Mitigation Strategy/HMW: Safeguarding DIY Biology

Mitagation Strategy

For my project, Safeguarding DIY Biology, I will propose a mitigation strategy (regulation) that combines the levers of law, markets, and code. This issue, like the many other technology-focused projects discussed in our class, requires a multifaceted approach to anticipate and stem nefarious use-cases.

Proposal: A centralized federal agency to oversee gene synthesis and biotechnology product licensing in the United States.

Key Provisions:

  1. A presiding council consisting of members from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), National Institute of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation, academics in social sciences and scientists, physicians, and representatives from the private sector.
  2. Patents for biotechnology products must go through a secondary vetting process that performs a risk assessment of the product in question. Patent applications will be granted a class status: general (no serious risk), limited (potential risk), and reserved (serious risk).
  3. Depending on the results of the risk assessment, federal government will either take a minor (general patents) or moderate (limited patents) role in regulating the granting and licensing of patents. In the case of reserved patents, the government will create a commission to research how to inactivate the potential risk. In the case of moderate patents, the government may conditionally grant patents after certain conditions are met by the applicant.

Rationale: Biotechnology is a dual-use technology: it can either be used for the public benefit (drug development) or public harm (bioterrorism, misinformation). Biology research is still heavily networked, it requires supplies and resources (materials) from a variety of actors. Its through these materials that concepts and ideas are realized. These materials are used by DIY Biologists, academic and industrial scientist alike.

Levers in action :

Example: Patent Application for a novel DNA synthesis technology (limited patent)

Background: The building block of biology is DNA. Applications of biotechnology largely require very particular segments of DNA to be generated to create higher order bio-machinery. Because of this, DNA synthesis, the making of strands of DNA is a control gate for many downstream biotechnical outputs.

Law: Creating a federal agency that oversees this process would provide enforcement avenues to hem in potential bad actors. Inventors of a novel DNA synthesis technology would have to follow directives from the government to insure that checks are in place.

Market: Granting patents allows the applicant the exclusive right to market and sell a piece of technology. This is lucrative for the applicant and would provide an incentive for them to patent. If a method like this is implemented, risk assessment checks would be standardized.

Code: Hardware locks on machinery that perform DNA synthesis can used to prevent the development of higher order bio-machinery that is deemed by the presiding council to present risk.



HMW/Divergent Ideas


As I’ve worked through some of the recurring themes and issues for my project, I’ve come to see that many of the issues that make DIY Biology difficult to safeguard are similar to the factors that make biology on the whole difficult to safeguard. For this assignment, I decided to tease out some of the factors specific to DIY Biology that can be addressed.


HOW MIGHT WE: Make informal biology research responsible


Ten Divergent Ideas

  1. Create bioengineering licenses mandatory to order material from chemical suppliers
  2. Have DIYBio spaces vet/screen potential new projects/ideas
  3. Censor biological protocol information on the web
  4. Create training modules to educate DIY Biologists about potential risks
  5. Limit the kinds of supplies that be ordered by DIYBio labs
  6. Create national steward program to fund biosafety officers at all DIYBio labs
  7. Have biosafety trainings are DIY Bio convenings
  8. Award prizes at DIY Bio competitions for top biosafety programs
  9. Create funding available for labs that have active biosafety awareness programs
  10. Create a national hotline/tip system to anonymously tip off authorities to bad actors  

IDEO Design Research Method: Safeguarding DIYBiology


For my IDEO Design Research Method, I used the card ‘collage.’ The activity involves having participants create a visual representation of the various sides of an issue. I chose this method because it allows for a secondary method of visual mapping, alongside the ecosystem map. While the ecosystem map does a good job of identifying the various stakeholders and how they are affiliated with the issue, in my case safeguarding DIYBiology, it doesn’t hold much space for identifying how and why relationships form between various actors.

To create this collage I spoke, separately, with two members of a DIYBio space in Seattle as well as a biology graduate student at MIT.  I asked them to provide some images or ideas on the various sub-communities and a little bit about how those sub-communities interact with one another. I then compiled the common themes and insights from those conversations into this collage. It was interesting to see where these sub-communities are in conversation with one another. For example, the biomedical and security communities both generate information hazards, and must decide whether or not to disclose them. In practice, this sometimes looks like the body hackers who have to ensure that protocols for implants (like RFID chips) are safe enough to be used in what are often not medical grade settings. Likewise, security communities make decisions on how much to disclose about what is within the realm of possibility using biology. Along another vector, biomedical communities inspire and are inspired by ideas generated from artists working in DIYBiology spaces. Broadly, these relationships are worthwhile to document because they provide potential avenues for intervention. Having an understanding of how information travels between communities allows for easier downstream adoption of practices because it uses pre-existing tracks.

How Might We…

Challenge: Depoliticize climate change

POV: Dairy farmer in Wisconsin, drives pick-up truck every day, livelihood based off of shipping dairy across the country, Trump supporter, does not really believe in climate change, certainly does not believe in global warming

How might we…

  • incorporate farmers as part of the solution?
  • phrase the problem so that it does not incorporate phrases like “climate change” or “global warming”?
  • make the issue so politicized that it is put to a vote?
  • be sure that climate change is indeed a threat?
  • make the issue communal rather than polarizing?
  • use the large amount of nonbelievers to our advantage?
  • make fighting climate change as nonpartisan as public schools or animal welfare
  • prove that climate change isn’t real?
  • make climate change economically beneficial?
  • fix the eating culture and expectations? fix driving culture? ensure that farmers still thrive? get Trump on our side? pick a phrase that people can believe in?

Science Fiction

The year is 2065. It is nearly the 40 year anniversary of the Rebirth. There are celebrations planned all around the world that will last through the week. Naturally, there will be no fireworks or balloons or any of the celebratory devices that some of us older people remember from before they were banned. Instead people will celebrate with their environmentally friendly bubbles and compostable streamers.

Against all odds, humanity has survived. Even many of the animals survived, though the polar bears and three different species of penguins did not. Really it was not so hard of a problem to solve in the end. Controversial, yes, but difficult? Certainly not difficult.

The hardest part is trying to teach the children. How do we describe cheese when everyone is a vegan? How do we teach them about the importance of electric cars when it’s all they’ve know? How do explain what grandparents are when no one has them? How do we tell them not to murder when…

Let me back up.

I remember the day of the Rebirth clearly. I was only 10 years old then. I lived with my mother and grandmother at the time. When they came to our door we didn’t understand what was going on, what was going to happen. They asked my grandmother to go outside with them. She never came back in.

We found out later that it was painless. At least they told us it was. I believe that it was, or we would have heard the screaming. You can’t just eliminate 30% of the global population without making a noise if it is painful. And all around the world the same thing happened to all of the old people on the same exact day, yet no one seemed to know about it until it had already happened.

After the news came out on the state-sponsored channel, my mother was furious. It didn’t matter to them that my grandmother ran the community garden, that she had solar panels put on her house, that she drove an electric car, or that she believed in climate change. The world leaders decided that the only way to fix the issue was to reduce then limit the population. The most humane thing to do was to get rid of those over the age of 50. According to the laws of biology and nature, most people wouldn’t reach or live past 50. Those people had already lived their lives and most of them were nonbelievers.  At least that’s what we were told.

I wasn’t terribly upset about my grandmother. She was old and the plan made sense to me. I always liked animals and I didn’t want them to die because of us. Plus the hurricanes had gotten out of control. It was comforting to know that the leaders were actually going to do something about it.

The aftermath of the Rebirth was terrible though. Of course we never tell the children about that. As far as they are concerned, people celebrated just as we do each year on the anniversary. But the truth is that people were angry. They demanded answers. They yelled and screamed and cried and protested until the gas-powered cars started getting anchored and people couldn’t drive to the protests anymore. In the cities, many of the protestors were simply killed. It was easy to justify: less people = less strain on the environment. And anyone protesting clearly didn’t believe in the cause enough anyway. Plus who would prioritize the life of a scruffy protestor over that of a baby seal?

Soon people learned to stop protesting. They learned to hide their plastic and garbage and styrofoam and anything else that would get you killed. The effects were amazing though. The world temperature plateaued after just three years. People learned to eat local, seasonal produce, as that was all they had access to. The meat industry was destroyed, and even the black market meat industry was quickly shut down. By simply minimizing human life to the insignificance of an ant or blade of grass (both of which are viewed as much more precious now), all of the environmental issues were solved.

The Rebirth didn’t upset me. In fact, it excited me. Perhaps because I was so young. Perhaps because their indoctrination of the youth was effective. But when they took my mother 8 years after the Rebirth, then I got upset.

I know it was fair. No one is allowed to be over the age of 50. I should be thankful that she got to be 50 and 8 months old. But the effect of the Rebirth had never really settled in until that day. Of course I couldn’t tell anyone that I was upset. That would be an instant death sentence. So I smiled, walking around saying what we teach the children to say now:

“Praise nature!”

When the children ask where the old people go, we are supposed to tell them that because of nature, no one lives past 50. I suppose it’s true in a sense. The nature of mankind is to destroy. We’ve simply gone from destroying the earth to destroying people. Though I guess we were destroying people back then too.

You may wonder why I’m being so honest given the risk of death. The truth is that it is about to be the 40th anniversary of the Rebirth. The truth is that I am 50 years old now. I don’t know what they do to the 50 year olds and I don’t want to find out. I am taking this into my own hands. I don’t want to be dragged out of my home like some of the others. I also don’t want to attempt going into hiding. I’ve never heard of that ending well, though I supposed I never would.

No, instead I’ve decided to end things on my own terms. Of course, I could not find a gun – those are not environmentally friendly enough to exist anymore – but in a true natural way, I’ve foraged some mushrooms, some of which must be poisonous. From nature I came and into nature I go, at the ripe old age of 50 in such a natural death…


How Might We Re-Envision Gendered Labor?

Problem Statement:

How might we help men recognize and share emotional (and other forms of gendered) labor?


10 Divergent Ideas:

  • Present men with a list of gendered tasks and have them think of the last time someone did that for them, as well as the last time they did that.
  • Challenge men to do a “feminine” task for 3 another male identifying person in their life and see how they react.
  • Keep a labor journal for labor that you do and labor that is done for you.
  • End group meetings 5 minutes early for men with the intention that they are responsible for cleaning up meeting spaces.
  • Pair men up with another man to keep each other accountable. This way they have someone to talk through tricky situations, and are not relying on the women and non-binary people in their lives.
  • Verbally acknowledge every time someone does gendered work for a week, and thank them for it.
  • Use role playing and dance for men to physically manifest their feelings on masculinity and femininity.
  • Compare a list of gendered tasks to who did them in their household growing up. (Did women and men do equal numbers of tasks? Did they take on tasks that took roughly the same level of time or energy? Or was there a skew?)
  • Watch a movie and pause it every time gendered labor is done for a male character.
  • Explicitly claim ownership over managing all household duties for a week and see what additional considerations come with managing such work.

How Might We Improve Political Representation?

Having started from a very broad question the main challenge was finding the right balance of breadth and specificity for the HMW statement. To that end I went through the exercise and came up with a number of questions that I felt tackled both very specific and more general parts of the larger problem, e.g.:

HMW make politics seem more consequential?

HMW make civic participation and political engagement more fun?

HMW make voters focus on more relevant issues in elections?

HMW improve government transparency while remaining within the attention span or regular citizens?

HMW make government more interactive without leading to chaos?


I chose one that I felt got to the core of two of the critical “demand-side” and “supply-side” issues of the problem:

HMW create incentives to organically improve the average level of political discourse


10 Divergent Ideas

  1. Create technological tools to better aggregate and summarize politically relevant news and data for users
  2. Regulate social platforms after their user base crosses a certain threshold and develop guidelines on how they must report and control the ways in which they are influencing their users
  3. Create a publicly funded alternate platform that serves the civic roles of social media
  4. Encourage cultural shift in tech companies to think longer term (not over-optimize short-term metrics) and to adapt quickly once harm of certain actions is clear
  5. Create an election day holiday weekend (similar to Deliberation Day proposed by James Fishkin) to encourage thoughtful and unhindered political participation
  6. Start automatic voter registration and compulsory voting to force improvement in turnout and reduce impact of suppression tactics
  7. Make basic online literacy and fraud detection part of core secondary school curriculum
  8. Create better technological tools to flag and trace low-quality or misleading content
  9. Create new class of technological methods to track user engagement to remove incentives for “click-bait” and high-engagement false content.
  10. Invest in community based engagement to reduce political polarization and re-establish bipartisan trust in the political process

Divergent Ideas for a Dynamic Educational Campaign

As an overall update from this project, I have learned from method card, interviews and previous homework assignments, the topic of urban environmentalism is too large in scope to effectively pursue within this semester. However, as I have mentioned in my previous posts, I have found the following insights:

  • decreasing the education gap to highlight issues of climate change
  • making actions for environmentalism more convenient
  • focusing on reducing large scale consumption via food and materialism
  • incorporating urban environmentalism with current ideas and seemingly more urgent act (e.g. promoting increase in fresh fruits and vegetables in urban spaces and increasing access in food deserts as a way of tying in better health conditions for current residents and decreasing environmental impact)

Based on these insights, I have narrowed my focus to be the first point — eliminating the education gap around issues of climate change. The ability to learn about these issues particularly through a none politicized platform is the element that gets people thinking about and acting on issues of climate change the most. As such I curated the following questions using the methods recommended:

  • How might we increase education and awareness on issues of climate change and steps to combat it in an evolving space?
  • How might we increase knowledge about climate change and promote actin as the background information changes?
  • How might we disseminate new climate change information with a message of hope?
  • How might we make an educational campaign on climate change like the campaign against cigarettes?
  • How might we make updates about climate change apocalyptic while still conveying the urgency?
  • How might we depoliticize updates about climate change?


From these questions, I realized the issues that I care about is disseminating information where the information itself may change over time and how do we get groups of people to trust in changing data and adopts these change.  As such, I have settled on the following how might we question recognizing that it still may be a little general.


How might we increase knowledge about climate change and promote action as the background information changes? 

From there I have created the following 10 divergent ideas:

  1. Create an ad campaign surrounding how the information has changed and keep changing –> leading to the idea we can make change and stop climate change
  2. Create an early education learning platform to institute the fight on climate change at an earlier age
  3. Partner with smart home companies keep an electronic visualization of everyone’s carbon footprint
  4. Mandate a state specific training upon 18th birthday or when you move there teaching the states recycling policy
    1. Similar to that of a getting a driver’s license
  5. Incorporate environmental impact information around food in a similar way calories are included
  6. Create a reality tv/documentary series addressing the issues of climate change –> installments also include the latest updated information
  7. Art exhibits that demonstrate current damage to the planet and what that could currently look like
  8. Create a virtual reality experience showing earth as it used to be, earth today and earth projected at our current rate and earth at various protective actions
  9. Photo series in nationally acclaimed papers showing area most impacted by climate change
  10. Ad campaign showing what “luxury” goods are at stake if this continues
    1. Running supermarkets without produce most vulnerable if climate change continue
    2. Running ad campaigns detailing that Caribbean island vacation destinations will disappear –> new vacation destination could be the Midwest
  11. Send receipts/reports of where past electronics are and for how long
    1. Within this vein tracking where personal waste remains
  12. Visual art of plastic waste in high traffic places for long periods of time to show how it doesn’t degrade
  13. Children TV show focusing on the environment



  • Make gendered labor more desirable or socially acceptable to other gender(s)?
  • View unequal gender ratio as a positive thing?
  • Remove association of gender with gendered labor?
  • Shape conversation about gender & discrimination to be thoughtful, respectful, and natural, instead of contentious, annoying, and aggressive?
  • Bring in people currently outside the conversation?
  • Place gender in intersection with other aspects (e.g. race, ethnicity, religion, social class)?
  • Make perception/awareness of daily and social work more like professional work?


Addressing HMW…

  • Build support network for people in and working to be in fields of heavily-gendered labor
  • When describing work, separate out and describe skills to separate traits from associated gender
  • Establish community guideline (e.g. online community, physical space) for mutual-respect among members
  • Make a community/forum/blog for sharing personal stories and experiences instead of overgeneralized arguments
  • Create an online community without any gender indication and observe whether people’s interactions differ
  • (Campus-specific) During orientation week, include a module/workshop on communication and conflict management
  • Prompt conversation within existing, more homogenous groups (e.g. fraternity, sorority, support groups), and combine/expand conversation by merging groups, to compare similarities and differences across intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, social class, etc.
  • For existing groups, host open-events that invite friends, family, and colleagues of members to share conversation
  • Hold appreciation week campaign at work, home, social life, etc. respectively to reflect on and thank people who reach out to you first and have helped in overlooked ways

How might we make voting like a holiday? A celebration?

Challenge: Organize to fight the efficacy of voter suppression practices across the United States
POV: Marginalized voter who is unable to vote or has their vote discounted through a number of methods (explored in interviews and background research)
Amp up the good: HMW harness the voters’ own energy and desire to participate in politics to fight suppression politics?
Remove the bad: HMW make sure people have equal access to voting and that all votes are counted equally
Explore the opposite: HMW make voting the easiest part of political participation?
Question an assumption: HMW entirely remove the in-person voting and obscure counting process?
Go after adjectives: HMW make voting fun instead of arduous and obscure?
ID unexpected resources: HMW make use of extant national information-keeping/data entry/data regulation systems to streamline this process?
Create an analogy from need or context: HMW make voting like a holiday? A celebration?
Play against the challenge: HMW make voting something that people want to do, and/or make counting everyone’s vote something that works in everyone’s interest?
Change a status quo: HMW make voting less difficult and inaccessible for marginalized people?
Break POV into pieces: HMW improve the conditions of people whose votes are suppressed and give them the material / social conditions to fight their oppression? HMW make voting more accessible? HMW make sure all votes are counted?

I will choose the most straightforward HMW, “HMW make voting less difficult and inaccessible for marginalized people?” as my main guiding HMW question, but my 10 divergent ideas for addressing this statement spawn from the ideation process for all of these different HMW statements. 1) Encourage absentee ballot voting. 2) Create a user-friendly website breaking down legal terminology and centralize information about voting rights and proper procedures to remember in each locality (source this information from local activists and update regularly with new info; crowdsourced database but presented in a way that is accessible to everyone). 3) Campaign to make election day a holiday. 4) Leverage current information-keeping systems to capture more voters; e.g. register voters whenever they visit the DMV to get a drivers’ license or apply for a passport or go for a doctor’s appointment; have information about registration expiry timelines on display. This would both make sure more people have access to registration by integrating it with other parts of their lives and making it so that people do not have to go out of their way to access registration or voting, as well as help to effect a cultural shift towards voting being a normal and expected part of every citizen’s life. 5) Employ nonpartisan, legally-trained clowns as poll watchers. 6) Donate directly to grassroots organizations like Four Directions and have those resources be redistributed to Native tribes in order to pay people within tribes to get trained so that knowledge can be a lasting part of the community. 7) Legal change: Institute a government position that consists of independent voting trainers that can be overseen by the secretary of state who provide training to poll workers or poll judges — again, nonpartisan! 8) Implement tracking numbers for absentee ballots so people can see where they went and what happened to them, working in conjunction with the idea to encourage absentee voting to avoid a lot of the pitfalls that in-person voting practices are susceptible to. 9) Work with community organizations like churches and community centers to help them create and publicize transportation and resource distribution during election seasons. 10) Institute a mandatory maximum wait time for election day and a mandatory minimum polling center per population per unit area policy across the U.S. (inspired by the international IDEO design card).



Challenge: Redesign how communities are engaged by the powers that typically strategize and implement their relief in hazard situations.


How might we…..


How might we engage the community and its needs before disaster even strikes?


How might we create means for better communication between governments and communities during disaster?


How might we help communities become better informed and better prepared before disaster strikes?


How might we create a communication pipeline so communities can be vocal during periods of disaster and recovery?


10-ish Divergent Ideas:


  1. Present the facts: HMW make clear the impacts that disaster have and may have on communities?
  2. Plan ahead: HMW organize communities to be continually participating in disaster preparedness, before, during and after an event?
  3. Existing infrastructure: How might we identify existing community infrastructure that can aid in dealing with disaster scenarios?
  4. Study the bad: HMW reflect on disasters that have already occurred to identify problems that need to be addressed before the next one strikes?
  5. Increase the minimum: HMW educate builders about the benefits of building beyond the code minimum?
  6. Introduce new practices: HMW begin to encourage communities to accept change and adopt new practices that allow them to be better prepared?
  7. Connect with others: HMW engage with other communities/cities/countries to share collective expertise in preparation for the next storm/event?
  8. Talk to me: HMW allow for continuous dialogue, allowing community needs to be transparent before, during, and after disasters?
  9. Human disasters: HMW identify vulnerable communities in order to strengthen them, and limit damage to those communities?”
  10. What do we have: HMW identify the existing resources we have, in order to better understand what we might need?
  11. Test: HMW Engage with communities and governing institutions to test new methods for resilience and preparedness?
  12. Call them out: How might we enable communities to voice their concerns when they feel they are being misrepresented or let down, especially in these disaster related scenarios?



Nutrition Justice – Mitigation Strategies

Urban agriculture’s focused efforts on backyard gardening for hyper-local crops, including nutritious fruits and vegetables that are best served fresh can still play a powerful role in the larger food system. However, despite these advances, urban food can not feed everyone. There is not enough land. In fact, the world’s agriculture takes up about 35–40% of all of the Earth’s land, a staggering sum, especially compared to cities and suburbs, which occupy less than 1% of Earth’s land. Put another way: For every acre of cities and suburbs in the world, there are about 60 acres of farms. Thus, it is clear that even the most ambitious urban farming efforts can not replace the rest of the world’s agriculture.

We can ensure local food is good for the environment, especially if it reduces food waste along the supply chain. Also, organic or well-run conventional local farms can produce many benefits to soils, waterways, and wildlife. And, in some places, local grass-fed ranches are trying to sequester carbon in the soil, offsetting at least part of beef’s hefty greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, is implemented well, local food can have many environmental benefits.

People (the well-to-do) love the idea of eating food that is grown nearby, on surrounding farms. It helps increase the sense of authenticity and integrity in our food. Also, the food can often be fresher and tastier. Most people like that the supply chain  is shorter, more transparent, and supports the local economy. However, we need to acknowledge the difficulties of creating this food integrity in low-income communities and insist on designing what is best for low-income residents and communities, not what is popular and desired by their nearby well-to-do urban neighbors.

In addition to urban agriculture, we could invest dollars, technology, and brains to solve other agricultural problems — like developing new methods for drip irrigation, better grazing systems that lock up soil carbon, and ways of recycling on-farm nutrients. We also need innovation and capital to help other parts of the food system, especially in tackling food waste, and getting people to shift their diets towards more sustainable directions.

Therefore, some guidelines for thinking about nutrition justice in the context of local food include growing food (mostly near you), working with the seasons and renewable resources, and shipping in the rest. An interconnected network of good farms — farms that provide nutritious food, with social and environmental benefits to their communities — is the kind of innovation we really need. And while the local food movement is making much of this possible, it is important to keep in mind the strategies for avoid catastrophic food shortages and understand the place of industrial agriculture.

Mitigation Strategies for Gerrymandering Tool

One of the major roadblocks to finding a solution to gerrymandering is that we don’t have an agreed upon method of determining what exactly is a non-partisan division of districts. As Justice Kennedy pointed out in Vieth v. Jubelirer and then again in Gill v. Whitford, that the court might rule upon it if a standard upon which partisanship could be judged came forth and the court could use to establish whether a state was overly gerrymandered. At the same time, a tool that establishes rules around what is a fairly districted state must be absolutely airtight and not allow for much wiggle room. Once a standard like this is established, it’ll be very hard to argue against it or change it after the long road that has led us here. Due to that, if someone figures out how to manipulate the algorithm or whatever form the tool takes, it would create a legal and regulated method of gerrymandering that we wouldn’t be able to fight against. I think a mitigation strategy against this would be to put in scheduled checks on the methodology to make sure that we have mechanisms to modify it if we notice someone taking advantage of a loophole. For example, after every redistricting round (concurrent with the census every ten years) there should be a review of every state for anomalies. We could even have a judiciary approval board (not congressional) that goes through all 50 states and assesses how they used the tool to create their districts. If they judge any anomalistic use of the tool, they have the power to modify the tool as necessary and require the state to redistrict fairly.

Unknown Uknowns

For my semester project, I am trying to understand the issue of urban environmentalism and who to hold accountable for righting issues of climate change. While I haven’t honed in on a particular solution yet, the answers seem to lie in:

  • decreasing the education gap to highlight issues of climate change
  • making actions for environmentalism more convenient
  • focusing on reducing large scale consumption via food and materialism
  • incorporating urban environmentalism with current ideas and seemingly more urgent act (e.g. promoting increase in fresh fruits and vegetables in urban spaces and increasing access in food deserts as a way of tying in better health conditions for current residents and decreasing environmental impact)

However, as I try to hone in a solution there are a lot of ways in which this situation could deviate. As I am working through this process, I would like to list what unknown unknowns there might be.

One unknown I would be interested in looking into is if I follow a solution of reducing large scale food consumption, what ways can capitalism adapt to over-work and extort this seemingly new and better model? In a similar vein to how the sudden interest in quinoa because of its super-food benefits have led to quinoa shortages and unfair labor and wage conditions for farmers, could increasing consumption of less environmentally disturbing food actually further this disadvantages. Where would the sustainable farming sources from land, to water, to power, to transportation, to food waste come from to supply a world in which everyone at 20% more vegetarian meals? How would increasing the demand for fresh fruits and vegetables impact deforestation?

Another potential solution in this area is to get people more involved with snout to tail policy, utilizing the entirety of an animal. In this hypothetical world, people are expected to use the entire animal if they were to purchase an animal part. However, I am unsure what impacts that may cause on the pricing of animal products. Currently parts like gizzards, chitterlings, sweetbreads are low priced because they aren’t demanded, however, an increase in demands could make pig snout the new fine dining changing what is affordable to the everyday people. How would encouraging use of an entire animal play into expected serving sizes for people? How would that change in serving sizes impact the populations health? Would this new trend in foods impact the understanding of a nuclear family as people attempt to have enough people at dinner to finish an entire animal product? Of course, changes to the nuclear family could have ripples on tons of other industries especially, the home goods industries as large groups of people share resources. Instead of one hammer per household, we could potentially see a single hammer being shared across a culdesac. How would the animal farming industry be impacted? Would we move towards purchasing smaller animals with more manageable portion sizes and potential lead to western nations eating more types of animals such as pigeons?


If these policies work out, how might this impact the life expectancy of the average human? How would we handle the potential for overpopulation if life expectancy dramatically increases due to these policies? How would this potentially affect housing reform? How would this impact the food supply chain? Would it increase or decrease disparity in food allocation? I think if these policies are adopted to the scale of millions of people, we could definitely see effects outside of the realm of food and climate change. More importantly, I am unsure if we are prepared to handle a mass-adoption of these policies. The first step of mitigation would have to be around sustainable methods for food production from farming to disposal.

First Round Interviews: Safeguarding DIYBiology

Interview Subjects: A DNA cryptographer, two post-docs (Broad/Whitehead Institute)

Big takeaways:

DIYBiology isn’t the threat: The biggest surprise for me from these interviews has been that I may have overestimated the potential threat of nefarious do it yourself biologists. While the two post-docs I interviewed had heard of the DIYBiologists, neither seemed to think that it would be feasible (from a technical basis) to gather the infrastructure or technical know-how needed to make something that could cause serious harm. One made the point that while papers have been released on controversial topics (i.e. Horsepox), the margin of error of mistakes leading to experimental failure is low and the ad-hoc knowledge needed to develop highly technical molecular biology products is so large that you would need deep experience before being able to cause real harm. They did concede, however, that if the practitioner was already well trained (coming from an institution) and used a DIYBiology lab as a space to do work, that kind of person might be able to do real harm.

Adoption of any code based method will be slow: Code based systems are back-end intensive. The DNA cryptographer I spoke with is working a project to encrypt DNA synthesis for sensitive applications (primarily DNA sequences known to be hazardous). This involves creating a repository database of all hazardous DNA sequences and having all DNA synthesis companies/synthesizers rely on this database to query all orders before making DNA. The process would work much like how photocopiers are all unable to photocopy currency. This process requires first creating such a databases and then convincing the many suppliers of DNA synthesis machines to adopt it. One of the cryptographers biggest concerns is how to gather the support and adoption of their system or any such system. Without the buy-in from the synthesis companies themselves, they are dead in the water. Photocopying currency has a clear and direct call-to-action, which can be understood and made relevant to the lever of the Law. DNA cryptography is very technical and doesn’t have the same kind urgency. Acting on just the lever of code is difficult work.

Mitigation Strategy

(Adiel + Sarah)

While it is difficult to plan a full mitigation strategy without a clear and certain approach to our topic–disaster resiliency and relief in Puerto Rico–we will attempt to list a few considerations that would hopefully mitigate any proposed strategy by making sure we are aware of any issue as it arises. Central to this is strategy is to try, to the best of our ability, to make no assumptions. Of course, this is easier said than done, but we will try to check all “facts” we base work on not only with scientific studies, but also with community conversations, where we might understand better the extended web of correlations and causation. We believe it is crucial to speak not just with community leaders but also with the members of the community, those who might not feel comfortable representing a larger group of people, but still have invaluable experience. While of course we know it is impossible to talk to everyone affected by any topic as large as those we are addressing in this course, our hope is to still try to balance voices of leadership and those of membership in conversations we have. With these people we can coordinate and plan for the next disaster, and turn the study of a topic into something more actionable and realistically possible. We would also mitigate by constantly looking at precedents of previous hazard scenarios. A cross-historical and cross-cultural comparison can provide insights into potential unintended consequences. While we do this, though, it will be important to remember that each case study is particular also to the culture of any location; not all successful strategies can be successfully transposed.

To explain more specifics related to these general strategies: first and most important is making sure that we are using participatory processes to plan for the future. To do this, it will be key to make sure that it is easy to participate. We would need to spend time and resources to ensure that there are mechanisms for community engagement and mobilization, whether through existing outlets or by creating new ones. These organizations will look different for different communities, and we would need to be constantly evaluating their effectiveness and reach. When any plan is determined, we would rely on advocacy and marketing–spreading information both related to the disaster and related to our proposals. In this, though, it is also imperative to leave room for critique. We must inform the community of how we plan to help, and then openly accept feedback on those proposed strategies.

Mitigation Strategy

One major consequence or potential catastrophe of the anti-voter-suppression strategy of encouraging absentee ballot voting for people who might face a lot of the structural issues presented by in-person voting (long lines because of understaffed locations or lack of poll locations at all, faulty machines, limited early voting locations, lack of transportation) is that there is the potential for a huge number of these votes to get rejected as has happened many times in previous elections (where absentee ballots get ignored because they were sent in too late or the signature didn’t match — see here for some common reasons that absentee votes get suppressed). Although absentee voting would help avoid a lot of physical voter suppression tactics, we start to rely heavily on the chain of events that allows an absentee ballot to be counted. My mitigation strategy is to examine each of the steps that an absentee ballot goes through in its life cycle, from printing to filling out to actually getting counted, and use this flowchart to list out all of the potential breaking points where a vote could be suppressed. Then I would like to use this flowchart to create an informational website that people can access or create print materials from (to distribute to their communities) that addresses and might help people avoid the pitfalls at each step, and have all this information in a unified place. The base information for this site is something that I’m hoping to include in my design portfolio based off my interviews (for example, an eye-opening interview that mentioned how mail-in ballots could be suppressed by domestic power dynamics between wives with overbearing husbands).

Urban Environmentalism: Interview Updates – Part I

I, unfortunately, haven’t been documenting the necessary updates about my interview on the class site. A continued update of the progress will be published throughout today. As such, I wanted to give some updates about where I am in this project. I began by interviewing 3 peers from states with different political affiliations to understand how their political background can impact their understanding of climate change and environmentalism.  From these interviews, I got perspectives from a red state, a blue state and a swing state. Given that issues of climate change and environmentalism have become heavily politicized I wanted to investigate if these definitions change between regions and hopefully unearth an area to work on to increase urban environmentalism. In addition to understand urban environmentalism, I am investigating the connection between being a person of color and engagement with environmentalism and climate change. For this reason, I also chose to solely interview people of color. As such, I asked all of my peers the same questions, with additional questions asked depending on the interviewee. The overlapped core questions went as followed:

      1. Where are you from?
      2. What is your cities policies/stances on climate change?
      3. Would you say you are an environmentalist?
      4. What is your definition of environmentalist or environmentalism?
      5. How does your community understand environmentalism?
        1. Community here was defined not as your entire city but as cultural affiliation.
      6. How does this idea play into the latinx/black/asian community at home?
      7. How has your understanding of environmentalism evolve?
      8. What caused these changes?
      9. How would you compare your evolution on the topic to your peers back home?
      10. What do you think it would take for you and people in your community to make changes?
      11. Do you think environmentalism is inaccessible? Why?
      12. Who do you think has the biggest responsibility to prevent climate change?
In conducting these interviews, I actually found that the answers changed very little across racial demographics and political demographics. None of the people I Interviewed would consider themselves an environmentalist. They did not think people in their community generally considered their environmental impact; most people attributed the lack of concern with the lack of convenience that comes with making environmentally conscious choices. More importantly, the discovery I had in these conversation was that people felt they became more aware of their environmental impact because of college attesting that the difference in what makes this an issue of importance is education. I think the reason I assumed this may actually play among racial lines is because education in America is so inherently tied into class and race. Similarly, I was surprised that everyone recognized the real change would come from forcing corporation to be more environmentally conscious but none believed that change will ultimately come; as a consequence, interviewees ultimately believed the responsibility to stop climate change would land on the individual.
To summarize, the parts I found most important from my first interviews came from:
  1. recognizing that few people deem themselves to be environmentalist because the actions and mentality they would associate with environmentalism had too high of a barrier of entry
  2. education seems to be the deciding factor in how urgent and prominent you find the issue of climate change to be
  3. people don’t engage in having a smaller environmental impact because of convenience
  4. while people recognize the largest perpetrators of climate change, they don’t believe there is a way to create change so the change must come from the individual

True Art.

I did the assignments out of order, so this is my dystopian fiction; please see my assignment from last week for an examination of known unknowns and mitigation strategies.

My story is meant to examine from the perspective of a deeply misogynistic person how they might be able to live in a world in which a woman has been completely reduced to the image or representation of herself. The consequence, as I explore in this, is very dire: it actually is a negation of humanity and love in a deeper sense; including within himself.

This is the outcome I fear most for trying to mix a ‘feminist’ intervention into a system that is already being used to turn women more effectively into a series of images. After all, dating apps are bad for both genders: on an app, a person makes themselves into object through becoming images that they use to represent themselves. In becoming an object, they then enter into a marketplace of objects. More so, “demand” is not longer cultivated by the individual as it was in pre-dating app dating markets; demand is now amassed and used by the platform to induce more swiping and usage of the app. According to the book, The Labor Of Love, when dating platforms moved into the public space (before, the family was in charge of dating and it happened in the ‘parlor’) the logic of dating changed—now daters are encouraged by the platform that provides the experience of dating to be forever engaged in consumption-oriented activities because it benefits the economy. The economy therefore is constantly pushing us to do a bunch of work that’s actually for the benefit of corporations and not for our own happiness —things like getting a Brazilian wax, getting our nails done, spending time in a gym, buying fancy brands that supposedly say things about who we are. Moria Wiegel calls “tinder industrial complex” and encourages us to understand that that is “exploited labor” in a sense. She says that honoring love means accepting that it is this active form of care that we give to each other. It’s not in demand like the dating market leads us to believe—there is no competition or scarcity, love doesn’t diminish when you give it to one person. You have an endless amount; but the dating market leads us to believe that the opposite is true.

The main character is a painter in this. That was very deliberate. I recently read “women looking at men looking at women” which includes this great quote about representations of women painted by men: “We have no recourse to living bodies in art. I am looking into fictive spaces. Hearts are not pumping. Blood is not running. The markers of the human female in biology—breasts and genitalia that I see in these images (when I see them)—are representations. Pregnancy and birth do not figure explicitly in these pictures, but sometimes what is not there is powerful nevertheless. I am looking at inhabitants of the world of the imaginary, of play, and of fantasy made by painters who are now dead, but who were all making art in the twentieth century. Only the signs of the artist’s bodily gestures remain: the traces left by an arm that once moved violently or cautiously in space, a head and torso that leaned forward, then back, feet planted beside each other or at an angle, and eyes that took in what was there and what was not yet there on the canvas, and the feelings and thoughts that guided the brush, that revised, altered, and established the rhythms of motion, which I feel in my own body as I look at the pictures.”

Therefore, this story is meant to examine the new technology through an age-old analogy: art is also a singularized object that is within cycles of demand. We end up seeing how the piece of art ultimately retains singularization despite the cycles of demand, but it is the person who objectifies it irreparably is the one that loses their own humanity.

I also wanted to allude to sexual harassment and rape culture in his interaction with the high schooler in the art class, so there are extra metaphors in the description of her meant to evoke a more serious assault than the verbal one. Also, forgive me from stealing the ending of the great Gatsby :P—the green-glow was too good a symbol not to reuse.


True Art.

Brian Watterby was 32, but unlike most 32 year olds, aside from the blue denim jacket that he thought to be the nicest item of clothing in his possession, and a modest but sleek apartment (filled with work-in-progress art that his art dealer often told him bore the same deep colors and clean contrasts of a Whistler or a Vermeer), he owned very little by choice. His apartment, though well decorated, was simple: his satin-linened bed had no frame; his black table-tops were granite-less, and his floor was a markless brown-black wood. Brian spent a great deal of time in his apartment—by choice, of course. He had always thought of himself as the introverted sort, the kind who often stole away with a glass of whiskey and a few amusing thoughts, and therefore had little need to impress the few visitors his apartment did attract.

When he did have the occasional visitor, he was always sure to direct their vision to his most prized and treasured possession: a black and white photograph of a nude woman taken in the 1920’s by Edward Weston. The photograph was exquisite in Brian’s mind; and became the apsis of his many lectures that he served to his guests upon their arrival (“You know how he gets the saturation so perfect like that? He holds the light between his hands, shaping it, keeping it from pouring out too fast on to the developing picture. Can you imagine?”).

In February, when the colors of the trees around him lowered by an octave to deep reds and eventually greys, for the first time in all his fifteen years of painting, he lost his inspiration. He had reasoned that his deficiencies were due to the lack of beauty to inspire him—the routine coldness of this time of the year had driven the high-heeled women he liked to watch from his open window indoors. He had recently grown fond of critiquing these women from his outlook above, sometimes out loud if he was feeling truly up for the game of it. Thick Ankles. He’d think, in light amusement. Long neck. Birthed Three Children; Worn Thin.

As their seasonal skirts had lengthened from summer’s thigh-grazing prints into knee-length knits, and then eventually into pants, Brian found his game had been ruined. He retreated from the window-side, starved of skin to peer at and cursing the weather for providing him such little beauty to observe. Saul, his art dealer, didn’t find his story sympathetic. Instead, Saul had left several brochures in his mailbox—shiny pink and glinting white with the smiles of learned community-arts-center students. In one, he had circled the description to an intermediate sculpting class in thick red pen.

“The teacher’s a tiny little Asian dime-piece,” Saul said over the phone one day, “wears these overalls with nothing under them.”
Brian shut his eyes, and bit his lower lip and twisted the cord tightly around his finger. He imagined the teacher sitting in his apartment with him. A goddess in her overalls, sitting on the blackness of his leather couch. First he’d paint the overalls, he thought to himself. Then he’d bring a heavy over-head light, and paint the shadows in her cheekbones, maybe her chest.

“But I don’t sculpt,” he said finally.

“She’ll teach negative space,” Saul said simply, “any change will bring sales.”

The sculpture class was to be held in a warehouse in Uptown, and it took Brian a few transfers and a 20-minute walk before he finally reached the embellished steel doors that led inside. Having already been stirred sour by the unsightly lack of women on the bus, he found the moist-aired, muraled studio to be entirely underwhelming. Maybe it was because of all the silence that seemed to lay like a fog between him and the back wall of mirrors; or perhaps it was the sharp and noisy angles of the randomly spaced carpets lying across the floor; or even the dust-spattered stool-legs of art stations, which jutted out in peculiar rows like the bones of a fish; or most positively, the nude man in the center of the room, who sat simply on a metallic chair that had been chosen to function as a makeshift pedestal.

Brian moved to the back of the classroom, pulling back the stool of a free work station, which consisted of a small table topped with a block of clay and several small cutting devices—all speckled with dried clay-dust—with bulbous metal heads and sharp tips. As he sat, the point of a not-quite-hammered in nail pricked through the denim thatching of his jeans, and caused him to jump and knock the stool backwards across the floor. The noise quickly drew the attention of the teacher (who did, indeed have overalls, but unlike in his fantasies, she wore them with a striped tee shirt underneath). They locked eyes, hers hard and disapproving of his ruckus. She turned down to her attendance list, her hair falling in thick black ribbons around her face. “David Ortburg?” She asked.

“No,” Brian said, “Brian Watterby.” As her eyes found his name on the page, Brian was struck by the familiarity of her face, thinking for a second that he must have seen those eyes or those lips before, perhaps as one of the late-night women who walked alone in front of his apartment. Perhaps still it wasn’t any single feature at all, but the softness of a face in which beauty just seems to collect in—burrowing into small pockets or freckling unexpected locations. After all, wasn’t that what women were for?—the endless supply of beautiful details he could pull from their bodies and place on the canvas.

“We’ve already moved on to the torso–Ms. Bradshaw,” the teacher said, pointing her chin toward a student seated to his left, “is a lovely student. Why don’t you watch her until I finish over here?”

Turning, he found that he was seated next to a high school student. She was decked in dark brown corduroys, a long white turtleneck, and brown glasses. Her cheeks were pink and round with sincerity, and her forehead flat and just-a-bit too large; both were bordered by the sharpness and shortness of a pixie cut. She shouldn’t keep her hair so short, Brian thought momentarily, it makes her face appear round.

Having assessed the rest of her, he stopped to examine her handiwork as well. Unimpressed, he reached for the cup of water at his desk, but instead of grabbing the tools from it, he accidentally knocked the cup spillingly away from the table, sending a splash of water down on to his shoes.

“Do you need help?” the younger Bradshaw asked about his shoes.

“Oh, that’s just funny,” Brian said, sitting slowly back in his chair, a devilish smile brewing on his face, “you think that you can help me?”

“I have a napkin,” insisted the younger Bradshaw, turning away, reaching into her backpack, jumbling gently inside for her tissues.

“You have a napkin?” he said, mockingly.

“I have one I swear,” she said again. Brian looked at her back, all curved and round as the still entrance of a cave. Her voice as soft and silky as the silence around them.

“You know what,” Brian suddenly lurched his body forward, “I know how you can help me,”

“How can I help?” she echoed softly.

Brian rubbed his hands together, “You can answer me something.”

The younger Bradshaw sat up. “Yes?” she said, her eyes still bright.

He gestured at the nude, his mouth turning into a grimace of sickly sweet delight, “Do you like what you see?”

Instantly, the girl grew stiff next to him, her cheeks losing a bit of their pinkness. She didn’t answer, but instead continued to work, her fingers only momentarily pausing. Brian pressed on—feeling his curiosity thicken.

“I don’t know about you, but—” said Brian, smiling devilishly, “I’ve certainly seen bigger.”

The younger Bradshaw blushed girlishly. “I think he’s fine,” she tried to say, her bright voice growing weary and confused, her eyes darting awkwardly from Brian to the nude and back to her own feet.

Brian licked his lips, taking in her nervous fidgeting and the way she readjusted her glasses on her nose, sliding them up so the rims obscured her gaze. The silence, that Brian had previously felt so fog-like and so blanketing, was becoming quickly ragged. He planted his feet firmly on the ground, and said, in a deep voice, “Tell me what you think, then,” he pressed toward her, leaning in, pushing forward, and putting his hands on his knees, “Would you sleep with him?”

From across the room, the teacher turned her head, finally noticing the discomfort coming from the far side of the classroom. Seeing that Brian was nearly off his stool, towering over the girl seated next to him, she paced over quickly and stood, tall and firm, between him and the girl.

They stare at each other for a moment, the teacher’s eyes firm and hard and amid his own attempt to match their authority. Brian’s eyes flip from feature to feature, searching for a flaw to extract, any snag or tear in her face that he could use to pull her from her seat of authority, to tell her, to ask her, to force her to beg him to stay. But he found none. As he looked around the room, his stomach turned in the same way it did back in high school, upon entering a lunchroom, and seeing so many unfamiliar and cold faces staring back. As he did in high school, he sat for a few brief and honest moments boldly in the silence of the stares, then, knowing he was truly, and deeply, not wanted, picked up his belongings and left the art studio.

Brian reached the door of his apartment, and his fingers struggle to insert the key into the lock. He pours himself a drink and is drawn to the window. Outside, the sun has just set beyond the rooftops of the green, grey and brick Brooklyn homes. In the dimness of the street, among leafless trees, Brian notes only a few night-walkers, but is pleased to see that his neighbors had just begun turning on their indoor lights. Across the street from him, a small-framed, corduroy-clad girl walks up a red-brick stoop and opens the door to a small, modest brown-colored townhouse. He finds himself surprised to notice that the young girl is the same one from the sculpture class—How had I not recognized her? He thought, scratching his head.

He watches as she enters the small Brooklyn house, her little clay masterpiece in tow. She walks through a small foyer, which is decorated with off-white wallpaper and pink and yellow knickknacks stacked on shelves. She disappears for a moment, behind the walls of the house, but reemerges in what appears to be a dining room. Her mother appears to be sitting at the dining room table. Her mother is wearing a bright green sweater that looks loose and comfortable and likely smells like home-cooked meals, and spices like oregano. The girl places her masterpiece on the table in front of her mother, who smiles widely and broadly, wrinkles happily rippling up her face as she hugs her daughter. They both work together to clear a place on the egg-shell colored mantel behind them, then the mother carefully, as if the sculpture was the most tender object in the world, picks up her daughter’s piece and places it between an unframed picture and a glass stein. They then stand to admire and appreciate it for a moment, caught up within the warmth and stillness of their own home, the mother struck with wonder and awe at what her daughter had so skillfully produced with her humble and slender fingers—at what skill she had worked so hard to learn.

Brian puts down his drink, his mouth open. He paces back to his treasured nude painting, which now, with him being the apartment’s only inhabitant, and he, Brian Watterby, the painting’s only admirer, seems rather unwonderous to him.

Brian imagined the woman in the painting gathering herself. Sitting upright in the metal chair. Brushing herself off. Pacing up to him inside the picture. She placed one hand to the invisible glass of the photograph’s wood-framed pen. Like an animal caught behind a glass entrapment at the zoo, her hands pressed to the glass, and left a greasy mark, but no sound passed through. Brian put his fingers to the picture too, his pinkie touching the imaginary hand of the model. In the darkness of the New York apartment, for a moment, there seemed to be nothing but the picture frame separating the two black and white worlds—the model in hers, and Brian in his.

Brian picks up red and black paint, and with the deepest feeling he knows, he paints over the nude’s face with an ugly, black smirk. Yellow teeth, and red, shiny lips.
The sun sets on his balcony, leaving his apartment dark and black. The Weston, now defaced, looked back at him, asking him the same questions it had asked before.

Am I beautiful? It asked.

Brian couldn’t answer. He stared at the painting, it’s smirk and it’s color.

Do you love me? the painting asked again, if you love me, you’ll tell me I’m beautiful.

Brian wipes away a smudge between the yellow teeth. He takes a deep breath, and as if in response, he picks up his whiskey glass, and with one hand placed on his hip, he turns—for what feels like the first time—away from the ever-reflecting glint of the picture frame, and on toward the soft green-blue glow of the steel-tipped Brooklyn rooftops.

How to own our platform

The story of Jason and Miriam happened because most news organisations in the nondescript future left their own platforms to reach a much bigger one on social platforms, just as NowThis famously did.

It is not a likely future as most news companies has seen the value of subscription based business models and have a hard time giving sharing the income with Facebook or others. The monetization history of must social networks has also been lackluster for most classic news organizations.

And building a paywall that fits your audience is not easy and will probably not be a one size fits all model created by a social platform.

On top of the business model issues you the trust in the platforms is at an all time low. The reasons for that are many, but the saying “never build your business on sand” comes to mind.

So yes, the bleak future described in the earlier blog post is not a likely. But how could we make it even less likely?

The editorial development team could be one way.

Because it allows you to get the most out of your platform and let it evolve with the audience and trends. It gives you the opportunity to experiment with formats and storytelling. And it gives you the means to create new products that better respond to your audience’s need.

So how do we go about doing that? Here is a few ideas from my own team:

  • Create visibility by winning awards. The high profile projects tend to drive the direction of the newsroom. And the awards make it clearer were that direction is. Use those highly visible projects to experiment with form.
  • Build simple tools that let the newsroom tell their stories in a more engaging way. The reporters expect to be able to do more than you text.
  • Test and create new products align with the business strategy. It is probably much faster for the editorial development team to do the proof of concept than to let product and big development in.

An Honest Conversation

A few of my interviews have extolled the values of radical honesty and showing up authentically, as authenticity is one of the few arenas in which mediation and trust-building can thrive. However, doing so depends on everyone being as open, clear, and as vulnerable to each other as they can be, which we know for a number of reasons is especially hard for many of the kids and just as many of the adults to do in schools. A future attempt at honesty:


Mr. Xavi honestly never really understood his students the way he wanted to, though he tried each day to connect in whatever way he knew how. Yet, every day was a hard one in which his earnestness to mold young minds was read as exactly that, making him a prime target for those who craved a sense of control. The same was true of Jerome, though his situation made all that much harder by puberty. Every day was a hard one in which his earnestness to be accepted was read as exactly that, making him a prime target for those who craved a sense of control. On this day, Jerome is in 12th grade and Mr. Xavi is his English teacher. All but 2 black students in Jerome’s English class are out of class today for various suspensions, detentions, or other disciplinary actions. The class is otherwise full by the strong attendance of the other students. In English class, a strange conversation about said conditions ensues:

“Jerome, why are you on your phone in the back? This makes me feel blue.”

“Mr. Xavi, today I am feeling orange. My mood is black. Today I feel upset because you asked me why I was on my phone, and have not asked the same of any of the other kids in class who are also on their phone.”

“Jerome, today I am feeling red. My mood is green. Today I am frustrated because I am trying to teach, and your phone use is distracting me. Everyone else is on their phone, but I’m talking to you right now.”

“Mr. Xavi, today I am feeling orange. My mood is black. My heart is yellow. Today I feel confused because why should my texting keep you from writing on the board when your back is turned anyway?”

“Jerome, today I am feeling red. My mood is green. My feelings are blue. Hearing you say that made me feel sad, frustrated.”

“Mr. Xavi, today I am feeling orange. My mood is black. This interaction makes me feel red. Courtney is still on her phone by the way. Actually, she’s been on her phone all class and my mom just texted me so…”

“Jerome, I understand…”

“Mr. X, I feel blue because you cut me off. This makes my mood burnt mahogany. Can you help me understand why I would feel this way?”

“Jerome, today I feel red, increasingly fiery red. Today I feel disappointed because I feel you are deflecting from the issue at hand, which is increasingly distracting to me and the other students.”

A few other students let out a lazed, mixed cacophony of “mmm”, “ya”. Courtney takes a selfie with the other half of the class, many of whom were prepped to leave an Instagram comment, after having done the same all class period.

“Mr. Xavi, this makes me feel lime green. My heart is yellow. I actually would love to move on from this conversation as my phone was a distraction to me too. I’ve been enjoying your lesson so far.”

“Mr. Xavi!”, Courtney interrupts, “Can you take this picture for me?”

Mr. Xavi obliges while continuing to emote with Jerome, though growing exasperated. Today, like every day, was a hard one.

“Jerome, today I feel gray. I am tired. I don’t know why we keep having the same conversation.”

“Mr. Xavi!”, Courtney interrupts, “Another please? The angle, though.”

“Mr. Xavi, I understand what you’re saying as I am also tired. I don’t know why we keep having the same conversation.”

“Jerome, thank you for sharing. Today I feel blue, my heart is orange, my future is yellow”

“Mr. Xavi, thank you for sharing. Today I feel black, my heart is blue, my future is white, my insides feel calm. My world is bright.”

“Yes Jerome, your world is bright.”

“Mr. Xavi!”, Courtney yells. “Another please?”

Jerome takes the moment to return a text to his mom. Next to him Courtney adjusts her filter to Aden and thanks Mr. Xavi.

“Thank you, Mr. Xavi, my heart is blue. My insides feel calm. My world is bright.”