By Larry Silverton*
Staff Writer

This Week in Trump’s America

This is the second installment of a new weekly feature which will provide a brief summary of the week’s most prominent actions by the Trump Administration, as well as discussing some of their implications. The discussion of each topic will be relatively brief by necessity; please contact us if you feel we have neglected a significant action by the Administration or an important aspect of any issue.

  1. Cabinet Confirmations

This week, the Senate confirmed several of Trump’s Cabinet nominations – billionaire and charter school advocate Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General and Georgia Representative Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services; with a few exceptions, voting occurred strictly along party lines. All three have raised widespread concerns and criticism. Many harbor uncertainty about DeVos’ performance of her duties as secretary due to her unsuccessful policies, potential conflicts of interest, and seeming unawareness of important topics in education. Detractors of Sessions cite longtime accusations of racism and his climate change denialism, casting doubt on his presentation as a champion of civil rights during the confirmation hearings. Most criticisms of Tom Price center on possible ties between his legislative agenda and personal financial gain, as well as his longtime opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

  1. Immigration Ban Update

Opponents of Trump’s immigration ban scored a victory this week as the Court of Appeals upheld Judge James Robart’s order blocking enforcement of the ban. In response to the Justice Department’s failed appeal, Trump tweeted that he would “SEE [them] IN COURT”, suggesting an intent to appeal the case to the Supreme Court echoed by Chief of Staff Reince Preibus , though sources conflict on this subject. However, Trump also said that he may issue a “brand new order” early next week, perhaps revising its wording to improve its legality.

  1. Diplomacy – Australia

Trump took part in several notable diplomatic exchanges this week; the first occurred with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Despite early positive signs, relations with Prime Minister Turnbull appeared to sour last Saturday when the latter urged Trump to honor a previous US commitment to take 1,250 refugees currently in an Australian detention center. Senior US officials say that Trump “blasted” Prime Minister Turnbull in response, bragged about the margin by which he won the Electoral College vote; Trump then hung up on Prime Minister Turnbull without warning only 25 minutes into a planned hour-long conversation, claim the sources. In the following days, the two made contradictory statements about the call to the public, with Turnbull claiming that the US would honor the agreement while Trump called it “the worst deal ever”.

  1. Diplomacy – China

Xi Jinping pressured Trump into an important political concession on Thursday, in the first phone call between the two. During the call, Trump agreed to honor the “One China” policy, which acknowledges that only one China exists and that Taiwan, which officially refers to itself as the “Republic of China”, is part of that single entity. Before the call, Trump had raised doubts as to whether he would support the One China policy in taking a call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. President Obama also previously voiced commitment to the One China policy.

  1. Diplomacy – Japan

Relations with Japan appear smooth so far for Trump. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s weekend visit began with a congenial press conference on Friday, in which Prime Minister Abe pledged to support Trump in addressing US unemployment. Trump emphasized the US commitment to defending Japan; this seems to contradict his campaign promise to force Japan to pay more for US military aid. The only notable bump appears to be a particularly awkward handshake between the two, who will spend the weekend with their wives at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

  1. The Russian Connection

Concerns about possible connections between Trump and the government of Vladimir Putin resurfaced this week as US investigators confirmed some details from the “Russia dossier”, a 35-page document gathered by a former MI6 agent. The dossier alleges that Russia possesses compromising information about Trump (specifically a video of Trump taking part in embarrassing sexual acts) and that Trump and his team maintained contact with Russian operatives before and during the 2016 election. As of this writing, the full text of the dossier is available here. On a related note, recent leaks revealed that before Trump took office, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn may have warned Russia of pending sanctions by President Obama and discussed potentially lifting those sanctions. These leaks could indicate violation of the Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments on important policy issues. Overall, recent developments suggest that controversy about the alleged link between Trump and Putin may continue to plague the early days of the new administration.

*Because of the sensitivity of some of the topics discussed here and the reaction of the Trump administration towards the media, some writers have opted to use pen names when writing about the Trump Presidency. Likewise, some of our staff writers at Prospect Journal of International Affairs will be using pen names when discussing the Trump government.

Image by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff


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By Thomas Finn
Contributing Writer

With various groups reporting fear, concern, or anger in the wake of 2016’s presidential election, UCSD literature grad student Soraya Abuelhiga hosted a Global Forum last week to address this very topic. A five-person panel built for diversity of academic perspectives on the next four years convened to discuss their predictions on what the immediate future holds. Abuelhiga first broached the subject of foreign policy, given recent events like Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Dr. Thad Kousser from our Department of Political Science admits that since the president has more unilateral influence in the realm of foreign policy, and many of Trump’s appointees have experience in business rather than the state department, his effect abroad remains harder to predict than past administrations. Dr. Zoltan Hajnal, from the same department at UCSD, contends that neither the best nor worst projections will come to pass, but foreign policy will remain status quo. However, he also notes that Trump’s Supreme Court appointment could have important implications, and that international views of America have changed dramatically, seeing this country as a more nationalistic nation turning inward and away from direct intervention abroad.

Dr. Dennis Childs, from a background in literature and ethnic studies, advises that we balance the valid feeling of impending precarity with a knowledge that the next four years actually seem far less exceptional in the grand scheme of the last 500. We necessarily build this country’s present on a long history of imperialist practices, including encroachment on Native lands, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and genocidal tactics in Vietnam.

According to Childs, policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement have led to a $4.8 billion transfer from Latin America to the US, unprecedented in history, with migrants following this flow of capital. Even if Trump renegotiates it, as intended, Mexico has already developed one of the widest wealth gaps in the world, one that has grown in parallel to the military-industrial complex burgeoning on the US-Mexico border for sixty years, as well as the ongoing War on Drugs (or War on People of Color as Childs calls it) that continues to tear families apart and destabilize Mexico. US annual defense-related spending has recently reached about $1 trillion and functions to enforce neocolonial economic hegemony in the world.

In this sense, maintenance of the status quo would really manifest as an escalation of aggression, because contrary to popular belief, Obama’s status-quo foreign policy meant killing civilians on a regular basis. His status quo involved funding what Dr. Childs and Desmond Tutu, both having visited Palestine, liken to Israeli apartheid in Gaza, and which Childs as an expert in prison studies likens to an open-air prison. Obama’s status quo included deporting 2.5 million undocumented people, adding up to the deportations of all presidents of the 20th century combined. Like Obama, Trump’s “status quo” could also very well entail the continuation and expansion of problematic trends like these.

Ashley Rodriguez, development coordinator from the Center on Policy Initiatives, notes that Trump will likely cut foreign aid, and attitudes abroad may make some countries, like those in Southeast Asia, less receptive to US-based non-profits and NGOs. On a more local scale, we have numerous municipalities responding to anti-migrant sentiments by becoming safe zones, and by fighting increased voter suppression of racial minorities. Rodriguez calls for more support to organizations like Planned Parenthood and the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, which can help ensure that growing prosperity as a nation advances everyone at the same time, instead of leaving minorities behind and worsening inequality.

Dr. Nancy Kwak from the Department of History offers a brief explanation of how home ownership has led to current racial inequalities that Trump’s administration may exacerbate. Since homes serve as the biggest investment most people make, encompassing so much of their economic life, starting in 1933 the federal government started supporting home ownership. This began with explicitly racial policies, mapping every city to decide who should live where and to control risk-ratings that determine credit.

The government established high-risk areas, especially African American or Asian-majority areas, where people had lower credit. We now call this redlining, and even though the 1968 Fair Housing Act sought to fix it, areas like La Jolla still have a racial character due to white roots left over from decades of redlining. Longtime residents interviewed by the LA Times and La Jolla Light have attested to “white only” covenants for property ownership in La Jolla Shores before the 1960s, for example. According to Kwak, we still don’t have protected classes to ensure fair housing, and thus housing remains unfair and de facto racially segregated.

Trump’s nominee for US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson, finds it undesirable to attempt urban desegregation, referring to anti-redlining policies as “social engineering.” As such, he opposes addressing these so-called “inner-city problems,” which Kwak instead calls fair-housing problems. On top of this, young people now buy fewer homes, creating uncertainty regarding the implications of this on the legacy of redlining still present in San Diego and cities across America.

Dr. Kwak also suggests that policies against immigrants rely on narratives that accredit certain groups with building this country, like the founding fathers via their own genius, while marginalizing others, for example by inadequately teaching the effects of racist policies like the 3/5 Compromise on the early political structure of this nation. Narrative differences have become divisive, and seem especially evident in recent popular culture, like the play Hamilton. This can have real-world consequences, for example affecting whether Americans support ideas like the DREAM Act, or ideas like English-only public schools.

Dr. Childs adds that the racist graffiti we have seen on campus likewise reflects this division, and shows that some groups of students have the privilege of feeling further from the border than others, or disconnected from the reality of our proximity to it. Trump’s narratives could not work if there were not a preexisting structure of white supremacy in our culture to build on. Though many politicians continue to rely on coded language and dog-whistle rhetoric to propagate discriminatory narratives, like attacking welfare by associating it with poor blacks, many voters admired Trump for voicing these narratives outright.

22 years ago, a similar kind of explicit support for reactionary policies ended up passing Proposition 187 to establish screening systems in California that prevent undocumented immigrants from accessing healthcare, education, and other services. Trump’s status as a “law and order” candidate also suggests he will stick to the status quo of militarizing US police culture, likely worsening the brutality inherent in our current criminal justice system. Childs goes on to discuss how East San Diego has always had a climate of unease due to police presence, with “to protect and serve” on every police car becoming an ironic joke to many black residents.

Majority-black schools face increasing militarization, and Dr. Childs claims that Ku Klux Klan violence has dropped at an inverse proportional rate to state execution of black people, effectively replacing extrajudicial violence with judicial violence. 2.4 million people currently live in cages, costing 70 billion dollars per year, not executed but condemned to “living death.” Pelican Bay State Prison on the California-Oregon border has the most solitary confinement on the planet for gang affiliation.

30,000 inmates went on a hunger strike in 2013 against indefinite solitary confinement. To highlight the lack of oversight, Childs points out that the California watchlist for gang affiliation includes dozens of children under the age of one who supposedly admitted their crime to law enforcement. 33 black San Diego locals were arrested under Penal Code 182.5 for gang affiliation, two of whom, Aaron Harvey and Brandon Duncan, personally came to UC San Diego in February 2016 to describe the ridiculously loose and often racist criteria for gang affiliation. One man was put in jail for months, despite never having joined a gang, solely based on a Facebook photo in which he appeared alongside another convicted gang affiliate.

These individuals lose employment opportunities, perpetuating structural poverty cycles and hurting the economy. Prisons appear in county, state, and federal budgets, meaning our taxes support the prison-industrial complex at every level, and Dr. Childs expects expansion under Trump. He posits that although black Americans may have fought for abolition in the Civil War, the 13th Amendment has allowed the state to take the place of plantation master, since all black Americans live under the threat of reenslavement, and this does not change, regardless of the party in power.

Democrats may have increased the black middle class, but black poverty has expanded under either party. Obama also directly played a part in arming local police forces, like San Diego’s force with a literal tank. Only after Trayvon Martin’s death did Obama even feel the national discourse forced him to address police violence as a mainstream issue, and until then had blamed black men for their own situations and called on them to act as better fathers, a tactic shared by Republicans.

Re-entry programs remain minimal and ineffective for former prisoners, so with over 5 million people permanently disenfranchised from a felony conviction, their subsequent inability to find jobs often pressures them to turn back to crime. 148 women were also forcibly sterilized in two California institutions as recently as the last decade. Childs argues that injustices like these, alongside incredible recidivism, prove a failure of the justice system, but a success of capitalism.

The prison-industrial complex profits off construction, telecommunications, and other industries that prisoners must interact with, utilize, or consume at inelastic prices while in prison. Childs concludes that the promised philanthropy of “black capitalism” ignores the horrors caused by capitalism in the first place, and indeed, perpetuates them. He personally calls on students to structurally analyze not only macro-scale historical trends, but also what role UCSD trains us for as individuals in this dangerous status quo.

He remarks that whether a Republican or Democrat wins the presidency, this would remain true, and we all have a responsibility for analysis. With stark barriers to changing America’s foreign policy, immigration law, racial inequalities, or prison-industrial complex at the federal level, students should still pursue change on other levels, like state, county, or city, in addition to forming coalitions to achieve goals beyond the often-futile endeavor of electoral politics. With Trump’s administration poised to continue an unsustainable status quo, it remains up to us to take matters into our own hands.

Photo by Gage Skidmore


13570164_10204808309366899_1697912367_oBy James Long Truong
Staff Writer

This is part 1 of a 2-part series focusing on “How I Afforded It.” “Why I Studied Abroad” is part 2 of the series.

Summary: This article was written with the intention of breaking down the first barrier to scholarship writing, so that it becomes a little easier to express the power of your story and voice into writing.

Alongside the slew of graduation posts on social media around this time of year comes yet another prolific phenomenon: enthusiastic posts, pictures, and blogs about getting accepted to X university and living in Y city, where Z is happening; the exuberance from which follows the aforementioned illustrates an evident rise in popularity of studying abroad. Statistically, “over the past three decades, the number of international students has grown substantially, from 0.8 million worldwide in 1975 to almost 3.7 million in 2009, a more than four-fold increase.”[1]



Source: Institute of International Education

Often perceived as a getaway from the rigorous trenches of one’s own academic endeavors, going on exchange is outstandingly beneficial in ways neither limited to the experiences nor the individual themselves. This statement speaks not only to the frequent traveler or city explorer, but includes even the modest study abroad student who seldom leaves the flat to wander and experience a taste of a new city, culture, and/or lifestyle.

–       For the philosopher: one might contend one needs not experience to fully ‘know’ what, e.g., culture is like, although that is not the point here. One might counter and say that this type of ‘knowledge’ does not encompass the unique knowledge gained from experience. For a brief musing, see Mary’s Room Thought-Experiment.

As someone who underwent 3 exchanges (with a fourth looming in the end of August), I—too—have experienced these benefits (which I mention in part 2. The focus of part 1 is on scholarship writing). While each of my exchanges was distinctly positive, I briefly shed light on them in this piece. My reason for writing Part 1 to share with you how I was able to afford all of them.*

–       *I hope my advice is helpful in its own right with respect to scholarship writing. To perhaps reassure you if otherwise, I have won over $35,000 out of 15+ scholarships. All of them involved essay(s).

One method of raising funds is simple and obvious, viz. scholarships, but I believe it is quite inconspicuous in an important respect, and that subtlety often serves as an underlying reason why one might not always succeed in this endeavor, including myself. I have failed many times, but I have understood it could be for several reasons I detail all below, but will mention one now: perhaps that particular scholarship might not have been the right fit for me! Other avenues, of course, exist and could be feasible to many, e.g. crowdfunding, support from close networks, grants, etc.

This article is targeted towards those who are simply eligible for any scholarship, but it is worthy to note most of my scholarships gave some preference to first-generation, low-income, ethnic minority, and/or high-achieving students. In saying this, I provide an outline that is broader (for inclusiveness purposes) and pertains to the mindset of writing a scholarship essay, a common writing structure, and some reasons why even the best personal statements might not succeed. While general in structure, this piece is naturally tailored to students who fall under said demographics (low-income, ethnic minority, first-generation college student) applying to need-based scholarships, but by no means is it limiting in content to other students.

Mindset of Writing a Scholarship Essay

First, we need to understand the following:

1)    Why do scholarships exist?

a.     Scholarships exist because donors want to invest in their beneficiaries, whether because they support their causes and/or simply believe in the beneficiaries themselves. Scholarships are ways of empowering one or the other or both.

2)    What do scholarships do?

a.     Scholarships provide (but are not limited to) financial support with the aim of easing the burdens one would otherwise endure with the absence of a scholarship. It lowers the opportunity cost of pursuing whatever the enterprise may be (e.g. studying abroad, attending university, pursuing a program, etc.).

b.     In a way, scholarships provide the means to develop the human capital[1] and social mobility[2] of their beneficiaries by removing a (tremendous) barrier, be it affordability or sustenance. The accumulation of scholarships can noticeably impact a student’s sense of creative/ambitious feasibility by lengthening the boundaries formerly imposed by the lack of affordability.

3)    How should scholarships be perceived?

a.     I think of scholarships as investments in social businesses. Unlike a traditional business, which focuses on maximizing profits to maximize stockholder returns, a social business is a “cause-driven business,”[3] i.e. seeking to maximize human welfare by addressing a cause they care about. To compare, one invests in a traditional business to maximize stockholder returns via juicy dividends, higher stock prices, etc. One invests in a social business to maximize human welfare via microcredit, encouraging local entrepreneurship, etc.

i.     Although arguably similar, do not think of scholarships as charities. Neither is superior/inferior by any means. Scholarships are different than charities because it is competitive; not freely given; and evaluated by performance metrics. This is what makes scholarships typically difficult to obtain.

4)    How should I, as a writer, perceive scholarships? [IF THIS MAKES SENSE, IT MAKES WRITING A SCHOLARSHIP ESSAY A LOT EASIER]

a.     First, perceive scholarships from the point of view of the donor (see above).

b.     Second, understand the intentions behind the scholarship (see above).

c.     Third, ask yourself whether the scholarship’s intentions align with your goals.

d.     Fourth, ask yourself whether receiving the scholarship furthers the donor’s goals of the scholarship through the advancement of your own goals.

e.     Fifth, if yes, keep that connection in mind when writing your essay.

f.      Note: While the language used refers to sole-benefactor scholarships, it is equally effective with group-benefactor scholarships.

Common Writing Structure

These are different approaches to writing scholarship essays. The following are actual essay prompts I have written about with different character constraints, so you will have to proportion your own content. These prompts should, nonetheless, give you a broad but comprehensive understanding of how to approach essays in general.

1)    Provide information about your interest in your major.

a.     A strong essay includes elements of a broader picture, applicability, and uniqueness. E.G.
i.     Why philosophy? What makes philosophy unique as a major?
ii.     How is philosophy applicable, relevant, and important to today’s world or   my own or both?
iii.     How does philosophy apply to me?

2)    What does philanthropy mean to you?

a.     A strong essay answers the question and every important subpart the question may entail. E.G.
i.     What is my definition of philanthropy?
ii.     How does philanthropy apply to me?
iii.     How have I engaged or intend to engage in philanthropy?

3)    Why have you chosen your country of study? What factors led you to select this country?

a.     A strong essay demonstrates a robust consideration of the desired country of study via aspects unique to said country, relevance of said country, and importance of said country towards one’s future. E.G.
i.     Why China? What makes China unique from other countries?
ii.     What connections do I have with China? What sort of connections do I desire creating?
iii.     How will living in China impact me, help me, and/or transform me? How will my study abroad in China advance my career?

4)    Please describe any socio-economic, educational, familial, cultural, or physical hardships or challenges you have overcome.

a.     A strong essay describes a genuine hardship faced and how resilience and other relevant attributes enabled one to overcome that hardship. E.G.
i.     How did my hardship impact me? How has my hardship challenged me?
ii.     How did I address that hardship?
iii.     How did I overcome it?
iv.     How have I grown as a result? What future impact can I make from overcoming this hardship?

5)    Explain how your participation in XYZ will enable you to advocate more effectively for social justice.

a.     A strong essay describes the process through which one becomes empowered to be a better advocate for social justice. E.G.
i.     Why did I select this program? How is it beneficial to my cause?
ii.     How can I use this program as a springboard to accomplish my goals?
iii.     In what respects do I need it? Why is it the case?

In all—but not limited to—the above five prompts, some common themes arise: vision, connection, and action. For some prompts, it is about envisioning a better future. For others, it is arousing empathy to connect/relate the reader to the writer. And for others, it is about conviction. Remember, what also matters is understanding the purpose of the scholarship and figuring out whether you can connect to that purpose.

Scholarship reader(s) rely on essays as subjective measures of fit, depth, and consideration. They simply would not want to award a scholarship to someone who has not put much thought into their own projects, pursuits, futures, etc. The readers need to believe in that person qua person or that the person’s cause is worth investing in.

That said, there is no shortcut for teasing out the underlying motivation for whatever you are pursuing. What gets quicker, however, is the translation from thought to text by having formulated a mental outline of your essay structure as you are reflecting. This comes easier with practice.  After understanding the mindset of scholarship writing and establishing a common writing structure, we will now transition into the final section of part 1 of this article:

Why You May Still Not Receive a Scholarship After Writing a Well-Written Essay

The usual suspects: poor writing, grammar, & structure; insufficient reflection; and perhaps not enough practice writing essays. If none apply to you, read on:

A thoughtful and well-written essay is great. You are perhaps farther now than where you might have been if you once fell victim to the aforementioned mistakes. Still, you did not manage to procure the scholarship. At this point, it might simply be due to the fact that you are not the right fit for their scholarship.

Think of it as a soft-rejection, and if you have encounter this type—which, after some practice, is a process of self-identification for the most part—be a little disappointed you did not get it, but also be reassured it was not because of your competence, effort, and ability.

I mention competence because it is crucial. At one point in college, I made the mistake of writing an essay but not directly answering the question. The effort and ability to write well was all there, but those were not helpful to my cause if I did not correctly address the prompt-at-hand. Upon receiving feedback, the professor was right in indicating while I understood the question in some parts, I lacked a full understanding of the question as a whole.

Think of that moment when you are explaining something to someone until you finally say, ‘Do you get the point?’ and your friend gets it half-right. Their understanding is half-there, but ultimately not, and that’s probably how my professor felt. Moral of the story? Try to fully understand the connection between the scholarship’s aim and your essay, as the former dictates the type of writing for the latter.

To end, everyone has a good story to tell, but the ability to navigate through the process of translating experiences into structured, refined writing can be daunting. I encounter these hurdles still, although not as much as when I first started. I received help, consistent feedback, and support from those who believed in me. 15+ drafts later, I had a personal statement ready to send to universities.

Your essay—while only constituting a portion of your application—reflects a refined version of your effort, ability, and thought process, which is very insightful for scholarship readers when they assess your application. That said, good luck.

The next piece of this 2-part series looks into “Why I Studied Abroad,” which will be available shortly.

[1] Human capital–the skills, knowledge, and experience possessed by an individual or population
[2] Social mobility—the movement of individuals, families, households, or other categories of people within or between social strata in a society. It is a change in social status relative to others’ social location within a given society.
[3] Term created by Muhammad Yunus.

[1] OECD (2011), “How many students study abroad?”, in Education at a Glance 2011: Highlights, OECD Publishing.

Photo by James Long Truong