Students tell stories of global inequality

Last weekend marked Carnegie Mellon’s 17th annual International Festival, “Global Exchange: Trade, Rights, and Welfare in a New World Economy.” In addition to a variety of scheduled workshops, lectures, performances, and other events, there was also an exhibit in the UC Gallery called Life Inequality that compared cities around the world, from Pittsburgh to Kikuyu, Kenya.

In light of the International Festival’s events, some of which were during class time on Friday and on Saturday morning, many students appreciated that the gallery was open throughout the festival. “I thought it was really good that there was the gallery because my friends could just go at any time,” said senior English major Justine Lee, who organized Life Inequality. Lee is an intern for Emily Half, the International Festival coordinator.

Life Inequality underwent a variety of stages. “In the beginning we were really ambitious,” said Lee, who worked with design students Ha-Jin Choi (a sophomore in communication design), Margaret Gerhart (a sophomore in industrial design), Youna Yang (a sophomore in industrial design), and Steven Lim (a junior in communication design). The group, which started work in September, originally planned to rely on online sources to research different cities, comparing specific facts such as average hourly wage. But statistics on uniform topics were hard to come by, and the group members worried that they would make the exhibit seem impersonal.
The group eventually decided to base each city’s component of the exhibit on other students’ experiences studying abroad in different places. “In the end, I think it was a lot better that we were able to have students provide their stories,” Lee said.

One such story came from senior music technology major Mary Smith, who spent time in Kikuyu, Kenya. Drawing from Smith’s experiences, the group used a picture she took of young students leaning over the carcass of a sheep that was to be divided among their entire school. After the sheep, which was donated by a farmer, arrived, the teachers had to cancel school for the rest of the day because the kids were too distracted by the promise of a small piece of meat.

Another story, of Soledad, Colombia, was taken from sophomore Nathan Frank, a double major in business and Hispanic studies. Frank took a picture of a dusty street separating several abandoned houses. “ ‘Soledad’ means ‘lonely,’ and [Nathan] said it really was,” Lee said.

The exhibit ran from Nov. 1 through Nov. 4.