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 March 21, April 8, April 23 and May 6. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).
1. As Graduation Approaches, Smithies Kick Out the IMF
Smith College’s invitation to IMF managing director Christine Lagarde to act as this year’s commencement speaker sparked controversy across campus. In February, students circulated a petition to uninvite Lagarde, which garnered nearly 500 signatures. On May 2, fifty-six students who opposed the invitation marched to the president’s house. Inviting Lagarde directly undermines Smith’s claim to endorse the empowerment of marginalized voices, specifically voices of women of color; the IMF’s practices directly harm women around the world, including some Smith students. Since Lagarde withdrew on Monday, May 12, critics of our protests have claimed that we do not value “diversity of opinion.” Our aim is to challenge this claim—which essentially silences our own opinions—and the consistent privileging of powerful white voices.
—Alyssa Flores and Kimberly Garcia
2. The Next Day, Berkeley Chancellor Walks
On April 17, Haverford College’s Honorary Degree Committee announced the selection of Robert Birgeneau as commencement speaker. Birgeneau was chancellor of the University of California–Berkeley during the Occupy Cal protests and justified their brutal dispersal by describing linking arms as “not nonviolent civil disobedience,” before apologizing nearly two weeks later following public outcry. Haverford students circulated a petition raising concerns about Birgeneau’s role in the police reaction, but in a two-sentence response, Birgeneau said that he would not “respond to untruthful, violent verbal attacks.” Subsequently, President Dan Weiss called a community forum, where sentiment among students and faculty speakers largely turned against Birgeneau’s invitation. The Honorary Degree Committee let the invitation stand, but promised a review of its procedures for soliciting community input. President Weiss then announced on May 13 that Birgeneau had declined to attend and would not receive a degree.
3. Meanwhile, Bryant Gets a Mississippi Welcome
On May 10, students attending graduation ceremonies at the University of Mississippi adorned their caps and gowns with positive signs of equality in protest of Governor Phil Bryant’s keynote commencement speech. Bryant recently signed a controversial law, the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, potentially allowing privately owned businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples in the name of religious freedom. With support from Equality Mississippi, the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies and the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, more than 1,000 students wore rainbow Mississippi stickers on their lapels or “I am Mississippi, I Don’t Discriminate” stickers on their caps. More than 100 students, faculty and deans wore lavender honors cords for LGBT+ equality. Many students and families boycotted the commencement speech entirely.
4. In Philly, Thirty Stage Sit-In
On Monday, May 12, members of Youth United for Change held a sit-in at the School District of Philadelphia. Thirty students chanted our way into district headquarters and sat down in the front lobby of the building. For forty-five minutes, students got up to speak about budget cuts, until police officers threatened to arrest us if we didn’t leave. This action coincided with the week of the sixtieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, a time to highlight educational injustice; proposed budget cuts would shrink staff and supplies, push class sizes to 41 students and cut $2.3 million from alternative education. In the coming weeks, we are planning further demonstrations until our demands for fair funding are met.
5. In Montgomery County, 500 Walk Out
On Friday, May 9, more than 500 students at Perkiomen Valley High School in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, walked out to protest potential cuts to high school faculty. Students spoke passionately about the positive impact of the three core subject teachers, two paraprofessionals, two lunchroom aides and two elective program teachers who face the possibility of getting laid off. The proposed cuts came about due to a $1,314,500 budget shortfall; while we understand the need for cuts, we believe that the teachers and support staff who have helped make our district one of the top in the state should not be sacrificed. As the school year ends, we will continue fighting to fix the fundamentally flawed education funding system affecting every school district across Southeastern Pennsylvania and pushing the board to find other solutions to save our staff.
—Addison Hunsicker, Cassidy Mattiola and Sean Moriarity
6. South Carolina’s Gender Trouble
On Monday, May 15, administrators at the University of South Carolina–Upstate announced the closing of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, citing insufficient funding—but students, faculty, alumni and community members remain skeptical. The decision came shortly after South Carolina legislators contested USC-Upstate’s implementation of a freshman reading highlighting the lives of every-day Southerners in the LGBTQIA community. CWGS had no part in the selection of the reading, and, as such, we feel that the center is being forced to take the fall. Students and alumni started a petition asking the university to reinstate, fund and fully staff the center because of the important role it plays in helping us reach our goals at Upstate and beyond. In the final weeks of the semester, students are planning a sit-in to protest the decision.
7. Wesleyan’s War of Attrition
On May 12th, more than 100 students at Wesleyan University from the #AFAMisWhy campaign marched across campus demanding institutional support for African American Studies at Wesleyan. Two professors are leaving AFAM this semester, leaving only one full time professor in the department as it stands—continuing a decade of neglect of the program by the university. This action came on the heels of a resolution from the Wesleyan Student Assembly, which turned into a petition garnering 1,000 signatures in a week. The march ended in South College at the office of President Michael Roth, then evolved into a sit-in in front of the office of the provost and VP of academic affairs. A meeting was scheduled for 4:30 pm later that day, where more than 130 students showed up to demand support for AFAM.
8. San Diego’s Slumlording
This month, more than 9,000 students and community members have petitioned the University of California–San Diego not to attempt—once again—to close the Che Café Collective. The Che is a renowned all-ages music venue on campus that is leased from the university and run by students and volunteers. The University Centers Advisory Board proposed a line-item cut of inflated maintenance costs to the Che that the university claims are necessary and would force it to close and book shows at bars on campus. More than seventy people attended a May 13 board meeting to comment on the vote. The university tried to keep them out until protest forced the meeting to a bigger room. Unable to accommodate all speakers, a second meeting and vote has been scheduled. Supporters will fight to stay in the space, get the university to cover its obligated repairs as landlords and renegotiate the lease after six years of university stalling.
—Andrea Carter and Hasmik Geghamyan
9. How Much Will Sallie Mae Pay?
On May 13, Sallie Mae reached settlements with the Department of Justice and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to pay $97 million in fines and restitution to former service members for overcharging on student loans, violating multiple federal laws. For more than a year, the Student Labor Action Project has been calling for the Department of Education to cancel its multimillion-dollar contract with Sallie Mae alongside coalition partners, including the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the US Student Association, but the department has claimed that no “wholesale” violation occurred that would justify ending the contract. 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. In June, we will launch further action to pressure the department to cut its contract.
10. What’s Next for Title IX?
Since July 2013, Know Your IX’s ED ACT NOW campaign has been demanding the Department of Education do its job: enforce Title IX, the forty-year-old law that guarantees students education free from sexual violence and harassment. This month, the ED ACT NOW team saw its efforts pay off: in a rare move, ED publicly called out Tufts University and the Virginia Military Institute for violating Title IX and published a list of all fifty-five universities currently under federal investigation for Title IX violations. As a result, the department’s website crashed, and Title IX trended on Facebook as prospective students and their families scrambled to learn colleges’ track records on sexual violence. Moving forward, ED ACT NOW will continue calling on ED to issue fines against schools found in violation of the law to show that the institutional abuse of survivors will not be tolerated.
—Know Your IX