Mina Bahktiar

By Shasta Webb

When the Class of 2013 heard the “Your Business Here is to Learn” speech at new student convocation, Mina Bakhtiar ’13 took the message to heart. Bakhtiar, who will graduate with a political science major, economics minor, philosophy minor and international development concentration, “ticks in the classroom setting.” Though Bahktiar is devoted to her academics here at Mac, she also breaks away from the workload by involving herself in writing for the Hegemonocle, playing on the Macalester Purse Snatchers and being a member of MASECA. The Mac Weekly: What are you involved in at Macalester? Mina Bahktiar: I really like Macalester academics. I’m a political science major, I’m a double minor in econ and philosophy and a concentration in international development. The student orgs that I’ve been consistently involved with are MASECA (Macalester Association for Sub-continental Ethnic and Cultural Awareness), which is for people of Asian sub-continental ethnic background or people who are just interested in South Asian culture. We usually dance in the MIO (Macalester International Organization) show. I’ve been involved with [MASECA] since my freshman year, and I co-chaired it my sophomore year. I’ve also been playing frisbee [with the Macalester Purse Snatchers] for two years. It’s awesome and I love it. I even played on study abroad [at Oxford University in England]. I also write for the Hegemonocle. Is there a theme that unifies the different extra curriculars you’re involved in? Not really. I really just want some sort of stress relief when I have free time. The Hegemonocle is a really good way to add humor to a really intense academic workload. I just remember my first year, I was in the library and I saw a copy of the first issue of the Hegemonocle. It started the first semester of [my] first year. I saw it and I was like, “This is hilarious,” and I showed it to John Gershberg ’13. He was like, “Yeah, me and my friends are all writing it.” I needed to join immediately. I’ve been doing it ever since then. Frisbee is just awesome. The community is so great and I love the captains. I just love everybody on the team. Even when I played on study abroad, there was such a stark contrast between how competitive the ultimate frisbee team was [at Oxford] versus here. In conclusion, the answer to your question is no. There’s no theme. I just like to have fun in my free time. Even though there are several cultural orgs at Mac, sometimes it feels as though they are inaccessible to some students. Did you ever experience that with MASECA? It’s difficult because we want everyone to know that its open to everybody who’s even remotely interested in South Asian culture. You can have seen one Bollywood movie in your life or know that you like curry to be involved. I know those are stereotypes, but we really welcome anyone interested in South Asian culture to come to our meetings. We usually serve food and watch a movie, or just get together and talk about performances. Dancing in the [MIO] show is always really fun, and we always have many people involved. We probably have more people in the MIO and Asian Cultural Awareness Month that are not of South Asian ethnic background than people who are Indian, Paskistani, Sri Lankan, Desi. Desi is the word we use to describe them. It means “from the country.” So if you say “desi” it basically means South Asian person. What originally drew you to MASECA? I think Pakistani culture was a really important part of my childhood and how I was raised. My parents are immigrants, and we speak Urdu in my house. I knew that I was going to miss a lot of things about Pakistani culture when I came to school, so it was really important to me to maintain some sort of element of that in my life. [MASECA] sort of grew into a bigger commitment. But it’s always really fun dancing in the shows—good community, a good stress reliever. Has being a first generation American ever been a challenge for you at Macalester? At Macalester, not necessarily. In life in general, yes. Being a first generation American is difficult, but I think Macalester offers a really welcoming atmosphere. I think the culture orgs are created precisely for that, so that people from different ethnic backgrounds and people who are just interested in learning more about different cultures can have the opportunity to participate and learn outside of academic spheres. Academically speaking, what do you focus on within political science? I’m really focused on political economy and development, which I love studying. I really like school and I’m looking forward to graduate school—not next year—but the year after. I’m currently writing an honors for political science and the research for my project is based on research I’ve done over the last two years, as a Mellen Mays Fellow, which is an undergraduate research fellowship for students of color who want to get their PhD’s. It’s typically focused in the humanities and fine arts. I’m focusing on the social sciences, but I didn’t feel like my project was historically contextualized. My project is on the postcolonial radical leftist, Marxist, Socialist regimes and economic development. I’m focusing on Algeria as my case study. Some sort of metamorphosis takes place when a country parts with its colonial metropol. When a country parts from the metropol, there’s a vaccuum for political ideology. I’m trying to examine how socialism organically stepped into that vacuum and became the default ideological stance that politicians and popular media were adopting at the time. I’m trying to find out how these radical transformations in ideology can affect development discourse today. In Algeria for instance, the country exported oil for 10 years, which ended up being an economic disaster. They failed to industrialize and then descended into civil war during the 1990s. Today, the current president of Algeria is really obsessed with the nationalism that flourished during the post-independence socialism. He romanticises this “golden decade” in history. A question that I had is why Algeria’s development policy today is so focused on this nationalism that is clearly dated, and clearly problematic. I’m focusing on historical ideological shifts. What drew you to Algeria as a case study? Sophomore year I took a class called Culture and Global Capitalism that I loved. We read this book called Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Re-ordering of French Culture by Kirsten Ross and it was about how French decolonization worldwide affected the rise of capitalist culture in the metropol. I wondered how capitalist culture took hold in the former colonies. I’ve also taken French so I felt like I had the language basis for studying Algeria. I wrote up a Mellen proposal having to do with this book I was interested in and it all worked out. And I’ve kind of been married to Algeria for the past two years. Right now, Algeria is not the safest place to go, but I’m hoping to go abroad to North Africa at some point after graduation. It would be really nice to do research through a travel fellowship or as part of graduate school research. How has being involved in this project for so long shaped your time here? Mellen is a really wonderful program and I wish more students knew about it. The only reason I knew about it was because one of my close friends, who’s a year older than me, had one. It’s been a wonderful resource. It’s just so cool that I’ve had the opportunity to do paid independent research in a topic I’m passionate about for two summers. I spent the first summer at Macalester with my mentor, Amanda Ciafone (professor in International Studies) and this summer I was at the University of Chicago. The Mellen program is national and they sponsor summer research programs everywhere in the country. I’m from Milwaukee and I wanted to be closer to home after study abroad. What motivates you to take on this much? I know it sounds ridiculous but I just love learning. I tick in the class
room setting, and it sounds weird, and kind of nerdy. I still know how to have fun, but I am really committed to the idea of becoming a college professor. I really want to be in an academic setting for the rest of my life. I really appreciate when I can come together with people and share ideas. Of course there are times when school gets challenging and it’s incredibly stressful, but it is one of the things I love to do. In the future of your academic career, do you want to stick to what you’ve been studying at Mac, or are there other fields you’d like to explore? No. I need to be a development expert and I need to study political economy. Sophomore year I took a class called Introduction to International Economies that really changed by perspective. Up until that point, I thought I was going to be a lawyer and then I felt so inspired learning about development from a different disciplinary perspective that I was used to. I needed to enter that discourse. It’s just really fascinating and means a lot to me. To an extent though, it’s up in the air. I’m committed to the idea of graduate school, but I’m applying to some pretty random jobs, and whatever happens happens. If I just end up liking it, I’ll just have to get my PhD in another life. Where do you see yourself in the time after Mac but before your next academic endeavor? Some sort of structured learning atmosphere that is productive, where I can write and read about the real world implications of what we talk about in academic circles. If I can do work for a non-profit or for an NGO—any sort of work to do with development—that would be tremendously helpful before I dive into graduate school. It would bring a more informed perspective to the debate I’m trying to enter. Is there a particular region that fascinates you in terms of development? I think because I focused on Algeria for so long, I’m really comfortable speaking about that region, but I’m fascinated to learn about trade policy or food policy or economic development really anywhere in the world. Any final words? I’m still trying to have a great senior year. I’m so happy to be back from study abroad around all of my friends. I’m excited about parties in the middle of the week, hanging out and cooking together and spending time together. And still doing good work but really appreciating our last year of college and being excited and supportive of each other as we move on to the next phase. No shame senior year.