Junior Embodies MHC’s International Education

Wednesday, January 22, 2014 - 12:00
Katharine Constas ’15 (third from left), MHC Spanish professor Rogelio Miñana, and colleagues enjoy sushi while at a symposium on global education at Tokyo’s Ochanomizu University.

A college education just doesn’t get much more global than this.

Katharine Constas ’15, a biochemistry major from New York state, wrote a paper in Spanish about media views of immigrants in Spain, Sweden, and the South Pacific Republic of Nauru. Then she presented the paper at a conference in Japan.

And there’s more. Early in her time at MHC, Constas studied Chinese, and she spent last summer studying in Xiamen, China.

Constas says it’s important to be able to weave varied and international perspectives into her education and work.

“A lot of people think that because I’m a biochemistry major, I just stay in the biochem lab all the time. But I specifically didn’t want to do just that,” she says. “Having a narrow view of my education as only involving science wouldn’t make me a good scientist or a good citizen of the world.”

Her most intensively cross-cultural work has centered on how newspapers represent immigrants and asylum-seekers who become involved in violent incidents.

She studied media accounts of violent group uprisings in Palma de Mallorca, Stockholm, and Nauru. The cause of each disturbance was different, but media coverage of the events was similar. In each case, Constas says, protesters were referred to using words marking them as outsiders on the margins of society. Often, the protesters’ age, race, or ethnic background was emphasized, even though these factors had little to do with the unrest.

“When the media uses stereotyped words such as ‘unreasonable’ or ‘violent,’ it encourages people to see immigrants as the ‘other’ and often leads to the simplification of a complex story,” Constas says. When media take this tack, she adds, immigrants are treated as scapegoats for larger social problems and the root issues underlying the uprisings—such as poverty, unemployment, and human-rights violations—are often ignored.

Last year, she was asked to present her work at the GREAT-Ocha Symposium on global education at Tokyo’s Ochanomizu University. Constas says the international perspectives on her paper offered there “brought new light to my research.”

Constas plans to put her global academic and personal experiences to use after graduation in some biology-related aspect of international development.

—By Emily Harrison Weir