Students protest Arizona bill in Commons

Students protest Arizona’s House Bill 2281 in Commons on Monday.
Students protest Arizona’s House Bill 2281 in Commons on Monday. Photo by Victor Kang.

At 1:10 p.m. Monday, two students dressed in dark suits pushed a red library cart down the middle aisle of Commons dining hall and grabbed books from about 30 students, all wearing red, who then individually filed into the procession. The group marched in a line and audibly chanted, “No book ban, no book ban!”

The protest was staged against Arizona’s House Bill 2281, signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer in May 2010. The law bans all public school curricula of which race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes, according to an email sent to multiple student groups by Katherine Aragon ’14, who helped lead and organize the event. Aragon said the protest’s objective was to “simulate the stealing of books from students during lunchtime, in order to help Yale students visualize the academic and emotional effects of this type of legislation.”

The event was primarily organized by MEChA de Yale, a student group that seeks to “promote Chicano empowerment” through education and political activism, but also drew supporters from various cultural groups across campus.

Immediately following the procession, which lasted a few minutes, Aragon spoke through a megaphone to a lunchtime Commons crowd to urge Yalies to educate themselves about the consequences of the law.

“Under the vague language of the bill, the ban could include anything from historical explorations of slavery in the United States, to momentous events in American history such as the American Revolution, the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement,” Aragon said. “Who decides where to draw the line in deciding what history and perspectives are valid to teach?”

Some school districts had been resisting implementation of the law, but in January of this year, Tucson Unified School District, one of the largest school districts in Arizona, was found to be in violation of state law for having one or more classes “designed primarily for one ethnic group, promoting racial resentment and advocating ethnic solidarity instead of treating students as individuals” by an administrative law judge. The district was to have 10 percent of its monthly state aid withheld until it complied with the law, but opted to implement the law by disbanding its Mexican American Studies program.

Paulo Costa ’14, another leader of the demonstration, said that it was events like these that inspired him and other Yalies to get involved with MEChA’s protests.

“I want to be a professor and I think that it’s very undemocratic for the government to ban books in a society that is supposed to be free,” Costa said.

Protest participants interviewed had different reasons for their support of its cause. Christofer Rodelo ’15 said that he felt it was important for Yalies to be educated about events that happen around the country and “make room for discourse about these important topics.”

For Marlena Vasquez ’13, the law carried consequences that hit closer to home.

“I care about this bill because I’m Latino, and because these books tell my family’s history,” she said. “When people are trying to remove our stories from the American narrative, I feel personally attacked.”

Proponents of the law, however, say it is a way to emphasize students’ individual identities and to prevent students from grouping themselves solely on the basis of race.

“Traditionally, the American public school system has brought together students from different backgrounds and taught them to be Americans and to treat each other as individuals, and not on the basis of their ethnic backgrounds,” Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said in an April 2010 press release. “This is consistent with the fundamental American value that we are all individuals, not exemplars of whatever ethnic groups we were born into. Ethnic studies programs teach the opposite, and are designed to promote ethnic chauvinism.”

Monday’s protest is one of multiple events that MEChA plans to host in order to raise awareness about the law, Aragon said. After the initial protest, students passed out flyers that detailed the time and location of a “teach-in,” in which Yale professors Stephen Pitti, Alicia Camacho and Birgir Rasmussen will dine with students and discuss the effects of the law.

At an organizing meeting on Sunday night with MEChA members and other protest supporters, Aragon said she hoped the group’s actions would make an impact beyond campus. MEChA has been working on activist efforts in conjunction with some high schools in Arizona, and hopes to send them a video montage of their protests to show support.

“We want to be a spectacle, and create awareness against this horrible bill,” Aragon said. “We want to let students in Arizona know that we’re here to support them, even if we’re all the way on the other side of the country. We want legislators in Arizona to know that we are watching.”

The “Teach-In” will take place at 7 p.m. in William L. Harkness Hall on Wednesday.

Clarification Feb. 27

An earlier version of this article implied that Arizona’s House Bill 2281 bans public school curricula of which race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes. That statement should have been attributed to protest organizer Katherine Aragon ’14.

Comments

  • River_Tam

    So topical.

  • ycollege14

    What do you mean? I assume you’re being sarcastic, but can’t figure out what’s untopical about this. If you read the article in its entirety, you’d know that it’s reacting to legislation being enacted currently after 2 years of delay.

    • River_Tam

      It was signed into law two years ago.

      • ycollege14

        Really river_tam? At least read the article/do your research before you make ignorant comments (although that’s not really your policy is it). The TUSD JUST voted only a month ago to enact the provisions, though the bill was passed two years ago (and went into effect a year later).

        • River_Tam

          > The TUSD JUST voted only a month ago to enact the provisions, though the bill was passed two years ago (and went into effect a year later).

          Why do I care that one school district in Arizona just decided recently to comply with a law that’s been on the books for two years? (still waiting for your response to my comments below – you know, the ones where I actually quote the bill).

  • MC09

    Sorry MEChA – until you remove Aztlán from your name, I cannot take you seriously.

    Do you really think CA, AZ, NM, and TX and parts of other states should go back to being part of Mexico? That is what the continued use of Aztlán implies.

    • River_Tam

      Por La Raza todo, Fuera de La Raza nada.

  • ycollege14

    you guys are ridiculous and focusing on something that is completely aside the point of these student’s protest- along with several other Yalies unaffiliated with the group, THEY WERE PROTESTING BANNED BOOKS. Educate yourself, go to a MEChA meeting, meet the people, and then criticize them if you still feel like it.

    • River_Tam

      I have – some of them are very nice people.

    • River_Tam

      What books were banned, out of curiosity? A quick Googling turns up only a story about a revised curriculum that removed books ranging from Shakespeare’s *Tempest* to a book advocating the overthrow of capitalist society (see here: http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/miarticle.htm?id=4564).

      As far as I can tell, the principle complaints have included things like “they boxed up the books in front of students”. Not including books in a curriculum do not constitute a banning; by that metric, Yale has “banned” literally millions of books, including A Song of Ice and Fire.

    • Stephanie_Nichole

      Having read the bill, I can tell you that the word books is not mentioned once. I honestly can’t say why MEChA chose such a specific action, that isn’t part of the bill, to protest.

      • ycollege14

        because as a result of this bill, books have been confiscated from classrooms and administrators have stated that they are no longer allowed in classrooms, asking teachers to even remove their own privately-owned copies from classrooms.

  • River_Tam

    MEChA:

    “As Chicanas and Chicanos of Aztlán, we are a nationalist movement of Indigenous Gente that lay claim to the land that is ours by birthright. As a nationalist movement we seek to free our people from the exploitation of an oppressive society that occupies our land. Thus, the principle of nationalism serves to preserve the cultural traditions of La Familia de La Raza and promotes our identity as a Chicana/Chicano Gente.”

    Yup, they think California and Texas are theirs by birthright. What a bunch of kooks.

    • ycollege14

      why don’t you focus on the actual issue these students were protesting, you phony jerk.

      • River_Tam

        See below, ycollege14. I look forward to your response.

  • River_Tam

    Educate yourself (this is for you, ycollege14):

    http://www.azleg.gov/legtext/49leg/2r/bills/hb2281s.pdf

    The relevant section:

    A. A SCHOOL DISTRICT OR CHARTER SCHOOL IN THIS STATE SHALL NOT INCLUDE IN ITS PROGRAM OF INSTRUCTION ANY COURSES OR CLASSES THAT INCLUDE ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:

    1. PROMOTE THE OVERTHROW OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.

    2. PROMOTE RESENTMENT TOWARD A RACE OR CLASS OF PEOPLE.

    3. ARE DESIGNED PRIMARILY FOR PUPILS OF A PARTICULAR ETHNIC GROUP.

    4. ADVOCATE ETHNIC SOLIDARITY INSTEAD OF THE TREATMENT OF PUPILS AS INDIVIDUALS.

    oh no, how terrible.

    • alsoanon

      [deleted]

  • River_Tam

    By the way, YDN, your article contains a flat-out lie (more likely, Ms. Wang did not feel the need to actually read the law herself before summarizing it). You write,

    > The law bans all public school curricula of which “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes.”

    The bill says:

    > NOTHING IN THIS SECTION SHALL BE CONSTRUED TO RESTRICT OR PROHIBIT THE INSTRUCTION OF THE HOLOCAUST, ANY OTHER INSTANCE OF GENOCIDE, OR THE HISTORICAL OPPRESSION OF A PARTICULAR GROUP OF PEOPLE BASED ON ETHNICITY, RACE, OR CLASS”.

    And never contains the words “central themes”.

    Educate yourself:

    http://www.azleg.gov/legtext/49leg/2r/bills/hb2281s.pdf

    • ycollege14

      What the legal text of the bill says does not encompass the multitude of other much more inflammatory and offensive remarks made by Arizona and TUSD officials (widely recorded and reported on by news outlets), which will be the actual attitudes characterizing future classroom curricula, curricula which will for the most part lack in-depth exploration into minority history as any teacher now sits under the threat of losing their job if they teach that type of content.

      • River_Tam

        Can you just admit that

        1) The YDN wildly misrepresents the bill (by claiming it says the exact opposite of what the bill says)

        2) The bill itself is perfectly reasonable and bans only things that pretty much everyone agrees should be banned?

        You can protest all the inflammatory remarks you want. I don’t really care. If they wanted to fire teachers over teaching about Dr. King, they wouldn’t need (and couldn’t use) this bill to do it.

    • yale20awesome

      Ms. Wang was quoting text from the email sent out by Ms. Aragon–she never claimed to have quoted directly from the bill. You misread, or perhaps the article misrepresented, but either way your quotes here are not connected.

      • River_Tam

        > Ms. Wang was quoting text from the email sent out by Ms. Aragon–she never claimed to have quoted directly from the bill.

        This is what she wrote:

        > The protest was staged against Arizona’s House Bill 2281, signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer in May 2010. The law bans all public school curricula of which “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes.”

        The quote is implied to be from the law itself, not any email sent out by the protesters. Ms. Aragon was lying in her email, and Ms. Wang’s sloppy reporting led to this being misrepresented.

        I did not misread.

  • RexMottram08

    Yale Student: “Mr. Buckley, here at Yale a Chicano-Puerto Rican concentration was developed under American Studies, which I guess in your opinion qualifies as a meaningless concentration…. I think the history of a people in this country and the progress that they’ve made is very meaningful.”

    WFB Jr: “Well, I think if you study it as history or if you study it as sociology or even if you study it as anthropology it’s interesting. What is not interesting is to study it ideologically, and I have a feeling that an awful lot of ideology is creeping into the study of the progress of Chicanos or blacks or women. That is not only, I think, mischievous intellectually, but I think also it tends to crank up an ideological view of the world that gets in the way of clearer vision after you’ve graduated.”

    • River_Tam

      Cultural studies majors are not about studying culture, they’re really about studying cultural engineering. Just as a mechanical engineer studies the plane and the engine so he can build a rocket ship, a cultural studies major studies civil rights movements and social change agendas so that she can better foment her own race riots in the future.

      (note: I do not mean to imply that all cultural studies majors are interested in fomenting race riots – some are perfectly content with nonviolently labeling all their political opponents as bigots).

      • yale20awesome

        This comparison has no basis–would you then suggest that Art History majors always study art history in order to produce art work?

        Majors, and the reasons people chose them, vary widely. Making blanket statements about cultural majors, specifically, has too many associations with the blanket statements that cultural studies majors engage with academically, and have been historically linked to oppressing others, to be part of any productive dialogue. Also, I’m pretty sure Pol Sci majors are just as likely to label their opponents as bigots to make a point.

        • River_Tam

          > This comparison has no basis–would you then suggest that Art History majors always study art history in order to produce art work?

          I wasn’t creating a logical syllogism, I was making an empirical observation. There’s nothing inherent in the study of cultures that produces this result; it just happens this way.

          > Also, I’m pretty sure Pol Sci majors are just as likely to label their opponents as bigots to make a point.

          On that, you and I completely agree.