).
The lessons he presents surely ought to be appreciated, but one also should take them with a grain of salt.

Zakaria’s book has certain implications for students of politics as well. For young people interested in the workings of government or global affairs, the lessons found in this book provide useful knowledge on new realities of the world. Phenomena such as the rise in artificial
intelligence, climate change, and strife between the United States and China all ought to be understood if one hopes to truly make positive contributions to the field of politics. More importantly though, Zakaria is honest in his assessment of these trends, but never in a way that
may cause students to feel discouraged. Rather, he charges his audience to take the reins of their collective destiny, and steer it in a direction that promotes the common good. The effects of the pandemic can never be undone, but that is not to say that individuals must sit idly by or refuse to adapt to circumstances. The future is in the hands of those who wish to impact it, which is ultimately a truth that should inspire faith, hope, and purposeful action.