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

Student Privacy and the PATRIOT Act

Recently, news broke that the New York Police Department had been tracking Muslim students like criminals across multiple state lines. Informants were gathering intelligence—they watched the students go rafting, kept a tally of how often they prayed and scoured group emails for anything askance. None of these students were suspected of any wrongdoing or were even breaking any school rules. So why were they subject to such intrusive and unlawful surveillance? Universities were once a safe haven for students—institutions that promoted academic freedom, protected free speech and creative expression, and guarded students’ rights to privacy. Today, they serve as a well of intel for the government. 

Years before the NYPD decided to infiltrate Muslim student groups, Americans unwittingly forfeited their constitutional rights in the name of national security with the passage of the PATRIOT Act in the wake of September 11, 2001. Students, deemed to have a lot to offer in the way of ‘suspicious’ information, were no exception.  More than a decade later, however, the act’s far reaching and varied implications are still unraveling. 

Last month, an observant Muslim woman named Balayla Ahmad, who wears the hijab, filed a lawsuit against the University of Bridgeport, alleging that the University failed to investigate her claims that another student was sexually harassing her. Concerned for her safety, Ahmad lodged her complaints to school administrators more than once, and received a dismissive response. Her harasser, who had pleaded with Ahmad to not report him, in turn falsely accused her of being a terrorist to school officials. However, his empty claim did not fall on deaf ears. According to the complaint, Ahmad was approached by University security, who threatened to report her to the FBI. The next day, FBI agents knocked on her door.

Like the students who were placed under the NYPD microscope, Ahmad’s academic records and information were likely annexed by a government agency without her consent. Even when there is no suspicion of criminal activity or transgression whatsoever, as in the case with the Muslim student groups; or in Ahmad’s case, a murky false accusation that compromised a student’s safety, the FBI and other agencies have an unchecked open channel to any student’s data. In 2001, the PATRIOT Act paved the way for the troubling violations of student privacy that are coming to light today by providing the government a gateway to all information on students collected by universities.

The PATRIOT Act’s vast scope and vague language allow for government agencies to pry into virtually every sector of an American citizen’s private life. College and university students are also subject to a lesser known provision of the PATRIOT Act which gives the government and law enforcement unparalleled access to student records, statistics and information. Student privacy rights have traditionally been protected under FERPA, a law that previously required school administrators to gain a student’s consent prior to disclosing student educational records. Under Section 507 of the PATRIOT Act, however, all the government needs to access student information is to pull an ambiguous ‘under suspicion’ card, circumventing the Fourth Amendment altogether. The Obama administration is enabling Uncle Sam to dig even deeper with its accountability in education agenda, permitting school administrators to turn over a student’s personal information to state officials and private parties freely without student consent, effectively rendering useless the safety net FERPA once provided. The act’s chilling stipulations encompass international students as well. Visas for foreign students can be denied or revoked on a flighty suspicion, and a comprehensive electronic database records all information on them and their spouses and routinely cross references it with government databases for evidence that could disqualify their visas.

The PATRIOT Act is shrouded comfortably in absolute secrecy, “so a lot of times we don’t even know where the PATRIOT act is used with certain individuals,” said Corey Saylor, National Legislative Director at the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). Students should be made aware that the elusive implementation of the legislation continues to put them at risk. According to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), about 200 colleges and universities have turned over student information to the FBI, INS and other law enforcement officials. “Students should be very concerned that their innocent First Amendment conversations can lead to them ending up in police reports and on lists,” continued Saylor.

Grounded in guilt by association, the PATRIOT Act enables government agencies to build cases against students by picking and choosing evidence that may suggest a completely unsubstantiated link to terrorism related activity. The repercussions of this unnerving process can stifle campus life for some students, preventing them from joining groups that allow them to develop their identities, express themselves in a productive and proactive way and enact positive change in their campus communities. “There is a perception among American Muslims that associating with other Muslims is perceived as suspicious behavior in the eyes of law enforcement professionals,” explained  Gadeir Abbas, CAIR staff attorney. “That is something that was really corroborated by the latest revelation about the NYPD, which isn’t necessarily surprising given the assault on civil liberties that has followed from 9/11.”

For other students, instances of profiling can result in compromising what was once a safe space. “It will work to intimidate [other students] from coming forward at all about anything or any concern that a university would be obliged to investigate,” explained Bradford Conover, Ahmad’s attorney. “It may go beyond sexual harassment. Students just may want to keep a low profile.” Given that Muslims have long been subject to unjust targeting and unwarranted scrutiny, “one of the consistent concerns that we’ve heard since the passage of the PATRIOT Act and other pieces of legislation is that Muslims would be afraid to interact with law enforcement,” described Saylor. “It can go from simply reporting a concern about a crime to suddenly the spotlight is on that individual, and information about that individual suddenly goes up the food chain.”

Today, students must work to safeguard their own civil liberties and continue to practice their First Amendment rights in the face of the new-age witch hunt that the PATRIOT Act has manufactured. “You don’t have rights unless you know what your rights are and are willing to fight for them,” Abbas advocated. “Here, Muslim students and American Muslims in general are uniquely well situated to defend freedom for everyone because what starts out as an inquiry into Muslim students will inevitably result in a broader inquiry against others.”

Occupy Colleges and the 2012 Election

It's clear to anyone who watched the State of the Union address last January that President Obama has begun to echo the Occupy Wall Street movement by voicing an increasingly populist agenda and taking on the inequality gap as a major theme.

"If you're earning a million dollars a year you shouldn't get special tax subsidies or deductions,” the President said. “On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year, like 98% of American families, your taxes shouldn't go up."

While Obama is now talking about “98% of American families”—coming awfully close to the OWS catchphrase of 99%--to appeal to the majority of voters in November, student occupiers aren’t convinced, believing that neither party genuinely represents the desires of occupiers. While the President is now telling the majority of Americans what they want to hear, he is still accepting donations from corrupt banks and Wall Street firms, establishing a Super-Pac despite his earlier reservations and failing to uphold campaign promises benefitting students.

These facts have left Occupy College participants with complex questions about what to do with their votes: should students stand behind third-party candidates to send a message to Democrats that they cannot assume they automatically have the youth vote? Or, is there an increasing sense of urgency to support the President and ensure that the embodiment of the one-percent, Mitt Romney, stays out of the White House come November?

Sandra Korn, a sophomore at Harvard University, spent most of the fall 2011 semester involved with Occupy Harvard protecting custodians’ and other workers’ rights. Korn’s participation in her own campus’ Occupy movement has made her think twice about voting for President Obama in 2012.

“One of the things Occupy has done quite well is question the two party system and raise issues about how it might not be viable,” said Korn. “Maybe both parties are corporate parties. Voting for Obama didn't really get us systematic change last time, why would it change now?”

“Maybe I can be more effective in making change in this country by voting for a third party candidate who can change discourse around the two party system in America,” Korn optimistically explained. “Then in another few elections we can have a viable third party who can represent the interests of voters like me.”

Democrats often assume that when it comes to the polls, the vast majority of America’s youth vote in their favor. This seems to be a fair assumption, considering it was arguably America’s youth that propelled President Obama into office almost four years ago.

Nearly two million more young people voted in the 2008 Presidential election than in 2004 and raised the total percentage of voters under the age of 30 to 51 percent, according to a report by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

But student activists say they want to debunk the assumption that young progressives will automatically vote Democratic. Instead, they want politicians to earn their vote, and their volunteer efforts, by taking action on issues that improve student's lives.

Natalia Abrams, a primary organizer for the national Occupy College movement, thinks that Obama needs to earn back the trust of student voters in the next six months by discussing and acting on college affordability and other relevant issues to students.

“I felt taken for granted because I campaigned and knocked on doors in Nevada, and Obama didn’t do everything he said he would. America’s youth came out and hook line and sinker bought this whole ‘yes we can’ mantra,” said Abrams.

“But then I felt that same energy transferred from the Obama campaign into the Occupy movement. The youth didn't lose energy, we lost our leader. If he wants to be the leader of the youth again, he needs to earn that.”

From Nation Interns: This Week's Top Stories (2/22)

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.

No Parties, No Banners: The Spanish Experiment with Direct Democracy,” by Gianpaolo Baiocchi and Ernesto Ganuza. Boston Review, January/February 2012.

Frustrated citizens, unclear demands, populist anti-bank sentiments—it may sound like Occupy Wall Street, but this description applies to Spain's indignados, a movement that predates and influenced Occupy. While the similarities are striking, this piece does a good job of illuminating the differences between the two movements—both in content and context—and provides a useful explanation of an important movement we can learn from. 

 

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

Reproductive Health Locked Up,” by Sara Mullen and Carol Petraitis. ACLU, February 16, 2012.

This new report from the ACLU on the inadequacy of health services for women in the criminal justice system opens a new angle in the reproductive healthcare debate and raises yet more questions about an increasingly incarcerated America. The report reveals that the thousands of women who cycle through the jail system—often for nonviolent offenses—are often unable to access healthcare to which they are legally entitled.

 

Umar Farooq focuses on the worldwide movement for democracy. 

The Baloch Who Is Not Missing,” by Mohammed Hanif. Dawn.com, February 11, 2012. 

A decades-long insurgency and military crackdown in the Pakistani province of Balochistan is making waves in that country's politics, as leaders condemn a recent American congressional bill that would call for the region's independence, including the parts in Iran and Afghanistan.  As the Pakistani Supreme Court continues ground-breaking hearings into thousands of missing persons, many of them Baloch, this article focuses on the story of one of those “disappeared.”

 

Loren Fogel focuses on peace, power and political culture.

NATO Will Switch On Its (Tiny) Missile Shield in May,” by Spencer Ackerman. Wired.com, February 2, 2012.

Last week’s article submission concerned the procurement of police gear in preparation for G8 and NATO summits that will be held this May in Chicago. While police and protesters face one another out in the streets, inside the NATO summit attendees will be focused on the strategic future of the world’s only military bloc. High on the agenda will be an announcement declaring the operational launch of the first phase of the “phased adaptive approach” to European-based missile defense capabilities. As Spencer Ackerman notes: NATO is “sending the message that a European missile shield is an irreversible fact that missile-wielding adversaries have to adjust to.” In these dangerous times, there is little room for error, misjudgment, miscommunication or the failure of diplomacy.

 

Connor Guy focuses on racism and race relations.

Counting Justices,” by Scott Jaschik. Inside Higher Ed, February 22, 2012. 

This is an important case that warrants close attention, particularly because it will likely be argued this autumn, just as the media's obsessive fixation on the presidential race reaches its apex. Ironically, though, the case does highlight an important facet of the presidential race: whoever wins may have the opportunity to appoint one or more Supreme Court justices. Remember, this affirmative action case wouldn't even be a question if George W. Bush never had the chance to appoint Samuel Alito when Sandra Day O'Connor retired.

 

Ebtihal Mubarak focuses on human rights.

Peaceful Protest Can Free Palestine,” by Mustafa Barghouthi. The New York Times, February 21, 2012.

"Over the past 64 years, Palestinians have tried armed struggle; we have tried negotiations; and we have tried peace conferences," starts Mustafa Barghouti. His eloquent op-ed displays much frustration, but is followed immediately with a very promising approach to the Palestinians plight. Peaceful protests, represented by Khader Adnan's hunger strike, are inspiring Palestinians to seek the last and most effective path for their just cause.

 

Hannah Murphy focuses on sex and gender.

How an Abortion Divided America,” by Guy Adams. The Independent, February 16, 2012.

Jennie McCormack, a single mother of three in a small Southern Idaho town, learned that she was pregnant again last autumn. Unable to support a fourth child—or even the cost of the three hour trip to the nearest Planned Parenthood in Salt Lake City—McCormack ordered RU-486, a drug to induce a miscarriage. Self-administered abortions are illegal in Idaho (a previously unenforced law), but in the midst of this campaign culture war, McCormack has now become the center of a case that may become our newest Roe v. Wade.

 

James Murphy focuses on migration in the 21st century.

David Goodhart on Immigration and Multiculturalism,” by Alec Ash. The Browser, February 21, 2012.

The United Kingdom is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, and has had its fair share of success and failure in accommodating its multicultural population. David Goodheart, founder of Prospect magazine and the current director of London-based think tank Demos, is writing a book on the history of British immigration. In this wide-ranging interview with Alec Ash of The Browser, Goodheart discusses the process of British multiculturalism, citing five other books to further enlighten the reader. 

 

Erin Schikowski focuses on the politics and business of healthcare.

Bureaucracy May Be Putting Lives At Risk, Europe.” Medical News Today, February 15, 2012.

This article covers a European Parliament meeting held last week, where critics of a 2001 EU directive had an opportunity to discuss its shortcomings. Although the directive was designed to standardize clinical-trial regulation, critics say a lack of coordination and large increases in bureaucracy have had a detrimental effect on academic clinical research and may put children and adolescents with rare forms of cancer at risk. This will be an interesting story to watch in the coming months as a proposed revision of the directive is to be sent for legislative review in September.

 

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

Underground Medical Expertise Refined in Syrian Crucible,” by Ivan Watson and Kareem Khadder. CNN, February 22, 2012.

In the northern province of Idlib, the Syrian regime and its army are targeting the opposition's medical workers, who are cobbling together an underground medical network to aid the wounded and prepare for the possibility of a far more brutal assault. But they are extremely short on medical supplies, and Syrian government is arresting and torturing medical workers. The story depicts both the resourcefulness and the desperation of the Syrian opposition in Idlib. 

Student Activists Occupy Novartis

AIDS activists, students, and community groups “OCCUPIED” the offices of pharma giant Novartis today in three US cities on the eve of the Swiss pharmaceutical company’s annual shareholders meeting in Switzerland.  The effort was part of a global day of action drawing attention to the company’s lawsuit against cancer patients and the government of India, aiming to reinterpret India’s patent standards to block access to life-saving generic medicines.

In 2006, Novartis sued the Indian government after its request for a patent on its blockbuster cancer drug Gleevec was denied. The Novartis version of the drug costs roughly ten times the cost of the high-quality generics on the market and the company is trying to stop production of those versions.  Prior to 2005, India did not grant patents on medicines at all – a policy that fostered generic production of essential medicines then shipped to poor countries around the world. After a World Trade Organization agreement forced India to start granting patents in 2005, India created Section 3(d) of its patent law that requires pharmaceutical companies to demonstrate that changes to an existing substance actually shows increased efficacy for patients before a new patent is granted—preventing frivolous patents. Novartis was unable to show that its tweaks to the basic compound in Gleevec had resulted in improved efficacy in treating cancer.

“Without this protective provision in place, patents will be granted indiscriminately on trivial changes to existing medicines, thereby preventing generic production and allowing drug companies to charge high prices,” explained Brook Baker, policy analyst for Health GAP (Global Access Project).

India has historically proved vital in the global fight against AIDS—producing the vast majority of high quality, affordable drugs used in Africa and throughout the world.

“Novartis’s shortsighted corporate greed could have disastrous long-term consequences for nations reliant on generic medicines. India supplies 80% of AIDS medicines in the developing world as well as good quality generic equivalents for many other health needs.  Poor patients will continue to need access to new, improved, and affordable medicines instead of having them blocked by successive patent monopolies,” said Darshali Vyas, from Harvard College and member of the Student Global AIDS Campaign.

Since Novartis initiated action against the Indian government, protests have been held around the world. On Wednesday, demonstrators in New York, Washington, and Boston stood in solidarity with actions in India, Switzerland, and other regions. “We’re here to try to ensure that India remains the pharmacy of the developing world,” said Katrina Ciraldo, Boston University medical student and member of Occupy Boston’s Health Justice group.

Finding Malcolm X at Brown University

When Brown University senior Malcolm Burnley signed up for a nonfiction writing course last fall, he could not have guessed it would lead him to discover an audio version of a forgotten Malcolm X speech in the university archives. Many research hours and high profile interviews later, Burnley reflects on what the experience has meant for him and how it changed his attitude toward research-based nonfiction writing.
 
Q: How did you choose the research topic that led you to your discovery?

A: The assignment was to write a historical narrative, [and] we had to start in the John Hay Archives at Brown. I was flipping through an issue of The Brown Daily Herald from the 1960s, and I saw a photo of Malcolm X. I was really surprised because in 1960 Martin Luther King had come to campus, and he gave another talk later in the ’60s. There were lots of commemorations about when Martin Luther King was there. But I never heard that Malcolm X had come. But, at the end of one of those short Brown Daily Herald articles, there were some quotes to the effect that he was provoked to come to campus based on an essay written by a student named Katharine Pierce. My background was mainly in contemporary journalism, not historical journalism, so my first instinct was to get in touch with Katharine Pierce. She gave me all the details and told me there was an audio recording.
 
Q: What were you thinking when you realized what you had found?

A: What initially piqued my interest in the story was the context. Brown in 1960 had an informal quota where they would only admit five or fewer black students into each class, and it was still a really conservative campus, it was still heavily Christian in its practices. The things at the time that [Malcolm X] was preaching against were very representative of Brown. So I thought  it was really interesting that he had come, and that the university had allowed him to speak.
 
Then when Katharine Pierce mentioned that she had sent an audio recording of it to the Hay, that was an incredibly exciting discovery. It was in a reel-to-reel tape, and they got it digitized and sent it back. I was the first person to listen to this speech in over fifty years. And as far as I know, it’s the earliest audio recording of any of his college speeches. It was incredible to be a part of such a famous and important figure’s chronology, and to introduce a new piece of information into the public record.
 
Q: How did your article turn out?

A: Really, it’s the narrative of the back story of how Malcolm X got here. It’s really been expanding. Richard Holbrooke, who went on to be a big deal in the US State Department, was the editor in chief of the Brown Daily Herald at the time. Holbrooke approached Katharine Pierce, who was a Pembroke student, about an essay she had written about Malcolm X and the black Muslims. This was in 1961, and very little was written about them at the time. On February 15, 1961, the Nation of Islam participated in a picket protesting outside the UN. It got a lot of national headlines, so Holbrooke, being an editor of the campus paper, wanted to publish something about them. He approached Katharine Pierce and published her essay a few weeks later, and it was really critical of the Nation of Islam and the black Muslims. It eventually found its way into the hands of Malcolm X’s people, and he read it and decided that he wanted to come to speak at Brown. The university administration refused to let Malcolm X speak, so [Holbrooke] had to do some diplomacy, if you will, to get them to come here.
 
Before any of this publicity, which I totally didn’t expect, I had spent about four months writing this story. So far, I’ve written about fifty pages. It’s a long-form piece of historical nonfiction. I’m actually now working on pitching it to publishers. I’d like to publish it either as a long-form magazine piece or as a book.
 
Q: What was it like being on the receiving end of so much media attention?

A: It’s been really surreal. I knew it was an interesting story, but I had no real end-goal in sight. As someone who’s aspiring to be a nonfiction writer, it feels really rewarding that the hard work paid off.
 
Q: Has the experience changed the way you think about nonfiction writing and research?

A: It has kind of just reaffirmed and reinforced my confidence in the process of researching a story. I spend so much time in the Hay researching these old documents by myself, often questioning—you know, I didn’t have an end-goal in sight, so I didn’t really know where all the work was going. But this kind of reaffirmed that for me—that putting in the time and using primary sources really does produce good work that people will recognize. Also, that you can’t find everything on the internet these days.
 
Q: Where will you go from here?

A: I’d like to pursue journalism whole-heartedly. I’m applying to a bunch of magazines, and I’m hoping that I’ll get into magazine journalism in some way next year. 

Occupy Colleges Stages National Teach-Ins

On February 22th and February 23rd, students in colleges and universities nationwide will be organizing campus teach-ins in preparation for the March 1st National Day of Action for Education. The teach-ins scheduled next week will serve as a means to inform students and faculty on the issues that have led to the March 1st call to action so that they understand the meaning behind this rally and its importance.

Teach-ins will take place in central and easily accessible places for students, local community members and the media. Speakers will be comprised of experts in their fields (professors in history, education, anthropology, economics, etc) as well as student organizers. Topics will range by school, but will primarily focus on tuition hikes, affordability options, quality of education and the like.  The purpose is to create an open discussion with professors and students with no defined ending time, so that everyone has the opportunity to speak and contribute to the discussion.

With massive mobilization efforts schedules for March 1 around the country, Occupy Colleges anticipates student involvement will meet or exceed last year’s 124 registered schools. Numerous institutions have already signed up to participate, including the University of California, Davis, Long Island University, CW Post, Sarah Lawrence College, University of South Florida, University of Rhode Island, Bradley University, Georgia State University, El Camino College, Providence College, Susquehanna University, University of Nevada-Reno and the University of Vermont.

To sign up your school to participate in a teach-in or to glean tips for organizing a successful teach-in at your campus, please visit the Occupy Colleges website

From Nation Interns: This Week's Top Stories (2/16)

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.

From Tamil Film, a Landmark Case on Free Speech,” by Samanth Subramanian. New York Times, February 14, 2012. 

Free speech in India has had a rough few months, what with the police being accused of inventing bogus threats on Salman Rushdie in a perverse attempt at crowd control and the banning of a controversial play due to the resemblance to a public figure. With this in mind, the NYT takes a look at an important 1989 case that continues to define art, social stature and free speech in India.

 

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

Remember HIV/AIDS? It’s Still Raging in the U.S.,” by Kai Wright and Hatty Lee. ColorLines, February 7, 2012.

Kai Wright makes the simple but invaluable point that illness is not merely a biological condition—it's also a socioeconomic phenomenon. Wright's argument that "infection rates are an excellent measure for who societies don’t give a damn about" highlights an intimacy between health and power that has often been overlooked in healthcare policy.

 

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

Observations From the World Social Forum in Brazil: The Life and Death of Liberal Democratic Capitalism,” by Aaron Schneider. Upside Down World, February 6, 2012.

Despite very limited media coverage, the World Social Forum attracts tens of thousands of grassroots thinkers and activists each year, providing an alternative to the World Economic Forum in Davos. Latin America, perhaps the only region of the world where a leftist, socialist ethos holds political power today, has been the natural host for most of the Social Forums. This short piece discusses whether or not the uprisings "defy the predictions of liberal, democratic capitalism" and signal a shift in our global paradigm.

 

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

City Buys Face Shields to Protect Cops From G-8 Protesters,” by Fran Spielman. Chicago Sun-Times, February 14, 2012. 

The G8 and NATO are planning to hold major summits in Chicago, from May 19-21, and the city is preparing for an emergency. Ad Busters is calling for 50,000 protesters to take to the streets and, in turn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel—who does not want to let a serious crisis go to waste—is assuming expanded executive powers; bypassing the City Council and bidding process to award contracts for new police gear. As the world’s great powers meet to negotiate and discuss security and our shared future, out in the streets, police officers and protesters should seize the opportunity to do the same. Open dialogue, discipline and nonviolent deescalation tactics could prove beneficial to all.

 

Connor Guy focuses on racism and race relations. 

NYCLU Analysis Reveals NYPD Street Stops Soar 600% Over Course of Bloomberg Administration.” NYCLU, February 14, 2012.

A new NYCLU analysis out Tuesday shows both a huge increase in NYPD stop-and-frisks over the last ten years, and more alarmingly, that these searches disproportionately target minorities—adding to the department's already-long list of racially and religiously charged PR disasters in recent months. (In case you missed these, the recent incidents include spying on Muslims, an effort to cover up involvement in and complicity with the hateful training video, "The Third Jihad," and various charges of brutality). It will be interesting to see if this new data proves provocative enough to effect any real change.

 

Ebtihal Mubarak focuses on human rights.

The Hamza I Know,” by Omar al-Tamimi. Mashallah News, February 14, 2012.

This sincere letter written by an acquaintance of Hamza Kashgari, the young Saudi writer who is facing blasphemy charges for three controversial tweets he wrote on the occasion of Prophet Mohammad’s birthday, shows clearly that this frenzy attack is no coincidence, and he’s not it’s only target. This well-organized violent campaign led by Saudi’s most extreme clerics, and encouraged by the Saudi regime is aiming not only for the young activists of Jeddah’s Bridges Bookstore, but also after everyone who dares to gather and discuss and read about religion, politics, revolutions, corruption, philosophy and literature.

 

Hannah Murphy focuses on sex and gender.

Virginia School District Wants to Ban Cross-Dressing By Students,” by Kristina Chew. Care2, February 11, 2012.

In response to the middle school and high school bullying that has targeted LGBT youth throughout the nation, a Virginia school district has moved to ban "cross-gender dressing" for the sake of students' safety. Skirting their responsibility to educate on sex and gender issues and enforce anti-bulling systems, this school district in instead showing their students that they have to conform in order to be safe—yet another gender issue that has been flipped to blame the victim.

 

James Murphy focuses on migration in the 21st century.

Will Immigration Matter in France's Presidential Election?” by Angela Diffley. Radio France Internationale, February 7, 2012.

Long before Americans go to the polls this November, the French will vote in their own Presidential election. The Euro, job creation, and credit ratings may dominate the agenda, but with France's colonial past and large Muslim population, the topic of immigration is never far from the surface. In assessing reaction to the immigration policies of President Sarkozy—the son of a Hungarian immigrant—Angela Difley gauges the extent to which the matter will shape the 2012 election.

 

Erin Schikowski focuses on the politics and business of healthcare. 

Hospitals Mine Patient Records in Search of Customers,” by Phil Galewitz. USA Today, February 5, 2012.

This article, produced by Kaiser Health News and USA Today, examines a trend whereby hospitals use patients' health and financial records to sell expensive services. Some worry that targeting well-to-do patients is discriminatory, though others argue that "consumer relationship marketing" helps deliver information to people who may need it. This article's timing is spot on given the number of hospitals that have recently adopted, or plan to adopt, electronic health records.

 

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

Syria's Economy Begins to Break Down.” GlobalPost, February 10, 2012.

A GlobalPost reporter offers a simple but compelling overview of how economic sanctions, imposed by some countries to weaken the Syrian regime, are affecting everyday Syrians. The cost of necessities such as eggs and bread has skyrocketed, but people's salaries remain constant, at best. Indirectly questioning sanctions' effectiveness, the article concludes that sanctions have yet to discernibly weaken the regime or those with ties to it and instead "have so far only hurt ordinary citizens."

Occupy Valentine's Day

This article was originally published in The Daily Orange.

When Occupy Wall Street protestors were evicted from Zuccotti Park overnight November 15, the social movement was forced to shift its focus from a physical presence to a thematic mindset and alternative form of occupation.

This is where the "you can't evict an idea" slogan originally came about, and it's now playing a role in shaping a new uprising against Hallmark's favorite holiday: Valentine's Day.

Occupy Valentine's Day originated on Tumblr courtesy of Samhita Mukhopadhyay, executive editor of Feministing.com and author of "Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life." The Tumlbr blog serves as a space for individuals to express their disdain with all the clichés and problematic ways in which Valentine's Day is celebrated in our culture.

The Tumblr consists of images similar to the original 99 percent movement — men and women are holding signs that articulate their own stories about why they're occupying. Some signs include statements like, "Who needs Valentine's Day when boxed wine and insta-Netflix are already made available 365 days a year?"

I've never been a big fan of Valentine's Day, regardless of my relationship status — not because I don't like candy and not because I don't believe in love. My real problem is the commoditization of love that benefits from capitalist gains and the perpetuation of traditional and limiting gender norms.

After spending countless years in search of alternative ways to celebrate Valentine's Day, I owe Mukhopadhyay a debt of gratitude for spearheading an Occupy Valentine's Day movement. It's the ideal solution for critical thinkers and social change advocates, and it is an especially viable option for college students who may not have the time, cash or belief systems to support a contrived version of romance.

I am occupying Valentine's Day on Feb. 14 because I refuse to participate in a holiday that fails to include a wide variety of individuals who are all capable of love but don't fit the traditional heterosexual expectation and norm reinforced by greeting card companies.

I'm occupying because I value the authenticity of love and the role it plays in my life. Love is deeply rooted in all things and every single emotion — love is even necessary in order to successfully hate.

Click here to read the article in its entirety at the Daily Orange site.

Occupy Harvard Occupies Lamont Library

Last week, two-dozen Harvard students and affiliates claimed a corner of the Lamont Library Café at Harvard University. The New Harvard Library Occupation was announced on the Occupy Harvard website: “We intend to open a persistent community space for critical thought, engaged learning, and insistent action in the Lamont Library Café.”

The group plans to hold study breaks, film screenings, knowledge shares, and facilitated discussions about many issues including access to higher education, the ongoing privatization of the university, and Harvard’s role in facilitating neo-liberalism worldwide. Topics for upcoming discussions include: “The role of knowledge in promoting social equality and social justice,” and “What is a library? What does the library of the future look like?” The group intends to maintain a presence in the cafe until 10:00pm on Friday February 17th.

The Occupation of the Library coincides with a larger campus debate about plans for restructuring the Harvard library system. In a letter sent to the Harvard community last week, President Drew Faust wrote, “We are moving into an exciting yet uncharted new world of digital information in which experiments and innovations are constant and necessary, yet their outcomes not always predictable.”

Such vague statements from the administration about restructuring the library have provoked serious concerns about the human and academic cost. Library workers have received mixed messages about the security of their jobs, and students and workers held a rally last week when the University refused to take lay-offs off the table. “As a member of the No-Layoffs Campaign I am grateful for the solidarity this group is showing to the library workers whose jobs are threatened by the restructuring process,” said Sandra Korn, a sophomore at the College who is also a member of the Student Labor Action Movement. 

“Our concern for the library staff is certainly the major motivation for this Occupation. More broadly, we are exploring how we can play a more active role in the production and ownership of scholarship.” said Fenna Krienen, a graduate student in Psychology. “Libraries quite literally house stored knowledge; rather than passively absorb it, we ask: what happens when we collectively and critically engage with these spaces of learning in a more intentional way?”

Arizona Law Would Make It Illegal to Teach Law, History or Literature

This post was originally published at the invaluable StudentActivism.net and is re-posted here with permission. Follow @Studentactivism on Twitter to keep up with the latest in campus activism news.

Just when you thought the Arizona legislature was out of bad ideas.

SB 1467, newly introduced in the Arizona State Senate, would force schools and universities to suspend, fine, and ultimately fire any teacher or professor who “engage[d] in speech or conduct that would violate the standards adopted by the federal communications commission concerning obscenity, indecency and profanity if that speech or conduct were broadcast on television or radio.”

For the first offense, you’d get a one-week suspension without pay. For the second offense, two weeks. For the third, a pink slip.

As Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education notes, this law would not only block the teaching of such classics as Ulysses, The Canterbury Tales, and Catcher in the Rye, it’d prohibit historians and law professors from competently discussing campus free speech regulations, since the most important Supreme Court case in that field hinged on a jacket with the slogan “Fuck The Draft” written on it.

It’s also worth noting, as Lukianoff does, that the bill would regulate professors’ actions outside the classroom, which means that merely writing the paragraph above — in a blogpost, a scholarly article, even a private email — would get you suspended.

But it’s even worse than that.

Note the language of the bill: You’re violating the law if you engage “in speech or conduct” that would violate FCC standards if “broadcast on television or radio.” Not public speech or conduct. Speech or conduct, full stop.

If this law passes, it will be illegal for any “person who provides classroom instruction” in the state of Arizona to have sex.

Or pee.

Ever.

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