Occidental students protest the university’s broken promises on sexual assault policy. (The Occidental Weekly/Chris Ellis)
E-mail questions, tips or proposals to [email protected]. For more dispatches, check out earlier posts from January 18, February 1, February 15 and March 1.
1. Chicago Students Refuse to Be Shut Down
For nearly ten years, Chicago Public Schools has been closing neighborhood schools, turning them around, phasing them out or selling them to private companies. Students and parents have stood up to these policies by holding rallies, shutting down CPS board meetings and doing sit-ins. When CPS announced the decision to phase out my high school, we exposed how Dyett was sabotaged by the district. Over thirty of my classmates and I filed Title VI civil rights complaints against the district. Since then, students, parents, teachers and community members have connected with other cities. We did a “Journey for Justice” ride to DC, where we marched to the Department of Education and demanded that our civil rights stop being violated. Students realized that this wasn’t just local, but nationwide, so we visited other cities and listened to their stories, thus building a stronger base. This spring, all those students came together again in DC and gave testimonies. Though CPS now has 129 schools on the chopping block, for us, the fight has just begun.
2. Who Does UChicago Serve?
On January 27, a peaceful sit-in protesting the lack of trauma services in a yet-to-be opened hospital building on the University of Chicago Medicine campus was violently broken up by university police. Three protesters were arrested for trespassing, and one protester, a black PhD student, was charged with resisting arrest despite much evidence to the contrary. After a vigil condemning the police’s behavior—and a university proposal to hold a dialogue without an administrative presence—protesters delivered two petitions to President Zimmer, demanding greater transparency and meaningful conversation with decision makers on the trauma care issue. Following a letter of support signed by 158 faculty members and nineteen student groups, the university was forced to drop the most serious charges against the protesters. However, evidence revealing an undercover university police officer posing as a protester eroded any remaining community trust in the University. Going forward, Fearless Leading by the Youth and their university allies, Students for Health Equity, will continue holding the University accountable to its professed values of free speech and community inclusion.
—Students for Health Equity
3. At Occidental, Broken Promises on Stopping Rape
The student-faculty Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition was formed in early 2012 in response to growing complaints about the college’s handling of sexual assault cases. OSAC developed 12 Demands based on best practices that President Jonathan Veitch agreed to. In February, local media reported an alleged rape at Occidental. Many were dismayed to learn about the crime through a news source rather than school officials, especially since the 12 Demands required rape reports in the campus alert system. On March 1, nearly 300 students and faculty protested Veitch’s broken promise and created the Dear Oxy tumbler and a Change.org petition. Veitch then denied ever having agreed to OSAC’s demands and, in an open letter, condemned a survivor and faculty member for “actively seeking to embarrass the college” by talking to reporters. OSAC responded with plans to file Clery Act and Title IX complaints. OSAC will also host a Sleep Over for Sexual Assault Prevention on the campus quad on April 19 and 20.
—Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition
4. At Cincinnati, the Vagina Gives Its Rebuttal
The anti-abortion “Genocide Awareness Project” troubled many students when it came to McMicken Commons at the University of Cincinnati last May with images of “aborted fetuses” alongside those of Holocaust victims and slaves being lynched. In response, the UC Alliance (an LGBTQ student group on campus) and UC Feminists (which is partnered with Planned Parenthood) held the exhibit “Re-envisioning the Female Body” at the same location on March 7 and 8 to bring to light the conflict over the vagina in our culture. We displayed images of vulvas in the gynecological stance, along with stories from each model. The images are meant to be ironic, objectifying the vagina to show the ridiculousness of doing so. We wanted to fight the stigma of ugliness attached to genitalia and the shame that goes along with it by putting real life stories to a body part that lawmakers often try to legislate. In the future, we hope to bring the exhibit to other campuses.
5. Oregon Grad Employees Vote Resoundingly to Unionize
The Coalition of Graduate Employees, AFT Local 6069, at Oregon State University won a union election on March 8, allowing 781 graduate employees to gain the union representation previously denied to them. Graduate employees nationally do much of the teaching and research at major universities, but have scant job protections and bargaining power. Historically, the Coalition of Graduate Employees represented teaching assistants, but the administration excluded research assistants from collective bargaining agreements by claiming they were not employees. Over the last year two years, hundreds of graduate employees organized to demonstrate majority support, and, in a historic case, the Oregon Employment Relations Board ruled that graduate research assistants are public employees with the right to unionize. This decision allowed for an election in which graduate employees chose union representation by a 9-1 margin—a clear mandate for the administration to sit down at the bargaining table with the Coalition of Graduate Employees.
—The Coalition of Graduate Employees, AFT Local 6069
6. Students and Farmworkers March 200 Miles to Publix HQ
On March 17, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and its allies, including members of the Student/Farmworker Alliance, will arrive at the headquarters of Publix Super Markets in Lakeland, Florida—having marched 200 miles from Fort Myers, Florida, by foot, starting on March 3. We are demanding that Publix sign CIW’s Fair Food Agreement to improve wages (by 0.01 cents per pound of tomato) and working conditions for Florida tomato pickers. The SFA is a decentralized network made up of numerous local student groups. In Miami and Homestead, the SFA at Florida International University is working collaboratively with Madre Tierra to bring over 60 students and community members to the closing of the march. Over the past three years Publix has refused to do the right thing for farmworkers in their home state—even as protests, pray-ins and a six-day fast have continued to escalate the pressure. SFA at FIU has organized a picket around Labor Day, a creative action for Valentines Day and flyering at the Publix across campus in solidarity with the CIW.
7. Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, a Student New Deal
The newly-minted New Deal for Students, a collection of policies written by students, for students, to solve the student debt crisis, is already shaping policy in Washington. Friday, the resurrection of a former student debt bill will include NDS’s recommendation to automatically enroll graduating students in Income Based Repayment. The news comes just days after the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and the United States Students Association started notifying legislators of the NDS’s grassroots-generated, student solutions. A proposal from the Hendrix College, Arkansas, chapter, for example, would implement a loan repayment program to attract highly-qualified graduates to teach honors-level courses in rural public schools. This would aid struggling borrowers and could generate $30 million per year for states, as similar programs are projected to do, by keeping graduates working in-state.
—Meredith Morrison and Razmig Sarkissian
8. Cooper Union’s Mission Drift
Students, alumni, faculty and staff at the Cooper Union, famed for offering all admitted students merit-based full scholarships, have been organizing since October 31, 2011, when the college’s president, Jamshed Bharucha, went straight to The New York Times to announce the possibility of tuition. The community has organized statements, community summits and a student lock-in to address the unchecked decision-making power vested in the college’s bloated administration and board. Following a School of Art Faculty Statement, the board deferred all early-decision applicants to the School of Art, despite previous claims. Full faculty meetings yielded the mantra, “Mission Means Union!” expressing commitment to the Mission Statement and the belief that an injury to one school is an injury to all. A memo following the recent board meeting stated another delay to tuition. Meanwhile, the community refutes expansionist reinvention models and continues advocating for new forms of governance and clearer avenues of redress that redistribute power.
9. UPenn’s SOUL Power
Following a letter from the senior faculty of Africana Studies in the Daily Pennsylvanian addressing University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann for failing to appoint a person of color to the position of dean during her tenure, SOUL (Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation) is hosting a forum between students and faculty to address issues of diversity on March 23. The dialogue will address low retention and promotion rates among faculty of color, whether Penn has lived up to its commitment to diversity and the university’s current diversity initiatives. According to the latest 2009 minority report and collegeboard.org, black students make up 7 percent of the student body, Latino students 9 percent, black faculty 3.1 percent and Latino faculty 2 percent. SOUL shares Africana’s beliefs that “only when issues of diversity are substantively engaged at the highest levels of our administration, not simply promoted as social events, will real change occur at Penn.”
10. Columbia’s Student-Worker Uprising
(Edited, with permission, from a video report made by Martyna Starosta for Waging Nonviolence)
Though Columbia University has an endowment of almost $8 billion, administrators insist that they can’t afford to pay more than half the prevailing wage to a group of workers at Faculty House, a campus catering venue. Now, the workers are teaming up with students, faculty, community members and alumni to fight for justice under the auspices of a new campus group, Student-Worker Solidarity. As the university stonewalls contract negotiations that have dragged on for eleven months, workers and students are educating, agitating and organizing in a way that Columbia hasn’t seen for a long time. Targeting the administrators who call the shots at the negotiating table, SWS holds weekly actions, ranging from rallies and marches that draw hundreds, to letter deliveries and teach-ins. Students and workers alike are re-discovering the power of solidarity—and we’re not stopping until we win a fair contract.