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International & Intercultural Communication program

IIC Student & Alumni Newsletter

IIC Perspectives

Airmail envelope with the name "Perspectives" on the front

Winter 2014

Czech NGO confronts discrimination toward Roma youth

By Maggie Lautzenheiser-Page

Last summer I took part in the TOL Foreign Correspondent course in Prague. As a participant in the weeklong program, I envisioned an original story idea, organized local interviews, and wrote an article to be peer-reviewed.

PRAGUE, Czech Republic- Seeming unsure of his first-day surroundings, 9-year-old Jakub timidly tours the vibrant two-room K09 Club in his neighborhood. In addition to the modest board game selection, social worker Renata Bolechová draws his attention to two large sheets of orange butcher paper conspicuously hanging on the back wall titled "Pravidla and Právo": "Rules" and "Rights," the two fundamental elements of the club. Jakub's attention quickly shifts to the other room where two slightly older boys attempt to rap in unison with famed Slovak rapper Rytmus on YouTube.Pravidla & Pravo

As the three boys bond over the celebrated Romani rapper, Bolechová describes the club not only as a safe haven for neighborhood youth, but as a place to promote tolerance. "Most children here are Roma. They learn that if someone is racist towards them, they shouldn't respond with fighting, but through discussion," she says.

This is especially significant since a majority of the club members come from disadvantaged backgrounds for which they are frequently discriminated against. These conditions often contribute to behavioral problems during adolescence, perpetuating the cycle of hate between Roma and Czechs.

As part of the largest minority in Europe, these Romani youth are subject to a variety of inequities on a daily basis. Nikola Taragoš, Director of Business and Economics at Romodrom (a Prague-based non-profit fighting social exclusion), emphasizes that from an early age, like other Roma communities across the region, Czech Roma are often exposed to discrimination in four main areas: education, employment, health and housing.

For young Roma like Jakub, this can often result in being placed in a practical school- a school for children with mental disabilities. In the Czech Republic, 35% of students in these schools are Romani, even though Roma constitute less than 3% of the total population, simply on account of their poor Czech language skills.

Taragoš recognizes that there are other factors which contribute to this excessive enrollment rate. "It's easier for parents to take both their children to the same school. If the older one is enrolled in a practical school, they will automatically place the younger one in the same school."

Bolechová echoes this sentiment, "It's not a black and white problem. I see mistakes on the Roma side and I see mistakes on the side of the majority."

NGOs like Romodrom have sprung up across the region in order to help assuage hardships faced by Roma. Taragoš' organization was founded primarily to provide for socially excluded children in Prague, largely ethnic Roma, but has since mushroomed into a myriad of social programs benefiting those most marginalized in the city. From vocational rehabilitation training to prison programs, Romodrom's modest efforts to respond to the staunch adversities faced by Roma communities is just one example of a regional effort being made around Europe. While levels of discrimination vary, one thing is certain: NGOs and activists like Taragoš and Bolechová are necessary to help the next generation of Roma transition toward a more hopeful future.

*The names and ages of the children have been changed to protect their identities

*For more information about Romodrom or to get involved with the organization please visit their website or contact Katerina Vyskočilová.

Deep into the communication of genetically modified food

By Tess Doezema

What is true and how do we know that it's true? What about when we talk about scientific issues, shouldn't it be easier to identify objective truth in those circumstances? One way people understand the world around them is through the translation of events that news media offer, so it follows that a natural question to ask is how "true" is the version of the events mainstream media present? Whose claims get offered up as reality and who is represented as the voice of authority? Who are the experts? Whose voice is amplified by news media and who gets silenced? What counts as news that citizens need to be aware of and what gets left out of the picture?

These are all questions that led me to embark on my thesis examining the communication surrounding genetically modified food. Agenda building theory offers the explanation that powerful actors such as government bodies and wealthy corporations directly influence how and when the the mainstream media covers certain topics with a range of public relations strategies, while agenda setting theory offers the other side of the explanation, that the mainstream media in turn set the agenda for the public. Could this phenomenon be demonstrated in the coverage of genetically modified food in the US? What about elsewhere in the world? The international nature of the controversy over genetically modified food is one of its most interesting characteristics. Looking at the GMO controversy internationally highlights neocolonial relationships between developed and developing countries, the ramifications of globalization and free trade, and the variety of legislative outcomes for different countries resulting from institutional and cultural differences. Herman and Chomsky's propaganda model goes even further in depth than agenda building and agenda setting in addressing the news cycle, ownership structure, advertising influence, and the cooptation of experts to explain the effects formally addressed by these two theories.

Through this theoretical lens I looked at communication surrounding genetically modified food in the US and the UK, examining anti-GMO activist publications, biotechnology industry publications and mainstream news coverage (the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Times and the Guardian) over the course of one full calendar year. It was a LOT of articles, which took me what seemed like forever to read and code in full. When I was done coding all of the different characteristics of the articles I thought were important based on the my theoretical framework, I did a thematic analysis and pulled out what I thought were the most important parts of the sets of articles, comparing the tone, framing, language and content of the biotechnology industry output and the anti-GMO activist output with the mainstream news coverage. Because it was my first time doing original research on this scale I coded far more aspects of the articles than I had time to (I delayed my graduation, twice, maybe three times), and ultimately had more information than there was room or sanity to process and analyze in my final product (it was about 200 pages long). It was a fantastic experience.

I found that the mainstream news coverage echoed the industry PR in many important ways. Most significantly the range of issues covered and the framing of these issues by biotechnology industry publications and the mainstream news outlets was appreciably similar. While activist publications looked at a massive range of events all over the world--lawsuits against the biotechnology industry, research on the health effects of consuming GMOs, birth defects as a result of the widespread use of agrochemicals in developing countries, and more--the biotechnology industry and the mainstream news media focused on a limited number of topics and used a limited number of frames to discuss these topics.

There were also important differences, of course, between the Wall Street Journal (a News Corp. paper) and the New York Times, as well as the Times of London (also a News Corp. owned paper) and the Guardian, but agenda setting affects were identifiable in all four sources. The Guardian and the New York Times just tended to be less heavy handed in their promotion of industry agenda's than the News Corp. owned counterparts.

One of the most interesting things that I uncovered in the course of my research involved a series of letters to the editor that were published in the Times of London that were all presented as the thoughtful input of various concerned citizen-scientists working at a range of institutions and in a range of fields. These letters all used the language and framing similar to industry PR materials to a significant extent. It seemed as if the writers had been given the same set of vocabulary words and talking points. In researching the identities of these scientists and public figures I discovered they were all members of a biotechnology industry funded lobby group operating in the UK called Sense About Science. These letters to the editor were portrayed as representing the opinions of enlightened experts and public intellectuals, but in fact they were just part of the larger industry PR campaign trying to get British citizens to believe that there is a public and scientific consensus around genetically modified foods.

Tess Doezema graduated from the University of Denver with an M.A. in International and Intercultural Communication in 2012. She is now a Science Foundation of Arizona Scholar and Ph.D. student in the Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology at Arizona State University.

Pranksters, Tricksters, Game Changers

By Chelsi Hudson

The network known as Anonymous has been associated with many names since their birth in 2008. Some of those include masters of exploitation, digital robin hoods, hackers, pranksters, anarchists, and even terrorists. At the Internet Research Conference on Resistance + Appropriation on October 24, 2013, guest speaker Gabriella Coleman introduces attendees to the background of Anonymous, their endeavors, style and players. Coleman is world's foremost scholar on Anonymous according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Anonymous, being "everything and nothing at once" is a slippery concept that even Coleman struggles to define. This 'hacktivist' group, who are associated with Guy Fawkes masks (think V for Vendetta) and an emblem that contains a man without a head, represents a leaderless organization that is not an organization at all. There is no mission, no organizational hierarchy and no end goal (that we know of). Rather, it is a loose network of people who use resistance to exploit societies prevalent technological ignorance. To many, herein lies the issue with such a network. Who determines whom they exploit? And to what extent? Are they inherently good? Or bad? They have orchestrated the take-downs of over 60 child pornography sites, the Westboro Baptist church website when they publicized plans to picket the funerals of the Sandy Hook Elementary victims, the Ugandan government websites in protest of the anti-homosexual legislative movement to warrant Capital Punishment for the LGBT community, and a white supremacists radio show website, among many others. They were early supporters of the Occupy Movement, WikiLeaks and the Arab Spring. But, not all of their actions are purely for the benefit of persecuted or underserved peoples. As staunch opposers of anti-digital piracy campaigns, they have published sensitive information of innocent people in order to get their message across; which could be interpreted as a self-serving one. Who more likely to oppose the ability to pirate online than hackers themselves? Accounts have also been reported of nonsensical acts of "trickery and tricksterism" to unsuspecting victims. This notion of hypocrisy is central to the Anonymous theme. Coleman validates this by acknowledging they seek to expose state and corporate secrecy, but they are in part a secret society themselves. They are simultaneously sensible and insensible.

The question remains, are they in fact the quintessential robin hoods for the weak, utilizing their anonymity to provide a cloak for their constituents to undertake tasks that would warrant legal persecution (because it is typically against the government in the first place), or are they perpetual tricksters employing their craftiness to self-serve? I think that would depend on which Anon you posed it to. Since 2008 a frequent disagreement within Anonymous (as reported by Coleman) is whether the focus should be on pranking, or on more serious activism. Since this reality cannot be defined at this time, a reality that can is that of consequences. Coleman eloquently phrased the idea "to choose is to exercise freedom, and is typically a deeply moral act." She is right, and sometimes those choices result in retribution, warranted or not. At this point, dozens have been arrested around the world, including Jeremy Hammond. Hammond is a political activist who awaiting a prison sentence for publicizing internal files on a global security firm through the whistle blower website WikiLeaks.

So, what residual effect does this have on us as Communication academics and professionals? Coleman offers:

Critical engagement will yield important lessons for scholarly and journalistic approaches to digital media, protest politics, and cyber-security. Instead of merely depicting hackers as virtual pamphleteers for free speech or as digital outlaws, we need to start asking more specific questions about why and when hackers embrace particular attitudes toward different kinds of laws, explore in greater details what they are hoping to achieve, and take greater care in examining the consequences.

The implications of the Anonymous network are game changers for media, politics and government. Now, there is a world-wide phenomenon that is not shaped by age, race, gender, ethnicity, profession, or affluence. While their end-goal remains unknown, the possibilities could be endless. In Shakespearean plays, the "fool" or "trickster" is usually a clever peasant or commoner who use their wits to outdo people of higher standing. Anonymous is embracing this role, and utilizing it to potentially change the game as we know it.

From Brazil with Love

By Miles Bullock

Brazilian music shakes through the speakers; the driver is hurrying me to a hotel to deliver press material to the State Department Spokeswomen as the entire U.S. Mission Brazil staff is working away at perhaps the year's most high-level visit. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Brazil's capital to meet with his Brazilian counterparts and everyone is in high gear. This would surely be a day I would never forget but as I pinched myself to make sure that I wasn't dreaming I was reminded of the beginnings of this journey.

John Kerry in Brazil

Ever since I was a teenager I dreamed of exploring the interplay of communication, language, and culture, and I could imagine no more of a dynamic place for such an exploration than Brazil. A place that tells a vibrant story of cultural fusion and adaptation, one bursting with such music, dance and color that it leaves one wondering where the lines begin and end. It is here in Brazil that I experienced a true convergence of my passions, my professional aspirations, my identity and my story, a story I am pleased to share.

After a year of graduate study in the International and Intercultural program I embarked across the equator to experience Brazil as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Brasília. The timing of my arrival was...well let's say...special. Brazil was experiencing its largest protests since the end of the dictatorship in 1985. This social upheaval was a glimpse into a greater social trend in Brazil, a national transformation marked by the growing political consciousness of a middle class that anchors an economy now larger than the UK's. Crowds all over Brazil chanted "O Gigante Acordou" (The Giant has Awakened), a slogan that captured Brazil's newly found sentiment. Needless to say, this transformative moment in Brazil's narrative provided me with a unique backdrop to study Brazilian society and culture.

As an intern in the Political Section of the Embassy I assumed a portfolio of human rights, internal politics and Brazil-Africa relations. My days consisted of attending conferences, meetings, and events pertaining to these themes, and during these opportunities I realized the true importance of language, culture, and communication within the field of diplomacy. My passion for Brazilian culture allowed me to connect with activists, diplomats, civil society members and Brazilians of all backgrounds beyond the themes of basic dialogue. The years of language study paid off tenfold, which prompts me to recall the night of Fourth of July where I engaged a Tunisian diplomat in Portuguese and French only to find out later in our conversation that he was the Tunisian Ambassador to Brazil. The knowledge gained from the University of Denver enabled me to navigate the complex ties of the U.S.-Brazil relationship while being able to successfully communicate in a wide variety of circumstances, from public speaking engagements with Brazilian youth to demonstrating mutual interest in joint efforts to eliminate racism.

The relationships created during this internship I will never forget. From bonding with fellow footballers to the U.S. Secretary of State, I was honored to represent my family, university and nation. After years since my initial gravitation towards Brazil I was able to experience its living and breathing culture, its beauty and its challenges. In a society marked by duality, prosperity and poverty, multiculturalism and stratification, I can honestly say I felt at peace with my identity and ambitions. I leave Brazil with a newly founded sense of self, culturally and professionally, aware of the fact that dreams are as vibrant and boundless as the places in which they reside. 

Remembering Peace Corps experience: Macedonia
  • I arrived in Macedonia in September of 2010 with my wife Cara. It was our first time in the Balkans and really our first introduction into the Macedonian country and culture. Personally, I had done some research on the country once I got my call and knew that it was a post-Yugoslavian country, which had gained its independence in the early 90's after the fall of the Yugoslavian empire. Much of the classic austere communist style architecture was evident in the capital of Skopje and I eventually learned such architecture is known as brutalist architecture, wildly popular in the post WWII communist block, and is common in Skopje because of by a major earthquake in 1945, which nearly razed the entire capital.

    Despite my research into Macedonia I knew little of the ethnic Albanian minority, which constitutes roughly 30% of the population. Serving as a married volunteer I had the unique opportunity to serve in the predominantly Albanian city of Tetovo. The reason serving in the Albanian sector is unique for male volunteers is that before a volunteer arrives at their site must need to spend the first 2 months in country in a 'homestay' or with a local family. Due to the fact that most Albanians in Macedonia are Muslim, being a single male in such a household is typically frowned upon. Since I was married this wasn't an issue for me, and as a result, I learned Albanian and Macedonian and had a wonderful opportunity to see a side of both the Albanian and Macedonian cultures.

    Due to the regions seemingly endless conflicts over the centuries the tension between the Albanian and Macedonian cultures can be high. My overall experience between the two cultures found them largely respectful of each other and not to mention my personal cultural heritage. Respectively, each culture expressed similar sentiments of mutual respect with frustrations largely involving the high unemployment and corruption within the government. Due to the partisan nature of politics and national economics interethnic tensions were often conveyed through the national media channels and discussion forums placing blame on ethnic and political partisanship.

    Day-to-day life moves slowly to a Westerner in Macedonia, which is partially due to the sluggish economy, but I got the sense that in many areas of Macedonia it was a preferred way of life. Commonly, after my shift at the High School teaching English, I would get asked to go to coffee, or to eat a shopska salad with a small glass of rakia, or brandy, and spend the afternoon discussing the ongoings of the community. It seemed that these social outings were opportunities to serendipitously run into old acquaintances, and show one's involvement in the local community. While drinking and discussing for such lengths of time would seem odd in the U.S., in Macedonia, it was a way of life and commonplace, and it is these moments, and the conversations I had, which I will likely remember as my fondest moments in Macedonia as I reflect upon my experience over the years to come.

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Summer 2013 Issue

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