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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Tibetan Flag banned at UMass commencement: an interview with Kalsang Nangpa

By Lucy Martirosyan

Kalsang Nangpa is a first-generation college student majoring in public health who will be graduating from UMass this May. But as a Tibetan American, she has been denied by the university from carrying the Tibetan flag at commencement — as have other Tibetan American students in the past.

“I have had Tibetan friends in the past who have tried to carry the Tibetan flag during their commencement. They were all denied. And some of them didn’t even hear a response,” Nangpa said.

Nangpa called the UMass external affairs office several times with no response for almost four weeks. Finally she received an email that read that she wouldn’t be able to carry the Tibetan flag during graduation because Tibet is not recognized as a country by the US State Department.

“It’s sad and I’m frustrated and it’s kind of insulting. I feel like I’m being denied of my own identity. I’m very disappointed because I call UMass my second home. I’ve been here since my freshman year. So I’ve spent four years of my life here. I am very upset with UMass’ decision,” Nangpa said.

In a Facebook post that went viral among  UMass students in April, Nangpa wrote about the strained relationship between Tibet and China — a country that also doesn’t recognize Tibet as a country: “The Tibetan flag is banned in Tibet because of China’s current military occupation, brutal repression and censorship but I did not expect the same censorship and ignorance here in the US, especially at UMass. Thousands of Tibetans have fled Tibet to exercise their freedom and basic human rights, including my family. Despite the possible consequence of being jailed or killed, Tibetans in Tibet continue to fight for our country and identity by raising the Tibetan flag high. Therefore, I feel that it is my duty as a Tibetan to, at the very least, do the same and assert my identity in a free land.”

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Kalsang Nangpa in front of a UMass Students for a Free Tibet poster. Courtesy of Kalsang Nangpa.

This past weekend, Nangpa said that Nancy Buffone, the associate vice chancellor for university relations, responded to her emails on behalf of Chancellor Subbaswammy. Buffone essentially reiterated that it’s UMass policy to follow the list of countries recognized by the US State Department.

“According to [UMass’] mission statement, we’re supposed to be inclusive — we value inclusion, diversity, equity and all that. But this doesn’t reflect in their actions and in their decision. So I’m a little confused here. It’s a policy, but why can’t we change that policy if it’s plain wrong?” Nangpa said.

Back in 2013, an Iranian student was denied the same right to carry their country’s flag at commencement, Nangpa wrote in another Facebook post. “However, after receiving much backlash through emails and media attention, UMass did overturn the decision and the student was later granted the deserved opportunity to carry her flag during her graduation ceremony,” wrote Nangpa.

Similarly, Nangpa has been putting pressure on the administration to recognize the Tibetan flag during commencement. And she has asked the UMass community to do the same. Nangpa has been calling and emailing Buffone and even Senator Elizabeth Warren, who will be speaking at this year’s commencement.

Here are the emails and phone numbers:
Vice Chancellor Nancy Buffone:
(413) 577-1101
buffone@umass.edu

Senator Elizabeth Warren:
Washington DC: 202-224-4543
Boston: 617-565-3170
Springfield: 413-788-2690
email: https://www.warren.senate.gov/?p=email_senator

This is the template that Nangpa has been using:

Dear _______,

My name is [_______] and I am an [alum/student] at UMass Amherst. It has recently been brought to my attention that a graduating Tibetan student who had requested several times to carry her country’s flag at graduation was informed she would not be allowed to do so due to the current political controversy surrounding the autonomy of Chinese occupied Tibet. I am shocked and disappointed to learn that a university like UMass, which is known for its diversity and inclusion and is meant to be a welcoming place to all those who seek education no matter their background, has opted to exclude an entire country from their ceremony due to this political matter. I believe that any student, particularly one like Kalsang who is a devoted and active member of the UMass community, should have the right to participate in the ceremony, and proudly represent their people in doing so. I hope that the university will come to see that this decision is one which goes against the entire nature of the institution, and will overturn the decision as soon as possible.

Thank you for your time,

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.

The Curious Case of the Ash Tree

By: NohJun Park

Spring is just around the corner. The gloomy looking trees will start to put on their green coats again — while we shed our winter coats. But there’s an alarming problem for one species of trees — and that’s the ash tree.

In 2002, an exotic type of beetle was found in Detroit. The emerald ash borer beetle feasts on the foliage of ash trees — which isn’t the problem. It’s that it lays its larvae on the trees.

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Larvae of emerald ash borer beetle.

“Our trees are just not suited to deal with this particular insect. And whenever there’s an infestation, the tree is essentially killed,” says Richard Harper, the extension assistant professor at UMass Amherst.

UMass Extension Agriculture and Landscape teamed up with the Massachusetts Agricultural of Resource to track down these beetles. Eight towns in the Berkshire County have already detected some of them since 2012.

emerald ash borer
“We’re talking about an insect that wipes the tree out.”

“We’re talking about an insect that wipes the tree out,” Harper says. “When you lose a tree species, it’s essentially lost or degraded in terms of its presence in the environment in a very drastic manner.”

A way to stop invasive species is to literally fight back. According to the USDA, millions of tiny parasitic wasps have been released to counter to borer. The wasps lay eggs inside of the larvae of the borer to prevent them from hatching on the ash trees. You can report findings of borer beetles at massnrc.org.

Find your NYC roommate through a matchmaking service: Perfect Strangers of NYC

Finding a place to live in New York city after graduating is hard enough. But finding a roommate? That might be even harder. Sarah Beth Hill is the founder and CEO of Perfect Strangers of NYC.

After graduating from UMass Amherst in 2010, Hill was offered a real estate job. She was required to move to New York City within a weekend.

“I literally had to find a place to stay in a weekend and I used Craigslist as the only resource I knew available,” Hill recalls. “And in the process of having to go on Craigslist and meeting this individuals at their apartments for the first time — I realized how sketchy that was. And being entrepreneurial myself, I realized that I could probably make a difference and create a service to help people move [to New York City].”

Hill started off by blogging and that eventually transformed into a “full blown service” in 2012. The service, Perfect Strangers of NYC, asks clients to fill out a questionnaire to help match them with the perfect roommate.

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Sarah Beth Hill (center) with Jaclyn (left) and Bianca (right) at the UMass Women of Isenberg Conference March 3, 2017. Photography by Mayank Mishra.

Most of the clients want to have their own personal lives, but to be friendly with their roommates, says Hill.

Perfect Strangers of NYC is “tech enabled human verified,” which means that Hill and her colleagues meet the clients in person before pairing them up with their roommate.

“Even though we have them fill out this very detailed questionnaire, we essentially verify it by an in-person meeting. And once we’re able to verify the perfect apartment for them, we’re then able to match them with the best roommates,” says Hill.

There’s also a Perfect Strangers of NYC internship right here on the UMass campus. The brand ambassadors’ main task is to bring Hill back to UMass and educate students about moving to New York.

“Many people think that New York City is just Manhattan. And that’s definitely not the case. There are many boroughs outside of Manhattan,” says Hill. “I teach students to look at other neighborhoods besides the main ones they can think about like East Village, SoHo or Tribeca.”

For more information on Perfect Strangers NYC, check out their website: http://www.psofnyc.com/

Interview by Lucy Martirosyan

Production by Lucy Martirosyan

Photo credit: Mayank Mishra

Lincoln Quang Duong talks about building a new campus app and engaging in community service

Lincoln Quang Duong is running for president in the upcoming Student Government Association elections. But he’s a solo candidate.

Duong clarifies, “On the ballot, I’m going to be a single candidate. But I have a VP in mind, but because of the conflicting information we were provided, I will remain as a solo candidate until the campaign ends. But my first executive priority is to have the office of VP filled.

He believes the vice president’s goals are to connect SGA with different residential areas on campus. Another priority of the VP is to connect the campus with other 5 colleges around the area, Duong says.

Overall, Duong says that he doesn’t believe that the SGA has been doing enough outreach to represent the whole student body. He points to low voter turnout as an indicator of this.

“Take, for example, the student voting turn out every year is only at 15 percent. So how does it represent the whole student body if only 15 percent vote and care about SGA?” says Duong.

Not many students even know what SGA is, Duong notes.

“The first thing we’ll do is make SGA transparent to give students information about what SGA does, what project senators are doing and provide students with budget allocations on all of the clubs on campus. The other thing is to increase student engagement on campus.”

The main way Duong wants to increase student engagement is by developing a phone application. The app would alert students about events that are happening around campus, like Living at UMass, the Bus Track and UMass Dining applications.

“I think that Living at UMass is a comprehensive application, but there’s too much information on there that confuses students. I want an application that’s only for RSOs and the events that freshmen and other students can attend to,” says Duong who plans to work with student experts to develop the application.

Duong is a member of Theta Ki and believes that students should be as engaged with community service as fraternities are.

“I don’t think students on this campus are focused on community service that much. As a member of Greek Life, we do compulsory community service every week. As a Theta Ki member, we go to Amherst Survival Center every week,” he says. “As an SGA member I haven’t seen a lot of community service projects that SGA has been developing and leading as an example for other students.”

 

Nathalie Amazan and Timmy Sullivan want to bring sustainability and diversity to UMass

Nathalie Amazan and Timmy Sullivan are running for president and vice president in the upcoming UMass Student Government Association elections. They may be freshmen, but they’re experienced, Sullivan says.

“We don’t think that age is a requisite for leadership, especially when that leadership isn’t adequately representing the students that we know we can represent.”

The fact that Amazan and Sullivan feel that the Student Government Association isn’t a representative body of students on campus probed them to decide to run for office.

The two current undersecretaries of sustainability plan to have a zero waste campus by 2050. To start, they want to install compost bins all over residential areas and internally monitor how much energy the campus is using as a whole.

Another big part of Amazan and Sullivan’s platform is increase diversity on campus for students of color and queer students.

“Currently there are 896 undergraduate African Americans on campus, and that’s a statistic I am horrified to see,” Amazan says. She wants to work with Student Bridges on campus, whose main goal is to recruit and maintain students of color.

“Representation and leadership is also huge,” Sullivan adds.

“Like when you see someone who looks like you, you get inspired. You now believe that you can do that too. Seeing a Black queer woman in this position, a Black out queer woman in this position, I hope to inspire people on campus to know that they can achieve this position. And that they can trust SGA,” Amazan says.

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Timmy Sullivan (SGA vice presidential candidate) and Nathalie Amazan (SGA presidential candidate). Photo courtesy by Urgyen Joshi

Another part of their platform is accessibility. Amazan and Sullivan want to increase wheel cheer accessibility at the Fine Arts Center. They also want to reform the Center for Counseling and Psychological Help (CCPH) through increasing their staff and changing their consultations. They also talked about reforming the women’s clinic by the UMass Students for Reproductive Justice (USRJ).

Amazan has a background in grassroots organizing. She has canvassed for Planned Parenthood and the Southern Poverty Law Center. She has a social justice fellowship with Young People for Change, where her blueprint is with mass incarceration.

Sullivan has a background in education policy and reform. He’s worked for the department of education for TedEd and Rosetta Stone.

SGA elections are taking place Monday March 6 through Wednesday March 8. Be sure to vote on umass.edu/campuspulse

Interview by Katie Donegan
Sound engineering  by Lucy Martirosyan
Photo courtesy by Urgyen Joshi