Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.
Stumbling further into the quagmire of a national public relations disaster, drastic new measures by Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) officials have turned the “manufactured crisis” over the Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies Program into a troubling moral crisis for the city—and the country.
As Tucson school officials appear to unravel with increasing controversy, Mexican American Studies (MAS) students and UNIDOS activists are now emerging as the calmest standard-bearers of civil discourse for the community.
In an op-ed today, two MAS students made a simple request: If the TUSD officials are truly interested in dialogue, they should table a controversial resolution that has divided the community.
Instead, in an alarming crackdown on the non-violent UNIDOS student campaign last week that attracted national praise for its celebratory actions and demands for basic democratic involvement in education, the backpedaling TUSD superintendent John Pedicone has shocked the community by hiring costly armed guards to monitor this Tuesday’s rescheduled governing school board vote over a controversial school board resolution to strip the accreditation of the Ethnic Studies Program.
Only months ago, the Chicago-transplanted Pedicone declared the draconian state ban on Ethnic Studies was unconstitutional and a challenge to the law would be “the first hurdle.” In a candidate’s forum last fall, Pedicone even admitted: “If you look at the data, it is hard to argue with the success this program has with a historically under served population.” In fact, a recent TUSD analysis demonstrated the achievements of the MAS program.
In a disturbing provocation this Sunday, Pedicone, who reportedly lives out of the district in the affluent suburb of Oro Valley, published an incendiary oped in the Arizona Daily Star that offensively denigrated student efforts “as pawns,” blamed adults for “abhorrent” behavior and falsely categorized last week’s widely denounced resolution vote as only a “discussion.”
As Tucson attorney Richard Martinez noted last week in a debate with TUSD board president Mark Stegmen, the divisive resolution prematurely subverts an unfinished state audit in disarray, as well as a federal suit challenging the constitutionality of the new state law banning ethnic studies. In a quiet but stunning smackdown of Stegemen’s misguided efforts, Martinez framed the TUSD effort as part of a “manufactured crisis.”
Last month, Pima County Democratic Chair Jeff Rogers wrote a strong letter of support for the ethnic studies program, declaring: “Now is not the time for capitulation or compromise.”
This is the simple truth: Compounding the shameless ethnic studies witch hunt by extremist state officials, the Democraty Party–led TUSD school administrators have triggered a “moral crisis” over their seeming disconnection to the actual city of Tucson, by rebuffing MAS student and UNIDOS participation, and blatantly disregarding the reality of the district’s majority of Mexican American students and the city’s fervent and deeply rooted Chicano movement heritage.
On the anniversary today of the “Children’s Crusade” in the civil rights movement, when students took the forefront of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birmingham campaign in 1963, Mexican American Studies student group UNIDOS is not only ramping up its efforts to keep the district’s acclaimed program alive but teach the faltering school administrators a lesson in civility and democracy.
As the Tucson students reminded their community, Martin Luther King, Jr wrote his historic “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” on “Why We Can’t Wait,” as he faced similar criticism of his protests as “unruly.” King wrote: “For years now, I have heard the word ‘Wait!… This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ ” Nearly a half century ago, Alabama students recognized King’s call “to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”
“When youth transparently vocalize that they are unsatisfied with decisions made on their education,” said 20-year-old MAS alumni, UA journalism student and UNIDOS activist Elisa Meza, “that should motivate the elected school board officials to initiate the civil discourse they believe we haven’t already requested. Since February, TUSD have been pressured by the youth to initiate just that. To blame the youth that direct dialogue should have been the first step is a tactic to switch the narrative to imply immaturity on our actions. When, in reality, they’ve been incredibly immature to have ignored our voices in the first place.”
As graduating and college-bound MAS high school Lisette Cota spelled out last month, UNIDOS has been asking for dialogue with the school officials for months.
For many long-time community members, the student uprising last week in Tucson recalled the Chicano student walkouts in the community in 1969, and marks the beginning of a new civil rights movement.
Consider this time line provided by UNIDOS over the last four months:
Jan 3—Two hours before Tom Horne’s position changes from State Superintendent to Attorney General serves a letter to TUSD calling them out of compliance with 2281 and has 60 days to eliminate the program before the states begins withholding funds. He presents “evidence” of the classes’ non-compliance such as testimony from anonymous teachers, out of context quotes from books like Rudolfo Acuna’s Occupied America and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and lyrics from Chicano hip hop groups “El Vuh” and “Aztlan Underground”.
The 11 teachers along with their attorney Richard Martinez and Save Ethnic Studies.org, the non-profit organization providing the legal defense for the teachers, counter his press conference with their own a few hours later in Tucson.
Jan 8—John Roll, Chief Arizona US District Judge who was assigned to see the case against HB 2281, is killed along with 5 others at a “Congress on your Corner” event with Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords. Congresswoman Giffords is shot and 19 others are injured. A 45-day extension is added to TUSD’s 60 day deadline to become in compliance in HB 2281.
Jan 11—The 11 plaintiffs announce to TUSD school board members that if the district does not join their lawsuit or create their own battling the state of AZ on the constitutionality of the bill, they will be added onto the lawsuit as defendants. They give TUSD 48 hrs to reply.
Jan 14—TUSD announces to the “Arizona Daily Star” that the district is going to be incompliance with the bill, making whatever compromises to the program to do so.
TUSD is now going to be added on to the lawsuit Acosta v. The State of AZ.
Jan 24—The 5 who were found guilty are sentenced to 10 hours of community service and fines.
Feb 5—Mexican American Studies Community Advisory Committee hosts first Community Forum in Support of TUSD’s Ethnic Studies Program to educate about the success of the program and rally support on combating HB 2281.
Students of the program, parents of the students, teachers and staff of the department, and elected officials speak on behalf of Ethnic Studies.
Feb 8—At TUSD school board meeting U.N.I.D.O.S.—United Non-discriminatory Individuals Demanding Our Studies; a new Tucson youth coalition of students from local high schools, alumni and community members who formed in response of the growing attacks on education and culture by Arizona legislature, make their grand debut to the community and TUSD board members with a press conference.
Representatives of the group demand a sit-down meeting with all TUSD school board members and that the district, the State Board of Education and the state of Arizona must act in accordance to international human rights laws, which HB 2281 violates.
A musical, cultural and artistic celebration continues outside of TUSD 1010 building after the demands are read to school board members during the Call to the Audience.
Feb. 28—UNIDOS has a sit down discussion with only two of the five TUSD board members Adelita Grijalva and Judy Burns and present the positive impacts that Raza Studies does for the Latino community and what negative results will occur to the district’s students if TUSD doesn’t do everything in its power to protect the classes.
Mar. 8—UNIDOS representatives make a public statement in response to their meeting with the two school board members during Call to the Audience at TUSD school board meeting. UNIDOS demands for an announcement by the board members in the next 24 hours that they will keep the classes as they are no matter what the state may do. UNIDOS urges the district to act in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “One has not only a legal, but moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
That very same morning of the school board meeting, unbeknownst to the community, the district made its first move to dismantle the program from the inside. Superintendent John Pedicone gave his position as supervisor over Director of Student Equity, Augustine Romero and Mexican-American Studies Director, Sean Arce to Asst. Superintendent Lupita Garcia—who has openly made statements in the past she would like to see the department abolished.
Mar. 11—Mexican American Studies Community Advisory Committee holds press conference outside TUSD 1010 building denouncing the move of positions.
Mar. 16—The Arizona Department of Education and State Superintendent John Huppental hire the Cambium Learning Group of Dallas, TX to conduct a 4-6 week curriculum audit of the Mexican American Studies Department to evaluate whether the program is in compliance with HB 2281 and meets up to state standards. The audit group will make unannounced classroom visits, interview students and staff, and evaluate teaching materials.
Mar. 17—Save Ethnic Studies sends a letter to the TUSD governing board bringing to light the criminal history of Steve Gallon, who is appointed as head consultant of the audit for Mexican American Studies. Steve Gallon is the former superintendent of Plainfield School District in New Jersey and was arrested in 2010 with 11 criminal charges including conspiring to commit theft of more than $10,000 of educational services.
Mar. 18—Steve Gallon resigns from the position following Save Ethnic Studies’ coverage of his criminal past and is replaced by Luanne Nelson.
Mar. 21—State audit for Mexican American Studies begins and Save Ethnic Studies with attorney Richard Martinez issue a press release calling the audit unlawful and a waste of tax payer money which will cost us $170,000. Martinez brings into question how the audit could possibly remain unbiased when the state of Arizona is hiring this group to investigate the teachers who are suing the state over the constitutionality of HB 2281. He also points out additional violations such as Federal Family, Educational, and Privacy Rights Act of 1974.
Mark Stegman, president of the Tucson Unified School District governing board, submits an opinion piece to the Arizona Daily Star calling for Mexican American Studies to transition to Hispanic Student Services, which would only focus on extracurricular activities, and for the classes, who currently count as accredited core English and Social Studies classes, to be reduced down to elective classes.
April 6—The 11 teachers suing the state refuse to meet with the auditors in a “focus group discussion”. Save Ethnic Studies sends a letter on their behalf to Superintendent Pedicone declining the invitation because the audit lacks any legal authority, defined terms and remains unknown if the persons conducting the audits have any expertise in Mexican American critical race theory.
April 11—Sally Rusk and Maria Federico-Brummer, two of the eleven teachers express in an op-ed how any sort of compromise to the program is unacceptable. They explain why transition the classes from accredited core classes to electives would kill the program. They further defend the program which meets and excels far beyond the achievement gap for the Latino population which is the second largest failing in TUSD as well as its majority population. In fact most of schools where these classes are taught have a 90% minority population-mainly Latino.
April 12—UNIDOS boycotts TUSD school board meeting due to silenced youth voice. Students in press release recount the lack of response to their demands for the district, superintendent and board members to show true support for the program. Instead, all the district has done is refuse to join the teacher lawsuit or initiate one of their own, released a resolution declaring compliance with an unjust HB 2281, are currently cooperating with a biased State audit of the classes, and the board president Mark Stegeman is publicly advocated for killing our Ethnic Studies program by turning our classes into electives.
As the nation watches tomorrow’s historic meeting in Tucson, Pedicone and the TUSD officials will have the choice of reaffirming the process of democratic involvement with UNIDOS and all students and community members, as Martin Luther King wrote, “to heal” the legacies of the past and move the district forward, or retreating deeper into the quagmire of the state’s embarrassing witch hunt.
Last night, I received a text message that appeared to read “Obama killed in Islo.” Confused (What would Barack Obama be doing in “Islo” a k a Islamabad, Pakistan?), slightly freaked out (I am a pacifist, after all) and extremely blurry in vision (from laser eye surgery from a few days ago) I struggled to reread.
I had misread.
The message actually read Osama. Within seconds of having paused the Hindi movie I’d been watching and getting on to Twitter, it was confirmed that Osama bin Laden had in fact been killed in the town of Abbottabad, Pakistan.
As we all tuned in to watch President Obama give a live, dramatic address to confirm bin Laden’s death, for many Muslims the world over, including myself, it was a charged and emotional moment.
As a Pakistani student living in the West, with roots heavily embedded in my cultural and religious heritage, many questions permeated the silence in my living room at that moment. What was Pakistan’s role in all of this? Will the president differentiate between fundamentalist Islam and the religion of Islam of which I adhere? Was there collateral damage? Will I get through airport security more easily now? Why does Obama pronounce Pakistan more correctly than most of my Pakistani-American friends?
Even though I anticipate answers and clarity in the upcoming hours and days there are some things of which I am certain.
To echo the sentiments expressed by the Council of American-Islamic Relations, the elimination of Bin Laden as a threat to American and global security is welcome news. And now that the world’s most prolonged game of hide and seek has come to a close—albeit after nearly ten years, billions of dollars and millions of lives lost—many of us tonight might finally dare to hope and dream for some semblance of peace.
And as I watch all-American, 20-something Caucasian males fist-pump and chest-bump one another outside the White House lawns in celebration, I hope and pray that we are on the road to changing this past decade’s master narrative of the “Global War on Terror.”
In his address tonight President Obama reminded us of the grief and horror brought upon by 9/11. He echoed the need for unity and resilience as a nation.
Yet even though we find relief in the taking down of a murderer today, let us not forget that much remains to be said and done in the name of peace and stability the world over. Our thoughts and solidarity continue with those fighting for their universal rights in Bahrain, Libya, Yemen and Syria.
This is a weekly round-up of selective student events taking place coast to coast this week. All of these events are open to the general public.
SCOPING ADVANCED SCREENING OF FREEDOM RIDERS IN NORTH CAROLINA
WHAT: Freedom Riders (Advanced Screening)
WHEN: Monday May 2, 7:00 pm
WHERE: Student Union, Movie Theater, UNC Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina
The Student Union Movie Theater is proud to announce the premiere of Stanley Nelson’s groundbreaking PBS documentary, “Freedom Riders.” All shows are free and open to the general public. The film premieres on PBS on May 16. “Freedom Riders” focuses on a group of more than 400 black and white Americans who stood against the Jim Crow laws by riding on busses together throughout the southeastern United States in 1961. From May until November, riders risked their lives—many enduring savage beatings and imprisonment—for simply traveling together on buses and trains through the Deep South. Deliberately violating Jim Crow laws, the Freedom Riders were met with bitter racism and mob violence along the way, sorely testing their belief in nonviolent activism.
SUPPORTING STUDENT FILMMAKERS IN WYOMING
WHAT: Focus on the Future Film Festival
WHEN: Wednesday, 5/4, 5:30 pm
WHERE: Classroom Building Room 133, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming
Join Laramie Junior High students as they present short films examining issues of Energy and the Environment at the 2011 Focus on the Future Film Festival. Refreshments will be served. Sponsored by the School of Energy Resources, the Science Posse, and the Science and Math Teaching Center.
SAVING ANIMALS WHILE CELEBRATING MEXICO IN MAINE
WHAT: York Harbor Inn Charity Cinco de Mayo benefit for M.A.R.C.
WHEN: Thursday, May 5, 4:00 pm
WHERE: York Harbor Inn, York, Maine, Off Campus
Come celebrate Cinco de Mayo at the York Harbor Inn's charity fueled event to benefit the animals at UNE's Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center. Games, contests, and dancing with the salsa band!
BUYING A BIODIESEL TRUCK TO SUPPORT SUSTAINABILITY IN ILLINOIS
WHAT: Farm2Fork: "Keep on truckin'!"
WHEN: Thursday, May 5, 5:00 pm
WHERE: Lower Quad, Augustana College, Little Rock, Illinois
This fundraiser benefits a program at Augustana called Farm2Fork. Farm2Fork is designed to bring faculty, students, and local farmers together to implement Augustana's sustainable movement. This fundraising event is to raise money for a biodiesel truck for Augustana's Farm2Fork and Augie Acres. Come enjoy a healthy meal, as well as organic t-shirts and other eco-friendly merchandise available for purchase! There will also be live music throughout the entire night with bands comprised of Augustana students and graduates
This post was originally published by Campus Progress and is being reposted with permission.
Three printing companies have refused to publish the spring edition of Fusion, a Campus Progress–sponsored LGBT magazine at Kent State University, citing concerns over its images and language.
The controversy has cost Fusion, Campus Progress’s 2010 awardee for Best Overall Publication, more than $2,000, its editor says, as well as substantial effort as students try to release the issue before the school year ends next week.
One company after another turned Fusion down before a fourth printer agreed to take the issue to press.
“We are very surprised that it happened more than once,” says Raytevia Evans, the editor of Fusion and a first-year journalism and mass communications graduate student at Kent State.
The controversial magazine issue includes an eight-page spread featuring cross-dressing models, with the headline “Gender Fuck” written in large print above. Because the issue has not yet been released, Fusion requested that Campus Progress withhold posting the controversial content.
A six-page spread in last year’s spring issue of Fusion featured “Boys in Bottoms.” The issue’s publisher, Freeport Press Inc., said it published the images in error.
The three Ohio-based printing companies that rejected Fusion in its final form—Freeport Press Inc. in Freeport, Hess Print Solutions in Brimfield and Davis Graphic Communication Solutions in Bamberton—cited similar reasons for refusing to publish the magazine.
“We actually asked them to adjust the content of Fusion based on the f-word and on what we’re calling some graphic material, which involved some pictures of genitalia, and we’re just not comfortable producing that type of content,” says David Pilcher, vice president of sales and marketing at Freeport Press, the first company that refused to print the issue without editorial changes. “It’s not that we are trying to perform any censorship here.”
The photo in question depicts a man wearing a leotard. A bulge is noticeable around his genitals.
Freeport has been Fusion’s publisher for several years, even as the magazine published a spread in its spring 2010 issue depicting underwear-clad men kissing intimately. Freeport also published the word “fuck” at least three times in two previous issues of Fusion, released fall 2009 and winter 2011.
Evan Bailey, a former student media specialist at Kent State who worked with Freeport for five years, says that other student publications, including poetry magazine Luna Negra, were printed by Freeport and also included the word.
Freeport should not have printed those issues without editing, Pilcher says, but the problem “wasn’t highlighted to anyone” before publishing completed.
Bailey spoke with Freeport after the underwear spread’s release. He says the publishing company expressed concerns that were tinged with homophobia.
“You’d start to hear stuff like, ‘What if the owners’ kids are walking through the press room?’ ” Bailey says. “You heard the stereotypes and the very flimsy arguments that were just not very well-constructed.”
“They were looking at me like I needed to advise students not to do this,” he says.
A representative of Hess, the second company that declined to print Fusion, says it was a mischaracterization that his company refused to print the magazine, since it was only asking for editorial changes.
“What we do is we go back and say, ‘Is there a way we can change the language, make the language not so offensive?’ ” says Fred Cooper, Hess’ chief financial officer.
Cooper says the images in the magazine were acceptable, but the use of fuck and several words that “refer to alternative sexuality,” including queers, fags and steers, were not.
The magazine uses those words in the headline of a story about the etymology of common words used to describe the LGBT community.
“That’s offensive to folks,” Cooper says. “If you’re running the press and you happen to be of that persuasion, you may feel offended.”
“I’m black and if ‘nigger’ came across, even if the NAACP was saying it, we wouldn’t print it,” he adds.
Bob Ellis, president of Davis Graphic Communication Solutions, the third company that would not print Fusion, says the decision was purely business-related and that the only problem was the magazine’s use of the word “fuck.”
“It’s incumbent upon production facilities that we protect other people who are offended by that. Church groups wouldn’t be comfortable having that exposed,” Ellis says. “It is not our policy to print pornography or profanity.”
He says that policy was moot, however, since his company was unable to produce the magazine by Fusion’s deadline. If he could find employees in his company who were not offended by the magazine, he says, he could have them publish it late next week.
“We have to go through that step as a service and protection to our employees,” he says.
Zack Ford, an LGBT blogger who works at Think Progress, a sibling organization of Campus Progress, says the term “gender fuck” was perfectly appropriate and that the printing companies’ actions unquestionably amounted to censorship.
“It’s intentionally used by people to question the gender binary, to be proud of the ambiguity,” Ford says. “ ‘Gender fuck’ is very much a part of the culture and political movement for queer liberation.”
On Tuesday afternoon, after substantial effort by editors and Kent State’s student media office over the previous week, a fourth company agreed to produce the issue by Friday. But that company, Printing Concepts, in Stow, Ohio, is charging Fusion $2,200 in rush and delivery fees, which Freeport would not have charged.
Evans, the editor of Fusion, says the whole controversy was upsetting and frustrating and that “it felt like stepping back in time.”
“No one would really know that they’re even the printers that we use, because there’s nowhere in the magazine that it says that,” she says.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, says it was “unbelievable” that so many companies refused to publish the issue on profanity grounds.
Printers “are allowed to have any policies or standards they want to have, but that would be a very anomalous policy in the publishing business,” LoMonte says. “Many great works of literature have profanity in them.”
Image courtesy of Fusion Magazine
This article originally appeared at HuffingtonPost.com.
Has Wisconsin finally come to Arizona?
In an extraordinary uprising at the Tucson Unified School District board meeting last night, Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies (MAS) students chained themselves to the board members chairs and derailed the introduction of a controversial resolution that would have terminated their acclaimed program's core curriculum accreditation.
"Just like the people of Wisconsin took a stand and said 'enough is enough', the youth of Tucson are standing up and letting it be known that they are fed up with these attacks on their education and on their future," said Sal Baldenegro, Jr., a TUSD Ethnic Studies alum and member of the Southern Arizona Unity Coalition. "They have been under relentless assault by Tom Horne, John Huppenthal, and by the Arizona State Legislature, and they have had enough."
Popular Tucson blogger and activist David Abie Morales called it a "field trip for civics and democracy in action."
"Nobody was listening to us, especially the board," said MAS high school student and UNIDOS activist Lisette Cota. "We were fed up. It may have been drastic but the only way was to chain ourselves to the boards' chairs."
While hundreds of supporters packed the district meeting room in a celebratory fashion, nine MAS students and UNIDOS activists defied security officers and literally took over the board members' places minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin.
"I'm very moved by their passion and commitment to maintain these courses and curriculum," said MAS teacher Sally Rusk. "They're brilliant. This is not a one-time event. It looks like they're not going to stop until they have an impact on this decision."
TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone canceled the board meeting, but students have vowed to return to the district office until TUSD board president Mark Stegemen withdraws his proposed resolution, which has brought stark divisions in the community.
Over the past two years, the Ethnic Studies Program in Tucson has been subjected to a controversial and costly witch hunt by Attorney General Tom Horne.
"We'll keep coming back, with twice as many people next time, each time," added Cota. "We're not going to let this happen. We're going to make it impossible for them to vote."
Through the evening, the students and their community supporters chanted: "Our education is under attack, what do we do? Fight back!"
Video courtesy of Javier Gonzalez
"As Arizonans, we absolutely must stand behind our youth and say 'enough is enough' with these attacks on their education. There has never been a more critical time to stand behind our children as they fight for their rights and for their futures," Baldenegro, Jr. said.
Tucson resident and education activist Mohur Sidhwa, who attended the meeting, added: "A wonderful show of civic engagement on the part of the students. It gives me hope for the next generation."
Photos courtesy of Javier Gonzalez
Morales edited this video of the evening's action.
Today marks the three-month anniversary of January 25th in Egypt—the initial day of protests that resulted in the Egyptian Revolution that overturned long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak. Since the Revolution, youth activist have served as an ever-present force in keeping the Egyptian army’s transitional powers transparent, hosting weekly demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and lobbying relentlessly on a wide range of topics.
In the greater regional context of the Arab Spring, many Egyptian activists have broadened their advocacy on behalf of other youth movements still struggling for reform. In the past month alone, Egyptian youth organizers have held solidarity protests on behalf of their counterparts in Bahrain, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.
Egypt’s 24-year-old Noha Awegi describes the contagious momentum of the Arab Spring among youth activists throughout the region. Photographs are from April’s youth-led protests in solidarity with the people of Libya, Syria, and Yemen.
“Did you build this?” asked one man.
“Yes, we did,” answered the other.
“Are you going to take it down?”
“No, we’re not going to take it down.”
"Either you take it down, my friend, or we will.”
The year was 1986. Yale University President Bart Giamatti was on his way back to his office from a birthday lunch when he stumbled upon Mike Morand, a student leader of the anti-apartheid movement on campus. With the help of their beloved chaplain, William Sloan Coffin, Morand and other students had built two formidable shanties on Beinecke Plaza, not unlike the ones black South Africans inhabited under the brutal apartheid regime.
“Winny Mandela City,” named for the wife of dissident Nelson Mandela, was the iconic expression of a longer battle waged by students, campus workers, and other local activists to get Yale to divest the reported $300 million it held in companies doing business in South Africa. This sum, put together with New Haven’s recent hosting of the Northeast Anti-Apartheid Conference, garnered Yale international attention. “We would like to thank you, the students and workers of Yale University, for your efforts to isolate the racist regime of South Africa and put pressure on the transnational corporations which have been giving support to that white minority government,” read a message from the African National Congress. “Economic sanctions are our last chance for reasonable, peaceful change in South Africa,” declared Bishop Desmond Tutu. “I call upon the trustees of the Yale Corporation to make the moral decision.”
Yale wouldn’t have been the first institution to cut its ties with the apartheid regime. Already over forty other universities, seventy national and local churches, and a number of municipal and state legislatures (including Connecticut’s) had partially or fully divested. In September of that year, Congress passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act over President Reagan’s veto—the first such foreign policy override in the twentieth century.
But neither Giamatti nor Yale got the message. Though several large protests and scores of arrests kept the students’ shanties alive until 1988, the University hewed to a bankrupt strategy of “constructive engagement” with the South African regime. Before apartheid fell in 1994, Yale never fully withdrew its holdings.
This was the same Yale whom the New York Times once described as “the first university to abandon its role as passive institutional investor.” We should expect Yale and its non-profit peers to rise above the corporate profiteering and partisan plutocracy that control the global economy, and to maintain their exceptional endowments by doing good for the world.
So they can, if students have anything to say about it.
In these heady revolutionary times, students across the country have fought to preserve the public benefits of American schools and universities. At the University of California, 30-plus percent tuition increases and pay raises for millionaire regents have been met with massive student occupations and demonstrations. In Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio, graduate teaching assistants and high school and university students have helped lead fights against school privatization and labor repression. And at Yale and other wealthy universities, irresponsible investment has sparked coordinated action reminiscent of the apartheid era. This time, students have joined in solidarity to push our boards of trustees to stop investing hundreds of millions of endowment funds in HEI Hotels & Resorts.
HEI is the seventh-largest hotel operator in the United States, owning or managing over 30 properties across the country. The company runs largely on university investment, receiving over $1.2 billion from some two dozen schools. Yale alone has contributed upwards of $119 million and claims at least 10 percent holdings in each of HEI’s three equity funds.
Despite HEI’s assertions of fair worker treatment—“We have excellent relationships with all our employees,” vice president Nigel Hurst says—the company boasts a persistent pattern of allegations against its corporate behavior. Converging worker testimonies speak to HEI’s often extreme profit-maximizing measures following hotel acquisition—including drastically reducing staff, slashing the wages and benefits of those who remain, demanding strenuous housekeeping labor, and intimidating workers for speaking out. After firing a pro-union worker in Virginia in 2009, the company was forced to settle with the National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel. Last August, the Embassy Suites in Irvine, California, became the fourth HEI hotel whose workers have called for a consumer boycott.
Our universities are bankrolling this exploitative behavior. And so, as students, we’ve struck back. In 2008, the Yale Undergraduate Organizing Committee staged a sit-in at the office of Yale CIO and investment pioneer David Swenson. Last year, students at Notre Dame waged a five day hunger strike. With the help of UNITE HERE, the hotel and restaurant workers union, and United Students Against Sweatshops, a student-run network with over 250 chapters across North America, students have taken action at Vanderbilt, Chicago, Cornell, Harvard, and beyond.
The shell has begun to crack. In February, following pressure from the Brown Student Labor Alliance, a letter of concern from Brown President Ruth Simmons to HEI CEO Gary Mendell, and the recommendation of the Brown Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policy, the Brown Corporation voted not to re-up its investment in HEI. Just three weeks ago, after three years of campaigning by the Penn Student LaborAction Project and its allies, including faculty and a coalition of 30 campus student groups, University of Pennsylvania officials revealed that the University has no current plans to invest in HEI in the future.
In the wake of what has happened at Brown and Penn, the national campusmovement is ripe for escalation. But at our supposedly worldly, pro-bono universities, barriers remain. Some schools, like Chicago and Princeton, don’t have university committees that evaluate investor responsibility like those at Harvard and Brown. At Yale, we face committee leadership that has fallen short on its promises. “I can report that we are a very open-minded and receptive group,” wrote Jonathan Macey, professor of corporate law and economics and chairman of Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, in a 2008 op-ed. Following Brown’s recent decision, however, Macey has betrayed opposite sympathies. “If HEI were a student in a class, he would say, you know, why are you picking on me?” Macey told the Yale Daily News. “There are lots of other people with just as bad attendance records.”
As long as students receive this kind of pushback, we will continue to pick on our universities. Our meetings with HEI workers, and their own displays of resolve, leave little choice. “The workload has doubled, and I basically feel like I’m working like a slave right now,” said Peter Ho, a porter at HEI’s San Francisco Le Meridien hotel, in a press conference at Yale last year. “It was clear the company was testing how much it could get away with,” said David Williamson, a janitor at the Irvine Embassy Suites. “We have drawn a line in the sand and we stand together.”
Just like in Wisconsin, the swelling of labor injustice at HEI hotels has ignited solidarity across workers and students alike. While there’s no telling whether exploitative corporate practices will go the way of South African apartheid, let’s hope Yale and its peers will at least stand up and join the fight.
This post was originally published by Campus Progress and is being re-posted with permission.
Since the fight over immigration reform shifted from the national to local level, immigrant rights activists have seen the passage of more than a few heartbreaking bills in states like South Carolina and Georgia that aim to make life tougher for the undocumented.
But there was some good news out of Maryland on Monday: At the 11th hour of its legislative session, Maryland passed its own version of the DREAM Act. The bill now goes to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who has promised to sign it.
The federal version of the DREAM Act would have the power to give young people a path to citizenship if they attend college or join the military. Maryland’s bill is limited in some ways, but still offers benefits to undocumented youth. The Maryland bill allows for undocumented students to receive in-state tuition in public universities in the state, provided “they graduate from a state high school, complete 60 community college credits and prove that they and/or their parents have paid state taxes for at least three years,” according to the University of Maryland’s student paper, The Diamondback.
While many barriers to higher education still exist for undocumented youth in Maryland—including their inability to access federal student aid—the act will lift a huge financial burden from their shoulders. In-state tuition in Maryland is currently $8,416, while out-of-state fees clock in at a whopping $24,831.
Many state-level immigration measures have been proposed or passed in recent months that vary widely in aim—some, like Maryland’s are intended to make the lives of immigrants a bit easier in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform; others, like the outright ban on undocumented students in Georgia that seven undocumented students were protesting when they were arrested last week, are outright attacks on them. The more these individual local bills pass, the more maddeningly variant immigration policies around the country become. And no matter what pro-immigrant bills are passed at the state level, undocumented immigrants will continue to suffer without national legislation that provides a path to citizenship.
Still, Maryland’s passage of the bill is a victory for immigrants and pro-reform activists. It should be heartening to undocumented youth in states like Illinois (who are also pushing for a version of the DREAM Act in their state before their legislative calendar cut-off on Friday) and to immigrant students around the country who are rooting for the passage of the national DREAM Act, which will soon be reintroduced in the Senate by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
Last week France unveiled its bigotry as its niqab ban took effect.
The French state has chosen to further weaken the status of women by making their public presence illegal if they choose to wear a veil. But new legislation like this is not shocking in the context of recent events that prove how firmly entrenched the fear of the unknown has become.
Take the March 13th incident involving the corporate giant Southwest Airlines and a 31-year-old, mother of three, graduate student, Irum Abbasi.
Abbasi, an American of Pakistani descent, was flagged by a Southwest Airlines crew member as “suspicious” and kicked off the plane.
A crew member sensed a terror plot was brewin’ as Abbasi went to hang up her cell phone with a friendly “I’ve got to go.” The crew member alleges she heard “it’s a GO.”
The scene panned then out with fewer surprises then a re-run of The Three Stooges.
Abbasi immediately handed over her cell phone and purse for inspection. But the pilot chose to follow through with the crew member’s allegation: The young mother was ordered off the flight and into the arms of Transport Security Administration who—after some patting of her veiled head—set her free.
One would like to believe that Islamic fundamentalism is a story written in sinister prose; one that lurks in the shadowy courtyards of every American mosque and is preached to every Muslim boy and girl behind the doors of every madrassa—err, school.
But incidents, such as Irum Abbasi’s, paint a slightly more prosaic truth.
Legislating-away items of clothing may not be an immediate American reality. But a blatant targeting of the hijab and niqab is not only a case in which discrimination-based on religious attire becomes a symbol of the economic repression of Muslims—but also feeds the anti-Muslim sentiment growing in certain circles in this country.
Edgar Hopida, director of public relations for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in an interview with The Nation points to the connection between the Southwest Airlines incident and the recent Rep. Peter King’s hearings on ‘muslim radicalization,” anti-Shariah legislation pushed by several states and the anti-mosque movement coast to coast.
Hopida adds that American Muslims do not ask for, and should not be given, special treatment, “What we are asking for is what every American is guaranteed under the constitution.”
As the bodies of Muslim women continue to serve as political battlegrounds (possibly up next: Italy, the Netherlands, Quebec and even the predominantly-Muslim, Turkey) here’s one tentative lesson: freedom of religion, expression and assembly are all necessary elements of any just society.
The people of the Middle East—Muslims, Christians, secularists and hard-liners alike who are currently showing unwavering resiliency and boldness in the face of oppressive and discriminatory regimes—understand this.
How is it the case that an airline—which has gone to great lengths to overcome a history of racial profiling—has become subject to the fear mongering promoted by a select few incendiary demagogues?
Or are we just asking too much from a company that deemed Kevin Smith, American actor and producer, too fat to fly?
Disclaimer: For the purposes of this story, I spoke with Abbasi who is currently unwilling to handle media requests. But she did say she is unsatisfied with Southwest Airlines response and re-conciliatory $197 flight voucher.
This piece was originally published in the Yale Daily News.
The decision by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate Yale in response to a Title IX complaint written by sixteen students and alumni marks what will hopefully be a turning point not only for Yale, but for universities across the nation. With an estimated 20 percent of women likely to be victims of sexual assault while in college, the way universities across the nation deal with issues of sexual assault, rape and public acts of misogyny has to change.
On Monday, just four days after the complaint was made public and started to circulate on national media sources, Vice President Biden spoke in front of students at the University of New Hampshire against sexual assault and the university policies that make it difficult and sometimes impossible to combat. “Rape is rape is rape, and the sooner universities make that clear, the sooner we’ll begin to make progress on campuses,” Biden said. His message was clear: Colleges aren’t doing enough to change the university atmosphere that makes people think that rape is not rape if the girl was drunk or she knew her attacker or the physical evidence is long gone.
A report compiled by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) found that universities rarely expel men who are found guilty of sexual assault: in cases at 130 schools that applied for federal grants to better deal with assault, only about 10 to 25 percent of men found guilty were expelled.
This startling statistic can be explained, but not excused. Universities are hampered by limited resources and time when dealing with sexual assault cases. Professors with classes to teach, papers to grade and office hours to hold who are often ill-equipped and untrained are assigned to be “fact finders” on sexual assault cases. Without the resources to test physical evidence, these cases often dissolve into bitter “he said, she said” debates. Even if the victim has gone to the police, few prosecutors are willing to take cases with few or no witnesses, limited physical evidence and attackers who claim the sex was consensual.
Worse still, the government bodies that are supposed to monitor our colleges have been noticeably silent on this issue. According to the report done by the CPI, colleges are legally obligated to report crimes on campus. However, over a period of twenty years only six colleges have been found in violation. The DOE can also rule that universities are in violation of laws that protect women from discrimination. Out of twenty-four complaints between 1998 and 2008, only five resulted in guilty findings.
News of the federal investigation has thrown Yale once again into the national spotlight, but it is certainly not the only school where sexual assault, or the management of assault, is an issue. Students at Princeton, Dickinson, American, Dartmouth and many others have taken issue with their universities’ policies on sexual assault. At Dickinson, students protested the way the university manages sexual assault two years ago. After seeing no change, they protested again last month, this time with more students and clearer goals. Students at American University protested just this week when their president refused to sign off on a proposal for a grant that would give the school $300,000 to create programs that would help prevent and deal with cases of sexual assault.
Yet, there is hope for these universities and there is hope for victims of rape. Hopefully Biden’s clearer guidelines for what Title IX actually requires of universities will encourage disciplinary bodies to change how they deal with cases of sexual assault. If universities are found guilty of violating these laws, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights will hopefully hold them more accountable. Russlynn Ali, who was appointed assistant secretary of civil rights in 2009, has said that the office will use all of the considerable resources at its disposal, including withholding federal funds, to ensure that women on college campuses are safe from sexual violence.
The federal investigation of Yale’s sexual climate will hopefully send a message to all universities and university students that rape will no longer be tolerated or excused. Even if the woman knew her attacker, even if the details are hazy, even if she had sex with him before: rape is rape is rape.