Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Tucson students disrupt class to protest attacks on their Ethnic Studies


TUCSON AZ (May 3) - Early this morning, a group of University of Arizona (UA) students and supporters disrupted UA Professor and TUSD Board President Mark Stegeman's UA lecture course in a drastic move to draw attention to the TUSD Board's fateful vote tonight on Ethnic Studies, led by Stegeman. Dr. Stegeman's divisive resolution aims to turn Mexican American Studies (MAS) into an elective, complying with the state's Ethnic Studies ban and effectively ending the program as a core class for students. Coinciding with their action in Stegeman's class, the group received a solidarity statement by a member of a University of California (UC) student group, which led a similar action last year on the issue of Palestinian rights and which is currently being prosecuted by the Orange County District Attorney on public disruption and conspiracy charges.

In a dramatic demonstration of solidarity with high school students whose education will be directly affected by the vote, the group of UA students and supporters -- acting individually with no organization affiliation -- furtively entered Stegeman's 400-undergraduate lecture course on "Basic Economics Issues" in Harvill Building Rm. 150, and one-by-one stood up during his lecture to ask him critical questions and to inform and engage his students about Ethnic Studies and Stegeman's role in facilitating its removal from Tucson schools. Dr. Stegeman evaded any questioning.

Before the class hundreds of Stegeman's students were given information flyers which ran the headline, Why Is Your Professor Trying to Dismantle Ethnic Studies? Answerimg the question, the flyer provided background information and context of the Ethnic Studies ban, outlined Stegeman's role, and urged his students to [t]ell Dr. Stegeman that UofA students stand in solidarity with Tucson high school students. Tell him you oppose his disingenuous attempt to destroy ethnic studies.At the same time, the flyers displayed a profile photo of Stegeman with the gingerly caption,Don't Trust Me. The flyer also urged students to join the youth-led effort directed at tonights 5:30pm Board Meeting at the TUSD administrative offices just south of campus.

The action culminated when one of the organizers of the action, Mathew Johnson, stridently declared that Stegeman's course is now an elective, informing the rest of the class they were free to stay but would not receive credit. Around two dozen students, including some of Stegeman's own, walked out of the course chanting Our Education is Under Attack: What Do We Do? -- Fight Back! Students then proceeded to flood Stegeman's office in McClelland Hall with flyers, handing them out to peers and students they met.

Students and supporters said they used the tactic of petty disruption to show they are upholding the U.S. Constitution with respect to its article on international treaties, which they point out makes the Ethnic Studies ban (HB2281) illegal and illegitimate. UA No Más Muertes coordinator, Gabriel Matthew Schivone, who was present as a witness and supporter of his fellow students' actions, stated: “The students' direct educational action this morning demonstrated that Stegeman is not above criticism in his role as a public educator nor is he safe from such criticism in his workplace, in full view of his peer faculty and students. I suspect Stegeman and his constituents will continue to be called out onto the carpet for their individual roles in perpetuating violations of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights article on education, which the U.S. Constitution regards as the supreme Law of the Land. UA Psychology sophomore, Lisette Barraggan, who was also present as a witness, talked with students in the class sitting behind her who were wondering why the issue was important and then gave their support when they learned what it was all about.

This is not the first time that students undertook a tactic of disrupting a public space and targeting individuals -- and the abhorrent policies they serve and represent -- in order to expose and condemn international human rights violations. In February 2010, students from University ofCalifornia universities, Irvine and Riverside, led an action that disrupted Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's speech at UC Irvine. 11 Irvine and Riverside students stood up one-by-one during the talk to denounce Oren as a war criminal implicated in Israel's ongoing crimes against the Palestinians living under US-backed Israeli occupation, including the 2008-09 assault on Gaza that killed 1400 Palestinians, many of them women and children. The students were arrested and their group, Muslim Student Union (MSU), was suspended by UC Irvine for the fall 2010 semester. This February, the Orange County District Attorney's office announced its prosecution against the 11 students for disruption, and conspiracy to disrupt, a public meeting. Last month, the Irvine 11 pleaded not guilty, emphasizing their claim to free speech. The trial will resume this month, according to the LA Times.

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