Tag Archives: writing

The behavior of wastefulness // Robert M. Ota

B.F Skinner, one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, was able to teach pigeons how to play Ping-Pong. Through controlling the pigeon’s environment and conditioning their behavior through positive reinforcement, Skinner was able to have pigeons peck balls back and forth across a table. Skinner asserted that behavior, human or pigeon, is determined by one’s direct environment (Koren, Marina). However, unlike the simple-minded pigeon humans are much more complex. Skinner argues that human behavior is shaped through our changing environment—what we listen to, what we watch and even more importantly what we spend our money on.

As a bright eyed college student, I love these theories about behavior and what makes us who we are, however I was never so keen as to actually notice this in the real world. My critical thinking and writing course exposed me to the harsh realities of the food industry, and allowed me to connect Skinner’s environment driven theory of behavior to our food choices as consumers. Throughout my first year in college, I became an expert on the food industry through writing a plethora of papers on the revolting practices of factory farming and the marketing tactics of food corporations to generate more revenue. My CTW course and extensive research on the food industry has made me realize that consumer behavior on the purchasing of food products is largely influenced from the environment that food corporations have set up around food products.

One of the most influential research assignments I have done this past quarter was based on the popularity of super foods in the health market. Our demand for these highly nutritious foods is a direct result from the sketchy marketing behind these food products. Because “the term ‘super food’ is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, marketers can use the phrase freely” (Turner). I conducted an experiment just to see how much the term ‘super food’ influences consumers willingness to pay by comparing how much consumers would pay for a bowl of acai and a bowl of blueberries. Even though “There is little evidence that a Continue reading The behavior of wastefulness // Robert M. Ota


Heart, Mind, and Soul

“Whenever you make a decision, whenever you act, you are never just doing, you are always becoming.” –Aristotle  

Throughout my life I have always tended to focus on finding deeper meanings. Whether it is through simple actions like doing chores or more substantial decisions like changing my lifestyle choices, when taking a step back and looking at the greater impact of my actions and how they affect me, I create purpose for myself. I have realized that all my actions contribute to the person I am today. I am constantly becoming.

Particularly through my Critical Thinking and Writing class at Santa Clara University, I was allowed to explore the deeper meaning in not only the topic of our course – titled Food Porn – but also reflect on my own life. Within the class we explored the realm of animal agriculture and its effect on our lives. Yet, even though this was the main theme of our class, we always seemed to focus on deeper rooted issues such as ethics, sustainability, awareness, and truth. The debates and discussions of these deeper concepts helped contribute to the development of my mind, heart, and soul. All the controversies and information I have been exposed to through my CTW class took part in creating the person I have become and am constantly becoming.


funny-random-facts-16.jpgFrom the start, our first activity done in class was intended to spark self-reflection and a deeper level of thinking. Our professor, Nick Leither, and his companion, Rosa Del Duca, created a sort of questionnaire called the American Happiness Project and Professor Nick presented it to our class on the first day. This paper included four questions about ways we defined happiness, and asked for us to draw a picture representing it. You can take the online version or learn more about the questionnaire here. As you can see, right off the bat I was exposed to an environment that encouraged exploration and critique of my own thoughts and beliefs. This exploration continued as the year went on.

Within the topic of animal agriculture, we were not merely presented with facts and mindlessly accepting them, but rather we dove into the notion of who was to blame for unethical practices, and how our actions of consuming animal products show our negligence because we are informed about the vast amount of injustice the animal agriculture business has on not only to ourselves, but to our world as a whole.

In one of my essay assignments I analyzed the development and changes in my mind and heart in relation to eating meat. When breaking down my choice to not be a vegetarian in light of all the new information provided to me I examined my mind’s rationality, of taking into consideration that it is truly a bad practice, but also observed the values of my heart, and how eating meat is tied to my middle eastern culture and holds a significance beyond nutrition and fulfilling my appetite.


Within this essay I was able to critique my own belief and decisions, which is exactly what this class is encouraging. Through my self reflection I am able to develop myself into the person I truly want to become. Going beyond the issues within the food industry we also delve into lying and cheating and how that has an impact on our lives. Rather than observing the on-the-surface notion that lying and cheating are inherently bad, we analyzed the why and so what. We debated the controversial topics of if it is ever okay to cheat and what impact cheating and lying have on your character. Rather than seeing our world in black and white, we sought out the inner workings of our world’s gray areas. In my last essay of the course, I looked into lying in relationships and examined our societies boundaries, or rather lack thereof, for determining when lying is right or wrong. Within the surveys I took of my peers, along with my research, I was able to explore these gray areas of human morality. I came to the conclusions here that it is the individuals themselves that are responsible for creating their own rules, yet when doing so they must keep in consideration what effect their rules and boundaries have on their character. If they allow themselves to lie and cheat, what does that say about them? This then led me to question, in all the times I have cheated or lied, how has that made an effect on my character?


With all the new knowledge I have attained, and reflection I have made on my life decisions I have further developed myself as a whole person. I am now motivated to continue to keep asking those BIG questions and create a more purposeful life for myself. My professor rather than showing me, held my hand and led me along the path of the unique development of my mind, body, and soul. Professor Nick was the one who made me even further question my actions, being, and realities of my world, so now I am here to challenge you to explore the questions of your world and develop your mind, heart, and soul. Who are you truly becoming?


Trapped Between Two Hemispheres // Rohan Nair

My mother has always described me as “right brain” dominant. This language comes from the idea that each side, or hemisphere, of the human brain controls different types of thinking — the left being more logical, and the right being more creative. A person who is “left-brained” is often said to be more logical, analytical, and objective, while a person who is “right-brained” is said to be more intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective. Though scientists have debunked this theory, I think it’s absolutely true that people learn and think in different ways. I bring this up because I’ve always struggled with and often been in denial about my strengths and abilities.

From a young age, I realized that Math and Science were not my fortés. Despite bringing home C’s in biology and geometry, I remained a voracious reader, and my English teachers would praise me for my creative and thoughtful writing.

I feel your pain, Timmy.

Other children may have been motivated or encouraged by such praise to pursue careers in the arts, law, or journalism (as my parents pushed me to do, despite their profession as engineers) but I was stubborn and simply wouldn’t hear it. Even though my parents were nothing but supportive and open-minded, my high school — located in the heart of the Silicon Valley — has always been known for its emphasis on STEM education, aimed at sending students into engineering and medical fields at brand-name schools like UC Berkeley and Carnegie Melon, which can create and foster a toxic stigma towards the Liberal Arts.

My dream since before I could walk was to be an architect (this followed my short-lived dream of being a garbage truck driver) was perfectly aligned with my community’s high

I’ll admit, this still seems pretty cool.

value for STEM, so I saw no reason to explore other avenues. I decided I had no time to dedicate to “soft skills” like reading comprehension or writing, regardless of whether or not those were really my strengths. I buckled down, slowly raising those C’s in science to B’s (and a few A’s), all the while ignoring and neglecting my English and Writing classes. Bullshitting essays the night before they were due and reducing timeless epics like Homer’s The Iliad to page-long SparkNotes summaries became common practice (sidenote: I did go back and read The Iliad in its entirety).

As time went on, what began as a small nagging voice in the back of my head grew into an overwhelming cloud of dread that perhaps I wasn’t being true to myself or my talents. Feeling lost and guilty, I made a conscious effort to return to my roots as a writer. This proved to be more difficult than I had expected. No matter how much time I spent poring over essays, I was met with nothing but frustration and writer’s block. I felt like I had lost my creative spark. I struggled with reading and writing more than ever, and wasn’t faring much better in my Physics or Calculus classes — all of this mere weeks before I had to choose a University and a major.

Flash forward to Fall of 2016: still confused as ever, I’m attending Santa Clara University, not more than a stone’s throw from my hometown. I’m majoring in Computer Science, but the University’s Jesuit philosophy of “educating the whole person,” obligates me to take a burdensome mess of CORE requirements — ranging from ethics, to diversity, to creative writing. This last one gave me a great deal of grief, as I knew I would have to confront some of my innermost demons, exposing my shortcomings and inabilities. Now, I bet you’re expecting me to say that taking Creative Writing with Nicholas Leither led me to some sort of epiphany — an “aha” moment that brought me clarity, helping me figure everything. Well, yes and no.

I have to say that from Nick’s bohemian chic, to the circular arrangement of desks in the classroom (probably part of an attempt to replicate some unconventional, new-age style of teaching or some bullshit like that), to his insistence that we call him “Nick,” I was skeptical. Great, another pseudo-hippie English teacher who thinks he can change the world.

English teacher? Or sexy archaeologist?

And as soon as he turned on Meet Your Meat — some PETA propaganda documenting abuse in factory farming, my suspicions was confirmed. Dear God, this man is the embodiment of the stereotype. Or so I thought.

Creative Writing was a humbling experience for me. Nicholas Leither remains to be one of the most educated, well-spoken, and enthusiastic individuals I’ve ever met. He’s deeply invested in each and every one of his students (he somehow had all our names down by the second day of class), and he has a strong personal connection to the material he teaches. He facilitated some awesome, engaging discussions and got me thinking about very very uncomfortable issues — issues pertinent to my life that I had previously opted to ignore — even outside of class.

Most importantly though, he was able to help me confront and (at least partially) overcome my tremendous aversion to writing. There have been agonizing moments over the past two quarters, where I believed myself to have hit a wall, unable to produce anything of quality or substance, but after just one ten-minute conversation with Nick, I often found myself re-energized, excited, and bursting with ideas. I’d often come into his office dejected and unmotivated and leave with a reinvigorated drive, desperately rushing to the nearest keyboard or notebook so I could jot down my flurry of thoughts.

I feel like I’ve begun to truly find and solidify a distinct writing style, which is more than I could have ever hoped to gain from a Creative Writing class. I have produced work that I’m proud to call my own, often sharing them with my friends and family.

Nick always emphasizes the importance of approaching a problem from many different angles, which has pushed me to draw upon and synthesize ideas from philosophy, ethics, history, biology, and even quantum mechanics (as absurd as it sounds) to strengthen and solidify the arguments in my papers. There have been times where when writing about topics like the aestheticization of guns in the media, or the human cost of globalization in the case of exploitative corporations like Monsanto, where I would get so caught up in my writing, that I had to take a step back and ask myself: do I sound like a crazy person? Nick would always assuage my doubts and encourage me to delve deeper still.

I could talk about the ways that Nick shook up and challeneged some of my core beliefs, or how the ideas we discussed and debated in Creative Writing have shaped my life decisions in unimaginable ways — affecting everything from the way I shop for groceries, to my dietary habits, to curbing my tendencies to cheat — but that would require pages upon pages which this blog post doesn’t allow me.

This class, along with the values of the institution I’m fortunate to be attending, have taught me that maybe these distinctions of “left brained” and “right brained” people are purely illusory. As ridiculously difficult and punishing as classes like Data Structures and Multivariable Calculus are, I’m enjoying the shit out of them. And despite how tedious and time consuming Creative Writing can be, I’ve enjoyed the shit out of it as well. Who says you can’t be both? It feels incredibly liberating to be freed from this limiting dichotomy. Nick has helped me identify and blend my strengths and interests and to utilize both sides of my brain, while also pushing me to venture into uncharted territory. A quote by David Bowie comes to mind:

“If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

So I thank you, Nick, for convincing me that I can always go deeper. Thank you for instilling me with the enthralling and exhilarating joy of creating something exciting. I’ll see you in Advanced Writing.

Hate It or Love It // Kennedy Murphy

Intro, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. A tedious process and the formatting required for every single paper I wrote up until this point in time, my freshman year of college. I came into second quarter absolutely dreading an English class, because that meant essays, which I convinced myself I was terrible at. All I knew before was no “I” no “you”, basically no voice. To say that this class changed my view of writing is an understatement.

Distaste For writing

First Quarter:

One day I remember clearly is reading Eating Animal’s by Jonathan Safran Foer, and someone in the library asking me if I liked the book. I answered pretty confusedly because what I had been reading was full of grotesque stories exposing the truth about factory farming. However, I still answered “yeah” in a shaky confused voice. I think back to that day and I know now how I would answer that question. I don’t think it’s a matter of liking the book or not liking the book, I think it’s a matter of how well and accurately Foer exposed the dark sides of factory farming to those consuming their products. When it comes to Eating Animals, I believe the question that should be asked is, “are you convinced?” and I would answer in confidence, “yes, I am convinced factory farming is broken and I am convinced drastic changes need to be made not only in the ways I shop and eat, but also the ways that factory farms operate.” Continue reading Hate It or Love It // Kennedy Murphy

Falling in Love at the Grocery Store // Jenny Jenkins

Spring 2016:

The end of my high school career is quickly approaching, and yet, I still do not even know where I am going to be spending the next four years of my life. I was considering colleges that ranged from California to Boston, and pretty much anywhere in between (including middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania). To put it simply, I was anxious. I started to get really bad stomach aches which added a lot of stress into my already stressful schedule.


I needed to find the source of my pain. How come after almost every meal I had to lay down and take tylenol? This led to my interest in food. I read blog after blog online of how to be healthy and I started to do a lot of cooking and baking. I even started my own food instagram (@goodeatsonly) which unfortunately is not so active now that I am in college. For my final senior project, I shadowed a certified nutritionist who works at Philip’s Academy, a boarding school near where I live, and created my own food blog. While I thought I was being healthier, the stomach aches did not leave me. I decided it was time to figure out what the problem was. I tried cutting things out of my diet one at a time, like my doctor suggested. I tried eliminating gluten, dairy, carbohydrates and peanut butter. “So, did any of them work?” No doctor, NOTHING. When he told me it was probably just stress getting to me, I gave up. If a doctor can’t figure it out, neither will I. Continue reading Falling in Love at the Grocery Store // Jenny Jenkins

Doing Right By Doing Wrong?

Authors: Beshoy Eskarous, Mayra Sierra-Rivera, Andrew Mauzy, and Nico Ray Benito

“The waste-management company was dumping the Compost into Landfill, so the university switched companies,” our professor, Nick Leither told us. Was this true? Did Santa Clara University change companies because they cared that compost wasn’t properly disposed of, or was it due to the bad publicity they wedRA1_f-maxage-0_s-200x150ould receive?

We wanted to find out: Does Santa Clara University actually care about sustainability? Or are they simply doing the right thing – but for the wrong reasons?

Sustainability is the ability to maintain a specific set of operations for an indefinite amount of time without harming the environment. It is a continuous mission that requires vigilance from those who pursue it, and yet it may never be fully achieved. Today, Santa Clara University prides itself on its journey towards sustainability, specifically its mission of becoming waste free by the year 2020, focusing its resources on recycling, composting and food recovery. It has become a key attraction in the University’s advertisement to alumni and prospective students. The school has worked hard to create this image – founded oduden its Jesuit values – and the community works each day to reinforce it. In the past few years, Santa Clara University has begun a process similar to many movements across the country. But does this process stem from a place of good intention, or are there ulterior motivations for this movement, such as marketing the school. Continue reading Doing Right By Doing Wrong?

My Problem With Food

When I first signed up for my Critical Thinking and Writing (CTW) class I was expecting a class along the lines of an English 101 class with a lot of reading, vocabulary, and a couple short essays here and there; what I really signed up for was vastly different. CTW is a two-part class taken over the course of two quarters and each CTW class has an overarching theme. For my CTW 1 class we researched “Human, Animal, Machine” while in my CTW 2 class we researched “Food, Self, and Culture.” In both of my CTW classes shame was an overarching theme. Through my last quarter as a freshman I got to learn a lot about the food industry and how corrupt it really is.

Continue reading My Problem With Food