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What’s the Real Issue? Blaming AAAD Obscures the UNC Scandal’s Broader Societal Causes

UNC crest

UNC Chapel Hill University Crest.

This article was written by Omololu Refilwe Babtunde and orginally appeared at The Daily Tar Heel. It is reprinted here with permission.

In 2011, three UNC departments were suspected of participating in deceitful academic activities. When the news hit the stands, it focused on only one of the suspected departments: the Department of African and Afro-American Studies. Rather than choosing either of the other departments as a byword for academic dishonesty, the public seems to have singled out the African and Afro-American Studies for this distinction.

Due to the actions of a few individuals, the media has unjustly characterized the department as being a site of student neglect and intellectual laziness. This unfair representation is not the experience of all students in the department. I am a proud student of the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies. There, I received mentorship unrivaled by what I’ve received elsewhere on campus.

I have been able to delve deep into a history I have never had access to before: the history of my people.

This department is where I felt seen, heard and understood in a society that has for 21 years told me that, because of my black skin, I must hide myself, shut my mind off and question nothing.

This department should not be a scapegoat for society’s failures. This scandal is neither just a departmental issue nor just an athletic issue. This scandal arises from the fact that our society’s conception of value is truly, truly flawed.

Yes, certain people in the African and Afro-American studies department and other departments made grave mistakes. But these mistakes were informed by an understanding of social value that did not allow student-athletes to be seen as intellectual beings but instead as commodities to be bought and sold for the entertainment and profit of the more powerful.

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The media’s one-sided reaction to this scandal shows how our society does not value black studies. This discipline—which has historically been discredited because of our nation’s violent tendency to suppress the intellectual, artistic, political and social expressions of blacks—became the scapegoat for a system that hides its oppressive tendencies in racialized hate and deadly stereotypes.

I believe in UNC. I believe that we can move beyond the normalized tendency to find a clear-cut culprit in tangled, nuanced situations. I want us to be brave enough to be able to look our history in the face and see how systems and relationships of oppression are being maintained and repeated. We should call a spade a spade.

Read Next: Joan Jett Gets Out the Vote

What Are 'Nation' Interns Reading the Week of 10/23/14?

Protesters in Detroit.

People stand outside Detroit City Hall, protesting thousands of residential water-service shutoffs by Detroit's water department, during a rally in Detroit. (AP Photo)

Talal Ansari focuses on foreign policy and affairs, international conflict and human rights issues abroad.
@TalalNAnsari

"Afghanistan: 'A Shocking Indictment'," by Rory Stewart. The New York Review of Books, November 6, 2014.

Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan —the entire country, in 2002—from west to east. My first introduction to him was when I read his book about these travels, The Places in Between, a travelogue like no other. Here he reviews Anand Gopal's book, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban and the War Through Afghan Eyes. Gopal's book is important, for posterity, as it investigates serious lapses of Western involvement in Afghanistan, from horribly botched counter-terrorism operations to shoddy and suspect development work.

Aaron Braun focuses on the psychology and politics of work, histories of socialism, and critiques of Israeli exceptionalism.
@Braun_aaron

Whose Moon is it anyway,” by Rachel Riederer. Dissent, Fall 2014.

Rachel Riederer, an editor at Guernica, investigates the young but expanding private space sector. She questions the possibility of an expanding frontier, as a new bill—American Space Technology for Exploring Research Opportunities In Deep Space (ASTEROIDS)—aims to assert that the value of moon commodities is tied to entrepreneurship and not land ownership. Still, given the limited access to the private space sector (celebrity investors include Eric Schmitt), Riederer wonders if such unfettered frontiership is possible (if it ever was), and let lone anything resembling a lunar commons.

Naomi Gordon-Loebl focuses on queer and trans politics, youth and education, and the criminal justice system.
@naomiglobal

"Fear of a trans college," by Emma Caterine. Feministing, October 17, 2014.

Ruth Padawer's New York Times Magazine article on trans men at women's colleges depressed me. With gem anecdotes like a white trans man running for multicultural affairs coordinator at Wellesley because "masculine-of-center students are a cultural minority," the piece left me wondering: is this extreme tunnel vision and lack of analysis what we've come to? But then I read Emma Caterine's sharp response at Feministing, and felt my feet on the ground again. Caterine makes two central points: one, men pushing back on women's space is an entitled expression of patriarchy. Two, it's particularly ridiculous to focus on the demand for increased men's space at a women's college when some women—trans women—are almost entirely excluded. Too often, big media coverage of a community outside the mainstream is taken as fact, and the talkback—likely truer to the voices of the community—gets ignored. I hope this post, and other responses to Padawer's article, prove to be the exception to the rule.

Ted Hart focuses on criminal justice, arts journalism and media ethics.
@tedhartii

Ugly treatment of Jameis Winston's accuser serves to only discourage future victims,” by Dan Wetzel. Yahoo Sports, October 15, 2014.

In the eleven months since rape allegations against Florida State's starting quarterback, Jameis Winston, surfaced, reporters have largely focused on how Tallahassee police and university officials bungled and impeded the sexual assault investigation. But in his column this week, Dan Wetzel pivots the conversation to show how the way the victim was treated by Florida State fans has made it significantly harder for other victims to go to the police. Wetzel is emphatic that he doesn't "know if Jameis Winston sexually assaulted the woman." But, he writes, absolutely nothing about the investigation is consistent with a false accusation, and the "woman who believes she was raped deserves" so much better than what she's endured. For other important pieces on the Winston investigation, see The New York Times's recent report on how football often trumps justice at Florida State and Michael Rosenberg's column on why we shouldn't conflate Winston's childish antics with a rape allegation.

Yazmin Khan focuses on intersectionality, feminism, race, foreign affairs, politics and pop culture.
@KhanChronicles

White menaces to society: Keene State and the danger of young drunk white men,” by Brittney Cooper. Salon, October 22, 2014.

In the midst of #FergusonOctober, last weekend saw reports of civil unrest, cars being flipped over, threats to police officers' lives and police crowd control including pepper spraying large groups of young people. Doesn't sound like the young nonviolent protestors in Ferguson, demonstrating peacefully against police brutality and Mike Brown's murder, you say? You'd be right. These rioters were drunken college students at Keene State College in New Hampshire. A major difference in the two situations is that the drunken rioters in New Hampshire were white, and the young people protesting in Ferguson are largely people of color. You probably don't need to be reminded that the police in Ferguson responded to demonstrators with tanks, stun grenades, pepper spray and SWAT teams. At Keene, these drunkards, despite their obvious violence and threat to public safety, including their repeated verbal threats against police, were merely pepper sprayed and subdued. Mass arrests did not follow the riots. In Ferguson, many nonviolent protestors, journalists and even municipal legislators were arrested and jailed while attempting to exercise their First Amendment protected right to free speech and free assembly.  Brittney Cooper expounds on this lopsided and deadly difference in perceived and protected freedoms for white Americans and Americans of color. While black bodies are seen as dangerous in public space in the white supremacist racist imagination, drunk and violent whites in public space are unpoliced, both historically and today. Cooper says, "But what the events in Keene suggest is that white folks often test the bounds and limits of public decency and order with little long-term reprisal. There were some arrests, and some tear gas. But no dead bodies. No stigma about white anger. No come to Jesus meetings about White America’s problem children. No public discourse about these “menaces to society.” 

Pablo Mayo Cerqueiro focuses on world politics, social justice and technology.
@pmayocer

"The Great Frack Foward," by Jaeah Lee and James West. Climate Desk, September 15, 2014.

Looking to get China off its coal addiction, Chinese authorities and business groups see fracking as the ultimate energy alternative. But this video production shows the terrible ecological and socioeconomic effects of fracking in rural China. Families have to deal with polluted water, and they're losing their land to fracking activities—pollution in China has indeed become a social-justice issue. "The Great Frack Foward" is an absolute must-watch that will help you understand the intersection of pollution and politics in the Asian giant.

Jessica McKenzie focuses on technology and politics, transparency and accountability.
@jessimckenzi

"The rise of the automated watchdogs," by Rob Price. The Kernel, October 19, 2014.

Our (or at least my) knee-jerk instinct is to say surveillance is bad, right? Not necessarily, especially when it is being turned on those in power. This piece in The Kernel is a good introduction to some of the tools at our disposal to automatically keep an eye on our elected leaders. Some of the tools singled out include the Twitter bot @CongressEdits, which notes when a Wikipedia article is edited anonymously from the House of Representatives IP address; Politwoops, which sends out alerts when politicians delete tweets; and several other trackers put out by the Sunlight Foundation. However, "our digital watchdog overlords can only be as powerful as the people who give them life," writes Price. "And that’s where you come in."

Muna Mire focuses on race, politics, criminal justice and social movements (youth/millennial movements in particular), using an intersectional, Black feminist lens.

UN officials 'shocked' by Detroit’s mass water shutoffs,” by Laura Gottesdiener. Al Jazeera America, October 20, 2014.
@Muna_Mire

This week, my pick is a reported piece from my colleague Laura Gottesdiener on the water crisis in Detroit, a massive human rights crisis that our national media is ignoring with as much zeal as President Obama. As a Canadian, I was clued into the story early when our neighbor-across-the-border reached out to the head of the Council of Canadians for emergency assistance. The Council, lead by Maude Barlow, got the U.N. involved—the right to sanitary water is a protected one. But since the summer, Detroit's "Emergency Manager" Kevyn Orr hasn't slowed the rate of shutoffs, even cutting off water access to a homeless shelter. Detroit is a city that is 80 percent Black and where 40 percent of residents live under the poverty line. It is often problematically referred to as "blighted" by the media, given that white residents and wealthier ones have long since moved away, depleting the city's revenue base and hence its capacity to provide services to remaining residents. But the truth is, the people of Detroit who have been deprived of their right to democratic self-governance and more broadly, self-determination, are resisting an assault on their persons and communities that has now arrived, literally, on the front step of their homes.

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N’Kosi Oates focuses on race and politics, social justice, black identity, pop culture.
@NKosiOates

Why Vonderrick Myers Matters,” by Trymaine Lee. MSNBC, October 18, 2014.

On the night of October 8, an off-duty police officer in St. Louis shot and killed Vonderrick Myers Jr. MSNBC.com National Reporter Trymaine Lee makes the case that this 18-year-old black man should not be ignored or shunned because he does not neatly fit to the construct of who is subjected to police brutality, since he might have been armed. Conflicting accounts emerged about Myers possessing a gun at the time of the altercation, but, as Lee points out, it should not matter if he possessed or fired a gun. Another young black person had died at the hands of a police officer. Police violence is unjust in any context regardless of whether the victim carried a gun. Even if Myers did, what can justify being shot seventeen times?

Allison Pohle focuses on feminism, labor and income inequality, education and health.
@AllisonPohle

"Jackie's Goodbye," by Tiffany Stanley. National Journal, October 4, 2014.

The week she turned 29, Tiffany Stanley became another year older, and one of the 1 million unpaid dementia caregivers between the ages of 18 and 29 living in the U.S. In this piece, Stanley navigates the world of those charged with the task of caring for the millions of elderly dementia patients through the lens of her own experience caring for her Aunt Jackie. She writes, "Although the 2014 federal budget included an increase of $122 million for Alzheimer's research, the largest hike ever, Congress's own advisory group has recommended that the federal government spend $2 billion." Clearly, there's still a long way to go for care of Alzheimer's and dementia patients, many of whom are described by nurses as having "nothing medically wrong with them" because rather than the care of registered nurses, they require adult day care—and devoted friends and family who care enough to support them.

Read Next: 'Rock the Vote' Redux: Campaigns Compete for Youth Vote in 2014 Midterms

'Rock the Vote' Redux: Campaigns Compete for Youth Vote in 2014 Midterm Elections

Voter inserts ballot.

A voter inserts paper ballot at the Belvedere Park polling booth in East Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

This article was originally published in the student-run Daily Tarheel.

The Republican and Democratic National Committees have launched opposing initiatives for the upcoming midterm elections—the target this time: youth voters.

Ferrel Guillory, a UNC journalism professor and director of the Program on Public Life, said the old cliché of every vote counting might ring true for the midterm elections.

“The control of the United States Senate remains in the balance in this election, and in North Carolina the contest between Senator Hagan and speaker Tillis appears to come down to just a figurative handful of votes,” Guillory said.

Youth voters have a known Democratic tilt in their political views. In a poll by Fusion, an online news network, 47 percent of people aged 18 to 34 said they would vote Democrat in 2014, compared to 32 percent who would vote Republican.

Public Policy Polling, a left-leaning private firm based in Raleigh, found that 61 percent of young voters in North Carolina favored incumbent Senator Kay Hagan compared to 27 percent who favored NC House Speaker Thom Tillis.

Raffi Williams, deputy press secretary for the RNC, said the Democratic lead among youth voters can be attributed to the fact that the RNC has only recently begun an outreach program to youths.

“If you look at the Democratic agenda, it hasn’t helped millennials at all,” Williams said, noting high youth unemployment rates. “So it is voting for your future, for your interests and the interests of the country to get out there to vote.”

Last week the RNC held a conference call between Tillis and College Republicans, volunteer days, phone banking and various rallies throughout the state.

The DNC has been using its existing youth vote structures to turn out young voters for the election. In early October, College Democrats from states with noncompetitive races were bused to states with competitive races, including North Carolina.

Additionally, the DNC allows individual state campaigns to use its election infrastructure, and the College Democrats released a video Thursday.

Rob Flaherty, youth media director for the DNC, said youth voters have tended to vote Democratic because the Democratic Party represented them best on issues like gay marriage, equal pay, healthcare and student loans, among others, and that Republicans stand against the interests of young voters.

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“Republicans, no matter what they are saying, stand for the same things,” Flaherty said. “They said they had to do this rebrand and that if they were to reach out to young people they had to change how they reach out, but not what they stand for.”

Guillory said the new, targeted form of campaigning came from lessons from President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Parties still use television ad topics, but have started using targeted efforts to motivate the base to vote in order to win elections.

Flaherty said the DNC is trying to ensure that young people, who typically have low turnout in midterm elections, will come out to vote in November in record numbers.

“If you look at where our generation is going, young people are an increasing share of the population,” Flaherty said. “By 2016, data is showing that young people, people called millennials, are going to be about a third of the electorate, so this is an important opportunity for young people to have their voices heard.”

Read Next: Can Student Credit Unions Solve the College Affordability Problem?

Students Blockade I-75, Stage a ‘Shit-In’ for Trans Justice and Get ‘Real’ With George Will

I-75 blockade

Protesters on I-75 in Georgia. (Photo: Ben Gray, ajc.com)

Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on youth organizing. For recent dispatches, check out September 29 and October 14. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch. Contact studentmovement@thenation.com with tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).

1. Occupying SLU

Photos have been updated, and autopsy reports have changed, but for Occupy SLU the #Ferguson message remains the same. From October 13 to 17 demonstrators camped at the Saint Louis University clock tower in an act of resistance to racial profiling and police brutality. The demonstration, led by groups including Tribe X and Lost Voices, ignited anger and vitriol—as well as constructive dialogue—across the predominantly white campus. The administration took Occupy SLU as a chance to kick-start a discussion on racism, privilege and the Ferguson protests. On Oct 22, President Pestello released a thirteen-step agreement created with the protesters to reflect the college’s newest commitments in line with its Jesuit mission. We will continue to demonstrate until the larger battle to educate and reform our campus culture is won.

—Kat Carroll

2. Storming City Hall

Following #FergusonOctober’s Weekend of Resistance, organizers from Young Activists United St. Louis and Millennial Activists United met with St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. Five representatives spoke with the mayor after a #YouthTakover occupation of St. Louis’s City Hall, where we insisted on a meeting and a list of demands, including effective civilian oversight of the police department with subpoena power, body cameras for all police officers with proper privacy regulations, independent investigations into all police killings and an end to St. Louis’s involvement in all police militarization programs. The meeting itself was baloney—with activists from MAU and YSTL feeling that their voices were not heard and their desire for tangible action dismissed. We will continue pressuring local leaders to make changes consistent with the cries of the communities they serve—while building coalitions that reflect the highly intersectional nature of our movement.

—Nay’Chelle Harris

3. The I-75 Blockade

On October 22, Georgia social justice groups including #ItsBiggerThanYou and Southerners on New Ground helped organize #O22, a protest against the mass incarceration of black and brown bodies in solidarity with those in Ferguson. In Atlanta, youth organizers decided to cause substantial disruption, blocking four lanes of traffic on I-75 South near Freedom Parkway during one of the busiest times of Atlanta traffic. In front of a banner reading #BlackLiveMatter, seven people formed a human chain to block the freeway while others dropped banners on the bridge behind them. Protesters were eventually allowed to exit the highway without arrest. This weekend, #IBTY will be working with groups across the city to host a conference, Empowering Ourselves Now, at the Interdenominational Theological Center.

—Natalia Hall and Zakkiyya Anderson

4. The Return to Campus

During Columbus Day weekend at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, bigotry stained the doors of three students of color. Upon return from the weekend of resistance in Ferguson, a student was welcomed with “kill these niggers!!” boldly scribbled on his door. The community response was swift and strong as UMass stood behind the victims using the hashtag #Wrongdoor, signifying the zero tolerance policy for cowardly acts of racism on our campus. On October 16, students of color, white student allies and supportive faculty gathered for an open forum with the university administration, including the chancellor, to voice frustrations with racial targeting and the invisibility and neglect of underrepresented minority issues. In weekly meetings, we are developing further initiatives to step up the prioritization of these concerns on campus.

—Jasmine Bertrand-Halidy and Josh Odam

5. In Philadelphia, Students Shut Down “Won’t Back Down”

On October 15, the School District of Philadelphia screened Won’t Back Down for its Parent Appreciation night during the city’s “Family Appreciation” Month. At its core, the movie blames teachers and neighborhood schools for the failure of a broken education system that sets up schools and students to fail while demonizing unions and promoting charter expansion as the solution to “failing” school districts. Showing the film a week after Philadelphia’s unelected School Reform Commission canceled the teachers’ contract was a shady ploy to manipulate parents into supporting the school district’s plan towards privatization. So, we took action. Members of the Philadelphia Student Union disrupted the film by chanting “SOS, Save Our Schools!” and “Philly is a Union Town!” while sitting in front of the screen. We were soon approached by School Reform Commissioner Sylvia Simms, who berated us and screamed that we go to “failing” schools. As we protested peacefully, the audience—Simms’ supporters and members of the Women’s Christian Alliance, headed by Simms’ sister—chanted, “Lock them up!” Appalled, but not surprised, we exited the building just as several police arrived, and no students were arrested. Just like those in the movie, Philadelphia public schools have been subjected to systematic disinvestment for decades—more than ever, under current Governor Corbett—in place of a full funding formula.

—Philadelphia Student Union

6. In San Diego, Students Stage a “Shit-In”

The Trans* Action and Advocacy Student Coalition at San Diego State University, or TAASC force, is a student organization for transgender and gender nonconforming folks and allies. On Tuesday, October 21, in coordination with the California Student Union’s week of action, we held a “Shit-In” to raise awareness and advocate for more gender neutral restrooms on campus. At six toilets spread in front of our iconic Hepner Hall building, participants dropped their pants for #SDSUShitIn and #translivesmatter and pledged to take the Gender Neutral Bathroom Challenge, using only gender-neutral bathrooms for an entire week. Amid violence and verbal assault for using gender-segregated restrooms, it has been a struggle to get more accessible restrooms at SDSU. While the university gets ranked as a top LGBT campus, trans* justice has been on the back burner—or, in the case of last spring’s Trans* Week of Empowerment and the Shit-In, co-opted, silencing our efforts. The university’s reasoning for a lack of these restrooms is that trans* issues weren’t on the radar when buildings were constructed—despite that two of three new buildings don’t have any and existing locations are largely inaccessible. We are making a short documentary about the “Shit-In” and hope to create a national campaign.

—a.t. furuya

7. At Miami U, Reality Confronts George Will

The news that George Will, a public victim-blamer and rape apologist, would be paid $48,000 to speak at Miami University of Ohio was a shock. On October 19, members of Miami University’s Women’s Center wrote an open letter to the administration, signed by more than 1,000 people, explaining that Will’s column explicitly violates the Miami Code of Conduct and that inviting Will to speak is disrespectful to the university community—which the university rejected. At 5 pm on Wednesday, October 22, as some students lined up to listen to Will speak, hundreds of others showed up to protest, carrying signs and shouting, “Nothing less than yes!” and “No means no!” During the speech, students, staff and faculty held a teach-in on sexual assault. President David Hodge did attend the protest, where he talked to students and was handed a petition for greater funding for sexual assault victims at Miami with signatures from 12,500 members of UltraViolet. Together, we aim to show the university that we want discourse on campus to reflect values of love, honor and respect.

—Jordan Rubin-McGregor

8. How Many Asses for a Kentucky Vote?

From October 20 to 24, students from seven campuses affiliated with the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition hosted “Let’s Buy a Politician” mock fundraisers to draw attention to the role of money from fossil fuel industries in Kentucky’s elections. Our “goal” was to raise $100 million, the same amount forecasted to be spent in the most expensive Senate election in US history, between Mitch McConnell and Alison Grimes. Our real goal is to make candidates realize that we demand a just transition to a renewable energy economy, which would protect our air, water and economic futures, in exchange for our votes. The fundraisers ranged from “Buy a Cookie, Buy a Politician” bake sales at duPont Manual High School and Western Kentucky University to a puppy-petting event at Transylvania University and an “Ass-Kissing Booth” at the University of Kentucky where a politician named “Grimey McConster” would kiss your ass in exchange for campaign contributions.

—Ryan Hidalgo

9. Whose Iowa?

Students in Iowa graduate with an average debt of $29,000, the result of state defunding of higher education concurrent with greater spending on administrative costs. Tuition and fees now make up a majority of university revenue—and are expected to increase. In response, the University of Iowa’s graduate employee union, COGS, held a Rally Against Student Debt on October 22 while the Iowa Board of Regents discussed the 2015–16 budget. Speakers included students, faculty and State Senator Tyler Olson—speaking on behalf of Senate hopeful Bruce Braley and his College Affordability Plan. Later that day, another student protest cut short a visit to Iowa City from Joni Ernst, who is Braley’s opponent and wants to abolish the federal Department of Education. As reported the next day, several members of the Iowa Board of Regents are now pushing for a continued tuition freeze—pushing educational costs further to the forefront of the midterm election.

—Melissa Zimdars

10. “You’re Not Going to Disrespect Me in My Second Home”

Editor’s note: A middle school student from the Mission District in San Francisco speaks out about confronting—and defeating—Dropbox and Airbnb employees in a game of eviction at the Mission Playground.

—Mission Playground Is Not for Sale

Can Student Credit Unions Solve the College Affordability Problem?

Columbia University Library.

Columbia University Library in New York (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

In the past two years, Columbia University students have attempted to remedy the vexing problem of college affordability with an old but largely untried idea: a student credit union.

Credit unions form a cooperatively owned alternative to traditional banks in which profits go to providing better rates and lower fees for the credit union’s clients. Recipients of capital become shareholders in the institution and participate in its decisions.

Mischa Beumer, a Columbia University student, first joined a credit union while working in Alaska: “I was served better than I ever had been. I discovered how great the services were, how much cheaper the loans.” Back at Columbia, Mischa started exploring the possibilities of establishing a credit union on campus. “If Columbia can have a student-run ambulance service, then it can have a student-run credit union.”

Started by a group of four students, the idea, rebranded Lion Credit Union Initiation (LCUI), quickly mustered interest. In the fall of 2013 dozens of students gathered for an informational meeting, after which half of the attendees applied to join the team. The team is now constituted of twenty-two students, chosen after a “brutally long application process,” according to LCUI’s current business development analyst, Dayalan Rajaratnam.

For Jared Greene, the current president of the LCUI, the idea is a “no-brainer.”

“It’s about connecting a community, while saving each other money and teaching each other things.” The credit union would be run by volunteer students. After its operational costs, which should be minor, are paid, its profits would be devoted to lowering fees and giving back to the community, by offering grants for different events and projects. For Mischa, the founder, it’s “all about knowledge-sharing and supporting innovation that comes from community members.”

Beyond providing a more humane alternative to banking, LCUI hopes to remedy the fact that most students do not know how to take out a loan or apply for a mortgage after college. The inadequacy of most college curriculum to deal with personal finances is flagrant: the most crucial short-term goal of the LCUI is promoting financial literacy on college campuses, by bringing in speakers and organizing classes.

Its team of volunteers will also be receiving hands-on experience on how to run a financial institution attentive to the needs of the community. In the long run, the LCUI hopes to be able to provide student loans at much lower rates, a feat that Beumer thinks is “realistic,” “because Columbia offers so much financial aid, it would not be that much to do”.

The initiative has received support from most of the student councils of Columbia University’s colleges (Columbia College Student Council, Student Government Association (Barnard’s undergraduate student council), Engineering Student Council, General Studies Student Council, Graduate Business Association, Teacher’s College Student Council and Graduate Student Advisory Council), and is now backed by the equivalent of 40 percent of the student body. With this solid base the LCUI is hoping to gather the support of the university senate. The group also needs the endorsement of the National Credit Union Administration. The credit union is reaching out to alumni to get financial backing to get started. It is also looking for a location, and has yet to gain the critical endorsement of Columbia University.

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Although there are many credit unions at different universities, for either faculty, grad or undergrad students, few are student-run, with Georgetown’s and UPenn’s being the notable exceptions. If approved by the NCUA, the Lion Credit Union Initiative, meant for anyone who has studied or worked for Columbia University, would bridge another historic rift: that which separates students from other members of the community. Unlike UPenn and Georgetown, the Columbia credit union is trying to reach out to anyone who has ever worked or studied at Columbia University, from students and faculty to administrators and workers.

A lesson in how to provide banking centered on people’s needs and not on profit for its investors, the Columbia credit union might well ripple well beyond the Morningside campus. Alvaro Rossi, a rising sophomore who is the head of the LCUI’s Internal Affairs division, hopes to start a credit union in Brazil after graduation “It’s incredible that there aren’t more credit unions around the world. I think it’s possible here. Mischa thinks it’s possible in Jordan too.”

 

Read Next: Poly, NYU’s Latest Global Venture in Building ‘Innovation’ on the Backs of Low-wage Workers

Poly, NYU’s Latest Global Venture in Building ‘Innovation’ on the Backs of Low-wage Workers

Students at NYU Poly.

Students participate in a "hackathon" put on by NYU Polytechnic, the MTA, and AT&T. (Creative Commons, photo: MTA/Patrick Cashin)

When The New York Times recently exposed the abusive treatment of construction workers at NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus, people all over the world reacted with disgust to a growing pattern at NYU: employing what the university calls “innovation” on the backs of low-wage, precarious workers. While the NYU Abu Dhabi situation has received well-deserved attention, a lesser known example of worker-exploitation exists right here in New York City, at the NYU-Polytechnic School of Engineering. Touted by university administrators and city officials alike as a hub of economic development, much of this innovation happens through the creative, hard work of hundreds of low-wage graduate student employees engaged in cutting-edge experimental research ranging from solving urban transportation problems to developing improved medical technologies, clean energy technologies and storm resilience.

At Poly, new research and patents have generated $250 million and 900 new jobs for the New York City economy and helped bring around $20 million a year to NYU in research grants and contracts. NYU has compiled a long list of international conference presentations, grants, awards and more achieved in the recent past by Poly researchers, many of them graduate students, but the graduate student workers who help make those projects happen for the university, the city and beyond get paid as little as $10 per hour and are struggling to make ends meet on low wages and non-existent benefits.

Unlike the workers at NYU Abu Dhabi, however, graduate employees won the right to collective bargaining through the Graduate Student Organizing Committee/UAW (GSOC/UAW) and have been engaged in negotiations with NYU for a first contract since February. Unfortunately, the administration has so far failed to put an offer on the table considered fair by student organizers and more than 1,000 NYU and Poly GSOC/UAW members have signed a letter demanding that NYU raise graduate employee wages and greatly improve access to health benefits.

The fact that NYU makes graduate student workers at Poly pay for healthcare and tuition—over $18,000 per semester—is particularly egregious because at NYU’s Washington Square campus the majority of graduate students don’t have to pay any fees when they work as teachers and researchers alongside their studies. If NYU is really so proud of what we do as graduate workers, it should stop treating those of us at Poly like second-class members of our own university.

It gets worse. Many student workers at Poly are international students, primarily from India and China, who travel across the world to pursue a Master’s degree and who on occasion must resort to working under the table for restaurants and gas stations to make ends meet because their visas make it legally challenging for them to work off-campus. International students are often referred to Poly by “educational consultants” who help them apply to the school in exchange for a large fee, which renders them highly vulnerable to the fear that if they complain about anything, they risk having their financial aid packages revoked.

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After the Abu Dhabi scandal broke, NYU issued a poorly written apology to the workers. At Poly, workers have the opportunity to win something much better, a legally binding contract with fair wages and benefits that would enable Poly to actually become the global center for innovation that NYU claims it to be, and that we all want Poly to be in reality.

 

Read Next:It’s Time for Everyone to Come Out of the Debt Closet

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 10/16/14?

Capt. Ron Johnson.

Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, left, answers questions as Governor Jay Nixon listens during a news conference in Ferguson, Missouri. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Talal Ansari focuses on foreign policy and affairs, international conflict and human rights issues abroad.
@TalalNAnsari

Core Secrets: NSA Saboteurs in China and Germany,” by Peter Maas and Laura Poitras. The Intercept, October 10, 2014.

With how little privacy we have, perhaps we are desensitized when more revelations occur. Our desensitization started with Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. It was our first foray into covert worlds in the twenty-first century. It marked a new era in the government’s targeting its information drones on the Internet and beyond. That was just the beginning, as Edward Snowden has shattered any and all beliefs that our rights and privacy as citizens are respected. Much of the NSA’s invasion of our privacy is usually thought of as an intangible intrusion, via hacking and collusion with telecommunications and technology companies. But as this Intercept article reveals, the quest for more access may involve the physical sphere, with convert agents using “physical subversion” as a new method of gaining access to data. It turns out the CIA and the NSA have more in common than we think.

Aaron Braun focuses on the psychology and politics of work, histories of socialism, and critiques of Israeli exceptionalism.
@Braun_aaron

The Economics of Palestinian Liberation,” by Raja Khalidi. Jacobin, October 15, 2014.

I appreciate Jacobin’s coverage of Palestinian politics because it has prioritized the complexities within Palestinian society over those broad-strokes narratives through which we discuss Israeli-Palestinian history. Every national struggle, as the author explains (with the help of Fanon), is necessarily rife with contradictions. However, there are few places on the media (leftist publications included), where these contradictions are not cynically used to unfairly dismiss dissent as fundamentally flawed, and few where those contradictions can be used to help that dissent to evolve and adapt in the context of changing political constellations.

Also, unrelated, but Nikil Saval’s “Bartlebys All” in the most recent issue of Dissent feels so relevant, or at least it does from this cubicle. If you enjoy this you should also check out his book Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace.

Naomi Gordon-Loebl focuses on queer and trans politics, youth and education, and the criminal justice system.
@naomiglobal

Appropriation vs. Appreciation,” by Browntourage and Mohammed Fayaz. Interrupt, September 23, 2014.

Last Halloween, my friends and I were standing outside a tropical bass party on the Lower East Side when we got into an argument with a drunk white woman in a Pocahontas costume. The suggestion that her costume might be racist incensed her, and the conversation quickly escalated, culminating in her sob-yelling, “You’re fucking racist!” and walking away. All of that might have been avoided if she’d just read an article like this “illustrated style guide” to “Appropriation vs. Appreciation.” Halloween is just around the corner, which means it’s a good time to remind ourselves that “appropriation continues patterns of disempowering groups that are already marginalized.”

Ted Hart focuses on criminal justice, arts journalism and media ethics.
@tedhartii

A Wrongful Conviction Robbed William Lopez of His Freedom, and Then His Life,” by Liliana Segura. The Intercept, October 8, 2014.

Where so many wrongful conviction stories are framed as redemption narratives, Liliana Segura’s latest story lingers on the continued hardships of life after a conviction is vacated and a long-time prisoner is released. Writing in The Intercept, Segura explores the life and untimely death of William Lopez, a man who spent twenty-three years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of killing a drug dealer. Lopez’s case had all the “classic hallmarks of a wrongful conviction: a dearth of physical evidence, a prosecutor who withheld exculpatory evidence, hapless defense attorneys, a hostile judge,” but even after his release, Segura notes, he was still hounded by attempts to retry him and had trouble adjusting to life on the outside. On top of all that, Segura writes, “prison is like a debilitating illness; it literally speeds up the aging process.” And in Lopez’s case, the toll that prison took on his health killed him before he had a chance to receive any restitution from the state for what it did to him.

Yazmin Khan focuses on intersectionality, feminism, race, foreign affairs, politics and pop culture.
@KhanChronicles

Let John Oliver and Jeff Goldblum Show You How Police Commit ‘Legalized Robbery’

Did you know that if the police ever stop you for anything, ever, they can take all your cash? They can take your car, your home and any other goods they deem valuable, and even if you are innocent, you may never get it back. This is because in order to seize assets from a citizen, there is no legal requirement that the police arrest you, charge you, that the property seized be related to any crime, or that you be found guilty of any crime. This process is called civil forfeiture, and it is unregulated and so far, completely sanctioned under current law. Amazingly, knowledge of this practice is limited, although it is widely experienced. Civil forfeiture has been covered every now and again in the media, but has never ignited public passions. That is, hopefully, until now. John Oliver, former Daily Show correspondent and host of Last Week Tonight, has taken up the issue. In one of his show’s incredibly well researched and edited segments, he introduces the issue to millions of Americans. This segment is a must-watch. Check out The Washington Post’s recent investigation into civil forfeiture that John Oliver cites as a source in this segment for more comprehensive information.

Pablo Mayo Cerqueiro focuses on world politics, social justice and technology.

Search who’s giving money to Cuomo, Astorino in race for NY governor,” by Michelle Breidenbach. Syracuse.com, October 15, 2014.

Syracuse.com—Syracuse, New York’s online news operation—has built an interactive database to look up contributions to Democrat Andrew Cuomo and Republican Rob Astorino’s campaigns in New York’s gubernatorial race. I think this is worth showcasing, because it’s a great example of public-service journalism that helps ordinary citizens and journalists keep an eye on politicians. Unfortunately, money plays an important role in US politics, so people must watch how finances are influencing or could influence their government.

Jessica McKenzie focuses on technology and politics, transparency and accountability.
@jessimckenzi

The Future of the Culture Wars is Here, and It’s Gamergate,” by Kyle Wagner. Deadspin, October 14, 2014.

This is worth a read even if you haven’t been following Gamergate, which is fully explained and described (as “a mutant variant of the traditional American grievance movement”) in the article, if you’re not already familiar. Wagner draws an interesting parallel between gamers responsible for the Gamergate plague and other relatively small groups with outsize pull on public discourse, like Tea Partiers. “Co-opting the language and posture of grievance,” Wagner writes, “is how members of a privileged class express their belief that the way they live shouldn’t have to change, that their opponents are hypocrites and perhaps even the real oppressors.”

Muna Mire focuses on race, politics, criminal justice and social movements (youth/millennial movements in particular), using an intersectional, black feminist lens.
@Muna_Mire

The Death Penalty, Missouri and the Continued Devaluing of Black Life,” by William C. Anderson. Truthout, October 14, 2014.

This week, a thoughtful article from my friend William C. Anderson in Truthout, asks us to consider the “pageantry of black death” when police brutality (more accurately, fatality) and extrajudicial killing of black bodies are the seemingly ubiquitous backdrop to American life. Anderson makes linkages between the killing of Mike Brown and the resistance movement that came from Ferguson and the spectacle of cruel and unusual punishment that has quietly taken over the American South: the botched and mishandled executions of death-row inmates. How can we think about black bodies implicated in the prison-industrial complex? How can we begin to think about justice for these bodies, stolen from us by the state?

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N’Kosi Oates focuses on race and politics, social justice, black identity, pop culture.
@NKosiOates

Black and Blue,” by Jamelle Bouie. Slate, October 13, 2014

In the days following the shooting of slain black teen Michael Brown, the public learned that Ferguson Police Department was nearly 95 percent white, although Ferguson is 67 percent black. When questioned by the media about the lack of diversity among the police officers, Mayor James Knowles explained, “There’s also the problem that a lot of young African-American people don’t want to go into law enforcement. They already have this disconnect with law enforcement, so if we find people who want to go into law enforcement who are African-American we’re all over it because we want them to help us bridge the gap.” In this compelling article, Jamelle Bouie addresses the perception that hiring black cops will solve the issue of police brutality. As revealed in his article, the focus on demographics should center on which racial groups reside in a city. The fact is, more black residents in any city yield more police shootings. This is true particularly for young black males between the ages of 15 and 19. They are twenty-one times more likely to be shot and killed by the police than white males of the same ages. Police are physical representations of the institutions that manage racial control, regardless of the race of the police officer. Hiring more black officers will not solve the legacy of racial discrimination; it begins with dismantling the training practices and cultures of all police.

Allison Pohle focuses on feminism, labor and income inequality, education and health.
@AllisonPohle

Battered, Bereaved and Behind Bars,” by Alex Campbell. Buzzfeed, October 2, 2014.

Arlena Lindley’s boyfriend is serving a life sentence (with the possibility of parole) for killing her son. She is serving forty-five years for “failing to protect” her child from the man who repeatedly beat her and once stuffed her in a trunk. In this unsettling and thoroughly researched narrative, Campbell explores the way in which many state laws punish women for not being able to defend their children or themselves from the men who abuse them.

Read Next: It’s time for everyone to come out of the debt coset

It’s Time for Everyone to Come Out of the Debt Closet

A student protestor poses with chalk graffiti.

An NYU student at an action to protest student debt called "Coming Out of the Debt Closet." (Photo courtesy of the NYU Queer Union)

This piece originally appeared at the NYU Local and is reposted here with permission.

Yesterday, in the shadow of Washington Square Park’s arc de triomphe, sixty NYU students stepped bravely out of the Debt Closet. This event, the enterprising lovechild of NYU’s Student & Labor Action Movement (SLAM) and the Queer Union, marked the second anniversary of “Coming Out of the Debt Closet,” a project aimed at breaking the silence of student debt.

For many of us, the word “debt” is a dirty word, tabooed in casual conversation. We don’t like to think about it, and we certainly don’t like to talk about it. This, however, is exactly the stigma “Coming Out of the Debt Closet” strives to eradicate. The project, as Queer Union e-board member AJ Stone Jonathan put it, is about “making that symbolic step towards breaking the silence which surrounds student debt.

“If you don’t talk about it, things aren’t going to change,” they added.

And, as the statistics from yesterday show, things need to change. From the mere 60 participants of this year’s event, SLAM and Queer Union calculated a net debt to the tune of $4,256,876—that averages to $70,950 per student. The staggering height of these numbers makes them almost abstract, distant from the everyday reality of Bobst all-nighters and street cart dumplings. There is nothing abstract, however, about the implications of a 70,000 dollar set-back upon graduating college.

At the current juncture, NYU appears to be doing little to help its students with their debilitating debt. Most of the “extra” resources of the university instead are filtered into ‘emergency funds,’ our sites abroad, and, of course, the infamous 2031 plan. The obscene figures of the venture—such as $6 billion in total expenditure—reveal, perhaps, the reason for our laughable financial aid and expansive tuition.

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With “Coming Out of the Debt Closet,” SLAM and the Queer Union are also acting against this stagnancy in the administration’s stand on student debt. They strongly believe an education should not be the financial burden it has become. Above all, however, they want to get students talking, and talking early. They want to eradicate the stigma from its source. To do this, they need the voices of NYU students, current and past. As Queer Union secretary Olivia Creamer put it with solemn conviction, the issue is “everyone’s problem, and everyone needs to work together to do something about it.”

To get involved with the discussion of student debt, reach out to SLAM, speak up, and make a stand.

Read Next: From St. Louis to South LA, American Youth Move the Movement

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From St. Louis to South LA, American Youth Move the Moment

Ferguson October

Ferguson October (Photo: Howard Koplowitz, IBT)

Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on youth organizing. For recent dispatches, check out September 15 and September 29. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch. Contact studentmovement@thenation.com with tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).

1. Moving a Moment

From October 10 through 13, thousands of people from across the United States gathered in Ferguson and St. Louis, Missouri, for a Weekend of Resistance that arose from protests against the murder of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, the violent police crackdown in the days following his death and the larger issue of police violence against the black community. Marches, convenings and nonviolent direct actions united a wide spectrum of causes—from labor to climate justice—as part of building a national movement against racism and police violence. At the forefront of the weekend were youth, who have led the Ferguson protests since Brown’s death in August—despite being assaulted with tear gas and arrest. Students and young people, including activists from Millennial Activists United and Lost Voices, led mass protests in both Ferguson and St. Louis in honor of Brown, Vonderrit Meyers and Kajieme Powell—two local youth killed by police—and other victims of police violence. Moving forward, we are working to build local coalitions—from student networks like St. Louis Students in Solidarity to the strengthening of relationships among young activists in St. Louis, Ferguson and other areas of St. Louis County—to build upon the momentum gained over the weekend.

—Nay’Chelle Harris

2. Demilitarizing America

On October 3, as thousands prepared to head to Ferguson, students of the Community Rights Campaign in Los Angeles held a vigil, “From Ferguson to LA: Demilitarize Our Communities,” to honor the lives of the many young people who have died at the hands of law enforcement. The program that supplies military weaponry to St. Louis, the Department of Defense’s 1033, recently delivered a Mine Resistant Ambush Vehicle, sixty-six rifles and three grenade launchers to the Los Angeles School Police Department. Los Angeles schools are not a war zone. We demand an immediate return of all the weapons and a complete inventory of the weapons the LASPD has in its possession. Over the past eight years, we have fought successfully to curb truancy ticketing, ban the use of willful defiance and secure a new police protocol to decriminalize student discipline. Now, we are ready to demilitarize LAUSD and all police and build a movement for power and respect for black and brown communities.

—Laura Aguilar

3. Cutting the Pipeline

On October 5, as part of the Dignity in Schools Campaign’s Week of Action Against School Pushout, the Missouri GSA Network led a march from Normandy High School, Mike Brown’s alma mater, to the Ferguson police department, chanting, “I deserve an education, don’t set me up for incarceration!” On Wednesday, we held a speakout on experiences with school pushout and the school to prison pipeline. On Saturday, in coordination with Ferguson October, we started a chalk walk about a world without pushout and followed with a march and rally with hundreds of screenprinted shirts with messages about justice and the school to prison pipeline. Later that day, we held a trans teach-in to discuss the intersection of criminalization, race and trans identities and ended with a celebration of our ongoing organizing at the St. Louis City Museum.

—Sterling Waldman

4. In Philadelphia, Students Walk Out—Again

On October 6, Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission voted to unilaterally cancel the Philadelphia Federation of Teacher’s contract, forcing teachers to contribute to their health insurance plans—after they had already taken a two year pay freeze and have been contributing their own money to classroom supplies. Two days later, more than 300 students from Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy, alongside students from the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, went on strike in solidarity with our teachers. We met at 8 am and spent the next four hours chanting and flyering to passersby to call for the reinstatement of the contract. Superintendent Hite, Governor Corbett and the SRC have been pushing a rhetoric of “shared sacrifice,” but the sacrifice is nothing close to being shared. School district staff have given $70 million in concessions this year while Harrisburg has given $12 million. This is an attack on workers, the poor, children of color and the city of Philadelphia. We stand in solidarity with our teachers and demand the SRC reinstate PFT’s old contract and continue negotiations toward a new one.

—RubyJane Anderson

5. In Hartford, Jane Doe Rises

After months of solitary confinement without charges at York Correctional, a women’s prison, Connecticut ward “Jane Doe,” a Latina transgender 16-year-old, has now had to endure months of further solitary confinement at CT Juvenile Training School, a facility for delinquent boys. Jane is a survivor of horrific abuses at the hands of Department of Children and Families staff and people with whom she was placed by DCF. On September 27, supporters—including the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project, the New Haven LGBTQ+ Youth Kickback, the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Black and Pinkmarched to the state capitol, the most recent of several actions in Hartford. Some youth who have been through DCF have told their own stories in addition to advocating for Jane. The Justice For Jane movement is demanding the immediate removal of Jane from CJTS and her placement with a loving family, more than ten of whom have reached out with offers to adopt her. Additionally, the coalition is demanding that DCF Commissioner Joette Katz be fired, that CT statute 17a-12, which allows DCF to imprison children without charges, be overturned and that there be an independent investigation launched into DCF’s abuses. On October 14, there will be an all-day call-in to Governor Dannel Malloy’s office with demands to free Jane.

—IV Staklo

6. Umbrellas for Hong Kong

On October 2, seventy students supporting Hong Kong’s Occupy Central Movement gathered at a pro-democracy rally at the University of California–Davis. We wanted to show solidarity with the protesters in Hong Kong and stage a public forum on the movement with an emphasis on the true motives of the “Umbrella Movement.” Although the movement has received significant media attention worldwide, most news reports focus on police brutality rather than on the demand of the protestors—genuine universal suffrage, a fulfillment of the Chinese government’s promises and respect for people’s basic human right of unbiased elections. While supporters in other countries cannot actively participate in the protests, we can mobilize in support of the movement.

—Kenneth Chen and Kimberly Mitchell

7. Questions for Iguala

Six days after the forty-third anniversary of the Tlatelolco massacre, students across the world protested an all-too-familiar attempt by the Mexican government to silence their voices. Police were involved in the disappearance of forty-three student teachers in Iguala, allegedly handing them to the Guerreros Unidos cartel. In solidarity with the Trinational Coalition to Defend Public Education and demonstrations against the Mexican government’s history of violent reactions to student dissidence, members of the Michigan Student Power Network and MSU Students United traveled to the Mexican consulate in Detroit to deliver a letter demanding that the government return the students alive and punish those responsible for their disappearance. After reiterating the letter’s demands to the deputy consul, he attempted to shift culpability to organized crime—the seemingly preferred pretext. This answer is no longer satisfying. The Mexican people demand a government that is corruption-free, transparent, accountable and accepting of criticism; we will work to build pressure until such democracy is reached.

—Lizbeth Bermúdez-López

8. The Free Speech Movement, Continued

On October 1, the 50th Anniversary of the University of California–Berkeley’s arrest of a student during the Free Speech Movement, the Cal Progressive Coalition held a sit-on at the home of Capital Projects, steps away from Sproul Hall where Mario Savio and many others answered the call to put their bodies on the gears. Our coalition formed around the anniversary to tell the story of the ongoing struggles that have made gains in spite of UC’s policy of repressing dissenting voices. The sit-in protested the privatized commercial development of UC-owned historic farmland, now slated to become a big-box, union-busting grocer. After six hours of negotiation, we won two key demands for one of our coalition members, Students for Engaged and Active Learning—a meeting with the chancellor and release of key documents—which will help them build a food initiative on all twenty acres of this historic farmland. We will continue resisting impending tuition and fee hikes, the exploitation of workers, the oligarchy of UC Regents, institutional relationships with petrochemical conglomerates, the speculative investment of tuition dollars, the arming of campus police with tactical weaponry and the installment of Janet Napolitano as UC president—struggles against privatization and violence that connect the FSM with an ongoing history of movements after 1964 tackling injustice at UC.

—Cal Progressive Coalition

9. The New Hillel

From October 11 to 13, student organizers with the Open Hillel movement hosted an unprecedented conference to discuss the Jewish community’s relationship to Israel and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Open Hillel is a student-run campaign to challenge the red lines that limit debate on the conflict in the Jewish community. Among other things, Hillel’s Jewish campus centers are required to exclude groups and individuals who support nonviolent resistance through boycott, divestment and sanctions from Israel. More than 350 people gathered at Harvard to hear from a diverse set of students, experts, activists and scholars, including Judith Butler, Peter Beinart, Rashid Khalidi and three Jewish veterans of the 1964 Freedom Summer. The conference kicked off campaigns to organize transgressive events in campus Hillels, including a speaking tour with the Jewish civil rights veterans whose views on Palestine violate Hillel’s current “Standards of Partnership.”

—Naomi Dann and Sandra Korn

10. When Will Justice for John Crawford Be Served?

Editor’s note: Following the police killing of John Crawford at a Beavercreek, Ohio, Walmart and subsequent non-indictment of the shooter, the Ohio Student Association took over Beavercreek police headquarters. In solidarity, organizers in Ferguson have since shut down three Walmarts. (Video: TYT Nation)

—Ohio Student Association

Affirmative Consent as State Law in California

A UCLA student.

A student walks on the University of California Los Angeles campus in Los Angeles. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson) 

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Tar Heel and is republished here with permission.

As UNC and other campuses nationwide engage in sexual assault policymaking efforts, California has become the first state to enact a new consent standard for colleges and universities in hopes of changing the culture surrounding sexual violence.

On September 28, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a statewide “yes means yes” law for institutions that receive state money. The law stipulates that the person accused of sexual assault must prove that a clear affirmation of consent was given by the accuser.

Christi Hurt, UNC’s assistant vice chancellor and chief of staff of student affairs, said she supports many aspects of the California law. She said UNC’s campus-specific policy and its definition of consent align with provisions in the California law underscoring the importance of affirmative consent instead of a definitive “no.”

“I think any move to encourage the concept around affirmative consent and striving towards healthy sexuality is exactly the direction we need to be moving toward for the country,” she said.

North Carolina could benefit from a statewide law or policy regarding affirmative consent, she said, but there could also be problems with such a legal standard.

“Building a policy that worked for our university—it was so important to listen to students, staff and faculty,” she said. “I hesitate to put anything in place for any other campus because a policy should reflect the needs of each individual university.”

Laura Palumbo, prevention campaign specialist for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said a statewide policy in any state would convey more benefits than drawbacks.

“It’s changing the standard from the idea that the sexually assaulted person needs to prove a ‘no’ to making the standard of positive, enthusiastic communication of consent,” she said. “The responsibility that (the standard) puts on campuses when it becomes a statewide law is really significant.”

Palumbo said California’s policy could push colleges and universities to re-examine their campuswide policies—in particular, motivating them to consider the detrimental effects of placing the policies’ unclear standards of proof on the victims of sexual assault.

“The standard of a ‘no’ or a ‘yes’ isn’t giving people all of the information they need because there is a lot more complexity to that in relation to our interactions,” she said. “There aren’t always black and white boundaries, but there does always need to be clear communication.”

Maddy Frumkin, co-chairwoman of Project Dinah, a UNC group that works to end sexual assault and interpersonal violence, said she supports California’s adoption of an affirmative consent model.

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“I think enthusiastic is a step above willingness,” she said. “The idea is that we want people to want to engage in sexual encounters, but that definition has become very misconstrued. They’re afraid of being coerced or what could happen if they didn’t consent.”

Palumbo said she hopes policies and laws like California’s could help create campus cultures where students feel free to communicate their needs.

“For campuses, the goal is emphasizing that every student has the right to communicate their boundaries and feel that those boundaries are going to be respected by their peers.”

 

Read Next: What Lena Dunham Taught Us About Unpaid Labour and What We Taught Ourselves

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