In the wake of several weeks of racial turmoil in the University of California system, UC regents on Wednesday promised to make a greater effort to enroll and retain African-Americans, Latinos and other minorities. At the same time, black student leaders from UCSD reminded the regents that they have failed to deliver on such promises in the past.
“We need you to take action and step away from…years of inaction,” Fnann Keflezighi, co-chair of the UCSD Black Student Union, told regents at a board meeting in San Francisco.
“[Minority] students don’t feel safe on campus,” added David Ritcherson, another co-chair of the organization at UCSD, where blacks make up about 1.6 percent of the student body.
The emotional intensity of the meeting did not escape UC President Mark Yudof.
“I heard the anger in your voice, but you’re entitled,” he said, calling the recent events “the worst acts of racism and intolerance that I have heard of on a college campus in 20 years.”
At the regents meeting, Yudof spoke of making the UC system’s admissions policy more uniformly holistic, meaning applicants’ test scores and grades would be considered in the context of their life experiences, personal accomplishments and backgrounds.
“I want a system that is less mechanical and takes a serious look at a range of talents and skills and history, and takes into account poverty,” Yudof said.
Holistic review is permitted at UC schools, but Yudof said he would like it to be required at all nine UC undergraduate universities. UCLA and UC Berkeley use the holistic approach most commonly, while others, like UC San Diego, use the more traditional formula, which, Yudof said, may position the schools to reject otherwise qualified low-income and minority students.
This kind of change would require approval by the system-wide faculty senate, and can be put up for discussion within a few months, according to officials.
The state currently bans affirmative action based on race for its university admissions.
“It is the absence of inclusion that frees hatred, that frees bigotry, that allows it to go unchallenged,” said Regent Eddie Island, “That’s our biggest problem.”
He also apologized to all students who felt attacked, saying, “We failed to provide a nurturing environment.”
Over the last several weeks, racially antagonistic incidents have included a “Compton Cookout” at UCSD in which guests were told to dress as stereotypes of low-income black people, a student television show at UCSD using a derogatory term for blacks, a noose and a KKK-style hood found on campus, as well as swastikas and anti-gay graffiti turning up multiple times at UC Davis.
UCSD Chancellor Marye Ann Fox has also pledged to take measures to retain more faculty of color on campus, and boost scholarship money for students from low-income backgrounds. The measures are part of a signed agreement she made with the Black Student Union.
Ritcherson, a fourth-year international economics major, was not entirely optimistic about the administration’s motivations. They would not be talking about making changes, he said, if “they didn’t get all this media attention, if the image wasn’t tainted.”
However, he welcomed the efforts they spoke of, and said, “It’s a good start.”
Students gathered in dorms across the West Virginia University campus last week to protest the school's overnight visitation policy.
The Residence Hall Association sponsored the night sit-in March 24. Members of the organization said they aimed to point out the safety and social inequalities of the current policy, and passed out fliers stating that adults should be allowed the responsibility of having guests of any gender overnight with the roommate's consent.
Most dorms averaged a turnout of around five to 10 students, but nearly 30 students gathered in the lobby of Honors Hall.
Freshman Stacy Tritt said she joined the sit-in because she knows people who want to have overnight guests of the opposite gender, including family members. She also mentioned that the current policy has affected her personally.
"One time a friend of mine from back home came to Morgantown for an event," she said. "He ended up having to drive home in the middle of the night. That's not a safe situation."
Tritt added that with a relaxed overnight visitation policy, her friend could have stayed in her dorm.
In 2008, a survey aimed at collecting students' opinions of the current policy was conducted. Nearly 95 percent of those polled said they would support a changed policy, said Kacie Kidd, the downtown president of the Residential Assistant Council.
Student Government Association Gov. Ryan Campione said that more than 500 students signed a petition supporting a modified overnight visitation policy.
"Our main objective was to bring awareness to the issue, and we've definitely done this by the amount of press and students talking about it," he said.
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A play at Tarleton State University featuring a gay Christ-like character canceled its production after the school received hundreds of hateful e-mails and threatening phone calls. Tarleton is 15,000-person Texan town about 70 miles southwest of Forth Worth.
"I'm disappointed. I'm mad," cast member Chance Underwood said. "But I also understand the safety issues. I can't believe that people that I saw in the community as neighbors, friends, leaders of things, would go so far as to put threats on students and cast members. It's just ridiculous to me. I do feel it was the right decision. In no way would we have wanted anyone to get hurt."
Corpus Christi, written by Terrence McNally, was chosen by student director John Jordan Otte. It revolves around a character named Joshua who has the ability to heal the sick, feed the hungry and provide spiritual guidance before being crucified.
Otte said he chose the play because he wanted to shed light on the experiences gay Christians have in life. Otte, who is gay himself, left the Mormon church because he disagreed with their views on homosexuality.
"I do understand the decision" to cancel the play, Otte said in a statement. "The University has been so supportive in fighting for my rights and those of my cast. If anything is to be blamed, it is extremists doing what they do best."
The play was scheduled to have been performed Saturday, but the influx in hate mail had steadily increased leading up to the date.
"We received so many threatening calls and e-mails today across campus, the numbers were just staggering," said Drama Professor Mark Holtorf. "One administrator received in excess of 800 e-mails.”
The decision to cancel all four performances was made by the professor, not the University. Administration officials made clear that the production would not be barred from campus due to academic freedom principles.
But in the end the safety of the students and faculty was put as the highest priority on campus. Holtorf said the reasons he canceled the play were “safety and security concerns for the students, as well as the need to maintain an orderly academic environment."
"Our department received calls of a threatening nature," he said. "I could not guarantee the security of my students. The administration was truly behind the academic exercise, but I could not justify the risk."
No violence has been reported against members of the production. But last year, Tarleton was fined for grossly underreporting crimes and sex offenses on its campus from 2003 to 2005. The University is disputing the $137,000 penalty, which targets a time period before the current president, Dominic Dottavio, took on the job. Dottavio has not addressed this history in the context of current threats of violence on campus.
Instead, Dottavio has focused his statements about the play on the University’s efforts to uphold academic freedom. He published an opinion piece for a local newspaper defending the production by saying that there was no legal basis for him to stop the performance. The play never received an endorsement from the school and Dottavio made clear he did not like it, either.
"I see no artistic or redeeming quality in the work," he wrote. "I believe, as many have opined, that it is offensive, crude and irreverent."
But Underwood said Corpus Christi still may be performed off-campus.
"We've had a few offers from the Metroplex," Underwood said. "It would not be in this community."
Students at the catholic Georgetown University chained themselves to a statue of the college’s founder with their mouths taped shut, while others chanted, "we want condoms" and "Georgetown—change—it’s not too late," in a protest against the school’s opposition to contraception.
Several students displayed a banner directed towards university president John J. DeGioia, which said, “take the tape off our mouths and the chains off our bodies." The president of Georgetown’s unofficial pro-choice group shouted, “we are unofficial because Georgetown refuses to take care of the sexual health of its students,” into a megaphone at school's trademark front gates last week.
In keeping with catholic tradition, Georgetown doesn’t believe in supporting and distributing contraception that prevents the creation of life.
"As a Catholic and Jesuit university, our policies must reflect our identity and our values," said Vice President for Student Affairs Todd A. Olson in a letter to the pro-choice group last week.
Private catholic colleges and universities have often dealt with contentious debate about offering contraceptives to the student body. Earlier last year, a student at Boston-area Stonehill College collected free condoms from local family-planning clinics and distributed them in boxes around dormitories. Stonehill’s administration caught wind of the activity, and went around dormitories confiscating the contraceptives.
In addition to distributing 4,500 free condoms last semester, Georgetown students are also organizing a large student group to try and sway the administration to change its policy.
Erica Slates, vice president of H*yas for Choice, says that Georgetown students have sex on a routine basis and do not want to worry about pregnancy or STD’s. H*yas for Choice currently has over 100 members.
The group has been writing letters to administrators over the past couple months over the need for free protection, and making HPV vaccines more affordable to students.
Georgetown is in Washington D.C., where officials have declared a city-wide HIV/AIDS epidemic—a recent report found more than 3 percent of adults and teens living with the deadly disease.
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In an effort to address global climate change and its impact on humans, animals and ecosystems, Whitman College is conducting its second annual greenhouse gas audit. The school aims to use information gathered to map out the steps to carbon neutrality.
Last year’s audit calculations were based on mere estimation due to lack of available data.
“The hope this year is to continue to do a more comprehensive, detailed audit that it is based on data rather than speculation and projection,” says Jed Schwendiman, associate to Whitman’s president.
Auditors will analyze three areas of carbon emissions: direct emissions, purchased electricity, and indirect emissions, which includes waste and transportation.
The audit will be conducted by a group of 15 students, five of whom will receive credit for an environmental studies internship. Most of the group is involved with the Campus Climate Challenge.
Sophomore Katie Tackman is responsible for assessing emissions from transportation for varsity athletics. Tackman and her partners will face some challenges in figuring out workable solutions to transportation emissions. For example, it is unclear if students commuting to campus or study abroad programs could lower their carbon footprints.
Auditors will also have a hard time getting the data they need in the first place.
“Whitman doesn’t necessarily keep track of that information, so I have to sort through archives,” says Tackman.
“At some point we’ll get institutionalized enough that we won’t even have to ask [for data],” says Whitman’s sustainability coordinator, Lisa Curtis, who hopes the audit will continue annually.
Many other schools across the nation have signed onto the President’s Climate Commitment. The commitment requires that schools conduct emission audits, develop a plan to become carbon neutral, and incorporate sustainability into campus life and the curriculum. Many of these schools have fallen behind on their emission reduction goals, and are just beginning to conduct audits.
According to Schwendiman, President Bridges refrained from signing the commitment because Whitman had not yet measured its emissions and therefore had no sense of possible reductions.
“If those other schools haven’t met their goals, there’s no way Whitman was going to,” said sophomore Katie Radosevic, who is also working on the audit. “We want to sign something and have it mean something.”
In any case, Whitman students are enjoying the research process and lessening their carbon footprints.
“It’s fun to hang out with people who are really passionate about what they are doing and want to make a difference,” says Tackman. “It’s an inspiring group of people to work with.”
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Supporters of the healthcare bill signed into law by President Barack Obama on Mar. 23 argue it will aid students, campus health centers and medical schools in immediate and quantifiable ways. Young people, for example, will now be able to stay on their parents’ healthcare plans until they are 26.
Ari A. Matusiak, co-founder of Young Invincibles (a youth campaign for health care reform), stated that the bill provides support for recent graduates in search of a career who “might have opted to take jobs they didn’t want, paid high premiums for individual or COBRA health plans, or gone uninsured. Now, at least for those whose parents are insured, there’s the option to stay on that plan.”
In addition, colleges and universities will still be able to offer their students insurance plans.
“In the end, the bill that passed … includes ACHA’s original intention," stated Jim Turner president of the American College Health Association (ACHA), and the director of student health at the University of Virginia. "Our advocacy to make sure that colleges and universities can still offer health insurance plans appears to be intact and we’re very pleased by that.”
Turner recalls that in January it appeared that some student health insurance plans were at risk. Certain drafts of the health care bill considered by the Senate Finance Committee and House of Representatives did not address the unique nature of school sponsored plans and could have put them at risk.
The Senate Finance Committee explained the unintentional omission to Turner and other ACHA representatives, reporting that, “there had never been any intent to interrupt student health insurance.”
The Government Accountability Office reported that during the 2007-2008 academic year, 71 percent of four-year independent nonprofit colleges, 82 percent of four-year public institutions and 29 percent of two-year public institutions offered student insurance plans.
Larry McNeely, healthcare reform advocate for the U.S Public Interest Research Group, foresees potential benefits of this provision for universities as employers. He reasons that because parents’ insurance plans are typically superior to student plans, universities will significantly decrease expenditures on health care.
The Business Roundtable also estimates that by 2019 universities and colleges will save as much as $3,000 per employee in health costs. McNeely reasons that would leave “more money for financial aid and faculty salaries.”
Major impacts on medical education and training are also anticipated. Allopathic and osteopathic medical schools are campaigning to expand enrollments as the demand for doctors is expected to increase.
Included in the reform plan is Title VII Health Professions Education program. The program offers financial support to students in an effort to diversify health professionals racially, ethnically and geographically. The National Service Health Corps, an organization which assists doctors working in underserved communities, will also receive more funding.
However, advocates for medical colleges remain concerned that the reforms did not address the need to expand graduate-level medical education and that the cap on residency positions available for medical school graduates will be insufficient to accommodate the expanding workforce, especially considering the large number of uninsured Americans.
“We’ve been urging Congress to eliminate the caps, to allow us to increase our residency training programs,” Christiane Mitchell, director of federal affairs for the Association of Medical Colleges, said. “But they didn’t.”
Others worry that the bill will have more negative consequences than positive. The website GoCollege.com lists five reasons that the bill might end up costing students and society more than it saves. The website argues that the costs of launching a new lending program in the federal government will get passed on to students. It also warns against vilifying the “corporate middleman” and inadvertently blocking funding streams to non-profits that rely on the current loan system.
Conservatives are lashing back at the bill, and some are moving forward with legal action. Virginia’s Liberty University announced its plan to file a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the legislation, and Republican Delegate Kathy Byron has signed on to the suit as well.
The bill’s supporters remain unruffled. Darrel G. Kitch, president of the Association of Medical Colleges, said, "Medical schools and teaching hospitals have expressed their full support for this bill to President Obama, and now stand ready to work with the administration and Congress to implement these significant changes to our health care delivery system."
When the House of Representatives passed healthcare reform Sunday, the reconciliation bill included a groundbreaking measure to increase grant aid to students. This part of the reform would increase the cost efficiency of government-issued student loans by directly issuing loans to students instead of subsidizing banks to make loans through the Federal Family Education Loan program.
The Senate is expected to look at the measure this week and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said the bill has enough votes to pass.
The new system would save the government an estimated $61 billion over the next decade, and much of those savings would go directly back to students. Some $36 billion would be used to increase Pell Grants for lower-income students. Other uses would include $2.5 billion to historically black colleges, $2 billion to community colleges and at least $10 billion to reduce the federal deficit.
"This is incredibly good news for students and families and taxpayers," said Lauren Asher, president of the Project on Student Debt, a nonprofit advocacy group in Berkeley, Calif. "Taxpayer dollars that were being used to guarantee private lenders' profits are now being redirected to student aid and other important reforms to help keep college more affordable."
Some still think the final version is watered down. An earlier draft of the bill would have set the maximum Pell Grant at $6,900, instead of the maximum $5,975 it will reach by 2017. This year the limit is $5,550. If the bill had failed, however, the maximum Pell grant would have plummeted to around $2,150 and would have had to shed some half-million students from the program.
Additionally, in this version of the bill the grant will increase in value at a rate linked to inflation in only five of the next 10 years, according to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of the college-aid website Finaid.org.
“It’s falling far short of tuition inflation,” Kantrowitz said, “It could have been a lot better.”
The financial industry has lobbied heavily against the bill, saying that taking business from the private lenders would cost the country jobs at a bad time. But proponents of the bill counter that there would be few, if any, lost jobs, because private lenders would still work with federally issued loans.
UC Irvine economics major Sarah Bana went to Washington, D.C. this week to lobby for the bill. Currently a senior, Bana said she got a $3,400 Pell grant this year, along with $12,400 in other financial aid.
“It was beautiful to see legislators finally speaking up for students and students’ rights,” Bana said. “[Pell grants] are definitely a big factor for me being able to come to college.”
Streets in Hollywood, Calif. were filled with performers who limped like zombies, cradled busts of dead family members, and nursed wounded soldiers on March 20, as thousands protested the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Participants in the "U.S. Out of Afghanistan and Iraq Now!" peace protest rallied to demand immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East.
Cal State Fullerton student Tamara Khoury was a lead organizer of the event, and a member of Act Now to Stop War and Racism, the organization that put on the demonstration. A.N.S.W.E.R. was formed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and has branches in nearly every major city. Members of the group have organized some of the largest demonstrations in recent years, including the annual March 20 multi-city marches.
This year, Khoury helped bring the Topanga Peace Alliance, Teamsters Union, LA Workers’ Voice and the Long Beach Area Peace Network involved in the rally.
Khoury was a guest speaker at the demonstration, and delivered an impassioned speech advocating the dropping of all charges against the Irvine 11, a group of UC Irvine students arrested for protesting the visit of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to their campus.
"It is extremely hypocritical of UCI to bring a representative of Israel, a country whose government completely destroyed 18 schools and damaged another 200 in the Gaza Strip last year, to speak on its campus," she said. "And it's the same government who continues to demolish and take over Palestinian schools and the West Bank so that illegal Israelli settlers can seize and build upon the land. On behalf of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, I extend my solidarity to the Irvine 11 as they face unjust and obvious discriminatory punishment."
Marching protesters carried signs, and sang songs expressing sentiments that 9/11 was an inside job, expressed disgust with the Obama administration, and pleaded to end the wars and put more money into education and jobs.
"It's really the veterans that have had their lives deeply impacted," she said. "I myself went to a public school and they constantly told me they were bankrupt and there was no money for schools. Meanwhile, they were pumping hundreds of millions of dollars everyday into the application of Iraq and Afghanistan. So, we all feel it. It's impacting us all at some level.”
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College students still have to finish their homework on time and listen to their teachers, but are adult enough to make their own food choices, according to PepsiCo.
In a new move to promote smart food choices, more than 200 countries will be affected by the company's decision to stop selling its soft drinks in elementary schools and high schools by 2012, said spokeswoman Michelle Naughton. But students in higher education will still be able to find the company's sugary beverages on campus.
Penn State senior Emily Simmons said she thinks the plan is a good idea.
"I'm not really an expert on health, but it would make sense that if kids don't get hooked on sugar at young ages, then it would help prevent obesity," Simmons said.
But some health and nutrition experts said PepsiCo's decision to stop selling soda for students up to 18 years old does not go far enough.
Jody Whipple, a nutritionist at Penn State's University Health Services, said fewer sugary drinks is better for everyone’s body, no matter the age.
"Selling these types of beverages in a college setting certainly isn't benefiting students," she said.
The unhealthy choice of regularly drinking soda can lead to too many calories and too much energy for the average person, she said. It can also cut out important nutrients like calcium and Vitamin C.
But PepsiCo's main competitor, Coca-Cola Co., is not going to stop distributing to primary and high schools unless they are requested to stop, the company announced earlier this month.
"We believe school authorities should have the right to choose what is best for their schools," Coca-Cola spokeswoman Crystal Warwell Walker said.
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On Mar. 18, the UC Berkeley Student Senate passed a bill to divest from companies that produce helicopters and other armaments for Israel. In so doing, UC Berkeley moves a step closer to being the first large public university to divest from companies supporting Israel. The bill, approved on Mar. 18, was a response to what students argued was an Israeli violation of international law in its dealings with Palestinians, including the siege of the Gaza strip.
The bill demands that the UC Regents and student government divest from General Electric and United Technologies, two U.S. companies involved in helicopter manufacturing for Israel. The bill also created a task force to develop an investment policy for the UC system that aims to do business with more socially responsible groups.
The Senate deliberated deep into the night, ending at 3am the night of the 18th. Impassioned students, educators, and community members overcrowded the meeting, forcing a room change. Seventy-six guest speakers, ranging from college freshman to Vietnam veterans pushed for the bill which passed on a 16-4 vote.
Momentum for this kind of action has grown over the last decade. UC Berkeley Students for Justice in Palestine has been working on divestment from Israel since 2000, and a related group of Berkeley law students has been doing research on Israeli human rights violations for the last three years.
In 2005, the Israeli divestment movement gained speed when 171 Palestinian civil society organizations called on "people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel...until it fully complies with the precepts of international law."
Student Senator Rahul Patel supported the bill, recalling the student government’s influential action in the 1980's, when it demanded that the University divest from South African apartheid. Patel noted that the new divestment bill supports a nationwide movement against occupation and war crimes around the world.
“Student government can be a space to mobilize and make decisions that have a significant impact on the international community,” Patel said. “We must utilize these spaces to engage each other about issues of justice worldwide."
Hampshire College of Northampton, MA was the first US educational institution to divest from companies supporting Israeli government occupation of Palestinian territory. The school group Students for Justice in Palestine was the main advocate for this initiative.
Emily Carlton, a co-sponsor of the UC Berkeley bill, said, “This action will only be historic if it is repeated throughout the country and the world; I hope that student governments all over America will see in this a sign that the time to divest from war is now.”