Category: Politics

Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

 

Some of our loyal readers may have noticed this column has had an irregular publication schedule lately. This is because I wanted to give everyone a fresh update from the Society for Neuroscience 2017’s annual meeting, the largest gathering of over 30,000 neuroscientists every year to discuss the most fascinating and cutting-edge research.

Unfortunately, that update will have to wait another week, because today I feel compelled to use my platform to talk about the current tax bill making its way through congress. This bill, if passed, would effectively make graduate school impossible for all those but the independently wealthy, and would decimate the structure of science as we know it.

I typically keep this column apolitical, as my goal is to spread interesting neuroscience knowledge to everyone, rather than wading into the political thicket. Were this bill to have been proposed by the other side of the aisle, I would take equal issue. This overarching legislation aims to in part simplify taxes to, as its proponents so often state, ‘the back of a postcard.’

One such ‘simplification’ is the repeal of Section 117(d)(5), a tiny piece of the tax code that makes a huge difference to graduate students. In most STEM graduate programs, students have their tuitions waived and are awarded a modest stipend of approximately $20,000-$30,000 per year to focus on their research. Under the current tax code, graduate students are only taxed on their stipends, which makes sense, as this is the only money they actually take home.

In the tax bill just approved by the house, this exemption is removed. That means a catastrophic increase in tax burdens for all STEM graduate students. Let’s take an average graduate student in Columbia’s Neurobiology PhD program. Their take-home income is just under $30,000 from their stipends, but Columbia’s tuition (which, again, a graduate student never sees or pays), is nearly $50,000. If the senate passes the current version of this bill, graduate students will see a tripling of their tax burden, an increase of over $10,000.

Essentially, by trying to simplify the tax code, this bill would prevent all but the most wealthy of graduate students from pursuing higher education. While some universities may be able to increase stipends to compensate, most cannot afford to. Graduate students are the backbone of labs, and their projects make up the bulk of research happening in the US; without them, there is no science as we know it.  

Without this tiny line of tax code, programs will slash acceptances, US science productivity will plummet, and the hundreds of innovations which have made us a superpower will grind to a halt. Like all of STEM, neuroscience is reliant on the productive output of graduate students. While we are on the cusp of incredible breakthroughs in understanding the brain — many of which can lead to cures for heartbreaking diseases — none of that is possible with the passage of this tax bill in its current form.

This is bigger than politics, and this is bigger than just science. This is about ensuring that the United States continues to be the world’s leader in innovative scientific and technological breakthroughs. If you enjoy the tiny computer in your pocket, have yourself been or known someone helped by modern medicine, or believe in the necessity of scientific progress, please take the time to speak out against this bill and ensure that if it progresses, it does so without this provision. You can find your representative’s information here; ask them to oppose the repeal of Section 117(d)(5) within the Tax Cut and Jobs Act.

Next week, I promise we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming with some fun, new neuroscience findings.

This piece is in response to a piece published in “The Columbia Beacon,” which in turn was published in response to an op-ed in the “Columbia Daily Spectator.”

I hated showing my work in math class.

No, seriously, I hated it.

Take 3(4x +7) = 45. I’m sure all of you remember how to prove that this obviously is true. You have to rewrite the equation to distribute the 3 into 4x+7 to get 12x + 21 equals 45. Then, you have to subtract 21 from both sides to get 12x=24. And finally, you divide both sides by 12 to get the answer, x =2. This, again, being obvious, I would just write the answer, x=2. It wasn’t as if math stopped working if I didn’t write out the three steps on my homework along with the answer. The answer would always be two, so why did I have to waste what little energy I had on one of 46 questions I had every evening for homework?

That argument did not save me from losing points on my assignments in 7th grade.

While I love questions about how a government operates and how we justify government action much more than I loved my algebra proofs, I can see why it’s tedious. Sure, prosecutors should focus on true threats to the community and not otherwise law-abiding citizens, the executive branch in the modern era is given significant discretion on how to enforce legislation; it’s fine if the de facto result of prosecutorial discretion means that a certain group of people already determined as safe have some guarantee of safety; and amnesty through this understanding is not the worst thing that has happened to the American rule of law. But did saying any of that make it truer? Would not saying that make it falser? Life, like math, doesn’t change absent the work that went into it. And while proving these complex questions of political theory makes one a better debater, debating the validity of one’s life to everyone who asks is an exhausting exercise of existentialism.

So sure, Joey, we should show our work to the teacher. Maybe it should be in op-ed form, or The Lion, or re:claim, for the sake of posterity. But I think, to stay in math class a moment longer, Undocu is tired of algebra and wants to move on to Accelerated Multivariable Calculus, and would be happy to debate Accelerated Multivariable Calculus, but you insist on debating algebra, and there’s only so many times they can write x=2 before 800,000 pencils snap in unison. I think that’s what they mean by “reconstructed.” Most people don’t question the virtue of DACA recipients. Most Trump-reluctant Republicans prefer to look like they’re being helpful on the issue as is.

And I’m sure you could make a wonderful argument in Accelerated Multivariable Calculus without writing MS minus 13.

 

If you’d like to submit an op-ed to The Lion, email submissions@thecolumbialion.com

I can be problematic.

These words aren’t easy to get out. They’re a string of words I have to drag out slowly past my teeth, but it’s true: I can be problematic.

I often excuse my emotions with the misogynistic idea that my emotions are just a result of that time of the month during which I’m shark bait. 

I’m talking about during my period, if that wasn’t clear. 

Ever since I was young, I’ve been a fairly emotional being, and it’s not something I’m proud of. I’m sensitive to people’s tone of voice and the way they phrase their words. While it’s something I understand about myself, it’s not something I ever like people to witness. 

I prefer, like any mature adult, to cry in the shower.

It’s inevitable, though, that sometimes the waterworks come at inconvenient and public moments, and this is when my problematic behavior arises.

The first time I can recall it happening was in seventh grade. I was at a leadership seminar for middle school students working on a group project when one student and I got into a heated argument and exchanged not-so-kind words. Me, with my sensitive nature, immediately began to feel tears forming. I tried to contain them, but the girl next to me noticed how tense I was and asked the fatal question: “Are you okay?”

The dams opened wide, and I sat against the wall and cried. People tried to ask me what exactly made me cry, but I didn’t want to tell them. I was ashamed of myself and my reaction. I thought that I should’ve been more reasonable and that I was just overreacting. Embarrassed, I didn’t want to have to explain myself, so I dug through my mind for an excuse and grasped at the first one I found: my period.

Not a single person questioned me. They simply let me be, which was exactly what I wanted. And so, it became a habit. When my eighth-grade math teacher reprimanded me in class for talking to a friend about a question, I was on my period. When my mother yelled at me for not answering my phone, I was on my period. When I got back less-than-ideal test grades in pre-calculus, I was on my period. 

I perpetuated the stereotype that women are emotional and irrational, especially when they’re shark bait. 

Granted if we were actually shark bait and were constantly threatened with being devoured, perhaps it would be understandable if we were a bit irrational. 

But we’re not. We’re just on our menstrual cycles.

The problem with blaming women’s emotions on periods is that it is a harmful generalization that’s used as a way to deem women irrational and unfit for certain professions. It’s used as a way for people to dismiss the thoughts and actions of women they disagree with, and it’s used as a way to invalidate what a woman is feeling as a real emotion, no matter what time of the month it is.

Hillary Clinton had to face this in her campaign, and I’m ashamed to say it’s a generalization I’ve taken advantage of, especially as someone who identifies as a feminist. 

All of this shame over a stereotype I took advantage of made me wonder where the shame that lead to me perpetuating this stereotype came from.

The answer I arrived at, surprisingly, was misogyny.

As a child, I can remember numerous occasions where adults told me to stop crying, to stop trying to attract attention, to stop freaking out over nothing.

There was this expectation, even when I was young, to always be happy. To be flexible and let problems roll off my back. To not be hysterical, because that’s what unintelligent girls are, and I was to be intelligent and reasonable, happy and accommodating.

These are the words society want and expect us, as women, to be. These are the traits of the ideal woman of today: she is always smiling, never lets gender inequality make her angry or upset, and goes with the flow because she is reasonable and charming.

I was taught to smile because it is only with a smile people will truly hear me out. I was taught to keep my voice level and be prepared to concede because it is the only way to even partially get what I want. I was taught how to be a woman in a world where men can yell and react viscerally without being labeled as delusional. I was told how to be a woman in a world where men can be firm and commended for standing for what they believe in, but a woman is just being stubborn when she does the same. I was taught how to be a woman in the context of patriarchal gender roles.

For too long I’ve followed these rules, buying into the myth that my period made me weaker due to the emotions that came with it, believing I needed to behave in a certain way to make up for it, and using this myth as an excuse for myself when I failed to live up to the pleasant standard of behavior expected of me as a woman.

Well, no more.

My feelings and reactions, whether they happen when I am on my period or not, are valid. I’m not being over sensitive; I am just reacting like any other human does, like the men in our society are allowed to do to a certain extent. I am not crazy, and my voice does count, even when it’s heard through tears. 

I am a woman, and when I cry it’s not just because of my period. I’m attuned to the way people speak and phrase their words, leading me to sometimes see meanings the speaker may or may not intend to convey. But that’s okay because I’m no longer shark bait whenever my tears fall. Instead I’m a girl who does not fear expressing her emotions. 

Photo Courtesy of The Onion

 

Since my last post was less fun, we’re going to start this week’s column off with a game! It’s like a “pick your own adventure” game from way back when we were kids, with equally disappointing results and a little more abrasive language.

Here is the scenario:

You’re in a lovely dive bar near your campus, just hanging around and enjoying your Saturday with a few beers. Suddenly, a gentleman approaches you. You’ll allow it, as you are well aware that you are looking damn fine. Small talk ensues, and he asks what you do. For purposes of this game, you reply, “Oh, I study political science, focusing on security,” and suddenly, your response opens a floodgate. Vocabulary from basic international relations theory loosely related to current events are thrown into a cocktail of attempts at explanation. It’s like your very own salmon shorts clad Jervis! The explanations and buzzwords keep flowing and picking up pace, and you seem to be trapped! Do you:

a.)   Look desperately at the bartender to see if she can rescue you from your own personal hell with another round

b.)   Politely try and change the conversation to something slightly more engaging

c.)   Attempt to interject your own well-informed opinion

d.)   Get up and leave

Well, as I’m sure you’ve all deduced by now, I found myself in this very scenario! And I’m sure you’re all dying to know which ending I picked.

In reality, I applied all available tactics. First, I gave the “save me eyes” to no avail (side note: gentlemen, you should really learn to recognize this look). When that didn’t work out, I asked him about his internship at a law firm (gag, I know), but not even that could deter him from his professorial path. Finally, I outright said, “Yeah, I actually study this a lot, and I think it’s super fun to apply theory to everyday situations!” I then briefly explained my column to which–I SHIT YOU NOT–he responded, “Doesn’t that kind of delegitimize your knowledge of the subject?” At this point, I opted for Option D from above.

So sir, whom I desperately hope is now reading this, I have two things to say–which is more than I said throughout the entire duration of our brief encounter. First, doesn’t saying something so obnoxiously stupid and crass delegitimize your penis size? Second, fuck you.

Now that I have sufficiently publicly shamed this poor boy, I can get to the actual point of this piece: mansplaining. This scenario expertly depicts what exactly mansplaining is. I’m sure this is a term you’ve come across recently, especially if you’re more inclined to read liberal newsfeeds. But essentially, it is when men attempt to simplify or explain a subject to women because they, for some reason, don’t think the woman initially understood. Now, I’m a pretty passive feminist, but this is something that has increasingly started to bother me more and more. Perhaps it’s because I’m a woman in a predominantly male-oriented field, but it never feels good to be “taught” something you have literally dedicated hours of studying to, by means of slightly condescending words. This is not to be conflated with actual new information, or perspectives, which I welcome regardless of gender.

Still confused on what exactly mansplaining is? Let me Jamie-splain it to you!

Mansplaining is like America telling literally any EU member state how international institutions and organizations work. If America were to childishly lie about what an international organization is and how it could possibly function, without recognizing that international organizations and institutions dominate the majority of EU member states’ political dialogue, that would be equivalent to mansplaining.

Or, even more rudimentary: America explaining to Greece (also known as the founders of democracy) how democracy itself works. Greece, however, could take some notes on basic economic principles, but that is beside the point.

In summary, mansplaining is so very stupid, and in the words of my good friend from that bar, it delegitimizes any point or position you take afterwards. Instead, I recommend that you simply clarify where you are each at in terms of understanding, and then go forth and have exciting and engaging conversations.

Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus

After a previously sold-out run off-Broadway, Lynn Nottage’s breathtaking play, Sweat, opened recently at the Studio 54 theater. The show, based in Reading, PA, focuses on deindustrialization and its lasting ramifications. In our current political climate, Sweat’s arrival could not be more timely. The show forces its audience to fully delve into the lives of blue-collar workers in America. In a country becoming increasingly divided, as evidenced through the 2016 Presidential Elections, Sweat explores and explains with breathtaking eloquence and clarity the malaise that has spread through many segments of the nation.

For those who have not seen the show, it focuses on the lives of friends working together at a local steel mill. Slowly, as jealousy flares and the workers realize their jobs–and the cultural status that came with them–are dwindling, they each begin to turn on each other. In trying so hard to save themselves and clinging to the work ideals many of their past family members have learned to expect, they are forced to find new work as the impacts of globalization and deindustrialization affect their town.

The show’s strong text is paired with skilled actors and a mundane yet detailed set. The play is primarily set in the local bar, where audience members watch the lives of these workers unfurl as if they were flies on the wall. In each interaction, one can see the close friendships of the characters. In particular, the show focuses on the close bond between two friends: Tracey (played by Johanna Day) and Cynthia (played by Michelle Wilson). In initial scenes, the two characters laugh and drink, jovially sharing stories about their students and their factory jobs, just like normal close friends do. However, after Cynthia is promoted to a role off the factory floor, jealousy flares as Tracey copes with not getting the promotion she truly wanted. As this jealously increases, tensions rise with conversations about race (as Tracey becomes convinced Cynthia was promoted solely for being Black) and the responsibilities of friendships.

To learn more about the show and how it came to be, we sat down with its playwright Lynn Nottage who–in addition to playwriting–is a Professor at Columbia’s School of the Arts. Nottage, originally from Brooklyn, studied at Brown University for her undergraduate degree and later studied and taught at the Yale School of Drama. She has won two Pultizer Prizes and received both the Guggenheim Fellowship and MacArthur Grant.

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