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NYU 2031 Approved with Modifications

Photo credit: George Brooks

Portions of this post were adapted from earlier reports by the author on the student-run alternative daily NYU Local.

New York University professors gathered on the steps of City Hall this morning, explaining to reporters for the umpteenth time that they did not want the school where they taught to build a raft of high-rise apartments where they lived. Nor did they want NYU to take on the undisclosed debt load doing so would require.

But minutes later, the City Council’s subcommittee on zoning and land use approved a version of the university’s ambitious expansion plan, now whittled down by a not-insubstantial 26 percent in overnight negotiations. The City Council will almost certainly do the same when it votes on the plan next week, ending a review process that has kept a cluster of otherwise quiet blocks in Greenwich Village embroiled in a heated land use battle for much of the past year.

We've heard some version of this story before: the biggest developer in downtown Manhattan, locked in struggle with one of the most fiercely preservationist communities in the city. But what happens when the developer is NYU, and much of the community in opposition are its faculty members? You get a university fighting itself, facing a history of neighborhood neglect to one side and a row of local politicians on the other.

As the plan crawls to City Council for a final vote, a quarter of its square feet reluctantly lobbed off, one playground passed over temporarily untouched, a look at what led to the presupposed outcome will do much to measure the worth of a public hearing process.

On an evening in early January, roughly one hundred Village residents watched an NYU representative flick through slides of architectural renderings, images of glassy buildings couched in digitally rendered greenery, until the pounding on the windows became impossible to ignore.  Another one hundred people stood outside the overflowing Community Board meeting where NYU was presenting its Village expansion plans. They made it absolutely clear they would not be leaving. “I apologize greatly for this incredible inconvenience,” then-Community Board 2 Chairperson Brad Hoylman told the audience. “We completely underestimated the crowd tonight.”

After the meeting moved to a larger venue down the street, the audience swelled to something closer to 500. In the coming months, a veritable standing NIMBY army emerged that showed up repeatedly as NYU's massive expansion plan slogged through various city government reviews, to hiss and wave signs and give hours of fiery testimony as the glassy slides flicked by for the umpteenth time.

Village residents have long found an impervious foe in the university. Campaigns to stop the construction of the school library, a student center, a gymnasium and even the buildings that currently stand on the superblocks were all ultimately unsuccessful. But the difference this time around is that “NYU 2031″ represents the longest-term development plan yet brought to the community forum, and the most extensive review process to which NYU has ever needed to subject itself. For both the university and the Village residents, there is a lot more at stake than in the past.

By 2031, NYU plans to add 6 million square feet to its campus, in parcels spread out around Manhattan, Brooklyn, and possibly the heretofore public space of Governor's Island. Of that, about 2.45 million square feet of expansion was imagined in the form of four new buildings penciled into an area that encompasses roughly six square blocks. That was slimmed down today to three high-rises and one four-story building, plus a swath of below-ground development, totally around 1.6 million square feet.

Nestled just south of Washington Square, these two combined superblocks are owned mostly by NYU and are currently the sites of residential towers, where many university faculty, their families, and graduate students live. To build the new high-rises on them requires the removal of deed restrictions and an array of zoning law changes, to turn residential areas into ones zoned for mixed use that allow for higher intensity development. It also requires that NYU obtain ownership of strips of green space currently owned by the Department of Transportation. If the plan is approved, NYU will begin building as soon as 2013, and continue construction in the immediate area for 19 consecutive years.

The blocks are monuments to early 1960s urban renewal–the brainchild of controversial city planner Robert Moses–and the tall towers centered around courtyards feel wholly out of context with the the quirky low-rise hodgepodge typical of the rest of the Village.

But since the 2031 plan was unveiled in 2008, the superblocks have become the latest icon of a familiar scene: the feverish local protest that has accompanied NYU’s expansion in Greenwich Village since the 1960s. Local groups have assembled, demonstrations have been organized, and a campaign to prevent approval of a “pinwheel tower,” the would-be tallest building in the Village, ultimately led to its removal from NYU’s original plans after famed architect I.M. Pei sent a prickly letter defending the complex he designed.

The most recent bout of outrage--what has shown up in the papers these past months--is coming largely from the university's own kin. Public hearings have been filled with  testimony from professors who live on the blocks. The most vocal have formed a group, calling themselves NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan. The group, along with the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, plan to contest the plan in court, now that City Council approval seems certain.

The opposition is not just about the superblocks. The economics department at NYU, home to three Nobel prize-winning economists, wrote a resolution opposing 2031, citing the "financial risks and the possibility of default" of what the professors have estimated will be a $6 billion project. The university has refused to disclose how much it thinks the plan will cost or where, exactly, the money will come from, beyond a vague nod towards bank loans and private donations. But NYU is an icon of astronomical student debt, owing to its comparatively tiny endowment, which currently sits at $2.5 billion. To put that into perspective, Columbia University’s endowment is $7.8 billion. Harvard’s is a whopping $32 billion. And yet, in a letter announcing 2031, university president John Sexton pointed aspirationally to both those schools’ physical footprints: "NYU has approximately half the square footage per student of Columbia, one-quarter of Harvard’s—the university has reached a tipping point."

In NYU’s view, the 2031 plan is already a major departure from the way it formerly did business with the community. Twenty years ago, when many of the dorms were opened, NYU typically “looked for a space on the market, bought it, and developed it as-of-right,” building to the maximum allowable dimensions, explained John Beckman, the university’s vice president for public affairs. No public hearings took place, and no approval by the city council was necessary. Often, neighbors felt they were given very little notice about major changes to their immediate landscape, and resentment was profound.

The 2031 plans in the Village, in contrast, propose building on property NYU already owns, increasing density on those parcels but preventing sprawl elsewhere. The plans hinge on winning major changes to the area’s zoning laws, which requires months of public review, but NYU is quick to point out that submitting to public scrutiny was a deliberate part of its new, neighborly plan.

“We’ve now voluntarily engaged a process that allows the community to criticize us more. We made a choice to do this,” said Alicia Hurley, the university's vice president for governmental affairs, who is effectively the face of NYU 2031 at public meetings. “There’s nothing to prevent the university from buying property around the neighborhood and building as-of-right,”  she said, a fact she expected to be–to NYU’s benefit–on the minds of elected officials when it came time to decide the fate of the plan. “You’re always going to have a reaction by the very local, affected community. It would be no different if we went back into the ‘as-of-right’ world,” said Hurley, referring to massive opposition she faced at every Community Board meeting. “You’re going to get it wherever you put it.”

To understand why NYU has to seek approval to build out the university-owned blocks, it's necessary to understand Floor Area Ratio, or FAR, something that is closely bound to zoning regulations. FAR is essentially the number of times the entire footprint of a plot of land can be built on top of itself. If a plot of land has an FAR of 2, and the owner wished to build a building that consumed the whole area of that land, the structure would be allowed to be 2 stories high. If instead the owner wished to build a taller building, it would have to have a smaller footprint. With an FAR of 2, and a building footprint 1/2 the size of the land itself, the building could be 4 stories high.

The biggest obstacle in NYU’s way, legally, is the fact that the blocks are zoned residential (if zoning is your thing, they are zoned R7-2) and for university purposes, they would need to be zoned for mixed-use (C1-7). This isn’t just a matter of regulating how the space will be used–-zoning demarcations dictate how much of the space can be built, and FAR is the metric used to measure that. Right now, the superblocks have a residential FAR of 3.44. Should the zoning be changed to mixed-use, 6.5 FAR could be built for residential purposes, like dorm space and faculty housing, and the site would be allowed as much as 2 FAR of commercial space. This means, in short, open space would be reduced and more of the space in the superblocks could be developed at a higher intensity, making way for the four new high-rises.

NYU was also seeking height and setback waivers for a block-long “Zipper Building,” which, in places, is too tall and too close to the street, penetrating the “sky exposure plane,” a virtual sloping plane that begins fairly high above the street and rises inward over the zoning lot, designed to provide light and air at street level.

NYU plans to offer to seal off people’s air conditioners to reduce inhalation of construction dust and other matter, and will offer storm windows to mitigate the noise pollution. But despite building phasing, residents could be living amid a continuous construction site for 19 years.  But for Beckman, the benefits for NYU and for the neighborhood outweigh these concerns. “Look, nobody loves construction,” he said. “Sometimes you push through that period and end up with something great. One has to keep their eye on what’s going to be there in the end.”

Washington Square Village (WSV) is the superblock just south of campus bounded by Bleecker, West 3rd, LaGuardia, and Mercer streets. It currently houses two towers, each 170 feet tall, and an inner garden courtyard designed by American modernist Hideo Saske, which few non-residents have ever stepped inside. The gate and raised platform leave an intentionally less-than-public impression, and residents want it to stay that way. NYU has framed much of their plan as promoting just the opposite.

“Something that is fences and trees around it isn’t considered public open space by the EIS,” said Alicia Hurley, NYU's Vice President of Government Affairs who is effectively the face of NYU 2031 at public hearings. She is referring to the plan's Environmental Impact Statement, which was commissioned by NYU from an environmental consulting firm called AKRF.

Because NYU’s EIS does not consider the garden or a playground in WSV–called Key Park because it is used by resident families who have keys to its gate–to be public open space, it counts its own plan as adding 3.1 acres of public open space to the complex, despite the addition of two new buildings on the site.

“Even though we’re asking to change the open space ratios, we’re actually going to be improving the amount of public open space,” said Hurley, back in January. ”It’s counterintuitive, but that is going to be part of what we’re trying to get people to understand at the hearings.”

But for Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media, culture and communication at NYU who has written for The Nation and who lives in the complex with his wife and 10-year old son, NYU’s claim to be adding open space is a deeply flawed PR strategy.

“This is something that would make George Orwell’s head explode. They’re not providing green space, they’re proposing to make the type of plaza found around shopping malls. Putting saplings in urns with brick walkways is no substitute for the thriving ecosystem with old trees that we have now. Once the birds go, they’re gone, and it takes saplings a long time to grow. [NYU's message] is a bit of propaganda spin,” said Miller. “Let’s be perfectly honest about this. They’re annihilating green space to make way for huge buildings."

As with many projects of this scope, only time will tell.

A Letter From the Next Generation of Nation Readers

In this moving letter to Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, ten elementary school students from Reservoir Avenue Elementary School in Providence, Rhode Island share their experience reading a Nation editorial together in their school principal's office. Many thanks to the students for writing and to Principal Socorro Gomez-Potter for hosting the conversation

Dear Ms. Vanden Heuvel, 

We are fifth-grade students from Reservoir Avenue Elementary School in Providence, RI. Reservoir is a poor school community, but we have accomplished many academic goals. Currently we are as good or better than ninety-three schools in our state. Our school population of 312 students is made up of 75 percent Latino, 16 percent Asian, 8 percent African-American and 1 percent other.

The purpose of this letter was to share with you our experience reading your editorial. During our reading class we were discussing the word "raid" which moved our discussion to war. We posed a question to our principal. Why are we still at war even after Osama Bin Laden has been killed? She told us about you and how you asked a similar question in your magazine. The next day we were introduced to your editorial from May 23, 2011. Ten of us met in the principal's office to read your editorial and discuss the text.

Reading your editorial was challenging, but it made us feel powerful. While we read your editorial, some of us felt like low-level readers because of the many words that were new to us. In order to understand it we used our reading strategies like chunking, cause and effect, words in context, and monitoring and clarifying. After reading and discussing your editorial we felt motivated enough to write you this letter. 

We discovered that the Bush administration started a war on terror that is infinite. This could potentially cause devastation in many different countries. We agreed with your suggestions to President Obama on how to take a step on closing the "dark chapter" that this war created. We think we should reduce US forces in Afghanistan and increase positive communication between everyone.

While we were working on this letter we found out that President Obama followed many of your suggestions in your editorial. On May 1 President Obama went to Afghanistan and personally addressed our troops. It seems President Obama took advantage of the opportunity, as stated in your editorial, to take a step to close the "dark chapter in American history." He will reduce US forces and begin Peace Talks.

In conclusion, we would like to thank you for writing this editorial and challenging us to discover more about our current events. We hope that more people take your advice and increase positive communication globally to solve conflicts. 


Ivan Davila, Shyloc Ork, James Dorante Jr., Jovan Cabreja, Sergio Liranzo, Izaiha Ortiz, Elianix Lugo, D'zire Scott, Zechariah Toppin-White, Issac Bun, Jason Hernandez

Interns’ Favorite Pieces of the Week (7/12/12)

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.

Buster Brown focuses on campaign donations in the 2012 election.

How to Beat Citizens United,” by EJ Dionne Jr. The Washington Post, April 22, 2012. 

This week, Governor Andrew Cuomo told New York State Public Radio he would renew his efforts to get state campaign finance reform in the coming months. “We have to get the people of this state to demand campaign finance reform,” he said. “I plan on doing that, and I think this presidential election will be the bully pulpit for this discussion.” This news reminded me of a WaPo op-ed by E.J. Dionne, “How to Beat Citizens United.” If Cuomo did pass a law requiring the government to give candidates $6 for every dollar an individual donates up to $175, as he pledged to do, Dionne argues New York could “repair some of the Citizens United damage.” The legislation would incentivize 99 Percenters to make small donations, offsetting the influence of the One Percent’s hefty contributions. America, Dionne concludes, “badly needs the example of politicians who believe in democracy enough to democratize the mother’s milk of politics.”

Marisa Carroll focuses on gender and sexuality.

Does 'Gay Inc.' Believe in Free Speech?” by Steven Thrasher. The Village Voice, June 20, 2012. 

Since Village Voice staff writer Steven Thrasher was just named the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association journalist of the year, it seems appropriate to share from his series on the so-called “Gay Nonprofit 1%.” In “Does ‘Gay Inc.’ Believe in Free Speech?,” Thrasher examines how privileged gay voices—from porn-king and Zionist Michael Lucas to GLAAD—pander to “pro-gay” corporations at the expense of queer workers, stifle free speech and, ultimately, prevent the LGBTQ movement from achieving radical change. 

Matthew Cunningham-Cook focuses on dissent in the US. 

Are We at a Tipping Point?” by Mark Brenner. Labor Notes, June 27, 2012.

Mark Brenner, the director of the magazine and organizing project Labor Notes, presents his view on the labor movement post-Wisconsin and post-Occupy. Brenner encourages unions to focus on building cross-union solidarity, organizing the supply chain, and making every fight about the 1%. Considering the current state of the labor movement, his injunctions provide at the very least a helpful conversational starting point for bringing back labor. 

Andrea Jones focuses on barriers to justice in the United States and abroad. 

Cell coverage,” by Alysia Santo. Columbia Journalism Review, July/August 2012. 

This piece features Alysia Santo from the Columbia Journalism Review in conversation with Paul Wright, a journalist and former prisoner who founded the Prison Legal News—a publication dedicated to the review and analysis of prisoners’ rights—while serving a seventeen-year sentence in Washington State. “We’re advocacy-oriented,” Wright explains, “but the facts are what they are.” The PNL has helped put critical issues on the map, from censorship (the magazine has filed several lawsuits against prisons that have banned distribution), to the private use of prison labor, to unfair and inadequate treatment. Wright highlights the corporate media’s lack of ethnical inquiry into prison-related stories, suggesting that inside narrative is crucial to advancing public discourse.

Soumya Karlamangla focuses on environmental and health policy. 

Heat Wave Causes US Airways Plane To Get Stuck In Tarmac At Reagan National Airport,” by Timothy Stenovec. The Huffington Post, July 8, 2012.

As The Nation's only intern in DC, I feel as if I have some kind of responsibility to comment on the ridiculous heat wave that ripped through the Capitol last week. (Also, being originally from Southern California, I think any day that isn't 75 degrees and sunny is a supernatural phenomenon that must be discussed.) It reached 105 degrees on Saturday in DC— just one degree short of the city's highest temperature ever recorded— and, as this article explains, it was so hot that the tarmac at Reagan National Airport melted slightly and a plane sunk in four inches. Studies have shown repeatedly that climate change makes extreme weather events more frequent and more severe (another study affirming this actually just came out Tuesday) and I'd say this is a perfect example of that.

 Daniel LoPreto focuses on international relations.

 “The Great Charter: It’s Fate, Our Fate,” by Noam Chomsky. In These Times, July 6, 2012.

Noam Chomsky argues that the Magna Carta is being destroyed before our eyes. He demonstrates how President Obama's “kill list” of terrorists, which incorporates the idea that "all military-age males in a strike zone” are combatants, is the clearest example of the dismantling of the ideas ingrained in the Great Charter, such as the "presumption of innocence." In addition, he notes that the elements of the charter that required protection of common natural resources from external power has “fallen victim to the commodity economy and capitalist practice and morality.” The privatization of the commons and domination of free trade agreements has made genuine environmental protection nearly impossible. In the wake of the abject failure that was the Rio+20 Conference, Chomsky's observations are vital in order to contextualize the destruction of the commons.

Gizelle Lugo focuses on issues confronting students in the public and higher education systems.

Judge rules that city must reinstate staff at turnaround schools,” by Rachel Cromidas and Philissa Cramer. GothamSchools, July 10, 2012.

I've been following this story since the announcement Bloomberg made in January regarding the closures of a number of New York City public high schools, including three from Queens that are 100+ years old (my mom and several of my friend’s parents went to Newtown). At first I supported the effort given these schools are not only some of the worst performing in the city, but also some of the most dangerous. However, after the coverage provided by the reporters at GothamSchools, I've changed my position. Reading the arbitrator’s opinion in favor of the unions was evidence enough that this was yet another attempt by the Bloomberg administration to chip away at the UFT's rights because of his dislike of the way they handle terminating poor teachers—sigh, I should've guessed. I'm not partial to tenure either and do believe there needs to be a change to make the termination process less bureaucratic, but that change can only come through negotiation. Besides, the issue at hand here really should have never been about that. Last year both sides came together in an effort to receive a School Improvement Grant of about $60 million that is part the Obama administration’s efforts to turn around failing schools across the country. The city and unions agreed to adopt the less invasive models of the program for the schools that required them to devise new teacher evaluations. But by December they had declared an impasse over the union's proposal to allow teachers to appeal their poor-performance grade to a third party arbiter (in an effort to avoid “capricious” reviews like the one at the center of a scandal at Fordham HS for the Arts). I can't help but feel those negotiations were all just a show by Bloomberg to paint himself as having “tried” diplomacy with the unions. Why? Because 2 weeks after the talks broke down he was already announcing the school closures. Tsk-tsk. To quote the hysterical woman from The Simpsons: "Won't someone please think of the children?"

Lucy McKeon focuses on race and ethnicity.

Courts Putting Stop-and-Frisk Policy on Trial,” by Russ Buettner and William Glaberson. The New York Times, July 10, 2012.

More than 80 percent of those targeted by stop-and-frisk in New York are black or Latino, with 686,000 stops last year and numbers on the rise. But the city's controversial policy has recently been criticized, not only on the street (as with the Father's Day March), but in the courtroom as well. Recent rulings by federal and state courts have shown judges to be critical of the practice, and from their decisions, many conclude that New York will have to redefine its stop-and-frisk policy. Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, of Federal District Court in Manhattan, granted class-action status to a civil suit filed on behalf of people who were frisked and released, remarking on the city’s “deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights.” NYT writes, “A settlement last year of a class-action case involving stop-and-frisk policies in Philadelphia laid out a model that, if followed in New York, could call for the courts to supervise an imposed system of police monitoring and accountability.” But with homicides in that city up since 2011, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Ramsey wonders how to curtail violence without infringing civil rights. Many Philadelphians report that stop-and-frisk is still used violently and irresponsibly today.

Max Rivlin-Nadler focuses on the preservation of public institutions and the movement towards a transformed and renewed access to urban life.

Money Talks,” by Daniel Denvir. Philadelphia City Paper, July 5, 2012.

Daniel Denvir, who has been all over the corporate take-over of the Philadelphia school system (he even wrote a short piece for The Nation), keeps following the money in this article for Philadelphia's City Paper. Highlighting the often politically-motivated “generosity” of major foundations, Denvir traces how the head of the William Penn Foundation has spearheaded “an emerging corporate education-reform network” that aims to stifle dissent and end public administration of the Philadelphia school system. One of the most egregious corporate take-overs of a public good, this whole affair illustrates the insidious ways the corporate elite will work to dismantle all public goods, and with it, any chance of a true, equitable democracy.

Zoë Schlanger focuses on environmental policy, public health and corporate influence.

BP Spill Workers Say Dispersant Made Them Sick,” by Kate Sheppard. Mother Jones, July 11, 2012.

Dispersants are a combination of surfactants and solvents that work like detergents to break up oil into droplets, to speed up the process of microbial degradation of spilled oil. During those three months in 2010 before the well was capped, BP applied an estimated 1.8 million gallons of two types of the dispersant Corexit in an attempt to break up the oil. Much of the Corexit was applied directly to the wellhead at the ocean floor, something which had never been done (or tested) before. Now, spill workers are sick, and the company who makes Corexit, Nalco, is trying to get out of paying damages. This Mother Jones article is chock full of excellent links that tell the complicated story of this dispersant and why our chemical approval system needs a complete revamping.

Brett Warnke focuses on Afghanistan.

Michael Semple interviews a senior member of the Taliban,” by Michael Semple. New Statesman, July 11, 2012.

Semple (who is an excellent Foreign Affairs writer) interviewed the top leadership in the Taliban for New Statesman. Their leaders believe the following: the insurgency is futile; there is deep resentment towards al-Qaeda; they cannot militarily defeat the U.S. or the Afghan forces; and that they will need to negotiate with other parties in the near future as the U.S. withdraws.

Michael Youhana focuses on US foreign policy. 

Behind the Paraguayan coup,” by Nikolas Kozloff. Al Jazeera, July 8, 2012.

Nikolas Kozloff's analysis is a valuable read for a number of reasons. First, and most simply, by drawing attention to US military endeavors in Paraguay as far back as 2005, he provides a compelling counter-narrative to conventional wisdom that Bush Administration policymakers were complacent towards Latin America. He describes how the election of Fernando Lugo complicated the US military's relationship with Paraguay. Towards the end of his article Kozloff zooms out. Moving away from discussing US interests in Paraguay as a bulwark against Hugo Chavez, Kozloff explicates the trajectory of US policy objectives throughout the entire Southern Cone. Additionally, he astutely bolsters his analysis by digging deep into the diplomatic cables cache, published by Wikileaks, and unearthing several gems—like a cable from 2007 which suggested “that Washington should enhance relations with regional military leaders who shared concerns over Chávez's rising influence.”

LGBT Youth More Likely to Call Juvenile Prisons Home

This article was originally published by CampusProgress.org. Follow @campusprogress to keep up with its invaluable reporting on young people.

New research demonstrates that LGBT youth are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system, comprising as much as 15 percent of the general population due to the institutional and family pressures that leave them more vulnerable to homelessness, prostitution, and violence.

Aisha Moodie-Mills, the moderator of the event and an LGBT Policy and Racial Justice Advisor at the Center for American Progress, presented the research on behalf of Dr. Anglea Irvine.

LGBT youth are twice as likely to become homeless as their straight peers, generally because they can't find acceptance among their family members and either voluntarily leave or are forced out. According to Irvine, those who are left to fend for themselves participate in underground, illegal economies and sometime resort to prostitution, or what Dr. Irvine called “survival sex.” Due to these desperate situations, LGBT boys are more likely to commit violent offenses compared to their heterosexual counterparts.

Often school can act as a safe haven for many children who deal with hardship at home, but for LGBT youth who face bullying not only from their peers, but from insensitive staff and teachers too, attending school regularly and staying focused on getting good grades come second to survival. Marie Williams of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network said that her organization has documented significant "school pushout of LGBT kids" because of an inhospitable environment. GLSEN’s most recent National School Climate Study found that nearly one-third of LGBT students had missed at least one day of school in the last month because they felt unsafe.

Zero-tolerance policies at schools also turn a blind eye to homophobic-induced confrontations LGBT youth face at schools; penalizing all parties involved, including those who defend themselves from bullies. 40 percent of LGBT youth reported being physically harassed and 19 percent reported being physically assaulted at school in the last year.

Once in the juvenile justice system, unique issues that face the young LGBT community are exacerbated. Left isolated and without a support system or advocates, the system tends to treat them much harsher than their cisgender counterparts. Sometimes when LGBT youth find themselves in prison, they are put into solitary confinement because prisons don’t know how to integrate them into the general prison population.

The panel concluded that the struggle to keep LGBT youth from being disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system starts with changing societal attitudes toward the LGBT community so that LGBT kids are accepted rather than pushed out into desperate situations that can lead them to participate illegal activities for survival. The battle comes down to fighting the notions that gender non-conforming behavior needs to be corrected, that people who identify as LGBT are somehow predatory or deviant, and that an LGBT identity is “wrong.” With full acceptance and equal treatment in the eyes of society and the law, the particular problems that face LGBT youth interacting with the criminal justice system can be minimized.

Nation Interns' Top Summer Books, 2012

It wouldn’t be possible to publish The Nation without the critical help of our peerless interns. Their energy, passion, ideas and engagement are reflected in print each week and literally around-the-clock at thenation.com. We also rely on our interns to tell us what’s hip, what music we should be listening to and what new (or old) authors we should be considering. Now we’re sharing the knowledge by asking our summer group to tell us what they’re reading this summer and why.

Max Rivlin-Nadler, Queens, NY
Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscape for Politics, by Rebecca Solnit.
I’ve only spent a few days exploring the American West, Solnit’s topic for most of these essays. Even for that short time, it was tough to ignore the attention to ecology that open space demands. Solnit’s essays fill that apparent “openness” with a history of murder, environmental degradation, nuclear pollution and protest. The idea of the West is that it’s a blank slate, but Solnit just has to scratch that surface a little bit to reveal something beautiful, terrifying, archaic and not quite yet lost. But close.

Zoë Schlanger, Bethel, CT
The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
I was handed The Power of Habit by my neighbor Amy after I expressed frustration over a recent procrastination marathon (it was the week of final exams). While not a self-help book, it certainly eliminated the feeling that reorganizing my bookshelf instead of studying phases of eutrophication was somehow irreparable behavior. Each chapter is a precisely written piece of journalism on the latest scientific research on why we form habits, with stories about medical marvels, political solidarity and how corporations like Target, for example, use habit data to predict what individual customers will want to buy before they even know it themselves. A recent episode of This American Life highlights an excellent chapter from the book about the mechanics of one woman’s descent into gambling addiction, and is well worth a listen. 

A chronic book-starter, I’m also digging into Las Venas Abiertas de América Latina, sporadically poking around a collection of Gabriel García Márquez’s short stories, and am halfway through Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, which has been an absolute adventure.

Lucy McKeon, Princeton, NJ
Tar Baby, by Toni Morrison
I’m currently reading Tar Baby as part of a larger project to read her complete works. I admire the masterful way her narratives are also vehicles for political argument. So far, we are in the Caribbean with Jadine and Son—two black Americans from different worlds—but will follow the main characters to Manhattan and then to the Deep South, exploring questions of gender, race, nationalism and diaspora along the way. I’ll also soon be starting Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark—a defense of hope in a pessimistic political climate—just handed to me by Tom Engelhardt.

Michael Youhana, Newport Beach, CA
Blackwater, by Jeremy Scahill
Nation reporter Scahill manages to move beyond providing a detailed history of the various scandals Blackwater—now Academi—found itself mired in during the Bush era. He highlights obstacles to accountability posed by the privatization of combat. The pecuniary incentive to support violent policies and politicians that results from the government’s patronage of groups like Blackwater is certainly not lost on him either. Additionally, Scahill manages to provide compelling, cursory accounts of the brutality of the Iraq War, the Bush administration’s shameful attempts to stifle the independent journalism of Al-Jazeera, and a discussion on the oil politics of the Caspian. All this and I still have a third of the book to go!

Gizelle Lugo, Queens, NY
Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, by Jacob S. Hacker & Paul Pierson
Among my parting gifts from my internship at Simon & Schuster is a host of books that I hope to get to before the year is out. The one I’m tackling at the moment is Winner-Take-All Politics. Now, more than ever, it’s an ideal read given the disparity of wealth in this country, the current climate postCitizen’s United, the student debt crisis and the increased activity among social movements who have had it with the status quo. People are frustrated, and while the majority have some semblance of an idea as to how we got to this point, Hacker & Pierson offer concrete theories and examples as a result of their meticulous research on the issue. What’s great about their delivery is the fact that it’s accessible; they ease the reader into each theory and argument without getting too technical. And while they do get heavy-handed with the oversimplifications at times, I personally prefer skipping three “setting the scene” sentences over suffering from a conniption trying to grasp dense economic terminology. Like I said, a good layperson’s read for those of us who are just getting our feet wet with regard to the inner workings of the economy and how its relationship with politics has defined the class system we have today.

Marisa Carroll, Chicago, IL
Big Sex Little Death: A Memoir, by Susie Bright
Writer, feminist sex educator and performer Susie Bright’s memoir opens with a challenge: “How does a woman, an American woman born in mid-century, write a memoir? The chutzpah and the femmechismo needed to undertake the project go against the apron.” In Big Sex Little Death, Bright’s chutzpah arises from some combination of womanhood, sex, socialism, death and a wild band of Teamsters. Thrillingly fast-paced and clever, Bright’s memoir also breathes, granting the author and reader space to absorb her prose.

Soumya Karlamangla, Thousand Oaks, CA
A House for Mr. Biswas, by V. S. Naipaul
I was supposed to read this book for one of my classes last year but never got around to it, so I’m reading it now. I remember my professor saying that it’s frequently considered to be some of the best prose of the twentieth century and, so far, I’m really enjoying the writing. Admittedly, the story itself is depressing, but in the most delightful way.

Andrea Jones, Seattle, WA
Open City, by Teju Cole
I just finished Open City, a meandering journey through the narrator’s mind and the streets of New York that calls attention to the solitude of being surrounded by people. I’m looking forward to beginning Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, which promises a compelling critique of our criminal justice system as redesigning racial oppression in the contemporary United States.

Buster Brown, Charleston, SC
A Theory of Justice, by John Rawls
A Theory of Justice helped revive political philosophy and provided a new liberal paradigm for social justice. For me, Rawls’s book galvanized my interest in political science and inspired my undergraduate years. If laws were set to keep markets competitive, resources fully employed, property and wealth distributed through taxation and people above a reasonable level of poverty, then Rawls believed government was doing its job. After careful review, it seemed like he had indeed figured out the best way to govern. So I continue to look to him when trying to figure out my own view of a “just” society.

Brett Warnke, Michigan City, IN
Romola, by George Eliot
George Eliot’s writing is unmatched and the summer is a great time to roll and revel in her prose, especially with a historical novel set in Florence. I picked Romola because of its turbulent layers. First, for its unsettled landscape in Renaissance Italy and second because it was written during the equally stormy Victorian period. I’m eager to see the parallels. Having never finished during my first half-hearted effort, I feel I’ve got my second wind!

Daniel LoPreto, New York, NY
Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong: Anthropologists Talk Back edited by Catherine Besteman and Hugh Gusterson
This is my favorite book I’ve read this summer so far. These academics attempt to problematize, challenge and occasionally condemn the main ideas of some of the most popular writers in contemporary American discourse, including Samuel Huntington, Thomas Friedman, Robert Kaplan and Dinesh D’Souza. These scholars conclude that many of the arguments made by these trendy pundits are directly challenged by decades of serious anthropological research. This book is indispensable for those who wish to seek an empirically grounded and nuanced interpretation of the world in rejection of an oversimplified and buzzword-oriented analysis.

Matthew Cunningham-Cook, Brattleboro, VT
Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C to 2000 A.D., by Chancellor Williams
I am currently reading is The Destruction of Black Civilization, by Chancellor Williams. Williams’s magnum opus shook the black studies world by presenting a radically different account of African civilization than that previously propagated by white supremacist historians. Williams forcefully crafts his narrative in such a way that breaks with the stereotypes of Africa as permanently war-stricken and primitive prior to the arrival of colonizers. With this, Williams also seeks to envision a form of black American intellectual inquiry that emphasizes the importance of Afrocentric historical training.

Occupy Colleges and Occupy Student Debt Join Forces

This statement, co-written by Kyle McCarthy, explains why Occupy Colleges and Occupy Student Debt have merged organizations and what it portends for the future of student activism.

Occupy Student Debt and Occupy Colleges have recently merged. Collectively, our beliefs are simple: we are here to advocate on behalf of students and to educate as many people as possible about the growing crisis of student debt. We are fighting for quality, affordable and accessible education for all students who want to obtain a college degree. Beyond that, we don’t have any demands as we are forming a broad coalition.

Today, over 36 million people in the United States have student loans, while at least 1 out of 5 borrowers go into default.  As highlighted in a short video we released, those who default are slammed with exorbitant fees and penalties, exploding and usurious interest rates, ruined credit ratings, possible suspension of driver’s licenses, possible suspension of professional licenses, and more.  For these reasons we have opposed the campaign to encourage borrowers to voluntarily default on their student loans.  If a million people were to actually default, this would be a dream come true for companies such as Sallie Mae who happens to own many collection companies as well.  Due to heavy lobbying from these student lenders, consumer rights have been stripped away and lenders make far more if the borrower defaults.

Since last October, Occupy Student Debt has provided a platform for over 800 student borrowers to share their student debt horror stories and connected many of these victims to the media.  Since we started this, several other groups such as Rebuild the Dream, Education Trust, and the Young Invincibles have started similar platforms for borrowers to broadcast their message- and kudos to them! This tells us that we must be doing something right.

Collecting stories is by no means where our work ends.  Like many others,  since September 17th, we have been attending marches, meetings, occupations and working with various occupy groups to shed light on this very serious issue. Occupy Colleges alone, staged over 10 direct actions. In addition, we have supported others’ efforts in pushing for total student loan forgiveness by helping to gather over 31,000 signatures on the White House’s petition site, “We the People.”  The result? President Obama announced the "Pay as you Earn" initiative as a direct response to the petition last October in Denver.

Is this where it ends?  Absolutely not. Those involved with Occupy Student Debt and Occupy Colleges have also fought to change Sallie Mae’s “unemployment penalty” for private student loans, addressed predatory lending through the arts, been arrested outside Sallie Mae’s DC office for protesting, protested outside the Sallie Mae shareholders’ meeting, worked with the The Backbone Campaign to deliver an 11-foot-wide ball of student debt to the Department of Education and, were intimately involved in the creation of “Occupy Graduation”. 

More recently, we have been involved with an awareness campaign around HR 4170: The Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012.  To date, over one million people have pledged their support for this bill and we have petitioned nearly every member of Congress to co-sponsor it.  This bill would give relief to borrowers with both federal and private student loans -- something the Income Based Repayment program (IBR) does not include.  Another important component of HR 4170 is the “10-10” program which is retroactive and allows borrowers to pay 10% of their discretionary income for ten years with the remaining balance forgiven afterwards. Anyone interested in reading more about HR 4170 or to find out which members of Congress are co-sponsors, are encouraged to visit HR4170.com.

Some have questioned the probability of HR 4170 passing - that completely misses the point.  Whether or not HR 4170 ever becomes law, we have already forced our leaders to pay attention to the issues that matter to the 99%.  This is a stepping stone, so let’s build on it together. In these turbulent times, it is critical that groups working towards fundamental change in the world of student debt, stick together. Although we may not agree on every point, it is important to publicly support each other on the issues that involve the 99%.

Interns’ Favorite Pieces of the Week (7/4/12)

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.

Buster Brown focuses on campaign donations in the 2012 election.
Wall Street Is Still Giving to President,” by Peter Nicholas and Daniel Lippman. The Wall Street Journal, July 3, 2012. 

Despite Obama’s attempts to raise taxes on one-percenters by ending the Bush tax cuts and regulate Wall Street with the Dodd-Frank bill, the securities and investment industry is nonetheless filling the president’s campaign coffers. The WSJ reports the 77 bundlers he now has from the aforementioned industry have already topped 2008 levels by $300,000, with $14.5 million.

Marisa Carroll focuses on gender and sexuality.
Conscience Clause’ Gone AMOK—Rape Victim Denied Morning After Pill By Prison Guard,” by Robin Marty. RH Reality Check, June 29, 2012.

A Tampa woman was raped, treated by a rape crisis center and given two emergency contraception pills—one to be taken at the center and one to be taken 12 hours later. When she reported the rape to the police, she was arrested on an old warrant for failure to pay restitution and failure to appear. The prison guard confiscated the second pill because it “was against [the guard's] religious beliefs,” and now the victim is suing the Sheriff's office. This case is horrifying, but ever-more commonplace as the fight for “religious freedom” (and against women's rights) expands the conscience clause, from nurses to bus drivers and, now, prison guards.

Matthew Cunningham-Cook focuses on the role of dissent in the contemporary United States.
Cost to Protect U.S. Secrets Doubles to Over $11 Billion,” by Scott Shane. The New York Times, July 3, 2012. 

The past decade has demonstrated that it has became increasingly more difficult to be in a space of dissent in the United States. However, due to the increasing levels of secrecy, not only is it more difficult to be in a space of dissent, but it is also more difficult to access information that would allow a space of dissent to emerge. The fact that the government has doubled the amount that it spends on secrecy in the last decade confirms this.

Andrea Jones focuses on barriers to justice in the United States and abroad. 
Louisiana Incarcerated: How we built the world’s prison capital: “Part 1: Louisiana is the world’s prison capital,” by Cindy Chang, Scott Threlkeld, and Ryan Smith. The Times-Picayune, May 2012.

In this sprawling 8-part series, investigative journalists in Louisiana explore how the state came to incarcerate more individuals per capita than anywhere else in the world, reaching disturbing conclusions about the exploitative roles of both for-profit prison companies and local law enforcement agencies. In a system in which each inmate is worth $24.39 per day in state funding, empty beds mean money lost. The consequences, as you can imagine, are dehumanizing. 

Soumya Karlamangla focuses on environmental and health policy.
Expert: Health ruling could be used to challenge pollution rules,” by Ben Geman. The Hill, June 29, 2012.

This post on the Hill's environment blog tackles a question raised by a law professor at Syracuse University about what implications the Supreme Court's health care ruling could have for environmental regulation. Since the court decided that Congress can only regulate what individuals do, not what they don't do—which is how the individual mandate survived as a tax not under the Commerce Clause—what's being considered now is whether this will provide new grounds for objections to environmental regulations. For instance, couldn't requiring a company to install a pollution control device be seen as forcing someone to purchase a product, and therefore argued unconstitutional under the court's recent ruling?

Daniel LoPreto focuses on international relations.
Washington and Damascus: What Will Stop Ongoing Violence to Civilians?” by Saul Landau. Institute for Policy Studies, June 25, 2012.

Legendary scholar and filmmaker Saul Landau argues that diplomacy, not military escalation, is the only way forward regarding the situation in Syria. The international community is having a hard time differentiating the parties that are committing atrocities and escalating the violence. The recent news coming out of Syria is not completely clear and the U.S. media has, for the most part, accepted opposition claims uncritically. While Asad's government has "shelled neighborhoods," it has been reported that the rebels are also committing violent acts. Landau warns against another western venture into the Middle East. He cites British journalist Patrick Seale, who argues that the West should "unite with Russia and China" to pressure "both sides" to stop the violence and negotiate. 

Gizelle Lugo focuses on issues confronting students in the public and higher education systems.
Filling the Skills Gap,” by Joe Nocera. The New York Times, July 2, 2012.

The Nation’s own Dana Goldstein has reported on the importance of vocational education, and how the youth unemployment rate in other Western countries is lower than that of the US with the help of such apprenticeship programs. In this article, Nocera highlights a program called Year Up, which trains high school graduates to work in an office setting by learning "middle-skills" such as computer support. I think the program is a step in the right direction, as I'm of the convention that the education system after 8th grade is in desperate need of reform. Perhaps in our parents' time high school actually taught students something worthwhile—but now? It's four-years of busy work and regents exams that have nothing to do with transitioning students into the workforce/college, which, in this day and age, should be the goal of high school. The first two years should be about culturing students in history, literature, the arts and sciences so they can better integrate themselves into our globalized society. And the last two years should be about preparing them for their future, whether they will go on to a certification program, community or senior college. During these two years they can enroll in an internship or apprenticeship program so they can narrow their focus, and gain work experience (perhaps even some pay) in the process. Not too long ago my brother was an intern at Smith Barney at the age of 16, and his accumulated work experience since that time landed him a position at corporate Avon. By the time I was 16 in 2006, such opportunities ceased to exist, most likely due to the shift in culture (and dwindling job opportunities) where now college graduates are occupying such internships. Bottom line: We need to remove the stigma of vocational education, support our drowning community colleges, and reform high schools so their graduates will be better prepared for whichever path lies ahead of them.

Lucy McKeon focuses on race and ethnicity.
Asian Americans Respond to Pew: We’re Not Your Model Minority,” by Julianna Hing. Colorlines, June 21, 2012.

Pew's recently released study “The Rise of Asian Americans” mixes skewed data with mythology to reinforce the old stereotype of the “model minority,” a simplified and damaging image of what is in actuality a diverse community. Misleading measurements of median household income (vs. per capita income) indicate that Asian Americans are comparatively well-off while failing to address living arrangements—in fact, earlier this year the Economic Policy Institute found that Asian Americans have actually suffered the worst from long-term unemployment. The danger of Pew's simplified findings, and the way the study has been portrayed in the media, is that institutions and policy makers may ignore real disparities and injustices that exist within the community. 

Max Rivlin-Nadler focuses on the preservation of public institutions and the movement towards a transformed and renewed access to urban life.
Poor Land in Jail as Companies Add Huge Fees for Probation,” by Ethan Bronner. The New York Times, July 3, 2012.

Because our jails are run for profit, it only makes sense that our courts are too. It's not surprising to find for-profit companies tracking indigent people down for misdemeanors or violations and giving them the option of paying outrageous fees or serving jail time (which comes with added fees). It's articles like this that demonstrate how seriously warped our justice system is—and that's not even confined to the bad ole' south (which is the topic of the article). District Attorneys across the country wage a war on the poor by turning DWI's, speeding violations, disorderly conduct, etc. into costly and punitive ordeals, with justice being muted out by the complete financial destruction of the “offender.”

Zoë Schlanger focuses on environmental policy, public health and corporate influence.
NPR misses mark with Mingo ‘war on coal’ profile,” by Ken Ward Jr. The Charleston Gazette, July 3, 2012.

The Coal Tattoo blog at the Charleston Gazette is a reliably sharp look at the environmental issues facing the industry, from inside a state where news about coal is very much an immediate reality. So when NPR published a piece this week about “clean coal” and the peculiar results of West Virginia's Democratic presidential primary, Coal Tattoo responded with a heap of context—and made the story that much more interesting.

Here's what happened: An imprisoned felon named Keith Judd managed to get 40 percent of the vote in the WV primary, actually beating Obama in a number of counties in the state. The reason? Obama’s perceived “War On Coal.” But the NPR piece, as blogger Ken Ward Jr. points out, didn't mention that coal jobs in West Virginia actually increased during Obama's first three years in office, and that intra-state competition is affecting mine employment too. The NPR story is fascinating, but append Coal Tattoo's take, and perhaps we can see all the way around.

Brett Warnke focuses on Afghanistan.
After America: Will civil war hit Afghanistan when the U.S. leaves?” by Dexter Filkins. The New Yorker, July 9, 2012.

Filkins is a Pulitzer-winning combat journalist who neither screeches about the evils of every American action, nor does he sugar the stories of the very uncertain future for the Afghan government and its ethnic multitudes. Weaving in the political history, Filkins describes the obstacles—Afghan military preparedness, local dependency, official pessimism and incompetence—but he impressively details the weakening of the Taliban, the successes within the Hazara minority, and the positive development of the country's infrastructure.

Michael Youhana focuses on US foreign policy.
The decade of war to come,” by Nick Turse. Al Jazeera, July 2, 2012.

Nick Turse offers a comprehensive snapshot of aggressive US foreign policy under Obama. Turse describes how the coarse paradigm governing Bush-era policy has given way to expansive 'small footprint' military and intelligence endeavors. As Turse points out, perhaps most disturbing is the confidence with which this new, potentially destructive, style of warfare is being waged.  

Being a Twenty-Something Woman Is Harder Than it Looks

“We are a generation of young women who were told we could do anything, and instead heard that we had to be everything.” —Courney Martin, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women.

Women in their twenties today were in grade school for the girl power-soaked 90s. Now they're the most stressed demographic in the US overall, according to a study published last month in the Journal of Applied Psychology

The study looked at stress levels across the nation over time, and even though stress levels among men have increased by a greater margin than women's levels over the years, they still haven't caught up. 

Their slightly younger counterparts are faring no better, according to a report commissioned by the organization Girls, Inc.

Encouraged to seize opportunity and saddled simultaneously with a "growing emphasis on perfection," teenage girls are pressure-formed into 'supergirls,' the study says—the ones who have to be everything to all people, and "pretty and passive" to boot. It's not hard to see through the warped gender lens how these are also the ones stressed in their twenties, and the ones reportedly four times less likely than men to negotiate a first salary or else be seen as "pushy" if they do.

Now that we're waist-deep in discussion of whether or not a woman can "have it all" and where this persistent gender gap in bylines is coming from, a new center in Rhinebeck, New York wants to take a step back and look around. 

The Omega Women's Leadership Center will open this September with a mission statement ten stories tall: Through workshops and conferences, the center hopes to address not just how to make women's names show up more often in leadership positions, but how girls and women can "actually use leadership to change how power operates in the world, to change the nature of power itself" said Carla Goldstein, the center's director.

Of course, where the "nature of power" is concerned, flat-out codified gender discrimination is a tremendous barrier in need of active dismantling. But Omega's new center, born out of the 35-year old destination for meditation and yoga, wants women to turn inward as well. A workshop next month geared towards twenty-something women will try to mend what Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl, calls their chronic "cutting off from their inner landscape." Coming off of their teenage years, they may have gotten great grades and won awards, but years of feeling they must "constantly perform for others" leaves them ill-equipped to pursue their own desires, much less understand what they are, she said. (There is, in fact, a very popular Tumblr blog devoted to the phenomena.)

"If you can ask your roommate to turn down the music, you’ll be able to ask for a raise five years from now,"  Simmons said. "But if you can’t talk to the people in your life right now about what you need, you will not suddenly develop that skill later."

Chilean Students Demand Education Reform

"Education and health is the best investment that a society can make." Credit: Brittany Peterson

The first raindrops began to leak from the menacing gray sky over Plaza Italia, in the heart of Santiago, by 9:00 am. Aside from hurried professionals and a few special force police officers patrolling in pairs and politely conversing with small groups of students who should have been in classes, everything appeared calm.

Two hours later, the scene was unrecognizable as a massive crowd swelled. High school and college students had marked this national strike, Thursday, June 28, in their calendars weeks ago. The strike came in the heated aftermath of four consecutive marches last week, which included a march by high school students, private university students, opponents to lithium extraction, and supporters of sexual diversity.

In addition to high school and college students, the College of Professors and the United Confederation of Workers (CUT), among many other groups, colored the streets with their flags and songs. The march, which according to its student organizers summoned around 150,000 people, was held to demand an end to profiteering in education and to call for free and quality education to all Chilean students--the mantra of the education movement that has reverberated over the last year.

Last year's movement regularly drew marches the size of Thursday's demonstration and involved nationwide university occupations that lasted up to seven months at some schools. Teams of students intensely researched financing methods and student leaders dialoged directly with President Sebastián Piñera on several occasions in an attempt to find a solution to reform the education system.

It came as a shock to students that these months of mobilization failed to bring significant policy change. The proposal in April by Education Minister Harald Beyer for a new university funding plan that would remove private banks from the loan process and decrease interest rates from six percent to two percent was something, but too little, too late, according to the President of the University of Chile Student Federation (FECH) Gabriel Boric, who dismissed the reform: "We don't want to trade debt for debt, which is what the government is offering us."

Pedro Ciudad, a member of the College of Professors and a teacher at a public school in the humble Santiago neighborhood Conchalí, joined Thursday's march. Ciudad said he has seen the quality of education worsen since he first began his career in public education 14 years ago. "Fewer people register in the [public] schools and the State does not concern itself with public education," he said. "We have to buy our own pens that we use in the classroom."

"I never miss class, but this is the moment to miss it and to be conscious of what is going on in our country and make the youth conscious. That is the job I have as a professor," said Ciudad.

María Fernanda Quilaleo, a third year industrial design student of the Metropolitan Technical University, stood dressed in costume with her entire family beside her. "Just like last year, we all come together," said Quilaleo, who described the march as a cultural carnival. "I hope some solution will be reached," she said. "[The government] should invest more resources, because they are there. They are just mis-distributed."

Camila Vallejo, vice president and former president of the Federation of Chilean Students (FECH) gives an interview during the march. Credit: Brittany Peterson


While a peaceful, colorful march took place on one side of Alameda, the main road that passes in front of the presidential palace, a few police vehicles began to speed threateningly down the other side of the street. FECH Vice President Camila Vallejo tweeted during the march, "Police provocations have already begun on Mc Iver [street name]…we have to keep advancing and not fall into their game."

Soon after, "encapuchados," or delinquents, began to destroy public property and police responded with water canons, tear gas, and mass arrests. The march continued and eventually arrived at a final destination where student leaders addressed the crowd and Chilean folk singer Manuel García performed. However, delinquents caused disruptions there as well increasing tensions between their ranks and the organized student movement.

A group of young people attempt to tear down a traffic light. Credit: Brittany Peterson

After the march, student leaders drenched from the relentless rain arrived at the presidential palace, La Moneda, where they presented a letter to President Piñera that highlighted a five-point list of demands.

"Before a government that appears to cede to the will of businesses that are robbing thousands of Chilean families and stealing their dreams, the united student movement has come today to deliver the horizons of the movement as well as a series of concrete measures which we believe can be advanced," said Boric to the press.

One of the movement's main problems is that not all universities support the CONFECH, the confederation of all public universities in Chile, which began and propels the education movement. Particularly, private universities have felt left out, since many demands focus on improving public education.

Rodrigo Vergara, President of the Student Federation of the Silva Henríquez Catholic University, is among the dissenters. Students at his university, among many others, occupied their campuses for months and participated in numerous inter-university discussions and marches. But, since the few proposed government reforms largely addressed concerns relevant to the public universities, Vergara and his peers were left feeling deeply deceived.

This year, they are focusing their energy on internal issues rather than continuing collaboration with other universities. We want to make structural changes inside," said Vergara. "If we are not able to change anything inside [the university], what can we achieve outside of it?"

Regardless of his university's new introspective strategy, some of their students attended Thursday's march. Vergara acknowledged that despite this past semester's latent period for the nationwide education movement, "this semester there is chance for something larger, but that depends on how the [police] forces respond."

Vergara explained that one visual clue of a revitalized movement is police repression. When this occurs, he said people feel like there is a crisis in the education system, but when everything is calm, then the urgency for change is not felt. "If the government is frightened by this march, it is evidence that the students are really committed. If they let them march on and everything is nice, it is because they are not worried, they are not uncomfortable, and it is because the kids aren't committed to the cause--they see it as just a game."

Time will tell how uncomfortable the current generation of student activists will make Chile's elite. But, judging by the sentiment in the streets yesterday, these students do not intend to go away quitely.

The 2012 Nation Student Writing Contest

REUTERS/Larry Downing

The winners of the 20112 Contest have been announced! See them here.

Seven years ago, The Nation launched an annual Student Writing Contest to identify, support and reward some of the many smart, progressive student journalists writing, reporting and blogging today.

This year, we're looking for original, thoughtful, provocative student voices to answer this question in 800 words: What do you think is the most important issue of Election 2012?

Essays should not exceed 800 words and should be original, unpublished work that demonstrates fresh, clear thinking and superior quality of expression and craftsmanship. We’ll select five finalists and two winners–one from college, one from high school. Each winner will be awarded a $1,000 cash prize and a Nation subscription. The winning essays will be published and/or excerpted in the magazine and featured on our website. The five finalists will be awarded $200 each and subscriptions, and their entries will be published online. Entries will be accepted through June 29, 2012. Winners will be announced on Monday, October 15.

The contest is open to all matriculating high school students and undergraduates at American schools, colleges and universities as well as those receiving either high school or college degrees in 2012. Submissions must be original, unpublished work (the writing can have been published in a student publication). Each entrant is limited to one submission.

Submissions and questions can be e-mailed to studentprize@thenation.com. Please include the essay in the body of the e-mail. All e-mailed submissions will be acknowledged. Each entry must include author’s name, address, phone number, e-mail and short biography and school affiliation – and say “student essay” in the subject line.

Read last year's winners and please help spread the word.


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