USM Free Press News Feed

Subscribe to USM Free Press News Feed feed
The student newspaper at the University of Southern Maine
Updated: 21 min 25 sec ago

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.