News, On Campus

Students Spread Ideas at Spring BC Talks Event

Eight students spoke on Sunday night at BC Talks, an undergraduate lecture series held twice a year that features students who give presentations about topics that they are passionate about and shed light on topics not often discussed. The students at this event spoke about a range of topics, including the future of big data, the U.S. criminal justice system, and U.S. immigration policy.

Ameet Kallarackal, CSOM ’18, used to be afraid of everything. When he was asked to supervise two 11-year-old neighbors on a trip to an amusement park, the initial concept was terrifying, but by the end of it, he had a great time and overcame his fear of rollercoasters.

This experience led him to develop his four “Life Hacks for the Static Soul”—mental tricks that he believes can guide people while they are outside of their comfort zones. He said it is important to do things that make people uncomfortable simply because they make people uncomfortable, and it is important to overcome that feeling.

“We have a tendency to ignore anything that makes us uncomfortable,” he said. “But fear and discomfort are the literal boundaries that we set for ourselves.”

Kallarackal said that the weird, uncomfortable, and terrifying things are what make people unique.

“Don’t live your life thinking that you are normal,” he said. “Because you’re not—and that’s amazing.”

Naren Briar, MCAS ’20, told the story of Alan Kurdi, an ethnically Kurdish boy who became famous for his drowning death in his attempted escape from persecution in Syria. Photos of the boy’s death led thousands thousands to condemn the Assad regime and the Islamic State in the Middle East, however, Briar said that the media ignored the fact that this boy was Kurdish and focused on his Syrian origins. This highlighted the desperate war Kurds are forced to fight and how ignored they have become, she said.

“Don’t live your life thinking that you are normal. Because you’re not—and that’s amazing”

—Ameet Kallarackal, CSOM ’18

“The idea of existing or identifying as a Kurd has become our greatest threat,” Briar said.

Briar told the story of Alan Kurdi, an ethnically Kurdish boy who became famous for his drowning death in his attempted escape from persecution in Syria. While photos of the boy’s death spurred thousands to condemn the actions of the Assad regime and the Islamic State in the Middle East, the media, Briar said, ignored the fact that this boy was Kurdish and focused on his Syrian origins. This highlighted the desperate war Kurds are forced to fight and how ignored they have become, she said.

“No policy that endangers thousands of people can stand,” she said. “I refuse to believe that thousands of lives lost is just politics.”

Big Data has large implications—or so it seems. Naveen Senthilkumar, MCAS ’18, spoke about the importance that data algorithms play in people’s daily lives. People can find these algorithms everywhere in places like Facebook news articles, Google searches, and suggested Spotify playlists. For the most part, Senthilkumar said, the data that is collected daily across the nation is mostly ignored. But some of it, he said, is very important.

“It’s well known that police forces profile people in the U.S.,” he said. “These algorithms simply codify this behaviour.”

These algorithms don’t have to be all bad, however. Senthilkumar said that they can be useful in some contexts.

“We should be using these algorithms as a resource,” he said. “We just have to do it responsibly.”

Kelvin Lin, MCAS ’19, argued that the U.S. criminal justice system is broken, comparing his experience at Norfolk State Prison and his research into Norwegian prison systems. Focusing on the three Rs of justice—retribution, rehabilitation, and recidivism—Lin compared the state of affairs in the United States and Norway and found an alarming statistic: the five-year recidivism rate from state institutions in the United States is 76.6 percent, while a comparable recidivism rate in Norway is only 22 percent.

What accounts for this discrepancy, Lin said, is the difference between the first two Rs, rehabilitation and retribution. Prisons in the United States are based around retribution, intending to punish criminals. Prisons in Norway are focused more on rehabilitation, meaning that they wish to permanently change the behavior of individuals who have committed crimes.

“It’s not that these two terms are that different,” he said. “It’s the priority that governments place on each.”

The best option, Lin said, is rehabilitation. Criminals are released from institutions every day, and if they are not rehabilitated they are far more likely to commit another crime, according to Lin. If they are rehabilitated the prison problem in America can begin to improve.

With a passion for biomedical ethics, Alesandra Greco, MCAS ’17, spoke about the dilemma of seriously-ill newborns in American hospitals. The health care costs of these seriously-ill newborns, defined as infants who have a very slim chance of survival, are astronomical, often ranging into the millions of dollars for only a few weeks of treatment.

“The American health care system is a disgustingly lucrative market,” Greco said.

This, according to Greco, spurs several questions. On what basis can we justify this cost? And whose considerations must we take into account? To answer these, Greco referred to two models—Charles Camosy’s Social Quality of Life (SQOL) and Personal Quality of Life (PQOL). These two models pit utilitarian considerations of society against the opinion that infants should not be reduced purely to their intelligence level.

“We must consider these things when dealing with these newborns,” Greco said. “But I wholeheartedly believe that we are up for the challenge.”

Ian Wyllie, MCAS ’18, said it is easy to not see the people behind statistics heard every day. Wyllie studied in Uganda during the fall semester and worked at the Ugandan National NGO Forum in its policy and advocacy division. He said that people often see numbers of people who are poor, hungry, or displaced, but don’t consider the real people behind these numbers.

Wyllie pointed specifically to the Rwandan Genocide and how it is easy for people to look at a number of  how many people died without putting it in context. There are real lives and faces behind these numbers, he said. He also noted that Western nations can easily find solutions to problems like these, but don’t realize that these solutions will not work everywhere.

Evan Peraica, MCAS ’17, spoke about the likelihood of mobility for immigrants in the U.S. in his presentation titled “Is the American Dream Dead? A Dialogue on Immigration.” Peraica spoke about his research, which showed that the U.S. has a great level of social mobility—even better than Europe. Immigrants in the U.S. are paid less than in Europe, but the U.S. has a higher rate of employment for immigrants. He then spoke about why immigrants want to come to America so desperately. His research showed that the U.S. has the least structural hierarchy and is most open with opportunity. Nearly 20 percent of businesses in 2012 were started by immigrants and 10 percent of Fortune 400 members are immigrants.

Joshua Behrens, MCAS ’18 and an op-ed columnist for The Heights, argued that America has a complicated history tied into Cuba that led to the dictatorship of Fidel Castro. Behrens studied abroad in Cuba during the fall and was there when Castro died in November. He was surprised to see that many Cubans, including his host family, were genuinely upset over Castro’s death. He said that there are misguided American narratives about Cuba. He said these narratives are far from the truth.

“These narratives are far from the truth,” he said.

Behrens said the U.S. paints Castro as a harsh dictator, but stops its analysis there. In reality, Behrens said, Castro was a Cuban nationalist who saw the Cuban people’s struggle resisting foreign interference. Castro’s policies lifted Behren’s host family out of poverty as well as many others, which is why Cubans respect Castro and mourned his death.

“The one thing I learned in Cuba is that we as a country do not understand Cuba,” he said.

Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Editor

March 19, 2017