Bubble bursting

Opinion by Mina Shah
Oct. 3, 2016, 1:30 a.m.

People who have been reading this column for a while know that I try to write on subjects that “burst the bubble” of Stanford. This campus (and the information circulating in it) can make a student’s experience here pretty insular, because of how many rigorous classes students take and how difficult it can be to get off campus. Thus it is important, as we try to build ourselves into civic-minded, global-citizen adults, for us to maintain connections with and have opinions about what is going on in the world around us. The act of continued engagement outside of such academic and social insularity can sometimes be difficult, especially with all of the commitments we have pulling us in different directions.

So with the start of a new school year, I’d like to take some time and space to reflect upon ways that we can fold “bubble bursting” into our lives here on campus.

  1. Read the newspaper. No, the real one. I, of course, love The Stanford Daily, but it doesn’t always report on the major events happening around the globe. Luckily for us, we have access to The New York Times in the school library (and historically in campus dining halls), and we have online resources that let us read other publications (and different methods available if watching the news is more your style). Part of being an engaged global citizen is knowing what is going on beyond this campus. Read multiple news sources to triangulate a more holistic understanding of the various operating factors in current events, because even news that appears outside of the opinions page is, indeed, biased, and you should be smart enough to find enough sources to allow you to create your own opinions.
  2. Get involved in student activism. With the understanding that everyone has different capacities for intensities of involvement, find a social issue about which you are passionate, and make some good trouble to reduce harm and injustice done in the world. Figure out what your role can be in making the world a better place and do that thing. Do it in a way that educates you and the people around you, no matter how hard it may be to convince your family that you are getting involved in something worthwhile. Or, if the idea of activism seems repulsive to you, learn about it. Grab a coffee (or tea, or just a conversation) with someone who is involved with an activist movement and genuinely listen to what they have to say about their involvement. Thank them for sharing their story.
  3. Go to Africa Table. Learn about the work that people are doing in disciplines other than your own. Spend time at area studies centers. Area studies are a great way to build your professional capacity to learn how to have cross-disciplinary conversations and effectively communicate (difficult as it may be) in order to move multi-faceted projects forward. Africa Table is just one of the ways that an area studies program can both bring us closer together as a series of communities and understanding how to solve multi-dimensional problems. Projects of thought can cover science fiction, reimagining African philosophy, the role of the internet in social development on the continent, legal reform and interaction with international justice schema and any sort of combination of subjects imaginable. We come together to eat, think, and continue conversations in the magical and transcendent space that is the Center for African Studies, working on the problems for so long that we sometimes forget that we have to go to class.
  4. Take a class in an area that is unfamiliar to you, outside of a concentration that you have expertise in, to learn about the development of many of the diverse perspectives in the world; that problems like the refugee “crisis,” security breaches through hacked files, nuclear proliferation, and anthropogenic climate change have historic origins. Make sure that you conduct yourself from the standpoint of engaged pedagogy, so you can participate in conversation with valid and sound arguments that make yourself and the people around you better thinkers and more empathetic humans.

Indeed, there are many ways to think outside the box and burst this bubble, and these four suggestions are some easy ways to start. And if we all work on developing educated opinions on global issues this year,  we can learn how to do things other than code apps, run regressions or write papers. We can learn to change the outcomes of our future, the planet’s future, for the better.

Contact Mina Shah at minashah ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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