Sunday, February 21, 2010

Part III: The History of Student Activism at Seattle University

This is the third installment from The Participator article (Issue 1) on Student Activism at SU. Read Parts I & II below.

Solidaridad Sin Fronteras
In line with the notorious Battle in Seattle, the anti-globalization and human rights movement has had an ongoing history on the campus of Seattle University. Starting in 1978, Professor Dan Foran, S.J. encouraged students to “Boycott Nestle” after speaking about his experiences in Kenya. Foran spoke passionately about the corruption of multinational corporations; specifically Nestle who had been selling an infant bottle formula that was responsible for “millions of unnecessary child deaths” in poverty stricken areas in Africa, Latin America and Asia. This sentiment for international human rights continued throughout the 1980s, when students, faculty and Jesuits united in solidarity with the people of many Central American countries who faced death squads, torture and repression due to US foreign policy. Despite SU’s alleged support for the people of El Salvador (which came as result of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the rape and slaughter of unarmed women, children and men in El Mozote), President William Sullivan, S. J. welcomed Vice-President George H. W. Bush to speak in 1988. While Bush spoke on campus, he addressed an audience that was limited to Business students and throughout his time at SU was not required to answer any questions. During the speech there was a teach-in on the Library lawn organized by SU’s Peace and Justice Center.

Many teach-in attendees came to protest the idea of a speech without dialogue, but more defiant voices came from the Jesuits and faculty who saw Bush’s appearance as “deliberate manipulation” according to Terry Shea, S.J. of SU’s Political Science and Business Departments, who (along with many other faculty members including current Professor of Political Science Richard Young) felt that Bush’s presence altogether was unacceptable and SU was being used as a pawn in his presidency campaign. There was a picket line and horns outside of the south end of Campion Ballroom as well as actions taken inside to disrupt Bush’s speech, most notably from William Bischel, S.J. who was arrested during the speech for his actions in solidarity with the homeless (a population that continues to suffer from the economic changes of the 1980s).

Shortly after this event, US trained assailants murdered six Jesuits, a housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. As a result of their deaths there was a major rally at SU with over 150 people in attendance. Starting at St. Joseph’s Church, protesters met the rally participants at SU and marched to the Federal Building downtown with crosses (and on the way 72 protesters were arrested for blocking I-5 traffic). Around this same time recruiters from the Central Intelligence Agency came to speak to students at SU (contrary to the mission of SU, the CIA operations at that time had been linked to fascism in Chile, El Salvador and Nicaragua to only name a few). The CIA was attempted to come to SU in 1998 but declined the invitation, due to a threat of protest and boycott of the Career Expo.

In the 1990s human rights groups such as Amnesty International started to become more prominent on SU’s campus. A contingent of SU students visited Fort Benning, Georgia to protest the School of the Americas (currently known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), this trip has become an annual tradition at SU. The SOA has taught and continues to teach many soldiers and paramilitaries that are responsible for some of Latin America’s most brutal massacres in recent history. United on issues such as the environment, third world debt, sweatshops, farm-workers, indigenous rights, and more broadly corporate domination, students and faculty heavily organized at SU in preparation for the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in 1999. SU students participated with a diversity of strategies and tactics throughout the WTO protests. Students organized several events, speakers and panels leading up to the WTO and additionally held rallies and marches on campus prior to trade rounds in order to spread awareness and gain support for their efforts. Throughout the infamous week of protests, SU students organized a rally on campus, participated in affinity groups and blockades, three Bellarmine residents were accused of vandalizing the Nike- town sign and one Spectator reporter was arrested while walking by Broadway and Pine (where people were being shot with rubber bullets and attacked with tear gas for being out after curfew…many of whom never even participated in any of the WTO activities). In addition to the actions at the WTO, students participated in legal solidarity work with activists that were arrested, as well as the protests in Quebec against the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Shortly after these actions, students began to see the connections between global trade and the clothing sold at SU. Since the year 2000, students have continued to organize around anti-sweatshop issues, by making SU adopt two anti-sweatshop policies. A successful campaign was waged and resulted in the affiliation with the Worker Rights Consortium (a labor monitoring organization) and adopting a campus wide Code of Conduct that allows the WRC to monitor and enforce this policy where all SU merchandise is made (following the lead of workers). In 2007, students pushed SU to commit to another policy that proactively states that SU will only order apparel from factories that have proven their commitment to living wages, independent unions, and long term contracts with workers. SU students, namely the Coalition for Global Concern (as well as their allies), engaged in action, education, and solidarity work on and off-campus.

Farm worker solidarity has had an ongoing and significant role on SU’s campus. Starting in the 1960s, student groups have frequently hosted speaking events for organizers of the United Farm Workers (UFW). Despite opposition from many on campus (including a letter signed by over 20 economics and business professors from SU and UW), the UFW found support in campus groups such as the Political Union, the Student Involvement League, the Black Student Union, and the Young Democrats, who all showed support for the California grape boycott throughout the late 1960s (inspired by leaders such as Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez).

In the 1970s Kapatiran, a Filipino-American group at SU, hosted a speaker from the UFW, who spoke on the lettuce boycott as well as Filipino pride and anti-racism work. This work continued on into the 1990s, when students advocated that SU join the boycott against Garden Burger (a NORPAC food product) in solidarity with Oregon farm workers.

One particular student active in this campaign was Rebecca Saldaña, a SU MEChA member, who went on to organize with farm-workers, janitors, and is currently Rep. McDermott’s Labor Liaison (and continues to participate in community struggles). She does not shy away from revealing the lack of concern amongst decision makers at this “supposedly social justice campus,” who had failed to enforce the boycott campus wide for an entire year after signing the agreement to boycott Garden Burger (Bon Appetit continued to serve Garden Burger in Casey Commons and during events throughout the summer after they agreed to the boycott). Saldaña reflects on her experience at SU and acknowledges that the Garden Burger boycott “was [her] first introduction to organizing”.

As a result of the strategic organizing of MEChistas and other SU student groups such as the Coalition for Global Concern (CGC) and the Peace and Justice Center, students and their allies not only convinced SU to fully support the boycott, they also persuaded several local churches and eventually all Bon Appetit facilities (which at that time was on roughly 70 campuses). Over time NORPAC finally caved into the demands of the farm workers and started to negotiate in 2002.

In addition to this victory, many of these students mobilized against the “Farm Worker Adjustment Act” by organizing demonstrations with law students and professors in protest of what was labeled a business initiated guest worker program. In most recent history, students from SU groups such as NO!SIR! (No to Oppression! Students for Immigrant Rights), MEChA and CGC, along with student groups from the UW organized pickets, petitions and educational events in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, who recently won a major victory in the spring of 2008 for all tomato farm-workers that supply to Burger King.

Gender Equity
As the fight for gender equality and dignity gained prominence throughout the country, women at SU began to mobilize with vehemence. As the year 1970 approached, the Associated Women Students of Seattle University (AWS) transformed from neutral social group on campus to a champion of the women’s liberation movement. The AWS brought organizers and professionals to speak on issues of rape, female sexuality, equal rights, birth control, abortion, assertiveness, domestication, socialism, homosexuality, and child-care. They advocated that women at SU get involved in the crisis hotlines (that generally serve to comfort victims of sexual abuse, eating disorders and suicide) and routinely were explicit in calling out the misogyny present at SU, most notably in an original skit called “Chauvinism is Alive and Well at SU”. Additionally, AWS hosted speakers on masculinity and the role of men in the feminist movement, which sparked a new men’s consciousness raising group on campus.

Since the 1970s there have been many examples of female self-determination on campus, including the opening of the Patricia Wismer Women’s Center, the creation of the Women Studies Department (with both a major and minor) and the active role of groups like the Society of Feminists. Over this past school year professors, student groups and individual students organized over a dozen feminist themed events and additionally have started to create wider networks of student activist that agree with a pro-feminist analysis.

In the same way, Condoms for Campus, one of the most “controversial” campaigns on campus, has a history that leads back well before its recent prominence. In 1988, an SU coffee vendor was reprimanded by the SU administration for handing out condoms during National Condoms Week, an event organized by a coalition of AIDS organizations. This campaign gained support campuswide in the late 1990s, where condoms were handed out at SU’s Battle of the Bands, but a campus-wide policy had not been won. Within the past two years, the Triangle Club (a pro-queer group on campus) has spearheaded this campaign and has organized countless presentations and events for this cause, which has received wide support from the student body and student groups. Despite the Triangle Club’s efforts, the SU Administration (motivated by the claim that sex must not exist outside of marriage) has (thus far) failed to accept having Condoms For Campus. Withstanding these attempts to discourage this movement, many students have taken clandestine efforts to make condoms free and accessible to fellow members of the SU community.

Part II: The History of Student Activism at Seattle University

This is the second installment from The Participator article (Issue 1) on Student Activism at SU. Read Part I below.

Bring the War Home
Initially the students of SU were slow to challenge the war in Vietnam, but as genocide became harder to ignore the campus exploded, literally, with resistance. In November of 1965 students were polled on their feelings about the war in Vietnam. Their responses ranged from light-hearted patriotism to borderline fascism, but nevertheless in support of the war. For example, then SU sophomore Hugh Bangasser, commented “There is no alternative to being in Viet Nam. History shows that when the US leaves a struggling country, communism always takes over.” Additionally, asked about the anti-war demonstrations occurring throughout the nation, SU senior and ASSU Publicity Director Jim Codling comments “We are committed to follow the policy of our elected leaders who, unlike many demonstrators, know the entire picture.”

In accord with this sentiment, speakers such as Daniel Lyons, S.J. of Gonzaga University spoke to large audiences against the growing anti-war movement and the spreading of Marxist infiltrators on our nation’s campuses. Despite the appearance of a pro-war consensus at SU, there were several instances of dissent in the mid-1960s. This is shown in SU student Barbara Frajier’s piece “White Man’s Burden,” which suggests that the war in Vietnam is one aspect of the United States imperialist strategy, citing other examples in Guatemala, Iran and the Dominican Republic. As well, Frajier articulately critiques the fallacies of the pro-war religious right present at SU, recognizing that Jesuit values radically negate imperialism, war, and violence. Beginning in 1965 the Reserve Officer Training Corps. (ROTC) courses were no longer mandatory for freshman and sophomores to enroll in (and during the war-time volunteer students were becoming more and more scarce). Heavily influenced by the Students for Democratic Society (the most prominent national anti-war student organization), many groups at SU became active in the anti-war movement, including the Political Union, the Student Involvement League, and the New Student Coalition. As students began organizing, campus educational events and teach-ins became larger and more frequent. Speakers included conscientious objectors and anti-war leaders Eqbal Ahmad and Sister Elizabeth McAlister (both of whom were falsely accused of plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger and blow up steam tunnels). At the time of the massacre of unarmed citizens in My Lai, Nixon’s covert advance into Cambodia, the murder of students at Kent and Jackson State and what appeared to be the failure of peaceful protest, bombs and arsons began to flare up our campus. The first arson hit the ROTC building in February of 1969, which Ken Thompson (Student Involvement League member) commented, “if real revolutionaries had done it the building would have burned to the ground.” The next was a bomb in the Liberal Arts Building (now the Administration Building) at the start of 1970 and then arsonists struck Xavier the same week Senator Barry Goldwater was scheduled to speak at SU. A final bomb hit the ROTC building in May of 1972. No individual was harmed or killed in these actions, with exception of one unidentified arsonist who was shot by a cop while running away.

Nevertheless, it was not merely bombs that shook the campus. During the 1969 commencement address, several students walked out in protest of the Archbishop’s open support of the war. During this time SU administrators commented that the ROTC program saw “massive amounts of criticism and an enrollment drop that would have killed any other program,” yet the program stayed open due to increased federal funding. Additionally, ROTC enrollment saw a sharp decline, from 150 in 1969 to 69 in 1971. The height of the anti-war movement at SU took place during one week in May of 1970. Starting at roughly 6:45am, 50 students blocked the ROTC equipment closet, then soon moved to the Liberal Arts Building where 150 students had blocked the entrance chanting “Strike!” SU President Kenneth Baker, S.J. and Father Morton were pressured to send personal telegrams to President Nixon expressing the concerns of students. However, the same week, Anita Yourglich (head of the Sociology Department) chose to hire a White professor over William Hodge, a Black professor.

After having spent the last two years campaigning to get more minority professors on campus this was a major blow to the Black Student Union and others organizing for affirmative action. With the goal of fighting injustice at home and abroad, a demonstration was immediately organized to demand the hiring of Hodge and the discontinuation of the ROTC program. In critical mass, students marched to the Liberal Arts Building while several occupied the office of President Father Baker. In the office students overturned a table, took books off shelves and broke a lamp; according to Baker there were no “blows exchanged”. Students then retreated to Seattle Central Community College to strengthen their ranks, and then returned to Pigott chanting, “Shut it down!” where they eventually scattered after having fought with disgruntled students and cops. Five students were suspended, including Emile Wilson (who had been arrested several days before for vandalizing The Chieftain, the old Student Union Building). Soon after this incident, President Baker organized a press conference and accused protesters of wanting to “break SU” and turn it into a “black university.” He then went on to tell the press to “size this up for what it is, anarchy and fascism, and turn your guns on them.” In addition to these comments, Baker issued a new policy for all demonstrations to be approved by the university prior to their inception (a policy that continues to be enforced today). After 25 years at SU, the ROTC program was phased out in the spring of 1977. The Spectator reports that the reaction of students was “varied…some students were jubilant, some were joyous, others were ecstatic.”

However, this removal was short lived and the program returned before the end of the 1970s. Prior to the discontinuation announcement, the ROTC program at SU had seen the lowest numbers of enrollment in its history. As a result, a major propaganda campaign pervaded the campus advocating the ROTC and new programs were offered (such as a summer training camp to compensate for two years of the program). No other department on campus had been able to go to such great lengths to fight for its survival (not to mention offer comparable financial-aid packages for students of working class backgrounds). And of course, this would not have been possible if it was not for ongoing federal aid, which the administration of President Father Sullivan graciously accepted, thus allowing a widely unpopular program to continue.

Yet resistance to the program continued, especially after a talk given by the peace activist Daniel Barrigan, S.J. (who is famous for acts of non-violent civil disobedience, including the burning of draft cards with home-made napalm and the pouring of his own blood on nuclear missile, all of which were conducted by nuns, priests and other church folk).

In the midst of the occupation of Iraq, SU students have continued to organize teach-ins, demonstrations, rallies and speakers (most notably Noam Chomsky in 2005). Many students involved in groups such as Socialist Alternative and Youth Against War and Racism successfully pushed the passage of a city wide ordinance that restricts military recruiters in all of Seattle’s public schools to two visits per year per branch- one of the strongest policies of its kind nationwide.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The History of Student Activism at Seattle University

The following article was published in the first issue of The Participator in September 2008. The Participator is an independent newspaper that is collectively written and edited by a coalition of students at Seattle University. One of the goals of The Participator is to build alliances amongst activist oriented groups and individuals while exposing institutional oppression and supporting community self-determination.

For the Dissent We Make: the past & present of student activism at seattle university

As long as you can be convinced that you never did anything then you can never do anything
-Malcolm X

Beyond Glorification

In the winter of 2008 several series of photographs were on display in the Student Center for The Photo Legacy Project. This project was put together to educate the campus community on the history and institutional values of Seattle University. One particular photograph was of a man with a beard, wearing a white shirt, appearing to be in his late-twenties: an academic-looking Black man. Underneath this photograph read: “Emile Wilson: Seattle University’s First Rhodes Scholar.” However, a few words about this significant accomplishment does not do justice to what Wilson contributed to our University.

Beyond being SU's first Rhodes Scholar, Wilson was also an avid supporter of the Black Power movement, an anti-capitalist, and an organizer of many demonstrations on campus, some of which ended in property destruction and violence. He also frequently declared that SU was a racist institution. Highly influenced by Malcolm X, Wilson wrote an article in The Spectator (published April 4, 1969) arguing for a Black history course where only Black students were present. This article advocated neither integration nor segregation, but rather asserts that Black students need to build self-determination and pride within themselves in a safe and empowering space, prior to being forced to assimilate. Wilson was heavily involved in the Black Student Union (BSU), where they waged successful campaigns for the hiring and recruiting of Black professors and students, hosted a BSU state-wide convention in 1970 (on the Astroturf of the Connolly Center) and organized several Black homecomings (for which BSU refused funds from ASSU, not wanting to be tokenized).

Wilson also helped shape the Office of Minority Affairs (now Office of Multicultural Affairs), which at that time was used as a political tool for minority students to fight for student rights, affirmative action and ethnic studies. The office additionally hosted an annual daylong conference on racism, during which all classes were canceled. After the Liberal Arts Building (now the Administration Building) was bombed in January of 1970, Wilson was asked to comment about the event and said “That’s what you people get for being racists.” Wilson also briefly served as Publicity Director of ASSU. He helped bring speakers from groups such as the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Black Panthers. Despite his wide efforts to create change and empower his people, Wilson and his legacy are honored solely through his feat in receiving an apolitical scholarship.

This article is intended to be an introduction to the untold stories of the space in which we walk everyday. However, this is not a story about those deemed successful by SU, but is rather the history of people like Emile Wilson, who voiced dissent in the face of injustice and struggled to achieve the ideals of freedom, equality and dignity not only at SU but within our larger community.

Institutional Racism: A Core Value at Seattle University

The experience of Emile Wilson does not sum up the history of civil rights and anti-racism struggles on SU’s campus. An early example of this was in 1953, when Fred Cordova and other Filipino students created Bamboo: The Filipino People in American Life as well as other publications that promoted Filipino-American identity. This display of cultural and ethnic pride was becoming more prominent amongst Asian-Pacific Islander (API) communities, though such displays were often dangerous within the post-internment society that remained brutally racist toward those associated with the “yellow peril.” Less than ten years later, in the early 1960s, the first Luau at SU was organized by Hawaiian students. It has continued to be a positive display of the prominence of Hawaiian culture on campus every year since. Also in the 1960s, Associated Students of Seattle University (ASSU), inspired by the civil rights movement, appointed a civil rights officer, Gary Baldwin, who organized a contingent of SU students and faculty to join a demonstration downtown in support of an open housing ordinance. However, there remained wide opposition to the growing civil rights movement on campus. Throughout the 1960s one of the most active campus groups, the New Conservatives (NC), distributed their publication Vox Populi, which advocated segregation among other things. Additionally, NC brought speakers from the Birch Society, who spoke to over 1,000 students about the "communist endeavors" of the civil rights agenda. However, the fear that people of color were taking power into their own hands was not limited to students.

In November of 1967, President John Fitterer, S.J. censored an article in The Spectator, written by Dr. Ronald Rousseve, one of two Black professors at Seattle University at the time. Rousseve’s article presented an argument in support of birth control and contraception. In reaction to this censorship, the Political Union (an SU activist group) organized a rally in support of Rousseve and the American Association of University Professors demanded an investigation. Despite these efforts, Rousseve resigned in March of 1968, which according to Rousseve was solely due to an issue of academic freedom; however, many felt that this act of repression was one of many instances of institutional racism at SU (this position resonated with students of color, who frequently experienced prejudice from fellow students and professors). That same week, Ruth Watson, the other Black faculty member, resigned, and as a result of these departures there were no longer any Black professors on campus. Around this same time, many rumors were circulating throughout the campus that SU staff had been responsible for informing the parents of White students if their children had become “overly friendly” with Black students. With the exception of Rousseve, SU staff either denied or refused to comment on these accusations; however, several admitted that policies such as these had existed “in past years”. In addition to the events at SU, in April of 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. As a result of what appeared to be an escalation of racism, the Black Student Union formed shortly afterward, in May of 1968.

Courage In The Face of Oppression

After its first year, the students of BSU achieved victory with the hiring of Clayton Pitre (the first Afro-American professor to teach Black History at SU) and in convincing the Board of Regents to agree to recruit more Black students. But it didn’t stop there. BSU and Charles Mitchell, then the first director of the Office of Minority Affairs and now Chancellor of Seattle Community Colleges, demanded that the university create classes on ethnic studies that portray the histories of third world perspectives in a dignified and accurate manner. When Mitchell started at SU in 1969 there were 50 Black students on campus and after his first two years the number grew to 250.

One BSU member, Bobby Davis, was recognized in The Afro-American Journal as the “president of all [WA] State Black Student movements” and was also famous for writing an essay called SCC-Black Manifesto, which demanded reparations for Black students. In the same call for justice SU student Bobby Vinson verbally attested to the brutality and discrimination of the SPD in the Central District and also pointed out the lack of Black community members on the force, during a talk at SU given by Chief Frank Ramon of the Seattle Police Department,

The Black students of SU were not the only ones to vocalize their demands for racial justice. In an inspiring letter to the editor, Asian and Arab students Vivian Luna, Mary Jean Buza, and JR Cordova stood in support of the efforts of their “black brothers and sisters” in demanding ethnic studies. Felix Ortega (one of four Chicana/o students at SU) found allies with the Filipino, Black and Hawaiian students on campus and additionally vocalized his concerns in The Spectator demanding the further recruitment of Chicana/os. There was also an independent newspaper called The Voice, which expressed the concerns of minority students at SU.

Throughout the 1970s the Pan-Asian Council organized teach-ins and events in order to address issues of identity, racism, and resistance within the API community. A short-lived Asian Studies program graced our campus from the years 1963-66, but has recently returned only as a minor. In the fall of 1975, Asian students boycotted OMA and created a new Third World student coalition after asserting that OMA director David Thomas had used discriminatory hiring practices by failing to replace the only Asian-American staff member with someone of API descent.

In the 1980s, the struggle against racism was extended to the South African anti-apartheid movement on SU’s campus (as well as hundreds of other campuses) with the university divestment movement, which required universities to pull investments from corporations that conducted business in South Africa. In 1997 Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA…Chicano Student Movement of Aztlán) was formed on campus and soon after its birth it created a coalition of students to combat the anti-Affirmative Action Initiative-200 in WA State. Several years after the passage of the widely opposed I-200, Nelson Mandela came to speak at SU in 2000. However, for many the highlight of the event was not Mandela’s talk. Rather the act of Robert Galvan, who held up a sign reading “Free Leonard Peltier”, a Native American activist who was falsely accused of the murdering of two FBI agents. The student was escorted out by security guards but then started to ask Mandela for help and spoke his tribal name. After having been escorted out of the building, Mandela requested that the student be brought back in and then told the audience that Galvan was a “freedom fighter” and that he was not afraid of freedom fighters.

To be continued...