Each year a set of seniors receives funds to research and write papers on topics of choice and this year’s array of papers continues the tradition of presenting both historical and societal issues covering a large spectrum.
Papers range from an insurance industry analysis to an exploration of music written under communist rule. Five papers were funded by endowments from the John Near Excellence in History Education Endowment Fund, and four were funded by the Mitra Family Endowment for the Humanities. Each author had support from mentors, often including a teacher and a librarian, and each paper is unique, filled with careful research and worthy of attention. All papers can be found in PDF form at http://library.harker.org/upperlibrary/nearmitra.
Aadyot Bhatnagar, Mitra Scholar: “Using Antimalarial and Insecticide Resistance to Contextualize the Future of Malaria Control in Tanzania”
Bhatnagar has clearly mastered his subject, exploring the remedies used to control malaria now, their effectiveness and lifecycles, as well as the remedies available to combat mosquitos’ growing resistance to the usual insecticides. He is in good company in his efforts, as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed millions to malaria eradication through various methods.
The paper focuses, as do many treatments, on how to keep children from contracting malaria. Bhatnagar explores the medical ramifications, provision of, costs, and long- and short-term values of insecticides, and provides statistics on benefits and failure rates. In the end, he makes concrete recommendations to help better use insecticides: “This paper recommends exploiting the rise of accredited drug dispensing outlets (ADDOs), which are staffed by workers accredited through a dispensers’ course approved by the Tanzanian Food and Drugs Authority,” as opposed to supplying drugs through general stores.
Bhatnagar also notes the importance of keeping health care workers motivated as they test patients for malaria using rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs): “On the health care side, Tanzania’s Ministry of Health (MoH) currently provides a two-day, 16-hour RDT training program to provide health workers with the knowledge and skills to properly use RDTs in malaria treatment. … In order to maintain good clinical practices well after such training has been concluded, this paper looks to Kenya, where health workers are texted daily reminders of the necessity of RDT usage accompanied by motivational messages intended to reinforce the importance of following RDT test results in reducing the national prevalence of malaria.”
Ayush Midha, Near Scholar: “Blackout: The Case for Black Power in 1960s Liberation Politics”
Ayush Midha has produced a closely reasoned paper discussing the variance between governmental efforts to desegregate and to empower blacks, exploring both the non-effects of governmental intervention and the ill effects of ingrained attitudes in the entrenched press, and noting the missed perception of what black leaders were trying to accomplish above and beyond black militancy.
His paper retails a litany of false assumptions on the part of the white establishment on how best to help blacks break free of economic subservience. There was no lack of information on the subject; Midha’s research ranged from late-1960s articles in The Washington Post to scholarly papers written in the last few years.
Midha’s report is essentially an examination of attitudes from the late 1960s when “black power” was both a rallying cry and a serious effort by deeply committed black community members to make substantive changes in how black people lived. The Washington Post, despite flying in the face of the establishment its 1973 exposure of Watergate criminals, at this period, took a very conservative view of the overt and insistent efforts of black community leaders to force white people to begin to understand the depth of racial inequality.
Midha makes the case that white people are only going to help so much, willingly, even if they have the best motivation because, ultimately, their concern is with like populations, not with those outside their comfort zone. He noted that the Democratic Party was as culpable as any white-dominated group, taking on the black cause, but limiting itself to goals that can be checked off and showcased, rather than making a philosophical commitment to real change.
Midha notes that Black Panther Party (BPP) leaders recognized that change was glacial and set out to change the way blacks and whites perceived the change process in order to accelerate it. The BPP was characterized as advocating violent change and came under scrutiny that frustrated its adherents and eventually destroyed the party. Midha has written an important paper that will enlighten anyone interested in how black activism progressed and was stymied at various points by establishment organizations. For further perspective on Black Panther history, see the 2014 Near Endowment paper by Divya Kalidindi, “Watching and Wiretapping: An Analysis of the Implications of the FBI’s Illegal Counter-Intelligence Programs against the Black Panther Party during the 1960s.”
Maya Nandakumar, Mitra Scholar: “The Enchantment of the Habit”
Maya Nandakumar has delved into an interesting corner of Catholic history with her examination of the roots of Catholic female religious orders, and presented some interesting points on their establishment in the Middle Ages. Nandakumar asserts the orders were only reluctantly sanctioned by most religious leaders after having sprung from weaknesses within the church that developed during times of great stress.
Nandakumar notes the convents grew from a series of events including greater control by the church as its administration over European religious activity grew more complete, but then broke down under the great loss of both humanity and faith that occurred during plague times. Women were first stigmatized as descendants of Eve (naturally overlooking that men were descendants of the equally guilty Adam), thus unworthy to take an active role in the church.
As the plague broke down civic and religious barriers due to its impartiality in afflicting both the most and the least pious, a secondary, female icon emerged, that of Mary, the mother of Jesus, allowing, eventually, greater latitude to women in participating in the church. Establishing their rights in the face of a paternal and highly controlling church was a 400-year battle, however.
One of the first sanctioned orders, the Franciscan Clarists was formed to give women a sanctuary from a harsh world while providing them with a religious role. The Catholic Church has vacillated on many topics throughout its 2,000-year existence and nunneries were given mixed blessings by various popes as the decades ticked past.
One of the most interesting insights in the paper is how church leaders came to understand that convents were valuable additions to the church’s galaxy of orders. Nandakumar notes: “As the Church and its subjects began to see virginity as a mark of honor in addition to an instrument for control, a path was paved for the women’s religious movement. It is clear that one could not have existed without the other, for the impact of the former made the latter more feasible.” Followed by the assertion: “By absolutely condemning premarital sex, the Church provided only two distinct paths for women: either marriage or the convent.” We have long since moved beyond such narrow paths for women, but it is fascinating to read how the development of convents affected the Catholic Church, and thus a large proportion of the European population.
Karnika Pombra, Near Scholar: “The United Fruition: A Historical Analysis of the Motives for the 1954 U.S.-Backed Guatemalan Coup”
Karnika Pombra has written a fascinating vignette of how the United States used the Cold War for economic empire building. The crux of the report is that the Dulles brothers, Allen and John, respectively head of the CIA and secretary of state, used their political influence to get the CIA to trigger and support a coup in Guatemala in order to restore land to the United Fruit Company, on whose board of directors both men sat.
Pombra notes that John used his influence with then-President Dwight Eisenhower to convince him Guatemala was edging closer to full-fledged communism to get approval for the coup, but that the situation was far from black and white, and that the Guatemalan regime was not overtly communist. The regime was definitely socialist in action, having appropriated 234,000 acres of United Fruit Company’s 550,000 acres in Guatemala, a clear assault on an agricultural company’s ability to survive. Naturally, the United Fruit Company objected to this and, according to Pombra, used its influential board members to arrange for the 1954 coup.
It seems fairly obvious the U.S. was interfering with foreign politics, as all countries with the influence to do so will; but in this egregious example, two high-ranking U.S. government officials were also on the board of the company most economically affected by the supposed communism of the Guatemalan government. Pombra asserts the Guatemalan government of the time was not strictly communist and that Eisenhower, a hard-headed man used to the machinations of both his own and foreign governments, was convinced by his secretary of state that the coup was necessary for national security. This was the era where workers everywhere were overthrowing dictatorial governments with armed assistance from the Soviet Union and Red China, and Guatemala appeared to be another state about to come under communist control.
The U.S. had already fought a hot war in Korea to stymie communism and went on to fight communism around the world, notably in Cuba and Vietnam, instances of cold and hot wars meant to curb the efforts of a shadowy, reconstituted Comintern that threatened democracy. All of the communism vs. democracy instances during the Cold War era will someday be examined as a whole, through the prism of time, and perhaps then a more rational and scholarly summary of the value of the U.S. effort to curb communism will emerge. Until then, there are travesties like the Guatemalan coup juxtaposed with heroic efforts like saving South Korea from communism to ponder.
Apoorva Rangan, Near Scholar: “The Tet Offensive and the MACV’s Information Defensive: An Analysis of Limitations to Watchdog Journalism in the Vietnam War (1964-68)”
Apoorva Rangan has written a masterful analysis of war reporting in the early years of the Vietnam conflict. In it, she asserts that the war coverage was characterized by confused reporting policies implemented unevenly, with plenty of opportunity to circumvent recognized methods of transmitting news reports, which created a sort of chaos in perception of the war. Ultimately, reports on specific activities, some bordering on criminal, by U.S. soldiers in Vietnam contributed heavily to the public rejection of both official reports of progress and the value of continuing the war.
Although the defense department tried to maintain an air of candor to allow reporters to tell the stories in Vietnam as they saw fit, the war was being so poorly run that news reports antagonized both the president in Washington and the high command in Vietnam. As things went from bad to worse in terms of achieving U.S. war aims, civilian and military leaders tried to modify reporting through various means. Unfortunately for those leaders, but ultimately fortunately for our country as a whole, reporters could file stories via Singapore or Hong Kong civilian channels that told greater truths than those stories that had to be entrusted to the military communication system for transmission to the United States. The sad truth is, many reporters toed the line; they used the military press releases as the basis for reporting on the war, thus deluding much of the public into believing the Vietnam conflict was being fought with honor and success. It was up to reporters — who could have easily lost their jobs if company executives disagreed with their methods or reportage — to tell the humbling, embarrassing, shameful truth of how the war was being fought.
Perhaps the oddest facet of news coverage was that the U.S. really did try to let reporters do their job at first, then tried to limit what was being said through various, ultimately ineffective means, while never implementing the hard and fast censorship that has characterized war coverage before and after Vietnam.
This paper was exceptionally well-written. Rangan chose a topic narrow enough for her paper, yet presented enough detail and surrounding history to contextualize her report. War reporting has evolved to be far more encompassing and truthful through the efforts of individuals, sometimes backed by their organizations, and that evolution began in Vietnam.
Agata Sorotokin, Mitra Scholar: “The Truth Beyond Words: A Muisco-Historical Analysis of Selections from Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shotakovich’s Compositions Under the Stalinist Regime”
This careful study of the life of Dmitri Dimitrivich Shostakovich, juxtaposed against his times, illustrates through musical analysis, anecdotes and historical context, his unswerving determination to maintain his artistic freedom even under one of the most repressive regimes of modern times.
Using the above elements, Sorotokin has woven a story that goes beyond even Shostakovich’s struggle to illustrate the struggle all honest artists faced under the limits imposed by political repression under the greatest murderer of modern times, Josef Stalin.
Sorotokin focused on three Shostakovich pieces – an opera, a symphony and a chamber piece –to show how the composer did his best to follow the precepts of socialist Russia while striving to maintain his artistic integrity. Alas, there was no room in that country, in that era, for real personal integrity, only for self-delusion or naked conformity to avoid the knout.
Shostakovich tried hard to reconcile his integrity with political repression, but the inconsistencies of the Soviet system, deep corruption on high vs. mass idealism below meant that integrity in all the arts was caught between the vagaries of untutored leaders passing judgment and the fickle praise of the masses who, having no real choice, swung to and fro, for and against, artists as the regime clasped them to its bosom or metaphorically pushed their faces in to the mud.
Shostakovich fell out of favor, then back in, and the pieces Sorotokin uses to illustrate the composer’s artistic path follow that pattern, with his symphony being praised, his opera reviled and, following another cycle of rehabilitation and rejection, survival after the death of Stalin. After a government-instigated cultural visit to New York where he felt forced to criticize fellow composer, Igor Stravinsky, Sorotokin notes “Shostakovich began to write his Fourth String Quartet, which he did not even attempt to have performed until after Stalin’s death. Placing the piece of chamber music ‘in the drawer,’ he was unafraid to express his ‘authentic’ emotions in the work.”
Sorotokin clearly admires Shostakovich and by the end of the paper, it is hard not to do so. He repeatedly jeopardized his freedom supporting others and he repeatedly tried to be a good citizen by volunteering for duty during World War II when Russians were dying in heaps to keep the German Army at bay.
Sorotokin includes several passages from Shostakovich’s works pointing out how he made the music tell his story of life, including a protest against anti-semitism, which was a reoccurring theme in Russia. Sorotokin finishes leaving readers with a solid feeling for Shostakovich’s efforts to produce his incredible music under extremely trying historical circumstances.
Vedant Thyagaraj, Near Scholar: “Increasing the Efficiency of United States Healthcare: Addressing Adverse Selection in the Health Insurance Market Through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”
Vedant Thyagaraj has produced an impressive study and analysis of U.S. health insurance that codifies all the issues thinking people have come to recognize as wrong with our health care insurance system. Two of the biggest issues that consumers face are listed by Thyagaraj early on in the document:
“Defensive medicine, where doctors prescribe medical treatments that are not necessarily in the patient’s best interest but protect the doctor from potential lawsuits, has also become more common and has resulted in increased medical costs, which indirectly raises insurance premiums. The flip-side of this argument is physician-induced demand; doctors and other medical practitioners will prescribe treatments for patients that are superfluous and unnecessary, in order to increase their own profits.”
Thyagaraj says these problems are due to information asymmetry, and notes information symmetry has two distinct market failures: moral hazard and adverse selection. He focuses on adverse selection for most of his paper (although an exploration of moral hazard sounds very interesting!).
“Adverse selection has affected the health insurance market for many decades. As no prior economic solution has succeeded, this market failure has been elevated to the most important health care economic inefficiency in the market for health insurance. Adverse selection occurs due to information asymmetry between customers and insurance providers and is typically characterized by high-risk patients increasing insurance premiums so significantly that lower risk customers drop out of the market.”
He went on to note that “When high-risk individuals join an insurance plan seeking medical coverage, the insurance provider compensates for the increased risk by raising premiums. However, many low-risk individuals, who were previous subscribers to this insurance plan, may find that the new premiums are not justified (and) terminate their health insurance plans.” With the healthy insured dropping out, insurance companies then raise the rates of those still in the plan to cover costs. This spiral is an inevitable outcome of adverse selection that could eventually “lead to the collapse of the insurance pooling mechanism,” Thyagaraj added.
Fortunately, Thyagaraj found there are workable solutions to the problem, one of which is universal insurance coverage, instituted by the government, which “could help reduce adverse selection by maintaining a balance between high-risk and low-risk individuals in insurance population pools (and) the recent Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act seems to meet these requirements, giving it solid theoretical potential to defeat the health insurance market’s greatest economic failure.”
This is a complex paper, but it addresses an issue of concern to virtually every U.S. resident. It makes great reading for those interested in the issues – thoughtful, clear language, good case studies and rational conclusions.
Felix Wu, Near Scholar: “Straight Outta Compton: Hip-Hop and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots”
Felix Wu has written a paper on a topic not familiar to many readers, but one that should be taken as a manifesto of these times where police violence against black men has become one of the most important topics our society can address. The paper analyses the expressions of anger coming from the black community in reaction to repeated incidents of black men dying at the hands of police when there is no discernable threat from the victim. What makes the paper particularly interesting is that Wu examined rap or hip-hop lyrics for what they present to listeners about the grief, frustration and anger coming from the black community as they continue to fight what can easily be defined as institutional lynching.
Wu was able to source many songs, covering a sad 21 years of racial assassination, starting with the Rodney King beating in 1991. He tells the story for those too young to remember it, but the story needs no retelling for most adults, as it was a seminal event in recognizing that black men are beaten and killed weekly – if not daily – in the United States. The beating itself remains deeply shaming, and each incident following, up to the very recent death of a black man in Baltimore police custody from a severed spine, add to that shame for those who are in a position to do one of two things: use our political voices and vote to effect change for those who do not have the votes or political savvy to do so on their own.
Wu spends some time discussing the effect of crack cocaine on the black population and how rap music addressed it, and how it ties into perceptions that blacks are to blame for their own problems. He also discusses changes in gang activity and how rap musicians made multiple efforts to speak to their fellow black men to illustrate how black-on-black violence needed to be addressed within their community. Wu has written a fascinating paper on how the black community’s music has affected it politically in a number of ways and, although many may be generally aware that the music addresses some of the most important issues in the black community, this paper lays it out in black and white, as it were: We need to change how we all, and especially the police, treat black males if we want them to succeed in our society.
Stanley Xie, Mitra Scholar: “Understanding Gender Differences in Depression: The Evolution in Our Understanding for Rumination and Co-Rumination in the Midst of the Social Media Revolution”
Stanley Xie has written a wonderful paper on depression and everyone should read it. Xie examines the relationship between depression and social media interactions and, although he speaks directly to gender differences, and notes that women are roughly twice as likely to suffer from depression, the crux of the paper applies to all since depression affects those around the depressed person, as well.
Xie verbalized some key factors affecting an individual’s state of mind that, when read, seem obvious, but are so entrenched they are easy to overlook. He repeatedly notes that women form closer friendships than men and that those friendships have an ambiguous impact on depression since talking about a problem can help, but dwelling on it can hurt. Here is a highly telling excerpt from his paper:
“Interestingly, they found that friends who co-ruminate with each other, despite their supportive attitudes, engage in more problem talk, possibly explaining the discrepancy between close friendships and increased depressive symptoms. These results support Stone et al. (2011), who found that co-rumination statistically increased the chance for an individual to be depressed and likely serves as one of the driving factors bringing about the gender differences beginning in adolescence. Interestingly, Rose et al. (2007) and Star and Davila (2009), also found that co-rumination occurs in both genders, but female co-rumination contributes more often to depressive behavior, a trend that appears independent of their higher rates of rumination. Because females form closer friendships, they are more likely to open up about and rehash their problems with their friends, contributing to their depressive symptoms.”
Xie does address the issues raised around depression with social media and his analysis seems so logical that its value is in its simplicity. Overtly, communication via social media isn’t as complete as face-to-face due to the lack of facial and body cues transmitted, but it turns out that the sheer volume and number of channels, plus human coping systems allow for pretty good subtextual communication after all.
Xie notes: “The fact is that although nonverbal cues in face-to-face communication may not be present during online conversations, there are so many different ways of communicating through social media than in person. For example, adolescents can take a few ‘snaps’ for their friends, sharing small tidbits of their day with their friends, join a large group chat to continue socializing, and then video chat other friends. Thus, the lack of cues is made up for through the sheer number of different ways teens can present themselves online.”
This exceptionally well-written paper deals with a complex subject, one that strikes home with every thinking person since depression is so pervasive.
The 2015-16 endowment recipients, all, as usual, rising seniors, have been selected!
John Near Excellence in History Education Endowment Fund: Zarek Drozda, Shannon Hong, Jasmine Liu, Sadhika Malladi and Sahana Narayanan.
Mitra Family Endowment for the Humanities: Kaitlyn Gee, Kavya Ramakrishnan, Elisabeth Siegel and Natalie Simonian.
We’ll be looking for some great papers from these students in a year! Go Researching Eagles!