Theatre is Truth, Journalism is Not

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This week, I had the pleasure of attending the discussion on politics, art, and the role of the theater in shaping public policy with internationally recognized playwright J.T. Rogers and CMC professor Eric Helland. A 2012 Guggenheim fellow in playwriting and under commission from Lincoln Center Theater and the Royal National Theatre, Rogers hails from an impressive background.

CMC is known as a prestigious liberal arts college with strengths in pre-professional preparation. Though theatre is not a major offered at the college, there were many practical lessons taken away from the talk that deal with developing meaningful connections and experiences that we can apply to our daily lives.

When asked about the role of both journalism and theater, Rogers responded that “While journalism sharpens our minds, the theater can expand our sense of what it means to be human. It is where we can come together in a communal space to hear ideas that grip us, surprise us — even infuriate us — as we learn of things we didn’t know. For me, that is a deeply, thrillingly, political act.” Non-fiction can tell you facts but exclude the emotions that accompany these events.

So how does one write a play? The short answer is by understanding the human experience. Like any great career advice, J.T. Rogers simply says to use what you know. The characters need to be believable, coming from real backgrounds and having authentic human emotions and behaviors. When talking to people about their experiences, Rogers states that what is important is a personal level of understanding, such as how they wake up in the morning, and not just listening to their list of achievements. He seeks to create a conversation, not an interview.

To conclude the talk, Helland asked about how living in a rent-controlled apartment in New York affected the trajectory of Rogers’ career. To Rogers, his experience in New York was pivotal to the beginning of his career. Genius is not alone; genius comes from being in an environment with a lot of creative and ambitious people. This brought me to think about how lucky I am to be attending CMC, a college that not only promotes discussion and exploration of new ideas, but also adds value by being around the impressive people that go here. Rogers’ discussion at the Ath raises more awareness about the role of theatre in politics and even the privilege to attend CMC.

Didn’t make it to the talk? Check out the link featuring J.T. Rogers’ commentary on his latest play Oslo.

By: Sharon Chiang ’17

Publishing and Diversity: A Panel Discussion

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This week at the Athenaeum, I had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion regarding the current state of the book publishing industry and the representation of diversity in the field. The panel consisted of author and CMC alumni Yi Shun Lai ’96, executive editor Rachel Kahan of William Morrow and Company, and book publicist Kima Jones of Jack Jones Literary Arts.

The highlights of the panel discussion touched upon the economic and social challenges in the publishing industry. For instance, entering the industry can be difficult for those who are financially unable to take on an unpaid internship, since this opportunity serves as a launching pad into the industry. Financial stability can be an issue, too. Yi Shun Lai, also a literary editor at the Tahoma Literary Review and the Los Angeles Review, said her first post-grad publishing job only paid $18,000/year. To get by in New York, she survived off of “bar food and ramen.”

The panelists also highlighted the social challenges that marginalized groups face to become published: female writers struggle to achieve the same respect as their male counterparts, and the publishing industry is concerned that the POC viewpoint may not be relatable or marketable enough for a mass audience.

Despite shedding light on the challenges of the industry, the panelists remained optimistic about the future of the publishing industry becoming more diverse. Kahan believes that the industry underestimates their readers’ ability to empathize and learn from the narratives of diverse voices. They’re calling for publishers and readers alike to demand more diversity in the field and encourage all literary enthusiasts to continue pursuing their passions.

Didn’t make it to the talk? Check out the link featuring panelist Kima Jones’ commentary on diversity in the publishing industry.

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Pema Donyo ’17 and Sharon Chiang ’17 posing with Yi Shun Lai’s Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu

By: Sharon Chiang ’17

Michael Hiltzik, “What’s Happened to America’s Middle Class?”

This week, I had the pleasure of attending Michael Hiltzik’s talk at the Athenaeum. As a Pulitzer Prize-winner journalist and author, Hiltzik enriched students and faculty on his findings and views on how the middle class gets squeezed by income inequality and unfair government tax benefits.

Recently, education and housing prices have increased while remuneration in middle class job positions have decreased, moving a significant part of the population down the ladder. Additionally, the middle class continues to get squeezed out of government programs: they make too much to qualify for Obamacare benefits, but too little to afford private health insurance. These incidents have caused the middle class to “lose its foothold on the American dream.”

With the period of extreme instability and doubt that has clouded American politics since Trump’s victory, Hiltzik predicts continued transformations for the middle class. Because this group has been abandoned by the government, its political support is now up for grabs and can define the fate of American politics. The question that remains is: how can we save middle class America and the American dream?

Prof. Jeffrey Flory, “Do Competitive Workplaces Deter Female Workers?”

As a Robert Day School Professor, Jeffrey Flory specializes in development economics and has received grants from the World Bank and the Lowe Institute of Political Economy.

This week, I had the honor of attending his Athenaeum talk on the effect of competitive workplaces on female employees.

It is common understanding that there are prominent gender differences in our labor market. In the US, women’s wages are approximately 20% lower than men’s; women only account for 2.5% of the 5 highest paid executives in large firms; and, compared to their male counterparts, are more likely to be unemployed. Various explanations have been offered as to why these disparities still exist: differences in human capital skills, the effect of traditional family roles, and stereotype threats against women.

Prof. Flory’s research expands on a novel approach to explain the gender gap in the workplace: competition. Laboratory experiments have found that work performance of men is substantially more responsive to competition incentives than that of women. This, in turn, may prevent female workers from performing their best when they know they are competing with other employees for promotions or raises. Further lab experiments show a gender difference in preferences for performing in competitive settings. On average, men have a taste for competition, while women tend to exhibit a distaste for it. This results in men embracing competition and women shying away from it.

It is essential that we become aware of the implications of these findings. For the social realm, these conclusions indicate that if women have an aversion to competition, they are less likely to seek promotions and raises, perhaps even removing themselves from the picture. Moreover, if women dislike performing under competitive circumstances, they are more likely to shy away from fields that are perceived as highly competitive. Findings also indicate that highly competent women select out of competitive workplaces while incompetent men select into them. The economic implications of these observations are of great importance. This poor allocation of employee capacity affects firms’ productivity and efficiency, indicating that perhaps firms are not attracting the best possible talent, thus failing to maximize economic performance and prosperity.

Prof. Flory aims to develop this field of study, taking research outside of the lab into natural economic environments. His real labor market experiment involved 9,000 job-seekers interested in a real employment position. By manipulating compensation treatments, he found that having a team-based work environment as well as lowering the amount of wage that is based on competition can help eliminate the gender gap.

This research can provide invaluable insight into a prominent issue in our society. I am looking forward to seeing how this field advances, and observing its positive impact on our changing workplace.

Pat Crowley: Introducing Insect Protein into Western Cuisine

This week, CMC alumnus Pat Crowley paid us a visit at the Athenaeum. Pat ’02 is the founder and CEO of Chapul, Inc., a company that is transforming the natural foods industry with its cricket energy bars. Concerned with topics of food and water sustainability, Pat aims to introduce edible insects into the western diet. Unbeknownst to us, most of the food products we consume require extremely high levels of water consumption, aggravating the issue of water conservation and sustainability. Insects, on the other hand, barely require any water, increase the diversity of food supply, and grow in a wide range of climates, making it an efficient and healthy source of nutrients, especially protein.

What Pat points out as the main inhibitor of the propagation of alternative forms of nutrients, such as insects, is the cultural barrier. Some Western cultures are not ready for this revolution and lack acceptance. However, Pat believes this to be temporary. As soon as the cultural perception surrounding this matter shifts, a new food supply chain will be engineered.

Although still aiming for cultural-wide acceptance, Chapul’s mission has already captivated the natural foods industry, which understands the importance of sharing and maximizing resources. A collaborative effort is required in order to shift our perspective on consumption. Happily, companies like Chapul are gradually gaining market share and traction in the right direction towards the proliferation of conscientious consumption. Please join me in congratulating Pat’s efforts in building a more sustainable future and revolutionizing the food industry.

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