Choosing From The Basket Of Opportunity

By Priyanka Borpujari | 2012/13 IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow

September 16, 2012

Universities. Schools. Departments. Programs. It couldn’t get anymore tougher for me to choose which course to select for my fellowship here, for the fall semester. Coupled with the intrinsic computerised and internet-based systems, it was a gruelling task to leave out courses. It got to a point where I had to ask myself – and this is something that I heard from a classmate with whom I attended just one lecture on a course on Rhetoric – “Which among the selected list of course is that which I’d rather die that not take up?” Not quite such a life-and-death matter here with courses, yet, it was tough when the world of opportunities had sprung up.

The process of having to decide was emotionally exhausting not only because the education system here is so different – one in which a student can take up just any course of her fancy; but also because I knew that what I would take up eventually would be a life-changer for me, and the same goes for the ones that I had to drop. I had to rely on meditative thoughts, some dreaming, some hopes that the morning would help me decide. And decide I did. And courses I have begun to attend. I can now claim to be a student at Cambridge. Professors, however, have all been receptive of me desiring to audit their class (in the American context, “auditing” a course means just participating in the classroom; it may not mean doing the assignments. This is in contrast to taking a course for “credits”, which means sitting for the exam or doing the final definitive assignment, to get a degree or marks for the same or its equivalent). Yet, I am keen on doing all the assignments to go deeper into the courses and their understanding.But I have had the aid of the staff at the Center for International Studies (CIS) at MIT where I would be based for the next 6 months. As a Research fellow at the Center, I see myself contributing to the vast reserve of this Center, through my past work. The work space provided to me is one that nurtures my writing spirit, as also helps me be in the groove of among the most intelligent minds working towards a collective effort of international development – a word whose meaning can be diverse and ambiguous in different environs.

Moving forward, here are the courses I am taking, and I have attended at least one of the classes for each:

1. Introduction to the Practice of Public Health, at the Harvard School of Public Health, which is being conducted by Dr Richard Cash, who is a Senior Lecturer on Global Health at the Department of Global Health and Population. The course explores the following (taken from the microsite which is way too complicated for me to link it here for easy perusal of the reader): What is the definition of global health? What are its historic roots and modern manifestations? What are the major contemporary issues and debates on policies and practices? These questions are introduced in this introductory course that defines the scope of the field, highlights contemporary issues, and reviews selected case studies of global health policies and practices. An examination of world health and development sets the stage for subsequent sessions including: burden of disease; primary health care; the global fund for HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis; the emergence of chronic diseases; the pharmaceutical industry; the role of NGOs and their impact on policy; and disaster management in an interconnected world. Case studies are used throughout course and participants will address critical elements in program implementation.

2. Feminist Thought at the MIT Program in Women’s and Gender Studies, conducted by Elizabeth Wood. From the website: In this course we will examine the development of feminist theory over time. Some subjects we will examine in detail include suffrage and equality; radical feminism; psychoanalysis and feminism; theories of power; sexuality and gender; embodied knowledge; pornography; identities and global feminism; militarism; and the welfare state. Throughout the course we will analyze different ways of looking at power and political culture in modern societies, issues of race and class, poverty and welfare, sexuality and morality.

3. Seminar on Photography in Mexico at the Department of Art and Art History, at the School of Arts and Sciences, at Tufts University. The seminar is conducted by Adriana Zavala, who is Associate Professor and Interim Architectural Studies Advisor, Modern and Contemporary Latin American Art, Art of Mexico, and Gender and Women’s Studies. From the website: This seminar examines the role of photography in shaping the Mexican national imaginary. We will study the role of photography in codifying an image of the Mexican people through an emphasis on the exotic and the picturesque, considering works by both native- but also foreign-born photographers. Attention will also be given to the essential role of photography during the Mexican Revolution. We will then focus on photographers who sought to challenge stereotypes by engaging with revolutionary politics or conversely with modernist sensibilities. Emphasis will be given to the Mexican careers of Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, Paul Strand and Henri Cartier-Bresson, as well as Mexican masters Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Gabriel Figueroa, Nacho López, Hector García, Graciela Iturbide and important figures within Mexican photojournalism.

4. Intermediate Photography, which is a Photography Minor course in the Undergraduate program, at the Department of Visual and Media Arts, at Emerson College. The course is conducted by Lauren Shaw. From the website: This intermediate course in black-and-white photography is designed to present a variety of “ways of seeing” by examining frame, tone, point of view, scale, time, and sequence. Students must have access to a camera with adjustable speed and aperture. I would be skipping the dark-room work experience since the students already have had prior exposure (pun unintended) to the same; at the same time, due to paucity of time and resources, and most importantly, the impossibility for me to continue photojournalism in the fast lane when I am back in India, I would not actively participate in the assignments. But the classroom experience with Professor Shaw is a delight for anyone interested in looking beyond the surface. Apart from an entirely academic participation, I was able to understand a bit more about issue of illegal migration and what drives human desperation to immeasurable heights. Ananda Rose had recently authored a book titled ‘Showdown in the Sonoran Desert’ and read from sections of the book, to highlight the controversy between religion, law and immigration, at an event conducted by the Starr Forum, hosted by CIS-MIT.

On another occasion, it was interesting to understand the ways in which international scientists were working together (and sometimes not together) towards creating mechanisms to check the depletion of groundwater across the globe. This was during a study group conducted by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. While the scientist drew a grim picture of the ways in which groundwater was being depleted, and also offered ways to calculate the same in a scientific manner to alleviate further loss, there seems to be a disconnect in understanding sustenance in a globalised, capitalist mindset. perhaps that’s my challenge — to provide a picture from the grassroots about localised solutions for global, heavily-capitalism-induced problems.