Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.
New York University professor Lisa Duggan says that the Occupy Wall Street movement has inspired an entire generation to want to learn about what might otherwise seem like a dry subject: financial history.
That’s why she’s teaching the course “Cultures and Economies: Why Occupy Wall Street? The History and Politics of Debt and Finance” in the NYU Department of Cultural and Social Analysis this spring. And indeed, although NYU does not begin its semester until Jan. 23, the 80-student course is already 3/4 full and Duggan expects it to be totally booked by the time classes begin.
NYU was not the only New York City university planning to bring Occupy Wall Street to the classroom. The Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University listed the course “Occupy the Field: Global Finance, Inequality, Social Movement” in its literature, only to announce — following some bad press — that the course hadn’t yet been fully vetted by the administration and might not happen.
“The proposal for a new anthropology course involving fieldwork on this topic had yet to be considered for approval by the faculty Committee on Instruction,” Brian Connolly, associate vice president for public affairs at Columbia, said in an email. ”A course does not appear in the official directory of classes and cannot be offered in advance of required approvals. News reports and some departmental postings regarding the spring semester were premature.”
The NYU students in Duggan’s course will read current texts about Occupy Wall Street as well as essays by anarchist/activist David Graeber and the sociologist and political economist Giovanni Arrighi. They will also screen documentaries including “Too Big to Fail” and Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis,’ “The Take,” as well as hear guest lectures from both the OWS movement and from academia. Confirmed speakers include NYU professors Andrew Ross and Angelique Nixon and Richard Kim of The Nation. Duggan also plans to invite Klein and the activist and writer Rinku Sen to talk with students.
MetroFocus recently chatted with Duggan about the teachable moment the Occupy Wall Street movement presents.
Q: Why does OWS warrant a college course?
A: I’ve been teaching “Cultures and Economies” for a couple of years and with a twist each year. This year it seemed obvious that it needed to be about OWS. It’s the kind of issue that I can use to teach economic history within a cultural context. OWS gives us a perfect opportunity to teach the long background of financialization [the growing influence of the financial sector] and the long history of popular protest about economic arrangements. The class goes back to the 15th century and teaches about different empires that have fallen at the time that their economies became heavily financialized. We’ll show that the point when finanicalization is accelerating is the time the empire starts falling, which has implications for us right now. We will also look at the history of debt and the way debt has shaped financial economies.
Q: The history of financialization is not the sexiest topic…Is this a way to inspire students to learn about a dry topic?
A: Yes, absolutely. Occupy Wall Street has done an incredible job in changing the national conversation about the economy and I’m using it as a way to bring students in and engage them in a deep historical, as well as contemporary, framing of what the issues at stake are. It can be very difficult to understand what the federal reserve does or why the deficit is or is not a problem. It’s about economic literacy in a way.
In the newspaper and on TV the economic issues are extracted as if they were purely technical. OWS has done a pretty good job of connecting the larger issues of economic policy to things like the experience of unemployment and foreclosure and to the experience of graduating from NYU with $100,000 in student debt. Like, why is that? How has that happened? That’s a direct connection for undergraduates.
It makes it clear that these issues matter and that they’re not just abstract matters.
Q: Do you expect the class to be contentious?
A: In a way, I hope it is. It’s more useful for students to frame their ideas without everyone agreeing with them. We’ll try to frame issues so that we’re not ordaining an answer. Of course, there’s contentious good and contentious bad. Good is debate that’s serious, and bad is the name calling, accusations and labeling people. We will do our best to prevent that.
Q: Who do you think will take the course?
A: Of course, I’ll get the campus activists and I’m sure we will have a lot of students who aren’t activists per se, but they’re very interested in these broad interdisciplinary questions of culture and the political economy. And then I’ll probably get some students who are conservative and that’s very useful in a classroom.
Q: Useful how?
A: They raise questions for everyone to think about and I think that’s a good thing as long as it’s not a campus group whose goal is disruption. We don’t have a lot of that at NYU. They have it at Columbia, but not NYU.
Q: Speaking of Columbia, did you hear that after some bad press about their proposed OWS class, the university announced that the course hadn’t been officially approved by the administration?
A: I haven’t heard about that.
Q: Do you think it sounds like Columbia is backpedaling?
A: I haven’t gotten any bad press…I got some snideness in the Wall Street Journal but no attacks. Maybe she wasn’t a full-time faculty and didn’t know what kind of approval she needed. I’d be interested to find out what happened. Columbia does have Campus Watch students and students that are involved with right-wing groups and try to make trouble. We don’t really have that here.
The content for this course was approved by my department chair and the director of undergraduate studies.
Q. How does OWS compare to social movements of the past?
A. People have made comparisons to the populist movement, which started as a protest against the banks. It spread widely and made a huge impact in both the vocabulary and the substance of politics in the U.S. And it was really a transition point, making way for progressive reform. Over time it became a mass movement, but it started in small meetings. It also reminds me of the early days of a lot of social movements that I had connections to when I was much, much younger. OWS has so much energy and the determination to depart from ordinary life — to get out of your bubble. The willingness to learn and engage and get off the treadmill of an individual career, that reminds me very much of the ’60s and ’70s.
But the OWS movement is up against a grim future, so that’s different.
Q. Does that grim future give the movement more power or strength?
A. When your future looks like it’s not going to give you anything but a dead-end job with no benefits, and while social security and Medicaid are being cut, what do you do? You have to do something. So that’s a pretty intense motivator.
Q. Why is this personally important to you?
A. I will confess to some nostalgia for the experience of being part of a social movement. I was involved in anti-war politics in the late ’60s and ’70s, and in LGBT, queer and AIDS politics in the ’80s and ’90s.
Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out most everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week, and please use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.
Laura focuses on human rights and revolution.
“Cairo Dispatch,” by Max Strasser. n+1, December 23, 2011.
This is a piece about the philosophy and practicality of revolution in an increasingly connected world. While many articles have drawn connections between the participants and ideals of protestors in Tahrir Square and at Occupy Wall Street, Max Strasser examines the idea of what it means for foreigners abroad when borders are more than "occupied"—they are transcended.
Zoë focuses on the intersection of economics, health and the environment.
“Nigeria's Oil Disasters are Met by Silence,” by Michael Keating. The Guardian, January 9, 2012.
The media loves a story of violence and disaster, but only when it's sudden and close to home. In this opinion piece, Michael Keating draws attention to the slower-paced, geographically-distant disasters caused by the oil industry in West Africa, comparing media silence on the issue to the uproar that followed the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Umar focuses on the worldwide movement for democracy.
“How Bahrain Works Washington,” by Ken Silverstein. Salon, December 8, 2011.
This great investigative piece, written by a former Nation intern, actually covers several Arab countries, detailing how massive PR firms are being paid millions to employ former US officials to lobby for oil companies and repressive governments in covering up human rights violations abroad.
Loren focuses on peace, power, and political culture.
“Democracy, Democratisation and Peace: Lessons from Recent Experience,” by Dan Smith. Working Group on Peace and Development, via Human Security Report Project, November 28, 2011.
International Alert's Dan Smith draws important lessons from recent experience to inform our understanding of political culture. He argues that democratization and peacebuilding are not requirements of one another as means of approaching conflict, but that they do share a common principle: “What matters is the legitimacy of the process of self-transformation that a country goes through—legitimacy for its citizens.”
Connor focuses on racism and race relations.
“Mrs Obama: Some Give Her 'Angry Black Woman' Image.” Associated Press, January 11, 2012.
It's appalling that simply because Michelle Obama is a woman, and black, whatever agency and self-advocacy she expresses can be cast in racist stereotypes. I haven't read the book to which this article refers, and therefore can't speak to its actual portrayal of Mrs. Obama, but the fact that whatever depictions it contains have shifted discussions to revolve around whether or not she is an "angry black woman" is disturbing, to say the least.
Ebtihal focuses on human rights.
“Saudi Arabia: Renewed Protests Defy Ban.” Human Rights Watch, December 30, 2011.
American mainstream media often fails to report on what's really happening in Saudi Arabia. The news of more than 100 women defying a government ban on peaceful protests, boldly demonstrating after Friday prayers demanding the release of long-term detainees, deserves more attention.
Hannah will focus on sex and gender.
“Court Allows Texas Law on Ultrasound Before Abortion.” Global Post, January 11, 2012.
This article is particularly relevant right now because, while the GOP primaries take over the media, the broad arguments surrounding abortion and contraception policies are consistently reported, but the smaller, local steps toward reducing reproductive freedoms are easier to overlook—to our detriment. While the Texas decision certainly does not ban abortion, it is one, successful step toward the psychological attack on women seeking the procedure.
James focuses on migration in the 21stcentury.
“Role Reversal: An Ex-Colony May Be Getting the Better, in Economic Terms, of its Old Master.”The Economist, September 3, 2011.
This article spans two of my interest areas: colonization and migration. It also has ironic qualities. In a throwback to the colonial era, the Portuguese are once again setting sail to Angola. This time, however, it is their home nation that has fallen upon hard times, while the African nation is a shining light on a continent threatening to rise. It highlights the upended nature of migration and world order in the early part of the 21st century.
Erin focuses on health and environmental politics.
“Senate Holds First Hearing on Genetically Engineered Fish.” Center for Food Safety, December 15, 2011.
In the first hearing of its kind, experts testified before Congress about the environmental risks associated with genetically engineered fish. Should the FDA approve the proposal, salmon will be the first type of genetically engineered animal declared fit for human consumption in the United States. The only problem—and it isn't a small one, either—is that no one knows for certain what effects genetically engineered fish might have on wild fish stocks, aquatic ecosystems or the spread of parasites and disease.
Elizabeth focuses on the Syrian uprising, its implications and the wildly varied domestic and international reactions.
“Syria's Bashar al-Assad Chooses the Qaddafi Model,” by Max Fisher. The Atlantic, January 10, 2012.
This post by Max Fisher demonstrates the confusion of the MSM as it attempts to draw parallels and make sense of what has happened not only in Syria but also more broadly throughout the Middle East over the past year. Fisher argues that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is following the model of former Libyan dictator Qaddafi, but that very analysis underscores the tendency, for better or for worse, of the media to compare situations horizontally rather than delving vertically into a country's unique politics and history.
Managers of university investments, like most managers of huge piles of money, typically do not like being told what to do with their riches—particularly when demands are coming from, say, student activists insisting that their school stop investing in an extremely profitable company posting double-digit annual returns.
But students at universities investing in HEI Hotels and Resorts have recently forced their investment offices to listen. Yale’s recent announcement that it would end all future investments in the company makes it the third university to do so this year in response to allegations of labor abuses and demands for a fair union recognition process. The campaign presents a powerful, replicable model of students and workers uniting to challenge their respective institutions where they are vulnerable—and force them to act in favor of workers.
HEI is a private equity fund that purchases and operates hotels. The company has expanded rapidly since it was established in 2002. After purchasing a hotel, HEI “adds value,” according to Riddhi Mehta-Neugebauer, a researcher for the hotel and restaurant workers union UNITE HERE, by lowering labor costs which sometimes involves the violation of basic labor laws. This allows the company to profit when the hotel is subsequently sold. Last year in Irvine, California, for example, non-union workers at the HEI-owned Embassy Suites went on a wildcat strike, then filed and won a suit against their employer over denial of legally-mandated breaks when a state Labor Commissioner hearing officer ruled that HEI violated the law by denying the breaks and ordered HEI to pay back wages.
Since the fund’s inception, HEI has sought university endowments as major investors. Such funds are massive, especially at elite schools: Yale’s endowment is valued at $19.4 billion, Princeton’s at $17.1 billion, Harvard’s a whopping $32 billion. Always in search of high returns, many schools have made sizable investments in HEI. Yale students estimate their school’s holdings at $119 million.
Around the same time universities began investing in HEI, workers at HEI hotels around the country began union drives.
“Workers have said, ‘we want a fair process to choose whether or not we want a union,’” says Mehta-Neugebauer, referring to a “card check” process rather than a National Labor Relations Board election that has so far been denied. With no card check and labor abuse allegations mounting, workers and UNITE HERE called for students to demand that their universities stop investing in HEI until and unless these abuses were rectified.
Students have organized for an end to unethical investments on a variety of issues, from the divestment campaign over apartheid in South Africa to the push in recent years for divestment from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. But ending investments over a labor dispute is uncharted territory.
"Nobody else has ever done this," says Haley Kossek, a junior and a labor activist at Brown University, where student activists were successful in pushing the school to sever ties with HEI. Kossek says that despite Brown’s reputation for progressivism—including the existence of a committee on responsible investments—students had to grapple with a recalcitrant administration every step of the campaign.
“Whatever reputation Brown has for social liberalism does not in any way guide the way it invests its money,” she says.
Students held a number of creative actions, including a “clean-in” at the university’s investment office, where they arrived with cleaning supplies to “clean up Brown’s investments,” and a mock wedding ceremony where the Brown Investment Office was married to “HEI Corporate Greed.” After the clean-in, Brown’s president, Ruth Simmons, met face-to-face with activists; she then penned a letter stating that the labor abuse allegations, if true, would be of concern. A year later, the university announced that it would not reinvest in HEI.
Shortly after the Brown announcement, students at the University of Pennsylvania affiliated with the Student Labor Action Project successfully pressured their administration to state that the University has no current plans for future investments in HEI. And earlier this month, Yale students with the Undergraduate Organizing Committee won their own HEI campaign.
Yale senior Mac Herring was involved in the campaign since its inception. Like Brown activists, she says students initially went to the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility, but made little progress. When students brought HEI worker Jose Landino from the Hilton Long Beach Hotel in California to campus in 2008, they attempted to arrange a meeting with him and university investment staff; when the investment office refused, UOC members held a brief sit-in.
While Herring is “thrilled” Yale will no longer invest in the company, she says her school’s lack of investment transparency is still worrisome.
“What's scary to me is not the fact that Yale is invested in a company like HEI—what's scary is the fact that we'll never know what's going on with the [investment office’s] other $20 billion,” she says. A number of UOC activists have become involved with the Responsible Endowment Project, an effort to address the university’s unethical investments.
Other universities are maintaining active campaigns. Students at Notre Dame held a five-day hunger strike last year. Occupy Harvard has included an end to HEI investments in its statement of principles, and the university’s president recently released a statement promising to review the school’s investment in HEI.
Student labor activists have flexed their muscles in recent years against administrations and garment manufacturers like Nike and Russell Athletic, proving they are a force to be reckoned with. The HEI campaign takes that power a step further: students can not only end their universities’ contracts with ethically dubious corporations; they can, when fighting alongside workers, force their universities to end highly profitable investments in favor of what’s just. If HEI workers win their demands at their hotels, other unions could look to the HEI model to win future campaigns.
“The campaign recognizes the ways that students in their universities and workers on their shop floors have different points of leverage against powerful corporations and financial institutions,” says Kossek, the Brown student activist.
“It can redefine what administrators think is required of them when they’re making investment decisions," she says. "They can't just think about what’s profitable anymore. They have to think about what is ethical."
This was originally published by the student-run Yale Daily News.
If the newest Yale College Council effort is successful, juniors will be eligible for gender-neutral housing beginning next fall.
In a 13-page report to the administration, made available to members of the Yale community in a Monday email, the Yale College Council asserted that gender-neutral suites foster a more comfortable social environment and incentivize students to remain on campus. Though the Yale Corporation turned down a similar proposal by the YCC in February 2011, the new report includes more data and was written in consultation with members of the Yale College Dean’s Office — giving it a better chance to succeed, YCC President Brandon Levin ’13 said. University President Richard Levin and Yale College Dean Mary Miller will present the latest report to the Yale Corporation in February, according to the YCC email.
The proposal cites positive feedback from students who have participated in gender-neutral housing and includes data from a survey the YCC conducted in November with the classes of 2013 and 2014. Last year’s YCC proposal made similar arguments, but was based on just one year of data, which Brandon Levin said the Yale Corporation determined was inadequate for assessing the initiative.
“That’s precisely [the role] the report aims to play, providing more qualitative and quantitative data suggesting that this is indeed a good move,” Brandon Levin said Monday.
Joseph Yagoda ’14, co-chair of the Gender-Neutral Housing committee, said that 445 juniors and 443 sophomores responded to the survey the YCC conducted. Of those students, 92.7 percent said they either supported or were indifferent to gender-neutral housing and 67.1 percent said they would considering living in a mixed-gender suite.
Last year’s report was not made public, and only surveyed students already involved with gender-neutral housing rather than entire classes of students, Brandon Levin said.
The Yale Corporation first approved gender-neutral suites for seniors in February 2010, and the class of 2011 became the first in Yale’s history to have the housing option.
In a February 2011 interview, Richard Levin told the News that he did not think the Corporation would approve gender-neutral housing for juniors in the 2011-’12 academic year because administrators wanted to “run the experiment” of senior gender-neutral housing for more time. He declined to comment on the latest YCC proposal Monday night, since he had not yet read it.
Brandon Levin said the YCC only asked that the University extend gender-neutral housing to juniors to encourage them to remain on campus: Unlike freshman and sophomores, juniors can opt to move off campus and live with the opposite sex.
Melanie Boyd, assistant dean of student affairs, wrote in a letter attached to the report that several respondents to the YCC survey expressed concern that gender-neutral housing would increase the risk of sexual harassment or assault. But Boyd said in the letter that these concerns misunderstood the nature of sexual misconduct.
“The assault of a suitemate would be a very risky act, legally as well as disciplinarily,” Boyd wrote. “What we know of sexual offenders suggests that they are more likely to seek out other, less risky targets.”
In fact, the YCC report claims that gender-neutral housing would improve sexual climate on campus by reducing the sexual implications of male and female students socializing in a suite.
Christina Marmol ’12, a senior who currently lives in a gender-neutral suite, said she supports the YCC proposal and would have liked to move in with members of the opposite sex during her junior year. She said her senior year experience in gender-neutral housing has been a positive one.
“I think you’re mature enough as a junior to make a decision about whether or not you want to do it,” Marmol said.
The Yale Corporation meets next on Feb. 24 and 25.
Demonstrators chant for jobs outside on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday Dec. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Lately, I keep getting asked , "Why is Occupy Colleges so focused on the January 17th Occupy Congress event? Isn't the organization dedicated to student loan issues and tuition hikes?" I find the question odd because it is precisely the tuition hikes and student loan issues that connect students, teachers, and alumni to Occupy Congress. These are the economic injustices that we face in the college community. But, first and foremost, we are the 99 percent and we support Occupy Wall Street.
Occupy Wall Street is addressing the economic injustices that we all face. Until recently, the focus has been on Wall Street targeting the financial industry for its misconduct. This is important and necessary but, there is a need to focus on the other one percent - Congress! Congress is the one percent that controls our legislation - yes, they are bought off by the players on Wall Street, but our legislators are also the ones who ultimately make our laws. The National Event held by Occupyyourcongress.info on January 17 is Occupy's first unified step to address Washington.
Occupy needs to continue to find its footing on K Street and the January 17th National Occupy Congress event is the perfect foray into the Beltway. It could possibly be one of the largest marches since the Million Man March in 1995. Occupiers and concerned citizens from all over the country are caravaning to the nation's capital. OccupyLA and Occupy San Diego are teaming up for a three-day bus tour across the country ending up in DC right before the start of the march.
Congress has had a major negative impact on the lives of current and former students in past years. The no-bankruptcy option for student loans, the vote for the NDAA bill and Congress' support for the for-profit college system are recent examples. For all of these reasons and more it is imperative to turn our focus to Congress especially in a year we can do something about it by voting.
For a start we can try to vote every single legislator out if they voted for the NDAA. That would be a good start and it would be useful to highlight incumbents' voting records even if they don't stand much chance of being upset.
This is Occupy 2.0 and Occupy Colleges is a part of that mission. It is our goal to go straight to the top and focus on our lawmakers. The only way students will see reductions in fees, adjustments in student loans, and jobs after graduating is if we focus on how we got into this mess in the first place and what needs to be done to fix it? We require our elected Congress to have integrity and fight on behalf of the 99 percent not for the one percent.
Finally, we all need to support Occupy Congress on January 17th. This is only the beginning. We hope you can join us to kick off the fight against the other one percent -- Congress! If you can't make it to Washington DC and you are a college student, consider organizing a solidarity march on your campus. It is time to show our country that we support each other and that any injustice against part of the 99 percent is an injustice against us all.
Budget cuts hit New York City schools hard in 2011. Leon M. Goldstein High School (LMG), where I am a student, was no exception. As at high schools nationwide, students and teachers at LMG are feeling the effects of budget cuts and we have had enough. Teachers are stretched thin because of overcrowded classes and stressed because their jobs are at risk. Students are also getting increasingly frustrated. Our futures ultimately depend on which courses we pursue (colleges are impressed when students have taken a wide range of classes), but as course offerings are cut at LMG, options are slim.
These students should protest, right? Actually, we did. On November 30, over 100 teachers, students, parents, and community members from LMG and other South Brooklyn schools marched through Brooklyn, demanding an end to the cuts. We were joined by city transit workers who have been feeling the budget cut squeeze themselves.
This march followed an October 24 demonstration at which dozens of students rose before the sun to meet with teachers, parents, and other school professionals. These protestors set up a picket line at the school’s entrance and tried to engage people as they came in.
More than 100 people protested that morning, including LMG senior Genesis Leon. “I wanted to help raise awareness of how budget cuts impact a smaller school," said Leon, president of the school’s senior council. "We will not sit back and let budget cuts affect us without attempting to change it first."
Student Beatrice Slavutskiy expressed her concern that budget cuts will affect her college admissions prospects. She explained, "I wanted to take both a science and math [class], mainly due to the fact I plan to major in science…I could not take either." Speaking of how cuts have affected LMG’s extracurricular activities, Slavutskiy said, “It has gone from bad to worse."
Michael Schirtzer, a history teacher at LMG for the past five years, described the impact budget cuts are having on his own job. Said Schirtzer, “My classes are packed, 34 [students] in each class. I have less time in class for the individual attention that my students deserve." One of his concerns coincides closely with those of the students. He wants young people to have had a "diverse background" of coursework when they leave high school, but budget cuts are making this impossible.
Both students and teachers hope that their efforts will be noticed. So far, it appears they’ve been successful. Local television news and South Brooklyn publications covered the November 30 march, while City Comptroller John Liu joined the October 24 protest.
As students head into the new year, they plan to keep fighting for their education. As Danielle Sorrentino, who helped organize the November 30 protest, said, "We can’t just sit back and watch as our school is stripped of all its funding, or just wait for the budget to be restored. We need to take a stand now. By getting the media involved as well as other schools, we will hopefully be heard.”
Schirtzer agreed, stating, “My students need to see participation in government is not just complaining about problems, but doing something about it.” For more information about the ongoing campaign against school budget cuts, go to http://www.facebook.com/Budgetcutshurtourschools.
California made significant strides with the passing of three state bills in support of LGBT rights legislation this past October 10th.
The Gender Nondiscrimination Act requires gender identity and expression to be its own protected category at work, at school, in housing, at public accommodations and in other settings; the Vital Statistics Modernization Act makes it easier for transgender people to obtain court-ordered gender change and updated birth certificate; Seth’s Law will tighten anti-bullying policies in schools by making sure there are clear and consistent policies, provide better training and guidelines for teachers and faculty, and establish shorter timelines for investigating claims of bullying.
A fourth bill, with the purpose of amending anti-discrimination policies in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, was also signed by Governor Brown on October 8th. Specifics in the bill include the requirement that California state universities and community colleges allow students to identify their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in the annually collected demographic data. Recording accurate numbers of LGBT identifying students will help institutes of higher education grasp the amount of student services necessary for the LGBT community and awareness training for faculty and staff, reported The Daily Californian.
These new pieces of legislation may have greater implications beyond the state of California—they have the potential to lay the groundwork for other states as well as play a role in influencing colleges and universities in confronting the role of gender identity in their anti-discrimination policies. Moreover, this landmark legislation has the ability to additionally set a precedent for women’s colleges and their policies around transgender students.
Women’s colleges were originally founded as a means of educating young women in a time when there were no other alternatives for females to seek higher education. Their existence in the 21st century has been questioned, in a time period where private universities are co-ed and women are less oppressed than in times past. Not only do women’s colleges have to defend their mere existence in 2011, but they’ve also been faced with a lingering quandary over sex and gender identity: where do transgender students fit in? The question is taking on new resonance as the majority of single-sex institutions have yet to cultivate systemic changes in their official policies that specifically address transgender students.
Trans students have had a growing presence in America and, in turn, on college campuses. Despite the increasing transgender population, there’s still very little official protection from discrimination for these students. If administrators elect to handle matters with trans-students one by one as they come up instead of developing concrete policies, then transgender students are at risk for greater, and more systemic, discrimination.
Historically speaking, students on campus have been at the forefront of social change. The issue of accommodating trans-students at women’s colleges hasn’t been any different—the majority of activism and support thus far has been from students, with administrators lagging behind.
Smithies in Northampton, Mass. are a great example of what happens when students take the initiative in being more inclusive toward transgender students and influence their schools to follow suit. In 2003, the students voted to replace gender-specific pronouns in their constitution with more gender-neutral pronouns. Shortly after, the Smith administration opened the Center for Sexuality and Gender as a resource for students. Gender-neutral bathroom and housing options have become popular means of accommodating transgender students as well.
While these are important alterations to make because it helps to take away small-scale yet inherently political burdens from a student’s daily life, there needs to be a greater institutional shift toward clarifying where schools officially stand. This would result in a loss of ambiguity for students—one less grey area for transgender students to struggle between.
Title IX, the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibits any kind of discrimination on the basis of sex, but it also guarantees women’s colleges the right to solely admit applicants who identify as biological females. This amendment enforces the federal law that colleges can only admit students whose legal documentation proves their gender is compatible with that specific institution.
Once already admitted, it should be the responsibility of each college to address and accommodate any kind of physical or emotional transition. Our society as a whole often fuses the roles of sex and gender together—we’re wrongly conditioned to learn that the two go hand in hand. This complicates the ways in which women’s colleges interpret their own policies around trans individuals.
Already existing policies for transgender students at women’s colleges are not adequate in protecting the students’ basic rights: the ability to involve themselves socially, engage in traditional school-wide activities, and graduate from the school in which they originally enrolled. It is critical for schools to clarify this issue in the most official way possible.
California’s decision to act on these specific LGBT rights bills will increase protection specifically for the transgender community on campuses and prove to be a step in the right direction. California can now potentially serve as a critical influence for women’s colleges to enact official policies for their transgender students.
On December 19, Occupy Harvard will launch the next phase of its occupation, with a focus on moving beyond physical occupation to occupying the hearts and minds of those beyond the university’s walls.
“Occupy Harvard 2.0 will focus on education, activism, and strengthening the connections between Harvard’s Occupy outpost and the world outside our university's gates,” said Maggie Gram, a doctoral student in English. “It is our hope that with this action, Harvard administration will respond by returning access to the Yard to the larger community it belongs to.”
In moving to this next phase, Occupy Harvard will consolidate the footprint of its original encampment to a winterized geodesic dome—provided by Occupy supporters at MIT—serving as a hub of activity and growth for the movement.
"Our second phase will consolidate the footprint of our original encampment while broadening our movement’s energy, spirit, and base," Gram continued. “We feel that Occupy Harvard has achieved what it set out to achieve with the original encampment by occupying the attention of students, faculty, staff, and administrators. The Harvard community is focused on issues of social justice in an entirely new way, and we hope to encourage that conversation even more with Occupy 2.0.”
In existence for just over a month, Occupy Harvard counts among its successes the negotiation of a better contract for custodial workers, increased attention on the social impact of the university’s multi-billion dollar endowment, and a teach-in where hundreds of participants heard faculty lectures on the economic, historical, and legal implications of the Occupy movement. With this next phase, Occupiers say they’re more committed than ever to making their movement impossible to ignore.
"Our visceral disruption of business as usual on campus would not have been possible without the physical presence of our encampment,” Gram concluded. “Our challenge now will be to find new ways to turn Harvard’s attention — and the world's — to the transformative questions the Occupy movement asks.”
Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out most everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week, and please use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.
— Angela Aiuto:
Angela focuses on money in politics.
“The Political One Percent of the One Percent,” by Lee Drutman. Sunlight Foundation, Dec. 13, 2011.
Forget the 1 percent—in an America that increasingly conflates money with speech, the 1 percent of the 1 percent matter most to candidates. According to a recent analysis by the Sunlight Foundation, this elite group of Americans—many of whom have ties to the corporate and lobbying worlds—was responsible for nearly a quarter of all itemized federal campaign contributions in 2010. And if not for the generosity of this 0.01%, a staggering 74 candidates would have seen their itemized contributions cut in half! And we're meant to believe that elected officials aren't beholden to their funders? Justice Kennedy might want to read this report.
Cal follows the drug war and human rights in Latin America.
“Noriega jailed on return to Panama.” Al Jazeera, Dec. 12, 2011.
Manuel Noriega, the former military ruler of Panama, is now in jail in his home country after being extradited from France. Noriega was serving jail time in France for money laundering, but he has been convicted in Panama of murder, fraud and embezzlement. The former ruler, who previously served 17 years in American prisons for drug trafficking, will be serving time in Panama for the murder of two political opponents. This marks the first time Noriega has returned to his home country after the U.S. government ousted his military junta in 1989.
— Teresa Cotsirilos:
Teresa focuses on "Global South" politics, or sociopolitical developments in areas of the developing world.
“Holding the Line: An extraordinary portrait of ordinary citizens at war.” Al Jazeera, Dec. 14, 2011.
In the summer of 2011, filmmaker Patrick Wells spent three weeks imbedded with a motley crew of civilian fighters on the frontlines of the Libyan civil war. His brief documentary of the conflict has only now been released, and it is definitely worth watching. The soldiers that Wells interviews are well-educated twenty-somethings, many of whom had less than a week of fighting experience at the time of filming; their daily lives are mostly tedious, always surreal, and punctuated by terror. Viewer discretion is advised.
— Paolo Cravero:
Paolo follows war, peace, and security.
“Syria should be referred to ICC, UN's Navi Pillay says.” BBC, Dec. 13, 2011.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the U.N. Security Council to take action against the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The allegation is that his crackdown against domestic protesters is constituting a crime against humanity and that Syria should be brought to the ICC. This statement was delivered as the U.N. estimates for the death toll during the Syrian uprising were revisited. More than 5,000 people are now believed to be killed, including 300 children. Another 14,000 are believed to have been arrested, and 12,400 people had fled to other countries increasing the refugee problem in the region. Ignoring the problem hasn't solved it. Maybe the time has come for effective actions to be taken.
— Erika Eichelberger:
Erika follows the environmental beat.
“The Bizarro World of Bjorn Lomborg and the NY Times’ “Post-Pollution” Solution to Climate Change,” by Joe Romm. Think Progress, Dec. 13, 2011.
In a recent post at ThinkProgress, Joe Romm slams the NY Times' Andy Revkin's support for the idea that the debate around climate change mitigation should shift from emissions reductions targets to R&D in renewables in order to bring down their cost. Romm calls this a "false dichotomy" and also points out that the best way to make renewables more cost-efficient is for governments to deploy them, since economies of scale would drive down their market price.
— Josh Eidelson:
Josh covers the labor beat.
“West Coast Port Shutdown Sparks Heated Debate between Unions, Occupy,” by Evan Rohar. Labor Notes, Dec. 12, 2011.
The move by West Coast occupiers to use direct action to shut down unionized ports on Monday sparked heated debate within organized labor and between union and occupy activists. At stake: What risks are worth taking? How democratic is the longshore union, or the Occupy movement? What kind of democratic claim do workers have over what happens where they work?
— Eli Epstein-Deutsch:
Eli looks at the intersection of politics, ideas and economics from a macro perspective.
“Economic Conflicts with China and Class War in the United States,” by Dean Baker. Truthout via Center for Economic and Policy Research, Dec. 12, 2011.
In this article for Truthout, economist Dean Baker illuminates the class bias disguised behind the United States' disingenuous calls for China to address its currency manipulation.
— Collier Meyerson:
Collier’s beat is discrimination.
“If I Were A Poor Black Kid,” by Gene Marks. Forbes, Dec. 12, 2011.
Forbes columnist Gene Marks took some time off from his "technology" beat to write a story on what he would do if "[he] were a poor black kid." He suggests that he'd use Internet tools like Google, Google Scholar, Spark Notes and “Skype to study with other students who also want to do well in my school.” Marks certainly misses the mark with this one. He fails to address the myriad of structural inequalities that prevent impoverished black youth from even having access to computers to Skype with.
— Allie Tempus:
Allie follows human rights.
“Voter ID becomes law of unintended consequences,” by Robert Mentzer. Wausau Daily Herald, Dec. 4, 2011.
"Ruthelle Frank was born on Aug. 21, 1927, in her home in Brokaw. It was a hard birth; there were complications." So begins this local newspaper article about an 84-year-old Wisconsin woman who may be blocked from voting for the first time in her hardworking, hard-earned life. Since publication, Frank's story has rocketed to national outlets. As announcements are made that Wisconsin has gathered almost enough signatures to recall Gov. Scott Walker, here's hoping Frank (and the large chunk of the population like her) will have the option to influence the state's upcoming--and especially pivotal--elections.
— Jin Zhao:
Jin follows the US’s image in international media.
“Occupy Wall Street resonates within Japan,” by Mark Schreiber. The Japan Times, Dec. 4, 2011.
The author recapitulates the coverage of Occupy Wall Street and commentaries in five Japanese magazines, comparing issues such as Japan's unemployment and increasing income disparity with those in the US. A magazine reminds the readers of the blessing of universal healthcare, another describes the US as "capitalist dictatorship, most of them depict a bleak outlook of Japan's working and middle class, and all are sympathetic with the Occupy movement.
Students involved in the University of Connecticut’s Occupy movement didn’t take a break from protesting during finals week—they set up a permanent occupation in the library while simultaneously studying for exams and writing papers.
Campus police were called by security guards on Sunday night, but in a refreshing shift from violent encounters at numerous other schools, students opened up a peaceful dialogue with officers about the first amendment and free speech.
According to a 17-minute video posted on Facebook, a campus security guard told the occupiers that the political messages on their signs had to go. Police officers later clarified that the university policy would not allow their signs to be visible and posted in their library space, regardless of politics and Occupy related messages.
There was a conversation between students and officers over why university policies about free speech were unnecessarily stringent. One female police officer even declared that she applauded the students for seeking out the proper methods to address these systemic issues, but ultimately they had to enforce rules and regulations of the school.
“We did tape signs on the table so, you’re right, technically we broke the rules. But the whole reason we exist and why this whole thing is here is because the rules are so fucked.”
This isn’t the only action taken by Occupy Uconn activists to combat suppression of first amendment rights. Earlier in November rapper Jasiri X gave a controversial concert at the University of Connecticut and performed the one song that Uconn’s student government requested he didn’t: “Occupy (We are the 99).” The Pittsburgh native’s lyrics speak to the inequality of the US government’s financial bailout Wall Street and other sentiments of the Occupy movement.
"And nobody got more welfare than Wall Street/Hundreds of billions after operatin' falsely/and nobody went to prison/that's where you lost me/but my home, my job and my life is gonna cost me."
The student government wrote into Jasiri X’s contract that he couldn’t perform this song because they did not want to align themselves with a political message. Uconn's student government removed Colin Neary, a senior class senator, who served as the event’s organizer.
In response to the university’s failure to defend free speech, the campus Occupy movement organized a “Funk Censorship!” dance rally. The group has also organized teach-ins with over 70 students in attendance and hosted six general assemblies over the course of the semester.
Occupy Uconn even performed street theatre action with other local occupations when Michael Moore spoke at the university on November 18—as a result, the filmmaker ended up giving occupiers 30 free tickets to the lecture.
Occupy Uconn is a small occupation at a massive university, but their actions echo a widespread message at other campus and university movements nationwide: students should be allowed to utilize freedom of speech in demonstrating their outrage over the government’s role in income inequality and high tuition costs—even during finals week.