I’m out in Provincetown, in the woods, where my family likes to spend a quiet thanksgiving reflecting, reading, and enjoying thanksgiving dinner.
This year, I want to repost one of my interviews with my grandfather from August. I am working through the recordings to build a profile of him in his own words, but this was one of my favorite episodes from our interviews.
Many mornings, Fulton Street feels like the ultimate border crossing station. You move without a physical passport, but always with permission of those around you who also share and add character to the space. This permission is your visa. At once, you are part of the story and the transition.
Every morning, on my way to my favorite coffee spot, I pass by a mosque with a healthy community coming in and out of its doors. On evenings when the wind blows in the right direction, we can hear the call to prayer from our living room, faintly through the now bare trees. There is also always a group of people talking and sometimes shouting outside Bergen Bagels on Waverly and Fulton. There’s a mental healthcare facility on the same corner, where a number of disable veterans gather before and after their appointments. Some are haunting by the ghosts of their time at war, and their glances take in much more than their immediate environment. It’s hard not to feel something squeezing sharply around your heart.
Sometimes these different groups interact, sometimes they pass by each other with little more than a nod. But they are all there, witnessing the same scenes I do every day.
And there are definitely moments where it is easier, and others when it is harder. In the context of the recent student protests, I like so many others have been included in some very challenging conversations about race and access to basic rights. We hosted a salon yesterday that was open, allowing us to examine so many of the specific issues and questions our friends had about race, their own immigrant backgrounds, and what our role was in shaping society. We considered how we, in each of our bodies and the histories tagged on us by those bodies, could move through our neighborhoods and work places. We stumbled through our questions, those points where experience limited our understanding of perspective, and crept forward, learning and asking questions and offering feedback.
I was reminded of a scene that happens somewhat often on Fulton Street in the mornings. There is a disable veteran, confined to a wheelchair, who arrives and departs from Fulton on the bus. Near the corner where his bus leaves, there is a deli with a cashier who “looks Middle Eastern*.” Some days, this man moves his wheelchair as close as he can to the step outside the Deli and yells with the strangled breathe of someone who has lost so much. The sound is quiet, but the words are like knives when you can hear them properly. The stair prevents this man from reaching the cashier, but each time he knocks the stair with his wheelchair, you can hear the determination in his voice to one day reach this “enemy” he has identified for himself. [*This is an oversimplification, but this seems to be how the veteran identified him, based on the things he yells through the door at the cashier.]
It is frightening. I feel for the cashier as much as I feel for the veteran. Both of their pain is visible on their faces and the strained voice of the veteran. And I asked our group, what is our role in this? How does one act? Or do we keep to ourselves, outside these spaces and stay in our own small corners of the city?
It reminded me of the structure my friend, now an Army Ranger, has described within his first year of basic training. So many of our troops come from families where there realistically weren’t many other options. And often, returning from war did not mean better opportunities or support.
We talked, briefly, about underserved veterans and mental health… and the experience of going abroad to war, to a defined “enemy,” and then returning home to see people who had fled violence and had come to resettle into a new country… who looked like the communities these troops were fighting in another context. And here was a perfect scene describing Brooklyn, this city at the borders of the world… and the challenges that come with that.
I didn’t leave with answers, but, as always, I intend to keep exploring.
Because it’s worth it to go back to the primary sources, not just the (sometimes poorly researched) editorials.
I started this reading list for myself, and a handful of friends, who were trying to learn as much as possible about the different perspectives presented during these protests.
Disclaimer: I am not here to offer my opinions, but to provide the audience with a wider range of sources that you may see in editorials. I do, however, offer some context in introducing each piece. I am disappointed with the cherry picking of research in a lot of the coverage I’ve seen so far. This is my attempt to offer more background and evidence to those who want to dig deeper than editorials.
This is the email about Halloween by Erika Christakis that sparked some of the initial conversations on campus about the role of the university in “policing halloween costumes,” protecting “freedom of speech” and several other issues that turned into heated discussions in several corners of campus. I suggest reading the full copy, rather than the quotes pulled out of context for several publications online.
When you read the list of demands presented by students in DOWN and at the march to President Salovey’s house, please note that their concerns extend far beyond these two initial incidents. The demands address larger structural problems.
The Students Organized:
During the early days of the media attention on campus, I kept asking current students for a better sense of what was going on. I was presented with this article describing the demands from the community at DOWN magazine (a Yale student publication) as it stands on November 11, 2015. Down is the publication that was forwarded by way by several different student groups when I inquired about the best places to find reliable coverage. This publication has been working to gather student opinions and stories about their experiences at Yale and their reasons for challenging the Christakis’s emails and structural inequality at Yale.
This was the poster circulating on Yale’s campus about the event. I found this copy of the image on the Facebook event page for this event.
The next day, students filled Battell Chapel for Teach-Ins, which has space for 1,100 people, and ended up turning away people at the door because even the aisles were packed. This particular Teach-In was called “A Moment of Crisis: Race at Yale Teach-In” and was intended to offer students from all different backgrounds perspective and history on the student protests taking place on campus. President Salovey and Yale College Dean Holloway both attended the event.
This is not the image of hostility and aggression portrayed by many of the articles claiming to understand the tone of the student protests. A video clip of a student screaming at Professor Christakis went viral and, unfortunately, was used to set the tone for so many of the articles that came out covering the events on campus.
A Resolution is reached:
Updated on November 17: President Salovey addressed Yale and the alumni network with his response. He is increasing funding to all four cultural houses, improving training to talk about diversity for students and Yale’s staff (professors and administrators), improving financial aid for low income students, providing mental health providers through the cultural houses (to provide mental health professionals versed in more of the background their students are coming from), and investing further resources into programs like ethnicity, race and migration that offer academic opportunities outside the traditional “Canon.”
This is not the image of hostility and aggression portrayed by most of the media. One video clip of a student screaming at Professor Christakis went viral and, unfortunately, was used to set the tone for so many of the articles that came out covering the events on campus.
Updated on November 17: President Salovey addressed Yale and the alumni network with his response. He is increasing funding to all four cultural houses, improving training to talk about diversity for students and Yale’s staff (professors and administrators), improving financial aid for low income students, providing mental health providers through the cultural houses (to provide mental health professionals versed in more of the background their students are coming from), and investing further resources into programs like ethnicity, race and migration that offer academic opportunities outside the traditional “Canon.
I keep hearing from students still on campus that they are afraid and that the organizers face regular threats. That campus no longer feels safe. Today (11/11/2015) the Yale Daily News published a story about racist signs that appeared on campus… apparently from non-students. It doesn’t describe the atmosphere in the same ways that students have described it to me, but we need to keep paying attention.
Maybe the hardest part is reading the headlines every morning. Some are reflective of what the students are saying and asking for… others are clickbait or trying to place the story in a quick context for what else is going on in the US around race relations. This means… the headlines are clunky at best.
The Atlantic is being inconsistent (and sometimes needs to do better research before it writes about subjects outside of context). For example, we started with this from them: This article published Monday claims this is all a meltdown about a single email. They followed up with this article on Tuesday to add more context and adding that it was less about the specific email and more about the long overdue conversations about race, class and privilege that were missing on campus.
Those that read only the articles about the isolated email incident have taken to calling Yale students “children” and asking “where the adults are.” Several Yale alumni have published pieces about their own experiences at Yale and their concerns with speakers invited to campus, but their own “restraint” in interacting with these speakers… which again, doesn’t bring the larger context of race and class etc. on campus.
I have many thoughts about what is happening at Yale this week and how alumni can be supportive of students and the community… but I want to start with this Talk.
Roxane Gay’s message applies to all sorts of activism. Without space to be human, make mistakes, edit, fumble, and grow… how do we participate?
I also remember struggling with this so much when I was a student & activist in college. The balance… sometimes so difficult. Especially when it came to arguing for a cause and building out a community.
Something I’ve noticed over time, when I ask people about their favorite TED Talks or they ask me about mine, is that the ones that we remember and love most are often on subjects that we have spent time exploring, even just peripherally.
It’s a magical moment — when a speaker says something and crystalizes an idea or concept you’ve been exploring but had trouble explaining in concrete terms. It’s a moment of camaraderie. That talk becomes more than just a talk — it’s your connect, your tool, to explain a concept you care about. Sometimes it offers you a step into further exploration, sometimes it’s a moment of comfort, the wow I’m not crazy! moment, and other times it’s the push in a direct you needed to take your thinking that lets you take the next big risk in your adventure.
This was clearest to me when I was standing on the sidewalk outside the Town Hall theatre on Monday after TEDTalks Live: The Education Revolution. I was with three friends, none of whom had attended a live TED event before. The format, for them, had been a series of individual talks, rather than the curated sessions that weave content together in ways meant to inspire the audience to weave ideas together with their own analysis and reactions.
One friend, like me, was most deeply moved by Nadia Lopez. Her own work reflected so many of the passionate late night conversations that we had had about education and the teachers who inspired us. Another friend who works in TV for kids was interested in what Sam Kass had to say about nutrition and attention. And my last friend was glowing after Salman Khan’s talk about education by mastery rather than “passing grades.” After Khan’s talk, he promised aloud, I am going to write that essay that’s been in my head about this! He said this again on the sidewalk and again a few days later, when the talk had stayed with him.
These talks are beautiful to us long after we see them live because we connect to them and a little light inside our minds stays lit, offering a new point of orientation for ideas and further exploration. It’s about so much more than that short introduction to the speaker’s world and work. It’s about giving you a new stepping stone and the courage to keep exploring in your own right.
Perhaps my favorite moment from the evening was when principal Lopez was introduced by host Baratunde Thurston and everyone around me stood up and cheered. It was the warmth of reception that celebrities usually receive… and it was amazing to be part of a community that is this excited about a principal committed to making change in the lives of her students. She spoke without jargon or false promises, it was purely focused on her students and the community she was building in Brownsville. How she showed up for them every day, and therefore expected them to do the same.
I think the commitment the TEDTalks Live team made to including students and teachers at this event was what helped create such a magical experience for the rest of the audience. My section of the audience positively glowed with warmth for many of the figures on the stage last night, and their love and enthusiasm was infectious.
I left optimistic for the future of education reform… and seeking new places to be useful in my own corner of the world.