Quantcast

StudentNation | The Nation

  •  
StudentNation

StudentNation

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

Cooper Union Students Protest College’s First Ever Tuition

This article was originally published by the NYC Local and is reposted here with permission. Follow @

This week, Cooper Union student organizers preparing for an Occupy Wall Street protest against student debt were energized and infuriated by their school’s decision to introduce tuition in the graduate program. In a move announced in the New York Times on Tuesday, Cooper Union will begin charging tuition to students in the graduate program; previously, all students at Cooper Union received full scholarships to attend the prestigious school for art and architecture as part of the university's historic mission and mandate. Undergraduate education will remain free “for now,” according to the college’s president.

On Wednesday afternoon, students gathered in Cooper Square, a plaza just south of Astor Place, and enclosed by the college’s two buildings: the arched brownstone Foundation Building, and the rippling, gouged metallic facade of 41 Cooper Square. Before marching to Union Square to join a larger demonstration there, Cooper students condemned the actions of the school board.

Eduardo Alfonso, an undergraduate studying architecture at Cooper, watched the protest from steps on the park’s north side. He said that in the small school, the contentious decision has been subject to considerable discussion and speculation. “There’s a question,” he said, “if the compromise with the graduate program is priming for future changes.”

Aaron Fowler, an undergraduate in Cooper Union’s art school, said that the decision had been first announced in the New York Times, not to the student body directly. “It really changes the dynamic of the school,” said Fowler, citing Cooper Union’s 110-year mission to provide free education. Fowler said that this mission, now being called in to question, provides an “even playing field” for prospective students to compete on merit, not money.

One demonstrator took his protest to a new level — quite literally. Jesse Kreuzer, a Cooper Union alumnus, climbed the towering statue of Peter Cooper, the school’s founder. As passers-by looked up curiously, Kreuzer danced to his iPod and waved his large sign: “NO TUITION IT’S OUR MISSION.”

NYU Local spoke with Kreuzer by phone from the plaza some 30 feet below. “This is a stunt for media attention,” Kreuzer admitted, “but they don’t seem to be paying much attention.” Kreuzer agrees that Cooper’s tuition-free model is central to its identify. “It’s what makes this school what it is. It’s what makes it so beautiful.”

Kreuzer, like many of his peers, takes pride in Cooper’s unique tuition-free model. “Few institutions of higher learning that are free. The Board is talking about charging tuition which goes against the 100-year mission,” he said. “If that were to happen, it would represent the death of an ideal.”

At the time, Kreuzer said that the police “don’t seem to care,” and considered climbing down to march to the larger rally in Union Square. Within a few hours, however, NYPD had taped off the area around the statue and were working to coax the 23-year-old alumnus down. He got his press coverage: New York Times’ East Village Local blog reported that at 6:44, the activist was retrieved from the top of the statue in an NYPD cherry picker and placed under arrest.

Image courtesy Tim Schreier

Student Loan Debt vs. the American Dream

Over the last couple of years students in places like Chile, England and Canada have made their voices heard in opposing tuition increases and and the conditions that exacerbate spiraling student debt. In the US, student loan debt has surpassed credit card debt and has exceeded the $1 trillion mark. Robert Applebaum, founder of ForgiveStudentLoanDebt.com, answers questions on student loan debt in this video segment from RT Television.

Occupy Student Debt

Occupy Student Debt, an offshoot of the Occupy movement focusing on student debt and urging students to pledge not to repay their loans, is staging several events today to commemorate the total amount of student debt passing $1 trillion. "Demonstrations and creative actions" are planned for Union Square, in New York; the headquarters and regional offices of the student lender Sallie Mae; and at colleges across the country, including the University of Chicago, Brooklyn College, Cooper Union, Hampshire College, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and the University of California at Santa Cruz. Please use the comments field to let us know about related events on your campus and watch this space for reports from coast to coast.

Congress Needs to Act on Stafford Loan Rate

This piece originally appeared in Claremont Port Side, a student publication at Claremont College that receives funding and training as a member of the Campus Progress journalism network.

On July 1, millions of students across the nation will see interest rates on their student loans double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

In 2007, as part of a plan to help make college more affordable, Congress temporarily cut interest rates to 3.4 percent on subsidized Stafford loans. Since then, students have reaped the benefits of a system that makes college more affordable than before. The College Cost Reduction Act of 2007 reduced subsidies to lenders and attempted to ensure the saved monies would be spent easing student costs. Among these efforts to reduce cost were lower interest rates, rewards for college that effectively lowered tuition, and increased grant money.

However, the temporary cut in interest rates is set to expire, and Congress has yet to take any action to extend the low rates. President Obama is calling on Congress to renew the current rates at 3.4 percent until legislation is passed that further re-structures the Free Application for Federal Student Aid system to permanently make college more affordable.

With the economy still in a fragile recovery and many students from lower- and middle-class families still struggling, Congress needs to act and, at the very least, push the expiration date for the lowered interest rates forward a year.

For the highest borrowers, a doubling in the interest rates will mean a substantial $5,000 in extra student debt payments after graduation. On average, students with subsidized Stafford loans will pay $1,000 more than they otherwise would.

For graduates, this means potentially shifting career goals from more lofty, yet less lucrative plans, to careers that can save credit scores from withering away. Student-loan debt already mandates a significant amount of attention in all Americans, both old and young. Indeed, Americans aged 60 or older owe nearly $36 billion in loans, and more than 10 percent of those loans are delinquent. With an expiration of the lowered interest rates, surely, the burden of debt will weigh even heavier.

Through prevention of the rate expiration and improvement of the current Pell Grant system, higher-education could become an even greater agent of social mobility. But, if interest rates increase, and Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal is successful in moving Pell Grants from mandatory to discretionary funding, higher education will become a system in which the amount of opportunity is even more directly related to income level.

A college degree is increasingly a greater necessity in professional life. Some roadblocks were temporarily moved aside, and nearly 8 million students have benefited. The current system is by no means perfect. But to make college even less accessible for the poor would have a devastating effect on inequality and upward mobility in this country. Congress can—and must—act on this important deadline.

Occupiers Take Over UC Land for Farm

Thios article was originally published in The Daily Cal. Follow the paper on Twitter to keep up with its invaluable coverage of the Berkeely campus and community.

Members of the local community and Occupy movement broke into UC-owned research land in Albany on Sunday to farm the land before setting up tents and establishing an occupation. Protesters from Occupy Cal, Occupy Oakland and Occupy San Francisco cleared and tilled the ground and planted hundreds of vegetable starters before setting up tents on the Gill Tract, a plot of land at the corner of Marin and San Pablo avenues.

In the past, the plot has been used for university research and experimentation, but current plans will bring a Whole Foods Market and senior center to the plot. According to event organizer Gopal Dayaneni, the purpose of the  “Occupy the Farm” event was to show that the land should be used for the public good as opposed to for corporate expansion. “This is the last, best agricultural land in the East Bay,” Dayaneni said. “Some research happens here, but the UC has been chopping it up and selling it off through the years, and it’s now been designated for capitalism.”

Participants began the day by marching from Ohlone Park in Berkeley to the location in Albany. About 200 people helped work the land throughout the day, Dayaneni said, roughly 15 of whom were members of Occupy Cal.

Dayaneni said the participants intended to camp overnight Sunday and continue farming Monday morning if they are not forced out by UCPD. Earlier in the day, UCPD officers announced that participants would be subject to citation or arrest if they remained on the land.

Under the California Education Code, people on UC campuses cannot bring tents or set up a campsite without authorization from a university official. When tents were erected on the UC Berkeley campus during the Nov. 9 Occupy Cal protest, at least 50 officers from UCPD and Alameda County Sheriff’s Department physically confronted the hundreds of protesters, making arrests, taking down the tents and allegedly injuring several people.

About 25 tents were set up on the farmland by 9:30 p.m, according to UC Berkeley senior and Occupy Cal member Navid Shaghaghi.

UC Berkeley alumna Anya Kamenskaya had conducted research on the land and proposed to the university in 2009 that it establish a farm to teach young students about farming and healthy food.

Her proposal was denied, and the land remained covered by weeds and mustard seeds. After graduating, Kamenskaya kept an eye on the land to see how it would be used and helped organize the Occupy event. “The University of California is a public institution — the land is public land, so it belongs to all of us,” Kamenskaya said. “Many people in the East Bay have to depend on the corporate-industrial food complex for financial reasons, but we’re dedicated to teaching them how to grow their own food so they can put it to use in their individual communities.”

While looking out over the rows of collard greens and celery being planted, UC Berkeley graduate student and Occupy Cal member Ian Saxton said that this event was “the best of Occupy.”

“The Occupy movement brings together a diverse group of people with a wide range of perspectives, experiences and skill sets,” Saxton said. “That potential is being realized today.”

Interns’ Favorite Pieces of the Week (4/18/12)

Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out nearly everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week and use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

 

Laura Bolt focuses on human rights and revolution.

Revealed: CISPA — Internet Spying Law — Pushed by For-Profit Spy Lobby,” by Lee Fang. AlterNet, April 13, 2012.

While the backlash against SOPA legislation was swift and palpable, a new bill with serious implications for Internet privacy is quietly making its way through Congress without as much fanfare. CISPA, as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 is known, is actually backed by tech companies like Facebook and Verizon. This article from AlterNet details how this bill threatens Internet privacy and who stands to gain from it.

 

Zoë Carpenter focuses on the intersection of economics, health and the environment.

A New Front in the War Against Malaria,” by Matthew Power. Harper’s, April 11, 2012.

Malaria, a mosquito-born parasite, has been our deadly companion through thousands of years of human evolution. Recently, an ambitious effort to eradicate the disease has been undercut by rising levels of resistance to artemisinin, a derivation of sweet wormwood once hailed as a "magic bullet." Matthew Power reports on the attempt to contain artemisinin-resistant malaria in Southeast Asia and the geopolitics that complicate the endeavor. (Read the complete article from the April 2012 issue if you're a subscriber.)

 

Umar Farooq focuses on the world-wide movement for democracy. 

The Movement for Peace Marches On Against the Drug War,” by Bill Conroy. The Narcosphere, April 9, 2012. 

The War on Drugs has ravaged American inner cities for decades, but its most devastating effects are saved for the countries meeting our demands for consumption.  In Mexico, furious families of the war's victims began a grassroots movement last year, calling it the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, and embarking on a goal to end the bloodshed.  This article by a long-time drug reporter summarizes two forces behind the violence: American demand for drugs, and American weapons sales.

 

Loren Fogel focuses on peace, power and political culture.

ICBM Coalition Of Rural Senators Fights Nuclear Weapons Cuts,” by Andrea Stone. Huffington Post, April 17, 2012.

On New Year’s Eve, 1983, The Nation published an article by Kurt Vonnegut in which he wrote: “If Western Civilization were a person, we would be directing it to the nearest meeting of War-Preparers Anonymous. We would be telling it to stand up before the meeting and say, ‘My name is Western Civilization. I am a compulsive war preparer. I have lost everything I ever cared about. I should have come here long ago.’” Today, almost thirty years later, the US Congress and defense policymakers remain in desperate need of such a meeting. They have become subjugated by insecurity and beholden to dealers of influence, money and industrial-military power. So it goes.

 

Connor Guy focuses on racism and race relations.

Federal Court ruling could open door to equal funding for native kids,” by Tanya Talaga. The Toronto Star, April 18, 2012.

This article sheds light on some native rights issues in Canada—which are sometimes easy to forget when faced with the vast, systemic inequalities and problematic dynamics that are so prevalent in our own country. An interesting read, and an issue that needs more attention.

 

Ebtihal Mubarak focuses on human rights.

Einstein on Palestine,” by Albert Einstein. Falestine via El Pias, March 15, 1930.

In a letter published in Falastin in March of 1930, Albert Einstein suggested that an even number of members of each community form a “Secret Council,” consisting of a physician, jurist, worker and a clerical man, who will hopefully lead to a “state in which the differences will gradually be eliminated.” Many activists on both sides nowadays would agree with Einstein’s conclusions that the challenges are still  “more of a psychological than an actual nature, and that they can be solved if honest good will be manifested by both sides.”

 

Hannah Murphy focuses on sex and gender.

How Organized Labor Helped Win Marriage Equality in Maryland and Washington--And What We Can Learn,” by James Cersonsky. AlterNet, April 15, 2012.

"Fighting for working families, not just certain families," unions played a vital role in passing gay marriage in Maryland and Washington this year. In this article, James Cersonsky demonstrates how a unified progressive front was able to find common ground implement change and how we could recreate it throughout the country.

 

James Murphy focuses on migration in the 21st century.

Breivik's toxic legacy,” by Aslak Sira Myhre. The Guardian, April 16, 2012.

As the trial against self-confessed killer Anders Behring Breivik gets underway in Norway, international media is focusing primarily on the details of the case: the killings, the police mistakes, the suits, the uniforms, the guns, the crazed manifesto. But what about the future? This should be the time to confront the hate, to deal with a future where people of different religions and people live side by side. As Asiak Sira Myhre writes in the Guardian, "We are looking so intensely into the eyes of the terrorist that we are becoming blind."

 

Erin Schikowski focuses on the politics and business of healthcare.

Study suggests breast cancer is clutch of 10 diseases,” by Kate Kelland. Reuters, April 18, 2012.

A study recently published in Nature shows that breast cancer can be classified into ten different subtypes, with unique genetic signatures. One of the study's leading researchers explained that breast cancer should actually be thought of as an "umbrella term" for what is in fact a larger number of diseases. In the future, he said, treatment can be tailored to the genetic footprint of a tumor.

 

Elizabeth Whitman focuses on the Syrian uprising, its implications and the wildly varied domestic and international reactions.

In ‘dream city’ for Syria refugees, hope of return dims,” by Erika Solomon. Reuters, April 13, 2012.

Described by one Turkish official as "a city," the refugee camp in Kilis, Turkey is expanding and becoming more permanent. Schools are being constructed, and instead of tents, refugees are now living in rows of identical cubicles. Some residents are growing accustomed to daily life in the camp, but all of them know why they're there and wonder how long they will be staying.

Student Activism as the Tip of the Spear: Raising the Minimum Wage in San Jose


San Jose State University in San Jose, California. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)


Given an assignment in a sociology class with Professor Scott Myers-Lipton to examine how organizing could make a difference in their community, a group of thirty San Jose State students put their studies into practice and launched a campaign that has gained the support of young labor activists, community groups and faith-based organizations—and now the city of San Jose could see a pay raise because of it.

The coalition is pushing to raise the city of San Jose's minimum wage by 25 percent—from $8 per hour to $10 per hour—with annual inflation adjustments.

"What’s powerful about the campaign is that it is student-initiated," Myers-Lipton says. "They're working-class students for the most part, and there's an incredible diversity in the student body. I think it's visionary to see this multi-ethnic group of students working together."

The movement has taken on a life of its own with the local labor council and community partners stepping up as the fight intensifies. Supporters of the minimum wage increase have attracted positive media attention and have stayed focused on winning a high-road campaign while preparing for heavy opposition from the Chamber of Commerce as their measure makes its way toward the November ballot.

The San Jose State students are moving this issue forward with the help of "Next Gen," a labor-inspired organization that motivates young people to take control of their future. "We want to help rebuild and reshape the economy to make it work for young people and working families," says Anna Schlotz, the 26-year-old president of Next Gen, Bay Area. "That’s what a local policy like raising the minimum wage does. It’s an incredibly exciting campaign that Next Gen is proud to be a part of."

The San Jose campaign is also part of a new wave of efforts to spread the benefits of existing "living wage" bills to a larger group of workers. Typically, when a locality passes a living wage ordinance, it requires that those doing business with the city pay workers a higher rate. But the San Jose measure that the young people are working to pass applies to all workers—constituting a minimum wage boost for the whole city. If passed, it would place San Jose alongside Washington, DC, San Francisco and Santa Fe, New Mexico, as the only cities with local ordinances requiring wages higher than state minimums for all employees.

From Classroom to Practice

As part of Myers-Lipton's Sociology 164 course on Social Action, students studied President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's proposal for an Economic Bill of Rights. As student activist Elisha St. Laurent explains, "The economic bill of rights guarantees everyone a job, a living wage, a decent home, medical care, economic protection during sicknesses or old age or unemployment." The minimum wage campaign is a practical way of making some of these guarantees more attainable for San Jose residents. "We’re trying to link the economic bill of rights to inequality in the San Jose area," she says.

As the mother of a five-year-old boy and someone who is working to pay for college, St. Laurent has experienced the realities of the low-wage economy directly. "Especially as a single mother," she says, "you know I’m continually struggling. I’m always working minimum wage. Right now I make $9.25, so it would be a 75-cent increase for me. But an extra $100 or $200 in my check would make a difference. It's making sure that I have gas in my car so that I can take my son to school, and then still being able to pay my bills."

“Young workers are really struggling in the recession,” adds Schlotz. “Almost a third of young people are unemployed or underemployed and dealing with rising tuition, healthcare and costs of living. Especially in the Silicon Valley, you can work full-time and live in poverty. We threw ourselves into gathering signatures because we know raising the minimum wage could dramatically improve the lives of many low-wage and young workers."

The Mercury News recently reported, "Annual full-time undergraduate tuition and fees at San Jose State have climbed from $3,992 in 2008 to $6,840 this year." During this time, the minimum wage has not risen. The campaign website also notes that, according to US News and World Report, "San Jose is in the Top 10 US Cities where rents are spiking."

Rallying Allies

As the students moved forward with the idea, they found significant partners such as Working Partnerships USA, a think tank for public policy that affects working class families, the NAACP and the local faith-based group Sacred Heart Community Service.

Myers-Lipton explains, "Early on, there was a discussion that occurs in any campaign asking, 'Is this winnable? Is it worth putting in all the effort.' At that point [Sacred Heart Executive Director] Poncho [Guevara] said, 'You know, win or lose, we need to put forward a vision of what we stand for. We need to be putting our vision forward rather than  always being on the defensive. So even if we lose, we’re going to win in the long run.'"

"It was a decisive moment for us," says Myers-Lipton. "Because you can only do so many things in the community, and you have to decide what are you going to spend your time on. When Poncho said that, there was kind of a gathering around his vision of, even if we 'lose' with this campaign, we’re still going to win. And there's a chance that we're not going to lose."

To show that the campaign was serious, the nascent coalition raised $6,000 and commissioned a professional polling firm to gauge community support for the measure. The poll showed that public support for a $10 minimum wage was very high—high enough to quell any doubts that the campaign could win.

Following the poll, the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council, seeing the distinct connection between the minimum wage campaign and its efforts to improve the lives of working families, got on board as well. "These young people had a great idea and we thought there was enough staying power for us to get engaged," said Cindy Chavez, Executive Officer of the Labor Council. Community-labor groups have provided training and resources as the campaign has moved forward.

Myers-Lipton explains, "The South Bay Labor Council has been decisive. They're not taking over from the students, but they're saying, 'We’re here. We’re in this with you side-by-side.'"

Sign for Justice

In order to get the measure onto the November ballot, the campaign, which is calling itself Raise the Wage San Jose, needed to get over 19,000 signatures by the beginning of May. They'vealready passed that mark. On March 28, students, members of Next Gen and other community organizations marched to San Jose City Hall to submit more than 35,000 signatures to the city clerk.

While unionized workers generally won't benefit directly from a minimum wage increase, Chavez says that labor council members still see this effort as critical for the city. "They see that this economy is bullying two-thirds of the people who live in it. They are not going to take it from the bully anymore. Living wage and minimum wage drives are just one way to tell the bully to back off: 'You’re not getting our lunch money today, and we are not going to let some people become impoverished in this country while others become so wealthy.'"

Chavez cites labor's engagement with students as an exciting development, describing the intersection of broad-based "horizontal" outreach and the "vertical" structures of established groups: "On the horizontal side you have youth and hope… On the vertical front though, there’s a level of expertise that [labor] institutions bring with them, along with resources that can’t be easily garnered by a horizontal group. It's exciting. In a way, the students are the tip of the spear of the new activism."

Boosting the Economy from the Bottom Up

With the signatures in, the campaign is working to make sure San Jose's City Council does not delay in putting it on the November ballot. "We are putting a lot of pressure on," says Chavez. "We turned in the signatures a full month earlier than we had to in order to make sure that we don’t get cheated out of an opportunity to go to the ballot in the fall."

Resistance to bringing the measure to voters would come as a result of business opposition. Myers-Lipton explains, "In any campaign there’s going to be a response from our opponents. The question is, how strong will the opponents come in against it and chip away at the lead that we have?"

With cities such as San Francisco passing higher minimum wages, corporate lobbyists created a front group called Employment Policies Institute, which promotes the message that raising the minimum wage is bad for business. Currently the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce is not taking a position on the minimum wage measure, but a spokesperson told the San Jose Mercury News March 29 that raising the minimum wage "could have unintended consequences."

In response, the Raise the Wage campaign site notes research from the Journal of Industrial Relations, the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and other sources showing that business's foreboding warnings are unfounded. "Study after study after study has shown that minimum wage increases have not led to job loss, even during the latest recession," the campaign states.

St. Laurent cites the economic benefit of the wage measure. The research regarding San Francisco, she says, "actually shows that when they raised the minimum wage to $10.25, it boosted businesses. If people have money, they're able to give back to the economy. If you don’t have money, then you’re not going to go spend."

Nor is St. Laurent daunted by opponents' attacks. "As a group, we just continue to press on," she says. "We don’t allow negativism to come against us. Our motivation comes from other people. We want to be able to live in an adequate environment—paying for our bills and paying for things that we need for our children. That's why we're coming together as a team."

Chavez believes the example of the student-labor-interfaith coalition in San Jose can be contagious. "This fall we’ll be asking the voters of the tenth largest city in the country to give people a raise," she says. "My hope is that it will happen in other cities—that this will continue to catch fire and people will try to do the same thing across the country."

165,000 Students Strike in Quebec

More than 165,000 students in Quebec, Canada have been on strike for more than nine weeks in response to a Provincial government plan that would raise university tuition rates, some of the lowest in the country, by 75 percent over the next five years. The student movement has since grown in popularity, with a March 22 demonstration drawing nearly 300,000 supporters.

This past Sunday evening, Education Minister Line Beauchamp announced that she was willing to sit down with a major student federation to discuss the creation of an independent, permanent committee for "the sound management" of post-secondary institutions. The Quebec government had already said it was willing to reform the loans and bursaries program. However, student leaders said the offer was not enough and the boycotts will continue until the government rescinds its decision to raise tuition by $1,625, or 75 percent, over the next five years.

Interns’ Favorite Pieces of the Week (4/11/12)

Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out nearly everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week and use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

 

Laura Bolt focuses on human rights and revolution.

Malaysia: Security Bill Threatens Basic Liberties.” Human Rights Watch, April 10, 2012.

A security bill that could "facilitate violations of fundamental human rights" has been presented to Malaysian Parliament, and is expected to pass quickly, according to Human Rights Watch. The bill, which could lessen the harshness of some current procedures (like detention periods and arrests solely on political basis), still raises concerns among activists who contend that the improvements still violate basic human rights and open the door for significant violations.

 

Zoë Carpenter focuses on the intersection of economics, health and the environment.

Attacks on Climate Science by Former NASA Staff Shouldn't Be Taken Seriously,” by Dana Nuccitelli. The Guardian, April 12, 2012. 

Iran, gas prices, and Keystone dominate the energy conversation, but global climate change has't faded completely out of the picture. Last week, leading NASA scientist Jim Hansen asserted that climate change is a "great moral issue" akin to slavery, but he was drowned out by the climate skeptics, who have recently stepped up their public attacks on decades of science. With the "balance"-obsessed news media allowing the skeptics' untenable arguments to frame an unnecessary debate, Nuccitelli explains exactly who the latest skeptics are, and why they cannot be considered "experts" in the field. 

 

Umar Farooq focuses on the world-wide movement for democracy.

Grand Prix Dilemma in Bahrain,” by Frank Gardner. BBC, April 10, 2012.

Despite a profound lack of attention from media, the uprising in Bahrain has continued for more than a year now.  The annual Bahrain Grand Prix race was cancelled last year, not out of ideological or principle sympathy for protesters, but largely because the safety of international participants could not be guaranteed.  This time around, more participants are voicing their concerns, but as the article points out, it is unclear if the race will be postponed again this time.

 

Loren Fogel focuses on peace, power, and political culture.

Interview with General George Kenney.” The Mike Wallace Interview via the Harry Ransom Center, October 12, 1957.

In tribute to Mike Wallace, who passed away on April 7, I have selected a video this week from the Harry Ransom Center’s archives of The Mike Wallace Interview. In this edition, Wallace speaks with Retired Air Force General George Kenney, who served as commander of the allied air forces in the southwest Pacific from August 1942 to 1945, about Sputnik and the risk of a third world war. Sputnik 1 was the first artificial satellite to be put into orbit and was launched by the Soviet Union via an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Though Kenney’s views are very hawkish and Cold War fanatical, in this interview he offers insights into Cold War history and ways of thinking, as well as reflections that are worthy of remembering as the United States and its allies decide how to respond to North Korea’s planned satellite launch sometime between April 12 and 16.

 

Connor Guy focuses on racism and race relations.

Why Conversations on Race Usually Fail,” by Mychal Denzel Smith. The Root, April 7, 2012.

This article offers a fascinating argument. Touching on the unfortunate reality that national discussions about race relations happen only in disingenuous spurts (and only when precipitated by a particularly egregious incident), the author compellingly claims that America does not do its race relations "homework." If all conversation regarding this important topic is confined to such limited periods of time, these conversations fail—and we simply cannot afford to let race relations remain a "special-interest" topic, to be explored only when particularly trying circumstances arise.

 

Ebtihal Mubarak focuses on human rights.

Saudi Activists Fight Through Their Fear,” by Jeffrey Fleishman. Los Angeles Times, April 10, 2012.

This brief LA Times profile of renowned Saudi activist Mohammad Fahad Al-Qahtani provides a rare peek inside Saudi activists struggles and aspirations.

 

Hannah Murphy focuses on sex and gender.

Prominent Researcher Disavows His Own Study Supporting Ex-Gay Therapy,” by Zack Ford. ThinkProgress, April 11, 2012.

Dr. Robert Spitzer has a complicated history with LGBT history, punctuated by his 2003 study declaring the success of "ex-gay" reparative therapy, which is now widely cited by most anti-gay organizations to justify their opposition to gay rights. But in an interview this week with the American Prospect, Spitzer retracted his own study, claiming that his conclusions were largely false, and rescinding the scientific backing for this ineffective, and harmful, practice.

 

James Murphy focuses on migration in the 21st century.

How Mass Migration Cushioned the Great Depression,” by Matt Yglesias. Slate, April 3, 2012. 

We are constantly told that the current downturn has been "the worst since the great depression." But Slate blogger Matthew Yglesias, armed with a map of American population shift in the 1930s, believes that statement to be a little misleading. 

 

Erin Schikowski focuses on the politics and business of healthcare. 

The Impact Of Socioeconomic Factors On The Racial Gap In Life Expectancy.” Medical News Today, April 11, 2012. 

According to a study recently published in Demography, 80 percent of the life expectancy gap between white and black males and 70 percent of the gap between white and black women could be due to socioeconomic factors like income, education, and marital status. As one researcher explained, this is the first study to determine the extent to which socioeconomic disparities are responsible.

 

Elizabeth Whitman focuses on the Syrian uprising, its implications and the wildly varied domestic and international reactions.

Syria's Opposition in Exile Plagued by Infighting,” by Viktoria Kieber. Der Spiegel, April 4, 2012.

"Diehard opponents of the regime... have been able to exploit [the situation] for their own political ends," Patrick Seale, an expert on Syria, told Syria Today in June 2011. This article in Der Spiegel shows how his statement is just as true ten months later. The story of one Syrian, who snuck into Turkey for supplies but heard about a conference of the Syrian National Council in Istanbul and decided to go, says it all. He had to negotiate for half an hour to be rather unwillingly allowed into the conference, where discussions confirmed how the exiled opposition remains extremely removed from—and disinterested in—events within Syria. 

Columbia Students Protest Stereotypes with "Hoodies and Hijabs" Vigil

A black boy shot because his attacker thought his hoodie made him look suspicious. An Iraqi woman brutally murdered by someone who left a note telling her to "go back to your country, terrorist." These were the incidents that led one hundred Columbia students to gather on campus on April 5 at the Muslim Students Association's vigil "Hoodies and Hijabs Against Hatred: Justice for Trayvon and Shaima," cosponsored by the Columbia Democrats, the Columbia-Barnard International Socialist Organization, the Columbia Queer Alliance, and the Interfaith Caucus. 

For an hour, students stood holding candles and taking turns speaking about race, prejudice, and injustice. The students who came out to the vigil quickly moved beyond the particular cases of Trayvon Martin and Shaima al-Awadhi to protest against the institutionalized racism and stereotypes that create the kind of legal and cultural system where an adult man can shoot an unarmed black boy dead and walk free. 

"It's about more than just these two," explained Alay Syed, a Barnard College first-year and Vice President of the Muslim Students Association. In her introductory remarks, Syed set the tone of the evening. "We're here to speak out against the hatred and intolerance that touch everyone, about the thousands of Trayvons that we will never know about." Syed's focus on the broader problems of racial profiling, harassment, and violence allowed the protestors to get past the specifics of the cases, such as recent evidence suggesting that al-Awadhi's murder was not a hate crime, and down to the more disturbing underlying problems. The murder of two individuals was tragic, but what brought Columbia out to protest with real anger was the racial motivation of the killings. Martin and al-Awadhi were murdered because of what they looked like.

Students came out wearing either hoodies or hijabs, symbolically adopting the garments of the murder victims. Columbia's vigil was just one of many at universities across the nation in which students wore articles of clothing which were blamed for Martin's and al-Awadhi's deaths in order to challenge the idea that anyone's character can be divined from their appearance. While many students explicitly denounced culturally pervasive racism when they took their turn speaking at the vigil's microphone, others felt that the issue was more nuanced. "There should be less of a focus on explicit racism," said Swara Salih, a Columbia College sophomore and member of the Columbia Democrats. Salih and instead offered an idea of intersectional stereotyping. "There's a problem in our society that we categorize people into types based on a number of factors, including socioeconomic class as well as race." 

Behind their hoodies and hijabs, a diverse section of Columbia students gathered: men and women, black, white, and brown, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and atheist. Identity was blurred, and that was exactly the students' point: no assumptions can be made from appearance, whether from race, clothing, or a combination of the two, and certainly no assumptions can be made which justify murder. 

The kind of "Stand Your Ground" laws which George Zimmerman is hiding behind in Florida disagree with this presumably basic statement that you can't judge a book by its cover - the sort of thing that the rest of us learn in elementary school. "Stand Your Ground" laws instead protect stereotyping - if you feel that you are being threatened, you are legally justified in reacting with deadly force. How might you feel that you are threatened? The law doesn't care. In Zimmerman's case, being near a large black boy wearing a hoodie was threat enough. In effect, "Stand Your Ground" laws enable and even condone prejudiced stereotyping by declaring that concepts of "threat" based in false, racist ideologies justify murder. 

Trayvon Martin paid the ultimate price for George Zimmerman's twisted worldview. Zimmerman may pay none. It is up to activists like the Columbia students who protested on Friday to continue speaking out against validations of prejudice wherever they reveal themselves. Only by showing our continued outrage will we change the culture and the system which it created. 

 

Syndicate content