Friday, March 3, 2017

“Sexual assault does not affect just UAF or the US. It affects the entire world.”

Content warning:  Prior to reading, please note that this blog entry contains information about sexual violence.

This blog entry provides perspective on one UAF student's experience and it includes local, national and international resources for others.

Shame. It can be a noun. A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. Humiliation. Mortification. Chagrin. Ignominy. Embarrassment. Indignity. Discomfort. A loss of respect or esteem. Dishonor. Disgrace. Discredit. Degradation. Disrepute. Shame can be a verb. A person, action, or situation that brings a loss of respect or honor. Shame can be used to “take down a peg or two, cut down to size”.

It was 4am, I was on the phone with my mom. She just received difficult news from me. We had one of those crucial conversations one prepares for but hopes never becomes a reality. For the life of me I wish I could remember what she said about shame, her passionate 5-minute rant on why shame and guilt are emotions that infest our minds, which feed off the negativity of doubt and loneliness. How she defined shame made me quit crying. Made me listen and reevaluate my position. There was strength lurking under this blanket of shame that society threw over me. I made my bed with it, without questioning its ethics, its morality, and slept there content in hiding my experiences from the world.

Let me rewind a bit. Mid-October. It is 9pm, I am seated next to a police officer as one of the most empowering women I know lets her story of shame spill out of her mouth. Her eyes. I am thrown back to the moments of my shame. Their creation. Born from slaps and spilled beer. I remember exactly how it felt to be alone, in a foreign country. Her confession makes me realize what I tried to hide from myself. Where the puzzle pieces from the last two years finally situate themselves to paint the picture of truth. As they come together, there is no denying the picture they create.

This is also the start of the spiral. A movement into myself that dug up my past trauma from the grave I tried to smother it in. I fell apart. My identity shattered into a million pieces once I recognized my trauma. The mind is powerful. I lost some of the pieces. I replaced them with the ones I dug up. I am in transition. I am confused by identity. I doubt every action, every thought. I try to distance myself from the truth to find some sort of resemblance to that past girl. It does not work. The distraction only lasts so long until a word, a look, a thought, will send me right back into that bed. The pit in my stomach contracts, and I am consumed by that night. This is what I am fighting through in classes, struggling to maintain composure. When out with friends, this is why I drink minimally for fear that anymore will open my vault of self-control. These are the thoughts I try to force away while I get ready in the morning, hoping I can keep the facade together.

I am vulnerable. I am raw. I have hit the point of acceptance, one that has allowed me to recognize that what I went through is not new, is not rare. In fact, it seems to be “normal”. Through my newly begun process of healing I have come to terms with the fact that I cannot continue to be silent. In my spiral, I saw the details more clearly. I am not at fault. I did not deserve this. I do not need to carry the weight of loneliness conveyed through dishonest conversations and actions.

I was raped while on my foreign exchange. By another foreigner. I won’t tell you the details. Not what country, or who he was. None of it matters. What matters is that it happened in the first place. Sexual assault does not affect just UAF or the US. It affects the entire world. The circumstances of an individual's traumatic experience vary drastically, which only complicates the prosecution process further. In a foreign country, as a foreigner, it becomes even more convoluted, as definitions of sexual assault differ, or in some cases, don’t exist. Abroad, I had no direction following this trauma. I did not believe the reality of what happened.

Two years later, I find myself taking the action I wish I had known existed. Title IX, contacting an advocate, counseling. I googled “sexual assault on exchange”, the results were troubling. Troubling because all of them were either like mine, too old to be of use, or the processes of investigating sexual assault in the host country is mediocre at best, or layered under social and cultural customs. In most cases, the perpetrator is let free. The woman is shamed. Lack of resources, reported cases, general discussion has made me feel directionless. This directionless search is suffocating, especially to someone like me who has always had a vague plan of my next step. Right now, I don’t have a next step.

Instead, I have found a release from this constant anxiety. I will take up this new identity, and sew it into the quilt of my life. I did not want this piece, I fought to hide it. Now it is mine, and I hope that there comes a time when nobody has to do the same. How? It started with women who were brave enough to fight the systemic injustices, who through their own beautiful risings showed me that honesty is powerful. It continued with me writing this, and it will continue with you reading it.

Recognize the actions that lead up to an assault, the “normal” behavior that leads to such violence. I had a wonderful time dancing that night, as the hip, foreign-club played bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was something that had the potential to be a highlight of my time abroad. Some will disagree, will argue that we each had a choice. Or that my experience is invalid because of its circumstances. I will argue that while we each made our decisions that night, to go out, to dance, to drink, none of those decisions should have led to rape. No decision should ever lead to rape or abuse.  

I don’t know who made him feel as if he was unlovable, when it happened. Maybe he was a young child or maybe it was much later in his life. Whatever the circumstance, he selfishly used his loneliness and his inability to recognize that loneliness to take advantage of me. Without a thought, he used me for a minute’s worth of pleasure, subjecting me to years of emotional turmoil. If we do not do something about how our societies teach boys and girls to view their sexuality, view love, view relationships, do not recognize the responsibility we have of shaping society, we will never make progress away from this perversion of intimacy.

Going on an exchange did not cause this to happen. My being alone did not cause this to happen. I am not even sure what did, and I will not take fault for it. On most days I am fighting with my mind, urging myself to let go of the blame and guilt I have layered over the assault. I am choosing daily to not be afraid. I am choosing to continue pushing the boundaries of society that define acceptable and unacceptable behavior.


Here is the best resource I could find on sexual assault abroad after searching the internet for resources:

There many options for help if you have experienced a sexual assault, want more information on how to handle sexual assault, or want to become more involved:

UAF Campus Resources

Resource & Advocacy Center - Confidential
A program of the Interior Alaska Center for Non-Violent Living

UAF Wood Center Room 130
Phone: (907) 474-6360

UAF Student Health and Counseling Center - Confidential
612 N. Chandalar Drive,
PO Box 755580
Fairbanks, AK  99775-5580
Phone: (907) 474-7043

Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity – Title IX Reporting
Nordic House, 739 Columbia Circle
P.O. Box 756910
Fairbanks, AK 99775
Phone: 907-474-7496

Nanook Diversity & Action Center
101K Wood Center
505 Yukon Dr.
P.O. Box 756640
Fairbanks, AK 99775
Phone: 907-474-6029

Fairbanks Resources

Interior Alaska Center for Non-Violent Living - Confidential
726 26th Avenue, Suite 1
Fairbanks, AK 99701
Toll Free: 1-800-478-7273

Statewide Resources

Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
130 Seward St., Suite 214
Juneau, Alaska 99801
(907) 586-3650

National Resources

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)
National Sexual Assault Hotline 800.656.HOPE,

Know Your IX

NCEDV (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)

NNEDV (National Network to End Domestic Violence)

International Resources

SASHAA International Toll-Free Crisis Line (available 24/7)
Outside the U.S. and Canada, follow these two steps to contact the toll-free international crisis line:
  1. Find your country-specific AT&T direct access code here.
  2. Dial your AT&T access code and, at the prompt, enter this phone number: 866-USWOMEN (866-879-6636).
To call the crisis line from the U.S. and Canada,
dial 1-866 USWOMEN (1-866-879-6636).

Article on how to respond if someone comes to you with their story:

Additional Resources:

What Consent Looks Like; accessed 3/3/2017;

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

UAF Graduate Student Participates in Korea Arctic Academy

By Liz Bowman

Participants of the July 2016 Korea Arctic Academy, a study program that brought together students from Korean universities and from UArctic member institutions. (photo courtesy Liz Bowman)

My name is Liz Bowman, and I am a graduate student in the Arctic and Northern Studies program. I am working on my Masters and focus on Arctic policy. Within policy, I am interested in discovering the motivations of non-Arctic states to participate in Arctic affairs. This summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the 2nd Korea Arctic Academy (KAA) hosted by the Korean Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, and organized by UArctic and Korea Maritime Institute. This academy brought together 29 students (19 from Arctic states, 10 from Korea) to discuss the Arctic from our perspectives, as well as learn about what Korea is doing in the Arctic context. It is hard to do this experience justice with a blog post, but I will do my best to convey how rewarding my time in Korea was, and what impacts it will have on my future studies.

Building within the Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul.
(photo courtesy Liz Bowman)
Korea cares deeply about the Arctic and the implications that a changing Arctic climate has on others. It is because of this, and other reasons, that students from the North were invited to participate in the program. Beyond learning about Korea’s positions on a variety of Arctic issues, I was able to experience the hospitality, kindness, and unique culture of the Korean people. Perhaps the most significant thing about the KAA program was that it truly was an opportunity to create friendships, partnerships, and foster mutual understanding between those from the Arctic region and Korea.

In my conversations with Korean students, I learned that many are curious about maritime issues, warming Arctic temperatures, and what everyday life is like for many of the Arctic students. I found it equally as valuable to connect with others from the Arctic, many coming from indigenous communities, that were willing to share their traditional knowledge with us so we had a better understanding of our own region.

Liz Bowman (second archer from the right) learns traditional Korean archery while wearing  a traditional outfit during the 2nd Korea Arctic Academy. (photo courtesy Liz Bowman)
Please don’t think that the KAA was only hard work. In addition to lectures about policy, science, and the future of the Arctic, we also learned about Korean culture. I was able to participate in traditional Korean archery, sing K-Pop karaoke, and eat more kimchi in a few days then I had ever eaten in my lifetime.

Although the program was short, only 10 days, I have so many valuable experiences to draw upon as I move forward with my degree program at UAF. I now have valuable connections with Korean students and faculty who are interested in sharing their thoughts about a global Arctic, one that includes all those who are interested in the future of the North, not just those who are geographically located there. I can use my experience in Korea to support my ideas about non-Arctic states in the Arctic context and how the Arctic can continue to be a place of cooperation. It is hard to express my gratitude for the Korean Maritime Institute and UArctic for hosting such a rewarding academy. It is my hope that other UAF students will want to participate in this program in future years and learn about what the rest of the world thinks of our backyard.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Feature of the Month - May

Ritika Saxena grew up in Lucknow, Northern India. People around the world and different cultures intrigue her. She says, "After high school, I moved to Australia on a scholarship to study Bachelor of Biological Science." As a part of her degree, she decided to go on exchange at UAF over Spring 2016.

What motivated you to study abroad and choose UAF?

She believes that you learn a lot by living in a different country and a different culture. So, after choosing to study in Australia ‘The Land Down Under’, she says "I decided to go as far up as I could and that's how I decided to move to the other end of the world to UAF!"
After spending over 4 months in the US, she says she still couldn't wrap her head around gallons and pounds!
She had never seen snow before she arrived in Alaska and the mere thought of it excited her. "I had only seen in movies how people thrived in such harsh climatic conditions. I looked forward for a frigid cold experience for myself!"

How was your experience traveling in Alaska and the lower 48?

"I went to North Pole which was an interesting town with candy canes for light poles!"
She visited Chena Hot Springs, saw the amazing sculptures at the Ice Park and went to the Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race start.
She had planned a trip to New York and Los Angeles at the end of the semester.

Ritika (L) in North Pole, Alaska

(L to R) Ritika at the Ice Park, Yukon Quest Race Start in Fairbanks and at the Statue of Liberty in New York

 "I went to bonfires at the Smith lake on campus in pitch black darkness and went snowshoeing up Pedro Dome!"

 How was your Alaskan winter experience?

"I did not see fresh snow for the first six weeks and when I did see the snow fall, holy moly! it was beautiful and enchanting and all the good things you can think of!"
The cold was harsh but she says the campus has great facilities that keep businesses go on as usual. "Coming back from the lab at 9pm in pitch dark, the campus shuttle was an extremely useful resource".
She says “To cope up with the cold, I wore so many clothes during the winter that at any given point, I was wearing half my wardrobe! . But, I made it through the winter safe and sound! 

She loved capturing snowflakes and taking pictures in the snow

What do you miss about Alaska now that you are on your way back to your home university?

"I will miss a lot of things about Alaska. I made a lot of memories having conversations over dinner with friends over the past semester. I will miss looking out the window and seeing the world just covered in a blanket of white. I will miss going out in the middle of those winter nights  to gaze at the northern lights and take pictures . I will miss the excitement when Spring fest came around. I will miss seeing the huskies!"
(L) Ritika with the Northern Lights. The campus has some great spots to view the Northern Lights

Would you recommend students to study abroad?

Ritika believes that studying abroad gives you a chance to explore yourself. She says "Even simple things like your favorite cuisine changes once you live in a new place and experience new things. The best part about studying abroad is that you get to travel without taking a break from your studies! It shows your potential employers that you are easily adaptable and enjoy a diverse working atmosphere. More than anything, it helps you grow personally."

What are you plans for the future?

Ritika is trying to get a position in a placement program in China later this year. She says "After I (hopefully) graduate next year, I may work for a couple of years. I eventually hope to get a PhD in Genetics, Epigenetics and Stem Cells and teach at a university. One of my dreams is to study and live in Germany"

  Describe UAF in one word


Ritika blogs about her experiences at

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Feature of the Month- April

Born and brought up in Moscow, Russia, Matvey Debolskiy is working towards his PhD at the Geophysical Institute here at UAF since Spring 2014.
Excelling in the Physics and Math Olympiads, Mat graduated from a distinctive high school consisting of students having an aptitude towards the sciences. He says “Maths was a lot more fun for me than Physics because I didn’t have to keep in mind all the assumptions while I solved Maths!”

On his parents’ insistence, he went to the Moscow University to study Geography.
He says “I didn’t mind studying Geography and when the time came to choose the subject of my research focus and laboratory work, I flipped a coin. And that is how I got into glaciers and permafrost!” Meteorology would have been on the flip side, Mat pointed out.
During his research in Russia, Mat preferred using techniques that involve applied Math or Physics as opposed to the Landschaft (Landscape) Paradigm method popular in Russia which involved data collection exercises that he says were a little primitive. That being said, he enjoyed the numerous field visit opportunities that were part of his research and he spent most of his summers in the Caucasus range between The Caspian and Black seas, mapping and studying glaciers.He was a part time employee at the Melnikov Permafrost Institute for the last three years of his undergraduate degree.
Mat (L) with his brother in Moscow

What are you doing now?

"Trying to get my PhD!"
Mat is working on modeling of watersheds with permafrost and glaciers. He is currently post- processing Ground Penetrating Radar data for his PhD thesis and thinks he’ll get his doctorate in about two more years.

He chose UAF to do research and get a PhD because of UAF's renowned Geophysical Institute. He says that the team of professors and associates here is very talented and accomplished that creates a great environment for prospective researchers.

Matvey at work in his office

How were your first Summer and Winter experiences?

Mat spent two winters in Igarka, Siberia before he arrived in Alaska so he had no issues getting acclimatized to the unusual darkness and cold. He spent his summers around the Alaska Range making hydrological and meteorological  observations, driving two times a week around Delta junction at times.

Mat during field visits around Alaska

What do you miss about home?

“My cat, Kotjik.

The small coffee shops in Moscow, Doner and the “big city” life" 

Doner is a popular street food in Moscow

What are your future plans?

Mat would like to continue working in academia, possibly work as a post doctorate fellow. He says, "I would love to work in Europe so I would be close to Moscow and my family".
The recently married Mat has his research prioritized but says it sometimes gets difficult to stay away from family.

Describe UAF in one word