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

UCLA Law Students of Color Sound an Alarm

"33" Still

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On February 10, 2014, a group of students from the UCLA School of Law gathered together to raise awareness of the disturbing emotional toll placed upon students of color due to their alarmingly low representation within the student body. The group created this video called “33,” a reference to the total number of black students in the school’s 1,100-member student body.


Read Next: An invitation to a Keystone XL protest.

What Is XL Dissent?

Keystone XL Protest

Keystone XL protest in Washington, DC (Duffernutter/Flickr)                         

This manifesto was originally signed by fifty students from fifty different US colleges and universities and was released as an open invitation to a March 2 Keystone XL protest in DC.

For a handful of multimillionaires, Keystone XL would be a dream come true. Koch Industries alone expects to rake in $100 billion if it is built, which for perspective, is as much as the federal government spends annually on education. Yet for us, a generation of young people awaiting its future, the pipeline would be a nightmare.

The Keystone XL pipeline, if approved, would carry over 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil—best described as a semi-viscous, carbon intensive, toxic injustice—through America’s heartland each day. Tar sands oil is a disaster at the point of extraction, where it causes cancer rates to spike and destroys local ecosystems, all the while violating the treaty rights of Canadian First Nations. It is a disaster when transported, as both the recent railroad crash in Quebec and pipeline spill in Arkansas have made strikingly clear. It is a disaster when refined, exacerbating cancer and asthma clusters and doing so mostly in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

And tar sands oil is an absolute disaster at the final stage, when power plants burn it and dump the carbon pollution into our skies. This carbon serves to further destabilize our imperiled atmosphere, threatening society with one of the greatest crises it has ever faced.

The decision on Keystone XL will be the definitive test of President Obama’s character and integrity. Moreover, it will be a crucial arbiter of his legacy, impacting history’s verdict on his presidency far more than incidents such as the Benghazi affair or the NSA ordeal could.

Last July in a speech at Georgetown University, President Obama said, “And someday, our children, and our children’s children, will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world? And I want to be able to say, yes, we did.”

We are asking that question of the president today.

We ask because President Obama’s willingness to govern in an environmentally responsible manner has been called into question. At Georgetown, President Obama promised to review the pipeline based on whether it would have a significant impact on the climate. But in the months since that speech, the State Department has continued to rely on ERM (a dues-paying member of the American Petroleum Institute) to run the environmental review of the pipeline. That’s despite the fact that ERM has a close business relationship with TransCanada and that it was later caught red-handed for lying to the State Department in order to cover up those business connections.

President Obama has indeed made several responsible choices, such as increasing the mileage standards for cars. But he has also made some disastrous ones. He opened vast swaths of Western lands for coal mining, repeatedly endorsed an “all-of-the-above” energy approach, and even supported the Southern leg of the Keystone pipeline.

We know that if we sit back and trust him to independently make the right choices, we will be doing so at our peril.

We have therefore decided to act. Rejecting Keystone XL will help keep the tar sands where they belong, buried safely in the ground. It will protect communities that are already struggling to survive. And it will send a resounding message that the days of unchecked fossil fuel recklessness are coming to an end.

So here is our plan:

On March 2, throngs of young people from around the country will converge at Georgetown University to demand that President Obama follows through on the promise he made there during his speech. From Georgetown, we will march to the White House. When we get there we will have a huge rally featuring speakers from communities that are at the frontlines of the fight against tar sands oil.

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We will proceed to engage in an act of peaceful and principled civil disobedience at the White House gate. We hope that this action will set the record for the largest single-day act of civil disobedience at the White House in American history. You will learn about the exact details soon, but for now we can say that this will be different from previous White House protests. Emboldened by our passion and our frustration, we will partake in an unprecedented action to denounce the Keystone XL pipeline and the “all-of-the-above” energy approach that makes such fossil fuel projects possible.

We are young, awaiting a future fraught with uncertainty. This will not deter us from participating in an act of civil disobedience. Indeed, it has compelled us to organize one.

We ask you to join us in Washington, DC on Sunday, March 2 for this action.

Read Next: Raleigh’s first Moral Monday march of the year

Thousands of Young People Participate in Raleigh’s Moral Monday

Moral Monday Raleigh

Activists at Raleigh's first Moral Monday march of 2014, February 8 (United Workers/Flickr)

This article was originally published by the student-run Daily Tar Heel.

Several groups rallied in the “Historic Thousands on Jones Street” march in Raleigh on February 8. Some marchers stood with Planned Parenthood, others with the NAACP. Zoe Nichols, 12, stood with Dumbledore’s Army.

Zoe, a seventh-grader at Ligon GT Magnet Middle School in Raleigh, held a sign reading “Dumbledore wouldn’t let this happen,” referring to the iconic, white-bearded—and progressive—headmaster of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books. “He definitely wouldn’t support education cuts,” Zoe said. “The whole point of this is that they’re making a lot of really crappy laws.”

Funding education would not be the only policy on the headmaster’s platform, she said—the legendary wizard, who is gay, might also advocate for LGBT rights.

In the Berreth family, the Moral Monday movement spans three generations. Meg Berreth, a UNC Hospitals nurse-midwife who protested Saturday with her mother, husband and 10-year-old daughter, criticized the state’s rejection of the Medicaid expansion. “It really means the most poor and vulnerable people don’t have access to health care,” she said. Her mother was arrested at a Moral Monday march this summer, fueling the family’s activism.

The march lined the streets with strollers—one of them sporting a sign with a tiny traced handprint: “Give your hands to struggle.”

Chelsea Earles of Durham, who attended the march with her partner, Themis Stone, and her 6-year-old daughter, said she had attended the Historic Thousands on Jones Street marches since they started eight years ago. But she said this time, it was all about her child.

Stone decried a policy that would replace K-12 teacher tenure with pay bumps and four-year contracts for the top 25 percent of each district’s educators.

Dr. Alex Cho, a professor in Duke University’s School of Medicine, attended the march clad in his white lab coat, his 6-year-old daughter clutching his coattails. He said the state’s rejection of Medicaid expansion stifles the economic needs of rural counties. “Hospitals are the largest employers in most of these counties,” he said. “To take away literally billions of dollars out of political spite is just sad.”

Tom Dessereau and Monika Gross made the trek from Asheville with their daughter to advocate for immigrants without documentation. “They fear coming forward to express their rights,” Dessereau said. “They deserve to be here.”

Dave Bennard, a special needs teacher in Granville County, brought another kind of family—his teaching assistant and a substitute teacher in his department. Bennard said low teacher pay drives educators across the state border. “People are looking at those little gas-efficient cars, (thinking), ‘Can I do a 60-, 80-mile range a day?’” he said. “For more support, yeah, they can.”

For many marchers, the event hearkened back to the political past—and it reunited George and Susanne Sawyer of Charlotte with an old friend. George was arrested on June 3 with about 150 demonstrators—his wife’s childhood friend among them, making it the first time in fifty-six years the two saw each other.

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The march drew voices from across the globe.

Hugo Bouvard, a visiting lecturer at Duke, said North Carolina’s political landscape differs starkly from that of France, his home country. France legalized gay marriage last year—almost exactly a year after North Carolina banned it in a constitutional amendment, prompting Bouvard to channel his activism across the Atlantic.

Douglas Campbell, a Duke Divinity School professor and New Zealand native, said his perspective makes it easier to spot political shifts. “When you’re an outsider, you’ve got a better handle on how extreme things are,” he said. “When you are actually here, it’s like a frog being boiled alive slowly—you don’t notice it.”

Read Next: Ari Berman on the Moral Monday movement’s history and future.

This Week in the Student Movement: Citywide Walkouts, Athlete Unions, MICATS3, Operation Guinea Pig


Students from Portland's Jefferson High School walk out. (Credit: Portland Student Union)


Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts ten first-person updates on youth organizing in the United States—from established student unions, to emerging national networks, to ad hoc campaigns that don’t yet have a name. For January updates, check out the previous post. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch.

Contact studentmovement@thenation.com with any questions, tips or proposals. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).

1. As Portland Prepares to Strike, Thousands of Students Hit the Streets

On February 5, the Portland Student Union held a day of action in solidarity with the Portland Association of Teachers in support of its vote to authorize a strike. Six schools and more than 1,000 students participated, ranging from lunch-time rallies to walkouts to marches through downtown and southeast Portland. The students’ marches passed local elementary and middle schools, defying police attempts to block roadways. Later that night, more than 200 students, parents and workers rallied outside the PAT’s meeting in sub-freezing conditions. The vote was nearly unanimous, with a strike set for February 20.

—Portland Student Union

2. As Providence’s High-Stakes Experiment Continues, Guinea Pigs Fly

On January 29, Providence students, dressed like guinea pigs and lab rats, flooded the Rhode Island state house to protest the state’s new standardized testing experiment, which turns the state assessment, or NECAP, into a make-or-break graduation requirement. Armed with whiskers, animal ears and paws, members of the Providence Student Union called out the state department of education for treating students like lab animals. This demonstration was the latest in a series of youth actions demanding Rhode Island replace its high-stakes policies with proven, evidence-based assessments and investments. From challenging public officials to take the test themselves, to organizing zombie protests, to sitting in, the union will continue its “More Than a Test Score” campaign for assessment policies that support, rather than punish, young people.

—Providence Student Union

3. Moral March Begins

On February 8, 80,000 people gathered in Raleigh for the Moral March and HKonJ People’s Assembly. Young people, from the NAACP and beyond, were instrumental in the organizing. It has consistently been the energy and determination of the youth, from the Freedom Riders and students leading anti-segregation sit-ins in the 1960s to those who risked their lives organizing in the Jim Crow South, that prick the national conscience and highlight injustices. Today, from the undocumented youth of California to Ohio students resisting Stand Your Ground to Florida’s Dream Defenders, we embrace this legacy of struggle. As we enter the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer, it is once again us, the youth, calling all forward. In North Carolina and beyond, voting rights, access to education, fair wages, equal protection under the law and, simply, the ability to be are issues that we are ready to mobilize around.

—Dominique Penny

4. DREAMers Keep Winning

For five years, the Washington DREAM Act Coalition and the Latino@ Educational Achievement Project have organized DREAMers for immigrant justice. In 2013, with bipartisan passage in the state house of representatives, the battle to include undocumented students in state financial aid took off—until the bill died in the higher education committee. Since then, with massive lobby day actions, DREAMers have upped the pressure. On the first day of this year’s session, the house passed the state DREAM Act. On January 17, DREAMers met with Republican senator and DREAM Act opponent Barbara Bailey to share how unequal treatment has impacted their lives. On January 31, with Bailey’s support, the Senate passed similar legislation, the REAL Hope Act, which allows all DREAMers who are residents of Washington to compete for state financial aid. As it heads back to the house, we are confident that bipartisan leadership will send the bill to the governor’s desk.

—Carlos Padilla

5. At the Tar Sands, Convictions Ignite a National Groundswell

On January 31, Lisa Leggio, Vicci Hamlin and Barbara Carter were found guilty of “resisting and obstructing a police officer” at a peaceful protest against the Enbridge oil corporation in Stockbridge, Michigan, last July. In 2010, an Enbridge pipe, Line 6B, spilled more than 1 million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River, killing more than 100 people and destroying the river. Now, Line 6B is being expanded to triple the capacity of tar sands oil—and the convicted protesters face multiple years in prison. In response, supporters of the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands, or MICATS, have arisen in solidarity. Thousands across the country participated in a February 3 Keystone XL vigil; others have written letters; and direct action groups like the Tar Sands Blockade have staged action upon action confronting Enbridge and associated agencies. On February 4, joining students from Texas to Alaska, the Student Environmental Alliance at the University of Central Michigan gathered to write letters of support to the MICATS3. Meanwhile, MICATS affiliates, such as DCATS, continue to organize at sites where tar sands production hits hardest, including 48217, Delray, the third-most-polluted zip code in the country.

—Mariah Urueta

6. At Columbia, Prison Divestment Takes Off

This spring, students from several campus organizations are collaborating on Columbia Prison Divest, an initiative of Columbia’s chapter of Students Against Mass Incarceration, a Black radical organization that sees prison abolition as its ultimate end. On February 3, students delivered a letter to Columbia University President Lee Bollinger demanding that the school divest from the private prison industry, including the roughly $8 million that Columbia had invested in the Corrections Corporation of America as of June 30, 2013. At Columbia, we are part of larger efforts to build a nationwide prison divestment campaign, including the work of the Dream Defenders at the University of Central Florida and the Black Student Union at UC Santa Barbara. Through CPD, we are challenging the system of mass incarceration on our campus, holding our university accountable for its complicity and insisting that Columbia meet its multicultural rhetoric with tangible action.

—Columbia Prison Divest

7. In State College, Safety Accord Sign-Ons Grow

On February 3, Penn State became the sixth of seven universities, and first Big Ten school, to stand up for Bangladeshi workers’ rights and safety. Penn State, UPenn, NYU, Temple, Duke, Columbia and Georgetown each have released letters to their licensees asking them to sign onto the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord—or their contracts will be cut. The accord ensures that brands take responsibility for factory workers’ safety in Bangladesh, where three of the largest and most tragic accidents in the garment industry have taken place. United Students Against Sweatshops, a national student-run organization, has been fighting for the accord since fall 2013. In October, Penn State held a candlelight vigil in honor of the six-month anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse to promote awareness of the issue and the benefits of the accord. The combined efforts of USAS, Penn State’s Workers’ Rights Coalition and the administration sealed the deal.

—Penn State United Students Against Sweatshops

8. In Immokalee, Wendy’s Hits the Menu

On January 26, leaders from the Student/Farmworker Alliance convened in Immokalee, Florida, to announce the launch of Boot the Braids, a youth-driven effort to end university contracts and preferential licensing agreements with Wendy’s. For more than a year, members of the Student/Farmworker Alliance network have been organizing in solidarity with the farmworker-led Coalition of Immokalee Workers in calling on Wendy’s to join the CIW’s groundbreaking Fair Food Program, created by farmworkers to implement wage increases and human rights codes in Florida’s tomato fields. Beginning with “Boot the Bell” in 2001—a campaign focused on cutting contracts with Taco Bell—students have been a driving force in the twelve subsequent agreements between the CIW and major corporate buyers, most recently Walmart. The week of February 10, students across the country are staging a Boot the Braids National Week of Action. Until Wendy’s joins the Fair Food Program, students will continue raising the pressure.

—Student/Farmworker Alliance Steering Committee

9. Who Makes Youth News?

In October, the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Philly Schools led “Nightmare on Rittenhouse Square: Monster March for Full School Funding & Tax Fairness.” Students, parents, educators and community members spoke out against tax abatements given to wealthy real estate developers—while Philadelphia public schools suffer from a funding crisis. The march and rally were documented by a youth news program called Presenting our Perspective on Philly Youth News, or POPPYN. Based at the University Community Collaborative of Philadelphia, POPPYN aims to highlight youth perspectives across the city. We believe that youth media is an important part of the struggle for Philly schools because it allows us to capture and amplify the voices, hopes and fears of young people fighting to succeed in a broken school system.


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10. What’s Next for Athlete-Workers?

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter announces the goals of the College Athletes Players Association, which has filed a petition for union recognition. (Video: Paul Banks)

—College Athletes Players Association

Read Next: sexual assault policies under fire at Columbia.

Sexual Assault Policies Under Fire at Columbia

Columbia University

Columbia University (The West End/Flickr)

Six students at Yale were found guilty of rape or sexual assault last semester. Of the six, four were given nothing more than written reprimands, one was forced to attend gender sensitivity training and one was suspended for two semesters. All of the students were allowed to return to campus.

Sadly, there is no reason to believe that the situation at Yale is unusual. A string of more than a dozen recent federal Title IX investigations has revealed that not only do many schools fail to adequately punish convicted rapists, they effectively make it virtually impossible for a reported assailant to be convicted. Other times, schools allow their judicial process to drag out over months or years so that alleged assailants often graduate before any conclusion is reached. These reports have made it clear that students cannot simply assume that schools are fulfilling their legal obligation to ensure student safety. Students know they need to demand that colleges and universities prove that they are protecting their students’ rights to safety and equal access to education.

Currently, Columbia University doesn’t release even the most basic information about how its sexual assault policy is applied or what a survivor can expect when going through the judicial process. It does not release information about what percentage of reported assailants are convicted through Columbia’s judicial process, what type of punishments they generally receive, or how long the process typically takes. Earlier this year a number of students, including several survivors who had been through the process, explained their concerns to the Columbia University College Democrats (CU Dems). The students were worried that Columbia’s policy had the same problems witnessed at dozens of other schools. To ensure that Columbia University fulfills its obligation to student safety, the CU Dems launched a petition to demand that Columbia University release this information.

The petition immediately garnered support among students, and to date has received over 1000 signatures. It has been endorsed by religious groups, social organizations and virtually every political group on campus, including the Columbia College Student Council, Columbia Queer Alliance, Student Worker Solidarity, Take Back the Night, the Muslim Students Association and the College Republicans. The petition was also covered extensively by campus media. Among the Columbia community, the petition is considered an wholly uncontroversial response to the failures of other schools and the concerns of students.

This campaign provides an opportunity for Columbia to make a real commitment to transparency and student safety, but so far Columbia administrators have not responded to student concerns. The petition is, however, set to be considered by a subcommittee of the President’s Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault. The CU Dems will be working with other student groups to present campus concerns to the committee.

The almost complete lack of transparency and accountability in Columbia’s sexual assault policy is not the only issue students are addressing. Because of an administrative division among Columbia’s schools, most students at Columbia University do not have safe and private access to the school’s rape crisis center. To gain entry, most student have to identify themselves to a building security guard, tell the guard that they’re going to the rape crisis center and give the guard their photo ID, all in a public hallway where they could easily be overheard by other students. This policy effectively requires survivors of rape and sexual assault to publicly out themselves in order to access the specialized support services that the rape crisis center offers. Many students have said this policy makes them extremely uncomfortable. Conversations with survivors revealed that the inaccessible location of the office makes the very painful process of reporting or recovering from an assault even more difficult.

If Columbia University failes to respond, it will effectively be sending the message that students do not have the right to know whether they are safe from rape and sexual assault on campus. It will be an implicit admission that the university believes student concerns—about appropriate punishments for assailants and how committed the university is to ensuring the safety of its students—are inconsequential. If Columbia does not fix the issues at the rape crisis center, it will continue to force survivors of rape and sexual assault to publicly out themselves in order to receive treatment.

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We will soon find out whether Columbia University will address the fears of students and survivors by releasing this information or whether it will ignore student concerns. This decision has the potential to affect Columbia’s image: the school can either be seen as a forceful advocate for student welfare and safety or as a university that doesn’t show any concern for student welfare. The choice is Columbia’s.

Read Next: Yale students address class issues.

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 2/7/2014?

Bolotnaya Square Protest

Police stand in front of protesters at the "March of the Millions" on May 6, 2012 in Bolotnaya Square, Moscow. (Person Behind the Scenes/Flickr)

—Sam Adler-Bell focuses on labor and mass incarceration.

The Art of Gentrification,” by Madeleine Schwartz. Dissent, Winter 2014

I've started to think of artists as the sorcerer's apprentices of gentrification, unwitting unleashers of destructive forces they neither understand nor control. Here, Madeleine Schwartz examines how gentrification finds its aesthetic articulation in the "post-industrial" style of Donald Judd, who repurposed the functional necessities of the factory—furnaces, aluminum, steel—to serve the aesthetic impulses of his art. (In the late 60s, Judd purchased a loft in SoHo, at the very outset of that neighborhood’s transformation from industry to luxury.) The fact that, in the end, artists themselves usually get swept away by the flood waters of "urban revival"—priced out of their once-affordable studios in Bushwick, to pick up and repeat the cycle in Ridgewood—by no means relieves them of complicity for having breached the levees.

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

The rise of ‘ostentation funkers’ in Brazil,” by Zeynep Zileli Rabanea. Al Jazeera English, February 5, 2014

A recent phenomenon known as "rolezinho" ("strolling around" in Brazilian Portuguese) has ignited political discussions about the classist and racist segregation of public spaces in Brazil. As exclusive shopping malls for the wealthy (mostly white) minority accumulate around the country—imagine stores, supermarkets, post offices and banks all under one roof, guarded by armed private security—thousands of underprivileged youngsters have responded to calls on Facebook to show up to these malls en masse. These invasions by Brazil's marginalized underclass were spurred by the desire to dance to "ostentation funk" and "meet girls." While these reasons are very much apolitical in nature, the movement has sparked long-overdue conversations about the exclusionary politics of the country's patrician class. The rolezinhos conjure images of 1980s hip-hop DJs in the Bronx stealing power from street lamps to throw street parties; this new phenomenon is merely a recent episode in the history of popular culture challenging conceptions of public space.

—Laura Cremer focuses on labor, gender and the historicization of culture and politics.

Some of This Actually Happened,” by Tim Barker. The New Inquiry, February 4, 2014

This essay discusses the attempt—or in one case utter failure—of two recent items of popular culture to tackle the third part of my "focus," as described above: the historicization of culture and politics. The essay fills in the gaps in the two films' historical memory. It situates The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle in the social and economic history that they respectively ignore or just begin to do the work of sketching. It reminds us that the period of American history they take place in was a grim one, in which “the standard of living of the average American ha[d] to decline”—and a period that's for that reason important to remember. Most interesting is the essay's conclusion: it discusses not just the consequences of a failure of historical memory but why cultural products like Wolf end up stripped of their historical context, taking a look behind the scenes at who had a hand in making the film and why.

—Cecilia D’Anastasio focuses on ethics, feminism, press freedom and tech.

Actor’s death shines a light on addiction,” by Jerry Large. The Seattle Times, February 5, 2014

335,000 US citizens used heroin in the United States this past month, including the celebrated and now deceased actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, according to the DEA. A notoriously fatal and addictive drug, heroin is viewed by many experts as a clear-cut death wish—partly because weening somebody off strong opioids is a process so delicate that it often inspires relapse or addiction to the replacement drugs themselves. Perhaps one of the greatest obstacles preventing heroin addicts from recovering is the legality of their use. In this article, Jerry Large argues that authorities should place emphasis on medical amnesty and advanced treatment rather than legal force. Arresting replaceable street corner heroin dealers solves little in comparison to developing a sustainable source of help.  Programs like Seattle-based Law Enforcement Assisted Division, which was actually created by law enforcement agencies, divert users into aid groups—a more humane, economically sound and medically productive resource against our heroin epidemic.

—Simon Davis-Cohen focuses on self-governance, climate adaptation and science.

Hawaii's GMO War Headed to Honolulu and Federal Court,” by Mike Ludwig. Truthout, January 28, 2014

Biotech and chemical companies argue a Kauai County, Hawaii law placing local regulations on GMO agriculture and experimental chemical testing violates their constitutional rights as corporations and oversteps the county’s jurisdiction. Hawaii County’s law, which prohibits GMOs (not including papaya), has not received challenges.

An amendment to the State of Hawaii’s “Right-to-Farm” legislation has been introduced to pre-empt counties from passing laws that impact “modern farming and ranching practices.” Similar legislation—though not mentioned by Ludwig—has been passed in other states like Oregon, where last fall localities were told they could not vote on laws governing the use of seed. There, local GMO initiatives elevate communities’ right to govern “heath, safety and welfare” above corporate rights and state pre-emption.

—Justine Drennan focuses on marginalized groups' relationship with technology and development.

"Time to Rethink Tech Sanctions Against Sudan," by Danielle Kehl and Tim Maurer. Slate, January 30, 2014.

Although some say Western news outlets exaggerated the role of social media in the Arab Spring, it's clear that new technology has affected the way opposition movements around the world organize themselves. Kehl and Maurer argue that US tech sanctions against Sudan and other countries haven't kept pace with these developments. "Initially designed to put pressure on the [Sudanese] government, these technology restrictions have become outdated, and some of the provisions inadvertently aid the regime by blocking access to critical personal communications tools—to the detriment of the Sudanese people," they say. Noting past sanctions reform efforts to replace broad bans with more targeted measures like freezing leaders' assets, the authors write that tech sanctions also should become more targeted for a country where, according to a Sudanese activist, the Internet is “the only platform for free civic engagement."

—Corinne Grinapol focuses on education and international relations/national security.

The Loneliness of Vladimir Putin,” by Julia Ioffe. The New Republic, February 2, 2014.

To understand the current state of Russian opposition groups, it helps to go back through centuries of Russian history. Cycles of autocracy have impressed themselves upon the Russian psyche. Ioffe does an excellent job of bringing that psychology to bear as she interviews figures and leaders of Russia's political opposition movements. This marathon narrative, which starts and ends with the last days of the trial of Bolotnaya Square protesters, comes with a reminder: As opportunities for wealth accumulation, graft and corruption dry up, Putin comes up against the weight of history. As the head of Transparency International's Russian office is quoted as saying, "There's an inexorable logic of the historical process...of the political process.... There's no Putin in the world who can withstand it."

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

Give the Data to the People,” by Harlan M. Krumholz. The New York Times, February 3, 2014

The nitty gritty of clinical trials may bore most of us, but how research is conducted—and most importantly, who has access to the results—profoundly impacts what medicine hits our shelves, and the price and safety of the drugs we take. Currently drug companies are not required to release the data from their clinical trials, meaning that the public is unaware of potentially worrying information, such as side effects or even deaths that occur during a drug trial, and whether a new drug is better than a competitor or a placebo. Because data remains secret, independent scientists also can't verify results.

The AllTrials campaign has been pushing drug companies to make clinical trial data more widely available. They've achieved some victories: last year, GlaxoSmithKline announced that it would give researchers access to data from all the trials it's conducted since its inception, and last week, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) said it would make its data available to scientists around the world. This New York Times piece, written by Harlan M. Krumholz of the Yale University Open Data Access Project, which will host the J&J data, explains why this move is so important, and why other drug companies should follow suit.

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

Women's rights country by country – interactive.” The Guardian, Febuary 4, 2014.

Can a woman in Iran access abortion to save her life? Does South African law mandate equal pay for work of equal value? Are there laws addressing domestic violence in Brazil? The Guardian’s new interactive guide to women’s rights indices is an excellent tool. Based on data culled from the United Nations and the World Bank, it enables journalists, researchers, development practitioners and rights advocates to quickly view and compare how countries legislate for, among other things, violence towards women, sexual harassment, abortion and gender equality in property and employment rights. Way to go, Guardian!

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

How Taxpayer-Funded Schools Teach Creationism—and Get Away With It,” by Joshua Cowen. The New Republic, January 30, 2014.

Written by a researcher at the University of Michigan, this piece argues that private schools that accept students on vouchers should have to publicly reveal the test scores of those students and the contents of their curriculum. While the news hook in this article may be sensational, it also brings home an important point about the need for accountability for private schools engaged in public work. As he points out in the piece, vouchers blur the line between government and private institutions, raising difficult questions about how they should be regulated.

Read Next: John Nichols stands with the Girl Scouts.

Addressing Class at Yale

Yale University

A carved brick at Yale University (Marc_Smith/Flickr)

This opinion column was originally published by the Yale Daily News.

Recently the Peer Liaisons created a Tumblr called Class at Yale. On the site, they ask Yale students to anonymously submit responses of fifty words or less to the question, “What are your feelings about class at Yale University?” Over the last week, the blog received over sixty responses on topics ranging from financial aid to clothing choices. Although still small in scope, the Tumblr indicates that as a campus we’re starting to get better at talking about class. Now it is time to start looking for concrete results.

President Salovey asked us to consider discussing class more in his freshman address last August, calling the topic one of the few remaining taboos at Yale: “The uncomfortable conversations that you will certainly have—in Commons or in your common room—represent opportunities for true understanding and true friendship with classmates whose families are far different from your own.”

The conversation about class has been growing. Student publications have put out a markedly large number of articles on financial aid and income differences on campus. Now, the Class at Yale page has moved the conversation to a public online forum.

The Tumblr has done a good job of highlighting the varied perspectives Yale students have on class, displaying responses from students of different socioeconomic statuses. But reading through the fifty-word remarks, I couldn’t help but wonder about the ultimate goal of all this discourse. Was it to make people feel more comfortable when issues of class arise? Or simply to recognize the discomfort that class evokes?

Some of the opinions voiced on the Tumblr address these questions. And it seems that everyone has different answers. One post suggested that talking about class doesn’t dispel tensions—it forces us to acknowledge harsh realities: “It’s so important to have this kind of open dialogue about it, because without dialogue, we’re all just living in this fairy tale that we share the same background. We don’t.”

Another anonymous user echoed a sentiment similar to Salovey’s freshman address: “This blog, I believe, is not meant to be a place for complaining, but a place at which people can help each other understand their differences without taking for granted what each person has gone through.” Posts on the Tumblr cited a wide range of other reasons to talk about class, including improving the discourse around New Haven’s poverty, changing the way class discussions are frequently reduced to a rich-poor conflict and calling out “entitled rich-kid behavior at Yale.”

All of these thoughts are reasonable. But it’s time to start explicitly discerning what our long-term goal is in intentionally shifting the class conversation. We can, and should, make our discussions on socioeconomic status more focused.

Last year, the student activist group Students Unite Now circulated a petition asking the university to build a center with resources for low-income students where honest discussions on class could take place, a concept similar to the cultural houses. Right now seems like the prime time for Yale to do this. Students have been discussing class much more than they were even ten months ago. It’s time for more serious conversations that include faculty and administrators.

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Yale appears to be making a commitment to improving the college experience for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. The Freshman Scholars at Yale program was started in an attempt to ease the transition to college for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It seems to have been very successful and will presumably be continued in future years. Salovey’s remarks on class were also a step in the right direction, even if they were accompanied by a strange remark somewhat dismissing the time commitment of term-time employment: “Gone are the days when students spent many hours waiting tables.”

Campus publications, the Freshman Scholars program and Salovey’s speech have effectively forced discussion on socioeconomic status at Yale. The posts accumulated by the Class at Yale Tumblr are a testament to this, and it is critical that safe spaces like this blog exist. But Yale needs to find a way to solidify its commitment to providing resources alleviating disparities between students. Opening a center for class is a logical next step.

Read Next: Students work on new ways to build community.

Students Rethink How to Build Community

University of Richmond

University of Richmond (eclecticlibrarian/Flickr)

For the past four years, I’ve worked alongside students from across the United States to build power, disrupt the mainstream policy discourse and propose long-lasting policy changes that realize a progressive American dream through the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network. Our coalition spent the past six months thinking through ways to reinvigorate our work in communities across the country. At the end of January, we debuted the product of those conversations: a new model for how we as progressives can rethink our relationship to each other, our movement and the environments in which we live.

The Roosevelt Institute’s new Rethinking Communities initiative is an attempt to take a closer look at questions of governance, representation and participatory power. The aim is to build stronger communities that can serve as the foundation for a more equitable economy. This means challenging anchor institutions—such as universities, hospitals, and other major local employers—to incorporate community representatives at every stage of policymaking, whether that means putting students on key university committees or having more low-income voices included in antipoverty coalitions. We believe that building networks based on mutual trust and autonomy in our local communities is the only way to build a more equitable society.

One of the initiative’s first targets is universities and colleges. Using a series of metrics generated by the Democracy Collaborative, a well-known research institute behind projects like the Cleveland model, students are working to illustrate the gap between universities’ stated goals of community engagement and the extent to which the community is actually engaged. These metrics include things like the percent of procurement dollars directed to local, minority-owned or women-owned businesses to the percentage of university employees being employed at the living wage or above to endowment funds dedicated to community impact investments, among many others. We hope that in the years to come our process of identifying the shortcomings of universities’ processes of engaging stakeholders will create a new standard for colleges across the country.

Another aspect of the initiative has been my work to institutionalize a convening space for students to come together, to dream together about how their university and the community at large might benefit from a radical rethinking of governance structures—like the board of trustees—and the management of community relations. While this convening space does function similarly to a student union in the sense that it unites campus activists across interest areas, it’s also distinguished by its dedication to the political and leadership development of students new to the progressive movement. As we continue to do the work of rebuilding these relationships of mutual trust and accountability, I’m coming to realize just how far we have to go in order to democratize our experience: as student consumers of higher education; members of a mid-sized, often overlooked city; and voters in one of the country’s most ideologically conservative states.

The Roosevelt Institute has nowhere near enough answers to claim expertise on alternative infrastructure building. I think we’d argue that very few organizers have organized on a large scale around the intersection of higher education, local economies and shared governance. We’re heartened by that challenge, though, and motivated by the demands of this process-oriented work. Our new initiative will require constant revision and active critiques from our allies. However, it’s a start, a recognition that we are only as strong as our collective voice.

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Our namesake, President Franklin Roosevelt, once said, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us.” This new project of the Roosevelt Institute is a promise, a resolute commitment that our members are dedicated to rethinking how we build community. We invite your ideas about how to build the sort of participatory infrastructure within and outside of the system that might sustain our movement.

Read Next: the current state of the movement to forgive student loan debt

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 1/31/2014?


Macklemore performs in 2011. (photo courtesy alaina buzas from Chicago/Wikimedia)

—Sam Adler-Bell focuses on labor and mass incarceration.

In defense of Pete Seeger, American Communist,” by Bhaskar Sunkara. Al Jazeera America, January 29, 2014

Pete Seeger, who died this week at 94, is one of the rare American left-wing figures who managed, within his lifetime, to attain something approaching universal admiration (or at least acceptance) while refusing to shed or apologize for his radicalism. Here, Bhaskar Sunkara responds to those commentators who would seek to neutralize Seeger’s legacy—in death—from the “taint” of his communist affiliations.

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

For a Cowboys Star With Dementia, Time Is Running Out,” by Juliet Macur. The New York Times, January 27, 2014

“These young players, they have no idea what’s in store for them,” said Rayfield Wright in Juliet Macur’s haunting profile of the retired NFL player affected by dementia after the myriad head injuries he sustained while playing professional football. While his comments were sincere and on point, players at Northwestern might be proving him wrong. Team quarterback Kain Colter held a press conference yesterday to announce that he and his teammates are the first college athletes to attempt to join a labor union. Comparing the NCAA to a “dictatorship,” Coulter claimed, “The same medical issues that professional athletes face are the same medical issues collegiate athletes face, except we’re left unprotected.” Viewed in this context, Wright’s story of quiet suffering is even more germane than when it was published this past weekend. College football players are left to deal with medical problems on their own after their four years of eligibility, and very few make it to the professional level.

—Laura Cremer focuses on labor, gender and the historicization of culture and politics.

The Rise of the Post-New Left Political Vocabulary,” by Steve D’Arcy. The Public Autonomy Project, January 27, 2014

Coming across Steve D’Arcy’s blog post this week, I found it interesting not primarily because of its conclusions (which could benefit from some deeper and more scholarly historical analysis of the movements in question) but because it attempts to situate contemporary social movements in their historical context and raises some points worth discussing. The piece compares the language used by past and present generations of activists and tries to tease out the political significance of the generational differences. Some of the more interesting things it invites us to consider: the specific ways that the cultures of social movements are adaptations to their histories of political defeat, the ways analysis of movement culture can be a window onto a movement’s larger goals and potential, and how being conscious of this relationship could (or so the author hopes) lead to more effective political organizing in the future.

—Cecilia D’Anastasio focuses on ethics, feminism, press freedom and tech.

I Wasn’t Born This Way. I Choose to Be Gay. Macklemore sends the wrong LGBT message in ‘Same Love,’” by Brandon Ambrosino. The New Republic, January 28, 2014

I cannot begin to say how sick I am of hearing about Macklemore. But out of his theatrical display of liberalism at this year’s Grammys emerged some productive discourse on gay rights issues. The song he performed, “Same Love,” has been celebrated as the 2013 gay rights anthem. In this article, Brandon Ambrosino argues that by framing homosexuality as a biological characteristic (“And I can’t change/Even if I tried”), the song adopts rhetoric used to promote racial equality. He asserts that, because gay rights and racial equality are different causes, utilizing rhetoric from one cause to further the other limits our depiction of sexuality: “I see no reason to believe that the only sexualities worth protecting are the ones over which one has no control,” Ambrosino says, citing trans activism. Although Ambrosino’s piece painfully lacks nuance, he does make a point worth considering: “One of the reasons I think our activism is so insistent on sexual rigidity is because, in our push to make gay rights the new black rights, we’ve conflated the two issues.”

—Simon Davis-Cohen focuses on self-governance, climate adaptation and science.

New, privatized African city heralds climate apartheid,” by Martin Lukacs. The Guardian, January 21, 2014

Rising sea levels are forcing Lagos, Nigeria to adapt—the adjacent slum of Makoko has long since taken to the sea. In his article, Lukacs makes real our stake in this proxy between two contending visions for climate change adaptation. Those disappointed by the fiercely unequal blueprint for the manufactured Eko Atlantic city, but unsatisfied with the scope of its more egalitarian alternative, might find interesting a recent study on Brazil’s municipal participatory budgeting policy.

—Justine Drennan focuses on marginalized groups’ relationship with technology and development.

China’s Wild West,” by Kendrick Kuo. Foreign Affairs, January 26, 2014

China’s western Xinjiang province has a lot of parallels with Tibet, as a culturally distinct region that’s long resisted eastern Chinese colonization-in-the-name-of-development. But Xinjiang gets less attention and sympathy than Tibet in the West, probably partly because its main Uighur minority group has been unfairly associated with Islamic terrorism. Official Chinese media, when not linking Uighurs to extremism, often portray Xinjiang as a “desolate” frontier for enterprising ethnic majority Han Chinese to expand into, overlooking the minority groups already there in favor of a Chinese version of Manifest Destiny. (Note Kuo’s title: “China’s Wild West.”) Kuo’s short piece doesn’t offer policy recommendations, but given the dearth of nuanced journalism on Xinjiang, his consideration of both Uighur and Han perspectives is refreshing.

—Corinne Grinapol focuses on education and international relations/national security.

Why support for Common Core is sinking,” by Carol Burris, introduction by Valerie Strauss. The Washington Post, January 27, 2014

In the corporatized, jargon-filled world of contemporary education policy, “education stakeholder groups,” including teachers, are cited again and again as being all in on the Common Core. New York State Education Commissioner John King made that very claim last week, two days before the board of the largest teachers union in the state, the New York State United Teachers, voted to withdraw its support for the standards. Carol Burris, an award-winning New York principal, explains how confusing and damaging the Common Core has been to students, in both implementation and design. To really understand how muddled these standards are, it’s best to experience it for yourself. Burris provides examples; see if you can make your way through the language of a third-grade math standard.

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

Hospital Chain Said to Scheme to Inflate Bills,” by Julie Creswell and Reed Abelson. The New York Times, January 24, 2014

The Department of Justice has recently compiled eight separate lawsuits against Health Management Associates, a for-profit hospital chain that is accused of admitting patients even when they didn’t need treatment in order to raise hospital profits, and punishing doctors who didn’t meet the high admission rates set for them. This New York Times piece by Julie Creswell and Reed Abeldson notes that this practice is common in the for-profit hospital sector (indeed, when speaking to friends who work in healthcare, they readily speak about the unnecessary—and clinically unsound—push to admit), and that companies simply see lawsuits like these as part of the cost of doing business. As if there was ever a question that our healthcare system is broken, its costs out of control and more regulation needed, this piece sheds light on the tricks and trades of a booming, unhinged private healthcare industry.

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

The Case for Aid,” by Jeffrey Sachs. Foreign Policy, January 21, 2014

Jeffrey Sachs contends that the growing skepticism about the efficacy of foreign aid—promulgated perhaps most adamantly by NYU economist William Easterly—is based on politics and ideology rather than evidence. Indeed, demonstrably successful models of life-saving development aid abound: Sachs cites, among other examples, the mass distribution of free bed nets and medicine to combat malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. According to World Health Organization figures, the program saves the lives of half-a-million children under the age of five every year. A reasoned and constructive critique of foreign aid programs is helpful and necessary (see mine of the Peace Corps here), but those calling for an end to aid altogether invite needless suffering into the world.

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

College Football Players Seek to Form a Labor Union,” by Brad Wolverton. The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 29, 2014

College athletes have long chafed against the restrictions of their amateur status and the power of the NCAA. This article from The Chronicle of Higher Education addresses the recent attempt by members of the Northwestern University football team to unionize. But the piece also raises interesting questions about the relationship between students and universities, especially in light of the longtime efforts of graduate students to unionize. Can any students be seen as employees? Or are they consumers, deserving of protection?

Read Next: Who are the Kiev protesters?

Student Journalists Applaud New UC Water Conservation Plan

UC Berkeley

The UC Berkeley campus (lapie/flickr)

This unsigned editorial was originally published in the January 20 issue of the student-run Daily Cal at the University of California at Berkeley.

News on the environmental front is not good. According to a leaked draft of a UN environmental report, the world’s efforts to mitigate disastrous climate change have been insufficient.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN panel that provides comprehensive assessments of information about climate change, found countries’ delay in battling climate change and cutting greenhouse gas emissions has increased the risk of future economic damage and reduced the likelihood that warming levels will remain below a predetermined critical benchmark level of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels.

Closer to home, California is in the midst of one of its worst droughts on record. In response to the state’s third consecutive year of severely dry conditions—snowpack water content in California is only about 20 percent of its average level at this time of year—Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency last week and asked all Californians to voluntarily cut their water consumption by 20 percent.

As the UN report makes obvious, inaction has put the world on a trajectory toward an environmental maelstrom. Brown’s proclamation, then, is a welcome move.

As a conglomerate of research institutions with immense scientific understanding and capacity for technological development, the UC system and UC Berkeley are obligated to take a leadership role in tackling the dire environmental challenges of the twenty-first century. With her January 16 announcement that the university will seek to reduce its per capita water consumption by 20 percent of its current level by 2020, University of California President Janet Napolitano affirmed that the UC system is willing to embrace that role and that it is doing its part to combat challenges such as drought and climate change, which will become catastrophic as a result of complacency. The university’s approach to conservation is better than Brown’s, and students should be proud that their system’s leadership has adopted these practical goals.

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UC Berkeley’s own efforts to reduce its water usage, aside from helping reduce the state’s water deficit, are important because they encourage students to conserve on their own. The campus is on track to meet former chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s 2011 goal of reducing potable water use by 10 percent below 2008 levels by 2020. But on top of just replacing old showerheads and toilets in the residence halls with more efficient ones, campus campaigns, such as those promoted through Facebook and fliering, allow students to become aware of their water use and thus adapt to using less water consciously. This will increase water conservation even when students move out of the dorms and into off-campus living.

Overcoming the vexing environmental challenges before us requires determination, accountability and action. We hope other individuals and organizations will follow the lead of the campus and the university.

Read Next: this month’s student movements.

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