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Elon University faculty engage in panel discussing the implications of President Trump’s missile strike on Syria

Multimedia journalism by Mariah Posey | April 12, 2017

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Panel members left to right: Kaye Usry, Jason Kirk, Baris Kesgin, Haya Ajjan.

U.S. media coverage took an unexpected turn last week when news broke that President Donald Trump authorized a missile strike against the Assad-regime airbase. Trump said his actions were in response to the chemical weapons attack on the Syrian people, but some feel the strike was a policy reversal for the president who campaigned on staying out of conflict.

To initiate discussion and clear up lingering questions regarding the strike and its implications, members of Elon University faculty engaged in a panel Wednesday, April 11 at 4:15p.m. in Moseley 215. Safia Swimelar, associate professor of political science and policy studies, said as unfortunate as the events going on in Syria are, they need to be talked about. In moderating the panel, she aimed to provide context on the situation by discussing the humanitarian aspect as well as geopolitics and strategy, foreign policy and domestic relations under the Trump administration.

Ajjan pull“My family and I were actually glued to the TV,” said Haya Ajjan, associate professor of management information systems, speaking of when news broke last Thursday night. Just two days before on Tuesday, news coverage focused on the chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed more than 100 people. Many blamed President Bashar al-Assad and his government, considering it a war crime against his own people.

“I looked over at my husband and actually he was crying,” Ajjan said, recalling the night she first heard about the chemical attack. “We both had tears in our eyes. We cried for the more than 5,000 soles that had died. I wondered, how many babies would be orphaned today?”

Although Ajjan is unsure of the impact Trump’s strike will have on war, she said she thinks it sent an important message.

“In the past three years, we Syrians have witnessed a lot of loss,” she said. “Assad and Putin are under the belief that they could do whatever they want, as they have for years, and no one can stop them.”

What the Trump administration proved with the missile strike she said, though controversial, is that these “atrocities are no longer tolerated.”

But the problem arises in analyzing how suddenly the decision to authorize the strike was made, leaving room for uncertainty in regard to the future direction of the president’s administration.

“As faculty, as Americans, as non-Americans, we’d all be forgiven for being pretty confused,” said Jason Kirk, associate professor of political science and policy studies. “It is an extraordinary shift in the vision of Trump’s presidency, in his goals for the world.”

Kirk added, “It feels like Trump made [what he considered to be] a good decision based off what looked good to him, and those who approved based it on last week. Period.”

Kirk said it’s important to keep in mind that there is often disorganization in the early days of any administration, but feels that what the Trump administration has demonstrated so far is “extraordinary disorganization in the White House.” Part of that, he says, is due to Trump’s shortcomings with staffing members of his team.

“It’s very difficult to conduct foreign policy when you’re missing layers of bureaucracy,” he said. “People who know things about places. Government and leadership requires that.”

Later, he added, “I don’t know how much to ascribe strategy to it versus just they didn’t expect to win the presidency. And they didn’t really plan for a lot of this. They didn’t plan for the White House Easter egg hunt. They didn’t do a lot of things and I think time will tell.”

According to Baris Kesgin, associate professor of political science, the Trump administration has failed at giving consistent signaling as to their course of action.

“Even the congress at this point is not knowledgeable of the Syrian game plan,” he said. “That is unfortunate.”

Though it’s clear that Trump was trying to send a message, it’s unclear of what that message is for certain. Trump felt that Assad crossed the line by waging a chemical attack on his people, but Kirk wonders if that “line” has been definitely laid out enough for the U.S. strike to have accomplished its goal. He says that confusion may only lead to more strife.

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This map shows how populated different parts of Syria are with individual forces of power.

“The stakes are too high,” Kirk said. “There’s an international audience to this. If people are confused by what Trump means by this, if Assad doesn’t know what lines not to transgress going forward, then he’ll either decide it doesn’t matter or he’s left in a position to continue to test the U.S. to figure out where these lines might lie.”

As foreign involvement in the Syrian conflict continues to grow, discussion around it becomes fuzzier. According to Ajjan, as the years have progressed, the plan for finding a military solution to ending war in Syria has become less and less clear.

“We used to have a plan in 2012 and in 2013, but now there are too many players on the ground,” she said.

Though Trump has taken an action he believes will prove that the U.S. won’t stand for abuse and suffering, his questionable long-term motives and haste in decision-making leaves much to be speculated.

Kirk acknowledged that there’s really no way for Americans to fully grasp how the president plans to handle foreign policy going forward, but is confident that it will one day come out.

“Part of the nice quality of having such a chaotic early administration is people are eventually going to write books about this stuff,” Kirk said. “They’re going to be tripping over each other to tell us what’s going on. We’ll just have to wait a few years.”

The world’s deadliest terror group is also the most uncovered — Elon University Boko Haram Panel

by Mariah Posey | Feb. 15, 2017

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We know of ISIS, of Al Qaeda, of the attacks in Paris, of the crisis in Aleppo. But what about the massive tragedy that’s been going on since 2009, caused by what the Global Terrorism Index considers to be the deadliest terror group of the world: Boko Haram? In order to initiate necessary conversation surrounding the massive terror group’s impact, the Elon Politics Forum (EPF) hosted a panel Wednesday, Feb. 15 7-8p.m. in the McBride Gathering Space in partnership with Elon African Society.

The panel answered a series of critical questions: what can regional governments and United Nations do to promote female equality; how does the country go about achieving economic equality; what do we tell those persecuted because of Boko Haram? However, amongst these, one question in particular stood out and set the tone for what the major takeaway of the event would be.

“Why aren’t international terrorists like Boko Haram being covered on an international level?” asked sophomore Thomas Armooh, moderator of the event. It was one of the few questions that evoked a passionate response out of each of the panelists.

Expanding our worldly outlook

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Photo by Mariah Posey | Boko Haram panel members: (left to right) Bridget Smith, Dr. Ariela Marcus-Sells, David Olatidoye, Muhammad Musah.

“There’s this perception that ISIS and Al Qaeda might come here and hurt Americans … but Boko Haram is focused on first Nigeria and then Africa,” said senior panelist Bridget Smith. Because there’s no direct threat to America, she explained, “They’re easy to discount. They’re easy to dismiss.”

But that dismissal is exactly the problem according to senior panelist Muhammad Musa, who says that in order to see real change, “international cooperation is essential.” As a reporter stationed in Lagos, Nigeria for eight months, Musah was closer to Boko Haram’s threat than most will ever be. He constantly covered the mass killings and wrote headlines like, “14 Murdered in Bomb Blast,” but says even he recognized the apathy around him.

Because the people of Lagos felt distant from the terror going on just north of them, they lacked consideration. When people aren’t connected, Musah said, they don’t care. For him, that is why the educational aspect of Nigeria’s conflict with Boko Haram is so important.

Education is important, but so is money

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Photo by Mariah Posey | Senior Prateek Patel introduces topic and panel members

“There has to be an effort to talk to these Islamic teachers and tell them that it’s important to take away any radicalization in teaching,” he said.

One of the issues brought up in the panel was the lack of enforced education in Nigeria and how it perpetuates the negative impact of Boko Haram by ostracizing girls who are kidnapped by them. Because these girls are often raped and end up having the children of Boko Haram members, they are distrusted and rejected. Their infiltration has become so regular that even the government can’t decipher who’s a part of the terrorist organization and who’s not.

“Although education may lead to stability, it does not lead to jobs,” Marcus-Sells said.

Often, Nigerians feel immense financial pressure and view joining Boko Haram as a quick way to get paid. Musah seconded her statement adding that, “In a country like Nigeria, if you’re not connected to power you’re not going to touch money. So you going to school is a waste of your time.”

Marcus-Sells asked why a parent would risk their source of money to send their kids through years of schooling.

“If you don’t have an answer to that question, then none of these initiatives will ever work,” she said. “It almost feels like a disservice to have them spend four years getting that education for nothing to come out of it … In order for there to be that education, there needs to be employment.”

Elon’s Role

When asked what role students can play in aiding Nigeria’s cause, Marcus-Sells advised that whenever we have the means to give, to do so in a way that goes directly to the people in need. According to her, local organizations are more effective than larger ones such as the American Red Cross.

“If you can bypass the large aid organizations and go directly to the people already there … that can be really helpful,” she said.

She encouraged students to take the initiative to further educate themselves on foreign affairs, especially in countries like Africa and post the news that they find.

“For every negative article you post, post three positive ones,” she said. “People assume that all the things happening in Africa are terrible [and] they get exhausted because we all get exhausted by sadness.”

Lastly, she advised to not get caught up in the pressure to act on a large scale.

“My advice to students on all levels,” Marcus-Sells said, “[is] if you think smaller you might actually have a larger impact.”

A ‘light-hearted’ card making event at the Maker Hub

by Mariah Posey | Feb. 13, 2017

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Photo by Mariah Posey | Valentine’s Day cards created by Maker Hub staff using a vinyl silhouette cutter.

What better way to tackle complex machinery than to make Valentine’s Day cards with it? To celebrate the heartfelt holiday and kick off the 2017 year, the Maker Hub hosted their Crafty Cards event 7-8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13 in Harper Hall using a vinyl silhouette cutter to create fun Valentine Day cards.

“It’s the best piece of equipment in here for making cards and we figured Valentine Day cards were something that a lot of people would like to do based on what people have come to for past events,” said Maker Hub employee senior Sabrina van der Gracht. “The two seemed to go together and it was a good way to bring up that piece of equipment.”

To get attendees familiar with the equipment and software being used before jumping in, the event began with a step-by-step tutorial displayed on an overhead screen.

“It just shows a grid which is how the program works,” said sophomore Anthony Fraden. “There’s also a grid on a pad where you place the paper so it shows you how to size in one-square inch. Then it’d be basic cutting tools and basic ways to design shapes and different card styles so that we could make cards. We just go through the process doing some trial and error with different images and ultimately got some really cool cards out of it.”

Fraden described hub events as a “light-hearted space where everyone can be welcomed.” Although some of the equipment available in the hub can be challenging and require skill, he says that for the most part everything is open and accessible to everyone. While some things may require minor supervision, nothing is explicitly off-limits.

“Sometimes there [may be] little aspects about it that people don’t quite connect but after a bit of explaining and showing hands-on, people usually pick it up right away,” he said.

Senior Kat Westover was one of the attendees who was able to get the process down pretty quickly, even managing to manipulate a design into the computer software.

“I think it went pretty well,” Gracht said. “Kat’s been working on the silhouette cutter and at first it was a little bit rough, but after a couple of tries she’s basically doing it by herself.”

 

Another attendee, junior Sarah Hennenkamp, also ended the event feeling accomplished. She decided to make a card filled with cinnabons based on a running joke between her and her boyfriend. She says although she didn’t have many expectations regarding what she wanted to create, she likes how they turned out.

Gracht recognizes the Maker Hub as a place of humble beginnings for many event attendees and welcomes the learning process.

“For events in here, it’s usually people who have never used the equipment before,” Gracht said. “Because these are kind of starters to get people’s feet wet in how to use the equipment, it’s a good way to start with something simple that way they can come back in later.”

Jump into Spring Convocation, stumble upon Daniel Gilbert’s guide to happiness and success March 30

by Mariah Posey | Feb. 10, 2017

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Daniel Gilbert

Popular TED Talk lecturer and Harvard psychologist, Daniel Gilbert, will be speaking at Elon University’s Spring Convocation at 3:30p.m. March 30 in Alumni Gym. His 2007 book, “Stumbling on Happiness,” was one of New York Times’s Bestsellers for six months and has been translated into more than 30 languages.

“He’s a great example of Elon’s priority on bringing world leaders and scholars to campus giving students, faculty, and staff a chance to interact with people who have challenging and inspiring ideas,” said vice president of university communications Dan Anderson.

He aims to teach people the importance of discovering their own happiness and understanding its effect on business strategy, sales and marketing, and understanding customers. In 2013, Gilbert launched a series of television commercials in partnership with Prudential Financial, a life insurance company, to encourage Americans to save for retirement in preparation for their futures. According to his website, the advertising campaign has been one of the most successful in the history of the financial services industry.

“Gilbert is widely known for his research into having a great quality of life,” Anderson said. “His best seller ‘Stumbling On Happiness’ and three popular TED Talks have popularized his work as a professional psychologist.”

His TED Talks have gained traction of more than 20 million views and his first one is the 15 most popular of all time. Gilbert has also been named one of the world’s 50 most-followed scientists on social media in 2014.

Tickets for Spring Convocation will be available as of March 9. General admission is $13 or free with an Elon ID.