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 January 27, February 10, February 26, March 7, March 21, April 8 and April 23. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).
1. On May Day, California Students and Workers Unleash
On May 1, students marched, rallied, walked out and sat-in across California. Within the University of California, students continue to resist former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s undemocratic appointment as UC president, support the UC student-workers union’s fight for the rights of undocumented graduate students and demand that charges be dropped against the UC Santa Cruz 22, who were arrested while striking at a legal picket action. In the California State system, students are organizing to stop the implementation of “student success fees” at Dominguez Hills, San Diego and Fullerton—with San Jose State recently rolling back these fees—pressuring administrators to open up Dream Resource Centers on campuses and rallying in support of ethnic and women’s, gender and sexuality studies. At Los Angeles Valley College, students protested budget standards that strip community college campuses of resources while placing the burden of campus deficits on the backs of students through two-tier unit pricing. These actions were supported by networks like No 2 Napolitano, Students for Quality Education and the California Student Union.
—California Student Statewide Coordinating Committee
2. As Richmond Sits on Schools, Hundreds Walk Out
On April 28 at 8:30 am, 150 students from Open High School in Richmond, Virginia—almost the entire student body—walked out of class and to City Hall to protest deplorable conditions in Richmond Public Schools. There, we were met by fifty fellow students and parents from other RPS schools. After marching around the building, the mayor, Dwight Jones, invited all 200 protesters inside. We asked him questions about unpopular commercial development projects that were rapidly approved at the same time as school infrastructure problems like rats, snakes, mold and black water that drips from the ceiling are getting worse. Mayor Jones explained his position that commercial development would generate revenue that could be put towards enhancing our schools—but that it would not be available for years. That night, we turned to the city council for funding. We will continue pressuring government officials for more money for our schools.
3. Condi, Out
Rutgers University’s announcement that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would be this year’s commencement speaker sparked immediate controversy on campus. First, fifty students held a sit-in at Old Queens, where Rutgers police refused to allow any food into the building, prohibited protesters from using restrooms and confiscated personal property. There was also a banner drop on one of the busiest classroom buildings on our main campus reading, “Take Back Our Graduation #NoRice”—and a #NoRice social media campaign that reached 1.7 million Twitter users. Finally, at a university senate meeting at which President Barchi was present, about 300 students packed the audience to push him to respond to our demand to rescind Rice’s invitation. Even though the administration didn’t listen to us, Rice did; on May 3, she announced that she was backing out of her scheduled speech and honorary law degree. Now our focus is on ensuring a process for commencement speaker selection that is inclusive and reflective of the entire student body.
—Amani Al-Khatahtbeh and Sherif Ibrahim
4. Monteiro, In?
In January, Anthony Monteiro, a radical black professor in the African American Studies program at Temple University and a North Philadelphia community member who has spoken up on campus about issues such as gentrification, was told that his contract would not be renewed the following year—which students and neighborhood residents believe was a retaliatory act. In response, members of People Utilizing Real Power and Temple Democratic Socialists created the Student Coalition to Reinstate Dr. Monteiro. After a series of rallies, 1,800 student signatures delivered to the Temple administration and a sit-in, activists were promised a meeting with the provost and dean of the College of Liberal Arts to discuss the reinstatement of Dr. Monteiro, where, on May 1, the provost promised to initiate a two-week long investigation. Meanwhile, another student-community rally featuring Cornel West is scheduled for May 8.
—Student Coalition to Reinstate Doctor Monteiro
5. Eighteen Get Arrested Protesting UT-Accenture Plan
On April 23, 200 employees, faculty and students at the University of Texas at Austin rallied to slam a proposal by Accenture, a business consultant, to centralize, privatize and eliminate 500 staff jobs at UT. After the rally, eighteen students went to the office of UT President William Powers to express our concerns about the plan. Instead of meeting, Powers had us all arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. After the arrests, UT professor Snehal Shingavi posted an open letter of support on his blog for those arrested. In the last week, we have received an outpouring of support from professors, alumni and staff who have signed the letter in solidarity. At a rally on April 24, we affirmed our commitment to the fight against the corporatization of public higher education through plans like shared services.
6. Sixty Re-Occupy Against Death Traps—and Retaliation
On April 23, sixty USC students occupied four separate administrative offices, reacting in outrage to the university’s handling of an eighteen-student sit-in the week before—administrators called parents, threatening loss of financial aid, suspension and expulsion—and the university’s continued refusal to safeguard Bangladeshi workers’ lives. Students are demanding that USC cut its contract with JanSport, a brand whose parent company has killed twenty-nine workers and refuses to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety—an agreement that could prevent future factory disasters. The sit-ins are part of a national campaign run by United Students Against Sweatshops.
—Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, USAS Local 13
7. Six Blockade Harvard’s Door—and 60,000 Petition—for Divestment
Since September, students from Divest Harvard have been calling for an open and transparent dialogue about divesting the university’s endowment from fossil fuel companies. On May 1, students stationed themselves in front of the campus’s main administrative building, asking for a public meeting with President Drew Faust and the Harvard Corporation. Six students blocked the entrance to the building for more than twenty-four hours while others rallied in support. The protest culminated not with an agreement to open dialogue but with an arrest for refusing to move from the front door. On May 2, Divest Harvard returned to the site of the blockade to deliver a petition of more than 60,000 signatures calling for Harvard’s fossil fuel divestment.
8. At UC, Grads Negotiate Historic Win on All-Gender Spaces
On April 15, the University of California Student Workers Union, UAW 2865, signed a tentative agreement with UC management on new non-discrimination contract language that ensures student workers’ right to all-gender bathrooms and lactation stations in the workplace. Contract negotiations are ongoing, with the union continuing to push for rights for undocumented graduate students, competitive compensation rates, further support for student parents and a voice in setting TA-to-student ratios. The historic win on all-gender restrooms—this may be the first union contract with language guaranteeing such access—shows that unions can play a significant role in challenging institutional transphobia and in making workplaces less hostile toward gender-variant people, who endure particularly high rates of unemployment. In recent years, under the leadership of the reform caucus, Academic Workers for a Democratic Union, the union has pursued a project of social justice unionism.
9. At Columbia, Students Take Sexual Violence to the Feds
In the wake of a year of sustained organizing on campus by the Coalition Against Sexual Violence, on April 24, twenty-three Columbia and Barnard students, including several queer and trans survivors, filed Title IX, Title II and Clery complaints against Columbia University. Students cited specific concerns about existing sexual violence resources, mental health support and adjudication procedures. Columbia Psychological Services is already working with students to improve its support, but the complaint highlights the office’s lack of trans therapists or queer people of color on staff. Students are meeting with the administration and pushing for commitments to an inclusive Consent 101 and across-the-board competency trainings for staff.
10. Undocumented Students Keep Winning
On May 2, the final day of Florida’s congressional session, state representatives finally signed a bill that would allow undocumented students from Florida high schools to obtain fee-waivers allowing them to pay in-state tuition. Throughout the spring, students and immigrant justice groups organized across the state to pressure elected representatives. On the last week of the session, undocumented students and allies flooded Tallahassee, the state capital, to demand a vote on the bill. The bill is now at the desk of Governor Rick Scott. Students are poised to respond in the chance that he hesitates to sign it.
—Students Working for Equal Rights
11. Youth Resistance to Deportations Rages On
On April 30, seven teenage children of immigrants, ages 11 to 16, were arrested in DC for blocking an intersection outside the US Capitol building. Part of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement’s Stop Separating Families escalation campaign, our goal was to send a clear message to our elected leaders: we will not tolerate family separation any longer. All of us have been active in our respective states—Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada—but this was the first time we engaged in civil disobedience together.
12. 80 Miles for Restorative Justice
From April 21 to April 23, supporters of Youth Voice walked eighty miles, with cold nights, rain and no sidewalks, from Detroit to Lansing. Upon arrival at the capital, we spoke on the need to revise zero tolerance policies which mandate suspensions and expulsions for minor infractions like coming to school late or forgetting a school uniform or picture ID. With public support from Michigan’s Director of Human Services, we will continue to push for new legislation modifying the state’s zero tolerance law and to make the case for effective alternatives, such as restorative practices.
13. Two Miles for Free Transit
In the past two weeks, the Providence Student Union has organized a youth-led forum for Providence’s mayoral candidates, won a court case that reignites Rhode Island’s debate over high-stakes testing and won our fight for equitable transportation. For months, PSU has campaigned for the expansion of free bus passes, which Providence high school students receive only if they live more than three miles from school. In February, we kickstarted our effort with a “Walk in Our Shoes” event, bringing dozens of elected officials and education leaders together to walk a PSU member’s average 2.96 miles to school. PSU student leaders’ consistent advocacy led the mayor to announce this week that bus passes will be extended over the next two years to students living more than two miles from school, expanding free public transportation for more than 1,800 high school students annually.
—Providence Student Union
14. When Will Jane Doe Be Freed?
Jane Doe, a 16-year-old trans girl of color living under the care of Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families, was transferred into solitary confinement at an adult female facility on April 8. This transfer came months after an incident in which Doe was physically restrained and lashed out at a staff member. Doe has suffered a history of torturous abuse under DCF care, for which no one has been held accountable. Commissioner Joette Katz has lied repeatedly about Jane’s history and conduct and her own intentions of transferring Jane to a men’s prison. Justice for Jane is organizing for trans youth, youth of color and poor youth mistreated by DCF. We believe Jane should be transferred to a therapeutic facility for youth or into foster care, and that the statute under which she was imprisoned should be repealed immediately. Jane has received support from myriad community groups, student groups and prominent trans activists. Our next action, May 8, will mark her thirtieth day in solitary confinement.
—Justice for Jane
15. When Will Davis Get It?
On May 2, students at the University of California–Davis took over the campus coffee house to protest a racist event. (Video: CBS Local)
—MEChA de UC Davis