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Representative Lockman speaks at USM, exposing political divide

Fri, 2017-02-17 10:45

By Sarah Tewksbury and Krysteana Scribner

On Thursday, Representative Larry Lockman spoke at USM in his presentation, “Alien Invasion: Fixing the Immigration Crisis” at 7:00 p.m. in the lecture hall located inside of the Abromson Center. The political climate was tense as community members gathered both in opposition and in favor of the conservative speaker’s visit to the Portland campus.

Before the Event: Protests and Political Tension

There was a presence of Maine GOP members and leaders at the event. Among them was Maine GOP Officer, Barbara Harvey, who greeted attendees at the door of lecture hall. Thirty minutes before the event was to take place, members of USM Future began a march from Payson Smith and traveled around the campus to the Abromson Center. Members of the group were chanting, “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here.”

At the same time, two men stood outside of the building holding a sign that read, “Secure our border.” One of these men, Robert Casimiro, is a Veteran who lives in Bridgton, Maine. He claimed that he has been arguing for a more secure border since 9/11 and believes that a lot of protesters who oppose Lockman’s ideas have their “minds made up” and he finds it difficult to talk to them to share opinions.

“I’m not against anybody,” he stated. “I think it’s appalling when people are prevented from engaging in a discussion of viewpoints.”

Before the event, individuals also tabled behind the Young Americans for Freedom and College Republicans information station inside Abromson. One of these individuals, who has chosen to remain anonymous, stated that protestors needed more attention and gratification because “nobody paid attention to them as kids.”

Lockman Takes the Stage in Abromson for Immigration Talk

Inside of the lecture hall, the crowd was restless and had a sense of anticipatory tension as USM’s Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, Nancy Griffith, took the stage. She began the event by saying that USM supports academic freedom and freedom of speech, further adding that USM is committed to teaching students “how to think, not what to think.” She strongly urged all audience members and speakers alike to refrain from hate speech or protesting behaviors.

Next, Benjamin Bussiere stood at the podium and introduced Rep. Larry Lockman by briefing those in attendance on the background of Lockman’s career and life successes. With the audience clapping loudly, Rep. Lockman approached the stage.

“Let’s talk about how we got to where we are today,” he stated in regards to what he deems is an invasion of illegal immigrants. He went on to provide the staggering number of taxpayer dollars that go towards welfare assistance.

According to Rep. Lockman, “the burden for Maine taxpayers is about $40 million each year” in order to pay for illegal immigrants’ social welfare. According to Rep. Lockman, $1.7 million in Portland alone is diverted to an account reserved for giving welfare assistance to illegal immigrants.

“The vetting process for immigrants and refugees in this country is badly broken,” he stated as whoops came hurling out of the audience. “This problem is not unique to Maine.”

Half-way through the speech, Lockman referred to Bowling Green, Kentucky as evidence towards his argument that individuals who enter America illegally can cause great harm to the U.S. He called Portland a “harboring haven,” and stated to the audience that the illegal immigration issues has “life or death consequences for Maine people.”

Lockman went on to talk about Freddy Akoa, a man who was beaten to death in his own apartment on Cumberland Avenue in August 2015. He expressed his disappointment in the media coverage of Akoa’s death and the consequences for his attackers. “Those killers,” he paused, shaking his head, “should have been deported long before they beat Freddy Akoa to death.”

“Frankly, I’m stunned at the utter lack of journalistic and professional curiosity that’s been on display here,” said Lockman, referring back to the story of Akoa’s death. He stared over at the media section of the event seating, as someone in the crowd shouted “Bad media,” which prompted snorted laughter.

He also briefly discussed his desire to change the structure of the state as well, specifically in regards to a bill he was trying to push through the senate. According to the Portland Press Herald, this bill, titled L.D. 366, would require the state and local governments to comply with federal immigration law and “withhold state funding from cities that provide a haven for illegal immigrants.”

Yet, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine stands in opposition to the bill, and “oppose anti-immigration legislation,” on the basis of potential racial profiling that could also occur. At this lecture, Lockman encouraged audience members to become involved in the passing of his upcoming bill. “We cannot afford to offer assistance to anyone who is not a U.S. citizen,” shouted Lockman, in which clapping followed.

Questioning Period Leads to Obvious Political Divides

During the questioning period, members of the community, from both ends of the political spectrum, shared their backgrounds, comments and questions. To begin the questioning period, a young woman who identified herself as a social worker from the area said that the “real crisis in Maine is elder care.” For what seemed to be comedic relief, she sang a line of a Neil Diamond song, singing, “We’re coming to America.”

The questioning period saw heated discussions, shouts and arguments between members of the crowd and individuals trying to voice their opinions and ask questions over the two microphones. Each individual who stood to spoke identified themselves – some were lawyers, other students, and other speakers identified themselves with titles such as taxpayer and foreign student.

Bryan Dench, a USM law school alum who has been practicing law since 1975, gave his opinion on Lockman’s proposed bill during the questioning period. Lockman thanked him for the “free legal advice.”

A Maine taxpayer, Lynn W., said that she is “sick and tired of paying for able bodied people,” in reference to immigrants and refugees in Maine who are on welfare because they are not legally allowed to work.

“I’m discouraged now and I want to know how we protect the taxpayer in times like these,” she said.

“We have elections every two years and we need to clean house,” stated Rep. Lockman in response to her statement, “[Constituents] need to exert maximum pressure on representatives. We tend to go whichever way we’re being pushed the hardest.”

A member of USM’s Student Government Association challenged Lockman, asking, “Why are you still here?” She argued that if she had made any of the controversial statements that Lockman has been recorded having said, she would be asked to leave the U.S., referencing Lockman’s heinous quote comparing a woman’s right to pro-choice with a man’s ability and right to force a woman to have sex with him.

Owen Yao, a USM student from China, expressed his frustration at the division in the community and in the U.S. and asked Rep. Lockman how all individuals can come together as Americans. Lockman responded by saying, “We all need to play by the same rules. If you want to be an American, you have to swear allegiance to the U.S. Constitution.”

The Free Press reporters observed that those in support of Lockman were predominantly Caucasian individuals – both young and old. In addition, the people rallying behind his beliefs with their whoops and cheers had no affiliation with USM at all, but were instead community members. One speaker, who did not provide his name, stood up to speak and accused Lockman of telling the version of each story that fit his argument and “left out key facts in order to gain a shock factor and increase support” for his bill.

Najma Abdullahi ended the questioning period with a bold statement, saying, “White men are the most dangerous demographic in the U.S.” Abdullahi asked Lockman, “How do you deal with white fragility?” he responded by saying, “next question.” While this legitimate question went unanswered, other sides of the political spectrum were prepared to argue with one another, but didn’t seem willing to listen to one another.

After the event, people rallied both inside and outside the Abromson Center. Protesters were not open to commentary, but referred media outlets to read the Portland Racial Justice Congress statement to the event, which was posted on Facebook. “As we face the rise of fascism and white nationalism, which now has a seat in the White House, we intend to build a bigger and bolder resistance,” the statement reads.

The Free Press will follow up if more information arises

Students with Syrian connections speak out

Mon, 2017-02-13 16:01

By: Sarah Tewksbury, Staff Writer

Mahmud Faksh, a USM professor of political science, has called the Syrian Civil War the “greatest tragedy of the century.” The Syrian Civil War has had a global impact, triggering a massive refugee crisis, and has affected all corners of the world. In Portland, two USM students, cousins Dalia Muayad and Deena Raef, have close ties to Syria.

Both born in the U.S., Muayad and Raef are aspiring dentists, and though their futures look bright today, they have both experienced their fair share of darkness due to the war. Because of their bonds to Syria, Muayad and Raef understand how the war took hold and has developed since 2011.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in response to the 2011 Arab Spring protests calling for his removal from office, repressed Syrian citizens violently, ultimately leading to the conflict known as the Syrian Civil War. The war has been a proxy war for world powers and has resulted in at least 470,000 deaths, according to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research.

The Syrian Civil War has displaced millions of people, something Muayad and Raef both understand on a personal level. Their family members and friends have had to leave the country in order to find safety and stability. Some Syrians want to leave but have nowhere to go.

“A lot of the people don’t have anywhere else to go to and they don’t have family outside of Syria, so they feel like they cannot leave and instead have to stay in Syria where they stay at risk for dangerous situations,” Muayad said.

Spending all vacations and breaks from school in Syria visiting their family; the girls feel a deep, emotional connection to the country. With an aunt currently in Aleppo and their grandparents in Damascus, Muayad and Raef are aware of the conditions of major cities in Syria and the ways that fighting forces have altered life in them.

“My aunt who lives in Aleppo and is not in the eastern part of the city, so she is fine,” Raef said, “but even though she is in the safe part of the city, the electricity and water, it keeps cutting out.”

Atrocities committed by the Assad regime have also created deep divides among the Syrian people. Groups of close friends and families have been severed by political ideology based on which fighting groups they support. Raef spoke about the divisions within her own family and how they have affected familial relationships..

“It’s really sad for me because when the war started, I have a lot of family members who sided with the regime. So there’s this big split within my family. Half of my dad’s side is with Assad,” Raef said. “I’m against the regime and I got into some arguments with them. The media outlets they follow are completely different from mine so we do not see eye to eye.”

Since the inauguration of President Trump, U.S. media outlets have largely focused on the executive branch’s actions. International news has pushed the Syrian conflict to the sidelines, causing viewers who do not have a direct tie to the situation to forget about those affected. The war continues to carry on and refugees continue to be displaced.

It has been almost six years since the start of the Syrian Civil War and a devastating amount of damage has been done. Those connected to the situation are looking to move forward, to find ways that they can help to support the people who need it most: the refugees who have been forced to leave their homes and those who have held their ground within Syria’s borders.

“It’s so easy to find groups to get involved with or just give what you can from your own money and time,” Muayad said. “White Helmets is a really great group that has helped Syrians. We can try to do our best to fundraise and help out refugees, giving them the best lives we can, temporarily, until they can go home. I don’t think we can do anything when it comes to political things.”

Muayad and Raef encourage USM students to ask questions, read historical content as well as current news media. While it has been difficult for Muayad and Raef to stay hopeful, they made it clear that there will have to be a worldwide commitment to the rebuilding of Syria within the coming years.

“Sadly, I don’t know if it’s going to end soon,” Muayad said. “Even if it ends soon it’s going to take an even longer time to bring everybody back to Syria and make it better than it was before.”

Pdg Muhamiriza chosen as new Student Body Vice President

Mon, 2017-02-13 16:00

By: Julie Pike, Staff Writer

Freshman student and political science major Pdg Muhamiriza will be taking on the role of student body vice president and will work alongside Student Body President Humza Khan. Muhamiriza stated that he was involved with the student senate only two weeks before he came into his new position.

“As soon as the former vice president stepped down and they took a vote, I talked to a few friends among the senate and they thought I fit the criteria,” Muhamiriza said. “The process was relatively quick and easy.”

Muhamiriza is in his second semester at USM. He came to Maine from his home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He stated that after his time at USM, he hopes to go to law school in the future and pursue a career in law.

Muhamarizia got involved with student government because it fell into his area of interest and had come into his new role ready with projects he wants to get started. He expressed interest in starting a debate club on campus, and a diversity club as well, which he is working with the chief of staff on the student senate to create.

The student senate has been faced difficult problems over the past year, but Muhamiriza believes only the negatives were being focused on, and the good work the senate was doing was being cast aside.

“People usually don’t notice the good, they only notice the bad,” he stated. “When negative things happened in the senate, people assumed they weren’t doing a good job. But when the senators are doing a good job, people don’t talk about it.”

As far as how the student senate can improve, Muhamiriza has his own ideas to bring to the table.

“I’m hoping to build an atmosphere of trust among students, so that we can try to be prepared in advance of whatever might happen in the future,” Muhamiriza stated. “In the last month and in the last year there was a lot going on and people didn’t expect that sort of chaos to happen. We should try to avoid that in advance and try to work with every group, despite any differing opinions.”

Muhamiriza knew that taking on the position of student body vice president came with important responsibilities.

“You need to be able to listen to people’s thoughts and try to be as transparent as possible,” Muhamiriza said. “You need to be loyal to the president and not take the job only for the pay but as someone who is willing to bring something to the table.”

Muhamiriza expressed a desire to be committed to his job, and he believes that is one of the biggest qualities needed to be a part of student government.

“It’s all about commitment, if I can do my job right and try to be as innovative and creative as possible, I think that will be my contribution to the senate,” he stated.

Muhamirzia stated that as far as he knew the student senate acted in a constitutional manner when they dismissed the last student body vice president, Madison Raymond.

“They did whatever they did in a constitutional way and that’s all there was. If it was done right and constitutionally that’s all that matters,” Muhamiriza said.

For now, Muhamiriza is focusing on the future and on putting time and effort into his role as student body vice president.

President Cummings addresses the Student Senate on Lockman: “You have a choice”

Mon, 2017-02-13 15:59

By: Julie Pike, Staff Writer

President Glenn Cummings was a guest speaker at the student senate meeting on Friday, Feb. 10. He spoke to the senators about the upcoming event at USM, a talk by Maine Rep. Lawrence Lockman titled Alien Invasion: Fixing the Immigrant Crisis.

Students at USM have pushed for the event to be cancelled in a Facebook post by the group Students of #USMfuture. Cummings decided not to cancel the event and stated that he doesn’t want the administration dictating what students can and can’t hear.

Cummings explained that Lockman has every right to speak at USM, as the First Amendment allows him to do so. He was invited to speak on campus by the student organization Young Americans for Freedom.

“Larry Lockman is a mosquito,” Cummings stated. “He’s just there to irritate us and see if we will act like he acts.”

In his conversation with the student senate, Cummings thanked the senators for handling the issue well.

“I want to recognize that you guys are classy people,” Cummings stated. “You guys understand why freedom of speech makes a difference and you stood by your decision to not shut this down.”

Cummings focused on the rights outlined in the First Amendment during his discussion with the student senate.

“Welcome to the greatest country on earth, you have the right to act exactly like Rep. Lockman,” Cummings said. “Along with that you also have the choice not to.”

Student Senator Aaron Pierce brought up concerns about having extra security at the event. On Feb. 1, a violent protest broke out at the University of California, Berkeley, where Milo Yannopoulos was scheduled to speak. Yannopoulos is a right-wing commentator who writes for Breitbart News. The protests caused $100,000 worth of damages.

Cummings stated that the university will be increasing the amount of police officers at the event as well as having other police on call. Cummings spoke to Portland Chief of Police Michael Sauschuck about having police close to the campus during the event.

Cummings made it clear at the meeting that if Lockman suggests violence or harassment in his talk, the event will be immediately shut down and he will be taken away. Cummings stated that it goes the other way too, however, and if people come into Lockman’s lecture and conduct themselves in such a way as to silence Lockman, they will face the same consequences.

“He is testing you, the students, that’s what this is about,” Cummings stated. “He knows he’s got an ignorant agenda. Nobody thinks he’s got any great wisdom to add to the world. He just wants to provoke you. He wants to provoke people to make himself look better.”

Members of the student senate had their own thoughts to add about the upcoming event and what the role of the student senate is during these situations.

“This is not what we agree with and this is not what we support, but by going to this event and possibly provoking violence, we’re not getting anything done,” stated Senator Shaman Kirkland. “If we were to have students not come to the event or to protest it, he would look like the person that he is, a person that doesn’t have power and a person that’s just trying to disrupt the university.”

Kirkland proposed the idea that Cummings should suggest that students not attend the event in a Monday Missives email. Cummings responseded that his job is to remain unbiased, but if there was an alternative event presented by a student organization, he stated that he would be happy to mention it.

“I’d love to wake up on Friday morning to the headline ‘Larry Came, No One Showed,’” Cummings said.

While Cummings’ expressed his stance on the matter, he ultimately left it up to the student senate to decide how they will move forward. He reiterated the fact that everyone has their right to freedom of speech.

“We don’t have the right to preach violence or the right to shut him down,” Cummings said. “He does get the chance to say his words and we cannot shut him down. However, you have the right to not participate.”

The overall agreement of the student senate was to not take a side. Student Senator Pierce stated that the student senate should remain supportive of every student.

“We are supposed to appear impartial no matter what and allow everybody the right to speak,” stated Senator Dylan Reynolds, who was inducted at the meeting as the Assistant to the Student Body Vice President.

Lockman’s talk will take place on Thursday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m. in the Wishcamper Center. President Cummings and the student senate hope the event will be peaceful.

President Cummings talks openly about issues with SGA: His thoughts on discrimination, President Trump, and campus gossip

Mon, 2017-02-06 12:56

By Krysteana Scribner, Editor-in-chief

What can you tell me about Madison’s decision to tell the general public about your confidential conversation?

Humza and Madison came to me to talk about the state budget. They wanted to know if they could be helpful for supporting a strong budget request, and it was terrific. In the context of that, there is a little piece of background information, and I wanted them to be confidential but make them aware. I said, “don’t even talk about it on Facebook,” because they had come to me with their own time and effort and I trusted them with it.

I was very clear. The nature of that information was more politicized by the individual who heard it. It wasn’t political in the way Madison was hearing it. It was a different issue how other states might interpret opposed to anything related to gender equity. Within a very short amount of time, maybe hours, Madison didn’t feel like they couldn’t honor that.

Did Governor Lepage withhold funding from the UMaine system because of LGBTQ discrimination?

It looks like he didn’t actually do that.

What was the reason that you chose to keep this confidential statement secret?

Because I was keeping someone else’s confidential information.

Madison claims they were demoted because of LGBTQ discrimination and stated that the administration played a part in this. Is that true?

I had no idea they had been removed from their position until I was contacted by the Free Press, actually. I think it’s totally inappropriate for the University to have any involvement to decide whether a senator should stay on the senate. It is a decision that should be on the senate. I do not have the jurisdiction. They represent the student body, so it is inappropriate for the administration. I was disappointed in Madison, I can’t deny that, but I had made it clear that I wanted to continue to meet with the both of them.

What is your thought on the political climate at Universities in today’s day and age?

Universities are being asked to live up to their highest ideals because they are being challenged – such as freedom of expression, diversity, our commitment to the students we represent and the community. The present political climate puts some of our students in danger of things like deportation, in danger of being denied an education and there is a role for us in the university to express their concerns.

At the same time, we are a place of freedom of expression, so there are people who don’t necessarily agree with the president and policies and yet there are individuals who strongly do. Both of those have to be held to the rights of free speech and free expression – and academic expression as well, that allows them to exist within the dialogue, the interaction of the university.

I had heard that USM had considered the possibility of deeming itself a sanctuary school. If this is true, how would the university go about this and what steps need to be taken to make that happen?

We looked very carefully at sanctuary, but that standard is something outside our jurisdiction, because it implies that we can protect students from things we absolutely, legally cannot do. So, many universities have said there is a better way to do this. We talk about it as supporting DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), but we have not made a formal vote on that – the Board of Trustees is still deciding where to go with that I felt obligated to lay out a very clear affirmation of our core values; inclusion, diversity, respect for all, and the sanctity of education. That is the approach web are taking.

Can faculty and staff speak openly to the press without fear of repercussion?

Of course, I would hope people don’t feel that way. Faculty members are held to a very important standards of intellectual accountability because they have to be peer reviewed, and their thoughts and views have to be tested in the marketplace of ideas and their legitimacy. The university has a deep obligation to protect their freedom. There are lines that cannot be crossed, not in the case of faculty, but if one advocates for violence and physical harm to people that no one would want to cross. If you are perceived to insight violence, those behaviors and actions cannot be acceptable. Barring that, we want this free exchange of ideas.

 

What are your thoughts on the recent discrimination cases that have come to light over the past 6-8 months at USM? How does our University handle these kinds of situations? How do you determine what is considered as a hate crime?

We have a student conduct review to determine our course of action. Or, in the instance of harassment in the fall, we sent it directly to the District Attorney’s office, because we believed  that it had the potential to be tried as a hate crime. We have the ability to do both. We have pretty strong procedures, but we need to get stronger in training and understanding. Lots of folks on the university level, all of us quite frankly, need to learn more about the complexities of these issues. Just like you noted, where does the line cross between hate crimes and harassment? There may be ambiguity in some cases, but we will always have accountability for those students or community members who have experiences such as these.

There have been various instances of hate crimes both from students within the multicultural center harassing Caucasian students and students from the multicultural center experiencing discrimination on campus. What do you believe all of this aggressive behavior is born from?

I think some of the responses are understandable, because when you are threatened, your life is threatened, it is very difficult to find those better angels of our nature and respond in a strong but still respectful way and civil way. It’s very hard, we could easily get caught up in righteous rage, and it is a high standard. What we are seeing in these attacks are the seeming cultural or political permission based on what they’re seeing on TV and perhaps even in tweets. Social media becomes a place to engage in hateful acts, and perhaps not even see them as hateful acts, but rather as norms of the new world order, so to speak.

Controversial conservative speaker to visit Portland campus

Mon, 2017-02-06 12:46

By Johnna Ossie, News Editor

On January 25, 2017, Paul Lepage held the first town hall meeting of the year at Biddeford Middle School, consequently it was also the first town hall meeting since the governor made “racially charged” remarks about people of color coming to Maine to deal drugs. An article written by Moshe Marvit from The Century Foundation said it best: “a well informed electorate is a prerequisite for democracy.” So in order to inform myself, I layered up in warm clothes and drove out to the meeting.

Lepage took the first few minutes of the meeting to discuss his goals with the new budget. He stated that he wants to “do no harm” with the proposal, and states that two of the referenda that were on the ballot this past election are doing just the opposite.

The governor stated that the new minimum wage was not helping, but hurting the state. He stated that 358,000 elderly people, who live on fixed incomes, that don’t get an increase in payments, are now facing an increase in their cost of living, because businesses are now having to pay their employees nine dollars an hour instead of seven-fifty. Kids were another concern of his, mentioning that businesses would be less likely to hire children that don’t have any developed work skills. In December, Lepage had stated that the Department of Labor would stall the legislation three weeks past the original date it was supposed to go into effect. During the question portion, a constituent voiced her concerns about it, stating that she thought it was offensive that the governor implied that Maine people were “too stupid” to vote the right way. The governor channelled his inner Donald Trump, interrupting the woman as she asked the governor to respect the will of Maine voters. “Government officials should not be in the business of cherry picking which election results to follow.” says Justin Chenette-D Saco, a senator in the legislature. Like myself, he believes that the voting process should be respected by all members of government, regardless of whether they approve of the results.

       Donna Bailey-D Saco also explains that when a government official disagrees with what the people voted for, they need to offer a solution and evidence, of their wishes being better than what the people voted for, and that no one, including the governor had done so. “When the people pass a referendum, as they did with the minimum wage referendum, anyone who proposes going against that mandate, against the unequivocal will of the people, has a heavy burden to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that their idea is better than the people’s law. I have not heard any idea, including the Governor’s, that has risen to that level. Default always goes to the people.”

Lepage also went after question two, calling the 3% surcharge a “misnomer” and “a bill of goods that was sold to the Maine people(and it was) totally erroneous.” He went on to say that there was “so much money for education that we don’t know where to spend it.” The problem he stated was that the money doesn’t go towards classrooms or teachers , but to administration and to some extent, union bosses. He lamented that we have some of the lowest paid teachers in the country, but as one constituent pointed out later on, his new budget eliminates cost of living increases in the pensions of retired public servants, of which teachers fall under.

Lepage was also very critical of news media, implying that the media is dishonest and unreliable by saying to one constituent “you must be reading newspapers sir” after the gentlemen asked why the governor opposed a new casino being built in Maine. None of this is surprising to me, since during the election season, the governor stated that he and Donald Trump are “cut from the same cloth”, and like his counterpart, he’s attempted time and time again to discredit the media when they don’t report what he wants them to.

     After the meeting finished, I caught up with Sarah Rawlings, a graduate of the Public Policy and Management program at the Muskie School of Public Service, who, despite being interrupted by the governor, his press secretary, and members of the audience, gave a powerful statement about Lepage’s refusal to expand MaineCare, an action, or, rather inaction, that would cut over 20,000 of the state’s most vulnerable population from the program, while leaving some out in the cold when it comes to subsidies for purchasing insurance under the ACA. Lepage’s response was that when the minimum wage passes, that those people would be eligible for subsidies. According to the proposed budget, a family of three could earn no more than 40% of the federal poverty line to qualify for MaineCare. To see the breakdown in numbers: the federal poverty level for a family of three is $20,160/year. Because of Lepage’s budget, said family could earn no more than $8,064/year. I’ll say it again. NO MORE than $8064/year. Rawlings said it best. “This is insanity”.

    Throughout the meeting, Lepage, and members of his staff, admonished members of the audience for being “disrespectful”. But one of the traits that his supporters love about him is that he “tells it like it is”, it’s evident that he doesn’t value the same trait in his constituents. Even though the meeting went off the rails pretty fast, I hope to go to more, and at best, get my own questions answered, or at least watch another hilarious train wreck.

     The governor’s office declined to comment.

Young Americans for Freedom? Conservative students on campus fear backlash for holding beliefs that contradict Liberal values

Mon, 2017-02-06 12:43

By Sarah Tewksbury, Free Press Staff

On January 25, 2017, Paul Lepage held the first town hall meeting of the year at Biddeford Middle School, consequently it was also the first town hall meeting since the governor made “racially charged” remarks about people of color coming to Maine to deal drugs. An article written by Moshe Marvit from The Century Foundation said it best: “a well informed electorate is a prerequisite for democracy.” So in order to inform myself, I layered up in warm clothes and drove out to the meeting.

Lepage took the first few minutes of the meeting to discuss his goals with the new budget. He stated that he wants to “do no harm” with the proposal, and states that two of the referenda that were on the ballot this past election are doing just the opposite.

The governor stated that the new minimum wage was not helping, but hurting the state. He stated that 358,000 elderly people, who live on fixed incomes, that don’t get an increase in payments, are now facing an increase in their cost of living, because businesses are now having to pay their employees nine dollars an hour instead of seven-fifty. Kids were another concern of his, mentioning that businesses would be less likely to hire children that don’t have any developed work skills. In December, Lepage had stated that the Department of Labor would stall the legislation three weeks past the original date it was supposed to go into effect. During the question portion, a constituent voiced her concerns about it, stating that she thought it was offensive that the governor implied that Maine people were “too stupid” to vote the right way. The governor channelled his inner Donald Trump, interrupting the woman as she asked the governor to respect the will of Maine voters. “Government officials should not be in the business of cherry picking which election results to follow.” says Justin Chenette-D Saco, a senator in the legislature. Like myself, he believes that the voting process should be respected by all members of government, regardless of whether they approve of the results.

       Donna Bailey-D Saco also explains that when a government official disagrees with what the people voted for, they need to offer a solution and evidence, of their wishes being better than what the people voted for, and that no one, including the governor had done so. “When the people pass a referendum, as they did with the minimum wage referendum, anyone who proposes going against that mandate, against the unequivocal will of the people, has a heavy burden to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that their idea is better than the people’s law. I have not heard any idea, including the Governor’s, that has risen to that level. Default always goes to the people.”

Lepage also went after question two, calling the 3% surcharge a “misnomer” and “a bill of goods that was sold to the Maine people(and it was) totally erroneous.” He went on to say that there was “so much money for education that we don’t know where to spend it.” The problem he stated was that the money doesn’t go towards classrooms or teachers , but to administration and to some extent, union bosses. He lamented that we have some of the lowest paid teachers in the country, but as one constituent pointed out later on, his new budget eliminates cost of living increases in the pensions of retired public servants, of which teachers fall under.

Lepage was also very critical of news media, implying that the media is dishonest and unreliable by saying to one constituent “you must be reading newspapers sir” after the gentlemen asked why the governor opposed a new casino being built in Maine. None of this is surprising to me, since during the election season, the governor stated that he and Donald Trump are “cut from the same cloth”, and like his counterpart, he’s attempted time and time again to discredit the media when they don’t report what he wants them to.

     After the meeting finished, I caught up with Sarah Rawlings, a graduate of the Public Policy and Management program at the Muskie School of Public Service, who, despite being interrupted by the governor, his press secretary, and members of the audience, gave a powerful statement about Lepage’s refusal to expand MaineCare, an action, or, rather inaction, that would cut over 20,000 of the state’s most vulnerable population from the program, while leaving some out in the cold when it comes to subsidies for purchasing insurance under the ACA. Lepage’s response was that when the minimum wage passes, that those people would be eligible for subsidies. According to the proposed budget, a family of three could earn no more than 40% of the federal poverty line to qualify for MaineCare. To see the breakdown in numbers: the federal poverty level for a family of three is $20,160/year. Because of Lepage’s budget, said family could earn no more than $8,064/year. I’ll say it again. NO MORE than $8064/year. Rawlings said it best. “This is insanity”.

    Throughout the meeting, Lepage, and members of his staff, admonished members of the audience for being “disrespectful”. But one of the traits that his supporters love about him is that he “tells it like it is”, it’s evident that he doesn’t value the same trait in his constituents. Even though the meeting went off the rails pretty fast, I hope to go to more, and at best, get my own questions answered, or at least watch another hilarious train wreck.

     The governor’s office declined to comment.

Sexual assault prevention training on campus

Fri, 2017-02-03 16:25

By: River Plouffe Vogel, Free Press Staff

The University of Southern Maine hopes to provide fair, safe and equal education to all students. Protecting as well educating the student body is one way to do that. USM offers students to take an online sexual assault prevention training course, which is required of all university employees and students.

The online trainings are created by a group called Student Success, which works with the university in creating training modules that best fit the student body. Student Success has access to MaineStreet, where they post who has completed the trainings. Currently, however, there is no penalty if a student does not complete the trainings.

The 2016 Annual Safety Report from the university lists that there were five “forcible sexual offenses” in the residence halls in Gorham in 2015. Sarah Holmes, assistant dean of students and Deputy Title IX coordinator, said the numbers may be higher, as sexual assault often goes unreported.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five college women will be sexually assaulted on campus, as well as one in sixteen for men. Ninety percent of sexual assaults are reported by the victims. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of eighteen.

Sexaul assault’s prevalence and impact on so many college communities has caused controversy at many universities, especially within the last year after a list of those charged with Title IX violations was released by the Department of Education. Many high profile schools, including Harvard College, Harvard Law School and Sarah Lawrence College, made the list.

USM has stated that “all USM community members are required to complete the [sexual assault prevention training] course.” Holmes explained that all incoming first year students, most student athletes, any students involved in fraternity or sorority life and many other student groups receive the sexual assault prevention training  in person.

Holmes went on to explain how the university is continuing to expand its outreach and to open  avenues for dialogue, with the hopes that more students will become active in educating members of the USM community when it comes to speaking out about sexual violence. These trainings are also offered throughout the year by Sarah and other staff members.

The video takes an hour to complete and gives the viewer first-hand accounts of sexual assault, solutions to difficult situations and also includes information and knowledge surrounding the topics of sexual assault. Some of the material can elicit past memories of experiences in the viewer, and the video warns the viewer beforehand if there might be something triggering or too difficult to watch.

Jeffrey Ahlquist, treasurer of the student senate, member of a USM fraternity and an RA on the Gorham campus, explained why he believes it’s important for students to take this training:

“Especially on campus, these issues can be very real to many people and only by educating ourselves can we help to face and solve them. The videos do a great job of giving the student’s real life examples and providing real life solutions.”

NGOs worlwide respond after Trump reinstates Mexico City Policy

Fri, 2017-02-03 16:25

By: Johnna Ossie, Free Press News Editor

Just days into office, newly installed President Donald Trump reinstated a policy that bans international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) receiving U.S. funding from providing abortion services, as well as from providing education or counseling to those seeking their services. The Mexico City Policy, often referred to as the global gag rule, hasn’t been in place since former President Barack Obama took office in 2009. The policy was reinstated almost immediately by President Trump.

Democratic and Republican presidents have been going back and forth over this policy for some time. The Mexico City Policy was first created by Ronald Reagan in 1984, was repealed under the Clinton administration, reinstated by the Bush administration and later repealed by the Obama administration. Outside of party lines, health care workers worry women’s lives are on the line.

Unsafe abortions are one of the top five leading causes of maternal death worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, 47,000 women die from complications of unsafe abortions each year. The Mexico City Policy would largely affect at-risk women living in some of the most impoverished parts of the world. Health care providers worldwide say a lack of funding for medical NGOs will affect thousands of international providers and their ability to give adequate care to women in many countries across the globe.

Doctors Without Borders (DWB)/Médecins Sans Frontières issued a statement on Wednesday, saying, “Where safe abortion care is not available, women and girls will put their lives at risk. When left with no safe options, they will resort to abortions carried out by untrained people or in environments lacking minimal medical standards.”

NGOs are unable to use foreign aid to pay for abortions, which has been the case since 1973 with the passing of the Helms amendment. The Mexico City Policy forbids NGOs from using not just international aid but also their own private funding to perform or provide information about abortions if they want to continue to receive U.S. aid. The loss of U.S. aid could threaten the entire organization.

Trump has stated he believes abortion should be banned in the United States. Trump drew criticism after comments made in an interview with Chris Matthews during his campaign, in which he stated that abortion should be banned, and that women should be punished for having abortions.

The Mexico City Policy would largely affect at-risk women living in some of the most impoverished parts of the world.

Thousands of anti-abortions supporters gathered in D.C. on Friday for an annual event called March for Life, which has taken place every year since the legalization of abortion in 1973. Mike Pence became the first sitting vice president to speak at the event in the decades it has been running. Trump tweeted that the anti-choice marchers have his full support, a stark contrast to his tweet regarding the Women’s March on Washington, which garnered the support of millions across the globe, to which he wrote “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly.”

Emma Donnelly, USM sophomore and president of the student group Huskies for Reproductive Health, believes that the global gag rule will not prevent women from getting abortions.

“The global gag rule will cause more abortions than it will prevent,” she said. “These abortions will be deadly, but if a woman does not want to be pregnant, she will do whatever it takes. I do not think they understand what it means to be forced to carry out a pregnancy for nine months and then give birth. The United States is supposed to be a world leader and protect other nations, yet we seem to be doing the exact opposite.” 

New program homes to connect faculty and staff

Fri, 2017-02-03 16:10

By: Julie Pike, Free Press Staff

The University of Southern Maine will be implementing a program called, “Informing U@USM,” which is set to begin in February. These classes, which are focused on bringing the USM community closer together, will teach a broad range of topics to employees from financial wellness, cultural resources on campus, physical wellness and much more.

The Informing U@USM sessions were developed with the collaboration of the USM Human Resources team and the classified and professional staff senates.

“We had the hope of helping people feel more connected to the community,” stated Ashley Collins, the Director of Prior Learning Assessment. “It gives the faculty and staff at USM the opportunity to network and be well.”

The next several months of sessions are planned ahead with different themes each month. The sessions will be dependent on feedback from faculty and staff. The first events will kick off in February with Financial Wellness month. A full list of the scheduled sessions can be found on the campus human resources services page on the USM website.

“Informing U@USM is really about connecting the USM faculty and staff with one another and with the resources that are available to them,” stated Natalie Jones, Vice President of Human Resources. “A big part of it is about building up the USM community, with a focus on faculty and staff.”

The sessions will take place on a mix of all three campuses at USM. They are available at no cost for faculty and staff.

“This is where faculty and staff can come together and realize that we’ve all got a lot in common and we all have the same investment,” stated Heather Dilios, the Accommodation Coordinator in the Disability Services Center.

“People are coming up with their own topics, they have their own specialities, things they want to get out to the community,” said Meghan Schratz from Human Resources and the coordinator of Informing U@USM. “Faculty and staff at USM are wanting to share their resources with others.”

These sessions are a big step forward for the faculty and staff at USM, who experienced tough layoffs in the last couple years. The goal of the workshops is to rebuild the strong community the employees at USM once had.

“The transitions that USM went through over the past five years sort of naturally dismantled the community,” stated Dilios. “One of our goals was to re-establish that community and start rebuilding those divisions that naturally occurred between staff and faculty.”

Student Government strives for transparency, although confusion around process still stands

Sun, 2017-01-22 20:35

By Sarah Tewksbury, Staff Writer

The USM Student Government Association (SGA) is determined to hit the ground running and work hard in the coming months of the 2017 semester, though not without challenges. The enthusiasm among the members of the SGA is met with low interest among nonparticipating undergraduate students. Even more, most students who have no ties to the SGA have no knowledge of what the function of the group is—and generally do not care.

Some students on the Portland campus went said they felt that the students who care enough to participate in the SGA should be trusted to do their jobs well and without question. However, without the participation of outsiders, who are not affiliated with the SGA, students allow for a complete allocation of power to a small group of students.

The Student Senate, the Student Body President, the Student Body Vice President and the student cabinet comprise the SGA, whose purpose is to act as a board of representatives for the students of USM and advocate for student issues and interests. Commuters, residents and at-large students sit on the SGA, and currently, there are vacant senate seats that still need to be filled.

In November 2016, scandal rocked the student senate when a student wrote offensive anti-Islamic graffiti on surfaces in the office.  Though the student was not a member of the group, some Student Senators did not react appropriately to the incident and were eventually asked to resign. An emotionally charged meeting followed the incident and cast the SGA in a negative light.

Due to the graffiti incident and the attempt to cover it up by some of the Senators, the question of the SGA’s transparency has been raised. Students and faculty have questioned the openness of the organization and whether or not the SGA engages in practices that exclude members of the USM community. Last minute changes to the location and time of meetings, for instance, in the fall semester made people skeptical about how much non-SGA student participation is truly wanted by current members of the SGA.

In an attempt to make more students aware of meeting times, at the beginning of the 2017 semester, the SGA published a list of meeting dates, times and locations on both its USM affiliated website and Facebook page, USM Student Government.

Another question that has been raised is the availability of information from and access to students affiliated with the SGA. Most of this confusion comes from non-SGA students not being aware of where to find information they are looking for. Not only is information about what the SGA is currently working on readily available on its Facebook page, but also each Student Senator is required to have office hours each week, in an attempt to promote better relations with non-SGA students.

On top of that, Student Body President Muhammad “Humza” Khan is working to ensure that there is a free and steady flow of information to students. Through Facebook and Twitter, Khan communicates about upcoming events and updates. Partnering with WMPG and Gorham Community Cable Access Television Channel, Khan produces bi-weekly updates, called Cabinet’s Corner, on his work as Student Body President and the work of the SGA. Archives and up-to-date recordings can be found easily on both SoundCloud and YouTube.

Though the social media accounts for the SGA are kept up to date and meant to aid the SGA in maintaining transparency, the USM website for the SGA does not provide current information. Documents related to the SGA, such as its constitution, can be found on the website. However, the list of members is outdated and inaccurate. The Google Drive that houses minutes from SGA meetings and documents are also outdated, as minutes can be found for meetings as current as September 2016, but none after that.

 

At the Student Senate’s first meeting of 2017, held on Jan. 20, where attendance from individuals outside of the SGA was nonexistent, The tight group of SGA students worked together to discuss the business of the day and future meetings. Among the issues discussed, the first was the business of interviewing and voting on the admittance of two new senators, Dylan Reynolds and Hamdi Ahmed.

Advocating for her acceptance to the student senate, Ahmed said she wants to be able to “encourage respect among all students, regardless of their backgrounds.” Though she was hopeful for the future, she did bring up why she had not applied to the Senate before: because of a fear of underrepresentation and lack of inclusion among previous Senators.

During the dialogue, current Senator Fatuma Awale spoke to Ahmed’s concerns, saying that just because Ahmed felt comfortable to join the group now “that does not mean that those negative parts of the senate are completely gone.”

Among other issues brought up at the meeting was the Board of Student Organization’s (BSO) participation in the SGA. According to the SGA’s constitution, BSO members are required to appear at student senate meetings. However, they have not been fulfilling that requirement.

During the meeting, Student Body Vice President Madison Raymond commented, “The BSO has failed to show up to a majority of meetings. If they fail to continue to appear, we should consider changing the structure of the constitution because they are technically under us.”

The SGA has a lot of ground to cover to change the USM community’s perception of the organization o, but the members of the organization are prepared to work to dismantle that negative perception and to become more inclusive. Though they encourage other students to attend the meetings and have an active participation in the group, it will be up to students to decide what outside involvement looks like.

The implications of eliminating Obamacare

Sun, 2017-01-22 20:34

Last Friday, President Donald Trump signed his first executive order, which included a set of instructions for the federal government to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. This decision, which was a staple of his 2016 Republican Presidential campaign, has become a large topic of debate and discussion across the United States.

In light of recent events, many USM students stated that the repeal of Obamacare would be a dangerous first move by Trump. Yet, in order to grasp a better understanding of the topic at hand, it is important to look at both the pros and cons of Obamacare, as well as analyze the implications of repealing and replacing it.

Currently, the executive order signed by Trump doesn’t necessarily change anything, but it does shed light on his determination to follow-up on his campaign promise to eliminate what he considers “the burdens of Obamacare.” The current health care law includes various legal requirements and has provided billions of dollars in health coverage to millions of Americans. The dismantling of Obamacare, then, cannot be repealed with an act of Congress.

According to the Obamacare Facts website, which lists the various pros and cons of Obamacare, as well as updates on Trump’s repeal process, tens of millions of uninsured people gained access to affordable and high-quality health insurance because of Obamacare’s expansion.

The site goes on to explain that, while the repeal of Obamacare is certain and the Republican process has already begun, there is still no official replacement on the table for discussion. Last week, Counselor to President Trump Kellyanne Conway stated that Republicans plan to turn control of Medicaid over to the states as part of the replacement plan, but this decision doesn’t come without controversy.

According to an article by the Bangor Daily News (BDN) published on Jan. 22, the Affordable Care Act has reduced the number of uninsured from 41 million to 29 million, including 22,000 in Maine, since it was passed in 2010. To eliminate this health policy writes BDN staff writer Nick Sambides, which would lead to an annual loss of $300 million dollars per year, and could cause an “utter collapse of the hospital system in Maine” if the replacement isn’t “reasonable.”

“What is [Trump] going to replace Obamacare with, and how?” stated Aaron Nielson, a senior media studies major at USM. “It seems to be  less about the people and more about asserting power and tarnishing the former administration’s legacy.” Nielson further explained that, while the process is complicated, healthcare for the masses seems like a step in the right direction for the United States.

However, Obamacare doesn’t come without its flaws, as many insurance premiums have skyrocketed since the inception of the healthcare plan. But that doesn’t mean a repeal process will make the costs go down. An article published by CNN in early January writes that the repeal process of Obamacare alone will potentially cost $350 billion over the next ten years.

Student Body President Humza Khan stressed that Trump’s plan for repealing the Affordable Care Act seems to be motivated by the desire to erase Obama’s legacy. He stated that this decision is not an attempt to reduce the cost of healthcare, and to repeal and replace will be detrimental to the millions of people who currently rely on it.

“This futile attempt to erase President Obama’s legacy is really not something the President should be focusing on. There are many issues that Americans are facing that need his attention,” Khan said. “On the other hand, Republicans should focus on how to fix or improve upon the current legislation and not attempt to strip millions of Americans of their healthcare. Improving the current legislation is better than removing and then replacing.”

According to an editorial published by the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, the proposal currently being discussed by the GOP would “eliminate the requirement that insurers offer comprehensive policies,” which would result in insurers having the ability to “sell cheaper plans that exclude the coverage of costly treatments,” such as maternity care or serious surgeries. Costs of treatments, then, would be pushed on the people who desperately need them, but cannot afford them.

“The incoming administration is very dangerous for not only women but for people of color, the LGBTQ community, Muslims, immigrants and people with disabilities,” said Samantha Torr, a sophomore women and gender studies major. “Putting healthcare on the line without any sort of replacement is extremely irresponsible and dangerous for a lot of people. Organizations that are federally funded, such as Planned Parenthood, are necessary for many folks to have safe and accessible health care.”

As of Sunday, Jan. 22, Conway stated in an interview broadcast that health care coverage will continue to be provided after Obamacare is repealed.

“This is something that Donald Trump can do in pretty short order. And people instead of being, you know, reflexively negative and congenitally — critical should really stop and look at the difference he can make for many people,” she stated.

What is that difference President Trump can make, one may ask? Only time will tell.

Knitting group hopes to keep activists warm at Standing Rock

Sat, 2016-12-10 12:07

“I would tell the protesters at Standing Rock to keep up the good fight and stand firm,” said Roberta Ransley-Matteau, Cartographic Cataloguer at the Osher Map Library. Ransley-Matteau started the Carto-Crafters, a group that works on “knitting, crocheting, embroidery, sewing, and more,” about a year ago.

“We meet on Thursdays from 4:30 P.M. to 6 P.M., because the map library is open until 8. So that gives us time to knit, crochet, sew, or do other crafts,”

Ransley-Matteau said. The group caters to people of all levels of skills, whether that be first-time or seasoned knitters. The Carto-Crafters meet in the reading room located within the Osher Map Library on the Portland campus, adjacent to the Glickman Library.

“I suggested that perhaps we could send hats, scarves, mittens to the protesters at Standing Rock since winter was fast approaching,” she said on the group’s most recent project. “I saw a box in the main lobby of the Glickman Library which began to get filled with warm clothing. The carto-crafters were very receptive and they did a wonderful job with hats, scarves and cowls. We sent a box with our donations about two weeks ago. I hope it got there!”

In North Dakota, much like here in Maine, the winters are cold, and seeing as protesters are exposed to the elements, it is vital for their health and safety to stay warm. Temperatures can drop below freezing this time of year, so the warm clothing made by USM’s Carto-Crafters could be of great use to those at Standing Rock.

The current geopolitical climate at Standing Rock changes by the day and updates come in continuously via social media and other outlets. As of Dec. 4, the Army Corps of Engineers has stated they will not grant permission for the last leg of the pipeline installation through reservation land. Protesters have been camped out for months at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, and have faced great opposition. Thus far, there have been reports of tear gas, rubber bullets and attack dogs being used against protesters. Protesters are standing their ground to protect their land, including sacred burial grounds and important cultural and spiritual sites, and to protect water from pollution caused by oil leaks, as well as uphold treaty rights (as outlined in the 1851 Treaty Traverse des Sioux and the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868). The pipeline is a $3.78 billion dollar project that, if completed, would span a total of 1,172 miles.

“Yes it does raise issues of the sovereignty of Native lands. But the government has consistently violated their rights and they are doing it again in the name of Big Oil,” said Ransley-Matteau on the subject of native rights and land sovereignty.  

Even with the order to halt construction of the pipeline, protesters have reported that the oil company has continued to dig and receives a daily fine for the violation. The protests have brought forth an important discussion to have as a nation, and that is the topic of the sovereignty of indigenous peoples, as well as the importance of protecting our environment. We will continue to have this discussion as a nation, and as a global community.

Students strive to get more gender neutral bathrooms on campus

Sat, 2016-12-10 12:06

USM has only a limited number of gender-neutral bathrooms on its three campuses. Gender-neutral bathrooms are important to have to provide a safe and accommodating bathroom for all students. There are several locations on the Portland and Gorham campuses that students can find a gender-neutral bathroom, which includes any single-stall bathroom. However, not every location has a gender-neutral option. Students who are looking to use a safe, gender-neutral bathroom often have to go out of their way or even to another building to find one.

“Many of the bathrooms are hidden away in various buildings around campus and you wouldn’t know where they are unless someone had shown you in the past or you did some research on it,” said Aidan Campbell, the student chair of the Gender Diversity Advisory Council.

All residence halls on the Gorham campus have at least one gender-neutral bathroom, but some students have to leave their own floor to be able to use the bathroom. To meet the needs of all students, the CSGD is working on several projects to create safe and accommodating bathrooms.

Sarah Holmes, the assistant dean of students and Deputy Title IX Coordinator, is at the head of a project, which is scheduled to take place over winter break, to change the signs of USM’s gender-neutral bathrooms.

“The CSGD is working with Facilities Management on a re-signage project, creating new signage for all of the gender neutral bathrooms to make them clear to students,” Holmes stated.

The new signs for the gender-neutral bathrooms will be changed to say “All-Gender Bathroom.” Holmes stated that the language is specific and intentional to include all students. Campbell is also a part of the new signage project, which he stated will involve going around campus and getting an updated count on the number of gender-neutral bathrooms at USM. The CSGD has also been working with Nancy Griffin, the vice president for Enrollment Management, and Buster Neel, the Interim Chief Business Officer, about renovating the Woodbury Campus Center to include a gender-neutral bathroom.

The closest gender-neutral bathroom to Woodbury is in Wishcamper Center.

“Having that option in Woodbury would be a great step in creating a safe and inclusive space,” Campbell stated.

Molly Roberts, a student at USM and the president of the Queer Straight Alliance, has been working with Student Body President Humza Khan on this project.

Roberts stated that the bathroom would be located between the male and female bathrooms, where a janitor’s closet currently is.

“It’s important for all kinds of people to have a gender neutral bathroom, people who are gender nonconforming, transgender and people who don’t want to feel like they have to pick one or the other, because not everyone fits in a box like that,” Roberts stated.

Campbell stated that many students have come forward asking for a gender-neutral bathroom in Woodbury.

“In order for students to find a place that they feel safe, where they’re not going to get funny looks for using a bathroom or get questioned about whether or not it’s appropriate for them to be in that particular gendered bathroom, they have to leave the building and go across the street,” Holmes stated.

Roberts also mentioned that the CSGD will be hosting a forum, set to take place in the spring semester, in the amphitheater in Woodbury Campus Center for students to talk about other places where they would like to have a gender-neutral bathroom.

“In infrastructure USM is not accommodating to people who need a gender neutral bathroom, but there are people who are actively interested and involved in changing that,” Roberts stated. “Administration is being welcoming and accommodating to hearing new ideas.”

Holmes stated that the CSGD is also looking to designate a few bathrooms in the Glickman Library as gender neutral.

“This would provide access to safe and accessible bathrooms for our students and to help send a message that all of our students are important,” Holmes stated.

Holmes stated that any new buildings constructed at USM will include gender-neutral bathrooms.

“Part of university law is that we will not discriminate against people based on their gender,” Holmes said.

Aside from the many projects the CSGD is working on to make the bathrooms at USM more accommodating, another big aspect of their work is educating students.

“In our society and culture we operate under the idea that there are only two genders and that we live in a binary world,” Holmes stated. “However the work that we do in the CSGD helps to educate the campus community about the diversity of gender identities and gender expression.”

“Having gender neutral bathrooms available is important for the growth and inclusion of all students here at USM,” Campbell stated. “It is important that all students feel safe on campus and having gender neutral bathrooms will provide that feeling of safety for many students.”

“The more that we can educate our campus community about the reality and the daily lives of all of our students, the better the community can be,” Holmes said.

A full list of all of USM’s gender-neutral bathrooms can be found on the Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity’s (CSGD) page on the USM website.

Student senate hopes to move forward after alleged hate crime

Sat, 2016-12-10 12:06

The Student Senate at USM has made recent changes, with over 10 new senators being voted in, after anti-Muslim graffiti was discovered several weeks ago in the student government office in the Woodbury Campus Center

The Student Senate experienced some backlash after allegedly trying to cover up what is being investigated by the university as a hate crime. In turn, the senate is beginning to see some changes Several senators had been asked to step down or have resigned voluntarily.

The senate is now starting to move forward from the incident, with new members hoping to represent USM’s diverse campus.

Liam Ginn, the newly elected vice chair of the Student Senate, stated that he wanted to get involved because he wanted to try and make USM a more diverse and accepting environment for all students.

“I hope to bring a strong and charismatic presence to my fellow students and senators to help us all move forward as a united student body,” Ginn stated. “I want students at USM to feel comfortable around people of all cultures.”

Another student new to the senate, Aaron Pierce, feels strongly about having a more diverse group of students on the Student Senate to better represent USM’s student body.

“This is going to take a senate of people from different races, faiths, gender, sexuality, backgrounds and different views to come together to form bridges on campus,” Pierce stated.

The new members of the Student Senate are passionate about creating a welcoming environment for all students at USM.

“I spent the last five years in the Navy working with people from all walks of life, I want to see that same team spirit and group cohesion here at USM, united against bigotry and hate,” Ginn stated.

The Student Senate is now filled with 20 senators, stated Student Body President Humza Khan.

“The senate took this opportunity to bring new people into the fold,” Khan stated. “Folks that are committed to helping students and have a clear record as far as senate incidents are concerned.”

With assistance from Khan and his office, the senate will also be holding sensitivity training every semester. The first one took place Friday, Dec. 9.

Apart from the new training, the new members of the senate have goals of their own. They look to create a more unified school, especially after the anti-Muslim graffiti incident.

“This is going to take a lot of work, cleaning house, and changing the culture with the senate, which is not an overnight process,” Pierce stated. “It will take working together and respecting one another to get the reform done. In order to put change and reform on campus we need to work to reform ourselves.”

One new senator, Nickolas Acker, stated that he wanted to get involved because he thought certain demographics within the student body are underrepresented  in the Student Senate.

“As a conservative at USM I’m part of a small community that sometimes feels wary of expressing their views on campus out of fear of being ostracized or ganged up on,” Acker stated. “If I can represent those who feel they don’t have a voice, I will have done something right.”

Acker suggested how he feels the Student Senate should move forward after the anti-Muslim graffiti incident incident.

“The senate needs to create a forum where students can voice their concerns about alleged Islamophobia, homophobia or any other type of discrimination,” Acker stated.

Acker feels hopeful about the new group of senators that have been voted in. He stated that they are all passionate about improving all students’ experiences  on campus and listening to their concerns.

“We need to change the culture at USM to one where students see themselves as a community, support one another, and where student can feel as comfortable as being home,” Pierce stated. “It is up to us, the senate, to do these changes and I feel we can do so.”

 

Student activists mobilize on campus to get to Washington for massive protest

Sat, 2016-12-10 12:06

The newly re-started Gender Studies Student Organization (GSSO) along with faculty from the Women and Gender Studies (WGS) Program are working to send a group of students to the Women’s March on Washington, which will take place on January 21 in Washington, D.C., one day after the official inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump. The march is being organized by chapters all across the country in all 50 states, who plan to march from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument in order to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump, as well as many of Trump’s policies that they believe will be harmful to women from all walks of life. As of now, roughly 139,000 people are planning to attend the massive protest.

The GSSO met this week in the WGS house on Bedford Street. On the door of the house is a bright pink flier that reads “Donald Trump will be President- Connect, Organize, Mobilize, Resist.” The students of the GSSO gathered to discuss re-launching the student group and how to raise funds to pay for transportation to send students to the march. Until recently, the GSSO has been a defunct student organization, but the group plans to go to the Student Senate and file to be recognized as an official student group starting next semester.  Among them was student activist Emma Donnelly, who organized the “We Won’t Go Back” protest in Augusta last month and is also head of the student group Huskies for Reproductive Health, as well as the creator of the recent student group USM Student Action. The GSSO’s new president will be junior English and WGS major Allie Walsh, and will be supervised by faculty advisor Professor Lisa Walker, head of the Women and Gender Studies Program.

According to the GSSO, there is a lot at stake in the United States right now under the Trump administration, and student activists should not miss out on this historic opportunity to participate in the Women’s March on Washington.

However, an announcement was made Friday that the Women’s March would be unable to access the Lincoln Memorial, where some of the United State’s largest and most influential protests have taken place, including the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war protests of the 1960s. According to Time magazine, the National Park Services, on behalf of the Presidential Inauguration Committee, will bar off the Lincoln Memorial weeks before the Inauguration takes place, and it will remain blocked to protesters throughout the inauguration.

This is not the first wall that the GSSO has hit in its attempt to send students to the protest. Faculty in the WGS Program were advised by university staff not to use department funds to send students to the event, as it is political in nature. The university is not allowed to endorse a political candidate or ballot initiative. The Women’s March on Washington does not endorse any political candidate. President Cummings told the Free Press that he was unsure why departments may not be able to use department funds to send students to a political event.  Sally Meredith, USM Chief of Staff, advised the WGS department that they should be “quite careful” to make sure that department funds are used in support of the university’s mission, and advised that they may be able to ask the student senate for funding for the trip.

The official Women’s March website states: “We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families — recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country. Because women’s rights are human rights.” The GSSO is attempting to raise 5,000 dollars from sources outside the university to send students on a bus to the protest, the location of which is now uncertain.  

Professor Wendy Chapkis, professor of sociology and women and gender studies, is no stranger to activism and working with student activists. She was arrested in 2003 along with USM students outside the offices of Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. This was the night that former president George W. Bush began a bombing campaign against Iraq, known as the “Shock and Awe” campaign. Professor Chapkis, along with concerned students, attempted to speak with Senators Snowe and Collins, but they were locked from the offices and refused entry. They remained outside in the street and were arrested.

“There were many students who were mobilized,” Chapkis said. “It was just two years after 9/11, students were of course very shaken, and very concerned about the way [9/11] was being used to mobilize support for an invasion of a country that had nothing to do with the attacks.”

Chapkis spoke to the power that students have within the university system and in a broader context. She referred to the massive USM student mobilization around the budget cuts and faculty cuts that USM experienced two years ago, when the group USM Future was formed.

“The most recent, and for me the most amazing, was was two years ago when students were mobilized around the cuts,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like that. Students occupied the hallway outside the Provost office when tenured faculty were getting layoff notices, students occupied the Board of Trustees meeting.”

In the wake of the recent election, many students are concerned about what will happen on a global, national and local level, as well as what will happen within the university. There have already been several student actions taken since the election one month ago. Students have staged walkouts on campus, held rallies in Augusta as well as in Portland and created petitions to make USM a sanctuary school for undocumented students.

Chapkis discussed the importance of activism and solidarity, and said she believes that politicians do take notice of protests, to who is in the streets and how many are in the streets.

“In times of political despair it can be very helpful to be surrounded by other people who are fighting for the same things you are,” she said. “I think that’s often overlooked. I’m reminded that I’m not alone, that there are many of us that are taking action. That’s hugely important in sustaining hope and forward momentum.”

The GSSO plans to host two bake sales next week in Woodbury to gain funding, and has started an online fundraising campaign that has raised over 1,000 dollars so far.

 

University officials propose tuition increase for fall 2017

Sat, 2016-12-03 15:00

Johnna Ossie, News Editor

This May, the USM Board of Trustees is set to decide on a tuition increase that, if approved, could go into effect as soon as fall 2017. A committee composed of the chief financial officers from each University of Maine institution, along with several staff members and Chief Systems Financial Officer Ryan Lowe, have created the proposal that, if passed, would raise the USM tuition gradually over the next three years. The committee has also asked for an increase in state allocations to the university of 2 to 2.6 percent, according to Buster Neel, USM’s Interim Chief Business Officer. As of now, Gov. Paul LePage has made a pledge to include 4.65 million in a 2017 supplemental budget, which still needs to pass before the 128 Legislature.

The increase, according to members of the committee, comes as a result of several factors. USM has had in place a “tuition freeze,” in which the tuition rate has stayed the same for the past six years, allowing Maine to be one of few states in the country to reduce the real cost of their public universities’ tuitions in the past five years. It is this affordability that may have contributed to USM’s enrollment increase in fall of 2016, the first time fall enrollment has gone up in thirteen years. The tuition freeze, along with inflation, the rising cost of university maintenance, the rising cost of health care, as well as compensation for staff and faculty, has created a need for the tuition to increase.

The committee has proposed what they call a unified budget, which puts the institutions into three tiers, with each tier having the same tuition as other institutions in that tier. USM and the University of Maine Farmington (UMF) reside in the second tier. As of now, the cost per credit hour at USM is eight dollars less than that of UMF. The proposed plan would adjust USM’s tuition over the next three years to match UMF, with the full effect of the tuition raise finalized in the 2019–2020 school year.

In the first year, the cumulative total of 15 credit hours for in-state, undergraduate tuition would rise by 270 dollars, then by 540 dollars in the second year and, by the third year, up to 810 dollars.

Some student leaders are concerned by the committee’s proposal and are working to gain support against it. A petition with over 100 supporters was circulating through the student body this week. The petition reads: “The State of Maine’s funding for higher education has essentially been stagnant since the 2008 recession. This has resulted in a multi-million dollar deficit, which is why the Board of Trustees is proposing we raise tuition costs every year until 2022 by 2.6 percent (Maine’s Consumer Price Index). This solution is unjust and unethical as it offloads the cost of higher education on Maine’s working and middle-class families as opposed to sharing the burden. Higher education, especially public universities, should be accessible to all.”

“Low income students can’t afford for the tuition to go up,” said Student Body Vice-President Matthew Raymond. Raymond explained that he and Student Body President Humza Khan spoke with President Cummings and Ryan Lowe in a phone meeting last week about the proposed tuition increase, and that Raymond and Khan have decided to take a position that opposes the committee’s current proposal.

Raymond reports that the university has never recovered from the cuts made during the recession. He, Khan and the Student Government Association are taking a position against raising the tuition. Khan and Raymond have reached out to the Maine Legislature asking them to support more state appropriations for higher education and to oppose the proposed tuition increase.

Dan Demeritt, USM’s executive director of Public Affairs, said the committee wants to maintain affordability while also maintaining the fiscal stability of the institution.

“There was a time when tuition increased 300 percent over a 25 year period. Maine families can’t afford that kind of increase, there’s a strong commitment to keep public education affordable,” Demeritt said.

Neel reports that the proposal includes requesting more money from the state and will hopefully convince the state that higher education is important.

The concern of Raymond, Khan and many other USM students is whether the financial deficit of the university should be carried by the student body.

“The cost shouldn’t fall on students,” Raymond said. “Humza will be attending the faculty senate meeting asking them to join students in opposing the tuition increase.”

“Those of us that have devoted our lives to education, we would prefer that we just provide an education for everyone, but unfortunately that’s not a reality right now,” Neel commented.

He reported that the university puts a large amount of money into student scholarships. The amount of money for scholarships has been steadily rising over the last three years and is projected to continue to rise. In 2013, the total amount allotted for merit-based scholarships through the institution was 1.3 million dollars. In 2016, it was 6.8 million and is projected to be 13.5 million in 2019.

“The amount of state support percentage wise is going down, the cost is being borne more by the students,” Neel said. “Is that right or wrong? We would always prefer it not be that way, but that’s the reality right now.”

According to Neel, 35 to 40 percent of funding for higher education at USM comes from the state, while the rest comes from tuition and fees.

A concern of some members of the SGA is where the money will go once it’s collected by the university. “The majority of funding goes to UMO,” Raymond said. Fifty percent of UMaine funding goes to UMO, with twenty-five percent going to USM.

“Our primary focus is on students and student access,” Neel emphasized.

Students and faculty who wish to learn more about the proposed tuition increase and budget changes at USM can attend the Town Hall Forum on Dec. 6 from 9-11 a.m. in Wishcamper 133.

USM faculty and students celebrate the installation of President Cummings

Sat, 2016-12-03 14:58

Julie Pike, Staff Writer

On Friday, Dec. 2, the USM community, including faculty, students, alumni as well as family and friends, honored President Cummings at his installation as USM’s thirteenth president.

The installation ceremony of President Cummings was a first for USM and the school plans to recognize future presidents of the university in a similar way.

Held in the Costello Sports Complex on the Gorham campus, the field house was decorated in blue and white for President Cummings’ event.

USM’s faculty were garbed in academic regalia and students who were selected as Inauguration Scholars marched in the processional to kick off the installation.

Students selected as Inauguration Scholars were nominated by faculty members for their academic achievement and promise and were recognized by President Cummings and Provost Jeannine Uzzi during the event.

“These students here reflect our diversity, our dreams, our power, the barriers and the future of this university,” President Cummings stated.

The event featured USM’s concert band, along with the Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra and the USM Chorale. Together, their musical performances added an elegant touch to the celebration of President Cummings.

Many people spoke in high praise of President Cummings, congratulating him on his position, as well as wishing him luck in the years to come.

Those selected to speak for President Cummings included the Provost Jeannine Uzzi, Student Body President Humza Khan, Theresa Sutton of the University of Maine System Board of Trustees and many more. Each person spoke about the positive change that has come to USM as a result of President Cummings.

“Alumni donations are up, enrollment is increasing, scholarship funds are on the rise and today at USM there is a sense of positivity and optimism,” Khan stated.

The Chancellor of the University of Maine System, James Page, was the one to formally charge President Cummings as the thirteenth president of USM.

“It’s a great day for the state of Maine,” stated Page, who emphasized the event was not only to honor President Cummings but to celebrate the community of USM.

President Cummings has been the president of USM for almost 18 months. In his closing speech, Cummings shared that the reason for waiting to hold the installation until December was due to budget constraints. Cummings joked that since USM has had five presidents in the last eight years, the community wanted to make sure he was going to stick around.

As a special recognition of President Cummings, Maine Senators Angus King and Susan Collins were broadcasted in a video, and expressed their high regards for him, congratulating him on his presidency.

At the end of his speech, Cummings addressed the importance and overall mission of USM, paying tribute to his faculty and staff.

“It is my delight to tell you that the faculty, the staff, the community and the state, wants us to succeed. We have the best mission of any university and we together will fulfill it,” stated Cummings.

USM activists protest for equality at Maine State House

Sat, 2016-12-03 14:56

Sarah Tewksbury, Staff Writer

On Friday, Nov. 18, a group of protesters gathered in front of Maine’s State House in Augusta in an effort to demonstrate their commitment to progress and equality in light of the recent election. Organized by USM student Emma Donnelly, the gathering was called “We Won’t Go Back,” in reference to a strong unwillingness to revert back to what, in the group’s  opinion, is archaic and unequal legislation and government practices.

The crowd of over 60 individuals assembled at noon, full of positive energy to spread their message. Protesters of all ages attended the event. Donnelly began rallying the participants by briefly speaking to the crowd via bullhorn. Shortly after, members of the group began to share their stories and promote their cause.

Donnelly wanted to “take up space and make our voices heard” through demonstrating.  Inspired by the energy at the event, the protesters made their presence known as individuals chanted, waved signs and commiserated with one another. Individuals who spoke at the event asked protesters to think about the statuses they hold, for example as a woman or as a member of the LBGTQA community, and understand how those statuses have been and possibly will be attacked by politicians.

“This is what democracy looks like!” said Nicole Littrell

As the protest continued, Maine state police officers Jeff Belanger and Lieutenant Bob Elliot oversaw the demonstration from a distance. Their presence was understated. Both officers declared they were there to advocate for the rights of all Maine citizens.

“This is the people’s house and we want everyone who comes here to voice their opinions to be safe,” Lt. Elliot said. “We’re here to ensure that every group who has a permit to gather can do so without harmful interruptions.”

While the protest continued to advocate that groups of minorities stand together in the face of adversity under the new Trump administration and Republican majority government, legislators noticed the demonstration and had varying opinions about their presence.

Owen Casas, one of Maine’s two newly elected Independent state representatives, agreed that the protesters have valid concerns that must be addressed by the new wave of elected officials. While his agreement with the cause was understandable and practical, Casas also argued that he did not personally understand the point of protesting.

“The way that I handle a situation like this is to get involved. That’s why I’m here, working in the state house, to see what I can do to change what I don’t like,” said Casas, as he left the State House.  

Demonstrations continue across the nation, ignited by large groups of individuals who feel as if their rights will taken away by the new administration. Protesters from the Maine State House demonstration encouraged citizens to continue to speak out and voice their opinions, even if these opinions  are unpopular. Donnelly is currently spearheading the project of starting a Maine Student Action chapter for the university. Her goal “is to have student-led demonstrations, rallies, protests, and events” and, above all, to continue to fight for the values and rights she believes in.

The first meeting of the Maine Student Action chapter at USM will be Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 6 p.m. in Luther Bonney 302. More information can be found on the chapter’s Facebook page, Maine Student Action: USM.

 

Madeline Albright headlines Ed Muskie’s centennial celebration

Sat, 2016-11-12 11:38

USM welcomed former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and journalist Mark Shields of PBS to the Muskie School of Public Service on Saturday to discuss late Senator Edmund Muskie, the namesake of the school, and how his legacy lives on today, in a packed Hannaford Hall.

Albright served as Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton from 1997 until Clinton left office in 2001, and was the United States ambassador to the United Nations for the preceding four years. Shields, a journalist, has been on PBS NewsHour since 1988 and served on Muskie’s campaign for president.

A Democrat, Muskie was Maine’s Senator from 1959 until 1980, when he left the senate to become Secretary of State under President Jimmy Carter until 1981. Muskie also served as Governor of Maine from 1955 to 1959, ran for the Democratic nomination for President in 1972, and was the Democratic nominee for Vice President in 1968.

Shields, the first speaker, lauded Muskie’s work on the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act and his persistence in getting the acts passed. He quoted former Maine senator Bill Cohen, who thought about challenging Muskie in 1976 for senate, but did not for “the people of Maine and America would not be better served.”

Shields continued with several personal anecdotes about his lifelong friendship with Muskie, before commenting that Muskie would’ve been “disgusted” with the politics of today.

Shields also sought to “set the record straight” on an infamous incident when Muskie broke down in tears publically delivering a speech after the Manchester Union-Leader published a “slanderous” piece on Muskie’s wife Jane. The incident is widely thought to have ruined Muskie’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination. Shields said that the Union-Leader was doing the “dirty tricks” of the Richard Nixon campaign, as Muskie was the man that Nixon “least wanted to run [against].”

Shields concluded by declaring that Ed Muskie “reminded us of the eternal values, that each of us has been warmed by fires that we did not build, has drunk from wells we did not dig.”

During Secretary Albright’s remarks, she also contrasted the current political atmosphere with Muskie’s commitment to working with both parties, joking that “Muskie knew that ‘bipartisanship’ is not a four letter word,” but that he “never forgot his values.” She praised Muskie’s ability to craft legislation, making sure it was “fact-based” and that he “knew the issues better than the experts.”

Secretary Albright described him as the “conscience of the senate”, and said that  “it never occurred to him to serve one party at the expense of the other.” She also praised his belief in government, again contrasting it with modern politics. She said Muskie reminds her to “see government as a purveyor of social justice and economic progress.” She also praised his belief in women’s rights, as he famously hired many women for his staff. She quipped that “people thought that a woman couldn’t be secretary of state because an Arab [national] leader would never accept it, but I always had more problems with men in my own country.”

Albright concluded her speech by saying “I truly loved him, because of what he did for this country.”

During the question-answer segment of the presentation, moderated by St. Louis University Law Professor Joel K. Goldstein, Shields denounced the idea that “government hasn’t made people safer and made their lives better.” Albright agreed, saying that “taxes are not a crime,” drawing laughter and applause from the capacity audience.

When asked by moderator Goldstein “one could be an ‘Ed Muskie’ in modern politics” Albright said that people could, and cited money in elections as increasing the divisiveness in modern government. Shields agreed, saying that “we can’t have our elections bought and sold on an auction block by billionaires.”

Shields said during the Q&A that “I think Ed Muskie’s values are less alive today.” Shields went on to say “Ed Muskie believed in war as a burden of all equally,” and criticized US Congress’ distance from the active military, but being more willing to send the military into combat, especially compared to to World War II.

Candidate for governor and former Muskie aide Eliot Cutler was in attendance. In a brief interview, Cutler expressed support for the forthcoming cuts to the Muskie School and did not believe it was inappropriate to be celebrating the school at this time.

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