Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.
Last October, under pressure from a growing student campaign, Harvard President Drew Faust released a letter explaining why the university would not divest from fossil fuel companies. Her reasoning was questioned by both Harvard student Chloe Maxmin and former President of Reed College James Powell, among many others. Recently, Divest Harvard co-founder and StudentNation writer Alli Welton caught up to Faust and engaged her in a conversation, captured here on video, about her decision not to divest. By not divesting, Harvard is effectively using its “name to sanction the morally reprehensible acts of the fossil fuel industry,” Welton tells Faust. See how the president responds.
For more on the Divest Harvard movement, click here
Update: On March 10, President Faust sent a letter to Divest Harvard taking issue with the way the group was characterizing and contextualizing the conversation.
Read Next: UNC students advocate for garment workers’ rights.
This article was originally published as part of a weekly series in the student-run Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
On April 24 of last year, more than 100 workers died in a factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was one of the most deadly factory disasters in history, and one of three that happened in Bangladesh last year alone. “That was the event that really drew the world’s attention and started workers in Bangladesh demanding that something change. And they gained a lot of support around the world for that.”
Junior Olivia Abrecht got involved with Student Action with Workers, a group that works in solidarity with workers connected to UNC, her freshman year. “Worker’s rights had always been something that I was passionate about.” After the factory disaster last April, Student Action with Workers began raising awareness of the problem around campus, as a large amount of UNC apparel is produced in Bangladeshi factories. The group also met various times with the Licensing Labor Code Advisory Committee, a group comprised of representatives from around campus that makes recommendations to the chancellor pertaining to UNC’s licensees.
“[The committee] has assured us that they will be making a recommendation to the chancellor by the end of spring break.” This recommendation should lead to a commitment to ensure no workers are killed in factories that produce UNC apparel. Abrecht is hopeful the committee will support a move to require all UNC licensees to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which would require safer building standards in factories and give workers more rights.
“I think there’s significant support on the committee to require that our licensees sign the accord. [Many] members on the committee feel that this not only is something that [UNC] should do because it’s a human rights issue and it’s going save people lives—they also think it’s a really good decision because UNC doesn’t want to have there be a factory disaster in Bangladesh where UNC shirts are found. That’s not good for the University.” Student Action with Workers has heard accounts of Bangladeshi workers being beaten if they raise concerns about their safety.
“At the end of the day, you want to be able to be proud of the University you go to and you want to be able to wear a Carolina sweatshirt. There is a person who made it who should be able to speak up for him or herself.”
Read Next: Nation interns pick the week’s most interesting reads.
—Samuel Adler-Bell focuses on labor, mass incarceration, literature and film.
“Fake Outrage in the Kentucky Senate Race,” by Mark Leibovich. The New York Times Magazine, March 3, 2014
Mark Leibovich’s dispatch from the closely watched KY senate race between incumbent Mitch McConnell and challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes depicts the dueling campaigns as clouded in a thick “fog of fake outrage.” Real disagreements over policy are displaced by a less-than-ingenuous disgust olympics between warring communications departments, over usually imagined affronts—e.g. “I am so appalled. You’ll never believe just how low our opponent has stooped this time.” Leibovich writes wistfully about a time when “the privilege of speaking publicly on behalf of a candidate belonged to a select few operatives, usually 40- and 50-somethings who spoke with deliberate authority.” Like an indignant Scooby-Doo villain, Leibovich seems specifically intent on indicting the campaigns’ conspicuously young and female spokespersons for fueling the substanceless war-of-position. Thus, intentionally or not, Leibovich aligns himself with the single most tired meme in American media: blame the millennials! Even when they somehow break free of their storied laziness and political apathy, they have to go and spoil the godly, dignified work of campaigning with their tweets and their irony. Meddling kids!
—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.
"Like a lingering cloud of tear gas: how do you reconcile the two Brazils?" by Grant Wahl. Sports Illustrated, February 27, 2014.
The side effects of mega-sporting events have become all too evident in recent years; forced relocation of poor people, immense corruption and even larger public debt are now foregone conclusions. However, these competitions also mute local culture by commodifying everything in their path. Grant Wahl's piece explores this phenomenon as experienced in Rio de Janeiro's legendary Maracanã stadium. Gustavo Mehl, a 30-year-old Brazilian social activist, described the old Maracanã as "a symbol of public participation in Rio" and "the most democratic space of the city" in contrats to the undemocratic, gentrified space the stadium has become. Now, corporations have exclusive license to hawk their goods; standing room for the poor has been replaced by individual seating and luxury boxes; the sale of traditional foods has been restricted in favor of Big Macs, Coca-Cola and Budweiser; and organizers' push for "more civilized" fan behavior destroys traditional forms of cheering. Aldo Rebelo, a former Communist party congressman and Brazil's current sports minister, insists that "there's a great risk that the market will eliminate the enchantment soccer holds for the people." That's quite a statement to make about Brazil, cultural epicenter of the "beautiful game."
—Laura Cremer focuses on labor, gender and the historicization of culture and politics.
“What Tender Possibilities: Two Meditations On The Oikos, Pt. 1,” by Anne Boyer. CUNY Academic Commons, March 5, 2014
I was surprised to find myself again, this week, reading and having my interest piqued by an article that aims to draw a point about contemporary gender relations out of a scholarly analysis of Ancient Greek ones. Anne Boyer's blog post is a "meditation" on Angela Mitropoulos's book Contract & Contagion: From Biopolitics to Oikonomia and is part of an ongoing project by the CUNY Graduate Center's (very interesting) "Digital Labor Working Group." What I like about this post, whose claims are hard to fully evaluate without reference to the texts it's building off of, is the broader project it takes part in: the search for ways of understanding gendered labor that neither naturalize "women's work" nor collapse it into a homogeneous notion of "labor" that obscures its unique social and economic functions. Instead it aims at a notion that, in Boyer's words, allows for "more complexity than the Arendtian conception of the private or Marxian theories about reproductive and productive labor."
—Cecilia D’Anastasio focuses on ethics, feminism, press freedom and tech.
“Who cares if it’s true?” by Marc Fisher. Columbia Journalism Review, March 3, 2014
The story begins, as it increasingly does, with BuzzFeed. The morning's topic at BuzzFeed HQ was the president's State of the Union address and how to cover it: "getting Vine video 'of when stupid stuff happens' and putting together a piece about how no one cares about the State of the Union," reports CJR's Marc Fisher in their cover story, "Who Cares If It's True?" Fisher visits newsrooms with widely divergent views on sourcing and editing, and concludes, with evident regret, "What’s news is what’s out there, whether or not it’s been checked and verified." Reporting from newsrooms, on newsrooms and (let's face it) for newsrooms, Fisher manages to state the obvious—what makes you click isn't always good for you—by substantiating this fact of life with truly entertaining anecdotes from the people behind the curtain.
—Simon Davis-Cohen focuses on self-governance, climate adaptation and science.
“Oral Argument Recap: Ohio Supreme Court Considers Home Rule in Challenge to Zoning Ordinances Restricting Drilling,” by Dan Kavouras. North America Shale Blog, February 28, 2014
This piece, written for an industry law firm’s “Shale Blog,” reports on a current Ohio Supreme Court case concerning local governments’ role in governing oil and gas drilling. The city of Munroe Falls, OH argued (see video of oral arguments) that as a home-rule city, its zoning power to determine where drilling takes place can coexist with state law regulating how drilling takes place. More generally, the city defended localities’ right to speak (pass laws) where the state is silent and guarded against “implied pre-emption.” Beck Energy, with support from the state, argued that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources unilaterally regulates oil and gas extraction in the state. Justice Pfeifer was quick to note: “I believe it’s the only department we’ve held in contempt in my tenure here.” Both sides agreed that localities have no power to outright ban drilling.
—Justine Drennan focuses on marginalized groups' relationship with technology and development.
“The Human Rights That Dictators Love,” by Pedro Pizano. Foreign Policy, February 26, 2014.
While I don't share Pizano's apparent distaste for the economic redistribution implied by some "positive" rights, I'm always interested in the tension he notes between the all-or-nothing premise of rights and the consideration of proportionality and degree that the idea of economic rights implies. If people have a right to employment counseling and paid vacation leave, two of Pizano's examples, how much of it do they have a right to? If we need to evaluate what specific amount of something would fulfill our right to it, does that undermine the idea that rights are defined by universality and indivisibility? Of course, traditional "negative" rights or "freedoms from" also must be weighed against each other—and perhaps the common insistence that negative rights are more clear-cut goes to Pizano's point about how easily supposedly universal rights talk lends itself to politicization.
—Corinne Grinapol focuses on education and international relations/national security.
"The Two Worlds of Vladimir Putin," by Amy Knight. The Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2000.
By the time events in Ukraine reach their dénouement, at least half of the think pieces, blog posts, analyses and projections you will have read about Russia, Ukraine and Crimea—many of them written with forceful certainty—will be wrong. That is why this week, I'm looking at a piece from 2000 that got it right. Prescient is the term often applied to such work, but really, it's usually the product of good scholarship, strong subject knowledge or deep reporting.
Writing in the Spring 2000 issue of The Wilson Quarterly, just as Putin assumed leadership of Russia, historian and former Wilson Center scholar Amy Knight offers a warning about the dangers of building foreign policy around the idea of Putin as “someone we can do business with.” She ends with a line that reverberates, fourteen years later: "The fact that almost a decade after the collapse of the Soviet system in 1991 someone like Putin could rise to the top of the political leadership in Russia is a grim reminder that the legacies of police states die hard."
—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.
“Open-Sourcing a Treatment for Cancer,” by Gary Marcus. The New Yorker, February 27, 2014.
Be prepared to feel like a massive under-achiever: before she's even graduated from high school, Elana Simonton has helped to conduct new research on fibromellar hepatocellular carcinoma, a rare form of liver cancer she was diagnosed with at age twelve—and she's done it in an innovative way. By compiling data from patients at different healthcare centers, Simonton helped to pinpoint a common gene mutation found in fifteen fibromellar patients, which could aid more precise diagnosis. The research also found genes that become active in fibromellar, which could act as potential targets for treatment.
Simonton's use of multiple data sources is radical in its simplicity: there is often a dearth of research on rare diseases, given that there aren't many patients out there, and moreover competing doctors and health centers don't want to share data with each other. By bringing multiple patients together from across sites, Simonton was able to see trends that are otherwise missed. Her research, and other "open-access" tools that push back against a cult of secrecy surrounding scientific and research data, should become the norm, rather than the exception, in order to catapult new research and better health outcomes.
—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.
“We do not have to live with the scourge of inequality,” by Jonathan Ostry. Financial Times, March 3, 2014
Most mainstream economists have long held that government efforts to reduce inequality come at a cost: a lower rate of economic growth. Taxing the industrious rich and granting welfare to the idle poor distorts incentives, they argued—and devised mathematical models to prove it. That such measures have a chilling effect on the economy does not necessarily mean we should forego them, the thinking went, but that there is a tradeoff to be had is undeniable. This conventional wisdom has been contested before, and to read of it in the pages of The Nation or Mother Jones would be less than shocking, but here I direct you to an article in the Financial Times. The author, an economist at the International Monetary Fund, having co-written a recent research paper on the subject, concludes rather candidly that a more redistributive tax system appears not to stunt, but to stimulate economic growth. This is good news and, after decades of folly, may indicate a welcome shift in thinking at the IMF.
—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.
"The Trigger Warned Syllabus," by Tressie McMillan Cottom. Tressiemc, March 5, 2014
Tressie McMillan Cottom, an influential writer on higher education, offers a surprising take on the question of whether college courses should offer trigger warnings on their syllabi (discussed in this article from The New Republic). Consciously refraining from entering in the debate about the use of trigger warnings, Cottom suggests that trigger warnings, a tool originally intended to help survivors of sexual assault, have become a way for universities to control what is taught and ultimately suppress "the critical canon of race, sex, gender, sexuality, colonialism, and capitalism." For Cottom, trigger warnings serve as ways for elite universities to enforce normative standards.
Read Next: intern Simon Davis-Cohen on a legislative victory for Oregon foster youth.
In February of 2013, five members of the Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC) testified before the Senate health and human services committee in defense of Senate Bill 123—mandating the adoption of an Oregon Foster Youth Bill of Rights and the hiring of a state foster youth ombudsman.
In their testimonies Zachary James Miller, Patrick Lamarr Kindred, Deedee Hartley, Royce Markley and Cain Stellings movingly detailed the consequences of foster youth being unfamiliar with their rights and feeling unsafe in speaking up in defense of themselves—making clear why the stakes were so high in the fight over SB 123.
Miller told stories of his brother being locked in a room for entire days at a time; Kindred didn’t know he was entitled to state funding to pay for clothes; Hartley was unaware she had a right to see her sister; and Markley only recently discovered his right to free legal counsel and to keep and spend money. The group argued that compiling foster youth’s rights in one place and posting them in every foster and group home in the state—as SB 123 requires—would help educate foster youth of their rights. But they also argued that a bill of rights is not enough; to protect their rights foster youth need to be able to report abuse confidentially.
SB 123 was passed in June 2013 and took effect this past New Year’s Day.
The bill’s first mandate was to establish a working group to implement the legislation. The group, comprised of representatives from OFYC, community groups, the Governor’s Office and the Oregon Department of Human Services, has drafted the Oregon Foster Youth Bill of Rights, agreed on a job description for the state foster youth ombudsman and interviewed applicants for the new job. Just hired on March 7, the ombudsman will be immediately tasked with creating a grievance procedure and setting up a private hotline.
Bills that reaffirm the rights of foster youth, like the Oregon Foster Youth Bill of Rights, have been passed before. North Carolina—in an effort led by the current and former foster youth at Strong Able Youth Speaking Out—passed a Foster Care Bill of Rights last July. The North Carolina and Oregon foster bills of rights do not introduce new rights, they acknowledge existing ones—to help educate foster children of their rights.
What differentiates the two states’ legislation is the fiscal impact of SB 123—to fund the ombudsman and grievance process. This was a major step toward a more clear—publically funded—grievance procedure for American foster youth, particularly at a time when the cutting of public child welfare services is commonplace coast to coast.
OFYC, a member of the national Foster Youth in Action network, joins Florida Youth Shine, California Youth Connection, The Mockingbird Society and other foster youth-led organizations driving public child welfare policies through their respective state legislatures—reminding us that in America the states are foster youth’s caregivers, and that they can and must act like it.
Read Next: catch up on the latest in student activism.
Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on youth organizing—from established student unions, to emerging national networks, to ad hoc campaigns that don’t yet have a name. For recent dispatches, check out January 27, February 10 and February 26. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch.
1. As Napolitano Sits, Campus Occupations Spread
On March 5, as UCLA students died-in against deportations, #not1more continued to grow and students at the largely working class Community College of San Francisco prepared further action against a potential shutdown, students at the University of California–Santa Cruz took up Berkeley’s call for escalating action against UC President and former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. Fresh off major wins for strike-ready UC service workers and Santa Cruz teaching assistants, students and workers rallied to make clear that these developments are part of a larger struggle to reclaim the university. After marching to McHenry Library, students entered the Hahn Student Services building and subsequently occupied it for eighteen hours. There, we called for Napolitano’s resignation and for workers’ ongoing demands—safer staffing, smaller classes and work for undocumented graduate students—to be met. Through daybreak on March 6, Hahn, normally a space of loans, fees and student-judicial affairs, became a site for students to strategize resistance to the dual challenges of racism and privatization.
2. As Cal State Tuition Skyrockets, Students Mass Across the State
California State University’s new tactic of adding “student success” fees on a campus-by-campus basis, a fee hike by any other name, is drawing criticism from students, faculty and editorial boards on campus and off. For a week, students at San Diego State University have been trying to meet with their president—who gained statewide notoriety in 2011 when he was awarded a 30 percent raise at the same time that a fee hike was implemented—after a rubber-stamp committee recommended fees be raised in fall 2014. Students have staged multiple sit-ins, marches and rallies on campus against the hike, decrying undemocratic decision-making and demanding a meeting with the president, who has yet to even respond to letters or e-mail via intermediaries. Leading up to the CSU Board of Trustees meeting on March 26, students at SDSU, Fullerton and Dominguez Hills, all affected by the fees, will continue building pressure.
3. High Schoolers Rally Over Shutdown
In February, LA’s Roosevelt High School Academy of Environmental & Social Policy received a letter from Superintendent John Deasy directing this small and notably successful school to join a larger campus in a new neighborhood or close down. Despite four hours of protest by parents and students outside LAUSD headquarters on February 25, nine speakers who addressed the school board this week and questionable claims of fiscal unsustainability, the community has not been able to convince the district to reconsider this decision—made without any input from students, parents or staff. We are fighting for our school because it is safe, a place where we are involved and, most importantly, to assert the importance of student voice—which the district is quick to ignore.
4. Trans* Students Win—Again
On February 24, the California Secretary of State confirmed that right-wing efforts to repeal the School Success and Opportunity Act, AB 1266, failed to qualify for the ballot. The law provides important guidance for schools to ensure that all students, including transgender students, have equal access to facilities and services. Youth, LGBT, racial justice and statewide teacher and parent organizations formed the Support All Students coalition after the law’s passage last summer, working together to educate Californians on the experiences transgender youth face in schools and how districts can support all students. The law went into effect January 1; now, youth activists are focused on local implementation. Students can start an implementation campaign in their district or support other Gay-Straight Alliance activists’ campaigns through the GSA Network Unite! campaign platform, which is also available to youth outside California.
—GSA Network of California
5. Title IX Deck Gets Stacked
On February 19, thirty-one current and former UC-Berkeley students filed two federal complaints, under Title IX and the Clery Act, citing gross administrative inaction and conduct in preventing rape, supporting survivors and punishing those who commit such acts. This follows nine months after an initial federal complaint, representing nine students, was filed. The public survivors are committed to holding the administration responsible for allowing an environment that is unsafe for survivors and fails to sanction appropriately those who commit acts of sexual violence. The movement to end sexual violence on college campuses is a nationwide issue, with several other universities, including the University of North Carolina, USC and Swarthmore, also facing potential investigations, and Northwestern students sitting-in this week.
—Aryle Butler, Iman Stenson, Sofie Karasek, Meghan Warner, Shannon Thomas and Nicoletta Commins
6. NAFTA Returns—to Silence
On March 6, the International Relations and Pacific Studies department at the University of California–San Diego held a conference titled “Mexico Moving Forward”—a convening of economists, industrial capitalists and artists, opening with a speech by Janet Napolitano, celebrating the “benefits” of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In fact, NAFTA has decimated the lives of millions in Mexico—while also sparking the rise of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional. In protest of the UC system for perpetuating neoliberal policies, and in solidarity with those who have resisted or lost their lives under NAFTA, students and community groups staged a silent march with ski masks and red and black bandanas to the building where the conference was held. The march was modeled after an action in December 2012, where Zapatistas marched in perfect silence to the center of San Cristóbal de las Casas to show that they are still present and resisting.
—San Diego Student and Community Groups Against NAFTA
On March 4, the first day of Florida’s 2014 legislative session, the Dream Defenders, alongside community allies, hosted our own State of the State address, #VisitFL, to discuss the disproportionate incarceration of youth of color; privatization of the state’s juvenile prison system; and the impact of laws that encourage violence against black and brown youth like Stand Your Ground. After the address, we marched to the fourth floor of the Florida capitol outside the doors where Governor Rick Scott was supposed to deliver his own annual address. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement demanded that we leave, but we refused. As our chants were heard in both the House and Senate chambers, a recess was called, and, for the first time in history, the governor took a secret entrance into the room. Meanwhile, some legislators offered their support. On that same morning, the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee quietly and swiftly passed CS/HB89, a so-called “warning shot” bill that would expand the Stand Your Ground defense by allowing individuals to fire warning shots when they perceive a threat, without the obligation to retreat. HB89 passed overwhelmingly less than one week after a jury in Jacksonville chose not to convict Michael Dunn for the murder of unarmed 17-year-old Jordan Davis.
Over the weekend of February 21 to 23, Generation Progress brought together young people from across the country for a first-of-its-kind #Fight4AFuture National Gun Violence Prevention Summit. Summit attendees had a range of backgrounds, from a former gang member, to a 16-year-old man who has had twenty-eight friends and family die as a result of gun violence, to the brother of a victim from Sandy Hook Elementary, to the editor-in-chief of Global Grind and representatives from the White House. Participants included Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, Jr. Newtown Action Alliance and the Georgia Gun Sense Coalition. Attendees engaged in small group discussions to develop local plans of action—and hatched plans as well for a national activist network to be announced soon.
9. When Will Obama Get It?
On March 2, 398 students, among a group of more than 1,000 protesters, were arrested in front of the White House following a two-mile march from Georgetown University. Amid chants of “We love you” and “Arrest my friends,” the students, 250 of whom were zip-tied to the White House fence, awaited arrest under freezing rain and wind—a process that lasted more than six hours. Our reason for this act of civil disobedience was simple: to make it clear to President Obama that we did not vote him into office to have environmental disaster exacerbated by the Keystone XL Pipeline, and to stress the environmental, climatic, economic, political and social consequences that would arise if the pipeline were to be approved. As we await President Obama’s decision over the coming months, activists across the country will be delivering comment cards and petitions to Washington, pressuring elected officials and ramping up direct action.
10. Who Speaks for Mass Incarceration?
This winter in West Philadelphia, FAAN Mail, a collective of young women of color, organized a screening and discussion of Orange Is the New Black, the Netflix series set in a women’s prison. Community members concerned about—and personally affected by—mass incarceration shared dialogue about the portrayal and realities of prison. Activists talked about local organizing efforts after exploring the following questions: What value, if any, does OITNB offer in the movement to end mass incarceration? What aspects of the show are realistic or fantasy? What do OITNB audiences need to know about mass incarceration?
Read Next: Tufts students react to the school's divestment decision.
This was originally published as an op-ed in the Tufts Daily and is reprinted here with permission.
“This is the year to take action on climate change. There are no more excuses,” proclaimed Jim Yong Kim, current president of the World Bank, at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos. “We can divest [from carbon-intensive assets],” he continued, saying that investing in the fossil fuel industry betrays investors’ “responsibility to future pension holders who will be affected by decisions made today.”
Less than three weeks later, Tufts University’s Board of Trustees voted to not divest from fossil fuels, citing “significant anticipated negative impact on Tufts’ endowment.”
As members of President Monaco’s Tufts Divestment Working Group, it quickly became clear to us that the group hadn't been created for “open discussion” about the possibility of divestment from fossil fuels, as Monaco claimed. Instead, it existed to generate financial models supporting the administration’s expectation that it was financially impossible.
In one of our committee meetings, Patricia Campbell, the executive vice president of our university, admitted that divestment could indeed be feasible—but it was clear to us that the administration wasn’t willing to consider the changes to Tufts’ investment strategy that divestment would entail. It was this lack of consideration given to fossil fuel divestment that colored the working group process and left us disappointed by our administration’s utter lack of good faith in its approach to the issue. In his Davos address, Kim said, “Corporate leaders should not wait to act until market signals are right and national investment policies are in place,” yet our administration continues to claim that Tufts should wait for the carbon bubble to burst before taking action.
Meanwhile, many corporate and institutional leaders are already taking leadership. Mayors of cities including Seattle, Madison and our own Somerville are pursuing divestment. Norwegian financial services firm Storebrand, which controls more than $60 billion in assets, has announced its intention to pull its investments out of coal and tar sands companies to ensure “long-term stable returns” because they know that those stocks will be “financially worthless” in the future. In January, the CEO of Google joined sixteen other managers of charitable foundations in divesting their assets from the fossil fuel industry. The list goes on.
Our administration and trustees declined to join these other institutions not because they are unintelligent or misinformed but because they are afraid. Perhaps some of our trustees are afraid to consider that the profits they have gained from their investments in fossil fuel companies have accumulated at the cost of a stable climate and human lives. We have heard both President Monaco and trustee Laurie Gabriel admit that divestment is the moral choice, but they are afraid to challenge one of the largest, most powerful industries in the history of the world. They are afraid to take leadership.
We, like so many of our fellow students, chose Tufts because we believed it was a place that valued ambitious leadership, bold innovation and active global citizenship. These are the values that Tufts promotes to us throughout its admissions process, in the classroom and ultimately, in the paths we take after graduation. We are expected to lead, make moral choices and improve our society. But the recent announcement that Tufts will not divest showed that our administration is failing to live up to its own values.
In his letter to the Tufts community, President Monaco wrote: “We are committed to meeting ambitious sustainability goals for Tufts’ operations,” and cited new projects in building energy metering and cogeneration. These are important steps, but compared to the scale and urgency of combating climate change, Tufts’ “sustainability goals” are not in any way “ambitious.”
We have seen this lack of ambition from our institution many times before. It took forty years for Tufts to create an Africana studies department. It took more than a decade to divest from apartheid South Africa. We don’t have a decade now. We do not have the luxury to be anything short of ambitious. Not when too many communities are already fighting for their lives, for clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and food to eat. Not when the fossil fuel industry imperils our generation’s ability to live, work and raise children in a stable and just world.
The student body showed its support for divestment last semester in a referendum. We know that we, the student body, have the moral clarity and ambition that our administration has failed to show. Tufts will not change unless we fight for that change. So we ask that as this campaign moves forward, you stand with us to make Tufts a place that we can be proud of, for the sake of our future.
Read Next: Will Yale make the same decision on fossil fuel divestment as Tufts?
This article was originally published in the student-run Daily Cal.
The hours burned by as Anuraag Kumar scurried around California Memorial Stadium with hot summer rays beating on his back. But instead of a football, the UC Berkeley sophomore was carrying medical supplies.For about thirty hours every week during the summer 2013 football training camp, Kumar set up equipment and assisted physicians as a Cal Athletics intern. It’s an invaluable experience for a premedical student, he said, but there was one catch: it was unpaid. “It’s pretty exhausting,” Kumar said. “It’s difficult to work so many hours a week unpaid and still find time for a paid opportunity.”
Combating competition and economic decline, college students are increasingly struggling to find work and take on unpaid internships. The ubiquity of the latter follows the economy’s shift in the past few decades toward more casual employment, said Katie Quan, the associate chair of UC Berkeley Labor Center.
“It’s very hard to find a paid internship that will also give you experience for med school,” Kumar said. “Not doing them puts you at a disadvantage.”
Despite their prevalence, unpaid interns are not protected in the same way as paid employees are, leaving room for potential exploitation. California State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, introduced a bill in January that would give unpaid interns the same protections from discrimination and sexual harassment as paid employees. The bill, currently in committee, came in response to a New York federal judge’s ruling last fall that a Syracuse University student could not sue the company where she was an unpaid intern for sexual harassment because she did not count as an employee. “The recession has forced young people to rely on these unpaid positions to build resumes and contacts,” Skinner said in a statement. “Employers owe them a safe and fair workplace.”
Unpaid internships dominated headlines last summer after unpaid interns sued a number of high-profile companies including NBC Universal, Sony and Condé Nast, claiming they suffered minimum wage violations from not being assigned different jobs than paid employees and not receiving training in an educational environment—two of the requirements for unpaid workers set by the US Department of Labor. The wave of suits provoked discussion not only about the lack of legal protection for interns but, more importantly, the value of unpaid internships.
Many students still see unpaid internships as necessary to break into certain industries, particularly nontechnical fields such as government and media, where paid opportunities can be scarce. Anna Shen, a UC Berkeley senior majoring in political science, started interning—unpaid—for a Berkeley City Council member last fall, bolstering her interest in working in the public sector. “Even in freshman year, everyone was getting internships,” Shen said. “The expectation was if you don’t get an internship by junior year, you have nothing to show when you graduate, and you won’t get hired.”
Nationwide, about 48 percent of internships taken by seniors graduating in 2013 were unpaid, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. But as no system exists at the state or federal level to specifically regulate unpaid internships, some students learn practical skills at their internship while others perform less meaningful labor.
“The purpose of unpaid internships should be to give young people a chance to sample certain kinds of work,” said Robert Reich, a UC Berkeley public policy professor and former US secretary of labor. “All too often, employers view unpaid interns as free help to do menial tasks.”
Unpaid internships are often infeasible for students who lack the luxury to forgo a paid opportunity to pursue an internship in their field of interest. “An unpaid internship can take away from time [students] need for studying, working and paying their expenses here at Cal,” said Julian Ledesma, interim director of the campus Educational Opportunity Program, citing the myriad challenges low-income and first-generation college students face. Still, Ledesma said while internships are important, students often gain professional skills through other activities such as research.
A 2013 NACE survey found that 37 percent of college seniors with unpaid internship experience received at least one job offer—only 1 percent higher than those with no experience. Students with no experience also had a higher median starting salary than those who took unpaid internships. In contrast, the study found that the percent of surveyed students who had taken paid internships and received at least one job offer was about 63 percent and their median starting salary was significantly higher, although the research did not take into account factors such as the types of jobs to which students applied.
To legitimize unpaid internships, many companies require students to receive academic credit for participating. At UC Berkeley, there is no campus-wide oversight of academic internships, although many departments follow Career Center guidelines. The center also recently said that it will approve a new option to receive internship credit through an online summer course via ISF 187. Typically, students can receive credit from their department if the internship directly relates to their major and they complete a project pertaining to it. “[Internships] allow students to explore a particular career option,” said Tyler Stovall, the dean of the undergraduate division at UC Berkeley’s College of Letters and Science.
For international students, the internship process is even tougher. To work legally, they must be authorized by special federal work permission—but only if their degree requires an internship, or if they’re taking a course or a project based on an internship. From last summer to this spring, UC Berkeley’s English and media studies departments each gave twenty-four undergraduate students academic credit for internships. Political science gave seven. In that period, 408 international students were authorized to take internships. The campus does not keep track of whether internships are paid or unpaid. In contrast, the majority of internships in electrical engineering and computer science are paid, said Christopher Hunn, an academic counselor for computer science.
Still working his unpaid internship on the field between classes, Kumar also has a paid job as a part-time tutor. It’s a balancing act, he says, to juggle an internship, a job and a full course load. But Kumar sees his internship as an investment towards his future. “I’d love to get a paid internship, but to gain that I need the right experience,” Kumar said. “I’m lucky my parents are willing to help out [financially]—a lot of people aren’t that fortunate.”
Read Next: check out this week’s Nation intern article picks.
—Samuel Adler-Bell focuses on labor, mass incarceration, literature and film.
“Diary: Get Off the Bus,” by Rebecca Solnit. London Review of Books, February 20, 2014
Rebecca Solnit reports on the intensifying conflict between lower-income San Francisco residents and the youngish Silicon Valley gentry who’ve been migrating to (read colonizing) their city over the past decade. My favorite anecdote describes an unofficial “Beddazzle a Tech Bus” competition, hosted by a Mission District blog. The winning design—theoretically intended to beautify the austere, white, window-tinted coaches that shuttle tech workers from SF to their lavish campuses down the peninsula—features a Google Street View photo of the Clarion Alley murals, a colorful palimpsest of radical iconography and slogans, painted by local artists and community groups. If Google actually adopts the design, the resulting bus will perfectly embody the Silicon Valley ethos: an elite neo-liberal project, benefiting a very tiny fraction of the population, cloaked in the cosmetic trappings of countercultural rebellion. Get off the bus indeed.
—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.
“Is Venezuela Burning?” by Mike Gonzalez. Jacobin, February 25, 2014
As antigovernment protests in Venezuela capture the world’s attention, Mike Gonzalez provides a wonderful socialist take on the situation for Jacobin. For Gonzalez, there are many reasons that the protests have erupted. The objects of the protesters’ aggression demonstrate the obvious class character of the demonstrations: protesters have burned some of Venezuela’s new buses, attacked Cuban medical personnel in the country and have attempted to invade Bolivarian University, which provides free higher education to the poor. However, to focus solely on the sharp class divides in Venezuela is to miss the bigger picture. To the dissatisfaction of many, rampant corruption, speculation and inflation have wrecked Venezuela’s economy. The new Venezuelan bureaucratic class, “wearing the obligatory red shirt and cap of Chavismo,” are much to blame for this situation. They are “the speculators and owners of this new and failing economy,” writes Gonzalez, and they have enriched themselves while “institutions of popular power have largely withered on the vine.” Gonzalez’s solution is to deepen the Bolivarian revolution. This would require the dismissal of corrupt bureaucrats, the removal of speculators and expansion of participatory democracy. Sounds like a good strategy, and not just for Venezuela!
—Laura Cremer focuses on labor, gender and the historicization of culture and politics.
“Cult-like, corrupt and Christian conservative: Inside the campus group creating Walmart managers,” by Josh Eidelson. Salon, February 26, 2014
A fascinating book published several years ago by historian Nelson Lichtenstein introduced me to the complex and bizarre ideological apparatus behind Walmart: the corporation employs incredibly sophisticated strategies of social and emotional manipulation. All corporations dabble in emotional manipulation in the realm of advertising, of course, but outsiders don’t always realize that workers are often subject to the same tactics. Josh Eidelson’s interview with Curtis DeBerg, which mentions Lichtenstein’s book (The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business) expands our understanding of who is systematically manipulated by Walmart to include college students and teachers participating in the “enterpreneurship” competitions it quietly funds, even if the similarity between beleaguered business professors and actual employees can certainly be overstated. So can the uniqueness of Walmart—its practices are of course mirrored in kind, if not in scale, elsewhere.
—Cecilia D’Anastasio focuses on ethics, feminism, press freedom and tech.
“Why Study Philosophy? ‘To Challenge Your Own Point of View,’” interview with Rebecca Goldstein by Hope Reese. The Atlantic, February 27, 2014
I’m often disappointed by philosophers purporting to defend the field of philosophy and, inevitably, showcasing its frivolousness by harping on the importance of “knowing our place in the universe” and “debating the existence of free will”—not that these questions aren’t interesting. As emphasis is increasingly placed (by whom, even?) on the “practical education,” the study of philosophy seems more and more the residue left over from a more financially secure era. The Atlantic interviews philosopher Rebecca Goldstein, author of Plato at the Googleplex, whose vested interest is in preserving the integrity of her field. At many points in the interview, Goldstein appears to be an apologist, tossing off justifications for ethical studies only relevant to the bourgeoisie who sip tea with their pinkies out. But in arguing that “there’s a lot of philosophical progress, it’s just a progress that’s very hard to see. It’s very hard to see because we see with it,” Goldstein redeems ethics as a soil rich for fueling equal rights movements and activism.
—Simon Davis-Cohen focuses on self-governance, climate adaptation and science.
“The Third Party That’s Winning,” by Sarah Jaffe. In These Times, March 3, 2014
For those interested in alternatives to the two-party system, a working understanding of the Working Families Party (WFP)—oft-mentioned on TheNation.com—is indispensable. Jaffe offers a comprehensive look at how the party got started, its impacts across the country and its nimble tactics. The WFP’s work within and around fusion voting systems and its blurring of formal and informal political institutions offer many lessons learned. For more on emerging political parties check out Andy Kroll’s recent Mother Jones feature on Minnesota’s Democratic Farmer Labor Party and look into the rise of Net parties.
—Justine Drennan focuses on marginalized groups’ relationship with technology and development.
“Rumours and ‘Fake’ Photos Prompt Calls for Responsible Social Media in Venezuela,” by Adriana Gutiérrez, translated by Victoria Robertson. Global Voices, February 19, 2014
Social media users have become an important force in popular organizing and information-sharing, but can they also successfully organize to mediate their own risk of promoting harmful misinformation? That risk was evident with the Boston bomber witch hunt on Reddit last year, and this piece in Global Voices—a site that itself builds many stories around social media reactions—looks at responses to inaccurate citizen journalism on both sides of the tensions in Venezuela. It quotes a parody of a zealous tweep: “It was a terrible picture: a police officer with a black uniform that I had never seen in Venezuela mistreating a student in a street that clearly wasn’t here…. I couldn’t resist, I had to retweet and share it with the world.” But the piece also offers hope for learning and dialogue, noting efforts—many by fellow social-media users—to instruct and empower netizens with the principles of fact-based reporting.
—Corinne Grinapol focuses on education and international relations/national security.
“Calculating Coups: Can Data Stop Disasters?” by Peter Dörrie. Think Africa Press, February 20, 2014
In the age of the quants, the reach of quantitative data spreads far. Here, in Peter Dörrie’s piece on political forecaster and academic Jay Ulfelder, it is being used to predict coups. Ulfelder’s data analysis has been pretty impressive, with Mali, the Central African Republic and Sudan all making it on to Ulfelder’s list before conflicts there broke out.
The role of statistical analysis and forecasting models has had a growing influence on political science, at times set antagonistically against on-the-ground interpretation of issues. Quantitative data is important, but how much of a role should it have in how we understand and study the world? In this case, it’s important to remember that it’s one way of looking at conflict, not the way.
—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.
“Health Centers See Threat From ‘Private Option’ Medicaid,” by Phil Galewitz. Kaiser Health News, February 21, 2014
The problem with Republican governors pushing a “private option” Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act isn’t just political, it may also have a huge impact on how much funding health centers receive. Take Arkansas, which is using money from the federal government meant to expand Medicaid to place people on private plans instead (Utah and New Hampshire are considering doing the same). Doing so allows states and the politicians who run them to ideologically push back against expanding public programs, while still assisting lower-income citizens and boosting the private insurance sector. But there’s more than ideology on the line here: given that federal law requires higher reimbursements to health centers than what private insurers pay, health centers traditionally reliant on Medicaid reimbursements are seeing per patient funding slashed in half, threatening the overall strength and sustainability of the public healthcare system. (Pennsylvania and Iowa also use the “private option,” but require reimbursements at normal Medicaid rates.)
—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.
“We need money for aid. So let’s print it,” by Michael Metcalfe. TED, February 2014
Economist Michael Metcalfe is pushing a seemingly implausible solution to worldwide chronic aid shortages: just print the money. At this you can almost hear some some crotchety undergraduate economics professor muttering to himself, “What nonsense… increasing the money supply like that would trigger inflation!” Not necessarily, Metcalfe argues, recall what happened when, in order to save the financial system, the central banks of the US, UK and Japan created $3.7 trillion out of thin air… Nothing, as it turned out; the general level of prices for goods and services in these economies did not skyrocket. So, Metcalfe asks, if we can defy the sanctity of the money supply to protect the financial assets of the global elite, then why not in the service of a more noble objective?
—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.
“The Bane and the Boon of For-Profit Colleges,” by Eduardo Porter. The New York Times, February 25, 2014
In this article from the NYT, Eduardo Porter offers a reexamination of an often-maligned sector of higher education, for-profit universities. Many of the recent debates about the role of higher education come to the fore in his discussion: what’s the value of a college degree? Is everyone entitled to one? What should be the role of trade schools? The controversy around for-college universities, Porter shows, is ultimately indicative of the larger failure of higher education to provide access to higher education for everyone who’s looking for it.
Read Next: Aryeh Younger on Swarthmore’s Open Hillel, the first in the country.
On December 8, 2013, after months of internal debate, a group of Jewish students at Swarthmore College voted unanimously to declare its Hillel an “Open Hillel,” making it the first Hillel center officially willing to partner with organizations and students regardless of their opinions about Israel and Zionism. Swarthmore’s decision to come out as an Open Hillel took many older members of the Jewish community by surprise.
Despite Swarthmore’s small size, its unexpected declaration has brought the Open Hillel movement to the national stage. Until now, most Jewish college students assumed that open dialogue on Israel was a taboo topic in Hillel—Swarthmore debunked that myth.
Swarthmore’s Hillel is part of Hillel International, the umbrella organization that has a presence on hundreds of college campuses around the world. Self-described as the “foundation for Jewish campus life,” its community centers aim to provide Jewish college students of all religious stripes a place to worship, socialize and engage with Jewish culture on campus.
But as much as Hillel should be applauded for its commitment to religious pluralism within the Jewish community, it remains ideologically monolithic on one highly charged political topic: Israel. According to Eric Fingerhut, a former US congressman and the current president of Hillel International, Hillel draws the line when it comes to partnering with groups or individuals who identify as “anti-Zionist” or who support boycotts against the Jewish state. “Let me be very clear,” he wrote in a letter addressed to the communications director of Swarthmore Hillel’s student board, “‘anti-Zionists’ will not be permitted to speak using the Hillel name or under the Hillel roof, under any circumstances.” By declaring themselves an Open Hillel, the board of Swarthmore’s Hillel openly defied Hillel policy.
The idea of Open Hillel was first introduced by Jewish college students at Harvard after an event planned at Harvard’s Hillel was cancelled by the local Hillel director amid pressure from local Jewish sponsors. The sponsors argued that the planned event violated Hillel International’s policies by partnering with a student organization that supported boycotts against Israel. Many Harvard students were surprised—and outraged—after hearing about the cancellation, and several of those students went on to create the Open Hillel movement. “We seek to change the ‘standards for partnership’ in Hillel International’s guidelines, which exclude certain groups from Hillel based on their political views on Israel,” reads the “About” page on Open Hillel’s website.
As someone who believes in Open Hillel’s campaign to promote free speech at Hillel, I find it exciting to see that it now draws support from college students around the country. Emily Unger, a co-founder of Open Hillel and a former student at Harvard, says that the movement already has recruited activists from all around the country. “Students from more than a dozen schools are actively part of our leadership,” she says. These activists have, in addition to lobbying other campus Hillels to become Open, written letters to Hillel’s president urging him to change Hillel International’s official policies.
As Open Hillel works on adding more colleges to the movement, evidence points to its growing popularity in the younger Jewish community. The Open Hillel website features a petition with more than a thousand signatures. “We have supporters from across the political spectrum—Zionist, non-Zionist, anti-Zionist,” Unger mentions. “Shockingly, we’ve received very little negative feedback—there have been two or three pieces of hate mail, but almost all the emails we’ve received have been supportive,” she says.
Since Swarthmore’s December declaration, a raging debate has taken place in the American Jewish community about the way it approaches discussion on Israel and Palestine. Many younger Jews coast to coast believe that the Jewish community must fight to promote open dialogue, but some Jewish college students are concerned about formally declaring their Hillels to be open. “It’s hard to convince student boards at Hillels to come out as open, even when those individual students support Open Hillel,” says Ben Winter, a former student at Yeshiva University and an Open Hillel supporter who has recently tried recruiting students at universities in Ohio. “They’re afraid of losing funding from Hillel International.”
Although Hillel International has not yet decided to cut off funding to Swarthmore, it is quite likely that it will, especially if it hosts the type of event that violates Hillel International’s policies. That shouldn’t be a major problem for Swarthmore Hillel, which receives most of its funding independent from Hillel International, but other schools, dependent on the umbrella organization, face a greater potential financial loss by becoming open. In spite of this, Vassar College followed in Swarthmore’s footsteps last week when the Hillel-affiliated Vassar Jewish Union became the second Open Hillel in the country.
As Swarthmore’s Open Hillel continues to operate under its new free-speech guidelines, Jewish college students across the nation will monitor its success. There’s already evidence that Swarthmore’s more inclusive model is attractive to students: more students than ever before have been attending its Sabbath services. According to Swarthmore board member Josh Wolfsun, Swarthmore would like to keep the Hillel brand name. “We do not want to disaffiliate from Hillel International—we want to challenge the organization to be better,” he says. In fact, in response to the apparent widespread support for Open Hillel, Hillel’s Fingerhut recently agreed that Hillel International must re-evaluate its Israel guidelines.
However, it’s going to take more than words to convince the folks at Open Hillel that Hillel International is actually prepared to shift its stance on the Israel debate. And until the organization formally ends its discriminatory policies, this group of Jewish activists will continue to lobby hard in support of open dialogue.
Read Next: Student activists prepare for a Keystone XL protest in Washington.
This article was originally published in the student-run Yale Daily News.
This past weekend, the two highest university bodies on investor action met to formally discuss the possibility of Yale’s divestment from fossil fuels.
The Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR), which is made up of eight professors, students and alumni and evaluates ethical issues surrounding the university’s investments, raised the arguments for and against divestment before the Yale Corporation Committee on Investor Responsibility on Saturday in a confidential meeting. The ACIR was charged with recommending whether or not Yale should restrict its investments in fossil fuel companies. Though the results of the meeting have not been released, the CCIR has the final authority to direct the Yale Investments Office on the issue of divestment and is expected to present a decision soon.
“I know that [the trustees] take Yale’s leadership around climate change seriously,” said Yonatan Landau SOM ’15, a member of the student divestment advocacy group Fossil Free Yale. “With continued support from the broader Yale community, I hope they will see that they can safely take a major step forward in leading the world away from disastrous climate change.”
Landau said he knows Yale Corporation members are aware of a 2013 study published by the University of Oxford demonstrating that divestment campaigns have the potential to impact fossil fuel companies and government legislation.
Last month, Fossil Free Yale, the student group that has led the charge for divestment on campus in recent months, presented its case to members of the ACIR. During that meeting, ACIR chair and Yale Law School professor Jonathan Macey said Fossil Free Yale and the ACIR would work together to send letters to companies involved in manufacturing fossil fuels and ask them to disclose the environmental impact of their activities.
In a campus-wide referendum held in November 2013 by the Yale College Council that saw responses from over half of the undergraduate population, 83 percent of voters favored divestment.
The three members of the CCIR—Neal Leonard Keny-Guyer SOM ’82, Catharine Bond Hill GRD ’85 and Paul Joskow GRD ’72—could not be reached for comment. Macey also could not be reached for comment.
While University President Peter Salovey said corporation discussions are confidential, he added that the conversation between the ACIR and the CCIR this weekend was “robust” and that both committees are dedicated to the principles described in the “Ethical Investor”—a 1972 book that describes Yale’s ethical investing guidelines.
In the meantime, Gabe Rissman ’16, the policy coordinator of Fossil Free Yale, said the ACIR is working on a letter to companies asking them to release data on the emissions they generate relative to their energy production. Knowledge of this figure could give Yale an empirical estimate of each company’s impact on the climate, members of Fossil Free Yale said last month. Of the 200 largest coal, oil and gas companies, only 10 percent already report the metric.
The group hopes the university will decide to divest from the companies that do not comply with the disclosure request, Gabe Levine ’14, another Fossil Free Yale member, said last month.
In January 2014, the Yale College Council said it was engaging senior Yale administrators in the discussion over fossil fuel divestment.
Read Next: Get caught up with the latest roundup of student activism from across the country.