Student groups speak out for social justice
Published: Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 01:10
Members of various on-campus student activism groups promoted social engagement on the upper patio of the Mayer Campus Center yesterday evening in an event titled “Building the Revolution: A Speak-Out for Justice.”
The event, which was part of Tufts Divest For Our Future’s week of action leading up to today’s student-wide referendum on whether or not the university should divest from fossil fuels, featured speakers from the Tufts chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Consent Culture Network (CCN), Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC), Tufts Coalition Against Religious Exclusion (CARE), Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and United for Immigrant Justice (UIJ).
Tufts Divest member Will Pearl opened the event with a revolution song. The 40 or so students who were present joined Pearl in singing the repeated refrain “We will rise up,” while Pearl sang the verses.
Pearl then opened the discussion with a few introductory words.
“I joined Tufts Divest because I really wanted to not think about theoretical changes but actually build camaraderie with people who thought that another future was possible,” Pearl, a sophomore, said. “If I can do anything to help that cause, I can start right now where I am.”
Carolyn Flax, president of SSDP, spoke next about the benefits of legalizing all drugs in the United States. While many students connote the word “prohibition” solely with alcohol prohibition during the 1920s, prohibition actually continues today with other “hard drugs”, she explained.
“Drug prohibition, or the ‘War on Drugs,’ is a political failure that concerns everyone,” Flax, a junior, said.
Citing research from Jack Cole, former director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Flax argued that legalizing all drugs would be beneficial both financially and socially. She noted that studies in the Netherlands showed that rates of crime and homelessness, as well as rates of aids and hepatitis patients, dropped significantly after drugs were legalized.
She added that a disproportionately high level of African-Americans are arrested every year for drug-related crimes. While only 13.5 percent of drug users are black, she said, black citizens make up 81 percent of prisoners serving for non-violent drug offenses.
“Legalizing drugs won’t solve racism in America, but it will help to keep a population from being targeted by racist police officers,” she said.
Next to speak was Zobella Vinik, a representative from new group UIJ. Vinik started by describing a family friend, Javier, who she treated like a brother despite the fact that he spoke little English. One day, she said, Javier disappeared for weeks.
“Years later I was able to understand that [Javier] had been deported — that he was taken into custody for a speeding violation, treated inhumanely in a detention facility and brought back to Mexico,” Vinik, a junior, said.
Vinik also spoke about the Arizona SB 1070 act which she said encourages racial profiling. Many of her undocumented friends have grown wary of doing everyday activities, such as driving, for fear of being deported.
“They are no different from me, from us,” she said. “They want to live their lives free of fear.”
Vinik explained that goal of UIJ is to help students understand that each immigrant comes to America with a powerful narrative and that participants plan to educate and take action for immigration policy reform.
“Migration is a human right,” she said. “It takes an immense amount of courage and strong sense of will to leave a country that one calls home.”
Nate Matthews from CCN and Action for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) spoke after Vinik about students’ work to promote consensual sex on campus. Last year, CCN and ASAP wrote a letter to the administration asking for changes in policy and institutional infrastructure dealing with sexual assault at Tufts, he said. In response, University President Anthony Monaco officially launched a task force to address the issue last Monday. These represented good first steps toward creating a safer campus, Matthews said.
“Rape and sexual assault is a huge problem all over the world, but especially on college campuses, including here at Tufts,” Matthews, a junior, said. “But we can change that.”
Matthews explained that there were five key things that every student could do to prevent sexual assault on campus. The first, he said, is to always ask one’s partner for consent before engaging in sex.
“It could be awkward,” he said. “It could be really sexy. Either way, you have to ask, because otherwise you could hurt them.”
The next thing to remember, he said, is that no one is ever obligated to have sex, regardless of the way they dress or act. If someone says otherwise, Matthews stated as a third point, it is the job of nearby people to correct that person’s view.
Matthews further asked Tufts students to intervene in situations where someone is being pressured at parties by pulling potential victims aside and asking if they need help. The final point, he said, was making sure not to objectify people in speech or action and confronting people who do. If students do just a couple of these things, the whole campus will benefit, he said.