The Immigrant Daughter’s Guilt Abyss

I’m an immigrant of privilege — not quite EB-5 wealth, but the HB1-visa kind. As someone who moved to the U.S. when I was four years old, I’m not exactly first-generation, nor do I fully identify with friends who are native-born citizens. Begging my mom to pack me Lunchables instead of candied anchovies, longing for that Thanksgiving scene with grandparents fawning, cousins running around the house screaming, the turkey never served with kimchi — impossible because my entire extended family still lives halfway around the world and my parents are addicted to kimchi.

Looking back, our accelerating ride into the upper-middle class stains most of my childhood memories. My clothes from elementary school came from Old Navy; I remember heading straight to the sales rack for the thinnest cotton tank tops, running around half-naked in the summers and trying to keep cool in our apartment kept at 80 degrees (to save on air conditioning). Then, we moved into a cozy, aging home on a busy town street. And several years later, we bought a newer house in a quiet cul-de-sac with dramatic skylights and big windows. I daydreamed from the backseat of a beat-up Camry, a used Azera, then a brand new Genesis. I remember growing up my parents fought a lot, always about money, until one day I realized their threats of divorce had dissolved in the background of our comfortable, suburban life. And with the help of a little financial aid, I graduated from a very expensive college.

Yet, I have no ambitions to be a doctor, a lawyer, or some kind of broker/consultant on Wall Street. I want to be a journalist. And my parents are puzzled — that’s supposed to be their grandchild, not the daughter they sacrificed everything for to raise in a foreign country, struggling to speak English, lacking a safety net. In a way, I was raised to be the safety net — similar to how Chloe Kim’s dad calls his daughter, “his American dream.”  

Maybe that is why most first-generation Asian immigrants don’t pursue journalism as a career. After witnessing our parents struggle to achieve the American dream, it nearly feels like betrayal to risk their sacrifices, still fresh in our memories, for a struggling industry that pays so little. Some days, my journalism itch feels more like a curse.

Still, I stubbornly believe that writing hidden truths is worthy of pursuit. Maybe it’s because I sit in that generational abyss — part daughter of immigrants, part immigrant myself — that I can’t shake this somewhat-naive American dream: if only I work hard, I too can mark this strange country.

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College Reputation as Wall Street Pipeline Linked to Stubborn Gender-Pay Gap

*ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE MIDDLEBURY CAMPUS, CENTERFOLD IN FALL 2016*

Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men – the balance wheel of the social machinery.” -Horace Mann, 1848.

Nearly two centuries later, this sexist declaration by an early pioneer in American education still rings true – especially among Middlebury graduates. The gender-pay gap among alumni is shocking: female graduates employed full-time are paid half as much as their male peers ten years after enrolling, according to a 2016 report by the Center for American Progress. Compared to other elite liberal arts schools like Bowdoin, Williams and Amherst, our “College on the Hill” ranks worst.

Because the report’s sample size is limited, it’s hard to pinpoint why Middlebury women make so much less than men or even whether the disparity is as large as the numbers suggest. However, national research on the earnings of college graduates confirm that a gender-wage gap is widespread, and persists. Most studies blame this divide on men being more likely to major in fields related to high-paying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

But at a liberal arts college, nearly 80 percent of  Middlebury students don’t major in STEM, according to a 2015 Student Profile report. The College also doesn’t offer pre-professional degrees like engineering. 

Statistics from the College’s Center for Career and Innovation (CCI) suggest it is finance — male students are more likely to pursue and stick with lucrative banking jobs — that explains why this gender-wage gap exists. So as an established hiring pipeline for many Wall Street firms, should the College try to balance the gender gap in finance? It’s complicated.

Report’s Nuts and Bolts Show Some Rust

The Center for American Progress tracked student earnings by matching tax records with federal financial aid forms. The data comes from a single cohort, students that enrolled in college during the 2000-2001 academic year who received federal aid.

According to the report, Middlebury’s gender-wage gap ranked first among NESCAC schools at $51,373. The median difference was $22,964. Williams had a 10-year earnings difference of $25,835; Bowdoin’s was $19,698. The school that came closest to Middlebury was Amherst with a wage difference of $49,393.

But economics professor Caitlin Myers, who studies how economic policies affect women, warned against jumping to conclusions about Middlebury’s performance compared to other NESCACs.

That [gender-wage] gap is for people who attended Middlebury 15 years ago. It’s not necessarily the case that it’s the experience current Middlebury students will have,” she said. She also noted that the report only included the earnings of students who received federal aid so the data might not reflect the gender-wage gap among the entire graduating class.

Another caveat, the sample sizes were likely very small. Only 24 percent of the College’s students received federal aid according to the FAFSA website. If the average entering class is 650 students, the numbers from the report were calculated using just 155 students.

It’s about statistical significance,” Myers said.

Professor Peter Matthews, head of the economics department, raised concerns about the sample size as well.

The sample is small enough that one or two well-paid ‘outliers’ might explain the 2011 outcome,” he said. “It might have been more useful to know, for example, how median compensation for men and women from the NESCAC evolved over this period.”

The Center for American Progress only reported the mean earnings of graduates in its 2016 report. Without the medians, it’s impossible to know whether a handful of salaries skewed the results.

The researchers of this report said they were unable to explain what was causing the national wage gap between men and women because the available data was not broken down by major or career path.

Both professors insist that Middlebury’s gender-wage gap doesn’t stem from discrimination in the classroom. The economics department has actively tried to recruit and retain its female economics majors by hiring more female professors. The current economics faculty is about 50% female.

The proportion of female majors has never been higher, and we expect that it will continue to grow,” Professor Matthews said.

In 1999, only 17 percent of economics majors were women, according to Professor Matthews. In 2016, it has nearly doubled to 35 percent.

This said, there are still more men than women in economics, and the economics major here is larger than at most, if not all, NESCAC schools,” Matthews said. He also noted that the College, as opposed to the economics department, is well-connected to Wall Street and that many male graduates across different majors end up in finance.

If Not a Pipeline Problem, Then What?

Most big firms recruit a junior analyst class that is roughly 50/50 men and women according to CCI director Peggy Burns.

We have recruiters in finance and consulting industries that are really very committed to recruiting women and under-represented groups,” Burns said.

A 2016 international report by World Economic Forum found the percentage of women in junior roles within finance was 43 percent, higher than the average across all industries. In mid-level positions, the proportion of women declined to 33 percent. Among senior analysts, it dropped to 20 percent. At the CEO-level, women held just nine percent of all positions.

Economics major Erin Giles ‘17 worked at a small investment bank in Boston last summer.

I felt like I had an advantage in getting hired because I’m a woman. But I was at an immediate disadvantage once I stepped into the office. It was a very ‘bro’ culture,” she said. “I had to go outside to use the women’s bathroom because there wasn’t one in the building. There just weren’t that many women in the office.”

The Campus reported last spring that Middlebury men were slightly more likely to major in fields linked to high salary jobs, like computer science and economics, than women. But a survey of the class of 2015 graduates revealed the finance was the only sector to remain stubbornly male-dominated six months after graduation. Of the 435 respondents, almost a quarter worked in finance: 29 women and 66 men. A survey of these graduates reported a median salary greater than $70,000, much higher than the $48,821 average salary of all respondents. 

Graphic 1

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When I look at what our women and men [Middlebury alumni] are being offered, I can tell you there is no difference between men and women in that field. If you’re a man offered a finance analyst job and your starting salary is for $80,000, it’ll be the same if you’re a woman,” Burns said.

Difficult Working Conditions for Women in Finance

The wage disparity appears to stem from the unique challenges women must endure to succeed in a competitive work environment that is dominated by this “bro” culture. A recent New York Times op-ed paints a grim picture of Wall Street’s misogynist culture that “go far beyond exclusion from meetings and golf outings,” i.e. public groping to settle a bet.

Wall Street is a specific culture. It is a specific culture of men,” said business psychologist Sharon Horowitz who consults Wall Street firms, in an interview with the Huffington Post.

Professor Myers said work interruptions for having a family could also explain the gender-wage gap in general, not just among Middlebury alumni.

That gender-wage gap widening has been observed in the country. I don’t know if there’s anything unique to Middlebury. Career interruptions for family are disproportionately born by women,” Myers said.

They’re set back by that. [Taking time off] is something they continue to pay for throughout their working lives. Once you step down a few rungs, there are other people passing you by,” Burns said.

The U.S. is the only country that doesn’t require companies to offer maternity leave. But companies who have experimented with generous family-friendly policies have produced staggering results. Patagonia’s child care program has a 100 percent retention rate for moms returning to workforce in the past five years; the national average is 79 percent. In addition, 50 percent of Patagonia’s managers and senior leaders are women. If the wage gap is perpetuated by the lack of women in higher paying positions on the corporate ladder due to taking time off for family responsibilities, one solution might be to mandate generous child-care and maternity leave policies.

The College’s Role in Changing Wall Street Culture?

Higher education has no legal power to change national labor policies. But could elite private schools like Middlebury, as established pipelines to finance careers, reform Wall Street culture to be more women-friendly?

If students are made more aware of the work-life balance challenges specific to women, this future generation of Wall Street bankers could be more willing to create generous parental leave policies or actively change the hyper-masculine office culture.

Fortune Magazine published an article last year citing multiple studies showing that firms could benefit from hiring and retaining more female investors: women are less stubborn, less impulsive and better at evaluating risk.

One possible idea that the College could implement is requiring a “professional ethics” class that includes a gender studies component for all economics majors. But as the College’s most popular major, that could mean hiring new faculty when the endowment has taken a hit. 

Tyler Belmont ‘17, an International Politics and Economics major, thought a mandatory class on gender studies or banking ethics would do little to change Wall Street culture.

I think the learning that needs to take place is outside the classroom,” he said, “For example, stimulating social discussion by inviting outside faculty and making it mandatory for certain majors or classes. A lot of these conversations take place within a social vacuum and never bleeds out to the people who need to participate.”

This gender disparity is also not limited to jobs in finance. It exists in other sectors like computer science (male-dominated) and education (female-dominated). Some students thought it should be required, or at least offered, to all Middlebury students.

I think it should be interdisciplinary because you benefit from getting insights from people who are outside your major. You can get different perspectives,” said political science major Nicole Caci ‘17.

While no course on professional ethics currently exists, the closest offering is Economics and Gender taught by professor Tanya Byker.

Salary as a Measure of Professional Success

A mandatory class like this would work to address the wage gap by creating a better environment for women on Wall Street. But should the College be encouraging more women to work in finance at all?

The Center for American Progress’ 2016 report makes a tricky assumption: the success of female graduates can be measured by whether their income matches male peers.

“It’s not a stereotype but it’s certainly a generalization that women tend to go into fields that are lower paid — like education, like nonprofit,” Burns said. “If women are making a choice about pursuing a career path that is about social justice, social impact, affecting change in the world and it pays less, then god bless them for doing that.”

Moreover, getting women to pursue male-dominated careers might not translate to higher wages in the long run, according to gender studies professor Laurie Essig.

Whether something is more paid or prestigious is who’s working in that field, not about that field in itself,” said Essig. “The more likely the job is likely to be women dominated, the less we pay. ” She cited computer science, bank-telling and gynecology as jobs varying in pay and prestige within the last fifty years.

At least historically, there’s nothing innate about certain fields that make them higher compensated or worthwhile. We make a social decision. Wall Street is valuable. Teaching 4th grade is not,” Essig said.

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So You Wanna Be a Midd Kid?

A plain cheese quesadilla –- no salsa, no sour cream – and a glass of milk.

Middlebury senior Dan Terhune reminds me of his lunch: an American classic, timeless, confident with an effortless old school cool. Little about him is spicy; his opinions are mild. His logic, rational. He’s not bubbly like cola or soft-spoken like warm tea. In one word,Dan, like his lunch, is balanced.

The College’s admissions office hired Dan to work as a tour guide last summer. A self-described introvert, he said giving daily tours to high school hopefuls and their overeager parents wasn’t as stressful, once he “psychologically prepared” himself to do it.

He wrote a script. It even included strategic “off-hand” remarks to ward off moments of uneasy silence that inevitably taint most college tours.

“I had a list of them in my head and would just go down them one by one,” he said. He tears off another perfect bite-sized quesadilla piece and puts it in his mouth. He chews, he swallows. He sips his milk.

It’s clear Dan plans ahead. Dan studies philosophy and writes mostly-A papers. He plays club volleyball. He serves on the judicial board. Dan seems like someone who’s mastered being a Middlebury student, who was maybe born to be one (he’s the eldest son of a “Midd marriage”; both his parents are Middlebury alumni).

Which is why I’m taken aback when he tells me he has no post-grad plans besides working as a barista in Boston, bumming with friends while he considers writing screenplays (though after a couple years, he admits he’ll likely end up in law school).

When I ask Dan what he’s passionate about, he replies with a casual smile, “Baseball, but I know I’m not good enough to play for the Red Sox.”

I ask him again, in my most serious tone with my most stern gaze.

“That feeling I get when I finish a great book or watch a really good movie.”

Dan doesn’t have a favorite film genre – he likes to watch it all. He’s open-minded and unbiased and has a face that could be carved on Mount Rushmore. He’d fit right in on the Supreme Court bench.

In Defense of the Tech-Obsessed Millennial

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Millennials spending more time staring at their 8 inch screens than each other, but it’s more complicated than a harmful addiction — more like a painful love affair. (Gauthier Delecroix/Creative Commons)

I grew up with an online identity. The dystopian scenarios of social credit and hacked surveillance – that is my generation at stake.

Yes, we hand our browsing habits to a slew of social media apps — Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook – in exchange for sharing creative content with others, but that doesn’t mean we ignore the risks. No, most of us accept them because we begrudgingly feel the need to. It’s a choice that doesn’t seem much like a choice, and one that often needs defending.

The privacy of our information online and the freedom to share content are priorities that rightly feel personal. The repeal of net neutrality, the hacking of Internet of Things (IoTs) and the passage of FISA piqued my interest when framed as risks to platforms of expression. These platforms have evne morphed into economic opportunity for a lucky few, opening doors to promotion-based entrepreneurship like “tweet-decking”, that didn’t exist a decade ago.

We grew up curating an online self, honing our “skills” at raising Neopets, building acronym-only AIM profiles (“AK JS YP = MY BFFLs. LYLAS!”), writing angsty Xanga posts and creating viral Twitter memes. The internet allows anyone with an IP address and enough wit, beauty or wealth to amass a public following. After spending years racking up this online social credit, a growing number of 20-somethings are cashing in.

Automation and the gig economy, fear-mongering buzz words in the media, are economic trends that my generation takes advantage of everyday. In fact, we’re driving it (quite literally, in the case of ride-share services like Lyft and Uber). Other examples are my housemates: one is working to become a famous Instagram photographer and model, while the other is setting up a bazaar in our living room. His brother ships him goods directly from Moroccan flea markets – hand mirrors, wallets and fake-ivory trinkets – to sell on Amazon for a premium.  

For the rest of us, lacking the “it” to be discovered or resources to build a start-up, universal basic income is an attractive promise. Especially in rural America where factory jobs are disappearing, it could ease the transition to automation without villainizing technology. Job security is important, but the kind of work that automation will replace is mostly toil. On the other hand, social media platforms have the potential to foster creative entrepreneurship in a post-work world.

Yet, nostalgia in the age of tech continues to dominate. For example, this headline suggesting we make iPhones less addicting by making them worse? Hm. That sounds like trying to solve climate change by shrinking our population (questionably ethical) and equipping everyone with a spear (go hunt!), rather than investing in renewables or developing all-electric transit.

As someone who is risk-averse, I understand the hesitation to innovate without considering every consequence. We’re hardwired to fear the unknown. But what best explains the contrasting attitudes between 20-somethings and 50-somethings might be this: technology, my generation knows best.

That Artist, the Buff One

Ex-cop now high school security guard, Tony Larone, is a tall, broad, thick-necked man with a big mouth and even bigger teeth. His stone-like stature is striking, and I remember his presence being impossible to ignore, as he strode down the hall dissipating teenage mischief.

And so last month, standing in the middle of the gallery at the local arts center with his salt and pepper waves slicked back, I recognized him immediately. His six-foot figure was just as formidable in a faded green windbreaker (“It’s vintage,” he later told me), as it had been in his school day button-up and sweater.

I initially thought he had come to purchase art, maybe to support a friend in the show. Turns out, he came because of this masterpiece…

[INSERT PAINTING HERE]

My jaw dropped. And then he showed his other recent work – the shadowy silhouette of a woman hanging laundry on a grey afternoon, the strong clean bones of an aging mill, soft sheep resting under a tree, with a forest backdrop I swore was a photograph. He continued to flip through his Facebook album. My chin hit the floor.

Entirely self-taught (with a little help from Bob Ross Youtube tutorials), his painting was an early seller that day, at the holiday exhibit. “That’s pretty standard for my work,” he tells me. “I’m a savant.”

To put his ego in context, Tony’s work is gaining local recognition; he’s recently been accepted into the prestigious Trenton City Art Museum for the second year in the row, and featured in the New Hope arts scene.

Tony breaks down just about every stereotype I might have about a talented painter – besides being good, and maybe his ego. To imagine those thick, tan hands guiding a tiny swab of color, a delicate brush between his fingertips, is somewhat laughable. Then I think back to his hawk-like gaze, his astute observation skills, his ridiculously sharp memory.

——————————————————-

Tony grew up fishing on the Bordentown river as a little kid. Now that the waters are dirty and the fish have either swum away or died off, he sits on its banks on hot summer days, painting in part from his memories. While he’s most productive in the summer, he admits to painting year-round – in his living room, in his underwear.

He’s done about 100 paintings so far. About a quarter he’s sold, most he’s given away to friends and family. He started off re-creating great pieces like the girl with the pearl earring, now he does original works, mostly landscapes.

“Because, I like being outside,” Tony shrugged. “Duh.”

Initially, Tony thought the local art community was “clique-y”, treating him like the refreshing outsider he considers himself. They also might have been puzzled by his lack of formal training? Threatened by his budding success? I know little about the arts, or drama, or drama in the arts, but I find his story not incredulous, but inspiring.

—————————————————————————–

I remember when Tony first showed my friends and I this first painting. He slipped into a closet just outside the high school auditorium (“My office”, he called it), and reappeared with a canvas that resembled a famous one. To be honest, the boy’s face was a little misshapen. And the colors seemed off – the floor too green, the boy’s face too white — but at just the right angle, one could catch glimmers of the original genius in his amateur attempt. We ooh-ed and ah-ed in the school hallway. He beamed holding his work.

Five years later, some would say Tony’s established second hobby is blossoming into a second career. His paintings are being accepted into bigger exhibits; and at the shows, people are shelling out.

All this began from an off-hand remark on a school field trip, when he chaperoned students down in Washington D.C. It was Newseum day, but he and a colleague (our high school track coach) ditched to visit the Art Museum across the street. Tony describes it like this:

“Carl was always into art. Me, not so much. But I’d already seen all that Newseum stuff before, so I thought why not.”

They stared at the famous Rembrandt together.

“You think I could paint that?” Tony said.

“You’re kidding. Not a chance.” Carl laughed.

“No seriously, I think I can paint that.” He walked away.

Then he did.

 

This is how Blockchain Could Disrupt the World (And It’s Not Bitcoin)

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This is the logo for Ethereum, another rising cryptocurrency… could be in our future — but not before these inventions shake up the market first. (Creative Commons)

Blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin, is a buzzword that means little more than a distributed ledger — a record of transactions or interactions that’s shared between involved parties, sometimes the public. It creates a record that’s nearly impossible to fudge or deny, making it extremely useful for a variety of things, not just the creation and exchange of cryptocurrency.

Here are some U.S. patents detailing revolutionary uses for blockchain technology:

  1. Electronic voting records (remember the debacle after the 2016 election on potential Russian hacking of electric polling?)
  2. More secure IoTs, or Internet of Things such as that nifty Amazon Echo Dot you stole last winter for $29. Remember, vulnerable IoTs were involved in a massive hack earlier this year.
  3. Verifying electronic documents (including health records)
  4. Third-party mediation (Accenture came up with a neat algorithm to track shipments for oil and gas companies; one of the founders claims the same system could be used to cut audit costs for a number of other industries, such as grocers, online retailers and freight carriers, themselves, like FedEx.)

Note: none of these include Bitcoin. Simple fact is that it’s not scaleable. The median transaction time for a single Bitcoin transaction was 14 minutes (as of January 8, 2017, according to Quandl.com).

Ethereum is another cryptocurrency with similar peer-to-peer transaction abilities, that runs a lot faster. Its recent partnership with a “personal server” start-up, Urbit, boosted Ethereum’s reputation among crypto-nerds. Urbit claims to be the server of the future, providing users more independence and security from big information snoops like Amazon and Google. It’s an attractive alternative to our current cookie’d internet as a peer-to-peer network for browsing the web.

What’s interesting (and nervously relevant) is Urbit.org is founded by an alt-right sympathizer and rumored to be backed by conservative media mogul Peter Thiel.