The #ScholarStrike for Racial Justice—two days of action and racial justice advocacy for North American universities—is set to take place this coming week on Tuesday, September 8 and Wednesday, September 9.

Organized by scholars Anthea Butler (University of Pennsylvania) and Kevin Gannon (Grand View University), the Scholar Strike is a public teach-in on white supremacy, systematic racism and social justice. Organizers have encouraged students and staff to walk away from teaching and administrative duties in solidarity with Black lives in wake of the recent uprising of police brutality around the country. In a recent press statement, Butler and Ganon emphasize that it’s “of crucial importance for those of us in higher education to take a stand in solidarity with our students and the communities we serve.”

Pratt professor Uzma Rivzi has compiled a Digital Tool Kit with information specific to our university. It includes a step-by-step approach to the strike, as well as ways that Pratt students and faculty can participate in and support the strike. Rivzi suggests:

  • For both days, whether or not you continue to follow your normal teaching schedule or meetings, please post an out-of-office email with information about the #ScholarStrike.
  • Follow #ScholarStrike on social media and express your support to make this action and our participation visible. Tag @PrattInstitute and @BLMPratt to build solidarity on campus.
  • Inform yourself on the issues, and discuss the strike with your students. If you are not striking personally, you can still talk about why strikes are an important way of leveraging collective power, and why you have made the decision to be in the classroom.

Other ways to show up include making space in online classrooms for discussions, sharing resources and hosting online teach-ins for your students. Rivzi has organized a Zoom teach-in for September 8 at 9:00 AM EST. Students can register here with their Pratt email addresses.

It’s understood that not everyone has the ability to stop teaching or miss class. Interested persons are invited to participate in “whatever way feels most significant and impactful for you.” Rivzi states, “With the understanding that our own Black, Indigenous, and racialized faculty, librarians, staff, and students are bearing the burden of the current moment, we invite the Institute to support all those wanting to engage, and not penalize those who choose to participate in this action.

More information and resources are available at the Scholar Strike’s website, as well as their  Facebook and Twitter pages.

Preface:


The inspiration that motivated the compilation of this piece was a direct response to the state of unease in the world. Over the past several years, it has been hard to ignore the divisive rhetoric that bellows from our leaders. The language and lack of leadership have put strains on our society and created a world of ‘us” and “them”. You’re either ‘with us or against us.’

Three days into putting the piece together the world exploded with COVID-19 outbreaks, including here in the United States. With a global pandemic along with already increasing tensions, it seemed ever more important to capture the lessons found within the story of “The Diner”.  A celebration of a place that,despite a world overrun by xenophobia and a growing cultural mindset driven by fear, continues to be an example of how to treat people with dignity and respect.

In a time where we find ourselves facing many unknowns, let this story be a calming reminder of the things that will allow us to get through these unnerving times with our integrity and highest character intact.


PART 01: Shelter from the Storm


Tucked away amidst the hustle and bustle of the streets and between the towering concrete skyscrapers extsts a tiny oasis for many of the city's locals. The Diner has been open for over 80 years, embedded in the fabric of the city and the lives of the surrounding community.

The staff at The Diner have witnessed families grow up around them, attended wedding celebrations, borne witness to separations, celebrated milestones with individuals and families and mourned with them. Throughout all the highs and lows of life, The Diner has been able to provide a place of refuge and human connection for all walks of life.

As soon as you enter the door of The Diner, you can feel the anxious haste of the outside world fall behind you. The sounds of the street are overtaken by a warm crescendo of chatter mixed with the white noise of the sizzling griddle and running water from the kitchen. Snuggled in the corner of The Diner is a little radio that has been on the same classic rock station for the past 20 years. The FM station consists of about 90% commercials and 10% music, but no one pays this much mind.

The Diner sits in a narrow nook running perpendicular to the streetside. The seating capacity is 16 people; eight at the counter and eight at the two-seater tables nestled tightly behind those at the countertop. The space is tight and to maneuver through it requires a person to side shuffle. Hanging above the grill reads a sign, “If you got a call, please kindly take it outside. No phones inside.” Not only is this a common courtesy, but it is an open invitation to unplug for a moment and be present, whether that be with the company you keep or alone with your own thoughts.

Every soul that walks through the door of The Diner is treated with the same friendly greeting and sincere welcome (as sincere as New York welcomes go). Regardless of your race, the amount on your pay stub, or what has defined your life leading up to the point of entering, you are treated as a human being deserving of kindness and respect the very moment you step foot inside.

These two elements, kindness and respect, create a harbor in which judgment is replaced with decency and kindness. Within the walls of The Diner no one has to prove to anyone else their worth or their contribution to society. Within this space and, for, a brief moment, in time, everyone is accepted for who they are.

The humanity within The Diner attracts the most beautiful array of people. No one would be able to describe a regular customer at The Diner because at any given time you will find, white, black, brown, yellow, gay, straight, rich and poor. Young skaters and punk rockers mixed with elderly couples, and immigrants from all corners of the globe. Artists and producers sit among blue collar and white collar workers. Everyone from Wall Street to those paving the street crosses paths at The Diner.

Such diversity in the patrons inherently brings with it a rich palette of languages and accents. The timbres float through the air and collide with one another, resulting in a worldly rhythm that breathes a life into The Diner that could  only be defined as supernatural. The buzz of conversations acts like a source of energy that breathes life into the people who dine there.

The restaurant owners and employees are as diverse as the daily visitors. It is owned by a Polish Catholic and an Egyptian Muslim couple and operated by a combination of Hispanic, Polish and Egyptian. Each employee has learned a bit of the other's mother-tongue, and they flip back and forth between three or four different languages when speaking to one another. The 5th unofficial language is one that has evolved organically throughout the years. It is a combination of mumbles, whistles, hollers and howls, accentuated by the percussive taps of the spatula on the grill and the clatter of ceramics through the kitchen and onto the countertop. Whatever the language is, the staff have adopted it as a way to conduct business and keep the hot food moving through the place effortlessly.

The ease and comfort with which the staff operate their duty is a result of their history with one another.  Of the four main employees each of them have been a part of The Diner for 43, 31, 24 and 17 years respectively. The work is tiring and thankless at times but many of the daily visitors reciprocate the kindness and love back to the employees. It is not uncommon over the course of a meal to see a number of friendly passerby pop their head in to say hello and wish the staff well, going down the countertop and addressing everyone by their first name, yelling all the way back to the dishwasher.

With all the joy The Diner brings, one would be remiss not to acknowledge the challenging times it has been through. Over the course of 80 years the Diner has endured a world war, five major US war disputes, a terrorist attack, financial crisis, gentrification and rising prices around them. A year ago, a gas explosion in the neighboring building shut down operations for months and put the diner at risk of ever opening again. When The Diner found itself in peril, it was the community they had been servicing for the previous 78 years that rallied around them and supported the restaurant through its reconstruction.

A couple months later, The Diner reopened with the same staff and menu. Everyone was undoubtedly shaken by the experience, but The Diner was quick to find its rhythm again, providing an important pulse back into the community.


PART 02 :  A Call to Humanity


Over the past few years the world has felt….well, pretty fucked. We can’t deny there has been an increase in divisive rhetoric and behaviour. This is not to ignore the fact that racism has been embedded in the very fabric of the US since its founding, rather to acknowledge what feels to many like a regression in the progress we have made. Xenophobia, racism, immigration policies, United Right marches, public shaming and belittling of minorities and all in the name of what? Fear? Supremacy?

The underlying issues influencing this swell of hatred are multilayered and systemic, and there is no silver bullet that leads to a world where we accept one another for who we are. Though, as we work towards that north star, we need reminders that humanity still exists. That it isn’t a foriegn or hypothetical concept, or that it can only show its face in times of crisis. The Diner and its employees do just that: demonstrating the value in treating others with dignity, kindness, and respect. Or, in other words, what it means to treat each other like human beings.

So as we continue to work on ourselves, and to work towards a better tomorrow, let us learn from The Diner and practice putting their teachings into our daily lives. Remind ourselves that we are part of something greater than our individual selves, or the walls that define our space.  Treat strangers with respect, with dignity and kindness. To not only accept our differences, but give them space to breath, to exist and express. And may we take the time to step out of our own bubbles and learn from our differences and collective experiences. Whether it is simply a new word in a foreign language, an alternative perspective on a subject, or learning about another person’s unique journey through this crazy thing called life that we are all living. If The Diner is any proof, those who navigate their lives in such a manner will find reward, for such acts are reciprocated exponentially in the form of new ideas, stories, experiences, and a feeling of connectivity to something outside of yourself.

Art by Pete Gibson

The first time I realized I was a part of the inferior gender I was eight years old attending a new youth group in Needville, Texas. Sister Rachel explained to us that men were weak and easily tempted so it was up to us to dress modestly. She continued by telling us that we should always obey our husbands and fathers because the Lord left them in charge. She wasn’t thrilled when I asked, “If men are so weak why are they in charge?”

Needville is overrun with this kind of religious fervor. It now has a population of about 3,000 people, and 11 churches. That’s one church for every 272 people, compared to Brooklyn’s one church for every 2,000. I spent my most formative years in a town full of evangelicals, Catholics and WASPs.

The school system mirrored the community’s religious fervor, targeting not only women but anyone whose beliefs didn’t align with conservative doctrine. For example, the superintendent demanded that a Native American boy cut his long hair to fit the dress code with no regard to its cultural significance, teachers refused to teach a pregnant student, and students were threatened with suspension when they tried to memorialize the students killed at the Stoneman Douglas shooting because it implied anti-gun beliefs. The beloved principal once warned the girls against wearing revealing dresses to prom on the morning announcements by saying, “The prom isn’t a hoe show.” Twice, Needville got attention from national news outlets for some of these things, and both times the more outsiders criticized the town, the more insular and defensive it became. In the case of the “hoe show” comment, no one in the faculty saw a problem with a grown man in his 50s calling the group of minors in his care “hoes.”

Though not all of these examples related to sexism, the sexist attitude of my community affected my internal thoughts about myself and my gender. The constant self-policing to make sure I didn’t say or do anything that would brand me as the “wrong kind” of woman and get me called a slut or a bitch by my peers was exhausting. I took refuge in Tumblr with its own specific kind of feminism. The kind of rhetoric I started spouting eventually landed me the unofficial nickname of “wetback feminist bitch.” I wore that as a badge of honor, accepted that most of the student population hated me, and revelled in hating most of them back. Eventually, however, I realized that I had started doing a different kind of self-policing sponsored by Tumblr. The Tumblr brand of feminism doesn’t allow for nuance or mistakes; the second someone says or does something vaguely problematic, they become a cartoon villain version of themselves. I didn’t want to be part of a culture that accused people of ableism for using the word “stupid.”

Shortly after denouncing Tumblr, I found myself in Brooklyn, finally away from the small town that was bent on convincing me of my own inferiority. I expected to be unburdened by internalized misogyny. However, at every turn, the voices of the nuns, principals, and teachers resounded in my head: Stop being a slut. You’re dressing like a skank. You can’t do math because you’re a woman. Every time I walked down the street, the liberal teacher’s voice in my head said, please don’t become one of those girls that doesn’t wear a bra in public. For the entirety of my first fall semester, every time I wore a skirt that was more than three inches above the knee, I felt the judging eyes of my principal on my legs and convinced myself I was being a distraction. After priding myself on my open-mindedness for so long, it was infuriating to learn that Needville had won and imbued me with a deep seated sense of self-doubt and guilt for going against their conservative values.

The recovery process for me has been long and is still ongoing. I realized that I was only holding myself to the standards of my hometown, standards I would never hold another woman to. I was forcing myself to follow rules that I would never try to impose on someone else. And I realized that this was a dangerous form of self-hatred. So, I began a new form of self-policing. Each time I started to feel guilty about my actions, even something as small as wearing thigh high socks, I’d think, “Is this going against a value I hold, or is it a value my high school principal wants me to hold?” and if that didn’t work, I’d ask myself, “If a woman I greatly admire and respect did this exact thing, would I think negatively of her?” Just interrogating my way of thinking is helping to dismantle my own internalized misogyny, bit by bit.

Now that I’m officially back in Texas for quarantine, my progress feels palpable. Recovery is rarely linear, and recovering from a lifetime of being conditioned to be misogynistic is no different. However, now that I’m home surrounded by the places that shaped me, I feel much closer to the finish line than I do from the start of the race.

Art by Emily Goto

There’s a universal feeling of confusion and frustration amongst college students in the United States right now. With many schools moving toward entirely remote semesters, or incorporating a hybrid-learning model in the wake of the current coronavirus pandemic, plans for the 2020-2021 academic year are changing at a breakneck speed. Various universities still intend to open their doors with proper health care precautions, while others, such as Princeton University, will stagger their graduating classes throughout the year. The usual stressful process of student planning seems to escalate every day.

For international students, however, this uncertainty is tainted by an additional unpleasant feeling: fear.

On July 6, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a new set of guidelines for foreign students studying in the country during the pandemic. According to the report, non-immigrant F-1 students (who are pursuing academic coursework) and M-1 students (who are pursuing vocational coursework), “attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.” The U.S. Department of State will not be issuing new visas, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection patrol will not permit international students to enter the country if they’ve already left, regardless of if they have visas or not. Students already enrolled in universities moving completely online must “depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.” If they don’t, they face “initiation of removal proceedings.”

Additionally, nonimmigrant F-1 students who are attending in-person classes are “bound by existing federal regulations.” They can take a maximum of one course online to remain in the country, which may or may not be possible with their universities’ altered plans. Nonimmigrant F-1 students taking hybrid model classes will be allowed to take more than one course online, but must have their school submit proof (Form 1-20 or the “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status”) that the semester is not entirely online to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). There’s also the risk that students will have their international statuses revoked while taking classes from another country, leaving them unable to return to the U.S. until further notice.

As we head into fall, international students are ultimately being given the choice to risk their health by attending (or transferring to colleges with) in-person classes, complete their semester online from another country or be deported. With more than one million of the United States’ college students coming from overseas (addressed in a report by the Institute of International Education), this affects a significant amount of the higher education population. A NAFSA report found that international students contributed nearly $41 billion to the U.S. national economy during the 2018-2019 school year, as well as created and supported more than 458,000 jobs. This is leading many to prepare for even more severe economic damages to the country.

ICE’s new protocol only adds to the Trump administration’s reckless leadership throughout the entirety of the coronavirus pandemic. It also mirrors the fear of deportation that affects undocumented citizens every day, as well as the racist and xenophobic perspectives geared toward certain minorities (prominently Asian communities) since the beginning of COVID-19. The pandemic’s severity is forcing all individuals to alter their lives moving forward, and the misguided decision to shut nonimmigrant students out is only making this a more distressing time for them. Various colleges, including Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, have already announced plans to sue the federal government in order to protect student visas, with UC president Janet Napolitano calling ICE’s regulations “mean-spirited, arbitrary and damaging to America.”  

Over 1,900 international students attend Pratt. The Office of International Affairs (OIA) stated that, as of July 7, current international students who want to stay in New York City should embark on a hybrid learning semester, and students who do not wish to should prepare to leave the country in the fall. Students will need to deactivate their SEVIS-120 forms while they’re away, and Pratt hopes to be able to reactivate them if a student wants to return to campus for the spring semester (beginning January 2021). New students studying remotely must obtain an updated SEVIS-120 form with a new arrival date for the spring semester.

On July 9, the OIA Instagram account announced that international students enrolled in hybrid coursework during the fall should be able to remain in New York City throughout the fall and winter break.

As stated in President Bronet’s recent statement, Pratt is currently “making every effort to proceed with our plans to reopen in the fall and provide hybrid instruction options for all students,” with a full list of new in-person and online courses available on July 20 via the Student Self-Service Portal. She also mentioned that the Institute is working closely with elected local and federal officials, as well as national and local organizations (such as Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York (CICU)), amongst others, to discuss protocols moving forward.

On July 10, Pratt announced that they had signed an amicus brief alongside other members of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art & Design (AICAD). The statement emphasizes that “working together with our peers, we will do all that we can do to support our international students.”


For more information, get in touch with Pratt’s Office of International Affairs via phone (tel: 718-636-3674, fax: 718-636-3497) or email (oia@pratt.edu), or check out their statement/FAQ here. To find out how you can advocate against the new ICE guidelines, check out NAFSA’s how-to guide here.



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