SPLC on Campus students from Alabama visit detained immigrants in Georgia

Jasmine Boutdy sat outside the glass window, picked up the phone, and listened intently as the detained immigrant on the other side of the glass told his story.

The 23-year-old man had left his family behind in Bangladesh to escape political strife.

First, he traveled to Qatar, then to Brazil, then up through Central America and into Mexico. After crossing the U.S. border, he spent three days walking around before he finally went to police and asked for asylum.

AUM student 2.jpg

For all his trouble, he was sent to Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, where he lost his asylum case. After 15 long months, he remained in detention, with no end in sight.

The man told his story to Boutdy, one of five students at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama (AUM) who visited detained immigrants at Stewart late last year.

The trip was organized by SPLC on Campus, a program of the SPLC that helps college students raise awareness of social justice issues with their peers, and helps them become agents of change within their communities. The program has chapters at 73 colleges across the country.

Boutdy said the detained immigrant’s story especially tugged at her heartstrings because of her own family history.

“My parents were refugees from the Vietnam War, so growing up, I have a connection to these stories about the hardships of coming over as refugees, coming over with little to nothing, language barrier, separation from family,” said Boutdy, 21, a sociology major. “That was a different time, a different experience. So I just wanted to hear a more current perspective.”

The visit to the detention center was an eye-opener not only for Boutdy but also for the other members of SPLC on Campus at AUM who joined her on the trip, said Pia Knigge, PhD, an assistant professor of political science at AUM who is the chapter’s faculty adviser. The group plans to visit Stewart again in April.

“None of us expected what we witnessed, that is: the pronounced inhumanity and injustice embedded in the detention and treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers held at Stewart and unknown to the American public,” Knigge said. “The students have stayed in touch with the detainees they visited, and they are looking forward to the next visit.”

Since her visit to Stewart, Boutdy has been exchanging letters with the detainee she met there.

“If we’re only watching it from the news, if we’re only keeping it at a distance, it stays at a distance, it’s not a real issue that matters to us,” she said. “So now that I have a friend who is an asylum seeker in this space, it means a lot more, and it encourages me to speak up about it, to pursue action.”

Donna Sanford, another SPLC on Campus member at AUM who went on the trip with Boutdy, said she, too, was motivated to speak up about what she saw and heard there.

The Mexican immigrant she visited was detained after he was pulled over for a DUI. He told Sanford he had a cold, but did not receive medical treatment from the center.

“I call them inmates, because that’s how they treat them,” Sanford, 48, a secondary education major, said after her visit. “It was emotional. It’s a drop in the spirit.”

But, she said, “It makes you stronger and want to do something about it.”

The SPLC on Campus group at AUM has made immigration its theme for the year, and members want to get the word out about conditions at Stewart.

They recalled entering the center through gates lined with razor wire, being shepherded through a double-entry access system, and going through metal detectors. They proceeded through sliding bars that were opened, then shut behind them as they went into small rooms. There, they spoke to detainees through phones on either side of a glass partition.

Detainees told them they were forced to sleep in bunk beds in rooms with multiple men, and that it was difficult to sleep because other detainees stayed up late, talking. The students also recalled the hopelessness the men conveyed to them at being locked up without any recourse.

“Their conditions were horrible,” said Sam Duff, 23, vice president of the SPLC on Campus chapter at AUM. Duff spoke to a man from Gambia who had been detained for 18 months after coming to America to visit his family.

“When we conversed, I was just trying to keep his spirits up. He didn’t know what to do.”

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The SPLC is not identifying the detainees in this story to protect their confidentiality. A growing number of detainees at Stewart are represented by the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) – a project of the SPLC that enlists and trains volunteer lawyers to provide free legal representation to detained immigrants who are facing deportation proceedings in the Southeast.

The SPLC on Campus students have vowed to keep exposing conditions at Stewart, hoping to make a difference.

“It was an emotional trip,” Sanford said. “We were all kind of wowed when we came out of there. We’re going back. We’re not going to stop.”


Meet Janelle Cronk, the new SPLC on Campus Program Coordinator

 Janelle Cronk shakes hands with Rep. John Lewis at the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama, Saturday, March 3, 2018.

Janelle Cronk shakes hands with Rep. John Lewis at the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama, Saturday, March 3, 2018.

Janelle Cronk recently joined the Southern Poverty Law Center to work as the new Program Coordinator for SPLC on Campus. 

Why do you want to work with SPLC on Campus?

I’m a passionate believer in the potential students have to promote positive change. I am continuously inspired by the motivation, integrity, and creativity of college students across the nation. I’m excited for the opportunity to work alongside and offer support to the students involved with SPLC on Campus as we continue fighting hate, teaching tolerance, and seeking justice. 

Tell us a bit about your background.

I’m originally from Southern California. I graduated from the University of Redlands with a double major in Women’s and Gender Studies and Global Business. My campus involvement as an undergraduate instilled me with a passion for justice. I believe the student experience offers an unrivaled opportunity to broaden mindsets, encourage critical thought, and promote activism. As an undergraduate, I worked in the Pride Center where I helped organize my city’s 1st Annual LGBTQ Pride. I also organized around women’s rights and environmental justice initiatives, helping to promote collaboration across movements.

What were you doing before you took the job at Southern Poverty Law Center?

I was a Rotary International Scholar at the London School of Economics. I graduated with Distinction with my MSc in Human Rights. While at LSE, I conducted research on how the human rights framework can best be utilized to address different challenges facing LGBTQ communities. My time at the LSE allowed me to critically engage with various justice projects, teaching me that there is no one right way to fight for justice, but many.

What should students do if they want to start an SPLC on Campus club?

If students are interested in learning more, or starting an SPLC on Campus club at their campus they can email me at Janelle.Cronk@splcenter.org and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Auburn students stand up to white supremacy on campus

When a white student at Auburn University in Alabama launched a hate group on campus one year ago, the school’s response seemed unequivocal — “reprehensible and unrepresentative,”  the administration stated.

            But last month when the group, the Auburn White Student Union, was invited to present its racist views at a prestigious Honors College forum, many on campus accused the university of essentially “sponsoring a hate group.”

            As the university scrambled to again denounce the group, the Honors College — an elite body of “1,500 of the best and brightest students” at Auburn — scrubbed the event from its Web site. But not before 60 faculty, staff and students sent a blistering letter to President Steven Leath and Provost Bill Hardgrave:

            “We are in favor of allowing free speech and a diversity of perspectives on Auburn's campus, and we encourage people from different sides of controversial issues to engage in dialogue and face tough questions. But there is a difference between allowing free speech and sponsoring a hate group, which is what the Auburn White Student Union has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center.”

            Auburn, a large land-grant college known for its powerhouse, racially integrated, football team, has wrestled with race relations for much of its history. With a student body of more than 27,000 that is 83 percent white and 7 percent black (in a state that is 73-26 white-black), the school became a target for white supremacists in April 2017 when alt-right founder Richard Spencer won a First Amendment lawsuit to speak. A federal judge ordered Auburn to allow the speech, which drew hundreds of protesters and led to scuffles and three arrests.

            Spencer’s appearance was accompanied by the launch of a Website, “Whites of the Alt-Right Educating Auburn Gentiles for Liberation and Empowerment,” whose acronym, WAR EAGLE, is Auburn’s trademarked sports battle cry. The group distributed white supremacist and anti-semitic flyers on campus, and urged students to join its cause. The university denounced the group and it subsequently changed its name to the Auburn White Student Union.

            Designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Auburn White Student Union is the only such group in the U.S. using a school name, according to the Auburn Plainsman.

            Run by a student who goes by the name of Wyatt Mann, who denies that he is a racist, the White Student Union was invited by the Honors College to speak Feb. 26 at a screening of “Skinheads USA: Soldiers of the Race War,” a documentary on white supremacy. Rather than a making a personal appearance, Mann spoke by Skype audio, according to people who were there.

            Gaining access to such an important gathering had been a long-sought objective of alt-right advocates who for years traded white supremacist views on obscure internet sites. They yearned to inject their racist and radical views into mainstream discourse — to “normalize” their racist views, according to SPLC.

             In fact, when the Honors College first announced the event, the Auburn White Student Union “retweeted the post and added, ‘We/establishment/now,fam’.”

            As the editor of the Plainsman, the student newspaper, later wrote:

            “By defending their invitation…some said the Honors College seemingly equated the White Student Union — an organization that advocates for an all-white society and ethnonationalism — with the Black Lives Matter movement. The Black Lives Matter movement advocates an end to racism and police brutality.”

            Historically, black campus groups date back to the 1960s when black students were part of the civil rights movement. They remain vibrant centers of cultural support for black students who remain minorities on virtually every major public university. The Black Lives Matter movement was spawned by police violence against African Americans.

            Typically, white student unions are fueled by neo-Nazi blogs and other far-right social media. They form when white individuals perceive that people of color have gained some advantage. Facebook has been a gathering site for dozens of groups. In 2015, after the rise of Black Lives Matter the Washington Post counted 30 “white student unions” across the U.S. Most have disappeared. Yet the Auburn hate group has lasted a year.

            After the Honors College incident, Auburn University issued a statement that it did not “support our campus becoming a platform” for white supremacy.

Diversity, hidden in plain sight, haunts higher education in America

College diversity — or the lack of it — has become a flash point at the University of Vermont, one of the whitest schools in the U.S. On Feb. 16 the school’s assistant director of student community relations began a hunger strike to draw attention to the issue, and college groups rallied at the administration building to demand the resignation of UVM’s top three administrators. John Mejia said he began the strike because of “the amount of anti-black racism that is rampant at the university.”

            White supremacist leaflets appeared again around the Burlington campus this winter, They were denounced by President Tom Sullivan. But Mejia and other students demanded more, including more faculty of color, schoolwide diversity training and the renaming of campus buildings.

            The hunger strike ended and talks between student groups and administrators led to measured steps toward diversity.

            College Factual ranks UVM 2,269th out of 2,718 schools for diversity.  Vermont, as a state, is the second whitest, nearly tied with Maine, with 93.9 percent Caucasian and non-Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census. The US News rankings list UVM near the bottom of national universities in racial and ethnic diversity, 0.22 on a scale of 1.0.     

                       A look at college ranking systems shows that diversity is a widely variable index, depending on the criteria used. Researchers must be careful when comparing school diversity.

            College Factual, for example, ranks Dartmouth, Brown and Yale as the top three diverse schools. U.S. News lists Andrews University, Rutgers, and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas at the top with a score of 0.75 on a scale of 1.0.

            According to Niche, Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. is the most diverse college in America, followed by the California College of the Arts and Lynn University. Niche looks at numbers, student reviews, and the “overall level of tolerance on campus,” as measured by various indexes.

            The Atlantic lists South Texas College, the University of Texas-Pan American, and Miami Dade College as its top three.

            According to Best College Reviews, Swarthmore College and the University of Hawaii, Harvey Mudd College, CUNY-City College and the University of Houston are the most diverse schools in the nation. Best College Reviews uses the following criteria: No race can have more than 45 percent representation, at least three races by over 12 percent, the percentage of total minorities graduated and the number of scholarships, clubs, organizations and associations that are available for ethnic groups.           

            The issue of diversity is not an academic one. According to Best College Reviews:

“Students educated in racially and ethnically diverse settings perform better academically and reap greater professional success than peers from more homogeneous learning environments. rankings.”

            According to Bloomberg, businesses are embracing diversity and inclusion not just for social reasons but financial ones, too. “Study after study confirms that companies with a diverse workforce and inclusive policies outperform ones without.”

            In one example of putting its money where its mouth is, Wells Fargo recently donated $350,000 to Clemson to increase the number of diverse teachers in South Carolina schools and support emerging scholars in poor counties of the state.

            In other college diversity news:

            Northwestern University reports that nearly $200,000 in grants and awards were given to faculty who promote equity and inclusion.

            The University of Wisconsin at Madison has hired a diversity director for student athletes. Jennifer Hunter, a lawyer, says there is a bias against athletes of color, “an assumption they were not there on academic merit but only on athletic merit.” Studies indicate that professors have discouraged some student-athletes from taking certain courses, particularly challenging ones, in their majors. That form of discrimination “tends to take a toll on a student’s academic identity and their academic confidence,” says Hunter.

            The diversity programs at the University of North Carolina are under scrutiny by a conservative legislature. A budget bill passed by the General Assembly ordered the UNC administration to study the “efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of the equal opportunity and diversity and inclusion services” at the system’s 17 schools. The study recommended better data collection and uniform standards, but the legislation was viewed by many as a threat to the programs.

            A new documentary, “Agents of Change,” looks back at two famous college diversity strikes 50 years ago. The San Francisco State strike by black students in 1968 and the 1969 takeover of Cornell University’s student union first brought national attention to the privileged, white “ivory tower” of higher education in the U.S. The Web site Cheddar, Inc. interviewed filmmakers Frank Dawson and Abby Ginzberg. “Today, over 45 years later, many of the same demands are surfacing in campus protests across the country, revealing how much work remains to be done,” according to the film’s Web site. It premieres Feb. 20 on America Reframed.

White supremacist propaganda on campus increased by 258% last year. This is how experts plan to fight back.

This article was produced as part of a partnership between 500pens.org and the Southern Poverty Law Center

By Amy Crawford

The flyers first began popping up around Auburn University in April, around the time notorious white nationalist Richard Spencer visited the Alabama campus to give a well-attended speech about how white people are losing a “demographic struggle.”

“They were all over campus,” says Beth McDaniel, a fifth-year doctoral student who serves as president of Auburn’s Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on Campus chapter.

It was already a tense time at Auburn, which had lost a court battle after it attempted to prevent Spencer’s visit based on safety concerns. In a statement informing students, staff and faculty of the court’s decision, the provost’s office had declared, “Whether it’s offensive rhetoric, offensive flyers around campus, or inappropriate remarks on social media, we will not allow the efforts of individuals or groups to undermine Auburn’s core values of inclusion and diversity and challenge the ideals personified by the Auburn Creed.”

The notices were advertising something called the White Student Union, an unsanctioned group—with a website making it look sanctioned by the university—that seemed to position itself in opposition to official university clubs like the Black Student Union. While the leafleteers have been careful not to reveal their identities, the self-described president identified himself as a current student when he was interviewed anonymously by a British journalist last year.

Click here to continue reading at 500pens.org.

Sexual assaults, #MeToo, and a new federal policy roil college campuses

            The year 2017 may go down in history as the year that sexual violence and harassment came out of the closet.

            On Oct. 5, the worst-kept secret in Hollywood — Harvey Weinstein’s serial sexual predation— was revealed by the New York Times. Like a wildfire, the story revived a “MeToo” movement created 10 years ago by black activist, Tarana Burke, its new hashtag uncovering decades of mistreatment and criminal assault of women by men.

            Dozens of women told their stories and powerful men in entertainment, politics, sports, religion and business — from the White House to the Olympics — were exposed.

            The furor also helped expose widespread sexual violence and unwanted advances on college campuses. It soon became clear that except for the high-profile gang-rape stories that made headlines, college sexual misconduct was underreported, often concealed, and shockingly pervasive.

            College women are three times more likely to be assaulted than the average American woman, according to a 2014 survey by the U.S. Department of Justice.

            In a 2015 study by the Association of American Universities, 23 percent of undergraduate women experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. Nearly 9 percent of graduate women reported sexual violence. Women on campuses were twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as robbed, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

            More than five percent of male undergraduates had been raped or sexual assaulted. College men were five times more likely than nonstudents of the same age to be a victim of rape or sexual assault.

            The same AAU study found that 21 percent of transgender, gender-queer or gender-nonconforming college students had been sexually assaulted.

            Perhaps even more chilling, the American Civil Liberties Union estimates that 95 percent of campus rapes are unreported.

            Neither the statistics nor the #MeToo movement swayed U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who believes that accusers in campus cases are treated unfairly. On Sept. 21, 2017 she reversed an Obama-era policy that required colleges to use a low standard of proof — “preponderance of evidence” — to discipline accused students. Under the new standard, cases are to be decided using “clear and convincing evidence.” According to the New York Times, the difference is this: 

            The “preponderance” rule means colleges must find a student responsible if it is more likely than not that the student conducted a sexual act without the partner’s consent. A “clear and convincing” case means it is highly probable the misconduct occurred.

            Critics of the DeVos policy have argued that fewer assaults will be reported. But dozens of students have sued their colleges, claiming their rights were violated under the Obama rules.

            In January several civil rights organizations sued DeVos and asked that the new rule be thrown out.

            According to Vice News, 25 major schools have decided to ignore the rule change, even as the issue continues to roil campuses nationwide.

            Perhaps the most pervasive case of sexual assault played itself out in a Michigan courtroom where Larry Nassar, the former Team USA gymnastics doctor and faculty member of Michigan State University, was confronted by 156 girls and women who told of being assaulted while in his care. Nassar was sentenced to 175 years in prison. In the aftermath the school president resigned, and Michigan legislators vowed to bypass campus police on future sexual abuse cases on campus.

            As the spring semester began universities and legislatures nationwide were re-examining campus policies on sexual assault. In Texas, victims of assault asked the Texas legislature to clarify and codify the meaning of “consent.”

            At Utah State University, students studied and debated the “rape culture pyramid,” which suggests that “boys will be boys” and locker room banter eventually supports and excuses stalking, groping and molestation.

            Meanwhile, campus assault survivors were feeling left behind by the Me Too Movement, according to an analysis by Refinery 29.

By Jim Carrier

Black History Month on Campus

By Jim Carrier

The idea of celebrating African American history arose during one of the ugliest periods in America — the Jim Crow era. Millions of black citizens in much of the country were denied their full citizenship, including the right to vote, a free choice at restaurants or hotels, and even the courtesy of being buried in “white” cemeteries. Life for a person of color in the U.S. was filled with daily indignities.

In 1926, when lynchings were still going on in the South, Carter Woodson, the son of former slaves whose PhD from Harvard was only the second earned by a black American,  proposed setting aside a week of public school classes to focus on black history. Only three state education departments, Delaware, North Carolina and West Virginia, and two city school systems, Baltimore and Washington, participated in the first Negro History Week.

“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thoughts of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated,” Woodson wrote.

Kent State University expanded the commemoration to a month in February 1970, and the rest of the country followed with academic research, books, music, museums, and an astounding discovery of hidden American history dating back to the arrival of the Africans in the Western Hemisphere.

Though criticized by some as a token celebration, Black History month serves as a reminder that the United States was never a “white” country, and that its culture and history is a rich blend of many colors and stories. This year, which marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, and the rise of the white supremacist activism on campuses, black history month carries special importance.

Every February, college across the U.S., often led by their librarians, create an intellectually challenging series of seminars, speeches, activism, and entertainment. Here’s a sample of this year’s events:

At Chapman college in Orange, Calif., where only two percent of the study body is black, the month is led by the Black Student Union as both an effort to strengthen their community and to educate their white colleagues. Arianna Ngnomire, one of the Black Student Union members, said their effort has helped her fit into Chapman. Union member Shania Verse, a sophomore, said she had never celebrated the month because her home territory was predominately black. “It became important to me in college…to show my campus my culture,” she said.

The student newspaper at Northwestern University in Chicago took the school’s  administration to task for a lack of interest in Black History Month. An editorial claims that most activity is student generated — and most of that led by black student groups.

“NU has failed to take advantage of the chance to show real institutional support for black students. Friction between African American students and Northwestern goes back to the 1960s. Yet a recent task force reported that black student student satisfaction “continues to lag behind that of every other racial and ethnic group on campus.”

At Texas A&M black student groups take the lead in celebrating Black History Month. Programs range from movies, debates, and an event about black inventors. “We don’t always learn what we’re supposed to know from our textbooks and history teachers,” said Krystal Park, a junior majoring in philosophy who heads TEAACH — Teaching Everyone African American Culture and Heritage.

In Canada, the University of Ottawa is ramping up its black history program after admitting that it had become nearly invisible. Canada one of only three countries outside the U.S. that mark a month for black history (Great Britain and the Netherlands are the others). It was not until 1995 that the House of Commons official recognized Black History month. According to the CBC it is difficult to find mention of black history on the Web site of the Canadian Ministry of Heritage.

“Inclusive support of Black History Month also means recognizing and amplifying the stories of those Black Canadian who may not fit our traditional and preconceived notions of Black history, which includes Black persons with disabilities, queer and trans Black people,” according to an editorial in the student newspaper, the Fulcrum.

Elsewhere, James Meredith, who integrated Ole Miss in 1961, will speak at Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Alabama on Feb. 12. “Unapologetically Black” is the motto for this year’s black history events at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. In one program, student organizations recited black history on stage while the ETSU Gospel Choir sand. Black Women are being honored this year at Brock University’s James Gibson Library display in Catharines, Ontario.

At Binghamton University, student artists are leading the celebration with a “Sip ’n’ Paint art event. At Appalachian State, a special effort has been made this year to celebrate and honor LGBT persons who are black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native American. As members of a “double minority,” these individuals often suffer from self-esteem and identity issues. According to a Gallup pole, 4.6 percent of African Americans identify as a member of the LGBT+ community, according to The Appalachian.

'Alt-right' continues to recruit members on college campuses

It’s been a year-and-a-half since the term, “alt-right,” burst into the American conversation. Although it has faded from national headlines it remains a nagging presence on college campuses. It is there that advocates of white supremacy continue to exploit their 1st Amendment right to spread hate and recruit conservative students to their cause.

Here are the latest dispatches from the front lines:

In Texas, where alt-right founder Richard Spencer set the stage for college confrontations with a speech at Texas A&M on Dec. 6, 2016, “a few dozen angry young white men, led by a teenager from the Dallas suburbs and emboldened by Trump have caused headaches at universities across the state,” according to the Texas Observer.  In a special report the magazine traces the alt-right campaign to Nov. 9, 2016 — the day after Donald Trump’s election, when white supremacist flyers went up on at least seven campuses. There have been 59 reported instances across the state, many of them at Texas State University in San Marcos, a city between Austin and San Antonio.

The lead provocateur in Texas is identified as Thomas Rousseau, who formed the Patriot Front after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia led to a splintering of the far right. The group is said to have only 70 active members who wear masks when they demonstrate.

According to the Observer, Texas schools have been wary of cracking down on the group’s right to free speech, but at least two, UT-Dallas, and Southern Methodist University, have identified the perpetrators in an attempt to expose them.     

In Corpus Christi, more than 30 racist posters were found on the campus of Texas A&M at Corpus Christi this last weekend, Their attack on Latinos, with texts such as “Rape-U-Gees not welcome,” struck a chord at the southern Texas campus where 48 percent of undergraduates identify as “Hispanic/Latino.” The school’s president denounced the leafleting.

By and large, U.S. courts have upheld the right for speakers like Richard Spencer to speak on college campuses. But that precedent has prompted many schools to find other strategies to deflect the alt-right. At Kent State University in Ohio, Spencer is weighing a lawsuit to overturn the school’s denial of a speaking permit on May 4. Citing “an exceptionally busy time…at the end of our academic year,” the school also required Spencer to find a university sponsor, such as a student organization or academic department. The organization that books Spencer has given the school until Feb. 9 to rent a college space, or face a lawsuit.

At the University of Michigan, where officials have wrestled with their obligation to allow an appearance by Spencer, the school announced last week that it will not host Spencer this spring semester, but will consider dates later in the year. Spencer will speak at Michigan State University on March 5.

At the University of Florida in Gainesville, where Spencer spoke last October 19, Alachua County has billed the school $302,184 for the cost of public safety. The charge includes $260,494 for law enforcement, $19,418 for fire-rescue units, jail costs of $4,918, and $15,829 for overtime and radios at its 911 center. Florida Gov. Rick Scott had declared a state of emergency to prepare for the speech — which was cut short by 30 minutes because of shouted opposition from those in the audience. Protesters occupied 456 of the 700 seats, according to the Miami Herald.

Colleges, universities nationwide honor Martin Luther King Day

By Jim Carrier

Had he lived, Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 89 years of age on Monday, January 15, 2018. His birthday is a federal holiday, originally approved by Congress and signed into law by a reluctant President Reagan in 1983. Only in 2000, when South Carolina finally approved the holiday, was King’s birthday observed in all 50 states.

Fifty years after his assassination, King’s legacy is both remarkable and incomplete. The past year, 2017, was filled with painful reminders that King’s goal of racial harmony remains a work in progress.

College campuses, where debates, demonstrations, and violence erupted over issues of racism, diversity and freedom of speech, are hosting dozens of MLK programs. Here is a sampling:

Yale University’s homage to King is “Chaos or Community: Fifty Years Later, Where Do We Go From Here?” With speeches, exhibits, and a “love march,” the school’s emphasis is on activism.  Keynote speaker is Bree Newsome, an artist and activist famous for climbing the flagpole at the South Carolina flagpole and removing the Confederate battle flag after the murder of nine black members of a Charleston church. Her action led, ultimately, to official removal of the flag, and became “a symbol of courage, resistance and empowerment of women.”

At the University of Tennessee, the focus is on student volunteers in Knoxville. Last year 400 students observed MLK Day by donating time to projects such as Keep Knoxville Beautiful, Reanimation Coalition, Water Angel Ministries and other organizations. “The most successful projects connect to the life and teaching of Dr. King, meet a pressing community need, and include time to reflect on his teachings,” said Natalie Frankel of the school’s Center for Leadership and Service.

“Dream Even Further” is the theme of MLK Day events at the University of Texas in Austin. Rallying at the MLK Jr. campus statue, participants will march to the state capitol. Past celebrations have drawn 15,000 people.

In Chapel Hill, NC, the University of North Carolina hosts events that range from a candlelight vigil to cross-cultural dialogue. The theme is “Voices. Power. Movement.”

W. Kamau Bell, the sociopolitical comedian and host of CNN’s “United Shades of America” will keynote an awards breakfast at Indiana University in Bloomington.  The event recognizes students, faculty, staff and members of the community with “Building Bridges Awards.”

For the 27th year, Arizona State University leads a “March on West” that recreates MLK Jr.’s famous 1963 March on Washington. Hundreds of middle school students march, carrying placards. The march climaxes with a re-creation of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, by Charles St. Clair, an Emmy-award director and faculty members.

In Kalamazoo, Michigan, a day-long “teach-in” at Western Michigan University will focus on a wide-range of issues that King preached, including environmental justice, health care, gun violence, women empowerment, and nonviolence. At the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the focus will be on gentrification in Detroit.

Lecia Brooks, SPLC’s Director of Outreach, will speak Monday on MLK’s contemporary relevance at Monmouth (Illinois) College’s MLK Day convocation and teach-in. On Jan 20, Brooks will deliver an MLK commemorate lecture at the Newark, N.J. public library entitled: “Nonviolent Peaceful Protest in the Tradition of Dr. King:  Still the Way to Counter Hate and Extremism.”


Provisions of the PROSPER Act are Not Prosperous

By Caitlin Beard

As I write this, higher education is being attacked. Taxes are not the issue this time, but accessibility and inclusion in university organizations. The ‘‘Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform Act,’’ (PROSPER Act) just released by the GOP contains language that could be used to withhold higher education funding from universities that do not provide all religious groups with the same universal rights across campus as all other organizations. Registered student organizations accept school funding and are thus required to adhere to the university code of conduct. Discrimination is often addressed and prohibited in these codes, but the PROSPER Act would change that.

Part of the collegiate experience is becoming involved in organizations and uniting with people sharing common interests. Most colleges have a variety of organizations to get involved with, from religious groups to intramural sports to social justice groups like SPLC on Campus. Camaraderie and inclusion are important aspects of college. But, sometimes, groups are not all-inclusive. When a group becomes unsafe for you, your campus no longer feels like home.

Organizations have often turned people away for their immutable characteristics. This is nothing new, as exemplified by the Sigma Alpha Epsilon racist incidents or religious-based groups turning away LGBTQ+ members. However, most colleges have an anti-discrimination policy that prevents organizations from being able to exclude members based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. Too often, people ostracize those who do not adhere to their own beliefs. This is especially true in a religious setting, unfortunately. Many members of the LGBTQ+ community practice a religion, as it is an inherently human custom. When these individuals wish to exercise their faith with like-minded individuals, they are often met with bigotry and exclusion for who they are.

Many of my classmates are applying to Ph.D. programs while I apply to law schools. But the game has changed, even since I began applying to undergraduate schools a few years ago. Universities are emphasizing diversity and inclusion. Many now include in the application process questions about what diverse qualities you’ll add to the community. The PROSPER Act comes at a time when people are encouraged to indicate their sexual orientation and gender identity on college applications to qualify for scholarships. But this same information, through this proposal, could be harmful. Checking boxes for certain categories could qualify for acceptance at a school whose clubs can discriminate against you. What happens if this bill is passed and your identity serves to keep you out of a group?

You may ask yourself, “Why would I want to be involved in an organization that discriminates against me?” You may not. Some do, however, when these organizations have other things that interest them. For example, a Christian, LGBTQ+ individual may want to join identity groups for each of these categories. But, as some Christian organizations such as the Alpha Iota Omega Christian fraternity at UNC, Chapel Hill have demonstrated, LGBTQ+ members do not fit into everyone’s religious narrative. But excluding members based on this is not permissible because they practice the same faith; as a couple coworkers today pointed out, doing this shifts the LGBTQ+ individual’s perception of their religion, thus making them feel excluded from their faith.

Many schools have come under fire within the last couple years because of their noncompliance with Title IV regulations. Specifically, religiously-affiliated higher education institutions. The PROSPER Act would prevent the government from punishing schools that practice LGBTQ+ discrimination. In short, schools could openly discriminate without fear of reprimand. If colleges cannot discipline groups that discriminate and states cannot do the same to their colleges, the future of discrimination is bright. College students must stand up against legislation that affects their rights to education—particularly safe education. We need to make sure campuses are safe for all. I, for one, want my campus to feel like home for all that attend. College is a place for all to prosper and build skills in order to join the workforce. Discrimination is not permitted or tolerated, as we have seen this season in the media through the brave #MeToo testimonies of victims and through the warm support for them. So why should we allow it in colleges—which are microcosms of society? This would only breed more discrimination. The anti-LGBTQ+ provisions of the bill should be removed. Discrimination has no place and this part of the PROSPER Act is not prosperous.

Caitlin Beard is a graduate student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and an intern with SPLC on Campus.