StudentNation | The Nation



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

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 06/27/14?

Books College

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

—Hélène Barthélemy focuses on the criminal justice system, activism and culture.

The Weak State: The Dissolution of Constitutional Iraq,” by Michael Youhana. Full Stop, June 17, 2014.

This article (by a former Nation intern!) provides an excellent examination of the Iraqi political context by analyzing three seminal books on the topic. It serves as a powerful corrective to many pieces approaching Iraq in a political vacuum. Beyond the focus on ‘sectarianism,’ which depoliticizes and dehistoricizes current developments, Youhana reminds us that there is nothing inherent in sectarian identities, which are formed, transformed and abandoned like any sense of belonging to a group, according to the political context. The article also analyzes the consequences of the American invasion on oil production and its strategic importance for pressuring Iran. Most crucially, it lays bare the undemocratic, dysfunctional, US-influenced constitution that followed American occupation but was in line with it. It laid the ground for current lawlessness.

—Summer Concepcion focuses on race, gender and criminal justice.

5 Links Between Higher Education and the Prison Industry,” by Hannah K. Gold. Rolling Stone, June 18, 2014.

The irony of the relationship between higher education and the prison industry is quite frustrating, especially for a current college student like myself. One of the biggest takeaways from my college experience thus far has been gaining awareness of the problems within the prison industrial complex. It’s quite easy to ignore how universities operate on a corporate level when it’s often the place where students confront many political and social issues for the first time. Reading this article makes me question how much of higher education’s “mission” is a PR stunt after all.

—Erin Corbett focuses on national security and reproductive rights.

Jane Doe, Trans Women, and the Myth of the Perfect Victim,” by Katherine Cross. RH Reality Check, June 23, 2014.

This article tackles the unlawful incarceration of Jane Doe, a 16-year-old trans girl who is being held in solitary confinement (without charge or trial) in the Connecticut State Prison after allegedly attacking Department of Children and Families staff. Katherine Cross begins this piece with the assertion that “[v]ery few of us are ‘perfect victims,’” a powerful statement, which she then uses to address the dehumanization and stripping of personhood of specific types of bodies. Jane Doe’s story is one of an individual existing outside of the legal system, described as a violent threat—someone to fear. This case is unfortunately not an exception to the rule that some human beings are treated as disposable on the basis of their difference. As Cross explains, “[t]he trick is that trans women and women of color are forever regarded as inherently imperfect.”

—Victoria Ford focuses on African-American identity, feminism/womanism and the arts.

How to encounter a black woman’s body: The politics of Mammy Sphinx,” by Brittney Cooper. Salon, June 24, 2014.

With Kara Walker’s A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby: An Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant closing in little more than a week on July 6, it is more than refreshing to read this piece from Dr. Brittney Cooper. By encountering the black woman’s body both as problem and as relic, Cooper asks readers to toil with place, gentrification and eviction—the literal and disproportionate “locking out” of black women which occurs today at epidemic levels. “This history of imminent displacement seems incredibly difficult for black women to shake,” Cooper writes, “especially when our bodies remain tethered to controlling images that will not turn us loose.”

—Douglas Grant focuses on labor and income inequality, gender politics and American politics.

How College Is Like Sunscreen,” by Derek Thompson. The Atlantic, June 24, 2014.

In the face of a weak imitation of a recovery, with wages stagnant and student debt rising, the notion of whether higher education is worth it is often thrown into doubt. But as Derek Thompson explains, it’s only when comparing college graduates’ wages to those who never completed their degrees that college’s value shows (like sunscreen, he says, it takes seeing a bad burn before the wisdom of applying it is reinforced). When the press is deluged with stories of mushrooming student loan debt, tuition that rises at many times the rate of inflation and ever dimmer employment prospects, it’s a hard sale to make (pithy, oversimplified statements like “BA is the new SPF” don’t exactly help). As a graduate that’s had my share of curt phone conversations from collectors at Sallie Mae (hey, guys! I’ll call you back), such statements can come off more as than a little tone-deaf, as they do not take into account the perspectives of plenty of others who get left behind in the global economy (those who never attended college, those who didn’t finish and are left saddled with huge bills or those who didn’t complete high school). The upside of attending college that Thompson offers his perspective on is, in the face of panicked, provocative pieces that college “isn’t worth it,” still couched in bleak terms. After rising in the Eighties through the mid-2000s, the wages of graduates are falling—just not as fast as everyone else’s. It shows us that our work is cut out for us.

—Hannah Harris Green focuses on South Asian Culture and Politics, and Sexual Assault.

Women in India Aren’t Safe on Twitter Either,” by Sonia Faleiro. Medium, June 19, 2014.

Over the past year, we’ve seen many examples of men using Twitter to intimidate women who they disagree with, combating their words not with counter-arguments but with threats of sexual violence. In her recent article for Medium, Sonia Faleiro discusses how this trend has picked up in India, which, with the Election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister, is now dominated by the right wing Hindu party, the BJP. In conjunction with this political change, privileged, conservative Hindu men have felt compelled to use Twitter as a platform to threaten women who belong to oppressed castes and minority religions, and women who they perceive as threatening in their modernity. Such women are typical targets for the Indian right wing, but now men may harass them from the safety of their computer desks as well as in the streets.

—Alana de Hinojosa focuses on immigration, race and racism, Latin@ identity and feminism.

Univision’s World Cup Spanish commentary has surprised some Latinos,” by Nina Porzucki. Public Radio International, June 20, 2014.

Felix Sanchez, co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, recently went on Public Radio International to discuss what he found to be a disconcerting facet to Univison’s World Cup broadcast. The issue? Univison broadcasters were referring to Afro-Costa Rican players not by their names or jersey numbers, but by the color of their skin (“moreno”) and the texture of their hair (“greña”). Though “moreno,” which means “dark skin,” is not concerned offensive in Latin America and can actually have endearing connotations, the term can without a doubt have negative, racialized connotations when used in the US. The same goes for “greña,” which means “messy hair,” or more colloquially, “nappy hair.” While Sanchez acknowledged that Latin@ culture and the Spanish language affords certain deviances from American, English language broadcasting norms, he was firm to remind Univision that they are still a US broadcaster. “Therein lies part of the issue, which is regardless of the fact that it’s being broadcast in Spanish, it’s still by a US broadcaster that needs to abide by American standards and American sensibilities,” Sanchez said on the show. Granted it’s important that Univision uphold its Latin@ character, but it’s equally important that Univision (and Latin@s as a whole) remember that Latin@s living in the US don’t live in the same worlds as US and Latin American television shows. “We have one foot in each world,” Sanchez said.

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

—Crystal Kayiza focuses on the African diaspora,immigration, Black Feminist thought, and police brutality.

Modern-Day Slavery in America’s Prison Workforce,” by Beth Schwartzapfel. The American Prospect, May 28, 2014.

With the highest incarceration rate in the world, the United States relies on the exploitation of inmates to sustain the prison system. In her article, Beth Schwartzapfel calls into question the labor policies that allowed for the creation of “modern day slavery.” Schwartzapfel describes how the absence of fair wages, lack of education behind bars and exclusion from employment after prison all contribute to recidivism. Not only bringing to light the political decisions that sustain the prison industrial complex, Schwartzapfel states “in America, breaking the law has become more than just an occasion to be punished or even rehabilitated. It has become a permanent mark of who you are and what our country thinks you’re entitled to earn.”

—Agnes Radomski focuses on labor, mass incarceration, the war on drugs and the military industrial complex.

The youth heroin epidemic that wasn’t,” by Michael Tracey. Al Jazeera America, June 23, 2014.

Earlier this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared that statewide abuse of heroin had reached “epidemic proportions,” especially among young people. He announced a plan to double down on law enforcement by adding an additional 100 investigators to the State Police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team. In his opinion piece, Michael Tracey points to a lack of evidence among not only law enforcement and politicians but the media as well. He notes use of heroin has actually decreased from 2011 to 2013, according to government data. (Tracey points out that New Jersey and New York officials have attributed overdose deaths to the unsanctioned use of prescription opiates.) Nevertheless, youth-oriented governmental efforts focused on heroin are being introduced, like the “multijurisdictional drug task force” in New Jersey. Tracey argues that programs like these suggest “that authorities are prioritizing criminal punishment, rather than enacting prudent measures such as genuine public health services that would reduce heroin use.” Across counties in New Jersey and New York, hundreds of arrests have been made leading to possible terms of at least five years in prison for simple possession. Heroin related bills have passed New York state’s Senate in an effort to redouble criminalization efforts. Tracey reminds us of the consequences of such wrong-headed policies prevalent during the span of the failed war on drugs: “Like the drugs they plan to banish, these laws come with their own adverse effects: over-crowding prisons with nonviolent offenders, breaking up families, authorizing overzealous policing tactics, and breeding undue fear.”


Read Next: What are Nation interns reading the week of 06/20/2014?

It’s Time for the Department of Education to Dump Sallie Mae

Students Not Customers

A banner at a protest at Cooper Union in New York City on December 8, 2012 (Flickr/Michael Fleshman)

This piece originally appeared at Youngist and is reposted here with permission.

For more than year, the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP)—alongside coalition partners, including the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the US Student Association—has been calling for the Department of Education to cancel its $100 million annual contract with Sallie Mae. But the department has claimed that no “wholesale” violation occurred that would justify ending the contract.

Last year, only after three hundred students demanded that Secretary Arne Duncan meet with them at the US Student Association’s Legislative Conference in March 2013, SLAP students were given a meeting with senior officials at the Department of Education. In this meeting, Secretary Arne Duncan stated that the Department wouldn’t do business with corporations that broke the law.

But, it’s clear that Sallie Mae broke the law. On May 13, 2014, Sallie Mae reached settlements with the Department of Justice and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to pay $97 million in fines and restitution to student loan borrowers for violating multiple federal laws. With these settlements, federal agencies are fining Sallie Mae for overcharging active-duty service members on interest rates, deceiving borrowers when processing payments, and engaging in discriminatory practices.

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

Students are now calling for an immediate end to this contract with new outrageous evidence from federal investigators. The Department of Justice described Sallie Mae’s conduct as “intentional” and “willful”—yet the Department of Education has taken no action. Students are continuing the fight for a debt-free future by urging Secretary Duncan to stop spending hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars on a company that breaks the law.

Secretary Duncan’s colleagues from other federal agencies have found that Sallie Mae has cheated borrowers. Over 50,000 people have taken action to tell the Department that they’ve had enough! It’s time for students to keep up the pressure on Secretary Duncan to cut the department’s contract with Sallie Mae. This summer, the fight continues as students and borrowers unite to make the Department of Education work for us!


Read Next: How women are shaping the labor movement and winning big

A Student Fears America’s Gun Laws

Pro Gun Rally

Activists, some armed (L), attend a pro-gun rally as part of the National Day of Resistance at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, February 23, 2013. (Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Pennsylvanian and is reposted here with permission.

There’s a joke that goes like this. A man walks into a bar in Georgia. Mistaking a man at the counter for the bartender, he asks him repeatedly for a shot. The man he’s asking finally turns to him and asks, “You sure you want it, man?” And the first man says, “Yeah, and make it a double.”

So the man at the counter raises his gun and shoots him twice.

There’s another joke that goes like this: since 2009, there have been, on average, two mass shootings in the United States every month (with mass shootings referring to the murder of four or more people by firearm in a single incident). According to the FBI, those shootings account for less than 1 percent of all firearm murders in the country.

Despite President Obama’s poor record on gun control, an area in which he has made little to no significant progress, his administration has been continuously charged with assaulting gun owners’ Second Amendment right to bear arms since he took office. Those accusations, though fictitious, have caused gun sales to skyrocket in recent years.

And, while the administration has done little to regulate gun use, the gun lobby and its supporters have pushed through a preponderance of legislation slackening those same regulations. Perhaps the most frightening of these efforts culminated on April 23, 2014, when Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed the “Safe Carry Protection Act,” referred to by critics as the “guns everywhere bill.” The bill allows licensed gun owners in Georgia to bring firearms into a number of public buildings, including bars, churches and, at the discretion of individual districts, even schools.

The punch line for this joke is unclear. Maybe it’s the fear I often feel walking down the street at night, wondering which of the people walking past might suddenly draw a gun from a purse or coat pocket. Maybe it’s the fact that for the first—and hopefully last—time in my life, I woke up in my dorm bed two months ago to the sound of gunshots and then drifted back to sleep as a man died in front of Copabanana, less than a block away.

Maybe it’s the fact that soon, that fear won’t abate at all for Georgians walking into crowded, well-lit buildings, where a drunken debate or charged comment might translate into gunfire as suddenly as a confrontation in a dark alley. Maybe it’s the way the extreme, prejudiced opinions of certain citizens no longer abstractly threaten my liberty via their access to the voting booth but now more concretely threaten my life via their access to high-powered weapons.

Whatever the punch line is, I’m still waiting for it. Waiting for gun laws like this to start making sense, as yet another young man with a legally purchased firearm is carted off to prison or the cemetery, leaving behind him an unthinkable number of dead bodies and grieving families and gun rights advocates stepping forward to say, “It’s a shame, but crimes like this are unpreventable,” insisting that the only solution is to arm more people in hopes that next time someone will turn the gun on the shooter rather than another innocent.

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

I think the real punch line is our failure to grasp the simple truth that doing the same thing over and over will never produce a different result. Until we make a real move toward restricting firearm access, we’ll keep reading about these shootings in the morning news. We’ll continue crying over deaths we might have been able to prevent. We’ll continue fearing the next person to pick up a gun and punctuate his hatred and depression with a slug in the head of a coed, a secretary or a first grader.

The real punch line is that more than 11,000 people are murdered with a gun every year in the United States, and we have yet to close the loopholes that currently allow 40 percent of firearms to be sold without background checks.

I want to make it very clear: when I say gun control in this country is a joke, I don’t mean it’s funny.

It isn’t funny at all.

Read Next: Youth Fight Queer and Trans Homelessness

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 6/20/14?

Ukraine Russia Protest

People gather during a rally in Kiev's Independence Square, Sunday, March 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

—Hélène Barthélemy focuses on the criminal justice system, activism and culture.

Still In Bed,” by Elliott Colla. Jadaliyya, June 13, 2014.

While many are discussing the fact that we should not be listening to the war hawks that led to the catastrophe of 2003, other errors from the past are being replicated, notably the uncritical trust in the dubious sources relevant to ISIS, most of which are authenticated by its very enemies. This excellent article by Elliott Colla reminds us that when relevant to warfare we should be skeptical of reductive narratives put forth by the military-literary complex and by the media. Beyond war-mongering, as Chelsea Manning discussed in the NYT, the practice of embedded journalism makes war reporting fundamentally biased. Informed by the lies that surrounded the first Iraqi invasion (WMD!) or, more recently, the doubts shed by Seymour Hersh on the chemical attacks in Syria, we should know, by now, that when in war, we know nothing.

—Summer Concepcion focuses on race, gender and criminal justice.

"Delinquent youth more likely to die violently as adults, study says," by Mary MacVean. The Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2014.

Is all hope lost for delinquent youth? So suggests this recent study conducted at Northwestern University's medical school. According to researchers, there are three risk factors during adolescence that predict violent death up to age 34: alcohol use disorder, selling drugs and gang involvement. The gist of the issue lies within the economically-disadvantaged communities from which delinquent youth typically come. In other words, how can the criminal justice system work to better prevent these youths from recidivism?

—Erin Corbett focuses on national security and reproductive rights.

Is Bowe Bergdahl worth five Taliban prisoners?” by Andy Worthington. Al Jazeera, June 16, 2014.

Many have questioned the legality of exchanging five Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo for Bowe Bergdahl, specifically because Congress was not notified 30 days prior to the swap. Some critics of the exchange concluded that Bergdahl “should have been abandoned, because of claims that he was a deserter,” even before the army launched an investigation into his disappearance. Worthington points out the irony to such a response, “as the only other place where men are routinely judged and condemned without having been charged or tried is Guantánamo.” Overall, this piece complicates the story by first reminding us of the AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force), which allows the President to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against those he determines responsible for the attacks on 9/11. Worthington suggests, however, that as the war in Afghanistan comes to a close, holding Taliban prisoners is no longer justified under such a law and that, most importantly, “time is running out for the US to maintain that it has the right to continue to hold prisoners at Guantánamo indefinitely.”

—Victoria Ford focuses on African-American identity, feminism/womanism and the arts.

"Tenure is Not the Problem," by Richard D. Kahlenberg. Slate, June 13, 2014.

The conversation about equal education opportunities for communities of color has changed from directly improving conditions in "concentrations of poverty," to an urgent (yet still necessary) topic: teacher tenure laws. On June 10, the Vergara v. California court decision deemed "state teacher tenure and seniority protections as a violation of the rights of poor and minority students to an equal education." But as Richard Kahlenberg questions, are teacher tenure laws truly the ill of these fated urban schools? And what exactly are the advantages and disadvantages of them? While the court decision makes it easier to get rid of poor-performing teachers, Kahlenberg argues that keeping great teachers in low-income schools comes first from policymakers "promoting economic integration." What states like California need, then, are cases that directly challenge overwhelming de facto economic and racial school segregation that (artificially and premeditatedly) continues to exist in urban public school systems across the nation.

—Douglas Grant focuses on labor and income inequality, gender politics and American politics.

The Teaching Class”, Rachel Riederer. Guernica, June 16, 2014

When we think of those who toil in higher education, we see only the leafy campuses and tweeds and intellectual ferment; we don’t see the adjunct professors barely scraping by, often without health insurance or any sense of job security. Rachel Riederer challenges those stubbornly held assumptions, showing us that we don't see the attention and care to students' work that is lost due to the uncertainty that hangs over an adjunct lecturer's career. Complaining about—or even explaining—work conditions is often seen as a supremely ungrateful act. That's what stills dialogue—exactly what is, at the very least, most in need.

—Hannah Harris Green focuses on South Asian Culture and Politics, and Sexual Assault.

Reppin Your Hood: Zabān, Pehchān and Pakistani Rap,” by Hamzah Saif. Ajam Media Collective, May 5, 2014.

In his profile of two Pakistani rappers, Hamzah Saif of the Ajam media collective adds a chapter to the story of international hip hop. The genre began as a space for the voices of marginalized African American communities in the United States, and artists around the world have since found that they can use rap to express unsung stories, and in the case of rapper Shahzad Meer, unsung languages. “When you arrive in Thatta, the ricksawallah (rickshaw driver) has an Urdu song playing, maybe a Punjabi song, maybe even an English song, but never a Sindhi song. What has happened to the rich musical tradition of Sindhi?” says Meer, explaining why he raps in Sindhi, a language that has lost its status in modern Pakistan, where Urdu is privileged over other dialects.

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

—Alana de Hinojosa focuses on immigration, race and racism, Latin@ identity and feminism.

‘But you’re basically white, right?’: I’m Latina and I don’t speak Spanish,” by Julie M. Rodriguez. Salon, June 16, 2014.

Late last month, Nate Cohn at The New York Times published a controversial article that claimed that the large number of white-identifying Latin@s signals a process of racial assimilation similar to that of Italian and Irish descendants. Despite the waves of criticism (which included revealing that their claim was based on a unpublished report), the Times stood by his piece—which essentially strove to put Latinidad in a U.S. colonialist identity box. The problem is, Cohn was asking all the wrong questions.
Here's the thing: Latin@ identity is shifting epistemologies about race, ethnicity, identity and language. This week Salon published an article that speaks to how utterly unperceptive this article is. The author, a third generation Latina, argues that her inability to speak Spanish does not exclude her from her Latina identity—despite the fact that she is told she is "basically white." Instead, she says, her experience as a non-Spanish, light skinned speaking Latina in the U.S. opens new ways of thinking about Latin@ identities that fall outside of the Census and its little boxes. And it's not because she's suddenly "assimilated" (whatever that means). Just take a look at the trending #WhatLatinosLookLike hashtag and you'll get the picture.

—Crystal Kayiza focuses on the African diaspora,immigration, Black Feminist thought, and police brutality.

‘Not going to lie down and take it’: Black women are being overlooked by this president,” by Brittney Cooper. Salon, June 17, 2014.

During his two-term presidency, Obama has dedicated a portion of his agenda to addressing the immediate needs of minority groups, including LGBTQ communities and young black men, the focus of his recently announced "My Brothers Keeper" program. However, the racial justice agenda under the Obama administration is a male one and displaces the complex identity of many black women. In her article, Brittney Cooper critiques Obama's marginalization of his single largest voting demographic. Cooper notes, "no executive orders, no White House initiatives and no pieces of progressive legislation" have been introduced to address the hardships that black women face. From prison reform to affirmative action, few items on the racial justice agenda directly address the immediate needs of black and brown women in the United States. "What has become apparent is that President Obama’s personal understanding of racism is deeply tethered to his position as both black and male," Cooper states. By only placing value on the "absent black father" and the disconnected black male youth, patriarchy continues to displace the vital role that black women and girls play in sustaining the black community. By "…missing the irony that his lack of father did not prevent him from ascending to the presidency," Obama equates black success to male success. What Cooper resolves is that it is vital to recognize racial oppression in its many forms—not solely as an examination of white supremacy, but an intersectional critique of masculine discourses. Because, as history has shown, from the highways of Selma to the hallways of the White House, black mothers, daughters, sisters and partners refuse to be left behind.

—Agnes Radomski focuses on labor, mass incarceration, the war on drugs and the military industrial complex.

Iraq Everlasting,” by Frank Rich. New York, June 4, 2014.

The fallout from the 2003 invasion of Iraq continues in the form of an Al Qaeda offshoot known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. As ISIS advances into cities in northern and central Iraq, spreading devastation in its wake, much has been written about Iraq’s tragic legacy and how it came to be. The blame has largely rested on those who beat the drums of war, neocon hawks in the Bush administration and in the media. But Frank Rich reminds us: “History will look back at the liberal and conservative hawks alike as having flunked the biggest judgment call of their time.” In “Everlasting Iraq,” Rich refers to a short fictional (but also non-fictional) novel written by the late Michael Hastings. Hastings' book, The Last Magazine, “tells the story of the run-up to the Iraq War from a perspective that many of his colleagues would like to forget or suppress.” Hastings book describes a liberal media that “cheered on the war with a self-righteous gravity second only to Dick Cheney’s.” As we continue to reflect on the tragedy that is Iraq, let’s hope we all learned our lesson, conservatives and liberals alike.


Read Next: "What are 'Nation' Interns Reading the Week of 6/13/14?"

Students Storm Christie-Corbett Fundraiser, Sideline Westboro Baptists and #RiseNGrind


Activists from across Pennsylvania and New Jersey sit down in front of Comcast—where Christie and Corbett were fundraising together. (Photo: Steven M. Falk, philly.com)

Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on student and youth organizing. For recent dispatches, check out May 19 and June 3. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch. Contact studentmovement@thenation.com with tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).

1. After Westboro Baptists Show Up, 1,000 Mass at Wilson High

On Monday, June 9, more than 1,000 students and community members from DC, Maryland and Virginia gathered in front of Woodrow Wilson High School to hold a counter-protest to the Westboro Baptist Church, which was picketing the school community’s accepting attitude at annual pride day. During our second pride day, our principal came out as gay. In front of the school, ten student leaders from Genders-Sexualities Aligned, or GSA, and the school’s student government led the group in a series of “pro-love” and “pro-equality” chants during the counter-protest; Westboro members protested on the opposite side of the building and received little media or civilian attention. The action sparked a huge outpouring of support from the community, including more than $500 raised for a local organization focused on supporting local GSAs and SMYAL.

—Aidan Parisi and Tao Marwell

2. After Four Years of Silence, Twenty-One Get Arrested for Mass Transit

On the morning of June 9, the Youth Affordability Coalition held an Oppotuni(T) sit-in at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Building. This sit-in was part of an ongoing effort to demand a Youth Pass, which would give youth from ages 12–21 transportation for $10 every month. We were promised to pilot a version of the Youth Pass by Richard Davey, Massachusetts secretary of transportation, four years ago, and officials have made ongoing commitments to us—but have never delivered. During the sit-in, hundreds of YAC members and supporters held a rally and vigil. At 7 pm, after three warnings by state police, twenty-one people were arrested for trespassing. On June 12, the YAC 21 were found not guilty—but still owe legal fees and fines, for which we are fundraising. YAC will continue pressuring Secretary Davey and Governor Patrick for affordable transportation.

—Collique Williams

3. Christie and Corbett Get a Mid-Atlantic Cheer

On June 9, students, teachers and community members converged on a campaign fundraiser for Governors Corbett and Christie—two politicians at the root of school privatization and closings in their respective states. A range of groups, including the Philadelphia Student Union, Newark Students Union, Pennsylvania Working Families and New Jersey United Students, rallied outside the Union League in Philadelphia. When hearing that the fundraiser had been moved under threat of protest, we marched to the new location at Comcast Headquarters. Protesters sat down in the street demanding to be heard by their governors; an hour later, six were arrested. Under state takeover, the Camden, Newark and Philadelphia school districts have been brutalized through waves of closings and privatization. Comparably, New Jersey public universities and colleges have been gutted via state divestment, pervasive use of adjuncts and extreme administrative salaries. Last year NJUS helped win tuition equity for undocumented youth and is now pushing for a $1.9 million increase to the Equal Opportunity Fund, a program that helps students from low-income districts.

—Timothy Kyle

4. Two Days Later, Philadelphia Students Walk Out

On June 11, students from Philadelphia’s Youth United for Change led a walkout of more than 300 students from twelve different high schools across the city. Marchers walked from the school district building to City Hall and ended at the governor’s office. We staged this walkout to amplify student voices amid the ongoing school budget crisis. The majority of students who walked out were black and came from low-income families, who have been affected severely by the budget crisis. We asked for fully funded schools and the revival of local school board control and expressed deep concern about the city’s proposal to allow class sizes of up to forty-one students.

—Xuan Nguyen

5. At Harvard, Grads Tape Up Against Sexual Assault

On May 29, graduates across Harvard University stood in solidarity with survivors of campus sexual assault by marking their mortar boards with red tape during commencement. Following student activism at Columbia and Brown, Our Harvard Can Do Better, an undergraduate student group aimed at ending rape culture at Harvard, launched Our Harvard 14 to demand that Harvard be proactive in creating a safer campus in which cases of sexual assault are treated justly by the administration. Student groups across the university including Harvard Students Demand Respect, Divest Harvard, The Diversity Report and Student Labor Action Movement united in support of the initiative.

—Michelle Maziar, Rory Gerberg and MaryRose Mazzola

6. At Stanford, the Gates Take the Stage—$172 Million Later

In May, a coalition of forty students at Stanford launched the Gates Foundation, Divest G4S campaign. We called on our 2014 commencement speakers—Bill and Melinda Gates—to divest their foundation and its $40 billion endowment from the world’s largest private security company, G4S, which violates human rights around the world. Through direct pressure on the Gates Foundation and organizing from the Palestine solidarity movement, we won. On May 22, Bill Gates partially divested from G4S, and on June 6, a representative of the Gates family e-mailed us to announce full divestment. While our second demand—that the foundation re-evaluate its investments in objectionable industries like privatized prisons and publish transparent guidelines for ethical investment—remains unanswered, the G4S win has put us in a position to launch new campaigns with the coalition of groups that formed around it come the fall.

—Kristian Davis Bailey

7. A Groundbreaking Contract for Grad Workers

On June 4, after an eighteen-month campaign, the UC Student-Worker Union, UAW 2865, which represents 13,000 teaching assistants, readers and tutors across the University of California system, won a game-changing contract. Management initially refused to bargain over the union’s quality of education and civil rights issues, instead escalating threats and intimidation against workers with arrests and discipline for picketing. The UAW responded with multiple Unfair Labor Practice charges and two system-wide strikes. Last week, as a third system-wide strike loomed, an unprecedented agreement for labor peace was signed that, in addition to solid progress on wages, addresses workers’ concerns over growing class sizes, professional and academic opportunities for undocumented students and access to gender-neutral bathrooms. The contract also includes significantly expanded parental leaves and childcare support.

—Josh Brahinsky, Michelle Glowa and Jonathan Smucker

8. A New Union in South Carolina

Since an initial meeting on April 24, the Coastal Carolina Student Union has grown to more 100 students. Many became involved feeling they needed a larger body to boost their organizing, from protecting people from sexual assault and combating gender oppression to LGBT justice and advancing representation of students of color. In the upcoming school year, we will push the student government and administration for weekly notifications of crime on campus; policy protecting student and faculty protesters from retaliation; the ability to petition for open forums between students and administrators; re-evaluation of CCU’s application of Title IX’s sexual assault protocols; clearer criteria as to what deems an event or flyer “appropriate”; checks and balances within the non-academic complaint procedure; and transparency and notification about meetings of the Board of Trustees.

—Courtney Hammett

9. Next Up

From May 30 to June 4, activists from across the country converged on Detroit for the AFL-CIO’s Young Workers Leadership Institute. We engaged in a variety of trainings and discussion on topics including mentorship and peer coaching; the AFL-CIO’s new economic empowerment initiative, Common Sense Economics; the importance and tactics of direct action; shifting the balance of power in order to run successful campaigns; and confronting privilege in order to build a more inclusive labor movement. AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Liz Shuler, who helped launch the Next Up program, which now has chapters in fifty-plus cities and states, pushed us to return to our communities and work to strengthen the young worker movement by providing our groups with the skills we learned.

—Crystal A. Young

10. #RiseNGrind


Media depicts young workers as millennials, students, graduates, hipsters, even criminals, but doesn’t seem to note the work hustle. Meanwhile, it’s widely stated that we are the future of the labor movement—but this doesn’t guarantee us a voice in the movement, let alone in the workplace, or in the broader conversation. So, we need our own media. As our project takes off, we are calling on workers everywhere to share their stories.

—Young Worker Media Project

At the Frontlines, Youth Continue to Fight Queer and Trans Homelessness

Rainbow Youth

Ban Nguyen, 16, and Ivy Hammond, 17, stand in the shade of a rainbow flag s they listen during a protest rally at the East Los Angeles Recorder Office in LA on May 26, 2009. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

This piece originally appeared in {Young}ist and is reposted here with permission.

The LGBT Rally for Homeless Youth began even before the hundreds of people who had gathered in Washington Square Park stood at attention before the stage, while they were still milling around and greeting one another. A smattering of joyous attendees, young and old and somewhere in between, took to the empty stage to dance in the late afternoon sunshine. Some performed near-acrobatic feats of motion—leaping, and falling, and seemingly flying—while others swayed their salt-shaker hips and laughed. The crowd clapped for them all.

On June 2, the Ali Forney Center, the National Coalition for the Homeless, and their friends and supporters kicked off the National Campaign for Youth Shelter with a rally calling for the end of homelessness among young people, and young LGBT individuals in particular. Junior Labeija, of the film Paris is Burning and the New York City ballroom scene, MC’ed the event with signature sass and curtsies for all the “fierce warriors” of the LGBT community. As the dozen or so speakers came up to the microphone, sheltered by Labeija’s paper parasol, the message that emerged was one of outrage, of hope, of shared history, and love. “When I was fifteen years old I was homeless and I used to ride the subways,” said Labeija, “Just because we come out of the closet, doesn’t mean we have to live in the streets.”

According to the campaign, there are 500,000 homeless youth in the United States; 40 percent of them are LGBT. This number comes from The National Alliance to End Homelessness. Many other studies estimate the number to be much higher. The Center for American Progress, for example, put the number of homeless minors alone at 1.7 million, and the 18- to 24-year-old population, for which there are even poorer estimates, at anywhere between 750,000 and 2 million.

However, many counts of homeless youth focus on homeless families with children at the expense of children who are on their own, outside of a family structure. The numbers the campaign uses are of young people who are alone on the streets without shelter. The number of LGBT youth in this situation are so staggeringly high because many are abused within their homes or thrown out of them entirely for being who they are. Once on the streets they are exposed to hunger and devastating physical and mental health problems; many trade sex for survival. They are also criminalized in droves by the police; trans women of color are singled out in particular as targets of violence.

The demands of the campaign are three-fold: A long-term federal commitment to give safe shelter to anyone in the United States under the age of 24, an immediate commitment to add 22,000 shelter beds and the appropriate services that come with them and a comprehensive effort to count the number of homeless youth in the country to determine how many more beds will be needed in the near future.

This number 22,000 comes from the most recent point-in-time count, the traditional method by which homeless individuals are counted by government agents and volunteers from communities across the country. Seeing as these are only the bodies that could be counted by volunteers in a single night, the actual number of unsheltered youths 24 or younger is undoubtedly much higher.

Carl Siciliano is the CEO of Ali Forney Center, which he founded in 2002. The Center provides homeless LGBT youth in New York with a safe place to stay, community and support. I spoke to Siciliano about the origins of the campaign and how the formulation of its demands came about. “Most of my focus has been on New York City in the past few years,” he said, “In New York City at least homeless kids have the subway system to sleep in. But kids are talking to me about freezing in the winter, being pimped out, and just terrible things, and it’s really opened my eyes to the fact that as much as I’ve been focusing on New York City and New York state, I feel that the root of the problem is a grossly inadequate federal response.”

State and local response to youth homelessness has been slow, sometimes progress is made, but more often beds are lost. In New York City, for example, Mayor Bloomberg attempted every year to cut the number of shelter beds for homeless youth, already fewer than 300 when he took office. The population of children sleeping in New York City’s municipal shelter system in 2013, Bloomberg’s last year in office, was up 22 percent from the previous year. As of January 2014, the Coalition for the Homeless has the number of homeless children in the city at 22,712.

Meanwhile, efforts to combat youth homelessness on the federal level have largely been toothless, focused on maintaining past gains, rather than pushing for progress that is swift and sweeping. “Most of the advocacy for homeless youth has been around trying to retain and maintain the [Runaway and Homeless Youth Act] funding. This is only funding 4,000 beds, so, yeah, it needs to be reauthorized every year, but it struck me as really problematic that there wasn’t advocacy for LGBT issues.” In this vein of creating a national movement, the next rally for the National Campaign for Youth Shelter will be a march in DC on December 8.

Last week’s rally, at the start of Pride month and three weeks before the forty-fifth anniversary of Stonewall, looked back at the history of the LGBT movement since the ’60s, using the power of past and continuing struggles to launch this new campaign. The names of Sylvia Rivera, Stormé DeLarverie, Marsha Johnson and others were invoked often throughout the rally. So was ACT UP and the many campaigns and court cases that eventually brought down DOMA. Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case which, last summer, made it illegal for the federal government to deny married gays and lesbians equal protections and benefits, was among those who spoke out against youth homelessness.

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

Martin Boyce, a veteran of Stonewall and lifelong LGBT activist reflected on the many victories since Stonewall, but added poignantly that, “some things haven’t changed, homelessness hasn’t changed. Or maybe I should say it has changed. Because it was episodic in my day, it’s an institution now.”

This sentiment was echoed in the words Chris Bilal, of the organization Streetwise and Safe and a generation that came of age decades after the Stonewall riots.

“Spaces that were once safe havens for the criminalized and the brutalized amongst us became private parks and dog walks,” said Bilal. “We are pushed out of parks just like this through intimidating and discriminatory policing tactics like stop-and-frisk and the use of our condoms as evidence that we are prostitutes.”

The rally concluded on a note similar to the one it had started on, with a performance by a trans woman of color, introduced as “Miss Tara,” of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” And with these words from Siciliano, who was last to speak,

“The LGBT community is considered different because of how we love. There’s something remarkable about that. As a community we’re defined by how we love.”


Read Next: “How Did This Highschool Student Go from Being Suspended 20 Times to Graduating Valedictorian?”

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 6/13/14?


South African fans blow the "vuvuzela" trumpets before the 2010 World Cup (REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)

—Hélène Barthélemy focuses on the criminal justice system, activism and culture.

"Work It! The New Face of Labor in Fashion" by Annemarie Strassel. Dissent,Spring 2014.

Increasing poverty is making the difference between previously defined "good jobs" and "bad jobs" more tenuous. While the poor are more and more disenfranchised, the creative classes are similarly losing ground. This article describes unionizing efforts across professions and countries in the fashion world, highlighting the commonality of the struggle between more privileged laborers (models), unpaid interns and overseas factory workers, all of which represent different degrees of precarious labor. As many have said in the past, the precariat, which unites the traditional working class to freelancers, temp-workers and interns, has revolutionary potential. The objective is now for all to work together and build links across unions, to organize and make pressure in idiosyncratic ways to advance popular interest, raise wages for low-wage workers (fifteen now!) and ensure better working conditions for all, while not forgetting to use this widened platform to give a voice to the more powerless.

—Summer Concepcion focuses on race, gender and criminal justice.

The Prisoner's Daughter,” by Albert Samaha. The Village Voice, June 10, 2014.

Because prison has the effect of dehumanizing the people in them, stories that put a human face to the prison experience often prove to be especially worthwhile. "The Prisoner's Daughter" sheds light on Amanda Rosario, a young woman whose father has been in prison for as long as she can remember. Despite the distance and time that passes, Rosario continues to hold onto the relationship she has with her father and sees him well beyond the "criminal" label.

—Erin Corbett focuses on national security and reproductive rights.

"American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: The Misleading History and Messages of the 9/11 Memorial Museum"by Patrick L. Smith. Salon, June 9, 2014.

While briefly seeing some debate over the 9/11 Memorial Museum as a commercial product, I came across Patrick Smith’s piece at Salon.com, where he discusses the museum as an exploitation of “tragedy, confus[ing] history with ideology.” I thought this piece was interesting, as he uncovers the complexities of layering memory, history and grief, as well as Smith’s discussion of the ways in which memorials, known as “sites of memory,” often tell us HOW to remember events.

—Victoria Ford focuses on African-American identity, feminism/womanism and the arts.

Am I My Sister’s Keeper?” by Hope Wabuke. Ms. Magazine, June 10, 2014.

This article asks an unsettling question being faced by women around the world: What's happening to our girls and when will we save them? Women of color have time and time again been excluded from the movements fought for civil rights and discussions involving civic membership. Their (our) omission from “My Brother’s Keeper,” the $200 million private-public program launched by President Obama, suggests that "we know that structural racism exists in a gendered way" but we aren't doing anything to change the frames (mass incarceration, unequal employment opportunities, debilitating school systems, etc.) in which they exist, an argument made recently by Rutgers Professor Brittany Cooper on the Melissa Harris-Perry show and, indirectly, by this open letter from 200 black men (including the article's interviewee, Kiese Laymon) calling for the inclusion of women and girls in the President's initiative.

—Douglas Grant focuses on labor and income inequality, gender politics and American politics.

Jocks and nerds of the world, unite!” by Amy B. Dean. Al Jazeera America, June 11, 2014.

Grad students slogging through dissertations and athletes giving it all on the gridiron might have little in common at first glance. But Amy Dean provides a glimpse into how these disparate groups opened a new debate on campuses across the country about student athletes and scholars demanding rewards for work that goes unpaid or exploited for a university's bottom line. The athletes sell our merchandise, fill stadiums (and their colleges' coffers) without financial reward and after, they are often left without health insurance, oftentimes besotted with injuries after the grueling work on the field and least of all without a chance at the pros. Graduate students that do plenty of the work that professors do—teaching and grading papers—are often left with no better bargain. Despite their PhDs in hand, barely a quarter of adjunct professors have health insurance and even fewer are on a tenure track. With an unlikely alliance, students and student athletes are changing that across the country as they vote to unionize and petition their demands.

—Hannah Harris Green focuses on South Asian Culture and Politics, and Sexual Assault.

"Some Shocking Facts About Maharashtra's Muslims the States Does Not Want You to Know" by Aarefa Johari. Scroll, June 10, 2014.

This week, Aarefa Johari of Scroll.in revealed the contents of a damning report on the condition of Muslims in Maharashtra, India, which the state government had failed to release. According to the report, Maharashtran Muslims suffer from generally worse conditions than their counterparts who belong to scheduled castes and tribes—groups that have traditionally been oppressed under the caste system hierarchy. 45 percent of Muslim households in the state have a monthly income of less than RS 500 (approximately $8.50) per person, and Muslims also experience discrimination while trying to attain public services.

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

—Alana de Hinojosa focuses on immigration, race and racism, Latin@ identity and feminism.

The Racism Beat,” By Cord Jefferson. Medium, June 9, 2014.

For the last couple of years, I've pretty much dedicated my young career in journalism to writing about the stories, struggles and politics of Latin@s in the United States. Cord Jefferson, the author of this blog post and former editor at Gawker, has pretty much done the same thing, except geared toward African-Americans. The difficult thing about this sort of "beat" writing, as Jefferson points out, is that it's both important and uncommon work, but that it's also personal. And when something like the prevalent occurrence of racism in American society is not only part of your job, but also part of your life, this can be exhausting work.

—Crystal Kayiza focuses on the African diaspora,immigration, Black Feminist thought, and police brutality.

Why do African teams under-perform at the World Cup?” by Antoinette Muller. The Guardian, June 11, 2014.

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil has elicited immense controversy. From the marginalization of low-income communities to the monumental expenditures on infrastructure across the region, rage towards FIFA has finally matched the intense excitement for the games. But the lack of representation of the African continent within the immaculate FIFA event has gone largely unnoticed. Similar to political and economic representation on the world stage, in her article, Antoinette Muller points out that African nations are oftentimes unequal participants in the World Cup. "As a continent, Africa has 48 countries competing to get to the finals but only five places available. Europe gets 13 places. It used to be even worse, with Africa only allocated two places," writes Muller. She details many reasons for the underperformance of African nations in the World Cup, ranging from institutional corruption to bad sportsmanship. This year more than ever, the winners and losers of the games will speak volumes on the political stage. And hopefully, this time will in fact be for Africa.

—Agnes Radomski focuses on labor, mass incarceration, the war on drugs and the military industrial complex.

Ten Years a Temp: California Food Giant Highlights National Rise in Exploited Labor,” by Bill Raden and Gary Cohn. Capital & Main, May 27, 2014.

From big-box superstores like Wal-Mart to fast-food chains like Burger King and McDonalds, cases of exploitation among American workers continue to proliferate. Now temporary or "contingent" workers at California's Taylor Farms, one of the country's major salad producers, adds to this daunting trend. Two-thirds of Taylor Farm's 900 workers in the Central Valley town of Tracy work for subcontractors or are considered temporary employees. What does this mean? Low wages (employees start at the state minimum of $8 an hour), little to no job security and limited protection for worker's under labor laws. The authors exposed yet another player contributing to the American workforce's race to the bottom. As they so bluntly put it, their investigation "reveals a business model in which Taylor Farms' Spinach is treated with more respect than their workers."


Read Next: "What Are 'Nation' Interns Reading the Week of 6/6/2014?"

How Did this High School Student Go From Being Suspended 20 Times to Graduating Valedictorian?


High school student Damon Smith had been suspended more than twenty times before entering Ralph Bunche High School in Oakland, an alternative high school for chronically expelled students. After working with Eric Butler, a restorative justice counselor at the school, Damon left behind the gang violence he had been embroiled in, earned a 3.7 GPA and graduated valedictorian in his class. How did it happen? This new video produced by Storycorps and the Atlantic Philanthropies tells Smith’s story of his struggle between realizing his true potential academically or falling back into the street violence of his hometown.

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

Read Next: Sam Warren on the battle for freedom of speech

Students Blockade for Trans Justice, Dish 18,000 Red Squares and Push California to Divest From Guns

Santa Ana

Five block the intersection outside the Santa Ana City Jail. (Photo: NQTLA)

Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on student and youth organizing. For recent dispatches, check out May 6 and May 19. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch. Contact studentmovement@thenation.com with tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).

1. As Deportations Rage, Five Blockade for Queer and Trans Justice

On Tuesday, May 27, LGBTQ organizers from across the country took over the intersection outside the Santa Ana City Jail demanding a halt to deportations and an end to the systematic criminalization of the undocu– queer and trans community. Three activists chained themselves inside a cage in the middle of the intersection, while two others, including me, chained ourselves to the outside as 100 supporters marched chanting, “Not one more deportation!” “Obama, Obama, no deportes a mi trans hermana!” and “Liberation not incarceration!” The Santa Ana City Jail was the target of the action because of its mistreatment of queer and trans detainees and its contract with ICE. The five of us were arrested, detained for seven hours and released on bail after our charges were commuted to misdemeanors.

—Ramiro Gonzalez

2. As Georgia Leaves Undocumented Students Out, Ten Take the Street

On Tuesday, May 20, the Georgia Dreamers Alliance demonstrated against policy 4.1.6 and in favor of in-state tuition. In 2008, the board of regents mandated that undocumented students pay up to five times more in tuition than other state residents, and, in 2010, it banned undocumented students from attending the five most competitive universities in Georgia. After protesters disrupted a board meeting and were escorted out, ten got arrested for blocking the intersection of Trinity and Washington. Meanwhile, undocumented students who have sued the regents over in-state tuition await a response from Fulton County Court.

—Eduardo Samaniego

3. UChicago’s South Side Priorities

There is no adult trauma center on Chicago’s South Side, which sees the city’s highest rates of violence; instead, victims are taken over ten miles away, increasing their chances of dying. On May 19, members of Fearless Leading by the Youth and Students for Health Equity kicked off a week of action for a trauma center with civil disobedience at the University of Chicago Medical Center, the most resource-rich hospital on the South Side, which has refused to be part of a solution to the lack of trauma care. After shutting down a hospital construction site, we were violently dragged off by University of Chicago Police. The week continued with an interfaith prayer vigil, actions by National Nurses United and local doctors and a 350-person march. We also took advantage of a visit by President Obama to ask him not to place his library at the UofC until it shows a commitment to black lives on the South Side by supporting a trauma center.

—Kayli Horne and Emilio Comay del Junco

4. UC’s Guns

In response to the University of California Santa Barbara shootings, the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice and the Campaign to Unload are petitioning the University of California to examine whether the system’s $88 billion endowment is contributing to violence via investment in companies that profit from gun violence, obstruct common-sense gun legislation and fund the NRA. This effort joins a nationwide campaign to divest in order to reduce the epidemic of gun violence, with a summit in Philadelphia in June to provide students with the tools and resources to win gun divestment and end the criminalization of young people of color.

—Dante Barry

5. In Newark, Students Take Over the Board of Ed

On Tuesday, May 20, the Newark Public Board of Education held its monthly business meeting—one of the rare meetings Superintendent Cami Anderson attends. Outside the building, the Newark Education Workers caucus of the Newark Teachers Union organized a rally in opposition to the One Newark plan. The Newark Students Union decided, after months of organizing and planning, that we would shut down the meeting and hold a sit-in until our demands—a new superintendent, an end to the One Newark plan, the implementation of the Newark Promise plan and a meeting with the state commissioner of education—were met. When threatened with arrests, we held our ground on the floor in front of Cami Anderson and were allowed to continue the occupation. The “Newark Nine,” eight high school students and one college student, remained inside for seventeen hours. We moved the next morning when Commissioner Hespe scheduled a meeting with the NSU.

—Kristin Towkaniuk

6. In Sacramento, Students Fill the Capitol—in Silence

On May 8, students from eleven cities and school districts descended on Sacramento to send a message to the State Board of Education: “Student Voice Matters!” The day marked the launch of the Student Voice Coalition, as students continue to be overlooked in district implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula in California’s public education system. Students staged a silent protest inside the State Board of Education meeting, bearing numbered placards over their faces. Others took the stage to demand a student role in helping decide how the new funds, meant for low-income, English learner and foster care students, will be spent in their school districts. While the action prompted board president Michael Kirst to release a statement reading, “student voice is essential to the local stakeholder process,” students remain unconvinced that districts will take notice. On July 10, we will return to Sacramento to ramp up pressure on thus-far-hesitant board members Michael Kirst and Sue Burr.

—Saa’un Bell

7. #WTFee

In 2012, chancellor Charles Reed issued Executive Order 1078, authorizing schools in the California State University system to implement “student success” fees by way of an “alternative consultation process” instead of a student referendum. San Jose State is one of 11 CSU schools being burdened by these fees. In February, SJSU’s Students for Quality Education began organizing against impending fee increases in fall 2014 via social media, the school and local papers, flyering, chalking, classroom presentations and an April 9 open forum—leading to a walkout on April 29. On May 15, after Sonoma State SQE thwarted the implementation of fee increases, SJSU became the first school to roll back increases already in place. Moving forward, our goal is to win a student vote on these fees and reverse the two years of increases on the books.

—Diana Crumedy

8. #DebtFreeNC

With the backing of a state constitution that declares that higher education in the state should be “as free as practicable,” North Carolina students have launched the #DebtFreeUNC campaign, asking lawmakers to consider policies that would make the seventeen UNC campuses debt-free for incoming first-year students by the year 2020. On Friday, May 23, the NC Student Power Union took these demands to the offices of Governor Pat McCrory and US Senate candidate Thom Tillis, delivering a letter along with over 18,000 red felt squares—each representing a student in the UNC system who graduated this May with debt. At the end of the action, students committed to handing out all 18,000 red squares to young people across North Carolina and asking them to join the fight in Raleigh this summer.

—Matt Hickson

9. How Long Will Louisiana Youth Be Locked Up?

In honor of the sixtieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children participated in the National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth organized by Dignity in Schools Campaign member organization Save the Kids. FFLIC, which has organized successfully against SB 652 and HB 541, facilitated a discussion regarding the relationship between New Orleans schools’ current disciplinary policies and incarceration. The week of action raised awareness about the school to prison pipeline from New Orleans to Los Angeles to the Twin Cities, supporting rallies, conferences and teach-ins.

—Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children

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

10. When Will California Wake Up?

On May 15, UAW Local 2865, the University of California graduate student TA union, hosted a grade-in at Stephens Hall Graduate Study Lounge, currently slated for closure in November 2014. Students took selfies with towering stacks of bluebooks to make their labor visible and draw attention to the union’s outstanding contract demands: competitive compensation, a voice in TA-student ratios, employment rights for undocumented grad students, support for student parents and anti-discrimination protections. A coalition including Stephens Study Lounge organizers, union members, students organizing to protect the Gill Tract public farm land and University Village affordable student-family housing organizers discussed their intersecting struggles—all with the UC Berkeley administration—concerning access to and allocation of space, labor, livelihood and democratic transparency. That evening, twenty students held a “sleepover” at Stephens Lounge to keep pressure on the administration to preserve graduate student workspace.

—Ianna Hawkins Owen and Elise Youn


Read Next: Since when does free speech require students to stay quiet?

Since When Does Free Speech Require Students to Stay Quiet?

Haverford College

Haverford College (Haverford_03/Flickr)

This piece originally appeared in {Young}ist and is reposted here with permission.

Since former University of California, Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau declined to receive an honorary degree from my very own Haverford College, commentators have decried the intolerance of the protesters who criticized his invitation to commencement. Student speech obstructed Birgeneau’s right to free speech, they say—as if its legitimate exercise requires the conferral of an honorary degree and a perch on a podium.

Haverford President Daniel Weiss echoed such sentiments, if more diplomatically, in a May 20 editorial for The Philadelphia Inquirer: “When an individual is invited to speak at an institution that holds freedom of expression as a core value, and then for whatever reason does not attend, the cause of free speech has inevitably suffered.”

That “for whatever reason” bothers me. For whatever reason whitewashes Birgeneau’s role in the violent suppression of student speech. “For whatever reason” ignores that students spoke up against honoring Birgeneau for fear that doing so would itself stifle free expression. “For whatever reaso” claims that context isn’t important.

I disagree. Context is everything. So, out of frustration with that “for whatever reason,” I would like to provide some.

Weiss announced Haverford’s four honorary degree recipients on April 17. “Each of these individuals exemplifies ideals we hold dearly at Haverford College,” he wrote in an e-mail to the senior class, “and I hope you share my excitement that they will be connected with your graduating class in perpetuity.”

As a sophomore, I did not receive Weiss’s e-mail, but I was already familiar with Robert Birgeneau. I grew up the son of a professor at the UC campus in Davis, California, about an hour’s drive from Berkeley; University of California matters were dinner table talk for me. Birgeneau’s had been a household name in my family since November 2011, when police brutally dispersed the peaceful Occupy Cal protests at UC Berkeley at the behest of Birgeneau and other campus administrators. Even after video of the incident went viral, Birgeneau stood by the police action, releasing a statement that described linking arms as “not nonviolent civil disobedience.”

Such words would be objectionable in any context, but they are especially so for an honoree of Haverford, a Quaker-founded college that prides itself on a commitment to nonviolence and social justice—values, Weiss would surely say, that we hold dearly.

Michael Rushmore thought as much. A member of the class of 2014, he looked up his honorary classmates shortly after receiving Weiss’s e-mail, and was alarmed by what he found about Birgeneau. Rushmore posted on Haverford’s online forum, where he gathered a group of similarly concerned students and faculty—Maud McInerney, an English professor and Berkeley PhD, was an early supporter. When Rushmore and fellow senior Brian Brown met with Weiss and other administrators, all agreed that the dissenters should write a letter to Birgeneau.

The resulting letter has drawn much criticism for what some have construed as its overly strident tone. “When trust is violated in our community, we seek to restore our bonds through restorative, not punitive, processes,” it reads in part. “In the spirit of these restorative processes, before you are honored by our community, we believe it is necessary for you…to take responsibility for the events of November 9, 2011.” The letter then urges Birgeneau to take nine actions, such as accepting responsibility for his role in the violence and supporting reparations for those peaceful protesters assaulted by police; were he to “refuse to confront the issues before him,” it says, the dissenters would have “no other option than to call for the college to withdraw its invitation.”

Weiss himself was disappointed with the letter’s tone, describing it as “an ultimatum with a long list of conditions”; former Princeton President William G. Bowen, accepting his own honorary Haverford degree on May 18, characterized the letter in his commencement speech as “an intemperate list of demands.” McInerney objects to this characterization, which has nonetheless been widely repeated in the national media. “To say, ‘We urge you to do x, y and z’ is not to make a demand. It’s to ask forcefully that you do something,” she told me later. “I am still frustrated by people’s determination to misread that letter.”

Birgeneau, for his part, seemed disinclined to support McInerney’s interpretation. His response to the student letter read, in its entirety: “First, I have never and will never respond to lists of demands. Second, as a long time civil rights activist and firm supporter of non-violence, I do not respond to violent, untruthful verbal attacks.”

To Weiss’s credit, he did share Birgeneau’s response with the campus community, via a May 6 e-mail in which he also called a forum to discuss the controversy. The forum, held two days later, was attended by a substantial number of students and faculty members, as well as several representatives from the Honorary Degree Committee and Weiss himself. So many felt moved to speak that the forum did not conclude for over two hours.

While sentiment on the letter was split, speakers—almost without exception—either came down against Birgeneau’s invitation or took no position on it. Honorary degree committee member Sarah Willie-LeBreton remarked near the end of the forum on the obvious lack of consensus around Birgeneau’s acceptability to the community, expressing a desire to “re-evaluate” his invitation. Weiss himself later wrote that he had acquired “a respect and empathy for a number of perspectives that I had not fully appreciated beforehand,” and that the forum was for him “an illuminating and valuable conversation”—though one that “regrettably did not include Dr. Birgeneau.”

Birgeneau’s absence was not what weighed heaviest on my mind, though I certainly would have liked to see him join our discussion; rather, it was the absence of voices like that of Amanda Armstrong, a graduate student at Berkeley who joined Occupy Cal and found herself at the wrong end of a nightstick. In her stead, Rushmore read a statement she had emailed to him.

“Three times throughout the day, UC police officers attempted to force us to move by striking many of us repeatedly in the chest and stomach with batons, and by pulling others down to the ground by their hair,” wrote Armstrong. “Some of my friends and classmates were arrested that day; some had their ribs broken, or suffered other injuries. We all continue to carry psychic, and in some cases physical, scars from November 9, 2011.”

Despite the tenor of the forum, Weiss and the honorary degree committee reissued their invitation to Birgeneau. I was disappointed but not surprised, given the complicated and often political nature of such decisions. At least, I thought, our voices had been heard.

In the days since then, however, I have wondered whether Weiss really did hear our concerns as I had hoped he had.

To honor a man who staunchly refuses to discuss his past endorsement of violence would itself tacitly support violence. When Birgeneau ultimately declined to attend commencement, then, I was relieved; I did not wish to see my own college reinforce the apathy towards violence that pervades much of our society and which surely contributed to the events at UC-Berkeley. Certainly, I would have preferred to engage Birgeneau in a productive dialogue, but as Rushmore and fellow graduate Jon Sweitzer-Lamme recently noted, a commencement speech is the very opposite of a dialogue. “At our graduation, Mr. Birgeneau was to receive the honorary degree and speak to an audience of nearly 3,000 people. Full stop,” they wrote. “Where is the opportunity for dialogue in that scenario, except through protest?”

In any case, the reason that there has been no open conversation about the events of November 9, 2011, is not that fifty students and faculty at Haverford College were too aggressive in their letter-writing. Dialogue requires a willing partner, which Birgeneau has given no indication of being—not at Haverford, not anywhere else.

I was shocked, then, when Bowen, one of the three remaining honorees, took to the podium at commencement to insult the graduating seniors who had signed the letter—apparently with Weiss’s foreknowledge. Lamenting that Birgeneau “failed to make proper allowance for the immature and, yes, arrogant inclinations of some protesters,” Bowen said of Birgeneau: “Aggravated as he had every right to be, I think he should be with us today.” In Bowen’s telling, Birgeneau has more right to be angry with a letter than students do with violence.

Perhaps I should have expected as much from Bowen—who, at the very least, had the excuse of ignorance. He had not been privy to the countless conversations held at Haverford over the past few weeks, and could not fully appreciate the complexity of how the issue played out on campus. So I was doubly saddened when President Weiss took to the pages of the Inquirer two days later not to defend his students against the often erroneous and offensive narratives that had taken hold in the wake of Bowen’s speech but to reinforce them.

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

Consider the claim that, “at Rutgers, Smith and my own college, Haverford, students threatened to protest or otherwise disrupt” commencement—as if protest is inherently disruptive. Were Robert Birgeneau to show, the planned protest had been for students to wear buttons that read, “Ask Me About Robert Birgeneau,” in the hopes that they would spark conversation. Weiss and I must have different standards for disruption.

But Weiss’s editorial is most remarkable for what it leaves out. It makes no mention of the fact that student concerns about Robert Birgeneau were entirely based on Birgeneau’s complicity in the violent suppression of free speech at his own university—nor, of course, does it bother to point out that Birgeneau characterizes words as violent but shrugs his shoulders at the very real violence committed against his own students and faculty. It leaves out this crucial bit of context in favor of bland platitudes and for whatever reasons.

But for whatever reason is false. Free speech does not suffer when someone walks away from receiving an honor he was not entitled to in the first place. Free speech suffers when those who speak up are shamed for doing so—or, for that matter, beaten.


Read Next: Catch up on the latest reading selections from Nation interns.

Syndicate content