Mentoring the Next Generation of GEFs


This semester, I have had the immense pleasure of getting to mentor another new class of Global Engagement Fellows. In meeting new fellows this semester, I was struck by the feeling that I am getting old (okay, I may be just shy of 22, but in the context of the average age of college students, that’s not young). I am a senior this year. At many points over the course of this semester, I’ve found myself thinking “this is my last September in Norman,” “this is my last homecoming as an undergrad,” and, most recently, “this is my last Halloween as an OU student.” To me, these are sobering thoughts – I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at this wonderful university for the past three and a half years, and Norman has come to be my home. I’ve built up a close community of friends, and don’t feel ready at all for that community to split up and scatter across the country. Similarly, I don’t feel ready to leave behind my peaceful afternoons on campus, reading in a lounge in Farzaneh or writing a lab report in the Great Reading Room of the Bizz. Fortunately, I still have several more months of doing all of these things, but in speaking with new fellows, I’m reminded of how much of my time at OU has already passed.

One of my favorite things to talk about with new fellows is their study abroad goals. I love hearing about all of the places that they want to go and the things that they want to do. Once again, I’m frequently saddened that my time studying abroad is over (I’ve said before and I’ll say it again – studying abroad was by far the best decision I’ve made in college), but I love getting to hear about all of the adventures that my mentees will get to go on.

It’s also awesome to get to share some of the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years with the new fellows. After navigating the harrowing waters of trying to find housing for half a year and avoiding paying for the other half, I’ve gained some key insights that I’ve gotten to share. I love knowing that I can hopefully help eliminate some of the only negative parts of studying abroad for new fellows by telling them my cautionary tales.

This program has a habit of attracting very bright and talented individuals, and, truth be told, none of my mentees need much mentoring at all. They are all incredibly capable and driven young women, and I could not be more excited to see where this program takes them. Even so, it still feels good to be a resource for them, and it’s nice to have new explorers that I can live vicariously through.

To sum up, I am absolutely loving getting to be a peer mentor in this program. The Global Engagement Fellowship, and the studying abroad that came with it, has been one of the highlights of my college career, and getting to share my passion for this program with new members is always a treat!

The Portrayal of Muslims and the Iraq War in U.S. Media


This week, I got to go to my first round table discussion of the semester. I always enjoy these talks immensely because I appreciate hearing from experts in different fields related to international current events. Try as I might to keep up with these events on my own, the knowledge that I glean from the news cannot match what I gain from hearing from the experts themselves.

This talk was somewhat different because it related not to a specific current event but to the portrayal of Muslims and the Iraq War in U.S. media over the course of several years. Given my honors research this semester on the fear of Islam in the U.S. and the factors that perpetuate it, this talk was particularly interesting to me. In this discussion, Dr, Kristian Petersen, a professor of religious studies at the University of Nebraska, discussed two movies, American Sniper and the Hurt Locker, to highlight common American portrayals of Muslims and the Iraq war. He discussed both specific events from each movie and the ways in which these movies tie in to the predominant media narratives about both Muslims and this war.

The common theme between both movies was a tendency toward a simplistic portrayal of Muslims. Muslims in these films are depicted as a homogenous group, very different from mainstream Americans, predisposed toward violence and radicalism. Dr. Petersen stated that this portrayal, found in movies, TV shows, and the news, creates an atmosphere of mistrust of Muslims and normalizes the mistreatment of members of this faith group. This position is backed up by a great deal of survey data; consistently, surveys show that Americans trust Muslims least of any religious group in the country, and in 2014, 42% of Americans supported the profiling of Muslims. Many Americans view ISIS as what a true Islamic society looks like, rather than an extremist offshoot. As further proof of this mistrust and fear of Islam, hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. quintupled following 9/11, and continue to spike following any terror attacks at home or abroad, regardless of whether or not these attacks are perpetrated by Muslims.

Both movies that Dr. Petersen focused on play directly into this fear of Islam that so many Americans already felt before the movies’ releases. They each depict Muslims as distrustful and uncivilized, and both contain dramatic and stereotypical imagery. These films contribute to the conflation between ethnicity and religion and to the view that all Muslims are extremists who hold radically different views than most Americans. In American Sniper, Arab children are depicted as inherently violent, Muslim homes are depicted as war zones, and Muslim women are dismissed with misogynistic slurs. The film fails to distinguish between Arab and Muslim extremists and between the Arab and Muslim public, contributing to existing American issues making these distinctions.The Hurt Locker employs the same tired tropes; it implies that Muslims are inherently violent and that it is impossible to tell which among them are terrorists and which are peaceful.

This is not to say that there is no violence or extremism in the Arab world today; certainly, these problems exist, and certainly, some Muslims participate in this violence. Dr. Petersen’s claim is that these two films are somewhat problematic because they contribute to the failure of the American public to distinguish between extremism and between the rest of Islam, between terrorists and peaceful citizens, and between Arabs who are Muslims and Arabs who are not. Homogenous depictions of Muslim and Arab society, like those featured in these two films, play into and build upon problems that already exist within American society. They perpetuate negative stereotypes and contribute to the rising Islamophobia within the U.S.

I thought that this talk was extremely interesting because I rarely think about the ways in which depictions of societies outside of my own can contribute to negative stereotypes. Something as innocent as a movie can have widespread societal consequences as it contributes to the collective opinion of a nation that is already afraid. I have no doubt that there is much more nuance to this situation than I have described above; my thoughts here are by no means meant to attack these movies, or to say that they are not valid viewpoints of the Iraq War. I simply seek, like Dr. Petersen does, to shed light on a depiction of a people that may be more problematic than some Americans initially realize.