Friday, December 19, 2014

Event Highlight: Movement for Justice in El Barrio - Lecture and Q&A 11.19.14

El Movimiento on Gentrification
by Gerolly Lorenzo '15

In collaboration with OSDP, Raices invited Juan Harro, an organizer with Movement for Justice in El Barrio, to come to speak to us about the gentrification movement organized in East Harlem (El Barrio), New York City for Latino Heritage Month. Movement for Justice in El Barrio is an immigrant-led, grassroots organization that began fighting against vicious practices done by landlords to displace low-income families. The movement was organized mainly by immigrant women residing in the neighborhood. Movement for Justice in El Barrio serves to challenge the many forms of housing injustice that immigrants face in their day-to-day life. They are committed and relentless towards social justice work in East Harlem. Many of the members attend “encuentros” or meetings after a long day of work to organize and practice collective decision-making democracy to address the injustices they personally experience. Movement in El Barrio draws much of their structural organization from the Zapatista Movement in Chiapas, Mexico. Sitting at this event was particularly interesting for myself.

I live in New York City and have always been aware of the gentrification that continues to plague the city. However when I realized that I was personally being impacted by the gentrification in my neighborhood, I began to feel hopeless about the many changes rapidly taking over in a place I call home. Every time I go back home I feel less and less at home. My neighborhood in Bushwick (Brooklyn, NY) has been completely altered with new renovated buildings, condos and even fancy assortments of plants. Learning about El Movimiento provided a small sense of hope for myself. Organizing and fighting back does work and it worked for many families in El Barrio. However, as I headed back home for Thanksgiving break, I couldn’t help but feel that we were losing the fight against gentrification. Real estate was winning and so were the new young white people moving in. Gentrifiers don’t understand that Bushwick is not just a place where I sleep at night; it is a community that has offered my family and I the means to survive comfortably in NYC. Within a year my family and I will have to move, and as I spent my last Thanksgiving in my Bushwick home I thought about the various areas where my family and I spent much of our times at: friends’ houses, parks, church, the beauty salons. These community spaces were also our homes and moving away from them will be difficult. I have felt a cloud of hopelessness over my head for a long time. I was bitter and angry about the new gentrified Bushwick or the new “East Williamsburg,” but knowing that organizations like the Movement for Justice in El Barrio was born from this struggle and has triumphed in many battles against gentrification offers a lot of comfort and hope for communities of color being impacted by gentrification.

As Skidmore students we all have a form of agency when addressing issues of gentrification. As we consider moving into a new neighborhood after graduation or during a break we need to be aware of our privilege and our role as gentrifiers. Support organizations that address the concerns of the residents of the community. Be an ally, but remember your role as an ally. As a gentrifier, there are things that can be done to reduce the impact of your privilege. Here is a link with a list of great ways to do this: 20 Ways Not To Be A Gentrifier

Here are a few organizations that formed the NYC Anti-Gentrification Network in 2006 and you can be a part of.

Also, please like the Movement for Justice in El Barrio’s Facebook page for more information and updates on their work.




Monday, December 8, 2014

Event Highlight: Understanding Settler Colonialism with Kat Yang-Stevens 11.11.14.

by Timothy Kim '15
with additional notes from Silvena Chan, Program Coordinator

On November 11th, the Office of Student Diversity Programs invited Kat Yang-Stevens to lead a workshop on settler colonialism and the oppression of indigenous communities, including racism and the barriers to meaningful multicultural dialogue under the title of "Understanding Settler Colonialism as an Ongoing Structure in "Post-Colonial" "Post-Racial" "America"."


Prior to going to the workshop, my knowledge of settler colonialism was very basic and remained only on the surface. I only saw settler colonialism as the initial stage of a group colonizing a nation or territory by immigration and occupying the land for themselves. Therefore, the United States, Canada, and Australia are the main settler colonial states in the world. My knowledge was limited to viewing only the act of settlers massively killing indigenous people and taking over their land as part of settler colonialism. However, through Kat Yang-Stevens's workshop, I was able to see that settler colonialism continues today and is extremely complex.

One main argument that Kat Yang-Stevens presented was that unlike how many only see settler colonialism as the relationship between the indigenous groups and white settlers, in reality it is a crucial part of a strategy to maintain white supremacy in the United States, along with racial logics that continuously define Latinxs, Arabs, and Asians as foreign threats and create conditions that defines Blacks as slaves. Indigenous people have become institutionally segregated after the genocide in early colonial times with the image of being "non-existent" in the country. (We have to remember that the natives never agreed on white Europeans taking over their land.) Moreover, after the system of chattel slavery, black people have been thrust into the prison industrial complex with tools such as the war drugs and mass incarceration, a context that re-asserts slavery-based capitalism. Kat Yang-Stevens stated that through such tactics of white supremacy, white people have been able to maintain their status of being the oppressors and the natives and black Americans continue to fall under the category of "second-class citizens."

Another main aspect that Kat Yang-Stevens discussed extensively was how the concept of Orientalism is used as a strategy of settler colonialism. The Orient has been referred to as the "non-west" and includes mainly the Middle East and Asia. It is perceived as "exotic" and "different," which creates the notion of Orientalism that the West is a superior culture to compared to "othered" nations while such countries pose potential threats. Kat Yang-Stevens argued that Orientalism is also embedded in the society of the United States, and Latinxs, Arab Americans and Asian Americans are the target of such a concept. Kat Yang-Stevens explained that Latinxs, Arabs, and Asians are constructed as a constant threat to the country and not actually citizens of this country. The construction of a threat allows the US to claim a constant state of war and danger, which justifies increased militarization of borders, erosion of civil liberties and social services, and overseas interventions (including killing civilians).

As an Asian in this country, it is both easy and comfortable to be trapped in the "model minority myth," which literally suggests Asians as a "model" minority that does not cause trouble or disruption and strives for the "American dream." The model minority myth, which is another tactic of settler colonialism, created the idea of Asians can obtain a "decent" status in the United States with the condition of remaining silent. As a result, there has been a culture formed of not speaking up and not acting upon injustices, and, ultimately, not siding with our other friends of color, who have been subject of extreme "white violence." (There have been Asian social justice movements and great Asian American social justice leaders, but there has been a lack of support from the wider Asian community.) I am not suggesting that Asians have not been victims of white supremacy or white oppression. We have suffered from great deal of racial profiling, xenophobia, hostility, exclusion, ignorance, and cultural appropriation. The list goes on and on. Nevertheless, many of us have chose to remain comfortable where we are situated in this society. I believe that Asians here in this country should stop not talking, educating, and acting on social injustices that are so deeply rooted in this country just because it doesn't "directly" affect us.

Last week, the Grand Jury declined indictment for Darren Wilson, who murdered Mike Brown in Ferguson. This week the Grand Jury again decided to not indict the NYPD officer who choked, Eric Gardner. (Eric Gardner was choked and died by the NYPD officer after breaking up a fight.) These horrific cases of black men killed by police brutality clearly shows that white supremacy exists and that we are living in a settler colonial state. It is time that we pay attention and listen to our friends who are in pain and show support and solidarity. It is time to demonstrate that this system is wrong and that we are sick of white supremacy. It is time to come together and unite and find hope that there can be change in this country and this world.

#blacklivesmatter #nojusticenopeace

  • Do you need a space to talk about Ferguson and/or oppressions you have to face? Come to the "I Can't Breathe" Drop-In Hours on Tuesday, 2-7PM in the ICC! We are here for you to listen!
  • Do you want to know more about Kat Yang-Stevens and their work? Click HERE!
  • Do you want to know more about White Supremacy? Click HERE!
  • Do you want to know more about the Model Minority Myth? Click HERE!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Event Highlight: Michelle Alexander 10.22.14.

By Timothy Kim '15

"We use the criminal justice system to label people of color as criminals and engage in all the practices we left behind."
 


As part of Skidmore's Committee on Intercultural and Global Understanding's event co-sponsored by OSDP, Raices, and Ujima, Michelle Alexander, a civil rights lawyer, came to present her acclaimed book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Michelle Alexander argued that the current criminal justice system is creating a new caste system in our society. Those who are labeled as felons do not get the rights that are given to a citizen of the United States. They are most likely to be unemployed. They cannot apply for public housing. In some states, they cannot even receive food stamps. Through this system, people of color, especially African Americans, are targeted and designated as second-class citizens in the United States.

Michelle Alexander explained that the creation of this caste system became possible with the implementation of the "war on drugs." With the start of the war on drugs, not only selling but also possessing very minimal amounts of drugs, including marijuana, came to be considered a serious crime.

I found it ironic and frustrating that neighborhoods of people of color are being targeted in policing drug crime and so many young black Americans are labeled as felons, while here at Skidmore, which is a predominantly rich, white "community," prides itself in ranking first place in marijuana usage among college campuses in the United States. With the same actions, one group of people are considered criminals for their entire lives and the other group fully enjoys its privilege and does not feel any threat of going to jail.

Moreover, she talked about how the rate of police killing of black Americans is nearly the same as the rate of police lynching in the era of Jim Crow. Killing of black people by police officers occurs about twice a week or every three or four days for extremely small matters, such as playing loud music or stealing 75 cents.

This clearly shows that there is injustice in our society. Michelle Alexander urged us to actually mobilize in order to break this injustice: we need to make a radical shift in our consciousness and create movements for people of all color; we need to build an underground railroad that will end the war on drugs and end the racial caste system; and we need to be awakened from colorblindness.

After hearing Michelle Alexander's talk, I felt helpless and hopeless for this country. Knowing the reality of how injustice is so deeply rooted systemically and how it is easily tolerated, it was hard to see how there can be change. However, Michelle Alexander emphasized that we should not lose hope, and, as mentioned above, we should come together and fight against the injustice in this society. This means that we should start creating social movements against racial injustice that is present in our criminal justice system, in Ferguson, and in our daily lives at Skidmore.

  • Do you want to read Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness? The Scribner Library has a copy! Here is the call number so that you don't even need to look up for it. HV9950 .A437 2010. Also, stop by the Intercultural Lounge (ICL) to check out the OSDP library.
  • Did you miss Michelle Alexander's talk and want to listen to her talk? There are plenty of her lectures on YouTube. (Thank you technology!) Click HERE to watch one of her talks.
  • Do you want to know more about colorblindness? Click HERE to read a blog post about the subject.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Student Spotlight: Wilson Espinal ‘17, Public Relations for Raices

By Gerolly Lorenzo '15



Where are you from? What is your major and what are your interests?
I am from Brooklyn, NYC, more specifically Williamsburg. As for major I haven't declared but I'm very likely going to do business and management with a minor in media & film studies. I think the creative environment at Skidmore has over the past year helped me develop new hobbies and interests, one of those being photography. I have a newfound love for photography and even filming that nowadays I find myself taking on projects just for the fun of it. Another big interest I have would be fashion. Over the summer I started a fashion blog and it's still active to this day and I'm having more and more fun with it every single day.

What motivated you to become a member of the Raíces E-board?
Well my family is from the Dominican Republic. I was also born there and I came to the U.S. when I was two years old. I didn't think about my Latino heritage as much until I got to Skidmore. Here I sort of became homesick because I was no longer surrounded by the Latino culture everyday, like the people, the food, the music, so I saw Raíces as a way to not only get all of those wonderful qualities back to Skidmore but to also reconnect with my Latino roots, and kind of dive deeper into what it means to be Latino. Now that I'm part of E-board I have plenty of fun spreading Latino culture around campus.

What is one thing you love about being part of Raíces?
Well I hold the position of public relations and I've always felt it was my job to communicate our work to everyone on campus. So one thing I simply love about being part of Raices is just exposing people of different cultures to my culture, to the Latino culture. What I love even more about that is that I can do it in creative and interesting ways like when I'm promoting our crazy events through funny videos or things like that. But I think what I love most about being in Raíces is sharing this fun and exciting space with my fellow E-board members who are all as equally motivated to teach people about the Latino culture.

Do you have a favorite quote or life motto you go by?
I don’t really have a motto but the college’s motto CTM (Creative Thought Matters) would be an important one because creativity plays such a huge role in my life.


Who’s your biggest inspiration?
I wouldn't say I have a single person that I'm inspired from. I'm inspired by a multitude of things. I have a bunch of photographers I follow on Instagram and they're partly my inspiration for my photos but I may also be listening to music by artists I recently discovered and that sparks something in me. I find myself being inspired at the randomest moments of the day when I least expect it and that's something I love.

Could you give me an example of a photographer or artist that has inspired you?
Yeah, Adam Gallagher inspired me to start my fashion blog. I love the way he presents and wears his clothes.

If there was one message you would like to share with everyone about Latino Heritage Month, what would that be?

I would say for Latinos to take Latino Heritage Month and truly embrace it. Dig into your roots and show everyone why you're unique, show everyone the wonderful place you come from, because there is no other culture like ours. And for others, my message would be to explore your roots and find out stuff that you didn’t know before about yourself.

What are some of your favorite Raíces Events?
Dia de Los Muertos Party, which happened this past weekend and was so much fun and Café con Leche, which is this upcoming week. I’m excited to show everyone our culture at Café con Leche.

Any final words you will like to say about upcoming projects from Raíces?
Stay tuned because Raíces is only getting better. The Latino Banquet will be great and we will be doing a mini film series on Mis Raíces (My Roots), which will be shown at the Latino Banquet. We will be asking people what it means to be Latino so stay tuned for that!

Also, check out Wilson’s fashion blog: W | E

Raíces meets Thursdays, 8pm in the ICC

Upcoming Events:
Nov. 19, Wednesday- Movement For Justice in El Barrio, 6-8PM Ladd 307
Nov. 20, Thursday- Latino Banquet, 6-8PM 2nd floor DHALL

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Event Highlight: Ujima Caribbean Awareness Dinner 10.12.14.

By Timothy Kim '15

As part of Ujima's Caribbean Awareness Week, Ujima hosted the Caribbean Awareness Dinner on October 12th. For the past three years at Skidmore, I always wanted to go to the Caribbean Awareness Dinner, but for some reason I couldn't make it. Finally, at my senior year I had the opportunity to be part of the awesome event hosted by Ujima!

When we entered, each of us received a raffle ticket. (This raffle ticket becomes an extremely important factor of the whole dinner, so don't forget about it!) Then we were seated at a table which had colorful cupcakes. The cupcakes were perfect to eat before the actual dinner. The fact that I haven't had cupcakes for a long time made me enjoy the cupcake even more. It was so GOOD!


When the room was almost full, the Ujima eboard came up to the front and introduced themselves. Since Ujima has a quite big eboard, it was good to know each person's position and what they contribute to the club. After the short introduction, we were told to go get food, which was provided by dining services.


Here are some pictures of the food and students who attended the event!




Throughout the dinner there were different activities related to Caribbean countries and cultures. We filled out a quiz sheet asking different questions about general facts of the Caribbean region. We participated in a game where one person from each table went in front to answer a question accurately and quickly. We also played charades! All of the games were extremely intense, and the winning table received an additional raffle ticket. Since our table won two games, I had three raffle tickets, which put me in a position of having a high chance of winning a prize that Ujima prepared.


There were about ten gifts and about 40 people at the event. Since I had three tickets, I was pretty confident that I would win a prize. All of my "table mates" had a good feeling about being called out. However, none of us won a gift. We just had to congratulate the ten winners. This added up to my history of not winning a single raffle here at Skidmore!

While I was devastated by the fact of not winning any prizes, overall, I had a great time at the Caribbean Awareness Dinner. Firstly, the food was great, which is always the most important part of a dinner. Secondly, it was awesome to spend time with my friends and meet some new people. It is easy to get caught up with our own work during the semester, but at the Caribbean Awareness Dinner we could actually enjoy each other's company. Lastly, I learned different aspects of Caribbean cultures and the region itself, which I personally did not know much about. The dinner allowed me to be more exposed to the culture. Obviously I cannot say that I became a "Caribbean expert" out of this one event (I think no one should think that they can "know" or "understand" any culture/heritage/country with a single exposure). However, through the Caribbean Awareness Dinner, I can say that I became more aware of the culture at the very least and that now I want to know more about the region.

For those who did not go to the Caribbean Awareness Dinner, I am pretty sure you are regretting so much that you did not attend the dinner. No worries! Ujima hosts this dinner every year, so you will have a chance to go next year. If you are a senior and actually cannot go to Caribbean Awareness Dinner at all, still don't worry! Ujima has general meetings and awesome events throughout the whole year, so never hesitate to go to one of them.

  • Ujima's General Meetings: Every other Thursday at 7pm in the Intercultural Center (ICC)
  • Ujima's Facebook (FRIEND THEM!)
  • OSDP's Event Calendar (Keep track on all the events from Ujima and all other OSDP clubs!)



Monday, November 3, 2014

Student Spotlight: Isis Harbour '15, Vice President of Queer Lives In Color (QLIC)

Isis Harbour '15

By Timothy Kim '15

What's your major? Where are you from? 
My major is Economics. I am from Cleveland, Ohio.

Why/how did you end up at Skidmore?
I graduated from Cleveland School of Arts in Vocal Music (my major) and decided to come all the way to New York to Skidmore when a Skidmore recruit, Kate, visited my school. Kate visited us every year since my freshman year, and by senior year, I was convinced that I wanted to be at Skidmore. When I visited, it was a much different environment than I was used to, but that did not deter me. I wanted a different kind of schooling environment and Skidmore seemed perfect.

QLIC is a fairly new group on campus. Can you talk a little about QLIC and how you got involved?
Well, during our junior year, Tobi emailed me about an idea she and another student had about possibly starting up a new club. It sounded like a great idea to me. She wanted me to join and help run the club. When we started, the club was originally called QWOCTALK (QWOC standing for Queer Women of Color), because we saw an immediate need for queer women of color to build a community on Skidmore's campus. However, as time went on, queer men of color and even people who did not identify as queer or people of color inquired about the club and asked if it would ever be open to other identities. After talking about it with Tobi, the President, we agreed that this year we should change the name and open up the group for everyone to come and learn.

What is QLIC's goal on campus?
QLIC's goal on campus is to provide a community for self-identified queer people of color. QLIC is an all inclusive club but focuses on topics and issues relevant to queer people of color, thus serving as a learning opportunity for those who do not identify as queer people of color but who are interested in learning and joining the discussion.

You mentioned that QLIC's goal on campus is to provide a community for self-identified queer of color. I think everyone has a different definition of a community. How do you picture a community?
We picture our community to be a safe place where queer people of color and allies all come to get to know each other and make friends, find support, and share their stories and experiences, so we can learn from each other. So when we say "community," we mean a group of people who may have similar or very different identities coming together and helping one another feel comfortable in a place (Skidmore) that can sometimes feel very exclusive.

How does QLIC relate to your identity here at Skidmore? Does it help, does it make you question your identity, solidify or make your identity stronger?
Personally, QLIC provides a way for me to share my perspective and experiences with the hopes of helping others who maybe aren't as comfortable with their identity as I am. QLIC makes my identity stronger, because with every discussion I hear new stories from different people who've experienced similar situations as I have, and it just reminds me that I am not the only one who has gone through those kinds of things. We want others to know that they are not alone either.

What other clubs/activities on campus are you involved in?
Given my busy schedule with classes, two jobs, and QLIC, I don't have much time for other clubs. However, I will be part of the UJIMA 2015 Annual Fashion Show in the Spring Semester.

Want to meet Isis and get to know this fabulous person? Want to be involved in QLIC or just want to check it out? Never hesitate to come to QLIC's general meetings on Mondays at 8pm in the ICC!!!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Event Highlight: Eid Dinner 10.04.14.

By Timothy Kim '15

Eid Mubarak!

On Saturday, October 4th, Hayat hosted a fantastic dinner to celebrate Eid. Eid al-Adha, also referred as the "Feast of Sacrifice," is one of the biggest and most important Islamic holidays (not to be confused with Eid al-Fitr, the "Feast of Breaking the Fast," which marks the end of Ramadan). The three day festival commemorates Abraham's trials and marks the end of Hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca. In honor of humanity's connections to one another, Eid is a time where Muslims come together and celebrate with prayer, sharing food, music, and dance. Here at Skidmore in the small city of Saratoga Springs, we had the opportunity to participate in the celebration through Hayat's Eid Dinner.

The dinner started with a brief introduction from Mustafa. He explained the meaning of Eid and why people celebrate it. After Mustafa's short talk, people were invited to get food. Everyone was really excited and a long line formed quickly, because, definitely, food is an exciting part of a festival! There was great Indian food with vegetable samosas, naan, vegetable masala, lamb rogan josh, and biriyani. The food was fantastic, and I couldn't help but get two full plates. Here are some pictures of the food we had during Eid Dinner.


While people were enjoying the food and each other's company, a group of students went on the stage and performed a dance. After their first performance, the dancers invited other students to come and join, and the Spa suddenly turned into a dance floor!

Yes, I love food and dance, but I have to say that the highlight of the day for me was henna. I have seen people doing and having henna done, but never had henna on myself before. I wasn't sure if I wanted to have henna, but with some peer pressure, I decided, why not?! I really enjoyed my experience, and one of my friends asked me to do henna on her. First, I was really nervous, but after my first try, I was fascinated with it.


After both having henna done and doing henna on someone for the first time, I realized that I really don't know much about the cultural background of henna. I knew some general facts about how henna is usually done during special days, such as weddings or religious holidays, but not in detail. So I decided to do some research!

Henna has been practiced for over 5000 years (some argue even 9000 years!) in different cultures all over South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. With its long history, henna has been used in very special occasions, such as weddings, birthdays, and holidays. Some records even suggest that in ancient Egypt, mummies had henna designs! Henna has become popular in the west, including here in the United States, starting from the 90s, when celebrities appeared on media with their bodies with henna tattoos.

This made me wonder if henna is cultural appropriation. I read some blog posts which helped me organize my thoughts around henna and cultural appropriation. Since henna is used in various cultures with different meanings, it is hard to say that simply having henna done itself is appropriative. However, as a person of not one of those cultures, I believe that we should be mindful that there are special meanings and do not use henna that might be disrespectful, especially towards religion.

Overall, Eid Dinner was fantastic and gave me space to reflect on my actions toward different cultures. I hope that there will be more opportunities on campus where people can truly enjoy their own culture and where others will come with a respecting and learning attitude.


  • Want to know more about Eid, Islam, South Asian or Middle Eastern culture? Come and join Hayat on Thursdays at 6pm in the ICC!!!Also LIKE their Facebook page!
  • Want to know more about henna? Click HERE!
  • Want to know more about cultural appropriation? Click HERE!