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

College Construction Offers Jobs, Raises Question on Yale Bidding Process

Yale Brick

A carved brick at Yale University (Marc_Smith/Flickr)

This piece was originally published by theYale Daily News and is reposted here with permission.

The cranes that were recently hoisted up to Yale’s skyline—towering above a pit teeming with machinery and workers in hardhats—look to students like a sign of things to come, a tangible reminder that today’s Yale is not tomorrow’s. To New Haven’s construction workers, the cranes symbolize an opportunity.

The $500 million construction project for Yale’s two new residential colleges is among the largest in Connecticut history, and the massive undertaking has already resulted in a payment of $7.6 million in permit fees to the city of New Haven. By expanding Yale’s footprint northward, the new colleges could alter the composition of the adjacent Dixwell neighborhood, spurring new development or raising the specter of gentrification. But perhaps the most immediate effects of the project will be felt by those residents currently battling snow and frozen ground to lay the foundations for Yale’s first expansion of the undergraduate population in nearly 60 years.

Before the college doors open in August 2017, at least 125 New Haven residents will be employed on the construction site in some capacity, according to Nichole Jefferson, executive director of the Commission on Equal Opportunities, which works to ensure publicly funded construction projects employ minority and female construction workers, as well as New Haven residents.

“Truthfully, the city is ecstatic,” Jefferson said. “The administration and all the residents, because they may have the chance to work on that site. Representatives of Dimeo, the contractor overseeing construction, declined to comment to the News and deferred questions to Yale administrators. Based on the size of the project, however, Jefferson estimated that roughly 700 workers will be involved. Fifty to 60 subcontractors—including J.L. Marshall & Sons, Inc. of Massachusetts, Manafort Bros. of Plainville, Conn, Ducci Electrical of Torrington, Conn., and Suzio York Hill of New Haven—will work on various aspects of the new buildings, from delivering concrete for the foundation to installing electrical wiring, according to Jefferson.

Federal law requires all construction projects receiving federal funding to ensure that 25 percent of work hours are performed by minority construction workers and 6.9 percent by women. Additionally, New Haven law requires projects that receive city dollars to reserve 25 percent of work hours for New Haven residents.

Legally, the privately funded construction of the new colleges is not required to meet those standards. But Yale requires contractors to do so anyway, Jefferson said. Thus, she predicts 25 percent of the 700 workers on the site will be New Haven residents.

Bruce Dykty, vice president of sales at Suzio York Hill, said Dimeo had contracted Manafort Bros. to oversee the building of the north college and J.L. Marshall & Sons for the south. Suzio York Hill has been subcontracted to deliver 100 to 150 cubic-yards of concrete every day.

“It’s such a large project, a fast-track project that we needed to spilt it up because not one company could supply the man power to keep it going,” Dykty said.

Because the project is privately funded, Jefferson is not monitoring the construction workforce to ensure it meets diversity standards. She said Danielle Gunther-Gawlak, associate director at Yale University Facilities, meets with Yale administrators and construction companies to discuss hiring targets and strategies for meeting them. Gunther-Gawlak declined to comment.

Jefferson said that when contractors agree to hire only unionized workers, as Dimeo has, they monitor their workforces and contact local unions if they need additional women, minorities or New Haven residents to meet their diversity requirements. If the union does not have enough available workers, they contact the Construction Workforce Initiative, a program that provides training in construction skills for New Haven residents. Then, a CWI trainee may be hired to simultaneously earn wages and learn on the job.

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“You’re bring paid while you’re training at the same time,” Jefferson said. “You’re earning and helping your family.”

The union wages start at $15 an hour, Jefferson said. She estimates that New Haven workers will collectively earn over $5 million in wages over the course of the construction project.

Already, roughly 25 New Haven residents have been hired through their unions or the CWI to work on the colleges in positions such as carpenters and pipe insulators.

Dixwell Avenue, said he has never bid on a construction job at Yale because he does not know how to do so. He said he has never seen Yale projects listed in the local newspapers or online.

Cherry believes Yale should do more to reach out not only to minority workers, but also to minority-owned construction businesses so that they have more information about how to navigate the process of bidding on jobs.

Larry Stewart, the business manager for Tri-Con Construction Managers LLC, said his company has worked on several projects for Yale, including redoing the seats at the Yale Bowl. He, too, found it challenging to “get in the system” and become a company from which Yale will solicit bids.

“They’re the biggest game in town, between them and the [Yale-New Haven] Hospital,” Stewart said. “But Yale, as far as reaching out to local contractors, you don’t see very many local contractors working on Yale projects. Especially minority contractors.”

Stewart added that the construction industry historically has been dominated by white men, forming an “old boys network” that can be hard for minority contractors to break into.

University spokesman Tom Conroy defended Yale’s record as a construction employer. He said Yale’s bidding process is fair.

“Prior to entering into a contract, all bidders to Yale, including architects, contractors and material suppliers, are all evaluated to confirm that they are well qualified for the proposed contracted work based on their firm’s prior work experience,” Conroy said.

Conroy also said jobs at Yale are “excellent,” offering strong compensation and benefits.

Jefferson said she was excited about the next few years of work on the site for the new colleges.

“Everyone wants an opportunity,” Jefferson said. “They just want a chance to get on the Yale site.”

 

Read Next: From Selma to Madison, a generation demands justice

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 3/22/15?

Beliebers

(Credit: Danna Collins/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Queen Arsem-O’Malley focuses on grassroots labor organizing, youth-led social movements, anti-carceral feminism, and critiques of mainstream media.
@qaween

Strike votes reach 30,000-student tipping point,” by Igor Sadikov. The McGill Daily, March 16, 2015.

As of March 18, 38,000 Quebec students have a strike mandate across seven campuses, the largest strike since the massive protests of Maple Spring in 2012. Students are mobilizing against austerity measures in the province that continue to affect education, connecting students’ struggles to that of all Quebecers who will suffer from the neoliberal policies that roll back public services.

Avi Asher-Schapiro focuses on US foreign policy, politics in the Middle East and South America, and technology issues.
@AASchapiro

What Happened in Homs,”by Jonathan Littell. New York Review of Books Blog, March 18, 2015.

This deeply moving essay—adapted from Littell’s introduction to Syrian Notebooks—recounts the work of a citizen journalist documenting the 2012 battle for the Syrian city, Homs. “[They] still believed that the constant flow of atrocity videos they risked their lives every day to film and upload on YouTube would change the course of things,” writes Littell. “They were wrong, of course, and their illusions would soon drown in a river of blood.”

Cole Delbyck focuses on LGBT politics, East Asia and representational issues in film and television.
@cdelbyck

Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men of Touch,” by Mark Greene. Films For Action, March 16, 2015.

Can’t we all just get along and touch each other? As part of his work at The Good Men Project, Mark Greene takes aim at what he calls touch isolation, a phenomenon among straight men who are “banished to a desert of physical isolation by these same homophobic fanatics who police lesbians and gays in our society.” Greene grounds his lamentation of homosocial touching in history by showcasing powerful images of men dating back to the advent of photography who wrap their arms around each other and hold hands without fear of homophobic backlash.

Khadija Elgarguri focuses on MENA issues including women’s rights, the relationship between foreign policy and cultural change, and women’s roles in protest movements in the region.
@dijaawad

“Meet Estayqazat, Syria’s online feminist movement,”by Maya Gebeily. Al-Monitor, March 16, 2015.

Emerging from Syria’s war-torn society is the online feminist movement, Estayqazat (she has awoken), which aims to provide a platform for Syrian women to reclaim their sexuality and voice even when in defiance of cultural norms. Despite criticism that the majority of Syrian women are currently facing more difficult issues than agency and ownership, and the claim that “these are really trivial issues and Syrian women aren’t this oppressed,” the movement highlights the overlooked reality that, in the midst of “madness and chaos,” Syrian women’s voices are still independently sparking debate.

Benjamin Hattem focuses on Israel/Palestine and the broader Middle East, as well as economic inequality, homelessness, and the prison system.
@BenHattem

Occupation Apps,” by Helga Tawil-Souri. Jacobin, Spring 2015.

Telecommunications infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza is tightly controlled by Israel, and this article does a good job showing how the Israeli private sector profits from this control. The piece unfortunately falls short when talking about the power of Palestinian telecom companies—which dominate the Palestinian economy—and when discussing the effects of Israeli control of telecommunications networks in the Gaza Strip, especially in the context of Israeli military campaigns in Gaza.

Nadia Kanji focuses on foreign policy, political art & alternative economic structures.
@nadiakanji

How the FBI Created a Terrorist,” by Trevor Aaronson. The Intercept, March 16, 2015.

“He was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction—a weapon the FBI had assembled just for him.” In this investigative piece, Trevor Aaronson describes how since 9/11, the FBI has been targeting vulnerable segments of the population, namely the mentally ill, in its informant-led counterterrorism stings. The article specifically describes the case of Sami Osmakac, a man diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, who became the target of the FBI’s chase against potential terrorists, where they’ve managed to imprison people in the name of security—even if the evidence was fabricated.

James F. Kelly focuses on labor, economic inequality, world politics and intellectual history.
@jamesf_kelly

Here's What People Are Saying About Starbucks' 'Race Together' Campaign.” NPR March 17, 2015

The CEO of Starbucks, the country’s beloved omnipresent café, wants you to talk about race with your barista. Schultz has corporatized the café, so why not try and take advantage of its historical essence as a safe haven for public discourse?  This campaign is nothing but a publicity stunt and everyone knows it.

Ava Kofman focuses on technology, popular science and media culture.
@eyywa

Democratize the Universe,” by Nick Levine. Jacobin, March 19, 2015.

As developed countries set their sights on colonizing outer space, will they use its resources to make the rich astronomically wealthy or to guarantee a universal basic income? Heavens can’t wait: let’s socialize space.

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Abigail Savitch-Lew focuses on urban policy, labor and race.
@savitchlew

How Obamacare Went South in Mississippi,” by Sarah Varney. The Atlantic, November 4, 2014.

How did Mississippi, the nation’s poorest state, become the only state in the union to have fewer residents insured after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act? Yes, racist politics and the Tea Party are largely to blame, but also the federal government for deciding to abandon its efforts there (is this the end of Reconstruction all over again?). Frustration with the shortfalls of Obamacare has only deepened many Mississippians’ lack of faith in governance.

Hilary Weaver focuses on reproductive rights, feminism and related political, health and education issues.
@Hilary_Weaver

Hysteria and Teenage Girls,” by Hayley Krischer. The Hairpin, March 13, 2015.

This piece details the concept of hysteria—the reason thousands of adoring fans went weak-kneed over the Beatles or why Justin Bieber fanatics scream in his presence at a burger shop. What might be thought of as a gendered scientific issue, Krischer says, has historical context dating back 4,000 years.

 

Read Next: WhatNation interns were reading the week of 3/13/15

From Selma to Madison, a Generation Demands Justice

Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo students rally for justice. (Photo: @_JonathanRomero)

This post is part of The Nation’s biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on youth organizing. For recent dispatches, check out February 20 and March 5. Contact studentmovement@thenation.com with tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).

1. #UnsafeAtK

Amid extensive racist harassment, including death threats, students from the Kalamazoo College Intercultural Center Movement have declared a state of emergency. On March 7, 100 students, faculty and members of the Grand Rapids Black Lives Matter chapter stormed the college’s Board of Trustees meeting to urge the administration to listen to the voices of students of color who feel #UnsafeAtK. Prior to the action, we held a press conference addressing our experiences with racism on campus and the college’s continual neglect of our concerns, while demanding an intercultural center, administrative transparency, increased hiring and retention of faculty of color, recruitment of local students of color via the Kalamazoo Promise and the incorporation of ethnicity requirements throughout the curriculum.

—Willina Cain

2. #Selma50

On March 7, a group of organizations in the Southern Vision Alliance, including the Youth Organizing Institute, Ignite NC and the NC Student Power Union journeyed from Raleigh to Selma for the fiftieth anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” a landmark moment in civil-rights history. Upwards of 80,000 people gathered to commemorate the moment—and see the movement forward. In Selma, the poverty rate among African-Americans is 48 percent, and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Shelby County case has removed vital protections for voting rights—paralleling nationwide trends in the denial of political power for people of color. In North Carolina, we are bringing the movement home by organizing for equitable schools, an end to the school-to-prison pipeline, voting rights and living wage jobs.

—Southern Vision Alliance

3. The Ninety-Six-Hour Action

This month, students across the University of California carried out 96 Hours of Action in response to 27 percent fee hikes and police violence—which, under the banner of racialized class warfare, represent the dual forces of privatization and militarization. On Monday, March 2, UC–Santa Cruz students began with a march blocking intersections with bags of “debt.” On Tuesday, six students blocked the Highway 17 and 1 interchange for more than four hours. On Wednesday, Students for Justice in Palestine set up four mock checkpoints throughout campus to demonstrate the everyday experience of apartheid. An anti-police “antagonistic vigil” followed, in which we marched to the on-campus UCPD station and, confronted by sixty riot cops, silently laid down coffins and then recited poetry. Starting at 4:30 the next morning, we staged one of the most successful strikes in recent campus history, as picketers gathered at both campus entrances and shut down university activity for the day. Following this week, we are discussing both long-term organizational questions as well as immediate actions, including one at the upcoming Regents’ meeting on March 18.

—Arash Ehya

4. The Gold Standard

Beginning on March 3, an anonymous group of University of California–Berkeley students, the Bathroom Brigade, launched a mass redesignation project, posting all-gender signs on bathroom doors across campus. The UC’s response threw into question its stated commitment to “be the gold standard” of safety for trans and gender nonconforming students and workers: members of the Brigade were harassed by administrators, and UC Police stopped a public bus in order to detain two others in connection with the action. Despite the widespread outrage that this situation has generated, the Bathroom Brigade remains committed to expanding access to all-gender restrooms. On March 11, the group hosted a surprise “shit-in,” redesignating bathrooms in one of the busiest campus buildings and inviting people to use them as all-gender spaces.

—Beezer de Martelly

5. On Maryland Avenue, Taking the Collectors to Account

On February 27, the US Department of Education announced that it has finally cut ties with five of its debt-collection contractors, including a subsidiary of Navient—a company that was previously a division of Sallie Mae. For the past three years, Jobs With Justice’s Debt Free Future campaign, along with student debtors, the legal community, government agencies and elected officials, have demanded the department hold its debt collectors and servicers accountable. Finally, before the release of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report that specifically named collectors for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the department took action. The question remains: Why is the department outsourcing this work at all? We will continue fighting to ensure student debtors aren’t delivered an empty Bill of Rights—while working toward free higher education and real debt relief.

—Chris Hicks

6. On Capitol Hill, Converging for Youth Justice

On February 25, members of the Dignity in Schools Campaign converged on Washington to address injustices with school pushouts as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We visited congressional offices to urge legislators to oppose Republican bills in the House that would undermine the federal government’s role in education and fail to ensure that federal funds are used to reduce racial and other disparities in education. We will continue to provide members of Congress recommendations that help improve school climate. For members of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, a member of DSC in New Orleans, this campaign builds on local work that calls for a moratorium on out-of school-suspensions, which often lead to incarceration.

—Rahsaan Ison

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7. The First Contract

After being decertified in 2005, New York University’s graduate student union, GSOC-UAW, received recognition as the first and only graduate student union at a private university in the country in 2013. On March 10 at 2 AM, following a year of grueling contract negotiations and on the day of our deadline to strike, NYU agreed to a settlement with remarkable material gains for workers and significant concessions in every unresolved area—including immediate 50 percent wage increases for the lowest paid workers, guaranteed wage increases for the rest, 90 percent healthcare coverage for the majority of the workforce without it and the establishment of family healthcare and childcare funds. This victory reflects the power of democratic, rank-and-file-led unionism. Under the leadership of NYU Academic Workers for a Democratic Union, we grew an active base of graduate workers with ties to the broader NYU community. With this structure in place, an eleventh-hour university-wide anti-union e-mail sent by an NYU provost was met with protests and petitions from undergraduates and ridicule from the university community at large. On the night of bargaining, dozens waited outside negotiations with “GSOC on strike” flags, manifesting a credible strike threat that ultimately forced the administration to cave in.

—Shelly Ronen and Ella Wind

8. The Orphan’s Place

On March 12, popular children’s clothing brand, The Children’s Place, had twenty-seven members of United Students Against Sweatshops, Workers United, ILRF and a survivor of the deadly Rana Plaza building collapse arrested at the company’s headquarters in Secaucus, New Jersey. Survivors of the 2013 disaster have been demanding $8 million in compensation, but the company has paid less than $500,000 to date. In response, we led a peaceful delegation into the company’s national headquarters, holding Children’s Place garments previously found within the rubble of Rana Plaza to remind the company of the blood on its hands. Moments after entering the building, we were arrested and detained at a nearby police station.

—Katherine Hood

9. Norman

Editor’s note: Students at Oklahoma University march in response to a racist video from a now-expelled fraternity on campus. (Video: The Guardian)

—Oklahoma University Community

10. Madison

Editor’s note: Students in Madison walk out and take over the capitol to demand racial justice. (Video: Progressive Polymath)

—Madison Community

 

Read Next: From Newark to New Orleans, youth rise for justice.

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 3/13/15?

John Oliver

(Credit: YouTube)

Queen Arsem-O’Malley focuses on grassroots labor organizing, youth-led social movements, anti-carceral feminism, and critiques of mainstream media.
@qaween

U.S. Territories.” Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, March 8, 2015.

John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight has a satirical spirit, but also does great reporting in the course of their segments. This clip focuses on the treatment of US territories and the racist historical basis for the US’s continued colonial attitude toward the people who live in Guam, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Northern Marianas.

Avi Asher-Schapiro focuses on US foreign policy, politics in the Middle East and South America, and technology issues.
@AASchapiro

Uber and Lyft drivers’ class-action lawsuits will go to jury trials,” by Tracey Lien. Los Angeles Times, March 12, 2015.

The future of the multibillion-dollar ride-sharing market will be decided by twelve random citizens. Two lawsuits that seek to force Uber and Lyft to reclassify their drivers are going to jury trial. If the companies lose, they will have to pay for benefits, work expenses, and insurance for hundreds of thousands of drivers—a blow to the industry that could easily prove fatal.

Cole Delbyck focuses on LGBT politics, East Asia and representational issues in film and television.
@cdelbyck

My Life as a Gay Congressman,” by Barney Frank. Politico Magazine, March 12, 2015.

I never knew a closeted Barney Frank. In my lifetime, Frank was held as theexample of an openly gay politician, one whose private life was kept separate from his congressional ambitions. In this excerpt from his upcoming book, Frank reveals just how wrong I was, as he details his tumultuous coming-out process, 1989 sex-scandal, his fraught relationship with the LGBT community, and how his homosexuality continues to make waves in Washington.

Khadija Elgarguri focuses on MENA issues including women’s rights, the relationship between foreign policy and cultural change, and women’s roles in protest movements in the region.
@dijaawad

A beginner’s guide to downtown’s alternative art scene,” by Rowan El Shimi. Mada Masr, March 2015.

This piece delves into the metamorphosis of alternative Egyptian art from its birth in the 1990s cafes and galleries to its expansion into today’s streets and abandoned buildings. In a culture that is both exuberantly open and intensely shuttered, emerging artists effectively blur “the lines between art and life, theater and the quotidian, private space and public space.” The progress of emerging artists who use art as a means of political expression spurring change from the bottom up is worth noting, especially as they face heavy suppression in a burgeoning police state.

Benjamin Hattem focuses on Israel/Palestine and the broader Middle East, as well as economic inequality, homelessness, and the prison system.
@BenHattem

Losing Sparta,” by Esther Kaplan. VQR, Summer 2014.

This is a powerful deep dive into the closure of a Philips lighting plant in Sparta, Tennessee, written by the I-Fund’s Esther Kaplan. The story also elucidates the offshoring of American labor, the decline of manufacturing and union power, and the replacement of middle class jobs with low-wage, part-time and temporary work. And it’s beautifully written.

Nadia Kanji focuses on foreign policy, political art & alternative economic structures.
@nadiakanji

Imperialist feminism and liberalism,” by Deepa Kumar. Open Democracy, November 6, 2014.

In this piece, Deepa Kumar describes how “gendered orientalism” has been used as a tool to justify ongoing military intervention in the Middle East. Mainstream media and the state continue to homogenize the entire Muslim world as misogynistic, portraying Muslim women as victims in need of ‘Western enlightenment.’ This framework based on the need to ‘liberate’ the ‘oppressed,’ which Kumar says is rooted in racism and empire, is then used to perpetuate the new age of liberal imperialism.

James F. Kelly focuses on labor, economic inequality, world politics and intellectual history.
@jamesf_kelly

Toward a Radical Climate Movement,” by Michael P. McCabe. Logos, Winter 2015.

McCabe’s essay in the new issue of Logos is a sobering reminder that the climate justice movement requires tactical reflection. While broadening awareness should be a necessary feature of a successful social movement, McCabe says “our primary objective must be to shatter the monopolistic claim that elites maintain over the organs of public policy, by redirecting the objectives of the state away from neoliberal imperatives and toward public ends.” Combating climate change ultimately depends on confronting the contradictions intrinsic to capitalism.

Ava Kofman focuses on technology, popular science and media culture.
@eyywa

Academe’s Willful Ignorance of African Literature,” by Aaron Bady. The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 4, 2015.

The field of African literature and Africanists, Aaron Bady explains, “only ‘seems to have grown up overnight’ to people whose eyes have been closed.” For many English departments across the country, African literature is always “emerging,” and often in the context of a cosmopolitan approach to world literature, rather than a discipline of study in its own right. “Racism is not the only word for this tendency, but it’s one of them, along with inertia and a self-satisfied lack of intellectual curiosity.”

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Abigail Savitch-Lew focuses on urban policy, labor and race.
@savitchlew

2015 State of Baltimore City: Mayor Reinforces 'Flawed' Crime-Fighting Program.” The Real News, March 10, 2015.

Operation Ceasefire, a supposedly progressive policing strategy that offers gang members access to resources if they stop the crime (and incarceration, if they don’t) is drawing criticism from community leaders and police veterans. In Baltimore, where an African-American mayor is expanding the program, critics say the city has failed to offer an adequate level of resources to youth in trouble and has failed to give poor neighborhoods ownership of the program. It’s a good reminder that “police reform” alone is not the answer to the “New Jim Crow.”

Hilary Weaver focuses on reproductive rights, feminism and related political, health and education issues.
@Hilary_Weaver

Mary Cain is Growing Up Fast,” by Elizabeth Weil. The New York Times Magazine, March 4, 2015.

This feature, about young long-distance prodigy Mary Cain, held my attention from the beginning. Though I wish the writer, Weil, would have referred to Cain less as a sort of talented runt of the pack but rather let her talent stand on its own, this story is a multi-dimensional narrative that leaves you wanting to know more about this rising running star. It’s nice to have another female runner to add to the “Must Watch” list and even better to see a piece focused solely on her.

 

Read Next: WhatNation interns were reading the week of 3/6/15

Why Governor Cuomo’s Education Proposals Are As Bad for Students As They Are for Teachers

Cuomo School

Parents, students and teachers taking part in a March 12 'Hands Around the School' protest at PS 29 in Brooklyn. Photo credit: Julian McCaul

Last week, I issued the following challenge to a dozen third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders: create a paper airplane that flies farther than your peers’. We worked our way through the design process, brainstorming and sketching ideas, talking about the science of flight, crafting prototypes. We tested our planes, worked collaboratively to make revisions to the original designs, and shared our insights and conclusions. By the period’s end, each kid had a plane that flew significantly farther than her first.

Thanks to an in-house enrichment program at my school, these kids and I meet weekly to explore design challenges and engineering-oriented thinking that extends well beyond the curriculum. If Governor Cuomo’s budget—into which he quietly tucked several major changes to education—passes unrevised, schools across NYS will be forced to permanently forsake programs like this along with content not emphasized on the state exams, like social studies, creative writing, the arts, and social-emotional learning.

NYS families, the clock is ticking. On April 1, the NYS legislature will vote on Governor Cuomo’s budget, including his latest reforms to the state’s public-school classrooms. One of Cuomo’s proposals is to overhaul the way teachers are evaluated.

Under the current evaluation system, students’ progress on the state exams accounts for 20 percent of a teacher’s annual rating. Cuomo is proposing that we increase the weight of student test-score gains to 50 percent. (He’d like the other 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to come from classroom observations: 35 percent based on a one-time visit from an outside evaluator and a mere 15 percent based on her own principal’s assessment of performance.)

If 50 percent of each teacher’s evaluation is based on the gains her students make on standardized tests, she’ll have no choice but to start intensive test prep in September and continue until the exams are over in May. Students will be grouped strictly by test-score performance and targeted with intervention that addresses them not as whole children but as test-taking beings. And, if you have a child in one of the lower grades where students don’t yet face standardized tests, he’ll have less dramatic play, less time to progress at a developmentally-appropriate pace because he’ll have to be on track to take high-stakes exams beginning in third grade.

Underpinning the logic of these proposed reforms is an increasing reliance on value-added models (VAM), a relatively new statistical model designed to supposedly determine how much a teacher should improve her students’ scores. The problem? Organizations like the American Educational Research Association and the American Statistical Association have specifically warned against using VAM to evaluate teachers. According to the ASA, a teacher accounts for only 1 to 14 percent of the variability in a student’s test score; moreover, when it comes to students’ test-score gains or losses, VAM can reveal a correlation between a teacher and her students’ scores, but not causation. And, the practice has a whopping margin of error of up to 53 points.

As a public-school teacher, I want to be evaluated. But there are much more effective ways to do it. The countries and states that consistently outperform New York on standardized assessments—Finland, Japan, Massachusetts, among others—have successful evaluation systems in place that could help shape New York’s. In these places, test-score gains play no role in a teacher’s evaluation. Instead, multiple measures are used to evaluate the efficacy of a teacher’s performance: principal and peer observations, student and family feedback, professional development. Why not borrow a page from corporate America’s playbook to provide teachers with a 360-degree view of their performance?

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But families, this fight isn’t about teachers. It isn’t about a flawed, statistically unsound, uninformed teacher evaluation system—though it could be. I’m not asking you to stand up and raise your voices to protect us teachers. I’m asking you to stand up and protect your children. To protect the kind of teaching and learning that empowers kids to be critical thinkers—to ask questions and not just answer them; the kind of teaching and learning that enables kids to be curious—to shape and manipulate data and not just be shaped and manipulated by data; the kind of learning that deeply engages students and teaches them not just to fill in bubbles on a multiple-choice exam, but to actively seek knowledge about themselves and the world around them.

Families, we have until April 1. A groundswell of opposition is building fast. Assembly Democrats have opposed Cuomo’s education reform plans while hundreds of New York City schools have rallied and taken public stands against the governor’s proposals. Tell Governor Cuomo and your state representatives you want the education reforms pulled out of the budget, revised, and voted on as a stand-alone issue. And sign the New York Teacher Letter (www.nyteacherletter.org) to express your disapproval of the governor’s proposed education reforms.

An unhealthy obsession with high-stakes testing and the aggressive collection of test-related data has already prompted many schools to do away with enrichment programs like my engineering cluster. If Governor Cuomo’s public-school agenda prevails, all schools—including mine—will be forced to forsake content and programs that advance inquiry, critical thinking, collaboration, and social-emotional learning.

Ultimately, families, it’s your choice.

 

Read Next: From Newark to New Orleans, youth rise for justice

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 3/6/15?

CA Prisons

Inmates are housed in three tier bunks, in what was once a multi-purpose recreation room, at the Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Queen Arsem-O’Malley focuses on grassroots labor organizing, youth-led social movements, anti-carceral feminism, and critiques of mainstream media.
@qaween

U of T Teaching Assistants Reject Deal and Go on Strike,” by Gerard Di Trolio. rankandfile.ca, February 28, 2015.

On March 2, 6,000 graduate student Teaching Assistants at University of Toronto went on strike after voting overwhelmingly to reject a tentative agreement.On Tuesday, York University TAs also went on strike, shutting down classes. The strikes are the latest in a wave of contingent academic worker organizing, which has seen adjunct walkouts and grad student unionizing in the last month alone.

Avi Asher-Schapiro focuses on US foreign policy, politics in the Middle East and South America, and technology issues.
@AASchapiro

It’s Not Just the Drug War,” by Marie Gottschalk. Jacobin, March 5, 2015.

Mass incarceration provokes a lot of outrage, but few understand its root causes and what’s needed to overhaul the system, say political scientists Marie Gottschalk. In this wide-ranging interview, she carefully traces the history of the prison system and emphasizes that mass incarceration can’t be solved by just ending the War on Drugs.

Cole Delbyck focuses on LGBT politics, East Asia and representational issues in film and television.
@cdelbyck

A Few Words on Russell Tovey and Why If It Weren’t for My Father, I Wouldn’t Be a Faggot,” by Noah Michelson. The Huffington Post, March, 3, 2015.

Russell Tovey’s recent remarks on effeminacy have provided much fodder for the ever-relevant discussion of femmephobia among gay men. Are we shocked that this kind of language is commonplace in the LGBT community or does it mean something different coming from an actor starring in thegay TV show of the moment? Using his own life experience as “an extremely effeminate boy,” Michelson bravely unpacks Tovey’s comments, by locating him in a gay culture where masculinity is the new frontier.

Khadija Elgarguri focuses on MENA issues including women’s rights, the relationship between foreign policy and cultural change, and women’s roles in protest movements in the region.
@dijaawad

Closing the TV-Guest Gender Gap.” by Steven I. Weiss. The Atlantic, March 3, 2015.

On his quest to close the TV-guest gender gap at his Manhattan-based studio, a host found that the challenge isn't a lack of female intellectuals; it's about how public industries and social institutions are set up in favor of men. While the host in question was able to achieve a level of gender parity, the fact remains that “women occupy just 15 percent of editorial pages, corporate boards, and congressional seats,” and the ratios are similar in “almost every major literary journal and intellectual magazine.” Who knew achieving gender equality could be this difficult in the bastion of feminism?

Benjamin Hattem focuses on Israel/Palestine and the broader Middle East, as well as economic inequality, homelessness, and the prison system.
@BenHattem

ECB bond buying: the devil’s in the detail,” by Lindsay Whipp. Financial Times, March 5, 2015.

Mario Draghi held a press conference recently to talk about the European Central Bank's new bond-buying program. The event was held in Cyprus and protested vehemently by Cypriot citizens opposed to the austerity policies that the ECB and IMF have forced on Cyprus. At the conference, Draghi confirmed that the ECB won't buy Greek or Cypriot government bonds under the quantitative easing program; he said Greece could get in on the bond-buying, but only if the country agrees to the austerity measures imposed by the ECB's bailout program.

Nadia Kanji focuses on foreign policy, political art & alternative economic structures.
@nadiakanji

This Changes Something,” by Dru Oja Jay. Briarpatch Magazine. January 2, 2015.

In this review of Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything, Dru Oja Jay, like Klein, paints a sober picture of the effectiveness of environmental NGOs. Though Klein critiques how “Big Greens” are often in cahoots with the corporate sector leaving them “embedded within the neoliberal status quo,” Oja Jay pushes this assessment further by illustrating the pitfalls of foundation funding in climate justice organizing. Overall, Klein’s book is portrayed as a useful tool for continued resistance against fossil fuel giants, but we need a few extra steps to really change everything.

James F. Kelly focuses on labor, economic inequality, world politics and intellectual history.
@jamesf_kelly

The Republican Discovery of the Poor,” by Thomas B. Edsall. The New York Times, February 11, 2015.

Possibly foreshadowing the rhetoric of 2016, some conservatives are incorporating populist notions of class antagonism into their political vernacular. Because the corporate agenda of the Republican Party rejects policy initiatives that actually improve the lives of the working class, the authenticity of their claims is obviously questionable. However, because our political discourse is so dominated by the emotional bond with certain values, this turn is potentially dangerous for the Democrats.

Ava Kofman focuses on technology, popular science and media culture.
@eyywa

Data is the new '___': Industrial Metaphors of Big Data,” by Sara M. Watson. DIS Magazine, February 17, 2015.

Big data is like oil, gold, the ocean, smog, breadcrumbs, the new bacon, the new black...the list of metaphors for big data is, like big data, seemingly endless. These metaphors influence our understanding of data as an abstract, industrial, trendy and impersonal process. But of course, if those who control language control the world, and those who control data also control the world, we’d be wise to invent some new metaphors––ones drawing on agency, embodiment, and personal identity—–before we lose track of ourselves in the tsunami of oily gold.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Abigail Savitch-Lew focuses on urban policy, labor and race.
@savitchlew

Labor and Letters.” N+1, Winter 2015.

When should academics, editors, artists, leftists, and white collar workers unionize—and when should they sacrifice greater pay for the “higher cause”? Who loses out when white collar workers prefer to avoid confrontation with their bosses? At small and low-budget magazines like Dissent or Harper’s there does not seem to be one answer to the question—it is a matter of constant negotiation with a tight budget and constant accommodations to the ebbs and flows of an external capitalist environment.

Hilary Weaver focuses on reproductive rights, feminism and related political, health and education issues.
@Hilary_Weaver

How I Learned To Be OK With Feeling Sad,” by Mac McClelland. Buzzfeed, February 20, 2015.

Accompanying the release of her new book, Irritable Hearts, McClelland’s long-form essay details life with PTSD and coming to terms with the feeling of sadness. She recounts her challenges in settling into her sadness and the keen observation that in a world where “it takes a big man to cry,” “it takes a bigger woman still, to feel the strength of a sob, without apology or shame.”

 

Read Next: WhatNation interns were reading the week of 2/27/15

Students Walk Out on Testing, Rise for Black Trans Lives and Unionize

New Mexico

New Mexico students mass against testing. (Photo: Albuquerque Journal)

This post is part of The Nation’s biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on youth organizing. For recent dispatches, check out February 11 and February 20. Contact studentmovement@thenation.com with tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).

1. The Weeklong Walkout—and More

On Monday, February 23, at 10:25 AM, 250 students from Santa Fe, New Mexico, walked out to protest the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, the new high-stakes standardized test that 11 states have adopted. Some of us met with Superintendent Joel Boyd, who urged us to write letters to Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera and promised he would personally deliver them. The following day, we walked out again—this time, meeting at Skandera’s office, who declined to meet with us—followed by a smaller walkout, with the same result, on Wednesday. On Friday, we converged on the governors office, where we held a silent sit-in and delivered handwritten petitions. Then, inside, we watched several Democratic senators articulate problems with the extreme testing regime, including its monopolization of instructional time, privatization agenda, technological failures and boon to corporations like Pearson at the expense of real learning. Meanwhile, two Santa Fe High student protest leaders spoke in the capitol rotunda about our concerns with the PARCC tests and our goal to expand the new Academy of Sustainability Education that launched on our campus this year. This week, Senate Education Chair John Sapien has agreed to meet—while thousands of students are set to walk out across the state during PARCC testing.

—Melachai Ramirez

2. The 72-Hour Takeover

For more than nine months, state-appointed Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson has persistently ignored the call of students, parents and community members for an end to the One Newark plan, her immediate resignation and full local control of schools. On February 17, eight members of the Newark Students Union took over Anderson’s office for 72 hours. We organized rallies inside and received support from allies across the country. When Anderson met with us 65 hours in, we implored her to attend the next public board meeting, which took place on February 24. She didn’t show up, showing us, once again, that she does not have the welfare of the community or students in mind.

—Gabrielle Vera

3. Why Do Debtors Have to Pay?

On Monday, February 23, fifteen people took the historic step of declaring a student debt strike. Calling themselves the Corinthian 15, they refuse to pay the federal loans they took out to attend the defunct for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges Inc., which has been investigated by various state and federal authorities for fraud. The Corinthian 15 are organizing under the mantle of the Debt Collective, a new membership organization that evolved out of the Rolling Jubilee campaign. On the same day, the Rolling Jubilee erased over $13 million of debt associated with Everest College, part of the Corinthian chain, as an act of solidarity with the strikers. To current and former college students across the country, we say: It’s time to demand the end of a higher education system that profits off our dreams. To the Department of Education, lenders, servicers and guarantee agencies who have stolen our futures, we say: enough!

—Debt Collective and Rolling Jubilee

4. Whom Does the University Serve?

On February 27, students, professors and local residents gathered at the University of North Carolina–Charlotte to protest the Board of Governors’ push to close, all at once, East Carolina University’s Center for Biodiversity, North Carolina Central University’s Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change and University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. The NC Student Power Union interrupted the meeting—leading five people to be escorted out and the board to call for recess and move the meeting to a room closed off to the public. Students gathered outside and chanted, “No cuts, no fees, education should be free!” loudly enough to interrupt the meeting inside. In the face of this action, the governors unanimously decided to close all centers immediately.

—Elisa Benitez

5. In Ohio, Student Workers Go Live

Building on a grassroots organizing drive that began in November 2014, resident assistants at Ohio University are nearing a vote to join AFSCME Local 1699. RAs are looking to negotiate a wage increase from the current $3.80 per hour, establish a system of due process in the notoriously unfair discipline procedure and exercise control over building assignments. In the face of anti-union maneuvering, including a nominal wage hike and captive audience meetings with every RA, we have mobilized campus workers and students and won support from just over half of the campus RA population. We also have the support of the student government, thirty faculty members, former RAs and the campus worker union. RAs are aiming for a unionization vote by early May.

—Ohio University Resident Assistant Union Drive Team and Ohio University Student Union

6. In Massachusetts, the Union Grows

On February 20, the Massachusetts Commonwealth Employment Relations Board ruled that Peer Mentors at UMass are entitled to an add-on election to join the Resident Assistant bargaining unit, a part of UAW Local 2322 since 2002. This decision overrides the university’s attempts to deny Peer Mentors our right to unionize. In the seven months since we filed with the state for recognition, the administration has outlined numerous changes for the job come Fall 2015, reclassifying it as an internship. Meanwhile, the timing of the university’s announcement that it will no longer consider us employees implies union avoidance as motivation for this change. The university has continued to plan the replacement Peer Mentor position, including hiring next year’s interns. This is not only disrespectful but harmful to our work—from interactions with residents to relationships with RAs. With a majority vote to join the RA Union, we are excited to join forces as student staff members in Residential Life and work together to improve our jobs and communities.

—Jenna Grady, Sam Prosser and Ian Roche

7. Everywhere, A Day Without Work

In response to the call for a National Adjunct Walkout Day on February 25, more than one hundred graduate students, lecturers and faculty at the University of California–Santa Cruz marched in a procession honoring Saint Percaria, the patron saint of precarious workers. Joined by a contingent of giant puppets, we sang “Carry that Debt” and the “Dawning of the Age of Precarious” and chanted “Litany of the Precariat.” The marchers protested the combined effects of university privatization—an increasingly precarious teaching faculty, administrative bloat and rapidly increasing tuition. This procession was the kickoff for the lecturers union, AFT 2199, contract campaign, focused on increasing stability for the significant proportion with low-security positions. It is also the first in a series of student-led protests across the state expected to escalate over the coming weeks.

—Evan Grupsmith

8. Camex’s Dirty Laundry

On February 22 in Atlanta, fifty members of United Students Against Sweatshops disrupted Camex, the country’s largest collegiate apparel convention, by confronting the popular backpack brand, Jansport. Jansport’s parent company, VF Corporation, has refused to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, leaving its workers vulnerable to deadly factory fires and collapses. We converged on Jansport’s booth, chanting, “Hey Jansport and VF, don’t let your workers burn to death!” We were forcibly removed from the event. This action was part of USAS’s national End Deathtraps campaign, which has pushed 16 universities to cut ties with Jansport/VF Corporation.

—Sivan Rosenthal

9. Hillel’s Student Life

Open Hillel, the student movement demanding that Hillel International remove its exclusive “Standards of Partnership,” has launched its first national tour. Four white Jewish activists from the mid-century American civil rights movement are set to speak at more than a dozen college campuses about Jewish values of social justice and their experiences fighting racism in the Jim Crow South and Israel/Palestine. At many campuses, they will speak alongside black organizers from today’s anti-racist struggle. All four Jewish speakers are technically barred from Hillel, the “center for Jewish life on campus,” because they are critical of Israeli policies, with two supporting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions, or BDS, movement. Although welcomed at Harvard Hillel on February 25, the tour has already been excluded from both UMass–Amherst and MIT Hillels. We challenge everyone to consider who the “Standards of Partnership” exclude—and draw connections between faith and solidarity organizing.

—Open Hillel Steering Committee

10. Making Penny Proud

On February 10, Penny Proud, a Black transgender woman and member of the BreakOUT! community, was brutally murdered in New Orleans. That evening, people across New Orleans gathered to honor Penny’s memory and support her family and each other. Amid overwhelming press at the vigil and afterward, BreakOUT! guided family members through the interview process while demanding dignified coverage—leading to only one news story that misgendered and disrespected her. Since then, we’ve launched a social media campaign, “Make Penny Proud,” to uphold her legacy, as well as #BlackTransLivesMatter, a campaign to promote the positive visibility of the trans community. Meanwhile, we’ve obtained access to and designed a billboard to honor Penny, and community members have been planning direct actions that include a t​rans-led march this month. BreakOUT! will continue to honor Penny’s life as well as other trans women and men of color whose lives have been taken.

—Shaena Johnson

Students Make the Case for Gender Fluidity

Gender Fluidity

The University of Vermont became the first university to allow students to indicate a “third gender” for legal documents. (Credit: Naaz Modan/The Daily Targum)

This article was originally published by the The Daily Targum and is reposted here with permission.

University of Vermont (UVM) students who do not identify as either male or female are now enjoying a third, gender fluid option.

The point of providing a neutral option is to expand options for gender identification beyond male or female, said Kyla Schuller, an assistant professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.

“Gender is fundamental to how we process the world,” she said. “It’s seen as such an important element that it can make someone seem like a thing, totally dehumanized if they don’t (identify with one) gender.”

Successfully integrating neutral gender options at UVM took several years, Dorothea Brauer, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning (LGBTQ) and Advocate Center, said.

Though UVM is the first institution to allow students to pick a third gender on official documentation, it should not be the last, said Zaneta Rago, acting director of the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities, in an email.

“Many institutions allow for students to have a preferred name show up in different data-systems such as class rosters, Rutgers included. (But) fewer institutions allow for pronouns to be listed (at this time),” Rago said.

It should help that more than 50 percent of millennials see gender as a spectrum rather than a male-female binary, she said.

Increasing acknowledgement of the issues they face is encouraging institutions to change how gender is defined, Brauer said.

“If a brand new problem pops up that has never been factored into the equation before, a whole new set of possibilities and processes and solutions have to be considered,” they said.

UVM’s size made it an ideal place to implement a third gender option, Brauer said. It is relatively small for a state university, with under 10,000 undergraduate students.

“Smallness can be a real aid to change,” they said. “It’s much harder to change the course of the Titanic than it is to change the course of a rowboat. The larger the organization, the harder change becomes.

Though it is small, UVM is still large enough to take on the financial burden of modifying its servers and sub-servers to create a third option for gender, Brauer said.

UVM’s location also aided efforts to enable the recognition of third-gender students, they said. Vermont was the first state to allow same-sex civil unions, and has been progressive, historically.

“Contextually and culturally, we were set up to listen to students,” Brauer said. “I think (if) students were set up to have more confidence, their concerns would be heard. (And) those students (who) began to step forward and advocate for themselves more freely (helped) me advocate for their behalf.”

Rutgers already allows students to live in gender-neutral housing, Rago said. Transgender students also have the options to use genderless bathrooms and obtain health insurance.

According to a previous article by The Daily Targum, students also have the option of using preferred names instead of legal names in class rosters, Sakai and Rutgers Electronic Grading and Information System.

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An act as simple as going to the bathroom may be difficult for a transgender or gender-queer person, Schuller said. People tend to make students who do not match labels on bathrooms uncomfortable.

Creating gender-neutral bathrooms gives students an institutional safe space, while sending a message to the community that some people do not identify with the male-female binary, she said.

Other challenges members of the transgender community face include going into dining halls or the libraries, she said. Students who no longer look like the pictures on their RUIDs may find it difficult to enter a library or dining hall.

“It’s difficult at Rutgers to get a new ID with a new picture without a legal name change,” she said. “But a legal name change costs hundreds of dollars. So it becomes a huge barrier for (these students) to do the things normal students do.”

Brauer said transgender people and allies wrote reports to UVM in favor of the LGBTQIA community.

Talking about the binary system is critical to helping students feel comfortable, Schuller said.

“We need to have those conversations of (actually understanding that) the binary system is based much more in social convention than on biological reality,” she said. “There (are) a range of biologists who say we need more than just two (genders).”

A student’s preferred name does not necessarily indicate what gender they identify as, Rago said. People can see a name and assume they know a student’s gender.

These students may not correct the people they are speaking with, she said.

The University has a large number of transgender activists and organizations that can inspire change, Schuller said. A lot of time and hard work goes into creating official options for transgender students.

“I don’t think it will happen without a lot of student activism, but I think it’s possible and I hope it happens sooner rather than later,” she said. “I’m happy the University of Vermont is leading this change and I hope Rutgers joins (in) soon.”

 

Read Next: Ryan McNamara on NYU's human rights abuses abroad

Department of Justice To Fund Research On Campus Sex Assault Policies

Sexual Assault Protest

University of Oregon student protesters demand answers after allegations of sexual assault by three basketball players. (AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Chris Pietsch)

This article was originally published by the The Daily Californian and is reposted here with permission.

The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking new applicants to research how colleges experiment with methods of responding to campus sexual assault cases.

The department’s National Institute of Justice, alongside the Office on Violence Against Women and Office of Justice Programs, is opening applications nationwide and will provide a grant for researchers to examine the handling of campus sexual assault complaints. The justice institute hopes to shed light on newer, more promising methods of addressing sexual assault on college campuses, the proposal said.

The program comes in response to the April 2014 White House Task Force Report to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, which advocated improved understanding of campus sexual assault investigations and adjudications on campuses.

In May of last year, the White House released a list of universities, including UC Berkeley and three other California schools, under investigation for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.

According to the proposal, applicants for the grant must be the entity with primary responsibility for conducting and leading the sexual assault research.

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore and UC spokesperson Brooke Converse could not provide information on whether UC Berkeley, or any UC campus, will apply for the grant.

In July, UC President Janet Napolitano assembled a task force on sexual harassment. In September, the task force presented to the UC regents its recommendations, which included the adoption of systemwide investigation and adjudication standards by July 2015.

“There is an ongoing national dialogue on (methods of responding to campus sexual assault complaints) and it’s one of the issues being discussed by … Napolitano’s task force on sexual harassment and sexual violence,” Gilmore said in an email.

ASUC Student Advocate Rishi Ahuja felt that the campus should focus on addressing its own campus policies. He noted that he was not sure what the study could accomplish for the campus and that what is required now is “implementation and strict enforcement of policies.”

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Some students, including UC Berkeley junior Meghan Warner, director of the ASUC Sexual Assault Commission, are concerned with the dangers of campuses researching their own statistics.

Warner said she believes that if the campus were allowed to conduct its own research, it might “try to put the campus in a better light.”

“It would be a waste of funding that would not help students,” Warner said.

Nevertheless, others believe that applying for and receiving the grant could potentially supplement Napolitano’s current task force operations.

“The task force is great in theory,” said Aryle Butler, a UC Berkeley senior and member of survivor advocacy organization End Rape On Campus. “But there is currently no mechanism to police those rules — the DOJ grant is a good initiative to analyze our campus more objectively.”

Butler added that, provided the campus decides to apply for and receive the grant, there should be an additional layer of oversight and protection to the research to ensure that statistics are not deflated or inflated.

 

Read Next: Ryan McNamara onNYU human rights violations abroad

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 2/27/15?

Keystone March

Demonstrators march during a protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline outside the White House. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Queen Arsem-O’Malley focuses on grassroots labor organizing, youth-led social movements, anti-carceral feminism, and critiques of mainstream media.
@qaween

Scary Negroes with Guns,” by Messiah Rhodes. The New Inquiry, February 23, 2015.

In a powerful personal essay, Messiah Rhodes explores his relationship to guns as a Black man in America, and America's obsession with the gun—real or imagined—in Black hands: “These dream guns indicate the depth of white America’s fear of black resistance.... Black people can be trained to protect our national security, to be snipers, to be killers, yet if we attempt to protect ourselves from a history of violent white supremacy, we become enemy combatants.”

Avi Asher-Schapiro focuses on US foreign policy, politics in the Middle East and South America, and technology issues.
@AASchapiro

Bogus university graduates clog Iraqi job market,” by Adnan Abu Zeed. Al-Monitor, February 24, 2015.

Considering America’s long-term military involvement in Iraq, and the growing popular obsession with ISIS, there’s surprisingly little available in English about the country’s internal political and social scene. This piece from the Iraqi journalist Adnan Abu Zeed covers the widespread corruption among Iraq’s ruling class: there’s a glut of unemployed overeducated Iraqis with graduate degrees, but many still struggle to secure government jobs because the most coveted positions are sold to well-connected elites with bogus inflated credentials.

Cole Delbyck focuses on LGBT politics, East Asia and representational issues in film and television.
@cdelbyck

Transgender Crimea,” by Dimiter Kenarov. The Huffington Post, January 31, 2015.

Through the eyes of a young trans man named Pasha, Kenarov beautifully renders the experience of LGBT refugees within the context of the Russian-Ukraine crisis. History has shown the direct relationship between political instability and anti-LGBT sentiments, which force many to abandon their homes and seek safety elsewhere. Paralleling Pasha’s own transition into a man with the evolving identity of Ukrainian citizens, Kenarov ends the article with a powerful statement: “In a sense, everybody in Ukraine was now trans.”

Khadija Elgarguri focuses on MENA issues including women’s rights, the relationship between foreign policy and cultural change, and women’s roles in protest movements in the region.
@dijaawad

What Was Missing from Obama's Anti-Terrorism Speech.” The Real News, February 23, 2015.

In this interview, academic and author Vijay Prashad describes Obama’s speech at the DC summit addressing global terrorism as “only half right.” Prashad acknowledges Obama’s point of the responsibility of Muslim scholars and clerics to push back against ISIS rhetoric and propaganda, but says the president failed to address the “issue of Western intervention in the Middle East” by ignoring the role the US and its ally Saudi Arabia have played in “fomenting the birth of the Islamic State.” In light of the US’s widening military role in the region, Prashad’s emphasis on foreign policy and geopolitics, not religion, as the root cause of terrorism in the Mid East region is worth noting.

Benjamin Hattem focuses on Israel/Palestine and the broader Middle East, as well as economic inequality, homelessness, and the prison system.
@BenHattem

Some Unions Think Supporting Keystone XL Was A Mistake?” by Kate Aronoff. Vice News, February 18, 2015.

Here’s a look at the growing collaborations between labor unions and climate justice advocates and how those connections have developed through labor’s changing stance on the Keystone XL pipeline. It's an important dynamic at work underneath the ongoing fight over the pipeline.

Nadia Kanji focuses on foreign policy, political art & alternative economic structures.
@nadiakanji

Isis has provoked an Arab alliance to bomb the West’s enemies,” by Robert Fisk. The Independent. February 16, 2015.

In America’s war against ISIS, Fisk describes how the US has found its allies in the Middle East to help do its dirty work. Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Libya’s Khalifa Hafter, and many of the GCC countries are bombing ISIS fighters, and feeling the brunt of the effects. As Fisk points out however, for Arabs the message is very clear: “Washington has an American-trained general in charge of the Libyan air force, an American-trained former field marshal and president in charge of Egypt, [and] an American-educated and British-trained king in Jordan…in the battle.”

James F. Kelly focuses on labor, economic inequality, world politics and intellectual history.
@jamesf_kelly

Working Anything but 9 to 5,” by Jodi Kantor. The New York Times, August 13, 2014.

Starbucks relies on software to manage the scheduling of its employees, making use of an intricate web of sales patterns and other data to distribute labor in the most profit maximizing way possible. This article lets readers into the lives of parents struggling to raise their children when faced with unpredictable shifts that sometimes require them to work until 11 PM and return the next day at 4 AM. This is just one example of how the logic of our economy fractures social relations in the sacred pursuit of profit, but if you ask Charles DeWitt of Kronos (the company that supplies the software), “It’s like magic.”

Ava Kofman focuses on technology, popular science and media culture.
@eyywa

New survey reveals everything you think about freelancing is true,” by David Uberti. Columbia Journalism Review, February 17, 2015.

For anyone who has freelanced––and attempted to get compensated for their time, expenses, and creative labor—many of these statistics are familiarly depressing. And it’s freelance investigative reporting, often funded out of journalists’ own pockets due to the dismal slashing of expense budgets, that has taken the hardest hit. “Ninety-three percent of those surveyed said they’d be interested in joining some sort of freelancer collective.” So what are we waiting for? Let's unite.

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Abigail Savitch-Lew focuses on urban policy, labor and race.
@savitchlew

The Complexities of Black Community Control of Police,” by Glen Ford. Black Agenda Report, February 11, 2015.

Glen Ford, founder of the Black Agenda Report, looks at the landscape of reforms that have emerged in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, from police body-camera legislation to Newark Mayor Baraka’s proposed Civilian Complaint Review Board. Ford concludes that we need nothing short of black communities seizing control of policing in their neighborhoods. I wonder if his call for principles of “self-determination” will be better received by millennials, thanks to our familiarity with identity politics, than it was in the post-civil rights period.

Hilary Weaver focuses on reproductive rights, feminism and related political, health and education issues.
@Hilary_Weaver

Patricia Arquette’s Feminism: Only for White Women,” by Amanda Marcotte. Slate, February 23, 2015.

Monday morning brought an onslaught of responses (including a blog post from The Nation’s Dave Zirin) after Patricia Arquette’s Oscars backstage comments concerning equal pay for women. Marcotte’s piece takes an especially holistic look at how Arquette’s comments, which failed to address issues of intersectionality, could affect women not included in the category of white-middle-class feminist. Public forums are powerful platforms, Marcotte says; it’s best to play it safe and keep responses simple before making sweeping, exclusive declarations.

 

Read Next: WhatNation interns were reading the week of 2/20/15

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