Students Walk Out on Testing, Rise for Black Trans Lives and Unionize
1. The Weeklong Walkout—and More
On Monday, February 23, at 10:25 AM, 250 students from Santa Fe, New Mexico, walked out to protest the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, the new high-stakes standardized test that 11 states have adopted. Some of us met with Superintendent Joel Boyd, who urged us to write letters to Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera and promised he would personally deliver them. The following day, we walked out again—this time, meeting at Skandera’s office, who declined to meet with us—followed by a smaller walkout, with the same result, on Wednesday. On Friday, we converged on the governors office, where we held a silent sit-in and delivered handwritten petitions. Then, inside, we watched several Democratic senators articulate problems with the extreme testing regime, including its monopolization of instructional time, privatization agenda, technological failures and boon to corporations like Pearson at the expense of real learning. Meanwhile, two Santa Fe High student protest leaders spoke in the capitol rotunda about our concerns with the PARCC tests and our goal to expand the new Academy of Sustainability Education that launched on our campus this year. This week, Senate Education Chair John Sapien has agreed to meet—while thousands of students are set to walk out across the state during PARCC testing.
2. The 72-Hour Takeover
For more than nine months, state-appointed Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson has persistently ignored the call of students, parents and community members for an end to the One Newark plan, her immediate resignation and full local control of schools. On February 17, eight members of the Newark Students Union took over Anderson’s office for 72 hours. We organized rallies inside and received support from allies across the country. When Anderson met with us 65 hours in, we implored her to attend the next public board meeting, which took place on February 24. She didn’t show up, showing us, once again, that she does not have the welfare of the community or students in mind.
3. Why Do Debtors Have to Pay?
On Monday, February 23, fifteen people took the historic step of declaring a student debt strike. Calling themselves the Corinthian 15, they refuse to pay the federal loans they took out to attend the defunct for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges Inc., which has been investigated by various state and federal authorities for fraud. The Corinthian 15 are organizing under the mantle of the Debt Collective, a new membership organization that evolved out of the Rolling Jubilee campaign. On the same day, the Rolling Jubilee erased over $13 million of debt associated with Everest College, part of the Corinthian chain, as an act of solidarity with the strikers. To current and former college students across the country, we say: It’s time to demand the end of a higher education system that profits off our dreams. To the Department of Education, lenders, servicers and guarantee agencies who have stolen our futures, we say: enough!
—Debt Collective and Rolling Jubilee
4. Whom Does the University Serve?
On February 27, students, professors and local residents gathered at the University of North Carolina–Charlotte to protest the Board of Governors’ push to close, all at once, East Carolina University’s Center for Biodiversity, North Carolina Central University’s Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change and University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. The NC Student Power Union interrupted the meeting—leading five people to be escorted out and the board to call for recess and move the meeting to a room closed off to the public. Students gathered outside and chanted, “No cuts, no fees, education should be free!” loudly enough to interrupt the meeting inside. In the face of this action, the governors unanimously decided to close all centers immediately.
5. In Ohio, Student Workers Go Live
Building on a grassroots organizing drive that began in November 2014, resident assistants at Ohio University are nearing a vote to join AFSCME Local 1699. RAs are looking to negotiate a wage increase from the current $3.80 per hour, establish a system of due process in the notoriously unfair discipline procedure and exercise control over building assignments. In the face of anti-union maneuvering, including a nominal wage hike and captive audience meetings with every RA, we have mobilized campus workers and students and won support from just over half of the campus RA population. We also have the support of the student government, thirty faculty members, former RAs and the campus worker union. RAs are aiming for a unionization vote by early May.
—Ohio University Resident Assistant Union Drive Team and Ohio University Student Union
6. In Massachusetts, the Union Grows
On February 20, the Massachusetts Commonwealth Employment Relations Board ruled that Peer Mentors at UMass are entitled to an add-on election to join the Resident Assistant bargaining unit, a part of UAW Local 2322 since 2002. This decision overrides the university’s attempts to deny Peer Mentors our right to unionize. In the seven months since we filed with the state for recognition, the administration has outlined numerous changes for the job come Fall 2015, reclassifying it as an internship. Meanwhile, the timing of the university’s announcement that it will no longer consider us employees implies union avoidance as motivation for this change. The university has continued to plan the replacement Peer Mentor position, including hiring next year’s interns. This is not only disrespectful but harmful to our work—from interactions with residents to relationships with RAs. With a majority vote to join the RA Union, we are excited to join forces as student staff members in Residential Life and work together to improve our jobs and communities.
—Jenna Grady, Sam Prosser and Ian Roche
7. Everywhere, A Day Without Work
In response to the call for a National Adjunct Walkout Day on February 25, more than one hundred graduate students, lecturers and faculty at the University of California–Santa Cruz marched in a procession honoring Saint Percaria, the patron saint of precarious workers. Joined by a contingent of giant puppets, we sang “Carry that Debt” and the “Dawning of the Age of Precarious” and chanted “Litany of the Precariat.” The marchers protested the combined effects of university privatization—an increasingly precarious teaching faculty, administrative bloat and rapidly increasing tuition. This procession was the kickoff for the lecturers union, AFT 2199, contract campaign, focused on increasing stability for the significant proportion with low-security positions. It is also the first in a series of student-led protests across the state expected to escalate over the coming weeks.
8. Camex’s Dirty Laundry
On February 22 in Atlanta, fifty members of United Students Against Sweatshops disrupted Camex, the country’s largest collegiate apparel convention, by confronting the popular backpack brand, Jansport. Jansport’s parent company, VF Corporation, has refused to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, leaving its workers vulnerable to deadly factory fires and collapses. We converged on Jansport’s booth, chanting, “Hey Jansport and VF, don’t let your workers burn to death!” We were forcibly removed from the event. This action was part of USAS’s national End Deathtraps campaign, which has pushed 16 universities to cut ties with Jansport/VF Corporation.
9. Hillel’s Student Life
Open Hillel, the student movement demanding that Hillel International remove its exclusive “Standards of Partnership,” has launched its first national tour. Four white Jewish activists from the mid-century American civil rights movement are set to speak at more than a dozen college campuses about Jewish values of social justice and their experiences fighting racism in the Jim Crow South and Israel/Palestine. At many campuses, they will speak alongside black organizers from today’s anti-racist struggle. All four Jewish speakers are technically barred from Hillel, the “center for Jewish life on campus,” because they are critical of Israeli policies, with two supporting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions, or BDS, movement. Although welcomed at Harvard Hillel on February 25, the tour has already been excluded from both UMass–Amherst and MIT Hillels. We challenge everyone to consider who the “Standards of Partnership” exclude—and draw connections between faith and solidarity organizing.
—Open Hillel Steering Committee
10. Making Penny Proud
On February 10, Penny Proud, a Black transgender woman and member of the BreakOUT! community, was brutally murdered in New Orleans. That evening, people across New Orleans gathered to honor Penny’s memory and support her family and each other. Amid overwhelming press at the vigil and afterward, BreakOUT! guided family members through the interview process while demanding dignified coverage—leading to only one news story that misgendered and disrespected her. Since then, we’ve launched a social media campaign, “Make Penny Proud,” to uphold her legacy, as well as #BlackTransLivesMatter, a campaign to promote the positive visibility of the trans community. Meanwhile, we’ve obtained access to and designed a billboard to honor Penny, and community members have been planning direct actions that include a trans-led march this month. BreakOUT! will continue to honor Penny’s life as well as other trans women and men of color whose lives have been taken.