What's New With Student U

  • Not a Writer

    Not a Writer
    by Amy Salo 

    I'm not much of a writer. But I like writers and I enjoy their writing, and that makes me a reader. My fierce love affair with books began early. Growing up without siblings, I had to spend many hours entertaining myself. For some children, this would probably mean make-believe games and imaginary friends and puppet shows. For me, I had an imagination the size of a pea, paired with immediate boredom at the mention of cartoons or video games or "playing pretend". (Do I sound fun to be around, yet?) And thus, books. 

    I'm the person always insisting, "The book was better..." when conversation turns to those "now a major motion picture" film adaptations. I still find myself mostly disinterested in TV, unless it's a college basketball game, of course. (I am a North Carolinian, after all.) Because my husband's love for books rivals my own, our house is a tangible picture of Cicero's quote, "A room without books is like a body without a soul." Books energize me while also giving me a reason to sit on the couch and rest a while. They teach me about places I'll never go and people I'll never meet. They make me better. 

    While 2016 crawled along in it's dreary, destructive, and violent way, I read (or reread) books in the midst of the pain I couldn't fully comprehend, felt by me and by people I love. The ones listed below were my favorites; the ones that put words to the pain and provided glimmers of hope for what's to come. They were my Food for Thought, so to speak, and I hope they can be yours, too.

    1. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: This one is at #1 for a reason. 26-year-old Gyasi writes a novel inspired by her own Ghanaian-American roots, following one family's genealogy from 18th-century Ghana to contemporary America, detailing raw accounts of African conflict, trans-atlantic slave trade, the Civil War, coal mines of Alabama, jazz clubs of Harlem, to present day. The accounts are fictional but the storyline certainly is not, and it answered more questions about institutional racism than I thought a novel possibly could.
    2. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The main character in this book, Ifemelu, leaves Nigeria for an education in America, and comes face to face with race, something she never had to think about back home. The author pulls from many of her own experiences to guide us tenderly through Ifemelu's harrowing experiences and shows us bravely the realities of our times. I couldn't put it down.
    3. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: It's a well-kept secret that young adult novels are the most profound of them all. This is a funny and delicate story of two misfit teenagers who fall in love the way that teenagers do. It depicts adolescence, poverty, and love with wisdom and bravery. 
    4. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander: This was a re-read for me. In the wake of police brutality documented throughout all of 2016, my husband and I started visiting inmates in the Durham County jail and I revisited this book in an attempt to understand yet another thing that is almost incomprehensible: mass incarceration of black men in America. Alexander leaves no rock unturned in an academic analysis of how this came to be and how it's affecting us all today.
    5. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: This book, written in the form of a powerful letter to Coates' 14-year-old son about the fear associated with being black in America, left me feeling like a sad outsider reading about something I'll never understand, as it should have.

    On the list for 2017? 

    1. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
    2. Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson
    3. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
    4. Swing Time by Zadie Smith
    5. Landline by Rainbow Rowell

    Thank you to those of you who either recommended these books or let me borrow your copies. To the rest of you, if you would like a copy of any of the above to read for yourself, what's mine is yours.

  • Enjoying the Small Victories

    Enjoying the Small Victories
    by Malaika Hankins

    On Sunday, we had a victory. On Sunday, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would be conducting additional environmental studies of alternative routes that would not bring the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. This is a bureaucratic success for indigenous and environmental activists who used nonviolent protest and resistance to prevent the construction of the pipeline as previously designed. Many people around the world, especially those in North Dakota who have been camped out for months, rejoiced at the news. Many people around the world, especially those in North Dakota who have been camped out for months, are also not convinced that this decision actually means change. Despite having already faced below freezing temperatures for weeks, many protestors are refusing to leave the camp, saying there is too much uncertainty with an upcoming presidential transition and a long history of un-kept promises by the government.

    As is the case of many revolutions, it can be hard to recognize the large impact of small victories, especially when those victories result in prolonged negotiations. Hearing that the US government will consider alternate routes for the pipeline does not sound earth shattering. It may even sound like a band-aid for a gaping wound. However, history has shown us that the small victories, especially the ones with symbolic significance, can do the most to unify and inspire those fighting for justice.

    Take for example Ghandi’s Salt March in the fight for Indian independence. Taking hundreds of thousands of people with him to the sea, Ghandi encouraged supporters of the movement to resist buying British clothing and salt in favor of locally made and sourced products. Protestors refused to pay land taxes and resigned from municipal government positions. These instances of civil disobedience were rallying cries for the subcontinent. It is perhaps one of the best remembered examples of people saying “No More” and uniting against an oppressive government. However, a historical look at the outcome of the campaign shows that the concessions made by those in power were relatively small. The result Ghandi’s salt satyagraha was not even a repeal of the Salt Act that Indians, rich and poor, were actively boycotting. The negotiations that Ghandi and the British viceroy agreed to had no discussion of Indian independence or inquiry into the police brutality committed on nonviolent protestors. Authorities simply agreed to return the fines they had collected from protestors and allowed activists to continue a peaceful boycott of British cloth. At the time, Indian leaders were highly disappointed with the conclusion of the talks. Yet, Ghandi is widely considered to be the father of the Indian Independence movement. How? Because even though the momentary concessions of this victory were small, the larger, symbolic gains were world-changing.

    As we reflect on the victory at Standing Rock, we have a lot to learn. We should take a moment to reflect on the successes and challenges of the campaign, using these teachings to better our own work.  We also owe it to ourselves to celebrate this victory, and a big one at that. How lucky are we that we get to live and learn in a time with such amazing warriors fighting for justice? How lucky are we, that in a year of so much pain and hatred, we have this victory? Yes, we still have a lot of work to do. But while my fist is clenched and my arm is in the air, I am standing a bit taller today knowing that our voices were heard on November 27th.

  • “Welcome to America”: Love and Grief and The One We Dream Of

    “Welcome to America”: Love and Grief and The One We Dream Of
    by Elena Dalsimer

    Flashback to exactly this time last year. It was Phase 1 of the Racial Equity Institute in Durham and a group of 60 people were asked to answer a question. The question was "Why do I want to solve the problem of racism?" I remember sitting in the circle between two strangers, my heart thumping, as I thought aggressively about a few things: the video of the female student being thrown out of her chair by a white officer in South Carolina, about my black brother dropping out of high school and his brown sister graduating from college, about the woman in the Greensboro mall handing me a bible and saying "Welcome to America", and about the students- the students I was quickly falling in love with at Student U. All of those thoughts were my answer, but what came out of my mouth was halfhearted and unrepresentative of anything what I was truly thinking. I remember other people's answers. All valid, rooted in truth, intellectual, statistical, religious, complex. One person's answer stood out to me the most. The intentionality in his voice paired with the content of his answer stuck with me. His words were, "We have to solve racism, simply put, because our hearts are breaking."

    One year later, seven days after the election results, this man is right. He was right a year ago, and he's been right the entire time. Our hearts have been breaking as long as history has shown us that white lives matter more than others. The election of Donald Trump as president has me devastated- for the people that I love and the struggle that so many have been a part of, fighting every day to create an inclusive and just world. I don't want to gloss over the emotional disarray that many of us are experiencing perhaps more acutely than usual. When a majority of people stand by a figurehead that represents the western, white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalistic agenda, it hurts. So what do we do with that heartbreak? What if there's something to this grief and mourning?

    So much of love-and mourning-is about language. The way we handle love and loss in words. The way we get talked into and out of love. The way we say things we don't mean and don't say the things we do. What we say and don't say about love, and what we let others say about it. But if it can't come out, where does mourning go- happen. This silence and internalization only further isolates us and privatizes our suffering. Maybe that's how and why replacement works, is so reassuring. There is simply no place for real, and therefore radical, heartache in this culture. No time and no place. We teach ourselves and each other what it means to love by what we say about it. What we're allowed to say and what we're not allowed to say. What we're trained to say (our ready-made vocabularies and cultural discourses) and what we've already said. Women have historically been permitted to say more about it, but that's because of the trivialization not just of women, but love in general. When it comes to love, we circulate either a repressive and reactionary set of values and narratives, or disposable platitudes. Sometimes we give up too soon and sometimes we don't try at all. We miss the opportunity to try. We don't say enough when we should say everything. As Heidegger points out in What is Called Thinking, "Words are constantly thrown around on the cheap, and in the process are worn out. There is a curious advantage in that. With a worn-out language everybody can talk about everything...To speak language is totally different from employing language. Common speech merely employs language. This relation to language is just what constitutes its commonness." Which is what James Baldwin meant when he noted that true rebels are as rare as true lovers. This is also what I was trying to talk about in "Solace". Love and grief as something rare and precious and difficult and necessary. As Butler puts it, "...I am speaking to those of us who are living in certain ways beside ourselves, whether in sexual passion, or emotional grief, or political rage.

    LoveDog by Masha Tupitsyn

    LoveDog speaks to grief while simultaneously critiquing the language around the universal human experience of love and heartbreak. This is a creative and artistic endeavor. Her words affirm that we must hold steady in our pain and grief. Capitalism has conditioned us to consume our way out of feeling immense depth. Depth that has the potential to move us in the collective direction of social equality. We deal with grief and mourning by consuming food, caffeine, the 24 hour news cycle, social media, and material things. I can't allow myself to be mindlessly soothed and distracted by consumption as a coping mechanism. In this period of grieving, what would it look like and feel like if we chose to re-create culture rather than consume it? Like the author of LoveDog, we will bravely name the moment at hand and then require artistry as a means to challenge a language and culture of hate. We have no choice but to tap into our innate creativity to build a loving and just world, the one we dream of.

  • Write A Story

    Write the Story
    by Dan Kimberg
    After graduating from college with a journalism degree, Jamal moves to a small town in Pennsylvania to begin an entry level writer’s position at the local newspaper. His first day on the job, Jamal is told by his boss to cover the opening of the new bridge in town. He is instructed to write a story about the first car that crosses over the bridge. Jamal is excited, eager to prove his worth on his first assignment. He sets up on the bottom of the bank, looking up at the bridge, pencil in hand, ready to note every detail of the inaugural bridge crossing.  A car approaches and as its back wheels hit the bridge pavement, the bridge collapses. Jamal watches the car and the bridge crumble into the water below. Upon arrival at his office, his boss asks “Did you get the story?” Jamal responds “There is no story. No car ever made it across the bridge.”
    It is easy to ignore a story when it is not expected or desired, or when details blind us from seeing the full picture.  Over the past month, different members of the Student U community have commented on the hanging of a noose on Duke’s campus. Ms. Tara-Marie’s powerful reflection can be read here. An open letter, written by the individual who hung the noose, was published by Duke this past week, as well as an official response from the university. Duke has determined that this action was“caused by bad judgment, not racism.”                                    
    A bridge collapsed. There is a story.
    I believe in giving individuals the benefit of the doubt. I believe in giving people second and third and fourth chances.  I do not know the person who hung the noose nor am I in a position to judge his intentions in doing so. However, whether it was intended or not, whether it was purposeful or not, a noose was hung on a tree and now we have seen a bridge collapse.
    This story is not about one Duke student. The person responsible for this action is not the villain nor the main character because this is not a story about one noose. This incident led to the demonstration and articulation of pain for people of color on Duke’s campus that I cannot begin to understand.  However, this pain was not created when the noose was hung. It has existed and continues to exist in the hearts and minds of people of color at Duke, in Durham, and around the country. This action simply brought the emotions to the surface.
    A bridge collapsed. Regardless of the lens in which one views our society, systems are broken.
    In Durham, African American drivers are 200% more likely to be searched by law enforcement as a result of a routine traffic stops for speeding, seat belt, and stop sign violations.
    In North Carolina, 38% of African American children and 37% of Latino children are living below the Federal Poverty Level.  13% of white children live below the Federal Poverty Level.
    In the United States, African American students graduate from high school at a rate of 69%, while Latinos graduate at 73% rate and whites at a rate of 86%.
    These sampling of statistics certainly do not tell a complete story. If you want to understand more about why our systems are broken and how we know they are, participate in a Racial Equity Institute training, as all Student U full-time staff will in the coming year or read some of the resources available on their website. To understand more about why these broken systems matter, talk to our African American or Latino families, talk to our students, talk to Ms. Z or Ms. Bettina or other staff members who have been living within the broken system their whole lives.

    A noose was hung and a bridge collapsed. The act of one Duke student, whether intentional or not, is not the story. The story is that a country built on the principle ofall men are created equal and on the backs of slaves, is crumbling.  The story is one of systemic racism that destroys the fearless dreams we have as a community.
    A bridge collapsed. There is a story to write.
  • Moments - We Are College-Bound

    by Holly Guss, Student U College Advisor
    We are 10 days away from College Signing Day.  10 days.  So close.  This day is perhaps the biggest celebration of the year for the Student U community.  On this day, we will witness the Class of 2015 declare to the world where they will share their brilliance in college next year.  On this day, we will share in the joy of our students and families who have committed the last seven years of their lives to arriving at this place.  On this day, we will see the fearless dreams of this community become a reality in the faces of our next class of college students.  We are so close.
    Or are we?  10 days, put another way, is 864,000 seconds.  We are still 854,000 seconds away from College Signing Day.  Doesn’t seem so close, does it?  As important and grand a celebration as College Signing Day will be, this day is really a culmination of millions of smaller moments.  Although it’s human nature to proclaim the major accomplishments and to recognize the important milestones, College Signing Day is also a celebration of all of the little moments that brought us to this day. 
    On this day, we will celebrate all of the Tuesday evenings that Jannet and Jairo spent at tutoring to become the best students they could be.  On this day, we will recognize all of the hours that Alston and Stephanie practiced to be able to give their all to their teams.  On this day, we will honor all of the revisions that Sara and Angel made to their artistic creations so that the world could become a more beautiful place.  On this day, we will remember all of the times that Ms. Clay and Ms. Bryant reminded Couraunya and Marcus to never give up and that college was possible for them.  On this day, we will recall all of the ways that Ms. Johnson and Ms. Hernandez pushed Ariana and Fabian to get involved and to find their passion.  On this day, we will celebrate each and every moment that has brought the Class of 2015 to this amazing occasion.
    So as we come together as a community to celebrate this important day, I ask you to also allow College Signing Day to serve as a reminder of the importance of moments - for it is in the small and seemingly inconsequential moments that we have the power to create what we will eventually celebrate.    As Rose Kennedy, mother of John F. Kennedy once wrote, “Life isn't a matter of milestones, but of moments.”  We ask that you join us for College Signing Day on Sunday, May 17th at 4pm at the Carolina Theater so that as a community, we can celebrate all of the moments that have been a part of the journey of the Class of 2015.  
  • Parent Tiwana Adams - Why I Commit to Student U

    Why I Commit
    By Tiwana Adams, Student U Parent

    At the beginning of each staff meeting, a member of the Student U community presents the “why” as a reminder to our team of why we do the work we do. The following is adapted from Ms. Adams’ presentation of the “why” at our full-time staff retreat this week.
    As I lay in bed last night considering what to share with you today, I became overwhelmed because there are so many reasons why I believe in Student U and why I know the work we do matters. I jotted down seven words that best represent why I love Student U:
    Vision: Student U has a vision. Who we are today is wonderful but I know there is a future ahead of us that is even greater than we can imagine. This vision of realizing a fearless dream keeps me coming back just so I can be here to see what this community becomes.
    Focus: Student U has an end goal for all students – college graduation. Student U stays focused on this goal for each students and serves as our GPS, guiding us to this final destination. With so many potential distractions, it is so important that Student U has this clear focus.
    Discipline: Student U holds students, and really all of us, accountable for being our best selves. There are times when we might slip or make a mistake, but Student U pushes us to realize the best version of ourselves each and every day.
    Results: Student U maximizes on the gifts and talents inside of each of us. Student U knows that all students are brilliant and somehow finds a way to enable the inner brilliance of all to shine.
    Relationships: Student U forms genuine and lasting relationships. Ms. Bettina was Frankie’s teacher his first year at Student U and Ms. Ashley was Frankie’s Grade Head. Frankie is going to be a senior in high school and both Bettina and Ashley are still a part of Frankie’s life and a part of this community. These relationships are unique and priceless. The consistency of these connections allows Student U to pour love into students and families alike.
    Passion: The energy and joy Student U staff brings to work every day in not rehearsed. This is a natural passion. This is an authentic passion. This is a passion that really has the ability to change lives.
    And with these seven words come images of the people. The people are what make this place so special. Every time I hear Ms. Z give a speech I am just in awe. She has a way of stringing words together, of creating a song that is filled with so much meaning. And then there is Ms. Bettina. Ms. Bettina is so soft and kind, and also so strong and firm. What a perfect combination.
    Why am I here? Why do I commit? I commit because imagine what Student U graduates will do when they sit in this room as Student U employees. Imagine what Student U graduates will do when they are teachers and administrators in the Durham Public Schools.
    Student U maximizes the potential of all of the collective brilliance we possess. I am here because of who we are today and because of what will happen as that brilliance shines brighter. I am here because I believe that we, that this community, can truly make dreams come true.
  • Duke University

    Duke University
     By Ms. Tara-Marie: Middle School Year Round Program Family Head

    Standing in Cameron Indoor Stadium with my friends while the Duke’s Men’s Basketball team came from behind to claim the NCAA Championship was exhilarating. It was the first time that I put on a Duke t-shirt since I learned that someone had hung a noose in front of the student center. During the game, I could not have been more proud of my university. For hours I cheered and rooted for my basketball team, advoiding my seat for fear that sitting would diminish the experience.  I was a true Cameron Crazy.

    Eventually the cheering died down, the benches were no longer aflame, and the campus was tranquil. As Monday ceded to Tuesday, my Duke pride morphed into a burden. This burden is like the inescapable feeling one would have toward a less than honorable family member- forever part of you, but one whom you are eternally hopeful will one day change.

    A basketball championship cannot heal the pain I have felt or remove the scars I carry around with me each day on campus. In a way, the noose incident was liberating as it legitimized my sorrow and justified my feelings of isolation on campus. The administration keeps telling us to be more tolerant. At Duke, White students can board Duke vans unhindered while Black students are required to display identification. Tolerant? It is not enough that things are better for us now than in the days of Jim Crow. Somewhat equal is not equal.

    While the micro-aggressions that people of color face every day might not be newsworthy, they are psychological warfare for male students of color who regularly are stopped when trying to get into their places of residence and for females who hear, after every type of compliment, “for a black girl.” My wish is not for White students to be treated like us. I would not want the police to stop and search them, nor do I wish for kids who have never had to show identification to suddenly have to do so. What I do want, however, is an end to the daily reminders that my station in life is different.

    The noose incident occurred because someone went to an extreme to instill fear and make minorities feel unwelcome on campus. This incident cannot be viewed in a vacuum. This incident symbolizes a history of pain and rampant racism.

    My presence on Duke’s campus is a tribute to the civil rights pioneers who paved the way for me and to whom I'm indebted for their sacrifices. Last week I was both reminded of all the work that has been done by martyrs before me and that I want more. I cannot be content with the progress that we’ve made thus far. This incident forces me to challenge myself and acknowledge the role that I play in perpetuating this cycle. It drives me to teach my students about the NAACP and civil rights activists beyond Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. It makes me think twice about how to address my students when they disclaim their race as a justification for their intelligence. It pushes me to do my part in making the world a safer place so that when my students enroll in college, they will be met with a lighter load than the one I carry around today. 

    Congratulations, Duke, on a National Championship. We cut down a net and a noose in the same week.