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StudentNation

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

Students Protest Napolitano, Occupy Michigan and Strike With Faculty

Napolitano

Students assemble at UC-Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza. (Photo: StudentNation)

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 and February 10. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch.

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

1. As Napolitano Hits Berkeley, Hundreds Mass, Eleven Occupy

On Thursday, February 13, hundreds of students came out to protest University of California President Janet Napolitano at Berkeley during her “listening and learning” tour. The action, organized by the Students of Color Solidarity Coalition, started with a rally at Sproul Plaza, followed by a campus march to receive students who walked out of a meeting with Napolitano in Sutardja Dai Hall. Meanwhile, a group of eleven students occupied the Blum Center to bring visibility to regent Richard Blum, a central figure in selecting Napolitano and pushing for the privatization of the UC system. The SCSC opposes Napolitano’s appointment as president on the grounds that she oversaw human rights violations as secretary of homeland security—she created the Secure Communities program, which has terrorized, incarcerated and deported almost 2 million migrants—and because of the undemocratic process through which the regents selected her, not to mention her lack of experience in education policy and administration. The events of February 13 have opened cross-university organizing opportunities and brought national attention to the critics of Napolitano’s appointment.

—Students of Color Solidarity Coalition

2. As Michigan Sits on Racial Justice, 1,000 Take the Library

On February 18, more than 1,000 students, faculty, staff and community members gathered in the University of Michigan’s undergraduate library for an all-night speakout to protest low under-represented minority enrollment and the poor racial climate on campus. Mobilized by the #BBUM twitter campaign and demands issued to the administration on MLK Day, the United Coalition for Racial Justice launched the speakout to push for a presidential commitment to diversity and inclusion not seen since the Michigan Mandate of the 1990s. Through eight teach-in sessions, the event sought to showcase grassroots solutions to enrollment, climate and other issues of race on campus. A surprise guest, former president James Duderstadt, pointed to the loss of leadership and commitment to diversity in the past several administrations, and the keynote speaker, historian and activist Barbara Ransby, called for students to continue to be the “conscience of this institution,” whose 4 percent black enrollment she called “utterly inexcusable.”

—United Coalition for Racial Justice

3. Greensboro Storms Out

On February 19, outraged over the latest evisceration of the academic budget, more than 500 University of North Carolina–Greensboro students, faculty and community members assembled at the center of campus to protest the blatant corporate pandering engaged in by university decision makers. As students work multiple jobs because of rising tuition costs, administrators decided to build a $91 million recreation center—further increasing the cost of attendance. Meanwhile, enrollment continues to drop as a result of the rising costs and declining quality of education. Students’ demands are simple: fund academics and clear out corporate leadership. The next day, student voices forced a board of trustees meeting into adjournment. Students from the rally have agreed to meet weekly to coordinate continuous pressure on university and state officials.

—Hannah Mendoza and Juan Miranda

4. Philly Fills the Rotunda

On February 12, students from Philadelphia filled the capitol in Harrisburg to protest the state’s prioritization of prison expansion over education. Students from Youth United for Change and the Philadelphia Student Union loaded buses alongside Decarcerate PA and other groups to Harrisburg. I was among a number of speakers who gave testimony about the school-to-prison pipeline, the need for human rights for inmates and the lies of the Department of Corrections. Over the past two years, YUC has won major changes, including the promise of no school closures in 2014 and, with the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools, a discipline matrix for the city’s student conduct code, replacing zero tolerance policies. We are currently organizing to change the MOU between the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Police Department to decrease the rate of arrests in schools, and are also part of an attendance awareness media campaign in which we talk to young people about staying engaged in schools and avoiding the pipeline. Across the city, students are being arrested, stopped and searched, and treated like they are criminals in and on their way to school. What’s the point of school if you feel like you’re in jail?

—Marquise Warfield

5. At UIC, Students Strike With Faculty

On February 18, 1,100 faculty members at the University of Illinois–Chicago went on a two-day strike, the first in UIC’s history. After sixteen months of failed negotiations over increased wages, shared governance and increases in hiring, faculty decided to escalate. Students, campus workers and other members of the Campus Worker and Student Coalition marched in solidarity, affirming our collective vision, which includes lowering tuition and paying campus workers a living wage. A petition from United Students Against Sweatshops Local 15 garnered 2,300 signatures from supporters across the region. The cross-issue, intergenerational demonstrations of solidarity represented the deepening and expansion of a movement that is resisting the corporatization of UIC and rethinking how UIC serves the metro region.

—Martin Macias Jr.

6. At UC, the Strike Waters Tremble—Again

At the University of California, food service, maintenance, transportation and patient care workers, represented by AFSCME 3299, are gearing up for a five-day strike, their third in a year. The workers will push for a pay raise to meet the rising cost of living in California, safe staffing levels to combat the 20 percent increase in workplace injuries over the past five years, and job security in the face of massive staff reductions. In solidarity with the workers, students are organizing boycotts of dining commons and asking professors to teach off campus and focus their lectures on issues related to campus worker struggles. Throughout the UC system, we have drawn links between the fight for worker rights and the ongoing campaign to force former Secretary of Homeland Security and current UC President Janet Napolitano to resign. In addition to refusing to address the needs of campus workers, Napolitano represents the twin ideologies of privatization and militarization that have threatened the livelihoods of students and workers across the system by creating an atmosphere of fear and inaccessibility for those whom it is intended to serve.

—Student Worker Coalition at UC Berkeley

7. The Paid Labor Fix

In spring 2013, students at New York University started a petition calling on NYU’s Wasserman Career Center to remove postings for unpaid internships that violate Department of Labor guidelines. This was the first petition holding a university accountable for promoting this legally questionable labor practice. Within weeks, the petition garnered more than 1,100 signatures from students, professors and supporters, and gained the attention of Wasserman representatives. As one of the petition organizers, I met with NYU officials over the summer to negotiate changes to NYU’s internship posting policy. This semester, in a landmark move, NYU decided to implement major changes to its internship site, including the creation of a screening process that requires employers to confirm that their internship abides by DOL standards before posting to the career site. We are now working with students at other universities to start similar initiatives at their campuses.

—Christina Isnardi

8. The “Diversification” of American Empire

In Fall 2013, the ROTC program returned to the City University of New York’s City College, Medgar Evers College, and York College, after being kicked out in 1971. Following recent CUNY struggles against David Petraeus’s teaching appointment, the Morales/Shakur Center’s eviction and a proposed “Policy on Expressive Conduct” to stifle free speech, efforts to re-remove ROTC are intensifying. On February 19, 100 CUNY students, faculty, staff and community members gathered at a Medgar Evers town hall to hear anti-war veterans and audience participants debate pro-ROTC speakers on their predatory aim to “diversify” imperialism at the nation’s largest urban university, whose students are mostly working-class women of color. On February 24, the college’s highest governing body voted by majority to remove ROTC, an important victory against CUNY’s turn towards militarization.

—Conor Tomás Reed

9. #AffordToDream

On February 22 and 23, ten leaders from Connecticut Students for a DREAM, a statewide network of undocumented students, families and allies, attended United We Dream’s fifth National Congress in Phoenix. Back home in Connecticut, undocumented students are currently fighting for tuition equity. While Governor Malloy signed an in-state tuition bill in 2011, in part due to organizing by C4D, tuition costs still remain a major barrier for those who are undocumented, like me. Under Connecticut statutes, 15 percent of tuition revenue must go back to students in the form of need-based aid. Even though undocumented students pay standard tuition, they do not have access to state or federal aid, which is calculated using the FAFSA, which they cannot fill out. The state’s Board of Regents has the power to fix this by expanding the ways that need is calculated. This spring, our Afford to Dream campaign aims to make this change happen.

—Danilo Machado

10. #ResistTFA

On the night of February 17, just days before the final Teach for America application deadline, Students United for Public Education hosted a #ResistTFA twitter chat as part of our Students Resisting Teach for America campaign. The goal was to highlight critical views and elevate the conversation around TFA. Within an hour, #ResistTFA was the #1 trending topic in America and it stayed there throughout the night. Hundreds of students, teachers, parents and TFA alumni shared opinions, experiences and articles about TFA and discussed their reasons for resisting—from TFA’s inadequate five-week training, to its connection with corporate education reform, to proposals for better models than TFA. This spring, we will be continuing our campaign on various campuses by holding teach-ins and panels.

—Students United for Public Education

11. Southern Queer Power

Concerned that the unique struggles of organizing in the South are overlooked by the majority of movement spaces, students at the University of Richmond have established a partnership between the university’s Office of Common Ground, Q-Community, Student Alliance for Sexual Diversity, Southerners On New Ground and ROSMY to offer queer youth leaders across the South a new opportunity to connect and build power. The result, the March 22 Queer Summit, will be a gathering dedicated to queer youth movement-building, skill-sharing and best-practices development, led by those under 25. Of particular focus are ways that power structures continue to trivialize our youth experiences; the Q-Summit will build power through DIY self-care workshops, caucuses among traditionally marginalized communities within our queer family, and leveraging collective voice within universities, religious denominations, academic disciplines and communities.

—Erik Lampmann

12. New Student Unionism

On February 7, more than thirty students from across Vermont gathered for the first ever Vermont Student Power Conference and voted to combine separate campus organizations into one unified organization, the Vermont Student Union. Devoted to a democratic system that works to advocate for both student and workers’ rights on all campuses, the VSU is fighting for transparency of administrative spending, support for a living wage and benefits for all Vermonters and more student voice in university decision making. This spring, the VSU is launching a “Meet Us Halfway” campaign, directed to state legislators who are ignoring crucial legislation that would require the state to fund fifty percent or more of the overall Vermont State College budget. They are currently supporting only 14 percent of the overall budget; the rest comes from student tuition.

—Elisabeth Beatty-Owens

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13. Will Cal State Get Away With Unprecedented Fee Hikes?

At Sonoma State University, San Diego State University, Cal State–Fullerton and Cal State–Dominguez Hills, students are fighting mandatory, campus-based “Student Success Fee” hikes of up to 77 percent. This new breed of fee hikes utilizes a divide-and-hike tactic—introducing fees campus by campus, obscuring what is in reality a systemwide hike. Administrators sell the fees with promises of additional classes and faculty hires, omitting that most financial aid packages don’t cover this classification of fees and pose an extra financial burden on students. They also fail to mention that the current student forums are only one method allowed for implementing them—with the alternate being a democratic referendum vote by the student body. In light of successful, statewide student mobilizations against fee increases less than two years ago, administrators fear that students could vote them down. On February 19, students at Sonoma State successfully overturned them, with the other campuses planning coordinated actions for March.

—Student Committee to Reclaim the People’s University

14. What's Next for CSULA’s Ethnic Studies?

On February 11, after shutting it down a week earlier, students at California State University–Los Angeles took over the academic senate to prevent it from voting down Ethnic Studies as a generational education requirement. On February 25, faculty voted in students' favor. (Video: CSULA EthnicStudies)

—CSULA Ethnic Studies Coalition

15. The Anti-Napolitano Generation

On February 13, Oakland youth joined Berkeley students to protest UC President Janet Napolitano. (Video: StudentNation)

—67 Sueños

 

Read Next: Nathalie Baptiste on immigration and brain drain.

Young Activists to Risk Arrest During Keystone XL Protest

Keystone Protest

Demonstrators gather during a protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline outside the White House on Sunday, November 6, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

On March 2 I will risk arrest in front of the White House alongside hundreds of other young people from across the country. Our plan is to enact a theatrical human oil spill in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience to protest the Keystone XL pipeline.

Youth and students around the country are mobilizing, preparing to return to the White House to demand action in what could be the most crucial environmental decision of Obama’s presidency: the approval or rejection of Keystone XL.

As young people, we’ll be living with the results of this decision for the rest of our lives. Science and basic math have shown time and again that Keystone XL and the exploitation of the Alberta tar sands will have serious climate ramifications for our country and the entire planet. The State Department’s environmental impact study on the pipeline shows that all emission scenarios in which the Keystone XL is approved put us on a path to warming of more than six degrees C (11 F). This would put thousands of US cities and counties—and the homes of millions of Americans—underwater. The negative health and economic consequences of the pipeline are also well documented.

We have and will continue to employ every peaceful and legal channel available to us to stop this pipeline. We’ve issued public comments. We’ve petitioned. We’ve rallied. We’ve lobbied our politicians (though we were outspent thirty-five to one). We’ve cast votes for climate champions who opposed the pipeline. But it has not been enough to make our leaders to commit to real climate action. With lives already impacted and our future on the line, we feel we have no choice but to escalate.

The fight over this pipeline has been going on for years. It began with courageous resistance to tar sands exploitation by indigenous groups like the Beaver Lake Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations—living at ground zero of tar sands development—and communities on the frontlines of this fight in places like Manchester and Houston and along the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, the site of a 2010 tar sands spill that still hasn’t been cleaned.

These predominantly low-income communities of color have had their water contaminated beyond potability and their air polluted with nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. These commuities have disproportionately high rates of asthma, and their residents suffer rare forms of cancer associated with tar sands pollution. They are fighting back to defend their health, their land, their water and their homes. It’s important that those of us with privilege—including basic privileges like safe water, breathable air and livable communities—join in this fight.

We are all indebted to these communities for their leadership in fighting Keystone XL and fossil fuel expansion. We young people are determined to play our role, too. We are here in solidarity with our allies, whose lives and livelihoods are on the line, and who have taken far greater risks than this to defend their communities. We will do everything we can to protect the land and people we love.

Ultimately, the Keystone XL decision lies in the hands of the Obama administration, which at last has an opportunity to match rhetoric with action. As youth, we turned out for President Obama in both elections. Our vote decided the outcome in pivotal swing states that include Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. We chose to elect a president who would protect us from a future of climate chaos.

I believed the president when he said, “We want our children to live in an America…that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” I trusted him to appoint climate-conscious officials like Secretary Kerry, who in a speech last week called climate change the “world’s most fearsome” weapon of mass destruction, and affirmed, “We can make good on the moral responsibility we all have to leave future generations with a planet that is clean and healthy and sustainable for the future.”

With Keystone XL, President Obama and Secretary Kerry have the freedom to bypass our dysfunctional Congress and prove that they’re serious about protecting our future. In coming months, Obama and his administration will decide whether or not to approve construction of the Northern leg of the pipeline. Will they match words with action, or will they betray frontline communities, young people and all future generations of Americans?

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We felt betrayed when the president fast-tracked the Southern leg of the pipeline through Oklahoma and Texas, but there is still hope he will put things right. This is the president’s chance to answer his own call to action. But we can no longer sit idly by and wait for him (or anyone else) to make the right choices. We will be there, at his house, to make sure he does, or to hold him accountable if he sides with foreign special interests and the oil lobby. We will be there to fight for our future and the lives of people already living under the worst impacts of fossil fuel extraction and climate change. Will you join us?

Sign up to join the XL Dissent Action.

Read Next: Zoë Carpenter on how the US undercuts its own climate change policies

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 2/21/2014?

Ukraine

Protesters in Ukraine in 2014 (tandalov.com/Flickr)

—Samuel Adler-Bell focuses on labor, mass incarceration, literature and film.

The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail: The White People Meeting,” by Barrett Brown. D Magazine, February 17, 2014.

Since January 14, imprisoned journalist and activist Barrett Brown has been contributing a bi-monthly column for D Magazine’s FrontBurner blog focused on (in his words) “the literary life of North Texas jail inmates.” The columns, delivered in a relentlessly sardonic tone, teeter on a cringe-inducing edge between blasé political incorrectness (here, he pokes fun at a Latino gang called “Tango Blast”) and genuine sympathy for his fellow inmates. Readers seeking revolutionary polemic will be disappointed to find mostly historical esoterica and cartoony accounts of prison life in these pages. (Brown is forbidden, by court mandate, from discussing his case.) But the passing reference in this piece to Antonio Gramsci, who wrote a highly influential Marxist treatise while in prison, may give them some hope.

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

Los negocios en el Ejército.” by Semana, February 16, 2014.

Weekly magazine Semana has been at the center of attention in Colombia after publishing two reports this month exposing massive military scandals. The first, titled "Did Someone Spy on the Havana Negotiators?," revealed that Colombian military intelligence illegally spied on leftists, NGOs and Colombian politicians involved in peace talks with FARC rebels. The second report, "Business in the Army," is Semana's newest divulgement: a report alleging, among other things, that military leaders stole money from defense contracts. In some cases, they gave this money to soldiers jailed in the "false positives" scandal, in which poor civilians, lured to war zones by promises of jobs, were killed and dressed in rebel uniforms to boost military body counts (and thus claims of success). The stolen money allegedly went to the soldiers' families in exchange for their silence about high-ranking officer involvement in the scandal. These allegations reveal the kind of corruption, brutality and secrecy at the heart of the American-trained, funded and equipped Colombian military. For almost fifteen years, Colombia has been America's largest recipient of military aid in the western hemisphere. Maybe it's finally time to consider scaling back.

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

The Public Voice of Women,” by Mary Beard. London Review of Books, February 14, 2014.

Mary Beard discusses the ways in which women are (still) systematically excluded from "public" discourse. Not only do men have disproportionate access to and control of public fora, she emphasizes: the public speech women do air is consistently dismissed as inappropriate in style. Beard's use of the metaphor of "pollution" (women being accused of "polluting" the male public sphere) recalls Suey Park and David J. Leonard's recent "In Defense of Twitter Feminism," which uses the same metaphor to remind us that not just women but people of color of all genders, as well as other marginalized groups, routinely have their speech undermined by the claim that they are not using the style of speech appropriate for public discourse, a rhetorical move that can do more to delegitimize it than any criticism of its content. The key point of Beard's essay comes at the end: that we should "try to bring to the surface the kinds of question we tend to shelve about how we speak in public, why and whose voice fits."

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

Doctors Train to Spot Signs of A.D.H.D. in Children,” by Alan Schwarz. The New York Times, February 19, 2014.

Bouncing idly at his school desk and cartooning around his math homework, your typical scatterbrained 10-year-old's short attention span has become something of great concern to helicopter parents. Almost 20 percent of all boys are diagnosed with ADHD by the time they're 18—the same children who, just a few years ago, would have been considered "energetic" or "dreamy." In this article, Schwarz highlights both parents' and, worse, doctors' ignorance on the matter of ADHD, which can lead to a dependence on stimulants like Adderall or Concerta. Educating pediatricians and bringing more child psychologists to the table will result in fewer false positives and allow experts to understand more subtle reasons behind a child's nervous energy, such as unaddressed trauma or lack of parental attention.

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

Shock in Detroit: Workers Lose in Bankruptcy Court,” by Lou Dubose. The Washington Spectator, February 1, 2014.

That Detroit’s city council has been dissolved has not received the continuous media attention I would expect. See some of The Nation’s coverage here. In his Klein-inspired piece, Dubose does well in exposing the “vice-regal powers” enjoyed by Detroit’s emergency manager, the racial similarities of the Michigan cities being run by emergency managers, the ramifications of converting retirees into creditors, the financial predation of Detroit and the questionable associations among state-appointed managers and the Jones Day law firm. What is missing from the piece is some mention of US legal doctrines, like Dillon’s Rule, which legalize the removal of municipal power.

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

‘I Don't Want to Create a Paper Trail’: Inside the Secret Apple-Google Pact,” by Josh Harkinson. Mother Jones, February 19, 2014.

As Harkinson points out, tech employees' antitrust lawsuit over their companies' secret agreements not to recruit from each other may not draw sympathy from most Bay Area residents, who make nowhere near the wages the plaintiffs say these policies suppressed. "And yet," Harkinson writes, the case, with a trial slated for May, actually relates to the problem of growing inequality highlighted by the recent anger over tech buses. It shows that "the widening gap between the rich and poor isn't some accident of free-market capitalism, but the product of a system that puts corporate leaders and their shareholders ahead of everyone else." Given that "Silicon Valley execs love to talk about how a free market breeds innovation," it's significant that the innovators they employ say they've been hurt by not-so-free market agreements.

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

Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine,” by Timothy Snyder. The New York Review of Books, February 19, 2014.

What to make of Ukraine? Opinions seem easier to come by than they should. A choice between two readily conjured, overused symbols becomes almost a requisite—an allegiance to one side or the other, without nuance or real understanding. It's harder to have an opinion when personal connections are involved. The American-born, American-raised part of me wants to side, without reservation, with the opposition groups fighting for democracy, and for their lives. The part of me that is the child of Soviet-Jewish immigrants—immigrants who left Ukraine in part because of anti-semitism—worries about the nationalist factions taking over the message, the protests, and whatever comes after. But Timothy Snyder makes the case that anti-Jewish sentiment isn't the domain of one side only. He perhaps underestimates the strength of ultra-nationalists within the opposition movement, but his point is important to consider, especially if you're not yet prepared to judge.

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

When a University Hospital Backs a Surgical Robot, Controversy Ensues,” by Charles Ornstein. ProPublica, February 14, 2014.

Dozens of members from the surgery team at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System have appeared in an ad for da Vinci, a robot used in surgery. Nothing wrong with that, right? Paul Levy, a former hospital chief executive who now manages the blog Not Running a Hospital, thinks there is: he says it violates the university's own regulations, and potentially state law. Perhaps more importantly, using doctors—especially a whole team of them, and from a reputable hospital—may give a false impression of the medical necessity for the robot, which can cost up to $2.2 million a pop and may not offer significant medical benefits. Levy has since filed a complaint with the university, and you can follow his active pursuit of the matter on his blog, but the issue is bigger than da Vinci and the University of Illinois: how health companies advertise, and particularly their use of medical professionals in doing so, has a long history of deception, with companies regularly utilizing, or in some cases, fabricating, endorsements of medical devices to boost sales. The dogged pursuits from Levy and others concerned with relationships among doctors, academics and medical companies are extremely important.

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

My Year of MOOCs,” by Jonathan Haber. Slate, February 6, 2014.

Earlier this month educational researcher Jonathan Haber completed a one-year experiment to determine whether it was possible “to learn the equivalent of a four-year liberal arts bachelor’s program” in just one year by taking free ‘massive, open, online courses’, or MOOCs. He chose to study philosophy for his Degree of Freedom One Year BA and, in lieu of final exams, attended a meeting of the American Philosophical Association. “My threshold for passing,” writes Haber, “was not feeling like an idiot” amidst students of philosophy who took a more traditional—and costly—path to self-enlightenment. Well, did he pass? I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say this: the implications for the democratization of higher ed are enormous.

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

Faculty on Strike,” by Lennard Davis and Walter Benn Michaels. Jacobin, February 14, 2014.

Two prominent academics at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) describe the reasoning behind the decision of the UIC faculty union to go on strike. While the two-day strike has already ended, their statement provides a look at the changing face of labor. Most interestingly, Davis and Michaels make the case that the distinction between workers and professionals, elaborated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as part of the development of the middle class, has lost meaning under today's economic conditions and that it is necessary to come together as part of a larger struggle.

Read Next: Dave Zirin on homophobia in the NFL.

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 2/14/2014?

Woody Allen

Woody Allen poses as he arrives for the French premiere of Blue Jasmine, in Paris, August 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

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

Stuart Hall's cultural legacy: Britain under the microscope,” by Stuart Jeffries. The Guardian, February 10, 2014

Almost all obituaries of Jamaican-born theorist Stuart Hall—who died this week—describe him as the “godfather of multiculturalism.” And although accurate in a certain way, it’s a misleading honorific, conjuring (for those unfamiliar with Hall) an image of a hopeful, liberal theorist of global diversity and pluralism. He was not. Hall invented the vocabulary with which we talk about culture and power today. And his critical work, inextricably linking race, capitalism and empire, can surely not be reduced to the stock image of “Happy Smiling Multicultural Kids Holding Hands.” But Stuart Jeffries’s piece makes me think that maybe "godfather" is the right word, in that Hall was there from the beginning, but he can’t be blamed for how the kid turned out.

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

Running Wild, Wheelies to the Wind,” by Mekado Murphy. The New York Times, January 26, 2014

Although the film premiered over two weeks ago, it took me until yesterday to watch this excellent documentary. 12 O'Clock Boys is director Lotfy Nathan's debut film about packs of young dirt-bikers in Baltimore, told through the eyes of an aspiring young rider named Pug. The boys, riding on four-wheelers and dirt bikes, tear through Baltimore like aggressive, motorized Critical Mass cyclists reclaiming the streets. Most of their sport is about the desire to show off: popping wheelies, speeding, taunting and evading police in groups of up to a hundred. The boys derive a lot of empowerment and joy from these rides, a sharp contrast to the quotidian hardships of life in their blighted neighborhoods in Baltimore. While the film and the "gangs" (a problematic word, as many of the boys ride bikes as an alternative to gang life) certainly have their detractors, 12 O'Clock Boys provides an insightful portrait of a subculture born of social and economic marginalization in urban America.

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

How Iowa Flattened Literature,” by Eric Bennett. The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 10, 2014

Eric Bennett uncovers the politics behind the "creative writing" of the last century, writing that often shunned the visible presence of politics, or "ideas" more broadly, within its pages. He tells the story of the CIA's Cold War funding of the "Writer's Workshop" that made my hometown, Iowa City, Iowa, famous. Bennet argues that the style of fiction (and poetry) currently ascendant has everything to do with the political history that made disillusioned anti-Soviet intellectuals of all stripes happy to accept support from corporations and the CIA in founding new incubators of writing in the decades after World War II. He calls for resistance to the norms for writing that this history has given birth to: for a broader, less individual focus to writing and a return to intellectual history, not just in essays like this one but in the crafting of fiction.

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

How Colleges Flunk Mental Health,” by Katie JM Baker. Newsweek, February 11, 2014

Lonely, self-hating and perhaps even suicidal, college students suffering from depression or other mental illnesses often dread—with good reason—the only place actively offering them safety: their health centers. Newsweek collected more than two dozen stories of college students suffering from varying degrees of depression who had been alienated or even persecuted by their mental health counselors. One Harvard student comments, "They treated me like a liability instead of a human being." Punishing, suspending or expelling students for seeking help creates a toxic environment capable of breeding problems more immediately dangerous than depression.

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

A New Physics Theory of Life,” by Natalie Wolchover. Quanta Magazine, January 22, 2014

Jeremy England thinks that evolution is driven by energy’s tendency to spread out. Both life and inanimate matter, his physics and theory suggest, will restructure, replicate and self-organize if doing so “helps” energy dissipate. However, for energy to be dissipated, it must first be absorbed. This means the force that dissipates energy, explained by the 2nd law of thermodynamics, also “rewards” innovations that absorb energy and dissipate it. Since life absorbs energy, like sunlight and food, and then dissipates it via infrared light, heat, etc., England’s theory implicates the origins of life. “From the perspective of the physics,” he explains, “you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.”

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

Kindle Worlds’ Strange New Terrain,” by Reyan Ali. Pacific Standard, February 5, 2014

I've long thought fan fiction serves a role traditionally played by religion, with devotees' worshipping characters by reincarnating them again and again in new stories. By basing their work on that of creators they love, fanfic writers, like members of holy orders, deny worldly ambition and financial gain—for the most part. This Pacific Standard interview looks at recent developments that blur the lines between fanfic and commercial fiction, including the launch of Kindle Worlds, an Amazon fanfic publishing platform. Hugh Howey, the piece's interviewee, owes a lot to Kindle Worlds, which has published both fanfic he wrote and fanfic based on his work. It makes sense he's optimistic about fanfic's "monetization." Unlike him, I'm not convinced it won't shrink fanfic's spiritual core, but the interview nevertheless suggests good questions about fanfic's potential to be subversive or subservient.

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

The NSA’s Secret Role in the U.S. Assassination Program,” by Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald. The Intercept, February 10, 2014

Here it is, the first article in the first digital magazine to come out of First Look Media, Pierre Omidyar's journalistic venture. In it, Scahill and Greenwald discuss the National Security Agency's use of signals intelligence—metadata collection, cell phone and sim card tracking, etc.—to identify drone strike targets, often to the exclusion of human intelligence gathering. What has resulted, explains Scahill and Greenwald's anonymous source, a former Joint Special Operations Command drone operator, is the sense that “we’re targeting a cell phone. We’re not going after people—we’re going after their phones, in the hopes that the person on the other end of that missile is the bad guy.” The scenario laid out is frightening in the banality of its design, like a video game in which computer-generated data determine the real lives that will be destroyed by the push of a joystick.

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

Bargain for billionaires: Why philanthropy is more about P.R. than progress,” by Sean McElwee. Salon, Febuary 10, 2014

While criticism surrounding the impacts of and philosophy behind philanthropy and charity is not new, McElwee’s article continues a conversation we've been having among The Nation interns about the pros and cons of aid.

Two weeks ago, fellow intern David Kortava chose "The Case for Aid" by Jeffrey Sachs as his article of the week, in which Sachs counters William Easterley's argument that development aid doesn't work. McElwee takes a different stance from Easterley, arguing that by entrenching the notion that we need the rich, not government, to fund programs of social benefit, philanthropy undermines social democracy and greater social change, and that philanthropic efforts aid the wealthy’s image more than they do those on the receiving end of their charity. McElwee's argument builds upon, among others, philosopher Slavoj Zizek's criticism of philanthropy and charity, which he views as veiled ways to distract from—and ultimately perpetuate—capitalism’s exploitations. (This animated video of one of Zizek's lectures is a good starting point for anyone interested in his views on the topic.)

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

Dear Mayor de Blasio,” by Lauren Andersen, Winston Berkman, Brendan Coticchia, Madeleine Gray, and Elyssa White. The Morningside Post, February 8, 2014

A team of graduate students at Bill de Blasio’s alma mater—Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA)—has issued a series of policy recommendations for the newly elected mayor. The policies proposed are based on the results of a survey of SIPA students, and include the development of city microgrids, a tax on plastic and paper bags and modified bridge tolls to ease congestion and generate funds to improve public transportation.

[Disclosure: As a SIPA alum and tree hugger, I confess a slight bias, but for whatever this endorsement is worth, I find the recommendations immensely reasonable. The ‘Seeple’ have spoken—let’s hope the new mayor gets the message.]

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

Woody Allen is just the beginning: Why we can’t hide from the truth anymore,” by Roxane Gay. Salon, February 10, 2014

One of my favorite writers weighs in on the continuing scandal around Woody Allen. Writing from a deep sympathy with Dylan Farrow, Gay asks what taking her testimony seriously might mean, not simply for Woody Allen but for many other public figures. She discusses how the increased flow of information and knowledge throughout the world forces readers and viewers to confront difficult truths about artists and entertainers. Refusing to offer easy answers, Gay poses the question: How can we reconcile the greatness of an artist's work with our disgust at his actions?

 

Read Next: What it feels like to be one of just thirty-three black students at UCLA's law school.

UCLA Law Students of Color Sound an Alarm

"33" Still

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

 

Read Next: An invitation to a Keystone XL protest.

What Is XL Dissent?

Keystone XL Protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are asking that question of the president today.

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

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

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

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

So here is our plan:

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

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

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

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

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

Thousands of Young People Participate in Raleigh’s Moral Monday

Moral Monday Raleigh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The march drew voices from across the globe.

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

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

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

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

Portland

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

 

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

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

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

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

—Portland Student Union

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

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

—Providence Student Union

3. Moral March Begins

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

—Dominique Penny

4. DREAMers Keep Winning

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

—Carlos Padilla

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

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

—Mariah Urueta

6. At Columbia, Prison Divestment Takes Off

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

—Columbia Prison Divest

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

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

—Penn State United Students Against Sweatshops

8. In Immokalee, Wendy’s Hits the Menu

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

—Student/Farmworker Alliance Steering Committee

9. Who Makes Youth News?

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

—POPPYN

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10. What’s Next for Athlete-Workers?

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

—College Athletes Players Association

Read Next: sexual assault policies under fire at Columbia.

Sexual Assault Policies Under Fire at Columbia

Columbia University

Columbia University (The West End/Flickr)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Next: Yale students address class issues.

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

Bolotnaya Square Protest

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

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

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

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

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

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

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

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

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

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

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

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

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

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

Read Next: John Nichols stands with the Girl Scouts.

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