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Buddhist nun, historian discuss SMC theme

Elizabeth Ann Harter | Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Two seemingly-different women – a Buddhist nun who studied in the forests of Thailand and a historian who researched racial patterns through censuses – came together Tuesday to discuss “Who Counts in the United States?,” the 2005-06 first year theme at Saint Mary’s.

Guest speakers Faith Adiele, a professor of creative non-fiction writing at the University of Pittsburgh, and Margo Anderson, a professor of history and urban studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, addressed a crowd of roughly 150 at Saint Mary’s Tuesday.

Professor María Meléndez said the two women were speaking on the same panel because the first year theme is “to be explored in ways that can be interpreted with numbers, and ways that can be interpreted with words from the heart.”

This first year theme, which is chosen every spring by a group of professors and the Center for Academic Innovation, is intended to create “a sense of intellectual community, particularly among first year [students],” Meléndez said, adding all students are invited to participate in events offered about the theme.

This year’s theme was chosen because it has been suggested that Saint Mary’s students are not informed citizens, Meléndez said.

Meléndez, director of the first year writing program, said that this year’s theme focuses on “race, ethnicity, power and privilege,” as well as “a more comprehensive idea of ‘counting,'” relating to who and what counts in the Americas in both quantitative and qualitative terms.

Adiele and Anderson expounded on this concept Tuesday.

Anderson presented information from her book “Who Counts?: The Politics of Census-Taking in Contemporary America.”

Anderson represented the quantitative analysis of “Who Counts in the United States.”

The census is relative because it has political implications for all states, Anderson said, because the population of a state directly corresponds to how many representatives a specific state has in Congress. If the population of a state were to go down, that state would lose a Congressman, while another state whose population rose, would gain a Congressman, she said. If the census was not taken correctly, as was the case in the 1990 census when the census bureau did not count nearly 5,000 people, there could be improper representation in Congress, she said.

Anderson also addressed questions of how to count prisoners and undocumented citizens. Jails are normally built in rural areas, while prisoners usually come from urban areas, she said, and questions arise about whether or not the prisoners should be counted as people in the urban area or the rural area.

Adiele participated in the lecture to give a qualitative look at the “Who Counts?” theme.

Adiele, author of “Meeting Faith The Forest Journals of a Buddhist Nun,” said she has various layers to her identity, which include her being biracial, a female and a human being. She is a first generation American whose father was Nigerian and mother was Scandanavian.

She said she was “the only black girl, in a white rural town, with Chicano farm workers, on the edge of Native American land.”

This identity has been both a help and a hindrance to Adiele’s work as an immigrant advocate, a diversity trainer and even as a teacher, she said.

Adiele said she is seen either “as an exotic creature with no relevance to anyone’s life whatsoever,” or as an American.

This duality in how people saw her caused Adiele to break down mentally, and she said she ordained as a Buddhist nun because she “had to strip away everything in order to rebuild [herself].”

Buddhism allowed her to come back to seeing herself as just a human, not white and not black, she said.

Meléndez said that Anderson and Adiele, through their promotion racial and counting issues, are promoting a loving and peaceful society, a theme of the Sisters of the Holy Cross the College wishes to promote.

Upcoming events involving the first-year theme at Saint Mary’s include another lecture panel on Nov. 1 dealing with the issue of “Who Counts in the Americas,” and a panel on Immigration Rights on Oct. 5.