What's New With Student U

  • Courage

    by Holly Guss 

    In his first inaugural address, Franklin D. Roosevelt told the nation that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself". These words were meant to engender confidence in government at a time when the United States was suffering through the economic crisis of the Great Depression. However, since the 1930s, FDR's words have been used to inspire people facing all manner of struggles, anxieties, and crises. In fact, this line has become synonymous with courage. 

    Since Donald Trump's inauguration, I will admit that I have been in a constant state of fear. I fear the next move of these new leaders who do not see themselves in the people they govern. I fear that their isolationist policies will lead to more hatred and violence in our communities. I fear for the future of public education in an economy that values competition and profit over the lives of children. I fear that families will be torn apart by policies like border walls and immigration bans. I fear that our black and brown students will internalize the racist messages they hear and see all around them. I fear that families like mine will lose the legal rights finally granted to them. 

    Yes. I am fearful. But FDR's quote above doesn't bring me much peace. Sometimes the fear is so great it feels as if I can't escape, so how can I have nothing to fear? Later in his career, FDR also said, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear." This quote rings far more true for me than the first. 

    I believe it is true that to have courage does not mean that I am not afraid. I can be afraid, but I can still act. I can fight through this fear - I can resist it's pull. I can declare with all my words and actions that love is more powerful than fear. I must do this. We all must do this. Together, we can become a courageous and powerful people. 

  • Choose Hope

    Choose Hope
    by April Warren 

    “I’m still asking you to believe — not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours. I believe in change because I believe in you.” -Barack Obama

    These words came from Obama’s final tweet as President of the United States. When he was first elected in 2008, his campaign was built upon this promise of change and progress toward a more just world. His presidency brought hope for racial reconciliation and social justice, yet with the recent change in power, our nation feels more divided than ever before.

    On Monday morning, the week before the inauguration, we gathered as a full-time staff. As we reflected on how we and members of our community would feel with this transfer of power, words like “fear, anger, confusion, paralysis, and hopelessness” filled the room. These words felt especially real on Friday. As I watched the Obamas receive the Trumps on the steps of the White House and welcome them inside, tears streamed down my face. I was witnessing far more than an inauguration ritual of morning tea. I felt as though I was watching the hopes and dreams of so many Americans go down the drain. I was consumed by this sense of hopelessness.

    Shortly after watching this moment, I heard the above quote from Barack Obama. I was reminded that my hopelessness would not change our current circumstances, but would instead paralyze my own ability to invoke change. The Law of Attraction claims that focusing on positive or negative thoughts can actually bring positive or negative events into existence. While I am not claiming that this is a scientifically proven fact; I do believe that your pre-conceived notion of a situation can influence your perception of that event as either positive or negative. In this case, if I sit and wallow in my hopelessness and frustration; I will continue to view the world as a hopeless place, devoid of justice. I have to consciously choose hope.

    I choose hope when I remember that I serve a God with a plan and trust that He is still in control. Although I do not currently know or understand His plan, it is part of a greater scheme that I am clearly not meant to understand right now and may never fully grasp. I hope and pray that justice and mercy will prevail over a rhetoric of hate that has been given a voice.

    I choose hope when I remember the power of individuals to advocate for change. Last week our middle school students did an activity at YRP on resistance. They read bios about individuals who devoted their lives to advocating for change. Many of these individuals fought for their beliefs through civil disobedience, writing, art, or organizing people to collectively make change. We do not have to be bystanders who must now sit and watch our world change. We have a voice that can and must be used. Whether this is by marching with four million people nationwide to advocate for women’s rights or simply a conversation with someone whose views are different than yours, using your voice right now is critical.

    I choose hope when I look at our students every day at YRP. As Obama stated, I believe in change because I believe in them. Last Friday, as a group of students discussed their feelings about the inauguration, one student vocalized her desire to be president one day. She went on to cite all of the changes she would make in order to strengthen our nation and make it a more inclusive space for all people. She was met with a chorus of affirmation from her peers. I believe that our students are the change agents that our nation desperately needs right now. I find hope in knowing that they are our future leaders and that they too have a voice to use.

    There will be many more moments in the next four years when I feel tempted to fall back into a sense of hopelessness. As policies change and individuals are appointed, it will be increasingly difficult to picture an America where there are equal opportunities for all people and where each individual is seen and accepted for his or her inherent value and worth. It is not easy to choose hope right now, but it is essential.

  • Accepting the Role of Citizenship

    Accepting the Role of Citizenship
    by Brandy Luce 

    In Obama’s farewell speech he challenged us to “accept the role of citizenship”. This made me examine myself and ask, what is my role as a citizen? At the most basic level, I think it is to pay my taxes, vote, and contribute to the workforce and economy. Far too often this is the measure that many of us, including myself, hold ourselves accountable for our citizenship. As I celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this past week I realized that I have been taking my role of citizenship for granted and not fully embracing the true meaning of this role. For me, to accept this role means to be diligently informed of what’s happening in my neighborhoods and communities, and state and federal government. It is the responsibility to actively defend everyone's civil rights. To prioritize my communities’ needs over my own. To be mindful of how our decisions and actions affect the future generations. For me, at the core of better embracing this role of citizenship means to strive to be a better person and make those around me better every day.

    As a designer, it is in my nature to try and make “things” better, but I often overlook how we can make each other better. I believe that one of Dr. King’s greatest contributions was his ability to challenge us to not accept a standard belief that something is good enough. He showed us how to come together and dream of a better world including better versions of ourselves. He continues to motivate us to go out and fight and work towards making major changes in order to make our dreams a reality. In his last speech before he was assassinated, he said these words “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

    The past few years have been a time of changes and transitions for me, which have given me opportunities for self-reflection and discovery. It all started with a move from Nebraska to North Carolina to attend NCSU for graduate school. The move opened my eyes to new cultures and experiences. My time at NCSU challenged my knowledge and perspective on design and education. After graduation my journey has continued at Student U which has already changed my outlook on the systems that surround me everyday and how I perceive my role within those systems. I have become more aware of a much larger moment of change happening now. As we all go through this time of leadership transition I believe it is an opportunity for even more reflection and dreaming.

    I have challenged myself and will challenge those around me to accept our roles of citizenship and to make your surroundings better and to dream bigger! Not only during this time of transition when some things can be uncomfortable and painful, but throughout each and every day. I will continue to teach our children how to be kind, mindful, and encourage them to solve extraordinary problems. I will strive to be bold and take action in making our world better. Not just for me, but for all of us.

  • Neighbors

    by Elise Sharpe 

    Last week as we all said hello to 2017, I also had to say goodbye to my grandmother.  Since she passed, my family has gathered to tell stories and share memories, continuing to learn about her life.  And as I watch my nieces toddle around the places where we’re gathered, I reflect on the legacies and lessons we all get to leave for the next generation.
    For starters, my grandmother was not impressed with her own accomplishments.  In fact, that’s why I didn’t know many of them. As a woman living where she did and when she did, my grandmother wasn’t allowed to hold many positions of influence, but that didn’t stop her from signing up my grandfather and then doing the work behind the scenes.  She was far more concerned over whether the work was done, and done well, than with who got the credit.
    She also had this infectious smile that quickly turned to uncontrollable laughter and kept her from completing her sentences.  She looked you deep in the eyes, and she radiated joy.  My grandmother kept her spark even in the face of losing loved ones and battling long-term illness.
    Perhaps the thing I admire most though is how my grandmother defined neighbor in the broadest terms and with the highest calling.  You didn’t have to share a street address, political views, or even sports team allegiances to be her neighbor – though being an Arkansas Razorback may have gotten you bonus points.  She was deeply committed to her neighbors, embodying “love your neighbor as yourself.”
    As I look ahead to 2017, I’m focusing on that which will last long after I depart from this earth, and I’m dreaming of a Durham where everyone calls each other neighbor.

  • Esperanza - Hope

    Esperanza - Hope
    by Daysi Hurtado 

    Happy New Year! Feliz año nuevo! The new year is finally upon us and the dreaded 2016 year is over! Like many of us, I have participated in the tradition in creating new resolutions for the year. As I grow the resolutions have evolved from resolutions to goals, to now intentions. So what is my intention for 2017?

    I have been thinking about this question since after the election. The election brought up so many feelings. I went from feeling sick, to heartbreak, to denial. I have strategically avoided the thought pieces and articles post election, because I just couldn’t bring myself to relive the pain. It was like making myself look at old pictures from ex’s past. The heartbreak was still there, and the picture wouldn't change a thing. To be honest I’m still waiting for Ashton Kutcher to come out and tell America we’re being Punk’d. But here we are 14 days until Inauguration Day. As the date approaches, I knew I had to break my silence on the matter, so I finally brought myself to read the articles and thought pieces.

    I was only able to bring myself to read the articles and thought pieces In December when I unexpectedly began my healing when I went to go see Rogue One over the holiday break. (Even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, go see it and you can thank me later.) If you are not familiar with the franchise this movie takes place between Episode III and IV and tells the story on how the Rebel Alliance stole the plans to destroy the Death Star, which is the story told in Episode IV. There was a line in the movie that has given me the most comfort since the results after November 8th. “Rebellions are built on hope.” Now let me explain, I’m not suggesting a full on rebellion on January 20th, but what I am saying is that we need to hold onto our hope. If all the have is hate, then hope is what will keep us moving forward.

    So my intention for 2017 is to have radical hope. My intention blossomed from a movie but it can be read beautifully described in Junot Diaz’s article “Radical Hope”. I wanted to share with you all of with my favorite excerpt.

    “But all the fighting in the world will not help us if we do not also hope. What I’m trying to cultivate is not blind optimism but what the philosopher Jonathan Lear calls radical hope. “What makes this hope radical,” Lear writes, “is that it is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is.” Radical hope is not so much something you have but something you practice; it demands flexibility, openness, and what Lear describes as “imaginative excellence.” Radical hope is our best weapon against despair, even when despair seems justifiable; it makes the survival of the end of your world possible. Only radical hope could have imagined people like us into existence. And I believe that it will help us create a better, more loving future.”

  • 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.