Social Justice and the Environment

Informally, there have been assumed to be three waves of international human rights law. [1] The idea being that each level of rights prompted a struggle to be recognized as one.

  • First generation rights include civil and political rights such as the right to vote, freedom of religion, freedom of speech etc.
  • Second generation rights are what we know as socioeconomic rights- embodied in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights- are those such as the right to housing, food, an education, employment and so on.
  • Third generation rights have included the right to development, communication and sustainability.

I want to address the right to a healthy environment/sustainability. Due to the fact that human rights are human-centric, human rights law cannot accord rights on animals or objects or concepts. The environment itself does not have any human rights.

But the definition included in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Report on Climate Change and Human Rights infers that the environment necessitates protection due to its impact on the rights of humans.[2]

Can a dangerous environment can violate human rights?

Environment and Rights
The OHCHR addresses climate change and the state obligation to protect the environment (which encompasses the protection of the human rights of individuals impacted by the environment in a harmful way).
This is where the opinions of human rights advocates and environmental advocates split: does human dependance on the environment require that it be protected or should it be protected on accord of its own virtue?
If there were no humans, should the environment be protected?
But of course, some human rights advocates say, it should be protected but not by human rights law.
If you ask Handl, he’ll say that human rights can conflict with environmental protection (think: development)
I’m digressing from the point. I didn’t want to focus on environmental protections on a macro level (although the above serves well as a short introduction).

Environmental Protection on the Ground Level

Do you ever throw paper into the bin? Perfectly recyclable paper into the bin? If you do, do you feel a sense of guilt? Has the message of sustainability been socially ingrained in you yet? What about recycling when you’re at work? If your office is like most workplaces, you’ll have a blue box right next to your desk for paper. But what about glass and plastic? Do you throw your microwavable container away after you’ve finished up the fettuccine? Or do you not buy microwavable meals because you focus on avoiding processed food?

This article has been inspired by a disregard for the environment on the part of those working in social justice. The argument being that they’d rather spend their time advocating on behalf of individuals who have urgent needs. This is understandable not entirely convincing. It falls in line with other such excuses (I’m a mother of three, I’m a lawyer who puts in 80 hour weeks, I’m a night shift worker and I never sleep so I cannot find the time to recycle).

This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black since I, as well, have too often rolled up the newspaper and chucked it in the little grey can at the foot of my bed rather than making the trek to the designated compartment in the kitchen. Yet, I’m the first to be affronted by the indifference shown by the general public towards the conditions facing single mothers. Apathy is not supposed to be a social justice advocate trait.

In terms of non-profits, the areas that seem to be making the most progress in sustainability are the fields of food security, health, indigenous rights and animal rights. Indigenous groups are quick to recognize that environmental degradation is pestilent to the land that they’ve spent centuries sustaining themselves with and charities in the promotion of health and nutrition recognize the benefits of locally produced food. I was recently speaking to the ED of a food bank who expressed that Kraft meals are a thing of the past and that food sustainability is in. Similarly, animal rights advocates promote protectionist policies as the current situation is causing a depletion in the animal population. Perhaps all of these groups have an ulterior motive for advocating for the environment but at least they are making strides.

Social justice advocates are scarce at environmental rallies.A project manager at an illustrious non-profit claims that she loves the arts but can’t support the arts as she feels that the funding could be better utilized at anti-poverty organization. Despite acknowledging that her own sentiments are silly, she has consciously removed herself from their supporter base. Does the same train of thought transfer to the environment even though we all know that the progression of the world as it is could result is mass catastrophes that leave anything we’ve ever dealt with in the dust (quite literally)?

Why aren’t we supporting environmental groups when issues of contention come up? Why do we scream in fury when we hear of FGM but we don’t make a squeak when mass deforestation is taking place in our own backyards? If we’re harm reductionists, why do we promote studies that serve as evidence in favour of the low barrier method but we don’t give credit to the science that confirms climate change?

I was in the practice of ignoring environmental issues in the newspaper until (very) recently. I accepted that conservation was essential but I didn’t comprehend the role that I had to play. I’d taken ownership over violence against women and children, poverty, multiculturalism, prisoner rehabilitation, other social justice issues, assuming them to be my issues and what I needed to focus on. I realize now that this was an overly simplistic viewpoint. We all need to do our parts. Despite the perception of being too busy to deviate from work, we need to acknowledge the following:

  1. That the environment will impact human rights including the individuals that we advocate for, thus it is our concern
  2. The environment should be protected by virtue of its own self, thus it is our concern

We won’t get there in a day but social justice advocates should be on the right side of history and we will be… once we get in the habit of it.

[1] I do want to emphasize the word informal because the three ‘waves’ of human rights are a point of contention, they usually lead into the debate about positive rights vs negative rights and whether they exist. I’m not claiming to be in complete agreement with this model but I am using it here for simplicity’s sake.
[2] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/HRAndClimateChange/Pages/Study.aspx

The Conditions We Subject Our Mentally Ill Prisoners To

Last month, it was my privilege to attend a panel discussion organized by SFU Public Square featuring Howard Sapers, the current Correctional Investigator of Canada. The topic followed along the lines of his latest report which testified to our current justice system being riddled with mental health problems and addiction.

I won’t run through the entirety of his findings since the broadcast of the talk was recorded on video but some of the points he raised were dismaying. The lack of competent staff to assist individuals suffering from mental health issues along with the sheer numbers being thrown out made me question whether our federally-regulated prisons can, in any shape or form, be considered fit for habitation. The inadequate support after release was also found to be insufficient and it quickly prompted memories of my days volunteering with the John Howard Society last year. We’ve reached the root of the problem, folks.

The topic of co-occurring disorders was also breached by Mae Burrows from Grief to Action, an agency organized by the parents of individuals suffering from addictions. She emphasized the importance of humanizing people with addictions and dispelling the stigma that is so rampant in society. One of the most heart-rending moments of the dialogue involved a couple in the audience who recounted the story of their incarcerated son. He was denied medical attention and subjugated to persisting neglect after suffering from a mental break during which he sustained an injury. It was also particularly astonishing to me that he had been penalized for refusing methadone (he wanted to quit his heroin addiction without resorting to other opioids), being told that his refusal would be considered ‘bad behaviour’. The parents, holding each others’ hands, grieving for their son’s condition served as a tragic example. Their situation epitomized the treatment that our prisoners are being subjected to by a regulating body that seemingly doesn’t have much interest in maintaining their well-being.

A link to a relevant section within Sapers’ current annual report can be found here and I encourage anyone interested in the subject to hear what was being said that night:

(Credit: SFU Public Square)

Contributions for the event were given to the Mary Steinhauser Memorial Bursary for SFU Aboriginal Undergraduate Students in Arts & Social Sciences.

Employment Equity is a Dirty Term

We think of it as being a form of reverse sexism inflicted on innocent, hard-working men whose only crime was to be born a man. And the fact that women are being penalized for being women at a tremendous scale is oft unuttered. It’s as if the objectives of these policies have been forgotten- as if they are purposeless and unnecessary.

This is not an abstruse idea. For instance, take the example of the Employment Equity Act which was implemented in order to improve conditions for individuals receiving an unfair disadvantage within the federal employee system:

The purpose of the EEA is to ensure that no person is denied employment opportunities and benefits for reasons unrelated to ability. It requires employers to correct disadvantages in the workplace experienced by members of the four designated groups:
women;
Aboriginal peoples;
persons with disabilities; and
visible minorities.
In addition, employers must implement the principle that employment equity means more than treating people in the same way; it also requires special measures and the accommodation of differences.[1]

Quotas and regulations such as this may convey the impression that they are discriminatory towards the able-bodied, white male who believes that he can do a comparable or even better job than the visible minority woman who was given preferential treatment based on her class. In doing so, he ignores the years of bias that have taken a toll on the latter individual. We forget than the man was brought up with an advantage that he was given when he was born. We should take the time to make him aware of this. We need to have a discussion about why employment equity exists.

The dialogue began with an article written by a friend of mine in the newspaper that decried employment discrimination and described her personal experiences dealing with the issue. This prompted a response from another reader asserting that, due to the uptake of affirmative action, men are at a disadvantage now. I duly responded with my own take on the socioeconomic position of women today and resolved that despite affirmative action policies, women are inadvertently challenged with inequitable circumstances in the workplace.

I believe that a conversation regarding the importance of affirmative action needs to be had. We are long past the days when women’s liberation was soundly understood by most; the objectives being endorsed by people of all walks of life. Today, feminism is constantly confused and warped within various forms of media which is why it should be explained and made accessible to the greater public.

A male friend asked me what my conception of feminism looked like. He had been hearing messages about the subject leading up to International Women’s Day and after some soul searching, I responded:

Feminism is the idea that all people are equal and that this equality should be fulfilled by instigating social change, dismantling patriarchal structures that oppress individuals who are not white, heterosexual, able-bodied, cisgender, middle aged males and deposing of the direct and systemic barriers that they may face on account of not belonging to the dominant class of society.

In short, the barriers that people face should be rectified in order to compensate for harm done.

While it may seem as though the gender gap can be accounted for based on the choices that women independently make (choosing to have children, choosing to pursue a low-paying career…), research has shown that they don’t always have power over their own circumstances. For instance, girls grow up primed to pursue subjects in the arts and caregiving, which fall on the lower ends of the earnings scale, while boys are encouraged to pursue high-wage technical occupations in engineering and science.[2] And, while men and women both conjointly make decisions to have children, women are the ones who suffer from the so-called ‘baby penalty’ which shuts the door on future career opportunities.[3]

The bias isn’t always systemic. Direct discrimination is entwined in the nature of corporate culture. Identical resumes, under both male and female names, are more likely to be called back for an interview when featuring a male title. Women are judged to be less competent[4], less worthy of being promoted[5] and possessing fewer leadership skills as compared to men regardless of their true abilities.[6] They suffer from a sticky floor (a tendency to be trapped in lower-level positions), a mid-level bottleneck (a tendency to be trapped in middle-management) and a glass ceiling (a tendency to be unable to move towards executive positions).[7]

Unfortunately, even the practices targeting the alleviation of discrimination can backfire. For instance, regulation requiring companies to give maternity leave to women discourages employers from hiring them. The fact that men are being offered parental leave is negligible as many simply do not take them which renders them as desirable employees compared to female candidates (who may end up taking a leave at the cost of the company). Similarly, the enactment of employment equity can be cause for resentment among colleagues.

This is why employment equity is so essential to the pursuit of gender equality and why the dispersion of information pertaining to these facts is equivalently as important. We need to teach employers about the direct and systemic discrimination faced by women and ask them to question themselves and their organizations as to whether they are treating their employees fairly and, if not, how they can take steps to remedy the current situation in an equitable way.


[1] http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/e-5.401/FullText.html

[2] www.truechild.org/STEMresearch

[3] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jomf.12086/abstract

[4] http://www.forbes.com/sites/85broads/2011/04/14/why-is-it-that-women-are-seen-as-less-competent/

[5] http://hbr.org/2010/09/why-men-still-get-more-promotions-than-women/ar/1

[6] http://www.astd.org/Publications/Blogs/ASTD-Blog/2011/07/UK-Women-Seen-as-Less-Qualified-and-Capable-Leaders-Than-Men

[7] http://www.ryerson.ca/content/dam/diversity/academic/Gender_&_Racial_Differentials_In_Promotions_2009.pdf

Graduation

Our graduation took place at the University of Nottingham on December 10th and most of us managed to hang around for a few days to reconnect and reexplore our old hangouts.
Over a month later, I’m still amazed by the culmination of my degree. I can’t quite believe that the months of hard work are over and that I have an authenticated document to prove the fact.
I’ve taken December and January to visit family in Pakistan and am getting ready to return to Vancouver where the job hunt will begin.
I do find myself getting nostalgic about the times I’ve spent at UoN but I’m moreso excited about properly starting my career. I’ve started putting aside the post-apocalyptic novels (courtesy of Margaret Atwood) to concentrate on CV building and googling non-profit organizations. Vancouver is such a great place to work, filled with a multitude of employers in my field of interest. So many opportunities for professional development- I’m excited!
For that, and to get back to my running regimen too. I really went to town on the Pakistani food and the leisure of a chai-sipping, couch-sitting lifestyle but who can resist the temptation of mixed tea? No one, I tell you.

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The Eastside Stride

Last Sunday, my mother accompanied me on the Eastside Stride with the Union Gospel Mission. It was an event that took place during Homelessness Action Week and functioned as a combined public awareness and low-income employment program.

The Downtown Eastside is infamous for being ‘Canada’s poorest postal code.’ Any mention of it by the newspapers usually pertain to rampant mental illness, prostitution and drug addiction- it portrays DTES as a relatively hopeless area and has led to many of its residents becoming marginalized. The event took the form of hourly walking tours of the Downtown Eastside as means of introducing its diverse community and rich heritage to the larger world. The purpose of the Eastside Stride seem to be an endeavour to humanize the neighbourhood and mitigate the harmful perceptions associated with it.

Our tour was led by a DTES community member and a UGM outreach worker. We were taken around historical and cultural landmarks, many of which signified the history of the area, and were peppered with interesting facts about the community. Along with learning about the cycle of poverty which determines the poor conditions faced by individuals in poverty, we were educated on the history of the port and the Japanese community who became defunct after the introduction of internment camps during the second World War.

We saw the working locations of organizations that are active in the area such as Megaphone Magazine (a street paper, much like the UK’s Big Issue, which provides low-income people with a voice and a means to acquire income by vending the paper), Pivot Legal Society (a legal advocacy firm that deals primarily in discrimination, housing and poverty reduction) and Quest Food Exchange (a food exchange program which provides healthy and affordable food to marginalized individuals). It was refreshing to see the offices of non-profits that I’ve heard so much about and to become aware of those that I had missed.

Unfortunately, I was unable to finish the tour due to an emergency but, at the end of it, walkers had the chance to participate in the speakers corner to share their thoughts and feelings about what they had seen.

I’ve talked to a few people about my experience and some of them were a little put-off about being unable to go but UGM do plan on conducting tours next year during HAW 2013 and self-directed audio tours are still available on smartphones. It’s something I’ll definitely be partaking in soon- I don’t think I have the patience to wait another year to finish the tour.

The quality of a program like this is the fact that its accessible and speaks to the layperson who has heard of the DTES but doesn’t know much about it. Some of them think the tours should be taking place year-round because of the numbers of interested people who don’t have the time or resources to set up independent tours or try to research the issue themselves but I agree with UGM’s concern that this could be disruptive to the community. Monthly tours would be great though especially during the winter months when walkers can truly sense the physical and mental health implications of homelessness.

I love initiatives like the Eastside Stride and even Homelessness Action Week at large. Public awareness programs can be lost in the discourse when more emergent issues seem to require attention but they are vital to poverty-reduction if we wish to accomplish our goal of establishing supportive and inclusive communities.

Overall, I’m so thankful to UGM and our tour operators for giving me this opportunity and I’m sure everyone else who took the tour feel the same.

(Credit: UGM)

Learning About Housing First

I managed to pop into the Gordon Avenue Supportive Housing and Emergency Shelter open house at Coquitlam City Hall last night. I didn’t have much time to look around since I had to run to the Golden Spike Days Society AGM but from what I observed, the architectural plans and programming seem to be on track and the hosts (which included staff from the City, BC Housing and representatives of RainCity Housing, the non-profit organization responsible for operating the project) were optimistic about an early 2015 opening day. Some of the plans can be found here. They’re quite thorough and include some definitional terms that the general public may be unaware of (i.e. the difference between transitional housing and shelters). I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to check it out because it falls in line with what I’ve been researching for the past little while.

I’ve recently been reading more about Housing First through chapters of an ebook after addressing it in my dissertation as a means to ending further violations of human rights- basically, the idea being that the provision of housing to the homeless, without any conditional factors, can improve their human rights and well being. It is in contrast to a treatment-first approach where treatment for substance abuse or mental illness is given before being moved into stable accommodation. These are the elements of the Housing First philosophy (Homelessness Hub):

  1. No housing readiness requirements. Individuals and families are not required to first demonstrate that they are ‘ready’ for housing. This approach runs in contrast to what has been the orthodoxy of ‘treatment first’ for homelessness, which suggested that people who are homeless should be placed in emergency services until they are ‘ready’ for housing (having received access to health care or treatment).
  2. Choice. Key here is the idea that clients are able to exercise some choice regarding the location and type of housing they receive. As we will see below, choice may be constrained by local availability and affordability.
  3. Individualized support services. Some people, once housed, will need minimum supports, while other people will need supports for the rest of their lives, ranging from case management to assertive community treatment. A key philosophy of Housing First is that people have access to the supports they need, IF they choose.
  4. Harm Reduction. Harm reduction aims to reduce the risks and harmful effects associated with substance use and addictive behaviours for the individual, the community and society as a whole, without requiring abstinence. In Housing First, this means that absolute sobriety is not required (though as part of the spectrum of choices, people may choose ‘abstinence only’ housing) and a tenant cannot lose housing because of substance use.
  5. Social and community integration. Part of the Housing First strategy is to help people become socially integrated into their community and this requires socially supportive engagement and the opportunity to participate in meaningful activities. If people are housed and become or remain socially isolated, the stability of their housing may be undermined.

Canadian initiatives for the program are spread out throughout the country and are rapidly growing. Despite regional variations, all Housing First programs should be seen to comply with the core values of the program.

I understand that some may be initially skeptical about whether poor and marginalized individuals would be able to live independently without help but it’s important to realize that the principle of Housing First falls in line with the right to housing as embodied in ICESCR and ratified by our government. An essential part of implementing the program includes disseminating knowledge about it which may include myth-busting. Especially in regards to reports of failures, stereotypes about the ability of those needing help to remain in secure housing and some forms of NIMBYism. It’s helpful to assert that Housing First works.

But it doesn’t end at the provision of housing- establishing steady housing seems to be in line with harm reduction philosophies. The provision of services through staff and partnerships provide the rehabilitation and integration part of the program. Team interventions are the essential part of most programs which progress the ‘treatment’ stage of Housing First by way of either Assertive Community Treatment (ACT), which consists of multidisciplinary support teams accessible to individuals, or Intensive Case Management, which takes a case management approach to developing integration plan. As described in RainCity Housing’s newsletter, they’ve been active in establishing ACTs team which has positively influenced the lives of many of their clients. Wes, a participant in the program asserted that it brought him “out of despair” and was elemental in providing him with the tools to secure an occupation and give him the confidence speak out at public conferences about Housing First.

Of course, the most troublesome part of the program seems to be lack of affordable housing. Housing First proponents insist that consumer choice cannot be sacrificed, yet, how are we supposed to offer affordable housing when the prices of property in cities such as Vancouver are soaring. While Vancouver has attempted to implement the program within the city (with much success as seen at The Vivian), the report doesn’t deny that this will be challenging for future programs especially due to the initial costs. Of course, in terms of scattered housing, landlords can be brought on to the table with incentives such as guaranteed rent and damage coverage but it doesn’t help the problem at large. Learning about Housing First has encouraged me to view the current housing condition in Vancouver as positively disabling. While rental supplements can help some individuals, there’s no doubt that changes need to be made in the way housing is distributed among the city in order to make the most out of Housing First.

The Downtown Community and Drug Treatment Courts

The reason this blog has been blessed with the privilege of sustaining two posts in their entirety within a week is because I’m extremely enthusiastic about having the marvelous opportunity to visit the Provincial Court of British Columbia and Downtown Community Court with some fellow volunteers and staff of the John Howard Society of British Columbia. I arrived early in the morning which allowed me to spend some time loitering around Gastown (which I haven’t seen since Christmas)- it’s my favourite part of Vancouver, I had to mention it. I arrived at the courthouse and an introduction was provided by a representative of the Justice Education Society who gave us a quick rundown of the criminal justice system in the province (echoes of my criminology days) and the different types of cases heard in the provincial court, community court and drug treatment court respectively. The Downtown Community Court

At its core, the community court is about partnership and problem solving. It’s about creating new relationships, both within the justice system and with health and social services, community organizations, area residents, merchants, faith communities and schools… The community court is about testing new ways to reduce crime and improve public safety. It deals with offenders more quickly through a more co-ordinated and informed response.

This court is located on the backside of the provincial court, although through a separate entrance. There is definitely an advantage to being located so close to Main Street and I couldn’t help but notice the symbolic significance of this layout- it serves as an informal, backdoor way of dealing with repeat offenders who are wrought with problematic histories which often include mental illness and drug addiction. As our JES representative pressed, many of these individuals ended up being charged for theft of petty items such as cheese- which have a high resale value (reference to the low-cost pizza slice outlets scattered over the downtown core). A justice system that treats them like cookie-cutter criminals would be detrimental to their well-being along with that of the general public especially taking into consideration the systemic problems that are prevalent around the area. Hence, the community court. A somewhat-casual court system that complies with its rules but promotes an understanding, harm-reduction response to such crimes. We were lucky enough to visit while the court was presided by the Honourable Judge Thomas Gove, who initially proposed the creation of the court in Vancouver. Seeing him call up the accused and communicate directly to them was remarkable to see. There’s no doubt that this courtroom maintained a supportive and accessible atmosphere. I cringe at the thought of how an old, mentally ill panhandler would have fared in regular court. While we did notice how ‘disorganized’ the court seemed, we all agreed that it was well suited the area it served where restricted time slots and airtight rules would only result in further unnecessary legal ramifications for an already marginalized population. More information about the process can be found here along with some helpful videos that give you the gist of how the court works. The Drug Treatment Court of Vancouver The drug treatment court is a model that has proved to work miles in helping drug addicted offenders recover effectively (see here). It is used worldwide and I was surprised to learn that it carried the support of the current federal government. This probably the most remarkable thing I’ve heard today, but, as one of the lawyers (who kindly consented to being barraged with our questions) asserted, the science is practically unwavering. The court seemed more of a pep rally than actual proceedings but this shouldn’t be mistaken as being lenient on offenders. Judge Dillon emphasized that rehabilitation and recovery is an immensely demanding process and requires considerable sacrifice (which is monitored by way of frequent drug tests and stringent conditions). The prosecutor determines selection criteria and only a few individuals are permitted into this program which requires weekly court visits and is bolstered by rewards and praise for compliance. Crown counsel and defense collaborate to create a workable action plan for the accused and most of the decisions are made in a pretrial meeting between the counsel, judge and various case workers since hearing the occasional negative feedback could prove to be detrimental to the recovery of the individual who is encouraged to consider the members of the court as allies. The best part of the experience was seeing how, even while sitting in an adversarial system, all the counsel in the drug treatment and community courts seemed to work together to devise practical solutions. Aside from my own observations, more information about this court can be found here. We also managed to sit in on a robbery case and talk to some industrious Native Courtworkers who described the challenges faced by aboriginal offenders and the alternative justice measures that have been put into place in order to take their circumstances into account. I’m a large supporter of restorative justice so this element of the dialogue was very interesting to me- especially when she revealed the existence of a specialized First Nations court (guess who wants to drop by for a visit?) Overall, I was very grateful for the opportunity. It’s quite fascinating to see the things I’ve been reading about put into action. There’s always hope in progressive policy research… and good results too.

Wrapping Up

I can’t deny that I’ve been neglecting my blog recently. It was never really my goal to keep it up to date all the time but I had hoped to post on topics of interest as frequently as possible. I haven’t forgotten it but it definitely slid down my priority list as the year went on.  Since spring, I’d settled on a topic for my dissertation (I approached my supervisor who suggested undertaking an study of discrimination set within the sphere of housing injustice), completed the dissertation (after deciding to focus on intersectional discrimination since addressing all the groups that I wanted to address was practically impossible within the space confines) and relocated back to Vancouver. I did manage to finish off the remainder of my duties for the LL.M. Society and my course representative commitments (I arrived home to be greeted by this neat Student Experience Certificate) before spending a wretched two day marathon, packing up and moving out of Nottingham so it wasn’t all sunshine.
I did, however, go on trips to Croatia, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg over the past few months- some of my friends kept questioning whether it was particularly wise to do during our designated working-on-dissertation-period… but I’d exuded a lot of effort getting the bulk of the work done before the end of July and skipped out on a trip back home which almost everyone else managed to accomplish. This made me a little more homesick than I’d been previously but if there’s anything I have to conclude from the entirety of my summer it’s this… explore Europe whenever you can because you don’t know whether you’ll have the opportunity to do so again.
Perhaps this is felt more acutely by myself than my peers since I live in North America. It’s not often that a completely different country is within reach of me, I almost felt a little panicked to see everything I could. I’d hoped to write a different post on my travels but seeing my record so far, I decided it was worth discussing in this one (or you’d never hear my thoughts on it, imagine that!) I also slipped in a train trip to Scotland which was absolutely lovely. We didn’t have time to explore the highlands but it’s worth it to have an excuse to go back.
I can hardly believe that a year has passed by since I started the degree. I’ve attained a stronger understanding of the field I’m interested in and a better direction of where I want to be career-wise. Involving myself in extra-curricular activities was also extremely beneficial- I can’t recommend it enough. It enriched the entire postgraduate experience.
Having to live and work independently was definitely a new venture which I can’t sufficiently describe through words. I feel more confident and better prepared for the adult life that I undeniably have to begin now ( and I definitely delayed it for as long as I could, if you ask my grandmother).
Finally, I think the worst part about leaving is the friends that became family. I’m starting to see the merit in a two-year masters degree- we wouldn’t have to leave each other so soon. It was inevitable anyway, we knew it would happen eventually but could hardly believe it when it did. We’ll all be together for the last time at graduation (assuming that I actually do pass!) and then, that will be it. The end of my LLM experience.

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Exams, Stress and Anxiety

So after the exams are over and the essays have been handed in, what do you do whilst waiting for your friends to catch up?
If you’re me, you’ll do copious amounts of french revision, read Louisa May Alcott novels and spend an entire day bleaching your kitchen and bathroom.
It’s the post-exam depression or, as I like to call it, distress-withdrawal. The feeling of listlessness following the stressful all-nighters and group studies. Personally, I haven’t been nearly as apprehensive about the exam period as some of my coursemates over the past two months. I’ve alternated finishing my own papers with holding peoples’ hands and offering compliments about their respective intelligences like metaphorical brown paper bags.
The thought had occurred to me that perhaps I wasn’t genius enough to be suffering from this affliction- the full-out mania that precedes the exam period. Perhaps I’m ambivalent about it because I don’t care as much and won’t do as well as my panic-stricken peers. It’s irrelevant really. I can’t teach myself to look at coursework and tests with trepidation. I never have. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. Maybe it’s because I realize what a poor reflection of my knowledge they really are. Maybe the thought is just a safety blanket I use to console myself. I won’t know until mid-July anyways so I’m not worried.

I’ve always been fascinated by anxious people. It’s amazing how no amount of coaxing can help them. And what I find even more interesting is how they can remain highly functional in every day life… until the ball drops… at which point all their achievements fade in comparison to an exam that renders them virtually helpless.
Kagan studied temperament and distinguished between highly reactive infants (who exhibited distress when faced with unfamiliar and uncomfortable stimuli), low reactive infants (who were pretty unresponsive) and the inbetweeners. He undertook a longitudinal study that found a correlation between the temperament of the babies and a range of traits including extraversion/nervousness/inhibition in later life which basically rounded out a better understanding of anxiousness and anxiety.
What I like best about that article is the insinuation that anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing. High-strung individuals are meticulous, careful and more likely to be hired by Kagan as research assistants. So maybe it is a good idea to try to stress myself out a little now that I don’t have too much to lose.

I’m off to Belgium next week to visit my aunt and uncle who are stationed in Antwerp to await a work visa to Angola. I don’t know anything about Belgium aside from the fact some of them speak Flemish and that their French Fries are supposedly amazing. I haven’t researched it much either which is surprising of me.

The thought of my dissertation leaves me confused and I find it odd that we’re supposed to settle on a topic before receiving grades from our assessments. What if we chose something we turn out to be rubbish at?
I’m torn between social and economic rights, minorities, gender issues and corporate responsibility… I don’t know what to focus on. I want to talk to a professor about it but feel that I need to narrow down on my choice of topics a little before approaching anyone. I’m hoping this trip will help me clear things up a bit. I have a little less than a month to decide. I’m not anxious about it but the anxiety of others is making me feel that I should be :) Old news.