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Updated: 19 min 41 sec ago

Student Senate meets to discuss projects on campus

Mon, 2017-10-16 20:01

Jess Ward

The Senate meeting this week, on Oct. 13, was held in Gorham, to discuss various Senate members’ projects on campus. The meeting was led by Muna Adan, President of the Senate, and covered topics ranging from internet speed on campus to parking accessibility.

As of now, Aaron Pierce, the Student Affairs Chair, is working towards introducing a printer station in Payson Smith, to offer students more convenient options in where they print. A printer was purchased by the Senate three years ago, but has not been used or made available. The cost of maintenance would fall on the Senate’s shoulders, as well as possibly acquiring a computer to have at the station. Senator Kyle Brundige is also working on a free printing initiative for students, so that the costly burden of printing papers and assignments would be alleviated.

Additionally, there have been several complaints from students about the internet quality on campus. Treasurer Jeffrey Ahlquist is in the beginning stages of solving these problems. However, the cost for a new or improved internet service on campus could be over $300,000, which reaches far past the university’s budget. There is potential for a grant, likely from the state government, but as of Friday’s meeting there are no senators willing to go through the writing process to request a grant, so it is uncertain as to how they plan to move forward.

The Senate’s Clerk, Joshua Blake, is working towards improving the food situation with Sodexo, in the hopes of offering students more of a voice in deciding their food options, as well as not requiring on-campus students to pay for a meal plan. Financially, a meal costs $8.99 without a meal plan, but with the meal plan it averages out to $10.99 a meal. Blake recognizes that this is not fair to students who have no choice but to pay for the meal plan, and is hoping to either work with Sodexo to lower prices or make meal plans optional.

There was also discussion around putting ballot boxes in the Gorham cafeteria, to give students voting options concerning the food that is available each week. Last year’s attempt to improve Sodexo’s quality was met with disappointment from many students, so Blake’s new approach will hopefully get to the root of these issues rather than resolving them on a surface level.

Senator Chase Hewitt is leading an initiative regarding parking and transportation for students, including working with the university to either make the parking garage inaccessible to non-students and faculty, or charging a fee for non-students to use the garage. This would make more parking spots available to students, which has been a concern this semester. Currently the garage is a public space available to anyone, but Hewitt stated that potentially reintroducing the key card system, which required a student ID to access the garage, would make it a more student-centered facility.

The Senate is also in the process of organizing a “Meet your Senators” event, which will likely be held in the Gorham cafeteria or the Portland Woodbury Campus Center. This was decided in the hopes of encouraging the student body to be more involved in the Senate’s projects and functions, as well as answer some questions students may have about the purpose of the Senate and both the past and future decisions made.

It is clear that this year’s Senate has a lot of ideas on how to improve campus life for students, but it remains to be seen whether these ideas will result in actual change or merely float around the Senate until they are forgotten. While many of these projects are in their early stages, there are a plethora of obstacles to overcome for each of them. Hopefully USM’s Senate will not only attempt to enact change, but will prevail in supporting the needs of its student body.

Students are also welcome and encouraged to attend Senate meetings, the next of which is on Oct. 27 in Payson Smith 1. Questions or comments for the Senate can be submitted to usm.studentgovernment@maine.edu.

Traveling “preacher” harasses students on Gorham campus

Mon, 2017-10-16 19:37

Devyn Adams and their friends were leaving Brooks Dining Hall around 12:30 p.m. early last week when they noticed a large crowd gathering. A man was standing on the hill looking down one of the pathways leading to Brooks. As they got closer, they realized the man was wearing a large sign with things like “sex addicts,” “lewd women,” and “God’s judgement” written across it. The man was reading Bible verses out loud to the gathering crowd of students.

At first, according to Adams, the man was using what Adams called “basic homophobic language.” Adams and their friends stuck and around for a while and then left as they had made other plans. They returned around 2 p.m. The crowd had gotten larger.

The man was Matthew Bourgault, a self described evangelical Christian from Missouri, who is known for bringing his aggressive, and what students call hateful and violent, rhetoric to college campuses across the country. Bourgault is part of a group of so called “open air preachers” who travel to college campuses. The group, “Official Street Preachers” preaches similar rhetoric to that of the more well-known Westboro Baptist Church.

In 2012, Bourgault started a physical altercation with a Christian student, Christian Chessman, at the University of Florida when the student attempted to speak with Bourgault’s two sons. Police at the time told Chessman that Bourgault could be arrested for battery, but Chessman declined to press charges. In 2011 Bourgault was escorted off campus at James Madison University for approaching a student table selling Green Club calendars with the headline “Green is Sexy,” picking one up and proceeding to destroy it.

Adams and their friends went to their dorms and and grabbed some Pride themed items and returned to the hill.

“He was on the hill facing two major walkways,” Adams said, explaining that it seemed like Bourgault had chosen a spot he knew students would be passing frequently. Adams and their group of about six went up the hill to take higher ground. The group held Pride flags and chanted “Love is love.”

Adams said they noticed the crowd gathering closely around the man, and that the crowd was “self policing,” not wanting to engage in any physical altercations. This was when, according to Adams, Bourgault started verbally attacking specific students directly.

Some members of Resident Life in Gorham had been trying to gather students away from Bourgault in front of Lower Brooks. Pizza had been ordered. But many students felt that Bourgault posed a direct threat to their safety, despite campus security and other administration saying he did not, and stayed to confront him directly.

USM administrators and campus police remained in the vicinity of Bourgault and the students. However, the intensity of emotions among certain groups of students was so great that interactions with administrators were not always positive. Gaylon Handy, a sophomore Psychology student, said that Erika Lammarre, rookie USM administrator and Director of Community Standards and Mediation, did not identify herself before aggressively interacting with students.

While standing with friends, Handy was holding a pride flag rolled up. Lamarre allegedly told students that campus police were going to soon be dispersing all of the individuals gathered, including Bourgault. According to Handy, Lamarre was told by students that they would not leave the premise until they were positive Bourgault was gone and they were safe on their campus once more. During this interaction, Lamarre gestured toward Handy firmly.

“Erika pointed at me and said ‘your pride flag could be considered a weapon and you could be arrested,’” Handy said. “I had a very angry response. [Bourgault] incited violence on my campus through microaggressions and when he did that he lost his right to free speech and being on my campus, and Erika didn’t know that.”

Handy went on to say that it felt as though the administration was not doing all they could to support the safety and health of the students. “I’ve never been told by a neutral bystander that I’m the danger,” Handy said. “I feel extremely disrespected. I was told by the administration that I was the problem. Paid administrators told me that I was the problem. I felt marginalized, patronized and attacked by administration.”

In response, Lamarre said that the advice she was giving students, particularly Handy, “was not received in the manner in which it was meant.”

“I just hope the students know how much the staff present were distressed that our students were being spoken to in the manner in which [Bourgault] was speaking,” Lamarre said.

According to Adams, Bourgault admitted to having a weapon and to filming students interactions with him. Adams said from where they were standing it looked like the man had a knife in a holster on his pants. Around 4:30 p.m., he left campus on his own.

As students in Gorham most affected by Bourgault were trying to digest the harassment they had experienced, many wondered why campus security and administration had refused to remove the man from campus.

“Erika [Lamarre] was telling people he was leaving but he didn’t,” Adams said. “She made it sound like he was being removed.”

According to Nancy Griffin, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, Gorham Police were called to asses the situation and found that Bourgault wasn’t violating any laws. According to Griffin, the safety of the students is the number one priority to university, and the situation was being discussed by a number of administrators to go over options in the future. They are also creating a new policing surrounding campus speakers and  freedom of speech on campus which is currently in draft three.

Visitors “cannot engage in hurtful or hateful speech that makes students feel unsafe,” Griffin said.

“He told one student she deserved to be raped,” Adams said. The reason: she wasn’t wearing a bra. Bourgault went on to call students “child molesters” and “whores,” and said that if the police weren’t present, that gay students present would “take him behind the bushes and rape him.”

Adams and about eight of their friends filed crime reports through the USM website. Adams filed a Title IX report for the sexual harassment of students.

Adams added that some of Christian students on campus felt that Bourgault was putting their religion in a bad light, “basically bastardizing their religion,” and that it’s important that people don’t think all Christians hold the same beliefs as Bourgault.

Students like Gabrielle Nelson, junior Linguistics student, and Brenden Pittiglio, sophomore nursing student, explained that Bourgault’s version of Christianity is not what they adhere to. As Christians, Nelson and Pittiglio were frustrated to see Bourgault on campus portraying himself as an authority on morality.

“Jesus wasn’t a hater; he was a lover,” Nelson said. “This man, [Bourgault], was backlashing and throwing a lot of hate and judgement at innocent students. He was showing a lot of misconceptions about what being a Christian is.”

Observing students’ interactions with Bourgault, Nelson and Pittiglio saw a positive side to the visitor coming to campus.

“This event brought a lot of good conversations and did a lot of good,” Nelson said. “I saw the community of students coming together to stand up for love.” Pittiglio also acknowledged that constructive conversations were had and an effort was made for students present to understand one another and to see where they were coming from.

Some Christian students on campus, including Nelson and Pittiglio, have expressed deep concern that their religion has been misrepresented by Bourgault’s presence at USM. Hopes that the community sees Bourgault as an independent entity and outlier of Christianity are not far from their minds.

400 rally in Portland against Trump’s decision to end DACA

Mon, 2017-10-16 19:32

Johnna Ossie

A crowd of about 400 gathered in Portland on Friday night in front of City Hall to protest the Trump Administration’s announcement that it will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which grants protection for young people brought without documentation to the United States as children. It began to rain on the gathering crowd who were determined to brave the weather. The rain eventually stopped and a rainbow appeared through the clouds.

Those in attendance held signs that read, “No human is illegal,” and “Defend DACA,” among others. They lead chants, calling, “The people united, will never be divided!” As well as, “Up, up with education, down, down with deportation!” Supporters driving by honked car horns in support as the crowd cheered.

The rally was organized by Hamdia Ahmed, a junior political science major at USM. Ahmed also organized a rally in Portland last February to protest Trump’s order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. Ahmed urged the crowd to “keep showing up.”

“[Dreamers] were brought to this country by their parents as little kids. They may not know a country besides America. They may not even know a language besides English,” Ahmed said. “Six months from now, unless Congress acts, new DACA recipients will start to lose their ability to work legally and will risk immediate deportation every day. 800,000 people who are American in every way except on paper will lose their ability to live in the only country they know.”

“We stand together to to say the Dreamers will not go back into the shadows,” said Leslie Silverstein, president of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP).

Silverstein told the crowd that DACA has brought stability and hope to nearly 800,000 young people. She called the decision to rescind DACA a “grotesque step backward” an “affront to every standard of justice and fairness” and “a moral atrocity.”

A group of students from Bowdoin College in Brunswick were in attendance, among them their Student Body President, Irfan Alam.

“I want to stress that tonight is just the beginning,” Alam said, pointing out that this would not be the last time that immigrants, people of color and other minorities will be attacked. Alam stressed that being unaffected by an issue is not a reason to stay silent, adding that if you have the privilege not to worry it is your responsibility to stand up.

“For those affected, you are loved, you are powerful, you are courageous and you undeniably have a place in this country,” said Muhammed Nur, a Bowdoin student from Portland.

Also in attendance was Sandra Scribner Merlim, wife of Otto Morales-Caballeros. Morales-Caballeros was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents last April near his home in Naples and was later deported to his birth country of Guatemala. Morales-Caballeros lived in the U.S. for 20 years after fleeing the Guatemalan civil war as a child.

“They told us he could stay, they came and took him anyway,” Merlim said. Merlim said that her husband’s only crime was “wanting to live in the United States.”

“My heart is breaking,” Merlim said. “Protect DACA and Dreamers who deserve to live here in peace and without fear.”

A statement sent to the student body on Sept. 5 from the University of Maine System (UMS) read, “…Although there are relatively few students in our System who have self-reported DACA status, the uncertainty any enrolled student may feel about his or her ability to continue his or her public higher education is important to us all.” The statement went on to say that UMS hopes that Congress will “bring certainty” to those seeking to “lawfully” pursue a Maine public higher education.