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‘Civic Issues’ Category

  1. Good or Bad?

    April 11, 2014 by Melissa Shallcross

    I would like to continue with the belief that some people share that multiculturalism is indeed more harmful than helpful. Many people, especially in the U.S., seem to believe that multiculturalism is a good way to make everybody equal and feel included in the community. However, there are those who believe that making everyone feel equal to each other is in fact threatening our way of life. One article I have found, written in 2012 by Clifford D May, a journalist for the National Review Online, analyzes the negative side of multiculturalism.

    May begins his article by recalling an event years ago when he was a newspaper columnist. A local group approached he and the paper he worked for asking for support in their editorial section for a program they ran that supported the celebration of multiculturalism. Seemingly, this is where his opinions on the issue began to form. He and the paper denied the group’s request, not understanding why they would want to celebrate multiculturalism. He recalls thinking, “Would it not be better to celebrate all the things we have in common, all the things that unite Americans of whatever ethnic or religious backgrounds?”

    Afterwards, he realized the group’s idea of multiculturalism had been merely to spread the appreciation of different cultural arts and food. However, as he thought more about the idea, he realized there were deeper results and consequences that encouraging multiculturalism meant. Specifically, he realized beneath the superficial ideas of learning about diverse cultures and accepting them for who they are, the U.S.’s own culture and ideologies were being threatened.

    How so? Well, May explains that multiculturalism hinders assimilation and integration. Well, that’s what multiculturalism is, isn’t it? Or is it not supposed to be people refusing to integrate and adjust to their new home, but rather just recognizing and spreading the appreciation? His opinions on the issue, as you will see, stem from his perception that multiculturalism is actually about completely preserving your heritage and lifestyle. This perception is different than mine, and makes me question if a big issue of multiculturalism actually stems from the perceptions and expectations of everyone involved. Think about it as I continue to explain May’s ideas.

    One negative effect of multiculturalism that May explains is the idea that “by emphasizing collective identities and group rights, and by pushing for equality of results rather than equality of opportunity, multiculturalism undermines individual freedom and devalues the Western cultures that have nurtured and defended it.” This is interesting to me. Do you think that multiculturalism, in whatever stage it is in throughout different regions of the U.S., that celebrating and recognizing other cultures and ethnicities devalues Western culture? I feel like this opinion can be looked at in different ways. Does this mean U.S. citizens’ values and ideas are being slowly pushed down by the increasing number of immigrants and cultures flooding in? And overall, do the majority of immigrants who do come to America truly want to preserve their cultural identity like we seem to assume they do? Do no immigrants come to America and want to assimilate into our culture? I feel like this is an issue within the issue that may need a little more attention.

    Another negative effect May points to about multiculturalism, and that many other people have pointed to since September 1, 2001, is the fear of terrorists. Since the fateful day about thirteen years ago, our culture seems to have picked up a generally negative connotation with people from the Middle East. I cannot imagine how hard it must be for many immigrants from the Middle East who are truly trying to live peacefully and undisturbed in the U.S. However, this brings me to the issue May points to, that increasing U.S. citizens’ tolerance of multiculturalism increases the chance of terrorists taking advantage of this tolerance and infiltrating the U.S. on malignant terms. I do believe this could be a problem, but I feel for those innocent ones who suffer from prejudice against Middle Easterners. This is obviously an issue, both the problem of creating a society more vulnerable to terrorist attacks and the problem of innocent immigrants being judged because of their cultural background, which is what multiculturalism is against.

    Obviously there is much debate out there about the idea of multiculturalism, not only in the U.S., but around the world. What do you think, what does a society centered around multiculturalism truly mean? And do the negative effects outweigh the positive ones?


    Works Cited:

  2. Britain Multiculturalism

    March 28, 2014 by Melissa Shallcross

    Most of my posts about multiculturalism have focused either on the US specifically or on multiculturalism in general – different types of metaphors fitting for the US and how our country and our education system has been increasingly encouraging of students to gain a global perspective on life. However, I began wondering about the multicultural societies of countries besides the US. Usually we think of how the US is the classic “melting pot” (whether we still agree with that metaphor or not). Immigrants from different regions coming to America during certain time periods – British, Japanese, Mexican – usually involving some conflict with assimilation between the natives and newcomers.

    But I have not thought much about multiculturalism when it comes to other countries? Are there other countries that have issues with multiculturalism in their society, school systems, or cultural combinations in general? So, I’ve decided to expand my focus and search through some other countries and see if there are any similarities or differences that maybe we can learn from each other on – how different countries cope with different issues and just to see what different views there are out there on similar subjects.

    I have begun my search with Britain, our arguably closest relatives. I stumbled upon a recent article of a political figure in Britain expressing his thoughts on multiculturalism; apparently it is a controversial issue outside of the US, too. First, I’d like to state that I am unfamiliar with British politics and general societal standards, so I will relying on the information I take from this article (found here).

    In this article, shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve, a political figure in Britain, portrays the downside of what seems to be a British leniency towards assimilating cultures. This struck me a little. Usually, as we discuss multiculturalism here in the US, it is usually our society and school systems encouraging the mix of cultures and teaching our new generations about heritages and traditions. Usually, the US views multiculturalism in a positive light. However, here I found an argument against it.

    Grieves expresses his concern that Britain’s apparent openness to allowing new immigrants to settle in their country has created a sort of “cultural despair” within the country. He argues that British natives and new immigrants with such different cultural backgrounds trying to live harmoniously together, or next door, or in the same area, creates a type of rift in the portrayed values of the country. What are the values of a country whose inhabitants are increasingly being made up of completely different values? Do the values of the natives remain? Or do you adjust the set values as the population changes? What even are the “set values”?

    What made me truly ponder the possible positive vs. negative views of multiculturalism was Grieves’ view on changing these values: “In the name of trying to prepare people for some new multicultural society we’ve encouraged people, particularly the sort of long-term inhabitants, to say ‘well your cultural background isn’t really very important’.”

    This started me thinking about how each party of a conflicting society views not only their new neighbor’s values, but also their own. The people who support multiculturalism, how do they feel about the possibility of downplaying their own culture in order to make room for another? What about those who do not support multiculturalism? Does one culture actually get harmed from the attempted mixing or interspersing of cultural values?

    One other issue Grieves raised in the article was the apparent issue of multiculturalism in Britain not being successful on account of the citizens themselves, both the natives and the immigrants. Although admitting that multiculturalism is a goodhearted try to make everyone feel welcome, he uses the metaphor of the ideal “melting pot” to explain how it tends to fail: “The idea behind it was [to] create the melting pot. But the melting pot needs the ingredients of people’s confidence in themselves as they come together. And if it isn’t there I think we’ve done ourselves huge damage.” This is very interesting. Do you think multiculturalism in America is failing or succeeding? And how are the citizens’ attitudes towards it creating this outcome?

    As you can see, hearing the opinions of people from different countries on similar topics can truly conjure up different thoughts you may not have considered before, whether that be about multiculturalism or anything else entirely. These were just a few things this article got me thinking about. I am interested to see the other opinions from people with different backgrounds and cultural values as I continue searching next time.


  3. Global Minds

    March 7, 2014 by Melissa Shallcross

    At what point in our lives, if any, are we pushed to explore multiculturalism? Obviously it depends on where a person grows up; whether they have Latino or Italian parents, but live in America, or live in a family all born and raised in America. In general, though, when does our society push for students to expand their knowledge of their world outside of their school, hometown, and even country? In this day and age, I believe kids are always being exposed to the many cultures of the world.

    In elementary school, we begin to learn about cultures in social studies and special event days. I know Girl Scouts teaches girls about other cultures through badge workshops and thinking days. Nowadays, a lot of elementary schools in America are teaching Spanish! As students get older, in middle and high school, they are required to take classes that go further in depth about cultures and the world growing around us. My school offered classes like Global Cultures and Human Geography. Furthermore, it’s becoming a requirement for students now to take several years of a language in order to advance on into colleges and universities.

    I believe America, and many other countries as well, are focused on building a student’s global perspective. We as a society have realized that the most successful people are those who have experience with different cultures. They have first-hand knowledge of interacting with people that hold different values, have various ways of thinking, and unique political and societal situations.

    Since coming to Penn State, I have heard many times phrases like “global minds”, “global perspectives”, “cultural differences”. Striving to learn about cultures by no means ends when a student leaves their high school language and history courses. If anything, colleges and universities, especially Penn State, are where students truly get experience with other cultures.

    I came to Penn State from a rural area of Pennsylvania that didn’t have much variety when it came to how people lived. We were pretty much all the same, typical, American, rural/suburban people. The few exchange students we received every year was the only real chance we got to see and learn about other cultures from someone firsthand. Coming to Penn State and recognizing the global reach it had and the many foreign students here was a bit of a culture shock to me. Not that it surprised me. I’ve learned so much being here just from my interactions with foreign friends.

    Penn State supplies so many opportunities for students to gain a global conscience, and I know other colleges are similar. Penn State’s College of Engineering greatly supports students who are training to become “World Class Engineers”, as they put it. In my first semester course of honors engineering design, our class was teamed up with students in Morocco to collaborate on a project. We learned so much from each other and our different lives, and I’m still in touch with my teammates overseas.

    The College of Engineering also provides a course called “Introduction to Cross-Cultural Communication for Engineers”, which I am currently enrolled in. The goal of the course is to further open engineering students’ minds to cultural differences and how they effect communications and prepare them for interacting with overseas partners during business and/or to prepare them for a study abroad.

    Studying abroad may have the most impact on a student’s true experience and knowledge of other cultures. College and universities everywhere push their students to experience at least one study abroad during their studies, more so now than ever. It used to be that the only students that went on a study abroad were liberal arts students. Now, however, students in the sciences are encouraged more than ever to go abroad, too. The College of Engineering even has its own global programs office!

    As I take full advantage of Penn State’s amazing resources and research into study abroad programs, I find it easily notable that it’s not just America pushing towards a global perspective. After all, other countries have students who need to learn to interact with the different cultures of the world, too. It takes two people to have a conversation, and the world has realized that the students of today need to be trained for the business of tomorrow. And that is one with a global perspective.

  4. The Museum of America

    February 21, 2014 by Melissa Shallcross

    Where do you think is the best place to view and explore the different cultures that make up a country, group, religion, or even town? For me, one of the best places to go is an art museum.

    Where else can you see French culture hanging on the wall next to African style, British fashion, and Italian masterpieces? I’ve been to my fair share of art museums, among which include the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art (affectionately called MoMA) in New York, the Louvre in Paris, the Musei Vaticani (the museum of the Vatican which is filled to the brim with art), and a plethora of others in Philadelphia, Alexandria VA, Italy, London, and just about every place I’ve traveled to. All around the world, there are art museums and galleries everywhere. In America, there’s a gallery on just about every corner, at least in small towns like mine.

    To me, an art museum or gallery is a fitting metaphor for America. In these places, there are displays of tons of different cultures, and each is celebrated in their own exhibits. Walking through a museum, you can find classic oil paintings from the French Revolution in one room, Pollocks covering the entire walls of a huge open room adjacent to it, and modern art hanging from the ceilings of the hallway leading to the  Van Goghs and Da Vincis in the exhibition next door.

    America is like this. Different cultures can be seen everywhere. The U.S. can be like the museum, housing every culture, or piece of art, you can imagine. And each of these cultures, just like a masterpiece in a museum, is celebrated. I don’t believe people in America need to lose their cultures in the midst of the growing “American” culture they are surrounded by in their every day lives. There are plenty of organizations, like art preservation staff in museums, whose main purpose is the preservation of culture, from

    Art of America

    Art of America

    groups on college campuses to societies in local towns. Each work of art identifies largely with a museum, like the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, yet it also closely identifies with the specific exhibit it inhabits, the Italian paintings section of the Denon Wing. Many Americans are the same way. They identify as Americans, but also work to preserve their heritage, whether that’s by joining organizations like the National Italian American Foundation or just cooking authentic foods and teaching their grandchildren some Polish.

    America is definitely a multicultural country, built on the coming of immigrants over the past several centuries. Over this time, the museum of America has gained a wide range of exhibits hailing from all around the world. But most Americans today can’t be sorted into just one exhibit. Many Americans identify with multiple cultures. I’m American, but I’m also Italian, Polish, English, and a little German and Scottish. Where would I be placed in the museum of America? Well, there are works of art that are in similar predicaments. Do you put the bold, colorful new piece by an Italian artist in the Italian paintings exhibit or the modern art collection?

    Should there be a specific exhibit for “Americans” in our metaphorical museum? Sure, why not? Personally, I choose to identify with all of my cultural heritages, and I’m sure others do, too. So, why not have a traveling exhibit while we’re at it? This way, as pieces of art, Americans can identify with several different exhibits, not just one “American” one. Maybe some people will choose to stick with one exhibit, perhaps like those who they themselves or their parents came directly from another country. But then again, they may embrace the new American culture around them and become a traveling exhibit because isn’t that what America essentially is? An intermingling of cultures for us to see and explore?

    When it comes to describing America’s multiculturalism, I think of an art museum. Maybe it’s because of my love for art, but the metaphor works well. So the next time you go on a tour of America, or maybe just of your town or school, try to make a mental floor plan of what you see. Can you spot the different cultures that make up the “American” culture? Can you tell when you’ve walked from the German exhibit to the Irish one? Map it out, it could be pretty interesting.

  5. Fondue Anyone?

    January 31, 2014 by Melissa Shallcross

    America, the “melting-pot” of culture.

    Let’s travel back in time and see how the land of the free came to get its nickname. It all started after Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. The first waves of daring steps onto the new land were the feet of the British, Spanish, and French, all seeking to create colonies on the new, unknown land. In the early 1600s, a flood of immigrants came from Britain, seeking religious freedom in America. Settlements grew and grew as more people from a mix of countries got up, packed their bags, and sailed over to the Americas, leaving their homes in search of something a new beginning seemed to promise them. In the 1600s and 1700s, our country began to take a solid shape as an independent land. Throughout this time and onward, however, even after laws and bans forbidding the act, slaves from Africa were being imported and sold across the states, adding another layer of culture into our growing pot pie of people. Then we add a layer of Germans after massive crop failures and a touch of Irish culture during the potato famine, all during the 1840s. 1848 brings discoveries of gold in the west, attracting Chinese immigrants, while the end of the Mexican-American welcomes Mexicans into the U.S.  That covers a lot of the cultures that defined the early years of our country, but immigration doesn’t stop there, not by a long shot. Let’s jump ahead a few decades to the late 1800s. 1882: Ellis Island opens. Within the next century, 16 million immigrants would be admitted through Ellis Island alone.

    16 million. Irish, British, German, Polish, Italian; I’m sure there has been at least one person from almost every country in the world that has passed through Ellis Island to this day.

    Here’s a question for you. What are you? Sounds like a weird question. What I mean is what is your heritage? Where does your family come from? This is always a fun question to answer. Oh, I’m Polish, Italian, English… but what I get out of this answer, this listing of grandparents’ bloodlines, is that I am American. I’m not from Italy. I’ve never set foot in Poland. I was born and raised in Pennsylvania. How come I identify as all these different cultures? In America, my grandparents’ generation seems to be the last pure bloodline connecting to other countries. For me, at least, all of my grandparents’ parents were immigrants directly from other countries. Over the past century, our country has gone from a colorful, mess of a cultural stew to a kind of chili. It’s getting harder to distinguish one foreign culture with another because several generations of mixed marriages have produced this similar cultural sense, as the only people who are directly related to a country are the new immigrants who still come here every day.

    So what does it mean to be American? Is this old “melting pot” metaphor still  relevant? How about the relatively new idea of the American salad bowl where everyone is distinct, but still come together to form one country?

    While researching into this idea, I stumbled upon this article. What Timothy Taylor argues in the Star Tribune is that America is

    America Fondue

    America Fondue

    neither a melting pot of cheese nor a crunchy, full salad from a buffet line. Rather, he sees America as chocolate fondue. People from different countries come to America and represent their culture, whether as a pineapple, a strawberry, a marshmallow, pretzel, or any other deliciously dippable snack. He argues that each person keeps their culture, but when they come to the U.S., they are effectively covered in America. They delve into the “American culture”, but still are the snack they were before, just with more flavor, or more experience in cultures.

    This is an interesting and unique argument. I stick with my thoughts about Americans of recent generations identifying less with their lineage and more with the resultant mix of “American culture”, but I also like this idea of chocolate fondue (and not just because I love chocolate). I feel that this is a good way to describe direct immigrants and probably their children as well, but as the generations continue, this chocolate fondue turns back into that classic melting pot of culture, still delectable, just in a different way.

    So what do you think? Is America the classic melting pot, a salad buffet, or more like a chocolate fondue?


    Immigration information:

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