Sunday, November 11, 2018

Remembering to Change

One hundred years ago today, a war ended. And a handful of diplomats began working to create a world in which such violence would no longer exist.

They failed.

And yet...

Today, we remember.

We remember the children, women, and men who died for no reason other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We remember the soldiers who fought and killed, trying to live their values.

We remember the individuals who decided that their values required working toward an end to the violence more than the vanquishing of another worldview.

We remember the lessons learned.

We remember that those lessons have been forgotten, and relearned, and forgotten again in other wars.

We remember that, while they are not named “World Wars”, other incarnations of political violence and structural injustice continue to kill and harm by the thousands.

We remember the soldiers neglected by a system that doesn’t care well for its veterans.

We remember the fathers sorrowed by empty arms that will never again hold a daughter who didn’t come home from the front.

We remember the children gunned down in our streets by the same hatred that makes killing on such a large scale possible.

We remember our complicity in creating and reproducing systems that make war an everyday reality, rather than a “never again” memory.

We remember our guilt.

And yet...

We also remember our hope. We remember the inspiration of Malala, Ruby, and Emma - children who worked to show us that they believe in something better.

We also remember our strength. We remember the change created by Mahatma, Wangari, and Martin - leaders who marched to demonstrate that we too hold power.

We also remember our compassion. We remember the difference made by Harriet, Oskar, and Teresa - caregivers who laboured to alleviate suffering.

And maybe, just maybe, if we remember enough, we’ll learn this time. And more of us will be Malalas and Wangaris and Harriets, and fewer of us will be soldiers and victims and mourners.




Then change.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Sustainability Signature Seminar


Here I am.

(In London.)

I've been a lot of places in the past ten days.

Oh, the fun I get to have every August and January with my new job at Syracuse, leading a travelling seminar on sustainability and environmental justice for 18 undergraduates.

From our course overview:

In the wake of the Cold War, environmental concerns took a new place on the global stage. The end of the 20th century saw the birth of formal international conservation and climate efforts, which most scholars trace to The Brundtland Commission’s Our Common Future report, released in 1987. Led by a former Norwegian Prime Minister, this body warned that humanity is pushing the finite carrying capacity of the planet to saturation. While such claims were not new, they were framed as increasingly urgent - and the international community began to respond. That report led the way to the Rio Declaration, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and other major global mechanisms for emissions reduction and ecological conservation.

While shared environmental concern has led to unprecedented international cooperation around certain issues, much of the action seems to be ‘too little too late’. Climate change scientists are alerting us to the hottest temperatures on record, and we are losing vital ecosystems like the Arctic ice sheet at previously unanticipated rates.  Urban infrastructure, rural livelihoods, endangered species, habitats, and island nations are regularly devastated by extreme weather events, which are occurring with increasing frequency. And the effects of these droughts and disasters are far from equally felt. Those who contribute most to global warming through energy and other resource use feel its negative consequences the least. This reality raises serious questions about justice, equality, and power in climate change and human-environment systems.

This course is designed as a prequel that frames a semester abroad in the global city of London. Before starting a term of more traditional coursework at Faraday House, participants on the Signature Seminar will visit several Nordic countries, where the negative impacts of global environmental crises are felt most acutely in Europe. But it’s not all bad: This region is also home to some of the world’s greatest progress toward a form of sustainable development that “meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (The Bruntland Commission). This course examines the concepts of sustainability and environmental justice, using ethnographic practices of critical geography to explore how European countries are innovating and experimenting with alternative approaches to life, business, and society. These investigations aim to shift how we think about ourselves as humans, as animals, and as beings of Nature - independently and in relationship.

Students are guided through the established discourses and critiques of sustainability as an academic field. Three pillars, identified by Elkington (1994) and furthered in business and city planning as well as philosophy and environmental studies, will be used as core considerations: people, planet, and profit. This and other traditional conceptions of sustainability will be examined through the lens of various critical scholars and on-the-ground case studies. The course will recognise the progress that has been made and the political difficulties of additional action, even as it argues that the mostly negative (responsive, focusing on preventing, avoiding or solving human problems) efforts of these ‘exemplar’ countries fall short of what positive (proactive, working for the continued flourishing of all life on Earth) sustainability could and should be.

These challenges to and criticisms of sustainability as it is frequently understood (and, perhaps, given lip service and regarded as a buzzword more than anything else) will be complemented by an examination of environmental justice. Working from Schlosberg’s 2004 framework, students will explore the distribution of environmental benefits and costs, participation in decision-making around systems and policies, and the recognition of varied beliefs, values, and actors. Class discussions will question how these three dimensions are considered and addressed or ignored by the various initiatives visited in the field. Observing direct inequalities in access to air, land, food, water, oil and gas, and trees and forests will enable students to consider how environmental injustice has already led to the emergence and growth of protest movements and might inspire new responses. After exploring urbanscapes in several eco cities, the seminar’s final stop takes students to the Sápmi region, recognised as one of the area’s last wilderness spaces, for a chance to discover how climate change disproportionately affects the indigenous Sámi people.

Throughout the Signature Seminar, students will encounter multiple, sometimes contradictory, meanings of and approaches to sustainability and environmental justice - allowing them to consider whether these concepts have been reconstructed so often by different people and for various purposes that they no longer retain their original intentions. Viewing these ideas as essentially contested concepts - with meanings that can neither be discovered nor fixed - is useful in theory and practice, enabling an awareness of different stakeholders' priorities and assumptions. Ultimately, the Seminar aims to equip students in becoming positive agents, working as makers rather than victims of global change while supporting others to be the same. Doing so involves shifting priorities: moving from an anthropocentric (human-centred) value system toward an ecocentric (environment-centred) understanding of the world and an appreciation of the interconnectedness of life on Earth. This launches students’ development as global citizens at Syracuse London, where co-curricular programming will emphasise the responsibility we have as members of the world community to care for both people and planet.


The photos of me are minimal, as I was focused on teaching and taking shots of the students - and I can't post pictures of my students on my personal blog. But, here is a reindeer who apparently got into the hard hay or something (seriously, what a facial expression), as well as a super cute little one. And then, me loving on one of the huskies we took foraging for berries and mushrooms in the forested wilderness. Happy, happy Becca. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Burn

Every year, the Marshall Scholars take a weekend retreat in the low Scottish Highlands. After a truly gorgeous 6.5-hour-train ride through northern England, Edinburgh, and the Forth of Fife (including views of the world's best bridge), we end up at this beautiful country estate, where we proceed to enjoy ourselves pretending to be the British aristocracy at a house party for several days.

This year's delights included swimming in the North Sea (the weather was warm enough that I wasn't the only one to go in!), hiking the cliffs between a fishing village and Dunnotar Castle, and a staged murder mystery roleplay. (I am happy to report that I was neither murderer nor murderee.)

This year was especially fun since Hamza, my best friend from Jordan, was still in the country after the AMENDS Conference - as was his mother, since he's just had his graduation ceremony from the University of Manchester. So we brought along Jordanian mama, the educational entrepreneur, and a handful of miscellaneous international mates to join the American postgraduates in Scotland. It was quite the intercultural hoot, to say the least.

Hilariously, the blond boy pictured below in the University of Manchester t-shirt is not the Jordanian who graduated from the University of Manchester last week. We're just a very mobile bunch.

A grand time was had by all. And now...back to real life.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The growth of AMENDS

Many of you have heard me talk about AMENDS, the American Middle Eastern Network for Dialogue at Stanford. Being selected as a delegate for the 2013 AMENDS Summit was the proper launch of my PhD, as the people I've met through this network are directly responsible for all three of the organisations I partnered with to build knowledge around environmental peacebuilding.

I've just gotten back to London from an amazing several days in Oxford with a reunion conference for AMENDS Fellows - alumni of the Launch Summits the Stanford team host every year with new delegates. I'm very, very happy to announce some big news for the AMENDS Global Fellows:
  1. We are now a registered 501c3 non-profit in the US, giving us legal status independent of Stanford University, and the ability to receive tax-deductible donations (as well as applying for a multitude of grants)
  2. We have a brand new flashy website! Check out more at

More about AMENDS:

The AMENDS Global Fellows are a network of young leaders from the Middle East, North Africa, and the United States who are working to build a more equal, sustainable, and prosperous world.
AMENDS began in 2011, when Arab youth led a wave of popular protests across the MENA region. Two Stanford University students, Khalid Shawi from Bahrain and Elliot Stoller from Chicago, imagined a platform and space for MENA and US youth to gather, collaborate, and share their stories of working for change. AMENDS welcomed its first class of 36 delegates to Stanford in 2012 for a week-long Summit.
Since then, AMENDS has welcomed 177 fellows from 26 countries to annual gatherings at Stanford University, Koç University, and the University of Oxford. These alumni form an active network committed to transformative work in the areas of arts and culture, business and technology, education and empowerment, health and environment, and human rights and political activism.
To better serve this growing network, AMENDS Global Fellows became an independent non-profit organization in 2017. We aim to support our fellows by:
  • providing a platform for fellows’ ideas and initiatives;
  • facilitating active engagement and communication among fellows and with the public;
  • providing resources and opportunities for capacity building, mentorship, networking, and project implementation.
The AMENDS student team at Stanford continues to lead a core part of our programming, selecting new delegates annually to participate in a launch summit and join the AMENDS Global Fellows network.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Family in London!

Thanks to the process of applying for a long-term work visa in the UK, I wasn't able to travel to the US and Canada at the end of June as originally planned to attend a conference and be present for my niece's graduation from high school.

But fear not! I somehow suckered my sister and brother-in-law into bringing everyone to visit me here instead. Mwahaha.

So there I was for my birthday yesterday, with my brother, sister and brother-in-law, and three adorable youngsters. Utterly miserable, of course, especially as we went to the Harry Potter Studios Tour in the evening. And since it was my birthday, Izzy and I got to open the doors into the Great Hall!

Their visit came immediately upon the heels of the Ellis Clan - my parents' best friends and the woman I was named after, plus various of their family members I grew up with. We frolicked about Greenwich, the London Zoo, and boat tours to the great enjoyment of all and sundry.

This is all to say: I have been rather spoiled by visitors of late. Are you going to be the next one?? :)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

First Aid Training

On 1 August, I'll begin a full-time position at Syracuse University London as their Community Relations Manager, which includes running their internship program, creating volunteering opportunities for students abroad, and mentoring undergraduates' professional development. I will also be teaching three classes a semester, on themes of environmental justice and global citizenship.

One of the reasons I was so happy to say 'yes' to this job offer was the emphasis Syracuse London places on their staff's personal development. I've been working part-time with them for almost a year, and have had a lot of opportunities already - and seen others for my colleagues.

This week's 'fun' was a three-day intensive first aid training, including emergency action in the case of cardiac arrest, gunshots, roadside collisions, and the like. I've had a fair bit of training in the US through Girl Scouts, church, etc., but it was nice to add a formal UK qualification, and get a concentrated brush-up of the various bits and pieces I've picked up over the years!

Our full reception team, the facilities staff, and another professor we're trying to launch a second travelling seminar with also attended - so it ended up being quite a fun team bonding exercise as well, especially when we had our scenario and exam roleplaying sessions. You never quite know who you're working with till you see just how well they can fake a faint. ;)

Anyway, now I get to carry an official card and everything!

I'm not saying you should get into a life-threatening emergency just because I'm around. But if you do, mayhap I'll be of some use?!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Thoughts on Volunteer Tourism

A professor from Michigan State poked me on Facebook, asking for comments on the following video about some of the problems with volunteer tourism (or 'voluntourism'):

So for this week's random post, my response: 

Travelling to places and performing 'service' can be and is often valuable - so long as you recognise and make explicit that it is service learning. The trip should be understood by all parties as an investment in the professional and personal development and worldivew of the traveller, at least as much as (and generally more so) a concrete form of support for a host community.

The inherent inequalities in the relationship also need to be addressed: Oftentimes, volunteer tourism involves a privileged person going to an underprivileged place and interacting with individuals whose level and types of privilege will not allow them to travel in the other direction. Tourists, hosts, and programs should consider how they want to tackle this issue - both within the trip and more systematically.

For my PhD, I spent time with three local organisations as 'free' staff while conducting fieldwork - but I wasn't really free labour; I interrupted work patterns and required plenty of attention and care. And I will always worry that I got more out of it than they did.

One concrete action I took in response to this concern: After my fieldwork, I used some of my research funds and applied for an additional grant to bring youth representatives from the organisations that had hosted me to a conference in the UK. Two of the students had never been on a plane or been able to leave their home country before. It was an absolute joy to be with them as they experienced a new place, and actively challenge the dominant flow of humans, expertise, and cultural exchange in the world.

Travel has massive impacts on people. It's up to us to make those impacts as positive as possible, and as equitable as possible. That means questioning when and where we and others can and can't go and why - and once we know some of those answers, to try and change them.

Friday, May 25, 2018

"Drops of Diplomacy"

For those of you interested in (1) what I was exploring with my PhD, (2) water, (3) politics, (4) the Middle East, (5) study abroad, (6) climate change, or (7) some random combination of the above: Feel free to check out a piece just published in The Journal of Hydrology. We've a window (till mid-July) during which you can read the article free online via After that, unfortunately it shifts to paid access through a corporate journal - though this means I will finally get a 'pretty' version of the PDF all formatted! If you'd like, do get in touch and I'm happy to send a copy of my accepted manuscript version as well.

The paper is a case study of one of my doctoral research partners. It argues that, by intentionally using fog to facilitate collaborative exchange, Dar Si Hmad is engaging in a form of hydro-diplomacy. Drawing from ethnographic data and building on international relations theories of Track Diplomacy, the paper demonstrates how fog water is being used to lay the groundwork for durable peace, intercultural understanding, and symbiotic growth. Such local iterations of hydro-diplomacy should be better understood and integrated with the emerging literature on state-to-state water cooperation in order to develop holistic expertise, share best practices, and promote positive policy interventions.

Enjoy! (Or don't. It's definitely the nerdy version of what I'm doing. You can always skim Dar Si Hmad's blog for the more-action, less-theory version of the story:

Thursday, May 24, 2018's been a while

Hello, all...and apologies! It's been far longer than I meant it to be.

Last I posted, I had submitted my initial thesis to King's College London. Since then, I:
  • Went to Israel for a friend's wedding and hosted my brother in London for Christmas;
  • Served as the geography professor for 17 students, leading them around Scandinavia and the Nordic region on a twelve-day field studies course on sustainability and environmental justice;
  • Took on a six-month contract covering some staff leave at Syracuse London, focusing on internships and communications;
  • Had my PhD viva, which was a very vibrant and fulfilling conversation that resulted in some really exciting revisions to the thesis;
  • Traveled to San Diego for a conference on preventing ocean plastics and other marine debris alongside partners from the Kuwait Dive Team;
  • Introduced my Moroccan fog-harvesting partner Dar Si Hmad to a handful of undergraduate and postgraduate students during a field school visit to Agadir;
  • Spoke at a conference in Lund, Sweden, on the 'Nature of Peace'; and
  • Played with lots of fabulous kids around London - most notably, hosting a sleepover for four young ones all at once one weekend.
It's been a very joy-filled and busy several months!

And, the big news:

Following the fun I've had with Syracuse London in a variety of roles, I am happy to announce that today I signed a contract with them for a full-time role. They are sponsoring me for a visa to remain in the UK, which has been a long journey and I'm very honoured that they have taken the trouble. I'll be their Community Relations Manager as well as an Adjunct Professor. In addition to teaching classes on sustainability, global citizenship, and professional development, I will be running programming on volunteering, internships, and community engagement. This means I get to do a loaded combination of teaching, event management, individual and group mentorship, and research impact activities. It's quite a perfect role for me, with my hands in lots of pies and my days never the same.

I imagine I will be blogging less frequently, as it won't be appropriate for me to share daily stories about my students here, and that will be the bulk of my time! But I will endeavour to send updates more than every five months, for goodness' sake. You can also check out the Syracuse London to get an idea of what I'm up to - for example, check out this blog written by one of my students describing our environmental journey up north:

All in all, life is grand and happy here in Londontown...especially as spring/summer is finally coming to the British Isles, and blue skies and green leaves are giving everything a glorious glow! All the best to everyone. :)