Following the people and events that make up the research community at Duke

Students exploring the Innovation Co-Lab

Author: Gabrielle Douglas

What Comes Next for the Law of the Sea Treaty?

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More than 40 years since its signing, the United States still has not ratified an international agreement known as the “constitution of the oceans.” In a webinar held April 2, two of the world’s leading ocean diplomacy scholars met to discuss its history, challenges, and the U.S.’s potential role in the future.

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was truly revolutionary for its time. Unraveling against the backdrop of decades of conflict pertaining to maritime affairs, the significance of this conference and its attempts at negotiating a comprehensive legal framework cannot be understated. Key figures in this development include the members of the United Nations, coastal and landlocked states, the scientific community, environmental community, and developing nations. Yet, with the conclusion of this unifying conference, a singular question remained: What comes next? 

This question is what David Balton, the executive director of the U.S. Artic Steering Committee, and David Freestone, a Professor at George Washington University and the Executive Secretary of the Sargasso Sea Commission, aimed to address in a webinar titled, “The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea at 40.” In this discussion a range of topics were discussed but the primary focus was providing viewers with a comprehensive understanding of the events of this convention and the way this history plays out in modern times. 

Picture of Ambassador David Balton (Obtained from the Wilson Center)

The 1982 convention was one of multiple attempts at setting parameters and guidelines for maritime control. In 1958, the council met for the first time to discuss growing concerns regarding the need for a comprehensive legal framework regarding ocean governance. In this they brought multiple representatives worldwide to discuss the breadth of territorial waters, the rights of coastal states, freedom of navigation, and the exploitation of marine resources. This conversation laid the groundwork for future discussions. However, it was largely ineffective at generating a treaty as they were unable to reach a consensus on the breadth of territorial waters. This first conference is referred to as UNCLOS I. 

Following 1958, in 1960 the members of the council and associated parties convened once again to discuss the issues brought forth by UNCLOS I. The purpose of this conference was to further discuss issues pertaining to the Law of the Sea and build a framework to begin ratification of a binding treaty to ensure that conflict regarding the sea diminishes greatly. This discussion was set in the context of the Cold War. This new setting complicated discussions as talks regarding the implementation of nuclear weapons under the deep seabed further elicited great debate and tensions. While the aim of this meeting was of course to reach a general agreement on these subjects, major differences between states and other parties prohibited UNCLOS II from producing said treaty. 

UNCLOS III served as the breadwinner of this development, yet this is not to say that results were immediate. Negotiations for UNCLOS III were the longest of the three as they spanned from 1973 to 1982. UNCLOS II was particularly special due to its ability to produce revolutionary concepts such as archipelagic status and the establishment of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), granting coastal states exclusive rights over fishing and economic resources within 200 miles of their shores. In addition, this led to the development of the International Seabed Authority and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Despite the limitations and unfinished agenda that preceded this, the treaty was officially ratified in 1994 at Montego Bay. The convention initially received 157 signatories and currently holds participation from 169 parties. Absent from this group are the United States, Turkey, and Venezuela. The convention was designed to work as a package deal and required nations to fully commit to the agreement or abstain entirely. For this reason, the United States retains a nonparty, observer status despite to their adherence to the rules and guidelines of the treaty. 

After this explanation, Balton and Freestone addressed the big question: What comes next? As of right now, the United States is still not a signatory of this treaty. However, this is not to say that they are in violation of this treaty either. The United States participates in discussions and negotiations related to UNCLOS issues, both within the United Nations and through bilateral and multilateral engagements. In addition, the Navy still upholds international law in dealings concerning navigational rights. The one factor many claims prohibits the United States from signing is the possibility of their sovereignty being challenged by certain provisions within the treaty. In spite of this, many continue to push to change this reality, advocating for the United States to ratify this agreement. 

Picture of Professor David Freestone (Obtained from Flavia at World Maritime University)

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea remains a pivotal moment in the history of international maritime governance. This Convention led to many insightful and necessary developments which will continue to set precedent for generations to come. While imperfect, the efforts put forth by many nations and third parties to ensure that it remains consistent with modern day times is very telling of the hopeful development of this treaty. Furthermore, while the future of U.S. involvement in the treaty is uncertain, the frameworks established by the three UNCLOS’ provide a solid foundation for addressing contemporary challenges and furthering international cooperation. 

Post by Gabrielle Douglas, Class of 2027
Post by Gabrielle Douglas, Class of 2027

Students Offer Their Voices of Change to Climate Commitment

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In a society where it seems like the power to create meaningful change on climate concerns is concentrated in the hands of few, witnessing the youth attempt to counter this dynamic is always inspiring.

Last week, members of Duke University’s Climate and Sustainability Office convened with students for a town hall meeting to discuss current progress, areas for improvement, and aspirations for the future. During this meeting, great emphasis was placed on the opinions and perspectives of students, as the leaders of the Duke climate commitment recognized the importance of their voices within this process.  

The meeting began with two thought-provoking questions by Toddi Steelman, Vice President and Vice Provost for Climate and Sustainability, and Tavey Capps, Executive Director of Climate and Sustainability and Sustainable Duke: “What is one word to describe your feelings towards climate change, and what energizes you about climate change?”

These two questions immediately brought the room to life as students began to express their climate anxiety, fears, and frustrations, alongside the ways in which they hoped to one day see change. This passionate discussion set the stage for a deep dive into the objectives and goals of Duke’s Climate Commitment.  

L to R: Toddi Steelman and Tavey Capps

The Climate Commitment is a university-wide effort aimed at creating initiatives to correct our current climate crisis by creating a sustainable environment for all.

Within the commitment, there are five areas of focus: Research, Education, External Engagement, Operations, and Community Connections. The research sector is focused on connecting Duke’s schools across the board for interdisciplinary research. Education is geared towards ensuring learning occurs in and beyond the classroom. External Engagement focuses on informing policy and decision makers alongside engaging community members within this mission. Operations studies the food, water, waste, energy, and carbon supply chain on campus. Lastly, Community Connections asks: how do we authentically engage with the community and partners alike? 

This commitment serves as a broad scale invitation for everyone to get involved, and Duke students did not hesitate to take advantage of this invitation. The town hall was organized through breakout rooms for the students to collectively share ideas.

The first breakout room was focused on the idea of communication. In this, students discussed the ways that they felt the commitment could best reach their peers on campus. Some proposed utilizing the popular social media platform, TikTok by creating short eye-catching videos. Others discussed using professors, posters, and BC Plaza to ensure engagement. Most agreed that email listservs and newsletters also held some merit in getting their classmate’s attention.

Above all, students came to the consensus that informing the student body would be one of the most important missions of the Climate Commitment. 

Following the communication session, I attended the research breakout room led by Blake Tedder from the Office of Sustainability and formerly the Director of Engagement at the Duke Forest. He asked again about the most pressing climate issue. From this, many students delved into issues surrounding biodiversity financing, carbon offsetting, access to clean water, and the ways climate change disproportionately affects marginalized communities.

Blake Tedder leading the Research Breakout Room.

Conversation about these concerns quickly bled into issues surrounding the larger prospect of interdisciplinary studies. Many students felt that this was best done through Duke’s RESILE initiative (Risk Science for Climate Resilience), Bass Connections, and even greater connection between Duke’s main campus and its Kunshan Campus. 

The final room I attended was geared towards making the fight against climate change one that is inclusive and diverse. This talk was coordinated by Jason Elliot from Sustainable Duke.

The question that guided the discussion was: “How can we ensure our goals do not come at the expense of the community?” To this, students proposed a range of ideas. Chief among these were becoming more in tune with the needs of the community and finding ways to actively attend local farms, and other places in need.

Jason Elliot leading the Justice, Diversity, and Equity Inclusion Breakout Room.

In addition, many suggested diversifying speakers to ensure representation and voices from all parts of the community. Some students even narrowed in on engagement within our own campus, suggesting greater collaboration among groups such as the Climate Coalition, Keep Durham Beautiful, and Alpha Phi Omega to achieve these goals. 

This town hall was simply one of many future engagements expected from  Duke’s Climate Commitment in the coming years. While there is still much more work to be done, the diligent efforts of students and faculty alike make the future look promising in the fight against Climate Change. 

Post by Gabrielle Douglas, Class of 2027
Post by Gabrielle Douglas, Class of 2027

Reducing Food Insecurity and Creating Community at Durham’s Catawba Trail Farm

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At Catawba Trail Farm in north Durham, the idea of community remains at the forefront of all that they do. A space dedicated to growing, learning, and diligent work, the farm invites all willing to become involved. Recently, students at Duke University had the opportunity to bear witness to these qualities, through a course taught by Dr. Brian McAdoo of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

Picture of volunteers at Catawba Trail Farm (Credit: @UrbanCommunityAgrinomics on Instagram.)

The Catawba Trail Farm was once known as Snowhill Plantation, yet despite this co-founder Delphine Sellars refers to it as “a place of healing.” This is because Sellars recognizes the importance of acknowledging the past when attempting to shape the future. Sellars’ focus is on taking land formerly used to abuse enslaved people and transforming it into a place of empowerment and healing. This is seen through the connection between the farm and McAdoo’s course here at Duke. The course, “Exploring Earth Sciences: Surviving Anthropocene in North Carolina,” explores a range of themes such as food insecurity, environmental justice, and global change through the context of environmental studies. Additionally, McAdoo’s course has what is referred to as the ‘Catawba Trail Mission’ where Duke students, in partnership with Catawba Trail Farm, seek to not only target this food insecurity within the community, but also uncover the history hidden within the roots of the farm.  

Picture of Delphine Sellars (Credit: @UrbanCommunityAgrinomics on Instagram.)

The most recent progress of this mission can be seen through the class’s work with the gravesite of William Johnston, who established Snowhill Plantation in 1763. Through a geophysical survey, the class identified several unmarked graves of enslaved people buried with the Johnston family. Through this they have worked to trace their lineages to their loved ones and inform them of their findings. The class has also used this same technology to help identify and ensure that the traits and key aspects of the land are fully understood and respected. 

Picture of volunteers at Catawba Trail Farm (Credit: @UrbanCommunityAgrinomics on Instagram.)

Through the work between Duke and Catawba Trail Farm, students are granted the opportunity to take their learning beyond the textbook and truly begin to understand the depth behind the land outside of technological gadgets. Catawba Trail Farm helps in this journey while simultaneously learning more about the rich nature of the land and its inhabitants. This constant sense of learning and support is what makes students such as Duke master’s student, Roo Jackson, comfortable in saying Catawba Trail Farm “feels like home.” 

Post by Gabrielle Douglas, Class of 2027
Post by Gabrielle Douglas, Class of 2027

Rosetta Reitz: The Life Behind the Music

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A 1983 New Yorker article by Whitney Balliet argued that “Women don’t have the grace and poise to play jazz.” While this comment wasn’t uncommon for the time, it certainly wasn’t universally accepted. In fact, this comment is what feminist writer and producer, Rosetta Reitz, sought to disprove through her decades-long efforts to promote underrepresented records. 

This past Tuesday Feb. 6, the “Rosetta Reitz’s Musical Archive of Care” Bass Connections team hosted a discussion pertaining to the origins, findings, and thought process of this archive. Leading this discussion were researchers Anthony Kelley, Duke Professor, and Tift Merritt, Grammy-nominated musician.  In this, the pair explored the key theme of artistic empathy utilized through the archival process. Archival artistic empathy describes the act of not making yourself the center of your findings but allowing them to enlarge your compassion. This theme was pertinent not only for Merritt’s research journey but also for that of Reitz. 

Rosetta Rietz was a feminist, historian, and producer who recognized the absence of female voices within the jazz industry and sought to find the root cause. Through her efforts she quickly recognized that the women were there, they were simply unheard. Rosetta, determined to change this fact, began to collect information about the music of these women as a means of building a platform for them in Rosetta Records. This recording company was created for the sole purpose of promoting, rediscovering, and establishing the voices of women in the jazz industry, a rarity for the time period. With exactly 97 women under her records, Reitz was unwavering in her attempts to get their music picked up by major radio stations. Rosetta Records would go on to produce eighteen albums dedicated to many talented unknown singers and even some as big as Billie Holiday.  

From L to R: Tift Merritt, Annie Koppes and Anthony Kelley (Picture taken by Yasaman Baghban)

Rosetta was truly an influential creative whose influence extended beyond that of music. She was the owner of a bookstore in Greenwich Village. She went on to write one of the first books on menopause and on the absence of women in jazz.  She was an active member in her community seeking to recognize and correct injustices. Reitz was truly someone whose compassion and artistic empathy shone through. This is not to say that attempts at not centering herself were always successful. Reitz often faced backlash from the media for appearing disingenuous due to ethical and legal concerns surrounding her work. These concerns largely apply to works such as her Jailhouse Blues record which utilized the voices and struggles of women in a Mississippi prison, released by Mississippi congress, to create a record. Many questioned if these women consented to this, how they felt to find this, and the overall ethicality in creating this.  

Bass Connections team members Lindsay Frankfort and Trisha Santanam.

The legacy of Rosetta Reitz is one full of great passion and love for the art that is jazz and women’s place within it. The Bass Connections research team has managed to bring it to life by employing their own artistic empathy. They have created a full picture of the complexities, devotion and love Rosetta had for life’s work further cementing the fact that women indeed have a rightful place within the jazz industry.  

Post by Gabrielle Douglas, Class of 2027
Post by Gabrielle Douglas, Class of 2027

Who Really Benefits from Big Bucks College Athletics?

The furious dribbles across the hardwood floors. The seas of blue consuming the stands. Anyone who has ever attended, or even heard of the legendary Duke Vs UNC basketball game likely holds a vivid picture of the intense nature of this game.

While there is little question that this multi-million dollar event is the most beneficial of the year for both programs, a recent collaboration between the faculty from both schools raised the question: Beneficial for whom? 

Friday, Nov. 10, I had the pleasure of attending a sports symposium organized by Duke and UNC with a focus on the exploitive nature of collegiate athletics. Duke hosted, but both schools brought in a multitude of faculty members, attorneys, and media professionals to discuss a wide range of topics regarding the relationship between college sports and the detrimental effects on athletes. Despite the immense range of topics, there was a common consensus among all speakers and attendees of the event: Some things must change. 

Panelists (l-r) Victoria Jackson, Maddie Salamone, Olu Kopano, and Payton Barish.

They said there are three major problems that currently plague the world of college athletics: the lack of representation, the lack of long-term benefits, and most importantly, the illusion of success portrayed to these athletes.  

Among athletes, a lack of representation in decision-making spheres appears to be a double-sided problem. Any remedy seems far-fetched without major structural changes.

A number of decision-making bodies exist for the purpose of addressing athletic issues and decisions. One of the most notable is the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), a representative body created for the purpose of granting athletes a voice. However, its limited scope, the athletes’ lack of knowledge on certain issues, and the lack of authority granted to the athletes’ decisions highlight the conference’s inability to serve as a proper representative body.

Many attribute this lack of representation to the fact that athletes are stretched far too thin, stripping them of the time needed to truly understand the expectations of the rules established by the NCAA. Symposium speakers argued that time and resources need to be built into their schedules, and not used as an extra burden, to grant them clarity on their rights, structural changes, and shifts in power that affect them. 

Panelists also said many athletes emerge from college without developing fundamental life skills such as being able to do their own taxes. Many are left unable to properly afford to manage injuries sustained in college as they aren’t granted any long-term/lifelong healthcare services. And many international athletes are unequipped to deal with the visa-based issues  that may arise from an inability to not only manage expectations set by their sport but also those set by their schools, and even ICE.

Throughout the symposium, a common point made was the fact that there are abundant staff present for the development of the game, but few staff for the development of the athletes as individuals.

This idea formed the second consensus of the discussion: there needs to be a more intentional focus on the resources for athletes, not only based in athletic performance, but also within the scope of mental, physical and long-term health across the board. 

Finally, the illusion of success offered to athletes was a major grievance expressed during the symposium. When signing athletes on to the team, it is customary for recruiters to essentially promise athletes an idea of future success, whether it be through going pro or earning financial liberation. This, however, has proven to not be the case for everyone, as most careers end after those four years of college. This idea is detrimental to athletes who’s intense dedication and tunnel vision toward these goals often prevent them from developing a Plan B. Many become susceptible to difficulties recovering from this, fueled by a lack of resources and representation. 

While athletes are now able to receive compensation for their “names, images and likenesses” (NIL), it is still breadcrumbs compared to the amount going to coaches and staff. This illusion is fueled by scholarships and third-party sponsorships that allow the parties currently bringing in million dollars salaries to under-compensate the source of this income: the athletes themselves. Many at the symposium concluded that this was a job for the athletes to fix, while others claimed that this problem belonged to the coaches, recruiters, and universities. Both parties, however, agreed that this change must come immediately, or these issues will continue to hurt many more athletes in the long run. 

Keynote speaker Dr. Victoria Jackson of Arizona State University during her opening statements.

By Gabrielle Douglas, Class of 2027

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