OUT OF THE PICTURE

I think several generations of Yale activists have had the chance to gather in protest or at least reflect on the outrageousness of the university’s top decision-making body gathering beneath a portrait of the university’s namesake with a slave. Looks like the next generation will have to come up with a new rite of passage.

Yale is finally taking the goddamn thing down. But god forbid you should think that Yale’s leaders feel regret about leaving it hanging there the past few decades:

Since the portrait is confusing without the explanation [that Elihu Yale did not own slaves], I have decided it would be prudent to exchange that portrait of Elihu to another one in the University’s collection,” Lorimer said.

The quote, from Yale’s VP and Secretary, leaves you with the sense that Yale is taking down the portrait, which involves adjusting the moldings around the mantelpiece around the painting (the classic explanation of yesteryear for why the thing had to stay up), because it’s easier than putting up a plaque explaining that the man was not a slave owner. But it’s a portrait designed to honor Elihu Yale by painting a chained Black man at his feet. It honors him with the imagery of White supremacy – an ideology of which the colonial Governor and the university named for him have been no small beneficiaries.

It’s a painting that belongs in a museum. It has no place hanging over Yale’s president as he meets with the Yale Corporation to try to chart a course for the university. It never did. (That’s the difference between engaging and exulting the problematic)

To suggest that the racist graphic is being taken down to avert misunderstanding is to make abundantly clear that you don’t get it.

Advertisements

STANDING UP FOR LUX ET VERITAS

The good folks at Yale Alumni for Social Justice have kindly posted a paper I wrote sophomore year about the organizing campaign through Yale clerical workers won union representation twenty years ago and the strike which achieved their first first contract. It explores how they won and what implications it has for some of the prevalent theories about gender and union organizing. If you’re interested, check it out, and if you’ve written an article or paper about social justice struggles at Yale, send it to them.

CAREER PATH TO MOTHERHOOD?

Tuesday’s New York Times piece on women at schools like Yale who plan to become stay-at-home moms addresses an important phenomenon. Unfortunately, it makes little more than passing mention of the underlying issues of class and gender which shape the choices the article pitches largely as curious lifestyle decisions.

Class divisions deeply inform women’s and men’s decision about parenting in work in multiple ways. They make it possible for some women to picture living and raising children comfortably off of the income of an exceptionally well-paid spouse without making the economic sacrifices most families have to when one parent stays home. At the same time, class divisions leave other women in positions where the work-family compromises they would like to strike as working mothers are unfeasible because they lack the bargaining power to achieve the schedules and receive the support from employers that they need. So while class makes it possible for some women and impossible for others to maintain economic security while leaving the workforce, class also makes it possible for some women and impossible for others to balance work and family responsibilities.

Underlying the responsibilities in play here are gendered conceptions which haven’t yet changed as much as many of us would like to think. It’s difficult to argue with those who suggest that a woman’s choice to stay home and raise kids deserves respect, but it’s important to consider the ways in which social structures and pressures constrict and inform that choice. The debate need not be confined to one side which argues that women and men should both be evaluated by the standards by which we’ve traditionally judged men and another side which argues for an essentialist, “difference feminist” understanding of what women are and should be that trots out old tropes about their essential nature. Instead, progressive feminists can and should take on traditional paradigms of male and female identity behavior, arguing for a shared, less gendered repetoire of goals and actions which makes traditionally male and female jobs and tropes accessible to both genders. Women who want to build homes with men can’t make fully free choices about how to balance family and work until men are equally challenged and expected to make equivalent sacrifices as well.

We’re not there yet.

An energized rally today on the Green before folks set out for this afternoon’s rally in New York with strikers from Columbia’s CGEU, unionized graduate teachers from NYU preparing for a contract fight, and workers and allies from across the Northeast. I and fourteen other undergads will unfortunately be unable to attend, at this afternoon we’re being brought before Yale’s Executive Committee for consideration of disciplinary action over our sit-in in February. I hope the Committee will recognize the action we took as an act of conscience which used non-violent means with a long history at the university to pursue changes central to realizing Yale’s best values. I hope Yale can turn its time and energy now to furthering the work of realizing equal opportunity for undergraduates and graduate employees alike.

Some thoughts on what yesterday was about:

Tuesday night, after four months since receiving the platform for real financial aid reform borne out of our hundreds of canvassing interviews and supported by over a thousand students, President Levin had a great opportunity to offer real solutions, or to take to heart the voices of students who had. And he blew it. He opened the under thirty minutes on financial aid by trying to discuss our platform and the parallel Yale College Council in terms which made clear just how empty his claim that he couldn’t respond until February 22 because he was carefully reviewing our proposal had been. He told students he wanted feedback on whether Yale should make some change on the student contribution or the family contribution, insisting that Yale “can’t lead on every dimension.” Not something one would hear Levin say if we were talking about different dimensions of, say, scientific research. Yale can and should lead on drawing a diverse group of students and on fostering a more equal and more integrated experience for those who are here. A choice between the student contribution and the family contribution is an impossible choice. And it’s a meaningless choice for those students working additional hours to pay what Yale expects from their parents as well. But when those students spoke up Tuesday night, Levin responded by making facial expressions roughly approximating Bush’s during the first debate while questioning their honesty and describing them all as extreme cases. He even went so far as to conjecture, with a shrug, that if there was a problem it only affected a couple hundred students. I’m not sure whether it was this baseless claim, or the implication that the quality of life of a couple hundred students could not be an urgent issue for the university, which angered more of us. So it should have come as no surprise to Levin that students left deeply disappointed and personally insulted.

Yesterday we demonstrated that we’re not willing to sit back and wait for President Levin to offer what he thinks is a sufficient proposal for change, and we’re not willing to settle for a proposal which makes modest change in either the student contribution or the family contribution. So fifteen of us showed up at the Admissions Office as a tour group was leaving and let Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw know that we didn’t plan to leave without a meaningful commitment from Levin to comprehensive reform. Dean Shaw told us we’d have to be out of the building by 5 PM, passed the message along to Levin, and then disappeared into selection committee. We never heard from Levin, despite enough phone calls from students inside and outside of the building, alumni, and parents that the phone began going directly to voicemail. Unfortunately, it appears Levin would rather arrest his students than talk to him.

Folks working in the office were by and large very friendly to us, with a few notable exceptions, and we had a number of productive conversations with some of them about our campaign. We weren’t able to communicate directly with any more prospective students, because the Admissions Office was soon locked to the public and tours were moved to the Visitor’s Center. Because this was signified only with a sign on the door to the Admission’s Office, our folks on the outside got ample opportunities to talk to somewhat confused visiting families about what we were fighting for, to generally very positive response by all accounts, before giving them directions to the new location. The Admissions Office made the peculiar decision to communicate with those families only by yelling at them through the window. The low point during the day in our interactions with others in the building was during the noontime rally outside when Phoebe opened and leaned out of a window to address the crowd and Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith physically yanked her back into the building (fortunately, the whole thing was caught on camera by Channel 8). Not long after that, they cut off all internet access in the building.

There are no words which can describe my admiration for the tremendous organizing undergrads, as well as folks from Local 34, Local 35, GESO, and the broader community did outside all day yesterday, in constantly shifting conditions and fairly unfavorable weather. Every time a door opened and we heard surging chants, I think each of us was moved and inspired. They did amazing work, talking to visiting families, sending a delegation to President Levin’s office in Betts House, finding Yale Corporation member Margaret Marshall on the way to a Master’s Tea and calling on her to come visit us, dropping into dining halls to share news, and standing outside yelling through the cold for hours.

One of their greatest accomplishments was keeping a powerful crowd outside for the nearly three hours over which Yale made gestures and having us arrested and then, presumably in hopes of waiting out the crowd and the cameras, chose to delay. It had been a full two hours (much of it spent singing, which inspired at least one administrator to turn up “We are the Champions” in his office) since the time we had been told that morning was closing when plainclothes police showed up in an unidentified van and Martha Highsmith had someone videotape her (despite some technical difficulties) reading to us from the Undergraduate Regulations. When we made clear that we still had no intention of leaving without a commitment from Levin to a financial aid policy which better reflects the best values of the university, the police told us were under arrest. We were taken in pairs into Jim Nondorf’s office, cited for simple trespass and led out, singing “Carry It On” and holding our citations, to a still strong crowd. There we shared some stories with each other and ate the pizza that they had been unable to get to us while we were inside before heading back to campus.

On the eve of the Yale Corporation’s meeting, right before the budget deadline, we mobilized a new breadth and depth of student support, leveraged new pressure, took our message to new audiences, and demonstrated the urgency of the issue. Now it’s time to keep building.

The YDN reports on the New Haven Student Fair Share Coalition’s dramatically succesful call-in day yesterday to Bruce Alexander and John DeStefano, urging a fair share settlement between Yale and New Haven with a contribution that would narrow the gap between Yale’s tax value and the PILOT money New Haven receives, a mechanism for indexing that contribution to Yale’s growth, and a commitment from Yale to enter Community Benefits Agreements for future expansion:

About 75 students gathered on Cross Campus throughout the day Monday to call Alexander and DeStefano’s offices and urge progress on talks to increase Yale’s contribution in lieu of taxes to the city. The campaign was organized by the New Haven Student Fair Share Coalition, a group of Yale organizations formed in April that claims there is a $10 million gap between the actual tax value of University property and the payments the city receives in lieu of those taxes…Any change in the status of Yale’s contributions to the city would be the first change since 1990, when the Yale Golf Course was opened to taxation and the University began paying the city for fire services. Yale, like most nonprofits, is exempt from property taxes on its noncommercial buildings. Property taxes are the major source of funding for New Haven, which has faced budgetary problems in recent years. New Haven also receives about 65 percent of the money it would have obtained from taxing Yale through Connecticut’s Payment In Lieu of Taxes program (PILOT).

…Josh Eidelson ’06, a member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee (UOC), one of the Fair Share Coalition’s member groups, said that the launch of talks had encouraged the coalition. “The fact that these negotiations are happening now demonstrates the importance of pressure from students and the community in pushing Yale to have a more progressive settlement with New Haven,” Eidelson said. In addition to the UOC, 13 other undergraduate student groups — including The Black Student Alliance at Yale, Movimiento Estudantil Chicano/a de Atzlan, and Jews for Justice — belong to the coalition. Ben Siegel ’07, who is involved with Jews for Justice, said different groups had different motives for joining the coalition. “The highest principle of charity in Jewish tradition is to give in a way that facilitates other people becoming empowered and gaining control of their futures,” Siegel said. “We hope that the University will live up to those principles.” UOC member Helena Herring ’07, who helped organize the phone calls yesterday, said there was a lot of support for the coalition’s ideas. “People have been really receptive and excited by the idea and people who have been coming to make calls have not been inclusive of the member groups,” Herring said. “It shows that there is broad-based support for this.”

Alas, the article makes no mention of the amazing pies Emily Jones baked for the event, which were as tasty as they were symbolic.

Thanks for the shout out from Sean Siperstein on the Brown College Dems (cleverly-titled) blog, where he offers trenchant thoughts on the meaning of today’s NLRB decision on his campus:

Not only is this a widespread overturning of precedent and part of a larger trend, but it also ensures that the results of a referendum held among those Brown grad students eligible to unionize will remain permanently sealed and ultimately meaningless (the NLRB ruled previously that all non-science Brown TAs would be eligible, but held up the results being revealed until the current overall appeal was decided). At the time of that referendum, the Brown Democrats were part of a coalition of student groups which campaigned for undergrads to sign a “neutrality card” stating that this was a matter to be decided and debated among grad students themselves (and indeed, active organizations for and against unionization had formed in their ranks), and that undergraduate students and clubs, the administration, the Corporation and alumni ought to all recognize that principle, stay out of the debate, and let the vote proceed without further obfuscation. The effort was highly fruitful in terms of getting student signatures– perhaps the most effective thing that the Dems did during my freshman year– even if (as expected) the administration largely ignored its plea and actively pressured against/tried to prevent unionization, and I’d definitely like to think that this decision that ultimately defeats it will give us all pause to think and at the least serve as an exemplar of the direct impact of the Bush administration’s across-the-board conservatism.

Interesting that Sean sees graduate employees’ right to organize on his campus as an issue which could ignite students to get more involved in electoral politics; if anything, I think those of us organizing around the issue at Yale are struggling to mobilize students to bring the perspectives they believe in or fight for in national politics – on workers’ rights, women’s rights, free speech and such – to bear in confronting the conflict over unionization on our campus.  Among the differences which affect the climate, as Sean observes, is a radically different face on a similar administration agenda – I’ve never heard of Ruth Simmons doing or saying anything that would lead NYU’s administration to observe that she would “rather burn the university to the ground” than recognize graduate students’ right to organize.