Lucy Griswold

I would like to respond to Ms. Lucy Griswold’s opinion piece on Teach For America — “Teach [For] America can’t offer real solutions to education inequality” — published on Feb. 4, 2014. Griswold’s piece presents an interesting perspective. However, she makes a few errors.

I should say that Teach For America has made it possible for me to take advantage of amazing opportunities. I was part of the recruitment team that helped the University of Texas at Austin become the top contributing university to the 2013 corps. I also took advantage of the opportunity to intern on the recruitment team at TFA’s
Manhattan headquarters. 

Griswold makes a few errors in her opinion piece. One of the most glaring is that she claims “TFA was a way to [teach in an under resourced district] while getting a master’s degree for free.” The link that she provides debunks her claim. TFA corps members may receive $5,350 grants in AmeriCorps funding that can be used to help pay for a graduate degree or repay qualified student loans. That is hardly receiving a master’s degree “for free.” It is true, however, that many TFA corps members are required to or choose to complete a M.Ed. while
they teach. 

Second, Griswold mistakenly attempts to link Teach For America to an attempt to “[apply] business practices such as increasing competition, emphasizing data and evaluation and promoting efficiency in the educational sphere.” Her argument is based on TFA “being funded in large part” by the Walton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The assertion “TFA is funded in large part” is false, and the link between those two groups’ donations and corporatization is not clear. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is listed along with Arizona State University, The Dream Fund at UCLA and the UCLA Foundation as “Champion Investors.” The Walton Foundation is listed as providing at least $5 million in support of TFA in fiscal year 2011. However, at least $10 million was donated to TFA from states and the federal government. TFA receives donations from a wide range of groups and does not seem to rely more heavily on either of the foundations Griswold mentioned. I am not sure why using data or being efficient in the educational sphere is a bad thing. I hope that educators will make the most informed decisions possible when deciding what’s best for their students. Still, a much stronger link to any proved agenda between corporations and Teach For America is needed for her argument to be taken seriously. 

Finally, Griswold’s comments on Teach For America’s training is concerning. Griswold insinuates that TFA corps members do not receive enough training to be effective teachers. Yet, principals and school leaders are overwhelmingly pleased with their decision to hire TFA corps members and continue to do so. Griswold then quotes corps members who state that they were “learning on [their students]” and who felt that conversations around race were “superficial” and “offered little insight to corps members of color.” I — and many within Teach For America — will point out the need for better diversity training. However, it seems that Teach For America is doing more to correct for racism in education that traditional teaching routes. In 2011 only 17 percent of the U.S. teaching force were people of color. This matches with only 12 percent of traditionally prepared teachers being people of color. In contrast, 38 percent of Teach For America’s corps was made up of people of color. More work can be done to increase diversity in the teaching force and create a better environment for children. However, TFA is taking an active role in the issue by recruiting people of color into the teaching force. 

My goal in replying to Griswold is not to convince anyone to apply to Teach For America. Rather, I think facts are important — maybe it’s the data thing — as people form their views on TFA. 

Joshua Tang, history senior, in response to Lucy Griswold’s opinion column “Teach [For] America can’t offer real solutions to education inequality.” 

In the past two weeks a debate has arisen about UT students’ right to free speech. On Sept. 15, 18 UT students who occupied President William Powers Jr.’s office to persuade the administration to join the Workers Rights Consortium attended a hearing in a downtown courtroom. 17 students ended up accepting plea deals rather than continue fighting the trespassing charges. Because UT did in fact engage in talks with the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition and joined the Workers Rights Consortium this past summer (presumably because of the students’ argument, although this has been denied by the administration) it has been argued that the administration is inconsistent in praising the students but failing to drop the charges, and pressing charges will discourage future student activism. I strongly disagree with all of these assertions, and believe that when one protests, one chooses to accept the consequences.

I do commend and admire the students for protesting and eventually accepting the plea deals that were offered. They showed selflessness and highlighted what Lucy Griswold, spokeswoman for the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition, called the “collective struggle that has always been at the heart of our movement.” These students have set a fine example of the “maturity” that President Powers spoke of after meeting with the Coalition.

Other columnists have argued that the administration’s refusal to drop the charges, even while conceding to the protesters’ demands, sets “a tone” regarding “nonviolent protest or even freedom of speech.” Griswold says the arrests send the message that consideration of students’ grievances only comes “after a night in jail.” She argues, “It sends the message that no amount of rationality in [the students’] argument, in their facts, and in their tactics will ever undo the single ‘irrational’ act of getting arrested.”

This argument is lacking because it sets up a false dilemma for President Powers. He can either agree with the protesters and drop the charges — possibly setting a precedent that will encourage other, less noble protest activities — or remain stubborn in his position so as to uphold what he believes to be the rule of law. Griswold’s argument also ignores the difference between the ability to speak one’s mind without fear of reprisal  and blanket immunity from normal sanctions against illegal actions. I propose a different mindset for the protesters: Celebrate your victory and accept, without complaint, the penalty for violating laws for the sake of the greater good.

In 1917, Gandhi, one of the founders of modern non-violence action, faced trial for intervening illegally on behalf of workers who were being treated improperly by indigo planters in the Champaran district in the Indian state of Bahir. He resolved “to submit without protest to the penalty of disobedience.” In explaining his reasoning he “ventured to make this statement [to the judge] not in any way in extenuation of the penalty to be awarded against me, but to show that I have disregarded the order served upon me, not for want of respect for lawful authority, but in obedience of the higher law of our being­‑the voice of conscience.”

Gandhi affirmed that in civil disobedience, one must follow one’s conscience, and those who make and enforce the laws must allow for the sentences prescribed by law. Participation in nonviolence requires a cheerful acceptance of the penalties imposed upon you. President Powers, in bowing to the pressure to talk to the protesters and eventually joining the Consortium, recognized the substantive allegations behind the protesters’ complaints. This recognition does not, however, release him from his duty to allow the law to be enforced.

My father, an anti-nuclear protester in the 1970s, always refused to intervene when I wound up in in-school suspension for physically defending myself or others, even as he agreed that I was not wrong in doing so. He reminded me that he had arranged trespasses with the police in order to stop the construction of a nuclear power plant in Tulsa, Okla. He gladly paid the resultant ticket because he knew, as Gandhi did, that to satisfy one’s conscience, one sometimes has to break laws. In order to maintain justice, one also must pay the penalties for that disobedience. Trespassing laws, while inconvenient, deserve respect.

If students truly believe in their cause, they should consider the trespassing fines immaterial. They should not allow the punishment to impede their activism. When students learn that every action has consequences, and that the price is worth paying without complaint, then this campus will see more, not less, activism.  Activists who look to Gandhi’s example will become stronger and less deterred by penalties, whether they be jail time or fines. This mettle can inspire other activists, and hopefully grab the serious attention and respect of those in power.

Knoll is a Latin American studies senior from Dallas, Texas.

Communication studies professor Dana Cloud, English professor Snehal Shingavi and Coordinator for the Texas State Employee Union Jim Branson wait to deliver a petition in the lobby of President Power’s office Wednesday before noon. The petition, with over 400 signatures, calls for charges to be dismissed against Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition protestors who were arrested in April.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

President William Powers, Jr. got a surprise delivery Wednesday as representatives of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition brought a petition to his office with more than 400 signatures.

The petition demands that criminal trespassing charges brought against 18 members of the coalition during a peaceful sit-in at Powers’ office last spring be immediately dropped. Powers does not have the ability to drop the charges himself and has said the case is now in the hands of the County Attorney.

“It got turned over to the [County Attorney], and that is the County Attorney’s business,” Powers said.

However, the coalition members believe Powers could influence the County Attorney and ask for dismissal of the charges on their behalf.

Corby Holcomb, assistant trial director for the Travis County Attorney’s Office, said last week that the victim or entity in a criminal trespassing case normally has a say in the charging and sentencing decisions.

“Normally, on a criminal trespass case, say, the property owner where the person was trespassing, they would definitely have input,” he said.

Holcomb declined to comment on the specific influence the University would have in this case, as it is currently ongoing.

The coalition members participated in the sit-in last spring to try and convince the University to join the Worker Rights Consortium, an organization that monitors the working conditions of factory employees internationally. Powers announced in July that UT would join the consortium to monitor conditions at some of the factories that manufacture UT apparel. The students will face trial on the charges Friday in Travis County Court, where they will have to either take one of two pleas offered to them or continue to fight the charges.

Government junior Lucy Griswold, who was arrested at the sit-in, said she believes the charges should be dropped because the sit-in was of a peaceful nature and held as a last resort effort.

“We were peacefully protesting, and this was after years of escalation in the campaign where we had used all of the democratic avenues offered on campus to have a dialogue with the University,” she said.

Griswold said if the University remains silent, it will also send a negative message to the rest of the campus community.

“We feel the charges should be dropped to reserve the right of protests on campus,” she said. “Essentially, this has always been about freedom of speech.”

Dana Cloud, associate professor of rhetoric and writing, said even if the charges are not dropped and the students stand trial Friday, the coalition will continue efforts to have the charges dismissed.

“We are not going to let this go down without a fight,” she said.

Printed on Thursday, September 13th, 2012 as: Petition requests Powers to drop case

18 UT students will go to court this Friday. Arrested in April for participating in anti-sweatshop protests, they face trespassing charges from the Travis County Attorney’s Office.

Police arrested members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition on April 18, after the protesters refused to end their sit-in at UT President William Powers Jr.’s office at 5 p.m., the time the building closed. Although the university complied with the protesters’ demand in July by agreeing to join the Worker Rights Consortium — a labor rights monitoring group that places stricter controls on working conditions than did UT’s previous affiliate — the charges against the students have not been dropped.

UT claims it has no control over whether the charges are dropped. Because UT did not file the charges, administrators cannot order them dismissed, but Corby Holby, assistant trial director for the Travis County Attorney, told The Daily Texan, “Normally, on a criminal trespass case, say, the property owner where the person was trespassing, they would definitely have input.” Granted, the protestors took on the risk of criminal prosecution for trespassing when they occupied Powers’ office. But the university administration by its inaction in defense of the protesters now takes its own risk: the risk of setting a tone on campus that discourages non-violent protest and even exercise of free speech rights. Even if the administrators hadn’t ultimately agreed that the protesters had a point worth compromising on, they should nonetheless should now make clear to the UT community that on campus people have the right to express themselves if they don’t harm others in doing so.

The Travis County Attorney’s Office has offered the students two plea deals, neither includes jail time or expensive fines, but the protesters plan to contest the charges. “I think that it would be more meaningful and lasting for us to try to fight the charges,” government junior and Coalition spokeswoman Lucy Griswold said. “It will help preserve the right to protest on campus.”

According to Griswold, English professor Snehal Shingavi has been circulating a petition to get the charges dropped. He and other professors and community supporters are scheduled to present the petition to President Powers today in the hope that he will call for dismissal of the trespassing charges.

The university administration maintains that the charges are beyond its control and its inaction on the protesters’ behalf does not reflect a negative attitude about free speech rights. “The students in question were arrested and charged with trespassing, not for expressing their opinions,” said UT spokeswoman Tara Doolittle.

However, the university administration sends at best a mixed message by not coming to the protesters’ defense. “The decision to join the Worker Rights Consortium...resulted from some very productive conversations with students,” Doolittle said. Yet one cannot help but wonder if the president’s office would have granted the students those meetings without the media attention garnered by their sit-in.

To the protesters, UT’s ultimate decision to join th Worker Rights Consortium represents a validation of the Coalition’s grievances and adequate reason to call for the charges’ dismissal. “President Powers has lauded the students he met with for their maturity and preparedness,” Griswold said, “and yet he is still maintaining the criminalization of those same students.”

Student activists past and present came together Thursday night to inspire current students to continue working for change.

The event was organized by Occupy UT, but registered with the University as a program sponsored by the International Socialist Organization, said government sophomore Lucy Griswold. The presentation involved former UT students speaking about their experience as participants in campus political controversy going as far back as the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

The speakers told stories in the West Mall and related their past political experiences to the struggles of the Occupy UT participants today and urged Occupy UT protesters to carry on with their fight.

Thorne Webb Dreyer, former UT student and co-founder of The Rag, an underground student newspaper started at UT in 1966, said he sees definite similarities between the Occupy Movement and the Vietnam and Civil Rights protests he was a part of in the 1960s. Dreyer said he did not complete his degree at UT because he chose to pursue an early career in underground media.

Both movements sprang up quickly, dealt with societal inequality and were the inevitable result of an inefficient governmental system, Dreyer said. The main difference between the two is that one was racial and the other economic.

“Power to the people,” he said. “That’s what we used to say, now it’s ‘we are the 99 percent.’ It’s basically the same thing.”

Austin Van Zant, 2004 UT alumnus and co-founder of UT Watch, a University political watchdog group, said Occupy UT‘s issue with obtaining University records is similar to the issues he faced when investigating the original deregulation of tuition at the University in 2002.

“I dealt with a lot of government agencies and UT is one of the worst in terms of stonewalling government documents,” Van Zant said. “They overcharge, ask questions they sometimes shouldn’t be asking and just make it difficult.”

Van Zant described the strategies he and other members of UT Watch used to get access to government documents almost a decade ago. There are various legal protections and ways to avoid excessive costs when obtaining public documents, Van Zant said. “I really hope they can get some fresh ideas out of this,” he said.

Anthropology senior Elizabeth Melville said she has a stake in the movement, specifically over the issue of tuition control, and hopes that Occupy UT causes change.

“I’m paying for UT myself and when tuition goes up $500, I have to work a lot harder,” she said. “I hope that it is successful, but UT is really invested in keeping the University how it is. I don’t know what to expect.”

The speakers served multiple purposes, said Griswold, who is also an Occupy UT participant.

“They showed how many of the political issues of the past still exist today and shared experiences that we can learn from,” Griswold said. “Specifically, democracy and transparency are issues that have existed with UT going back to at least the 1960s. University documents are hard to obtain and the administration is growing evermore powerful.”

Printed on Friday, March 2, 2012 as: Occupy UT mirrors previous generations' political activism