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Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.

As the School Year Ends, Students Force Out Condoleezza Rice, Walk Out on Fee Hikes and Stage a Sit-In for Divestment

#NoRice

Rutgers students rally before sitting-in against Condoleezza Rice. (Photo: Popular Resistance)

Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on student and youth organizing. For recent dispatches, check out January 27, February 10, February 26, March 7, March 21, April 8 and April 23. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch. Contact studentmovement@thenation.com with any questions or tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).

1. On May Day, California Students and Workers Unleash

On May 1, students marched, rallied, walked out and sat-in across California. Within the University of California, students continue to resist former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s undemocratic appointment as UC president, support the UC student-workers union’s fight for the rights of undocumented graduate students and demand that charges be dropped against the UC Santa Cruz 22, who were arrested while striking at a legal picket action. In the California State system, students are organizing to stop the implementation of “student success fees” at Dominguez Hills, San Diego and Fullerton—with San Jose State recently rolling back these fees—pressuring administrators to open up Dream Resource Centers on campuses and rallying in support of ethnic and women’s, gender and sexuality studies. At Los Angeles Valley College, students protested budget standards that strip community college campuses of resources while placing the burden of campus deficits on the backs of students through two-tier unit pricing. These actions were supported by networks like No 2 Napolitano, Students for Quality Education and the California Student Union.

—California Student Statewide Coordinating Committee

2. As Richmond Sits on Schools, Hundreds Walk Out

On April 28 at 8:30 am, 150 students from Open High School in Richmond, Virginia—almost the entire student body—walked out of class and to City Hall to protest deplorable conditions in Richmond Public Schools. There, we were met by fifty fellow students and parents from other RPS schools. After marching around the building, the mayor, Dwight Jones, invited all 200 protesters inside. We asked him questions about unpopular commercial development projects that were rapidly approved at the same time as school infrastructure problems like rats, snakes, mold and black water that drips from the ceiling are getting worse. Mayor Jones explained his position that commercial development would generate revenue that could be put towards enhancing our schools—but that it would not be available for years. That night, we turned to the city council for funding. We will continue pressuring government officials for more money for our schools.

—Isabella Arias

3. Condi, Out

Rutgers University’s announcement that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would be this year’s commencement speaker sparked immediate controversy on campus. First, fifty students held a sit-in at Old Queens, where Rutgers police refused to allow any food into the building, prohibited protesters from using restrooms and confiscated personal property. There was also a banner drop on one of the busiest classroom buildings on our main campus reading, “Take Back Our Graduation #NoRice”—and a #NoRice social media campaign that reached 1.7 million Twitter users. Finally, at a university senate meeting at which President Barchi was present, about 300 students packed the audience to push him to respond to our demand to rescind Rice’s invitation. Even though the administration didn’t listen to us, Rice did; on May 3, she announced that she was backing out of her scheduled speech and honorary law degree. Now our focus is on ensuring a process for commencement speaker selection that is inclusive and reflective of the entire student body.

—Amani Al-Khatahtbeh and Sherif Ibrahim

4. Monteiro, In?

In January, Anthony Monteiro, a radical black professor in the African American Studies program at Temple University and a North Philadelphia community member who has spoken up on campus about issues such as gentrification, was told that his contract would not be renewed the following year—which students and neighborhood residents believe was a retaliatory act. In response, members of People Utilizing Real Power and Temple Democratic Socialists created the Student Coalition to Reinstate Dr. Monteiro. After a series of rallies, 1,800 student signatures delivered to the Temple administration and a sit-in, activists were promised a meeting with the provost and dean of the College of Liberal Arts to discuss the reinstatement of Dr. Monteiro, where, on May 1, the provost promised to initiate a two-week long investigation. Meanwhile, another student-community rally featuring Cornel West is scheduled for May 8.

—Student Coalition to Reinstate Doctor Monteiro

5. Eighteen Get Arrested Protesting UT-Accenture Plan

On April 23, 200 employees, faculty and students at the University of Texas at Austin rallied to slam a proposal by Accenture, a business consultant, to centralize, privatize and eliminate 500 staff jobs at UT. After the rally, eighteen students went to the office of UT President William Powers to express our concerns about the plan. Instead of meeting, Powers had us all arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. After the arrests, UT professor Snehal Shingavi posted an open letter of support on his blog for those arrested. In the last week, we have received an outpouring of support from professors, alumni and staff who have signed the letter in solidarity. At a rally on April 24, we affirmed our commitment to the fight against the corporatization of public higher education through plans like shared services.

—Sarahi Soto

6. Sixty Re-Occupy Against Death Traps—and Retaliation

On April 23, sixty USC students occupied four separate administrative offices, reacting in outrage to the university’s handling of an eighteen-student sit-in the week before—administrators called parents, threatening loss of financial aid, suspension and expulsion—and the university’s continued refusal to safeguard Bangladeshi workers’ lives. Students are demanding that USC cut its contract with JanSport, a brand whose parent company has killed twenty-nine workers and refuses to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety—an agreement that could prevent future factory disasters. The sit-ins are part of a national campaign run by United Students Against Sweatshops.

—Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, USAS Local 13

7. Six Blockade Harvard’s Door—and 60,000 Petition—for Divestment

Since September, students from Divest Harvard have been calling for an open and transparent dialogue about divesting the university’s endowment from fossil fuel companies. On May 1, students stationed themselves in front of the campus’s main administrative building, asking for a public meeting with President Drew Faust and the Harvard Corporation. Six students blocked the entrance to the building for more than twenty-four hours while others rallied in support. The protest culminated not with an agreement to open dialogue but with an arrest for refusing to move from the front door. On May 2, Divest Harvard returned to the site of the blockade to deliver a petition of more than 60,000 signatures calling for Harvard’s fossil fuel divestment.

—Brett Roche

8. At UC, Grads Negotiate Historic Win on All-Gender Spaces

On April 15, the University of California Student Workers Union, UAW 2865, signed a tentative agreement with UC management on new non-discrimination contract language that ensures student workers’ right to all-gender bathrooms and lactation stations in the workplace. Contract negotiations are ongoing, with the union continuing to push for rights for undocumented graduate students, competitive compensation rates, further support for student parents and a voice in setting TA-to-student ratios. The historic win on all-gender restrooms—this may be the first union contract with language guaranteeing such access—shows that unions can play a significant role in challenging institutional transphobia and in making workplaces less hostile toward gender-variant people, who endure particularly high rates of unemployment. In recent years, under the leadership of the reform caucus, Academic Workers for a Democratic Union, the union has pursued a project of social justice unionism.

—Amanda Armstrong

9. At Columbia, Students Take Sexual Violence to the Feds

In the wake of a year of sustained organizing on campus by the Coalition Against Sexual Violence, on April 24, twenty-three Columbia and Barnard students, including several queer and trans survivors, filed Title IX, Title II and Clery complaints against Columbia University. Students cited specific concerns about existing sexual violence resources, mental health support and adjudication procedures. Columbia Psychological Services is already working with students to improve its support, but the complaint highlights the office’s lack of trans therapists or queer people of color on staff. Students are meeting with the administration and pushing for commitments to an inclusive Consent 101 and across-the-board competency trainings for staff.

—Caitlin Lowell

10. Undocumented Students Keep Winning

On May 2, the final day of Florida’s congressional session, state representatives finally signed a bill that would allow undocumented students from Florida high schools to obtain fee-waivers allowing them to pay in-state tuition. Throughout the spring, students and immigrant justice groups organized across the state to pressure elected representatives. On the last week of the session, undocumented students and allies flooded Tallahassee, the state capital, to demand a vote on the bill. The bill is now at the desk of Governor Rick Scott. Students are poised to respond in the chance that he hesitates to sign it.

—Students Working for Equal Rights

11. Youth Resistance to Deportations Rages On

On April 30, seven teenage children of immigrants, ages 11 to 16, were arrested in DC for blocking an intersection outside the US Capitol building. Part of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement’s Stop Separating Families escalation campaign, our goal was to send a clear message to our elected leaders: we will not tolerate family separation any longer. All of us have been active in our respective states—Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada—but this was the first time we engaged in civil disobedience together.

—Elias Gonzáles

12. 80 Miles for Restorative Justice

From April 21 to April 23, supporters of Youth Voice walked eighty miles, with cold nights, rain and no sidewalks, from Detroit to Lansing. Upon arrival at the capital, we spoke on the need to revise zero tolerance policies which mandate suspensions and expulsions for minor infractions like coming to school late or forgetting a school uniform or picture ID. With public support from Michigan’s Director of Human Services, we will continue to push for new legislation modifying the state’s zero tolerance law and to make the case for effective alternatives, such as restorative practices.

—Trevon Stapleton

13. Two Miles for Free Transit

In the past two weeks, the Providence Student Union has organized a youth-led forum for Providence’s mayoral candidates, won a court case that reignites Rhode Island’s debate over high-stakes testing and won our fight for equitable transportation. For months, PSU has campaigned for the expansion of free bus passes, which Providence high school students receive only if they live more than three miles from school. In February, we kickstarted our effort with a “Walk in Our Shoes” event, bringing dozens of elected officials and education leaders together to walk a PSU member’s average 2.96 miles to school. PSU student leaders’ consistent advocacy led the mayor to announce this week that bus passes will be extended over the next two years to students living more than two miles from school, expanding free public transportation for more than 1,800 high school students annually.

—Providence Student Union

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14. When Will Jane Doe Be Freed?

Jane Doe, a 16-year-old trans girl of color living under the care of Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families, was transferred into solitary confinement at an adult female facility on April 8. This transfer came months after an incident in which Doe was physically restrained and lashed out at a staff member. Doe has suffered a history of torturous abuse under DCF care, for which no one has been held accountable. Commissioner Joette Katz has lied repeatedly about Jane’s history and conduct and her own intentions of transferring Jane to a men’s prison. Justice for Jane is organizing for trans youth, youth of color and poor youth mistreated by DCF. We believe Jane should be transferred to a therapeutic facility for youth or into foster care, and that the statute under which she was imprisoned should be repealed immediately. Jane has received support from myriad community groups, student groups and prominent trans activists. Our next action, May 8, will mark her thirtieth day in solitary confinement.

—Justice for Jane

15. When Will Davis Get It?

On May 2, students at the University of California–Davis took over the campus coffee house to protest a racist event. (Video: CBS Local)

—MEChA de UC Davis

 

Read Next: Catch up on the latest Nation intern article picks.

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 5/2/2014?

drone strike

The aftermath of a drone strike in Yemen (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

—Samuel Adler-Bell focuses on labor, mass incarceration and literature.

"How We Read a NYTimes Piece on Drone Strikes in Yemen," by Ryan Goodman and Sarah Knuckey. Just Security, April 23, 2014.

On April 21, The New York Times reported that a US drone strike in Yemen had killed more than three dozen people. The following day, Sarah Knuckey and Ryan Goodman—both NYU law professors and experts on drone policy and humanitarian law—posted this line-by-line annotation of the Times piece, providing the absent context for the story's revelations. Embedded within the bland officialese parroted by the Times, their footnotes reveal a deeply troubling story about the shifting and contested landscape of US drone policy and identify the insidious lacunae in mainstream reporting on the drone program.

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

#Weareallmonkeys: Can a picture of a banana fight racism?” by Jude Wanga. The Independent, April 29, 2014.

This past week, European soccer saw a large, Internet-based movement to challenge racism in stadiums. It was all started when a banana—the hackneyed weapon of choice for racists at European soccer matches—was thrown at Barcelona player Dani Alves. Without missing a beat, Alves picked up the banana and ate it while simultaneously taking a corner kick, sparking a Twitter/Instagram/Facebook phenomenon: #Weareallmonkeys. Players, politicians and fans began posting pictures of themselves eating bananas, saying #NoToRacism and insisting that "hey, we are all primates!" However, freelance journalist Jude Wanga is uncomfortable with the movement. For starters, many of those posting pictures are white fans and politicians who will never be called monkeys by anyone. Furthermore, the involvement of players like Liverpool's Luis Suarez, who was previously banned for racially abusing a black player, highlights the shortcomings of what Wanga calls "a beautiful but flawed gesture" of solidarity. There are far better ways to solve soccer's racism: imposing fines on guilty clubs, forcing teams to play to empty stadiums, deducting points from teams or simply funding efforts to combat racism. Currently, England's Premier League gives a mere pittance to its antiracism group Kick It Out—0.000018 of its £5.5 billion pound broadcast rights. Rhetoric and humorous photos, while fun, are not enough.

—Cecilia D’Anastasio focuses on ethics, feminism, press freedom and tech.

"When Black Hair Is Against the Rules," by Ayana Byrd and Lori L. Tharps. The New York Times, April 30, 2014.

Hair is political, too. From a well-meaning afro-pat ("I love your hair!") to the silent judgment of the boss of a bedreaded worker, black hair is subject to constant social regulation, and with it, discrimination. On March 31 the US Army released an updated grooming policy that is blind to real, physical differences stemming from race. Try gathering thick, outward-growing hair into a bun, or worse, cutting it with regard to some definition of "shoulder-length." I don't think so—and twists and braids are not permitted. The New York Times writes, "While the Army certainly isn’t the first to impose these kinds of prohibitions, it may be the most egregious example, considering that the 26,000 black women affected by AR 670-1 are willing to die for their country." Over 17,000 people signed a petition (no longer available) submitted to WhiteHouse.gov asking for a policy review, and prospects are looking good.

—Simon Davis-Cohen focuses on self-governance, climate adaptation and science.

On Cliven Bundy’s ‘Ancestral Rights’,” by Jacqueline Keeler. Indian Country Today Media Network, April 23,1014.

When the Cliven Bundys of the world speak out against federal law, discourse on local control is prone to simplify. “They’re all racist.” Keeler's piece (re-published on TheNation.com) challenges such narrow assumptions. In it she lays out a legal—and moral—argument for why the native Shoshone are the rightful protectors of the land Bundy lays claim to. In her schooling of Bundy, she elegantly profiles the Cowboy Indian Alliance and its alternate vision for the nation and its law.

—Justine Drennan focuses on marginalized groups' relationship with technology and development.

"Exclusive: New Bill Requires Voice of America to Toe U.S. Line," by John Hudson. The Cable (a Foreign Policy blog), April 29, 2014.

When I lived in Cambodia, I was surprised by the journalistic quality of Voice of America's local coverage, given its ostentatious name and origins as a US propaganda tool. In fact, because VOA's reporters weren't writing for international audiences who had minimal knowledge of Phnom Penh's goings on, but rather largely for Cambodians, their stories often had more depth than those of the major independent wire agencies. At the same time, the VOA guys had more clout and thus access than reporters from the many local papers. VOA's coverage doesn't necessarily seem so balanced in other parts of the world, and government-backed journalism may never be free of suspicion. Still, it's noteworthy that Congress is now considering a bill to redefine VOA's role and that of other BBG programming as more explicitly propagandistic, to the detriment of journalistic independence.

—Corinne Grinapol focuses on education and international relations/national security.

"With South Sudan on verge of catastrophe, UN rights chief urgers country's leaders to act" UN News Centre, April 30, 2014.

Let us rewind to Darfur in the mid-eighties. A generations-long arrangement between land-owning farmers and nomadic camel herders, in which farmers set aside grazing land for herders, is about to end. The nomads are Muslim and the farmers are animist, but neither ethnicity nor religion is the culprit. It is drought. The ensuing desertification and strain on resources will make it impossible for the land to sustain both groups. Sudanese leaders will exploit this fight over resources and fashion it into the ethnic conflict through which we understand Darfur today. Keep this in mind as South Sudan's current unraveling is examined under those same terms. In her recent warnings about the state of the country, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay noted the potentially catastrophic consequences if farmers who have fled affected regions are unable to return in the next few days in time to plant this season's crops. As Darfur has proved, there is great potential to turn the desperation of need into a vehicle for hatred (and worse) of the other.

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

"Mysterious Kidney Disease Slays Farmworkers In Central America," by Jason Beaubien. NPR, April 30, 2014.

It sounds like something out of a horror movie. Young men are dying in droves from an unknown cause. There's a possible link to one of Monsanto's most famous herbicides (and who doesn't love a conspiracy theory about Monsanto?). In the wake of the deaths, towns are made up almost entirely of widows. Thousands of male sugar cane workers have died early deaths from kidney disease along the Pacific coast of Central America, and no one knows why (to make things more interesting, these fatalities are only happening along the Pacific). Sugar cane workers have always borne the brunt of some of the world's harshest living and working conditions in order to sweeten lives around the world, and it seems this is just another folly in a series of hardships. Once they fall ill, the men have no work and limited access to health care. Their families risk losing loved ones and bread winners; the public health systems that treat them become further over-burdened. This article piqued my interest; I want to know more. The haunting photos alone are worth a look.

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

Getting Better: Why Global Development is Succeeding—And How We Can Improve the World Even More, by Charles Kenney. Basic Books, December 4, 2012.

That the incomes of the world’s rich and poor are diverging is undeniable, but this is only part of the story. Income, as economists are trained to forget, is just one narrow indicator of wellbeing. In this short and heartening book, Dr. Charles Kenney, a development economist on leave from the World Bank, invites us to look to almost any other measure—life expectancy, education, civil rights, gender equality, etc.—and marvel at how much progress our species has made in the preceding half-century. It is worth remembering that not long ago more than half the world’s population lived in a chronic state of hunger, making do without sufficient daily calories, and that today that figure is less than ten percent. Let us recall also that the global community has eradicated smallpox and made dramatic advances against diseases like measles and river blindness. And let us celebrate, too, the fact that this morning some 90 percent of the world’s children will attend school, up from less than 50 percent in 1950.

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

"How Paranoid Should You Be?" by Linda Besner, Hazlitt, April 28, 2014

Is paranoia a style? A delusion? A cover for self-destructive behavior? Or simply a legitimate response to the contemporary life? Besner considers all these in her nuanced consideration of conspiracy theories and the people who devote their lives to them. She offers a glimpse into the Canadian literary scene by focusing on John-James Ford, an award-winning novelist who has been increasingly concerned with government conspiracies and the dangers of fluoride. Besner's account is especially important in a time when the line between paranoia and common sense seems more blurred than ever.

Read Next: Will Obama address free speech at the university that suppressed it?

Will President Obama Address Free Speech at the University That Suppressed It?

President Obama

President Barack Obama speaks during the Morehouse College 129th Commencement ceremony in Atlanta in 2013. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Last year, President Obama delivered the commencement address to the 2013 graduating class at Morehouse College, a campus steeped in legacy. From the hallowed grounds of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s alma mater, President Obama’s deeply personal message about race, leadership and obstacles reverberated with an elevated poignancy at Morehouse. The crowd of young men on the cusp of their futures could have had no better speaker than the first black president of the United States, and his rousing message to overcome fear echoed Dr. King’s thoughts when King was a student there: “I realized that nobody…was afraid.”

College campuses do just that—nurture confidence in young Americans, afford them a space to express themselves and explore what is important to them, and instill in them a powerful voice, even if that voice calls for dissent. In his address, Obama spoke to the tremendous potential of courage in young college students: “here…young Martin learned to be unafraid. And he, in turn, taught others to be unafraid. And over time, he taught a nation to be unafraid.” It was during college, the president explained, that King was “introduced to the writings of Gandhi and Thoreau, and the theory of civil disobedience. It was here that professors encouraged him to look past the world as it was and fight for the world as it should be.”

If Dr. King’s fearlessness indeed found its wings during his time at Morehouse, this virtue was deservedly celebrated by our president. It was a lesson he hoped Morehouse graduates could glean inspiration from, and one that could surely resonate with college students across the country, especially since demonstrating courage on a college campus is becoming increasingly difficult. A report published earlier this year by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education found that nearly 60 percent of higher education institutions in the United States are institutionally suppressing free speech through codes that infringe on First Amendment protections.

When the president takes the stage in June to address graduates at the University of California, Irvine, he would be best served to take a hard look at last year’s Morehouse notes. UCI may not provide the same historic platform for the president that Morehouse did, but the UCI administration’s egregious blow to student rights in the “Irvine 11” episode is a dark mark that looms over the school’s abbreviated history—one that the president should not ignore.

On an otherwise humdrum September day in 2010, eleven students decided to interrupt Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren while he was giving a lecture on campus. In timely succession, the eleven students shouted to interrupt Oren but did not issue any threats and were escorted out without resistance. Oren was able to finish his speech. What followed will long be remembered as the onerous, punitive lesson a handful of students were forced to learn about the costs of dissent against Israel.

The students were thoroughly roughed up by the school’s administration in disciplinary measures, despite protest being a time honored tradition of a politically active campus. Not only were the students suspended by the university, they were charged with criminal misdemeanors for the crime of “conspiracy to disturb a meeting” and were prosecuted by the Orange Country district attorney in a trial that garnered national attention. The trial culminated in an unsurprising verdict—the students were found guilty. And the university went so far as to an issue an unprecedented decree to ban an entire student group, the Muslim Student Union (MSU), for the first time in UCI history because anonymous sources loosely connected the group to the protest. The MSU had more than 250 registered members and was an integral part of the vibrant campus community. A nonviolent student protest on the Israeli-Palestinian issue resulted in the disciplinary suspension of an active student group and criminal proceedings for students who were unafraid enough to speak up. (Read more about how the “Irvine 11” and the MSU were run through the wringer and why.)

The activists, dubbed the “Irvine 11,” had chanced into their roles as vanguards for first amendment rights on college campuses, but the UCI administration, its influential friends and the local authorities effectively vilified the group of impassioned student activists, quelled free speech and attempted to intimidate the student body to tread with more caution when speaking out for a cause.

Thousands of UCI students and graduates will gather to hear the president address them on June 14. There may be some in the crowd who spent four years crouching away from conversation on contentious issues, who shied away from joining a scrutinized student group or who sat tight-lipped despite the fire inside them. Some of these students may have been watching from the sidelines when school administrators made an example of their fellow classmates and laid waste to free speech rights.

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In his commencement speech at the University of Michigan in 2010, Obama spoke to the importance of debate—a nod to the protestors decrying him outside the stadium as well as the intensifying political clashes in Washington, saying, “It may make your blood boil; your mind may not often be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.” At UCI, the President should issue a sharp reminder to the university—the protection of free speech is paramount on a college campus.

Two decades ago while studying at Occidental College in Southern California, a young Barry Obama donned the activist get up himself—picket signs, obnoxious chants, vigils—the whole nine yards. As the president can surely attest, college is a bastion for boundless self-expression that fosters the formation of identity, purpose and often times, trajectory. The suppression of student voices and silencing of opposition not only stifles campus life and severs personal growth but produces disengaged and ignorant citizenship. Diversity of thought is integral to a stimulating learning environment where thought-provoking discourse and the vibrant exchange of ideas flourish. Students should be empowered by being reminded that they are agents of change, and that their opinions have merit—however unpopular they may be. It would behoove the president to recall that the lesson that Dr. King left for the students at Morehouse was built on his opportunity to learn how to be unafraid. Every college student deserves the opportunity to buck fear and give rise to the same kind of revolutionary courage.

Read Next: Nation interns select the week’s most compelling reads.

Students File Federal Complaints Against Columbia for Failing to Address Sexual Harassment

Columbia University

Columbia University (The West End/Flickr)

This post originally appeared in {Young}ist and has been edited and reprinted with permission.

Trigger Warning: The following content discusses specific cases of sexual assault

“I don’t trust the University to take my experience or my safety more seriously than they take their own public image.“– Cami Quarta, Columbia survivor and complainant

This morning, twenty-three Columbia students filed a federal complaint, more than a hundred pages long, alleging violations of Title IX, Title II and the Clery Act against their university. If found in violation the school will have to pay $35,000 per violation under the Clery Act. If found in violation of Title IX and Title II, regarding Columbia’s response to campus sexual assault and mental health respectively, the university will be subject to federal review and could lose federal funding.

The issue of campus sexual violence has come to national light after a wave of students from UNC, Occidental, UConn, UC Berkeley and Dartmouth filed Title IX allegations, prompting a White House task force on the issue and vocal support from national political figures like California Congresswoman Jackie Speier and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

While the Columbia students’ decision follows this growing trend, they distinguish themselves by having filed an additional Title II complaint that takes administrators to task for their inappropriate response not only to survivors’ initial violent experiences but also to their subsequent mental health trauma. “Sexual violence and mental health are inextricably linked,” said Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, a lead complainant in the filing. She continued, “By ignoring, denying, and discriminating against survivors who express mental health care needs, we cannot fully support them.”

The group alleges numerous violations of Title IX, Title II and the Clery Act, including but not limited to: administrators discouraging survivors from formally reporting; LGBTQ students facing discrimination in counseling, advising, adjudication and Greek life; serial offenders remaining on campus; inadequate disciplinary sanctions; discrimination against survivors and denied accommodations based on mental health disabilities.

In one of the complaints, a survivor who had been placed on disciplinary and academic probation because the school considered her a mental health liability did not seek school counseling and health services after her incident because she didn’t want to risk her graduation. She was also denied accommodations on the basis of her mental health needs and threatened with expulsion, a clear Title II violation. The survivor, Rakhi Agrawal, said “I was desperate. I tried to kill myself. I needed the support and protection of my Barnard community—but instead they put me on disciplinary probation for my suicide attempt.”

In another complaint, one survivor recounted the daily terror she felt due to the continued presence of her perpetrator on campus, causing her to receive incompletes in half of her classes and forcing her to withdraw from another. “Because of Columbia’s incompetence,” she wrote, “I was not able to pursue a just outcome on my own terms, and I continue to be triggered by my rapist’s presence on a weekly basis.” Other complaints detail specific administrative intimidation.

A queer trans survivor filed against the university for its refusal to make academic accommodations the student was entitled to under Title IX. They wrote, “general ignorance and hostility towards my gender identity…even [the] dismissal of my rape because it didn’t fit the normative ‘boy-rapes-girl’ narrative.”

The push for reform on campus was prompted by the angry voices of survivors who chose to speak out and share their experiences. Yet despite almost a year of official negotiations between students, senators and campus leaders, the university has done next to nothing—aside from organizing two townhalls and updating its website layout—to overhaul their response procedures. In fact, the administration, as reported previously on {Young}ist, has forcefully silenced protesters and even intimidated student activists and journalists from speaking out with disciplinary threats, also outlined in the filing.

Given this hostile environment, students felt they had no choice but to file a federal complaint. “It’s clear that student activism, meeting with administrators, and multiple articles about the issue are not enough to push Columbia to make campus a safer place,” said complainant Marybeth Seitz-Brown. “We turn to Title IX, not because we believe it is the ultimate source of healing and justice, but as a tool for mobilizing action.” Starr added, emphasizing the immediacy of the issue, “This is something that students are struggling with on a daily basis, we are desperate for help and have tried every other option.” The students do not appeal to law as the sole source of justice regarding sexual violence, as this is often not the case; rather they appeal to the law because of the force behind it, a force that must be used when confronting an institution as large and powerful as Columbia University.

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To be clear, the power of the filing is not that it will end campus sexual violence. Rather, it offers students the opportunity to transform their community’s approach to, and indeed understanding of, this nationwide epidemic. By filing, students, leveraging the power of the federal government, have greater agency to reform the painful bureaucratic processes survivors have to endure, bring accountability to the actions of administrators, and, perhaps most importantly, transform the official discourse surrounding sexual violence. “I see Title IX as a tool students can use as part of larger anti-violence work in our communities,” said one of the filers, who wished to remain anonymous. Forcing the university to publicly recognize the daily crisis that is campus sexual assault is the first step on our long road ahead. It is only by holding by university officials accountable can we begin to do the same for our larger community. “For me personally, filing is a way to force administrators to take immediate action to making campus safer. But it’s just one step for us.” said one complainant. “I want to see us meaningfully talking about how our communities excuse and enable violence and how we respond to and support survivors in addition to all the bureaucratic and procedural changes that need to happen.”

 

Read Next: Wash U students continue their historic sit-in against Peabody Energy.

Washington University Sit-In Against Peabody Enters Historic Third Week

Wash U students

Washington University students participate in an April 19 rally against Peabody Energy (WashU Students Against Peabody/Facebook)

This post originally appeared in EcoWatch and is reprinted with permission by the author.

In an emerging public relations nightmare for Washington University officials, the sit-in against Peabody Energy ties entered a historic third week, as students continued to press demands after a faltering statement released yesterday by Chancellor Mark Wrighton.

“We want to make it clear that we are not satisfied with this statement,” the Wash U Students Against Peabody countered. “We plan to continue to pressure Chancellor Wrighton and Provost Thorp until they end Washington University’s relationship with Peabody.”

Let’s face it: With growing national media attention, growing outrage over Peabody violations, and growing plans for nationwide rallies against Peabody on its shareholders meeting on May 8, the moment of truth for the chancellor and the board of trustees about Peabody’s toxic relationship with Washington University has arrived.

And this Peabody moment of truth has been years—even decades—in the making.

The Wash U student protests have been raising the ante for years—I’ve watched with amazement, over the last decade, as I’ve been chronicling Peabody violations around the world—including the Black Mesa tragedy, which I consider one of the worst human rights and environmental disasters in American history.

This much we all know: The Wash U students are on the right side of history, and at a certain point, Chancellor Wrighton and the board of trustees will end their denial and join the students’ clear-headed demands.

And it won’t be the first time.

Consider another date in May in Washington University history: May 9, 1952, when the board of trustees found it “increasingly difficult to ignore mounting public sentiment and maintain its segregationist policy,” and finally bent to the will of a long-time student movement to officially integrate.

It’s time once again for Washington University to be on the right side of history.

It’s also time for Chancellor Wrighton to prosecute Peabody Energy’s violations of Washington University’s own code of conduct for all vendors, associates and trustees like Peabody CEO Greg Boyce. The Wash U codes for integrity and ethical conduct are clear: “The university relies on each community member’s ethical behavior, honesty, integrity and good judgment. Each community member should demonstrate respect for the rights of others. Each community member is accountable for his/her actions.”

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Putting aside climate change denial and environmental destruction, how can Chancellor Wrighton and Washington University condone the following actions by Peabody as ethical behavior, honesty, integrity and good judgment?

On Black Mesa?

Or, consider these other actions:
2014: Does Peabody remain in violation of federal laws for improper handling and holding of Native American burial remains and artifacts from Black Mesa?
2014: Peabody illegally clear-cut endangered habitats in Shawnee forests in Rocky Branch, Illinois.
2013: Judge rules that Peabody violated EPA rules at their Indiana strip mine.
2012: Peabody closed a southern Illinois mine due to safety problems and violations.
2011: Peabody receives MSHA notice of pattern of serious violations for an Illinois mine.
2000–09: Peabody wracks up more than 8,700 “significant” mine safety violations.
1986: Peabody pleads guilty in miner’s death in Illinois.

Every day that the Wash U Chancellor fails to answer the sit-in students’ questions and demands, he and his university remain on the wrong side of history.

And the nation—that is watching—knows it.

 

Read Next: Students respond to Harvard’s statement on climate.

Youth Are Taking the Government to Court Over Its Failure to Address Climate Change

Youth plaintiffs

Plaintiffs in the public trust doctrine case in DC (Photo courtesy of Our Children's Trust)

In an unprecedented federal court case that has made it to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, young people from California are suing the EPA and Departments of Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Energy and Defense under the historic public trust doctrine for failing to devise a climate change recovery plan. In their legal brief, they argue, “Failure to rapidly reduce CO2 emissions and protect and restore the balance of the atmosphere is a violation of Youth’s constitutionally protected rights and is redressable by the Courts.”

The public trust doctrine has its roots in antquity, deriving from the Roman “Code of Justinian.” Elizabeth Brown of Our Children’s Trust, the group coordinating the legal efforts, explains that the doctrine is a duty all sovereigns have to safeguard public resources that future generations will depend on for survival. It is an “attribute of sovereignty,” “implicit in our constitution,” the “white board of our democracy,” she says.

The National Association of Manufacturers, which is intervening in support of the government agencies, argues in its brief that “in no case has any court ever invoked the doctrine to compel regulatory action by the federal government, much less adoption of a sweeping new regulatory agenda of the type sought by these plaintiffs.”

That’s true. There is no precedent. But that’s kind of the point. Conventional efforts to harness climate change through litigation have failed. The public’s trust in government to tackle climate change has been squashed. The agencies the youth are suing have come up short on the issue of the millennium. We’re clearly in need of some precedent-setting litigation.

In tandem with the federal lawsuit, similar efforts by youth, also guided by Our Children’s Trust, are aimed at state agencies in Alaska, New Mexico, Oregon and Texas.

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In an amicus brief to the federal case, a group of sympathetic law professors explained that a legislature cannot deprive “a future legislature of the natural resources necessary to provide for the well-being and survival of its citizens…. Through the Public Trust Doctrine, the Constitution governs for the perpetual preservation of the Nation.” Since climate change would cripple the government’s ability to provide for its citizens, they argue, the use of the public trust doctrine is appropriate and necessary.

Citing case law from the 1890s, these youth and their advisors are digging deep to find a tool to wield against a government that has legally betrayed their trust. Whether the case makes it to the Supreme Court has yet to be seen (the appeals court hearing is scheduled for May 2). But for the climate movement this is really a win-win. Either a landmark case compels the US government to act on climate change, or yet another betrayal of trust radicalizes an organized, and legally savvy, network of youth.

 

Read Next: Dave Zegart on taking Big Carbon to court.

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 4/25/2014?

Inmates

An overcrowded state prison in California (AP Photo/Spencer Weiner)

—Samuel Adler-Bell focuses on labor, mass incarceration and literature.

"Gabriel García Márquez: Our Own Brand of Socialism," by Gabriel García Márquez. Jacobin, April 22, 2014.

On the occasion his death, Jacobin re-issued an interview with the Colombian novelist that originally appeared in the April 1983 issue of New Left Review. In it, Gabo is witty, forthcoming and unapologetically socialist—calling on Latin Americans to reject the failed or failing political arrangements of Europe and build their "own brand of socialism." By reproducing this piece a few days after the writer's death—as universally reverent remembrances circulate in the news and misattributed quotations appear on Facebook walls and Twitter feeds—one senses an effort on the part of the left to reclaim Gabo as our own. "So you love Garcia Marquez, huh?" we say to his conservative and liberal eulogizers (Bill Clinton and Barack Obama among them), "Well, he was a socialist! So there!" We are petty when we should simply mourn. But then, our pettiness arises from having seen, time and time again, how the greatest radical artists are sanitized in death by those who would seek to disentangle their unimpeachable creative output from their inconvenient political beliefs (an impossible maneuver, especially in the case of Gabo).

And pettiness, I hope we can agree, is a far lesser crime than hypocrisy.

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

"The War of Paz y Paz," by Steven Dudley. Insight Crime. April 21-23, 2014.

Insight Crime has recently published three excellent pieces about Guatemala's fearless attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz: "Enemy of the State," "The Victims," and "The Revolution." The stories paint a portrait of a woman who has helped challenge a culture of impunity, whose work tackling entrenched power structures might have cost her the job. From charging General Efrain Rios Montt with genocide to increasing prosecutions for femicide across the country, Paz y Paz is a model of public service to some, and a thorn in the side of others. Former and current military figures, economic elites, organized crime and countless other political forces are working to ensure that Paz y Paz doesn't get a second term, afraid that they might well be next in her long list of high-profile cases. In these three pieces, Steven Dudley takes a measured look at the past, present and future of one of Latin America's most exciting and controversial political figures.

—Laura Cremer focuses on labor, gender and the historicization of culture and politics.

Inmates to strike in Alabama, declare prison is ‘running a slave empire,’” by Josh Eidelson. Salon, April 18, 2014.

Josh Eidelson reports on a planned strike inside Alabama prisons: while stories that have come out in subsequent days appear to be conflicted on whether or not the strike is actually going on as planned, this article, including an interview with the leader of the movement via a mobile phone apparently smuggled into his solitary confinement cell, tells part of a larger story about the prison system and the little-reported-on prisoner organizing going on inside it. Prisoners, in addition to being subject to a laundry list of daily abuses, can legally be forced to work for private businesses, and Melvin Ray, the inmate who leads the Free Alabama Movement, isn't the first to compare their situation to slavery. But, as he says, in the case of a prisoner going on strike: "You’re not giving up anything. You don’t have anything." Prison organizing would appear to be an impossible task, but conditions may be bad enough for Ray's group to gain ground. The Free Alabama Movement has organized strikes before, and Ray predicts: “If a prison goes down for two weeks, there’s a strong possibility that you’ll capture another prison. If a prisoner strike goes down for three weeks…there’s no telling how many prisons might get in.”

—Cecilia D’Anastasio focuses on ethics, feminism, press freedom and tech.

"Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial," by Jessica Mckenzie. techPresident. April 23, 2014.

Have you heard of Marco Civil? If not, it's because the world's first Internet bill of rights, sanctioned Wednesday, has gotten surprisingly little coverage. Developed partially through, obviously, crowdsourcing, the law is basically an anti-ACTA, championing free expression, net neutrality, due process, the right to privacy and the right to connect, reports the World Wide Web Foundation. Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, has been an outspoken opponent of the NSA and accused the US government of violating human rights with regard to surveillance—we should applaud her clear, positive response to growing privacy concerns around the world. “ The internet you want is only possible in an environment of respect for human rights,” Rousseff said on her website, "especially privacy and freedom of expression."

—Simon Davis-Cohen focuses on self-governance, climate adaptation and science.

‘Saudi America’: Mirage?” by Clifford Krauss. The New York Times, April 22, 2014.

The New York Times published a special “Energy” section on Earth Day wherein this piece was featured. If you’re able to read through the extractive language, the article offers a relatively comprehensive look at oil and gas happenings in North America. Though heartwrenching to see Pemex, an essential revenue source for Mexican social spending, described as a company that “has been forced for decades to hand over its revenue to the government while underinvesting in known oil and gas fields,” if you can read past this, the piece offers important tidbits of information. From BP’s Arctic embarrassment, the historic Newfoundland discoveries, the privatization of Mexican fuels, Pemex’s trove of lucrative seismic data, Shell’s tar sands hesitation, the fragility of tar sands profitability to US State Department decisions that “could limit drilling.” Most interesting however is reading the language the industry uses to peddle its practice.

—Justine Drennan focuses on marginalized groups' relationship with technology and development.

"What Will Become of the Library?" by Michael Agresta. Slate, April 22, 2014.

As the Internet and new reading devices reduce the use of physical books (though I, for one, am still a big book fan), libraries are seeking new roles. More specifically, Agresta writes, the library is looking for ways to maintain its status as a “third place” (“neither work nor home, a universally accessible space where citizens are free to congregate and fraternize without feeling like loiterers”). Even for a literal bibliophile like myself, some of the trends Agresta describes are exciting—libraries becoming more participatory and interactive, allowing patrons to contribute to archives or try their hand at crafts that still have no digital counterpart. Noting that libraries "have long served a progressive, interventionist agenda, putting knowledge directly into the hands of the poor," Agresta hopes they'll continue to provide access to information and resources for those who'd otherwise lack it.

—Corinne Grinapol focuses on education and international relations/national security.

"Death and Anger on Everest," by Jon Krakauer. The New Yorker, April 21, 2014.

In high-altitude disaster stories, the set-up is important. The warnings, errors and general sense of not-quite-rightness are often there, dismissed until they are compiled ex post facto into a chronicle of disaster foretold. Jon Krakauer starts his New Yorker post about the recent Everest landslide that killed sixteen Sherpas with just such a set-up. In 2012 a major trip organizer pulled his clients, guides and Sherpas off the mountain, a decision prompted by concerns his Sherpas raised about the instability of a particular part of the climb known as the Khumbu Icefall. It was an unusual exchange; Sherpas are known for their fearlessness, loyalty, strength and skill on the mountain—qualities for which they aren't paid nearly enough.

After decades of risking their lives for clients that Sherpas have figuratively and at times literally pulled up to the summit, this latest, and deadliest, single-day disaster has become a catalyst for action. The Sherpas have largely suspended their trips and are threatening to strike. Even their demands, centered as they are around greater insurance and death benefit payouts, are reflective of the disproportionate level of risk they face on the mountain.

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

Cost of Treatment May Influence Doctors,” by Andrew Pollack. The New York Times, April 17, 2014.

I chose this article not because it's an example of what health journalism should be but what it should not. Progressive public health list servs were none too pleased with the author's suggestion that doctors’ consideration of the cost of a medicine before treating patients equates to "rationing." Moreover, those in-the-know regarding health policy were quick to point out that the article did not examine why medicine costs are exorbitantly high within the United States, nor whether these blockbuster medicines actually provide good patient outcomes. At worst, the NYT piece served as a mouthpiece for the overarching notion in the United States that more expensive medicine = better medicine, and that any questioning of cost equates an overly-burdensome intervention, to the detriment of the patient.

At best, however, the article raises the question of whether doctors, medical societies, individuals, government—all of us—should examine the costs of health treatments. Only in the United States is a cost-benefit analysis a dirty word; internationally, it's used regularly by the health sector. Take the UK's National Health Service, for example, which looks to its National Institutes for Health and Clinical Excellence to help guide whether a treatment should be used based on cost and patient outcome (if a new breast cancer drug costs $10,000 per treatment but adds one month of life, it likely won't get the thumbs up; but if it adds years of life, then it would be considered). Because of this "rationing," conservatives love to point to the UK as a patient's hell, where no one can get the medicines they need, and have to wait months to see a medical professional. But check out the stats: as of 2007, the UK sported a life expectancy of 80 years, compared to the US's 78. That's despite spending nearly triple the amount per person on health care costs. The UK also has more hospital beds and more nurses and midwives than the United States. High cost doesn't necessarily equate to high quality.

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

DDT’s pesky proponents,” by Mara Kardas-Nelson. Al Jazeera, April 21, 2012.

Health reporter and fellow Nation intern Mara Kardas-Nelson elucidates the debate over DDT in the war against malaria. Since 2000, deaths from malaria have nearly halved—a public health triumph that owes its success to many factors, including: the mass rollout of insecticidal bed nets; better and more widely available diagnostic tools and treatment; and, yes, the spraying of DDT in homes in affected regions. Still, the deadly parasite claims some 666,000 lives every year—the vast majority of whom are children in Africa.

If you’ve ever had malaria, you will never forget the wretched flux between chills and fever, the nausea and the aching, and the sobering feeling that you may no longer be alive this time tomorrow. I fell into this malaise a couple of years ago, around 4:00 am while camping on a beach in northern Mozambique. If you have indeed had it and are reading this, then you also know how utterly curable malaria is—and how enraging and needless are the deaths of those who cannot access the basic medicine to fight it off.

Mara’s contribution to this important discussion is worth reading in its entirety and several times over. The causes and consequences of malaria have long been known; ascertaining with the same level of certainty how best to prevent, treat and ultimately eradicate it is among the great challenges of our time.

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

The Trouble With ‘Women You Should Be Reading Now’ Lists,” by Roxane Gay. Slate, April 22, 2014.

Writing at Slate, Roxane Gay describes her discomfort with lists that promise "the [insert number here] Women You Should Be Reading Now." She chaffs at the notion that writers should be singled out only for their race (or ethnicity or sexual orientation) and describes how this ends up limiting the number of writers who get recognition. But Gay also admits that the continued existence and popularity of these kinds of lists suggests that the problems they seek to remedy haven't gone away. As she said, "The need will be significant until people no longer say some variation of, “I don’t see difference. I just want great writing,” as if difference and excellence are mutually exclusive."

Read Next: Intern Simon Davis-Cohen on youth taking the climate change battle to court.

Harvard President Drew Faust Is Still Wrong on Climate Change

Harvard

Students at Harvard University have been calling on President Faust to Divest from fossil fuels for months. (Flickr/Kelly Delay)

As MLK once said: “In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.”

On April 7, Harvard President Drew Faust released a statement on climate change and Harvard’s investment strategy. This news came after months of pressure from students, faculty and alumni who were disturbed by her initial rejection of demands for fossil fuel divestment. The demands were first raised in October 2013 by a new student group, Divest Harvard, which was part of a growing national campaign. Faust’s announcement—which introduces Harvard’s creation of a Climate Change Solutions Fund and commitment to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment and Carbon Disclosure Project—finally acknowledges Harvard’s responsibility for its investments. However, as members of Divest Harvard, we are deeply disappointed with the university’s continued failure to address the urgency of climate change.

A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change lays out the sobering reality of the climate crisis. By 2100, much of our planet will be uninhabitable if civilization continues on the business-as-usual trajectory. Forget grandchildren, and who knows what kinds of catastrophes we will live through. This is the future we currently face without radical action. We must actively fight for the world we wish to inherit because the stakes are too high to tolerate inaction any longer.

President Faust’s statement only amplifies the moral inconsistency of Harvard’s continued investment in the fossil fuel companies that are devastating the planet and blocking climate solutions. The first part of the plan commits $1 million to investment in climate research. This is an important step forward, but it cannot be taken in good faith while the university’s $32.7 billion endowment is simultaneously invested in the corporations that drive climate destruction, fund science denialism and manipulate the political system. Now that Harvard is committing to investing in solutions, the university must make a simple choice: invest in our future or continue to support its destruction. The science is clear, and the moral line has been drawn.

The second part of the plan is a recommitment to Harvard’s on-campus sustainability efforts, with a focus on the greenhouse gas reduction goals adopted by the university in 2008. The problem is that Harvard is not even on track to reach its 30 percent reduction goal by 2016. The effort is commendable, but not nearly as much as Harvard could do, and reveals an unwillingness to take a critical moral stand when it comes to fossil fuels.

President Faust’s statement also lauded the fact that Harvard has become a signatory of the UN Principles for Responsible Investment. This point has come under fire from critics who point out that signing on to the voluntary PRI framework does not require actual change and is little more than a symbolic act. Symbolic or not, this move indicates that Harvard is finally recognizing the ethical and political significance of its investments with respect to climate issues. Thus, we are hopeful that the April 7 statement is an indication that President Faust may be ready to begin translating her words into action.

Lastly, Harvard’s decision to sign onto the Carbon Disclosure Project—which combines shareholder power to push corporations to disclose greenhouse gas emissions—seems insufficent to move the fossil fuel industry. It’s highly unlikely that shareholder resolutions will force these corporations to respond to climate change. Only divestment and political action can achieve this goal. There are multiple examples in the past, including evidence from Harvard’s shareholder votes, that support these statements.

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We are not alone in our dismay over Harvard’s continued inaction. Recently, more than 100 prominent faculty members sent an open letter to President Faust and the Harvard Corporation, deploring the “troubling inconsistency” of the university’s failure to seriously consider divestment. In their letter, faculty emphasize the urgency of divestment, framing it as “an act of ethical responsibility, a protest against current practices that cannot be altered as quickly or effectively by other means.” The letter also challenges President Faust’s argument against divestment on political grounds: “If the Corporation regards divestment as ‘political,’ then its continued investment is a similarly political act, one that finances present corporate activities and calculates profit from them.”

Indeed, the fossil fuel lobby is one of the most powerful political forces in the world, and divestment is a tactic that directly aims to destroy the political influence of that industry. The faculty’s letter has garnered widespread support, including over 20,000 people who have signed a petition asking Harvard to divest.

The motto of Harvard is Veritas—Truth. Fossil fuel companies are waging a war on truth, throwing the full force of their economic and political power into climate denial campaigns and political corruption. We must provide a platform of leadership with which the Harvard community can be proud. We must require that Veritas once again guides our actions and those of the university that we love. Until Harvard divests, we have an obligation to our planet and our collective future to continue pressing. We will escalate the pressure on a scale that is consistent with the urgency of the climate crisis.

Read Next: Students at UC Berkeley create a human oil spill to protest fracking.

Students Mark Anniversary of BP Disaster With a Human Oil Spill

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley students stage a human oil spill to protest fracking. (The Daily Californian/Lorenz Angelo Gonzales)

This article originally appeared in the student-run Daily Californian.

A human oil spill spread across Dwinelle Plaza on Monday—a silent demonstration against fracking that is the first in a series of events to kick-start Earth Week 2014.

The day after the fourth anniversary of the BP oil spill, about twenty students, clad entirely in black, circled and sprawled around a miniature wooden oil rig covered with protest signs. Protesters wanted to illustrate the environmental effects of fracking by using human bodies as symbols of the devastation.

“An oil spill is a very visible and recognizable example of the corruption and destruction wrought by the fossil fuel industry,” said Jake Soiffer, a freshman and an actions coordinator at Fossil Free Cal, in an e-mail. “The details—lying on the floor, wearing all black—bring out the serious, pressing nature of the issue.”

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, involves extracting natural gas and oil by injecting water, sand and chemicals—many of them toxic—into underground shell rock.

The protest, which was planned and sponsored by Students Against Fracking and by Fossil Free Cal, comes a month after a similar demonstration on Sproul to pressure Governor Jerry Brown into banning fracking in California. Like last month’s protest, students Monday aimed to raise awareness of fracking—but, this time, through a symbolic display.

Suspended from the twelve-foot-tall small-scale oil rig was a list of chemicals involved in fracking operations that are injected into bedrock to break it up. At the foot of the rig were students quietly reclining on the ground.

The protest then kicked into another gear as a student protester wielded a megaphone, chanting, “Leave the oil in the soil” and “Hey hey, ho ho, Keystone XL has to go.”

The protest is the first of many events in UC Berkeley’s annual Earth Week festival, sponsored and organized by the ASUC Sustainability Team. The week—which lasts through Sunday—is designed to spread awareness on environmental issues and is filled with events that promote discussions on ecological issues and teach what it means to lead a sustainable lifestyle.

Founded at the beginning of this semester, Students Against Fracking focuses primarily on leading an educational campaign around campus. The organization will continue to work in solidarity with Fossil Free Cal, a campus group campaigning for the UC Board of Regents to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

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Kristy Drutman, a freshman and co-coordinator for Students Against Fracking, said the organization will begin to take a bigger step forward in their environmental campaign on campus by starting a petition. The petition would pressure Brown to approve a potential bill come November that would pause fracking in California to allow for further scientific research on the cost-effectiveness of fracking.

In addition, Fossil Free Cal is now looking to broaden student support, connect with local environmental groups and pass a resolution through the ASUC.

 

Read Next: Catch up on last week’s most intriguing reads.

The Week of Student Sit-Ins

CIYJA

A sit-in at the DC office of Xavier Becerra. (Photo: CIYJA)

Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on youth organizing—from established student unions, to emerging national networks, to ad hoc campaigns that don’t yet have a name. For recent dispatches, check out January 27, February 10, February 26, March 7, March 21 and April 8. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch.

Contact studentmovement@thenation.com with any questions, tips or proposals. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).

1. As Congress Sits, LA Youth Storm the Capitol

This month, affiliates of the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, including the Orange County Dream Team and the National Queer Trans Latino@ Alliance, rallied in DC as members sat down, and were arrested, at the congressional offices of Loretta Sanchez and Xavier Becerra. We entered with letters outlining demands that both leaders, as member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, make use of their political power to ask president Obama to stop all deportations by expanding deferred action for all. As a member of the NQTLA, I also advocated for members of the LGBTQ community who are in the process of deportation—for some, a death sentence in their countries of origin. Locally, we will continue organizing through #not1more and #migrantlivesmatter, while demanding Sanchez’s public support.

—Luis Ramirez

2. As Obama Talks Civil Rights, Students Rail on Hypocrisy

On April 10, as President Obama gave the keynote speech at the University of Texas–Austin’s annual Civil Rights Summit, the University Leadership Initiative, a United We Dream affiliate, organized more than 100 students and community members to gather in solidarity with the immigrant community. The group called out Obama, whose administration has overseen record deportations, for his hypocrisy in speaking on civil rights. Three leaders separated from the rally and moved toward the LBJ Library with the intention of delivering this message to the president. As guards told us that we were not allowed to continue, we peacefully sat at their feet, the crowd began sharing stories about family separation and we were arrested. Along with another ULI representative, the three of us had spent the previous night chained to the Martin Luther King Jr. statue on campus to stand with King’s dream.

—Emily Freeman, Alejandra Gomez and Patrick Fierro

3. EMU v. the Emergency State

In the summer of 2011, Eastern Michigan University president Sue Martin, at the behest of the university’s unelected regents, secretly signed into existence the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan, the receiver and privatizing agent of Detroit’s “lowest-performing” public schools. The EAA has fired school employees en masse, subjected them to at-will contracts and stripped working-class communities of color of their democratic powers. On April 14, as part of a now five-month escalation plan, the Coalition of People Against the EAA, composed of students, faculty and residents, launched a sit-in in at the president’s office, demanding that Martin remove her signature from the agreement. Thus far, the sit-in has been the site of a noise jam, teach-ins and a concert by DC punk artist Spoonboy. Our organizing will not cease until the inter-local agreement that created the EAA is dissolved.

—Coalition of People Against the EAA and Students For an Ethical and Participatory Education

4. USC v. the Retail Empire

For eight months, students from the University of Southern California have been calling on the university to terminate its contract with JanSport, whose parent company, VF Corporation, is responsible for the deaths of twenty-nine Bangladeshi garment workers and displays a continuous disregard for worker safety. Sixteen other universities have already cut ties with VF Corporation but USC’s administration has firmly refused to change course. On April 15, eighteen students occupied President Max Nikias’s office in protest of this decision, while a group of 100 students rallied outside. Instead of engaging in constructive dialogue with students, administrators called protesters’ parents, threatening expulsion and revocation of scholarships. After four hours, we marched out of the building, vowing to continue our fight.

—Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, USAS Local 13

5. Wash U v. Peabody Coal

Students at Washington University in St. Louis are entering the third week of a sit-in at our admissions office to pressure Chancellor Wrighton to sever ties with Peabody Coal. Peabody CEO Greg Boyce sits on the Wash U board of trustees, and in 2009, Peabody donated $5 million to launch the school’s “Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization.” We believe that the school’s close relationship with Peabody legitimizes its practices—which include contributing to climate change, exploiting workers and relocating indigenous Navajo and Hopi people at Black Mesa, Arizona. The occupation, which began on April 8, comes on the heels of the student-led Fossil Fuel Divestment Convergence at San Francisco State University, which brought together 200 student leaders from over 100 campuses nationwide.

—Leslie Salisbury and Brendan Ziebarth

6. #StandWithMonica

Since a wrongful arrest in May 2013, students at Arizona State University have been rallying to support the Sex Workers Outreach Project of Phoenix in demanding justice for Monica Jones, a student at the ASU School of Social Work and trans rights activist who was profiled by the police during a prostitution diversion program called Project Rose. Run by the School of Social Work in collaboration with the Phoenix Police Department, Project Rose creates a coercive environment by forcing those arrested to choose between a lengthy diversion program or a potential criminal record. ASU students have worked with SWOP Phoenix to gather hundreds of petition signatures demanding that the charges against Jones be dropped and Project Rose end its association with ASU. As Jones’s case moves forward, we will continue supporting the call to action put forth by SWOP Phoenix to stop profiling trans women of color and decriminalize sex work.

—ASU Students With SWOP Phoenix

7. #JusticeForCecily

On April 11, the trial of graduate student Cecily McMillan began in New York City criminal court. McMillan is facing seven years for felony assault of a police officer. Her supporters say that it was she who was sexually assaulted and brutally beaten into a seizure. The Justice for Cecily Team, activists from diverse backgrounds, ideologies and groups, including Occupy Wall Street and student organizers, is running court support—from social media and press outreach to fundraising and community events. The team has curated a website, Celly and ongoing event page for supporters to stay up-to-date as McMillan’s trial goes into its third week. Our overarching aim is to pack the courts with press and supporters to draw attention to this case and the underlying issues of police brutality, sexual assault and civil rights infringement that are common practices in the NYPD.

—Justice for Cecily Team

8. On Day of Silence, GSA Leader Stays Locked Up

Gay-Straight Alliance and immigrant youth activists have united behind GSA Network alum Yordy Cancino and all undocuqueer youth seeking asylum. Yordy, who worked to transform school culture in Los Angeles as GSA president at Animo Jackie Robinson High School, has been held in an ICE detention facility in San Diego since mid-March and faced a judge and potential deportation on GLSEN’s Day of Silence. More than 1,000 GSA leaders and alumni answered the call to action, contacting ICE and signing the #GSAs4Justice petition to free Yordy and all youth in detention. After several excuses from ICE, Yordy is still being detained.

—Mario Vasquez

9. With TRUST Act in Hand, Orange County Youth Blitz ICE

On April 7, Kareli Barrera was arrested by the Los Angeles sheriff’s department. After seeing a judge, she was set to be released, but the department held her to allow ICE to pick her up. While Barrera’s charges are not listed as crimes for which detention is authorized, on April 14, the department transferred her to ICE—a violation of California’s TRUST Act. Since then, Resistencia, Autonomia, Igualdad, lideraZgo, or RAIZ, the Orange County chapter of the Immigrant Youth Coalition, has bombarded ICE with calls and e-mails to demand it halt Barrera’s deportation. While the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit eventually granted Barrera an emergency stay of removal, she is still in detention in Orange County. This fight builds on RAIZ’s Keep Our Families Together campaign to end the police-ICE collaboration in Orange County and efforts resisting the high rates of undocuminor referral to ICE by the Orange County Probation Department.

—RAIZ

10. Napolitano’s Judgment Day

On April 9, 2014, a coalition of University of California–Berkeley law students, alumni and undergraduate students came together to protest Janet Napolitano’s human rights violations, her appointment as UC president and her appearance as a judge in the law school’s esteemed McBaine Moot Court Competition. Law students demanded her removal from the competition, which those responsible for the event rejected, insisting she contributed to “intellectual diversity.” In response, a small group of law students of color organized a rally before the start of the competition, disseminated information and dropped a banner reading, “Berkeley Law Students say NO 2 Napolitano.” Additionally, a group of five law students sat through the competition and disrupted Napolitano’s concluding comments by revealing a banner and chanting, “No to Napolitano!

—Monika Y. Langarica

11. Illinois’s Coming Out

Throughout April, undocumented youth and allies held Coming Out of the Shadows actions across Illinois. At Chicago’s Federal Plaza, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Waubonsee Community College in Aurora and Bensenville, the message was clear: deportations need to end, and our universities need to create financial and academic resources for undocumented students. Universities were asked to improve opportunities for undocumented students by opening up and recruiting funding for in-house scholarships, training university counselors on best practices, assisting with post-graduation job placement and taking public stances on immigration legislation and discrimination.

—Rigo Padilla

12. I, Too, Am CU

In March 2014, students across the University of Colorado–Boulder, inspired by the spread of the #ITooAmHarvard campaign to other campuses, organized an I, Too, Am CU photoshoot and Tumblr. With Audre Lorde’s quote, “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives,” as a unifying theme, the campaign accrued more than thirty student statements and videos, as well as widespread staff support via #WeWorkatCU. I, Too, Am CU welcomes participation from anyone at CU who has experienced marginalization and institutional oppression on campus—from testimonies on in-class and peer-to-peer discrimination, to talking back to Steven Hayward, after the conservative scholar made a series of inflammatory comments about CU students. Rather than representing a singular, or racialized, struggle, our campaign will continue to push for solidarity among marginalized groups.

—Tamara Williams Van Horn

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13. Restart OU

On April 17, a coalition of student activists won a majority of seats, and effective control, of the student government at Ohio University. Campaigning as “RESTART,” with the avowed intention of radically overhauling and democratizing student government, we began as an alliance of activists from a variety of student organizations connected to the Ohio University Student Union, which has been organizing around issues ranging from the school’s tuition hikes, to the university’s plan to build a $90 million cogeneration gas plant, to the culture of rape around campus. We draw inspiration from the student movement continentally—including Montreal, where the transformation of student unionism led to a one-year strike. Moving forward, we intend to mobilize the student body around the need for a more affordable tuition model, build student associations in every department and ultimately replace the representative model of student government with a participatory one.

—Ohio University Student Union

14. Who Rules Northeastern?

For the past year, students at Northeastern University have been campaigning alongside adjunct faculty in their fight for a union. On April 16, the Empower Adjuncts Community Coalition, a group of students, workers and community allies organized by the United Students Against Sweatshops visited the deans of five colleges on campus. These visits were in response to e-mails with anti-union rhetoric sent by the deans to adjunct faculty. While students played noisemakers and ate pizza in the offices, the deans were told that pizza was only for those who did not attempt to interfere with the democratic process of unionization—a tongue-in-cheek warning that they will be held accountable for attempting to intimidate adjuncts as their voting period begins. After the delegations, Northeastern agreed to stop sending out anti-union e-mails.

—Empower Adjuncts Community Coalition

15. How to Stop Street Harassment?

On April 5, the media literacy/activist project Fostering Activism & Alternatives Now!, or FAAN Mail, joined International Anti-Street Harassment Week, a global campaign to raise awareness about gender-based street harassment. We recognize that unwanted attention in public spaces is both a global and local problem. In Love Park, we soap-boxed, muraled and performed street theater that enabled people—including children and male allies—to reclaim public space, share their stories about street harassment and address this problem in creative ways.

—FAAN Mail

 

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