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March 16, 2015 2

To Confront Racism, We Must Also Look In the Mirror

teenagers debateLast week, dis­turb­ing video emerged of fra­ter­nity broth­ers from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) chap­ter at the Uni­ver­sity of Okla­homa laugh­ing while singing a racist chant: “There will never be a ni**** SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me. There will never be a ni**** SAE.”

The news comes on the heels of the recent find­ings from a Depart­ment of Jus­tice inves­ti­ga­tion in Fer­gu­son, MO which, among other things, revealed a deeply trou­bling series of racist emails by Fer­gu­son offi­cials. One email, for exam­ple, in Novem­ber 2008 pre­dicted that Pres­i­dent Obama would not be pres­i­dent much longer because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”

With few excep­tions, peo­ple have denounced these inci­dents as racist. Imme­di­ately after the news broke, the pres­i­dent of the Uni­ver­sity of Okla­homa con­demned the stu­dents’ behav­ior and sev­ered all ties between the uni­ver­sity and the local SAE chap­ter.  At the same time, the national SAE head­quar­ters shut down the local chap­ter. Ferguson’s munic­i­pal court clerk was fired and the chief of police and two police offi­cers resigned after the DOJ report was released.

It is cer­tainly appro­pri­ate to con­demn this racism and teach peo­ple to chal­lenge biased lan­guage, but it is not enough.  Today, thank­fully, such overt racism is much less com­mon than in the past.  Still, there is an under­cur­rent of much sub­tler, more deeply buried bias that still flows through Amer­ica.  While fewer and fewer Amer­i­cans would use overt offen­sive, deroga­tory terms, many of us—consciously or not—have implicit biases (uncon­scious atti­tudes, stereo­types or unin­ten­tional actions that we direct at a mem­ber of a group sim­ply because of that person’s mem­ber­ship in that group).

The implicit biases embed­ded in, for exam­ple, the racial dis­par­i­ties in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem or the seg­re­gated nature of the col­lege fra­ter­nity sys­tem, can be as or more harm­ful than this hate­ful and deroga­tory language.

From a very early age we learn to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between things that are the same and things that are dif­fer­ent: one of these things is not like the other one.  Sci­ence shows that we make the same snap judg­ments about other peo­ple, using what we know and what we assume to cat­e­go­rize things. While that gives us impor­tant tools in mak­ing sense of the world, when paired with soci­etal biases and stereo­types it can become harm­ful. As a result of sub­tle mes­sages through­out soci­ety, most people—whether or not they intend it, and often when they expressly do not—have some implicit biases.

Stud­ies have found, for exam­ple, that doc­tors are more likely to pre­scribe pain med­ica­tion for white patients with a bro­ken leg than African Amer­i­can or Latino patients. Law firm part­ners, when asked to eval­u­ate a memo writ­ten by a hypo­thet­i­cal asso­ciate, scored the memo lower and found more mis­takes when they were told it had been writ­ten by an African Amer­i­can.  Another study found that, in order to get a call for an inter­view, appli­cants with typ­i­cally black names (such as Jamal or Lak­isha) had to send out 50 per­cent more resumes.

It is easy to dis­miss the racism at SAE and in Fer­gu­son as an aber­ra­tion and some­thing we would never engage in our­selves. It is much harder to deny that we have any implicit bias, espe­cially if you take the Implicit Asso­ci­a­tion Test. Because implicit bias begins at a very early age and devel­ops over the course of a life­time, there are ways we can par­ent, teach and inter­act with young peo­ple to coun­ter­act these direct and indi­rect messages:

  • Make your home, class­room and school envi­ron­ment as diverse as pos­si­ble so that from an early age, you work to coun­ter­act neg­a­tive biases. This means cre­at­ing an inclu­sive and cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive class­room with books, class­room dis­plays, bul­letin boards, hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions, videos, sto­ries, text­books, etc. and make sure dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives are reflected in your class­room curriculum.
  • Affirm and reflect the dif­fer­ent aspects of iden­tity rep­re­sented in your class­room and help young peo­ple decon­struct assump­tions, stereo­types and labels they have about dif­fer­ent groups of people.
  • Teach stu­dents what overt and implicit bias are and seek their par­tic­i­pa­tion in pro-actively doing some­thing about it.

 

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March 2, 2015 3

From Selma to Ferguson: Standing Together for Justice

We_March_With_Selma

What do you know about the events in Selma, Alabama in the 1960’s? What part of that his­tory speaks to you?

This year marks the 50th anniver­sary of the march from Selma to Mont­gomery, Alabama. In the his­tory books, we know this as Bloody Sun­day, where 600 peace­ful pro­tes­tors were met with bru­tal­ity. As events unfolded, the media cap­tured pho­tos and film of what would later become the impe­tus for thou­sands to become a part of the move­ment. Dr. King and his fol­low­ers focused their cam­paign on Alabama because of the sup­pres­sion of black people’s right to vote there. They knew how impor­tant it was for the world to see the vio­lence and to have those images on its con­scious­ness. They knew that those who believed in equal­ity were not going to be able to sim­ply rest on their beliefs.

The Civil Rights Move­ment  needed action from the com­mu­nity, the nation and the gov­ern­ment and that was the moment when it was needed most.  It is hard to imag­ine the level of com­mit­ment one would need to inten­tion­ally expose one­self to phys­i­cal vio­lence, but that’s exactly what Dr. King asked of them in their fight for jus­tice and equity.  Selma is part of our shared his­tory, and there is no deny­ing that notable progress has been made.  Cur­rent events of the past year are a clear reminder, how­ever, that much work still needs to be done.

Last sum­mer, there was dis­cus­sion through­out the coun­try about Fer­gu­son being the Civil Rights Move­ment for this gen­er­a­tion. We can draw some com­par­isons to Selma, while rec­og­niz­ing that the bla­tant denial of vot­ing rights in 1960 Alabama was an extreme ver­sion of racism. Nightly, we watched as news media deliv­ered images of pro­tes­tors in Fer­gu­son who were angry and frus­trated by the tragic con­se­quences of the insti­tu­tional racism which has had a sig­nif­i­cant impact on their oppor­tu­ni­ties and liveli­hood and the community’s safety. As they had dur­ing Selma, peo­ple from across the coun­try were moti­vated to join in and become a part of some­thing big­ger than them­selves.  Fer­gu­son pro­vided that moment when peo­ple could take action in sup­port of the val­ues of jus­tice and equity we col­lec­tively hold as a nation.  Activism took on many forms, as peo­ple from diverse com­mu­ni­ties descended on Fer­gu­son to add their sup­port to the protest, sim­i­lar to the 8,000 that came to Selma on the third attempt to make their val­ues and beliefs heard.

Selma, Fer­gu­son and all the other events that have raised aware­ness to issues of injus­tice serve as step­ping stones to progress. It’s not enough for us to be con­tent with the advance­ments we’ve made; we need to con­sider how to con­tinue advo­cat­ing for insti­tu­tional change. Civil rights pio­neer, Fred­er­ick Dou­glass said “If there is no strug­gle, there is no progress. Those who pro­fess to favor free­dom, and yet depre­ci­ate agi­ta­tion, are men who want crops with­out plow­ing up the ground. They want rain with­out thun­der and light­ning. They want the ocean with­out the awful roar of its many waters. This strug­gle may be a moral one; or it may be a phys­i­cal one; or it may be both moral and phys­i­cal; but it must be a strug­gle. Power con­cedes noth­ing with­out a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Our beliefs in equity and jus­tice for all peo­ple mean we may have to be will­ing to chal­lenge the insti­tu­tions that are bet­ter served by main­tain­ing the sta­tus quo than by chal­leng­ing it.  Fifty years ago, the peo­ple of Selma faced injus­tice and decided it was time to stand up. We fol­low in their brave foot­steps.  Both Selma and Fer­gu­son pro­vide teach­able moments for edu­ca­tors to share his­tory and sto­ries, teach about bias and injus­tice and inspire stu­dents to take action to cre­ate pos­i­tive change in the world.

 

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February 27, 2015 2

College Campuses Continue To Face Divisive BDS Campaigns

Through­out the 2014–15 aca­d­e­mic year, a con­sor­tium of stu­dent groups have ini­ti­ated cam­paigns on cam­pus call­ing on their schools to divest from com­pa­nies that they believe either profit from or aid in the Israeli occupation.BDS-campus-anti-israel

The efforts are part of the larger Boy­cott, Divest­ment, and Sanc­tions (BDS) move­ment, a global effort to iso­late and pun­ish Israel because of its poli­cies toward the Pales­tini­ans. While sup­port­ers of the BDS move­ment claim to embrace the tac­tic as a non­vi­o­lent way to pres­sure Israel into nego­ti­a­tions, one of the prin­ci­pal com­po­nents of the cam­paign calls for a full and com­plete right of return for Pales­tini­ans which would result in a non-Jewish major­ity and erase the Jew­ish char­ac­ter of Israel. The BDS cam­paign is clearly a biased effort to demo­nize Israel and place the entire onus of the con­flict on the Jew­ish state.

While these ini­tia­tives have failed to have any prac­ti­cal out­comes in terms of uni­ver­sity invest­ment poli­cies, it can­not be ignored that some have had a divi­sive and cor­ro­sive effect on the cam­pus cli­mate. On some cam­puses, divest­ment ini­tia­tives have left Jew­ish and pro-Israel stu­dents feel­ing belea­guered and iso­lated. Other stu­dents report a tense atmos­phere on cam­puses where stu­dents and stu­dent lead­ers are pres­sured to “choose sides” on a con­flict they know lit­tle about.

So far this aca­d­e­mic year, nearly 300 anti-Israel events have been sched­uled, with about 40% of them focused on BDS cam­paigns. In addi­tion, BDS res­o­lu­tions have been voted in stu­dent gov­ern­ment on or ini­ti­ated by anti-Israel stu­dent groups on 11 campuses.

In the com­ing weeks, addi­tion BDS activ­ity will be coor­di­nated on cam­pus as part of the eleventh annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), which began on Feb­ru­ary 23 and is sched­uled to run through March. IAW Events have been sched­uled on at least 25 col­lege cam­puses in the U.S. thus far. Some cam­puses are sched­uled to host pre­sen­ta­tions on top­ics such as the false Gaza-Ferguson anal­ogy and oth­ers will set up mock “apartheid walls” on their cam­puses, and/or dis­trib­ute mock “evic­tion notices.”

Below is a list of cur­rent cam­pus BDS cam­paigns and res­o­lu­tions which have been voted on:

  • North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity – The North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity stu­dent gov­ern­ment passed a divest­ment res­o­lu­tion sub­mit­ted by the student-group NU Divest on Wednes­day, Feb­ru­ary 18, 2015. The vote was 24–22-3.
  • Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity – The Under­grad­u­ate Sen­ate of Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity passed a BDS res­o­lu­tion sub­mit­ted by the student-group Stan­ford out of Occu­pied Pales­tine on Tues­day, Feb­ru­ary 17, 2015. The vote on the res­o­lu­tion was 10–4-1.
  • Uni­ver­sity of Toledo – The Uni­ver­sity of Toledo stu­dent gov­ern­ment ruled that a BDS res­o­lu­tion sub­mit­ted by the cam­pus Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine chap­ter was uncon­sti­tu­tional on Tues­day, Feb­ru­ary 17, 2015.
  • Uni­ver­sity of California-Davis – The UC Davis Stu­dent Sen­ate passed a divest­ment res­o­lu­tion that was sub­mit­ted by the cam­pus Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine chap­ter on Thurs­day, Jan­u­ary 29, 2015. The vote on the res­o­lu­tion was 8–2-2, but it was chal­lenged and over­turned by the student-led Court of Asso­ci­ated Stu­dents, which is beyond the juris­dic­tion of the Stu­dent Senate.
  • United Auto Work­ers (UAW) 2865 – The Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Stu­dent Work­ers Union (UAW 2865) endorsed a divest­ment res­o­lu­tion on Thurs­day, Decem­ber 4, 2014 call­ing on the UC Board of Regents to divest from com­pa­nies that are allegedly prof­it­ing from or aid­ing in the Israeli occu­pa­tion. The res­o­lu­tion also called for an end of U.S. aid to Israel and for UAW Inter­na­tional to divest from the same cor­po­ra­tions. The vote was 1411–749.
  • Uni­ver­sity of California-Los Ange­les - On Tues­day, Novem­ber 18, 2014, the UCLA stu­dent gov­ern­ment endorsed a divest­ment res­o­lu­tion that was sub­mit­ted by the cam­pus Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine chap­ter. The vote on the res­o­lu­tion was 8–2-2.

Below is a list of BDS cam­paigns cur­rently tak­ing place:

  • Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan –  The student-group Stu­dents Allied for Free­dom and Equal­ity (SAFE) at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan announced plans to ini­ti­ate a divest­ment cam­paign called “#UMDi­vest” on Feb­ru­ary 18, 2015. To go along with this, they are host­ing a BDS sym­po­sium to dis­cuss the cam­paign, read the res­o­lu­tion, and answer ques­tions from the audience.
  • Uni­ver­sity of Hous­ton – The Uni­ver­sity of Hous­ton Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine (SJP) chap­ter announced plans to ini­ti­ate a BDS cam­paign on Feb­ru­ary 12, 2015. The group spon­sored a pro-BDS demon­stra­tion on their cam­pus that day where the cam­paign was announced.
  • Ohio State Uni­ver­sity – A newly-founded group called Ohio State Uni­ver­sity Divest (OSU Divest) started a divest­ment cam­paign on Jan­u­ary 29, 2015. They announced their cam­paign through a press release and state that they were call­ing on the Uni­ver­sity to divest from com­pa­nies that allegedly harm and/or profit from harm­ing Palestinians.
  • San Diego State Uni­ver­sity – SDSU Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine launched a divest­ment cam­paign and new group called San Diego State Uni­ver­sity Divest (SDSU Divest) on Jan­u­ary 25, 2015. To go along with the cam­paign, they have been cir­cu­lat­ing a peti­tion to cur­rent stu­dents, alumni, fac­ulty, staff, and com­mu­nity mem­bers that calls for divest­ment “from com­pa­nies that profit from vio­lence against the Palestinians.”
  • Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Florida – The Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Florida SJP chap­ter put up a pro-BDS bill­board near cam­pus to claim that 10,000 stu­dents were silenced because BDS was not enforced by the Uni­ver­sity Admin­is­tra­tion after the group allegedly col­lected 10,000 sig­na­tures call­ing on the uni­ver­sity to divest from cor­po­ra­tions that allegedly profit from the Israeli occupation.

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