Currently viewing the tag: "Social List"

I’ve been keeping an eye on the digest version that I receive of the Fletcher Social List, and I’m planning to share a day’s listing that best captures the scope of student community discussion.  I haven’t found it yet, but on a more amusing note, I thought I’d share the ten messages that were sent between 4:00 p.m. on Friday and 3:59 p.m. on Saturday.  This must be a record low email rate for the academic year, but the Halloween theme came through nice and strong.  The topics:

SEEKING: Brown Sandals Size 11 or 12

SEEKING: Halloween costume ideas (two messages on this topic)

SEEKING: Yellow Hat

SEEKING: Red Bow Tie

SEEKING: Black feather boa

Free food in Hall of Flags (courtesy of Saturday’s Religion, Law, and Diplomacy conference)

SEEKING: Hard hat to borrow

SEEKING: Straw Hat

PSA: Set your clocks back tonight

I’ll be back soon with a run-down of Social List content that reflects a more typical day, but this is the wonder of the List — it’s whatever students need/want it to be.

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I’m sure that you’ve noticed that I refer to the Social List a lot.  It’s both a thread to weave together the student community, and also a glimpse into student life for those of us who stand outside the window looking in.  For the second year, I thought I’d capture and annotate all the messages that circulated on a day.  (This is easy for me to do, as I receive the messages in digest form.)  On March 30, the digest arrived in four email portions, with many messages dedicated to a smaller group of topics.  Please find below the topics of discussion, with the briefest of explanations of the message content.

Social List Digest Table of Contents:

Join us, volunteer and help the community! – Fletcher Cares: Fletcher Cares is a student group that supports both the Fletcher community and groups in the local area.

Dean Stavridis, Ben Affleck, and Bill Gates: Dean Stavridis testified before Congress alongside Ben Affleck and Bill Gates.  A surprising group!

Future Opportunities & Challenges for Evaluation in the UN – April 1, 12:30-1:30pm: Notices of events can be posted on two different lists, one of which is the Social List.

Editing Skills Workshop, Wednesday: Once a year, the Director of the Writing Center holds an editing skills workshop for those who work on the various Fletcher journals and any other community member who might want to sharpen their editing skills.

Continuing the “Food for thought…” Conversation – Wednesday: Previous to this post, a student had raised a question linked to attitudes about race.  Other students created a forum for discussion of the issue.

EVENT THIS WEDNESDAY: Navigating Social Identities in the Workplace:  Another event.

Grant Writing Workshop: Monday: And more writing help, offered by the Humanitarian Action Society

Dandiya Raas/Garba this Friday at Tufts!:  Indian snacks, Bollywood music, and dancing.

New Date for Slow Food Brew Off: I’m not even sure what this was, but food and brew were involved.

Shared taxi from Logan around 1AM?: Transportation shares — a popular Social List topic.

Giveaway: Korean spicy noodles: Too many packets of spicy noodles?  The Social List can help.

Technology and Inclusive Innovation: The IBM Story in Africa: Yet another event.

MONDAY: #RealTalk: All the things about post-Fletcher life you are afraid to ask: Students helping each other as they apprehensively approach the future.

Bringing back an old Fletcher tradition: the thesis-ku: More about this topic soon.  This was the top topic on the day’s Social List digest.

Selling: Printer & Corkboard: Random combination, but just about anything can find a home.

Applications DUE TONIGHT to lead the Fletcher International Migration Group (IMG)!: One generation of Student Group leaders finding the next generation.

A few more female hosts needed for Open House!: Yes, the Admissions Office uses the Social List to connect with students, including when overnight hosts are needed for visitors.

SEEKING: Drums for Cricket World Cup semi finals: This message led to conversations about the drums, cricket, and the World Cup results.

SEEKING: Sewing Kit: Not all needs are as unusual as World Cup drums.

First Years: Don’t Fret: One of my favorite annual themes, in which second-year students reassure first-years that everything (exams, internship search, etc., etc.) will work out.

BFA – Research Associate Apr 1st deadline: Students often hear about, and share, job notices from friends, former employers, or other networks.

SEEKING: Secret dog training talent: After this, it will be secret no longer.

Have you worked in luxury retail?: The message does not reveal the mystery behind this question.

SUMMER SUBLET: Housing is a hot topic throughout the spring.

In total, 82 messages were sent to the Social List between 4:00 on March 29 and 3:59 on March 30, when the digest was compiled.  I haven’t listed all the topics that occurred more than once, but you get the idea.  The Social List is where events are posted, random questions appear, and things/jobs/housing/support are offered/requested, creating conversation and connections between and among students.

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I often refer to the Social List, which is the student elist that serves as virtual glue for the community.  The list was originally established by the School, but it isn’t managed by, well, anyone.  (There are also managed lists for the staff, faculty, and students.)  Many members of the staff subscribe.  In my case, I subscribed initially because I can’t post on it otherwise, but I receive the message digest and it’s often a good source of ideas for the blog.  Never more so than today, when I had the idea to share the subject lines from yesterday’s digest (in bold), along with my notes.  Here are the topics from yesterday’s Social List emails, more or less in the order they appeared, with responses generally removed:

M&E Position for MSI in Bosnia:  When students learn about a job opportunity, they often share the posting with their peers via the Social List.
Seeking syllabi:  Not sure what this request from a soon-to-graduate student is all about, but the Social List is a good place to seek things.
Wed April 2: Future of Energy with S. Julio Friedmann:  The Social List — great way to publicize events.
Leaving a 1 or 2-bedroom in the area?:  Save time searching for housing by asking graduating students!
FREE PIZZA and MOVIE SCREENING on MICROFINANCE: NOW IN C206:  More events, with upper case letters to show that it’s happening NOW!
Rio contact needed:  Students have contacts throughout the world — why not ask for their help?
Summer in D.C!:  So many students are in Washington over the summer that it’s a non-stop Fletcher social scene.
Somerville permit parking:  From parking permits to aspirin for a thesis writer in the library, the Social List is the source of things to borrow.
Contacts at the IDB?:  Students’ contacts aren’t limited to other geographic areas.  As most students enter Fletcher with prior professional experience, they also bring their professional contacts.
Bangladeshi or love Bangladesh?:  Posted by someone who is definitely not Bangladeshi, so I assume he loves Bangladesh.
SEEKING: Urgent Contact info for HR at Inter-American Development Bank:  More job stuff.
AFSWOYD Nonprofit Announcement and Auction Items!!!!!:  Many exclamation points from the student organizers of the Annual Faculty and Staff Waits on You Dinner.
20th International Development Conference at HKS:  An event at Harvard.  Fletcher students welcome.
Digital Cameras in Ginn:  The library has equipment to lend!  Computers (who hasn’t had a computer emergency?), cameras, and other useful things.
Do you like coffee? – Wagoner, Liz:  This one is from my Admissions pal, Liz.  It’s not a random question — she’s setting up visits with current students for newly admitted students.
Fwd: Interested in urban spaces and inclusion? Intern or volunteer for IBGC’s Inclusive Cities conference:  Drumming up support for an upcoming Fletcher conference.
REMINDER: Internship Funding Application! Empower Fellowship for Social Entrepreneurship:  Summer money$$!
Cab share from Logan at 11pm:  Cab shares, Zip Cars, rides to Trader Joe’s — all part of the weekly Social List traffic.
Vets 101 this Thursday @ 6pm:  Military veterans offering to share their stories with other Fletcher students.
Student Council 2014:  The Student Council updates the community via the Social List.
Job Opportunities with Fletcher’s Office of Communications for 2014-2015 Academic Year:  Notes like this also go out over more official channels.
FOUND: Urgent Contact info for HR at Inter-American Development Bank:  Possibly the person who asked has been overwhelmed by responses.
Don’t Let Me Down – Come buy your AFSWOYD ticket now:  More on the Annual Faculty/Staff Waits on You Dinner.
Do you have experience living/working in Juba?:  Almost surely someone does.  Maybe several people.
Business Development Job Posting / Cargill Ocean:  More jobs.
Mercy Corps Internship info:  And internships.
SUMMER OPPORTUNITY: Google Policy Fellowship Program:  And more jobs.
Did you defer Fletcher?:  A current student trying to help out a newly admitted student who is thinking of deferring enrollment.

So that gives you a sense of what was happening yesterday.  At other times of year there might be more internship/book selling/political argument/course selection/housing messages.  The one consistent fact is that the Social List keeps the school humming.

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Sitting in the Office of Admissions, I miss out on a lot of what’s happening beyond our walls.  I try to keep up but, inevitably, students are pushing forward with interesting group and individual activities that I’ll never know about.  What’s a blogger to do?  Naturally, I turned to the Social List, asking students what cool stuff they’ve been doing throughout this year.  Within minutes I had the kind of answers that made me super happy to have taken a minute to write the note.  What’s more, most of the people who responded thanked ME for giving them a chance to write about what they’ve been up to!  Tomorrow I’ll start sharing the great information that flowed my way, and I’ll group it all with the Cool Stuff tag.  Stay tuned!

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I like to follow the traffic on Fletcher’s “Social List,” the email list on which students communicate with each other about anything and everything.  Since the start of the semester, the prime topic has been the buying and selling of textbooks and household items, but nestled between the “for sale” and “sold” messages were others that, together, paint a nice picture.

First, there are the calls for second-year students to sign up as “buddies” for the first-years.  “Buddy” makes the arrangement sound so preschool — a more grown-up term might be “peer advisor,” because here’s how the Fletcher Buddy Program organizers encouraged new students to participate:  “We will match you up with a second-year student, whom you can ask for advice on classes, professors, work/life balance, and much more!”  Equally, the continuing students are offered the “chance to pass along some of your words of wisdom and advice, and get to know some of the awesome new members of the community.”

Then there was a job posting for tutors with the Fletcher Graduate Writing Program.  Once the program is in full swing, the PhD student-director says the writing tutors “help students with all aspects of the writing process, including topic development, research management, consultation with professors, and preparation of the final draft.”

The return to an academic setting can be a challenge for many students who may have been in the professional world for several years.  Supports such as the Buddy Program and the Graduate Writing Program help to ease the transition.

But Social List postings aren’t limited to support options.  There are also opportunities for fun!  The Fletcher Fútbol team seeks new players, writing, “It’s FLETCHER FUTBOL time once again!  If you like to play soccer, or even run around like a chicken with your head cut off, we need you!  This is Fletcher’s club team and we play other grad schools throughout the year.  Each week we’ll play one game and practice twice, and we’ll have a lot of fun and camaraderie.”  I’m a long-time fan of Fletcher Fútbol!

And the Fletcheros — Fletcher’s in-house band — are looking for new musicians:

Los FletcherosA new academic year has begun.  While reading about post-conflict reconstruction in country x, you find yourself wishing you could kick out the jams like you used to in your old band.   But you’re too busy now, you say.  Those days of sweating it out on stage and making all of your close friends bust out the electric slide are past, you say.

Think again, dear friend. For this September, your dutiful Fletcher cover band The Los Fletcheros is holding auditions for new talent.

For those of you unfamiliar with the group, for seven years a rotating cast of some of the most musically inclined Fletcherites has melted many a face with an eclectic mixture of rock, dance, pop, funk and R&B songs, both old and new.  We generally play four to five shows a year at local clubs as well as the annual ski trip, and usually have a Fletcher audience of 300-400 people.  Long story short, you do want to be in this band.

The Fletcher Social Lister, displaying all due cultural awareness, closed his email with, “Members of The Los Fletcheros, even those who do not speak Spanish, are fully aware of the grammatical incorrectness of the full name.”

There’s a student activities fair tomorrow.  Between the fair and Social List emails such as the ones sent by the Fletcheros and the Fútbolers, there’s every opportunity for students to find their outside-the-classroom place at Fletcher, as well as supports for when they’re in the classroom.

I quite unapologetically check the Social List (the mostly-student elist) regularly for information about less-than-official goings on at Fletcher, and the ideas and information that are traded there never cease to amaze me.  Here’s an example.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, at 3:28, an international student wrote:

Good afternoon,
Can you please recommend some very good, calm/peaceful country music for me?  I don’t mean old, but something a little melancholic and nostalgic.

At 3:39 the options start to build, when a U.S. student recommended:

Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams are all pretty fantastic.  I would just Spotify/Pandora their greatest hits albums, although listening to Johnny Cash’s “Live at Folsom Prison” all the way through is also a great experience.

At 3:53, the next suggestion:

They’re not often counted as “country” musicians, but you may want to check out some of the music at the roots of both the country and blues music genres.  Folklorist Alan Lomax also traveled through the South in the 1930s and 1940s recording a lot of these folks in their hometowns for the Library of Congress, and his work provides a pretty fascinating look into a slice of U.S. history.

Finally, 3:58, only a half hour after the original email:

If this is the direction you’re going, then I’d recommend Robert Johnson, Skip James, and Mississippi John Hurt (my personal favorite). Truly beautiful, humble, and haunting music.

And just like that, the student has the information he needs to kick off his search for country music.  Thank you, Social List.

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Yes, it was a very snowy weekend.  The Blizzard of 2013 howled for about 24 hours, starting mid-day on Friday.  By Saturday afternoon, the sun was peeking out, and yesterday was a fantastic day — beautiful blue skies and crisp, without being too cold.

The snowstorm set the stage for a student-imposed assignment.  Via the Social List, a snowball fight challenge was issued.  Then a series of messages followed organically that could have been the response to an exam essay prompt.  It started with a challenge from the Class of 2013 (primarily second-year students):

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Fletcher students are not created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with unequal powers of wit, passion, and brevity.  That to secure these lofty ideals, warriors are called upon, deriving their merry powers from the spirit of their greater lot. …The Class of 2013 calls upon its men and women — aspiring scholars, philanthropists, and diplomats — to eschew peace this once and to arm themselves with snow to remake the Fletcher School once more.

Soon after, the details of the call to snowball-laden arms went out:

For all those who are aching for an all-out battle, ready your snow horses and bayonets.  Sunday Evening, Fletcher Field, 5 PM.  Class of 2013 to gather at north end along Ginn.  Class of 2014 to gather at south end of the field along Professor’s Row.  (I know this doesn’t fit the dictates of modern warfare, but I think it’ll be more dramatic this way.)

The Class of 2014’s response:

Normally we do respect old people.  However you, class of 2013, want this and you will get what you deserve!

And then an assortment of comments, many from the Class of 2013, who seemed to have more theory to weave into their snow-warmongering:

We did not seek war.  But 2014 has left us with no choice.  The 2013 PeaceMALDs have decided to join their WarMALD colleagues, along with other courageous men and women of the distinguished 2013 corps, in this quest to rid Cabot of tyranny, ageism, and first-year brazenness.

Due to the lack of acknowledgement by the Class of 2013, the Swiss Council at the Fletcher School has, in an unprecedented meeting, decided to abandon its long-standing policy of neutrality and we call on all other neutral nations to follow us in this historic step. We will proudly provide our extraordinary expertise in the discipline of snow fights to the Class of 2014, which has shown tremendous effort to reach out to the Swiss delegation.

MIB SnowPowder, LLC will be setting up a ready-made snowball factory shop located on the east side of the field. Our mission is to anticipate our customers’ needs and to stay on the leading edge of technology in the snow-arm industry, and provide quality snow-ammo and services at a reasonable price.  Mini ice buckshots will be sold for a quarter a piece, while our devastating snow bombs will be priced at 2 dollars.

The Fletcher Humanitarian Community will provide access to emergency care for war-wounded people.  We will offer assistance to people based on need, irrespective of race, religion, gender, or political affiliation. Our actions are guided by medical ethics and the principles of independence and impartiality. We do not take sides in armed conflicts, we provide care on the basis of need, and we push for independent access to victims of conflict as required under international humanitarian law.  You can recognize us in pink shirts with glittery unicorn emblems.

Dear warriors,
As a man of peace, as an attorney, as a man of good will, as a father and husband, I call upon you all, ambassadors of peace and good will, to avoid war.  Do not be a realist.  It is not about the survival of both classes.  It is about peace, and cooperation for the common good.  I am not taking any side in this moment of tension, but I am willing to be a mediator to settle the dispute.  I am not talking about a peace enforcement mission under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.  I am talking about trying to settle the dispute for the benefit of the whole community.  Let’s negotiate the historic Hall of Flags peace accord…Give peace a chance…

The emerging security paradigm of this post-Nemo world has blurred the lines between combatant and non-combatant.  This war amongst the people can and will get messy. We must be prepared for the war after the war.  We must be prepared for the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns.

And, finally, a note of sanity from a first-year student:

Dear God, will the second years stop at nothing to procrastinate on their theses??   How many innocent first years need to be pelted by snowballs before that lit review section finally gets written?

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A few weeks back, a virtual Social List brawl nearly broke out among defenders of their favorite poetic tradition.  Yes, blog readers.  Fletcher students will take time away from case studies, thesis writing, extracurricular activities, and the job hunt to argue about Urdu poetry.  As I haven’t had a chance to do the discussants the courtesy of checking with them, I’m going to share the points of discussion without using names (but I can tell you that their cultural or national origins include Pakistan, India, Armenia, Iran, and possibly others).  Also, I don’t endorse any particular viewpoint (being ignorant on this great topic), and I can’t vouch for the accuracy of anything written below.  Plus, I haven’t included the many wikipedia links that were part of the discussion.  With all those disclaimers in place, the great Urdu Poetry debate:

Message 1
Dear Fletcher,
Tufts is organising an Urdu poetry recital on Thursday. Urdu is the language of the poets — that is why Urdu-speaking individuals (namely Pakistanis) are die-hard romantics.   If you are interested in the recital of some of the most influential and famous Urdu couplets — that were responsible for social movements and the spread of ideologies (including Communism), or were just some poor, talented, heart-broken dude venting — come to Cabot 702 on Thursday at 6:30 pm.

Also, we’re trying to find translations for most of the poems.  Another incentive to be there: Chai.  See you all there!

Message 2
From wikipedia:  “There are between 60 and 70 million speakers of Urdu:  There were 52 million in India per the 2001 census, some 6% of the population; 13 million in Pakistan in 2008, or 8%; and several hundred thousand apiece in the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, United States, and Bangladesh.”

Clearly there are more romantics in India.

Message 3
Haha!  C’mon, let the Pakistanis have the upper hand in SOMETHING! And citing Wikipedia won’t convince me. :)

Message 4
…and the tradition of Couplet poetry in the subcontinent began when Persians fleeing Shiite conversion settled in the then Mughal Empire. Writing in Persian.  See: Kabir and many others.

Indians, Pakistanis: thanks for the upper hand :)

Message 5
Are you sure?  Kabir died in 1518.  The Mughals’ reign didn’t start until 1526 when Barbur came to power.  Besides, Kabir wrote in Hindi not Persian.

Try again.

Message 6
Yes, I am sure.  Even before the Mughals, the Ghaznavids and Delhi Sultanate were jampacked with Persian poets:  Amir Khusro, the father of Qawwali; Zeb un Nissa, daughter of Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb.

Message 7
The reciting of couplets on the Subcontinent stretches back into far greater antiquity than mere mediæval Gunpowder Empires.  But the Persian tradition is beautiful, and among one of its many adherents who roamed the streets of Lahore and Delhi in the seventeenth century happens to be someone close to my heart.

Upper hand, anyone? Anyone?

Message 8
There actually wasn’t ever a real divide between Persian and Hindi/Urdu in the Subcontinent’s literary tradition.  Amir Khusro wrote in both Persian and Hindvi, as did many other poets of the Mughal era.  (Hindvi being the old version of Hindustani, which would eventually evolve into Hindi and Urdu).  Urdu poets still wrote in Persian, even after Hindi and Urdu developed their own formalized languages and literary registers.  One of the great 20th century Urdu poets, Iqbal, also had an extensive catalog of work in Persian as well.  My uncle studied Persian in school while growing up in Bombay in the 1950s, and he would apparently even recite Persian poems in his sleep (much to the chagrin of my father, who was sleeping in the same room).

The fact that this is a Social List debate makes me think that Fletcher should have a Persian/Urdu poetry night…we clearly have a constituency for it.  (I’m imagining dueling Persian-Urdu ghazals…)

Message 9
And I can add that the fact that there is such a debate on the SL makes me even happier to be here at Fletcher 😉 You are incredible!  Have a great day. :)

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Dean Uvin invited feedback on his Top 10 of 2011 list, and students didn’t hold back.  I’ve snatched as many comments off the Social List as I could reasonably fit in the blog but, fortunately, a plugged-in student, Michael, solved my space problem by creating a scholarly archive of the suggestions for this year and 2010, saying:

For your studying convenience, I’ve compiled the albums and songs recommended by Dean Uvin and fellow students into a single public Spotify playlist: Fletcher Music 2011: The Groovin’ Uvin Project (  Last year’s recommendations are in a second playlist, Fletcher Music 2010: Before the ‘Stache (

Blog readers, please check out the Spotify lists for the two scholarly works.  (I included the url as I’ve had inconsistent success in opening the lists from a link.  Plug the address into the Spotify search box.)  But, because you might want to know what comments accompanied the choices, I’ve compiled a few.  Here (with my apologies if I missed typos in unfamiliar album titles) are the students’ contributions to the listening pleasure of the community, with a little marker (~~~~~~) to indicate a change from one student to the next.


This was my favorite thread last year and my favorite again (albeit I still think too early — there’s a whole month left).  With that said…Here are my top 10:
1. Girls — Father, Son, Holy Ghost
2. Youth Lagoon — The Year of Hibernation
3. The Weekend — House of Balloons/Thursday
4. James Blake — James Blake
5. St. Vincent — Strange Mercy
6. Drake — Take Care
7. Tune-Yards — WHOKILL
8. Los Campesinos — Hello Sadness
9. M83 — Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
10. The Antlers — Burst Apart
If I were to include reissues: The Rolling Stones — Some Girls reissue is awesome, but the Beach Boys — Smile Sessions is mind blowingly awesome. The outtakes for “Heroes and Villains” are amazing on their own.

Raphael Saadiq — Stone Rollin’.  For those vintage soul fans:
M83 — Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.  Sweet electropop with great melodies.
Jay-Z and Kanye West — Watch the Throne.  The best of the two best in hip hop.
Kurt Vile — Smoke Ring For My Halo.  Guitar driven rawk a la Burce Springsteen or Jeff Buckley (but more clever).
Fleet Foxes — Helplessness Blues.  Gorgeous, accoustic-inspired indie rock and complex harmonies.
Lykke Li — Wounded Rhymes.  Ephemeral Swedish pop that was the soundtrack to my summer.

Assuming the role of Debbie Downer, I have to say I found it to be a really disappointing year musically.  More and more bands sound the same and like too many other bands that came before them — like rock/pop music’s death by entropy.  In some cases, it can work really well (such as M83 shamelessly channeling the 80s) but in most cases it just sounds boring and samey.  Which leads to my thesis:  “Has rock/pop music exhausted itself as a genre and done everything it can do?”  I’m pretty sure I could get Dean Uvin to sign on as a thesis adviser.

Holy Ghost! — Holy Ghost! For those of you into the indie dance genre… Fun, smart, hip disco groove full-length album from two New York guys on DFA (the label of LCD Soundsystem, Hercules and Love Affair, Hot Chip…).

Brigitte — Et vous, tu m’aimes? The album is a standout — ranging from pop ditty to cover of a rap song to country inspired to a finale of a gospel song turned upside down called “Jesus sex symbol.”  Listening will help you with your language exam!

Feist — Metals. Music on this album hovers around the intersection of indie and alt country, a good place for her, and one which she inhabits beautifully. It is such a mature album; I love it.

The Weekend — House of Balloons. Dark and brooding genre-bending debut from a 20-year old Toronto kid. Blew up after a tweet from Drake. Download for free on his website and become one with your morose self.

Tune-Yards — W H O K I L L. Lo-fi eclectic sonic collage. Merrill Garbus rocks and did this whole album on her own. This will give you an idea.

I would be oh so sad if Florence and The Machine’s new album Ceremonials wasn’t in the running. That girl has some piiiiiiiipes. It’s the perfect mix of gut wrenching, rock it out, go-out-there-and-win-this-thing inspiration.  AND Beriut’s The Rip Tide album. Love the vibrato of his voice and the horn harmonies are fantastic.

Dean Uvin. Once again making sure we learn the important things.

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Here’s one of those little things that pass my inbox and warm my heart.  It was a message to the Social List from a first-year student I’ll call Inquiring Mind (IM).  So IM is new to the U.S. and was curious about an aspect of American culture.  What did he do?  He sent the question out to his crack team of cultural interpreters — the Social List.  IM wrote:

Social List!
I recently became aware of a cross-cultural academic nuance that I had to share.  Apparently it is inappropriate to ask fellow students about their grades here in the U.S.  This is in complete contrast to my educational experience in India where, not only is this a very fair question, you almost never had to ask to find out.  That is because a lot of schools would post the results of the entire student body on public notice boards for everyone to see.  I distinctly remember learning about my grades from friends who had a knack of getting to those notice boards before I did.

There are probably deeper social values at play here that define what is appropriate, and I would like to know your thoughts on it, particularly about the “appropriateness'” of this question.

I love the fact that someone can ask a question like this, with confidence that supportive classmates will help him out.  The answers poured in right away.

Cultural Interpreter #1 wrote:

I wish I had an explanation why.  Maybe it’s because we’re over-achievers and either embarrassed by a bad grade or feel like we’re flaunting our good grades, if we tell others.  But whoever gave you that pearl of wisdom, it’s definitely true.  Unless someone offers to tell you his grade, I wouldn’t ask.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, and in some instances — maybe among your study group where you all worked really hard together, or if you know someone was particularly worried about an exam — it would not be inappropriate to ask.  But I’ll bet that if you ask people how they did on an exam or paper, the general response will be, “I did fine” (which I would correlate with an A or A-).  “Not my best work, but it will do,” probably equals an A- or B, depending on the person.  But “Damn, that teacher totally has it out for me” points to less than a B. Then again, maybe that’s just me.

An additional curious international student then wrote:

I’d really be interested to hear more about this.  I am in my fifth academic year as a student in this country, and I’ve noticed many thought-provoking aspects of youth in this society, of social norms and customs both inside and outside the classroom.  I’d love to hear what graduate-level, older students have to say, especially as almost everyone here has had international experience and so many Fletcher students are not American.  Is it really a no-no to reveal one’s grades in the U.S.?

Cultural Interpreter #2 jumped in to say:

I have always assumed it had something to do with the Protestant Work Ethic vibe/Puritan roots of the U.S.:  Hard work is a duty; humility is absolute; privacy is supreme.  Many people don’t abide by those same rules in their day-to-day life, of course, but I recall being told early on in my (public) school never to discuss our academic achievements publicly.  It might be similar to how we don’t talk about money (“How much did your condo cost?”  “How much do you make yearly?”), which in some countries is totally o.k.

Cultural Interpreter #3 took the conversation further, and also added a cultural reference:

Although not officially publicized, everyone knew everyone’s grades among my high school friends.  (Less so in college.)  Yet if the information was not offered and you had to ask, it was awkward.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps the aversion to making grades public has to do with the spirit of promoting self-esteem and eternal optimism that is particularly strong in some American circles?  Taken to its extreme, it’s as if we can’t puncture the illusion that “of course we’re all above average!”

Finally, Cultural Interpreter #4 concluded the conversation:

I think part of it, as well, might have to do with the fact that a lot of us were always conscious that families had different expectations re: what was an “acceptable” grade vs. an “achievement” vs. a “failure” — differences that correspond pretty closely with the cultural diversity found in much of America.  Kids learn early that some families celebrate what other families want to see improve, and discussing grades only reinforces that.  No one wants to hear, “Your parents are rewarding you for a B?  Mine would hire a tutor.”  (Not that I ever said that, but my family was definitely in the latter camp.)  Neither is right or wrong, but as a kid it’s difficult to understand, which means that the question often gets circumvented.

Of course, these are only anecdotal responses, and a future thesis on the topic will require more research.  Still, I feel good when I see this type of connection among students, to the benefit of all.

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