Brilliant Minds for Desperate Times

“The country is being played,” wrote a friend in a recent email. I would add that people’s pain is being exploited by the purveyors of neoliberalism. How do we understand where we are and ways forward? For astute critical analysis, perspective, and direction during these dire times, I read the following journalists/authors among others:

Amy Goodman at @democracynow:                              @NaomiAKlein a Canadian author and columnist:           @jbouie at Slate & CBS:
@CharlesMBlow at the NYT:
@tanehisicoates at The Atlantic:

No false hope or solace peddled by these authors. Instead, their hard-hitting writing further exposes structural violence and the injustices that jeopardize us all. At this moment, four days from the next President’s inauguration, I am not optimistic about our future. But I refuse to be a bystander with so much at stake. Read, resist, reclaim.

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Transformative Teaching: The Swedish Fish Strategy

  swedish-fish-clipart-1              swedish-fish-clipart-1              swedish-fish-clipart-1            

A former student emailed me recently, excited to share the latest developments in her life. Wanda (pseudonym) transferred to a much larger campus and, despite a difficult adjustment, took the bold, unlikely step to get involved. She joined two clubs related to her major, sought out a professor for research experience, and started planning a summer internship. Wanda wrote,

 “I am very excited that a lot of doors are beginning to open for me. I honestly would not have gotten this far without your encouragement. The meetings that we had in your office have  had a huge impact on me and I can not begin to thank you enough.”

Students come to my office often, in search of direction, encouragement – and candy. Over Swedish Fish we talk about their interests and imagine the possibilities for their lives. Few know what they want to be when they grow up, or realize their awesomeness, but most are willing to kindle the inkling of potential that brought them to my door in the first place. In class I shamelessly bribe them to attend office hours with the promise of food, coffee, a rocking chair, and the opportunity to talk about themselves. Transformative teaching extends far beyond the classroom.

My goal is to help students identify their passions, create a strategic plan for their career path, and get excited about their abilities and options. I joke with them that it’s always easier to figure out someone else’s life rather than your own. It can also be downright fun to engage in intentional self-reflection. Who doesn’t love to talk about themselves, especially when there are snacks?

We start by discussing their interests and strengths. I ask them to describe the perfect job and work-life balance. If they imagine themselves 15 years post-graduation, what does the day-to-day look like? What is living the dream? We then plot out short- and long-term goals and an action plan. Together we create a “to do” list of simple Google searches they can conduct about certain careers, graduate programs, or causes to pursue. I refer them to inspiring books, TED Talks, and people they should meet. No one leaves without this homework, a hug, and a promise to meet again.

It was a joy to hear from Wanda. I’ve had hundreds of these conversations with students over 19 years of teaching but I don’t often know the outcome. Her note is a reminder of how simple it can be to touch a life. Sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement and some Swedish Fish.


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Panzi Hospital Has Treated 48,482 Survivors in the DR Congo Since 1999

More than just a number, each of the 48,482 women and girls has a name and a story. They come to Panzi Hospital in eastern DR Congo seeking treatment for their injuries due to rape. They leave with healed bodies, preserved dignity, and renewed hope thanks to Panzi’s holistic model of care. 

It’s been 6 years since Dr. Denis Mukwege, the founder of Panzi Hospital, Peter Frantz, and I started Panzi Foundation USA to help support the work of Dr. Mukwege and his remarkable hospital staff. The infographic below is a stark reminder that the atrocities continue and our efforts must not waver. Will you join us? Together we can help Dr. Mukwege and the women and girls of Congo realize their vision for safety and peace. Learn how by visiting 


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Thanks, Jackie Robinson

A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson


Book I used 40 years ago for report on Jackie Robinson

This morning as I watched Ken Burns interviewed on Face the Nation about his new documentary on baseball legend Jackie Robinson, I had a flashback to 6th grade. I was in the middle school library during study hall, searching for a book on the LA Dodgers for a book report. My dad and I were big fans but mostly I wanted to impress classmate crush Brad Blom with my baseball trivia knowledge. I remember pulling this book off the shelf as if it was yesterday. I was 12-years-old and a farm kid in rural Iowa where everyone I knew was white and my awareness of structural inequalities, or my own privilege, was nil.

Learning about Jackie Robinson’s experiences with racial injustice and writing that book report for Mrs. Terlouw’s English class set me on a path to eventually become an educator and scholar-activist in pursuit of the larger social justice project. It’s only now, today in fact, that I realize the significance and power of Robinson’s story for my own life. He once said, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” Thanks, Jackie Robinson. Your legacy reaches far beyond baseball.

Oh, and Brad, if you’re reading this, Jackie Robinson played 1,382 games, had 4,877 at bats, a .311 life-time batting average, 734 RBIs, and 137 home runs.

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‘Rape as a Weapon of War’ Obscures Complexities of Violence in DR Congo

The following is an excerpt from my plenary speech, Daring to Make A Difference for DR Congo: Research, Theory, and the Critical Scholar-Activist at the 2015 annual meeting of the National Council on Family Relations conference held in Vancouver, BC, November 13.


When rape in conflict is framed as a weapon of war, it obscures important distinctions between contexts, perpetrators, the forms of sexualized violence beyond rape, and the forms of violence that are not sexual violations but also occurring in Congo.

For example, there is a difference between conflict-related sexualized violence and domestic sexualized violence. Intimate partner sexualized violence is considered to be the most pervasive form of violence against women in all areas of the DRC. However, reporting IPV is rare because women have no legal rights to property or wealth and fear losing their children or being shunned by the community. Further, there is no law against marital rape.

So we see that this concept of rape as a weapon of war fails to capture:

  1. domestic SV
  2. the difference between sexualized and non-sexualized IPV
  3. SV perpetrated by non-combatants such as police, criminals, people in                      positions of authority, women, civilians
  4. other forms of non-sexual violence: torture, forced labor, child soldiers, murder,              trafficking, and child abuse
  5. other forms of sexualized violence: sexual slavery, sexual harassment,                        trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, forced exposure to                        pornography, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, forced abortion, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, virginity tests, and incest

Finally, the conceptualization of rape as a weapon of war obscures other structural, social, and psychological factors that contribute to gender-based violence and violence in general in the DRC. Factors such as…..

  1. impunity
  2. poverty
  3. failed state (lack of infrastructure such as schools, roads, healthcare, etc.)
  4. trauma
  5. geopolitics of the region
  6. historical context (e.g., legacies of colonization, Mabuto, etc.)
  7. control of natural resources
  8. disputes over land rights, citizenship rights
  9. displaced persons
  10. corruption
  11. inferior status of women in DRC across all domains (economic, social, cultural,       political)
  12. hegemonic masculinity
  13. reintegration of combatants
  14. circulation of arms
  15. dynamics of armed groups
  16. status of conflict (pre-, active, post-)

These narrow conceptualizations result in ineffective responses to human suffering and stifle Congolese self-determination. The mass atrocities in Congo must be understood as a symptom of failed economic, social, and political structures rooted in the legacy of colonization, the geopolitics of the region, corruption, the scramble for natural resources, and the inferior status of women.

Select sources: Alexandra, 2010; Eriksson Baaz & Stern, 2013; Henry, 2015; Koos, 2015; Peterman, Palermo & Bredenkamp, 2011; Prio, 2010

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Thanks, Lasell College for a Remarkable Residency!

I was honored to be the Donahue Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Lasell College in Newtown, MA last week! My four days were jam packed with energizing discussions and thoughtful critical analyses of the DR Congo, human rights, activism, and social justice. I met with faculty, students, and community members over 8 meals, talked with 6 State Senators about pending conflict-minerals legislation, spoke to 5 classes, spent two days at the State House, and gave one keynote address, Daring to Make A Difference: Activism, Congo, and Finding Your Voice for Global Change.

A special thanks to Dr. Tessa le Roux for nominating me for the residency and to Dr. Jesse Tauriac, the Director of the Donahue Institute, for making it all happen. I am fortunate to call you colleagues and now dear friends. Thanks to the many students and faculty who took the time to engage and reflect on a variety of global issues and how we might impact change. Finally, a deep gratitude to Congo Action Now, Boston for Congo, Lasell for Congo and the entire Lasell community for your generous hospitality and inspirational interactions.

Professor Karin Raye’s class, Exploring Activism

Breakfast with fun faculty, Dr. Tauriac, Dr. Janbek & Dr. Athey

Dinner with Dr. le Roux, student Samantha Ramos, Dr. Tauriac and daughter Hyacinth

Sen. McGee and I on the State House Senate floor discussing Congo after he introduced me to the chamber. He is author of the conflict-mineral bill.

Congo Action Now community and student members

Lunch with Congo Action Now, Boston for Congo, Lasell for Congo members

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Defying Mass Violence and Genocide

Many thanks to the Stanley Foundation for publishing my article, Defying Mass Violence and Genocide in their latest issue of Courier and featuring articles by two additional Carl Wilkens Fellows, Anthony Kasongo and Tigranna Zakaryan. Thank you i-ACT for giving us the opportunity!

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