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

Meet the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network Senior Fellows

During the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network’s recent retreat in New York City, each of the Senior Fellows from its six program areas sat down to explain what issues they’re focused on and the innovative solutions they’ve developed to address them. From empowering students to fight back against the school-to-prison pipeline, to finding inspiration for new foreign policy ideas in the Arab Spring, to bringing new voices to the fight against climate change, their ideas are offer fresh perspectives and remedies for long-standing social ills.

How To Make It in America: Manifesto by the Average American-Muslim

With the nation’s Islamophobia industry cresting at an acme, The Crescent Directive couldn’t have come at a better time.

Like other American-Muslims, law student and author Khurram Dara understands why critical and constructive dialogue bettering the image of Islam locally and globally is a necessity. “It’s important to have educated, articulate individuals to be able to provide that information. These group of people are important to have for people who genuinely want information on Islam,” Dara says.

But his own tactics - which he outlines in a style close to a 'How To Save Face for Muslims Living in America for Dummies' handbook - are a touch different from other American-Muslims working to better the image of Islam in America. Where others stage rallies, panel discussions and events, Dara advocates making Muslim religious holiday Eid a grand affair, in the spirit of “good old American commercialism." And where others form organizations, Dara proposes throwing it down with your non-Muslim coworkers at a holiday party.

And what of the plenty and passionate defenders of Islam in the media? Dara simply doesn’t find them be all that effective -- well, at least not as effective as say, engaging in the “American way”. 

A month after 9/11 the Dara family were featured in a news story “Mom, Apple Pie, and Islam.” Dara, then a twelve year old, would tell the reporter “We’re just like average American people”. Today the twenty-three year old Columbia law student better understands what he expressed more than a decade ago.

In the opening of his essay he (humorously) delineates his average Americanness noting his naturally occurring, perpetual tan yet lack of a diverse background. “For me, this is the only country I’ve ever lived in, and the only one I ever want to live in”, Dara points out.  Growing up in Amherst, New York, Dara an ex-Boy Scout, is fluent in English only. Despite being a religious minority in America, his closest friends are people outside his faith and ethnicity. And when spending time with his law school roommates it's not religious dialogue on the table but sports, movies, and girls that are up for discussion.

For Dara, fostering these relationships is what has helped humanize Islam for those in his circle. “They knew the things being said about Islam were untrue, not because they had studied it thoroughly, but because they knew me” he writes in his book which reached the number one spot on Amazon’s Best Books of Islam list on the day of its release. 

As I perused through the advance copy Dara sent me, I found myself searching for the familiar strategies, themes, and defenses, created and frequently employed by those working in the anti-Islamophobia sphere.  Instead, what I found was entirely different from the usual defenses articulated by the Islamic community’s passionate and progressive scholars, writers, thinkers, and leaders. The Crescent Directive is a nicely packaged story, stratagem, and vision of "how PTA meetings, Thanksgiving dinners, and Little League baseball can save the image of Islam in America".

The Crescent Directive
opposes the complete shedding away of one’s identity. It does not condone leaving behind one’s traditions and customs. But it does urge ordinary American-Muslim to drop the isolationist-antagonist stance that has become common in the wake of 9/11. Essentially, what the essay proposes is that the display of investment in the American way (through community involvement, loving thy neighbor, giving of charity - a concept,  fundamentally reconcilable with the Islamic way - having your kid pick up a musical instrument, and parental involvement in school) will go a lot farther and deeper in establishing inclusiveness.

But one domain in which Dara declares American-Muslims must continue to remain vociferously vocal, is the battle against the “perception that we are soft on radicalism and don’t clearly condemn terrorism. The solution is not easy, but I think a good step forward would be really making an effort to eradicate radicalism within our faith. Actions speak louder than words.”

I find myself buying what Dara’s selling.

It may very well be true that those with a deep-rooted hatred of Islam are not looking to be taught, moved, or changed by any religious discourse. And, no doubt, personal connections and a display of one's investment in the American way, would be a healthy existence both for the individual and the community.

But what to make of those, I ask Dara, who despite the American-Muslim’s attempt at integration and cohesion, will continue to view Islam as a threat?

“Sometimes people send me messages telling me to “go back to where I came from”...I’m just honest with them about it. I don’t want to go back to Houston. It’s too hot there,” he responds.

Follow Khurram Dara at @KhurramDara and catch him hosting the @minorityreport this spring. 

Baltimore Algebra Project Stops Juvenile Detention Center

Updated on 1/27

When Bob Moses brought his Algebra Project to Baltimore in 1990, he could hardly have imagined the impact his mathematics curriculum would have on the city’s youth two decades later.

Convinced that inner-city kids should be prepared for honors-level high school math, Moses - a leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee - founded the Algebra Project, which uses mathematics as an organizing tool to ensure quality public school education. 

In Baltimore, the group's students established a safe source of income to maintain the program and to keep them off the streets during high school by creating a tutoring program in 2001, raising funds to pay older students to teach younger ones.

When their state funding was threatened, the students formed an Advocacy Committee, researched the issues behind the cuts, and, unconvinced of the necessity of the budget axe, met with community and faith leaders to successfully stop the cuts. Today, the Baltimore Algebra Project operates on a $500,000 budget from public and private sources, and is entirely run by young people under the age of 23.

Baltimore’s ninety thousand public school students are notoriously behind their peers in Maryland and the country.  Many of the classes are too large for teachers to meet the needs of their pupils. Facilities, some dating to the 19th century, are in desperate need of repair, and many schools lack adequate heating and cooling.  According to a recent ACLU report, almost $3 billion is required for necessary repairs.

While researching the school system’s budget woes in 2004, Algebra Project students learned about a long standing battle between the Baltimore Public School System, the City, and the State over school funding.  A series of lawsuits alleged the State had been underfunding the City schools for a decade, and a court had ordered the State to pay $1.1 billion to the City, but the State never complied.

The Algebra Project has been agitating for the $1.1 billion for the last seven years.  They engage in civil disobedience, leading well-organized marches that block traffic, student strikes and walk-outs, and creative street theatre to drive home their message: "No education, no life."  Invest in education today, or condemn the next generation of kids.

Maryland Shaw, 22,  first became active in the Algebra Project in middle school.  When she went to college, she realized how far behind she was.  “A lack of resources made it hard for me to keep up. Everything I was learning in college, I was supposed to learn in high school,” she says.

The Algebra Project’s work to highlight a lack of safe youth opportunities has put them at the forefront of a number of related issues, forming strong alliances with civil rights, labor, and faith groups.  In 2008 the group occupied City Hall and went on a hunger strike to obtain funding for a thousand youth jobs.  A year later it worked to halt cuts to Baltimore’s free student bus passes.  Constantly campaigning, their actions often draw hundreds of participants and a large, wary police presence.

In 2009 two members were arrested and charged as adults, leading group members to focus on ending what some call the “School to Prison Pipeline”: a system of inadequate schooling and diminished expectations that attracts kids to crime and eventually prison.

Maryland is one of more than a dozen states where a juvenile accused of certain violent crimes is automatically charged as an adult.  In 2010, the Algebra Project began a campaign against the State’s planned $104 million detention center, meant to hold those charged as adults. The new jail will house 180 juveniles, but critics say it is entirely unnecessary, as juvenile crime has decreased dramatically over the years.  Independent studies say as little as 50 beds are needed to house those currently in the adult system, and current facilities can meet the need.

More than two dozen groups formed a coalition against the jail, and last October the Algebra Project’s ranks swelled as dozens of Occupy Baltimore members joined their actions. 'We have to stop young people from going to prison, and we have to stop building prisons," Shaw says. “There have to be alternatives, more money put into schools, into recreational centers, programs that lend themselves to youth needs, instead of predicting their failures." Shaw says the new prison is being pushed by developers and those that profit from a prison-industrial complex.  "They are gonna make sure they fill those empty beds," she says.

Jabreria Handy, 20, spent 11 months in adult prison awaiting trial after being charged with involuntary manslaughter at 17.  When she was released, she joined Just Kids, a group that works to end the charging of juveniles as adults. “It is stupid to spend money on a jail we don’t need,” she says.

On January 16th the coalition started a week-long occupation of the prison site, but were dispersed by police and several arrests.  Daily civil disobedience and teach-ins continued, and last week the State released its budget for next year and it did not include funding for the prison. 

Students from the Algebra Project continue to remain vigilant though, having witnessed years of false promises from political leaders they say are banking on their failure. Regardless, the success of their efforts to date are just the freshest evidence of the power of grassroots protest and a testament to Bob Moses' vision.

Occupy Riverside Student Injured by Police

Several University of California (UC) students were once brutally injured at a January 19 peaceful demonstration at UC Riverside.

Close to 800 student activists gathered throughout the day outside the building where Regents board members were meeting behind closed doors to discuss further budgetary cuts and related matters. Police forces already forming a barrier to prevent student access into the building were joined by a legion of armed Sheriff Officers and more police back up toting what looked like guns in hand. They made their way through the hundreds of UC students in order to get to the front line, often brandishing guns or wielding batons while shouting “move.”

As the police and sheriff units finalized their formation at the front line of the protest, seemingly protecting the entrance to the building, they pushed students further back; however in this disorganized attempt to obtain more ground many students lost their footing and either fell or were pushed forward by the dense mob of protesters that stood or were sitting behind them. Among this chaos, as students chanted “Peaceful Protest”, at least one student was pushed forward, seized by police and beaten. Almost simultaneously, officers began to shoot “paint-pellet guns" into the crowd of students in front of them without warning. The officers continued to fire even as the students struggled to move away, in effect using the bullets, which released paint upon impact, as a crowd control mechanism.

A staff member at UC Riverside recounts, "Someone moved toward the police  - not aggressively, just like they were pushed - and the police started shoving students with batons, shot a few rounds, and arrested at least one student, who three cops beat on the ground before they dragged him off." UC Riverside organizer Gabriela Vazquez states, “A lecturer, Ken Ehlrich, was dragged away from the front line by his ankles and arrested.”

These events echo now infamous police violence at numerous other UC campuses in recent months. Occupy Colleges denounces the violent force used by police and joins students of all UC campuses and universities and colleges nationwide in calling for a significant nonviolent response to these actions.

Occupy Colleges wants to make it clear that this sort of behavior by police will not be tolerated. It was not acceptable in November at Berkeley, it was not acceptable during the 1960s and it is not acceptable now. Students, many who believed the days of violent police actions were behind them, will continue to protest until officials get it right: students have the right to peacefully communicate their grievances without the fear of being brutally beaten, shot at or otherwise injured, harassed or bullied.

Please check out occupycolleges.org for a list of participating colleges and universities, to register your school or to learn more about how to organize a group or event on your campus. Please note, all registered schools are asked to take a pledge of Non-Violence in order to participate as an Occupy Colleges solidarity group.

Nation Interns Choose the Week's Most Important (and Undercovered) Stories (1/18)

Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out most 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

Laura focuses on human rights and revolution.

People vs. Putin Power: The Russian Spring Begins in Winter,” by Fred Weir. In These Times, January 13, 2012.

The voices of young protestors who felt the brunt of economic collapse and social control have dominated uprisings around the world over the past year. With Russia now in the spotlight, attention turns to a different kind of youth—professional, prosperous and ready to fight for a say in their country's political future.

Zoë Carpenter

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

Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist,” by Paul Kingsnorth. Orion, January/February 2012.

Paul Kingsnorth's essay on the hollowness of utilitarian environmentalism is eloquent and discomforting. He traces the ways in which environmentalism has been co-opted by other movements, both on the left and the right, and argues that we're completely missing the point as we scramble to find technological fixes for the crises caused by the human economy. Regardless of whether one ultimately agrees with Kingsnorth's ecocentric philosophy, the essays compel a reckoning with the flaws of a sustainability model.

— Umar Farooq

Umar focuses on the worldwide movement for democracy.

One Million Petition for the Recall of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker,” by Mary Bottari. PRWatch via Truthout, January 17, 2012.

When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker tried to balance the state budget last year by cutting the wages of government workers and dismantling their labor unions, the people fought back. Hundreds of thousands marched in the streets of Madison, occupied the capitol building, and garnered support across the country and the world. Along with campaigns to unseat pro-Walker officials, the protesters set their sights on the governor himself, and set out to collect signatures to spark a recall. As the article chronicles, protesters needed 540,000 signatures, but have collected more than one million in sixty days, about half of the total votes in the 2010 gubernatorial election.

— Loren Fogel

Loren focuses on peace, power and political culture.

Occupy The Dream – MLK and the Power of Love,” by Velcrow Ripper. Occupy Love, January 12, 2012.

What would have been Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 83rd birthday was celebrated this week, and with it the heroic and timeless contributions he and his fellow champions of the Civil Rights Movement have given to American and worldwide struggles for peace, justice, freedom, equalityand universal human rights. Featuring Alice Walker and Congressman John Lewis in an excerpt from “Fierce Light,” which is part of the film project Occupy Love, “Occupy The Dream“ is an eloquent presentation of “soul-force” power: the power of love, the power of transcendence beyond hatred, the power of maladjustment to cruelty and the destructive forces of enmity.

— Connor Guy

Connor focuses on racism and race relations.

Racism 'Happens': Inexplicable Events Haunt GOP Primary,” by Paul Rosenberg. Al Jazeera, January 16, 2012.

In this op-ed, Paul Rosenberg efficiently picks apart (in technical and specific terms) the pillars of misinformation that support the GOP myth of a destructive, ineffective welfare state that pays out primarily to racial minorities. His deepest insight comes towards the end, where he analyzes how the skewed mainstream media in the US neglects international context when discussing these issues, allowing conservative opinion-shapers to make uninformed and blatantly racist statements without any kind of scrutiny from their base. He ends by briefly discussing the phenomenon of "racism without racists"—which is surely relevant in a political climate where politicians like Santorum and Gingrich can deny outright racism, even after their widely publicized remarks this past week

— Ebtihal Mubarak

Ebtihal focuses on human rights.

Latinos: Turn Off Your TV, Coño!” by Julia Ahumada Grob and Jazmin Chavez. Remezcla, January 13, 2012.

To break the state monopoly of media, young Arabs flocked to the internet and created numerous webcasts that played a crucial role in challenging dictators and fueling the youth of the Arab Spring. And here, when ABC’s sitcom thought that it was funny for a Puerto Rican actor to say, “I’m Puerto Rican, I’d be great at selling drugs,” young Latinos tired of stereotypes also decided to move to the web.

— Hannah Murphy

Hannah focuses on sex and gender.

Girl Scout Troops in Trans Panic Mode?” by Diane Anderson-Minshall. The Advocate, December 19, 2011.

The "T" in LGBT is one of the more difficult to issues broach in the media—it is both delicate and cumbersome because it has neither a common media vernacular, nor poplar familiarity. So when a traditional, familiar organization like the Girl Scouts chooses to support a young trans girl, and defend that choice, it's important to recognize, and engage in the discourse that it creates.

—James Murphy

James focuses on migration in the 21st century.

Migration Caps Aren't About Protecting British Workers,” by Zoe Williams. The Guardian, January 11, 2012.

With a slew of reports on migration and its impact on the British economy published recently, their press is awash with articles examining the subject. The Guardian's Zoe Williams offers, in my view, the finest opinions on the subtleties of an emotive subject.

— Erin Schikowski

Erin focuses on health and environmental politics.

Physicians See Chance for Riches in Concierge Medicine, But Few Follow Through,” by Victoria Stagg Elliot. American Medical News, January 2, 2012.

According to a recently released survey by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, over sixty percent of doctors polled believe that in the present age of healthcare reform, "concierge medicine" practices that do not accept insurance offer doctors the best chance of financial success. However, the author of this article from American Medical News explains that despite annual per-patient fees of about $1500, concierge medical physicians who stop accepting insurance may actually lose money. One must wonder, then, where these widely held beliefs about concierge-medicine practices are coming from.

— Elizabeth Whitman

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

After Monitor Quits, Arab League Defends Its Syrian Peace-Keeping Mission,” by Eyder Peralta. NPR, January 12, 2012.

Bickering rather than cooperating to find ways to end violence in Syria remains standard for two prominent organizations. After Anwar Malek, a former Arab League observer in Syria, quit his post, citing a "humanitarian disaster" where the regime was committing not just one war crime but a whole series of them, the head of the Arab League's mission responded by saying that Malek did not leave his hotel room in Syria for six days because of illness. Meanwhile, members of the UN Security Council have failed yet again to agree on a draft resolution.

From Harvard to Wall Street: Recruiting at the Ivies

A friend of mine walked into Harvard’s Office of Career Services. “I don’t know what to do this summer and am thinking of an internship,” he told the career counselor he met there. “Have you considered consulting or banking?” she asked. He told her he was not interested in either of those things. “Hm,” she said. “I’d like something that would challenge me intellectually and let me use math,” he told her. The counselor perked up immediately. “Oh! Finance would be perfect for you!”

Like many of my classmates, I had never heard of “the finance industry” before my first semester at Harvard. However, Ivy League culture and efforts by both Wall Street firms and universities themselves propel undergraduates at top colleges towards careers in finance. Perhaps in partial response, recent protests at Ivy League universities like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton have called attention to the frequently unethical nature of these jobs as well as the disproportionate focus on Wall Street careers at Ivy League universities.

A huge number of Harvard graduates end up in the financal services sector, taking jobs in investment banking and consulting right after graduation. At the height of the financial bubble, 47% of Harvard graduates headed to jobs in finance; the recession lowered that to 29% percent in 2011. Nonetheless, this number is large in comparison to the number of graduates who work in medicine, at nonprofits, or at public schools, for example. Similar trends hold for other Ivy League colleges.

Why do so many Harvard graduates work in finance? Most students contend that they need the assured income of a finance job to justify their expensive Ivy League degrees or support their families. For some, this may be true. However, in reality, finance may often simply be an easy career choice for undecided students. Ivy League universities have institutionalized the culture that makes finance jobs so ubiquitous among graduates.

A friend of mine at Cornell noted that Wall Street jobs are simple to find: to get an interview, she would simply put on a nice shirt, walk a few blocks, and hand someone her resume at a recruiting event. Indeed, firms regularly send recruiters to campus for job fairs, information sessions, and interviews. For example, for the week of November 28, Harvard’s Office of Career Services had 11 events on its calendar. Of these, six were hosted by investment banks and investment firms and two were hosted by consulting companies. The remaining three related to the “everything else” that a Harvard student might want to do after graduating (in this case, teaching, software programming, and graduate school).

Of course, Harvard has advisors to help students interested in careers such as medicine and teaching. The Office of Career Services hosts an online database listing dozens on internships at nonprofit organizations. However, these resources are often much less accessible and updated than those promoting investment banks and consulting groups: as my Harvard friend looking for an internship learned, career counselors may know relatively little about jobs outside of finance. Perhaps in an effort to guarantee wealthy alumni donors, the Office of Career Services seems intent on ensuring that no alumnus falls into the 99% without the student exerting a deliberate effort to do so.

Additionally, much of the encouragement to enter finance comes from a competitive college culture that equates income with achievement. The most socially successful students on campus, like the presidents of student organizations and members of elite Final Clubs, all seem to head to Wall Street after graduation. Other students learn to envy their prestigious employers and impressive starting salaries.

On November 28, with a group of students from Occupy Harvard, I attempted to enter an event hosted by Harvard’s Office of Career Services titled “Goldman Sachs: Investment Banking 101.” When we were denied entrance (apparently, “We are the 99%” buttons are a fashion faux-pas in collegiate recruiting), we held a rally outside the entrance to the building that prompted Goldman Sachs to cancel recruiting events at Harvard and Brown the following week.

This sparked an informative and important discussion on campus about the ethics of Wall Street jobs and also encouraged Harvard’s Center for Public Interest Careers to host a conference for students interested in pursuing public service careers. While these steps are important, destroying the well-paved road between the Ivy League schools and Wall Street will take a more dramatic cultural change on the part of students and administrators. Until we come to our senses, finance firms will continue to hire Ivy League students in disproportionate numbers.

NYU Establishes Occupy Wall Street Course

This article was re-posted with permission from PBS's website, MetroFocus. Follow @MetroFocus on Twitter to keep up with its invaluable reporting.

New York University professor Lisa Duggan says that the Occupy Wall Street movement has inspired an entire generation to want to learn about what might otherwise seem like a dry subject: financial history.

That’s why she’s teaching the course “Cultures and Economies: Why Occupy Wall Street? The History and Politics of Debt and Finance” in the NYU Department of Cultural and Social Analysis this spring. And indeed, although NYU does not begin its semester until Jan. 23, the 80-student course is already 3/4 full and Duggan expects it to be totally booked by the time classes begin.

NYU was not the only New York City university planning to bring Occupy Wall Street to the classroom. The Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University listed the course “Occupy the Field: Global Finance, Inequality, Social Movement” in its literature, only to announce — following some bad press — that the course hadn’t yet been fully vetted by the administration and might not happen.

“The proposal for a new anthropology course involving fieldwork on this topic had yet to be considered for approval by the faculty Committee on Instruction,” Brian Connolly, associate vice president for public affairs at Columbia, said in an email. ”A course does not appear in the official directory of classes and cannot be offered in advance of required approvals. News reports and some departmental postings regarding the spring semester were premature.”

The NYU students in Duggan’s course will read current texts about Occupy Wall Street as well as essays by anarchist/activist David Graeber and the sociologist and political economist Giovanni Arrighi. They will also screen documentaries including “Too Big to Fail” and Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis,’ “The Take,” as well as hear guest lectures from both the OWS movement and from academia. Confirmed speakers include NYU professors Andrew Ross and Angelique Nixon and Richard Kim of The Nation. Duggan also plans to invite Klein and the activist and writer Rinku Sen to talk with students.

MetroFocus recently chatted with Duggan about the teachable moment the Occupy Wall Street movement presents.

Q: Why does OWS warrant a college course?

A: I’ve been teaching “Cultures and Economies” for a couple of years and with a twist each year. This year it seemed obvious that it needed to be about OWS. It’s the kind of issue that I can use to teach economic history within a cultural context. OWS gives us a perfect opportunity to teach the long background of financialization [the growing influence of the financial sector] and the long history of popular protest about economic arrangements. The class goes back to the 15th century and teaches about different empires that have fallen at the time that their economies became heavily financialized. We’ll show that the point when finanicalization is accelerating is the time the empire starts falling, which has implications for us right now. We will also look at the history of debt and the way debt has shaped financial economies.

Q: The history of financialization is not the sexiest topic…Is this a way to inspire students to learn about a dry topic?

A: Yes, absolutely. Occupy Wall Street has done an incredible job in changing the national conversation about the economy and I’m using it as a way to bring students in and engage them in a deep historical, as well as contemporary, framing of what the issues at stake are. It can be very difficult to understand what the federal reserve does or why the deficit is or is not a problem. It’s about economic literacy in a way.

In the newspaper and on TV the economic issues are extracted as if they were purely technical. OWS has done a pretty good job of connecting the larger issues of economic policy to things like the experience of unemployment and foreclosure and to the experience of graduating from NYU with $100,000 in student debt. Like, why is that? How has that happened? That’s a direct connection for undergraduates.

It makes it clear that these issues matter and that they’re not just abstract matters.

Q: Do you expect the class to be contentious?

A: In a way, I hope it is. It’s more useful for students to frame their ideas without everyone agreeing with them. We’ll try to frame issues so that we’re not ordaining an answer. Of course, there’s contentious good and contentious bad. Good is debate that’s serious, and bad is the name calling, accusations and labeling people. We will do our best to prevent that.

Q: Who do you think will take the course?

A: Of course, I’ll get the campus activists and I’m sure we will have a lot of students who aren’t activists per se, but they’re very interested in these broad interdisciplinary questions of culture and the political economy. And then I’ll probably get some students who are conservative and that’s very useful in a classroom.

Q: Useful how?

A: They raise questions for everyone to think about and I think that’s a good thing as long as it’s not a campus group whose goal is disruption. We don’t have a lot of that at NYU. They have it at  Columbia, but not NYU.

Q: Speaking of Columbia, did you hear that after some bad press about their proposed OWS class, the university announced that the course hadn’t been officially approved by the administration?

A: I haven’t heard about that.

Q: Do you think it sounds like Columbia is backpedaling?

A: I haven’t gotten any bad press…I got some snideness in the Wall Street Journal but no attacks. Maybe she wasn’t a full-time faculty and didn’t know what kind of approval she needed. I’d be interested to find out what happened. Columbia does have Campus Watch students and students that are involved with right-wing groups and try to make trouble. We don’t really have that here.

The content for this course was approved by my department chair and the director of undergraduate studies.

Q. How does OWS compare to social movements of the past?

A. People have made comparisons to the populist movement, which started as a protest against the banks. It spread widely and made a huge impact in both the vocabulary and the substance of politics in the U.S. And it was really a transition point, making way for progressive reform. Over time it became a mass movement, but it started in small meetings. It also reminds me of the early days of a lot of social movements that I had connections to when I was much, much younger. OWS has so much energy and the determination to depart from ordinary life — to get out of your bubble. The willingness to learn and engage and get off the treadmill of an individual career, that reminds me very much of the ’60s and ’70s.

But the OWS movement is up against a grim future, so that’s different.

Q. Does that grim future give the movement more power or strength?

A. When your future looks like it’s not going to give you anything but a dead-end job with no benefits, and while social security and Medicaid are being cut, what do you do? You have to do something. So that’s a pretty intense motivator.

Q. Why is this personally important to you?

A. I will confess to some nostalgia for the experience of being part of a social movement.  I was involved in anti-war politics in the late ’60s and ’70s, and in LGBT, queer and AIDS politics in the ’80s and ’90s.

Nation Interns Choose the Week's Most Important Stories (1/13)

Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out most 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 please use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

—Laura Bolt

Laura focuses on human rights and revolution.

Cairo Dispatch,” by Max Strasser. n+1, December 23, 2011.

This is a piece about the philosophy and practicality of revolution in an increasingly connected world. While many articles have drawn connections between the participants and ideals of protestors in Tahrir Square and at Occupy Wall Street, Max Strasser examines the idea of what it means for foreigners abroad when borders are more than "occupied"—they are transcended.

Zoë Carpenter

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

Nigeria's Oil Disasters are Met by Silence,” by Michael Keating. The Guardian, January 9, 2012.

The media loves a story of violence and disaster, but only when it's sudden and close to home. In this opinion piece, Michael Keating draws attention to the slower-paced, geographically-distant disasters caused by the oil industry in West Africa, comparing media silence on the issue to the uproar that followed the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

—Umar Farooq

Umar focuses on the worldwide movement for democracy.

How Bahrain Works Washington,” by Ken Silverstein. Salon, December 8, 2011.

This great investigative piece, written by a former Nation intern, actually covers several Arab countries, detailing how massive PR firms are being paid millions to employ former US officials to lobby for oil companies and repressive governments in covering up human rights violations abroad.

—Loren Fogel

Loren focuses on peace, power, and political culture.

Democracy, Democratisation and Peace: Lessons from Recent Experience,” by Dan Smith. Working Group on Peace and Development, via Human Security Report Project, November 28, 2011.

International Alert's Dan Smith draws important lessons from recent experience to inform our understanding of political culture. He argues that democratization and peacebuilding are not requirements of one another as means of approaching conflict, but that they do share a common principle: “What matters is the legitimacy of the process of self-transformation that a country goes through—legitimacy for its citizens.”

—Connor Guy

Connor focuses on racism and race relations.

Mrs Obama: Some Give Her 'Angry Black Woman' Image.” Associated Press, January 11, 2012.

It's appalling that simply because Michelle Obama is a woman, and black, whatever agency and self-advocacy she expresses can be cast in racist stereotypes. I haven't read the book to which this article refers, and therefore can't speak to its actual portrayal of Mrs. Obama, but the fact that whatever depictions it contains have shifted discussions to revolve around whether or not she is an "angry black woman" is disturbing, to say the least.

—Ebtihal Mubarak

Ebtihal focuses on human rights.

Saudi Arabia: Renewed Protests Defy Ban.” Human Rights Watch, December 30, 2011.

American mainstream media often fails to report on what's really happening in Saudi Arabia. The news of more than 100 women defying a government ban on peaceful protests, boldly demonstrating after Friday prayers demanding the release of long-term detainees, deserves more attention.

—Hannah Murphy

Hannah will focus on sex and gender.

Court Allows Texas Law on Ultrasound Before Abortion.” Global Post, January 11, 2012.

This article is particularly relevant right now because, while the GOP primaries take over the media, the broad arguments surrounding abortion and contraception policies are consistently reported, but the smaller, local steps toward reducing reproductive freedoms are easier to overlook—to our detriment. While the Texas decision certainly does not ban abortion, it is one, successful step toward the psychological attack on women seeking the procedure.

—James Murphy

James focuses on migration in the 21stcentury.

Role Reversal: An Ex-Colony May Be Getting the Better, in Economic Terms, of its Old Master.”The Economist, September 3, 2011.

This article  spans two of my interest areas: colonization and migration. It also has ironic qualities. In a throwback to the colonial era, the Portuguese are once again setting sail to Angola. This time, however, it is their home nation that has fallen upon hard times, while the African nation is a shining light on a continent threatening to rise. It highlights the upended nature of migration and world order in the early part of the 21st century.

—Erin Schikowski

Erin focuses on health and environmental politics.

Senate Holds First Hearing on Genetically Engineered Fish.” Center for Food Safety, December 15, 2011.

In the first hearing of its kind, experts testified before Congress about the environmental risks associated with genetically engineered fish. Should the FDA approve the proposal, salmon will be the first type of genetically engineered animal declared fit for human consumption in the United States. The only problem—and it isn't a small one, either—is that no one knows for certain what effects genetically engineered fish might have on wild fish stocks, aquatic ecosystems or the spread of parasites and disease.

—Elizabeth Whitman

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

Syria's Bashar al-Assad Chooses the Qaddafi Model,” by Max Fisher. The Atlantic, January 10, 2012.

This post by Max Fisher demonstrates the confusion of the MSM as it attempts to draw parallels and make sense of what has happened not only in Syria but also more broadly throughout the Middle East over the past year. Fisher argues that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is following the model of former Libyan dictator Qaddafi, but that very analysis underscores the tendency, for better or for worse, of the media to compare situations horizontally rather than delving vertically into a country's unique politics and history.

Students Take on Private Equity Fund HEI

Managers of university investments, like most managers of huge piles of money, typically do not like being told what to do with their riches—particularly when demands are coming from, say, student activists insisting that their school stop investing in an extremely profitable company posting double-digit annual returns.

But students at universities investing in HEI Hotels and Resorts have recently forced their investment offices to listen. Yale’s recent announcement that it would end all future investments in the company makes it the third university to do so this year in response to allegations of labor abuses and demands for a fair union recognition process. The campaign presents a powerful, replicable model of students and workers uniting to challenge their respective institutions where they are vulnerable—and force them to act in favor of workers.

HEI is a private equity fund that purchases and operates hotels. The company has expanded rapidly since it was established in 2002. After purchasing a hotel, HEI “adds value,” according to Riddhi Mehta-Neugebauer, a researcher for the hotel and restaurant workers union UNITE HERE, by lowering labor costs which sometimes involves the violation of basic labor laws. This allows the company to profit when the hotel is subsequently sold. Last year in Irvine, California, for example, non-union workers at the HEI-owned Embassy Suites went on a wildcat strike, then filed and won a suit against their employer over denial of legally-mandated breaks when a state Labor Commissioner hearing officer ruled that HEI violated the law by denying the breaks and ordered HEI to pay back wages.

Since the fund’s inception, HEI has sought university endowments as major investors. Such funds are massive, especially at elite schools: Yale’s endowment is valued at $19.4 billion, Princeton’s at $17.1 billion, Harvard’s a whopping $32 billion. Always in search of high returns, many schools have made sizable investments in HEI. Yale students estimate their school’s holdings at $119 million.

Around the same time universities began investing in HEI, workers at HEI hotels around the country began union drives.

“Workers have said, ‘we want a fair process to choose whether or not we want a union,’” says Mehta-Neugebauer, referring to a “card check” process rather than a National Labor Relations Board election that has so far been denied. With no card check and labor abuse allegations mounting, workers and UNITE HERE called for students to demand that their universities stop investing in HEI until and unless these abuses were rectified.

Students have organized for an end to unethical investments on a variety of issues, from the divestment campaign over apartheid in South Africa to the push in recent years for divestment from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. But ending investments over a labor dispute is uncharted territory.

"Nobody else has ever done this," says Haley Kossek, a junior and a labor activist at Brown University, where student activists were successful in pushing the school to sever ties with HEI. Kossek says that despite Brown’s reputation for progressivism—including the existence of a committee on responsible investments—students had to grapple with a recalcitrant administration every step of the campaign.

“Whatever reputation Brown has for social liberalism does not in any way guide the way it invests its money,” she says.

Students held a number of creative actions, including a “clean-in” at the university’s investment office, where they arrived with cleaning supplies to “clean up Brown’s investments,” and a mock wedding ceremony where the Brown Investment Office was married to “HEI Corporate Greed.” After the clean-in, Brown’s president, Ruth Simmons, met face-to-face with activists; she then penned a letter stating that the labor abuse allegations, if true, would be of concern. A year later, the university announced that it would not reinvest in HEI.

Shortly after the Brown announcement, students at the University of Pennsylvania affiliated with the Student Labor Action Project successfully pressured their administration to state that the University has no current plans for future investments in HEI. And earlier this month, Yale students with the Undergraduate Organizing Committee won their own HEI campaign.

Yale senior Mac Herring was involved in the campaign since its inception. Like Brown activists, she says students initially went to the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility, but made little progress. When students brought HEI worker Jose Landino from the Hilton Long Beach Hotel in California to campus in 2008, they attempted to arrange a meeting with him and university investment staff; when the investment office refused, UOC members held a brief sit-in.

While Herring is “thrilled” Yale will no longer invest in the company, she says her school’s lack of investment transparency is still worrisome.

“What's scary to me is not the fact that Yale is invested in a company like HEI—what's scary is the fact that we'll never know what's going on with the [investment office’s] other $20 billion,” she says. A number of UOC activists have become involved with the Responsible Endowment Project, an effort to address the university’s unethical investments.

Other universities are maintaining active campaigns. Students at Notre Dame held a five-day hunger strike last year. Occupy Harvard has included an end to HEI investments in its statement of principles, and the university’s president recently released a statement promising to review the school’s investment in HEI.

Student labor activists have flexed their muscles in recent years against administrations and garment manufacturers like Nike and Russell Athletic, proving they are a force to be reckoned with. The HEI campaign takes that power a step further: students can not only end their universities’ contracts with ethically dubious corporations; they can, when fighting alongside workers, force their universities to end highly profitable investments in favor of what’s just. If HEI workers win their demands at their hotels, other unions could look to the HEI model to win future campaigns.

“The campaign recognizes the ways that students in their universities and workers on their shop floors have different points of leverage against powerful corporations and financial institutions,” says Kossek, the Brown student activist.

“It can redefine what administrators think is required of them when they’re making investment decisions," she says. "They can't just think about what’s profitable anymore. They have to think about what is ethical."

Yale Pushes Gender-Neutral Housing

This was originally published by the student-run Yale Daily News.

If the newest Yale College Council effort is successful, juniors will be eligible for gender-neutral housing beginning next fall.

In a 13-page report to the administration, made available to members of the Yale community in a Monday email, the Yale College Council asserted that gender-neutral suites foster a more comfortable social environment and incentivize students to remain on campus. Though the Yale Corporation turned down a similar proposal by the YCC in February 2011, the new report includes more data and was written in consultation with members of the Yale College Dean’s Office — giving it a better chance to succeed, YCC President Brandon Levin ’13 said. University  President Richard Levin and Yale College Dean Mary Miller will present the latest report to the Yale Corporation in February, according to the YCC email.

The proposal cites positive feedback from students who have participated in gender-neutral housing and includes data from a survey the YCC conducted in November with the classes of 2013 and 2014. Last year’s YCC proposal made similar arguments, but was based on just one year of data, which Brandon Levin said the Yale Corporation determined was inadequate for assessing the initiative.

“That’s precisely [the role] the report aims to play, providing more qualitative and quantitative data suggesting that this is indeed a good move,” Brandon Levin said Monday.

Joseph Yagoda ’14, co-chair of the Gender-Neutral Housing committee, said that 445 juniors and 443 sophomores responded to the survey the YCC conducted. Of those students, 92.7 percent said they either supported or were indifferent to gender-neutral housing and 67.1 percent said they would considering living in a mixed-gender suite.

Last year’s report was not made public, and only surveyed students already involved with gender-neutral housing rather than entire classes of students, Brandon Levin said.

The Yale Corporation first approved gender-neutral suites for seniors in February 2010, and the class of 2011 became the first in Yale’s history to have the housing option.

In a February 2011 interview, Richard Levin told the News that he did not think the Corporation would approve gender-neutral housing for juniors in the 2011-’12 academic year because administrators wanted to “run the experiment” of senior gender-neutral housing for more time. He declined to comment on the latest YCC proposal Monday night, since he had not yet read it.

Brandon Levin said the YCC only asked that the University extend gender-neutral housing to juniors to encourage them to remain on campus: Unlike freshman and sophomores, juniors can opt to move off campus and live with the opposite sex.

Melanie Boyd, assistant dean of student affairs, wrote in a letter attached to the report that several respondents to the YCC survey expressed concern that gender-neutral housing would increase the risk of sexual harassment or assault. But Boyd said in the letter that these concerns misunderstood the nature of sexual misconduct.

“The assault of a suitemate would be a very risky act, legally as well as disciplinarily,” Boyd wrote. “What we know of sexual offenders suggests that they are more likely to seek out other, less risky targets.”

In fact, the YCC report claims that gender-neutral housing would improve sexual climate on campus by reducing the sexual implications of male and female students socializing in a suite.

Christina Marmol ’12, a senior who currently lives in a gender-neutral suite, said she supports the YCC proposal and would have liked to move in with members of the opposite sex during her junior year. She said her senior year experience in gender-neutral housing has been a positive one.

“I think you’re mature enough as a junior to make a decision about whether or not you want to do it,” Marmol said.

The Yale Corporation meets next on Feb. 24 and 25.

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