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Accountability for the 400,000 Deaths: The RICO Act’s Application in the Legal Opioid Industry

By Holden LeBlanc, Class of 2021, Burnett Prize Winner (20-21 School Year)

The George Hall Burnett in History is awarded on the basis of a special essay in American history.

Carolyn Markland, a grandmother from Jacksonville, Florida, was a lover of animals and spent years fostering rescue pets after retiring as an environmental engineer. Markland, however, struggled with back pain due to a degenerative disc disease for years. After trying different medications with little relief, a doctor prescribed Markland the fentanyl-based drug Subsys to subdue her pain. Markland took a dose of Subsys before going to sleep on July 2, 2014. When Markland’s daughter went to check on her mother the next day, she discovered her dead in her bed with a Subsys canister lying at her side. Although Markland’s overdose was the first death connected to Subsys, many more were looming. Along with thousands of others, Markland died from overdosing on prescription opioids, but to understand how this happened, it is essential to recognize the changes in the United States’ policy towards opioids.

Opium, the active ingredient in opioids, is a substance that blocks pain by stimulating the release of the chemical dopamine in the body. Opium is a naturally occurring substance found in poppy plants, which humans have cultivated for centuries seeking their medicinal effect. For most of America’s history, up until the mid-twentieth century, doctors utilized opioids like morphine and later heroin as a crude form of anesthesia for surgery and for managing debilitating pain. After soldiers who received these powerful opioids became addicted in the early twentieth century, however, the United States government banned heroin and severely limited morphine use in 1924. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, opioid use in the U.S. remained relatively low, as much of the population viewed partaking in drug culture as morally wrong and deviant.

Attitudes began to change with the counterculture movement of the 1960s which embraced drugs such as marijuana and LSD. These drugs, however, were expensive, and after a large segment of the youth became drug dependent, many turned to cheaper and more potent alternatives, including heroin. The heroin epidemic was even worse among Vietnam Veterans due to the large supply of the drug in Southeast Asia, which grew vast amounts of the poppies used to make heroin.2 In response to the increase in drug use within the civilian and military population, President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1971. Initial efforts to stop the flow of drugs into the United States, however, provided little help. Between the years 1980 and 1988 alone, the number of heroin users increased by 750%.3 Because of the widespread abuse of opioids like heroin throughout the 1970s and 1980s, doctors seldom prescribed legal opioids such as Vicodin out of fear of addiction.

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Butterfly Jar

By Lina Zhang, Class of 2021, Redmond Prize Winner (20-21 School Year)

The Redmond Prize for English Narrative is awarded to the student who, in the judgment of the English Department, has submitted the most outstanding piece of narrative during this academic year.

Today I can go out and play before dinner because my sister is home and she’s cutting the grass to feed the ducks and the big white goose we have in our front yard. Papa says we’re lucky to have ducks because we can sell the eggs, but I think they’re loud in the morning and the goose always looks at me mean like it wants to chase after me and peck me in the butt again the way it did when I was three. But today I don’t have to care about the goose or the grass that cuts my hand when I go at it with a sickle or even the cicadas that go “fifififi” up in their trees until the sun goes down. Today I’m going butterfly hunting. 

There’s always butterflies where I live, even in the winter if one lays her eggs near someone’s home and baby butterflies hatch too early, but it’s summer now so they’re everywhere. The little boy next door taught me how to make a net from a stick and a piece of cloth, and I brought an empty glass jar to keep the butterfly once I catch it. There are a couple small white butterflies but they’re ugly, there’s one with orange and black stripes and white dots sitting on a flower, that’s the one I want. 

I do a couple of practice swings in the air and my net goes whoosh whoosh whoosh like someone is trying to whistle. I swing and miss, the butterfly flies away like it’s scared. I wait and soon enough it comes back to the same flower, silly butterfly. This time I am not so clumsy and get it in my net, I see it scrambling around against the fabric before I scoop it into my jar and twist the lid tight so it doesn’t fly out again. I’ve always wanted a butterfly but never had time to catch one, now I have my own. My sister tells me they start as baby caterpillars and then break a hard shell around them called a cocoon and then they’re butterflies. She knows everything.

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A Journey Without Destination

By Carl Guo, VI Form, Coleman Prize Winner (20-21 School Year)

The Coleman Prize in English is awarded to the student, who, in the judgment of the English Department, has submitted the most outstanding essay during the academic year.

In the book The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald presents a delicately crafted social commentary on wealth, class, and the American Dream through a tragic love story between Gatsby and Daisy from Nick Carraway’s perspective. Fitzgerald’s compelling narrative skills allow him to present multiple facets of the same coin and allow room for readers’ interpretations; one can find textual evidence for a variety of conflicting arguments. For example, many people read this book as a criticism of the futile American dream, but one can also appreciate Gatsby’s possession of at least some sense of ambition and contrast it to the utter emptiness of Tom and Daisy. Instead of giving a clear argumentation, Fitzgerald harnesses the power of ambiguity and epistemological uncertainty to ask the audience, symbolized by the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, thought-provoking questions but intentionally leave the answers blank. He does so particularly with the portrayal of Gatsby’s mysterious backstory, the vague American Dream, and Nick’s development as an unreliable, non-neutral narrator. 

The mystery of Gatsby’s identity is a prominent theme pushing the storyline throughout the book. Before Gatsby is formally introduced to Nick at his party, he is already a heated topic in others’ discussions. During the dinner in Chapter 1, Jordan asserts adamantly that “[Daisy] must know Gatsby” and makes Daisy confused about Gatsby’s identity (Fitzgerald 11). This quote indirectly shows the widespread fame Gatsby accumulated. However, most people only know Gatsby as a rich man who throws grandiose parties but nothing of his true identity; this uncertainty creates dissatisfaction and incites curious minds to speculate on it. Therefore, rumors, such as that “he killed a man once” and “he was a German spy during the war,” brew in this environment (Fitzgerald 44). The audience reading the book is no different from the party crowd, pulled by their curiosity to read more about Gatsby; this similarity is one of the many inferences about the readers’ role Fitzgerald sets up in the book. 

Gatsby himself actively enjoys being the subject of this conundrum since he is willing to forget his poor uprising to better fit in as an “old-money.” He purposefully establishes his mysterious character by claiming that he is from “San Francisco” of “the Middle East” (Fitzgerald 65) or boasting about his Oxford education even though he admits that he only “only stayed five months” (Fitzgerald 129). This juxtaposition of contradictory information not only discredits Gatsby’s character but also alarms the audience to review these facts with more skepticism. This skepticism pushes for more scrutiny to distinguish the truth from the lie, which Fitzgerald champions as a response to this uncertainty. 

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Holding the Line on Title IX

By Natalie Zaterka, VI Form, Shen Prize Winner (20-21 School Year)

The Pledge of Allegiance states we are “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” My hope is that one day these words will ring true because these ideals are essential to America’s democratic promise of equality for all. Since the United States’ founding, women have made great strides towards equality. We have protested, shattered traditional gender norms, and achieved legislation such as Title IX, which outlaws discrimination based on gender in any schools that receive federal funding, including in its athletic programs. But even after all this work, we have not achieved equality. Title IX may have expanded democracy for women, but discrimination and inequality for female athletes still continues today. 

Title IX was transformational for women’s athletics. According to The Sport Journal, this legislation produced a surge of participation in women’s sports from less than 32,000 intercollegiate women before Title IX to 200,000 intercollegiate women and 3 million high school girls in 2010.  Colleges and universities created more sports options for women allowing them to compete at a higher level, but despite this progress, gender discrimination still cast a shadow over American athletics. 

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Ely Speech by Yunxuan (Coco) Chen, IV Form, Eli Prize Winner (20-21 School Year)

The Ely Prize is presented to the student who gave the best speech in the III Form Global Seminar Public Speaking Competition each spring.

One White Male’s Perspective

By David Palmer, Science Department Head

One White Male’s Perspective

The mass murders in Atlanta need to be called what they are. They are hate crimes, but that is not enough. It angers me to hear attempts to explain the actions as a result of the killer’s struggles with addiction and feelings of failing his faith. Addiction doesn’t lead someone to go on a killing spree. It can make you desperate, but it makes the addict desperate to feed the addiction, not to kill. Hate makes you want to kill. And that young white man in Georgia killed women and killed Asians out of hate. Race and prejudice based hate crimes happen all too often in America because of our culture. This is a country dominated by white men, and as a white man, I want to say we are all far too complicit in perpetuating this patriarchy. The murderer is an extreme example, as all hate crimes are, but it is the “tip of the iceberg.” He was not a “lone wolf,” he is a product of the culture he was raised in- the same culture that I was raised in, the same culture that put a man in the White House who can be overtly degrading to women, overtly anti-Asian, and overtly blame immigrants and minorities and still have almost half of the voting population vote for him. I am not saying Donald Trump is to blame for this crime, I am saying American culture is responsible for both of them, and that culture is a white patriarchy that is racist, misogynist, and violent.

I don’t want to take away from the trauma the Asian community has experienced or the anxiety and fear that comes with being Asian in America. I just can’t help but see it in the context of a culture that allows, and promotes violence against African-Americans, violence and hatred toward immigrants, and violence and hatred toward women. And I see a common denominator in all that – white men. White men are not the target of these things, they are the perpetrators. I have heard reference to the phrase “not all men.” I refuse to use it myself, because, yes, of course, it is not all men and not all white men. But, when the culture we grow up in repeatedly delivers the messages that women are less than, minorities are less than, immigrants are less than, and to be feared, it makes them targets for the more desperate, the more angry, the more extreme members of the dominant group: white men.  

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Unraveling White Supremacy: Reflections on Becoming Anti-racist

By Dr. Heather Harwood, Classics Faculty

Unraveling White Supremacy: Reflections on Becoming Anti-racist

As Penelope, the heroine of the Odyssey, awaits her husband’s return from the Trojan war, she spends her time weaving and unweaving the same piece of fabric- a shroud intended for her father-in-law’s funeral. 

“[E]very day she wove the mighty cloth and then at night, by torchlight, she unwove it.” (2.107-108) The poet tells us that she had been doing this for three years before the dozens of suitors – local men who have been visiting her palace to ask for her  hand in marriage – discovered the trick. When they finally realize she has been deceiving them, these suitors become angry and tell her son Telemachus to force her to choose one of them right away – a crisis that begins the action of the rest of the poem’s long narrative.

Readers of the Odyssey often point to this passage as an example of Penelope’s “capacity for clever deceit and false storytelling,” evidence that she too, like her husband Odysseus, is polytrope, clever and versatile, or, as Emily Wilson newly translates this epithet, “complicated.” But as Wilson rightly points out, Penelope’s practice of doing and undoing is different from the kind of trickery for which her husband is known. While Odysseus’s lies are always designed to advance his way in the world or achieve some heroic feat, Penelope’s action is not a fabrication of the truth, but the opposite: a refabrication of her reality. With her nightly unfurling of the cloth, she is seeking to hold the sometimes violent threat of the suitors in check while simultaneously holding space for a different ending to her story, the ending she wants to come true and which will in fact be the end of the story, namely her husband’s homecoming. Penelope’s trick (if it can be considered one) both saves her life and makes it possible for the rest of the story to be sung. (Wilson, 45) 

I want to offer this story about Penelope as a starting point for my reflections on how to begin the work of becoming anti-racist for two reasons. First, many of the words currently in use to describe our relationship to racism and white supremacy (implicit, explicit, complicit) derive from words that can also be used to describe the intricate work of ancient textile production. Second, I think this story of Penelope weaving, unweaving and reweaving provides an apt metaphor for the work of becoming an anti-racist. Unraveling and untangling all of the threads of white supremist culture in your life is difficult work — ongoing, messy and often very uncomfortable. The narrative of American history is only part of the tapestry of white supremacy, which has its origins in ancient and modern European history. In what follows, I will present one way to think about how to develop a capacity for identifying, explicating and finally unraveling the threads of white supremacy. 

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The Pandemic Year: Reflections on Teaching, Covid-19, and Social Justice in 2020-2021

By Dr. Downing Kress, Modern Languages Faculty

The Pandemic Year: Reflections on Teaching, Covid-19, and Social Justice in 2020-2021

If I could travel back in time to March 2020 and describe to my former self the current state of the world, I would not have believed my own words. Never would I have imagined that I would be teaching French to high school students all over the world using Zoom, a platform I had never encountered before last spring, when I was teaching literature to undergraduates at NYU. On the eve of Spring Break 2020, when the NYU administration announced that break would be extended for one more week before likely bringing everyone back to campus, I don’t think that any of us – students, teachers, researchers, administrators – were prepared for the reality that we would, in fact, not be returning to our classrooms, lecture halls, or offices for the remainder of the academic year. Never would I have imagined that the only place I would be seeing my students would be on the computer screen, and that this strange new way of teaching would a year later be as habitual and familiar as brushing my teeth. Never would I have imagined that COVID-19 would affect my day-to-day life in the ways that it has, nor would I have imagined it would structure the ways in which I teach, as well as what I teach, in the language classroom. But teaching is always a learning process, and 2020-2021 has given us much to learn.

The world has changed and we have been transformed in innumerable ways over the past year. We have been forced to be apart from one another, something that is entirely unnatural to us humans. We have adapted by replacing visits with friends and family with FaceTime calls, and by trading out classrooms and large gathering spaces for breakout rooms found on our computer screens and cell phones.

And yet, despite our adaptations to living our lives virtually, much about this past year has been very much anchored in the physical word. Obviously, the very thing that pushed us into this virtual state – the coronavirus – is physically real. COVID-19 wreaks real havoc on the body of its victims, and also on the mental, social, and physical wellbeing of us all. The physical manifestations of this “invisible enemy” are pervasive and glaring, influencing the ways we operate and affecting the rhythms of cities and towns all over the world.

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