This post is part of The Nation’s biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on youth organizing. For recent dispatches, check out February 20 and March 5. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).
Amid extensive racist harassment, including death threats, students from the Kalamazoo College Intercultural Center Movement have declared a state of emergency. On March 7, 100 students, faculty and members of the Grand Rapids Black Lives Matter chapter stormed the college’s Board of Trustees meeting to urge the administration to listen to the voices of students of color who feel #UnsafeAtK. Prior to the action, we held a press conference addressing our experiences with racism on campus and the college’s continual neglect of our concerns, while demanding an intercultural center, administrative transparency, increased hiring and retention of faculty of color, recruitment of local students of color via the Kalamazoo Promise and the incorporation of ethnicity requirements throughout the curriculum.
On March 7, a group of organizations in the Southern Vision Alliance, including the Youth Organizing Institute, Ignite NC and the NC Student Power Union journeyed from Raleigh to Selma for the fiftieth anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” a landmark moment in civil-rights history. Upwards of 80,000 people gathered to commemorate the moment—and see the movement forward. In Selma, the poverty rate among African-Americans is 48 percent, and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Shelby County case has removed vital protections for voting rights—paralleling nationwide trends in the denial of political power for people of color. In North Carolina, we are bringing the movement home by organizing for equitable schools, an end to the school-to-prison pipeline, voting rights and living wage jobs.
—Southern Vision Alliance
3. The Ninety-Six-Hour Action
This month, students across the University of California carried out 96 Hours of Action in response to 27 percent fee hikes and police violence—which, under the banner of racialized class warfare, represent the dual forces of privatization and militarization. On Monday, March 2, UC–Santa Cruz students began with a march blocking intersections with bags of “debt.” On Tuesday, six students blocked the Highway 17 and 1 interchange for more than four hours. On Wednesday, Students for Justice in Palestine set up four mock checkpoints throughout campus to demonstrate the everyday experience of apartheid. An anti-police “antagonistic vigil” followed, in which we marched to the on-campus UCPD station and, confronted by sixty riot cops, silently laid down coffins and then recited poetry. Starting at 4:30 the next morning, we staged one of the most successful strikes in recent campus history, as picketers gathered at both campus entrances and shut down university activity for the day. Following this week, we are discussing both long-term organizational questions as well as immediate actions, including one at the upcoming Regents’ meeting on March 18.
4. The Gold Standard
Beginning on March 3, an anonymous group of University of California–Berkeley students, the Bathroom Brigade, launched a mass redesignation project, posting all-gender signs on bathroom doors across campus. The UC’s response threw into question its stated commitment to “be the gold standard” of safety for trans and gender nonconforming students and workers: members of the Brigade were harassed by administrators, and UC Police stopped a public bus in order to detain two others in connection with the action. Despite the widespread outrage that this situation has generated, the Bathroom Brigade remains committed to expanding access to all-gender restrooms. On March 11, the group hosted a surprise “shit-in,” redesignating bathrooms in one of the busiest campus buildings and inviting people to use them as all-gender spaces.
—Beezer de Martelly
5. On Maryland Avenue, Taking the Collectors to Account
On February 27, the US Department of Education announced that it has finally cut ties with five of its debt-collection contractors, including a subsidiary of Navient—a company that was previously a division of Sallie Mae. For the past three years, Jobs With Justice’s Debt Free Future campaign, along with student debtors, the legal community, government agencies and elected officials, have demanded the department hold its debt collectors and servicers accountable. Finally, before the release of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report that specifically named collectors for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the department took action. The question remains: Why is the department outsourcing this work at all? We will continue fighting to ensure student debtors aren’t delivered an empty Bill of Rights—while working toward free higher education and real debt relief.
6. On Capitol Hill, Converging for Youth Justice
On February 25, members of the Dignity in Schools Campaign converged on Washington to address injustices with school pushouts as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We visited congressional offices to urge legislators to oppose Republican bills in the House that would undermine the federal government’s role in education and fail to ensure that federal funds are used to reduce racial and other disparities in education. We will continue to provide members of Congress recommendations that help improve school climate. For members of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, a member of DSC in New Orleans, this campaign builds on local work that calls for a moratorium on out-of school-suspensions, which often lead to incarceration.
7. The First Contract
After being decertified in 2005, New York University’s graduate student union, GSOC-UAW, received recognition as the first and only graduate student union at a private university in the country in 2013. On March 10 at 2 AM, following a year of grueling contract negotiations and on the day of our deadline to strike, NYU agreed to a settlement with remarkable material gains for workers and significant concessions in every unresolved area—including immediate 50 percent wage increases for the lowest paid workers, guaranteed wage increases for the rest, 90 percent healthcare coverage for the majority of the workforce without it and the establishment of family healthcare and childcare funds. This victory reflects the power of democratic, rank-and-file-led unionism. Under the leadership of NYU Academic Workers for a Democratic Union, we grew an active base of graduate workers with ties to the broader NYU community. With this structure in place, an eleventh-hour university-wide anti-union e-mail sent by an NYU provost was met with protests and petitions from undergraduates and ridicule from the university community at large. On the night of bargaining, dozens waited outside negotiations with “GSOC on strike” flags, manifesting a credible strike threat that ultimately forced the administration to cave in.
—Shelly Ronen and Ella Wind
8. The Orphan’s Place
On March 12, popular children’s clothing brand, The Children’s Place, had twenty-seven members of United Students Against Sweatshops, Workers United, ILRF and a survivor of the deadly Rana Plaza building collapse arrested at the company’s headquarters in Secaucus, New Jersey. Survivors of the 2013 disaster have been demanding $8 million in compensation, but the company has paid less than $500,000 to date. In response, we led a peaceful delegation into the company’s national headquarters, holding Children’s Place garments previously found within the rubble of Rana Plaza to remind the company of the blood on its hands. Moments after entering the building, we were arrested and detained at a nearby police station.
Editor’s note: Students at Oklahoma University march in response to a racist video from a now-expelled fraternity on campus. (Video: The Guardian)
—Oklahoma University Community
Editor’s note: Students in Madison walk out and take over the capitol to demand racial justice. (Video: Progressive Polymath)