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.

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