Meet Nimmi Gowrinathan, Visiting Professor and Noted Human Rights Specialist

Nimmi Gowrinathan

Nimmi Gowrinathan, a leading researcher, analyst, and commentator on international gender and violence issues, has joined the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at The City College of New York as a visiting professor. She directs the Politics and Sexual Violence Initiative, a three-year program funded by a grant from the NoVo Foundation. The NoVo Foundation works to transform global societies from cultures of domination to ones of equality and partnership.

Gowrinathan is a former fellow of the Center for Conflict, Negotiation and Recovery, and the Gender Expert for the UN National Human Development Report in Afghanistan. For more than seven years, she served as director for South Asia Programs at Operation USA, overseeing disaster relief programs. Gowrinathan’s research interests include gender and violence, female extremism, social movements, issues of asylum, ethnic conflict, and the impact of militarization, displacement, and race in Sri Lanka. She is author of the blog Deviarchy and a frequent contributor to national media outlets including Foreign Affairs and CNN.

In this interview with Neighborhoods and Nations, Gowrinathan discusses her mission, the unique role of the public university, and her preference for fluidity within the professional and scholarly roles she occupies.

Would you identify the sum of your work so far as contributing to a mission you’ve identified as your “life’s work”? What motivates you?

My work has always been driven by a quest for social justice for the Tamil population in Sri Lanka. Within that, the work that I anticipate to require the entirety of my life, which demands both my emotional energy and intellectual curiosity, centers on understanding the politics of marginalized women. I am constantly reinvigorated by the everyday resistance of women around the world to all forms of repression.

Tell us about the Politics of Sexual Violence Research Initiative and its place at the Colin Powell School. How do you plan to use your resources on campus to engage students and the broader public?

The Politics of Sexual Violence Initiative is designed to better understand the impact of sexual violence on the individual politics of women, both within the U.S., and in select cases around the world. Beyond conducting research to better inform policy and humanitarian formulations on sexual violence, this initiative is intended to create a global network of women scholars engaged in political activism, research, and advocacy–beginning with the young women at City College. The Colin Powell School has been very supportive, and I hope to use this initiative to contribute a unique political project to the engaged scholarship already underway there, as well as to draw in students for events, research, and through select courses I will offer over the next few years. The Initiative also hopes to build important links between existing social movements (Black Girls Matter, the Last Girl) to create far-reaching political movement that addresses the root causes of violence against women.

What are your thoughts on the role of the university with regard to human rights matters–such as sexual violence across the globe or, say, Stop and Frisk in NYC? Does the public university have any major responsibilities other than to educate its students? 

I think the public university, and particularly one with the unique demographic make-up of City College, has an obligation to engage in public debates that affect and shape the lives of its students and its community. While providing a space for student-driven activism, at an intellectual level the university should provide an environment where diverse opinions and new ideas can be presented, challenged, and adapted to support movement-building in many directions.

You are both an activist and a scholar, and you’ve worked as an NGO director, human rights advocate, policy analyst, and journalist: do you see clear divisions between the work you’ve performed within these roles? Do you see yourself primarily as any one player? How do you shift between spaces–are there any specific challenges you face?

I don’t see clear divisions within my work, and I think a fluid approach to my intellectual life and the roles I play has allowed me to create a unique voice and contribution to multiple conversations. I have met young women around the world who are torn between competing identities (Somalian-American/Activist-Scholar) and who are socialized into trying to fit into one role or the other–rather than embracing the value of a space I have called the “inside-outsider.” The challenges I faced were early on in my academic career, where there were often accusations of bias. However, as I have built a career around the exact tensions we have been taught to avoid, I have found that the variety of roles I play allows each to contribute to the other in insightful ways. My own unorthodox approach to my intellectual and professional work can be an example for a younger generation frustrated with the roles available to them, proving that there is no one way to engage in the issues that you are passionate about.

Tell us about your involvement in the Vice Media documentary series on women in/at war. You’ve said that, in sharing women’s stories, you want to “challenge perceptions in academic and policy spaces, while pulling out the richness of their narratives.” How might the Vice series contribute to that goal, or do you see this as a new frontier?

The Vice media series Women at War will begin this month, and hopes to draw out the stories of women that stick with you when conducting intellectual research. The narratives are all drawn together within a special project that will allow one or two big ideas to be revealed in each mini-documentary, with a clear through-line that reveals the complexity of women’s politics as their lives are shaped by violence. This project may not shift academic discourses, but it has been proven that ending sexual violence requires a significant shift in attitudes towards and perceptions of women. Recent films like India’s Daughter reveal the entrenched cultural perceptions of an older generation of men, however Vice News has proven the ability to reach millions of young men and women around the world–providing a distinctive platform through which to tackle the difficult task of dismantling patriarchy in all its many forms.

The Emperor’s New Vitamins

by Matthew G. Nagler, Associate Professor, Economics and Business, Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

About six weeks ago, the New York State Attorney General’s office released a report accusing GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart of selling fraudulent dietary supplements. The AG had DNA-tested 24 products from the retailers representing seven supplement types— including such popular products as gingko biloba and St. John’s Wort. All but five of the products were found to contain DNA that was either unrecognizable or from a plant other than what the product claimed to be—including in some cases little more than powdered rice or house plants.

These findings were no big surprise to Edward J. Kennelly, Professor of Biology at Lehman College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), Fredi Kronenberg of Stanford University, or Bei Jiang of Dali University in China. The three biologists collaborated several years ago on a study of black cohosh, a plant-derived supplement marketed over-the-counter as a cure for hot flashes. They analyzed 11 products and found that three contained no black cohosh, while a fourth that did contain it was also contaminated with a “cousin” plant species. The results of their study are published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Shortly after that study was completed, Mr. Kennelly and I met at a CUNY awards dinner. His research results had raised an important question: While, as scientists, his team had been able to identify fraudulent supplements in the lab, was there any way that consumers could ferret out the frauds? This, I knew, was a question economic analysis could answer. Soon Mr. Kennelly, his collaborators, postdoctoral student Chunhui Ma, and I joined together to do a market-focused study of black cohosh adulteration, the results of which are published in the International Journal of Marketing Studies. Our findings lent support to the notion that dietary supplements are an example of what’s called a credence good, a product for which the quality cannot be determined conclusively by consumers even after they buy and use it. Continue reading

Student Spotlight: Fatjon Kaja

Fatjon Kaja

Fatjon Kaja

Fatjon Kaja is, by all counts, an exceptional student here at the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership. Furthermore, his good humor, sensitivity, and commitment to service for the public good have made him a trusted peer among the school’s students and fellows.

Kaja, a recent immigrant to the U.S. from Albania, is enrolled in the B.A./M.A. program in Economics and has a second major in Pre-Law, with minors in Italian and French. He is a Legal Scholar in the Skadden, Arps Honors Program in Legal Studies, the Co-founder and Vice-Director of the Guidance for the Legal Empowerment of Youth (now the ACLU Chapter at the City College of New York), and Deputy Policy Director of the Economic Development Policy Sector of the Roosevelt Institute at the City College of New York. He was a Partners for Change Fellow in 2013-2014 and has held numerous leadership roles in other campus offices and activities, including student government.

In his free time, he likes to explore New York City, listens to classical music, and plays soccer with his friends and relatives. In this interview with Neighborhoods and Nations, we ask Kaja to describe his path from rural Albania to Harlem. Along the way, Kaja offers insight into why he believes Colin Powell School students have an edge as they pursue civic and global leadership roles after completing their studies at The City College of New York. Continue reading

‘Boys Being Boys': Can We Think Otherwise?

football

by Professor Stanley Thangaraj, Anthropology, Colin Powell School

Last night, the Super Bowl, as expected, ran a gamut of creative, hilarious, and shamelessly sexist ads. Alongside the Victoria’s Secret ads that depict women as objects on display and items to be had, there was also an emerging genre of “good father” ads, and there was one notable spot on domestic violence, based on a phone call that was actually received by a 911 dispatcher.

It was no accident that the PSA ran during the pinnacle of American sports events. Multiple cases of intimate partner violence and sexual assault come out of both collegiate and professional sports leagues every year. Sadly, the PSAs aired last night don’t come close to opening up legible discourse on the corruption within high school, college, and professional sports. It is time to, as in the words of black feminist scholars like Angela Davis, bell hooks, and Audre Lorde, speak truth to power. Continue reading

New Advising Videos!

We’re pleased to unveil new advising videos for the Colin Powell School in the following majors: Anthropology, Economics and Business, International Studies, Political Science, and Psychology. These videos will soon be available to view directly from department websites, but are available now on our Vimeo site.

Police Violence & Social Justice: A Faculty-Supported Student Dialogue

CPS_Logo_RGB_newsquare_small

Dear Students,

Members of the faculty have grown concerned about how you are thinking about and coping with issues of police brutality, the response of our justice system, and the protests that have occupied so much of our attention and emotional energy these past few weeks. We’ve noticed many of you with deep concerns and questions. We also know that many of you have felt compelled to join your voice with others in protest.

We’d like to respond. Starting next Monday, December 15, we will be holding a series of meetings in the social science conference room (NAC 6/141) to discuss these issues.

We’re not calling the meetings talks or teach-ins, because we don’t imagine that we’d be in any way instructing you. Rather, think of participating faculty members as resource people: we’ll convene a conversation, be on hand to share whatever we know and answer questions, but mainly make some space for students to talk through some of these issues, and to meet others, like yourselves, who are concerned, have questions, or want to talk. We’ll post a roster of participating faculty, and the experience and expertise that they bring to the table—from knowledge of critical race theory, to legal expertise, to an understanding of the political context. And you will hopefully attend the meeting or meetings that best to fit your schedule or address your concerns.

Sincerely,

Vince Boudreau

Dean, Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, CCNY

Scheduled Sessions

(as of 12/15/14: check back for updates as we’ll be adding sessions in the coming days)

Monday December 15: 

11:00 AM Leslie Paik, Sociology (Race, Justice, and the Law)

2:00 PM Cheryl Sterling, Director of the Black Studies Department (Critical Race Theory)

Tuesday December 16:

10 AM-12 PM Michael Busch, Associate Director, Office of Student Success

2:00 PM Stan Thangaraj, Anthropology (Cross-racial Possibilities for Solidarity Work Post-Ferguson)

Wednesday December 17

3:00 PM Jennifer Lutton, Honors Center (Race and Racism)

Thursday, December 18

11:00 AM Lotti Silber, Anthropology (Human Rights and Justice)

The Public University: Dying a Slow Death?

vinceheadshot

by Vince Boudreau, Dean, Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, The City College of New York

Year after year, the defunding of public higher education has crept forward without sounding many alarms. It’s not clear that any policy maker or government unit made a specific decision to withdraw support for state universities. Yet, if the current trend continues, most states will have fully divested themselves from supporting public higher education by the 2050s. In New York State, the sunset year is projected to be 2038.

There was a time when New York State citizens covered more than 75 percent of The City College of New York’s budget. Today, that number stands at 36 percent, down a full 11 percentage points in the last four years alone.

How have we allowed this to happen? Through varying degrees of neglect—some more easily pinpointed than others. Continue reading

From our Diplomat-in-Residence: International Education Week, November 17-21

IEWlogo

by Ana Escrogima, New York Metro Diplomat-in-Residence

Greetings from your State Department Diplomat-in-Residence for the New York Metro area! Since I began in September, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting students, faculty, and administrative teams from schools across New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. I have seen firsthand just how strong an interest there is in international study and work opportunities as students seek to travel the world, strengthen core skills, and gain insight into future career options.

Today marks the beginning of International Education Week (IEW). Coordinated by the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Education, IEW highlights the importance of international education for American students and the opportunities available to international students pursuing education in the United States. This year the United States is celebrating the 15th anniversary of International Education Week (IEW), and our theme is “International Education is for Everyone.” If you explore the latest Open Doors report, released November 17, you can get a sense of just how widespread study abroad has become in the United States.

I look forward to engaging with students at international education events occurring in the New York area this week and sharing my own experiences as a studying abroad in Paris from 1999-2000. As a New York City native and the daughter of immigrants to the United States, I found myself drawn to explore national identity and citizenship issues while in France through interviews with first-generation immigrants from North African countries. The connections I made to their experiences formed the basis of my senior thesis and graduate school research, and affected my choice to study Arabic and serve the Middle East as a Foreign Service Officer.

My experience and that of many others show that people with an international education bridge socio-economic, cultural, political, religious, and geographic differences and promote greater understanding of one another’s values and views. We need students from diverse backgrounds from locations around the world and with an assortment of academic interests.

The State Department directly supports exchange programs that make international educational experiences accessible for people representing the full diversity of communities. Increasing the number and diversity of students who benefit from these experiences is integral to building and sustaining a more democratic, secure, and prosperous world. International students enrich classrooms, campuses and communities in ways that endure long after students return home. This cooperation is essential to solving global challenges like climate change, violent extremism, as well as health and food security.

Below are some of the resources at your fingertips to learn more. I hope to see City College students at the November 18 panel on international education and careers hosted by the Undergraduate Student Government, and I encourage you to be in touch at dirnewyorkmetro@state.gov.

Links for further research:

IEW website

State Department Exchanges Website:

State Department Careers Website