Higher Education and Lower Emissions- How Washington D.C. Universities are Taking Sustainability Seriously

By: Allie Goldsmith

WASHINGTON- As record high temperatures, devastating natural disasters, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rollbacks break headlines, optimism about the nation’s environmental prospects has reached an all time low. In the higher education sector however, private institutions are reflecting their millennial constituents’ affinity for sustainability by making the environment a top priority.

In the Washington D.C. area specifically, colleges like George Washington University (GW) and American University (AU) have responded to student feedback and are acting to minimize their environmental impact by developing initiatives that reduce carbon emissions, better manage waste, and promote ecosystems.

“At GW, the sustainability office was created because of student energy and student support,” said Kimberly Williams, the Stakeholder Engagement Associate at GW’s Office of Sustainability.

“There are young people across the country that care deeply about the environment and climate change, and they want the institution that they’re living at to be taking action and doing its part”.

Since launching in 2008, GW’s sustainability office has incorporated several initiatives into its operations to address these concerns, including sustainable energy projects, ecofriendly campus grounds keeping, and waste management initiatives.

Two years ago, GW partnered with Capital Partner’s Solar Project, which aims to reduce carbon emissions for institutions by providing solar power from offsite locations.

“GW embarked on an effort to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by getting a portion of its energy from a solar farm,” said Williams. “Through this project, GW is now 50 percent solar (powered).”

GW co-owns this solar farm with AU, which is located south of Elizabeth City, NC., and covers 287 acres of land. The farm works to abate approximately 84,900 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent and provides power for GW, AU, and GW University Hospital. This equates to removing about 17,900 cars from the road.

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AU has also made generous strides in reducing its carbon footprint and better managing waste. AU aims to become carbon neutral as early as 2020, and has reduced its carbon emissions by 52 percent since 2005.

After partnering with the Capital Partners Solar Project, AU relies on offsite and onsite solar power for 100 percent of its electricity, said Hannah Debelius, the Outreach and Communications manager at AU’s Office of Sustainability.

Debelius said to counterbalance emissions from sources that cannot be otherwise directly diminished, such as study abroad travel, AU purchases carbon offsets.

“Because we aren’t looking to reduce the amount of students that study abroad, we purchase carbon offsets,” said Debelius. “These are essentially projects that do good for the environment in the same amount that we have a negative impact.”

Through a carbon offset program that works with local women in Nairobi to sell more efficient wood burning cook stoves, Debelius said AU has already completely offset study abroad emissions for this year.

“We really want the solution to match the problem,” said Debelius. “Through this program, women in Nairobi have more opportunity to go to school because they aren’t collecting wood, and they’re helping the environment as well.”

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While GW and AU have made considerable accomplishments in the name sustainability, both institutions still face considerable setbacks.

Williams noted the challenges GW’s urban campus poses for sustainability efforts, namely the limited space for large-scale sustainable infrastructure like solar paneling and its affect on student awareness.

“Because Capital Partners Solar Project is an offsite solar farm, every day as students are walking around, they aren’t seeing that physical representation of our energy source,” said Williams. “As a result, many of our students don’t actually know that we are 50 percent solar (powered).”

Zach Dobelbower is the Associate Director of Energy and Sustainability for Washington D.C.’s Department of General Services (DGS), and said another one of the biggest challenges D.C. faces in making infrastructure sustainable is balancing the need for renewable energy with energy efficiency.

“Renewables are only one half of the equation,” said Dobelbower. “And from my perspective they’re less important than efficiency.”

Dobelbower said that improving the energy efficiency of buildings in the D.C. area reduces the need for renewable energy sources like solar power, which ultimately lowers bottom line costs.

“If we’re able to improve the efficiency of a school by 20 percent, that all of a sudden means the 100KW solar system that was intended to cover 5 percent of the load is now covering 10 percent of the load,” said Dobelbower.

In other words, higher efficiency in buildings means a lesser need for the renewable energy, which unlike efficiency requires a great deal of funding to implement.

Williams also said that while social media outreach and training within the GW community helps inform students about sustainability efforts, GW’s urban location makes it difficult to control waste produced by external members of the D.C. community.

“The fact that we’re not quite as much of a physical bubble as other campuses might be is challenging,” said Williams.

“There are folks from elsewhere in the city that get off at the Foggy Bottom metro stop and go to the State Department or the World Bank, and end up walking through and across our campus.”

Debelius also mentioned waste and the challenges it poses for AU’s sustainability efforts.

“The challenge with waste is that the way we do things on campus might differ from how students might have grown up disposing of their waste,” said Debelius.

Because many students don’t grow up composting and recycling the way AU’s campus does, it is challenging to get student’s to adhere to this new way of trash disposal, said Debelius.

Elissa Baum is a junior at AU, and said that while she attempts to be mindful when she goes to throw away trash on campus, she’s often distracted or too impatient to deliberate which bin is correct.

“I think students are in such a rush most of the time, they don’t want to take a moment to think about whether or not their coffee cup is recyclable,” said Baum.

“Also, all it takes is one person to contaminate an entire container of recycling, so I think that makes it even tougher.”

Another culprit of carbon emissions in the U.S. is the agricultural industry, which colleges and universities rely heavily on to feed their large student bodies.

About 40% of American universities source their cafeteria food from large private companies such as Aramark and Sodexo. These companies are preferable to universities because they can increase revenue for schools by raising meal costs for students.

While great for universities, contracts between large food corporations and universities can discourage the use of local food producers, and exacerbate the negative environmental impact of factory farming practices.

John Zechiel is the co-owner and founder of Washington’s Green Grocer, an online grocery delivery service that provides high quality, locally grown produce to customers in the local D.C. area.

Zechiel said locally sourcing food is important for a multitude of reasons, but primarily for concerns related to food safety and food security.

“Small farmers are better farmers than the big companies who use lots of chemicals, and most small farmers are organic growers,” said Zechiel. “Also, sourcing locally means your food is fresher.”

In the event of a national crisis, said Zechiel, there runs the possibility that food can’t be delivered across the country, which also suggests a need for local sources food.

“Should anything happen in the country, such as a plague or a bombing, and for some reason Florida and California can’t get their food to us, there needs to be food available on the east coast,” said Zechiel.

While Zechiel stressed the need to make locally sourced produce more available, he also emphasized that large scale farming, when done organically and with food safety concerns in mind, can be favorable to small local farming.

“To feed the country we need to produce so much food, that even if everyone wanted to eat locally, it simply would not be possible,” said Zechiel.

“Within 50 or 100 miles of D.C., for example, we simply don’t have enough small farms to feed D.C., so we need those factory farms to feed people.”

Universities like AU and GW understand that while fresh, safely grown, nutritious food is important, they still have to feed thousands of students on a daily basis.

AU’s partnership with Aramark for their dining services has aimed to incorporate quality and locality into its food service as best it can.

For instance, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), which functions as the predominant rating system colleges report to in order to assess their own sustainability, has rated AU at a gold level currently, said Debelius.

“In order to achieve that level, we have to submit what percentage of food purchased on campus is organic or local, or comes from a small business or small farm,” said Debelius.

AU and Aramark also work together to compost all food waste that occurs in food prep. “If they’re peeling potatoes or chopping up pineapple, all those leftover scraps get composted by a local composting company,” said Debelius.

While also reliant on a large food service company, Restaurant Associates, for the majority of its cafeteria dining, GW has taken several steps to ensure local organic food is available to students.

GW partnered with The Real Food Challenge in 2014, a national, student-led initiative aiming to provide healthy, sustainably grown, local and fair-trade food to colleges and universities.

GW has also made it easier for students to access local produce by incorporating into their meal service the option to sign up for community supported agriculture (CSA). Through CSA, students are delivered locally grown fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis, said Williams.

Universities like AU and GW both accredit their environmentally driven students for helping them make sustainable choices, and said that they will continue to strive towards sustainable goals.

“We love it when students are coming up with more creative ways to be more sustainable and pushing us to do better,” said Williams. “The student energy that is driving us forward has been a big part of the story here at GW.”

An Environmental and Political Debate Loom Over a Policy Designed for Energy Independence

Aaron Edelstein

 

Kevin Saler owns a Sunoco station in Newton, Massachusetts, and runs a good business, offering the only full service station in the area. He’s confused though, about the growing amount of ethanol found in the fuel supply.

 

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“It’s a mess. It leaks way more than gasoline and so you have to make sure the seals are always 100% or else it just evaporates. It’s also just making the fuel less energy dense. You get around 33% less energy from a gallon of ethanol than you do from gas, so this stuff basically just makes everything less efficient,” Saler said in late November. It’s something anyone who pumps up gas sees, but probably doesn’t notice, the sticker that says that the gasoline your pumping is up to 10% ethanol, but no one is sure about why there’s ethanol in our fuel supply, or even how it got there.

Ethanol, which is fermented organic material is most often made from corn, wood, and sugarcane, and has been fueling cars since the Model T, which could run on gasoline or ethanol because gas was hard to come by and farmers could make ethanol on the cheap. Once cars became commonplace and gas became easily accessed, ethanol fell into the background until World War II, when there were gas shortages and ethanol because the fuel of choice. It has been in our fuel supply in some capacity since then, and at an increasing rate since 2005.

After 9/11, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act in 2007. The idea was simple enough, we were getting most of our energy needs from the middle east, a place with a lot of unrest, and one which we didn’t particularly trust just 6 years following 9/11. As part of this act, the Renewable Fuel Standard came into existence.  The RFS mandates that a certain increasing amount of ethanol be blended into the nation’s fuel supply every year. Congress put the Environmental Protection Agency in charge of this, giving them the authority to alter the mandated levels based on production levels.

There are some important things to note about blending ethanol into the fuel supply. Ford’s first Model T, which could run either fuel, would be known as a Flex Fuel car today. These vehicles can run up to 85% ethanol, known as E85. Non E85 cars can safely run up to 10% ethanol, and some newer ones can run up to 15%, so there are real limits to the amount of ethanol that can be safely mixed into the fuel supply without putting cars all over the country at risk of engine issues.

The EPA says that cars made after 2001 can safely run E15 fuel, but the car manufacturers and the American Automobile Association say differently. Many automakers have stated that they will not honor the warranty on cars being filled with E15, even on some made after 2001. When asked for comment on this, a spokesman for AAA  pointed to a statement by AAA President Marshall Doney, saying that “AAA is pleased to see the EPA acknowledge that there are real-world constraints that limit the amount of ethanol that can be safely blended into the fuel supply. Official recognition of the ‘blend wall’ may help protect consumers from using E15 gasoline in vehicles not designed for its use.”

Kelly Donnaly, who drives a 2012 Camry hybrid, never took much notice to the warning on her fuel cap that says to use only E10 fuel until she was moving to Washington over the summer and driving through the midwest on her way from Oregon.

“There’s not really any if the E15 or 85 stuff out in Portland, so I never really paid attention to it, and then I almost messed the car up in Iowa. I was filling the car up at this station and there were two hoses and I thought they were the same so I grabbed the one that was apparently E15. Luckily the attendant caught it and knew the Camry’s cant take it,” Donnaly explained.

 

Fuel filler cap 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Photo By Aaron Edelstein

Donnaly isn’t wrong, E15 is primarily sold in the midwest, the same area it’s produced, and not sold very many other places. The EPA, despite mandating that these biofuels be mixed into the fuel supply, hasn’t been able to get car manufacturers to produce cars that run these fuels, and the reasons are quite simple. Ethanol burns faster, which could be great if you’re trying to accelerate, but isn’t good for the average American who just wants to go further on a tank of gas. As standard combustion engines have gotten more and more efficient, and as the US has been producing more and more oil on our own, the need for ethanol as a means of independent energy production just isn’t there. Senator Lankford (R-OK) has likened the program to no child left behind, calling it a well intended policy that “simply doesn’t work.”

Click Here to Listen to Kelly Donnaly on her experience with E15 fuel

Biofuels are supposed to be great because they’re renewable. You can grow more corn if you need more ethanol. But burning corn for ethanol means that corn can’t be eaten. According to The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, the increase in ethanol production and the RFS itself have actually raised food prices. They state that with increased corn production, other agricultural products are falling to the wayside, resulting in increased food prices. Yale University scientists have but it quite bluntly, writing an article titled “The Case Against More Ethanol: It’s Simply Bad for the Environment,” where they make the case that the cost of producing the corn to make the ethanol negates any benefit the ethanol has.

The controversy exists in Brazil as well, a country lauded by biofuel advocates as a the future.

Brazil makes most of it’s ethanol by sugarcane, an abundant crop that’s cheap to grow, and in a country with the largest fleet of flex fuel cars in the world, that’s important. Because of the huge amount of demand for ethanol, sugarcane is being grown more and more, and in order to make room for it all, large swaths of the Amazon rainforest are being deforested in order to grow the increasing amount of sugar needed.

So, the EPA is in charge of administering a congressionally demanded program to increase the amount of biofuels in an attempt to increase our energy independence, despite the fact that we’ve begun producing our own oil and gas and Americans are using less fuel than in the past. Plus, environmental concerns loom over the use of ethanol, so why is Congress continuing this program?

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, in charge of the Renewable Fuel Standard, has been confident on the future of the program, believing they can amend it and make it a successful program, but changes have been slow due to strong lobbing and pressure from both sides. The Ethanol industry believes this is the future, and have poured millions into the fight. Fuels America, one of the largest conglomerations of the ethanol industry, spent $1,155,000 on lobbying in 2017.

It’s also political on the congressional front, as well as presidential. The increase of biofuels in America have led to increased agricultural jobs, as there is a constant and growing demand for corn, and jobs will always trump the environment.

A spokesman for Senator Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) said that “the senator believes that biofuels will continue to be an important part of the economy here in Iowa. Reversing course on the RFS will be bad news for the citizens of Iowa, who are working hard to fuel the country.”

That sentiment was echoed by senators offices from around the midwest in these corn producing states. The increase in biofuels in great for their communities, and the project of shifting away from biofuels and back to oil is one that would devastate many of these communities. All six senators from Iowa, Nebraska, and Indiana said that they supported increased biofuels despite the concern from environmentalists and car manufacturers.

Can DC Housing Policy Preserve its Affordable Communities?

By Jacob Wallace

WASHINGTON – Since Vaughn Perry moved to Congress Heights in 2000, the median home price around him has more than doubled. It’s the sort of ballooning one might have expected to deflate somewhat post-recession, but in DC, housing continues to boom.

“Just two weeks ago, a house next to me sold for three times what I paid for my house,” said Perry. “You’re definitely seeing the house prices rise quickly.”

Perry, the equitable development manager for the 11th Street Bridge Park connecting Anacostia to nearby Capitol Hill/Navy Yard, understands better than most what rising development across the city means for communities, and the difficulties of balancing the needs of long-term residents with the inevitable changes that come to every Ward of the District of Columbia.

“Ultimately, neighborhoods change, and I don’t look at that as a good or bad thing. I think change is inevitable, but I think it’s how you deal with that change that matters,” said Perry. “When those changes are taking place, how does that have an impact on the culture? How does that have an impact on longstanding traditions? How does that have an impact on the people that will be there?”

The 11th Street Bridge Park will connect communities whose demographics could not be more diverse: Capitol Hill, on the West side of the river, has an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent and a median value of homeowner-occupied homes of almost $650,000. Anacostia, on the East side of the river, has an unemployment rate of 20 percent and a median value of about $250,000. With the 11th Street Bridge Park, Washington might soon have one of the most stark answers yet to the question: What can a city do to remain affordable in the face of gentrification?

 

Growing Pains

As housing prices continue to increase in Washington, a patchwork of policies and non-profits have sprung up to ensure low-income residents can continue to afford housing within the District. During a time of municipal budget surplus, more and more money and policy is being directed towards these residents, but the funds provided may not be enough to prevent the gentrification of an entire city.

One of the largest housing programs in the District, the Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP), has become so popular it may run out of funding before the end of the fiscal year. The program allows low-income Washingtonians to purchase affordable homes using a loan from the District of Columbia of up to $80,000. Although the District of Columbia government dedicated approximately $40 million in its most recent budget to the program, demand for all housing programs has begun to put a strain on the ability of the District government to respond to need.

“We might be running out of funds as early as June 2018,” said Jonathan Nisly, a housing advocate for MANNA Inc. “That means [Affordable Dwelling Units] whose construction begins in March can’t be purchased in July because there’s no HPAP funding.”

MANNA predates many of the housing policies Washington residents rely on to find affordable housing. The organization provides a wide range of services related to housing, which includes constructing Affordable Dwelling Units (ADUs) in the city, providing housing-related counseling, and running regular classes for low-income residents who need help navigating the complex process needed to secure housing. When the organization was founded in 1982, HPAP did not exist. Instead, many of the Washingtonians who bought affordable housing created by MANNA were coming from transitional or Section 8 housing.

Today, much of MANNA’s services related to housing are directly intertwined with new District of Columbia housing policy created since 2000. Case in point: advocates from the Greater Washington Urban League came to MANNA’s Home Buyer’s Club on Saturday and talked to Washingtonians learning how to purchase their own home how they could secure a loan through the HPAP program.

Nisly expects HPAP to be fully funded again following the beginning of the 2018 fiscal year, but is worried about that gap. The current budget represents an increase of approximately $5 million from the previous year, and while this increase is welcome news to those in need of assistance, advocates are worried it won’t be enough.

Nisly is encouraging residents to reach out to council members and encourage them to create a special funding plan to keep HPAP coffers stocked until the end of the current fiscal year, a process which would begin in late March.

At their most recent meeting on Saturday, Erica Armstrong, a property manager for Winn Residential and DC resident, was optimistic about her chances to own a home.

“I think with all the programs that DC has, if you know the right people you can get what you need,” said Armstrong. “I’m not telling myself anything other than I’m ready to buy a home.”

 

Stepping Stones

The Washington Metro area grew .9 percent overall from 2015-2016, which is a lower migration rate than in recent previous years. The District of Columbia itself, however, grew at a significantly higher rate than the overall area, at 1.6 percent. This means that more individuals moving to the area are moving to the city itself than to surrounding suburbs, which can cause a significant uptick in housing demand.

Another District of Columbia housing program, Inclusionary Zoning, has seen demand sharply rise in the past few years. The program mandates that private residential developments over a certain number of housing units must provide 8 to 10 percent of the units at a discounted rate. These units represent an important stepping stone for residents on the way to owning housing of their own.

“We have definitely seen an increase in the number of individuals interested [in Inclusionary Zoning units],” said Gene Bulmash, manager of the Inclusionary Zoning Program. “I think people are doing it as an opportunity to gain quality, safe affordable housing, but it’s not going to provide generational wealth.”

That lack of generational wealth stems from the Inclusionary Zoning program’s resale limits, which prevent residents who have purchased homes through the program from reselling it at market rate. That policy was designed to ensure that units remain in the hands of low-income IZ residents in perpetuity.

“Inclusionary Zoning is great for a very narrow purpose,” said Nisly. “It only piggybacks on units developers already want to build.”

The 11th Street Bridge Park runs into similar problems with its own Community Land Trust. The Trust buys up housing immediately surrounding the park and regulates the price at which it can be sold in order to keep it affordable. Much like Inclusionary Zoning housing, the amount that owners of housing within the Trust can resell for is limited, and the resident selling can earn 25% of the equity.

“I think [resale limits] is one of the drawbacks of CLTs, but it’s also only one tool that we use,” said Perry.

Indeed, the nonprofit in charge of the park also sponsors MANNA’s Home Buyer’s Club meetings within Ward 8, as well as workshops on tenant’s rights and other initiatives to try and spur business development by Ward 8 residents for Ward 8 residents.

All of these programs can interlock in confusing, but helpful, ways. For instance, MANNA could create a building that must have Inclusionary Zoning units. Those IZ units, in turn, could be purchased by someone who qualifies for an HPAP loan. Together, this patchwork of policies help Washingtonians find, secure, and continue to afford a home.

Charlie Gussom, whose mother has worked for MANNA for 19 years, understands better than most how all these policies can come together.

“They meet you where you stand in the homebuying process and they’ll work with you at the point that you’re in,” said Gussom. “You can have good credit, moderate credit, or you can have not great credit and they really help you through the process of improving it from the point that you’re at.”

Gussom is also going through the Home Buyer’s Club process as he begins to look for a house of his own. In part because of the deep connection he has with MANNA, he’s confident he can use the resources available to him to successfully navigating the homebuying process.

“It’s not intimidating at all,” said Gussom, “it’s just a matter of using the resources available that I have in my life that provided me with things that I need.”

 

Build Baby Build

Developers are doing a lot of building in Washington. According to data published by DC’s Office of Revenue Analysis, in the past 12 years the District of Columbia has experienced a 22 percent population growth, and construction of new apartment units has more than kept pace with the demand this growth brings. During that same period, the apartment vacancy rate has increased slightly, from 4.7 to 5.1 percent.

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Data Courtesy of District, Measured

 

All this growth isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As Gussom points out, neighborhoods formerly blighted or underdeveloped now have an infusion of interest.

“I like that the buildings you see bring in new things, new people, new businesses because at one point of time there wasn’t anything,” said Gussom. Still, he remains concerned that the people who benefit most from all this newness are not the people who were born and raised in Washington. “On the flipside, I’m concerned about the individuals who don’t have the education and the mindset who don’t understand that path.“

The inability of funding to meet demand for the programs that slow the negative effects of development can be discouraging to Washingtonians, but policymakers and advocates alike agree that the city is a model for the nation in terms of the various ways it attempts to preserve affordable housing.

“I think DC is a model city, which in some ways is depressing to say,” said Nisly. “Other cities’ advocates are jealous of the tools we have.”

D.C. Considers Health Exam Reboot

 

Schools across the District administer the only standardized exam covering sex education in the nation. (photo by Zoe Morgan)

By ZOE MORGAN

For decades, sex education has sparked debate across the country. Parents and school districts have clashed over what students should learn, and when they should learn it. However, Washington, D.C. is the only state in the country that has a standardized assessment to test students’ sex education knowledge.

Since 2012, the district has conducted an annual Health and Physical Education Assessment (HPEA) for fifth-graders, eighth-graders, and high school students. In high schools, students take the exam the same year that they take a health class. Since its implementation, the test has had multiple iterations and the district is currently considering doubling the length of the exam and working to increase student participation rates.

In 2017, 94 percent of schools participated in the exam, but only about 60 percent of eligible high school students took the exam. Aimee McLaughlin, a health education specialist with the district, said that while these rates aren’t disappointing, improving student participation is one of the district’s goals.

“Overall participation rates at the school level were not too bad,” McLaughlin said. “At the student level, as we anticipated and we often see, [the] high school participation rate at the student level was a little low.”

Student participation rates were higher in eighth and fifth grades, with 69 and 79 percent of students participating, respectively. McLaughlin said that at the high school level there are particular issues because of problems scheduling the exam and lower student attendance rates. Decreasing the number of schools who have few students actually taking the assessment is a priority, McLaughlin said.

Although school participation is currently at 94 percent, about a dozen schools failed to participate entirely in 2017.

“The HPEA is a requirement of the Healthy Schools Act of 2010,” McLaughlin said. “By that law, schools are all required to participate. That said, I think it’s a classic struggle of a state agency like ours. We have a law that’s mandated and we don’t have much of a stick to enforce it.”

The Healthy Schools Act was a piece of legislation introduced by Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh to address issues ranging from school food to sex education.

After receiving complaints from school personnel who wanted to be able to see their data faster, McLaughlin said the district is rolling out a tool that allows teachers to see their data much more rapidly. Although McLaughlin said that the feedback from this tool’s roll out has been positive, not all teachers say that they have access to the data.

James Howes, a health teacher at Horace Mann Elementary School, said that he still hasn’t seen any data on last year’s exam, despite getting information back for other standardized tests that the district administers.

“I’d love to actually see something come back and have an idea of where that we can improve,” Howes said.

The test itself is short, only 21 multiple choice questions that students complete online. Howes said that it takes most of his students no longer than 15 minutes to complete. The district is reviewing the possibility of expanding the test to 42 questions and creating a list of sample questions for teachers to use.

Currently the exam tests student knowledge in seven domains, with three questions coming from each area. The domains are: “alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs,” “disease prevention,” “human body and person health,” “mental and emotional health,” “nutrition,” “physical education” and “safety skills.” Questions on sex education are included throughout the assessment.

The level of the questions differs by grade level, and is intended to be age appropriate, McLaughlin said. Fifth graders might be asked questions about puberty or what to do if someone touches them inappropriately. In high school, the questions are about topics like sexual transmitted disease prevention and healthy relationships.

For example, the district’s health education standards say that by fifth grade, students should be able to: “Describe the human cycle of reproduction, birth, growth, aging and death. Explain the structure, function, and major parts of the human reproductive system.” In high school, students are expected to: “Analyze factors, including alcohol and other substances that can affect the ability to give or perceive the provision of consent to sexual activity.”

When Howes teaches health to a group of fourth and fifth graders, he focuses on ensuring that he meets students where they are at. Topics that he covers including emotional health, puberty and the human reproductive system.

“We’ve always found a way to take the content and make it age appropriate to where they are,” Howes said. “And each class, each year is very different.”

In this classroom setting, Howes focuses on building trust with students and creating an environment where they feel safe. However, this same trust doesn’t exist in a standardized exam setting, Howes said.

Each year, Howes has two or three parents who opt their children out of the sex education questions on the test, an option that is open to parents. In some cases, these are parents who allowed their children to take part in the class, but feel uncomfortable with the district tracking information about their student’s knowledge of sex education.

Despite comprehensive sex education being a hot button issue on many parts of the country, McLaughlin said that she hasn’t heard very much backlash from parents on the exam. Few parents actually opt their students out of the exam, McLaughlin said.

After seeing students at their school get pregnant, McKinley Technology High School seniors Cassell Robinson and classmate Makayla Williams both said that they feel sex education is important for students to learn. Williams said that she wants to make sure that her peers are being safe and have the knowledge they need. For Robinson, sex education is a gateway the rest of a student’s education.

“Sex education is important because education is in general very important,” Robinson said. “If you don’t have the proper sex education, it could really hurt your regular education. Because let’s say you’re in a relationship and have a teen pregnancy. That can really make it hard to go to college and get an education and get a good job and just live your life.”

At the high school level, Robinson said that the questions relating to sex education covered topics including the different types of contraceptives available and information about sexually transmitted diseases. Robinson said that he didn’t know of many students whose parents opted them out of the sex education portion of the test and said that the material closely mirrored what he had learned in his health class.

“It was a fairly easy test, not too difficult,” Robinson said. “But things you couldn’t just guess and know.”

Student performance on the test has seen slight improvement over time, but the district is still looking for greater increases. In 2017, on average high school students answered 56 percent of questions correctly. That number was 54 percent in 2016. Eighth grade results saw a one point increase from 66 to 67 percent. And fifth grade went from 71 to 72 percent.

However, McLaughlin stressed that the district doesn’t yet have good longitudinal data about the exam. In the 2014-2015 school year, the district transitioned to a new standardized testing system for all exams. The HPEA was put on hold that year, and a new version of the exam was released for the 2015-2016 year. This means that there is only two years of data about the new exam.

Making comparisons is further complicated by the fact that schools were allowed to make their own assessments in 2016, and were only required to use the standardized version last year in 2017. About a half dozen schools had chosen to make their own exam, and their results were inconsistent.

“We felt like the results were sort of all over the place, hard to glean performance from, and understand if students were really performing to the standards,” McLaughlin said. “And so…last year we just had everybody use the standard assessment.”

Going forward, the district wants to collect multiple years of data on the standardized assessment to see how student performance and participation is changing over time. The district is also in the process of preparing a report on school by school performance that will be available to the public.

The Hidden Reality of Dating Violence on College Campuses

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Health and Wellness Center at American University. Under Title IX, universities are required to provide resources and services to students in abusive relationships. Photo by Madeleine Simon

By Madeleine Simon

Faith Ferber, a senior at American University, spent five years advocating for victims of sexual and domestic violence on college campuses. She founded student groups, interned at nonprofits that help victims of sexual assault, and became an expert in Title IX legislation. If anyone would know how to stay away from violent relationships, it should be her. But Ferber recently found herself in a physically abusive relationship, one that took her eight months to get out of. She left her boyfriend in July of this year.

“Domestic violence is way more complicated than anyone can understand,” Ferber said. “Even as an advocate doing this for five years—I knew it takes people seven times to leave on average; I knew how difficult it was; I knew all the complicated feelings—but I really had no idea. Despite everything I knew, it was so much harder than I really realized.”  

Included in her advocacy work, Ferber founded the Students Against Sexual Violence club at American University, and is currently a student and federal organizer for Know Your Nine, a nonprofit that works to educate students on their rights and enforce Title IX legislation.

Ferber is one of nearly five million college women who experience physical and emotional dating abuse, according to a 2011 report by Break The Cycle, a non profit aimed at educating young people about unhealthy relationships. That means nearly half of all college women, 43 percent, go through some kind of physical, verbal, sexual or controlling abuse. But despite the prevalence of this kind of violence, universities along with federal legislators are only just now expanding their efforts to curb dating abuse. Stories like Ferber’s show that many young women, even those with education on the issue, are still vulnerable to violent relationships as they navigate the pitfalls of social media, new-found independence and a muddled hook-up culture.

“I think that for college students in particular when it comes to dating violence, they’re experiencing their first more mature, serious relationship,” said Mickey Irizarry, director of the Wellness Center at American University. “While you’re trying to develop a relationship and understand how to have this healthy relationship with another person, you’re also trying to understand yourself. So I think there are different factors that put college students at risk for dating violence.”

In the past five to ten years, colleges have made significant strides to combat sexual assault, thanks in part to the Obama administration’s Title IX guidances. And with the #MeToo campaign trending worldwide amidst numerous allegations against celebrities and politicians, sexual assault has received global notoriety and attention. But the issue of dating violence and emotionally abusive relationships, particularly among young adults, has in some ways been lost in the conversation around how women, and some men, are treated.

“Sexual assault is definitely more of the paid-attention-to issue right now,” Irizarry said. “And not to say that they are different because sexual assault can exist in unhealthy relationships. I think that people forget that Title IX for instance also concerns dating violence. It’s not just sexual assault.”

Under Title IX, universities have to provide resources for students in abusive relationships. However, colleges weren’t legally required to report incidents of dating violence on their campuses until two years ago as part of new legislation in the Clery Act.

The 1990 law mandates that universities keep and disclose information about crimes that are reported on their campus, including cases of sexual violence. But it wasn’t until 2013 that dating violence became a separate crime with its own definition, and it took another year for the amendment to take effect.  

The act requires colleges to publicly release an annual security report, which documents criminal cases including sexual and dating violence. Schools’ records of dating violence only date back to 2014.

“Before dating violence, domestic violence and stalking were outlined as actual crimes that could be counted, a lot of those actions would’ve fallen under aggravated assault,” said Laura Egan, Senior Director of Programs for the Clery Center. “Those are very different crimes. A bar fight is very different than a crime of power between the victim and their partner.”

While the Clery Act is progressive in many ways—not only separately defining dating violence, but also acknowledging “hooking up” as a valid relationship where abuse can occur—it falls short when it comes to enforcing laws, reaching all possible students and recognizing emotional abuse as a criminal aspect of dating violence.

For instance, in 2016, the Department of Education imposed a record $2.4 million fine on Penn State University for failing to comply with the Clery Act and federal requirements during its handling of the Jerry Sandusky case.

“The struggle that campuses have with Clery is that there are a bunch of guidelines and requirements that are intentionally written in a general way, but each campus is so unique and so specific that sometimes schools struggle with understanding how to apply these laws to their campus for whatever reason,” Egan said. “The schools that struggle the most are the ones that don’t have a full understanding of all of the aspects that Clery requires.”

But beyond issues with nationally enforcing policy, the Clery Act also overlooks students who live off campus. Universities are only required to report incidences that happen on campus, but cases of dating violence are much more likely to occur among older students who don’t live in dorms.

“Trends show that reports of relationship violence and dating violence tend to be more prevalent among older students—juniors and seniors—and those students tend to live off-campus,” Irizarry said. “Because by the time you’ve been in [a relationship] long enough for violence to escalate or to build, you are usually not a first-week freshman.”

Legislation like the Clery Act and Title IX take significant steps in addressing dating violence on college campuses, but students still struggle with reporting their experiences. Sometimes, students have a difficult time recognizing they’re in an unhealthy situation right away, and if they do, they may not realize the school offers help, Ferber said.

“I think that people think that it’s their relationship, they choose to be in it, so why go to the school and report?” Ferber said. “I think it’s harder to recognize the influence it has on you versus if you’re assaulted, you know you’re not studying for math in the next few days. You know you’re going to need accommodations there. But when you’re in a more long-term violence situation, it’s harder to really see how you’re impacted by that and I think that could also influence people’s decisions to report or not.”

In Ferber’s case, she did decide to go to her school for help, but she she didn’t feel that she got the best possible support. After her boyfriend assaulted her for a second time, Ferber made an appointment with the counseling center to create a safety plan in case she needed to leave the apartment she and her boyfriend shared. Ferber explained the situation to a counselor, but was told that because she had insurance, all the counselor could do was refer her to an outside therapist, Ferber said.

“I remember leaving being devastated,” Ferber said. “I was trying to speak up that I needed help and she just cut me off and said ‘this isn’t my issue.’ So that’s an accommodation that is given to us through Title IX. It’s not good enough to have that accommodation if then you’re going to ignore survivors.”

Another issue that’s overlooked by the Clery Act is the prevalence and impact of emotionally abusive relationships. The Clery Act does not legally define emotional abuse and does not consider it an act of dating violence. It is up to universities, then, to create policies and to disclose incidents of emotional, verbal or psychological abuse or not.

But emotional abuse—manipulation, constant monitoring, verbal and psychological abuse, and isolation, for instance—is often more prevalent among young adults and can be just as, if not more, damaging than physical abuse. For instance, 31 percent of college women report experiencing controlling behavior and 22 percent say they’ve been victims of verbal abuse, according the same 2011 report by Break The Cycle,

“I think that a lot of people when they think of violence, they can easily grasp an image of physical violence,” said Jasmine Uribe, Leadership and Engagement Manager at Break The Cycle. “But what happens early and more often than physical or sexual abuse is this subtle emotional type. Things that would be seen as common behaviors of relationships that can actually be really negative are jealousy, for example.”

Even without the legal requirement, many universities have their own policies on emotional abuse. But students may not be fully aware that these services exist or what they can do, as was the case with Sammy Giordano, a senior at Kent State University.

Giordano has been in three emotionally abusive relationships, starting when she was a high school student. Her third, and most abusive relationship, carried into her freshman year of college. Giordano didn’t seek out her school’s resources partly because she didn’t completely know about all of her options, she said.  

“I didn’t feel as though I was aware of resources that would be helpful,” Giordano said. “Being on the university, I’ve found that there are. But they’re not advertised enough I don’t think. Schools do have programs and organizations that help with abusive relationships and sexual assault, but you have to look for those things. And I feel like a lot of victims in these situations aren’t looking out for those resources like they should be.”

Without access to or knowledge of school’s resources, students in abusive relationships may feel as if they have to deal with this issue on their own, which can keep this form of violence even further in the shadows.

“I definitely don’t think emotionally abusive relationships are as talked about as they should be,” Giordano said. “They’re harder to detect when you’re in one because you feel like every relationship fights and everyone has their differences. But when someone is making you feel like you’re less of a person than they are, you don’t realize at the time how much that’s going to affect you in the long run.”

Giordano says that her abusive relationships are at the root of many of her emotional issues. She’s developed anxiety and depression, and trust issues in part because her relationships constantly tore her down.

Social media and technology also play an integral role in emotionally abusive relationships among younger people. The same Break The Cycle poll found that 16 percent of college men and women have been victims of abuse via technology.

Because there are now more ways to constantly connect and stay in contact, it’s easier for someone to exhibit control over another person, Uribe said.

“With social media and technology we see a lot of threats happening in text messages,” Uribe said. “I call them the ‘W questions:’ ‘where are you?’ ‘who are you with?’ ‘what are you doing?’ ‘why don’t you answer?’ So those escalate quickly escalate and it’s almost like having an electronic leash.”

Madison Zygadlo, a senior at Middle Tennessee State University, is one of those students who dealt with emotional abuse online throughout her one-year relationship.

“My previous relationship was emotional turmoil, a roller coaster for better words,” Zygadlo said. “He would call me names, tell me I’m psychotic, that I’m fat, would control me and get mad if my guy friends would text me or even tag me in something on Facebook. He once saw my friend’s sister whose name is Ryan as a best friend on Snapchat and he called me and flipped. I had to send him pics of her to prove him wrong.”

Similar to Giordano’s experience, Zygadlo also says her relationship worsened her anxiety and depression. Zygadlo’s boyfriend threatened to break up with her if she took medication for her mental illness.

“I found changes in my personality big time,” Zygadlo said. “I became really shut off and wouldn’t talk to a lot of people. A lot of my friends saw changes in me as well, and I would skip school a lot. I already had diagnosed anxiety, which he made turn into depression.”

After one year, Zygadlo said she finally snapped and broke up with her abusive boyfriend. But her experience, as well as Giordano’s and Ferber’s abusive relationships, show just how long these forms of violence can last. It’s difficult for people in unhealthy relationships to recognize the danger they’re in since many of these behaviors have become normalized in our culture, Uribe said.

“How young were we when we started getting our ideas for relationships?” Uribe said. “For many of us, we weren’t talking about relationships or sex or anything like that. We were getting it from TV, maybe a magazine, maybe some quiz on Teen Vogue or something. Think of all the Lifetime movies and all the Hallmark movies of that crazy girlfriend or that crazy ex-boyfriend—that’s dating violence.”

Five months after leaving her abusive relationship, Ferber continues to fight for survivors and has now shifted more of her focus to domestic abuse victims too, she said. Giordano has since gotten help for her anxiety and depression, she said. And Zygadlo says that in the two years after ending her abusive relationship, she’s grown and learned a lot.

“We are trying to figure our young lives out, and we are so caught up that we just end up with a person who we swore we would never be in a relationship with,” Zygadlo said. “I think once you go through something like this, you grow from it. You start to realize that these people need help—help that you cannot provide, not matter how much you think you love them. That is not love. That’s controlling and manipulative on their end. You learn that you cannot deal with it, for good reason.”

Infographic by Madeleine Simon

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Transgender Homelessness: A Bigger Issue Than Realized

By: Blythe Collins

Washington, D.C. — One in three transgender people have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, whether the cause was family rejection, unemployment, or housing discrimination. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, done by the National Center for Transgender Equality, of the 30% of respondents that had experienced homelessness during their lifetime, 12% reported experiencing homelessness in the year prior to completing the survey specifically because they were transgender.

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Charmaine Eccles, a 36 year-old transgender woman living in Washington, D.C. has been dealing with intermittent homelessness for more than the last ten years. After her bouts with homelessness, Eccles has dealt with substance abuse, addiction, unemployment, and eviction. 

“At one point in time, on Christmas Day,” Eccles said, “I woke up and it was a blizzard outside and I was under a blanket, waking up to a pile of snow. It really wasn’t forced on me, it was choice and it was more of my addiction that had taken over at that time.”

A person is considered homeless if their name is not on a lease. At the moment, there is no explicit legal protection from gender identity discrimination neither at the state nor local levels.

“You cannot get a job if you don’t have a stable home,” Director of D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, Sheila Alexander-Reid said. “Chances are you can’t keep a job if you don’t have a stable home and you may not be able to get a job if you don’t have appropriate clothes or if you don’t have a place to rest your head. All these things are connected. So really, homelessness is sort of the root and everything comes off of that. If you can get them in a stable home, then perhaps you can get them to a place where they can get some help and get their lives on track and get employment and education opportunities.”

Reid has been the Director of the Office of LGBTQ Affairs for almost three years. Since starting at D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office, Reid has been a liaison who ensures that the LGBTQ community understands what the mayor’s vision for them is and also to make sure that the LGBTQ community understands her vision. A former advocate, Reid is ensconced in the community she works every day to help.

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Sheila Alexander-Reid, Mayor Bowser’s Director of LGBTQ Affairs, stands outside her office. Photo by Blythe Collins

“I will say that homelessness, employment, and public safety are the top three issues that the transgender community faces,” Reid said. “Not just in D.C., but around the country and probably around the world.”

The findings of the U.S. Transgender Survey showed large economic disparities between transgender people and the U.S. population as a whole. Nearly one-third (29%) of respondents were living in poverty, compared to 14% in the whole U.S. population. This high poverty rate is directly linked to respondents’ 15% unemployment rate—three times higher than the unemployment rate in the U.S. population at the time of the survey (5%).

“Homelessness made me realize the things we don’t appreciate in our lives,” Eccles said. “Even like sleeping on someone’s couch, or just having any bed to stay in, or just to be in somewhere warm, on a floor. It makes me think that compared to other countries, we have it really good over here. Even with the homelessness, some people live in worse conditions, horrible conditions, in their homelessness.”

According to the 2016 State Equality Index (a comprehensive state-by-state report by the Human Rights Campaign that provides a review of statewide laws and policies that affect LGBTQ people and their families), D.C. has passed 25 ‘good laws’ between 2004 and 2016 (among non-discrimination, youth, parenting, hate crime, and health and safety laws). Another state, such as Alabama, has only passed three of these ‘good laws.’

“D.C. is rated as one of the top jurisdictions to live in if you’re a member of the LGBTQ community and we’re really proud of that,” Reid said. “You can see how progressive we are, and in a way I feel like it is a privilege to be in D.C., where we are protected. Right now, we focus on D.C. but I also talk with a lot of national organizations who look at our policies to see how we are able to accomplish what we’ve accomplished, because their job is to make sure that the country is progressive and that the country is focused on equity as far as treatment of LGBTQ residents. I think we’ve done a lot because HRC and National LGBT Task Force are located in the District. This is the heart where a lot of the fight has taken place.”

Having a strong support system is critical to those who are transitioning, have transitioned, or are simply questioning their gender identity. Those who reported that their immediate families were supportive were less likely to report a variety of negative experiences related to economic stability and health, such as experiencing homelessness, attempting suicide, or experiencing serious psychological distress. Experiences varied widely between those with family support and those with unsupportive families, with family support being associated with a reduced likelihood of negative experiences. Less likely to have experienced homelessness (27%) than those with unsupportive families (45%).

“Unfortunately, in many cases, a lot of families are not accepting and loving of their family members who are of trans experience,” Adriana Scott, Housing Navigation Coordinator at HIPS said. “When you’re young and in your 20’s or even in your 30’s, the network of support that you have are family-based and when that really critical network of support dissolves because you’ve been kicked out of your house because of your identity, it can predispose you to living at or below the poverty level.”

Scott is the Housing Navigation Coordinator and Case Management Supervisor at HIPS, an organization that promotes the health, rights, and dignity of individuals and communities impacted by sexual exchange and/or drug use due to choice, coercion, or circumstance. Scott performs housing assessments that seek to match applicants with appropriate homes.

“I was in a hotel for like a year back and forth between the streets, hotels, and finding somewhere to stay at,” Eccles said. “I stayed with my sister, who didn’t approve of my genderm, so that was pretty hard for her. There were many of my family members who did not approve. They were accepting because they loved me, but they really don’t approve of it.”

Family support was associated with positive outcomes while family rejection was associated with negative outcomes. Respondents who were rejected were nearly twice as likely to have experienced homelessness (40%) as those who were not rejected (22%).

“There is a pretty significant community when you have people who are dropped by their families they find family elsewhere,” Scott said. “They become a child of an older trans person they become a sister or a brother of a bunch of other folks who are trans. Even though they may not be housed or may have unstable housing, I can definitely say there’s a very strong sense of family here. Even though family members argue and there’s drama and all that but it is definitely a place of overwhelming love among that community.”

Almost one-quarter (23%) of respondents experienced some form of housing discrimination in the past year, such as being evicted from their home or denied a home or apartment because of being transgender.

“D.C.’s shelter system is unfortunately not the best thing in the world,” Scott said. “I think that a lot of people have misconceptions that everything’s fine because we have a system where people can go to shelters, but that does not necessarily mean safety.”

More than one-quarter (26%) of those who experienced homelessness in the past year avoided staying in a shelter because they feared being mistreated as a transgender person. Those who did stay in a shelter reported high levels of mistreatment. Seven out of ten (70%) respondents who stayed in a shelter in the past year reported some form of mistreatment, including being harassed, sexually or physically assaulted, or kicked out because of being transgender.

“A huge issue that HIPS deals with is that a lot of shelters in DC or the surrounding area aren’t all that inclusive,” Mary Pavia, HIPS volunteer said. “For instance, many have coercive policies that require that anyone using that organization’s services must be sober, or even sober for a certain amount of time. Also, some battered women’s shelters, for instance, pose an issue for many trans folks as these shelters may not accept them due to their trans identity.”

Pavia, 22, is a volunteer at HIPS who completed 40 hours of direct service volunteer training about topics such as service provider privilege, crisis intervention, and harm reductionist tools for counseling clients about safer sex and safer drug use. As a volunteer, she carried out street-based outreach, needle exchange, condom distribution, and harm reduction micro-counseling around D.C. twice per month from an overnight outreach van.

According to Scott, the majority of the transgender homeless people HIPS sees have been involved in sex work. On the U.S. Transgender Survey, respondents who had done sex work (72%) and those who have experienced homelessness (65%) were more likely to have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

“We had a transgender public safety townhall here in the community room,” Reid recalls. “One person spoke and I didn’t know her and she spoke about having a shotgun held to her head and she was not doing survival sex work, but she was meeting some friends who had just finished doing some survival sex work. She was robbed and beaten and had a shotgun put in her mouth – it was horrific. She had asked the police to look into it, so the police looked into it, they arrested the guys who did it and I walk up to her after the event and said ‘here’s my card, I’d like to stay in touch with you. Is there anything I can do to help you?’ She said ‘well you can help me get a job, I’m trying to find a job.’ She applied for a job with Unified Communications Center, which is a D.C. government agency and she was hired as part-time and she went on to become full time. This enabled her to then go back and be a success story to other transgender women of color who were still struggling.”

Reid’s story happened to be about Eccles. The two women stay in touch and Reid calls to check in with Eccles, even after she got the job.

“After some months, I was able to gain employment with a non-profit organization, the DC Center,” Eccles said. “So, it changed my life. From that, I started getting more involved with the community and I’m actually employed now with hopes of transferring over to being a 911 operator and moving up in the company.”

 

 

Transgender homelessness is a dire issue that could eventually put lives on the line. Unfortunately, lifetime suicide attempts were higher for respondents who have ever experienced homelessness (59%).

“Right now I have a lot going on and I’m trying to save up for my own place whenever that happens,” Eccles said. “Eventually I’ll move, I’m just waiting for that opportunity… for that one phone call to help me get in a place more smooth versus me doing it myself with my terrible credit. Even though i’m comfortable where i’m at now, I’m really not complacent where I’m at. I want to have my own place. I’m doing everything I can to try to improve my credit but I can’t do much. Its like travel, eating, rent here, it’s not really like I can save much money. So, its hard but I try to make the best of it.”

Could Sorority Hosted Parties Reduce Sexual Assault?

Rooms where sororities can host non-alcoholic pre-planned parties on American University’s campus. Credit: Nicole Schaller

By: Nicole Schaller

December 11, 2017

One in five women will be sexually assaulted in college, statistics show. When looking further, studies found men in fraternities are more likely to be sexual assault perpetrators compared to college men not affiliated. According to three different studies, fraternity men are three times more likely to commit rape.

“Not everyone in a fraternity is a rapist, but they are in an environment that’s fertile for toxic masculinity, which is one root cause of rape culture,” said Maya Vizvary, the sexual assault prevention coordinator at American University.

A solution that has floated around in reducing sexual assault is for sororities to hold more parties. Vizvary explained that the change in power dynamics on who is controlling the parties could affect the college party landscape.

“I think they [sorority-led parties] would be better because there’s more control, than if going to a frat party,” Vizvary said. “They are deciding what’s being served, what the theme is, and who’s going to be let in, and when the party is happening. Fraternities have more potential to manipulate the situation or control what’s happening, and I think if sorority were having parties, and inviting who they wanted to come that just puts a lot more control in their hands.”

For college women, the fraternity party atmosphere can often be unsafe. Maria Szczesny, a University of Maryland graduate from last spring felt unsafe at fraternity parties on multiple occasions. One instance had a significant effect on her.

“I actually stopped going to [fraternity parties] because there was an incident that wasn’t very serious, but my friend had to step in front of a guy who pinned me against the wall,” said Szczesny. “I hadn’t even seen him in my life before, and he decided that’s just what he was going to do that day. If you talk to not just sorority women, but any woman who’s gone to a fraternity party or any other parties happening on campus, that’s going to happen to the majority of them unfortunately.”

Szczesny was part of a sorority at University of Maryland.  She requested the specific sorority she is affiliated with to not be disclosed. She had conflicting feelings on whether sororities should hold parties. As of now, all national sororities are not allowed to hold parties with alcohol at their residences.

“I think from a feminist point of view it kind of sucks that sororities have bylaws that say you can’t host parties with alcohol or you have to have very strict rules, and frats just don’t have that,” said Szczesny. “But fraternities and sororities are run by two very different institutions.”

Separate organizations lead fraternities and sororities. All 66 national fraternities are part of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, and all 26 national sororities are part of the National Panhellenic Conference. The organizations take different approaches to how they lead their groups.

“North American Interfraternity Council allows the fraternities to make decisions individually by chapters,” said Kathleen Tucker, the Coordinator of Fraternity, and Sorority Life at American University. “Whereas the National Panhellenic Conference is very much a guiding organization that creates policies, and a lot of the decision making. It is a lot more structured. All 26 organizations that fall under the National Panhellenic Conference follow very strict guidelines that they put out.”

Due to the structure of the organization, the National Panhellenic makes it hard for sororities to make decisions independently from other chapters. If one sorority wanted to approve parties with alcohol, all 25 other sororities would have to unanimously agree to allow parties with alcohol in their chapters as well. This differs from fraternities, who can individually make independent decisions from the other chapters in the North American Interfraternity Council.

In a statement by Dani Weatherford, the Executive Director of the National Panhellenic Conference, she expressed the reasoning for the ban on parties and alcohol at sorority houses.

“Our organizations are – at their core – about empowering women and providing opportunities for leadership and engagement on campus. Of course, our organizations are also social by their very nature and chapters do, in fact, host social functions. The key difference – particularly at a time when student safety is particularly top of mind – is that our members don’t host them in their chapter facilities, and they look to third-party vendors as a way to make sure that they’re providing a safe and secure environment when alcohol is present.”

Yet, the idea for sorority to host parties remains a strong solution in creating safer atmospheres for college sorority women.

“Some arguments I’ve seen before is women would be able to regulate their houses better,” said Tucker on having sorority house parties. “That they would be able to lock room doors that they would be able to control access point, and that they would feel safer in the space that they are in.”

The down side for parties held at sorority houses would be the increase in insurance costs for chapters, as well as an increase in liability. Fraternities on average pay higher dues to cover the insurance for allowing alcohol. Resistance against sorority-led parties among members themselves source these as the main reasons for not wanting parties. The president of the Panhellenic Council at American University, and member of Phi Sigma Sigma, Lily Brown, expressed why she would not want sororities holding parties with alcohol.

“I don’t really care all that much in throwing parties,” said Brown “There’s a lot of legal risk when throwing parties.”

Other sorority members share similar thoughts. Rachel Fariello, a psychology junior at Florida State University, and a member of Pi Beta Phi, does not want to take on the responsibility of holding parties. Currently Florida State has suspended all Greek life after a Pi Kappa Phi fraternity pledge died of alcohol poisoning at a fraternity party.

“We shouldn’t have big parties because it keeps us [sororities] on the elegant side,” said Fariello. “It keeps us out of trouble if we don’t have parties. We still hold functions and have philanthropic events.”

In terms of whether sorority-led parties would reduce sexual assault, many interviewed sorority members did not believe it would make a difference. Many believed that if sororities held parties, it would do more harm than good, since it’s just creating more places where alcohol would be provided.

“I don’t think if sorority were supposed to host parties that it’ll change sexual assault rates at all,” said Szczesny.  “I think it changes who’s providing the alcohol and providing the venue. You’re just providing another outlet for people to drink.”

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) sorority president of Alpha Delta Chi, Gracen Blackwell, shared similar concerns.

“I don’t think there’s a need for sororities to hold more parties,” said Blackwell. “Because it’s just a lot of alcoholic events on one campus at one time, and the fraternities’ houses are more suited for throwing parties.”

Blackwell, Brown, and Fariello all pointed out that fraternity houses are better suited for alcohol hosted events. Alumni invest in many of the sorority houses that are decorated with quality furniture and design. Taylor Schnaars, a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma at Pittsburgh University, noted the differences.

“We have a fancy piano, a chef, a maid and nice carpeting,” said Schnaars. “Whereas the frat houses have bare cement walls, no furniture, and open rooms. They’re made for parties”

Despite the many vocal sorority sisters coming forward and saying they do not want alcohol parties, when conducting an anonymous survey among 112 sorority women from multiple chapters at four geographically different universities, a different message came out.

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Survey on Sorority-led parties. Credit Nicole Schaller

When asked if they would like if sororities could host more parties publicly, almost 85% current sorority members said “yes”. In addition, around 92% thought sorority-led parties would affect the current party scene at their university, and almost 80% said they believed sorority-led parties would reduce sexual assault.

The discrepancy between statements from voluntary sorority members and the anonymous survey could be attributed to sorority members feeling the need to represent their sorority chapter, instead of their individual beliefs. One sorority member after participating in the survey shared these sentiments.

“When things are anonymous, I can openly express my personal opinion. When my name is attached, I represent the chapter as a whole.”

Due to the constraints of the National Panhellenic regulations and to the concerns in the increase of parties with alcohol consumption, Blackwell from UCLA, did not believe that sorority-led parties would be feasible. However, she did note that she believes sorority-led parties could better monitor the prevention of sexual assault.

“Vast majority of sexual assault in terms of Greek life is when [women are] being led upstairs at a frat house. I think frats are more likely to be like ‘yeah you go bro!’ Whereas if I saw one of my sisters walking upstairs with a boy, if we were having a party here, I think me, and my fellow officers would be more likely to say, ‘hey what’s going on? What are you doing? Do you feel comfortable doing this?”

Blackwell recently with other sorority leaders at UCLA’s campus took it upon themselves to change the fraternity party scene on their campus. They demanded the fraternities to implement third-party security at all their parties, have third-party bartenders, as well as each fraternity having a certain number of sober fraternity officers supervising. The fraternities agreed to all their requests.

“We’ve [sororities] been talking to fraternities because there’s been quite a few instances, particularly Panhellenic woman, being drugged and sexually assaulted at fraternity parties,” said Blackwell. “It was actually the Panhellenic Council that refused to hold anymore socials with fraternities until something like [the agreed changes] happened, which is what we wanted.”

The link between heavy alcohol consumption and sexual assault has been found in multiple studies, including the Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Blackwell is hopeful that the monitoring of alcohol from outside sources will help with sexual assault prevention.

“We wanted them to have third party security and bartenders at their houses and we wanted them to take responsibility for what has been happening at their houses. I think it’ll help out a lot.”

As of now, no major movement to change the National Panhellenic Conferences’ rules are apparent. Instead, sororities are trying to openly communicate with fraternities, such as UCLA did, and having mandatory education programs for sexual assault prevention.

‘This is our home’: TPS holders wait, worry in a state of uncertainty

By Ambar Pardilla

When Nancy Vasquez first flew to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1999, after she was approved for a visa along with her husband, she packed only one suitcase — stuffed with precious photographs in an album, a few dresses and two pairs of shoes. She couldn’t speak a word of English but felt that she had to follow her husband, Fernando, who said that he wouldn’t return to El Salvador after their arrival.

By the time that Vasquez’s visa expired in 2001, she discovered that she could apply for another chance to continue her life in the U.S. and was granted Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, because of an earthquake in El Salvador that same year. In the years that followed, Vasquez had a daughter named Rebecca, divorced her husband and traded the rented room she once shared with her husband for her own home in Maryland.

But now Vasquez wonders what will happen to her status as the Department of Homeland Security began announcing expiration and extension dates for countries currently designated for TPS. Nicaraguans’ TPS terminates on Jan. 5, 2019, Haitians’ on July 22, 2019, and Honduras was given a six-month extension until DHS makes a decision.

TPS Countries

A country can be designated for TPS by the secretary of DHS if conditions in a country — like a continuous armed conflict, an environment disaster or epidemic — keep its citizens from returning or the country from receiving them. Those who are granted TPS are protected from deportation, can work and apply for travel authorization.

Vasquez said has started to prepare for the possibility of the end of her TPS in what she calls her “Plan B” — letting her daughter, who is a U.S. citizen, live with her uncle and his husband in Washington, D.C. as she leaves for El Salvador.

“I can continue my life in my country but I can’t see more of my daughter,” Vasquez said. “She needs me because she’s only 12 years old. She needs more of her mom. Her uncle is her uncle. He’s not her mom. I’m her mom. Yo soy su mama. She needs me because the age she has is the age that she needs me more because she needs my consejo [Spanish for “advice”].

With the announcements on Nicaragua, Haiti and Honduras and a decision about El Salvador’s designation expected in January, many of the more than 300,000 TPS holders wait for news about their fates while worrying about what they will do if their status disappears — especially since some have spent decades in the U.S.

Karla Alvarado said she was 9 years old when she left San Salvador, El Salvador with her aunt and 4-year-old brother to meet her mother, who arrived in the U.S. in 1996 after escaping from Alvarado’s abusive father. Her mother sold everything she had — including a car, fridge and furniture — to leave El Salvador, Alvarado said.

Alvarado, her aunt and brother traveled to the U.S. almost a year later — taking two weeks to travel across Guatemala, Mexico and crossing the border into the U.S., she said.

When El Salvador was designated for TPS, Alvarado said she went to Washington, D.C., with her mother to apply and has had her status since 2001, giving her “a sense of security.”

Since settling in the U.S., Alvarado has started what she calls her “American dream” — working as a nursing supervisor in home care after attending nursing school, purchasing a house with her husband and supporting her mother and younger siblings who are 25, 15 and 10.

But the thought of having her TPS terminated has filled her with anxiety especially about what will happen to the life she has created in the U.S., Alvarado said.

“The uncertainty of not knowing what’s going to happen makes me very anxious. I have a mortgage. I have a car payment. I have my bills to pay,” Alvarado said. “I have my husband. But at the same time, I’m head of household. I have to help my mother and my siblings.”

“You’re taking that away from me and I don’t understand why,” Alvarado added.

Since her husband has citizenship, Alvarado said they have begun to look into petitioning for her to have permanent residency through their marriage. Still, Alvarado has fears about her brother and mother being deported.

“We’ve been here, my brother and I since we were little. We don’t really know anything,”  Alvarado said. “We don’t really know what it’s like to live in El Salvador anymore. This is our home.”

The decision to end the TPS designation for Nicaragua and Haiti came after a review of the current conditions of the two countries and Elaine Duke, then acting secretary for DHS, determined that the conditions that caused the designations didn’t exist anymore, according to press releases from DHS. Nicaragua was designated for TPS because of Hurricane Mitch in 1999 and Haiti in 2010 after an earthquake.

But Nicole Prchal Svajlenka — a senior policy analyst for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank — believes that some of the TPS-designated countries like Haiti are probably not “that well-equipped to receive such a large number of people at once, back from the United States.”

“The infrastructure that takes decades to rebuild after something that would cause countries to be designated complicates this. Through no fault of their own, people have lived here for a very long time,” Prchal Svajlenka said. “The U.S. really hasn’t made this temporary in any means.”

Prchal Svajlenka said that taking away TPS would make those who were recipients become undocumented immigrants and create more mixed-status families.

Prchal Svajlenka co-wrote a report for the center on how TPS holders influence U.S. economy and society. The report said that if TPS were to be eliminated, the U.S. citizen children of recipients have two prospects: separation from their families or moving to a country they don’t know.

“Those families are faced with a choice that is just absolutely heartbreaking to imagine. Do you stay in the U.S. without authorization or do you return to a country that received this designation for important reasons? In many cases, things that they haven’t recovered from yet,” Prchal Svajlenka said.

Laura Muñoz Lopez, a special assistant for immigration policy at the center, also wrote the report with Prchal Svajlenka. Muñoz Lopez too thinks that violence and political unrest make it difficult for countries like El Salvador and Honduras to take in “people who have made lives in the United States.”

“It’s called temporary protected status for a reason. But at the same time, that is under the assumption that the country that has TPS is working on a way to getting out of the chaos or civil unrest that it’s in,” Muñoz Lopez said. “It’s not like we want Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti to never get better. We would love for those countries to be in a place where they can be welcoming back to the people that call that country home. But unfortunately, that isn’t the case.”

Muñoz Lopez also said the removal of TPS holders from the workforce would be “catastrophic, not only for the states but for the country as a whole.”

According to a report from Center for Migration Studies, a nonpartisan think tank, TPS holders from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti — the three countries with the largest TPS populations — have a labor force participation rate that ranges from 81 to 88 percent, which is above the 63 percent rate for the total U.S. population. The leading industries in which TPS holders from those three countries primarily work within are construction, restaurants, landscaping, child care services and supermarkets, the same report said.

For Zuzana Jerabek, a policy and advocacy associate at the National Immigration Forum, which supports bipartisan efforts for immigration reform, TPS holders are fulfilling jobs that “would be otherwise untaken, unfilled.”

“They are enhancing our economy. They are making our culture more diverse. They are bringing different ideas into our society,” Jerabek said. “That’s what we believe makes America great. We think that’s the American dream.”

Although there are no studies that could predict precisely what would happen if TPS were to be terminated, Jerabek said, three possibilities exist: that recipients will leave the country, migrate to another country or “go to the shadows.”

“Instead of doing what the administration is saying it wants to do, it wants to get rid of unauthorized populations, they would create more of these undocumented people,” Jerabek said.

“Those people are in most cases here because the situation in their country is so bad that they have to stay here or in the case of unauthorized immigrants, they chose the hard way,” Jerabek added. “They didn’t come to the United States and say ‘Okay, let’s steal these jobs.’ They went through terrible danger to get here and they’ve been living with their families in the shadows for their entire lives.”

Zuzana

“In many cases, people are not here because they would choose to but because they were forced to. Many of them will tell you, ‘If I could choose, I would go back to my country, to my culture, to my language.’ Sometimes we think that our country, it’s like safe haven for everybody but imagine that you would go for a vacation or studying abroad to Germany and something happened over here and you couldn’t go back,” said Zuzana Jerabek. (Photo by Ambar Pardilla)

Corie O’Rourke, an immigration attorney with AYUDA, a nonprofit that provides legal and social services to immigrants, wasn’t surprised with the announcements on TPS, which she said follows the administration’s actions on immigration. O’Rourke said she has told the TPS holders who are her clients to start searching for other immigration options so “they can get something in place before their TPS ends or not have too long of a gap after their TPS ends.”

But O’Rourke said that some TPS holders don’t have other opportunities for protection if TPS were to end for them, even though “their entire lives here.”

“They’re having to face, ‘Do I leave all that and go back to a country that I left for a reason?’ These countries are not places that a lot of people want to go back to,” O’Rourke said. “Or ‘Do I stay here and have to go under the radar and hide from the government?’ I wouldn’t wish it on anyone to face that decision.”

Vasquez too thinks about how TPS holders will handle going back to their home countries after creating their own lives in the U.S.

“I don’t understand why after 17 years, they say that TPS is only temporary,” Vasquez said.

For Vasquez, extensions for TPS holders aren’t enough — she wants a path to legal permanent residence.

“I’m American because I’m from El Salvador and El Salvador is Central America,” Vasquez said. “I consider this country to be my country. This is my land because I’m American also. That’s it.”

Hope returns to the Katahdin region

By Liam Bond

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(Penobscot Ave in Millinocket)

WASHINGTON, D.C. ­- About three hours north up I-95 from the Maine-New Hampshire border at the Piscataqua River, the highway becomes lost in a sea of pine trees. The road straightens, the speed limit goes up to 75 miles-per-hour, and names for towns are replaced by letter-and-number codes.

Up there lies the east and west branches of the Penobscot River, of which the communities that line it grew from the logging industry, Mt. Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain, and as of August 2016, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

You won’t see any signs for the monument on I-95, however.

That’s because Governor Paul LePage (R) is vedelaying the installation of signs for the monument along I-95 until the final word has come down from the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the White House regarding the future of the monument, which was included on the list of 27 national monuments reviewed by the DOI this past summer. The review, ordered by the Trump Administration in April, did not initially include the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, but LePage lobbied for the monument to be assessed as part of this process. The governor argued that a monument restricted the activity of private businesses on the land and hindered economic growth. His efforts, which have been vaguely resolved by the Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s report, have kept the monument in limbo.

Yet despite the optimism following Zinke’s published report this past week, his firm stance on eliminating Katahdin Woods and Waters will only staunch the flow of newfound economic benefits and people that appreciate the outdoors that have flooded the Katahdin region, which has struggled since the decline of the paper industry.

Creation and Opposition to the Monument

The site of the old run down Great Northern Paper mill when you drive through East Millinocket on Route 11 puts into perspective the history of the Katahdin region.

Communities like Millinocket that lie along the east branch of the Penobscot River once thrived and prospered in the days of successful logging, but they’ve been hit hard and essentially been left on their own up in the Maine North Woods after repeated layoffs from mill closings like the Great Northern Paper mill.  With economic prosperity put on hold it seemed like the Katahdin region was stuck without an answer to break from the past.

That is, until Roxanne Quimby, the co-founder of Burt’s Bees, started purchasing land east of Baxter State Park and announced her plans to turn the area into a national park.

In August of 2016, after years of effort, the land was officially transferred to the federal government, and was proclaimed Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument by President Obama.

The distinction of Katahdin Woods and Waters as a national monument has ushered in a new wave of tourists and visitors as a result of its accessibility and  scenic viewing opportunities. The park differs from its neighboring park, Baxter State Park, in that when Baxter State Park was created in 1931, the idea behind the park was to keep the land “forever wild.” There are hardly any roads that cut through the park, and the sheer ruggedness of Mt. Katahdin highlights just how “forever wild” the park is.

In comparison, Katahdin Woods and Waters was created to be far more accessible. There are many “walking” trails rather than hiking trails that offer spectacular views of the surrounding land, and the roads are designed similar to the carriage roads in Acadia National Park.

“It really is special, as you drive through it, the ferns, the trees,” Dave Weatherbee, a guide for the New England Outdoor Center, said. “It’s northern jungle.”

Before the monument was created however, there were years of local debate about how to best move forward with a national monument or even national park.

(Weatherbee talks about why some Katahdin region residents were hesitant towards the creation of Katahdin Woods and Waters.)

Despite the initial hesitation towards federal intrusion in the North Woods, locals eventually came around to the idea of a national park or monument.

However, Maine politicians like Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, and especially LePage, opposed the creation of the monument intensely.

LePage sent a letter to President Trump in February calling for Trump to undo the designation of the land as Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

“I am writing to ask for your assistance in rectifying a grave injustice that has been done to the people of Maine and our forest economy,” LePage wrote. “I strongly urge you to undo the designation and return the land to private ownership before economic damage occurs and traditional recreational pursuits are diminished.”

LePage has made his stance against the monument clear, saying that the monument has restricted the forest industry and people that wanted to use the land for recreational activities. LePage later went to Washington in May to testify before the House Committee on Natural Resources.

(LePage’s opening statement can be seen from 25:10 to 30:30)

“I just couldn’t get over the governor of the state of Maine going to Washington to lobby against the national monument,” Weatherbee said. “How can the governor of the state do that? He made a comment, something about a mosquito infested swamp up in Maine,” Weatherbee said.

New Economic Prosperity to the Katahdin Region

Residents like Weatherbee continue to speak up about the importance of the monuments, but LePage refuses to hear, these stories of how Katahdin Woods and Waters is bringing hope back to the people of Millinocket and the surrounding communities. Just by the numbers alone, visitor counts for the monument indicate the flood of new people coming up to the Katahdin region.

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“You hear businesses saying ‘this is the best year I’ve had in a long, long time,” Gail Fanjoy, past president of the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, said. “There’s no other reason for it other than that [Katahdin Woods and Waters],” Fanjoy said.

Fanjoy added that stores are expanding their product lines to suit visitors that are driving up to Millinocket to see the monument.

“Just kind of anecdotally living here, you see, you know, out-of-state cars, and we’re not just talking New England,” Fanjoy said.

One business that has seen an especially good year is real estate.

“The national monument introduced this area to a lot of people, and that has translated into real estate sales that we otherwise would not have had,” Dan Corcoran, a real estate agent with North Woods Real Estate, said. “It was amazing to watch people who had been here for the first time only for a few days and already were in our office wanting to buy real estate,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran mentioned that North Woods Real Estate has seen about a 30 percent increase over the year before across residential, land, vacation homes and commercial.

“It was almost dead,” Corcoran said about commercial real estate. “Right after the announcement for the creation of a national monument, our phones started ringing.”

Not only have existing businesses been booming, but the monument has brought new businesses to the Katahdin region as well.

Steve Golieb and his girlfriend Ashley Wells opened Turn the Page Bookstore and Wine Bar this past July in Millinocket, converting an old logging restaurant into a bookstore with craft beer, wine and food.

“We really felt a sense of community, a lot of opportunity, and a very good cost of living,” Golieb said. “Also the closeness to recreation and the outdoors were really the main things that drew us personally and felt that the business would do well for the same reasons,” said Golieb, who mentioned that they were also seeing the benefits from people who were exclusively up there to see the monument.

Aside from their economic benefits, these new and refurbished stores have brought a physical breath of fresh air to Millinocket.

Among the boarded up and run down stores along Penobscot Avenue are refurbished and repurposed buildings. On one side of the street was a store called Designlab with words like branding, marketing and social media on the window and a sticker for Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters on the door. Across the street, Weatherbee was working in the New England Outdoor Center’s renovated store.

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(Designlab door, with a Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters sticker in the lower left corner)

Weatherbee makes a habit of pointing out the original ceiling in the store, which acts as a gift shop full of original artwork, local products and craft beer, and Katahdin Woods and Waters memorabilia, as well as a desk where visitors can make reservations for tours or campsites.

This new look for Millinocket embodies the good that has come from Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Where Katahdin Woods and Waters is Going

Early last week, the DOI officially published Zinke’s report. The report and Trump have already made headlines as Trump has aimed his efforts on reducing the size of Bear Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. The report however did very little to elaborate on Katahdin Woods and Waters, yet did not call for size reduction or elimination.

“We’re cautiously optimistic I would say that the cloud is lifting,” said Andrew Bossie, executive director for Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, a nonprofit that works alongside the National Park Service. Despite positivity from Zinke’s report, Bossie said that the group will push forward carefully, and still has many questions about Zinke’s vague recommendations.

That doesn’t change the fact that the monument faces intense opposition by LePage, who was successful in putting the monument under review in the first place. He argues that the monument restricts logging companies from accessing the land places and restricts economic growth; yet this belief remains analogous to Trump’s claim to bring back coal mining jobs. Both men have focused their efforts in the past and have ignored other streams of revenue that could come from opening up the land to public visitors.

LePage is painting the Katahdin region as a place that desperately wants to hold on to blue-collar jobs on a national scale, much like West Virginia. Yet he’s ignoring the hope and prosperity brought to the small towns in northern Maine by the monument.

“It’s not very often that someone is willing to give you practically $100 million, which is what the Quimby family has done, to create a possible economic draw,” Bossie said. “I hope that anyone, no matter what you’re position was before the monument was created, what side you’re on, there’s space for people to change their minds,” Bossie said.

Maybe if LePage were to take a visit to the “mosquito area” and the beauty that is Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, he’d understand why it’s bringing so much hope and prosperity to the region.

That’s if he could find it.

The Invisible Students: How Campus Activists for Palestine Face Censorship

 

 

By Julia Rapp,  11 December, 2017

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Pro-Palestine Rally in DC. Source: Getty Images

College campuses have been epicenters for news reporting on freedom of speech crises. From incidents at protests at UC Berkeley when a student group invited conservative, former-Breitbart writer who is often referred to as white supremacist, Milo Yiannapoulos to speak on campus to College Republicans at Illinois University filing suit against their school, this issue of freedom of speech and right to assemble have been at a constant game of tug-of-war between liberals and conservatives, as well as left-wingers and right-wingers alike.

In recent years, a milieu of conservative groups has often expressed dissatisfaction over their perceived lack of free speech on college campuses.

However, a survey conducted by Gallup in collaboration with the Knight Foundation and the Newseum Institute that interviewed a sample of US college students, adults and Muslims found that out of 3,072 of the US college student respondents were more positive compared to older age groups not attending  college about the security of their first amendment rights. 81 percent of the college student sample group said that they felt “very secure” about freedom of press however only 66 percent responded that they felt very secure towards the freedom to assemble peacefully.

But despite the perceived lack of freedom of speech by conservatives, who are the other students who are feeling silenced by their universities?

Sapphira Lurie was a Senior at Fordham University in 2016 when them and a group of activists tried to establish a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

According to them, the original club paperwork for approval was submitted at least a year before the fall semester of 2016.

“The administration had just basically ignored the students and kind of put it off, where usually it takes a semester to a full year to start the club”, they said “They didn’t even respond to the initial request for several months and had to be reminded that it existed.”

Lurie joined the unofficial club in September of last year and in November the Fordham Student Government approved them. However, right before the university’s winter break, The Dean of Students Keith Eldredge emailed the group telling them that he would “veto” the constitution according to Lurie.

“So basically we couldn’t form our club,” they said.

According to Lurie, the reason why the Dean of Students refused approval was because the issue was considered divisive. According to Bob Howe, the Assistant Vice President for Communications at Fordham University said in an email that the Dean is unable to comment on this case due to it currently being in litigation.

“I don’t see what separates our divisiveness from any other political club,” Lurie said.

Regardless of their club status,  the Fordham SJP decided to hold a protest early in the spring semester as a response to Eldredge’s decision.  As a result, a couple of the students, including Lurie were sanctioned.

The  Fordham University Student Handbook  says that a sanction is when a student is “found responsible for violating a University rule under either the Student Code of Conduct Process or the Residence Halls Conduct Process”. This could include expulsion, suspension , university disciplinary probation, group probation, residential life probation, student life probation, reprimand or restitution.

As a result, Lurie was required to attend disciplinary hearings due to the organized student protests.

Lurie’s sanction was light and was only given a warning. Before their hearings a petition was passed around by professors from Fordham and other universities to drop the charges and around 120 faculty members signed it according to Lurie, who said that many of whom attended their meetings.

According to Palestine Legal, the reason that the Dean sanctioned Lurie was that they “organized a protest that ‘is considered a demonstration event and [they] did not meet with [the Dean] to coordinate the planned event.’”

Lurie says that  the Dean made a complaint against Lurie to himself. He was also the only person who could be his hearing officer.

Regardless, there were many students who still supported the unofficial SJP group at Fordham. However, Lurie acknowledged the setbacks, “There were a lot of students who were scared to be supportive of us,” they said.

Therefore, Lurie did not face any severe punishments and was able to graduate in 2017.

“It was really embarrassing for the university to make a huge deal about someone just standing there with a bullhorn,” Lurie said.

Lurie sees what happened to them as “An example of the Palestine exception to free speech.”

“The whole free speech thing is pretty interesting,” Sofia Dadap, a Senior at Fordham University and member of SJP said.

Dadap considers Fordham as a university that is  offering selective protections of free speech. She gave an example of a time when Republican political consultant, strategists and lobbyist Roger Stone spoke on campus and the university allowed this to happen.

“He’s a fascist collaborator and they were interested in making sure they had a platform for him,” she said.

Dadap also mentioned how the school has a club that is against abortion called Respect for Life. “The university has been protecting their free speech,” she said, “They have a really selective enforcement of their protection of free speech.”

Because SJP is not an official organization at Fordham, they face many barriers. The students who are members are unable to flier on campus because they cannot get their fliers approved.

According to Dadap, many students dropped out because they were afraid of getting in trouble and becoming public on a website called Canary Mission, that is dedicated to publishing photos and information on Pro-Palestine activists in an attempt is to what they believe is dedicated to fighting against anti-Semitism.

“Personally for me I feel frustrated that it had come to this lawsuit,” Dadap said , “They don’t have respect for us.”

Dadap felt that as if the university’s actions against SJP were an attempt to portray them as aggressive, further alienating students who were scared of becoming publicly identified by outside people.

Many members of the opposition would often accuse the group of anti-Semitism. Dadap also recalls one incident in which one student who was Jewish was “shouted down” by other students who told her that she “didn’t deserve to be Jewish.”

However, SJP says that their original goal  is to educate the Fordham community on Palestine through talking about policies.

Palestine Legal is an independent organization dedicated to providing legal and civil protections for Pro-Palestine activists.

Palestine Legal responded to 258 incidents in 2016 according to their Year-In-Review report where 88 percent of the incidents involved students and scholars. According to their website, the incidents included “baseless lawsuits, administrative disciplinary actions, outright censorship, and false accusations of terrorism and antisemitism.”

One of the incidents they responded to was the Fordham incident. According to their website, students filed a lawsuit against the university in April of 2017 with representation by Palestine Legal and The Center for Constitutional Rights.

Kei Pritsker is an activist from George Washington University who also deals with accusations of anti-Semitism as well as operating under a culture of fear. According to Pritsker, the campus at GWU is Pro-Israel which he finds can make the topic of Palestine sensitive.

He says the group has faced intimidation from groups opposed to them over the years. According to him that members of Pro-Israel groups would often come to their events and film them. Almost every member of the GWU SJP is published on Canary Mission.

Last year, GWU SJP ran a divestment campaign that urged for the university to divest or end partnerships or ties with any corporations or companies that directly profited off of what the group considered as Israeli occupation. The 10 companies included Lockheed Martin, Motorola Solutions, Hewitt Packard and General Electric according to an article on the GWU newspaper The Hatchet.

“One of the worst things Canary Mission did was they blacklisted all of the senators that voted in favor of our divestment bill as well,” said Pritsker.

As a result, this stirred a lot of distress among the student government. “A lot of senators were like ‘what the hell just happened I’m scared,” he said.

Despite students being caught off guard, many of the SJP activists are not phased “At this point I think most of us know that we’re in for the long haul,” said Pritsker.

“I’m so thankful that everyone in our SJP is just kind of like ‘This is stupid we’re gonna keep fighting for this we’re doing the right thing,’” he said.

Pritsker considers the website Canary Mission very slanderous and says that they accused SJP of supporting Holocaust denial. Although many of the activists are not scared by these accusations, some fear their ability to get jobs or attend graduate school.

“The main criticism is anti-Semitism,” says Pritsker, on what is considered the main reason why Pro-Israel  groups may oppose them.

However, Pritsker dismissed those accusations, arguing that the Pro-Israel groups who are accusing them of such activity don’t know who the members of SJP are.

“They don’t want to get to know me,” Pritsker said, “They don’t know that my grandfather escaped the pogroms in Russia because he was a Russian Jew and he was persecuted.”

“That’s the only reason I’m even in this country.” He said.

 

Two years ago, in 2015, a student at GWU was disciplined for hanging up a Palestinian flag in the window of his dorm room. After receiving many complaints by GWU students, a campus officer knocked on the student’s door and  asked him to take down his flag. The student immediately complied according to the summary of the case posted on Palestine Legal’s blog.

 

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The campus officer then filed a police report and the next week the student received a warning letter. Palestine Legal also took this on as a case, demanding that the university apologize personally to him and also revoke the incident from his student record. Due to public outcry,  the university complied and released a statement.

Tyler Crowne is a Senior at Florida State University and member of the SJP. Until recently, the most pushback that their SJP has faced according to him is having their fliers torn down by the university’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee group (AIPAC).

“That was really it,” Crowne said. Until October 18th, when the group requested funding for an event called Feminism, Internationalism and Palestine.

The group met with the Student Government Funding Committee on October 23rd but were informed that they would need security clearances for their speakers.

However, the group was skeptical. “That was a red flag for us,” he said.

They soon found out that due to a regulation put on by the university’s Board of Trustees that security clearances were required for speakers. However, this was only a temporary restriction imposed after well-known white supremacist Richard Spencer spoke at the University of Florida in Gainesville. But two days before SJP had  the meeting with the Student Government Funding Committee, that restriction had expired.

Crowne suspects this was intentional and not a mistake since he knew about three of the Student Government members attending an AIPAC conference in Washington, DC.

However, the students resolved this issue and were able to receive $800 in funding for three plane tickets and held the event on November 17th.

Crowne, despite the victory, sees incidents like this as potentially alienating students who want to get involved.

“I can imagine a lot of people would be discouraged,” he  said.

However this is not the case for students at the University of Maryland who recently ran a Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions campaign like that of GWU.

Michelle  Jones (name changed) is the president of the University of Maryland SJP and a Junior at UMD.

Michelle Jones describes her SJP as “extremely passionate people who know they’re doing the right thing and working towards a good cause”.

According to her, two members of the SJP faced disciplinary action due to protesting at an Israel Fest at university. The suspension lasted for a couple of months, according to her.

In lieu of that, UMD has spoken out against the SJP’s concerted effort to implement a Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions movement on campus. However, Jones is not discouraged. “It hasn’t worked to silence us,” she said.

Despite the many barriers that Pro-Palestine activists may face, support among members seem to be abundant.

“The only things that’s really kept us going through this whole process is just the fact that we all love each other, we all respect each other. It really is my family at GW- the people I fall back on are in my SJP chapter,” said Pritsker.

He advises students to delete or ignore negative Facebook comments and instead of arguing with opponents focus  on reaching out to people who may be on the fence with facts that speak for themselves.

“It’s gonna be difficult, it’s tough and they’re gonna be times when you start to question your own beliefs”, he said. “Just believe in yourself, as cheesy as it sounds -just believe in yourself.”