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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.