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StudentNation

StudentNation

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

#OutWithStudentDebt Videos Help Shed the Stigma of Indebtedness

Kudos to the three winners of StudentDebtCrisis.org’s #OutWithStudentDebt Video Project—an initiative designed to help shed the stigma of shame and embarrassment that comes along with the burden of student loan debt. The winners will be awarded $500 each, representing an average monthly student loan bill.

Nearly sixty video testimonials were submitted, highlighting a cross-section of young Americans who, too often, feel voiceless and powerless when it comes to their education debts.

One winning video, submitted by the New Olivet Baptist Church in Tennessee, features an entire congregation coming out with their collective $1.4 Million in student loan debt. “We made the video because we wanted to highlight the educational attainment in our congregation, and at the same time call attention to the cost of achievement, hoping that along with organizations like StudentDebtCrisis.org, we can demand changes to the way education is funded in our country,” said Dr. Denise Lofton of the New Olivet Baptist Church. She continued, “the prize money will support our efforts to inform students on ways to manage student debt, options for repayment and methods of searching for money for school.”

Jacquelynn Lethridge of Alameda, California, explained her motivation for submitting her winning video, saying: “I created this video because I was tired of hiding behind the embarrassment of my private student loan debt. It not only affects me, but thousands of other alumni. Our voices need to be heard on this issue!”

Jane Moody of Pearl City, Hawaii, “wanted to give student debt a face. Even with public service loan forgiveness, with the private loans I had to take out, I have no hope of these loans ever being fully paid off before I die.”

Barnard College’s New Sex Restrictions

Barnard College

A version of this article was originally published by {young}ist.

This fall, when students shuffled back into their dorms at Barnard College, one of the nation’s premier all women’s universities, many were surprised to hear that new rules precldued the students from having guests sleep over more than six times a month.

The arbitrary limit, which even applies to students living alone, is a bizarre ruling to many Barnard students, who pride their school as a feminist institution and might not have even come if they knew this was part of the deal. According to the new rule, which most students were not even notified of beforehand, a guest may sleep over “for no more than three consecutive nights and no more than six nights total in any 30-day period.” The mechanism of the process is even more intrusive as desk attendants have been “given new log books,” according to the Columbia Daily Spectator, to track the names of those sleeping over.

The school is known for its feminist pedagogy, women’s leadership programs, and good faith initiatives like “Take Back the Night,” providing a safe space for the larger Barnard-Columbia University community to discuss sexual violence. Yet this new measure evokes a Barnard of old–the kind of pre-’60s all women’s college focused on churning out “respectable” ladies, not exactly in line with the college’s claim to inspire “Bold, Beautiful, Barnard Women.”

“For years, the administration has been cracking down on all these small aspects of our lives–trying to control tiny personal areas,” said Emilie Segura, a senior at Barnard. “It’s just very invasive when they ask you for all this information–and they didn’t even tell us they were doing it! They act like a condescending parent in monitoring our lives and preventing us from actually maturing into the women that we hope to become.”

According to Lizzy Wolozin, a sophomore at Barnard, “Six doesn’t even encompass all the weekends in a month. Why would I not be allowed to have an overnight guest every night of the weekend unless it had to do with my sex life? In a very literal sense, the doorman is going to have to tell me I can’t have a guest over because I’ve had a person over too many times.”

In an e-mailed response, Avis Hinkson, dean of the College, claimed the policy is “not about Barnard students sleeping with guests” and was enacted because students felt uncomfortable with “guests” staying in rooms or suites. Stefani Priskos, a sophomore RA, for example, reported to the Columbia Daily Spectator, the rule is “less about administration monitoring who comes in and out but more about giving people tools to be able to make themselves feel comfortable.” While this anxiety is certainly valid issue and should be handled by RAs on an individual basis, it is highly unlikely that the supposed student complaints were about sisters or cousins spending the night for a college visit.

Clearly the issue is about sex. If it were just about barring any and all guests, they could have simply enacted the three-nights-in-a-row minimum; but the attempt to limit guests from sleeping over more than six times throughout the month can mean little else.

“I think what it comes down to is inadvertent slut shaming because it creates a system that implies there is an acceptable amount of time for someone to visit,” said Tamsin Pargiter, a Barnard sophomore. “If you have someone for six nights it’s okay, but more than that is suddenly problematic. I don’t think that’s okay, especially for a school that prides itself as a progressive, feminist one.”

In fact, the new policy feels even more patriarchal in comparison to its peer institution Columbia University. While Columbia has a similarly problematic rule (five overnight stays per month), it does not furnish guards with log books specifically for overnight stays, nor does it expect residents to walk back down the morning after to sign out guests and give guards their room number information. Such a systematized process in which a student must affirm her sexual choices in front of a staring gatekeeper harkens back to the Barnard era of yore in which guards would go through the halls at night kicking out potential partners before bedtime.

The new rule comes after much chatter this summer in the media, including The New York Times, about the “shocking” revelations that women in college have sex. Regardless of how far behind the times these outlets are, the reality is that women do indeed have sex in college, a fact much noted in the skewering responses to the rule from campus blogs.

If the Barnard administration takes the idea that adult women should have control over their bodies seriously, then students and RAs living together should be able to come to a consensus themselves about how often guests can stay over. The administration did not involve students in this ruling, and in patronizing fashion pushed through a heavy handed rule to “speak” for silent students, rather than providing encouragement and outlets for them to speak themselves. The result is compromised reproductive rights.

The purpose of a women’s college is to provide a safe space for students to find their own scholarly and personal fulfillment, liberated from the male gaze and patriarchal mechanisms of control. But if Barnard’s administration insists on stretching its parental tentacles even into the bedroom, one must begin to wonder: does it consider its students adults or children?

Turn On, Tune In, Opt Out

United Opt Out rally

At a September 16 PTA meeting, Castle Bridge elementary school parents received some unwelcome news: the New York City Department of Education was imposing new standardized tests on their children in kindergarten through second grade. Kindergarteners would take a break from learning the alphabet to bubble A through D on multiple-choice exams. Images next to each problem—a tree, a mug, a hand—would serve as signposts for students still fuzzy on numbers.

The district purchased the tests to meet the state’s new teacher evaluation laws. In elementary schools that don’t serve grades three through eight, No Child Left Behind testing dictates don’t apply, necessitating a supplemental test. Castle Bridge, a progressive K-2 public school in Washington Heights, is among thirty-six early elementary schools in the New York City targeted for the new assessments.

According to Castle Bridge mom Dao Tran, those at the PTA meeting were appalled. This was the first they’d heard of the tests. Talk of refusal arose among some parents, but they knew that “acting as individuals wouldn’t keep testing culture from invading our school.” They opted for collective action.

Starting in early October, a core group organized meetings, disseminated fact sheets on standardized testing and galvanized a spirited conversation at the next PTA meeting. Parents shared their concerns, weighing the risks of refusal. At one meeting a parent whose first language was Spanish testified to the pain and anxiety brought on by taking standardized tests in his youth.

Within three weeks, 80 percent of parents had submitted in writing their intention to opt out of the new tests. Principal Julie Zuckerman put her weight behind the families, agreeing, according to Tran, that “these tests would be the wrong thing to do.”

In a statement, parents wrote, “The K-2 high-stakes tests take excessive testing to its extreme: testing children as young as four serves no meaningful educative purpose and is developmentally destructive.”

By October 28, families of ninety-three of the ninety-seven students subject to the tests had opted out. The near-unanimous boycott is unprecedented in the city.

It also signals the first stirrings of a growing test-resistance movement poised to reach new heights this academic year.

* * *

“Who do you like more: A, Mommy; B, Daddy; or C, Frederick Douglas?”

When 8-year-old Jackson Zavala posed this multiple-choice query to his baby sister, his mother Diana Zavala knew something was amiss.

Jackson, a student with special needs in communications, had been a “curious, interested” student until third grade, the first year NCLB-mandated state tests take effect. It was then his mother noticed that he “became anxious and bored by school.” She saw that his homework had become rote and repetitive, his class time devoted more to test prep and his speech inflected with the language of multiple-choice testing.

In time Zavala decided that the influence of testing in class had led to “damage to his personal well-being and originality” and “a strangling of his curriculum.”

She poked around and found a New York City–based test resistance group called Change the Stakes. With the group’s support, opting out was a less fraught decision. “We had a family, a connection with a community of people” also resisting the test.

For the last two years, Jackson has refused state exams.

But actions like Zavala’s have been sporadic in recent years. It wasn’t until this past spring that the testing opt-out movement had its first bumper crop.

In January, high school teacher and activist Jesse Hagopian helped lead the dramatic test boycott at Seattle’s Garfield High School. Teachers refused to administer, and students refused to take the state test, which organizers argued wasn’t aligned to curriculum and provided statistically unreliable results. After a months-long standoff with the district which saw teachers threatened with suspension, the district relented and allowed the high school to forgo the test.

Since spring, Hagopian has been traveling the country speaking at events and advising schools “who want to replicate” the success of Garfield’s boycott. He even took part in a panel on NBC’s Education Nation in early October to rail against “the inundation of our classrooms with standardized testing.”

But while Seattle attracted the lion’s share of national media attention, schools throughout the country saw increasing numbers of students refuse standardized tests. Denver, Chicago, Portland, Providence and elsewhere witnessed opt-outs large and small.

Parent groups in Texas succeeded in halving the number of standardized tests given there. Students donned fake gore for “zombie crawls” in two cities, highlighting the deadening effects of test-mania. Little ones participated in a “play-in” at district offices in Chicago, living the motto that tots “should be blowing bubbles, not filling them in.”

This activism comes as a reaction to the growth of a testing apparatus unmatched in US history. Bipartisan No Child Left Behind legislation in 2002 laid the groundwork, requiring states to develop assessments for all students in grades 3-8, and threatening schools that fall short of yearly benchmarks. The Obama Administration’s Race to the Top heightened the stakes, encouraging states to develop test-based teacher evaluations and adopt Common Core standards.

Together they aim to capture all the complexities of a student’s learning in a few digits that sometimes add up to schools closed and teachers fired. Meanwhile three-quarters of districts facing NCLB sanctions have reported cutting the time allotted to non-tested subjects like science and music. And since Race to the Top’s passage in 2009, about two-thirds of states have ramped up their teacher evaluation systems, with thirty-eight now explicitly requiring evaluations to include test scores.

As standardized testing has grown, so too has its shadow. In 2011, the United Opt Out movement was established to counter the pro-testing mania sweeping the country. Its website provides opt-out guides for forty-nine states and the District of Columbia, and connects a burgeoning community of grumbling and disaffected parents.

“I didn’t ask for high-stakes testing,” says Tim Slekar, a co-founder of United Opt Out. Slekar sees participating in a large-scale opt-out movement as a way for him and his children to “reclaim public education.”

United Opt Out currently claims 6,000 members, but Slekar says its ranks are ballooning. “I’ve spoken to more parents in the last three weeks than in the past three years.”

In New York, dozens of grassroots organizations have emerged to address testing. Parent advocates recently formed New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) to serve as an umbrella group. The organization draws together parents from big cities and sleepy byways, united in “seeing the damage to the kids,” says NYSAPE co-founder Chris Cerrone.

In the tiny West New York district where Cerrone’s children go to school, the number of students opting out rose sixfold between 2012 and 2013. At Springville Middle School, enough students boycotted to trigger NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress alarms.

NYSAPE has scrutinized state opt-out procedures and found New York has no provision for addressing student test refusal. The knowledge that students can forgo tests without individual repercussions has emboldened parents across the state.

In schools from Long Island to Albany, from the Adirondacks to Lower Manhattan, students pushed their pencils aside and refused state tests this past spring. It was a high-water mark for the opt-out movement in New York, but still totaled less than 1 percent of students.

The question remains as to whether boycotts that exceed 5 percent of a school’s population, and thus preclude schools from making Adequate Yearly Progress, can invite consequences. National testing advocacy group Fairtest treads cautiously here.

Chris Cerrone calls it “a myth,” however, pointing to the fact that despite increasing opt outs, no school in New York has lost funding due to student test refusal. But it’s still unclear.

* * *

On October 27, eight days after the Castle Bridge boycott went public, the Chief Academic Officer of New York City schools told a state Senate committee that the K-2 bubble tests the city had selected in August were “developmentally inappropriate.” He indicated that the city would move towards “performance assessments” in these grades, noting that the new state teacher evaluation law mandates some form of assessment in these grades.

It’s the latest in a series of conciliatory gestures by the Department of Education toward parents and educators who’ve been raising hackles for years.

Some of the most aggressive pushing on testing recently comes from grassroots anti-testing group Change the Stakes. Incited by the perceived onslaught of Common Core–aligned state tests, the group published sample opt-out letters and rallied parents at numerous schools in support of a boycott.

This knowledge is empowering. Parents at Castle Bridge delighted at the realization that they could yank their kids from tests. Don Lash, parent of a Castle Bridge first-grader, said “just being aware there was an alternative” was a revelation.

Similar resistance efforts are underway at Earth School, a K-5 elementary in the same progressive network as Castle Bridge, where fifty-one students opted out last year. Special education teacher and parent Jia Lee played a central role in organizing last spring’s boycott, which included her fifth-grade son. Though many teachers will only whisper their support of opt-out parents, Lee is unafraid to speak publicly.

As a teacher, Lee wearied of the third-party test-prep materials flowing into schools. “You don’t need packaged curriculum to have meaningful learning,” she says. As a parent and CTS member, she feels “the only way to stop this is to deny the data.”

And in her advocacy, Lee sees the movement in the city metastasizing. “Schools that weren’t talking about this last year are starting to talk,” she says.

Parents at Castle Bridge likely won’t be backing down. Says Castle Bridge parent Vera Moore, “I will oppose testing as long as I am able.”

Interestingly, Shael Polakow-Suranksy, New York’s chief academic officer, isn’t drawing any red lines on test refusal. Regarding Castle Bridge, he said there would be “no consequences.” And children who opt out of state exams can still advance to the next grade, so long as they submit alternative portfolios, as per district policy. On the possibility of future boycotts, Polakow-Suransky won’t speculate. The recent boycott had little or no effect on his decision to renounce bubble tests for toddlers. “Preceding the news of the boycott we were exploring other options,” he says.

But it’s not just K-2 tests that parents are resisting. The opt-out movement reflects the inevitable response of citizens when dramatic changes are imposed unilaterally on democratic institutions. As they are unable to influence the content of curricula or nature of assessments through democratic means, direct resistance becomes perhaps their only option.

Diana Zavala says parents are taking the reins of school governance, but with one key difference from administrators: “You can’t fire us.”

Kelly Protestors Empowered the Voiceless

Stop-and-frisk rally

This column was originally published by The Brown Daily Herald.

It is telling that of all the reflections on last Tuesday’s events circulating on Facebook, The Herald and other media, those that only superficially engage the concept of “free speech” as an abstract principle and couch their arguments in the rhetoric of respect and civility bewail the protesters’ tactics. In contrast, those that critically engage the notions of free who and civil rights as tangible ideas that relate to and affect real communities throughout Providence and the United States in diverse ways boldly defend the protesters’ actions.

If my implication is vague, let me clarify: The thought process of those who dismiss the shouting down of New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly as “inarticulate,” “uncivilized” or “myopic” is fundamentally shallower than that of those who stand by the protestors’ decision to deny the commissioner his chance to speak. The latter is considerably less egoistic, far more nuanced and profoundly more empathetic.

If I seem unduly pejorative, I would ask you to give me the chance to empathize with those whom I have just criticized. I understand that you feel uneasy, perhaps even angry, that members of our community were denied their chance to engage Kelly in an open forum. I have no doubt that had his speech been allowed to take place, the question and answer session would have been a display of intellectual force he would have been woefully unable to withstand. We could have collectively exposed him for the menace that he is and done so in an unimpeachably civil fashion that allowed us to feel good about our community as a place in which tolerance and reason triumph over intolerance and bigotry.

But that’s where it would have stopped: our community. This civil discourse would simply not have resounded far beyond the lecture hall, and word of 100 Brown students’ intellectual triumph certainly would not have traveled to the communities throughout the country that are victims of the violent policies men like Kelly perpetuate and amplify.

I myself do not come from such a community, and I cannot claim to know the pain and degradation that Kelly’s victims are forced to live with every single day. However, I can sure as hell feel angry when people who come from privileged backgrounds like mine abuse their positions to wreak further social and economic violence on already marginalized communities, and I can do my best to sincerely help the voices of those communities ring loudly in settings where they all too often remain completely unheard.

I can appreciate the value of a society in which civil discourse is the only discourse, and I can appreciate the desire of many of my peers to act and speak in a fashion that adds to this value, but the truth of the matter is that we live in a world where this type of society cannot yet be realized. Civility that comes at the expense of further marginalizing the subjugated is not only worthless, but also criminally dishonest.

Because of this, I can appreciate that there are certain moments when an eruption of raw emotion — albeit a disruptive one — better empowers the voices of the oppressed than any sterile exercise in “intellectual rigor” undertaken on their behalf ever could. Upon reflection I have come to understand that last Tuesday was one of those moments, and I hope those of you who have not already will soon come to do the same.

Tea Party on the Left

Michael Bloomberg and Ray Kelly

This article was originally published by The Brown Daily Herald.

In 2012, 55 percent of those stopped and frisked were black, 32 percent were Hispanic and only 10 percent were white. In the same year, 89 percent of stop-and-frisks involved citizens not guilty of any crime. It would take significant convincing to demonstrate to me that this type of policy does not do social harm.

That said, stop-and-frisk has supporters—not only among political extremities but among mainstream voices. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is an outspoken advocate for the policy. Bloomberg and others argue the policy has reduced crime, though the causal link between stop-and-frisk and crime reduction is tenuous, as crime rates were dropping prior to Bloomberg’s tenure.

Revulsion among Brown students does not reflect the political landscape at large, and preventing New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly from speaking on campus exacerbated the problem it aimed to solve. Debates are more productive than echo chambers.

In academic writing, weak concession paragraphs often draw into question the strength of the thesis, sometimes likened to “dueling a straw man.” Kelly is no straw man, and his “defeat” would have been a more powerful gesture than his exclusion.

I hope to offer several arguments on behalf of allowing speakers like Ray Kelly to come to Brown’s campus, not to encourage their policies, but to most effectively oppose them.

Inversion Scenario: Imagine we were on a campus that believed unanimously that stop-and-frisk is a good policy. Would it be advisable to prohibit someone to speak against stop-and-frisk? The fact that people have the ability to be convinced that they know with certainty that something is the correct answer even when it may not be underscores the idea that the world’s complexity renders everything debatable.

Morality of Intention vs. Morality of Outcome: If we ask Ray Kelly whether his agenda is racist, he will likely say he is only trying to do what is best for NYC. Immoral outcome does not prove immoral intent.

Stop-and-Frisk is Up for Debate: Some have made the claim that Ray Kelly’s bigotry and practices of policing are not up for debate. The obvious pushback is that if this were not a debate, Kelly’s policies would not exist.

The Larger Debate: It should not be surprising that we are not allowed to engage in a direct debate with a speaker as high-profile as Kelly. Instead it is advantageous to consider Kelly’s talk as part of the “larger debate”—that is, the nationwide discussion on stop-and-frisk. In allowing Kelly to speak, we are hearing the other side make its case.

Moral Relativism: The posters depicting Kelly with a Ku Klux Klan member and swastika were disrespectful and lazy symbolism—a simplistic attempt to smear through absurd exaggeration and fabrication. If I called George W. Bush a jabroni, you might not disagree, but my resort to such a childish critique would draw into question the merits of my argument. If students needed to take advantage of the sonic resemblance of Ray to “Ray-cist” in order to make the point that he shouldn’t speak, then I am left to wonder how strong the case for his exclusion really was.

It is also worth acknowledging, and responding to, some of the most prevalent arguments circulating campus as to why Kelly was not entitled to speak:

“Do we draw the line somewhere? Would it be permissible to allow a KKK spokesman?”

Stop-and-frisk has disproportionate racial effects, but this is a laughably unrestrictive criterion for equating Kelly with a KKK member. Kelly’s talk falls in the same category as many others—a universally sought goal, crime reduction, with a polarizing method. An actual member of a hate group might not only have controversial policy suggestions with objectionable goals.

“Giving Kelly a platform suggests that the University condones his behavior.”

Arguing that listening implies agreement undercuts the entire idea of discourse. Part of being an intelligent adult and a basic tenet of liberalism is respecting the right of others to hold views that depart from your own. Giving Kelly a platform does not suggest agreement. It suggests maturity.

“White people have no right to participate in the debate on Kelly.”

Imagine you have two policy options concerning the betterment of a minority community: The first is suggested by an individual who is white, the second by an individual of color. Suspend disbelief and assume that we can say with certainty that the first policy will have a more positive effect than the latter. Which policy do you choose?

Marginalized groups may be closer to several issues and better equipped to make contributions in many cases, but it is unproductive to assume that people from other backgrounds cannot be valuable partners.

So, to those who opposed Kelly’s presence: Did derailing Kelly’s talk on campus advance your goals of opposition to stop-and-frisk? Or, like in the case of the Tea Party in the recent government shutdown, will your demonization of discourse be the lasting echo of your efforts?

Defend Free Inquiry at Brown

Ray Kelly

This column was originally published by The Brown Daily Herald.

A few weeks ago, Zach Ingber ’15 wrote a column lamenting the prevalence of “intolerance for certain political perspectives” (“Free speech at Brown?” Oct. 20). Ironically, much of the student body received his plea for free inquiry with the exact type of intolerance that he described. And just last week, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was shouted down by protesters as he attempted to give a lecture presumably regarding his support for the controversial stop-and-frisk policy.

It’s a common but apt refrain: “We don’t have free speech so that we can talk about the weather.” While this isn’t a discussion about the right to free speech per se, it’s still instructive to look at why this right plays a central role in a functioning society.

Historically, the disregard and suppression of ideas has been used to perpetrate atrocities on a grand scale. Rights are designed to protect individuals from force and coercion. Successful societies protect and promote free inquiry and discourse because they recognize the unreliability of the mob. I don’t think I need to list the innumerable cases of suppression of speech in which those resorting to force believed morality to be on their side. And it’s circular to assert that this time the action actually is justified since the assumed justification is under contention.

It’s logically unconvincing to say that stop-and-frisk is immoral, and we therefore shouldn’t talk about it, because plenty of people disagree with the initial premise that stop-and-frisk is inherently immoral. As a university, we need not actively support and represent each and every voice, but we should not disregard them, and we certainly should not suppress them.

Free inquiry is about being humble—it’s about recognizing personal intellectual imperfection while striving for unattainable perfection. To me, this unwillingness to consider, or even allow, opposing perspectives demonstrates a real dearth of the humility necessary for free inquiry. We arrogantly idolize ourselves as models of perfection and disrespectfully belittle our peers—offhandedly dismissing the views of equally rational, intelligent and well-informed individuals—because they disagree with our conclusions.

And this pretension extends beyond arguments, affecting dissenters at an individual level. Often—and I’ve experienced this personally—such convictions of infallibility are used to justify comments regarding the “bad character” of defenders of these views. Beyond relying upon the aforementioned circularity, this point is particularly annoying to me as someone who holds free inquiry at a premium. It’s a tragic state of closed-mindedness when all attempts to provide reasoning that could exonerate one’s character will only ever be interpreted as further evidence of culpability. It’s analogous to calling someone argumentative, and then taking their disagreement as further evidence of that point. This isn’t substantive “evidence,” because there would be disagreement irrespective of the truth of the initial claim.

By walking away from the debate and insisting upon the soundness of our conclusions, we afford ourselves an intellectually privileged position of self-ascribed infallibility. It’s darkly ironic to me that this is the ubiquitous fallback position taken up by the same individuals who fallaciously cite “privilege” as grounds to dismiss the arguments of others.

Ideas should be evaluated on the basis of their content, not their origin. The validity of an argument exists independently of those who espouse it. This specious logical connection between arguer and argument through privilege is a disturbingly pervasive instance of an ad hominem fallacy. At best, the “evidence” to which individuals of privilege might not have equivalent access is purely anecdotal in nature and does not establish a legitimate basis for policy.

Many condemned President Christina Paxson’s response—as well as the responses of students who agreed with her—through an irrational appeal to this unrestricted umbrella of privilege. For those in our community who were offended by Paxson’s response, perhaps the identical advice former President Ruth Simmons offered to incoming students in her 2001 convocation address will be more convincing.

“When I was your age, I was like many of such an age—confident of my opinions…One day in the middle of a classroom discussion about apartheid…a lone young white South African woman spoke up in class and defended her way of life…. I have never forgotten these simple words spoken in opposition to my own…. And I have regretted for thirty years that I did not engage this woman’s assertions instead of dismissing her as racist…. Those moments will come to you in this place. You can look away…or you can engage them and not look back thirty years later wishing that you had the opportunity to do it.”

Learning at Brown is a process in which disagreement plays an integral part. As Simmons concluded, “Welcome to this quarrelsome enterprise that we call a university. Enjoy.”

Interns’ Favorite Articles of the Week, 11/1/13

West Virginia coal plant

—Aaron Cantú focuses on the war on drugs and mass incarceration, social inequality and post-capitalist institutional design.

Wall St. Lobbyists and Financial Regulation.” The New York Times, October 29, 2013.

House, Set to Vote on 2 Bills, Is Seen as an Ally of Wall St.,” by Eric Lipton and Ben Protess. The New York Times, October 28, 2013.

The New York Times has released an investigative report exposing how banking reform legislation in the House of Representatives was essentially drafted by Citigroup lobbyists: more than seventy-five lines of the eighty-line bill reflect the bank’s self-interested suggestions. The first link is to an annotated version of the bill, and the second is an analysis of how the finance-friendly legislation has garnered support in the House (this is one of those things that “enjoys bipartisan support”). It’s no secret that the 113th Congress is the absolute worst collection of elected officials that this nation has ever produced, and as if on cue after the shutdown mess, the House is dutifully reminding us where its allegiances lie: with the rich and powerful.

—Owen Davis focuses on public education, media and the effects of social inequality.

How science is telling us all to revolt,” by Naomi Klein. New Statesman, October 29, 2013.

Naomi Klein explores the work of scientists who, factoring societal systems theory into their environmental work, soberly suggest that radical economic transformation could be the last bulwark against irreversible climate change. Klein advances the scientist-as-activist narrative from the likes of James Hansen, who resigned from NASA and put his weight behind climate activism, to those who “include resistance as part” of climate dynamics, turning climate politics into something like “a geophysics problem.” A good teaser for her forthcoming book.

—Omar Ghabra focuses on Syria and Middle Eastern politics.

A Blue State’s Road to Red,” by Karen Tumulty. The Washington Post, October 26, 2013.

This fascinating feature charts West Virginia’s political transformation from an overwhelmingly Democratic state to an increasingly red one. As a lifelong West Virginian, I have witnessed this evolution unfold first-hand. For many reasons, including racism and the decline of the coal industry, West Virginians are paradoxically turning against the federal government, even though the Mountain State is more dependent on federal funding than any other.

—Hannah Gold focuses on gender politics, pop culture and art.

A Good Men’s Rights Movement Is Hard to Find,” by Jaclyn Friedman. The American Prospect, October 24, 2013.

This article introduces us to the world of Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) groups, their temper tantrums and frequent trolling of feminists. A particularly heinous strand seems to be the group called A Voice for Men (AVFM), whose official mantra is a very pointed “Fuck Their Shit Up,” and whose members’ unofficial online hatemongering is a lot less polite. You can read more about the subject in an article published by The Daily Beast just a few days earlier.

—Allegra Kirkland focuses on Immigration, urban issues and US-Latin American relations.

Daniel Zamudio: The homophobic murder that changed Chile,” by Gideon Lang. BBC, October 28, 2013.

In March 2012, a group of homophobic assailants brutalized 24-year-old Daniel Zamudio in Santiago’s Parque San Borja, beating him unconscious, carving swastikas into his skin and branding him with cigarettes. The young man died of his wounds three weeks later. Zamudio’s case tore through the social fabric of this deeply Catholic country, spurring a much-needed discussion of Chilean attitudes towards homosexuality, inspiring mass gay rights rallies and leading Congress to pass an anti-discrimination bill. Though his family’s tragic saga came to an end this week with the sentencing of the four perpetrators, the Zamudio murder, much like the Matthew Shepard case here in the US, will continue to reverberate through Chilean society for years.

—Abbie Nehring focuses on muck reads, transparency, and investigative reporting.

Made in China: The Secret of Mugabe’s Election Success,” by Khadija Sharife. 100Reporters, October 28, 2013.

I’m placing a spotlight on the young investigative outlet 100Reporters, which has obtained documents from Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization confirming the financial support the Chinese Communist Party has provided to rig elections. Since he took office in 1987, President Robert Mugabe has lived out his own self-fulfilling prophecy that leading Zimbabwe was his “divine task.” He was again re-elected earlier this year, and his party won a two-thirds majority in the country’s House of Assembly. The intelligence documents obtained by 100Reporters reveal the details of China’s role in the elections, including how it has helped ensure that “hostile votes” lead to loss of land rights on the outskirts of Zimbabwe’s urban areas and how China has strategized the deployment of standby security forces “ward by ward” to “stem resistance” on the day of the election. This story further cinches the consensus on what Global Witness has called Zimbabwe’s “parallel government” and the falsehood of free and fair elections under Mugabe.

—Nicolas Niarchos focuses on international and European relations and national security.

L’armée française reste en première ligne au Mali” [The French Army Remains on the Frontline in Mali],by Nathalie Guibert. Le Monde, October 28, 2013. (English translation available here.)

After series of Islamist attacks hit the North Eastern Malian town of Tessalit, and flare-ups around Kidal, the French army launched a new attack (codenamed “Hydra”) to “clean up” Islamist groups in the country. After the focus on last year’s attacks, the English-language press hasn’t been covering the situation as much as it might be (bar The Guardian, that is), but Le Monde has kept up good coverage and analysis. French forces have been in the West African nation since the beginning of the year, and as a diplomat quoted in Ms. Guibert’s piece says, the Islamic extremists who last year ruled the majority of the northern part of that country now hold “residual” sway over the swathes of territory they briefly controlled. Even so, her article reminds us that France is in danger of getting trapped in Mali (they’ve already put the deadline for staged troop withdrawal back), though she quotes a French officer promising, “We’ll not stay here for fifteen years.” But it’s hard to see how the situation can be further stabilized without international support—there are only 5,000 UN troops in the country, 7,500 fewer than promised. For another good read on the situation in Mali (in English!), Afua Hirsch’s piece in The Guardian from a few weeks ago explains how the Islamic militant groups are “once again on the rise.”

—Andrés Pertierra focuses on Latin America with an emphasis on Cuba.

U.N. urges end of U.S. embargo on Cuba for 22nd time,” by Louis Charbonneau. Reuters, October 29, 2013.

On Tuesday a vote at the UN condemned the US embargo against Cuba for the twenty-second consecutive time. Just like last year’s vote, the majority was 188 countries strong, but this year defenders of the US position dwindled from three to two when the Pacific country of Palau abstained. The embargo has been in place for over half a century and an annual condemnation from the UN for almost half that period.

—Dylan Tokar focuses on Latin America, politics and literature.

The Battle for Power on the Internet,” by Bruce Schneier. The Atlantic, October 4, 2013.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post revealed that the NSA taps—against their knowledge—the communication links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers worldwide. Cybersecurity guru Bruce Schneier has played a critical role in unpacking ongoing Snowden revelations such as this one. His new essay in The Atlantic isn’t exactly riveting to read, but it helps contextualize the fault lines of the Internet as they are redrawn, and raises important questions about where we go from here.

—Elaine Yu focuses on feminism, health, and East and Southeast Asia.

Indonesia workers prepare for national strike,” by Jack Hewson. Al Jazeera, October 30, 2013.

The media shouldn’t only report on labor issues and conditions when disaster strikes, said Bangladeshi activist Kalpona Akter last week when she visited The Nation. Indonesian workers have been staying off work to warm up for a national strike pushing for a 50 percent increase in minimum wage, but this subject remains widely underreported, and I have yet to find a progressive and nuanced commentary on this topic. This Al Jazeera piece features a range of voices, from the workers’ to employers’ to the president’s, where even the chairman of the employer’s association admits the false dichotomy of increased-base-wage/mass-layoff is exaggerated, but much more can be said about the formal/informal economy, Indonesia’s development model, and even what the president’s role might be in this, which the article helpfully introduced but only glossed over.

In New York, Connecticut and Ohio, Students Demand an End to Gender Violence


Students assemble at the Morales/Shakur Center at CCNY. (Credit: PopularResistance.org)

Email questions, tips or proposals to studentmovement@thenation.com. For earlier dispatches, check out the previous post. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).

1. At City College, a Surprise Shutdown Sparks an Uprising

On October 19, the City College of New York closed the Guillermo Morales/Assata Shakur Center, a community and social justice space, replacing it with a career center and setting off major protests across campus. During the raid, college officials arrested an alum who sat-in and called council members and students to notify them. Meanwhile, they shut down all buildings on campus, barring students from studying in the library—flying in the face of direct action for 24/7 library access during midterms and finals week. On October 21 and 24, hundreds of students rallied to demand the immediate return of the center. This week, there will be a protest in front of the school’s administration building as college president Lisa Staiano-Coico meets with the undergraduate student government. Students will continue to protest until the center is re-opened.

—Alyssia Osorio

2. For Women and Queer People, the Shutdown Hits Home

The day before the Morales/Shakur Center was shut down, after months of organizing and lobbying by Students for Educational Rights, the City College of New York recognized the need for a gender identity protection in its anti-discrimination policy. The push started at the MSCC, where a range of groups focused on justice for women and queer people, including the Multicultural Gender Resource Center Campaign and 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, held most of their programming. Due to the abrupt closure of the center, campaigns like these are threatened.

—Veronica Agard

3. Upstate, Racist Scrawls Bring Old Truths to Light

On the night of October 18, someone wrote on a whiteboard in SUNY–New Paltz’s DuBois Hall, “Emmett Till Deserved to Die.” Later, once it was erased, someone came back and wrote, “Don’t Erase the Truth.” Since then, black student leaders and student government representatives have met to formulate initiatives to promote a safer campus for students of color. Our resolutions include a racial diversity task force, similar to New Paltz’s LGBTQ task force, to address racial injustice; prioritizing people of color for new faculty and administrative hires; and explicit conversations about racial equality during freshmen and transfer orientations. We feel like this campus does not value our presence here, nor does it appreciate the role of people of color in broader society.

—Jordan Taylor

4. The IX Coalition at UConn

UConn’s IX Coalition is a non-university-affiliated, student-led campaign working to change campus culture and policy. The group was created in response to the Title IX complaint filed on October 21 to show solidarity for the filers. Since then, we’ve been chalking frequented spaces on campus, including the Celeron path, which is widely referred to as the “rape trail,” with statistics, sentiments and resources on sexual violence. On October 30, we will be hosting a speakout at Husky Solidarity Day to address the culture of violence on campus, its history and its connection to discrimination. While the image of victim-survivors has centered on white women and their experiences with sexual violence, racism, homophobia and other forms of oppression are just as toxic to student life.

—Brittnie Carrier

5. Fuck Rape Culture at Ohio

In September, students at Ohio University formed a grassroots organization, Fuck Rape Culture, to challenge the normalization of sexual violence on campus. FRC mobilizes students through rallies and marches to force attention and dialogue on issues of sexual assault, consent and bystander intervention. In October, FRC obtained amnesty for under-21 survivors of sexual assault whose cases involve alcohol. Now the group is educating and encouraging administrators to implement in-person, consent-based sexual education for incoming first-year students, as well as sexual harassment training for student workers.

—Allie Erwin

6. Pissed Off Trans* People at Wesleyan

Pissed Off Trans* People and other sympathetic groups have been removing gendered bathroom signs at Wesleyan University and replacing them with all-gender signage and a statement on bathrooms, safety and transantagonism at Wesleyan. Members of our group have been physically threatened and verbally and sexually harassed because we use the “wrong” bathrooms, and the university’s administration has ignored it. We are responding to our day-to-day experiences as trans* and gender non-conforming people and changing these spaces in real time. We recognize gendered bathrooms as inherently violent forms of surveillance, targeting in particular poor, undocumented and of color transgender, gender non-conforming and intersex people. Through growing resistance, we aim to make the current bathroom gendering system at Wesleyan untenable.

—Pissed Off Trans* People

7. Edinboro Sits-In

On October 24, more than thirty Edinboro University students and faculty members staged a protest and sit-in outside the office of President Julie Wollman in opposition to dramatic program and faculty cuts. After rallying across campus for several hours, protesters entered Wollman’s office to deliver a 1,200-signature petition against her proposal to cut five university programs and about forty-two full-time faculty positions to make up for a $7.6 million budget deficit. Upon being informed that the president was unavailable, the protesters sat-in and spread the word on #eupcuts and #apscufsolidarity until she came out to speak with them. Wollman asserted that her administration is diligently working to save as many faculty positions as possible; students will continue taking direct action until retrenchment is dropped.

—Crystal Folmar

8. California Converges

On October 18 and 19, students from across California met at the City College of San Francisco for the Fall 2013 California Student Union Conference, where we discussed growing union chapters and supporting campus and system-wide struggles. With the Save CCSF coalition still fighting for the state to reverse sanctions placed on the City College of San Francisco by a commission pushing for closure of the school, UC students opposing the appointment of Janet Napolitano as UC president and increased fees of over 300 percent for winter and summer classes at six community colleges, the crises in California’s higher education system have fostered an increasingly united front.

—Vanessa Lopez

9. Tennessee Takes Off

This November, college and high school students and community activists from across Tennessee will converge on Nashville for the first ever Tennessee Student Union Conference. A “meet-up of the movements” in Tennessee, inspired by the National Student Power Convergence, the conference hopes to galvanize a more cohesive youth and student identity across the state. The conference will be a weekend of organizing trainings, workshops and “next steps” general assemblies, and participants are expected from the DREAMer movement, cultural organizations and feminist, LGBTQ, student-labor solidarity and environmental student groups. Our guiding question is, how can higher education be a force for liberation? And then, how does access to education, particularly as it relates to race, class, gender, sexuality and immigration status, change the possibilities of liberation?

—Zach Blume

10. Where Is John Boehner?

Arizona is ground zero for immigrant justice: we see children afraid because a stop violation could lead to their parents’ deportation, and workers worried that ICE could raid their workplaces any day. On October 18, forty-four fathers, mothers, DREAMers, students and children started their journey from #AZ2DC. After a forty-hour bus ride, we finally arrived in DC, where we took shelter at a church. On October 22, we went to Speaker Boehner’s office and prayed. Though he refused to open his door, we shared our stories with more than eighty members of Congress. Afterward, we went to Ohio with the hope of seeing Boehner at his district office. We will continue to pray, organize and speak out for our families.

—Reyna Montoya

Our Schools Are Not For Sale

Our Schools Are Not For Sale is the story of Philadelphia's teachers, parents and students struggling to ensure quality education in public schools in the face of massive budget cuts, school staff layoffs and closures. Watch how local communities are responding to a year of unprecedented attacks, including the closing of 24 schools, layoffs of hundreds of teachers and counselors, and the elimination of school libraries, art, music, and sports programs. The dangers of the situation in Philadelphia's schools has become particularly clear after the death of a 12 year-old student who suffered from asthma and was not able to receive attention because school nurses were laid off.

Contact Media Mobilizing Project to host a community screening today!

CUNY Dismantles Community Center, Students Fight Back

Community and Student Center at CUNY City College (Brad Sigal/Flickr)

This article was originally published by the {Young}ist and is reposted here with permission.

On Sunday, October 20, at 11:00 am, NYPD officers and CUNY security marched into the main academic center at CUNY City College unannounced, put the campus on lockdown and seized files, documents, and personal property. The surprise action by the administration sparked an outcry from students, who gathered nearby to rally with the students who police officers had forced out of the building. In the process, police arrested student activist and US Army Veteran David Suker.

The administration had given no prior warning for the abrupt shutdown. Earlier that day, the CCNY Library Staff emailed all students with the new building hours for the upcoming week. The main academic center which houses a study center, a library, and computer labs, was closed to students, leaving them without a place to study during midterms. Four hours later, police officers forcibly removed students without warning or explanation.

This may be because the building also houses the Guillermo Morales-Assata Shakur Community Center, a radical student-run center that has been targeted by the administration in the past. Signs and posted materials for the Center were taken down and replaced with a sign reading “Careers and Professional Development Institute”. The entrance has also since been repainted. Many students speculate that the community center is the real reason behind the building being shut down.

This was not the first time that the MSCC has been attacked by CCNY administrators—in 2006, officials ordered that the center’s name be stripped, former Chancellor Matthew Goldstein deemed the namesake space “unauthorized and inappropriate” because it was honoring members of the Black Liberation Army and Puerto Rican independence group known as the FALN, both who are currently living in exile in Cuba on the lam from the law in the US.

“They went in and cleared everything out. They said that they’re going to ‘examine’ everything then put it in storage,” said Alyssia Osorio, Director of the Morales-Shakur Center. “Twenty years’ worth of documents pertaining to student and community resistance.”

Osorio is not the only CUNY student organizer who believes that the CCNY administration’s reasoning for closing the MSCC is “deceptive and dishonest”. Even student government leaders—who have been notably critical of more radical student organizing—have come out in support of MSCC and what it stands for as a vital part of CUNY student movement history.

Although the students were aware that the Professional Development Institute was undergoing talks to expand to a new location, even members of student government who were participating in the discussions about possible spaces were surprised. “It was shocking, because we were on a committee to decide on this issue,” said Mel Niere, President of the City College Student Government. “When we last met in Spring 2013, there was never any indication from City College or administration that the PDI was going to displace the Shakur Center.”

The Morales-Shakur Community Center (MSCC) is a popular student and local hub that hosts community events and student group meetings as well as study hours. Named after notable activists Guillermo Morales and Assata Shakur, who were City College alumni active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1970s, the space has maintained autonomous student control since 1989, when it was won over by students after massive protests that started at City College reverberated throughout the CUNY in response to tuition hikes, resulting in student occupations at 13 of the 20 colleges in the university system.

Carolina Martinez, a junior studying Political Science and International Studies, said, “as a member of USG, I can tell you we did everything in our power to maintain constant communication with administration on what the plan was for the Career and Professional Development Center, however the MSCC was never mentioned at any point in time. It was a shock to us that this was their plan.”

The CUNY City College Facebook Page published a note stating: “The City College Careers and Professional Development Institute has been expanded to provide additional services to students seeking assistance in transitioning from college to the workplace”, but made no reference to the unwanted displacement of an existing community center. Students posted outraged comments to City College’s Facebook and Twitter.

It’s been over twenty years since the last massive student strike at the largest university system in the United States, and City University of New York students have been criticized by the media as being docile and unwilling to fight to resist budget cuts and tuition hikes. But in the past few years, the CUNY student movement has been building a base and augmenting its strength and militancy, from heated confrontations at the Board of Trustees meetings in 2011, to students “bird-dogging” General David Petreaus outside of his class at CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College throughout this semester.

Student activists and groups from around the city were quick to respond, expressing their outrage and solidarity with students at City College. A call to rally the day after the closing drew a large crowd of students from all across the CUNY system. Students for Educational Rights issued a press release calling on to allies to “hold CUNY accountable for its stifling of student voices and disempowerment of community organizing.” Student Governments of City College and Brooklyn College also made statements of solidarity.

While the exact reasoning of the removal of the center from the hands of students and community remains unclear, CCNY communication team has been tweeting their planned changes for the student space.

Attention College Students: Get six months of The Nation’s digital edition absolutely free!

CUNY Chancellor William Kelly and CCNY President Lisa S. Coico have yet to release statements explaining their position on the removal of students from the MSCC. As of Monday evening, they could not be reached at their offices.

Niere, president of CCSG, cites the building closing as a CUNY-wide issue—one that is a threat to students at other CUNY campuses. She would be actively reaching out to other campuses’ student governments and organizations.

Students plan to continue fighting to keep the center open and thriving as it always have been, calling on sister campuses across CUNY for support and solidarity to unite in a common fight for all students.

Osorio, director of the MSCC, was firm in her outlook of the future: “We’re not going to stop fighting. We’re going to get our center back. No if’s, and’s or but’s.”

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