A powerful letter sent by a member of the UM faculty to some of the editors of this blog. The letter is slightly edited and the name of its author is withheld for confidentiality reasons. Thank you to the writer for allowing us to post this on picketline.
The immigrant protests of last week have taught many of us much about the power of collective action. The trends of late in this country (e.g. wanting to turn undocumented immigrants into felons; trying to strike from the Voting Rights Act the provision that allows for bilingual ballots; the list is endless) show that the only way to get our leaders to hear the voices of the powerless is to gather and expresses ourselves collectively.
For those graduating [on May 12 at the University of Miami], they have much to be proud of and should celebrate this momentous occasion. However, not all students might be allowed to enjoy this kind of event in the future. That's because a group of students who supported the striking janitors this semester are being threatened with charges of expulsion for their peaceful protests. Inevitably, this sends the message to future student activists to keep their mouths shut. If they don't, they may join the "blacklist" of student "agitators" (as UM would call them).
As a social scientist, many of my classes draw attention to the plight of the powerless and leave students wondering, how do we bring about social change? Never have I witnessed what I did this semester: a group of students took their educations a step further by not just feeling bad about the poverty-wages of janitors, but actually aligning with them to get their voices heard. In my view, these students have learned. They should get full honors when graduating. They took the knowledge that they have acquired in the classroom outside of the ivory tower and selflessly put it to use. Yet, how is the university administration rewarding them? With the threat of expulsion. And what is the administration's message to the community supporting them? A full-page ad in the Miami Herald the day before graduation discouraging any sympathizer from expressing their solidarity.
I think we faculty can learn a lot from our students. Among these lessons, I've learned that courage is contagious. I also have been reminded that we should practice what we preach. What good am I as an educator if I can't learn this from my students? What good is a university as a place of higher learning when the administration admonishes those who try to live out what they have learned?
To the graduating students and their families, I express my wholehearted congratulations. To the university administration, I hope you will listen to the not-so-powerful in the community and cease your attempts to squelch free speech.