As an economics major, math and statistical analysis both have strong applications to my greater academic experience. I began my day by attending my Real Analysis class and learned how to rigorously prove integration. Although it may come across as nerdy and strange, this process brought much excitement to my morning, demonstrating my ability to not only comprehend but, also, reproduce the proof of an advanced mathematical concept. The next class was Econometrics, a course that attempts to test hypothesis about the relationship between two variables. That morning, we derived the appropriate test for a sample of data that an economist would not have the necessary statistics for. The conclusion was that by manipulating results, economists may understand their data relative to confidence levels. Finally, my day ended with a class on Differential Equations, a course on the manipulation of functions that detail the movement of higher order relationships. An example of this would be looking at population growth; economists may create a formula to find population levels by observing the growth rates in population.
What I most valued from this day was learning the dynamic nature of learning at Haverford. When people hear me say that I am an economics major, the usual reaction is always surprise. I think that there definitely exists a negative connotation associated with economics, viewed as something that promotes self-interest, money-making and the antithesis of liberal arts. I think that this snapshot at my day demonstrates that these assumptions are far from the truth. What becomes clear is that my education has been enhanced by my major, combining all of my interests into one direction. I have always been good at mathematical and social analysis. I see economics as the cross roads of these skills, quantifying social phenomena through the observation of markets and services. I truly look forward to the next two years in order to find myself in this field of study.
The Pendle Hill staff was happy to have hosted Haverford’s leadership retreat because they witnessed the rare occurrence of a group of students smiling as they entered their halls, genuinely asking “how are you” to the hosts and residents. This was one of many reminders throughout the day of what it meant to be a Haverford student. One of the most often repeated ones at the retreat was that only Haverford students would spend their last day of break at a series of workshops on restorative justice, that we would engage with a panel of mediators in order to learn from them and that we would continue the conversations started at Pendle Hill even when we settled into our dorms.
One of the first activities we engaged in was to write about ourselves on strips of paper and link everyone’s strips into a chain. The finished chain was laid down in the middle of the room, serving as the physical manifestation of our thoughts at the beginning of the retreat. Following this brief moment, we transitioned into a panel discussion, concerning the history, challenges and prospects of the fields of restorative justice and mediation. Following a lunch break, we began to discuss conflict mediation techniques and closed the day off with a final question-answer discussion. Throughout this entire process, the chain still lay on the floor, forcing students to reflect on who they were several hours earlier and what condition they were leaving in.
Restorative justice was described as a perspective that looks at crime through an uncommon lens. Instead of categorizing people as victims and offenders, the restorative justice process attempts to engage parties involved in an incident to meet each others needs. Instead of valuing laws and technicalities, restorative justice values trust, community and respect. I soon began to realize why Haverford chose this subject as the topic of its retreat.
I couldn’t help but relate some of the material we were learning about new forms of mediation to what I had been taught about the criminal justice system. I couldn’t help but reflect on how frustrating it must be for reform advocates to have to deal with an apathetic and complacent society. While flaws in our criminal justice system appear well publicized throughout the media, the lack of an advertised alternative seems to pull people towards pessimism. Moreover, I believe the process for getting reform through bureaucracy is not well known; the height of people’s known political action is a vote on a ballot. I can only hope that people stop feeling obliged to simplified and inefficient systems of justice and begin to move towards more effective ones.
Throughout the afternoon, I’ve been working on a grant application for the Kessinger Family Fund for Asian Performing Arts to support a performance that we hope to have in the spring by the Dakshina (Sanskrit for “offering”) dance troupe, which is an emerging dance group founded by choreographer Daniel Phoenix Singh. Dakshina is based in DC, and has been attracting a lot of attention for Singh’s fusion of traditional Bharatanatyam and Modern dance vocabularies, and for their productions of work by avant-garde choreographers such as Anna Sokolow and Darla Stanley.
The Kessinger Family Fund “sponsors musical performances and lecture-demonstrations that enrich Haverford’s cross-cultural programs….the Fund supports performances and residencies dedicated to the rich artistic heritage of South Asia, East Asia, and Indonesia, and was started by former Haverford President Tom Kessinger and his wife, Varyam” which is an amazing legacy from which to draw. Singh and his troupe exemplify the vision of the Kessinger Family Fund in some extraordinary ways; in a September 12, 2010 article for the Washington Post about emerging artists in the DC dance world, reporter Sarah Kaufman wrote: “Only in America: Where else could a young man who grew up in an impoverished, low-caste fundamentalist Christian family in India get a degree in computer science and discover dance?”
We’re asking for $5,000 toward the artists’ fees for the performance; Ethan Pan, in his capacity as the OMA liaison to the Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia (where Nancy Chen has been an inspiring force and guiding light) has been working with Jari Rizvi of the South Asian Students affinity group to raise funds for a projected performance and workshop that would take place March 16-17, 2012. Jari and his compatriots in SAS are looking to this residency as an opportunity to connect with sister groups at BMC and Swat, as well as with the South Asian community in the region. James Weissinger from the HHC has been a key figure in bringing these pieces together…which included the key work of literally collaring me in the hallway in Stokes to make sure that I got the proposal in to the office in time for the committee to review it tomorrow. Yes even deans — particularly deans — need someone to keep them on the straight and narrow, particularly if it means that we have the opportunity to bring amazing queer artists to campus.
Customs week was a heavy experience to say the least. It was the first time that I came back to Haverford’s campus following summer break, which for usually involves a lot of family time, reading and thinking. Coming back after a long break and being hit with so many familiar faces at once was somewhat overwhelming. Being around freshmen also gave the campus a new vibe, shifting dynamics around like clockwork. I felt my place at Haverford had changed, with new responsibilities and priorities because I knew that I would have a strong impact on my customs group during the upcoming school year, as both a PAF and a model of a Haverford student.
I felt this responsibility even more so through the training that PAF’s and customs folk received concerning diversity and religion. I believe that my cultural background is unique to the college, as a Muslim American who grew up in a ridiculously diverse area of Brooklyn and who’s parents are both from Pakistan. During a PAF training on diversity, I remember talking about my experiences in public school, which immersed me in a mix of Eastern European, Latino, East Asian and South Asian students. I think that because of my upbringing, the perspective that I have to add is meaningful and influential to the conversations that I will have with both my customs group and the Haverford community as a whole. I think that after this intense week of attending programs and meeting faculty for training on the topic of multiculturalism, I’ve learned that I have a responsibility to voice my perspective towards a collective narrative of diversity.
Taha Ahsin, ’14 – Peer Awareness Facilitator (PAF)