Building Bridges

By Lucy Martirosyan

“Building Bridges” started as an idea by Stephnie Igharosa who realized that there is a lack of coalition building among student organizations and cultural centers at UMass Amherst.

As the Student Government Association’s secretary of diversity, Igharosa wondered, “why are we not talking to one another enough?” The cultural centers on campus — The Josephine White Eagle Cultural Center, Latin American Cultural Center, Malcolm X Cultural Center and the Yuri Kochiyama Cultural Center —  not to mention, all the other student organizations like the Stonewall Center, are all nearly a mile away from each  other. They’re “inaccessible” as Igharosa puts it.

She decided to collaborate with the Racial Justice Coalition, as she is already part of their committee, and the Center for Education and Policy Advocacy (CEPA) to put together an event that would encompass the original meaning behind Building Bridges — an opposition to the Trump administration’s rhetoric to “build a wall.” Together, the student organizations planned to set up an open mic and an open forum at the Malcolm X Cultural Center for students of multicultural and multiracial backgrounds to express themselves about diversity concerns and issues on campus.

That’s when Igharosa met Amberly Lerner, a freshman English and legal studies major who felt strongly about the separation and inaccessibility of the cultural centers since the day she set foot onto campus. Lerner is queer, Chinese and Jewish. She calls herself “intersectional” — a term coined by Kimberle Crenshaw. 

“I’m very intersectional. I have a very intersectional identity – there’s a lot of parts to it. So when cultural centers don’t collaborate, it’s very much like trying to pick a side. Or trying to pick an identity. Like, which event should I go to today? Or which identity should I get more in touch with today?” says Lerner.

But Igharosa says it’s not the cultural centers fault that they don’t collaborate. It’s that there’s a lack of funding and attention from the administration onto these centers.

On April 4, Igharosa’s idea for a Building Bridges event turned into a reality. Students of all different multicultural and multiracial backgrounds signed up to perform in front of the microphone — including Ro Sigle, who was the co-chair of the Racial Justice Coalition and recently graduated as a masters student at UMass.

Sigle preformed a poem about preserving the youthful ambition to keep organizing and standing up against oppression in society.  Sigle also helped create the guidelines that were used for the open forum at the end of the event where audience members broke down some of the topics that were  brought up in the art, music and poetry that were performed that night. Many of the themes included colorism, lack of solidarity on campus and feelings of isolation as minority students at UMass, a majorly white university.

“Building Bridges, so to speak, takes a tremendous amount of work and commitment. And I think we all have to be willing to go there with each other,” Sigle says. “But I think back to my poem — we all have to do it with grace and compassion and with joy in a way that honors ourselves and each other.”

Igharosa is confident to keep pursuing projects for Building Bridges. On May 10, banners that read “Building Bridges” in various different languages were hung on the Fine Arts Center at UMass Amherst.

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Discussion on EPA and HR Bill 861

By Saul Bez and Rachel Swansburg

Bill HR 861 would terminate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The HR 861 bill was proposed by Republican Florida House Representative Matt Gaetz.

The EPA is responsible for safe guarding human health and ecosystems from pollution. President Trump’s proposed budget would slash more than 30 percent of funding  and eliminate roughly one fifth of the agency’s workforce.

Some of the accomplishments  by the EPA include the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act that both set regulations on air and water pollution rates respectively.

It remains unclear how these regulations would be maintained without the EPA. So Saul and Rachel decided to ask students around the UMass campus about their thoughts on the proposed bill and EPA as an American agency.

MAX Bus brings affordable transportation to underserved areas of Massachusetts

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By Joshua Brown

MAX Bus owner and managing director Connie Englert spoke with WMUA News’ Joshua Brown on the unique services the transportation service provides to Central Massachusetts residents. Areas in central and western Massachusetts are some of the most underserved in terms of transportation in the state, and happen to be some of the most impoverished and isolated. MAX Bus received government subsidies to address this. In a phone interview, Englert commented on the ways the public transportation industry must address accessibility, affordability, and sustainability today.

How the travel ban affects Iranian graduate students at UMass Amherst

The travel ban left Iranian students and others from the six temporarily banned countries stuck.

President Trump’s executive order banned people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from traveling to and from the United States for 90 days. It also banned refugees from coming into the states for 120 days.

Since then, the order has been reversed by a federal judge in Washington on Saturday February 4.

“Just imagine, if you’re a PhD student, if you’re a master’s student, if you have worked hard for your degree. And just think about it, at the moment you get a phone call, there’s an emergency back home. Something may have happened to your mom, something may have happened to your dad. Maybe for other members of our community, the first thing on their mind is to get back home as soon as possible. But for Iranian students and other students from the other six countries, the first thing though, will be, ‘What do I do?'” says Mohammad, a PhD student at UMass Amherst who has lived in the United States for six years.

Many Iranian graduate students are set to graduate as soon as this February. Trump’s executive order halted immigrant application processes, like the OPT – Optional Practical Training – which would allow foreign students with F1 visas to work for 12 months under a US employer.

“I [will] graduate this February. I cannot work on campus. I have no income. I have to pay rent. I have medication that I have to take everyday. This is not fair for us. We came here for the best, not for this. This is not the America I came to. If it’s changing this much, I’m going to go back [to Iran,]” says one PhD student who studied computer science at UMass Amherst.

MA Ballot Questions 2016: Series

An extra slot license 

Ballot question one concerns implementing an additional slot license at casinos. WMUA News’ Hayley Benoit explains the affect it will have in Massachusetts, and each sides argument on to whether it should be implemented.

Expansion of charter schools

A vote ‘yes’ on question two would authorize the expansion of up to 12 charter schools per year in Massachusetts, raising the charter school cap placed before. Maria Manning explores the opposing sides for WMUA News.

The containment of farm animals and what that means for Massachusetts farmers

Ballot question three concerns the containment of farm animals. The vote prohibits any farm owner or operator from knowingly containing an animal that prevents the animal from lying down standing up fully extending it limbs or turning around freely.  Voters have been divided on the question. WMUA News’ Ben Levine interviewed Peter Diemand of Diemand Farm in Wendell, MA.

Legalizing marijuana

Ballot question four concerns legalizing regulating and taxing recreational marijuana for Massachusetts residents 21 +, creating a Cannabis Control Commission. WMUA News’ Kyle Olsen explains both sides of the question.

Grade reconfiguration

Amherst voters come Nov. 8 will see Question Five on the ballot — which calls for a “debt exclusion override” to fund the construction of a new co-located school north of Amherst Center.

If Question 5 passes, it would demolish the existing Fort River and Wildwood elementary schools. Crocker Farm Elementary school would lose its grades 2-6 to the new “twin school.”

This grade reconfiguration is what worries Amherst parents Maria Kopicki and Laura Quilter who encourage Amherst voters to vote “no” on Question 5. WMUA News’ Lucy Martirosyan has more.

Making community service fun: Helping Hands

A lot of the time community service can be seen as a chore or some sort of punishment, says Yocheved Adelman, the co-director of the Chabad House in UMass Amherst. But it can actually be rewarding. Adelman spoke with WMUA News about Helping Hands, her community service organization for students to interact with and help out nursing home residents.