March 24, 2016

GRANT | Dear Fulbright Scholarship Applicants

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Last week I caught a mistake in one of the readings for my NS 3090: Global Health Case Studies class. The article was entitled “What Can Medical Anthropology Contribute to Global Health?” by James Pfieffer and Mark Nichter. It discussed how national health systems were underperforming because of a lack of infrastructure. Together, the authors hold two bachelor’s degrees, three master’s degrees and two doctoral degrees. However, while discussing health challenges the authors grouped “Africa” in with “other resource poor countries.” Africa is a continent, not a country. Back in August of 2014, the Washington Times cited both Vice President Joe Biden and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as having referred to Africa as both a country and a nation. I understand that everyone makes mistakes sometimes. However, I also believe that repetitive mistakes require examination. When four highly intelligent, highly educated individuals make a basic geography mistake, we must question whether the knowledge we are receiving from the people our society deems as researchers, ambassadors and teachers should be blindly trusted and regarded as fact. I believe we must go out into the world and discover truth for ourselves.

Cornellians who consume media about international affairs are always asked to make a choice: whether to accept or reject the reality of the world they live in. The best analogy for this is The Matrix in the scene where Morpheus presents Neo with the choice of choosing between the red pill or the blue pill. The blue pill will allow Neo to continue to live his life ignorant of the truth. The red pill will awaken Neo’s senses to the true reality of life. In one hand, a student can believe an ahistorical view of the world. This is a reality where inequality and oppression are nonexistent and global white supremacy is a myth. It believes that neocolonialism is a fairy tale when countries report that the World Bank and the IMF are engaging in predatory lending practices and are sabotaging their economies. This is the blue pill and once one takes it ignorance becomes bliss. On the other hand is the red pill. The student has the ability to swallow the hard truth and becoming “woke,” aware of the ugly realities of the world they live in. Many people I talk to describe the state of “wokeness” as a permanent state of consciousness, a mental attitude. I believe that the choice to be conscious or unconscious to life is an daily choice, an hourly decision and a second by second stance. It is making the choice to see the world in its full glory, pleasure and pain, façade and fact, falsity and truth.

Our dilemma in the present day is that we live in a hyper-visible world of information technology that still renders certain people invisible both inside and outside our society. Continents, countries, movements and populations of people are misrepresented and misinterpreted, not only in the media but also in academia. It is easy to read a book or an article about world affairs or take a vacation. However, a vacation is a pseudo-escape from reality with a front row seat to distraction. It is passive, easy and comfortable. We cannot afford to take the easy path. It is harder to learn a language and engage with a community. However, this is the work that needs to be done. I believe this is the reason why the College of Arts and Sciences has a language requirement. All that is next is a diversity requirement.  It is the job of Cornellians, regardless of GPA, to have the courage to go about this task of correcting the wrongs of the past, bridging our gaps of knowledge and contributing to true cultural understanding with curiosity and passion. The world does not need any more careless Spring Breakers who present a misconstrued image to the world of who all Americans are.  The world does not need any more tourists. It needs ambassadors.

Post WWII, President Harry S. Truman and the U.S. Government created as a flagship international educational exchange program on Aug. 1, 1946 known as the Fulbright Fellowship. According to Gilbert Levine, Cornell’s current Fulbright and Fulbright-Hays program advisor, “The Fulbright Program is an unique investment program, not a problem-solving program! It is intended to develop a more knowledgeable and culturally empathetic cadre of individuals who will become leaders in their fields of endeavor — professional, social, and political … It is clear, from our current political campaign that the U.S. would benefit from a greater population of educated young people who had personal experience living and working in other countries.”  The Fulbright Fellowship is the example of an opportunity for future global leaders who want to engage in an experience of ambassadorship, cross cultural exchange and peace building.

Past generation of scholars and academics dedicated their lives to accurately present the world as they knew it in their time. However, their knowledge alone was not enough. None of them were able to account for all of the complexities, nuances and contradictions that their future, our present, would bring. The mantle of responsibility for research, teaching and truth telling lies with the scholar ambassadors of the future. The ambassadors of the future should pack the backpack of responsibility, the suitcase of curiosity and the carry-on of conscience. They must be able to speak their truth and share their stories with others wherever they are in the world. Tomorrow’s scholar should be able to see through deceptive identities of a textbook world and be willing to re-author the scripts of their mind. The global shapers of our century must actively participate in engaged learning and research to question and challenge convention. There are three kinds of people you meet in life: those who read the news, those who write the news and those who are the news.

Which one are you?

Jeremiah Grant is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Jeremiah can be reached at [email protected]. Gates & Ladders appears alternate Fridays this semester.