Meet Connor Brantley, one of our SPLC on Campus summer interns

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My name is Connor Brantley. I am currently a junior at Auburn University majoring in Political Science and joined the SPLC on Campus team in June as an Intern. I’m very excited to be working with such a great group of people, spreading SPLC’s message on college campuses across the country and getting people energized for the November elections.

I was born and raised in Fort Worth, TX where my interest in social and political activism started at a young age. Especially in these times, I hope more young people will realize the importance of being engaged in our democracy and the impact they can have simply by voting and making their voice heard.

To make this a reality, we will be sending voter registration and other SPLC materials to over 2,100 campuses nationwide later this summer. We, as students, must take a stand in November against hate and discrimination. Keep an eye out for SPLC on your college campus this fall and please reach out to get involved.

It’s an incredible opportunity to work at such a great organization and I can’t wait to see what we are going to accomplish this year.

Introducing Dasia Greer, one of our SPLC on Campus summer interns

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My name is Dasia Greer, and I am currently interning with SPLC on Campus. This program is one of many projects of the Southern Poverty Law Center seeking to teach tolerance, fight hate, and to seek justice. SPLC on Campus is a pivotal tool in raising awareness of the current social climate and injustices in our country through college campuses.

I am currently a junior at the University of Alabama, majoring in Public Relations. My experience at the Southern Poverty Law Center thus far has ignited my passion for becoming an agent in advocating for equity and justice in our society. With all the racial tension, hate and bigotry our society is currently facing, I feel that it is my duty as a citizen to be a voice for the voiceless.

I greatly anticipate further contributing to the overall mission and goals the SPLC was founded upon. Every day I find myself inspired by the many people who work so hard to ensure that the SPLC is a doing its part to promote and instill the ideals of equal justice and opportunity within our society.

SPLC on Campus @University of South Florida hosts book drive to help prop open the doorway to literacy

By Maria Ranoni

Literacy: although it may have a simple definition, it does not have a simple meaning. The meaning of literacy can’t be pinned down in a clever phrase or an example. It is only seen through the opportunities it presents or perhaps takes away. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Education 32 million adults in the U.S. cannot read, a number that has remained stagnant in the last decade. That is 32 million missed opportunities to change a life for the better. The doorway to literacy, however, can be one book.

The unfortunate reality is that not every family has the disposable income necessary to buy a book. When many families are fighting to even put food on the table, the purchase of a book may be almost impossible. That is why SPLC on Campus @USF decided to host a book drive.

The area surrounding USF is very economically disadvantaged and we felt it necessary to help in this particular way. We set up a donation box and tried to get the word around campus. After collecting about 150 books, SPLC on Campus @USF dropped them off at the local King High School. The media specialist of the school, Barrett Zebos, was very grateful for the donation and thanked us profusely.

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This experience reminds me of why I joined SPLC in the first place just a few months ago. In these short months, I’ve experienced how to advocate for the marginalized members of my community in effective and helpful ways. According to the Department of Justice, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” So, when this link is broken, the school-to-prison pipeline becomes less clogged and our society becomes more just.

Based on this experience, I look forward to the next project that SPLC on Campus @USF can start to help our community.

Maria Ranoni is a member of SPLC on Campus at the University of South Florida.

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his Appreciation of Student Activists

By Janelle Cronk

‘Let nobody fool you, this movement is one of the most significant movements in the whole civil rights struggle. For you students, along with other students all over the nation, have become of age, and you are saying in substance that segregation is wrong and that you will no longer accept it and adjust to it . . . You have taken up the deep groans of the century. The students have taken the passionate longings of the ages and filtered them in their own souls and fashioned a creative protest. It is one of the glowing epics of the time and I predict that it will win—that it will have to win, because this demand is a basic American demand.’ 

- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – ‘Keep Moving from This Mountain,’ Address at Spelman College on 10 April 1960

We have been living for 50 years without Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but not a moment has passed untouched by his lasting wisdom and propensity for peace and justice. Dr. King showed great appreciation and admiration for the college students that helped propel the Civil Rights Movement. He was also successful in tapping into the energy and fervor of youth. He told students at Howard University to, ‘Remember Who You Are!!’ and challenged Barratt Junior High School students to determine, ‘What is Your Life’s Blueprint.’  

In his speech, ‘The Modern Negro Activist,’ Dr. King celebrated students’ role in the civil rights struggle as it ‘spilled over the boundaries of the single issue of desegregation and encompassed questions of peace, civil liberties, capital punishment and others. It penetrated the ivy-covered walls of the traditional institutions as well as the glass and stainless-steel structures of the newly established colleges.’ It is through the intersectionality of causes that we can draw parallels to our own work today as SPLC on Campus clubs. As we work towards economic justice, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights, and voting rights; we realize the profundity of King’s words that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ 

‘I say to you, my young friends, doors are opening to you—doors of opportunities that were not open to your mothers and your fathers – and the great challenge facing you is to be ready to face these doors as they open.’  

- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking to Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967

The student activists before you embraced this challenge and participated in sit-in’s, walkouts, and Freedom Rides that garnered national attention, as a ‘revival of social awareness spread across campuses from Cambridge to California.’ 

Dr. King frequently spoke at colleges and universities and consistently expressed his gratitude and respect for educational institutions he visited. He expressed that ‘it is always a rich and rewarding experience to take a break from the day-to-day demands of our struggle for freedom and human dignity and discuss the issues involved in that struggle with college and university students.’ 

In expressing his enjoyment towards speaking with students, Dr. King reflected that ‘I happen to feel that dialogue is mighty good and something that we constantly need, and it’s always a great tragedy when a society seeks to live in monologue rather than in dialogue.’ 

So, as we reflect upon the profundity of this day in history, let us honor Dr. King by expanding the boundaries of dialogue with the hopes of fostering a more just world. Our team at SPLC on Campus encourages you to take inspiration from the words and actions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while finding strength in your creativity to address the issues of our day. 
 

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.

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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.

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