“De Poezenboot. Goedemorgen?” That translates to “The Catboat. Good morning?” and it is how Judith, in a warm yet clearly down-to-business voice, answers the office phone. She is the manager and the public—human—face of a cat refuge long moored in the Singel, a large canal that once moated Amsterdam’s medieval center and still provides the embankment for Golden Age mansions.
By contrast, De Poezenboot (pronounced “POOH-sen boat”; poezen is Dutch for “cats”) appears as a simple wooden rectangle floating on concrete, in a boat style known as an ark. Hardly of Noah dimensions, the shelter can hold 50 cats at a time—this month they’re the chosen charity supported by sales of Santa Claude, a special holiday coffee collaboration between Sprudge, Cafe Imports, Roundhill Roasters, and Dutch Pack. Currently, there are 17 in-house cats, each with a distinctive personality, and while most of the cats at the shelter are rehomed in short order, some are too rascally to place with families, and now call De Poezenboot their forever floating home.
Kasumi is a yellow-eyed Persian that hams it up for the camera, but gets pushed aside by her housemates during mealtime and pees where she pleases. Samus, the dead ringer for Scut Farkus, comes with his own scratch-warning sign and last year posed in a photo with Ricky Gervais.
On a recent Wednesday, one of the two days the boat is closed to the public, Judith sat at her desk in the reception area. Between fielding calls, she talked about De Poezenboot and sipped a drink that Sprudge picked up prior to the interview. Good Beans, a nearby espresso bar which this past summer came under new American-Norwegian ownership, prepared Judith’s hot chocolate and an Americano with their own Rwandan Bourbon roast. The coffee went to Michi, a feline portrait artist and the volunteer that morning taking care of rigorous kennel cleaning.
Even though stray animals are not a systemic problem in the Netherlands, De Poezenboot has plenty of work. It takes in cats that are occasionally found on the street, orphaned, aging, or otherwise too difficult for owners to continue tending.
“Sometimes we have a whole family crying here because they have to bring in their cat,” says Judith.
As a schoolchild, she was one of De Poezenboot’s earliest volunteers, and eventually became a friend and a caregiver to Henriëtte van Weelde, the woman who began the sanctuary. That was in 1968, on a barge one canal over. Van Weelde died at age 90 in 2005.
Today, the De Poezenboot has 22 volunteers, organized into fixed teams that rotate boat shifts. Their main responsibilities are feeding, administering medicine, and cleaning. They also keep an eye on the neighborhood swan that likes to swim up to the deck and out-hiss its water-wary canal-mates. Some volunteers double as foster parents, socializing and nursing cats to more adoptable states. Judith had planned to do precisely that with a once “really tiny and scared” kitten, she recalls, but eight years later, Jumi is her family pet (as is a merle-coated Chihuahua named Rosa).
The boat survives on donations, with money put towards cat provisions plus mooring and other houseboat-related costs. The small fee that adopters pay largely covers health costs, including sterilization, vaccination, chipping, and sometimes deworming.
This past June, De Poezenboot celebrated its 50 year anniversary. Feline-themed festivities aside, the jubileum allowed the organization to raise funds for a campaign to help financially struggling Amsterdammers get their cats spayed and neutered “almost for free,” says Judith. The program is scheduled to run in February 2019.
In the meantime, rehoming remains the main mission. Would-be adopters who see a listing on the website or via social media can call or visit to inquire if they might be a good match.
“We do want to have the cats go to the most suitable house,” Judith emphasizes. “If we have a cat, for instance, that is scared of kids, but really beautiful, and somebody comes in and says, ‘Oh I like that beautiful cat,’ but she has three screaming kids, she will not get the cat.”
Yet, most adopters are, much like the creature they covet, sensitive and self-assured.
“We get nice people, people that think about what they’re doing, not people who are like ‘Oh give me a cat, and I don’t mind what kind of cat. Just give me one,’” says Judith.
Included in that group are business proprietors that seek a mouser or, for whatever reason, a whiskered workplace companion. Up the block, Café Kobalt got “a red one from us,” notes Judith, “and Café de Doelen also.” More recently, a local cigar store requested neither a cafe lounger nor a lap-sitter, but rather “an independent cat that goes his own way.” The satisfied owner has already emailed photos, says Judith. “Everybody loves him and he’s running through the store.”
Today marks the 285th anniversary of the founding of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. On November 9, 1732, St. Alphonsus Liguori and his first companions professed their vows as Redemptorists and began their mission to preach God’s boundless love for all people by taking to heart Isaiah’s words: “to bring glad tidings to the poor . . . to proclaim liberty to captives . . . to free the oppressed.”
However high their hopes, I doubt the small company could have known the gladness, liberty, and freedom of heart they’d bring to the littlest Redemptorist of them all, the Vietnamese (now Servant of God) Marcel Van.
Van’s Winding Little Way
As he tells us in his Autobiography, initially Van set out to be a diocesan priest, beginning the journey when he was merely 7. At 14, after reading Story of a Soul and hearing St. Thérèse speak to him, Van asked God to make him a girl so he could become a Carmelite too. He didn’t know that there were male Carmelites, and Thérèse teasingly encouraged him to make this request, knowing God wouldn’t answer it! It was her job, in fact, to break the news that God didn’t want Van to be a priest, but rather to pray for priests as a religious brother. At 16, Van discovered the religious order that Providence had prepared for him and where he would be given the name Marcel: none other than the Order founded by St. Alphonsus Ligouri 285 years ago today, the Redemptorists.
Marcel Van lived from 1928 to 1959, only 31 years, all of which were spent in Vietnam. He was born in the North, was eventually transferred by his Order to the South, but requested (at Jesus’ request) to be re-transferred to the North when the Communists took over. Marcel wanted to make sure someone would love God amidst the atheistic regime. It wasn’t long before he was arrested on trumped up charges, put through a mock trial, and thrown into a concentration camp where he was a beacon of love and mercy to the other prisoners, and where his earthly life ended on July 10, 1959.
Of Postulators and Candidates for Canonization
His heavenly life having begun in earnest, Marcel was ready to become the Apostle of Mary, the Apostle to Children, the Apostle to Priests that Jesus and Our Lady had promised he would be. For those who have met him, friendship is nearly instantaneous. Marcel is charming, funny, direct, sincere, totally simple, and completely on fire with love for Jesus and zeal for the Church. And (it bears repeating) he was the spiritual little brother of St. Thérèse. Oh, and he had Conversations with Jesus and Mary too. What’s not to love?
But despite Thérèse’s world renown and his own appeal, Marcel is still relatively unknown. The first postulator of his cause was Cardinal Francis-Xavier Nguyen van Thuan, born the same year as Marcel, in the same country, yet outliving him by nearly half a century. Since his death in 2002, Cardinal van Thuan has had a process of his own begun and is now Venerable, his heroic virtues having been proven and officially proclaimed by the Church. His sister and Marcel’s current postulator have recently written a book published by Les Amis de Van: Nguyen Van Thuan and Marcel Van: Two Lives, One Mission.
Meanwhile, I do what I can to introduce Marcel to new friends by writing about him at my blog Miss Marcel’s Musings. Thanks to the big Internet and the small world of saint-making, I was recently asked by Marcel’s postulator, a French Benedictine, Father Olivier de Roulhac, to present some of his words on Marcel. Here, then, in this month of All Saints, and on this day we tip our hats to the great Redemptorists, is the inside scoop on the very littlest Redemptorist of them all, from no less than the man charged with presenting Marcel’s sanctity to the Church.
Without further ado, then, here are the words of Father Olivier de Roulhac, O.S.B.
Father Olivier Speaks
Marcel Van’s life is surprising and highly relevant to our times. Many have gone through one or the other of the trials which he faced. For my part, being a religious like him, I was struck by what he had lived in his community, which is very close to what I have known, and also by his way of responding to the challenges. This is how I was first struck by his example, and he is a great teacher for me. His intense spiritual life is radiant, and his example and writings reveal a path that any person who has the desire to follow Jesus can take. He also unveils for us the spiritual combat which is taking place in the world and shows a very simple way of taking part in it. In sum, his life is an example of the Gospel lived out in the modern world.
Which virtues shine out in the life of Marcel Van?
I would first of all say perseverance. Deeply in love with Jesus, his desires can all be summed up in this one: to please Jesus. He persevered through the numerous sufferings which he encountered throughout his life by love for Jesus.
Next, the supernatural realities and the presence of Jesus and Mary in his life are so obvious to him that his faith is complete. His trust in Jesus is absolute and underlies each of his actions. There is no servile fear of God in him, but only the fear of causing pain to Jesus, of letting him down.
Then, he lived hope in the manner of the Virgin Mary. When speaking of His life at Nazareth, Jesus tells Marcel: “If something was lacking, if my mother had any need, no matter how small, she knew she only had to raise her eyes to heaven and ask for it from God the Father in all simplicity and sincerity. And as her confidence and her simplicity were very pleasing to God, Mary obtained all that she asked for” (Conversations, 423).
Marcel’s charity expresses itself in many ways. It is first of all addressed to Jesus. St. Thérèse and the Virgin Mary both asked Marcel to hide his sadness from Jesus, “Otherwise little Jesus would notice it, He would feel sadness and He would be disappointed” (Conversations, 252b).
Marcel also pays close attention to his loved ones. He does not hesitate to admonish with a gentle love his father who had let himself sink into gambling and alcohol abuse: “My dear daddy, in the things that I now wish to say to you, in particular I want you to understand first of all that in no way do I wish to reprimand you, but simply to open to you my child’s heart, since children of the family are allowed to express their feelings to their dear parents. Therefore, being myself your dear child, conscious of being much loved by you, I also love you dearly” (Letter to his father, October 6, 1946).
In a similar manner, he consoles and exhorts his friends to trust Jesus. For example, he reassured his friend Nghi who was a soldier and had not seen a priest for 8 months, and was therefore not able to go to confession. He was very worried and asked Marcel to pray for him. Marcel exhorts him with words of fraternal warmth and strong encouragement:
“If you continue to preoccupy yourself and to worry excessively, you can only harm yourself and sadden God’s heart since you would give the impression of doubting His merciful love in thinking that He is not good enough to forgive your faults. God knows you are weak and miserable, consequently, do not fear being abandoned by Him” (Letter to Nghi, May 3, 1949).
Finally, joy is another of Marcel’s chief virtues. He is “always joyful because of love.” At the age of twelve, during the night of Christmas, he discovered his mission : “To transform suffering into joy.” Marcel will never love suffering: “Although, in a human way, I am afraid of suffering, I accept it with joy for love of Jesus” (Letter to his sister Tê, July 16, 1947). Yet during that Christmas night he discovered its mysterious power: it is the path to more deeply understand the great mystery of Jesus’ Love. He often encourages his correspondents to accept suffering with joy, and asks for their prayers so that he may do the same. Joy in Marcel is the expression of a great power, that of his love for Jesus.
The work of Les Amis de Van
Marcel’s cause was introduced as that of a confessor of the faith (rather than as a martyr), which means that its focus is on the manner in which he lived the gospel throughout his life. The process is currently in the diocesan phase. The Association of Les Amis de Van (the Friends of Van) is a “private association” of the faithful which, through its international vocation, participates in the communion between the churches and in the building of the universal Church. It sponsors Vietnamese seminarians, and has published Van’s life story and his writings in several languages, and works on the preparation of the dossier for his beatification.
Thanks to the diligence of Les Amis de Van and translator Jack Keogan, the best way to get to know Marcel Van is to read his Complete Works, all of which are now available in English:
Marcel’s Autobiography, written at the request of his spiritual director, the Canadian Redemptorist Fr. Antonio Boucher; his Conversations, which are dialogues Marcel had with Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and St. Thérèse; his Correspondence of over 300 letters illustrating Marcel’s spirituality, attentive and obedient to his superiors, comforting and encouraging his friends and family, always with a gentle love. And finally his Other Writings, which include poems, diverse thoughts, and answers to questions asked by his spiritual director.
Marcel’s message is of great relevance to the modern world. He is an apostle of priests, with a special calling to pray and suffer for them. He is also the apostle of children. In effect, he encountered many of their sufferings: being misunderstood, treated violently, at times even rejected by his parents . . . more than one child has identified with his struggles and found in his example the strength to move forward and to continue to be “joyful because of love.”
In 1997, at a time when computers didn’t have enough bandwidth to send d*ck pics via the World Wide Web, one woman who understood what it’s like to be lonely accidentally started the incel movement.
Little did she know, her support forum for those who were ‘involuntarily celibate’ would breed a darker kind of loneliness, born out of deep-rooted loathing and a toxic masculinity which champions anger and violence.
Fast forward to 2018, and on this International Men’s Day there won’t be many people online who haven’t heard of the inceldom, since a spate of mass murders committed in the past decade by ‘incel heroes’ made global news headlines.
It wasn’t always this way. In simple terms, someone who identifies as involuntarily celibate – incel for short – is unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one.
In its original conception, some people who identified as incels are shy, or suffering low self-esteem. Some might have kids but are unhappy in a sexless marriage.
Some are gay and struggling with societal taboos and isolation at the hands of homophobia. Some are women, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, really.
A Sara Gardephe film, Shy Boys, explored the many faces and names of inceldom:
But now, the movement has been narrowed and twisted beyond recognition, even to the woman who peacefully started the first incel platform.
Only going by her first name, Alana, an academic from Canada, tells UNILAD she was a ‘nerdy kid with only a few friends’, focused on her studies and dealing with her bisexuality.
She, like many, suffered the kind of loneliness which comes with a lack of romantic connection. But upon reaching her mid-twenties, and finding time to ‘go to therapy to work on [her] anxiety and hangups’, Alana confronted her fears and started to date.
There are lots of ways to express loneliness. Some people just quietly live without the companionship they desire, let their sadness eclipse their hopes, and gradually give up on ever finding a partner.
Other people have higher expectations; perhaps they have been lucky in other aspects of life, and wonder why it’s not equally easy to find a romantic partner. Maybe they believe that romance happens like the magic spark in a movie.
After some introspection into her own experiences, she went online to search for academic research about dating difficulties but drew a dial-up blank on the phenomenon of being single in the long-term.
At the time, Alana recalls, the dawn of Windows 98 gave way to a burgeoning number of forums populated predominantly by male academics. The Internet wasn’t a place in which to look for love just yet.
But it was a place for ‘friendly and positive’ discussion. There was less polarisation, no Twitter trolls or Facebook ads and ‘respectful, substantive conversations in long paragraphs with readable grammar and spelling’ had yet to give way to spam.
So, she began Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project, an online forum designed to give support and resources for adults of any gender who had difficulty dating, and quickly amassed a few hundred mailing list subscribers.
Of the members, Alana said ‘mostly straight men’, ‘at least one gay man’ and ‘a few women of various orientations’ would email her with stories and pop culture references to post on the website, while ‘others just lurked’.
The term they all used to self-describe was ‘invcel’ – until one member whose name is ‘lost in the mists’ of Alana’s memory suggested incel would be easier.
Alana, who was known to the members by gender and sexuality, agreed. It was one of the rare moments in which she weighed in, she recalled, adding, ‘I didn’t need to moderate the mailing list.’
So, the incel forum ticked over with no hate messages, no clear misogyny, nor talk of violence or murder.
‘There were some guys who were clueless and thought of women as beauty-objects rather than full humans,’ Alana said, declaring this ‘a pretty normal attitude amongst men’ in her experience. She let it slide.
The biggest concern, she added, was ‘depressed people expressing their sadness, self-hatred and suicidality’.
Eventually, Alana entrusted the platform to someone else and she didn’t think about the word incel for almost two decades.
It didn’t cross her mind again until May 2014, when Elliot Rodger murdered six people and injured 14 more in a stabbing and shooting spree in Isla Vista, California, before taking his own life.
In fact, as she had stopped following the news of every mass shooting in America, Alana didn’t find out Rodger had committed this atrocity in the name of the incel movement she started until months after the funerals of the victims took place.
The column she came across in Mother Jones magazine documented how Rodger had published a 141-page ‘twisted’ manifesto detailing his desire to ‘destroy’ all women, as he puts it, ‘because I can never have them.’
Alana recalled how she felt when she realised the movement had become misogynistic:
I was very upset a support movement meant to be positive had turned out to be hateful and violent, instead of actually helping people with their dating difficulties.
Rodger shot and killed Katherine Cooper, 22, and Veronika Weiss, 19, outside the Alpha Phi sorority house. He also stabbed to death three young men; Cheng Yuan Hong, 20; Weihan Wang, 20; and George Chen, 19.
He injured 14 when he travelled around firing at random in his car and fatally shot Christopher Michaels-Martinez, 20.
Rodger was one of an extreme group of incel men who gather on Reddit and 4Chan to blame all women – or so-called ‘Stacys’ – and all sexually active men – or ‘Chads’ – for their unwanted celibate lifestyle.
The platform users are known to send death threats to women, who they perceive as ‘subhuman’ and ‘faulty’ for denying them sex. Some even think living life as an incel is worse than being raped and subsequently taunt victims of sexual abuse online.
Some of the messages are so obscene it’s hard to tell which are trolls hoping to evoke outrage and which are posted by genuinely disturbed incels who perceive the misogyny of the likes of Rodger as ‘truth’.
Some praise Rodger’s evil efforts to ‘wage war’ against all women and the ‘barbaric, wild, beast-like men’ they find attractive – a ‘slaughter’ he planned out in a spectacularly exhaustive manner in the self-appointed ‘magnificent’ story of his life.
But this isn’t a story. These are the real life events culminating in the deaths of innocent people at the hands of a man who could not take responsibility for his actions or circumstances because he was indoctrinated by his own privilege.
Upon examining the manifesto – we did so you don’t have to – it reads like a classic case of toxic masculinity.
This, at a time when most British men fail to associate masculinity with positive human traits such as care and kindness, respectfulness, honesty, and supportiveness, according to a YouGov survey from the UK charity Working With Men.
Christopher Muwanguzi, CEO of Working With Men, said:
Often, boys still learn that being dominant, aggressive and taking risks are all necessary parts of being a man.
By helping young men and boys understand that they don’t have to conform to archaic aggressive stereotypes of masculinity, we can reduce antisocial behaviour, mental health struggles, suicides, gender-based crime and domestic violence.
Rodger is by no means typical of any man struggling with loneliness or instability, but he is a product of the same system of masculinity our brothers, male friends, and boyfriends are growing up in. And it’s become worse since our dads were boys.
Rodger’s hatred, which turned violent in Santa Barbara on his ‘Day of Retribution’, knew no bounds – gender, race, orientation or otherwise.
He described feeling superior to Mexican and African American men as he identifies as ‘half-white’. Women of colour were of no interest to him, only ‘pretty’ blonde white women.
He admits his own tendencies are ‘fascist’ and dictatorial as he tries to reason that the ‘barbaric act’ of sex and all expressions of sexuality should be outlawed altogether to ‘purify civilisation’.
The 22-year-old, who was prescribed an antipsychotic used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and irritability in people with autism, also expressed a fanatical desire to eradicate women, who he believed should ‘abolished’ in concentration camps under a ‘divine ruler’ (he put himself forward) in what he dubs the ‘final solution’.
Just as Marc Lépine used the positive gender equality movement of feminism to excuse his own barbaric murdering spree inn 1989, so did Rodger bastardise the purely-intended incel movement.
Alana, standing in the bookstore reading her magazine, ‘didn’t know what to do about it’. She tells UNILAD she hasn’t read a word Rodger wrote before he took his own life and the lives of six innocent people.
But ultimately, the loneliness Alana, a self-described ‘nerdy queer woman’, experienced ‘wasn’t the same as the typical experiences of young straight men in today’s incel community’.
Nearly five years after the act of terror, Alana told UNILAD:
Violence against women has been happening for centuries, all over the world. Men get angry at women, as a group and individually, for all sorts of reasons including loneliness.
I’m trying not to play the ‘What If’ game. History is what it is. When a butterfly flaps its wings, it is not responsible for the tornado that might eventually result.
I’m not happy about what’s happened to ‘incel’ but I don’t hold myself accountable. Even if I had stayed involved, I could not have stopped the manosphere, political polarisation, and violence.
Indeed, in her hometown of Toronto, 25-year-old Alek Minassian killed eight women, two men and injured 16 more innocent civilians aged between 22 and 94 in a van attack which he dubbed the beginning of the ‘incel rebellion’.
In a Facebook status update on the day of the attack (24 April) he hailed Rodgers as the ‘Supreme Gentleman’.
‘Neither Canada nor the US are doing much to help men resolve their anger in healthier ways’, she laments, but feels in hindsight better gun control would have stopped Rodgers murdering innocent people and inspiring his copycat incel killers to follow suit.
Despite accepting she only cannot ‘neutralise the hatred of the incel movement’, Alana has reignited the original intentions of her forum in a new space called Love Not Anger.
Aside from support, the site is encouraging research and discussion, she stated:
We need resources to figure out the many reasons for long-term singlehood, and to develop new support services. For example, how can we help young people to learn better social skills, so they don’t end up single and lonely?
She is also concerned with making sure the elderly community get access to outreach, and hopes to offer solutions to the ‘dating struggles of marginalised people’, including people with disabilities, people on the autism spectrum, and LGBTQ people.
After all there’s a reason extreme views were able to bleed into the formerly peaceful incel community, and it has a lot to do with how society views those who are alone.
Social attitudes have continued to perpetuate the ‘rather immature’ adolescent competition of ‘who has sex first, and most often’, according to Alana.
The Working With Men survey echoes this. It found half of British men surveyed think being unable to perform sexually would make a man feel less masculine while over two thirds of 18-24 year olds feel pressured to display hyper-masculine behaviour.
The perceived pressure on young men – in terms of their behaviour, outlook, and appearance – is significantly worse than on their counterparts aged 45 years old and above.
Alana weighed in:
The society I live in stigmatises people with dating difficulties as ‘lonely virgins’ and associates them with awkward appearance and weak social skills.
This stigma on the inexperienced is worse than the stigma on people who are temporarily single by choice, such as the QuirkyAlone movement.
The manosphere is a strong force, because it provides a sense of belonging and superiority to men feeling insecure. If a person wants to feel some validation by demeaning other people, they can find an online community that will join in.
Arguably, society doesn’t need an International Men’s Day in the same way in which we must continue to spotlight the gender inequalities suffered by women the world over. Days of celebration are usually constructs reserved for the marginalised, after all.
But there’s an International day of recognition for chicken nuggets now, and pirates, and Star Wars. It’d be unfair to begrudge an entire gender their day too – so long as it doesn’t stoke the fires of the misogyny evoked by some sections of the men’s rights movement.
So wouldn’t it be great if, on this International Men’s Day, a productive discussion emerged. In our fight towards getting true equality, women have been looking inwards and reflecting on how we can better achieve societal harmony.
We certainly can’t stop the manosphere from existing, so why not make it a force for good, rather than for the facets of meninism which have become a stain on society and a force against progression and equality?
As Alana knows better than most, it’s also important to make sure young people have a healthy community where they feel they belong, especially when they’ve been rejected by peers in real time.
While Reddit banned the r/Incels group this time last year for inciting hatred and violence, we must encourage other platforms to continue to make their spaces less toxic.
In light of movements like #MeToo, recent reports highlighting the relentless harassment women and girls in the UK face on a daily basis, and the surge in gang violence, it has become clear we need to change perceptions about what it means to be and act as a man in 2018.
Through promoting positive ways of being a man on this International Men’s Day, we can lower dominant and aggressive behaviour and challenge the narrative that these boys have grown up believing.
Despite many agreeing society puts overwhelming pressure on young men and boys, the future is positive.
According to the Working With Men survey, 70 per cent of the British public agree the most aspirational qualities in modern men are the ability to solve problems without hurting others and to treat all people equally.
As the families and friends of those lost to anger in the name of an incel lifestyle continue to mourn, rebuild and remember, the only positive thing to do can be to peacefully move forward to equality with those qualities in mind.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58, and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
“Mental health is not a fashion statement. Illness is not a choice.”
These are the words of a teenage boy who is suffering and demands we stop glamourising mental illness.
It’s uncomfortable to think we might live in a world where the media we consume from the Powers That Be has commodified the movement for good mental health to such an extent that mental illness is the new must-have accessory.
But he’s got a good point, which needs addressing:
Society has long regarded taboos around mental illness as wrong. Safe spaces where sufferers feel comfortable enough to seek help on their road to some form of recovery are becoming more and more prevalent.
Since, some of the one in four Brits with a mental illness have opened up in therapy, at home, in the pub, and the social media spaces where many of us exist nowadays.
All of a sudden it seems so many of us are struggling, and the collective voice of the previously marginalised is louder than ever.
This includes the 10 percent of young people who have grown up being able to put a name to their diagnosable mental health conditions – anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorder, suicide ideation.
For the most part, they are no longer to be dismissed as ‘first world problems’ or ‘adolescent angst’.
Although three quarters of those young people are being ‘failed‘ by a government who have yet to guarantee appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age, society at large is looking a little brighter and a little more welcoming to those with mental illness.
We know diagnoses don’t define people, but one young woman thinks the discussions surrounding mental health have been muddied by an innate human desire to seem different, fuelled by narratives which conflate illness with an appealing label.
An alarming 34 per cent of UK teens admitted lying about having a mental illness in the past because it’s fashionable to be sick, according to online therapy service, Mentaline.
Almost half of those who think mental illness is ‘on-trend’ claimed it made people ‘unique’ while 24 per cent said it was ‘cool’ to have an eating disorder, to self-harm, or to have depression.
Kids are learning these falsehoods from somewhere. But where?
Well, we love labels, don’t we? Through years of social conditioning many of us subconsciously try to fit into little boxes marked out to make us recognisable and relatable to others.
Our career, relationship status, body type, skin colour, religion, even our political persuasion are all part of the public packaging we present to the world – more so than ever before now we have social media.
In this proudly progressive time of acceptance and a desire to stand out from the crowds, people look for new labels beyond what it says on their passports to include in their Twitter bios.
Monopolising on this chink in the human condition, we’ve witnessed the rise of wannabe woke brands, ads, TV shows, and individuals who have sought to benefit from the important public discourse surrounding mental illness and, vicariously, the very real suffering of vulnerable young people.
Mental illness is raw. It is cruel. It is ugly. Stop glamourising it.
The threat is worse than ever. The so-called iGeneration (or Gen-Z) are growing up in a world millennials wouldn’t have recognised as teens.
With the social media bubble heightening trends, movements and cliques and helping these social behaviours flourish beyond gates of schools and colleges nationwide, kids are exposed to more information – some good, some bad; some responsibly portraying mental illness as serious and potentially life-threatening, some not.
Nowadays, it goes beyond the user-created ‘thinspo’ Tumblr pages set up by unhappy children which started to emerge over a decade ago to trivialise and glamourise self-harm and suicide.
Pages like this really wind me up. creating the impression that it's 'edgy' or 'alternative' to have depression/anxiety, posts like this are incredibly harmful to teens on the internet. Mental illness can't be defined in a 'depressing' quote- people need to stop glamourising it. pic.twitter.com/TMAuOmthih
Nicky Fearon, the Head of Student Mental Health and Wellbeing at Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, told UNILAD that while ‘extreme communities’ are now normalised by the Internet language of memes and GIFs, potentially impressionable young adults now could also encounter harmful online advice and information from places they perceive as an authority.
In other words, the threat is also coming from big business and powerful people in boardrooms who contribute to the conversation for capitalist gain, and are being criticised by an army of young people for glamourising mental illness.
It’s no wonder one young person told UNILAD ‘people fear being left out’ and with one in four young people living with a diagnosed mental illness in the UK today, it’s clear more people than ever are battling their own demons.
Just keep glamourising mental illness, hehe. I can trade my OCD, anxiety and depression if you would like as its seen as ’trendy’ xx pic.twitter.com/YRPqEHtrxl
Her friend agreed young people are ‘scared to not be involved’ in the mainstream movement for good mental health.
UNILAD asked Dr Arun Chidambaram of Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust if he had medical evidence suggesting mental illness was becoming a fashion statement.
Dubbing the debate part of an ’emerging field’ of thought, he said:
We have to accept what [the young people] are claiming, as it is their world and they know their world better than us. Some of what they say might be perception, but it might be their reality.
Another young person said she doesn’t believe people ‘mean for mental illness to become a fashion statement’.
It’s a highly empathetic statement echoed by Dr Chidambaram, who confirmed social difficulties can sometimes contribute to young people adopting a different persona – particularly of real and fictional celebrities – when they lack their own identity.
But it’s a difficult debate to have, for fear of undermining the importance of opening up about mental health and representing those with mental illness across all walks of life.
Fearon chimed in to criticise companies who commodify mental illness:
It is unclear whether commodification affects some groups of people more than others, how this type of marketing interacts with existing vulnerabilities people are experiencing and how they develop over time.
Likewise, there are clearly opportunities to use social media to support wellbeing, reduce risk and offer help to those who need it. Our understanding of this is in its infancy.
Indeed, there are many who still feel they can’t talk openly, particularly those who suffer more marginalised illnesses like antisocial personality disorder, schizophrenia and suicide ideation.
There is more to be done. First, we must unpick decades of stereotyping invisible illness.
All kinds of art which shape how we see the world have romanticised mental illness for years, and used it as a lazy means of categorising mankind’s many different facets of expression.
Likewise, science has been partly responsible.
Studies have been conducted into the correlation between mental illness and creativity – and since the dawn of modern thought we’ve fetishised the work of authors, artists and auteurs who suffer.
can art hoes pls stop glamourising van gogh’s mental illness and suicide thanks
Scientifically, it’s a worthy pursuit to understand invisible illness better. Socially, it could send the message that mental illness is aspirational.
It’s not. At best mental illness is an obstacle to overcome in life; at worst, mental illness can end it. Those in positions of power should be careful to make this tragic truth clear, always.
How many times have you seen an exhibition advertised as ‘[insert name here] and his/her madness’; from Van Gogh to Yayoi Kusama, their mental illness and genius are often presented as one and the same thing?
The same can and has happen with musicians.
Just take a look at the myth of The 27 Club and how the likes of Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse were hailed for their creativity rather than helped with their mental health, all the while being vilified, sensationalised and profited from in the press.
It’s exhausting and complex and the conflation is everywhere.
Just turn on Netflix.
IM SO OVER NETFLIX GLAMOURISING MENTAL ILLNESS FUCKING HELL DO YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE YOU ALLOW A MOVIE TRIGGERING OR TEARING DOWN PEOPLE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS … Thankyou for coming to my ted talk pic.twitter.com/wktOtrRYS5
Annie Hall – arguably the first manic pixie dream girl – was a romanticised neurotic beloved for her ‘quirkiness’, likely caused by generalised anxiety disorder, but whose style of dressing is plastered across Autumn/Winter fashion magazines annually.
Her character traits have also been replicated in other beloved films like Amelie and Garden State, the narratives of which both offer feeble solutions to depression and other neuroses.
Girl, Interrupted – a film which was progressive at the time – portrayed female mental illness as something which fit into neatly packaged pretty Hollywood leading lady, bedraggled but always, always classically beautiful.
Benny and Joon implied Joon’s schizophrenia could be solved by meeting someone equally as unwell. Then we had bi-polar disorder which was cured by the tango in Silver Linings Playbook.
More recently, the debate centred around the small screen, when 13 Reasons Why was accused of glamourising teen suicide.
As the protagonist, Hannah, took her own life in a ‘very graphic scene of suicide’, she was immaculately made up with a full face of make up and perfectly preened hair.
While some argued the emotional context of the scene was accurate and well-informed, the presentation was selling kids another inaccurate line about the beautiful and the damned.
Moreover, Jenni Regan, the Media Engagement manager at mental health charity, Mind, told UNILAD the portrayal was ‘incredibly damaging’ and could have easily ‘lead to copycat behaviour, particularly in vulnerable people, including young people’.
In pop culture, these conditions are portrayed as less of a serious illness, and more of an interesting personality quirk, albeit for the purposes of entertainment. It works.
But when these lovable characters have mental disorders which play directly into their narratives, audiences can misinterpret the condition and fetishise it in a way which doesn’t reflect the realities of living with it.
‘Sometimes TV shows make characters with mental illness look more interesting’, one young woman agreed, adding it can give some young people the impression a mental disorder is desirable.
Regan described damaging portrayals as relying on ‘outdated and untrue stereotypes such as people with mental health problems being dangerous’, even though people who are unwell are much more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.
20th Century Fox
Conditions such as schizophrenia are often shown this way, for example, crime dramas in which the killer is known to have this illness and it is given as the ‘reason’ for the crime.
When done well, however, a Time To Change report published in 2014 found storylines can have a beneficial impact on wider public debate surrounding mental illness.
In fact, 54 per cent of people say their understanding of mental health problems improved by watching a character experience it on television.
Sometimes we say we’re fine, when we’re not.
But, with 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental health problem each year, if a mate says they're fine, they might not be.
A further 48 per cent of people said it helped to change their opinion about the kind of people who can develop these problems. And 31 per cent said it actively inspired them to start a conversation about the storyline with friends, family or colleagues.
Four years on, and the Powers That Be took notice. There are (excellent and warranted) awards for those who portray mental illness effectively on their platforms in the public eye as well as valiant, well-meaning efforts elsewhere.
Mind also run a media advisory service to ‘encourage writers to give reasonable time for characters to become unwell and then get better, avoid over-reliance on medication or sectioning, and to show mental health as being only one part of their lives’.
Sometimes, however, portrayals have become gratuitous, packaged more like a Victorian freak show than a fact of a quarter of lives in the UK.
There’s a fine line between normalisation – the admirable mission to make people with mental illness feel less stigmatised and alone – and glamorisation or commodification.
One young person, who has bi-polar, put it well when she said:
I think the media and companies should educate themselves about mental illness before they try to profit from other people’s suffering.
Furthermore, individuals who prop up pop culture are also becoming increasingly public with their private lives.
Dr Chidambaram was quick to assert how ‘creative expression can help break internal and social barriers’ and avoid minimising the distress of public figures, who all have a right to speak out about mental illness for good.
Let’s be honest; there is no real, tangible relationship between public figures and those who follow them online and the conversations about mental illness sparked by famous people are often one-sided.
Dr Chidambaram agreed:
For the average kid, public figures are distant and unreal. But for the vulnerable young ones who are unable to differentiate fantasy and reality, public figures are sometimes as important as family members and sometimes even more than friends and family.
Usually the troubles manifest in adolescence when their world around them is turned upside-down. They might try to simulate particular aspects of the celebrity; like hair style or clothing.
While young kids might feel less alone in hearing their favourite pop star of YouTuber or film star suffers with a mental illness, that knowledge can’t necessarily help cure them of their own.
Did you know, there are lots of help and advice resources available on our website.
Indeed, Dr Chidambaram, not wanting to minimise the distress of public figures, adds:
When the rich and famous describe their battle, they do not have financial barriers or other social barriers less privileged young people have to overcome.
They might access a private therapist through a single phone call. Average Joe has to wait in a GP surgery or A&E or get through a referral line and take public transport to go to the treatment centre and pick up their own prescriptions while working through their social anxiety.
Moreover, the mental disorders associated with celebrities are often unique to their highly pressurised lifestyles – anxiety, addiction and low self-esteem.
The conversations tend to focus on the ‘acceptable’ mental illnesses and avoid illnesses stigmatised even by mental health professionals such as schizophrenia and personality disorders, Dr Chidambaram says.
He adds it’s ‘healthier to relate to experiences of similar tribes rather than the rich and famous’.
When celebrity culture is driven by our desire to emulate, could the imitative instinct extend to the misinterpretation of mental illness or even replication of the symptoms?
As Dr Chidambaram said, it’s an emerging question asked in reaction to the obvious commodification of the movement for good mental health. There aren’t any concrete answers yet.
We simply must listen to those with lived experience of mental illness. Often, sufferers say their mental illnesses make them more compassionate, grateful, empathetic, self-aware and strong in the face of adversity.
But the fact remains: Very few people with a mental illness want to feel unwell. One young man echoed this sentiment, asking why would anyone want something which ‘ruins people’s lives’?
Presented by the World Federation of Mental Health, World Mental Health Day is celebrated annually in October. The goal is to help raise mental health awareness.
Talking is often the first step to moving forward. While talking about mental health is vital, UNILAD are calling for action.
We are petitioning the government to improve mental health services offered on the NHS for young people, who sometimes have to wait ten years from the moment they experience their first symptoms to get adequate treatment.
We have written to Jeremy Hunt MP to tell him about our petition, in partnership with WHOLE, which you can help by signing. To find out more about our campaign you can read our manifesto.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year.
Their national number is 0800 58 58 58, and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
A few years ago, when The Benedict Option was becoming popular in certain Christian circles—primarily through the writings of Rod Dreher who is influenced by Alasdair MacIntyre—I was initially intrigued and drawn to this approach. The culture was, and continues to be, in a downward spiral. Anti-Christian sentiments and policies continue apace throughout the Western world, while many of our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world suffer violent persecution and even martyrdom. As Western Civilization continues to abandon its Christian roots in favor of nihilism, hedonism, consumerism, materialism, utilitarianism, and relativism, many Christians are wondering what our response should be to the situation.
Retreating from the world to build primarily Christian communities is attractive. I myself would like to find friends within the Church who desire greater prayer in small communities, whether it be through a weekly or monthly gathering to pray the Rosary or Vespers. I want holier friendships with my brothers and sisters in Christ that are grounded in the communion we share within the Mystical Body. I want to live a fully Catholic life, so it makes sense that people want to build up communities around monasteries and churches in order to weather the storms of this age.
The problem is that, for Catholics, the laity’s mission differs—while also sharing similarities—with consecrated religious such as Benedictines. We are not called to retreat from the world. We are called to go out to meet the world and bring it to Christ.
But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.
Consecrated religious such as those found in the Benedictine Order are called by God to live the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience within their set Order for their own sanctification and the sanctification of the world through their prayer and work. Monasteries have played a central role in Church history and world history in preserving much of Western Civilization through dark periods, but that is a part of their mission from God. The laity on the other hand is called to transform the world through leading holy lives and proclaiming the Good News in our secular vocation. It is our example as disciples of Christ that is meant to invite others into the joy and hope we have been given through the Paschal Mystery and the Church.
The lay apostolate, however, is a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself. Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself. Moreover, by the sacraments, especially holy Eucharist, that charity toward God and man which is the soul of the apostolate is communicated and nourished. Now the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth. Thus every layman, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself “according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal”.
Lumen Gentium 33
If the laity retreats from the world and seeks a monastic life that is primarily meant for consecrated religious, then we will fail in enacting the mission ordained to us by God through the Church. Our life in Christ is not meant to be solely interior and insulated. As we grow in holiness and our interior lives strengthen through the grace of the Holy Spirit, we move outwards in charity towards our neighbor. We are not meant to create Catholic communities that seek to keep the world out, rather, we are meant to invite the world in so that salvation may be offered to all.
Who is going to evangelize the culture if we do not? While priests and consecrated religious also have the ability and duty to evangelize, their duties differ from our own by virtue of their sacred office or their vows. It is not primarily these two groups who are going to help bring people to Christ in offices, clubs, sports teams, volunteer organizations, political life, economic life, etc. It is those of us who live primarily secular lives because we spend the majority of our time living and working within the culture. We interact with non-believers or fallen away Catholics frequently throughout our daily lives.
Through our baptism and the common priesthood we enter into, we participate in the Divine Offices of Christ as priest, prophet, and king. One of the ways that we are able to lead people to Christ is by our participation in the prophetic office of Christ. The laity also teaches in His name to all we encounter, not only through our words, but through the holiness of our lives which is evident by the joy and hope we have been given that surpasses all understanding.
Christ, the great Prophet, who proclaimed the Kingdom of His Father both by the testimony of His life and the power of His words, continually fulfills His prophetic office until the complete manifestation of glory. He does this not only through the hierarchy who teach in His name and with His authority, but also through the laity whom He made His witnesses and to whom He gave understanding of the faith (sensu fidei) and an attractiveness in speech so that the power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social and family life. They conduct themselves as children of the promise, and thus strong in faith and in hope they make the most of the present, and with patience await the glory that is to come. Let them not, then, hide this hope in the depths of their hearts, but even in the program of their secular life let them express it by a continual conversion and by wrestling “against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness.
We are called to persevere in hope even as fierce storms rage in this life. If we retreat and abandon the culture then a great many souls may be lost. We are called to boldly proclaim the Good News to the world. We cannot hide the gift of faith that we have been given, and it is a great gift. We often forget that it has been given to us. We didn’t earn that gift. We must share Christ with our neighbor, even if persecution comes. How can we not want to share the gift of salvation to all we meet? Through the love of God we have been given, there should be a great desire within us to share in the eucharistic banquet with every person put in our path. If we love God, then how can we not seek out the lost, as He has done? How can run from sharing the gift of salvation with the culture? The answers is, we cannot. We must stand firm and fight. The laity is called to help bring the world into communion with the Most Holy Trinity through the Church. That’s our mission.
In light of Lumen Gentium, as well as documents such as Gaudium et Spes and Christifideles Laici, there’s no way the laity can walk away from it’s mission. The Benedict Option contradicts what the Church has called us to do and what Christ is asking of us, which is to be salt and light to a Fallen world. Should we create closer knit Catholic communities of prayer, study, service, and the centrality of the Sacraments? Absolutely. We need to start to truly live as brothers and sisters in Christ. But, from those close knit communities we must move out towards the culture and evangelize. The laity is uniquely equipped for this mission, and in doing so, by God’s grace, a great many souls will be won for Christ.
Chance to win shopping spree and singalong with Kristen Bell raises funds for Boys & Girls Clubs
To support its cause platform ONward!, Old Navy is teaming up with Kristen Bell for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rock your first day of school. A lucky winner and guest will be flown to Los Angeles for a US$1,000/£759 back-to-school shopping spree and a special singalong session with the musically talented actress.
The sweepstakes raises funds for the brand‘s charitable partner Boys & Girls Clubs, and fans can enter through the online fundraising platform Omaze.
To launch the sweepstakes, Bell will perform a back-to-school anthem penned from interviews with Boys & Girls Club kids. Bell will also share some of her personal past back-to-school looks in preparation for styling out the lucky winner in their first day of school outfit.
“Heading back to school each year is an unforgettable moment in every child’s life. I am excited to help the winner of this campaign look and feel their best, so they can start the school year with a sense of confidence and empowerment. It is an honour to partner with Old Navy’s ONward! programme to raise money for Boys & Girls Clubs and help turn learners into leaders,” said Kristen Bell.
ONward! is how the brand pays it forward in local communities. Through the cause platform, the brand partners with nonprofits to empower the next generation with real-world skills, training, and job opportunities to make a difference in communities and blaze a path forward to a brighter future. For over a decade, it has partnered with Boys & Girls Clubs to help turn learners into leaders and provide first jobs through the This Way Ahead internship programme.
This back-to-school season the brand is also launching an ONward! capsule collection of clothing to celebrate the brand’s cause work. The collection includes tees and hoodies for boys and girls, as well as totes and water bottles with the inspiring message “Our Generation Will Change the World.” The brand will donate US$50,000/£37,939 to Boys & Girls Clubs in honour of the special collection, available for sale in all US and Canada stores and online on the brand website.
In addition to the online sweepstakes fundraiser, the brand is also sponsoring an in-store fundraising campaign with the goal of raising US$1 million/£760,000 to benefit Boys & Girls Clubs.
From 26 July to 8 August, Old Navy will match in-store customer donations up to US$300,000/£227,634. Customers can donate at the register at all US and Canada stores.
Christopher J. Walker is a law professor at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.
Administrative law sets the ground rules for how federal agencies regulate and how courts review and constrain such agency action. Administrative law’s importance in our everyday lives has become even more pronounced in recent decades with the rise of regulation and the decline of legislation. To provide just one imperfect snapshot, in 2015 and 2016 federal agencies promulgated more than 7,000 final rules filling more than 60,000 pages in the Federal Register. During that same time, by contrast, the 114th Congress enacted just 329 public laws filling about 3,000 pages in the Statutes at Large.
By congressional design, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is the nation’s pre-eminent administrative law court and arguably “the second most important court” overall, after the Supreme Court. And D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh — President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court — is one of the most sophisticated, provocative and creative voices in the federal judiciary when it comes to administrative law.
During his dozen years of service on the D.C. Circuit, Kavanaugh has authored around 300 opinions, more than a third of which deal with administrative law. As detailed below, Kavanaugh has written numerous major administrative law opinions — including dissents and concurrences, which Aaron Nielson has collected here — and the Supreme Court has embraced his approach on a number of occasions.
In reviewing Kavanaugh’s robust record on administrative law, I find myself agreeing with Jonathan Adler’s conclusion that a Justice Kavanaugh would not bring to the Supreme Court a commitment, in Steve Bannon’s words, to the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” He cares deeply about administrative law and regulatory practice. But he would likely “put a tighter leash on the regulatory state” — a tightening that would generally apply to regulation and deregulation alike.
That is because Kavanaugh’s decisions on the D.C. Circuit, coupled with his other writings, reveal a judge who takes separation of powers seriously. For Kavanaugh, agency regulatory authority comes from and is constrained by Article I, in that “[a]ll legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” Similarly, the modern administrative state functions against the Article II backdrop that “[t]he executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.” These constitutional separation-of-powers values deeply influence Kavanaugh’s approach to administrative law.
Although not a comprehensive survey of his administrative law jurisprudence, the following in-depth look at three areas captures some of Kavanaugh’s major contributions to administrative law and assesses his potential impact on the federal regulatory state if he is elevated to the Supreme Court.
Chevron (and Auer) deference
In recent years, there has been a growing call (mainly from those right-of-center) to eliminate — or at least narrow — administrative law’s judicial-deference doctrines regarding federal agency interpretations of law.
These reform efforts have been front and center at the Supreme Court. For example, in 2015, in Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito all questioned the wisdom and constitutionality of judicial deference to agency interpretations of their own regulations (Auer deference). And this term in Pereira v. Sessions, Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the prior calls by Thomas and then-Judge Neil Gorsuch to reconsider “reflexive deference” to agency statutory interpretations (Chevron deference).
Just as it was at Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing, I expect Chevron deference (and perhaps Auer deference) to be discussed at Kavanaugh’s hearing. A recent Mother Jones headline aptly summarizes one potential line of attack: “How Brett Kavanaugh Could Cripple the Next Democratic President. Two words: Chevron deference.”
So how would a Justice Kavanaugh affect Chevron deference’s future at the Supreme Court? The potential impact is threefold.
First, as a textualist, Kavanaugh would likely find statutes unambiguous more often than some of his more-purposivist peers who tend to interpret statutes in accordance with the statute’s purpose (and more often than his predecessor, Kennedy), and thus be less likely to defer to agency statutory interpretations. The role of ambiguity is critical to Chevron deference. After all, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council commands that a reviewing judge defer to an agency’s interpretation of a statute the agency administers if (1) the statutory provision at issue is ambiguous and (2) the agency’s interpretation is reasonable.
As Kent Barnett and I have empirically explored in the circuit courts, the ambiguity inquiry at Chevron’s first step is far more exacting than the reasonableness inquiry at the second step. In our 11-year dataset of every published circuit-court decision that cites Chevron deference, we found that agencies prevailed under the Chevron doctrine 93.8 percent of the time when the court found the statute ambiguous and reached step two, but only 39.0 percent of the time when the court found the statute unambiguous and thus stopped at step one.
Kavanaugh has written extensively about the role of ambiguity in statutory interpretation. Most famously, he set forth his concerns in a Harvard Law Review essay reviewing Judge Robert Katzmann’s book on statutory interpretation. There, he argued that “judges often cannot make that initial clarity versus ambiguity decision in a settled, principled, or evenhanded way.” (For those interested in this debate, I highly recommend reading Katzmann’s purposivist reply.)
Kavanaugh himself has recognized that his textualist orientation will likely result in his finding fewer statutes ambiguous under Chevron than some of his judicial peers. As he observed in his Story Lecture last year, whereas some judges might require 90 percent certainty to declare a statute unambiguous, “I probably apply something approaching a 65/35 or 60/40 rule. In other words, if it is 60/40 clear, it is not ambiguous, and I do not resort to [Chevron deference].”
Accordingly, one should expect him to approach Chevron’s first step in a textualist fashion similar to Scalia’s, in which he exhausts all of the tools of statutory interpretation at Chevron step one to resolve the ambiguity. Or as Gorsuch framed it this term in Wisconsin Central Ltd. v. United States, a “clear enough” — as opposed to, perhaps, a crystal clear — Chevron step one inquiry. Kavanaugh’s opinion in Loving v. Internal Revenue Service is a good example of this approach. There, he relied on “the text, history, structure, and context of the statute” to reject the IRS’ interpretation of the statutory text “regulate practice of representatives of persons before the Department of Treasury” to include the authority to regulate tax preparers.
Second, Kavanaugh has advanced in his academic writings a more-systemic narrowing of Chevron deference based on concerns about uniformity of federal law and partisanship in judicial decision-making. As he explained in his Story Lecture, he finds the threshold ambiguity inquiry under Chevron problematic because his “goal is to help make statutory interpretation … a more neutral, impartial process where like cases are treated alike by judges of all ideological stripes, regardless of the issue and regardless of the identity of the parties in the case.”
So Kavanaugh proposes preserving agency deference “in cases involving statutes using broad and open-ended terms,” but perhaps eliminating it “where an agency is instead interpreting a specific statutory term or phrase.” That is because, in the latter instance, “[j]udges are trained to do that, and it can be done in a neutral and impartial way in most cases.” As Kavanaugh concludes, “the problem with certain applications of Chevron, as I see it, is that the doctrine is so indeterminate — and thus can be antithetical to the neutral, impartial rule of law — because of that initial clarity-versus-ambiguity decision.”
It is difficult to assess Kavanaugh’s proposal in the abstract. Perhaps he is suggesting a total elimination of Chevron deference when dealing with specific statutory ambiguities as opposed to open-ended delegations (that do not implicate major economic or political questions, more on that below) — though that line is often difficult to discern, much less draw. Or maybe this is just another way to articulate Kavanaugh’s textualist, Scalia-esque approach to Chevron step one. Or perhaps he is echoing Kennedy’s concerns from his Pereira dissent about how Chevron deference “has come to be understood and applied,” with “[t]he type of reflexive deference exhibited in some of these cases.” This strikes me as a fruitful line of inquiry for Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing.
One final note: If Kavanaugh is concerned about administrative law’s political dynamics, the right prescription may be the opposite: Preserve a bright-line Chevron doctrine. In the latest article from our Chevron dataset, Kent Barnett, Christina Boyd and I find that, at least in the circuit courts, Chevron deference has a powerful effect on constraining partisanship in judicial decision-making and encouraging uniformity in federal law — the values that seem to motivate Kavanaugh in his academic writing. In our dataset (2003-2013), Kavanaugh largely applied the same approach to Chevron deference regardless of whether the agency interpretation under review was conservative or liberal. But that was not true for all conservative and liberal judges in our dataset. And perhaps this partisanship he sees in other judges’ application of Chevron deference is what is driving Kavanaugh’s concerns here.
King v. Burwell, the statutory challenge to the Affordable Care Act, is a recent and prominent example of the major questions doctrine. In a 6-3 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court found the statutory language ambiguous. But the court refused to apply any deference to the agency’s interpretation of the statutory ambiguity. Instead, the chief justice invoked the major questions exception to Chevron deference because the statutory provision implicated “a question of deep economic and political significance that is central to this statutory scheme” and for which the agency (the IRS) had no expertise.
Kavanaugh looked to King v. Burwell when the Federal Communications Commission’s net-neutrality regulation reached the D.C. Circuit in United States Telecom Association v. FCC. In his dissent from the denial of rehearing en banc, he argued that “[i]f the Supreme Court’s major rules doctrine means what it says, then the net neutrality rule is unlawful because Congress has not clearly authorized the FCC to issue this major rule.”
As Jeff Pojanowski has observed, Kavanaugh’s version of the major questions doctrine, which Kavanaugh relabeled the major rules doctrine, “came with a twist”:
After canvassing the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence and scholarly commentary, [Judge Kavanaugh] identified what he dubbed the “major rule” exception to Chevron deference. He saw this Chevron carve-out as holding that if “an agency wants to exercise expansive regulatory authority over some major social or regulatory activity … an ambiguous grant of statutory authority is not enough.” … Rather than hiding regulatory elephants in mouse holes, Congress can extend the reach of the administrative state only through clear statements.
Dan Deacon has argued that Kavanaugh’s approach is a “weaponized” version of the doctrine that, absent a clear congressional statement to the contrary, strips away not only Chevron deference for major questions but also any agency authority to regulate concerning those major questions. “[T]he ‘major rules’ doctrine might extend to actions that ‘de-regulate’ as well as regulate,” Deacon observes, “[b]ut the overall logic and tenor of [Kavanaugh’s] argument is largely anti-regulatory.” Eric Citron has a similar take in his contribution to SCOTUSblog’s coverage of Kavanaugh.
In that sense, Kavanaugh’s major rules doctrine is a second-order means of addressing nondelegation doctrine concerns. As noted at the outset, Kavanaugh’s view of separation of powers — and, in particular here, Article I’s nondelegation command that Congress cannot delegate legislative powers to federal agencies (or anyone else) — motivates his administrative law jurisprudence. Cass Sunstein, among others, has noted that the Supreme Court has seldom used the nondelegation doctrine to strike down a statute, largely because of line-drawing problems. Kavanaugh’s major rules doctrine attempts to address nondelegation concerns through a substantive canon of statutory interpretation instead of a constitutional doctrine, by establishing an interpretive presumption that Congress does not intend to delegate rulemaking authority over questions of major economic or political significance absent a clear congressional statement to the contrary.
Because Kavanaugh expounded this major rules doctrine in a dissent, its precise contours are understandably not fully developed. But I concur in Pojanowski’s assessment that “Judge Kavanaugh’s careful explication and reformulation of the ‘major questions’ exception is an important development in its own right, and a rich source for further reflection on the role of the courts in the administrative state.” It is certainly another fascinating line of inquiry for his confirmation hearing, especially when considered in conjunction with his proposal discussed above to limit Chevron deference to open-ended congressional delegations.
In sum, Kavanaugh’s approach to Chevron deference in practice would likely be quite similar to Scalia’s textualist approach at step one. He has also expressed concerns similar to his potential predecessor (Kennedy) about how the doctrine has become “reflexive deference” in practice, perhaps signaling a desire to cabin Chevron’s domain. In light of how he has embraced the major questions doctrine, it would be unsurprising to see a Justice Kavanaugh join the chief justice’s calls for a narrower, more context-specific Chevron deference.
Although Kavanaugh has not addressed the propriety of Auer deference to an agency’s interpretation of its own regulations, his concerns about interpretive doctrines that turn on ambiguity, coupled with his views on separation of powers, seem to suggest he would be receptive to calls to eliminate — or at least further limit — Auer deference. We may find out the answer as soon as this coming term, as a pending cert petition asks the court to overrule Auer v. Robbins.
Kavanaugh’s dissent in the net-neutrality regulation case, moreover, provides some fascinating clues for how a Justice Kavanaugh might address nondelegation and separation-of-powers concerns more generally. Again, we may learn more about Kavanaugh’s views on nondelegation doctrine as early as this term, when the Supreme Court decides Gundy v. United States, which raises a nondelegation challenge.
APA hard-look review
In SCOTUSblog’s coverage of Kavanaugh, Edith Roberts and Michael Livermore have already surveyed Kavanaugh’s approach to hard-look review of agency action under the Administrative Procedure Act.
the agency has relied on factors which Congress has not intended it to consider, entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem, offered an explanation for its decision that runs counter to the evidence before the agency, or is so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise.
As Roberts details, Kavanaugh’s approach to hard-look review does not always result in agency losses. One of his more prominent APA decisions is American Trucking Associations v. EPA, in which he authored the 2-1 majority opinion upholding the EPA’s authorization of California’s rule limiting emissions from in-use non-road engines. Judge Stephen Williams dissented, arguing that the EPA failed to engage in APA-required reasoned decision-making — an argument Kavanaugh rejected because he found the EPA had reasonably interpreted and considered the statutory criteria.
In Kavanaugh’s opinions concerning the APA arbitrary-and-capricious standard, one finds a judge who takes hard-look review seriously. He scrutinizes the agency’s rulemaking process to ensure that the agency has considered the relevant statutory factors, responded to counterarguments and evidence, and otherwise engaged in reasoned decision-making within the agency’s statutory authority. Agencies sometimes win and sometimes lose, and sometimes an agency loss is a “liberal” or “conservative” win.
Although I tend to view Kavanaugh’s approach to APA review as more principled and consistent than Livermore does, Livermore’s bottom line may well still be true: “[G]iven congressional gridlock, notice-and-comment rulemaking by environmental agencies has become the primary vehicle for environmental progress over the past several decades. [Replacing Kennedy with Kavanaugh] will make this path more difficult, halting and fraught with risk.”
And this prediction may be true not just for environmental cases but for administrative law more generally. To the extent federal agencies attempt to repurpose old statutes to address new problems in ways that stretch or distort those statutes, a Justice Kavanaugh is unlikely to vote to defer to the agency — and even less so, as discussed above, in matters of major economic or political significance. He has a long record of constraining agency action within what he perceives as the limits of the statutory text. Here, again, we see Kavanaugh’s separation-of-powers vision at play in that regulatory authority comes from Congress and is constrained by Article I nondelegation values.
There is one wrinkle that probably deserves a separate, extended write-up: Kavanaugh has shown some interest in APA originalism. In recent years, somescholars have called for a return to the text of the APA and an accompanying abandonment of administrative common law that is inconsistent with the original meaning of the APA. The Supreme Court has at times embraced this APA originalism, arguing that courts cannot require federal agencies to utilize procedures not expressly required by the APA itself. Vermont Yankee v. NRDC and Perez v. Mortgage Bankers come immediately to mind.
In light of his textualist approach to statutory interpretation and his separation-of-powers vision, it should come as little surprise that Kavanaugh has been relatively receptive to APA originalism. Consider American Radio Relay League, Inc. v. FCC. At issue was the D.C. Circuit’s Portland Cement doctrine, which requires federal agencies to disclose the technical data and studies on which they relied to draft the proposed rule. Although noting that this doctrine “may make sense as a policy matter in some cases,” Kavanaugh wrote separately to express his concerns that the doctrine is inconsistent with the text of the APA.
As a policy matter, I tend to agree with Dan Farber that the Portland Cement doctrine serves an important purpose in notice-and-comment rulemaking. (Though, it should be noted, some progressives have argued against the doctrine because it could put science on trial and discourage scientists from publicly sharing their datasets and models. Conversely, many regulated entities no doubt appreciate the doctrine as one more hurdle to trip up an agency on judicial review and thus further delay rulemaking.) There are compelling commonsense and nonpartisan policy reasons for the doctrine, and it is thus no surprise that the American Bar Association and the Administrative Conference of the United States have urged Congress to amend the APA to include such a disclosure requirement.
Kavanaugh’s concern, however, is not about policy but law—in particular, whether a court can impose such a requirement that he perceives is lacking in the APA itself. The Portland Cement doctrine is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to APA originalism. Administrative common law arguably includes a number of central administrative law doctrines, including Chevron and Auer deference, the presumption of reviewability and remand without vacatur — just to name a few. And, for present purposes, hard-look review under the APA.
It’s doubtful there are five (or even four, or three, or two) votes on the Supreme Court to engage in a full-fledged APA originalism project. It isn’t even clear that Kavanaugh would be committed to such a project, especially for bedrock doctrines like hard-look review and deference doctrines for which statutory stare decisis is arguably quite weighty. But this is another area to watch in the years to come, especially if Kavanaugh joins the Supreme Court.
There, Kavanaugh argued that the PCAOB’s removal provisions were unconstitutional as contrary to the president’s Article II removal authority because of the double-insulation protection. In particular, PCAOB board members were only removable “for cause” by the Securities and Exchange Commission (not the president), and SEC commissioners were only removable “for cause” by the president. The 5-4 conservative majority on Supreme Court ultimately agreed with Kavanaugh’s dissent.
Kavanaugh may consider this dissent his most significant opinion on the D.C. Circuit, but it arguably isn’t even his most significant dissent when it comes to presidential control of independent agencies. As Jenn Mascott and Aaron Nielson detail elsewhere, “Judge Kavanaugh sounded similar themes in PHH v. CFPB, twice, in fact. There, he read Article II to prohibit another arguably novel agency structure—this one created by the Dodd-Frank Act.” In a panel opinion subsequently vacated by the D.C. Circuit en banc, Kavanaugh found unconstitutional the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — an independent agency headed by a single director, as opposed to a multi-member commission, who was only removable for cause by the president. As he observed in the panel opinion, “That combination of power that is massive in scope, concentrated in a single person, and unaccountable to the President triggers the important constitutional question at issue in this case.” He thus severed the for-cause removal protection from the statutory scheme.
Last month a district judge in the Southern District of New York adopted Kavanaugh’s position, ruling that the CFPB cannot bring an enforcement action in district court because of its unconstitutional structure. Indeed, Judge Pleska went one step further and held that the for-cause removal provision is not severable. And earlier this month the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit found one of the few other single-director independent agencies (the Federal Housing Finance Agency) unconstitutional, on grounds similar to those articulated by Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh’s views on Article II presidential control of federal agencies, and in particular of so-called independent agencies, could implicate a number of important administrative law issues that may reach the Supreme Court in the near future. Efforts to reconsider the political independence of administrative law judges — and perhaps the federal civil service more generally — are working their way through the administrative state. The White House may extend presidential review of agency rulemaking to cover independent agencies. And, of course, questions abound, at least as an academic matter, as to presidential control of a special counsel — a matter that exceeds the ambitions of this post but has been summarized by Kevin Russell in this SCOTUSblog series.
To be sure, Kavanaugh’s separation-of powers opinions do not directly address these issues — though some have strained to read “wolves” into Kavanaugh’s footnotes to cast doubt on the future of independent agencies writ large. If and when these issues reach the Supreme Court, however, one should expect a Justice Kavanaugh to have a unique and sophisticated take, one that takes into account the Article I and Article II separation-of-powers values that influence his administrative law jurisprudence.
[Disclosure: Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys contribute to this blog in various capacities, was among the counsel for the intervenors in United States Telecom Association. The author of this post is not affiliated with the firm.]
Adrian Viajero. Aguas de Oro, 2017. Photo by Marco Martinez.
Over the past fifty years, street art has become one of the most common forms of contemporary art in urban public spaces. Sometimes it’s called vandalism and other times the more generic term, ‘graffiti.’ These aesthetic acts in public spaces are not only worthy of discussion, but also important to teach since they often contain social cues that help us decipher the visual landscapes in which we live. Teaching students an academic vocabulary to discuss street art helps them understand and analyze the nuance that can exist in what appears to be mere paint splatters on a street sign. An important conversation is happening in our urban spaces, and you don’t need to purchase an admission ticket to see it.
This intricate discussion on Street Art, Vandalism, and Graffiti is one that I facilitate every year at Manhattan Hunter Science High School, where I teach a Contemporary Art History class. For the past eight years I’ve taught this course, I’ve had complete freedom in terms of curriculum design, and I have constructed the class I wish I could have taken in my own undergraduate studies. In the course, we investigate and study exhibitions that are currently on view, and then go see them in person. I tend to focus on exhibitions that have an edge of controversy to them, as they provide the largest possibility for dialogues that have real world consequences. For instance, when the Museum of Modern Art responded to the Trump Administration’s first travel ban of 2017 by hanging work from their collection by artists from these banned nations, we engaged with that institutional response. When the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum received threats for featuring artwork that involved live animals, my students unpacked the disagreement. Each year the curriculum is completely reinvented but I always begin the year focusing on Street Art, since it addresses the abundance of contemporary art that is constantly being refreshed in our public spaces and it is the only art form that my students have unlimited free access to. Street Art has such a presence in our day-to-day lives, especially in diverse urban spaces like New York City, and studying its roots can provide us with a wider understanding of the communities that make up our cities. Through careful observation, documentation, and categorization, we can decipher the language and concepts that reach beyond the classic combination of spray paint and a wall.
Aaron Schraeter. Birdhouse Repo, 2017. Photo by Aidan Jennings.
For many of my students, studying street art is a bridge between understanding aesthetics in the real world and aesthetics in museums and galleries. It’s important for students to learn to move between their usual interaction with artistic imagery (largely via social media) to topics where they can sustain elongated discussions and dive deep into reservoirs of big ideas. When setting up this unit of study each year, I have three benchmarks that I consistently aim to reach: students should understand origins of graffiti in the 1970s, the global impact of the graffiti movement as it evolved into the street art genre of present day, and finally the aesthetics of the local neighborhoods where they live.
“An important conversation is happening in our urban spaces, and you don’t need to purchase an admission ticket to see it.”
On the first day of this unit, I’ll often begin by asking questions about the spaces where we live: “What does your neighborhood look like? Describe it with details from memory.” This exercise always yields interesting results and provides a baseline for how students will come to understand spaces in which they live, as each night they’ll go back and find something new for homework. Through this slow accumulation of observations, students develop mental maps of their neighborhoods and within a matter of weeks, their understanding of these spaces undergoes a radical transformation. The affordability of smartphones with geotagging and high quality cameras have been a major boon for assignments like this.
Shepard Fairey. Rise Above, 2015. Photo by Marco Martinez.
In the next phase of the unit, I introduce artwork from some local street art favorites with strong connections to New York—artists like Lady Pink, Cope2, BNE, Swoon, and the collective Tats Cru (to name a few). As these lessons continue, students consistently come to class excited to have found these works of art near their homes, and academic vocabulary starts finding its way into the discussions. Soon, students are able to differentiate between stickers and wheatpastes, between tags, throw-ups, and burners. As we unpack the aesthetic descriptors for the triumvirate of Street Art/Graffiti/Vandalism, this unit inevitably ends up orbiting around the central question of who is allowed to design public spaces.
The next stage of this unit typically reviews a number of artists that are getting up locally and internationally; we cover the wheatpasted works by Human Bote, the crocheting of Olek, the wide array of amazing work by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, as well as many more artists featured on the Houston Bowery Wall, 100 Gates Project, and the Coney Island Art Walls. Of course, we discuss Shepard Fairey, whose work sets off a firestorm of curiosity in the students, who learn that the Obama ‘Hope’ graphic, the OBEY clothing brand, and a slew of other images around NYC are all connected to the same artist. His work raises a number of issues, from political criticism to social justice to propaganda to appropriation. More than anything though, his work epitomizes the idea that popularity and power can be gained through visual culture—perhaps the most relevant parallel to the digital age in which we live.
Tats Cru. Wallworks Mural, 2018. Photo by Nick Kozak
At this point in the unit, both the idea of street art and the physical manifestations of it truly begin to rise to the attention of my students. I find that my morning inbox is flooded with images they’ve shot from their urban investigations the day before. Students comment that they cannot help but notice street art everywhere they go, wondering if it was always there to begin with. At this exact moment of studying street art, the mise-en-place has been set, and a final project is assigned: to create a video documentary for the visual landscape in their neighborhoods and in the process, find answers to the question of who has been affecting the design of the spaces in which they live.
This documentary project mixes anthropological studies with art history research, with a heavy emphasis on personal history. Each student must tell their story, tracing where they’re from and how those stories are visualized in their neighborhoods. Some students are wary at first—it’s difficult for areas of suburban Queens to measure up to some of the examples from class. I remind students that the point is not to find big street art names in their neighborhood, but rather to find out that their neighbors are artists who are working with the common spaces around them.
Mr Gore. Mural in the Bronx, 2017. Photo by Promia Chowdhury.
There are potential technical challenges with video recording and editing, but as long as students continue to bring in new videos and images each day, the process takes care of itself. There’s an eagerness that takes over when students begin to learn more about the common tags and stickers they are finding. Often, students encounter a well-crafted sticker or wheatpaste, and research reveals it to be an advertisement for a product, often related to fashion or music (a corporate advertising technique known as ‘wildposting’). There’s always a tinge of disappointment when they learn this; like the clandestine aesthetic object they’ve been fascinated by has been hijacked just to sell a product. But other times they discover artists like UnCutt or Nicer (from Tats Cru) and begin following their work through Instagram, regularly updating the class and sharing news when their exhibitions pop up at Wallworks Gallery in the Bronx (one of the few local institutions that consistently exhibits new work by street artists).
“Through studying street art, students can learn to look critically at how anonymous individuals are affecting the public spaces in their city.”
Through studying street art, students can learn to look critically at how anonymous individuals are affecting the public spaces in their city. While some of it may look like vandalism on the surface, many students quickly realize that a wealth of effort and aesthetic precision often goes into these urban interventions. They begin to understand that everywhere they go has been affected by layers of artists and designers. Educators who teach in or near such aesthetically active public spaces can open this world of possibility to their students. And if you still have those around you who are clinging to the question of “Why is this art?” then I would paraphrase an answer I’ve heard once before: “That’s a boring question and it’s already been answered.” There are extensive artistic processes that can be found beyond the traditional museum or gallery—and they’re right outside your door.
Women’s March in New York City, 2018. Photo by Marilyn Casey.
Over the past year, many of us have gathered in kitchens, living rooms, and common spaces to make art for protests. Sharpies have been scrawled across cardboard, pink and magenta yarn has been sewn into pussy hats, and the more ambitious have made synchronized costumes and large-scale puppets. All of these protest-art objects have added new visuals to public spaces, combining political savvy with creativity to make instantaneous messages. Like at a potluck dinner, there’s often a sense of community, with each participant expressing solidarity and bringing something unique to the conversation. It is clear that the protest art in public spaces is corresponding with greater sensitivity to the community and country in which it is made. At this time, as the temperature of political discourse rises to untenable levels, it is vital for artists, educators, and cultural institutions to publicly engage with social and political issues.
Some artists have made protest art that fits well into politically charged public spaces. Marilyn Minter, for example, best known for her provocative paintings and videos of women, fashion, and food, created a series of buttons in support of Planned Parenthood that boldly stated, “Don’t fuck with us, don’t fuck without us.” Created in advance of Donald Trump’s inauguration, Shepard Fairey’s We the People posters featured his iconic style of portraiture; protesters could download and print free versions of the images or buy copies of the Washington Post or New York Times, where the artist featured these works in full-page advertisements. These artists and many more create work that has value beyond concept and commodity, it is accessible, and it is useful for communicating en masse.
Writers Rising Protest, 2018. Photo by Florencia Varela.
Addressing protest art in the classroom can be tricky, since much of it takes too firm a stance in a profession that expects political neutrality from educators. But there’s definitely space in the classroom for studying activist art. For example, the politically charged work of Tania Bruguera is often implemented in public spaces. Her work can take the form of voting, in the case of Referendum, or a social service, like Immigrant Movement International. No matter the country where Bruguera exhibits her work, she nudges the local status quo and tests the boundaries for what’s ideologically acceptable. Truth Booth, the ongoing work of the group known as Cause Collective, invites viewers to participate in a video recording, in which they finish the sentence, “The truth is…” This nationally and internationally exhibited participatory work delicately combines the intimate and the public. Finally there are artists like Ai Weiwei, whose work can be beautiful and heart-wrenching at the same time. A student once asked me what medium Ai Weiwei was most known for working with, and I had to think for a moment before finally saying, “Conflict. His medium is conflict.”
“By including activist artwork in the curriculum, educators can present opportunities for teachable moments and socially relevant discussions.”
By including activist artwork in the curriculum, educators can present opportunities for teachable moments and socially relevant discussions. But talking about concepts raised by activist art is a far cry from attending a protest and feeling the mix of catharsis and relief when amongst so many allies. Despite persistent student interest in participating in and organizing protests, engaging in this type of political activity with their students would be out of the question for most educators. Inevitably, teachers learn the political inclinations of their students, and over the years one gleans the political trends of the community where one teaches.
Citizens of Earth Crew, Queens Museum, 2017. Photo by Andrew Buttermilch.
It became clear to me that teaching about activism in public spaces was a good start, but my students needed more. Their interests surpassed what I was able to teach inside the school; they needed a new mode in which to learn and engage with political topics, on their own terms. The young will inherit the problems that older generations create or fail to solve, but young voices are too often absent from conversations regarding governance. I strove to create a situation that blended activism and protest art, one that would allow students to engage with political ideas and develop stances rooted in their life experiences. My wife and creative partner, Miranda Kozak, and I collaborated to create Citizens of Earth. This work is a social sculpture, performed in public spaces, meant to give young people a platform to grapple with issues surrounding immigration and ancestry in American culture. Upon interacting with the piece, participants are encouraged to share their personal stories through the creation of a small global passport. My students were invited to work the piece as “diplomats,” to engage the public in conversations about their national and ethnic histories. The work itself is a verbal exchange between participants, who share their personal stories and often develop more nuanced ideas after experiencing the work. If the participants wished, the diplomats would create a small “global passport” for them, representing their “official” documentation as a citizen of the planet. More than anything, Citizens of Earth revolves around the question of how the world would be different, and how we would view each other, if we all held the same passport.
Citizens of Earth detail, 2017. Queens, NY. Photo by Nick Kozak.
“…young voices are too often absent from conversations regarding governance.”
To date, I’ve presented Citizens of Earth with my students three times in New York City; our most recent venue was Flushing Meadows Corona Park, in conjunction with the Queens Museum and the nonprofit ArtBuilt. Since the piece is performed in public, everyone can participate, and all participation is transparent to all witnesses; the work implies that political discourse should not remain behind closed doors in private spaces but rather be open for scrutiny in public spaces.
Artists and educators owe each other the opportunity to re-examine what it means to be allies and active members of our communities. This can happen by featuring new artists and new ideas in our curricula; it can also take the form of including students in specialized extracurricular work that gives them a space to test out ideas on their own. If a school is home to students that belong to groups that the current administration is demonizing or threatening to deport, it is crucial to show students how to engage in civil political discourse that will make them more engaged citizens of our country and our Earth.
You should start the researching, planning and decision making process well in advance – your third year of school would be ideal. Consider that the planning phase can take up a year before the job in your chosen field actually begins.
Use Your Friends Wisely
Your network is there for a reason. The old adage – dentistry like a small town, everyone seems to know everyone else – is true. Word-of-mouth is the way the world works, and your network is a powerful asset.
Get out there, go to the meetings. Dental society, alumni, and continuing education meetings are all great places to expand your network. Professional social media sites like LinkedIn also have tools for building your network and searching for jobs. The ADA career center features listings from across the country, updated often. Go there, pick your criteria, upload your resume, and start getting job emails. Engage your school’s job center tools as well. Start now, be sure to bring your business cards.
Reach out to your state or local dental society to ask about mentorship programs.
Specialty or ethnic dental associations may be good places to connect to mentors as well. “Find Your Superheroes” from ADA New Dentist Now blog View ASDA’s helpful mentorship tips