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

A Young Woman's Struggle With Southwest Airlines Shows Depth Of Islamophobia

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.

Title IX Resonates Beyond Yale's Walls

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.

New York City Teach-In Resonates with OU Audience

Technical glitches during the live stream of a national teach-in did not deter a small group of Ohio University students and faculty members from joining the discussion.

About 20 people gathered in Grover Center yesterday to watch speeches by several labor and education activists and discuss how to take a stand in Athens.

The national event, which took place in New York City, was broadcast online and focused on public sector unions, debt and corporate greed.

“It’s pretty historic, what’s happening right now,” said Judith Grant, faculty coordinator for Defend Education, Ohio!, an OU activist organization.

Because of difficulties with the video stream from the national teach-in, Defend Education, Ohio! will post a video from the event on YouTube, Grant said.

OU was one of 269 colleges across the U.S. that registered to participate in the nationally broadcast Fight Back USA! teach-in, led by well-known activists Cornel West and Frances Fox Piven.

Laws restricting unions, such as the recently signed Ohio Senate Bill 5, were a popular subject during the teach-in speeches. The discussion that followed from students and faculty members watching in Grover Center focused on how those in Ohio can prevent the bill from going into effect.

“Educating people, talking to people is the first thing. Then, there is the action,” Grant said, noting that members of Defend Education, Ohio! will be working this quarter to gather signatures for a Senate Bill 5 referendum.

Ohio needs 231,149 signatures to get the referendum, which could prevent Senate Bill 5 from going into effect, on the ballot for the November election.

Andrew Kirkland, an OU senior studying history who attended yesterday’s teach-in, said he is motivated to take action in part because he is concerned about his future.

“If I don’t make any noise, I won’t have a job,” he said, adding that he is worried about state parks and museums closing — places he might want to work after graduation.

Norma Pecora, president of the OU chapter of the American Association of College Professors, also attended the teach-in in Grover Center and encouraged students to participate in the movement.

“It is difficult to get people actively involved, there’s no question,” she said.

Defend Education, Ohio! is a coalition of OU students and faculty members “committed to the idea that education is a fundamental right of citizens” that is “aiming to combat the privatization of the public,” according to its website.

The organization’s first teach-in took place March 2 in Baker University Center and spanned five hours and included speeches from nearly 30 faculty members.

The coalition is planning more events for later this quarter, including a documentary viewing on College Green.

UMass Joins National Teach-In on Campuses Calling for Equality in America


IU Community Joins NYC Seminar

This article was originally posted in the Indiana Daily Student.

Corporations, banks and political parties all share responsibility for the economic situation facing America today, the speakers at the national Fight Back Teach-in said.
About 20 IU community members gathered Tuesday in State Room East in the Indiana Memorial Union to view the hour and a half-long teach-in.

The seminar, which took place Tuesday at the Judson Memorial Church in New York City, was also shown live on the Internet.

Twentieth-century American economy, up to as recently as Tuesday’s budget proposal by US Rep. Paul Ryan, was discussed at the teach-in.

It primarily focused on the threat to American life, especially that of the middle class, posed by the actions of banks and corporations.

Intellectual and philosopher Cornel West was the first speaker. After explaining that the actions of American corporations today signify “levels of greed that even Dickens would have trouble to depict,” West called the audience to action with the question he felt summarized the afternoon.

“Do we have what it takes to engage in this fight against corporate greed?” West said.

Heather McGhee of the nonpartisan policy center Demos in Washington, D.C., said the average CEO pay has jumped from 25 times that of a low-level employee to 200 times a low-level employee in her lifetime. All of this has happened while salaries have not risen, and many struggle to earn an income to survive, she said.

McGhee said the current generation will be the first to earn less on average than their parents if economic trends persist.

McGhee said neither the light bulb nor the Internet has been America’s greatest invention; the American middle class, created to reward people that work hard with enough comforts to feel free, is America’s greatest achievement.

She said the tax cuts on the wealthy proposed by former President Bush were a war on the middle class, designed to make sure a small population of rich Americans maintained control of their expanding wealth.

“The country is not broke, but the system is broken,” McGhee said.

Before the event concluded with a speech by professor Frances Fox Piven of City University of New York, three presenters were called to tell stories of their own community activism.

Anthony Klug of the Wadleigh Secondary School for Performing & Visual Arts in Harlem, New York City, described the budget cuts facing his school district

“Education is our greatest means to achieve prosperity,” Klug said.

National Teach-In Inspires a Fight Against 'Corporatocracy'

This article was originally posted at the Tennessee Journalist, at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

With a large national debt, and with people taking multiple jobs just to make ends meet, American companies are still making record profits. On Tuesday, a group of students and faculty met at the Howard Baker Center for a National Teach-In, an event designed to rally the public to support unionization against, what some called, "the corporatocracy."

Members of the Progressive Student Alliance, the United Campus Workers and the general population showed up to watch a conference broadcast from New York. The conference was hosted by Frances Fox Piven, a professor at the City University of New York and Cornel West, a Princeton professor.

All of the speakers argued that the super-rich in America have taken over the government. The rich then use the government to pass laws designed to help only the upper class of American society while the middle class makes less and less every year.

"This is one bold assault by the rich on the poor," said Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University professor. During his talk, Sachs said the proposed federal budget would cut social programs to the lowest level in national history.

"We have let them run away without any social responsibility," said Sachs.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, discussed the conservative movement's attack on unionized labor. Trumka argued that unions were vital to the health of the nation. He said that when people unionize, it makes them stronger.

"Nothing positive has happened in America without collective action," said Trumka.

Heather McGhee, a representative from progressive think tank, Demos, echoed what Trumka said.

"It is a universal human right to come together," said McGhee. "We are the first generation to not do better than our parents."

She said that up until the 1980s, wealth was more evenly distributed. McGhee said the government collected more taxes from the rich and reinvested it into necessary social programs. Now, programs are being cut while executives and politicians work hand-in-hand with one another to insure they keep more money to themselves.

McGhee called lobbying "legalized bribery."

Cornel West, one of the headlining speakers of the conference, spoke passionately about social injustice.

"Too many of our brothers and sisters of all colors are suffering and there is no reason for it," said West to the applause of the New York audience. "There is social injustice even Charles Dickens would have trouble depicting."

"There are dozens, if not hundreds, of participating groups," said Jon Shefner, a UT professor and member of the United Campus Workers.

Holly Rainey, a member of the Progressive Student Alliance, shared Shefner's excitement about the national event.

"It's streaming, so anywhere in the US, people can watch. It's all about corporate greed," said Rainey. 

Image courtesy of United Campus Workers, Tennessee

Six Ways to Green Your Spring Break

This article was originally posted by the invaluable Campus Progress and is re-posted here with permission.

Everyone’s ready for spring break after a long winter. Here are some ideas for those who want to relieve their stress without stressing out the planet.

Take a “staycation.” Staying at home instead of traveling can be a really inexpensive and relaxing way to enjoy your time off. In fact, it’s probably the “greenest” travel option there is. It will save you money, make less of an environmental impact, and allow you to explore your immediate surroundings. Consumer Reports has some ideas to help you get started.

Pack light. Traveling light saves you money as well as stress, and it can lower your vacation’s carbon footprint. Traveling lighter means less weight, which means less fuel for your car or plane. Some of the items you’ll be trying to cram into your suitcase can be bought upon your arrival, which helps boost the local economy of wherever you're visiting. Visit RealBuzz for tips.

Enjoy the great outdoors. Take your bike out, go camping, or hang out at the beach. Just remember to use resources wisely: Recycle, look for ways to cut waste, and leave no trace when you camp.

Look for green hotels. Eco-friendly lodging is cropping up across the country as hotels face pressure to conserve resources. You can find loads of green hotels online.

Travel green. Your transportation has perhaps the biggest effect on the environment. If you’re flying, try to avoid flying at night. The contrails of a plane at night have a bigger impact on global warming than those left in the day. As an alternative to flying, you can also take a train overnight while you sleep, carpool, or take a road trip with a rented hybrid car.

Go alternative. Many students these days are choosing to participate in an alternative spring break. Most colleges organize volunteer opportunities that include partnering with Habitat for Humanity or with local community groups painting schools, planting trees, or engaging in another worthwhile green activity. Other opportunities include traveling out of state or even out of the country. Sometimes you can even get college credit for your week spent "working." Check with your local campus community service and/or volunteer office to see if they have anything in the works.

The Reason For the Unrest: British Youth Have Nothing to Lose

This post was sent to us via Twitter by a 16-year-old British student. It originally appeared on her personal blog.

There’s not much that can make a teenager get up at 4:00am on a Saturday morning. Then again, this was no ordinary Saturday morning, and we are no ordinary teenagers. Actually, that’s not the case; we are ordinary. Depressingly so. Our A-Level exams are under two months, and as many years have before us, we’re planning our Easter revision cram and frantically swatting up for our immanent mocks. However, there is an underlying futility to all our efforts, as we know that working hard now and doing well is no guarantee for a better life, or even employment at all.

The UK rate of youth unemployment is higher than the European average at over 20 percent, with more than 950,000 out of work or education in January, the highest number since records began. And youth unemployment is one of the pernicious types of unemployment, as the effects can devastate in later life. According to economist David Blanchflower, unemployed youth are likely to earn lower wages throughout their life, and are even more likely to end up on the dole again. This is not only harmful to us as individuals, but for the government as a whole. Now, they’re more likely to have to pay the dole of hundreds of thousands of unemployed young people, rather than collect the taxes on the wages they would have been earning if only they had stopped to think about what’s best for our young people.

Youth who are Not in Employment Education or Training (NEETs) are growing by the day, and their numbers are expected to surge further after the EMA cuts come into effect. Even the government’s new “replacement” for the scheme will only cover a few thousand, with many more expected to fall into the black hole facing British youth. And even for those of us who stay and do vocational training courses, most are either unable to get a job or can only find one on the minimum wage, almost making all the effort put into getting the qualification pointless. And for those who stay on to higher education, the story remains just as grim. With a critical shortage of places and $9,000 a year tuition fees, many bright but underprivileged kids have been put off from having the best chance at life.

One of my friends, who has a science scholarship to an independent school, has decided not to go to university as the 9,000 a year fees are too much. It doesn’t matter if universities offer bursaries or help with funding, when kids (especially those who aren’t from a university background) are already on the fence about whether or not to attend, trebling fees will be the thing that tips you off the UCAS form and onto the Jobcentre register. We might have just lost one of the brightest young scientists Britain has to offer, but we may never know. But how much good would a degree do, if graduate unemployment rises beyond its current rate? 20 percent of university graduates are currently unable to get a job. When I sit at this computer at 10pm making notes on Gladstone’s handling of the Franco-Prussian War, I can’t help but wonder “If I can’t get a job, what’s the point?”

And so for that reason, thousands of teenagers got up at 4:00am on Saturday, grabbed their placards and marched through central London. And it was for that reason that they blockaded Oxford Street, and some even smashed windows, and some got arrested. This is the reason for the unrest: young people have nothing to lose. Our reason to march isn’t just motivated by the cuts to the NHS or public services, but our frustration that we are facing the worst prospects for a generation, and our government is doing nothing to stop it. When we march, we march for a future we were promised, but we are being told we will never achieve. We march for employment, for education. We march for the rest of our lives.


FIRE, Alexandra Wallace, and Defending Offensive Speech

This post was originally published by the invaluable StudentActivism.net.

Roger Shibley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), who I criticized yesterday for his remarks on the Alexandra Wallace video, has written a new piece at the FIRE website responding to my criticism and explaining that organization’s approach to the various speech acts it defends on First Amendment grounds:

“An integral part of being able to do the work we do is not letting our feelings about the viewpoint of the expression itself affect how we analyze the expression or how vigorously we defend the rights of the speaker.... Instead, we consistently present on our website all the evidence that we have about the expression in question in order to help people make up their minds for themselves, and we expect people to draw their own conclusions.”

That’s certainly a reasonable position, and indeed I have commended FIRE for taking exactly this tack in its letter to UCLA. But I criticized Shibley’s original blogpost precisely because it failed to follow this approach.

FIRE’s policy, Shibley says now, is to summarize each speech act fully and dispassionately without editorializing, and to let their readers draw their own conclusions about its merits. But Shibley did editorialize about Wallace’s video. He called it “pretty tame,” and “not particularly severe.” In it, he said, Wallace “couches her language in a number of ways and even apologizes at the beginning for not being ‘politically correct.’”

This is editorializing. Worse, it’s misrepresentation of the video itself, as Wallace at no point in it apologizes for her lack of “political correctness.” Instead, she deploys that term as a pre-emptive defense against the criticism she expects to receive: “we know that I’m not the most politically correct person so don’t take this offensively.” Instructing people not to be offended by your views is not an apology for those views.

And Shibley’s misrepresentation of the video doesn’t end there. As I pointed out in my original blogpost, Wallace’s “ching chong ling long ting tong” mockery of Asians’ speech and her snide reference to the Japanese tsunami went unnoted in Shibley’s summary, despite their centrality to campus criticism of Wallace and prominence in media coverage of the controversy.

I’ve done this dance with FIRE before. Twice in the past I’ve pointed out situations in which they’ve misrepresented or mischaracterized racist or sexist speech in ways that minimized the ugliness of those speech acts. This isn’t a one-time slipup. It’s a pattern.

Again, I respect FIRE’s principles as articulated. I can accept their belief that the work they do requires them to do no more than “present … all the evidence that we have about the expression in question in order to help people make up their minds for themselves.” But that’s not how Shibley approached the Wallace case, and it’s not how FIRE addressed the two previous cases I’ve highlighted. In each of these three cases, representatives of FIRE offered partial and incomplete descriptions of presumptively racist and/or sexist speech, with their omissions serving to create the impression that the speech was less obnoxious than it actually was. And in each of these three cases those same representatives offered editorial defenses of that speech on content-based rather than civil libertarian grounds.

FIRE is an organization encompassing members and leaders of wildly divergent political perspectives. It speaks out on behalf of controversial speech of all kinds. The work that it does on behalf of the rights of people with unpopular views is often valuable. But despite all this, its reputation in many quarters is one of political and cultural conservatism. There are many reasons that it has this reputation, but the phenomenon I’ve described here is, to my mind, one of the most significant.

If the folks at FIRE want to be accepted as a force for free expression across the political spectrum—if they want to be seen as, in Robert Shipley’s words, “an honest and trustworthy broker to whom people of all different values and beliefs can come for help”—they’re really going to have to do a better job with this kind of stuff.


College Seniors Face Lack of Entry-Level Jobs

Ithaca College senior Scott Steimer wants to be a research analyst after he graduates in May. But as the people who were laid off during the recession apply for more entry-level positions, Steimer may face more competition for his dream job -- or any job -- than he anticipated.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, from January 2007 through December 2009, 6.9 million workers were displaced from jobs they held for at least three years. Of these workers who had been permanently laid off or received a notice of layoff or termination, about half were re-employed in January 2010.

James Borbely, an economist with the current population survey of the Division of Labor Force Statistics, said the level of displaced workers during that three-year period outpaced any other three-year period. He said there’s some linkage between young people just out of college having more difficultly finding work because of the competition with older workers who are still trying to find jobs.

“It seems reasonable to assert that there probably is some additional competition, some additional pressure on the labor market because there are so many people without work still,” Borbely said.

Peter Perri, financial advisor at Merrill Lynch, also said entering the job market is tricky this year because of the competition with displaced workers.

“[Displaced workers] who were making six figure incomes three or four years ago are more than happy to take half of that at this point,” he said. “Unless a business thinks they can hire a recent college graduate for half of that half, then they’ll take the experienced person for half price.”

For Steimer, a finance and accounting major, he said the rehiring of these displaced workers is hindering his job search.

“Even the job postings that don’t explicitly say two to three years, they will say one-year experience preferred, master of business administration preferred,” he said. “If I apply to this job, they may consider me, but as soon as an MBA kid shows up, I’m out of the running.”

However, John Bradac, director of career services at Ithaca College, cited a report published last Thursday by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which said the hiring outlook for the class of 2011 is positive—53.3 percent of respondents anticipate an increase in their college hiring, up from less than 50 percent in the fall.

Bradac said graduates should not worry about displaced workers because there is always a market for entry-level professionals. He said searching for a job is a process that takes time, effort and energy.

Sherry Burford ’73, career coach with Horizons Career Coaching, said graduates from 2008 to 2010 faced a very difficult hiring environment, which could pose more competition for today’s graduates.

“For those graduates who have bailed out [of the job search], they have been waiting for things to improve,” she said. “Recent grads could be vying for the same jobs and that is largely due to the instability of the whole emerging job market.”

Burford said today’s graduates need to be prepared with a primary strategy, such as an ultimate career goal, but she also said they need to take responsibility to find employment throughout their lives.

Another Ithaca College senior Orhun Unsal, a finance and marketing major, said his dream job is to be an international environmental consultant for sustainable development. Unsal has applied for positions at several international development firms. Though he has the qualifications for particular positions, he said he does not have the new requirements many organizations now require.

“That’s really the route of the whole issue,” he said. “Why would a firm hire a new graduate when they can have a guy with five years experience instead?” Unsal said.


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