A staple of the Saint Mary's College curriculum, Seminar courses particularly 002, and 103 need to be more inclusive of texts written by Black authors.
By Brent Dondalski
Seminar is a staple at Saint Mary’s: a cornerstone of the Lasallian education the institution strives towards. At its best Seminar, is a free-flowing exchange of ideas, an ongoing conversation that does not end until you graduate. At its worst, however, it is a trudge, a slow walk through the molasses of familiarity in large part due to the repetitive curriculum that at times feels rigid and Eurocentric. If Seminar is to continue encouraging diversity of thought, then it should seek to reflect that by incorporating more Black and non-European texts might resonate with the student body better.
Seminar 001 contains most of my favorite Seminar texts in large part due to its relatively more diverse curriculum. If Seminar 002 and 103 expanded the concepts of race present in Seminar 001 then it would be understood that this class serves as an introduction, however, Seminar 002 and 103 fall short in their inclusions of Black authors, making Seminar 001 feel somewhat unfinished. Along with a couple other essays written by Black writers, two of the most recognizable readings in Seminar 001 are Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet.” Both are brilliant pieces of writing and timelessly essential. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” explores the white moderate’s failure to empathize with Black Americans while Malcolm X’s similarly expands on why racial equity can’t and won’t be compromised on. Both of these texts were extremely relevant in their time and remain relevant to this day. These two texts are so fruitful in the discussions they might bring and fit within the curriculum like a glove, which makes me wonder why similar texts are so sparse in subsequent Seminar courses.
My fear is that including only these two texts in Seminar 001 and failing to flesh out these themes in later classes might present a false dichotomy to students early on. While each text offers so much insight, respectively, they were released less than a year apart, were both written by men, and were likely presented to first-year students at some point already. Often times in America, the history of civil rights and racial equality is watered down, presenting the Christian and peaceful Martin Luther King Jr. contrasted with the militant and uncompromising Malcolm X. Yet, there are so many special and important Black voices in history such as Angela Davis, Cornel West, W.E.B. Du Bois, whose inclusion would help expand upon the concepts of Black liberation while also tearing down this implied dichotomy of MLK Jr. versus Malcolm X. If these authors were to be included, it would help broaden the spectrum of Black thought and race theory for students who might have otherwise understood racial justice to be within a rather binary framework.
Unfortunately, Seminar 002 and 103 in my experience fall even shorter when it comes to diversity of curriculum. I understand that by design there does not exist a curriculum that can satisfy every learning angle: there’s a finite amount of readings possible so some otherwise enlightening texts will have to be left out. However, the lack of variety exhibited in Seminar 002 is quite obvious and disappointing. So many of the texts are from Ancient Greece or at least follow the same philosophical discipline that students are left with the same tired concepts to discuss each class. Ask any Seminar 002 professor or student about fate versus free will and I’m sure they’ll corroborate this. While this does provide the course with a strong topical focus, it comes at the expense of students’ interest. The class could really benefit from writings from Black authors that would not only break up the monotony of these European epics but also build upon pre-established themes of racial justice in conversation with the relevant Western texts. Furthermore, a more diverse list of readings would likely resonate stronger with an increasingly diverse student body and allow students to engage in texts that acknowledge their lived experience.
Lastly, Seminar 103 continues to miss the mark in incorporating Black texts and perspectives into the curriculum. This is especially unfortunate given how rich Seminar 103 is in social commentary. Fascinating texts such as Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto and Charles Dickens’ Hard Times provide insight into their respective eras’ class struggles and consequences of capitalist power dynamics. These two texts as well as others explore exploitation and oppression in such detail that the lack of a Black perspective or incorporation of racial dynamics becomes increasingly glaring. As many Black scholars have pointed out, racism and class exploitation are so intrinsically tied that a discussion of one without the other can only go so far. An inclusion of class-focused Black authors such as the previously mentioned Cornel West would fit right in the trajectory of the class and help illuminate possible connections between historical class struggle as well as race.
Overall, Seminar could do a better job of incorporating Black authors and perspectives into the curriculum of each Seminar class, especially 002 and 103. I understand that these reading lists are often tight, but the persistent European philosophies grow stale at a certain point and could benefit from a substitute that better reflects our current society. There is an abundance of material from Black authors that falls in the intellectual trajectory of each class. I see no reason to continue excluding it. I’ve seen some initiatives taken by the school to improve Seminar’s diversity and I still have not taken Seminar 104. Hopefully by the time I do, the curriculum’s improvement will be measurable, but only time will tell.
ELFs and their push to incorporate Ibram X. Kendi into the school’s most important reading list.
By Melanie Moyer
The Seminar department at Saint Mary’s is designed to provide every student with the proper tools to “enter to learn, [and] leave to serve.” Engaged Learning Facilitators, also known as ELFs, raise the question of whether students are provided with the proper materials in Seminar 001 to serve the world in an anti-racist way with their petition to include Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Anti-Racist in the curriculum.
Anna Burke (she/her) ‘22, Melissa Goan (she/her) ‘21, Sarah Kaminsky (she/her) ‘22, Myla Love (she/her) ‘22, Aliya Patel (she/her) ‘22, and Noelle Phillips (she/her) ‘21, along with Dr. Sarah Dempsey, CILSA Associate Director for Community Engagement and Faculty Development, came out with the petition and subsequent letter after reading the book together and discovering its value in learning anti-racist behavior. They called for its inclusion in the Seminar 001 curriculum as well as the proper training for faculty to discuss anti-racism with first-year students.
In light of increased attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, the ELFs realized that the inclusion of Kendi’s book would fill in gaps of knowledge on campus about anti-racism. In an interview, Burke stated that it is essential for Seminar texts to help students move through the world comfortably, and Patel elaborated that the book provided examples of the next steps we all should be taking towards making our campus and country racially equitable.
Patel found that the book’s inclusion of tools and terms that help people identify and combat racist behavior, such as microaggressions and implicit bias, would ground students in their ability to talk about racial issues and methods of anti-racism. If implemented into the curriculum, the ELFs felt that the book would provide students with the proper guidance to make distinct definitions and ideas about the racism they encounter in their lives.
Goan wrote that “reading How To Be An Anti-Racist gave our team the time and space to actively reflect on our journeys, examining how racism permeates and pervades our lived experiences in unique and complex ways,” thus demonstrating the value this text would have if implemented into the reading list of the entire campus.
Many students at Saint Mary’s complain that Seminar texts are anachronistic and written by predominantly white male authors. The ELFs feel that the inclusion of Kendi’s book would aid in the effort to change the dominant discourse the texts present. Love felt that the book would not only be enjoyable for all audiences but also a subject everyone should be engaged with, especially considering that the #ScholarStrike and other recent social movements against racism were not universally recognized on campus. She was surprised to learn from the book that everyone is capable of being racist, including BIPOC students. The text would create the opportunity for everyone to engage with the discussions about anti-racism that are overdue on campus and in this country.
Kaminsky felt that the text would connect students around an authentic conversation that could include their learned experiences. It seems undeniable that students would be much better equipped for the world if they learned about the racism that entered their daily lives. Thus, Goan states that “one of our petition’s points is that conversations about racism and racial justice require all of our voices, and in operationalizing this vision, it made sense to direct and share our petition with the Collegiate Seminar Program.”
The petition was well received despite the constraints of COVID-19 restrictions, reaching 164 signatures in two weeks. This is made more impressive by the fact that the organization was student-driven and student-oriented. The ELFs described a feeling of pride for their community’s response to the petition, and attribute much of its success to social media and enthusiasm from the circles they shared it with. Moving forward, the ELFs will be meeting with the Seminar Board this upcoming Wednesday. The petition is still open for signatures and can be found in the links below along with Goan’s statement and the letter the team came up with.
Link to the Petition and Letter:
By Katelyn McCarthy
In America’s computer screens—er, elementary schools—young students have been spending the month of February learning about African American history. Some have likely written papers and drawn pictures of historical figures like Jesse Owens, Frederick Douglas, and George Washington Carver. Others might be reading the words of Langston Hughes or Martin Luther King, Jr. Still others might listen in rapture to stories about Jackie Robinson, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. But should this learning be confined to the month of February?
Many different cultures in America have a time set aside for cultural celebrations: St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras, and Cinco de Mayo are such holidays. But that doesn’t mean that the history of the Irish, Acadian, and Mexican Americans ought to be confined to those days. Neither should the study of African American history be confined to Black History Month. Black History Month is a vital time to recognize the importance of African Americans in American history, and their stories should also be taught year round.
American history has been the sum of the people who shaped her into the country she is today. While various cultures will begin their influence in America in earlier or later time periods, and therefore will be studied in different chapters of history books, every culture which has impacted our country has played a role in the building of our great nation and, therefore, in the writing of her history.
To think of American history as ‘European American history’ and to confine African American history (and Latin American and Asian American histories, as well) to separate categories acts against the fundamental principle that we are “one nation, under God, indivisible.” That’s not to say that cultural histories ought not be studied within their own unique context but that they should not solely be studied so.
I think that it would be beneficial for all children, especially those whose cultures are often wrongly distinguished from the idea of a ‘generic’ American culture, to grow up learning that to be an American is not a matter of skin but a matter of belief. To believe in liberty, justice, and equality under the law is to be American, and belief transcends bodily happenstance.
Teaching history in a way that recognizes that all people who make up America have contributed to her is to work towards social harmony, mutual understanding, and a shared national pride. It would be a manner of celebrating cultural histories on the days or months during which we commemorate them and also incorporating them into our understanding of what it means to be an American. It is, recognizing a unity beyond skin, to speak alongside the aforementioned poet, Langston Hughes, and say, “I, too, am America.” In so declaring, we can come to understand that our different cultures are to be celebrated and united so that all of us can join hands as brothers and sisters of one shared land.
Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley both ignited a political coup, stating false claims in order to keep Donald Trump as president. They both betrayed the American people, and should be held accountable by resigning from Congress.
By Brent Dondalski
On January 6th 2021 hundreds of pro-Trump individuals stormed the Capitol building over their collective frustration that Donald Trump did not win the 2020 election. The members of Congress, most of whom sought to certify the election results that day, were forced to seek safety and barricade themselves in the building. This is a clear consequence of Donald Trump, Senator Josh Hawley, and Senator Ted Cruz’s relentless misinformation campaign to overturn the 2020 election results, and they should face consequences.
Just one day before the insurrection Politico reported that Cruz and Hawley were leading 11 other GOP senators to challenge the results of the election. Their aim to delegitimize the 2020 election through accusations of widespread voter fraud has been heavily criticized due to its overt lack of evidence. On Fox News prior to the attack, Ted Cruz spoke on air about “unprecedented allegations of voter fraud” and expressed his willingness to challenge the election results, despite the justice department asserting that there has been no evidence of widespread fraud.
Josh Hawley similarly announced his objection to certifying the 2020 election results while echoing false conspiracy theories about poor election security, despite the 2020 election being one of the most secure in American history according to Brennan Center for Justice. 61 of the 62 lawsuits filed by the president have been tossed out because of a lack of merit. For every accusation of voter fraud there are hundreds of fact-checkers and investigative sources reporting that it just did not happen that way. This widespread voter fraud, simply put, is a myth. It was made up out of thin air by Trump and his colleagues as a desperate attempt to hold onto power. It is what ultimately inspired the January 6th attack that lead to the death of five people.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D), a notable progressive member of the Democratic Party, described the coup attempt saying “I thought I was going to die” as well as hearing screams from the protesters yelling “Where is she? Where is she?” Rep. Nancy Mase (R), a republican from South Carolina, even vowed to start carrying a firearm at the capitol after the event declaring “I will not be put in that situation again.”
The accounts of this event are harrowing and we cannot let them fade into the past. The politicians responsible for this violence must be held accountable or we risk history repeating itself. This event was a textbook example of an attempted coup. There is no debate here.
Merriam-Webster defines a coup as “a sudden decisive exercise of force in politics, especially the violent overthrow or alteration of an existing government by a small group.” Nobody could sum up the frustration that led to this attempted coup better than Donald Trump himself when he told the crowd “this election was stolen from you, from me, from the country” just hours before the Capitol violence ignited. Clearly the general goal of the mob was to violently take control of the building and subsequently acquire power for the Trump administration. Fortunately, successful coups tend to be more intricately planned and after hours of violence, including the deaths of four protesters and one police officer, the crowd was expelled from the building and dispersed.
It is important to accurately assess this coup as a coup to truly grasp the gravity of this situation. They attempted to overthrow the American government. They got closer than we might ever see again. Democracy almost crumbled right in front of our eyes and the recklessly incorrect claims of election fraud perpetuated by Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley are where the blame lies.
If the conspiracies had not been started and amplified by the former president and these senators then the insurrection would have never happened. What must happen now is Congress must acknowledge this officially and expel Senator Hawley and Senator Cruz from Congress. This act would show the American people that there are serious consequences for undermining democracy and that any seditious and reckless behavior by government officials in the future would be met with full accountability.
If both Hawley and Cruz are allowed to continue as Senators after inciting a coup then what is stopping them from making even more seizes for power? Senator Lindsey Graham has come out in opposition to their expulsions saying “it is past time for all of us to try to heal our country and move forward,” but what better way to heal than to hold those responsible accountable? If one can acknowledge to themselves that the attack on January 6th was in fact an attempted coup and that Hawley and Cruz’ endorsement of election fraud conspiracies directly lead to this coup then there is clearly only one way forward. There is no bipartisan compromise here. They should be glad they aren’t being arrested for treason. Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz must be expelled from Congress.
Joe Biden joins the majority of U.S. presidents who sign sweeping numbers of executive orders to complete their agenda swiftly. Although within their constitutional rights, executive orders are a dangerous form of government, that prioritize the actions of one individual over the power of many.
By Katelyn McCarthy
President Joe Biden, after only three weeks in office, is on his way to making history—the Guinness Book of World Records kind. Already, he has signed more executive orders than each of his predecessors (save FDR) did in their first month as president. Clocking in at 29 thus far, he multiplies President Trump’s 12 by almost 2.5 and comes just shy of doubling President Obama’s.
In line with tradition, most of his orders reverse those signed by his predecessor. Biden has, for example, ended construction of the border wall, reentered the Paris Climate Agreement, and reversed President Trump’s ban on committing American funds to international programs that promote abortion. He has signed orders unrelated to President Trump’s policies, as well, imposing his own travel ban, expanding the census to count non-citizens, and (a personal favorite) “Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking.” I expect that Mr. Biden’s next two executive orders shall recognize the scientific truths that life exists within the womb and that biological sex is immutable. Hopefully they shall be forthcoming.
While some conservatives oppose Biden’s heavy-handed use of the executive order, he is well within his constitutional rights as occupant of the Oval Office to issue as many orders as he pleases. So long as the policy instituted by the orders is under the executive branch’s prerogative (he could not, for example, issue an order declaring war or confirming a Supreme Court Justice), he may enact the agenda of his choice. Though executive orders can be overturned by federal courts and, with some difficulty, overruled by Congress, most remain intact until a new occupant enters the White House.
But Biden’s running start is of less importance than the overall trend in executive orders throughout American history. While outliers exist, the executive order remained in ill use until the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, who signed 48 over the course of his tenure. They continued to increase, burgeoning to 1,081 under Teddy Roosevelt; his cousin claims a whopping 3,721, his yearly average the only of all of the presidents to pass the 300 mark. Perhaps a reaction to FDR’s infatuation with his signature, the executive order entered into a decline, with no president after him holding a yearly average even half of that of his. Since Eisenhower, each president’s yearly average has rested between 35 and 80.
In any case, it is true that considerably more executive orders have been signed in the recent past than they were in America’s early days. Joe Biden, while already racking up a tally, is a symptom, and not the cause, of the trend to solidify and increase the power of the executive branch. Whether this is done to overcome a Congress’s inability to come to an agreement, to promote an agenda that would otherwise likely receive little support, or to respond to hard times, it expresses a dangerous trend against the principle of subsidiarity and distances the voice of the people from their governmental processes. It is an issue partisan only in the sense of the official versus the everyman; it possesses few political preferences.
Seeing as the executive order is so solid as to be made practically of stone, there is little anyone who lacks power, prestige, or a porky pocketbook can do in response to an executive order. But one can certainly hope that President Biden’s—and any president’s—executive orders shall, as Mr. Biden himself stated at a campaign stop in 2019, “choose unity over division...choose science over fiction...choose truth over facts!”
Homeschooling could be a strong solution to the debate surrounding students learning virtually or in person.
By Emmanuel Simon
Like almost all matters in our pseudo-political climate, there is much debate about whether children should physically go back to school, or remain home and do classes online. Why is that?
The arguments for those who advocate for children to physically go back to school are numerous. The argument I find strongest on this side is that children need to go back to school in order to develop their minds and social skills. As much as we would like to pretend otherwise, meeting friends on Zoom differs immensely from meeting them in person. There is something about personal connections that make human flourishing possible, and doing away with these connections harms the human person. Thus, according to some who advocate for children to go back to school, the measures to prevent COVID-19 are harmful and inhumane.
Similarly, there are many who advocate that children physically going back to school during COVID-19 would produce disastrous results. The strongest argument for this position, in my view, is that children want to run around and play with other children, disregarding masks and social distancing. Children can thereby get COVID-19 and spread it to other children and teachers. Furthermore, if the children were to get sick, the parents of that child would have to take care of him or her, increasing the risk of exposure for the parent. Thus, to open up in person classes for students would appear to be counterproductive to stopping the spread of the virus. Once the COVID vaccine becomes available for the general public, we could start talking about measures on how to open in person classes for children.
These being the strongest arguments on both sides, I wonder whether there is some sort of third position one could take, whether it be a middle ground between the two or some third option. As much as I would like to, I don’t have the answer to solve this difficult issue. However, I think COVID-19 has shown us other opportunities for schooling.
In recent years, homeschooling has been increasingly popular amongst families and children. Though I myself was never homeschooled, I know many who were, and these individuals are intelligent, have good social skills, and are able to do what an average non-homeschooled student can do. Not only would homeschooling lower the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for children and their families, it would also provide parents the opportunity to bond with their children. Homeschooling can be a safe way for children to be maskless, in person, and with others; this does away with the previous difficulties.
Now some may be tempted to object, saying that if children were to be homeschooled, then a parent would not be able to work at their job. But homeschooling does away with this difficulty as well. Homeschooling one’s own child is a job in itself. Even though a parent homeschooling a child doesn’t make money, it does save money which would otherwise be needlessly spent. Also, given the current situation, if a person wanted to work at home, they would be able to. Thus, even if a parent had to stay at home, the parent wouldn’t necessarily have to give up his or her job.
Amongst the confusing debate between those who advocate for and against children to physically go back to school, one finds a clear and effective solution which permits children and the family as a whole to flourish. What can be more fulfilling for a father and a mother than to get to bond with their children, establishing a deep and personal relationship!
Regardless of circumstances, a state government never has the authority to stop services in places of worship. The recent ruling by the Supreme Court is a rightful ruling to protect a first amendment right.
The Supreme Court released its decision regarding the state of California’s ban on indoor church services, saying that California cannot continue such bans, which were initially put into place to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. California has suffered exceptionally difficult struggles in terms of keeping COVID cases, and deaths, at a minimum. California has had some of the strictest lockdowns not just in the country, but in the world. It is understandable that the State of California would want to keep restrictions up across the state while cases are on the rise, however, it is also evident that such severe restrictions were not being placed across all establishments in the state.
Rulings on churches were insisting not upon minimal indoor attendance, but zero indoor services. However, other places, such as grocery stores, restaurants, shops, and even film production establishments in California, have been under separate in-door rules. They have had reasonable expectations set, such as mandatory mask wearing, social distancing, and limited numbers of people allowed indoors.
I believe that California's leniences towards other groups’ restrictions in comparison to Churches can be explained in two ways. First, the state government could be especially hard on religious groups throughout the state, which would not be surprising behavior from an increasingly secular government. Second, the state is being lenient on certain groups for the sake of the economy, or special interest groups that fund the government. However, considering the state has consistently leaned towards harsher restrictions, with especially unfair restrictions placed on houses of worship, it is fair to say that the state simply does not prioritize the needs of faithful California residents.
States have been given extraordinary authority in terms of these lockdowns, being allowed to limit the free travel of citizens and access to private establishments. Such restrictions would be considered criminal outside of the context of the current pandemic, yet still, the state cannot simply take full control over the lives of its citizens, even during times such as these. Especially when it appears that the state is acting in a hypocritical manner, without taking into consideration the needs and desires of all of its citizens.
This is why we have the Supreme Court, to ensure that all levels of government in the United States of America do not act or exercise authority outside of that bestowed upon them by the Constitution. California citizens deserve the right to attend indoor masses, which follow the same regulations as other indoor activities. This includes limited numbers of people, masks, and social distancing. There is no reason for the state to restrict such activities for Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindu, and more.
The right to practice religion is one of the oldest and most valuable rights given to Americans, being one of the rights on which this country was founded. It is understandable then that many churches and states across the country have resisted at times when they felt there were unfair constraints on their rights. It is true that life has needed to change during this pandemic in order to protect the general health and safety of the public, but it is clear after this Supreme Court ruling that the actions of the California state government have overreached their authority and were not serving the best interests of many citizens.
After this court ruling, not only have indoor religious services resumed, but outdoor services have also received higher attendance numbers, as citizens return back to safely worship their respective faiths. Several precautions have been enforced and required in the past year in order to stop the spread and detrimental effects of this pandemic, but these restrictions are becoming unfair to certain groups, groups who are thankful for the recent court decision to protect their rights.
Melanie Moyer '22,