Students call for sanctuary campuses

Since President-Elect Donald Trump’s unexpected victory last month, the U.S. has seen mass protests, many of them originating on university and college campuses. More than 100 universities had staged walkouts on Nov. 16 in response to the outcome of the presidential election, according to the New York Post.

Among the calls for change heard from students is the creation of “sanctuary campuses.” According to The Atlantic, the term is derived from “sanctuary city,” and is essentially university commitment to support its immigrant students and deny immigration officials access to raid the campus or obtain names of undocumented students.

On Nov. 17, hundreds of students from Northeastern University gathered on Centennial Common to protest Donald Trump’s election and called on university administrators to establish a sanctuary campus. The protest was organized by Students Against Institutional Discrimination (SAID), according to The Huntington News. SAID published an open letter to university president Joseph Aoun and Northeastern officials, asking them to denounce acts of bigotry from students and commit to a sanctuary campus.

Aoun has not committed to the sanctuary campus title, but in an email to students on Nov. 14, he reiterated the school’s ideals of inclusion and tolerance. “Please know that Northeastern will always be a haven for inclusion and free expression. We will always defend human dignity. We will never countenance bigotry or intolerance in any form,” Aoun wrote.

Even the University of Pennsylvania, Trump’s alma mater, announced on Nov. 31 that its campus would become a sanctuary campus for individuals fearing deportation, according to an article by The Philadelphia Enquirer. “The University of Pennsylvania will continue to advocate passionately for comprehensive immigration reform,” UPenn president Amy Gutmann said in an email to students on Wednesday. The announcement came in reaction to Trump’s claims that he will repeal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which delays the deportation process for immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

So far, at least 28 universities have declared themselves to be sanctuary campuses.

However, not everyone is happy with these calls. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Dec. 1 that funding would be cut for universities that identify as sanctuary campuses. “Texas will not tolerate sanctuary campuses or cities. I will cut funding for any state campus if it establishes sanctuary status,” Abbott said in a Tweet on Thursday.

An article from BuzzFeed News warned that loss of funding could become a harsh reality for universities who identify themselves as sanctuary campuses:

“…there’s no legal reason why schools can’t refuse to cooperate with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), however, just as with sanctuary cities, Trump’s administration could restrict the flow of millions in federal funds.”

Students Reflect on the 2016 Presidential Candidates

In less than two weeks, Americans will have selected their next president. Experts have called this election many things, from “the most significant election of our lifetime,” to “the least significant election of our lifetime,”to a”low point in American politics.”

The majority of Americans have lived through and voted in several elections, but for many college-age students, this is the first time they will be casting their votes for a presidential candidate. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have seen their shares of controversy–just this afternoon the FBI announced it was expanding its investigation of Clinton’s emails, a scandal that has plagued her campaign.

So, how will the inflammatory, controversial and unconventional nature of rhetoric and conduct from both sides of this election affect how first-time voters see politics, or view the impact of their vote?

To explore this question, I interviewed four students from Northeastern University. Find out what they shared below:

The “yoga pants guy” Points to a Bigger Issue

The Boston Globe recently published an op-ed defending the man who has gained the nickname “the yoga pants guy” seemingly overnight, after his letter to the editor of The Barrington Times went viral. Alan Sorrentino, 63, submitted a letter to the R.I. newspaper in which he claimed that yoga pants, popular among all ages for their affordability and comfortable fit, should not be worn by a “woman over 20 years old.”

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Photo via WPRI

Sorrentino defended his letter as a joke, which he meant for the public to take lightly. However, many saw it as an offensive and Trump-like objectification and commentary on women’s appearances.  In response, community members organized a Yoga Pants Parade, which marched by Sorrentino’s door on Oct. 23 to demonstrate community members wearing yoga pants with pride. “This is NOT a hateful protest against Alan. This a wonderful group of people celebrating our bodies and our right to cover them however we see fit. And while yoga pants seem to be a silly thing to fight for, they are representative of something much bigger – Misogyny and the history of men policing womens bodies,” the event’s Facebook page read .

The Globe’s op-ed defended Sorrentino’s right to pen the letter, though it did criticize his message.

It is important to note that Sorrentino is a liberal Democrat who maintains that his letter was not meant to be taken so seriously or to trigger national news coverage. Regardless, his words speak to a larger problem.

Shaming women for their physical appearances is an issue that has received widespread press coverage as of late, and especially since the controversies that have arisen since the respective Trump/Clinton campaigns took off. British newspaper the Telegraph even has a “Donald Trump Sexism Tracker,” which lists and ranks every offensive comment Trump has made since running for the presidency.

Regardless of Sorrentino’s intentions, his words remain intact in this cyber world and point to a larger issue that affects women of all ages, including those at the college level (almost half of Northeastern’s female population is older that Sorrentino’s 20-year-old standards).

At a time when heightened attention has been paid to exposing and condemning objectification of women, Sorrentino’s attempt at humor seems misguided.

Campus Costumes Gone Too Far

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Image from Birgerking, Creative Commons

This week, the University of Massachusetts Amherst made headlines when guidelines for this year’s campus Halloween costumes popped up in residence halls. The university’s “Simple Costume Racism Evaluation and Assessment Meter” (SCREAM) was first reported by Campus Reform, and is designed as a way for students to assess whether or not their Halloween costume may be considered offensive. Among those categories of costumes considered to pose the highest level of threat are costumes centered on “controversial current events or historically accepted cliches,”especially if those events or ideas, “relate to a person or people not of your race,” according to an article by Campus Reform.

In a comment issued to NewBostonPost, university spokesman Ed Blaguszewski explained that UMass’s SCREAM is not intended to ban costumes, merely to educate students on their potential implications:

As part of the university’s continuing efforts to foster an inclusive and supportive living environment for all students, resident assistants at UMass Amherst this month created bulletin boards communicating those values and explaining how some Halloween costumes may be offensive to others. The guidelines used to create the bulletin boards are intended to educate students about cultural appropriation and help them make informed choices about costumes. UMass Amherst does not prohibit or ban any costumes.

Though some have criticized or mocked UMass’s new costume suggestions, cultural appropriation and marginalization are serious issues, especially around Halloween time. “Unfortunately, sometimes the “fun” comes at the expense of others, and the scariest thing is how rampant racism is on Halloween,” columnist Kat Lazo wrote in a blog post on Everyday Feminism. “…your costume can still perpetuate harmful stereotypes and stigmas, which then welcomes more aggressive racist attitudes.”

DivestNU Takes Centennial

At 8 a.m. on Oct. 3, they went to work. Adorned in bandanas, homemade t-shirts and square pendants—all orange, the color adopted by the fossil fuel divestment movement—students from DivestNU set up their campground on Centennial Common. According to members, they will not leave until the university agrees to engage in a meaningful dialogue about divesting from the fossil fuel industry.

DivestNU is a coalition of more than 20 campus groups, all advocating for university divestment from the fossil fuel industry. According to group members, this public and long-term demonstration is all about visibility and sending a message to the administration. “What we really want right now is some acknowledgement of the student voice,” said Nick Boyd, a third-year electrical engineering major. On the second day of the campout, administrators told students that a representative would meet with them at noon to talk about the group’s demands. No representative came. According to Boyd, they have not directly heard from the university since.

Divest co-director Austin Williams said the demonstration comes in response to what the group believes is a dismissal of student voice on this issue. In a March 2014 referendum, divestment from fossil fuels won 75 percent of the student vote. Two years later, the university’s Social Impact Council issued a recommendation of divestment from the fossil fuel industry. In response, Northeastern administrators announced last July that, rather than divesting from the fossil fuel industry, they will be investing $25 million elsewhere, “with a focus on sustainability, including clean energy, renewables, green building, and sustainable water and agriculture”—although it is unclear at this time where exactly these investments will be going.

The DivestNU fight continues. Their demonstration is going on its eighth consecutive day, and DivestNU members maintain they will not leave the quad until the university responds to them, or until they are forced to leave by the Northeastern University Police Department. Check out some of the faces of the movement in the photo gallery above.

The Roots of the Safe Spaces Debate

This week, Campus Reform posted a video of a confrontation at a University of Kansas ‘Young Americans for Freedom’ meeting over discussion of safe spaces and their relation to social justice.

Why have so-called “safe spaces,” generated such heated dialogue and confrontational debate on campuses?

Safe spaces became a more visible issue of national debate this past August, when the University of Chicago sent a letter to all incoming freshmen informing them that the school would not cancel controversial speakers, or warn students before conversations or material that may offend them (often referred to as a trigger warning).

Student reactions at the university were mixed. In an interview with NPR, University of Chicago students Jay Gibbs and Marty Jiffar represented opposing views on the issue. Gibbs was in favor of the university’s hardline approach to safety spaces and trigger warnings,“The way I see it, when you attach something and call it kind of a trigger, you attach this sort of stigma to it.” However, Jiffar said he felt there was a misunderstanding of what a trigger warning or safety space really is. To Jiffar, these acted as safeguards for students who may have had a traumatic experience and who could be triggered by related topics or images.

That sort of experience—that’s not when you learn. That’s not when you grow. You know, that’s when you feel unsafe in a classroom. And I feel like telling those students that we don’t care about their learning and we don’t care about how they feel safe—you know, I feel like that’s really insulting.

Part of the reason there has been such heated debate around safety spaces is because of this same ambiguity—many people don’t understand what they are, or have different perspectives of safety spaces and trigger warnings based on their own experiences.

The University of North Carolina recently held a student panel on the issue of safe spaces as a First Amendment Day kick-off event. However, much of the panel debate was centered on defining what these spaces actually were. “Can we as an institution be sensitive to every minority, ever feeling, every possible offense out there without binding and shackling the free flow of ideas that make these institutions great?” said student Caleb Johnson. PhD candidate Brooks Fuller questioned Johnson’s characterization of the role of safe spaces, “I’m not sure if in the trigger warning debate, it’s so much about accommodating power imbalance and correcting power imbalance.” This dialogue continued among several students on the panel until they eventually voted in favor of keeping safe spaces and trigger warnings on campus.

Safe spaces originated on many campuses through members of the LGBTQ communities who were seeking guaranteed judgment-free and hate-free areas. Northeastern University participates in a Safe Zone program. However, the university’s definition of a safe space goes beyond the physical, “A Safe Zone is also a state of mind. Actions speak louder than words, as such, individuals who identify as a Safe Zone advocate on behalf of the LGBTQ community by speaking out against homophobia and heterosexism.” This broad definition only further muddles debate on the issue, as it differs from definitions offered from many other unversities and encompasses both a physical and intellectual safety sphere.

Dialogues about safety spaces, as evidenced by the confrontation at the University of Kansas, are often heated. Much of this stems from the fact that perceptions of safe spaces are often personal and unwavering, and are therefore polarized.