Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Jun 15, 2017 in Stuff You Should Know

Alternative Graduations?

When you think of graduation, what do you picture? Black gowns, mortarboards, diplomas, and maybe a party after? Around the country, students at many universities are beginning to reimagine how they see graduation, and what it means to them.

This year, Harvard University held its first-ever commencement for African American graduate students. The event was open to all students, and not every eligible student attended. However, virtually all of the people who attended were African American, and the speakers addressed the difficulties of being a minority student at a place like Harvard. A few hours later, 120 students attended Harvard’s third annual Latinx commencement. Both of these ceremonies recognize the traditions of commencement, with speakers and programs. The only difference is that no actual diplomas are given out. This happens only at the university’s official commencement ceremony.

Harvard is not the only place where diverse student groups are creating their own unique commencement traditions. Several universities hold “Lavendar” graduations for their LGBTQ+ students. This year, Columbia University also held its first “First-Generation Graduation,” celebrating students who are the first in their families to graduate from college.

For many of the students who participate, alternative commencements like these provide a more meaningful experience than the traditional graduation ceremony. Others, however, worry that hosting separate commencements actually amplifies differences, driving student groups apart instead of bringing them together.

What Do You Think? Would you attend an alternative graduation ceremony? Why or why not? Why do you think some students may find such a ceremony more meaningful than the traditional one, which is held by the university for all students?

Supreme Court Hears Cell Phone Privacy Case

Should the government be allowed to use your cell phone to track where you are, or who you have called? What if that information is useful to solving a crime? What amount of privacy do you have the right to expect as a cell phone user? The Supreme Court has recently agreed to hear a case, Carpenter v. United States, which will address all of these questions.

Currently, certain limitations are in place to protect cell phone users’ privacy. For example, the government must have a warrant to search your phone, and it is also limited in its right to track people using their phones’ GPS devices. The current case before the Supreme Court deals with whether or not it is legal for the government to use cell phone companies’ historical data to track people’s movements, which could possibly place them at the scene of a crime (in this case, a robbery).

In a 1979 case, Smith v. Maryland, the Court ruled that a robbery suspect didn’t have the right to expect privacy for his phone history because he had already turned that data over to the phone company. Since then, this idea has been known as the “third party doctrine,” basically meaning that because you share your phone history with the phone company, the government has a right to access it as well. However, many experts claim that since these decisions were made before the age of cell phones, they no longer apply the same way. They argue that virtually everyone who is not “off the grid” is having their information gathered by phone companies and that the government shouldn’t have unlimited access to that information.

What Do You Think? Imagine that you are a Supreme Court justice. Would you rule that the government has the right to access suspects’ cell phone history information in order to solve a crime, or not? Explain your position.

Wonder Woman Takes World by Storm

The popularity of Wonder Woman, the new movie directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Godot, has reached epidemic proportions.

In its opening weekend, Wonder Woman made roughly $100 million, setting a new record for a film directed by a woman. In its second weekend, it made $57 million, roughly a 45 percent drop. While this sounds like a significant drop, it actually represents a huge success: most superhero movies drop by nearly 70 percent their second weekend. In fact, Wonder Woman had the most successful second weekend of any modern superhero movie.

So what explains the popularity?

Based on the comic book character that originated in the 1940s, the film tells the story of Diana Prince, who is raised on an all-female island of Amazons, all of whom are very skillful fighters. A series of circumstances leads her to the United States, and from there to the World War I battlefield, where she fights to save humankind from the forces of war and destruction. Wonder Woman is seen as a feminist icon, and critics have praised the character for her strength and leadership. However, she has a very complicated history. Her creator, William Moulton Marston, based her character on 1920s suffragettes, but also designed her look based on “pinup girls” of the same era.

Due to the huge success of the first film, negotiations for a second Wonder Woman movie are expected to begin soon.

Dig Deeper: Last year, the United Nations chose Wonder Woman to be their honorary ambassador for women and girls. This was a controversial choice, and the UN later revoked it. Do you think Wonder Woman is a good symbolic representative for women and girls? Why or why not?

Independence for Catalonia?

This October, voters in Catalonia will go to the polls to decide if  they want to be an independent country from Spain. But whether or not that vote will actually hold up is a different story.

Aerial view of the Palau Nacional, the National Art Museum of Catalonia, in Montjuic, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.

View of the palace of Montjuic, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. Credit: Enric Català/Glow Images

Catalonia is located in the northeastern corner of Spain, and has roughly 7.5 million citizens. When discussing Catalonian independence, it’s useful to look at Spain’s unique political structure. Spain is made up of 17 autonomous communities all bound together under a common constitution and central government. But each of those communities enjoys a degree of independence: each has its own flag, president, and follows its own set of laws. In many cases, they also have their own unique cultures. In Catalonia, for example, although most people speak Spanish, a significant number speak Catalan instead.

Over the past five years, the push for Catalonian independence has grown. In November 2014, the citizens of Catalonia held a nonbinding independence vote that passed overwhelmingly, but the Spanish government declared it unconstitutional. The leader of Spain, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, already has vowed to block the vote and preserve Spanish unity. But Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and others who support breaking away argue that Rajoy and the courts are blocking their fundamental right to vote. The Spanish government has said that it would be willing to open a dialogue with leaders of the Catalonian independence movement, but not to discuss what they see as an illegal independence vote.

It remains to be seen what will happen if the citizens of Catalonia vote for independence, but the vote is not recognized by the Spanish government.

What Do You Think? If the referendum passes in October, should the citizens of Catalonia be granted independence from Spain? Why or why not?