Mea Culpa

Taken by Rollin Hu

It’s been quite a while since my last post for Hopkins Interactive. The process of applying to graduate school has been taxing, my summer was filled with work,and family time and to be quite honest, the last thing on my mind has been my SAAB blog. Now I’m not presumptuous enough to think that my lack of blog posts has been detrimental to anyone’s general well-being. The issues on which I choose to focus are provincial, and probably self-involved. I am also not nearly noble enough to have returned to my blog simply for the sake of writing about ‘meaningful issues’. Hopefully as I continue to write in this space moving forward, I will touch upon topics that are relevant here at Hopkins, and more generally to non-Hopkins readers as well. All that aside, I thought my first blog back into the swing of things would have to do with me. Updates about my plans moving forward, a recap of the summer, a general picture of what the life of a Hopkins student can look like. But I won’t be writing about any of that, at least not today. Today I want to focus on something, of far more importance than what I hope to do after college. I want to talk about the humanities here at Hopkins, and hopefully bring attention to an important issue.

Taken by Rollin Hu

Taken by Rollin Hu

Hopkins is known primarily by its reputation as the place to be if you want to work at the cutting-edge of biomedical research. Want to be a doctor? Come to Hopkins. Want to design vaccines to cure Zika and the like? Hopkins is the natural choice. At least so long as I’ve been here, Hopkins has already tried to draw attention to its strong humanities programs. And with good reason, Hopkins has far more to offer than the sciences, and the crystallized representation of Hopkins humanities, in all its inter-disciplinary glory has been the Humanities Center. Without going into too much detail, the Humanities Center has for 50 years been a department covering various parts of the humanities from a different angle than that of other Hopkins departments. The graduate program (no undergrad major has been established but we’ll get to that in a minute) which is very highly regarded has a strong placement record, and the department invites renowned speakers from across the globe. Moreover, external and internal reviews of the department were generally very positive. The department itself is the best (and sometimes only place) to take classes (open to undergrads) on comparative lit, continental philosophy, and numerous other underserved academic domains. In short, the department is successful and vital to flourishing of the humanities at Hopkins. Despite this, the administration has threatened the Humanities Center with closure, and appointed another review committee ostensibly to review the department and “consider options.” There’s a lot more to this story than I can tell here, but it seems that all the possible criticisms of the Humanities Center have either been addressed or have been attempted to be addressed. I’m not sure what is behind this proposed closure, and I would encourage you to make your own minds by checking out some resources here:

  1. http://www.supporthumctrjhu.com/
  2. http://www.jhunewsletter.com/2016/10/27/the-end-of-the-humanities-center/
  3. https://www.facebook.com/HandsOffHopkinsHumanities/?fref=t

There is more I want to write about, and more about the happenings of my student experience which deserve to be written. But this issue has become all encompassing for me, and more largely representative of the direction taken by a place I love. So I’ve chosen to discuss it, and done my part to make my voice heard here (hopefully and elsewhere), I encourage you all to do the same. Why? Because Hopkins as a university with a strong commitment to the humanities is an infinitely richer place than Hopkins as simply a hub for bio-medical research. Hopkins as an institution devoted to the larger human enterprise of pursuing knowledge and synthesizing the results from various disciplines in support of that enterprise is  vitally dependent upon the humanities.  Closing the Humanities Center would be antithetical to what Hopkins should be, and what drew me and many others here in the first place. I love this school, and readers, I’m sure you would too. But perhaps not the sort of school that doesn’t place appropriate value on the well-being of its students/faculty, nor the sort of place that ignores the importance of the interdisciplinary work done by the Humanities Center.

Nowhere to Speak

Not really sure what sorts of pictures can go along with a picture like this, so here's something random.

Disclaimer: In the post below I address a number of issues related to mental health, there is mention of suicide. I hope that everyone who reads this blog understands I am in no position to make the claim as to whether these sorts of issues are representative of the Hopkins student body or not. At the very least however, I do feel justified in asserting that mental health illnesses are a large problem on college campuses across America. What is written below should only be taken as my experiences.

It’s quite surreal that my junior year is almost at an end. I still remember quite vividly the day I moved onto campus, sat alone in my dorm room for the first time looking out my window as it hit me that my parents had left and I was all alone. Now, a few years later, I can’t conceive of what it would mean to be alone at Hopkins. I feel as though I have a great support system; my girlfriend, friends, educators and professional staff in whom I can confide. Individuals who can support me when I’m down, and celebrate with me my successes. In that way I think myself immensely lucky. For the sad truth is, I know many students at Hopkins (and on college campuses across the US) who feel alone. I know many of my peers who don’t feel as if they have a support system on which they can depend, friends or confidantes to pick them up when the going gets tough, or perhaps worse, people in whom they can confide that the going has gotten tough..

Almost a year ago, my friend from home committed suicide. He, among other things, felt alone at his university in New York. He felt as if he had nowhere to go, and above all, felt as though the various pressures, social and academic were too much to bear. Mental health issues on college campuses have certainly been discussed more and more in the media the past few years, but at times, it can still seem as though such worries are far from one’s daily life. I know in my own experience, friends who’ve been depressed or suffering from a variety of other mental health issues are quick to brush things under the rug. “This is the worst week of my life.” “It’ll be fine once midterms are over.” “I’m just stressed.” Phrases of that sort are all too common, and don’t do much else other than deflect conversation from serious concerns. I of course, am just as guilty of sweeping those concerns under the rug. After all, no one wants to be the person who was too weak. No one wants to be the failure when everyone else around you is somehow capable of balancing academics, extra-curriculars, making time for the gym and still having fun on the weekends, while you’re failing Chemistry, your relationship is falling apart, you’re disappointing your parents, you’ve gained 10 pounds and don’t want to do anything that requires getting out of bed. Or at least that’s how it can seem. I’ve certainly been there.. I think many of us have, though few among us are willing to admit it. And while I can’t pretend to be a trained professional (nor do I play one on TV) I’m fairly confident that silence isn’t the answer.

Not really sure what sorts of pictures can go along with a picture like this, so here's something random.

Not really sure what sorts of pictures can go along with a post like this, so here’s something random.

I broke down crying that first day at Hopkins, as my parents left. Never in my life had I (or have I since) felt so utterly alone. In a sense, that independence which can be so liberating upon coming to college was paralyzing. I’m not sure where I would be if I had to deal with those feelings each and every day, I’m not sure where I would be if after failing courses, and worrying about my academic future, I had no outlet for dealing with those emotions in a healthy way. And while I may be lucky enough to say I don’t deal with feelings of that sort day in and day out, I know that far more than any of us are wont to admit, those feelings can be all too present, especially in the high-pressure cooker that can be a college campus.

I wish I had some easy answer, or cheerful message on which to end this post. I don’t, because the reality as of yet is far too sobering. A 19 year old man shouldn’t feel the need to take his own life. No qualifications to that sentence should be necessary. A 19 year old man should never feel that taking his own life is the only way out. I guess all I can say is, be aware of the resources around you, there are far more than I ever realized existed, a few of which I will link to below (both for Hopkins students, and the few other non-Hopkins readers of this blog), and more than anything else, though it may be more difficult than I can conceive, don’t be scared to talk about whats going on. To a friend, a loved one, or if no one else will listen, you can e-mail me (dfried20@jhu.edu). I wish I had an eloquent way in which to word this jumble of thoughts and emotions, I’ll leave that task to the infinite list of writers better than myself. At the very least however, I hope now, even if its just me, anyone reading this knows they have someone to whom they can talk .

Resources:

Johns Hopkins Counseling Center- http://studentaffairs.jhu.edu/counselingcenter/

A Place to Talk (JHU)- http://pages.jh.edu/aptt/

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline- http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Checking In

Last week, for the first time in a long time, I checked something off my college bucket-list. Hopkins, known for being an incredible research university, offers a number of opportunities for funding for undergraduate research. I, finally having a project I deemed worthwhile (essentially an explication of the development of Hungarian philosophical thought from 1940-1960) decided to apply for a Deans Undergraduate Research Award. Hopefully, over the summer, which I will be spending in Hungary with my relatives, I’ll be able to pursue this project and interview philosophy professors and historians familiar with that time period. But aside from pesky grant proposals, I just returned to campus from sunny Palm Beach, Florida.It’s not often with a busy Hopkins schedule that you can take time away from class to relax.

Pretty Palm Beach

Pretty Palm Beach

Luckily, the stars aligned, and  I was able to get away for a few days with my girlfriend. I was able to reflect during that time a little bit, on how the past few months have shaken out. I wrote not so long ago about the terrifying nature of the uncertain future, but I neglected to write about how spectacular everything leading up to this point has been. The end of last year to the present has undoubtedly been the best period of my time here at Hopkins. Why? In short, it seems as though everything has clicked. By that I mean my intellectual interests have continued to flourish, I feel exceptionally engaged in my classes, I’ve finally found things I am passionate learning about. My courses in metaphysics, ancient Greek philosophy, and philosophy of science are all subjects in which I feel confident I could build a career. More importantly, I legitimately enjoy going to class everyday, and I for the first time in a long time, don’t feel a strain of doing work, rather I enjoy all the readings and class discussions. Aside from having found my feet academically, socially it’s nice to be in a groove. While I was lucky not to have a difficult transition period my freshman fall, moving out of the dorms can be difficult. I was lucky last year to have many of my closest friends just a door or two away. Now, I still live with some of my closest friends in a house, while others are scattered around campus. Sure everyone is located in a 3-5 block radius, but with busy schedules full of classes, clubs, and the occasional sleep, it can be hard to find time to connect with people. Recently however,I’ve made more of a priority on spending time with friends. The old adage seems to ring true, relationships are work too, and you need to devote time to them. All in all, things are good by me.

Second Semester Junior Year

I see this delightful face twice a week!

I don’t have too much to update at the moment. All my courses are going well thus far. My favorites are either my seminar on what is known as the “Principle of Sufficient Reason” (the link leads to an article written by my professor on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy which is an invaluable resource for those interested in philosophy); or my seminar taught by noted philosopher of science Peter Achinstein, on notions of evidence. I’m also taking a class on Plato and his predecessors, which as an upper level class in the philosophy department should provide a fairly thorough understanding of a realm of philosophy with which I’m not so familiar. I’m also taking the second Acting/Directing workshop with noted actor John Astin (a Hopkins institution, John is known best for his work as Gomez Addams in the Addams Family) as well as a class for aspiring dramaturgs- Adaptation for the Stage. In this Adaptation Class, we’re going to take two works and adapt them for the stage (the title gives it away I guess). I’m choosing to adapt (at least right now) some Hungarian language works that I think tell a uniquely Hungarian story in  a particularly poignant way. Sorry I don’t have much to write about. I’ll keep you guys updated!

I see this delightful face twice a week!

I see this delightful face twice a week!

 

A Long and Winding Road

Pre-requisite for graduate studies in Philosophy, great facial hair

As much as I refuse to accept it, as of this writing, I am a second semester junior. My college career is more than halfway done; slowly and steadily (despite my best attempts to avoid it) entry into the “real world” draws closer. Naturally, the question asked ad nauseam at all sorts of social gatherings is some combination of the following: “What are you going to do with that pesky philosophy degree? How good are you at flipping burgers and do you know that the streets of New City get cold during the Winter months? Moreover, do you regret switching from a pre-med track, doctors make so much money…”

They say this is important.

They say this is important.

I wish I had some response that not only relayed the importance of the humanities but assured whichever well-seeker was bombarding me at the moment not to fret, that I would turn out just alright. Generally however, I’m holding back the immediate response to such questions, namely a couple 4 letter words and eating my problems away (just a joke.. I think). Honestly, I don’t have some perfect answer. I sometimes wish my path were clearer. All my friends going into the world of finance or law know exactly what they need to do: 1 year summer internship here, two years spent clerking for this person, take the LSATs, GMAT, finish up law school/ business school and I’m done. At the very least, they have a clear sense of what the next few steps are. I have however no clue. My chief plan is to get a PhD in Philosophy, and teach at some point. Doing philosophy is undoubtedly my biggest passion, and I can imagine living my happiest life reading, writing, and thinking about philosophy on a daily basis (especially while getting paid to do so). The reality of the situation is not so rosy however, philosophy graduate programs, especially the highest ranked ones, are extraordinarily difficult to get into. Even if you can graduate with a PhD, the job market as noted philosopher Hilary Bok described it to me “is abysmal, and there’s no reason to believe it will get any better.” Not particularly encouraging.

Pre-requisite for graduate studies in Philosophy, great facial hair

Pre-requisite for graduate studies in Philosophy, great facial hair

Naturally I have other interests, perhaps I should follow those? I loved working as a dramaturg this past summer, but where how do I follow up on that? Go to dramaturgy school? Intern at a theatre? There are certainly options, options I know I would be happy pursuing but the path forward is definitely not straight, and that can be scary. Law school is also a possibility (one that would make my mother very happy) or even a post-bac program and a return to medicine. But somehow, any route that leads away from philosophy seems almost like a failure. As if by not following the path I know would fulfill me the most, I am failing. There’s also a fear, as naive and pathetic as this may be, of not being good enough. Not being good enough to get into one of those insanely competitive grad schools, not being capable enough to follow my passions. There’s also a confidence rightfully or not that comes with being at one of the top academic institutions in the world. To have that confidence shattered, to realize that truly the world isn’t my oyster and that no matter how hard I work I may not be good enough is absolutely terrifying. I wish I had a more uplifting message to end this post on. I do believe in myself, and feel confident that however things may turn out I will end up doing something that makes me happy. But it would be dishonest to write that this sort of important long-term thinking isn’t entirely, utterly scary. But maybe that’s the point, much needed introspection at a crossroads of life isn’t comforting, but that may be what makes it so important.

Thankful

Thankful for my brother too, but look at that pizza!

I’ve finally woken from my post-Thanksgiving slumber, no doubt induced by copious amounts of stuffing and my fair share of my Mom’s cornbread. With time to relax and reflect on where I’m at as an almost second semester junior (that’s just as terrifying to write as it is to fully consider), I wanted to share with you a list of for what and for whom I am thankful:
**disclaimer- this list is definitely way less mushy than you may expect, but nonetheless it’s entirely valid**

1. Penne pizza slices– This may seem an odd way to start a list of thanks, but there really isn’t too much that makes me happier than a delicious, warm slice of penne pizza. How often do you get a real combination of two of your favorite things: pasta, and pizza that works so well? Steak and ice cream, definitely wouldn’t form such a great combo. (Not embarrassed to admit I’ve tried) This past week over break, I celebrated my brother’s 12th birthday, and the slice was just as warm and inviting as ever.

Thankful for my brother too, but look at that pizza!

Thankful for my brother too, but look at that pizza!

2. Cooking- This semester, my first without a meal plan, has meant a lot of cooking. While at the start I certainly saw myself as a younger, less platinum blonde Guy Fieri, I quickly learned the kitchen was just as dangerous as having to run a timed mile in high school in front of my friends. Over the course of the semester, with advice from my mom, and my girlfriend’s Pinterest recipes I’ve developed my skills, and am now able to do more than simply boil water (it’s not as easy as it looks). A skill I’ll definitely use in the future, I’m glad I’ve been able to learn to cook.

3. Johns Hopkins Philosophy Department- This too may seem an odd choice, but this year the Hopkins Philosophy department invited noted philosopher and cognitive scientist David Chalmers to present a series of lectures here in October. Chalmers, a veritable rock star in the philosophy community, was outstanding. I went to his lectures with JHU_Hayley, and was just blown away by his sheer intelligence, and more so, the creativity and novelty of the ideas he presented.

4. Star Wars flip-flops- My good friend and housemate Gui recently just accepted an internship offer for the summer. I had helped with his application a bit, and he kindly brought me back the perfect gift, a pair of Star Wars Havaianas. If you know anything at all about me, you know that I’m a huge Star Wars fan ( I have my tickets already to three different showings of the Force Awakens) and sometimes it’s the small gestures like these that mean the world, especially in a stressful period like right before finals

Trendy, versatile, and fashionable.

Trendy, versatile, and fashionable.

5.Intersession- In a few short weeks, after the stress of finals is over, I’ll be back at school. While for some, that may be all too short a break, for Hopkins students it’s entirely by choice. Intersession has been among my favorite periods here at school during the past two years, a time to kick back, take fun classes and enjoy time with friends. This year I’ll; be back, and taking a class on chocolate. If there’s anything to be thankful for, it;s the opportunity to eat free food and get credit for it.

Aucun Mots

Two of my favorite things. The Little Prince, and Paris

As I’m sure you’re all aware, in the midst of tragedy across the globe, attacks in Baghdad and Beirut, last night terrorists brought their unique blend of hatred and cowardice to Paris. After hearing the news, and making sure my loved ones were safe (my girlfriend and two of my closest friends are studying in Paris for the semester) I still couldn’t tear myself away from the ongoing news coverage. Not even to write a blog.

It’s surreal to sit in your bedroom in Baltimore, with your girlfriend on the phone a continent away, and hear about the senseless slaughter of innocents, just a short walk from her home-stay in a city you love, a city you plan on traveling to in just a week. It’s almost scary, how distant it feels. How terribly far removed you can be from the heart-wrenching loss people just like you are experiencing. People who could’ve been your loved ones, or you for that matter.

Two of my favorite things. The Little Prince, and Paris

Two of my favorite things. The Little Prince, and Paris.

There’s no sense to be made of tragedies like this. Hard if not impossible to find a coherent logic in the actions of the depraved. I think, the only thing that tends to help, is a sense of community. Community, a subject on which many words have been written over the past two weeks; especially in relation to college campuses. I feel lucky that I have a community here at Hopkins. I have friends to whom I can turn when I’m scared, shocked, alone, when I don’t know how to feel. Friends and peers to whom I can turn precisely on days like today. Here at Hopkins, many students don’t feel as if they’re part of that community, and I can’t imagine how hard coping with these difficult feelings (or difficult feelings of any sort) must be when you already feel ostracized. I hope that moving forward, all you readers recognize the importance of creating a diverse, inclusive, powerful, community on college campuses and elsewhere. Communities that empower the diverse individuals who compose our schools, our churches, our neighborhoods, while respecting notions that make  communities valuable to begin with; notions of free speech and open dialogue. And keep those who lost their lives in Paris, in Beirut, and far too many other locations around the world in your thoughts and hearts.

The Little Dan That Could (or at least can/ is kinda halfway there)

Great things happen here. No I was not paid to write that... Though donations are accepted

One of the best parts of the Hopkins experience,aside from being the 10th best university in the US (had to throw that in somewhere)

Can't accuse me of being subtle

Can’t accuse me of being subtle

is the ease with which students can turn their passions from mere personal interests, into large dedicated initiatives. For three years now I’ve been planning to start a student organization. I wrote about the organization on one of my college essays ( Mr. Nance if you’re reading this, thanks for the support… and If you have any experience with Excel, i can offer you a position as treasurer!) where essentially I wanted to create a mentor-ship program to expose kids from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds, to the multitude of cultural opportunities here in Baltimore. Elementary aged students would be paired with a mentor passionate about the arts, who would accompany them to various artistic events in Baltimore and correspond with them regularly. Think an Art history major taking students to the BMA, or a Peabody student going with a student to the opera.

Picture this, but fewer Hungarian opera houses, and many more 4th graders

Blue-eyed freshman year JHU_Dan came to school chomping at the bit, eager to advertise his idea, recruit members, and get things other way. Like most of the other important things I’ve ever done in my life, I soon let that naive drive give way to the sweet comforts of procrastination. It’s taken three years, but thanks to some lovely motivation from my girlfriend, and this indelible sense that I owe it at the very least to myself to give starting the club a shot, I’ve finally started the process of turning my organization into a reality.

Creating a club at Hopkins can take a number of different forms, based primarily on the intended purpose of the organization. An organization like mine, dedicated to community outreach and service falls under the jurisdiction (in this case at least) of the Center for Social Concern. So I scheduled an appointment with Gia Greer, an adviser there, and we met to discuss the process of creating the club.

Great things happen here. No I was not paid to write that... Though donations are accepted

Great things happen here. No I was not paid to write that… Though donations are accepted

It’s much a much more intensive process than I initially thought; with a lengthy and quite thorough application. The form requires evidence of the need the organization will be addressing (in my case statistical evidence of disparities in access to the arts for children from different socio-economic backgrounds) and proof of contact with a dedicated community partner. But with Gia’s help I’ve been able to navigate through most of it. She even introduced me to educators at a local arts integration elementary school to get the ball rolling.

I hope to have the forms completed and funding approved ASAP, and have trained mentors with concrete plans for events starting as early as next semester! While I still have a lot of work to do, with the guidance of people here at Hopkins, and a simple e-mail asking for an appointment, my dream is slowly turning into a reality!

Lion King 2.5 The Sequel

She took me to some cool places for my birthday :)

Hello readers of my blog! (Mom and Dad)

I’m here, yes it’s me, I’m alive. First thing’s first, I’m sure the past few months without hearing anything from the Lion’s Den (definitely got to change that blog title) have been tragic. Honestly not sure how you guys have survived. Let me explain… This Spring my friend from home tragically passed away, it’s something that hit me quite hard, and I definitely didn’t feel like I was in the place to blog about my life/experiences here when  all I could think about was missing my friend. Now, back to start off my junior year, I feel like I’m in a much better place, and would love to keep you all updated on my life here at Hopkins. Before I go into all that however, I’ll tell you today all about the incredible summer I had.

As a philosophy major with designs for graduate school, I have less pressure during summers to find one specific internship or take any particular classes than someone interested in pre-med or finance (read: people who will have actual jobs). With that freedom, I decided to explore some of my non-philosophical passions, namely theater. After applying for various internships (and mostly with the help of my girlfriend… Thanks Vic), I found an incredible opportunity as the artistic intern/summer dramaturg at Puppet Showplace Theater, a well-known puppet theater in Brookline, MA. I’d done some work with puppets in high school, and was excited to take a step back into the world of theatre. You can check out more of what I did here

But to put it briefly, working at Puppet Showplace was an incredible experience. My colleagues were brilliant, absolutely brilliant, but also so caring and kind. I felt like part of a family. The work I was doing was challenging, but it kept me on my toes, I learned a lot about the nature of working in the arts, about the running of a theater and mostly about good arts programming.

Me and all my friends...

Me and all my friends…

My summer wasn’t all work though, I went on a family vacation to Iceland and Sweden, both of which were incredible. Sweden’s history and the beautiful architecture all over Stockholm made every day a treat. And the natural beauty of Iceland is incomparable; snow-mobiling to the edge of a glacier, hiking inside a volcano… There aren’t words to describe how small you feel when you compare yourself to these enormous, ancient structures. It’s a beauty without equal.

 

 

She took me to some cool places for my birthday :)

She took me to some cool places for my birthday 🙂

Most importantly, my incredible girlfriend was in Boston as well and we took advantage of the amazing city. We explored a number of astonishing museums, traveled down to the Cape for a weekend, and made Harvard Square our own. There’s nothing like exploring a new city with someone you care deeply about, and getting to feel comfortable in a foreign environment.
That’s all for now!

Academic Snapshot

Intellectual stimulation!

It’s easy to focus on the glamorous aspects of life at Hopkins. Exploring Baltimore, eating great food,  and Spring Fair are all fun topics to post about, but what about the reason I’m here? Academics?
Well don’t worry dedicated Hopkins Interactive readers, I still go to class and learn things… Not many, but a few. I thought I’d share some of the stuff I’m working on in some of my classes.

Intellectual stimulation!

Intellectual stimulation!

First and foremost, I’ve been working on a paper in my metaphysics class centered around the topic of parsimony. Parsimony ( or Occam’s razor) is generally defined as the theoretical virtue of simplicity. My project is to exam what justifications for supporting parsimony exist. Why is it exactly that we value simplicity. I examine a couple different routes for justifying parsimony, through aesthetic value, empirical success in our best models of nature, and an a priori, logical justification. The topic combines a couple of my philosophical interests, philosophy of science and metaphysics, so I’ve been really excited to work on that topic.

I’ve also been deciding on a topic to research for my philosophy and cognitive science seminar (suggestions appreciated). I met with my professor yesterday (Steven Gross amazing guy, highly recommended) and discussed a paper centered around a recent distinction between cognitive representations, and simply environmentally sensitive stimuli.

I know these topics don’t seem like much, but the best part of college (so far) has been engaging with challenging material in interesting fields. Philosophy doesn’t taste good, and you can’t really Instagram it, but its an incredible feeling to wake up everyday and be passionate about your education!