Higher education is made for students to discover or fertilize their voices as budding activists. Through education, students learn about the prolonged injustices and intentional disenfranchisement of communities throughout American history, and feel compelled to advocate against it. However, many of these injustices start with and directly affect working class people and their families; many of whom may not have access to the overpriced and glorified land of higher education.
This is why college activists and activists in general who have gone through higher education need to make a conscious effort to use more inclusive rhetoric when advocating for issues that affect people who do not have the luxury of attending and paying for a four year university. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2017 only 16.7 million Americans were enrolled in a post-secondary degree granting institution, that’s only 18% of the adult population.
Ivory tower activism prevents the communities of people who live through these issues to feel connected to people actively fighting on their behalf. Using language only found in higher education when engaging in activism furthers the disconnect between advocates and the affected communities as well as brings into question the authenticity of the activism or if it’s simply performative in nature.
In higher education students have the opportunity to major in and study things they’re passionate about. In doing so, their vocabulary on the subject expands as they develop a deeper understanding behind the sociopolitical issues which they study. However, an extensive vocabulary is not necessary in the practical application of study.
Now this does not go to say it’s not worth educating the larger community about these issues so they, too, can acquire the knowledge and weaponize it for their benefit. However, it’s possible and arguably more effective to garner support around an issue when using plain, relatable language instead of regurgitating every SAT word that comes to mind.
I, admittedly, have done this and am making a conscious effort to stop. Sometimes it feels good to weave in your activism evidence of your own personal research or study in university. But I have found that the people who would benefit the most don’t want to hear me go on about misogynoir, voter disenfranchisement, and gerrymandering. They want to know why Black women are continuously ran through the ringer in America, why their absentee voting application didn’t go through, and why their congressional representative changed and are suffering because of it.
People who are affected by these issues on a daily basis, who often times already know it’s happening, don’t want to feel like they’re being talked down to. And if they don’t know, using unfamiliar language to describe their own struggles or the struggles of others will not rally the public in the way we think it will. Only 28.9% of Americans have been exposed to some kind of higher education, not necessarily even finishing.
If we’re truly about helping disenfranchised communities and identities, we’ll meet them where they are-- not come at them using rhetoric only accessible in a $60,000 institution.
*Writer's note: I recognize the irony in my use of fancy language while writing this article about fancy language, but that is an intentional choice given my intended audience for this piece
President Trump built his platform and garnered support around the promise of building a wall to keep immigrants from Mexico and other Central/South American countries from entering the United States. With the recent surge of politicians like him, such as Georgia Governor Brian Kemp who drove around a “deportation bus” during his campaign, being an immigrant or refugee in search of a new life is becoming increasingly dangerous.
On June 5th, the Trump administration announced their plan to decrease funding toward English classes, recreational programs, and legal aid for unaccompanied minors in ICE custody. The programs have been deemed “not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services, and recreation,” by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Detention centers in Adelanto, CA and Essex County, NJ “were not treated with the care required under ICE detention standards,” according to a report released on June 6th following an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General in 2018. In this investigation, egregiously unsanitary and inhumane living conditions were found.
The report states the Inspector General “observed detainee bathrooms that were in poor condition, including mold and peeling paint on walls, floors, and showers, and unusable toilets.” But it’s not just bathrooms that were in unspeakable condition. One facility kitchen had boxes of raw chicken leaking blood all over the floor as well as moldy and expired food. When detainees weren’t subjugated to these conditions, they were mistreated by detention center staff.
According to the report, two facilities prematurely placed detainees in disciplinary segregation. ICE standards only require the use of disciplinary segregation when a detainee has committed a prohibited act, and at some facilities a hearing panel must find them guilty of the charged offense before placed in segregation. In addition to this, some centers completed strip searches with no documented justification. Detainees in segregation at Adelanto, Essex, and Aurora centers were not handled by the standards required by ICE which declares that “placement in disciplinary segregation alone does not constitute a valid basis for using restraints.”
Conditions and treatment like this have driven immigrants to want to take their own lives, as nooses made of bed sheets were found in 15 different cells visited by the Inspector General. Inedible food and unlivable conditions confounding with the recent cancellation of English and recreation programs, the treatment of immigrants by the United States government is nothing short of that in a concentration camp.
A concentration camp is defined as “a place where large numbers of people (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, refugees, or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under armed guard.” The US’s treatment of immigrants and refugees in search of a better life is a betrayal of the principles that founded our country. Fear mongering and the spreading of lies has pushed our country to stray from these principles.
But there are ways to help efforts at the border and in court to stop the inhumane treatment of immigrants.
On a campus that prides itself on diversity and inclusion, there is a movement to increase community within GW’s Black population. Organizations such as the Black Student Union, Black Men’s Initiative, and Black Women’s Forum empower Black students and provide a sense of community for an underrepresented group at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). But not every member of GW’s Black population identifies with this community.
Based on information from the US Census Bureau and the Williams Institute, about 1.6 million Black people in the US identify as LGBTQ. This of course does not include those who are not openly out. At GW, there are about 800 Black students, about 200 of whom one could consider “active” members of the community. But what causes those 600 students to not feel drawn to the rest of the community? One explanation could be queer Black students not feeling welcome in many Black spaces or a lack of an environment welcoming those students.
“I don’t really feel comfortable going to a lot of BSU, ASA, or any other [Black] organization events because I don’t feel welcomed by the Black community,” A student who wished to remain anonymous said.
This sentiment is shared with other queer* Black students, some of whom attribute it to not an intentional effort to exclude, but the nature of the spaces that are created for Black students.
“The times I went [to Black organized events] it didn’t seem like a space I’d like to necessarily be in,” Rumi Robinson said, “From my experience, the Black community seems very heteronormative* which just shouldn’t be the case,”
A common space for Black students to congregate is the Multicultural Student Services Center, or the MSSC. The MSSC serves as a safe space for many in the Black population, but also shares a home with the LGBTQ resource center. However, shared location does not always denote intersection.
“You can have a black gay cousin but your cousin can still be homophobic. They can be in the same building but that doesn’t mean they work together,” the anonymous student said.
In February during the Black Heritage Celebration, the MSSC housed an event with Dr. Nikki Lane who conducted a talk about the intersection of Blackness and an LGBTQ identity. The turnout was so successful there was only room to stand. Despite the success of an event directed toward the LGBTQ community, there has not been an event hosted by a Black student organization catered to queer Black students since.
Many of the non-professional Black student organizations at GW primarily cater to cis-gendered* heterosexual students. Because of this, queer members of the Black population feel excluded not just through the environment, but programming.
“I’m not a feminine presenting person, so I don’t feel comfortable around them because I’m not what they promote for,” the anonymous student said.
There are hopes for more recognition and consideration of LGBTQ members of the Black community, and more consistent programming that is welcoming for them.
“They could acknowledge queer people of color because for the most part it’s not brought up or talked about or celebrated,” Robinson said.
While programming could be geared toward queer members of the Black population, some recognize the value in the original meaning of the organizations. Black Men’s Initiative and Black Women’s Forum, for example, empower its members in their identity as a Black person in a society where it is consistently under attack.
“I think the Black Men’s Initiative’s individual membership is really welcoming in general, but I don’t know if there is a strong culture of recognition within the org. To a degree, it sort of reminds me of the phrase ‘do not ask, do not tell.’ Although I’m sure many of the members are open minded, there isn’t a great deal of outreach or connection [to the LGBTQ community],” Quentin McHoes said.
Some believe leadership in these organizations and student organizations in general can better represent this part of the population, and in turn make for a more inclusive and welcoming environment for queer Black students.
“Elect more students who identify as LGBTQ, so that the representation of those students is elevated. The programming simply has to be stronger and more dedicated toward black students who are LGBTQ,” McHoes said.
While the exclusion and isolation of Black LGBTQ students at GW may not be intentional, the effect is still real. However, there still lies the possibility of seeing more representation of queer students within the “active” Black community as organizations begin to think about the next school year.
*Queer is an umbrella term used to describe anyone who is not a cis-gendered heterosexual individual.
*Heteronormative is a descriptor of a frame of mind society or an individual can have. It centers around a heterosexual relationship or sexuality as the norm, excluding other sexual identities as possible or normal.
*Cis-gendered, is a person whose gender identity is congruent with the sex they were born as.
Washington, DC, specifically Foggy Bottom, is known for its busy and career driven atmosphere. While some people move to New York City to start their life in the arts or finance, others move to DC to start their career in politics. Home to federal government buildings, the monuments and Smithsonians, and headquarters for national corporations, walking through the area it’s hard to ignore the slew of briefcases and pantsuits around (with a healthy mix of tourists).
But at five o'clock when the streets are flooded with career people heading to the metro on their way home from making policy or closing a deal, are the the homeless people who are overlooked and have nowhere to return to. Down the street from the buildings where policies are made and in the heart of our country, homelessness is pervasive.
“The homeless population of DC is disserviced each and every day by this country--ironic, as we’re in the capitol city itself,” GW student Anmol Guraya said.
According to a count done by Point-In-Time, there were 6,904 homeless people in DC last year, about 600 of whom were unsheltered. Recently there has been an increase in visibly homeless people in the Dupont/Foggy Bottom area. In these cold months, shelters are filling up as temperatures reach as low as 17 degrees. Fortunately in DC it is legally required to provide shelter to the homeless when the temperature reaches below 32 degrees.
Homeless people in DC have 24 shelters to go to including Miriam’s Kitchen, a popular volunteer spot for GW students. Shelters offer services ranging from meals to drug/alcohol rehabilitation or career services. But city government is on track to close the DC General Homeless Shelter.
“DC legislators and council members have praised, and even helped to fund, organizations like Miriam’s Kitchen, yet fail to pursue the more cost-effective and vital solution to ending homelessness--housing,” GW student and Miriam’s Kitchen volunteer Sophia Halloran said.
In 2014 when running for office, one of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s main objections was to eradicate homelessness in the District. Thus far she has been succeeding, with a 7.6% decrease from 2017-2018, but Mayor Bowser did not mention the initiative again in her re-election. In 2017 only 47.1% of DC’s population was Black, but Black people made up 71% of the homeless population.
Many working homeless in Maryland and Virginia come to DC because of the less strict shelter policies or because they make too much money to qualify for housing subsidies or other assisted housing programs. Lack of affordable housing is the root of homelessness, and the current gentrification of historically Black DC neighborhoods is uprooting residents from their homes. Additionally, the $13.25 minimum wage is far from sufficient enough to cover the increasing cost of living. But how is this national issue affecting GW students?
GW is an urban campus, which means most of our buildings are open to the public until a certain hour at night. This, combined with our location, allows for those who are homeless to use our building and occupy our spaces; but not all GW students approve of this.
“I can definitely notice a sense of discomfort when there’s a homeless person hanging out in District,” GW student Molly Kaiser said.
Is this sense of discomfort or maybe even fear warranted? Along with the Hillternships (internships on Capitol Hill) and liberal attitudes, GW students can be known for their wealth, which some speculate contribute to students’ view of homeless people using GW spaces.
“I know that every time you see a homeless person you’re not able to give them money, but people who are wearing Gucci and Canada Goose jackets, their outfit costs $3,000, can’t even spare two bucks to give a person sitting there without something to eat?” Kaiser said.
There’s a painful irony surrounding the reality of a person sleeping in a tent three blocks from a GW student who’s gone to brunch at Founding Farmers, a notoriously expensive restaurant, for the third time in two weeks. There’s a dangerous sense of “otherness” in many of GW students’ perceptions of the homeless people on and around campus.
“Unless someone is actively posing a threat to your space and they have nowhere else to go, students have to recognize that and try to have some empathy,” Kaiser said.
Some students have in fact recognized that and even acted on it. Anmol Guraya is a first-year student, who just weeks after Spring semester started when the highest temperatures were below 30 degrees, took the initiative to help the homeless population in not just Foggy Bottom but the Columbia Heights neighborhood and Boston as well.
Guraya and her roommate raised $500 in just 6 hours to buy coats, blankets, hats, gloves, and thermal socks. The pair gave the supplies directly to those in the community and passed on packages to metro station managers as well. Many homeless people end up sleeping on the ground outside the stations after the last train, so metro managers distributed the supplies to them.
“The willingness of people to tangibly support those in need was remarkable and helped remind me of the presence of good in the world,” Guraya said. Other students like Guraya try to help out in any way they can.
“I personally use all of my tips from my job and give them to homeless people I see on the street,” Guinevere Thomas said, “I feel for them because I have the privilege to have food on my plate almost everyday, clothes on my back and a roof over my head.”
As a GW student it’s easy to become caught up in the high speed lifestyle of DC. Hopping from internships to jobs to club meetings to study sessions, there’s not much time to breathe. However, a busy lifestyle is not an excuse for a lack of empathy. While for some it may be off-putting to see a homeless individual in a predominantly college student occupied space, they pose no immediate threat.
They’re just people trying to take it day by day, and if they can be in a building with heat, or air conditioning in the summer, just to make a part of their day more comfortable--they have the right to. I encourage everyone to practice empathy and think about how you have the power to help eradicate homelessness in our nation’s capitol.
Photos by Peyton Wilson
A small tent community across the street from GW's Elliot School of International Affairs
Two homeless individuals' belongings stationed in front of Watergate.
A cart covered in tarp in front of the Kennedy Center.
A tent off of Virginia Ave., just blocks from the Washington Monument.
It’s too early in the game to know who exactly is looking to be the next Commander in Chief, but there are already 12 people in the running, 11 of which are Democratic. As 2019 progresses and we get closer to election year, both the Democratic and Republican parties have some convening and collaborating to do. Since the 2016 presidential election, both parties have struggled to find their identity.
The Democratic party contains self proclaimed democratic socialist members like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) and Bernie Sanders (D-VT), but also the ideologically democratic and fiscally conservative members of the Blue Dog Coalition such as Sanford Bishop (GA-2) and Jim Costa (CA-16). The republican party has very traditionally conservative members such as Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) but also “Rockefeller Republicans” or moderate republicans such as Susan Collins (R-ME) or Mike Coffman who was voted out in the 2018 Midterms.
These factions within each party are by no means recent. Political identity is a spectrum, and will likely always remain so. However, in the wake of the 2016 election, there has been a zealous effort to require party members to pick a side. The grey area is almost nonexistent. This was seen with senators like Susan Collins, who backed the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. This ideology is dangerous. Forcing politicians to pledge allegiance to a party instead of their beliefs is a detriment to the proper function of our government, and makes bipartisanship increasingly difficult.
This all or nothing attitude is seen in citizens as well as politicians. After the 2016 election, traditionally moderate republicans moved their support to Donald Trump in order to stay allegiant to the Republican party, even though they didn’t agree with much of his rhetoric. Democrats begrudgingly supported Hillary Clinton despite their views and morals not being reflected. We can’t allow ourselves to head into this election with blind support of a candidate because they’re in our party. Do your research, have some conviction, and think for yourself.
Each party needs to do a lot of soul searching to decide the type of person they want occupying the White House. Being anti or pro-Trump isn’t enough of a qualification; people like him have existed before the 2016 election. What America needs is a president who can unify people across the political spectrum, enacting legislation that is based on constructive compromise and values--not spite and intransigence.
Without further ado, here are the 2020 presidential candidates as of 2/12/2019. I will update this post as more announce their running.
Cory Booker (D-NJ)*
-Criminal justice reform
-Unifying and uplifting the country
Kamala Harris (D-CA)*
-Criminal justice reform
-Medicare for all
Pete Buttigieg- Mayor of South Bend, IN
-Pushing for a generational shift in American politics
-First openly LGBTQ elected official to run for President
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)*
-Lower healthcare costs
Julian Castro- Former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
-Improved immigration policy
-Proprieter of the American Dream
Tulsi Gabbard (HI-2)
-Affordable housing/cost of living
Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)*
-Rebuilding the middle class
-Ending Washington corruption
John Delaney (MD-6)
-Removing big donors from politics
-Universal healthcare and improved education
-Reparations for Black Americans
-Re-establishing American values
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
-Unity in politics
-Accountability in politics
-Medicare for all
-Universal basic income
Bernie Sanders (D-VT)
-Free public college education
-Raising minimum wage
-Strengthening military and law enforcement
*Candidates who are not taking donations from corporate PAC's
1. Attend a Black History Month event at your school or in your city.
Chances are, a community center, church, museum, or somewhere near you is putting on events all month for Black History Month. At GW in particular we have an entire calendar of events that you can attend. If you want to step off Foggy Bottom, here are a couple lists of events taking place around DC:
Here’s GW’s Black Heritage Celebration Events (the theme is “I’m Rooting for Everybody Black”):
If you don’t live in DC, ask around or just do some quick googling about what’s going on in your city. Black History Month events are a great opportunity to better understand the Black experience in America and our culture in general.
2. Ask questions
The best way to learn is by asking questions. I can’t speak for every Black person you may know, but I’m always welcome to answering questions about Black issues or just the general experience. If you’d like to know how you can be a better ally or even what is and isn’t okay to say or do in certain contexts, the best way to find out is to ask! Of course, ask if it’s okay first--not everyone may be okay with being an encyclopedia of the Black experience--but in general it should be okay.
3. Take time to recognize and dissect privilege you have
This one is more directed towards my White readers, but can apply to other non-Black people as well. Use this month as an opportunity to reflect on how your skin color hasn’t played a role in making your life more difficult. That’s what white privilege means. White privilege doesn’t mean your life isn’t hard, it just means your skin color isn’t making it harder. Reflect on times when you or someone else has been able to maneuver out of a situation or be treated differently because of your skin color in order to better understand how Black people in your life do not have the same luxury. Realize that you can use your privilege to help bring Black issues to the forefront and demand equality in ways that have not been achieved yet.
4. Learn about contributions Black people have made to society outside of the entertainment industry
While it’s widely recognized that all popular culture is rooted in Black innovation, from hoop earrings and acrylic nails to the entire music industry, we have had impact in different factions of society. The GPS you use to make sure your best friend got home safely, the light you turn on when you walk into the house, and even open heart surgery all come from Black minds. So do some research to see what daily things we use that wouldn’t be here without Black people.
5. Listen more than you speak
This one is more directed toward my colleagues pursuing higher education, but can be applied to everyone. Every Black person can relate to the moment in class when slavery, police brutality, or any Black issue comes up and multiple pairs of eyes shift to you. This can be frustrating. But what’s even more frustrating is when a non-Black person speaks on an experience you live every day. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re talking about how Black people feel about something or how it affects them, stop yourself. Take time to listen to a Black person and again, ask questions about their experience. Don’t assume you know everything about the Black experience because you read it in a book or watched the 13th documentary on Netflix.
6. Remember that it’s not okay to say the n-word.
Under any circumstance. At all. Oh but it’s in a song so it’s ok--NOPE! Oh but I’m not saying it with a hard r so it’s ok--NOPE! Oh but I’m also a minority so it’s ok--NOPE! You don’t get a pass because your skin is slightly more melanated. Remove if from your vocabulary. You can go your life without saying it, I promise nothing bad will happen to you by not saying it. If you currently do ask yourself why you want to say it so badly. Any reason you think of is not justifiable so don't do it. It doesn't matter if your one Black friend allows you to say it around them. Just don’t say it. If you see one of your friends saying it, call them out. It takes a village.
7. Encourage other non-Black people to do everything listed above
Especially #6. But in all seriousness, it’s important for non-Black people to hold one another accountable. Encourage each other to be better allies to the Black community outside of tweeting about it. Actions speak louder than words. And do the things on this list year round, not just for the next 21 days! Use this month as an opportunity to truly ask yourself if you’re doing enough, because positive change comes from understanding and shared experiences.
A couple of days ago, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) announced her run in the 2020 presidential election. Before becoming a senator, she was a district attorney (DA) in San Francisco and former attorney general (AG) of California. Harris’ experience in the law field can definitely be seen through her work in the Senate Judiciary, Homeland Security, Budget, and Intelligence committees.
Harris is known for her relentless and unapologetic questioning tactics on these committees; her most famous exhibition of this was during the Kavanaugh hearing. However, many democratic and liberal Americans and even fellow politicians are questioning Harris’ credibility as a 2020 candidate.
During her time as DA in San Francisco, the Howard alumn promoted a California law that would prosecute the parents of children who were truant (consistently late/skipping class). This law however would disproportionately affect low income families of color. Blake Simons, a Bay Area activist, called out Harris for “terrorizing black communities through the prison industrial complex.” Some have criticized Harris for inadvertently promoting the school to prison pipeline through her support of the anti-truancy law, a connection that is not entirely far fetched.
As AG, Harris’ poor track record continues. She appealed a federal judge’s ruling in 2014 that the death penalty is unconstitutional, opposed a bill in 2015 requiring her office to investigate police shootings, and defended the wrongful sexual abuse conviction of George Gage in 2015. Unfortunately, the list continues, and you can read more in the New York Times Op-Ed explaining why Harris was not a “progressive prosecutor.”
Many people of color, especially black women, are not supporting Harris’ 2020 run, most citing her less than squeaky clean track record as DA and AG. Some are even saying Harris’ actions reflect anti-blackness, despite her degree from a Historically Black College and University and being a member of a Divine Nine historically black sorority. However, many democrats are still holding on to Harris as their candidate of choice, being drawn in to her work as a Senator, and not being dissuaded by her mishaps as DA and AG.
I conducted an informal survey* to see where many people stand on Harris. 70% of people are not choosing to support Harris, and 30% still are. All of the 70% were women of color, and 75% of the 30% were white men. Why bring this up? Many of Harris’ remaining supporters are white, the demographic that is less likely to be directly impacted by many of her questionable policies. This I found interesting, because this was seen with early supporters of Hillary Clinton as well. In an interview at Howard University, Harris stated her regret for some of the decisions she made as DA and AG, and taking full responsibility. To me, that’s commendable.
Not too long ago, I supported Kamala Harris; I even wrote many of my college admissions essays about her. However as a black woman and journalist I have to be skeptical. In general, I admire her conviction and courage and agree with a lot of her policies, but at what point do you lose respect for a political figure? For me, it was learning about almost every decision she made in 2015. It took me some time to come to the conclusion to not support Kamala Harris, and it wasn’t an easy one to make. I saw all of the screenshots and tweets condemning her, but was refraining from so easily relinquishing my support. It’s easy to get caught up in “cancel culture”, so I was hesitant.
In my political science class, my professor talks frequently about how politics involves compromise and bargaining. Sometimes politicians have to make decisions that contradict their beliefs for the betterment of the people they represent. I think it’s easy to see a politician do or say one thing that their constituents don’t believe in, and a hail storm of hate and condemnation ensues. But it’s important to have a holistic view of the situation. Who are they collaborating with? Who serves on the committee with them? Is this the first time this has happened? Do they seem reluctant to make this decision? I considered all of these things before pulling my support from Sen. Harris, but her continuous misdemeanors were too much to ignore.
Stacey Abrams often collaborated with Republican representatives in Georgia, even accepting money from them or promoting their bills, but that’s what politics is about. It’s about bipartisanship and working with people who you sometimes rather not talk to. It’s about setting aside differences to achieve a common goal. But there’s a fine line between compromising your beliefs and compromising for the people.
*If you'd like more information about what methods I used to conduct my survey, please reach out to me!
Articles off the clock
When my journalist senses start tingling, I need to start writing! These are articles that I was not assigned to write but feel is a story that needs to be told.