As a kid, Will Badger, MFA ’11, wanted to be a writer so he could explore all the places in his head he was sure he’d never go. Ironically, he’s doing both.
By Christa Gala
Sometimes you have to make a tough choice.
A Fulbright Scholarship or Oxford University in England?
It was a good problem to have for Will Badger, a 2011 graduate of NC State’s Creative Writing program. After all, just two years ago, Badger was serving in Afghanistan as a Green Beret medic, dodging death every day.
In the end, Badger chose Oxford. But the real question is, how did he end up at NC State at all?
A surprise acceptance
An honors undergraduate of Brigham Young University, Badger enlisted in the military for a variety of reasons. “I had a desire to serve, although I wasn’t a big fan of the Iraq war,” said Badger, 33. “I thought that I needed to experience for myself and sort of do my part for the country before I could speak to any degree in a committed way about the rightness or wrongness of various enterprises.” The adventure, camaraderie and maybe even a little old fashioned romanticism appealed to him as well.
Badger completed the Special Forces Qualification Course while stationed at Ft. Bragg. He had always been a fan of science fiction and fantasy, and it was there he began closely reading the work of John Kessel, a professor in NC State’s Creative Writing MFA program and author of many popular works in that genre.
“I went to State just to meet John Kessel, actually, prior to my leaving, while I was still at Bragg and before leaving for Afghanistan,” Badger remembered. “We had a really great conversation.”
Kessel was the director of Creative Writing at the time and was also teaching undergraduate and graduate classes. “He made a lot of time for me, and we talked about writing,” Badger said. “He invited me to write him when I was overseas and I did. He encouraged me from there to consider applying to the MFA program.”
While he was still in Afghanistan, Badger learned he’d been accepted to the program, which surprised him at first. “I’ve always written and enjoyed it, but I didn’t know how formal my writing training would be or should be. The military, obviously, is a much different place. I don’t know how seriously I was considering formal study.”
Badger came home from Afghanistan in July 2009. He started the MFA program soon after. Toward the end of his first semester, Badger paid a visit to Wilton Barnhardt, a professor who had studied at Oxford and was then the MFA program director.
“I went to Wilton and told him I’d be interested in studying at Oxford,” Badger said. “He didn’t laugh me out of his office as he maybe should have. He asked me what I proposed to study there. I said, ‘Well, I’m still feeling that out.’
“Wilton said, ‘Find something you’re passionate about doing and come over to England with me in the summer, and I’ll introduce you to some folks I know there. We’ll do the best we can to make it happen if you really want to study there.’ From the first moment I walked in his office, he took me absolutely seriously as a writer. He was as good as his word.”
A few months later, Badger ended up in John Balaban’s poetry class. Balaban, the current MFA director, had been a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, working for The Committee of Responsibility in Vietnam. As alternative service, Balaban treated war-injured children and evacuated them to the U.S. when necessary.
It was an interesting dynamic: the soldier and the conscientious objector.
“The Vietnam War caused any number of chasms in our society in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Badger said. “He (Balaban) felt strongly against our involvement, at least on that level, in Vietnam and his beliefs took him there. I was really impressed with him as a person and as a writer because here was someone who felt strongly enough to involve himself personally. That said, I wasn’t sure how he would relate to a recent war vet; that’s because I didn’t know him at all. Actually, he was amazing. He went out of his way to make sure I felt comfortable.”
It was in Balaban’s class that Badger finally wrote about his war experiences in a poem called Afghani Chai. Balaban liked it so much he sent it to the international literary journal War, Literature and the Arts, thinking the journal would accept it.
He was right.
Casting a wide net
Next, Badger applied for a Fulbright Scholarship to translate Janusz Zajdel’s novel Limes inferior into English. He made connections at Warsaw University with scholars who were both excited and supportive of the project. With Barnhardt’s help, he also applied to Oxford.
“Usually you try to cast a fairly wide net and you never know what opportunities are going to present themselves,” Badger said. “I looked at a number of programs that I liked.” He never dreamed both Fulbright and Oxford would come calling.
In the end, his choice revolved around both logistics and family. His wife, Agnieszka, received a job transfer to England from her employer, Lenovo Group. Once that happened, it made more sense for Badger to go to Oxford. In England, both would work and could take their daughters—Daria, 6, and Hannah, 1—to visit their maternal grandparents in Poland.
At Oxford, Badger will study witchcraft in Shakespeare as well as the supernatural in the early modern period. He’ll be there for several years, first earning his Master of Studies before moving on to a Doctor of Philosophy.
Declining the Fulbright was tough, but his mentors supported him. “I sought out everyone’s advice before I made the final decision,” Badger said. “I don’t think there was a sole dissenter. Going straight to grad school made sense. The resume, the bullet point as far as that goes, will still be there that I won a Fulbright, and I’ll just be able to note that it was declined in favor of Oxford. But the project is still going ahead.”
That’s right. Badger still plans to translate Zajdel’s Limes inferior since he already has permission from the family.
“He’s a good writer and he’s probably going to be a brilliant scholar,” said Balaban. “Everything he does is done perfectly well. I guess the surprise to all of us is that he came to us from a battlefield as a medic in Afghanistan. Somehow, that almost seems irrelevant now.”
The following poem was composed in John Balaban’s poetry class and ran in the international literary journal War, Literature and the Arts (Volume 22, 2010).
“The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a
stranger. The second time … an honored guest. The
third time … you become family.”
—from Three Cups of Tea, by G. Mortensen and D. Oliver
Three cups of tea
they taught us (waving the book about)
a new way to win the war
With the first cup
fathers elbowed children into razor wire
to grab the Pokemon backpacks passed out like party favors,
the chai sweet and steeped
with sugar that looked like quartz
During the second cup
cricket teams from as far as Parachinar
came for the Chamkani Games
but some chai slopped over the chipped lip of my cup
soaking my shirt when
riots broke out before
As the spinach-like dregs of the last cup
tickled my lips
a grandfather—actually my host—stole a radio
it was hard to watch them beat him
how he bleated
The cups come from a Balti proverb, anyway.
Maybe their mountains are nice
this time of year.
A letter to the chancellor
Will Badger, MFA ’11, sent a letter to NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson, crediting faculty members for their support. Here's an excerpt:
Dear Chancellor Woodson:
I was recently named a Fulbright grantee to Poland for 2011-2012, and I was also accepted to undertake postgraduate study at Oxford University. Neither opportunity would have arisen without the comprehensive involvement of key NCSU faculty members.
NCSU is deservedly known for its engineering and agricultural research, and for cognate endeavors. Due to the strength of the faculty and their investment in the success of their students, the MFA in Creative Writing must also be considered one of the university’s strengths, and one of the best programs in the country. I will always be thankful for my time at NCSU.
When some 5,000 NC State students turned their tassels on May 14, 986 CHASS students were among them. The News and Observer’s Josh Shaffer reported that the loudest cheers of the RBC graduation ceremony went to CHASS, when Dean Jeff Braden said this: “I present these candidates, who will answer the question, ‘What do you do with a degree in humanities and social sciences?’ with the answer, ‘Anything you want!’”
On the afternoon before graduation, CHASS hosted a reception in Caldwell Lounge to honor and celebrate graduating seniors who hold college or department named scholarships. Students and their families mingled with donors, Advisory Board members, college administrators, and members of the faculty.
Through the generosity of our donors, scholarships were awarded to 17 outstanding undergraduates. Some are heading off to graduate school, some are traveling overseas to teach, and others are setting out to find that all-important first job.
Congratulations to the Class of 2011!
(Pictured above are Mitiele Konrath (Anthropology), her mother, and Dr. James Wallace. Mitiele was the recipient of the Anthropology Program in Guatemala Study Abroad Award, sponsored by Dr. Wallace.)
Arab Spring: What’s CHASS got to do with it?
The spring of 2011 will be remembered for protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, for the departure of Tunisian President Ben Ali, and for events still in the making as I write this column. As the world watches the protests, civil war, and uprisings, scholars in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences here at NC State are providing a deeper understanding of the roles that history, culture, language, politics, and digital media play in this new chapter of Arab history.
In a recent meeting with representatives of the Department of Defense who were visiting our college, I heard widely different—yet complementary—perspectives on the meaning and mechanisms of Arab Spring.
Ken Zagacki, professor and head of the Communication Department, is particularly interested in how digital media helps people articulate and achieve their political goals and the ways in which these media identify and memorialize “heroes” and “villains” in the narrative of their struggle against undemocratic forces. Ken noted there is considerable controversy about the power of digital media to supplement or replace the traditional forms of public address that are the traditional media for narratives of revolution and oppression.
In contrast, Akram Khater, a professor of History and Middle East Studies, is more focused on the generational shift in Arab politics, and worries that the media’s obsession with Twitter, texting, and Facebook distracts us from recognizing more profound societal changes. Both provided thoughtful insights and a deeper understanding of the events of the past six months than I had gleaned in hours of reading and watching traditional news media.
There is much we have yet to learn and understand about the causes and outcomes of the Arab Spring. However, two things are clear to me. First, technology has provided powerful social media platforms that, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has argued, have empowered people to create narratives out of the control of centralized governments. Although Libya and Syria have banned journalists and attempted top-down control of information, their official narrative is barely noticed next to the cell phone videos, texts, and tweets of the Arab street.
Second, although technology provides a platform, the narratives are written by those who understand history, culture, language, and politics. In other words, technology provides the means, but not the message. Those messages are informed by the wisdom of the humanities and the knowledge of the social sciences; these are the ideas that are changing the Arab world. And once again, I was reminded of how our faculty extend and apply their disciplinary expertise to make sense of these profound changes and how they shape our world.
In 2009, CNN named Doc Hendley (Communication ’04) one of its top ten heroes of the year for his work to bring clean water to some of the world’s poorest areas. Since he was in the nation's spotlight, Doc has continued to carry out his mission. Wine to Water, the nonprofit he created, is now active in nine countries around the world. We recently caught up with Doc, who told us how his studies helped prepare him for his life-giving work. Watch the video.
Doaa Dorgham, a junior majoring in psychology and minoring in international studies, recently got the chance to relive history. Dorgham was one of 40 students chosen from across the country to take part in the 2011 Student Freedom Ride organized by PBS to promote the national documentary “Freedom Riders” about the 1961 Civil Rights bus rides.
The ride brought together college students and some of the original Freedom Riders on a bus that retraced the 1961 trips. The students used blogs and social media to talk about their experiences on the trip that started in Washington, DC, and traveled through seven Southern states.
Before the bus left the station, the student riders appeared on Oprah, along with some of those who risked their lives to ride the buses in 1961.
Dorgham said she was excited and humbled to travel with some of the original Freedom Riders. “These were people who were our age, who risked their own lives … to promote unity,” she said. “To be in their presence was just great.”
Dorgham is a Palestinian American who was born in Kuwait. As a Caldwell Fellow, she has traveled throughout Latin American and the Amazon as part of the program. She is also the outreach chair for the Muslim Student Association at NC State.
Dorgham is intrigued by the effective use of non-violence in the Civil Rights movement, particularly since she lives in a time when the United States military is fighting in Afghanistan and Libya. “What really blows my mind is that this whole thing was a non-violent approach,” she said.
As a Muslim American, Dorgham worries about attempts to portray all Muslims as radicals. She said she applied to participate in the Student Freedom Ride in part to dispel such notions and to promote unity at NC State.
Join the U.S. National Committee for UN Women at the 2011 National Conference "UNITE for PEACE - in our home, in our community, and in our world." The conference builds collaborations to end violence against women - locally and globally.
Leaders, subject matter experts, and other interested parties from nonprofit organizations, government, academia, philanthropy and businesses are convening to make a difference.
Speakers include Governor Beverly Perdue, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, and UN Under-Secretary Michelle Bachelet; CHASS faculty members Sheila Smith McKoy and Juliana Nfah-Abbenyi; CHASS students Katie Starr and Kathleen Griffin, among others.
Saturday, June 11, 9:00 - 5:30, Witherspoon Student Center, NC State University, Raleigh NC.
Details and registration information at the conference site.
A lot of fathers who have battered their partners, and/or their kids, also witnessed domestic violence in their own homes as children. Many of these men want to do a better job as fathers. A pilot study in North Carolina is trying to tap into that desire to be a “good dad” to curb domestic violence – and the early results show that it is having some success.
Specifically, the Strong Fathers Program uses the concept of being a good father to engage men in an interactive effort to prevent them from committing acts of violence against their children and partners. Men who might shy away from being told what to do are often drawn to the idea of being strong fathers who take care of their children.
A pilot study of the Strong Fathers Program got off the ground in 2009, and three cohorts have now completed the program. Each cohort begins with as many as 10 men, who are asked to attend the 20-meeting course. The participants have been referred to the program by county social services officials because of a history of domestic violence.
“Among active participants in the first three sessions, we have seen decreases in beliefs that rationalize abusive behavior towards intimate partners – such as wives and girlfriends,” says Dr. Joan Pennell. Pennell is the director of NC State’s Center for Family and Community Engagement, which is responsible for evaluating the program and its results. “We’ve also seen improvement in the men’s understanding of childhood development and in their setting responsible goals for themselves as individuals, fathers and partners.” Pennell also stresses that the program in no way increases risks to the children of the men participating in the program.
Pennell has developed a robust evaluation design to track the safety of mothers and their children, as well as the extent to which the men are developing as responsible fathers and partners. The evaluation design draws on data from participant surveys, feedback from program facilitators, some interviews with mothers of the children, and social services data on reports of child abuse and neglect.
However, while the results of the program are promising for men who complete the 20-meeting course, less than half of the men enrolled in the first three sessions have completed the program. That is likely to change, as Family Services, Inc., which administers the program, has now begun accepting men who have been court-mandated to attend the program as a result of domestic violence offenses.
The pilot study – which is being funded by the North Carolina Division of Social Services – is being run exclusively in the Winston-Salem-area of N.C., but the ultimate goal is to expand the program to other localities – and to create a blueprint that can be used to replicate the program in other parts of the country. The curriculum for the program was developed by the Center for Child and Family Health.
Pennell gave an overview of the program, and related evaluation data, at the National Conference on Restorative Justice, held in June in Raleigh. “We wanted to share our findings to help inform additional outreach and research initiatives aimed at preventing family violence,” Pennell says.
This article, by Matt Shipman, originally appeared in The Abstract, the official blog of the NC State newsroom.
Matt Shipman | NC State News Services | 919.515.6386
Dr. Kami Kosenko | 919.513.1477
Release Date: 06.02.2011
A new study from NC State University's Department of Communication shows that talking about safer sex is a complicated process for individuals in the transgender community. The finding may help efforts to promote safer sex practices in a community facing high HIV rates – and also sheds light on broader questions related to safer sex for everyone.
“The main reason for this study is the fact that we’re seeing evidence of devastatingly high HIV prevalence rates in the transgender community,” says Dr. Kami Kosenko, an assistant professor of communication at NC State and lead author of the study. “The HIV prevalence rate is less than 1 percent for the general U.S. population. But for the transgender population, the HIV prevalence rate is estimated to be as high as 60 percent in major metropolitan areas. Although these are only estimates, they are troubling.”
The term transgender is used to refer to people who are uncomfortable with their assigned gender identity, including individuals who establish a gender identity that does not comply with traditional gender roles. For example, the term often applies to individuals whose gender presentation differs from their biological sex.
These high HIV prevalence rates have led to efforts from researchers, public-health officials and others to help the transgender community do a better job of communicating about safer sex practices. Kosenko’s research stems from “a need to better understand how transgender individuals talk about sex, to make sure that safer sex educational efforts targeting this community are effective.”
Kosenko notes that research on sexual communication in general is fairly limited. Historically, sex communication research has defined safer sex discussions as one of two things: finding out about a partner’s sexual history; or trying to persuade a partner to use a condom.
What Kosenko found is that communication about safer sex, at least in the transgender community, is far more complicated.
After interviewing 41 transgender individuals from around the country, Kosenko found, for example, that privacy is a significant issue. Transgender individuals have to make often-difficult decisions about when and how to disclose their biological sex to prospective partners – because that revelation carries the risk of rejection, or even violent behavior.
But other findings from the study may be applicable beyond the transgender community. Kosenko found that transgender individuals – like people in other groups – try to gauge sexual health risks by talking to prospective partners about their sexual history and safer sex practices. But Kosenko also found that these talks can be undermined if a partner is being dishonest about his or her past – a problem that is presumably faced by those outside the transgender community as well.
“This study shows that understanding sexual communication goes beyond attempts to discuss sexual history,” Kosenko says. “It also entails the difficult process of trying to determine if a sexual partner is being forthcoming.”
In addition, the study found that talking about safer sex is about more than using condoms. For example, in the transgender community, some people go through the process of getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases with a partner and then having unprotected sex if both test negative for HIV. The partners also establish rules for sexual activity outside the relationship. For instance, are outside relationships acceptable if condoms are used?
“I think these findings will help us provide safer sex outreach tools for the transgender community that are based in reality,” Kosenko says. “And a lot of what we found in this study applies to sexual communication outside of the transgender community as well. Pushing for people to always use condoms may be impractical. Perhaps it would be more effective to promote a broader definition of safer sex practices.”
A paper describing the study, “The Safer Sex Communication of Transgender Adults: Processes and Problems,” is published in the June issue of the Journal of Communication. The research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.
NC State’s Department of Communication is part of the university’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
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