Senior Papers: Consider the Following

Somewhat recently — November — this year’s seniors were tasked with finishing up their senior research paper under senior adviser Phil Comito. The papers were a sort of persuasive cumulative result of source analysis, critical thinking, and, of course, research. Students are encouraged to pursue topics of personal interest;

Seniors Charlie Holmes, Olivia Smith, Ella Conrad, and Rowan Lister provided their papers. The following excerpts are from “Let’s Colonize Mars” by Charlie Holmes, a rather self-explanatory paper on the U.S.’ need to colonize Mars; “Cultural Appropriation and Global Barriers” by Smith, an outline of the benefits of acknowledging the significance of cultural appropriation; “Anchor Babies and Birthright Citizenship in the U.S. Immigration Debate” by Conrad, an argument for birthright citizenship; and “Law of the Land” by Lister, an argument that tribal courts should be given more power.

Papers from last year’s seniors are available at

“Let’s Colonize Mars”:

In this excerpt, Holmes discusses the potential for the betterment of life on Earth as a result of colonizing Mars.

If we were to send humans to colonize Mars, it would require that we develop more technology able to ensure a quality life for those who take the bold journey. In the process of developing and upgrading this technology, it is very likely that there will be innovations that prove to be beneficial for those still on Earth as well. This wouldn’t be the first time that something like this happened as a result of space exploration development. As I stated before, in the 1960s during the Space Race, there were many technological advancements made that also ended up benefitting the rest of our country and the world. Some of the most beneficial of these advancements are satellite communication, created so NASA could communicate with astronauts, smoke detectors, used to make sure no harmful gasses were leaking in the shuttle, and computer microchips, used in the ship’s guidance computer (Otto 1). All of these innovations have since been upgraded and are used daily to improve everyday life here on Earth. Another example of space exploration technology bettering the world came from the Hubble Space Telescope. After the telescope had began taking snapshots of deep space in 1990, astronomers realized that the pictures were coming out with a blurry quality. This required them to manually improve the quality of the photos in order to actually get a good idea of what they were looking at. In 1993, when an algorithm was created to unblur the pictures automatically and much more quickly. This algorithm was also found to be using a similar technique that doctors use to find microcalcifications in mammograms, an early sign of breast cancer (Gipson 1). The astronomer’s algorithm proved to be much more efficient and accurate at detecting these microcalcifications compared to the conventional method at the time, meaning the Hubble Space Telescope had just contributed to the fight against breast cancer. Think of all the possible innovations that could come from the technology needed for the Mars mission. Some of the new technology would bring development in fields such as nuclear energy, so we can travel faster and more efficiently; aquaponics, so we don’t waste potential resources; and biology, so we can acquire the ability to grow food and other resources without having to worry about climate. With these fields developing and growing, so will the possible beneficial technology for the world develop and grow.

If the Mars mission were to gain interest over the country and our government, an entire generation of young minds would be inspired. With the subject of colonizing Mars being a real possibility, students in middle school, high school, and even elementary would realize the importance of all the subjects needed to complete such a task. Neil deGrasse Tyson in 2013 agreed that, “If [traveling to Mars] galvanizes an entire generation of students in the educational pipeline to want to become scientists, engineers, technologists, and mathematicians, the next generation of astronauts to land on Mars are in middle school now”. Inspiring these kids (such as myself) will encourage more technological innovation that will most definitely have an overall positive impact on our country. Traveling to Mars should be at the top of the list of ways to spark ambition in younger generations and is a wonderful consequence of exploring our solar system.

Full text: Let’s Colonize Mars

“Cultural Appropriation and Global Barriers”:

In this excerpt, Smith discusses the differences between cultural separatism and cultural respect.

An essay from left-leaning blog The Huffington Post examines the line between cultural separatism and cultural respect — does an oversensitivity to appropriation begin to border on xenophobia, if elements from a culture other than one’s own must be kept apart? (Eckhardt) The line between appreciation and appropriation seems to be based on ignorance: ignorant use of items and symbols, without respect to their histories, is different from an educated appreciation. On top of this, using culturally significant symbols for monetary gain is, essentially, theft, especially if the profit is gain through a system that has historically oppressed the culture to which the item or symbol belongs. Not only has white culture, as previously stated, held back African American success, the United States as a predominantly white society was founded on the genocide and oppression of Native peoples. Now traditional Native garb is used at, for example, music festivals as a fun expression of fashion. Keep in mind that music festivals are largely attended by white people with a decent disposable income, and these are the people the faux Native attire is marketed by and to. Japanese culture, too, is heavily fetishized in the U.S., with both fast fashion and designer brands selling their takes on kimonos. Discussion of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is kept in an entirely separate box, despite it influencing the appropriate or inappropriate- ness of mass marketing traditional Japanese culture to a white audience. This is not to say that America should be monocultural, only to point out the inherent disrespect that wanton use of potentially significant cultural markers by white society entails. Wearing a yarmulke, burka, or other obviously significant item is clearly in bad taste if one does not belong to the same culture as that item. However, it can be difficult to take a definitive stance on any given individual using any given item or symbol; to do so means making an assumption about that person’s cultural, social, or religious background. Similarly, given that many cultures may share some cultural aspects, it is difficult to determine appropriation in some cases without thorough education. Both Caribbean and indigenous Celtic populations have claim to varieties of dreadlocks. Another obstacle to identifying day-to-day instances of appropriation is making the distinction between what is and what is not particularly culturally significant. Claiming that any instance of use of something belonging to another culture is inherently offensive can increase “othering” as well as causing fewer people to take the concept of cultural theft seriously. It may be equally harmful to misidentify everything as cultural appropriation as it is to ignore true cases of it.

It should be the goal of an increasingly multicultural country to respect other cultures. To do this, we must at the least address the disrespect inherent in ignorant use of the culturally significant. In order to differentiate the culturally significant from the purposefully marketed and mass-produced, we must open, not close, lines of communication across races and ethnicities. An awareness of these issues need not build barriers, but can instead help to dismantle them by putting them out in the open. An awareness of cultural appropriation can help to make the world a more open place to share and explore across all boundaries.

Full text: Cultural Appropriation and Global Barriers

“Anchor Babies and Birthright Citizenship in the U.S. Immigration Debate”:

In this excerpt, Conrad argues against anti-immigrant conservative standpoints.

Most of the opposition to birthright citizenship in recent years has come from the conservative spectrum of the political world.  Some conservatives have long argued that the Constitution does not preclude the federal government from denying American citizenship to children of illegal immigrants born in the United States.

Conservative legal scholar, John Eastman, argues that it is possible to deem birthright citizenship outside of the bounds of the 14th amendment. Here, he speaks about non-documented immigrants.

“The same is true for those who are in this country illegally. They are subject to our laws by their presence within our borders, but they are not subject to the more complete jurisdiction envisioned by the 14th amendment as a precondition for automatic citizenship. It is just silliness to contend … that this is “circular restrictionist logic” that would prevent illegal immigrants from being “prosecuted for committing crimes because they are not U.S. citizens.”

This is an interesting argument. He is saying that anchor babies are subject to only territorial jurisdiction, which is like telling everyone from tourists to undocumented residents that they need to obey the laws, but certain rights available to citizens (voting, passports, etc) are not available to them.

The 14th amendment was adopted in 1868. Prior to this, there was precedent in international law from the nineteenth century about who may or may not be subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Very similar to today’s law’s, international law recognized limited jurisdiction over foreign diplomats and their families. But no carve outs were given for illegal immigrants or similar.

It’s important to consider the time in history when the 14th amendment was written. In 1868, there was not a significant illegal immigration problem, and this was likely not on the minds of the framers. It is true, as opponents of birthright citizenship say, that the framers of the  14th amendment’s first sentence were principally thinking of freed slaves, and probably children of legal immigrants. We can only speculate on the thinking of the framers. But as the meaning of the law that they wrote, they were unambiguous — birthright citizenship is constitutionally covered.

… The fuel behind the legal arguments about Anchor Babies (and other related arguments too) has less to do with the law and more to do with politics. It is no secret that Donald Trump on the campaign trail talked a lot about immigration issues. Anchor Babies were also an issue.

“Donald Trump says his plan to roll back birthright citizenship for children of illegal immigrants will pass constitutional muster because “many of the great scholars say that anchor babies are not covered.” 

It’s a circular argument. Donald Trump’s politics of fear and exclusion and white nationalism say that Anchor Babies are illegal. In turn, conservative legal writers find arguments to support this position — this in turn supports the fear and exclusion that gives Trump and his supporters so much energy.

… The argument against birthright citizenship and Anchor Babies fails the common sense test and does not reflect the very clear rule of law. It does seem that politics is driving much of this debate. So, it is important and relevant to note that the strongest legal argument against the conservatives has a basis in racial human rights.

“But perhaps the most important flaw in this argument is that it would undermine the central purpose of the Citizenship Clause of the 14th amendment, which was to reverse the Dred Scott decision’s notorious holding that blacks — even those who were not slaves — could not be citizens of the United States. In his infamous opinion in Dred Scott, Chief Justice Roger Taney concluded that blacks could not be citizens in part precisely because of the sorts of distinctions Eastman relies on. As Taney pointed out, in most states free blacks could not vote, could not serve on juries, and were barred from serving in the militia (including under the 1792 federal Milita Act, which limited militia service to white men). While Taney did not deny that free blacks were subject to what Eastman calls “territorial jurisdiction,” most were not subject to what he calls “political jurisdiction.” If Eastman’s analysis is correct, Congress (or possibly state governments) could have prevented newly freed slaves and their children from becoming citizens simply by declaring that they were not entitled to vote, could not serve on juries, and so on.”

So opponents of birthright citizenship are in effect arguing against the legitimacy of the 14th amendment, bringing us back to a darker time like Dred Scott. The 14th amendment (and others) exists because as a nation, the US has been moving forward since the original constitution. It is irresponsible to advocate a political position, in this case one against birthright citizenship, that fails to recognize this progress through the rule of law. The 14th amendment came a full ten years after Dred Scott— this is fundamental progress. Opponents of birthright citizenship would like us all to ignore this progress.

Full text: Anchor Babies and Birthright Citizenship in the U.S. Immigration Debate

“Law of the Land”: 

In this excerpt, Lister outlines an implication of tribal courts’ lack of power: vigilantism.

A lack of jurisdiction, and resources creates a lack of accountability, and because of this, many Native Americans have turned away from current lawful solutions, to either traditional or illegal alternatives. According to an article by the Mint Press entitled “Indigenous Tribes are Abandoning American Style ‘Justice’ in Favor of Traditional Punishments” many reservations are abandoning the current justice system in favor of traditional Native American punishments. If a tribe deals with a member or outsider who is being a particularly large nuisance, they have two options. They can go through the large amount of jurisdictional hoops that the federal government has prepared for them or they can simply turn to the easy option of banishment, which simply requires a majority tribal council vote. This has widespread popularity throughout reservations because it is a quick and easy way to take care of the problem at hand. If petty theft or drug trafficking is a problem on a reservation, the locals tend to know who the perpetrators are, and so the council need only vote to banish them, even without any proof. In that same article entitled “Indigenous Tribes Are Abandoning American Style Justice In Favor Of Traditional Punishments” by journalist Christine Graef on The Mint Press website, a dead Indian couple was found after overdosing from the street drug Oxy8o on the Blood Tribe Reservation. Instances of this had been happening all over the reservation, and the tribal council knew who the dealer was (Christine Graef 2015). In a statement by Rick Tailfeathers, the director of communications in the Blood Tribe Reservation, he stated, “It’s all over Alberta. We’ve had a hundred deaths over six months. Twenty-five of them were here on the reservation. That’s disproportionate. We have a population of 12,000 in Alberta’s population of 4 million.” Tailfeathers went on to say to the Mint Press that “We have the option to banish people from our reserve through council resolution. Any problem person can be brought into council and they vote. It’s been done before. It’s an option.” The article went on to say that in recent years tribes have been doing this with sex offenders and child molesters (Christine Graef 2015). So in fact, tribal justice serves tribal people. Another alternative solution many Native Americans choose is illegal hiring of a hitman. Now when the term “hitman” is used, images of a cold-blooded, rifle-wielding, ex-militant who only chooses to be seen in black kevlar are conjured. However, the average hiree could not be farther from this picture. In the article entitled “Fistful of Dollars” on the Mother Jones website, the vigilante Ruben was interviewed was described simply as a 225-pound, friendly construction worker. In addition to hit work, Ruben described a multitude of other odd jobs that he engaged in such as drywalling, contracting, laying sheetrock, roofing, and carpentry (Mac Mcclelland 2010). Ruben is just a man looking for a stable income, and if it takes charging $1,000 dollars for every broken bone and tooth, he’ll do it.

Full text: Law of the Land