Egyptian authorities should release more than 110 university students arrested since the start of the school year on October 11, 2014. The arrests were apparently aimed at preventing a revival of campus protests that have erupted repeatedly since the overthrow of the former president, Mohamed Morsy, in July 2013. The arrests and subsequent activities appear to be solely directed at the students’ peaceful exercise of the right to free assembly.
Security forces arrested at least 71 students in 15 governorates on October 11, according to the Students for Freedom Observatory, an activist group formed this year to track worsening restrictions on campus political activities. The group said many students were seized from their homes in pre-dawn raids that involved uniformed police, plainclothes officers, and heavily-armed special forces units. Police arrested another 44 on October 12 after protests erupted at universities across the country, and a further 17 on October 13. Authorities have released 14 students, the observatory said, but ordered many others detained for 15 days pending investigation. One institution, Monofeya University, ordered five students suspended for organizing protests, the Observatory said.
Photo: Al-Azhar University students walk past riot police during a protest conducted by a pro-Muslim Brotherhood student movement in Nasr City district on October 12, 2014. © 2014 Reuters
”Everything just all happened at one time.”
Wednesday at Elizabeth City State University, a few dozen students gathered outside the student center for a breast cancer awareness event put on by the school’s student government. The students who turned out danced, and some stood behind a line on the ground and tossed ping pong balls into bras strapped to a piece of foam board. The music was super loud.
“Two, three years ago, when we were 3500 students strong, this event would have been packed out,” said McKinley Strother, ECSU’s student body president. “Last year this event would have been a ghost town, but we see now there are individuals coming.”
ECSU is the third-largest employer in northeastern North Carolina, a part of the state that has been historically underdeveloped, according to a statement made in May by then-chancellor Charles Becton. Its economic impact on Elizabeth City is around $260 million, Becton said, and the university, which was founded as a teachers’ college, provides 64 percent of the elementary teachers for the northeastern part of the state.
However, in the last few years, ECSU has faced harder times than possibly any other school in the UNC system. From about 3300 students in fall 2010, its enrollment has declined to 1867 this fall, according to the school’s University Relations office. Last year the school lost $5 million of its $35 million budget, and 46 of its employees were laid off. Four degree programs–studio art, marine environmental science, physics and geology–were eliminated this year. Willie J. Gilchrist, the school’s chancellor since 2006, resigned last year amidst a state investigation into the campus police department. Earlier this year the N.C. Senate considered a budget proposal that would have required the UNC Board of Governors look into potentially closing any campus with a 20 percent or greater enrollment decline since 2010 (a move which would only have affected ECSU).
“With the media and factors outside of the university–it was kind of like we were in a hole and they were throwing dirt on top of us,” Strother said. “We were already in the hole because we had such a beloved chancellor that all of us had a relationship with, so to see him go into retirement, and with everything else we were hearing about him, our university, et cetera, it kind of hurt the students, and that unfortunately affected the morale and enrollment. Everything just all happened at one time.”
While the senate’s proposal to close the school was thrown out, its very suggestion made clear a disconnect exists between residents of the state’s northeast, legislators in Raleigh and the rest of us as to the school’s role. In order to repair this disconnect, the North Carolina Student Power Union sat down with Priscilla Azaglo, last year’s student body president at ECSU, and Ajanae Willis, who is currently sophomore class president. The following interview was conducted and edited by Tristan Munchel.
"Our GPA requirement has raised now [from a 2.0 minimum in 2010 to 2.5 in 2013], which is okay, but who’s going to give these people an opportunity to actually excel?"
NCSPU: Why did you choose ECSU?
Ajanae Willis: I decided to come to this school because, disregarding the fact that I got offers from big schools, I wanted a smaller school. I’m studying history and education with a concentration in African and Caribbean studies and American politics and government. I feel like as a future teacher I should have a personal relationship with my professors to network with them and learn from their experiences as teachers. And I wanted a place where I wouldn’t feel like I was just another student, but where I could really connect with nearly everyone on campus.
NCSPU: What, to you, is an important part of the school’s culture that sets it apart from other schools in the UNC system?
Priscilla Azaglo: When I was a freshman there were several students who were here that had low GPAs from high school. Our school was known at one time for accepting students that didn’t academically do well in high school, and it was willing to give them another chance to excel. For example, the SGA president before me, DeVon McNair, graduated high school with a GPA that was lower than 2.0. and graduated college with a 3.5. If it wasn’t for this university to give him an opportunity, to say, “You know what? You didn’t do well in high school, [but] we’re going to give you another chance to do it again?” and he actually took that opportunity.
And our GPA requirement has raised now [from a 2.0 minimum in 2010 to 2.5 in 2013], which is okay, but who’s going to give these people an opportunity to actually excel?
"We were born fighting."
AW: After we had to raise our requirements, then we received low enrollment. After that, that fall, we had really low enrollment, and then this summer, after we had a year of low enrollment, then they initiated a bill that stated that UNC school system was going to dissolve or consolidate any university that had seen a 20% or more decline in enrollment, and we were the only university in the UNC school system that had seen that, period.
I feel like they molded us into one thing, and once we became the shape they had wanted us to be then they said, this is not the shape we want.
NCSPU: A lot of the official language from ECSU has dealt with “right-sizing” and “re-focusing” the university. Was there already a need for re-focusing, or has that become an issue because of the recent lack of resources.
AW: I don’t want to say it’s about the resources because we’ve had so many trials and humps we’ve had to jump over since 1891, since before 1891 when our founding fathers were founding this university. We were born fighting. Now we have to restructure because we were at a breaking point of, “How far do we need to leap to grow even more?” The resources just snapped us back into this mindset of, “Okay, we need to get there, we need to figure out exactly why we’re here.”
NCSPU: How is all this change affecting students’ morale?
PA: This year has been hopeful. For a while we were searching for where our viking pride went, and this year a lot of people are gaining that back. We’re not in the best place, but we have a new chancellor who has assured us, “I am going to do my best,” and at this moment that’s what we really need: a chancellor that can do a great job of coming in and attempting to clean up. I think we’re in a place now where we’re rising… We’re not where we need to be, but I think we’re doing an okay job to get there, wherever there is.
AW: We are growing more than any other university in the UNC school system simply because we are in a movement. We’re not just going to school; this is a movement. This is something that is weeding out all the people who are not willing to fight. They’re gone, and all that’s left are people that something is keeping drawn to this campus, and in return we are growing stronger with one another because we know that we have to fight. Years down the line this is going down in history. We know, as students, that the state of our university is something we have to fight for right now, because if we don’t we’re not going to be here in a few years.
PA: I think what makes me angry sometimes is when Chapel Hill or N.C. State say, “We’re the number one school in this, that and the third,” and it gets publicized everywhere, but we’ve just been recognized by Washington Monthly as the number one college [in terms of contribution to the public good].
AW: We were recognized as the number three greenest campus [among HBCUs].
PA: We’re getting all of these things but we’re not getting recognized for them. We got all this bad publicity over the summer. It would be great for people to say, “You know what? They went through all that, but look where they’re at now.” Our graduation rate was one of the highest in the UNC system. For our university to be so small, you could say, “Hey, you know what? Maybe we should recognize that.”
Protesters occupy St. Louis University.
Early morning, Monday, October 13th
US colleges are paying their presidents like CEOs and treating students like customers, using their tuition to foot the bill.
It’s a broken system.
"There is a sense, I think increasingly, that the purpose of college is training for a particular career, and those majors and fields that cannot point concretely and tangibly to a career outcome have tended to be disadvantaged in that environment.”
Sarona Bedwan is a recent graduate of UNC-Charlotte, where she earned her bachelor’s in cultural anthropology, focusing on Israel and Palestine. The daughter of two Palestinian parents, Sarona is starting a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine at UNCC, and she plans to take part in UNCC’s demonstration October 23 at noon at the Belk Tower. In the following interview, which was conducted and edited by Tristan Munchel, Sarona explains what the walkout means to her.
Why are you participating in a walkout when you’ve already finished school?
Now that I’ve graduated I have the privilege to have more time. One thing I learned as a student was that academia is not accommodating for the working classes, or for people going through mental and emotional problems, to allow them to have a healthy life while they’re piled with all this work. I’ve had professors tell me, “You should read this so closely it takes an hour to read 10 pages.” The whole time I was in school I was working 25-30 hours…
Plus I want to push against the concept of allocated free speech zones on campuses. The moment I wanted to have a peaceful protest against something like IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) soldiers coming to campus, a cop immediately rushed onto the scene, though when I’m walking alone at night I’ve never seen a cop appear to escort me.
In February 2014 I staged a protest because the UNCC Hillel brought IDF soldiers to campus, basically trying to normalize Israeli occupation. Me and a couple other students were going to walk into the event, a public event at a public campus, hold signs that said “IDF soldiers are war criminals,” and walk out after 10 minutes.
When we found out the soldiers were coming, I got permission from the building manager at the Rowe Building, where the event took place, to chalk on the ground outside the building about BDS and about the Israeli Occupation. The next day, when the event took place, the group hosting the event immediately called the police and said we had committed a hate crime.
A police officer came up to us and immediately asked what I was doing on campus, was I a student, etc. I told her I had just graduated, and she said, “You’re disturbing these students. You’re trespassing on this campus. You’re destroying property.” The officer took down my license number and my name, and said, “If I get a call from another student or faculty member with your name I will arrest you for being on campus.”
She told me that basically, as a non-student I can only say things within the ‘free speech zone’ by the Belk Tower. “Can I say anything?” I asked her. She said I could, as long as it wasn’t hateful and didn’t offend anybody. I said, “What about the preacher who comes on campus and abuses people, and calls women sluts for wearing shorts? Is that not hateful? Y’all protect him,” and the officer said, “That’s protected by the First Amendment.” Where are these lines being drawn?
As a student you go to these universities you’re paying so much money for and you’re told, “We respect you. We respect your ideas, and your opinions, and where you come from,” but the minute you challenge the mainstream, hegemonic narrative all those promises get thrown out the window. I think that goes hand-in-hand with academia being stifling for the working classes. A lot of the time when you’re trying to work and go to school you don’t have the chance to do things for your community, and when you do, things can happen like in my case.
Why should students without any personal connection to the Palestinian struggle get involved?
This poet Staceyann Chin has a line, “All oppression is connected,” and the more I read and the more I meet people the more I understand how true that statement actually is. For example, the Israeli government is building a wall (around the West Bank) that’s illegal under international law, dividing Israelis from Palestinians and Palestinians from their families. The same company the Israeli government has contracted to provide surveillance on that wall (Elbit Systems) is the company the U.S. has contracted to provide surveillance on the Mexican border. The Israeli government was the first government to use drones. During the World Cup, when Brazilians were protesting the horrific things happening to their lands and to their homes in order to build soccer stadiums, FIFA actually employed the IDF to train police in Brazil basically on how to put down crowds.
And, the fact is, you can’t talk about indigenous struggles for Palestinians and ignore Native Americans’ continuing struggles. You can’t talk about BDS and not talk about the South African boycotts in the 1980s. It’s about recognizing that all this is happening within the same framework. We shouldn’t essentialize the problems, which are different, but we should understand how the web of structural inequalities can be spread so far.
Do you think this is a time of historical significance for young people in North Carolina?
I think every moment is a time of historical significance. I think and time is a good time to challenge. Any time is a good time to stand up for yourself, but I think it’s really cool how there seems to be an awakening among North Carolina youth who are saying enough is enough, and recognizing the power that especially students have. I think more people are starting to understand you have to accept the consequences of standing up at some point, because either way they’re not going to be nice to us.
Do you have anything to say to a student who’s lukewarm on the idea of walking out?
Don’t ever settle for what’s comfortable. It might make you uncomfortable that you’re walking out of your class, considering, one, you paid for it and two, you’re normalized into thinking you have to be there. This is so much more important than sitting in a class. This is about North Carolina’s future, especially for students. When you walk out there you are representing those who do not have the privilege to be present at that time, whether because of work, disabilities or other reasons. I think mainly this event is about exposing yourself to different narratives and perspectives that aren’t on the mainstream radar. You and the other students may not be in the same major, but ultimately this is going to be about the debt you graduate with, the public policies that you and maybe your kids will have to live with, the quality of education people either will or will not be getting.
Rebecca Harrelson is a first-generation college student and a senior at UNC-Greensboro, where she studies Sociology and English. Rebecca, who plans to graduate in May 2016, already has $32,869 in student debt, and this year took out private loans in addition to government loans in order to cover school costs. In the following interview, which was conducted by Tristan Munchel and has been condensed and edited, Rebecca shares the story of how she pays for college and why she plans to walk out on October 24.
TM: Why did you come to UNCG?
RH: It was a good fit: it’s a pretty campus. It’s small enough for me. I like the fact that it’s more diverse than most colleges. At the time when I came into school I wanted to be an English teacher and then that changed to sociology and English, and they had everything I wanted.
When you were applying to schools, how much was paying for school a factor you considered?
I knew going into college that my parents weren’t going to be able to give me any money. They were able to pay for books and things like that for a few semesters, but I pretty much knew that paying for college I was going to be all on my own, so looking into schools I really had no grasp of money yet. Obviously I wasn’t able to go to Carolina because it was very expensive, or Duke.
How are you paying for school?
Well, which year? All of the years have been with financial aid. My parents got divorced my sophomore year, which made paying for school 50 times more difficult. When you have parents that are divorcing you have to pick one of your parents, have them fill out their half of the FAFSA after you fill out your half, and you have to hope they don’t make enough money that you won’t get aid. This year FAFSA said my parents were expected to give me $7000. My parents gave me $0, so this was the first year I had to get bank loans to pay to go to school.
Financial aid just wouldn’t offer me enough. The financial aid office told me, “This is all we can do for you. We see that it’s not enough, so here are your options: you can either go for a private loan, or some other kind of loan, or look for grants,” but at this point it was time for school to start and I didn’t want my classes to be dropped, so I got two loans from Wells Fargo.
The first loan I was told was the right amount and that it would cover everything, and after about a month of going back and forth, getting all this paperwork, calling people, I got $8,500. The second loan was because a crazy fee came up that I thought was already factored into my financial aid but it turns out wasn’t, and that was another $1,200 for the school year.
I also had to get a co-signer for my Wells Fargo loans which I did not like, because I did not want to have my dad on any of the information, but because I’m a college student and I don’t have any credit, it’s mandatory. To be able to go to school I had to drag him into this pit with me.
When you enrolled in school were you thinking about the fact you were going to have to pay for it later?
Realistically, no. I have a mindset while I’m in college, which is probably not a very responsible mindset, that if I have the money to pay for school now, and if I have the ability to get all the things I need right now for college then I will deal with the cost when I have to deal with it. I hope that my education, and the people I meet, and the connections I make and the internships I have will set me up for a career that allows me to pay my loans back. But if I were someone who just went to college and didn’t make those connections, and I graduated with just a piece of paper, what am I going to do, throw it at people?
How are you planning on staying afloat when you leave school?
I really don’t know, because what I want to do—international journalism—doesn’t pay that much money in the beginning. In order to do what I want I have to work my way up from much smaller jobs. After college if I don’t have anything tying me to Greensboro, my plan is to do the Peace Corps for two years. I know that that docks some of your debt… I have little faith that I will easily be able to pay this back. It will be very difficult, and it will take a very long time, and it will have to be in small doses.
Why do you think it’s important for students to walk out on October 24?
Because people don’t take college students seriously. We aren’t adults, but we’re not children either, and sometimes you have to do something very visual, very in-your-face to get people to listen, and to get the chancellor to listen, and to get other officials in North Carolina to listen. For example, all of the teachers calling out of work in Denver [this week]. If we could get teachers to do that, that would be amazing.
The Pentagon’s 1033 program, which allows the Defense Department to unload its excess military equipment onto local police forces, has quietly overflowed onto college campuses. According to documents obtained by the website Muckrock, more than 100 campus police forces have received military materials from the Pentagon. Schools that participate in the program range from liberal arts to community colleges to the entire University of Texas system.
A few weeks ago, activist and journalist Mariame Kaba asked on Twitter: “How can we build a movement to divest from police? Is there a way for us to do this? Can we go after local police budgets?”
One place to start is with those college campuses whose police forces receive 1033 and Homeland Security funding. The time is ripe for student journalists and activists to use the information furnished by Muckrock and to do their own digging to take on police divestment campaigns with the tenacity, political savvy, and exuberance that’s pushed universities nationwide to divest from fossil fuels, private prisons, and Israeli occupation.
Young people in solidarity with the people of Ferguson and the families who have lost sons and daughters at the hands of militant police are poised to illuminate these connections between education, state surveillance, and state violence in a uniquely powerful way.