April 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

Around 11 and a half years ago I was sitting in Mr. Knueve’s 5th grade classroom when he rushed out of the room and grabbed a T.V.

Our class sat there in mild disbelief–we were young–as we watched buildings come down that were mostly unfamiliar to us.

The times have changed. I got an update from the New York Times app on my iPhone early this afternoon that there were two bomb blasts at the end of the Boston Marathon.

I quickly pulled up my mobile browser, which confirmed that two had died and 20 had been wounded. Now, the reports seem to be unclear as to how many have died.

The reason why I am writing this post isn’t to recount the day’s events, a million others are doing that right now. Rather, I am writing to remember September 11th.

I didn’t necessarily have a word for it at the time, but what America’s growing sickness post-9/11 could only be described as racism and Islamophobia.

Islamophobia dominated my academic interest for years after. In 7th grade I wrote a speech about the French hijab ban that stopped little Muslim girls from going to school with their religious headdress.

Now, with reports on Facebook that a 20-year-old Saudi suspect has been detained, I again worry that our country will measure our patriotism post-attack by our hatred of Muslims and Arabs. It is a slippery slope.

This tweet suggests that Boston PD doesn’t have anyone in custody.

As we move forward, it is worth noting that the news often develops too quickly, and that rumors can spread faster than a wildfire, especially with the advent of the Internet.


You don’t want to miss this!

April 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

There’s a bunch of stuff going on this week, next week, and throughout the rest of the semester that you’re not going to want to miss!

Here’s a small calendar of events for this week:

  • 12:00PM Thursday at the Memorial Union Rathskellar: Nelini Stamp (formerly of Dream Defenders, now Working Families Party) will speak on her involvement in the student movement and the issue of student loan debt
  • 4:00PM Thursday on Bascom Hill: rally with Palermo’s workers to tell Chancellor Ward to cut the contract
  • 12:00PM Friday at Memorial Union Rath: Felipe Matos (formerly Trail of DREAMs,, now GetEQUAL) will speak on his walk from Florida to Washington D.C. with three DREAMers to talk about immigration
  • 6:30PM Friday at Memorial Union Tripp Commons: students will speak on their experiences organizing on campus and more
  • 7:15PM (same): breakout session with Max Berger (Occupy), Molly Shack (Ohio Student Association), and Nelini
  • 8:00PM: Felipe will keynote State of the Student Movement in the Rest of the Decade

And next week is the April Convention for United Council of UW Students where next year’s leadership will be selected!


Reflections on my time at UW-Madison

April 10, 2013 § 1 Comment

Hey all. In May I will be graduating. Phi Beta Kappa invited inductees to submit sample speeches for our induction ceremony so I thought I would share mine here as a way to recap my four years at UW-Madison. Ultimately, mine wasn’t selected but these are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned at this university.

I didn’t know much about Phi Beta Kappa when I received my membership letter so I casually talked to a few people about it and accidentally threw my letter away then didn’t give it another thought.

Over spring break, my dad mentioned my acceptance to my grandfather at the dinner table and his face lit up. He proceeded to tell me that my great-great-grandmother, Anna Norsman, was also accepted to Phi Beta Kappa at UW-Madison in 1898. Wow, a whole 115 years ago.

My father had told me I was a fifth generation Madison student but I never really knew how to talk about it. I think I used to be a bit guilty that my family has had access to this university for five generations.

There are a few things I want to talk about today: responsibility, soul, happiness, sadness, and failure. And of course, what a “love of learning” has to do with all of these things.

First off, I wonder why the word ‘accountability’ has any place in our lexicon? In a lecture on the education system in Finland, author Pasi Sahlberg said, “there’s no word for accountability in Finnish […] accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.” Thus, accountability assumes expectations while responsibility ensures ownership.

Let’s try making the switch from accountability to responsibility.

For example, is it our job to hold our elected officials accountable, or is it our time to take responsibility and make concrete improvements in the lives of our friends, families, and fellow citizens?

I think it’s our job as a generation, as scholars with a “love of learning,” to take responsibility to ensure that education is accessible to all regardless of socioeconomic status and identity so that others can share in our love.

This, at least, has seemed to help me switch the way I talk about being a fifth generation student.

One of the best classes I ever took at the UW was “Soul Music and the Civil Rights Movement” taught by Professor Craig Werner. The reason I loved this class wasn’t so much that Professor Werner gave us music for every class, nor the fact that we listened to that great soul music for half of every power lecture. It was the way in which the way the music connected to the struggle of people who are Black and Brown in the United States.

As a white person who minored in Afro-American studies, perhaps the greatest thing I’ve learned about myself at UW-Madison was about what it means to be white. The irony, eh? What I mean was that learning about white privilege unlocked a set of new doors in my life, the most important being the door to my soul.

It’s like hearing music, but not really listening. To take it a step further, it’s like listening to the music but not really feeling. It’s like being friends with yourself but not really loving yourself. We are here because we love learning but we also must make it our life long project to love ourselves.

Soul music taught me the joy of the blues. To quote James Baldwin, “now joy is a true state, it is a reality; it has nothing to do with what most people have in mind when they talk of happiness, which is not a real state and does not really exist.”

Another seemingly odd thing I learned at UW-Madison is that joy [what we oft confuse for happiness] is really sometimes sadness. If we reposition our perspective, not only can the saddest moments lead to joy, but also they can be joy in and of themselves.

One of the saddest moments for me throughout college was when my good friend, and noted First Wave scholar, John Vietnam died last August on campus.

One of songs he wrote, which begins with the dedication “if I win this contest I’m going to donate $250 to Children of Vietnam” goes something like this, “if I could find lines just to spit them in the verse, to fix the prisons and the schisms, I’d be finished with my work.”

Ultimately Nam passed away before he was able to end the school-to-prison pipeline. To most people, this would suggest that he failed. Honestly, thinking about Nam brings me joy because I have come to realize failure is essential to success.

Not only do I have no doubt that had he lived, he would have been up to the tall order but also that his music lives on forever. Nam, in immortality you are successful.

A liberal arts education is really about connections right? That’s why they make us take a wide range of subject material and we see the connections in all of it, or so they told me as I enrolled in a bunch of science requirements.

This education has mainly taught me to see connections in ways outside of the classroom. That’s why I was blown away when Nam’s song stopped abruptly halfway through and featured a version of this popular quote by Grace Lee Boggs; “instead of just complaining about these things, instead of just protesting about these things, we begin to look for, and hope for, another way of living.” I had read Boggs’ book way back before I ever knew John and here she was again, albeit remixed into one of my friend’s songs. My guess is she’ll keep popping up throughout my life just as Nam’s music will.

I’ve never been one for long speeches so I’d like to wrap this up by saying congratulations. Heck, I wouldn’t even be here had my grandpa not paid my membership fee. He is the one who made me think to take responsibility to share some of my favorite quotes with you.

The only thing I really want to tell you is that it’s okay to feel. To me, a life time of learning must take be accompanied by a responsibility to use our education to grow our souls, to find joy in sadness, and to devote our lives to our cause of education, just as Sahlberg, Baldwin, Nam, and Boggs have done. Ultimately we must fail. The most successful of us have failed and out of failure has come our greatest success.


Leonard Pitts Jr. “one of our country’s most notable racist columnists?”

March 10, 2013 § 2 Comments

I wrote this in response to a letter to the editor in my hometown’s newspaper:

A letter to the editor last week suggested Leonard Pitts Jr., a Pulitzer nominated journalist who was recently guest faculty at Princeton, is “one of the most notable racist columnists in the country.” As an Afro-American studies major I often see white power and Black power conflated. In fact, the former is an offshoot of white supremacy or our system of privilege which has dominated our country’s institutions for the past four hundred some years and the latter is, at worst, an attempt to counteract some of those privileges.

Stokley Carmichael, one of Black power’s more contemporary advocates, describes it in an insightful article entitled “What We Want.” To Carmichael, Black power is “the coming-together of Black people to elect representatives [who] speak to their needs.” Furthermore, it is power from and for the Black community. In short: self autonomy and respect.

In my experience on the University of Wisconsin Madison campus, this should not be so much to ask for but oftentimes I see my friends who are Black encounter extreme racism on the street and even in the classroom. On two separate occasions last Halloween I saw my friends get called the n-word. In the face of such hatred, they responded with calm, collected resolve to educate their peers on their privilege, just as Leonard Pitts Jr. does in his column.

Perhaps the author of said letter should focus their fervor on commentators like Don Imus who called the Rutgers women’s basketball team a bunch of “nappy headed hoes.”

How can one picture explain Wisconsin’s political economy?

February 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

These picture seem to accurately represent Wisconsin’s current political economy, in more ways than one.

They were taken on Thursday, February 14th, 2013 at the I ♥ UW reunion march and protest up State Street.

They represent an older gentleman flipping off a younger gentleman. What’s not super typical is the fact that the protestor is wearing the American flag. Most of the time we don’t associate “the Left” with symbols of patriotism but this is a notable exception.

Also the older gentleman didn’t even flinch while I was taking his picture.

It suggests to me that politics are so polarized that norms of political protest and confrontation have shifted. A wider range of action on both sides is now commonplace.

I have my own views on the matter and think that, generally speaking, protests have taken a depressing downturn. I expect more resistance to news that Governor Walker is rejecting billions of dollars of federal funding for Medicaid.

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