Wednesday, August 31, 2011

With veganism and animal-rights causes, a middle ground is always best.

Associate professor of ethics and women's studies at Duke University

Ellen DeGeneres recently launched a national campaign endorsing veganism, and I give her a lot of credit. Along with people like Jonathan Safran Foer and many other media stars, she is putting the question of eating meat on the table as a significant public conversation. Anyone who can achieve that deserves our gratitude.

Yet I worry that a vegan campaign is somewhat misguided if it is pitched as the singular way of helping animals into a better world. We all know that systems of oppression are deeply interlocking and built on foundations that we can’t see until we start uncovering the many ways we all inhabit the world together. My reservations about veganism are personal, politically motivated, animal-centered, and ecological.

1: Personal. While, in my opinion, it’s really not that hard to shift to vegetarianism, I think it is really hard to be a vegan. I tried once for about a year, didn’t know what I was doing, ate a lot of processed vegan foods, and developed insulin dependent diabetes. It was not animal products that brought on my diabetes—it was the soy ice cream, the potato chips, and the many frozen vegan meals that were made with corn, soy, and sugar. I have since learned that there are better ways to be vegan, but it takes a lot of nutritional education and a lot of money to do it right. You need to learn how and where to shop, and how to cook whole foods (and not everything that comes from the store Whole Foods is a whole food). When I switched to a diet that included even a small amount of animal protein, my need for insulin decreased immediately.

Vegan doctors tell us no one needs animal protein, but I just don’t think that is true, at least for me. It cannot be disputed that bodies are different; some of us need a lot of sex, or exercise, or quiet time, or whatever, while others need much less of any of these. When you are inside your body, these things feel as if they are non-negotiable. That’s how I think about dairy and eggs, and sometimes even meat. There is no question that none of us needs meat three times a day, but a day without at least some cheese or eggs or meat for me spikes my blood sugar and leaves me with a headache. Most plant-based proteins—like tofu and legumes—eventually turn into glucose, while animal products are digested differently and do not. It may be possible that some people need no animal protein, but it is also possible that some of us need some. The trick is negotiating between the PCRM and PETA doctors that tell you that you need none, and the USDA food pyramid folks who say you need too much. The middle way is always the best.

In this vein, I worry about how veganism has attached itself to the weight-loss industry, even for someone as enlightened as Ellen. The fat-phobic world we live in has lead to public conversations about an “obesity epidemic.” Even Michelle Obama is on that bandwagon and the general public seems to be in full agreement that being overweight is always bad. But the middle way is better here too: on the one hand it is true that many people are out of shape. Many of us don’t exercise enough and rely on fast and processed food too much. But it is equally true that bodies come in different sizes and there are many people who are “overweight” that are healthy. Our media-saturated world is so focused on the idea that everyone must be thin that (by many estimates) the morbidity factors associated with anorexia and bulimia are twice as high as those associated with “obesity.” The problem is not "fat" per se; it’s sedentary lives coupled with bad food options. It’s the fact that gym memberships cost a lot, public parks are being shut down, and today in America, unhealthful food is cheaper than healthful food (this has to do with subsidies, which I can’t take up here because of space. But I cover this side of the story more fully in Loving Animals.) We need to strive for health, but health does not equal thin. And thin does not equal vegan. For human health and well-being, we need a broader program than veganism; we need one that is accepting of different body needs and different body sizes, and advocates healthy eating (and appropriate exercise) at every weight.

2: Political. I worry that people who become vegans think that they are doing enough to make the world a better place for animals. First off, there are so many things available to us to today that contain unnamed animal products. GOOD Magazine argues that “there is no such thing as vegan”; products from crayons to guitar strings to rubber include parts of animals who have sacrificed their lives for us. What we need is not to eliminate these goods from our lives, but to figure out a way to make sure those animals had great lives prior to our taking them. One of my best friends, a vegan for many years, was recently diagnosed with cancer. She is maintaining her veganism, but as she puts it, it’s “only a token.” “Every drug I ingest or inject,” she tells me, “has been tested on animals in much more dire circumstances than even the worst of the worst farm animals.” Some of her drugs, undoubtedly, are even made from animal parts. We cannot escape the enmeshment our human lives have with animal bodies. Becoming vegan may be, for some, a step in the right direction for ending this abuse. But it is only a small step; there are many fronts on which the battle for animal advocacy must be fought.

And what of companion animals, i.e., pets? Ellen’s vegan website features her with two dogs. What does she feed them? Virtually everyone agrees that dogs need some animal
Ellen DeGeneres as she appears on her new
website, Going Vegan With Ellen. Is a vegan-only
agenda alienating to the general population?
protein (even most so-called “vegetarian” pet food includes fish—as if fish were not animals), and everyone agrees that domestic cats need mostly animal protein. A world that is fully and truly vegan will be a world that includes no domesticated pets. Indeed, this is the agenda of many animal rights advocates; is that a world even Ellen would want to live in?

Finally, I worry that Ellen’s vegan-only agenda will be alienating to lots of people. We humans have been eating meat from the dawn of our species; indeed lots of evolutionary anthropologists now believe that hunting and cooking meat gave humans the evolutionary advantage to grow our big brains. I believe that the overwhelming majority of people in America aren’t going to start eating vegan any time soon, and in rejecting veganism, they could be rejecting animal advocacy in any form. Again, I think a middle way is better. Humans have been eating hunted animals for millennium, and free-range pastured meat for at least 10,000 years. It’s only in the last fifty years that animals have suffered the horrors of industrial farming, the hot sheds, the bad food, the short lives, the unnecessary drugs, the miserable conditions that we should all be ashamed of that produce our cheap meat. We can turn back the clock fifty years, quite easily, and purchase only pastured meat, eggs, and dairy from local sustainable farms. Many people in many communities across the country are doing so. It’s sometimes a little confusing and usually more expensive, but this is a middle way that people who need some animal protein can follow.

3: Animal advocacy. Buying meat, eggs, and dairy from local farms where animals have long, happy, and natural lives on pasture is animal centered, I believe, even if we kill them for their meat eventually. This may seem counter-intuitive, but I believe eliminating domestic farm animals from our world does not really serve their best interests. Think about it: our own lives are not solely centered on our bodies: we humans write books, make art, build buildings, have children so part of us lives on and changes the world, even if in a future we are not present for. Thinking of the fullness of life only in terms of our immediate bodies is shortsighted. Humans and farm animals have spent 10,000 years building a symbiotic relationship that, I believe, is good for them, and good for us. They get to spend days walking in sunshine, eating good food, mating, loving their young, enjoying the beautiful earth. We give them the chance to have this life, we pay for the land and the grass and the water, and eventually we get to eat their eggs, milk, cheese, and meat. It’s not a bad deal for either side. The idea that our life’s meaning is only contained in our fleshly bodies is dangerous and untrue. If I were a pig or cow or chicken, I would rather be raised on a small farm and keep my kinfolk alive in this world than be banished from the earth altogether (as the vegan agenda advocates.) Making animal advocacy dependent on veganism is asking for species extinction, and is the opposite of what animals really need.

Indeed, the slow food/locavore movement has made a central aspect of their program the recovery of endangered farm animal species. We used to share our earth with over three hundred different kinds of farm animals; the industrial farm system has reduced that number to under twenty species. If I were a Redcap chicken, say, I would rather have a farmer raise me and let me proliferate, even if she is going to kill me to eat in the end. That way, my kind get to stay on this planet; in many ways, that could mean more to me than my own life. I believe species of animals want to stay here just as much as humans we do, and small farms give them that chance. (The reason that most of these species are not used in industrial settings is because they need more room than factory farming allows.)

4: Finally, and most importantly, veganism is not ecologically sustainable. Farming means tending the soil so that it contains the proper nutrients for plants, and this can only be done well with animal manure. For 10,000 years we have rotated plants with animals on land; the animals eat the parts of the plant we can’t and excrete manure that contains hundreds of elements that feed and anchor the soil. There has never been a healthy ecosystem on this planet that did not include animals, and growing plants without animals means a farmer needs to import chemical fertilizers (which are almost always petroleum based and few of which contain more than six elements.) Ecological thinking demands that we return to the integrated system of farming both plants and animals together, and deny the monocultural system that has emerged in the last fifty years. (Broccoli, my farmers tell me, requires forty-two elements to flourish; plant food like “Miracle Gro” contains between four and six; while a synthetically fed broccoli plant may be able to grow with imported fertilizer, it will deplete the soil for the remainder of nutrients it needs. Eventually, that topsoil will wash away.)

Some so-called vegan farmers might quarrel with me on this front. I know a vegan farmer who claims he farms without any animals or chemicals. I give him a lot of credit (and he admits his crops are smaller due to his ideological choices). But when you press him for what he does import, it is telling: he must buy worms (aren’t they animals?) for his soil every year, and he must buy worm food: feather meal, blood meal, and bone meal (don’t these come from animals?). His is the best-case scenario if one wants a vegan world, yet he admits to topsoil loss. His farm mirrors, in part, what is happening in America’s industrial farms today: most plant-only monocultural farms are losing topsoil at rates faster than the great Dustbowl Days of the 1930’s. We are ruining our farmlands with industrial farming and it must stop now. Paying attention to the needs of the soil is critical for sustainable farming and the best way to attend to those needs is with animals and their manure.

But, my vegan critics will say, that doesn’t mean we have to kill them. And I agree. A ten-acre farm can be totally sustainable with several dozen chickens, a half dozen goats, three pigs, one cow, etc. You don’t need to kill any of them to achieve sustainability. But, in such a case, you can’t let them reproduce either. Now I ask you, do you think those several dozen female chickens—who are excreting excellent manure and walking on it to work it in the soil—mind that you take their eggs and eat them? I doubt it. And what about the animals who long for sexual contact and young ones? Do they mind that you take their milk when their young are finished? I doubt that too. The question of killing gets more complex, but if you could have a good life on pasture for many years and enjoyed the gifts of the world, only to be killed as you reached middle age, would you choose that? Or would you choose no life at all to begin with?

These are complex questions, and I don’t mean to be glib, but everything tells me that veganism is not quite the right way to pitch either animal advocacy or sustainability. We have the tools through farmers markets, the small farm movement, and locavorism to promote something that encompasses a broader and more politically savvy agenda. Again, I totally applaud Ellen DeGeneres, Jonathan Safran Foer and others who are putting this issue on the national agenda. We all agree that the industrial system of raising animals in factory farms is horrific, evil, and needs to be shut down. Period. But that does not mean we need to banish these animals from the face of the earth. That’s not in our interest, or theirs.

What we need is something a little more nuanced, I believe. We need to support people who are currently vegan and healthy on that diet and not try to convince them differently. But for the rest of us who feel we need a small amount of animal protein, and those who are interested in environmental sustainability, we need to advocate a (very) reduced diet of local, sustainable eggs, dairy, and meat, along with organically raised plant foods. The cost of eating this way will be higher than either the current industrial diet OR even perhaps industrial veganism, but the human health, broad political, animal advocacy, and sustainability payoffs will be, as they say, priceless.


Kathy Rudy is associate professor of ethics and women's studies at Duke University. She is author of Loving Animals: Toward a New Animal Advocacy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Reflecting upon Mary McLeod Bethune in light of this weekend's MLK Jr. Memorial debut.

Construction photo of "Mountain of Despair" with Jefferson dome in background. Photo taken Aug. 11th, 2011, in advance of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial debut on Aug. 28th, the 48th anniversary of the day King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Photo by the author.

Quadrant fellow and assistant professor in the American Studies program at Miami University

According to a recent television advertisement, Chevrolet invites viewers “to take your seat at the table on August 28th” (Spike DDB, “Table of Brotherhood,” 2011). On screen men, women, and children of various ages, races, ethnicities, religions, and classes meet across a very long, narrow table, a table of brotherhood, that snakes from the water’s edge through an abandoned block in New Orleans, across lush lawns, down a musalla in a mosque, through fields of industrial corn and other commodity crops, between rows of high school lockers, next to a diner, through a stand of trees, around curvilinear suburban streets, near high rise urban office buildings, to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the national capital, Washington, D.C.

As a major corporate sponsor of the monument, Chevy beckons us to the dedication ceremonies of the new memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that will open in West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C., on August 28th. Organizers estimate that hundreds of thousands of visitors will make a pilgrimage to the Mall this weekend for the concerts and speeches to be held on the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. And many more will follow in the upcoming months and years.

Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, government officials, journalists, architectural critics, and everyday people recognize its significance: it is the first memorial devoted to an African American individual on the Washington Mall. Tucked between the Lincoln and the Jefferson, in close proximity to the Washington and adjacent to the FDR, this memorial site is auspicious and charged. Indeed, the orchestrated space requires visitors to encounter and enact King’s texts, moving through a large boulder, “The Mountain of Despair,” to an open plaza. Once there, sculptor Lei Yixin’s King emerges from “The Stone of Hope.” (Check out this great Washington Post feature for more info on this layout.) This move places the King Memorial on axis with the Lincoln and Jefferson monuments, forming a “line of leadership.”

This line calls to mind another vista of monuments in the city, one that also commemorates leaders, on grounds maintained by the National Park Service. On Capitol Hill, along the major boulevard, East Capitol Street, Thomas Ball’s “Emancipation Group,” (1876) -- with its sculptural representations of a newly emancipated man and President Lincoln -- engages Robert Berks’ sculpture (1974) of two children with Mary McLeod Bethune, the Civil Rights advocate, educator, and African American clubwoman. The grand neighborhood park is on axis with the Capitol.

Just as the men of Alpha Phi Alpha, King’s fraternal order, proposed a national memorial to honor the King legacy, members of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) sponsored the program for a monument to Bethune, their founder. Timed to mark Bethune’s 99th birthday in 1974, NCNW hosted extensive, formal memorial ceremonies attended by 18,000 people from around the United States. Some programs were free, open to general public; others were ticketed affairs with admission fees.

On the evening of July 9th, the night before the official ceremonies, local residents -- drummers and brothers -- Cyril and Charles “Pee Wee” Jackson joined their friends Marie Brown, James Kilgore, and Reginald Mack. Together, they formed a quintet
Robert Berks' Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial,
pictured in May 2011. Photo by author.
performing for roughly 150 people that evening. They followed a summer routine in which African American families and friends, men and women, led largely by young people, brought musical instruments – conga drums, flute, tambourines, and gongs – to their neighborhood park for informal performances. Some danced; others sat and listened, absorbing the tableau. As Pee Wee Jackson explained to a reporter from Washington Post, “This performance is really off schedule, but this is a special night since we got this new lady in the neighborhood.” The “new lady in the neighborhood” was Mary McLeod Bethune, or rather a 17-foot-tall bronze sculpture of her.

“Hey, man, you know how those official ceremonies are,” observed Charles (Pee Wee) Jackson, who lived across the street from the park. “They’ll probably have some symphony orchestra and everybody will be all dressed up and everything. So we decided to come out here tonight and welcome Mrs. Bethune in our way.”

Jackson didn’t need Chevrolet to invite him to the table. He and his friends made their own way in a public park amid a “line of leaders.” In so doing, they activated a public park that had recently been re-sited by Hilyard R. Robinson (1899-1986), a Washington, D.C.-based African American architect who worked with NCNW, the National Park Service, and the Commission of Fine Arts to execute a revised design for the landscape. The plan for the Bethune Memorial was Robinson’s last major commission, after a lengthy career of designing and building modernist buildings for African American men, women, and children.

According to Robinson’s plan for the park, the bronze Bethune memorial stands atop a granite podium, floating in a sunken outdoor amphitheater. Next to it, on a playground, local residents enact one of the most oft-repeated of King’s images: little black boys and girls hold hands with little white boys and girls.

Should you join the legion of visitors to the King Memorial, leave the monumental core, get off the Mall, and check out the District of Columbia’s neighborhoods. Visit places like Lincoln Park where everyday people make memorials their own.

See for more information about the MLK memorial.


Kelly Quinn
is assistant professor in the American studies program at Miami University. Her research focuses on architect Hilyard R. Robinson, and she has a book about him forthcoming with University of Minnesota Press.

Learn more about Kelly Quinn's research and experience with UMP's Quadrant program.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New bill shines a light on how the law looks at sex trafficking

A graphic showing global human trafficking patterns, with specific focus on women and children. Julietta Hua discusses a new anti-trafficking law and its implications for mainstream assumptions. Image from Creative Commons.

Assistant professor of women and gender studies at San Francisco State University

With the implementation of Senate Bill 1037 beginning in January, Illinois will add to its existing anti-trafficking laws to extend protections to victims. The bill will give persons arrested for prostitution an opportunity to vacate the charge if they can prove they are victims of trafficking. In many ways an outcome of victims-rights advocacy that has called for better attention to the ways prostitution charges often unfairly criminalize individuals who are better served by measures that are not solely punitive, the Illinois bill demonstrates the ways human trafficking discourses have shifted the lenses through which law enforcement approaches sex work, prostitution, and labor exploitation.

On the other hand, many scholars have extensively researched the ways anti-trafficking discourses also continue to perpetuate what UCLA's Jennifer Musto calls a “carceral framework,” which further criminalizes sex work by so narrowly defining sexual trafficking that most persons whose conditions might otherwise be exploitative and abusive are not recognized by law enforcement officials as victims. In fact, even with the addition and amendment of laws designed to open up the possibility of seeing trafficking victims where before such persons were only seen as criminals, the fundamental assumption of what Wendy Chapkis outlines as the worthy and innocent victim versus the criminal prostitute is still at work in framing the conversation.

Thus efforts like the Illinois bill designed to extend protections to potential victims of trafficking provide an opportunity to consider the ways the law works to establish social definitions of “the criminal” and criminality. Additionally, it is an opportunity to consider the law as both shaping and shaped by the social and cultural context within which laws are instituted.

Laws do more than describe criminal behavior. They help define criminality—what and who constitutes the criminal. We should be attentive to how laws reflect and shape social and cultural assumptions about acceptable (and normative) behaviors as well as how the enforcement of laws can link such assumptions with specific geographies, cultures, and physiologies. For example, at immigration entry points in the late 19th century, anti-prostitution laws worked to help define deviant sexual behaviors and explain and justify such behaviors by linking them to measurements of the body, other visual cues and beliefs about cultural differences. As immigration scholars like Ethnie Luibheid have explained, late 19th century immigration officials on the west coast, who believed there was a Chinese custom to bind wealthy women’s feet, would use their beliefs to sort Chinese female immigrants into legitimate wives (who had bound feet) or prostitutes.

The fact that a woman had legal proof of marriage was not a guarantee that the woman would be accepted as a wife. Wide-held social and cultural attitudes in the late-19th century United States that understood Chinese-ness as tied to immoral sexual behaviors (like holding multiple wives) meant that enforcement of anti-prostitution laws at US borders also helped shape and were shaped by parallel and overlapping projects in “science” and medicine, where deviant sexualities were linked to physical features (like measurements of sexual organs). Criminality in this context was tied to the visible and embodied difference of Chinese-ness as well as class assumptions, and the various practices that developed around enforcement of the law created, even as they catalogued, definitions of criminal versus normative behaviors and physiologies.

As such, we should invite opportunities to examine the law not just for how well it “works,” but for what it says about our assumptions, investments, beliefs and values.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Understanding iconoclastic filmmaker Nicholas Ray: A Q&A with Susan Ray on the Centenary Project and much more

Legendary American filmmaker Nicholas Ray (perhaps best known for Rebel Without a Cause) was born August 7th, 1911. In honor of Ray's 100th birthday this month, several exciting projects are in the works, including the Centenary Project and an upcoming film premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Here to tell us a little bit about what's planned is Susan Ray, Nick's fourth wife and widow, who has generously agreed to be interviewed for a Q&A. Read on as she discusses Ray's life work and reveals some exciting information about an upcoming film based on her memoir I WAS INTERRUPTED.

Susan and Nicholas Ray at the Greyhound Bus Terminal, Binghamton, NY (circa 1971). Photo from Mark Goldstein/IRC's SUNY Binghamton 1971-72 collection on Flickr.


Q. There's so much to be excited about surrounding the Nicholas Ray Centenary Project. Can you tell us what's all in the works?

Ahh, there's a lot in the works! The centerpiece for the Centenary Project is the reconstruction/restoration, already completed, of WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN, Nick's experimental last film, to premiere in just four weeks at the Venice Film Festival. Accompanying the premiere will be a full-length documentary, DON'T EXPECT TOO MUCH, about the making of Nick's last film (more on both films below).

Additionally we have a website, in preparation as we speak, that will replace our provisional website at The new site eventually will offer a comprehensive array of materials, updated regularly, concerning the life, work, and times of Nicholas Ray. The materials will include still photos, audio, film, and video clips, writings by Ray himself, considerations by critics and film historians, and links to other related sites. Also our site will provide a link to a facility that will make materials--both sound and picture—from the Ray Archive available for auditing or viewing and licensing. These materials include historic elements Ray gathered at and around the Chicago Conspiracy Trial.

We will also offer another film, tentatively titled NICHOLAS RAY MASTER CLASS and intended as a teaching tool, on which editing will begin in the next two months. It will include archival audio recordings of Ray teaching film craft and discussing his own films and the films of others as narration over clips of the films themselves and visual materials from the Ray Archive.

Finally, we are exploring several paths towards mounting a museum installation exploring Ray's use of multiple image. A piece of mine on the subject will appear in CINEMA SCOPE in September.

Q. It's been said that Ray was never satisfied with WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN. What was restored in this new edition? Did you uncover any surprises?

It may be more accurate to say that the film was never completed. It was, and remains, an experimental film from a number of perspectives, as well as a film without stars, so work on it it has always been extremely difficult to finance. Nick had hoped to be able to return to it and bring it to full realization, but the chance didn't come in his lifetime.

The reconstruction/restoration of WCGHA, overseen by our wonderful colleagues at the EYE Institute Netherlands and the Academy Film Archive, and supported by the Venice Film Festival, RAI, Gucci, Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation, The Gulbenkian Foundation, La Cinematheque Francaise, and the Museo Internazionale del Cinema, was undertaken with the intention of respecting and preserving the film's "homemade" and spontaneous qualities, while undoing some of the negative effects of time on its elements.

As the film's imagery finds its place at the interface between fine art and cinema, we chose not to re-edit or reconstitute a single frame of the picture. We did, however, digitally clean the picture to remove obscuring dust and dirt and certain other distracting technical problems that arose during the hasty preparation of the film for screening at the Cannes Festival in 1973.

The work on the soundtrack included a similar kind of cleanup. Additionally we returned to the original 1/4-inch sound recordings to fill in, wherever possible, missing or degraded sound and to replace the narration that was heard in 1973 at Cannes with one in Nick's own voice that he never got the chance to insert. We feel this "reconstruction" of the soundtrack, though not major, does make the film significantly more accessible.

Q. Does your documentary DON'T EXPECT TOO MUCH show us a different side of Nick?

You will have to tell me! It's my hope that this full-length documentary will contribute to an understanding of what Nick was trying to accomplish with WCGHA. Nick used to say—and it's been my direct experience as well—that few people know how to view a finished film and anticipate what it could become. It seems that many, viewing the rough and messy nature of WCGHA, assumed that Nick had somehow lost his discernment as a filmmaker. I believe that DON'T EXPECT TOO MUCH will make clear that this was not the case.

Nick had very clear intentions for WCGHA, for both the film's form and its content, and he expresses these pretty articulately in DETM. And consistent with the entirety of his filmmaking career, these intentions related to a vision of cinema and an understanding of what was unfolding in our world that was a good 40-50 years ahead of its time. That the film did not reach completion, and that the experiment was not entirely "successful" even in the filmmaker's own assessment, does not in any way diminish the clarity or worth of the original intentions behind it. It seems that in the achievement of anything truly new and groundbreaking, failed experiments usually precede—and are essential to—its success. In WCGHA we have the opportunity to see unfold a bold and prophetic experiment helmed by a master in his field.

Although it's asking a lot of a little documentary, I also hope DETM will support WCGHA in opening the door to the consideration of some issues underlying Nick's film, issues that seem even more meaningful today than they did 40 years ago when WCGHA was shot. These issues include the obsession with self-image, the addiction to perfection (and the dynamic of addiction in general), the emphasis on product rather than process, the invisible power structure over us all and the resulting lack of accountability among those holding the power—and the list goes on.

Q. How would you describe Ray's approach to filmmaking?

I'm probably not the best person to ask that. I may, however, be able to say something about what seems to have been most important to Nick.

He saw filmmaking as a way of life, what some would call a practice, even a spiritual practice, which is to say, for Nick it was a way to investigate, process, and communicate his experience of himself and his world. Even more than a filmmaker, Nick was a seeker, a man with a powerful drive to understand himself and his fellow humans. To my mind it was an aspect of his integrity as a seeker that he didn't hide or disguise any aspect of himself, including the less attractive ones. He believed that "an artist must expose himself," to use his words. To me this was a generous and brave way of living, although not an easy one, certainly not for him and sometimes not for those around him; but personally I prefer it to the surgically altered, styled, air-brushed, or public-relations-firm-manufactured versions we're offered of public figures nowadays.

And as often evolves in those who seek long enough, he also had a profound and active concern, as corny as it sounds, for the well-being of all life on Earth, for us all learning to "say hello to each other." There's a great fascination with his flaws and failures, while it seems that this pretty essential aspect of his nature is too often overlooked.

Q. How often did Ray return to his hometown in Wisconsin? To what extent did his roots play a part in his identity?

Nick returned to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where he was raised, two or three times in the 10 years I knew him. It seems one's roots (or the lack thereof) necessarily play a significant part in anyone's identity, as they certainly did for Nick. He had a strong feeling for this country's indigenous people, its land, its wildlife, its folk ways. Even had I not known him at all, his films make that pretty clear.

Q. Our staff has been curious about rumors that a biopic about Ray is in the works, and being developed by Philip Kaufman. Can you tell us anything about this?

Yes, there is a film in development, to be directed by Philip Kaufman and produced by Lightstream Pictures, based on my memoir of Nick in I WAS INTERRUPTED. The script was written by Phil and his son Peter in collaboration with Academy Award nominee Oren Moverman, and it seems they have one of our very greatest actors lined up to play Nick. I believe they're scheduled to start shooting before spring.

Please check the Foundation website for further updates, coming soon!


Susan Ray is set to present WE CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN alongside James Franco on Sept. 4th, 2011, at the Venice Film Festival.

This fall, UMP proudly brought back into print Nicholas Ray: An American Journey, by Bernard Eisenschitz, translated by Tom Milne.

"Spells out the extraordinary and tumultuous life of a man who found his fullest expression in filmmaking, yet never fully resolved his battles with himself and with the world he lived in." —Film Comment

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Schools vs. Prisons: How zero-tolerance and other punitive disciplinary policies are hurting students

As zero-tolerance discipline policies have been instituted at high schools across the country, police officers are employed with increasing frequency to enforce behavior codes and maintain order, primarily at poorly performing, racially segregated urban schools. Actions that may once have sent students to the detention hall or resulted in their suspension may now introduce them to the criminal justice system. For today's post, UMP has interviewed Kathleen Nolan, author of Police in the Hallways, who explores the impact of punitive disciplinary policies on students and on their educational experiences.

Good Magazine recently created this infographic depicting the similarities between prison food and food served in public schools. Here, Kathleen Nolan discusses ways in which schools are looking more and more like prisons and what needs to happen to change this detrimental pattern.

Urban education expert and lecturer at Princeton University

Q. How many students look forward to going to school?

This is difficult to know. There’s immense variation in experiences among students around the country, and there are a multitude of reasons for wanting to go to school or not. One thing I find interesting, though, in terms of what my own findings suggest, is that students attending poorly performing, highly controlled schools very frequently want to attend school despite the circumstances they face. This is largely because school is where their friends are, and they often have some identity within the school community in which they’re invested—sometimes that identity is based on personality, sometimes school success, and sometimes toughness. Additionally, even students with very tenuous relationships with the classroom often hold onto dreams of “turning things around” and doing well in school. So they want to attend. The vast majority of teens these days, I’d contend, really do understand the need for an education and credentials that will lead them on a path to viable work.

Q. What inspired the study you undertook when you started working on this book?

Before going back to school for my Ph.D., I was a high school teacher in the South Bronx. It was around the late 1990s, at the dawn of the move toward high-stakes testing and zero-tolerance school discipline. I, along with most of my colleagues, was very frustrated. Our school was terribly under-resourced. We needed so much—updated books, basic literacy support, working computers, even windows that opened properly and desks that weren’t 30 years old. It was a disgrace. And I thought, you can’t be serious! These are the reforms you’re giving us—culturally irrelevant, test-driven curriculum and police officers? Why aren’t we trying to provide the real social and educational supports that students need? Circumstances in the school certainly inspired the direction of my research, but there was something else outside the school—the view I had from the broken windows of my classroom on the third floor. Just beyond the vacant lot on the other side of the road there was a large, new, shiny white building. It was impressive and imposing in the midst of urban decay.

It was a youth prison.

I left teaching and entered grad school with the image of that prison ingrained in my mind. I wanted to learn more about how we got to a point where we, as a society, were more willing to invest in policing and jailing poor youth than we were to invest in their education.

Q. What do you make of mid-90s "zero tolerance" policies? How did they affect or inspire your research?

Well, they certainly inspired the direction of my research. As I mentioned, I began to experience the policies firsthand as a classroom teacher. And of course, I began to read the new reports that were documenting the tremendous bias against black students, poor students, and students with special needs. But as a teacher in a racially segregated, low-income school, it wasn’t just zero tolerance the way it was being discussed nationally as increasing suspension rates that concerned me. In our school, we immediately began to see the relationship between zero tolerance and policing and the rapid growth of juvenile incarceration that also took place around that time in the 1990s. As I spoke with young people from predominantly white suburban schools around where I grew up, it quickly became evident that zero tolerance was playing out very differently along race and class lines.

Q. Your study focuses on a high school in Bronx, NY. Have schools in other areas made your way into your research? How does your study implicate other schools or draw out national trends?

Yes, well, in some ways, the school where I did my research represents an extreme. It is located in the city where order-maintenance policing was popularized internationally by former mayor Giuliani and then implemented in targeted schools by mayor Bloomberg. We would probably only find the intensity of policing I witnessed at UPHS at other poorly performing, racially segregated urban high schools with similar histories of violence. But the policing practices I encountered at UPHS reflect the dominant national ethos that values tough, punitive discipline. Zero-tolerance policies have caused explosions in suspension and expulsion rates around the country, and there are dozens of newspaper stories that document cases of kids getting arrested in schools for behaviors that are not necessarily violations of the law in urban centers like NY, Chicago, and Los Angeles. But we also can read of incidents of inappropriate police force in schools in suburban or rural areas in States like Florida and Texas, particularly involving black or Latino/a children. The focus of my research, though, was on incidents that never make it into the media. In the poorest, most marginalized communities, children getting confronted by the police and arrested isn’t newsworthy.

As I’ve begun developing my next project that will examine the school experiences of urban and outer-ring suburban middle school students and critically and culturally responsive ways of addressing classroom management, I’ve learned, sadly, that my previous work on school policing resonates with parents, teachers, and community leaders in many of these small cities and outer-ring suburbs—places we don’t often see in the national news but where there is deep concern over the looming presence of the criminal justice system in their children’s lives.

Q. There appears to be a bit of attention this summer on initiatives to end the "school-to-prison pipeline" that affects many of the nation's students. What do you think is the first step to making schools better places for students?

Yes, I think the efforts of community groups that began organizing locally several years ago around the issues of zero-tolerance, school-based policing, and juvenile justice are finally catching the national attention they deserve. There are a number of very good research-based alternatives to zero-tolerance discipline. So as we move away from zero-tolerance and policing in schools, we already know what kinds of programs can and should be instituted in their place. These include school-wide Positive Behavior Support programs, models based on restorative justice, mediation programs, student-led anti-violence initiatives, and enhanced counseling and support services in schools. And it is essential that we lessen the role of police officers in schools and restore the moral authority of educators by creating structures that allow for regular, meaningful, and positive interactions between school personnel and students.

Some of the best organizing that has been done has made explicit the connection between school funding, prison funding, youth unemployment and poverty rates, and education policy. In a nutshell, I agree with those groups that we need to address current circumstance holistically, or perhaps more precisely, structurally. We cannot make minor policy changes, such as the modifications we’ve seen in many states to zero-tolerance policies and expect real change. We need to shift our priorities as a nation and do what it takes to transform urban centers into healthy, working communities. We need to rethink our tendency toward mass incarceration, which actually has already begun, but there is still a gross over-use of the criminal and juvenile justice systems to manage social problems caused by poverty and racism. And finally, we need to think more critically and organize more rigorously around school reform.

Politically popular reforms today—high stakes testing, the creation of charter schools, scripted programs and military-style classroom management—are misguided. I do believe that a vast majority of urban students struggling in low-performing public schools—those most affected by punitive discipline—want desperately to have meaningful classroom experiences. They want their academic needs addressed and they want to graduate and become productive members of society. In order for that to happen, however, we need reforms that helps create schools that are democratic and respectful spaces where parents are invited into the community and students find welcoming classrooms. They need teachers that can address their academic needs, provide relevant and inspiring lessons, teach them to think critically about their world, and direct them toward a bright future.

When kids are engaged, there are far fewer disciplinary problems.


Kathleen Nolan works in the Teacher Preparation Program and is a lecturer at Princeton University. She is author of Police in the Hallways: Discipline in an Urban High School.

"Police in the Hallways presents a detailed ethnographic analysis of the ways in which discipline policies in New York schools have influenced the education and social experience of young people in so-called impact schools. Kathleen Nolan uncovers the complexity of the issues and exposes the unfairness of the policies in a subtle yet compelling manner."
—Pedro Noguera, author of The Trouble With Black Boys and Other Reflections on Race, Equity and the Future of Public Education