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Book Review: “Ember in Ashes” by Sabaa Tahir

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Image courtesy of Google Images.

Erika DiPasquale, Associate Editor

February 15th, 2017

In Sabaa Tahir’s fantasy world of An Ember in the Ashes, Martials train as ruthless Masks at Blackcliff Academy to protect the Empire, and all other races are subjugated to their rule, including the Scholars, some of whom lead an underground Resistance against the oppressors. The novel alternates between the perspectives of Laia, the daughter of two Resistance leaders executed for treason, and Elias, the bastard son of the Commandant of the Mask-training school Blackcliff. In order to rescue her only surviving relative from torture, Laia agrees to spy for the Resistance as the Commandant’s slave in return for the Resistance rescuing her brother. Elias yearns for freedom from his violent future as a Mask, yet he is named an Aspirant, one of the four Masks competing to be the heir to the throne when the Emperor’s line fails. In an unexpected twist of fate orchestrated by the immortal Augurs who facilitate the Aspirant Trials, Laia’s and Elias’s destinies weave together.

Between the setting descriptions, introductions of supernatural beings, character names, and flashbacks, the world-building is exquisite. There is no moment of stagnation throughout the 445 pages: whenever a resolution seems plausible, another complication arises. All of the tension and suspense build up to the last chapter, which perfectly sets up the sequel instead of reaching a resolution (and that sequel, A Torch Against the Night, was recently published). Furthermore, the characters are well-rounded: they’re motivated by their guilt and grief, and their romantic interests are signs of their humanity rather than a distraction from their goals.

Because of the variety of elements, An Ember in the Ashes will satisfy a wide audience. The assortment of supernatural creatures will appeal to the fantasy and sci-fi audience. The romantic sub-plot will grab the attention of romance readers. Since there is both a hero and a heroine, both genders will find empowerment. Although the Empire isn’t dystopian, lovers of the dystopian genre will enjoy this book because of the characters’ ultimate involvement with the Resistance. The origins and values of the characters in Harry Potter are emulated in both Laia and Elias, widening the audience even further. But it’s not for the faint of heart: graphic instances of violence and torture will likely trigger a visceral reaction for many readers.

While a preface orienting Laia’s and Elias’s stories in the context of the Trials and the Augurs from the begging would’ve made the book even better, as would’ve straightening out the few instances where the alternating perspectives confused the timeline, An Ember in the Ashes deserved all the awards it earned. Such awards include Amazon’s Best YA Book of 2015, People’s Choice Award Winner—Favorite Fantasy, and Bustle’s Best YA Book of 2015 in addition to it being an instant bestseller.

After devouring Ember and its sequel, A Torch Against the Night, you’ll join the hoards of readers anxiously anticipating the release of Book #3 in 2018, to be followed by a fourth. Even better, Paramount owns the movie rights to Ember, so we should have the opportunity to experience the incredible story on the big screen in the (hopefully near) future.

If immaculate world-building, fantastic character development, and perfect pacing are what you look for in a book, Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes deserves a top spot on your To-Read list.

Violent Protests Set Divisive Tone For Trump Presidency

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Sean O’Flaherty, Staff Writer

February 15th, 2017

An atmosphere of toxicity hung over the city. As Donald Trump prepared to be inaugurated as the 45th president. There was a palpable tension hanging in the air. Tension that had built up after a year’s worth of anger stemming from one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in American history.

Entering into the National Mall, Trump supporters and protesters had an uneasy coexistence and they made their way through the security checkpoints. At several checkpoints large groups of protesters linked arm to arm blockaded the street to prevent Trump supporters to be able to attend. Besides a few verbal confrontations and a standoff with the police, the protests were largely peaceful in the beginning of the day. On the National Mall near the Washington Monument, there continued to be this unusual mix of groups opposing and supporting the President. Due to the presence of security officials civility was maintained while President Trump took the oath of office and delivered his inaugural address. It seemed at this point that the rest of the day would be relatively peaceful, as the crowds dispersed with no confrontations.

However, it appeared that as former President Obama flew away on Marine one, he took America’s self restraint with him. Within an hour after the end of the ceremony there were reports of violent “Black Bloc” anarchists rampaging through the streets of DC committing acts of vandalism and assaulting Trump supporters and police officers. As I made my way towards Franklin Square, the reported location of these rioters, I received a text informing me that 90 people had already arrested and there was an escalating violent situation. As I approached Mcpherson Square witnessed these groups firsthand as I came across a rally of some sort. A band on stage played music interrupted only by a range of speakers. There was a assortment of radical far left groups occupying the space, the combination of which conjured up a scene which could have been out of the 1960s. Soon after I arrived a group of Trump supporters came and confronted this groups, as these groups shouted back and forth some escalated into direct physical violence. I noticed further up the road there was a very large crowd of people blocking off traffic. I made my ways towards the scene and stumbled into the heart of the violence reported from earlier. Masked protesters faced off against riot police while others were burning a pile of trash in the street and smashing up a nearby limousine and unmarked police car.  Media from all over the world looked on as the situation deteriorated further. One rioter walked past me with a tire he claimed to had stolen off a Trump supporters car. Within what only seemed like moments later this man had tossed the tire onto the limousine and set it on fire. As the burning rubber mixed with liquor bottles, which had been in the limousine, a large and uncontrolled fire continued to grow. The blaze grew so large that people around me were worried that the engine was going to explode and frantically were telling people to back away from the blaze. Word was spreading that the Washington Post building in which this scene was next to was catching fire. The police realizing the severity of what was happening began to push forward into the crowd causing panic as they shot off tear gas canisters. The large mass of both media and protestors rushing to escape the situation created for a moment a dangerous stampede of people. The police then formed a protective ring around limousine as the fire was put out by first responders.

In the following hour the police set up a perimeter several city blocks wide around Franklin, Mcpherson, and Farragut squares. Because there were several city sanctioned protest events within these squares, there seemed to be some level of confusion within the police and national guard forces. For the rest of the afternoon this chaotic display unfolded of a protest concert playing in the background of a back and forth battle between “Black Bloc” anarchists and riot police in the street. Rocks and bottles were being tossed at the police who answered with tear gas, flashbang grenades, rubber bullets and pepper spray. Throughout the square smaller trash fires were being lit and surrounded by groups of people. I suspect the police worried about a PR nightmare if they were to crack down too forcefully, hoping that it would all fizzle out as the night came. At around 8:30 Franklin Square was still occupied by large groups of protesters and another confrontation between Trump supporters and protesters led to several more fights breaking out. Suddenly, the riot police began to move into the square and break up the remaining crowd in a very coordinated and strategic way. Those who were not arrested in this initial move by the police broke off into smaller groups and began to flee down different streets into other parts of downtown. The group I followed decided to attempt and reach the convention center, where the inaugural ball was being held. The police, realizing, this pursued this group with speed and intensity and eventually was able to surround it in an intersection. Realizing they were not going to be able to reach the convention center, they began to sit down and block the traffic in the intersection. After about 20 minutes, the police started arresting people who remained in the intersection and the day ended in an anticlimactic whimper. The end result the day’s violence was nine police officers injured, six of which were hospitalized, and 217 protesters arrested.

Based on what I saw that day, I believe that the violence and divisiveness will be the tone of the next four years of Trumps presidency. The level of anger that I witnessed leaves me very skeptical on whether any common ground will be reached

Free Speech, Free Expression

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Image courtesy of Google Images.

Drew Phillips, Staff Writer

February 15th, 2017

These are uncertain times for both the Goucher community and the country. As such, it is important to remember our fundamental ideals more than ever. For this reason, I think it is important to address the state of free expression on our campus.

To do this, it is worth going back to an essay in the Washington Post that President Bowen referenced on Facebook earlier this month. Titled “Why pragmatic liberal education matters now more than ever,” the article is a defense of a liberal arts education by Michael S. Roth, President of Wesleyan University. It lists some of the most important facets of a liberal education: Enhancing student’s abilities to translate across ideas and assumptions, providing students a vehicle to share knowledge, empowering individuals to take productive risks, and my personal favorite, the promotion of intellectual diversity “in such ways that students are inspired to grapple with ideas that they never would have considered on their own.” These attributes are of critical importance, especially in the hyper-partisan, ambivalent-to-the-facts world we currently find ourselves in, and the article says as much.

Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more difficult to experience the benefits of a liberal arts education at Goucher. Yes, I encounter diverse perspectives and ideas at this school that I may not have, had I studied elsewhere. However, I increasingly fear that the hunger for knowledge and debate outside of student’s preconceived opinions is taking a backseat to the desire for security in beliefs and inclusiveness in discussion. These things are undoubtedly significant; Yale’s Woodward Report and the University of Chicago’s Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression–two campus speech policies held in high esteem–both highlight mutual respect and civility to discussion and inquiry as important to campus life. Yet, both establish them as far removed in importance from unobstructed freedom of expression that does not come into conflict with the law.

As far as this kind of policy goes at Goucher, the closest thing I can find resembling a defense of free expression, is in the academic honor code which states in the first sentence: “At Goucher, we honor freedom of expression, inquiry, and action.” That’s not particularly robust, and puts free speech on no better footing at our school than the provision of a “safe space,” which Goucher’s mission statement sub-heading of Our Commitments to One Another; Communication suggests that we must place a “premium on maintaining.” Regardless of your opinion on the merits of safe spaces, the lack of prioritization of free expression on our campus will lead to more problems than it has already, the foremost of which is the lack of preparedness of our graduates for the outside world. Several teachers I have spoken to over the course of my three years at Goucher will not bring up certain topics in the classroom, or at least will not push these topics too far if they think it will upset our increasingly sensitive student body. While that is understandable, it is doing an absolute disservice to us as students and the blame for this lies at our feet.

Vigorous debate with few boundaries has become less and less common over my time here, only to be replaced with the reassurance that everyone’s opinion will be heard and treated with the same regard, often to go unchallenged, even if it’s clear that those opinions have no real facts behind them. This may go unnoticed by many people, because this security of opinion is comfortable and we don’t often challenge things that make us comfortable. However, the article which President Bowen shared with his Facebook community did not note fostering comfort as one of the jobs of a liberal arts education; it instead emphasized the importance of “setting a framework for inquiry and exchange that will be a resource for graduates for the rest of their lives.” Ultimately, in turbulent times like these when it is most difficult to keep open channels of debate and discussion, that is precisely what we need to do most.

With all of this in mind, I am also processing the heartfelt message the Goucher College community received from President Bowen on Monday, January 30th, concerning several of President Trump’s most recent executive actions. Putting aside all opinions of the executive policies in question, it was reassuring to see President Bowen’s genuine desire to defend and care for all members of our school, especially those who believe that their ability to attend this institution or reside in this country are at jeopardy due to these executive actions. The section of the message, which specifically grabbed my attention, was toward the conclusion:

“To our Muslim students, in particular, we will defend your right to express your religion freely and without fear…I sincerely wish that I could speak on behalf of our entire nation, but at least at Goucher we condemn policies that discriminate based on religion or country of origin and they have no place in our community. We support our government and the legal and peaceful process of passing and enforcing laws, but it is the role of academic institutions—and, indeed, our moral obligation living in a democracy—to voice our objections when we believe injustice is occurring. As an institution of higher education, we will continue to promote the free exchange of ideas among a community of students and scholars that welcomes citizens from around the world.”

I applaud this statement in its entirety and am glad our college has a leader as committed to these ideals as President Bowen is. This statement in its essence is exactly why we need a clearer free speech policy on campus. We need this not just because everyone has a basic right to express themselves however they choose, regardless of what any politician, professor, or peer thinks, but because if we don’t, uninhibited concern with the desire to protect the welfare of marginalized communities will end up having a converse effect and harming everyone—including marginalized communities. Nobody can argue for or represent these communities better than the members themselves, but this is unlikely to occur without the rigorous thinking and debate which college is supposed to be celebrated for cultivating. If Goucher provides students the four-year option of avoiding conflicting opinions in the classroom and protesting speakers they don’t agree with only to retreat to safe spaces after, they are engendering an atmosphere which comes directly into conflict with the core mission of a liberal arts education. Goucher College is doing its entire student body a disservice if it continues to advertise the promise of this school of thought, while inhibiting the catalyst of free speech, which is exactly what makes it so valuable.

Maybe it’s time for Goucher to revisit its policies on free speech and create something for students, instructors, and administrators alike, that recognizes the primacy of free speech as fundamental to intellectual development, and in doing so, simultaneously preserves and enhances the wellbeing of the entire student body.

Where Does White Activism Fit In?

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People are blocked from passing Trump Tower during the Women’s March in New York City on January 21, 2017.
Hundreds of thousands of people flooded US cities Saturday in a day of women’s rights protests to mark President Donald Trump’s first full day in office. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)

Sarah Hochberg, Opinion Editor

February 15th, 2017

On January 21st, a day after the Inauguration, I joined the ranks of women from all over the country to march. It was an amazing moment to be a part of, to experience so many people showing up and coming out for a unified cause. While the specific goals of the march were wide and varied, I did have my own set of ideas for why I was marching. My personal agenda was to stand for the rights of all female-identifying people to receive health care in a safe, non-judgmental platform. I believe strongly that women should have rights over their own bodies, and should be able to act as individuals, without government interference that men don’t experience.

Immediately upon exiting the 6 train at 51st street to make my way with a few friends to the march route, I began noticing some traits of the march that surprised me. A lot of signs and slogans were trans-exclusionary, focusing within the gender binary instead of including the range of possible gender identities. Looking around, I saw pockets of women of color but the large majority of marchers were middle class white women, which surprised me in the streets of New York. The general atmosphere seemed odd as well; it had a righteous-yet-festival type of vibe, like an animal rights benefit concert. There were group photo shots and friends gathered, but the march lacked a sense of urgency, a sense of the full weight Trump’s administration and his policies will have groups of underrepresented minorities.

This is not to call out what was one of the largest gatherings of people in my time, nor discredit all the good I believe the Woman’s March did, but rather the complete opposite. This is to call myself out. As I marched with my friends, I noticed I belonged a little too well. I was surrounded by other white, middle-to-upper-class college students. There wasn’t a fear of authority, or a real sense of resistance. We were a collection of, largely, young adults who joined because we share a hatred of Trump but only a vague notion of how to turn that into a constructive resistance of the administration’s policies. The Woman’s March, which was a wonderful, beautiful and empowering experience shared by women across the country, did not include as many women of color as it could have, making it a movement I had mixed feelings about joining.

In a political climate where every major decision feels like a backwards step for the country I love so much, acts like calling my representatives, sending postcards (courtesy of Roosevelt Institute at Goucher) and volunteering at local organizations whenever possible feel like I’m making a tangible effort to oppose the government in the only ways I know how. But within the paradox of white activism, I’m unsure of my place in a march or protest. I want my feminism to be intersectional, and my activism to be inclusive, but I’m unsure how to use my white privilege in a way that doesn’t take away someone’s voice. As a white privileged college student, I want to participate without dominating a space.

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