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SlutWalk Vancouver Rallies Against Victim-Blaming

This piece originally appeared on The Georgia Straight.

What did I wear to SlutWalk Vancouver? Well, like many Vancouverites do most mornings of the year, I rolled out of bed, saw that it was wet and grey outside, and pulled on my rain boots and raincoat. My mother was wearing jeans and a black track coat. On our way out the door, my dad tried to foist these hideous neon pink hats on us, saying that we didn’t look flamboyant enough for SlutWalk.

When we arrived at the Vancouver Art Gallery just before 1:00 pm, we were relieved to see that we were not the only ones who decided to dress warmly (and blandly) for the weather. Except for the brave few who dared to bare skin to demonstrate that no manner of dress is an invitation for rape, the majority of us were bundled up.

However, an earlier estimate of 1,500 participants swelled to more than 2,000 as the march took off—showing that a little rain did not keep Vancouver participants from taking a stand against sexual violence and victim-blaming. “Since 2008, rates of sexual assault in Vancouver have skyrocketed,” said SlutWalk organizer, 28-year-old student Katie Raso, as she rallied the crowd. “We are here to say that no matter where we go, and no matter what we wear, yes means yes and no always means no.”

The participants seemed to have gotten the message. They carried signs such as “Let’s Change a Don’t Get Raped Culture Into a Don’t Rape Culture” and chanted slogans like: “My little black dress does not mean yes!”

As we marched toward the Vancouver Convention Centre to the beats of a Balkan brass band and a Native drum group, I spotted a young man striding along in a short skirt and four-inch leopard-print stilettos. "It's my first time in heels," said Billy Taylor, "but I brought my sneakers in case I can’t make it the whole way."

Taylor's slightly more conservatively dressed friend, Casper LeBlanc, added: "We're here today because we want to support the end of rape culture and spread the message that there is no excuse for sexual assault."  As I moved through the crowd to interview other walk participants, I felt a surge of pride for my hometown. I was inspired by the diversity of people around me. There were parents pushing strollers, groups of guys strutting around in Canucks hockey jerseys, a roller derby crew, people in suits with name tags coming straight out of a conference, kids running around, and maybe most inspiring of all, almost half of the walk participants were men.

Males of all ages carried signs saying things like “Bought Her Dinner? She Doesn’t Owe You Anything” and “Real Men Take No for An Answer”. The energy peaked when we marched through the Granville Street club district: a place where SlutWalk organizer Katie Nordgren says it’s hard to find a woman “who has ever been to a club along the Granville Strip who hasn’t been harassed or assaulted to some degree.”

While SlutWalk Vancouver seeks to raise awareness about high rates of sexual assault and victim-blaming in Canada, it is also part of a worldwide movement. More than 60 other walks have been held already or will take place during the next few months in cities as varied as London, New York, Johannesburg, and Dublin.

It all started in Toronto at York University. On January 24, Toronto police officer Const. Michael Sanguinetti said to a group of students at a safety seminar:  “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” That was the last straw for many Toronto citizens. On April 3, more than 3,000 people took a stand against victim-blaming and participated in what organizers billed as SlutWalk Toronto.

On March 31, Vancouver Simon Fraser University student Josh Tabish emailed fellow communications undergrad Katie Raso a link to a newspaper article in which another police officer was quoted as saying that victims of sexual assault are “people who have placed themselves in vulnerable situations and are unfortunately victimized as a result.”

Raso posted the link to the SlutWalk Toronto Facebook page; within minutes, she said, she received a text message from a SlutWalk Toronto participant encouraging her to organize a SlutWalk in Vancouver. Raso emailed several local organizations to gauge support for the idea, and by the end of the day, SlutWalk Vancouver’s organizing committee had come together.

In the huge outburst of impassioned debates that have accompanied the proliferation of SlutWalks around the world, one of the recurring criticisms that has emerged is that “slut” is too sexist and offensive a word for feminists to reclaim.

The Vancouver organizing team carefully deliberated over whether or not to use the name SlutWalk. Nordgren explained their decision to me: “We realized that the problematic nature of the name of SlutWalk itself has been able to start so many important discussions about what the word ‘slut’ means and about how ‘slut’ is used to devalue and shut down women as unworthy of consideration, protection, and justice." "We’re hearing from a lot of people that the name put them off at first, but that they’ve come around to the idea that there’s no better word that sums up the culture we’re trying very hard to deconstruct,” Nordgren added.

Since sex workers often suffer the most extreme consequences of slut shaming, I thought it was incredible that a sex worker, Lilliana D’Amour, had the courage to give a speech during the last stop of the route, where she called herself a slut (which she defines as anyone who has ever pissed anyone off). “When a serial killer [Robert Pickton] can get away with killing more than 60 women [in Vancouver] and people turn a blind eye because those women were sex workers, that’s whorephobia,” said D’Amour, as the crowd hushed in somber reflection.

Joyce Arthur, a representative of FIRST (a coalition of feminists who advocate for the decriminalization of adult sex work), commended SlutWalk Vancouver for supporting the rights of sex workers and other marginalized groups. But she said, “We have to remember that there are people who are not at the march today because they oppose SlutWalk.”

Last week, Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente wrote a scathing critique of SlutWalk, in which she claimed that participants were engaging in “narcissistic self-indulgence.” She dismissed SlutWalks as “what you get when graduate students in feminist studies run out of things to do.”

I wonder what Wente would think if she had attended SlutWalk Vancouver and witnessed participation from people of all ages, ethnicities, and walks of life—and the range and depth in which the speakers and organizers addressed topics such as the intersectionality of different kinds of oppression and the various meanings of the word slut.

When I asked Medina, a 14-year-old ninth grade student, about what she wanted people who had not attended SlutWalk to know about the event, she said: “People are being raped and being blamed for it. SlutWalk is trying to correct that. I think that people should learn more about SlutWalk in order to understand it better.”

Colleges' Data Disclosure Would Help Prospective and Active Students Alike

This article was originally posted by the Center for American Progress (CAP). Julie Margetta Morgan is a Policy Analyst with the Postsecondary Education Program at CAP.

Ever wonder what Facebook does with the information it collects about you? Ever wonder what you could do with that same information? Economist Richard Thaler recently raised the notion that consumers could benefit if companies would turn the data they collect over to the public. His mantra is “It’s my data—give it back!”

The University of Chicago economist is onto something here. It makes a lot of sense to expect companies to turn over all the information they collect, though it sounds a bit off the wall. After all, that data about themselves could help consumers make better decisions. But why just Facebook? How about colleges and universities?

Higher learning institutions across our nation collect a tremendous amount of information about students and prospective students for marketing, predicting admissions yield, and increasingly, for compliance with completion goals. Right now, colleges use the information to target their promotions toward particular students, to build their brands, or to change the services they offer to meet demand. But some of that information could also be used to help students understand more about the colleges and more about themselves.

For instance, colleges and universities use independent consultants to collect data about current and prospective students to understand how to target the students who would be the most successful at their institutions. In stark contrast to the rich data these institutions can collect on their past, present, and prospective students, college-bound students only have access to the data collected through federal sources and a handful of other pieces of information.

Wouldn’t it be helpful to a prospective student to know where they fit? More importantly, it certainly would be helpful to students to know the schools where they won’t be likely to succeed.

Thaler argues that data belongs to individuals, so they should have access to it. There’s even more reason to think that individuals should have access to data collected by colleges: these institutions use public money to operate, and so the information they collect should be available to help achieve public purposes such as college completion rates, access to admission, and affordability.

In fact, keeping this information proprietary may work against these public purposes. As Thaler points out, collecting information allows companies to make more money. It does not serve the public or individuals when colleges use the data they collect to attract students while charging ever higher tuition prices. 

Thaler doesn’t argue that we just place piles of data into the hands of individuals because they may not be equipped to use it effectively. He envisions middle men who would repurpose the data to help individuals understand their own purchasing decisions or usage patterns, with their permission. In higher education, these middle men already exist—U.S. News and World Report, the College Board, and pricey independent college counselors—but the data they repackage at this point is limited, and in many cases, students have to pay to get access to it. With the cost of tuition on the rise, we shouldn’t be adding one more expense by expecting students to give up information for free and then pay to get it back.

Congress and the Department of Education often look to better information as a way to improve student access to colleges and universities and to gauge college-completion rates. Rather than recycling the data gathered in federal databases, they should look take a closer look at the rich information these institutions collect about their students and prospective students—information that is never released publicly. Right now, colleges and universities hold all the cards. It’s time for students and families to be dealt a fair hand in the college-admissions game, and for them to understand what it takes for these institutions to graduate their students successfully.

Arab Youth Respond to Osama bin Laden's Death

The death of Osama bin Laden is surely a game-changer. But to what degree? Arab youth activists respond to his death, addressing how he impacted their lives over the years and what sort of questions his death raises for the region.

This an excerpt from a piece in The Next Great Generation. For the full article, click here.

What’s your response to the death of Osama bin Laden?

It’s always affirmative of the higher values one believes in to see someone guilty of cold-bloodedly killing thousands of innocent human beings finally brought to justice. But I can’t help but wonder when—or rather whether—those who are directly responsible for similar atrocities committed in the name of fighting him [Osama Bin Laden] will be held accountable and face the consequences of their actions one day. Maybe then should we be allowed to announce “justice for all”?

What did he mean to you? Has his life affected or influenced your life in any way?

Being an Arab Muslim, my life has no doubt been highly influenced by him. His ideology not only altered the way we are viewed, but also the way we see ourselves. Seeing the full half of the glass, I believe the internal discussion it triggered will be a step in the right direction, with Arabs and Muslims taking this chance to reinvent themselves and eradicate the underlying reasons that made his emergence possible in the first place.

Do you think Bin Laden’s death will change the relationship between the West and the Arab world?

I can’t think of a reason why it should bring about any significant changes. Al-Qaeda will not cease to exist over night, and I don’t see the war on terror as a whole ending in the near future. I believe it would be very naïve to expect his death to change anything in the global political landscape, including the relationship between the US, EU and the Arab world.

Alaa Alkiaini, a 21-year-old student from Amman, Jordan.

What’s your response to the death of Osama bin Laden?

I am so surprised and happy—you can’t even believe how happy I am—you have no idea how hard he made our lives as Arabs after 9/11, the way the world has viewed us. I am so tired of the way the world views us all as Osama bin Ladens, so I hope this view will now end so we can all move forward.

What did he mean to you? Has his life affected or influenced your life in any way?

The life of Osama bin Laden meant living in fear all the time, it meant the risk of being attacked at any moment, at any time—I worked with foreigners in Amman, Jordan, [at a hotel] which made it even riskier. These terrorists hate us Jordanians most because we live more liberal lives and have peace with America and Israel—so we have been at risk and suffered from horrible terrorism ourselves at the hands of these people.

Do you think Bin Laden’s death will change the relationship between the West and the Arab world?

I’m sure this will be great for our relationship with the West—we, as Arab countries, have many resources, not just oil and gas, but also many, many beautiful sights and kind people who want to meet people from the West and share our real culture. Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda worked to destroy all of this and make the religion of Islam about terrorism, not peace, and created this big gap between the West and Arab countries. I’m so happy that this could change because I think we both have a lot to share with each other.

Ali Aljehairy, a 22-year-old cyber activist (@Alhejairy) from Manama, Bahrain whose cousin was recently tortured by the regime.

What’s your response to the death of Osama bin Laden?

This wasn’t a big deal for me because he hasn’t meant much recently. He was under house arrest. Besides, I don’t believe that he has been killed—I think that he was already dead, and Obama just announced this to exploit the death for his second presidency term. If this were true, if they really just shot him in the head, why did they say that they threw his body into the sea? Why didn’t they show his body?

What did he mean to you? Has his life affected or influenced your life in any way?

He meant nothing. He was an extreme terrorist who distorted the image of Islam, an extremist who made it very difficult for the rest of the Arabs to have normal good lives. He hasn’t influenced my life at all other than negatively.

Do you think Bin Laden’s death will change the relationship between the West and the Arab world?

I hope that it will change for the better. I hope…

Badgering Students to Fork Over Alumni Donations

Whatever else you get out of the education, one thing you definitely learn in four years at Penn is that Amy Gutmann knows how to throw a party. As senior week began last night, the Penn president opened up her house (well, the backyard at least) to a Hollywood-themed bash for the soon-to-be-graduating seniors, replete with a red carpet, oversized Oscar statues and video monitors flashing images of assorted movie stars.

The star of this party, however, was unquestionably President Gutmann, who spent most of the time parked near the front of the yard as a steady stream of students approached her to make awkward small talk and get their pictures taken. A friend and I munched on hors d’oeuvres somewhat off to the side, debating the merits of being a university president. My friend thought it would be pretty cool to run an institution like Penn. I replied that I couldn’t imagine having to do all that glad-handing and money-scrounging.

As if on cue, Gutmann picked up a mic and began her toast to this year’s senior class. For the first minute, tops, she stuck to celebratory platitudes, asking us how it felt to be seniors (which was bizarre because that’s the line she uses to the juniors at Hey Day when they “officially” become seniors) and serenading us as “her favorite class ever.”

She then shifted gears to the real purpose of this little toast, which was—surprise, surprise—asking for money. She hailed the 1,300 or so members of the senior class who had so far given to Seniors for the Penn Fund and challenged us to break the donor record held by the Class of 2009 with a tone that suggested our status as her favorite class might be up for reconsideration if we didn’t.

Next, several seniors in their green Seniors for the Penn Fund T-shirts read statements about the importance of our contribution to the future of the university, the quality of the education, the availability of scholarships, etc., etc. By this point, though, just about everyone had stopped listening and returned to eating their hot dogs and talking amongst themselves.

But the solicitations weren’t over. A few minutes after the official presentation wrapped up, a woman (some administrator) came up to a group of us and, after politely inquiring into our plans for next year, asked if we had donated. We all nodded yes. I’m pretty sure none of us had. Satisfied nonetheless, she excused herself and moved onto the next group of potential donors.

By the end of the night, I vowed to myself that if another person asked me to give money before I graduate on Monday, I would never send a dollar in Penn’s direction. I suppose, though, that the “if” part of that statement is superfluous. After all, even before President Gutmann’s remarks, I’d been asked for money on the way into the party and earlier that day when I bought a ticket for the senior formal. I’ve also been receiving emails all semester on a near-weekly—and now even more frequent—basis from fellow seniors, imploring me to “Give Today!” Some of the appeals are absolutely priceless. “Nothing says class unity like contributing to Seniors for The Penn Fund,” reads one. Needless to say, I’m fairly certain I’ll find myself bombarded with more solicitations as soon as I step foot on campus today—or open my email.

I get that alumni contributions are part of the lifeblood of the modern university. But the constant pressure on often heavily-indebted students to donate and insinuations that not donating before you’ve even picked up your diploma makes you a less worthy graduate is more than a little unseemly. For a university that proudly proclaims its commitments to socioeconomic diversity and the liberal arts, it’s “give now!” campaign signals that richer students and those who have opted for high-paying jobs on Wall Street are more valued than poorer students and those who have pursued their passions into lower-wage professions.

I suppose that with time and a little more money in my bank account, I’ll get over my hang-up and donate to some worthy program at my alma mater. For now, I don’t need Penn to help “instill the idea of alumni support” in me. I can think of countless better ways to feel a sense of class unity this week.

The Nation Student Writing Contest

The Deadline has been extended to midnight on July 5th!


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

This year, we're looking for original, thoughtful, provocative student voices to answer this question in 800 words:

What do you think is the most serious issue facing your generation?

The contest is open to all matriculating high school students and undergraduates at US schools, colleges and universities, including those receiving high school or college degrees in the year 2011. (Those being home-schooled and studying at US schools abroad are eligible.) High school and college essays are judged in two different tiers respectively. We're also considering adding a non-US category next year.

Entries are being accepted through June 30th. Both high school and college winners are published in The Nation and receive $1,000 and lifetime Nation subscriptions. Finalists are published at thenation.com and receive $250 plus free subscriptions.

Our first winner, Sarah Stillman, a Yale undergraduate and founding editor of Manifesta, a student feminist journal, set a high bar in 2006 with "Project Corpus Callosum," her meditation on student apathy and action. In 2008, we added a high school category and began naming two winners annually along with ten finalists.

Last year we asked students to tell us how their education had been compromised by budget cuts and tuition hikes. In a true sign of the times, we received a startling 1,000 submissions from forty-three states coast to coast.

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

Campus Progress/Colorlines.com Keynote Contest

The contest deadline has been extended until Sunday, May 22!

Despite what some may say, young people know that race and racism aren’t things of the past. But it can also be difficult to rise above the bogus "post-racial" concept pushed by the media, in which ”racism” is always interpersonal and never systemic, and in which any mere mention of race makes someone a ”racist.”
So, grab a video camera, cell phone, laptop, or your technology of choice and shoot a short video that answers the question: In your own life, how are you changing the rules of our race conversation, and creating real solutions for racial and social justice?
Submit it by 11:59:59 EST on Friday, May 13, and you could win a free trip to Washington, DC, to attend the Campus Progress National Conference and join the ranks of past Conference speakers including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, The Nation’s own Katrina vanden Heuvel and Chris Hayes, The Daily Show's John Oliver, Van Jones, Samantha Power, Ryan Gosling, and many, many others.
Last year’s winners were an undocumented student activist, a young man once caught up in gang violence who now advocates for peace, and a first-generation college student working to bring young people to the table in discussions about policies that impact their lives.
So, think you have what it takes? Head over to the contest page now to get started! And if you're not interested in entering the contest, but want to check out the Conference, you can apply to attend here.

The Student Week Ahead

Graduation is upon us, so this will be the last activist round-up for a few weeks. All of these events are open to the general public. Congratulations seniors, and good luck!


WHAT: "Leadership, Activism, and Economic Human Rights"
WHEN: Monday, May 9, 5:00 pm
WHERE: Nelson A. Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH

Cheri Honkala was a single mother collecting public assistance in Philadelphia when she founded the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU). After speaking with other mothers in her situation around North Philadelphia, she realized there was a need for community support and raising awareness on issues related to homelessness, affordable housing, and most importantly economic human rights. The KWRU was Honkala's effort to join the historic legacy of activists who have attempted to mobilize a mass movement by poor people in the United States so that they might make use of the political power they have by virtue of being US citizens. This discussion will focus on Honkala's struggles as a leader in under-resourced conditions.


WHAT: Women of Color Leadership Conference
WHEN:  Thursday 5/12, 5:00 p.m.
WHERE: University Center Building, Pierson Auditorium, University of Missouri Kansas City, Kansas City, MO

The Nation’s own Melissa Harris-Perry -- author, professor and MSNBC News contributor -- will be the keynote speaker for the WOCLC for adults at 6:00 p.m. on May 12, with a book signing to follow. Workshops begin at 8:15 a.m.; registration starts at 7:30 a.m. Harris-Perry is author of "Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought." She is working on a new book - Sister Citizen: A Text For Colored Girls Who've Considered Politics When Being Strong Wasn't Enough - with an expected 2011 release.


WHAT: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars
WHEN: Tuesday, May 10, 4:00 pm
WHERE: KBR, Humboldt State University Campus, Arcata, California

As they languished in a squalid refugee camp in Guinea, the members of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, could not have imagined what the future would hold for them. In just five whirlwind years, the group has been the subject of an acclaimed documentary film, toured the world to support a critically revered album, appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, had their music featured in a major Leonardo DiCaprio film, and shared the stage and studio with Aerosmith, Keith Richards and other international stars. Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars have risen like a phoenix out of the ashes of war and have captivated fans across the globe with their uplifting songs and pure energy live shows. The band is a tangible example of the redeeming power of music and the ability of the human spirit to persevere through unimaginable hardship and emerge with optimism intact.


WHAT: FREE TOUR: National Public Gardens Day
WHEN:  Saturday, May 7, 10:00 am
WHERE: NC Botanical Garden Visitor Education Center, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Join a free hour-long tour of the North Carolina Botanical Garden to celebrate National Public Gardens Day. Walk through a longleaf pine forest in our Sandhills Habitat Garden, a wet savannah in our Coastal Plain Habitat Garden, and a mountain bog in our Mountain Habitat Garden. We will also look at the Carnivorous Plant Collection. Tour begins at 10:00 am in the Pegg Exhibit Hall at the NC Botanical Garden.

4 Under 40 Making a Difference for Social Justice

There are a dizzying number of corporate-sponsored awards and fellowships available for college students. Precious few though reward the social conscience that so many students learn to put aside out of necessity as they figure out how to start paying their bills.

That's why we were so pleased to report last fall that Grinnell College, a liberal arts institution in Iowa, had announced the creation of a $300,000 annual prize program to honor individuals under the age of 40 who have demonstrated leadership in their fields and who show creativity, commitment and extraordinary accomplishment in effecting positive social change.

The Nation commended Grinnell for sponsoring the award and encouraged all eligible readers to apply for this prize, which is one of the largest of its kind available in the US.

So, of course, we were interested in Grinnell's announcement this week of the first winners of the Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize.
Each of the three winners were selected from more than 1,000 nominations from 66 countries. Each winning entry receives $100,000, half to the individual(s) and half to an organization the winner(s) designates.

Meet the winners:

Boris Bulayev, age 26, president, and Eric Glustrom, age 26, executive director, Educate! (shared award), working to empower youth across Uganda

James Kofi Annan, age 37, executive director, Challenging Heights, which provides education and rehabilitation for children who have returned from slavery and horrific forms of child labor

Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, age 35, co-founder and co-executive director, Encounter, dedicated to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by providing Jewish leaders with firsthand exposure to Palestinian realities

In October, the trio will visit the campus to participate in the Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize Symposium and awards ceremony. Through public lectures and interactions with students, they will share their experiences and perspectives in effecting positive and innovative social change. Noted civil rights lawyer and founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Morris Dees, will deliver the symposium’s keynote address.

Kudos to Grinnell for its commitment to positive social change!

Arizona's Choice Today: Tucson Students Lead New Civil Rights Movement

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.

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A Pakistani Student Reflects on Osama bin Laden's Death

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.

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