American College Admission Process for Japanese Students: Do Not Neglect Extracurricular Activities.


By Koto Haramiishi, Columnist

There are many interesting differences between college admissions in Japan and college admissions in the United States. These differences can be barriers that both American and Japanese students encounter when they apply for their top choice colleges. However, the main difference in the importance of extracurricular activities is one of the most prominent differences. While most of colleges in Japan admit students based on their grades or recommendations from their high schools, grades are not enough to be to the ideal candidate for most U.S colleges.. According to Steve Loflin, a founder and CEO of National Society of Collegiate Scholars, extracurricular activities matter much more than you may think (U.S News and World Report 2011).

Even though many colleges and universities in the United States accept certain numbers of international students due to the good reputation of multi-cultural environments in the campus, international students need to realize that it is important to show their qualities in other things besides studying to make themselves stand out from other international student candidates.

Japanese colleges, however, have more value in students’ collectiveness among other students in their colleges or in the community. Japan is a collectivist society: this means that Japanese students are encouraged to be like their peers to be a good team player. Individuality is not as prized as is being a good team player who can blend in with those around them. Therefore, having unique extracurricular activities is not as important in Japan.

In addition, the Japanese Ministry of Education has been reinforcing standardization of curriculum within the country, and so it is no longer unique for Japanese people to go to college or university.

These cultural differences in educational systems lead many Japanese students who come to study abroad at two year colleges in the United States think that all they need to do is study to get higher grades and transfer to a good four year institution. Indeed, higher grades do positively increases students’ possibilities to be admitted by good colleges, but when it comes to the American college admissions process at the most selective schools, good grades are not enough.

In addition to good grades, what American colleges are looking for in new students is whether they have leadership and self-achievements. According to the prestigious Harvard University’s admission website, the characteristics of students they want are the following: “maturity, character, leadership, self-confidence, warmth of personality, sense of humour, energy, concern for others and grace under pressure.” Other college admissions centers advertise the importance of leadership, extracurricular activities and work experience.

Why are American colleges so obsessed with leadership and extracurricular activities?

A a recent New York Times article focused on the entering students’ qualities in college admissions. In this article, NYT reporters interviewed William R. Fitzsimmons, the long-time dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard College in 2009. In this interview, Fitzsimmons answered the question that why many students are required to do extracurricular activities to be admitted into American colleges. While Harvard admits several thousands of students with stunning academic credentials every year, it is difficult to judge each students’ personalities in order to distinguish between other applicants. To make one’s academic profile more attractive to the college admissions staff, leadership experiences and extracurricular activities will be used to increase quality and one’s suitability to their ideal college.

Another reason young students are pushed to pursue their interests during their secondary school days for college admission is that if one showed outstanding achievements in other activities such as sports or artistic activities, college will consider it as the students has pursued own interests as well as keeping well academically due to his strong persona qualifications. Because it is not easy for students to commit to something they love while they need to keep their grades high, colleges will weigh the value of those students greater when it comes to personal qualities. And such personal qualities are also useful long after they graduate.

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Student Visas, OPT, and Green Cards: a Primer for International Students


By Koto Haramiishi, international student guest writer


The majority of college international students wish to work and stay the United States after graduation. Their opportunities to work with a student visa, however, are limited when they first come to America. Nevertheless, both American and foreign students find it difficult to afford college tuition fees without any financial aid. Part time jobs are indeed indispensable for most college students. However, international students are not allowed to work off campus until they receive special permission to work by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The process and system for international students to work in the United States is totally different than the process for American students. While the number of international students in the United States continues to climb every year information on work eligibility remains spotty for many students. Because of the huge increase in international students and the little information available to them regarding work status, I decided to write this informational blogpost about how to gain employment within their student visa allowance.

There are two major options to work for students who are not U.S. citizens that I will discuss: OPT (including military) and green cards (marriage, asylum, and lottery).


For international students, OPT is the most common way to be able to work off campus. What is OPT? OPT is short for Optional Practical Training. OPT is a period during which undergraduate and graduate students on an F-1 status who have completed or have been attending college or university for more than nine months are permitted by the USCIS to work at a maximum of 12 months towards getting practical training to complete their field of study. This is open to every student on an F-1 Visa. Students must know that OPT applications take usually more than 3 months to process and requires a recommendation from their international student support office at their college. Furthermore, once the application arrives at USCIS, the student will not start until USCIS sends them an EAD card, which is proof that the student is an OPT holder. Students who major in STEM degree (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics), will approved to work more for 17 months, due to a recent change in 2008.

The time cost and high expected grades in a student’s field of study to be qualified for OPT means that students would must start preparing for OPT eligibility if they want to work in the United States while they are students. According to one of my friends from Japan who attempted but did not get in, ‘OPT is only available to those who are planning to study more than 2 years. I do not have the intention to stay in U.S after college and also changed my major as well. But international students just want to earn money off campus while we are in college.’’ I assume that there are many exceptional cases, such as major changes that might confuse students who want to do OPT, because the job for which is OPT qualified has to be related the specific field that international students complete or are pursuing.

Green Cards: an Introduction

If students become lawful permanent residents, how does their OPT status change? The USCIS offers foreign nationals green cards, which are documents that gives them an authorization to live and work in the United States. In short, green card holders get most rights and civil liberties of U.S. citizens (notable exceptions being voting in national elections or running for public office). As an international student, there are several ways to get a green card.

Green Card: Sponsoring Employers

The first method to get a green card is similar to an OPT program – through a sponsoring employer. It is less likely, and not everyone can have this option, but if one is highly-skilled and considered as a person who can contribute a lot to the company, the company may sponsor of the student by applying for the National Interests Waiver.

Green Card: Marriage

The second common way is through marriage. Getting married to a U.S. citizen is the easiest way to get a green card. You must live together and know each other or other things that married couples normally do because immigration officials conduct interviews of the married couple in order to confirm that the marriage is real. Once a green card application is approved, the person will get a temporary 2 years valid green card, and then they will get a permanent one.

Green  Card: Lottery

For another option, it is worth it to try the Electronic Diversity Visa Lottery, which is as the name indicates, is an annual lottery for immigrants from diverse countries to get a green card.

Green Card: Asylum

The third method of getting a green card is applying for asylum. What is an asylum seeker? The most common kind is a refugee – someone who is fleeing their home country because if they go back, they will be killed by or tortured by their government. This is unusual for international students, but not unheard of. If you can prove that if you return to your home country because you will face government sponsored torture, the United States will not deport you.

Green Card: Military Service

The final way to get a green card is to enroll in military service. However, the military service green card it requires applicants to have lived in the United States at least 2 years before enlisting, and enlistees must have good health. OPT permits applicants to work in the military as well, as long as their job within the military is related to their field of study.

Crimes and Work Eligibility

Crimes are very serious for all students. Committing a crime means that you could face jail, fines, mandatory community service, and loss of financial aid and housing options. A criminal record will also limit students’ future employment options because employers do not want to hire criminals. However, for international students, the immigration consequences are very severe. If you are an international student, commit a crime and are convicted, you may have disqualified yourself from applying for a green card and/or OPT status. The United States lets students work in the country with the condition that they are law abiding people. If an international student is convicted of a crime, especially a serious crime, then the United States can reject the person’s visa application.


Generally speaking, many international students try and fail to gain legal rights to work and live permanently in the United States, because there is so much demand for green cards and OPT status and not enough supply. International students sometimes have to be satisfied with minimum wage on campus jobs until they get qualified to apply for a green card or OPT. The United States is not the only one state that has strict rules and policies for immigration work adjustment status, because security in this country is prioritized.


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Coco For Chanel – Book Review


By Jasmine Bager, Reporter

Take a walk in any city and you’ll find traces of Chanel at every corner and (literally) at every step. We all know what that looks like: the visible interlocked C logos, signature flat shoes, quilted purses, costume jewelry, cardigan sweaters, tortoiseshell sunglasses and an air of mystery. “I have tried to be both invisible and present,” Chanel famously said. That seems to describe all of these women, then and now. But who was the woman behind the little black dress? Do we know much (or anything!) about the person whose initials we wear on special occasions?

Academic writer Rhonda K. Garelick’s new book, Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History (hyperlink: attempts to find out. “What is Chanel? What every woman is wearing without knowing it,” read L’Express Magazine in 1956, but that line could have easily been written today. Prof. Garelick did just that.

For a century (and counting), Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel has made an impact in fashion design, but she was a savvy businesswoman, too. Chanel’s company is the highest earning privately owned luxury goods manufacturer today. In the whole planet.

Born in 1883, Chanel lived in a man’s world, but her aim was to dress powerful women. In 12 fascinating, yet lengthy chapters, Garelick allowed Chanel to answer that same question: “I dressed the universe,” Chanel said in 1947.

With a background in academia, Garelick went to the corporate headquarters for the House of Chanel in Paris and read the novels that Chanel is said to have read and visited surviving people identified in old photographs. We learn quickly in the book that Chanel often dressed her past as she did her models: with a dash of drama. Chanel jumbled dates and dramatized events so often, it seemed like she reinvented herself with each new design. In short, Garelick tried to channel the fashionista and follow her alluring footsteps to separate fact from fantasy. Who better to attempt that than an English professor?

Orphaned and abandoned as a child, Chanel dreamed about leaving the obscure village in France where she came from. With an active imagination and few friends, she became a pathological liar, embellishing her life and the details within it, since the truth was dull and depressing.

Entrepreneurship was in her blood. Chanel’s father was a charismatic peddler who sold women’s undergarments on the streets and ran away from his responsibilities. Chanel’s mother was a kitchen maid and at 20, had her first daughter out of wedlock. Chanel was born next. Her given name was Gabrielle, meaning, “God is my mighty,” in Hebrew. The nuns named her when her exhausted mother was too tired to think of a name and her father was nowhere to be found. Chanel had fragmented memories of her charming father but he disappeared often until he left for good, leaving her mother to care for all six children on her own. Chanel’s mother died at 33 from poor health. Chanel was 11.

Chanel moved to the convent, where she worked as a laundress for the orphanage and learned how to sew. That is where she got the basis for her fashion aesthetic; the simple and conservative white and black garments the nuns wore, carried through to her design palette. The mother superior was the first woman boss she’d ever met and helped her realize that she could be her own boss, too.

At 19, the sheltered Chanel left the convent to the bright lights of the city. She was introduced to the flamboyant ladies of the night, which greatly impacted her fashion sense. She tried her luck as a café singer, with limited success. She was charismatic and charming, like her father, however. Rumor has it that customers picked her famous name, Coco. She used to sing “Ko-ko-ri-ko” (Cock-a-doodle-doo) and “Qui qua’a vu Coco?” (Has anyone seen Coco?)—songs about a lost dog and a rooster. Hurt from being abandoned, Chanel invented that her father immigrated to America and that he affectionately nicknamed her Coco. The truth was, her father likely never left the country.

Two of Chanel’s sisters committed suicide as young, overworked mothers with young children and failed relationships. Chanel became the only female survivor in her family by 1920. Determined to break the pattern of hardworking Chanel ladies falling for deadbeats, Chanel strived to make a name for herself. And that, she did.

By the age of 30, Chanel became a household name. Her clothing was androgynous, conservative and classic—silhouettes the nuns who raised her might have been proud of. Chanel’s boyish figure, slim hips and flat chest helped her ease into wearing men’s suit shirts and straw hats while riding. She figured that thinking like a man would be her way to success.

Chanel was a genius at the public relations game and befriended many fashion journalists in Europe and America. Soon after launching her hat making business and designing costumes for dancers, Chanel became a lifestyle brand. She used subliminal seduction as a marketing ploy. “A bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume is sold every three seconds,” the book reads. Unlike most perfumes sold at her time, her bottles did not have poetic titles, but contained her lucky number: five. She sprayed the scent in her boutique’s fitting rooms and when the buyers asked what the lovely smell was, she handed them tiny samples to take home. Those women grew addicted to the perfume and returned for more. Soon, bottles began appearing for sale on the shelves.

Chanel loved excitement and some speculate that she was perhaps a spy. She was involved with very powerful and rich men: a Nazi officer, the Duke of Westminster, a diplomat and a composer. Did she briefly turn to discreet prostitution? Was she a mother—was the little boy she affectionately cared for her own child and not that of her sister? The book talks about those possibilities.

Chanel’s last words at 87 were reportedly: “So, this is how one dies.” Forty years after her death, it doesn’t seem like her legacy has died at all. Fashionistas everywhere, and Garelick’s book, bring Chanel back to life.

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Apartheid South Africa: An Interview with Colin Wes

By Shinnosuke Shigenaga and Shiori Nemeto, special guest writers.

Colin Wes. Photograph courtesy of Colleen Dishy.

Colin Wes. Photograph courtesy of Colleen Dishy.

Tell us about yourself and your life here in America.

I work for Costco, and I have been with them for 28 years. I am a buyer and work for corporate headquarters. When we first came to America, we didn’t have jobs, and we had 4 children. Our youngest was 9 months old. I was very lucky that I found a job with Costco. I grew and developed with Costco. Colleen, my wife, was fortunate to get on board with Cornish College’s Junior Preparatory Dance as a ballet teacher. She loved teaching and loved Cornish. A lot of doors and windows have opened for us and we are grateful to be American.

Colleen Dishy

Colin Wes and his family, newly immigrated to the United States. He references his wife Colleen Dishy (in light blue blouse) throughout this interview. Dishy’s father, Les Dishy, a contemporary of Nelson Mandela, was a former mayor of Johannesburg who was sympathetic to the anti-apartheid cause. Photograph courtesy of Colleen Dishy.

What was it like growing up in apartheid for friendships?

Well, first of all, our schools were segregated. I went to a whites only school. Not only did I go to a whites only school, I went to a boys only school. There was no interaction with black children my own age. There were stories of kids developing life lasting friendships. But for the most part, the South African government did not want black and white children to integrate. It was also illegal for whites and blacks to intermingle [interracial sex]. And of course, there was no question of interracial marriages.

What were the things that troubled you the most about apartheid? How did you try to change them?

This is a very complex question because it was not only the part that apartheid was a very unfair system, you developed an acute paranoia about being a South African. You would say that you were from England because you were too embarrassed to say that you were South African. The perception of the rest of the world was that all white South Africans were racist. But in reality, there were a lot of us who were against the system. There were a couple of main factions of white South Africans. The first were Afrikaans speaking (Dutch). The next were British English speaking, immigrants who came to South Africa (i.e. Eastern Europe): they adopted the English/British culture. Almost exclusively the first language throughout South Africa was English, even though Afrikaans was official language. However, we all had to learn Afrikaans in school. In 1976, there were huge riots over the mere use of the Afrikaans language. Anti-apartheid activists were angry that kids were forced to learn classes in Afrikaans (considered the language of oppressor). English was considered the language of the rest of the integrated world. Lots of people in South Africa did nothing to change the system. There was a sense of overwhelming helplessness. You could be nice to black people you came in contact with and be branded as a troublemaker. Those people labeled as anti-apartheid activists got into trouble with police, went into exile, and got murdered on a regular basis.

Japan was one of the only countries that traded with South  Africa during apartheid. How did this affect the goods available in South Africa during this time?

This was something that I was very much aware of because I was in the retail trade. Most countries were not doing business with South Africa at the time. This was because of pressure from the United Nations and from President Reagan. Many organizations disinvested, for example, the University of Washington cut off ties with South Africa. Lots of European countries, as well as America, had previously invested in gold mines. Johannesburg was built on the basis of gold. That’s how Johannesburg became big city. I was aware because I had a relative who was doing business with  Japan at the time. There were a lot of Japanese goods. Sony, Nikon. They were all there. In those days there were very little Chinese goods available. When something was Japanese it was made in Japan. We were actually making Japanese cars that were being exported to Japan. In South Africa, they drive on the left side of the road. South Africa would make Toyotas and export these vehicles to Japan and other countries where they drive on the other side of the road. There was a real big industry between Japan and other countries. There still is today, though there is a lot of Chinese infiltration. The Chinese are taking advantage of opportunities in South Africa, and they are buying huge amounts of property. It’s common knowledge that South Africa is currently owned by the Chinese.

What was the purpose of apartheid?

I think there were a few reasons for apartheid. First, there was the air of superiority. This originated from missionaries that originally came to Africa. They regarded blacks as “uncivilized” and themselves as “better”. Another reason for apartheid was that the white government that came into power in 1948 realized that blacks would soon overrun them in terms of numbers. By creating apartheid, which they called separate development, the white government thought they could secure their own future as the dominant group.  If you have 4 million people versus 40 million people, it’s simply not very realistic to think that you could be the dominant group long term. Another reason for apartheid was fear. The apartheid architects thought if they could control, they would be able to prevent the “other” from overwhelming them. But they were wrong. However, I would like to caution you that to ask what was the purpose of apartheid is similar to asking what was the purpose of World War II. These are big questions. There is no easy answer.

Tell us about apartheid on a daily basis.

We saw discrimination every single day. Black people needed paperwork to give them permission to simply walk in the street. We saw on a regular basis police vans pulling up to random black people. We saw them  (the police) haul South African black citizens without the proper paperwork to the back of these police vans. The vans – they were called the Black Mariahs. They were arresting people en masse. Growing up, I had experiences in our own house where we had employees who were black, and the police broke down the gate and wanted to know who was on premises. They would barge in with their demanding questions: “Who are you? Where is your paperwork?” Only the blacks got harassed like this, never the whites. On a daily basis the whites in South Africa would work alongside black people. However, blacks were getting paid 20 percent of what the whites were getting paid. There were also fewer privileges for blacks at work in other ways. For example, we had a cafeteria in our workplace. There was a separate place for whites to eat (and the whites’ cafeteria had more amenities, from the menu to the furniture). This comprehensive and systematic discrimination was about separate development. Whites were considered the privileged race and had a better deal in every way. For example, if there was a bus service the government would take the old, falling apart busses, transfer them to the segregated black circuits, and buy new ones for whites. Because whites were considered superior, they got the best of everything.

If you broke the law regarding apartheid or helped others break the law under apartheid, what kind of punishment would happen?

This is a broad question. One of many examples was how the government would respond when someone who was outspoken was branded a troublemaker by the government. Police would arrest this person and would interrogate them in a terrifying fashion. Very often these people would disappear. They would be arrested under very suspicious circumstances, and then there would be no trace of them. We all knew that they were killed. One of the activists who was branded as a troublemaker who was the famous Steve Biko. It was  approximately 1978 when Steve Biko had a very large following: he was very outspoken and he organized protest marches. He had become representative to the international community as the leader to end apartheid. The government arrested him numerous times. One day, he was arrested and taken to police headquarters, where he was tortured to death. Biko’s death was a terror tactic. The police were immune to prosecution because South Africa became a police state and the police controlled everything that happened.

Tell us how your family were connected with the anti-apartheid movement.

Colleen’s youngest sister  attended the university in Johannesburg. While she was a student, there was a mass protest about someone having been arrested/disappeared. All the students protesting were arrested and thrown into jail. My brother in law was involved in a team of lawyers sympathetic towards anti-apartheid activists, and helped the students out of jail. Mass arrests of students happened a lot. This struck hold because of Colleen’s sister. Colleen’s father [Les Dishy] was an active politician. He represented the Progressive Party. The Progressive Party was anti-government, but operated within the realms of legality to have some semblance of democracy. They had a small role in Parliament because they were always squashed by the government majority. Whenever he [Les Dishy] saw black man or woman abused for any reason, he at his own risk intervene, often ordering police to “let them be.” Dishy never got arrested, but we know that the secret police were watching him. If you look at the records from this time, it reminds us of Nazi Germany, where S.S. were watching everybody. They were, particularly people who were outspoken against the apartheid government.

Colleen’s father eventually became mayor of the South African city of Johannesburg. During the last of the apartheid years, Dishy was the mayor of Johannesburg and did whatever he could do to alleviate the unfairness of apartheid in the city of Johannesburg and anywhere else where he could be effective. When [Les] was sick in the hospital, Nelson Mandela heard about this in his entourage and came to the hospital to visit him on his deathbed and thank him for his work. Colleen did meet Mandela, and there are all kinds of indirect ties to Mandela to our family. Colleen’s cousin was engaged to Mandela’s daughter at one point. My brother in law, an attorney, was involved in the trial where Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment. My brother in law was on the defense team. It was a very serious trial, because Mandela was a black man who was being accused of treason. The defense knew that he would be convicted; therefore the defense’s chief goal was to prevent the death sentence, because in South Africa that was the penalty for treason. They were positive Mandela would get a conviction for treason, so their main goal was to mitigate the sentence, which turned out to be life imprisonment instead.

What were segregated neighborhoods like, and how did it affect the population?

Imagine Downtown Seattle as a whites only area. During the day, blacks would come and work but at night they had to leave to their homes in townships.  In our case, it was Soweto. These townships were areas where black people lived without housing, electricity, and running water. They had to get up early in the morning while whites slept in their fancy suburbs. The blacks were there to serve the whites. The whole horrible concept of apartheid was that black man was there to serve him [the whites]. We all lived double lives. We worked side by side during the day, joked around, and interacted like normal people and at night they went the blacks went away. This was a strange situation because of forced apartheid. It was gratifying to us when we came to America and didn’t experience that. It was a huge sense of freedom we had not experienced before.

The Wes children as adults.

The Wes children as adults. Photograph courtesy of Colleen Dishy

What kind of long term effects of apartheid remains today in South Africa?

When Mandela was finally freed and they negotiated, the prime minister negotiated for free elections. 1994 was the first year where there were free elections in South Africa. Lots of people thought there would be a bloodbath. I thought it would happen. I was amazed and grateful that there was a relatively nonviolent transition to a new majority government.

However, the transition was not without challenges. Mandela had spoken of equal housing, job opportunities, and the reality was that after apartheid ended, the social inequities did not end. The rich got richer, poor got poorer, and there remains still lots of unemployment. The stark reality of recovering from apartheid was that at the time apartheid ended, South Africa had a population of 40 million, 4 million of whom were whites. To provide work, housing, and general infrastructure for 40 million people recovering from a system that was designed for only for 4 million people was impossible to achieve in the short term. A lot of promises were made and not yet delivered.

However, if you look at the big scheme of things, if a country is only 20 years old, it’s only the beginning. In time the country will catch up. In time, equality will emerge. People will have more opportunities. Mandela was a fantastic leader, and he not only inspired black people to embrace this new South Africa but whites as well. He was only in power for 5 years and I think he did a wonderful job. But given the fact that he was aging and needed to make room for a younger man, unfortunately the two presidents who followed him were not as successful in bringing the country together.

The current South African president is named Jacob Zuma. He has been accused of corruption. He used public money to build lavish mansions. He has 11 wives. He is very much an inadequate leader and a very corrupt leader. This is unfortunate because what South Africa needs right now is a strong leader like Mandela who can guide the country and can keep the things on a positive road.

After the independence, South Africa had a reconciliation program where people spoke about what had happened. This was a great program. Truth and reconciliation occurred through this process. White police that had been responsible for atrocities came forward and spoke about what they did and begged for forgiveness. South Africa could be a great model for the rest of the world, but it will take more time.

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My Draw to Journalism

Nancy headshot

Nancy Zhang, Reporter

I have aspired to be a journalist since I was in primary school.

However, the turning point in my journalistic experiences was when I had the privilege to work as an intern journalist in the local TV station of my hometown, Lanzhou, China, last winter break. This incredible internship experience was one of the pivotal reasons that led me to this my passion for journalism and desire to learn more about journalistic writing.

The complex  situations I came across made me realize that I am still lacking much knowledge on how to become the best journalist that I can be. During the internship, I assisted my supervisor in conducting over 150 interviews and edited all the reports. Our reporting mainly focused on local people’s daily problems to the public.

Even though I helped some people solve their problems, I still met a lot of challenges. One day, I answered a phone call from a single mother, who claimed she bought a new heater one week ago and that the heater that did not work at all. She had allegedly called the retailer twenty times a day for the whole week and hoped that they could fix the heater. A repairman did come over, but the only thing he did was accuse the woman of breaking the heater and left without repairing the heater.

When I arrived her house, I saw a little boy sitting in the coach with a red face. It was so cold, I did not feel any temperature difference from outside. I started to ask the details and the woman could not stop crying because she was so worried about her boy would get sick in such cold weather. She begged me to report her suffering so that public attention and relevant government agencies could help her through the situation. I wrote a report that fully showed my sympathy for the poor family and expressed my anger to the retailer. After my adviser read it, she returned it to me with one sentence “Never say how deep the river is when you are standing on side”. She also told me “You even did not go and meet the retailer. You was totally put yourself on the side of the woman only because she was weak. You ignored that as a journalist, your responsibility was not to express sympathy, but to collect the information, value the content and report the truth to the public objectively.”

At that moment, I realized that to be a journalist is not simply to write about how I see the situation. Being a good journalist requires one to collect information specifically, value content, and report objectively.  Therefore, I am eager to expand my knowledge about journalism to help me in my future truth seeking endeavors.

 Nancy Zhang is a student at the University of Washington studying journalism and communications.

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The Benefits and Challenges of Organic Farming

The Benefits and Challenges of Organic Farming

By Elise Watness


Labels such as ‘organic’ or ‘fair trade’ allow consumers to make ethics-based decisions knowing standards have been set for certified products. But the organic certification label can mislead consumers to think they are always free of chemicals. To really know how their food is produced, consumers must get to know their farmer or grow it themselves.


Benefits of organic farming:


Organic is GMO-free.

By USDA standards, nothing organic is allowed to be grown with genetically modified seed. Food containing genetically engineered products are usually not labeled as such, so the organic label is important for consumers who are cautious about consuming these new types of food.  Most genetically engineered crops are made to be resistant to herbicide, so it is likely that these crops have been sprayed with glyphosate pesticides.


Organic home gardening is less expensive than using chemicals.

Applying pesticides is more work than most home gardeners want to embrace. By talking with neighbors and garden center professionals, the home grower should be able to identify crops and growing techniques that do not require pesticide applications. Organic has more meaning when it is practiced at home. Organic gardening at home tends to lead to a deeper understanding of the intent behind the organic label.


Organic growing is proven to be sustainable over long periods of time.

Organic principles work well when practiced over time. A good organic plan will not only yield a good harvest, but improve the land’s productivity for the next crop. Industrial agriculture is a relatively new practice with a checkered record on agricultural sustainability.


Food produced without chemicals is better for the environment and our health

Pesticides and fertilizer registered for organic production are usually derived from natural products and have a more limited impact on the environment. Neonicotinoid pesticides linked to the decline of honeybee populations are not allowed in organic production. Exposure to pesticides among agricultural workers should be of greater public concern. Workers around the world are still routinely exposed to toxic pesticides regardless of cautions printed on their labels. Despite FDA approval there are still too many unknowns about chronic health effects of consuming pesticides for them to be considered completely safe.


There’s pride in cooperating with nature.

There is beauty in a closed loop production system that does not rely heavily on outside inputs. It is a great challenge for farmers to develop a system that works within the constraints of their environment. The creativity required to develop such a system can be appreciated like a work of art.


Challenges of organic farming:


Mainstream consumers have standards for quality that are difficult for organic growers to meet

Lettuce with holes in it, or apples with a bit of scab are always passed over by shoppers, although nutrition and flavor quality might be excellent. Consumers have been trained to seek out food with Barbie-doll features. Organic growers have higher rates of unmarketable blemished product and that limits sales revenue.


Profitability is low because food prices are low and land is expensive

Most of the farmers I know have a day job to support the farming they do on nights and weekends. Despite increase exposure small farms have gained in recent years, the reality is that most are still not profitable businesses.


Farming organically on an industrial scale is difficult.

Many organic crops are grown in monocultures, like conventional crops, but use organically registered pesticides and fertilizers. It is common for organic growers to spray pesticides even more frequently than their conventional counterparts to keep up with insect and disease pressure. Organic methods are much more effective on a small scale than on the industrial level.


There are many conflicting ideas of what organic means.

Many consumers buy organic because it seems like the ethical choice. But how can big businesses (like Wal-Mart, General Mills, and Kellogg) grow organically, and be any better than the produce grown in your own town? Is organic really synonymous with pure? How do ethics of shopping for organics compare with shopping local, or fair-trade? Perhaps we’re ready for a new standard. How about farm-direct?


Organic certification is exclusive

Many small farmers don’t justify the expense for organic certification. Some use methods that are very well suited for their production and environment, but still don’t qualify for the organic label. If you shop at farmer’s markets, you can talk to the farmer about how the food was grown.


My analysis: Organic is progress. Buying from a farmer’s market or farm stand is better. Growing it yourself is best.

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I was going to submit this paper, which I wrote and presented in Fall 2011, to a number of relevant journals. However, recent events affecting those whom I dearly love made me realize that rather than signing away the rights to an obscure journal read primarily by academics (a journal that likely requires a hefty subscription fee to view), this paper on preventing corruption within a church setting by reforming current tax law (which currently allows an ostentatious minority of church leaders to commit egregious financial fraud with very little accountability) might better serve the general public by becoming free, online, and easily downloadable.

You can click on the link below to download.



Laura Umetsu

Editor in Chief

Civilian Global News

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International student exchange: interview with James E. Burrows, University of Virginia McIntire School of Commerce

by Takuya Sayuwatari, Reporter


In our new international exchange student series, we follow special reporter Takuya Sayuwatari (Japan) as he interviews American students and faculty members to analyze the differences between Japanese and American educational systems as he decides which American college is the best fit for him. Here, he interviews James (Jim) E. Burroughs, Rolls-Royce Commonwealth Professor of Commerce at the  University of Virginia’s McIntire School of  Commerce and head of McIntire’s Japan exchange program.

What is the McIntire program in Tokyo? What do students do there other than studying that most enhances their futures in business?

All McIntire students must undergo a “capstone” international experience in which they must spend one month immersed in another region of the globe outside the United States. The program I run is the “East Asia” track which includes visits to Tokyo, Kyoto, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. While in these locations students do a variety of activities, including studying at Peking University and visiting cultural sites, but the primary activity is to visit corporations and meet with top executives at these firms to learn about their businesses and the economic climate in Japan, Korea, etc. Most of these executives are alumni of the University of Virginia. We will also visit embassies, trade delegations, ministry officials, etc.

Why did you decide to become the head of McIntire’s Japan program?

I have been involved in student programs all over the world including Denmark, Germany, Spain, UK, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, and Indonesia, as well as East Asia. I feel it is incredibly important for today’s students (especially business students) to gain a global perspective since at this point the world’s economies are all intertwined. For example, when the U.S. housing market crashed, that affected the whole world. I also want students to be comfortable forming business relationships and friendships with people from many different cultures, and this requires students to experience people from places like Japan in their daily life. I really enjoy Japan. There was a time when Japan was the fastest ascending economy in the world with stalwart companies like Sony, Toyota, etc. Today there has been more focus on China and, to a lesser degree Korea, as the new Asian tigers while Japan has endured the “lost decade(s)” and more recently Abenomics to try and turn Japan’s fortunes around, But I don’t see this as particualarly surprising or concerning. Japan’s economy is still extremely powerful (the 3rd largest in the world). It is still a highly innovative place. I think its long-term prospects are solid, and it will resume a positive growth trajectory (though not at the unsustainable levels of the 1980s). So if students want to go where the action is, economically speaking, they have to go to Asia. And if they are going to go to Asia then they have to understand the major players in the region, this includes Japan. This is why I head the program.

How does your relationship with Japan influence your career and the careers of those who visit Japan?

I am not sure to what degree it affects my own career at this point (I don’t tend to approach it from for personal gain, but rather for what it can do for students and young people coming up). That is the advantage of being a senior professor, you have the luxury of being able to make decisions in the best interest of others. That said, I think to be a business professor you have to be current and maintain an international view, and I’m not sure this can be done sitting at a computer in one country, you have to get out there. In terms of my students’ careers, I think they have incredible opportunities to work and grow their careers in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, Japan has challenges because it has not historically embraced immigration in the way some of its neighbors have, which does create some insularity risks. I still think American students can work in Japan and I encourage them to explore options, but I would like to see more seamless movement among different economies as it is good for everyone.

What do you and your students try to learn in the Japan program?

We primarily study business and the Japanese economy. Lately this includes the recent struggles Japan has had, and also its recent policy initiatives to get back on course. However, you really can’t study business in a vaacuum, so we also study geopolotical issues. The recent spate over the Senkaku Islands is a good example. Here you have a largely insignificant body of land that becomes the center of a major political struggle between Japan and China. At the same time, China and Japan are intimately dependent upon one another for trade. So how do these tensions get resolved? How are they viewed? You have to experience this “on the ground” so we really try to understand the current challenges of the region in a very comprehensive way, but always bringing the conversation back to the business climate.

How does the McIntire program in Tokyo enhance students’ learning?

I have probably answered this already, but the bottom line is that it is impossible to be a global citizen if you have an insular mindset. So student learn a great deal, not only about the cultures they visit, but also about themselves. This is often a transformative experience for them, particularly if they have not traveled extensively before.

What are students’ popular opinions about the Japanese business program after they finish it? 

I think they have a more balanced view. For example, Japan has supposedly had this terrible recession, but when you look at daily life in a city like Tokyo, it is hard to see it (people go about daily life). I think students also have to recalibrate their views of Japan. They often see it as a pretty exotic locale (which I guess it is coming from the U.S.) but when you get to Tokyo you quickly learn that it is a very modern, very livable city. It has all the amenities of any major city in the U.S., and this often comes as a surprise to students. When such myths are erased, students become much more open to embracing the culture and even perhaps making it a larger part of their career plans. They also get to meet Japanese students and quickly find that students are pretty much the same everywhere. Of course, I’m not usually a part of this socializing, but the students tell me about it.

When you visit Japan, what aspects of the Japanese business culture are you impressed by and why? 

I think Japan is a very powerful economy and in the long run I have no doubt that Japan will remain a major player on the Asian and world economic stage for a long time to come. Japan continues to be an outstanding high-tech manufacturing center. It is very efficient with a common commitment to the country. Japanese people are very industrious. It has among the highest per capita education levels in Asia. At the same time, Japan has challenges related to its education system in terms of fostering innovation and creativity. It also has a history of being somewhat insular (though that is rapidly changing, particularly in places like Tokyo). So its like anywhere, it has its impressive aspects, and its limitations and that’s the point (because so does the U.S.). Students learn to see Japan in balance, impressed with some aspects and finding opportunities to do better in others. There is a tendency to see one’s own country in a mixed way, but to stereotype other cultures entirely one way. Visiting Japan provides a more balanced perspective.  By the way, I’m sure Japanese students have the same tendency to view other cultures this way, so its equally important for them to leave their comfort zone and visit places like the United States. We actively work to get students from all over the world to study at places like the  McIntire School and the University of Virginia. These exchanges enrich students from other cultures, and enrich the environment to which they become a part.

What are some common cross cultural mistakes that Americans make when they try to do business in Japan and vice versa?

This is a common question and I’ll respond by saying it’s the wrong question in some ways. There are, of course, cultural differences and these differences can create difficulties but here is what I have found. Nobody actually cares that much whether you understand the nuances of a culture, in fact people understand that is very difficult. What they really care about is your attitude. Take the Japanese bow for example, and let’s imagine that an American bows too deeply (an apologetic bow). One interpretation would be that the American doesn’t understand Japanese culture, but that’s not the way it gets treated. Rather, the Japanese person is impressed that the American has gone to the effort to try to respect and appreciate Japanese tradition, even if they get it partly wrong. And this is true anywhere in the world. As long as you respect the culture and the people, and show you are eager to learn, then almost anything else is forgiven.

The same is true of language by the way. Today English is spoken widely as the common business language everywhere in the world, which Americans are the natural beneficiaries of. However, taking the time to learn some of the basics of conversation so that you can show appreciation and gratitude is very important. When a student shows this initiative, it doesn’t matter if their Japanese is imperfect, people will still bend over backwards trying to help.

So its really not a question of misunderstandings, it’s a question of attitude. Sometimes Americans could learn to be more accepting of other cultures (the Ugly American idiom) but the truth is most of my students love their experience in Japan and enjoy throwing themselves into the culture, including its customs, language, and norms. This is what matters, because everything else will work out fine once the right attitude is in place.

What are obvious business differences between America and Japan in terms of the relationships between customers and companies?

I think that the relationships between Japanese firms and other firms tend to be very closely tied (as well as to other entities such as the government). In the U.S. relationships are still important, but I don’t think that the strength of these ties is as strong or enduring. Like anything, this has its advantages and drawback. For example, these close ties can make Japanese firms formidable competitors. At the same time, it is harder to adapt when environmental conditions change. Another difference is in cultural hierarchy. Japanese tend to be more hierarchically oriented (e.g. the “boss” is higher than the “employee” and this difference is strong). This is true of a lot of other Asian cultures as well. In the U.S. cultural hierarchies are flatter (and more informal). Thus, the “boss” is not always placed as high in the view of the employee as they might be in Japan. There is still a hierarchy in America, but it tends to be flatter. Once again, this has implications (both positive and negative). Japanese firms are often efficient and can respond quickly, but this also means personal creativity and initiative can be more difficult to draw out.

Interestingly, with greater interaction I think these differences are eroding. I have visited a number of firms in Japan that are headed by Japanese executives that were trained in American business schools. The result is they bring an interesting amalgam of American style and Japanese style management practices to their firms. One firm that particularly comes to mind has a very “open concept” office space (even the CEO has a desk in the middle of the floor). Employees are also encouraged to leave before their bosses if they have reason to do so, which is obviously a very “American” thing to do. So it is something you would expect to see in Silicon Valley at Google or Facebook, and here it is in Tokyo. As you would expect, the firm attracts very independent and creative individuals. At the same time, the firm retains distinctively Japanese cultural elements, particularly related to training, organization, support and socializing. So the firm has managed to leverage the best aspects of both cultures and this is a powerful combination.

Japanese culture pays lots attention to hospitality. How do you think it influences Japanese business people and their relationship with America?

I will say that Japanese customer service is some of the best in the world. I think there is an intrinsic pride in providing great service, even in low stature positions. People in Japan really take pride in their work. I think it is just part of the cultural fabric of Japan. Japanese are also extremely warm and welcoming, particularly on a personal level (it goes to the customer service issue above). It would be an insult in Japan not to extend every kindness and consideration to a visitor and so this translates into business and customer interactions. As a result I think most American businesspeople feel generally positively toward Japan and Japanese business people.

I read your paper on stimulating creativity in American executives. What, if any of these principles, do you think can be translated into Japanese business dealings, and if so, how? 

I think this is a very difficult issue. Historically our education system has been geared to proficiency and rote learning, not creativity. While creativity requires a strong knowledge foundation, in many respects structure, hierarchy, memorization, these things are the enemies of creativity. Over time, we have come to recognize this imbalance here in the U.S. and the education system has gradually shifted to place much greater emphasis on creative thinking and insight. However, America is also a place where the culture naturally lends itself to a lot of creativity because we highly value independence (and even irreverence) so making institutional changes is easier. The result is the U.S. is still a highly innovative economy.

But this is not news to the rest of the world, so I spend a lot of time interacting with academics from other places discussing the U.S. education system, and how it emphasizes things like creativity and independent thinking. This is important because the education becomes the foundation for everything else (like the workplace). At the same time, change is very difficult and glacial. I believe there is a saying in Japan that goes something like “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” with the obvious implication of the metaphor being “don’t be different.” Of course, if you want creativity then its all about being, thinking, and doing things different.

For example, in the U.S. if you challenge a professor you are seen as thinking independently, whereas in a lot of other places, including Japan, this would be seen as disrespectful. It is just very difficult to get that notion out of the head of someone who has been raised to believe that teachers are to be respected and not to question his or her ideas. Interestingly, this brings me back to my earlier point about the importance of multicultural exposure. Some of the very best students (best meaning willing to challenge my ideas, coming up with their own insights, etc.) come from places like Japan who are studying in the U.S. They just completely embrace this different way and try and get all they can out of it. At the same time, they also extremely value the professors’ insights because this comes naturally to them whereas American students are sometimes too eager to dismiss the professor’s position when he or she actually has a lot to offer. So the Japanese student studying in the U.S. gets the best of both worlds!

All of this said, I think it is also very dangerous to overgeneralize. The reality is that we tend to stereotype cultures (i.e. the Japanese are collectivist, Americans are individualistic) when the reality is there is a whole lot more variance within a culture than between them. In other words, even if Japan is more collectivist than America “on average”, there are still a whole lot of highly independent, creative individuals with great ideas lurking in Japan. So these entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t need to be created in Japan, so much as tapped. If Japanese companies can find ways to do this by being more proactive about encouraging employee creativity (and also training for it, rewarding it, etc. in what I discuss) then I think it could be tremendous for the Japanese economy.

Did you find any differences in how rewards affect the performances of employees in Japan vs. employees in America?

The research to which you refer was only conducted in the U.S., not Japan, so I can’t speak to how Japanese people might react differently but my suspicion is that you would see the same effects in Japan as we found here in the U.S. The reason is, the things that we were tapping into in that research seem pretty universal to human nature. In other words, all humans have a need for creativity and that being creative is intrinsically rewarding. This is not a cultural thing, it’s a human thing.  But perhaps there are some cultural differences and it would certainly be interesting to see if there are differences in Japan and what they portend.

How do you want to make the international business relationships between America and Japan stronger in the future?

That’s easy, continue to build and grow the type of programs I outline above—bringing American students to Japan, and Japanese students to America. Many of the problems in the world relate to ignorance and cultural misunderstanding. It is just very difficult not to get along with, and like, someone you know. Some of my most enjoyable experiences in Japan are sitting down with some Japanese colleagues and enjoying a casual dinner and intellectual conversation. Some of my students favorite memories are when they get to interact with Japanese students socially, perhaps going out for a drink or a coffee/tea. When you sit down with someone to learn about their interests, hopes, aspirations, and concerns, what you learn is that about 90% is shared in common. Once you have this connection, the economic relationships and exchanges take care of themselves.

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International student exchange: interview with Yash Agarwal, McIntire School of Business Class of 2015

By Takuya Sayuwatari, Reporter
Yash Agarwal

Yash Agarwal McIntire School of Commerce University of Virginia, 2015

In our new international exchange student series, we follow special reporter Takuya Sayuwatari (Japan) will be interviewing American students and faculty members to analyze the differences between Japanese and American educational systems as he decides which American college is the best fit for him. Here, he interviews Yash Agarwal, student president of University of Virginia’s investment club. 

Why did you decide to join  the investment club?
I started out in the Alternative Investment Fund (AIF) in my first year at the University of Virginia as an analyst and watched my responsibilities evolve since then.  I have always had a problem solving mindset and have viewed investing as a problem solving process at the very core.  AIF was pitched to me as a wholesome experience where I would learn various strategies and be able to apply them to understand different types of investments.  This excited me and convinced me to join it.
What are your tasks in the investment club?
I started out actively picking stocks based on heavy amounts of qualitative and quantitative research and finally pitching them to our General Body and the Investment Committee for the first couple years.  Subsequently, my role changed to running one of the four individual portfolios (Relative Value) and mentoring the younger members part of that group to teach them various research and valuation skills while serving as a resource to help them with their pitches.  In my final year now, I am serving as the CEO of AIF and run the recruitment process, talk to various investment professionals who are interested in being guest speakers, represent the club at investing competitions and run all general body and investment committee meetings.
What kinds of educational skills you have learned in class do you use in your work with the investment club?
In class, we have learned multiple valuation methodologies and worked in groups on many research projects with a number of companies.  In AIF we have used the learnings from those experiences to obtain an edge when we perform our own research to gain a differentiated point of view while analyzing ideas.  For example, I worked in a team last year as part of a class assignment with Rolls-Royce to determine a potential engine manufacturing bid for a leading business jet manufacturer.  That experience sharpened my research skills to help me when I pitch ides for AIF.  Over time with such experiences, I learned how to gather and use information that was known by only a few people instead of simply using easy-to-obtain information that is used by everyone.
What are important things to work as a member of the investment club?
Something I have noticed over the past four years in AIF is that students who truly care for their ideas and research every aspect of the pitch by spending a very large amount of time conducting their research are not only able to generate strong results but also end up learning the most from the experience.  Such experiences have strong long term impact for recruiting purposes too and help members in interviews when they have a vast set of ideas that they can talk about with such comfort because they know everything about it.  Besides, group dynamics play an important role too because within the individual portfolio groups inside AIF learning happens in a collaborative setting as a group and members learn from other members when people are willing to share new learnings.  Thus, we aim to collaborate internally to be as competitive as possible externally.  All of these are important behaviors to practice as an AIF member.
How does having an understanding of foreign markets affect investments domestically? 
Today, the word is too connected and understanding capital flows between countries is important as they can cause strong volatility in the short term for domestic markets and also influence long term trends.  Today, China holds a large amount of US Debt and part of this reason is that China has been a net exporter and generates a large amount of US Dollar holdings which must be put to use.  If this situation were to change going forward, the US currency could witness strong volatility and the demand for US Treasuries could reduce materially and influence financial markets and even foreign policy to start a string of changes which can affect a large number of industries.  This is only one example of how interconnectedness can impact the financial markets but understanding and being able to predict trends like these is important to making trades to generate strong returns.  In AIF, our Global Macro Group does a good job with making such trades.
What are the biggest challenges with running the investment club? 
I can think of three main challenges that we currently have while running AIF.  First, keeping members committed to the long term success of the fund involves a strong time commitment and regular check to see if all duties are being performed to the correct standard.  Second, we are currently in the process in raising more money for the fund and need to allocate more time to creating a pitch and meeting people to accomplish it.  Lastly, reviewing current positions requires us to train members constantly to review thesis points and stay up to date with news on the investment.  To summarize, the time commitment required is large and it is difficult to expect it from every member, but we try to do our best.
What have you learned from your successes in the investment club? 
From my experience in AIF, I have learned a lot about different investing strategies and how the world of Finance really works.  More importantly however, a large part of my learning is personal and through each individual experience, I have been able to see deeper into my own personality and understand where my strengths and weaknesses lie.  Making successful investments involves a tremendous amount of work-ethic, discipline and emotional strength in addition to the hard-skills in terms of analytical and research abilities.  I have come to understand that only time can teach me these and there is still a long way to go.
How do you think the investment club’s experience supports your future career?
Given the type of experience I have had in the club, I think it supports the career I would like to have.  I will start my career as an Investment Banking Analyst at Moelis and Company in New York City.  I have gained multiple research, behavioral and quantitative skills through AIF and these will help me if I am to rise up the ranks in Moelis or move to any Investment Management firm in the future.  Lastly, the network to which I have access because of my role in AIF is also very helpful if I want to further my career in this field.
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Psychiatric Boarding Illegal in Washington State: Now What?


Laura Umetsu, Editor in Chief

Earlier this month, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that psychiatric boarding (the practice of keeping patients strapped to beds for up to a week in hospital emergency rooms without adequate treatment) is not only unethical, it is clearly illegal under Washington law. Civil liberty advocates who brought the suit cheered as hospital staff members across the state began their scramble to find a humane way to comply with the ruling while simultaneously complying with their personal and professional medical ethics codes, in addition to federal law. In the case of conflicting state and federal law, federal law governs.

According to federal law, under the Emergency Medicine Treatment and Labor Act, it is illegal for doctors to release patients into the general public if they are a clear danger to themselves or to the public. Yet being a clear danger to themselves or to the public is the case with the overwhelming majority of hospital emergency room psychiatric patients. Beds at both of our underfunded state psychiatric hospitals (Eastern and Western State) are extremely limited, and harried medical providers often feel pressured to release very ill patients in order to make room for incoming new patients who are even more severely ill: a tragic game of mental healthcare musical chairs. Taxpayer funded budgets are still limping along in the aftermath of the worst recession in living memory for most. Though the death of Robin Williams sparked an unprecedented national dialogue on the need to eradicate the stigma of seeking help for mental illness, the stigma remains painfully salient for those suffering from their invisible wounds.

This pervasive stigma, coupled with limited budgets, bedspace, and healthcare providers, currently make reformation of our current mental healthcare system to allow for compliance under the new ruling very tricky, if not impossible.

Though on its face, psychiatric boarding seems inhumane, the alternative (allowing severely mentally ill citizens who are a danger to themselves or others to fend for themselves in the streets) is even worse. Without an increase in state budgets or reallocation of resources for more innovative and cheaper methods of treatment (such as telepsychiatry), the fate of the state’s mentally ill will only get worse (as will the state’s expenditures for caring for them when they destabilize).

One in four American families suffers from a severe mental illness. The derivative negative toll on family members, caretakers, and healthcare systems of untreated or inadequately treated mental illnesses due to stigma and lack of resources makes access to adequate mental health care one of the most pressing and underfunded needs in our overall healthcare system. These Americans are your friends, your coworkers, and your family members. To love them would be to advocate for the expansion of the state budget to allow for exploration of alternative treatment plans and an increased overall mental healthcare budget as the deadline for compliance with the State Supreme Court’s ruling draws near.

Laura Umetsu is an attorney residing in Seattle, Washington. Ms. Umetsu is a 2008 graduate of the Michael G. Foster School of Business who focused on project management, and a 2013 graduate of Louisiana State University’s School of Law. She is a board member for NAMI Seattle, a nonprofit that works to support families and individuals affected by mental illnesses.

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