Monthly Archives: October 2016

Representation over Significance – the Mandala transition

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Many weeks have passed where I have engaged and researched with the Tibetan Buddhists Sand Mandala and created an autoethnographic investigation spanning from watching videos where sand mandalas are being made by monks to looking at the transition the mandala has made from sand to skin relating to tattoo mandalas. This transition of the mandala that was once something spiritual changed it’s meaning through cultures. Where eastern culture presented a spiritual mandala to now where the mandala in the western culture has is seen as art as a pattern on the body. My project will be once again engaging in the autoethnographic experience of the mandala but making sense of it in a digital context. Meaning to what aspect would a mandala be made digital – in the form of a direct copy of the mandala, in the form of meaning that the mandala represents or a new change where something digital has the significance of what the mandala was and transitioned through cultures.

Looking at autoethnography I am following the meaning and approach presented by Ellis et al. who describes autoethnography as “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience”. While I will not be going over all of the information I presented in my past blogs relating to this topic – I will be going over enough in the hopes of making sense of my approach and method as a starting point. If you would like to read the previous posts, you can find them here, here and here.

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A Monk Mandala Source

The colourful visual appeal of Mandalas is one thing that attracted me to the topic. Then following research and the dedication the Tibetan monks have when constructing a Mandala my interest is further intrigued and I am in a focus of knowing everything about Mandalas and the people that create them. A Mandala has different meanings for different cultures and is represented in different ways though falls under the same discipline of religions sentiment. The Tibetan Monk Mandala represents the universe and the teachings of Buddha. Each concentric circle reflects a different teaching of Buddha and each quadrant is significant of the different paths one can take, or must take to fulfil Buddha’s teachings. This religious element is far from anything I have ever engaged in or thought I would want to learn about. Coming from an atheist family and not having religion forced upon me by my family (school is a different matter) I do not dismiss the value of these engagements nor question the engagement of the Mandalas. Religion much like spirituality is free for those that engage and I am not one to actively diminish those beliefs.

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Floor design for a Hindu temple Source

In other eastern cultures the religious context is apparent for mandalas but the details of the design and the way the design is used changes. In Hinduism the mandala is used by creating symmetry of the temples and art design on the floor of the religious temples and the use of sacred flora much like lotus flower is emphasized for use at it is symmetrical and reflects the detailed perfection that a mandala needs. The design on the floor is representative of the universe. In Islam the mandala is intertwined with the entire building from the floor to the roof. The religious impact of the Mandala becomes three-dimensional as the dome centred on the mosque guides religious expression upwards to the heavens. So the building is an entire mandala both in design and layout.

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Islamic Building Design Source

The transition of the mandala through the way it is implemented in these religions provides a step in understanding the change of the mandala through cultures. The representation of the mandala being quite broad – the universe, can be interpreted in a different way from each religion. Social groups play an important role in the transition of aspects from one culture to the next. Two or more people create a social group in which share traits and identities that create layers of discourse outside from other people. These identities are looked at from an outside perspective and tried to make an understanding from. Much like how I am outside the Buddhist religion looking in and through an autoethnographic approach I hope to better understand and make meaning out of what I have experienced and the way that I am experiencing it.

The branding of Mandalas as not just a religious statement but also an aesthetic statement transitions into western culture. Wilson and Liu discuss the blend between brands and culture. In regards to tattooing in western culture tattooing has transitioned from sub-culture into the mainstream, where it once was held as a religious exercise at religious ceremonies has become popularized for individual expression. This blend of what was once religious expression now individual expression, adding in the business of tattoos, the aesthetic appeal of a mandala and the popularity of tattoos in western culture. The mandala changed from a religious meaning to a personal meaning (personal meaning could still be religious) but also for aesthetic appeal of symmetry. Once the ideas of what western culture had to offer for tattoo art and design engaging then with other cultures and having that outside perspective gave way to new and more ideas and creations of tattoos. Which created more tattoos to choose from, created a bigger demand for tattooists and changed the meaning and how mandalas are represented once again. I did not fall short from this change of mandala representation as I got a mandala tattoo throughout the research and experience of learning about mandalas.

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Sand Mandala on the left; tattoo on the right. Source from my Prezi post linked above

There are many elements that can be compared between the sand mandala and the tattoo mandala. The detail, the time is takes to create, the experience needed by the person doing the creation and the discipline needed to make the creation work. I will be the first to say that there is an obvious distinction between a sand mandala on the floor compared to a tattoo mandala on the body and that the discipline of human ability on the tattoo exceeds the risk of the sand mandala. As if there is a mistake on the sand mandala it can be rectified in a simple fashion however with the tattoo it will cost money or cost the aesthetic appeal of the tattoo as the tattoo is a permanent fixture on the body.

Going from a religious sand mandala to a tattoo mandala went from eastern culture to western culture but there is a culture that expands both eastern and western and has a great influence on different aspects of eastern and western culture. I am of course talking about cyber culture (Saunders 2010). The internet has allowed the mandala to create a virtual space online in which people can engage with mandalas throughout the time before it. However, looking at the distinctions that the mandala has made through different cultures I would be arguing that the change the mandala has made has followed a different path dependent on what engagement of the mandala you would focus on. Looking at the mandala for what it is aesthetically and people wanting to create a mandala. Then there are websites and tools that aide in the creation. Such as the video below that guides people into how to make a mandala in Photoshop.


Stepping into cyber culture and creating a mandala based on the basis of a patterned and symmetric shape is one direction of what a mandala originally was. The meaning behind the mandala – that of religious meaning and expression is changed to the pseudo-religious behaviour that the internet is involved around. The behaviour is characterized by what elements cyber culture has created, the way they are created and the use for the creations. The mandala become a generic patterned shape that was used to describe any symmetrical and artistic piece in western culture. This loss of singular meaning can be described to many things that cyber culture has developed and used throughout the course of its inevitable usage.

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The generic shapes and patterns of the mandala Source

When it comes to cyber culture and the mandala I would add that the generic meaning of what a mandala has become and the elements that the internet creates changes the separate culture that the internet is. To argue that the ‘Meme’ is the equivalent of a generic mandala. Yep that is right I am now going to argue that ‘Memes’ are a reflection of cultural change and generic creation reminiscent of pseudo-religious beliefs and behaviour. Memes are a cultural aspect of cyber culture and the internet. From the start of the internet there have been different memes throughout its course that have been used in different ways by different groups of people to express thought and create interest.

‘Meme’ was first coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. Meme was created to express a cultural idea that would spread quickly between people. Memes in basic form are words written over images that display some relation to the style of picture that is used – the Success Kid meme relates to the idea of someone experiencing some form of success in their life and Overly Attached Girlfriend is used to convey the experiences of having an overly attached girlfriend. The style of meme can change to a video or audio also. The engagement that memes have created over the years I find is a reflection of what the mandala did over the ages. When talking about the mandala it has become a generic piece of work in its aesthetic form but for what the mandala represented over though the cultures it went into changed it. The generic meaning and representation that a mandala has now is reminiscent of the cyber culture meme. While the religion on cyber culture and the internet is separated to specific religions such as Islam, Christianity and Hinduism the overall culture of the internet has made way for a more meshed engagement of behaviour and understanding.  The generic picture of a mandala and the generic picture of meme goes hand in hand with the change in the culture that it was once from and the change in culture that once used it.

My understanding of creating a digital mandala was limited by what the mandala represented to the monk and religious groups that used it. It was changed by the cultural transition from a religious symbol to a generic aesthetic art piece and then now changed aesthetically but kept to a generic piece in cyber culture. While there are different aspects of the mandala that can be used to argue different versions of the mandala have been created with in cyber culture. The transition of intent and purpose of cultural pieces plays an important role in the change from how one culture understands another and what aspects of that culture get changed for what purpose. Whether or not people were actively using the mandala as a tool for a generic description of tattooing or as a tool to showcase individualism. There is always going to be a change of cultural identities regardless of intent to appropriate the culture or not learn from it. While I did find the topic of Mandalas interesting the cultural change that the mandala has had from religious eastern culture to western tattoo culture to digital meme culture challenges the impact for what people get out of cultures. With how one identifier of one culture gets separated into visual appeal, meaning and, use and then distributed through different mediums to become something far different from what it once was.

References:

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E. & Bochner, A.P. 2011 ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no.1

Saunders, S 2010, ‘Superhighway To Hell’, Informationweek, no. 1271, p. 15.

Evoked Triggers are not Provoked Emotional Responses

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Engaging with the discussion of Trigger Warnings in 2016 we are talking about a mesh of old and new understandings. The old understanding is from the area of mental health with specific relation to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Trigger Warnings are used to make someone suffering from PTSD that the material or event that they are going to be exposed to will potentially onset a traumatic episode. The new understanding presented by Intersectional Feminists and Liberals alike is that trigger warnings are needed to bring warning to potential provoked emotional responses of disdain or discomfort. This new understanding has taken over the old understanding by using it as a hostage for politics within higher education and the narrative that higher education needed a change to be more inclusive and a safe space.

When we talk about provoked emotion we talk about emotion that is transferred with intention from one person to another through a medium. Take for instance the medium of film – horror films (e.g. Wolf Creek) provoke the feeling of fear through scare tactics. Comedy (e.g. The Rat Race) films provoke the feeling of happiness through comedic behaviour and timing, and drama films (e.g. Bridget Jones’s Diary) provokes the feeling of sadness. These emotions felt are understandable through the context for which they are transferred. Which in this case is the genre of film and the engagement of the person watching. This engagement is individual choice. We have the choice for how we engage with film and to what extent. We have the choice to make how much the movie affects us and in what way. This choice is not presented what it comes to evoked emotion. Evoked emotions are brought on through subconscious mind from external influences. For example different smells can influence the emotions by evoking emotions of past experiences. Like the smell of baked goods and reliving the emotion of going to grandmas and enjoying her baking. Music also is a powerful tool to evoke emotion. Songs can take people back to when they went to their first live concert and experience the emotions felt. Songs can take people back to their wedding day to experience the emotions of getting married or the song they had their first dance to as husband and wife. Evoked emotions are not controllable, they are in the subconscious and react to things that we can not control – they can happen wherever and whenever. What can cause evoked emotions is anything and it is unpredictable. A provoked trigger warning is to control a sense of what to experience, an evoked trigger warning is a preventative measure to not have someone with PTSD experience an episode. These warnings and these emotions are exclusive but they are being meshed together to fight for change in higher education.

I have mentioned in past blogs about academic and proud feminist Christina Hoff Sommers has provoked the Third Wave Feminists and Liberals alike into imposing trigger warnings and safe spaces with her speeches and presentations around American Universities. Many other presenters suffer from the same opposing force when talking on American campuses – Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Shapiro and Steven Crowder are further examples. As there is a belief that Sommers is a threat to the mental health, well-being and safety of the students – so measures were needed to have taken place. Take into consideration the old understanding of trigger warnings around PTSD and analyse the behaviour which is presented publicly in many online videos (this is just one of many – Georgetown) where Sommers has talked. And the behaviour at which people who oppose her want the new understanding of trigger warning introduced. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious issue for which people suffer – there is no control over what can trigger a PTSD episode as it is an evoked subconscious reaction. To push for the new trigger warnings on people who are presenting opposing information to the ideology of only a section of the student populace questions the importance of this specific agenda.

The individual well-being is questionable when you know you are going to a speech by someone who has a different viewpoint to your own. How are you going to engage with the fight for the new trigger warning understanding when you silence those that wish to engage different points of views – views that you present to be ‘triggering’. Psychotherapy is a solution to PTSD which has been found to be a success in treating and getting rid of PTSD. One therapy within psychotherapy is exposure therapy where the patient who has PTSD –  under the guidance of a trained professional exposes themselves to their trigger in which they can engage and understand the difficulties around that trigger and then to further be cured of that trigger. The introduction of the bastardized version of trigger warning is meant to be seen as a preventative measure to the old meaning of trigger. To have a trigger warning on content that is a trigger of an evoked emotional response does not get rid of the trigger. It presents the person with PTSD a chance to decide on the engagement with the trigger, but if they so choose to engage there is no certainty that an evoked emotional reaction will not happen. This ‘preventative measure’ is not a solution to curing a patient of PTSD but an attachment to the new understanding of trigger warnings. There are disciplines on university subjects where people will have to engage with material that is seen to be a trigger (both old understanding and new). Law students have to engage with criminal law and the cases that involved rape. This can be a trigger for evoked emotions but it is a necessary engagement in the field of law. There is no way around the degree where someone can not learn about rape with regards to the law. To understand this, to engage with the material, yet require a trigger warning is not understandable as there is a difference between professors using intense examples to explain a point compared to a requirement in the field of study that has to be learned.

Measures vs. Capability and, Individual Action

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Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces are perceived solutions to the problem of mental health issues in higher education facilities. Trigger warnings are to prepare students for possibly “triggering” information ahead and Safe Spaces are a place where anyone (‘anyone’ changes to marginalized depending where you get the information from) on campus can go to in which they escape away from fear – fear of personal identity being challenged. While it is simple to understand the basics there are a number of factors that I find makes these solutions unnecessary. To engage with a solution of mental health on campus is to find a solution that is not just a preventative solution (like trigger warnings) but to find an individual, case by case solution for which the triggers for mental health are stable and under control. Safe Spaces are problematic as they do not address the issues of mental health or ‘fear’ at hand. They just provide an escape for which people will go out of their way to avoid potential harm and difficulties so they can collect themselves. This is not a long term solution.

Trigger warnings are used to warn people who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that the information they are continuing to be exposed to may trigger their PTSD. To create these warnings is to say they are needed in higher education. Looking at the facts and figures there has been an increase in which University students are developing mental health issues (PTSD being one of those issues) over the years. Though the rate in which cases of PTSD have been triggered on University campuses specifically by information being taught is yet to be known, as there are ethical and personal issues incorporated into University policies that prevent this information from being released. This is not to justify that students need to have a mental breakdown in public in order for solutions to be solved. But shows the significance of what University represents and that higher education facilities have an understanding about the solutions that are provided and those solutions are adequate in capability – of stabilizing and of aiding help to people who suffer from mental health issues like PTSD.

The idea of trigger warnings is to give people a heads-up about the potential harmfulness of information being spread. Though there is an understanding that the students who suffer from mental illness (like any students who do not) like PTSD have a responsibility to the university also. When going to University the responsibility of the engagement is on the student. Students choose the subjects that want to learn, students choose the field that they want to go into and students choose the degree for which they are exposed to the content being presented. Knowing you are going into a field where topics are uncomfortable like wanting to be lawyer and having to learn the law around rape cases. It is a responsibility of the student wanting to be a lawyer to engage with the full scope of the law. If the mental health of a student is not capable of understanding that there are topics in which have to be learned in order to get a specific degree, then the fault of harm rests with the student and not the University. The preventative case of creating trigger warnings only keeps them ‘safe’ on university campuses and not anywhere else. The engagement of trigger warnings only prevents PTSD sufferers from getting triggered by content but not by engaging with the student populace. When people see trigger warnings and have an episode is to say the treatment and methods in which that person is taking care of themselves and treating their PTSD is sub-par or not happening. While this may sound harsh there are treatments in which PTSD sufferers are able to engage with their triggers with which they once had. Mental Health America mentions that PTSD can be treated with success. Psychotherapy, with the help of a trained mental health professional can ease the pain of PTSD and create a successful exposure to once triggering symptoms. It is the individual obligation to seek treatment as that is the first step to recovery. The constant in the individual’s life is the individual.

Safe Spaces are seen as a restorative measure as a way for people who have felt offended or in fear for their well-being are able to escape to a space on campus and relax – free from opposition of any kind. But that opposition is seen to be the problem and this measure of creating a safe space in order for the perceived ‘victims’ to escape to does not prevent people from further imposing on people’s identity. When we look at cases for which Safe Spaces have been created much like in America with academic Cristina Hoff Sommers and her talk at Georgetown University. It was the opposing view that Sommers was presenting that caused for the creation of a safe space. Sommers as a well-known academic in her field talked about her opposition of intersectional feminism ideals that are present in today’s Universities. While there were protests of Sommers to appear on campus the extent for which one opinion can upset an entire university into creating safe spaces is a reflection of the importance on intellectual diversity on university students. While the students creating the safe spaces and protesting Sommers are not a representation of the entire university. The scope at which is has become prevalent on American University campuses begs the question to what extent can today’s university students be logical, reasonable and educated in their discourse of intellectual material without the need for emotional uproar. When someone’s well-being has been compromised by another and they have gone to a safe space to collect themselves, there is no one-time solution to what caused that problem to the begin with. That person in the safe space is going to most likely hear the same opposing views again and again. Again their well-being will be compromised. How is the creation of safe spaces an appropriate solution to intellectual diversity which is expected on every higher education institute? Once someone has left their safe space on campus they are opened to the same material that put them in there in the first place – whether it be an individual concern or a group one. Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces are not a long term solution to this [perceived] problem.

[There are a number of incidences around American University (like one in video below) campuses that hijack the original representation of Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces from what they were in the past – this has added to the challenge for the discussion. Though at least there is a discussion of some sort]

 

No Safe Spaces. Part of the Whole

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Safe Spaces are a problematic idea for Universities. On one hand they give groups of people the ‘freedom’ to go somewhere and be themselves. On the other who gets to say what groups need a specific space on campus and why do they need a space for themselves. Safe Spaces are places where students who feel they have been marginalized by either their sex, ethnicity, religion or sexuality can go and be themselves (with other people like them) free from any metal or physical strain. But how do you go justifying the feeling of marginalization and present this feeling as a problem for the entire University to solve and not a sole issue.

There is an ideal in society to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. To give a voice for those that do not have a voice of their own. While a simple idea the acting of this is to give people who are marginalized in society the opportunity and to teach the abilities of equity for all. But that is all of society. When we simplify the area to Universities – where the fight for Safe Spaces is currently occurring. Then we have to look at what Universities and higher education represents. Universities are the next stage in academia, a challenge for people’s perceptions of the world and, for the development into adulthood. They are accessible for anyone at any time of their life, it is the independence of the student that dictates the role in which higher education will play in their life and the success the student will get from attending. Universities are a safe place to talk, to live, to experience and to attend. The understanding of intellectual freedom underlines the understanding for what information is presented and why it is presented. When we are presented information (opinions, facts and discussions) that we do not like we know that they are not being shown to us for the purpose of mental harm but for intellectual enlightenment. To further understand why we have our point-of-view and why we do not have the point-of-view of others. The intention is not malicious but a safe engagement of information we otherwise would not engage with ourselves. Our lecturers, tutors, peers and other academics that we share the higher education experience with are debates, challenges and utilities to further get a sense of self-understanding and self-growth. Every University has an understanding of what is expected and what is understood even when it is not said so clearly.

Safe Spaces are challenging this representation of Universities and other higher education institutions by condemning that they are not safe, that there is a significant amount of students that are marginalized for who they are and nothing or very little is being done about it. These Safe Spaces are a solution to this perceived problem. The fights are in our Universities so the problem must be somewhere within. On the website the demands there is a list of at least 88 American higher education institutions that demand change for the systemic and structural racism that they believe is apparent on campuses. Under each school there are a number of demands that are expected to be undertaken on each campus to make up for and fix this injustice. Though it is one thing to believe the outcry of the student population it is another to provide adequate empirical evidence to support this claim – which has yet to happen. For each demand being made there is no specific understanding to how the demand should be done within the university. There are demands calling out certain faculty members of the Universities and demand that they create and enforce the plan that is then to be upheld. This pressure on Universities to abide by these demands has been having a negative effect on the University. University of Missouri for example has had instances revolving around faculty members and student protests. This barrage of bad publicity caused by groups pushing for justice has crippled the University. Missouri has faced a significant decline in student enrolments, a decline in alumni donations, the athletic football team has resigned, faculty members are getting sacked for partaking in the commotion irresponsibly and faculty members are also resigning if they are caught against the loud and vocal group. The University is a reflection of the students. When the students have caused a ruckus in their own University they are condemning the entire University to the public even for those who are not involved.

To create Safe Spaces on campus is to say that the campus is unsafe. That there are problem areas for certain minority groups that are a constant occurrence. For a university to have such a space is unimaginable – a space where there is constant aggression and offensive material to specific groups of people. Where is this space? When we give people areas in which they can escape to we separate the student body. When the entire University is a safe space then the entire student body can be a source for empowerment, confidence, communication and of course safety. But when we separate the student body into identity, then we have people engaging with only certain identities. We also force out identities of people by giving them a reason to feel marginalized. When we give people a reason to not feel like a piece of a whole collective they are automatically on the outside and that is not what Universities are about.

The phrase “Safe Space” has negative connotations attached to it – residing from the identity politics popularized by Intersectional Feminism Safe Spaces are seen as places to escape to when someone cannot handle some form of mental strain. The physical build of Safe Spaces has been described as a place where people can colour in, calm down reading a book, watch videos of puppies playing and escape from what caused them harm. While this is an escape it does not prove to be a solution to the problem, merely a temporary quick fix. What ailed the person can still happen, the person still has to leave the safe space and dealing with the issue at hand can still arise. This understanding provides the connotation that the inability to find a solution to the mental anguish that people will face at University is nothing but hypersensitivity.

Looking over Science D.I.Y. – student critique

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In the past few weeks I have been monitoring Sarah’s Science D.I.Y Digital Artefact for DIGC302 which deals with presenting theories and problems of science in a simple and understandable way for a mass audience. Sarah is studying a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Communication and Media Studies at the University of Wollongong and finds that there are misconceptions in science and it is misrepresented in the media today. The goal of this project is to fight those misconceptions around science by making videos to explain what the science is around everyday topics. You can find Sarah contributing to the media platform Chattr and posting on her WordPress blog.

While those sites are not the direct place for which this assignment has been published they still contain examples of content and the passion Sarah has for science. The couple videos created at the moment have been posted to Sarah’s personal Facebook Page. Fortunately, with the personal change of security settings I am unable to link to the videos as they are set to a private setting other than public. I do have to question a couple of things about posting science videos to Facebook. When it comes to creating videos to fight the misconceptions of science I would not find it adequate to keep them on a private setting – as exposure for those videos to hit a wide audience is limited to either no one, friends or, friends of friends. This makes the audience smaller and restricts the virality of the video and the message wanting to get across. A simple change of the viewing setting to public would be an easy fix.

When I think science I do not automatically go to Facebook for answers – well if I want right answers that is. If I am stuck on a science question or want to know something about science. Like the following: If I got a water bottle out of the refrigerator and put the bottle in cold room, a hot room and a room-temperature room. Would the rate at which condensation appears be the same on each bottle? I do not know how I would even start looking on Facebook for videos relating to this issue. As I can see on Facebook there isn’t an option to search for videos let alone specific science videos. Choosing Facebook as a place to publish videos for the intention of academia I find is the wrong platform. If YouTube was chosen you would have a channel and a destination for which people can come and watch your videos. YouTube is also the second most popular search engine as to find video evidence for curious minds about curious questions. This would be important in gaining traffic to your videos (with adequate tags for finding it of course) and allow an engagement with the other videos being made. YouTube also gives the freedom to link the videos to other websites which in this case I could of linked to this critique. YouTube also creates a sense of community with both creators and consumers being able to engage with either other. Facebook has a community but it is more your personal community made of friends and well wishers.

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Presentation wise there is a lot of information condensed into only a couple of minutes in the videos. While there is a need to convey understanding of the topics in an appropriate amount of time – time that the audience can keep focus on the video, the visual appeal of the video is also a key aspect for that engagement. One of the videos presents an understanding as to why the human body feels hot when it is 37 Celsius outside while the human body has a resting body temperature around the same degree. There is a lot of information being presented – so much that I would need to watch the video multiple times to get through everything being said and to understand what is being said. This isn’t helped by Sarah talking so fast (nerves?). Visually the engagement with the audience is limited – while just watching Sarah stare at the camera lens, as if starring at the viewer, there is no need to watch the video, just listen to it. This may be good for people who want to do something else while listening to it – but the speed in which Sarah talks makes me question this style of viewing for the video. Calming the nerves and talking a bit slower would aide in the presentation of the video. Having a script, going over it, recording and listening back to it will show how engaged someone can be with the information being said. While Sarah may be a fast talker in the videos it is the information being presented that is the key aspect for the video. If the information is understandable for a wide audience – the elderly with potential hearing loss, students, academics and kids or a specific target audience if that is what Sarah is aiming for then the speed of talking is of minimal concern.

While I personally enjoy watching informative videos about science – Vsauce and Numberphile on YouTube for example. There is a structure and pattern to those videos that engages the audience and maintains that engagement. While I do not know what Sarah watches on YouTube or her personal science heroes. Looking at how those channels present their information and the structure for which they show their videos would be a good start in developing her own identity and space by looking at what aspects she likes and does not like. It is an interesting choice incorporating science in a humanities/digital media based project. While science is not everyone’s cup-of-tea it is always good to see the cross incorporation of academic disciplines.

The change of “Trigger”? Bastardized.

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University is already a tough time on the mental health of students. It is believed around 1 in 5 university students have some kind of mental illness. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) being one of the illnesses and a key factor in today’s social political agenda on campuses. PTSD was synonymous with the word ‘trigger’. ‘Trigger’ being anything that may bring back memories and cause intense emotional and physical reactions. Mental illness is still a serious issue within humanity but aspects of mental illness have become a set agenda for today’s social issues. In particular today’s Intersectional Feminists and Social Justice Warriors (SJW) are pushing forward the right to have safe spaces and trigger warnings on university campuses.

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Melody Hensley becoming immortalized in a meme also comes in a gif version

The word ‘trigger’ has been bastardized by current day university students to reflect the feeling of anything that opposes one’s viewpoint, values, ideals or sense of morality. On one side of the debate the word ‘triggering’ is seen as a joke or current day meme to suggest anyone that gets offended by something subjective is representing a ‘triggered’ childish tendency (this point came in retaliation). While on the intersectional feminist side, to be ‘triggered’ is kept in the serious understanding of mental illness but what this side presents are perceived to be too broad, deals with hypersensitivity or a case of over-the-top political correctness. Such as the instance on Twitter with Melody Hensley where she claims cyber bullying in the form of harassment, stalking and trolling caused her to develop PTSD. This onslaught arising from being outspoken on feminist and atheist issues.

Social media is a necessity in today’s world. Social media impacts our public and private relations with friends, family and work. The openness of social media allows anyone, anywhere the freedom to look at what we post and critique that in any manner that is available to them. Social media does not provide a mandatory rule in which people need to provide details about them in any public manner. Anyone can create a fake profile with a fake email and still use social media. Reddit only needs a username and password. Facebook and Twitter need an existing email, a birthday, name and gender. These details can easily be faked. There is an ease of anonymity that is present on the internet in general that provides a gateway to be outspoken, this includes responding to people who are opinionated. While the appropriateness of this is for a different discussion. The significance of knowing that this happens should be obvious to the majority of users online – the ease for which you can say something is reflected in the ease in which you can be responded to. In particular to social media users whose job relies on social media. In any medium in which an opinion is said; regardless of an educated opinion or not, is open for discussion and criticism. A sole impact of social media is to break down the boundaries in which people can talk and present a conversation wherever they are and whenever they would like to. To put any opinion on Twitter like what Melody Hensley did is free to be responded to. This discourse of information further creates a topic regarding freedom of speech.

In universities this idea of being unsettled with someone who has an opposing view, or just a different view is the real world scenario of what happened on Twitter but face-to-face. The significance that it is happening in Universities is an important aspect as the fundamental point of universities and higher education is to bring rational, logical and educated discussions to the front and find solutions.Universities are built upon the freedom of intellectual expression, developing students from childhood to adulthood (Chiang & Hawley 2013) and as a source to expose students (and staff) to different worldly views. Higher education facilities are a haven for intellectual diversity and intellectual inclusivity. To be inclusive of all opinions is to allow all voices to be heard and treated the same way, regardless of the impact in which something was said or the way it was said. Trigger warnings get rid of this inclusivity and intellectual diversity by limiting the scope for which a topic can be discussed. Trigger warnings have been around in small areas around higher education by faculty members and organized clubs presenting the warnings themselves, with no outside or systematic obligation – a form or self-regulation. However, to put this topic to the entirety of a university begs to question to what extent would trigger warnings be created for and who gets to decide what ‘triggers’ people. Is any class that can be determined to have any historical or current lessons on any marginalized group, on any group that does not belong to the majority, on any individual who feels excluded or on any feeling that gets hurt. The accessibility to have the power to determine what people should and should not learn is quite the privilege.

Emotions are not something higher education can deal with as emotions come in all shapes, sizes and variations. The psychology of trigger warnings has a negative impact in which it can create a seeded disturbance in students who were once fine. To see the words ‘trigger warnings’ creates the perception something in the class can be deemed inappropriate, offensive or scary. This perception attaches itself to this emotion and the constant engagement on the material being shown creates a constant need to look at what part of the material is offensive and why is it offensive. This creates a perception that what you are seeing whether or not it is the “trigger warning” intended material, how is it provocative in a negative way as it was related to a trigger warning. To be at university is to be there by choice, the engagement for which a student has with the university is up to them. Knowing the impact and what it takes to go to university a person who has a diagnosis of PTSD would be taking the necessary precautions in which the PTSD will not come up. For the individuals who do not have the diagnosis or are not taking the precautions the university should have no obligation to cater to those who do not take care of themselves. Universities provide adequate engagement to the well being of the students. With psychologists, psychiatrists and general practitioners there are professionals ready to engage with students and understand their needs. Psychology and science provides research that shows the engagement in which people with mental illness are open about their circumstance provides the first step in which a containable or permanent solution can be reached in which people would not be triggered by something that would trigger them before. This is also publicly seen with the R U OK day and many other mental awareness campaigns that are supported and promoted each year.

Reference:

Chiang, S, & Hawley, J 2013, ‘The role of higher education in their life: Emerging adults on the crossroad’, New Horizons in Adult Education & Human Resource Development, vol. 25, no. 3, pp. 3-13.

Equality for the individual?

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For or against trigger warnings and safe spaces there is a constant trend in fighting for the rights of individuals that are marginalized or seen as different in today’s society and those that do not have the voice or capability to fight for themselves. This behaviour of fighting for those that can not fight for themselves – like children or animals. Presents an interesting discourse on what it means to be in a marginalized or group minority and how the law and society are needed to change this. In accordance to trigger warnings and safe spaces the debate has stemmed from the ideology and agenda of intersectional feminism and the continuing fight for the LGBT community. Though I ask how small do groups have to be in order to justify an appropriate reaction and measure for equality?

The social movement from the LGBT community started in the 1940s. This was a charge for equality and acceptance that is still being fought for today. One measure for this equality is based on the amount of people that are, identify, or know of someone that is a part of the LGBT community. In 2011 it is estimated that 8 million Americans which is 3.5% of the entire adult population identify in the LGBT community. In 2013 Australia reported that 11% of the population have a diverse sexual orientation, gender or identity. Within this fight for LGBT rights there has been individual fights for equality and justice around social issues. Australia has had the fight for transgender specific toilets (much like America and the United Kingdom). Brought on by the innocence of a child at primary school winning the legal battle to be recognized as a girl (being born a boy) though having to use the disabled toilet.

Activists have argued that even as an adult there is a transphobic atmosphere still around that needs to be addressed and this is the next phase in equality for LGBT. To deal with this issue it was put forward that to start making transgender and transsexual people feel welcome in society. There is a need to create transgender bathrooms or modify current bathrooms to be unisex or gender neutral. That are as accessible as regular male and female bathrooms currently are – such as in clubs, malls, theatres and parks. The feasibility and economical use of these toilets is seen to be unreasonable as the population of transgender people in the Australian adult community is estimated to be about 0.3%. 0.3% of Australia’s adult population is estimated around 54,000 people. The amount of toilets that activists are fighting to be created in order to justify an acceptance of transgenderism is seen to be over reaching as the geographical spread for trans is in main LGBT friendly areas that promote greater influence, activism, and a higher engagement of LGBT community members. The amount of traffic that is intended for a public toilet does not correlate to the small group of society that identify as trans. While the creation of neutral gender toilets is perceived to cater to the needs of everyone. The majority are reluctant to cater to this minority as they do not want to share bathrooms with the opposing gender, do not like change or see it as a waste of taxpayers’ money (or a waste for whomever is going to pay for it).

While the battle for equality is fought there are instances where the combination of a marginalized individual and the legality of the law are not clear and the change for the law to be accepting for equality is put at a greater challenge. Example of this is the case of perceived mental health and the function of standard societal morality in regards to Stefonknee Wolscht. A 52-year-old man who now lives his life as a 6-year-old girl in Toronto.


Stefonknee who was once called Paul, married to a wife and has seven children but now has moved away from that life and lives with adoptive parents in Toronto, Canada. Has come under the limelight of the public. While the issue of being a trans person is acknowledged there are aspects of Stefonknee’s identity that would challenge current laws and peoples personal understandings. The freedom to live how ever one wants, is up to the individual, how they identify, what they do and how they do it. It is all on them. But when what that individual chooses to be challenges the perception of what is normal to the majority then issues arise. Stefonknee as someone who is trans gender and trans age presents an interesting understanding for what social justice and acceptance offers larger society. Gender dysphoria is accepted as a medical issue that has been researched and understood (as best as it can currently). There is a known difference between a male and female brain. Though for someone to be trans-age; the science behind a medical justification is still to be discovered.  (Even the internet has no leads for me and my Universities database of academic sources comes up with nothing that can justify this trans-age identity.)

With such a rare public case such as Stefonknee’s our perception of what it means to be accepting of marginalized people becomes skewed. With identifying as a 6-year-old yet gleefully mentioning that she makes out with bikers and has a full time job ploughing snow. Where does the law fit into this identity? On one side for a 6-year-old to have a full time job is against Child Labor Laws and for a 6-year-old to make out with bikers is Child Abuse. If we correlate the understanding that the difference of the brain makes people either a man and a women and Stefonknee further identifies as a 6-year-old girl where can people stand to make Stefonknee feel that she is not marginalized for the way she lives her life. When even science has no medical understanding for this identity. Science does claim that in order to develop your public-self you must become social about your private self. As self-representation is a reflection and also an aide with mental health. Which provides the understanding of why people would come out as “different” from the majority.