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For big questions, a bigger forum

first_imgOne of the most challenging and lauded programs at Harvard isn’t part of the academic course curriculum.Coordinated through the Freshman Dean’s Office, the “Reflecting on Your Life” initiative invites freshmen to think about meaning and purpose. Featuring facilitators from across the University, the program typically meets for three sessions, at the beginning of second semester.The sessions fulfill no academic requirements, and yet, year after year, freshmen show up for three consecutive weeks to participate in small-group programming that delves deeply into their values, leading to conversations with peers that sometimes reveal gaps between thought and action.“The program gives students time to stop and think about what really matters to them,” said Katherine Steele, project manager and director for freshman programming, such as “what their values are and how those values shape the decisions that they make — from what’s important to them to how they spend their time, and even who they spend their life with.”Now, a grant from the Teagle Foundation is broadening the scope of the program, making it possible for Harvard to share it with colleges and universities interested in launching similar initiatives. The grant will also enable collaborations on best practices and programs to help students to consider the big questions: meaning, value, and purpose.After Richard Light, the Carl H. Pforzheimer Jr. Professor of Teaching and Learning, learned about the Teagle Foundation’s initiative to advance civic and moral education on college campuses, Steele worked with Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman to submit a proposal to help develop programs for the “civic and moral education of today’s college students.”The grant will sponsor the effort for three years, helping leaders at Harvard and elsewhere understand the impact of the various ways universities encourage dialogue about personal values and citizenship. But most importantly, Steele said, the grant should help promote programs that allow students to figure out how they want to live.“How do you affect moral growth? How does someone really solidify what they stand for? It’s about developing a stronger sense of who they are, and what they stand for. It’s about drawing the lines between what’s important to you and how you’re spending your time … and if the connections between those two things are missing, what can or should you do about it?”“Reflecting on Your Life” began at Harvard as a result of the in-depth, one-on-one interviews that Light conducted each year with students about to graduate. One answer was especially provocative, that of the student who told Light that Harvard had “forgotten to offer the most important course of all” — namely, how to think about living his life.“It was a revelation to realize that we were missing out on such a key and fundamental question,” Light said. “It’s often covered in an academic sense, but not necessarily from a personal, real-life point of view. What does it mean to live a happy, or useful, life? What about living a productive life? Are those concepts inherently different? If they are, which one do you choose?”Light approached Howard Gardner, the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, for his perspective. Gardner, whose research has often focused on professional ethics, said that the discussion mirrored a trend he had observed among students over the years.“I’d become concerned about something I’d observed from our best and brightest,” Gardner said. “They wanted to do the right thing, but they felt like the most important thing was to be successful. So if they had to cut some corners in order to accomplish that, they felt like they needed to do so. The metaphor I like to use is that the ethical muscle was very thin.”For the past six years, according to both individual testimony and a formal evaluation, alumni of the program have left it feeling that they have a better understanding of themselves, their goals, and their values.“In the 19th century, one of the reasons you went to college was to think about values, purpose, and deep spiritual values — which was completely expunged in the 20th century,” Gardner said. Although the secularization of universities was positive in many ways, he said, a void was left.“Some students fill this with religion, science, or a strong familial unit, but for many students in today’s fast-changing world — particularly those new to college, and especially those attending a high-pressure institution, such as Harvard — they need, and deserve, our guidance and our help.”For Steele, the grant will provide an opportunity for students across a range of Schools to pause and take the time to ask themselves the hard questions.“Harvard students are so busy and so focused, but we’ve found that students really benefit from posing these challenging questions,” she said. “When we create an opportunity for them to do that, and have a structure where they can pose these questions, it can have a really profound effect.”last_img read more

Guatemalan and Mexican Armed Forces battle Los Zetas and ‘El Chapo’

first_img The Armed Forces of Guatemala and Mexico are cooperating to stop drug trafficking through the border the two countries share. In recent weeks, the Guatemalan Army has deployed 250 troops along the Suchiate River, which marks the western border between Guatemala and Mexico. The troops are part of the Tecún Umán Task Force, whose mission it is to stop drug smuggling and other criminal enterprises, such as human trafficking, along the border. The border is a major drug trafficking route for transnational criminal organizations, particularly Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel, which is led by fugitive drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. The Guatemalan soldiers assigned to the task force have been trained in to detect and stop drug shipments. The troops have also received combat and reconnaissance training, according to Guatemalan military authorities. These troops are equipped with heat sensors and night vision goggles, which allow them to operate at night. They also have armored Jeep J8 vehicles, which were contributed by the United States government. The U.S. is cooperating with Guatemala and Mexico in the battle against transnational criminal organizations. Guatemala’s National Civil Police (PNC) in recent weeks assigned dozens of officers to the border region, in departments such as San Marcos, Petén, Huehuetenango and Quiché. Binational meeting Security deployment In recent weeks, Mexico sent more than 2,500 soldiers and Marines to the border region. For Mexican military forces, the joint operation is known as the “Southern Border Plan,” which is being coordinated by the Mexican Navy. The operation was launched during the first week of September 2013. Mexican security forces are also being strengthened along the country’s border with Belize. In addition to the soldiers and Marines, the Federal Police (PF) is sending an additional 100 agents to the border region. Guatemalan and Mexican security forces are working to stop drugs, weapons, and humans from being smuggled into Mexico. The Mexican Army has established a military camp on the Tapachula-Talismán highway, near six border towns which are adjacent to the Guatemalan border. With the support of military dogs trained to detect drugs, soldiers are inspecting vehicles which pass through the highway. If organized crime operatives slip past the border, Mexican security forces will enforce additional checkpoints in Chiapas, Tabasco, Quintana Roo and Campeche. Additional checkpoints will be conducted in Veracruz and Oaxaca. Drug trafficking region Working collaboratively to strengthen security at the border makes sense for Guatemalan and Mexican security forces, according to Carlos Mendoza, a security analyst at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). “The strategy to secure the border will inhibit the areas where transnational criminal organizations operate,” Mendoza said. “ It will certainly lead to a reduced flow of drugs, money, and weapons. Cartels will look for new routes.” “It’s a good partnership in terms of security,” the security analyst explained. “They are strengthening cooperation between both countries, as well as their cooperation with the U.S. in the fight against drug cartels.” Guatemalan and Mexican officials discussed security issues and other topics during the 11th Mexico-Guatemala Binational Commission meeting in Mexico City in May 2013. The two countries must cooperate to strengthen security in the border region, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Fernando Carrera Castro said during the closing ceremony of the binational meeting. Guatemala and Mexico cannot allow organized crime groups like Los Zetas, the Gulf Cartel (CDG) and the Sinaloa Cartel to operate freely, Carrera Castro said. center_img During the past 15 months, Guatemalan and Mexican security forces have captured several important organized crime operatives who operated transnationally: • In May 2013, Guatemala’s National Civil Police captured Samuel Escobar, 20, an alleged high-ranking Sinaloa Cartel operative. Police captured Escobar in the department of San Marcos, near the Pacific coast. He was carrying a gun, jewelry, and more than $128,000 in cash. Escobar was with a gang which was threatening to kill police officers unless they stopped looking for him, Guatemala Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla said. National Civil Police also captured Deisy Vallagran, 57, a suspected drug trafficker who was allegedly hiding firearms, drugs, and a money-counting machine in her home, and Juventino Encarnacion Garcia, 44, an alleged drug trafficker suspected of working with El Chapo. • In September 2012, Mexican Army soldiers captured Sergio Armando Barrera Salcedo, an alleged Sinaloa Cartel operative who is known as “El Checo.” He is suspected of receiving drugs that were smuggled through the Guatemala-Mexico border and transporting them throughout Mexico. • In July 2012, Guatemalan National Civil Police agents and Army soldiers captured 27 alleged Los Zetas operatives in the suburb of Quetzal, near Guatemala City. The suspects were all Mexican nationals. They were suspected of engaging in killings, extortion, kidnappings, arms smuggling, and drug trafficking. Improving security By Dialogo October 09, 2013 Important captures For years, Los Zetas, the Sinaloa Cartel, and other organized crime groups have used the 1,000-kilometer long Guatamala-Mexico border for drug trafficking and other illicit enterprises. While some drugs are smuggled from Central America to Mexico and the United States in boats and planes, the vast majority of drugs – 76 percent – are trafficked through the Guatemala-Mexico border, according to security analysts. last_img read more